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"The German Kamikazes" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A postwar report on German efforts to develop a suicide corps to attack the Allied invasion fleet, from the Intelligence Bulletin, June 1946.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on foreign tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In many cases, more accurate data on foreign equipment is available in later postwar publications.]

German Leaders Failed to Recognize a
New Counteramphibious Tactic

[German piloted V-1]     

One of the most hushed up secrets of the war, back before the surrender of Japan, was the damage and inconvenience caused by the suicide-bent Kamikaze pilots of the Japanese Air Force. Troops who sailed to the invasion of Okinawa remember the Baka bomb, the winged aerial torpedo with its human pilot. But not until the end of the war, when intelligence officers began nosing around in the former Nazi domain, was it disclosed that a small group of fanatical Nazis had also organized a suicide corps for the purpose of breaking up the seaborne invasion of the continent with a German version of the Japanese Baka.

In fact, there is much evidence to indicate that the Nazi suicidists were laying their plans long before their Japanese allies conceived the idea for this unconventional tactic. Only bureaucratic inefficiency, and disinterest in official circles as high as Hitler himself, forstalled the appearance of Nazi Kamikazes in the air over Normandy on D-day.

The inception of this strange project goes back to the year 1943, when the fortunes of war were beginning to turn against the hitherto victorious German Army. At that time, many people in Germany were beginning to see that the Fatherland would ultimately go down to defeat, unless some miraculous event produced a severe set-back to the Allied cause. Among these thinking Germans was a small group of idealists who were determined to do something about it. These people, who at first numbered no more than 30 or 40 persons, came together from all walks of life. Some of them were from the Army, others were civilians, and one of the leaders was a well-known German woman flyer.

It was the common belief of these people that the war was lost unless a most decisive blow could be struck against the Allies. They believed that this could only be accomplished by the complete disruption of the eventual Allied assault upon the continent, thus convincing the Allied leaders that Germany was secure and impregnable within her "fortress Europe."


From this line of reasoning, the idea of a suicide corps was born. It was thought that a weapon could be devised in the form of a flying bomb which, when piloted to its target, could sink a large warship or troop transport. Enough of these, the idealists believed, could completely wreck any seaborne invasion with an expenditure of less than 1,000 volunteer pilots. The members of this strange group were ready to volunteer. They asked only that they be given a weapon which would be certain to achieve its end, and they felt there were persons among their membership who had the skill to design such a weapon.

By October 1943, under the leadership of the woman flyer, a doctor of the Institute of Medical Aeronautics at Rechlin, and a first lieutenant of the Luftwaffe, organizational plans had advanced to a point where it was necessary to obtain official recognition and cooperation in conducting the project further. Because of her unique position in German aviation circles, this duty fell to the aviatrix.

The woman first presented the idea to the Luftwaffe High Command, and met with immediate rebuff. The German Air Force was not interested in an idea they considered to be the unstable reasoning of a group of psychopaths. After much delay, the Luftwaffe was by-passed, and the aviatrix went directly to Field Marshall Milch, at that time the head of the German Air Ministry. Again no progress was made.

After more weeks had passed, the woman determined to exploit her position and reputation in German aviation circles, and succeeded in gaining a hearing before the German Academy of Aeronautics. This Academy had the power to assemble the necessary scientists, technicians, and air tactical authorities, and eventually a meeting was called by the Director of the German Aeronautical Research Council. After a lengthy conference, the committee of authorities decided that the idea was indeed operationally sound.

With this authoritative evidence in hand, the next step before the group of idealists was to obtain official support and leadership for the suicide plan. Application was made for an interview with Hitler, and in February 1944, the woman leader of the project was summoned to Berchtesgaden for a 3-hour discussion with the Fuehrer.


Hitler did not approve. He objected to the philosophy of suicide entailed in the plan, and pointed out that there was no precedent in German history like it. Therefore, he said, the whole idea was not in keeping with the character of the German people. The woman countered this with the argument that never before in German history had the fate of the country been in such a precarious position. This, apparently, was the wrong thing to say, for Hitler replied emphatically that the position was not precarious, and that if it ever became so, then he, Hitler, would personally give the orders for such desperate measures to be taken.

The interview was anything but successful, but before she left, the aviatrix did obtain Hitler's permission to continue with the development and planning so that the organization would be ready to operate if ever the Fuehrer felt the time had come to take such desperate steps. His parting remark was to the effect that he did not want to be bothered with the idea again until the time for action was ripe.

Meanwhile the group of suicide volunteers had grown to about 70 or 80 members. As yet no concerted recruiting effort had been made, and such volunteers as were accepted were a very select group. Once accepted, a candidate for membership in the suicide corps was required to take a pledge to the effect that "I hereby volunteer as a pilot of the manned glider-bomb. I am convinced that this action will end with my death."

On the basis of Hitler's permission to continue with the development of the program, the matter was laid before the Chief of the General Staff of the German Air Force. He half-heartedly assigned the official direction of the project to the commander of a Luftwaffe bomber wing that was engaged in all sorts of special operations and clandestine activities. At first it appeared that the plan was finally on the road to fruition, but it soon became evident that the new commander accepted the assignment mostly because he saw in it the means of receiving the glory and credit which would be brought by the self-sacrifice of the volunteers under him.


But at the same time, the German Air Ministry was ordered to perfect the technical preparations which would be necessary to put the plan into effect. The Messerschmitt 328, originally designed as a fighter or fighter bomber, was selected as the flying weapon to be used by the volunteers. Production of the plane was ordered, but proceeded so slowly that the volunteers began to suspect that some sort of official sabotage was afoot. As a result, the suicide group began to look around for another weapon—one which was easy to produce and would be available on short order. The V-1 "buzz bomb," rebuilt to carry a pilot, was decided upon. In less than 3 weeks, four types of this piloted missile were ready for testing.

[The German version of the Japanese Baka bomb, driven by a typical V-1 jet engine.]
This is the Nazi version of the Japanese "Baka" bomb. It is driven by a typical V-1 jet engine. Carrying a load of explosive in the nose of this craft, Nazi suicide pilots planned to wreak destruction among our D-day fleet with this weapon. Although the weapon was developed, the plan went astray through official indifference and bungling among the higher echelons of the Nazi command.

Contrary to the wishes of the volunteer group, the Luftwaffe testing division insisted upon using their own pilots for the test flights. The two Luftwaffe men were soon seriously injured, and it was then that the woman pilot was called in and permitted to do the test flying. It was not an easy proposition. In order to train the suicide pilots, a two-seater "buzz bomb" had been built. Of course, it was necessary to land this model, if trainees were to be kept alive for the D-day mission. But since it was necessary to glide to a landing without power, and since the missile was not of conventional aircraft or glider design, the approach to the runway was necessarily steep, and landing had to be made at speeds approaching 155 miles per hour.

But as the technical development of the weapon went on with fair success, the rest of the program began to go astray through the bungling of the Luftwaffe officers put in charge of the volunteers. Although the suicide group at first believed the Luftwaffe wing commander—the one who had been appointed their official leader—was fully behind their plan, it soon became evident that he had little sincere interest in the project. What was worse, he appointed a staff of other Luftwaffe officers to responsible planning and operational positions. These officers apparently had no conception of the original mission of the volunteers—to destroy the eventual Allied invasion fleet. Instead, they were continually fostering half-baked ideas, such as suicide attacks upon Soviet ammunition trains on the Eastern Front. Although the volunteers were willing to give their lives to deliver a smashing blow to the Allies, they were reluctant to die on some comparatively non-essential mission. Meanwhile the training program had also bogged down. Much time was spent in physical education and pistol shooting, but little attention was paid to establishing a sound flight training program. The Luftwaffe Lieutenant, one of the original volunteers and who had been the spark plug behind the whole idea, found himself helpless because of his low rank. Although he tried repeatedly to make improvements, he could do nothing but take orders.

Again the woman flyer was called upon to use her influence to try and revive the rapidly failing program. This time she went to Himmler, in hopes that he might be able to do some good for the cause of the suicide volunteers. Himmler was not much help. He was not opposed to the suicide idea, but he was of the opinion that the membership of the corps should be made up of criminals and the incurably diseased. He offered to take over the program if one of his officers was permitted to assume the leadership of the entire plan. It was evident that under Himmler the plan would not receive any better treatment than it was getting under its present supervision, so his offer was turned down.


About this time, the Allies took a hand in things by staging their invasion in Normandy. Neither the suicide weapon, nor adequately trained suicide pilots were available, greatly because of the mishandling the whole program had received from its selfish or uninterested directors. The disappointment of the volunteer group was profound. Within 6 or 7 days after D-day, they realized that the invasion was a success, and that the moment for which they had been preparing had passed.

But, several days after the invasion had started, and all other efforts to halt it had failed, Herman Goering suddenly remembered that somewhere in his Luftwaffe there was a group of pilots who had volunteered for a suicide mission. In due course, Goering reached the commander of the bomber wing under whom the volunteers had originally been placed. The commander, a colonel, immediately declared that the group was ready for action. The volunteers were astounded. They knew that no planes or "buzz bombs" were available, and that only a few of the men had any more than the briefest of preflight training. Nonetheless, the commander and his technical assistants, without consulting the volunteers, set to work on plans to use a Focke Wulf 190, carrying a 4,000-pound bomb, to crash into selected targets. Now no one in the German Air Force had ever flown this plane with such a large bomb load, and it was highly doubtful that the plane would be able to get off the ground without crashing. Consequently, regular test pilots declined the honor of testing this experimental makeshift. Undaunted, the commander announced that his suicide pilots—none of whom had ever flown an FW 190, if any other plane—would within the next few days conduct the test flights themselves. If they were killed, he said, their names and loyal sacrifice would be recorded in German history with the same honor they would have received if they had crashed their plane onto the deck of an enemy ship. Any enthusiasm that had remained among the volunteers disappeared completely at this point.

Fortunately for these men, Hitler heard about the plans for using the FW 190, and ordered the project abandoned. The bomber commander was removed, eventually, and his successor set about trying to salvage some of the finer ideas of the original project. But by then it was too late. The Allies were established in force on the continent, the hour to strike had passed, and so the group of suicide volunteers was disbanded.

"And so," to quote the woman flyer, "did an idea that was born of fervent and holy idealism, only to be misused and mismanaged at every turn by people who never understood how men could offer their lives simply for an idea in which they believed."


Were it not for the grievous damage done to our fleet units a year later by the Japanese Kamikaze corps, this German project might be passed off as just another unconventional tactical venture which the German leaders were smart enough to recognize as nothing but foolishness. But in the light of our later experience with the Japanese, it is possible to draw the conclusion that the Nazi command failed to realize they were being offered an impressive counterweapon to seaborne invasion. It is useless, in retrospect, to attempt a reconstruction of what might have happened off Normandy on D-day, if the Nazi command had recognized the potentialities of these volunteers and their piloted bomb. Although it is unlikely that the suicidists could have thus defeated the invasion, the introduction of such an unconventional tactic, if exploited on the scale later used by the Japanese, would certainly have offered another serious threat to an already difficult amphibious operation.

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