Visit to Japan Oct 2018

I spent the month of October 2018 in Japan doing research in archives but also meeting veterans of Imphal and the families of veterans.

I also visited the Museum of Special Operations at Chiran in the south near Nagasaki. Special Operations refers to what in the west is call the Kamakaze programme. Kamakaze is a word Japanese never use in relation to the programme. My main take away was that the programme was very costly in terms of pilots, obviously. In the early days when the pilots were new recruits it made more sense than towards the end when even flying instructors were going on missions. The greatest number of missions were during the Battle of Okinawa which was of course the Japanese homeland even if not the mainland. There was also an air assault special operation in which 18, as I recall, paratroopers landed on a  US airfield and destroyed aircraft units they were all killed.

I spent lots of time in the archive supported by excellent translators and not a few historians who helped. I also met and interviewed Takao-san a veteran of Imphal. He was a battalion commanders runner in 214 Regiment ie on the southern Tiddim Road axis. His unit got as close to Imphal as any Japanese Unit. Again no spoilers but he spoke about condensed milk in the container dropped for Allied troops.

He also said they liked fighting the British who were complete gentlemen and best of all mostly slept at night. Whereas, he said Japanese officers had them running around fruitlessly at night. From what I know this rings true. He said much more that was fascinating.

I was also able to fill  in a good deal of detail on the Japanese axis on Shenam Ridge which for a period was their main effort. The Commander there, Major Gen Yamamoto  was much keener on the whole Imphal plan than the other Divisional commanders and of course he had road along which supplies could be brought to him. His force, was put under the direct commander of 15th Army and then apparently BAA although I still want to verify this.

The veterans families were angry with “Mutaguchi and anyone who listened to him” which of course meant the chain of command right up to Prime Minister Tojo. There are two source of anger. One that such a poorly planned operation was allowed in the first place given its low chance of success. On this point I am sympathetic to Mutaguchi and Kawabe in BAA. They had few good choices and Japanese doctrine of the time was clear that when you were threatened with attack, you did not defend; you attacked. The second point of anger for veterans is the Battle went on long after it was clear it had failed. Since most of the Japanese casualties occurred in the second half ie after 1 April 1944. This is harder to defend not least since by May and June it was Tokyo and Singapore who were asking for one last effort. BAA badly needed the troops in northern Burma were the front was in danger of collapsing as a result of Chinese attacks.

Other highlights include

  • Slim/Scoones made a significant planning mistake and was lucky that 20 Division was not trapped at the same time as 17th.
  • Half of the ammunition intended for Kohima was lost to allies air and Chindits. Also, a Japanese regiment was left behind to counter Chindits so all told I am not sure the Chindits get the credit they were due.
  • Spare a thought for the Japanese soldier sent back to Army Headquarters to get the gift of tobacco from the Emperor for the attacking troops. He also given a bottle of Sake but this was for the officers and of course breakable. In the carnage and confusion of the Chindwin crossings, somewhere in there was this soldier nursing the Sake trying to get back to his unit with it in tact.

So much more to say. Must keep writing. Do follow this blog.

2 Replies to “Visit to Japan Oct 2018”

  1. All very good Simon and so interesting. I invited some staffers from the Embassy of Japan (5 of them) to visit the Kohima Museum last year and they were amazed at the way the Japanese soldier was portrayed. They had all been led to believe that the the average soldier of those times was cowardly and of very low calibre which led to the ultimate defeat of Japan. They all said that they now had a new and completely different understanding. A good visit.


  2. Thanks Bob. There is lots to say about the Japanese attitude to imphal. I did one interview with a professor of management who was also an historian who had done a study in the disastrous decision making that led up to it. I do see why the Japanese decided to do what they did. Too little attention has been paid to doctrine. There was no no doctrine of defence so they had to attack. You can even find a way to defend Mutaguchi’s role since he was plotted against by other staff officers and BAA took away a good many of this planning staff. But my conclusion will not be that. Mutaguchi was a woeful planner and indeed leader in lots of ways. I find it telling that when Tojo authorised the operation, famously from his bath which we depict, he had 5 questions. One was “is Mutaguchi up to planning this/” he was told yes by those who wanted it to go ahead. But he knew his man and indeed Mutaguchi was, probably, a protege of his.


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