On this day in 1944, the first Kamikaze suicide attack of the War II took place. A kamikaze attack involved a Japanese plane, often laden with explosives, deliberately crashing into a target such as a ship. The name Kamikaze means ‘divine wind’ in Japanese and it is a reference to the wind that destroyed a Mongol invasion fleet in the middle ages.
The Japanese began to use the Kamikaze tactic in order to stem the American advance in the Pacific. The US army and fleet were recapturing islands and territories all over the South and Central Pacific.
The fist Kamikaze attack was conducted during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf, an island in the Philippines. The use of Kamikazes has been seen as a desperate attempt by the Japanese to inflict some damage on the US navy after their repeated defeats in naval battles such as Midway. The Japanese were well aware of their predicament and they needed to do something. However, they did not have the conventional forces available to defeat the US navy. This led them to adopt the tactic of suicidal crash-dive attacks. Basically, the Japanese were prepared to lose a plane and a pilot in order to damage or sink an American naval vessel. The new tactics it was widely believed in the Imperial Japanese High Command would help Japan to defeat the Americans.
The first kamikaze force was composed of some two dozen volunteer pilots from Japan’s navy. A special unit of Kamikazes was established by the Japanese navy in the Autumn of 1944. The first targets were American aircraft carriers as they provided vital air cover for the US fleet, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. A kamikaze suicide attack sank the American carrier, St Lo. The plane hit the ship’s magazine and it exploded and sank within an hour. This is widely regarded as the first ship to be destroyed by a Kamikaze.
In total hundreds of Kamikaze attacks took place during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. They sank over thirty American ships. The Japanese used ordinary aircraft, especially the zero and specially built craft. One of the most lethal of these was the Baka, this was a rocket-powered plane that was attached to a bomber and then released. It was guided by a pilot into a ship.
It is believed that over 1300 aircraft were used by the Japanese in these Kamikaze attacks from 1944 to 1945. As the war turned decisively against them they adopted the tactic more regularly. However, the Allies were able to replace any ships that were destroyed by the kamikazes and the Japanese did not slow down their advance. It is estimated that some 3000 allied sailors died as a result of the kamikaze attacks.
Many historians have argued that kamikaze attacks were a flawed tactic that wasted Japanese pilots and airplanes that could have been better used in conventional warfare.