World War 2 History: Kamikaze Attack on the Battleship USS Missouri and Controversy

Updated on April 3, 2018
UnnamedHarald profile image

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

Battleships USS Missouri and USS Iowa

World War 2: USS Missouri (BB-63) (at left) transferring personnel to USS Iowa (BB-61), while operating off Japan on 20 August 1945.
World War 2: USS Missouri (BB-63) (at left) transferring personnel to USS Iowa (BB-61), while operating off Japan on 20 August 1945. | Source

Big Mo

USS Missouri was the last battleship completed for the U.S. Navy. She was the fourth of four mighty Iowa-class battleships, and started her long career during World War II in November 1944. On April 11, 1945, Missouri was near the island of Okinawa when a kamikaze pilot crashed his Zero into her starboard side. A sailor photographed the Zero moments before impact and the image became an icon of the war. Fortunately, there was little damage to the battleship. What the captain did after the attack was controversial and unpopular.

USS Missouri (“Big Mo”) displaced 45,000 tons, was almost 900 feet long and had nine 16-inch guns (406 mm) in three turrets. Her secondary armament consisted of twenty 5-inch guns (127 mm) and she bristled with 129 anti-aircraft guns. She supported the invasion of Iwo Jima and screened US aircraft carriers heading toward the Japanese mainland and participated in shelling Japanese coastal targets. In April, Missouri supported the invasion of Okinawa.

Zero About to hit USS Missouri

WWII: Kamikaze attack on the USS Missouri (BB-63). About to be hit by a Japanese A6M "Zero" Kamikaze
WWII: Kamikaze attack on the USS Missouri (BB-63). About to be hit by a Japanese A6M "Zero" Kamikaze | Source

The Attack

During the Battle of Okinawa, on the afternoon of April 11, 1945, USS Missouri came under kamikaze attack and managed to shoot down all but one of the planes. A single Japanese Zero, although riddled with anti-aircraft fire, succeeded in striking the battleship on its starboard side. Fortunately, the plane's 500-lb bomb did not explode, although fuel from the plane started a fire in one of the anti-aircraft gun mounts. There were no American casualties.

Debris from the plane cluttered the deck. One of the plane's machine guns impaled a 40-mm anti-aircraft gun barrel. The plane's wing that had not fallen into the sea was turned over to the crew to be cut up into souvenirs. A corpsman discovered the remains of the young Kamikaze pilot; only his upper torso was found. He called up to the bridge, asking whether he should discard it overboard. Missouri Captain William M. Callaghan made his controversial decision: “No, when we secure, take it down to the sick bay, and we'll have a burial for him tomorrow.' This did not sit well with many of Missouri's crew. The pilot's remains were taken to sick bay for examination before it was placed in a canvas bag and weighted down with dummy shell casings. Three of the crew stitched together together an improvised Japanese flag. During the examination, various crew members took souvenirs, including the helmet, scarf and jacket.

Missouri's Captain Callaghan

WW2: Captain William M. Callaghan.
WW2: Captain William M. Callaghan. | Source

Burial and Bitterness

The next day, April 12, a burial at sea with military honors was performed. The ship's chaplain performed the service and six pall bearers tipped the flag-draped remains into the sea to a volley of rifle fire. Although there was much bitterness among some of the crew, Captain Callaghan insisted it was the honorable thing to do. The pilot was “a fellow warrior who had displayed courage and devotion, and who had paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life, fighting for his country”. He understood his crew's feelings toward the enemy-- his own brother had been killed fighting the Japanese on Guadalcanal three years earlier-- but he felt it necessary to show honor and respect to a brave warrior, even if he was the enemy. He believed the kamikaze pilot was doing his job, as his country demanded.

The Japanese Surrender on Big Mo

World War II: Japanese sign the Instrument of Surrender on board the USS Missouri. September 2, 1945.
World War II: Japanese sign the Instrument of Surrender on board the USS Missouri. September 2, 1945. | Source

Big Mo in the Persian Gulf

The battleship USS MISSOURI (BB-63) lies at anchor in a Persian Gulf region port during Operation Desert Storm. 1 Feb 1991
The battleship USS MISSOURI (BB-63) lies at anchor in a Persian Gulf region port during Operation Desert Storm. 1 Feb 1991 | Source

Aftermath

Four months after the kamikaze attack, the Japanese signed the Instrument of Surrender on the deck of USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. She went on to fight in the Korean War and Operation Desert Storm before she was decommissioned and donated to the USS Missouri Association as a floating museum. The dent in the side of Big Mo from the kamikaze attack is still visible.

Captain Callghan was replaced as caption of Missouri a month after the attack, though there is no record of him being punished for his decision. In 1946, he was promoted to Rear Admiral and retired in 1957 with the rank of Vice Admiral.

The identity of the kamikaze pilot is not 100% certain, though it is almost certainly one of two young men: Setsuo Ishino, age 19, or Kenkichi Ishii (age unknown). An information plaque on board the USS Missouri advocates the view that the pilot was probably Ishino.

Kamikazes Strike USS Bunker Hill

World War Two: Kamikaze pilots were especially easy to hate. USS BUNKER HILL hit by two Kamikazes in 30 seconds on 11 May 1945 off Kyushu. Dead-372. Wounded-264.
World War Two: Kamikaze pilots were especially easy to hate. USS BUNKER HILL hit by two Kamikazes in 30 seconds on 11 May 1945 off Kyushu. Dead-372. Wounded-264. | Source

Remembering

With the passage of time, many of those opposed to the funeral came to begrudgingly admit that, on reflection, Captain Callaghan had done the correct thing. On April 12, 2001, 56 years later, Americans and Japanese gathered aboard the USS Missouri, by then a museum ship berthed at Pearl Harbor, to honor Captain Callaghan's gesture and remember the kamikaze pilot for his bravery and dedication to his country. There was still controversy, however. Commenting on the decision to hold such an unprecedented memorial service, a US veteran said "If the Japanese want to memorialize their pilots and soldiers, let them do it on THEIR soil." A Marine Corps veteran claimed it was "a promotional deal to excite Japanese visitors into visiting the Missouri."

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 David Hunt

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      • profile image

        Leonard Brodt 

        4 years ago

        I must conduct a correction. It wasn't a knife, It was an article amongst the debris with Japanese markings on it and could be helpful to identify the real pilot.And also take note that you must be investigative on your own as those officials you must deal with are not concerned with your information as they do not follow leads. And if you would like to see the mangled body of the Kamakazi ( Setsuo Ishino ) go to my face book site and I have there a photo of Setsuo's remains and his legs were torn from his torso at impact and dropped into the sea, and if you study this photo carefully, you can see his mouth was left open during the settlement......Also, we need to take note that servicemen have their names stenciled on their clothing and if we can locate the missing helmet we can find the real pilot. And the search continues.!!! Lee Nickelson has this article.!! Very, VERY,VERY important.. Lenny

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Will do, Lenny.

      • profile image

        Leonard Brodt 

        4 years ago

        UnnamedHarald, Thanks so much for your effort.!!! And now we need to be in touch with Lee Nickelson whose relative Howard Chandler picked up among the debris a knife with Japanese markings on it and we can show it to Setsuo Ishino's friends and relatives to find out if it was his or possibly two other pilots in Setsuo's group. Lee Nickelson has this knife and he will surely be happy to straighten out historical information.And his phone number is = 1-956-522-0189 .....Please run this info through also as I am not professional on my computer.!! Lenny

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Leonard, I will broadcast your comment as best as I can throughout the Hubpages community.

      • profile image

        Leonard Brodt 

        4 years ago

        I was first loader on quad 14 barrel number three,USS Missouri.A.J.Wysocki was on quad 17 and he confiscated Setsu IShino's Helmet after he struck quad 17 for a souvenir and we need to all get together on our computers to locate it as it was given to a museum which has since closed and lost possession of it.Google USS Missouri Kamikazi Helmet to locate it as it has to be in someones hands. And the USS Missouri's museum has need of it for accurate history information.!!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks, billdo1603. It's always great to hear from a fan of history.

      • billd01603 profile image

        billd01603 

        5 years ago from Worcester

        Very interesting Hub UH. I enjoyed reading it

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Tony, I really appreciate your correction; you are absolutely right and I have adjusted the article accordingly. Thanks very much for your informative comment.

      • profile image

        Tony 

        5 years ago

        While the story about the kamikaze attack is accurate and the Missouri was the last battleship completed by the US there are actually 4 Iowa class battleship. USS Iowa BB-61, USS New Jersey BB-62, USS Missouri BB-63, and USS Wisconsin BB-64. By hull number Wisconsin was the last however she was completed and commissioned before the Missouri. There were also 2 more Iowas under construction at wars end. USS Illinois BB-65 (22% complete when scrapped) and USS Kentucky BB-66 (85% completed when contruction halted in 1947) Kentucky sat on slipway until the early 1950s until she was launched so that the dock could be used to repair the Missouri after she was run aground. Later in 1958 the bow of Kentucky was cut off and welded onto Wisconsin after the latter collided with USS Eaton. Rather than fabricate a new bow they just took the Kentucky's. USS Kentucky was

        finally scrapped in 1960or61

      • WD Curry 111 profile image

        WD Curry 111 

        6 years ago from Space Coast

        I feel much better now, thanks. I hope you get the connection to move some serious volume.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for commenting, WD. Glad I could help you with your fix.

      • WD Curry 111 profile image

        WD Curry 111 

        6 years ago from Space Coast

        Great hub. Now, everyone in the Navy learns to be a fireman, because most of the firemen were killed or injured in the blast. I guess I am a history buff. I just got my fix.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks, Gypsy. I'd like to see it, too-- or the battleship Iowa, which has just been made into a museum ship in Los Angeles. As an Iowan, I get free admission to see the Iowa. One of the perks of living in Iowa. Glad you liked it and thanks for sharing.

      • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

        Gypsy Rose Lee 

        6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

        Enjoyed this very much. Voted up and interesting. Another piece of history it was fascinating to read and get to know. Would love to get to see the USS Missouri now that it's a museum ship. Passing this on.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        joan, many thanks for commenting and voting. Kamikazes were feared not only for the very real threat they posed to the navy but as proof that the Japanese were monsters, willing to send and be sent on suicide missions for their god-emperor. And yet all nations honor their soldiers who willingly sacrifice their lives to save others.

      • joanveronica profile image

        Joan Veronica Robertson 

        6 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

        Hi UH, voted up, awesome, beautiful and interesting!

        It's quite possible to understand all the opinions, the situation is rather controversial, but I vote with the Captain's decision!

        The kamikaze pilots were following a code pertaining to their culture, and I believe some understanding is necessary if we want to make the world a better place. Excellent article!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for reading and commenting, goosegreen. Much appreciated.

      • goosegreen profile image

        goosegreen 

        6 years ago

        Harald, Brilliant as always

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thank you very much, Pavlo-- a compliment indeed. Glad you enjoyed it.

      • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

        Pavlo Badovskyi 

        6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

        You write such quality hubs worth of much attention. Great article!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks, gmarquardt. That's kind of what I thought-- especially in this case. I appreciate you reading and commenting.

      • gmarquardt profile image

        gmarquardt 

        6 years ago from Hill Country, Texas

        Great story, another one I didn't know. These small stories add so much insight to the humanity of the conflict.

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