Direct reports from the front are always worth reading. Even if there is some repetition
of detail, the repetition itself drives home important lessons. The notes that follow
were sent in by a U.S. Army Colonel.
* * *
In the fighting on the Kokoda Trail, (between Port Moresby and Buna) our troops found
that on making contact along a road or trail in the jungle, the Japanese usually
followed this procedure:
An especially trained advance guard pushed ahead of their column, took up a position
astride the trail, and tried to pin down our defense with machine-gun and mortar
fire. Next, if various feints and demonstrations did not induce us to give away our
position by opening a premature fire, the Japs would try to infiltrate around the
flanks. Their groups moved swiftly under cover; targets were poor and fleeting. If
our troops held their fire till a good target presented itself, these forward groups
could usually be stopped. There were many cases where, when the advance elements were
allowed to sneak by, the supports which followed them could be ripped up by
machine-gun and rifle fire. However, if the defense disclosed its position by too
early or too powerful a fire, the Japanese brought up machine guns and mortars and
blasted our lines.
To test the possibility of further advance, the Japanese used many tricks based on two
natural human traits - fear of the unseen and unknown, and curiosity. They appeared
to place much confidence in the effect of noise, and for this reason did considerable
firing, both to bolster their own courage and to lower our morale. Captured weapons
were shot off to give the impression that our men were firing them; they fired machine
guns out on the flank to give the impression that our position was being turned; or
they talked loudly and shook bushes to draw nervous shots or cause movement. In order
to distract attention and cause confusion, they exploded fire-crackers.
There must be depth to positions in order to prevent effective encirclement, and bold
handling of combat patrols to meet their flanking tactics. The counterattack cannot
be overstressed. All-around defense, at night, or in thick country, is necessary.
In their attack on prepared positions, the Japanese used a more or less standard
procedure. By reconnaissance and ruses, they made every effort to determine our strength
and location. After they had discovered what they thought was a soft spot, they persisted
in attacking there. Should the first attack fail, it was shifted to some other place, but
the Japanese usually returned again to the original point of attack. Consequently, it
was dangerous to weaken that point to reinforce some other.
Often, in this phase of the fighting, the Japanese used no preparatory fire. After contact
was made, their skirmish line hit the ground while overhead fire by machine guns and
mortars fell on our positions. Under cover of the barrage, supports would try to crawl
close enough to put down a hand-grenade barrage to protect the advance. It was not
uncommon during such attacks for the enemy to replace tired forward troops with
fresh reserves. This change-over was accomplished efficiently, and without
confusion.* Incidentally, the Japanese will advance under a white flag and shoot at
anyone coming out, disguise himself as a native or a civilian, and in retreat, litter
the trail with cast-off garments and equipment to give the impression of a disorderly
flight, and then ambush the pursuit.
*The description of these skirmish line tactics corresponds closely with
accounts of Indian fighting in Kentucky and Ohio in Daniel Boone's day.