[Lone Sentry: WWII Japanese Tactics Observed in Burma]
[Lone Sentry: Photos, Articles, and Research on the European Theater in World War II]
Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Intel Articles by Subject

"Some Japanese Tactics Observed in Burma" from Intelligence Bulletin, June 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   The following report discusses Japanese defensive tactics observed by British forces in early 1943 on the Arakan front in Burma. The report originally appeared in the June 1943 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.]




The British-Indian drive on the Arakan front in Burma early in 1943 afforded an opportunity for studying some of the Japanese defensive tactics. In this campaign, the Japanese used most of their old ruses plus a few new ones.

This section is devoted to a discussion of the Japanese defenses and of those ruses or deceptive tactics which have not been reported previously.


The Japanese apparently make a practice of using various types of defensive positions, according to the terrain, the time available for construction, and the strength of the enemy. On Guadalcanal and parts of New Guinea, they frequently established their defenses on low, jungle-covered ground, in preference to high ground. In Burma, where less jungle is encountered, the Japanese usually established their positions on terrain heights and near the crests of heights.

An observer in Burma described Japanese defenses in one area as being of two types, temporary and permanent. The temporary types were small self-contained, cleverly concealed squad posts, 30 feet in diameter and situated some 300 yards apart. They usually contained 10 men. These posts, designed for all-around defense, served as hideouts from which Japanese patrols operated at night.

The so-called permanent-type defenses, or main positions, were sited on natural obstacles. They contained mortars, for which the temporary squad positions probably served as observation posts.

Several of the enemy positions were situated along the edges of woods, and others were located from 30 to 40 yards inside the woods.

The Japanese had cut fire lanes for most of their positions. The lanes, extending out from the positions in different directions, usually were 15 to 30 feet long and never more than 2 feet wide.

An observer in another area reported that the enemy depended largely upon foxholes and individual weapon pits for defense positions in his forward area. Most of the positions were well camouflaged with natural foliage, and some of the foxholes were covered, with lids resembling trap doors. Japanese soldiers would keep these lids down except for short periods of observation. Some of these positions were 4 feet deep. Around the top of each position was a bundle of brushwood, about 2 feet high and tied together with wire. One of these posts contained three grenades, a rifle, an individual cooker, and an ammunition box full of rice and various papers—evidence of the self-contained nature of Japanese individual defense positions.

Other observers noted that many of the deeper Japanese defense trenches on the Arakan front were T-shaped or L-shaped.

A large number of trenches were not occupied. These "extras" were dug to allow the Japanese to shift from one position to another, for reasons of security. Observers believed that the enemy soldiers must have spent most of their time digging.

Usually the defending Japanese would hold their fire until the attacking forces launched an assault—sometimes from a distance as close as 50 yards. In accordance with previously reported enemy defense doctrine, the Japanese, if driven front their positions, will soon launch a counterattack. This attack starts with a shower of grenade-discharger shells and is followed immediately by a charge with automatic-weapon support.

Japanese foxholes in one area of the front were 2 1/2 feet deep, and did not contain well-developed machine-gun positions. The foxholes were in two rings around the top of a hill, one just below the crest and the other spaced around the top of the hill. Additional foxholes, of a different construction, were found at the bottom of the hill.

The Japanese have been reluctant to disrupt interlocking cross fire plans for their light machine guns when the guns were attacked from the front by infantry.

Almost invariably the Japanese will sacrifice a good light machine-gun target if firing would give away the location of a strategic observation post.

Figure 15 is a sketch of a Japanese defense post. While being shelled or bombed, the enemy probably fled to the dugout—realizing that he could abandon his light machine-gun posts without being assaulted while the shelling was actually in progress. In a tree which affords a view of all approaches to the position, the enemy built a combination sniper's nest and sentry post. One man could have kept watch during the daytime while the others slept or relaxed. Part (a) of the diagram shows how the dugout is constructed. Part (b) shows how crawl trenches are connected to outlying fire positions.

[Figure 15. Japanese Defense Post: Arakan Front, Burma, WWII]
Figure 15.—Japanese Defense Post.


Observers on the Arakan front described several Japanese ruses or tricks that had not previously been reported. These included the following:

a. Use of Cattle

Cattle left behind by Burmese fleeing the combat zone were driven by the Japanese into places where they could be conveniently watched from under concealment. When natives bent on looting—usually two to four men travel together—tried to steal the groups of cattle, the Japanese would pop out and arrest them. The captives then were taken before a Japanese officer and questioned about the opposing forces (British). If the natives could not supply sufficient information (generally they couldn't), one of them was released to go back into the British lines and find out more, while his friends were held as hostages. If the released native did not return by a given date, the remainder of his group were shot for stealing. Since the native released would often be separated from his family by the Japanese if he failed to return, he generally came back with some information because it was the easiest way out, both for himself and his fellow looters.

b. Use of Patrols

Japanese patrols could always be counted upon to do the unexpected. They often withdrew from Japanese-held areas while these were being scouted by patrols of opposing forces. When the latter patrols reported back with the information that the enemy had fled, the Japanese would reoccupy the area with a strong force. When the opposition moved a considerable force into the area, the Japanese opened up with a murderous fire at close range.

c. Use of Exposed Men

The Japanese are particularly keen about using all sorts of ruses to draw mortar and automatic fire. On at least one occasion, an individual soldier, waving a flag, ran out into open spaces for this purpose.

When automatic fire was opened on him, he dropped to the ground while other Japanese, under cover, observed the location of the automatic weapon or weapons doing the firing, so they could open up on it a short time later.

d. Use of Tommy Gun

At night the Japanese have been known to send a man toward our lines with a Tommy gun and tracer ammunition. This gunner would fire in short bursts at places believed to be occupied by the opposing forces. When he was fired upon, he ducked to the ground while his pals in the rear tried to locate the positions of automatic weapons firing at the Tommy gunner.

If this gunner failed to receive fire from a position he moved on to another—all the time closing in on opposing positions until someone eventually fired at him with an automatic weapon.

e. Miscellaneous

(1) Mortars.—To escape detection, the Japanese mortars often began firing either immediately after our guns had fired or just after impact of our mortar bombs.

(2) Dummy Men.—In one area on the Burma front, the Japanese put up dummy men in an effort to fool the opposing forces. These dummies may have been corpses.

(3) Imitating Signals.—On at least one occasion, the Japanese fired red signals immediately after similar signals had been fired by the opposition.


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


Web LoneSentry.com