A Jap torpedo bomber breaks apart in flaming ruin while
attempting to crash-dive the carrier Yorktown in the battle of the Philippine
(caption from original article)
Japan's Last Hope
by Irving Wallace
This article first appeared in Liberty magazine on May 5, 1945.
Although Liberty stopped publication in 1950, at its peak it was ranked
alongside The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's as one of the
top three American feature magazines.
Irving Wallace, a prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction, worked in
the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. This article, an exclusive from the
U.S. military, was the first big national write-up about Japan's kamikaze
attacks. The following paragraph describes how Wallace got this exclusive for Liberty
magazine (Wallace 1978, 136):
Wallace was privy to the Kamikaze information because at the time he was a
writer for the U.S. Signal Corps under Frank Capra. The Kamikaze material had
been monitored by the Signal Corps from Tokyo radio, translated, and
circulated in the military as classified material. Wallace says that when it
came across his desk, "I saw that it was tremendous stuff. I asked my
superior officers if I could write an article at night—on my own time—on
it. They said yes, and that's how Liberty got the beat."
Casting about for a last desperate weapon to stem the tide of defeat, Tokyo's
war lords have come up with something that goes Hitler one better—human robot
Radio Tokyo is on the air.
"News flash! News flash from Tokyo! The Imperial
Headquarters announced at two thirty o'clock this afternoon that the Kamikaze
Special Attack Corps has sunk one American battleship, three large transports,
and damaged one battleship or cruiser in Leyte Gulf.
"Our six fliers successfully penetrated enemy
fighter-plane defenses and headed for enemy transports, which were escorted by
battleships and cruisers.
"One of our planes plunged into an American battleship,
and just as the big ship shook from the impact, a second plane crashed into it.
A huge fire soon enveloped the vessel. The four other planes raced toward the
enemy transports. In swift succession they plunged into them, sinking three and
setting ablaze another large ship, which last was seen emitting a pillar of
"Among the six Kamikaze fliers who died in this attack,
three men—Matsui, Terashima, and Kawashima—are not yet twenty years old. The
spirit of these young fliers crash-diving on their objectives is admirable."
This news report—typical of recent daily reports—discloses
Japan's last hope.
With Allied sea and air power slowly strangling Japan, the
Tokyo war lords cast about for some last-resort weapon. They observed that
Hitler had pulled one out of his ordnance hat; but that his V-1 and V-2 robot
bombs, though frightening and damaging, were not enough to stop the Allies.
They decided to go Hitler one better. They had human robot bombs.
Determined to capitalize on the willingness of their young
men to die, the Japanese leaders organized the Navy's Kamikaze Special Attack
Corps. Suicide assaults by Japanese infantrymen and fliers were already
familiar occurrences. But with the Kamikaze, Japan made the first modern effort
by any army or navy to send vast numbers of trained men to premeditated
Kamikaze is Japan's god of the wind. The word itself means
"Divine Wind." and it stands for much in Japan. Six and a half
centuries before Nimitz, the mighty Mongol, Kublai Khan, threatened Japan with
300 warships and 200,000 men. At the eleventh hour it happened that a real
wind, a typhoon, bore down on his armada, smashing and sinking it. Ever since,
the Japanese have been taught that when in danger a Divine Wind would save
But this time the Japanese leaders knew they could not
depend on a typhoon. They knew they must create their Divine Wind. And so they
created the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps, dedicated to death—for itself and
"Today, each of our planes in this Special Attack
Corps," explains Radio Tokyo, "is piloted by one Kamikaze pilot whose
mission is to crash-dive into a warship or transport with the object of sinking
that ship at the cost of one plane and the life of one pilot. . . . Unlike a
mechanical bomb, the living torpedo that has eyes, ears, and brains behind it
is something that cannot be duplicated by any mechanism."
The Kamikaze Special Attack Corps was first thrown into
action two weeks after General MacArthur waded onto Philippine soil with his
General Tomoyuki Yamashita, German-educated conqueror of
Singapore and Bataan, opposed MacArthur, proclaiming that the Kamikaze would
turn the trick. Even as Leyte fell, he reassured the folks back home in Tokyo.
"That our forces," he said, "with (comparatively) small strength
and small amount of material supplies, were able to achieve such brilliant war
results is all due to the traditional spirit of offering one's life and
carrying out deliberate crash-dive attacks on the enemy. . . . If one of our
fighter planes should bring down one enemy B-29 by a deliberate crash-dive
attack, it would be proportionately one to ten. Then again, if one plane should
sink or damage one enemy aircraft carrier or one battleship, it would be one to
100, 1,000, or 10,000. No matter how the enemy would come against us with his
superiority in materials, if the enemy is met with this deliberate crash-dive
spirit, then it could be concluded that the enemy could be completely
Desperately the Kamikaze pilots catapulted their bomb-laden
planes into our warships and supply ships off Leyte, Mindanao, and Luzon. The
American Navy soberly admitted to some losses. The Japanese ecstatically
claimed half of all our shipping. The truth? There is only one truth. Today,
again, we dominate the Philippines. Today we stand astride the Pacific. Quite
obviously Japan's Divine Wind has not been enough.
Yet there is every indication that Japan will, in the near
future, throw her organized Kamikaze suicide fliers against us in greater
numbers. Admitting shortages in everything else, she finds men ready to die her
cheapest effective weapon. What is more, the Kamikaze has caught on in Japan.
The very latest available Japanese newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, and
reports of neutrals show all Japan in a lather over the Corps' exploits.
Domei, the Japanese official news agency, insists that the
people wish to read of nothing else. Japanese dailies front-page a letter from
Colonel Tatsuhiko Kida in which he revels that "his iron-nerved self-sacrificial
pilots, before leaving base on their sure-hit mission, donated all their pocket
money toward the aircraft-construction fund." Reaction to this propaganda
is instantaneous. The Munitions Ministry shrewdly invests the money in towels.
Each towel, featuring the word "Kamikaze" inscribed over a Rising
Sun, is sent to an aircraft-factory laborer. Production goes up.
At the immense steel factories on Kyushu, heavily bombed by
American B-29s, the directors deliver pep talks on the Kamikaze, then order a
"Crash-Diving Spirit Production Month."
The Nippon Newsreel Company floods theaters with shots of
the Kamikaze heroes. Viewing these films, rich Japanese demand inspiring
pictures of the Kamikaze for their homes, and the government promptly
commissions Nippon's leading artists to immortalize the suicide corps in oils.
The air waves add to the intoxication. One radio program
features Captain Etsuzo Kurihara, chief of the Japanese Navy Press Section.
"War cannot be won by the employment of usual tactics," he says.
"Ramming and crashing are the only tactics which can be effectively
applied against enemy vessels. I feel that the great services of the Special
Attack Corps are too sacred to be put into cold figures, but were we to do so,
we could say that this type of tactics is worth ten to fifteen times the
The greatest lift given the legend of the Kamikaze occurs
every two weeks when Emperor Hirohito receives top-priority heroes in the
Imperial Palace. Just before New Year's Day the emperor permitted Lieutenant
Colonel Tsuneyemon Shindo and Major Torashiro Aizawa to crouch before him.
"How do our airmen compare with the Americans?" he inquired. The
humble officers, eyes averted, whispered that Japanese morale was much the
higher; that "the spirit of the men of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps
has yet to find its equal."
Then, while all Japan thrilled to its emperor's interest in
his lowly subjects, there came another tidbit, of humbler origin but even more
exciting. This one was reported in the daily newspaper Asahi, dated January 12,
"A small box containing ashes and a portrait,
accompanied by a letter addressed to a certain air unit commander, arrived by
parcel post at the front lines. The sender was one Motoko Kunimitsu of Shiode
village, mother of Sublieutenant Kunio Kunimitsu, who unfortunately was killed
in line of duty last fall at that particular air base.
"The mother's letter reads as follows: 'I have a great
deal of compassion for my son who had his heart set upon becoming a member of
the Special Attack Corps. If it is at all possible, will you kindly allow his
ashes to join the Special Attack units? It is my most sincere desire that his
ashes, at least, carry out a body-crash brilliantly, and as soon as possible.'
"What arduous spirit for the mother to offer her dear
child to decisive battles in the skies! The unit commander was deeply touched
by this letter. So now, hugged snugly in the arms of his comrades, the ashes of
the sublieutenant will take off from the homeland, never to return."
This daily dosage of outrageous hokum not only hypos the
home front, but baits thousands of young men into volunteering for certain
Of course, the basis for the Kamikaze is Japanese
fanaticism. There are many explanations for that. The most satisfactory is
state Shinto, the so-called religion of Japan, the "way of the gods."
Shinto is thoroughly politics, the spearhead of Japanese Fascism. It preaches a
perverse morality that condones rape, murder, the stab in the back. It tells
the Japanese they are the holy people, superior to all others on earth, and
that one day they and their emperor must rule the rest of the civilized world.
Above all, Shinto makes human life cheap, cheering its young men with the
promise, "To die for the emperor is to live forever."
For almost a century the young men of Japan were prepared
for this task of sacrificing their lives to the divine mission of the state. On
the ground, the Japanese soldier dared not retreat. "We do not even have a
bugle call for retreat," a Japanese major told this author in Tokyo a year
before Pearl Harbor. In action, the Japanese soldier had to live the legend of
the three human bombs of Chapei, soldiers who carried dynamite into Chinese
barbed-wire entanglements and blew themselves up with it.
It was not until ten years ago that this suicidal
indoctrination was first channeled into flying. At that time Japanese
militarists toyed with the idea of developing special aviators to plunge
dynamite-packed planes into enemy warships. The plan was shelved, and suicide
crash-dives occurred only when Japanese pilots found their planes shot out of
control. Instead of dumping their bomb loads, they often dived into the nearest
available military objective. Reports on these irregular desperation dives
began to filter back to Tokyo. Japanese leaders learned that often they were
successful. This revived again the old idea of an organized and trained suicide
The Japanese Navy was the first to prepare such a force.
Drawing 100,000 volunteers from its naval aviation schools, it formed the
Kamikaze Special Attack Corps. A short time later the Japanese Army
carbon-copied the Kamikaze with suicide fliers of their own—the Banda Special
The average Kamikaze volunteer, a graduate of the Air
Military Academy, is five feet three inches tall and weighs 118 pounds. He is
between nineteen and twenty-five years of age. Before seeing action, he is put
through a short preparatory course. On the first day of it a movie shows him
how other Japanese heroes have sacrificed themselves for the emperor. He is
persistently lectured on the three qualities each Kamikaze flier must possess:
First, absolute obedience. Second, complete devotion to duty. "This means
intellectual conclusions must not be made." Third, thorough knowledge that
any given assignment must be carried out successfully. "Death counts as
nothing before the importance of the completion of one's duty."
There is an unwritten law that Kamikaze trainees must not
discuss or philosophize on the subject of life and death. They are kept busy:
classes, flying, sports. The favorite sport is kendo, a Japanese pastime
involving two men attired like baseball catchers who belabor each other with
bats. The instructors regard kendo as a good exercise for suicide flying.
"On the moment of clashing in kendo, students are not allowed to close
their eyes. They learn the spirit of killing with certainty."
Most Japanese believe a close relationship springs up
between Kamikaze instructors and their one-shot pupils. Japanese sob sisters
reinforce this belief in the daily press. Recently a Tokyo newspaper, the
Yomiuri Hochi, interviewed Colonel K. Tomomori just after he'd learned that
most of his students had plunged to their death. Said the account:
"Colonel Tomomori's emotion was deep. 'I am overcome by
tears of joy,' he related, as teardrops welled in his eyes."
The first trained Kamikaze fliers went into action off Leyte
in November, 1944, wearing special Rising Sun headbands. These were gifts from
General Gen Sugiyama, War Minister of Japan, who in prewar days forced English
men and women to strip naked in Tientsin. On each band was printed his
farewell: "Congratulations on Daring Enterprise and Sure Victory."
Along with their headbands, the Kamikaze carried into battle
a new song. They were supposed to sing it as they pointed their planes at
American ships. It went:
On land, the Fierce Tiger, General Yamashita;
On sea, Blood-and-Iron Okochi,
Behold the powerful line-up!
The thunder of righteousness makes the world tremble.
Where'er our Special Attack Corps go,
We, the hundred million, follow.
Come on, Nimitz! Come on, MacArthur!
If you do, we'll send you both
Headlong down to hell!
During the first forty-eight days of action off the
Philippines, the Kamikaze and Banda Special Attack Corps claimed the sinking of
113 American supply ships and warships. Since the American Navy did not confirm
it, this figure is not to be accepted as fact.
As the fight for the Philippines progressed, Tokyo's foreign
correspondents' daily reports were all variations on the same theme. In every
story one Japanese plane crashes and sinks an American warship. When the claims
of the Kamikaze are tabulated, it will be found they claim to have destroyed
every ship in the U.S. Navy and merchant marine—plus those scheduled to be
launched up until 1955!
But though the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps failed to save
the Philippines, its units will continue to be utilized to the very end. Its
young men will be thrown into the skies over the Chinese treaty ports, over
Formosa and the Bonins. Most of all, the Kamikaze will be employed against our
warships and bombers as they close in on the Japanese home islands.
In fact, because all else has failed, the Japanese are using
Kamikaze and Banda crash divers over Tokyo in an attempt to halt our B-29s. An
elite air unit called the Shinten, which means "shock troops of
heaven," was organized "for the express purpose of destroying the
B-29, the enemy's vaunted high-speed, high-altitude plane, by crashing into
them." This unit is under the command of General Prince Higashi-Kuni.
Our Army Air Forces have admitted a few losses through
rammings over the Japanese homeland. But the Japanese lavishly claim dozens.
One of their typical claims, dated December 5, 1944:
"Without firing a shot, Corporal Masao Itagaki dashed
against the last plane of a formation of eleven B-29s in the midst of the
enemy's fire net. His plane was hit with bullets and enveloped in flames.
Undaunted, he rammed his plane against the main wing of the B-29, clipping it
off. At that instant he was thrown from his plane. When he regained
consciousness, he found himself under a parachute which had opened up."
The Japanese insist the Kamikaze will save Japan. They say,
from Shanghai's radio station XGRS, "No mechanical device nor invention
exists today in the United States for opposing this Japanese method for
obtaining victory. Therefore the outcome of the war in the Pacific is already
determined in favor of Japan." In the Algemeine Zeitung the Germans echo
this Japanese confidence in the efforts of the Kamikaze.
The Kamikaze won't save Japan any more than it saved the
Philippines. It may cause some damage, some loss of life, but our planes and
carriers and battleships will continue to knock most of these suicide raiders
out of the sky before they complete their missions.
This article comes from a reprint on pp. 137-49 of the following book:
Wallace, Irving. 1978. Some Interesting People and Times.
Edited by Nat LeMar. New York: Dale Books.