Kamikaze (神風, common translation: "divine wind")refers to the suicide attacks by military aviators from the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, designed to destroy as many warships as possible.
Kamikaze pilots would attempt to intentionally crash their aircraft – often laden with explosives, bombs, torpedoes and full fuel tanks – into Allied ships. The aircraft's normal functions, to deliver torpedoes or bombs or shoot down other aircraft, were put aside, and the planes were converted to what were essentially manned missiles, in a desperate attempt to reap the benefits of greatly increased accuracy and payload over that of normal bombs. The goal of crippling as many Allied capital ships as possible was considered critical enough to warrant the sacrifice of aviators and aircraft.
The Kamikaze attack tactic was first suggested by vice-Admiral Onishi of the Japanese Navy, when he was assigned to command the air attacks against the huge American invasion fleet off the Philippines. He realized that he had less than 100 operational aircraft for this task. Since there was no way to sink or even severely damage the American fleet in any conventional tactic, the Admiral sought to find a way to get a significantly greater striking power from a given force.
The solution was obvious. Guided weapons provide dramatically greater accuracy and lethality than unguided weapons. Such weapons already existed and were operational for over a year then, but not in Japan. Therefore Admiral Onishi suggested that volunteer pilots guide their bomb-carrying aircraft all the way to an explosive suicide collision with their American warship targets, acting as a living guidance system, literally becoming "smart bombs".
The new tactic was adopted immediately. Large numbers of pilots initially qualified and experienced pilots and later air cadets with minimal training who were asked to volunteer, were assigned to "Special Attack" air wings, the official name of the Kamikaze units. Their goal and motto was "One man - one ship".
A total of about 5000 Kamikaze pilots were launched, mostly in the Battle of Okinawa, consuming much of the remaining human and material resources of Japanese air power. The result of their effort was 36 sunk American ships and landing craft, and 368 damaged. The ferocity of watching wave after wave of Kamikaze pilots hurtling down through a dense hail of anti-aircraft fire, and the enormous fiery explosions which followed, terrorized the Americans, but the Kamikaze campaign failed to achieve its strategic goal of stopping the American advance, and American air attacks were launched against the Kamikaze air bases in southern Japan in order to reduce their numbers. Japan lost its last battle despite the enormous sacrifice of its fanatic warriors, and lost the war.