World War II Japanese Tank Tactics
ISBN: 978 1 84603 234 9
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 20 Mar 2009
When the word "tank" is mentioned in the context of WW2, I immediate think of the German Army that conquered France in over a month with revolutionary use of mobile tactics. Of course, the United States Army with the superior quality and quantity in the M4 Sherman tanks comes to mind, too. The Japanese Army, however, does not immediately ring a bell, and it probably does not for most westerners. The early Japanese experience with tanks was not unlike most other armies; specifically, the use of tanks was for a long time met with skepticism, thus the early tanks were dispersed among infantry units to be used as infantry support. Even after the Japanese defeat at Nomonhan in 1939, in which the Russian Army General Georgi Zhukov effectively used concentrations of tanks to envelope Japanese troops, the Japanese leadership could not see the usefulness of tanks. It was not until they studied German tactics employed in Poland and France that hearts began to change, which, again, was generally the norm among officers in most armies around the world. From that point, the Japanese Army would embark on developing a doctrine that would be fairly unique among her contemporaries.
Gordon Rottman and Akira Takizawa's World War II Japanese Tank Tactics introduces the readers to a topic that is not too frequently discussed in the west. The book opens with the history of tanks in the Japanese Army from the purchase of British models in 1918 to the establishment of distinct tank units in 1941. The book then goes on to describe typical tank unit compositions, tactics, training, maintenance, and other topics. What I perceive as the most valuable portion of the book is the battle history chapter in which key Japanese tank experiences are outlined. This includes narratives of Japanese tank engagements in China, Malaya, Burma/India, Manchuria, and the various Pacific islands from Philippine Islands to the Kurile Islands. Through these narratives, bolstered with insightful recollections from two Japanese tank veterans, I am introduced to how and why Japanese tactics evolved the way they did, particularly when placed in contrast to that of western armies. I do wish, however, that Rottman and Takizawa had devoted more ink on ambushes, for that in many instances it was through this type of situation that American troops were met with Japanese tanks in the Pacific War. The excellent color illustrations in the center of the book, though they provide a lot of information on how the Japanese tankers were taught to conduct battles on open plains, also fail to convey the tactics used when tanks were used to defend islands, especially that there were only few battles in Asia and the Pacific that involved such open maneuvers.
Nevertheless, the shortcomings are few, and World War II Japanese Tank Tactics is indeed a great resource for learning how the Japanese WW2-era tank doctrine came to be. It will certainly be interesting to compare the material presented by this book with that of a similar volume on western armor to see how the unique Japanese mindset and culture affected the evolution of Japanese mobile tactics.
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944