Review of Barrett
Tillman, Whirlwind: The Air War against Japan, 1942-1945. New
York: Simon and Schuster, 2010. Pp. xvii, 316. ISBN
is the first comprehensive history of air attacks on Japan in World
War II. Barrett Tillman covers every phase of the war, from the
famous Doolittle raid on Tokyo in April 1942, to a mission flown by
B-32 Dominators over Tokyo on August 1945, four days after the
atomic attack on Nagasaki. Not only does he tell the well known
stories of the B-29 campaign that destroyed many Japanese cities and
the carrier raids that sank much of the once-glorious Imperial
Japanese Navy (IJN), he also describes attacks from Aleutian Island
bases against the Japanese Kurile Islands. Unfortunately, the book
is wildly uneven in both in its treatment of campaigns and its use
of sources. Despite this, it will interest scholars and entertain
military history buffs, without being well suited to either.
Tillman is a veteran military history writer, with
forty books--over a dozen of them about American naval aviation in
World War II--to his credit. The advantages and limitations of
his methodology are evident already in the prologue--a quick
narrative of the Doolittle raid, with no details about the planning
of the raid or the damage it caused, beyond the report of bombs
hitting a single warship. Tillman mentions that about fifty Japanese
were killed, and that seven of the eighty airmen died, three in
crashes, three by execution, and one during captivity. To punish the
Chinese villagers who helped most of the crews to safety after their
B-25s crash-landed, the Japanese scourged Chekiang and Kiangsu
Provinces, killing "perhaps a quarter-million people" (7).
Tillman for writing of the 250,000 Chinese who died indirectly
because of one minor American raid, even if he does not give it much
prominence. That number should be compared to the 330,000 Japanese
civilians he estimates died from all Allied bombing during the war,
handful of American civilians who lost their lives in World War II.
But his sourcing of this figure is inadequate. Although Iris Chang's
controversial The Rape of Nanking
the same number and three recent books are devoted entirely
to the raid,
only a single
source, a 1200-word American Heritage magazine article
that includes no references. It is especially disappointing that so few scholarly
works have addressed the deaths of many millions of Chinese,
civilians and soldiers, between 1937 and 1945.
This unfortunate paucity of source citations persists in the chapter
on the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the most
written-about bombings in history. Rather than using Richard Rhodes'
indispensable The Making of the Atomic Bomb,
Tillman relies on Jennet Conant's 109 East Palace: Robert
Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos
information on the Manhattan Project. As in her other histories,
Conant is mainly concerned with personalities--in this case those of
the scientists and military men at Los Alamos; she has little to say
about the actual development of the Bomb. Tillman, too, is more
interested in people and their quirks than their creation of a
fearsome new weapon. Hence we read that "Almost nobody got along
with Edward Teller. His enormous talent was largely wasted during
the war, as he could not be diverted from his obsession with 'the
super,' the hydrogen bomb finally tested in 1952" (227). But
there is no mention of Trinity, the first successful atomic bomb
test, on 16 July 1945.
chapters on the B-29 raids on Japan are better, covering the
development of the bomber--a project as risky as and considerably
more costly than the atomic bomb--and the missions they flew from
China and then the Marianas. Although he implies it, Tillman never
explicitly states that the long, high-altitude raids from Chinese
bases were largely an expensive failure, nor does he adduce
sufficient supporting statistics on losses and achievements. He
does, however, insert a good short section on the dropping of mines
at sea by the B-29s. These missions, often neglected by historians,
effectively blocked shipping among Japan's home islands toward the
end of the war.
Tillman is most impressive on the
carrier raids the U.S. Navy, with some help from the British Pacific
Fleet, carried out in July and August 1945, including the
little-known attacks on northern Honshu and Hokkaido:
Far more importantly, the Navy destroyed seven of the dozen train
ferries in the Aomori-Hakodate area. Twenty years previously Japan
had produced four 3,400-ton ferries capable of carrying twenty-five
railroad cars bearing a total of 375 tons of freight. The vessels
were powered by steam turbines--rare for the period--yielding 17 knots
speed. Other ferries were launched in the late 1920s, carrying
forty-three cars at 14 knots. All were crucial to Japanese industry.
Dodging through the weather, flying low to keep visual
reference, the pilots found their vital, unglamorous targets.
Essex's air group contributed heavily to the operation: her fighters
and bombers sank four ferries and hit another hard enough to force
it ashore. The next day TF38 squadrons returned to sink a merchantman,
four auxiliaries, and another invaluable ferry.
The result was astonishing. Literally overnight the amount of
Hokkaido coal delivered to Honshu factories dropped more than 80
percent. Since Hokkaido typically produced one-fourth of Japan's
indigenous coal, elimination of the ferries represented a crippling
loss that was not replaced (202).
But most of these raids were aimed at
the warships--battleships, carriers, cruisers, and smaller
craft--bottled up in Kure and other ports. The ships were there,
rather than at sea, because Japan had run out of oil: American
submarine and air attacks on ships virtually eliminated the tankers
that had once supplied the country, and its fleet, with fuel. But
these sitting ducks were manned, and their own antiaircraft weapons
were supplemented by guns sited around the harbors. Many American
crew members died as a result: 102 were lost in three days of raids
on Kure alone. All to destroy the immobile, impotent remnants of the
once-powerful IJN. Tillman concludes this section by harshly blaming
the admirals--William Halsey, Ernest King, and Chester Nimitz--for
wasting lives. They intended to wipe out a force that had briefly
humiliated the U.S. Navy in 1941 and early 1942. The navy brass
believed their carriers had won the war against Japan, but now the
Air Force, with its B-29s, would get the credit for it.
Typically, more space is dedicated to
"The Saga of Oliver Rasmussen" than to the raids on the vital
Hokkaido ferries. Lieutenant Rasmussen, shot down on a raid over
Hokkaido, survived for over a month in the Japanese countryside,
before turning himself in after the surrender. This is one of the
dozens of colorful anecdotes that make Whirlwind more
entertaining, yet less useful, than it might have been. All in all,
though the book provides much information on specific episodes not
mentioned in other works, that information is neither consistently
presented, nor based on proper sources.
New York City
 The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten
Holocaust of World War II (NY: Basic Books, 1997).
 See Carroll V. Glines, The Doolittle Raid:
America's Daring First Strike against Japan (NY: Orion,
1988), Craig Nelson, The First Heroes: The Extraordinary
Story of the Doolittle Raid--America's First World War II
Victory (NY: Penguin, 2002), and Clayton Chun, The
Doolittle Raid 1942: America's First Strike Back at Japan
(NY: Osprey, 2006).
 John Grinspan, "April 18, 1942: Pearl Harbor
Avenged," AmericanHeritage.com (18 Apr 2007) <link>.
 NY: Simon & Schuster, 1986.
 NY: Simon & Schuster, 2005.