The origins of ninjutsu, placed approximately between 500 and 300 B.C., are commonly linked (as are most Oriental arts of combat) to Chinese sources. Mention is often made of the interesting section on methods of espionage which is embodied in the ancient treatise The Art of War, written by the legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu. There is no single English term that can be used to define with precision this art or science, nor to accurately describe its practitioners, the notorious ninja. One translation of ninjutsu might be “the art of stealth,” which is a term commonly employed in the doctrine of bujutsu. This definition, however, identifies only one of the many characteristics and functions of ninjutsu—concealment, or the creating and perpetuating of an aura of mystery. The functions of the ninja may be represented in general as having been those of infiltration into hostile environments, performance of various acts of sabotage or assassination, and management of a successful escape once a mission had been accomplished. Infiltration of enemy centers and castles, in fact, gave rise to a particular subspecialization of ninjutsu which was known as toiri-no-jutsu, while slipping through enemy lines in time of open warfare or military alert became a specialty referred to as chikairi-no-jutsu. The various deeds to be performed once infiltration had been successfully accomplished were as varied as the military or strategic circumstances themselves. We can divide these deeds or acts into three main categories: first, the gathering of intelligence by espionage, and all of its correlated activities; second, assassination, subversion, destruction of enemy defenses; and third, action on the battlefield, including combat operations in almost every form, ranging from an open encounter to an ambush (whether against a defenseless victim or a heavily-protected lord).

Ninja, then, were often raiders who hired themselves out as spies, assassins, arsonists, terrorists, to the great and small lords of the Japanese feudal age. When certain “disreputable” tasks had to be undertaken, the honor-bound warrior (who was expected to fight openly against his foe in accordance with the rules of his profession) was not usually the one asked to perform them. Large organizations of ninja families, specializing in such tasks, were generally available to the highest bidder.

As spies, the ninja reportedly made their first notable appearance in the sixth century, with an employer of royal blood, Prince Regent Shotoku (A.D. 574–622). They were frequently hired by the fighting monks of the mountains, the redoubtable yama-bushi, who battled against both the imperial forces at the end of the Heian period and those of the rising military class (buke). Strong ninja guilds became firmly entrenched in Kyoto (which was virtually ruled by them at night), and their schools proliferated until there were at least twenty-five major centers during the Kamakura period. Most of these centers were located in the Iga and Koga provinces, and the concentration of these dangerous fighters had to be smashed time and time again by various leaders seeking to gain control of the central government. Oda Nobunaga is reported to have employed forty-six thousand troops against Sandayu at Ueno, destroying four thousand ninja in the process. The last impressive employment of these fighters on the battlefield seems to have been in the Shimabara war (1637), against forty thousand rebellious Christians on the island of Kyushu.

With the ascendancy of the Tokugawa and their heavily policed state, smaller groups of ninja were employed by practically every class against members of other classes, and even within a class by certain individuals against any clansmen who opposed them. Ninja were also used in the espionage network constructed by the shogun to control the imperial court and the powerful provincial lords. The ninja of Koga province, for example, were notorious throughout Japan as secret agents of the Tokugawa; and roaming bands of ninja are said to have engaged groups of warriors in local battles, either to suppress attempted sedition or to enlarge the ninja’s own territorial control. Individual lords and powerful members of other classes such as the merchants, for example, also employed the ninja, who left behind them an unbroken record of more than five hundred years of intrigues, disruptions, assassinations, and other assorted forms of disorder.

The ninja families were tightly-knit microcosms well integrated into larger groups (in accordance with the ancient clan pattern). There were leaders (jonin) who formulated plans, negotiated alliances, stipulated contracts, and so forth, which subleaders (chunin) and agents (genin) then carried out faithfully. These groups formed larger guilds with individual territories and specialized duties—all jealously guarded. A man seldom joined a group in order to become a ninja; he usually had to be born into the profession. The arts, techniques, and weapons of each family, of each group, were kept strictly secret, being transmitted usually only from father to son and even then with the utmost circumspection. Disclosure of ninjutsu secrets to unauthorized persons meant death at the hands of other ninja of the same group. Death usually also followed capture, either at one’s own hand or that of another ninja, who would leave behind only a corpse for the captor to question.

Books and documents (torimaki) related to the heritage, arts, and techniques of ninjutsu, therefore, were considered secret family treasures which it was the responsibility of each generation to preserve and transmit to the next. They contained instructions concerning those techniques of combat with which the ninja had to familiarize himself and which he had to master (including the traditional martial arts of the country: archery, spearmanship, and swordsmanship). In turn, the ninja cleverly adapted the use of these arts to suit his own devious purposes. He used an easily assembled short bow, for example, instead of the warrior’s long bow, and he also devised methods of telescopically reducing a spear—with astonishing results when it suddenly sprang into full extension. Members of the Kyushin ryu, a school of ninjutsu, became noted for their unorthodox methods of using a spear (bisento). Swords and other assorted blades, finally, were also used on the ends of various collapsible poles to which chains were attached for quick retrieval; often blades were projected by hidden springs, or they were simply thrown by hand according to the techniques of shurikenjutsu. The ninja were also masters of the techniques of iaijutsu, which enabled them to draw swords or daggers with blinding speed. The Fudo ryu, another school of ninjutsu in feudal Japan, was considered vastly superior in the development of this particular kind of dexterity with blades.

The ninja, however, also had a full array of specialized weapons for his exclusive use, each with its particular and fully developed method of employment. Blow-guns, roped knives and hooks, garrotes, various spikes (toniki), brass knuckles (shuko), an extensive assortment of small blades (shuriken), including dirks, darts, star-shaped discs, and so forth, were all included in his arsenal. The shuriken or “needles” were usually kept in a band containing up to five deadly missiles, and they could be thrown in rapid succession from any position, in any light, and from varying distances. The ways of throwing the shuriken seem to have been grouped together, attaining the status of a full-fledged art (shurikenjutsu). Even members of the warrior class reportedly studied its techniques in order to be able to use their short swords (wakizashi), daggers (tanto), and knives (such as the ko-gatana and kozuka) with greater accuracy and effectiveness at long distances. Shuriken could also be forged into a star-shaped disc with many sharp points radiating from a solid center. Sometimes called shaken, these sharp stars were usually thrown with a whipping movement of the wrist which sent them spinning toward their target—often unnoticed until it was too late. Especially famous were the chains or cords with a whirling weight on one end and a double-edged blade on the other (kyotetsu-shoge), which the ninja knew how to use with merciless precision; there was also the innocent-looking bamboo staff carried by an apparently unarmed pilgrim—the staff concealing, however, a chain with a weight at one end and a lead block at the other.

The ninja’s skill in penetrating enemy strongholds (houses, castles, military camps, individual rooms, etc.) was based upon his knowledge of practical psychology, as well as upon his mastery of a most impressive array of climbing devices (roped hooks, flexible ladders, special shoes, hand spikes, etc.), which he could also use as weapons. In addition, he usually carried breathing tubes and inflatable skins so that he could stay underwater for long periods of time or cross castle moats, lakes, or swamps with comparative ease. A skilled chemist (yogen) in his own right, the ninja often used poisoned darts, acid-spurting tubes, flash-powder grenades, smoke bombs, and so forth, cleverly adapting ancient Chinese discoveries in chemistry and inventions in explosives to his particular requirements. After the arrival of the Portuguese, he even used firearms. These weapons, in addition to the spiky caltrops which he dropped behind him as he made his escape, all contributed to his skill in evading capture by slowing down, blinding, killing, crippling, or merely surprising his pursuers.

Among the unarmed methods of combat which he mastered, jujutsu, in its most utilitarian and practical form, predominated. Schools of ninjutsu, however, also specialized in particular systems of violence seldom found elsewhere. The ninja of the Gyokku ryu, for example, were expert in the deadly use of the thumb and ringers against vital centers in the human body. This method became known as yubijutsu. The students of the Koto ryu were particularly proficient in breaking bones (koppo).

From the above, it appears obvious that a ninja was a truly dangerous foe, skilled and prepared to cope efficiently and ruthlessly with almost all the possible dimensions of armed and unarmed combat. His overall bodily control and range of muscular possibilities was often astounding. In addition to training in the various arts mentioned above, he is said to have been able to climb sheer walls and cliffs (with the help of certain equipment), control his breathing under water and his heartbeat under enemy scrutiny, leap from great heights (walls, etc.), disengage himself from knots and chains, walk or run for long distances, remain still for hours (even days, some authors claim), blend with shadows, trees, statues, and so forth, as well as impersonate people of every class, thus being able to move about freely even in areas which were under strict surveillance. In this context, his knowledge and command of practical psychology, as indicated earlier, appears to have been highly developed and is said to have included sleight of hand and hypnosis (saiminjutsu)—skills which may have formed the basis for a number of the ninja’s more startling exploits.


The Samurai Woman

Indomitable: Hangaku Gozen rides into battle swinging her bloodstained naginata and wearing yoroi armor symbolic of leadership during the siege of Torisaka Castle (in present-day Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku) in 1201, after her clan rose up against the powerful Minamoto Shogunate in a (losing) medieval power struggle.

A salient and thought-provoking characteristic of most ancient cultures is the predominant role played by women in the history and management of clan affairs. Historiography often seems to minimize the early, strongly matriarchal aspects of man’s social units; the frequently myopic views of chroniclers of later ages and periods, bent upon reinforcing the preconceived notions of their patrons, tend largely to either denigrate woman’s role in the military history of early civilizations or ignore it entirely. Ancient sagas, archaeological discoveries, and the painstaking work of anthropologists, however, indicate widespread participation by women in clan or tribal life in pre- and proto-historical times, from the icy lands of Nothern Europe to the tropical cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia, in both ancient Sparta and the Celtic clans of Western Europe, as well as in nomad tribes roaming the steppes of Mongolia and, of course, in the many clan cultures of Southeast Asia and China.

In Japan, woman’s originally predominant role finds its first expression in the mythological records of that land, which traditionally emphasize the supremacy of Amaterasu, the solar goddess, among all the deities in the Japanese pantheon, as well as equating the position of Izanagi, the female, with that of Izanami, the male, on the fighting level. The long shadow cast by ancient matriarchal influence is also apparent in the predominance of the solar cult, which was female in its original Japanese conception.

Even the first chronicles of Japanese history are filled with the exploits of warrior queens leading their troops against enemy strongholds in the land of Yamato or across the straits to Korea. In time, the growing influence of Confucian doctrine began to reduce her position of preeminence, hedging her about with restrictions of every sort, which, however, were not always accepted as meekly as later historians would have us believe. In the Heian period we find her not on the battlefield perhaps, but occupying a position of prominence in the cultural hierarchy of the age. Certain aristocratic ladies of kuge status emerged as literary figures of astounding insight and sophistication. Their literary production, although not expressed in the rigid and pedantic forms of classical Chinese writing generally preferred by the scholars of the time, provides one of the first manifestations of a truly indigenous form of expression, whose depth of perception, as well as complex content, help to explain why the various empresses and aristocratic dames of Nara and Kyoto wielded such power, whether governing directly or guiding more subtly (if just as effectively) the affairs of state from places of retirement or seclusion.

From the provinces, a new breed of women, the female members of the buke, joined their menfolk in the struggle for political and military predominance. These women did not lead troops as in archaic times, but, steeped in the same martial tradition and clinging to those warlike customs which characterized their men as a class, they were a stern reflection of their male counterparts. As such, they acted to consolidate and reinforce those qualities considered of fundamental importance to the emerging class of the buke. The product of a particular system, the samurai woman became its soundest basis and transmitter.

One such woman was Lady Masa (Masako), wife of the first Kamakura shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo. Mere quoted Brinkley in describing her as “astute, crafty, resourceful and heroic,” adding:

During her husband’s lifetime she wielded immense influence and after his death she virtually ruled the empire. This seems to be the only recorded instance in the history of Japan when the supreme power was wielded by a woman who was neither Empress nor Empress-dowager. Nominally, of course, Lady Masa did not rule, but her power and influence were very real. (Mere, 16)

The samurai woman was trained to be as loyal and totally committed as her father, brothers, and husband to their immediate superior in the clan hierarchy and, like her male relatives, was expected to carry out every authorized assignment, including those which might involve force of arms. Thus it is not surprising to find in the literature of bujutsu the annotation that women of the buke were trained in the use of traditional weapons, which they were expected to use against a foe or, if necessary, to end their own lives. Moreover, many episodes concerning the rise of the warrior class mention women who played militarily determinant roles—even joining their menfolk on the battlefield upon occasion. Certain chronicles, for example, mention Tomoe, the wife of one of Yoshitomo’s nephews, Yoshinaka. Authors who have discussed her exploits are almost unanimous “in praising her great strength and skill with weapons, her superb horsemanship and her fearless courage” (Mere, 15). She used to ride into battle with her husband, leading and encouraging his troops with her initiative and bearing. She even displayed that peculiar anger typical of the professional fighter when an opponent handles him cavalierly. It is related, in fact, that she killed several enemy retainers in single combat at the battle of Azazu-no-Hara: “when their leader, Uchida Iyeyoshi, attempted to capture her, she struck her horse and her sleeve, which he had seized, was rent and a part of it was left in his hand. Angered at this, she wheeled her charger and attacking him in her turn, cut off his head, which she forthwith presented to her husband” (Mere, 14-15).

Among the weapons the samurai woman handled with skill was the spear, both the straight (yari) and the curved (naginata), which customarily hung over the doors of every military household and which she could use against charging foes or any unauthorized intruder found within the precincts of the clan’s establishment. She was also equally well versed in handling the short dagger (kaiken), which, like the male warrior’s wakizashi, was always carried on her person (usually in her sleeve or sash) and which she could deftly employ against armed foes in close combat or throw with deadly accuracy. This same dagger was the one a samurai woman would use if she undertook to commit ceremonial suicide, not by piercing her lower abdomen as would her male counterpart, but rather by cutting her throat in accordance with the exact rules of ritual suicide, which also instructed her in the correct manner of tying her ankles together, in order to insure that her body would be found properly composed, whatever her death agonies. Under the name jigai, in fact, suicide was as familiar to her as it was to her menfolk.

She not only accepted death resignedly at the hands of her male relatives or superiors if capture by enemy forces was imminent, but even dispatched the men herself if, for any reason, they were unable or unwilling to perform the ritual act, sparing neither herself nor her children in such a situation. One of the most ancient episodes concerning the making and executing of this decision in accordance with martial tradition is to be found in the ancient sagas which describe the destruction of the Taira clan during the great sea battle at Dan-no-Ura, in the straits of Shimonoseki. Nii-no-Ama, grandmother of the infant Emperor Antoku (son of Kiyomori’s daughter Tokuko or Kenrei-mon-in), when confronted with the alternative of surrendering to the warriors of the Minamoto clans, clasped the child tightly in her arms and plunged with him into the waves of the straits, followed by other court ladies and Tokuko as well. The emperor’s mother was rescued by force, but the others succeeded in drowning themselves and the infant heir.

The samurai woman also used suicide as a form of protest against an injustice she felt had been perpetrated against her by a superior. One of the most striking examples of this is related by François Caron (1600-73). The powerful lord of Higo had engineered the murder of one of his most loyal vassals so that he might include the beautiful wife of the deceased among his concubines. The woman requested a certain period of time within which to mourn and bury her husband and then asked the lord to assemble the highest dignitaries of the clan and her husband’s friends on the tower of his castle, ostensibly to celebrate the end of her mourning period. Since she might very well have stabbed herself with her kaiken if anyone had tried to force her to violate her mourning period, her requests were granted. On the appointed day, as the ceremony in honor of her slain husband drew to a close, she suddenly threw herself from the tower “and broke her neck” (Cooper, 83) before the very eyes of the lord of Higo, his vassals, and the dignitaries of the clan. This type of suicide, although not performed strictly in accordance with the rules of ritual suicide, was recognized as one of valid protest (kan-shi) against a master’s injustice. It created a dilemma in military minds, however, since it was also a breach of the code of absolute loyalty which dictated that the lady’s life was not hers to dispose of, especially not in such an independent manner.

Equally famous in Japanese literature and theater is the story of Kesa-gozen, the wife of an imperial guard in Kyoto during the twelfth century, when the buke was being drawn toward the imploding and collapsing center of the empire. This lady was the object of another warrior’s passion and he was determined to have her. When her pursuer planned to murder her husband in his sleep, she substituted herself in her husband’s bed and allowed herself to be decapitated in his stead, thus saving her honor and her husband’s life at one and the same time.

As ferocious and determined as male members of the buke, the samurai woman also took upon herself, when necessary, the duty of revenge which the particularly Japanese interpretation of Confucian doctrine had rendered both an absolute and virtually automatic response to the death or dishonor of one’s lord. “Not only did man consider it his duty to avenge his family or lord,” wrote Dautremer, “but woman herself did not fail before the task. Of this, Japanese history gives us many instances” (Dautremer, 83). Even throughout the long and debilitating Tokugawa period, she remained generally attached (often even more strongly than her male counterpart) to the clan’s rule of loyalty, that is, to the uji-no-osa and, by delegation, to her husband. In an era characterized by the degeneration of martial virtues, by effeminate behavior, profligacy, and dissipation within the “floating world” (ukiyo) of a new culture, she was noted for her chastity, fidelity, and self-control. For centuries, she remained a forbidding figure, clearly traditionalist and conservative in outlook and action, who clung tenaciously to the martial ethos of her clan not only in essence (which the Tokugawa period was diluting substantially), but also in form and paraphernalia.

As the nucleus of those households which even today maintain the ties linking them to the feudal past, many of these women continue to resist change and bring up their children beneath the aristocratic shadow of the family’s kami—an ancient suit of armor before which sticks of incense burn night and day. Many of their sons enter the military academies of Japan, while their daughters face one another across the spacious dojo where the ancient art of naginatajutsu is taught to them, as well as to other girls of lesser military lineage but of equally intense attachment to the tradition which produced the samurai woman.


Thwarting Japanese Torpedo Planes

Type 6 Mark 4 Mod 3 Airborne Radar

Production: About 2000. Available from 1942-8 and Installed on a number of G4M “Betty”, H8K “Emily”, and B5N “Kate” aircraft, particularly after 1944.

Wavelength 200 cm
Pulse length 10 microseconds
Peak power 3 kW
Range 75 nautical miles (130 km)
Antenna Various; see description below
Display A scope
Weight 240 lb
110 kg

The antenna configurations seems to have varied with platform. The installations on multi-engine aircraft used a four-element Yagi antenna in the nose for the transmitter and two reflected dipoles on the wings for the receiver. On torpedo bombers, where a nose antenna was impractical, a fuselage dipole array was apparently used instead. The fuselage dipole array had the significant weakness that it could not search the area head ahead of the aircraft, so that aircraft equipped with the radar had to approach a target obliquely to maintain radar contact.

The radar was plagued by corona discharge at high altitude and by sea return. The Yagi antenna was less susceptible to this effect.

At his ornate palace in downtown Tokyo, Emperor Hirohito, impeccably attired in formal clothing, was ready to receive a delegation of generals, admirals, and top government officials. Formal dress was reserved for special occasions. Hirohito, the father of six, customarily shuffled about the long halls and high-ceilinged rooms of the sprawling palace clad in old casual clothes, scuffed shoes, and in need of a shave. It was October 11, 1944.

Escorted into Hirohito’s presence, the visiting delegation, subdued and with hats in hand, confessed their “failures” to the introverted emperor, who for nineteen years had been struggling to make a success of the throne he had inherited at age twenty-five from his father.

Although the Allies were closing in on Japan, the warlords assured Hirohito that the bleak picture would soon be reversed. A high-level official in the Foreign Office of the Soviet Union, supposedly an ally of the United States and Great Britain, had tipped off the Japanese ambassador in Moscow that the Americans were preparing to invade the Philippines. At that time, a plan code-named Sho-Go 1 (Operation Victory) would inflict a crushing defeat on the fleet and army of General Douglas MacArthur, the delegation told the emperor.

In the early-morning darkness of October 20, a mighty armada of seven hundred U. S. ships slipped into Leyte Gulf in the central Philippines. On board the cruiser Nashville was Douglas MacArthur, perhaps America’s most popular general on the home front, who had been run out of the Philippines by overwhelming Japanese forces in the spring of 1942.

At 8:00 A. M., warships offshore loosed a thunderous barrage; then assault troops of Lieutenant General Walter Krueger’s Sixth Army stormed ashore on Leyte, a large, mountainous island.

Forty-eight hours later, Admiral Soemu Toyoda, chief of the imperial Combined Fleet, was at his headquarters in the Naval War College putting the final touches on Sho-Go I. His planning was aided by a flagrant American security lapse-an uncoded radio message picked up by Japanese monitors gave Toyoda the deployment of the 221 U. S. warships operating in and around the Philippines.

Toyoda was convinced that a new secret radar development by Japanese scientists would result in colossal damage to the invasion fleet. Installed in the cockpits of Japanese torpedo planes and used for aiming the lethal “fish” radar had been created with a frequency below the lowest frequency of the electronic jammers in the U. S. fleet. Therefore the pilot could aim and fire his torpedo unencumbered by the jamming of his radar by the Americans.

Only a few hours after the decisive battle of the Pacific war had erupted at Leyte Gulf, General MacArthur was in a barge returning to the Nashville from an inspection ashore. As the little craft burrowed through the green waters, someone shouted, “Look!” and pointed a finger toward the sky. A Japanese torpedo plane flew low over the barge and headed for the light cruiser Honolulu. Called the Blue Goose by her crew, the ship was standing by for instructions to bombard targets onshore.

The Blue Goose had led a charmed life. She had been involved in many battles and escaped unscathed each time. Incredibly, she had never lost a man due to accidents or enemy action.

Soon after zooming past MacArthur’s barge, the Japanese plane dropped its torpedo into the water; the torpedo raced directly for the Honolulu. No American knew that this was one of the aircraft equipped with the low-frequency radar, so the electronic jammers on the ship failed to blur the pilot’s aim.

There was an enormous explosion, and the Blue Goose shook violently. Lady Luck had finally turned her back on the cruiser: sixty officers and sailors were killed, and scores of others were wounded.

Japanese torpedo-plane attacks continued and became a menace to the fleet. So an urgent plea was sent to the Pentagon near Washington, D. C., asking for help. The request was promptly turned over to the General Electric Company (GE), whose scientists plunged into the task of developing a countermeasure for the Japanese torpedo-plane radar.

Although a creation of this intricacy, even in wartime urgency, would customarily take many months, in a near-miracle, the GE specialists developed a new low-frequency design within twenty-four hours. Fifty of these devices were turned over to the navy in only a weeks time from the original request.

Within hours, the devices were on an airplane bound for the Pacific, where they were installed on ships around the Philippines while what came to be known as the Battle for Leyte Gulf was still raging.

Soon reports began arriving at the Pentagon that told of the success of the equipment. When the ships turned on the new electronic jammers, Japanese torpedo planes often were seen wavering from their courses and finally turning back, unable to find the targets on their blurred radar screens.

American warship skippers authorized operators of the electronic jammers to paint a small Japanese flag on their transmitters after each successful action of this type.

It had been the greatest naval engagement ever fought with regard to the number of ships and airplanes involved on both sides and the magnitude of the ocean surface covered -almost twice the size of the state of Texas. The Japanese Fleet had been virtually destroyed.

Playing a key role in the American victory had been the behind-the-scenes effort of the GE scientists in their amazingly rapid development of a countermeasure against the new-type radar in the Japanese torpedo planes.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imperial Japanese Navy Aircraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japanese Aircraft of the Sino-Japanese and Pacific War

1941 – The Japanese Southern Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Capture of the Taiwan

Japanese troops occupy Taipei, 7 June 1895

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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