What United States officers and enlisted men, under
fire in the Southwest Pacific, think about Japanese
methods of warfare as used against them during the
past few months is revealed in individual interviews
given below. The names and units of the men are withheld.
For the convenience of the reader, the quotations
are arranged roughly according to subject matter, and
repetition has largely been eliminated.
2. GENERAL TACTICS
The Japanese method of fighting is comparable to ju jitsu. They
count heavily on surprise and deception, endeavoring to
strike suddenly where we do not expect it, and when we are not
ready.... They avoid, if at all possible, the slugging
match where weight of numbers and fire power count. They
stress the principles of surprise and mobility at the expense of
the principles of mass. With these tactics, the Japs have been
able to use surprisingly small forces throughout the campaigns
of this war to gain their objectives.
.... The individual Japanese hates the war and fears
death as much as the average Occidental. Faced by a resolute
man with a bayonet, Japanese have not stood up as well as their
doctrines preach. Units have broken when involved in situations
where they were outmaneuvered or outfought.
.... Constant practice has most probably made it possible
for the Japanese to omit, in their orders for landing operations,
considerable details concerning such things as missions to be
carried out immediately after landing, successive objectives, frontages
and boundaries between units, security measures, communications,
and so on.... The Japanese commanding officer
does not commit his forces to a definite plan of action until he
has had an opportunity to estimate the situation on the ground
as it confronts his troops. Also, this is in keeping with the Japanese
policy of allowing subordinates to use full initiative and take
independent action as the situation requires.
There are definite advantages in this, and great weaknesses,
chiefly those of loss of coordination and breakdown of control,
should the commanding officer become a casualty or otherwise fail
to exert control. Independent action by subordinates is apt to
lead to piecemeal attacks and commitment of the whole unit in a
manner not advantageous for the unit, but it does instill in the
subordinate the habit of acting without orders when the situation
requires. This prevents the breakdown of the entire operation
when higher control is lost.
.... One gets the impression that the perfect Japanese
solution to a tactical problem is a neatly performed stratagem,
followed by an encirclement or a flanking attack driven home
with the bayonet. This allows the commanders to demonstrate
their ability, and the men to show their courage and ferocity in
hand-to-hand fighting. The Japanese plans are a mixture of
military artistry and vainglorious audacity.
.... Bulldog tenacity in carrying out a mission, even to
annihilation, will very frequently give a most erroneous
impression of the Japanese strength and will often result
in small forces overcoming larger ones, as their units are
not rendered ineffective until they are nearly all casualties....
After the recent Milne Bay action, in which my organization
was very actively engaged, I reached the following conclusions:
(a) Any fear or doubt concerning their own ability which our
personnel may have developed, as a result of the spectacular
Japanese land conquests during the past 9 months, is gone and
forgotten now. Especially in anything like open terrain, where
the Jap cannot rely on his many "jungle tricks," he is no match
for either the United States or Australian soldier.
(b) The fact that the men have now been able to see, in actual
combat, the marked superiority of our weapons as compared to
those of the Japanese, has of course given them a great deal more
confidence, and the feeling that they have a definite advantage
over our enemy.
(c) The 50-caliber machine gun proved itself the outstanding
single weapon in stopping the Japanese attack. It was very demoralizing
to them, and they had nothing with which to meet its fire effectively.
(d) The continuous strafing and bombing attacks to which the
Japs were subjected during all daylight hours would have been
justified, even if no casualties had resulted. Aside from the damages,
the presence of our planes apparently demoralized and disorganized
the enemy to a very great extent.
3. ATTACK TECHNIQUES
The Japanese approach march on Guadalcanal was almost invariably
made in close formation along terrain features, such as ridges....
The enemy usually attacks on a narrow front, rarely over 300 yards--some
units have penetrated a gap of only 15 yards in
width. The first element or wave of an attack is a silent group
armed with bayonets, hand grenades, and wire cutters. This is
followed by an echelon which deliberately makes noises for the
purpose of confusing our troops.
When the Japanese infiltrate through our lines, they expect
and intend that we will then fall back.
The Japanese fire high. Our experience is that only 10 percent of
our wounds are below the knee, 20 percent are below the hips, and
the balance are body wounds. Bullet sears on trees are
mostly 2 1/2 feet above the ground.
When the Japanese met our line of skirmishers (in New Guinea) they
fired all their machine guns into the tree tops above
our men. As soon as this fire was countered by our machine guns,
their mortars opened up on our machine-gun positions.
On several occasions, when our line of skirmishers was met, large
numbers of Japanese ran forward and were met by a withering machine-gun
fire. They immediately turned and fled. Our men, with the
usual cry of "After the -------" rushed after them with fixed
bayonets. Immediately, the fleeing Japanese threw themselves on the
ground and our fellows ran into machine-gun fire from the Japanese rear.
In the Milne Bay area, the Japanese plan was to advance and
attack during the night and then to withdraw during the daytime,
leaving dozens of their men at the top of coconut palms, and
in the jungle, with machine guns and Tommy guns. As our
forces advanced the next day, they were harassed by these remnants.
Often the Japanese were tied in the tops of palm trees
and remained there after they were shot.
(Comment: The Japanese policy of advancing at night and
hiding during the day may have been dictated on the spot by
the constant strafing and reconnaissance by our aircraft.)
.... Although the state of Japanese morale (on Guadalcanal) varied
a good deal with different units, as a whole they
had been softened up in morale and shortened in supply before
their withdrawal.... In the early stages at Guadalcanal
after Jap reinforcements had landed, they were confident that
our forces would surrender. Subsequent events shook them a
great deal, and they had a "relapse" as a result of defeats, losses,
diseases, poor supply, and failure to properly reorganize broken
and defeated units.
.... The Jap soldier is determined and persistent, and
especially tough if our forces show any signs of breaking. Whenever
the Jap is met with courage and suffers losses, he loses most
of his dash, although he will keep trying.
Our Marines do not consider the Jap a particularly tough opponent
when met on anything approximating even terms. When
cornered and hard put, the Japs very often get into a panic,
and show as much fear as any other soldiers under similar circumstances.
There is evidence that some units (Japanese) are practically
ostracized if they suffer defeat. Marines have come upon these
units, found living apart from the rest of the troops, and apparently
not having any contact or supply. It is not known how
much of this is due to Jap psychology, and how much is due to
the inability of broken units to secure a portion of the limited
supplies of more fortunate units. A great many Japs are wandering
around in small bands, which are continually being killed off
both by our own and native patrols. These broken units apparently
do not reorganize well with other units, and within the
defeated unit itself there appears to be no organization whatever. Starvation
is common among those who are separated from the
main forces. They remain deceptive and cunning, however, and
many of them will walk into certain death in order to get a shot
at our troops.
Japanese prisoners talk freely, as a rule, and are truthful.
They know about heavy Japanese losses (in this area); it has
affected the air force in particular. For instance, they say that
the "left wing" man of a formation rarely returns, and pilots
prefer not to fly in this position. Pilots and crews consider
Henderson Field a bad place to attack, expect heavy losses, and
say that the antiaircraft set-up is tough....
The Japs on Guadalcanal did not make as good use of their
artillery as they might, and they seemed to work upon the
principle of the single gun rather than concentrated battery support....
There were a great percentage of duds in the Jap artillery ammunition.... Gun
positions were hard to locate because they were well concealed in the jungle....
There have been several puzzling examples of the Japs' apparent
disregard for their own artillery. In one case, the Marines
captured four new guns and a large quantity of ammunition
within 300 yards of Henderson Field. The guns were in position
to fire upon the field but had never been fired, and not a Jap was
in the vicinity when the guns were taken.
The Japanese powder produces less flash and smoke than
ours. (Comment: Recent U.S. Ordnance tests proved that the
Japanese powder itself produces as much smoke and flash as
ours. However, the Japanese rifle has a smaller caliber, a smaller
charge, a longer barrel, and a lower muzzle velocity than ours; these
factors, which make combustion more complete, tend to reduce
smoke and flash.)
7. DEFENSE TACTICS
The Japanese system of defense is based on maneuver, stressing
to the limit the necessity of striking back when the attackers are
disorganized, even to the extent of hitting them while they are
deploying for the attack. It seems remarkable that the Japanese
should indicate that the way to cope with our greater fire power
is to increase the size of their reserves at the expense of
their front-line defenses.
The Japanese counterattacks are not primarily aimed merely
at driving the enemy out of areas he has taken, but rather at
striking him in such a manner that the initiative passes to the
Japanese and decisive results are gained. The Japanese do not
intend to whittle down the attacks by a strong defense, until
the attack bogs down. They plan on giving with the blow and
hitting back suddenly and decisively when the attacker has become
disorganized by his own penetration.
To the Japanese military, tactics is an art, with decisions gained
by skill, not by sheer power. Their policy for the use of maneuver
may appear to lead toward complicated evolutions. Training
and the delegation to subordinates of the initiative for independent
action are most probably the factors that make such
b. In the Buna Area
The first highly organized Japanese defense positions encountered
by U.S. troops in the present war were in the New Guinea
area. American observers considered the positions very strong,
despite the fact that the area is low and practically level.
The positions consisted of bunkers and trenches, which were
never over 3 to 4 feet deep because the water level is
approximately 5 feet below the surface of the ground.
Because of the sandy soil, the trenches were only about 1 foot wide
at the bottom and 4 1/2 to 5 feet wide at the top. The bunkers
were built of logs and dirt. Narrow slits were made for machine-gun fire.
The trench systems, or defense areas, were arranged in sections
which permitted excellent fields of fire to the front and both
flanks. To facilitate this, the flank trenches were constructed
at an angle of about 40° to 45° to the front. Each defense area,
accommodating not more than a platoon, had four separate dugouts.
A large portion of the trenches was covered with a mixture
of coconut palm logs and dirt which was 8 to 10 inches thick.
Coconut logs are tough and do not splinter much. This protective
cover was strong enough to resist direct hits of all our weapons
of less than 88-mm caliber. (The British 25-pounder gun-howitzer
is 88 mm.)
The defensive area consisted of jungle, open spaces covered with
high grass, and coconut groves, which had a high grassy undergrowth.
Both light and heavy machine guns were used extensively by
the Japanese, who seemed to have plenty of ammunition.