Kamikaze Pilots


Kamikaze, pronounced kah mee KAH zee, was a type of Japanese pilot who flew suicide missions during World War II (1939-1945). The kamikazes were trained to dive airplanes loaded with explosives into certain targets, usually American warships. The suicide planes were also called kamikazes.

Japan was desperate when it launched the kamikaze missions. Its military leaders viewed the kamikazes as the last hope of stopping the powerful Allied advance. Fliers volunteered for kamikaze missions because they considered it a privilege to die for their emperor.

The first kamikaze attacks occurred in October 1944, when the Allies invaded the Japanese-held Philippines. More than a thousand kamikazes took part in the defense of Okinawa in 1945. They sank at least 30 vessels and damaged more than 350 others. But the kamikazes failed to sink any large aircraft carriers--their main targets--and in time proved to be a costly failure. They became more important for the kind of resistance they symbolized than for the damage they caused.

The word kamikaze means divine wind. It originally referred to a typhoon that destroyed a fleet sent by the Mongol conqueror Kublai Khan to attack Japan in 1281.

Contributor: James L. Stokesbury, Ph.D., Prof. of History, Acadia Univ.; Author, Navy and Empire and A Short History of Air Power.