Tag Archives: Zeke

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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Filed under Aviation, History, Pacific Theatre, the Japanese

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