The Kamikaze (神風, common translation: "divine wind") ( [ˌkamiˈkaːzɛ] (help·info)) were suicide attacks by military aviators from the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, designed to destroy as many warships as possible.
Kamikaze pilots would attempt to intentionally crash their aircraft—often laden with explosives, bombs, torpedoes and full fuel tanks—into Allied ships. The aircraft's normal functions, to deliver torpedoes or bombs or shoot down other aircraft, were put aside, and the planes were converted to what were essentially manned missiles, in an attempt to reap the benefits of greatly increased accuracy and payload over that of normal bombs. The goal of crippling as many Allied capital ships as possible was considered critical enough to warrant the sacrifice of aviators and aircraft.
These attacks, which began in October 1944, followed several critical military defeats for Japan. At that time, Japan experienced a decreasing capacity to wage war, the loss of experienced pilots, and a rapidly declining industrial capacity relative to the United States. The Japanese government expressed its reluctance to surrender. In combination, these factors led to the use of kamikaze tactics as Allied forces advanced towards the Japanese home islands.
Although kamikaze was the most common and best-known form of Japanese suicide attack during World War II, they were similar to the "banzai charge" used by Japanese soldiers, and, in addition, the Japanese military used or made plans for various other suicide attacks, including those involving submarines, human torpedoes, speedboats and divers. The main difference between kamikaze and banzai is that suicide is essential to the success of a kamikaze attack, whereas a banzai charge is only suicidal, that is, the attackers hope to survive but do not expect to. The tradition of suicide instead of defeat, capture and perceived shame was deeply entrenched in the Japanese military culture. It was one of the main traditions in the samurai life and the Bushido code: loyalty and honor until death.
The Japanese word Kamikaze' (Japanese:神風) is usually translated as "divine wind" (kami is the word for "god", "spirit", or "divinity", and kaze for "wind"). The word kamikaze originated as the name of major typhoons in 1274 and 1281, which dispersed Mongolian invasion fleets.
In Japanese, the formal term used for units carrying out suicide attacks during 1944-45 is tokubetsu kōgeki tai (特別攻撃隊), which literally means "special attack unit". This is usually abbreviated to tokkōtai (特攻隊). More specifically, air suicide attack units from the Imperial Japanese Navy were officially called shinpū tokubetsu kōgeki tai (神風特別攻撃隊, "divine wind special attack units"). Shinpū is the on-reading (on'yomi or Chinese-derived pronunciation) of the same characters that form the word kamikaze in Japanese. During World War II, the pronunciation kamikaze was used in Japan only informally in relation to suicide attacks, but after the war this usage gained acceptance worldwide and was re-imported into Japan. As a result, the special attack units are sometimes known in Japan as kamikaze tokubetsu kōgeki tai.
Since the end of the war, the term kamikaze has sometimes been used as a pars pro toto for other kinds of attack in which an attacker is deliberately sacrificed. These include a variety of suicide attacks, in other historical contexts, such as the proposed use of Selbstopfer aircraft by Nazi Germany and various suicide bombings by terrorist organizations around the world (such as the September 11, 2001 attacks). In English, the word kamikaze may also be used in a hyperbolic or metaphorical fashion to refer to non-fatal actions which result in significant loss for the attacker, such as injury or the end of a career.
Prior to the formation of kamikaze units, deliberate crashes had been used as a last effort when a pilot’s plane was severely damaged and he did not want to risk being captured; this was the case in both the Japanese and Allied air forces. According to Axell & Kase, these suicides “were individual, impromptu decisions by men who were mentally prepared to die.” In most cases, there is little evidence that these hits were more than accidental collisions, of the kind that sometimes happen in intense sea-air battles. One example of this occurred on December 7, 1941 during the attack on Pearl Harbor. First Lieutenant Fusata Iida’s plane had been hit and was leaking fuel, when he apparently used it to make a suicide attack on Kaneohe Naval Air Station. Before taking off, he had told his men that if his plane was badly damaged he would crash it into a "worthy enemy target".
During 1943-44, U.S. forces were steadily advancing towards Japan. Japan's fighter planes were becoming outnumbered and outclassed by newer U.S.-made planes, especially the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair. The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service (IJNAS) was worn down by air battles against the Allies during the Solomons and New Guinea campaigns. Finally, in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Japanese lost over 400 carrier-based planes and pilots, an action referred to by the Allies as the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot". Skilled fighter pilots were also becoming scarce. Tropical diseases, as well as shortages of spare parts and fuel, made operations more and more difficult for the IJNAS.
The important Japanese base of Saipan fell to the Allied forces on July 15, 1944. Its capture provided adequate forward bases which enabled U.S. air forces using the B-29 Superfortress to strike the Japanese home islands. After the fall of Saipan, the Japanese high command predicted that the Allies would try to capture the Philippines, which were strategically important because of their location between the oilfields of Southeast Asia and Japan.
Another source claims that the first kamikaze mission occurred on September 13, 1944. A group of pilots from the army's 31st Fighter Squadron on Negros Island decided to launch a suicide attack the following morning. First Lieutenant Takeshi Kosai and a sergeant were selected. Two 100 kg (220 lb) bombs were attached to two fighters, and the pilots took off before dawn, planning to crash into carriers. They never returned, and there is no record of an enemy plane hitting an Allied ship that day.
Rear Admiral Masafumi Arima, the commander of the 26th Air Flotilla (part of the 11th Air Fleet), is also sometimes credited with inventing the kamikaze tactic. Arima personally led an attack by about 100 Yokosuka D4Y Suisei ("Judy") dive bombers against a large Essex-class aircraft carrier, USS Franklin near Leyte Gulf, on (or about, accounts vary) October 15, 1944. Arima was killed and part of a plane hit Franklin. The Japanese high command and propagandists seized on Arima's example: he was promoted posthumously to Admiral and was given official credit for making the first kamikaze attack. However, it is not clear that this was a planned suicide attack, and official Japanese accounts of Arima's attack bore little resemblance to the actual events.
On October 17, 1944, Allied forces assaulted Suluan Island, beginning the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Imperial Japanese Navy's 1st Air Fleet, based at Manila, was assigned the task of assisting the Japanese ships which would attempt to destroy Allied forces in Leyte Gulf. However, the 1st Air Fleet at that time only had 40 aircraft: 34 A6M Zero carrier-based fighters, three Nakajima B6N Tenzan ("Jill") torpedo bombers, one Mitsubishi G4M ("Betty") and two Yokosuka P1Y Ginga ("Frances") land-based bombers, and one additional reconnaissance plane. The task facing the Japanese air forces seemed impossible. The 1st Air Fleet commandant, Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi decided to form a suicide attack force, the Special Attack Unit. In a meeting at Mabalacat Airfield (known to the U.S. military as Clark Air Base) near Manila, on October 19, Onishi told officers of the 201st Flying Group headquarters: "I don't think there would be any other certain way to carry out the operation [to hold the Philippines], than to put a 250 kg bomb on a Zero and let it crash into a U.S. carrier, in order to disable her for a week."
Commander Asaiki Tamai asked a group of 23 talented student pilots, all of whom he had trained, to volunteer for the special attack force. All of the pilots raised both of their hands, volunteering to join the operation. Later, Tamai asked Lieutenant Yukio Seki to command the special attack force. Seki is said to have closed his eyes, lowered his head and thought for 10 seconds, before saying: "Please do appoint me to the post." Seki became the 24th kamikaze pilot to be chosen. However, Seki later wrote: "Japan's future is bleak if it is forced to kill one of its best pilots. I am not going on this mission for the Emperor or for the Empire... I am going because I was ordered to!" During his flight, his commanders heard him say "It is better to die, rather than to live as a coward."
The names of four sub-units within the Kamikaze Special Attack Force were Unit Shikishima, Unit Yamato, Unit Asahi, and Unit Yamazakura. These names were taken from a patriotic poem (waka or tanka), Shikishima no Yamato-gokoro wo hito towaba, asahi ni niou yamazakura bana by the Japanese classical scholar, Motoori Norinaga. The poem reads:
A less literal translation is:
- Asked about the soul of Japan,
- I would say
- That it is
- Like wild cherry blossoms
- Glowing in the morning sun.
According to eyewitness accounts, the first Allied ship to be hit by a kamikaze attack was the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy, the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, on October 21, 1944. The attack appears to have been spontaneous and was carried out by an unknown pilot who was not a member of Ōnishi's Special Attack Unit. The pilot was most likely an Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF) aviator from the 6th Flying Brigade, in a Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia". The attack took place near Leyte Island; gunners from Australia and her sister ship HMS Shropshire fired at, and reportedly hit, three Japanese aircraft. One flew away from the ships before turning back and flying into Australia, striking the ship's superstructure above the bridge, and spraying burning fuel and debris over a large area, before falling into the sea. At least 30 crew members died as a result of the attack, including the commanding officer of Australia, Captain Emile Dechaineux; among the wounded was Commodore John Augustine Collins, the Australian force commander. A 200 kg (440 lb) bomb carried by the plane failed to explode.
Australia was hit again on October 25 and was forced to retire to the New Hebrides for repairs. That same day, the Kamikaze Special Attack Force carried out its first mission. Five Zeros, led by Seki, and escorted to the target by leading Japanese ace Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, attacked several escort carriers. One Zero attempted to hit the bridge of USS Kitkun Bay but instead exploded on the port catwalk and cartwheeled into the sea. Two others dove at USS Fanshaw Bay but were destroyed by anti-aircraft fire. The last two ran at USS White Plains. One, under heavy fire and trailing smoke, aborted the attempt on White Plains and instead banked toward USS St. Lo, plowing into the flight deck. Its bomb caused fires that resulted in the bomb magazine exploding, sinking the carrier.
By day's end on October 26, 55 kamikazes from the special attack force had also damaged the large escort carriers USS Sangamon, Suwannee, Santee, and the smaller escorts USS White Plains, Kalinin Bay, and Kitkun Bay. In total, seven carriers had been hit, as well as 40 other ships (five sunk, 23 heavily damaged, and 12 moderately damaged).
Australia returned to combat at the Invasion of Lingayen Gulf in January 1945. However, from January 5-9, the ship was hit five times by kamikazes, suffering damage which forced it to retire once more. The ship lost about 70 crew members to kamikaze hits. Other Allied ships which survived repeated hits from kamikazes during World War II included Franklin and another Essex-class carrier, USS Intrepid.
Early successes – such as the sinking of St. Lo – were followed by an immediate expansion of the program, and over the next few months over 2,000 planes made such attacks.
When Japan began to be subject to intense strategic bombing by B-29s, the Japanese military attempted to use suicide attacks against this threat. During the northern hemisphere winter of 1944-45, the IJAAF formed the 47th Air Regiment, also known as the Shinten Special Unit (Shinten Seiku Ta) at Narimasu Airfield, Nerima, Tokyo, to defend the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. The unit was equipped with Nakajima Ki-44 Shoki ("Tojo") fighters, with which they were to ram United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-29s in their attacks on Japan. However, this proved much less successful and practical since an airplane is a much faster, more maneuverable, and smaller target than a warship. The B-29 also had formidable defensive weaponry, so suicide attacks against the plane demanded considerable piloting skill to be successful. That worked against the very purpose of using expendable pilots and even encouraging capable pilots to bail out before impact was ineffective because vital personnel were often lost when they mistimed their exits and were killed as a result.
Kamikaze attacks were being planned at far-flung Japanese bases. On January 8, Onishi formed a second official naval kamikaze unit, in Formosa. The unit, Niitaka used Zeroes and "Judys", and was based at Takao Airfield. On January 29, 1945, seven Kawasaki Ki-48 "Lilys" from the Japanese Army Shichisi Mitate Special group, took off from Palembang, Sumatra to strike the British Pacific Fleet. Vice Admiral Kimpei Teraoka and Captain Riishi Sugiyama of the 601st Air Group organized another second special unit, Mitate at Iwo Jima on February 16, as a U.S. invasion force approached. On March 11, the U.S. carrier USS Randolph was hit and moderately damaged at Ulithi Atoll, in the Caroline Islands, by a kamikaze that had flown almost 4,000 km (2,500 mi) from Japan, in a mission called Operation Tan No. 2. On March 20, the submarine USS Devilfish survived a hit from an aircraft, just off Japan.
Purpose-built kamikaze planes, as opposed to converted fighters and dive-bombers, were also being constructed. Ensign Mitsuo Ohta had suggested that piloted glider bombs, carried within range of targets by a mother plane, should be developed. The First Naval Air Technical Bureau (Kugisho), in Yokosuka, refined Ohta's idea. Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka rocket planes, launched from bombers, were first deployed in kamikaze attacks from March 1945. U.S. personnel gave them the derisive nickname "Baka Bombs" (baka is Japanese for "idiot" or "stupid"). A specially-designed propeller plane, the Nakajima Ki-115 Tsurugi, was a simple, easily-built aircraft, intended to use up existing stocks of engines, in a wooden airframe. The landing gear was non-retractable: it was jettisoned shortly after take-off for a suicide mission and then re-used on other planes. During 1945, the Japanese military began stockpiling hundreds of Tsurugi, other propeller planes, Ohkas, and suicide boats, for use against Allied forces expected to invade Japan. Few were ever used.
In early 1945, Commander John Thach, a U.S. Navy air operations officer, who was already famous for developing effective aerial tactics against the Japanese such as the Thach Weave, developed an anti-kamikaze strategy called the "big blue blanket". This plan called for round-the-clock fighter patrols over Allied fleets. However, the U.S. Navy had cut back training of fighter pilots, so there were not enough Navy pilots available to counter the kamikaze threat.
Thach also recommended larger combat air patrols (CAP), further from the carriers than had previously been the case, intensive fighter sweeps over Japanese airfields, the bombing of Japanese runways with delayed action fuses to make repairs more difficult, a line of picket destroyers and destroyer escorts at least 80 km (50 mi) from the main body of the fleet to provide earlier radar interception, and improved coordination between fighter direction officers on carriers.
Late in 1944, the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) used the good high altitude performance of their Supermarine Seafires on combat air patrol duties. Seafires were heavily involved in countering the kamikaze attacks during the Iwo Jima landings and beyond. The Seafires' best day was August 15, 1945, shooting down eight attacking aircraft for a single loss.
As the end of the war approached, the Allies did not suffer significantly more damage, despite having far more ships and being attacked in far greater density. Poor training tended to make kamikaze pilots easy targets for experienced Allied pilots, who also flew superior aircraft. The U.S. Fast Carrier Task Force alone could bring over 1,000 fighter aircraft into play. Allied pilots became adept at destroying enemy aircraft before they struck ships. Allied naval crews had begun to develop techniques to negate kamikaze attacks, such as firing their high-caliber guns into the sea in front of attacking planes flying near sea level, in order to create walls of water which would swamp the attacking planes. Although such tactics could not be used against Okhas and other fast, high-angle attacks, these were in turn more vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. In 1945, large amounts of anti-aircraft shells with radio frequency proximity fuzes became available, these were on average seven times more effective than regular shells.
The peak in kamikaze attacks came during the period of April-June 1945, at the Battle of Okinawa. On April 6, 1945, waves of planes made hundreds of attacks in Operation Kikusui ("floating chrysanthemums"). At Okinawa, kamikaze attacks focused at first on Allied destroyers on picket duty, and then on the carriers in the middle of the fleet. Suicide attacks by planes or boats at Okinawa sank or put out of action at least 30 U.S. warships, and at least three U.S. merchant ships, along with some from other Allied forces. The attacks expended 1,465 planes. Many warships of all classes were damaged, some severely, but no aircraft carriers, battleships or cruisers were sunk by kamikaze at Okinawa. Most of the ships destroyed were destroyers or smaller vessels, especially those on picket duty.
U.S. carriers, with their wooden flight decks, were more vulnerable to kamikaze hits than the reinforced steel-decked carriers from the British Pacific Fleet which operated in the theatre during 1945. The resilience of well-armoured vessels was shown on May 4. Just after 11:30, there was a wave of attacks against the BPF. One Japanese plane made a steep dive from "a great height" at the carrier HMS Formidable and was engaged by AA guns. Although it was hit by gunfire, the kamikaze crashed into the flight deck, making a crater 3 m (9.8 ft) long, 0.6 m (2 ft) wide and 0.6 m (2 ft) deep. A long steel splinter speared down, through the hangar deck and the main boiler room (where it ruptured a steam line), before coming to rest in a fuel tank near the aircraft park, where it started a major fire. Eight personnel were killed and 47 were wounded. One Corsair and 10 Avengers were destroyed. However, the fires were gradually brought under control, and the crater in the deck was repaired with concrete and steel plate. By 17:00, Corsairs were able to land. On May 9, Formidable was again damaged by a kamikaze, as were the carrier HMS Victorious and the battleship HMS Howe.
Sometimes twin-engined aircraft were used in planned kamikaze attacks. For example, Mitsubishi Ki-67 Hiryū ("Peggy") medium bombers, based on Formosa, undertook kamikaze attacks on Allied forces off Okinawa.
Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki, the second in command of the Combined Pacific Fleet, directed the last official kamikaze attack, sending some "Judy"s from the 701st Air Group against the Allied fleet at Okinawa on August 15, 1945.
By the end of World War II, the IJN had sacrificed 2,525 kamikaze pilots, and the IJAAF 1,387.
The number of ships sunk is a matter of debate. According to a wartime Japanese propaganda announcement, the missions sank 81 ships and damaged 195, and according to a Japanese tally, suicide attacks accounted for up to 80% of the U.S. losses in the final phase of the war in the Pacific. In a 2004 book, World War II, the historians Wilmott, Cross and Messenger stated that more than 70 U.S. vessels were "sunk or damaged beyond repair" by kamikazes.
According to a U.S Air Force webpage:
Australian journalists Denis and Peggy Warner, in a 1982 book with Japanese naval historian Seno Sadao (The Sacred Warriors: Japan’s Suicide Legions), arrived at a total of 57 ships sunk by kamikazes. However, Bill Gordon, an American Japanologist who specialises in kamikazes, states in a 2007 article that 49 ships were sunk by kamikaze aircraft. Gordon says that the Warners and Sadao included eight ships that did not sink. His list consists of:
The establishment of kamikaze forces required recruiting men for the task; this proved easier than the commanders had expected. Qualifications were simple: "youth, alertness and zeal. Flight experience was of minimal importance and expertise in landing a luxury". Captain Motoharu Okamura commented that "there were so many volunteers for suicide missions that he referred to them as a swarm of bees," explaining: "Bees die after they have stung."
When the volunteers arrived for duty in the corps there were twice as many persons as aircraft. "After the war, some commanders would express regret for allowing superfluous crews to accompany sorties, sometimes squeezing themselves aboard bombers and fighters so as to encourage the suicide pilots and, it seems, join in the exultation of sinking a large enemy vessel." Many of the kamikaze pilots believed their death would pay the debt they owed and show the love they had for their families, friends, and emperor. "So eager were many minimally trained pilots to take part in suicide missions that when their sorties were delayed or aborted, the pilots became deeply despondent. Many of those who were selected for a bodycrashing mission were described as being extraordinarily blissful immediately before their final sortie."
When you eliminate all thoughts about life and death, you will be able to totally disregard your earthly life. This will also enable you to concentrate your attention on eradicating the enemy with unwavering determination, meanwhile reinforcing your excellence in flight skills.—An excerpt from a kamikaze pilots' manual.
Tokkōtai pilot training, as described by Kasuga Takeo, generally "consisted of incredibly strenuous training, coupled with cruel and torturous corporal punishment as a daily routine." Irokawa Daikichi, who trained at Tsuchiura Naval Air Base, recalled that he "was struck on the face so hard and frequently that [his] face was no longer recognizable." He also wrote: "I was hit so hard that I could no longer see and fell on the floor. The minute I got up, I was hit again by a club so that I would confess." This brutal "training" was justified by the idea that it would instill a "soldier's fighting spirit." However, daily beatings and corporal punishment eliminated patriotism among many pilots.
Pilots were given a manual which detailed how they were supposed to think, prepare, and attack. From this manual, pilots were told to "attain a high level of spiritual training," and to "keep [their] health in the very best condition." These things, among others, were meant to put the pilot into the mindset in which he would be mentally ready to die.
The tokkōtai pilot's manual also explained how a pilot may turn back if the pilot could not locate a target and that "[a pilot] should not waste [his] life lightly." However, one pilot who continually came back to base was shot after his ninth return.
The manual was very detailed in how a pilot should attack. A pilot would dive towards his target and "aim for a point between the bridge tower and the smoke stacks". Entering a smoke stack was also said to be "effective". Pilots were told not to aim at a ship's bridge tower or gun turret but instead to look for elevators or the flight deck to crash into. For horizontal attacks, the pilot was to "aim at the middle of the vessel, slightly higher than the waterline" or to "aim at the entrance to the aircraft hangar, or the bottom of the stack" if the former was too difficult.
The tokkōtai pilot's manual told pilots never to close their eyes. This was because if a pilot closed his eyes he would lower the chances of hitting his target. In the final moments before the crash, the pilot was to yell "Hissatsu" at the top of his lungs which roughly translates to "kill without fail".
In 1944-45, the Japanese were heavily influenced by Shinto beliefs. Among other things, Emperor worship was stressed after Shinto was established as a state religion during the Meiji Restoration. As time went on, Shinto was used increasingly in the promotion of nationalist sentiment. In 1890, the Imperial Rescript on Education was passed, under which students were required to ritually recite its oath to offer themselves "courageously to the State" as well as protect the Imperial family. The ultimate offering was to give up one’s life. It was an honor to die for Japan and the Emperor. Axell and Kase pointed out: "The fact is that innumerable soldiers, sailors and pilots were determined to die, to become eirei, that is ‘guardian spirits’ of the country. [...] Many Japanese felt that to be enshrined at Yasukuni was a special honour because the Emperor twice a year visited the shrine to pay homage. Yasukuni is the only shrine, deifying common men, which the Emperor would visit to pay his respects". Young Japanese people were indoctrinated from an earliest age with these ideals.
Following the commencement of the kamikaze tactic, newspapers and books ran advertisements, articles, and stories regarding the suicide bombers, to aid in recruiting and support. In October 1944, the Nippon Times quoted Lieutenant Sekio Nishina: "The spirit of the Special Attack Corps is the great spirit that runs in the blood of every Japanese…. The crashing action which simultaneously kills the enemy and oneself without fail is called the Special Attack…. Every Japanese is capable of becoming a member of the Special Attack Corps". Publishers also played up the idea that the kamikaze were enshrined at Yasukuni and ran exaggerated stories of kamikaze bravery – there were even fairy tales for little children that promoted the kamikaze. A Foreign Office official named Toshikazu Kase said: "It was customary for GHQ [in Tokyo] to make false announcements of victory in utter disregard of facts, and for the elated and complacent public to believe them".
While many stories were falsified, some were true, such as the story of Kiyu Ishikawa who saved a Japanese ship when he crashed his plane into a torpedo that an American submarine had launched. The sergeant major was posthumously promoted to second lieutenant by the emperor and was enshrined at Yasukuni. Stories like these, which showed the kind of praise and honor death produced, encouraged young Japanese to volunteer for the Special Attack Corps and instilled a desire in the youth to die as a kamikaze.
Ceremonies were carried out before kamikaze pilots departed on their final mission. They were given the flag of Japan or the rising sun flag (Japanese naval ensign), inscribed with inspirational and spiritual words, Nambu pistol or katana and drank sake before they took off generally. They put on a hachimaki headband with the rising sun, and a senninbari, a "belt of a thousand stitches" sewn by a thousand women who made one stitch each. They also composed and read a death poem, a tradition stemming from the samurai, who did it before committing seppuku. Pilots carried prayers from their families and were given military decorations.
While commonly perceived that volunteers signed up in droves for kamikaze missions, it has also been contended that there was extensive coercion and peer pressure involved in recruiting soldiers for the sacrifice. Their motivations in "volunteering" were complex and not simply about patriotism or bringing honour to their families. And at least one of these pilots was a conscripted Korean with a Japanese name, adopted under the pre-war Soshi-kaimei ordinance that compelled Koreans to take Japanese personal names. Out of the 1,036 IJA kamikaze pilots who died in sorties from Chiran and other Japanese air bases, during the Battle of Okinawa, 11 were Koreans.
According to legend, young pilots on kamikaze missions often flew southwest from Japan over the 922 m (3,025 ft) Mount Kaimon. The mountain is also called "Satsuma Fuji" (meaning a mountain like Mount Fuji but located in the Satsuma Province region). Suicide mission pilots looked over their shoulders to see this, the most southern mountain on the Japanese mainland, while they were in the air, said farewell to their country, and saluted the mountain.
Residents on Kikaishima Island, east of Amami Ōshima, say that pilots from suicide mission units dropped flowers from the air as they departed on their final missions. According to legend, the hills above Kikaishima airport have beds of cornflower that bloom in early May.
"A kamikaze is a surprise attack, according to our ancient war tactics. Surprise attacks will be successful the first time, maybe two or three times. But what fool would continue the same attacks for ten months? Emperor Hirohito must have realized it. He should have said 'Stop.'
"Even now, many faces of my students come up when I close my eyes. So many students are gone. Why did headquarters continue such silly attacks for ten months! Fools! Genda, who went to America—all those men lied that all men volunteered for kamikaze units. They lied."
"It's all a lie that they left filled with braveness and joy, crying, 'Long live the emperor!' They were sheep at a slaughterhouse. Everybody was looking down and tottering. Some were unable to stand up and were carried and pushed into the plane by maintenance soldiers."
I cannot predict the outcome of the air battles but you will be making a mistake if you should regard Special Attack operations as normal methods. The right way is to attack the enemy with skill and return to the base with good results. A plane should be utilized over and over again. That’s the way to fight a war. The current thinking is skewed. Otherwise you cannot expect to improve air power. There will be no progress if flyers continue to die.
—Lieutenant Commander Iwatani, Taiyo (Ocean) magazine, March 1945.
Zwei Seelen wohnen auch in mein[em] Herz!! (Ah, two souls [tamashi’i] reside in my heart [kokoro]!!) After all I am just a human being. Sometimes my chest pounds with excitement when I think of the day I will fly into the sky. I trained my mind and body as hard as I could and am anxious for the day I can use them to their full capacity in fighting. I think my life and death belong to the mission. Yet, at other times, I envy those science majors who remain at home [exempt from the draft]. … One of my souls looks to heaven, while the other is attracted to the earth. I wish to enter the Navy as soon as possible so that I can devote myself to the task. I hope that the days when I am tormented by stupid thoughts will pass quickly.
I cannot praise Japan any longer. The war is not to protect the country but the inevitable result of the way Japan has developed into a nation. … I feel that I have to accept the fate of my generation to fight in the war and die. I call it ‘fate’, since we have to go to the battlefield to die without being able to express our opinions, criticize and argue pros and cons of issues, and behave with principles, that is after being deprived of my own agency…. To die in the war, to die at the demand of the nation – I have no intention whatsoever to praise it; it is a great tragedy.
—Hayashi Tadao, October 12, 1941.
It is easy to talk about death in the abstract, as the ancient philosophers discussed. But it is real death I fear, and I don’t know if I can overcome the fear. Even for a short life, there are many memories. For someone who had a good life, it is very difficult to part with it. But I reached a point of no return. I must plunge into an enemy vessel.
To be honest, I cannot say that the wish to die for the emperor is genuine, coming from my heart. However, it is decided for me that I die for the emperor.
Kamikaze (Japanese: 神風; literally: "god-wind"; usual translation: "divine wind") is a word of Japanese origin. It comes from the name the Japanese gave to a typhoon that destroyed the Mongol ships in the 13th century and saved the country from invasion. In Western culture, the word kamikaze is used to mean the suicide pilots of the Empire of Japan, and their attacks on the ships of the Allied Powers in the final years of World War II, during which they flew their planes into enemy ships. It has also come to mean other kinds of suicide attack.
Most people in Western culture believe the word kamikaze was the name used by the Japanese military for pilots, but that is not true. Their correct name was tokubetsu kōgeki tai (特別攻撃隊), which literally means "special attack unit." This is usually abbreviated tokkōtai (特攻隊) in a shortened form. The suicide attacks made by Navy pilots were called shinpū tokubetsu kōgeki tai (神風特別攻撃隊, "divine wind special attack units"). The American translators used a different style of pronunciation of the Japanese language by mistake, and read the word shinpū ("divine wind") as kamikaze. The name became popular throughout the world, and after the war, the Japanese also started using it.
A normal kamikaze strike consisted of 10 jets rigged to explode with more radius than normal planes. This allowed them to blow more things up.[needs proof]
After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy and Air force were defeated in several important battles, like Midway and the Philippine Sea. They lost many ships (including nearly all the Japanese aircraft carriers), hundreds of fighter aircraft, and many of their best pilots. The Japanese industry had little resources and was very poor compared to the American industry. For this reason, the United States replaced their lost ships and planes with better ones very quickly; but Japan could only make few, and of poor quality. During 1943-44, the Allied forces were moving towards Japan. At the Battle of the Philippine Sea, on June 19-20, 1944, the Japanese forces were pushed back to the Philippines.
On July 15, Saipan (in the Northern Mariana Islands) was captured by Allied forces. The capture of Saipan made it possible for the US Air force to attack Japan itself, using B-29 Superfortress bombers. After the fall of Saipan, the Japanese commanders knew that the Allies would try to capture the Philippines next. The Philippines were very important because they were located between the oil fields of Southeast Asia and Japan. If Japan lost control over the Philippines, they would have little fuel left for their ships. On October 17, the Allies started the attack on the Philippines in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi was in charge of the Japanese Air Force in Manila. He understood that it was impossible to win the battle with so few aircraft and trained pilots. For this reason, he decided to form a suicide attack force, the Special Attack Unit. A group of 24 student pilots volunteered for the mission. The Special Attack force was organized into 4 groups, Unit Shikishima, Unit Yamato, Unit Asahi, and Unit Yamazakura. These names were taken from a patriotic poem (waka or tanka), written by the Japanese classical poet, Motoori Norinaga: "Shikishima no Yamato-gokoro wo hito towaba, asahi ni niou yamazakura bana" (敷島の 大和心を 人問はば 朝日に匂ふ 山桜花). The poem reads:
|[[File:|30px]]||If someone asks about the Yamato spirit (Spirit of Old/True Japan) of Shikishima (a poetic name for Japan) - it is the flowers of yamazakura (mountain cherry blossom) that are fragrant in the Asahi (rising sun).|
(A less literal translation could be read as: If someone asks about the spirit of Japan, it is the flowers of mountain cherry blossoms that are fragrant in the rising sun.)
The Japanese were defeated at the battle of Leyte Gulf, but the Special Attack force had great success. The first kamikaze attack took place on October 21, 1944, against the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy, HMAS Australia. 30 sailors died in the attack, including its Captain Emile Dechaineux, and many more were wounded. By October 26, 47 more Allied ships had been attacked. Most of them were badly damaged or sunk, like the United States aircraft carrier USS St. Lo.
This early success convinced the Japanese commanders to continue the kamikaze attacks. Many more pilots were recruited to act as kamikaze. Over the next few months, more than 2,000 planes made such attacks. When the Japanese stock of airplanes began to run low, new models of low quality were built for these missions. Some of them, like the Nakajima Ki-115 Tsurugi, were made mostly of wood and used stocks of older engines. The plane's landing gear was usually dropped by the pilot after takeoff so it could be used by other aircraft, because he would not be landing again. Similar suicide attack programs were planned, including rocket bombs with pilots (called Ohka) and submarine torpedoes (Kaiten).
The high point of kamikaze attacks came from April 6 to May 25, 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa, in Operation Kikusui ("floating chrysanthemums"). In that time, seven important waves of attacks took place, with more than 1,500 kamikaze planes. Because their training had been too short and their airplanes were poorly made, kamikaze pilots were easy targets for the experienced Allied pilots, who also had much better planes. But still, the kamikaze who escaped the anti-aircraft fire and the enemy fighter airplanes did great damage to the Allied fleet. The Allies won the battle, but they lost many ships and men because of kamikaze attacks. By the end of the battle, at least 21 American ships had been sunk by kamikazes. Some ships from other Allied navies were also sunk, and dozens more were damaged.
Hundreds of extra kamikaze planes were ready to defend Japan from the final invasion. However, with Japan's surrender on August 15 after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the declaration of war by the Soviet Union, they were never used.
The most important effect of the attacks was creating fear among the Allied troops. When the American ships went to the last battles, the crews were very afraid of kamikaze pilots. By the end of World War II, the Japanese Navy had sacrificed 2,525 kamikaze pilots, and the Air force had lost 1,387. The Japanese government said, the missions sank 81 ships and damaged 195. They also claimed that the kamikaze attacks were the cause of 80% of Allied deaths in the last years of the War.
The American sources claim that kamikaze sunk less ships than the Japanese say. But still, they agree that they did very important damage. According to a U.S. Air Force source, the kamikaze attackers sunk 34 Navy ships, damaged 368 others, killed 4,900 sailors, and wounded over 4,800. In a 2004 book, World War II, the historians Wilmott, Cross & Messenger say that more than 70 U.S. ships were "sunk or damaged beyond repair" by kamikazes.
Many kamikaze pilots offered themselves as volunteers for the mission. They were usually very young, between 18 and 24 years old. Their belief was that dying when striking the enemies of Japan and the Emperor down was a very honorable death. This principle was traditional since the days of the samurai, and gave great importance to the sense of duty and obedience. This idea was called Giri ("Obligation"), and was part of the code of conduct of the Japanese warriors since the Middle Ages, the Bushido. Many young men sacrificed themselves by their free will because these beliefs and their love for the home land were the most important things for them. The tokkōtai pilot's manual told pilots to never close their eyes. This was because if a pilot closed his eyes he would miss his target. In the final moments before the crash, the pilot was to shout "Hissatsu!" ("Critical Strike!") as loud as he could.
However, many others did so because of social pressure. Not offering oneself as a volunteer was a sign of cowardice and dishonor. Several professional pilots who were ordered to do suicide attacks did it because of military obedience, not because of honor. One of the first kamikaze pilots, Lieutenant Yukio Seki, wrote after nearly being forced to volunteer:
A special ceremony before going to combat usually took place. Pilots drank sake and ate a ball of rice. They were given medals, and a katana sword. They put on a headband with the rising sun, and a sennibari, a "belt of a thousand stitches" made by a thousand women, who made one stitch each. Many times, they took prayers written by their families with them. According to legend, young pilots on kamikaze missions many times flew southwest from Japan over the 922 metre (~3000 ft) Mount Kaimon. Suicide mission pilots looked over their shoulders to see this, and said farewell to their country. Another legend says that kamikaze pilots dropped flowers from the air, as they departed on their final missions. Some places, like the hills near Kikajima airport, are said to have beds of cornflower that bloom in early May from those days.
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