First of all I want to make it clear that we're not speaking about terrorist attacks here. This question is strictly dedicated to war operations, in a dictionary meaning.

Also this question is about all the history of military conflicts, not only World War II.

Surely everybody heard about suicide missions of kamikaze, Imperial Japanese Army Air Service suicide plane attacks against American warships during World War II. Around 4000 sacrificed aviators succeeded to destroy at least 47 ships and damage 300 of them. Similar conceptions in the Empire of Japan were Shinyo suicide boats, Kaiten submarines and Fukuryu suicide divers.

But this strategy wasn't used only by Japanese military forces. Also Luftwaffe used it in the closing stage of the war. From 17 April until 20 April 1945 (during the Battle of Berlin) 35 pilots of the Leonidas Squadron flew suicide sorties against bridges at the Oder river, which now is a borderline between Germany and Poland.

I'm also aware of the already asked question Is there a written history on the Sonderkommando Elbe? regarding the similarities of that Luftwaffe unit, used against American bombers, with the difference that the aviators were expected to bail out just before colliding.

The question is, are there any other examples of organizing intentional suicide attacks in a theater of war?

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    I think the scope of the question is difficult. I think that every "forlorn hope" is within the scope of your question, as is every squad detached to hold a hopless position and grant the rest of the unit time to retreat, and every man who throws himself on a grenade. Some would claim that serving aboard a destroyer is within scope. (According to the Carrier Air Wing, the only purpose for destroyers is to act as floating armor for the carrier). Much as I hate to admit it, there isn't a clear distinction between heroism and self-sacrifice.
    – MCW
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 18:50
  • Citations please: "This question is strictly dedicated to war, in the most common sense of this word." Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 19:20
  • Samuel what do you mean by citations? That I should provide a definition of war from dictionary? I believe it's quite easy to differ war operations from terrorist acts. But I'll do that. Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 19:24
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    As a small comment, if you restrict this to vehicles only, you would have a VERY small window of time, between when the planes or vehicles became powerful enough to be able to do enough mass damage to make the attack worth bothering with and fast enough to make it plausible; and the time where control systems evolved to the point that human controller was no longer necessary for a missile and other weapons became dangerous, powerful and effective enough than a car full of explosives didn't really have much benefit over a rocket battery on a battlefield.
    – DVK
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 2:56
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    Your "war" is my "civil conflict" is his "terrorist incident". Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 3:32

4 Answers 4


In the struggle for the Pacific Islands, Japanese infantry launched nocturnal "Banzai" bayonet attacks on the Americans that were basically suicidal. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banzai_charge In the battle for Okinawa, the "superbattleship" Yamato was given enough fuel for a one-way trip (from Japan), and expected to sink as many American ships has possible, but not return. (She was sunk by American planes before reaching Okinawa.)

At the battle of Masada, the outnumbered and outweaponed Israeli defenders elected to follow a "scorched earth" policy, including taking each others' lives, rather than to surrender to the Romans. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Masada

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    Massada was not a suicide attack, the defenders killed each other cleanly and quickly rather than be subjected to torture when inevitably captured and treated as enemies of Rome tended to be treated, which was none too gently. This was done by lot, the last man standing killing himself, thus committing the gravest of sins, putting his soul in peril (not sure how the Torah handles this, but that's the gist of it).
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 14:53
  • @jwenting: It wasn't an attack. But it was a military "suicide," which makes it striking in history.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 23:08
  • most of the people involved were civilians, making it even more striking :)
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 6:54
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    @jwenting: They drank the Kool-Aid, as others have in the past, and others still will do so again in the future. That's not battle. Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 0:07
  • Only two out of three examples mentioned in this answer come with references and they are both "wrong", i.e., they do not answer the question. The one example that sounds right gives no reference. Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 13:20

Shtrafbat were Soviet penal battalions used in the Eastern Front of World War II.

One form of Shtrafbat were tramplers. From Wikipedia:

Smaller battalions were established out of the infantry units to clear minefields as 'tramplers' - unarmed men who ran through the minefields ("trampled") ahead of regular assault forces to detonate land mines. The worst of all the penal battalion assignments, the tramplers were prepared for their grisly suicide missions by being heavily fortified with vodka rations by their leaders before attacks. Trampler battalions were assembled from the penal infantry units for major attacks and were usually wiped out to the last man, with their mangled bodies reportedly "marking the safe passage corridor of the late-war Red Army through any minefield".

Technically, tramplers weren't attacking the enemy, but they assisted others attacking the enemy.

A similar tactic was reportedly used by Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. Again, from Wikipedia

During the Iran-Iraq War hundreds of thousands volunteered for the Basij, including children as young as 12 and unemployed old men, some in their eighties. These volunteers were swept up in Shi'i love of martyrdom and the atmosphere of patriotism of the war mobilization. They were encouraged through visits to the schools and an intensive media campaign. The Basij may best be known for their employment human wave attacks which cleared minefields or draw the enemy's fire. It is estimated that tens of thousands were killed in the process. Some reports have the Basiji marching into battle marking their expected entry to heaven by wearing plastic "keys to paradise" around their necks.

  • Also "suicide" but not "suicide attacks". But then, where do you draw the line? Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 9:46
  • @LennartRegebro their actions helped obtain a military objective.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 10:15
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    Right, which is why I think the question is problematic, because what is counted as suicide attack is completely subjective, when even non-attacks and non-suicides (see other answers) can be counted. As well, clearly, as murder of unarmed people, which really your first example is about. Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 10:22

It has been said that during the Iran/Iraq war, Iran organized corps of volunteers whose job was to walk through Iraqi minefields and essentially clear the mines with their own bodies.

I'm not entirely sure how well established that is. However, it is fairly well documented that Iran would organize human-wave attacks, which are by their nature essentially suicidal for all but a perhaps a lucky few of the participants.

Human wave attacks in general are not an uncommon tactic in warfare, though. The storming of the beaches in Normandy was essentially a suicidal endevor for the first wave of units off the boats. The same can easily be said for the Zulu attacks at Rourke's Drift, the North Vietnamese at Hill 488, the torpedo aircraft attacks on the Japanese fleet at Midway, or pretty much the first wave of any attack against any fortified position in history.

  • Don't confuse the debacle of Omaha Beach with the entirety of D-Day. Canadian casualties on Juno Beach were less than 1,000 total for the entire day: 340 dead, 574 wounded, 34 captured. Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 3:30

The Battle of the Long Sault

While the historiography gives many conflicting details and claims without sources (Some historians said...), I refer to the writings by contemporary witness Pierre-Esprit Radisson.

According to him the French settlements got intel from trappers, mountainman and friendly Indians that the Iroquois were preparing one massive assault on the french settlements which were allied with the Hurons and Algonquin. Approximately 1000 warriors were moving in to assault the settlements and burn them to the ground.

Adam Dollard des Ormeaux made the desperate decision to move against the Iroquois with only 17 of voluntary militia. He absolutely knew that it was a suicide mission, but he intended to inflict such heavy losses that the Iroquois would think twice to continue the attack on the settlements which had more weapons and men available. Every volunteer sweared to God that he would not give up and fight until the bitter end. For this reason Dollard had much more muskets and gunpowder than a normal hunting party and also grape shot. The allied Hurons were also an important factor that the numerical superiority was not so overwhelming.

The Wikipedia article is silent why such a small force was capable to hold off 200 Iroquois warriors for several days. The Iroquois were used to ambush the enemy party once they fired their muskets because the reloading time was slow. Their problem was that Dollard had three muskets available for each shooter and each shooter had one reloader who was reloading the muskets as fast as possible, so they were able to repel the attacks and inflict heavy losses. After a backup of 500 warriors arrived and started a human wave attack, the defenders switched to grapeshot and inflicted horrible losses.

While they finally succumbed, Dollard was successful: His strategy inflicted such losses that the Iroquois give up to attack the settlements.

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