What happened when a kamikaze pilot returned?

The Japanese use of kamikaze pilots in the Pacific campaign against the United States was perhaps the most extreme tactic ever used by the Empire of the Rising Sun to gain an advantage over the enemy. This tactic grew out of the need to destroy American aircraft carriers, which defined American dominance in the Pacific theater. American carriers were usually heavily guarded by both high quality American fighters and anti-aircraft guns mounted on the carrier itself.

During the later stages of the war, Japanese fighter aircraft could not hope to compete with superior American variants and so a new way to strike at the heart of the American fleet was needed. These circumstances gave rise to the kamikaze tactic. But what if a pilot tasked with this vital task fails his mission and returns?

for the emperor

Honor has always played a big role in Japanese society. Many who volunteered in the Kamikaze Corps saw it as an honor to die for their country. It was also believed that the show of honor and selflessness of a kamikaze pilot voluntarily sacrificing himself for this country would have massive psychological impacts on the invading forces.

More importantly, kamikaze attacks were far more precise than bombardment, allowing the Japanese air force to target weak points in American ships, making this tactic much more effective than traditional bombardment, something vital to the already weak and overstretched Japanese army. forces.

The USS Bunker Hill was hit by suicide bombers piloted by Ensign Kiyoshi Ogawa (pictured below) and Lt. Junior Grade Seizō Yasunori on May 11, 1945. Of a crew of 2,600 at Bunker Hill, 389 were killed. were killed or officially missing, and 264 were injured. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Many people in Japanese society admired kamikaze pilots as they were seen as the ultimate proof of loyalty to the emperor. As such, they received better rations during their training, though this was offset by the harsh training and discipline they underwent while preparing for their final day. Even with all this preparation and nationalist zeal, some of the pilots were too scared to complete their task or experienced mechanical failures on their “last flight”, forcing them to return to Japan.

Failure and dishonor

Kamikaze pilots with a puppy showing us the humanity of these unfortunate souls. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The returning kamikaze pilots fall into two distinct groups. Those who returned due to weather conditions or mechanical breakdowns in their place and those who returned because they could not complete their task successfully due to psychological reasons. Each group received a different treatment upon their return.

Pilots who could prove that their return was caused by conditions beyond their control were not punished or looked down upon. At a stage in the war when even pilots were considered a scarce resource, the Japanese could not afford to lose a well-trained kamikaze pilot; thus, their return was accepted and their “last flight” rescheduled, though some still feel survivor’s guilt if they were the only ones in their squadron to survive.

For pilots who could not prove that their return was caused by factors beyond their control, their treatment would be a little different. Although still not executed, these pilots would receive some sort of punishment, whether physical or mental. These punishments were not to be too severe as the pilot had to be ready for another flight at some point in the future, so nothing that would impair this ability would be done. Even so, it had a limit, as seen with a pilot who returned 9 times from his Kamikaze mission. He will be executed on his 9th return for cowardice.

To combat these mental factors that would prevent kamikaze pilots from performing their duties, a few measures were put in place. Kamikaze pilots often flew in squadrons to increase peer pressure between colleagues, which reduced the number of pilots who collapsed and failed to complete their task. The pilots were also given alcohol before their “last flight”, which gave them “liquid courage” to help them complete their task.

The squadron of Kamikaze pilots take their last drink before their mission. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Many believe the pilots were also given just enough fuel to complete their goal as another incentive, but that wasn’t true as we now know these pilots were such a scarce resource that it wouldn’t be a viable way to incentivize. . them to do their job.

When you eliminate all thoughts of life and death, you can totally ignore your earthly life. It will also allow you to focus your attention on eradicating the enemy with unwavering determination, while building up your excellence in flying skills. — Excerpt from a kamikaze pilot’s manual


As always, war brings out the worst in humanity, which couldn’t be more true of the Japanese. In a society where honor and submission to the emperor mean more than life, tactics such as the use of kamikaze pilots or the manufacture of suicide bomb infantry tanks could be justified and even celebrated by the general population because they helped the war effort.

Japan would commit many despicable war crimes during World War II in an attempt to defeat its enemies, without stopping anything to do so. We see this with the experiments carried out by Unit 731 and the atrocities committed in mainland China in a quest to appease the rebellious population.

Japan has always been an interesting case study in history and will remain so due to the unique culture the hermit civilization has developed over centuries of isolation from influence outside of their island. I look forward to exploring more of the history of this country one day.

Comments are closed.