Genda's Blade :

Japan's Squadron of Aces

by Henry Sakaida & Koji Takaki

Published by Classic Publications


review by Steve Jantscher


Genda's Blade : Japan's Squadron of Aces 343 Kokutai by Henry Sakaida & Koji Takaki is another recently published book that I've been reading. Let me start by saying that this is not a modeler's book. While there are some very nice color profiles of the mount of this squadron, the Kawanishi N1K2-Ja Shiden Kai and some black and white aircraft photos, most of the photographs in this book are of the pilots (both Japanese and Americans) who fought in and against the 343 Kokutai (Naval Air Group). There is a very short section in the appendix on the color scheme of the Shidens flown by the "Squadron of Aces", but it basically comes down to green or grey or green over bare metal.

The strength of this book does not lie in its appeal to the modeler in all of us. Rather, this book is a compassionate and detailed history of this famous unit that was formed in late December of 1944 to help regain air superiority over Japan. Much as JV44 was a last gasp of the Luftwaffe to gather in one unit the best pilots they had left, and mount them on the best plane they had, the formation 343 Kokutai was a similar attempt to form a special unit of "aces" to counter the growing threat of air activity over the homeland. This book is the story of this unit, its men and machines, and the (in retrospect) hopeless battle it fought against both the allies and their own supply and production systems. Captain Genda (planner of the Pearl harbor raid) received permission to form a special group of three squadrons that would use the newest and best Navy airplane Japan was to develop during the war, the Shiden (Allied code-word George). This book is their story, told in intimate detail.

The reader can tell right off the bat that this is a work of love and respect by the authors. Many hours were spent talking to survivors of those days, and by careful study of existing records in both US and Japanese archives. Through painstaking research the authors present a detailed history of the trails and tribulations of forming up and fighting this air group in the face of superior numbers and equal or better airmanship of the combined Allied airforces.

The first third of the book is an introduction to, the scope of the war in the Pacific in late '44, Capt. Genda, the circumstances of the formation of the unit, and the aircraft they were to be intimately identified with, the Shiden/Shiden Kai. The rest of the book follows in a loose chronological order, chronicling each major engagement they fought in. I especially like the "take" the authors have in the Japanese pilots' response to different allied aircraft. Be it the Mustang, Hellcat, Corsair or the Thunderbolt, each is discussed in it's own section as they made their individual presence felt to the defenders.

This is a nice over-sized book, but one that I haven't read from cover to cover straight through. Rather, I've enjoyed picking it up and reading a chapter here or there, as it strikes my fancy. This is easy to do as the chapters are centered around significant engagements the Japanese fought against the Allies. I was constantly surprised at the defiance the doomed Japanese pilots showed, and by how much the American pilots were flying with what we in the Navy forty years late would call "Their Fangs Out". By that stage of the war, US pilots and aviators were supremely confident, and almost always eager to engage in air to air battle.

This is a very good book, much better than the standard unit history, now most often published by Schiffer. The physical quality of this book is also first rate. If you're interested in the final chapter of fighter air combat over the Pacific, this book will add to your understanding and appreciation of the struggle from both sides of the combat.

Genda's Blade : Japan's Squadron of Aces 343 Kokutai by Henry Sakaida & Koji Takaki is published by Classic Publications, 9x12 inch hardcover format, 208 pages, numerous photographs with ten color aircraft profiles, appendix, Japanese and American bibliography and index.


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