Raging storm of the Kamikaze

HMS Havant 1939 to 1940:

Battle Honours: Atlantic 1940, Dunkirk 1940.

The short but heroic life of a destroyer – a Dunkirk victim

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Thousands of men fought in open warfare during the Second World War. But to be attacked from the air with little hope of bringing down the enemy, whose sole aim was to kill you by crashing his aircraft on to you and killing himself in the process, was the lot of British and American sailors during the war in the Pacific. This was the terror of the Kamikaze pilots.

Between April 1 and May 9, 1945, five British aircraft carriers were attacked and hit by Japanese Kamikaze aircraft.

May 4, 1945 - the flight deck of HMS Formidable after a kamikaze attack

May 4, 1945 - the flight deck of HMS Formidable after a kamikaze attack

These were the Formidable, Illustrious, Indefatigable, Indomitable and Victorious. These attacks killed 20 British sailors and wounded many more.

There would have been much more damage if the carriers had not been constructed with three-inch armour-plated flight decks.

American carriers had wooden decks and many men lost were lost as a result.

The first Kamikaze (Divine Wind) attack was on the USS Franklyn on October 1, 1944.

The sailors on board thought the pilot had a faulty aircraft and had decided to ditch his plane on to the Franklin. Little did the Americans know that this was an introduction to the Divine Wind and was soon to become a raging storm.

On May 4, 1945, while with the 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron of the British Pacific Fleet, HMS Formidable survived a Kamikaze attack while supporting the American landings on Okinawa. Eight men were killed and 47 wounded. Five days later Formidable was hit again but with much less damage.

One of those serving in her that day was Ron Tovey from Gosport.

Ron is a Gosport man through and through, having been born in Clayhall village in 1925.

Called up in 1943 as an HO (hostilities only) serviceman, Ron said those called up belonged to the CID, Civilians In Disguise.

He was sent to HMS Caledonia in Wales which was formerly a Butlin’s holiday camp. He trained in radar and had to track supposed shipping in the area.

This turned out to be Wrens riding tricycles around the local lanes.

He was then drafted to Formidable in Portsmouth Dockyard, which had already seen much action during the war. The first mission Ron went on was to Norway for the attack on the Tirpitz.

In the early summer of 1945 when Formidable was sent to the Pacific, where the first attack by the Kamikaze occurred on May 4 just after 11.30am.

Ron told me he and his mates had heard of the Kamikaze and kept a look-out with some trepidation.

On the day of the first attack Ron was on the carrier’s island behind the bridge when the Japanese pilot approached at great speed and with a whoosh flew over Formidable and then gained a great height before coming in astern of the carrier.

He said: ‘Everything was being chucked up at it – 4.5in, Oerlikons, pompoms and Bofors were firing and the noise was terrific.

‘As the plane approached she was level with the flight deck and I thought it was a Seafire coming into land. I thought what is that silly sod doing coming in that low.

‘He then went up into the sky and came down on us from astern. With a tremendous crash she smashed on to the flight deck alongside the island.

‘It appeared to me as if its 500lb bomb had been released and it hit a split second before the Kamikaze ploughed into the deck.

‘The whole ship seemed to lift into the air and shake.’

The destruction was immense with a steel splinter passing down through the deck into the hangar. It split a steam pipe near a fuel tank which caught fire.

When one considers the appearance of the flight deck immediately after the hit, the casualties were quite light. Eight sailors were killed and 47 injured but Formidable survived.

One of the Avengers, on deck taxiing for take-off, blew up with the Kamikaze killing the pilot and petty officer directing it. Seven other aircraft were burnt out.

Eventually men emerged from cover. The deck was repaired with quick-drying cement and plated over and by 5pm Corsairs were again able to land.

Just five days later, on May 9, Formidable was again hit, this time with the loss of one sailor. It came on the port side astern of the previous attack. There was less damage and repairs were made in hours.

The Formidable survived the rest of the war, taking prisoners of war of the Japanese home to Australia. Ron was part of this, but I shall save this story for another day.