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"Japanese Defensive Tactics in the Solomons" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report on Japanese defensive tactics in the Solomon Islands was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 10, Oct. 22, 1942.

[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.]


The following are notes on Japanese defensive tactics encountered by our forces in recent actions in the Solomon Islands:

"Japanese trenches and shelters on the islands attacked by U.S. forces were skillfully emplaced under buildings and hedges. All dirt excavated in constructing shelters had been carried away so that detection of field works was very difficult.

"Telephone lines of galvanized wire were laid between Japanese strongpoints. Our shell fire and bombing had disrupted their communications, No evidence of visual signalling or arm and hand signals was observed. At night the Japanese used whistle signals, but their meaning was not established.

"Japanese weapons noted were rifles, pistols, light machine guns and grenades. Mortar fire was encountered on some islands but not on others.

"The flanks of Japanese positions and weapon emplacements were covered by snipers. Snipers were concealed in the tops of palm trees and were not detected until they opened fire, despite careful observation of tree tops. The Browning automatic rifle proved to be an excellent weapon for dealing with snipers.

"On several occasions, the Japanese were called upon to surrender but ignored the opportunity. Two Japanese were observed to throw down their rifles and run toward our lines with their hands in the air. Our forces ceased fire, but a Japanese machine gun shot down the would-be prisoners before they reached our lines.

"The Japanese made extensive use of natural caves, and replaced casualties at near-by guns from personnel in reserve in the caves.

"When grenades were first tossed into Japanese positions, the Japs threw them back. It was found necessary by our troops to release the firing mechanism and count to three before throwing, in order that grenades would explode before the Japs could throw them back.

"Fighting took place at ranges of 50 to 100 yards.

"The Japanese staged several small local counterattacks of 8 to 10 men led by an officer. The Japanese were nearly invisible but disclosed their positions by holding their rifles, with fixed bayonets, aloft while they assembled.

"The slit trenches employed by the Japanese gave excellent protection from bombing.

"When questioned about the lack of prisoners, a U.S. officer said that apparently a great deal of propaganda had been spread among the Japanese soldiers about the horrible things that would happen to prisoners.

"Naval gunfire and dive-bombing was still going on when the initial wave landed. No fire was received by this first wave, as all the Japanese had taken cover. After cessation of naval gun fire and bombing, the Japanese began firing from dugouts on the island and fire was received from an adjacent island.

"The first wave tossed grenades into the entrance to the dugouts that they passed. Although the grenades exploded within the entrance, it was later found that they were ineffective due to the type of entryway. Enemy troops fired from dugouts on the rear of the first wave and into the second and third waves, aided by snipers in the tops of coconut trees.

"Japanese dugouts were cut back into the hill on the island and were faced on the front and flanks with sand bags and steel plates. A U.S. sergeant sketched one of these dugouts as follows:

  [Japanese Dugout]

"The Sergeant stated that the Japanese fired from the entry of the dugout. Each dugout had about eight men in it.

"Fourteen dugouts were seen by the sergeant. He stated they were close to the water's edge and were mutually supporting.

"The Japanese installed no obstacles nor rigged any booby traps.

"One double-barreled light machine gun was captured. It fed alternately right and left from a central clip.

"The Japanese were very adept at concealing themselves. Some hid under their shelter halves and others under fallen palm fronds. One sniper shot down from a tree had coconuts hung around his neck to help conceal him. One sniper in a palm tree had protected himself with armor plate.

"No means of communication between dugouts were seen nor did the sergeant see any control exercised by officers or noncommissioned officers. Soldiers appeared to fight as individuals.

"Japanese marksmanship was characterized as poor and not very dangerous if one kept moving and avoided lying in the open.

"It was emphasized that no flash, smoke or muzzle blast was visible from Japanese weapons and this materially aided the Japanese in remaining concealed.

"The Japanese snipers paid particular attention to picking off officers and noncommissioned officers whose exterior garments carried insignia or markings indicating their rank."

*        *        *        *

Further information on the Solomon Islands campaign and on the tactics and fighting qualities of the Japanese soldier is contained in the following abstract of a personal letter from a Marine officer serving with our forces in the Solomons.

"I want to try and describe some of the characteristics of the Japanese soldier. Some of it may sound like so much hooey but it is an actual fact.

"Individually, he is a good soldier; in fact, an excellent one. They very, very seldom give up but will fight until killed, even after being badly wounded. Of a force of well over 700 that we wiped out, we were only able to take 34 prisoners, and 33 of them were so badly wounded that they couldn't do anything. We asked each one if they had been told that they would be killed if captured and they said "No," but that they expected to be. All insisted that they would never be able to return to Japan, so that probably is the answer.

"The first bunch that hit my right flank at 3 a.m. on the 21st, evidently didn't realize that they were approaching our positions. They were walking right in the edge of the surf and got tangled up in some barbwire that we had salvaged from fences. They started jabbering so our bunch let go with everything they had. They immediately rushed our positions and it was a grand mess for a few minutes. After driving them from our positions they took refuge right in the edge of the surf underneath a 3-foot bank and there they stayed about 50 yards from our line. By that time their main force closed in and tried to advance down the narrow sandspit; naturally, the slaughter was terrific. The rest of the main body had deployed on the east side of the river--about 100 yards from our lines--and a beautiful fire fight continued for many hours. They were well equipped with mortars, 70-mm cannons, flame-throwers, and heavy machine guns.

"There were probably close to 200 that were actually piled up along the narrow sandspit. The ones that were wounded would lie perfectly still but continued to snipe at us all during the day. We had one captain wounded by one even after we had, we thought, cleaned them out thoroughly. As we closed in through the mass of bodies, one man happened to step on a hand and he thought he felt it move so he kicked it. As he did, the Jap jumped up and tried to throw a grenade at a group near but the pin never came out. I actually saw dead Japs with grenades in their hands with the pins pulled. Others that I saw had two or three wounds that had been bound up, but they stayed right there until the end.

"After it was all over, we saw one swimming well out to sea so we sent a boat out to get him. As the boat came alongside he made a dive and never came up. In other words, they kill or get killed. You must give them that credit.

"As you have been told before, they are great on sniping. After our initial landing, and after they had taken to the mountains, they worried us quite a bit, as they would slip in at night (or hide out during the day) and do a lot of firing. For two nights we actually had them running around inside Regimental Headquarters lines. As it was as dark as pitch we couldn't fire and they would outrun our boys. We had one sniper near our galley that would take one shot of a morning and one in the evening. We combed the fields and the coconut trees but we never found him. I am glad to say that he was a damn poor shot and he didn't get anyone before he finally beat it.

"Each Jap carried a camouflage net made of mesh with wood-fiber strands, and it is actually impossible to see them at 50 yards if they lie still with it on.

"The unit that hit us had landed 40 miles down the beach two nights before, so they had hiked and carried all of their heavy equipment that distance in less than 22 hours' hiking time. They hid in the brush during daylight. They had no food except what little each man carried and it was practically nil--I imagine they had eaten what they brought ashore and I can't figure out what they expected to do for more. Maybe they expected to get ours.

"In my opinion it boils down to this. The Japs are excellent individual soldiers but their headwork is very poor. They have gotten away with murder so many times maybe they think that it only takes a small force to lick a big one. Well, they got badly fooled once anyway."


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