Appendices - Hirohito's War
E. Typhoons and Divine Winds: Kamikaze
Recruitment, Motivation and Training: For Japan’s political leaders, the kamikaze offered a weapon that seemingly gave them a way out of seemingly total annihilation. It was a straw to be grasped at. On 21 January 1945 Prime Minister Koiso admitted that “the military developments in the Pacific theater are in a state which does not necessarily admit of optimism” but he nevertheless grasped at hopes provided by the kamikaze:
the greatly extended supply lines of the enemy on all fronts are exposed to our attacks and in this fact, I believe, is to be found our golden opportunity to grasp victory. Now indeed is the time for us, the one hundred million, to give vent to our flaming ardor, and following in the footsteps of the valiant men of the ‘Special Attack Corps’, demonstrate even more spirit of sure victory in the field of production.16
The idea of the kamikaze was imbued with the idea that the ‘spirit of Japan’ (Yamato Damashii) could overcome all obstacles, particular Japan’s material deficiencies vis-à-vis the United States.
Captain Motoharu Okamura described the number of recruits who voluntarily came forward as being like a ‘swarm of bees’; he explained that ‘Bees die after they have stung.”17 The training of the kamikaze volunteers was often brutal. One volunteer pilot, Kasuga Takeo, described “torturous corporal punishment as a daily routine.”18 By thus dehumanizing the kamikaze volunteers, the trainers no doubt wished to make it easier to get their charges into the cockpit.
By the time that their missions were due, many were reconciled to their fate. Miss Mie Yuhashi, a young canteen worker at a base in Kyushu, wrote to the parents of Lieutenant Shunsaku Tsuji, “I wish to tell you that all the Special Attack pilots I have met are pure-hearted and jovial… I have yet to encounter any of them who walk with an air of gloom.”19 As for Lieutenant Tsuji, Mie Yuhashi reported that he came to visit her and her mother to partake of a last meal of udon (Japanese noodles). He ate three helpings.
Then Shunsaku said to me in a serious voice: “I have a favor to ask of you. After my death is confirmed, would you inform my family that I departed on my last mission full of joy after I feasted on udon? My last thoughts go to my parents. They would be consoled by knowing how I had departed.” I promised Shunsaku I would do so and he gave me a broad smile while shedding some tears.20
Lieutenant Tsuji perished on 17 May at 7.35 p.m. after crashing into an American ship. He had ordered his uniform and sword to be sent to his parents.
In one recorded incident, a mother and fiancée performed seppuku (ritual suicide with dagger) in the presence of their son and fiancée, Second Lieutenant Teruo Iwasa, before he set off on his mission. Other reports from Jinxian in northern China, describe how, on another mission, at the end of the war, Lieutenant Tetsuo Tanifuji’s wife squeezed into her husband’s cockpit on a mission to crash dive into advancing Russian tanks. On the same mission Sumiko, the fiancée of Second Lieutenant Iwao Okura, sat in his lap. Even well-known public figures became kamikaze pilots. Twenty-two year old Ensign Shinichi Ishimaru, a pitcher for Nagoya’s baseball team (now the Nagoya Dragons), died in a kamikaze attack at the Battle of Okinawa. His friend, Oiichi Honda, a first baseman for Hosei University, died as a kamikaze three days later.
For many the ideological training in Shinto nationalism with emphasis on Emperor worship may have been enough for the kamikaze volunteers to complete their missions, but others were clearly less persuadable. It was one thing to volunteer suicide in a moment of patriotic fervor but in the cold light of day it was another thing for large numbers of men to actually kill themselves. Many pilots were equivocal about their fate. Sasaki Hachiro wrote, “One of my souls looks to heaven, while the other is attracted to the earth.”21 Even more skeptically, kamikaze pilot Hayashi Ichizo wrote that
It is easy to talk about death in the abstract… 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… However, it is decided for me that I die for the Emperor.22
Reportedly some kamikaze pilots before take-off “were unable to stand up and were carried and pushed into the plane by maintenance soldiers.”23 Elaborate group ceremonies, involving the reading of death poems, prayers and ritual drinking of sake, were also designed to encourage a strong group psychology towards individual self-destruction. The fostering of loyalty to the group was designed to enable the kamikaze to complete their mission. One Ensign, Yasunori Aoki, who survived his kamikaze attack because his plane hit the water and did not explode, later admitted that he had volunteered to join a Special Attack Force because he felt it would be cowardly not to commit suicide and because he was likely to die in the war anyway. Not all pilots were fanatics who blindly supported Japan’s government. Lieutenant Ryoji Uehara wrote before going on his suicide mission: “Tomorrow, one who believes in democracy will leave this world,” he wrote. “He may look lonely but his heart is filled with satisfaction. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany have been defeated. Authoritarianism is like building a house with broken stones.”24 Whether he flew his kamikaze mission for reasons of peer pressure, family honor or of love of country is unknown.
Some selected for kamikaze missions survived. Second-Lieutenant Ryozo Ban recalls being selected for a Special Attack Unit. Taken by surprise he “thought: this is my death sentence. It is an order to die. I heard myself say ‘Hai’ (yes) in a choking voice.”25 Feelings of guilt at the thought of betraying comrades-in-arms and friends must have driven many to their deaths. Kamikaze frequently returned to base; if no suitable targets could be found this was required. Lieutenant Ban duly set out on his suicide mission but thick clouds prevented his squadron from finding any targets. Ban was lucky. The arrival of a new type of fighter, the Nakajima Ki-84 ‘Frank’, designed to replace the ageing ‘Oscar’ needed experienced officer pilots to lead new squadrons and Ban was removed from the Special Attack list. Others were less fortunate; on one occasion a kamikaze pilot who returned to base nine times was shot and executed. It was also noted from the wreckage of a kamikaze plane that hit the Essex Class fleet carrier USS Randolph (CV-15) on 4 March 1945, that the pilot had been shackled to his cockpit.
To make sure that there was no last minute backsliding, senior officers would exhort pilots to do their duty. In the Philippines, Lieutenant-General Kyoji Tominaga, commander of the Fifth Air Army, waved off many of the kamikaze pilots. Tominaga was a cultured man who enjoyed showing off playing piano pieces by Chopin, Tchaikovsky and, his favorite, Brahms. With his charges he developed an inspirational patter to help them on their way often saying, “I will not let you go alone!” and “I shall board the last plane and shall (also) smash into an enemy ship!’26 Later described as vain and flamboyant”27 by pilot, Hichiro Naemura, Tominaga often brandished his sword as kamikaze took off; an act that was considered vulgar and inappropriate by some. Of course, Tominaga never did make the ‘last plane’. However did come to a sticky end when he was captured by the Soviets in Manchuria at the end of the war and sentenced to seventy-five years imprisonment, though he was eventually released and sent back to Japan in 1955.
Kamikaze pilots were trained to make their final dive to hit the point between the bridge and a ship’s smokestack. Going down the smokestack was also considered to be very effective. With a low level attack toward the side of a ship, pilots were encouraged to aim for just above the waterline. With aircraft carriers, pilots were trained to aim for the deck elevators that brought planes up to the decks from the two hangar decks below. It was recommended that eyes be kept open to the end to ensure that a hit was achieved. For Japanese commanders one of the problems of kamikaze strategy was that it was difficult to gauge success. For obvious reasons there were few Japanese observers to the kamikaze attacks. To record them , accompanying spotters could pick up a pilot’s final radio communication. In order to get feedback on the success of missions, the training manuals suggested that the word hissatsu (certain kill) should be shouted at the last moment.
Even a near miss could cause devastation. In one case, USS William D. Porter, a modern Fletcher Class destroyer launched in 1942, was attacked by a ‘Val’ dive-bomber on 10 June 1945. The plane missed its target, but sank underneath the destroyer before exploding, lifting the ship out of the water. Fires broke out and three hours later the William D. Porter heeled to starboard and sank.