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"The Burma Campaign" from Intelligence Bulletin, November 1942

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on Japanese tactics in the Burma Campaign was published in the Intelligence Bulletin, November 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



a. The Individual

The Japanese soldier and junior officer were excellently trained for their tasks. Assisted by native Burmese, they showed great initiative and ability to move fast, even over difficult terrain.

The Japanese soldier believes that it would be a disgrace to his family for him to be captured in battle. His religion--which is based on ancestor worship--teaches that it is a high honor and privilege for him to die for his emperor. These beliefs were vividly demonstrated during the Burma Campaign. Japanese, wounded to the point where they could not offer effective resistance, dropped to the ground to be killed rather than surrender--often they begged to be killed. Wounded men were sometimes killed by their comrades in order to escape capture.

The Japanese were unusually fearful of mortar and artillery shells. Although the Japanese 4-inch mortar had a greater range than the British 3-inch mortar, the Japanese mortar crews time and again fled or sought new positions when fired at by the British.

b. Shock Troops

These troops are carefully selected and usually are noticeably superior to the troops which follow them. The Japanese soldiers selected to infiltrate around the British flanks and to the rear were drawn from the ranks of the shock troops, and, in actuality, performed shock-troop missions. They were well educated, many being able to speak foreign languages.

The equipment of the shock troops included light machine guns, 2-inch mortars, grenades, compasses, and maps.

These troops used tracer bullets to indicate British positions, especially mortars and machine guns, to the heavier Japanese supporting arms. They were very successful in infiltrating into villages and quickly losing themselves in the mass of cover available. These Japs often knocked small holes in the roofs of houses, and--supporting themselves on the rafters of the roofs--shot at opposing troops. They also fired from slit trenches under houses, as well as from culverts, bridges, bamboo clumps, rice dumps, and other hiding places.

c. Use of Weapons

(1) Machine guns.--Medium machine guns were used in pairs, with only one gun firing at a time. The second gun took up the firing while the first was replacing its cartridge strip, thus maintaining continuous fire.

(2) Mortars.--Besides the 2-inch mortar carried by shock troops, the Japanese used a 4-inch mortar effectively. This weapon was quickly brought up to the firing line after first contacts were made, and its accurate fire caused major casualties in several instances to the opposing troops. The Japanese avoided placing the mortar on the edge of woods or jungle, but put it some distance into these areas—sometimes as far as 600 yards. The observation post for the mortar was usually well forward. The fire probably was controlled by radio or telephone.

(3) Artillery.--Japanese artillery was not very efficient in searching out new positions of defending troops. Gunners were usually content to shell old and empty positions, not bothering to search for alternative ones.

d. Observation

Japanese observation posts were able to spot movements of opposing infantry at distances of 4 to 6 miles. This suggests that they are equipped with the scissors-type rangefinder, which is considered superior, when used as field glasses, to the rangefinder employed by defending troops in Burma.

Japanese planes usually were not in the air after 1700 hours (5 p.m.); therefore British forces were able to move about without detection from the air until about 0700 hours (7 a.m. the next day).

e. Road Blocks

The Japanese always located their road blocks at points where the roads pass through dense jungle or embankments. The actual blocks or barricades were almost always placed in bends of the roads and thus concealed from frontal observation except for short distances. These positions were strongly covered by well-placed mortars, antitank guns, and machine guns. Sometimes the positions were multiple affairs--at Shwedaung, five barricades blocked one road. In country made difficult by jungle, the areas defended on either side of the road blocks usually did not extend very far back from the roads.

f. Night Operations

Japanese night attacks generally were started at about 1900 hours (just before or after dark). They used very few scouts in their night movements, and they were careless with motor transports--for instance, the normal headlights of trucks were on as they moved.

During the latter stages of the campaign, the Japanese moved almost entirely at night and rested during the day. During these rest periods their local protection was poor, and they were easily surprised.

g. Fifth Column

Fifth Columnists probably were more numerous and active in Burma than in any other country involved in the present war. They sometimes were used by the Japanese as a screen for advancing troops, sending back information on defending forces as they moved from place to place. Any ambush set to trap the Japanese usually was given away by these Fifth Columnists.


a. General

The Japanese in most instances had a larger number of troops than the British. With the exception of tanks, they also usually had more equipment.

b. Specific

(1) Patrols.--Lack of cavalry forced the British to use infantry troops almost exclusively for reconnaissance and security. Sometimes these troops had to go as far as 15 miles ahead of the main forces. As a result, they often were too exhausted to fight effectively, and their loss greatly lowered the capabilities of the infantry combat units.

(2) Cavalry.--Most of the terrain in Burma is ideally suited for the use of mounted cavalry. Small local ponies are better than our American cavalry horses. The cavalry equipment should include a high proportion of light machine guns and Tommy guns.

(3) Transportation.--The British had severe transport problems, particularly because of a shortage of ferry boats and railroad personnel (nearly all native railroad personnel fled from their jobs when the Japanese entered Burma).

The American jeeps proved ideal vehicles for commanders, liaison officers, and persons carrying orders, and for transporting machine guns and mortars.

Destruction of abandoned vehicles by the defending forces was not carried out on a thorough scale.

(4) Artillery.--Some British units found that four guns to a battery were better than six because they are easier handled.

(5) Slit trenches.--These proved very effective except for direct hits or when bombs hit tree tops near the trenches.


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