Tag Archives: Colorado

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

15 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Pacific Theatre, the Japanese

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.

 

21 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Pacific Theatre, the Japanese