Appendices - Hirohito's War
E. Typhoons and Divine Winds: Kamikaze
Naval Kamikaze and Yamato’s Suicide Mission; [Map: 33.2] In addition to kamikaze planes, the Navy also developed kamikaze mini-subs known as kaiten. These one-man kamikaze submarines carried a 3,418lb warhead. In September 1944 the Imperial Japanese Navy opened a new school for torpedo boats in Kawatana (Nagasaki Prefecture). The school specialized in the training of frogmen and crews for midget submarines. To this list of specialties was added suicide boats (shinyo) and manned torpedoes, a naval equivalent of the ‘baka bomb’.
In October, Captain Miyazaki, who was sent to Kawatana as chief instructor offered his 400 students the choice of volunteering for training as kaiten or shinyo pilots; addressing his students he told them ‘I have new orders for you. You came here to prepare yourselves for conventional torpedo boats. You have just learned of two other weapons that have been authorized for study in this school. Starting tomorrow either of three courses of study will be open to you.’30 150 of his students chose to train as kaiten operators.
At Lingayen Gulf on Luzon, seventy suicide boats attacked MacArthur’s amphibious forces on the night of 9 January 1945. Most of them were sunk by gunfire but six got through and struck transport ships, four LSTs and two LCIs. One of the latter was sunk. A similar attack sank a US submarine chaser on 31 January. The amphibious invasion of Okinawa in March saw further attacks but only one suicide boat got through and managed to sink an LSM-12. Although the kaiten were a largely ineffective weapon, they did carry out a surprise attack on the US logistical base at Ulithi Atoll that accounted for the sinking of the tanker USS Mississinewa in a massive explosion that killed sixty-three sailors. In hindsight it is now known that the biggest test of the shinyo and kaiten would have come had the Japanese mainland been invaded. Most of the Navy pilots trained for these suicide vehicles were being prepared for this eventuality.
Perhaps the ultimate suicide mission was the last voyage of the super-battleship Yamato. The great ship, which had survived the Battle of Leyte Gulf, was lurking in Japan’s heavily defended Inland Sea, safe from the ravages outside. Admiral Toyoda ordered the Yamato, and the accompanying heavy cruiser Yahagi, to set out for Okinawa. Toyoda informed his commanders that
The fate of our Empire truly rests upon this one action. I have called for the organisation of a surface special attack unit for a breakthrough operation of unrivalled bravery so that the power of the imperial navy may be felt in this one action in order that the brilliant tradition of the Imperial Navy’s surface forces may be exalted and glory handed down to posterity.31
Other commanders were more realistic. Rear-Admiral Keizi Komura, aboard the Yahagi addressed his commanders and skeptically told them that they had been ordered “to engage in a kamikaze mission. No, this is not even a kamizake mission, for that implies the chance of chalking up a worthy target… such an operation would be a genuine suicide sortie.”32 In the discussions that followed there was rancorous debate between those who agreed with the mission while others openly attacked the stupendous, senseless waste of life. It was a meeting that showed that huge cracks were now appearing in the previous façade of blind obedience. The mission would go ahead nonetheless. As Vice-Admiral Ryunosuke Kasaka argued, “the whole nation would hate the Navy if the war should end with Yamato intact” and argued that the great battle ship was being spoken of as “a floating hotel for idle, inept admirals”.33
Having scraped together the 4,000 tons of fuel needed to make a one-way voyage, the Yamato set sail early from Tokuyama on 6 April 1945. At midday, reconnaissance planes from the USS Enterprise’s carrier group spotted the Yamato and Admiral Mitscher launched a series of airstrikes that caught Japan’s great battleship some 175 miles south of Kyushu. The Yamato attempted to dodge torpedoes and she and her escort ships blazed away at the incoming aircraft for several hours before finally keeling over and sinking at 2.17 p.m. in the South China Sea after being riddled with dozens of hits. Over 3,000 Japanese sailors perished. Accompanying destroyers picked up just a handful of Yamato’s crew.