Kamikaze (6)

According to author Robert C Stern  in his fascinating book “Fire from the Sky”, the very last hit by a kamikaze was in Buckner Bay on August 13th 1945 on the attack transport USS Lagrange (APA 124). Work on building the Lagrange began on September 1st 1944 and the ship was ready by November 11th. The quick workers were the California Shipbuilding Corporation of Wilmington, California and the captain was Frank R. Walker. Here’s Captain Walker:

And here is the Lagrange :

It was a Haskell class ship, and all of them looked very similar one to another. Here’s a clearer photograph of another ship of the same type.

The USS Lagrange (APA 124) was the victim of kamikaze attacks on two separate occasions. On April 2nd, the convoy was attacked by eight Japanese aircraft. Private First Class Max Drucker, Company M, 306th Infantry was on deck near a 20mm anti-aircraft gun when one of the kamikaze planes approached the La Grange in a steep glide. Drucker leaped to the gun, got into action and directed an accurate stream of fire at the enemy aircraft. His was the only gun engaging the enemy. About 200 yards from the ship the Jap veered suddenly and fell into the sea.

On August 13th 1945, the Lagrange was attacked for a second time, in Buckner Bay, now called Nakagusuku Bay, on the southern coast of Okinawa. There were two kamikaze pilots.  One, carrying a 500-pound bomb,  hit the Lagrange’s superstructure :

The second kamikaze aircraft clipped the top of the kingpost and splashed in the sea twenty yards from the ship. The kingpost is the tall shaft that supports a cargo boom. Each one of the aircraft caused considerable damage but more important, 21 men were killed and 88 were wounded. This was the sad reality of kamikaze aircraft. And it wasn’t just one man who died:

So near to the end of the war, with the armistice about to be signed on August 14th 1945, this attack was completely and absolutely pointless. And the Japanese senior ranks would have known that.

The very last ever kamikaze was on August 15th 1945. Vice Admiral Matomé Ugaki had ordered five “Judy”s to be prepared but when he walked out to his plane, there were eleven aircraft on the runway with 22 men inside them.

Here is a “Judy”, or rather a model of one, in this case, the prototype:

Here is Matomé Ugaki, captured on that last day of the war, as he led 22 other men to pointless deaths:

Ugaki got on board one of the aeroplanes, carrying a samurai sword given to him as a present by Admiral Yamamoto. Behind him sat Tatsuo Nakatsuru, whose father would still be praying for him on the anniversary of the August 15th attack as late as 2019.

The planes all took off, formated and flew away. And that was more or less the last that anybody saw of them.

Ugaki’s last radio message said that they had found a ship and were diving onto it:

The next day an American landing craft found a wrecked plane on a beach. It contained three bodies, all very badly mutilated but one carried a samurai sword. On August 15th 1945, not a single American ship was hit by a kamikaze. Indeed,  not a single American ship was even attacked.

Overall, the kamikazes carried out approximately 3,000 attacks and 3,913 Japanese pilots were killed. 2,000 of these 3,000 attacks never got as far as diving on an enemy ship, largely because of mechanical failures and the efficiency of the American fighters. Indeed, when it left its base, there was only a 9.4 % chance of the Kamikaze hitting an Allied ship. Once the kamikaze started its dive, there was a 36% chance it would hit its target,

If it did hit, 40 casualties was a reasonable average expectation of casualties:

Overall, the kamikazes sank 66 Allied ships and damaged a further 250. In terms of personnel, there were around 15,000 Allied casualties. Figures suggested have been 6,190 killed and 8,760 wounded. I originally wrote “men” in that previous sentence, but there must have been casualties among nurses on board hospital ships:

Author Robert Stern’s final opinion is that the kamikazes would never have changed the outcome of the war. That was down to the implied threat of a Soviet invasion and the possibility of the Americans using further atomic bombs. And even if the Japanese mainland had been attacked, despite incredible casualties for the Allies, the result would have been ultimately the same:

And why did they do it? Well, Stern’s conclusion is that:

“The Kamikaze was led on his path of self-destruction primarily by a sense of obligation to parents, and nation as embodied by the Emperor.”

Overall, Robert C Stern’s “Fire from the Sky” is a fascinating book with a good number of splendid photographs and some excellent accounts of individual events. It has 384 pages and I’m certainly pleased that I bought mine.

The author’s final chapter is about the modern kamikazes, the Islamist suicide bombers who have created such appalling carnage in various places in the world. My very last two posts about kamikazes will show you some of Stern’s fascinating ideas.

14 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Pacific Theatre, the Japanese

14 responses to “Kamikaze (6)

    • It certainly was, although thanks to Stern’s book, I feel I can understand the motivation behind the kamikaze a lot better. What I cannot understand are the hundreds, if not thousands, of occasions when the Japanese chose to kill people when it was just as easy not to. They seem to have ranked white people, the Chinese and all of their racial inferiors slightly below harmful bacteria or the rats in the sewers.

  1. It’s an incredible idea that killing oneself in this manner is an honourable thing to do. If the odds are stacked so largely against you that survival is likely to be nil, then I can almost see the justification. But it is pretty pointless, as Stern points out, and certainly won’t win wars, especially a day before the armistice is signed.

    • I would agree with you, although Western nations have all carried out attacks which were not far from being suicidal, especially in the First World War with its repeated costly attacks on more or less impregnable German fortresses. In similar vein the Armistice came with around 10,000 deaths during that last half day. The British had begun the war by losing Mons, and they wanted to recapture it as the last thing that they did. The Americans too fought fiercely, the soldiers trying to prove their valour, their generals trying to prove their quality as commanders. What a waste of lives it all was!

      • I totally agree there John. When it was clear the end was in sight they should have stepped back and try to preserve what little was left of both the country and the forces about to be slaughtered.

  2. While the kamikazes “would never have changed the outcome of the war” as Robert Stern suggests, the figures you’ve presented reveal that they had some impact. For every Japanese pilot killed, the allies suffered approx. five casualties. There are also the 66 allied ships destroyed.

    Just an aside: Your first mention of the USS Lagrange brought to mind the La Grange Avenue here in West Los Angeles. I had no idea that the name had historical significance as a French settlement founded in 1852 during the California Gold Rush (1848-1855). I’ve now learned, thanks to you, that La Grange is a registered California Historical Landmark historic district.

    • Further back than that, “la grange” is the ordinary French word for “a barn”, so, in theory, the California Historical Landmark historic district ought to contain something that looks like a barn.
      You are absolutely right that the kamikazes had, literally perhaps, some impact. Nobody ever suggested that the war should stop though, although quite naturally, the American sailors were not particularly happy at being the targets of what they considered to be a bunch of lunatics.
      It’s more difficult to ascertain whether the Allies’ thinking about invading the mainland of Japan was influenced by the kamikazes. After all the casualties they had suffered on the various islands, especially Okinawa and Iwo Jima, I don’t think that anybody was in any doubt about what such an act would entail in terms of huge losses over a long period of time.

  3. atcDave

    I’ve seen it suggested that if we remove emotion and morality from the discussion, from a pure “by the numbers” perspective the Kamikaze made sense. Allied fighter cover and anti-aircraft fire had made conventional attacks against Allied shipping utterly pointless. Almost nothing could get through to hit anything.
    The Kamikaze is practically a smart missile ahead of its time. It could inflict damage out of all proportion to anything else; it caused more harm for virtually the same cost as any other attack. It really gets horrifying when we look at the scale Japan was prepared to continue the tactic in event of an actual invasion (thousands of new aircraft being produced on the cheap specifically for one-way missions).
    Of course none of us can really look at it without an emotional or moral reaction. Its horrifying to our sensibilities. I think the continued fascination is a reflection of how shocking it was at the time.

    • Absolutely. I particularly like your description of ” a smart missile ahead of its time” , not to mention a psychological weapon which spread fear far and wide (but never enough to change American plans).
      What would have happened if the Allies had invaded the Japanese homeland, as you say, doesn’t bear thinking about. Women and children were supposedly being trained on how to clutch a grenade and then to roll under a vehicle and detonate it.
      Set against this, 617 Squadron were being given the injections to go to Japan and use their Lancasters, fitted with special saddle tanks, to drop ten ton bombs, presumably, on the tunnel between Honshu, the main island, and Kyushu, the one at the south west and the target of any Allied invasion.
      And then the Japanese surrendered. Whether it was the atom bombs or the possible arrival of the Godless Red Army, I don’t know, but I suspect that it was a great day for, possibly, more than a million Allied mothers.

      • atcDave

        Yes to that last! I’ve met so many Vets who swore their lives were saved by the atomic bombs. Obviously we can never truly know, but the expectation for a physical invasion was mass blood spilling.

  4. Jan

    The Mitsubishi Aircraft Company was established after WW1 when the Japanese headhunted the insolvent Sopwith Aviation’s chief engineer, Herbert Smith, and his design team.

  5. I didn’t know that. Thank you for the information although “headhunted” may not be quite the correct word for the Japanese.

  6. Jan

    The story of Flight Commander Frederick Rutland RN (aka Rutland of Jutland) the naval aviation pioneer; his subsequent involvement in the development of the IJN’s carrier forces; and detention in Britain during WW2 as a possible enemy “agent” is fascinating.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Rutland

    • That Wikipedia entry is really interesting. I’d never heard of Rutland, but he clearly had his part to play in Pearl Harbor and in any number of carrier attacks across the Pacific. What would surprise anybody is that he was on the side of the Japanese!

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