A review of the operations of the Japanese so far in this war shows that
they have stressed the indoctrination of an almost fanatical spirit of self-sacrifice;
the wide use of deception; and emphasized speed, surprise, mobility, and offensive
action. From almost every fighting front in the Pacific there have come reports
that it has been necessary to completely wipe out all Japanese opposition before
the objective could be attained. The following examples taken from a British source
are illustrative of some basic Japanese tactics.
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"When I received my mobilization orders, I had already sacrificed my life
for my country...... you must not expect me to return alive." This sentence is
quoted from a letter found on the body of a dead conscript. It is by no means
exceptional and indicates a fanatical conception of service which finds expression
in a disregard for personal safety and a readiness to fight to the last man and the
last round. The morale from which such feelings of self-sacrifice spring, is based
on an attitude of mind assiduously cultivated from a very early age.
Japanese moral training instills a strong religious belief; "Comrades who
have fallen," reads what is almost the last entry in a soldier's diary, "soon we
shall be fighting our last fight to avenge you, and all of us together, singing a battle
song, will march to Kudan." (Kudan is a shrine in Tokyo dedicated to the war
dead). The second pillar of Japanese morale is deep personal devotion to the
Emperor. The last blood-smeared page of a diary captured in Burma has "Three
cheers for the Emperor" scrawled across it. The army belongs to the Emperor and
its mission is his divine will. Finally, the Japanese believe they are a chosen people,
and a superior race. Such is the basis of a morale to which is closely allied a high
state of individual and collective battle discipline.
All this does not mean that the Japanese are immune from fear and defeat.
Even now when the main United Nations effort is still confined to Europe and the
situation is more favorable to the Japanese than it may ever be again, we find that
the desire for self preservation can, at times, be stronger than the desire to stay
and fight it out. A statement by a Japanese captured in the Arakan is worthy of
note. He volunteered the information that our shelling and bombing had caused,
besides shell shock, several cases of nervous prostration.
Japanese tactics in general are based on deception and rapid maneuver.
They will go to extremes to create false impressions. Sheer weight of numbers
and steam-roller tactics are apparently distasteful to them, as such tactics lack
finesse, though they would probably be used if required. One gets the impression
that the perfect solution to a tactical problem is a neatly performed stratagem,
followed by an encirclement or a flanking attack driven home with the bayonet.
This allows the commanders to demonstrate their ability, and the men to show their
courage and ferocity in hand-to-hand fighting. Their plans are a mixture of military
artistry and vain-glorious audacity.
Deception, stratagems and ruses must be expected at all times. Bulldog
tenacity in carrying out a mission, even to annihilation, will very frequently give
a most erroneous impression of the Japanese strength and will often result in
small forces overcoming larger ones, as their units are not rendered ineffective
until they are nearly all casualties.
This capacity for driving on despite losses is not displayed by officers
only. Training for the Japanese has been so thorough that every man will keep
plugging until his own part of the main mission is completed. Long experience has
taught even the privates what must be done before a mission is completed, and
discipline, lack of imagination, and fatalism, drives them on despite losses.
To the Japanese leader, tactics is an art, with decisions gained by skill,
not by sheer power. Training and the delegation to subordinates of the initiative
for independent action are most probably the factors that make such tactics simple.
The Japanese attempt to achieve surprise both in strategy and tactics and
ruses are extensively employed.
Approaches through country regarded as impassable and the conduct of
operations during foul weather are means by which troops more sensitive to
ground and climate have been placed at a disadvantage. The fifth column has been
freely employed, and with its aid it has been possible greatly to increase the
methods by which the enemy can be taken by surprise.
Ruses include the use of disguises, calling out in the language of opposing
troops, feigning panic, disorganized withdrawal, and the use of captured uniforms
and native clothing. Disorganized withdrawal may be accompanied by strewing the
line of withdrawal with supplies and equipment--all carefully covered by concealed
Mobility, which is achieved in a number of ways, has been one of the most
important factors in obtaining surprise. The ability to exploit to the full the
exceptional marching powers of the troops--they are capable of covering thirty or
more miles per day--is closely allied with the question of rations. They may, by
choosing a circuitous path through difficult country, attempt to overtake and cut
the line of retreat of a force withdrawing along a road, but mobility does not end
there; if the chances of living off the country are small, troops may carry as
much as seven days' rations with them, thus freeing themselves during this period
from the encumbrance of an administrative tail. Impressed local inhabitants,
with carts or boats, if the country is suitable, supplement their carrying powers,
while opportunities to seize local supplies are never neglected.
The Japanese soldier has been trained to carry up to 58 pounds which is
what Napoleon's troops carried when they marched to Moscow--but the total load
of the French included 15 days' rations. Lest either of these loads should be thought
exceptional, we should not forget that the British troops in the Peninsular War
carried about 60 pounds and those at Mons in 1914 carried only a few pounds less.
It should on no account be construed from this paragraph that the Japanese
habitually carries a heavy load of rations and equipment, for like us he prefers to
fight as lightly equipped as possible, but the point worthy of note is that if several
days' mobility can be achieved only at the price of carrying a load of rations on
his back, he is prepared to carry it.
Offensive action has been described as a principle which gives moral
superiority, tends to confer the initiative, and, with it, liberty of action. The
Japanese interpretation applies the principle of offensive action not only to his
attacks but also to situations in which his defeat is a foregone conclusion. Whatever
the situation, his object is to kill the enemy. "If only I can die killing six or
seven of the enemy instead of by his first onslaught" writes a soldier just before
the last attack is made by a small party.
In August 1942 American marines raided an island held by about 90 Japanese.
The raid was a complete success and most of the garrison were annihilated. The
remnant, however, estimated at about a dozen, attacked the raiding party as it was
leaving the island and thus suffered further casualties. It is an interesting example
of offensive action in desperate circumstances.
An outstanding example of strategic mobility on the part of the Japanese
was their advance through the Shan States from Karenni in the south to Myitkyina
in the north, a distance of some 450 miles, covered in three weeks. This feat is
even more remarkable when it is realized that during their advance the Japanese
fought three heavy engagements and were hindered by numerous delaying actions.
The maintenance of a daily average advance of some 21 miles despite delaying
actions and having to fight, speaks for itself as an example of strategic mobility.
In considering how this advance was achieved the following points are outstanding:
First, the skill of the Japanese in the choice, direction and execution of their
encircling movements which, probably more than any other single factor, accounted
for the speed and great distance of withdrawals the Chinese were compelled to
undertake. Second, the refusal on the part of the Japanese to be deterred from the
primary objective by threats to flank or rear.
Finally, there is the ability of the Japanese to move without a cumbersome