|About AWM 82 Captured Japanese documents (English)|
Professor TANAKA Hiromi, translated by Keiko Tamura
The AWM 82 collection can be divided into two main groups.
1. Documents which were collected on the New Guinea battlefields by the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS): ATIS translated these documents and extracted useful information for Allied strategic planning.
2. Documents which covered the one-year period after the war when the defeated Japanese army and navy in Rabaul were interned in camps under the control of Australian forces: These documents relate to the day-to-day life in the camps and include correspondence from Japanese units to their headquarters, and between there and the Australian headquarters.
In this essay, the first group is referred as AWM 82 and the second group as AWM 82.
There are 415 items in AWM 82, most of which were written before the New Guinea landing. They fall into the following general categories.
· Administrative documents: the majority of the documents relate to unit administration and include lists of retirement age of personnel, lists of transfers and death, unit nominal rolls, pay books, certificates, personal histories, medical diagnosis lists, various invoices, and unit lists.
· Strategic documents: very few of the documents relate to strategic matters, but the collection does contain several draft documents on supply lines and the line of defence.
· War diaries: the collection contains some war diaries with detailed descriptions of daily procedures in the units, but very few preliminary battle reports or detailed battle reports. There are also some draft war diaries and copies of war diaries in the collection.
· Personal items: a large number of personal items such as notebooks, military pocketbooks and savings books are found in the collection.
ATIS collected documents which were left behind by Japanese forces. In New Guinea, the Japanese forces fought hard until they were annihilated. Consequently, the only documents ATIS could find were half-burnt, soaked in rain and mud, or in pieces. Only a very small number of strategic documents containing a systematic description of events survived. In contrast, numerous personal notebooks and military pocketbooks, which were worn by the servicemen till they died in action, were found by ATIS. This range of documents clearly reflects the methods used by ATIS to recover documents.
It is therefore not easy to reconstruct detailed battle movements of the Japanese forces in New Guinea from the documents in AWM 82. However, it is quite possible to trace the movements of those units from Japan to New Guinea, the changes in their unit structures, and the service histories of the men.
In New Guinea, where heavy fighting occurred, it was due more to luck than anything else that important documents containing strategic and top-secret information survived. On the other hand, many administrative documents which were held behind the lines at headquarters were not regarded as secret. Burning them was not given priority. The result was that many of the documents were captured by ATIS because they had not been disposed of by the time the Allies arrived.
The first type of documents to enter the collection were official documents, ranging from daily journals, lists of names, and records of correspondence. Official documents were transferred with the units without a copy being sent to their original units or divisional headquarters in Japan. This is one of the reasons why the AWM 82 collection is so valuable.
It was generally assumed that, in order to preserve secrecy, unnecessary documents should not be carried to the front line. However, the Japanese army may have thought it was safer to keep the documents with their units. This is probably why some of those documents ended up in AWM 82.
The other type of documents were personal records, which included military pocketbooks, private notebooks and savings books. These items were taken from dead Japanese servicemen.
Military pocketbooks (which had to be worn at all times), personal notebooks and savings books were equivalent to personal identification. For the remaining family members, those items were regarded as personal keepsakes and relics of the servicemen who died in New Guinea. Major General KUWADA Etsu surveyed AWM 82 in 1980, the first Japanese to do so. He tried to find the families of the owners of these personal items in order to return them. With the help of the Ministry of Welfare in Japan and the Australian government, Major General KUWADA was able to send a number of those items back to Japanese families.
Photocopies of the originals are retained in AWM 82. Entries which state “photocopies only” indicate that the originals have been returned to Japan. An important task for researchers will be to determine how to incorporate those personal records into military history as a whole.
Most of the items in the collection were captured in Hansa Bay, with fewer items collected in Finschhafen, Madang, Sio, Lae and Salamaua. These place names were recorded in military history as the areas where severe fighting occurred. A few place names outside New Guinea are on the list as well. Some places were given names by the Allies for strategic purposes, and so it is not possible to determine accurately where they are.
It is rather puzzling that some well-known battlefields, such as Wewak, Rabi and Hollandia, could not be found on the list. Hollandia was an important strategic point for the Japanese forces, as was Aitape. Fifteen thousand Japanese servicemen fought to the last against the 50,000-strong Allied troops in order to establish the most important strategic objective for the western New Guinea operation. It is therefore puzzling not to see any items collected from those areas. It is possible that, rather than referring generally to “Hollandia”, the Allies listed more specific place names, and those names might be found on the list. This possibility still needs to be investigated.
Table of place names where documents captured
The Japanese forces consisted of two main groups, which fought hard against the American and Australian forces. The first group included the 20th Division, the 41st Division and the 51st Division, under the command of Lieutenant General ADACHI Hatazô, who led the 18th Army (code name, Mô).
The second group consisted of the 5th Division, the 32nd Division, the 35th Division and the 36th Division, led by Lieutenant General SHICHIDA Ichirô of the 2nd Army (code name, Ikioi).
The severity of the battles was clearly reflected in the high death rate of Japanese servicemen. The strategy the Allies employed was referred to by the Japanese as “tactics supported by material superiority”. The survival rate was 3 per cent for the 20th Division, 2.8 per cent for the 41st Division and 17.2 per cent for the 51st Division. Out of 96,944 servicemen who landed in eastern New Guinea, only 8,827 (less than 10 per cent) returned home.
The following table gives the names of units which fought against the Allies in eastern New Guinea, according to the report “Survey of units under the 18th Army in eastern New Guinea”, compiled by the Caretaking Administration Section of the Ministry of Welfare in 1948.
Units under the command of the 18th Army in eastern New Guinea
Units under the command of the 20th Division
Units under the command of the 41st Division
Units under the command of the 51st Division
In the AWM 82 collection, many documents appear with coded unit names and their numbers, such as Mô, Asa, Kawa, Ki and Oki. For example, the 238th Infantry Regiment was coded as Kawa 3565, the 41st Transport Regiment as Kawa 3569, the 2nd Field Hospital of the 41st Division as Kawa 3574, the 78th Infantry Regiment as Asa 2086, and the 239th Infantry Regiment as Kawa 3566.
The following table shows the unit names and their codes in western New Guinea.
Units in western New Guinea area
The underlined and highlighted units in the two tables above are represented in the AWM 82 collection. The documents in AWM 82 came from only 10 per cent of all units in eastern New Guinea. When we consider all the units in eastern and western New Guinea, the rate of survival of documents falls to about 5 per cent. This reflects the horrendous battles that took place, which is when most of the documents were burnt. Even a capable organisation such as ATIS did not manage to collect enough material.
I have just started cross-referencing the unit names in AWM 82 with Unit histories of eastern New Guinea area and Unit histories of western New Guinea area, compiled by the Relief Bureau in the Ministry of Welfare. Although my work has not been completed, there appear to be many units in the Memorial’s collection that don't correspond to the Japanese records. It is most probable that some units, which were formed in mainland Japan, China, Manchuria or Korea, were restructured and their names changed after landing in New Guinea. These units carried various documents they had created using their former name. This may explain why the older unit names are found on documents in the Memorial’s collection.
For example, some documents belonging to units which were originally formed in mainland Japan, China or Korea and which were then sent to western New Guinea occasionally appear with titles such as Korea 23rd Unit or Korea 27th Unit. After landing in western New Guinea, those units were renamed as follows.
As the cataloguing of the collection progresses, we can expect further requests for repatriation of personal items by Japanese families. However, the parents of those who died are long gone, and most of the young soldiers who perished did not leave any children behind. Siblings of the dead are already in their old age; the existing families therefore often consist of nephews and nieces who do not know the dead directly. Relics have value and meaning only for those who actually know the dead. What I would like to propose is that the time has come for those relics to be preserved as historical evidence for the general public.
I believe it is a duty for both present-day Australians and Japanese to examine the particular events which ended tragically for the Japanese, and the meaning of the huge sacrifice for American and Australian forces. Studying these rare documents may help in this research. Our duty therefore includes the preservation of these valuable documents. I sincerely hope that not only the family members in Japan but also both Japanese and Australian government officials will assist in this endeavour.
There are 353 items in AWM 82. Most of the documents were exchanged between the 12th Group, where the headquarters were located, and other groups. The documents shed light on the living conditions of Japanese troops after the surrender. Personal documents contain entries with reflections on the Japanese defeat and news from families in Japan. These documents reveal the psychological state of Japanese servicemen in that period.
The characteristics of the documents in AWM 82 can be described as follows.
· As they cover the living conditions of the Japanese forces under the control of the Allies, they were not regarded as secret documents. Therefore, the main documents are likely to have remained in their entirety.
· They were filed chronologically, according to subjects. Therefore they have retained systematic organisation.
· They were preserved well because they were not in a battle area.
· Many of them were mimeographed and are easy to read.
The items in AWM 82 relate to the following general subject areas.
1. Strength of the Japanese forces at the time of the surrender and quantity of their weapons and ammunition;
2. Surrender negotiations between the Australians and the Japanese;
3. Preparation for receiving the Australian forces and their landing;
4. Reorganisation plan of camp groups;
5. Self-sufficiency scheme;
6. Reports on crop growth and harvest quantity;
7. Construction, location and size of camp groups;
8. Cultivation and irrigation for newly cleared fields;
9. Personnel distribution for constructing camp groups, assisting the Australian Army and farming;
10. Troubles with Australian soldiers;
11. Name lists of the camp groups and servicemen’s home prefectures, and compilation of unit histories;
12. Medical and sanitary surveys with data on nutrition intake and malaria patients;
13. The general situation in the world and Japan, and the degree of destruction in Japan;
14. Mental preparation for participating in post-war reconstruction;
15. Educational and technical training curricula;
16. Daily schedule;
17. Direction of post-war Japan and the Japanese;
18. Preparation for textbook compilation and their drafts;
19. Defence material for war crime suspects in Rabaul;
20. Food and grocery supplies for defence lawyers and the accused;
21. Points of contention in the court cases, such as the lack of interpreters and the deficiencies in their capabilities;
22. Repatriation plan and reorganisation of camp groups;
23. Establishment of an organisation to carry out repatriation and orders of repatriation;
24. Letters from families in Japan;
25. Various orders, administration documents and reports;
26. Song books, haiku and notebooks.
There are also numerous items which do not fall into the above categories.
Japanese troops who had surrendered were gradually repatriated from autumn 1945, after spending a period of detainment under the control of the Allies. The Kwantung Army was taken to Siberia by the Soviet Union and their repatriation was greatly delayed. Intensive repatriation took place in 1946 and, by the end of 1947, most of the servicemen who were allowed to return had stepped onto Japanese soil.
The Japanese unconditional surrender resulted in the abolition of organisations such as the Ministry of Army, Ministry of Navy, Army Main Headquarters and Navy Main Headquarters. Yet, the Allies ordered that the existing ranking system and the unit organisation of the surrendered troops be retained until the troops had landed in Japan and the procedure of repatriation was completed.
Because the surrendered Japanese forces remained military organisations after the war, orders and regulations continued to be issued from the headquarters to each unit. Similarly, each unit continued to submit inquiries and reports to the headquarters as they had during the war. The main communication methods were through oral messages or documentation. Telephone and radio were also used, and records of these communications were kept.
As soon as acceptance of unconditional surrender was conveyed, documents were burnt in order to prevent the leaking of military secrets. Therefore, hardly any documents remained other than those which were captured by ATIS immediately after the fighting stopped. There are only three or four documents in AWM 82 which were created during the war and which were captured by the Allies after the surrender. In contrast, those documents which were created between the surrender and repatriation include scarcely any secret information and were not burnt.
Despite the fact that the Japanese forces expanded their territory over such a wide region, the only documents that remain from this period are those papers and notebooks created under the control of Australian forces in Rabaul and the surrounding islands which are now collected in AWM. Up till the present time, research interest in this particular period has not been very great and little research has been carried out. However, even if new sources of material are found, it is unlikely that many more items will be discovered.
There are probably two reasons why no documents relating to the post-surrender period can be found today other than in AWM 82. Firstly, a stringent check was carried out by the Allies before Japanese servicemen went on board repatriation boats and, as a result, all documents and notebooks were seized.
Secondly, the seized material was discarded by the Allies. Only the Australian forces decided to send the material back to Australia for preservation instead of destroying it. The documents were regarded as rare and valuable historical material and were added to the AWM 82 collection.
In March 1985 the Rabaul Keiyûkai, an organisation of servicemen who were repatriated from Rabaul, published Minami jûjisei no senjô: Dai Hachi Hômengun sakusen kiroku [Battlefield under the Southern Cross: Strategic records of the 8th Army], with photographs of a botanical specimen book and an English textbook. This indicates that a few items, including those two, were brought back to Japan despite strict luggage checks. However, those two items were exceptions. It is most likely that AWM 82 is the sole collection which holds a set of documents issued and received by the Japanese forces under the control of the Allies during the post-surrender period.
The First Army under General Sturdee accepted the surrender of the Japanese 8th Army, under the command of General IMAMURA Hitoshi, and the South East Fleet of the Japanese navy, led by Vice-Admiral KUSAKA Jin’ichi, in August 1945. A total of 140,000 Japanese servicemen surrendered to the Australians; approximately 100,000 men of the 8th Army and 40,000 men of the South East Fleet were dispersed in New Britain, Bougainville, New Guinea and nearby islands at that time. The majority of the surrendered forces were in the vicinity of the strategic port of Rabaul in northern New Britain. The headquarters of the Japanese forces were also located near the port.
The responsibility for controlling the 140,000 Japanese, as well as providing them with food, medicine and other goods, was too much for the Australians. Furthermore, around that time, Australia was planning to send units to Europe and the south Pacific as well as immediately dispatching occupation forces to mainland Japan. Not many ships could be spared for the surrendered Japanese troops because Australian units required them for their own use.
Rabaul, where the best of the Japanese forces had initially been sent, lost its importance after the Navy Flying Corps was transferred to the Truk Islands in February 1944. The base lacked air power and was cut off from supplies from the mainland. As a result, the Japanese troops, who were proud of their modern technology, had no alternative but to engage in a self-sufficient economy similar to that in medieval times. Fortunately, there were many soldiers who had been farmers or artisans before the war. It was therefore possible for them to cultivate the land to grow food, and to manufacture utensils and even simple weapons.
The Japanese troops survived not only because of the self-sufficiency promoted by General IMAMURA from an early stage, but also because the Allies did not carry out landings. Consequently, servicemen in the area did not experience the starvation that those in New Guinea did. When IMAMURA was negotiating the surrender with General Sturdee, he surprised the Australian by saying that the Japanese would be able to continue their fight for a few more years because they had enough food to support themselves. By the time the war ended, the Japanese forces had established a self-sufficient structure and had confidence in maintaining this.
The transformational process of the modern military organisation (which possessed equipment and the capability for modern warfare) into an organisation with medieval self-sufficiency must be an interesting research theme not only for military historians but also social and economic historians.
According to studies on Japanese social adaptability in prisoner-of-war camps, Japanese inmates allegedly did not have a strong sense of individuality compared with westerners. They could not make their own rules, but required orders from the manager in order to cultivate solidarity. However, as can be seen in Rabaul, they could indeed adapt themselves to a self-sufficient system based on their own decisions and were capable of managing their own affairs. Future research on the collection may well open up new perspectives on this subject.
After Australian troops accepted the surrender of the Japanese who outnumbered them, they took advantage of the self-sufficient capabilities of the Japanese in order to supplement the lack of supplies. At the same time, it was necessary for Australia to reorganise the Japanese troops, which possessed seven to eight times more soldiers than themselves, into a structure which was easier to manage. As a result, the Australian Army decided to integrate the army and the navy and to dismantle divisions. At the same time, groupings such as regiments, battalions and companies would be retained. Subsequently, the Japanese were reorganised into group camps, which resulted in a drastic restructuring. The following table shows the composition of each group.
Map of Rabaul indicating position of camps
The production of food and other articles was disrupted when all the Japanese units were transferred to newly established camp-sites away from the familiar areas where they had farmed and prepared for battle during the war. Initially, IMAMURA expected that the Japanese would be detained in Rabaul for at least three years. However, repatriation began in April 1946 and all but those who had to face the war crime trials had returned to Japan by autumn that year. It was said that the Australian government strongly urged the Japanese government to hasten the repatriation process. The management of the Japanese forces had become a big burden for Australia, and the rationalisation of camp groups had triggered a drastic decline in food production.
Generally speaking, military historians have not expressed strong interest in the transformational process of military organisations from wartime to peacetime. Often, histories have been influenced by the needs of the army, and have focussed on histories of battles, weapons and military organisations. Matters concerning servicemen returning to peacetime society tend to be ignored. Furthermore, the fact that little material has been available to study these matters has had an adverse effect. In this sense, AWM 82 has the potential to create a new field of research depending on how the material is interpreted.
(Written by TANAKA Hiromi and translated into English by TAMURA Keiko)