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Chapter I

Beginning the latter part of October, 1944, the Japanese, desperate as a result of our threat to the Philippines, initiated an organized campaign of aerial suicide attacks against our surface forces.

Suicide attacks are not new to the fleet. Periodically since the beginning of the war fanatical Japanese pilots have deliberately crashed their planes into fleet units, although usually not until after their aircraft had suffered critical damage.

The development of suicide tactics to an intensive degree was to be expected. Piloting a Japanese aircraft was tantamount to being slated for certain death sooner or later as a victim of our aircraft or AA. fire. The psychological tendency of the Japanese toward self-sacrifice made logical the inauguration of aerial "banzai" raids against our shipping.

Standard bomb and torpedo attacks in all their forms have been attempted by the Japanese against our surface forces. These, as a result of highly-developed air and AA. defense, have proved both ineffective and costly to the enemy. At the same time our own aerial attrition of the Japanese fleet increased and our surface forces were threatening Japan's inner defenses. When the "Kamikaze" (Storm sent from Heaven) units began their operations the Japanese fleet had been defeated in the Battle for Leyte Gulf and U. S. forces were beginning the occupation of the Philippines.

Organization of "Kamikaze"

Intensive suicide attacks against our surface forces were planned some time before the first units were placed in action. It is believed that training of suicide pilots was initiated as early as last summer, and that 14 pilots were killed and 21 aircraft destroyed in early practice sessions directed at improving techniques. It is reported that in the pilot's pre-crash sensations "fainting is inevitable in such cases".

Early members of "Kamikaze" units are said to have been volunteers. They average in years from 19 to 24, and are more prevalent in the Navy than in the Army. Prisoners of war later reported that commanding officers "volunteered" whole squadrons. Finally, squadrons have been drafted. One recent report was to the effect that a pilot had been found with his feet manacled to the rudder controls, evidently to ensure that the "Kamikaze" phobia was retained. Women have been reported as being in training as suicide pilots.

There is no reason to believe that there will be a shortage of pilots as long as this form of attack proves profitable to the enemy. Training of such pilots should prove much simpler than the development of skilled fighter and bomber pilots, as their only objective is to evade interception and dive into ships.


The Antiaircraft Problem

The suicide attack represents by far the most difficult antiaircraft problem yet faced by the fleet. The psychological value of AA., which in the past has driven away a large percentage of potential attackers, is inoperative against the suicide plane. If the plane is not shot down or so severely damaged that its control is impaired, it almost inevitably will hit its target. Expert aviation opinion agrees that an unhindered and undamaged plane has virtually a 100 percent chance of crashing a ship of any size regardless of her evasive action.

Time, study and intensive training are required by our surface forces to adjust themselves to each new type of attack, and there is no reason to believe that Fleet AA. will not make this type of attack, as it has others, unprofitable to the enemy. At the present time ships are destroying more than 50 percent of all attacking suicide planes, as compared with 33.6 percent success against dive and torpedo attacks during the first half of 1944.

(NOTE: In this summary an antiaircraft "kill" is a suicide plane which is destroyed or so deflected from its course that it misses its target. If it crashes into a ship it is not an AA. success, regardless of how badly damaged it may be.)

Suicide Vs Conventional Attacks

From the Japanese point of view, suicide attacks are a profitable tactic. Just how profitable they are is evident from a study of the relative efficiency of suicide attacks as compared with bombing and torpedo attacks, illustrated in the following tables:

Bombing And Torpedo Attacks

300 planes sortie
180 lost to CAP (60%)
120 attack ships
40 lost to AA. (33.3%)
12 get hits or damaging misses on ships (10%)
80 return to base
220 lost to CAP and AA. to score 12 hits.

Suicide Attacks

60 planes sortie
36 lost to CAP (60%)
24 attack ships
12 lost to AA. (50%)
12 get hits on ships (50%)
0 return to base
60 lost to score 12 hits.


Thus it is seen that the enemy requires only one-fifth as many sorties to score a specific number of hits by suicide crashes as were needed in the standard forms of attack. At the same time the Japanese plane and pilot losses are only 27 percent as high as formerly.

Antiaircraft success, initially 50 percent against suicide attacks, may be expected to increase as gunnery and tactics improve. Likewise, air cover will improve. The extent of improvement required of CAP and AA., if the enemy's aerial efficiency is to be reduced to its former rate, is indicated in the following table:

Suicide Attacks

220 planes sortie
208 lost to CAP and AA. (95%)
12 get hits on ships (5%)
220 lost to score 12 hits

In Table III enemy losses and successes are identical to those shown in Table I, but CAP and AA. performance has improved greatly. A theoretical division of the 208 planes shot down might be as follows:

172 lost to CAP (78%)
48 attack ships
36 lost to AA. (75%)

Air Cover

It will be seen that improvement of air cover will pay large dividends. It is presumed in Table II that CAP is intercepting and destroying the same percentage of suicide planes as it did other attack groups. Since suicide planes often are poorly armed and flown by inexperienced pilots, they make every effort to avoid contact with our fighters.

Considerable attention is being given air defense problems. They includeair defense in depth, stacking of CAP, fighter direction and airdiscipline.

The use of planes equipped with radar to assist in the detectionof enemy planes has been proposed.

When ship-to-plane communications fail or are lacking, ships indicate the position of a bogey to CAP by firing a five-inch burst in its direction. The fighter complement on carriers has been increased in an effort to cope with the suicide attack threat.

Although most action reports have been complimentary toward the effectiveness of air cover in the Philippines, many have complained of its inadequacy. In some actions, chiefly at dusk and dawn, friendly aircraft were completely absent, leaving the entire defense problem to ships' guns.


Since many attack groups in the past have been wiped out by our intercepting planes, it is believed that CAP will have no difficulty in achieving a score of 78 percent success or higher. Antiaircraft defense also will improve. This subject is discussed in detail in Chapter IV.

Other Anti-Suicide Factors

The seriousness of the situation imposed by suicide tactics requires no further elaboration. Chief interest of this bulletin is the antiaircraft aspects of the problem, but other requirements for the defeat of the suicider are of major importance, and bear listing in this discussion. They are:

  1. Reduction of Japanese aircraft production through maximum bombing of such facilities on the Japanese mainland.

  2. Attrition of enemy air power by:

    1. Interdiction bombing of enemy air fields.

    2. Immobilizing enemy air strips by use of "spikes" and "butterfly" bombs.

    3. Destroying planes on ground by strafing.

  3. Tactical developments.

    1. Making every effort to gain and maintain air superiority in areas of naval operation.

    2. Providing maximum fighter cover over surface forces without dependence on detailed aid from FDO.

    3. Withdrawing valuable fire support ships as soon as they have completed their primary mission.

    4. Withdrawing CVE's as soon as use of air strips ashore has been gained.

Changes in Tactics

The Japanese have changed their tactics several times during the course of the war as a result of the improvement of the fleet's AA. and CAP and changes in the tactical situation. Beginning with the second year of the war, actions by the fleet against enemy planes are divided into four chronological groups, as follows:

  1. January 1, 1943, to January 1, 1944. This period is characterized by simple, straightforward attacks by enemy aircraft. Usually only a few ships, often only a single ship, were under attack at one time. Enemy planes flew more or less direct courses and employed only a moderate amount of evasive tactics. There were many night attacks. The AA. on the whole was successful, and although some bombs and torpedoes struck ships the enemy's aircraft losses were high.

  2. January 1, 1944, to June, 1944. During this period enemy aircraft were more cautious and used evasive tactics more frequently. They generally had to contend with AA. fire from several ships.


    Attacks were principally at night. The Japs were more wary in pressing home their attacks, and their losses dropped. On the other hand, few ships were struck and consequently the AA. defense was successful.

  1. June 1, 1944, to October 1, 1944. This is the period when the fast carrier task forces conducted offensive strikes in the Central and South Pacific. Day attacks predominated, as the initiative did not rest with the Japanese and they could not choose their time for attack. Enemy aircraft were still more evasive than in Period 2, and there was considerable shooting at planes which remained at ranges greater than 9,000. yards without seriously attempting attacks. AA. defense for the period was highly successful.

  2. October 1, 1944, to February 1, 1945. During this period the suicide attacks made their first appearance. The probability of shooting down a suicide plane was found to be relatively high. Unfortunately it is not high enough, and consequently the AA. defense against these aircraft cannot be considered satisfactory. Conventional torpedo and bombing attacks also were made during this period, and they followed the pattern of those in Period 3.

Evolution of Suicide Tactics

It is not unlikely that the enemy, appreciating the value of his suicide tactics, will develop them to the highest degree in succeeding months. A basic philosophy of the Japanese is that self-destruction is justified if in the process it means the elimination of a greater number of enemy personnel and a greater amount of enemy equipment. One of their basic motivations is that even so great a nation as the United States cannot long withstand such attrition.

What may the fleet expect in the future in the way of suicide tactics? Following are a few possibilities:

  1. An especially-designed aircraft, cheap and easy to build, and made to last only one trip--that from its base to a U.S. Naval vessel.

  2. A full load of high explosive or napalm instead of the light bombs now carried.

  3. Jet or rocket propulsion to increase the hitting power of the plane.

  4. Night attacks, with flares illuminating ships, and planes attacking in both dive and torpedo runs. If not suppressed, ships' tracers will provide pilots with a guide to the largest and most important targets, and with a point of aim. Once a ship is hit and burning, or a plane is set afire within a formation, the selection of other targets will be simplified for the enemy.


Jet Suicide Planes

First evidence that the enemy is leaving no stone unturned to develop suicide attacks of the greatest possible effectiveness appeared in mid-April when the Japanese began to employ jet-propelled flying bombs at Okinawa.

These bombs, similar in size and effectiveness to the robot bombs developed by the Germans, are launched, from "mother" planes and controlled by Kamikaze pilots. They reportedly attain speeds of 450 to 500 knots before reaching their target. First reports indicate that the bombs have a wingspread of 15 feet, length of 20 feet, no engine or propeller.

On 12 April the Jeffers (DMS-27) underwent an attack by such a flying bomb which was released by a Helen at a range of 14,000 yards and an altitude of 4,000 feet. The bomb fell away slowly as the Helen made a steep bank away. Making a torpedo run on the ship the bomb accelerated rapidly, reaching 450 knots on a straight course until the final dip at the end.

The flying bomb, described as having a short, straight low wing, heavy round body, small tail and no undercarriage, was shot down 50 yards on the port beam after absorbing many 20mm. hits.

On 14 April, while on picket station, the Stanly (DD-478) was attacked by two flying bombs. The first was splashed and the second clipped the flag on the after stack and blew up in the water. Both made torpedo runs and were hit repeatedly by 40mm. fire. Parts of one pilot were recovered.

In all cases the jet bomb attacks have been coordinated with attacks by conventional planes. The M.L. Abele (DD-733) splashed a Val with the aid of LSM-189. Two Zekes then attacked, one being shot down and the other hitting the ship with a bomb, breaking her keel. Immediately thereafter a flying bomb struck the starboard waterline at frame 115. The ship broke in two and sank immediately.

(NOTE: Heavy firepower, first at the launching plane and then at the bomb, using a high percentage of VT fuzes, is the best answer to this new weapon. Fire control should emphasize compensation for a rapidly accelerating target.)


Japanese suicide plane, under heavy fire, misses astern after turning on back to dive on DD of Task Group 77.4.2 during Lingayen operation
Japanese suicide plane, under heavy fire, misses astern after turning on back to dive on DD of Task Group 77.4.2 during Lingayen operation.


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Transcribed and formatted by Larry Jewell & Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation