Kamikaze suicide attacks were one of the most frightful tactics of the Pacific theater during World War II. Named after the divine wind of a hurricane that repelled Mongol invaders in Japan’s ancient past, these planes and pilots are often thought of as nothing more than fanatics, brainwashed into giving their lives, but the truth is more nuanced. These pilots were as human as any and often battled between loyalty and their fear of death. The details of the Kamikaze attacks are a history lesson that we should not forget.
10. The First Kamikaze Attack Was Not Planned
During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941, 28-year-old Lieutenant Fusata Iida was hit. His plane, a Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero, had sustained heavy damage, and he signaled the rest of his air group to go on without him. He pointed to the ground, indicating his intention to crash his plane at a suitable target. He targeted Hanger 101, the base’s primary hanger, which he intended to ram in a suicide run. American ground fire ripped his plane apart and instead of hitting the hanger his plane overshot and crashed.
Fusata Iida is widely considered the first Kamikaze, though that was not his intention setting out. His body was buried by Americans at the Heleloa burial area, and a memorial now marks the site of his crash. His remains have since been returned to Japan.
9. The First Planned Kamikazes Weren’t Until Three Years Later
Conventional naval and aerial tactics failed to stop the American offensive after Pearl Harbor. This desperate situation led to a new tactic. Japanese naval Captain Motoharu Okamura said of the matter, “I firmly believe that the only way to swing the war in our favor is to resort to crash-dive attacks with our planes . . . There will be more than enough volunteers for this chance to save our country.”
The first wave of Kamikazes were made up of 24 volunteer pilots from Japan’s 201st Air Group. They specifically target US escort carriers. The St. Lowas one such carrier that was struck and sunk in less than one hour, killing 100 Americans.