Suicide pilots, Kamikaze


Suicide pilots, Kamikaze.

The Kamikaze divine” or “spirit wind”), officially Tokubetsu Kōgekitai  “Special Attack Unit” abbreviated as Tokkō Tai, and used as a verb as Tokkō “special attack, were suicide attacks by military aviators from the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, designed to destroy warships more effectively than was possible with conventional attacks. During World War II, about 3.860 kamikaze pilots were killed, and about 19% of kamikaze attacks managed to hit a ship.  

Kamikaze aircraft were essentially pilot-guided explosive missiles, purpose-built or converted from conventional aircraft. Pilots would attempt to crash their aircraft into enemy ships in what was called a “body attack” in planes laden with some combination of explosives, bombs, torpedoes and full fuel tanks; accuracy was much better than a conventional attack, the payload and explosion larger. A kamikaze could sustain damage which would disable a conventional attacker and still achieve its objective. The goal of crippling or destroying large numbers of Allied ships, particularly aircraft carriers, was considered to be a just reason for sacrificing pilots and aircraft.

These attacks, which began in October 1944, followed several critical military defeats for the Japanese. They had long since lost aerial dominance due to outdated aircraft and the loss of experienced pilots. On a macroeconomic scale, Japan suffered from a diminishing capacity for war, and a rapidly declining industrial capacity relative to the United States. Despite these problems, the Japanese government expressed its reluctance to surrender. In combination, these factors led to the use of kamikaze tactics as Allied forces advanced towards the Japanese home islands.

USS Bunker Hill was hit by kamikazes piloted by Ensign Kiyoshi Ogawa  (photo above) and Lieutenant Junior Grade Seizō Yasunori  on 11 May 1945. 389 personnel were killed or missing and 264 wounded from a crew of 2.600.

While the term “kamikaze” usually refers to the aerial strikes, it has also been applied to various other suicide attacks. The Japanese military also used or made plans for non-aerial Japanese Special Attack Units, including those involving submarines, human torpedoes, speedboats and divers.

The tradition of death instead of defeat, capture, and perceived shame was deeply entrenched in Japanese military culture. It was one of the primary traditions in the samurai life and the Bushido code: loyalty and honour until death. The Japanese Kamikaze tactic was suggested on October 19, 1944, by Vice-Admiral Onishi  in an attempt to balance the technological advantage of invading American forces. Though the numbers are disputed, approximately 2.800 kamikaze pilots  died. They sunk 34 U.S. ships, damaged 368, killed 4.900 sailors, and wounded 4.800.



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