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"Notes from Guadalcanal" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following report on Japanese forces on Guadalcanal originally appeared in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 35, October 7, 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.]


a. Variations in Japanese Infantry Organization

From time to time changes are noticed in the enemy's infantry organization. Some of these, such as the reduction of LMG and grenade-discharger fire-power within the platoon, have obviously been due to casualties, and in view of their temporary nature, it is not proposed to discuss them here. Others however, indicate planned reorganization, and examples of these are given below. They should be compared with organizations given in Japanese tables of organization.

(1) A four-gun (37-mm) regimental AT gun company (quick fire gun) was identified at Guadalcanal, and there are various other proofs of its existence in the South West Pacific area. In Burma, however, no regimental 37-mm AT gun company has been identified, and antitank guns have been allotted to units from independent antitank gun companies.

(2) Both the four-, and three-rifle-company battalion organizations have been met with in the South West Pacific area, and a battalion organization of three companies has been used extensively in the Arakan campaign in Western Burma, thus reducing a battalion at full strength to about 750. Frequently, the 4th, 8th and 12th companies are lacking.

(3) Another point of interest is the appearance in Burma of two machine cannon in the infantry battalion. This machine cannon is reported to be similar to the 20-mm "Oerlikon" gun, a dual purpose AA/AT gun, with a short barrel. A similar organization has not so far been reported from the South West Pacific.

(4) Finally, it should be noted that 37-mm AT guns have not been identified in the battalion gun platoon either in the South West Pacific area or in Burma.

b. Equipment Carried by a Japanese Soldier During Pacific Operations

One Japanese soldier in the Pacific area had the following equipment which he, and most of the men of his unit, carried during operations.

Rifle and 150 rounds, two hand grenades, haversack containing five days' supply of rice, two tins of beef, three packets of biscuits, medicine for a stomach trouble, small white tablets for malaria, a water purifier -- one between three men, a bandage, a water bottle, tunic, long trousers, puttees, boots, socks. The soldier stated that originally the men of his unit carried respirators but that most of these had been used as fuel when boiling rice.

c. Front-Line Letters from Guadalcanal

Referring to the letters quoted below, General Marshall, United States Chief of Staff wrote, "Soldiers and officers alike should read these notes and seek to apply their lessons. We must cash in on the experience which these and other brave men have paid for in blood."

These letters were written by the men who, at that time, were fighting the Japanese on Guadalcanal.

(1) A Japanese Trick

"I have been charged twice by the Japs in bayonet charges", wrote a Marine colonel. "Our Marines can out-bayonet-fight them and I know our Army men will do the same. In the last push we executed three bayonet charges.

"A Japanese trick to draw our fire was for the hidden Jap to work his bolt back and forth. Men who got sucked in on this and fired without seeing what they were firing at, generally drew automatic fire from another direction."

(2) Nicknames

"In the Raiders we adopted the custom of dropping all ranks and titles. We used nicknames for the officers. All ranks use these nicknames for us.** We did this because the Japs caught on to the names of the officers and would yell or speak in the night: 'This is Captain Joe Smith talking. 'A' Company withdraw to the next hill.' So we adopted nicknames as code words. Captain Walt becomes 'Silent Lou'. My nickname was 'Red Mike'. An example of the use of these nicknames as code words is: One night the Japs put down smoke and they yelled 'gas'. We were green at that time and two of our companies withdrew leaving 'A' Company exposed on its two flanks. In this instance, I was a battalion commander. Captain Walt called me on the voice radio to inform me of the situation. He was cautious and used nicknames as follows: He said, 'Who is speaking?' and I said, 'Red'. He said, 'What name do you identify with 'Silent'? I said 'Lou'. He said, 'That is correct'. So we both knew that we were talking to each other and were not talking to the enemy. He explained the situation to me. At the end of his conversation, a voice broke in and said in perfect English, 'Our situation here, Colonel Edson, is excellent. Thank you, sir. This is the enemy speaking.' This should be taken as an example of how quick the Japanese are at interception, rather than a hard-and-fast suggestion as to how to outwit them. Any code names or nicknames such as these will have to be changed very frequently, if possible, daily.

(3) They Attack in Bunches

"I can report officially to you that we had nine men killed in one company in the last assault; four of these men were killed by a wounded sniper who had three holes in him. He was lying in thick brush 15 yards from my CP, camouflaged, and had been passed over for dead. You have to kill to put them out. They attack in bunches, shoulder to shoulder. An example; We were on the Matanikau River (see figure 1.) Our companies were at half strength. This was a Raider battalion plus two companies of the 3rd battalion, Fifth Marines. The Japanese beach-head was a thick jungle with camouflaged standing-type fox holes. They had with them in their beach-head six heavy machine guns and eight light machine guns which we captured in this action.

[Guadalcanal (Japanese Bridgehead)]

"At 1830 they smoked our two right companies, and when the smoke had enveloped these two companies, the Japs broke out. They came in a mass formation, 20 abreast, yelling, bayonets fixed, automatic weapons working, rear ranks throwing hand grenades, (white arrow in the sketch, Fig. 1, shows the Japanese route). They were trying to escape to the sand spit at the mouth of the river in order to cross the river to get back. Our right front company had just completed a double-apron barbed-wire fence. When the Japanese hit the left flank of the right company, they killed nine out of the first eleven men they met. Then they hit the barbed-wire. Two of our heavy machine guns opened up, shooting down along this barbed-wire fence and dispersed their attack. It got dark quickly as it does here. There was smoke, Japs and Marines all mixed up. Three Jap officers were swinging their two-handed swords. There was hand-to-hand fighting all night long. We mopped them up at daybreak. We killed 78 Japs. They killed 12 Marines and wounded 26 of us."

(4) Keep Them Moving

"Try to get the Japs on the move; keep bouncing them around; don't let them get set. When you let them get set, they are hard to get out. We have had a great deal of success with the 81-mm mortar and with artillery fire. Here is an example:

"We had the Japs surrounded with their backs to the river, (see Fig. 2). The three battalions were in close contact with the enemy. It was obvious that we had a large number of Japs surrounded and that the best way to get them out was to place field artillery and 81-mm fire on them. However, the problem was to put this fire on the enemy and not on our own troops. The movement which we executed was carefully coordinated with the artillery and with the mortars. Each battalion, at a certain time, was to withdraw just before the firing was due to start. We were very careful to explain to the men what we were doing so that they would not get a mistaken idea of the order for withdrawing. The maneuver was successful. Over 500 Japs were killed in this action. We had 44 Marines killed and 63 wounded. Our men were not hurt by the artillery and mortar fire, of course, but were killed and wounded in the fighting which took place before the withdrawal. After the firing ceased, we went in and mopped up in hand-to-hand fighting."

[Guadalcanal (Japanese Defense Position)]

(5) The Jap Attacks on a Narrow Front

"Most of the fighting here has been at extremely close range, and there has been as much throwing of hand grenades as firing of weapons. No previous report, or even comment, on our enemy and our fighting has been made. For one thing, we do not want to appear boastful, for another, we have been literally so busy we have not had time, really, to think things out.

"Concerning our enemy, several things are apparent. All of his efforts have been in the form of attacks on a narrow front at rather widely separated points. These were mass attacks, and although orders and operation maps captured have shown that they were to be simultaneous attacks, this was never the case. Our feeling is that his failure to estimate the terrain difficulties caused the lack of coordination. The result has been favorable to us, as it has permitted the shifting of our all-too-small reserves from one area to another.

"We believe that the enemy has dispersed his efforts and has therefore failed to make any gain at any one point. When given his choice, he operates exclusively at night. As I said before, he attacks on a very narrow front, practically en masse. This leads to many 'purple nights' when we watch longingly for sunrise. The result for him has been almost complete annihilation in every case. As far as we can determine, these various attacking groups are ordered out, and there are indications that they then pass out of real control of their higher leaders. We have never seen anything to indicate that any effort has been reinforced after the initial push has been made.

"The Japanese soldiers fight with a sort of fanaticism and never surrender. We have taken practically no prisoners. Officers about to be taken prisoner sometimes commit suicide. Our translators on the spot were able to get from captured orders, information on which we have successfully operated at once. It causes me to want never to write another order".

c. Equipment Carried by the Sniper

Japanese snipers in the Pacific have been reported to carry the following items of personal equipment: -

Green combination mosquito net-camouflage hood (this covers the helmet, head and shoulders.)
Green net to camouflage body
Green eye screen
Coil of rope
Small sack of rice (5 in long)
Small bag of hard biscuits
One-half pound of hard candy
Package of concentrated food
Tin of field rations
Small tin of coffee and vitamin pills
Tin of chlorine (to purify water)
Mess tin
Water bottle
Antidote for mustard gas
Stomach pills
Gauze pads
Roll and triangular bandages
Spare socks
Tooth brush
Electric torch
One-half dozen spare lenses for eye holes of respirator
Medical supplies packed in nest of wicker baskets.

It is considered that these items would make the sniper independent for two weeks to one month, requiring only a minimum of food and water from the countryside. It is obvious, of course, that not all snipers are so equipped, but only those required to remain out "on their own" for considerable periods.

d. Identification of Leaders at Night

The following method was used for the identification of Japanese leaders in night operations in the Southwest Pacific.

Company commander--White sashes criss-crossed between the shoulders.
Platoon commander--One white sash across the shoulder.
Section leader--White band around the left arm.

*Ground covered with loose pebbles and small rocks.
**(In one regiment serving in France in 1918, not only were the officers nicknamed but the companies as well. The first battalion consisted of the Quail Company, the Partridge, the Pheasant and the Grouse. A private was a "pack animal" an NCO, a "workman" and an officer a "boob." This last caused telephonic difficulties with visiting officers.)


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