Dogfight over Tokyo Cover

Dogfight over Tokyo

The Final Air Battle of the Pacific and the Last Four Men to Die in World War II

John Wukovits

Da Capo Press, New York, 2019, 336 pages

Book Review published on: November 15, 2019

When Billy Hobbs and his fellow Hellcat aviators from Navy Air Group 88 lifted off from the USS Yorktown early on the morning of 15 August 1945, they had no idea they were about to carry out the final air mission of World War II. Two hours later, Yorktown received word from Adm. Chester Nimitz that the war had ended and that all offensive operations should cease. As they were turning back, twenty Japanese planes dove from the sky above them and began a ferocious attack. Four American pilots never returned; they were men who had lifted off from the Yorktown in wartime but were shot down in peacetime.

In Dogfight over Tokyo, military historian John F. Wukovits, author of Tin Can Titans, tells the tragic story of the last four Americans to die in World War II. He provides an exceptional overview of events occurring in the lives of future naval aviators still on the home front and the establishment of Air Group 88. Central to Wukovits’s account are the lives of four naval aviators: H. M. Harrison, J. G. Sahloff, W. C. Hobbs, and E. E. Mandeberg. Wukovits writes from the perspective of the naval aviators and their families. The story reaches a climax on 15 August 1945 when Hellcat pilots of Air Group 88 conduct a sweep of Atsugi Airfield near Tokyo in the final hours of World War II.

Wukovits’s treatment of Adm. William Halsey is an interesting look at leadership. The war in the Pacific was a foregone conclusion. The atomic bomb had destroyed Hiroshima on 6 August. Rumors and media reports followed that news of Japan’s surrender was expected any hour. Halsey declared that his Third Fleet, off the coast of the Japanese home islands, would keep on striking until Japan surrendered. Air Group 88 pilots viewed Halsey with disdain for risking their lives in continuing a war no one doubted was over. The pilots and the families never forgave Halsey for the loss of the four pilots.

The author’s research is extensive, reflecting numerous primary and secondary sources that include Air Group 88 Action Reports, personal letters and diaries, interviews with family members, and media reports. Wukovits is exceptional in conveying the harsh reality of serving as a carrier-based naval aviator in the Pacific during World War II. Dogfight over Tokyo is highly recommended for naval aviation and World War II enthusiasts or those seeking a casual weekend read.

Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas