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"Notes on the Burma Campaign" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following report on the Burma Campaign is taken from 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 observations are taken from British sources which summarize the experience gained from the campaign in Burma. The lessons drawn from this campaign must be viewed in the light of the conditions under which the fighting took place: outnumbered United Nations forces were conducting a very difficult retreat, in country which was mainly jungle and where many natives were Fifth Columnists.

a. Training for Jungle Warfare

The British report emphasizes that, for troops unfamiliar with the jungle, first contact with this type of country is confusing and even frightening. The Japanese capitalized on this by the use of fire-crackers and "battle cries" to add to the effect of jungle noises. Troops who are to operate in jungle country should be trained as far as possible under conditions which will familiarize them with this type of terrain.

The report recommends that troops be trained in the use of battle cries, both for purposes of controlling movement and for the psychological effect on enemy morale. The Japanese have made effective use of this device.

b. Movement

The Japanese made little or no use of scouts during night movements, and in some cases they advanced without putting out patrols ahead of their columns. The Japanese were also careless in moving motor transport and normally gave their approach away by failing to dim the headlights.

In the second half of the campaign, the Japanese moved by night and rested during the day. During this period, they made very inadequate provision for security of their bivouacs and were easily surprised during daylight.

c. Fifth Columnists

These were used extensively, sometimes as patrols moving ahead of advancing Japanese forces and sending back information. British ambushes were nearly always given away to the enemy by Fifth Columnists.

d. Japanese Shock Troops

These are killers, trained in individual fighting, self-reliant, and bold to the point of fanaticism. Moreover, they have a very good sense of guerrilla tactics and are capable of effective action in groups. They are masters of the art of concealment and camouflage, and very quick to size up a tactical situation.

Usually armed with light automatic weapons, their sniping has sometimes been deadly, but it is reported that, on the whole, their marksmanship is not adequate to enable them to reap the full benefits of their excellent offensive tactics.

The shock troops are employed primarily for infiltration. They sift through forward lines before the main Japanese forces come up, pin down advance units, and cause confusion in rear areas by seizing key positions quickly and boldly.

The British regard it as of the highest importance that these shock troops be dealt with as quickly as possible, by what is termed a "blitz" party. They recommend that this party be commanded by an experienced officer, often the company commander, and in medium jungle country that the party include two light machine guns and three Tommy guns. The party is formed under cover, and moves to a line of departure as near as possible to the area in which the enemy has been located. From this line, the party advances, shooting from the hip, and spraying all possible enemy positions with short automatic bursts, or two or three rounds of rifle fire. The light machine guns should have tracer ammunition. Muzzles are kept well down for ricochet effect. Any houses and trees in the line of advance must be sprayed with fire. In order to avoid loss of contact between elements of the party and to insure a ready supply of ammunition, care must be taken not to advance too far. It is reported that the Japanese will not stand up against shock tactics of this sort. It is further suggested that "blitz" parties should be made up on the spot from available troops at hand rather than organized as specialist groups; if specialist groups are formed it is feared that they will often not be present at the right time or the right place. Therefore, all riflemen should be trained to participate in a tactical group of this sort.

Emphasis is placed on the need for heavy automatic-weapon fire in jungle warfare against the Japanese shock troops. To meet the automatic weapons of the enemy, the heaviest weight of fire power must be used, and used first.

The British report of this campaign expresses the belief that if the Japanese shock troops can be successfully dealt with, there is less to fear from the action of the main forces.

e. Japanese Pursuit

It is reported in this campaign that the Japanese failed noticeably in aggressive pursuit of withdrawing United Nations forces. This failure was presumably due either to orders which limited forces to a particular objective, or else indicated lack of initiative in pursuit tactics.

f. Mortars in Jungle Fighting

The Japanese 4-inch mortar proved a formidable weapon in jungle warfare. It was brought up very quickly after contact was established, and fire was accurate.

The Japanese avoided siting their mortars on the edge of a jungle or wood. They were generally placed well back from the edge, even as far as 400 to 600 yards. This meant that observation posts must have been well forward of the mortar position, and it is thought that these posts must have controlled the fire by light radio sets or by telephone.

It is reported that the Japanese do not stand up well to shell fire and that mortar fire is very effective in silencing Japanese mortar posts or machine-gun posts. The value of searching fire directed against Japanese light machine guns, mortars, and artillery was very noticeable. On many occasions searching fire of 3-inch British mortars, with variations in range, and deflection shifts of 2 to 10 degrees, had the effect of completely silencing enemy positions over long periods. The British give the following recommendations with regard to use of the mortar:

(1) It is an extremely valuable weapon for the jungle, often being the only support weapon which can deal with short-range targets.

(2) Movement of mortars in jungle country presents a serious problem. Except on main roads the mortars cannot be moved by motor transport. Pack mortars are liable to be lost through the stampede of animals under fire. Jeeps are recommended as the ideal transport vehicle.

(3) Even at night, mortars should be sited away from the edges of jungle clearings or isolated woods in order to avoid being spotted by muzzle flash and neutralized by enemy mortars. The Japanese have often been able to locate machine-gun and mortar positions by patrols and then bring accurate fire at night on these positions. The patrols indicate the position of the weapons by converging fire with red tracer ammunition.

(4) In selecting the mortar position, care must be taken to insure a field of fire clear of tree boughs for a wide traverse. A 15-foot screen of foliage in front of the line of fire will screen the muzzle flash.

(5) The observation posts for direction of mortar fire should be pushed up to the edge of the jungle and should operate by some simple form of visual signal.

(6) The initial laying of the mortar can be accomplished either by the detachment commander at the mortar position, or by sending a gunner forward to the observation post to get range and direction. The opening fire must be at safe margins and corrections boldly made.

(7) In difficult positions, communication from the observation post will be facilitated by clearing tunnels through the jungle. This must be done in such a way as to conceal the tunnels from ground or air observation.

(8) If the rounds fall in high jungle, observation of the fire may be completely blanketed. Where this is the case, systematic searching fire must be used instead of corrected fire.

(9) Smoke ammunition may be used in the jungle to set a dry area on fire, but it is suggested that incendiary ammunition would be much more effective for this purpose.

(10) The small 2-inch mortar is also a good jungle weapon.


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