"My Body Will Collapse Like a Falling Cherry Blossom"
Memoirs of a suicide squadron survivor.
- By Hatsuho Naito
- Air & Space magazine, May 1991
(Page 4 of 8)
On March 17, the commander-in-chief of the Fifth Naval Air Fleet, Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, issued orders for the implementation of “First Tactics,” which called for a radar scout patrol that night, a torpedo attack on U.S. ships at dawn, and an attack by the Thunder Gods during the day.
The next day, the order for the Thunder Gods’ first mission came at 12:13 p.m. Okamura ordered 18 Bettys from the squadron at the Usa Naval Air Base, on northern Kyushu, to get ready. Working at a frantic pace, personnel at Usa pulled the Bettys out of their shelters and began bringing the Ohkas from their secret tunnels. Corps members not scheduled to participate in the mission helped the ground crews ferry the bombs across the runway to the waiting Bettys.
Suddenly, a group of U.S. dive-bombers burst through the clouds hanging over the field and began raining down bombs. The ground crews and their Thunder Gods helpers scattered. One after the other, the Bettys on the runway and several still in shelters went up in flames. One of the air raid shelters suffered a direct hit that killed several Thunder Gods. Miraculously, none of the Ohkas was hit.
Meanwhile, U.S. bombers also attacked Tomitaka Air Base, which housed the fighters intended to protect the Ohkas. When the bombing finally ended, approximately half of the fighters had been destroyed.
The Fifth Naval Air Fleet was trying to bring some order out of the chaos, but communications between the bases had been destroyed, so fleet headquarters could not fully assess the damage. Chief of Staff Toshiyuki Yokoi suggested to Vice Admiral Ugaki that he suspend all activity in order to preserve the few forces left.
Ugaki, however, decided to go for a knockout blow. At 8:10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 21, reconnaissance airplanes reported sighting two groups of U.S. warships only 320 miles off Kyushu. One of the groups included two aircraft carriers, apparently with no airplanes flying over them. The weather was clear. Ugaki and his staff reasoned that the carriers must have been damaged in an earlier Japanese attack and that there would never be a better opportunity to finish them off. He again ordered the Thunder Gods Corps to prepare for an attack.
There was tremendous excitement in the underground operations room of the Fifth Naval Air Fleet. Okamura worried about the few cover airplanes available for the mission. Yokoi nodded his understanding, then turned to Ugaki. “Sir, shall we wait for another chance?” he asked. The normally outspoken Nonaka remained silent, looking grim.
Ugaki stood up slowly, a determined look on his face. He faced Okamura directly. “If we can’t use the Ohkas in this situation, we will never have the chance to use them,” he said.