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"Notes on Japanese Artillery" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military notes on Japanese artillery in WWII were originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 42, January 13, 1944.

[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.]


An Australian source states that the Japanese appear to use their artillery to suit local conditions and do not abide by any set rules. However, it does appear that they follow the German principle of having their guns well forward in support of the infantry. The following notes based on the observations of a Japanese artillery officer are taken from the source indicated above.

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a. Selection of Positions

When selecting an artillery position in the rear of the front line, such positions must be well to the rear, in order to permit firing safely over trees and above the heads of friendly troops. Taking this into account together with the fact that jungle does not permit rapid movement by the infantry, the infantry in most instances are unable to take full advantage of the artillery fire (when the guns are located in their rear); it is, therefore, better when locating guns to place them on the flanks of the infantry. If the positions are on the flanks of the infantry, not only is the error in calculating line of fire much less, but also even if a shell explodes prematurely on account of having hit a tree, it will not endanger friendly troops - therefore making it possible for the artillery to fire immediately in front of the line of advance of friendly troops.

b. Observation of Fire

Observation of fire in the jungle is very difficult and it is almost impossible to carry out observed firing from one direction only. It is therefore necessary, although it may be difficult to do so, for OPs to be in communication with each other and all to be in communication with the same guns, so that a method of cross observation can be adopted. Because we [the Japanese] adopted this practise almost exclusively in one engagement, even though it was in jungle, only three to six rounds were required to obtain our range. In this way a great deal of ammunition was saved.

There are many times, especially in dense jungle, when adequate maps are not available; where direction of combat has been hampered because of lack of mutual understanding concerning the terrain and general situation. Each commanding officer should therefore find an elevated place from which he can observe the general situation for himself and not merely be satisfied with second hand reports. The enemy situation reported at HQ, invariably differs greatly from what actually exists at the front; this is due in most cases to inadequate reporting.

It is essential that there must be complete understanding and cooperation between the artillery and the infantry. During one important engagement, our guns shelled 50 meters in front of our own troops. When hearing the bursting of shells and seeing the shrapnel tearing through the tree tops ahead of them, the infantry placed too much confidence in the destructive powers of artillery and so believed that the enemy had been annihilated or repulsed by artillery bombardment alone. They began to advance as if there were no enemy left in front of them, but the enemy who certainly had been pinned down, met them as they approached, with heavy, small-arms fire. The attack failed completely. On another occasion, when the artillery was firing at targets well forward of the front line and with little danger to our own troops, there was fear of our own shrapnel and they frequently asked us to cease fire.

Most of our shells with delayed fuzes did not explode and those with instantaneous fuzes usually hit the trees and exploded before reaching their objective.

During ranging fire, owing to the height of the trees and the steepness of the hills, it was not possible to see where the shells landed. It is therefore necessary, to use smoke shells of the same type and with the same trajectory in order to be able to observe fire.

c. Deception

From experiments made in the fighting at Munda even against the enemy's tactics of relying upon the effectiveness of fire power, suitably prepared dummy positions and dummy guns were extremely useful in drawing enemy artillery fire and bombing attacks. In view of the above, false gun positions should be placed as a decoy some distance away from the real positions.

Another method of drawing enemy artillery fire is to have patrols go out and light fires. The smoke so caused will certainly tend to draw fire from the enemy.

A patrol sent out for this purpose must be an officer patrol as the greatest of care is required in selecting the place to light the fire, so as not to decoy enemy fire upon the real positions. Comment: As the Japanese repeatedly give strict warnings against the lighting of fires, smoke columns should be viewed with suspicion.


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