The Kamikaze – “Divine Wind” – Death instead of Defeat
Death instead of defeat, capture and/or failure was an acceptable way of life in Japanese culture preceding and during World War II. Surrendering was not an acceptable option. Young men aged 18 to 26 volunteered for the special attack units that were introduced shortly before the end of war in 1944 as a desperate measure. It is widely believed that the unfavorable progress of the war for Japan and their loss of air dominance and supremacy was the main driving force of Kamikaze pilots and other suicide vessels. Japanese families who received a stipend if their son lost his life in battle felt honored by this status.
Prior to the official launching of suicide units, both the Japanese and Allied air forces had utilized that type of tactic on a last minute decision basis. If a pilot’s plane was crippled and damaged beyond hope, the pilot sometimes turned it into a weapon of destruction. A perfect example was in the attack on Pearl Harbor when Japanese 1st Lt. Fusata hit the Kanoeohe Naval Air Station with his plane that was severely leaking fuel and heading for a crash. Using this example, perhaps, the Japanese flight instructor Takeo Tagata starting training pilots in suicide missions in 1944.
Even Nazi Germany had suicide aircraft pilots, called the Leonidas Squadron. However the egotistical mentality feeling of supremacy that Germans held as a nationality kept them from utilizing it often. German leaders felt it was an unnecessary waste of life and resources. They did use 35 pilots in suicide sorties during the final battle of Berlin in April 1945. Germans claimed the suicide pilots destroyed 17 bridges, but military historians believe it was more likely only one railroad bridge was totally destroyed.
In hindsight, as a long-term maneuver, it only makes sense that Japanese Kamikaze suicide pilots could not win the war. Japanese Lt. Commander Iwatani was quoted as saying to his own military commanders: “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.” That “skewed” thinking of the top command however, felt it was good mathematics to kill a thousand men with one or sink a battleship with one pilot and one plane.
Before the Allies defeated Japan in 1945, the suicide special attack units of Kamikaze pilots, Kaiten human submarines, Shinyo suicide boats, and Fukuryu suicide divers did considerable damage. In the battle of Okinawa, Kamikaze pilots were responsible for sinking 21 ships and damaging 66. Suicide boats that could travel up to 30 knots with bow-mounted explosives sank 8 vessels attempting to land during the attack on the Philippines. A landing ship carrying Infantry was damaged in 1945 on the Palaus Islands by suicide divers carrying explosive pole that they would stick into the sides of vessels. Total World War II war figures claim that approximately 2,800 Kamikaze attacks sunk 34 ships and killed 4,900 allied sailors.
The word Kamikaze means “God or Divine Wind” and the word Fukuryu means “crouching dragons.” Young men believed there would be a special place in heaven for them, by volunteering and dying for their country. Even Japanese families who had only one son and were exempt from volunteering would often appeal the process. The pilots were part of the 205th air group that guided their planes loaded with bombs, explosive materials, torpedoes and full fuel tanks into Allied Naval ships.
Manned submarines or suicide crafts joined the special attack units and were called Kaiten which means “return to the sky.” Next to the Kamikaze pilots they were the second most successful suicide group. Using type 93 torpedoes, the pneumatic gyroscope was replaced by electronic controls for a pilot inside the torpedo. The original design had an escape hatch but was never used, so disbanded for a locking mechanism that once closed could never be re-opened. A self destruct feature would be used in case of failure to hit the target. Both the designers of the Kaiten, Lt. Hiroshi Kuroki and Lt. Sekio Nishina, lost their lives in Kaitens.