Kamikaze (神風, [kamikaꜜ͜dze] ( listen); "divine wind"
or "spirit wind"), officially Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (特別攻撃隊,
Special Attack Unit"), were a part of the Japanese
Units of military aviators who initiated suicide attacks for the
Empire of Japan
Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of
the Pacific campaign of World War II, designed to destroy warships
more effectively than was possible with conventional air attacks.
About 3,800 kamikaze pilots died during the war, and more than 7,000
naval personnel were killed by kamikaze attacks.
Kamikaze aircraft were essentially pilot-guided explosive missiles,
purpose-built or converted from conventional aircraft. Pilots would
attempt to crash their aircraft into enemy ships in what was called a
"body attack" in planes laden with some combination of explosives,
bombs, torpedoes and full fuel tanks. Accuracy was much better than a
conventional attack, and the payload and explosion larger; about 19%
of kamikaze attacks were successful. A kamikaze could sustain
damage which would disable a conventional attacker and still achieve
its objective. The goal of crippling or destroying large numbers of
Allied ships, particularly aircraft carriers, was considered by the
Empire of Japan
Empire of Japan to be a just reason for sacrificing pilots and
These attacks, which began in October 1944, followed several critical
military defeats for the Japanese. They had long since lost aerial
dominance due to outdated aircraft and the loss of experienced pilots.
Japan suffered from a diminishing capacity for war, and a rapidly
declining industrial capacity relative to the Allies. Japan was also
losing pilots faster than it could train their replacements. In
combination, these factors, coupled with the unwillingness to
surrender, led to the use of kamikaze tactics as Allied forces
advanced towards the Japanese home islands.
USS Bunker Hill was hit by kamikazes piloted by Ensign Kiyoshi
Ogawa (photo above) and Lieutenant Junior Grade Seizō Yasunori on 11
May 1945. 389 personnel were killed or missing and 264 wounded from a
crew of 2,600.
While the term kamikaze usually refers to the aerial strikes, it has
also been applied to various other suicide attacks. The Japanese
military also used or made plans for non-aerial Japanese Special
Attack Units, including those involving submarines, human torpedoes,
speedboats and divers.
The tradition of death instead of defeat, capture, and shame was
deeply entrenched in Japanese military culture. It was one of the
primary traditions in the samurai life and the
Bushido code: loyalty
and honour until death.
1 Definition and etymology
2.3 First unit
2.4 Leyte Gulf: the first attacks
2.5 Main wave of attacks
2.6 Allied defensive tactics
2.7 Final phase
6 Cultural background
9 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
Definition and etymology
The Mongol fleet destroyed in a typhoon, by Kikuchi Yōsai, 1847
Battle of Bun'ei
Battle of Bun'ei and Battle of Kōan
The Japanese word kamikaze is usually translated as "divine wind"
(kami is the word for "god", "spirit", or "divinity", and kaze for
"wind"). The word originated from Makurakotoba of waka poetry
modifying "Ise" and has been used since August 1281 to refer to the
major typhoons which dispersed Mongolian invasion fleets under Kublai
Khan in 1274.
A Japanese monoplane which made a record-breaking flight from
London in 1937 for the Asahi newspaper group was named Kamikaze. She
was a prototype for the
Mitsubishi Ki-15 ("Babs").
In Japanese, the formal term used for units carrying out suicide
attacks during 1944–1945 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
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 only informally in the Japanese press 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.
Lt. Yoshinori Yamaguchi's
Yokosuka D4Y3 (Type 33 Suisei) "Judy" in a
suicide dive against USS Essex on 25 November 1944. The attack
left 15 killed and 44 wounded. The dive brakes are extended and the
non-self-sealing port wing tank trails fuel vapor and/or smoke.
Before the formation of kamikaze units, pilots had made deliberate
crashes as a last resort when their planes had suffered severe damage
and they did not want to risk being captured, or wanted to do as much
damage to the enemy as possible, since they were crashing anyway; such
situations occurred in both the Axis and Allied air forces. Axell and
Kase see these suicides as "individual, impromptu decisions by men who
were mentally prepared to die". In most cases, little evidence
exists that such hits represented more than accidental collisions of
the kind that sometimes happen in intense sea or air battles. One
example of this occurred on 7 December 1941 during the attack on Pearl
First Lieutenant Fusata Iida's plane had taken a hit and had
started leaking fuel when he apparently used it to make a suicide
attack on Naval Air Station Kaneohe. Before taking off, he had told
his men that if his plane were to become badly damaged he would crash
it into a "worthy enemy target".
The carrier battles in 1942, particularly Midway, inflicted
irreparable damage on the
Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service (IJNAS),
such that they could no longer put together a large number of fleet
carriers with well-trained aircrews. Japanese planners had assumed
a quick war and lacked comprehensive programmes to replace the losses
of ships, pilots, and sailors; at Midway in June 1942, the Japanese
lost as many aircrewmen in a single day as their pre-war training
program had caused in a year. The following Solomon Islands
campaign (1942–1945) and the
New Guinea campaign
New Guinea campaign (1942–1945),
notably the Battles of Eastern Solomons (August 1942) and Santa Cruz
(October 1942), further decimated the IJNAS veteran aircrews, and
replacing their combat experience proved impossible.
Model 52c Zeros ready to take part in a kamikaze attack (early 1945)
During 1943–1944, U.S. forces steadily advanced toward Japan. Newer
U.S.-made planes, especially the
Grumman F6F Hellcat
Grumman F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U
Corsair, outclassed and soon outnumbered Japan's fighter planes.
Tropical diseases, as well as shortages of spare parts and fuel, made
operations more and more difficult for the IJNAS. By the Battle of the
Philippine Sea (June 1944) the Japanese had to make do with obsolete
aircraft and inexperienced aviators in the fight against
better-trained and more experienced US Navy airmen who flew
radar-directed combat air patrols. The Japanese lost over 400
carrier-based planes and pilots in the Battle of the Philippine Sea,
effectively putting an end to their carriers' potency. Allied aviators
called the action the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot".
On 19 June 1944, planes from the carrier Chiyoda approached a US task
group. According to some accounts, two made suicide attacks, one of
which hit USS Indiana.
The important Japanese base of Saipan fell to the Allied forces on 15
July 1944. Its capture provided adequate forward bases which enabled
U.S. air forces using the
Boeing B-29 Superfortress
Boeing B-29 Superfortress to strike at the
Japanese home islands. After the fall of Saipan, the Japanese High
Command predicted that the Allies would try to capture the
Philippines, strategically important to
Tokyo because of their
location between the oilfields of Southeast Asia and Japan.
A Japanese kamikaze aircraft explodes after crashing into Essex's
flight deck amidships 25 November 1944
Captain Motoharu Okamura, in charge of the Tateyama Base in Tokyo, as
well as the 341st Air Group Home, was, according to some sources, the
first officer to officially propose kamikaze attack tactics. He
arranged, with his superiors, the first investigations on the
plausibility and mechanisms of intentional suicide attacks on 15 June
In August 1944, it was announced by the
Domei news agency that a
flight instructor named Takeo Tagata was training pilots in
One source claims that the first kamikaze mission occurred on 13
September 1944. A group of pilots from the army's 31st Fighter
Negros Island decided to launch a suicide attack the
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, but there is no record of an enemy
plane hitting an Allied ship that day.
According to some sources, on 14 October 1944, USS Reno was hit
by a deliberately crashed Japanese plane.
Rear Admiral Masafumi Arima, the commander of the 26th Air Flotilla
(part of the 11th Air Fleet), is 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) 15 October 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
Vice Admiral and was
given official credit for making the first kamikaze attack. 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
On 17 October 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. That unit
had only 40 aircraft: 34
Mitsubishi A6M Zero
Mitsubishi A6M Zero carrier-based fighters,
Nakajima B6N Tenzan ("Jill") torpedo bombers, one Mitsubishi G4M
("Betty") and two
Yokosuka P1Y Ginga ("Frances") land-based bombers,
and one additional reconnaissance aircraft. The task facing the
Japanese air forces seemed impossible. The 1st Air Fleet commandant,
Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi, decided to form a suicide offensive
Special Attack Unit. In a meeting at Mabalacat Airfield
(known to the U.S. military as Clark Air Base) near Manila, on 19
October, 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."
Asaichi 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.
Seki later said: "Japan's future is bleak if it is forced to kill one
of its best pilots" and "I am not going on this mission for the
Emperor or for the Empire ... I am going because I was ordered
The names of four sub-units within the
Special Attack Force
were Unit Shikishima, Unit Yamato, Unit Asahi, and Unit
Yamazakura. These names were taken from a patriotic death poem,
Shikishima no Yamato-gokoro wo hito towaba, asahi ni niou yamazakura
bana by the Japanese classical scholar, Motoori Norinaga. The poem
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 is:
Asked about the soul of Japan,
I would say
That it is
Like wild cherry blossoms
Glowing in the morning sun.
Ōnishi, addressing this unit, told them that their nobility of spirit
would keep the homeland from ruin even in defeat.
Leyte Gulf: the first attacks
St Lo attacked by kamikazes, 25 October 1944
Starboard horizontal stabilizer from the tail of a "Judy" on the deck
of USS Kitkun Bay. The "Judy" made a run on the ship approaching
from dead astern; it was met by effective fire and the plane passed
over the island and exploded. Parts of the plane and the pilot were
scattered over the flight deck and the forecastle.
Several suicide attacks, carried out during the invasion of Leyte, by
Japanese pilots from units other than the
Special Attack Force, have
been described as the first kamikaze attack. Early on 21 October, a
Japanese aircraft, possibly a Navy
Aichi D3A dive-bomber or an
Mitsubishi Ki-51 (of the 6th Flying Brigade, Imperial Japanese
Army Air Force) deliberately crashed into the foremast of the
heavy cruiser HMAS Australia. The attack killed 30 personnel,
including the cruiser's captain, Emile Dechaineux, and wounded 64,
including the Australian force commander, Commodore John Collins.
The Australian official history of the war claimed that this was the
first kamikaze attack on an Allied ship, although other sources
disagree because it was not a planned attack by a member of the
Special Attack Force, but was most likely to have been undertaken on
the pilot's own initiative.
The sinking of the ocean tug USS Sonoma on 24 October is listed
in some sources as the first ship lost to a kamikaze strike, but the
attack occurred before 25 October, and the aircraft used, a Mitsubishi
G4M, was not flown by the original four
Special Attack Squadrons.
On 25 October 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Kamikaze
Special Attack Force carried out its first mission. Five A6M 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
dived 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 26 October, 55 kamikazes from the Special
Attack Force had also damaged the large escort carriers
USS Sangamon, Suwannee which had also been struck by a kamikaze
at 08:04 forward of its aft elevator on 25 October, Santee, and the
smaller escorts USS White Plains, Kalinin Bay, and Kitkun Bay. In
total, seven carriers were hit, as well as 40 other ships (five sunk,
23 heavily damaged, and 12 moderately damaged).
Main wave of attacks
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 Boeing
B-29 Superfortresses, 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
Special Unit (Shinten Seiku Tai) at Narimasu Airfield, Nerima,
Tokyo, to defend the
Tokyo Metropolitan Area. The unit was equipped
Nakajima Ki-44 Shoki ("Tojo") fighters, with which they were to
United States Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-29s in their attacks on
Japan. 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, which worked against the very purpose of using expendable
pilots. 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.
USS Columbia is attacked by a
Mitsubishi Ki-51 kamikaze off
Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945
The kamikaze hits Columbia at 17:29. The plane and its bomb penetrated
two decks before exploding, killing 13 and wounding 44.
On 11 March, 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 20 March, 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.
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
Nakajima Ki-115 Tsurugi was a simple, easily built
propeller aircraft with a wooden airframe which used engines from
existing stocks. Its non-retractable landing gear was jettisoned
shortly after take-off for a suicide mission, and re-used. During
1945, the Japanese military began stockpiling hundreds of Tsurugi,
other aircraft, Ohkas, and suicide boats, for use against Allied
forces expected to invade Japan. The invasion never happened, and few
were ever used.
Allied defensive tactics
In early 1945 U.S. Navy aviator
Commander John Thach, already famous
for developing effective aerial tactics against the Japanese such as
the Thach Weave, developed a defensive strategy against kamikazes
called the "big blue blanket" to establish Allied air supremacy well
away from the carrier force. This recommended combat air patrols (CAP)
which were larger and operated further from the carriers than before,
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. This plan also called for around-the-clock
fighter patrols over Allied fleets, though the U.S. Navy had cut back
training of fighter pilots so there were not enough Navy pilots
available to counter the kamikaze threat. A final element included
intensive fighter sweeps over Japanese airfields, and bombing of
Japanese runways, using delayed action bombs to make repairs more
A6M Zero (A6M2 Model 21) towards the end of its run at the escort
carrier USS White Plains on 25 October 1944. The aircraft
exploded in mid-air moments after the picture was taken, scattering
debris across the deck.
Late in 1944 the
British Pacific Fleet
British Pacific Fleet (BPF) used the good
high-altitude performance of their Supermarine Seafires (naval version
of the Spitfire) 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 15 August 1945,
shooting down eight attacking aircraft for a single loss.
Allied pilots were experienced and better-trained, and flew superior
aircraft, making the poorly trained kamikaze pilots easy targets. The
Fast Carrier Task Force
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 gunners had begun to develop techniques to negate kamikaze
attacks. Light rapid fire anti-aircraft weapons such as the 40 mm
Bofors and 20 mm Oerlikon autocannons were highly effective,
but heavy anti-aircraft guns such as the 5"/38 caliber gun
(127 mm) had the punch to blow kamikazes out of the air, which
was preferable since even a heavily damaged kamikaze could complete
its mission. The Ohkas with their high speed presented a very
difficult problem for anti-aircraft fire, since their velocity made
fire control extremely difficult. By 1945, large numbers of
anti-aircraft shells with radio frequency proximity fuzes, on average
seven times more effective than regular shells, became available, and
the USN recommended their use against kamikaze attacks.
A A6M5 "Zero" diving towards American ships in the
USS Louisville is struck by a
Mitsubishi Ki-51 kamikaze at the
Battle of Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945
USS Missouri shortly before being hit by a Mitsubishi A6M Zero
(visible top left), 11 April 1945
The peak in kamikaze attacks came during the period of April–June
1945, at the Battle of Okinawa. On 6 April 1945, waves of aircraft
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 lost were destroyers or smaller vessels, especially those on
picket duty. The destroyer USS Laffey earned the nickname
"The Ship That Would Not Die" after surviving six kamikaze attacks and
four bomb hits during this battle. So many destroyers were
attacked that one ship's crew, considering the aircraft carriers to be
more important targets, erected a large sign with an arrow which read
"That way to the carriers".
U.S. carriers, with their wooden flight decks, appeared to suffer more
damage from kamikaze hits than the armored-decked carriers from the
British Pacific Fleet. US carriers also suffered considerably heavier
casualties from kamikaze strikes; for instance, 389 men were killed in
one attack on USS Bunker Hill, greater than the combined number
of fatalities suffered on all six Royal Navy armoured carriers from
all forms of attack during the entire war (Bunker Hill and Franklin
were both hit while conducting operations with fully fueled and armed
aircraft spotted on deck for takeoff, an extremely vulnerable state
for any carrier). Eight kamikaze hits on five British carriers
resulted in only 20 deaths while a combined total of 15 bomb hits,
most of 500 kg weight or greater, and one torpedo hit on four
carriers caused 193 fatal casualties earlier in the war – striking
proof of the protective value of the armoured flight deck.
Aircraft carrier HMS Formidable after being struck by a kamikaze
off Sakishima Islands. The kamikaze made a dent 3 m long,
0.6 m wide and deep in the armored flight deck. Eight crew
members were killed, 47 were wounded, and 11 aircraft were destroyed.
The resilience of well-armoured vessels was shown on 4 May, just after
11:30, when there was a wave of suicide attacks against the British
Pacific Fleet. 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, a bomb from the kamikaze
detonated on 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
Grumman Avengers were destroyed. 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 9 May,
Formidable was again damaged by a kamikaze, as were the carrier
HMS Victorious and the battleship HMS Howe. The British were
able to clear the flight deck and resume flight operations in just
hours, while their American counterparts took a few days or even
months, as observed by a USN liaison officer on HMS Indefatigable
who commented: "When a kamikaze hits a U.S. carrier it means 6 months
of repair at Pearl [Harbor]. When a kamikaze hits a Limey carrier
it’s just a case of 'Sweepers, man your brooms'."
Sometimes twin-engined aircraft were used in planned kamikaze attacks.
Mitsubishi Ki-67 Hiryū ("Peggy") medium bombers, based
on Formosa, undertook kamikaze attacks on Allied forces off Okinawa
and a pair of
Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu ("Nick") heavy fighters caused
enough damage for the
USS Dickerson (DD-157)
USS Dickerson (DD-157) to be scuttled.
Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, the commander of the IJN 5th Air Fleet
based in Kyushu, participated in one of the final kamikaze attacks on
American ships on 15 August 1945, hours after Japan's announced
Ugaki, shortly before taking off from a D4Y3 to participate in one of
the final kamikaze strikes, 15 August 1945
As the end of the war approached, the Allies did not suffer more
serious significant losses, despite having far more ships and facing a
greater intensity of kamikaze attacks. Although causing some of the
heaviest casualties on US carriers in 1945, the IJN had sacrificed
2,525 kamikaze pilots and the IJAAF 1,387—far more than they had
lost in 1942 when they sank or crippled three carriers (albeit without
inflicting significant casualties). In 1942 when US Navy vessels were
scarce, the temporary absence of key warships from the combat zone
would tie up operational initiatives. By 1945, however the US Navy was
large enough that damaged ships could be detached back home for repair
without significantly hampering the fleet's operational capability.
The only surface losses were destroyers and smaller ships that lacked
the capability to sustain heavy damage. Overall, the kamikazes were
unable to turn the tide of the war and stop the Allied invasion.
In the immediate aftermath of kamikaze strikes, British carriers with
their armoured flight decks recovered more quickly compared to their
US counterparts. Post-war analysis showed that some British carriers
such as HMS Formidable suffered structural damage that led to them
being scrapped, as being beyond economic repair. Britain's post-war
economic situation played a role in the decision to not repair damaged
carriers, while even seriously damaged American carriers such as USS
Bunker Hill were repaired, although they were then mothballed or sold
off as surplus after World War II without re-entering service.
A crewman in an AA gun aboard the battleship New Jersey watches a
kamikaze plane descend upon Intrepid 25 November 1944. Over 75 men
were killed or missing and 100 wounded.
The exact 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, kamikaze 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:
Kamikaze attackers sank 34 Navy ships, damaged 368
others, killed 4,900 sailors, and wounded over 4,800. Despite radar
detection and cuing, airborne interception, attrition, and massive
anti-aircraft barrages, 14 percent of Kamikazes survived to score a
hit on a ship; nearly 8.5 percent of all ships hit by Kamikazes
Australian journalists Denis and Peggy Warner, in a 1982 book with
Japanese naval historian Sadao Seno (The Sacred Warriors: Japan’s
Suicide Legions), arrived at a total of 57 ships sunk by kamikazes.
Bill Gordon, an American Japanologist who specialises in kamikazes,
lists in a 2007 article 47 ships known to have been sunk by kamikaze
aircraft. Gordon says that the Warners and Seno included ten ships
that did not sink. He lists:
three escort carriers: USS St. Lo, USS Ommaney Bay, and
USS Bismarck Sea
14 destroyers, including the last ship to be sunk,
USS Callaghan (DD-792) on 29 July 1945, off Okinawa
three high-speed transport ships
five Landing Ship, Tank
four Landing Ship Medium
Landing Ship Medium
Landing Ship Medium (Rocket)
one auxiliary tanker
three Canadian Victory ships
three Liberty ships
two high-speed minesweepers
one Auk class minesweeper
one submarine chaser
two PT boats
two Landing Craft Support
Ohka ("cherry blossom"), a specially built
rocket-powered kamikaze aircraft used towards the end of the war. The
U.S. called them Baka Bombs ("idiot bombs").
It was claimed by the Japanese forces at the time that there were many
volunteers for the suicidal forces. 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." Okamura is credited with being the first to propose
the kamikaze attacks. He had expressed his desire to lead a volunteer
group of suicide attacks some four months before Admiral Takijiro
Ohnishi, commander of the Japanese naval air forces in the
Philippines, presented the idea to his staff. While Vice Admiral
Shigeru Fukudome, commander of the second air fleet, was inspecting
the 341st Air Group, Captain Okamura took the chance to express his
ideas on crash-dive tactics. "In our present situation I firmly
believe that the only way to swing the war in our favor is to resort
to crash-dive attacks with our planes. There is no other way. There
will be more than enough volunteers for this chance to save our
country, and I would like to command such an operation. Provide me
with 300 planes and I will turn the tide of war."
When the volunteers arrived for duty in the corps, there were twice as
many persons as aircraft available. "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."
As time wore on, modern critics questioned the nationalist portrayal
of kamikaze pilots as noble soldiers willing to sacrifice their lives
for the country. In 2006, Tsuneo Watanabe, Editor-in-Chief of the
Yomiuri Shimbun, criticized Japanese nationalists' glorification of
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.
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.
— excerpt from a kamikaze pilots' manual
Tokkōtai pilot training, as described by Takeo Kasuga, generally
"consisted of incredibly strenuous training, coupled with cruel and
torturous corporal punishment as a daily routine". Daikichi Irokawa,
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", but 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". One pilot who continually came back to base
was shot after his ninth return.
We tried to live with 120 percent intensity, rather than waiting for
death. We read and read, trying to understand why we had to die in our
early twenties. We felt the clock ticking away towards our death,
every sound of the clock shortening our lives.
Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student
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" (必殺) at the top of his lungs which
translates to "Certain Kill".
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First recruits for Japanese
Kamikaze suicide pilots in 1944.
26 May 1945. Corporal Yukio Araki, holding a puppy, with four other
pilots of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron at Bansei, Kagoshima. Araki died
the following day, at the age of 17, in a suicide attack on ships near
In 1944–45, American propagandists invented the term "State Shinto"
to differentiate the Japanese state's ideology from traditional Shinto
practices. As time went on, Americans claimed, Shinto was used
increasingly in the promotion of nationalist sentiment. In 1890, the
Imperial Rescript on Education
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 honour 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 visited the shrine to pay homage twice a year.
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
Corps." Publishers also played up the idea that the kamikaze were
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
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 honour 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. The
Kamikaze shared ceremonial cups of sake or water
known as "mizu no sakazuki". Many Army officer
Kamikaze took their
swords with them, while the Navy pilots (as a general rule) did not
carry swords in their planes. The kamikaze, like all Japanese aviators
flying over unfriendly territory, were issued (or purchased, if they
were officers) a
Nambu pistol with which to end their lives if they
risked being captured. Like all Army and Navy servicemen, the Kamikaze
would wear their senninbari, a "belt of a thousand stitches" given to
them by their mothers.</ref> 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. The
Kamikaze were escorted by other
pilots whose function was to protect the
Kamikaze to their destination
and report on the results. Some of these escort pilots, such as Zero
pilot Toshimitsu Imaizumi, were themselves later sent out on their own
Chiran high school girls wave farewell with cherry blossom branches to
departing kamikaze pilot in a Nakajima Ki-43-IIIa Hayabusa
While it is 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.
Firsthand interviews with surviving
Kamikaze pilots and escort pilots
has revealed that they were motivated by a desire to protect their
families from perceived atrocities and possible extinction at the
hands of the Allies. They viewed themselves as the last defense.
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. Eleven of the 1,036 IJA
kamikaze pilots who died in sorties from Chiran and other Japanese air
bases during the
Battle of Okinawa
Battle of Okinawa were Koreans.
It is said that 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
Kamikaze pilots who were unable to complete their mission (due to
mechanical failure, interception, etc.) were stigmatized in the years
following the war. This stigma began to diminish some 50 years after
the war as scholars and publishers have distributed the survivors'
Some Japanese military personnel were critical of the policy. Some
officers, Minoru Genda, Tadashi Minobe and Yoshio Shiga, refused to
obey the policy. They said that the commander of a kamikaze attack
should engage in the task first. Some persons who obeyed the
policy, Kiyokuma Okajima, Saburo Shindo, and Iyozo Fujita, were also
critical of the policy.
Saburō Sakai said: "We never dared to
question orders, to doubt authority, to do anything but immediately
carry out all the commands of our superiors. We were automatons who
obeyed without thinking."
Tetsuzo Iwamoto refused to engage in a
kamikaze attack because he thought the task of fighter pilots was to
shoot down aircraft.
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.
Commander Iwatani, Taiyo (Ocean) magazine, March
Zwei Seelen wohnen auch in mein[em] Herz[en]!! (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.
— Hachiro Sasaki
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.
— Ichizo Hayashi
I am pleased to have the honour of having been chosen as a member of a
Special Attack Force that is on its way into battle, but I cannot help
crying when I think of you, Mum. When I reflect on the hopes you had
for my future ... I feel so sad that I am going to die without doing
anything to bring you joy.
— Ichizo Hayashi, last letter home a few days before his final
flight. April 1945
There was a hypnotic fascination to the sight so alien to our Western
philosophy. 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.
Vice Admiral C. R. Brown, US Navy
Saigo no Tokkōtai (最後の特攻隊, The Last
English), released in 1970, produced by Toei, directed by Junya Sato
and starring Koji Tsuruta,
Ken Takakura and Shinichi Chiba.
Toei also produced a biographical film about
Takijirō Ōnishi in 1974
called Ā Kessen Kōkūtai (あゝ決戦航空隊, Father of the
Kamikaze in English), directed by Kōsaku Yamashita.
Masami Takahashi, Last
Kamikaze Testimonials from WWII Suicide Pilots
(Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources, 2008).
Risa Morimoto, Wings of Defeat (Harriman, NY: New Day Films, 2007).
Ore wa, kimi no tameni koso (2007, For Those We Love in English).
Assault On the Pacific –
Kamikaze (2007), directed by Taku Shinjo.
Original title : "俺は、君のためにこそ死ににいく"
"Ore wa, Kimi no Tame ni Koso Shini ni Iku"
The Eternal Zero
The Eternal Zero (永遠の0 Eien no Zero) – 2013 film directed by
Special Attack Peace Museum
Suicide by pilot
Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy air-to-surface special attack units
Imperial Japanese Army
Imperial Japanese Army air-to-surface special attack units
^ a b Zaloga, Steve. Kamikaze: Japanese
Special Attack Weapons
1944-45. p. 12.
^ Bunker Hill CV-17, Fotographic History of the U.S. Navy
^ David Powers, "Japan: No Surrender in World War Two"
^ John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific
War p1 ISBN 0-394-50030-X
^ John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific
War p216 ISBN 0-394-50030-X
^ Haruko Taya Cook and Theodore F. Cook, Japan At War: An Oral History
p264 ISBN 1-56584-014-3
^ Meirion and Susie Harries, Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of
Imperial Japanese Army
Imperial Japanese Army p 413 ISBN 0-394-56935-0
^ Used as "Kamukaze no" in Man'yōshū, Tome I, poem 163, Tome IV poem
Kamikaze origin". Online Etymology Dictionary. 11 December
^ Jenkins, David (1992). Battle Surface! Japan's
Submarine War Against
Australia 1942–44. Milsons Point NSW Australia: Random House
Australia. p. 122. ISBN 0-09-182638-1.
^ Axell, pp. 34, 40–41
^ Axell, p. 44. A monument at the site of Iida’s crash reads:
'JAPANESE AIRCRAFT IMPACT SITE. PILOT-LIEUTENANT IIDA, COMMANDER,
THIRD AIR CONTROL GROUP, 7 Dec 1941.’
^ U.S. Naval War College Analysis, p.1; Parshall and Tully, Shattered
Sword, pp. 416–430.
^ Peattie, Sunburst, pp. 131–134, 181–184, 191–192.
^ Peattie, Sunburst, pp. 176–186; Eric Bergerud, Fire in the Sky,
^ Fighting Elites: Kamikaze: 9, 12
^ "Father of the
Kamikaze Liner Notes - AnimEigo". animeigo.com.
^ Axell, pp.40–41
^ Toland, p. 568
^ ww2pacific.com, 2004, "World War II in the Pacific: Japanese Suicide
Attacks at Sea". Accessed 1 August 2007.
^ Axell, p.16
^ Ivan Morris, The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History
of Japan, p. 289 Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975
^ Ivan Morris, The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History
of Japan, pp. 289–90 Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975
^ "Motoori Norinaga: A scholar-physician who loved cherry blossoms",
The East, Vol. XXVI No, 1
^ Ivan Morris, The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History
of Japan, p284 Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975
^ a b c d Nichols, Robert (2004). "The first kamikaze attack?".
Wartime. Australian War Memorial (28). Retrieved 15 August 2010.
^ Richard L. Dunn, 2002–2005, "First Kamikaze? Attack on HMAS
Australia—21 October 1944" (j-aircraft.com). Access date: 20 June
2007. If the pilot was from the 6th Flying Brigade, it was probably
either Lieutenant Morita or
Sergeant Itano, flying out of San Jose,
^ Toland, p.567
^ Japanese Ki-9 biplane
^ Bill Coombes, 1995, "Divine Wind The Japanese secret weapon –
kamikaze suicide attacks" Archived 28 September 2006 at the Wayback
^ USN, Antiaircraft Action Summary Suicide Attacks, April 1945
^ DiGiulian, Tony (September 2006). "United States of America 20 mm/70
(0.79") Marks 2, 3 & 4". navweaps.com. Retrieved 25 February
^ Kennedy, Maxwell Taylor: Danger's Hour, The Story of the USS Bunker
Hill and the
Kamikaze Pilot who Crippled Her, Simon and Schuster, New
York, 2008 ISBN 978-0-7432-6080-0
^ a b Naval Historical Center, 2004, Casualties: U.S. Navy and Coast
Guard Vessels, Sunk or Damaged Beyond Repair during World War II, 7
December 1941 – 1 October 1945 (U.S. Navy) Access date: 1 December
^ American Merchant Marine at War (website), 2006, "Chronological List
of U.S. Ships Sunk or Damaged during 1945" Access date: 1 December
^ "USS Laffey".
Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. Retrieved
22 June 2011.
Kamikaze Damage to US and British Carriers
^ Polmar, Aircraft Carriers.
^ Sydney David Waters, 1956, The Royal New Zealand Navy, Historical
Publications Branch, Wellington. p.383–4 Access date: 1 December
^ Hoyt, The Last Kamikaze.
^ Dr Richard P. Hallion, 1999, "Precision Weapons, Power Projection,
and The Revolution In Military Affairs" (USAF Historical Studies
Office). Accessed from 2009 archive of webpage on 21 December 2015.
^ a b Axell, p.35
^ Inoguchi, Rikihei, The Divine Wind, Maryland: Naval Institute Press,
1958, page 139.
^ Axell, p.40
^ New York Times, THE SATURDAY PROFILE; Shadow Shogun Steps Into
Light, to Change Japan. Published: 11 February 2006. Retrieved 15
^ International Herald Tribune, Publisher dismayed by Japanese
nationalism. Published: 10 February 2006. Retrieved 11 March 2007
^ "They've Outlived the Stigma". latimes.
^ Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko (2006).
Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of
Japanese Student Soldiers. University of Chicago Press.
p. 175. Extract at University of Chicago Press website
^ a b Ohnuki-Tierney[page needed]
^ Axell, p.36
^ Axell, pp. 38, 41, 43
^ a b Axell, p.41
^ a b >King, Dan (July 2012). "4 Imaizumi". The Last Zero Fighter:
Firsthand Accounts from WWII Japanese Naval Pilots.
^ King, Dan (July 2012). "4 Imaizumi". The Last Zero Fighter:
Firsthand Accounts from WWII Japanese Naval Pilots.
^ "The Hindu : International : A "Japanese hero" goes home".
^ Los Angeles Times, "They've Outlived the Stigma" (25 September
2004). Retrieved 21 August 2011
^ Henry Sakaida, Genda's Blade (Japanese),Nekopublishing, p. 376
^ Watanabe Yoji, Tokko Kyohi No Ishoku Shudan Suiseyashutai
^ Ikari Yoshiro, Shidenkai No Rokuki (Japanese), Kojinsha, pp.
^ Maru Saikyo Sentoki Shidenkai (Japanese), Kojinsha, pp. 162
^ Allan R. Millett, Williamson Murray, Military Effectiveness Volume3,
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^ Iwamoto Tetsuzo, Zero-sen Gekitsui-Oh Kyo-no-wadai-sha.
^ Ohnuki-Tierney, pp.65–66
^ Ohnuki-Tierney, p.163
^ David Powers Japan: No Surrender in World War Two BBC History
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Empire 1936–1945, Random House, 1970, p. 711.
^ "Saigo no tokkôtai (1970)". IMDb. 20 April 2009.
^ "Father of the
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^ whatdoes1know (12 May 2007). "Ore wa, kimi no tame ni koso shini ni
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