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How Japan's Kamikaze Attacks Went From Last Resort at Pearl Harbor to WWII Strategy

December 5, 2018 in History

By Christopher Klein

Not until nearly three years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor did Japan adopt suicide aerial attacks as official military strategy.

On the infamous morning of, the Japanese pilot told his fellow airmen, “In case of trouble I will fly straight to my objective and make a crash dive into an enemy target rather than make an emergency landing.”

Hours later, Iida was strafing the Naval Air Station Kaneohe with gunfire when he suddenly smelled gasoline. A glance at the gauges of his Mitsubishi Zero confirmed his fears. Enemy fire had pierced his fuel tank.

Using hand signals, the doomed pilot informed his comrades of his plight before waving good-bye. With his Zero hemorrhaging fuel over the American naval air station, Iida banked sharply and circled back toward its hangar, perhaps to implement the emergency plan he had discussed earlier. With no intention of being captured and no hope of a safe return to his aircraft carrier, the aviator might have been trying to inflict as much damage as possible upon the enemy by divebombing into the hangar. If that was the case, Iida overshot his mark and fatally crashed into a hillside.

The burial of Japanese pilot First Lieutenant Fusata Iida at Pearl Harbor after his fatal crash.

Japanese dive-bombers at Pearl Harbor were not kamikazes.

During the air raid, another crippled Japanese plane crashed onto the deck of the USS Curtiss. Although the Japanese pilots might have deliberately aimed for enemy targets after sustaining catastrophic damage, that was not the intention of their mission.

“The Imperial Japanese Navy fighter pilots were perfectly willing to sacrifice themselves if there was no way out other than capture, but that is different than deliberate suicide,” says Burl Burlingame, an historian at the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor. “The term kamikaze has entered the English language and has come to mean any one-way, deliberate act of self-sacrifice. As such, it has been used and misconstrued by pop-history writers. At the time of Pearl Harbor, the official, sanctioned use of deliberate suicide missions was a few years in the future.”

Burlingame says that Iida, although he aimed for an American target with his plane, was not a kamikaze pilot. “If he had had a shot of making it back to the carrier, he would have done so.”

Japanese pilots receiving last orders before bombing the American Pearl Harbor military …read more


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