Kamikaze (3)

I was telling you last time how author Robert C Stern had listed in his excellent book about the kamikaze phenomenon, the numbers of men killed and wounded in various US Navy ships:

“……….with 16 killed and 21 wounded, the Colorado with 19 killed and 72 wounded, the Maryland with 31 killed and 30 wounded, the Aulick with 31 killed and 64 wounded, the Mugford with 8 killed and 14 wounded, the Lamson with 25 killed and 54 wounded, the Drayton with 6 killed and 12……”

The USS John Burke apparently blew up as soon as it was touched by a “Zeke” and both the ship and the 107 men on it were instantly vaporised. Not the slightest trace of them was ever found. This is the USS Suwannee, but you probably get the gist:

The worst day, Kamikaze-wise, was January 6th 1945. The Japanese caused damage to 15 American ships and killed 167 men and wounded 502. They lost 30 aircraft and 30 pilots. And in their strange alien world, it was a good return. US Navy policy was to push badly damaged aircraft into the sea. This was the USS Belleau Wood:

Author Robert Stern, explains extremely carefully the techniques used by the kamikazes. They usually came in fairly slowly, low in the sky, just above the horizon, trying not to draw attention to each other, pretending to be one of the many US Navy aircraft which always seemed to be around. Their favourite time was either at dawn or at sunset, with the light or the darkness helping to hide them. Their preferred weather was a clear morning followed by an afternoon which was cloudy with squalls, perhaps even thunderheads, rising high above the ships. Clouds and poor visibility helped the kamikaze to hide from the anti-aircraft fire. Such weather conditions used to be called “kamikaze weather”. In the picture above, note the sailors all standing in the safest place to stand:

A great many good men were killed or seriously injured by kamikaze attacks. 66 ships were sunk, and an unknown number were damaged, some of them so seriously that they only returned to Pacific waters in 1946.

Nobody ever suggested, though, at any point, that the war should be stopped. There was rather a desire to get the job done with the minimum number of casualties. Even so, the kamikazes had “a terrifying psychological value”. How’s this for “terrifying psychological value”..?

Vice Admiral Onishi Takijiro wanted to use this “terrifying psychological value” to force the Allies to postpone or even cancel their attack on the home islands of Japan. He would have wanted a Japanese surrender that was not unconditional, he would have wanted not to have had any Allied soldiers on the sacred soil of Japan, and, fairly unbelievably, for Japan to have kept such overseas colonies as Manchuria.

Some ships were hit by more than one kamikaze either in the same incident or on different days. The most frequently struck ship is usually reckoned to be HMAS Australia. On October 21st 1944 it was hit by a Sonia dive bomber, although this may have been a “jibaku” act, when an already doomed aircraft was plunged into a nearby ship. 29 men were killed and 64 were wounded.

Here’s a “Sonia”:

And here’s HMAS Australia:

On January 5th 1945, a “Zeke” hit the HMAS Australia and killed 25 men and wounded 30. On the 8th, a “Dinah” hit at 0720 hours but caused no damage. At 0739, a second “Dinah” caused lots of serious damage. The ship was forced to list and to have its speed reduced. Many of its guns were put out of action. And then, at 1302 two “Val” dive bombers caused severe damage to the funnel, which rendered the forward fireroom unusable because of the subsequent lack of updraught. At the end of the day, HMAS Australia left Leyte Gulf for repairs, initially at Sydney, then in the USA and finally at Plymouth in the United Kingdom.

Let’s finish with a slideshow. Number one is  “Val”, then there’s a “Dinah”, reckoned to be one of the most beautiful aircraft ever designed, and the last one is a Mitsubishi Zero.

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The photograph of the “Dinah”, I took. If only I had had the brains to crouch down and lose the backlighting. What a stupid “Baka” as the Japanese say.


Filed under Aviation, History, Pacific Theatre, the Japanese

15 responses to “Kamikaze (3)

  1. More interesting facts and figures. Thanks John.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed them. We hear the word “kamikaze” and without the figures especially, we don’t realise just how many of them there were and how vulnerable men must have felt in their ship on a great wide ocean.

  2. This post puts a clear perspective on this, of which I had been unaware. I hadn’t realised how much damage they could do

    • I’ve been trying to find an analogy in the world today and the only thing I could come up with were suicide bombers, not in the west where casualties, thank God, have been relatively light, but in say, Iraq, or Afghanistan a few years ago where deaths tolls in a single bombing have been huge, and seem to have occurred day after day.

  3. Seeing the numbers put together like this really puts the success rate of the Kamikaze into perspective. And to think, many of those pilots were only 16- year old boys.

    • Yes, they were, and at that age, I think we are entitled to ask to what extent they were brainwashed. There’s clearly a big difference between a 25 year old kamikaze who makes a conscious decision to commit this act because his life is all he has left to offer his parents and the emperor, and the 16 year old kid whose only difficult decision should be which girl is the prettier or which flavour of ice cream he wants.

  4. HMAS Australia certainly took a lot of hits and damage yet she didn’t go down. That must say something. Carriers however were wooden decked, and so probably burned far better than other ships of the fleet thus sustaining greater damage. I think also carrying bombs, and fuel for aircraft would also help in the destruction of such ships. A fascinating post John with considerable detail!

  5. I’m glad that you enjoyed it. The detail, of course, comes from Robert Stern’s thoroughness as an author. I have nothing but respect for him as a writer who wants to find out the truth behind a subject such as the kamikaze where we all have our own preconceived ideas, and he wants to investigate whether they are correct or not.

  6. Jan

    There is a certain logic in the Kamikaze. Had the Japanese continued with conventional attacks they would still have suffered unsustainable casualties – courtesy of Allied AAA and carrier fighters – but with a much lower likelihood of inflicting critical damage against the Allied warships.

    • Absolutely correct, and a scenario which proves that Stern was 100% correct when he said that a kamikaze was a desperate young man who had done everything he can, except the ultimate gesture of giving his life for his parents and the emperor.

  7. Jan

    Vide the depth-charging scene in “The Cruel Sea” when Ericson orders the attack knowing that some must be sacrificed for the greater good.

    • Yes, I believe that that particular filmic incident was based on a number of actual cases. I certainly read about one recently, but, and I blame my age, I can’t remember where it was!

  8. Terrible, I am learning so much from your posts. Thank you.
    Hope you and your family are fine.

    • Thank you very much, Lakshmi. So far, so good with the virus, although it only takes a second to catch it of course.
      I am glad that you feel you are learning from my blog posts. I don’t think you ever retire from being a teacher!

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