[Lone Sentry: WWII Photographs, Documents and Research]
[Lone Sentry: World War II Photographs, Documents and Research]
Home Page  |  Site Map  |  What's New  |  Search  |  Contact Us

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 VII: Tactics of the Japanese Army

Part I: General Tactical Doctrine

Section V: Employment of Tanks and Mechanized Units

1. GENERAL. a. Background. As a result of experiences in the Manchurian Incident, the war in China, and the clash with the Russians at Changkufeng, the Japanese Army has acquired a lively appreciation of the value of mechanization. Much thought was given to the proper use of this new weapon in the light of the experiences of the Japanese and German Armies. A distinguishing feature was the early modification, extension, and detailed expatiation on the paragraphs devoted to the use of tanks and mechanized units in combat regulations. However, the new changes in regulations, while giving additional space to mechanization, treat the subject with broad generalities which leave considerable doubt as to whether the Japanese have worked out many of the practical details of such highly involved questions as infantry-tank-artillery liaison, control by higher commanders, and logistics of mechanized forces.

b. Estimated strength. (1) At the outbreak of the present war, the known mechanized strength of the Japanese Army consisted of at least 4 tank regiments. While the wartime expansion of tank units is not definitely known, it is believed that there are now additional tank regiments. The reliance on cooperation with the infantry may explain the large number of "Independent" armored units, which can be attached to other formations as and when required. The lack, or failure, to identify artillery, infantry, etc., with the Tank Group also may be explained by this policy, and this formation may, in fact, be more of the Army Tank Brigade type than of the armored division. This view again is borne out to some extent by Japanese teaching, and it is thought that the Tank Group may be employed in conjunction with infantry formations, working in close cooperation with infantry divisions, rather than fulfilling the role of an armored division, which would be to destroy enemy armored formations. It is believed, however, that there are at least 2 armored divisions in Manchuria at the present time.

(2) Weight for weight, the speeds of Japanese tanks do not compare unfavorably with those of other Armies, but it is considered that these speeds drop rather more appreciably across country than do those of Allied tanks. The Japanese tanks are bulkier for their weight since their armor basis is smaller. This can be accounted for by the fact that the Japanese regard their tanks as infantry support weapons, and therefore they rely on the infantry to neutralize the enemy anti-tank weapons.

c. Tactics. Our very limited experience with Japanese tank tactics in Burma and the South West Pacific Area leads to the conclusion that the Japanese regard the tank primarily as a close support weapon for the infantry. Only on one occasion did a small tank versus tank action develop; even then the Japanese tanks are believed to have been surprised during a reconnaissance, and not to have been seeking the armored battle in which they were so badly out-fought. There is little doubt, however, that the Japanese have carefully studied the tactical trends of tank warfare in Europe, and, while industrial limitations make the general employment by the Japanese of large tank organizations unlikely, should they fight in suitable terrain, they reasonably may be expected to employ armor at least as a spearhead to infantry enveloping attacks. Should the nature of the ground permit, the Japanese have, in the tank, an ideal weapon for exploiting their favorite maneuver of a wide and rapid encircling movement which cuts the enemy's lines of communication and generally disorganizes his rear areas. With the Battle of France before them, it is unlikely that they would neglect the advantages gained by the use of armor in this, their favorite offensive maneuver.

2. TRAINING. Japanese tank troops are highly trained in night fighting, and in fighting under extremes of weather. They are obsessed with the value of the attack, and crews will not hesitate to leave their tanks to fight on foot when pressed or in coming up against manned obstacles. Japanese tank training stresses the need for: (1) rapid decisions; (2) rapid mobility; (3) rapid concentration of fire; (4) concealment of intentions; and (5) supply and repair. Frequent practice is given in maneuvers over varied ground; in developing close cooperation within the tank between driver and gunner; and in bringing accurate fire to bear in the shortest possible time. In combat training successive stages are the advance, deployment, attack, mopping-up, and pursuit.

3. TANKS WITH THE DIVISION. a. Offensive. (1) The tanks with a division are normally used as accompanying tanks attached to the infantry units making the principal attack. Prior to the attack such tanks are brought up secretly to assembly positions about 3 miles behind the line of departure. Here final reconnaissance and attack preparations are completed. Tank commanders confer with the infantry regimental and battalion commanders to whom they are to be attached as well as with the artillery which is to support the attack. Topics for conference and decision are: tank objectives and the hour of attack; tank jump-off positions, routes to the jump-off position and the subsequent zone of advance; type of artillery support desired and its coordination with the advance of the tanks; plan for meeting a counterattack by hostile tanks; signal communications between infantry, tanks, and artillery. On the night preceding the attack, the tanks move to jump-off positions under cover of the noise of artillery firing and low-flying airplanes. Attack formations aim at obtaining the effect of mass by disposing the tanks in several waves across the front of the infantry unit to which they are attached. The tanks move forward, followed closely by the infantry and supported by the artillery which neutralizes enemy antitank weapons by fire and smoke. Tank objectives are: obstacles blocking the advance of the infantry; the enemy automatic weapons left unneutralized by the artillery; and eventually, the hostile artillery and command system. The infantry must stick close to the tanks; if the latter get too far ahead, they may have to turn around and rejoin the infantry.

(2) The foregoing discussion applies particularly to the attack of a position where the need for tanks is especially acute. In the meeting engagement, the tactics of the tanks are in general the same, except that preparations and liaison arrangements are not so detailed, and the attack moves more rapidly. Also, in a favorable situation, the division commander, prior to the main attack, may send out all or part of his tanks ahead of the advance guard to upset the hostile deployment and derange the command system of the opposing force. In such a case, the tanks are given a rendezvous point where they assemble and return to the main body in time for use with the principal attack.

(3) The peculiar local conditions of the war in North and Central China caused certain additional uses to be made of accompanying tanks. In the case of the attack of a walled town, the tanks moved out ahead of the infantry and cleaned up the outer defenses of the town gates. Then, while the infantry closed in to assaulting range, the tanks stood by close to the wall and neutralized the defenders of the rampart by the fire of their machine guns. After the infantry entered the town, the tanks again led the way and assisted in mopping up hostile elements that continued to resist. Such use of tanks is possible only against an enemy weak in antitank weapons.

(4) Leading tanks. It is doubtful whether the Japanese have had actual experience in the use of leading tanks, although the new Combat Regulations contemplate their use in cases where tanks are available in plentiful numbers. The Japanese first satisfy the requirements for accompanying tanks; those in excess of this requirement are organized into a leading tank detachment under division control. Several minutes ahead of the main attack, they rush deep into the zone of the hostile artillery and command system. They are given a zone of action, a rallying point, and a mission type of order that includes the subsequent course of action. Artillery support is planned carefully to cover the tanks through the forward area of hostile antitank weapons. Long range artillery coordinates its fire with the movement of the tanks so as not to interfere with their progress.

(5) Miscellaneous uses of tanks. The following miscellaneous use of tanks have been noted:

(a) Tanks were used to break through the defenses at the mouth of a defile, reconnoiter the inner defenses, and return.

(b) Tanks executed local battlefield liaison and reconnaissance missions as well as transported essential supplies in the areas beaten by small arms fire.

(c) Tanks were used as the main force in a frontal holding attack, while the remainder of the division enveloped a flank.

(d) Tanks were used to block the escape of retreating forces through the rear gates of walled towns.

(e) In November, 1937, three Japanese tanks formed a stationary battery while infantry were crossing the Suchow Canal. In February, 1938, 40 tanks were similarly employed at the crossing of the River Hwai. A few months later, tanks were used as pursuit troops driving along both sides of the Yangtze at the same time. In 1938, during the attack on Suchowfu, tanks made a wide circling move and cut the railway lines nearly 40 miles from the city.

(f) Against road blocks the Japanese used their tanks to pin down the troops covering the block, while the infantry tried to infiltrate and attack from the rear and flanks. In Malaya, whenever the infantry was held up, the Japanese brought up tanks to support the attack, overcoming any obstacles caused by demolitions, or ferrying tanks over fast-flowing rivers. Normally, they attempted to force the tanks through frontally, and, when successful, broke in among the troops on both sides of the road. When the tanks were held up frontally, they were brought in on the flanks. At the battle of Slim, Malaya (1942), the Japanese attacked with 30 tanks. These moved parallel to the main highway for several miles through roads of the adjacent rubber plantations and then cut in to the main road, moving straight down it to a depth of 20 miles.

(g) At Milne Bay a few light tanks were used as were about 12 on Guadalcanal. On each occasion their use was restricted by the terrain, but on neither was there any outstanding tactical employment.

b. Defensive. On the defense, the division commander usually holds his tanks initially in division reserve, under cover from artillery fire and attack from the air. Eventually they are attached to the infantry making the division counterattack. They are considered particularly valuable in stopping a hostile mechanized force, for the defensive tanks can defeat a superior number of the enemy's if the latter have run away from their artillery support or have become dispersed. Occasionally, the defending commander may use his tanks in a raid on the hostile assembly areas before the enemy attacks. In all cases, tank actions must be supported by carefully arranged artillery fire to neutralize the hostile antitank guns.

4. MECHANIZED UNITS. a. Organization. In China the Japanese have used provisional mechanized units, varying in size and composition according to the material at hand and the mission to be accomplished. In general, these units have a strong nucleus of tanks, supported by motorized infantry, engineers, field and antiaircraft artillery, antigas, and signal detachments. The whole force is supplied by a truck train formed from line of communication (heitan) supply units. Observation aviation is usually attached.

b. Tactics. (1) Offensive. (a) A mechanized force normally receives an offensive mission whereby advantage can be taken of its high mobility and capacity for independent action. In general, its tactics are about the same as those of a large cavalry force. By secrecy and rapid movement (usually at night) it surprises the enemy force in a terrain suitable for the tanks which form the backbone of the combat strength of the command. The commander, keeping his tanks under central control, masses them for a quick blow in a vital attack direction. The motorized infantry receives any or all of the following missions: (1) It covers the tanks and facilitates their action. (2) It holds the ground won by the tanks. (3) It occasionally takes over a front in a holding attack or makes an attack to create a diversion either by day or night. The infantry always fights dismounted but stays in its carriers as long as possible. The artillery performs normal support missions with special attention to enemy antitank guns.

(b) As a mechanized force draws near the enemy, the commander prepares tentative plans to meet varying hypotheses as the situation is susceptible to sudden changes in this fast-moving type of combat. He activates reconnaissance and security agencies, meanwhile gradually reducing the depth of his dispositions. As the enemy situation clears somewhat, he chooses an assembly area in conformance with his tentative scheme of maneuver. This area is as close to the enemy as is consonant with safety. If there is danger of a sudden collision with the enemy, the commander may traverse the final distance between himself and the enemy by bounds from one terrain line to another.

(c) A bold envelopment or turning movement is the maneuver best suited to a mechanized force. Such a force often will march at night, assembled in darkness, and attack at dawn. In the assembly area, reconnaissance is made, order is restored, and missions are assigned for the subsequent attack. When the enemy situation is vague, the usual objective is a terrain feature the possession of which is essential to the enemy. In the final deployment troops remain in vehicles until the danger of hostile fire forces them to dismount. When this has occurred, empty vehicles are parked under cover from air and ground observation. The unit reserve is usually infantry but on occasion may include some tanks. The detailed conduct of the attack follows the tactics of a large cavalry force.

(d) Mechanized units are particularly well adapted to pursuit and exploitation. The objectives assigned to them are those suitable to any pursuit force, but their range of action permits a deeper penetration into the hostile areas. It is in this form of action that the Japanese mechanized forces have found their chief employment in China. Examples abound in which such units have cut the roads and railroads behind a Chinese front on the verge of collapse and have assailed the hostile rear. The broad plateaus of Suiyuan and Chahar have afforded a terrain particularly favorable to such armored tactics.

(2) Defensive. Since the defensive nullifies the mobility of a mechanized force, it is a form of combat to be avoided. However, it may be imposed by the situation. In such a case, the commander usually disposes his dismounted infantry in a discontinuous line of strong points, with most or all of the tanks held in reserve. The defense is conducted along customary lines, with the principal concern of the commanders being the engagement of his tanks in a counterattack. In the usual defensive situation the enemy will be superior in tanks; hence, the commander must endeavor to stage the decisive tank action out of range of the hostile artillery but within the range of his own antitank guns. Under such conditions, his inferiority in tanks is compensated for by the supporting fires of his artillery. When the hostile tanks are defeated the crisis is passed and the counter-offensive often is justified.

5. COMMENTS. The value of mechanization is fully appreciated by the Japanese Army, and its armored tactics should not be taken lightly. It has acquired considerable battlefield experience in small scale tank actions and in the use of improvised mechanized forces. Such units as have been encountered do not have the striking power of the elaborated mechanized forces of Western powers.

[Back to Table of Contents] Back to Table of Contents

LONE SENTRY | Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Search | Contact Us