Japanese Army 1941-42

Strength and organization of the Imperial Army.
The Japanese Army in the time of victories in the Pacific War from 1941 to 1942.

Japanese troops storming a beach
Japanese troops storming a beach in Dutch East Indies.

The Japanese Army in the time of victories in the Pacific War from 1941 to 1942.

The Japanese Army 1941-42

Japanese infantryman 1941
Japanese infantryman 1941
Private Japanese Army 1942
Private 1st Class, 1942, in typical jungle fighting uniform and equipment.
The focus of the war moved away from China to the Pacific when Japan attacked American and British bases in the Far East in December 1941. The Imperial Army was involved in a number of amphibious operations in the Pacific Island chains although this area was the Navy’s prime responsibility. The Army’s greatest success was probably the capture of Singapore and the expulsion of the British from Malaya and Burma. Outnumbered by the British forces the spirit of the Japanese soldiers and the ability of their commanders proved unbeatable: by March 1942 the Japanese Army stood on the frontiers of India. The Army grew to a maximum strength of 5 million men, in 140 divisions and numerous small independent units.

The summer of 1942 marked the high-water of the Japanese advance, however, and when America’s vast industrial and military strength was brought to bear the Japanese Army was forced over to the defensive. In the Pacific, US troops waged a bitter island-hopping war and in Burma the British eventually managed to get the upper hand against the extended Japanese Army.

Distribution of Japanese Invasion and Occupation Forces in December 1941

The available Japanese invasion forces were comparative small. From the total of 51 divisions in China and Manchuria, only 11 were available in December 1941.

Even in 1943 the commitment in China still amounted to 25 infantry divisions, 1 armored division, 11 mixed brigades, 1 cavalry brigade and 1 flying division – a total of 620,000 men and 14,000 vehicles. This force, known as the Kwantung Army, was called upon to provide a constant stream of reinforcements for the Pacific War, and by 1945 its units were under strength and too weak to pose any real threat.

Imperial General HQ:

Army GroupArmyDivisions
Kwangtung Army (Manchuria)Armies not knowntotal 13 divisions
China Expedition Forces (China) 1st, 11th, 12th, 13th Armiestotal 21 Divisions
23th Army (against Hong Kong)38 Infantry
Southern Army Group (Pacific, East India, Burma) Reserves: 21 , 56 Infantry 14th Army (Formosa and Palau Islands against Philippines) 16, 48 Infantry
15th Army (China and Indo-China against Burma) 33, 55 Infantry Division
25th Army (China and Indo-China against Malaya, Borneo, Sumatra) 5, 18 Infantry, Guards Division
16th Army (Japan and Palau Islands against Dutch Borneo, Celebres, South Sumatra, Amboina, Timor, Java) 2, 56 Infantry
South Sea Detachment (Bonin Islands against Guam, Wake, Gilbert Islands, Bismarck, New Guinea)Regiment Group

Japanese division in Southwest Pacific in August 1942: total 4 (2, 16, 38, 48 Infantry Divisions)

Japanese divisions in Burma in September 1942: total 4 (18, 33, 55, 56 Infantry Divisions)

Overview Japanese divisions

Overview of fully established and operational divisions of Imperial Army outside of Japan.

Overview divisions:

DateArmoured divisionsInfantry divisionsTotal
December 1941-4949
mid-19421 (in China)5455
End of 19423 (2 new in August in Manchuria)5457

Organization strength of the divisions

Approximate organization strength of the major types of the Imperial Japanese Army divisions 1941-42.

Organization strength of the divisions (I):

Infantry Standard Type BInfantry strengthened Type AGarrison Special Type C
Infantry regiments 3 (c. 2,500 officers and men each)3 Brigade with 3 independent Infantry Battalions
Cavalry regiments 1 (950 officers and men) 1-
Total men 20,000 24,600 13,000
Rifles 9,000 10,000 7,000
Machine guns 382 light, 76-112 heavy MG 410 light, 114 heavy MG 110 light, 32 heavy MG
Howitzers and Field guns 66 (48 x 75mm, 18 x 70mm) 84 (36 x 70mm, 36 x 75mm, 12 x 105mm) 8 x 70mm
Anti-tank guns 22 (37mm or 47mm) + 18 x 20mm AT-rifles 18 (37mm or 47mm) + 28 x 20mm AT-rifles-
Anti-aircraft guns??-
Tanks 7 (armoured cars) 7 (armoured cars or tankettes)-
Vehicles 300 (250 x 1/4 ton carts, 50 x 1/2 ton trucks) 500 (450 x 1/4 ton carts, 50 x 1/2 ton trucks)-
Horses 8,000 8,240 2,700

Organization strength of the divisions (II):

Armored DivisionIndependent Brigade
Infantry regiments 1 brigade (3,800 officers and men)5 battalions
Cavalry regiments--
Total men 10,500 5,600
Rifles? 3,200
Machine guns? 180 light, 20 heavy MG
Howitzers and Field guns 12 (8 x 105mm, 4 x 155mm) 8 (75mm or 105mm, sometimes 81/90/150mm mortars instead)
Anti-tank guns 18 (47mm)20 x AT-rifles
Anti-aircraft guns 20 (4 x 75mm, 16 x 20mm) -
Vehicles 1,580?

References and literature

The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
Japanese Army of World War II (Philip Warner)
World War II – A Statistical Survey (John Ellis)
Der Grosse Atlas zum II. Weltkrieg (Peter Young)

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