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Japanese Army Handbook 1939-1945

Peter Brown

Japanese Army Handbook 1939-1945 by George Forty,ISBN 0 7509 1688 5 Published by Sutton Publishing Ltd, Phoenix Mill, Thrupp,Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 2BU, England 270 pages, hardback. UK price 25.00

After gaining a poor reputation internationally following its actions in China, the Japanese Army's fortunes changed completely following spectacular successes after it declared war on the USA and Britain in late 1941. In a series of rapid advances it conquered large areas of territory and its soldiers became elevated to almost superhuman level. Retaking these areas meant long and hard-fought campaigns which further added to their reputation. Almost to the end of the war, surrender was all but unknown, soldiers literally fighting to the last and often preferring to die by their own hands in order to prevent what to them was the dishonour of defeat. While their abilities as soldiers were rated very highly by those who fought them, these same troops gained a long-lasting reputation for brutality against who surrendered to them. This was in their eyes the ultimate betrayal of their nation, anyone who chose surrender being regarded as beneath contempt.

While details of the Japanese Army were available during the war years, post-war coverage had not been widespread compared to, say, German armed forces which makes this Handbook very welcome. It covers the background of Japan at the time, as following centuries of isolation it became more industrialised while its military gained control of the state despite the Emperor being revered as a god.

Matters such as recruitment and training, the harsh discipline the soldier was placed under and the role and function of each of the arms of service, organisation of units, uniforms and equipment of course form the bulk of the book. Modern readers may not realise that sixty years ago Japan was not the global industrial giant it is now. Foreign designs served as the basis of much of its equipment, while conflicting ideas on requirements lead to much wasted effort. Japanese equipment was generally rugged and simple though effective enough for its intended purpose. Japan did lag far behind in some areas, its use of motorised transport was less than in most armies although in island and jungle warfare this was not a great disadvantage. In the area of armoured vehicles, its use was governed by it being subordinate to the infantry. Many of the considerable number of tanks built were small and antiquated compared to the designs they faced. In addition to coverage of the usual technical matters there are short biographies of senior commanders, details of standard military map symbols, a glossary of abbreviations and details of radios including frequencies and ranges. This is comprehensively illustrated with contemporary photos from a range of official and private sources.

While a lot of material is gleaned from wartime publications such as "Handbook on Japanese Military Forces" TM-E 30-480, this is no mere reprint and like the other Handbooks in this series - George Forty has also authored volumes on British and American armies, and others have produced companion works on Russian and German land forces - there is a lot of information contained in a single, easily accessible volume. Anyone wanting fine detail on specific items such as uniforms or weaponry may have to seek out specialist studies, but most readers will find all they will need to know here. Even if they do need more, this is a good, solid starting point.

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