During World War II, one of the well-known traits of the Japanese troops was their willingness to give their lives for the war effort in the form of suicide attacks against enemies. The Japanese military culture had put great emphasis on self-sacrifices as an honorable means to end one’s life, leaving behind a heroic legacy. Because of these, many of their strategies, especially when the odds were against them and they knew they could not stop the US, involved different forms of suicide attacks. One of which involved equipment used during the nearing end of WWII called the lunge mine, which was an effective tool not only in damaging enemy tanks but also in killing its user.

Japanese Suicide Attacks

For the Japanese military of World War II, suicide attacks were a costly but effective way of hindering the enemy forces, a price that they were willing to take. For instance, a single Japanese aircraft carrying tons of bombs could sink a US aircraft carrier, and the sacrifice was worth it. They established Japanese Special Attack Units called shimbu-tai, specifically made by the Imperial Japanese Navy and Imperial Japanese Army for suicide missions. This included perhaps the most famous Japanese suicide missions called kamikaze attacks, wherein Kamikaze pilots would fly their planes filled with explosives and dive them straight into target enemies like human-guided-and-sacrificed missiles. This was effective in destroying enemy units if they succeeded, although they were usually destroyed or the pilot was killed before reaching their target.

There were also these banzai charges on the ground when Japanese troops would swarm into enemy positions when defeat was apparent. Then there were fukuryu or suicide divers armed with Type-5 attack mines with 33 pounds of explosives. Other types included attacks using boats, midget submarines, and manned torpedoes. The idea of dying in combat as a heroic and honorable death was even solidified and romanticized by wartime propaganda, so it was no surprise that many, if not all, were willing to give up their lives for the country.

Lunge Mines

Lunge mine was one of the equipment created by the Japanese to help their infantry tackle the threat of enemy tanks. It was a two-meter long pole with an explosive charge on its tip. It was in 1944 that the US first knew about its existence, at a time when Japan was becoming more and more desperate.

The wood pole served as the handle of the lunge mine. As mentioned, a shaped explosive charge was located at the end of it in a conical metal housing. On the flat base of the housing were three metal legs welded to it. These legs kept the HEAT charge at the optimum distance from the armor that would maximize its penetration and damages that it would cause. 6.6 pounds of the total 14.33 pounds weight of the lunge mine was from its explosives.

Shitotsubakurai Lunge mine. (United States. War Department. Military Intelligence Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

How it worked was that the soldier would remove the safety pin before charging at a tank with the explosive tip first. The soldier would carry the mine with two hands and slam it against the target tank, causing the handle to slide into the housing and trigger the detonator. The explosion would for sure kill its user and, hopefully, damage the target tank. When used correctly, the lunge mine could penetrate 150 mm of armor at 90 degrees angle, which was capable of blasting through the 38 mm side armor of the M4 Sherman.

More of a Psychological Weapon

The lunge mine was only a part of the Japanese forces’ tactics against the enemy tanks. The whole thing involved luring these armored vehicles or waiting until they were in a vulnerable position before launching an attack to scatter the vehicles’ infantry support before they moved in and destroyed them. The Japanese figured out that the Allied crew would immediately flee off the tank and would just come back later on to recover it.

Viet Minh soldier with a Shitotsubakurai lunge mine at Hàng Dầu Street. December 12, 1946. (Musée Annam, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

If not the lunge mine, other methods included soldiers running at a tank while wearing explosive vests and then climbing onto the vehicle before the said vests detonated. Sometimes they would instead dive under the tanks’ tracks while wearing the explosive vest to ensure that the vehicle would be disabled.