I picked this book up simply because it was the only time I had seen a history of World War II told from the perspective of the Japanese. What I hadn’t realized is Hara’s Japanese Destroyer Captain was actually a much older book. It was originally published in the 1960s as Hara tried to help a younger generation of Japanese understand the war. The book I picked up was a 2011 reprint. It’s still well worth the read. Hara is one of those people you see in history who is on the fringes of major historical events doing his job efficiently and well. He isn’t a big name so no one notices him. Then you read his memoir and are shocked by all he saw.
Hara was born to a relatively poor family of samurai stock. He entered the navy and prior to the war gained notoriety for rewriting the destroyer torpedo manual for the Japanese navy. That is pretty impressive when you think of all of the Japanese destroyers who used torpedoes during World War II were using his calculations. During the war itself Hara commanded two destroyers the Amatsukaze and the Shigure and made over a hundred sorties against the Americans and her allies. The book is full of hair raising stories of facing off in torpedo and gun duels with American destroyers and cruisers in the dead of night in the south Pacific. It also details many of the major actions of the war that he participated in including Midway and Guadalcanal. In spite of the subtitle he didn’t actually participate in the attack on Pear Harbor. His destroyer was assigned to the attack on the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. There is even an account of the sinking of John F Kennedy’s PT-109. Hara’s ship was directly behind the destroyer that rammed the future president’s torpedo boat. You would almost miss it though since Hara doesn’t know that it was Kennedy’s boat and it’s just another day fighting in the Solomon Islands.
One of the best parts of this book is Hara’s analysis of the over all strategy and tactics of both the Americans and the Japanese during the war. He doesn’t play favorites. He is quick to point out the failings of fellow captains and his own commanders and government as he is the failings of the American Navy. He even turns his criticism on himself. In short it’s a fascinating perspective on a part of the war that many American’s think they know.