Appendices - Hirohito's War
E. Typhoons and Divine Winds: Kamikaze
The Cost and Effectiveness of the Kamikaze Campaign; Kamikaze attacks caused most of the losses suffered by the Americans in the last months of the war. Even more than the Long Lance torpedo, the kamikaze was perhaps the most feared weapon deployed by Japan against the US Navy. Kamikaze killed some 4,900 sailors and wounded a similar number. In total, kamikaze accounted for some forty-seven ships sunk although a further twenty-three more were damaged beyond repair. In total about 300 Allied ships suffered some form of damage. Given that the main kamikaze onslaught was planned for when American forces invaded Kyushu, it can be imagined what scale of devastation might have been caused to the Allied naval forces if the atom bomb had not been dropped.
Ships sunk included fourteen destroyers; as for aircraft carriers, the main targets of the kamikaze, only three relatively minor escort carriers were lost. But small ships could be devastated by a kamikaze attack. A crewman aboard USS Lipan recalled a Japanese plane that “slammed into the small LSM 59 (Landing ship, Medium) and hit it directly amidships. The resultant explosion blew the ship into the hereafter and there was not one recognizable part left floating and at least sixty sailors met their demise.”46 Perhaps the greatest damage the campaign did to the Allied forces was to create unique levels of anxiety and fear. Gerald Thomas, a pilot, recalled seeing “our ship’s gunners so jittery by the presence of kamikazes that they fired on our planes returning from strikes on the Japanese targets”.47 Other US sailors viewed the kamikaze with awe. ‘We watched each plunging kamikaze with the detached horror of one witnessing a terrible spectacle rather than as the intended victim,’ noted Vice-Admiral C.R. Brown. “We forgot self for the moment as we groped hopelessly for the thought of that other man up there.”48
Perhaps the biggest problem caused by the kamikaze was the physical and psychological exhaustion it caused officers and crewmen of the Third Fleet. By the end of October 1944, many of its crews and pilots had not been ashore for months. After three months of fighting, the condition of Halsey’s personnel was in decline. Carriers, the kamikaze’s main targets, were particularly badly affected. In late October, the USS Wasp’s air group was reported by the carrier’s surgeon to be down to its last thirty fit fliers out of a complement of 113. Continuing round the clock patrolling to keep out kamikaze inevitably took its toll. According to Lieutenant Solberg, Halsey was constantly pre-occupied by the kamikaze problem. He was heard to complain, “Damn it all, I know they’re tired and need a rest [pilots and crew]. So do all the carriers. I’d like to give it to them but I can’t – the morale of the fleet would be gone.”49
Halsey’s fleet would not get its rest until 5 December 1944 when MacArthur delayed his assault on Mindoro by ten days. It gave Halsey’s exhausted crews over a week of relaxation on Ulithi Atoll. The relief from daily fear led to an explosion of exuberance. The ensuing festivities became legendary for their copious consumption of alcohol. Halsey hosted parties with the same spirit and energy that he took into battle. A Signal Officer remembered taking messages from the battleship USS New Jersey demanding that a hospital ship “Send 20 nurses to flagship.”50 Halsey was always partial to female company though this does not seem to have been a problem for his wife to whom he reported his high jinks. Halsey was not the only admiral to express concern about the exhaustion of the crew. Admiral Mitscher after handing over Task Group-38 to Admiral McCain on 30 October, noted in his action report that during the previous three months the task force had flown 17,285 sorties. His report also commented on the condition of the crews: “Attention is invited to the fact that the ships of TF 58/38 have been under constant pressure in the tropics for over ten months. Probably ten thousand men have never put foot on shore during this period.”51
The price Japan paid for the physical and psychological damage to the American Fleet was 2,525 kamikaze crew from the Imperial Japanese Navy and 1,387 pilots and planes from the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force. Although the kamikaze were an offensive weapon that caused extensive damage and created unparalleled levels of anxiety within the US invasion forces, the bare statistics reveal that it was a strategy that failed. Nevertheless the organization of Special Attack Groups was not without logic. Between January 1944 and October 1944, when the Imperial Japanese Navy began to coordinate kamikaze attacks, they lost 5,200 pilots, some 42 per cent of all pilots in service at the start of the year. The scale of the losses was indicative of the degree to which America had established complete air superiority in the Pacific by 1944. Better airplanes, better armament, better radar and better trained pilots had enabled the Air Forces of both the US Army and Marine Corps to reach a point where Japanese pilots were facing wholesale annihilation in conventional combat. However kamikaze attacks were not conventional. At the Battle of Okinawa alone, the US Navy suffered over 4,900 dead from kamikaze attacks, its greatest losses in a single naval battle in its entire history. Thus the kamikaze may not have turned America back from the invasion of Japan, but they certainly performed better than the alternative.
There may have been unintended consequences of Japan’s kamikaze campaign. Combined with the suicidal banzai charges during Nimitz’s Central Pacific island hop campaign, and the coercion of the inhabitants of Saipan and Okinawa to mass suicide, the kamikaze attacks merely reinforced fears of among US planners about the human cost of the conquest of the Japanese mainland. They duly calculated the vast cost to human life for their own forces and that of the enemy with regard to the impending Operation OLYMPIC, the name given to the planned October 1945 invasion of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s main four home islands. American casualties were various calculated as being likely to be between 1m and 1.7m. Indeed the Japanese had stockpiled some 13,000 aircraft and trained their crews to defend Kyushu with kamikaze attacks. As a result the use of the atom bomb against Japan became ever more attractive.