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"Notes on Japanese Tactics on Attu" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A report on Japanese tactics on Attu in WWII, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 28, July 1, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. 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.]


It took the American forces just about 3 weeks to finish off the Japanese on Attu. A brief report by an American observer on same Japanese tactics used during this operation is contained in the following summary. For further information concerning the Japanese on Attu, see Tactical and Technical Trends, p. 38, No. 27.

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In general, nothing new was learned at Attu about Japanese tactics other than what has already been reported from other contacts with this enemy. The Japanese are good soldiers, are courageous, but they can be whipped. Although they show signs of fanaticism, particularly in local counterattacks, they can be forced to withdraw when they are outmaneuvered. As has been previously reported, they do not like artillery fire, and on Attu they would not fight when dominant terrain had been secured above them. They do not allow themselves to be captured alive.

As has been reported from other theaters, the Japanese make extensive use of snipers, attempting to infiltrate these men in the rear and on the flanks of American units. The initial fire from these snipers is harassing but it is not dangerous. This point must be emphasized to green troops. To the best of my knowledge, during the period from May 11 to May 19 inclusive no casualties were caused to the Northern Force by enemy snipers. It is necessary, however, when advancing over terrain which offers concealment to snipers, to thoroughly comb every square foot of area to the rear and flanks in which snipers can hide. These men are trained to fight like animals, in that they can lie motionless for hours at a time and thereby avoid detection. Their weapons (both rifles and machine guns) gave little flash and no smoke, with a result that it is difficult, if not impossible, to place long-range fire on them and they must be routed out by thorough patrol action.

The Japanese on Attu made highly effective use of their AA artillery as field artillery, placing fire both as air bursts and impact bursts.

As has been previously reported from other theaters, the Japanese are prone to counterattack "at the drop of a hat." At Attu, contrary to what had been expected, the Japanese did not counterattack under cover of darkness, all counterattacks being made during daylight hours. The Japanese on Attu, however, did attempt to infiltrate snipers into our positions during the hours of darkness.

They preferred to do their fighting on ridge lines rather than in valleys and, as has been reported from other theaters, they do a great deal of their fighting from the reverse slope of ridges and hills. On numerous occasions, when the ridge line had been taken, the Japanese would drop down the reverse slope to just below the military crest; from these positions they would wait for the American troops to come over the top, whereupon they fired not only with rifles and machine guns, but with 50-mm grenade launchers. The taking of a ridge line therefore required the taking not only of the crest of the hill, but of the reverse slope as far as, and including, the military crest. Many Jap counterattacks were launched up the reverse slope of a ridge from just below the military crest, on terrain so difficult that it was necessary for the enemy to crawl on all fours in order to advance. In doing this, however, they presented excellent targets for American troops armed with both the M1 rifle and hand grenades, and none of their counterattacks against the Northern Force were successful.

American troops with the Northern Force on Attu were in agreement that the most effective weapon that the Japanese infantry had was the 50-mm grenade launcher. On Attu the Japanese used no booby traps and no barbed wire. All enemy dead were carrying gas masks.


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