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"Selections from Japanese Field Instructions" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report on Japanese tactics was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 16, Jan. 14, 1943.

[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.]


The task of interpreting Japanese tactics is considerably facilitated by a study of their own documents. The following extracts taken from translations of Japanese field instructions contain many concrete admonitions as to the action of small units in combat conditions.

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a. Morale

The unit commander himself must not give up hope or make pessimistic statements. In a battle always remember the "4 to 6 ratio" - if 4 of our men are knocked out, consider that we have got 6 of the enemy. Whatever may be our own losses, keep up morale. The more violent the fighting, the calmer and firmer must be the commander's bearing, orders, and words of command. It is also important, for the encouragement of morale, not to let the personnel of the unit know the number of killed and wounded, or their names.

In operations when our positions face those of the enemy, the most unpleasant thing is to see the tendency of our own personnel to fall into a passive attitude. This is the reaction of ambitious men who say "getting killed in our own positions is the same as being slaughtered without resistance. Our father and brothers are going to be ashamed of us. If I am going to be killed, I want to die fighting"--so this attitude is not to be construed as the result of cowardice. Although it may be a difficult task, the men must be made to feel that they are on the offensive, even when they are in a defensive position. For this purpose, it is necessary to carry out fierce counterattacks from time to time. With us, the fiercer the fighting, the higher our morale.

Heavy enemy shelling greatly affects morale, and sometimes troops will not fight as they should. The effect is still more marked when it results in casualties. Unit commanders must strive to stimulate morale, and be careful of their own actions and attitude. (At such times the men always watch the expression on the commander's face.)

To eradicate the sense of fear in raw soldiers, killings with the bayonet should be carried out whenever an opportunity occurs. Raw troops, being unused to fighting, suffer relatively heavy casualties, and attention should be paid to this point.

Before going into action, succession of command must always be clearly indicated. Unless this succession is defined right down to the last soldier, and training carried out until this becomes practically automatic, fighting may become confused if the unit commander becomes a casualty. When the unit commander is killed or wounded, the effect on the personnel is extremely great, and morale tends to decline. On the other hand, even if one man after another is killed, and the situation is tragic, if the men see their commander's face full of vigor, their courage increases a hundred-fold.

"After victory, tighten your helmet strings" says an old Japanese proverb. After fierce fighting, or during a pause in the battle, the mind is apt to relax. This is the most dangerous moment. Even men who are daring and determined during a charge, have a tendency to be cowardly as soon as the fighting changes to mopping-up operations, and only scattered fire and small numbers of enemy troops are encountered.

b. Expenditure of Personnel

As a landing party staff officer says in his "Instruction in Practical Strategy": "Would you throw away the lives of your men, who have been given into your keeping by the Emperor, by recklessly sending them on a frontal charge in the face of the enemy fire, ignoring your own shortcomings in leadership and strategy?" As a commander, bear this well in mind. In a word, your objective must be to attain the greatest results with the smallest sacrifice. If you order your men to advance, they will obey you in any circumstances and at all times. But remember that before doing this, you are to take the minutest precautions. Do not forget to explain to your men, as carefully as if they were little children, how and in what direction to advance, the places to watch, and what to do when shelled or attacked by hand grenades. For example, how many men would have come through unscathed if they had been ordered to lie down--"to get down until your head is on the ground." This may sound like a graceless criticism of men who have given their lives, but we believe many men have become casualties through their own carelessness and want of caution. It is true we have dedicated our lives to the Nation and will not begrudge them at any time, but we want to accomplish something by our death, and not to die uselessly. We want to die gloriously. We hope for a death worthy of a Samurai, like Lieutenant X, and we owe it to the men under our command to enable them to do likewise. If you do this, as the commanders of a unit you will have a measure of peace of mind.

Too much eagerness to do something outstanding must be strictly avoided; it has sometimes led to heavy losses. This is particularly true of units going into action for the first time. Some young soldiers think it heroic to expose themselves to the enemy; take care of this, particularly in a battle of positions.

Too long a wait in the same area will result in drawing concentrated fire from the enemy, and is inadvisable. When moving, the proportion of hits from bullets is smaller than when halted. In a charge, if you meet concentrated fire from the enemy at close quarters and lie down and stay glued to the same spot, you cannot advance. Also, the longer you halt, the more your will to advance is blunted, and the greater your casualties. Therefore, charges must be made with determination and daring. In this way, your casualties will be smaller, and your morale will be improved. If you act with determination, even the Gods will ward off harm, and in the midst of death there will be life. [Translator's note - Nothing really devotional about this - more a figure of speech than anything else.] A daring and determined attack is the key to victory.

c. Machine-Gun Units

In a naval landing party, there is practically no necessity for a machine-gun company. It is preferable to include in each company a machine-gun platoon under the command of the rifle company commander. From the nature of a naval landing party, there is practically no occasion on which a machine-gun company joins in the action as an independent unit with its machine guns. As a rule each platoon is detached, and is organized under the rifle unit company commander. This is particularly true in the case of street-fighting and fighting at close quarters. Even if a machine-gun company were independent, it would find it difficult to put up a vigorous fight without the support of the rifle units. Nowadays section training is the main consideration in machine-gun training, and the need for company exercises is not particularly felt.

All machine-gun personnel with the exception of the gunner must be armed with rifles. This is particularly necessary in street-fighting, fighting at close quarters, etc. Even when attacking and advancing, the carrying of rifles never impedes the advance. In case of an enemy attack, it is easy to make a sortie with the machine-gun ammunition personnel. The ideal rifle for machine-gun personnel is the short barrel rifle.

The loopholes of a machine-gun position must always be screened with pieces of cloth or matting. If the enemy can see through them, his snipers may fire at them, or he may concentrate his fire on them. This is particularly necessary in the case of apertures for heavy machine guns, which must be large on account of the angle of fire.

If two machine guns are used, they can be fired alternately, giving the enemy no pause for a counterattack, while the rifle units at the flanks must endeavor to create an opportunity for an attack. If is absolutely necessary to carry one shovel for each machine gun. If possible, four bags for sand should be carried for each gun.

The normal machine-gun squad should be increased by one man, and three boxes of ammunition should always be carried. Particularly in an advancing attack, there are occasions when replenishments from the rear do not arrive in time.

d. Sniping

When the enemy takes to fortified trenches to try to stop our advances, the greatest precautions must be taken against sniping. The enemy usually waits for an interruption in our fire to send a single deadly shot.

When confronting the enemy, do not put your head out for reconnaissance or observation more than once from the same place. A sniper will have his rifle sighted to get you the second time. There are times when you suffer through underrating the enemy.

When fighting is protracted, there is a tendency to get accustomed to the enemy, and relax vigilance against enemy fire and hidden enemies. We have been sniped time and again. Pay particular attention to this.

e. Equipment

The fireman's hatchet is necessary for emergency engineering work in street fighting. An ax is a little too big. The fireman's hatchet is best when confronted by an enemy at close quarters.

Canteens should be kept filled to capacity at every opportunity. Those who carry only a small quantity of water, claiming that heavy equipment impedes their movements, are always those that try to drink from other men's canteens later. Bear in mind also that when men go into action for the first time they feel particularly thirsty.

f. Attacks

The best time to halt an advancing attack is about 1500. If the attack is not halted until after dusk, there is danger of our defense against enemy attacks relaxing; besides, our fighting efficiency next day is bound to deteriorate. When an advancing attack is halted, we must immediately build a satisfactory offensive position and not leave anything undone that we may be sorry for when the enemy attacks.

When an area is captured, mopping-up operations should be carried out as quickly as possible, and our gains consolidated. Abandoned enemy corpses must be given the coup de grace.

In a charge, the platoon commander must be at the head, as indicated in the Manual. The charge is the moment when hardship and fatigue reach their climax, from the commander of the unit down to the last man. At this time, if everyone is determined to carry out the unit commander's orders without hesitation, and if the platoon commander advances at the head of his men, the spirit of daring and solidarity aroused in the company will enable them to penetrate the enemy position.

g. Miscellaneous

In maneuvers, we have always had it emphasized that we must know the tactical situation. During the battle of X a certain unit commander boasted that he had decided to make a charge and thereby greatly embarrassed his company commanders. We believe this was a case of blind decision. We had been ordered by the battalion commander to strengthen our position and defend it to the death - this means if your arms are broken, kick the enemy; if your legs are injured, bite him; if your teeth break, glare him to death. This spirit is expressed in the words "defense to the death." The time to launch a charge is when the enemy has reached the limit of exhaustion. In defense, we believe that if you can hang on to a position with one light machine gun, one platoon can successfully crush the enemy.

When wounded, the unit commander's permission must be obtained before leaving the firing line. If the unit commander is not in the vicinity, request should be made to another officer, or to an NCO of the section. This is clearly indicated in the Manual, and even if a man is ignorant of the regulation, common sense should tell him that this procedure should be followed. Sometimes a man leaves the firing line when his injuries are not such as to prevent him from continuing the fight. This is a most cowardly action.

No firing must be done at night. This is something we feel very keenly in the present fighting. Care must be taken in this respect, since it is the natural tendency when shot at, to shoot back. If we are maneuvered into firing by the enemy, we reveal our firing line, show him the position of our automatic weapons, and give him an outline on which he can base his tactics.

The enemy's camouflage is truly efficient. We have found it hard to discover him, and thereby have suffered unexpected losses. At over 500 yards, his camouflage cannot be distinguished, and great care must be taken. Training against camouflage should also be carried out.

The quickest means of communication after a battalion has deployed (with the exception of special orders) is by flag signalling if the visibility of the terrain permits. It is very important, therefore, for the commander of the unit headquarters not only to pay attention to the enemy, but also to keep in mind liaison with the commanders at the rear and flanks. It sometimes happens that when the fighting becomes particularly violent, the situation of every officer and man becomes absorbed by the enemy in front, and liaison with the commander has been temporarily cut off. Furthermore, where the terrain allows visibility, simple orders can be communicated much more quickly by flag signalling than if a number of runners are used over terrain full of "freaks," etc. Therefore, every member of a landing party should be proficient in sending and receiving flag signals.


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