Negoro-no Komizucha. Komizucha was a sohei, a warrior-monk, shown here in battle armed not with the samurai’s weapons, but instead with just a massive club—even so he seems to be holding his own against a fusillade of spears, swords, and arrows.


Sohei warrior monks, Japan c. 900 Some Buddhist monks in Japan chose to follow both a martial and religious lifestyle, with many devoted to the practice of Zen Buddhism. Warrior monks had a role in some of the most turbulent periods in Japanese military history, including the Gempei War in the 12th century. Some Sohei orders grew very powerful, and were able to field armies, especially during the Japanese civil wars of the 16th century.

The monks of the various Japanese Buddhist temple communities, including Nara and Mount Hiei. The term warrior monk comes from the translation of Sohei, so meaning a Buddhist priest or monk and hei meaning soldier or warrior. The monks tended to be belligerent to the point of foolhardiness and the Nara and Miidera monks were heavily suppressed after allying with the “wrong” side during the Gempei War (1180-85).

Monastic forces consisted of a hard core of trained warriors but the bulk of armies were made up of less well-trained and/or motivated members of the temple communities. Their overall effectiveness has probably been overrated under other rules systems. One well known tactic was to place their portable shrine, containing the kami (or spirit) of the temple, in front of the battle line and dare all comers to try and take it!

Armed forces known as sohei (warrior-monks) mounted a potent challenge to aristocrats and warriors throughout the feudal era. The term akuso, meaning evil monks, found in diaries of Heian period courtiers, summarizes the general view of these soldiers that represented powerful temples. While warriors and aristocrats struggled for control of feudal Japan, from the sidelines the sohei fought to unseat both of these forces and instead obtain both land and wealth for the benefit of powerful religious institutions.

The origins of the bands of warrior-monks and the language used to identify these figures can be confusing. For example, the title warrior-monk (the more common English translation of the term sohei) carries varied connotations in different periods, and sohei were not always part of the monastic order at the temples they served. Further, sohei were well armed and skilled in the use of weapons, despite Buddhist precepts prohibiting monks from engaging in such pursuits. In addition, civil codes that limited weapons possession among priests, acolytes, and other clerics had little effect on the many sohei who functioned in institutions not subject to such restrictions. Another common misconception about warrior-monks also relates to terminology. Some scholars have conflated the roles of sohei and yamabushi (mountain ascetics), since both of these religious figures dwelt in mountains and are sometimes identified in medieval sources as similar figures. Despite the apparent similarity to the word bushi, which is also used to designate samurai, the “bushi” in yamabushi is written with a different character than the “bushi” for warrior. The term yamabushi distinguishes ascetics who engaged in mountain pilgrimages and sustained meditation as part of their spiritual practice. However, many powerful temples were located on mountains, and while yamabushi also occupied such territory, they were usually benign figures devoted to solitary religious practice. At the same time, the legions of warrior-monks enlisted by religious institutions were only occasionally referred to as yamabushi in contemporary sources, simply because the temples they served were in mountainous locations.

Temples and other religious institutions were motivated to deploy units of warrior-monks to defend land acquired during the redistributions and lapses in administration practices on provincial estates that occurred in the 10th and 11th centuries. Young warriors employed by private estates as militiamen confused matters by shaving their heads and were often mistaken for sohei in practice and in historical accounts. In some cases, the warrior-monks (including those private soldiers who appeared to be monks, but often were not) became so powerful that they posed a threat to the imperial court and the shogunate. Warrior monks serving Enryakuji, Kofukuji, and Miidera, all temples located near Kyoto or the old capital, Nara, were particularly notorious.

With the burning of Enryakuji by Oda Nobunaga in 1571, the power of the sohei diminished significantly. Efforts mounted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the weapons prohibitions instituted in the late Momoyama and early Edo periods finalized the suppression of these warriors.


Imperial Japanese Navy Aircraft

The air force component under the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. The birth of Japanese naval aviation occurred in 1912. The navy had been part of the Provisional Military Balloon Research Society, which had been established as a joint effort with the army. The army dominated the society, and the navy decided to withdraw and create its own organization, the Kaigun Kokujutsu Kenkyu Kai (Naval Aeronautical Research Association). This event would be a bone of contention between the army and navy for many years to come.

The naval association sent six officers to France and the United States to acquire seaplanes and learn to fly and maintain them. The operation was a success, and a new naval air station was established on the Oppama Coast near Yokosuka. Within the year, the Imperial Japanese Navy commissioned their first seaplane tender, the Wakamiya Maru.

In 1916, the first Navy Air Corps was activated, the Yokosuka Kokutai. In 1917, the first completely Japanese designed aircraft was built at the Yokosuka naval arsenal.

After World War I, the navy became intrigued with the idea of launching aircraft from ships. In June 1920, a deck was mounted to the Wakamiya Maru, and a Sopwith Pup was launched successfully from the deck. Then, in late 1921, the Hosho-the world’s first true aircraft carrier-was launched. Other ships had been modified to carry aircraft, but the Hosho was designed from the ground up to be an aircraft carrier.

It was not until 1932 that a major push was made to develop true carrier aircraft. The navy issued Specification 7-Shi for a carrier-based aircraft to be built. The navy had developed a system where it would submit a specification to a number of manufacturers, which would compete to have their design accepted for service. This specification was thought to be extremely important to the navy in its development of attack aircraft and fighters. However, only one aircraft, the E7K1 Alf, was placed into production in quantity. The failure was primarily due to high expectations and limited technology at the time. Two years later, navy specifications would be met, and the first of the dominant Japanese aircraft would start to appear in the arsenal.

It was about this time that the navy entered the second Sino-Japanese conflict. The results were outstanding. Japanese fighters and bombers forced the Chinese to withdraw their aircraft or lose them. There was also one additional benefit to the war with the Chinese. Beyond the experience gained, it gave the Imperial Japanese Navy a chance to further organize and develop effective air combat tactics. These would become very useful during the Pacific War.

Because of its collection of long-range aircraft and aircraft carriers, the navy would become responsible for all campaigns in the Pacific islands. It would also be responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

By November 1941, the JNAF had ready about 1,750 frontline fighters, torpedo planes, and navy dive bombers, as well as over 500 flying boats or sea planes. These were deployable to forward sea bases and on six fleet carriers and four larger fleet carriers. The JNAF organized its planes into kokutai or air corps, usually of all one type, either of fighters or bombers. In 1941 all JNAF pilots were highly trained-at a minimum of 800 hours flying time-and some JNAF planes were superior to anything the U. S. Navy could then put into the air. That gave the JNAF an initial skills and numerical advantage in the Pacific War. However, Japanese reserves were insufficient to sustain a long war with the U. S. Navy: the entire aircraft industry produced under 1,500 military planes in 1937, which had to be divided with the Japanese Army. Production rose to 4,768 aircraft by 1940, again divided between the JAAF and JNAF. Just 5,088 military aircraft left the assembly lines in 1941. Japan also uniquely failed to expand its pilot training schools. It began the Pacific War with just 2,500 Navy pilots-the Sea Eagles-to fly its aircraft, and throughout the war suffered from a shortage of pilot training plans or facilities.

In the first six months of the war in the Pacific, the navy was extremely effective. Its experience in China and its organization made it a formidable foe. However, in June 1942 at Midway Island, U. S. carriers dealt the navy a heavy blow, sinking four aircraft carriers. This loss of ships and aircraft stopped the Japanese advance in the Pacific.

At this point of the war, it appeared that the industrial production of the United States and the abundance of pilots available to Allied forces could not be equaled by the Japanese. Japan was quickly running out of trained pilots as well as materials to produce aircraft and ships.

In October 1944, the Imperial Japanese Navy developed a new tactic: kamikaze attacks. A kamikaze would dive his aircraft, loaded with bombs, into Allied ships. The tactic did minimal physical damage given the number of aircraft and pilots that it sacrificed. Hostilities in the Pacific War continued until August 1945, when the order for surrender was given. This spelled the end of the Imperial Japanese Navy until the postwar years.

The Mitsubishi G4M medium bomber (“Betty”) entered service with the Japanese army early in 1941 and was involved in pre-World War II operations in China. It was designed in great secrecy during 1938-1939 to have the maximum possible range at the expense of protection for the crew and vital components, and it was mainly used in the bomber and torpedo-bomber roles. G4M1s were mainly responsible for sinking the British battleship Prince of Wales and battle cruiser Repulse off Malaya in December 1941. The G4M had an extraordinary range, but more than 1,100 gallons of fuel in unprotected tanks made the aircraft extremely vulnerable to enemy fire. The G4M2 appeared in 1943 and was the major production model, with more-powerful engines and even more fuel. Losses of the aircraft continued to be very heavy, and Mitsubishi finally introduced the G4M3 model late in 1943 with a redesigned wing and protected fuel tanks. A total of 2,479 aircraft in the G4M series were built.

The Kawanishi N1K1-J (“George”) evolved from a floatplane and was one of the best fighters of the Pacific Theater. Entering service early in 1944, it had automatic combat flaps and was outstandingly maneuverable, its pilots coming to regard even the F6F Hellcat as an easy kill. Its climb rate was, however, relatively poor for an interceptor, and the engine was unreliable. The later N1K2-J was redesigned to simplify production, and limited numbers entered service early in 1945. A total of 1,435 aircraft of the N1K series were built.

The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) had several carriers at the start of the war, the air groups of which were weighted toward attack aircraft rather than fighters. Its aircraft were lightly built and had very long range, but this advantage was usually purchased at the expense of vulnerability to enemy fire. The skill of Japanese aviators tended to exaggerate the effectiveness of the IJN’s aircraft, and pilot quality fell off as experienced crews were shot down during the Midway and Solomon Islands Campaigns.

The Nakajima B5N (“Kate” in the Allied designator system) first entered service in 1937 as a carrier-based attack bomber, with the B5N2 torpedo-bomber appearing in 1940. The B5N had good handling and deck-landing characteristics and was operationally very successful in the early part of the war. Large numbers of the B5N participated in the Mariana Islands campaign, and it was employed as a suicide aircraft toward the end of the war. Approximately 1,200 B5Ns were built.

The Aichi D3A (“Val”) carrier-based dive-bomber entered service in mid-1940, and it was the standard Japanese navy dive-bomber when Japan entered the war. It was a good bomber, capable of putting up a creditable fight after dropping its bomb load. It participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor and the major Pacific campaigns including Santa Cruz, Midway, and the Solomon Islands. Increasing losses during the second half of the war took their toll, and the D3A was used on suicide missions later in the war. Approximately 1,495 D3As were built.

When it first appeared in mid-1940, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero was the first carrier-based fighter capable of beating its land-based counterparts. It was well armed and had truly exceptional maneuverability below about 220 mph, and its capabilities came as an unpleasant shock to U. S. and British forces. It achieved this exceptional performance at the expense of resistance to enemy fire, with a light structure and no armor or self-sealing tanks. Its Achilles heel was the stiffness of its controls at high speed, the control response being almost nil at indicated airspeed over 300 mph. The Zero was developed throughout the war, a total of 10,449 being built.

The Nakajima B6N (“Jill”) carrier-based torpedo-bomber entered service late in 1943 and was intended to replace the B5N, but the initial B6N1 was plagued with engine troubles. The B6N2 with a Mitsubishi engine was the major production model, appearing early in 1944. Overall, it was better than its predecessor but not particularly easy to deck-land. It participated in the Marianas Campaign and was encountered throughout the Pacific until the end of the war. A total of 1,268 were built.

The Yokosuka D4Y (“Judy”) reconnaissance/dive-bomber entered service on Japanese carriers early in 1943 and was very fast for a bomber. Initially assigned to reconnaissance units, it was intended to replace the D3A, but it was insufficiently armed and protected and suffered from structural weakness in dives. In common with most other Japanese aircraft, it was used for kamikaze attacks, and a D4Y carried out the last kamikaze attack of the war on 15 August 1945. A total of 2,819 D4Ys were built.

In addition to transporting troops and supplies, the four-engine Kawanishi H6K and four-engine Kawanishi H8K flying boats also served important roles as long-range reconnaissance aircraft, with the former having a maximum range of 4,210 miles and the latter having a maximum range of 4,460 miles.

Japan relied on three primary reconnaissance floatplanes during the war. The three-seat Aichi E13A, of which 1,418 were produced, was Japan’s most widely used floatplane of the war. Entering service in early 1941, it was employed for the reconnaissance leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and it participated in every major campaign in the Pacific Theater, performing not only reconnaissance but also air-sea rescue, liaison transport, and coastal patrol operations. Introduced in January 1944 as a replacement for the E13A, the two-seat Aichi E16A Zuiun offered far greater performance capabilities but came too late in the war to make a significant difference, primarily because Japan’s worsening industrial position limited production to just 256 aircraft. Based on a 1936 design that underwent several modifications, the two-seat Mitsubishi F1M biplane, of which 1,118 were produced, proved to be one of the most versatile reconnaissance aircraft in Japan’s arsenal. Operating from both ship and water bases, it served in a variety roles throughout the Pacific, including coastal patrol, convoy escort, antisubmarine, and air-sea rescue duties, and it was even capable of serving as a dive-bomber and interceptor.

The three-seat Nakajima C6N Saiun, of which 463 were produced, was one of the few World War II reconnaissance aircraft specifically designed for operating from carriers. With a maximum speed of 379 mph, a maximum range of 3,300 miles, and service ceiling of 34,236 ft, the C6N proved virtually immune from Allied interception. Unfortunately for Japan, it did not become available for service until the Mariana Islands Campaign in the summer of 1944.

The twin-engine, two-seat Mitsubishi Ki-46, of which 1,742 were produced, served as Japan’s primary strategic reconnaissance aircraft of the war. Entering service in March 1941, the Ki-46 was one of the top-performing aircraft of its type in the war with a service ceiling of 35,170 ft, a range of 2,485 miles, and a maximum speed of 375 mph. This aircraft was first used by the Japanese Army in Manchukuo and China, where seven units were equipped with it, and also at times by the Japanese Imperial Navy in certain reconnaissance missions over the northern coasts of Australia and New Guinea.

Although Japan employed a variety of multipurpose aircraft, such as the Nakajima G5N Shinzan and the Tachikawa Ki-54, for transporting troops and supplies, it relied primarily on four main transport aircraft during World War II: the Kawanishi H6K flying boat, the Kawanishi H8K flying boat, the Kawasaki Ki-56, and the Mitsubishi Ki-57.

When Japan entered the war, the four-engine Kawanishi H6K served as the navy’s primary long-range flying boat. Although used at first primarily for long-range reconnaissance, it was soon relegated to transport duty because of its vulnerability to Allied fighters. Capable of carrying up to 18 troops in addition to its crew, the H6K remained in production until 1943. Of the 217 constructed, 139 were designed exclusively for transport.

The four-engine Kawanishi H8K entered service in early 1942 and gradually replaced the Kawanishi H6K. While it also served in a variety of roles, its transport version, the H8K2- L, of which 36 were built, could carry up to 64 passengers. With a cruising speed of 185 mph and a range of up to 4,460 miles, it was well-suited for the Pacific Theater, and its heavy armament afforded better protection than the H6K.

Japanese Aircraft of the Sino-Japanese and Pacific War

1941 – The Japanese Southern Road

As the oilfields of Borneo – and two weeks later, the oil fields of Sumatra – would fulfill a strategic objective on the Japanese Southern Road, other moves made on the Dutch East Indies chessboard were designed to address tactical concerns. As the Japanese closed in on Java and Sumatra, the Dutch, who had barely defended Borneo, were concentrating their resources, just as General Arthur Ernest Percival intended to do with his British Commonwealth assets in Singapore.

Just as IJA and IJN airpower was keeping pace with Tomoyuki Yamashita’s 25th Army on the Malay Peninsula, moving into abandoned RAF bases closer and closer to the front, the tactical plan for the ultimate battle in the Dutch East Indies required a network of airfields on other islands which were closer to Java and Sumatra. One such island was the major Dutch East Indies island of Celebes (now Sulawesi) to the east of Borneo and due south of the Philippines.

Offshore, the Celebes operation was supported by a naval force commanded by Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka which included the cruiser Jintsu, his flagship, ten destroyers, two seaplane tenders, and several minesweepers. An additional covering force under Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi included the cruisers Nachi, Haguro, and Myoko, and two destroyers. They were all part of the growing IJN presence in the nearly 3 million square miles of Dutch East Indies waters.

The IJN surface fleet in this area was divided generally into two operating groups. The Western Force under Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, commander of the Japanese Southern Expeditionary Fleet, was tasked with operations in the South China Sea, and had supported the campaign in Malaya and Singapore. The Eastern Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Ibo Takahashi, conducted operations from eastern Borneo, east through Celebes, Ambon, Timor, and eastward to New Guinea.

Operations ashore in Celebes were conducted entirely by the IJN Special Naval Landing Forces, and occurred simultaneously with the IJA and IJN landings on Tarakan. This ground action, which was a brief one that history treats almost as a footnote to the Borneo operations, is notable for including the first Japanese airborne operation in Southeast Asia. The latter was a precursor to tactics that were to be revisited a month later in Sumatra.

Under the command of Captain Kunizo Mori, 2,500 men of the 1st and 2nd Sasebo Special Naval Landing Forces conducted the initial amphibious landings near the northern Celebes cities of Manado (also spelled Menado) and Kema before dawn on January 11, overwhelming the outnumbered KNIL defenders.

Meanwhile, staging out of Davao, 28 transport variants of the Mitsubishi G3M medium bomber carried more than 300 paratroopers from the 1st Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force to a drop zone behind the invasion beaches. Landing at about 9:30 am on January 11, the paratroopers surprised the Dutch defenders, and began an assault on the airfield at Langoan and the seaplane base at Kakas.

The unexpected attack from above certainly reminded the Dutch troops of the use by the Germans of airborne troops in the conquest of their home country in May 1940. Indeed, Japanese tactical planners in both the IJA and IJN had made note of the successful use of German Fallschirmjäger, or paratroopers, as a spearhead during the Wehrmacht spring offensive of 1940, and had begun training their own airborne troops. Germany’s capture of the entire island of Crete, solely by airborne troops, in May 1941, must have been especially noteworthy as the Japanese planners pondered the island-studded map of the Southern Road. In retrospect, it is a wonder that the tactic was not employed on a wider scale.

A second airborne attack by the 1st Yokosuka on January 12 brought additional landing forces to Celebes, and assured the capture of the Langoan airfield. Though some of the Dutch troops managed to hide out in the mountains for about a month, northern Celebes was secured by the middle of the month.

With this, Captain Kunzio Mori’s 1st and 2nd Sasebo headed south. Just as Sakaguchi had leapfrogged down the Borneo coast from Tarakan to Balikpapan, Mori embarked from Manado and headed for Kendari, at the southeast corner of Celebes. His Special Naval Landing Forces, aboard six transports, were escorted by a task force commanded by Rear Admiral Kyuji Kubo, which included the cruiser Nagara, his flagship, eight destroyers, and support ships. As with the task force that had supported Mori at Manado, Kubo’s contingent was part of the IJN Eastern Force.

Mori went ashore under cover of darkness on the night of January 23–24, the same night that Sakaguchi had landed at Balikpapan. Within 24 hours, the defenders had been overcome, and the Japanese were in control of the strategically important airfield at Kendari.

Capturing airfields was a priority second only to the petroleum facilities in the Dutch East Indies, for they brought land-based Japanese fighters and bombers incrementally closer to future battlefields farther south on the Southern Road. The air base at Kendari was destined to be one of the most important. Centrally located within the Dutch East Indies, it would be an important refueling stop. It was also the base of operations for the devastating air attack on Darwin, Australia, which would terrify the land down under three weeks later.

Just as the airfields on Celebes were part of the Sumatra and Java strategy, other Dutch islands far to the east hosted airfields that would be useful in operations against Dutch- and Australian-administered New Guinea, which were scheduled for April. Centrally located between Celebes and New Guinea was 299-square-mile Ambon Island, part of the Molucca (now Maluku) Archipelago, 500 miles east of Celebes, 1,600 miles east of Palembang, and 250 miles west of New Guinea. The strategic importance of Ambon and the substantial, paved airfield at Laha on the island had been lost on neither the Dutch nor the Australians. They had agreed to jointly reinforce the island, but the first contingent of RAAF Hudson bombers had not touched down at Laha until December 7, 1941, less than 24 hours before the general outbreak of hostilities across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The Australians also sent troops, but they had few to spare. As we have seen, three of the four infantry divisions which comprised the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) were in North Africa helping the British fight the German Afrika Korps. Most of the 8th Division, except the 23rd Brigade, was helping the British defend Malaya.

The one brigade held back was given the precarious and impossible task of the forward defense of Australia itself. It was divided into what were known as the “Bird Forces,” having been given what the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs historical factsheet colorfully describes as “ominously non-predatory names.” Forward defense of Australia meant outposts on islands north of that country and east of Malaya which were astride important sea lanes between Japanese-held territory and Australia. It was Gull Force that was dispatched to Ambon, while Sparrow Force went to Timor, and Lark Force went to New Britain, far to the east.

Each of the Bird Forces was essentially a single battalion, roughly a thousand or fewer infantrymen, reinforced with artillery and support troops. Deployed in 1941 before the full weight of the immense Japanese offensive had been experienced, each was sent to do a job that should have been done by a force a dozen times larger.

Deploying about ten days after Pearl Harbor, the 1,100-man Gull Force, centered on the 2/21st Battalion of the AIF, arrived on Ambon, joining a Dutch garrison on the island that consisted of the poorly trained 2,800-man KNIL Molucca Brigade, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Kapitz. Gull Force was initially commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Roach, but he was replaced on January 16 by Lieutenant Colonel John Scott, who was no stranger to amphibious operations, having participated in the Gallipoli campaign during World War I. Scott arrived to find his new command in pitiful condition, with malaria and other diseases rampant in the equatorial heat, which still swelters in January.

Both USN and Koninklijk Marine flying boats operated out of Ambon, flying patrol missions, as well as frequent evacuations of civilians, but they were pulled out in mid-January, against the backdrop of increasing Japanese air attacks. Air defense of Ambon consisted of a few Brewster Buffaloes, which rose to meet IJN seaplane bombers that began visiting Ambon early in January at the same time as the offensive against northern Borneo.

The Buffaloes held their own for a while, but they were no match for the carrier-based IJN Zeros that first appeared over the island on January 24, the same day as the invasions of Balikpapan and Kendari. For the Ambon operation, the IJN brought in the carriers Hiryu and Soryu, both of which had been part of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s Pearl Harbor strike force. At Ambon, they targeted Dutch and Australian aircraft, compelling Wavell to make the decision to pull out the last of the Allied aircraft to preserve them to fight another day. When the invasion fleet was sighted at dusk on January 30, the Allied ground troops knew they would have to face the enemy with no air cover.

The fact that the IJN had used seaplanes and carrier-based aircraft to conduct operations against Ambon is, in itself, an illustration of why the Japanese needed to have airfields at locations across the sprawling Indies.

The remainder of the naval escort for the ten transport ships of the invasion fleet to which the Hiryu and Soryu were attached was largely the same contingent that had supported operations against Manado on January 11. Commanded by Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka, this force was comprised of his flagship, the cruiser Jintsu, as well as eight destroyers and support vessels. The same covering force under Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi that had supported Tanaka at Kendari also accompanied him to Ambon.

As in Borneo, the ground operation at Ambon was to be a joint operation between the IJA and the IJN Special Naval Landing Forces. The latter contingent included 820 men from the 1st Kure Special Naval Landing Force, while the IJA contingent of approximately 4,500 men was centered on the 228th Infantry Regiment, one of three regiments in the 38th Division, which had taken part in the conquest of Hong Kong. This joint force was known as the Ito Detachment and commanded by Major General Takeo Ito, who had commanded the entire 38th Division at Hong Kong, and who operated at Ambon under the banner of the division’s headquarters.

The first wave of IJA Ito Detachment came ashore during the night of January 30–31, with the IJN landing forces in the north, and the 288th mainly in the south. Ambon is nearly bisected by Ambon Bay, which cuts into the island from the southeast. The southern part contains the major population centers, while Laha airfield was across the bay on the northern part. Most of the defenders were located in these areas, but the initial Japanese landings were on the lightly defended north, and the least-defended area on the south side, well away from coastal guns guarding the entrance to Ambon Bay. Of course, established beachheads can be expanded more easily than landing troops under fire.

During January 31, the Japanese moved rapidly, reaching Australian-defended Laha from the north, and capturing Ambon City in the south by around 4:00 pm.

As the Allies shifted troops to face the landings, they left holes in their lines, which were exploited by the Japanese. A second wave of Ito Detachment troops came ashore at Passo (also written in some accounts as Paso) at the neck of the Laitimor Peninsula, effectively cutting the island in two. At the same time, the Japanese also snipped the telephone line which was the only way that the Allied troops could communicate with one another. The absence of communications isolated the various units and created confusion.

Kapitz ordered his men to continue fighting, which they did. However, shortly after midnight, the Japanese captured Kapitz, who had moved his headquarters close to Passo. For most of February 1, the action involved an Allied withdrawal, away from Passo and Ambon City, toward the southeast tip of the Laitimor Peninsula. These troops, with Colonel Scott still in command, had their backs to the Banda Sea, and realized that their position was essentially hopeless.

As this was ongoing, Admiral Tanaka ordered his minesweepers into Ambon Bay to clear the mines laid by the Koninklijke Marine, before they withdrew from Ambon earlier in January. This was in preparation for landing additional troops inside the bay. However, much to the immense joy of the troops fighting for their lives on the peninsula, one of the minesweepers struck a mine, blew up, and sank. Another was damaged.

Nevertheless, the jubilation that the Allied troops enjoyed at this juncture was certainly qualified by the pounding that was being dished out to them in the form of offshore naval gunfire and air attacks from the air wings aboard the Hiryu and Soryu. Throughout February 1, the naval bombardment also fell on the Australian and Dutch troops that were still trying to defend the airfield across the bay at Laha. On the morning of February 2, having encircled Laha, the landing troops, under Commander Kunito Hatakeyama, launched a ferocious assault aimed at dislodging the defenders. At around 10:00 am, Major Mark Newbury, commanding the joint force at Laha, decided that any further resistance would waste lives in an impossible situation, and ordered his men to surrender. Scott surrendered the defenders of the Laitimor Peninsula on February 3. About 30 Australian Diggers managed to successfully escape Ambon by canoe.

Newbury’s hopes of saving lives by his surrender were darkened when, over the ensuing two weeks, Hatakeyama randomly murdered around 300 prisoners at Laha. Newbury himself was killed on February 6. Scott survived the war as a POW, although most of the troops who surrendered on Ambon died in captivity. In 1946, witnesses and makeshift graves were located, and Hatakeyama was tried, convicted, and executed as a war criminal.

By the time that Ambon fell, Captain Kunzio Mori’s 1st and 2nd IJN Sasebo Special Naval Landing Forces had secured Manado in northern Celebes, and Kendari on its southeast corner. This left the airfield at Makassar on the southwest corner, the Celebes field closest to Java. His move on this final Celebes objective was supported by the same naval task force that had backed his landing at Kendari, this being commanded by Rear Admiral Kyuji Kubo, aboard the cruiser Nagara, with 11 destroyers – three more than at Kendari – and support ships.

Opposing Mori’s landing forces here was a 1,000-man Dutch garrison commanded by Colonel Marinus Vooren. Like so many in the KNIL officer corps, Vooren was born in Java of Dutch parents. He had spent only three of his 53 years in the Netherlands, so the Indies were his homeland. As February began, Vooren was overseeing the evacuation to Java of ethnic European women and children – most of them Indies-born – and waiting for Mori’s inevitable arrival. The only reinforcements coming the other way consisted of Lieutenant Colonel Jan Gortmans, who came in from Java to train Indonesian civilians to fight the Japanese as guerrillas.

On February 9, Mori’s 8,000-man Special Naval Landing Forces went ashore near the town of Makassar. Recognizing that resistance here was a lost cause, the Dutch withdrew northward into the interior, where the Japanese tanks would be ineffective, Vooren to Tjamba, and Gortmans to Enrekang, places that to this day barely show up on maps. They held out almost until the end of February, but when they found themselves in tactically untenable positions, they each surrendered. Gortmans was beheaded in captivity, but Vooren survived the war and remained in the Indies until 1958, when he retired to the Netherlands.


Capture of the Taiwan

Japanese troops occupy Taipei, 7 June 1895

The most important territorial gain acquired by the Japanese by the power of the treaty signed at Shimonoseki was the island of Taiwan. The moment it was signed and later ratified at Chefoo, the power was still exercised by the Ch’ing administration, while the Chinese garrisons were stationed in the towns of Taiwan. In that situation the condition of the Treaty of Shimonoseki caused outrage of the native population, which on May 23, 1895, forced the local authorities to declare independence of the island. Tang Ching-sung, the former Chinese Governor of Taiwan, became the President of the self-proclaimed state, while the capable and distinguished General Lu Yungfu, veteran of the war with France, became the commander-in-chief of the military forces.

Preparations to repulse the inevitable Japanese invasion became a matter of the utmost importance for the authorities. However, it soon turned out that this task exceeded the capabilities of the island’s administration, which was led by the old Ch’ing dignitaries, who had no faith in victory and devoted all their energy to ensure a safe escape route to China for themselves, their families and possessions. The officers and a majority of regular army troops were of the same attitude, and therefore two `Black Flag Army’ battalions redeployed to the island in January 1895, along with Lu Yungfu, soon became the only real military force in Taiwan. Admittedly, the formation soon grew in strength to around 12,000 troops. These were, in the main, enthusiastic but poorly trained and armed, and realistically unable to face the Japanese army in an open combat.

The Japanese invasion of Taiwan began at the end of May. Taking into account the likely resistance of the Chinese population, they thoroughly prepared, assigning the select 1 st Imperial Guards Brigade under command of General Prince Kitashirakawa to the task. Naval support would be provided by the cruisers Yoshino, Matsushima, Chiyoda, Naniwa, Takachiho and Sai Yen (the ex-Chinese Chi Yuan, captured at Weihaiwei). The Imperial Guards were embarked on 16 transports. Vice-Admiral Arichi Shinanojo, promoted to a higher post in Vice-Admiral Ito’s General Staff, became the commander of the entire armada. He flew his flag on board the cruiser Yoshino. Rear Admiral Togo, commander of the cruiser Naniwa, became his second in command. One of the transports held Vice- Admiral Kabayama, appointed to the post of a military governor of the island.

On 25 May, after three days of steaming, the leading cruisers, Naniwa and Takachiho, arrived at the mouth of the Tamsui River. They were soon joined by the remaining Japanese forces. The primary objective of the invasion force in the initial stage of the Taiwanese campaign was the capture of the island’s capital town of Taipei. On the following day, in order to find a suitable area for the landing of the Imperial Guards, Rear Admiral Togo took the Naniwa and the Matushima towards the harbour of Keelung. Near Cape Santiaochiao, 55 km from Keelung, he spotted a beach which was suitable for the landing. Togo’s plan was accepted by Arichi and Kabayama and on 1 June, over 6,000 Japanese troops landed unopposed at Santiaochiao. They immediately double-marched towards Keelung, arriving there the following evening. The cruisers Naniwa and Matsushima had been providing cover for the landing at Santiaochiao, after which they arrived at Keelung at around the same time as the troops. On 2 June, they were joined by the Takachiho and the Yoshino.

In the early morning of 3 June, the Japanese attacked the Chinese positions around Keelung. This was preceded by a naval bombardment of the harbour and the coastal fortifications by the Japanese cruisers, which, taking advantage of the darkness, approached to 16 cables (2.9 km) from the shore. Soon thereafter the Imperial Guards attacked, quickly taking the key positions of the Chinese defence. By the evening both the town and the harbour were in Japanese hands. The self-proclaimed president Tang, who remained in the town during the assault, managed to escape at the last moment on board a German steamer along with a group of his closest associates.

Following the capture of Keelung, Taipei became the next objective for the Japanese troops. On 4 June, the Imperial Guards departed for the town while the Japanese cruiser Naniwa and Takachiho arrived at the mouth of the Tamsui River on 7 June, establishing a naval blockade of the capital. The escape of the president and high-ranking Taiwanese dignitaries so disorganised the defenders that Taipei was captured by the Japanese almost without a fight. On 17 June, after pacifying the remains of the Chinese resistance, the new Japanese Governor of the island, Vice-Admiral Kabayama arrived at the capital of Taiwan. Slightly earler, the Chinese delegation, which had accompanied the invasion force from the start, officially handed over power to the Japanese. This was agreed on board the transport Yokohama Maru, anchored in the Keelung roadstead.

The formal takeover of the island by the Japanese administration did not put an end to the ongoing military operation in Taiwan, despite the escape of the civilian authorities of the self-proclaimed republic and the capture of the northern part of the island by the Japanese. The `Black Flag Army’, supported by some regular troops and local people, put up an unexpectedly strong resistance in the south and in the centre. Therefore, the Japanese land troops took the main burden of the military operations. They slowly advanced south, engaging in heavy fights with the Chinese. The offensive was hindered by difficult terrain and climatic conditions, as well as by equipment inappropriate for the hot tropical climate. Combat losses and epidemics of malaria and dysentery soon decimated the forces of the 1 st Imperial Guards Brigade and forced the Japanese command to reinforce the island. In October 1895, the infantry regiment from the Pescadores arrived, followed in January 1896 by the infantry regiment from the 7 th Brigade of the 4 th Division.

The Japanese navy forces stationed in Taiwanese waters were also reinforced. At the beginning of June 1895, they were joined by the cruiser Akitsushima, which arrived from Japan. Both she and the remaining warships mainly conducted reconnaissance missions for the army, repeatedly shelling coastal towns controlled by the enemy and often sending small landing parties to pacify pockets of the Chinese resistance. The final large operation undertaken by the Japanese navy in the Taiwanese waters took place from 15 October 1895, when the cruisers Yoshino, Naniwa, Akitsushima and Sai Yen bombarded Takao, preceding its later capture by the landing troops. On 21 October, the same warships shelled Anping, which was also soon captured by the Japanese landing force.

In the later period, the activities of the Japanese warships around Taiwan were limited to patrolling and providing occasional artillery support to the fighting troops (usually by single warships). At the end of October, Vice-Admiral Arichi was called back to Japan, followed by Rear Admiral Togo in the middle of November. Due to the fact that the military operations had moved deep inland, the majority of warships stationed in the Taiwanese waters were also called back to the home country. Fighting on land continued for some time. Defeated Taiwanese insurgent troops, taking advantage of the support provided by the native population, turned to guerrilla warfare. Finally, by the end of 1896, the island had been pacified.

The Japanese losses in Taiwan were quite substantial. In combat with the insurgents the army lost a total of about 700 killed or wounded. Significant losses were also caused by various epidemics which broke out repeatedly among the fighting troops. It was estimated that a total of almost 20,000 Japanese troops and workers brought to the island either died or were hospitalised due to those causes. The losses suffered by the Japanese navy were less significant by comparison, mainly limited to loss of torpedo boat 16, which sank with all hands in a storm near the Pescadores on 11 May, 1895.

Urakaze class destroyers

The Urakaze class destroyers was a class of two destroyers built for the Imperial Japanese Navy by Yarrow Shipbuilders of Scotland. These were the last Japanese destroyers ordered from overseas shipyards

The failure of Japanese shipbuilders with the Umikaze-class destroyers left the Japanese navy without a large destroyer capable of extended blue ocean operations. The Parsons steam turbines of the Umikaze-class were plagued with maintenance issues, as well as tremendous fuel consumption. The navy then returned to its previous mainstay for new technology and equipment, Yarrow shipyards in the United Kingdom, ordering two vessels to a new design in the 1911 fiscal budget.

However, Yarrow, along with other British shipyards, had a large backlog of orders, and it was not until 1915 that the new vessels could be completed, and due to the outbreak of World War I, not until 1919 before Urakaze was turned over to Japan.

The Urakaze class vessels made use of oil-fired Brown-Curtiss turbine engines, and had the distinction of being the first vessels built for Japan to be designed for use without coal. The initial design called for diesel engines, however, due to the outbreak of World War I, Yarrow could not obtain necessary gear components from Germany.

Armament was slightly less than that of the Umikaze classes, with a single QF 4.7 inch Gun Mk I – IV mounted on a small shelter forward and four QF 3 inch 12 pounder guns, two amidships, one of the stern, and one mounted on a tall pedestal just aft of the smokestacks. The Urakaze class was also the first Japanese class of destroyers to use the 533-mm diameter torpedoes.

Urakaze was turned over to the Imperial Japanese Navy too late to see combat service in World War I. It was used for many years in patrols on the Yangzi River. It was retired in 1936, and used as a training vessel for the Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Forces. It was sunk in an air attack by United States Navy aircraft on July 18, 1945. It should not be confused with the later Kagero class destroyer Urakaze of World War II.

Due to a strong request from the British government, Kawakaze was sold by Japan prior to completion to the Regia Marina of Italy. Italy was one of the Allies of World War I, and faced a severe shortage of modern warships. Kawakaze was completed as Audace, and later renamed San Marco, and saw considerable combat service in the Mediterranean. During World War II, it was captured by the German Kriegsmarine, and renamed TA20. It was sunk on November 11, 1944 near Venice in the Adriatic Sea. It should not be confused with the later Shiratsuyu class destroyer Kawakaze of World War II.

Defending the Japanese Homeland

B-29s of the 500th Bomb Group on a bombing strike against Tokyo on 19 February 1945. The bombers encountered flak and were attacked by numerous Japanese fighter aircraft – “Tonys”, “Zekes” and Ki-45 “Nicks”. A Kawasaki Ki-45 “Toryu” of the 53rd Sentai piloted by 2nd Lt. Osamu Hirose rammed “Z Square 12”, a B-29 of the 881st Bomb Squadron. The bomber was cut in two and six parachutes were seen, although one was on fire and it collapsed. Of the five remaining crew members, only one survived. 2nd Lt. Hirose also perished, but his back seater, Corporal Kimio Kato was ejected from the aircraft and survived. Most people associate B-29s with the atomic bombing of two cities in Japan.

This painting shows what bomber crews had to contend with each week. Seventeen hour missions, battling flak, fighters, fatigue, weather and 200 mph jet streams at high altitude.

Japan’s ability to repel an American bombing campaign began with very few prospects in 1942 and sharply declined thereafter. Yet an enduring question is why Tokyo squandered more than two years after the Doolittle Raid, and why so little interservice coordination was attempted once B-29s appeared in homeland skies. The answer lies in the Japanese psyche more than in its military institutions.

In defending its airspace, Japan’s army and naval forces were tasked with a nearly impossible mission. Nonetheless, they failed massively in even approaching their nation’s potential to ameliorate the effects of the Allied onslaught.

Japan’s only prospect for staving off aerial immolation was to inflict unacceptable losses upon B-29s. Because of the Superfortress’s exceptional cost—some $600,000 each—a downed B-29 represented the financial equivalent of nearly three B-17s or B-24s, plus an invaluable crew. Development of ramming units demonstrates that some Japanese understood the value of a one-for-one or even two-for-one tradeoff, but the tactic largely failed for technical and organizational reasons. Therefore, defense of the home islands reverted to conventional means: flak guns and ordinary interceptors.

The resulting failure was systemic, crossing all boundaries of government and military-naval leadership. Probably the major cause was Japan’s national psychology: a collectivist culture possessing a rigid hierarchy with unusually strict protocols that inhibited breakout thinking and instilled extreme reluctance to express contrary opinions. Japan poses an intriguing puzzle for sociologists and political scientists: how an extremely well-ordered society permitted itself to make a series of disastrous decisions, each threatening its national existence. Ironically, the situation was partly explained by the atmosphere of gekokujo (“pressuring from below”) in which strident subordinates often influenced their superiors.

If interservice rivalry constituted a “second front” in Washington, D.C., it was a full contact sport in Tokyo. The postwar United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded, “There was no efficient pooling of the resources of the Army and Navy. Responsibility between the two services was divided in a completely impractical fashion with the Navy covering all ocean areas and naval targets . . . and the Army everything else.”

In June 1944, the month of the first B-29 attack, Imperial General Headquarters combined army and navy assets in an air defense command but the navy objected to army control. A compromise was achieved with naval air groups at Atsugi, Omura, and Iwakuni assigned to the respective army district. Phone links from JAAF command centers were provided to each of the three naval units, but operational integration was seldom attempted. In fact, throughout Japan, the two air arms operated jointly in only three areas: Tsuiki on Kyushu plus Kobe and Nagoya.

A major part of the problem was astonishingly sparse allocation of fighters to air defense. As late as March 1945, Japan allotted less than one-fifth of its fighters to home defense, and the actual figure only reached 500 in July. By then very few were flying, as Tokyo hoarded its strength for the expected invasion.

In the crucial realm of radar, Japan got a jump on the world—and almost immediately lost its lead. The efficient Yagi-Uda antenna had been invented in 1926, the product of two researchers at Tohoku Imperial University. Professor Hidetsugu Yagi published the first English reference two years later, citing his nation’s work in shortwave research. But such was military secrecy and interservice rivalry that even late in the war few Japanese knew the origin of the device that appeared on downed Allied aircraft.

The Allies rated Japanese radar as “very poor,” and fighter direction remained rudimentary. While land-based radar could detect inbound formations perhaps 200 miles out, the data included neither altitude nor composition. Consequently, picket boats were kept 300 miles at sea to radio visual sightings—of marginal use in cloudy weather. However, what radar systems did exist were easily jammed by American radio countermeasures—aircraft dropping aluminum foil that clogged enemy screens.

Furthermore, the Japanese army and navy established separate warning systems, and seldom exchanged information. Even when unit-level pooling was attempted, navy officers generally refused orders from army officers.

Civilian observers were spread throughout Japan to report enemy aircraft, but predictably there was no unity. The army and navy established their own observer corps, and neither worked with the other.

Japanese navy doctrine contained an internal contradiction for air defense. A 1944 manual asserted, “In order to overcome the disadvantages imposed on fighter plane units when the enemy raids a friendly base—that is, getting fighter planes airborne on equal terms with the enemy airplanes—full use must be made of radar and other lookout methods. . . . These must be employed in the most effective manner.” But as noted, use of radar remained rudimentary.

Some pilots dismissed the state of their nation’s electronics. “Why do we need radar? Men’s eyes see perfectly well.”

Excluding mobile radar sets, at least sixty-four early-warning sites were built in the homeland and offshore islands: thirty-seven navy and twenty-seven army. But the rare assets often were squandered by duplicating effort: at four sites on Kyushu and seven on Honshu, army and navy radars were located almost side by side. The southern approaches to Kyushu and Shikoku were covered by some twenty installations but only two permanent radars are known on all of Shikoku.

Though the huge majority of Japanese radars provided early warning, some sets directed AA guns and searchlights. But apparently there was little integration of the two: some B-29 crews returned with harrowing tales of ten to fifteen minutes in a searchlight’s probing beam with minimal or no flak damage.

Apart from inadequate radar, some of Japan’s technical focus was badly misdirected. From 1940 onward, the military devoted over five years to a “death ray” intended to cause paralysis or death by very short-wave radio waves focused in a high-power beam. The nonportable unit was envisioned for antiaircraft use, but the only model tested had a range much less than firearms.

Tactically, the lack of army-navy cooperation hampered the already limited potential of Japan’s interceptors. With unit commanders conducting their own localized battles, there was little opportunity to concentrate large numbers of fighters against a bomber formation as the Luftwaffe repeatedly achieved.

Overall, Japanese fighters were spectacularly ineffective against B-29s. From more than 31,300 Superfortress sorties over the homeland, only seventy-four were known lost wholly to interceptors and perhaps twenty more in concert with flak guns. Japanese pilots logged their best performances in January and April 1945, each with thirteen bombers downed. But during fifteen months of combat, losses to interceptors amounted to merely 0.24 percent of effective B-29 sorties.

The Strategic Bombing Survey concluded, “The Japanese fighter defense system was no more than fair on paper and distinctly poor in practice. One fundamental matter stands out as the principal reason for its shortcomings—the Japanese planners failed to see the danger of allied air attacks and to give the defense system the requisite priorities.”

Lieutenant General Saburo Endo of Army Air Force Headquarters stated, “Those responsible for control at the beginning of the war did not recognize the true value of aviation . . . therefore one defeat led to another. Although they realized there was a need for merging the army and the navy, nothing was done about it. There were no leaders to unify the political and the war strategies, and the plans executed by the government were very inadequate. National resources were not concentrated to the best advantage.”

In short, in Japan’s military, parochialism trumped efficiency at every turn.

The Russo-Japanese War – Japanese Army I

To many informed observers the advent of the new twentieth century heralded the demise of the old China. Japan’s victory had exposed China’s military weakness, which the western powers were quick to exploit, placing the empire in danger of dismemberment. In January 1898 Germany secured a ninety-nine-year lease on the Shandong Peninsula as a settlement for the murder of two German missionaries. Two months later Russia negotiated a long-term agreement with the Chinese court for a leasehold on the Liaodong Peninsula between Dairen and Port Arthur (where Russian warships had been anchored since the previous December). Great Britain reacted by extracting concessions in April for a naval base at Weihaiwei. France carved out a sphere of influence in southern China, and Japan sought railroad concessions in Fujian opposite its Taiwan colony.

The Boxer Expedition

Popular Chinese resentment over thirty years of foreign humiliation boiled over in 1900 as a series of violent attacks against foreigners led by the Boxers, a secret society that enjoyed covert backing from the Qing court, tapped widespread local support with its antiforeign and anti-Christian rhetoric. The murder of the German ambassador to China and the subsequent Boxer siege of the foreign legation quarter at Peking caused the western powers (Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States) as well as Japan to send troops to north China to rescue the diplomatic missions, protect western missionaries, and punish the Boxers. The Japanese army would use the occasion to showcase its latest military reforms.

A small, hurriedly assembled allied expeditionary force under British command of about 2,000 troops, including approximately 300 Japanese, marched from Tianjin for Peking in early June. On June 12, mixed Boxer and Qing army forces halted the advance by destroying a bridge about 30 miles from the capital. The road-bound and badly outnumbered allies withdrew to the vicinity of Tianjin, having suffered more than 300 casualties.

Aware of the worsening conditions, the general staff in Tokyo drafted ambitious contingency plans, but the cabinet, with fresh and bitter memories of the Tripartite Intervention, refused to deploy large forces unless requested by the western powers. Three days later the general staff did dispatch a 1,300-man provisional force to north China commanded by Maj. Gen. Fukushima Yasumasa, director of the second (intelligence) department, chosen because his fluent English enabled him to communicate with the British commander. Fukushima’s detachment landed on July 5 near Tianjin.

During the interval, a few hundred naval infantry from the Sasebo Special Landing Force had joined British, Russian, and German troops to seize the Dagu forts near Tianjin on June 17, but four days later the Qing court declared war on the foreign powers. The dangerous circumstances compelled the British, then heavily engaged in the Boer War, to ask Japan for additional reinforcements. Overriding personal doubts about supporting what many Japanese thought amounted to a religious crusade by the western powers against the Chinese, Foreign Minister Aoki Shūzō calculated that the advantages of participating in an allied coalition were too attractive to ignore. Prime Minister Yamagata thought likewise, but others in the cabinet demanded guarantees from the westerners in return for the risks and cost of reinforcements. The cabinet alerted the 5th Division on July 6 for China duty but set no timetable for its deployment.

More ground troops were urgently needed to lift the Boxer siege of the foreign legations at Peking, and the Japanese had the only readily available forces in the region. As mentioned, the British army was tied down in South Africa, and it would take too much time and weaken internal security to deploy large forces from its India garrisons. On July 8, the British ambassador to Japan offered Aoki one million British pounds in exchange for more reinforcements. Shortly afterward, advance units of the 5th Division departed for China, bringing Japanese strength to 3,800 personnel of the 17,000-man allied force.

This second, stronger expeditionary army stormed Tianjin on July 14 and occupied the city. The allies then consolidated and awaited the remainder of the 5th Division and other coalition reinforcements. In early August the expedition pushed toward Peking where on August 14 it lifted the Boxer siege. By that time, the 13,000-man Japanese force was the largest single contingent, about 40 percent of the approximately 33,000-man allied expedition.

Japanese troops were on their best behavior throughout the campaign. The 5th Division commander (who had taken operational control from Fukushima) ordered the troops to demonstrate Japan’s brand of discipline, courage, and fortitude in battle to the world. Officers at all levels enforced draconian standards of discipline. Junior officers warned troops that the army would summarily and severely deal with violence against Chinese households, arson, or theft. Rape was punishable by immediate arrest and decapitation. Even minor infractions were harshly punished. Fukushima remained in China to enforce frontline discipline.

Japanese troops acquitted themselves well on all counts, although a British military observer felt their aggressiveness, densely packed formations, and willingness to attack cost them excessive and disproportionate casualties. During the Tianjin fighting, for example, they suffered more than half of the allied casualties (400 of 730) but comprised less than one-quarter of the force (3,800 of 17,000). The story was similar at Peking, where they accounted for almost two-thirds of the losses (280 of 453) but slightly less than half of the assault force. The only major lapse in discipline occurred when all ranks joined their allies in the widespread looting in Peking, apparently with the understanding that whatever the westerners did, the Japanese could do too. A British correspondent noted, however, that the Japanese plundered “so nicely that it did not seem like looting at all.”

As part of the September 1901 settlement with the Chinese court, the coalition powers were allowed to station troops between Tianjin and Peking to protect their nationals and maintain a secure line of communication to the sea. The war ministry activated the China Garrison Army, the designation for army units stationed in North China under terms of the Boxer Protocol. The new army was a provisional unit, not a regular one (whose troop basis was fixed by imperial decree) and drew on elements from several homeland divisions assigned to it on a temporary one-year rotating basis. Other concessions included Russia’s right to retain its reinforced garrisons in Manchuria, pending a phased withdrawal.

The Boxer Rebellion revealed Great Britain’s growing difficulty in maintaining its influence in northeast Asia. The Boer War had drained the British army and forced diplomats to pay Japan to send troops to quell the Boxers and counterbalance Russian military intervention. The European alliance system had isolated Britain internationally, and in East Asia the combined Franco-Russian navies outnumbered the British fleet. Engaged in a naval race with Germany and wary of Russia’s meddling in China and the implications of the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the British needed allies. Japan was likewise diplomatically isolated after the Tripartite Intervention and had to deal with the Russian presence in Manchuria and its potential threat to Korea. By signing the 1902 Anglo-Japanese naval alliance, the parties agreed to respect each other’s interests in China, maintain strict neutrality in case one or the other became involved in a war, and to intervene if a third party entered the conflict. For Britain, the treaty restored the naval balance in East Asian waters and provided an army to check Russian expansion. For Japan, it allowed the army to address the Russian threat to Korea without fear of foreign intervention.

The treaty assumed greater significance when Russia did not withdraw the reinforcements it had sent to Manchuria to protect its railway zones and seemed intent on further expansion. Military engineers were improving the Russian naval base and fortress at Port Arthur, and the Trans-Siberian Railroad was nearing completion. Russia’s greatly improved strategic mobility, particularly the potential to move large units rapidly by rail to Manchuria, alarmed Japan’s leaders, and Yamagata’s repeated warnings of the dangers the railroad posed to Japan’s national interests seemed to be coming true.

Preparations for War

The army had regarded Russia as its traditional enemy, but the general staff only began substantive operational planning for war with Russia in 1900. Initial plans envisaged capturing Port Arthur, followed by a decisive battle near Mukden in Manchuria with secondary amphibious operations directed against Russia’s Maritime Provinces. After the arrival of additional Russian reinforcements in Manchuria during July 1900 and the completion of most sections of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the general staff revised plans in 1901 to focus on the defense of Korea.

The next year Maj. Tanaka Giichi, recently returned from attaché duty in Russia, took charge of a small planning group within the general staff that worked under tight security. By August 1902 it had recast the staff’s war plans into a strategy that, much like the Sino-Japanese conflict, depended on Japan’s naval capabilities. If the navy could control the Yellow Sea, the army could safely deploy troops to the continent and Manchuria would be the main theater of operations. Should the navy only be able to control the Tsushima Strait, the army would land in southern Korea and defend Japanese interests on the peninsula.

For its part, the navy was dissatisfied with the arrangements for imperial headquarters, which, in case of war, would be commanded by an army general. Frustrated by playing second fiddle to the army-dominated IGHQ, naval leaders, especially Adm. Yamamoto Gombei, aggressively demanded changes to the IGHQ regulations to make the naval chief of staff coequal to his army counterpart, in effect the recognition of an independent naval general staff. Gen. Kawakami Sōroku adamantly opposed Yamamoto and insisted that wartime operations had to be based on peacetime plans prepared by a single authority—the army.

After Kawakami’s death in 1899, both services continually appealed to the throne for a resolution of command authority. Finally, in December 1903, with war with Russia looming, army Chief of Staff Gen. Ōyama and Prime Minister Yamagata petitioned the emperor to allow both the chief of the naval general staff and the chief of the general staff to advise the throne on matters of national defense and military operations. This change created a wartime headquarters in which the army and navy general staffs were independent of one another, but did not resolve fundamental issues of joint planning, joint operations, or command and control.

Vice Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Tamura Iyozō was the brain behind the army’s operational and mobilization concepts for the war. Having spent six years as a junior officer studying in Germany, Tamura was one of a handful of Japanese officers well versed in Clausewitz’s theories of war and had matured into a first-rate if conservative strategist. To keep Tamura’s work secret, the army’s annual report submitted to the throne continued to describe a defensive national strategy, even while the general staff rewrote its offensive contingency plans.

When Russian troops did not leave Manchuria as the Boxer Protocol stipulated, on April 21, 1903, the prime and foreign ministers met with senior statesmen at Yamagata’s Kyoto villa, where they agreed to seek a diplomatic solution. If diplomacy failed, they would resort to war. Maj. Gen. Iguchi Shōgo, director of the general affairs department, a hawkish short-war proponent, pressured Tamura to notify the cabinet that the army was ready for war at a moment’s notice. Tamura, however, harbored serious reservations about the army’s combat readiness—the new, enlarged force structure had just become operational—and used the Russian threat to justify greater army expansion.

Army Chief of Staff Field Marshal Ōyama Iwao notified the emperor that Russian meddling in East Asia would erode the overseas gains Japan had made since the restoration and that Russian domination of Korea would directly threaten national security. Immediate military preparations for war were necessary. Amidst these conflicting military assessments, an imperial conference on June 23 concluded that concessions to Russia were possible regarding Manchuria, but Korea was a vital national interest and therefore nonnegotiable.

Tamura died suddenly in October 1903, having literally worked himself to death. His loss was a crushing blow to the general staff coming as it did at a critical juncture in Japanese-Russian relations that found leadership in disarray. Prime Minister Katsura Tarō was indecisive, Yamagata was depressed, and Ōyama was not psychologically ready for war. Gen. Iguchi lamented that the army and the navy were at odds over strategy, and the navy minister was placing parochial service interests above the national good. The only bright spot was Lt. Gen. Kodama Gentarō’s willingness to accept a demotion in order to replace Tamura, an act that Iguchi regarded as proof that “heaven has not yet abandoned our empire.”

Kodama resigned two ministerial portfolios and took a two-rank demotion to serve as army vice chief of staff. Under his guidance in February 1904 the general staff finalized a two-stage campaign plan that sought the destruction of the Russian field armies in Manchuria as well as the Russian Pacific Fleet. During stage one, the First Army would advance to the banks of the Yalu River to prevent a Russian invasion of northern Korea. The Second Army would establish a base of operations on the southeastern Liaodong Peninsula; then the Third Army would land, advance to Port Arthur, isolate the fortress, attack it if necessary, and support the other armies. As the First and Second armies moved north into Manchuria, the smaller Fourth Army would land between them along the northeast bank of the Bohai Gulf to secure their flanks and protect the rail line of communication.

Kodama’s objective was to encircle and destroy the Russian Siberian Independent Corps and the Second Corps near Liaoyang before reinforcements from European Russia could arrive and overwhelm the Japanese with their superior numbers. Staff officers calculated that it would take about six months to move eight divisions from Europe to Manchuria, giving the army that much time to achieve Kodama’s objectives. There were no specific plans for a second year of campaigning.

Unable to resolve the impasse with Russia through diplomacy, the February 4, 1904, imperial conference decided on war. For several days afterward Emperor Meiji was unable to sleep or eat, dreading the possibility of having to report a defeat to his ancestors. He later told the empress that it was not his wish to fight Russia and worried about facing his subjects if Japan lost. Senior army officers were also well aware that Japan could not win a protracted war. Amidst uncertainty and trepidation Japan severed diplomatic relations with Russia on February 6, and two days later, without a formal declaration of war, the navy launched a surprise attack against the Russian squadron moored in the harbor at Port Arthur.

The surprise attack aimed to destroy the Russian fleet at anchor or at least neutralize the enemy fleet by sinking obsolete Japanese transports to block the harbor entrance. Maritime supremacy would then pass to the Japanese navy and permit the army to ship troops safely to Korea’s west coast and the Liaodong Peninsula. Russian contempt for the Japanese led them to underestimate the seriousness of the threat and leave Port Arthur unprepared for a sudden raid. Still, the Japanese naval attack neither destroyed the Russian squadron, although it did heavily damage three capital ships, nor closed the harbor. The Russian fleet-in-being at Port Arthur remained a strategic liability for Japan that would extract a terrible toll on the emperor’s army. On February 10 Meiji issued a memorial declaring war against Russia.

Imperial General Headquarters was established on the palace grounds the next day. Unlike the case during the Sino-Japanese War, the prime and foreign ministers were excluded from the headquarters and the army barred civilian ministers from officially attending IGHQ meetings, although, as will be discussed, informal networks kept civilian leaders well apprised of developments. IGHQ became the official operations center where senior staff officers reported to the emperor on strictly military matters rather than the locus of civilian-military policy formulation. Strategic decision-making occurred during the deliberations of the senior statesmen that usually preceded an imperial conference and made the meeting in the emperor’s presence the highest decision-making mechanism for wartime military and foreign policy issues. There was no formal apparatus to connect military and civilian policy, and the system depended on informal personal relationships cemented by years of working together in the government.

Three subsequent attempts by the navy—in late February, late March, and again in May—to seal the Port Arthur channel by sinking old transports in the mouth of the harbor also failed. The army general staff had scripted a tightly sequenced deployment schedule that depended at every stage on the navy’s support, and with each disappointment, army-navy relations deteriorated. In mid-March, for example, the First Army landed safely near Pyongyang. The general staff then was shocked and dumbfounded when the navy announced that it was postponing further blockship operations against Port Arthur until mid-May. Unable to delay the Second Army’s scheduled May 5 landing on the Liaodong Peninsula, the army had to risk its slow-moving troop transports to possible attack by the Port Arthur squadron in order to meet its short-war timetable.

Meanwhile, the First Army moved north from Inchon and in two days of fighting over April 30 and May 1 pushed the Russians back along the Yalu River near Andong. This minor engagement had major ramifications. The Japanese, regarded by many in the West as quaint little people from an exotic land, had defeated Caucasian troops of a world-class power. Stock markets in New York and London suddenly realized Japan was a sound investment, and foreign purchases of government bonds and offers of loans buoyed the wartime economy. On the home front, however, the public was shocked and critical because the more than 900 Japanese killed or wounded exceeded total battle casualties for the Sino-Japanese War. Vice War Minister Lt. Gen. Ishimoto Shinroku defended the troops’ performance to reporters by attributing the losses to modern weapons technology, not incompetent leadership.

On May 25, the Second Army’s three divisions attacked an entrenched Russian infantry regiment defending Nanshan on the narrow neck of the high ground that separated the northern and southern halves of the Liaodong Peninsula. Fighting began early in the day with a three-hour artillery preparation, followed by a textbook frontal assault against the still mostly intact Russian positions. By midmorning the Second Army had thrown its final reserves into the battle but still could not break the defenses. As artillery ammunition dwindled, casualties mounted, and the troops became exhausted, staff officers recommended that Gen. Oku Yasukata, the Second Army commander, withdraw and regroup. Oku instead ordered renewed attacks, regardless of losses.

Tactical doctrine depended on dense columns to build up sufficient fire superiority to carry a defensive position, but Nanshan’s limited maneuver space canalized infantry attacks into direct frontal assaults. The combination of tactics and terrain left massed attackers exposed to withering Russian fire that inflicted staggering losses before the Russians finally retreated in the late afternoon. The army later described these assaults as “human-bullet attacks” and claimed for public consumption that they epitomized uniquely Japanese virtues of courage, determination, and self-sacrifice. In fact, when staff officers at imperial headquarters received the first official reports of 3,817 casualties in the Nanshan fighting, their immediate reaction was that a careless cipher clerk had mistakenly added an extra digit.

The army’s tactical doctrine was mismatched against modern weapons technology. According to a young captain attached to the Second Army, “It’s not our human-bullet tactics that throw away brave warriors’ lives. It’s the superior Russian fortifications and equipment and our lack of machine gun firepower that gives us no chance of winning. With machine guns extending the distance [of the killing zone], table-top tactics can no longer have any practical application.” Extended lines of skirmishers soon replaced the densely packed columns, and intervals between individual soldiers increased. Some tactical commanders, such as Col. Ichiwara Shinichirō, quickly adapted. Ichiwara’s nonchalant attitude had embarrassed his junior officers during peacetime maneuvers, but at Nanshan he repeatedly rallied his men, ignoring heavy Russian fire. In real fighting, he later remarked, the enemy was less cooperative than on exercises.

Army Chief of Staff Yamagata, Prime Minister Katsura (concurrently an active duty general), War Minister Terauchi Masatake, Manchurian Army commander Ōyama, and his chief of staff, Kodama, gathered at Imperial General Headquarters on June 10 to set the operational direction of war. Katsura participated in IGHQ conferences in his capacity as a retired general officer but was not kept informed officially about operational matters. However, he received accurate information from the senior statesmen (Yamagata and Itō) because the army did provide them accounts of the military situation. Katsura was also a close friend and drinking companion of War Minister Terauchi, who likely passed him information. Because of the cumbersome and exclusionary bureaucratic system, informal personal relations played a crucial role in coordinating military, political, and diplomatic initiatives. A brief review of operations highlights these deficiencies.