The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 did shock the US public which until then had not really been in a mood to enter World War II. Only one day later, on 8 December 1941, the United States declared war on the Japanese Empire and officially entered World War II. And only 3 days later Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy declared war on the US to force the US to split up their troops over both oceans and prevent the US from focusing its resources on fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.
And while the attack on Pearl Harbor is edged into the memory of the United States there is also one rumor that has survived until today. And that is the rumor that the Japanese used Kamikazes in their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
But that was not the case!
Kamikazes were not used in the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 since the first use of Kamikazes was on 25 October 1944 at a point of time when the Japanese Empire was so desperate that it had to use them to keep up any hopes of still being able to win the war.
Now one might ask why the rumor that Kamikazes were used in the attack on Pearl Harbor survived until today even though Kamikazes were only first used almost 3 years after the attack.
The reason for that can be found in an incident during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that appeared just like a Kamikaze attack.
The misbelief that Kamikazes were used in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor can probably be attributed to a Japanese report from 1941. That report mentioned a Japanese lieutenant called Fusata Iida who had declared that he would try to crash his plane into one of the US ships in case his plane would get too badly damaged to make the way back home. By crashing his plane into a ship he would have accepted his death which makes the entire thing look like a Kamikaze attack.
But it wasn`t.
The main characteristic of the Japanese Kamikaze pilots was that their death was inevitable. When a Kamikaze pilot was recruited then he knew from the start that his attack would result in his death!
Now granted, some of the Kamikaze pilots would break off their attacks and return home. You can find out more about what happened to kamikaze pilots who broke off their attack in my article here.
But generally, a Kamikaze attack was based on the ineluctable death of the pilot.
Fusata Iida however did not start his attack with the knowledge that he would crash himself and his plane into the enemy`s ships. He would have only crashed his plane into a US ship if his plane would be damaged to a degree that would not have allowed him to return home which would have eventually made him a POW.
And the Japanese code of honor influenced the (young) pilots in a way that they were conditioned to prefer death over becoming a prisoner of war.
So since Fusata Iida did not start with the order to crash his plane into a US ship but instead declared that he would do that in case (and only in the specific case) that his plane would be too severely damaged to make it back he can not be seen as a Kamikaze pilot!
By the day, do you wonder whether or not he actually crashed his plane into one of the ships?
Well, the plane of Fusata Iida was indeed damaged by American anti-aircraft guns to a point that it would not make the flight back to the Japanese aircraft carriers from where he had started. So he tried to crash his plane into the USS Neosho. But that failed. Instead, he would eventually crash his plane into parked planes at the airfield at Kaneohe.
I hope I was able to clarify the myth of Kamikazes being used in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Are you interested in more Word War II history? In that case, I would like to recommend you my article here with more information on why Hitler refused to retreat from Stalingrad.
And here you can find out more about why France and Great Britain did not immediately invade the only weakly defended Germany in 1939 when the bulk of the German military was still invading Poland.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
H. Boog, W. Rahn (u.a.), Der Globale Krieg. Die Ausweitung zum Weltkrieg und der Wechsel der Initiative 1941-1943; in: Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Bd. 6 (Stuttgart 1990).
H. Boog, W. Rahn (u.a.), Das Deutsche Reich in der Defensive: strategischer Luftkrieg in Europe, Krieg im Westen und in Ostasien; in: Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Bd. 7 (Stuttgart 1990).