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by Saburo Sakai
with Martin Caiden
Intro by David Ballantine
I Books 2001
Order now at amazon.com
Autobiography of Japan's Fighter Ace Saburo Sakai
This book tells the highly abridged version of Sakai's wartime service by author Martin Caiden in English that was first published in 1957 and reprinted many times since. Sakai's own autobiography was published in Japanese language only: Oozora No Samurai (Samurai in the Sky) which is much more detailed. Also Saburo Sakai Kusen Kiroku (Saburo Sakai's combat records). The movie Ôzora no samurai (1976) is a film adaptation of Sakai's wartime stories.
Saburo Sakai is one of those larger than life figures of WWII. A man of samurai roots himself, his weapon was Zero and his legacy nothing less than extraordinary. A veteran of 200 missions and 64 confirmed victories racked up in China, New Guinea and the Solomons. Most famous for his time with the famed Tainan Kokutai, flying the A6M2 Zero.
The most fascinating aspect of his story is what he is most proud of about his wartime service. Not the fact that he claimed to shot down 64 planes, but rather that he never lost a wingman. The book is a superb account of one experience in that infamous time.
Training at that time was a rigorous and highly selective affair. Only the most skilled and naturally gifted were selected, and completed the training. Pilots rigorous exercises included spotted stars - during the daytime! This feat can only be accomplished by those with exceptional vision. In the game of aerial combat, who ever can spot the opponent first has the advantage, if not the kill.
Sakai was trained to fly the A5M "Claude" in the late 1930's when the climate of Japan was militaristic and the country was already involved in the war in China. There, he racked up his first confirmed kills, to begin the war with America already a seasoned pilot and combat veteran. His participation in the first Japanese aerial mission to Guadalcanal is a harrowing account of victory and near defeat.
His biography reveals the best and the worst of the Imperial Japanese Navy. From gallantry and camaraderie, to the stifling rigidity of the highest officers to the painfully obvious realizations of the war situation.
Aside from being a superb and lucky pilot, Sakai is also an excellent writer. A joy to read, like all other classic memories about war, one is reminded of the uselessness and desperation of war for the Japanese, and how luck dictated who died and survived the years of continuous battle. This book has an honored place as one of the few easy to obtain English language first person accounts of the Pacific war - from the standpoint of a Japanese fighter pilot.
Review by Justin Taylan
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