Rear Admiral Masafumi Arima was a Japanese army officer famous for being one of the earliest "kamikaze" pilots, flying his own suicide mission just before the official start of kamikaze missions. Arima was known as a scholarly man, dedicated to the code of the samuri as it was understood at the time. In October 1944 he was the commander of the 26th Air Flotilla, based at Manila and was facing the prospect of an overwhelming American invasion.
Like a number of Japanese officers, Arima was convinced that the only chance to defeat the invasion was to adopt extraordinary measures. On 15 October his command was about to launch an attack on a US carrier task force, which included the carrier USS Franklin. Arima removed all distinquishing marks from his flying suit, and then over the protests of his staff announced that he was going to lead the attack in person, taking over the controls of a Zero.
The removal of his rank badges symbolised Arima's decision to seek death in battle. When he failed to return from the sortie, the Japanese announced that he had deliberatly crashed into the Franklin. This was taken as an example to be followed by his colleagues, and was of great use to Rear Admiral Takijiro Onishi, who took command of the Japanese navy's land based fighters on the Philippines two days after Arima's death, and who on 19 October officially initiated kamikaze tactics, hoping that a short period of suicide attacks would cripple the American fleets approaching the Philippines. Given that Onishi had less than 200 aircraft with which to repulse the massive American attack, his argument was hard to counter.
In fact Arima failed to crash into any American warship. On 15 October the Franklin was damaged once, by part of the wing from a Betty bomber that had been shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Arima's Zero was one of twenty Japanese aircraft that failed to return from the sortie, shot down by the American fighters and anti-aircraft fire. It has been suggested that Arima's attempted suicide attack had been encouraged or even suggested by the Japanese high command, to help prepare for the official adoption of kamikazi tactics, but it is also possible that he had simply intended to lead from the front, accepting the risks of combat with his men.
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