Great Blunders of WWII: The Failure of the Kamikaze
Produced and directed by Jonathan Martin
Written by Charles Messenger
The History Channel, 1998, 21 min., Video
"Great blunders" aptly describes some information provided by this
video originally aired on The History Channel. Although the documentary
evenhandedly covers kamikaze aerial attacks and other types of suicide weapons
used by the Japanese military near the end of World War II, the video contains a
number of factual errors and provides several misleading explanations of reasons behind certain historical events.
This documentary on "The Failure of the Kamikaze" is one of eight
episodes included in the four-video set of Great Blunders of WWII, which
covers the "fatal errors, startling miscues and bungled opportunities"
of the Axis powers. The History Channel released these same eight episodes
and four additional "blunders" on two DVDs in 2000. The program's
segments of 20 to 25 minutes each leave little time for in-depth exploration of
Some of the video's "great blunders" include statements that
Okinawa is 9,000 times the size of Iwo Jima  and
that the original kamikaze (divine wind) was a typhoon that stopped a Mongol
invasion of Japan in the 12th century . Actually,
the area of the island of Okinawa is about 463 square miles, and Iwo Jima's size
is about 8 square miles, so
Okinawa is less than 60 times the size of Iwo Jima. The typhoons termed
took place late in the 13th century in 1274 and 1281 to help stop Mongol
invasions of Japan. The narrator explains that the inspiration of
the first Kamikaze Corps was an air group commander in the Philippines, Masafumi
(documentary incorrectly uses name of Masabumi) Arima, who in October 1944 deliberately dove his plane into the aircraft
carrier U.S.S. Franklin. The video shows a clip of the alleged dive. In
fact, Arima failed to hit any ship before he was shot down ,
and the film clip is a kamikaze dive into the aircraft carrier Lexington
on November 5, 1944 (Hara 2004, 28-9).
Small historical details in this documentary also sometimes are inaccurate.
The narrator states that kamikaze attacks damaged two American carriers on
October 26, 1944 , but both Warner (1982, 111-2,
323) and Hoyt (1983, 84-5) state that only one carrier was damaged on that date.
Regarding the number of ohka (rocket-propelled piloted bombs) involved in their
first mission on March 21, 1945, the video mentions 18 
even though two books about the ohka weapon state only 15 ohka participated
(Naito 1989, 113; Hagoromo Society 1973, 33) .
Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi formed the first kamikaze unit, but the narrator
incorrectly pronounces his name as "Takajino" .
The documentary's explanations of several historical events are incorrect or
misleading. For example, the documentary describes Vice Admiral Ohnishi
launching the first of his kamikaze attacks after the sinking of four Japanese
carriers and three battleships . In reality,
Ohnishi had launched the first kamikaze attack several days earlier on October
21, 1944, and his decision to send the kamikaze planes had nothing to do with
the sinking of these ships. In another example, the narrator states in 1942 and
1943 that "occasionally, Japanese pilots would deliberately crash their
planes into allied ships or ram hostile aircraft" .
However, this rarely happened during this period and almost always in a
situation when a pilot's plane had been hit and was going down anyway. The
narrator explains that the Japanese military persisted in kamikaze attacks due to
little feedback about their lack of success .
On the contrary, Japanese military leaders sent escort planes that
accompanied the kamikaze planes in order to protect them and to observe results,
but their reports frequently exaggerated results.
This video tells the basic story of kamikaze pilots along with
some interesting historical footage, but the large number of errors makes this a
documentary to avoid.
1. At 13:00 in video.
2. At 8:10 in video.
3. See Inoguchi and Nakajima 1958, 37;
O'Neill 1999, 123-4; Warner and Warner 1982, 84.
4. At 10:05 in video.
5. From 14:45 to 14:55 in video.
6. Inoguchi and Nakajima 1958, 37; Warner and Warner 1982,
7. At 6:20 in video.
8. At 9:15 in video.
9. From 4:05 to 4:10 in video.
10. At 11:55 in video.
Hagoromo Society of Kamikaze Divine Thunderbolt Corps
Survivors. 1973. The Cherry Blossom Squadrons: Born to Die. Edited and supplemented by Andrew Adams. Translated by Nobuo
Asahi and the Japan Tech Co. Los Angeles: Ohara Publications.
Hara, Katsuhiro. 2004. Shinsō kamikaze tokkō: Hisshi
hitchū no 300 nichi (Kamikaze special attack facts: 300 days of certain-death, sure-hit
attacks). Tōkyō: KK Bestsellers.
Hoyt, Edwin P. 1983. The Kamikazes. Short Hills, NJ:
Inoguchi, Rikihei, Tadashi Nakajima, with Roger Pineau.
1958. The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II.
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Naito, Hatsuho. 1989. Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell
Their Stories. Translated by Mayumi Ishikawa. Tokyo: Kodansha
O'Neill, Richard. 1999. Suicide Squads: The Men and Machines of World War II
Special Operations. Originally published in 1981. London: Salamander Books.
Warner, Denis, Peggy
Warner, with Commander Sadao Seno. 1982. The Sacred Warriors: Japan's Suicide
Legions. New York: Van Nostrand