Aviation History

Bullseye: the day a Kamikaze aircraft scored a direct hit on USS Cabot light Aircraft Carrier

The kamikaze campaign was just a month old on Nov. 25, 1944. The Japanese main target was the US Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Force, a target which largely eluded the Japanese through most of the opening days of the campaign.

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The kamikaze campaign was just a month old on Nov. 25, 1944. The Japanese main target was the US Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Force, a target which largely eluded the Japanese through most of the opening days of the campaign. As explained by Mark Lardas in the book The Kamikaze Campaign 1944–45, there had been a few attacks, but most of the carriers hit by kamikazes between Oct. 26 and Nov. 25 had been escort carriers. Attacks against fast carriers had yielded only one hit, that on the Essex-class Yorktown on Nov. 5. But on Nov. 25, Japan spun fortune’s wheel and scored big.

TF38 was making a third visit to a patch of ocean off Luzon’s eastern coast to attack naval targets around Luzon. The Japanese had noticed the fast carriers were returning to that area every seven days to launch airstrikes. They maintained air searches over the area during the days the US carriers were expected to show up, and found them.

This time it was the US Navy that got caught napping. Since only two of TF38’s three carrier groups were present, US resources were stretched, with fewer fighters available for CAP and fighter sweeps concentrated on the airfields around Luzon.

The Japanese launched a series of kamikaze raids in the late morning of Nov. 25. Moreover, the kamikazes came from southern Luzon airfields rather than those near Manila, where the US fighters were hunting. Between 1230hrs and 1330hrs, both US carrier groups were attacked by three waves of kamikazes. By the time the attacks ended, four carriers had been struck: the Essex-class fleet carriers Essex, Intrepid, and Hancock, and the light carrier Cabot.

The Cabot was more vulnerable than its bigger fleet counterparts. Built on light cruiser hulls, light carriers had less margin and less defensive capabilities than fleet carriers. They displaced half the tonnage of the fleet carriers and carried a much weaker antiaircraft battery: they had no 5in. guns, and one-third of the 40mm armament carried by the Essex-class ships. It was therefore hard for a light carrier to stop an inbound kamikaze.

So it proved on Nov. 25, when a kamikaze bore in on the carrier just before 1300hrs. The Cabot opened up with all of its 40mm Bofors in an attempt to stop it, but could not put enough steel in the air between it and the oncoming kamikaze. Although the aircraft took several hits, none were able to stop the aircraft. Momentum moved it relentlessly forward, and it smashed into the Cabot on the forward flight deck on the port side. It knocked a 6ft hole in the flight deck, and took out the port catwalk and part of the forward gun gallery.

Minutes later, a second kamikaze dived at the Cabot. This time, the carrier’s antiaircraft fire forced a miss and the kamikaze splashed into the water nearby.

The Kamikaze Campaign 1944–45 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: Adam Tooby via Osprey

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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