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"Night Operations" from Intelligence Bulletin, November 1942

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on Japanese night operations in the Pacific was originally 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.]



Japanese military leaders consider night attacks one of their specialties. In these they were very successful in the Russo-Japanese war, the Manchuria "Incident," the China "Incident," and during the present war in Malaya, Borneo, and the Philippines. They have experimented extensively with various night tactics, over a period of many years, and have adopted certain specific techniques--with which this section is primarily concerned.

As a rule, the Japanese have only limited objectives at night and do not attack very deeply. Once these objectives have been accomplished, the Japs usually effect a slight withdrawal, and reorganize for rest during the next day (except for reconnaissance or infiltration activities).

Although the Japanese admit that night operations result in more confusion and less control, they feel these disadvantages are more than offset by the advantages of greater mobility, secrecy of movement, and therefore greater surprise.

A Dutch officer who escaped from Japanese confinement in Borneo attributed the following statement to a Japanese officer:

"You Europeans march all day, prepare all night, and at dawn launch an attack with tired troops. We Japanese allow our troops to rest all day while we reconnoiter your positions exactly. Then that night we attack with fresh troops."

The information which follows in this section is based on Japanese manuals captured in the South Pacific theater:


a. Objectives

The objectives of Japanese night attacks usually are to locate and attack the front lines of the opposition with only limited or shallow objectives. "However, there will be times when it is necessary to attack the enemy's position in considerable depth," their manual explains.

Before the attack each subordinate unit is given a clearly defined terrain objective. Objectives can be clearly defined only by thorough daytime reconnaissance, or by drawing hostile fire. Villages are avoided because they are difficult to attack at night.

b. Reconnaissance

Japanese regulations emphasize the importance of thoroughly reconnoitering terrain over which night operations are to take place, and of obtaining detailed information as to the location of opposing centers of resistance, machine-gun positions, obstacles, and searchlights. The reconnaissances are made in daytime. Japanese patrols, frequently moving for long distances on their stomachs at a snail-like pace, get as close as possible to opposition positions without being observed. If they are unable to locate these positions exactly, they sometimes deliberately expose men to draw fire from the opposing forces so the latter will give their locations away.

The patrols also select the points where the opposition's wires will be cut.

Sometimes the Japanese make a second reconnaissance just before dark to satisfy themselves as to opposition positions, or to determine whether new positions have been occupied.

c. Formation of Plans

Japanese military leaders go into great detail in mapping plans for attack. This is doubly true for night operations. Particularly emphasized are march directions, methods of identifying friendly troops, liaison with adjacent units, the necessity for silence in order to achieve surprise, and flank protection.

Obstacles which would interfere with the attacks are removed by destruction squads--usually engineers--about an hour beforehand. This phase includes the cutting of lanes through barbed wire.

d. Approach Movements

In approaching, the Japanese select routes over which the troops will make the least noise. They generally move by column rather than in a line in order to maintain as much control as possible up to the point of assault.

To maintain direction, the Japanese may use any or all of the following: Compass, flares, rear lights--which give direction by alignments; searchlights or disappearing lanterns; markers, white stakes, strips of paper; lines of chalk, flour, or tape; and artillery shells fired for direction.

e. The Assault

Japanese techniques in the assault are quoted from their own manual, as follows:

"(1) With limited objectives.--When the attacking unit gets close to the enemy's position (the assault position), the commander orders a front-line group to assault. The remainder of the troops will quickly observe the general situation. For instance, if it is necessary to strengthen the front line with reserves, these should either attack the flank of the enemy, or enemy counterattacking troops. The commander watches for these opportunities, and leads the battle with firm determination. Placing reserves in the front lines thoughtlessly and unnecessarily will bring about confusion. This, must be avoided.1

"At the start of combat, the commander of the reserves will send out liaison men to inform him regarding the movements of our assault echelons and the enemy situation, to connect the reserves with the front-line unit, and to secure our flanks, rear, and front.

"When the assault has captured the enemy position, quickly organize your attacking forces. For example, the machine-gun and infantry-gun units take up their firing positions, security measures are taken, order is quickly restored, and preparations are made to repel any enemy attack to recover the position just lost. The reserve commander will send out patrols as quickly as possible to the rear, flank, and front to determine the condition of the enemy, and he will be prepared for action with the remainder of his troops.

"The machine gun takes part in the night attack by occupying a secure position. Thus, it ordinarily cooperates with reserve troops in action, and may at times participate in the direct night attack, according to the opportunities for firing.

"When attacking by sheer strength, the machine gun is used to cut off enemy communication with other adjacent areas. Furthermore, it opposes the counterattack from other areas, concentrating its fire at the proper time. For this reason, the machine-gun plan must consider the cooperating fire plan of the artillery. The use of fire arms will expose our plans, and it may bring hostile fire on our troops. There is also the danger of hitting friendly troops. Therefore, make thorough arrangements beforehand.

"(2) Attack in depth.--When attacking deeply in depth with two assault echelons, the front-line unit will capture the predetermined hostile position and take security and reconnaissance measures, restore order, and make arrangements for the enemy's return attack. It must quickly prepare to be leap-frogged by the second echelon of attack and must always make local conditions clear to this unit. If the first-line unit receives a counterattack by the enemy, do not fire, because it would endanger the leap-frogging unit.

"The second attack echelon takes up the attack formation at the beginning, as a security measure. Before leap-frogging it will put out security reconnaissance. Maintenance of direction will be considered after leap-frogging. In order not to get intermingled with the first-echelon unit at the time of leap-frogging, the distance and intervals before and during the attack are controlled accordingly.

"The second assault unit of attack must definitely keep in contact with the first-line unit, and keep itself informed of the enemy situation and the progress of the first echelon. It will be prepared to advance by leap-frogging as soon as the order arrives. At this point, do not come too close to the first-line unit because of the danger of getting into the lines of fire.

"The commander will determine the time when the second echelon must first advance to the attack from the place of departure. The time of advance will depend upon when the first echelon, leading out, has passed the second-line unit * * *

"When the second assault unit captures the designated hostile position, the commander must quickly get control of the unit and then have the first assault unit advance to secure completely the occupied position. The remainder (the reserve) prepare for action."

f. Pursuit

The Japanese nearly always seek to capitalize to the fullest on pursuit. Even before combat begins, they have detailed plans for maintaining close contact with retiring forces. The following data on pursuit is quoted from their manual:

"The enemy will take advantage of darkness to conceal his retreat. It is important to gain early knowledge of this retreat by keeping a close contact with him. The battalion commander must make close reconnaissance, observe various signs, and always be careful not to lose the enemy. In order to clear up the possibility of an enemy retreat, do not hesitate to make a night attack with any necessary part of your strength.

"If the enemy's retreat is found out, the battalion commander quickly sends out a part of his strength for quick pursuit--the main force follows soon thereafter * * * "

g. Machine Guns In Defense

"Because the development of battle during the night is very quick, it is necessary to put machine guns in positions where they will be able to concentrate their fire power on important areas to the front of the battalion's positions. The guns should be sited to have enfilade fire against the line of advance of the enemy, or in such a way as to be able to fire on a small, specific sector through which the enemy must pass. To obtain the most effective fire, machine guns are sometimes placed in the front line. Avoid placing guns separately at night * * *.

"Depending on the amount of natural light available, machine guns vary the firing method, using night firing lights when necessary * * *."

h. Retirement

"When you are retreating during the night, hinder the enemy's reconnaissance, and do not make any movements before darkness. According to the situation, make night attacks with small units, or have patrols to move about. These will help to deceive the enemy as to the true action you intend to take.

"Make full use of the road as quickly as possible with the main force, concentrating your strength as close behind the battle as possible. Make sure that control will be well in hand by retreating in a column without confusion * * * "

1Although the Japanese manual emphasizes the importance of holding troops in reserve during night attacks, in the present war the Japs have often thrown their full strength into the battle at the beginning.


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