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"Japanese Operational Principles: Mandalay Offensive" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. report on the Japanese Mandalay Offensive was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 9, Oct. 8, 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 document, dated March 26, 1942, was found on the corpse of a Japanese battalion commander, and its importance is indicated by the reminder, over the signature of the Chief of Staff of the Army, to the effect that "this document must be carefully protected."

The document starts out by highlighting the objectives to be sought by the Japanese in this campaign, and goes on to enumerate the several steps necessary to bring about a decisive battle in the Mandalay area.

The full text of the instructions follows:

a. Objective

The objective of our Army in this campaign is to crush the combined forces of the British and Chinese, especially the latter. This is to prevent their cooperation, and to consolidate the whole of Burma.

Our army is now fighting to bring about a decisive battle for the South Area Army Forces. Once we succeed, we shall not only check the ambitions of the British in the Far East, but will also deliver a crushing blow to Chiang Kai-Shek's administration, and speed his downfall. Otherwise, if we lack thoroughness in dealing with the enemy, and the battle is a long one, the effect on the Greater East Asia war will be considerable.

All ranks in the army should be taught thoroughly the significance of this campaign and our responsibility.

b. Plan

Before coming to a general engagement, the army should try to catch and annihilate the enemy in their individual areas. But in general the army should either lure the Chinese army out, or force it to fight in the vicinity of Mandalay. Once this is done, the retreat of the main force must be cut off by a wide encircling movement. Meanwhile the enemy's attention must be held, and our frontal units should hold him from retreating until he is exhausted. Then the whole of our army in close cooperation will catch and destroy the enemy, whether encircled or isolated.

This can be called the fundamental plan of this campaign. However the enemy must also have plans; therefore, our fighting must be maintained according to prevailing conditions. It is of primary importance to fight according to this basic plan in order to attain the objective.

The intended encirclement of the enemy is of the greatest importance. When in contact, it must be found out if there is any possibility of the enemy's evading the encirclement. Here the circumstances are different from the conduct of operations in China. In this country, the local inhabitants are quite friendly to as and hostile to the enemy. Moreover, outside the encirclement areas, the country is rough and mountainous. Apart from the main roads, we can well say that there are no lines of communication. All these factors are handicaps to the enemy, and advantageous to our own fighting services. If there is any sign of the enemy's withdrawing before we are ready to strike, we must lose no time in pursuing them so as to fulfill the objective of our fighting plan.

c. Methods

The following points are to bring about the above plan, and are to be understood by all units.

(1) In order to complete the encirclement, the following points are to be memorized:

(a) Secrecy

Units that are assigned to build up the encirclement on the outer wing of the enemy's main force, should, before the general offensive of the army, maintain complete secrecy from enemy air or ground observation, by making use of terrain and darkness. Should they encounter the enemy, these units should encircle him and launch an immediate attack, and avoid giving any information which may lead to an estimate of our strength.

There have been many cases in which the enemy has been able to estimate our strength through movements of our troops in the rear. The secrecy of our rear movements must therefore be strictly maintained. Even in other sectors, although units are northward bound, we should not allow the enemy to overestimate our strength, lest this lead to an early withdrawal of the enemy's main force.

(b) Urgency of Mobility

Ultimate success or failure in a battle depends on the mobility of the units that cut off the enemy's retreat. Once the offensive is on the move, then the units assigned to cut off the enemy's retreat must overcome all difficulties and occupy their objective at a given time.

For this purpose, these units should make full use of local transport organizations, but must not rely too much on these to the detriment of our fighting mobility.

When engaging the enemy, it is not essential to engage him frontally. A sudden flank attack will weaken his defense.

Units assigned to cut off the enemy's retreat are specially picked troops. Preparation for their transportation on short notice to their destination should be completed. After starting, these units should proceed directly to their destination if not harassed by the enemy. They must also, when on the march, maintain contact with other units following.

(c) Roads

The enemy is paying great attention to the construction of strong defensive positions on roads, but generally neglects the importance of the area on the sides of the roads.

Generally speaking, the British and Indian troops pay little attention to demolition of roads, as a result of which the thrust of motorized units is found to be particularly effective. Even the Chinese army seldom destroys Burmese roads as they do their own, since the local inhabitants are, generally speaking, hostile to the Chinese, and without the help of local inhabitants, destruction of roads cannot be fully achieved.

(d) Strongpoints

Units that are assigned to cut off the enemy's retreat must immediately consider the protection of the places they have to occupy. At the same time, they must maintain close contact with other units. They must be in a position either to attack the enemy or to defend themselves. Not one of the enemy must be allowed to escape, and the strong points must be held even if the enemy is attempting to break through from an advantageous position.

There is a common tendency among our troops to neglect the construction of strongpoints, especially protection against tanks and aircraft. When a place is to be protected, antitank obstructions should be erected. If engineers are attached, the construction will be more effective.

(e) Mopping-up

Mopping-up operations within the area of encirclement require time; therefore, the removal of troops from the enemy's line of retreat should not be done until the order is given.

(2) Important Points for Mopping-up Operations

(a) Aggressive Spirit

Not one enemy inside the encirclement must be allowed to escape, whether the operation takes 10 or 20 days. Everything to annihilate them must be done, and with no half-way measures.

(b) Use of Fighting Strength

In the campaign, close cooperation between air and ground must be maintained. Our forces must be concentrated according to time and conditions in order to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible. For this, the various signaling units must be suitably employed, and cooperation well planned.

(c) Air and Ground Cooperation

As the encirclement may extend several hundred kilometers, we require the cooperation of air units while the mopping-up is in full swing. During these operations, air and ground strength must be concentrated at one point, and therefore close air and ground cooperation is very essential. Any unit, under any conditions, must at once distinguish whether a plane overhead is ours or the enemy's, and, if ours, give the prearranged recognition signal. Units must not feel disappointed if it happens to be one of the enemy planes.

d. Supplies from the Rear

Owing to the distances that have to be covered, and the rapid movement of first line units, supplies are usually overdue; therefore, provisions for the troops must be found locally. But as regards ammunition, troops must keeps it secure and die with it. If they rely on supplies from the rear they will certainly lose fighting mobility.

e. Use of Local Inhabitants in Fighting Areas

The movements of the natives have a great effect on the outcome of a campaign. Units must exercise good discipline towards them. Propaganda and pacification should be started at the first opportunity, and everything must be done to induce the people to cooperate with us.

As regards the Burmese, we must respect and protect their temples, and thereby induce the monks to help us.


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