The Japanese word kamikaze translates to "divine wind." It refers to the storms that saved Japan from the invading Mongol fleets under Kublai Khan, and thus it was the moniker given to the pilots of the Special Attack Force in World War II. The force, known in Japanese as Tokkotai, carried out suicide attacks on the American fleet by crashing their planes, loaded with explosives, into American ships.
The life of a kamikaze pilot was as difficult as it was short. These were young men called on to commit the ultimate sacrifice in the name of their emperor. The group was led by Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi. Approximately 2,800 kamikaze pilots died during the war, according to US estimates. They managed to hit targets around 14% of the time, sinking 34 Navy ships and damaging 368 others. They killed around 4,900 sailors and injured 4,800. These facts about kamikaze pilots are only part of the story, however. The real story is what it was like to serve as a soldier ordered to die for your country.
All Kamikaze Pilots Were Volunteers, But Not Really
Japanese Soldiers Were Taught How To Kill Themselves Rather Than Be Captured
Pilots Wrote A Letter To Be Sent To Their Parents Upon The Completion Of Their Mission
Corporal Punishment Was Rampant In The Japanese Army
They Were Conditioned To Unquestioningly Die For The Emperor
Most Kamikaze Pilots Were New ConscriptsPhoto: Public Domain / Naval History and Heritage Command