Kamikaze attacks — known as “special attacks” by Japan — were an infamous tactic designed to not only destroy American ships but also strike fear in the Allied navies.
But two months before the first kamikaze attacks were carried out at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in Oct. 1944, a Japanese transport pilot pitched the idea of a kamikaze super weapon, the Oka “Cherry Blossom” Type 11 plane.
While the Oka was technically a plane, it was more like a pilot-guided missile. It was a 4,700-pound aircraft that contained 2,600 pounds of high explosives. That left only 2,100 pounds for the body, armor-piercing nose cone, and three rocket engines.
The Oka was carried by a mother plane — usually a Betty medium-bomber — to a launch point within 23 miles of its target. The Oka pilot would then squeeze into the craft and strap himself in while a crew member on the bomber would lock the cockpit closed.
After it was released, the Oka glided most of the way to its target from high-altitude. Once the Oka got close to a naval ship, it would ignite the engines and race at its target.
Hitting the enemy ship at up to 576 mph, it punched right through most armor and detonated its 2,600-pound payload inside the ship.
While those 2,600 pounds of explosives gave the kamikaze a big boom when it hit its target, the small control surfaces and extreme speed made it very hard to aim.
The Oka’s commonly made it past enemy defenses and outran pursuing fighters, but they sometimes missed their target entirely.
Also, the bombers carrying the Oka were susceptible to attack. While carrying the massive weapon, the planes lost maneuverability, range, and speed. The first thing a Betty with an Oka was supposed to do if it came under attack was drop the Oka and attempt to evade the fighters.
This led to another problem for the Oka pilots. When the bomber crews felt a route was too dangerous, they’d often order the Oka pilot into the suicide plane early and launch it.
The pilot would be left sitting in the cockpit, piloting his coffin into the ocean with no chance at destroying a target.
In the end, the more than 850 Oka 11s produced sank only one ship and damaged six others. Longer range variants were produced that could fly up to 81 miles. They would have been a serious threat to Navy ships during an invasion, but none ever saw combat.
Today, a number of Oka survive in museums. One Oka type 22, the longer range model, still exists and is housed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.