Chapter 1: IJA Man Power and Training

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Man Power:

The Japanese soldier was a product of his society, encumbered with certain strengths and weakness like soldiers of all countries. He went by the generic knick name of Heitai, just as the British went by Tommy, the Russians by Ivan, and the Americans by Joe. He was generally a conscript between the ages of 19 and 45. During the pre war years his term of service in the active duty forces was for two years. During the war years it was lengthened to three years.

His background was varied. Out of 100 typical Japanese soldiers you could expect to find: 31 farmers, 30 factory workers, 15 White collar professionals, seven or eight government employees, five teachers, three fishermen, one or two miners, and six from various assorted professions. Additionally you would observe that they all could read and write. One or two of them would even be university graduates, two had graduated from a junior college, 11 had finished high school and 85 had finished the six grade, which was the legal requirement for all citizens of the Empire. More surprising at least 15 of them could read and write English. The education levels may seem surprising but they were the result of an Imperial Rescript mandating education by the Emperor Meji. The majority, a full 70%, came from the homes of the poor.

Our generic Japanese soldier had been conscripted into the Imperial Army since conscription began on 10JAN1873. In order to qualify for induction he had to be at least 1.5 meters tall, his chest needed to be as broad as half of his height, weigh at least 103lbs, and not be completely bald Not everyone meeting the minimum qualifications was accepted, as late as 1937 the rejection rates were running as high as 600 out of 1,000. This greatly reduced the number of qualified candidates entering the lottery. So worrying in fact was this escalating rejection rate that the government responded by mandating 10-15 minutes of daily physical conditioning exercises in the work place and that every city with a population of at least 100,000 must have a large four acre physical training complex .

Japanese soldiers were inducted into the Imperial Army on January 10th out of deference to that being the day the conscription act was made law. Induction day was a community wide celebration with families invited and expected to attend attired in their finest traditional clothing. Commanders made speeches emphasizing that the new soldiers were warriors in the service of the Emperor and that the Army was merely an extension of the soldiers home. A letter sent to the parents of each recruit by his commanding officer asking for personal information reinforced this home like aspect and replete with promises to keep the family appraised of their sons conditions and progress. Each letter ended with a promise that he, the commander, would act in the place of the soldier’s family, as his surrogate father until such time as the soldier returned home. Then the soldiers, wearing their new uniforms would exit the barracks and do a pass in review for their new and old families.

It is likely that this pass in review would be quite smart as fully 75% of the recruits had some form of previous military training. The program was completely voluntary and started when he was eight years old. It involved two hours per week of military training and four to six days a year of military maneuvers. Though as the war years came, the training became a part of the schools normal curriculum. He would not have been alone in the ranks surrounded by strangers. Japanese Regiments each recruited from a specific geographical area, furthering the family like atmosphere of military service. Because the majority of soldiers came from poor homes and had likely been contributors to the family’s income, the government set up a series of allowances payable to the family while the soldier was serving with the colors .

His hair was clipped very short and his uniform was generally ill fitting. Often his boots were unpolished, his buttons undone and his hat was set askew. In fact a Japanese soldier could fully expect to pass a full inspection with a three or four day growth of beard. As part of his spiritual training he was taught not to pay undue attention to outward appearances and too expect only simple food. In order to control his spiritual influences the Army censored all in-going and out-going mail, forbade pin-up posters, made available reduced cost condoms, and subjected Heitai to a full medical exam once a month. Interestingly he could drink on duty as long as it did not interfere with the performance of his duty. He had Sundays off from 0700 to 1800 and was benefited by 20 patriotic and military holidays a year. But officers were held to a higher spiritual standard. Any officer of the rank of Major or above who was found to be visiting a prostitute would be cashiered from the service.

Japanese Infantry training was tough and was a process of gradual hardening of mind, spirit, and body. In the pre-war years it lasted the entire first year of an enlistment. During the war it was reduced to three months and often done in the operational area itself. During the pre-war era the typical training outline for a year went as follows:

January-May: Initial recruits training (typical military topics, squad training, bayonet, and marksmanship. In February he would go on a five-day cross-country march as part of building up endurance and operational awareness of cold weather.
June-July: Marksmanship, field works, platoon and company training, bayonet, and marching 20 miles a day.

August: Company and battalion training, field exercises, swimming, combat marksmanship, bayonet, and marching 25 miles per day. (March discipline as less stringent then in Western armies. Soldiers walked they did not march, they picked up firewood on the go and drank from their canteens when they wanted to).

October and November: Combat marksmanship, battalion and regimental training, and the Grand Fall maneuvers which were considered a spectator event by the public and conducted under the watchful eyes of the Emperor himself.
The training was a gradual toughening up similar to what was experienced in other armies. Three things stand out about Japanese Infantry training. These three things are the focus on spiritual training (Seishin Kyoiku), long distance marching and night fighting.

The spiritual training was considered the very foundation of all other training. The motto was that Faith equaled strength. Its primary intent was to draw up on traditional Japanese cultural norms and values as a way to compensate for known deficiencies in equipment and technologies. Later during the war it would be further emphasized to make up for lack of conventional training and the lesser qualities of the recruits being taken into the service. In the regime of spiritual training two things should be noted. The first is the emphasis on bayonet fighting. It was felt that because of the superior aspects of the Japanese warrior culture that no foe could best them at a close in fight. That this close in fight was the very best way to utilize the unique strengths of Japanese culture over and against the strengths of any opponent. This belief was backed up a long cultural history of Emperor Worship, which continually reinforced this mindset and belief. The Japanese soldier never though of himself as a soldier he though of him self as a modern day incarnation of an ancient samurai warrior first and foremost.

Following this logic the Japanese soldier was taught that his most important weapon was his spirit harnessed to his bayonet. His bayonet being the modern version of the samurai sword. He was taught “The fixing of bayonets is more than a fixing of steel to the rifle since it puts iron into the soul of the soldier doing the fixing.” His rifle to which that bayonet was affixed was also considered a symbol of his military spirit and the personal property of his Emperor. Any neglect or misuse of that rifle or bayonet was considered a corruption of the soul and an act of irreverence towards the Emperor and the reflected divinity of the soldier himself. Surprisingly, given the amount of marksmanship training evident in the training schedules the Japanese soldier proved to be a notoriously poor shot with his rifle. Even the snipers, which were reckoned to be the very best in stalking and camouflage, were trained to engage targets out to only 300 meters. Which contrasted greatly with his imaginative use of machine guns and over all excellence with light mortars.

The spiritual training also focused on the Divine Emperor, frugal living, and devotion to duty. The central focus for these values was the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors of the Emperor Meiji. The soldiers had to meditate of this document for ten minutes every morning and would be forced to recite parts of it by memory prior to eating supper. Failure to correctly recite the text meant an empty stomach. So revered was this document that it was read at a unit parade ceremony some four or five times a year. The task of reading to the assembled troops being considered a great honor amongst the junior officers. It is known that one time a Junior Lieutenant publicly made a mistake when reading the text and out of shame committed suicide.

No opportunity was missed to pound home the point of spiritual superiority. Long route marches would often be taken with the terminus at a national shrine or historic site. One of the most important sites, which he would visit once a year, was the national soldiers shrine. Here was inscribed the name of every soldier who had ever fallen in service to the emperor. There was no such thing as an unknown soldier in the Japanese military and the dead were not forgotten they were earnestly believed to be with the living continuing the fight on the spiritual plane.

Besides using the spirit to overcome defects in technology and material the Japanese believed that night operations could negate superior firepower, especially artillery, and help their soldiers close in to the enemy where their superior spirit and individual skills would win out. Typically the soldiers spent two nights a week in night operations training. The individual soldier was taught how to crawl slow and silent. Stealth was emphasized to better enable the soldier to get close for the final attack. Stealth was taught by having soldiers make sure their canteens were topped off, their ammo pouches settled with wads of paper, their boots wrapped with burlap and rags. He was taught to thrust hard and full with his bayonet as studies had shown soldiers at night tended to short thrust wit the weapon.

They started their night training in the barracks area during early evening wearing dark glasses, then at night when the moon was full, followed by the darkest of nights through rough country. During this training they were taught to fall flat on a regular basis to look up at the horizon and to use off center vision. They focused on obstacle clearing, attacks up to company in size, concealment, noise identification and prevention, patrolling, security and orienteering. Navigation was by map and compass and leaders kept troops in line by wearing white strips on their backs. A single diagonal strip for platoon leaders, a white X for company commanders, and some leaders even took to dosing their clothes in distinctive scents.

Before the war there was a noticeable lack of petty crimes and infractions in the Japanese Amy. It was routine to go six months with out some one in the guardhouse. A contributor to this was the paternal nature of relations between men and enlisted. Soldiers were taught and encouraged to think of their officers as daddy and their NCOs as mom. It was not uncommon for soldiers to make purely personal calls on their leaders at home. Unlike many armies in the west the Japanese officer was expected to mess with his men, eating the same rations and suffering whatever privatations his men did. The hitch was that the officer had to buy his own sword, his own uniform and provide for his own billeting, the tradition being that he lived off base. All of this on a very low salary. With that being the case though, the word of the officer was considered the word of the Emperor. This contributed to orders being obeyed but had the down side that many officers would issue orders and then just assume that they had been carried out. This lack of personal supervision was exacerbated by the long held Japanese tradition of the local officer having complete independence of action with in the area that was his responsibility.

At the beginning of the war in late 1941 the situation was already turning grim for the Japanese Army. The Army had suffered high loses in Officers and NCO’s in China. Between 1937 and 1941 Japanese losses in China totaled 185,000 killed in action. This was due in large part to their tactical construct valuing leadership and personal valor over administrative and battle management skills. Their tactics also called for imaginative and daring risks at he lowest levels which with the losses were becoming harder and harder to implement. These losses and the expansion of the army caused a rapid increase in promotions, a shortening of training classes, and the induction and mobilization of poorer quality manpower. This resulted n increasing disciplinary problems and reliance on the easiest of tactical methods since the lack of training did not neglect the demands for personal valor and warrior spirit. Much like the Imperial Navy soon ran out of good pilots the Army was running out of good leaders at the critical troop leading levels.

With the influx of new troops and the degradation of training especially in the leadership problems soon developed. Disciplinary problems were of the greatest concern because this ate away at what the Japanese believed to be their greatest combat multiplier, their spiritual strength. The men still rejected fear. The men still fought alone in the company of their ancestors but when not in battle they were becoming hard to control. The spiritual aspects began to take on new and ever more important primacy as the training and quality deteriorated. What had been the weapon of first choice in an arsenal of some was becoming a weapon of final resort in an otherwise empty arsenal.

The dictum that there are only two possible outcomes to any battle was honorable victory or honorable death. And the lack of skill and the poorly trained replacements indicated that the later would soon be the final outcome. Especially when shock action took precedence over firepower and the ultimate aim of an infantryman was to take part in a charge, which brought him face to face with his foe.

One of the primary causes of this falling off of efficiency and ability was the lengthy and detailed nature of both officer and NCO training. Officer training was open to all who met the basic educational qualifications. As a result the officer corps of the Imperial Japanese Army was largely made up of members of the lower middle class. This did enhance the mutual affection between the leaders and the led as they often had similar backgrounds.

All graduates of state recognized primary school were eligible to set for entrance examinations to the lower Officer education schools. The acceptance rate to the lower school was one out of 60. This school was two years in length and contained a rigorous curriculum of general subjects with emphasis given to kendo, and Japanese history. Up on completion of the lower school the graduate had to complete three months in the ranks. This was followed by attendance at he upper school, which was again gained by examination and recommendation. Here the schooling was wholly military in character. This was followed by two months in the ranks as an NCO and then final competitive examinations for commissioning. This type of commissioning was the most common but it did have its limits. Those who did not go on to the military academy afterwards could only rise up the ranks to the rank of captain and would therefore be retired by age 48.

The Japanese did have set retirement ages for various ranks. This was adhered to even during the war in most cases. An example of this was the Commander of Japanese Forces at the Battle of Kohima-Impahl. Soon after the battle he reached the mandatory retirement age and was retired rather then reassigned to another command. Those who upon graduating at the top echelon of their upper school class were eligible for the Japanese military academy. This was done by examination after their two months as an NCO. Classes at the academy were strictly military in nature. The top of the class in the military academy could after a few years service apply for the General Staff College.

The General Staff College was a three-year school with 50 slots allocated per year. The average age of those beginning their course of instruction was 30 and the average rank was that of a Major. Officer promotions in the IJA had minimum time in grade requirements like most armies. These were as follows: For 1LT – six months, for CPT – one year, for MAJ – one year, for LTC – one year, for COL – one year, for MG – one year, for LTG 1.5 years. Promotions above LTG were at the discretion of the Emperor. There was a provision however for both Officers and NCOs to be advanced two grades for especially meritorious service.

NCO training was just as laborious as officer training. It required time with the troops and about one to two years at an NCO academy.
Though these training regimes look sound on the surface they were abbreviated beginning in 1941 with the rapid expansion of the war effort. This expansion of the number of units combined with the losses experienced in China made for an accelerated promotion scale and the elevating of NCOs to officer status to fill in the gaps. This at time when the quality of manpower and training was also beginning to wane. Couple this with a doctrine devoted to relentless attack led by the leader in person and the need for adaptability of the lowest leaders to the situation spelled ruin for the IJA. Less qualified and trained troops led by leaders adhering to the idea of personal valor above all caused more and more rigidity to operations, which had previously been governed by unpredictability.

Imperial Japan had basically three competing pulls on its total manpower. These three competitors were the IJA, the Navy, and industry to produce the goods and weapons needed by the other two. The total population pool for the three factions, including men, women, and children according to the 1940 census was, 73,114,000. The early year of victory in 1941 soon turned to years of increasing struggle to raise enough troops to cover new areas, new threats, and make up losses.
The year marked the beginning of an all too common story for the total Japanese manpower situation. While Japan was able to raise 10 new Infantry Divisions (six were dispatched to China with no organic artillery component and four were dispatched to Manchuko with only light artillery) she was trying to make up losses of five division equivalents in manpower. Japan lost three division equivalents in the last four months of 1942 alone. In raw numbers the manpower strength of the IJA from 1941-1942 only increased by 300,000 troops though the area of operations more then doubled. In fact after the first six months of offensive action in late 1941 and early 1942, Japan had added over a million square miles of land, 150,000,000 new subjects, and 150,000 western prisoners of war.

1943 saw a continuation of the same losing process. The Army alone in 1943 lost 40,000 troops who died in the sinking of transport ships. Though Japan did manage to increase it’s over all strength from 2.4 million to 3.1 million. 1943. But while it made great strides in increasing its manpower total the cost of this increase hit industry especially hard as only 380,000 deferments were given to industry. This lack of deferments eroded valuable skilled workers which industry was unable to replace and crippled industries ability to provided the weapons and hardware needed by the increase in troop strength.
1944 brought renewed efforts to increase troop manning levels. The Japanese were able to draft an additional 1 million new soldiers. This brought the total under arms to 4.1 million. But this masked the fact that Japan lost in 1944 alone, the equivalent of 15 division’s worth of manpower. While these losses to death and wounds were horrific; equally troubling to the Japanese high command were the losses incurred by the Allies island hopping and bypassing of garrisons. This effectively removed those bypassed forces from the lists of available troops. These losses due to bypass were especially difficult in that they often contained large amounts of engineering, signalmen, and logistics troops which Japan found much more difficult, almost impossible, to replace then the common infantry soldier.

The last year of the war brought the notion of Total War home to Japans stretched manpower levels. In 1945 fully 87% of the total adult (both male and female) population of Japan was drafted into either industry or the military. 50% of that total made up the Reserve army on the home islands. This raised the total in the army to 5.5 million troops. Though for these new troops basic training lasted only from four to six weeks at most. And these new troops were usually only trained in rudimentary infantry skills. Japan was no longer able to effectively train replacements in the more technically skilled positions required.

Final Thoughts:
The training of Japanese troops and leaders in the pre-war years was extensive and at time innovative. Not many countries at that time issued a compass to every soldier and expected him to know how to use it. The mass cultural indoctrination was on a scale more pervasive then that of the Red Army or even the Waffen SS. The Japanese soldiers training was meant to produce a soldier who believed in his own innate superiority and that he should look at all times for ways to use that superiority. It is hard to overestimate the intangible effect of the spiritual training. It is after all what the Japanese emphasized themselves. They intrinsically expected to fight outnumbered and out gunned but believed that the spiritual quality of each individual soldier would more than compensate for these deficiencies.
The cost of this mindset was that Japanese soldiers would fight for the honor of their ancestors even when logic dictated they were dead. The use of pre-battle funerals though strange to western minds and norms was considered exemplarily and has its best parallels to the Jihad warriors of radical Islam. But the continual demands for personal and individual valor would severely degrade the Japanese military. The fact that the training worked so well can be seen in the countless banzai charges carried out later in the war when the spiritual weapon was the only way left to counter not just allied superiority in fire power and material but to counter the erosion of Japanese manpower and leadership quality and tactical training.
In the end it was their own strength, which proved their greatest weakness and their training proved successful.

Next chapter:



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