Green for Eastertide I

At 1930 hours on the evening of Saturday, 1st April, a train pulled into Dimapur station, loaded with troops and kit. The first contingent of the 2nd Division had arrived—the 7th Worcestershires, and advance detachments from the other two units in the brigade, the Dorsetshires and the Cameron Highlanders. The Brigade Commander, Victor Hawkins, was already in Dimapur, and had reconnoitred a concentration area at Bokajan. This lay eight miles to the north, astride the track from Kohima, and was therefore the obvious place to go. Hawkins planned to build up a fortnight’s supplies of food and ammunition, so that, if necessary, the concentration area could be used as a base for future operations. It cannot be said that Bokajan found great favour with the troops. Geoffrey White of the Dorsets has written:

‘Of all the many jungles we have encountered, I would say unhesitatingly that the Bokajan species was the worst. It was wet and prickly, dank and gloomy, and it was not only rank but stank. By the grace of God and the Japanese, we were only there a very short time.’

If Bokajan didn’t impress the 5th Brigade favourably, Dimapur was even worse. The staff captain 5th Brigade wrote in his diary:

‘The whole place is in one big flap. The L. of C. area are digging and wiring themselves in their offices, and gangs of pioneers are putting slit trenches round the Rest Camp. Transport with wild-eyed Indian drivers is speeding north along the Bokajan road with barely six inches between trucks. Haggard-looking coolies stagger on with loads and the number of refugees gets bigger every hour. They walk slowly along with their whole world on their heads; occasionally one collapses by the road and the others group round, blocking the traffic but doing nothing. Am told there are 80,000 men in this place, but only 10,000 rifles. Can quite believe it. Have never seen so many troops walking around unarmed.’

The 80,000 were coolies employed in the depots which lined the main roads, in areas cut out of the jungle. They could obviously not fight themselves, and would get in the way of anyone else who tried to. Some civilian labour had disappeared altogether. On the 2nd April an officer and his batman, just arrived with 5th Brigade, rode their motorbike into a large canteen issue depot. Walking up to the counter, they found themselves gazing at vast quantities of chocolate, food, toilet requisites, cigarettes, beer, and even whisky. There was not a soul to be seen and their shouts to be served failed to bring anyone. The whole stock was at their disposal. Debating for a moment what might be the most useful stores to take to war, they decided on chocolate, cigarettes, tinned pineapple, and a bottle of whisky, which were all stowed into the saddle bags. The officer then wrote his name and unit on the counter and offered to pay if a bill were sent him. Needless to say, it never was.

But the chaos wasn’t only caused by the coolies and civilian labour. Large numbers of officers and troops who were on their way back to Imphal from leave when the road was cut were hanging around idly in the Rest Camps. Some of them, under the Area Staff, were formed into defensive companies and others were sent out on patrols. But they were very depressed and hated the whole business; if they were going to fight the Japs, they wanted to do so with their own units.

The chaos, understandably, extended into the Area offices; some people said it started there. The staff officers, like their commander, weren’t trained or equipped to conduct operations, and their dealings with the staff of 5th Brigade who walked in, demanding transport, rations, defence stores, tarpaulins, ammunition, all in vast quantities on demand, were not very happy. One officer, being pressed for mortar ammunition, threw up his hands and declared piteously: ‘Dear God, I didn’t come here to fight a war!’ As already mentioned, the whole of 2nd Division’s transport was still on the road, including the R.A.S.C. transport trucks. This made the business of concentrating the brigade and building up supplies extremely difficult. The staff had to keep ‘scrounging’ trucks, then holding on to them in the face of angry demands for their return. For the first two days the staffs were even denied transport for themselves and had to walk from place to place. Eventually, Victor Hawkins got an issue of transport agreed with General Ranking, which improved matters a little. But the Division was still coming in at the rate of a train-load per day. There was no sign of any guns; and a group of staff officers and junior commanders, who had been sent ahead on a fast train, had vanished without trace. The frenzy and the fears of this time were expressed by an officer who wrote on the 2nd April: ‘Couldn’t sleep last night. My nerves are on edge. Not exactly through fear, but because I’m furious that our magnificent 2 Div. should be sent dribbling into this party without guns or tanks or workshops or transport. Lord, give us time and we’ll ask for nothing else….’

But time, like tarpaulins and a good many other stores, was in short supply, both at Dimapur and Kohima.


On the afternoon of the 31st March, Richards watched the Royal West Kents get in their trucks and move down the road for Nichugard. All he could do now was shorten his line, set his men at work digging for dear life, and stock up the forward posts with food, water, and ammunition. The evacuation of non-fighting personnel was still going on—and would do till the road was cut—but it was under control of 253 Sub-Area, and Richards was neither advised nor consulted. How many men would be left to fight and how many still to be fed, he’d still no idea. His allocation of troops at this moment was as follows: G.P.T. (General Purposes Transport) Ridge, to the south, a composite company of Indian troops, with some V Force men, a company of Gurkha troops, and a few rear details of the Assam Regiment. A roadblock to the south of this position was manned by some Gurkhas under a British officer. On Jail Hill, there was a rifle company of the 5th Burma Regiment and a Garrison company of the same regiment. On D.I.S. and F.S.D., two platoons of Mahrattas, some V Force troops, a composite company of Indian infantry, some R.I.A.S.C. men, and a G.P.T. company under a regular Indian Army officer, Major Rawlley. Kuki Piquet, one of the hillocks on the ridge, between Garrison Hill and F.S.D., was held solely by some V Force men. The D.C.’s bungalow was held by a party of British troops, while the I.G.H. Spur was held by the Assam Rifles, commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Keene. On Summerhouse Hill there were some State troops, who also maintained a detachment on Naga Village, the high ground to the north. Five regimental aid posts were set up for the various sectors, and telephone lines were run out to the unit command posts round the perimeter. In the time available, Richards also made his supply arrangements as comprehensive as possible. Fifteen days’ rations were distributed, of which seven were the ordinary rations and the remainder were ‘hard’. Two-inch and three-inch mortar ammunition was carried to the perimeter posts, together with smoke grenades, Mills bombs, and Verey light cartridges. As long as the men were alive, they would have something to fight with.

But water was a different matter. In the D.C.’s bungalow compound there was a large metal tank, filled by a pipe running from the Aradura Spur via G.P.T. Ridge. This pipe would obviously be cut very early in the battle. To help matters, the engineers had dug in two tarpaulin tanks, and there were six steel tanks at points between the bungalow and the F.S.D. How long these would remain unholed, once things got started, was very doubtful; and water would obviously be one of the main problems. The only hope, if things got really bad, was supply from the air.

Even more important than water was morale; fortunately the departure of the Royal West Kents had left this unimpaired, many of the troops being unaware of what had happened.

Some time during the 1st April, Richards received an operation order from Ranking which informed him that the garrison would be reinforced by the Assam Regiment ‘if extracted from Jessami’. But, being an experienced soldier, Richards contained any optimism in this respect; he knew that the battalion must have been severely mauled, even if it escaped intact. The order continued: ‘You will command the garrison of Kohima, and will deny Kohima to the enemy as long as possible without being destroyed yourselves…. The decision as to the precise moment when it will be necessary to withdraw from Kohima must be made by you.’ This sentence revealed that Ranking wasn’t subject to any false optimism either, and was obviously expecting the whole ridge to be taken. At the tail end of the document came detailed orders concerning the destruction of supplies, vehicles, secret documents, ciphers, and signal equipment. Richards was told to take action so that this could be carried out immediately, but refused. As he says: ‘Nothing could be more unfortunate or undesirable than that there should get abroad any idea of the possibility of a withdrawal from Kohima, however remote. I therefore put the order in my pocket and neither showed it or mentioned it to anyone except Colonel Borrowman, my second-in-command.’ One can’t help remarking that Richards was wise in this decision, as in another. He had been told to ask Pawsey to inform the Nagas that if the British withdrew from Kohima, it was still their intention ‘to return and destroy all the Japanese west of the Chindwin’. He decided that any premature announcement would be very dangerous indeed, and left the matter to be decided on the outcome of events.

On the 2nd April 33rd Corps headquarters opened at Jorhat and General Stopford assumed command of all troops in the Assam and Surma valleys. The tasks given him by Slim were: to prevent enemy penetration into those areas, to keep open the line of communications between Dimapur and Kohima, and to be prepared to move to the assistance of 4th Corps and help in all possible ways to destroy the Japanese forces west of the Chindwin. The speed with which these tasks could be accomplished depended very much on the speed with which his troops could be concentrated. Stopford’s estimation was that by mid-April he would have the whole 2nd Division, 161st Brigade, 33rd Brigade (from 7th Indian Division), the Lushai Brigade, a regiment of armoured cars, a squadron of light tanks, and possibly a squadron of medium tanks. But the next ten days or so, while these units trundled over the ramshackle railway system of north-eastern India, were going to be anxious ones. As to the enemy, Stopford’s information was that two regiments only were moving on Kohima, the 124th Regiment (which was moving at the rear of the Main Column) having been ‘lost’ by the Intelligence. What he was afraid of was that the lost regiment would move via Layshi into the Assam Valley, with Gologhat and Mariani as its objectives.

Meanwhile, another problem was raising its head. The 2nd Division was heavily mechanized and unequipped for fighting in mountainous country. Unless it were to be tied to the road during its advance towards Imphal, which would make tactical movement impossible, it would have to be found mule transport and instructed in its use. An urgent signal, therefore went to 14th Army for mule companies, though whether they could be spared seemed very doubtful.

Mountbatten, however, had good news this day. A signal from the Chiefs of Staff informed him that from Britain and the Mediterranean he would soon be receiving a total of ninety-nine transport aircraft. These would enable him to supply 4th Corps in Imphal by air, as planned—though not indefinitely. The signal added that seventy-nine of the aircraft must go back by the middle of May, as they were required for an operation in Italy.

In the afternoon of the 3rd April, there was a conference at Jorhat attended by Mountbatten, Slim, Stopford, and other commanders. Slim outlined the situation at Dimapur and Kohima, and said the latter must be held if possible, ‘since it would be hard to recapture, and its loss would undermine Naga loyalty’. He added that he had told Stopford to reinforce the garrison, ‘as soon as he could do so without endangering the safety of Dimapur’. Exactly when that moment would come, it was still impossible to say.

While the higher command was meeting at Jorhat, ‘Bruno’ Brown and a party of survivors from Jessami were climbing up the slope of Garrison Hill at Kohima, to report to Richards’ headquarters. They were tired and foot-sore, but each man carried his weapon and was determined to fight on. The urgency of the situation precluded any courtesies, or any rest, and before long the troops were at their allotted sectors on the perimeter and hard at work improving them. Before dark, other small groups of men came streaming in, both from Jessami and Kharasom, some with officers and some without. Fortunately the Assam Rifles’ Quartermaster was on hand to replace torn or blood-matted clothing and issue items of personal kit. He also saw to it that the men were fed. By the time the last stragglers had reported, 260 officers and men of the Regiment were available to help in the fight, some indication of the spirit of this young battalion.

Some time in the afternoon the Nagas brought in news of an enemy concentration at Mao Songsang, twenty miles to the south on the Imphal road. (This was part of Miyazaki’s column, which was now preparing to move north.) In the evening, Richards sent out a fighting patrol, under Major Giles, with orders to get up into the high jungle on the Aradura Spur and harass the enemy. To their surprise, when darkness had fallen, the patrol heard the sound of digging close by, then movement behind them. Giles came to the conclusion that he was being surrounded, so collected his men together, ordered ‘fix bayonets’, and charged. After a number of Japs had been killed the patrol was able to extricate itself and streamed back into the perimeter. This was the first contact with the enemy at Kohima.

By the 4th April, Richards had moved his headquarters to its battle position in a dugout on the slope of Garrison Hill, facing Naga Village; and on the morning of that day he made a tour of the perimeter. Though food and ammunition was now in position in adequate quantities, one problem, he hadn’t been able to solve was barbed wire. There was not a foot of it anywhere in the position. Why this should have been it is even now impossible to say; the depots in Dimapur were full of it, the Assam Regiment had drawn all they needed for Jessami and Kharasom, and the incoming units of 5th Brigade were collecting supplies without difficulty. But Richards’ requests, more urgent with every day that went by, had been ignored by 202 Area; and personal pleas to Ranking had produced no action either. By the 3rd April it was obvious that no wire would ever come, so Pawsey collected his Nagas together and they made some sharp stakes, or panjies, which were rammed into the ground in rows to make some sort of obstacle. But the lack of wire still remained a great worry. The atmosphere at this time has been described by Peter Steyn: ‘Tension mounted slowly and the question of whether Kohima could survive an attack was on everyone’s lips. The answer lay in the realms of conjecture, but hopes and spirits were high. And so the last night of peace began….’

It lasted till just before midnight, when the Japanese attacked the lower slopes of the Aradura Spur, where an ambush had been prepared by a platoon of the State troops. Unfortunately, the latter weren’t equal to the occasion and, after a bout of wild firing in all directions, they broke and ran. Some went right through the G.P.T. Ridge and Jail Hill positions, and a few kept going till Dimapur. Richards tried to stop the wild firing, knowing its effect on morale, but as soon as one sector had been dealt with, the jitters spread to another.

Earlier on the 4th, Stopford had flown to Dimapur for a conference with Grover and Ranking. On arrival, he found a ‘very optimistic atmosphere’, as reports from various sources indicated ‘that 31st Jap Div. is of poor quality and demoralized’. Where these reports came from, it is now difficult to say, and all one can remark is that they were woefully inaccurate. However, it was at this meeting that Stopford came to an important decision, as he recorded: ‘Everything indicates that no attack is now likely to develop in the Manipur Road base [i.e. Dimapur] and that we should withdraw troops from there in order to strengthen the garrison at Kohima…. Told Ranking to send forward one battalion Of 161 Inf. Bde. to Kohima as quickly as possible.’ In fact, after further discussion, it was decided to despatch the whole Brigade. This decision, a reversal of the one given a few days previously, was undoubtedly right; but unhappily it came twenty-four hours too late.

While Stopford was holding his conference, another important event was happening at Imphal: 4th Corps completed its withdrawal to the plain. The 17th, 20th, and 23rd Indian Divisions were now on their chosen ground, though encircled by the Japanese 15th and 33rd Divisions, and the I.N.A. forces. The 17th Division, which had already sustained heavy casualties was tired, but the 20th and 23rd Divisions had experienced an easier passage. All were now prepared for the onslaught to come. But as Scoones and his men all realized, the outcome of the battle depended not only on their own skill and gallantry, but on the success of the airlift and the length of time it could be maintained. They knew also that their own fate was now inextricably linked to the fate of their comrades at Kohima.

Mutaguchi, of course, knew this too, and Sato. By the night of the 4th, the latter had established his headquarters at Khanjang, Southeast of Jessami; and his orders to Miyazaki and his regimental commanders were: ‘Capture Kohima—at once.’


Green for Eastertide II

Defeat into Victory

On the morning of the 5th April, Richards carried out a tour of the perimeter to find that some Indian troops had come off the western end of G.P.T. Ridge (the southern end of the position) during the night. There was no alternative but to shorten the perimeter and dig new positions to close the gap. Tentage in front of these had to be struck, to provide a field of fire. The job was given to a company made up of Gurkhas from the reinforcement camp, and they hadn’t long started when sniping broke out, causing casualties. However, they behaved calmly, and went on till the ground was clear, then took over this sector on G.P.T. Ridge, helped by a platoon from the Assam Regiment.

In the afternoon, the 58th Regiment got ready to attack Kohima from the east. Apparently, unknown to the garrison, its advance guard had entered Naga Village the previous night. Captain Tsuneo Sanukawae of the nth Company has written:

‘We entered Naga Village at 4 a.m. on the 5th. The town was fast asleep. After dealing with the sentries we occupied seven depots and took about thirty trucks. The enemy had not noticed our advance and at 9 a.m. came to the depots to draw their rations. We got them and made them prisoner. At 10 a.m. I was prepared to attack the town, but at that moment we were fired on by artillery. At 1300 hours we informed our main body that we had occupied Kohima Village, and an hour later they arrived. We could not say we had won Kohima until we had gained the hill beyond the road junction, so we attacked…. Praying to God, we rushed into action, under cover of light machine-gun fire, throwing grenades as we went.’

Naoje Koboyashi, another member of the Company, has written in similar vein:

‘When we reached Kohima we were all tired out after the ceaseless advance day and night, and the troops fell asleep where they were. At first light I looked across towards the Hill [i.e. Garrison Hill] and could see the enemy soldiers walking about… they still seemed not to realize we were there.’

At this point it may be worth mentioning that the 58th Regiment was the crack formation of the Division, with a proud tradition and a long series of victories behind it. The Regimental depot was at Echigo, in the Niigato Prefecture, 150 miles north of Tokyo, on the west coast. This is an area famous for its rice harvest, and most of the men were of farming stock. They were, therefore, tough, self-reliant, and accustomed to hardship. Most of them had seven or eight years service behind them. The 58th considered themselves superior to the 13 8th, and had no great opinion of the 124th at all. However, they had been somewhat shaken by the action at Sangshak and by the ferocious defence put up by Hope-Thompson’s brigade. Many good officers and N.C.O.s had gone down leading attacks, and the Regiment arrived at Kohima somewhat mauled, and temporarily exhausted. However, its fighting spirit and morale still remained unimpaired; and in a matter of hours it was launched into the attack.

This was led by Captain Nageie of the 2nd Battalion, but it was broken up, largely thanks to the mortars of the Assam Regiment, operating from Jail Hill. Unfortunately, however, they were knocked out and there was no choice but to evacuate the whole of G.P.T. Ridge. It was while this operation was being carried out that the 4th Royal West Kents arrived, under their commanding officer, Lieut.-Colonel Laverty. Warned that the unit would be coming, Richards had laid on guides for each company and went down to the road to welcome Laverty in person. As Richards records, the meeting was not a happy one: ‘Laverty merely asked, “Where’s Kuki Piquet?” I told him and he went off without speaking further.’ Fortunately, the battalion got into position without being shelled and occupied the D.I.S., Kuki Piquet and sectors of the perimeter on Garrison Hill and I.G.H. Spur. With it came a troop of the 20th Mountain Battery, a platoon of sappers and a detachment of 75 Indian Field Ambulance.

As the troops of the Royal West Kents sorted themselves out and slid into their weapon pits, Richards had a talk with Major Dick Yeo, the gunner, who was digging in his 3.7 howitzers in the garden by the D.C.’s bungalow. He had not got out many words, however, when the Jap artillery began plastering the area. Moving over to Laverty’s headquarters, Richards was in time to see the enemy launch an attack on Jail Hill. The defenders replied with rifle and Bren fire, and all the grenades they could lay their hands on; but, unsupported by artillery or mortar fire, they obviously couldn’t hold out long, and as the enemy mortars took their toll and casualties mounted, gaps began to appear. Soon the Japs got a foothold on the near side of the road, and it became clear that, if Jail Hill was to be held, a counter-attack must go in at once. This was organized by Lieutenant Brown and Subadar Kapthuama Lushai, of the Assam Regiment, but it made no headway and, when Brown was killed, immediately broke up. So within twenty-four hours the perimeter was shortened for the second time.

To say that the Royal West Kents were displeased to be pushed back into Kohima, and invited to fight alongside the motley collection of detachments which formed the bulk of its garrison, was an understatement. They were horrified; and one cannot blame them. Troops in the field like to fight alongside their sister units which they have grown to know and trust; and under their own commanders. They like their own gunners to support them, their own R.A.S.C. or I.A.S.C. to supply them, and their own doctors to look after them. They tend to despise base or L. of C. troops, and prefer to have as little to do with them as possible. The idea of going into battle with them is anathema.

But to understand the feeling of the Royal West Kents is not to uphold their prejudices. In fact, the Assam Regiment and the Assam Rifles had already fought the Japanese with great gallantry; and the scratch companies of British and Gurkhas possessed great fighting quality too. Some officers of the Royal West Kents began to appreciate this; but, on the whole, mistrust dispersed very slowly and in some quarters not at all.

The man who bore the brunt of this mistrust and suspicion was undoubtedly Colonel Richards. Many accusations were made about him at the time, and many have been since; but all have proved entirely without basis or fact, though only now is the record being put straight. Richards, as must be evident, had a most unenviable task. He had been trying to plan the defence of Kohima without any idea as to the troops he would have allocated, and his administration was of necessity hasty and improvised. As the Royal West Kents observed caustically, the defences were badly dug; but they had mostly been completed by civilian labour before Richards arrived. The arrangements for water supply, as they observed also, were quite inadequate; but Richards had had no time to institute engineering works, even if there had been men to carry them out. The medical arrangements were unsatisfactory too; but until it was known which medical units would be in the siege, more advanced arrangements were out of the question. However, Richards was the commander; and unjustly took the blame.

It cannot be said that Brigadier Warren helped the situation either. As already mentioned, he was very pro-Indian and very anti-British service; and he resented the fact that Richards, whose experience lay solely with British and West African troops, should be in command of a garrison containing Indians and Gurkhas. From the first day of the siege, Warren refused to deal with Richards and spoke to Laverty direct. In his own phrase, he regarded Laverty as ‘the tactical commander of the Kohima box’.

However, in his major decision, perhaps the most important of his whole career, Warren did more than any one man to save Kohima. This decision was to form a second box with the other two battalions and eight of his guns at Jotsoma, two miles along the road towards Dimapur. Pushed forward again on the 5th, his orders had been to put the whole brigade into Kohima, but with the perimeter shortened and the enemy already attacking it, he realized that the situation had changed completely. There was no longer enough room for three battalions and, not less important, there was no position from which to fire his guns. With his excellent eye for ground, Warren at once appreciated the dominant position of Naga Village, to the north of the perimeter, but it was very doubtful if he could reach it; and the tactical situation demanded that he should be on the Northwest, that is the Dimapur side of Kohima, so that he could link up with the 2nd Division when they advanced along the road. After a quick reconnaissance, he decided on an area near the village of Jotsoma, just over two miles from Kohima. It was not an ideal defensive position by any means, but it commanded an excellent view of Kohima Ridge, and was near enough for the guns to give close support to the garrison. There was another point in its favour: Warren had a good deal of transport, which had to be brought into the defended area, and, by a stroke of luck, Jotsoma was on a loop road running up to the high ground, from milestone 431, and descending three miles later. The road junctions were dubbed ‘Lancaster Gate’ and ‘Paternoster Row’, and so they were known throughout the campaign. All day during the 6th April, Warren’s men moved up to Jotsoma, and quickly prepared their defensive position. The Rajputs (less one company which had succeeded in joining the garrison of Kohima) occupied the Southeastern sector, and the Punjabs closed the box to the north and east. Meanwhile, the guns of the 2nd Battery, waiting on the road at milestone 42, provided a sitting target for the Jap mountain gunners, now established over the valley to the north, on Merema Ridge. Shells rained down among the hastily scooped-out gun pits, but by some miracle did no damage; and when the 2nd Battery began returning the fire, the Japs immediately took their guns out of action. Major John Nettlefield records: ‘Shortly afterwards, an elephant carrying what our binoculars seemed to indicate was another mountain gun, was spotted ambling along the Bokajan track. Our first round landed very close and the elephant was seen to charge, apparently out of control, into the nearby cover. We followed up with a few more rounds for luck—we were sorry about the elephant, but it was war…’ By the late afternoon the eight guns were in position on a reverse slope in the Jotsoma box, and radio contact was made with Major Yeo in the garrison. Immediately the guns began registering, and laying on defensive fire tasks, which could be called for as required by the garrison. They were required at once, and at short intervals for many days. At the peak of their activity these Indian mountain gunners were firing at the rate of 400 rounds per gun per day; and despite the pressure, the infantry recorded that they had never seen such accurate shooting in their lives.

The night of the 5th April had been a quiet one for the Kohima Garrison; but Colonel Fukunaga, commanding the 58th Japanese Regiment, had been at work planning an attack on Jail Hill for the next morning. Soon after first light, heralded by a heavy mortar barrage, it went in and the defenders were driven off. The Japanese suffered heavily in this engagement, and Captain Nageie was killed at the head of his men. (In Japanese accounts, incidentally, Jail Hill is known as ‘Uma Hill’ and Garrison Hill is usually called ‘Deputy Commissioner’s Hill’.) An incorrect report reached Laverty that only a platoon of Japanese had been involved in the action, so he at once ordered a company to stage a counter-attack. Preparations were at once put in hand, but it soon became evident that there was something like two companies of Japanese on the hill, firmly established in defensive positions. Any assault would have involved the garrison in a large number of casualties which it hadn’t the faculties to handle, so the operation was called off. The loss of jail Hill was serious, however, as it dominated the D.I.S. and F.S.D., though fortunately the woods still gave the men on the perimeter a good deal of cover.

Right through the 6th there was intermittent shelling and mortaring, which made movement within the perimeter increasingly dangerous. Troops had to keep in or near their trenches and the business of distributing food and water became almost impossible in the hours of daylight. But some movement had to take place: as obviously the D.I.S. and F.S.D. would be the enemy’s next objectives, all non-combatants had to be cleared out and found a place on I.G.H. Spur.


At Maymyo General Mutaguchi was not displeased with the march of events. His 33rd and 15th Divisions were now battering at the gates of Imphal, while his fellow member of the ‘Cherry Society’, General Sato, had reached Kohima at the appointed time, and signals indicated that he had already secured two-thirds of the objective.

It was not mere chance that Sato hit the jeep track running from the Chindwin to Jessami and Kohima. Since December 1943 a Lieutenant Masa Nishida and a mixed party of Japanese troops and Indians (all disguised as natives) had been operating in the country between the Chindwin and Kohima with orders to reconnoitre five routes for the 31 st Division. All the men had been specially selected and trained at the Nakana School for espionage in Tokyo, and they accomplished their mission brilliantly, though not without some hair-raising escapes and adventures. The fact that the track had been built at all by his enemies was, of course, a slice of luck for Sato; but, as Clausewitz remarks, ‘War is the province of chance’ and, with an operation as daring as the advance on Kohima, Sato was surely entitled to any luck that was going.

In general, the situation looked so promising that Mutaguchi permitted himself a few moments of his ‘private speculations’. Interpreting the intelligence reports which came flooding in from Assam, he suddenly realized that there was a ripe plum ready for picking: the base of Dimapur. This had not figured largely in the initial planning of the campaign, the generals probably assuming that it would be heavily defended; but now it was at his mercy. If Sato took it, which he should be able to do with a regimental group, the British could neither reinforce their beleaguered troops in Kohima and the Imphal Plain, nor use the railway to retreat to India. The whole central front would be paralysed, then smashed. Mutaguchi sent off two signals, the first to Sato ordering him to advance on Dimapur at once, cut the railway, and secure food and supplies for his troops; and the second to General Kawabe, commander of the Southern Area Army, asking him to signal Count Terauchi to request the air cover to Dimapur. Once this request had been agreed, so Mutaguchi calculated, Sato could reach Dimapur in three days. But it was not agreed; Kawabe replied immediately that ‘Dimapur is not within the strategic objectives of the 15th Army’. Mutaguchi protested, giving his own interpretation of the order, but Kawabe remained adamant.

The reason for the difference in interpretation was this. The Japanese generals had argued so bitterly among themselves during 1943 that the final orders for the Burma offensive were something of a compromise. The instructions sent to Kawabe by Imperial Army in Headquarters on the 7th January 1944 ran as follows: ‘C.-in-C. Southern Army will break the enemy on his front at the opportune time, and will capture and secure the strategic areas near Imphal and in North-East India for the defence of Burma.’ But what were ‘the strategic areas’ and how far did they extend? The phrase was a vague one, capable of many interpretations; Kawabe interpreted it strictly, and Mutaguchi more liberally, stretching it to accommodate his daydreams. Mutaguchi was right, there could be no doubt whatsoever; this was what Napoleon called ‘the favourable moment’, and Sato had only to hold Dimapur for a month to bring the British to the brink of disaster. But Mutaguchi dared not disobey Kawabe; and the moment passed. Sato’s troops were called back, to join in the fight for Kohima.

On the night of the 6th April, Lieut.-Colonel John Young, commander of the 75th Field Ambulance, made his way into the perimeter and took charge of all the medical arrangements. Deciding that the five aid posts should be amalgamated into an A.D.S. (Advanced Dressing Station), he sited this on the reverse slopes of Summerhouse Hill, not far from the Royal West Kents’ command post. Men of the Pioneer Corps dug trenches for the wounded, and Young designed a large pit, covered by a tarpaulin, for an operating theatre. Though this was the most sheltered spot to be found, it was by no means ideal, and the condition of the wounded, lying out in the slit trenches, was pitiable in the extreme. The whole area was shelled and mortared day and night, and some of the men were wounded a second time, and others killed. The officers kept their revolvers loaded under the blankets, ready to shoot themselves if the Japanese broke through the perimeter. Young was quite tireless, and an inspiration to all the medical staff and stretcher-bearers. He attended the wounded in the open, quite regardless of his own personal safety, and on one occasion led a party outside the box to retrieve some medical supplies from a lorry on the road.

On the night of the 6th, the 2nd and 5th Companies of the 58th launched their attack on the D.I.S. and F.S.D., coming in two columns from Jail Hill. Both these features were protected on the western flank by steep banks and the Japanese had to cross the road to reach them. It was here that the guns of Jotsoma caught them, firing on a prearranged defence task. Dozens of the attackers went down on the tarmac, and many more, having survived this curtain of fire, were destroyed by the rifle and Bren gun fire which poured down at them from the defence posts, and by the grenades which came rolling down the banks. The first attack faltered, stopped, then broke up; but a second wave came on, then a third, then a fourth. But the covering fire from the Japanese mortars was accurate, and as time went on gaps appeared in the forward rifle pits. Small parties of Japanese streamed through these gaps and made for the bashas and huts on the hilltop. Here they found a good store of grenades, which they began using with good effect against ‘C’ Company of the Royal West Kents, who had to throw out a protective flank. Nothing could be done about these insurgents till daylight, however, as any action within the box might result in casualties to friend as well as foe.

Green for Eastertide III

When daylight came, Laverty soon saw the Japanese intruders were concentrated in the bakery area, where ovens were dotted over the hillside, and he ordered his ‘D’ Company to destroy them. The job was tricky, not only because the trees obscured observation, but because the enemy now had some 75-mm. guns on G.P.T. Ridge, which were able to shoot up the advancing company in the flank. However, the attack went in; the Royal West Kents poured small arms fire into the bashas and the vehicles which were parked among them, then gave covering fire for the sappers, who rushed forward with pole charges. A series of explosions shook the hill, then the whole area became a sheet of flame through which a number of figures could be seen running. The first of these turned out to be Indian troops the Japanese had captured, and they were followed by the Japanese themselves. Fire was already belching from many of them, but others, rather than face the encircling guns, fried to death where they were. And some, perhaps the most foolish party of all, took refuge in the ovens, thinking perhaps that the brickwork would save them. But unfortunately for them, the basha containing the ovens attracted the attention of Lance-Corporal John Harman, a brilliant soldier who was soon to win the V.C. As he approached the basha, one of the Japs let off some shots which missed him, and Harman ran back to his section post for a box of grenades. Dragging this along behind him, he returned to the basha, went inside, and took cover behind the nearest oven. Here he took a grenade out of the box, removed the pin and let the safety lever fly, then counted three seconds. Quickly, before the grenade blew up on the fourth, he lifted the steel lid and popped it into the oven. There was an explosion and the Jap inside was killed; and Harman dragged his box of grenades along to the next oven. In the end, he had dealt with all ten. Curiously enough, when he went to inspect the insides of the ovens, two of the Japs were still alive, though badly wounded. These he dragged out into the open, then, putting one under each arm, carried them across to his section post. The men began cheering, and soon the excitement spread from post to post. In all, forty-four Japanese bodies were counted in the bakery area. Later, so it was realized, one of the men brought across by Harman was an officer of the 58th Regiment, and in his haversack was discovered a panorama of Kohima, indicating Japanese artillery positions. He also had a survey map, from which it appeared that his regiment was deployed with a battalion on Naga Village, whose objectives were the Treasury and the D.C.’s bungalow, at the northern end of the perimeter, a battalion on Jail Hill and G.P.T. Ridge, and a battalion in reserve on the Imphal road. The regiment’s supply base was marked at Khangjang, where also was located Sato’s divisional headquarters.

According to accounts written by Japanese soldiers after the battle, this attack was led by Captain Shiro Sato (no relation to the General), who took over the 2nd Battalion on the death of Captain Nageie. Their attacks were broken up, they say, ‘by heavy artillery fire, and when daylight came we had over sixty casualties. Then the artillery fire became so deadly that Sato decided it was better to attack than to be killed where we were, and ordered the advance.’

The Battalion Commander, Major Shimanoe, described this action as ‘a crushing defeat for the 58th Regiment’. Never in its history had it encountered such determination in defence. Some of the men could be heard complaining: ‘This is even worse than Sangshak.’

Another notable event happened this day: a Company of the 4th/7th Rajputana Rifles from the Jotsoma Box, managed to slip into the perimeter. They made a very welcome addition to the garrison.

Richards was now very much occupied with administrative problems.

The Japanese had cut the water supply on G.P.T. Ridge and only a trickle was coming through the pipe. Orders had therefore to be issued, rationing each man to a pint a day, a pitiable amount in the warm climate, and in the heat of battle. Fighting is the most dehydrating occupation known to man. Lieut.-Colonel Borrowman, now Richards’s second-in-command, worked hard at the administrative arrangements, as did Major Franklin, second-in-command of the Royal West Kents. A large number of chagals (canvas water containers) were available, and using these, and anything else they could improvise, the troops showed great ingenuity in dodging snipers and mortar fire, to brew up ‘char’. The constant shelling and mortaring, however, was ripping the leaves off the branches and the branches off the trees, so that each day the position became more exposed. Even the luxuriant growth of rhododendrons surrounding the D.C.’s bungalow and the Club area was ravaged, though some hardy bushes blossomed unconcerned. The sniping grew so bad that all movement in the daytime in the neighbourhood of Richards’s headquarters became extremely hazardous. His wireless set had failed on the morning of the 5th, as the batteries were exhausted and his charging engine had not arrived. He mentioned the matter to Laverty, to be told that the Royal West Kents’ engine had all it could do recharging their own batteries. So Richards was now cut off from the outside world, and all signals from Warren or anyone else had to go to Laverty.

The number of walking wounded was beginning to mount up; and Colonel Young considered that, as they’d been able to walk in, they should be able to walk out. So a party was organized, the guide being Lieutenant Corlett (the Assam Regiment subaltern who had taken the withdrawal message through to Jessami), helped by a Naga detailed by Charles Pawsey. The commander of the party was Major Franklin, and a platoon of the 4th/7th Rajputana Rifles, from the company just arrived, acted as escort. When evening came, and there was a lull in the fighting, the party, which now totalled some 100 wounded, plus some non-combatants, slipped out of the perimeter by I.G.H. Spur with the escort, and made its way down the precipitous slopes into the Zubza nala. The risks were great, as everyone knew, and if they bumped anything but a small patrol they’d be lucky to survive the journey. However, all went well; no Japs were encountered and for once the guides didn’t lose the way. By daylight the party were safe in Zubza, without a wounded man being lost.

On the night of the 7th, the garrison expected a heavy attack, but it didn’t materialize. When the Japs were heard forming up on the slopes of Jail Hill for an attack on the D.I.S., Major Yeo called for defensive fire from the guns at Jotsoma, which was brought down in a matter of seconds. An attack came in, but it had obviously been broken up and disorganized by the shell fire and wasn’t pressed home. Later that night, there was an attack on the D.C.’s bungalow area, but the British troops there were never in any trouble and the action petered out. Despite these minor successes, however, Richards kept any signs of optimism well under control; just after dark, he had seen a column of lanterns moving into Naga Village, obviously carried by reinforcements moving up from Jessami. He pointed out the column to Yeo, hoping that it might just be in range of the guns at Jotsoma, but unhappily it wasn’t. More frustrating still, the guns Yeo had manhandled on to Summerhouse Hill couldn’t be used against the target either; the only possible site for them, on a reverse slope, was now full of wounded. So the Japs were allowed to settle into their new position unmolested. And next morning Richards saw five elephants moving along the track, carrying more guns.

During periods of silence during the night, the Japs had brought another weapon into action: the loudspeaker. It had been set up near the Treasury, and an Indian of the I.N. A. came on, speaking in Urdu: ‘Hindustan ki jawan!’ he called, ‘Soldiers of India, the Japanese army has surrounded you. Bring your rifle and come over to us. We are liberating India from the iniquities and tyrannies of British rule.’ Someone let off a burst of Bren towards the speaker, but the voice still went on, repeating the same message over and over again. What the Indian troops thought of it, it’s hard to say. But certainly none of them moved from their weapon pits.

During this period, as more companies and platoons of the 58th came to join their comrades investing Kohima, there were inevitably men who were going into action for the first time. Naturally, their officers and N.C.O.s tried to relieve the tension by various means, some of them rather crude as in this story told by Lieutenant Seisaku Kameyama of the 2nd Battalion:

‘“You see,” I said to my soldiers, “keep your heads, keep cool. If you want to find out just how cool you are feeling, put your hands inside your trousers and feel your penis—if it is hanging down, it is good.” I tested mine, but it was shrunk up so hard I could hardly grasp it. More than thirty soldiers did the same thing, then looked at me curiously, but I kept a poker-face. I said, “Well, mine’s down all right. If yours is shrunk up, it’s because you’re scared.”

Then a young soldier said to me: “Sir, I can’t find mine at all. What’s happening to it?” With this everyone burst out laughing and I knew I had got the confidence of the men.’

The platoon went into action, and by nightfall only eighteen men out of thirty were left.

On the 7th, Stopford had passed an order to Warren via General Ranking, that he must get on and stage a counter-attack to regain the ground that had been lost on G.P.T. Ridge and Jail Hill. Warren replied that he was collecting information ‘to make sure that my attack goes in at the right place’. What he didn’t appreciate was that Miyazaki and the 58th Regiment were steadily working round his western flank and would soon be cutting him off.

Meanwhile, Stopford was hard at work on the plans for his counter-offensive. Though he had a great respect for Slim, his admiration for the 14th Army staff was minimal; and with the considerable verbal equipment at his command, urged them to get a move on. ‘I don’t think,’ he said, ‘they realize the administrative implications of attacking through this awful country… with the rains only a month away, they are terrific’ It would be fair to add that 14th Army staff weren’t the only people not to realize the difficulties; no one did.

On the 8th April the pressure on the Kohima garrison increased steadily. The enemy had now hauled some quick-firing anti-tank guns up on to G.P.T. Ridge, and these were cunningly sited so that the battery from Jotsoma couldn’t touch them. The shells from these came so fast that there was no time to duck or slide into a trench. The shell, in fact, arrived before the noise. The trees, though they gave cover from view, made the situation worse on the whole. If a shell lands on the ground a soldier in his trench is unharmed, but if the shell hits a tree its fragments explode into the trenches. It soon became evident, therefore, that head cover must be provided, though the snag about this was that it limited the soldiers’ field of fire and constricted them in the use of their weapons. Eventually the answer proved to be the construction of covered trenches besides the weapon pits; but this took time and meanwhile a good many men were lost.

It was on the 8th that John Harman won his V.C. During the night, so it was discovered, the enemy had established a machine-gun post covering the D.I.S. This meant that if an attack were made, the men of the Royal West Kents could not defend themselves and would be slaughtered if they withdrew. So, ordering the rest of his section to give him covering fire with the Bren, Harman worked his way round to a position from which he could attack the post. Moving forward slowly between the trees, he brought up his rifle and shot one Jap, then another. There were still three of them left, with automatics, but with immense courage Harman fixed his bayonet, then ran up the ridge towards them. By some miracle the Japs all missed him, and then within seconds he was leaping down on them with his bayonet. Watching from a distance, the rest of his section could see his rifle rising and falling as the bayonet went in and came out again. Then there was a scream and a single shot, and the astonished soldiers saw Harman hold up the machine-gun for them to see, then fling it away among the trees. A burst of cheering broke out, and Harman came down from the ridge to start walking back to his section post. Seeing this the men shouted to him to run, to get back into cover, to stop being a bloody fool, but for some unknown reason Harman ignored their entreaties and walked on till the inevitable happened. A machine-gun post further along the ridge that no one had spotted opened up and shot him through the spine.

Altogether, the 8th wasn’t a happy day, either inside the perimeter or outside it. A patrol from the Jotsoma box, moving back along the Dimapur road to mend a telephone wire, found the road blocked by milestone 36, just to the north of Zubza. The troops manning the block were from Colonel Torikai’s 13 8th Regiment, and they had come across from the Merema Ridge with the object of stopping reinforcements from reaching Kohima. Reconnoitring, they found a spur running across the road and out into the valley, with two pimples on it which would make a most effective defensive position. Immediately they began digging in. So Warren’s force was now besieged just as surely as the garrison he’d set out to relieve, and already Miyazaki was exerting pressure on his right flank. Warren, however, took things calmly. He’d acquired some chickens from the local village, and got his men to construct a chicken run just near the mess. Ian McKillop, a liaison officer from the 5th Brigade, was amazed to see him calmly eating his breakfast eggs, while the guns thundered away in the dell outside and the birds flapped and squawked excitedly. The eggs were supplemented by wild raspberries, which a bihisti (a water carrier) collected on the hillside and brought in for Warren, Grimshaw, his brigade-major, and the other members of the staff. In the evenings, the demands of war were not allowed to interfere with Warren’s favourite game of cards and many enjoyable hands of ‘vingt-et-un’ were played.

There was no time to play cards in Kohima. At dusk the enemy artillery opened up from the east, the south, and the west, then an attack came in on 53 I.G.H. Spur. It was held in the main, but some of the Japanese succeeded in establishing themselves across the road and began digging in on the lower slopes of the spur. It was impossible to deal with them in the confusion and darkness; a counter-attack had to wait till the morning. Meanwhile, another attack came in on the D.C.’s bungalow at the eastern end of the perimeter. This was helped by a heavy mortar barrage, but the troops in this sector, who were well dug in, weathered it without serious casualties. But the Japanese kept on coming on, wave after wave of them streaming over the road, scrambling up the steep slopes, and pushing on through the undergrowth. Eventually the garrison troops had to withdraw, and take up a position behind the bungalow. Here our troops were dug in along the banks at the western end of the tennis court and fought back with grenades; the Japs replied by hurling their own grenades from the other end of the tennis court. So this small rectangular area became the ‘No Man’s Land’ between the garrison and the Japanese and was to remain so for some weeks, the focus of some of the bloodiest fighting in the whole battle. To restore the situation, Richards ordered a counter-attack by platoons of the Assam Regiment and the Burma Regiment, and later the Royal West Kents attacked. These had only limited success, and most of the area the Japs had captured they were able to retain. A man who distinguished himself again in this night of bloody and confused fighting was the gunner, Dick Yeo. As Richards records: ‘He controlled the defensive fire with great accuracy, and was able to bring it down on call at an incredibly short distance in front of our troops. There is no doubt that this fire resulted time and again in breaking up the Japanese attacks. We could hear their screams as it fell among them.’

On the morning of the 9th, the Japanese still went on attacking to extend their gains on I.G.H. Spur; but the attacks were held. Then the ground lost the previous night was heavily mortared and Colonel Keene put in a counter-attack with two platoons of the Assam Rifles to recover most of the area. In the afternoon the enemy began mortaring the F.S.D. area, though no attack developed. Intermittent shelling continued all day. Inevitably, some shells fell among the wounded lying in the open around the A.D.S., and it was learned that forty had been killed.

Water was becoming a pressing problem, as nothing came through the pipes any more and the tanks were holed by shell-fire. Fortunately, Colonel Keene had discovered a spring in a re-entrant running into the side of I.G.H. Spur and, as news of this got round, men came scrambling over the hill to fill chagals and water-bottles. It was obvious, however, that if this practice went on there’d be far too many casualties, so water parties were organized which crawled forward at night. The ration was fixed at three-quarters of a pint per man per day—enough to sustain life but not much more.

The 9th April was Easter Sunday. It was impossible to bring men together in the Kohima box to celebrate this great day in the Christian calendar, but at Bokajan the padres of all denominations put on their jungle-green surplices, set up their mobile altars, and celebrated Holy Communion on the fringes of the jungle. Many officers and men attended these services, kneeling on the muddy jungle floor with their weapons by their side. There was no music and little singing, and very often the voices of the padres were drowned by the roar of trucks, which came slithering along the tracks, and punctuated by the chatter of the refugees streaming by, or of the stragglers from the detachment which had bolted from G.P.T. Ridge, who were now being questioned at the Field Security Collecting Post. But the services were very real, and to some men unbearably moving, as they realized they might well be hearing the familiar words of the service for the last time. For many this was the case.

While the services were going on at Bokajan, and Colonel Keene was launching his counter-attack on I.G.H. Spur, Stopford and Grover were in conference with Ranking at Dimapur. The 124th Regiment had now been identified, so it was clear that a whole Japanese Division was now operating in the area, and plans had to be laid on that basis. As Grover had nearly half of his division now concentrated, it was agreed that he should take operational control of all the area forward of Dimapur, while Ranking should remain responsible for the railway. Grover’s orders (which were later formalized at a meeting in the evening) were to open the road to Kohima, clear it of the enemy before the monsoon, and secure it as a firm base for further offensive operations. Operations were to start at once.

At this stage, Grover, who had only arrived on the 1st April, had not seen Kohima nor any of the mountainous country beyond Nichugard. He appreciated, however, that Kohima would be the stage for his first major battle and studied it carefully on the map. He noticed that on the right flank the high ground ran up towards Mount Pulebadze and Mount Japvo, and came to the immediate conclusion that the best way to deal with the situation was to put in a left hook with two brigades via the Merema Ridge. The importance of this latter feature struck him forcibly: it overlooked the whole length of the road from Zubza to Kohima; and if the Japs got astride it with any considerable force of artillery, they could paralyse the movement of both men and supplies. But when he made this early plan, Grover still imagined that there would only be a Jap regiment at Kohima; and he could not know that in Assam maps can only give a very feeble impression of the ground.

It was an uncomfortable night both at Jotsoma and Kohima. The sky was covered by black clouds and then the rain came down, soaking the men in the slit trenches and the wounded lying out in the open. At Jotsoma there were sporadic attacks, and forward positions in the Punjabis’ area changed hands time and again, as desperate, hand-to-hand fighting blurred the edges of the perimeter. At 2200 hours the Japanese at Kohima put in an attack across the tennis court, and kept it going for an hour and a half; but automatic fire, well directed and controlled, supported by a liberal use of hand grenades kept them at bay. On the far side of the tennis court, the shells brought down by Major Yeo’s orders were forming a curtain, cutting off the movement of reinforcements, and for long periods it was only twenty-five yards in front of the perimeter. The second attack came against the Assam Rifles on the I.G.H. Spur, but they held it without trouble. It was put in by companies of the 13 8th Regiment, and an identification was obtained. The garrison had for some days suspected that they had three regiments against them and now they had proof of two at least. The third attack came in against the Royal West Kents in the D.I.S. area, and was preceded by a shower of grenades, fired from discharger cups. The Japs could not break the line, but some took refuge in trenches evacuated by the wounded, and from these they were able to make life very uncomfortable for the section posts near them.

By now, after five days of siege, corpses, Japanese, Indian and British, were littering the hillside; the smell was obnoxious and the flies were a constant torment. Unfortunately, there was an acute shortage of shovels and entrenching tools and some units, like the Assam Rifles, had none at all, as they weren’t on their establishment. The Royal West Kents, quite understandably, were unwilling to lend their entrenching tools, so the corpses lay where they were, black and swelling. To make matters worse, the garrison were now beginning to realize that Warren and the two remaining battalions of 161st Brigade wouldn’t be able to help them, except with their guns; and the 2nd Division in Dimapur seemed a long, long way away. All they could do was go on fighting and hoping; they’d no illusions as to what would happen if the position were over-run.

But the situation was changing, if slowly and painfully. On the 10th April, Victor Hawkins summoned his battalion commanders and gave out his orders. His staff were to work all night laying on transport for the whole brigade, which at first light the following morning was to leave the hot, humid, flea-ridden atmosphere of Dimapur and move forward into battle. The brigade’s orders were to open the road, make contact with the 161st Brigade, and be prepared to capture Kohima.

Kawanishi H11K Soku (Blue Sky)

Kawanishi was a leader in flying boat development and had gained most of its experience in designing large sea going aircraft. Two of their most successful designs were the Kawanishi H6K (codenamed Mavis by the Allies) and the H8K (Emily), with the latter arguably the best flying boat of World War 2. The company was also not lacking in cargo flying boat design having modified the H6K to serve as a transport as the H6K2-L and H6K4-L. Even the H8Kwas adapted as a transport, the H8K2-L Seikū (or Clear Sky). Kawanishi had also been working on the design of the K-60, a long-range transport flying boat. With these credentials, Kawanishi was able to capitalise on their knowledge to begin the design of the H11K Soku (Blue Sky) for the IJN.

Kawanishi was instructed by the UN to use as much wood as possible in the construction of the Soku since a flying boat of such size would have consumed a large amount of precious alloys needed for other aircraft such as fighters. Within Kawanishi, the Soku was called the KX-8 and the initial design draft was processed rapidly. The aircraft drew heavily from the H8K being a high-wing, cantilever monoplane but overall, the Soku was much larger. The keel of the Soku was nearly identical to the H8K. To power the flying boat four Mitsubishi MK4Q Kasei 22 (Ha-32-22) radials, each developing 1,850hp, were selected with two per wing. As ordered by the UN, both the fuselage/hull and the wings were to be built of wood and under each wing would be a non-retractable float. The Soku had two decks. The lower deck could accommodate up to eighty fully equipped soldiers including a number of vehicles or a comparable amount of cargo. A smaller, upper deck housed quarters for the crew of five. The main departure from the H8K transports was that the Soku utilised a split nose that was hinged to allow the two nose sections to be opened outward to each side of the fuselage, providing ready access to the lower deck. This facilitated easier loading and unloading increasing the speed and ease of these procedures. As a measure of protection the Soku was to be fitted with three 13mm Type 2 machine guns.

Kawanishi presented the KX-8 to the IJN and the design was accepted. Authorisation was given to construct a full scale wooden mock-up of the Soku now designated the H11K1 for inspection before Kawanishi could proceed with the actual prototype. Construction of the mock-up commenced at the port of Komatsujima in the city of Komatsushima on the island of Shikoku (the smallest of the four main islands making up Japan). This area was selected by Kawanishi because it had access to the Seto Inland Sea which, once the prototype was built, would be needed to undertake sea and flight trials. Unfortunately for the Soku, the deteriorating war picture saw delay after delay affect the construction of the mock-up. To add to the problem, Kawanishi was instructed by the IJN in 1945 to reduce production of the H8K and instead, concentrate on building the Kawanishi NI K2-J Shiden-Kai fighter. Together, these factors would see the mock-up approaching its completion in April 1945, well over a year after the design had been initiated.

On 1 April 1945, bombing raids conducted on targets along the Seto Inland Sea saw the nearly completed Soku mock-up destroyed. With this loss, all further work on the Soku design was shelved.

Type Transport Flying Boat

Crew: Five

Powerplant: Four Mitsubishi MK4Q Kasei 22 (Ha·32-22) 14-cylinder, air-cooled radial engines developing 1,850hp for take-off, 1,680hp at 6,886ft and 1,550hp al 5,500m/18,044ft: each engine drove a 4.3m (14.lft) diameter, four-bladed, alternating stroke propeller


Span: 47.97m 157.4ft

Length: 37.70m I23.7ft

Height: 12.55m 41.2ft

Wing area: 289.95m2 3,121ft2

Wing loading: 156.72kg/m2 32.1 lb/ft2

Power loading: 6. I2kg/hp 13.51blhp


Empty: 26,405kg 58,213lb

Loaded: 45,550kg 100,420 Ib

Useful load 19,095kg 42,097lb


Max speed: 470km/h 292mph at 5,000m at 16,404ft

Cruise speed: 369km/h 229mph

Landing speed: 144km/h 89mph

Range: 3,890km 2,417 miles

Climb: 11 min 30 sec to 3,000m (9,842ft)

Armament: Three 13mm Type 2machine guns with 200 rounds of ammunition per gun


With the two great Mongol-Chinese-Korean fleets attempting an invasion of Japan, turned back by the brave resistance of the samurai, who were for once fighting a foreign enemy instead of each other. But the resistance to the Mongols, although successful, ended with a vast expenditure of resources and no real means of rewarding the participants with booty or confiscated lands.


It was not merely a wind that had smashed apart the Mongol armadas: it was a Divine Wind, a Kamikaze, demonstrating that Japan was the privileged “land of the gods.” This phrase, in fact, first achieved popular currency during the Kamakura period (1185–1333), where it began a genealogy of the emperors that was aimed at sorting out the succession issues which would characterize the end of the era.

Although the Mongol invasions would create ultimately fatal instabilities, and there were several uprisings requiring military action, the Kamakura period nevertheless saw new flourishing in the arts.


Katana signed by Masamune with an inscription in gold inlay, Kamakura period, 14th century, blade length: 70.6 cm[

The Kamakura period also saw a creative peak in sword making. Japanese swords had often been appreciated as fine artifacts, but a century of actual warfare had honed requirements to extreme levels. The contact with the Mongols, in particular, had confronted swordsmiths with the fact that many samurai had previously fought largely with arrows rather than swords. Mongol armor was thicker and harder, and was met by the swordsmiths by a new trend in thinner blades with a triangular cross-section, which might be more likely to punch through tougher armor.

It was not merely a case of evolving technology. The Kamakura smiths also benefited from an aristocracy that valued weapons but no longer required them to be churned out in quite such high quantities. For a century before (and, as it would turn out, for a century afterwards) battlefield conditions required swords that were made efficiently and quickly, in anticipation of high turnover, breakages, and losses. Now the swordsmiths could afford to take it easy, to experiment with new ideas, and to take money from their patrons, who were no longer troubled warriors but relatively wealthy men of leisure commissioning new family heirlooms or impressive curios.

In the Kamakura period we see refinements to the curved blade of earlier wars; the edge was tempered, and several variant hardnesses of steel were used, folded hundreds of times. The weapon could be honed to razor sharpness while remaining flexible enough to take some punishment. Blades were tested by their ability to cut through something with the consistency and resistance of a human body; this would sometimes involve testing on them corpses or even live human subjects, with convicted criminals meeting unpleasant fates in the service of science. It was not unusual for a sword cut a man’s body from shoulder to navel in a single strike. The best were certified for cutting through several bodies at once.

Despite their demonstrable practicality, many such swords were unlikely to see real action, and instead were cherished as family heirlooms. They hence gained an entire subculture of fittings and trappings, including ornate scabbards, highly decorative hand-guards (tsuba), and exotic materials binding the hilts.

China, 1280 CE—Marco Polo saw it with his own eyes. The river Yangtze was thick with ships great and small: ocean-going traders, robust war junks, and huge numbers of shakily repurposed river boats. All were being readied for the latest great enterprise of the new emperor, the Mongol Khubilai Khan: a massive armada that would cross the sea to annihilate the defiant island kingdom of Cipangu.

Nobody in the West had ever heard of this Cipangu before. Marco Polo’s account was the first to even mention it in a European language. When he did, he drew on years of propaganda designed to fire up the conscripts of Khubilai’s navy, as well as lies and spin concocted by reluctant Korean allies.

In his intimidating correspondence with the rulers of Cipangu, Khubilai had belittled the nation as a jumped-up barbaric kingdom, uncomprehending of courtly etiquette and ignorant of the trouble it would be in if it did not submit to him. However, in his exhortations to his armies, he made sure that everybody knew how incredibly rich Cipangu was.

“They have,” enthused Marco Polo on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, “gold in abundance, because it is found there in measureless quantities.”

Khubilai Khan had already made one attempt to invade the island kingdom after a decade of increasingly antagonistic diplomatic exchanges. Not only the people of Cipangu, but also their Korean counterparts, had literally spent years lying about the distance to the islands and the likelihood of strong resistance. Embassies had been fobbed off with numerous wily excuses, and often failed to work out whom they were supposed to be addressing. The natives infamously claimed to have an emperor of equal standing to the ruler of China, but the man who sat on their throne in 1274 was only a figurehead. His father, the former emperor, had abdicated, allowing him to meddle in politics from behind the scenes. His mother supposedly had no power of her own, but was a member of the powerful Fujiwara family, obliging the new emperor to listen to the wishes of his grandfather and uncles. His wife, meanwhile, was a scion of the Minamoto family, another powerful clan with vested interests.

And yet none of this really mattered, because foreign policy and many local issues were in the hands of the emperor’s barbarian-suppressing supreme general, the shōgun, in the town of Kamakura. But the shōgun was himself a puppet of yet another group, the Hōjō clan that had secretly run the islands for many decades. His own job was delegated to a regent, the shikken, who at the time was a callow youth of twenty-three, leaning on a shadowy council of advisers. Your guess is as good as mine, and certainly as good as Khubilai’s, as to who was really in charge.

Such obfuscations were not unique to Cipangu. The Mongols were getting a similar runaround far to the south in what is now Vietnam, where any request for a direct answer would be passed around a series of grandly titled bigwigs, any one of whom might waste another couple of months by sending back a request for clarification. The land that Marco Polo knew as Cipangu was impossible to understand, beyond a distant horizon, itself at the very edge of the known Asian world, and apparently controlled by a nebulous, invisible hegemony of power brokers and alliances. This would not be the last time it was described in such terms.

Still, at least Khubilai could mention all that imaginary gold. His troops were drunk on stories of it. The armies that had pushed Mongol rule all over Asia were ready to advance on these unknown islands, hoping thereby to shut down so-called pirate bases. What happened next is one of the greatest war stories of human history.

Khubilai’s first armada, in 1274, swiftly snatched the islands of Tsushima and Iki in the 200-kilometer (124 miles) strait. The huge fleet packed into the wide sweep of Hakata Bay, which had been for centuries the gateway to the islands for any foreign shipping.

The natives were waiting for them.

The country had not seen a meaningful battle for two generations, and the members of its warrior class, the samurai, were spoiling for a fight. They had, however, distinctly odd ideas about how a battle should proceed. The Mongols and their Korean and Chinese allies watched in bafflement as a soldier clad in strange armor tied with brightly colored silks shot a noise-making “humming-bulb” arrow over their heads. It screamed in the air on the blustery November day, intended by the defenders to signal a parley and a series of small bouts between champions.

The Mongols retaliated with a volley of deadly poison arrows. They were not there to take part in some local battle ceremony. They were there to invade.

The fighting that broke out was so fierce that it cost the defenders a third of their military manpower by the end of the first day. The Mongols, however, had no way of seeing over the wall. Unsure of their ability to hold a beachhead that was all but encircled by enemy fortifications, they retreated back to their ships to await the dawn.

The natives had other plans, taking to the waters in a swarm of little boats piled high with kindling. They crept aboard the enemy ships, starting fires and knifing sailors, although many of the flames were soon put out by heavy rain.

Soon the wind whipped up even further; the natives pulled back, looking on as the elements carried on the fight for them. The mother of all storms pounded down on the armada, overturning smaller boats and threatening to bash the close-packed ships into each other. Captains ordered their crews to push their vessels into deeper waters where the swell would not be so dangerous.

But it was too late. The storm had escalated into a monstrous typhoon that dashed the invaders against the coastline and into each other, swamping them and overturning them, crushing troop transports and supply vessels. It was soon too dark to see, but the defenders on land heard the powerful crack of timbers and the screams of men and horses.

The following morning as the sun parted the clouds, Hakata Bay was carpeted in driftwood. A handful of soaked survivors washed ashore at several points along the coastline, where they were swiftly put to death. A few of the larger Chinese ships made it out and ran straight for home.

A year later, a new embassy arrived from Khubilai, presenting the shikken regent with a golden scroll that offered to make him the “king of Cipangu.” It was a gesture of reconciliation, suggesting that everybody could spare themselves further trouble if the natives just bowed to the khan and admitted that he was their overlord. The regent made his feelings plain by having all the ambassadors executed.

It was Khubilai’s retaliation—an even larger fleet—that Marco Polo saw being assembled. Thanks to modern marine archaeology, we now understand the significance of his report of 15,000 ships on the river Yangtze—a great distance from the Korea Strait, and a reflection of numerous botched and poorly organized planning decisions. Khubilai’s second fleet was packed with everything the Mongol warlords could scrape up, including condemned barges and creaking riverboats. The timbers were warped; even the nails have been shown to have a high sulfur content, suggesting that corners were cut in every possible stage of sourcing and construction. Over-loaded with horses and supplies for a long campaign, packed so closely with men that three thousand troops were dead from disease before land was even sighted, the armada set sail in two task forces, one from Korea and the other up the coast from the mouth of the Yangtze.

Fearful of being boxed in again at Hakata Bay, the Mongols dithered offshore, many of their unseaworthy vessels lashed together in a vast floating fortress. They were particularly wary of a seaborne attack, since many of their troops were timid Chinese and Korean conscripts, worried about reports of “dragons in the water” and all too ready to surrender. They had started out with three months’ supplies, two-thirds of which they had already consumed, and they had still not made permanent landfall.

Samurai boats came out to the armada in ones and twos—numbers so small that the Mongols assumed they were there to offer terms. But the boats contained suicidal platoons on one-way missions; they cut down their own masts to make boarding ramps and stormed the larger warships.

And then the real storm came: a second typhoon, even more powerful than the earlier one. Modern marine archaeologists, examining the smithereens on the sea bed, estimate it to have been a Category 3 storm—a “major hurricane” with gusts of 199 kph (123.5 mph) that whipped up waves into storm surges of up to 4 meters (13 feet). Equivalent modern storms have been seen to strip the roofs off buildings, blow away mobile homes, and uproot trees. For the close-packed boats of the Mongol armada, it was a veritable apocalypse. Some 30,000 men managed to make it ashore from the sinking boats—bedraggled, starving, and without fresh water. They were easy pickings for the samurai defenders.

The Mongols had every intention of coming back for a rematch, but they never did. An office within Khubilai’s administration was supposedly tasked with putting together a third armada, but it was underfunded and overlooked, and largely powerless after 1286. Khubilai died in 1294, and his descendants more or less ignored the indomitable islands in the east.

The great storms gained their own legendary status among the natives. Before long, certain religious cults were claiming that the no-show by a third armada was the result of their intensive prayers. The Mongols, it was now claimed, had been fought off not merely by the warrior elite, but by the combined efforts of the entire nation, and even by the very elements themselves. In sending the weather to deliver the death blow, the gods had sent a Divine Wind, or Kamikaze. Their country, the locals believed, was special; it was unique; it was blessed by its particular gods and would never know defeat.

For decades afterwards, guards on the shores watched the seas for a new attack, but none came. Meanwhile, the defense took its toll in a different, mundane way. It was not merely the loss of life; it was the colossal expense of the project, which bankrupted many local lords. When, in earlier times, the samurai had been fighting one another, there was always a loser whose lands could be confiscated as the spoils of victory. But when the enemy came from another country, they left nothing behind but their dead; there was no reward that could be bestowed. Within a generation, the Kamakura shōgunate’s hold on power had collapsed, and the samurai had turned upon each other in another civil war, this time in the name of two rival emperors.

As for Marco Polo’s Cipangu, word of it was carried back to Europe. His tall tales of great riches and fierce knights would enter popular parlance. Two centuries later, Christopher Columbus would set out in search of the Spice Islands and this legendary Cipangu, sailing west in the hope of reaching the East, and finding something entirely unexpected.

Firepower: The Battle of Nagashino

The movie Kagemusha depicts the Battle of Nagashino of 1575 as a tragic charge by Takeda Shingen’s cavalry into Nobunaga’s army of musketeers. Historians have recently shown that the Takeda side had as many guns as the Oda forces did. The real lesson of Nagashino is that a large force ensconced behind field fortifications can defeat a small force attacking it. It was an advantage of defense over attack, given those technologies and strategic ideas. That is not to say that that a blitzkrieg could not have worked with the same technology.


It is well known that the Portuguese introduced firearms shortly after their arrival in Japan in 1542, and significant tactical changes have been ascribed to the introduction of these weapons. Nevertheless, the change from cavalry to massed-infantry tactics had occurred well before the Portuguese arrival, as too had the expansion in the size of armies. Although use of these weapons in Japan was not unprecedented-Okinawan guns had arrived first in 1466-the Portuguese harquebuses represented an improvement over the earlier weapons. They were disseminated widely: The daimyo of Tanegashima gave one to the Ashikaga shogun, while the priests of Negoroji gained control of another and quickly learned how to manufacture these weapons.

Equally important to making the weapons themselves was possession of a good recipe for gunpowder. Ashikaga Yoshiteru received such a recipe from the Portuguese, via the Tanegashima daimyo, and he notified an ally, Uesugi Kenshin, about these new weapons. Uesugi Kenshin was not an administrative innovator, but he fought well. Armed with these new weapons, Kenshin proceeded to attack and defeat his Hojo rivals.

The efficiency and accuracy of the matchlock musket have recently been assessed in a series of practical experiments carried out in Japan, using Japanese arquebuses made at the beginning of the Edo Period. The first test was an assessment of the gun’s range. Five bullets, each of 8mm calibre, were fired at a target in the shape of an armoured samurai from distances of 30 metres and 50 metres respectively by an experienced matchlock user. At 30 metres each of the five bullets hit the target area of the chest, but only one out of the five struck the chest area at 50 metres. At the Battle of Nagashino in 1575 the guns began firing at a range of about 50 metres, but as they were firing at mounted men they had a much larger effective target area, and to unhorse a samurai and subject him to the spears of the waiting defenders would be a useful result in itself. So it may well have been that at this range all that was desired was to disable the horses.

Even at 50 metres, however, a bullet that struck home on a man could do considerable damage, as shown by the results of the second experiment. Bullets of 9mm calibre were fired using a charge of 3 grams of powder at ranges of 30 and 50 metres against the following materials:

  1. 24mm wooden board;
  2. 48mm wooden board;
  3. 1mm iron plate;
  4. 2mm iron plate.

At 30 metres each was pierced cleanly. At 50 metres a. and c. were again pierced through. The bullet entered the 48mm board for threequarters of its depth, and also entered the 2mm iron plate, causing a dent on the inside, but not passing through. As the iron scales of a typical do-maru armour of the Sengoku Period were about 0.8mm thick, the armour could be holed by a bullet fired at 50 metres.

Notwithstanding the above comment about the primacy of firearms, few of the warlords properly appreciated that the successful employment of firearms depended only partly on technical skills concerned with accuracy of fire and speed of loading. Just as was the case in contemporary Europe, a skilled archer could launch many more arrows, and with considerably more accuracy, in the time it took to fire a succession of arquebus balls. But to use a bow properly required many hours of practice, and a degree of muscular strength, implying the need for an elite archer corps, whereas the arquebus could be mastered in a comparatively short time, making it the ideal weapon for the lower-ranking ashigaru.

The secret of success with firearms therefore was the same as the secret of success with any infantry unit: army organisation and a considerable change in social attitudes. But to achieve this there had to be a recognition that the ashigaru were anything other than a casually recruited rabble, and a commitment had to be given to their training and welfare. Only then could the warlord expect to receive the long-term service from these men. It took a further leap of the imagination to give them pride of place in a samurai army, because traditionally the vanguard of an army had always consisted of the most experienced and trusted swordsmen. Yet for firearms to be effective, they had to be placed in the front ranks in large numbers. All that was needed was a demonstration of how successful this method could be.

It is usual to state that the first such demonstration was provided in 1575 at the Battle of Nagashino. But, as will be shown in the final case study, volley firing had been used five years earlier against Oda Nobunaga by the Ikko-ikki monk armies at the Ishiyama Hongan-ji. This, the first use of organised large-scale arquebus work in samurai warfare, provided exactly the demonstration that the samurai needed of how ashigaru might best be employed. We see Nobunaga using the volley method himself three years later at Nagashima, but it is surely no coincidence that the impetus came from the Ikko-ikki. Being composed largely of low class troops, their mere existence showed the power of well-organised ashigaru armies, and their use of firearms was simply one very dramatic way of expressing it. Lacking any of the social constraints likely to impede a samurai’s appreciation of the potential combination of ashigaru and guns, the monk armies simply adopted a new weapon on military grounds alone. Guns helped defend the Ishiyama Honganji for eleven years, and five years after its fall, in 1585, the military strength still maintained by the monks of the Negoro-ji, which centred around their musketry, required Toyotomi Hideyoshi to bring 7,000 muskets of his own to subdue them.

What, therefore is Nagashino’s significance? In spite of the Ishiyama Hongan-ji, it remains important as the symbol of a change in military thinking by the daimyo. In all 3,000 gunners were waiting for the Takeda cavalry. Many of the mounted men were shot down or had their horses killed under them, but the most effective result was to cause chaos and confusion among a formerly disciplined force, leaving them prey to the sharp swords and spears of the samurai, who advanced to engage them. The result was a famous victory for Oda Nobunaga, and an even more famous one for the arquebus. But it was not the first in terms of guns alone, and the significance of Nagashino is more that of demonstrating to other daimyo that the immense power of the gun could only be delivered by a co-operation between arms in a mutually supportive and well-organised army.

By the time of Oda Nobunaga’s death in 1582, approximately one-third of most samurai armies were composed of matchlockmen, their numbers growing as fast as technology and training would allow. It also produced something of a defensive mentality in samurai warfare, with earthworks and palisades becoming a far more common sight on Japanese battlefields. In 1584 the two armies of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu prepared defensive lines in the area around the castle of Komaki, but the campaign ended in a stalemate, with neither willing to launch an attack, and the Battle of Nagakute which followed it was a direct result of the boredom induced by the Komaki lines, and was fought elsewhere.

Although guns did not cause a transformation in tactics, they did incrementally lengthen the battlefield. This proved noteworthy in the famous battle of Nagashino in 1575, in which the forces of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu decisively defeated Takeda Katsuyori. This battle has often been cited as a milestone in firearms tactics, with the Oda forces purportedly firing in volleys of three, but no proof exists that this actually happened. Nevertheless, guns did prove effective at killing Takeda commanders, who were not used to the weapons’ range. Trickery, however, was the main reason for the Takeda defeat, for an Oda ally used an offer to defect to entice the Takeda to try to encircle the Tokugawa forces. Expecting the defection of half the opposing army, one wing of the Takeda became overextended and entrapped, and this accounted for the high Takeda casualties.


Tedorigawa was Oda Nobunaga’s only defeat. His greatest victory was the battle of Nagashino in 1575, achieved through the use of firearms, the weapons with which Nobunaga is most closely associated, even though they were already widely disseminated throughout Japan. Oda Nobunaga’s outstanding contribution was his early appreciation of the best way in which these clumsy weapons could be used, which he seems to have realized by the year 1554 when he attacked the Imagawa outpost of Muraki on the Chita peninsula. The Shincho-koki tells us that Nobunaga set up his position on the very edge of the castle moat, and ordered three successive volleys against the loopholes in the castle defences. The arquebusiers appear to have been organized in squads that fired in succession, confirming Nobunaga’s sophisticated battlefield control, and it has been further argued that the Muraki action represents the first use of rotating volleys in Japanese history, a technique with which Nobunaga is credited during his epic battle of Nagashino.

Nagashino, Nobunaga’s operational masterstroke, came about as a result of a move to lift the siege of the castle of the same name that stood on a promontory where two rivers met. It had been holding out against the army of Takeda Katsuyori, the heir of the famous Shingen. The great strength of the Takeda lay in their mounted samurai, whose ability to overrun and disorder foot soldiers, even when they were armed with arquebuses, had been demonstrated as recently as the battle of Mikata ga Hara in 1572. On approaching Nagashino Nobunaga made his plans accordingly. First, instead of simply falling on to the rear of Katsuyori’s army, he took up a planned position a few kilometres away at Shidarahara, where the topography enabled him to restrict enemy cavalry movement. Bounded by mountains to the north and a river to the south, Nobunaga’s position was not susceptible to outflanking manoeuvres. Second, Nobunaga erected a loose palisade of lashed timber that provided protection to his army while allowing some gaps through which a counter attack might be launched. Third, he arranged a welcome for Takeda Katsuyori in the form of massed ranks of arquebusiers.

The popular view of Nobunaga’s victory at Nagashino is that it came about entirely as a result of the third of these factors, with the arquebusiers divided into three sections, firing in rotation. This has become the accepted view of Nagashino, and the notorious final scene depicting the battle in Akira Kurosawa’s film Kagemusha makes the action look as though the bullets were delivered by machine guns. The reality of the situation is somewhat less dramatic, yet it detracts nothing from Nobunaga’s generalship on the day. The first point concerns the number of arquebuses deployed. Mikawa Go Fudo-ki says 3,000. The more reliable Shincho-koki has 1,000. Nor need we necessarily conclude from the observation that different squads of arquebusiers fired alternate volleys that this was an early application of the system of rotating volleys. Such a scheme, associated in particular with the military innovations of Maurice of Nassau, required the front rank to discharge their pieces then move to the rear to allow the second rank to do the same, a manoeuvre known as the counter-march. Yet even the Dutch were to discover that a minimum of six ranks, and preferably ten, were required to keep up a constant fire.

In Total War: Shogun 2, Nobunaga’s matchlock gunners make quick work of Katsuyori’s famed cavalry, just as they do in the tales.


Total War: Shogun 2, while limited by its 3D engine, offered a spectacle that evokes the sense of urgency for the defenders and despair for the attackers at seeing the cream of the Takeda crop laid low. Sengoku Jidai, by offering the most hardcore wargaming, allows players to seek a different conclusion, and better understand the difficulties facing Katsuyori.


Sengoku JidaiNagashino [In Spanish]

Admiral Count Yamamoto Gonbee

(Yamamoto Gonnohyoe, 1852-1 933)

was the architect of modern Japanese naval power. He was born and grew up in the castle town of the Satsuma domain, Kagoshima. As a boy of sixteen, he fought with the Satsuma army in the Restoration war at Toba-Fushimi and in northern Honshu (1868). He was one of the first to be graduated from the new Naval Academy, in 1874, and took a midshipman cruise to San Francisco. Like other navy leaders, he had significant foreign experience. After his cruise he served for over a year on the warships Vineta and Leipzig of another fledgling navy, the German, circumnavigating the globe and passing both the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn. As a junior officer he had duty aboard five different vessels (1878-81). He became second in command of the screw-corvette Asama, 1882-85, and occupied the same position on the cruiser Naniwa when it was brought to Japan in 1886 after its construction in Britain.

His first command, the sloop Amagi, followed. In 1887, as aide to Nav Minister Saigo, he undertook extended visits to Europe and the United States. He made the rank of captain in 1889 and subsequently commanded the cruisers Takao and Takachiho. His career began to take a political direction when he was appointed director of the Navy Ministry’s Secretariat in 1891 . Because of his administrative skill he was made rear admiral and chief of the Naval Affairs Department of the ministry in 1895. He attained the rank of vice admiral in 1898 and admiral in 1904. He served as navy minister, 1898-1906, and as prime minister, 1913-14 and 1923-24.

Navy Minister, 1898-1906

In a memorial to the throne on national defense, Yamamoto Gonnohyoe (1852-1933), the navy minister, described how the emperor’s contribution of personal funds for building warships had brought about victory in the war with China. He declared,

It would seem that in the lands of the Orient, ominous clouds and baleful mists have now been happily cleared away, but I fear that in all prob ability the situation in China and Korea contains seeds of disaster imminently threatening the peace. At present the Imperial Navy may be said to reign supreme in the Orient, but military preparations of the powers are advancing rapidly. This is true especially of the neighboring power that has recently expanded its ‘navy and plans before long to have a fleet in the Orient many times stronger than the empire’s. If an emergency should arise, will the sea-girded empire of Japan be able to sleep in peace?

Yamamoto asked for a total of 115 million yen with which to build and equip three first-class battleships, three first-class cruisers, and two second-class cruisers. Needless to say, the power against which Japan had to defend itself was Russia, whose eastward advance was deplored by the genrō when they approved this request for naval expansion.

“In the budget for next year,” Navy Minister Yamamoto Gonnohyoe declared in early 1906, “nothing more has been attempted than to make provisions for replacing what had been destroyed or impaired in the war.” “But after that,” the navy’s most important bureaucrat suggested, “it would be necessary to consider . . . new undertakings.” Within five years of Yamamoto’s prophetic utterance, all in Japan’s elite political circles knew what Yamamoto had alluded to by the somewhat cautious and guarded phrase “new undertakings”; massive naval expansion on a scale not previously undertaken in Japan. Conferring with Seiyukai leader Hara Kei four years later at the end of a navy-inspired, pro-naval expansion propaganda campaign, Prime Minister Katsura Taro revealed just what he felt naval expansion and the navy’s political machinations to secure large-scale budgetary increases meant for politics and the nation of Japan: instability. Predicting that the navy would shortly introduce a massive expansion plan based on the purchase and construction of Dreadnought class warships, the army General turned Prime Minister claimed that the naval expansion proposal had been “hatched [by Yamamoto] out of an ambition to break up the tie between the government and the Seiyukai,” a relationship that had resulted in political stability since 1905. Katsura’s assumptions proved correct on both counts and the navy’s political engagement to secure greater appropriations significantly influenced elite level politics after 1905.

Army-Navy Rivalry

An example illustrating this type of army thinking towards the navy occurred in 1894, when Vice Chief of the Army General Staff, Kawakami Soroku, devised war plans against China that emphasized the navy’s support role, Yamamoto Gonnohyoe pointedly asked Kawakami a simple but loaded question, “Is it true the army has engineers?” Taken aback, Kawakami replied, “Yes . . . of course we do.” To this, Yamamoto responded, with no little sarcasm, “Then it should be no trouble [for you] to build a bridge from Yokubo in Kyushu to Tsushima and then to Pusan in Korea, to now send our army to the continent.”

Siemens Incident

Allegations that high-ranking officers in Japan’s Imperial Navy had received bribes from the German munitions firm Siemens Schuckert caused a political crisis that culminated in the resignation of the premier, Admiral Yamamoto Gonnohyoe (1852-1933) and his cabinet on 24 March 1914. The Siemens incident was indicative of the competition, which was especially bitter in 1905-1915, among rival factions associated with Japan’s army and navy commanders as well as among rival party organizations. The subject of heated public discussion and official debate, the scandal also marked a step toward greater government accountability in the early history of parliamentary democracy in Japan.

On 23 January 1914 Japanese newspapers printed reports of the trial in Berlin of a former Siemens employee who was charged with stealing confidential company documents from files in the firm’s Tokyo office. The defendant testified that he had sold the documents to a Reuters News Service reporter in order to expose a duplicitous deal between Japanese naval officers and the British firm Vickers, represented by a Japanese company, Mitsui Bussan. By accepting an offer from Vickers of regular secret “commissions” of 25 percent of the value of equipment procurement contracts placed with the firm, the naval officers contravened an agreement reached with Siemens earlier to place large orders for ammunition and communications equipment with the German firm in exchange for kickbacks of 15 percent of the value of the orders.

Admiral Yamamoto, premier since February 1913, had authorized a program of lavish expenditures on naval expansion. Critics of his generosity seized on the information released in Berlin to confirm suspicions of corruption in connection with naval spending. In a Diet session on 23 January 1914, Shimada Saburo, a leading member of the opposition Doshikai, opened a twomonth period of public debate and political crisis by calling Yamamoto to account with a series of embarrassing questions about the navy’s purchasing practices.

During February and March, Yamamoto succeeded in maintaining his position, partly by dismissing naval officers implicated in the allegations of corruption. But the admiral’s position was irretrievably weakened by opposition within the upper house of the Diet, the army, and the public.

The Siemens incident contributed to greater instability in Japan’s parliamentary politics by ousting the majority party, the Seiyukai, from the premiership and the cabinet. Yamamoto’s government survived a nonconfidence vote on 10 February, but failed to survive the loss of support in the upper house of the Diet, where the peers had slashed the naval expansion budget and refused to yield to the principle that only the lower house had authority over the budget. In an arrangement brokered by Yamagata Aritomo and other senior leaders, a new cabinet was installed in April 1914 with the veteran parliamentarian Okuma Shigenobu (1838- 1922) as premier. Competition for budgetary appropriations between the navy and army continued to be a bone of contention within Japan’s government, even at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Corruption connected to public contracts with foreign firms continued as well, although it did not precipitate another political crisis until the Lockheed scandal of 1976.