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The Rebirth of the Divine Wind: Kamikazes at Leyte Gulf

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“In my opinion, there is only one way of assuring that our meager strength will be effective to a maximum degree. That is to organize suicide attack units composed of A6M Zero fighters armed with 250-kilogram bombs, with each plane to crash-dive into an enemy carrier…” Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi

It was a tactic born of desperation but one that fit in well with the philosophy of Bushido. After the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the “Marianas Turkey Shoot” in June 1944 and the slaughter of land based Japanese Naval and Army air forces based in Formosa in September of that year Japanese leaders began to look to a tactics born of desperation but which fit their Bushido based ethos of sacrifice.

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Lt. Yukio Seki

Suicide attacks were nothing new to the Japanese, but until October 1944 they were tactics decided on by individuals who saw no alternative to the choice. In October 1944 that calculus changed, instead of individuals or isolated units which had no hope of victory conducting suicide attacks, commanders decided to employ suicide attackers as a matter of course.

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When the American forces invaded the Philippines Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi was commander of the First Air Fleet based in the Northern Philippines. He was not a fan of Kamikaze tactics and viewed them as heresy. However after the slaughter of the reconstituted Naval Air Force at the Battle of the Philippine Sea he reluctantly changed his mind. I say reluctantly based on his previous views and because after he committed ritual suicide following the Japanese surrender he apologized to the estimated 4000 pilots that he sent to their death and their families.

Admiral_Takijiro_Onishi

Admiral Ōnishi

But in October 1944 with Japan reeling from defeats in the Pacific and its supply route for oil and other raw materials threatened desperation was the order of the day.

The 201st Navy Flying Corps based out of Clark Field near Manila was the major land based Japanese Naval Air Force unit in the Philippines. Among its pilots was a young Naval Officer and Aviator named Lt. Yukio Seki. Seki was a graduate of the Japanese Naval Academy at Eta Jima and was recently married. He was not an ideologue or believer in suicide attacks. When questioned by a reporter before his squadron launched the first Kamikaze attacks he remarked to Masashi Onoda, a War Correspondent :“Japan’s future is bleak if it is forced to kill one of its best pilots. I am not going on this mission for the Emperor or for the Empire… I am going because I was ordered to!” 

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On October 25th 1944 Seki led his group of 5 A6M2-5 Zero fighters, each carrying a 550 pound bomb took off and attacked the Escort Carriers of Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague’s “Taffy-3.” The five pilots all died in their attacks but two damaged the USS Kalinin Bay and USS Kitkun Bay while two aircraft, one believed to be Seki’s hit the USS St Lo causing mortal damage which sank that ship in less than half an hour with the loss of over 140 sailors.

The attacks of Seki’s small squadron were a harbinger of what was to come. Over the next 10 months over 4000 Japanese pilots would die in Kamikaze attacks against US Navy and Allied Naval units. Numbers of ships destroyed or damaged by Kamikazes are debated by some historians believe that 70 US and Allied ships were sunk or damaged beyond repair and close to 300 more damaged. 2525 Imperial Japanese Navy pilots and 1387 Imperial Army pilots died in Kamikaze attacks killing almost 5000 sailors and wounding over 5000 more.

Admiral Ōnishi who made the decision to make Kamikazes a part of Japan’s offensive strategy in 1944 appeared to regret that decision. In his suicide note he urged young Japanese to rebuild the country and seek peace with all people and offered his death a penance for the nearly 4000 pilots he sent to their deaths. Accordingly when he committed ritual suicide (seppuku) he did so alone, with a second to finish the job and died over 15 hours after disemboweling himself.

The Kamikaze campaign did not alter the course of the war, but it did introduce a new dimension of terror and misguided sacrifice. I do pray that one day war will be no more and that even though I expect war to remain part of our world until longer after my death  that nations, peoples or revolutionary groups will no longer send their v=best and brightest to certain death.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under aircraft, History, Military, Navy Ships, world war two in the pacific

Wings of Gold: U.S. Navy Carrier Fighter Aircraft 1941-1945

F4F-4 Wildcat of VF-41 in 1942

In 1941 with war raging inEuropeand the Japanese continuing their war in China  and occupied French Indo-China theUnited States rushed to build up its Naval Air Arm and the Arm Air Corps.  New models of aircraft of all types were being rushed into production to replace aircraft already known to be obsolescent.  The Navy brought aircraft already accepted into full production even as it planned more advanced models.  The events in Europe and Asia demonstrated that new fighter designs were needed quickly.

As 1940 dawned the standard fighter aircraft found on U.S. Navy carriers were the F2-A Brewster Buffalo, the Grumman F-3F biplane.  In February 1940 the Navy accepted its first F4F-3 Wildcat which in an earlier for had been rejected in favor of the Brewster Buffalo.  The new Grumman fighter was powered by a 1200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-76 double row radial engine, mounted 4 .50 cal. Machine guns and was heavily armored.  It had a maximum speed of 331 mph range of 845 miles and ceiling of 39500 feet. This would serve it and its pilots well as they aircraft was incredibly tough, often amazing experienced Japanese pilots in their A6M2 Zeros in their ability to suffer heavy damage and remain in the air.  The plucky Wildcat would become the main line of defense in the Pacific against the advancing Japanese Imperial Navy in the months following Pearl Harbor.

The early F4F-3s were superseded by the F4F-4 model which incorporated folding wings, additional armor and an extra two machine guns.  This decreased its maximum speed to 320 mph, rate of climb and ceiling but nonetheless the aircraft gave a good account of itself in Navy and Marine Corps service.  F4F-3’s and F4F-4s served in the British Royal Navy where it was called the Martlet until the end of the war.  When Grumman closed out F4F production in 1943 to concentrate on its replacement the F6F Hellcat production was continued by General Motors and Eastern Aircraft as the FM1 and FM2 Wildcat. The FM1 was identical to the F4F-4 but armament was reduced to 4 machine guns and bomb racks for two 250 lb bombs or depth charges were added.  The FM2 was based on an updated version of the F4F and had a more powerful engine as well as a higher tail assembly to account for the increased torque of the engine.  These aircraft served aboard the tiny Escort Carriers and performed valiantly, especially in the Battle off Samar during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  A total of 7860 Wildcats of all varieties were built.  They accounted for 1327 enemy aircraft shot down with the loss of only 191 Wildcats.

Aces Capt Joe Foss USMC and CAPT David McConnell USN both Medal of Honor Winners and CDR Jimmy Thatch (below)

The top aces who flew the Wildcat were all Marines, CAPT Joe Foss (26 victories) MAJ John Lucian Smith (19 victories) and MAJ Marion Carl (16 victories in the F4F and 2 in the F4U Corsair). Foss and Smith both won the Medal of Honor.  Foss would go on to become Governor of South Dakota and the first Commissioner of the American Football League in 1959. Smith retired as a Colonel in 1960 and Carl as a Major General.  Other distinguished F4F aces included LT Butch O’Hare, the first U.S. Navy ace and Medal of Honor winner and LCDR Jimmy Thatch who developed the highly successful “Thatch Weave” which enabled the U.S.pilots whose machines were slower and less maneuverable than the speedy and nimble Zeros to achieve good success against their Japanese foe.  Thatch retired as an Admiral in 1967.  O’Hare rose to become commander of the Enterprise Air Group and was killed in action in November 1943. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is named for this brave aviator.

F6F Hellcat

The Grumman F6F Hellcat took over front line fighter duties on the Fleet Carriers from the Wildcat in early 1943 and established itself as the dominant fighter in the Pacific Theater of Operations.  Although it had a resemblance to the F4F the F6F was a totally new design built on combat experience against the Japanese.  The aircraft was built around the powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine which produced 2000 hp.  The Hellcat mounted six .50 caliber machine guns and had a rate of climb of 3500 feet per minute and a 37300 ft operational ceiling.

Faster than the Zero and other Japanese fighters and piloted by more experienced pilots the Hellcats took a brutal toll of Japanese aircraft.  They accounted for more Japanese aircraft kills than any other with 5163 confirmed kills with a loss of 270 aircraft an overall 19:1 kill ratio. They were piloted by 305 Navy and Marine Corps aces including Meal of Honor winner Captain David McConnell the Navy’s Ace of Aces, and highest surviving United States ace of the war that scored all 34 of his victories in the Hellcat.  The greatest achievement of the Hellcats were when they swept the rebuilt Japanese Naval Air Arm from the skies in the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. By November 1945 12275 Hellcats had been built with 1263 going to the British Royal Navy. After the war the Hellcat was replaced by the F8F Bearcat as the primary fighter and served in a night fighter and trainer role until the 1950s.  The French Navy used the Hellcat in to provide heroic close air support to beleaguered French Soldiers in Indochina.

USMC F4U-4 Corsair providing close air support

Flying alongside the F6F was the Vaught F4U Corsair. The Corsair first flew in 1940 and the Navy was slow to adopt it due to difficulties in carrier operations and negative reviews of Navy pilots.  However Marine Corps aviators flying the Corsair had great success and legendary aviators like MAJ Gregory “Pappy” Boyington and VMF-214 the Black Sheep.  The Navy would adopt the aircraft later in the war as the Corsair’s carrier operation deficiencies were remedied, but its real success was a land based aircraft operated by the Marines.  Likewise the first squadrons to operate the aircraft successfully from carriers were the Marine Corps VMF-124 and VMF-213.

Early F4U-1

The Corsair mounted the same Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine as the F6F but had a highly streamlined gull wing design as well as a turbo-charger which allowed it a top speed of 425 mph.  Later models such as the F4U-4 had a top speed of 445 mph. The F4F was armed with six .50 cal machine guns as well as rockets and a bomb load of 2000 pounds and the F4U-4 could carry 4000 pounds of ordnance.

Less than 10000 of the over 64000 combat sorties flown by F4Us were flown from carriers, the vast bulk of the sorties coming from land based Marine Corps squadrons.  The Corsair was often used as a fighter bomber where its capabilities to drop sizable amounts of ordinance including rockets, bombs and the nearly developed Napalm in a close air support role cemented the importance of Marine Air for future generations.  They were beloved by the Marine Corps and U.S. Army infantrymen in their brutal battles with the Japanese on many hellish island battlefields.  Corsairs accounted for 2140 confirmed kills during the war against a combat loss of 189 aircraft. The aircraft remained in production until 1952 with 12571 aircraft of all variants being built.  Many Japanese pilots considered the Corsair to be the best fighter of the war.

During the war many served in the British Royal Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force with good success and after the war the French Navy had success with them in a close air support role in Indochina and Algeria.  Following the war the Corsair remained in service for many years in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps as well as the French Navy and other smaller navies and air forces until the 1960s.

These amazing aircraft and the men that flew them established a tradition of excellence that the Naval Aviators of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps continue today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Turning Points: The Battle of Midway, Randy Johnson Gets his 300th Win and Chief Branum Gets Her Star

Well, here I am finishing day four of a twelve day home stand at the Medical Center.  It has been pretty busy but hopefully in the end it will all be worth it as we care for patients, family and staff, train our Pastoral Care Residents and remember a dear Shipmate.  It is also a day that we remember the gallant few who won the Battle of Midway from 4-7 June 1942.

naval-battle-of-midwaySBD Dauntless Dive Bombers at Midway

Today, for those that are not that familiar with Naval history is the 67th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.  The battle was the point where the U.S. Navy in spite of extremely heavy odds defeated a Japanese fleet far greater than it.  Had the United States lost at Midway the Japanese would have has such an advantage that they could have dictated the terms of an armistice in the Pacific.

The battle was a near run thing for the U.S. Taking the chance that his intelligence service was correct in determining that Midway Island was the target of the anticipated Japanese attack.  Three US aircraft carriers, the Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet supported by a handful of cruisers and destroyers faced the majority of the Japanese fleet.  Led by the First Carrier Strike Group composed of the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu the Japanese expected to sweep the handful of American ships from the sea. After a strike against Midway Island and turning back abortive American attacks by land based aircraft and the Torpedo Bomber squadrons from the three American flattops it seemed that all was going the Japanese way.  The Americans had suffered heavy casualties.  Most of Midway’s land based fighters were shot down defending the Island.  Land based attack squadrons lost half of their number, and the three American Torpedo Bomber Squadrons from the Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet were decimated.  Flying underpowered, under armed and under armored TBD Devastator’s they were overwhelmed by the Japanese combat air patrol Mitsubishi A6M2 (Type-21) “Zeros.”  Torpedo-8 from the Hornet lost all 15 aircraft with only one survivor, Ensign George Gay.  Torpedo-3 from Yorktown and Torpedo-6 from Enterprise lost most of their aircraft.  However the sacrifice of the Torpedo squadrons was not in vain.

The Japanese strike group under the command of Admiral Nagumo was confused by scouting reports about the status of American ships in the area.  The confusion led to disorder even as the Japanese were destroying the American Torpedo squadrons.   Finally the Japanese force was ready to start launch against the American task force.  Just as their carriers turned into the wind the American SBD Dauntless Dive Bombers, from the Enterprise and Yorktown Squadrons dove upon the Japanese carriers.  The Japanese combat air patrol was down low mopping up the remnants of the Torpedo squadrons. The Japanese carriers were at their most vulnerable point.  With fully armed and fueled aircraft on their deck and hanger bays and with hastily discarded bombs still on deck the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu received fatal blows.  Admiral Nagumo, stunned by the attack abandoned his dying flagship, the Akagi for the light cruiser Nagara.  Admiral Tamaguchi on Hiryu valiantly continued to fight.  He launched his “Val” Dive Bombers against the Americans.  They found the Yorktown.  Despite grievous losses they scored hits and thought that they had crippled the Yorktown.  The crew valiantly recovered, restored power and propulsion and was back in action.  The Japanese then sent out a squadron of “Kate” Torpedo Bombers in search of the Enterprise and Hornet.  Instead they found a seemingly undamaged Yorktown which they mistook for another ship.  Again despite heavy losses they scored hits and Yorktown was abandoned.  As this played out Diver Bombers from Hornet and Enterprise found Hiryu and hit her with six 500 pound bombs. Fatally hit Hiryu was abandoned.

mikuma

Finally the day came to an end.  On the 6th the Japanese Cruiser Mikuma was sunk by American Dive Bombers and on the 7th the Yorktown which had been re-boarded and was being salvaged was sunk along with the Destroyer Hammann was sunk by the Japanese Submarine I-168 while being towed from the battle area.  In  all the Japanese lost 4 of their best carriers, all embarked aircraft and a Heavy Cruiser.  The loss, especially of trained pilots was devastating to the Japanese.  Within two months the Americans were beginning a counter offensive at Guadalcanal.  Midway was what historian Walter Lord called the “Incredible Victory,” and is known by some as the “Miracle at Midway.”  The Battle was a major turning point in the Pacific War.  Despite the losses the Japanese still held a major advantage over the Americans.  The Guadalcanal campaign would grind down Japanese forces.

Midway is important.  It showed what a smaller and less capable fleet could decisively defeat a larger and better trained and equipped force.  It was also the “high water mark” of the Japanese in the Pacific. Today and for the next three days it is important to remember the heroes of the Battle of Midway.

Giants Nationals BaseballRandy Johnson

Today also was the day that Randy Johnson, the “Big Unit” pitched his 300th Major League win, joining only 23 others who have achieved this milestone.  John scored most of his victories with the Mariners and Diamondbacks.   It was interesting for me as a Giants fan as he won his 300th with the Giants.

Finally, an addition to last night:  Chief Hospital Corpsman Pamela Branum who passed away on deployment will be posthumously promoted to Senior Chief Petty Officer having been selected for promotion by the latest board.  She had worked hard for this and deserved it.  Her promotion will be read at her Memorial Service on Tuesday June 9th at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.  She will be buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.  Senior Chief Branum will be missed by all. I spend most of today with her co-workers and friends.  She was a special person.  I did not know her for long, but both really liked her and was honored to serve with her.  May God bless her and give her peace.

chief branumSenior Chief Hospital Corpsman Pamela Branum

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Pamela Branum. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.  Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.

Peace, Steve+

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