Australia-Japan Research Project

Australian and Japanese attitudes to the war

 戦前の予想に反して、1942年初頭に日本軍が一連の勝利を収めたことは、彼らが恐るべき敵であることをはっきりと証明した。 オーストラリア軍はまもなく日本兵が勇敢であることを認めるようになった。しかし、止むを得ぬ戦略的理由もないのに、日本兵が進んで死んでいく姿を目の当たりにして当惑するオーストラリア兵もいた。彼らは日本兵の死を恐れぬ態度を勇敢さではなく愚かな狂信的行為であると非難した。

Captain Donald Simonson, 39th Battalion and 25th Battalion AMF:

[W]ith the defence capability that there seemed to be in Singapore and with their rapid advance did you begin to wonder about these people?

Um, yes, definitely there was - they must have something going with them, but on the other hand we appreciated that the Japanese had quite a large force.

You were saying how you'd begun to form some impressions as to the nature of the Japanese.

Well we thought they must be pretty good material. They'd done so well in the first two or three months of them coming into the war, that being regular army men they must have something up their sleeves which we hadn't been told about or hadn't appreciated.

Sub-Lieutenant Bill Wreford, RAN:

Their aircraft were flimsy. But they held together. They were far more concerned about doing the job than protecting the driver. As a result, the Zeros taught our kids in Spits a lesson over Darwin. They're very manoeuvrable; they were slower, sure, and they had lesser armament, but they could turn inside our kites, quite obviously. And, all in all, they were extremely well manned and they were a very formidable foe.

Colonel Stan Sly, 55th/53rd Battalion AMF (Sanananda 1942-43 and Bougainville 1944-45):

In 1942, the impression of the Japanese was almost 'a superman'...

Yes...Oh, yeah...

... Now come '43-'44...we're talking of '44 or '45?

That's '45 now...

Now what was the feeling about the Japanese as a fighting man, at this stage?

That he wasn't superior to us, now that we had learnt the art of jungle fighting and we had confidence in our own, and in our comrades' skill with our weapons and we were equally as good as he was.

Not better?...Equally?

Well we were equally as good. It doesn't pay to be too confident, but we were confident we could handle him, he wasn't the 'superman' that we felt he was earlier.

Throughout the war the ability to infiltrate Allied lines and carry out night operations were two areas of Japanese tactics that demanded vigilance and respect from Australian soldiers:

Gunner Bob Bloomfield, 2nd/4th Field Regiment AIF:

I went back as a guard for a `sig' [signals] party. The `sig' party went back to - the line was cut and they had to go back and repair it and I was sent back with the Bren gun to cover them - to go with them and when they found it they grouped around it and next thing BANG. The Jap had cut the line and he was sitting waiting for them to come back.

It was an ambush?

They'd do that sort of thing you see. They'd come in behind you and cut the line and then you'd have to come back and repair it. As soon as you come back they'd pick you off.

Captain Donald Simonson, 39th Battalion and 25th Battalion AMF:

They would move on their own at any time and infiltrate you and throw a bomb into your hole just as much as of course you would do that to him I suppose. But it was all for that reason that - in Bougainville particularly - booby traps were the most important thing that we had and every night we would booby trap our perimeter and the important thing of course was to take the booby traps up the next morning. But we would wire - a trip wire - and attach booby traps or grenades to them right round every defended locality. Of course it only needed one of these to go off, a branch falling on it or a Japanese falling on it and of course everyone was awake, but at least everyone knew and was ready.

Corporal Geoffrey Holmes, 2/12th Battalion AIF (Milne Bay 1942 and Buna/Sanananda 1942-43)):

The Japanese were well entrenched...?

In Buna they were, oh yes. There's no way in the world that you could have ... I don't think even bombing would have blasted them out, unless there'd been ... you know, that much bombing that ... well, you'd have got them or not, you know. The bunkers they had, they had logs and stuff, and big mounds, you know, it would have had to be direct hits all along.


Yeah, twenty-five pounders [artillery] wouldn't have made any difference, because we fired them in, and we fired and sprayed all the palm trees with the Vickers [machine gun] and everything, you know. And we used thousands of rounds of ammunition before we went in there, but they were still there. As soon as we stopped firing and started to go over, that's when they got into our blokes.

Sergeant Alex Lochhead, 2/2nd Battalion AIF (Aitape-Wewak 1945):

What was the most desperate thing that you saw Japanese do or that you were aware of Japanese do in terms of how far they were prepared to go?

I think the only time was early one morning when two Japanese came in just on first light both with their hands above their head. They wouldn't listen to what we were saying: 'Halt', 'Stop up there'. The next thing one went like that and threw a grenade which luckily didn't do any damage at all and he and his mate picked another grenade up and put them against their chests - one each - and blew themselves up. Their grenades worked, luckily. That is how some of them acted.

With that level of commitment about which you would have heard previous anyway, when you talk about cleaning out the bunkers you would obviously find yourself in a situation where there would be a quiet but you would not be sure whether there was still somebody there prepared to do something to get you or whether in fact they were all gone.

That is right. You never knew until you actually threw a grenade in or you did something to make sure that bunker was open.

Many Australians were not impressed by what they saw as mindless fanaticism rather than bravery:

Corporal Jack Boland, 39th Battalion AMF (Kokoda 1942):

What was your impression by then as to the way they fought. I mean you obviously you knew that they were prepared to commit themselves and lose men. This suggested they were brave as such. Were you impressed by them as soldiers?

Not really, I thought they were quite bloody stupid, because er, if I was there I'd like to keep quiet. And er, but they would do all this and they would get themselves going and if somebody, if they wanted to draw your fire in any way, you'd hear someone, obviously an officer say to `Charlie McGook' to get up and walk forward, and up would jump this bloke and he'd walk straight up and he'd be sacrificed to draw the fire of the machine gun. It wasn't long before our blokes would make sure that no machine gun would open up, somebody just did it with a rifle.

Corporal Geoffrey Holmes, 2/12th Battalion AIF (Milne Bay 1942 and Buna/Sanananda 1942-43)):

Was there any admiration of their stubbornness, bravery even?

Oh, ... no. Fanatical. Fanatical. But I don't know about admiration for it. No.


I think where they made their mistake was that they were so fanatical, and the things that they would do, you'd see them shooting people, waiting to get people, cat-and-mouse games. I had no admiration for them at all.

I could tell you an instance which was on the ... when we were advancing from after Buna, into the Sanananda campaign, and we were held up for a few days on our advance through there. Out in front of where I ... my position near the road, was an Australian soldier lying wounded, calling out, and he was virtually in amongst the Japanese lines. And he kept this up for ... oh, hour after hour, for a couple of days at least, while we were there. I couldn't get to him, neither could anybody else. They were just waiting for one of us to try and go and save him. And when I did get to him, of course he was dead. And I did see a Japanese in a hole, just alongside of where he was, because he was the one who threw a Molotov cocktail on the back of one of our tanks when it went to blew a track, when we were trying to advance. And that crew was burnt alive. And we'd witnessed all that. So that's my opinion of the Japanese and their tactics.

You didn't strike that sort of thing with the Germans at Tobruk?

No. No. The Italians were a little bit that way. But no, to compare ... the Germans' Afrika Corps, they're a different ... their troops, they are fair dinkum troops. And I would admire them for what they do, they fought for their country. The Italians, I despise them, because they'd come in with their hands up and with a hand grenade in them, throw it at you if they got a chance. And I hate the Japanese. That's the three.

Sergeant Victor Austin, 39th Battalion AMF and 2/2nd Battalion AIF:

Had the attrition and the effect of the war and the business of seeing people just turned into broken dismembered figures begun to extend itself to the enemy? Were the Japanese beginning to assume a human form in a sense or were they still just a fanatical enemy?

Yeah well with hindsight and retrospectively in To Kokoda and Beyond I have tried to give the Japanese a more human visage but I would say at that time they were still considered to be - understandably - considered to be not quite human beings. Something - yes not quite human beings. But as I say I tried to humanise them and obviously they weren't all fanatical brutes. There were sensitive natures even amongst them, but they had a different attitude. Their attitude to life was different from ours. Their discipline was different from ours. They were part of a society where discipline was something so ingrained and their notion of their honour as soldiers was such that they fought fanatically.

Corporal Geoffrey Holmes, 2/12th Battalion AIF (Milne Bay 1942 and Buna/Sanananda 1942-43)):

But I don't know much else I can talk about Milne Bay, except that ... Oh, one thing that we were on the receiving end of. The night the Japanese cruiser shelled us, that was only a couple of nights after that. And I can remember that part very well. Night time, in the dark we saw this ship coming in, like being out here in the middle of the bay, we could see the silhouette of her, you know. And that was it. We didn't know whether it was one of theirs or ours, at the time. The hospital ship was in the bay, in the har ... in there, and the old Anshun had been back to Brisbane or somewhere, to Australia, and had gone back, and she was in at the wharf. So the first thing that happened then was the cruiser put on a searchlight, and straight into towards where the wharf was, the direction of the wharf, and, of course, then a couple of salvoes went in. And that was the Anshun, she was ... I didn't know then, but when I saw her next she was on her side half in the ... just a little bit of her out of the water.

But one thing I will say, they put the searchlight on the hospital ship - it had its lights and everything on, and the cross on - but they never touched it.

Printed on 06/18/2024 08:56:29 AM