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Effectiveness of Kamikaze Attacks

  1. #1

    Effectiveness of Kamikaze Attacks

    This has always been something that's bothered me, even when I was just a little kid. Were kamikaze attacks used by Japanese pilots effective in the sense that it was a sustainable approach to warfare? I have no doubt that it was effective the first time around, when American sailors would just be shocked at such a suicidal tactic, but even with that in mind (and the attacks sinking 34 ships, and damaing 368 others) I thought it was monumentally wasteful.

    First, it takes time and money to build the plane. I have no clue how much it would have taken to build a typical Japanese warplane, but I'm betting it wasn't cheap or easy. By the time Japan was using kamikaze attacks as a standard tactic, they were already being pressed for resources and time, so I don't think crashing a perfectly good plane as its sole method of attack is particularly helping the country's war effort.

    Consider using the same plane for dropping bombs and torpedoes. Even if you've got a 10% chance of scoring a hit on a moving ship with a bomb, and a 10% survival rate on sorties, you'd still at least get 1 pilot out of every 100 surviving, living to fight another day. Whereas, with kamikaze attacks, survival and a successful "hit" are mutually exclusive event, so you don't get that 1 pilot coming home to go off and kill more ships.

    Granted, I may be vastly oversimplifying the mechanics of killing. Hitting a ship with a bomb doesn't guarentee a kill, whereas I'm led to believe that kamikaze attacks, when they did succeed, were more likely to guarentee a kill. Still, if the USAF is to be believed, then roughly only 8.5% of ships that were the targets of successful kamikaze attacks were actually sunk. That's not a very impressive number, though I have no comparison for the number of ships sunk with conventional air power. Wikipedia implies that 8.5% of the attacks sinking ships is a phenomenal thing. The 8.5% also does not include the ships that were simply damaged beyond repair. While not as glorious as sinking a ship, I suppose that counts as a kill.

    The opportunity cost of the crashed plane is also a bit worrying, in my opinion. That plane could have been shooting at a bomber dropping bombs on Japanese factories, or strafing enemy infantry on a beach, or just dogfighting with enemy planes. If my sole objective was to be as big of a pain in the ass as possible to my enemy, I should think that protecting infrastructure, so that you could be a pain in the ass for a longer time, would be more important that possibly taking out an enemy ship, unless it was an aircraft carrier. I also think that keeping the plane and the pilot intact so that he could continue to kill people would be more beneficial than sending that pilot off to die.

    Now, we get to the pilots themselves. Training them takes time and money as well, though probably less time and money than regular pilots. I would assume he would need to learn only the basics of flying, and landing the plane would not exactly be a priority, though it would be a waste if the pilot crashed his training plane or whatever. I would assume these suicide pilots wouldn't necessarily need air combat training, but then again, I'm not too sure. My gut tells me that, rather than giving these pilots the basics then sending them off, you may as well invest the extra time and money to make him a real combat pilot, so he can go off and kill the enemy. That being said, if anyone knows how much more time and money needs to be invested to make a pilot combat worthy (after he's learned to fly and do basic maneuvers and whatever), it'd be nice if they could tell me. If the amount of time and money required to complete the training is significant, then perhaps I could concede that kamikaze may be a better way to use the pilot than in a regular role.

    I guess my biggest logical disconnect is that, if you were a nation losing a war, running lower and lower on resources and manpower, yet you refused to give in and were determined to give your enemy one hell of a fight to the bitter end, wouldn't it make more sense to prolong that fight than rather than using tactics that, in my opinion, are just inherently wasteful? It could be because I was brought up in a culture that valued each individual life, so perhap's that's colouring my judgement about how to use the pilot's life, but I'm not too anxious to toss the plane away on a suicide attack either.

    I realize that the kamikaze attacks are also from a cultural disconnect. Even in North America, I can understand dying in the service of your country, provided your country is doing the right thing in the first place, is a noble cause, but that's because we're going in with the assumption that everyone should try and stay alive, and that trying to stay alive is the natural thing to do. I can understand, academically, that for the Japanese soldiers of WWII, dying for their country was a great honour, but does that honour "outweigh", so to speak, the honour of having a massive kill tally and being alive? I know that sounds a bit childish - like screaming "HAHA! NUB! I GOTZ MOAR KILLZ DEN JOO!" or " I HAVE A HIGHER KILL/DEATH RATIO THAN YOU!!!!" into the mic when playing Counterstrike, but it goes back to my assumption that you'd want to be the biggest pain in the ass for as long as possible to your enemy if you're fighting a losing war.

    I also realise that this is a somewhat simple or bleak view of war. You win a war by taking away the enemy's capacity to wage war - whether through blowing his roads and fuel lines and stuff up, or killing every soldier he sends to fight, the goal is still to take away his ability to wage war. So, I suppose kamikaze attacks could have been effective as a strategic method of waging war, but my gut still tells me "no", but in a conventional war and in a bloody last stand scenario.
    Last edited by Zallis; 5th Nov 09 at 9:03 PM.

  2. #2
    At the time the physical resources where on hand. they had the planes, they had the explosives, and they had the man power. the one critical resource the lacked after the staggering defeats in the pacific was experience. when the kamikaze first appeared the IJN and IJAAF had lost a bulk of their seasoned pilots, and while having planes and resources to replace a majority of the planes destoryed, they lost one of the most important resources to fighting an effective war; experienced individuals. a majority of kamikaze pilots where conscripted and only given a basic of how to fly the plane and nothing more.

    rather than trying to teach these pilots complex routines such as how to line up bombing runs, how to deploy torpedos, or leading your target during a strafing run they simply gave them the command of 'aim the nose of your plane at enemy ship' which was easy enough to achieve. the main reason behind this was Time. it takes weeks or months to get novice combat pilots which may or may not come back and will probably not get a kill because of the inaccurace in those methods. it takes a few days to get a kamikaze pilot with a reletively high accuracy rate, even if they don't come back after words.


    japan wasn't suffering the same way Germany was suffering before their defeat. japan still had the capability to produce weapons, the resources to produce those things, suggnificant man power to recruit, and the will to fight. the only things they failed to recoup was the massive capital ships and trained individuals which took the most important resource of all, time.
    Last edited by Pyro Paul; 6th Nov 09 at 4:15 AM.

  3. #3
    The Japenese had been using suicide tactics since Guadalcanal, they only did it when the situation was hopeless.

  4. #4
    The Japenese had been using suicide tactics since Guadalcanal, they only did it when the situation was hopeless.
    There's a difference between a suicidal attack and an attack whose whole point is suicide. Banzai charges and the like were not intended to see Japanese soldiers gunned down my MGs, but to reap a bloody toll on the enemy - survival was not exactly likely, but still possible, and if the Japanese charge succeeded and there were survivors left at the end, then I guess they'd cheer, provided they had enough soldiers. Success would be to push the enemy back (or eradicate them), but that doesn't mean the Japanese soldiers couldn't survive the attack.

    With kamikaze, survival and success were mutually exclusive.

    I was also under the impression that Japan's war industry was insufficient to meet the demands of lengthy wars of attrition. On the other hand, the IJN and IJAAF sacrificed something like 4000 pilots for kamikaze attacks, and the IJN pilot training program was 2 years. And, after searching for a bit, I found the IJN and IJAAF had a combined number of 4500 aircraft in 1941. I guess it would be erroneous to assume all 4500 aircraft were destroyed, and then another 4000 built just for flying into ships, but the IJN apparently lost 14,242 aircrew and 1,579 officers from 1941 to '45. That presumably doesn't mean ~15,800 aircraft, but even so, Japan's war time industry seemed to have been able to cope with the losses, and it's not like manpower was in short supply. Those 4000 kamikaze pilots were presumably newly-trained ones specifically for that purpose, since I doubt that Japan was tossing its aces and experienced pilots away.

  5. #5
    by the time of the battle of leyte gulf the JAAF didn't have any aces or experienced pilots. a majority of the experienced pilots being lost during the Guadalcanal Campaign and the bulk of the rest of the trained, although less experienced air crews being lost during the battle of the philippines sea which effectively broke the IJNs air power capabilities. The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, as the battle of the philippine sea was later known, showed that throwing inexperienced pilots into conventional combat against more experienced foes gains nothing.

    despite throwing some 750 planes at the american naval forces advancing at the phillipines they only managed to down some 120 american airplanes and no ships while the IJN themselves lost some 600 planes, 3 carriers, and a handful of other ships.

  6. #6
    Member PaLLeRo's Avatar
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    There was a Few Pilots who survived the Kamikaze attack, But after the Americans saw them, they pulled a grenade out and blew themselfs.

  7. #7
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    PaLLeRo, do you have a source for that? I'm just wondering how you survive ramming a plane into a ship...

    I would argue that oil was a major factor in the kamikaze plan; there were reserves of aircraft and supplies to produce more. There were conscripts who could fly, and explosives to be loaded on the planes, all supplies available for a continuation of the fight through the end of '45 and beyond... but oil supplies were so low that aviation fuel couldn't be afforded for much training. By the end of the war, the Japanese were down to trying to concoct aviation fuel from pine roots, and active air wings were limited to 2 hours a month per plane. They had massive reserves of aircraft built for kamikaze duties, but Japan had not received oil shipments after February '45; it was not sustainable as a tactic, and as early as June '45 the kamikaze tactic had all but spent the last fuel reserves Japan had.
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  8. #8
    i'm thinking he ment banzai charge.

    you don't survive a plane running into the side of a ship out at sea then swim to the nearest island to await US troops just so you can suicide grenade them.

  9. #9
    Member holyknight's Avatar
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    I heard the same thing PaLLero said
    the pilot didn't crash, he missed (or the plane got shot) and fell into water.
    the american soldiers saw the pilot in the water and was going to rescue them.
    seeing that the american soldiers were coming to get him, the japanese soldier took out the grenade and blew himself up.
    at least that's what my dad/grandfather/some random internet source told me.
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  10. #10
    something tells me that hand grenades are not exactly standard issue for pilots being deployed in ocean theaters of operation... so the validity of that is questionable.

  11. #11
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    Perhaps they had that grenade exactly for the purpose of blowing themselves up? They were after all on a *suicide* mission.
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  12. #12
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    My Grandfather was stationed on the HMS Empress during the 2nd World war. Part of the forgotten fleet that was the British pacific Navy.

    The ship in question was a lease lend Ameer class aircraft carrier built to British Navy requirements and therefore had an armored unlike many of the American built carriers which only had a basic wooden deck.

    When the Japanse Kamikaze zeros came, he could hear them screaming from the radio room, but as they struck the metal deck of the ship they simply bounced or crunched, leaving little more than a dent. He told stories of wrecked zeros simply being pushed over the edge by teams of crewmen clearing the decks for normal operations.

    Against many American carriers which still had unarmored wooden decks, the Kamikaze pilots would crash through to the lower levels causing far more damage.

  13. #13
    does that honour "outweigh", so to speak, the honour of having a massive kill tally and being alive?
    Absolutely. Material from every period of Japanese history will tell you that. Not saying that all japanese warriors wanted the honor of death in battle, but it was a bigger honor than anything short of killing a thousand men single handedly. Moreover, if you were expected (not necesserily ordered) by your superiors (not necesserily of military rank) to die, then there simply weren't any other opitons. If we suppose that you somehow survived by mistake, the first thing you should do is undo that mistake, for your own sake and also your family, relatives and friends - not to mention your superiors, your unit, and your emperor. If you returned alive to your wife after a succesful retreat from a lost battle, she would have to be a man where you couldn't, and kill herself for the sake of your children. In japanese culture there are very specific rules about how you are expected to act and how you must feel in certain situations, that's slightly different to the western attitude.

    As you can see, effectiveness was not always the primary consideration. Also regarding this part:

    Now, we get to the pilots themselves.
    Another well known fact from the pacific war, is that the Japanese simply did not have the concept of SAR (search and rescue). This was in stark contrast with the americans, who invested considerable time and effort to rescue anyone they could. This not only was a great boost to morale (not an issue with the japanese really), but also meant that they could return recovered crew - and, famously, aircraft carriers - to service, suffering fewer effective losses and retaining more veteran experience.

    Now, the japanese were not always that unreasonable; they went in to win, not to get slaughtered. It was not uncommon to endure the dishonor of survival in a non-victorious battle in order to serve greater military interests, and hope that you can redeem yourself by dying another day .
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  14. #14
    Member Purple's Avatar
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    The major thing you have to remember is that if they hit, a single Kamikaze aircraft could take out almost any warship and that to do so, you don't actualy have to sink the ship in question.

    In fact, it is often more benificial to damage the ship to the extent that it has to be towed to a harbour for repairs wich in case of smaller craft like merchant and escort ships will take up more of the enemies resources than building a new ship would.

    Considering that most japanese airplanes were made of wood and that the pilots had little or no training you could argue that the only real cost of the mision eather way was the fuel, engine and explosives. Plus, these pilots would have had little or no chance of actualy making it out of a bombing run alive anyway.
    Therefore can say that by saving the fuel that the pilot would have used for the return trip in the odd chance that he actualy made it out alive you could send out two bombers on the same mision for the cost of one. Cruel but harsh.
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  15. #15
    The major thing you have to remember is that if they hit, a single Kamikaze aircraft could take out almost any warship and that to do so, you don't actualy have to sink the ship in question.
    Not really much more effective than a decent bombing run, and most of the successful attacks on major ships (which were few of) did not put them out of action for very long (the Essex, was out for less than two months from the day she was hit until she was fighting again, the Suwannee made repairs at see after a first hit the second knowcked her out for six months, the British carriers off Okinawa suffered relatively minor damage from multiple attacks remaining in service for the campaign).
    Most of the ships sunk were support vessels. Combat vessels totatlled 14 destroyers and 3 escort carriers [about the same displacement as interwar heavy cruiser or late war light cruiser, not major ships]. And the vast majority of the hits were against support or smaller combat ships.
    And teh American fleet was large enough that the ships taken out of service were not really noticable. It may have been the most effective they could have done, but it was far from effective, except possible on morale.

    Against many American carriers which still had unarmored wooden decks, the Kamikaze pilots would crash through to the lower levels causing far more damage.
    But that damage was relatively easy to repairable. While the armoured flight-deck could take hellish punishment (a famous example being the Illustrious going to Malta), but when damaged they were more difficult to repair and the hulls did not last as long (they got twisted or something). They also meant that the hanger deck was smaller, decreasing the aircraft complement.
    As a sailor, I would choose an armouerd flight-deck any day, but for high command it is may be different.

  16. #16
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    I think it's important to note the difference in pilot quality and aircraft survival rates at the time that the Japanese began using this tactic. Japanese aircraft were had miserable hit rates on ships using conventional bombing or torpedo attacks. Switching to suicide attacks increased the effectiveness of Japanese aircraft in hitting and damaging their targets by nearly 73%. Not to mention, kamikaze tactics required that you only teach the pilot how to take off. You didn't have to teach him to land or teach him much more involved gunnery and bombing tactics. Aircraft as easy enough to manufacture (even under the constant bombing Germany was able to produce nearly 10,000 aircraft a year--they had issues training pilots and getting the aircraft to the front however). Pilots are not. In Japan's situation they had neither the time nor the experienced pilots to continue conventional attacks or train significant amounts of new pilots. Japan also had serious problems moving aircraft to the various islands they were fighting on.

    The thread starter mentioned the opportunity cost of the kamikaze aircraft. While this may seem a good argument at first, consider the situation Japan was in. To do all the things listed, you have to have trained pilots--something Japan was woefully lacking in. It made sense for them since they were already going to lose so the long term health of their air forces wasn't something they were thinking of.

  17. #17
    Switching to suicide attacks increased the effectiveness of Japanese aircraft in hitting and damaging their targets by nearly 73%.
    Ok, now tell us where you got that number and how exactly did you measure it.

    Most bibliography says that kamikaze attacks were far more effective as a terror weapon rather than actually killing ships (although they certainly did a fair amount of damage in total), but that eventually did wear off.

  18. #18
    Member Caesar's Avatar
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    I got the number from Max Hasting's new book Retribution. You'll find this in chapter six, "'Flowers of Death': Leyte Gulf" in sub-chapter 3 "Kamikaze" which begins on the middle of page 164. Max Hastings is a respected historian so when he says 73% I believe 73%. Perhaps I should have clarified a little bit though: I do believe the 73% number is referring to kamikaze operations in the Philippines beginning with the battle of Leyte Gulf. I do not have a number encompassing the rest of the war.

  19. Child's Play Donor Homeworld Senior Member  #19
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    Caesar, don't forget that the pilot shortages that Japan and Germany both suffered were a result of their deployment strategies — skilled pilots stayed in active combat, usually during offensives, essentially until they were wounded, captured, or killed. British (fighter) pilots operated predominately over their own territory and were rapidly returned to service. American aces, on the other hand, operated offensively but were rotated home to train more pilots.

    So the shortage of highly trained pilots was directly related to the lack of skilled instructors with battle experience.

    However, it's harder to hit a moving target with a fast airplane than you might think. The more the pilot shoves the nose down (at his target), the faster he goes, creating more lift, which causes him to overshoot his target. I have a feeling that the 73% increase Caesar quotes doesn't mean much without a comparison number - how many ships/tonnes were damaged before and after the kamikaze attacks were introduced?

  20. General Discussions Senior Member Dawn of War Senior Member  #20
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    Molo: Mind you, that does seem to have worked on some level for Germany. Note how far you have to scoll down here to find anyone not German.
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  21. Child's Play Donor Homeworld Senior Member  #21
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    It quite clearly did not work, or they would have had been able to train pilots for the 10,000 airplanes they were building per year. They also might not have gotten bombed so horribly in the later years.

    They were good, but they were still fighting instead of sharing their skill with the next generation of pilots.

  22. General Discussions Senior Member Dawn of War Senior Member  #22
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    It didn't work because Germany had massive manpower shortages relative to their opposition to begin with. The US and UK had the luxury of rotating pilots out for training, Germany didn't.

  23. Child's Play Donor Homeworld Senior Member  #23
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    Yeah, yeah, wikipedia, but: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Britain

    "Drawing from regular RAF forces as well as the Auxiliary Air Force and the Volunteer Reserve, the British could muster a total of some 1,103 fighter pilots on 1 July. Replacement pilots, with little actual flight training and often no gunnery training whatsoever, suffered high casualty rates."

    "Due mostly to more efficient training, the Luftwaffe could muster a larger number (1,450) of more experienced fighter pilots."

  24. #24
    has capitalisation issues Inq's Avatar
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    The Japanese had enough resources to design and build speciality kamikaze aircraft, the Okha:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohka

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  25. Child's Play Donor Homeworld Senior Member  #25
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    Yeah, the Germans did the Natter as well, which was similar but not quite a kamikaze.

  26. General Discussions Senior Member Dawn of War Senior Member  #26
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    Molo: BoB isn't nearly as a big a disparity as Germany suffers later against the combined airforces of the US, UK and USSR. In BoB the numbers are close enough that the British home advantage of being more easily able to recover downed pilots evens things up.

  27. #27
    Member Purple's Avatar
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    Not really much more effective than a decent bombing run, and most of the successful attacks on major ships (which were few of) did not put them out of action for very long (the Essex, was out for less than two months from the day she was hit until she was fighting again, the Suwannee made repairs at see after a first hit the second knowcked her out for six months
    And how exacly is that a short time? In a war lasting 5 years 2 mounts meens a lot of time, and puting that ship out of action for the duration of an enemy operation is what counts.

    And as for your idea of supply ships not being major think again. An army marches on its stomach, no matter how large the cruisers or how good the aircraft they are no use to the enemy if his suply lines can't deliver the fuel and munitions they need to keep fighting. Furthermore, it is much more logical to hit an enemies suply lines, seing as they travel in predictable routes and are not well defended, in such a huge theatre of war with Kamekaze and keep the little experianced pilots for the enemy fleet than doing the other way around.

  28. #28
    And how exacly is that a short time? In a war lasting 5 years 2 mounts meens a lot of time, and puting that ship out of action for the duration of an enemy operation is what counts.
    Not particularly, and the second one was more focused on the fact that the first hit was repaired at sea. Even a couple months wouldn't bee too much more than pulling it out for regular maintenance. And you ignore that two British carriers each suffering multiple hits and continued operations.

    As for supply ships:
    Three Liberty ships were being finished every day in 1943. That is ignoring all other vessels and Canadian, British, and other production.
    Losses would have to have been enormous to cause notable damage to the war effort.
    There was just no way for the Japanese to do significant damage with the massive production capacity in the US. They only real damage they could have done was putting a number of fleet carriers out of action simultaneously.
    And to put it simply: kamikazes were not as devastating as the common view seems to be. To ships at least, their morale damage was likely far more significant.

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