Japanese airmen fly Kamikaze into Britain

Photograph from the June 1937 issue of Popular Flying showing the two airmen at Croydon airfield at the end of their flight from Japan

Popular Flying magazine (June 1937 issue) showing the two Japanese airmen at Croydon aerodrome at the end of their record-breaking flight from Japan






Britain and Japan were allies during the first world war. British shipyards had built most of Tokyo’s fleet at the turn of the century, and they were still allies in the 1930s. So, the arrival of two Japanese airmen at Croydon airfield at the end of a record-breaking 10,000 mile goodwill flight from Japan to mark the May coronation of King George VI was a cause for celebration in 1937. Popular Flying magazine – edited by ‘Biggles’ author WE Johns – set the tone in its June issue:

The end of a great flight. Masaki Jinuma [Masaaki Iinuma] and Kenji Tsukagoshi, the Japanese airmen, arriving at Croydon in their delightfully named aircraft ‘Divine Wind,’ after flying the 10,000 miles from Tokio in 94 hours

‘Divine Wind’ does indeed sound charming, but to today’s eyes, the Japanese for the name on the side of the aircraft loses its delight – Kamikaze.

The word was originally used in Japanese folk lore with reference to the supposed divine wind that blew on a night in August 1281, destroying the navy of the invading Mongols.

In 1937,  Japan was again at war – with China – and that conflict would merge into the second world war after Japan’s attacks on Malaysia and Pearl Harbor in 1941. in October 1944, fanatical kamikaze suicide pilots began deliberately crashing their aircraft into allied ships in the Pacific. In all, 47 Allied vessels  were sunk by kamikaze attacks, and about 300 damaged for the loss of 3,000 kamikaze pilots. About one in six planes hit a target.

A Japanese website has a painting by Shigeo Koike of the original record-breaking Kamikaze, a Mitsubishi Ki-15 Karigane, which served as a reconnaissance plane and light bomber. Parts of the text read:

The exploit led to international fame for the aircraft and was accomplished between 6th and 9th April 1937. The flight was timed to mark the coronation celebrations on 12 May. The plane was the type’s second prototype, which was given the civil designation of J-BAAI for the occasion and named Kamikaze. With Masaaki Iinuma as pilot and Kenji Tsugakoshi as navigator, the aircraft flew from Tachikawa to London in 94 hours, 17 minutes and 56 seconds, covering 15,353 km in a net flying time of 51 hours 17 minutes and 23 seconds, at an average speed of 160.8 km/h. The flight was sponsored by the daily paper Asahi-Shinbun.

Iinuma and Tsugakoshi returned to Japan and later fought in the war against the Allies. Iinuma died on 11 December 1941 when he walked into a spinning aircraft propeller at Phnom Penh airfield in French Indochina (now Cambodia). The incident is supposed to have happened just after he had heard news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. That attack had taken place on Sunday, 7 December and on the 11th Germany and Italy declared war on the US. The Japanese had attacked British forces just before Pearl Harbor by landing on the coast of Malaya and bombing Singapore and Hong Kong. Tsukagoshi disappeared while on a flight over the Indian Ocean in 1943.

The Kamikaze was on display at the Ashai Shimbun headquarters in Tokyo in 1944 when the building was hit by a bomb and the airplane was destroyed.

Popular Flying magazine was published on the 22nd of each month by C. Arthur Pearson from its offices in Covent Garden, Tower House in Southampton St, just off The Strand in London. It cost 6d an issue. Pearson’s magazines were owned by Newnes, which later merged into IPC. The printer was Williams, Lea & Co at Clifton House in Worship Street. Other articles described aerodrome holidays, flying over Britain and air holidays abroad. The cover is by Howard Leigh, who illustrated many of the Biggles books.

Popular Flying magazine cover June 1937

Popular Flying magazine cover June 1937






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One Response to “Japanese airmen fly Kamikaze into Britain”

  1. Harry Furniss: he Lika Joko | Magforum blog Says:

    […] period, Japan had a huge influence of art in Britain, resulting in a phenomenon known as Japonisme. Japan and Britain were great allies until World War […]

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