The Standard Japanese Infantry Battalion
The following summary, as far as I can tell, was compiled by British, American and Australian intelligence using information gathered from multiple sources. It then had to be interpreted and presented in a way that the average Allied soldier could relate to. As a result, this is perhaps best described as the Allied view of the Japanese Infantry Battalion, which might not necessarily be the same as the Japanese view of the unit. But in the absence of firstly a contemporary Japanese table of organisation, and secondly a translator, it will have to suffice!
The Standard Infantry Battalion
Battalion Headquarters (3 Officers, 34 men)
Battalion Train (4 Officers, 106 men)
Gun Platoon (1 Officer, 54 men)
Machine Gun Company (4 Officers, 170 men)
Company Headquarters (1 Officer, 13 men)
Three Machine Gun Platoons, each (1 Officer, 45 men)
Ammunition Platoon (22 men)
Four Rifle Companies (4 Officers, 177 men), each comprised of;
Company Headquarters (1 Officer, 18 men)
Three Rifle Platoons, each
Platoon Headquarters (1 Officer, 1 man)
Grenade Discharger Squad (13 men)
Three Rifle Squads, each comprised of 13 men
Total Strength of 1100 all ranks (28 Officers and 1072 men)
Points of note
The one glaring omission from the Battalion is mortars. There are references that the Battalion might include a Mortar Platoon either instead of the Gun Platoon, or sometimes as well as. Where included, the Mortar Platoon is credited with 1 Officer and 39 men serving two 90-mm infantry mortars. There were two types of 90-mm mortar in service, the Type 94 weighing a mammoth 155 kg and the Type 97 which was 50 kg lighter. Both models had a range of around 3800 metres.
The elements of the Battalion
Battalion Headquarters - the Japanese Battalion was typically commanded by a Major, assisted by a Captain, who was responsible for ordnance and chemical warfare duties, and a Lieutenant as Adjutant. Headquarters included a number of senior NCOs, plus messengers who undertook the usual communications required without benefit of radios.
Battalion Train - this included the horse drawn transport of the Battalion, plus its medical and veterinary officers.
Battalion Gun Platoon - served two Type 92, 70-mm infantry guns, which provided the Battalion with its own organic artillery. The 70-mm was a heavy weapon for a light gun and had a range of over 2700 metres. It could also be deployed as a mortar type weapon, to engage targets at close range using a high elevation, making it a valuable asset.
Machine Gun Platoon - the Machine Gun Company served the standard Japanese medium machine gun, the Type 92. The Type 92 differed from many other similar machine guns in several key respects. Unlike the rifle and light machine guns of the Japanese Army it fired a 7.7-mm round. More unusually, it retained the strip feed device of the Hotchkiss gun which inspired it. This used a thirty round metal strip in place of the more normal belt.
At full strength, the Company had twelve guns, deployed in three Platoons of four guns each. In Allied reports however there are numerous references to the fact that in the field only an eight gun Company was likely to be encountered. When deploying eight guns it was said that the Company operated four Platoons of two guns each, but there seem to be no alternative subunit strengths for this type of Company.
Ammunition Platoon - consisted of an NCO and twenty one men, probably split into three Squads of seven, sufficient for one Squad per Machine Gun Platoon. When the Machine Gun Company operated eight guns rather than twelve, as mentioned above, the Platoon may have been expanded or served in a more general role within the Battalion.
The Rifle Company - the vagueness of real detail on Japanese organisation begins to make itself shown with the Rifle Company and its Squads and Platoons.
In the years since the war the most commonly referred to description of the Rifle Company comes from the US Army Handbook on Japanese Military Forces. This shows the Company with a Headquarters section and three large Rifle Platoons. Each Platoon has a HQ element of nothing more than an Officer, usually a 2nd Lieutenant, and an NCO, commanding four Squads. At full strength the Squad was to consist of a Corporal and twelve men. The first, second and third Squads of the Platoon each had a single light machine gun, while the fourth Squad had three grenade dischargers.
There is no clear depiction of how many men were allocated to support weapons within the Squads. It seems possible that for the Rifle Squad there were four men assigned to the light machine gun, acting as gunner, assistant and two ammunition bearers, leaving eight riflemen. That could allow a four-man team for each grenade discharger in the fourth Squad. There are several references to the Rifle Squad including two snipers, however the term sniper is this case might be misleading. Rather than a specialist with a high grade rifle fitted with a telescopic sight, sniper was more likely to refer to a marksman with a standard rifle undertaking harassing fire.
Individual weapons issue within the Platoon is equally hazy. Sources tend to refer to a total of 140 rifles across the Company as a whole, which would leave approximately forty men unaccounted for. Assuming officers and senior NCOs, attached medics, two men of each light machine gun team and one of each grenade discharger team did not carry rifles, that would total around forty men. With the level of detail provided however it is impossible to be exact, and it might simply be easier to assume that any man not serving a support weapon within the Platoon carried a rifle.
The Japanese rifle was the bolt action 38th year type, usually referred to as the Arisaka after the officer who initiated the series. The Arisaka was a fairly standard bolt action rifle fed from a five round box. Where it differed was in its ammunition, the 6.5-mm round proving to have an inferior ballistic performance to comparable British and American designs. The light machine gun was the Type 96, a weapon which incorporated some irksome problems. Chief among these was the tendency to jam which was only solved by introducing a different type of ammunition to that used in the rifle. All other armies realised the need for rifleman to use their ammunition to keep the Squad light machine gun functioning if necessary. The Type 96 could still accept the rifle rounds, but only at the expense of reduced reliability. It was fed from a top loading thirty round magazine which replaced an odd hopper system used on its predecessor, the Type 11. Both the bolt action rifle and light machine gun were amended during the conflict. The new designs were tailored to accept the same 7.7-mm round used by the heavy machine gun. How many men in a typical unit may have had the old design and how many the new is entirely debateable, though ideally for logistical purposes they should all have had the same. While the Japanese did produce some submachine guns they were issued on a much smaller scale than found in other armies, and then mostly to special units such as paratroops.
The grenade discharger was the Type 89, the legendarily mistranslated 'knee mortar'. The launcher was nothing more than a means of propelling a hand grenade type round some 600 plus metres. The Allies assumed this weapon could be fired by bracing the baseplate on the leg, but given the recoil involved this would have almost certainly resulted in a fractured bone.
Officers would have normally carried both a pistol and Samurai style sword, known as a Katana, sometimes handed down through the family for generations, sometimes a more recent acquisition.
Company Headquarters seems a remarkably large body of men for a notoriously spartan army as the Japanese. The Company was commanded by either a 1st Lieutenant or Captain, assisted by a Warrant Officer. There were four medical orderlies and three NCOs, seemingly responsible for ordnance, supply and liaison respectively. That leaves a total of ten men to act as runners because radio equipment was not issued down to Company, or sometimes even Battalion, level.
While reading through the various papers mentioned previously, there are references to several variations regarding the organisation of the Rifle Company. The most intriguing is the suggestion that the Rifle Squad was actually fourteen strong, not thirteen, and that the Company HQ section was founded by removing one man from each Squad to supply the runners. This same account deletes the Platoon NCO, and I wonder whether this may mean that the three NCOs from Company HQ doubled as Platoon Sergeants.
I have spent sometime trying to reconcile the various figures and simply cannot. No matter what logic I use there always seems to be a difference of a few men here or there. In the absence of more detailed information, and taking into account the problems the Japanese Army had in providing reinforcements and sustaining units in action, it is probably a fool's errand to even try, so the above variations are included for completeness.
The Japanese soldier demonstrated remarkable feats of arms in the opening stages of the war against the Western powers in Asia. They adapted quickly to the techniques of jungle warfare, despite the fact such terrain was very different from their homeland. However, the tsunami they unleashed could not be sustained. The destruction of the Imperial Japanese Navy rendered the Army immobile. The early advantages of air supremacy quickly waned. In the Far East, they were faced by a collection of nations who had proven the Rising Sun was not invincible. In the Pacific, garrisons were tethered to rocky outcrops, each marking another milestone on the Marine Corps epic journey to the Home Islands.
The Japanese Army
The Japanese Infantry Battalion
Japanese Divisional Organisations