Suicide Squads of World War II
This book covers the men and machines that were oriented around suicide attacks in both the European and the Pacific theaters of war, although I will noly comment on the Pacific theater part in this review/synopsis.
History of Seppuku
The author goes into the history of suicide in Japan. Seppuku (also referred to as hara-kiri), has along history in japan, and was a privilege reserved by law for the samurai.
Seppuku to avoid the disgrace of capture is called setsujoku. Another form as junshi, which was suicide as a mark of respect for one's lord. Kanshi is suicide to protest the action of a superior, and ji-jin is seppuku as a form of punishement.
The first actual mini-sub, of a sort, was built by an American for the War of Independence. The device was called the turtle and use was made of it several times, but all without success.
The next generation of mini-sub were those developed by the Confederates in the Civil War. They did manage to sink a ship, but the Hunley, the attacking vessel, also sank. Evidence gathered at the end of the war revealed that the South was planning to build more of the subs, despite their almost suicidal nature.
The book then describes the Japanese mini-subs, which existed in at least five different forms. Midget subs were involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor. One was captured but the other nine were destroyed in some way, and it's not sure if any of them or several of them had an actual effect on the battle.
(The book includes diagrams of all of the various forms of special attack craft along with charts of their characteristics.)
The next thing the book discusses is the EMB, or explosive motor-boat, which had its first use in the first world war. Suicide boat squadrons were deployed by th Japanese in the summer of 1944. The concept was that the boat would sail up to an enemy vessel and use the explosive charge in its front to destroy the vessel. There was virtually no way for the pilot to safely get away.
At Corregidor there were some 300 of the suicide boats ready to use to attack the American vessels, the boats being kept in a cave. On December 23, 1944, the order was given to prepare the boats for battle. One of the boats caught fire, and the fire spread quickly. The explosive charges in the boats went off and when it was all over all of the boats had been destroyed and most of the pilots killed.
The boats had been put into a cave to keep them safe from US aerial attack.
The suicide boats were subject to frequent fires and engine problems.
The boats did not have a major impact on the battles for Iwo Jima or Okinawa.
Kamikaze aircraft units were officially started on Oct. 27, 1944. The first official units were referred to as “Divine Wind Special Attack Force,” with was often abbreviated to just Special Attack Force.
The author says that the suicide squads had three purposes:
1. To show “Japan's inflexible will to fight to the last, in hopes of getting a negotiated peace.”
(To many Americans this suicide tactic just seemed to prove the Japanese to be crazy, reinforcing the stereotype then held that the Japanese were not fully human, definitely inferior to the Americans. This type of “fight to the last person” mentality also helped, in my opinion at least, the decision to use the atomic bombs on Japan.)
2. To delay enemy conquest of islands and their use as air bases, to help give Japan time to build up its defenses on the home islands.
(This related to Operation Olympic and Operation Coronet, the planned invasion of Japan's home islands, due to take place in November of 1945. If the invasion had happened, there is no doubt it would have been incredibly bloody, equal to or even worse than the fight for Okinawa.)
3. To inspire the entire population of Japan with the slogan “One hundred million will die for the Emperor and Nation.”
(The 100 million included various areas controlled by Japan, not just Japan itself.)
Another thing to keep in mind is that we call the craft “suicide” craft (planes, boats, etc), but that is the American view. To the Japanese, they were not “suicide” craft at all, but a way to inflict damage and death on Americans, and the pilots of the craft were not just killing themselves, but were dying for what was them a noble purpose and was not really suicide at all.
In 1944-1945, the rate of “psycho-neurotic illness” increased among Allied personnel in the Pacific Theater, with the Navy having the largest increase. It was also the Navy that took the brunt of the kamikaze attacks, so it's quite possible that the use of the kamikaze did, indeed, have a demoralizing influence on the Allied soldiers and sailors.
Although the kamikaze were given a list of targets in order of preference (carriers, battleships, cruisers, transports), they tended to attack the first ships they found and ships that had already been damaged. So a lot of the damage that the kamikaze did do was to targets of secondary importance, rather than the main targets of carriers and battleships.
The author goes into the history of the battle for Okinawa, during which there were ten waves of kamikaze attacks. 20 Allied ships were sunk and 217 damaged.
The Oka (also spelled Ohka) was the device known as the “baka bomb” to the Allies. It was a one-man, one-way, rocket-propelled device that was carried to the area by a plane. About fifty miles from the target the pilot of the bomb left the plane and entered the bomb vehicle itself. When the plane was about 23 miles from the target, the pilot pulled a level and separated the oka from the mother plane. The oka would then fire its rockets and reach a speed of close to 300 mph, hoping to dive into a ship and destroy it.
In theory, this was a good idea, since the oka were to fast to intercept by planes, and too fast to be shot down by ship-borne guns. That was in theory, of course. The weakness was that the oka had to be carried to the battle by a relatively slow-moving, vulnerable plane, and those planes were easily shot down by US fighters. Some okas were sunk when a shipment of them was torpedoed.
They did have an negative impact on US morale, though, so in that sense there were somewhat successful. A form of the oka was being prepared that could be launched from the ground and would have been used if Japan itself would have been invaded.
There was a next generation type of baka bomb, though, and that would have been th Kawanishi Baika (Plum Blossom). It looked sort of like a bigger version of a German V-1, but piloted. It would have gone up to 460 mph, and taken off under its own power. It could have proven to be an extremely deadly device, but the war ended before it got off the drawing boards.
These were, of course, torpedo shaped and were capable of carrying men. The main one was called the Kaiten. They had more of a morale effect than anything else, though. Around 150 were actually launched, and only 7 or 8 actually hit their targets. 80 Kaiten pilots died in the missions, and 15 more in accidents.
The Banzai Charge
This was when a group of Japanese soldiers would attack Allied positions in a human-wave type of approach, sometimes even using men who were sick and on crutches or even without weapons. The biggest charge was in the battle for Saipan. The Japanese garrison had been reduced from around 30,000 men to only 3,000 left alive. They charged the US lines and killed 406 troops before they were themselves were wiped out.
Various other banzai charges too place, some even including civilians. The end result was inevitably that the charging force was destroyed after inflicting damage, but not enough damage to stop the US advance.
Japanese Plans for Operation Olympic
The Japanese already knew where the US would be landing if Operation Olympic, the actual invasion of the Japanese homeland, would have taken place. They knew which beaches were going to be hit, (although mostly from just good logic and tactics studies rather than any form of successful spying.)
There were 10,700 planes left to use against the attacking Allied forces. The attacks would be kamikaze attacks. Lack of fuel made the flights virtually one-way before any of the planes took off.
When the invasion armada was 180 miles off the Kyushu beaches, kamikaze attacks and some regular aerial attacks would be launched, along with the use of the remaining 45 submarines. (There was almost no Navy left at all at the time.)
When the armada got closer, troop transports would be targeted. All aircraft would be used in suicide attacks as the armada got closer, and the attacks were planned to last ten days.
Various explosive motor-boats, kaitens, and other manned torpedoes would be used, along with “suicide frogmen” who would be underwater and try to attach bombs to boats.
There is no doubt that it would have been a long and bloody battle. It would not have stopped the Allied forces from landing, though. The hope was that, if the Japanese forces could bloody the Allied forces enough, then the reaction of the American population and government might lead to a negotiated peace settlement rather than the terms of “unconditional surrender” that were demanded.
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