WORLD WAR II FROM A TO Z
Of brave warriors
Turn to death
Turn to life again
There is honor
January 2, 1945
Mabalacat Base, Philippines
Shinpu (Kamikaze) Special Attack Corps Kyokujitsu Squadron
Lieutenant Junior Grade Tadasu Fukino
A poem translated by Bill Gordon, April 2012. A kamikaze pilot will often write a death poem and letters to his family before the mission.
The Japanese first deployed the kamikaze known as the “Devine Wind” suicide bombers against American warships was on October 25, 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. I did see some information online about them being used before this date including at Pearl Harbor but I guess the full scale use of Kamikaze was in October 1944.
I wrote about the Battle of Leyte Gulf in seven parts on my other blog USS Hornet (CV-12) – A Fathers Untold War Story and you can read about that battle starting HERE.
Japanese naval captain, Motoharu Okamura declared:
“I firmly believe that the only way to swing the war in our favor is to resort to crash-dive attacks with our planes… There will be more than enough volunteers for this chance to save our country.”
The first kamikaze force was made up of 24 volunteer pilots from Japan’s 201st Navy Air Group.
Their targets were the U.S. escort carriers and one was struck, the USS St. Lo (photograph above) and 100 American’s were killed. The Japanese plane was a A6M Zero fighter. In total, Kamikazes took down 34 ships during the Battle of Leyte Gulf but in doing so, more than 5,000 kamikaze pilots died.
For kamikaze raids, both conventional aircraft like the zero and specially designed planes, called Ohka (“Cherry Blossom”). The American’s name for them was Baka (“Fool”) because the US saw it as an act of desperation. It was a rocket-powered plane attached to the belly of a bomber.
Was it an act of desperation in the last year of the war? More than 1,321 Japanese aircraft crash-dived into Allied warships during the war. While about 3,000 Americans and British died from these attacks, the extension damage did not prevent the Allied capture of the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Ceremonies were carried out before kamikaze pilots departed on their final mission:
- The Kamikaze shared ceremonial cups of sake or water known as “mizu no sakazuki”.
- Many Army officer Kamikaze took their swords with them
- The kamikaze, like all Japanese aviators flying over unfriendly territory, were issued (or purchased, if they were officers) a Nambu pistol with which to end their lives if they risked being captured.
- Like all Army and Navy servicemen, the Kamikaze would wear their senninbari, a “belt of a thousand stitches” given to them by their mothers.
- They composed and read a death poem, a tradition stemming from the samurai, who did it before committing seppuku.
- Pilots carried prayers from their families and were given military decorations.
- The Kamikaze were escorted by other pilots whose function was to protect the Kamikaze to their destination and report on the results.
- Kamikaze pilots who were unable to complete their mission (due to mechanical failure, interception, etc.) were stigmatized in the years following the war but this began to diminish about 50 years after the war.
Poem by Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki
Matome Ugaki served the last six months of World War II as Commander of the Sixth Air Fleet, headquartered at Kanoya Air Base near the southern tip of mainland Japan. From there he directed mass kamikaze attacks, called “special attacks” in Japanese, against the American fleet off Okinawa.
On May 11, 1945, the Japanese Navy and Army executed a joint operation named Kikusui No. 6, one of ten mass kamikaze attacks carried out between April 6 and June 22, 1945. On the date of Kikusui No. 6 operation, Ugaki wrote a poem about the many special attack (kamikaze) pilots who had perished:
Flowers of the special attack are falling
When the spring is leaving.
Gone with the spring
Are young boys like cherry blossoms.
Gone are the blossoms,
Leaving cherry trees only with leaves.