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World War II Names Still In Our Vocabulary - Part Six - The Kamikaze

Aug 17, 2007
In the closing months of World War II, the term "kamikaze" was anything but funny. Broadly defined, it represented the will of the samurai warrior to give up his life for his country and Emperor in waging an attack against the enemy of his country.

The term "kamikaze" is of Japanese origin and literally means "divine wind." It came into being as the name of legendary typhoons said to have saved Japan from Mongol invasion fleets in 1274 and 1281. In Japanese, the formal term used for units carrying out these suicide attacks during World War II is tokubetsu kogeki tai which literally means "special attack unit."

Beginning in 1944, kamikaze attacks began after several very significant and critical military and strategic defeats for Japan. It became very clear that Japan was finished off as a power in war on the sea and especially naval air warfare. Japan's only option was to "save face." The only way Japan could do this was to make the war so costly for the Americans that there might be a negotiated peace in which the Emperor would remain as the spiritual leader of Japan. After Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March, the term General MacArthur and the USA used was "unconditional surrender." There was no turning back.

In line with these kamikaze attacks, Japanese pilots would deliberately attempt to crash their aircraft into naval vessels and other ships. Kamikazes were the most common and best-known form of Japanese suicide attack during World War II. However, the Imperial Japanese Navy also used or made plans for other suicide attacks, including midget submarines, human torpedoes, speedboats and divers.

The kamikaze thus began its deadly tour of duty when American forces invaded the Philipines. Captain Masafumi Arima personally led an attack on October 15, 1944 by about 100 dive bombers against the USS Franklin near Leyte Gulf. The Japanese high command seized on Arima's example. He was promoted posthumously to Admiral, and was given official credit for making the first kamikaze attack. Official accounts of his attack bore little resemblance to the events concerned.

According to eyewitness accounts, the first kamikaze attack to hit an Allied ship was carried out by an unknown pilot against the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy, HMAS Australia. The attack took place on October 21, 1944, near Leyte Island.

On October 25, 1944 the Australia was hit again and was forced to retire to the New Hebrides for repairs. That same day, the Kamikaze Special Attack Force attacked several US Navy escort carriers. One Zero under heavy fire and trailing smoke, aborted the attempt on the White Plains and instead banked toward the 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 October 26, 55 kamikaze from the special attack force had also damaged six more large escort carriers. 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.

The Japanese built special purpose kamikaze planes that had no landing gear at all. They were 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 recovered and re-used on other planes.

Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka rocket-bombs were essentially anti-ship missiles guided by pilots. They were first used in March 1945, also against B-29 formations over Japanese cities. They were derisively known as the Baka Bomb ("baka" is Japanese for "fool"). Small boats packed with explosives, and manned torpedoes, called Kaiten were also manufactured.

To counter the kamikaze threat, the Navy hurriedly began to cross-train their carrier pilots on the F6F Hellcat and brought Marine F4U Corsair squadrons aboard aircraft carriers. Naval air units made intensive fighter sweeps over Japanese airfields.

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"). 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 US warships and at least three US 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 destroyed were destroyers or smaller vessels, especially those on picket duty.

The Japanese resistance at Okinawa included a one-way mission by the battleship Yamato, This failed to get anywhere near the action, after being set upon by Allied planes, several hundred miles away.

As the end of the war approached, the Allies did not suffer significantly more damage, despite having far more ships than was previously the case and being attacked in far greater density.

By the end of World War II, the Japanese naval air service had sacrificed 2,525 kamikaze pilots and the army air force had given 1,387. According to an official Japanese announcement, the missions sank 81 ships and damaged 195, and according to a Japanese tally, suicide attacks accounted for up to 80 percent of US losses in the final phase of the war in the Pacific.


And so, World War II indeed came to an end. It started with the Germans invading Poland in 1939. It ended on the deck of the USS Missouri in 1945. The Japanese were the sole combatants left of the Axis Powers after Germany surrendered in May 1945. There was no more need for Japan to "save face." The entry of nuclear weapons into the war took care of that. All Japan wanted now was that the Emperor Hirohito would remain as the spiritual leader of Japan. There would be no more nuclear bombs, no more surprise attacks, and no more kamikaze attacks.

In the sixty-five years after the Japanese signed the documents of world peace, we've come a long way. Japan and Germany are not only our most trusted friends, but are two of the wealthiest nations on our planet. Emperor Hirohito who once boasted he would ride into Washington on a white horse visited Washington in the 1970s as a friend and ally. The Japanese imperial dynasty remains to this day.

The Last Kamikaze

The philosopher George Santayana published this now famous quote:

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

An entire generation of Americans and Japanese had been born and was now approaching the age of retirement since the Japanese surrender documents were signed aboard the Missouri in September 1945, ending World War II. The kamikaze had come to an end. Or so we thought.

It took 56 years for a terrorist group to reprise the kamikaze. This group known as Al Queida did not belong to any peace loving country. Their targets were not ships. They were office buildings. Their planes were not Mitsubishi Zeroes or class "Judy" dive bombers. They were commercial jetliners. Their victims were not sailors. They were office workers, just like you and me

The "day of infamy" was for real this time. In 1941, the Japanese Navy did not realize they were flying across the international date line in launching the Pearl Harbor attack one day earlier than planned. On September 11, 2001, there was no such mistake.

The kamikaze was reborn after sleeping for 56 years. The former adversaries of World War II wept openly over this tragedy.

Lest we forget. We can only hope and pray that the suicide weapons the Japanese developed and never used are forever buried. This is now 2007, and we must now pay careful attention to what is in Mr. Santayana's quote.
About the Author
Bob Carper is a veteran consultant in information systems He holds a a MBA from Pitt. For additional information go to
http://www.secure-webconference.citymax.com. His blogsite is http://www.html-secrets.net/blog. You may also contact him at robertcarper06@comcast,net
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