It was a cool clear morning at Malabacat Field in the Philippines
on 25 November 1944....
The pilots received the call to man their planes. It was 11:15 A.M. As they left their quarters, they were greeted with loud Banzai cheers by all the other pilots and enlisted men who had assembled in two facing lines.
The sixteen pilots of the Yoshino Party marched proudly through the passageway between the lines. Their heads held high, they were proud and determined to do their duty for their country. They were fully aware of the importance of their mission on this day. They must have experienced some fear, for plane losses were extremely high. They didn't expect to return; they were committed to crash dive into one of the American carriers.
The pilots moved toward their planes slowly; the passage took 15 minutes. They manned their planes and began the runway roll for take off. It was 11:35 A.M. They headed 075 degrees towards carrier task force 38, circling 90 to 120 miles east of the Philippines.
Moving at low altitude to avoid radar detection, the planes reached their target in one hour and twelve minutes. The lead plane spotted the ship's wakes while still twenty five miles distant from the forward picket line. Kimiharu Kohtake, leader of the attack group gave the order to disperse and attack. It was 12:47 when the first radar report of enemy aircraft in the vicinity of the task force was circulated.
At 12:52 two Japanese planes were spotted visually, several hundred yards off the bow of Essex. The alert gunners opened fire; the planes maneuvered rapidly back into cloud cover. Seven minutes later, two planes appeared two hundred yards distant on the starboard side aft of the Essex. One plane, a Judy, a single engine dive bomber flown by Yoshiori Yamaguchi, began a gliding path directly towards the flight deck of the Essex. Just seconds after GQ sounded the Judy crashed into the port side, forward of the number 2 elevator, and in the after end of the twenty-millimeter gun battery. It was 12:56 P.M. Forty four of the Essex crew were seriously wounded and sixteen were killed.
(From "Life and Death Aboard The USS Essex" by Richard Streb)
In the forward to "The Divine Wind, The Whole True Story." Admiral C.R. Brown wrote: " It is certainly not that the enemy was more courageous than we. One of the earliest lessons one learns in battle is that courage is a very common quality. Mute evidence ... the unforgettable picture I once observed on board the Essex when I watched the 20-millimeter gun crews stand unflinchingly to their guns until enveloped in flames, in an effort to beat off a kamikaze."
The Kamikaze ThreatFive million German soldiers surrendered to the Allies in Europe. In the Pacific, less than 5% of Japanese forces surrendered. They considered it a disgrace to their families, and instead fought to the death.
Although Allied troops were acquainted with their enemy's sacrificial nature, they were unprepared for what came out of the sky during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. Japanese pilots flew their planes and themselves directly into American warships, causing massive damage. Some attacked, the U.S.S. St. Lo sank with 114 hands the first, but far from the last, victims of the kamikazes.
The concept was Vice Admiral Onishi Takijiro's. Japanese air forces were no longer competitive, so Takijiro proposed turning planes into human missiles. The pilots needed little training takeoffs, but no landings and a sacrificial dive-bomber would be hard to shoot down. They were called kamikazes, or "divine wind" typhoons that saved Japan in 1274 and 1281 by driving off Kublai Khan's invasion fleet. Those at home would be inspired by the kamikaze sacrifice. The enemy would be terrified.
Kamikaze pilots were often university students, motivated by obligation and gratitude to family and country. They prepared by holding ceremonials, writing farewell poems, and receiving a "thousand stitch belt" cloth into which 1,000 women had sewn one stitch as a symbolic uniting with the pilot. Then, in planes wrapped around 550 pound bombs, they would fly off to die.
The most effective use of kamikazes was in the battle for Okinawa. Up to 300 aircraft at a time dove at the Allied fleet. Just the anticipation of kamikaze attacks was hard on American sailors. The destroyer Laffey was attacked by 20 planes at once. Her gunners got nine kamikazes, but six others severely damaged the ship. As on the similarly damaged U.S.S. Franklin, courage, and intensive training in firefighting, kept the Laffey afloat.
By war's end, kamikazes had sunk or damaged more than 300 U.S. ships, with 15,000 casualties. Several thousand kamikaze planes had been set aside for the invasion of the Japanese mainland that never came. Ironically, the kamikaze and the sacrificial philosophy behind them were one of the reasons President Truman decided to drop the atomic bombs.
On the eve of the Japanese surrender, Onishi Takijiro committed suicide, leaving a note apologizing to his dead pilots because their sacrifice had been in vain.