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A kamikaze trains to die

[It's an obscure book and no longer in print, but Ryuji Nagatsuka's 'I Was a Kamikaze' is worth a glance, if only because he's one of the few suicide pilots who lived to tell the tale. Curiously, the book was first published in French, in 1972, then translated into English and published by Macmillan in 1974. From what I know about the Japanese Army Air Force, it seems to be genuine. Nagatsuka was drafted in 1943, sent to army pilot training, and served without particular distinction until his group volunteered--with two exeptions--for kamikaze training. -- Dan Ford]

April 2, 1945

In theory, our training would be completed in thirty days. However, delays due to shortages of fuel, and to American raids, meant it could last as long as two months. We were therefore given priority [for fuel], to the detriment of other pilots....

There is a tendency to think that suicide attacks were simply a matter of crashing blindly and heedlessly into the target. As I have already said, it was not as easy as that. Taking off, for example, required the utmost caution. With a bomb weighing over 500 pounds, the Ki-43 [Nakajima Hayabusa] would stall if pulled up off the ground in the usual way, so our first day was devoted to take-off drill. A log weighing about 200 pounds was fastened under the planes in lieu of a bomb. Needing a longer runway than the Ki-45 [Kawasaki Toryu], we had to bring the nose up right at the end of the runway, at the level of the trees that bordered the field....

April 4

For the light fighters, two methods of approach had been developed: the high and the very low altitude. The former had the advantage of making interception by enemy fighters difficult. It consisted in concealing oneself amongst the clouds until the last possible moment, then starting the dive from 16,000 to 20,000 feet. At the end of the trajectory, the nose of the plane had to be pulled up to an angle of forty-five to fifty-five degrees in relation to the point aimed at. There could be only one attempt at this approach. In practice, I did not dive steeply enough at the beginning of the descent, and so passed high over the awning, which was supposed to be the aircraft carrier, instead of almost skimming it! Total failure. This brought home to me the realities of the problem....

April 30

Later that morning, we recommenced our suicide-attack training: the wave-hopping approach.... Skim the ground, zoom climb to 10,000 feet; sight the target, dive, clod-hop again at a height of 650 to 750 feet. The very low altitude approach demanded a certain dexterity, but it was no so difficult as the high-altitude approach. It made it easier to escape radar detection but posed another problem: how to pass unscathed through the screen of water spouts [from exploding shells or crashing planes] all round the enemy ship. There was another danger, whichever approach you chose, and that was that the pilot would close his eyes instinctively just before the moment of crashing. It was the most ticklish point. Our C.O. and Flight Lieutenant Takagui kept insisting on it and warned us repeatedly not to close our eyes. If we did, we would probably miss the target, especially since we would then be at maximum speed. We must avoid throwing our lives away in vain.

[On June 29, 1945, Nagatsuka finally set out on his suicide mission, flying an obsolete Nakajima Ki-27 fixed-gear fighter with no machine guns and only enough gasoline to find the enemy fleet. In his pockets he carried a letter from his mother and two slim volumes of George Sand's Les maîtres sonneurs. Scud-running at 150 feet, the kamikaze pilots had no chance of finding the U.S. fleet, so the flight leader brought them back to the field, where the flying officers were punched in the mouth and put under house arrest for three days. Six sergeant-pilots in Ki-43s had refused to turn back, and evidently died at sea. Without fuel, the unit was grounded throughout July. On August 12, Nagatsuka sortied when the base was attacked, was shot down by a Grumman, and ended the war in a hospital.]

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