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"The Irresistible Japanese" Topic

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1,095 hits since 4 Aug 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian04 Aug 2018 9:14 p.m. PST

What made the Japanese Empire so apparently irresistible in the early days of WWII?

Glengarry504 Aug 2018 9:29 p.m. PST

The Japanese forces were under estimated, the European colonial powers & Russia were busy fighting Germany, the best Japanese soldiers fought fanatically and the Japanese generals were willing to sacrifice their best troops in the hopes of a quick victory.

Wargamer Blue04 Aug 2018 10:48 p.m. PST

Underprepared and poorly equiped allied armies and air forces.

Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP04 Aug 2018 11:55 p.m. PST

It's an aspect of WWII which many cultures have airbrushed from how they prefer to remember WWII. The Royal Navy suffered a series of drastic defeats which saw them driven completely out of the Pacific – not the stuff of Ealing Studios. The RN never even got their own back when the Allies rallied.
They were just better. Their army was seasoned with better doctrine working combined arms operations under commanders with flair. They had a superb navy and good aircraft. It also helps to have a practiced war machine which was prepared for the war they intended to wage.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP05 Aug 2018 3:21 a.m. PST

I would dare to say that the Japanese in WWII are a most fascinating subject.

We first have to understand that they were top tier when it came to military theory in the 1920's and 1930's. They understood that the lessons the Europeans had learned in the trenches on the western front had almost no direct correlation with their own future military needs.

As such they were able to come up with new strategies and doctrines that emphasized combined arms amphibious operations. And it didn't matter if their tanks were tiny tin boxes with popguns they gave a significant edge against troops that didn't have much in terms of heavy equipment to begin with.

The Japanese navy and airpower was strong enough to take on nations that were fortuitously either physically occupied or at least occupied in that almost all available means was going to fighting the Germans. In either case, reinforcements would be fragmentary if they ever came at all.

Much of the strategy (and cost-cutting) of colonial powers was to maintain enough nominal power to retain control of the colonies. The idea had been that the motherland would send troops in due time if they was any threat of invasion.

I'll also reveal one of the cardinal points of modern warfare. Defending is both incredibly hard and very easy.

That's why Pearl Harbor and Singapore fell, but also why the Soviets lost so many planes and tank in the early days of Barbarossa or the Poles, the Dutch, the Belgians etc.

He who strikes first an can attack military targets has a huge advantage. Defending in such cases is incredibly difficult and losses are usually very high. This tends to stabilize over time and once engaged and you get to gauge where the enemy is attacking you can start to plan accordingly.

The Japanese attacks destroyed major assets before they could be used, being colonies they rarely had the best equipment and usually not enough of it anyway.

Now there is also a problem with the Japanese success story, which was so focused on striking first and hard and gain control of a large territory they didn't quite plan for the follow up other than continue to fight, expecting the enemy would simply come to an agreement sooner or later.

It's the classic case of wanting something so much it dominates every waking moment until you do get it and don't know what to do next.

Their defensive strategy sucked and they wasted their precious resources trying to defeat a US that would only get stronger as time went on and failing in that they wasted the rest of their resources on some "bleeding" strategy where they hoped that by killing enough enemies they would force them to give up.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP05 Aug 2018 6:05 a.m. PST

Patrick gives a great analysis

The Japanese were using their best forces against what everyone else thought was a secondary theatre – except for the US, who had a peacetime military that took a heavy hit at the start

Legion 405 Aug 2018 6:35 a.m. PST

The IJFs were prepared to go to war … very few others were … And they lasted as long as they did because they were more than willing take very high losses, in both the attack & defense.

Plus in many cases they took very high non-combat losses. E.g. At Guadalcanal more IJFs died from starvation, limited medical care, etc., etc. than the US killed outright.

Along with some of their commanders' answers to many tactical situations was to do a Banzai charge or die in place …

All were not the way to expect to win a war in most commanders' estimation, AFAIK …

Lion in the Stars05 Aug 2018 7:01 a.m. PST

Agree with L4, the Japanese were willing to take appalling casualties to win, where most Western forces would have broken off the attack.

The problem is that the Japanese did not have the supplies or industrial capacity to support the wars (plural) they were fighting, as the IJN and IJA had different war plans that they were fighting.

The IJN in particular was trying to get the one big battle like Tsushima to break the USN.

Gone Fishing05 Aug 2018 7:52 a.m. PST

Other much more knowledgeable members have already said it, but in a word: surprise. If a relatively weak chap like myself walks up behind a bodybuilder/martial artist type and clocks him over the head with a baseball bat, that sucker is going down. The trouble for me is if he gets back up again.

Joes Shop Supporting Member of TMP05 Aug 2018 8:09 a.m. PST

Patrick R – said it all.

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP05 Aug 2018 10:10 a.m. PST

NOBODY expects the Imperial Japanese Army! Our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear…fear and surprise…. Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency…. Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency…and a fanatical devotion to the Emperor…. Our *four*…no… *Amongst* our weapons…. Amongst our weaponry…are such elements as fear, surprise…. I'll come in again.

Keith Talent05 Aug 2018 1:59 p.m. PST

Indeed, good analysis from PR.<br />However, the Japanese suffered from a similar fatal ideological handicap that Hitler believed, that 20th century warfare could be conducted successfully by means of martial "skill" and "will" . Neither of them truly grasped that all that really matters is strategic logistics.

William Ulsterman05 Aug 2018 8:42 p.m. PST

No one has mentioned the fact that the Japanese had been at war since 1937 and many of the troops used in Malaya, Burma, Dutch East Indies and the Philippines were veterans. There were no battle experienced British, Indian, Australian, Dutch, US or Filipino troops to face them.

The Japanese used only 10 divisions of their army in their great march south, but they were good divisions. The Japanese took relatively few casualties until Guadalcanal – most of their conquests were made fairly cheaply – aside from Bataan.

Both the US and the poms knew the Japs were coming – the British buildup in Malaysia was substantial and designed to defeat any Japanese move south, the US build up in the Philippines was also part of their plan Orange to defeat any Japanese move south. I'd argue just how unprepared or surprised these allied forces really were. After you've been bowled for a duck or flattened in a scrum, saying you were "surprised" or "not ready" is a great excuse for incompetent execution of basic skills.

CSherrange06 Aug 2018 4:58 a.m. PST

A core group of veteran troops and some ready idiotic allied leaders led to a quick early surge. But the Japanese had no depth, and they had no good way to win a prolonged conflict.

Legion 406 Aug 2018 9:31 a.m. PST

Neither of them truly grasped that all that really matters is strategic logistics.
Very true … Certainly the IJF suffered many, many losses not related to combat of any kind. E.g. limited resupply[if any] leading to starvation, dying of wounds, illness, etc., etc.

Parzival06 Aug 2018 9:42 a.m. PST

Because they're just so darned cute!
But not as cute as their neighbors-- so cue the Sing-A-Long!: YouTube link

(Oh come on; the title of the thread practically called for a punch line.)

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian06 Aug 2018 2:54 p.m. PST

(Oh come on; the title of the thread practically called for a punch line.)

Then you're laughing at Edward L. Beach, I got the phrase from him… grin

Of course, he was there and we were not.

William Ulsterman06 Aug 2018 6:26 p.m. PST

Neither of them truly grasped that all that really matters is strategic logistics.
Very true … Certainly the IJF suffered many, many losses not related to combat of any kind. E.g. limited resupply[if any] leading to starvation, dying of wounds, illness, etc., etc.

Maybe in 1944, but in 1941-42 Japanese logistics in Malaya, Burma, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines were more than sufficient and was one of the strengths of their initial offensives. It was often allied logistics and supply that were heavily faulted in this early period – Bataan and Burma does spring to mind.

goragrad07 Aug 2018 10:11 p.m. PST

At sea the Japanese navy had worked hard at developing their night fighting capabilities and had the Long Lance torpedo. Major factors when war broke out. With the advent of more capable radar the night fighting superiority disappeared.

On land much of the initial success was just the tactical flexibility to bypass strong defensive positions. At Guadalcanal that wasn't an option. Once things turned defensive that flexibility on offense didn't matter and the offensive spirit that went with it became a liability leading to counterattacks that actually undermined the defense by wasting troops.

William Ulsterman08 Aug 2018 4:45 p.m. PST

But surely the Japanese had already demonstrated at places like Jitra, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bataan an ability to overcome defensive positions – they took them by assault and didn't by pass them.

Legion 409 Aug 2018 6:22 a.m. PST

Failure to understand how battlefield logistics "works" in the long term was on of the major errors both the IJF and Germans really didn't "get"… Motivated troops can't fight without ammo, food, fuel, etc., at least not for very long. I have not seen any stats. But I wouldn't be too surprised if the IJFs took many, many more non-combat losses than most other WWII forces. E.g. on Guadalcanal more IJFs died of starvation, disease, poor medical support, etc. Than the US killed in direct combat, bombs, etc. …

goragrad09 Aug 2018 6:59 p.m. PST

British forces in Hong Kong were outnumbered 4 to 1 and under-equipped.

At Jitra the defenses were incomplete and the British troops were also relatively inexperienced. There was also some bad luck – never hurts to catch an enemy loaded in trucks with even tanks (even Japanese tanks).

The Japanese got to Singapore using those bypass tactics. Singapore's reputation as a fortress was based on defenses designed to repel an attack from the sea – against the actual attack from the landward side they were inadequate. During the battle infiltration and bypassing of centers of resistance was also used.

Failures in command by British officers were also a significant factor in all of those battles – particularly a continual underestimation of Japanese capabilities.

That eventually changed as a result of those and other early battles.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP10 Aug 2018 2:07 a.m. PST

The Japanese performed exceptionally well as long as they had orders and a clearly defined script. The Japanese officer corps spend decades trying to modernize their army. They eagerly dissected every new development to check if it was suitable for use in their own plans.

As we have seen in 1941, this paid off. The Japanese had extensively rehearsed and planned their attacks. They had anticipated many major problems and figured ways to counter them. Officers were trained not only to execute the plans, but also to improvise if necessary, a feature that isn't really appreciated in our Western narrative.

Japanese officers were often highly educated and when interrogated after the war by psychiatrists the so-called Samurai spirit didn't really exist, not the way we see it.

The Western view of Japanese military is that of a Samurai in modern times and officers were often inspired by them, much in the same way a Marine looks up to Dan Daly, but they saw themselves as modern soldiers above all. The mystical and worship aspects were far less prevalent than commonly believed. Walk into a Japanese officer's mess in those days and you'd hear Jazz music, people discussing cars, women, sports, current affairs etc. This image is much more a post-war-trauma response, where they saw the modern Japanese army having failed for not being more like the Samurai of old, a sentiment that then permeated into the popular culture of films and Japanese portrayal of soldiers becomes one of bold-spirited Samurai warriors overwhelmed by an enemy that was little more than the blunt force of modern technology. Whereas the Japanese military was among the most eager to embrace technology to begin with.

A good example is the ambivalence the Japanese had towards the transition from the Kyu Gunto (western inspired sword) to the Shin Gunto (drop forged mass produced traditional Katana style sword), many officers felt that it was a relic of the past, a kind of step backwards. Much ink was spilled in discussion over this and some warned that it might give the already slightly unhinged junior officer cadre some really weird ideas. For a US equivalent one would look to people who think that gun development stopped right after the Single-Action Colt 1873 was introduced and anything more modern than a Henry rifle is of the devil, while others bemoan that they can't get anything more radically modern than an upgraded AR-15.

The critical mistake of the Japanese in WWII was to underestimate the ability of the enemy to make a come back and keep the war effort going. They did not underestimate the US and planned to inflict as many humiliating defeats as possible so the US would rather sue for peace than to embark on a major campaign to retake areas that were not even within their own sphere of control to begin with. They never achieve this, due to a combination of dumb luck and persistence on the US side.

And this is where the systemic weaknesses of the Japanese army start to show. They do not have the shipping tonnage to maintain their conquests or even move the materials, something like 60% of all Japanese shipping in peace-time is done by foreign vessels. Even with captured ships there is a major shortfall in capacity.

Also their tactic of garrisoning island after island is a horrible waste of resources. The Japanese are often seen as blind and radical ideologists who only believed in banzai charges, but as the surviving Marines will attest they were masters of the defense, setting up defensive lines with mutually supporting bunkers, sally tunnels to attack the enemy in the rear, reverse slope defenses all designed to survive impacts of battleship size naval shells. Often what is mistaken for a suicidal banzai charge is a carefully planned major counter-attack made on the assumption that US troops were already shaken by having to run the gauntlet. And we see that clever commanders learn from this and try to up the defenses, preferring well-timed small local counter-attacks or even infiltration tactics to recapture previously cleared bunkers. The issue being more of a definite lack of options than the failings of the officer corps.

We really have to understand that in a war of Island Hopping the tactical options of the commander defending their allotted island are few and far between. There is no hope of a buildup and counter-attack as in say Stalingrad. The Japanese do attempt this, but due to the complexity of operating on sea and trying to land troops to an island already under siege is a perilous undertaking at best.

The Japanese also make another mistake, similar to the Germans, they look for that major tactical victory that will force the other side to review their strategy. The US sees the war as a strategic operation, all tactical operations are simply steps on the way to victory. A loss may be a major setback, but it doesn't ring as being a strategic defeat, not the way the Japanese anticipate.

After they execute their plans with masterful skills they lose sight of their options and give up the initiative because they lack the ability to fight a strategic war, to use an analogy, they are the Germans of 1940/41 in 1941 and then become the French of 1940 in subsequent years. They are bound to the defensive, trying to win tactical battles and therefore constantly yielding the initiative to the Americans who end up defeating them piecemeal, one island at a time because in a naval war they try to win tactical land battles or tactical sea battles which they lose early on, they do well at Coral Sea and eke out a marginal victory, but it's really a US strategic victory, they are crushed at Midway and again at Guadalcanal and the agony ends at the Philippine Sea, where they permanently lose any last real coherent naval ability.

The Japanese do perform exceptionally well if they have a solid script and clear, achievable goals and most importantly the strategic mobility to perform, once it shifts to a strategic naval campaign and the plan to "beat the Americans into submission" fails utterly because it makes the same mistake Hitler makes in attacking the USSR, that the US is weak and a solid punch will make them cower and submissive and that the colonial powers will have to recognize Japan as a dominant power in Asia.

Blutarski10 Aug 2018 10:28 a.m. PST

Well said, Patrick. +1


Legion 411 Aug 2018 7:05 a.m. PST

Ditto !

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