The Kamikaze (神風 ?, common translation: "divine wind") ( [kamikazɛ] (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 a desperate 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.

Definition and etymology

A D4Y3 (Type 33 Suisei) "Judy" in a suicide dive against the Essex. The dive brakes are extended and the non-self-sealing port wing tank is trailing fuel vapor and/or smoke. A Japanese kamikaze aircraft explodes after crashing into Essex’s flight deck amidships 25 November 1944 Model 52c Zeroes ready to take part in a Kamikaze attack (early 1945).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.”[1] 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".[2]

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 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.

On June 19, 1944, planes from the carrier Chiyoda approached a US task group. According to some accounts, two made suicide attacks, one of which hit the Indiana.

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 oil fields of Southeast Asia and Japan.

In August 1944, it was announced by the Domei news agency that a flight instructor named Takeo Tagata was training pilots in Taiwan for suicide missions.

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.[5] First Lieutenant Takeshi Kosai and a sergeant were selected. Two 100-kilogram 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.

According to some sources, on October 14, 1944, Reno was hit by a deliberately-crashed Japanese plane.[6] However, there is no evidence that this was a deliberate attack.

Captain 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, Franklin near Leyte Gulf, on (or about, accounts vary) October 15, 1944. Arima was killed and part of a plane hit the 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,[7] 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 Mitsubishi Zero carrier-based fighters, three Nakajima B6N Tenzan ("Jill") torpedo bombers, one Mitsubishi G4M ("Betty") and two Yokosuka P1Y Ginga ("Frances") land-based bombers, with one additional reconnaissance plane. The task facing the Japanese air forces seemed impossible. The 1st Air Fleet commandant, Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi 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."

First kamikaze unit

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, thereby volunteering to join the operation. Later, Tamai asked Lt. Yukio Seki to command the special attack force. Seki is said to have closed his eyes, lowered his head and thought for ten seconds, before saying: "Please do appoint me to the post." [2] Seki thereby 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:

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.

Leyte Gulf: the first attacks

St Lo attacked by Kamikaze October 25, 1944 Starboard horizontal stabilizer from the tail of a "Judy" on the deck of 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. A Mitsubishi Zero (A6M5 Model 52) towards the end of its run at the escort carrier White Plains on October 25, 1944. The aircraft exploded in mid-air, moments after the picture was taken, scattering debris across the deck. The bridge and forward turrets of the County class heavy cruiser Australia, in September 1944. The officer facing right is Captain Emile Dechaineux, killed by the first kamikaze to hit an Allied ship, on October 21, 1944.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 Australia, on October 21, 1944.[10] The attack appears to have been spontaneous and was carried out by an unknown pilot who was not a member of Onishi's Special Attack Unit. The pilot was most likely an IJAAF aviator from the 6th Flying Brigade, in a Mitsubishi Ki-51 ("Sonia").[11] The attack took place near Leyte Island; gunners from Australia and her sister ship 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 Collins, the Australian force commander. A 200 kg (440 pound) bomb carried by the plane failed to explode, a factor which greatly reduced damage to Australia.

On October 24, the Sonoma, a 1,120 ton ocean tug became the first ship to be sunk by a kamikaze,[12] off Dio Island, in San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf.

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 the Kitkun Bay but instead exploded on the port catwalk and cartwheeled into the sea. Two others dove at Fanshaw Bay but were destroyed by anti-aircraft fire. The last two ran at the White Plains, however one, under heavy fire and trailing smoke, aborted the attempt on the White Plains and instead banked toward the St. Lo, plowing into the flight deck. Its bomb caused fires that resulted in the bomb magazine exploding, sinking the carrier.[13]

By day's end on October 26, 55 kamikaze from the special attack force had also damaged the large escort carriers Sangamon, Suwannee, Santee, and the smaller escorts 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 Battle of Lingayen Gulf in January 1945. However, between January 5 and January 9, the ship was hit five times by kamikazes, suffering damage which forced it to retire once more.[14] The ship lost about 70 crew members to kamikaze hits. Other Allied ships which survived repeated hits from kamikazes during World War II included the Franklin and another Essex class carrier, Intrepid.

Main wave of attacks

Early successes, such as the sinking of the 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 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 when to exit and were killed as a result.

Columbia is attacked by a kamikaze off Lingayen Gulf, January 6, 1945. The kamikaze hits Columbia at 17:29. The plane and its bomb penetrated two decks before exploding, killing 13 and wounding 44.Sub-Lieutenant Nakano, Petty Officer Shihara, PO Goto and PO Taniushi carried out the last kamikaze operation from the Philippines on January 6, 1945, from Mabalacat.

However, kamikaze attacks were being planned at far-flung Japanese bases. On January 8, Onishi formed a second official naval kamikaze unit, in Formosa.[citation needed] The unit, Niitaka used Zeroes and "Judy"s, and was based at Takao Airfield. On January 29, 1945, seven Kawasaki Ki-48 "Lily's" 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.[citation needed] On March 11, the U.S. carrier Randolph was hit and moderately damaged at Ulithi Atoll, in the Caroline Islands, by a kamikaze that had flown almost 2,500 miles (4,000 km) from Japan, in a mission called Operation Tan No. 2. On March 20, the submarine 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 undercarriage 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, Ohka, and suicide boats, for use against Allied forces expected to invade Japan. Few were ever used.

Allied defensive tactics

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".[15] 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 50 miles (80 km) 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 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. Moreover 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.

Final phase

Puffs of smoke left by anti-aircraft shells and the splashes left by cannon and machine-gun rounds detail the desperate few seconds of a vain struggle, as the Louisville is struck by a kamikaze at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, January 1945. The Royal Navy carrier HMS Victorious after three successive kamikaze hits, her armored deck meant that damage was superficial and she was launching planes within one hour of the attack.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").[16] 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,[17] and at least three U.S. merchant ships,[18] 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 (BPF) 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 Formidable and was engaged by AA guns.[19] The kamikaze was hit at close range but crashed into the flight deck, making a massive dent about 10 feet (three meters) long, two feet (0.6 m) wide and two feet deep in the armoured flight deck. A large steel splinter speared down through the hangar deck and the centre boiler-room, where it ruptured a steam line and came to rest in a fuel tank, starting a major fire in the aircraft park. Eight crew members were killed and 47 were wounded. One F4U 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 was the carrier Victorious and the battleship 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.

At least one kamikaze attack was made against land forces of the Soviet Red Army, on August 19, 1945, during the Soviet invasion of Manchuria.[citation needed] Six planes from a Kwantung Army air unit made the attack, on the 46th Tank Brigade, 6th Guards Tank Army, near Tongliao, Manchuria. One truck was destroyed, and a Sherman was damaged.

Some sources report that a Soviet Navy cutter, KT-152, was sunk by a kamikaze attack on August 18 or August 19, 1945, near Shumushu, Kuriles archipelago.

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