Why do kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

This is a question I’ve pondered for the longest time. Ever since I heard somebody mention that, I’ve got to pondering why on Earth they would do that. Also, why would kamikaze pilots wear any suits at all? They might as well just go naked. They’re supposedly dying on that flight. Why would somebody wear a helmet if it’s not going to save you from anything? If anybody knows the answer to this, please…let me know.

We all float down here…

Welcome to the Straight Dope, kid. Hang on tight. You’re about to wish you wore a helmet.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

It’s really cold up in the air, and seeing what probably happened to Payne Stewart and co. today, I would imagine they wore clothing to keep warm enough to reach their target.

It wasn’t as much a suicide as a mission to injure the enemy.


I’m pretty great, huh?

Nothing I write about any person or group should be applied to a larger group.

  • Boris Badenov

Yes, I understand that the basic point of the mission was to injure the enemy. However, in most cases, the objective included your own demise. I don’t know of anybody who has survived those missions. Don’t get me wrong, there probably are some people out there who have, but I seriously doubt their helmet was the thing that saved them. It had to have been divine intervention or just plain luck.

We all float down here…

Ahh…thank you, Boris. The topic’s dead. I needed an answer and now I can finally sleep.

We all float down here…

Hey, ya know I heard that there were three words in the English language that end in . . .

No! Get back!! It was a joke, really!


Cecil got it mostly right, but not quite.

First, he says that fighters taxiied with canopies open for customary reasons, or for reasons he didn’t understand. The actual reason for taxiing with the canopy open was so that the pilot could crane his head out of the cockpit to see where he was going. WWII fighters almost universally had big, long noses and a tailwheel for steering. As a result, visibility straight ahead when taxiing was zero. Pilots overcame this by taxiing in a series of S-turns, and by sticking their head out of the window.

Anyway, the purpose of the helmet was to keep your radio headphones on, and to keep your head warm. Fighter planes in a dogfight (or in turbulence, or when manoevering to dive on the enemy) could pull many G’s. At 6 G’s, those one pound headsets weigh six pounds, and are trying frantically to pull themselves off of your head. Those leather helmets actually had the earphones sewn right into the sides.

Keeping warm was very important, since these fighters routinely cruised at altitudes of 20,000 feet or above, where it might be -30 outside. Heaters in those fighters didn’t work very well. I’m not even sure the Mitsubishi Zero even had a heater. If you ever see pictures of those Kamikazi guys, you’ll notice that their helmets are usually lined with fleece, and they are wearing heavy jackets even though they are launching from the tropics.

Also, it does not matter even if you are not a kamikaze pilot, whether you wear a helmet or not. Crashing a plane is gonna do lots of damage and a helmet is not likely to save you anyway.

I think they wore them so they would look cool in their pictures before take off for their final flight.

Slightly related question, I know these pilots had to learn to fly the plane to get to their intended destination, but did they actually teach them how to land? It seems this would be a complete waste of time.


Well, first off, my history is a little rusty, but I thought this tactic was only used near the end of the war, when the Japanese felt that losing a pilot would be better than losing the war. It seems ludicrous to me to waste pilots who might feasibly be able to snuff out an enemy pilot. In other words, this tactic was born out of desperation. But again, I’m rusty on this, so I could have very easily missed the mark.

So, StrTkr, if I’m thinking correctly, then the kamikaze pilots were pilots before they got the word that they were to do the final nosedive, and so indeed did know how to land. If, however, the kamikazes were boys and young men pressed into service, then it stands to reason their training may have been along the lines of, “Step on the gas, pull back on the lever, and aim for that big boat over there.”

And as far as the helmet goes, I think that most of the pilots would’ve gone without the helmets if they could have. It was considered an act of honor to give your life in service of the emperor and Japan. If you wrecked the plane and were still alive, then chances are you’d be looked at in a lesser light when compared to the men who did die ( the ones who did it right). You’d be less honorable.

“I’m still here, asshole!”-Angus Bethune

There is such a thing as a surviving Kamikaze pilot. Sometimes the pilots were pointed in the general direction of the enemy fleet, but didn’t find it. Rather than ditch in the ocean (wasting a valuable airplane), they’d return to base.

There was one kind of Japanese “airplane” which was (once launched) guaranteed a one-way ride; that was the rocket-propelled guided bomb that the Americans dubbed the “Baka” (which means “stupid” in Japanese). These were intended to be launched from bombers once the enemy was spotted, so even “Baka” pilots might end up returning to base.

I do not know if any “Baka” bombs were actually ever used. I vaguely recall that they used a few of them, but I might be wrong. I’m quite sure that none ever hit carriers (which is what the Japanese most wanted to nail).

Incidentally, the Germans had radio-controlled and wire-guided bombs, so they didn’t need kamikazes. (And no, I’m not talking about V-1’s and V-2’s; those were controlled inertially.) Those Germans were a good decade ahead of everybody else, when it came to aviation.

I think the Japanese word for the baka was the oka, meaning, I think, floating chrysanthemums. They did damage some U.S. vessels, but they were mainly radar pickets. No carriers were ever hit, I think since the range of the oka was not enough to allow the medium bomber to launch outside U.S. air cover.

Okas were quite an impressive technology … two could be carried by a medium bomber. They are not unlike Soviet anti-ship cruise missiles of the '50s and '60s, except the guidance system is a person.

The above site has some info on them, but translates them to “cherry blossoms”. Where the heck did I get “floating chrysanthemums”?

Nothing I write about any person or group should be applied to a larger group.

  • Boris Badenov

I believe that baka means fool, i.e. a person with no judgement.

The Germans did have a ‘kamikazi special’ ; a modified V-1 Buzz Bomb. The official designation of this manned V-1 was FZG 76 “Reichenburg”. It was never used in combat. I cite “V 1 The Flying Bomb” by Joachim Engelmann, published in 1992 by Schiffer Military History/Schiffer Publishing Inc.


The Americans had the ability to fly aircraft by radio control as well. Joseph Kennedy Jr. was killed on a mission where he was supposed to fly a bomber filled with explosives near the target, then bail out and let the bomber be flown into the target by radio. Unfortunately, there was a short when he flipped the arming switch before bailing, and the whole thing blew up.

The helmet is part of the uniform. Military people wouldn’t even think about it, they’d just put on the uniform. Helmet included.

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From the site you linked:

I’m pretty sure the helmets, flak jackets et al, were worn for added protection on their flight, so they could reach their target. If you knew you were gonna get shot at, wouldn’t you want some protection?

“I’m not dumb. I just have a command of thoroughly useless information.”-- Calvin and Hobbes
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daniel p bostaph: The “kamikaze special” of the V1 was not, in fact, used or intended to be used for kamikaze missions. Maybe you already knew this, but let me fill in some background info.

Hanna Reich (the famous German aviatrix) flew in the “piloted V1” to help solve some stability problems with the V1. In other words, she replaced the “robotics package” (if that term might be used here), which was not giving sufficient information about why test V1’s (with concrete ballast instead of explosives) were tending to dig large furrows in the German countryside.

The Germans did entertain the idea of having some water-borne kamikazes – human-guided torpedoes – but these were never actually used. Nonetheless, some German testers did drown during the testing.

Mr. Campbell–the source I cited says different.What source are you quoting from?
Hard data or WAG?

Thanks, beatle. You have made me less certain that I am going crazy.