From the free republic website comes this:
In the 13th century, as legend goes, a Mongol emperor massed a large fleet for the invasion of Japan. The Japanese nation had little to defend itself with, and a Mongol conquest seemed certain. As the fleet massed outside Tokyo Bay gathered to attack, a typhoon came up and either sank all the ships or blew them back to China. This storm, which the Japanese believed was sent by the gods to save their nation, was called "Divine Wind." In Japanese, the name is "Kamikaze."From PBS's website called American Experience comes this:
By August of 1944, the air arm of the Imperial Japanese Navy had very few bases and aircraft carriers, and even fewer planes with which to carry out offensive operations against the American fleet. Certain admirals in the Japanese navy began exploring the use of rather extraordinary "special tactics" they felt would best utilize the dwindling number of aircraft and pilots at their disposal.
Vice Admiral Takajiro Ohnishi, Japan's foremost expert on naval aviation and at one time Admiral Isoroko Yamamotoþs close advisor on the subject, formulated a plan wherein Japanese pilots would suicide-crash their planes into American ships. This tactic, which Ohnishi hoped would save Japan, was called kamikaze, in honor of the typhoon that saved his country from invasion. The formal name of the unit that had this mission was the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps.
The kamikazes were unique in military history. Death in war is inevitable, but Japanese naval doctrine prior to 1944 forbid carrying out a mission unless there was some chance of survival. Adhering to the code of bushido (code of the warrior), all Japanese military men were prepared to die for the Emperor. This stemmed from the Japanese ideal of "The Path of Eternal Duty," the belief that family and individual welfare were not important when compared to the long history of the Empire. Japanese literature is replete with examples of warriors who died a glorious death on behalf of the Emperor.
The kamikazes, however, were the first unit to actually seek death in battle. This concept was repugnant in the West, and there were those on the Japanese Imperial General Staff who objected to this strategy. They felt this step was needless, a waste of men, and an acknowledgement that Japan had lost the war. In spite of this opposition, Ohnishi lobbied strongly for his plan, and it was finally, if reluctantly, accepted.
On 6 April 1945, the first wave of ten coordinated attacks began to hit the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet off the coast of Okinawa. Ships in the Fifth Fleet had experienced suicide attacks before -- but never on such a scale. The terrifying sight of Japanese pilots diving their planes into ships would become common over the next two and a half months. Aircraft carriers and battleships were supposed to be the main targets, but the ships that suffered the most damage were the destroyers and smaller vessels assigned to protect the fleet from incoming attacks.
Pilots Willing to Die
One such destroyer was the U.S.S. Newcomb. The Newcomb had seen combat before, at the Mariana Islands, Peleliu, Palau and in the Philippines. But it was at Okinawa that she would fight her fiercest battle. On board the destroyer was 21-year-old John Chapman, a First Class Boatswains Mate, and gun captain of a five-inch gun. Facing enemy pilots willing to give their lives to sink his ship struck him as almost incomprehensible.
"It didn't make you feel good. I don't know whether that's 'terrified' or not, but it didn't make you feel too well because of it, knowing that people would do a thing like that. You know, people we had always known weren't like that. They were brave people and so forth, and they fight, but weren't someone to just deliberately take their lives to take yours."
Watching Kamikazes Attack
More than 300 kamikazes departed Southern Kyushu on April 6. Their target was the U.S. Fifth Fleet stationed in support of the battle being waged on Okinawa. As the Japanese pilots approached, they broke off into smaller attack groups. John Chapman was at his gun post at the stern of the U.S.S. Newcomb.
"There was probably 45 planes in the air. Well, it was a scary situation, because you knew that they were going to dive on you. You could be firing on the aircraft, and they'd come right on, just keep coming right on through that. And you'd see pieces flying over the planes and everything else, and they'd just keep right on a-coming."
A Roaring Inferno
The Newcomb shot down four enemy planes. Five others hit the ship. Those on board who were not killed or injured fought desperately not only to put out the raging fires and repair damaged engines, but also to keep firing at an enemy dead set on sinking them. The scene aboard the Newcomb was repeated on many vessels of the fleet that day.
"It was hot. The fires were just raging totally out of control. Between the bridge and the afterdeck house, that's a big percent of the ship. It was nothing but a roaring inferno. The flames were shooting. They said [it] was high as 1,000 feet in the air off the Newcomb."
Firefighters battling the raging fires forced John Chapman and an injured friend to jump overboard. There was no space left for them on the stern to remain. Chapman handed his life belt to the injured friend and, once in the water, towed him to the safety of a lifeboat. They were later rescued along with many others in the waters off Okinawa.
Ninety-one sailors were killed or wounded on the U.S.S. Newcomb. Many of those who were injured suffered devastating burns. But despite suffering at the hands of the five kamikazes, the crew of the Newcomb kept their vessel afloat and earned the Navy Unit Commendation and eight battle stars for World War II service. John Chapman would earn a bronze star for his service; years later, his view of his heroism is clear-eyed:
"People try to glorify wars and so forth. There's people that do outstanding things, but there's nothing really glorious about a war. You do wars to protect your country if you have to, and that's the only time you should ever do it."