Category Archives: Pacific Theatre

In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Five) Finished at last !!!

Well, it has finally happened. After something like eight years of research and writing up, the fifth and final volume of “In the Footsteps of the Valiant” is complete and published and ready to be purchased…….

I have always said that my main intention was to get away from a list of war casualties which was just a surname and a set of initials displayed on a wall. I wanted to portray the High School’s war dead as young men with, perhaps, wives, families, houses, jobs, and, above all, their own lives to lead. Lives which they were prepared to sacrifice in the cause of freedom, to stop a madman whose crazed ideas would have transformed the entire world into his very own vale of tears.

No less an intention was the idea of trying to establish, once and for all, just how many war casualties the High School had. From around eighty, I have now pushed the number up to around 120.  Volume Five contains the detailed story of 22 High School casualties of World War Two, along with two men who gave their lives for their country during the following decade. And don’t forget, incidentally, that all five volumes have been deliberately constructed to contain the same amount of material as all of the others. Furthermore, that material is, overall, of the same quality as all the other volumes. No single book is full of exciting stories of derring-do, at the expense of another volume devoid of all excitement. I took great care to make that the case.

The men concerned in Volume 5 are :

Thomas Arthur Bird, Douglas Arthur Burgass, John Stuart Burnside, George Vernon Carlin, Frank Leonard Corner, George Edward Dance, John Arthur Finking, Bernard William Grocock, George Norman Hancock, Lewis Alan Hofton, John Mayo, Arthur Mellows, Roy Faulkner Newell, Herbert Temple Nidd, John Ebblewhite Paling, William Palmer, Peter Frederick Paulson, Ivan Roy James Perkins, Kenneth Walter Sansom, William Henry Shaw, John Aubrey Starkey, Leslie Hambleton Taylor, Peter Vernon and Ian Leslie Wilkinson.

Here are Messrs Frank Corner, the First XI cricket team scorer, John Mayo, First XV player, Arthur Mellows, First XI cricketer, and Peter Paulson, of 277 Battery (City of Nottingham) 68 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, killed by enemy fire as the Germans captured Tobruk.

Frank Corner:

John Mayo:

Arthur Mellows

And Peter Paulson

And here is Bernard William Grocock, shot down by Oberleutnant Helmut Lent of 6/Nachtgeschwader 1, the second greatest night fighter ace of all time.

John Aubrey Starkey, killed at HMS Bambara in Ceylon, as he flew his Grumman Hellcat fighter :

And Ian Leslie Wilkinson, First XV rugby player and First XI cricketer :

And Herbert Temple Nidd, surely the most colourful Old Nottinghamian of them all, a man who worked on every single one of the great North Atlantic liners of the 1930s, and whose understanding of the rule “Only one wife at a time” seems to have have been woefully deficient. And that may well go for his father, too.

They died in many different places. In the Denmark Strait, facing the Bismarck. In an Italian prison camp. Fighting Rommel in Tunisia. Shot by guerillas in Ethiopia. In the Netherlands, clearing the Scheldt Estuary of Germans. Crossing the Rhine only weeks from the end of the war. And in aircraft. Over Duisburg in a Lancaster. In a Gloster Meteor. In a Whitley over Staffordshire. In a Whitley over Berlin.  In a Liberator over Tripoli in Libya. And most interesting, the POW who died, or was perhaps murdered, on his “Long March”, as, in 1945, the Germans marched their prisoners hundreds of miles westwards in deep snow, away from the Russians. What a tale he had to tell. Other men from his camp had been stationed right next to Auschwitz and had watched carefully what the Germans were doing. Alas, had he survived, he might well have added his testimony to the prosecution’s case.

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I also discovered the only direct remembrance left behind by any of our Old Nottinghamians. Peter Vernon died at the age of 23 from an illness contracted in the North Atlantic on H.M. Motor Minesweeper 260. Battered ceaselessly by extra strong winds and freezing rain, Peter probably died in the Invergordon Royal Navy Auxiliary Hospital in northern Scotland. Before he went off to war, his father had already told him of his plan to rename their butcher’s shop, “A.Vernon & Son High Class Butcher”. A huge new sign was painted on the side of the building. Perhaps it was going to be a surprise when Peter came home on leave, although it certainly didn’t work out like that. Alas, we will never know.

What we can do, though, is to go to Ilkeston Road in Nottingham, and, at its junction with Stansfield Street, see the sign, which is still there. The only part of Peter Vernon’s life still remaining alive in our world……………………..

 

Any royalties generated by these books will be split between “ABF The Soldiers’ Charity” and the Royal Air Forces Association.

Let’s finish with two poems.

One by Keith Doncaster of Maples’ House and the Fifth Form:

“Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.”

And one, almost a thousand years older, from Wace, slightly altered:

“Eventually

All things decline

Everything falters, dies and ends

Towers cave in, walls collapse

Roses wither, horses stumble

Cloth grows old, men expire

Iron rusts and timber rots away

Nothing made by hand will last.

I understand the truth

That all must die, both clerk and lay

And the fame of men now dead

Will quickly be forgotten,

Unless the clerk takes up his pen

And brings their deeds to life again

 

I say and will say that I am

John Knifton from the City of Nottingham”

 

 

 

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Filed under Africa, Aviation, Canada, cricket, History, military, Nottingham, Pacific Theatre, The High School, war crimes

Roy Cross, the world’s greatest artist

As a small boy of nine or ten, I was very keen on Airfix plastic kits. They came originally in see-through plastic bags with a folded piece of paper stapled over the open end of the bag. The instructions for making the kit were inside the folded paper.

The smallest Series 1 kits were one shilling and threepence, or perhaps one shilling and sixpence. Series Two were three shillings and Series Three were four shillings and sixpence. Series Four cost six shillings and Series Five seven shillings and sixpence. Series Six, of which for many years there was only one, the Short Sunderland, was twelve shillings and sixpence. At this time I used to get around two or three shillings pocket money per week. As life grew more sophisticated, Airfix decided to put most of their kits into boxes and to decorate them with illustrations of that particular aircraft in action. The absolute toppermost of the poppermost of the Airfix artists was a man called Roy Cross (born 1924). Let’s take a look at his talents as an artist.

After initially helping illustrate Eagle comic  Roy moved to Airfix in 1964 and started his career with the Dornier Do 217. Here is the box art:

Notice how he makes the Dornier’s opponents the Polish Air Force, something out of the ordinary. Below is the original drawing. Both illustrations featured on an auction website, where Roy’s first ever aircraft sketch was on sale for £790.

Let’s take a look at some more of Roy’s best work. Here’s a Series 1 Spitfire, with the plastic bag still in place and the model unmade.

Series 2 included the de Havilland Mosquito, the Fairey Battle and the Bristol Blenheim. This one is flown by the Free French Air Force. Roy’s work never seems to drop in standard:

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A Series 3 kit might have been the Junkers Ju-88 and Heinkel III. A bigger box allowed him to make his pictures more and more complex. Notice again how he makes the Heinkel’s opponents somebody out of the ordinary, in this case the Soviet Red Air Force:

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In Series 4 was the Vickers Wellington:

The mighty Avro Lancaster was in Series 5, as was the B-17 Flying Fortress. Notice how the very large box has enabled him to portray accurately the huge wingspan of both aircraft:

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Here’s the Short Sunderland:

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was of such a size that it probably was in Series 29. This box is big enough to portray a defensive “box” of B-29s, and a Japanese fighter:

I was not very good at making the kits, as I would be the first to confess. With biplanes such as the Roland Walfisch of World War I or the Handley Page HP 42, the 1930s airliner, I was hopeless at gluing the top wing to the bottom one and soon there were gluey fingerprints all over the place:

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Quite a rare kit in my experience was the de Havilland DH.88 which won the race from England to Australia in 1934 with an official time of 70 hours 54 minutes 18 seconds. The raw plastic for it was bright red. I am not wholly sure if Roy Cross did this artwork. The kit may have appeared pre-1964:

There are some kits that I would like to have made but never did.  There was the Mitsubishi “Dinah” which was reckoned to be the most aerodynamically perfect aircraft of World War II. This is one of Roy’s very best pieces of work in my opinion:

The Spitfires defending Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia certainly couldn’t catch the Dinahs that flew high above them day after day.

The second kit I yearned for was the Angel Interceptor used in the TV series “Captain Scarlet”. That too, was a fairly rare kit during my modelling years:

I can’t bring this post to an end without showing you the last few masterpieces by Roy Cross. They are the B-25 Mitchell, with a choice of either a glazed or a solid nose:

Here’s the Aichi “Val”, looking for all the world like a Stuka that’s put on a lot of weight:

The Westland Whirlwind was a very advanced concept for 1938. It was one of the fastest combat aircraft in the world and with four Hispano-Suiza HS.404 20 mm autocannon in its nose, the most heavily armed. Prolonged problems with the Peregrine engines delayed everything and few Whirlwinds were built……only 116 in actual fact:

And let’s not forget the Blohm und Voss Bv 141 reconnaissance aircraft, one of the few aeroplanes ever to have had an asymmetrical structure. And yes, it flew very well, but was never produced in numbers because of the shortage of the engines of choice.

One last detail I found out about Roy Cross. He was apparently highly amused by the modern practice of taking his artwork, but photoshopping out any explosions and burning aircraft in case they upset anybody and reminded them what most of these aircraft were designed to do.

If you want to see more of Roy Cross’ art, then, please, use google images to sort out some pictures of other aircraft whose boxes he decorated. Roy may not be a famous artist, but his images of planes are irrevocably etched for ever in the memories of so many men of my age.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, military, Pacific Theatre, Personal, the Japanese

What would you do ? (10) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle.

It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation, as always, explained in the coloured box:

So, you’ve finally been promoted to Rear-Admiral in the US Navy, and you are in charge of a squadron of ships in the Pacific Ocean. It is World War Two and you have just spotted an enemy fleet on the horizon in the growing darkness. They are on their way to invade a nearby island.

You MUST attack but the Japanese fleet has greater fire-power than you have and your chances of defeating it seem slim. What orders would you give, as you sail in to attack?

And the answer is on page 2 and here it is:

So, you order your squadron to manœuvre as per the diagram on the back of my packet of cigarettes. Steaming in the dark, the Japanese suddenly found the head of their column confronted by the American squadron broadside.  The Americans were able to bring all their guns to bear, while the Japanese were only able to fire forward, with their foremost ships. Outgunned , the Japs fled.

Well, well, well. How many of you got that one correct? I know I didn’t. Certainly the most difficult one so far.

 

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Filed under cricket, Film & TV, History, Humour, Literature, military, Pacific Theatre, Personal, the Japanese

What would you do ? (10) The Puzzle

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

This is issue No 18 which came out on May 25th 1963. This was the day that the idea of amateur and professional players in cricket was abolished—and rightly so. It was also the Saturday when Mike Myers was born:

In 1965 it was the day when Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston in the first round of their world heavyweight title rematch in Lewiston, Maine:

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here he is again:

And here’s this particular front cover:

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. This time, there’s a white circle  to worry about,which explains that the Japanese ships are in two columns.

Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

And in case you are reading this box through a glass, darkly, or perhaps you are colour blind, there is some good news for you. You’ve been promoted to Rear-Admiral in the US Navy, and you are in charge of a squadron of ships in the Pacific Ocean. It is World War Two and the last rays of daylight have just lit up an enemy fleet on the horizon. They are on their way to invade a nearby island.

You know that you MUST attack but the Japanese fleet has greater fire-power than your own and your chances of defeating it in a straight fight seem slim. What orders would you give, as you sail in to attack?

And don’t cheat by asking an expert!!!

For what it’s worth, my squadron will switch all their lights off, and then join onto the two Japanese lines. Our two front ships will torpedo their back two ships. Then our next to front ships will torpedo their next to back ships, and so on, until  we have sunk the lot. Then I will be writing to the Head of the US Navy to tell him that we need more than one torpedo per boat.

 

 

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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.

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Kamikaze (5)

By the end of the war, the Japanese were using any aircraft that they could find to use as kamikazes. As author Robert Stern points out in his fascinating book “Fire from the Sky”, this was the moment when the Japanese accidentally invented the stealth aircraft. They were forced to go right to the back of the disused hangar and dig out some of the oldest and most infrequently used training aircraft to use as kamikazes. These included the “Spruce” and “Willow” trainers, which were biplanes apparently made from bits of wood, canvas, knotted string and bits of old wallpaper. For this reason they did not show up on radar very much at all, something which puzzled the Americans enormously and which the Japanese never found out about.

Here is a “Willow” aka a Yokosuka K5Y :

And here is a “Spruce” aka a Tachikawa Ki 9 :

The Japanese used a variety of aircraft for kamikaze attacks. The single engined ones were mainly the naval “Zeke” or the army’s “Oscar”, the two often being misidentified. Here’s the “Zeke” aka the Mitsubishi A6M Zero:

And here is the “Oscar” aka the Nakajima Ki 43 :

Use was also made of the “Tony”, the “Frank” and the twin engined “Dinah”.

Here’s the “Tony” aka the Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien (Swallow). When it first came into service, Allied pilots thought they were Messerschmitt Bf 109s, perhaps built under licence.:

And here is a “Frank” aka the Nakajima Ki 84 Hayate. This photograph is by yours truly, taken at Hendon. Can you see the Mosquito, about to shoot it down?:

And this is my even more splendid photograph of a backlit “Dinah” aka Mitsubishi Ki-46 :

There was a welter of single engined torpedo bombers used by the Japanese as kamikaze planes. They included the “Jill” aka the Nakajima B6N Tenzan. “Tenzan” means “Heavenly Mountain”, and is under no circumstances ever to be used as a term of endearment for the woman in your life. Perhaps worth trying with the man, though:

The “Kate” was aka the Nakajima B5N. It seems to have been painted on occasion in the most vomit provoking luminous green ever used:

The “Judy” was aka the Yokosuka D4Y Suisei (Comet):

Perhaps the most frequent mount for the would-be suicide jockey was the Aichi “Val” or the Aichi D3A. This photograph is the one most frequently used:

I first saw it in the “Hippo Book of Aircraft of the Second World War” when I was nine or ten :

The list goes on. Twin engined bombers were mainly the “Betty” and the “Sally”. Here’s a “Betty” which the Japanese called the Mitsubishi G4M1 :

And this is a “Sally” or a Mitsubishi Ki 21. It was actually possible to cultivate a decent crop of tomato plants in the long greenhouse behind the cockpit :

That’s enough photographs for now. Other aircraft types to be used, but much less frequently, are listed below:

“Claude”, Mitsubishi A5M, carrier based fighter

“Frances”, Yokosuka P1Y, navy land-based bomber

“Hamp”, Mitsubishi A6M3, navy carrier fighter

“Irving”, Nakajima J1N, navy land reconnaissance aircraft

“Jake”, Aichi E13A, navy reconnaissance seaplane

“Myrt”, Nakajima C6, navy carrier reconnaissance aircraft

“Nate”, Nakajima Ki-27, army fighter

“Nick”, Kawasaki Ki-45, army two-seat fighter

“Pete”, Mitsubishi F1M, navy observation seaplane

“Sonia”, Mitsubishi Ki-51, army light/dive bomber

Here’s a “Pete”, but its very easy to find the rest on “Google Images” :

Next time…..the Last Kamikaze.

 

 

 

 

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Kamikaze (4)

According to author, Robert C Stern, in his superbly interesting book, “Fire from the Sky”, over the weeks and months, the tactics of the kamikaze gradually improved. This doesn’t mean, of course, that anybody ever came back to report on what went well on the day and what didn’t, but there had always been extra Japanese planes present, observing each kamikaze as he went into action. Ostensibly this was to give the family news of their son’s glorious death but in actual fact, it was to watch how events unfolded in an effort to refine tactics for the future.

What a photograph………

Training for the kamikaze lasted seven days. Four days were spent mastering take-off, assembly above the airfield before departure, and flying in formation. Then three days were dedicated to approaching and attacking the target vessel.

In the beginning, kamikazes attacked in small groups, but this soon changed to between 10-20 aircraft attacking simultaneously from different directions and at different heights. In this way, the Allied radar was swamped, and, as author Robert Stern points out, the Allied radar of the time couldn’t read heights particularly well anyway. For this reason, some groups of kamikazes got through entirely unopposed. And if any of these groups were flying particularly low, at wave top level, all the ships would be firing at them and there was a very real risk of serious damage from friendly fire. Indeed, US Navy sailors on neighbouring ships were frequently killed by friendly fire in these circumstances. Here’s wave top level and friendly fire:

Sometimes the kamikaze came in low but things didn’t work out quite as they should have. This was an Aichi “Val” which left a distinct impression on the sailors who witnessed the incident:

In general, it was thought best initially for the kamikaze to start his dive around 20,000-23,000 feet up, higher in the case of the lighter fighters such as “Zekes”, “Franks” and “Tony”s, in order to escape the Allied fighters with the speed they had built up as they dived. The Allied fighters in actual fact tended to patrol at around 16,000 feet. The hope was that by the time the kamikazes got down to 16,000 feet , they would be travelling far too quickly to be caught. As soon as they sighted the target, the kamikazes would begin to glide at an angle of 20°.

The biggest problem for the Japanese was that in a 20° glide, the nose of the aircraft would often mask the target. Experienced pilots would weave from side to side in order to keep the ship in vision, but many younger pilots could not do this. Between 3,500-6,500 feet, the experienced pilots would flip over onto their backs to keep the ship in view during the last section of the dive. We have already seen this in a diagram of how a Stuka pilot hits tanks or small groups of refugees:

Overall, kamikaze was a fairly simple way to carry out an attack. The biggest disadvantage was that it was difficult to control aircraft of that period at high speed. Many near misses were thought to be down to the pilot’s being unable to keep his eyes open until the very last second before impact. The pilots were exhorted to do this because:

“After all, a kamikaze gets no practice in his chosen profession and he must be perfect on his first and last attempt”.

The next stage in the kamikaze attacks was a skimming approach at 30-50 feet which was undetectable with Allied radar having such a short range at low altitude and the permanent presence of so much electronic clutter. Japanese aircraft also released “window” or “chaff”. As they approached the ship, the aircraft would pop up to 1300-1650 feet and then dive steeply to hit the target. With this method, the aircraft’s controls were not stiff:

The kamikaze were aiming to hit the target from astern. There were fewer guns there and the ship was a much more static target that was not moving from, say, left to right. A hit of this type, from the side, or “from abeam” required far more precision from a probably very inexperienced pilot.

Despite all of this, the kamikazes began to become less and less successful towards the end of 1944 as the number of potential pilots and their ability and their skills, inevitably diminished:

And good news for everybody…..

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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.

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Kamikaze (2)

Last time I was telling you how I had read a splendid book called “Fire from the Sky” by Robert C Stern. The book traces the history of the Japanese kamikaze attacks which began in the Philippines in 1944. It is an excellent and informative book which, clearly, has been extensively researched.

Experience quickly taught the Japanese that attaching two bombs of around 250-500 pounds, depending on the aircraft, could cause a lot more damage than the aircraft itself, particularly if it was only a small plane such as a Zero. The bombs were never released but they were always live. The best places to aim were directly down the funnel or at the base of the funnel. This ship off Okinawa has had damage done to the boilers, presumably via the vulnerable funnel:

Alternatively, the bridge was a good target because it was full of officers. The absolute best target, though, was to seek out an aircraft carrier and to aim the aircraft and bombs at the elevator because this gave access to the inside of the ship. And below decks there might well be an explosive mixture of “aviation fuel” and air. Certainly fire was the main weapon needed to cause large scale damage inside an aircraft carrier. And those two bombs, as well as blowing out partition walls, might also start the very fire needed to damage such a big ship.

The very, very best time to strike was when the US Navy fighters had just returned from combat and were being “safed” which I presume means pumping out the unused avgas and removing any hung-up bombs. Even better, perhaps, was that moment seconds before takeoff, when everybody was ready, propellers spinning, bombs armed, full fuel with perhaps drop tanks too, and all the aircraft, by necessity, extremely close to each other.

This attack was clearly aimed at both the flight deck and the elevator. The ship is the USS Bunker Hill:

Diving an aircraft down to hit a target on the sea is apparently not the most simple of manoeuvres, and the best kamikaze pilots were capable of flipping their aircraft over upside down so that they could see the target clearly as they dived down to hit it. You can see this manoeuvre on the old films of Stuka dive bombers. Here is the version produced for the Luftwaffe Ballroom Dancing Team:

Defenders soon realised what a kamikaze pilot was trying to do, and they soon realised too that machine gun fire and cannon fire was comforting for the people on the ship but of virtually no value whatsoever. Most effective were five inch guns or bigger because the plane would need to be disintegrated to stop it carrying out its mission. On occasion, aircraft still caused large amounts of damage after their wings had been shot off.

It was extremely rare for kamikazes to sink big ships or even to damage them greatly. Much more likely prey were landing craft or the radar pickets protecting the fleet. Smaller ships could not absorb the combination of speed and explosive power. They were either sunk completely or suffered huge casualties. On one occasion a kamikaze blew fifty men off the deck of a warship and none of them were ever seen again.

In one chapter, author Robert Stern lists the casualties for all of the ships attacked between November 27th-December 28th 1944. The first figure represents the men killed and the second figure the men wounded. Thus we have the St Lo with 16 killed and 21 wounded. Here it is:

The Colorado had 19 killed and 72 wounded, the Maryland 31 killed and 30 wounded, the Aulick 31 killed and 64 wounded, the Drayton 6 killed and 12 wounded, the Mugford 8 killed and 14 wounded, the Lamson 25 killed and 54 wounded, the Liddle 38 killed and 20 wounded.  The Hughes had none killed but 73 were wounded, the Caldwell had 33 killed and 40 wounded, the Nashville had 133 killed and 190 wounded, the Haraden had 14 killed and 24 wounded, the Orestes had 59 killed and 110 wounded, the Pringle had 11 killed and 20 wounded, LST 472 had 6 killed and 50 wounded and the two LSTs, Nos 460 and 749, had 107 killed.

And from the Japanese point of view, that is an excellent return for the lives of a relatively small number of men.

 

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Kamikaze (1)

Ever since I was a little boy, I have always wondered about kamikaze pilots. The whole idea just seemed so unnatural to me, even crazy. When I saw a copy of “Fire from the Sky” by Robert C Stern, therefore, I bought it straightaway. Lots of pages, lots of text and lots of pictures. What was there not to like? And besides, I really wanted to know what the explanation was for this strange phenomenon:

Apparently, what it all boils down to is that:

“Japan has a particular, and some might call peculiar, predilection for the tragic or failed hero. They are admired for their sincerity and loyalty even when their causes were met with failure and their goals could be considered traitorous. Above all else, those heroes adhered to their ideals, especially in the face of their own destruction.”

Japan’s tradition of the tragic hero goes right back to the fourth century and Prince Yamato Takeru. But after him come a whole series of legendary and historic failed heroes, stretching down the centuries. They included Yorozu, Arima no Miko, Sugawara no Michizane, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, Kusunoki Masashige, Amakusa Shiro, Oshio Heihachiro, and Saigo Takamori. Here’s Amakusa Shiro:

“The traditions of these men led in the modern age to the World War II kamikaze fighters—an unprecedented development in modern warfare which for most countries would have been unimaginable.”

As a boy, of course, I was tickled pink as we used to say then, that there were actually “ex-kamikaze pilots” who could be interviewed on our grainy black and white TV sets. Author Robert Stern, though, explains it all beautifully for us. So…….. how  could you be on TV as an “ex-kamikaze pilot” ? For two reasons. No 1, you couldn’t find a suitable target and came back. No 2, mechanical failure of some kind.

The Japanese had in many ways already road tested the idea of kamikaze with their “banzai” charge. When soldiers were cornered and faced certain defeat, out they would come, heedless of their own safety and shouting “Tennoheika banzai!!” (Long live the Emperor”). The first banzai charge was on Attu on May 29 1943, with others on Saipan and Okinawa. In this way, their honourable death in battle was guaranteed.

Here’s a banzai charge before:

And after:

In 1944, the Americans were advancing into the Philippines, an act which would cut Japan off from the sources of its raw materials. What could be done? After “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, only 35 aircraft had returned to Japan.

By confronting the Americans in the ordinary way, the Japanese were losing the war by some margin.  Something radical needed to be done. Perhaps the banzai charge could be developed into the kamikaze attack. At a meeting of his officers, Vice Admiral Onishi Takijiro floated the idea of pilots flying their aircraft directly into enemy vessels at the cost of their own lives. Every single one of his 23 officers immediately agreed with the idea and volunteered for duty. It didn’t take long to organise:

Author Robert Stern, states that two possible kamikazes on October 24 1944 were not the first, but just a case of an already doomed aircraft being plunged into a ship, an act called “jibaku” by the Japanese. In this case, the ships were the Sonoma and the LCI(L) 1065. This abbreviation means “Landing Craft Infantry (Large)”. They were both struck by bombers, a Betty and a Sally respectively.

Japanese aircraft were given code names by the Allies. Here’s a Betty. This particular aircraft has the surrender markings of a green cross on a white background on it:

And here’s a Sally:

The following day, October 25th 1944 provided the first genuine kamikaze hit, which came on the USS Santee, CVE 29. CVE stands for “escort carrier or escort aircraft carrier”. It was hit by a “Zeke” or Mitsubishi Zero, probably piloted by PO1C Kato. Here’s a Zeke kamikaze-ing:

Kamikaze, incidentally, means “divine wind”. I’ve been troubled by that on occasion, too.  Next time, “Getting the best out of your two 250lb bombs”.

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Filed under Aviation, History, Pacific Theatre, the Japanese