Military Tech

published : 2023-10-27

The Frightening 'Divine Wind' Attackers: A Monumental Anniversary in Global Military History

On this day in history, October 25, 1944, the first kamikaze suicide pilots attacked the US Navy in World War II

A black and white photograph capturing the intense moment when the first kamikaze suicide pilots take flight, their determination evident in their eyes. (Taken with a Leica M10)

On this day in history, October 25, 1944, the world witnessed a pivotal moment in global military history. It was the day when the first kamikaze suicide pilots from desperate Imperial Japan launched a horrifying attack on the US Navy. These divine wind attackers, as they were known, struck fear into the hearts of American sailors as they screamed down from the skies over Surigao Strait in the Philippines.

Historian James P. Duffy describes the horror and shock experienced by American witnesses of these first kamikaze attacks. Little did they know that this was only the beginning of a new, terrifying chapter in warfare. By the time World War II came to an end in the summer of 1945, approximately 130 American warships had been sunk or damaged by kamikazes.

The toll in human lives was devastating. Around 3,000 US servicemen and women were killed, with thousands more wounded, in these suicide attacks. Meanwhile, an estimated 5,000 Japanese kamikaze pilots sacrificed their lives in this desperate strategy.

The kamikaze planes themselves were specially modified Zero fighter planes, stripped down of their normal equipment and packed with over 500 pounds of explosives. Their sole purpose was to become human-guided missiles, crashing into enemy ships with deadly precision.

An aerial shot of the USS St. Lo engulfed in flames after being hit by a Japanese suicide plane. The chaos and devastation of the kamikaze attack are palpable. (Taken with a Nikon D850)

One of the first ships targeted by a squadron of kamikazes was the escort carrier USS St. Lo. The damage from this attack was so severe that the ship sank in just 30 minutes. Out of the 889 crewmen aboard, 134 lost their lives. Survivors recall the frenzied screams of the approaching Japanese suicide planes, roaring past at speeds of over 300 miles per hour.

But the USS St. Lo was not the only victim. Kamikazes struck several American escort carriers, such as the USS Kalinin Bay, USS Kitkun Bay, USS Santee, USS Suwannee, and USS White Plains. These first horrifying suicide attacks on October 25 alone resulted in the deaths of nearly 300 American sailors, with many more wounded.

The name 'kamikaze' itself holds historical significance in Japan. It translates to 'divine wind,' referencing a typhoon that protected the Japanese coast from Mongol invaders in the 13th century. It was this same resolve and determination that turned Japanese pilots into human-guided missiles, willing to give their lives for their country.

It is no coincidence that these suicide attacks took place on St. Crispin's Day -- a monumental anniversary in the history of global warfare. This is the same day on which King Henry V led English archers to victory in the famous Battle of Agincourt in 1415. His inspirational St. Crispin's Day speech, immortalized by William Shakespeare in 'Henry V,' rallied his troops with the words: 'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.'

A sepia-toned image showcasing the Battle of Agincourt, with King Henry V leading his troops into the historic clash. The bravery and camaraderie of the soldiers are beautifully captured. (Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

The phrase 'band of brothers' has continued to resonate throughout history, symbolizing comrades in arms. It became the title of Stephen Ambrose's renowned book on the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne in World War II, as well as the subsequent TV series 'Band of Brothers.'

The Battle of Leyte Gulf, in which the kamikaze attacks occurred, proved to be a significant turning point in World War II. It marked an overwhelming American victory that crippled Japanese sea and air power. However, it also ushered in the desperate and frenzied final months of the war.

As we reflect on this monumental anniversary, let us remember the sacrifice of those kamikaze pilots and the impact they had on the course of history. Their fanatical resolve and willingness to die for their country ensured that kamikaze tactics would continue to be employed, leaving an indelible mark on military strategy.

Today, we stand in awe of the bravery and conviction of those who faced the terrifying wrath of the kamikazes. Their legacy serves as a reminder of the extraordinary lengths humans will go to defend what they believe in.