Japanese Army 1941-42

Japanese patrol on Guam

Japanese patrol on the captured US island of Guam.

Strength and organization of the Imperial Army

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 armoured 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 understrength and too weak to pose any real threat.

Imperial General HQ
Army Group Army Divisions
Kwangtung Army (Manchuria) Armies not known total 13 divisions
China Expedition Forces (China)1st, 11th, 12th, 13th Armies total 21 Divisions
23th Army (against Hong Kong) 38 Infantry
Southern Army Group (Pacific, East India, Burma) Reserves: 21 , 56 Infantry14th 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
Date Armoured divisions Infantry divisions Total
December 1941 49 49
mid-1942 1 (in China) 54 55
End of 1942 3 (2 new in August in Manchuria) 54 57

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 B Infantry strengthened Type A Garrison Special Type C
Infantry regiments3 (c. 2,500 officers and men each) 3Brigade with 3 independent Infantry Battalions
Cavalry regiments1 (950 officers and men) 1
Total men20,00024,60013,000
Rifles9,00010,0007,000
Machine guns382 light, 76-112 heavy MG410 light, 114 heavy MG110 light, 32 heavy MG
Mortars 340 450 128
Howitzers and Field guns66 (48 x 75mm, 18 x 70mm)84 (36 x 70mm, 36 x 75mm, 12 x 105mm)8 x 70mm
Anti-tank guns22 (37mm or 47mm) + 18 x 20mm AT-rifles18 (37mm or 47mm) + 28 x 20mm AT-rifles
Anti-aircraft guns ? ?
Tanks7 (armoured cars)7 (armoured cars or tankettes)
Vehicles300 (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)
Horses8,0008,2402,700
Organization strength of the divisions (II)
Armoured Division Independent Brigade
Infantry regiments1 brigade (3,800 officers and men) 5 battalions
Cavalry regiments
Total men10,5005,600
Rifles ?3,200
Machine guns ?180 light, 20 heavy MG
Mortars 180
Howitzers and Fieldguns12 (8 x 105mm, 4 x 155mm)8 (75mm or 105mm, sometimes 81/90/150mm mortars instead)
Anti-tank guns18 (47mm) 20 x AT-rifles
Anti-aircraft guns20 (4 x 75mm, 16 x 20mm)
Tanks 270
Vehicles1,580 ?
Horses ?
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