Kamikaze (神風) means “wind of the gods” or “divine wind,” and has been used as a “pillow word” (枕詞 makura kotoba, an epithet) for the province of Ise (present-day Mie Prefecture). The term was also applied to a strong prevailing wind off the coast of Ise and several neighbouring provinces. However, in modern usage, kamikaze refers to the storms that twice destroyed much of the invading Mongol armadas off the northwestern coast of Kyūshū and forced them to withdraw in 1274 and 1281. To the Japanese of the time, the storms represented divine intervention by the gods of Ise Shrine. The myth of the kamikaze was never forgotten by the Japanese, reinforcing their belief that their land was protected by the Shintō gods. During World War II the term kamikaze was applied to the pilots who attacked Allied ships in suicide dives in explosive-laden planes.

Kamikaze Special Attack Force


Kamikaze Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (神風特別攻撃隊), or Tokkōtai (特攻隊) was the general name given to units of specially trained pilots who attacked Allied ships in suicide dives toward the end of World War II. They were used when it became apparent that conventional means of attack could not prevent the Allied fleet from retaking the Philippines. The first Kamikaze attack took place on October 25, 1944, when five navy Zero fighters, each carrying a 250-kilogram bomb, plunged into American warships and transports off the coast of Leyte. Encouraged by the results, Vice Admiral Ōnishi Takijirō (大西瀧治郎) of the First Air Fleet, who had conceived the idea, hastily recruited new suicide forces. Army air force units soon followed suit. For the next ten months, from the landing of the Allied forces on Leyte until Japan’s surrender in August 1945, and especially in the Battle of Okinawa, the Japanese employed in suicide attacks more than 2,000 planes. By one count, 2,198 pilots and 1,192 planes were sacrificed. Of the pilots, some were teenagers (many of them college students) with only seven weeks of flight training. According to figures released by the United States after the war, 34 ships were sunk and 288 damaged by these “suicide squads.”

Besides aeroplanes, the Japanese prepared other types of suicide weapons to defend the Japanese mainland, and some of them were put to use late in the war in a last frantic attempt to forestall defeat. They included a manned torpedo, which proved quite effective in disrupting a supply route; a manned glider equipped with high explosives and propelled by a rocket, which was nicknamed “Baka bomb” (foolish bomb) by Allied soldiers; a motorboat with explosives on its bow; a small submarine; and a bomb carried by frogmen.

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