Shimpu Tokkotai

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Kamikaze pilots aged 17 to 19 before the mission, May 1945

As Shimpū Tokkōtai ( Japanese 神 風 特 攻 隊 , Kamikaze special attack force ), a Japanese special force of the Imperial Navy Air Force was named in World War II . This combat group, the pilots of which were mostly volunteers , became famous for the suicide attacks against ships of the United States Navy , Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy during the final years of the war in 1944 and 1945.

Origin of the name

The term Tokkōtai is an abbreviation for the Japanese name " Tokubetsu Kōgekitai " ( 特別 攻 撃 隊 ), German "Special Attack Force ". The fact that the term kamikaze, known in the West, does not appear in the Japanese name of this special attack force is due to a peculiarity of the Japanese language , which allows Kanji characters to be pronounced differently depending on the linguistic composition. While Shimpū represents the pronunciation of the Kanji character pair 神 風 after the On reading , Kamikaze is the pronunciation of the same character pair in the Kun reading , which is an exception in the Japanese language even with the Kanji composition of this type. The term kamikaze itself stands in German for a suicide attack carried out by combatants on military targets, but in a figurative sense also for self-harm. However, the term is not used for terrorist suicide attacks .

In the Japanese language, the term kamikaze is known both as “divine wind” and as “breath of God”. In particular, the term “divine wind” (“Kamikaze”) describes two historical events which, in the form of two typhoons, made the two attempts of the Mongols to conquer Japan with Kublai Khan's fleet fail in the 13th century - see Kamikaze (Mongol invasion) .

Kamikaze missions in Japan


Kamikaze attack on the USS Missouri . The kamikaze flier can be seen on the left at the top of the picture.
The USS Louisville , hit by a kamikaze in the Lingayen Gulf , January 1945
On May 11, 1945, two kamikaze aircraft hit the
USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), which was cruising off Kyushu, with an interval of 30 seconds . Balance: 372 dead and 264 wounded.

When the Pacific War began in 1941 with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent entry into the war by the USA , the US armed forces were defeated several times by the Imperial Japanese Navy and the aircraft of the Navy and Army Air Forces , such as during the battles in the Coral Sea and at the Santa Cruz Islands in the spring of 1942. In June of that year, however, the Japanese navy was greatly weakened by the loss of four aircraft carriers when they were defeated at the Battle of Midway , and for the next two years the Japanese forces were defeated by the United States Army defeated at Guadalcanal , Saipan , Tinian , Guam and Peleliu and the Japanese naval air force almost completely destroyed in the battle in the Philippine Sea . The Imperial Navy lost another three aircraft carriers, thousands of aircraft and most of the trained pilots in the numerous sea battles. From August 1944, the Japanese naval air force was rebuilt, but the American air raids against Japanese airfields, such as the air strike against Truk, caused enormous losses in the Japanese air forces. Finally, by the end of 1944, the Imperial Navy had lost almost all of its carrier ships, and most of the aircraft were now handed over to the Army Air Force or stationed on land airfields in Kyushu.

The military situation in the Pacific became increasingly hopeless for the Japanese armed forces. As early as 1941, a Japanese report said that a Japanese pilot, Lieutenant Fusata Iida, had declared himself ready during the attack on Pearl Harbor to fly his machine directly against an American ship in the event of an enemy hit and to ram it in a dive . The reason for this decision was mainly in the Bushidō Code of Conduct of Japanese culture, which was also used by the Japanese military: The young pilots saw it as a shame and violation of their honor of being caught by the enemy, and preferred death to captivity before . Lieutenant Iida's plane, a Mitsubishi A6M , was hit by American air defense in the course of the attack and he attempted a suicide attack against the enemy tanker USS Neosho , but eventually turned and crashed into a row of enemy P-40s parked on the Kaneohe Naval Air Base . He was killed in this attack.

In 1944 the Japanese navy set up special combat units to carry out self-sacrifice attacks on American ships during the Pacific War with their aircraft ("One ship - one aircraft") in the hope of averting impending defeat.

The Japanese kamikaze pilots are said to have flown between 2,500 and 2,800 attacks in the last two years of the war, 1944 and 1945. It is estimated that only 14 percent of them survived. The strategy was devised by a Vice General of the Navy: In view of the impending defeat of the Japanese, he advocated suicide bombings as a last resort. The reason given by the army was that the Japanese soul had the incomparable strength to die in defense of the fatherland. These units were called Shimpū Tokkōtai in Japan . In the USA, the characters were erroneously read as “kamikaze”, which means that this term - but only outside of Japan - established itself for coordinated self-sacrifice attacks.

Pilot recruitment

The popular view that the mostly young and inexperienced pilots were forced to work as suicide pilots through psychological torture is fed by the stories of surviving Army pilots. In fact, the Navy Air Force only accepted volunteers. Contrary to the prevailing opinion in Western society, it was mostly not nationalist fanatics who were ready to die, but soldiers who knew that conventional missions were hopeless, but also students and graduates of secondary schools who wanted to do their part to avert defeat. On the other hand, there were also those who were simply ordered to do so. An intermediate position was taken by those who were not internally convinced, but submitted to the group (placing themselves outside the group was unusual in Japanese society). Personal honor, but also that of the family, has had the highest priority for centuries; From this, too, decisions about volunteering or at least about fate were fed. The sacrificial death was proclaimed by the military as a heroic act and was considered a war obligation of the chosen ones if victory was to be achieved with it. To make this sacrifice for the protection of the fatherland and the emperor, in Japanese war propaganda linked to the tradition of the samurai and their ethical conception in Japanese modernity. Senior officers, however, rarely belonged to this group of the chosen ones.


Most of the flights were carried out as part of an association, but a “Kikusui” mission could sometimes include several hundred aircraft. Of these, however, some fell victim to remote security by American fighter planes, and a further part to the anti-aircraft guns of the US association. Only a small part actually had the opportunity to put the motto “One plane, one ship” into practice (although it should not be ignored that, especially in the late phase, only very inadequately trained pilots were deployed). If a hit was scored, it was by no means the bomb that did the most damage. Much more dangerous was the fire of the remaining aviation fuel, which in the case of aircraft carriers spread in the hangar deck below the flight deck and could detonate the ammunition stored there (as in all three American escort carriers sunk). When a lack of fuel on the Japanese side forced them to refuel the aircraft only for the outward flight, their hit effectiveness was involuntarily reduced.

The first "Tokko" mission, flown by volunteers of the Naval Aviation Squadron 201, took place on October 25, 1944 on the escort carrier association 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3") off Leyte. This resulted in the sinking of the CVE-63 " St. Lo " and the damage to four other escort carriers. In Japan, a mission by Admiral Arima on October 20, 1944 is often quoted (taken over by Bernard Millot), but neither on the CV-9 “ Essex ” nor on any other American ship is known of an attack or even a hit at this time.


Apart from the sheer number of damage or sinking, the nervous strain on the US ship's crews as a consequence of this type of mission must not be ignored. The number of war neuroses on the American side finally reached a level that gave the naval leadership cause for serious concern. Overall, therefore, “Kamikaze” was by no means a completely useless endeavor.

For a long time it was largely unknown that hundreds of airmen from these special troops survived the war, as they either turned back shortly before their destination, which happened less often, or were no longer deployed. Since the surrender of Japan ended the self-sacrificing attacks on fleets and pilots waited many months for suicide targets during the negotiations, which then no longer occurred, these aviators were spared their victims. In the Japanese media, the true circumstances of how the death fliers got their job were kept secret for a long time after the end of the war.

Victims and damage

More than 3,000 Japanese pilots died in connection with these self-sacrificing attacks on the American fleet (the exact number has never been determined). According to the American Navy, a total of 36 ships of the US Pacific Fleet were sunk (including the USS St. Lo (on October 25, 1944, 163 dead), later Ommaney Bay (January 4, 1945, 95 dead) and the USS Bismarck Sea ( February 21, 1945, 318 dead)). 368 ships were damaged. Although each of the large fleet carriers was hit at least once, only the USS Bunker Hill and the USS Enterprise were hit so badly that they were out of action for the remainder of the war. The main victims were destroyers of the early warning chain and support ships.


Personal honors for Kamikaze pilots were categorically omitted. Only general war memorials for the "Tokkō-tai" were set up. Only in the last few years has museums been given detailed information about the fate of the fatal aviators. In the western world, the soldiers of this squad of aviators' deaths in particular were mistakenly interpreted as fanatical nationalist war supporters, which is now different with the increasing number of background information and interviews with contemporary witnesses. Rather, on the basis of the diaries and farewell letters left by the aviators of death, one can determine the hopelessness and desperation of those who submitted to military power and the expectations of honor and avoidance of disgrace for the fatherland. The Imperial Japanese Army had a reputation for being particularly brutal and cruel, not only towards soldiers and civilians of the enemy, but also towards its own people and soldiers. The free decision of the individual was unimportant and had to be placed under the will of the monarchy. Nothing is known of the involvement of Tennos Hirohito . When he was told of the first such attack, he is said to have welcomed the success but regretted the fate of the pilot. The Tenno by no means had the position of an emperor according to German understanding. The Tenno, considered a direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu , was more of the spiritual leader of Japan. Participation in day-to-day politics or even giving orders was neither within his competence, nor was it expected. The power rested exclusively with the military government of General Tojo .

On August 15, 1945, the creator and commander of the Tokkō-tai, Vice Admiral Ōnishi Takijirō ( 大西 瀧 次郎 ), asked the families of the sacrificed pilots for forgiveness and killed himself.

A Yokosuka MXY-7 , a model built exclusively for kamikaze use, on display in the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester , England.

Some of the aircraft types used:

Manned torpedoes

In addition to aircraft, the Japanese also used manned torpedoes ( kaiten ), in which the driver sat in a primitive cabin and only had an outside view through a periscope. One of the two developers died during the test phase: he ran out of oxygen. Before doing this, he noted how such problems could be avoided in the future. The effect of the technically unreliable Kaiten fell far short of expectations. When the American fleet tanker USS Mississinewa (AO-59) was sunk on November 20, 1944, with 63 dead, it was a decisive factor that the remaining cargo was insufficiently secured. The second success was the sinking of the destroyer escort USS Underhill (DE-682) on July 24, 1945 with 112 dead.

The manned torpedoes were to be brought as close as possible to enemy ships by submarines. In many cases, however, these were already sunk on the way to the target area by the American anti-submarine defense.

Kamikaze tactics in other countries

In the early stages of Operation Barbarossa against the German Air Force, Soviet pilots occasionally resorted to the ramming tactic. The pilot accepted death. However, these attacks were made of their own free will and were not ordered by a higher authority, but were used, for example in the cases of the pilots Wiktor Talalichin and Nikolai Gastello , to mobilize the resistance of the population. Towards the end of the war in 1944, a similar military project was considered on the German side with the self-sacrifice command Leonidas . In the related Elbe Special Command, however , the pilots were supposed to jump with the parachute .



  • NDR 2000, 3-SAT, January 20, 2010, Kamikaze.
  • Wilfried Eck: A question of honor, Kamikaze. Jet & Prop 3/2006.
  • Klaus Scherer: Kamikaze. Iudicium 2001, ISBN 3-89129-728-9 .
  • Rikihei Inoguchi, Tadashi Nakajima: Death flies with us: Japan's kamikaze pilots report. Edition Sven Bergh 1982, ISBN 3-430-14955-X .
  • Bernard Millot: Kamikaze. Spirit, organization and commitment of the Japanese fatal pilots. Neff 1982, ISBN 3-7014-0042-3 .
  • Bohdan Arct : Kamikaze. Weymann Bauerverlag, Rostock 1998, ISBN 3-929395-38-X .

English - Japanese

  • MG Sheftall: Blossoms In The Wind. ISBN 0-451-21487-0 .
  • Albert Axell, Hideaki Kase: Kamikaze: Japan's Suicide Gods. Longman 2002, ISBN 0-582-77232-X .
  • Senri Nagasue: Shiragiku tokkōtai: kaerazaru wakawashitachi eno chinkonfu (Kamikaze by Siragiku). Kōjinsha, 2002, ISBN 4-7698-2363-0 .
  • Rikihei Inoguchi, Tadashi Nakajima, Roger Pineau: The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II. Naval Institute Press, 1994, ISBN 1-55750-394-X .
  • Hatsuho Naito, Mayumi Ichikawa: Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Story. Kodansha America, 1989, ISBN 0-87011-909-5 .
  • Ohnuki-Tierney Emiko: Kamikaze Diaries. University of Chicago Press., 2006, ISBN 0-226-61951-6 .
  • MG Sheftall: Blossoms in The Wind. 2005, ISBN 0-451-21487-0 .


  • Kamikaze: Was in the Pacific. Red Distribution, 2004.
  • Kamikaze in color. Goldhil Home Media I, 2002.

Web links

Commons : Kamikaze  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Inken Prohl : Kamikaze. Staged death. In: Ruperto Carola. Research magazine of the University of Heidelberg , Ruperto Carola, Heidelberg 2014, pp. 98–105.
  2. ^ Memorial next to the point where Iida's machine crashed: Japanese aircraft impact site. Pilot-Lieutenant Iida, Commander, Third Air Control Group. December 7th, 1941.
  3. Kamikaze Pilots: One Last Onslaught of the Suicide Warriors on, accessed on December 12, 2018
  4. Kamikaze-Flieger: In the name of honor on, accessed on December 12, 2018
  5. Kamikaze - Suicides were Japan's last option on, accessed on December 12, 2018
  6. Failed because he survived the war on, accessed on December 12, 2018
  7. Olaf Groehler : Battle for air supremacy. Berlin 1988, p. 72 f.