A Kamikaze pilot flies into the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable during the battle of Okinawa in 1945. Waite Brooks' battleship, the HMS King George V is on the horizon. This photo was taken by a friend of Mr Brooks, then Mid-Shipman, E.A. Wiggs while onboard the HMCS Uganda.Waite Brooks
Waite Brooks stands watch on the "Castle" while attending the Royal Canadian Naval College in 1942.Waite Brooks
Waite Brooks posed for a photo next to the "Y" gun turret as he passed through the Suez Canal while onboard the HMS King George V.Waite Brooks
A sketch made by Waite Brooks during the battle for Okinawa that shows the British Pacific Fleet's area of operations in the Ryukyu Archipelago, 1945.Waite Brooks
HMS King George V, 1944.Waite Brooks
"So that was day one of the invasion and we carried on in this sort of warfare, cutting off the Japanese aircraft trying to get into the Okinawa landing zone."
Well, we had a short stay in Sydney [Australia] where we topped up with everything once again, and then we sailed north to join the American 5th Fleet for the invasion of Okinawa. We arrived as I say about a week before the invasion and began the job of destroying airfields, shooting down all the many aircraft we could find and that was going on. We met a considerable number of Japanese aircraft and the strikes, we had daily strikes and some days or most days, we may, would make four strikes. So we’d close up just before daybreak, fly the - fly off our combat fighter patrols, just at the very first light, followed by our strike aircraft and we would mount under the usual conditions for four strikes a day.
That was a pretty intensive area of warfare and just get our last strike back aboard, late afternoon, about an hour before sunset, leave the fighters up just until the last minute and bring them on in the fading light. And then we would leave the operating area, which would be perhaps as close as 75 miles to the coast and move out to about 150 miles for the night and in position to come back in early in the middle of the night, if you like, so that we were in our operating area as we approached sunrise.
We got a call over the communication line and of course, aircraft approaching the fleet and it’s sort of a giveaway, they’re flying absolutely flat on the water to avoid detection and interception and to the extent possible. So they were fairly close when we detected them. The first group of fighters we had out identified about 12 coming in, what we called “Zekes” and I don’t know where the word “Zeke” came from, but that was the old legendary Zero [Japanese fighter plane] and it was quite a plane.
As they sighted the fleet, and there was still most of them left - out of about 12, about four had been shot down - they simply zoomed straight up into the air and it was a beautiful day, blue skies, strong sun and they just shot up and disappeared in this sky. So everybody was standing, straining, looking into the sky and suddenly, straight out of the sun, I saw this plane diving at us and very close, straight down. And of course, when you shout an alarm aircraft and get the guns to open fire, your close range weapons can get into action very quickly, but the heavy A-A [anti-aircraft] 5.25 guns, the director has to find the target. So that takes more than a few seconds for the director to get onto the target, lock onto it, radar to take a few ranges and so on and get some sort of firing solution. But in the case of those heavy weapons, it probably takes anywhere, at least a full minute. I would think that would be very fast. Well, this plane was so close, in a full minute, he was going to be a mass of wreckage and flame on deck.
Anyway, that started, guns firing and at the last moment, he changed his mind and as I was watching him, he just suddenly flipped off and as far as he was concerned, flipped off to his starboard anyway and struck a carrier that was just beside us. And so that’s a huge ball of flame and all the rest of the debris that happens when an aircraft with a bomb and fuel and so on crashes, you’ve got massive fire as well as the explosion. And then, of course, you have all the flying debris of the plane to knock off people and so on, very, very destructive. And in some ways, it sounds rather dramatic, but one kamikaze [suicide] pilot could in fact inflict terrific damage and casualties.
The American carriers of course had a wooden flight deck whereas we had a, not only steel, but armoured, four inch armoured flight deck. And four inches of armour just luckily enough was just enough to resist a kamikaze. Because we had many of them that struck our carriers, and you’d just see the massive ball of flame and so on and smoke, thundering across the deck and into the sea. Now, it wasn’t always sort of a neat, clean operation like that because again, if they were smart enough, they could follow in a strike, they knew exactly what was happening, this would mean a new strike would be flying off before the old strike landed and it was all timed to occur this way. And of course, as part of all this operation, off Okinawa, we were just doing that one afternoon when a kamikaze went into the aircraft, parked at the stern, just about to take off. And of course, this was a horrendous disaster. There were all sorts of aircraft destroyed, the air crew and tremendous fire on the carrier. In fact, the carrier was half hidden by oily black smoke for, I don’t know, perhaps about 15 or 20 minutes.
In this case, we, this one hit the carrier and there was the usual explosion fire. However, that was only one of quite a few. That was a very busy day for us. The Easter Sunday, we had several more kamikazes and they came out again, as I recall, towards the end of the day and we had a couple more carriers struck and I’ll always remember, as the word was passed up to the air defense position where I was, that the admiral had signaled the carrier and asked if they had casualties and the carrier signaled back, no, but his wing hit my bridge. So you can see the kind of warfare this was. If you’re standing on a bridge and had to duck while the wing of an aircraft that zoomed by you was knocked off by the bridge.
So that was day one of the invasion and we carried on in this sort of warfare, cutting off the Japanese aircraft trying to get into the Okinawa landing zone.