"My Body Will Collapse Like a Falling Cherry Blossom"
Memoirs of a suicide squadron survivor.
- By Hatsuho Naito
- Air & Space magazine, May 1991
(Page 7 of 8)
Nonaka turned and signaled the men to break ranks and man their airplanes. The white flag went down. The roar from the airplanes’ engines drowned out everything else. The Bettys, their heavy Ohka bombs suspended from their bellies, lumbered down the runway like fat gooney birds. As soon as they were in the air, the fighters began taking off.
As they turned to the east, the two squadrons were joined by a third squadron of 23 assisting fighters that had taken off from adjoining Kasanbara Air Base. The group headed southeast. Seven months after the Ohka program was first proposed, the Thunder Gods were making their first sortie.
About half an hour later, half of the fighters returned to base with malfunctioning fuel pumps. Because there hadn’t been enough time to service the fighters properly, they hadn’t been able to draw fuel from their second tanks. The shock to those waiting at the airfield was considerable. But more was to come. Most of the airplanes that had taken off from Kasanbara had the same problem and had to return. Only 30 fighters were left to cover the entire mission.
To make things worse, a reconnaissance airplane flying ahead of the Thunder Gods radioed back that three groups of American ships were in the area, with three aircraft carriers in one group and two each in the others. Not only was the force much stronger than previously believed, each group was sure to have covering airplanes.
There had been no word over the radio at all from Nonaka. It had been agreed beforehand that he and his squadron would maintain complete radio silence throughout the mission, but now the waiting was almost unbearable.
Several members of the Fifth Naval Air Fleet staff wanted to scarp the mission and call Nonaka back. But Ugaki, waiting in the operations room, refused. “The Thunder Gods are right now face to face with the enemy,” he said. “I cannot bring those young boys back now after they have made up their minds to die. It would be too much for them to bear.”
It was then approaching 3 p.m., well after the time they mission should have reached the target area. Still there was no word from Nonaka. If the airplanes were still in the air, their fuel would soon be gone.
The air in the underground operations room was stale. The men sat around in silence, not trusting themselves to speak.