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Eyewitness Story of the Kamikaze Suicide Missions
by Capt. Rikihei Inoguchi and  Cmdr. Tadashi Nakajima, Former Imperial Japanese Navy
Translated by Cmdr. Masataka Chihaya and Roger Pineau
The Reader's Digest, December 1953, pp. 137-40
Originally published in United States Naval Institute Proceedings (September, '53), copyright 1953 by U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, Md.

Introductory Comments

During and shortly after World War II, most Americans generally had a distorted view of Japan's kamikaze pilots based on rumors and limited information. This December 1953 article, published in one of the most popular U.S. magazines The Reader's Digest, first communicated to the general American public the facts behind the formation of Japan's kamikaze units from two eyewitnesses.

This condensed story comes from an article published three months earlier in the September 1953 journal United States Naval Institute Proceedings, which had limited distribution to a specialized readership in comparison to the widespread circulation of The Reader's Digest. The United States Naval Institute Proceedings article entitled "The Kamikaze Attack Corps" was condensed and translated to English from Capt. Rikihei Inoguchi and Cmdr. Tadashi Nakajima's 1951 book Kamikaze tokubetsu kougekitai (The kamikaze special attack corps). This Japanese book became the basis for Roger Pineau's English translation, The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II, which was first published in 1958.

Capt. Rikihei Inoguchi served in the 1st Air Fleet as senior staff officer to Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi, originator of Japan's kamikaze units. Cmdr. Tadashi Nakajima was the flight operations officer of the 201st Air Group, which was the first in 1944 to participate in kamikaze attacks in the Philippines. In 1945, he was on the staff of the 5th Air Fleet at the time of kamikaze operations during the Battle of Okinawa.

On October 17, 1944, when the Philippines were in Japanese hands, an American force landed at the entrance of Leyte Gulf. Soon more than 100 U.S. carrier planes swarmed over targets from Luzon to Mindanao.

The Japanese fleet had suffered overwhelming defeat in the Battle of the Philippine Sea; naval air strength was at a low ebb. Everyone was aware that it would take a miracle to save the Japanese Empire from disaster. It was then that the desperate kamikaze idea was born.

On October 19, as dusk settled over Mabalacat Field, Luzon base of the 201st Japanese Air Group, a black sedan drew up in front of the command post and Adm. Takijiro Ohnishi stepped out. Commander of the First Air Fleet, he was regarded as the foremost exponent of aerial warfare. Now he summoned the 201st's staff officers into immediate conference and said:

"The situation is so grave that the fate of the Empire depends on the outcome of the Sho operation. [Sho — Victory — was the ironic name which Tokyo gave to the operation designed to defend the Philippines against recapture.] A naval force under Admiral Kurita is to penetrate Leyte Gulf and there annihilate enemy surface units. The First Air Fleet has been designated to support that mission by rendering enemy carriers ineffective for at least one week. But our position is such that we can no longer win by adhering to conventional methods of warfare. In my opinion, the enemy can be stopped only by crash-diving on their carrier flight decks with Zero fighters carrying 250-kilogram bombs."

The listeners were electrified by the Admiral's words as his sharp eyes surveyed the crowded room. It was apparent that the purpose of his visit was to inspire suicide attacks.

When Admiral Ohnishi had finished, Commander Tamai, the 201st's executive officer, asked permission to consult with his squadron leaders on a matter so grave as this. He was confident that most of his pilots would dedicate themselves as human missiles when they heard of the plan. "They said little," he reported later, "but their eyes spoke eloquently of a willingness to die for their country." All but two volunteered.

It was decided that Lt. Yukio Seki should lead the attack. He was a man of outstanding character and ability, a graduate of the Naval Academy at Eta Jima. When told of the assignment by Commander Tamai, Seki leaned forward at the table, supporting his head in his hands, his eyes closed. The young officer had been married just before leaving the homeland. For several seconds he sat motionless except for the tightening of his clenched fists. Then, raising his head, he smoothed back his hair and spoke in a clear, quiet voice. "Please do appoint me to lead the attack."

Shortly after sunrise on October 20, Admiral Ohnishi summoned the 24 kamikaze (divine wind) pilots and addressed them, his voice shaking with emotion: "Japan faces a terrible crisis. The salvation of our country is beyond the power of ministers, the General Staff and lowly unit commanders like myself. It is now up to spirited young men such as you." Tears came to his eyes as he concluded: "I ask you to do your utmost and wish you success."

Similar recruiting of kamikaze pilots was taking place at other air bases. At Cebu, all hands assembled at 6 p.m. on October 20. "Each volunteer for the 'special-attack' corps," said the commanding officer, "will write his name and rank on a piece of paper and insert it in an envelope and seal it. Enclose a blank paper if you do not wish to volunteer. You have three hours in which to give the matter serious consideration."

At nine o'clock sharp the senior petty-officer pilot delivered an envelope to the commander's quarters. Inside were more than 20 signed pieces of paper; only two were blank.

On October 25 the first successful kamikaze-unit attack was carried out; six planes took off at dawn from Davao in southern Mindanao and damaged at least three enemy escort carriers.

That same morning Lieutenant Seki also led a successful attack from Mabalacat. One of the four escorting pilots furnished a report of the action: "Sighting an enemy force of four carriers and six other ships, Lieutenant Seki dived headlong into one of the carriers, which he rammed successfully. A colleague crashed into the same ship, from which there arose a great column of smoke. Successful hits were also scored by two more pilots, one on another flattop, the other on a light cruiser."

News of the kamikaze successes flashed throughout the navy. A total of 93 fighters and 57 bombers had been flown in conventional attacks that day, inflicting no damage on the enemy. The superiority of the suicide attacks was manifest.

Admiral Ohnishi was convinced that further employment of these inhuman tactics was unavoidable. He pressed this opinion on Vice-Admiral Fukudome, commander in chief of the Second Air Fleet: "Nothing short of all-out use of special attacks can save us. It is time for your air fleet to adopt these tactics."

Thus the kamikaze tactics were given full play, and young men volunteered freely for the opportunity to add to the intensity of the "divine wind." Reinforcements poured out from the homeland eager to take their turn in crashing upon enemy warships.

Time was running out, however. Day by day the situation around Leyte Island became more hopeless. As the tempo of the invasion increased, so did the intensity and number of kamikaze attacks. But the supply of planes was dwindling and on January 5 the last large-scale suicide attack from a Philippine base was launched. Fifteen fighter-bombers struck the invasion forces at Lingayen Gulf, damaging one cruiser and four transports.*

Further Japanese defeats followed quickly after the fall of the Philippines. The mighty enemy invaded Iwo Jima in February 1945 and Okinawa in April, trapping Japan in a grip of death. This inspired kamikaze tactics on an unprecedented scale — even training planes were mobilized.

Now a new suicide weapon was proposed. A rocket-powered 1800-kilogram missile would be attached to a "mother" bomber. Within sight of the target the missile would be released, with a volunteer suicide pilot to crash it on an enemy ship. The group of pilots trained to man this weapon was called Jinrai Butai (divine thunderbolt unit). "Baka (foolish) Bomb" was the nickname it earned among the Allies.

Baka Bombs were used in the big attack on Okinawa on April 12. The pilot of the first missile to score a hit was remarkably composed. In his nonflying hours he was supervisor of a junior officers' billet. His last words before climbing into the mother bomber were: "Keep an eye out for the new straw mats I ordered for the billet." He napped peacefully during the flight toward Okinawa and had to be awakened to start his flight to eternity.

In the Okinawa campaign alone there were more than 1800 suicide flights. By the time Japan surrendered, a total of 2519 men and officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy had sacrificed themselves.

A few hours after the Imperial proclamation of August 15, 1945, calling for immediate cessation of the war, the Fifth Air Fleet commander, Admiral Ugaki, chose the same death he had ordered for so many of his pilots. He stripped the insignia of rank from his uniform and spoke to the assembled officers and men: "I am going to take off for a crash attack upon the enemy at Okinawa. Those who wish to follow me are requested to raise their hands."

There were more volunteers than there were planes available. Of the 11 planes that took off, seven — including Admiral Ugaki's — radioed that they were "diving on target."

That evening Admiral Ohnishi, who now was vice-chief of the Naval General Staff in Tokyo, penned a note: "To the souls of my late subordinates I express the greatest appreciation for their valiant deeds. In death I wish to apologize to these brave men and their families." Then he plunged a samurai sword into his abdomen.

Refusing medical aid or a coup de grāce, Admiral Ohnishi lingered on in agony until six o'clock the following evening. His choice to endure prolonged suffering was obviously made in expiation for his part in the most diabolical tactic of war the world has ever seen.

* American Navy accounts of the battle of Lingayen Gulf show that the kamikaze attacks were apparently more effective than the Japanese themselves realized. Not one but two cruisers were damaged, as well as an escort carrier and a destroyer. The threat was so great that U.S. carriers which had planned to attack Formosa on January 7 were retained to continue the attack at Luzon.

Sources Cited

Inoguchi, Rikihei, and Tadashi Nakajima. 1953. The Kamikaze Attack Corps. Translated and condensed by Masataka Chihaya and Roger Pineau. United States Naval Institute Proceedings 79 (9): 933-945.

________, with Roger Pineau. 1958. The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.