Kamikaze (神風, [kamiꜜkaze]; "divine wind" or "spirit wind"), officially Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (特別攻撃隊, "Special Attack Unit"), were a part of the Japanese Special Attack Units of military aviators who initiated suicide attacks for the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, designed to destroy warships more effectively than possible with conventional air attacks.
About 3,800 kamikaze pilots died during the war, and more than 7,000 naval personnel were killed by kamikaze attacks.
Kamikaze aircraft were essentially pilot-guided explosive missiles, purpose-built or converted from conventional aircraft.
Pilots would attempt to crash their aircraft into enemy ships in what was called a "body attack" (tai-atari) in planes loaded with a combination of explosives, bombs, and torpedoes.
Accuracy was much higher than that of conventional attacks, and the payload and explosion larger; about 19% of kamikaze attacks were successful.
A kamikaze could sustain damage that would disable a conventional attacker and still achieve its objective.
The goal of crippling or destroying large numbers of Allied ships, particularly aircraft carriers, was considered by the Empire of Japan to be a just reason for sacrificing pilots and aircraft.
These attacks, which began in October 1944, followed several critical military defeats for the Japanese.
They had long since lost aerial parity as a result of having outdated aircraft and enduring the loss of experienced pilots.
Japan suffered from a diminishing capacity for war and a rapidly declining industrial capacity relative to that of the Allies.
Japan was also losing pilots faster than it could train their replacements.
These combined factors, along with Japan's unwillingness to surrender, led to the use of kamikaze tactics as Allied forces advanced towards the Japanese home islands.
The tradition of death instead of defeat, capture and shame was deeply entrenched in Japanese military culture; one of the primary values in the samurai life and the Bushido code was loyalty and honor until death.
In addition to kamikazes, the Japanese military also used or made plans for non-aerial Japanese Special Attack Units, including those involving submarines, human torpedoes, speedboats and divers.