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Wings of Defeat

Independent Lens, San Francisco, Calif., 2009, available from www., $24.95.

Veteran Mitsubishi A6M Zero pilot Shigeyoshi Hamazono claimed to have survived grueling campaigns in the Solomon and Philippine islands because of his constant urge “to win.” Kazuo Nakajima was a 16-yearold boy eagerly training to be a Japanese navy pilot when he was abruptly ordered out of the academy and assigned to serve as rear gunner for Hamazono. Their mission on April 6, 1945: to deliberately crash their obsolescent Aichi D3A2 dive bomber into an American warship off Okinawa. At that desperate stage of World War II, the spirit of the kamikaze, first tested on October 25, 1944, had engulfed Japan, and everyone, battle-hardened or barely able to leave the ground, was expected to sacrifice his life in defense of the empire.

Wings of Defeat, a documentary in the Independent Lens series, came about when second-generation American Risa Morimoto learned that her uncle had been a kamikaze pilot—a secret he had kept until his death— and decided to investigate the environment that bred this still-controversial force of suicide bombers. Aided by Linda Hoagland, the daughter of missionary parents who had been raised in Japan, Morimoto interviewed surviving kamikazes Hamazono, Nakajima, Takehiko Ena and Takeo Ueshima, as well as family members and civilians, to separate the human reality from the myths. Lending balance are survivors of one of the kamikazes’ victims, the U.S. Navy destroyer Drexler, sunk by two army suicide planes west of Okinawa on May 28, 1945, going down in 49 seconds with 158 of its crew.

Although the experiences of Hamazono and Nakajima will be familiar to anyone who read “Kamikaze Kismet” in the September 2008 issue of Aviation History, Wings of Defeat provides many surprising insights. Foremost among these, perhaps, is that while almost all of the suicide pilots did their dutiful best to carry out their missions, few had any desire to die, and they received their orders with dread. In an equally unsettling perspective, one of Drexler’s crewmen later hypothesized that if he had believed the United States was threatened, he would very likely have carried out such an order too.


Originally published in the September 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here