The comments carried in this section are made by observers who have been
in the Southwest Pacific theater of operations, and by officers and
enlisted men who have participated in the actual fighting. The comments
have been edited to eliminate repetition and, as far as possible, to
arrange the information according to subject matter.
2. THE JAPANESE SOLDIER
In my opinion, the Japanese soldier is a well-trained, well-equipped, and
well-disciplined fighting man. He is in good physical condition, is infinitely
patient, and shows a sacrificial devotion to duty. The Japanese is only a
fair small-arms shot, but is proficient in the use of mortars and
artillery. He uses large quantities of hand grenades.
Japanese soldiers have been trained to create fear in the hearts of their
opponents, and they exploit to the utmost the advantage gained
thereby. Although they prefer to conduct the offensive on a dark
night or just at dawn, they have fallen far short of mastering the
technique of night fighting.
The individual soldier is an expert camoufleur, well-trained
in the most effective use of natural camouflage materials. He
does a large amount of close-in fighting, but is not exceptionally
proficient in the use of the bayonet or in hand-to-hand combat. He
is not endowed with superhuman qualities.
The greatest weakness of the Japanese fighting man is his
inability to cope effectively with unexpected situations. Although
he is a very efficient cog in a war machine and follows a definite
plan even to minute details, he is sorely lacking in resourcefulness
and ready adaptability to rapidly changing situations. No
amount of training can remedy this defect of the Japanese
soldier; it is an inherent weakness which is at least partly the
result of having led a closely regimented life in which free thinking
and individual initiative have been discouraged. This weakness
is apparent both in offensive and defensive situations.
When attacking, the Japanese soldier makes extensive use of
weird, piercing shrieks and of threatening cries such as "Marine,
you die!" The obvious intent of this practice is to demoralize
his opponent and also to boost his own morale. The result
expected is a disorderly, confused flight to the rear. When,
however, the Japanese soldier's opponent holds his ground unwaveringly,
even in the face of heavy casualties, the Jap himself
becomes disorganized and confused, and is then quite vulnerable
to a counterattack. If, after being repulsed in the
initial attack, he decides to try again, he will probably employ
The Japanese's well established custom of preparing his evening
meal just at dusk and his morning meal at dawn offers an
opportunity for catching him in known bivouac areas with concentrated
Our troops should understand that the Japanese is no better
able to go without food than we are, that his stamina is no
better than our own (provided we have taken the necessary
steps to insure top physical condition), that the Jap gets just
as wet when it rains, and that he suffers just as much, if not
more, from malaria, dysentery, dengue, ringworm, and other
forms of tropical ills. This has been amply borne out by the
condition of prisoners captured in this area, and by the finding
of dead who had literally starved to death.
To the Japanese, machines of war--from the heavy machine guns
to the tank--are only incidentals in warfare. We Americans
realize that the infantry must perform the tasks of actually
taking over the ground and holding it, but we use every available
machine of war to prevent unnecessary losses. In contrast,
the Japanese do not conceive of substituting the shock action of
war machines for the shock action of infantry, and they merely
strengthen the shock action of troops by the assistance of the
machines. The Japanese Army is an army of men, supported
by machines of war; ours is an army using machines of war.
This is a fine distinction and perhaps not readily understood, but
every statement of Japanese military policy bears this out.
A Japanese who has not tasted defeat will attack with a dash
and a magnificent disregard for himself. When he has been
set back on his heels, just once, he loses that zip and comes back
without confidence and impelled by a morbid feeling toward
death that might be worded as "Come on, let's get it over with."
He has found himself up against things he can't understand: For
example, the way we use artillery (the Chinese never used
it against him like that, and he doesn't know what to do about
it); the fact that we prefer to sit back and stop him with well
aimed rifle and machine-gun fire, and not fight it out with the
bayonet; the fact that when we meet him with a bayonet we
don't break and run; and, above all, the fact that his basic
idea--that skill, bravery, and cold steel alone will
win the war--is wrong.
a. During the Day
On gaining contact along a road or trail in jungle country, Japanese
forces in New Guinea usually followed a certain pattern of tactics.
First, the commander rapidly advanced specially selected, trained, and
equipped troops, who corresponded to our advance guard.
When these forward troops gained contact with the opposition, they
took up a position astride the road or track and endeavored
to pin down the opposing forces with the support of machine
guns and mortar fire.
Next, these forward troops used various ruses and demonstrations
in an attempt to scare the opposition into a withdrawal, or
into revealing the strength, extent, and location of their
position by premature movement and firing.
If our troops did not withdraw, Japanese elements in rear
of their forward group tried to by-pass our positions by infiltrating
or stalking around one or both flanks as speedily as possible.
A stalk is carried out by a chain of men moving by a series
of sidesteps. The sidesteps are made quickly, and, between
steps, bodies are motionless as statues and eyes are glued
on the objective. Fire is opened only when a target is seen.
These forward Japanese groups can usually be easily disposed
of if our troops withhold their fire until a suitable target presents
itself. There are numerous instances when Japanese advance
elements were permitted to pass by and the larger rear elements
were accounted for by rifle or machine-gun fire.
Upon first contact (in New Guinea), the Japanese would site
a machine gun behind cover and fire along the track or road. This
gun usually was well protected by riflemen and difficult to
dislodge. The primary mission of this group was to protect
and aid the advances of their forward group, but they periodically
tested the strength and location of their opposition by feints
and by deliberate attack.
They made feints and rapid advances, affording just fleeting
glimpses, in order to draw the fire of our troops and thus determine
our location and strength. By firing at these fleeting
targets, our troops would immediately draw a heavy return fire
by a group which was placed for that purpose.
To test the possibility of further advance, the Japanese would
send men forward along the track or road under cover of fire
from rifles, machine guns, and mortars. They placed much confidence
in the effect of sound and apparently did considerable
firing for this reason.
If the Japanese fail in their first attempt on a position, they
seem to bring their forward lines right up to within 50 yards of
ours wherever possible. (Hence the importance of being able to dig in.)
In many instances, the Japanese have not hesitated to send
troop elements into areas where it was next to impossible to secure
their return or even to supply them. As a result, some of
the deep infiltrations of their troops have failed because of food
Unless fields of fire have been cut, it is almost impossible to
stop Japanese infiltration through jungle.
If you are assigned to do some sniping, you should first seek
concealment and then a field of fire. The Japanese does exactly
that. Whenever one of the sniper trees is at the end of a little
lane or clear strip in the jungle, look out. The turn of a
trail, or the turn of a dry stream bed are ideal spots for snipers.
The Japanese have two favorite maneuvers. The first is an
envelopment over "impassable" terrain by which he hopes to
force the opposition to withdraw because of threats on one or
both flanks. Little actual fighting is anticipated. (Their actual
attack is usually made on a very narrow front, and, as a
consequence, in great depth; this makes them particularly
vulnerable to artillery fire.)
Their second favorite maneuver is what has been called
a "filleting" attack. It is like filleting a fish--removing
the backbone so that the rest can be cut into convenient
pieces. In this type of attack, they rush down an arterial
supply route with tanks, followed by a dense mass of infantry, on
the assumption that, by holding the road and denying us the
use of it, we will be forced to withdraw. If they gain this
end without fighting, they are highly successful, but if
they have to fight they are at a decided disadvantage--not only
are they highly vulnerable to artillery fire (the dense mass, in
depth, with no maneuver space) but, if our troops are up
to it, the Japs are vulnerable to a single or double envelopment.
All Japanese operations indicate the tendency to follow a
set doctrine without the ability to readjust for changing
circumstances. Despite a failure which involved terrific losses, they
have repeated the same operation over and over again without
attempting to figure out something new.
The Japanese bayonet assaults have been reported as a terrifying
attack--but all our units on Guadalcanal loved them. The
Jap practice of singing his Banzai song for about 5 minutes prior
to his assault has simply been a signal for our troops to
load a fresh belt of ammunition in the machine guns, put new
clips in rifles and BAR's, and to call for the Tommy gunners
to get in position.
In their attack on prepared positions the Japanese have used
a more or less standard procedure. Prior to the attack they
make every effort, by reconnaissance and ruses, to determine our
strength and location and a "soft spot."
After the Japanese have selected their point of attack, they
persist in attacking this point in an effort to break
through. Should these efforts fail, they sometimes shift to
another point but usually return to their original point of
attack. Thus, as experience along the
Kokoda Trail (New Guinea) indicates, we should not
appreciably weaken our defense in the sector originally
attacked in order to aid in the defense of some point
In the Japanese attacks along the Kokoda Trail, the following
points were noted:
During their attacks it was not uncommon for the Japanese
to replace their forward troops with fresh forces, a few at a
time. This was done efficiently and without confusion.
When the Japanese were held up, they immediately dug in
for protection. There were slit trenches and foxholes all along
their line of retreat on the Kokoda Trail.
b. At Night
The Japanese selected night-attack objectives by observing our
dispositions at sunset. If they failed to find these objectives
where they expected them to be, they became confused in the
dark because they did not know where to look for us. It would
take the Japs about an hour or two to reorganize--this interval
was the best time to attack them.
In their night attacks, the Japanese sent advance parties
through the dense cover of valleys; they reserved the more open
terrain of the higher ground for the main body to approach and
make the main effort. To cover up the noises made by the
advance parties, the main body purposely made noises as it
Frequently the advance parties cleared away jungle growth
on terrain over which large units were to approach, spreading
luminous paint along the ""blazed" trail as a guide.
a. Enemy Tenacity
It would be impossible to overstress the tenacity with which
the Japanese clung to their prepared positions (in the Buna
area). Ordinary grenades, gun, and mortar fire were completely
ineffective. There were many instances where dugouts
were grenaded inside, covered with gasoline and burned, and
then sealed with dirt and sand, only to yield--two or three days
lateróJapanese, who came out fighting. One souvenir hunter,
entering a dugout that had been sealed for 4 days, was chased
out by a Japanese officer armed with a sword.
b. Enemy Positions
The enemy bunkers and dugouts were constructed of coconut
palm logs, dirt, sand, and sand bags, covered with natural
camouflage. In some instances, pieces of armor plate were set
up. The log-and-dirt bunker construction was done carefully
and strongly. The corner posts were firmly embedded in the
ground, and the horizontal logs neatly and strongly attached
and interwoven. Several alternate layers of logs and earth
were generally used, to give full protection against mortars and
light artillery. Roofs were thick; they were made of alternative
layers which gave excellent protection. No concrete positions
The bunkers were connected to systems of fire and communication
trenches radiating on both sides. In some instances, underground
trenches were constructed. These were used by snipers to
infiltrate into our midst, even after the enemy units had long
been driven from the general ground. Leaves and grass were
well used to camouflage all bunkers. The bunkers had been
planned and built for just this purpose long before the campaign
actually started, and the naturally quick jungle growth, sprouting
up over the earthworks, gave first-class natural camouflage.
The enemy dugout positions were well sited and mutually supporting. It
was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to bypass
any of the positions, each of which had to be reduced in turn.
c. Enemy Tactics
The Japanese is good at organizing ground with automatic
weapons, and usually covers approaches into his position by well
placed, mutually supporting fires. They usually hold their fire
when the first targets appear--they wait for bigger game. They
have allowed platoons, or even companies to infiltrate past their
positions--so they could cut them off from the rear. It must be
recognized, however, that the Jap will seldom leave his position,
even when completely outflanked, and that he must be reached
and killed. However, in spite of his cleverness at concealment and
covering avenues of approach, he seldom, if ever, traverses or
searches with his machine gun, and therein lies the key to his
destruction. He is also prone to organize ravines and reverse
slopes, in direct contrast to our practice of occupying the military
crest of ridge lines.
Imbued with the offensive idea, the Japanese naturally attempts
frequent counterattacks, probably based upon some form
of mobile reserve. "On one occasion," wrote an Australian officer,
"when our attack drove the Jap out, he appeared to become
panicky, running from side to side and firing wildly with
everything he had; however, a short time later our troops were forced
to withdraw by the weight of a counterattack, made by a mobile
force in reserve."
An Australian account of Japanese defensive operations in
the Owen Stanley Mountains of New Guinea says:
The action fought between Myola and Templeton's Crossing
was along a narrow ridge, on the crest of which runs the main
track. The whole length of the ridge is covered by dense jungle, which
in some parts consist mostly of bamboo.
When first contacted, the enemy withdrew up a ridge on which
he had prepared defensive positions. All approaches to the positions
were covered by fire and well camouflaged. Circular, one-man
pits were used by each individual soldier. These pits were
2 to 3 feet across and afforded good protection, especially from
It appears that the Japanese keeps his head down and fires
burst after burst from his machine gun, blindly spraying the area
in front and below his position to create a lot of noise in an attempt
to intimidate the attacker.
Machine-gun posts covering the main track were cunningly
chosen for position and field of fire. Natural camouflage, such
as the butt of a large rotting tree with flanged roots, or a small
natural ridge beside the track, were used to advantage. The
positions were well sited for all-around protection.
The Japanese used medium and light machine guns as their
main defense; a few riflemen moved to points of vantage as our
troops went forward. Hand and discharger grenades were used
The Japanese likes to move his light machine gun or medium
machine gun from place to place during the day. One of our
officers, after a reconnaissance, was quite certain that there was
no automatic weapon in one position, but when we attacked, shortly
afterwards a machine gun opened up at the first indication
of movement by our troops.
d. On Makin Island
In their raid on Makin Island, U.S. Marine troops encountered
a force of about 90 Japanese soldiers plus about 100 Japanese
The Japanese set-up consisted of two main positions, a number
of lookout points, and a mobile reserve, which moved on bicycles
and in a truck.
One of the main positions was along the edge of the beach on
the south side. It consisted of a shallow trench with barbed-wire
obstacles to the front.
The other main defense position extended across the island, facing
the east. It included a fire trench, 2 1/2 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet
deep, with the spoil thrown up in front. Along the trench,
at intervals across the island, were four machine-gun nests.
About 75 yards east of the trench, a barbed-wire fence extended
across the island. To block the lone road cutting the defense line,
the Japanese used portable barbed-wire "hedgehog" obstacles.
The machine guns and snipers provided the major difficulties
for the Marines. The Marines flattened themselves on the ground
when the machine guns opened up, but they still were exposed
to snipers, who had cleverly camouflaged themselves under the
fronds of palm trees off to the flanks of the machine guns. The
snipers were dressed in a jungle green uniform; some used individual
camouflage nets while others hung coconuts all over their
body. They were almost impossible to see until they moved, or
the fronds were shot away. One sniper had the tops of two
trees tied together, and when spotted he cut the trees loose, making
it hard to decide which tree he was in.
These snipers tried to pick out troop leaders and radio men.
The Marines took care of the snipers first and then knocked
out the machine-gun nests. The guns were well sited as to fields
of fire and were well concealed.
5. DUMMY SNIPERS (New Guinea)
A patrol advancing up the coast was fired on by a tall tree-top
sniper. They halted, located him, and apparently shot
him down. They then advanced and were fired on again. This
happened several times. Thorough investigation revealed that
one sniper had been holding up the patrol and dummies had
been placed in other trees. These are dropped by a pulley arrangement
after the Americans had fired a number of shots.
This made them imagine that they had cleared the opposition.
In another case, the sniper's dummy was rigged so that it
could be pulled back up into place. The sniper made the mistake
of pulling it back up too soon, giving away his ruse. The
sniper, incidentally, showed very poor marksmanship.
The Japanese have used the following ruses in the New Guinea fighting:
a. They dragged a dead United Nations soldier close to our
lines and propped him up, expecting that a group of our troops
would be sent out to "rescue" him.
b. With the same purpose, they placed captured weapons in front of our forces.
c. They fired captured weapons to give the impression that our troops
were at the places where the weapons were sited.
d. Over their hats, they wore cut-out circular boards to imitate Australian hats.
e. They scattered cast-off garments and equipment on a trail to give the
impression they had fled in disorder--actually it was
an attempt to ambush our forces.
f. They shook bushes and talked loudly in an attempt to draw our fire.
7. SUPPLY ON GUADALCANAL
The serious supply difficulties which confronted the Japanese
on Guadalcanal were brought about, to a large degree, by poor
distribution and planning. On the same days, we continually
encountered Japanese soldiers who were "round-faced and well
fed" and those who were emaciated and starving.
This situation was believed to have been due to Japanese
over optimism regarding the outcome of planned attacks. This
optimism was transmitted to supply echelons; the Japs had to
win a victory on schedule so that their supply operations
would continue functioning adequately. One unit that attacked
Henderson Field, Sept. 12, 1942, carried only three day's ration,
with no reserve in the rear. Consequently, the few who survived
the attack were immediately faced with a food shortage.
The Japanese adopted the system of having each company
send carriers back for rations, which were then carried forward.
Because of the rough terrain and our air operations, this round
trip took as long as 2 or 3 days. These efforts did not provide
a full ration for the units, so the men were put on reduced rations.
This, plus the strain of jungle operations, made the
soldiers easy marks for malaria, beri beri, and diarrhea. Eventually
the condition became so bad in some units that half-sick
men were sent to carry rations and the journey took a correspondingly
Air transportation of food to these troops was attempted
with limited success. Late in January, 25 parachutes of food
and supplies were dropped to units in the jungle. The parachutes
were strafed by our planes, starting some fires, so it is
believed only part of the supplies were received by the troops.
The Japanese used all available types of native foods. Ant
nests were reported as very good eating by one Japanese soldier.
Their forces in New Guinea turned to horse meat when food
supplies became low. The meat was processed and issued under
the direction of a high echelon.
Although all varieties of food were used by the enemy on
Guadalcanal, the normal issue was field rations and dehydrated
foods, including powdered eggs. It is doubtful if perishable food
was issued to front-line troops, but some was obtained. In some
cases food was buried in the field cemeteries for safekeeping.
Stealing of food became quite common. Ration dumps required
extra guards and special precautions. Towards the end,
the situation became so bad that an emergency court-martial was
appointed to deal with the special cases of stealing rations, and
this court had instructions from the appointing officer to inflict
drastic punishment. Rations were reported as being frequently
stolen from carriers en route to the front.