Nine pilots from
50th Shinbu Squadron
(at Hōfu Air Base) 
Kamikaze, the Ultimate Sacrifice
by Daniel A. Kitchen, Lt. USNR (Retired)
Understandable, brave, even perversely admirable were
desperate Japanese kamikaze attacks in the year 1945, made in time of war in
final defense of homeland against an armed enemy. Not comprehensible is the blind and vicious hatred behind the
September 11 attacks in the year 2001 made in a peaceful country against
innocent men, women and children. There
is no parallel.
I first saw his airplane a mile or so away as it wove
through anti-aircraft fire over the Ie Shima airstrip, then watched as his
flight ended in an explosive ball of flame, less than 200 yards from where LCT
746 lay at anchor. I never saw the pilot's face but half a century later he
lingers in my mind.
I imagine him as young, a student dressed in immaculate
white, a sash and oriental shirt with flowing sleeves, his face smooth and
serene, the tan of his skin contrasting with the white of his clothing. I try
to comprehend his thoughts and actions. A
final goodbye to a few friends and perhaps a damp-eyed instructor and mentor,
reluctantly parting from one of his prized students. No family present, they will be told of his heroic death later.
And finally, before the final takeoff in his small and fragile plane,
brief but solemn ceremonies as he pledges his mortal being to emperor and
He probably started from Kyūshū, southernmost of Japan's
home islands. The last face he sees is that of his mechanic, somber as he
pulls the propeller to manually start the small engine. Then he taxies to the end of the runway,
revs the engine. It sounds strong and eager, ready to take to the sky.
He pushes the throttle ahead for takeoff, gathers speed . . . and feels
the little airplane free itself from the soil of his
homeland for the last time.
He is now a kamikaze. He will strike one final blow, giving his life in defense of home and
The flight is smooth in perfect weather. He
flies low over the water to remain nearly invisible to the radar and eyes of
enemy picket ships between him and his target. Because the flight will nearly exhaust precious fuel, he throttles back
to 70 knots, the most efficient cruising speed. His airplane has been stripped
of any items of value, even the radio. He'll
be in the air for about four hours, lonely hours filled with thoughts of home,
family, and friends; the girl he'll never marry and children he'll never have.
No need for fancy navigation equipment. He has studied the charts. His
target lies among hundreds of enemy ships, massed at anchor just past the
small island of Ie Shima off of the west coast of Okinawa. He simply keeps the
string of the sparsely populated but beautiful semi-tropical islands off to
his left. These stretch south of Japan, all the way to Okinawa, and will
guide him to that target and triumphant final sacrifice. He spots a few small
boats, fishermen probably, and once, on the horizon, the ominous bulk of a
destroyer, one of the picket ships guarding the enemy anchorage. But his small plane
goes undetected until, to his left, he sees the
larger land mass of Okinawa and, directly ahead, Ie Shima.
He pulls up to the 500 foot elevation of the Ie Shima
airstrip, skimming a scant 50 feet above the ground. A glance at the fuel gauge
shows a few gallons left. Good!
Enough to start a hot and destructive fire. And luck is with him. So far
he has either gone unnoticed or been mistaken for one of the many small aircraft
used by the U.S. Army for artillery spotting and medical evacuation. But once over the airstrip,
he begins to draw gunfire. He opens the throttle for more speed, weaving to present a difficult
target, giving gunners little time to aim. Untouched, he reaches the southern end of the airstrip and sees before
him the enemy armada, a plenitude of targets waiting at anchor.
But there's no more time. Now dozens of gunners on those
ships have him in sight. The sky is suddenly full of streaking steel and glowing
tracers. Shell bursts buffet his fragile plane. Anti-aircraft fire will soon
find him. He reacts quickly, inverting his airplane in a smooth half-roll. And there,
almost directly below, he sees the 340-foot-long hull of an
enemy landing ship, less than a hundred yards off the beach. He pulls the stick
back, sending his plane in a precise vertical dive, crashing dead center into
the ship below. The engine of his
plane becomes a projectile, cutting through three steel decks and into the
ship's engine room. Ruptured tanks spray fuel, sending sheets of flame across
decks and down passageways, incinerating all in their path. A perfectly flown kamikaze strike.
I watched as the pilot died . . . instantly and in
vain. I hope that he was distracted
by gunfire and concentrating on precision flying . . . and never noticed the
deserted decks, unmanned guns and empty bridge of his target. It was LST 808, wrecked and abandoned, gutted by a torpedo attack a
couple of days earlier, but with decks and superstructure intact, still resting upright on
the coral sand in the shallows of our anchorage.
Please contact Dan Kitchen if you have any comments or questions about this story
by Bill Gordon
LST 808's damage report states: "During an air raid
on 20 May 1945, while the ship was resting on the reef at Ie Shima, a Japanese
plane dove into the forward part of the superstructure at 1837 and penetrated
through the boat deck, main deck, and into the wreckage on the tank deck" .
Japanese records of kamikaze pilot deaths indicate that only one special attack squadron, the 50th
Shinbu Squadron, made a sortie from Kyūshū on May 20, 1945 . Ten Army
1 Fighters (Allied code name of Oscar) took off from Chiran Air Base at 1605 to
1613 . A Hayabusa Fighter normally took just a little more than
two hours to go from Chiran to Ie Shima , so the plane that hit
LST 808 at 1837 almost certainly was a Hayabusa fighter from the 50th
Shinbu Squadron. Moreover, the dates and times mentioned in the last writings of
two 50th Shinbu Squadron members (Last Letters of Second Lieutenant
Ryōsuke Ogiso to His Parents and
Last Writing of Second Lieutenant Masayuki Tatara)
are consistent with when
LST 808 was hit.
The 50th Shinbu Squadron, previously one of 14 squadrons of the Akeno Air
Base Training Flight Division in Mie Prefecture, was formed as a special attack
squadron at the end of February 1945. After plane maintenance and training at
Hōfu Air Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the squadron proceeded to Chiran Air Base
in Kagoshima Prefecture to wait for mission orders. All 12 pilots of the 50th Shinbu Squadron
died in attacks off Okinawa. Nine pilots made a sortie from Chiran on May 20, 1945,
the date of the attack on LST 808.
Two pilots made a sortie on May 25, and the final pilot of the 50th Shinbu Squadron
made a sortie
on May 28. 
The LST 808 war diary, recorded by Captain Stevens, and
the official damage report describe
what happened to the ship on May 18, 1945 . At 2206, a large Japanese
twin-engine plane passed over the stern just above the mast, and a torpedo hit
the ship with a terrific explosion about 30 seconds later. Small fires were
quickly extinguished, but the explosion killed five men and wounded five others
of the LST 808 crew. Another five men aboard from the boat pool died in
the explosion, and one wounded man from the boat pool died the next day. With LST 808's main and auxiliary engine rooms wrecked and flooded, two
tugs towed the ship to shallow water where she rested on a reef. Most of the crew
went ashore at 0300 on May 19. LST 808 had a security watch of only five
men on board when the kamikaze plane hit the ship on May 20.
1. Osuo 2005, 122
2. Oberg 2005, 93
3. Hara 2004, 226-7
4. Sakurai 2007
5. Osuo 2005, 83
6. Osuo 2005, 122-3
7. Oberg 2005, 91-3
Hara, Katsuhiro. 2004. Shinsō kamikaze tokkō: Hisshi
hitchū no 300 nichi (Kamikaze special attack facts: 300 days of certain-death, sure-hit
attacks). Tōkyō: KK Bestsellers.
Oberg, Tanney Edward. 2005. Lucky
Sweetbrier. New York: iUniverse.
Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (rikugun hen)
(Record of special attack corps (Army)). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.
Sakurai, Takashi. 2007. Dai 50 shinbu tai. (50th Shinbu
(July 25, 2007).