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"The Individual Soldier" from Intelligence Bulletin, January 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following wartime comments on Japanese soldiers and tactics were originally published in the Intelligence Bulletin, January 1943.

[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 Intelligence Bulletin seeks to acquaint our junior officers and enlisted men as far as possible with the characteristics, training, and background of enemy troops. Such information has been given in each of the four preceding monthly issues of this publication. Particular reference is made at this time to the following sections which dealt with the Japanese: "Section I. GROUND FORCES," issue No. 1; "Section I. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE JAPANESE" and "Section II. GROUND FORCES" issue No. 2; "Section II. THE SOLOMON ISLANDS CAMPAIGN" issue No. 3; and "Section I. FIGHTING IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS" issue No. 4. Additional information about the Japanese follows:


The information in this paragraph comes from several captured Japanese diaries. It shows that the Japanese have a healthy fear of our weapons--particularly bombers--and that their morale can be shaken. However, the quotations--below--should not be interpreted as being counter to previous information describing the tenacity, fanaticism, treachery, and brutality of the Japs in battle. Apart from the morale aspect, these extracts reveal that certain weaknesses existed in the Japanese defenses at some points.

The extracts:

"Due to our antiaircraft guns being ineffective, the enemy (U.S. planes) circles around and drops their bombs on essential places. As we have only rifles, our only alternative is to flee from that area. It doesn't seem soldierly for us to flee as we watch the planes.

". . . I believe if friendly planes were here--even the inferior seaplanes--the enemy would disappear. I often think that antiaircraft guns and machine guns are not very effective."


"Several bombs were dropped. Even though there is little damage, the bombing is very dreadful. It is a horrible thing just to think of the restless souls of the human beings. The workers seem to scatter like small spiders at the same time the alarm sounds off. It is true that even the soldiers have in mind to flee as they watch the enemy planes. The higher officers would flee before anybody else.

"Even as an enemy, they deserve praise. It is very difficult for their bombs to hit the target. However, we are in fear on account of lack of armament.

"This time I think it is truly hopeless when I watch them over our head. Our force is shooting more and more at the enemy. However, not even one bullet seems to hit anything.

"Thus, in a battle the air assault is very fearful. No matter what I do, I would rather be alive, and return to stay near Shizuko (his wife)."


"Our combat planes cannot get close to the enemy Flying Fortresses. It's very regrettable that the only alternative is for us to flee from being killed."


"Last night I stood guard at the working place, but there was no air raid. Even the motor sound of the automobiles would get us all excited. We started to construct the air raid shelters at 0500 hours. However, it was behind schedule. There is not even a single high official who can look into the future.

"An air assault occurred at 0930 hours, and every soldier fled. The deck officer was very displeased and gave a lecture. 'It is soldierly to die by a bullet.' Such boastful talk was made by him. However, when it comes to actual bombardment, he would disappear first, and the subordinates are very unpleasant about this situation."


". . . Many commanders like to take into battle with them as many of their men as possible, but, in contrast to this, I myself (a lieutenant) am inclined to leave behind many of those who are not really fit (due to injuries and sickness). Can it be that I am not sufficiently ruthless? It is a matter regarding which some self-examination is necessary. I am worried because I cannot unconcernedly overlook another's troubles and the feeling grows on me that as a commander I am lacking in sincerity. I feel that I am becoming detached from my comrades through insufficient mental discipline.

"Diligent people talk of their hopes.

"Lazy people bemoan their misfortunes.

"I will rectify my lack of mental discipline by diligence and industry."

"I (a lieutenant) don't know whether it is because the No. 1 Battalion has had so many casualties, but all ranks of commanders seem to have lost some of their offensive spirit . . .

"I feel strongly that if the enemy adopts guerrilla tactics, we will have no alternative but to adopt similar tactics. I have told Captain Horita that we must make a desperate attack at the enemy supply lines and billets, but he won't listen to me.

"The regimental headquarters has decided to move forward as the enemy in front has been repulsed by our 1st Battalion. I recommend that since none of our troops could be observed along the road, it was too early to move forward but the recommendation was rejected. Unwillingly we pushed forward, with the 3d platoon at the head. As expected, when we reached the ravine Corporal Komatsu and 5 men were killed, and Corporal Yamamoto and 2 men wounded . . ."


"June 17.--. . . (en route to Southwest Pacific island) Although I am not to think about such things until this military objective is ours, as I was gazing at the stars I felt as though I saw Yuriko's face (his girl friend)."


"July 3.--Going south. Wind came up in the afternoon and the boat rocked violently because of the high waves. During the night, while watching the waves, we began thinking about home and various other things and we became very depressed . . ."


Physical training and conditioning play an equally important part in the development of the Japanese soldier. The Japanese have been quick to realize the advantages of mechanization and motorization, but they fully realize that in many of the areas in which their troops must operate, such equipment can be used only to a limited extent. Furthermore, they feel very strongly that in warfare the machine can never take the place of man. All their training is based on the theory that troops must be prepared to operate under any conditions without the advantages of motor- or even horse-drawn transport.

The process of conditioning and hardening the soldier begins with his earliest recruit training. Physical drill, wall-scaling, road marches (a good part of which is done at double time up hill as well as on the level), fencing, bayonet training, ju-jitsu (called "judo" by the Japanese), and swimming occupy much of the soldier's time. The strictly military training is frequently carried out under adverse weather conditions, and, even in the earliest stages, is made to simulate battle conditions as realistically as circumstances will permit.

Because training in schools and universities does much to furnish the army with recruits who are already partially conditioned and toughened, the Japanese soldier is brought to a state of physical fitness very soon after his induction into the service. He needs this early conditioning because his training during the rest of his service will include long marches and maneuvers with full pack and equipment under a hot summer sun in Formosa or other tropical areas, or long periods of tactical exercises in the cold winters of Hokkaido and "Manchoukuo," frequently followed by a night in open bivouac in the snow without fires or lights of any kind. Men who have experienced these hardships find, under the stress of battle, that they have become accustomed to physical strains and are freer to concentrate on overcoming the other difficulties which might confuse them in action.

Japanese training doctrine calls for special emphasis on field exercises, and insists on a maximum degree of realism in their execution. Whenever possible the enemy is represented by troops, not by flags or dummies; and trenches, barbed wire, and other obstacles are actually constructed in the area over which the troops are to operate. Every effort is made to simulate the noise, confusion, and befuddled vision which so frequently exist in actual battle, in order to accustom officers and men to that peculiar state known as the "fog of war." Artillery and machine-gun barrages are fired over the heads of friendly troops, and live grenades and mortars are used, although with reduced charges. So realistic was the training of the divisions which were rehearsing in the hills near Canton for the attack on Hong Kong that the troops suffered "a number of casualties." No considerations, either political or humane, are ever allowed to interfere with what the high command believe to be the one and only purpose of the training program--the production of fighting men.

All soldiers in the Japanese Army receive basic infantry training during their recruit period and take frequent refresher courses throughout their term of service. The training is progressive and thorough. Instruction proceeds systematically from the School of the Soldier to exercises involving large units and combined arms. In addition to this purely peace-time training, many officers and men were rotated through the ranks of active divisions on the China front before joining units destined to take part in the major campaigns of the present war. Service in China was considered a very important part of the training program, and every effort was made to give this experience to the largest possible number of men. The Japanese have made conscientious use of the facilities afforded for small-unit training in the comparatively quiet areas of China and for higher unit and combined staff work in the more active sectors.

In all field exercises, the Japanese soldier is required to make full use of the terrain for cover and concealment. He is taught to improvise simple camouflage by using grass, twigs, branches of trees, and even by plastering himself with mud. Each combat soldier is provided with an individual camouflage net which he uses when on scouting or sniping duty. All men in the infantry and engineers are trained in the duties of scouts or snipers and much time is devoted to instruction in infiltration methods. Normally, in combat, only selected men are used for this type of work, but all those units fighting in jungle areas have been greatly benefited by the fact that all officers and men have had some experience in maintaining themselves, and in operating for days at a time, individually or in small groups, behind the enemy's lines.

Night operations play an important part in the training of Japanese troops of all arms. An effort is made to get every combat soldier out once a week on some sort of night problem with special emphasis being laid on individual, squad, and platoon exercises. More than half of the six weeks of intensive training engaged in by the troops designated for the attack on Hong Kong was devoted to night operations. Their efforts were well repaid, for the key point in the British defense line on the Kowloon peninsula was captured after some two hours of fighting when a Japanese infantry battalion and a few engineers launched a well-timed and perfectly coordinated night attack against the position and caught the defenders completely by surprise.

Recent manuals bearing on various aspects of the training of officers stress the necessity of developing initiative in all grades, and the danger of adhering too rigidly to previously formulated plans when the situation demands a change in the course of action. That the Army has taken this to heart and can apply it in even the most complicated form of engagement was demonstrated at Kota Bharu (East coast of Malaya) where the repulse of the Japanese landings in the north and central sectors of the beach necessitated a change of plans in the midst of the engagement, involving the movement of men, barges, and even ships to the southern flank. This difficult maneuver was carried out in the face of the enemy, after the troops had suffered considerable losses, and during the hours of darkness. The Malayan campaign contains numerous other examples of rapid changes in tactics by troops whose first attempts to advance had been blocked by determined enemy resistance. Japanese troops are still taught to move forward regardless of losses when no other method presents itself, but officers are trained to seek out the soft spots in an enemy line and to make their plans flexible enough to take advantage of any change in the situation which may occur.

Mass singing is used extensively. The Japanese say that martial marching songs heighten morale and that the beat of the music aids the rhythm of breathing, thereby easing fatigue. This feature has obviously been borrowed from the Germans, whose army has for many years recognized the value of mass singing.


The information in this paragraph was taken from a Japanese manual called "Battlefield Discipline" (Senjin Kunren).

a. A moment's negligence may result in an unexpected catastrophe. Be constantly on your guard. Do not despise your enemy or the natives. Do not be negligent after a small success. Know that carelessness brings disaster.

b. Sentry duty is important. Upon the sentry rests the safety of an army; he also represents the discipline of an army. Those on sentry duty must devote their person to their tasks, which must be sternly carried out. Accord the sentry high respect.

c. Ideological warfare is an important phase in modern conflict. Destroy propaganda and falsehoods of the enemy by your unshakable faith in the cause for which your Empire stands, and endeavor to spread Kodo (literally, the "Imperial Way").

d. Rumors arise from a lack of confidence. Do not be misled; do not be agitated by them. Firmly believe in the strength of the Imperial Army and deeply trust your superiors.

e. Control your anger and suppress your grudges. The ancients said, "Consider anger your enemy." A moment's violence often leaves cause for a long regret.

f. There is nothing more to be regretted than to fall a victim to disease on the field. Be particularly mindful of your health so that you may not be unable to serve because of excesses.

g. Take to heart this saying of an ancient warrior: "My sword is my soul; my horse is my fortune." Always take good care of your arms and supplies, and give humane attention to animals on the field.

h. Be honest always; consider exaggerations and lies as dishonorable.


Extreme caution should be exercised in identifying the Japanese soldier by means of clothing and personal effects. Japanese troops in recent campaigns often have exhibited a complete lack of uniformity in dress.

In the majority of cases reported in Malaya, Japanese noncoms and privates wore uniforms of a cloth similar to our khaki drill. Officers wore slightly darker or greener khaki. The badge of rank usually was worn on the collar. A soft fatigue cap was worn underneath the steel helmet, which is much deeper than our old type and which is also distinguishable by a five-pointed star in the front center. In Burma, the Japanese were sometimes found wearing Chinese hats (peaked with a round crown). Footwear consisted of black or brown boots or tabi (canvas shoes, with heavy rubber soles, in which the big toe is separated from the remainder of the foot), with puttees up to the knee.

However, there were several deviations from the above standard attire, arising from pure necessity or from deliberate attempts at disguise.

Some of the prisoners were wearing pajamas and even Chinese civilian dress. Captured Japanese equipment often included a soft straw hat, shorts, sweat shirts, and canvas shoes, which prisoners explained as part of their evening change in tropical weather. Instances have been reported by our troops of Japanese soldiers wearing captured British gas capes, Indian uniforms, and Malayan clothes. Such variations in dress have been observed principally on the front-line troops, who are fond of discarding their own cheap apparel for British clothing, both to disguise their identity and to satisfy their instinct for loot.

From the foregoing, it will be understood that the uniform is not always a foolproof means of identifying a Japanese soldier. In addition, it is advisable to study his facial and physical characteristics, especially so as to be able to distinguish him from our ally, the Chinese. (See Section I, Characteristics of the Japanese, Intelligence Bulletin No. 2.)


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