Friday, March 28, 2008

Kamikaze Field

The first Kamikaze attack force was formed in the Philippines by Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi. In a meeting at Mabalacat Airfield (Clark Air Base) on October 19, 1944, Admiral Onishi met with officers of the 201st Flying Group. The Marcos Santos residence served as the headquarters of these Japanese Kamikaze pilots during this time.

(Above) Japanese Zero hit and diving at U.S. ship

Onishi told them that he believed the only way to maintain control of the Philippines was to put a 500 pound bomb on a Zero fighter and crash them into U.S. aircraft carriers. He believed this would wreak havoc on the U.S. Fleet and disable them for weeks if not months. When the pilots and their officers requested to hear approval for the suicide program from their own commander, Captain Sakai Yamamoto, Onishi lied, saying that Yamamoto had already been advised. In reality Captain Yamamoto was hospitalized near Manila from injuries sustained in an automobile accident, totally unaware of what Onishi was telling his men. All 23 pilots volunteered.

Commanded by Onishi, on Clark Air Base, the first Kamikaze missions were launched. The pilots of the Imperial Japanese Navy's 201st Kokutai, 1st Air Fleet would go down, literally, in history. These pilots were divided into four separate groups: Shikishima, Yamato, Asahi, and the Yama Yukio Seki units.

At 07:25 October 25, 1944, the Shikishima unit departed Clark lead by Lieutenant Yokjo Seki. At 10:45am they attacked U.S. ships stationed at Leyte Island, Philippines. Credited with the first planned Kamikaze attack, Lieutenant Yokjo Seki actually succeeded in striking and sinking the United States carrier USS St. Louis in the first official sinking of a ship by Kamikaze attacks.
According to Captain Rikihei Inoguchi, I.J.N., Approximately one-sixth of all Kamikaze planes used in the Philippines hit their target. The plan was to use them primarily at dusk or on bright moonlit nights using Shiragiku, Zero and Willow fighters. Most of the men in the Philippine Campaign had about 300 hours of flight training. Almost all of the Japanese pilots hoped to get into the Kamikaze Corps, and tried to volunteer. However a few of them with the most flight time were prevented by order of the commanding officer. Torpedo bombing took a greater amount of accuracy, so these few experienced pilots were put aside for those missions.
Inoguchi was an officer of 23 years service, and although not himself an aviator, he spent the last year and a half of the war in aviation activities. In August 1944 he became Chief of Staff of the First Air Fleet in the Philippines, the unit which first employed organized suicide tactics.
According to Inoguchi, the causes of the Japanese failure to defend the Philippines were lack of planes, lack of experienced pilots, and the superiority of the U. S. GRUMMAN fighter over the ZERO and the fact that the P-38 could get such good altitude.

Launching sorties from bases in the occupied Philippines presented special problems, chiefly because the Filipinos were hostile to the occupying Japanese forces. This had its small benefits. It helped instill and sustain a stronger fighting spirit and the sense of antagonism essential for those on kamikaze missions. In addition, in the Philippines the Japanese still had a belief that they would prevail. Better aircraft were used than in the Okinawa Kamikaze attacks, more seasoned pilots were generally at the controls, and more often than not they were protected by fighter escorts. These differences had a considerable impact on the emotional state of the Kamikaze pilots, and ultimately, on their view of life and death.

Zero photo courtesy of C. Peter Chen, World War II Database
Color photos courtesy of Gino T. Manalastas

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