‘The Fleet That Came to Stay’ was released in 1945 and shocked theatregoers with its depiction of deadly kamikaze airstrikes.
The movie opens in cinematic style as American troops and matelots alike lean over the rail of a ship. We hear them thinking their thoughts of home, their concerns regarding how close the fleet is to the heart of enemy territory.
The movie reaches out to the audience, inviting them to make an emotional connection, bolstered then by images of the fleet’s aircraft carriers launching fighter planes, heading into battle with the enemy.
What follows is an intense twenty minutes of real footage, guns blazing, rockets firing a relentless fusillade of firepower into the skies as they darken with the coming of Japanese fighter bombers. We see close-up, the men operating the big guns, and watch as the enemy takes a direct hit and falls out of the sky.
But perhaps the most shocking sequences are the suicide dive bombings of the kamikaze pilots. US Naval intelligence failed to uncover the true number of aircraft the Japanese air force had at their disposal.
At Formosa the US estimated the enemy had perhaps 80 to 90 planes when in fact there were nearly seven hundred, well camouflaged aircraft hidden away in the villages and towns scattered across the island.
Vice Admiral C.R. Brown, of the US Navy remembered the Kamikaze attacks after the battle of Okinawa. ‘We watched each plunging kamikaze with the detached horror of one witnessing a terrible spectacle rather than as the intended victim.
We forgot self for the moment as we groped hopelessly for the thought of that other man up there.’
From Formosa 250 kamikaze sorties were flown and from Kyushu another 1,456 large scale kamikaze attacks came out of the sky along with 185 individual sorties.
The film shows, in terrifying detail how close some of these planes came to wreaking devastation. Some missed the ships and the cameramen, by mere feet, while others hit their targets square-on, exploding in a cataclysm of fire on deck.
There is in-cockpit footage of American flyers chasing down these flying bombs, these human-guided missiles. Sometimes they manage to destroy the kamikaze in flight and the plane explodes, other times we can only watch as the Japanese pilot makes his kill.
Watching the movie, which was commissioned to prepare the US public for a long, drawn out and bloody campaign it comes as a relief to discover that despite the ferocity of the battles no major Allied forces ships were lost. While a number of aircraft carriers were badly damaged it was the smaller vessels that suffered the most loss.
As it turned out the battle of Okinawa did indeed produce the highest casualty list of the Pacific Theatre. A monument at the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, lists more than 240,900 names of individuals killed in 1945.
Nearly 150,000 of them were Okinawan civilians, 77,166 Japanese troops and 14,009 Americans. New names are being added to the toll every year.
The Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent Ernie Pyle is seen in one shot smiling at the camera. He had spent many years crossing Europe and had a dim view of the Navy, thinking they had an easier ride than the men that struggled through the Battle of Anzio
Sadly, it was a Japanese machine gunner who ended Pyle’s career with a bullet to the head.
The movie short was directed by Budd Boetticher, a Hollywood director who had cut his teeth before the War directing Westerns, starring Randolph Scott.
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He went on to write and direct a number of acclaimed films and was nominated in 1951 for an Oscar for Best Original Story for The Bullfighter and the Lady.