What the Hell is That?
OK, it has wings, it must fly. There’s no propeller or air intakes, so it glides or has a rocket engine. Judging from the small wings it must have a rocket engine. It has a cockpit so it has a pilot. It does not appear to have landing gear, nor does it have any obvious weapons. One of the men has a gun, the men appear in uniform, and the vehicle has what looks like military markings on it. It’s a likely a military flying device of some sort, but what sort exactly? Stop reading here if the gentle reader wants to guess.
Yeah, I can never be bothered to guess on stuff like this either. If the gentle reader noticed it looks kind of like a cruise missile, they were onto something. That’s exactly what it is, a cruise missile. Typically launched from a Betty bomber, though submarine and cave launched versions were also planned. It only had enough fuel to fly for 20 miles or so, so it had to be launched pretty close to its target. And yes, it had a pilot. This was World War Two, electronically guided missiles were still a dream, if a cruise missile was going to hit any thing smaller than a city, it had to be piloted. Yes, this bad boy was the Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka (Cherry Blossom) purpose-built suicide plane. It had a 2,000 lb high explosive warhead, and could fly at over 400 mph (650 kph) in level flight or over 650 mph (1,000 kph) in a dive. This was considerably faster than the fighters of the day, and made them almost unstoppable if they got into a final approach. And yes, this was built by Japan in the last years of World War Two. It’s a kamikaze plane.
So, how did they do? Over 800 of them were built, and most of them saw action. Unfortunately, at least from the Japanese point of view, most of the action they saw was being shot down while attached to the Betty bomber long before they got close enough to be launched at a target ship. Still, a number of them did get close enough to US fleets to be launched. Very few though, most of the time the planes carrying them were intercepted long before they launched their Chery Blossoms. And what few Cherry Blossoms actually attacked only managed to sink or damage seven small allied ships, destroyers mostly. No American capital ships (carriers, cruisers, battleships) were hit by Cherry Blossoms. That’s around 1600 planes and their flight crews (very few of the launching bombers got back to Japan safely) for seven minor ships and a few hundred killed and injured Americans. Not a good trade at all. The Cherry Blossom was a military failure.
In point of fact, Japanese kamikaze attacks in general were a failure. Over 4,000 were used, they sank about 50 Allied ships and damaged about 300 others. 3 escort carriers were the largest ships sunk, the rest were small support ships like destroyers or troop transports. The losses the Allies suffered from kamikaze attacks at this late date in the war were insignificant. The Japanese had hoped the tactic would be so successful that it would blunt the US advance towards Japan, and make a negotiated settlement to the war possible. It was a clever idea, though only made possible by Japan’s traditional society and Bushido code, at least on such a large scale. Germany and Italy also had some efforts at suicide aircraft and such, but nothing like the scale of the Japanese kamikaze program.
Suicide attackers have been known since at least the 11th century. Occasionally soldiers of all stripes would themselves commit the ultimate sacrifice. A German officer tried to hug Hitler while he had two bombs set to go off in his pockets, the attack failed. When suicide attackers were organized, which was rare, it was usually in defense of the homeland in the face of an invader or occupier. Almost all modern suicide bomber fall in the later category. While popular belief in the west ascribes suicide attack to religious fanaticism, this is largely propaganda. Suicide attackers are certainly motivated by their faith, but almost all soldiers are motivated by their faith. Properly deployed, modern suicide attackers have achieved some stunning results, the attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 being possibly their biggest success. Suicide attacks are a tactic, not an ideology, and as such fall into the broad spectrum of horrific behaviors that warfare encourages.
Of course most people think that their side’s forces are fighting the good fight for God and country, while their enemies are Godless barbarians with no respect for human life. In most cases both sides are both wrong and right … neither of them is fighting for anything worthwhile. Wars are almost always senseless. But they’re so interesting! More weird weapons of war will be covered as the spirit takes me. Have a great weekend everyone!
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. I got it from Wikipedia so it’s more than likely public domain of one sort or another. Here’s a youtube video montage of Japanese kamikaze attacks during World War Two. It’s pretty horrible actually, lots of people are dying in these images.)