What happened when Kamikaze Pilots Failed?

The Japanese Kamikazes of late World War II were notorious for sacrificing their lives in a desperate attempt to turn the tide of World War II so that the Japanese Empire could still somehow win. And although their actions did not result in a Japanese victory the name Kamikaze and the idea connected to it is still widely known.

However, one thing about Kamikaze Pilots is less commonly known. What happened when a Kamikaze pilot either failed or broke off his attack and returned to his home base? Was he punished for failing his mission?

Kamikaze pilots were a valuable resource, especially regarding the grim military situation of the Japanese Empire in late 1944 and 1945. So failed Kamikaze pilots who returned to their bases were not punished but instead sent on a new attack. Only repeated failure was punished, one pilot was shot after returning from his 9th attempt of a kamikaze attack.

Let`s find out more

Why did the Japanese Empire use Kamikaze strikes?

While the Japanese Empire had been able to quickly occupy large parts of South-East Asia the situation turned when the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor. Here you can find out more about whether or not the Japanese used Kamikazes in their attack on Pearl Harbor.

As World War II progressed the Japanese resources dwindled to a point where conventional warfare no longer promised success against the US-Navy. As a consequence, the Kamikaze strikes were introduced and first used on 25 October 1944 as a resourceful way to destroy the US-Aircraft carriers.

The idea was that sacrificing one pilot and a plane that was packed with explosives was a good deal if that sacrifice would result in the destruction of a US aircraft carrier.

These dwindling resources, especially the dwindling number of pilots, are also important to remember when we look at how failed Kamikaze pilots were treated when they returned.

What happened when Kamikaze pilots failed and returned to their base?

Since Kamikaze pilots were chosen to die in their attacks one could assume that they were severely punished when they failed and returned instead of fulfilling their attack.

But that was not the case.

It is important to remember that Kamikaze pilots were not random soldiers but mostly volunteering, often extremely young pilots. These pilots were among the most capable pilots that the Japanese Empire had to offer at this stage of the war. So wasting good pilots who had agreed on performing Kamikaze strikes by punishing or even executing them just because one of their attacks had failed would not have been smart.

As a result Kamikaze pilots who returned from an attack were not punished but rather scheduled for another attack. Only when one Kamikaze pilot would return again and again he would run into trouble.

Especially pilots who did not have to break off their attacks because of bad weather or technical failure could be punished if that happened too often. There is one example of a kamikaze pilot who returned 9 times from his attack before he was executed for cowardness.

The accusation of cowardness was especially problematic when only one pilot of a pack of kamikaze planes returned since he could hardly claim bad weather as an excuse.

Speaking of returning Kamikaze pilots. Have you heard the myth that the fuel tanks of the planes that were used for Kamikaze strikes were only half-full? That was actually not the case! The fuel tanks of planes used for kamikaze strikes were not only half-full but completely filled so that the plane could make its way back to base in case of technical failure before the strike.

Once again, wasting good pilots and planes by not giving them enough fuel so that they could make it back in case the kamikaze strike didn`t happen because of bad weather, technical failure, or other reasons would not have been smart regarding the desperate military and economic situation of the Japanese Empire that made the use of Kamikazes necessary in the first place.

Now that obviously leads to the question of how successful the use of Kamikazes was.

How effective were Kamikaze attacks?

Well, since the Japanese Empire lost World War II the most obvious answer is that Kamikaze strikes were not effective enough to turn the tide.

The vast majority of Kamikaze attacks were not successful since they either missed the crucial parts of the targeted ships, crashed into the sea, or were shot down by anti-aircraft guns. Only around 19% of Kamikaze attacks were successful making their use more psychological than military success.

I hope you found our trip into the Pacific theatre of World War II as interesting as I did.

Should you be interested in the western theatre of World War II, especially the German Eastern Front, and the question of why Stalingrad was so important to Germany then I would like to recommend you my article here.

Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.

Until next time

Yours truly

Luke Reitzer


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).