The typhoon was believed to be a gift from the gods that was granted after the emperor prayed for divine intervention.
Definition and Summary
Definition: The name 'Kamikaze' refers to two great typhoons in 13th century history that saved Japan from invasion by the Mongol fleet under Kublai Khan. Each typhoon wrecked Mongol fleets attempting to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281. The Japanese believed the typhoons had been sent from the gods to protect them from their enemies.
The massive Mongol fleet was destroyed by the great typhoons which the Japanese called "Kamikaze" meaning the 'divine wind'. In the Japanese language 'kami' is the word for god, or divinity; and 'kaze' is the word for "wind"
According to Japanese legend, the Kamikaze (divine wind) was created by Raijin, god of thunder, lightening and storms, to protect Japan against the Mongols.
Definition: The term kamikaze or 'divine wind' was used in honor of the 1281 typhoon as it was believed to be a gift from the gods that was granted after the Emperor Hojo Tokimune prayed for divine intervention. It was one of the largest and most disastrous attempts at a naval invasion in history.
The name 'Kamikaze' was used again during WW2 for suicide attacks by Japanese pilots who deliberately crashed their planes into enemy targets.
The metaphor meant that the pilots were to be the ‘divine wind’ that would once again save Japan from invasion and sweep the enemy from the seas.
After their initial, successful attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines the Japanese were defeated in many important battles and began to lose their ships, airplanes and pilots. Japanese technology was inferior to the Allies and they were unable to match the huge levels of war production achieved by the United States.
Most of the experienced Japanese pilots had died during the battles and were replaced by extremely young inexperienced pilots who had limited flight training.
During 1944 the situation was becoming desperate for the Japanese as the Allied forces moved ever close to the Japan bringing with it the threat of invasion and the defeat of Japan.
The Japanese military realized that they were facing an impossible task requiring drastic action. Conventional tactics and methods were no longer effective.
Admiral Takijiro of the Japanese Navy proposed a drastic solution to Japan’s dire situation: "to organize suicide attack units composed of Zero fighters armed with 250-kilogram bombs, with each plane to crash dive into an enemy carrier."
The Japanese emperor, Hirohito, agreed to form a special Kamikaze attack unit (Tokkai tai) from Japan’s 201st Navy Air Group.
The strategy of the suicide attack was not new to the Japanese. They had already begun to use the suicidal last-resort Banzai charge in their battles on the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.
The Banzai Charge was the name given by Allied forces because, during the charge, Japanese forces yelled "Tenno Haika Banzai!" meaning "long live the emperor, ten thousand ages!" On Saipan, over 1,000 US marines had been killed in one Banzai charge.
The Banzai Charge, and the later Kamikaze attacks, were founded on the principles of honor and loyalty based on dying honorably rather than surrendering. The strong Japanese tradition of death instead of defeat, and its perceived shame, was deeply entrenched in Japanese culture.
The Japanese therefore began to produce a new weapon as part of the final defense of Japan - the Kamikaze pilots
The Kamikaze pilots of the tokko tai (special attack forces) were among the best in Japan and were highly educated young men who totally aware of the consequences of their actions and driven by a sense of duty to his family, his country and his emperor.
At the beginning of WW2, the Japanese military estimated that pilots needed 500 hours of flight experience to be prepared for combat missions. The Kamikaze pilots of the tokko tai received just 40 to 50 hours of flight training.
Kamikaze pilots were given special training for about one week. In the first few days the pilots learned to take off. They then learned to fly in formation and the last days were focused in the study and practice of how to attack a target.
There was not time for Kamikaze pilots to be provided with basic piloting skills such as navigation, landing techniques, or the use of on-board radio equipment.
The Japanese overcame the obstacle of navigating and locating targets in the open sea by assigning experienced pilots to escort them. The Kamikaze pilots followed the escort pilots until they sighted and then launched the suicide attack on the enemy. The escort pilots then returned providing news of the Kamikazes success.
The Japanese employed both conventional aircraft and specially designed planes, called Ohka (“cherry blossom”). The Ohka (Cherry Blossom) Model 22 plane was designed to allow a pilot with minimal training to drop from a Japanese navy bomber at high altitude and guide his aircraft with its warhead at high speed into an Allied warship.
Before embarking on their suicide missions a short, special ceremony usually took place in which the Kamikaze pilots received a "thousand-stitch sash" which they wore as a scarf around their wrist and a white head band wear called a hachimaki with the red rising sun in the centre.
On October 25, 1944, during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf, the Japanese deployed its first organized kamikaze (“divine wind”) suicide bombers against American warships for the first time.
The first kamikaze force was composed of 24 volunteer pilots from Japan’s 201st Navy Air Group. They were led by Lt. Yukio Seki of the 201st Air Group the commander of the first group of five tokko tai (Special Attack Corps units).
The USS St. Lo (CVE-63) was struck by a Kamikaze Zero fighter during the Battle of Leyte and sunk in less than an hour, killing 100 Americans. It was the first US warship to sink as the result of a kamikaze attack. The flagship of the Royal Australian Navy, the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, was also hit and badly damaged on the same day.
The attack by Kamikaze pilots was a complete surprise and the damage was not only physical but also psychological. The United States and the Allies had never fought an enemy who encouraged young men to commit deliberate acts of suicide as part as their military strategy.
The Japanese were jubilant at the success of the attacks and expanded the Kamikaze program. The Japanese newspapers encouraged young men to volunteer for the suicide missions. The were many more volunteers than the number of airplanes available.
Kamikazes caused more Allied naval casualties during the war than any other Japanese weapon. More than 400 Allied vessels were struck by Japanese special attack weapons in the last 12 months of WW2.
7,465 Kamikaze pilots flew to their deaths as they either crashed or were shot down and many US ships were sunk. Between October 25, 1944 and January 25, 1945, Kamikazes sunk the USS Callaghan, USS Bush, USS Bismarck Sea, USS Bates, USS Barry and the USS Abner Read. Kamikazes also damaged 23 carriers, 5 battleships, 9 cruisers, 23 destroyers and 27 other ships.
3,048 allied sailors were killed and another 6,025 were wounded in Kamikaze attacks. Allied troops were afraid of the kamikaze attacks because there was no way to defend themselves against them.
The strategy of using suicide attacks to inflict death and terror are still with us today - think of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers.
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