in the Dutch East Indies, 1941-1942
Imperial Stormtroopers and Japanese Airborne Operations – Dutch East Indies 1941-1942
Japanese military parachutists
Contrary to popular believe the Japanese military entered WW2 with an aircrew safety parachute and harness derived and copied from the A-type Leslie Irvin pattern. Leslie Irvin was an American who emigrated to England and developed a chute to deploy with a rip cord to replace the static line used by most pilots and balloonists up to the 1920s. The first specifically designed Japanese military parachute was the Type 01 of 1941, similar to the German RZ version, which has more in common with the Italian D-30 series chute, having a canopy diameter of 28feet (8.5metre) in a pronounced hemispherical shape with skirting and vent hole for stable flight. The Italians used the Salvatore parachute that opened by hand grip rip cord and in the beginning were ardent users of paratroopers although by 1941 there were two understrength lightly equipped divisions. The parachute lines were connected by a single point length to the paratroopers belt and had the effect that the man hung slightly face downwards hunched in an ideal position for a face first landing. The harness was modified in the later Type 03 leaving out the lift webs, and the rigging lines were brought to a single point connected to a large steel ‘D' ring behind the paratrooper's neck for a more upright controlled landing. Standard German teaching was to dive head first out the door and to take the landing in a forward roll, the British and Americans jumped feet first, although the particular Japanese method of opening of the folded and packed chute by static line was for safety sake dangerous and liable to failure. Each paratrooper also carried a 24feet (7.3metres) reserve chest-pack, and it should be noted that the basic Japanese naval parachutists training program required jumps between 300-500feet (90-150m), which would not give much time to deploy the emergency chute, let alone hesitate in deploying the main canopy. Japanese paratrooper training also required a jump from as low as 100ft, and were taught by the German instruction teams who were probably horrified by the sight of their teaching being taken to extreme. The Russian military used a square shaped canopy static line deployed chute and a ripcord reserve parachute in 1942.
The Japanese Navy and Army developed, trained and experimented with their own airborne troops knowing quite clearly how to utilise them in military operations. The Imperial Navy opted for creating an aerial landing diversion inland from the beaches where the main amphibious assault by sea would be made. The Japanese Navy had the concept of disabling the airfields preventing interference by enemy warplanes on an amphibious landing by co-ordinating the timing of their sea-borne assault and parachute drop to create maximum surprise at the point of contact. German airborne troops were employed as the spearhead of the remarkable and daring invasion of Denmark and Norway. The Scandanavian experience had France & Britain plus the neutral nations see themselves as next in line. The Dutch in Holland had deployed to meet such an airborne assault to bridge the water-obstacle defences, fought with skill and determination, yet a lucky chance at Waalhaven was exploited by the Germans air-landing reinforcements, although it had been a near run thing until German ground troops linked with the paratroopers. The lightly armed Japanese paratroopers of 1942 would have the tactical task of attacking the air base defences, once successful then the Japanese would quickly use the airfield for their own warplanes to support the invasion. Small groups were sent out to secure crossroads and block-off reinforcements or actually secure other objectives of importance to direct the defence away from the beachheads. Japanese coordinated combined island amphibious invasions were swift and devastating, orchestrating and integrating elements of superior firepower which resulted in overwhelming force. The surprise element in the military sense does not necessarily mean open-mouth astonishment, it does explain that doing the unexpected which is not planned for by the enemy. The surprise element was available to the Japanese for they had the incentive, initiative and mobility to strike anywhere with their main forces, having control of the sea and air superiority. Where airborne formations would land to create havoc could only be guessed at by ADA Command. An opportunity for the Japanese military to exploit manuouvre warfare and achieve victories by the skill of their mission commanders creating the advantage by applying strength against the enemy weak spots while attempting to use surprise to avoid attrition.
Imperial Navy marines
The 1st Yokosuka SNLF (Special Naval Landing Force) was formed 20 September 1941, at Yokosuka Naval District, round a battalion of 520 paratroopers, this force had taken Menado as part of the Sasebo Raiding Force. The 2nd Yokosuka also formed at the Yokosuka port area, 15 October 1941, with 746 men and trained as such, took no part in any airborne operations and became an island defensive base unit. The 3rd Yokosuka, again formed at the Naval facility consisting of 849 men on 20 November 1942, was used as marine infantry through the Philipines and two months later was involved in the Dutch West Timor invasion as airborne inserted infantry originating from the captured air base at Kendari. The lightly armed Naval parachutist units were an attachment to Marine raiding forces, assigned as part of the IJN Combined Fleet. The three SNLF formations were trained specially as paratroopers to support amphibious landings and not meant for entanglement in heavy pitched land battles, plus wore the badge with an emblem of two crossed parachutes and anchor topped with a small flower. Another naval parachute outfit of the Axis was the Italian San Marco marines of the Regia Marina that trained at the Tarquinia Parachute School, also underwater specialist sabotage training, and had NP (Noutatori Paracadutisti) emblem on their military designated badge. Although Japanese Naval infantry basic training was different to the Japanese Army, all three Yokosuka units were trained at the Army Base on Kanto Plain. By 20 May 1942 the two veteran parachute dropped and battle depleted Yokosuka units were reassigned to the 2nd Southern Expeditionary Fleet. Shortly afterwards the 1st Yokosuka returned to its namesake Naval base and what was left of the 3rd Yokosuka landed elements on unoccupied islands of the eastern Indonesian archipelago, and was returned to Japan by the end of October 1942.
Japanese Army airborne
The Japanese generals were so impressed by the German airborne operations in the lightning invasion of the west in May 1940 they began both glider and paratroop exercises one month later. France in 1938 had two companies of Infantrie de l'Air. The Polish Army opened a parachute Training School after viewing Soviet demonstrations of the mid 1930's, and also practised anti-parachute procedures and measures. A Japanese parachute brigade, glider brigade and support units were raised, and before the end of 1941 Nazi-Germany had a team of instructors in Japan. The Imperial Japanese Army parachutist units, also lightly armed, were titled "raiding regiments" and scored some success through surprise at Palembang, Sumatra island, marked by good preparation and planning coupled to sufficient support from the combined military forces of Imperial Japan. Elements of the Raiding Regiments used in the airborne operation over Netherlands East Indies would have been trained at the Kato Plain Army Base. The Japanese Army jumpers wore a winged design in a form of the legendary Golden Kite, similar to pilot wings, plus also wore an emblem roundal with a deployed parachute and star depicted. When the German parachute school was formed in 1936, at Stendal in Hitler's Germany, instructions were given on a 16-day jump course, including six proper parachute jumps and a company descent to obtain the Fallschirmtruppen badge. Rumania opened a parachute training school in 1937 at Pantelimon, near Bucharest. Russia, Germany, and Italy possessed organised parachute formations before the war, also Spain, France, Poland and later the United States too. Australia, Canada, and India amongst others eventually employed airborne troops during the hostilities.
Weapons and equipment
The Japanese Army adopted and designated the Type 00 rifle for parachutists, weight 9lb 8ounces with 5-round integral box magazine, derived from the Arisaka rifle Meiji 38, it was shortened and re-chambred to fire a more recently introduced sufficiently lethal 7.7mm cartridge. The Model 38 was accompanied by a Carbine variant, originally intended for cavalry, artillery and engineers, yet in subsequent years the 38inch long bolt action weapon gradually superseded the 50inch long standard military rifle in many infantry formations, since it was easier to handle in jungle conditions. When the Japanese military hierarchy decided to adopt a magazine rifle at the turn of the twentieth century they took the German Mauser as a starting pattern preferring their own ideas about what constituted a good rifle and developed their own variations. The Commission appointed by the Chrysanthemum Throne to institute the small calibre 6.5mm infantry firearm at the time to replace the 8mm Murata rifle of 1887 was headed by Colonel Arisaka. And ever since then his name has been associated with the Japanese magazine military rifle, becoming wartime Japan's most well-known infantry weapon. For parachutist use the Arisaka Type 00 of 1940 was separated below the firing chamber by a threaded breach. So each man could carry his own weapon in the jump, instead of reliance on the parachuted supply canister being nearby, and on occasions the tactical situation over lush tropical terrain meant most of the containers dropped were lost or ended up in enemy hands. The Japanese military Type 2 Parachutist's Rifle was introduced in 1942 as an improvement on the Type 99 and the screw joint for disassembling was replaced by a horizontal wedge, but few were manufactured. An unusual and little-known fact is that the Arisaka rifle was an official British army weapon in the Great War of 1914, and at that time faced with an expanding expeditionary force for continental deployment, and having an enormous shortfall in rifles and cavalry carbines, a quantity of .256inch patterns were purchased from Japan and used for training being declared obsolete on 25 October 1921.
The development of the sub-machine gun was neglected and appears to have had little enthusiasm amongst the Japanese military elite, considering militarist Japan was engaged in an undeclared war with fractured China, having experienced the cheap and simple machine-pistols of the Soviets, and were preparing for a war throughout jungle clad South East Asia. After Holland the Fallschirmjaeger adopted the Machinen-Pistole 38 for maximum firepower after landing, able to be worn while jumping through the small door of the Ju-52 transport, weight 9lb with 32-round box magazine. The Italian parachutists utilised the multi-number of rounds detachable box magazine capacity Beretta sub-machine gun. Yet again the Japanese purchased a few foreign models, designed their own and produced two patterns of the robust Type 100, Model 1940. The solid stock variety for infantry use, and the hinged folding stock version for airborne troopers. Both were fitted with bayonet bars under the barrel, basic blowback weapons working on fundamental mechanisms, and the infantry version could be fitted with a small bipod for sustained firepower. The overall length was 890mm (35inches), weight empty 3.83kg (8.44lb), magazine capacity a 30-shot detachable box, cyclic rate 450 rounds per minute. The Type 100 sub-machine gun lacked long range effectiveness due to firing the weak 8mm Nambu pistol cartridge, it was however thought to be the ideal weapon for close combat jungle warfare. The conventional infantry pattern in a standard model of 10,000 copies, and about another 7,500 of the folding butt type parachutist's model, were manufactured at the Kokura Army Arsenal before the factory was relocated and production ceased in 1943. By comparison the US produced 646,000 M3 sub machine-guns before the world war ended, and the Germans stamped out 225,000 MP40 models every year. The only recorded use for these Model 40 sub-machine guns in combat was by IJ Army parachutists on the offensive against the Dutch, British, Australian and Indian service personnel on the island of Sumatra in 1942, when the Japanese weapon was reported to have been highly effective in dishing out firepower during the engagement. The American paratroopers training at Ringway Air Base found the M1 Carbine ideal for airborne jumps, it was light at 5lbs, the standard 15-round detachable box magazine had a good volume of fire and the primary parachutists model, M1A1, had a folded skeleton stock. The short carbine was handy as a close combat weapon due to the light pistol projectile and something like over 6 million of all types were made, including a sniper telescopic model.
The Japanese paratroopers jumping from a transport plane
Japanese light machine-guns, although there is no specific mention of which LMG was particularly used by Nippon parachute units, it could be confidently said that whatever model or pattern was used it was one of many available. Here is some samples of Japanese light machine guns utilised at the time during the war. Taisho 11 Light Machine Gun, firing an 6.5mm semi-rimmed bottle neck brass case, complete weight 22lb 8oz, with 30 round hopper firing cyclically 500 rounds a minute. Designed by Colonel Kirijo Nambu, a noted Japanese firearms designer, based on the French Hotchkiss Gun M1897 and was the basis for further development. Sometimes the Japanese weapon designation is based on the yearly reign of the existing monarch as the previous model, Yoshihito Taisho reigned from 1912-1926 until his state of mental health removed him from imperial duties. On the Japanese 6.5mm projectile firing weapon the quick change barrel was slightly ribbed for air cooling with bayonet boss on the gas cylinder allowing a large sword bayonet to be attached. Type 96 LMG introduced on the Western calender in 1936, on the Japanese year book it was 2596, a number of ideas were taken from the Czechoslovakian ZB LMG models, probably captured from the troublesome Chinese warlords. The British Bren LMG was based on the Czech design too. In 1932 as part of Imperial Japan's expansion into China and Manchuria a need for a more powerful round was required, various calibres were assessed. The Type 99 LMG was designed, virtually a Type 96 in the new 7.7mm calibre, and production numbers never met demand. Hostile militarist Japan was hardly capable of producing newly developed weapons in sufficient numbers and many outdated models remained in service. So too the manufacturing of suitable ammunition, obsolete 6.5mm, (some to be oiled in action – cut) 7.7mm rimless for re-chambred infantry rifles of 1939, 7.7mm semi-rimless introduced in 1932 for machine guns which were to be oiled in action, and 7.7mm rimmed ammunition used for aircraft machine guns, or reduced charge types and tracers, which must have been a supply quartermaster's nightmare.
The small arms weapons, plus the mandatory bayonet, was carried by the Nippon stormtrooper in a large flat pack on the chest with the reserve chute attached by clip to that. Both Japanese Army and Imperial Naval parachutists wore combat dress based on the German gabardine model. Also similar to the German potato masher, the Japanese designed stick grenade was more lethal having more fragments fly from its cast iron head. The fuse was erratic after the string was pulled, it seems a dangerous flaw in Japanese grenades, especially after storage in humid a environment. The stick grenade was considered obsolete when Japan joined the world war and expanded the list of enemies in late 1941. Yet old stock was used during the war and encountered by British Master Gunner Ian V. Hogg in Korea during the early 1950s. The Chinese Communist Army had utilised Japanese stock captured by the Soviets at the end of WW2. And no doubt they were even more unpredictably erratic by then. The Japanese military early on adopted two other grenades, one for the Type 89 Grenade Launcher and the other for throwing, both were cylindrical with the igniter assembly protruding from the top. The Type 91 had a screw hole at the bottom for either a finned tail section and to be attached to a rifle that fired a wooden blank, or for a propellant container and percussion cap for launching from the little "knee-mortar". The specific fuse for grenade launching was delayed for a nominal 7.5 seconds and for the Type 97 solid base hand throwing grenade the fuse was set to 4.5 seconds. The protruding fuse cap was struck against something solid, the boot heel for instance, which drove the firing pin to ignite the slow burning chemical fuse. The body of the grenade was segmented to fragment and again as mentioned before, the fuses for Japanese grenades were notoriously unreliable.
Also included in the armoury of small-arms ordnance, the Japanese paratrooper could pack a grenade launcher, more like an small mortar, although he would only have a side arm, as all other weapons, ammunition and supplies had to be dropped by canister. The Mortar Type 89, more properly a Grenade Discharger, but better known as the "knee-mortar", although firing the weapon this way led to serious injury. Nevertheless it was extremely simple in use, ingenious with application and an inseparable part of every Japanese infantry platoon. During the early part of the Far East hostilities it was the habit of the Japanese soldiers to carry the small Model 89 strapped to the leg of the mortar-man, and may have been termed the Leg Mortar and an unfortunate translation turned this into Knee Mortar. The projectiles were either a propellant propelled shell, weighing 28ounces, specially designed for the rifled mortar with a range of 700yards. Or the standard Japanese 23ounce Type 91 Hand Grenade having a small propellant container with percussion cap screwed on to the base of the grenade. Due to the lack of sealing the maximum range for the launched fragment grenade was less than the shrapnel shell.
Transport delivery aircraft
The Japanese airborne forces lacked the rapid development that commercial enterprise of many passenger aircraft manufactured which the German Luftwaffe were able to utilise for war and the deployment of their Fallschirmtruppen formations. After the mid 1920's the German civilian powered aircraft industry grew rapidly due to the Allied Control Commission relaxation of some stringent conditions, limited revival was introduced, and within a year many types of small and large commercial aircraft were manufactured and large numbers sold to foreign countries. Most of Japan's pre-war aircraft output was bombers and fighters. An industrial establishment capable of producing new types of military warplanes keeping apace with Western counterparts hard pressed the allied codename callers to keep up with registration of many newly introduced combat aircraft. The official Western view remained that numerous Japanese warplanes were emphatically second rate, yet on the contrary the Nippon airforces were a most formidable projection of power. In the meantime the land of the Rising Sun had became a third full member of the Axis bloc, joining the Tri-Partite anti-comintern alliance and being involved in an all out war with subservient China. This was no polite war in the Western sense but the full brutal experience of the new order in eastern Asia.
By 1939 when Japanese military warplanes had been well and truly blooded during the Sino-Nippon war, the deficiency in transport aircraft was recognised and a direct copy of the DC-3 was instigated. The US military designation of the DC-3 during World War Two was C-47, and the air transport biscuit-bomber was still used for airborne deployment in the Korean War. The Soviets had two thousand DC-3 aircraft delivered through Lend-Lease during the Great Patriotic War and still in service with the Red Army airborne until the mid 1950s with performance varying depending on what type of motors were fitted. The Japanese transport was identical to the original Douglas Dakota design, was known as the Nakajima L2D2, Rei Yosoh Type 00, codename Tabby, and confused many Ack Ack gunners of the Pacific islands, yet the valuable transport was not used as a parachutist deployment vehicle. Although throwing things out of aeroplanes has been practised since humans began powered flight, the protracted and remote military operations across the island studded Pacific seas characterised the need for extra air dispatched supplies and arms. The main parachutist deploying plane was the twin-engined Mitsubishi Ki-57, Type 100, transport aircraft MC-20 codename Topsy, a commercial airliner available in limited numbers requisitioned with no alteration for military service. Overall shape of the Ki-57 was three-quarters the size and general surface outline of the DC-3, could carry eleven passengers or 3000lbs (1360kgs) for a distance of 900 miles (1448 km), and was used in the early Japanese parachute operations clearly identified in use at Menado and Palembang in early 1942. Also a Topsy carried the Japanese delegation to surrendered Singapore for the capitulation ceremony. Each stride the Japanese performed in their thrust into the islands of Netherlands East Indies and the Australian territory of Papaua-New Guinea was about the range of their land based aircraft. The Rising Sun empires warplanes at one captured airbase would support the attack on the next objective. Available IJ Navy carrier aircraft were employed too, for close air support during the invasion and suppressing enemy military bases that could interdict the invasion force.
The shortage of air transports became more evident as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere expanded. Japan like other combatant nations with airborne soldiers adopted obsolete bombers as passenger and load carriers, and the success rate was just as elusive as those belligerents in Europe had discovered. The Mitsubishi Ki-21, Type 97, codename Sally, although an old warbird first introduced in 1936, had seen extensive service over China and during the Nomonhan fighting with the Soviets. As the Pacific War progressed more Sentai air group formations, were taken for load-carrying tasks, with space for nine men, or 1016kg of freight. As the next standard Army bomber model was introduced the superseded Ki-21s were withdrawn from frontline service for conversion to HC-21 transports or training aircraft, used later in the war as an air-landing assault aircraft and for special clandestine missions. The air transport could carry nine armed troops and could carry cargo specially hung on the wings plus the overall payload could be increased for short range tasks.
This long-ranged twin-engined bomber come transport for the Japanese Army air elements had an Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force counterpart, the Mitsubishi G3M Type 96, christened Nell by the allies. With a range of 2,900 miles the lean fuselage twin-tail raider conducted long range missions over mainland China and eventually some Chutais squadron units were allocated to transport duties and stripped of armaments for airborne operations and for transport. Also the next Mitsubishi model, the G4M, became the IJNAF principle bomber during the Pacific War acting as torpedo bomber, level bomber, then recon aircraft, and inevitably an air-transporter of supplies, with a range of 2,620 miles. The Nippon aircraft industry built under licence the Lockheed Lodestar, Supra-Electra, perhaps better known in British & Commonwealth squadrons as the Hudson light bomber. The Japanese converted a few for paradrops but reports are unsure of exact use for Ki-56 Kai carrying cargo or deploying parachute troops. The allies also converted a few Hudsons for parachuting yet the commercial airliner doing sturdy military service were more reliable as a speedy long-range military passenger capacity aircraft. Other air transports available to the Japanese Army were Ki-59 TK-3, Theresa, and purchased Douglas DC-2, Tess.
The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 ending the previous world war required Germany to scrap all the powered warplanes, yet there was no mention of gliders, so the exploits of young flying airmen focused on powerless flight. By the early 1920's Germany hosted the country's first national glider flying competition at Mount Wassarkuppe, even a young 23-year old Willi Messerschmidt later entered his assisted built glider model, creating glider developments and world wide soaring records. Japan on the other hand has for over 1,000 years been nationally and ceremoniously keen on kites blown by the strong winds that circulate the Japanese home islands. Kites were sometimes used for visual signalling during times of war. The Japanese war industry designed many quality built examples of powerless flight aircraft, from various training types to vehicle and troop transports, but was quite incapable of quantity production. All were blessed by the Nihon government, yet none were used operationally in airborne assaults against the NEI. Specifications for a military glider had been issued prior to 1941, and by 1944 when there were sufficient numbers available the idea of airborne assaults had long passed its use-by-date with allied superiority in firepower and control of the skies. Another difficulty delaying the airborne use of gliders for troop insertion and logistic purposes was that the Japanese Army and IJNavy pursued separate developments, and similar duplications in tendering, a great deal of effort, and expense wasted. Anyway, during the later part of 1940 a few Kokusai Ku-1 military troop transports were built, tested and flown. The Ku-1 glider, smaller than and similar to the German Gotha Go242, was never used for anything more than training. This Japanese Army design was a high wing twin-boom layout, wing span 55feet (16.5m), 32feet long with crew of two, had two-fixed wheeled undercarriage, and a payload of eight fully equipped soldiers or 1,300lbs (590kg) of cargo.
An approved Japanese Army design developed during 1942 was the Kokusai Ku-7, big enough to carry a light tank, or appropriate weight in soldiers, equipment or supplies. The blueprint was like an enlarged version of the Ku-1, with the same type of twin tail and the central wide nacelle housing the crew and cargo space. The Japanese transport gilder was larger than the US Navy experimental XLRN-1 and the British Hamlicar tank transport glider. The Ku-7 was equipped with five fixed wheels, one projecting from the nose and a group of four for the undercarriage. Loading was through the rear, like the German Gotha 242 glider which most likely was copied by the Japanese designers, and the whole end piece of the central nacelle swung to one side on hinges. With a heavily tapered wing plan the wingspan was 114feet 10inches (34.7m), being just over 65feet in length and having to carry a payload of 16,450lbs (7,462kg ). In fact the Ku-7 could just carry an 8-ton light tank, or thirty-two armed troops, or an artillery piece and towing vehicle of similar weight. The heavy laden glider had to be towed by either the Nakajima Ki-49 (Helen), or the Mitsubishi K-67 (Peggy), due to the amount of horse-power needed to get airborne. The Japanese twin boom tank transport glider was given the ominous codename Buzzard by the Allies, to the Japanese services it was known as Manazuru, the name for a crane. The Japanese Army, struggling with inadequate numbers of transport aircraft, mounted two engines onto the Ku-7 to serve as a successful freighter aircraft. The size of the Ku-7 required a strong, powerful aircraft for towing and could have given good service had it existed in 1942 yet only so many Ku-7s were built, most were converted to power. The Germans did experiment with rocket assisted take-off for military transport gliders and converted five squadrons of Gotha gliders to Go244 with two radial fourteen cylinder engines. The Allies also experimented with powered gliders, the CG-4A model military glider (70,000 built) was involved in a conversion using two 125hp Franklin engines.
Another different type of Japanese Army glider designed, developed and built was the Ku-8, Goose, with an overhead single strutted wingspan and single fabricated fuselage. It could carry 18 passengers and crew of two, yet was originally a twin engined high winged light transport. Perhaps a similar design to the German DFS 230 military glider which was used on the Eastern Front as a mobile workshop for Luftwaffe squadrons and towed to operational airfields carrying repair equipment and aircraft spares. Japan manufactured several hundred Kokusai Ku-8 combat gliders during the war, and some samples were found abandoned on airfields in Luzon after the Japanese occupying forces had been broken in 1945. A second version of the Ku-8 was introduced in early 1944, was of a steel tube fuselage, fabric covered and the nose cone hinged sideways for loading, wing and tail were made of light wood. The Ku-8 mkII, Gander, could accommodate 20 troops, light gun or small vehicle and as the story goes was wartime Japan's only military glider to be used on combat operations. A glider pilot rarely survived more than a few missions, a rear gunner in a bomber having a low life expectancy in combat counted in seconds. However there were some brave Allied glider pilots in the Burma theatre that performed multiple airborne operations conducted in relations to Chindit missions and later transferred to European combat areas.
The Japanese war industries came up with at least a dozen other glider layouts, which were tested, developed, manufactured in small production numbers but none of them came into service. The IJ Navy ordered a well designed and sturdily built glider which appeared in 1941, and flight tested in early 1942. The MXY5 could have been used in the early Japanese airborne operations. Capable of carrying eleven weapon bearing troops, and two pilots, or 1,000kg of cargo. Constructed of a fabric-wrapped plywood covering the tubular steel fuselage, there were flaps and spoilers, dual controls, retractable landing wheels with emergency skid underneath, yet only twelve MXY5s were manufactured in three years and none used for operations. As a comparison for industrial power of production in quality numbers, in February 1941 United States General Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Corps, ordered the specifications for a military glider. Up until August 1945 14,612 gliders were made and by the time the production line finished in 1946 some 16,000 gliders of all types were built, the Waco CG4As being the most numerous. Some sixteen companies were involved from furniture factories to the Ford Motor Company, costing more than 500 million dollars plus a Glider Pilots Scheme to train 6,000 recruits. An advertisement in a post-war newspaper had the CG-4A selling for $75.00 each to the public. The British were busy on their own advanced glider projects and manufactured 5,935 of various types of gliders. Tojo's allies, Nazi-Germany produced some 3,995 gliders and fascist Italy initially equipped with German DFS 230 & Go 242 gliders, eventually manufactured eighteen extremely well-designed examples. Yet Imperial Japan could never match that quantity of might with approximately 825 in total of all models made.
Early Airborne operations
Bellerphon, in the first story about an airborne warrior, tamed the mythical winged horse Pegasus, and destroyed the fire breathing Chimera dragon by aerial attack with arrows shot from a bow. That image is the symbol of the British airborne forces introduced in May 1942, and the parachutist's maroon coloured beret earned the Parachute Brigade in North Africa the title ‘Den roten Teufeln' (The Red Devils). Since that ancient Greek legend was told the concept of airborne warfare has occupied the minds of many through the ages, Leonardo Da Vinci and H.G. Wells being centuries apart. Modern airborne warfare has a short history in wars waged since shortly before the beginning of the Second World War. The tedious planning of any military operation can make or break the forces will to perform the allotted task, and an airborne operation has plenty of planning. The emphasis then was to deliver huge armies by air, to parachute and glider-land onto the forward areas of the enemy's held territory and having the ground troops link up with an offensive advance as soon as possible. Delay in supporting the lightly armed parachutists could be fatal and disastrous. The early airborne transport of vehicles was restricted to motorcycles, light artillery and scout cars.
Die grünen Teufel (The Green Devils)
In March 1939 three Jaeger battalions, plus the HQ group of the 7th Flieger Division were airlanded at Prague aerodrome to neutralise any opposition to the overrunning of what remained of Czechoslovakia. The use of airlanded troops aroused no special interest as many major military powers had deployed soldiers by means of transport aircraft. The British troops in Iraq and Iran were moved by air movement, as had the French done in the North African provinces and fascist Italy too in Abyssinia and Libya, so too the Japanese executing long distance deployment over China. The German airborne arm was made up of three types of formations, the parachutists to drop onto the operational area, another assault formation is carried by glider to the objective and air landing units brought by transport aircraft to the battle. To preserve the secret German airborne force no parachute operations were conducted when German Armed Forces marched into Poland, the Second World War had begun. Yet later when the Polish campaign was coming to an end German paratroopers from the 2nd Fallschirmjaeger Regiment were put down on Deblin airfield, others from the same airborne regiment were landed at airfields near Dukla Pass.
Storming Eagles over the West
In the April 1940 assault on Denmark groups of paratroopers were dropped on a clear brilliant day to seize key points as German warplanes soared over Danish air space. The Vordingborg bridge, being one major objective, that connected the islands of Falster and Zeeland, and guaranteed the German ground forces advance to the Danish capital of Copenhagen. In the meantime German paratroopers and air-landing troops took part in securing airfields in Norway, at Oslo, in particularly Stavanger airfield, where Junker air transport brought in Wehrmacht reinforcements and were relieved by seaborne soldiers storming ashore from transports berthed at Oslo Fjord. The Norwegian defenders had kept the German paratroopers from retrieving weapon containers outside the defensive perimeter for half an hour. The successful invasion utilising German military skill and capacity, was primarily due to feeble opposition which was all the exiguous Norwegian forces could offer. The Allies believed that German troops and supplies in sufficient volume could not be transported by air, and that their powerful navies could block the waters against conveyance of military forces by sea. Again the German paratroopers in a quickly improvised operation were inserted to prevent the stalwart Norwegians linking with British reinforcements disembarking from Aandalesnes and moving to the road and rail junction of Dombaas. The Scandanavian bad weather hampered resupply to the desperate paratroopers of No.1 Jaeger Company and although the mission was successful the Germans surrendered to the Norwegians.
Prior to airborne assaults in the West the Luftwaffe decimated the Dutch and Belgian airforces, and France's Armee de l'Air on the ground gaining air superiority as the phony hostilities ended. The conditions for the deployment of airborne troops were favourable, although it was not all the Germans way in May 1940. In one daring exploit shortly before 0500hrs on the morning of 10 May a number of Dornier flying boats landed on the Maas river in the centre of Rotterdam, near the great girder bridges, which carry road and railway across the immense water course. The race across Holland to relieve the airborne assault units holding out in pockets of resistance had been obstructed by tenacious Dutch defence. Dutch Light Divisions launched powerful battalion attacks and began pushing past the scattered paratrooper stragglers and into the main German airborne defensive positions, the fury of the fight only died away as darkness descended. Later fresh Dutch formations entered the battle mounted on bicycles yet were driven off as the German airborne units were reinforced by reconnaissance units of the German Eighteenth Army. In one report patrols from the Dutch 1st Hussars Regiment near Nijerk, searching for invading stormtroopers, was annihilated by German armoured fighting vehicles. German parachuted stragglers formed groups to beat back Belgian infantry attacks against the successful glider assaulted fortress at Eben Emael and as the Wehrmacht Armies' ground forces advanced the storm shock-troops were being relieved from the burden of attritional battle.
After the collapse of France Hitler gave permission for Japanese, Italian and other selected foreign delegates to be given a guided tour of the recent battlefields in the West. This included revealing the events on the Belgian fort complex and the glider assault groups against the bridges on the Meuse river that had remained shrouded in secrecy. In London Service Chiefs, and Churchill, examined samples of the loose fitting jump smocks, side lacing boots and new shaped steel helmets conveyed from German invaded Holland. The U.S. Military Intelligence Division of the War Department failed to grasp the importance of the glider as a combat enhancing weapon and reliable information of German specialised glider assaults was slotted into a filing cabinet. Yet by the end of June 1940 a platoon of volunteers from the 29th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia, conducted experimental parachute jumps from the small airfield under supervision of the Army Air Corps parachuting instructors.
Greece and Crete
Another inspirational airborne operation was conducted the following year during the German blitzkrieg through Greece at the Corinth Canal. Six DFS gliders, containing 36 German paratroopers, were released shortly after Stuka bombing raids on the defenders and whilst silently gliding to battle split into two groups of three. One group landed at the southern end of the Corinth bridge and the other trio pirouetted earthward onto the northern end. Both shocktroop units secured their objectives, and before the stunned British and Greek defenders could react forty planeloads of German paratroopers were dumped from above. The swift German surprise attack secured the demolition rigged bridge, but as all was going well for the Germans, unfortunate fate, a lucky chance, turned the tables when a stray, or aimed, projectile exploded the pile of demolitions charges setting of an enormous blast that shook the prize bridge to destruction, collapsing into the canal. It was also reported in one local counter attack that two British officers were seen pistol shooting at the removed explosives.
The German parachute landing on the island of Crete during May 1941 may have also served as a template for Japanese planners, where the solely airborne assault was supposed to be supported by an seaborne carried reinforcement operation, that failed due to the British Navy's control of the waters between Crete and Greece. Japanese strategists analysed the alarming application of a lightly armed airborne force flown about two hundred miles over the sea, attacking an enormous island defended by entrenched troops twice their number, and captured it in only eight days. But the price had been horrendous, a Pyrrhic victory so to say, about half the entire airborne force, jumped or glided into action, had been casualties and 350 planes destroyed, half that number were Ju-52 tri-engine air transports. Even the US Marine Corps, one month later after the fall of Crete, requested to establish a glider force.
One major decision in parachute drops is for the military commanders to choose the time of day, is it to be a night drop or a jump during daylight? The Japanese decided on daytime drops, as the first airborne troops were air-inserted early in the morning calm. During a dawn assault the Japanese parachute unit dropped from a low altitude would have a better chance of bypassing the fixed defences and gathering as an entire force to take the first objectives. Yet fashions change, fervour entails varying military deployment and what best suites the special mission. An airborne assault at night could use the moon lit sky to guide the multiplicity of air units over their objective and for the descending parachutists the chance to rally into an effective force, and for the containers to be lost out of sight in the darkness. The proper phase of the moon was critical as it would provide some illumination for a pre-dawn drop and would also influence tides which amphibious seaborne troops were defendant upon in getting to shore. When the Japanese started night operations later on during the Second World War they used clappers, gongs, whistles of course, and even, it is alleged, musical instruments to announce the rallying point on a night drop mission. The British airborne forces of World War II in operational night drops used a flashing green light and red light on a 10 foot pole, heavy and bulky it worked well and passed from paradrop service in a few years. The Queens Own Cameron Highlanders and Royal Welch Fusiliers were the first two established British Regiments to provide battalions for conversion to parachute units, 5th (Scottish) and 6th (Welsh) Para Battalions plus pipe band. Maybe on occasions the musical bagpipes were utilised in night rallying by the British, considering the Cameroons were the first kilted parachute formation and the British Isles' bagpipes have a note in military history of being sounded at opportune moments and auspicious occasions
The basic military doctrine was to attack an assailable flank, the rear. The indirect approach using movement along the line of least resistance against a vulnerable point. In the case of airborne troops it is also advancing on the line of least expectation. The parachutist is most vulnerable on approach to the battlefield in contrast to the defenders on the ground being able to concentrate firepower to hit the small floating and swinging targets. This parachute descending disadvantage of hanging around as an easy target does have the likely demoralising effect on the enemy by the unexpected appearance of enemy troops in the sky above and falling all around. Upon landing the first task is for the parachutists to consolidate the survivors at the drop zone and establish organisation and command. The time to do this was usually determined by how tight the formation jump was performed. Other factors such as wind speed, the height and speed of the transport airplane, and the method of exit from the deployment aircraft's hatch also determine how close the parachutists are to each other upon landing. During the course of the war more than one airborne drop was destroyed because the defenders were able to isolate and defeat in detail the lightly armed paratroopers before they could link into an effective sized force. Although in the meantime the small groups of paratroopers would be attacking and ambushing enemy patrols adding confusion to the overall picture. On the occasions when Japanese medium scale airborne operations were conducted against island garrisons, even though the defenders fought hard, the paratroopers quickly overcame resistance. Enemy morale was affected by the possibilities of further airdrops, as much nervousness, stories and fables circulated of German stormtroopers when parachute missions were conducted over western Europe in early 1940. England was gripped in panic of thousands of stormtroopers dropping in at any place, signposts were cut down, towns had their names struck from view, cars blocked fields and untrained volunteers roamed the country-side carrying shot-guns.
Another task after the objective had been taken was to link up with the relief force. Airborne units drop with light and limited supplies, and it seems that a certain percentage of canisters parachuted down would also be lost, and the landed soldier fighting the increasing enemy pressure would need aerial re-supply almost immediately. After 1942 heavy allied anti-aircraft firepower scattered reported minuscule Japanese airborne drops onto objectives spreading the oriental stormtroopers over a wide area, and whether the lost containers were recovered it would have made no difference to the outcome. However in a Manila office in 1945 a photograph was found showing Japanese parachutists with canvas-made weapon sleeves indicating extra cartage capacity for each man. This indicates among other things that Japanese parachute troops may jump during the cover of darkness fully armed and dangerous, and not be dependent on locating the parachuted cargo container in taking island strongholds. A German parachute platoon required fourteen containers for all their weapons and ammunition, a lot of unarmed unfriendly soldiers running around looking for hay-packed containers. The standard German parachute supply container was 5ft (1.52m) long and about 16inches (0.4m) square, fully loaded 260kg (118lbs) with a metal crash pan collapsing on impact with terra firma. The Japanese realised from lessons learnt that the parachuted containers were a weakness in any airborne assault and although still used to deliver heavy equipment and supplies in bulk by the Japanese they gave each paratrooper a weapon and a basic amount of ammunition. Sometimes resupply was accomplished by a planned second wave consisting of gliders. For the Japanese supply transport aircraft were directed at the captured airfields and not pre-located drop zones. Delivering stores by aircraft is usually the quickest way to resupply the ground forces. Japanese transport airplanes would land with fighter-aircraft protection. The calibre and quality of the airborne soldier during World War 2 was above average, as they would be required to fight outnumbered, undergunned and most likely unsupplied, requiring decisiveness and resoluteness in fighting the enemy, and on occasions the environment, just to survive.
Airborne operations could be called vertical envelopment, the strategy of an entrapment for the enemy by pinning them in one place so they can be completely eliminated. A strong enemy force in the rear echelon disrupts supplies, communications and command, this makes the enemy more disorganised for destruction, plus the psychological impact of it all. The Japanese airborne assaults brought more troops rapidly into battle, without the burden of valuable merchant vessels and extra amphibious landing facilities, to force a withdraw of the allied troops from the main frontline. The land defence of ADA Command controlled islands was deployed against enemy seaborne invasion points or possible paradrops on key locations. In some way it was near impossible to defend against extensive drops assisting to exploit amphibious attacks from the Japanese controlled sea on thinly held island garrisons throughout the South East Asian region. The vertical envelopment by Japanese forces in early 1942 brought a new perspective to land warfare and precipitated renewed interest in airborne operations in the US & Britain, still learning the lessons for offensive parachute drops of Scandinavia, Holland, Eban Emael and Crete by the German Fallschirmjaegers and Luft-Landing troops.
Japanese Army and Navy Parachute BadgesAlso the Japanese Army and Navy were not inspired by the en masse parachute infantry formations dropped in huge military exercises by the Soviet Red Army in the 1930s. The resources for such mass assaults were beyond the capability of Japan's war industry, yet pre-war invasion plans for the Pacific would require independent units preliminary assaults. The Soviets also pioneered the development of transport gliders, never used them during World War II, yet afterwards expanded big time. In 1957 the Soviets showed off its specialised airborne army in military exercises, Red Square Parades, and the Tushino Air Show, having trained behind closed doors at least six divisions and the utilising of large helicopters for airborne insertion. Japanese military leaders seized every opportunity to exploit the deepening crises in Europe and when Britain and France were at war with Germany Japan acted swiftly and occupied the island of Hainan controlling the Gulf of Tonkin. The Japanese Army, and particularly the IJNavy, in their plans of conquest placed all hopes on overwhelming seaborne invasions supported by superior air elements. By the end of 1940 Japan had its fledging airborne forces available. Would an enormous well-trained and equipped Japanese airborne force have made a difference in these early victories? Who can say? But there seems no doubt that the Imperial Japanese military thrust into the South West Pacific could have been conducted faster and more cheaply if each amphibious invasion had been preceded by a parachute, or air-landing operation putting larger numbers of troops on the ground into battle. Although the Japanese military only conducted three major parachute operations during the offensive into the Netherlands East Indies, they were small formations in comparison to other orchestrated airborne operations during the global conflict. Whatever the reason the Japanese organised and blended lessons into an elevated doctrine giving three successful examples encompassing the airborne operations in the Netherlands East Indies, focusing on Japanese doctrine, training, equipment procurement and application.
Japanese parachute drops in the Dutch East Indies 1942
The map of the Dutch East Indies 1941-1942
The map is courtesy of Graham Donaldson
Menado, Celebes Island, 11 January 1942
When the Japanese declared war on the Dutch government in exile they launched their first airborne assault against the airfield at Menado, Netherlands East Indies, 11 January 1942, using their airborne elements in a slightly different way to the European's army concept. The offensive thrust into the vast, island studded, South West Pacific needed airfields for the limited ranged land based warplanes. One of the main objectives was to secure the airfield quickly using airborne combat forces, and then to support the amphibious invasion. At Menado the amphibious assault was conducted first and supplemented by the airborne drop as a way of introducing superior numbers to the battle area, particularly the enemy's rear, and to take the objective. The drop was conducted by the 1st Special Landing Unit, also known as 1st Yokosuka SNLF, consisting of two companies commanded by IJN Commander Toyoaki Horiuchi. The first wave was air-lifted from Davao in the Phillipines by 28 transport planes of the 1001st Daitai, air carrier battalion, operating G3M aircraft. The Japanese parachutists jumped from a low altitude south of the city, at about 0900hrs, against the Langoan airfield. This aerial assault caught the 1500 Dutch defenders, and their military high command, on the Minahassa peninsula completely by surprise. As what thinly dispersed Dutch colonial defence forces were available were engaged against the sea-borne invasion since dawn four hours previously. When the 324 Japanese parachutists descended they were fired upon by KNIL troops defending the outer airfield perimeter. One Japanese aircraft was reported lost including the cargo of Yokosuka marines. The weakly armed colonial KNIL defenders were quickly overrun, isolated and eliminated by the extra automatic firepower the Japanese parachutists were able to jump with, and collect in dropped canisters found. The Japanese parachuted formation repulsed several piecemeal Dutch counterattacks, losing some 130 paratroopers dead and wounded. The airfield was secured by 1030hrs, then the Japanese overall combined commander immediately began to land fighter-aircraft and use the captured airfield to support the land operations of the sea-borne invasion. The next day, 12 January, a second wave of parachutists consisting of 185 men of the First Yokosuka air transported by 18 G3M air transport equivalents were dropped in, onto the same drop zone reinforcing the already occupied Langoan airfield. The Dutch defenders and command control had been shaken by the early amphibious invasion was kept off balance by the shock of the paradrop. Once off-balance in a planned defensive the Dutch were more easily defeated breaking their will for organised resistance. The combination of the seaborne assault and the airborne attack speeded the unpredictability of the decisive indirect approach dislocating the opponents dispositions and frame of mind. The depleted 1st Yokosuka suffered up to 70% casualties from all causes eliminating the parachute infantry marine unit as an effective offensive force.
Palembang, Sumatra Island, 14 February 1942
The combined operational success on the peninsula of Celebes Island led to the brigade-size army airborne force being dropped on Sumatra island, over Palembang. This task was assigned to the Japanese Army 1st Parachute Force, and in particular the Parachute raiding Regiment, a four company formation of 425 soldiers, under the command of Colonel Sei-ichi Kume. The Palembang operation consisted of the 2nd Paratroop Regiment, other sources call it the 2nd Raiding Regiment, either way, this was the second outfit ready for the parachute operations. The 1st Raiding Regiment remained at Haikow Field on Hainan Island. The first wave consisted of about 270 paratroopers under command of Major Niihara, originating from the captured airfield at Kahang in occupied Malaya, dropped above Palembang, and P1 the airfield, an hour and a half after dawn on 14 February 1942. Airlifted in 34 Ki-57s from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Chutais, under the overall air command of Major H. Shinbara, plus seven more Ki-56 carrying supplies to be dropped. This airborne force was protected by elements of the heavy bomber 98th Sentai, with escorts from the 59th and 64th Sentais. British Hurricane fighter aircraft were unable to intercept the aerial armada, due to the lack of range for communications, as the RAF were escorting the bombers on a raid against the Japanese seaborne invasion fleet. Japanese air transport losses were slight and the descended parachutists upon landing attempted to rush the objective but were repulsed. The Japanese Army stormtroopers then set up a roadblock with overturned vehicles to stop mobile enemy reinforcements and infiltrated towards the aerodrome defenders, close infantry combat became the order of action. Another paradrop landing took place at Pladjoe, two hours later, 60 men in 12 Ki-57 from the Malayan occupied Kluang airfield, were dropped at 0930hrs from 600feet on a line several miles west of P1 near the refineries, under the command of Lt. Hirose Nobutaka. These stormtroopers, detailed to secure the oil refineries, had come down in a swamp and were hard pressed to achieve their objective on the first day. Another small jump by 30 men from six Ki-56 under Colonel Sei-ichi Kume commander of the Parachute Brigade, landing southwest of P1 airfield.
Japanese casualties were heavy, upward to 80% of those dropped. They did succeed in capturing Pladjoe, but were hard pressed to control and secure the other objectives. The next day, 15 February, around noon, was the last jump of 94 Japanese Army parachutists over P1. This small parachute unit was under the command of Lt. Ryo Morisawa and was flown in nineteen air transports. The allied losses sustained in the close infantry fighting, and rumours of further paradrops by enemy stormtroopers, coupled with general disorganisation opposing the enemy airborne assault led to an allied general withdraw. When the last echelon of Japanese paratroopers descended, reinforcing the remnants of those on the ground, the allied rearguard defenders were finally driven off. That afternoon the reinforced IJ Army airborne unit marched into Palembang town, as the scratch amphibious relief force, elements of the 229th Regiment, 38th Division, moving up the Musi river, using the water course for a highway, linked with the forward paratroopers. Again the main objective was the airfield, as well as the secondary and diversionary objective, the very precious oil refineries at Sungeigelong and Uyodiraff near Palembang. Only this time the airborne mission began two days prior to the amphibious phase of the operation, that was delayed by an abortive allied fleet action, threatening the seaborne invasion transports Which were also attacked mercilessly by the allied airforces in Buntok Strait. The Japanese paid a heavy price in troop laden landing barges for not locating the secret airfield P2. Yet military surprise multiplied the outnumbered Japanese paratroopers enabling them to neutralise the P1 airfield and disrupt demolition of the refineries. Although battle damaged and with isolated fighting still going on, their objectives had been reached by nightfall. The combat depleted Army paratroopers held for longer than the required 24 hours and returned to their base after two weeks of operations.
Dutch West Timor Island, 20 February 1942
In another airborne launched Special Naval Landing Force operation, the 3rd Yokosuka airdropped over Dutch West Timor repeating earlier Japanese offensive successes, although there was a high price to pay in specially trained infantry parachutists. The 3rd Yokosuka SNLF (Lieutenant Commander Koichi Fukumi), numbering about 630 troops, trained specially as air-lifted infantry to support amphibious invasions, were planned to be dropped over Usua to cooperate with the ground attack on the airfields by the Japanese Army formation. Early in the morning of 20 February the first wave of Japanese paratroopers, about half of the battalion, some 308 men were air-lifted by the 1001st in 25 G3M from Kendari airfield. The remainder of the Yokosuka paratroopers were held in reserve, to be deployed as required. By 0800hrs the Flores Sea and Lesser Sunda islands disappeared behind the horizon, the Japanese airborne marines checked and re-checked their parachutists gear as the delivery aircraft arrived over Dutch West Timor and "these thumping big planes circled around the crossroads at Usapa Beser and Penfui" to get their bearings. The first contingent of the 3rd Yokosuka were dropped near Usua, and quickly overwhelmed the rear service troops defending supplies and stores at selected dump sites. Reports had been received by various communications that hundreds of Japanese paratroopers were landing approximately five miles north-east of Babua. Astride the only road into the centre of the island cutting the Australian and allied ground forces from the main ammunition dumps, medical facility, main supply storage, and most important the withdrawal route into the islands interior away from large enemy force advancing towards Koepang. The amphibious landings were at three points over a six mile spread near the Paha river mouth on the south coast, and supported by light tanks, had drawn the Australian mobile reserve away from the vicinity of the paradrop zone.
An eyewitness to the Japanese jump was at a point on the Tjamplong road where he could look down on the wide flat valley below that led to Koepang and the airfield at Penfoi. He saw several flights of low flying twin-engined aircraft heading along the valley towards the airfield, noticeable were the quietness of the enemy aircraft motors. Almost immediately the warplanes disgorged hundreds of parachutists, a great cloud of white with a speckle of different coloured parachutes that identified the rank of the stormtrooper, or the package of supplies the chute supported. Such an awe-inspiring sight the eyewitness, an RAAF pilot who escaped from Timor and was rescued by a US submarine, could only utter a quick prayer "God help Australia!" Japanese parachutists were shot as they hung from their multitude of coloured chutes while descending to earth in the gentle breeze. An advance party of paratroopers entered Babua at 1050hrs and met stiff resistance from two understrength ad hoc platoons of Australian soldiers armed only with rifles, pistols and Australian issued bayonets, even more lightly armed than the Japanese. After suffering severe casualties the Australians were forced out of the village early in the afternoon. Here two Australian sappers from the pioneer platoon, 2/11 Field Company, manning a light machine gun prevented the paratroopers from crossing the main road at Babau. This resolute delaying action for nearly three hours prevented the further rapid penetration by the Japanese down the narrow road to Koepang and the airfield while the mobile reserve was brought back to this rearward frontline. The Australian mobile reserve, D Company, after much delay elsewhere, finally attacked Babua at 1630hrs from the west. The paratroopers held until an Australian platoon forced its way through the maize fields into the eastern side of the village, then the main attack went in, the two Australian platoons were able to advance the frontline to the centre of the village market under support from large calibre mortars and heavy machine-gun fire.
A considerable number of paratroopers were killed in this action, Japanese point 38 pistols were recovered and many enemy automatic weapons were prized as trophies. The Australians found the enemy "all dressed in green uniforms," armed with .258 carbines (6.5mm), numerous .258 light machine-guns, and what looked like 2 inch mortars (50mm), which were oversized grenade launchers. The Australians were also surprised at the tall stature of the Japanese parachutist marines, by no means of the diminutive height most thought all Sons of Nippon to be, and on how heavily armed and well equipped these dead soldiers were. Yet enemy automatic machine-gun fire from concealed positions outside the village made the objective untenable and as twilight gave way to the darkness of the night the Japanese paratroopers were seen to be infiltrating into the village. Japanese voices could be heard all round, a bugle was blown to rally or direct the paratroopers and the Australians wisely withdrew to Ubelo for a more defensive posture. The next day Japanese commanders had decided to land their extra paratroopers when they realised the Australian column was escaping eastward on the main road into the interior of Timor. This second drop consisting of 185 men in 18 G3M came in low north of Babau moving south, the delivery aircraft spitting out paratroopers like green peas from a pod, with some coloured chutes intermingled with the clouds of white ones. Japanese control of the air enabled them to deliver another wave of parachutists, virtually over the same drop-zone area as the previous day.
The Japanese paratroopers took advantage of the night cover to move a number of snipers into forward harassing positions. The next morning the withdrawn Australian infantry company began an ordered attack again at 0530hrs. This infantry counter-attack was halted for some time, until the lone green clad paratrooper in a maize field on the side of the road was eliminated. One dead Japanese 3rd Yokosuka marine had ridden up to his position on a pushbike and had two little flags to signal communications to his unit. Two other Japanese paratrooper marines who were unable to be seen, as they lay in a dip firing a machine gun and a little mortar, were eventually blown out by Australian large calibre mortar fire. As the forward push by the Australians was in progress a reinforcement company made a quick move around the left flank, again ejecting the enemy from the maize fields and entered Babua clearing the village of organised enemy groups. In one building, it seemed to be the enemy HQ, as a high ranking paratrooper and ten other Japanese stormtroopers were killed. The decimated airborne troops stayed close to the allied forces retreating column, at one time harassing an anti-aircraft gun that moved too far from the van-guard until driven off by a platoon of Australian infantrymen. The British bofors unit had shot down fourteen enemy aircraft and scored several successes on twin engined bombers during the two days of anti-airborne operations, "also brought down a flying boat carrying paratroopers" as mentioned in the diary of British officer Lieutenant C.W. Scott. The delivery aircraft on this occasion could have been an IJN transport H8K2-L Seikuu flying-boat, codename Emily.
The Yokosuka SNLF had also been reinforced by an infantry company, and a mountain gun, from the 228th Regiment, that joined the marine parachutists defence in delaying the Australian column's withdrawal. Here the Japanese plan of conquest for Dutch West Timor changed, the support attack on the airfield was sheathed and a blocking battle occurred to stop the escape of enemy soldiers. The Australian 2/40th Battalion group on the road to retreat, began to advance in battle against the paratroopers and was temporarily stopped by the Japanese navy & army contingent that had dug in on the high ground straddling the road at Usua on the bridge across the Amaabi river, covered by machine guns, mortars and a mountain gun on the ridge. The attacking Australian Company, having been involved in two days of combat, moved forward up the high ground to almost the top when all hell broke loose. Many Australians were pinned by automatic machine-gun fire, the attack had failed. A larger and heavier armed battlegroup was required than infantrymen of the depleted D Company. The Japanese put down flanking fire to prevent Australian efforts to organise a three company assault and seemed to be everywhere in small groups. Some wayward Japanese paratroopers had even been seen crossing the road by drivers of convoy vehicles moving along from Babau. The Australians by late afternoon had gathered their strength and launched a heavy mortar bombardment that blasted the summit and the reverse slope of the ridge for fifteen minutes, obscuring the objective in dust and smoke. The stalled Australian advance was launched again. Under heavy fire Australian sappers cleared the roadblock, B Company covered A and C Company frontal attacks, and Vickers machine guns mounted on Bren carriers joined in. From then on the Australian casualty count started to mount under heavy enemy small-arms fire and grenade bursts as they scaled the heights of Usua ridge. When the Australians reached the summit of the ridge the Japanese were still entrenched, and badly shaken, the Aussies with fixed bayonets charged over-running the first trench line and an action of fire and movement ensued. The Japanese roadblock had been dislodged and the remnants dispersed, organised resistance had been broken by taking the enemy's main defensive position. It took, all told, an hour from the bombardment till the convoy trucks began to pass over the bridge. Only isolated pockets of marine paratroopers remained to fend for themselves until the trapped enemy soon capitulated.
There were no abundant numbers of troop carriers available to the Australians, nor enough motor vehicle transport overall. The Dutch defending the western approaches to Koepang were otherwise engaged. As the Japanese commander's plan was to defeat and break the static position defenders, as they had overcome other allied defensive arrangements on the Indonesian archipelago islands elsewhere since December 1941. Then to gain a naval base and secure the supply line by sea and air. Also there was no mobility to mass heavy allied forces against the lightly armed parachutists, woeful communications and the single narrow road restricted a rapid response, nor did the Australians have any air assets available. The next day it was likely to the Australian commander Lieutenant-Colonel Leggatt that paratroopers would block the allied column along the escape route, and apparently, with a captured Japanese map at hand, that the base at Champalong, with which there had been no communications, was assumed in enemy hands. Also strong enemy amphibious landed elements were at Koepang and advancing swiftly, supported by air attacks operating from the captured airfield, towards the sound of battle behind the Australian led allied column. The victory at Usua ridge came too late in the day for the Australian commander to exploit and all this added to exhausted thoughts of capitulation. The Japanese officials stated to the captured Australian commander that there were only seventy-eight survivors of the parachute dropped 3rd Yokosuka, most of the 550 dead paratroopers were counted as apparently killed by mortar explosions. And the Japanese Army detached infantry company, which had speedily moved overland from the south coast to join them, had perished during the hard fought action against the enemy at Usua ridge. The show of aggressive military strength, planning and preparedness clearly demonstrated Imperial Japan's superior capacity to wage an offensive war. The principal of surprise was exploited to the utmost augmented by rapid and vigorous movement preventing the enemy from recovering and the chance to react on terms more favourable. Overall Japanese Army and Imperial Navy special airborne forces accomplished deeds of duty in their capacity as shock parachute troops in the offensive thrust into the South East Asian islands of the South West Pacific.
- "The Airborne Soldier, by John Weeks, Blandford Press, UK 1982
- "Airborne Warfare 1918-1945, by Barry Gregory & John Batcholer, published Books for Pleasure, Australia 1979.
- "Doomed Battalion: Mateship and Leadership in War and Captivity: the Australian 2/40 Battalion 1940-1945, by Peter Henning, printed Allen & Unwin 1995
- "Trapped on Timor, by Colin Humphris, printed Hyde Park Press, South Australia 1990
- "The Japanese Thrust, by Lionel Wigmore, AWM, Canberra 1957
- "Encyclopedia of Infantry Weapons of World War II, by Ian V. Hogg, Bison Books 1977
- "Paratrooper, Strategy & Tactics magazine, Number 77, Simulations Publications Inc, New York 1979
- "The Encyclopedia of Air Warfare, published by Ure Smith, Salamander Books, 1975
- "Silent Wings: The Saga of the U.S. Army and Marine Combat Glider Pilots During World War II, by Gerard M. Devlin, published W.H. Allen & Co, London 1985.
and additional information courtesy of Allan Alsleben from;
- Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the U.S. Army – Far East Command,
- #1 Dash Forward, November 1941
- #2 Dash Forward
- #16 Ambon and Timor Invasion Operations, January – February 1942
- #101 Reduction of the Dutch East Indies, November 1941 – March 1942
- #116 IJN in WW2 (Admin OB)
source – Japanese monographs, 1952.
Bibliography . Article List . Geographic Names
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942
Copyright © Graham Donaldson 1999-2000