|The compilation of the Japanese official history of the war in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
Professor KONDO Shinji
I. Establishment of research institutions
In November 1945, the Historical Materials Research Committee and the Historical Evidence Department were established under the control of Japan’s Cabinet and Ministry of Demobilisation respectively. However, they were both dissolved at the order of Allied GHQ.
In June 1946, the GHQ History Section under General MacArthur requested the submission of “Records of Operations” (by the Japanese) as part of base materials for compiling a military history. In order to attend this request, the Historical Research Department was established within the Ministry of Demobilisation. It gathered information from veterans of all armed forces and compiled 134 and 79 volumes of operational records for the Army and the Navy respectively, categorised by major war theatres. After the department completed its task by submitting these volumes, those involved in the project formed a private organisation called the Historical Research Institute.
After the Peace Treaty came into effect in September 1951, the movement for the publication of a Japanese official history gathered momentum. In October 1955, the Military History Bureau was established within the Defence Agency. Colonel NISHIURA Susumu, formerly head of the War Ministry’s Military Administration Bureau Military Affairs Section, was appointed as the first bureau chief. In addition, about thirty official history editorial officers and seventy administrative support staff were recruited. The majority of editorial officers were selected from veterans of the Imperial General Headquarters, the area forces and the general staff offices of individual squadrons. Incumbent officers of the Self-Defence Force accounted for one-third of the editorial staff.
II. Problems in conducting research
1. Conflicts concerning research policy
It is obvious to anyone that the defeated military forces could not, all of sudden, take up the compilation of official history. Colonel NISHIURA first ordered a nationwide search and collection of remaining military documents. He also required editorial officers who had served as soldiers in the war to learn basic theories in the study of history. In this respect, the Military History Bureau was different from similar research institutions of other nations which recruited professional historians.
Colonel NISHIURA’s plan can be summarised into the following two phases:
Phase 1 – Collection and organisation of historical materials,
Phase 2 – Compilation of the official history, which was divided into compiling a “basic draft” for the military history of the army and compiling “records of operations” or “collection of materials” for the navy.
It was estimated that each phase would take approximately ten years. With reference to Phase 2, the nature of the expected final product was substantially different for the army and the navy. The army aimed to compile something that could later be used as a basis for their official history, while the navy considered it impossible to reach that stage and hoped to compile available materials into, at best, a collection of records. Although NISHIURA did not leap to conclusions at this stage, it is possible to argue that the navy was not in the position to present its views on the historical significance of the battles they fought or the merits and demerits of individual operations.
2. Return of confiscated Japanese materials
In October 1958, efforts by the Japanese government resulted in the return of a large number of Japanese historical materials from the US. These had been confiscated by US forces immediately after their occupation of Japan took effect. They consisted of primary materials, some of which were produced by the Imperial General Headquarters. They included approximately 80,000 items concerning the army and 30,000 items about the navy, as well as 30,000 books published during the Second World War. These materials became a tremendous source of basic information for the study of military history in Japan.
III. Compilation of official war history – summary
November 1965 Vice-Minister’s notification concerning the compilation of the official history (91 volumes to be compiled in ten years from 1966)
January 1980 Amendments to the plan (A total of 11 additional volumes to be compiled; five volumes on the Imperial General Headquarters and six volumes about other issues)
Contents of the 102 volumes
37 volumes on the Imperial General Headquarters
34 volumes on army campaigns
21 volumes on navy campaigns
9 volumes on air services campaigns
1 volume for a chronological table
The compilation of Japan’s official war history took 24 years in total; nine editorial officers died during the period.
IV. Composition of the volumes about the war in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
V. Relations with the Australian Military History Unit
(1) We sent volumes on army campaigns as each volume was completed.
Received a request in March 1963 for a summary of each volume because there were no Japanese-speaking staff.
(2) Characteristics of Australian official history from the Japanese point of view
a) Headings for each page
b) Footnotes for each page
We learned from these footnotes that primary materials, such as war diaries at the division level and battle records at the regiment level, existed in Australia. There were several Japanese units, none of whose members had returned alive. We inferred the likely movements of the retreating Japanese forces from the relevant parts in the Australian official history to fill in the blanks.
(3) This allowed us to speculate as to the movements of Japanese forces at the company level during the last phase of the war in Munda, Aitape and Bougainville. As a consequence, the number of volumes on the war in New Guinea increased from four in the initial plan to five, which enabled us to provide detailed descriptions of the battles fought in these areas.
(4) In principle, we employed the methodology of supplementing records of interviews with Japanese veterans with information from the Australian official history. Where no veterans were alive to tell their stories, we directly quoted from the Australian official history with an explanatory note. This is the most distinctive feature of Japanese official history. We, the former editorial officers, must express our deep gratitude to the compilers of the Australian official history, particularly David Dexter, author of The New Guinea offensives and Gavin Long, author of The final campaigns.
VI. Influence of official history on current military strategies
It warms my heart to realise that the experiences from the life-and-death battles fought by Japanese soldiers at the front has influenced modern military strategies in the atomic age. The FM100 US Army training drill details a range of offensive strategies. As you may be aware, a tactic called “infiltration” is included in the drill, together with strategies familiar to any army soldier, such as “enclosure”, “breakthrough” and “detour”. I believe that the word “infiltration” has been adopted from Volume 5 (page 291) of the Japanese official history.
The original text states:
Members of the 13th Infantry Regiment formed a special attack unit and advanced from the north of the Road A (Buin Road) to the northern Tai Tai area. They left there on 8 July (in 1945) with the order to infiltrate (= harass) the rear of the enemy.
The division commander reflected on the incident as follows:
I made a regiment infiltrate the rear of the enemy and bar the way for vehicles. I also ordered them to collect sweet potatoes they planted a few months ago, organise food supplies in the area, and all of them to infiltrate the rear of the enemy. The (13th Infantry) regiment commander and a total of 400 soldiers were engaged in this mission. They had one grenade, about 15 bullets and a packet or two of dry bread each. Although food supplies and communication with the main forces remained disrupted till the end of the war, my men became better nourished thanks to the food snatched in the infiltration attacks.