Kamikaze (from Kami - "god" and kaze - "wind") means 'divine wind' in
Japanese. It refers to the typhoon which saved Japan from a Mongol invasion
fleet in 1281.
By extension, during World War II the word came to be used for desperate
suicide attacks, particularly by aircraft assigned to destroy US and Allied
ships by flying directly into them. Japan had lost any pretext of having
competitive fighters by 1944, and were hardly able to service them, so
expending them as bombs was suggested by Admiral Takijiro Onishi in October
1944. The official name of the mission was 神風 (shinpuu; (same characters but
different pronunciation from kamikaze) 特別 (tokubetsu) 攻撃隊 (ko-geki tai)
literally meaning kamikaze special force units. Due to that name, Japanese
often know kamikaze as tokko or 特攻 (from tokubetsu kogeki).
On the Japanese side, the human loss from the navy air force was 2,525
and from the army air force was 1,387. According to a Japanese announcement,
the missions sunk 81 ships, damaged 195, but actually 34 were sunk and 288
were damaged. According to a Japanese tally, suicide attacks accounted for
up to 80 percent of American losses in the final phase of the war in the
Pacific. The military effect of kamikaze tactics was significant but not
overwhelming. Even so, the psychological effect on Allied soldiers, sailors
and airmen was profound.
The idea of kamikaze has been applied later in other parts of the world
when the situation is hopeless. Instances are Selbstopfer in Nazi Germany in
late World War II and terrorism that employs suicidal attack such as the
September 11 terrorist attack, and suicide bombing in Israel by
The First Kamikaze
The first sortie by the Special Attack Force (Tokkotai, or Kamikaze
Squadron) took place in Leyte Gulf of the Philippines. The Japanese forces
had lost the power they had at the beginning of the Pacific War (known
officially as the Great Eastern Asian War in Japan) after their defeat at
the Battle of Midway, and the US forces, with their rich resources and
strong industrial power, were cornering the Japanese with. On July 15, 1944,
Saipan, which was the important base for the defense of Japanese mainland,
finally fell to the Americans. The capture of Saipan made it possible for
the US forces to strike the Japanese mainland with B-29 Superfortress
long-range bombers. After the capture of Saipan, the US captured the
Philippines, the islands where General MacArthur promised to return, and
tried to make these islands the base for the attack on Japanese mainland.
The Philippines were strategically important since the islands were located
between the oil fields of Southeast Asia and Japan. For that reason, the
Imperial Headquarter was forecasting that the Americans would try to capture
Operation Syou No.1
On October 17, 1944, the US forces started to land on Suluan Island at
the entrance of Leyte Gulf. On the next day, the Imperial Headquarter
officially announced Shou ichi gou sakusen (捷１号作戦, The Operation Syou No.1)
in order to defend the Philippines. In this operation, Kurita fleet (栗田),
which was supplied in Burney, Borneo Island, was supposed to storm into
Leyte Gulf and destroy the US forces. In addition, the Ozawa fleet (小沢)
joined the operation as decoy, and the Nishimura fleet (西村) and Shima fleet
(志摩) joined the operation as mobile forces. Also, the First Air Fleet joined
the lines to support the operation.
However, the First Air Fleet at that time only had 40 airplanes, which
were 34 Zeros (零戦), 1 reconnaissance plane, 3 Nakajima B6N Tenzan (Jill,
天山), 1 Mitsubishi G4M1 (Betty, 一式陸攻), and 2 Yokosuka P1Y1 Ginga (Frances,
銀河). In order to make it possible for the mobile forces to destroy the US
landing forces in Leyte Gulf, it was necessary to stop the movement of the
US task forces. The goal of the First Air Fleet was to fight the US task
forces, however it seemed totally impossible to carry out the mission with
only 40 airplanes.
Given the impossibility of the mission, the First Air Fleet was therefore
the first squadron ever to form a Kamikaze Special Attack Force and the
commandant of the First Air Fleet, Vice Admiral Onishi Takijirou, was known
as the father of kamikaze attack.
The Formation of Kamikaze Special Attack Force
Vice Admiral Onishi (大西) was assigned to Manila on October 17, 1944. Two
days later, he went to Magracut Airport. At the 201st Navy Flying Corps
headquarter in Magracut, a historical meeting was held. Finally, Vice
Admiral Onishi suggested to his men. "I don't think there would be any other
certain way to carry out the operation than to put a 250kg (app.
552lbs)-bomb on a zero and let it crash into a US carrier, in order to
disable her for a week." The captain of the 201st Flying Corps, Commander
Tamai (玉井), is said to have responded by telling Vice Admiral Onishi that he
couldn't make any decision without a presence of Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku
(山本 五十六). Vice Admiral Onishi told Commander Tamai that he already had
Admiral Yamamoto's approval, however, and so Commander Tamai asked for a
time to consider the proposal. Discussing the suicide missions with
Lieutenant Shijuku, Commander Tamai, known for his gentleness and modesty,
finally decided that there was no choice but to carry out the suicide
mission, and his agreement was conveyed to Vice Admiral Onishi.
With the official formation of the special attack force, Commander Tamai
asked twenty-three pilots from the Class-A Student Pilots of the 10th
Session Training, who Commander Tamai had personally trained, to participate
in the operation. All pilots agreed to join the operation, raising both
their hands. Although it was already becoming obvious at this point that
Japan was starting to lose the war, the morale of the soldiers was very high
(details on their morale is described on another page).
For the commander of the special attack force, Lieutenant Seki Yukio, the
70th graduate of the Naval Academy, was named. When Lieutenant Seki was
asked by Commander Tamai to be a commander of the special attack force,
Lieutenant Seki closed his eyes and thought for ten seconds, hanging down
his head. Then finally, he told Commander Tamai "please let me do that."
Therefore the 24 fist kamikaze pilots were chosen. The name of the special
attack force was officially decided to Kamikaze Special Attack Force. The
names of each four units, which were Unit Shikishima, Unit Yamato, Unit
Asahi, Unit Yamazakura, was taken from a patriotic poem (waka or tanka) by
an old Japanese classical scholar, Motoori Norinaga, which reads;
- If someone asks about the Yamato (Japanese) spirit of Shikishima
- It is the flowers of yamazakura (mountain cherry blossom) that is
- in the Asahi (rising sun).
The first kamikaze strike came on October 25, 1944, off the Philippine
island of Leyte. Twenty-six Mitsubishi Zeros were split into four groups to
attack shipping, and five of these were able to hit the US aircraft carrier
St. Louis with their load of 250kg of explosives, and sink her. Others hit
and damaged several other carriers, and a submarine attack added to the
This success was followed by an immediate expansion of the program, and
over the next few months over 2,000 planes made such attacks. This included
new types of attacks, including purpose-built Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka
rocket-bombs, small boats packed with explosives, and manned torpedoes.
Their "high-point" came during the Battle of Okinawa, when waves of
planes made hundreds of attacks. The effort included a one-way mission by
the battleship Yamato, which failed to get anywhere near the fight after
being set upon by US fighters several hundred miles away. Starting with
destroyers on "picket duty" and then moving on to the carriers in the middle
of the fleet, the kamikaze aircraft attacks created enough havoc to threaten
the Allied mission. By the end of the battle just under 30 ships had been
sunk, and over 160 more damaged, expending 1,465 planes in the process.
As stocks of older planes started to dry up, a new kamikaze-only plane,
the Nakajima Ki-115 Tsurugi, was designed to provide a simple, easy-to-build
plane that could use up existing stocks of engines in a wooden airframe. The
undercarriage was non-retractable, to be jettisoned shortly after take-off
for a suicide mission, to be reused. The Japanese were stockpiling hundreds
of these planes, along with more Ohkas and boats, for the eventual invasion
of Japan. It was never used.
Young pilots of suicide missions departed from the airbase shown on the
map above. They flew Southwest over Kaimon mountain. The Kaimon mountain is
922 meter (approximately 3000 feet) tall, and is also called Satsuma Fuji
(geometrically symmetrical beautiful mountain like Mt. Fuji located in
Satsuma region). Legend tells that pilots of suicide attack mission looked
over their shoulders many times to see this most Southern mountain of
Japanese mainland while in the air and said good-bye to the country they
grew up in. Also some of the young pilots saluted the mountain.
There is an island called Kikaijima. This island is located East of Amami
Oshima islands. The hill on the Kikaijima airport has beds of cornflower
that bloom in early May. The island residents say that the pilots of suicide
mission units dropped flowers from air when they departed for their final
mission, and these flower seeds created the flower beds. Passage quoted from
"Kyou ware Ikiteari"