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Kamikaze [kah-mi-kah-zee]

Emperor’s country
Sad lives
Of brave warriors
Pile up

Following duty
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.


“Within one to one and one-half minutes (of the kamikaze strike) an explosion occurred on the hanger deck, which puffed smoke and flame through the hole in the deck and, I believe, bulged the flight deck near and aft of the hole. This was followed in a matter of seconds by a much more violent explosion, which rolled back a part of the flight deck bursting through aft of the original hole.” Action Report, USS ST LO (CVE 63) F.J. McKenna, Captain, USN, Commanding Source: credited there to USN

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.

Source:  These are Kamikaze pilots but I don't know for sure that they were the first.

Source: These are Kamikaze pilots but I don’t know for sure that they were the first.

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.

Mitsubishi A6M Zero

Mitsubishi A6M Zero

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.

An Ohka Model 11 discovered April 1945 at Yontan airfield, Okinawa

An Ohka Model 11 discovered April 1945 at Yontan airfield, Okinawa

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.

The Culture

Chiran high school girls wave farewell with cherry blossom branches to departing kamikaze pilot in a Ki-43-IIIa Hayabusa

Chiran high school girls wave farewell with cherry blossom branches to departing kamikaze pilot in a Ki-43-IIIa Hayabusa


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.



12 responses

  1. Arlee Bird says:

    I was familiar with the term and the action, but you added a lot of depth to my knowledge with your details. Interesting information.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Wrote By Rote


  2. Carrie-Anne says:

    My Japanese History professor said most kamikaze pilots (non-volunteers) were chosen because they were liberal arts students or in related professions. It says a lot about the Japanese mentality and culture that they’d feel artists and scholars were expendable, in comparison to people like engineers and doctors.


    • That is sad. I think outside the volunteerism, there was pressure and coersion


      • jazzfeathers says:

        I don’t know. Japanese culture is so incredibly different from ours. They feel very different about death, especially an honorable one.

        I remember the men who accepted to switch off the reactor at Fukushima, knowing they would die. They knew it, their families know it, everybody knew it, but they accepter it.

        I won’t pretent to understand it, but I don’t feel like say that because I – and my culture – woldn’t do it, then there must be an explanation acceptable to us – like coercion – behind it.


        • From what I’ve read, it was that culture of failure was dishonor that lead to the need to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They would never give up and the war would have gone on and on and gone to their mainland.


  3. kristin says:

    I never thought about the culture of the kamikazi. Thank you for providing more context.


  4. Birgit says:

    I always wondered about the pilots who volunteered to be a Kamikaze. It is so much a part of their culture and one we have a hard time to understand. I wonder if that feeling would still exist in the Japanese since it is such an old culture and belief


  5. Sue Archer says:

    Thank you for all this background information on kamikaze. I didn’t know the details like the belt of a thousand stitches. That’s a beautiful poem you closed with, but very sad.


  6. […] of the War in the Pacific, the Zero was also adapted for use in kamikaze operations. (See my post K is for Kamikaze) During the course of the war, Japan produced more Zeros than any other model of combat […]