A suicide mission is a military operation in which few, if any, of the participants are expected to survive the mission. These are not to be confused with kamikaze attacks used by the Japanese during WWII, as the participants will certainly try to survive, even if they are unlikely to succeed.
In most cases, these missions have a goal that is important enough that achieving it is considered worth the loss of the personnel assigned to the mission. Given the low chance of survival, it is common to ask for volunteers to participate in the mission. It is an unfortunate nature of the missions themselves that they often require the very best personnel in order to be completed successfully.
As it is expected that the personnel assigned will not return, the mission plans often do not include a plan for extracting the personnel, but most missions will at least have a contingency plan for their survival and rescue.
The best historical example of a suicide mission would be the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo during WWII. This called for sixteen B-25 bombers to take off from an aircraft carrier and drop their bombs on targets in and around Tokyo. The planes were not capable of landing on a carrier, and the US controlled no airfields within range of Tokyo, so they had to fly on west after dropping their bombs and hope to find safe places to land in China or Russia. Fifteen of the planes crash landed in China and one landed at a Russian airfield in Vladivostok. Of the 80 crewmen who flew the mission, 69 eventually returned safely, although most were captives for some time, and three captives were executed by Japanese forces occupying China.
Suicide Missions in Fiction
- The attack on the Collectors in Mass Effect 2 was considered a suicide mission, and even literally called that.
- Frodo's journey into Mordor to destroy the Ring in The Lord of the Rings was considered a suicide mission.
- A suicide mission is the entire plot of the movie, The Guns of Navarone.
- The mission to destroy the shield generator in Return of the Jedi is easily a suicide mission.
- The DC Comics series Suicide Squad is completely built around this concept.
- Han Solo, at least, thought the attack on the Death Star was a suicide mission.