16 August 2015

Cost Ineffectiveness of Kamikaze Operations

From Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. 213, 225, 229:
Many kamikaze pilots, even knowing they could not seriously damage the American fleet, hoped their demonstration of sublime dedication might shock the spiritually inferior enemy into defeat. Actually, however, they prompted the reverse reaction: the “diving madmen” reinforced Americans’ conviction that only utter prostration was good enough for the demented Japanese. Even if the men of the [U.S.] 10th Army and 5th Fleet had known that what attracted many kamikazes was less killing others than dying well themselves, precious few would have been interested. So much stark evidence of “degenerate” thirst for blood at such “inhuman” cost nipped any desire – slight to begin with among most Americans – to probe deeper into the unfathomable Oriental mentality. The cost ineffectiveness of kamikaze operations also comforted few Americans at Okinawa. After the lifting of the censorship of casualty and damage figures in July [1945], following the campaign’s official end, the Navy revealed that thirty-three ships had been sunk, chiefly by kamikazes, and 368 ships and craft damaged, more than fifty seriously. Carriers also lost 539 planes, but the Japanese cost remained staggering, as on the first mass attack of April 6–7, when almost half the planes were lost. Of 182 “bogeys” to penetrate within shooting distance of [U.S.] Task Force 54, the big-gun bombardment force, on the afternoon of April 6, 108 were claimed shot down. TF 58 recorded a further 249 splashes, 65 by a single carrier (according to Essex’s own tally) on that day alone. On some days, up to 90 percent of the planes delivering mass attacks, conventional and kamikaze together, were destroyed – a total of 7830 for the three months of the Okinawan campaign. The kill ratio of the latter [i.e., kamikaze] alone was naturally far higher, and most of the tiny percentage that managed to crash on ships instead of into the sea did so on superstructures, where they caused relatively superficial damage. Huge as the attack of April 6–7 was, the [U.S.] fleet comprised more ships than the nine hundred Japanese planes – and none larger than a destroyer was sunk that day or later. Some four thousand treasures of the [Japanese] nation died for this strategically minor wounding off Okinawa, most of them less than twenty-one years old.


The military irrationality of the kamikaze effort as a whole was aggravated by wasting far too much of it on the picket ships. It was almost inevitable that those unarmored little craft took a disproportionate share of the dives; many shaky pilots were unable to keep their rickety planes aloft long enough to reach the choicer targets of the carriers and transports. Leutze, Newcomb, Bush and Calhoun were among the destroyers and destroyer escorts that footed most of the crash bill. Kamikazes badly damaged thirteen American carriers, ten battleships and five cruisers off Okinawa, but only smaller ships, with their skimpier antiaircraft armament, went down: a dozen between late March and the end of June, in addition to three sunk by conventional air attacks.


The Tenth Floating Chrysanthemum [“Kikusui” mass air raids] on June 21–22 would muster only forty-five kamikazes, down from the 355 of the First, of April 6–7. On average, the eight in between (on April 12–13, 15–16, 27–28; May 3–4, 10–11, 23–24, 27–28; and June 3–7) involved progressively fewer planes but without proportionate relief of strain on the targeted ships. And those Japanese numbers decreased partly because officers on the home islands had already begun husbanding for the struggle there, for which they would be able to muster ten thousand or more planes for kamikaze use.

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