Most history buffs know that Japanese suicide pilots, know as Kamikaze, were devastating to allied vessels. The word “Kamikaze” means “divine wind,” and refers to a series of typhoons that wiped out invading Mongols off the Japanese coast in the 13th century. When the tide turned against the Japanese during World War II, they called on young pilots to fly human-guided missiles directly into targets with no regard for their own lives. It was hoped that they would have the same effect as the 13th century typhoons did, and so they were called “Kamikaze.”
What many don’t know is that planes weren’t the only form of suicide attack devised. There were also Shinyo speedboats, Kaiten submarines, and Fukuryu divers.
Shinyo means “sea quake,” and consisted of a fast one-manned boat packed with 700 pounds of explosives. The pilot would charge at an enemy ship and either explode the bomb manually, or smash into the hull which would cause detonation. There were also two rockets mounted that could be launched during the attack. Some 6,200 of these craft were built, but as they were designed to defend Japan for an invasion that never came, they were never used.
Kaiten submarines were little more than torpedoes with one or more pilots. The name means “heaven shaker.” Unlike the Shinyo, these were actually employed during combat. Launched from submarines, they were effective in sinking two allied warships, with 187 men dying as a result. During the course of the program, 106 Kaiten pilots died, and while that seems to put the Japanese at the advantage, an additional 1,000 Japanese sailors died supporting the program, most them when the mother submarines were sunk during operations.
Perhaps the most desperate weapon was the Fukuryu, or “crouching dragon.” This was simply a diver with a bomb on a bamboo stick. The idea was that they’d walk into the sea, surface under an enemy ship, and explode along with the bomb when it came in contact with the hull. While there were a couple of incidents involving suicide divers, this weapon was not widely deployed.
There were other suicide weapons as well, including the Nikaku—a man with an antitank bomb strapped on, and the Shusui, actually a copy of the German Me163 rocket plane designed to take down allied bombers.
The idea of suicide attacks didn’t begin in the 1940s, and certainly hasn’t disappeared since. Between 1981 and June of 2015, over 45,000 people have been killed in 4,620 attacks.
Today, the word “kamikaze” is used in western culture to describe cocktails, cars, software, amusement park rides and even shoes. This displays a certain reverence for the concept, at least as it applies to those men willing to sacrifice their lives attacking military targets during war time. The word istishhad refers to an act of martyrdom in the cause of Islam. It is increasingly applied to Islamic suicide bombers in a way analogous to the kamikaze.
Could it be that fifty years from now we’ll be able to buy a pair of Nike Istishhads?