Appendices - Hirohito's War
E. Typhoons and Divine Winds: Kamikaze
Kamikaze: Individual Beginnings: Admiral Halsey confided that the Japan’s suicide pilots were the only weapon that he really feared. Kamikaze (literally ‘God Wind’ or normally translated as ‘Divine Wind’) was named after the storms that wrecked the Mongol fleet during its attempt to invade Japan in the thirteenth century. Such was the effect of the kamikaze attacks on the US Navy, that crewmen and pilots, returning to the United States, were instructed to be highly circumspect about what they revealed about the scale of devastation caused by suicide attacks. Kamikaze strikes on the Allied fleets were not simply the occasional sacrifices of a few fanatical pilots. The development of the kamikaze units became a conscious and coherent plan by the Japanese armed forces to turn the tide of the war.
Ad hoc pilot suicides had occurred from the earliest stages of the Pacific War. Even at Pearl Harbor, First-Lieutenant Fusata Iida, who had declared to his colleagues that he would deliberately crash his plane if it became seriously damaged, was believed to have piloted his aircraft into the Kaneohe Naval Air Station after taking a hit. On various occasions, when faced with almost certain death, various US pilots acted similarly. As part of their training exercises, Japanese pilots did ‘suicide dives’ as part of their normal routine. After the war a pilot explained: “It was taken for granted that any pilot with a disabled plane would die in the samurai tradition… He would dive into an enemy ship or plane, taking as many of his adversaries with him as possible.”3 But, suicide attacks appeared to increase as the war turned decisively against Japan.
It soon became clear that Kamikaze attacks were devastating. On 21 October, a Japanese bomber crashed into the upper deck of the HMAS Australia, a heavy cruiser: “I thought we’d been hit by… a bomb or something, I didn’t know what it was at the time…” recalled seaman Reg Walker. “…it crashed …onto the bridge or the compass platform, and down past B turret, and onto the deck, and the foredeck, and then went over the side.”4 Captain Emile Dechaineux “had this hole in his stomach, and he was burnt a little, his lips were rather swollen.”5 Although he was removed to the ship’s medical center, Dechaineux subsequently died. The Australian force commander, Commodore John Collins, was killed outright. Twenty-nine other crewmembers, including many of HMAS Australia’s officers were also killed while sixty-four were wounded. Three days later, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, a Mitsubishi G4M crashed into the USS Sonoma and sank it.