Imperial Japanese Army

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Imperial Japanese Army

Flag of the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces (Kyokujitsuki), introduced in 1870

Flag of the Imperial Japanese Army ( Kyokujitsuki ) , introduced in 1870
active 1867 to 1945
Country JapanJapan Japanese Empire
Type army
Strength 1870: 12,000
1885: 100,000
1900: 380,000
1941: 460,000
1945: 6.3 million
High command General Staff
High command in case of war Army Ministry
High command in case of war Daihon'ei

The Imperial Japanese Army ( Japanese 大 日本 帝國 陸軍 , Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun ; German "Army of the Greater Japan Empire") was the official land force of the Japanese Empire from 1868 to 1945. It was commanded by the General Staff and the Army Ministry . In addition to the Imperial Japanese Navy , it was one of two parts of the armed forces in the Japanese Empire , commanded together by the Daihon'ei in times of war .


Consolidation of the Meij State

Artist's impression of the Battle of Ueno of 1868 (Utagawa Yoshimori, 1870)

The Imperial Japanese Army was established by the Loyalist faction during the Boshin War as a modern military force to overthrow Bakufu . In March 1868 the imperial government created a guard based on the western pattern consisting of 500 mostly samurai. The army's staff were mainly recruited from the loyal strongholds of Satsuma and Chōshū . In addition to samurai units, the army already integrated existing units fighting according to the western pattern in the loyalist movement. A military affairs office was also created, each with a branch for the army and a branch for the navy. The office also founded an army officer school based on modern standards . The government tried to establish a recruiting system in 1868 whereby every Han should provide 10 recruits for every 10,000 koku . The system worked only to a limited extent and was abolished in 1869; recruiting should take place in a nationally centralized manner. After conquering the capital Edo on September 3, 1869, the army succeeded in overthrowing Bakufu's supporters throughout Japan in several campaigns until the end of the year , with the western weapons, especially the artillery, proving to be decisive in the war against the traditionally fighting samurai.

The creation of an army based on the Western model that would remove the existing class boundaries was a main concern and instrument of the reformers around Emperor Meiji in order to overcome the political and social order of the Bakufu state. The ruling elite saw the introduction of compulsory military service as the school of the nation and justified it both with military necessity in the competition against the powers perceived as superior and as a recourse to old Japanese traditions of compulsory military service vis-à-vis the emperor. After the victory in the civil war, the army was expanded. The imperial guard should be expanded to 6,200 men consisting of modern infantry, artillery and cavalry. The troops were trained according to an 1829 Dutch army manual. In 1872, Japan started producing French bronze guns. From the middle of the 1870s, the Krupp company began to import more and more guns . The Toyama Infantry School was founded in 1873 and taught according to a translation of a French infantry manual from 1869. Special branches such as artillery or the intelligence force formed their own training centers. In 1875 the army officers' school was upgraded to a military academy. During the 1870s, the government had to recruit large contingents of samurai several times in order to cope with local samurai uprisings and peasant unrest, as the forces of the army were insufficient. In 1873 the government tried to draw in a conscription model based on the French model. Any physically fit man should serve three years of active service and four years of reserve. The actual manpower requirements of the 17,900-strong army in 1873 only resulted in a draft rate of 3 - 6%. The introduction of compulsory military service often met with violent resistance from the peasantry and the government postponed plans for a conscription system and for a short time a militia system was propagated.

Satsuma rebellion

In 1877 internal political tensions culminated in the Satsuma rebellion . Under ex-General Saigō Takamori , an army of 30,000 samurai challenged the central government's claim to power. The army at that time was 25,000 strong. The rebel movement grew to 43,000 men during the fighting. However, the recruitment of soldiers and especially traditional fighting samurai allowed the imperial state to achieve a numerical superiority. The decisive factor in the war was the army's 7: 1 superiority in modern artillery, which the government imported from abroad, with 40 million yen in funding for the military, which the rebel funds had three times as much. The army managed to put down the rebellion, but with heavy losses of around a third of the fighting.

Building a centralized army

Japanese artilleryman with gun, Tokyo, 1882

The army was further expanded and modernized after the revolt was put down. Based on Captain Katsuro Taro's personal experience in Germany , the army established a general staff in December 1878. This was based on the Prussian model of a general staff with direct access to the emperor and independent of the influence of politics and military administration. A secondary aspect was that the collective leadership introduced by the military prevented the emergence of a high-ranking officer with political ambitions like Saigo Takamori. The general staff consisted of an eastern and a western branch. The eastern branch was responsible for Hokkaido , Siberia and Manchuria . The remaining Japanese islands, Korea and China were assigned to the western branch. Yamagata Aritomo became the first chief of staff . With the Chief of the General Staff, he was in charge of command in the name of the emperor in the event of war. With the establishment of the General Staff, a superintendature was also introduced. This comprised three regionally assigned officers who reported to the emperor directly and independently of other military bodies.

In 1882 32 general staff officers were available. In the same year, the government passed a ten-year plan to create an army of seven divisions against the backdrop of the military might of China and Russia. In the same year the army comprised 46,000 soldiers. In 1887 the army abolished the previous garrison system and replaced it with the system of the modern infantry division. In 1891 the army achieved the goal of seven divisions ready for action in peacetime. It also had reserves of 240,000 men. The military budget for the army and navy rose from 14% of the national budget to 31% in 1892. In 1884, Army Minister Ōyama Iwao and three other generals went on a one-year inspection tour of Europe. This resulted in the commitment of Jacob Meckel and a maximum of six other German officers who taught at the General Staff Academy. Through his work, Meckel shaped modern Japanese military training significantly. Likewise, a few Italian military advisers served in the manufacture and maintenance of bronze artillery pieces made in Japan from 1884–1896. The Japanese army during this time around 20 general staff officers in Europe, mostly in France and Germany. In 1883 and 1889 the military system was adapted to the Prussian model, so the reserve was divided into three categories and the one-year voluntary conscription was introduced to form a reserve officer corps. A regional recruiting system was also introduced for the regular divisions. Around 80% of the draftees came from the countryside and were usually the second and third sons of farming families. In the 1880s, the government initiated a building program for strategic railroads with the aim of making it possible to repel an invasion within Japan by rapidly moving the army. The railway network created a continuous rail link between East and West Japan for the first time. In 1890 the army successfully carried out a large-scale anti-invasion exercise near Nagoya . In 1889 the army introduced the Murata rifle , which was produced and designed in Japan, as the standard weapon of the standing army. In 1892 the army incorporated the samurai militia, which the government had created in Hokkaido in the 1870s , as an incomplete division, thus eliminating the last irregular military formations. In 1893 an independent naval general staff was established. The condition of the army for this was the creation of an Imperial Grand Headquarters , which was controlled by the army as the main command institution in times of war. In 1893 the army consisted of 6,000 officers, 12,000 NCOs and 60,000 conscripts in the standing army. The 1st class reserves comprised 120,000 men. The reserves 2nd class 150,000 soldiers.

First Sino-Japanese War

Japanese infantry with Japanese Type 22 Murata rifles, 1894

In 1890, Yamagata, as Prime Minister, publicly declared that once the Trans-Siberian Railway was completed, Korea would fall under Russian influence and Japan would have to prevent this. The Japanese army had been planning wars against China and Korea since 1889. In 1893, the Vice Chief of Staff Kawakami Sōroku came to the conclusion that the Chinese armed forces were qualitatively inferior to the Japanese due to the lack of modern equipment, doctrine and infrastructure and that a victorious war was possible. The Donghak uprising in 1894 and the sending of Chinese troops at the request of the Korean king served as an excuse for the Japanese government to send its own troops on June 5, 1893. On the same day, Emperor Meiji ordered the army to form the Imperial Grand Headquarters . On July 2, 1894, the civilian cabinet formally agreed with the chiefs of staff to start the war. After the beginning of the war, the army succeeded in occupying Korea and the navy in defeating the Chinese navy decisively. The army had 1,161 dead in the battle, of which 44 were officers and 118 non-commissioned officers. The army recruited 153,000 Korean porters to wage war in Korea. This system brought massive problems with it, around a quarter of the transported goods were stolen. The army itself made international headlines with a massacre of Chinese civilians in Port Arthur . The army and the government kept silent about the attacks, but army discipline did not punish attacks against civilians. At the beginning of the war, Chinese prisoners were treated well by the Japanese for propaganda reasons. As the war progressed, the Japanese troops were no longer willing to take prisoners or treat enemy wounded.

With the victory over China, the Japanese state rose to become an internationally accepted power. Within Japan, the war became a symbol of the success of the Meiji Restoration. In order to secure the colony of Taiwan, which had been won in the war, and its influence in Korea, the military decided in 1896 to expand the army to 13 divisions. This led to a withdrawal rate for military service of around a fifth. The construction of the new units began in 1898 and was completed in 1903. The army created six regional cadet institutions to secure the next generation of officers. In order to keep up with the technical development in Europe, Japan imported around 1000 partially and fully assembled artillery pieces from the German Empire at the beginning of the twentieth century. In newly annexed Taiwan, the army fought from 1895 to 1897 against a guerrilla movement among the local population. The campaign included around 50,000 soldiers and 26,000 recruited civilians. By the time the island was pacified, the army had killed around 700 people. The military budget in 1900 accounted for 41 percent of the state budget, with the army receiving a little less than half of the budget. During the Boxer Rebellion , the Japanese army provided 13,000 of the 33,000-strong expeditionary force of the intervention powers. British observers judged the Japanese military to be modern and disciplined, although a tendency to accept high losses was criticized. With regard to the treatment of the civilian population, the army leadership enforced strict discipline with draconian penalties for assaults. However, like other parts of the contingent, Japanese soldiers participated in looting after the victory in Beijing . Through the participation, there was an approach to the Boer War standing UK , which was relieved by the Japanese contingent. The 1902 alliance between England and Japan was seen in the Japanese army leadership as a strategic turning point, since it made the danger of an invasion or Western intervention against Japan impossible. The victory over the Boxer Rebellion also gave the army the right to a permanent military presence in northern China, for which the General Staff permanently stationed the garrison army in northern China .

Russo-Japanese War

Woodcut with an idealized cavalry battle in the course of the
land battle on the Yalu , 1904

Since its inception, the army has identified Russia as a possible enemy due to the competitive situation in Northeast Asia. The first actual war planning began in 1900, with the plans being adapted several times to the situation and both offensive and defensive options existing. In 1903 the chief of staff Ōyama Iwao informed the emperor that further interference by Russia in Korea was a threat to national security. The political leadership came to try a diplomatic solution at first, but if it failed, committed to war. Vice Chief of Staff Kodama Gentarō worked out an offensive war plan, which should secure Manchuria and Korea against Russia. The aim of the war was to destroy Russia's military units in the Far East by encircling them by armed forces landed in northern China. The Japanese Army planned four armies, one in Korea and three in northern China, to achieve these goals. The feasibility of the plan depended on maritime domination over the Yellow Sea . In the course of the war planning, the navy was able to gain political weight vis-à-vis the army and was given an independent general staff whose chief, like his army counterpart, had direct access to the emperor. On February 4, 1904, the Privy Council chaired by Yamagata decided the war against Russia. Two days later, the navy opened the battle and the army began shipping troops.

The Imperial Army reached its personnel limit with the activation of 17 regular divisions and 8 reserve divisions during the war and had no significant reserves on mainland Japan. Although the army managed to fight numerous victorious battles against the Russian army in Manchuria, it did not succeed in encircling the area that was decisive for the war. The land forces went to war with an outdated doctrine of subjecting infantry to enemy fire in very close formations, and as a result suffered unexpected losses in both the military and the civilian population. The navy forced Russia to enter into peace negotiations by defeating the Baltic Fleet in the Tsushima naval battle . The state made victory an icon of Japanese militarism. In contrast to the official version, there was a lecture for general staff officers that exposed the weaknesses of the army and the Japanese war economy. According to their own assessment, a longer war would not have been possible because the calculations for the land war in terms of material and people exceeded the pre-war planning several times and Japanese industry was not ready for a permanent modern war. The conqueror of Port Arthur Nogi Maresuke , internationally celebrated as a war hero, had to be disempowered by a chief of staff sent by the emperor to bring the siege to an end because he could not be replaced for political reasons. The army recorded losses of 120,000 soldiers, including around 60,000 war dead, 58,000 invalids and 2,600 prisoners of war. Every homecoming prisoner was checked for violations of military duty. In the course of this, five army officers were demoted or dismissed. Escapes from captivity or soldiers who were captured through no fault of their own according to the test were sometimes awarded. Within the population, returnees from captivity were occasionally excluded from their communities and forced to change their place of residence. The army captured around 80,000 Russian soldiers during the war. The Ministry of War had already created regulations for prison camps in Japan before the war. The prisoners were treated well. Family members and the wounded were repatriated to Russia. Occasionally, repatriations to Russia also occurred on word of honor. The Japanese army ensured that Russian hospitals in the war zone could continue to care for patients even after the defeat of the Russian troops. After the war, Japan was recognized by the International Red Cross for its humane treatment of prisoners of war.

After the war, Yamagata's army command formulated the plan to roughly double the size of the land forces to 25 regular divisions and 25 reserve divisions. This met with resistance from civilian politicians, who did not want to let arms spending escalate. The emperor approved the expansion plan in 1907. The expansion of the armed forces should be completed in 1928. During the war, the officer corps had secured parliamentary approval for the war budget, and as a concession the army agreed for the first time to accept top politicians from the political parties in Japan, which had been allowed since 1888, in cabinet positions. The civilian politicians tried in turn to legislate to gain control of the armed forces, which the military leadership around War Minister Terauchi Masatake was able to prevent by intervening with the emperor. In the following years there were constant quarrels between the government and the military, as civil politicians tried to reduce military spending in view of the macroeconomic situation. When Emperor Taishō ascended the throne in 1912, the army command blocked the formation of a government for months, which ultimately led to mass protests against the political role of the army. The army command itself founded the Reservist Society in 1910 and the Greater Japanese Youth in 1915 in order to penetrate society in their own way and to achieve political mobilization potential.

World War I and Siberian Intervention

During the First World War , Japan joined the Entente as a warring party through its alliance with Great Britain . The army carried out a six-week campaign to conquer the German possessions in Tsingtao in 1914 . Within the army, the confrontation with the German forces led to the conclusion that their own technical equipment in terms of aircraft, communication equipment, artillery and machine guns was inadequate. The army suffered losses of 1,400 men, 400 of them killed. Around 5,000 German prisoners of war were brought to Japan and treated well. 99% survived captivity. In contrast to the previous wars, a large headquarters was not established. In 1914/1915 the army created its first air force during the siege of Tsingtao. In late 1915, in response to reports of the use of poison gas on the Western Front , the Army established a chemical warfare research center under the direction of military doctor Koizumi Chikahiko . He introduced the first usable gas mask in the army in 1917 .

The Western Allies made several demands for Japanese troop contingents to be deployed in Mesopotamia or Europe. In Japan there was consensus between the military leadership and the government that such an operation was not in the interests of the country. As a result, the demands were tied to unrealistic political and military conditions and gradually fizzled out. After Russia left after the October Revolution and the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty , the government of Terauchi Masatake, who had been promoted to Prime Minister in 1916, decided to intervene in the Russian Civil War . In March 1918, marines landed in Vladivostok and the Terauchi government supported the anti-communist forces around Alexander Kolchak . The Japanese contingent in Siberia grew to 70,000 men in October of the same year and fought a guerrilla war with pro-Soviet partisans. For the intervention, the army command set up a secret headquarters in order to exclude civilian politicians from interfering in the leadership of the intervention. The high cost of the intervention and the food consumption of the expeditionary force contributed to the origins of the rice riots that forced Terauchi to resign. In August 1919, the military leadership demanded that the contingent be increased to 250,000 soldiers. The government of the government of Seiyukaich chief Hara Kei refused to take such a step. In 1922 his government withdrew the last soldiers from what was formerly Russian territory. Hara Kei himself was murdered in public shortly afterwards by a right-wing extremist terrorist. The military intervention in Russia was rated as a wrong decision both in the press and in parliamentary debates, which the military viewed as a loss of prestige. The military itself drew the conclusion from the First World War that short campaigns with limited goals that could bring about a quick victory were a thing of the past. In military circles, the concept of a militarized society ready for total war prevailed. The existing assumption that Japan's great power status can only be maintained by controlling the resources of the Asian mainland, moved even more into focus. The Soviet Union, Great Britain and the USA emerged as new possible opponents of war. Shortly after the First World War, the first plans began for a conquest of US military bases in the Pacific region, including the attack on the Philippines .

Interwar period

The Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 strengthened the public image of the army, which was heavily involved in the rescue and reconstruction work. The economic damage also strengthened the desire of the civilian leadership to limit armaments spending. After the First World War, the army command decided on an army structure consisting of 21 regular and 19 reserve divisions as the objective. In terms of deployment doctrine, a traditionalist camp that wanted to wage a short war with a high level of peacekeeping by the army was opposed to a modernist camp that wanted a smaller but high-tech peace army and a reserve apparatus that would make a long, resource-intensive war like the First World War possible should. From 1925, the latter camp was able to implement some reforms in their favor through Minister of War Ugaki Kazushige . The first two armored units were created, military service was reduced from three to two years, and more radios, motor vehicles and machine guns per unit were acquired by saving personnel while maintaining the same number of units. The policy of modernization was seen and promoted by the political leadership as a means of limiting costs, but met resistance from the traditionalist camp around Araki Sadao . In the doctrine laid down in military instruction documents, the traditionalists prevailed, who propagated superior combat morale as a means of overcoming material inferiority. In addition, there was a further reinforcement of the traditional code of honor, which heroized self-sacrifice and struggle to the last man and socially stigmatized non-implementation. The military exercises that were carried out ended in frontal attacks by the infantry in all cases, which underestimated the actual losses. The criticism of this by officers with experience as observers on the Western Front of the First World War was perceived as defeatist and stigmatized. In 1933 an army school for chemical warfare was established in Narashino . In 1927, the army established a chemical weapons manufacturing facility on Okunoshima Island near Hiroshima . ↑ General Tanaka Giichi , who had moved up to become Prime Minister, pursued an aggressive China policy with the aim of compensating for Japan's resource poverty by occupying Chinese territory. In 1928, during the Jinan incident , the army captured the Chinese city of the same name from Guomindang troops in order to enforce the claim to power of the pro-Japanese warlord Zhang Zuolin . He was murdered by officers of the Kwantung Army in the same year to provide a pretext for further military operations. However, the conspiracy became a scandal within Japan as the real perpetrators were identified by name through the press and escaped prosecution. Giichi had to resign about it. In the same year, officers of the Kwantung Army began to plan their operations officer Ishiwara Kanji and Itagaki Seishirō to take over Manchuria, without coordination with the political leadership. This culminated in the Mukden incident in 1931 . The army managed to occupy Manchuria by 1932. It came to skirmishes with the troops of the warlord Zhang Xueliang . After the fighting ended, the Japanese troops were exposed to a guerrilla campaign , which they claim to have been able to put down after a year and a half, but which did not come to rest. The Kwantung Army installed the vassal state of Manchukuo and expanded its economic activities since the Russo-Japanese War to include the conquered region, which was the focus of modern industry and mining in China. The deposed Emperor Pu Yi served as head of state . The army thus achieved an abundance of power that made it equal to the other warlords in China.Offers of the army units stationed in China independently pursued a policy of destabilization towards the Republic of China , which included subversion, economic warfare through smuggling and the support of warlords directed against the central authorities. The army pursued the goal in a weakened and divided China to act as a force for order and thereby secure territory and influence for Japan. There was consensus between the government and military leaders regarding the political goal of annexing Chinese territory in order to extract economic resources. However, the civil government considered military action premature and tried to implement a strategy of peace through Western mediation. This led to the removal of the cabinet of Prime Minister Wakatsuki Reijirō . His successor, Inukai Tsuyoshi , was murdered by ultra-nationalists in an attempted coup in 1932 after trying to find a diplomatic solution to the unexplained conflict with China. As a prominent domestic political opponents of the army leadership, Finance Minister did Takahashi Korekiyo evident by a Keynesian urban fiscal policy Japan's economy out of the Great Depression led. He criticized the military leadership for their expansionist goals and their demand for a planned economy and proposed a pro-Western foreign policy and alliance with China against the Soviet Union. The military negated his successes in economic policy and attributed the boom to the occupation of Manchuria.

Anti-Japanese riots provided the pretext for the battle of Shanghai , which ended with the demilitarization of the city and thus a further loss of Chinese sovereignty. The Japanese press heroized the fighting and self-sacrificing behavior of the soldiers, even when it had dubious military benefits. Likewise, suicide in the event of non-compliance with the code of honor was publicly propagated and demanded by the individuals concerned. Within the officer corps itself, there was a proliferation of coup efforts with the aim of replacing parliamentarism with a military dictatorship. From 1930 to 1935 there were 20 right-wing extremist attacks from military circles, four political murders, five prevented murder conspiracies and four attempted coups. The worst incident was the attempted coup in February 1936 in which younger officers occupied the capital Tokyo for four days and murdered political opponents. Finance Minister Takahashi was among the murder victims. The attempted coup failed because the emperor did not support it. After the troops returned to the barracks, 13 officers involved and two right-wing extremist civilians were executed. As a result of the coup attempt, seven out of ten active generals were retired and 3,000 officers were transferred within Japan. With the support of the throne, the faction around Tōjō Hideki took over the leading role of the army. This group focused on innovation, modernization and preparation of a planned and war economy in the sense of a total war analogous to the First World War. The usurpation of foreign policy and the coup attempts strengthened the dominant position of the army within the political system. In terms of foreign policy, however, they led to the country being isolated.

In 1936 Ishiwara Kanji presented a plan to expand the army to 55 active divisions, which in 1942 formulated 40 divisions as an intermediate goal. The planned military expenditures for the army and navy took up around half of the national budget. Central within the planning was the expansion of industry in Manchukuo for the purpose of armament. In 1937 the army consisted of 247,000 soldiers organized in 17 active divisions, as well as four tank regiments. Four divisions stood in Manchuria as the Kwantung Army. Two were permanently stationed in Korea. The Army Air Force comprised 549 aircraft divided into 54 squadrons. The mechanization of the army was limited by the lack of industrialization. The military estimated the need for full motorization of all units at 250,000 vehicles. In contrast, there was civilian production of only 1,000 vehicles in 1933. In 1937, the production of artillery ammunition in peacetime was around 111,000 projectiles per month, around a tenth of the monthly war requirements. The artillery responded to the ammunition shortage with the doctrine of one shot - one hit and tried to compensate for this disadvantage with quality. Compared to Western armies, there was relatively little training with live artillery ammunition. Heavy artillery could only be produced in very small numbers by the Japanese industry. In the interwar period, a military aviation industry was set up by the army and navy as planned. Japanese corporations competed with prototypes based on military specifications. The companies that lost out in the bidding competition received license production orders for the winning model. In the 1930s, Japan achieved independence from imports for military aircraft production and was able to deliver high-quality new developments itself. In 1936 the Army Air Force was upgraded to the Army's own branch of service.

Second Sino-Japanese War

The Chinese leadership around Chiang Kai-shek had reacted to Japanese military operations with concessions and appeasement since 1931. From the 1930s, the Japanese General Staff, under the influence of Ishiwara Kanji, focused on a possible war with the Soviet Union. This change in policy was fueled by the establishment of the Red Army in the Far East. China played a subordinate role and the Japanese leadership judged the Guomindang to be too weak to hold out a longer war against Japan. After the incident at the Marco Polo Bridge, the Japanese General Staff planned a punitive expedition to northern China and Shanghai. This justified the military and civilian leadership with troop reinforcements from the KMT government. Chief of Staff Prince Kan'in Kotohito and Minister of War Sugiyama Hajime told the emperor that the Republic of China could be defeated by a month-long armed conflict and forced to make far-reaching political concessions. The Japanese army was technically and organizationally superior to the Chinese. Especially in the air, the army and navy were able to establish air superiority with 1,500 operational aircraft against the Chinese 300 aircraft. In the first month of the war, the Japanese troops were able to take control of the metropolises of the north Beijing and Tianjin . At the Battle of Shanghai , China opened a second front in which the Chinese defenders had a several-week attrition battle . The loss of 40,000 dead and wounded caused expressions of displeasure among the civilian population and relatives of those killed on their home islands. After the conquest of Shanghai, Japanese troops captured the capital of the Republic of China Nanjing . The city, abandoned by Chinese troops, became the site of a massacre of the civilian population, which according to Chinese figures 300,000 and according to Japanese figures up to 100,000 people died. The goal of forcing the Chinese government to give up was not achieved. The Chinese government had already evacuated its headquarters to Wuhan before the battle . At the end of 1937 the Japanese army had 16 divisions with around 600,000 men and a total of 950,000 men stationed in China. By the end of the year the units were exhausted and the logistics stretched out. The General Staff raised reserve divisions which were rotated to China. The regular divisions were to be refreshed in the mother country and Manchuria and, if necessary, be ready there against an attack by the Soviet Union . Due to domestic political pressure from the high losses of the war, the Japanese civil government under Fumimaro Konoe took over the military's expansionist war goals in January 1938 and declared the destruction of the Kuomintang state to be the war goal of Japan, which also resulted in the final break in diplomatic relations. Likewise, at the beginning of 1938, Chiang Kai-shek formulated the order to wage a long-term war of attrition with the aim of driving the Japanese out of China.

After the battle for Wuhan in mid-1938 and the conquest of Guangzhou at the end of 1938, a stalemate arose in which the Japanese General Staff believed that no further land gains could be achieved. The Japanese civil and military leadership then implemented a plan by bombing the civilian population as well as political, economic and infrastructural goals to break the Chinese people's will to resist and to cut off supplies from abroad to the KMT government. The air forces of both the army and the navy were used for this purpose. One of the main destinations was the KMT capital Chongqing . From 1939 to 1941, Japanese planes carried out 141 bombing missions against the city, killing around 10,000 civilians and destroying roughly the same number of homes. The campaign missed both goals. The KMT state was able to keep its functionality and its communication channels to the outside through rationing and air defense measures. The resistance of the population in the KMT areas was rather strengthened by the use of force. The simultaneous attempt of the Japanese leadership to install a puppet state in China under the KMT deserter Wang Jingwei met with very little support from the Chinese population.

In the summer of 1939, the Kwantung Army, untouched by the fighting in China, escalated the Japanese-Soviet border conflict over the border between Manchukuo and the Soviet client state of Mongolia . At the Battle of Chalchin Gol , the Japanese 23rd Division tried to drive Soviet forces from disputed territory. Here the Kwantung Army used its most modern armored units. The Japanese attack failed and the Soviet counter-attack led to the division losing 17,000 men. Around half of these were deaths. The leadership of the Kwantung Army wanted to send three more divisions. In view of the Hitler-Stalin Pact , the Imperial Headquarters ordered an end to the fighting. In the aftermath of the defeat, the 139 repatriated prisoners of war were socially ostracized and subjected to various forms of repression by their own state, depending on their rank. The defeat of the best-armed Japanese units against the Soviets did not lead to any open debate within the military leadership. Instead, soldiers and officers of the 23rd Division were blamed for the defeat.

Second World War

Formation of the Imperial Japanese Army in the homeland at the time of the surrender on August 18, 1945

After France's defeat in the western campaign, Japan was able to pull French Indochina into its sphere of influence through concessions from the Vichy regime . With the beginning of the German-Soviet War , the balance of power in East Asia changed for the Japanese army command. The army command anticipated a large-scale withdrawal of the Red Army from East Asia. Parts of the general staff and the staff of the Kwantung Army stationed in Manchuria supported a strike and were able to mobilize the army. However, the Soviet Union did not reduce its troops to the same extent, as a result of which the Imperial Grand General Staff decided against an attack on the Soviet Union. After Tojo Hideki's appointment in September 1941, the army and government propagated war against the Western powers to reorganize East Asia with the aim of Japanese domination and resource self-sufficiency. The Navy argued because of the deteriorating balance of power from their point of view for a swift entry into war against the United States. On November 5, 1941, the government and the military formally determined to attack the United States and attack the western colonies in East Asia in December 1941. The army leadership promised itself a quick victory, which, due to the increase in resources and the isolation of China from supplies from the allied states, would also turn the tide in China in favor of Japan. The Naval Chief of Staff Osami Nagano told Hirohito that he could fight the Western Allies at sea for two years, but could not give any guarantees of victory over this period. Chief of Staff Hajime Sugiyama planned to achieve a strategically superior position vis-à-vis the Western powers through the conquests in East Asia. A possible long-term goal was to achieve maritime supremacy over the Indian Ocean , which, according to the General Staff, should result in a British surrender for economic reasons. In the eyes of the army command, the hypothetical surrender of Great Britain should lead to a peace agreement with the USA.

After the navy attack on Pearl Harbor, the army implemented the southern advance against the western colonies in Southeast Asia. By March 1942 the army was able to bring Thailand , Burma , Borneo , Hong Kong , the Philippines , Burma, Java and Sumatra under control. In the first five months of 1942, Japan took 250,000 prisoners of war. The own losses were low with 7,000 dead and 14,000 wounded. Simultaneously to Pearl Harbor, the Japanese army launched a large-scale ground offensive in China (Operation Gogo) with the ultimate goal of crushing the armed forces of the Republic of China and taking the war capital of Chongqing . The Japanese were able to achieve territorial gains, but due to a lack of troops they were unable to consolidate them permanently. During the Pacific War, the Japanese leadership had to withdraw more and more troops from China to defend the Pacific Islands against the USA. The attempt to throw Chiang Kai-shek's government out of the war was stopped in December 1942. After the heavy losses in the Battle of Guadalcanal, Japan pooled its forces in defense against the United States in the Pacific theater of war.

The Imperial Army had routinely used poison gas in the war against China from the start . Around 37,000 to 80,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians died as a result of the effects of chemical weapons. The military leadership refrained from using chemical weapons against the Western powers because they feared the possibility of a counterattack with these weapons by the Allies.

Political influence

The army has been politically influential since it was founded during the Meiji Restoration. The Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy had also formally had a right of veto on cabinet formation since 1900 . In the 1930s there were several coup attempts by the military, such as the March incident , the October 1931 incident and the May 1932 incident (murder of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi ). Since 1935/36 at the latest, a military faction that strived for a nationalistically narrower Pan- Japaneseism, a confederation of Asian states under Japanese leadership (cf. Kokutai ), was dominant . In it, Japan with its colonies of Chosen (Korea) and Taiwan , as well as the state of Manchukuo, should become the Greater East Asian sphere of prosperity . A further ultranationalist uprising by part of the Japanese armed forces was bloodily suppressed in 1936 , but the course was set for an aggressive expansion policy of the Japanese Empire in East Asia, which ultimately led to the Pacific War from December 1941 as part of the Second World War .

The Imperial Japanese Army was finally disbanded in September 1945 after the unconditional surrender by the Allies and later replaced by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces .

Combat missions of the Imperial Japanese Army

Infantry and cavalry of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Russo-Japanese War 1904/05

Violations of international law and war crimes

During the Sino-Japanese War and World War II, the Japanese army became known for its fanaticism and brutality against both prisoners of war and civilians . After Japan surrendered in the summer of 1945, many of its officers were tried and convicted of war crimes and atrocities in the Tokyo trials .

Known cases during the Second World War:

  • Unit 731 : Biological and chemical experiments on civilians and prisoners of war
  • Comfort women : Forced prostitutes in Japanese army brothels
  • Nanjing Massacre : murder of up to 300,000 civilians and prisoners of war and rape of over 20,000 children and women
  • Death Railway : Forced labor by civilians and prisoners of war with over 100,000 deaths
  • Bataan Death March : War crimes against prisoners of war


Japanese nationalism meant that the military was built around a concept of the time: a rich country has a strong military ( fukoku kyōhei ) . Japan as a country is sacred and the Japanese people are special, which is attributed to the combination of Zen Buddhism in Japan with other forms of Japanese Buddhism and Shinto .

Service in the army was seen as service to the Japanese emperor . Every soldier was required to consider it a great honor to die for the Emperor, as the samurai's concept of service was deeply rooted in soldier culture. Every soldier should leave his life behind and need nothing but honor. Honoring their own name and saving face meant everything to them. In this sense, Yamato-Damashi signified the ancient Japanese spirit of restraint in the face of great danger, never to give up.

The concept of Yamato-Damashi pretended to every soldier never to be captured, never to collapse, never to surrender. To be a coward or to be captured has been a shame on the family, the community, and the country. Every soldier was trained to fight to the death and was expected to prefer death to shame. This unique code forbade any soldier ever to become a prisoner of war. Every soldier accepted this as part of the Bushidō code of conduct. The army theorist Sadao Araki also recommended adapting Bushido to current conditions in the form of the Seishin Kyoiku (“Spiritual Training”) doctrine for the indoctrination of the army and operational training. This attitude towards death as a soldier and being a prisoner of war can partly explain the treatment of foreign prisoners of war by the imperial army: Whoever surrenders and goes into captivity has lost his honor; the Hague Land Warfare Regulations signed by Japan were therefore often disregarded in principle.

Supreme command

It is true that the emperor embodied the Japanese state power as a symbol. In fact, however, the role of the emperor did not include any actual exercise of power. Real power was exercised by bureaucrats in the state hierarchy below him. In theory, the emperor was supreme commander of the armed forces, but in practice he followed the government's “requests”. However, the emperor always wore the uniform of the commander-in-chief and was saluted by all members of the armed forces on all official occasions.

The government could only order the mobilization of the armed forces if all cabinet ministers voted unanimously. The monarch only had the role of formally confirming the resolution. The emperor had to be present at all official meetings of the government ministers so that their decisions could become binding. He was silent during the deliberations, but with his consent he ensured that the government's policy was legitimized before the Japanese people.

Special authorization of the emperor

Only on rare occasions of the Imperial Council, when the ministers were utterly incapable of reaching an agreement, and when the vote of all ministers was a draw, did the ministers ask the emperor for his opinion. They presented the possible options to the emperor, and the emperor made his point of view, keeping within the options presented.

During World War II, Emperor Hirohito used this method to bring about an end to the war. In 1945, for the first and last time in his role as commander in chief, Emperor Hirohito ordered all Japanese to surrender to the American armed forces directly via a pre-recorded radio broadcast.


  • 1870: 12,000 men
  • 1885: 7 divisions including the Imperial Guard Division.
  • At the beginning of the 20th century, the army consisted of 12 divisions and numerous other units:
    • 380,000 men in active service and in the 1st reserve (class A and B1 recruits served in the reserve for 17½ years after 2 years of active service)
    • 50,000 men in the 2nd reserve (as above, but suitability B2)
    • 220,000 men in the Home Army
      • 1st Home Army - men 37 to 40 years old after leaving 1st Reserve.
      • 2. Home Army - untrained 20 year olds and all reservists over 40 years old.
    • 4,250,000 men who were otherwise available for army service and mobilization
  • 1934 Army strength increased to 17 divisions
  • 1940 - 376,000 men in active service with 2 million reservists in 31 divisions
    • 2 divisions in Japan (Imperial Guard and one more)
    • 2 divisions in Chosen
    • 27 divisions in China and Manchukuo
  • Late 1941 - 460,000 active in 41 divisions
    • 2 divisions in Japan and Korea
    • 12 divisions in Manchuria
    • 27 divisions in China
  • 1945 - 145 divisions (including 3 Imperial Guards ), plus numerous individual units, a total of over 6.3 million men (including Imperial Japanese Army Air Forces ), with around 1 million reservists.
  • The Japanese Defense Army in 1945 had 55 divisions with 2.6 million men, with around 16 million civil reservists and national guards.

In addition to the combat troops, the army operated various arsenals in which, in addition to technical development and the manufacture of war weapons, civil weapons were also manufactured.

  • Arsenal Sagami - with Mitsubishi , developed and produced tanks
  • Arsenal Sasebo - with Mitsubishi, made tanks
  • Arsenal Heijo - with Kijiro Nambu , made hand and infantry weapons
  • Arsenal Mukden - with Nambu, manufactured infantry weapons
  • Arsenal Tachikawa - designed and produced aircraft



Rank group Marshal Generals Staff officers Subaltern officers
Pauldrons or
collar tabs
Generalissimo collar rank insignia (Japan) .png
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 大将 .svg

元帥 徽章 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 大将 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 中将 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 少将 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 大佐 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 中 佐 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 少佐 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 大尉 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 中尉 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 少尉 .svg
Rank 大元帥 陸海軍 大将
Dai gensui riku kai gun taishō 1
( Generalissimo )
元帥 (陸軍) 大将
gensui (rikugun) 2 taishō
(陸軍) 大将
(rikugun) taishō
(陸軍) 中将
(rikugun) chūjō
(陸軍) 少将
(rikugun) shōshō
(陸軍) 大佐
(rikugun) taisa
(陸軍) 中 佐
(rikugun) chūsa
(陸軍) 少佐
(rikugun) shōsa
(陸軍) 大尉
(rikugun) taii
(陸軍) 中尉
(rikugun) chūi
(陸軍) 少尉
(rikugun) shōi
Reichsmarschall Field Marshal General General of the
Lieutenant General Major general Colonel Lieutenant colonel major Captain First lieutenant lieutenant

1 Only dressed by the Japanese emperor as commander in chief of the armed forces.
2 The prefix rikugun indicates that it is an army officer and kaigun is a naval officer.

NCOs and men

Rank group Warrant Officer NCOs Teams
Pauldrons or
collar tabs
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 准尉 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 曹 長 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 軍曹 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 伍 長 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 襟章 - 兵 長 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 肩章 - 上等兵 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 肩章 - 一等兵 .svg
帝國 陸軍 の 階級 - 肩章 - 二等兵 .svg
Rank (陸軍) 准尉
(rikugun) jun'i
(陸軍) 曹 長
(rikugun) sōchō
(陸軍) 軍曹
(rikugun) gunsō
(陸軍) 伍 長
(rikugun) gochō
(陸軍) 兵 長
(rikugun) heichō
(陸軍) 上等兵
(rikugun) jōtōhei
(陸軍) 一等兵
(rikugun) ittōhei
(陸軍) 二等兵
(rikugun) nitōhei
no equivalent Sergeant Major sergeant Sergeant no equivalent Corporal Private soldier

See also

Web links

Commons : Imperial Japanese Army  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 10-19
  2. ^ Mark Ravina: To Stand with the Nations of the World. Oxford, 2017, pp. 5-10
  3. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 23-31
  4. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 31-46
  5. ^ A b Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 48-56
  6. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 57-61
  7. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 66-69
  8. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, p. 28, pp. 71-75
  9. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 79-86.
  10. SCM Paine: The Sino-Japanese War. Cambridge 2017, pp. 176-178.
  11. ^ SCM Paine: The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. Cambridge 2017, pp. 295-300.
  12. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 93-96.
  13. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 97-100.
  14. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 100-104
  15. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, p. 104, pp. 108-111, pp. 119-122, p. 126
  16. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 126-136
  17. ^ A b Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 137-145
  18. a b Hagiwara Mitsuru: The Japanese Air Campaigns in China 1937–1945. in Mark Peattie, Edward Drea, Hans van de Ven (eds.): The Battle for China - Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. Stanford, 2011, pp. 237-240
  19. ^ Walter E. Grunden: No Retaliation in Kind: Japanese Chemical Warfare Policy in World War II. In Bretislav Friedrich, Dieter Hoffmann, Jürgen Renn, Florian Schmaltz, Martin Wolf (Eds.): One Hundred Years of Chemical Warfare: Research, Deployment , Consequences. Berlin 2017, p. 260
  20. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 148-158
  21. ^ Walter E. Grunden: No Retaliation in Kind: Japanese Chemical Warfare Policy in World War II. In Bretislav Friedrich, Dieter Hoffmann, Jürgen Renn, Florian Schmaltz, Martin Wolf (Eds.): One Hundred Years of Chemical Warfare: Research, Deployment , Consequences. Berlin 2017, p. 261
  22. ^ A b c Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 163-183
  23. a b S.CM Paine: The Wars for Asia from 1911 to 1949. Cambridge 2011, pp. 12-20
  24. Mark R. Peattie: The Dragon's Seed - Origins of the War. in Mark Peattie, Edward Drea, Hans van de Ven (eds.): The Battle for China - Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. Stanford, 2011, pp. 68-72
  25. a b S.CM Paine: The Japanese Empire Grand Strategy from the Meiji Restoration to the Pacific War. Cambridge 2017, pp. 120f
  26. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 186-189
  27. ^ Edward J. Drea: The Japanese Army on the Eve of the War. in Mark Peattie, Edward Drea, Hans van de Ven (eds.): The Battle for China - Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. Stanford, 2011, p. 119
  28. a b c Yang Tianshi: Chiang Kai-shek and the Battles of Shanghai and Nanjing. in Mark Peattie, Edward Drea, Hans van de Ven (eds.): The Battle for China - Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. Stanford, 2011, pp. 143-145
  29. Mark Peattie: The Dragon's Seed. in Mark Peattie, Edward Drea, Hans van de Ven (eds.): The Battle for China - Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. Stanford, 2011, p. 74
  30. ^ Edward J. Drea: The Japanese Army on the Eve of the War. in Mark Peattie, Edward Drea, Hans van de Ven (eds.): The Battle for China - Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. Stanford, 2011, p. 134
  31. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 190-192
  32. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 194-200
  33. ^ Hagiwara Mitsuru: The Japanese Air Campaigns in China 1937–1945. in Mark Peattie, Edward Drea, Hans van de Ven (eds.): The Battle for China - Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. Stanford, 2011, pp. 246-249
  34. ^ Edna Tow: The Great Bombing of Chongqing and the Anti-Japanese War, 1937-1945. in Mark Peattie, Edward Drea, Hans van de Ven (eds.): The Battle for China - Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. Stanford, 2011, pp. 278-282
  35. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 204-206
  36. ^ Edward J. Drea: Japan's Imperial Army. Lawrence, 2009, pp. 219-221
  37. ^ SCM Paine: The Wars for Asia 1911-1949. Cambridge 2012, pp. 188-193
  38. ^ Walter E. Grunden: No Retaliation in Kind: Japanese Chemical Warfare Policy in World War II. In Bretislav Friedrich, Dieter Hoffmann, Jürgen Renn, Florian Schmaltz, Martin Wolf (Eds.): One Hundred Years of Chemical Warfare: Research, Deployment , Consequences. Berlin 2017, pp. 263–265