K is for… Kamikaze Pilots

Disclaimer: this blog is a heavy read due to the topic and may cause some readers distress.

Kamikaze attacks were a Japanese suicide bombing tactic designed to destroy enemy warships. Japanese pilots deliberately crashed their planes directly into enemy warships, which resulted in suicide.[1] A desperate policy, more than 3,000 Japanese pilots were killed in these attacks.[2] Kamikaze strikes against Allied warships were carried out throughout the Second World War, causing more than 7,000 casualties among the Allied service personnel.[3]

Smoke pouring from an aircraft carrier of the British Pacific Fleet after one of the attacks by Japanese suicide plane. In a few hours the fire was under control and the carrier was fully operational.

Initially the decision to employ the tactic was based on the failure of standard naval and aerial battle to stop an American offensive.[4] The Japanese naval Captain Motoharu Okamura stated that “I firmly believe that the only way to swing the war in our favour is to resort to crash-dive attacks with our planes… There will be more than enough volunteers for this chance to save our country,” and he was right.[5] 24 pilots volunteered for the first Kamikaze attacks, which took place on 25 October 1944 as part of the savage Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history.[6]

The tactic grew across the war years, for example being deployed during the three-month long battle for the island of Okinawa against American troops.[7] A desperate strategy employed by the Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo, the idea was to defeat the next phase of the American advance in the Pacific, albeit at the expense of thousands of their own pilots.[8]

A Japanese Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane attempting to crash into the deck of the American battleship USS MISSOURI off Okinawa in April 1945. The pilot was unsuccessful hitting only the battleship’s hull.

The plan for the Kamikaze attacks during the battle of Okinawa was to sink so many American ships that the American fleet would withdraw, therefore abandoning their troops on land who could then be overpowered by the large Japanese garrison.[9] While the attacks overall failed to achieve what was intended, the raids did sink 36 American ships, damaged a further 368, and caused 10,000 casualties to the Allied troops.[10] Sadly, more than 2,000 Japanese pilots died in these attacks from 1 April to 22 June 1945.[11]

For the Allies, the willingness of the Japanese pilots to carry out suicide attacks was shocking. However, in Japanese culture, to surrender to the enemy was seen as dishonourable, and that to fall in battle would mean they would become kami, or gods, and “join the nation’s spirits at the Shinto shrine of Yasukuni in Tokyo.”[12] Sadly, thousands of young Japanese men lost their lives for a tactic employed by their own people, which in the end, had little baring on the outcome of the war.


[1] National Geographic, “Oct 25 1944 CE: First Kamikaze Strikes,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/thisday/oct25/first-kamikaze-strikes/

[2] National Geographic, “Oct 25 1944 CE: First Kamikaze Strikes,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/thisday/oct25/first-kamikaze-strikes/

[3] National Geographic, “Oct 25 1944 CE: First Kamikaze Strikes,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/thisday/oct25/first-kamikaze-strikes/

[4] History, “First kamikaze attack of the war begins,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-kamikaze-attack-of-the-war-begins

[5] History, “First kamikaze attack of the war begins,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-kamikaze-attack-of-the-war-begins

[6] National Geographic, “Oct 25 1944 CE: First Kamikaze Strikes,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/thisday/oct25/first-kamikaze-strikes/ and History, “First kamikaze attack of the war begins,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-kamikaze-attack-of-the-war-begins

[7] The National WWII Museum, “The Divine Wind: Japan’s Kamikaze Pilots of World War II by Author Saul David, PhD,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/japans-kamikaze-pilots-wwii

[8] The National WWII Museum, “The Divine Wind: Japan’s Kamikaze Pilots of World War II by Author Saul David, PhD,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/japans-kamikaze-pilots-wwii

[9] The National WWII Museum, “The Divine Wind: Japan’s Kamikaze Pilots of World War II by Author Saul David, PhD,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/japans-kamikaze-pilots-wwii

[10] The National WWII Museum, “The Divine Wind: Japan’s Kamikaze Pilots of World War II by Author Saul David, PhD,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/japans-kamikaze-pilots-wwii

[11] The National WWII Museum, “The Divine Wind: Japan’s Kamikaze Pilots of World War II by Author Saul David, PhD,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/japans-kamikaze-pilots-wwii

[12] The National WWII Museum, “The Divine Wind: Japan’s Kamikaze Pilots of World War II by Author Saul David, PhD,” last accessed 1 August 2021, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/japans-kamikaze-pilots-wwii

[Image 1] IWM, “Japanese suicide planes attack Pacific fleet carriers. 1945, during the operations against the Sakashima Islands fleet carriers bore the brunt of the attack by the Japanese Kamikaze Corps, five of the suicide pilots succeeded in hitting British carriers,” A 29718, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160928

[Image 2] IWM, “Kamikaze,” NYF 70679, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211520


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