Kamikaze - an approach to the historical and psychological backgrounds

Seminar Paper, 2001

18 Pages, Grade: 2



I. Introduction

II. The situation in autumn 1944

III. The invention of kamikaze

IV. The backgrounds

V. The survivors

VI. The results of the kamikaze attacks

VII. The influence of kamikaze attacks on the war

VIII. The very end

IX. Causes for the process of large scale suicide tactics

X. Conclusion

XI. About suicide (a comparison to the western point of view)

XII. Final announcement

XIII. Appendix A: Quotations

XIV. Appendix B: Bibliography

I. Introduction

On October 25th 1944, two hours after sunrise the U.S.S Santee (C.V.E -29) an escort carrier lying in the Mindanao area was attacked by a single Japanese aircraft coming in lowly and – crushing into the flight deck[1].

The `accident´ caused heavy damage – and proofed to be none.

At the latest on the next day the American Forces in the Philippines had to realize that the Japanese were now using a new dreadful and desperate strategy to turn the tide of war.

They started suicidal attacks in large numbers trying to hit enemy ships with their planes loaded with bombs. Another escort carrier the St.Lo (C.V.E.- 63) was sunk during this first attack after being hit by a suicide plane – leaving the U.S. soldiers and leaders frightened and shocked.

Kamikaze – divine wind - became another Japanese word known to U.S. soldiers.

What led the prime of Japan’s youth to this last hopeless sacrifice?

II. The situation in autumn 1944

On December 7th 1941 Japanese forces attacked Pearl Habor where the U.S. Pacific Fleet was stationed. The Americans caught by surprise on this `Day of infamy´ - because no official declaration of war had been handed over to the U.S. government – now chanced to participate in what then truly became the Second World War. Being unprepared Allied forces where driven out of Malaya, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sumatra, Java, Guam, Wake Island and the Philippines.

The Japanese army seemed unstoppable.

It was not until the famous Battle of Midway on June 3rd 1942 that the Americans regained offensive power by breaking the operational backbone of the Japanese Navy sinking 4 aircraft carriers. From now on the Japanese were slowly but steadily driven back from island to island. After the invasion of the island named Guadalcanal which was of greatest strategic importance during the rest of the year (with the battles of the eastern solomones and santa cruz fought) U.S. Forces cleared the way to the Philippines. In 1943 the Solomons and New Guinea were endangered and Japanese leaders slowly realized there was not much they could do to hinder the U.S. in taking these islands. With the battle of the Bismarck Sea lost and Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku the Commander in Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet shot down over Bougainville the Japanese lost more and more ground. In 1944 they were driven out of the Marshall Islands and U.S. Airforce wiped out the naval bases at Truk and Rabaul. U.S. troops advanced to the Marianas from where B-29 bombers could reach the Japanese mainland. `Turkey shooting´ the Americans named the engagement with Japanese Air forces in the Philippine sea thus indicating the enormous and numerous advantages regarding weapons (air superiority was gained using Hellcat and Corsair fighters), strategy (`island hopping´ to hit ´em where they ain´t) and experience (Japan suffered heavy losses especially trained pilots) they had over the Japanese at this time.

Japanese military leaders realised not only that their great Asian Empire could not be defended properly with the troops disposable but even weakened their forces by stretching them over a territory too expanded to control. They also realised that there seemed to be no possibilities to stop the `awoken giant´ America (referring to Yamamoto´s saying regarding the industrial potential of the U.S.A) from proceeding closer and closer to the mainland of Japan which at that time had already been bombed by U.S. planes. U.S. Forces had to be stopped. The decisive battles should be fought in the Philippine area where the Americans were already preparing an invasion in fall 1944. The fierce battle of Leyte Gulf was yet to come and the Japanese were willing to use all they still had to gain a victory and restore the balance of power with the U.S.A. The main body of the remaining IJN-Forces was send to the Philippines including the carrier Zuikaku and the huge battleship Musashi. The Japanese were willing to play all their cards.

It was then that the idea of kamikaze – organized large-scale airborne suicidal attacks – was born.

III. The invention of kamikaze

It was Vice-Admiral Onishi Takaijiro at that time commander of the 1st naval air fleet who suggested the planned, systematically sacrifice of Japanese pilots on October the 19th 1944 in Mabalacat headquarter 80 kilometres off Manila[2]. The idea of suicidal attacks was not that new to the Japanese forces (they had used small submarines to block the entrances to Pearl Harbour) but the dimensions of the kamikaze attacks to come were and are until today unmatched.

Onishi clearly pointed out that the Japanese had no more resources in whatsoever conventional way to stop the U.S.

His idea was to send outclassed models of the Mitsubishi A6M fighters (the famous Zero) armed with 250 kg bombs to crash-dive into enemy carriers. Doing so these intelligent bombs would hit the enemy precisely destroying their most powerful operational weapons. What was more veteran pilots were not to be spared for such attacks but young and inexperienced pilots had the chance to distribute to a Japanese victory far beyond their capabilities. He also considered the shock caused to U.S. soldiers and leaders realizing that the Japanese will defend their homeland with determination beyond Christian morale. Within minutes his plan was accepted!

Then on October 25th the first so-called tokkotai – special attack force – a euphemism used to avoid the term suicidal- consisting of 24 men got airborne to fulfil their last duty for the Emperor. And they were extremely successful! The escort carrier St. Lo was sunk and 4 more were damaged and consequently withdrawn from action. The battle of Leyte Gulf doomed the Japanese Navy and disabled them to carry out any more offensive operations. Only the kamikaze pilots had been effective.

Consequently as a result more special units were formed and soon they gave themselves titles out of Japanese history referring to the heroes of old, great samurai who gave their lives for the imperial house. But they also referred to the divine wind (kamikaze or shimpu i.e. the sino-japanese pronunciation used by the Japanese themselves to stress out the honourable deed of those pilots) - the so-called taifun that wiped off invading Mongolian troops under Kublai Khan twice in November 1274 and in July 1281 saving the Japanese from being conquered under foreign rule and creating the first national consciousness.

IV. The backgrounds

It is very surprising to see how fast the idea of kamikaze was developed accepted and carried out. This indicates that the ideological and / or cultural backgrounds that allowed the sacrifice of a soldier’s life as a legitimate tool to harm the enemy were deep-rooted in the Japanese self-consciousness. That is partly true if we look at the Japanese history, religions and mythology:

1.) The Japanese share strong compassion for the hero that failed. As Ivan Morris describes[3] the prototype of the Japanese hero – Yamato Takeru – fails and after his death transforms into a white bird thus promising relief because of his sincerity. Takeru is followed by many and then historically defined heroes like Minamoto no Yoshitsune and above all Kusunoki Masashige. They all prove to have magokoro, (真心) i.e. a true heart meaning they do stick to their once chosen way until the end even if they can foresee that there is nothing left to achieve. This attitude the Japanese honour with hooganbiiki i.e. sympathy for those who fail. Especially if the actions of the hero were concerned about the welfare of Japan and/ or the imperial house.
2.) The rise of the samurai- (warrior-) class and its reign from 1192 until 1868 led to the


[1] Scherer, Klaus: Kamikaze, 2001, Seite 13, 2. Abschnitt

[2] Morris, Ivan: Samurai oder Von der Würde des Scheiterns, 1999, Seite 343

[3] Morris, Ivan: Samurai oder von der Würde des Scheiterns, 1999

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Kamikaze - an approach to the historical and psychological backgrounds
University of Applied Sciences Ludwigshafen  (Ostasieninstitut)
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Thomas Marx (Author), 2001, Kamikaze - an approach to the historical and psychological backgrounds, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/38208


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