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"American and British Tactics--As Viewed by the Japanese" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military report on Japanese views on American and British tactics was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 14, Dec. 17, 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 translation of a Japanese document (obtained from U.S. Marine Corps sources) which appears below throws considerable light on Japanese tactics. It is entitled "Land Warfare Tactics to Use against U.S. and British Forces." Apparently it was written prior to December 7, 1941, since it contains no reference to specific operations against Britain or the United States, and this omission would be unusual in a document of this nature written subsequent to that date.

Even if this document were the only available evidence on Japanese tactics, it could be readily seen that they are strong proponents of the attack. The defense plays but a relatively small part in their tactical doctrine. They apparently do not approach the problems of a defense as we do, but think of it rather in terms of the counterattack.

Possibly the most striking features of the tactics recommended are the great emphasis placed on aggressiveness and deception, and the importance given to the envelopment as opposed to the penetration. Of interest also is the respect for the superior firepower of American and British units, which in turn, leads Japanese to place great reliance on maneuver and speed of execution.

So far the Japanese have been very successful in the application of their tactical doctrines, and have accomplished much with considerable economy of force. It remains to be seen whether their offensive spirit can stand the test of attrition, and of determined opposition on terms more equal than those that have, for the most part, heretofore obtained.

The translation follows.

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(Selections from the text compiled by the Staff of the Army in China)


a. Tactics and Strategic Leadership

(1) One peculiarity of the U.S. forces is that the orders of the higher commanders are given in minute detail and leave little room for subordinates to use initiative. For this reason, if the supreme commander does not display a great deal of ability, versatile change of tactics to cope with the situation as it develops is not possible.

The training of all ranks of officers in the handling of troops, because it is based on the peacetime organization, is not of benefit. Because of this, none of these placed in command in wartime, is qualified. U.S. strategy is based on fighting a battle of fortified positions; but their rules for the conduct of battles encourage mobile warfare. In actuality, however, this is not often practiced in training and maneuvers.

Under normal conditions, the Americans display their might in carefully planned operations; but once their planned strategy is spoiled, they must get one or two high commanders to straighten things out. Hence, we must grasp every opportunity not to give them time in which to do this.

In order to capture one of their positions, they must be induced to come outside their fortifications and fight a decisive battle, or else all efforts must be made to put a hitch in their plans; and a policy of throwing them into confusion must be practiced.

Also, because U.S. tactical ideas are simple, deceptive displays of force are one of the most valuable of all anti-U.S. strategic weapons.

(2) Because the U.S. forces sometimes institute action that baffles our expectations, we must not jump at conclusions, but we must take heed of all warnings given us as a result of reconnaissance.

Again, because the character of the American is simple and lacking in tenacity, in their tactics and battle leadership they also lack tenacity; and if they meet with one setback, they have a tendency to abandon one plan for another. For this reason, we must not fail to hammer at this weakness.

The Americans are very poor in scouting, patrolling and security measures, so the effects of a sudden attack and the benefits to be gained therefrom should always be kept in mind.

b. Specific Characteristics of U.S. War Methods, and Japanese Counter-Measures

(1) The Americans make much of firepower, especially the power of artillery, and lay small stress on bayonet charges. So under the cover of night, fog, or a smoke screen, we must take advantage of the lack of flexibility of their plans, cut down the advantage they may have gained by having registered their artillery fire on us, and lead our troops into an attack which will decide victory or defeat.

(2) The decision of the U.S. forces on whether to attack or defend will depend largely on their estimates of the strength of their artillery compared to ours, so it is essential that we conceal our artillery strength and thereby cause them to underestimate it.

(3) The Americans, in forming their attack plans, regard as most important the enemy artillery dispositions. For this reason, if we utilize mobile warfare and either conceal our batteries or establish fake artillery positions, we may reap great benefit and make the Americans fail in their offensive.

(4) The U.S. forces vigorously recommend the offensive, and constantly practice it in maneuvers and training; and unless they feel a definite inferiority in manpower and more particularly in artillery, the view should be taken that they will attempt an offensive.

(5) As the rise of the U.S. forces took place during the World War, it is no wonder that they developed a definite tendency toward position warfare. Even in encounters that are not according to the "book", their leadership follows a fixed path; and they are extremely fearful of enemy counterattacks. For this reason, it is especially necessary for us to utilize constantly mobile warfare tactics.

c. Attack

(1) Attack Plans

(a) The Americans do not minutely reconnoiter the movements of the enemy, and they are particularly poor in determining the direction from which enemy attacks will come. They simply make broad plans for combatting enemy attacks against their fortified positions, but have no idea of our active defense.

We must search for ways of attack and defense against the Americans with their superior firepower; and we must avoid a stationary defense as much as possible. Even when we are, unavoidably, fully on the defensive, we must work to keep our forces mobile.

(b) In an active defense, if we base our defense on firepower in our advanced positions and do not seize every opportunity to counterattack, we will never make any gains. However, if the U.S. forces should have a marked superiority in firepower, then plan an active defense by disposing your forces so as to increase the units in the reserve. Do this by increasing the frontages assigned to front-line units. In doing this, your chances to again use reserves for flanking will be many.

(2) Leadership in an Offensive Action

(a) If the U.S. forces are in a meeting engagement or in an attack on a position (excluding heavily fortified positions), their columns will usually first diverge and then deploy; and in deciding on the plan for deployment, they consider the enemy artillery fire as a factor of first importance. These dispositions will usually be made on a much narrower front than our assembly positions are, and therefore room for their maneuvering will be lessened.

It will be beneficial to study the methods of deployment of the U.S. forces. It should be remembered that at this time communication facilities will not be complete. Also, as their leaders will not have regained control as yet, we may discover good opportunities through maneuver. For this reason, do not relax your reconnaissance of the enemy's movements.

(b) It is bad judgment to fail to use a charge to bring about a final decision. U.S. charges appear usually to be penetrations of enemy positions which have already lost all power of resistance (i.e., after fire superiority has been gained); and their training in hand-to-hand fighting is not sufficient. Because of this, it is well to consider ways of destroying them by desperate fighting within our defensive positions.

(c) We must not overlook the fact that the Americans, who believe in a principle of mutual support, are paradoxically inclined to reckless and headlong advances; and at times, they do not consider a coordinated advance, but instead rush forward alone. Consequently, when their forces are separated, crush them individually, or, by a counterattack by all your forces, endeavor to deliver a crushing blow.

(3) Meeting Engagements

(a) In meeting engagements, it is usual for them to commit their forces only when control has been regained, so take advantage of this by sending up an advance guard to hold fast, and use your main body to maneuver and strike at the enemy's flanks. Again, because the initial artillery fire of the enemy will be unorganized, bring up to the front at once a strong force of artillery to press the enemy. It is essential that the initiative be taken from him and that he not be allowed to regain it.

(b) Their advance guards have a tendency to carry out independent attacks and also often deploy the front line too broadly. By advancing a small part of our troops, we can in most cases make the enemy deploy prematurely. Also, by bringing up an advance guard, we can gather our offensive strength in one spot for a decisive attack, break through the enemy front line, and strike the main body during deployment. By training your troops to go on to the offensive quickly, you will prevent the enemy completing their deployment.

(c) When we examine the methods of deployment of the U.S. forces, we find that there are few occasions on which unforeseen battles will result. Because this is a definite weakness of the Americans, we must train ourselves to take advantage of it.

(d) In dawn attacks, there are times when contact between opposing forces is lost. Therefore, when you fear that the Americans may launch a dawn attack at the same time that you are changing your dispositions in preparation, take advantage of the fact that while they are advancing to the line of departure, their covering fire will not yet be ready, and carry out a small attack against them. Or, depending on circumstances, if you are well acquainted with the terrain within the enemy's lines, you may make a definite counterattack.

(e) Thus, while American attacks are not to be feared, it is most desirable that we investigate fully the ways of combatting his superior firepower. An attack or defense based on firepower will never bring good results when used against the U.S. forces.

d. Defense

(1) The American defense does not utilize the ideas incorporated in our active defense system.

(2) Defensive Dispositions

(a) In cases when there is not much time, their organization of fire is weak and there are gaps in it. The machine guns are particularly fond of displaying their independence, and coordinated fire between machine-gun units is not often seen.

(b) When there is time to spare, they display magnificent, systematic organization of fire by using many types of weapons, and aim it in front of the position; but they have no minute organization of fire (i.e., fire distribution by squads, etc.).

(3) From the preceding, it can be seen that when they are pressed for time, the American dispositions, and especially their organization of fire, are not coordinated. Therefore, we must not fail to move fast and attack quickly, giving them no time in which to prepare their positions.

However, on the whole, in deciding on a plan of attack against American positions, the possibilities of maneuver must not be overlooked. Utilize a deceptive display of strength in order to draw the enemy out of his positions. When he attacks, by using your infantry guns, keep him from breaking through. Then, practice the principle of manifesting your whole might in a counterattack.

e. Night Fighting

Insofar as night fighting is concerned, they are unlike our troops, who can attack at night and bring about decisive results, but instead, the Americans simply use the night hours to better their preparations.

For the Americans, in view of the organization of their military forces, national characteristics, and habits, it is best to make use of superior fire and not indulge in night fighting. This is a point of which we should take advantage.

f. Pursuit and Retreat

(1) Pursuit

U.S. pursuit of the enemy starts only when the enemy has left his position and begun the retreat. In the drill regulations, it is emphasized that the whole result of battles may be decided by energetic pursuits. In actuality, because they fear enemy counterattacks and demand order in the ranks, their manner of pursuit is not vigorous. And if their pursuit is delayed by forces of the enemy, they will finally go on the defensive in order to collect their strength.

(2) Retreat

In general, their leadership in a retreat is very incapable. For this reason, once you have defeated them, great advantage may be gained by pursuing them relentlessly.

g. Duty in the Field

Duty in the field is poorly performed by the Americans, particularly their security measures and patrols that operate over short distance. Many weak points and defects are to be found here, and because of this, concealment of our movements and execution of surprise attacks is comparatively easy, especially at night. Their use of cover and concealment is poor.

h. Tanks and Automobiles

(1) Tanks

(a) Their tanks are considered able to fight independently, but coordinated action with the infantry is difficult. In consideration of this, after the tanks have smashed the enemy positions, their infantry is brought up to exploit the gains. But calm, individual soldiers, well trained in throwing explosive charges, will be able to accomplish their destruction.

(b) The movement of their tanks is extremely skillful and they are able to pass through practically any type of terrain. Consequently, we should expect attacks from U.S. tanks and be on our guard. However, their antitank measures, on the whole, are crude, and if we use our tanks well, we may crush the enemy line or break through without much difficulty.

(2) Automobiles

A great many automobiles are included in the organization of the U.S. forces, and they are thoroughly experienced in their use, planning strategic and tactical actions with them that are unthought of by us, so this is a point that demands attention. In a place where automobiles can travel, regardless of how bad the roads may be, you must consider that they will try to use them.

i. Vulnerability of the Rear

As the rear of the U.S. forces seems very vulnerable, threats and raids on their rear confuse them extremely and produce many advantageous possibilities for the conduct of operations.


a. General Rules

(1) Although the English army has some mechanical mobility, in general, it does not have much maneuverability. Therefore a quick decisive battle should be sought by flanking and encirclement.

(2) Since determined action is generally better than prudence, we should avail ourselves of the enemy's hesitation in completing his preparation to gain the initiative.

(3) We must gain victory by taking the offensive and seizing the initiative, and overcoming the enemy.

(4) Since their front is generally strong and the distribution of firepower especially thorough there, we should strive to operate on their rear and take advantage of surprise. Since they are unskilled in night fighting, we should make extensive use of it.

(5) As they have great numbers of vehicles and their use of them is skillful, we must make our dispositions carefully so as to limit use of these vehicles. It is essential to be on the alert for motorized flanking and encircling movements.

(6) They definitely use gas; therefore, antigas measures are essential.

b. Attack

(1) They are generally cautious in attacking, and in planned attacks they have a tendency to use positional warfare and make exhaustive reconnaissance and preparations. We should strengthen our position more and more while they are getting ready, and at the same time, by stratagem, try to take the offensive.

(2) In attack, they endeavor to encircle or break through. However, as they are cautious when carrying out an encirclement, we should strive to utilize our maneuverability, further encircle the enemy's encircling force, and fight a decisive action at a point where the enemy does not expect it.

Do not use a passive defense if you can help it, as it has the disadvantage of making it easy for the British to build up their strong firepower. On the defensive, choose a position where the front line will not be under the enemy's fire.

(3) Although they realize the necessity of a charge, particularly in gaining the final decision in a conflict, they do not concern themselves much about its strength, but rather strengthen their firepower and their positions. The infantry weapons for hand-to-hand fighting are few, and automatic weapons are many. The infantry just follow the curtain of fire and occupy the ground. For this reason, it is necessary to plan to split them by means of artillery and machine-gun fire and isolate the infantry. Then by taking advantage of a good opportunity, we can counterattack. It is necessary to carry the battle out of the area selected by him so as to not come under the concentrated fire of the enemy artillery and to prevent his pouring fire on the charging infantry.

It is especially necessary, when our forces are weak, to rely on the bayonet against the enemy troops who penetrate our positions, and to be prepared to drive them back by this means in the final melee.

(4) They are also over-cautious in selecting the main objective of their attack in a meeting engagement, and ordinarily do so after the battle has begun and they have detailed reports of the enemy's dispositions and strength. For this reason, it is essential to bring about, by swift and resolute action, a decisive battle before the enemy's preparations are completed.

c. Defense

(1) Because they often utilize an active defense, it is necessary to dispose your troops carefully, and at the same time, so that they will not discover in this disposition a good opportunity, you must make them abandon their aggressive plans by fierce and resolute attacks.

(2) They generally do not give much consideration to their flanks and make their front strong; therefore, it is best that we carry out encircling movements.

(3) As they spend a great deal of time on their defensive preparations, it is essential to attack swiftly in open warfare and not give them any time to spare. Also, as they sometimes do not make a thorough disposition of troops so that they can move them to suit the situation, it is necessary to attack unexpectedly and swiftly and prevent their making suitable dispositions.

(4) Their firepower, particularly that of the artillery and machine guns, is disposed densely in front of their position, and therefore it is, of course, necessary to choose a deployment which utilizes the terrain and to move quickly. You must particularly pay heed to secrecy and the concealment of your movements and utilize darkness and smoke screens.

(5) Since they hold out large reserves, particularly mobile reserves, you must endeavor to keep your plan hidden and take advantage of surprise. Also, you must use strong striking forces and break through the enemy's lines at one stroke.

(6) When their dispositions are in great depth, to break through, you must also organize in depth and break through the position at one stroke. This is especially necessary to prevent their counterattacking with their mobile reserves and breaking up the attack. To cope with this situation, you must press home the attack with superior force and crush them. Even if there is a deep and somewhat flexible resistance in front of their main position, attack this with the necessary strength, but seek to keep your forces from getting mixed and to keep losses down.

(7) Although the artillery is under a unified command, it has various sorts of duties and is kept mobile; you can expect fire almost anywhere. For this reason, you must attack in strength and, using concentrated fire to the fullest, try to neutralize their guns.

(8) Where the position, especially a position in the rear, is established in depth, and a mobile reserve is used, particularly when a breakthrough is countered by mobile artillery, the coordination of the infantry and artillery, for the action after the penetration of the enemy's position must be very carefully planned.

(9) When they discover the attacker's penetration, they call down concentrated fire on it. Therefore, the attacker must make the penetration difficult to observe; and his artillery must take appropriate measures to neutralize this fire.

(10) They use tanks to good advantage; and measures against them are essential.


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