It is commonly believed that all Kamikaze pilots were enlisted Japanese soldiers who sacrificed their lives by crashing their planes into enemy ships during World War II. However, this is only partially true. While Kamikaze pilots did indeed sacrifice their lives, many were volunteers who were under a great deal of pressure to do so.

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The Origins of Kamikaze

The word “Kamikaze” is Japanese for “divine wind.” The term originally referred to a typhoon that destroyed a Mongolian fleet that was invading Japan in 1281. Kamikaze pilots adopted the name during World War II in an attempt to invoke the same divine protection.

Kamikaze pilots were not, as is commonly believed, drafted into service. While it is true that some were enlisted soldiers, many more were young volunteers who saw Kamikaze as a way to serve their country.

Captain Matoharu was the first officer to propose these types of attacks. Some site September 13, 1944 as the first kamikaze mission after Captain Matoharu and his superiors began investigations into such a strategy on June 15, 1944.

The Pressure to Become a Kamikaze Pilot

While some pilots were volunteers, many others felt pressure to become Kamikaze. This pressure came from a variety of sources, including the Japanese government, military leaders, and even family members.

The Japanese government saw Kamikaze as a way to turn the tide of the war. They believed that the pilots would be able to inflict significant damage on the enemy, and that their sacrifice would inspire the Japanese people to continue fighting.

The number of kamikaze pilots was so vast, Captain Okamura gave them the nickname “swarm of bees”. There were 3 available kamikaze for one plane. The sad part about this nickname is that bees often die young, just as the kamikaze “volunteers” did.

They Were Young

The majority of Kamikaze pilots were young men in their early twenties. Many of them had never even seen combat before, let alone flown a plane. Some were in the equivalent of IVY league schools before joining the war.

Many Kamikaze pilots truly believed that they would be reincarnated as birds or other animals after their deaths. The average age was 17-24 years old while older pilots did the training.

How They Operated

Kamikaze pilots operated in a variety of ways, depending on the mission. Some pilots flew their planes into enemy ships, while others flew them into the side of mountains. Kamikaze pilots flew planes that were loaded with extra fuel and bombs, which they would use to make sure that their target was destroyed.

In some cases, Kamikaze pilots were able to return to base after their mission. This was usually due to mechanical problems with the plane, or because they were unable to find a target. In these cases, the pilots would often commit suicide by crashing their plane into the ground.

Their Oath

Before they began their mission, they took a five point oath. The oath specified living a simple life, esteem for military valor, loyalty, righteousness, and propriety.

Their Largest Attack

When people think of a large kamikaze attack, they may automatically think of the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the largest kamikaze attack actually took place at the Battle of Okinawa.

During the battle, over 1,900 pilots were deployed to sink as many enemy ships as possible.

They Did Not Always Hit The Target

The kamikaze attacks only reached the targeted ships 14%- 19% of the time. The main reason for this was because the pilots were often inexperienced and did not have the skills necessary to hit their targets. In addition, the planes they were flying were often outdated and not up to the task of accurately hitting a moving target.

Oftentimes tracers shot down kamikaze planes before they could hit their targets.

Suicide As a Japanese Military Tradition

While these pilots are often seen as a product of World War II, suicide has actually been a part of Japanese military tradition for centuries. Samurai warriors would often commit suicide rather than be taken prisoner, and the tradition of seppuku (ritual suicide) was still practiced up until the Meiji period.

Kamikaze pilots saw themselves as continuing this tradition. Even before the official formation of the kamikaze units, some pilots intentionally crashed their planes to avoid capture after their plane got damaged – as well as do damage to the enemy.

The Aftermath

In total, 3,912 Kamikaze pilots sank 34 ships and damaged over 300 others. 4,900 sailors were killed in these attacks.

Today, the legacy of Kamikaze pilots is a controversial one. Some people see them as heroes who sacrificed their lives for their country. Others see them as murderers who killed innocent people in the name of war. Whatever your opinion, there is no denying that Kamikaze pilots played a significant role in World War II.


Cite This Article
"Kamikaze Pilots: What Was The Real Story?" History on the Net
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January 28, 2023 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/kamikaze-pilots-what-was-the-real-story>
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