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
"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:
"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."