All kamikaze videos I've seen show the plane dive bombing into the deck of a ship. The photos I've seen also appear to always show a burning deck or tower.

What I want to know is, did any kamikaze ever impact the side or hull of a ship?

It seems like that would sink the thing much faster. Also, correct me if I'm wrong but the heavy AA guns appear like they can't point down over the deck. They can only point upwards or parallel to the surface, but not down at the surface.

This makes me wonder why kamikazes apparently always go for dive bombing instead of a low-level run for the broadside.

EDIT: Oldcat explained the situation with carriers, but what about other large ships? Wouldn't their hulls make better targets for sinking than their decks?

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    AA guns could point out to shoot targets at or near the waterline away from the ship - this was to shoot down torpedo bombers before they could release their weapon.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 22:01
  • @Oldcat do you know the typical max downwards elevation angle of the AA guns? And were they mostly at the edge of the deck so they could point down at the water instead of the deck?
    – DrZ214
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 3:51
  • Yes, or on the island or ship superstructure so that there was some room to point level or slightly below. There might be small blind spots, but AA needed to be able to hit approaching torpedo planes as much as bombers, if not more so. If you look at images of ship mountings, you can see cutaways that give the ability for some downward deflection.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 17:34
  • Wow, what a fascinating, erudite series of posts. I came across this purely by chance, having listened to this documentary on ABC Australia. abc.net.au/radionational/programs/earshot/my-father-kamikaze/…
    – user13340
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 3:09
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    According to the Wikipedia article, the Bofors 40mm AA gun, one of the most widely deployed anti-aircraft weapons of WW II, had a range of elevation of -5/+90 deg for the L60, and -20 deg/+80 deg for the L70 model. (These guns are still in limited service to this day). In the US Navy, the 3"/50 Mark 22 and later (which were used as the follow-on to the 40mm Bofors) had an elevation range of -15/+85 degrees. (This gun has a warm spot in my heart - I used to sit in the left-side (AA) seat when serving as gunnery drill check-sight observer :-). Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 11:18

5 Answers 5


Also, correct me if I'm wrong but the heavy AA guns appear like they can't point down over the deck. They can only point upwards or parallel to the surface, but not down at the surface.

This assumption is wrong. The US Mark 12 5"/38 caliber dual purpose (surface and aircraft) mount was the primary heavy AA armament facing kamikazes. It was mounted on nearly every US warship. It had a maximum elevation of 85° and could depress 15°.

Even before kamikaze attacks or flying below radar, torpedo bombers had to attack at very low altitude and would often approach even lower to avoid detection only popping up to aim and release their torpedoes. Torpedo bombers were a huge threat and naval AA defenses were prepared to deal with them.

What I want to know is, did any kamikaze ever impact the side or hull of a ship?

Yes. This account of all ships sunk by kamikazes provides several examples.

Hovey (minesweeper) on Jan. 7, 1945 - The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships gives the following account: "At 0450, one plane flying low to the water came in from the starboard quarter passing ahead of Hovey. A few moments later another plane coming from the port beam was put on fire by Chandler. This plane passed very low over Hovey and crashed on the starboard beam.

U.S. freighter Augustus Thomas, anchored in San Pedro Bay, Leyte, is attacked by a Japanese plane. The ship's Armed Guard gunfire sets the aircraft ablaze but the kamikaze presses home his attack, a wing striking the stack of the nearby tug Sonoma (ATO-12) before it crashes the freighter's starboard side.

I'm sure if you poke around you can find plenty more.

There is plenty of footage of kamikaze attacks available to watch. Many attack from a dive, but many attack level or in a shallow dive. What I take away from it is the pilots are lucky to hit the ship at all, precision isn't possible for barely trained pilots under intense fire.

It seems like that would sink the thing much faster.

There's two things to address here. First, the deck of a ship is far more vulnerable. Second, and here I'm getting into informed speculation a bit, a diving attack has a much higher chance of reaching the target.

Why hit the deck and not the hull? The major problem is that a kamikaze flies above the water, not under it like a torpedo. It will hit above the waterline so the hole isn't going to flood. That said, you could get lucky...

USS Wake Island CVE-65 3 April 1945: At 1744, a Japanese single-engine plane missed the port forward corner of the flight deck, exploding in the water abreast the forecastle. Thirty seconds later, a second single-engine plane narrowly missed the bridge structure and struck the water about 10 feet from the hull. This plane exploded after impact, ripping a hole in the ship's side below the waterline, about 45 feet long and about 18 feet from top to bottom and as well as causing many shrapnel holes.

Then there's the problem of penetrating the heavy hull armor. On July 26th, 1945 the County class heavy cruiser HMS Sussex was struck by an aircraft. Here's the result.

enter image description here

Source: Australian War Museum

Aircraft are designed to be light, it crumpled against the armor. It either lacked a bomb, or was a dud. HMS Sussex's belt armor isn't particularly thick, though it would be thicker than most smaller warships or any merchant ship.

Finally, there's the real sailor's fear: fire.

Battleship and heavy cruiser hulls were designed to withstand large caliber armor piercing shells usually as large as their own guns. The USS Iowa had over a foot of armor designed to stop a 16 inch armor piercing shell weighing 2500 lbs moving at 1000 mph. In contrast, it's deck was "only" 7.5". This was done to save weight. The trade off was considered acceptable as long range plunging fire and aircraft bombs had less penetrating power.

Most other armored ships followed the same pattern, more armor on the sides, less on the decks. USS Hornet had 2.5 to 4" of belt armor, but only 1.5" protecting her hanger deck.

Light cruisers and destroyers were often thinly armored and were vulnerable. They weren't valuable targets in and of themselves, but they would form the picket line of anti-aircraft defenses up to 80km away from the fleet. As such, they were a target to roll back a fleet's AA defenses. As testified by this list of all ships lost by the US Navy and Coast Guard, destroyers got hit hard.

A kamikaze will do some damage just from the impact, shrapnel, and spewing aviation gas around, but it's superficial. A kamikaze normally carried a small 250 or 500kg bomb. For the bomb to be effective, it has to penetrate the armor and explode inside the ship, else the explosion will reflect off the armor and go (mostly) harmlessly out to sea. Aircraft are very frail things. In order to penetrate they need to maximize their speed and minimize their armor. This means a dive against the thinner deck armor.

Once they crash through that deck armor there's nothing to stop that 500kg bomb. It plunges through unarmored decks and eventually explodes somewhere deep in the bowels of the ship causing damage. Worse, there are a lot of things on a WWII US Navy ship that burn really well. Fuel, ammunition, rags, oil, paint, wood, rubber... it's this fire that has the potential to do damage well beyond what a relatively small bomb can do. A raging fire can put a ship out of action for months. That's exactly what the Japanese hoped to do, severely damage ships so they would have to be sent back across the Pacific for extensive, lengthy repairs.

I consider this section to be speculation based on what I know about WWII anti-aircraft tactics.

There's a number of problems with a kamikaze attacking a ship from the side which makes the attack less likely to succeed. First is speed. An aircraft in a dive will go much faster than one flying level. The faster you're going, the harder you are to hit. It also gives the enemy less time to react and you spend less time under the considerable fire a US fleet could pour out.

Next is to consider the enemy's numerous fighter cover. In air combat, altitude is life. Altitude can be converted to speed. Prowling fighters will be patrolling at high altitude waiting to dive and pounce on incoming attackers, gaining speed in the dive. A low flying kamikaze would be easy prey. A high flying and diving one means the fighters cannot gain a speed advantage by diving.

Then consider what happens when your plane inevitably gets shot up. If you're flying low, you crash. If you're flying high in a dive, you continue diving. If the pilot has any control, they might hit the target. Even if the pilot dies, the plane may still impact the target. This was a major problem for AA guns in WWII. Previously it was sufficient to disable the fragile pilot, engine or controls. Now even a very heavily damaged aircraft is a danger. Weight and volume of AA firepower had to increase as well as accuracy.

Flying low over the ocean in a WWII fighter while under fire is a surprisingly difficult task, one that many poorly trained kamikaze pilots would not be able to accomplish. Flying low wouldn't get you under AA, but it might get you under radar or difficult to spot in the haze. Poorly trained pilots were likely to crash into the ocean, get hit by a wave, or fly too high and be detected.

Finally, hitting the side of a ship is surprisingly difficult, especially for a poorly trained pilot under intense fire in a probably damaged aircraft with surface guts of wind blowing them around. As huge as WWII ships seem, there wasn't much hull sticking above the waterline. In trying to hit that narrow target you're likely to hit the ocean, fly over the top, or glance off the deck. In contrast diving on a ship is easier, keep your nose pointed at the target and let gravity do the rest. This is part of why dive bombing was so effective.

That said, most kamikaze pilots were so poorly trained they were only able to conduct a slow, shallow, very vulnerable diving attack.

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    Wow what an incredibly thorough post, answering all my points with multiple sources on each one!!! Just 2 follow-ups: What exactly is "long range plunging fire"? And what was the typical deck height above the water line?
    – DrZ214
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 6:34
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    @DrZ214 When firing at close range, shots will come in horizontal and impact the side armor. At long range the guns will be angled high up and the shots will arc down onto the deck. WWI designs did not take plunging fire into account and had thin deck armor and poor ammunition handling leading to many ships exploding. As for deck height, I don't have specifics. CV-6 was 143' overall, so I'm going to guess about 50-70' between the deck and the waterline. The kamikaze footage gives a better idea of the relative difficulty of hitting what seems like a huge wall.
    – Schwern
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 6:47
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    British Carriers had an armored flight deck and were a lot less vulnerable to damage on the deck than US Flat Tops were. On the other hand, an explosion in the hangar was a lot more deadly to them as it can't get out by lifting the deck.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 17:38
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    @phresnel My answer only applies to WWII ships, and even then only to the larger combat vessels. Modern warships like the Bremen class (commissioned in the 80s) no longer rely on armor to protect themselves.
    – Schwern
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 19:25
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    @Schwern: as opposed to a Kamikaze expert with 30 suicide runs under his belt... ;) Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 22:43

As for strategy, in general going for the side of an American WWII capital warship would probably not be the most effective approach.

During WWI the US pioneered an approach to warship armoring popularly titled All or Nothing. The idea was that any armor incapable of stopping a capital ship shell or torpedo/mine from damaging a battle-critical component (eg: the magazines), was just useless dead weight.

What this meant in practice was that US warships tended to put all their critical components in a box ("citadel") of armor that was every bit as strong (if not stronger) on the sides as it was on the top.

If one were to pick a better strategy for defeating such a ship, possibly employing some kind of really well-trained but suicidal pilot, it would probably be to target the command towers, which usually weren't in the citadel. That wouldn't sink it, but it would likely take it out of effective action for the battle. Pilots are probably a lot easier to come by than Captains and Admirals too.

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    +1 for the All or Nothing reference, but the article says it was employed around the time of WWI. Did you typo WWII?
    – DrZ214
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 3:26
  • @DrZ214 - Changed it to say "During". It was first employed in ships laid down in 1912, however at that time most of the fleet was still the old designs. What I was trying to get at was that by the time WWII started (which is the time period this question is about) nearly the entire US fleet had been designed according to this philosophy.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 9:27
  • This was good for fighting versus shellfire, but not so much versus torpedoes. You put enough holes in the hull and the ship goes down, eventually.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 17:36
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    @Oldcat - I'm not the design expert, but it appears that they preferred "eventually" to what happens when the ammunition magazine gets hit.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 11:48
  • The "All or Nothing" approach is a scheme to defend against shellfire versus other battleships and in that mode is very effective - you pretty much can pound a battleship to scrap using guns and the sucker won't go down. It just wasnt' designed against torpedoes.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 16:51

Yes, the USS Enterprise was hit near the waterline in by a Kamikaze in1945 and it stuck in the side until broken up by wave action. From the page "Kamikaze Damage to US and British Carriers".

The side of a major ship was much more resistant than the wooden flight deck of US carriers, and the deck was also a better target due to the fuel and bombs that might be loose in the hangar bay.

11 April 1945 - Hit by a Yokosuka D4Y3 Suisei "Judy" right aft, with its 500 kg bomb exploding at the turn of the bilge near the after machinery spaces, causing severe shock damage. An hour later, another D4Y3 kamikaze near-missed near her starboard bow and its bomb went off close aboard, causing some additional underwater damage. Five men were wounded from these attacks and one man was blown overboard, but later rescued. Enterprise continued with her flight duties, launching strikes on Okinawa and islands in the Amami group for three more days before being detached. She was repaired at Ulithi for sixteen days and was off Okinawa once more on 6 May.

  • That's interesting that it didn't sink. I mean a torpedo only carries, what, 300 kg? of explosives and can sink almost anything in one hit, so you would think a large aircraft could certainly put a big enough hole in it. Was the hole maybe too far above the waterline to flood?
    – DrZ214
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 21:54
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    Major capital ships have anti-torpedo blisters to help mitigate damage. The main reason a torpedo explosion is effective is that the water pressure focuses the damage inward toward the ship. A kamikaze at the water line doesn't do that. The plane was at or below the water line, as the crew could see it coming apart due to water as the Enterprise sailed along.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 21:58
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    Also, kamikaze craft usually were armed with just 500 or 1000 lb bombs, so they were in the same class as torpedos in terms of explosives delivered.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 22:00
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    Many torpedoes are set to explode under the ship using a magnetic detonator. They explode below the armor (2.5" to 4") and torpedo bulges. The explosion creates a huge shock wave that can break the back of the ship. Water, unlike air, is incompressible so an explosion under water produces much higher pressures than air. A Kamikaze is incredibly crude by comparison, just having a contact explosive in the nose, and is slamming straight into the armor and torpedo bulges. That said, Yorktown took four torpedo hits and stayed afloat.
    – Schwern
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 22:15
  • True - ship-carried torpedoes were larger and heavier armed, and more likely to kill a ship in one shot than the smaller ones launched via aircraft. But in WWII the problem was getting your ships in range of the enemy without being attacked by aircraft.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 22:23

First of all, largest caliber AA guns are generally used for far-distance defense by producing air bursts near the planes, and medium and small caliber AA gun supported the near-distance deference. In WWII 5" AA gun shoot down 30% of enemy planes, similar to the percentage of 20mm Oerlikon and 40mm Bofors. 5" gun is effective to deal with kamikaze, but it is too slow, too heavy and there weren't enough of them; on the other hand, 20mm & 40mm are too weak. 3"/50, which mounting is same size as the quad 40 mm Bofors, was eventually introduced in the late of the war.

Number of enemy aircraft shot down by the US navy in WWII (Source)

Secondly, bomb/kamikaze wont cause much damage to the hull; the problem is that bomb/kamikaze cause fire and result of explosive of bomb/Bursting Charge, brunt of aviation fuel (heavy crude oil used for ship machinery is hard to ignite), and flooding if underwater hull damaged. Bomb/kamikaze will cause serious damage to the hull if the protection is not enough, like Japanese carrier Akagi and Kaga in Midway.

The Essex class is the most numerous class and the largest carrier of USN in WWII. As shown on the graph, there is 64mm(32x2) armour on the hanger deck and extra 37mm in the 3rd deck. It provides good protection for the living quarters and the machinery, however, the poorly protected hanger is easily damaged even by a small bomb. enter image description here Source: Anatomy of the Ship:The Aircraft Carrier Intrepid, modified by stg44.

On the other hand, British carriers were well flight-deck-armoured from the Victorious class. The following cross-section of HMS victorious shows that it has 3" (76mm) flight deck armour and 4.5" (114mm) hanger horizontal deck (Implacable class reduced to 2") to provide an effective protection for the hanger. enter image description here enter image description here Source: Anatomy of the Ship:The Aircraft Carrier Victorious

Finally, it is advised to have a look on HMS INDEFATIGABLE damage report on April fool Kamikaze attack, and compared to USS ENTERPRISE damage report on 18-20 March 1945

Ps: a little off-topic but useful information enter image description here Source:U.S. Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History, modify by stg44

  • The units "RPB" in the first chart are a little obscure: "rounds per bird". Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 16:57

There are several points to consider here:

Firstly - most warships (capital - i.e. Battleships, Battle cruisers and Heavy cruisers had multiple decks. The first deck usually was meant to remove the ballistic and armour piercing caps (ballistic was thin light metal to allow the projectile to pass through the atmosphere more easily - meaning a higher terminal velocity - the apc cap was usually a soft iron cap designed to deform itself and the armour (dishing it) and allow the hardened penetrator to pass through the target without breaking the cap. Multiple layers of armour tended to cause this system to defeat shells - then there was at least one splinter deck beneath this which was aimed to absorb the resultants of the exploding incoming shell.

With a divine wind attack this was a trivial issue for most cases. The aircraft and the associated bomb(s) were not capable of defeating the deck armour of most heavy warships due to the construction described above. The hull side armour usually had a similar multiple layer structure that meant that the results would be a large bang; some structural damage and fatalities but an improbable chance of a sinking result.

Whilst the armoured flight decks of the British carriers (I am an Englishman) were at the time seen as most impressive (bulldoze the remnants aside and carry on with flight operations) many kamikaze hits resulted in the later scrapping of the carrier. Usually due to structural failures under the stress of the attack.

It is difficult to decide whether these actions were due to political decisions (we had no money and a shed load of ships after VJ day) or were genuine structural issues.

So I think that if you were targeting soft targets (merchantmen, tugs, minesweepers, destroyers etc. then it really didn't matter where you hit - you were dead and so were they; however if you were targeting heavy naval assets then it didn't really matter - co-ordinating attacks was problematical (in fact non existent at the tactical phase) and unless you were very lucky (strange definition of luck this), unsuccessful.

  • 1
    Another issue of Brit carriers after the war (and US ones) is that the jets coming into service needed a different, and much larger design to work. So to use frontline planes, you need a new carrier anyway.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 16:53

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