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Kamikaze tactics

Discussion in 'Air War in Western Europe 1939 - 1945' started by williamtsherman, Nov 11, 2013.

  1. williamtsherman

    williamtsherman New Member

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    A possibility I've always pondered is the Allies using kamikaze tactics for the strategic bombing campaign.

    Instead of sending hundreds of B17's at, say, a ball bearing factory or oil refinery, you send a much smaller number of kamikaze B17's. Replace half the fuel with additional explosives. Prepare everyone but the pilot to bail out during the final approach to target, or maybe not have them along at all. The pilot flies the plane right into the factory.

    Obviously this was not done, and probably could never have been done, due to cultural factors. But what would have been the result if it had been?

    I've always believed the results would have been much greater and the casuality list would have been much smaller, particularly in the period before air dominance was acheived. The difference is, at the beginning of the mission, instead of being statistically certain of having maybe 10% killed (but not knowing beforehand who they would be), you would be certain of having a much smaller number killed (but would know which individuals it would be). And based on the success of Japanese Kamikazes in hitting ships, the accuracy would be greatly improved, thus requiring less missions.

    I've always found this interesting to consider.
     
  2. mcoffee

    mcoffee Son-of-a-Gun(ner)

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    Would you volunteer to pilot a suicide B-17 mission?
     
  3. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    B-17 weren't cheap. Nor was pilot training. The US did start to mass produce an improved version of the V-1 near the end of the war. I'm not sure that it would have been all that useful but at least some AAF officers were.
     
  4. williamtsherman

    williamtsherman New Member

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    I would not have volunteered. Could they have found enough volunteers to make a significant effort? I don't know. Maybe not. But my interest is just in thinking it through as a thought experiment. Setting aside the cultural issues, would it have worked? Would it have actually resulted in FEWER total allied casualties?

    Kamikazes worked very well for the Japanese. Their air power had deteriorated to the extent that, using conventional tactics, they could offer no real threat to the US fleet off Okinawa. But suddenly, using Kamikazes, they created a credible threat and sank around 70 ships.


    Thinking of the period before long-range fighter escorts became available, maybe B-17's wouldn't have been the best Kamikaze choice. With fewer planes per raid protecting each other with their defensive armaments, maybe the German fighters could have more easily picked off nearly all the Kamikazes. Maybe planes like the P47 or like the Mosquito would have been a better choice.
     
  5. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    I don't think a kamikaze attack on a dispersed target like a factory would have been very effective. It's not like a ship where all you need is to make a big enough hole in the hull or start a fire to destroy it or remove it from service. With a factory, you'd hit one building and make one large crater. You'd need a dozen or more kamikaze planes to really shut down a factory complex.
     
  6. harolds

    harolds Member

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    The Germans were thinking of using V1s and manning them with suicidal Hitler Youth. However, even they realized they would need some egress system so that the pilot would have at least a minimal chance at survival. The closest we came was remotely piloted B-17s. These were not a success and caused the death of Joe Kennedy, older brother of John.
     
  7. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    A Kamikaze is a fairly ineffective terminal guidance system, (no pun intended), and it would require ejection seat technology to give the pilot a chance if he waited until there was a good chance of the plane hitting the target for bail out. All in all a terrible idea.
     
  8. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Illogical captain.

    You'd have a higher proportion of killed/MIA/POW, running at 20% - as you would need at least the pilot & copilot. Also, they were the two most "expensive" trainingwise(both in time & financial investment). Further, massed formations provided a measure of defense, this is another failing of your hypothesis. By sending in a few bombers, it would allow defending German/Japanese fighters to easily shoot down all of the attacking bombers, at least up until long-range fighters were added to the Allied inventory. However, while the Allies were not about to send their pilot's on Kamikaze missions, they were more than open to using technology, albiet unreliable at the time, in an effort to fill the position of a human pilot...Just Google "Operation Aphrodite". Still, these remote control bombers needed pilots to get them airborne and to properly set their flight controls, and several crew were killed or wounded in premature detonations or on bailout.



    Actually, Japanese Kamikazes only sank about 2/3rds that total during the entire war. Although the number of those sunk tends to vary greatly, 70+ is at the extreme high end, with most estimates in the low 30s to mid 50s. Bill Gordon's tally of 47 is the most recent, and probably the best researched.
    http://wgordon.web.wesleyan.edu/kamikaze/background/ships-sunk/
    Still, the Kamikazes sank nothing more durable than a DD or CVE, so the credibility of the kamikaze threat of sinking ships remains fairly low, although they did damage a far greater number of ships, they only could sink "the small fry".

    Utilizing smaller aircraft defeats the purpose of your exercise, as you will have to throw far greater numbers of them at the enemy to make up for the resulting drop in explosive capacity. Further, using fighters is doubly self-defeating, as they are a lot less maneuverable when loaded, just as you see all fighters dumping their external loads(bombs, belly tanks, etc.) upon encountering the enemy.

    So, it seems that you are painting yourself further and further into a corner.
     
  9. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    JFK's brother Joe was killed testing that very idea. The concept was to have older planes that had reached the end of their life packed with explosives and sent off to crash on a target. Joe's plane exploded in mid air due to unknown causes.
     
  10. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I don't think you can cavalierly dismiss the "cultural differences". There was nothing like Emperor worship in the US. One would be hard pressed to find anything similar here. In Japan, the emperor was the living embodiment of Amaterasu. Military men and the air force would do anything to please him. In the US, most soldiers were civilians at heart, so it would be hard, if not impossible, to find anyone willing to give up his life for an idea. Most just wanted the fighting to end so they could go home.
     
  11. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    You might find some takers if it came with a huge price tag, given to the family...much as it is today.
     
  12. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    You might be right, but I don't think it would be enough to make a difference.
     
  13. Dave55

    Dave55 Member

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    I think Kennedy was killed in a B-24. Definately a nitpick but that's what we do on WWII boards :)
     
  14. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Well, if you want to nitpick, it was a PB4Y-1(BuNo. 32271), an ex-USAAF B-24J(s/n 42-110007). Joe Kennedy was in the US Navy, and he was participating in the USN's sister operation to Aphrodite - Project Anvil, as such USN aircraft were being used.
     
    TiredOldSoldier likes this.
  15. green slime

    green slime Member

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    An atrocious idea. It would never have been considered in the Western democracies.

    Even in totalitarian states as Japan and Germany, it was only considered out of sheer desperation. The West was never, ever in so desperate straits.

    Leonidas Squadron

    Hank Cervantes' experience
     
  16. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    Interesting idea.

    Of course the B17 is the wrong aircraft. It was designed to fight its way to a defended target and drop bombs accurately from high altitude, not to fly into targets from low level. If it is a one way mission you don't need as many crew, though you do need a navigator and may need a flight engineer. If you just need to reach the target with a few aircraft, it might be better to do this by stealth rather than an air armada. If you ditch the air gunners you could save a lot of weight and maybe have an aircraft fast enough to evade the air defences. in fact if it is fast enough and equipped with delay fused bombs it might even stand a good chance of coming back.

    Can I sell you a fleet of Mosquito light bombers instead?
    - Similar range to a B17
    - Bigger payload for a given range
    - Better survivability - much lower casualty rates than any other day or night bomber
    - Proven track record in hitting precision targets.

    This idea is based on an assumption is that Nazi Germany, like the death star had a series of vulnerable points which could be disabled by a handful of self sacrificing heroes. In the Pacific, kamikazi's made some sense for the Japanese, as the USN depended on a small number of vulnerable high value CVs. The industrial targets in Germany were big installations and needed kilo-tonnes of bombs to flatten them. The German economy was much more robust and tolerant of damage.

    Some of the allied missions were suicide missions. Flying an allied bomber on anti-shipping operations was, for much of the war statistically less safe than volunteering as a Japanese kamikaze pilot. I think ensign gay was the sole survivor of his Torpedo bomber flight at Midway. Baling out wasn't an option at 100ft and 200mph.
     
  17. mcoffee

    mcoffee Son-of-a-Gun(ner)

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    You have some actual performance data to back up your payload claim?

    Survivability of Mosquitos vs. any of the heavies is a very apples to oranges comparison. The way they were used and the environment in which they operated were in no way directly comparable.
     
  18. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    Yes. Mosquito Bomber Mk IX and XVI were capable of taking a 4000lb cookie, a heavier weight of bombs than carried by early variants of the B17, and only 25% less than carried by B17s on typical raids to Germany. If the aim is to hit a target with bombs a fleet of Mosquitos would carry far more bombs for comparable investment in aircraft and crews. This is why post war bombers have more in common with the Mosquito than the B17.

    Bomber Command's Light Night Striking Force rose to a strength of nine squadrons, and flew 27,000 sorties for the loss of 200 aircraft lost or beyond repair, >1% loss rate per sortie

    It is true that the B17 and Mosquiito were different types of aircraft and fulfilled different purposes. This thread started with a post about precision strikes by Kamikazi B17s, a role which a Mosquito could fulfil far better and without the need for self immolation.
     
  19. williamtsherman

    williamtsherman New Member

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    Let's compare two raiding tactics for something like the Schweinfurt-Regansburg mission.

    1) As it was actually done. 376 bombers sent. 60 lost with around 600 men (not sure the proportion of killed to POW/interned). All six workshops of the Messerschmitt factory destroyed or severly damaged. Extensive damage to multiple buildings of 5 ball bearing factories. Two largest factories sustained 80 direct hits (500 lb. bombs?). But results not that great in the strategic sense.

    2) Kamikaze force of, say, 50 Mosquitos. Could they accomplish the mission with only a pilot? If so, your loss rate is now less than 10% of that of the actual raid. How many would be brought down short of the target? The Mosquito was, of course, notoriously difficult for the Luftwaffe to bring down. Could they cause comparable damage? How many fully loaded Mosquito crashes are equivalent to 80 individual bomb hits? Could the Mosquitos be accurate enought to hit pre-selected parts of the factories, thus increasing the damage per hit? On 9/11, two half-trained non-professional pilots flying planes they had no experience in were 2 for 2 in hitting the twin towers and 1 for 1 in hitting the Pentagon.

    Say what you want, but if the damage caused could be in any way comparable, the dramatic difference in casualities is a pretty large factor, don't you think? Additionally, German civilian casualities would have fallen dramatically, if that matters to you. Some of you seem to think the morality argument is against the Kamikaze idea, but I think it may be the opposite.

    And maybe ball-bearing or aircraft factories aren't your best target. At one point in the war, Speer suddenly became terrified that the Allies would simultaneously destroy all bridges over the Rhine just prior to a cross channel invasion, effectively cutting northern Europe in two as far as ground transportation was concerned. The dam buster raid lost 8 planes and crews out of 19 and breached two dams - could one Kamikaze hit breach a dam?. The Peenemunde raids also come to mind. Ploiesti? Or what if you sent 2 or three Kamikaze Mosquitos at the ball bearing plant as soon as it got repaired from the last raid?
     
  20. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    And what happens if the target is obscured by weather?
    Your also almost assuredly going to want a navigator along.
    A much higher percentage is likely to be shot down as well.
     

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