# How many suicide attack (kamikaze) pilots died and how many of them successfully hit ships during World War II?

Wikipedia cites two different accounts that give different estimates:

During World War II, about 3,860 kamikaze pilots died, and about 19% of kamikaze attacks managed to hit a ship. Zaloga, "Kamikaze: Japanese Special Attack Weapons"

Approximately 2,800 Kamikaze attackers sank 34 Navy ships, damaged 368 others, killed 4,900 sailors, and wounded over 4,800. Despite radar detection and cuing, airborne interception, attrition, and massive anti-aircraft barrages, 14 percent of Kamikazes survived to score a hit on a ship; nearly 8.5 percent of all ships hit by Kamikazes sank.

Which estimate is more reliable? Are there any other estimates available?

How many Japanese suicide bomber pilots died and how many of them successfully hit ships during WWII? (according to the most widely accepted estimate)

• You'll always get variations in these numbers because not every estimate is using the same metric. For example, is a "kamikaze pilot" only a member of one of the special attack units or any member of the Japanese airforce who ended his mission with a suicide attack? If a pilot is forced to return to base with a mechanical failure does his mission count as an attack? If the choices for these types of questions differ between estimates then the estimates themselves will vary. However, this variation is not a direct reflection of their "reliability". – KillingTime Nov 1 '16 at 11:45
• I don't think those numbers necessarily contradict each other. It would make for an interesting math word problem. – T.E.D. Nov 1 '16 at 13:37
• The second quote is at least internally consistent: 14% of 2,800 is about 400, and 34+368 is 402. The first quote gives a bigger number of attacks (3,860) and a higher rate of hits (19%), which would imply about 730-740 ships hit. So not a trivial difference. I would in principle tend to believe the USAF, for I suppose that keeping a count of your own ships isn't that much difficult. Unless there is some political motivation to deflate the casualties (but this is not what I gather from the tone of the text, which seems to be quite superlative on the issue). – Luís Henrique Nov 1 '16 at 17:19
• @LuísHenrique - Presumably in the second they are just reporting the attackers that got through and did damage, not the ones shot down or who missed. Also, "kamakazi attacks" and "kamakazi attackers" could well be completely different things with different numbers. Its really tough to say without analyzing their exact raw data sources. – T.E.D. Nov 1 '16 at 18:05
• Here is a link that I think sums up how difficult this is to answer. It cites 10 different reputable sources with 10 different numbers. civilianmilitaryintelligencegroup.com/18474/… – EvanM Feb 15 '17 at 4:43

Question: How many Japanese suicide bomber pilots died and how many of them successfully hit ships during WWII? (according to the most widely accepted estimate)

Widely accepted depends upon your perspective. The numbers aren't precise because many Kamikaze pilots were shot down by enemy air cover, or AA fire before ever making a run at an enemy ship. Those still appear on Japanese statistics, but would not appear on enemy statistics. The other way around, some attacks occurred spontanously by Japanese pilots committing the ultimate sacrifice opportunistically. These attacks might be under represented on Japanese statistics but would likely appear on US statistics.

From U.S. perspective there were 944 attacks, 31% hit American Ships. Of those which hit American Ships 15% sank their American Targets. (Roughly 4.77% of the suicide attacks sank it's target). However that doesn't tell the entire story. A more accurate picture would also note that no capital America ship was sank by suicide attacks in WWII. The vast majority of ships sank by Kamikaze attacks were smaller vessels. Landing craft, aux landing ship, and destroyers.

Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Story by Hatsuho Naito
Altogether, 3,913 Japanese kamikaze pilots died in the "special attack" missions against US and Allied forces during the war. Of these, 2,525 were navy men, most of whom were between the ages of 18 and 20. Some of them were 17. The remaining 1,388 were army pilots, most of them aged between 18 and 24. There are no accurate records of how many Japanese servicemen died in individual, spontaneous suicide attacks during the war, but the number was apparently significant."

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Suicide Tactics: The Kamikaze During WWII By Gerald W. Thomas, VT-4
Although there may be some question about the exact numbers, the damage done by Kamikazes is almost unbelievable. And the losses would have doubled or tripled if the invasion of the Japanese mainland had been required for surrender. All indications are that suicide tactics would have been an important part of the final Japanese defense.

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Japanese Special Attack Damage Inflicted on Allied Navies by Ship Type
*Special Attacks means Kamakazi

`Ship              Attacks Hits %Hits Sinkings %Sinking Hits`
`Battleships       37.     12.  32%.  0.       0%.          `
`Cruisers          42.     15.  35%.  0.       0%.          `
`Fleet Carriers    30.     10.  33%.  0.       0%.          `
`Light Carriers    10.     2.   20%.  0.       0%.          `
`Escort Carriers   39.     15.  33%.  2.       13%.         `
`Destroyers       303.     92.  30%.  12.      13%.         `
`Aux Landing Ship 428.     121. 28%.  25.      20%.         `
`Transports        55.     29.  52%.  6.       20%.         `
`Totals            944.    296. 31%.  45.      15%.         `

Effectiveness of Japanese Conventional and Special Attacks Against Allied Aircraft Carriers

`Method        %Damage      Avg Weeks Repair.     Avg Wks Out`
`Dive Bombing.  40%         0.3                   0.7.       `
`Sub Torpedo.   100%.       10                    12.4.      `
`Air Torpedo.   100%.       10                    17.5       `
`Air Special.   70%.        1.8                   4.3.       `

And if you're interested: Japanese Special Attack Aircraft Sorties During the Okinawa Campaign

Source: Steven Zaloga, Kamikaze: Japanese Special Attack Weapons 1944-45