The Final Air Battle - Review of Dogfight Over Tokyo by John Wukovits


John Wukovits, Dogfight over Tokyo: The Final Air Battle of the Pacific and the Last Four men to Die in World War II (Da Capo, 2019).

As a historian and educator who spends a lot of time focusing on military history, I find myself drawn in to the stories and experiences of fighting men. You‘ll remember some time back I described the lessons learned by following in the footsteps of the men who fought at Gettysburg, for example. From time to time I will think of the men who fought in the final battles - and those who died so near the end of a conflict. The loss of human life seems particularly tragic when I hear their stories.

John Wukovits’s new book: Dogfight Over Tokyo, tells one of these stories. Using letters and diaries alongside personal interviews with survivors and relatives, Wukovits follows Hellcat aviators from Air Group 88 through training, life aboard the USS Yorktown, their first taste of combat, and the final few minutes of World War II in the Pacific Theater.

There are a number of things I particularly liked about this book. First, it relies heavily on the personal narratives on the men involved. We as readers get to know these young aviators - their families and lives as civilians…their aspirations and ambitions - as they prepare to go to war. The writing style is not only accessible, but also engaging and exciting…reading very much like an action novel. Second, the book is highly critical of the top brass…those who planned and ordered the execution of air combat during the last days of war. Wukovits’s critique, especially concerning Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, made me think carefully about command in the Pacific in ways that I had never considered. Did Halsey make poor decisions out of a desire for vengeance against the Empire of Japan? Did he intentionally prolong a conflict when all seemed lost for the Japanese? Did he order young men needlessly to their deaths in the final minutes of war…even when he knew that Japan’s surrender was eminent? One will certainly come away from this book pondering such questions.

Dogfight Over Tokyo offers a story definitely worth engaging. In both analysis and narrative, Wukovits gets the reader to think…and even if one disagrees with his conclusions, anything that gets folks talking about history is worthwhile . World War II enthusiasts will certainly have a lot about which to think (and discuss) after reading this book…about young men who answered the call of duty, who fought valiantly, and who made the ultimate sacrifice, AND about those leaders who called the shots that got young Americans killed. Read the book and let me know what you think.

With compliments,