[Lone Sentry]
  [Lone Sentry: Photographs, Documents and Research on World War II]
Home Page  |  Site Map  |  What's New  |  Search  |  Contact Us

"Reconnaissance Methods" from Intelligence Bulletin, August 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on Japanese reconnaissance methods was printed in the U.S. Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. II, No. 12, August 1944.

[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.]


The Japanese continue to make extensive use of what they call "scouting parties." However, the enemy draws a sharp distinction between parties sent out with the primary mission of reconnoitering for information, parties detailed to form part of a sentry line, and parties dispatched for the purpose of undertaking combat reconnaissance. In the course of his training, the Japanese noncom is fully instructed in the tactics of all three types of scouting parties, any one of which he may be called upon to lead in the field. Japanese training calls for scouting parties to be approximately of squad strength, although for combat reconnaissance the enemy sometimes makes use of combat outposts. Combat outposts, which are discussed later in this article, vary in strength, and sometimes are as large as a company.


The leader of a Japanese "scouting party" which is to reconnoiter for information1 gives orders as to what type of clothing is to be worn and what arms are to be carried. (Japanese doctrine recommends that as many light machine guns as possible be provided.) The leader designates a second-in-command, and assigns an observation mission to each man.

If the party believes itself to be some distance from a hostile force, the advance is made by bounds, from one promising observation point to another, with the leader in front and his second-in-command in the
    [Birds in sudden flight are observed, and the direction of flight is noted.]  
Birds in sudden flight are observed,
and the direction of flight is noted.
rear. If it is believed that contact with a hostile force may be established, the leader assigns new missions, with much smaller and more compact fields of observation.

When the leader reaches a spot which affords complete cover, he may halt and allow the party to assemble. This enables him to keep in fairly constant touch with his men. Discussing their observations, they, speak in low whispers. They compare evidence of the most detailed kind, such as the odor of smoke considered in relation to wind direction, and any unusual activity on the part of wild animals and birds.

If Allied soldiers are encountered, the party's next move is determined largely by its mission. If the opposition consists only of a scout or two, or a weak reconnaissance patrol, an attempt will be made to take prisoners. However, if a stronger force is encountered, the Japanese try to detour around it and hurry back to report their observations.


It is a Japanese principle that combat reconnaissance be undertaken by a scouting party approximately of squad strength or by a combat outpost, depending on how much opposition the Japanese estimate the party may meet in the execution of its mission. Japanese companies employ combat outposts equal in strength to a platoon, while battalions employ combat outposts approximately of company strength.

After a careful preliminary observation of the terrain, the scouting party advances from one place of concealment to another. When the presence of hostile soldiers in a locality is suspected, that locality is fired upon promptly. The Japanese have been taught that if they act in too deliberate a manner, a target may take advantage of the terrain and slip away.

If the party itself is fired upon, the men instantly throw themselves on the ground and attempt to crawl to cover. They try to determine the point from which the firing has come, and, if they believe they have detected it, they report their conclusions to the leader. Observation is then conducted either by the leader or by sharpshooters whose rifles are equipped with telescopic sights--men who have been chosen expressly for this purpose. From the moment the first sound of hostile fire is heard, each Japanese soldier tries to watch not only the spot from which he suspects the firing has come, but also his leader and his fellow soldiers. As far as possible, the Japanese communicate by means of hand signals.

At each burst fired by Japanese heavy weapons or by other neighboring Japanese units--should such support be provided--the party makes the most of the distraction and works its way forward. Similarly, if the opposition is suddenly forced under cover by any circumstance--such as the sudden appearance of Japanese planes--the individual members of the scouting party move forward. The Japanese soldier is supposed to make the most of such opportunities without waiting
    [--the party makes the most of the distraction and works its way forward.]  
"--the party makes the most of the dis-
traction and works its way forward."
for any authorization from the leader. All the members of the party are expected to advance simultaneously so that they will not lose contact with each other.

As to targets, the Japanese regard hostile commanders, forward observers, runners, heavy weapons crews, and machine gun nests as particularly dangerous, and give them priority.

In performing combat reconnaissance, Japanese scouting parties pay special attention to individual camouflage. It is interesting to note that there are certain similarities between Japanese and U.S. doctrine regarding such precautions. The enemy gives the following camouflage instructions to soldiers who are to undertake combat reconnaissance:

Observe from depressions, not from elevations. Never look over such objects as stones, tree trunks, bushes, hedges, or fences; always observe from the side--and be sure to choose the shaded side--or through cracks or gaps. Often the prone position is your greatest safeguard. In observing from houses, do not stand directly in front of a window; stand farther back in the room. Take the same kind of precaution when you are observing from the edge of a wood. Avoid roads and paths, even at night. Instead, choose such natural depressions as roadside ditches. Go around fields and clearings. Move only on the shaded side of boulders, trees, ravines, and so on. When you rest, lie down beside a fallen tree. Stoop low when passing through waist-high underbrush, and crawl through still lower growth. Your head must never be exposed against a light background. When you are observing, never betray your presence by restless and unnecessary movement. When you are creeping forward in any kind of wooded or partly wooded terrain, camouflage yourself still further by holding branches in front of you.

In combat reconnaissance, the Japanese soldier pays attention to personal camouflage even when he is about to work his way forward by means of a rush or a series of rushes. Before a rush, he looks ahead for the next and most desirable place of concealment--or cover, if any is available. He may choose a small hill, a rock, a hollow, a ditch, a tree, or even a bush. First, he rises very slowly, so as not to attract attention; then he darts as fast as he can to the spot he has chosen, and throws himself on the ground. He does not always fall to the ground directly behind the protecting object, but may drop down 3 or 4 yards to one side of it. The Japanese theory is that if the hostile force becomes interested in the more obvious place of concealment, and fires on it experimentally, without getting the expected result, that place will make a good alternate position later on. Meanwhile, as soon as the soldier has thrown himself on the ground, he covers his head with grass, leaves, or twigs, and remains there until he decides that it will be advantageous for him to move to an alternate position.
    [He does not always fall to the ground directly behind the protecting object, but may drop down 3 or 4 yards to one side of it.]  
"He does not always fall to the
ground directly behind the protect-
ing object, but may drop down 3 or
4 yards to one side of it."

When a man has been wounded, he does not move to the rear until the leader of the scouting party has been notified and has approved. Only the leader may detail escorts for seriously wounded men. Stragglers are under orders to report to the nearest Japanese commander and to participate in combat under his authority. The straggler is required to obtain a written certificate that he has done this.

The following Japanese order, which was issued during operations on Bougainville Island, refers to this type of reconnaissance activity.

"You will infiltrate and reconnoiter for information regarding conditions along the river. Search for U.S. positions along the right bank, and determine the enemy strength. Investigate for obstacles, the security line, gaps, microphones, and so on. Later you will be given further details. I wish you to reconnoiter carefully, positively, and boldly. If it should eventually prove that reconnaissance has been insufficient, Japanese blood will be shed. Consider this point. I have nothing to send you except one cigarette. I wish you success."

Whenever possible, the party returns by a different route. The foremost consideration, Japanese doctrine maintains, is to keep hostile soldiers from discovering the whereabouts of Japanese units to the rear of the party.

Because of the deterioration of Japanese supply channels, the soldier going out on combat reconnaissance is told that no weapon must be lost or allowed to fall into the hands of Allied troops. The Japanese soldier is held responsible, not only for safeguarding his own weapon, but also for recovering the weapons of his comrades who have been killed or wounded.

Most of the preceding has dealt with the responsibilities of the individual soldier, rather than with those of the leader of the party. During the entire mission, the leader has been evaluating all the information that his men have given him about the opposing force, as well as the information that he himself has collected. His principal concern has been to judge when and where the main Japanese force behind him must expect to meet serious opposition. He has been estimating the strength and dispositions of the Allied force. Finally, he has been attempting to determine, as far as possible, what weapons they have at their disposal. This is the information that he must embody in his report to his superior officer.

1The nearest U.S. equivalent is the reconnaissance patrol.


[Back] Back to Articles by Subject | Intel Bulletin by Issue | T&TT by Issue | Home Page

LONE SENTRY | Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Search | Contact Us