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The Divine Wind: Japan’s Kamikaze Force in World War II — a book I’ve read

28 August 2010

This is the anniversary when U.S. forces commenced the occupation of Japan after combat operations had officially ceased on August 15th in 1945. The Soviets had retaken much of Manchuria in early August and were threatening to attack the Japanese home island of Hokkaido. Until that point the Japanese and Russia had a non aggression pact in place and Japan’s leaders were planning their end-game strategy with only the U.S. invader as the opponent. It is unknown what, if any, affect this may have had in the calculation for Japan to agree to an unconditional surrender and so quickly after the two atomic bomb attacks. Japan had been preparing to have almost all of its citizens mobilize for the inevitable onslaught of U.S. forces. Caves and tunnels were excavated. Munitions, fuel and food were stored. Strategies were set to exact maximum casualties from the U.S. with little regard for Japanese losses as this was seen by most of Japan’s leadership as a fight to retain survival of their culture. Although the Japanese  strategic naval and air forces were all but non-existent there was a large standing army. However, the naval and army air forces were not out of the fight — there was a strategy to pursue what today is called asymmetric warfare, one that had become increasingly effective — the kamikaze.

The Divine Wind: Japan’s Kamikaze Force in World War II — a book I’ve read

The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II by Capt. Rikihei Inoguchi and Cdr. Tadashi Nakajima with Roger Pincau, cover design Pamela Lewis Schnitter

The Divine Wind: Japan’s Kamikaze Force in World War II by Capt. Rikihei Inoguchi and Cdr. Tadashi Nakajima with Roger Pincau, cover design Pamela Lewis Schnitter

When I grew up during the 1960s and 1970s most of the history books I read regarding WW II relegated kamikaze pilots into categories that could only be called derogatory. I suspect that this information and interpretation originated from the thinking during the war and was simply carried on. If that is so it is a dangerous practice as war time thinking is usually not well informed at best and heavily biased at worst.

When attending air shows almost inevitably it was the WW II veteran German or Japanese aircraft that would come in with a “smoking engine” or, occasionally, an American heavy bomber with an engine out. Both of these cases serve as metaphor to the victory and survival of the Allies over the Axis, not that every individual victory went to the Ally combatant and every loss was suffered by an Axis foe — far from it as losses on both sides were appalling. But the Axis has excellent aircraft and the Germans in particular advanced aviation design ahead of the Allies with regard to jet powered aircraft. All the Axis powers ran out of good pilots though they did not run out of aircraft.

That brings us to the kamikaze and the Special Attack Units. As discussed in other postings, Japan’s late WW II strategy was one of attrition and defense in depth with their objective being to cause so many American casualties that an armistice would be accepted over total surrender. So the Imperial Japanese Navy formed their Special Attack units, followed by the Imperial Japanese Army kamikaze units. Though not taken lightly the decision was a blend of Japanese thinking, outdated aircraft, poor quality fuel and lack of advanced pilot training. One of the strategic errors Japan made was logistical in that new aircraft could not be efficiently developed and produced as well as a poor plan to replace pilots lost in combat operations.

My interest in aircraft, especially flying boats of the 1920s through the 1950s brought me to Japan and its island known as Kyushu. Researching for that trip brought me to one of the most objectively informational web sites I have run across — its subject matter is the WW II kamikaze — it belongs to Bill Gorden, complies with academic ethics, almost overwhelmingly thorough with his book reviews, site visits and book reviews — it is called Kamikaze Images, or 神風.

Thanks to Bill Gordon’s work I learned of a few more museums to see on Kyushu and I found one of them. Later I’ll revisit and see them all but in the Tachiarai Peace Museum 大刀洗平和記念館 as well as the Kanoya Air Base History Museum 当鹿屋航空基地史料館 there are solemn exhibits to their kamikaze pilots. Tachiarai’s museum, in fact, is the old train station where family saw their sons off for a final time. Kamikaze pilots were persons involved in a terrible conflict and flew for a variety of reasons but few, if any, were actually looking for a way to die, only to serve. In both museums there are photos of the pilots and many are posed stoically but more, many more, than you might think are photos like any of our family or friends. I recall many with grins that would light up any room but there are three in particular I recall. One is of a pilot with a glowing face playing with a puppy, another of one entertaining at a piano and the other of a man with deep dark eyes with a look that I can only see and troubled. Yes, they flew against Americans with these same characteristics but that is my point — these men were serving their country, no more but no less.

The Divine Wind: Japan’s Kamikaze Force in World War II, Capt. Rikihei Inoguchi & Cdr. Tadashi Nakajima with Roger Pineau, 1958, ISBN 978-1-55750-394-7, 240 pp.

Clearly there was controversy in the Japanese military and some of this is well illustrated in this first person account. Inoguchi and Nakajima were present at the formation of the first Special Attack Units through the war’s end. Their outlook, I suspect is a bit biased as all of their pilots they commanded competed to be placed on missions. No doubt this competition existed, as any warrior would leap at a chance to deal a great strike to an enemy, but there is no mention of the darker emotions experienced by the pilots or their families. That these existed is clear from writings and photographs. However, the book also describes mission planning from their perspective and it is an interesting insight. One thing a military commander never has enough of is current intelligence and the book follows up their recollections and mission results with information from the events as experienced by the U.S. Navy.

Bill Gordon has a much more informed review of this book than I can give, so I suggest that you see his writings but I do recommend this book as a read for two reasons. First as a first person insight into this controversial period in history. Second as what it was like to experience mission planning and get results from those who are disadvantaged — not the usual historical perspective but one needed for a balanced understanding of events.

Notes:

  • One post on my visit to Japan is, Kyushu Island Part I — Tachiarai Peace Museum 大刀洗平和記念館 — Tachiarai Town, Japan 大刀洗町、日本  — (Enter “Kyushu” in the search window to find it)
  • The other post of my visit to Japan is, Kyushu Island Part II — Kanoya Naval Air Base Museum 当鹿屋航空基地史料館 — Kanoya, Japan 鹿屋日本 — (Enter “Kyushu” in the search window to find it)
  • For another perspective regarding a special attack mission with an entirely unknown weapon system of the Imperial Japanese Navy I suggest looking into the book, I-400: Japan’s Secret Aircraft-Carrying Strike Submarine, Objective Panama Canal — Henry Sakaida, Gary Nila & Koji Takaki, 2006, ISBN 10: 1-902109-45-7, 144 pp.
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