Put your What-If app to work. Imagine a stealthy cruise missile with an extremely sophisticated, highly adaptable guidance system programmed to strike America’s most valuable naval targets — aircraft carriers. The antiship missile is immune to all deception measures. It’s programmed to ignore chaff and flares as well as navigation and communications jamming. Being subsonic, it’s more vulnerable in daytime than at night, but its construction renders radar almost irrelevant except at close range. In the terminal homing phase, the awkward-looking attacker is highly percent effective. If it survives the task force’s defensive gamut of fighters and antiaircraft guns, it is likely to score a hit.
Though eerie or even ghoulish to Westerners, aviation suicide tactics made sense to Japan in 1945. The Imperial Navy’s elite cache of prewar aviators was largely expended by late 1944, consumed by years of unrelenting combat. Vice Adm. Takijiro Onishi, commanding naval aircraft in the Philippines, recognized the gravity of the situation and reckoned that low-time pilots could achieve dramatic results by driving their planes into American ships rather than employing bombs or torpedoes. By then, U.S. Navy task forces were nearly immune to conventional air attack.
The Kamikaze concept harkened back to Japan’s heaven-sent typhoon — the “divine wind” — that scattered a huge Mongol invasion fleet in 1274. As many as 200 of Kublai Khan’s ships were lost with thousands of soldiers — a comparison tailor-made for Imperial Japan in mid-20th century.
Tokyo’s army and navy planners had first discussed suicide tactics in 1943, but no joint command was established. Nevertheless, some individual attacks were conducted before Tokko Tai (special attack) units were formed in late 1944.
Onishi’s request for volunteers was rewarded when Lt. Yukio Seki, a dive-bomber pilot, accepted the position as leader of the first suicide unit. After several weather and navigation aborts, the first missions were flown over Leyte Gulf at the height of the three-day naval battle on October 25, 1944.
by Barrett Tillman
Read the article from the April 2105 issue of Flight Journal, click here.