kamikaze

All posts tagged kamikaze

[Still recuperting on a hospital ship, Tuttle had to get second hand news about a heavy kamikaze raid on the city.]

Japanese Army bombers joined the kamikaze wing this time, covered by a few of their newest top-line fighter escorts. The bombers came down out of the clouds in four or five waves, mostly dead-on target. They were hunting fixed locations on a land mass which would be well familiar to them.

They say our fighters actually intercepted and damaged most of the Jap heavies, but the mass of each bomber, and its substantial payload, isn’t deflected by a few machine gun bullets. High explosive and incendiary bombs, wrapped in plane parts, first hit on and around the facilities in Miyazaki harbor. The largest old wooden pier burned for hours. One newly built metal causeway was cut in half by a recently erected metal crane which fell through it into a freshly dredged corner of the harbor.

The Japanese were lucky to find a laden tanker car in the main rail yard. The odds were good since there is almost always a tanker loading there, to bring fuel forward to our thirsty heavy armor. Some hundred thousand gallons of gasoline lit the city for an hour, consuming untold other buildings and equipment with it.

At least one road bridge was cut in two. A number of the more densely occupied building blocks were also hit. The Japanese seemed to know just where the key facilities were set up. First Corps headquarters was barely missed. Medical staff on my ship are anxious to get word about the hospital complex, which had a falling bomber explode just outside the largest building. The building was badly damaged and may not be usable. Dozens of patients and staff were killed.

I was more motivated than ever to get back into the action, but all I could do was write about activities and conversation on the hospital ship. There is little for men to do on a ship like this but to one-up each other with combat stories, or try to chat up the outnumbered nurses. I held a losing hand at either game, so I caught up on news from far away.

Home front news which should be encouraging was bemusing at best to men deployed here. A rush to demobilize and kick start the peacetime economy was both exemplified and fueled by boat loads of servicemen returning from Europe. Tokyo Rose reminded us often that guys at home had a head start on taking all the good jobs – and good women. I myself couldn’t help but scan the major newspaper mastheads for new editors and feature columnists.

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[Close-range night fighting preceded this report from Tuttle.]

At first light there were three more young soldiers in the cramped hole with us. One of them had been injured by jumping into the hole right on top of my original companion’s knife where he had stuck it in the dirt.

The scene before us was a battle line still held by the 2nd Battalion of the 158th Infantry Regiment, but it was hardly a prize. Smoldering brush covered the southern skyline with smoke. A sickly smell of cooking meat mixed in with the burning pines to slip past the closed eyes of anyone who tried not to look at the carnage.

American soldiers got organized and walked forward in a careful line, medics close behind. They stepped over dead bodies, making sure the Japanese ones stayed dead, as they moved down to the river bank. The water ran fast, about four feet deep in that stretch. It had been a slow fording for the Japanese and many were caught there when the shooting started. A brown uniformed body floated past, face down, spinning slowly as the current carried it along toward the bay.

It is believed that the Japs in the pocket sent every last man into a final rush, realizing they were practically surrounded. My company counted almost a hundred dead in front of it; other units report the same. They also report each of them sending back about the same number in casualties, a third of them dead.

Ultimately the 158th did what was asked of it, again, but paid a high price, again. It was pulled back, again. I rode along as they moved out, listening to soldiers take a personal tally of their buddies – who made it, who didn’t, and who knows.

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[Tuttle moved with a light company to clear out a tiny peninsula which juts out into Ariake Bay.]

The official Army map clearly showed a trail continuing on out to the tip. Every person in the column wondered aloud, in a colorful palette of language, just what the map makers had seen that we couldn’t. We had assumed they used aerial photos and perhaps old file maps made by locals before the war. The analyst who drew this map may have used old horoscopes.

The trail went plainly enough to the first hilltop, where a small clearing would have been a pleasant camping spot. Today it held a captain and two lieutenants arguing about which false trailhead in front of us actually went anywhere (none of them did, it turned out). Finally they agreed to navigate by the contour map, which seemed accurate enough. We moved out line abreast, stubbornly hacking through patches of brush, to find each local high spot. No enemy were sighted, and we took no fire, even though we were making a good bit of noise, with nothing else to mask it.

About noon I did notice appreciable traffic of aircraft flying into the hills behind us, accompanied by distant thunder from exploding bombs and shells. So there was some action. Around one o’clock we were on another high spot about half way out, and a quick lunch break was called.

Out loud I ordered a hot salami sandwich with fresh pickle and a double martini. A couple guys laughed at my wisecrack so I sat with them for our lunch of cold canned rations and crackers, with vintage canteen water.

We formed up again and continued before anyone could get too comfortable. The point narrowed, so we had less area to cover, but it also got more steep. Men were walking sideways on steep slopes, ducking under branches, wary of both twisting an ankle and of being shot at from some anonymous tree top. In several places ropes were tied to make hand holds. In another two hours we were near the end and closed in on the last high spot, at the very tip of the bony peninsula.

The entire lead squad stopped, knelt down, and waved for an officer to come forward. I followed. They had come to the edge of a U-shaped clearing. The open end of the U had a clear view of the ocean. At the center was a short rectangular concrete building. It was clear even from directly behind that the front side of this reinforced pillbox had been smashed by very heavy artillery or bombs.

Supporting squads were moved out along the sides of the clearing. From the closed end the first squad advanced in line toward the wrecked fortification. A few of them had rifles shouldered, ready for trouble. Others were mostly casual, sure that the emplacement was long abandoned.

A shot rang out and an American soldier in the center of the line was down. With a bloody shriek the first Japanese soldier anyone had seen up close in days ran out the back of the bunker directly toward the American line. He fired a rifle from the hip, and got off two more wild shots before return fire cut him down. In a few seconds at least twenty American .30 caliber cartridges were snapped off toward him.

The Japanese soldier, an older corporal, fell first to his knees. He reached into a jacket pocket, which drew three more shots into his abdomen. Before he died he drew out a small crumpled rising sun flag. It fluttered open freely as he fell forward. By chance his hand caught it again on the way down. His lifeless fingers involuntarily clutched the flag, its bright red streamers flowing out across the ground next to the bleeding body.

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[Aboard a transport in Ariake Bay, Tuttle witnessed a kamikaze attack of unprecedented scale and coordination.]

An occasional dull thud or distant crack sounded out from the front lines on land. I was standing under a lashed assault boat to stay out of steady rain, two cups of coffee in me, when the sea all around erupted with gun fire.

Radar directed five inch guns were quickly elevated from shore support positions to fire at aircraft somewhere in the dark rain clouds. I saw scattered flashes of light from land where anti-aircraft batteries had been set up. They must have been firing blindly, following whatever the Navy guns were doing.

Sailors on the Athene ran all directions toward battle stations. Soldiers moved down into the holds, where they were instructed to wait out any attack. I ran, field glasses in hand, toward any ladder I could find that took me up higher for a better sightseeing location.

I got to my best vantage point, forward and several decks up on the superstructure, just as the medium anti-aircraft pieces across the invasion fleet came alive. All guns were firing to the northwest, over land. Whatever the threat was, it was coming from the interior of the island. In my binoculars I could just make out flaming planes falling out of the sky, one and two at a time. A few flew down out of the clouds under power, still over land – over our lines. Pulling up and turning clumsily, surprised at the lack of water and naval targets, each was chewed up by ground fire shortly after coming into view.

Ships in the fleet began to slew their AA batteries different directions, as the radar targets came almost directly overhead. Some guns were at maximum elevation before the first live planes came diving out of the sky. Just as those planes came diving, more planes, slow and low flying, were spotted coming out over land at tree top. Patrolling Navy fighters, helpless to intercept the cloud-covered waves, shot out to intercept those low flying bogies while they had a chance.

Planes diving out of the clouds had a short window in time to find a target. They had no fighter escorts, all were suicide bombers. Most were probably inexperienced pilots flying old planes, but there were hundreds of them, and they were right on top of the fleet.

Kamikazes came down so thick that for a time it looked more like part of the weather than a contrivance of man. American gunners kept up a furious pace of firing. The hardest part of their job was choosing which target to work on, out of so many deadly options. Airplane wreckage and small oil slicks littered half the bay before the first of the suicide planes found success.

I watched myself as the destroyer USS Kidd was hit twice. The old cruiser USS Chester took three impacts amidships and was still burning at noon when she was abandoned. But the focus of the onslaught was clearly the transports. Most of the troops were already ashore, but our heavy support equipment was largely still waiting on the water. In close sequence I saw a heavily laden cargo ship and two tank landing ships next to her put down with multiple impacts from one well-disciplined formation of suicide planes. Behind them the tanker USS Kishwaukee, loaded with aviation fuel, lit up the eastern sky brighter than the sun after just one near vertical impact drove straight through the ship, flooding the sea with burning fuel.

After an intense few dozen minutes, the assault from above and over land was down to a few stragglers, aircraft which got up late or got lost. One at a time they were easy prey for fighters and Navy guns. Then an alert went out about more planes coming from land to the northeast. Practically out of the ground around Takahata-yama another thirty-some planes launched toward the rear of our fleet.

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[Still on a command ship, Tuttle watched action toward the shore through his trusty field glasses.]

Early in the day the 5th Marine Division sent one battalion south as a reserve for the Tanega-shima fight, and now it has lost another permanently. Staff officers are generating stacks of paper to reassign veterans to head up replacement companies. Over a thousand raw Marines, fresh from basic training, will be absorbed into the division, and it will have no opportunity to train them before it gets ashore.

Once the orders come down, our small boats will be very busy moving men around between transports. So I took the opportunity to get a ride in to the beach while I could. Late in the afternoon I climbed over into a Higgins boat, under the occasional shadow of a heavy shell streaking in to a requested coordinate. Fighting on the beach was mostly out of sight by then, but the sounds of modern war echoed out to fill the air over the entire fleet.

An ethereal calm settled over the battle as a novel apparition materialized. First a rhythmic slow strum, like off a cracked old out-of-tune cello, began to fill the quiet instants between rifle cracks and mortar tube ‘whoomps.’ Then the battle stopped altogether as the first helicopter anyone there had ever seen came into view.

The curious non-flapping bird moved quickly across the water, seeming dangerously low over the trundling transport boats, but probably well above them. Our own heavy guns had stopped firing to clear its passage into the center of our beach head. The helicopter slowed as it approached the shore line, lowering to a hover just above a deliberate clearing amongst all the debris of war, about 100 yards from the water.

It dropped to the ground and its body came to a rest, rotor still spinning almost too fast to make out the blades. Medics moved confidently under the blades, as if they’d practiced the maneuver (I assumed they had). Some critically wounded Marine was loaded in behind the solo pilot. The noise of the rotors picked up its rhythm before the medics were even clear, and the nature-defying aircraft was up again, moving the precious cargo to a hospital ship out in the fleet.

Another helicopter was already heading in to the beach. The hole in the combat noise caused by the first whirlybird began to close. Small caliber guns opened up on targets of opportunity, such as an individual Japanese soldier or American Marine who had stuck his head up to catch the side show. Larger Japanese guns, including some that had been hidden and discretely silent, began to bark as the second helicopter came close to landing.

Our medics worked fast to load the next injured man, and Marines shot back to silence the new entrants into the battle, but the Japanese guns were pre-sighted and quickly found their mark. The second helicopter was ten feet off the ground when it exploded into a shower of hot metal scraps and one screaming dying engine.

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[Tuttle described the relief plan of the tough situation the early landing troops on Tanega-shima were in and the first suicide boat (shinyo) attack.]

I do not expect many readers to absorb all the detail of this improvised operation. I spell it out in detail to make clear just what a big wrench in the works it is. The Japanese are sure to lose the entire substantial force which garrisoned Tanega-shima. All their effort digging caves and camouflaging guns there will be overcome and eventually lost to time. But that price has bought them a large impediment to the complicated plan of their enemy, of an inestimable value.

Yet much of that plan still unfolds, on schedule. Yesterday afternoon saw the two lead divisions at each of the three main beach heads land two combat regiments. That much was according to plan. The plan of course assumes some resistance from the enemy, but that has been consistently inconsistent. Our landed soldiers and Marines got through the first mile and more inland finding only disorganized resistance. The worst were pairs of light machine guns hastily set up in the rubble and craters made by our pre-invasion bombardment. They are also being harassed by long range fire from inland mountains and high points to the sides of each landing beach. There is nothing to do about it but to push into those heights. Forces are moving and timetables are being adjusted.

This morning the weather brought low clouds with a chance of rain and heavy kamikaze showers. Before that a wave of suicide boats made out from the many nooks on Koshiki-retto, through a dim pre-dawn haze. The 160th Regiment of the 40th Infantry Division has been working to clear any threats from that island since X-4, together with Navy ships circling the jagged shore. Much ordnance has been expended against the rocks there, blasting any suspicious looking crevice which might hide a small ship. But there are a great many crevices and clearly some of the deadly boats survived.

Kamikaze planes were expected at the first bit of bad weather, but the risk from attack boats was supposed to be eliminated. Destroyer picket screens against incoming aircraft are well beyond Koshiki-retto from this invasion fleet. Just one destroyer and a few patrol boats were patrolling between our big ships and the island. The USS Charette claims five shinyo sunk, with another probable. That may have been most of them, but we know at least three more got through, because they found the cruiser USS Little Rock and my recent acquaintance the USS Red Oak Victory.

The Red Oak was back to her old job of at-sea re-supply of ordnance to Navy ships. The Little Rock had done her share of pre-invasion shore bombardment, and was to continue the job of delivering fire support after taking on more deadly packages.

The Red Oak Victory was parallel to the shore, less than two miles off, tethered to the Little Rock. Gunners on the Red Oak may have hit some of the attacking boats, but the Little Rock reports that two of them got close enough to blow big holes in the cargo ship’s hull, possibly starting off secondary explosions in the holds, and put her under in a blink. It was all the cruiser could do to cut the transfer lines and get clear of the sinking ship so they wouldn’t smash any swimming survivors. The Little Rock’s gunners barely caught a glimpse of a final suicide motorboat gunning past the rolling wreck.

The boat closed the last few dozen yards to the Little Rock and its multi-hundred-pound bow charge ripped through the light cruiser’s armor. I have no word on fatalities from below, but one machine gun crew on deck reported injuries from wood splinters and impact from one severed human hand.

Shinyo attack, from squadron monument marker.

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Today we conclude this series of specific references behind the details in X-Day: Japan. These are not formal citations, as they are not all root sources and the book is not an academic volume. The use of real historical elements for X-Day: Japan serves to educate the reader about the time, add interest to the story, and honestly it just made the thing easier to write!

November 23, 1945
Jumbo air-to-ground rocket,
airandspace.si.edu

November 27, 1945
1st Cavalry Division,
first-team.us

December 3, 1945
M29 Weasel,
m29cweasel.com

December 8, 1945
M26 Pershing tank next to M4 Sherman tank (models),
warbird-photos.com

December 9, 1945
War Department Technical Manual TM-12-247,
Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel,
archive.org

December 10, 1945
U.S. Army Center of Military History style guide,
history.army.mil

December 11, 1945
Battle Formations – The Rifle Platoon, for NCOs (1942)
youtube.com

December 21, 1945
Hospitalization and evac plan for Operation Olympic,
Logistic Instructions No. 1 for the Olympic Operation, 25 July 1945
cgsc.cdmhost.com
USS Sanctuary, hospital ship AH-17
navsource.org

December 22, 1945
Russian communists vs Chinese communists,
– Tom Clancy, The Bear and the Dragon
Chiang Kai-shek quote on the communists vs the Japanese,
izquotes.com

December 23, 1945
Sakura-jima and its volcanoes,
photovolcanica.com

December 25, 1945
USS Hazard, minesweeper AM-240 [MUSEUM SHIP],
nps.gov
tripadvisor.com

January 17, 1946
Radiation detection equipment,
national-radiation-instrument-catalog.com

July 18, 1945
PBY-4/5 Catalina flying boat,
pwencycl.kgbudge.com
Consolidated Aircraft plant in San Diego,
sandiegohistory.org
Consolidated Aircraft plant production and products, B-24 and PB4Y-2,
legendsintheirowntime.com
wikipedia.org

December 24, 1945
Pearl Harbor survivors, trapped under USS West Virginia,
nps.gov
community.seattletimes.nwsource.com

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Many in the West know the word kamikaze as translating to “divine wind”. It’s worth reminding people of the phrase’s contextual origin.

“13th century Mongolian ship Kublai Khan sent to invade Japan found”
Two armadas sent by the emperor of the Yuan Dynasty to invade Japan decimated by legendary ‘kamikaze’

Mongolian wreck, 13th century invasion of Japan

Several times in history a great storm has wiped out or broken up an invasion fleet meant for Japan. The climax of World War Two was no different.

American commanders really should not have been surprised when the greatest typhoon in living memory set upon the epic invasion support fleet assembled at Okinawa just three weeks before it was due to deliver millions of tons of support materials to the Greatest Invasion. With hundreds of ships taken out of action, a disproportionate number of them assault transports and technical support ships, tough choices had to be made. They made the choices and pushed on ahead.

Typhoon Louise wrecks, one repair ship cut through another

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November 16, 1945 : X+1 – off Kyushu

…This morning the weather brought low clouds with a chance of rain and heavy kamikaze showers. Before that a wave of suicide boats made out from the many nooks on Koshiki-retto, through a dim pre-dawn haze. The 160th regiment of the 40th infantry division has been working to clear any threats from that island since X-4, together with Navy destroyers circling the jagged shore. Much ordnance has been expended against the rocks there, blasting any suspicious looking crevice which might hide a small ship. But there are a great many crevices and clearly some of the deadly boats survived.

Kamikaze planes were expected at the first bit of bad weather, but the risk from attack boats was supposed to be eliminated. Destroyer picket screens against incoming aircraft are well beyond Koshiki-retto from this invasion fleet. Just one destroyer was patrolling between our big ships and the island, and she was busy this morning just keeping them at bay from her own hull. The USS Charette claims five shinyo sunk, with another probable. That may have been most of them, but we know at least three more got through, because they found the cruiser USS Little Rock and my recent acquaintance the USS Red Oak Victory. The Red Oak was back to her old job of at-sea re-supply of ordnance to Navy ships. The Little Rock did her share of pre-invasion shore bombardment, and was to continue the job of delivering fire support after taking on more deadly packages.

The Red Oak Victory was parallel to the shore, less than two miles off, tethered to the Little Rock. Gunners on the Red Oak may have hit some of the attacking boats, but the Little Rock reports that two of them got close enough to blow big holes in her hull, possibly starting off secondary explosions in the holds, and put her under in a blink. It was all the cruiser could do to cut the transfer lines and get clear of the sinking ship so they wouldn’t smash any swimming survivors. Little Rock’s gunners barely caught a glimpse of a final suicide motorboat gunning past the rolling wreck. The boat closed the last few dozen yards to the Little Rock and its multi-hundred-pound bow charge ripped through the light cruiser’s armor. I have no word on fatalities from below, but one machine gun crew on deck reported injuries from wood splinters and impact from one severed human hand.

The Little Rock is still afloat, after a scary stretch of fire fighting and damage control work. As the news came in, I sat in my corner of the radio room with an angry knot in my stomach at the certain fate of so many of my friends from the hard-working Red Oak Victory. Radio traffic continued its steady professional cadence. Hold picket screen, do not adjust. Oakland to assist. Task two fleet tugs. Notify USS Comfort.

Radio calls picked up urgency as two radar pickets ships saw a swarm of objects at the same time. A loose mass of objects came at cloud level from the direction of Nagasaki . Dozens more stragglers spanned fifty miles behind the main body. It was just at first light , so our radar equipped night fighters were still on station. One at a time they braved the cloud layer to hunt by glowing scope. Flying singly in strict zones to avoid collisions, they would do little to reduce the pack.

Close flying through clouds is no picnic, even for veteran pilots. Our second line of picket ships reported at least one pair of wrecked planes tumbling down out of the clouds, probably after a mid-air collision. Minutes later the outer ring of destroyers in our invasion fleet opened up with radar-directed flak at the approaching mob. Other ships joined in before I heard excited Japanese from one of the radios which had been silent.

I ran outside to look, brushing aside a scolding ensign, who shut the hatch behind me. Scores of Japanese planes dropped down out of the clouds. Two dozen Navy fighters, up and ready from the early radar picket alert, were inbound from the west to meet them. Once the forces merged it would be impossible for ships’ gunners to target Japanese planes without endangering American pilots. This rarely stopped American gunners under kamikaze attack.

One Japanese plane broke out, faster than the others, directly at my ship. I didn’t run or even flinch. Some how I knew she was not meant for me. The Jap plane streaked along low and level, shifting sideways just enough to be difficult to hit. The pilot was cool and experienced. I could see that his plane had no bomb. He did have two U.S. Navy “Hellcats” on his tail. The Japanese plane tore over my ship and I recognized it as one of the newest types, a Shinden, faster and stronger than the famous Reisen “Zero” that gave the world so much trouble through 1942.

Behind the Shinden were the two American fighters. Behind those were three older Japanese Navy planes just coming into view, each with an oversize bomb slung below. Our F6s were almost upon the dodging Shinden, and the lead Hellcat tore into it, throwing .50-caliber slugs through its structure and making the engine smoke. The Jap pilot pulled up into a full 180 degree reversal, adding a half barrel roll near the top, keeping up airspeed along the way. The surprised American fighters started a long level turn to come around and finish their prey. But the lead Japanese pilot had done his job. His three followers stormed ahead free of opposing fighters. They weaved near wave top, daring Navy gunners to shoot so low they could hit other ships. Gunners did fire, from every angle, and shortly the left plane erupted into a shower of debris which scattered over the water. The other two bore on, absorbing minor hits, engines screaming.

Just 300 yards forward and to port of my ship was the transport USS Montrose, also carrying elements of the 5th Marine Division. Like us she was still full, waiting for the division to get orders ashore. With barely a dozen yards to spare, gunners on the Montrose found the right plane in the remaining suicide pair, causing it to break apart, but it was too late. Most of both planes plowed into the side of the lightly armored transport, the bomb from the damaged plane impacting somewhere below the water line. In a dramatic flourish the injured Shinden pilot finished his flaming dive directly into the superstructure of the rapidly listing transport.

The Montrose sank in eight minutes. The Third Battalion of the 28th Marines ceased to exist.

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