Mourners in Japan pray for kamikaze pilots ahead of WWII anniversary

TOKYO (AFP) - Some 1,000 people on Sunday gathered at a former airbase of the kamikaze squad in southwestern Japan, to mourn the loss of the lives of suicide mission pilots seven decades ago.

The memorial service was held in Chiran, southern Kyushu, from which 439 kamikaze pilots left for suicide missions - known as "Tokko" in Japan - and did not survive, towards the end of World War II, public broadcaster NHK said.

Television footage showed bereaved families of late kamikaze pilots and other participants offering a silent prayer in the rain and placing white chrysanthemums before a Buddhist hall.

"We pledge to make an effort for peace, not forgetting about the graveness of the lives of young people victimised by 'Tokko,'" an 84-year-old who lost his brother in the mission told the ceremony, according to NHK.

The memorial service comes before the nation is scheduled to mark the 70th anniversary of its surrender that ended the war, on August 15.

The squadrons were formed near the end of the conflict in a desperate effort to prevent an Allied victory. About 4,000 died on missions that sent chills down the spine of many enemy combatants, although most were shot down before reaching their targets.

There are no official figures on the number of surviving kamikaze pilots and the squadrons have largely faded from memory.