Suicide air and sea attacks gradually become ­systemized part of warfare: Kamikaze attacks

   Those mainly responsible

 After suffering heavy losses due to the reckless continuation of the war, the Japanese military launched tokko (special attack) campaigns in which airmen turned themselves into human bombs and crash landed into enemy targets. The Army and Navy Departments of the Imperial Headquarters incorporated a policy in July 1944 that sought to “destroy enemy aircraft carriers and transport ships at any cost.” In early October, Chief of the Naval General Staff Koshiro Oikawa met with Vice Chief of the Naval General Staff Seiichi Ito, chief of Operations at the Naval General Staff Tasuku Nakazawa and with Takijiro Onishi, who was about to assume his post of Commander-in-Chief of the First Naval Air Fleet in Manila.

 At the meeting, Onishi said, “Appealing to the high integrity of front line servicemen in terms of martyrdom and self-sacrifice, we have to dare to conduct attacks by crash-diving aircraft.” Oikawa, who was in command for the operations, accepted the proposal, saying, “Holding back my tears, I endorse the proposal, but I request that it be carried out based on the voluntary will of each serviceman.” Onishi told Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai, “I will make the Philippines the last battleground by carrying out tokko attacks.” He then left for Manila.

 Onishi formed the first kamikaze special attack squadron. Each kamikaze flight usually consisted of four planes. On October 25, a 13-man attack squadron led by Lieutenant Yukio Seki crashed their explosives-laden aircraft into enemy forces. The battles in the Philippines continued until January 1945, and about 700 air tokko pilots died in the operations. Although suffering a major defeat in the Philippines, the Army and Navy Departments of the Imperial Headquarters decided to use all Army and Navy aircraft for tokko attacks. Dating back to August 1943, about a year before the first kamikaze attack was carried out, Kameto Kuroshima, who had just assumed the post of chief of the Second Bureau of the Naval General Staff and was called the “God of Operations,” spoke to top naval commanders about the necessity of tokko air attacks.

 At this time, Navy Captain Eiichiro Jo, taking advantage of his post as aide-de-camp to the Emperor, visited a Japanese airbase in the Southwest Pacific. After recognizing the overwhelming degree of air superiority of the U.S. forces during the inspection tour, he requested Onishi, head of the Administrative Section of the Naval Aviation Bureau of the Navy Ministry, to carry out tokko attacks with aircraft. From that time, under the supervision of Kuroshima and Nakazawa, among others, the Navy developed weapons for tokko attacks, including the Oka (Cherry Blossom) manned glider bomb and the Kaiten (Divine Fate) human torpedo. In September 1944, the Navy finally established the “Tokko Department” thereby systemizing tokko attacks.

 Army planning for tokko air attacks also shifted into full swing as soon as Jun Ushiroku assumed the post of Inspector General of Army Aviation in March 1944. In the Battle of Okinawa, suicide attacks led by Commander of the Sixth Air Army Michio Sugahara became the core tactic of operations. More than 9,500 Japanese military men were killed in tokko attacks.

 Meanwhile, in battlefields around the South Pacific, soldiers were decimated unit after unit, division after division, under the name of gyokusai, which literally means “jewel smashing” but actually came to mean “dying an honorable death.” Senior officers in charge of operations in the Imperial Headquarters steadfastly stuck to their principle of “no reinforcement, no retreat and no surrender” until the end of the war. Garrisons were discarded on isolated Pacific islands, left inevitably to be annihilated sooner or later. The prime example of such irresponsibility and disrespect for human life was the Imphal Operation, which started in March 1944 in an attempt to capture the Indian city of Imphal.

 A telegram sent by leader of the Fifteenth Division of the Army Masafumi Yamauchi conveyed the misery and monstrousness of the operation, in which 72,500 soldiers, out of 100,000, died or were wounded, “Our men on the front line have lost their ability to fight due to illness and starvation, without ammunition, in torrential rain and a sea of mud, all due to the incompetence of the Army and Mutaguchi.”

 Commander of the Fifteenth Army Renya Mutaguchi, who brushed off objections from subordinates and insisted on carrying out the operation, must bear grave responsibility; but Commander of the Burma Area Army Masakazu Kawabe, who did not stop Mutaguchi, the Southern Army and the Imperial Headquarters, which approved the operation, must also be held accountable.