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The Jungle War against the Japanese
From the Veterans Fighting in Asia 1941-1945
Tim Heath brought together many new perspectives on life under Hitler in ‘Hitler’s Housewives’, reviewed last year. Now he has turned his attention to the war against Japan in the Far East. Again he has collected a variety of accounts from those who were there, in this case from both sides of the conflict. There are many personal stories here, painting a picture of the raw, often brutal, war in the jungle. He has not sought to censor his contributors - who appear to have been have ben very frank with him.
There are stories here of every aspect of the war, from the initial alien shock of the jungle through to many experiences of combat, and also of encountering or being involved in atrocities including the killing of wounded men and of cannibilism. Many memoirs from the time will cover these aspects in part but they are all concentrated here. An excellent single volume introduction to the reality of war in the Far East.
The following account by Akihara Koto, a Japanese private, is the first of two excerpts:
The basic rule tor fighting an enemy in the jungle is that if you plan to attack an enemy position, the best times to attack are dawn or dusk. Jungles are often dark by their very nature so the darker it is the better chance your attack has of succeeding.
Attack during the darkest times of dusk, nightfall and dawn has a very disorientating effect on an enemy. If it was raining, then this was considered even better as opposed to being a hinderance to us. The noise of rain falling on the jungle canopy has the effect of masking any noise of your approach.
The British had the habit of going under tents or down into their trenches when it rained, which made it easier for us to take them by surprise. Did they not think about this? Did they not think that this would be the best time to attack them? We used to laugh at their incompetence and their attitude to things like the rain.
All our orders were memorized and never written down on paper. This was something we had to learn early in our training, to memorize everything and never make notes which could then fall into enemy hands.
We were trained that it was not a good idea to concentrate your attack on the enemy’s frontal force, that we should also concentrate on attacking the enemy’s rear and flanks. If we were compromised by our enemy as we approached, we were instructed to remain still and quiet and not return fire; the commanding officer would assess the situation and then give orders on how the attack should proceed.
We were always to be vigilant for enemy booby traps, trip wires, observers and snipers. It was normal for pathfinders to be ahead of us, specifically looking to detect booby traps and tripwires or flares. The enemy used to string these out around their dug-in positions to give early warning of an attack.
We relied on hand signals, yet sometimes it was so dark that if a trap was found you had to tap the man behind you and gesture for him to relay back that danger had been found. A tripwire was dealt with by lying on top of it and allowing your fellow soldiers to walk or crawl over you.
We would have artillery support due to the limited fields of fire; heavy weapons would be used to bombard an enemy defensive position then we would move up behind the artillery before launching our attack on the font rear and flanks. Often the enemy began to fire wildly into the darkness as soon as our artillery opened fire. This made it easier for us to direct the artillery shells onto their positions.
Once the attack went in, we were to press home with it and should never retreat unless commanded to do so by our officers. We had mortar and machine-gun cover during the assault and the rest was up to us as individuals yet fighting as a well-coordinated force. We also had to understand the fact that if badly wounded we would have to be left behind if our troops were unable to get to us or were beaten back by the enemy. Our forces would of course try to retrieve us later if possible.
If captured by the enemy due to wounds, we were told to always keep our weapons with us. We should fire on the enemy until the point came where we would end our own lives rather than fall into enemy captivity. Yes, we would kill ourselves rather than be captured and interrogated.
The best way to kill yourself if wounded and facing capture was to use a sidearm. Place the barrel in your mouth until the muzzle of the pistol is firmly against the roof of the mouth in the centre. When the trigger is squeezed the bullet will destroy the brain in an instant.
Some of us carried knives and these could also be used as a means of suicide before capture. We were schooled in these techniques: you feel the ribcage in front of the heart; you feel this when you press your fingers into the skin in this area. Then you place the blade point between the two bones before the heart and thrust with all your remaining strength. The blade would go right through the heart with no problem and death would be instant.
These blades would be sharpened constantly for use against the enemy or to take our own lives if there were no other means. The blades were so sharp you could use them to shave with of a morning.
These were the basic principles which had to be learned thoroughly. Ritual suicide was another method, but this required a second man. While you disembowelled yourself with a shortened sword or knife, the other man would remove your head simultaneously with his sword. Many Japanese soldiers chose this method rather than be taken alive like a coward.
This excerpt from The Jungle War Against the Japanese appears by kind permission of Pen & Sword Books Ltd. Copyright remains with the author.