[Lone Sentry: Notes by U.S. Observers on Japanese Warfare]
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"Notes by U.S. Observers on Japanese Warfare" from Intelligence Bulletin, October 1943

[October 1943 Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following intelligence report on Japanese warfare during WWII is taken from the October 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 information given in this section has been selected from numerous reports by U.S. observers in the Southwest Pacific theater of operations. The observations were made both by enlisted men and officers, some of whom were wounded in combat. The various reports have been paraphrased and edited to eliminate repetition. They are presented according to subject matter.


We found that the average Japanese soldier [on Guadalcanal] was about 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed around 120 pounds. A few Japanese were 6-footers.

The morale of Jap prisoners was pretty low; they seemed to be pretty well fed up with the war and rather glad to be captured.

Japanese aviators seemed quite intelligent and capable; however they did not appear to measure up to our own airmen.

Mentally and physically, the Japanese labor battalions appeared to be far below the regular enemy soldiers. Some of the laborers were 50 years old. All appeared to be virtual slaves of the army. They had to bow every time a Jap soldier passed near them. This attitude existed even when representatives of both groups were prisoners in our camps.

Prisoners from the Japanese Army, Navy, and Air Force were kept in one stockade, and they didn't get along well together. Each group stayed away from the other, and there seemed to be a great deal of jealousy between services, with the navy and air force vying for supremacy.


a. General

Japanese troops on Guadalcanal usually worked in small groups, and generally two of them tried to gang up on one American, using bayonets if at close range.

Against us in New Guinea, the Japs never used automatic weapons as such, unless absolutely necessary. They fired only single shots, making it difficult for us to determine the location of their machine guns.

The enemy frequently moved reserves to threatened areas. These movements were made quickly and efficiently, suggesting that they had been rehearsed.

Inexperienced soldiers [Guadalcanal] had difficulty in distinguishing between the sound of the Japanese caliber .25 (6.5-mm) rifle and that of the U.S. caliber .45 Tommy gun or automatic pistol. However, after a little experience, they discovered that the Jap rifle has a slightly sharper crack.

In the jungle, the noise made by operation of the bolt on the Japanese caliber .25 rifle is usually not heard more than 15 feet away.

We found that the Japs sometimes fired their grenade dischargers and light machine guns from trees.

b. Defensive Positions

The Japanese on New Guinea have proved to be good defensive fighters. Their positions have been designed so the occupants can kill their attackers—protection has been a secondary consideration. Weapons have been very well sited. Machine guns, well protected by riflemen and snipers, often have been boldly sited well forward in our outer areas, in positions where they could place enfilade fire on our forward elements. Frequently the riflemen and snipers protecting machine guns have been located in trees or open pits on the front, flanks, and rear.

On Guadalcanal, Jap heavy machine gems were sometimes emplaced in pillboxes constructed of logs and dirt. These gun positions usually were in groups of five, four forming a square with the fifth in the center.

The machine guns fired through narrow lanes, which were close to the ground. It was better to stand up and move fast than to trust to concealment.

a. Scouting and Patrolling

Japanese scouting patrols [Guadalcanal] varied in number although they usually were small. Frequently they carried no weapons, or else concealed them in their uniforms.

Reconnaissance patrols generally consisted of 5 to 10 men, who usually moved about 5 yards apart. Some of these talked a lot, were not alert, and appeared to be stupid.

One combat patrol we sighted consisted of 25 men, none of whom stood out as a leader. When the patrol sighted us, it split into two groups. Another combat patrol that we encountered was smaller; it retreated immediately.

The Japanese on our front in New Guinea did not send out combat patrols until they were ready to make a general movement forward. However, they apparently reconnoitered with small groups to secure information for later attacks.

When the Japs sent out combat patrols, these usually consisted of 30, 60, or 120 men. Their movements were similar to those of Jap units in jungle combat.

The use of small patrols purely in a reconnaissance role has often been reported. According to the terrain and their mission, these patrols either remained in one position for observation or reconnoitered while on a march of several days. Such patrols often consisted of three to six privates led by an officer or noncom.

If roads or trails were suitable, the Japanese frequently used bicycles for patrolling.

Because they made less noise, patrols often moved during the rain at night.

d. Use of Bayonets

In bayonet fighting, the Japanese apparently try to work in pairs. Their bayonets have a hook on the underside, at the hilt. One Jap tries to hook his opponent's rifle long enough for the other to use his bayonet. I never saw these tactics work successfully.

I don't believe that the Japs have had a great deal of training in the technique of using the bayonet. They did very little fencing but attempted direct jabs. They did not use the butt stroke, and were fooled by it in several instances (particularly by the vertical).

One Jap dropped the butt of his rifle to the ground and held the bayonet up at an angle against an oncoming U.S. soldier.

The Japanese bayonet was a little longer and a little more pointed than ours, but this did not seem to give the enemy any advantage.

Some officers carried sabers about 4 feet long with a hilt designed for both hands. These sabers were slightly curved.

e. Use of Grenades

Japanese fragmentation grenades are supposed to break into fragments when fired, but frequently they only split open, into two pieces, without much dispersion. The dispersal area was never greater than 20 feet.

The Jap grenade does not make a "pop" sound when the fuze ignites. The grenade usually shows smoke about 3 seconds before exploding and makes a hissing sound.

f. Ruses

In New Guinea, I noted that the enemy:

(1) Fired ballistic cartridges at night from rear positions to coincide with the Japanese throwing of grenades at close range, in an effort to deceive our troops.

(2) Fired mortars and artillery whenever our mortars opened up, to give the impression that our own mortars and artillery were shelling us.

(3) Prepared dummy posts in fairly obvious positions to draw our attackers into prepared lanes of fire.

g. Snipers

I believe that one reason the Japanese ordered their snipers to tie themselves in trees was to get us to waste our ammunition. When a sniper tied in a tree is killed, he does not fall. As other soldiers pass by later, they again spray the body with bullets. I cut down the body of one Jap who had been dead at least three days [Guadalcanal]. I counted 78 bullet holes, 60 percent of which were made by caliber .45 weapons.

I saw snipers buried in the ground [Guadalcanal] with slits just sufficient for peek holes and the muzzles of their rifles. These positions were dug to face the rear of our troops after they had passed by.

Many snipers were equipped with light climbing irons, which were made of heavy wire.

h. Communications

Although some of the enemy outposts [Guadalcanal] kept in contact with troops behind them by tapping on wood, whistling like birds, waving their arms, or shouting, the Japanese also used telephones and radios in the forward areas. Outposts and snipers are believed to have communicated with each other by jerking a wire strung between their posts.

The Japanese telephone wire was made of a good grade of copper. Containing only one strand, it was coated with some type of composition, lacquered, and painted yellow. The wire seemed to hold up well under damp conditions.

i. Recovering the Dead

The Japs go to great trouble in recovering their dead. They have been known to crawl to within a few yards of our positions in order to remove a wounded man or even a corpse. The dead are buried or cremated; this makes it difficult to estimate the number killed.


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