World War II is behind us, though its not many years back. To be precise the Second World War ended in 1945 and its just about 70 years back. This is not a long period as far as world history is concerned. The Great War had two distinct theatres, namely the European theatre where the Germans and their ally the Italians fought against the Allies and the second was the Asian theatre, where the Imperial army faced the Americans at sea and the British in South East Asia.

The Japanese entered the war in early thirties when they invaded China and occupied the mineral rich Manchuria. They propped up a puppet regime led by Pu Yi, who was crowned emperor of China. Pu Yi was a yes man, with no independence and the last straw  was when his wife was impregnated by a Japanese Officer. Lot of credit is given to the Imperial army in its battles in China, where they defeated the Chinese militia decisively. 

A saner analysis of the Japanese  campaign of the Imperial army in China brings out the fact that the army was fighting its battles against an ill equipped force which was also untrained.  The Chinese army lacked aircraft and had no heavy guns and tanks, which were available with the Japanese. Hence the Japanese had overall military superiority. The Chinese militia devoid of air cover were sitting ducks and Douhet's principle of air war as a decisive factor held true.

One should not read much into the Japanese conquest of Manchuria, which cannot be construed as a barometer for a professional conduct of war. The Japanese also used terror tactics and killed millions of Chinese  by beheadings and firing squads. Raping Chinese girls was a favorite pass time of the Imperial army soldiers. Such barbaric tactics were not authorised by the Imperial General Staff led by General Hideki Tojo, yet for some inexplicable reason the Japanese army ran berserk against a weak opposition.

In  1941, the Japanese turned their attention to the Philippines and SE Asia including Burma and Malaya. Here also in a swift campaign the Japanese overran entire SE Asia. A look at the conduct of the battle in these areas is worthwhile.

The Japanese attacked Indo- China first, which was a French colony. At that time France itself was a defeated nation and was occupied by the Germans after the 40 day war in 1940. The French had no worthwhile force to counter the Imperial army which almost had a walkover.

The Japanese now struck against the Dutch colony of Indonesia. The Dutch had been defeated and occupied by Germany and had hardly any troops to defend Indonesia except some irregular forces. These were soundly trounced by the Imperial army with superior fire power. It was a most unequal conflict. The Japanese now turned on the British.

At that time England stood alone against the Germans and all resources were concentrated to halt an imminent invasion of England. Hitler  had' Operation Sea Lion" ready. No troops were available for the defence of the British possessions in SE Asia. Most of the British Indian army was fighting under Wavell and later Montgomery in North Africa, where a life and death struggle was on.

The Japanese thus faced a weak opposition and attacked Singapore after subduing Siam.  The British did have 2 capital ships, including the most modern battleship Prince of Wales, but the Japanese attack came from Malaya and  Singapore was captured without much of a battle.

The Japanese now swept into Burma , where a weak British Indian army was pushed back. The Japanese had the greater numbers and by end 1944, the Imperial army had reached the gates of India at Kohima and Imphal.

The campaign of the Imperial army was against sub standard opposition and is not a gauge of teh professionalism of the Japanese army. As an example the Andaman islands were guarded by some 200 Sikh militia. The Japanese threw in over 2000 troops and a dozen warships including a battleship. In such a situation a Japanese victory was a foregone conclusion and the Sikh militia surrendered,

One can thus see that for 2 entire years the Japanese won against weak opposition . This was a golden time for the Japanese to consolidate their position, but they failed to capitalise and people longed for the return of the English.

The first real test for the Imperial army came in late 1944, when the British commander Field Marshal William Slim had sufficient number of Indian troops and equipment available. At that time Rommel had been hit for a six out of North Africa and the allies had landed at Normandy.

The Japanese had superior forces and had laid siege to Imphal and kohima. however they failed to strike as reinforced troops of the Indian army now free from North Africa made a determined stand. It was the first time the Imperial army faced real resistance and a counter attack.  In such a scenario they were found wanting and broke ranks against the assault of the Indian army. The Indian troops consisting of Sikhs, Jats and Punjabi Musalmans, broke the back of the Japanese army. It was then one headlong retreat as the Japanese were pushed back and lost Rangoon, Mandalay and Singapore. Despite having fortified positions on islands close to Akyab, they were pushed back into the swamps to be eaten by crocodiles.

Their performance against the Americans in the Philippines and far east against the Americans was also not much to talk off as the Americans captured island after island as the Imperial Naval fleet had been annihilated in the Battle of Midway.

The Japanese were brave, but when they faced a professional army like the British Indian army they were found wanting.  There earlier victories were against weak and illequipped forces and one should not read much into them.

The Indian army covered itself with glory and the push through Burma is a feather in its cap. Subhas Bose for all talk was in real terms a cipher. His INA was almost like a rag tag force of some 40,000 who surrendered . The Japanese are thus greatly overrated, as an analysis shows that when faced with a determined resistance from well armed troops high on morale, they suffered a defeat. This is history and  cannot be negated. Their earlier victories were when the British were weak as they faced a rampaging Hitler in Europe, but after Stalingrad  it was a different story.


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