Kamikaze Attack off Sakishima Islands

Often overlooked and largely forgotten by history, the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) contributed greatly in the final months of the Pacific War and its role was vital to the success of the Ryukyus Campaign and in achieving ultimate victory over the Empire of Japan. The task of the BPF in May 1945 during the Ryukyus Campaign was to neutralize the strategic Japanese airfields in the Sakishima Islands, which lie between Okinawa and Formosa (Taiwan). Japanese aircraft operating out of the Sakishima Islands targeted Allied ships in and around Okinawa and proved to be a deadly nuisance to the GIs and Marines fighting on Okinawa.

At 1131 hours on 4 May 1945, while operating off the Sakishima Islands, the Illustrious-class carrier HMS Formidable (67) was struck by a kamikaze. The BPF was under attack by a wave of kamikazes. The Illustrious-class carrier HMS Indomitable (92) was hit by a kamikaze, but her armored flight deck saved her from serious damage. The BPF’s press liaison officer on-board Indomitable, Anthony Kimmins, witnessed the attack on Formidable:

We were just getting our breath back when a voice beside me said: ‘God, look at Formy!’ It was a ghastly sight. All you could see was the bare outline of her hull, and rising above it from stem to stern an enormous pall of black smoke, belching furiously as huge red tongues of flame shot upwards every time something else caught fire. And right amidships, a gigantic white fountain, as high-pressure steam screamed up into the sky. But the thing that almost took one’s breath away was the fact that something else was screaming upwards too. More kamikazes were diving to attack and to our amazement tracers from ‘Formy’ were racing up to meet them. It did not look possible that anyone could be alive in that inferno, and yet – somehow or other – guns’ crews, scorched and with their throats clogged, were still sticking to their job. Whether she was hit again or not we couldn’t see. There was too much smoke and flame already. But she still held on. Her engines were still heaving over. Boilers had been put out of action, but those men down in the boiler and engine rooms were determined that she should keep her place with the rest of the fleet. [1]

The aftermath of the attack carried out by the Mitsubishi A6M Zero is documented in the series of photographs below from the collection of the Imperial War Museum. Will Iredale in his, The Kamikaze Hunters: Fighting For The Pacific, 1945, vividly describes the scenes playing out on the flight deck of the Formidable captured in the below photographs:

Two hundred men dressed in the sinister-looking asbestos suits of firefighting parties emerged from below decks, dragging rubber hoses as thick as a man’s forearm. The hoses pumped a mixture of water and animal blood from large tanks below decks. The blood reacted under high pressure with carbon dioxide to create a white foam which smelled foul but formed an effective blanket to smother flames fed by the burning oil and aviation fuel and prevented oxygen from reigniting the fire. Within a few minutes what had once been gleaming aircraft were grotesque, tangled skeletons, dripping with thick white liquid.

The deck had been crowded with aircraft handling parties and crews when the kamikaze struck. Six men were killed immediately, burned or scythed down by flying debris. The most seriously injured were treated as they lay on the flight deck, and the first-aid post in the island was used as a triage centre before casualties were taken below deck. Most casualties were given morphine injections before having their wounds treated and many were bleeding heavily. The medical team went through more than 250 bottles of plasma and thousands of units of penicillin. A petty officer working as an aircraft handler had most of his legs blown away. He died three days later. Another man had to have his eye removed after shrapnel pierced his cornea. [2]

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Photo Source: Imperial War Museum © IWM (A 29313).
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Photo Source: Imperial War Museum © IWM (A 29312).
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Photo Source: Imperial War Museum © IWM (ABS 227).
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Photo Source: Imperial War Museum © IWM (A 29311).
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Photo Source: Imperial War Museum © IWM (A 29310).
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Photo Source: Imperial War Museum © IWM (A 29315).
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Photo Source: Imperial War Museum © IWM (A 29314).
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Photo Source: Imperial War Museum © IWM (ABS 226).

Notes:

  1. Iredale, Will. The Kamikaze Hunters: Fighting For The Pacific, 1945. Pan Books, 2016. (p. 274).
  2. Ibid. (pp. 275-276).
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