Schnelltruppen and Tank Co-operation I

‘The tanks advance by bounds from cover to cover, reconnoitering the terrain ahead and providing protective fire for the dismounted Panzergrenadiers’

– Handbook on German Military Forces

A highly distinctive, even unique, passage in the evolution of tactics during the Second World War was the development of special techniques for armoured and motorised infantry. Arguably Britain was world leader in this process, for as early as the 1920s it was decided that total army mechanisation should be a long-term goal. Actually to achieve something so ambitious would require overcoming not only the lobby in favour of the retention of the horse, but the financial constraints of a world in which military cutbacks were followed by depression. Nevertheless, and despite complaints of conservatism and short-sightedness, voices in favour of mechanisation gradually gained ground in the aftermath of the First World War.

Two key figures amongst these advocates were Major General ‘Boney’ Fuller, guru of the tank – described by one of his peers as not merely ‘unconventional’, but ‘prolific in ideas, fluent in expression’, and totally at odds with tradition and received opinion – and later Basil Liddell Hart. Fuller was lyrical, if not mystical, in his praise of tanks, at one time seeing them as replacing virtually everything else, becoming quite literally the ‘fleets’ of the land, made up of ‘landships’. Yet, by no means all of what Fuller preached was new: there were other tank advocates, the first British tanks had been dubbed ‘landships’, and as long ago as 1903 HG Wells had written a story containing ‘land ironclads’. In 1918, relatively swift ‘Whippets’ operated alongside larger numbers of slower infantry supporting tanks. The USA had embraced the tank idea first by using French machines, then taking part with Britain in the planning of the ‘Liberty’ tanks designed to have war-winning impact in 1919 – had the war in fact continued so long. Hart later said his conversion to the cause came in 1921, but his vision was more measured in that it included ‘land marines’ – or mechanised infantry – from an early stage. It also went with the flow to some degree, working as he did at various times in concert with Major Giffard Martel, Charles Broad, Colonel George Lindsay, and others. There were also some curious false starts, as for example when Martel proposed that entire units could drive into action in one-man tracked vehicles, somehow steering, shooting, communicating, and navigating entirely solo.

Though few of the pundits or visionaries would have liked the idea, eventual official acceptance of a good part of the mechanisation agenda probably did not stem from the supposed battle-winning potential of ‘tankettes’ or land armadas. Rather it was from a cooler realisation that the British Empire was enormous and that the nation would always be denied a large and expensive regular army, or rail transport that could be made to access every country village in India or Africa and at the same time remain invulnerable to sabotage. Another advantage appealing to those of a historical bent was that mechanising infantry and logistics might just allow campaigns to remain fluid long enough to avoid the perceived evil of trench warfare. So it was that the Mechanical Warfare Establishment was established in 1926, being re-christened as the Mechanisation Experimental Establishment (or ‘MEE’) in 1934. An ‘Experimental Mechanised’ force was started in 1927 at the instigation of the Chief Imperial General Staff, George Milne, machine-gun vehicles were tested with 2nd Battalion the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in 1928, and a tank brigade set up in 1931, becoming a permanent feature a couple of years later. The tanks and infantry were not usually operated as one formation, but as two elements – and in retrospect it may be perceived that this separation did not bode well for the future. Whilst progress was slow, and mass road transport capable of bussing entire armies would not materialise for a long time, significant steps were made. The MEE tested all sorts of military vehicles and devised specifications. Governments dreamed up measures for the encouragement of the motor industry and methods to commandeer their wares in time of war. Perhaps most importantly, gun tractors and crew carriers for the artillery, and motorised platoon trucks and little carriers became standard issues for the infantry battalions. With relatively few and trivial exceptions the British Expeditionary Force of 1939 would be free of reliance on the horse, and perhaps even more significantly could usefully employ the oil found in her colonies rather than have to reap and carry mountains of horse fodder. Fuel for motor vehicles could be moved long distance by rail and ship, in concentrated form.

Having been on the receiving end of the tank from 1916 – and massed armoured attacks from 1917 onward – Germany was by no means ignorant of the advantages of engines. She was, however, at first constrained by the Treaty of Versailles that demanded the handover of 5,000 motor lorries, and later completely banned German use of tanks as well as imposing severe financial penalties. This, together with problems internally and on the Polish border and Baltic, put severe obstacles in the path of development. Even so, there were manoeuvres in the Harz mountains using requisitioned civilian lorries in 1921, and soon Germany joined together with fellow pariah state Bolshevik Russia to examine and test tanks away from German soil. Dummy tanks later stood in on home exercises. One of those really convinced that mechanisation was the thing of the future was Heinz Guderian, who was at the ‘Inspectorate of Motorised Troops’ from 1931. The Kommando der Panzertruppen was established under General Lutz in 1934, and following exercises at Munsterlager the following year the first three Panzer Divisions were formed. As distinct to the arguably more ambitious British plan to motorise the entire army and give it teeth of special brigades and divisions composed mainly of tanks – still not achieved in the run up to war, the German scheme left large portions of the infantry with nothing but the ‘horse murderers’, animal-drawn heavy equipment wagons. A minority of the divisions would, however, be Panzer divisions, capable of autonomous action because they contained enough supporting arms, artillery, and motorised infantry to undertake pretty well any task.

Guderian’s book Achtung Panzer!, of 1937, showed that he had studied both French and British developments: it also gave a key vision of what motorised infantry were supposed to do,

The truck-borne infantry are protected against the elements, and in addition to the men and their equipment the vehicles carry extra loads such as ammunition, entrenching tools and requisites, together with rations for several days . . . the main tasks of motorised supporting infantry are to follow up at speed behind tank attacks, and complete and exploit their successes without delay. They need to put down a heavy volume of fire, and require a correspondingly large complement of machine guns and ammunition. It is debatable whether the striking power of the infantry really resides in the bayonet, and more questionable still in the case of motorised troops, since the shock power of tank formations is invested in tanks and their fire power. The French have drawn the appropriate conclusion and have equipped all their infantry companies with 16 light machine guns each, as opposed to nine of their German counterparts. Combat is not a question of storming ahead with the bayonet, but of engaging the enemy with our fire power and concentrating it on the decisive point . . . What we desire is a modern and fast moving force of infantry, possessing strong fire power, and specially equipped, organised and trained in co-operation with tanks.

Guderian’s work bore both tactical and personal fruit. About the time that he was writing his famous book it was decided that German motorised infantry should be given Gepanzerter Mannschafts Transportwagen – or armoured personnel carriers. Fully wheeled designs were rejected on grounds of insufficient cross-country performance; fully tracked designs were turned aside due to expense, complexity, and lack of production capacity. Development, therefore, focused on half-tracked vehicles, and in particular on the artillery tractors made by Hanomag, as these were the right size to carry a squad. In 1938 motorised infantry and cavalry were all designated Schnelletruppen, or ‘fast troops’, and put under Guderian’s command. Four separate motorised divisions were added to the German mobile infantry arm the following year, though only a few armoured carriers were available for the Polish campaign. Success of the tanks and the conversion of existing divisions made available ten Panzer Divisions for the French campaign of 1940. Paradoxically, British tactical analysts managed to get hold of good intelligence on the new formations some time after the fall of Poland and just before the battle for France. Its translation, digestion, and printing for general circulation occurred sometime after 1 May 1940, this being the period of the latest information contained in volume 18 of Periodical Notes on the German Army. So it was that just as the Schnelletruppen were driving over France and Belgium, British officers got a belated opportunity to know what had hit them.

The key German tactical document Provisional Instructions for the Employment and Tactics of the Motorised Infantry Regiment and Battalion of March 1941 was translated the following year in the USA as The German Motorised Infantry Regiment. This document recognised that not all ‘motorised’ infantry could operate the latest fully ‘armoured’ tactics as there were not enough armoured carriers for all units. Usually, half-tracks were limited to the first battalion of each regiment, the remainder having to make do with ordinary trucks. Whilst carrier production, mainly of the Sdkfz 251 types, continued apace, this deficiency was never fully rectified. Even as late as 1944 only a minority of Panzergrenadier units, such as the Grossdeutschland corps, were fully equipped with armoured transport. Though troops in ‘soft-skinned’ wheeled transport might move quicker on roads, they were very much limited as to how far into the action they could remain in their vehicles, and for the most part dismounted before encountering any hostile fire.

Interestingly, German instructions of the early war period recommended a maximum speed of about 15mph for the leading carrier of a formation, with no more than 20mph for wheeled transport. Faster movement in motorised infantry action was sometimes demanded, but instructions warned unit leaders that this opened up possibility of vehicle ‘strain’ and increased incidence of breakdown. Much the same considerations applied to the British in general, whose explicit policy regarding motorised troops was that they should leave their vehicles before making an attack, transport being parked out of sight until needed later. Indeed, under British organisation there were not only permanent motorised battalions, but armies and corps troop-carrying companies of the Royal Army Service Corps, the job of which was to ferry any chosen infantry brigade from one point to another, but had no combat function. As of 1939 maximum British convoy speed was set at 20mph, though such a velocity demanded regular stops every 3 hours. Suitable lorries and trucks were often dubbed ‘TCVs’, ‘Troop Carrying Vehicles’. Only in the last two years of the war were US armoured M3 half-tracks supplied to Britain.

The German 1941 instructions outlined an aggressive role for troops with armoured transport, ‘The possession of armoured personnel carriers enables motorised infantry units to overcome comparatively weak opposition without dismounting. They can follow up tank attacks on the field of battle without dismounting . . . Motorised infantry is characterised by ability to alternate rapidly between fighting from carriers and fighting on foot, and also to combine these two methods of combat.

It was assumed that on firm and level ground armoured carriers would be able to move at much the same speed as on roads and tracks, with the armour giving protection against ‘small arms fire, light infantry weapons and shell splinters’. Vehicles could, therefore, be ‘brought up to the battle area and moved about under fire from enemy infantry’. The main purpose of the armoured infantry was close co-operation with tanks, for which they cleared a path through any difficult country, as for example in securing river crossings, villages, and woods. They also undertook the detailed work of assault on fixed positions, as well as racing ahead of the tanks to seize strategic positions, pursuing, or carrying out ‘wide and sweeping envelopments’.

As of the 1941 provisional organisation the German armoured infantry regiment comprised just over 2,500 all ranks arranged in two battalions, and a gun company, plus attached engineers and signals. Altogether it deployed 153 machine guns, 36 mortars, and 16 assorted artillery pieces and anti-tank guns. The battalions contained three rifle companies, a machine-gun company and a heavy weapons company. When a whole battalion had sufficient space to deploy the normal formation was a massive arrowhead about 300m wide and 1300m deep with the three rifle companies, also in arrowheads, arranged one forward and two back. The MG company and heavy weapons took up the rear, whilst the whole was preceded by patrols to reconnoitre and seek out the route. Within each armoured carrier was a self-contained squad, essentially similar to those of the ordinary infantry, but with the important difference that each had at least two machine guns. On the march these were mounted on swinging pintles fore and aft, both capable of air and ground fire, though later models of carrier had various arrangements. The initial seating arrangement was two seats with folding backs for the driver and co-driver, and bench seats down either side at the back, lifting to reveal ammunition stowage beneath.

The 1941 instructions were fully aware that terrain and weather had crucial impacts upon tactics, and motorised infantry commanders were to take these into account in the planning of movement and operations. Snow, mud, marsh, thick woods, and steep slopes were all serious impediments: gently rolling country was best as this afforded cover on reverse slopes, and opportunities for observation. In attacks against a demoralised enemy, river crossings, withdrawals, and advances through wooded or mountainous country small ‘task-force’ actions were possible, though such Kampfgruppe, or battle-group formations, were to be a minimum of company strength and reinforced with heavier arms, engineers, and probably tanks to suit the job to hand. Reconnaissance was to be made at the first opportunity with leaders ‘determined to push forward at all costs’. Action was to be ‘bold and resolute’, any undue risks being mitigated by the use of adequate patrols. At the same time, commanders issuing orders were to be realistic about the time these would need to reach widely spaced sub-units.

In making their approach carriers could take advantage of their armour and cross-country mobility to attack from effective angles and concentrate fire. Moreover, the degree of splinter protection was sufficient for armoured carrier units to follow closer to barrages than dismounted infantry. Commanders were encouraged to think with ‘speed and agility’, view ground personally, being daring and not obsessed with their own flanks, taking their own position in the ‘centre of battle’. Rapidity, concentration of force, and concealment of movement were key tactical themes likely to lend an element of surprise. Where limited numbers of carriers were available these were to be used en masse and fully utilised as fighting vehicles. Whilst using roads and tracks as far forward as possible allowed maximum speed and decreased wear and tear on both men and transport, timely deployment into broader cross-country formations was best for maximum advantage of terrain and use of weapons. Yet there was no hard and fast rule, the moment for deployment had to be left to the commander on the ground, who might choose to use speed and surprise to make an attack direct ‘from the column of march’.

This was the ‘attack without deployment’ – made in vehicles, with dismounting only occurring when no further forward progress was possible in the carriers. Where such an attack passed over difficult ground it might be useful to halt briefly in the closest possible cover to allow ‘battle formation’ and concentration of the carriers to be regained before the final assault. In other circumstances a ‘prepared attack’ might be the preferred option. In this instance carriers halted at a distance in a safe ‘assembly position’ or were given a line at which they were to halt and troops dismounted to deliver the attack on foot. Even so, it was wise to keep back a mobile reserve that could be directed to wherever needed, or used for rapid exploitation. If possible, assembly positions were gained in the dark or at dusk, leaving maximum doubt in the enemy’s mind about intentions. In clearing the way for the tanks it was also usual for some or all of the motorised troops to dismount and take the ‘tank-proof’ obstacle or objective on foot, their advance being covered by the fire of the armour and heavy weapons. When upon the enemy destruction or capture of anti-tank weapons became top priority to assist the advance of the armour. Sometimes the order of attack was reversed:

If the ground favours an attack by tanks and if no tank obstacles have been detected inside the main line of resistance, the task of the motorised infantry units will usually be to follow the tank attack. They will remain on vehicles behind the tanks so that they can quickly exploit the success of the tanks. Narrow and deep formations will be the rule, in order to avoid as far as possible the effects of enemy artillery fire and retain a mobile reserve in the rear . . . Pockets of resistance and defence areas which the tanks have not reduced will be dealt with as encountered. For this dismounting may be necessary. The remaining infantry will continue to follow up the tank attack in their vehicles. Contact with the tanks must never be lost.

In other circumstances the mechanised infantry was used with considerable versatility. In pursuit speed made it possible to catch up with the enemy or prevent him from taking up or improving new positions. In doing so commanders were encouraged to move forward as far as possible by road, and at night assume an all-round defensive posture. In defence mobile troops could screen broad frontages, take suitable vantage points, and redeploy quickly. Such aptitudes allowed the frontage of a motorised battalion to extend to ‘twice that of an infantry battalion’, typically from ‘1,600 to 4,000 metres and even more depending on situation and terrain’. Mobility also aided the often tricky tactic of breaking contact, where motorised troops might not only use their speed to escape, but to gain prepared defence lines further back. In disengaging it was recommended that small ‘fighting patrols’ and smoke be used even after the heavier weapons had departed, thus making the job of an enemy attempting to follow up all the more difficult. Engineer platoons also contributed by bridge breaking and mine laying.

Further detail on small-unit tactics was added by the manual for the Schnelletruppen of May 1942, reprinted with corrections in January 1943 – the year in which mechanised infantry were renamed Panzergrenadiere. Particularly crucial was the role of the driver who was taught to drive tactically, taking advantage of terrain to keep the carrier out of enemy fire. Rapid reversing and driving with the gas mask on and hatches shut were parts of the repertoire. Ideally, three men of each squad received full driver training, the driver, co-driver, and a reserve. Within the vehicle the team travelled in a state of ‘combat readiness’, weapons loaded, safety catches applied, and particular vigilance used against any enemy close by attempting to lob in grenades or Molotovs. Lookouts were detailed for all-round observation and in the event of a contact or change of orders the squad leader used a clock-face system to communicate direction – 12 Uhr being dead ahead and 6 Uhr to the rear.

The full-strength carrier squad was twelve, being the Gruppenführer, or squad leader, his deputy, or Truppführer, four machine gunners, four riflemen, the driver and his Beifahrer, or co-driver. The squad leader retained overall responsibility leading ‘by personal example’, maintaining contact with the platoon commander, and checking combat readiness of weapons. He might also man one of the machine guns during fighting from the vehicle. His deputy stepped in when the squad leader was absent, and also took charge of part of the squad when it was sub-divided. The driver and his assistant would usually remain with the vehicle, the driver having first responsibility for readiness, care, and camouflage of the transport, whilst the assistant manned the radio. The machine gunners usually operated as two teams of two, the first man being the firer, the second carrying ammunition and spare barrel. The four riflemen were regarded as the force of close combat and the manpower for reconnaissance and observation duties. The standard complement of light machine guns was three, two of which were intended for dismounting and one usually remaining on the vehicle. Interestingly, the MGs were each identified individually so that a member of the team had primary responsibility for its care. During motorised movement basic deployment of the MGs was one each mounted fore and aft, with the spare in the main compartment for use at will. There were two machine pistols, one to carry with the team, the other intended to stay with the vehicle. Additionally, there were five rifles and four pistols.

On the command ‘Aufstizen!’ the carrier was mounted in an orderly manner via the rear door, with the squad leader assuming his normal position directly behind the driver, and his second getting in last and taking post at the rear shutting the door. If carrying gas masks, the team unfastened them from their normal low position and reattached them to the front upper body, so as to make sitting more comfortable and the mask accessible. The order for a quick tactical exit from the carrier was ‘Abspringen!’. On hearing this everybody jumped out by the nearest means, over the sides as well as through the door. The squad then took immediate cover near to the leader. The rapid remount was the ‘Aufspringen!’ with everybody jumping in over sides as well as through the door. These manoeuvres were practised both at the halt, and with the carrier moving at up to 10kmph.

Combat was both from the vehicle, and dismounted. Dismounted the squad acted very much as normal infantry, but with the significant difference that the additional machine guns made fighting as two elements easier and gave greater flexibility. With the driver and his assistant still on the vehicle this also opened up possibilities of a third base of fire. On the vehicle a basic level of all-round watchfulness – particularly against air attack – was maintained at all times, but if combat was perceived to be imminent the squad leader gave the order for ‘Gefechtsbereitschaft’, or ‘combat readiness’. On this direction the team checked their weapons and radio readiness, and riflemen also ensured there were grenades to hand. The squad leader secured smoke grenades ready to produce screening. With hatches secured the vehicle could be driven at normal speeds through infantry fire, taking evasive action in the event of incoming artillery or mortar fire.

The squad fought from the carrier as long as enemy fire, mission, and terrain allowed:

The main weapon of the squad fighting from the vehicle is the onboard MG. The MG in the anti aircraft mount besides being used for AA defence can be used against hostile ground targets for example adversaries in the rear and flank of the squad. As a rule it will have to fire while the carrier is moving. The riflemen participate in the fire fight at the first breakthrough of the enemy. Hand grenades with simultaneous machine gun and machine pistol fire, as well as running over enemy soldiers are the most effective means to destroy the enemy in close combat from the vehicle.

Short bursts of fire from the moving carrier were intended to force the enemy into cover and prevent return fire, but in case of sudden encounters might actually destroy targets such as moving convoys or retreating adversaries. Even so, halted fire was more effective, and when stopping the carrier positions that left the vehicle ‘mostly hidden from view’ were best. When halting to fire a steady machine-gun burst the vehicle was not to remain stationary for more than 15 to 25 seconds, and the squad leader observed fire, his task being made easier by tracer rounds at intervals in the ammunition belts.

Usually, the Panzergrenadiere fought as platoons of four vehicles, three platoons carrying rifle squads, the fourth the headquarters. In the HQ carrier with the commander travelled an NCO, two messengers, a medic, the driver, and two soldiers manning an anti-tank weapon. Other arms carried in the vehicle of the Zugtruppführer were six rifles and a sub-machine gun. A motorcycle messenger might also be attached to the platoon, or several pooled together within the company. What main armament the HQ vehicle had, if any, changed over time. In early type SdKfz 251/10 platoon commanders’ vehicles a 37mm gun was mounted, but establishments of late 1943 show a 20mm flak gun with the commander, plus a Panzerschrek in each of the squad vehicles. The vehicles of the platoon might travel in closer order columns or lines but typical combat formations included the Zugkeil with the squad vehicles in a triangle and the platoon leader’s carrier out to the front, and the loose line or Zugbreite. A minimum dispersion of about 50m between carriers was aimed at in action. Armoured carriers and tanks could operate fire and movement in co-operation with each other, as for example with tanks halted and firing whilst carriers advanced, or with a portion of a carrier unit halted to offer support to other carriers.

An increasingly popular form of armour and infantry co-operation in German forces was the deployment of self-propelled guns and tank destroyers with infantry. Indeed, it could be said that these required each others assistance even more than did tanks. The Sturmgeschütz, literally ‘assault gun’, was perhaps a cheaper form of tank in that it required no turret or full traverse mechanism for its gun. Nevertheless, the ‘Stug’ also scored in other ways because larger weapons could be mounted on a given platform, and it was possible to recycle otherwise obsolete tank chassis in very productive ways, or to continue to make a tried and trusted basic design rather than convert entire production facilities. Building guns into, rather than simply on top of, tank bodies also increased the degree of protection whilst reducing overall silhouette. Standard Sturmgeschütz tactics saw them deployed in the maximum strength available, with, or immediately behind, attacking infantry. They were not to give away their presence prematurely, but used ‘to neutralise enemy support weapons at close ranges over open sights’. Close proximity to friendly infantry minimised their exposure to anti-tank weapons, and helped to make up for lack of a traversing turret. Similar considerations applied where small numbers of turretless ‘tank-hunting’ or ‘tank-destroying’ weapons were deployed. The fact that German forces were frequently on the defensive later in the war made them all the more profitable since they did not have to drive out exposing themselves to effective fire, but could remain and often manoeuvre within the zones occupied by defensive infantry.

Schnelltruppen and Tank Co-operation II

By the end of 1944 the basis of tank and infantry co-operation tactics showed distinct similarities whether German, US, or British. Whether well or indifferently performed in practice, the result of six years of war was convergence of theory. According to Handbook on German Military Forces,

When the enemy has well prepared positions with natural or constructed tank obstacles, the German infantry attacks before tanks and clears the way. The objective of the infantry is to penetrate into the enemy position and destroy enemy anti tank weapons to the limit of its strength and the firepower of its own support weapons, augmented by additional support and covering fire from the tanks and self propelled guns sited in the rear . . . When the tank obstacles in front of the enemy position already are destroyed, and no additional tank obstacles are expected in the depth of the enemy’s main defensive position, the infantry breaks through simultaneously with the tank unit…. In most cases, the infantry follows the tanks closely, taking advantage of the firepower and paralysing effect of the tanks upon the enemy’s defense. The Germans normally transport the infantry to the line of departure on tanks or troop carrying vehicles in order to protect the infantry.

Interestingly, US experiments with motorised infantry were underway as early as 1929 when a company of 34th Infantry was mounted in six-wheeler trucks as part of a ‘Mechanised Force’. This did not last long, however, and rival claims were staked by the infantry and cavalry – with the former wanting ‘infantry tanks’ attached, the latter seeking to become the umbrella to all mobile troops. Only in 1940 was an integrated force formed with the foundation of 1st and 2nd Armoured Divisions, and in 1941 five truck-transported infantry motorised divisions were planned. In the event only one motorised division was completed, and this was never used in its intended role. Efforts, therefore, focused on the creation of more all-arms armoured divisions. Initially, armoured divisions were mainly tanks with few infantry, but observation of European experience, combined with massive infantry manpower increases, made progressive revisions possible. By March 1942 the armoured divisional establishment wedded together two armoured regiments with a three-battalion armoured infantry regiment. In 1943 ‘light’ armoured divisions were also introduced with a better balance of three battalions of tanks with three of infantry.

The US armoured infantry platoon now numbered five squads, three rifle, one mortar and one light machine gun, each squad travelling in an M3 half-track. Capable of seating up to 13, the M3 was bigger than the M2 (that carried only 10), and was arranged with 3 seats across the front and 5 down each side. In the ordinary squad vehicle the leader usually sat front right, ready to handle the vehicle mounted .30 cal machine gun. As in the German arrangement, his assistant squad leader rode at the back next to the rear door, and more than one man was trained to drive, one of these being designated the assistant driver. The M3 armour was just adequate for protection against small arms and fragments, but would not stop much else, and there was no overhead protection on the driving compartment. Some dubbed the M3 the ‘Purple Heart Box’ on account of those injured in it.

Initial US theory paid relatively little heed to the notion of close integration of tanks and infantry, and early armoured establishments ensured that the latter were insufficient where they were needed. Gradually, and arguably from mid-1942, this began to change. Manuals made it very clear that the raison d’être of tanks, and by extension all their appendages within the armoured division, was the offensive. Within the tactical detail it was tanks that formed the cutting edge ‘striking force’, infantry that followed up. Yet there were exceptions. As the 1942 instructions FM 17-10 Armored Force Field Manual: Tactics and Technique, explained,

In attack the combat command groups are generally disposed into four parts: a reconnaissance force (consisting of organic reconnaissance units and attacking units), a striking force (the striking echelon consisting of tanks with engineers attached), a supporting force (consisting of the support echelon, i.e. the infantry, artillery and tank destroyer units), and a reserve. Whether the striking force makes the initial attack or main attack will depend on the terrain and the extent and dispositions of the hostile anti tank defences. . . . When the striking force makes the initial attack, the support echelon follows to seize and hold objectives taken by the striking echelon. When terrain is unsuitable for tank operation or anti tank defences are strong, the support echelon, supported by medium tank units, may lead the attack to secure ground from which the striking echelon may attack. The support echelon usually leads the attack in a penetration. The support echelon may be used to make an attack initially to serve as a base of fire for the striking force in an envelopment. The attack serves to fix the enemy and attract his reserves. In this manner it assists the advance of the enveloping or striking force.

Additionally, armoured infantry had roles in both pursuit and ‘encircling forces’. During an encirclement, for example, they might follow the tanks and take over and hold ‘critical terrain’ gained by the armour. North Africa and Italy would make it very clear that tanks without any attached infantry were at a serious disadvantage; whilst tanks, even in small numbers, lent vital fire support and morale advantages to their infantry compatriots.

Armored Force Drill, of January 1943, gave a range of formations for use by armoured infantry on the move. Whilst they could take up ‘wedges’ – inverted or otherwise, move in columns or stepped ‘echelons’, or any other form of deployment also used by tanks, the ‘diamond’ was described as ‘the basic formation for the infantry platoon’. In the diamond,

the platoon leader’s rifle squad and the two other rifle squads form a wedge, with the platoon leader at the apex. The 60mm mortar squad and the light machine gun squad are on a line in rear of the wedge formed by the rifle squads. The company may be formed in line, column, echelon, wedge, or inverted wedge, in each formation with the platoons in diamond formation.

As may be imagined, the larger company formations described needed much open space for full deployment, so in practice, and particularly in the closed country of Normandy or Italian mountains and hills, short lines, platoon wedges, or columns of various depths and dispersions were much more commonly seen. Experience also taught that fuller integration of tanks and half-tracks was often the best option. So it was that armoured infantry platoons were paired with tank platoons, the latter giving good long-range firepower and a measure of anti-armour protection, the latter ability to counter enemy anti-tank units and infantry, or hold a terrain feature.

Though fire from the vehicle was used in emergency, and a parked half-track formed a useful base of fire – particularly if concealed and mounted with the powerful .50 calibre machine gun, US tactical theory did not regard the M3 as a ‘fighting’ or assault vehicle, but more as a sophisticated, and partly protected, form of cross-country transport. In any case, as the Crew Drill manual explained, small-arms fire was much more accurate if the vehicle stopped. Standard procedure, therefore, was that in combat the main portion of the squads alighted before meeting effective fire, leaving one, or preferably two, men with the vehicle. Those left behind could move the half-track and fire its machine gun, perhaps in support, as an anti-aircraft defence, or to protect a given locality. If not needed immediately, the M3 retired to a given rendezvous or acted as battlefield taxi for supplies and wounded. As the squad dismounted its leader gave consideration to mission and tactical requirements, for if all weapons including the main machine gun were taken off the squad had fearsome firepower but limited mobility. Conversely, if the bazooka and machine gun were left behind the team could move with great agility but little power to confront vehicles or large numbers of the enemy. As a shorthand order the word ‘rockets’ was recommended: on hearing this the squad debused with the bazooka using two of the riflemen as anti-tank team, but left the machine gun behind. ‘No rockets’ meant that riflemen went lightly equipped.

In a well co-ordinated armoured infantry attack a combined formation went to ground near the target, and whilst infantry dismounted, tanks took up covered positions from which to put the enemy under fire. Depending on the results of reconnaissance or intelligence, the action might also be supported by artillery, mortars, machine guns, and the three useful M8 self-propelled howitzers that also formed part of the armoured infantry battalion. Taking advantage of covering fire, the armoured infantry advanced in dispersed formation, using their own fire and movement as required. If all went well, the infantry took up the ground, making sure that no anti-armour weapons were still lurking before the tanks came close in: if the infantry were held up tanks might be required to neutralise machine-gun nests or other centres of resistance. Whilst tank destroyers had the main task of dealing with enemy armour, tanks would also make engaging enemy vehicles a priority. Progressively, US armoured units adopted what became known as the ‘combat command’ approach, bringing together units or sub-units as required for task. Though arguably less dynamic than the German Kampfgruppe idea, and generally enacted later, the basic notion was very similar. As the manual 17-33 Tank Battalion, of December 1944, explained:

success in battle can be assured only by complete co-operation of all arms. No one arm wins battles. Success is attained when each arm, weapon and individual is employed to afford the maximum mutual support . . . tanks usually operate in close co-ordination with other arms, particularly infantry and artillery. The tank battalion may be part of a combat command; it may reinforce an infantry combat team. When operated alone, it is normally reinforced by infantry, engineers and other units.

So it was now, even when US armour was ‘alone’ infantry was still not far away. For defensive operations it was recommended that infantry, reinforced by other arms, should hold the ‘main line of resistance’, tank battalions being held as a ‘local reserve’ for the front-line infantry. The standard arrangement for an armoured infantry company in a defensive posture was with two platoons forward, and one back, giving support and depth to the position. Tanks could attack through infantry, though this required careful co-ordination, or support the infantry forward, and this applied to ordinary infantry as well as the armoured variety. As the new 1944 general-infantry manual FM 7-20 Infantry Battalion, explained,

In infantry-tank action, there are three initial attack dispositions: infantry leading, tanks leading, and infantry-tanks together. Infantry leads initially when reconnaissance has revealed hostile anti-tank strength or when the terrain in the direction of desired use is unsuitable for tanks; in this case the tanks support the attack by fire, generally from hull defilade positions. Tanks lead initially, when suitable terrain is available, in launching an attack against a hostile position having little anti-tank strength in terms of anti-tank guns, tank destroyers, antitank mines and other obstacles, or when these have been neutralised; in this case, elements of the infantry battalion follow within supporting distance and aid the tanks by fire and manoeuvre.

Where neither situation applied, or was unclear, attacks were launched with both armour and infantry in the leading wave so as to promote flexibility. Such was the ideal, but as can be imagined, commanding a ‘composite wave’ in action was no easy task, and not always successfully accomplished.

The organisation of the US armoured infantry battalion, c.1944. The three rifle companies are each divided into three platoons. Each platoon in its turn comprised three rifle squads, plus a mortar and a light machine gun squad. Platoons were thus 5 half-tracks and 49 all ranks at full strength. The battalion also included reconnaissance, assault gun, and mortars and machine guns arranged as HQ assets, as well as the ‘service’ company for maintenance and admin.

Twelve key tasks for armoured infantry were foreseen under 1944 instructions:

  1. Follow a tank attack to wipe out enemy resistance.
  2. Seize and hold terrain gained by the tanks.
  3. Attack to seize terrain favourable for a tank attack.
  4. Form, in conjunction with artillery and tank destroyers, a base of fire for a tank attack.
  5. Attack in conjunction with tanks.
  6. Clear lanes through minefields in conjunction with engineers.
  7. Protect tanks in bivouac, on the march, in assembly areas, and at rallying points.
  8. Force a river crossing.
  9. Seize a bridgehead.
  10. Establish and reduce obstacles.
  11. Occupy a defensive position.
  12. Perform reconnaissance and counter reconnaissance.

The armoured infantry arm was described as being characteristically ‘powerful, mobile and lightly armored’, and in battle armoured infantry were expected to advance in vehicles until forced ‘by enemy fire, or unfavourable terrain to dismount’. Generally, the ‘one to one’ balanced relationship of tank battalions to armoured infantry battalions held good for the remainder of the war. Post-war analysis suggested that possibly even a three armoured infantry to two tank units ratio was even better. Practical experience also suggested that the closer that infantry, any infantry, and tanks started out the more effective their collaboration was likely to be. ‘Tank riding’ – frowned upon early in the war – but widely seen on the Eastern Front, was formally adopted US policy by the campaigns of 1944. Where it was necessary for infantry to travel on tanks it was suggested that a tank company could carry from 75 to 100 infantry with 6 on the rear deck of a medium tank, 4 on the back of a light tank. ‘In rear areas more men can ride, when rope handles are provided. The infantry dismount prior to the launching of the tank attack.’

It has been said that compared to German armoured infantry tactics those of the Americans were poorly developed and unadventurous. This is not the full story. For crucially it has to be remembered that the tactical situation pertaining in 1940 was by no means the same as that in 1944. Early in the war German methods were novel, taking opponents largely by surprise: moreover, with the exception of relatively small numbers of anti-tank artillery pieces, and somewhat ineffective anti-tank rifles, Allied infantry had little with which to counter armoured carriers effectively. German mechanised troop theory called for close integration with tanks, and also accepted casualties as a given in terms of achieving a success as part of a bigger picture. The net result was that, in both Poland and the West, German ‘fast’ troops scored remarkable victories in concert with armour.

Until 1940 there were no US armoured divisions, and until North Africa no practical experience of armoured combat. Thereafter, major elements of German tactics were progressively taken up, and earlier British experience studied. Later in the war, however, when the USA managed to field armoured infantry in numbers, much had changed. The basic tactics were no longer new, the enemy was already thoroughly familiar with them, and worse was already deploying hand-held anti-tank weapons down to platoon and even squad level. Usually, German forces were on the defensive, and encounters between mobile forces rarer. The result was that when an M3 confronted even a small group of German infantry there was every possibility that one of them would be equipped with a weapon capable of completely destroying the carrier with a single round. In the face of this reality fighting from the vehicle was not merely dangerous, as it had always been, but obviously suicidal. So it was, that by comparison, it was almost inevitable US techniques should appear hesitant. Conversely, it was also the case that the Germans, particularly in the West after July 1944, became progressively weaker in tanks. With fewer Allied tanks required for large armour to armour engagements this meant that tanks could be used more widely in close infantry support operations.

As we have seen, the British approach was to mechanise infantry transport as widely as possible, but following early experimental work on attacks by fully tracked, but very small, carriers, the notion of full-blown ‘armoured infantry’ assault in vehicles was generally abandoned. So it was that in 1939 platoon trucks were motorised, and lorry companies also existed for the transport of nominated battalions from place to place on an ad hoc basis. Within the armoured division there was provision for two motorised battalions in establishments of 1939 to 1941, and this was later raised to three in May 1942, and, by April 1943, to four battalions per armoured division. One of these was the ‘motor battalion’ that formed an integral part of the division’s armoured brigade. The US summary TM 30-410 Handbook on the British Army, published in 1943 – but already slightly out of date, distinguished three types of British mobile battalion:

The machine gun battalion, which is at present assigned to corps troops, is based on the caliber .303 Vickers machine gun. It consists of a headquarters, a headquarters company, and four machine gun companies of 12 guns each. Each company is composed of a headquarters and three platoons. The battalion is completely motorised and all personnel are carried in motor transport. It has a strength of 29 officers and 711 enlisted men . . . The motor battalion assigned to each armoured brigade, consists of a headquarters company and four motor companies. Each company consists of three motor platoons and one scout platoon (11 Bren carriers). Each motor platoon consists of three sections, each self contained, operationally and administratively, in one vehicle. This battalion, with a strength of 26 officers and 774 enlisted men, has much greater fire power than any other in the British army…. the motorised battalion, formerly assigned to the support group of the armoured division, now forms the infantry component of the infantry brigade in the armoured division. Its organisation is exactly the same as that of the rifle battalion, but it is carried in motor transport.

Additionally, divisional reconnaissance regiments were also composed of infantry riding in various forms of transport, but later these were converted into the Reconnaissance Corps. As the 1941 Infantry Division manual made clear, standard drill for any motorised infantry was for the transport to bring them as far forward as possible without danger, then ‘debus’ them to operate much as any others. Whilst not attacking in ‘soft-skinned’ vehicles made perfect sense, lack of suitable armoured carriers made close co-operation between infantry and all but the slowest moving tanks problematic – and was arguably a significant tactical failing – particularly in circumstances that called for swift offensive action. Moreover, early in the war there were few signs of close co-operation between ordinary infantry, operating on foot, and the tank arm. Official doctrine of 1941, as spelt out in The Employment of Army Tanks in Co-Operation with Infantry, was that in the attack tanks would precede the infantry, with which there would be little direct interaction. During 1942, however, individual units began to practice closer co-operation in training. This was encouraged both by the increased numbers of infantry in armoured divisions, and by the fact that a number of new tank units were created from infantry battalions – and to these working with other infantry may well have appeared far more natural.

As of October 1943 British infantry divisions in Italy disposed of no less than 3,745 motor vehicles each, including over 900 motorcycles. This gave them a degree of tactical and strategic mobility not enjoyed by the enemy, but also meant that considerable effort, logistic and otherwise, had to be expended in maintaining these fleets. By the spring of 1944 Britain had obtained enough M3 half-tracks from the USA to mount the integral battalion of armoured brigades with tracked carriers. These were again operated much on existing principles, being used essentially as a ‘hardened’ transport to take forward infantry and their equipment, which then alighted to fight on foot. As in the US instance it would have been highly unrealistic to expect full ‘armoured infantry’ tactics at this date, given that enemy infantry could now destroy carriers with considerable ease.

Issued in May 1944, the key document governing British tank and infantry collaborations was The Co-Operation of Tanks with Infantry Divisions. As in US doctrine, it was envisaged that attacks be made in waves of varying compositions, and in British theory the waves were built of three main parts: the ‘assault’, ‘support’, and ‘reserve’ echelons. Each echelon was itself likely to comprise two or more individual sub-ports. An echelon could contain tanks, or infantry, or a mixture of both, but commonly there was some infantry with every one, and tanks normally formed at least a part of the ‘support’ echelon. It was the job of the assault echelon to attack ‘as closely as possible behind the artillery support’ and disrupt and dominate the objective. The support echelon provided immediate covering fire then itself moved forward to take up ground to ‘completely subdue the objective’ and oppose any counter attack. The reserve was kept in hand by the commander, and deployed as necessary according to events. In these essentials British and US techniques were fairly similar, albeit the nomenclature was different. What was rather different was that under British organisation dedicated ‘infantry tanks’ – slow, tough, and heavy beasts like the Churchill – were allotted to infantry divisions for ‘close co-operation, especially in beaching the enemy defences’. This broad concept went back all the way to the First World War, and had been reconfirmed when, at the beginning of the Second World War, a need was foreseen for well-protected armour to operate in the ‘shelled area’ helping the ‘break in’ of infantry into main defensive positions. Whilst many things had changed, and effective infantry tanks took years in development, it could be argued that in some senses things had come full circle, and the Atlantic Wall, Siegfried Line, other Axis defensive lines, and built-up areas did indeed require the attentions of heavily armoured tanks. Churchills, for example, did especially valuable service when converted for specialist roles in support of other arms; as a variety of ‘funnies’ on D-Day, or as ‘engineer’ tanks with heavy charge throwers blowing in enemy bunkers and strongpoints to allow the infantry to go forward. Conversely, the heavy infantry tanks were not of much use for rapid actions or sweeping manoeuvres.

The faster tanks, still known by the archaic descriptions ‘Cruiser’ and ‘Light’, were assumed to have specific purposes in terms of armoured exploitation by armoured divisions and in reconnaissance. Nevertheless, by this date it was acknowledged that distinctions were breaking down, for though tanks were designed for specific roles, ‘there can be no hard and fast rule regarding their employment, beyond the obvious one that they must be used in the manner which most effectively carries out the intention of the higher commander. Cruiser tanks have, in recent operations, supported infantry divisions with marked success, and infantry tanks have, on at least one important occasion, carried out valuable work in a role usually allotted to cruisers.’ Whilst tanks were best used offensively in numbers on narrow frontages, they could also be used successfully in smaller groups ‘always accompanied by infantry’. This would be of ‘moral’ as well as ‘material’ value. They were not to be used on their own, ‘for patrols or for leading the way into very close country or villages’.

How close infantry should actually get to tanks was still seen as problematic, since tank and infantry co-operation had to be close to prevent enemy infantry using hand-held anti-tank weapons, and advancing behind a tank also lent considerable protection from small-arms fire. On the other hand, armour attracted fire of all sorts and infantry very close to tanks could easily find themselves ‘exposed to heavy artillery concentrations’. Several possible solutions were offered. In the best eventuality the tanks went first, ‘neutralising the objective’ and the infantry caught up as quickly as possible before the tanks took serious loss. However,

A decision must be reached by the commander of the operation – usually the infantry brigadier – as to how close the infantry can move behind the assaulting tanks. Tanks normally move faster than infantry and draw enemy fire. It may, therefore, often be desirable for both to start together, with the result that the tanks draw ahead, but that the infantry will arrive on the objective while the enemy is still suffering the shock of the tank attack. In this way the infantry will obtain maximum advantage of the [artillery] fire plan which is designed for the support of the leading troops.

For a ‘main attack’ Co-Operation of Tanks with Infantry Divisions envisaged a set piece, preparation of which might take a long time, or as little as ‘one to two days’ or in an emergency ‘hours’. Execution at night would be preferable from the point of view of the infantry, but tanks rendered their most effective assistance in daylight. In planning infantry and tank units were to co-operate closely, with as many as possible seeing the ground over which the operation was to take place in advance. For main attacks artillery was vital, and a fire plan had to be laid that ‘caters for success’. The attack would ideally unfold as preparation of gaps, followed by the assault and consolidation. Assaulting infantry were not to stop to mop up any posts that remained short of the objective but to push on to it and hold it. As a British 2nd Armoured Division history explained, German troops had become very adept in their use of both the new anti-tank weapons, and snipers, sometimes holding their fire,

until the leading troops were a mile or more beyond them. To overcome this it was necessary for the attacking troops to advance in great depth, so that when the infantry had reached their objective their rear had only recently crossed the start line. In this way the infantry and tanks were spread out all over the ground just won and in a position to help each other deal with the snipers. All round observation in each tank was vital, because the enemy were just as likely to fire from either flank, or from behind, as they were from the front.

‘Main attacks’ were, however, only likely to be part of the picture as many operations were ‘fluid warfare’. In conducting advances in fluid warfare there was no hard and fast rule as to whether infantry or tanks should lead the way: indeed, open situations might demand tanks in smaller or greater numbers to the fore, whilst close country required infantry to lead clearing the path for armour. In the latter instance tanks would still be hard on the heels of the infantry aiming to neutralise machine-gun and mortar positions with their supporting fire. ‘Tank riding’ by infantry was encouraged, but only ‘outside small arms and anti-tank gun range’, as direct fire on tanks carrying infantry would probably result in heavy casualties, loss of morale, and difficulties for the tanks in firing back.

When infantry are to be carried on tanks, definite organisation and practice are required. The number of sub units within the unit of both infantry and tanks is dissimilar. One tank can carry a full section of infantry with its weapons. The infantry must have a drill for mounting the tank, for dismounting, and for quick assembly. Riding on the outside of a tank, especially across rough country, requires a certain amount of practice, and, as far as possible, troops whom it is intended to carry in this manner should not have their first ride when moving up to their assembly area for action.

An example of a ‘Priest’ Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier.

Whilst it may reasonably be argued that British infantry and tank co-operation, and particularly ‘armoured infantry’ methods, lagged sadly behind the German, and that even later in the war much depended on the availability of US-produced materiel, there were two remarkable bright spots in British performance. The first was the general level of mechanisation achieved at an early stage, the second was a belated revival of the fully tracked carrier concept that pointed the way to something of a revolution in battlefield troop mobility, still being played out decades after 1945. What had been wrong with the old Bren and Universal carriers was that essentially they were too small, and too lightly protected, to do the job of transporting a section on the battlefield. Though fine for a machine gun or a mortar, this essentially limited them to carrying support weapons and stores – useful, but no substitute for section half-tracks. A key spur came from the Canadians who pressed into action the hulls of US 105mm self-propelled ‘Priests’ in the breakout south of Caen in early August 1944. Soon more were being converted in Italy, as were turretless Shermans. At the end of 1944 the ‘Ram Kangeroo’ appeared based on a Canadian Ram tank chassis. Some British armoured cavalry units were now converted experimentally so that whilst two squadrons retained their gun tanks, the third drove infantry carriers. The whole regiment operated together so that when progress was halted by resistance the tanks took up positions to bring the enemy under fire. The carriers headed for any convenient cover and unloaded the infantry, who could now advance and attack under supporting fire disabling or capturing any antitank weapons. Once this was underway the troops of tanks came up, using their own fire and movement to support each other onto and through the position.

An example of a ‘Ram’ Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier, based on the conversion of a Tank, Cruiser, Ram, Mark II, with the auxiliary turret.

Provisional standard carrier drill was reported in Current Reports from Overseas of April 1945. This stressed that whilst the tanks, carriers, and their infantry passengers were to operate as a unit, the idea was not to drive the carriers into the teeth of the enemy. Individual Kangeroos drove into suitable positions and halted with one man on the Browning machine gun. The infantry spilled out as rapidly as possible from all sides of the vehicle, which remained stationary until they were clear. The stated logic to this was that if the Kangeroo moved prematurely it might detonate mines, injuring the now vulnerable troops. The troops manoeuvred or attacked on foot, carriers remaining out of the way of anti-tank weapons, but close enough to support or pick up their sections when recalled. Interestingly, these basic notes on the actions of fully tracked carriers would still form the basis of battlefield tactics more than half a century later.

Japan To Asia: The Sino-Japanese War I

An informal and passive defense strategy remained the basis of national military policy, but developments in Russia and China during the late 1880s convinced Yamagata that Japan’s inability to project military power overseas would relegate the nation to a perpetual second-class power status. Acutely aware of Japan’s weakness, he pursued a cautious foreign policy of limited expansionist goals on the Asian mainland and reshaped Japan’s army into a force capable of protecting the nation’s sovereignty and interests.

In January 1888 Army Inspector-General Yamagata declared that the construction of a Panama Canal, a Trans-Siberian railway, and a Canadian-Pacific railroad would shift the thrust of western imperialism from Africa into East Asia. A clash between Britain and Russia over India was likely, and Korea was a flashpoint because of competing Chinese, Japanese, and Russian interests. He was confident that the army could repel a Russian invasion of Japan by concentrating two or three divisions against the beachhead, provided the government improved the communications infrastructure of telegraph and rail lines, finished construction of coastal fortifications, and fully funded seven infantry divisions.

Retired general Soga agreed that Russia was the threat but questioned the conventional wisdom that dictated that an island nation like Japan should depend on a strong navy as its first line of defense. Rather than invest heavily in a vast naval establishment, which could not protect thousands of miles of coast anyway, Soga proposed a small standing army (90,000 regulars and 60,000 reservists) and coastal fortifications linked to the rail and road network. Even Russia, he reasoned, could transport no more than two corps (30,000 troops) by sea to Japan at one time, leaving the invaders far outnumbered by a mobilized militia and army of about 150,000 men. A small navy operating from offshore islands could harass any enemy fleet and disrupt its maritime line of communication. These joint measures would prevent any invasion. Lt. Gen. Miura aired similar opinions in a series of newspaper articles written in 1889 that maintained that Japan’s topography was unsuitable for European-style, division-echelon operations. An enemy force could land anywhere along the lengthy coastline, so instead of expanding the army, the government would be better off to organize and deploy militia units at strategic locations to repulse an enemy landing.

Irritated by the Getsuyōkai’s directors’ recurrent criticism, angered by the association’s independent opinions, and displeased with the proliferation of other officer associations, in November 1887 the war ministry had ordered the consolidation of all military fraternal associations under its approved organization, the Kaikōsha. Prominent officers assigned to the war ministry and general staff left the society, urged their peers to quit, and pressured their juniors to do the same. The Getsuyōkai directors, however, refused to disband, and Soga and Miura continued their drumbeat of opposition to overseas expansion. Having previously alienated their powerful civilian political backers over the issue of treaty revision, Miura and Soga were vulnerable, and army authorities seconded both to the reserves in December 1888, thereby purging the army of its last vestiges of its Francophile faction. Tani was seconded to the reserves the following year.

In February 1889 five division commanders petitioned War Minister Ōyama to amalgamate the Kaikōsha and Getsuyōkai; he complied by dissolving the Getsuyōkai, disbanding all other professional officers’ societies, and forbidding study groups within the army. Thereafter Kaikōsha chapters, which doubled as officers’ benevolent societies (members paying a small fee that went into a relief fund to assist officers’ families), promoted the army’s official orthodoxy, set standards for behavior and skills, evaluated junior officers for promotion and recommendation for advanced schooling, and played a major role in determining a young officer’s career progression. The implicit lesson was that the army attached little value to critical research or questioning of its prevailing orthodoxy.

The inaugural imperial Diet convened in 1890. Many of the elected representatives were landowners and spent much of the session trying to cut land taxes, the main source of government revenue. As a consequence, the legislature consistently reduced or rejected the cabinet’s costly budget requests for riparian and defense projects. It also steadfastly opposed the army’s ambitious plans for nationwide railroad improvements because many of its members were unwilling to raise taxes to pay for the projects. Government critics such as retired general Tani Tateki, now a member of the House of Peers, unfurled the banner of fiscal responsibility to oppose expensive railway construction projects, promote Miura’s less costly militia scheme, and champion investment in coastal defense construction. Now prime minister, Yamagata had to compromise to muster enough votes in the House of Peers to pass a reduced military construction bill to pay for a strategic railroad network.

The government-designed rail network’s major trunk lines converged at Ujina, the port of Hiroshima in western Japan, enabling the army to move units rapidly either for purposes of coastal defense or overseas deployment. Although narrow-gauge lines were easier and cheaper to build, the cabinet opted for broad-gauge rails, whose greater load capacity allowed fewer, larger cars to carry more troops. The government-stimulated construction touched off a railroad boom and increased the demand for imported steel for rails, which, added to imported steel for warships and weapons, resulted in an unfavorable balance of trade and caused severe domestic inflation. By 1893 shrewd investors cashed out and the speculation bubble of hyperinflated railroad stocks burst, adding to the nation’s financial woes.

Besides their shaky financial underpinnings, the new rail lines had questionable military value. Strategically the railroads often ran too close to existing coastal routes and, as Prussian Maj. Klemens Wilhelm Jakob Meckel had previously warned, left the tracks susceptible to interdiction by hostile naval gunfire. The general staff and the chairman of the Railroad Conference Board, Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Kawakami Sōroku, heeded the Prussian’s advice and wanted the railroads relocated farther inland, but Ōyama insisted that construction through precipitous mountain ranges would be technically more difficult, more time consuming, and much more expensive than a coastal route. Besides, Japan’s growing navy could protect the coasts and the coastal railroads from enemy naval bombardment and invasion. Kawakami resigned from the board in disgust.

The army’s quest for strategic mobility during the 1880s rapidly transformed Japan’s transportation infrastructure. Army engineers completed the great military port at Ujina in 1885 and upgraded coastal batteries, military ports, naval bases, and arsenals throughout the country. The completion of a new railway line connecting Kobe and Hiroshima in mid-1894 removed the bottleneck between eastern and western Japan, and the army also improved and widened roads leading to the ports to accommodate heavy artillery caissons and divisional baggage wagons. The modern transportation infrastructure opened previously isolated regions to commercial expansion as textiles, foodstuffs, and coal could be moved cheaply and easily for sale or export. It also enabled the expanding army to move troops and equipment rapidly to ports of embarkation for overseas deployments.

The Soldiers of the Sino-Japanese War

In 1893 the army had about 6,000 officers and 12,000 NCOs. Its almost 60,000 conscripts lived in garrison barracks where they trained with their respective regiments. Six months of basic training emphasized repetition in everything from military courtesies and calisthenics to small-unit formations and marksmanship. Rote memorization and constant repetition were necessary because a large percentage of the conscripts were either completely or functionally illiterate.

Although statistics are incomplete, as late as 1891, more than 60 percent of all conscripts fell into those two categories (with almost 27 percent being completely illiterate). Only 14 percent had graduated from a primary or higher school, though the army regarded 24 percent as having comparable practical or work experience. Superstitions abounded, especially among the peasant conscripts, who found themselves in a barracks amidst strange new things. A frequently cited example was the case of peasant conscripts who, having never seen a wood-burning stove, worshiped the one in their barracks as a religious idol.

Between 1891 and 1903 the number of middle schools (at the time male-only) almost quadrupled, to more than 200, three-quarters of them built in rural areas. Enrollment quintupled to around 100,000 students. By 1900 functional illiteracy had declined, but it was still above 30 percent (actual illiteracy 16.8 percent) and remained constant throughout the decade. Until the educational reforms in 1920 that instituted compulsory grammar school education, between 10 and 15 percent of all young men undergoing an induction physical lacked any formal schooling. Thereafter illiteracy rates became negligible—less than 1 percent—but as late as 1930 almost 40 percent of conscripts had not graduated from primary school.

The army was attuned to educational changes and concentrated on indoctrinating an increasingly literate public and conscript force with themes of Japan’s uniqueness by virtue of the unbroken imperial line. To spread its message, the army subsidized the publication of cheap, widely distributed commercial handbooks that explained how to organize simple public ceremonies for troops like hearty send-offs, welcome-home celebrations, or memorial observances. Army propaganda in the pamphlets explained that conscripts should be grateful the emperor wanted them for his army, underlining their soldierly duty to meet and obey imperial injunctions and reminding them, “As the cherry blossom is to flowers, the warrior is to men.” Military values were steadily seeping into the popular culture.

Despite the army’s numerous and impressive accomplishments, the institution of the early 1890s was by no means a state-of-the-art fighting force. Its weaponry and military technology lagged far behind western standards. By the late 1880s, for example, steel-gun technology had rendered bronze weapons obsolete, but lacking the sophisticated new technology the Osaka arsenal continued to manufacture bronze field and mountain guns. This in turn retarded the artillery school’s experiments with smokeless powder because the residue fouled the bronze weapons, making them unusable. Likewise, manufacturing capacity restricted shell production, and the army could not stockpile large quantities of munitions. General staff planners compensated by compiling ammunition consumption tables based on statistical data derived from the Satsuma Rebellion in expectation that a central general headquarters would carefully control the field commanders’ expenditure of artillery rounds. The rebellion’s legacy of light artillery was reinforced by Meckel’s later pronouncement that mountain artillery hauled by packhorses was better suited for Japan’s rugged landscape than heavier field artillery pulled by teams of draught horses. The army considered large-caliber guns (larger than 150 mm) defensive weapons for use in coastal fortifications. On the positive side, gunners studied direction and range findings techniques and became proficient at controlling indirect artillery fires.

The Tokyo arsenal was producing Type-18 Murata rifles, a single-shot weapon. The advanced Type-38 Murata, a five-round clip-fed version, was not standard equipment in the mid-1890s, and only the Imperial Guard and the 4th Division were initially equipped with a prototype repeating rifle. Clothing and weapons were standardized. The field uniform was a black jacket and white pants complemented by a soft black kepi. In 1889 the army adopted the French-style sword. Demands to return to a Japanese samurai sword were rejected after a five-year study concluded that the samurai sword was impractical in modern warfare because both hands were needed to wield it.

The army diet consisted of polished white rice, fish, poultry, pickled vegetables, and tea. Attempts by Japanese doctors to introduce white bread or a hardtack biscuit into the daily ration in the early 1890s failed, but the biscuit did become part of the emergency field ration. Soldiers received just over two pints of cooked white rice per day even though anecdotal evidence showed that cutting the rice with barley prevented beriberi, known as Japan’s national disease during the Meiji period. Between 1876 and 1885 about 20 percent of enlisted troops suffered vitamin deficiencies and contracted beriberi; about 2 percent of them died. Field tests of a ration of barley mixed with rice conducted in 1885–1886 dramatically reduced beriberi cases (from almost 265 per 1,000 to just 35 per 1,000), but vitamin theory was still an unproven and contentious hypothesis. More significant, conscripts and officers alike regarded adulterated rice as penitentiary food (in fact, since 1875 it was prison fare) and considered it unfit for loyal soldiers of the emperor, a case of cultural imperatives inhibiting disease control.


Prime Minister Yamagata’s fifteen-minute maiden address to the Diet in March 1890 outlined a geopolitical strategy based on a line of sovereignty and a line of interests to protect Japan’s vital national interests. He observed that once the Trans-Siberian railway was completed, Korea would fall under the Russian shadow. Accordingly, national security could no longer depend simply on a primary line of defense on Japanese shores but demanded the capability to protect a forward line of overseas interests, chiefly in Korea, where Japan had to prevent Russia from using the peninsula as a springboard to invade the home islands. The inference was that Yamagata wanted to carve out a buffer zone beyond Japan’s boundaries, but his speech described a neutral Korea as the focus of Japanese interests and identified Tsushima Island as the first line of defense along his line of sovereignty.

Fears of a Russian invasion had fed Japanese nightmares since the 1850s, but until the 1880s the army was too weak to do much about it. Following Meckel’s guidance, the army refined counter-amphibious doctrine and tested it during a new joint grand exercise conducted in March 1890 near Nagoya. The stylized scenario had a predictable outcome (the invaders lost), but the army displayed its imagination and creativity by moving large units by rail and testing field telegraph communications to improve command and control. The emperor lent importance to the inaugural event by presiding over the maneuvers dressed in an army uniform and observing the culmination of the exercise during a driving rainstorm. Thereafter he attended special army grand maneuvers on ten occasions, always wearing his army uniform, a practice that dated from public appearances in 1880 as supreme commander.

The 1890 and 1892 maneuvers field-tested the new mobile division tactics, an operational departure and a significant shift from the traditional doctrine of waterline defense. After a May 1893 mobilization exercise revealed that reserve NCOs and junior officer platoon leaders were less proficient than their regular counterparts, the war ministry redoubled efforts to improve reserve training.

The same year, the ministry reorganized the tondenhei (the militia the authorities formed from samurai settlers in Hokkaidō in the 1870s) into an under-strength division because the available Hokkaidō cohort was still too small to fill a full division’s ranks. Finally, the war minister also revamped the wartime table of organization to draw on the approximately 150,000 strong first reserves (120,000 more in the second reserve) to field a wartime division of 18,500 personnel (the Imperial Guard strength was set at 13,000). The expanded wartime division added one infantry company per battalion (twelve total), strengthened the cavalry squadron and field artillery regiment, and added two engineer companies and a transport battalion. Wartime mobilization required additional reserve officers and NCOs, and the army expanded its one-year volunteer system to train and build a larger reserve officer pool.

More young men were conscripted for active service, but a rapidly growing population provided a larger available cohort, and the percentage of those conscripted remained fairly constant. Draft resistance or evasion was negligible—less than 1 percent of the cohort per year between 1882 and 1896. Each year about 3,000 youths skipped the annual physical exam or appeared late for testing,24 which suggests the system had become institutionalized and accepted by the larger society (see Table 5.1).

Training reforms instituted in 1888 devoted more time to unit exercises and field maneuvers. Company commanders were expected to display initiative and seize tactical opportunities without waiting for orders from higher headquarters, but the revised 1891 infantry regulations perpetuated Meckel’s inflexible massed columns and skirmisher formations. Planners projected losses of between 25 and 50 percent during operations. In order to sustain the offensive under such conditions, officers and NCOs were expected to enforce iron discipline during the tactical advance. Army authorities relied on intensive indoctrination in the intangibles of élan and esprit to promote each soldier’s sense of obligation to the nation and his unit as well as his determination to press home attacks whatever the cost.

Imperial General Headquarters, Planning, and Wartime Performance

Although the services had conducted joint maneuvers, interservice cooperation and coordination faltered because the army was determined to retain its primary role in national defense. In 1886 the navy embarked on its first replenishment plan and saw the establishment of a naval general staff with a corresponding resentment among naval leaders about their service’s second-class status. The admirals’ push for a totally independent naval general staff was countered by the generals’ insistence that wartime operations had to be based on peacetime plans prepared by a single authority—the army. Advocates couched their arguments against the cabinet’s push for joint general staff in terms of imperial prerogatives, span of control issues, and administrative requirements. The fundamental debate, however, was about the future of the army; its strategic role, its force structure, and its force design.

In January 1893 the cabinet presented the navy’s proposal for an independent staff to the emperor, who harbored reservations that interservice staff rivalry might interfere with wartime performance. The army was willing to accept an independent naval general staff provided that during wartime the army chief of staff was in charge of an imperial general headquarters (IGHQ). Several days later Prince Arisugawa, the chief of the joint staff, recommended that the IGHQ chief of staff should be from the primary service—the army—and serve as the emperor’s chief of staff. This would unify the services’ planning and operational efforts as well as ease imperial concerns that separate staffs might create serious coordination issues.

Emperor Meiji approved the establishment of a separate naval general staff on May 19, 1893, creating two parallel and independent chains of command whose chiefs reported directly to the emperor during peacetime. That same day, Meiji sanctioned regulations to organize an imperial general headquarters directly under the emperor to control wartime operations. An army general officer would fill the post of chief of the IGHQ staff to ensure that service’s primary role in national defense. During wartime he had the authority to issue operational orders sanctioned by the emperor, and the army vice chief of staff and the naval chief of staff served under him.

Operational Planning

Military strategy, such as it was, relied on mobile divisions to defend the homeland, a fixed defense anchored by coastal fortifications, and an offensive strategy against China in case of emergency. Col. Ogawa Mataji, the chief, second bureau, of the general staff, guided the first serious planning for offensive operations against China. His 1887 draft employed an eight-division (six regular and two reserve) expeditionary force to seize Peking. Six divisions would land near Shanhaiguan at the head of the Bohai Gulf and then advance on the capital. The remaining two divisions would land further south (along Changkiang coast) to prevent Chinese armies from relieving Peking. Ogawa’s plan was mostly wishful thinking because the Japanese navy could neither maintain a line of communication to the continent nor transport such large numbers of troops overseas. His operational concept did serve as a strategic statement to justify the army’s budget for its five-year expansion program and became a point of departure for subsequent general staff planning that influenced Vice Chief of Staff Kawakami’s thinking.

Officially the army continued to advocate a strategic defensive. In February 1892, for example, Kawakami submitted an operational plan to the emperor that apparently outlined a counter-amphibious campaign against an invasion. Unofficially the army had a clear awareness that it might be fighting a war on the Asian continent. Since 1889 Kawakami had overseen contingency wartime planning directed against China. The army’s Plan “A” for a war against China and Korea landed forces along the head of the Bohai Gulf near Shanhaiguan and then moved them west to fight a decisive battle on the Zhili (Hebei) plain. With imperial approval, Kawakami and other senior staff officers conducted a terrain reconnaissance (described as an inspection tour) in north and central China during mid-1893 to gather intelligence on Chinese forces and defenses.

The team’s evaluation of the state of Chinese army training, coastal defenses, and munitions factories as well as Kawakami’s firsthand observations convinced him that Japan could defeat the Chinese army because the latter lacked mobilization and logistics capabilities, had no standard doctrine, and neither operated nor trained as a modern combined arms force. Army leaders excluded civilian ministers from their subsequent operational planning, justifying the action as necessary to protect the prerogative of supreme command from political interference. This military bias against civilian authorities ignored the need to integrate national political and military strategies, isolating army planning from the larger context of Japan’s political and diplomatic objectives.

Peasant uprisings in Korea in the early 1890s and the kingdom’s growing dependence on China threatened Yamagata’s strategic benchmark of a neutral Korea. In the spring of 1894 Korean peasants rebelled against the radical reforms imposed by the court, blaming the Korean elite and foreigners, especially Japanese, for their impoverishment. The Korean emperor appealed to China for help, which in turn dispatched troops to Korea to suppress the Tonghak Rebellion. The intervention violated China’s 1885 agreement with Japan whereby both countries withdrew their troops from Korea and promised advance notification to the other should they return. In these explosive circumstances, the general staff dispatched an officer to Pusan for firsthand assessment. His May 20 dispatch described an organized rebellion, led by a rebel army armed with some modern weapons and an effective command and control system that was determined to overthrow the government. Because the prospect of an anti-Japanese faction seizing power was unacceptable, he recommended sending troops to protect the more than 9,000 Japanese nationals residing in Korea.

Japan To Asia: The Sino-Japanese War II

At a June 2 cabinet meeting Prime Minister Itō discussed unconfirmed reports from the army attaché in Tientsin, later proved erroneous, that 5,000 Chinese troops had moved into Korea. Despite its dubious quality, Kawakami and Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu used the intelligence to justify military intervention. It was later alleged that the two conspired to conceal information from Itō that negotiations had taken a favorable turn and calm was returning to Korea. Regardless of Kawakami’s and Mutsu’s conduct, the full cabinet likely drew the lesson based on previous Japanese setbacks in Korea in the 1880s that in order to preserve the military balance it had to commit forces before China did. With compromise impossible, war with China was inevitable.

The cabinet dispatched troops to Korea the same day, and Meiji instructed his military leaders, referring to them as his daimyōs (military lords), to establish a mechanism to handle wartime matters. On June 4, senior officers from each service, following the emperor’s guidance to cooperate, met at the war minister’s residence and, after haggling most of the day over command procedures, finally agreed to establish an imperial general headquarters in accordance with the 1893 regulations. The Chief of the Combined Staff, Prince Arisugawa, received imperial approval to open imperial headquarters in the general staff building on June 5, the same day the first echelon of the 5th Division mobilized for deployment to Korea.

During the almost two-month interval between the establishment of IGHQ and the declaration of war against China on August 1, the service staffs refined a two-stage operational plan. The 5th Division would prevent a Chinese advance in Korea while the navy eliminated the Chinese fleet in order to secure control of the seas. Phase two had multiple options contingent upon naval success. In the best-case scenario, the navy would defeat the Chinese fleet and secure control of the seas, which would allow the army free passage to land on Chinese soil and advance to the decisive battle on the Zhili plain. If neither navy could gain supremacy, the army would occupy Korea to exclude Chinese influence. If Japan lost control of the seas to the Chinese navy, this worst case foresaw attempts to rescue the beleaguered 5th Division in Korea while simultaneously strengthening homeland defenses to repulse a Chinese invasion. In other words, the army’s contingency plans were both offensive and defensive, depending on the outcome of the naval operations.

The government had initially moved cautiously. On June 2, Itō ordered the army to avoid clashes with Chinese, and Ōyama notified the 5th Division commander that his mission was to protect Japanese citizens and diplomatic outposts in Korea, not fight Chinese. Itō’s resolve hardened after Mutsu provided attaché reports in mid-June that the Russian forces in northeast Asia were too few in number to intervene militarily in Korea. With Russian intervention unlikely, the army unilaterally implemented its plan to land in Bohai Gulf in anticipation of a decisive battle on the Zhili plain.

Civilian ministers were not involved in the army’s planning and had to rely on the military’s professional expertise to prepare the nation for a possible war. Unfettered by civilian restraint, army generals likewise expected the navy to escort troop convoys to the continent, but had neither consulted with their naval counterparts beforehand nor considered the necessity of securing command of the sea before sending any transports. This haughtiness led to Captain Yamamoto Gonbei, the navy minister’s secretary, to remark caustically that if army engineers built a bridge between Kyūshū and Korea the generals could probably fight the campaign all by themselves.

On July 2 the full cabinet with the respective chiefs of staff present agreed on war. The first IGHQ imperial conference met in the palace on July 17 with the emperor and twelve senior officials, including the chief of the combined staff, the army vice chief of staff, the war and navy ministers, and the naval chief of staff in attendance. Privy Council Seal Yamagata was the only civilian in the room. Prime Minister Itō and Foreign Minister Mutsu then demanded the same access, and the emperor ordered the service chiefs to allow senior civilian officials to participate in IGHQ’s conferences, which convened every Tuesday and Friday. The general staff presented its operational plan to the emperor on August 5, and the same day IGHQ moved onto the palace grounds.

Emperor Meiji played a significant, if mostly symbolic, role in mobilizing the people for war. Despite his own reservations—allegedly remarking, “This is not my war”—he compliantly relocated along with IGHQ to Hiroshima, ostensibly to be closer to his troops fighting in Korea. Meiji always appeared in an army uniform at Hiroshima, the first time the image of the emperor as the supreme commander was consciously cultivated for the common people. He lived a Spartan existence to set an example for his subjects. His quarters had no separate bedroom, and each evening orderlies cleared a chair or desk as a place for him to sleep, evidently a sign of his willingness to share the deprivations of his loyal forces.

The army acted circumspectly in June and July, carefully developing a three-month campaign in anticipation that British mediation would end any fighting by October. In mid-August, the general staff’s main objective was to secure the Korean peninsula militarily before the arrival of winter weather. After China refused Japanese demands conveyed through the British, Itō resigned himself to a longer campaign and the necessity of a spring 1895 offensive. In mid-September IGHQ displaced to Hiroshima, where Itō could keep a closer eye on the field armies to ensure a unified national policy. Reminiscent of the Satsuma Rebellion, the imperial relocation hampered timely and effective liaison with the foreign ministry and the bureaucracy that remained behind in Tokyo.

Kawakami’s certitude in victory aside, the army hedged its bets by deploying troops overseas while simultaneously bolstering homeland garrisons and coastal defenses. Only after the September 17 naval Battle of the Yalu did IGHQ announce that the navy’s victory reduced the likelihood of invasion and release homeland defense garrisons to reorganize into infantry regiments. IGHQ still retained almost 100,000 mobilized reserves in Japan throughout the conflict, most of them engaged in logistics support duties.

The mobilized army grew to more than 220,000 men, including all seven regular divisions, which at wartime strength numbered about 125,000 personnel. The army relied more heavily on the reserves for its NCOs and infantrymen (40 percent of wartime NCOs and infantrymen were reservists) than for its junior officers (only 10 percent). Senior officers and division commanders were, with two exceptions, Boshin War veterans, as were most brigade commanders.

The campaigns of the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) may be described briefly. On June 12 a brigade from the 5th Division landed at Inchon, the port of Seoul, followed throughout the month by the rest of the unit. Peking ordered its small (500-man) force in Kunsan to withdraw to Pyongyang by sea on July 15, but the Chinese commander declared that course too dangerous, refused the order, and demanded reinforcements. Eight days later three transports carrying Chinese troops and equipment sailed for Korea.

On July 25 Captain Tōgō Heihachirō, commanding the armored cruiser Naniwa, intercepted the third transport as it approached the Korean coast. Although the Chinese ship was sailing under British registry and Japan and China were not at war, Tōgō sank the vessel. Soon afterward, Japanese and Chinese troops clashed near Kunsan, and on August 1 Japan officially declared war on China. By mid-August IGHQ concluded that a decisive battle on the Zhili plain was infeasible before the arrival of winter. Anticipating a short war, the army found itself in a prolonged struggle and commenced planning for a spring 1895 campaign.

The general staff’s objective was to secure the Korean peninsula militarily before the arrival of winter weather and then land forces near Shanhaiguan. The navy, however, was unable to bring the Chinese Northern Fleet into battle and in mid-August temporarily withdrew from the Yellow Sea to refit and replenish its warships. As a consequence, in late August the general staff ordered an overland advance on the Zhili plain via Korea and the capture of bases on the Laiodong Peninsula to prevent the Chinese forces from interfering with the drive on Peking.

IGHQ activated the First Army (two divisions) under Yamagata’s command on September 1, and in mid-September the First Army occupied Pyongyang as the Chinese retreated northward. The navy’s stunning September 17 victory in the Battle of the Yalu surprised everyone. Yamagata wrote that although the rapid fall of Pyongyang was unexpected, it paled next to the totally unforeseen naval triumph. Japan’s newly won maritime supremacy allowed Ōyama’s Second Army (three divisions and one brigade) to land unopposed in mid-October on the Liaodong Peninsula, about 100 miles north of Port Arthur (Lüshun), the great Chinese fortress that controlled entry to the Bohai Gulf.

Yamagata’s First Army pursued the Chinese across the Yalu River in late October, but by that time attention had shifted to Ōyama’s Second Army, which on November 8 occupied Dairen (Lüda). Spearheaded by Lt. Gen. Nogi’s 2d Division, the Second Army next seized the fortress and harbor at Port Arthur on November 25. Farther north, Yamagata’s offensive stalled, beset by supply problems and winter weather.

The western powers were caught off guard by the apparent ease of the Japanese victories, an impression the authorities in Tokyo encouraged. Foreign military observers attached to the respective armies and experts of all kinds attributed Japan’s success to its modernity and westernization. The obvious advantages of standardized doctrine, weapons, and equipment complemented a well-educated professional officer corps versed in western-style modern warfare, technologically proficient, and able to maneuver division-echelon forces. Well-organized and well-trained reserves were efficiently mobilized and confidently used. Superior Japanese morale, especially after the early victories, benefited from superb fighting spirit, or esprit, under the leadership of well-trained and capable junior officers and NCOs. Finally, the Japanese soldiers had a commitment (perhaps defined as nationalism) defined by specific objectives and accepted a common ethos that subscribed to a goal greater than individual or regional interests. But these strengths, the army’s hallmarks throughout its existence, masked serious structural flaws that might equally define the Japanese military institution. The most glaring shortcoming was the army’s logistics system.

Logistics tables and doctrine were based on homeland defense, not overseas operations, and the general staff had conducted no detailed logistics planning during the prewar period. Furthermore, in January 1894 Japan lacked sufficient shipping to move a single division overseas. The general staff purchased ten transports from foreign companies in mid-June, but chronic shortages compelled the army to charter more than 100 commercial vessels from the Japan Mail Line. The navy contributed twenty-three additional ships, including armed escorts, a hospital ship, and a repair vessel.

Persistent shipping bottlenecks delayed the Second Army’s landing on the Shandong Peninsula, which in turn was partly responsible for IGHQ’s decision to extend the campaign into the spring of 1895. Even after occupying Korea and the Liaodong Peninsula, the army still faced an uncertain, perhaps precarious, future because in March 1895 some 200,000 Chinese troops were reportedly massing on the Zhili plain. With available shipping committed to sustaining the expeditionary armies, the general staff in desperation deployed combat units to China with the promise that their unit equipment and supplies would follow eventually.

The army hired 153,000 civilian contractors, laborers, rickshaw men, and coolies to sustain its war machine, many of them desperate for any work because of the economic depression afflicting Japan. These auxiliaries were neither trained nor outfitted in military uniforms. Wearing bamboo hats, pale blue cotton jackets with tight-fitting sleeves under a happi coat with their unit’s number painted on it, and straw sandals, they looked like the coolies they were. Porters carried the army’s supplies on their backs, dug its fortifications, and accounted for most of its sanitary corps personnel. Thousands perished in the cold or from epidemics. Besides being exempt from military orders and discipline, contract laborers received extra pay for hazardous duty, causing resentment among soldiers, who did not get a bonus.

Koreans were reluctant to support the expeditionary army with labor or goods because they, like most disinterested western observers, initially doubted the small island nation could defeat the mighty Chinese empire. Forcibly impressed Korean coolies pilfered supply trains, by some accounts stealing 25 percent of the army’s rice stockpile. Korean porters and their Japanese counterparts deserted in droves, and in an extreme case an overwrought Japanese battalion commander took responsibility for the delays in moving supplies forward by committing suicide.

Available maps were of poor quality and often misleading about the condition of roads and rail lines. Trusting the map, no one had reconnoitered the rail line between Pusan and Seoul that in places was impassable, forcing bearers to portage supplies and further delaying resupply. The main road to Seoul, shown clearly on maps, was little more than a narrow, poorly graded dirt track that meandered through mountains and into valleys. Water-filled rice paddies along either side reduced traffic to a single file that moved at the pace of the slowest wagon.

When available, the wartime daily ration consisted of polished white rice, meat, vegetables, Japanese pickles, and condiments. The field ration contained dried boiled rice, tinned meat, and salt. Soldiers also foraged for food and confiscated chickens, cattle, and pigs from Chinese and Korean households. Various food combinations were tested, but none was superior to dried boiled rice and a hardtack biscuit for the emergency field ration. Paradoxically, the chaotic logistics situation determined the Japanese decision to attack Pyongyang. After reaching Seoul, the First Army was so desperate for food that troops had slaughtered the oxen that had pulled their now empty supply wagons. Officers exhorted the soldiers to capture Pyongyang with promises of mountains of Chinese rations awaiting them. Besides these logistics problems, epidemic outbreaks hampered operations.

There were about 3,500 sanitary corps troops, two-thirds of them reservists, and the army had to hire large numbers of contract workers to carry litters, dig latrines, and construct field hospitals. Maintaining a potable water supply under field conditions was probably their most difficult task. Sanitary teams purified water from wells, streams, and rivers, and officers forbade troops from drinking the water in train stations or port terminals and instructed units to boil water before using it for cooking or brewing tea. Despite these efforts, there was an outbreak of cholera in the army for the first time since 1890.

On paper, each division established six field hospitals that served as treatment and collection points, but because of the shortage of sanitary troops about half that number of field hospitals were built. Military doctors and pharmacists were too scarce to treat the epidemic outbreaks. Opiates used in anesthesia were a controlled government monopoly, and the army had to negotiate with the Home Ministry to purchase 80 percent of the nation’s annual supply. To relieve the burden on doctors and sanitary corps personnel, army instructors trained conscripts in field sanitation procedures and basic nursing skills. The government rallied soldiers’ relief organizations under the umbrella of the Japan Red Cross. Nevertheless, the scale of even a very limited war had almost overwhelmed a medical corps that had to resort to temporary emergency measures to compensate for a lack of planning, intergovernmental coordination, and proper stockpiles.

Battlefield Performance and Discipline

Japanese infantrymen fought as they had trained. Massed columns facilitated rapid mobility during the approach to the enemy. Upon contact, the columns maneuvered into a skirmish line supported by densely packed ranks of riflemen who rushed forward en masse for a short distance, threw themselves on the ground, and then repeated the maneuver. Junior officers led frontal assaults in short rushes and supported by light artillery. The tightly packed formations preserved unit integrity and fire discipline, ensured tactical command and control, and created the mass and momentum for a successful assault. The Japanese consistently took advantage of terrain to mask their movements and rushes but were willing to cross open ground to get at their objectives.

The army compiled no comprehensive analysis of its wartime campaigns to derive “lessons learned,” although postwar reports by the frontline infantry units did identify deficiencies. The esprit de corps established among individual squads in an infantry company, for example, improved unit cohesion in battle, but individual companies were reluctant to sacrifice their solidity to support a neighboring unit, thus reducing overall aggressiveness and effort. The peacetime pace of the attack in training proved too rapid to be maintained in combat conditions, and when soldiers could not sustain the training tempo, their morale fell. Troop morale also wilted under heavy enemy fire, particularly when nearby comrades were killed or wounded. The revised 1898 infantry manual nevertheless validated massed formations relying on bayonet attacks because that was the only way for a company commander to control his unit. It devoted great attention to fighting spirit and morale because the army deemed these intangible qualities the keys to victory. As a consequence, postwar training became more demanding on the theory that enduring physical hardship would develop willpower that conscripts could draw upon to sustain their morale and discipline in the turmoil of battle.

The army suffered 1,161 killed in action, including 44 officers and 118 NCOs. With the Japanese constantly on the offensive, the retreating Chinese had little chance to take prisoners and captured just eleven Japanese, ten of them overage porters. The only soldier taken prisoner was suffering from a head wound. Officers actively discouraged the notion of surrender, warning the troops of the terrible fate that awaited them in Chinese hands. Yamagata, for instance, cautioned his officers not to allow themselves to be taken prisoner because the innately cruel Chinese would kill them. Instead, it was the Japanese who committed the worst atrocity.

The New York World reported in late November that Japanese troops had massacred as many as 60,000 Chinese during a four-day period following the capture of Port Arthur. More conservative recent estimates are that about 2,000 Chinese were killed, apparently in retaliation for Chinese soldiers mutilating Japanese corpses. Whatever the numbers, there was no doubt that something dreadful had happened at Port Arthur, despite the Japanese government’s vigorous denials.

Foreign Minister Mutsu’s memoirs dismissed the reports as “exaggerated” but acknowledged that “some unnecessary bloodshed and killing did occur.” He believed some provocation had occurred and that most of those killed were Chinese soldiers out of uniform. Two weeks after the incident, Ōyama admitted that in the confusion of street fighting it was difficult to avoid killing civilians who were intermingled among the Chinese soldiers.

The Japanese government would later claim that numerous Chinese soldiers refused to surrender, discarded their uniforms for mufti, and were killed during mopping up operations. Yet the cabinet held no inquiries because an investigation might embarrass the army by implicating senior officers in war crimes. The cabinet’s underlying fear was that a trail of responsibility might lead to Ōyama’s headquarters and force his recall. If that happened, Yamagata would take command of all field forces, an outcome neither Itō nor Mutsu wanted.

The government also tried to conceal the massacre because it tarnished Japan’s image in world opinion as a civilized nation that the foreign ministry had burnished during ongoing negotiations for treaty revision. Commanders had issued strict orders to protect westerners, especially missionaries, for two reasons. First, they wanted to avoid provocations that might lead to western intervention; second, they wanted to demonstrate that Japan was a civilized nation that respected western standards of international law, which in turn would further the government’s efforts to revise the unequal treaty system.

A double standard, suffused with attitudes of racial superiority toward the Chinese, likely contributed to the massacre at Port Arthur. Expecting a rich and cultured civilization, Japanese soldiers were disillusioned when they saw firsthand the filthy conditions and hardscrabble existence of impoverished Chinese. Admiration turned to contempt and debasement. These perceptions dovetailed with notions of Japan’s uniqueness and superiority to produce popular racial stereotypes of the Chinese and China as a decaying civilization.

Army discipline reflected the larger society’s propensity to settle disputes privately without recourse to formal courts or tribunals. Moreover, the army’s concept of military discipline applied to ensuring offensive spirit and obedience to orders, not to disciplining the ranks in a formal fashion. Field courts-martial boards convened 2,000 cases during the war, more than 70 percent of which were to try civilians working for the army. About 500 soldiers, almost all conscripts, were convicted by courts-martial, mostly for petty offenses. Among the more serious charges, just six soldiers were convicted for assault on a superior officer, and eleven were convicted for desertion. Army discipline so strictly applied to punish transgressions against military regulations or commanders’ orders was not invoked to control soldiers’ outrages against helpless Chinese. For an army that made a fetish of discipline and unquestioning obedience to orders, the incident implied that officers throughout the chain of command were either complicit in or condoned the massacre.

Newspapers scarcely mentioned the alleged massacre. At the outbreak of the war, IGHQ had accredited more than 120 reporters, artists, and photographers to cover the fighting and assigned them to army headquarters under strict guidelines. The home ministry’s censorship ensured compliance, but there was little to worry about because the correspondents became cheerleaders for the war and the military. Higher literacy rates, at least in the major cities, and improved printing technology extended their influence. Newspapers published extras, evening editions, and multiple editions that romanticized and popularized the war. During the immediate postwar period, numerous published accounts—some real, most fictional—enjoyed great popularity serialized in newspapers and the newly created monthly magazines.

Japan To Asia: The Sino-Japanese War III

The popular narratives of warfare suited the army’s self-image and were part of a more general appeal to the literate public to support the armed institution. A credulous press abetted the army’s propaganda effort, and potential critics always faced the threat of censorship or worse. Still, in an era when imperialism and nationalism were in full bloom internationally, uncritical patriotism was not only easier and safer but also more accurately reflected widely held and accepted popular opinions of Japan’s place in the world.

High Command and Field Initiative

In theory the IGHQ unified civil-military functions as the place where the emperor, his military chieftains, and Prime Minister Itō devised national and military policy. In reality the central headquarters was pitted against ambitious field commanders who unilaterally tried to set military policy. Against their better judgment, Itō and army leaders bowed to Yamagata’s insistence that he be appointed the First Army commander. By the time 56-year-old Yamagata arrived at Inchon on September 12, the First Army had already captured Pyongyang. A few days later he caught cold while bathing in a river, developed complications, and although chronically ill refused evacuation and participated in a minor engagement on the Yalu in late October.

By early November, Yamagata believed that the war had reached a critical stage, and he had no intention of squandering opportunities by remaining idle.65 On November 3 he sent IGHQ three options for an active winter campaign: (1) land the Second Army at Shanhaiguan; (2) combine the First and Second armies on the Liaodong Peninsula; or (3) send the First Army to attack Mukden (Shenyang). From a base at Mukden, Yamagata would reorganize his army for the spring offensive against Peking and check the resurgence of Chinese forces in the region. IGHQ rejected the recommendations and ordered the First Army into winter quarters.

In mid-November, Yamagata received intelligence that the Chinese were massing on his northern flank and again recommended an offensive. He complained that the enforced inactivity had dampened troop morale, allowed the Chinese to take advantage of the lull to improve their defenses, and conceded to the Chinese a secure rear area in Manchuria that Japan would need in order to fight the Zhili plain battle. IGHQ replied ambiguously but did not reject his latest recommendations outright.

The Second Army’s capture of Port Arthur in late November with fewer than 300 casualties was all the more impressive because the army had publicly implied that it would be a hard fight with heavy losses. Yamagata likely realized that the striking victory had overshadowed his command, and, anxious to secure his place as a martial leader, disregarded IGHQ’s operational guidance to avoid large-scale winter operations. On December 1, he unilaterally ordered the First Army to advance on Mukden, expecting to divide Chinese forces and open the way for a decisive battle the following spring. The IGHQ learned of his offensive four days later, by which time it had abandoned any plans to attack Peking because of fear of western intervention. The central headquarters, however, had not notified a frustrated and sick Yamagata of its changed thinking. In short, neither the general staff nor the First Army knew what the other was doing.

Yamagata expected to draw supplies from Japanese depots at Pyongyang, but planners had calculated on sustaining the First Army in static winter quarters, where it would need fewer, not more, supplies. Furthermore, the logistics line of communication was in disarray despite the IGHQ’s efforts to add thousands of supply wagons and tens of thousands more teamsters and laborers. Yamagata’s frail condition added another variable.

Yamagata had never recovered his health, suffered further complications from stomach trouble and diarrhea, and in November was so ill that the First Army’s surgeon-general suggested that he return home to recuperate. Soon afterward several reports reached Vice War Minister and concurrently Military Affairs Bureau Director Maj. Gen. Kodama describing Yamagata’s deteriorating physical condition and the fear that his weakened constitution might not survive the harsh winter. Prime Minister Itō was reluctant to recall Yamagata, concerned that the embarrassment might force the proud ex-samurai to commit suicide. He thus bypassed the cabinet and had the emperor write to Yamagata on November 29 expressing concern for his health and requesting his return to Hiroshima to brief the court on the overall military situation. An imperial envoy departed Hiroshima on December 5 carrying Meiji’s message, but it took him three days to reach Yamagata’s headquarters.

Yamagata eventually returned to Hiroshima on December 17, by which time the First Army’s offensive was well under way, pulling it farther and farther from its supply depots. Although the initial push succeeded, by mid-December the plunging temperatures froze Manchurian roads, making it slow and hazardous for horse-drawn wagons to move along the slippery ice-coated surfaces. Frozen rivers could bear the weight of a column of troops, but not the weight of their horses and wagons. Most soldiers had no winter clothing and faced the howling winds and blizzard conditions in their summer uniforms, tattered by months of campaigning. Respiratory diseases reached epidemic proportions. Many troops had not received boots and were still wearing straw sandals or low quarter shoes that left them susceptible to frostbite.

Itō’s revised strategy, issued on December 14, called for the capture of the Chinese naval base at Weihaiwei on the Shandong Peninsula to prevent surviving North Fleet warships from interfering with Japanese shipping in the Bohai Gulf. The fortress overlooking the naval base was taken on February 2, 1895, although Maj. Gen. Ōtera Yasuzumi, commander of the 11th Infantry Brigade, was killed in the fighting, the only Japanese general officer lost in action during the war. The Chinese fleet, caught between Ōyama’s army and the Japanese navy’s blockade, surrendered its few intact warships by mid-February. In Manchuria, the First Army, under new command, defeated Chinese forces, leading to negotiations that produced the Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed on April 17, 1895.

The treaty compelled China to recognize Korea as an “independent state,” pay a large indemnity, and cede to Japan control of the Liaodong Peninsula, railroad concessions rights in southern Manchuria, and Taiwan. Just six days later Russia, Germany, and France forced Japan to return the Liaodong Peninsula. The Tripartite Intervention shocked the Japanese public, who were still elated by the outcome of the war, and made it painfully clear that Japan, though a regional power to be reckoned with, remained at the mercy of the West. A sense of national humiliation was palpable, and a determination emerged, encouraged by the government, to avenge this wrong. The immediate object of Japanese passion was Russia, seen as the ringleader in the intervention and the inevitable future enemy.

Postwar Gains and Problems

Japan’s acquisition of Taiwan and Japanese special interests in Korea had serious unforeseen consequences. On May 25, 1895, indigenous Taiwanese had declared an independent republic, and an estimated 50,000 insurgents, concentrated in the southern part of the island, took up arms. Four days later the Guards Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Prince Kitashirakawa, landed unopposed in northern Taiwan, where the Chinese governor-general and the 9,000-man Chinese garrison promptly surrendered. The Japanese opened a new governor-general headquarters in Taipei on June 2 and requested immediate reinforcements to crush the rebellion. The Guards and the 2d Division—almost 50,000 troops, supported by 26,000 civilian contractors—conducted a punitive campaign against the rebel strongholds and by the end of October declared Taiwan secure, although counterinsurgency operations continued until March 1896. About 700 Japanese troops were killed or wounded fighting the guerrillas, but epidemics claimed 20,000 more, among them Prince Kitashirakawa. Punitive expeditions to suppress armed uprisings continued until 1907, and thereafter army and police cordon operations enforced a nervous peace with the indigenous mountain tribes. Tokyo gradually reduced its military presence and formed the Taiwan Garrison, eventually reorganized in 1907 as the permanent table of organization and equipment (TO&E) formation, consisting of two infantry regiments, each with a mountain artillery company.

After 1895 the Japanese government became more active in Korea, where decade-long internal power struggles had aligned court factions with Japanese, Chinese, or Russian sponsors. Tokyo attempted to solidify paramount Japa-nese influence in Korea through diplomacy, loans, and the creation of a Japanese-trained military force (kunrentai) of about 800 men to counterbalance the American- and Russian-trained palace guard. In September 1895, Miura Gorō, then a member of the House of Peers, was appointed minister to Seoul, the senior Japanese official in the country. Miura was unwilling to allow Russian predominance at Japanese expense, but his efforts backfired in early October when the Korean queen engineered a court order that dissolved the kunrentai.

In Miura’s mind this was the first step in a court-based conspiracy to assassinate pro-Japanese senior officials in the Korean government, which would likely be followed by requests for Russian intervention to restore order. Miura staged his own countercoup on October 8 when a gang of more than twenty Japanese and Korean cutthroats broke into the palace, murdered the queen, and burned her corpse in a nearby wood. Miura first notified Tokyo that no Japanese were involved in the crime, but foreign ambassadors soon revealed Japanese culpability. The foreign ministry recalled Miura and about forty other Japanese while Itō assured the western powers that Miura had acted independently without instructions from the cabinet.

The queen’s murder touched off an explosion of anti-Japanese violence in Korea, where local peasant militias led by Confucian-educated gentry murdered several Japanese residents. The Korean king dismissed pro-Japanese officials, executed the Korean conspirators, and requested Russian assistance. In February 1896, Russian troops entered Seoul. Around the same time, about 100 Japanese sailors went ashore to restore order on the Pusan-Seoul highway and protect the Japanese-owned telegraph lines against sabotage. A May agreement between the Japanese and the Russians allowed the stationing of small matching garrisons in Seoul and Pusan, ostensibly to protect Japanese residents and property.

Ejecting China from Korea destabilized northeast Asia by exposing the military weakness of the Chinese empire and touching off a scramble among the imperialistic western powers to carve up East Asia and Pacific territories. In 1897 the United States annexed Hawaii and Germany occupied Tsingtao, China. The following year the United States moved into the Philippines. By mid-1898 Britain had leased Weihaiwei after the Japanese withdrawal as well as the New Territories. The looming Russian threat most concerned the Japanese government, which relied on diplomacy to defuse it.

The Nishi-Rosen Agreement signed in Tokyo on April 25, 1898, stipulated that neither Japan nor Russia would appoint military instructors or financial advisers to Korea without prior mutual agreement. Russia further agreed not to hinder the development of Japanese commercial and industrial relations with Korea. Russia withdrew its military and financial advisers following the agreement, but it still occupied Port Arthur, reinforced Manchuria, and expanded its financial stake in northeast Asia. In 1899 Britain and Germany divided the Samoa archipelago and Germany occupied various South Seas territories, the Bismarcks, New Guinea, and the Caroline Islands. Russia continued to push deeper into Manchuria and was double-tracking the Trans-Siberian Railway, which was scheduled for completion in 1903.

Japan retained its privileged position in Korea and acquired a new colony of Taiwan. There was no dispute about the government’s responsibility to protect Japanese interests in Korea against Russian encroachments. Taiwan’s position, however, was ambiguous. Did the island anchor Japan’s southernmost defenses, or was it a springboard for offensive expansion into China and points south? Should the empire passively defend Korea and shift resources to Taiwan for a southward expansion, or was Korea a base to move into southern Manchuria and North China? The army had to confront the new regional and strategic realities, a proposition made more difficult because the western powers now identified Japan as a serious competitor in northeast Asia. The course of Japan’s expansion—north or south—plagued strategy formulation for the next fifty years and was the nation’s strategic legacy from the Sino-Japanese War.

Postwar Army Plans

On April 15, 1895, two days before the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Yamagata, recently appointed war minister and concurrently inspector general, recommended to Emperor Meiji a ten-year military expansion to protect Japan’s newly acquired overseas territory. Ten days previously, Yamagata had made a similar proposal to Foreign Minister Mutsu because Japan needed a larger army in order to maintain stability in East Asia. Though Yamagata was a geopolitical thinker who grasped Japan’s strengths and weaknesses and trusted his innate caution to guide the nation and army through its formative period, he was not a professionally educated officer. He displayed a narrow grasp of modern combined arms warfare and had little understanding of the rapid technological advances that were revolutionizing the role of field artillery in warfare. Military expansion simply meant more troops, and he wanted to double the infantry strength of each division without proportionate increases to artillery and supporting branches. Put differently, Yamagata wanted bigger, not more, divisions.

The general staff likewise wanted to expand the army, but in a more balanced and professional manner. Its approved October plan called for a thirteen-division force structure, and in 1896 the general staff incorporated the thirteen-division troop basis into wartime contingency planning premised on forward offensive operations to preserve or expand overseas interests. Army expansion began in 1898, according to an amended plan to field six new divisions, two new cavalry brigades, and two new field artillery brigades. One brigade (two regiments) from each regular division formed the cadre for a new division. The two regiments of the remaining brigade were divided into cadre to create two brigades (the existing one and a newly organized one). The process took three years, incrementally adding cadre and conscripts to bring the new regiments to their full 1,800-man peacetime strength, and was operational by 1903. Each regular division also organized a depot brigade responsible during wartime for garrisoning occupied territories. Depot units were usually issued obsolete weapons and equipment.

Almost doubling the force structure likewise nearly doubled the conscription rate. By 1904 the army was inducting almost 20 percent of the annual cohort and assigning double the number of those examined to the reserves (see Tables 5.2 and 5.3).

More junior officers were needed to lead the expanded ranks, and in 1897 the army opened six regional preparatory cadet schools to complement the army central preparatory school in Tokyo. Accepting junior cadets between 13 and 15 years of age, the preparatory schools charged six yen a month for expenses, which effectively limited the entrants to sons of middle-class families who could afford the tuition. Each school had about fifty cadets per class enrolled in a three-year preparatory course that consisted of a standard middle-school education except for the emphasis on foreign languages and overdose of instruction on military spirit. Graduates matriculated to the eighteen-month main course at the central preparatory academy. Critics maintained that the school’s narrow curriculum stunted students’ intellectual curiosity, fostered excessive competition and cliques, and produced martinets. Because graduates from the preparatory schools also matriculated at the military academy, the average academy graduating class mushroomed from about 155 between 1890 and 1894 to 663 between 1897 and 1904. Likewise, the staff college more than doubled its annual graduating classes, from twenty to about fifty officers.

Modernization accompanied the expansion. In 1897 Murata’s redesign of his original rifle produced a five-shot repeating rifle with a smaller, lighter 6.5 mm round that enabled the infantry to carry more ammunition in their cartridge belts (between 150 and 180 rounds). The increased rate of fire compensated for the bullet’s alleged lack of killing power and shorter effective range. The general staff and war ministry wanted an artillery gun mobile enough to keep pace with a fast-paced infantry advance and capable of moving across the primitive road networks and tracks of northeast Asia. With new modifications and technological advances in artillery weapons occurring in Europe at breakneck speed, any investment in artillery was a gamble because imminent breakthroughs might soon render today’s wonder weapon obsolete by tomorrow.

The case of the Type-31 artillery gun is illustrative. This 1898 model was a rapid-fire gun whose carriage absorbed the recoil. Because the gun did not move with the recoil, it did not have to be manhandled back into its original firing position after each firing, allowing for a more rapid and accurate rate of fire. It suffered developmental problems, forcing the army to import more than 600 semi-processed field artillery guns and their equipment (gun carriages, ammunition caissons) from German manufacturers. Within a few years, however, the superior range and higher rate of fire of the Russian 1904 field artillery gun made the German guns obsolete. In October 1904 the Japanese government had to strike a secret deal with German industrialists for 400 of their latest-model field artillery guns.

Following the Sino-Japanese War the army gradually changed to a khaki uniform because the color showed fewer stains, particularly the bloodstains that had adversely affected troop morale during combat. At the time of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion soldiers still wore white trousers, but four years later everyone was outfitted in khaki. The army also adopted high boots and gaiters to prevent a recurrence of frostbite and trench foot experienced during the Sino-Japanese War. Individual soldiers were issued rain capes as well as aluminum canteens and mess kits. Blankets remained in short supply because Japan’s woolen mills could not fill the demand.

Postwar military budgets skyrocketed; in 1898 more than half the national budget went toward underwriting military expansion and modernization, a process made more expensive because the navy was simultaneously modernizing its fleet. The military budget of 1896 was 73 million yen—more than three times that of 1893—and in the peak year of 1900 it exceeded 100 million yen. The army invested about half its budget to pay the greatly increased personnel costs associated with additional manpower and about one-quarter to pay for weapons. The navy conversely used more than two-thirds of its budget to pay for new capital ships (almost quadrupling its tonnage by 1902) and only one-sixth in personnel because its manpower was only one-quarter that of the army. By 1903 military spending accounted for about one-third of the national budget. It remained at that level for almost the next twenty years.

The cabinet funded the expansion program through a combination of reparations paid by the Chinese after the Sino-Japanese War, the sale of bonds, foreign loans, and increased consumption taxes. These measures enabled the government to reduce the land tax slightly and gain the political parties’ approval for the budget. The Russian threat and the imperialist race to gobble up China motivated the Diet’s passage of huge military budgets, but politicians also took bribes, accepted a large pay raise for lower house members, gained access to patronage appointments, and enacted franchise reforms in exchange for their votes. Large military expenditures continued even during the financial panics of 1897–1898 and 1900–1901, in part because the government tapped into citizens’ postal savings accounts when its bonds were downgraded on the world market (see Table 5.4).

There was good reason to spend the money. Northeast Asia at the turn of the twentieth century was a powder keg waiting to explode. The Japanese military was in the midst of rearmament, expansion, and modernization to counter the Russian military threat in northeast Asia, but the services were divided over a north or south approach to long-term strategy. Korea was a strategic liability, its people hostile to Japan, its rulers untrustworthy, and the peninsula insecure as a rear area base. China verged on chaos as the old regime vainly struggled against internal reformers and external aggressors. Russia was a menacing presence in Manchuria and had staked out a strategic position on the Liaodong Peninsula. Japan’s military goals for regional supremacy and stability in northeast Asia mirrored Russia’s objectives and set the two empires on a collision course. These competing and irreconcilable versions of regional security made the war with a major western power inevitable.


Gwalior Campaign (1843) In 1843, the East India Company was concerned about the turbulence and intrigue surrounding the succession and rule of an adopted child-heir in Gwalior, the stability of that state, and the potential threat of the Gwalior military to the British. There was apprehension that the Maratha resistance against company rule could be renewed, and it was reported that the dissidents in Gwalior were secretly seeking support from the Sikhs and other princely states. After the British humiliations in Kabul and at the Khyber Pass during the First Afghan War, the company’s military reputation and credibility needed bolstering. The governor-general, Lord Ellenborough, attempted to discuss the situation with the Gwalior council of regency, but when he was rebuffed, company forces attacked Gwalior to suppress its military force.

Company armies were assembled at Agra, under the commander in chief, Lieutenant General (later Field Marshal Viscount) Sir Hugh Gough, and at Jhansi, commanded by Major General John Grey. The two forces, beginning their march on 17 December 1843, were to converge on Gwalior, Gough’s from the north and Grey’s from the south.

The Mahratta Army of Gwalior established strong defensive positions at Chonda on the Asun River. Due to the difficult terrain, Gough’s force was divided into three columns. He intended to turn the enemy’s left flank with his cavalry and infantry, threaten the enemy’s left flank , with the main attack being a frontal assault.

Reportedly with no scouts in advance, Gough’s force m arched out of its assembly area early on 29 December 1843 and arrived at the village of Maharajpore. The Mahrattas had established new positions at this advance location, and this forced Gough to change his plan. What appeared to have been a flat plain between the forces was in fact ground devoid of cover and full of ravines. Th is made it impossible for the infantry, cavalry, and artillery to coordinate their actions, and when Gough’s force came with in 1,500 yards of the village, the well-trained Mahratta artillery opened up a murderous fire. Gough’s response was simply, “On and at them!” (Featherstone 1992, p. 33).

Gough’s three infantry and two cavalry brigades, totaling about 6,500 soldiers with 30 field guns, attacked the 17,000 Mahrattas. Amid the smoke, confusion, bad terrain, and fierce fighting, the British force was finally able to overcome its adversary. The British loss es totaled 797 all ranks killed, wounded, or missing. The Mahrattas suffered over 3,000 men killed and wounded and lost 56 guns. Gough admitted to underestimating his foe. The Battle of Maharajpore was a ‘soldiers victory’ won by the bayonet without the benefit of tactics, strategy or manoeuvring. Gough displayed no generalship whatsoever and gave but one order” (Featherstone 1973, p. 50).

On the same day, 29 December 1843, Grey’s force reached the village of Punniar, about 12 miles south of the Gwalior Fortress. A Mahratta force suddenly attacked Grey’s long bag- gage train. He sent half his horse artillery and a cavalry element to the rear of his column, and this saved the baggage.

In the afternoon, Grey’s force was threatened by 12,000 Mahrattas positioned on high hills to the east. Grey ordered the 3rd Foot and sappers and miners to conduct a frontal assault, while the 39th Native Infantry attacked the Mahratta left flank. The 3rd Foot’s determined assault was successful, and it drove the Mahrattas from their positions and captured 11 guns. At the same time, the 39th Native Infantry seized a hill that dominated the Mahratta position. After numerous volleys, the 39th rushed to the Mahratta positions and captured 2 guns, while the 2nd Brigade, which had been held in reserve by Grey, attacked and shattered the enemy right flank, capturing 11 more guns. The entire British force then advanced against the crumbling Mahratta defenses. The Mahrattas fled the field, abandoning their 16 remaining guns and more than 1,000 casualties. British total casualties at the Battle of Punniar were 217 all ranks and 11 horses.

These two decisive victories ended the short Gwalior campaign, and the Gwalior regency capitulated. Gough’s and Grey’s forces linked up at Gwalior a few days later, and on 31 December 1843 a treaty was signed that reduced the Mahratta Army, established a British resident in the capital, and provided for the British occupation of the Gwalior Fortress.

Edward Armitage (1817-96) The Battle of Meanee, 17 February 1843

The Passage of the River Chumbal by the British Indian Army’. . London, c.1850. Lithograph by Dickinson & Co. after Capt. Charles Becher Young. India. Military. Source: P801.

British Uniforms

The year following the conclusion of the Afghan War saw two further campaigns in India: the Conquest of Scinde and the very brief Gwalior Campaign against the Mahranas, sometimes known as ‘The 48 Hours War’. Sir Charles Napier conquered the Balucltis of Scinde with a force containing only one British infantry regiment, the 22nd, which distinguished itself at the Battles of Meanee and Hyderabad on 17 February and 24 March 1843 respectively. The regiment is shown at Meanee in a large painting exhibited in 1847 by Edward Armitage RA, reproduced herewith. Armitage was not primarily a battle painter but his military subjects are executed with precision, and for this painting he acquired material through the help of Napier’s brother, William. The 22nd’s officers are in uncovered forage caps and either frock coats or shells, while the men wear their dress coatees and locally-made blue-grey trousers. Their peaked forage caps, probably of the ‘pork-pic’ type, have white covers and curtains.

Paintings of Meanee and Hyderabad (sometimes called Dubba) were executed by GeorgeJones RA, advised by Napier’s officers. Napier preferred Jones’s rendering of the action to Armitage’s, but his style was less attentive to costume detail and his Meanee painting shows the 22nd in coatees but with winter trousers and white-covered shakos with curtains. However, his Hyderabad painting depicts similar dress to Armitage, so possibly the conflicting headdress and trousers resulted from misinterpretation of information he received. The latter painting also includes a troop of Bombay Horse Artillery in its full dress; its helmets had black manes and a brush on the front of the crest, whereas those of Bengal and Madras had red manes and no brush.

In Scinde Napier used 350 men of the 22nd as camel-mounted infantry in pairs for his expedition to the desert stronghold of Imamgarh.

Two battles, Punniar and Maharajpore, were fought on the same day-29 December 1843-in Gwalior. A lithograph after Capt. Young, Bengal Engineers, of troops crossing the River Chumbal before Punniar has a small figure, probably of the 9th Lancers, all in dark blue and white-covered lance-cap. At this date the 9th wore a wide waist belt, similar to the Heavy Cavalry’s, instead of the girdle. At least one officer of the 39th Foot fought at Maharajpore in a shell jacket, for the garment in which Ensign Bray was killed is preserved, together with his forage cap and colour belt, in the Dorset Military Museum. Tn the same museum is an unsigned watercolour entitled ‘European troops halting’. From the green-faced shells, the ’39’ marked on a pouch and a haversack, and from the fact that the 39th left India soon after Maharajpore, it must depict that regiment in the Gwalior Campaign. The style resembles the work of” an officer of Bengal Native Infantry, B. D. Grant, whose other drawings will be met later. All the forage caps have white covers, but while most must be of the ‘pork-pie’ type, two are of the former broad-crowned pattern. Their pale blue-grey trousers must be locally made. In addition to their cross belts, the men have haversacks and the narrow waist belt described earlier. They are armed with the new percussion musket and have a small black pouch, containing the caps for this weapon, attached to the waist belt to the right of the clasp.

The appearance of a complete British regiment in India at this period is shown in a panorama titled Line of March of one of H. M. Regiments in Guzerat, drawn in 1845 by Lt. Steevens, 28th Foot, which was employed on the periphery of the Scinde Campaign. This shows the regiment in shelljackets, bright blue trousers, and forage caps annotated by the artist: ‘The forage cap is covered with quilted cotton, with a curtain hanging down behind, as a protection from the sun’. The men are accoutered as described for the 39th but without waist belts.

The Composition of the British Expeditionary Force WWI

British Expeditionary Force 1914

The infantry battalion was the basic unit of the British Expeditionary Force throughout the First World War. The soldier’s battalion was one of two or three in a regiment, closely tied to a particular county or city, and commonly reinforcing ties by incorporating the county or city name in its title. The regiment itself was not a unit in the line of battle; it was the ‘parent’ of a number of battalions, usually two. In pre-war days one battalion would be based at home and the other based in the colonies, usually India, Africa, the Caribbean or in the East. The regiment was the soldier’s ‘family’ unit, to which he owed his primary military loyalty and to which he returned throughout his career. During the war the regiments raised battalions according to the ability of their regional connections to support them. Thus The London Regiment, The Durham Light Infantry and the Manchester Regiment raised dozens of battalions, whilst other regiments were able to raise fewer.

The battalion had its own command structure for all management purposes. For the individual soldier this structure started with his section.

The platoon section was the most basic level of command, eight or ten men under command of a corporal. This group, a sub-unit, was the daily horizon of the private soldier, and if the regiment was his family, his section comrades were his siblings. In a tight-knit local regiment a man might and often did find himself serving in a section with men he had known from his school days. Three sections formed a platoon.

Each infantry platoon or cavalry troop was commanded by a lieutenant or more junior second lieutenant. The infantry platoon was about forty to fifty men, in three sections, with a small platoon headquarters. The platoon commander led the platoon, assisted by his platoon serjeant, who managed it. It was usually a newly commissioned officer’s first appointment, whereas a peacetime serjeant would commonly be a veteran who had enlisted when his officer was a small child. Few serjeants aspired to be officers, and the social gulf was rarely bridged.

The infantry company, cavalry squadron or artillery battery was commanded by a major or senior captain and had its own headquarters team, also dealing with logistics. The primary role of this unit was to put rifles or guns to work. This level was the command centre for managing four platoons of infantry or troops of cavalry, or two half-batteries of artillery. Apart from controlling the fighting operations of four platoons, company headquarters provided a vital link between those fighting platoons and the supplies of ammunition, food and the other necessities of warfare.

The battalion. A lieutenant colonel in command was assisted by about thirty other officers in the command of almost 1,000 men. There were four rifle companies and various specialist groups as part of battalion headquarters. The adjutant was a senior captain responsible for daily management of battalion headquarters. The regimental serjeant major, the senior non-commissioned officer, was responsible for day-to-day discipline as well as management of the serjeants and other senior ranks who managed the battalion under the officers’ leadership. The quartermaster and his staff ran the stores, catering and other logistics. Communications were a personnel-intensive part of battalion headquarters, because the only way to deliver orders and information was to employ ‘runners’. The battalion had a small medical staff attached to its headquarters, typically a doctor who was an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps, perhaps a medical serjeant from the same corps, and a small number of medical orderlies. In battle the demand for stretcher-bearers would always be very heavy, and it was the traditional role of the battalion’s peacetime bandsmen to serve as stretcher-bearers when the need arose.

The cavalry system was a little different. A cavalry regiment was smaller, about 600 men, but with identical command functions. The major difference was of course that the cavalry regiment was wholly dependent on horses. The demands of over 600 horses, with attendant farriers, vets and feeding needs, were at least as complex as providing for a like number of men. It has been said that the movement of forage was the largest single logistical undertaking of any army in the war. The cavalry regiment was composed of squadrons and troops instead of the companies and platoons of the infantry.

Artillery was different again. The artillery was dispersed across the whole army, with brigades, batteries and troops or half-batteries, instead of battalions, companies and platoons. A significant further difference was that whilst infantry and cavalry units were rarely broken up to serve in small numbers, the artillery battery was very often a semi-autonomous unit serving in support of an infantry division or brigade. Batteries of light artillery had six guns or howitzers, in two half-batteries. Light artillery generally meant Royal Horse Artillery supporting cavalry brigades or Royal Field Artillery supporting infantry brigades. Heavy artillery of The Royal Garrison Artillery was found at divisional or corps level and usually had four or six guns in two half-batteries. By August 1915 the first giant railway guns or howitzers had been delivered to France, and these batteries had two guns or howitzers, usually of 12-inch calibre. The long-gun designs were adapted from those used in the dreadnought class battleships and had an effective range of 25,000 yards.

The brigade was a brigadier general’s command, the first level at which generals exercised day to day control, and where command was exercised outside the ‘family’ structure of the unit. The brigade is the first level at which the group is called a formation rather than a unit. The brigade consisted of four infantry battalions or three cavalry regiments commanded by a small headquarters team. At the beginning of the war the whole brigade headquarters might be as few as four or five officers, although the demands of a horse-based officer corps might bring a dozen or more grooms, soldier-servants and other supporters. Brigades tended to be closely-knit; the Guards brigades absolutely did not have any non-Guards battalions in them, likewise the Ulster brigades of the New Army were exclusive to Ulster battalions. With its four battalions, a brigade was about 4,000 strong, although the increasing need for specialist warfare skills raised this ‘establishment’ number to nearer 5,000 as the war progressed. Some brigades were almost an extension of their battalions in local affiliation. As an example, 92 Brigade, which suffered at Serre on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Somme, was composed of four battalions of the East Yorkshire Regiment. The 10th, 11th 12th and 13th Battalions of the regiment were the four Pals battalions raised in Hull, so when the brigade suffered heavy casualties the effect on the people of Hull, coping with about 1,600 casualties as the result of one morning’s action, was very severe.

A division is the formation that controls brigades, but importantly is the first level at which the concept of combined arms warfare comes into the picture. A major general, the commander, had three brigades, say 12,000 men, a separate pioneer battalion, another 1,000 men, substantial elements of artillery of different kinds, and elements of engineers, signals units, supply train, veterinary and medical support. In total the divisional commander had about 18,000 men in his division. This is a relatively stable formation, and brigades within divisions tended to stay together for the duration of the war. As with brigades, some divisions had strong ties to particular local regions. This particularly applied to the 36th (Ulster) Division.

The army corps is the next level in the upward chain of command. At this level of command a lieutenant general is a significant battle manager, in terms of his control, the scale of his responsibilities and the resources available to him. These resources were less defined than those available to lower-level commanders. A corps might have one, two, three or more divisions under command for a particular action, and then lose some of them or acquire others as events developed. It would have its own artillery, as well as that of divisions under corps command, and then be allocated yet more, for a specific offensive, but then lose its own to a more pressing demand elsewhere. Before a major offensive action, the corps might receive added numbers of railway troops, pioneers, medical resources and perhaps a cavalry division to exploit the breakthrough following an attack. It might lose many of those resources again as demands ebbed and flowed. Thus a corps might number anything from 40,000 to 100,000 men or more.

An army is a fully functional freestanding entity. The general is a highly important figure, with influence over all aspects of the battle, from planning to execution and exploitation. He is responsible for every aspect of conduct of the battle in his area of command. The army commander may have one or two or more corps under command, and he is responsible for the whole conduct of war in his area of responsibility. For example, the medical chain now stretches back from the regimental aid post with a unit at the front, past the casualty clearing stations of the larger formations and right back to the field hospitals. Railways and canal transport, battle training schools, repair workshops and even bakeries and butcheries all came under an army’s command. Air operations came firmly into the picture at army level, even if tactically controlled further down the chain of command. The British Expeditionary Force began as a single army with two corps and a mounted division. By the halfway point of the war there were five British and Empire armies on the Western Front alone. Each was four or five times the size of the original BEF.

Within the context of any set-piece battle, it is worth comparing the difference in responsibility between a divisional commander’s and his superior’s on the first day of the battle. For example, for the Somme battle General Sir Henry Rawlinson, as army commander, was responsible for planning and directing a battle, which at different times involved fifty-two infantry divisions spread over a front of about 14 miles. He was responsible for every aspect, both logistical and fighting. Logistics included supplying food, water, shelter, fuel, animal fodder, ammunition, and every last item needed by men living in the inhospitable climate of the front line and its support areas and care of the wounded from regimental aid post to delivery to base hospital or back to the UK. Under GHQ’s strategic direction, he managed artillery support, the use of the air service, front-line attack, and defence of captured objectives. All this lasted from the first planning to implementing Haig’s final decision to ‘close down’ the battle five months later. At any moment, a divisional general would have one task to undertake, perhaps to capture a village or strongpoint on the first day of the battle, before others would take over the next part of the plan. Many generals found that the leap in responsibility, as they went from peacetime command of a battalion or even a company to war-time command of a brigade or division or even higher formation, was too great for their abilities. It was not the fault of the man but an inevitable fact that the whole British and Empire war effort had developed at a speed and to a scale that had been unimaginable to all but one person, Kitchener, at the beginning, and everyone was learning as they went along.

Left to right, generals French, Joffre and Haig behind the front. Lt-General Henry Wilson is second from right

The final, highest level of field command was the Commander-in-Chief, originally Sir John French but latterly Sir Douglas Haig. He had the strategic responsibility for conducting the war on the Western Front and the final tactical say in terms of approving plans for major offensives and actions. However, he also answered to the nation and government for the employment and safety of the whole British army and had large responsibility for joint conduct of the war with his French and other allied commanders. The Commander-in-Chief was also heavily aware of his responsibilities to the many nations whose soldiers fought under his command. We know well the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand achievements, but overlook all too easily the front line contributions of India, Portugal, South Africa and other nations. Chinese, Indian and Egyptian labour corps also fell under his responsibility. Haig’s was a truly imperial force.

A large General Headquarters supported the Commander-in-Chief. The BEF headquarters was at Montreuil, near Le Touquet. As the war developed, the number working here increased to about 2,000 as the BEF itself grew and as the complexity of war increased. The Commander-in-Chief depended on this staff for the flow of information and expert advice that enabled him to conduct the war on the Western Front.

The senior staff officer was the Chief of the General Staff, the Commander-in-Chief’s right-hand man, who was responsible for the efficient management of GHQ. The Adjutant General was responsible for administration, personnel matters and organisation throughout the BEF. Heading the branches of the staff were heads of individual arms, such as air service, artillery and infantry, heads of support arms such as engineering, medical services, intelligence, transport and logistics, legal services and many other disciplines.

A feature of Haig’s GHQ was that he himself was never reluctant to employ ‘civilians in uniform’ as heads of department if he thought he could improve the efficiency of his staff by doing so. One of his key heads of department was Eric Geddes, Deputy General Manager of the North Eastern Railway Company, but with no military experience. In mid-1916 Haig arranged for him to be commissioned as a major general and gave him charge of all transport resources of the BEF. It was a much-needed appointment, because for all Rawlinson’s planning and attention to detail, the railways and other transport links were overwhelmed by the demands placed on them as the Battle of The Somme developed into its second and later months.


North and South Sudan

Having gained independence from Britain in 1955 the Sudanese armed forces consisted of more than 5000 members; this was quickly expanded to deal with an ongoing counter insurgency in the South and West. Sudan, once the largest in Africa was effectively ruled in the north by Musli Arabs while the South was made up of Christian and Animist Africans. The Sudan military obtained its first armed vehicles from Britain in the form of Saladins and Ferret armoured cars. Further arms shipments were obtained from the Soviet Union, China and the United States leading to BTR-50s operating side by side with Type 62 mountain tanks and V-100 commandos. During the Cold War, Sudan was seen as a possible bulwark against Soviet expansion in neighbouring Ethiopia and the United States provided advanced equipment such as M60 tanks and F-5E fighter aircraft. With the end of the Cold War, Sudan underwent political change with the coming to power in a coup in 1989 Omar Al Bashir, it was during the 90s that Osama Bin Laden was allowed a safe haven by Khartoum. Sudans oil insured large scale purchases of Chinese armour such as the Type 85 Il, Type 59D and YW-531 APC’s to mention a few Side by side with Chinese tanks and an assembly plant in Khartoum, the South of the country gained independence in a referendum in 2011 ending the North’s war in the part of the country but not in Darfur in the west North Sudan continued an eclectic pattern of procurement obtaining Cobras BMP-1 based APC and BTR-80 conversions made in the Czech Republic, BTR-3 and T-72 AVs from Ukraine and Safir-74’s from Iran. Sudan maintains and repairs her mixed fleet of MBTs, IFVs and APCs at the Military Industry Corporation workshops in the centre of Khartoum and is now manufacturing a series of jeeps, APCs and truck based self-propelled guns.