Journal of the Australian War Memorial - Issue 30

Historical materials on the Japanese Army that relate to Australia in the Second World War

Author: Hara Takeshi

{1} The Military History Department of the National Institute of Defense Studies (NIDS) was first established in 1955 with the title of Military History Office, and since its inception it has been engaged in the collection of materials of relevance to military history, and in the compilation of the official war history series, The Military History of the Greater East Asian War (or History of the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific series). Publication of the 102 volumes of the series was completed in 1980. Since its completion, the department has continued with research into the military history of Japan as well as other countries, and the further collection of pertinent historical materials.

1. Materials held in the NIDS

{2} At the NIDS, we hold 81,000 items related to Army history, 35,000 items related to Navy history, 48,000 maps and 45,000 books. Those historical materials that relate to the Army and the Navy are distinguished by three criteria according to how those items were obtained:

  1. materials returned from the United States;
  2. materials transferred from the Ministry of Welfare;
  3. materials donated or collected.

{3} Items falling under the first criterion number approximately 30,000. These items were public records seized from the Ministries of the Army and Navy by US forces after the end of the war, and also historical materials seized on battlefields. They were returned to Japan in 1958.

{4} The transferred materials under the second criterion are items which were transferred to NIDS from the Ministry of Welfare. These are items which were collected by the Ministry in the course of its function of taking over any remaining administrative work of the Ministries of the Army and Navy after their abolition at end of the war. The number of these items totals about 10,000.

{5} Materials under the third criterion of donated and collected materials are either items that were donated by individuals or organizations, or were materials of relevance actively collected by compilers of the official military history in the process of writing the War History Series. The number of such items amounts to about 70,000.

{6} Although the NIDS has obtained significant quantities of Army and Navy material through the above channels, large gaps nevertheless exist in the collection. These gaps are due firstly to the government decision in 1945 to have all important public records burned, following the decision to accept the Potsdam Declaration. As a consequence all personnel of both the Army and Navy were directed to burn their secret documents, and over a period of several days this was carried out, from the Army and Navy Ministries, General Staff Office and Staff Headquarters, down to each and every Unit. Through this action and through those occasions of defeat or group suicide on the battle field when detailed battle reports and the like were also disposed of by burning, the greater part of the important documentary material was lost.

{7} Accordingly all historical materials currently held in the NIDS are materials that for some reason or other managed to escape being burnt. The documents from the Army and Navy obtained by US forces after the war had been evacuated from Tokyo in order to be safe from air raids, and they constituted Army documents up to 1942 and Navy documents up to 1937. All documents from periods later than this were burnt in accordance with an order and because they were close at hand. Documents of the General Staff Office and Staff Headquarters on strategic matters in the Army and Navy were almost entirely burnt, but a small portion of records concerned with orders and instructions after 1937 of the Imperial Headquarters were hidden at the discretion of certain people involved and hence saved from burning.

{8} As a consequence the Official War History Series was necessarily compiled on the basis of surviving documents, along with personal journals, individual memoirs and other such material.

2. Japanese Army historical materials that relate to Australia during the Second World War

{9} There are two main categories of materials within the Army related materials held at the NIDS. Firstly, there is the Official Document Record of the Ministry of the Army, called the Dainikki, which contains correspondence to and from the ministry. Secondly, there are historical materials other than those of the Dainikki. The Dainikki is ordered chronologically, while the set of other materials has been sorted into the following broad categories: Campaigns, Central, Homeland, North-east, Okinawa, Taiwan, Manchuria, China, South-west, the Philippines, North-of-Australia, Central Pacific, South-east, Army, Air and Land Cartography.

{10} Within this categorisation, the area termed North-east included Hokkaido, the Kurile Islands and the Aleutians; South-west included Indochina, Singapore, and areas west of Java; South-east included areas east of Eastern New Guinea; while North of Australia included Central Pacific, South-east, Army, Air and Land Cartography.

{11} The following items are examples of historical Army materials that relate to Australia:

  1. Malaya/Java section of the South-west category: 479 items
  2. North of Australia category: 467 items
  3. South-east category: 907 items
  4. New Guinea, Solomon Islands and North-of-Australia sections of the Army Air category: 207 items

{12} We can also find certain orders and instructions of the Imperial Headquarters which have relevance to fighting strategies employed against Australian forces, within the Strategic Instruction Section of the Central category. A sampling of the historical Army material mentioned above gives the following kind of result:

(1) Malaya/Java section of the South-west category

  • Detailed battle reports of the 5th Division fighting in Malaya.
  • Detailed battle reports of the 11th Infantry Regiment, 5th Division.
  • Detailed battle reports of the 18th Division which attacked Singapore.
  • Detailed battle reports of the 3rd Battalion of the 114th Infantry Regiment, 18th Division.
  • Memoir of Lieutenant General Mutaguchi, Commander of the 18th Division.

(2) North-of-Australia category

  • Classified journals and order files of the 2nd Army, in charge of operations in the area to Australia's north.
  • Surrender order files of the 35th Division which fought in western New Guinea and subsequently surrendered to Australia.

(3) South-east category

  • Order files of the 18th Army which was in charge of operations in Eastern New Guinea.
  • Operation order files of the 20th Division, 18th Army.
  • Memoir of Lieutenant General Nakai, Commander of the 20th Division, 18th Army.
  • Detailed battle report of the 51st Division, 18th Army.
  • Memoir of Lieutenant-General Nakano, Division Commander of the 51st Division, 18th Army.
  • Operation order files of the South Sea Sub-Corps on the Port Moresby Attack Operation.
  • Operation order files and troop field diaries of the 65th Brigade which fought in the Bismarck Archipelago.

(4) New Guinea, Solomon Islands and North-of-Australia sections of the Army Air category

  • Classified operational journals of the 4th Army Air Force which directed air operations in New Guinea and the Solomons.
  • Detailed battle reports of the Air Group of the 4th Army Air Force.
  • Detailed battle reports of the Airport Construction Battalion of the 4th Army Air Force.

{13} With regard to historical materials relating to prisoners of war, the following kinds of records exist. One is ‘Records of the Handling of POWs’ which was compiled by the POW Information Agency after the war, and a second is a set of ‘Files on POWs’ which was created in response to queries made by the Allied Forces. Certain parts of an ‘Index of Individuals’ containing the record cards of individual POWs were returned to various Allied countries after the war. In the case of Australia, however, return of the records was apparently not requested because POW names had already been duly notified during the course of the war by the Geneva International Red Cross Committee. The original copies of these individual records for the various Allied countries are stored in the Diplomatic Record Archives (Gaiko Shiryokan) in Tokyo.

3. Creating a database of historical materials in the NIDS

{14} At this point in time, no concrete work has been carried out towards creating a database of the materials. A variety of problems to do with cost, expertise, and input methods have been identified and the question of how best to proceed in the future is currently under consideration.

{15} The progressive conversion of important documents to microfilm in the interests of preservation is presently under way. Furthermore, in order to make searching procedures easier, listings of Army and Navy files are now being entered on computer.

{16} The general visitor can make use of the ‘search cards’ and ‘index’ available at the NIDS in order to locate materials they require. In recent years the number of visitors approaching to view our holdings comes to about 4,000 a year, and we also receive about 2,000 enquiries annually by phone, letter and visit.

NOTE: In accordance with Japanese practice, Japanese names appear with the surname first.

© Hara Takeshi

Hara Takeshi is Section Head, Historical Material Section, Military History Department, National Institute of Defence Studies (NIDS), Japan