That left a mark – literally

I was familiar with this World War II photograph from other sources, but only in monochrome.  I was intrigued to come across a version over at Wirecutter’s place that had been colorized.  Click the image for a larger view.

It shows the impact mark of a kamikaze (suicide) attack by a Mitsubishi Ki-51 light bomber on the side of HMS Sussex (shown below), a heavy cruiser of the Royal Navy, in July 1945, just before the end of the war.

Fortunately, being a heavy cruiser, Sussex’s sides were armored against enemy shellfire, with her main belt on the side of the ship being 4½” thick.  The armor stopped the light, slow attacking aircraft without allowing it to penetrate the ship’s side.  A smaller, less protected ship would have suffered serious damage.  Sussex was probably also helped by the fact that the attacker is said to have bounced off the surface of the sea before striking the ship, which would have slowed down the aircraft considerably.  As it was, it looks as if the aircraft’s engine penetrated the armor belt, or at least left a very deep dent in it.  I bet the people working inside the ship at that location would have gotten the shock of their lives at the sound of the impact!



  1. Which is why effective kamikaze pilots took more of a sea-skimming missile approach. Come in low, as fast as possible, juke up just as you get to the target and then roll into the deck or superstructure. Let the fuel and weapons aboard impact where they'll stick and do damage.

    She, the ship, was very lucky. Just a little higher and hitting the row of portholes would have been more dangerous.

  2. I would guess that the aircraft lost it's ~500lb bomb when it skipped off the water, possibly also it's right landing gear. Probably wouldn't have mattered, as it would have been too slow to punch an armor piercing bomb through that amount of armor. Appears that the armor goes right to the deck, as the upper row of portholes are recessed for some unobvious reason.

    Interesting, wiki says that this type of aircraft was one of the ones that Charles Lindbergh shot down when he was flying P-38's.

  3. Don't be too sure about the loss of speed: Nelson used to bounce cannon-balls off the sea. That was one inspiration for the Dambusters' bouncing bomb.

  4. I'm not sure, but it looks like the line of rivets is visible through the engine impact point, which if correct would mean the aircraft did virtually no damage. The K-51s were quite slow, and 4 1/2 inches of steel is a lot.

  5. Hey Peter;

    Something to add to the comments, the British tended to uparmor their ships, when an American carrier took a kamakaze hit, it could be real bad, but a British carriers were better armored and had an armored flight deck, they couldn't carry as many planes, but they shrugged off Kamakaze hits much better. This is why later carrier models had steel decks.

  6. Those portholes are not recessed. You are seeing "Eyebrows" which acted to divert water from the porthole during mildly inclement weather. They were not real effective, but were a normal part of Naval design during the period from the advent of powered ships until the wholesale use of air conditioning.

  7. In 1983-84 off Lebanon, when New Jersey (BB-62) was patrolling the coast to show the flag and big stick, there was credible intel that terrorists planned to fill a speedboat or three with explosives and ram it.

    The no-kidding actual briefed response to that, should they make it past the CIWS defenses and actually detonated, was to turn the ship about 180°, lower two sailors over the sides with paint brushes and haze-gray paint, and quickly paint over the scorch marks on the hull's 12 inches of armored side plating. Then recover the work detail, turn 180 ° again, and cruise closer inshore, to show the idiots in question that you can't bring a firecracker to a battleship fight.

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