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Imperial Japanese Army

The Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) (Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun) was the official ground based armed force of Imperial Japan from 1867 to 1945.

The Japanese preserved in his traditions a love of the profession of arms, and every Japanese may be said to be a born soldier. In antiquity it was the principal occupation of the Japanese, and fighting thus remained all through the Middle Ages down to the present period. The first instructors of the modern Japanese army were the French, brought in by the Shogun in 1806, although the Eevolution was not entirely accomplished, and the Tokugawa were looked upon as the sovereigns of Japan by Europe. After the re-establishment of the Mikado, in spite of the French disasters of 1870, it was to French officers that Japan turned to form its army, so that France could say without bragging that it had created the Japanese Army. French officers remained there till 1888.

It was incontestable that the Japanese was a born soldier. In six months he could be fashioned into an excellent war machine; even a peasant coming straight from his rice fields could be turned into a thoroughly efficient soldier in less time than it takes for a French peasant to get accustomed to his new duties. This clearly was due to the fact that the Japanese was still close to the mediaeval period- that is, to his own mediaeval period, which, as a matter of fact, had only ended a few decades earlier. Beared amidst the noise of armed combats, duelling and wars between the nobles, the young Japanese was necessarily quickly enamoured of the career of arms. It was this atavism which has enabled him to adopt the militarism of Europe, and to achieve so signal a progress therein.

Military service in Japan was obligatory upon each citizen without distinction between seventeen and forty years; the call was made in the year following that on which the young man attains to twenty. In 1907 the War Minister was authorised by Parliament to try the experiment of a two years' service. Till then the Japanese soldier had remained three years in the active army. This experiment was only applicable so far to the infantry, but it nevertheless gave the opportunity for the incorporation of a much larger number of conscripts, so that at the present time the annual contingent under canvas reaches to the figure of some 130,000. By 1915 the number of citations varied between 515,000 and 520,000, for Japan, not being wealthy, could only enrol under its flag a certain number of men according to the state of its resources. The reserve, which since the legislation of 1905 and 1907 necessitated ten years in place of five, was capable of furnishing a fighting force of 500,000 men.

The Japanese did not have army corps; their unit was the division, and it was augmented by a brigade of the reserve. By 1915 the Japanese Army counted nineteen divisions, as well as the division of the guard. According to the different military reviews and journals at the time of the war in Manchuria Japan had 127 infantry battalions, 55 squadrons of cavalry, 89 companies of engineers. By 1915 it possessed already 229 infantry battalions, 73 squadrons of cavalry, 54 companies of engineers.

The transport and the commissariat are the most complex parts of the Japanese Army. As rice forms the principal element of the food (equivalent to European bread), and as its cooking was of a most complicated nature, it was necessary to carry baggage, which was one of the most serious impedimenta of the Japanese Army. This baggage must include, first of all, a big iron pot; and as there are several pots to a company, it will be seen what this represents.

The principal regimental garrisons are Tokyo, where the division of the Guard was quartered, Sakura, Sendai, Aomori, Nagoya, Kanazawa, Osaka, Himegi, Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Kumamoto, Kokura. Since the augmentation of the contingent the battalions had been distributed in other towns. For instance, one attacking division was always kept in Korea, and there was some question of increasing the troops owing to the ill reception given by Korea to the introduction of Western civilisation by Japan. Another of the attacking divisions was stationed in Manchuria. Hiroshima, situated on the inner sea and well sheltered and well defended, was since 1912 the headquarters for the general officers and staff, to which the Emperor was personally transported.

Before World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) developed an offensive tactical doctrine designed to allow its infantry forces to fight successfully against a superior foe, the Soviet Union. A battle test of that doctrine's effectiveness occurred from June through August 1939 along the Outer Mongolian-Manchurian border. From May to September 1939 Japan and the Soviet Union engaged in what started out as a small border clash but quickly escalated into a large undeclared war in the Mongolian plains near the city of Nomonhan. The Soviets won by employing over 1,000 tanks against the Kwantung Army's predominately infantry force by executing a near perfect double envelopment. However, the isolation of the battlefield, combined with the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, overshadowed the conflict.

When Japanese tactical doctrine failed against a Soviet combined arms force, the Japanese went on the defensive. Japanese officers, however, regarded defensive doctrine as transitional in nature and adopted it only to gain time to prepare for a counterattack. Defensive doctrine dictated that terrain be held until the resumption of offensive operations that would destroy the enemy. Today, both the Soviets and the Japanese examine the Nomonhan Incident in minute detail. It even serves as a case study at the advanced tactical schools of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force. In the final analysis, the incident was a major contributor to the Japanese strategic decision to pursue a southern axis of advance in 1941, rather than joining the German attack on Russia.

At the beginning of December 1941 the total strength of the Army was 51 divisions, a cavalry group, 59 brigade-size units, and an air force of 51 air squadrons. In addition, there were ten depot divisions in Japan.5 These forces were organized into area commands widely scattered throughout the Far East. The largest number of divisions was immobilized in China and large garrisons were maintained in Manchuria, Korea, Formosa, Indochina, and the home islands. Only a small fraction of Japan's strength, therefore, was available for operations in southeast Asia and the Pacific.

In the successful Japanese Centrifugal Offensive of 1941-42, the Japanese lacked realistic strategic objectives, and the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA), which was trained and equipped to fight the Soviet Army on the plains of Manchuria, had neither sufficient logistics structure nor appropriate equipment for a dispersed jungle campaign. Despite these severe strategic and operational failings, IJA tactical units achieved all of their objectives within six months.

The IJA's aggressive training methods produced a skilled army that easily adapted to the unfamiliar jungle terrain of the Southwest Pacific. while the IJA's equipment was usually ill suited for battle against the Soviets, Japanese emphasis on light weight unintentionally made the IJA's standard issue items eminently suitable for jungle operations. Likewise, the IJA's doctrine was ideal for a short, offensive jungle campaign. The Centrifugal Offensive provides evidence to the modern military leader that well-trained soldiers will adapt to unfamiliar situations without special training, and that junior leaders could learn initiative through instruction and conditioning.

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Page last modified: 14-06-2019 18:16:48 ZULU