Subset of special attack units?
The Japanese had an overall doctrine of "special attack" (tokko), IIRC, of which the kamikaze, whether using conventional aircraft, Ohka, or Tsuruji were the air component. The suicide boats, suicide swimmers, and kaitens were sea-based (and shall we count the last sortie of the Yamato task group?). There were various suicide attack plans on land, typically to attach an explosive charge to a tank, to say nothing of the soldiers who sealed themselves in bunkers.
Should it be clarified that there was a broader set of tactics of which kamikaze were a part?
It's also worth some reflection that while the German Fritz X was the first antishipping guided bomb, the kamikaze were the first antishipping cruise missiles. Howard C. Berkowitz 01:23, 12 May 2008 (CDT)
Operations section needs rewrite -- chronology unclear and some tactical details questionable
If the Americans valued lives over victory, and the Japanese were ready to die for their Emperor, then one radically new and astonishingly effective doctrine suddenly became available to Japan, the Kamikaze attack. Tokyo realized that the old orthodoxy of mass air attack that worked so well at Pearl Harbor now was totally ineffective against superior equipment and tactics; it was therefore necessary to try a desperate doctrine. It could not win the war, but it might lead to a negotiated peace. It capitalized on what Japan considered the sentimental psychological weakness of the Americans. While it failed in the end, it enraged the Americans and indicated that an invasion of Japan would involve hundreds of thousands of casualties on the American side, and millions on the Japanese. Kamikaze pilots were special volunteers, many of them elite students who had just joined the Navy or Army. They were given only rudimentary flight training. After ritual preparation, an experienced escort flyer (who was not a Kamikaze) would lead them toward American ships. Their planes became guided missiles, and only had to be steered at and crashed into a ship.
The suicide doctrine nearly worked. Destroyers and destroyer escorts, doing radar picket duty, were hit hard, as the inexperienced pilots dived at the first American ship they spotted instead of waiting to get at the big carriers. Task Force 58 analyzed the Japanese technique at Okinawa in April, 1945: Rarely have the enemy attacks been so cleverly executed and made with such reckless determination. These attacks were generally by single or few aircraft making their approaches with radical changes in course and altitude, dispersing when intercepted and using cloud cover to every advantage. They tailed our friendlies home, used decoy planes, and came in at any altitude or on the water.
Only once in the entire operation did the enemy attack in classic fashion. By attacked in large numbers from different directions at different altitudes, Kamikazes could saturate the CIC command system; there would not be enough Hellcats to shoot them all down. If they managed to get through they could gravely damage a carrier or sink a smaller ship. In the first place they were not planning to return--therefore they were less distracted by AA fire. Hurtling directly at a ship, they were easy to hit, but the dead pilot and crippled plane would still be crashing down toward the target. Desperate high speed twists and turns saved many a ship, but the 20mm Oerlikon cannon proved too weak to knock them down, so 40mm Bofors were hurriedly added to ships. 5" guns with proximity fuzes were highly effective, so hundreds of factories across the USA began round-the-clock production of, with output reaching 40,000 a day.
The best defense against Kamikazes was to knock them out on the ground, or else in the air long before they approached the fleet. The Navy called for more fighters, and more warning. The carriers replaced a fourth of their light bombers with Marine fighters; back home the training of fighter pilots was stepped up. More combat air patrols circling the big ships, more radar picket ships (which themselves became prime targets), and more attacks on airbases and gasoline supplies eventually worked. Japan suspended Kamikaze attacks in May, because it was now hoarding gasoline and hiding planes in preparation for new suicide attacks if the Yankees dared to invade their home islands. The Kamikaze strategy allowed the use of untrained pilots and obsolete planes, and since evasive maneuvering was dropped and there was no return trip, the scarce gasoline reserves could be stretched further. Since pilots guided their airplane/missile all the way to the target, the proportion of hits was much higher than in ordinary bombing. The deaths were not much higher than Japan's conventional air warfare, and much lower than infantry suffered. Japan's industry was manufacturing 1,500 new planes a month, and old inventory was just as good as new. (Better, because the new planes were full of defects, and often crashed while being delivered.)
Japan's new tactics were amazingly effective, and would have been even more devastating but for a serious flaw--Kamikaze doctrine emphasized heroic individual suicide, and overlooked the necessity of saturating the defenses. In six weeks at Okinawa they sent in 1,900 Kamikazes in waves of 2 to 50 planes, sinking 17 destroyers and 19 smaller ships and damaging 368. Some 4,900 American sailors were killed and another 4,800 wounded. However, only four times did the Japanese send in more than 50 planes at one time. On April 6, 107 Kamikazes sank 4 ships and damaged 19, in the worst American defeat since Pearl Harbor. Against small-scale raids the Hellcats and anti-aircraft guns had the time to shoot down over 90 percent of the attackers. A few giant waves of 100+ attackers might have overwhelmed every American defensive system; most of the Kamikazes probably would have gotten through and could have sunk or badly damaged dozens of ships, with American casualties high in the tens of thousands. The Okinawa invasion might have failed. The puzzle is why Japanese Kamikaze doctrine was not fully developed. The coordination of highly complex multiple attacks (using unskilled pilots) would have been a major challenge which might or might not have succeeded, but it was never even attempted. Perhaps the reason was a bureaucratic obstacle. Most air commanders detested the new Kamikaze doctrine because it spelled the imminent end of their air forces; they were reluctant to release the necessary planes, pilots and irreplaceable gasoline reserves. Japanese intelligence failed, for Tokyo kept getting reports every few days that nearly all the American ships had been sunk--again and again! Psychology was a factor as well. The emphasis on ritual suicide for personal and national honor distracted from systematic planning and organization. The volunteers seemed willing enough if there was a reasonable chance of success, but repeated failures gave the lie to the stories about smashing victories, and soon eroded away their esprit. They were in practice not quite so willing to die for their Emperor.
--Howard C. Berkowitz 09:19, 25 June 2010 (UTC)