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"Japanese Characteristics and Reaction in Battle" from Intelligence Bulletin, April 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on Japanese military characteristics in WWII was published in the April 1944 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin.

[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.]



Characteristics of Japanese soldiers and their reactions under fire have been discussed frequently in the Intelligence Bulletin, primarily for the purpose of acquainting U.S. junior officers and enlisted men with the enemy they may face in battle. Repetition has largely been avoided in presenting this information; therefore, for a fairly complete study of the subject matter, the reader should refer to the following articles in past issues of the bulletin:

Vol. I—"Characteristics of the Japanese" (No. 2, pp. 27-35; this section tells how to differentiate between the Japanese and the Chinese); "The Japanese Soldier" (No. 3, pp. 35-36); "Festivals and Holidays" (No. 3, pp. 53-54); "Individual Characteristics" (No. 5, p. 37); "The Individual Soldier" (No. 5, pp. 42-52); "Handling Personnel" (No. 6, pp. 9-11); "Enemy Thoughts" (No. 6, pp. 18-26); "Morale" (No. 7, pp. "27-28); "Regarding Morale" (No. 8, pp. 55-57); "The Japanese Soldier" (No. 9, pp. 1-4); "Comments by Prisoners" (No. 9, pp. 27-29); "Conduct of Soldiers" (No. 10, pp. 80-81). Vol. II—"Individual Characteristics" (No. 2, pp. 33-34), and "Morale, Characteristics of Japanese Soldier" (No. 3, pp. 66-69).


Summing up the characteristics of the individual Japanese soldier during the New Georgia operations, a U.S. intelligence officer described the enemy as follows:

"He was afraid of hand-to-hand combat, and ran when our troops got close, unless he was in a well-concealed foxhole or in a fortified position. His marksmanship was poor—we were usually safe at a distance of 50 or more yards. However, he was expert at camouflage, and was thoroughly trained to operate in the jungle. He obeyed orders very well, and proved himself capable in night attacks and in handling barge movements. His officers lied to him frequently to bolster his morale. Not one Jap in 100 could speak any English...."


A U.S. participant in the fighting around Buna described the average Japanese as follows:

"He had definite characteristics. We found that he was not too willing to die when the odds were against him, and that he squealed like a pig when routed. He was crafty, and took full advantage of his surroundings to improve his position. His camouflage was excellent. He frequently climbed trees and waited several hours for a target. He used decoys to draw our fire, with the intention of discovering our positions. He delighted in pulling various ruses to bewilder inexperienced troops. He fought with dogged determination while he considered he had a chance to win."

An observer in the South Pacific relates that the regimental colors and standards of active infantry and cavalry regiments of the Japanese Army are highly revered, and guarded above the life of any member of the particular regiment. He says that the extreme importance attached to the regimental flag is borne out by statements made by prisoners of war. One prisoner said that a colonel in command of an infantry regiment was rescued from a torpedoed ship but that his regimental colors and the color bearer had gone down with the ship. As a result, the colonel, according to the prisoner, became mentally unbalanced and continually referred to the loss of the colors while apparently being indifferent to the loss of men and equipment.

The regimental colors of the infantry and cavalry regiments are presented to the units by the emperor and are symbolic of the "divine" Imperial family. The colors are never replaced, and their loss is considered by the Japanese to be an everlasting disgrace. An officer, usually a 2nd lieutenant, is selected to carry and guard the colors. It is stated that he undoubtedly would be executed if the colors were captured.

The regimental colors of old regiments of the Japanese Army are now little more than a few shreds of cloth and tassels, and are the more highly prized on this account.

The colors consist of the Imperial flag of Japan on a pole, which is capped by the Imperial Crest, a chrysanthemum. The Imperial flag consists of a red sun with red rays on a white background.


That Japanese soldiers have been indoctrinated with the idea they are "sons of heaven" is borne out by the following statement made by an enemy soldier:

The first time the natives of the Gilbert Islands saw Japanese planes and soldiers was shortly after the outbreak of the war. They were astonished at the short stature of our air force personnel.

When the native saw the noble sight of our defense forces repulsing American attempts to land and our air force covering the skies, their confidence turned to worship. They then believed in the legend of "A land of the gods across the sea." Now that the natives have seen our god-soldiers, they have come forth as partisans of the Imperial Forces.


At least one Japanese unit was given the following "Guide to Certain Victory":

Fight hard; leaving nothing undone. If you are afraid of dying, you will die in battle; if you are not afraid, you will not die; if you are thinking of going back home, you will never go; if you do not think of it, you will go home.


A Japanese soldier made the following optimistic statement:

When we think about going to Sydney [Australia] and Washington, D.C, our morale soars.

Man for man, we ought not to be beaten by those hairy foreigners. We must foster such conviction and skill that one of our men can take on, if not 1,000, then at least 10 of theirs!

Further insight into the cocky, bragging nature of the Japanese soldier—as long as he is winning—is revealed in the following enemy poem:

We will have the rising sun dyed with a red tide of blood as a symbol of world domination.

We will angle for crocodiles in the Himalaya-bestowed waters of the Ganges [river in India].

We will have our annual Boys' Festival in London when the fog clears.

The lights of London and [illegible] will shine again when our police take over there.

Today in Berlin, tomorrow in Moscow.

Even snow-swept Siberia will be in the August Hands of the Emperor.

Our grandchildren will erect memorials to us in the streets of Chicago.

We will drink our fill of sake on the plains overlooked by great mountains.

[Line regarding the Great Wall of China and the Gobi desert unprintable—Translator]

If I die, let it be where the three rivers meet, and there will I wrestle with my thoughts.


When Japanese casualties began to mount in a certain South Pacific combat area, the enemy command deemed it necessary to revise the procedure of burying the dead, and issued the following instructions:

Too many graves with markers are not good for security and morale. Also, it is unfair to erect grave markers for some persons and not for others. Since a grave will be erected at the home of a deceased man, it is not necessary to erect one for him on the battlefield.

When burying the dead on the battlefield, avoid using the sides of a road. To dig a grave for a deceased person near the road may be taken as a sign of disrespect for him. In burying the dead away from the road, dig as deep as possible so that the offensive odor will not leak out.


Previously reported Japanese doctrine with regard to becoming prisoners of war is confirmed by the following enemy statement:

Under no circumstances become a straggler or a prisoner of war. In case you become helpless, commit suicide nobly.


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