Great Blunders of WWII: The Failure of the Kamikaze
Produced and directed by Jonathan Martin
Written by Charles Messenger
The History Channel, 1998, 21 min., Video

"Great blunders" aptly describes some information provided by this video originally aired on The History Channel. Although the documentary evenhandedly covers kamikaze aerial attacks and other types of suicide weapons used by the Japanese military near the end of World War II, the video contains a number of factual errors and provides several misleading explanations of the reasons behind certain historical events.

This documentary on "The Failure of the Kamikaze" is one of eight episodes included in the four-video set of Great Blunders of WWII, which covers the "fatal errors, startling miscues and bungled opportunities" of the Axis powers. The History Channel released these same eight episodes and four additional "blunders" on two DVDs in 2000. The program's segments of 20 to 25 minutes each leave little time for in-depth exploration of the topics.

Some of the video's "great blunders" include statements that Okinawa is 9,000 times the size of Iwo Jima [1] and that the original kamikaze (divine wind) was a typhoon that stopped a Mongol invasion of Japan in the 12th century [2]. Actually, Okinawa is less than 60 times the size of Iwo Jima, and the typhoon termed "kamikaze" happened late in the 13th century. The narrator explains that the inspiration of the first kamikaze corps was an air group commander in the Philippines, Masafumi (documentary incorrectly uses name of Masabumi) Arima, who in October 1944 deliberately dove his plane into the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Franklin. The video shows a clip of the alleged dive. In fact, Arima failed to hit any ship before he was shot down [3], and the film clip is a kamikaze dive into the aircraft carrier Lexington on November 5, 1944 (Hara 2004, 28-9).

Small historical details in this documentary also sometimes are inaccurate. The narrator states that kamikaze attacks damaged two American carriers on October 26, 1944 [4], but both Warner (1982, 111-2, 323) and Hoyt (1983, 84-5) state that only one carrier was damaged on that date. Regarding the number of ohka (rocket-propelled piloted bombs) involved in their first mission on March 21, 1945, the video mentions 18 [5] even though two books about the ohka weapon state only 15 ohka participated (Naito 1989, 113; Hagoromo Society 1973, 33) [6].  Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi formed the first kamikaze unit, but the narrator incorrectly pronounces his name as "Takajino" [7].

The documentary's explanations of several historical events are incorrect or misleading. For example, the documentary describes Vice Admiral Ohnishi launching the first of his kamikaze attacks after the sinking of four Japanese carriers and three battleships [8]. In reality, Ohnishi had launched the first kamikaze attack several days earlier on October 21, 1944, and his decision to send the kamikaze planes had nothing to do with the sinking of these ships. In another example, the narrator states in 1942 and 1943 that "occasionally, Japanese pilots would deliberately crash their planes into allied ships or ram hostile aircraft" [9]. However, this rarely happened during this period and almost always in a situation when a pilot's plane had been hit and was going down anyway. The narrator explains that the Japanese military persisted in kamikaze attacks due to little feedback about their lack of success [10]. On the contrary, Japanese military leaders sent escort planes that accompanied the kamikaze planes in order to protect them and to observe results, but their reports frequently exaggerated results.

This video tells the basic story of the kamikaze pilots along with some interesting historical footage, but the large number of errors makes this a documentary to avoid.


1. At 13:00 in video. 

2. At 8:10 in video.

3. See Inoguchi and Nakajima 1958, 37; O'Neill 1999, 123-4; Warner and Warner 1982, 84.

4. At 10:05 in video.

5. From 14:45 to 14:55 in video.

6. Inoguchi and Nakajima 1958, 37; Warner and Warner 1982, 84.

7. At 6:20 in video.

8. At 9:15 in video.

9. From 4:05 to 4:10 in video.

10. At 11:55 in video.

Sources Cited

Hagoromo Society of Kamikaze Divine Thunderbolt Corps Survivors. 1973. The Cherry Blossom Squadrons: Born to Die. Edited and supplemented by Andrew Adams. Translated by Nobuo Asahi and the Japan Tech Co. Los Angeles: Ohara Publications.

Hara, Katsuhiro. 2004. Shinsou kamikaze tokkou: Hisshi hitchuu no 300 nichi (Kamikaze special attack facts: 300 days of certain-death, sure-hit attacks). Tokyo: KK Bestsellers.

Hoyt, Edwin P. 1983. The Kamikazes. Short Hills, NJ: Burford Books.

Inoguchi, Rikihei, Tadashi Nakajima, with Roger Pineau. 1958. The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.

Naito, Hatsuho. 1989. Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Stories. Translated by Mayumi Ishikawa. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

O'Neill, Richard. 1999. Originally published in 1981 as an illustrated edition. Suicide Squads: The Men and Machines of World War II Special Operations. London: Salamander Books.

Warner, Denis, Peggy Warner, with Commander Sadao Seno. 1982. The Sacred Warriors: Japan's Suicide Legions. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.