|Unit histories of Japanese forces in Papua and New Guinea|
Dr Hiromitsu IWAMOTO
Unit histories are useful source materials for researchers. They provide more detailed accounts of the events than official histories, which normally deal with grand operation theatres. And unit histories often include the views and feelings of veterans about their experiences. Thus unit histories provide useful information, not only for researchers working on operation histories, but also for those studying memories of the war. In this essay, I shall introduce major characteristics of unit histories as an introduction for researchers for their further research. I also attach an appendix listing all published unit histories of the Japanese forces that fought in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
1. Definition of unit histories
It is difficult to define “unit history” with rigidity. There are several books written about the history of individual units, usually consisting of nominal rolls, formation and reformation of units, places of battles, records of operations, the number of casualties and deaths, and so on. Normally, when veterans decided to publish their unit’s history, they selected several staff to establish an editorial committee and commissioned them to write the history. The works created from this process can clearly be called unit histories.
Apart from these, there are other publications that do not call themselves unit histories, yet contain the history of units nonetheless. Usually these works are not so rigidly formatted as histories written by veterans’ associations. Quite often they are collections of memoirs. In this essay, I include these as unit histories as their contents are related to the history of units.
2. Characteristics of unit histories
Professional historians and writers rarely wrote unit histories, as writing unit histories is not a profit-making commercial venture and requires enormous labour in researching official histories and official records and finding survivors to collect information or to make a nominal roll. Instead, this painstaking work is usually done by veterans who volunteer to write their unit histories. Many veterans believed it was their duty to write the histories, even though most were not trained in writing or in history.
Veterans had two major motivations to write. Firstly, they felt the need to record their unit’s history that otherwise would not be recorded fully in official histories such as Senshi sosho (War Histories) edited by the War History Office of the Defense Agency. As HIRATSUKA Seiichi rightly pointed out, not all events or truths are recorded in the official histories and individual experiences are hardly recorded at all in official histories.  Particularly this is the case for small non-combat units like the 14th Field Postal Company of the South Seas Force. MITOBE Masao, author of his unit history, stated that only the name of his unit is recorded in the official history; its activities are not recorded. The unit’s history would entirely disappear unless some veterans recorded it. 
Secondly, the majority of authors believed they have an obligation to record their unit history in order to console the souls of their dead comrades.  That is why, UCHIDA Saku claimed, that veterans kept on writing war histories, despite the fact that they might be criticised for reminiscing about “the good old days” in this peacetime that denounces the war.  An unnamed editor on the Compilation Committee of the 229th Infantry Regiment History further argued that they wrote a unit history not only to comfort the war dead, but also to record the “extreme beauty of human love” they experienced as comrades during the war, and that recording this “lofty humanity” gave him utmost joy. 
The form of publication demonstrates veterans’ passion to leave their unit histories to posterity. There are 132 books written about unit history, of which 68 were published by veterans’ associations and 12 were by individuals.  And publishers who specialised in war histories produced 18 books.  But most of those books, particularly the ones published by veterans’ associations and individuals, are not available in the market. Most were distributed to members of the associations or donated to major libraries (e.g. the National Diet Library, Yasukuni Kaiko Bunko, and War History Office of the Defence Agency).
In addition of those books, many veterans contributed short works to periodicals. Of 112 articles, 90 were contributed to Maru, a popular monthly military magazine that also irregularly published special remembrance issues . 
The Army has more publications than the Navy, as Table 1 shows. Ninety Army unit histories were written, compared to 41 written about the Navy. However, more articles about the Navy were published than about the Army. In total, the number of articles and books about the Army is higher than that of the Navy. However, these numbers by no means reflect the proportion of units sent to PNG during the war. The Army sent many more units than the Navy, although exact numbers of the units are difficult to determine as many units went through reformation and transfer (this is particularly the case for the Navy, which was more mobile than the Army). For instance, in eastern New Guinea alone, about 300 units were sent, out of which only 33 were naval units. 
Table 1. The number of publications on unit histories
Source: The author’s research on materials kept in National Diet Library, War History Office of Defense Agency and Yasukuni Kaiko Bunko.
Types of unit histories are listed in Table 2 and 3. They are classified by function (e.g. infantry, battery) and by the size of organisation (e.g. division, regiment) following the titles and contents of publications. As the tables show, a variety of unit histories have been written, covering most functions of both the Army and the Navy. In the Army unit histories, infantry units are written about most often, followed by kyôdo butai – the units that were formed in particular areas such as prefecture or town.  Some infantry unit histories overlap those of kyôdo butai. In the Navy unit histories, air force units, particularly fighter units, are the most commonly written about, followed by land fighting units. Those characteristics follow the fighting patterns of the war in PNG: the major battles for the Army were fought by infantry, and for the Navy the air war was most important.
Table 2. Types of units in the Army unit histories
* Units that were formed in particular areas (e.g. prefecture or town) in Japan.
** Units that propagandize and negotiate with indigenous population.
Source: The author’s research on materials kept in National Diet Library, War History Office of Defence Agency and Yasukuni Kaiko Bunko.
Table 3. Types of units of the Navy unit histories
Source: The author’s research on materials kept in National Diet Library, War History Office of Defence Agency and Yasukuni Kaiko Bunko.
The structure of unit histories for both the Army and the Navy are largely the same, and shows two major patterns. The first is the standard history of the unit, from formation to the end of the war and including operations, commanders and officers, a nominal list, and usually accompanied with a collection of reminiscences. This mixture of standard history and reminiscence conveys nicely an overall picture of the unit. Most unit histories published as books belong in this category. The second pattern consists only of collections of memories, without a standard history. Most articles are of this type. There are also several photograph collections of with brief introductions to a unit’s history. These often contain valuable photographs that cannot be found in other sources.
The proportion of fighting in PNG in these histories should be noted. The majority of the Japanese forces were sent to PNG from other theatres, primarily China. As a result, fighting in PNG is only part of the unit’s history. For example, the unit history of the 54th Infantry Regiment, which was sent to Rabaul, is included in Hohei Dai 10 Rentai shi (History of the 10th Infantry Regiment). Hohei Dai 10 Rentai shi is a huge volume of 1,030 pages, but the section about the fighting in PNG is only 11 pages.  The section introduces a standard history of the 54th Regiment that was placed under the command of the 8th Army from 18 August 1943 and dispatched to Rabaul, Gasmata, Gloucester and Talasea. The similar standard history of the 54th Regiment can be found in Hohei Dai 63 Rentai shi (History of the 63rd Regiment).  Like Hohei Dai 10 Rentai shi, the section on the 54th Regiment is only 19 pages in the 893-page volume and is introduced under the chapter of “Enko butai no jôkyô (Situation of related units)”.
The Navy unit histories had few references to battles in PNG, except for those about the air war. This is because major battles for the Navy in PNG were air war, while most sea battles were fought in the Solomons. Solomon no shito: Dai 8 Kantai no kiroku (Desperate battle in the Solomons: the record of the 8th Fleet) and Nantô Hômen no tatakai o shinobu (Recollecting the campaigns in the South East Area) recorded all sea battles in the waters of present PNG and the Solomon Islands.  Nantô Hômen no tatakai o shinobu has a separate volume of an appendix that contains lists of units, loss of ships, standard histories, military songs and so on.  The battle of the Coral Sea is briefly touched upon in histories of aircraft carriers – Zuikaku shi (History of the Zuikaku) and Kûbo Shôkaku kaisen ki (History of the aircraft carrier Shôkaku). 
3. Some selected memories in unit histories
In addition, standard unit histories often include veterans’ views and feelings about their experiences in forewords or in the section of reminiscences. Commonly they are both negative and positive comments on the war. Pride and self-praise for the unit fighting in hostile and horrible conditions against better-equipped enemies are usually expressed. Regret for their dead comrades are another major theme. Some veterans also note their observations and feelings towards indigenous people and Allied soldiers (mostly Australians).
The Army unit histories include numerous reminiscences about land fighting. Operations of the South Seas Force (Nankai Shitai) that spearheaded the Japanese invasion in PNG were written in Hohei Dai 144 Rentai senki (History of 144th Infantry Regiment).  FUJITA Motoshige recalled the landing at Rabaul and KAWANO Tomoyuki related the fight at Iorabaiwa on the Kokoda Track.  YOSHINAGA Suekichi of the 11th Company of the 229th Infantry Regiment recalled a fierce battle at Buna, of which he was the sole survivor.  HANEDA Masami also remembers the “hell” of being attacked by Allied tanks at Buna.  A brave fight against tanks by NONOMURA Harumizu, who drove away tanks by firing a grenade discharger horizontally at close range, is written in “Ichigunso no funsen: sensha gekitai (Sergeant's hard fighting to dirve away tanks” in Natsu Butai no sokuseki (Footprints of the Natsu Unit: Batan and Rabaul).  His bravery is also introduced in a textbook used at the Ground Self-Defence Force Fuji Academy. KAWANO Michihiro described the Japanese counter-attack at Torokina, and MOMOSE Hiroshi recalled a subsequent suicide attack in Hohei Dai 53 Rentai shi (History of the 53rd Infantry Regiment). 
There are also a few unit histories of naval land units. In The naval land unit that vanished in the jungle, WATANABE Tetsuo, a navy surgeon, published his wartime diary that he wrote during his assignment with a naval land unit that lost most of its men in its retreat from Lae to Wewak.  The fierce fight at Buna is recalled in Yoko 5 Toku: Yasuda Kaigun Butai Buna gyokusai no tenmatsu (Yokosuka 5th Special Naval Landing Party: story of the glorious sacrifice of the Yasuda Naval Unit at Buna). 
Air war is a popular theme in the recollections of the Navy air forces. SAKAI Saburo’s Ozora no samurai kaerazaru zerosentai (Samurai in the sky: the Zero unit that did not return) is well known.  SAKAI was an ex-Zero pilot, and his recollections of dogfights and feelings are useful sources to study the mentality of Zero pilots. Dai 705 Kaigun Kôkûtai shi: Rabauru Kôkûtai chuko shito no kiroku (History of the 705th Navy Air Corps: record of desperate campaigns of the Rabaul bomber unit) includes reminiscences of the desperate missions of a medium range bomber (Betty) units.  Rabauru 204 Kaigun Kôkûtai senki (History of the 204th Navy Air Corps at Rabaul) includes valuable photographs of airplanes and dogfights, as well as showing New Guinean life at Rabaul and a comfort group.  Although few in number, air war by the Army air force is also recalled in Nyûginia Hien Kai (New Guinea Hien Association) that recorded their memories about the air battles of the 14th Air Unit in Eastern New Guinea. 
Food is a popular topic in reminiscences. SATO Ryosuke, an army surgeon, recalled in Kaisô Tôbu Nyûginia sen (zenki) Dokuritsu Kôhei Dai 37 Rentai (Memories of battles in Eastern New Guinea (first phase): the 37th Independent Engineer Regiment) that a struggle to find food is one of strongest memories Japanese soldiers have of their war experiences in PNG. 
Relationships with New Guineas are not frequently introduced, but when they are recalled, Japanese memories are often quite detailed. Japanese surprise to encounter black people, whom they had never seen, was frankly expressed in Fukuyama Hohei Dai 141 Rentai Dai 1 Chûtai shi (History of the 1st Company of the Fukuyama 141st Infantry Regiment).  Development of friendships at Rabaul was related by NISHIDA Yoshikiyo in “Sen'yû tono omoide: dojin tono tsukiai (Memories of comrades: relations with natives)” in Rabaul omoide no ki, Dai 6 shû (Record of memories of Rabaul, vol.6).  Japanese exaction of food from villages, which consequently caused villagers to keep away from Japanese troops, was described in “Supare tiku no domin no seikatsu (Life of natives in the Spare area) in Denshin Dai 3 Rentai shi (History of the 3rd Telegraph Regiment). 
Similarly, there are not so many recollections about the Allied forces. But when they are referred to, Japanese recollections are often about the Allied forces’ better equipment, which caused the Japanese to lose the war. NISHIKA Yoshiki recalled his astonishment to see the modern facilities of the Australian camp at Rabaul after the Japanese surrender in Tsuioku Shichûhei Dai 17 Rentai (Tsuki 7390) (Reminiscences of the 17th Army Service Corps Regiment (Tsuki 7390)).  Vexation that the Japanese were disarmed after their surrender at Rabaul was described in Hohei Dai 228 Rentai shi (History of 228th Infantry Regiment).  KODA Rokuro recollected his impression of Australian officers at Rabaul, whom he noted as being “not so efficient”, in Shi 38 tsuisôroku (Memories of the 38th Army Service Corps Regiment).  Changes in feelings towards the Australian force, from antipathy to a kind of affinity, was described in Dai 38 Shidan Hohei Dai 228 Rentai Hoheihôtai Shôwa 16 nen chôshû gen’ekihei no sokuseki (Footprints of the 228th Infantry Artillery of the 38th Division: draftees of 1941). 
Hanabuki is the richest source for reminiscences about villages, indigenous people and Australians. It is a periodical published by Rabauru Minsei Kurabu (Rabaul Civil Administration Club) and has 11 issues from 1988 to 1998.  It has a number of memories of gunzoku (civilians attached to the military) who served for Minseibu (Civil Administration Unit) during Japan’s occupation of Rabaul and New Ireland. Hanabuki is a Japanese name for the local volcano, Tuvurvur, which recently erupted and buried Rabaul in ash.
Japanese unit histories provide microscopic information about the battles in PNG. They would be useful foundations to construct an overall history of the war in PNG if they are compared and scrutinized with their Australian or American counterparts and with Papua New Guinean memories and records of the war.
A full bibliography of these unit histories can be viewed here.
1. HIRATSUKA Seiichi, “Maegaki” (Introduction) in Hachi Rentoku Kai Hensan Iinkai (Compilation Committee for the 8th Combined Special Force) (ed.), Hachi Rentoku senki (History of 8th Combined Special Force) (1993).
2. MITOBE Masao, Rabauru Sen’yûki Nankai Haken Dai–14 Yasen Yûbintai no kiroku (Comrades of Rabaul: record of the South Seas Force 14th Field Postal Company) (Tokyo: Nishiki Kai,1976), introduction.
3. OKUMIYA Masatake, Rabauru Kaigun Kôkûtai (Rabaul Navy Air Corps) (Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1982), p.6.
4. UCHIDA Saku, “Shogen (Introduction)” in Ho 21 Kai (21st Infantry Association) (ed.), Hamada Rentai shi (History of the Hamada Regiment), (Hamada, 1973).
5. Hohei Dai 229 Rentai Shi Hensan Iinkai (Compilation Committee of the 229th Infantry Regiment History) (ed.), Hohei Dai 229 Rentai shi (History of the 229th Infantry Regiment) (Nagoya, 1981), p.1209.
6. These figures are based on author's research on materials kept in National Diet Library, War History Office of Defence Agency and Yasukuni Kaiko Bunko.
7. Nine books were published by Senshi Kankô Kai, 8 were by Kojinsha and one was by Konnichi no Wadaisha.
8. Based on author”s research.
9. “Tôbû nyûginia Dai 18 Gun reika butai jôkyô shirabe (Report on the situation of units under the command of the 18th Army)”, 30 July 1946, quoted in Nyûginia Hômen Izoku Kai et.al. (New Guinea Association of the War Bereaved) (ed.), Inochi o sutete (Leaving a life) (Yokohama, 1992), pp.18-20.
10. Kyodo means “home”.
11. Hohei Dai 10 Rentai Shi Kankôkai (Publishing Committee of the 10th Infantry Regiment History) (ed.), Hohei Dai 10 Rentai shi (History of the 10th Infantry Regiment) (Okayama, 1974).
12. Hohei Dai 63 Rentai Shi Kankôkai (Publishing Committee of the 63rd Infantry Regiment History) (ed.), Hohei Dai 63 Rentai shi (History of the 63rd Infantry Regiment) (Matsue, 1974).
13. Kaigun Soromon Kai (Navy Association of the Solomons) (ed.), Solomon no shito: Dai 8 Kantai no kiroku (Desperate battle in the Solomons: the record of the 8th Fleet) (Tokyo, 1985); Kaigun Rabauru Hômen Kai (Navy Association of Rabaul) (ed.), Nantô Hômen no tatakai o shinobu (Recollecting the campaigns in the South East Area) (Tokyo, 1978).
14. Kaigun Rabauru Hômen Kai, Nantô Hômen no tatakai o shinobu furoku (Recollecting the Campaigns in the South East Area: appendix) (Tokyo, 1978).
15. Gunkan Zuikaku Kai (Warship Zuikaku Association) (ed.), Zuikaku shi (History of the Zuikaku) (Osaka, 1979); FUKUCHI Kaneo, Kûbo Shôkaku kaisen ki (History of the aircraft carrier Shôkaku) (Tokyo: Kyodo Shuppansha, 1962).
16. Hohei Dai 144 Rentai Senki Henshû Iinkai (Editorial committee of the 144th Infantry Regiment History) (ed.), Hohei Dai 144 Rentai senki (History of 144th Infantry Regiment) (Kochi, 1974).
17. FUJITA Motoshige, “Rabauru tekizen jôriku (Landing at Rabaul in front of the enemy)”, in ibid., pp.55-58; KAWANO Tomoyuki, “Ioribaiwa no tatakai (Fighting at Iorabaiwa)” in ibid., pp.114-118.
18. Yoshinaga Suekichi, “Buna sen no tatta hitori no ikinokori (The sole survivor of the battle at Buna)” in Hohei Dai 229 Rentai Shi Hensan Iinkai (Compilation Committee of the 229th Infantry Regiment History) (ed.), Hohei Dai 229 Rentai shi (History of the 229th Infantry Regiment) (Nagoya, 1981), pp.471-481.
19. HANEDA Masami, Senka ni kemuru minami jûjisei: Yasen Kôshahôtai no kaisô (Southern Cross hazed by war fire: memoirs of the Field Anti–Aircraft Artillery Unit) (Tokyo: Senshi Kankokai, 1985), pp.162-163.
20. Quoted from a textbook of Ground Self-Defence Force Fuji Academy, “Ichigunso no funsen: sensha gekitai (Sergeant's hard fighting to dirve away tanks” in Natsuyukai (Natsuyu Association) (ed.), Natsu Butai no sokuseki (Footprints of the Natsu Unit: Batan and Rabaul) (Fukuyama, 1981), pp.470-474. The 65th Brigade is commonly known as Natsu Butai. Of this Brigade, the 141st Regiment was sent to New Guinea in December 1942.
21. KAWANO Michihiro, “Dai 3 kikanjû Chûtai Hanahara Shôtai Tarokina, Babidai, Batodai no funsen (The brave fight of the Hanahara Platoon of the 3rd Machine Gun Company at Torokina, Babidai and Batodai), in Hohei Dai 53 Rentai Shi Henshû Iinkai (Editorial Committee of the 53rd Infantry Regiment History) (ed.), Hohei Dai 53 Rentai shi (History of the 53rd Infantry Regiment) (Osaka, 1981), pp.490-492. MOMOSEI Hiroshi, “Dai 2 Tarokina sakusen no Dai 12 Chûtai no Batodai ni okeru gyokusai ni tsuite (A glorius sacrifice by the 12th Company at Batodai in the 2nd Torokina Operation), in ibid., pp.492-494.
22. WATANABE Tetsuo, (edited and translated by IWAMOTO Hiromitsu), The naval land unit that vanished in the jungle (Tabletop Press, Canberra, 1995).
23. YAMAMOTO Kiyoshi (ed.), Yoko 5 Toku: Yasuda Kaigun Butai Buna gyokusai no tenmatsu (Yokosuka 5th Special Naval Landing Party: story of the glorious sacrifice of the Yasuda Naval Unit at Buna) (Tokyo: Senshi Kankôkai, 1985).
24. SAKAI Saburo, Ozora no samurai kaerazaru zerosentai (Samurai in the sky: the Zero unit that did not return) (Tokyo: Kojinsha, 1996).
25. Kaigun 705 Kû Kai (705th Navy Air Corps Association) (ed.), Dai 705 Kaigun Kôkûtai shi: Rabauru Kôkûtai chuko shito no kiroku (History of the 705th Navy Air Corps: record of desperate campaigns of the Rabaul bomber unit) (Tokyo, n.d.).
26. 204 Senshi Kankôkai (Publishing Committee of the 204th Air Corps History) (ed.), Rabauru 204 Kaigun Kôkûtai senki (History of the 204th Navy Air Corps at Rabaul) (Tokyo: Seiwado Shuppankyoku, 1976).
27. Nyûginia Hien Kai (New Guinea Hien Association), Dai 14 Hikôdan Butai shi (History of the 14th Air Unit)” (Kobe, 1977).
28. SATO Ryosuke, “Nyûginia no omoide (Memories of New Guinea)”, in NAKANO Seika (ed.), Kaisô Tôbu Nyûginia sen (zenki) Dokuritsu Kôhei Dai 37 Rentai (Memories of battles in Eastern New Guinea (first phase): the 37th Independent Engineer Regiment) (Nagasaki, 1994), pp.9-20.
29. Dai 1 Chûtai Sen’yûkai (The 1st Company Comrades Association) (ed.), Fukuyama Hohei Dai 141 Rentai Dai 1 Chûtai shi (History of the 1st Company of the Fukuyama 141st Infantry Regiment) (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1982), p.120.
30. NISHIDA Yoshikiyo, “Sen'yû tono omoide: dojin tono tsukiai (Memories of comrades: relations with natives)” in Rabauru Sentsû Kai (Rabaul Sea Signals Association) (ed.), Rabaul omoide no ki, Dai 6 shû (Record of memories of Rabaul, vol.6) (1988), pp.76-78.
31. “Supare tiku no domin no seikatsu (Life of natives in the Spare area), in KONDO Yutaka (ed.), Denshin Dai 3 Rentai shi (History of the 3rd Telegraph Regiment) (Kochi, 1978), pp.63-67.
32. Nishika Toshiki, “Gô Gun shuyojo (Australian camp)”, in NAKAMURA Asatsugu (ed.), Tsuioku Shichûhei Dai 17 Rentai (Tsuki 7390) (Reminiscences of the 17th Army Service Corps Regiment (Tsuki 7390)) (Osaka, 1981), p.238.
33. Hohei Dai 228 Rentai Shi Kankôkai (Publishing Committee of the 228th Infantry Regiment History) (ed.), Hohei Dai 228 Rentai shi (History of 228th Infantry Regiment) (Nagoya, 1973), p.349.
34. KODA Rokuro (ed.), Shi 38 tsuisôroku (Memories of the 38th Army Service Corps Regiment) (Tokyo: Tabuna Kai, 1965), pp.237-238.
35. “Shûsengo Gôsh Gun enjo sagyô (Labour to assist the Australian forces after the war)”, in Shôwa 16 Nen 12 Gatsu Tsuitachi Nyûei 40 Shûnen Kinen Kikan Dônenkai (Fortieth Anniversary Alumni Association of Draftees of 1 December 1941) (ed.), Dai 38 Shidan Hohei Dai 228 Rentai Hoheihôtai Shôwa 16 nen chôshû gen’ekihei no sokuseki (Footprints of the 228th Infantry Artillery of the 38th Division: draftees of 1941) (Nagoya, 1981), pp.297-306.
36. Rabauru Minsei Kurabu (Rabaul Civil Administration Club), Hanabuki 1–11 (Tokyo, 1988–1998).