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Kamikaze - 'Divine Wind' in Japanese
 

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 Palestinians.

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 the Philippines.

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 (Japan),
It is the flowers of yamazakura (mountain cherry blossom) that is fragrant
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 confusion.

Sequence

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.

Other missions

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"

Article text is from Wikipedia and licensed under terms of GFDL. The original article can be found here.
 
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