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…..