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TM-E 30-480: Handbook on Japanese Military Forces
Technical Manual, U.S. War Department, October 1, 1944
[DISCLAIMER: The following text and illustrations are taken from a WWII U.S. War Department Technical Manual. As with all wartime manuals, the text may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the contents of the original technical manual. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]

Chapter V: Special Forces

Section I: Naval Land Forces

1. ROLE AND CHARACTER. Until several years after World War I, Japan had no separate permanent naval landing organization corresponding to the U.S. Marine Corps. Instead, naval landing parties were organized temporarily from fleet personnel for a particular mission and were returned to their ships at its conclusion. This practice was made possible by the fact that every naval recruit was given training in land warfare concurrently with training in seamanship. The results of such training, together with any special skills such as machine gunner, truck driver, etc., were noted on the seaman's service record to serve as a basis for his inclusion in a landing party. Normally, the fleet commander designated certain ships to furnish personnel for the landing party. This practice, however, depleted their crews and lowered their efficiency for naval action. Therefore, in the late 1920's Japan began to experiment with more permanent units known as Special Naval Landing Forces (Rikusentai). Those units were formed at the four major Japanese naval bases: Sasebo, Kure, Maizuru, and Yokosuka, and were given numerical designations as formed; for example, there is a Sasebo 2nd Special Naval Landing Force and a Kure 2nd Special Naval Landing Force. They are composed entirely of naval personnel with a naval officer, usually a commander, in charge. These forces, first used against China and later against the Allies, have gone through several stages of evolution as the general war situation has changed. As the present war progressed, and the Japanese Navy became more involved in the seizure and defense of Pacific islands, other naval land organizations came into existence. Examples of these are: the Base Force (Tokubetsu Konkyochitai), the Guard Force (Keibitai), the Pioneers (Setsueitai) and the Naval Civil Engineering and Construction Units (Kaigun Kenchiku Shisetsu Butai).

2. SPECIAL NAVAL LANDING FORCES. a. Use in China. Special naval landing forces were used extensively in landing operations on the China coast beginning with 1932, and often performed garrison duty upon capturing their objective. Their performance was excellent when unopposed, but when determined resistance was encountered they exhibited a surprising lack of ability in infantry combat. These early special naval landing forces were organized as battalions, each estimated to comprise about 2,000 men divided into 4 companies. Three companies each consisted of 6 rifle platoons and 1 heavy machine gun platoon; the fourth company, of 3 rifle platoons and a heavy-weapons platoon of four 3-inch naval guns, or two 75-mm regimental guns and two 70-mm battalion guns. Tank and armored car units were employed in garrison duty and, where the terrain and situation favored their use, in assault operations.

b. Offensive use in World War II. When the present war began, special naval landing forces at first were used to occupy a chain of Pacific island bases. Wake Island was taken by one such force, while another seized the Gilbert Islands. Later they were used to spearhead landing operations against Java, Ambon, and Rabaul, where the bulk of the attack forces consisted of army personnel. During this period the special naval landing forces, although heavily armed, were used as mobile striking units. They consisted of two rifle companies (each having a machine-gun platoon), and one or two companies of heavy weapons (antitank guns, sometimes antiaircraft guns, and tanks), a total of 1,200 to 1,500 men. A small number of special troops (engineer, ordnance, signal, transport and medical) was also included. Figure 78 illustrates the composition of this type of unit, and also the change to heavier fire power as compared with the organization of the earlier types of naval landing forces used in China from 1932 to 1937.

[Figure 78. Maizuru No. 2 Special Landing Force: organization as of 19 November 1941.]
Figure 78. Maizuru No. 2 Special Landing Force: organization as of 19 November 1941.

c. Special naval landing forces in defense. Special naval landing forces, or similar organizations, are occupying a number of outlying bases, because the Army has been reluctant to take over the defenses of these outposts. Since Japan has lost the initiative in the Pacific, these forces have been given defensive missions, and the Japanese Navy has changed their organization accordingly. This point is strikingly illustrated by a comparison of the organization of the Yokosuka 7th Special Naval Landing Force (fig. 79), encountered on New Georgia, with that of the Maizuru 2nd (fig. 78). The Yokosuka 7th has a larger amount of artillery, and its guns are mainly pedestal-mounted naval pieces. As first organized, the Yokosuka 7th was deficient in infantry troops and infantry weapons for defense, but later it was reinforced by a second rifle company. This new company consisted of 3 rifle platoons of 1 officer and 48 enlisted men each (3 light-machine-gun squads and 1 grenade-discharger squad), and a heavy-machine-gun platoon of 1 officer, 58 enlisted men, and 8 heavy machine guns.

[Figure 79. Yokosuka 7th Special Landing Force (As Originally Organized)]
Figure 79.

[Figure 79--Continued. Yokosuka 7th Special Landing Force (As Reinforced)]
Figure 79—Continued.

Other special naval landing forces probably started with an organization similar to that of the Maizuru 2nd, but their gun strengths and organizations most probably have veered toward that of the Yokosuka 7th. This process was found to have occurred in the Gilberts and Marshalls. Under Allied pressure Japan has found it necessary to increase the defenses of some islands by reinforcing the special naval landing force, or by combining two or more special naval landing forces into a new organization known as a Combined Special Naval Landing Force. In New Georgia the Kure 6th, the Yokosuka 7th, and portions of the Maizuru 4th were combined into the 8th Combined Special Naval Landing Force. In the Gilberts a special naval landing force was combined with a guard or base force to form a Special Defense Force.

3. TRAINING OF SPECIAL NAVAL LANDING FORCE. The earlier special naval landing forces received extensive training in landing operations and beach defense, but their training in infantry weapons and tactics does not appear to have been up to the standard of the Japanese Army. More recently there has been a greater emphasis on infantry training for units already in existence. Tactical doctrine for land warfare follows that of the Army, with certain changes based on lessons learned during the current war. The platoon is the basic tactical unit, rather than the company. The Japanese Navy has not hesitated to cut across company lines in assigning missions within the landing force and in detailing portions of a landing force to detached missions.

4. UNIFORMS AND PERSONAL EQUIPMENT. Small arms and personal equipment are similar to that used by the Army. Dress uniform consists of navy blues with canvas leggings. The Japanese characters for "Special Naval Landing Force" appear on the naval cap in the manner in which the words "U.S. Navy" appear on the caps of U.S. enlisted men. Field uniforms are similar to the Army in cut and color, although the color is sometimes more green. The typical Army cloth cap and steel helmet are used, but the insignia is an anchor instead of the star of the Army (see ch. XI).

5. MISCELLANEOUS NAVAL ORGANIZATIONS. a. Base force or special base force (Tokubetsu Konkyochitai). This unit is the Naval Command echelon for the defense forces of a prescribed area. In addition to headquarters personnel, the base force has certain heavy coast artillery and also heavy and medium antiaircraft artillery. There appears to be no fixed organization, the size of the base force depending upon the importance and extent of the area to be defended. The following units may be found attached to base forces:


Small naval surface units (patrol boats).

One or more special naval landing forces.

One or more guard forces.

Pioneer units.

Navy civil engineering and construction units.

b. Pioneers (Setsueitai). The function of this unit is the construction of airfields, fortifications, barracks, etc. It is commanded by a naval officer, usually of the rank of captain or commander, has attached officers and civilians with engineering experience, and is semimilitary in character. There appear to be 2 types of organization, of 800 and 1,300 men respectively, depending on the size of the job. The unit contains from 1/4 to 1/3 Japanese, and the balance are Koreans or Formosans. The 15th Pioneers was such a unit.

c. Navy civil engineering and construction unit (Kaigun Kenchiku Shisetsu Butai). This unit appears to be used primarily for common labor, and is of little combat value. It is commanded by a Japanese civilian and is composed mainly of Koreans, with about 10 percent armed Japanese to serve as overseers. Its size appears to be around 1,000 men. In combat value, it is inferior to the pioneer unit since it contains fewer armed Japanese.

d. Guard force (Keibitai). This unit is used for the defense of small installations. It is composed of naval personnel, and has light and medium antiaircraft and heavy infantry weapons. Its size, armament, and organization vary, and several guard forces may be attached to a base force.

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