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USS Bunker Hill was hit by Ogawa (see picture left) and another kamikaze near Kyūshū on May 11, 1945. Out of a crew of 2,600, 372 personnel were killed.

Kamikaze ] (Japanese: 神風; literally: "god-wind"; common translation: "divine wind") is a word of Japanese origin, which in English usually refers to the suicide attacks by military aviators from the Empire of Japan, against Allied shipping, in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II. It is considered related to the Bushido tradition.

These attacks, beginning in 1944, followed several very significant and critical military and strategic defeats for Japan, its decreasing capacity to wage war along with the loss of experienced pilots, and the increasing industrial capacity of the United States as well as Japan's reluctance to surrender at near the very end of Pacific War.

Kamikaze pilots would attempt to intentionally crash their aircraft (usually laden with explosives, bombs, torpedoes and full fuel tanks) into Allied ships with a goal of causing greater damage than a conventional attack such as dropping bombs, torpedoing or using machine guns. This is similar to the last desperate and largely hopeless military charge (the "banzai charge") historically used by the Imperial Japanese Army. Their objective was to stop or slow the Allied advance towards the Japanese home islands by causing as much damage and destruction as possible on the American fleet while committing suicide.

Kamikazes were the most common and best-known form of Japanese suicide attack during World War II. For instance the Imperial Japanese Navy used or made plans for various suicide attacks, including midget submarines, human torpedoes, speedboats (some of which were also commissioned by the army) and divers.

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Lt Yamaguchi’s Yokosuka D4Y3 (Type 33) Suisei diving at USS Essex, November 25, 1944. The air brakes are extended and the non-self-sealing port wing tank is trailing fuel vapor and/or smoke.

Definition and etymology

In the Japanese language, kamikaze (Japanese:かみかぜ神風), 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 actual word Kamikaze was never, or rarely, used in Japan in relation to suicide attacks. U.S. translators during the war erroneously used the kun'yomi (indigenous Japanese pronunciation) for Shinpū, giving the English language the word kamikaze, for Japanese suicide units in general. This usage gained acceptance worldwide. After the war, Japanese speakers re-imported the word and the English language pronunciation, under the influence of U.S. media sources. As a result, the special attack units are sometimes known in Japan as kamikaze tokubetsu kōgeki tai.
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Model 52c Zeroes are sent back from Korea to Kyūshū island, to take part in a Kamikaze attack (early 1945).

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.



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A kamikaze (just left of center near the top border), a Mitsubishi Zero in this case, about to hit the USS Missouri.
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 likely to 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, Allied forces, backed by the industrial might and rich resources of the United States, were advancing steadily 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 Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service (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 "". 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, the Japanese 333rd Air Group, led by Captain Eiichiro Jyo, set out in Zero fighters laden with 250 kg (550 lb) bombs, and attacked a US battleship task group. About a dozen Zeroes got through and two allegedly made suicide attacks, one of which hit the USS Indiana.[3]

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 B-29 Superfortress long-range bombers 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.[4]

Another source claims that the first kamikaze mission happened 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, USS 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 (or "Judy") dive bombers against a large Essex class aircraft carrier, USS 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 torpedo bombers, one Mitsubishi G4M and two Yokosuka P1Y 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

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Lt (Chui) Yukio Seki wearing a life preserver.

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 let me do that." 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." It also states that during his flight, his commanders heard him say "It is better to die, rather than to live as a coward." [8]

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 might read: "if someone asks about the spirit of Japan, it is the flowers of mountain cherry blossom that are fragrant in the rising sun"

Leyte Gulf: the first attacks

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The bridge and forward turrets of HMAS 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 large heavy cruiser HMAS Australia on October 21, 1944.[9] 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 Imperial Japanese Army Air Force aviator from the 6th Flying Brigade, in a Mitsubishi Ki-51 ("Sonia").[10] The attack took place near Leyte Island; gunners from HMAS Australia and HMAS 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. A 200 kg (440 pound) bomb carried by the plane failed to explode; if it had, the ship might have been effectively destroyed. 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.
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A Mitsubishi Zero (A6M5 Model 52) towards the end of its run at the escort carrier USS White Plains on October 25, 1944. The aircraft exploded in mid-air, moments after the picture was taken, scattering debris across the deck.

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Starboard horizontal stabilizer from the tail of a "Judy" on the deck of USS Kitkun Bay.

On October 24, the USS Sonoma, a 1,120 ton ocean tug became the first ship to be sunk by a kamikaze,[11] 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 USS Kitkun Bay but instead exploded on the port catwalk and cartwheeled into the sea. Two others dove at USS Fanshaw Bay but were destroyed by anti-aircraft fire. The last two ran at the USS White Plains, however one, 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.[12]

By day's end on October 26, 55 kamikaze from the special attack force had also damaged the large escort carriers USS Sangamon, USS Suwannee, USS Santee, and the smaller escorts USS White Plains, USS Kalinin Bay, and USS Kitkun Bay. In total seven carriers had been hit, as well as 40 other ships (five sunk, 23 heavily damaged, and 12 moderately damaged).

HMAS 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.[13] 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, USS Intrepid.

Main wave of attacks

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USS Columbia is attacked by a kamikaze off Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945.
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.

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The kamikaze hits Columbia at 17:29. The plane and its bomb penetrated two decks before exploding, killing 13 and wounding 44.
When Japan began to be subject to intense strategic bombing by B-29 bombers, the Japanese military attempted to use suicide attacks against this threat. During the northern hemisphere winter of 1944-45, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force 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, 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.

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. The unit, Niitaka used Zeroes and Yokosuka D4Ys, and was based at Takao Airfield. On January 29, 1945, seven Kawasaki Ki-48 "Lily" 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. 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 USS 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 propellor 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 propellor 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".[14] 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.

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Anti-aircraft shells burst in vain above USS Louisville, as it is hit by a kamikaze at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, January 1945.
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.

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 accurate than regular shells.

Final phase

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 U.S. warships[1] and at least three U.S. merchant ships[2], 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.[3]

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May 26, 1945. Corporal Yukio Araki, holding a puppy, with four other pilots of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron at Bansei, Kagoshima. Araki died the following day, at age 17, in a suicide attack on ships near Okinawa.
U.S. aircraft 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 HMS Formidable and was engaged by AA guns.[4] The kamikaze was hit at close range but crashed into the flight deck, making a massive dent about 10 feet (3 m) 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 Corsair and 10 Grumman 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 8, Formidable was again damaged by a kamikaze, as was the carrier HMS Victorious and the battleship HMS 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 Yokosuka D4Y Suisei "Judy" dive bombers 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 Operation August Storm. 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 tank 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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A crewman in an AA gun aboard the battleship USS New Jersey watches as a kamikaze plane prepares to strike USS Intrepid
By the end of World War II, the IJN had sacrificed 2,525 kamikaze pilots, and the IJA had lost 1,387.

The number of ships sunk is a matter of debate. According to a wartime Japanese propaganda announcement, the missions sank 81 ships and damaged 195, and according to a Japanese tally, suicide attacks accounted for up to 80 percent of the U.S. losses in the final phase of the war in the Pacific. In a 2004 book, World War II, the historians Wilmott, Cross & Messenger stated that more than 70 U.S. vessels were "sunk or damaged beyond repair" by kamikazes.

Official US sources put the toll much lower. According to a U.S. Air Force webpage:
Approximately 2,800 Kamikaze attackers sunk 34 Navy ships, damaged 368 others, killed 4,900 sailors, and wounded over 4,800. Despite radar detection and cuing, airborne interception and attrition, and massive anti-aircraft barrages, a distressing 14 percent of Kamikazes survived to score a hit on a ship; nearly 8.5 percent of all ships hit by Kamikazes sank.[15]

Australian journalists Denis and Peggy Warner, in a 1982 book with Japanese naval historian Seno Sadao (The Sacred Warriors: Japan’s Suicide Legions), arrived at a total of 57 ships sunk by kamikazes. However, Bill Gordon, a US Japanologist who specialises in kamikazes, states in a 2007 article that 49 ships were sunk by kamikaze aircraft.[16] Gordon says that the Warners and Sadao included eight ships that did not sink. His list consists of:


The establishment of kamikaze forces required recruiting men for the task — this proved easier than the commanders had expected. Qualifications were simple: “youth, alertness and zeal. Flight experience was of minimal importance and expertise in landing a luxury.” After all, these men were not really going to need to know how to land a plane if all they were meant to do was crash the plane into a carrier. Captain Motoharu Okamura commented that “there were so many volunteers for suicide missions that he referred to them as a swarm of bees, explaining: ‘Bees die after they have stung.’”[17]

When the volunteers arrived for duty in the corps there were twice as many persons as aircraft. “After the war, some commanders would express regret for allowing superfluous crews to accompany sorties, sometimes squeezing themselves aboard bombers and fighters so as to encourage the suicide pilots and, it seems, join in the exultation of sinking a large enemy vessel.” Many of the Kamikaze believed their death would pay the debt they owed and show the love they had for their families, friends, and emperor. “So eager were many minimally trained pilots to take part in suicide missions that when their sorties were delayed or aborted, the pilots became deeply despondent. Many of those who were selected for a bodycrashing mission were described as being extraordinarily blissful immediately before their final sortie.”[18]


When you eliminate all thoughts about life and death, you will be able to totally disregard your earthly life. This will also enable you to concentrate your attention on eradicating the enemy with unwavering determination, meanwhile reinforcing your excellence in flight skills.''
(A paragraph from a kamikaze pilots' manual.)

Tokkōtai pilot training, as described by Kasuga Takeo, generally "consisted of incredibly strenuous training, coupled with cruel and torturous corporal punishment as a daily routine." Irokawa Daikichi, who trained at Tsuchiura Naval Air Base, recalled that he "was struck on the face so hard and frequently that [his] face was no longer recognizable." He also wrote: "I was hit so hard that I could no longer see and fell on the floor.

The minute I got up, I was hit again by a club so that I would confess." This brutal "training" was justified by the idea that it would instill a "soldier's fighting spirit." However, daily beatings and corporal punishment would eliminate patriotism among many pilots.

Pilots were given a manual which detailed how they were supposed to think, prepare, and attack. From this manual, pilots were told to "attain a high level of spiritual training," and to "keep [their] health in the very best condition." These things, among others, were meant to put the pilot into the mindset in which he would be mentally ready to die.

The tokkōtai pilot's manual also explained how a pilot may turn back if the pilot could not a locate a target and that "[a pilot] should not waste [his] life lightly." However, one pilot who continuously came back to base was shot after his ninth return.

The manual was very detailed in how a pilot should attack. A pilot would dive towards his target and would "aim for a point between the bridge tower and the smoke stacks." Entering a smoke stack was also said to be "effective." Pilots were told not to aim at a ship's bridge tower or gun turret but instead to look for elevators or the flight deck to crash into. For horizontal attacks, the pilot was to "aim at the middle of the vessel, slightly higher than the waterline" or to "aim at the entrance to the aircraft hangar, or the bottom of the stack" if the former was too difficult.

The tokkōtai pilot's manual told pilots to never close their eyes. This was because if a pilot closed his eyes he would lower the chances of hitting his target. In the final moments before the crash, the pilot was to yell "Hissatsu" at the top of his lungs which roughly translates to "Sink without fail."[19] [20]
We tried to live with 120 percent intensity, rather than waiting for death. We read and read, trying to understand why we had to die in our early twenties. We felt the clock ticking away towards our death, every sound of the clock shortening our lives.
Irokawa Daikichi, Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers |

Cultural background

The Japanese were heavily influenced by Shinto beliefs. Shinto involved the worship of kami, or spirits, and its exact origins are unknown. When it was adopted by the entire Japanese nation as the state religion during the Meiji Restoration, emperor worship was stressed. “As time went on, Shinto was increasingly used in the advertising of nationalists' popular sentiments. In 1890, the ‘Imperial Rescript on Education’ was passed, and students were required to ritually recite its oath to ‘offer yourselves courageously to the State’ as well as protect the Imperial family.” (Referenced Wikipedia article on Shinto). The ultimate offering was to give up one’s life. It was an honor to die for one’s country – to die for one’s emperor. Axell and Kase pointed out: "The fact is that innumerable soldiers, sailors and pilots were determined to die, to become eirei, that is ‘guardian spirits’ of the country. … Many Japanese felt that to be enshrined at Yasukuni was a special honour because the Emperor twice a year visited the shrine to pay homage. Yasukuni is the only shrine, deifying common men, which the Emperor would visit to pay his respects."[21]

From the earliest age these ideals were implanted in the minds of Japanese youth. To aid with recruiting and support for the Kamikaze, newspapers and books ran advertisements, articles, and stories regarding the suicide bombers. In October 1944 the Nippon Times quoted Lieutenant Sekio Nishina: “The spirit of the Special Attack Corps is the great spirit that runs in the blood of every Japanese…. The crashing action which simultaneously kills the enemy and oneself without fail is called the Special Attack…. Every Japanese is capable of becoming a member of the Special Attack Corps.”[22] Publishers also played up the idea that the Kamikaze were enshrined at Yasukuni and ran exaggerated stories of Kamikaze bravery – there were even fairytales for little children that promoted the Kamikaze. A Foreign Office official named Toshikazu Kase said: “It was customary for GHQ [in Tokyo] to make false announcements of victory in utter disregard of facts, and for the elated and complacent public to believe them.”[23]

While many stories were falsified, some were true, such as the story of Kiyu Ishikawa who saved a Japanese ship when he crashed his plane into a torpedo that an American submarine had launched. The sergeant major was post-humously promoted to second lieutenant by the emperor and was enshrined at Yasukuni.[24] Stories like these, which showed the kind of praise and honor death produced, encouraged young Japanese to volunteer for the Special Attack Corps and instilled a desire in the youth for the death of a Kamikaze.

Ceremonies were carried out before kamikaze pilots departed on their final mission. They were given the flag of Japan or the rising sun flag (Japanese naval ensign), enscribed with inspirational and spiritual words, Nambu pistol or katana and drank sake before they took off generally. They put on a headband with the rising sun, and a senninbari, a "belt of a thousand stitches" sown by a thousand women who made one stitch each.[25] They also composed and read a death poem, a tradition stemming from the samurai, who did it before committing seppuku. Pilots carried prayers from their families and were given military decorations.

While commonly perceived that volunteers signed up in droves for Kamikaze missions, it has also been contended that there was extensive coercion and peer pressure involved in recruiting soldiers for the sacrifice. Their motivations in "volunteering" were complex and not simply about patriotism or bringing honour to their families. And at least one of these pilots was a conscripted Korean with a Japanese name, adopted under the pre-war Soshi-kaimei ordinance that compelled Koreans to take Japanese personal names.[26] Out of the 1,036 IJA kamikaze pilots who died in sorties from Chiran and other Japanese air bases, during the Battle of Okinawa, 11 were Koreans.[27] [28]

According to legend, young pilots on kamikaze missions often flew southwest from Japan over the 922 metre (3,025 ft) Mount Kaimon. The mountain is also called "Satsuma Fuji" (meaning a mountain like Mount Fuji but located in the Satsuma Province region). Suicide mission pilots looked over their shoulders to see this, the most southern mountain on the Japanese mainland, while they were in the air, said farewell to their country, and saluted the mountain.
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Chiran high school girls wave farewell with cherry blossom branches to departing kamikaze pilot in a Ki-43-II Hayabusa.
Residents on Kikaijima island, east of Amami Ōshima, say that pilots from suicide mission units dropped flowers from the air as they departed on their final missions. According to legend, the hills above Kikaijima airport have beds of cornflower that bloom in early May.[29]

With the passing of time, some prominent Japanese military figures who survived the war became critical of the policy. Saburo Sakai, an IJN ace said:

"A kamikaze is a surprise attack, according to our ancient war tactics. Surprise attacks will be successful the first time, maybe two or three times. But what fool would continue the same attacks for ten months? Emperor Hirohito must have realized it. He should have said 'Stop.'

"Even now, many faces of my students come up when I close my eyes. So many students are gone. Why did headquarters continue such silly attacks for ten months! Fools! Genda, who went to America — all those men lied that all men volunteered for kamikaze units. They lied."

In 2006, Watanabe Tsuneo, Editor-in-Chief of the Yomiuri Shimbun, criticized Japanese nationalists' glorification of kamikaze attacks:[30] [31]

"It's all a lie that they left filled with braveness and joy, crying, 'Long live the emperor!' They were sheep at a slaughterhouse. Everybody was looking down and tottering. Some were unable to stand up and were carried and pushed into the plane by maintenance soldiers."


I cannot predict the outcome of the air battles but you will be making a mistake if you should regard Special Attack operations as normal methods. 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. Otherwise you cannot expect to improve air power. There will be no progress if flyers continue to die. (Lieutenant Commander Iwatani, in Taiyo (Ocean) magazine, March 1945.)[32]
Zwei Seelen wohnen ach in mein[em] Herz!! (Ah, two souls [tamashi’i] reside in my heart [kokoro]!!) After all I am just a human being. Sometimes my chest pounds with excitement when I think of the day I will fly into the sky. I trained my mind and body as hard as I could and am anxious for the day I can use them to their full capacity in fighting. I think my life and death belong to the mission. Yet, at other times, I envy those science majors who remain at home [exempt from the draft]. … One of my souls looks to heaven, while the other is attracted to the earth. I wish to enter the Navy as soon as possible so that I can devote myself to the task. I hope that the days when I am tormented by stupid thoughts will pass quickly. (Sasaki Hachiro)[33]
I cannot praise Japan any longer. The war is not to protect the country but the inevitable result of the way Japan has developed into a nation. … I feel that I have to accept the fate of my generation to fight in the war and die. I call it ‘fate,’ since we have to go to the battlefield to die without being able to express our opinions, criticize and argue pros and cons of issues, and behave with principles, that is after being deprived of my own agency…. To die in the war, to die at the demand of the nation – I have no intention whatsoever to praise it; it is a great tragedy (Hayashi Tadao, October 12, 1941).[34]
It is easy to talk about death in the abstract, as the ancient philosophers discussed. But it is real death I fear, and I don’t know if I can overcome the fear. Even for a short life, there are many memories. For someone who had a good life, it is very difficult to part with it. But I reached a point of no return. I must plunge into an enemy vessel. To be honest, I cannot say that the wish to die for the emperor is genuine, coming from my heart. However, it is decided for me that I die for the emperor. (Hayashi Ichizo)[35]

Other people involved in the development of kamikaze tactics

Enlarge picture
A statue representing a kamikaze pilot, at the Yasukuni shrine.
Enlarge picture
The USS Hinsdale showing kamikaze damage inflicted on 1 April 1945.
  • Captain Motoharu Okamura, commander of the Tateyama Airfield, near Tokyo and the 341st Air Group, may have first proposed these tactics in June 15, 1944, during the first naval battle at the Philippines.
  • Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome, Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the 2nd Air Fleet, also showed early interest in the kamikaze tactic.
  • Vice Admiral Seishi Ito, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff in 1944, was also another supporter of the operations.
  • Captain Eiichiro Jyo, commander of the carrier Chiyoda during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. He proposed this style of attack to the Japanese Mobile Fleet Command.
  • Vice Admiral Tokusaburo Ozawa, C-in-C 3rd Fleet, supported the idea.
  • Rear Admiral Sueo Obayashi, Commander of Carrier Division Three, also supported the tactic.
  • Admiral Soemu Toyoda, the C-in-C of the Imperial Combined Fleet, at first was opposed to the kamikaze tactic, but later promoted the organisation of units for these operations.
  • Vice Admiral Kimpei Teraoka, commander of the 1st Air Fleet before Onishi, was also aware of planning for kamikaze operations.
  • Captain Rikihei Inogushi staff officer of the 1st Air Fleet.
  • Captain Sakae Yamamoto, Commander of the 201st Air Group, at Mabalacat airfield, in the Philippines, was charged with preparing the Special Unit.
  • Lieutenant Naoshi Kanno, an air ace, was assigned to choose possible replacements for Seki.
  • Captain Tadashi Nakajima, commander of the 201st Air Group was a recruiter and trainer of kamikaze pilots.

See also


1. ^ Kamikaze: Japan’s Suicide Gods, pp. 34, 40-41
2. ^ Kamikaze: Japan’s Suicide Gods, 44 A monument at the site of Iida’s crash reads: 'JAPANESE AIRCRAFT IMPACT SITE. PILOT-LIEUTENANT IIDA, COMMANDER, THIRD AIR CONTROL GROUP, DEC. 7 1941.’”
3. ^ Fighting Elites: Kamikaze: 9, 12
4. ^ Kamikaze: Japan’s Suicide Gods, 40,41
5. ^ John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House, 1970, p. 568
6. ^ ww2pacific.com, 2004, "World War II in the Pacific: Japanese Suicide Attacks at Sea." Access date: August 1, 2007.
7. ^ Bill Gordon, 2005, "[Review of] No Surrender: German and Japanese Kamikazes" Access date: August 1, 2007
8. ^ (Albert Axell & Hideaki Kase, 2002. Kamikaze: Japan's Suicide Gods. London: Pearson Education, p.16.
9. ^ ww2australia.gov.au, 2006, "kamikaze". Access date: September 16, 2007.
10. ^ Richard L. Dunn, 2002-05, "First Kamikaze? Attack on HMAS Australia — October 21st, 1944" (j-aircraft.com). Access date: June 20, 2007. If the pilot was from the 6th Flying Brigade, it was probably either Lieutenant Morita or Sergeant Itano, flying out of San Jose, Mindoro.
11. ^ Bill Gordon, 2007, "49 Ships Sunk by Kamikaze Aircraft" Access date: September 15, 2007.
12. ^ John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House, 1970, p. 567
13. ^ ww2australia.gov.au, 2006, "kamikaze". Access date: September 16, 2007.
14. ^ Bill Coombes, 1995, "Divine Wind The Japanese secret weapon - kamikaze suicide attacks"
15. ^ [https://www.airforcehistory.hq.af.mil/EARS/Hallionpapers/precisionweaponspower.htm Dr Richard P. Hallion, 1999, "Precision Weapons, Power Projection, and The Revolution In Military Affairs"] (USAF Historical Studies Office). Access date: September 15, 2007.
16. ^ Bill Gordon, 2007, "49 Ships Sunk by Kamikaze Aircraft" Access date: September 15, 2007.
17. ^ Kamikaze: Japan’s suicide gods, 35
18. ^ Kamikaze: Japan’s suicide gods, 40
19. ^ [5] accessed April 20, 2007
20. ^ [6] accessed April 20, 2007
21. ^ Axell, 35
22. ^ Axell, 36
23. ^ Axell, 38, 41, 43
24. ^ Axell, 41
25. ^ Hobbes, Nicholas (2003). Essential Militaria. Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1843542292. 
26. ^ [7]
27. ^ In a 2001 Japanese movie, Hotaru ("Firefly") directed by Yasuo Furuhata, one character named "Kanayama", is a Korean kamikaze pilot. Although several characters in Hotaru are based on historical figures, many differences exist between the two. Kanayama is a composite of two actual kamikaze pilots, Second Lieutenant Fumihiro Mitsuyama and Sergeant Saburo Miyakawa (Bill Gordon, 2007, "Hotaru (Firefly)" (Review). Access date: 15 September 2007.
28. ^ Akabane and Ishii 2001, 130-9; Asahi Shimbun Seibu Honsha 1990, 15-6
29. ^ Jiro Kosaka, 1995, Kyō ware Ikiteari
30. ^ New York Times, "THE SATURDAY PROFILE; Shadow Shogun Steps Into Light, to Change Japan.” Published: February 11, 2006. [8] accessed February 15, 2007
31. ^ International Herald Tribune, "Publisher dismayed by Japanese nationalism.” Published: February 10, 2006. [9] accessed March 11, 2007
32. ^ Kamikaze: Japan’s suicide gods, 41
33. ^ Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney65-66
34. ^ Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers, p. 79
35. ^ Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers'', p. 163


  • Axell, Albert; Hideaki Kase (2002). Kamikaze: Japan's Suicide Gods. New York: Longman. ISBN 0-582-77232-X. 
  • Axell, Albert and Hideaki Kase. Kamikaze: Japan’s suicide gods. Great Britain: Pearson Education Ltd., 2002.
  • Brown, David. Fighting Elites: Kamikaze. New York: Gallery Books, 1990.
  • Hoyt, Edwin P. (1993). The Last Kamikaze. Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-275-94067-5. 
  • Mahon, John K. The Pacific Historical Review. Vol. 28, No. 2., May, 1959.
  • Millot, Bernard (1971). DIVINE THUNDER: The life and death of the Kamikazes. Macdonald. ISBN 0-356-03856-4. 
  • Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2006.
  • Sheftall, M.G. (2005). Blossoms in the Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze. NAL Caliber, 480pp. ISBN 0-451-21487-0. 
  • Ugaki, Matome; Masataka Chihaya (Translator) (1991). Fading Victory: The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1941-1945. University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0-8229-3665-8. 
  • Warner, Denis & Peggy; Sadao Seno (1984; first published 1982). The Sacred Warriors: Japan’s Suicide Legions. Avon Books (previously Van Nostrand Reinhold), 400pp. ISBN 0-380-67678-8. 
  • Wilmott, H.P; Robin Cross & Charles Messenger (2004). World War II. Dorling Kindersley. ISBN. 

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