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"Japanese Tactics in the Philippines" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. report on Japanese Tactics in the Philippines was originally printed in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 6, August 27, 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 comments and lessons on Japanese tactics and equipment have been gathered in interviews with officers who served with Filipino and American troops during the campaign in Luzon. They do not represent a complete survey of Japanese tactics and equipment, but are rather the 'observations of individual officers on what they saw and what impressed them.

The Japanese soldiers were fairly young, their average age being about 22 to 23, although the best troops were about 25, many of whom had had experience in China.

The Japanese have troops trained primarily for beach landing. Specially built barges drawn by motor boats carry 80 or more men. Landings were usually made at night; when possible, during a full moon. Ordinarily, the landings were made about midnight, with the barges coming as far in on the beach as possible.

Although the Japanese have specially trained landing troops they did not always employ them, particularly when they knew the opposition would not be strong. Whenever the Japanese did encounter strong resistance in an attempted landing, they simply moved to another location and landed where the enemy was not present. After landing, they would attempt to push inland and encircle the troops along the shore.

No Japanese parachute troops were employed in the Philippines. The Japanese did, however, utilize parachutes in dropping bales of propaganda and in dropping food and ammunition to troops who had been isolated from their main forces.

As in every other campaign in the Far East, the principal tactics used by the Japanese centered on their ability to infiltrate. The actual infiltrations were usually carried out at night. The Japanese would work their way forward in small parties through gaps, around flanks, and even through the front lines. They would remain quiet during the following day, and on the next night more troops would infiltrate the American position until there was a sufficiently strong force actually in or behind the American lines to launch a small attack. In these infiltration tactics the Japanese were capitalizing on the initiative and "fanaticism" of the individual soldier.

American officers seem to agree that this "fanaticism" manifests itself particularly in lack of fear of death. As one officer puts it, "they will do things that they know will cost them their lives; for example, throw themselves on wire so that the following troops may pass over their bodies, or destroy tank mines by deliberately walking on them." In actual battle they are ferocious fighters. They very rarely surrender, because they fear what their captors will do to them and because they believe that if they die they go to Heaven and their families are honored. They also believe that if they surrender and are later retaken by their own troops, their families will be disgraced and they themselves will be punished. Even when surrounded, individual groups and soldiers will continue to fight on. One occasion has been reported when U.S. forces surrounded about 2,000 Japanese behind the American lines; about 200 got away, but the rest fought so savagely, refusing to surrender, that only about 50 were left to be captured. Many Japanese will even go so far as to commit suicide rather than be taken prisoner.

Another instance of the excellent fighting qualities of the individual Japanese soldier was illustrated in the extensive use of snipers. Apparently the members of the sniper corps were a picked group, for their marksmanship was extremely good, and they had been provided with special clothing. The footwear of the sniper was a split-toe, rubber-soled sneaker with a cloth top. He wore a head net over a steel helmet; and a loose shirt or smock of green and white replaced the usual uniform. Green sprigs and leaves were inserted in the head net over his helmet. Climbing a tree, the sniper would hide in the foliage after tying himself to the tree with vines or rope. There he would wait patiently for a suitable target. These snipers apparently had instructions to concentrate on the American officers, for often they would let a whole detachment of Filipino or American enlisted men go by in order to wait for a shot at an officer. The snipers employed the regular .25 caliber rifle of the ground troops, using powder which gave no flash, no smoke, and "a report not much louder than that of a B-B gun."

Characteristic of Japanese tactics was the attack at dusk. Infiltrating and moving around to the flanks, they would take as much territory as possible before actual darkness fell. During the night, positions would be consolidated so that by dawn they would have their recently occupied ground well organized against possible U.S. counterattacks. At all times the Japanese kept up a pressure against our lines, constantly seeking gaps and weak spots. When one was found, a small group would go in as far as possible, to be followed by more unless the first, were immediately wiped out.

The Japanese had a novel method of serving their light machine gun. One man served as the mount, the second man was gunner. They would both drop to the ground and as soon as they had finished a clip, they would roll over, crawl away about 10 or more yards and then open up on the same targets. This had the effect of confusing the American and Filipino troops as to the exact position of the enemy, sometimes leading them to believe that there were two or more machine guns operating against them. The gun used was not a tommy gun, as many thought, but simply the Nambu light .25 caliber machine gun.

The Japanese artillery employed a fifth gun in many batteries. While the battery was firing, the fifth gun would range and obtain data for new targets, and after the four guns of the firing battery had accomplished their first mission they could then shift to the new target without delay. The Japanese handled their artillery well, except that in the beginning of the campaign their disposition of guns and batteries showed that they had not had much experience against an enemy who also used artillery. For example, initially there was very little attempt to conceal or camouflage the Japanese guns. After their artillery had been subjected to severe concentrations by the U.S. artillery, however, they learned quickly. Another mistake made at first was bringing up truck columns under U.S. artillery fire or attempting to occupy towns which were well within our artillery range, but the heavy casualties suffered soon taught them the value of camouflage and dispersion. The Japanese artillery fire was ordinarily accurate. They used the 105-mm. and 150-mm. guns, both of which were excellent. The range of the 105 is approximately 20,000 yards, that of the 150, 27,000 yards. The few 240-mm. pieces were not extensively used.

At first Japanese counterbattery fire was not good. There were probably two reasons for this: first, as already stated, the Japanese had never before been up against an enemy who had much artillery, that is, enough to make real counterbattery worth while; second, the U.S. counterbattery fire was so excellent that it more or less neutralized the Japanese artillery. At the end, however, when they were bombarding Corregidor, their counterbattery fire was very good.

Another characteristic of the Japanese was the apparent importance they attached to harassing tactics, with the object of creating confusion and indecision in the minds of their enemy. In these operations, which they kept up constantly, they utilized individuals and small groups to fire from unexpected positions, conduct sniping operations, and demonstrate in unexpected places. As reported in the newspapers, they would often use firecrackers to achieve this confusion. Bunches of firecrackers were set off at different positions in front of the U.S. lines, on their flanks, and even behind the lines. In so doing, they hoped to confuse U.S. troops as to the actual Japanese position, and also to draw U.S. fire and thus locate machine-gun and rifle groups. These tactics were effective against raw troops, but their effect decreased soon after soldiers had been exposed to them.

The Japanese had almost complete control of the air, and they utilized it to observe, bomb, and strafe the U.S. and Filipino troops. Most of the bombing was high-level; dive bombing was used occasionally but only against front-line troops. Against rear-area installations high-level attacks were always used. Ordinarily these high-level attacks were kept up to about 20,000 or 30,000 feet by U.S. antiaircraft.

Reports varied on the effectiveness of the Japanese Fifth Column activity. Apparently the Japanese attempted to use Fifth Column rather extensive but had only fair results. Some fires were lit on the beaches and in jungles, and some signals given with flares and flashlights. Many of the flares were lighted by the Japanese themselves with the object of creating confusion among the U.S. troops.

The Japanese also used propaganda directed against both the Army and the civilians. How effective it was is not yet known, but the significant thing is that they did seriously try to use it, and may be expected to use it every time they feel there is any chance of obtaining results.

From Japanese activities in the Philippine campaign it is apparent that they will attempt, whenever possible, to tap wires and intercept radio messages. U.S. officers who fought in the Philippines emphasize that all conversations should be in code. There should be no reference to numerical designations or to individuals.

The Japanese also attempted to capitalize on the large number of refugees, driving them into the U.S. lines, thus adding to our burden of supply. It is reported that between 10,000 and 30,000 refugees flooded Bataan.

One officer gives the following comment as the most important generalization to be made on the Japanese soldier: "The Japanese are crafty, shrewd, given to deception. They are amazingly patient and wait hours, even days, for their chance. They are tough individual soldiers and work well in small groups of two or three men."

Another officer gives the following observation: "Don't underestimate the Jap. He is patient, an individualist, taught to go by himself. He does not fear capture when he gets behind your line. Guard your headquarters. He works at night. He is full of trickery; he knows English, will learn your name, call to you, get you off your guard, and kill you. He is a past master at using devices to annoy you and work on your morale even though these devices may have little other material effect. He doesn't surrender and in battle is a savage fighter."


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