It is always interesting to look at a battle through the enemy’s eyes but rarely possible. After Buna we captured many diaries kept by individual Japanese soldiers. These diaries, when translated, were informative. From them we learned that the enemy feared our mortars most, our artillery next, and our aerial strafing and bombing least. During the early stages of the campaign the entries clearly reflect the official Japanese Army propaganda line that the American was not a formidable soldier.
As the siege proceeded the point of view of the besieged began to change. But the diaries tell their own story. Dates of the entries are omitted here, but the excerpts selected follow chronologically the progress of the battle:
The enemy has received almost no training. Even though we fire a shot they present a large portion of their body and look around. Their movements are very slow. At this rate they cannot make a night attack.
The enemy has been repulsed by our keen-eyed snipers. In the jungle it seems they fire at any sound, due to illusion. From sundown until about 10 P.M. they fire light machine guns and throw hand grenades recklessly.
They hit coconuts that are fifteen meters from us. There are some low shots but most of them are high. They do not look out and determine their targets from the jungle. They are in the jungle firing as long as their ammunition lasts. Maybe they get more money for firing so many rounds.
The enemy is using ammunition wildly. I wish the main force would hurry and come.
The enemy has become considerably more accurate in firing.
Enemy approached to about 50 meters. Difficult to distinguish their forms in the jungle. Can’t see their figures.
The nature of the enemy is superior and they excel in firing techniques. Their tactics are to neutralize our positions with fire power, approach our positions under concentrated mortar fire. Furthermore, it seems that in firing they are using treetops. During daytime mess, if our smoke is discovered, we receive mortar fire.
This entry was a turning point in the diary serial-story. It seems to me probable that this was the enemy’s unconscious acknowledgment that we Americans had learned our hard lessons and that the 32nd Division had found itself. From that time on the military observations are discouraged and very brief:
From today’s mortar fire the third platoon received great damage.
Headquarters is a pitiful sight due to artillery fire.
Carried in one coconut tree and filled in all of the shelter. Now we are safe from mortar fire.
Artillery raking the area. We cannot hold out much longer.
Our nerves are strained; there is a lack of sleep due to the continuous shelling.
The enemy scouts which have been bothering us all night quit about two hours before dawn. The night strain has passed.
Enemy scouts appear everywhere and attack, shooting automatic rifles.
A second series of diary excerpts collected by my staff presents an even more interesting and unusual picture of the garrison troops. These paragraphs are highly personal and represent the aspirations, fears, and frustrations of men. They demolish the idea that the Japanese soldier, however rigorously trained, is “unemotional,” an automaton.
Morale of troops is good because we feel reinforcements will come.
Received word of praise from the Emperor today. We will hold out to the last. . . . Our troops do not come. Even though they do come, they are driven away by enemy planes. Every day my comrades die one by one and our provisions disappear.
We are now in a delaying holding action. The amount of provisions is small and there is no chance of replenishing ammunition. But we have bullets of flesh. No matter what comes we are not afraid. If they come, let them come, even though there be a thousand. We will not be surprised. We have the aid of Heaven. We are the warriors of Yamamoto [sic; probably Yamato].
How I wish we could change to the offensive! Human beings must die once. It is only natural instinct to want to live; but only those with military spirit can cast that away.
Now the tempo of retrogression heightens, and despair takes hold. Like young men everywhere, the Japanese soldiers are sad and unwilling and self-pitying in the coming presence of death. Sentences from the journals tell the story in a staccato fashion:
“There are some who are completely deteriorating spiritually. . . . We can’t eat today. Mess gear is gone because of the terrific mortar fire. . . . Everyone is depressed. Nothing we can do. ... It is only fate that I am alive today. This may be the place where I shall find my death. I will fight to the last. . . .”
December becomes January and the final onrush of the Americans is at hand. These are the last entries:
With the dawn, the enemy started shooting all over. All I can do is shed tears of resentment. Now we are waiting only for death. The news that reinforcements had come turned out to be a rumor. All day we stay in the bunkers. We are filled with vexation. Comrades, are you going to stand by and watch us die? Even the invincible Imperial Army is at a loss. Can’t anything be done? Please God.
Night falls. Thought we saw two enemy scouts. It turned out to be a bird and a rat.
It is certainly lamentable when everyone runs off and not a single person remains to take care of things. Can these be called soldiers of Japan?
30 August 2017
Japanese Soldier Diaries in New Guinea, 1943
From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 1236-89: