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"Japanese Tactics in Burma" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report on Japanese ambush tactics in Burma is taken from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 7, Sept. 10, 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 information is based on a report by a British officer of the fighting in Burma. As will be readily seen it is not a complete analysis, but simply a collection of miscellaneous notes.

Tactically the Japanese relied for the most part on the ambush. The ambushes were generally very skillfully located, but were always on the same pattern, particularly with reference to the positions of weapons.

The chief form of enemy defense encountered was a combination road-block and ambush. The position was invariably located at a point where woods converged on the road. Covering weapons were effectively located. Light machine guns in dispersed positions were placed forward of the woods, and snipers spotted in the woods to prevent envelopment of the position. The road-block is also covered by one or more heavy weapons. In three instances a French 75 (probably taken in Indo-China) was encountered at a road-block. In each instance the block was in a bend of the road, and the gun was placed in a concealed position off the road about 50 yards beyond the block on a line in prolongation of the original direction of the road. To knock out this gun the area may be searched with artillery and mortar fire, but its elimination is primarily an infantry task to be accomplished by mopping up the gun crew with small arms. In addition, a 37-mm antitank gun may be placed very close to the road-block, usually on the opposite side of the road to the 75-mm gun; a 4-inch mortar may be emplaced further to the rear.

[Japanese Road Block]

The Japanese 37-mm antitank gun is only 2 feet high, being supported on small wheels. It is thus easily concealed and is usually put in position in a ditch or in the shadow of a building. It may also be found near culverts which the crews use when being shelled.

The Japanese 4-inch mortar is not as highly effective as some reports would indicate. For effect it depends entirely upon blast and its killing power is very limited. One of its chief dangers is its incendiary powers against halted vehicles. When attacked by British mortar fire, the fire of this weapon became inaccurate. If the counter-mortar fire was at all accurate the enemy moved the gun. As soon as its position has been determined, it should be overrun by infantry. When the 4-inch mortar is used in support of road blocks it is generally emplaced near the road, but farther to the rear than the 75-mm and antitank guns.

The Japanese have invariably emplaced their light machine guns a short distance in front of the forward edge of a woods. This is done in order to escape artillery or mortar fire which may be directed at the edge of the woods. The machine guns are not dug in, but they are cleverly concealed by use of background; every precaution is taken to eliminate splash. The guns are normally fired on fixed lines along the edge of the woods. In attacking the machine guns, artillery and mortar fire should start some 50 yards in front of the edge of the woods, and the leading infantry must follow the barrage as closely as possible. Any formation in line, or bunching, by the attacking infantry is suicidal. From the jump-off point until the objective is overrun the infantry must remain widely dispersed; within platoons at least one section should be held in reserve, and sections should maintain a patrol formation.

In wood and jungle fighting the Japanese snipers presented a most difficult problem. They remained at their posts with great bravery, and in the opinion of the reporting officer they had been assigned a definite time to remain there. Snipers took positions in trees, on the ground, and in houses. The elimination of snipers in trees or on the ground is the task of the individual soldier. Care must be taken not to advance in a straight line; one should get behind a tree, observe in all directions, both on the ground and up in the tree, and then move very rapidly to a tree about 10 yards to the right or left front. This process is repeated, and it is probable that the sniper will either be spotted or that the stalker will get behind him, and have the sniper at his mercy. Snipers posted in houses present a different problem, and experience shows that too many casualties occur if stalking is attempted. The best means of attack appears to be either to burn them out or use grenades under the protection of smoke.

The Japanese were very adept in the use of camouflage and altered their appearance according to the nature of the terrain that they were traversing. Examples of their use of camouflage were these: a green net for the helmet, long green gloves, bottle-green liquid carried to color face and rifle, different colored shirts carried by the individual soldier, and elephants colored with varying shades of green paint.


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