Japanese Lunge Mines and Banzai Sticks — Last-Ditch Weapons in WWII

Japanese Lunge Mines and Banzai Sticks — Last-Ditch Weapons in WWII

During World War II, the ancient Samurai moral code of honor, obedience, duty and self-sacrifice found its way into Japanese military tactics, particularly during the last desperate months of the empire of the Rising Sun.

Beyond the high-profile Kamikaze air strikes, the Kaiten suicide submarines and the Shinyo explosive motorboats, Japan’s self-sacrificing warriors sometimes used glamorous methods in their attacks on Allied forces. Some of the more bizarre weapons of the war grew from this mindset, including a modern take on the classic spear, as well as an exploding spear for use against tanks. 

Reliance on the Bayonet

The first two years of the war in the Pacific taught American troops about their Japanese opponent’s reliance on the bayonet. While most armies began to minimize the use of the bayonet during World War II, the Emperor’s Army still considered it to be a prime combat weapon, an extension of their soldiers’ commitment to the attack and a visible expression of the spirit of Bushido.

In this digital image, we see a Japanese soldier attaching a Type 30 bayonet to his rifle during a battle in the Pacific Theater.

In a U.S. “Intel Digest” entry in the October 1943 issue, U.S. troops described their experience in bayonet combat with the Japanese: 

In bayonet fighting, the Japanese apparently try to work in pairs. Their bayonets have a hook on the underside, at the hilt. One Jap tries to hook his opponent’s rifle long enough for the other to use his bayonet. I never saw these tactics work successfully.

In this March 1945 photo is a Type 38 rifle and Type 30 bayonet. The bolt action rifle was one of the main firearms used by the Imperial Japanese Army.

I don’t believe that the Japanese soldiers have had a great deal of training in the technique of using the bayonet. They did very little fencing but attempted direct jabs. They did not use the butt stroke and were fooled by it in several instances (particularly by the vertical).

One Jap dropped the butt of his rifle to the ground and held the bayonet up at an angle against an oncoming U. S. soldier. The Japanese bayonet was a little longer and a little more pointed than ours, but this did not seem to give the enemy any advantage.

The Banzai Stick Identified

As the war continued, Japanese troops became starved for even the most basic weapons and supplies, and these shortages manifested themselves in some truly bizarre weapons and tactics.

On February 17, 1945, the US G-2 “USAFPOA Intelligence Bulletin”, described “Japanese Spear Attacks” encountered in the Philippine Islands. Despite the strange nature of these weapons, incredulous intelligence officers reported: 

In this image, a U.S. Marine examines a Japanese spear made from a bamboo pole and a bayonet. The weapon was recovered on Saipan, Mariana Islands during World War II.

Numerous instances have been reported of Japanese attacks in which the participants carried “sharpened bamboo spears”, or bamboo poles with knives or bayonets affixed. These weapons were used to arm men for whom no better weapon could be supplied. It is interesting to note that, at least in one instance, the tactics and technique of fighting with bamboo spears has been prescribed. 

A mimeographed file of operation orders of the KAKI Force (16th Division) captured on Leyte Island and published by ATIS SWPA contains the following notes on spear fighting: ‘Experience gained at Lumban, Laguna Province (Luzon, PI).) shows that in killing with bamboo spears, the chest is a very difficult spot to stab because of the ribs. The stomach, however, was found to be a most vulnerable spot.’

A U. S. Marine in early camouflage inspects a crude Japanese banzai spear recovered on Saipan.

The document then proceeds to prescribe the method of attack by an infantry section armed with spears: “When the group has advanced to within throwing distance of the enemy, part of the group will throw their spears, and the remaining troops will immediately rush in and stab the enemy.” An explanation is given in which the right half of the attacking group is the spear-throwing group, while the left half is designated as the assault group. 

The Japanese offered the following precaution to prevent the entire group from throwing their spears, leaving no man armed to close with the enemy: “Be sure to provide a leader and have instructions given beforehand that at least half of the men will carry bamboo spears and it should be planned so that the entire group will not become unarmed.” 

Nikudan: Japan’s Human Bullets

The Japanese did not suffer defeat well, and consequently, few of the Emperor’s men surrendered. When faced with being overwhelmed from their island positions, Japanese commanders often expended their remaining troops in a wild suicidal charge. These Banzai charges of the “Nikudan”(human bullets) saw the first uses of the improvised spears, and the notion of the “Banzai Stick”.

American Marines on Onkinawa examine a crude Banzai stick spear.

May 28, 1943 on Attu: Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki with 1,200 men, many of them wounded, faced more than 11,000 U.S. troops from his position atop Buffalo Ridge near Chichagof Harbor. His last radio transmission to Tokyo proclaimed that he would “annihilate” the Americans. Even so, weapons and ammunition were in short supply. In a human wave attack that overran several American command posts as well as a field hospital, many of the Japanese troops were armed with nothing but a bayonet lashed to a pole. Their suicidal charge reached the base of “Engineer Hill”, where a cobbled-together force of G.I.s, including cooks and medics, stopped the attack in some of the most brutal hand-to-hand fighting of the entire war. When Attu was finally secure, less than 30 of the original 2,900 Japanese defenders survived.

July 6, 1944 on Saipan: Lieutenant General Yoshitsugo Saito motivated nearly 3,000 survivors of his original 30,000-man garrison by exhorting: “Take this chance to exalt true Japanese manhood!” As his poorly equipped men left for the largest “Banzai Charge” of the Pacific War, General Saito killed himself with his sword. And just like on Attu, many of the Japanese troops were armed with nothing but a bayonet tied to a bamboo pole. U.S. troops began to refer to these crude spears as “Banzai Sticks”. Whatever they were called, they were of little value against massed machine gun and rifle fire.

April 21 1945 on Ie Shima (near Okinawa), the Banzai Sticks were again encountered as approximately 400 Japanese, many of them women, conducted a Banzai charge against the U.S. 77th Infantry Division’s positions on Bloody Ridge. The G.I.s fought back the tears as they shot the charging civilians down. As the Allies prepared for an invasion of the Japanese home islands, the stage was set for a level of total war unforeseen in modern history. 

One Hundred Million Will Die!

By April 1945, the Japanese government was committed to the concept of total war. Should the Allies invade the Japanese home islands, there would be few exemptions from military service for the people. In November of 1944, the government decreed that all males between 14 and 61, and unmarried women from 17 to 41, were required to register for National Service.

In this black & white photo, Japanese school girls learn how to shoot rifles to defend their country against an Allied invasion.

By the late spring of 1945, civilian militias were renamed the “Volunteer Fighting Corps”, and Japanese Prefecture governors were empowered to conscript those “volunteers” — with 28 million Japanese civilians described as combat-capable at the end of June 1945.

In this photograph, we see Japanese women wearing gas masks. They are learning how to operate light machine guns during World War II. The intent was for virtually all men and women — as young as 14 — to die fighting when the Allied powers invaded.

A “People’s Handbook of Resistance Combat” was created to educate these units in the guerrilla warfare that was expected to come. The peoples’ weapons were to be the Banzai sticks previously described, along with swords, daggers, axes, scythes, and even long bows. Japan’s government was prepared to sacrifice their entire population to resist an invasion.

Japanese Suicide Attacks — One Man for One Tank

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and one of the most bizarre and desperate weapons of WWII was the Japanese Shitotsubakurai or “Lunge Mine”. Throughout the war, Japan lagged in the development of armored vehicles, and consequently, anti-tank weapons as well.

Shown here is a complete Japanese lunge mine. It used a shaped charge to penetrate tank armor. For the enemy to use the lunge anti-tank mine, they would have to be very close.

By late 1944, some Japanese infantry tank hunter teams included a suicide component as some individuals strapped themselves with explosives, and then threw themselves underneath American tanks to explode the charges against the thin belly armor. Close cooperation between American armored vehicles and their supporting infantry stopped many of these suicide anti-tank measures.

Japan looked for a way to deploy a more reliable armor-piercing munition against the growing number of American M4 Sherman medium tanks. A U.S. Sixth Army G-2 report from December 20, 1944, described a strange new anti-tank weapon:

Shown here is a diagram of the Japanese mine's warhead. It required the user to remove the safety pin in the shaft section prior to using.

A new threat to our tanks and tank crews has been devised by the fanatical Japanese. The Japanese “Lunge Mine”, a suicide anti-tank weapon, has been found on Leyte and attempts to use it have been reported. The name Lunge Mine, given to this weapon by the Japanese, means that the operator literally lunges forward with the mine. Information as to construction, methods of employment, and other data on this mine, is revealed in a document captured at Leyte, on 13 December 1944. Pertinent information from the translation is quoted here: 

General information: The Lunge Mine is a conical-shaped mine with a wooden handle and is thrust against tanks. It is a suicide anti-tank mechanism which is capable of penetrating armor-plating up to a thickness of 100mm (4 inches) killing or injuring the occupants and damaging the internal equipment. Compared to the same amount of ordinary explosives, this mine has the following advantages — it not only has greater penetrating power but it explodes downward and to the sides, and the danger to the persons in the rear is comparatively small.

Description: The fougasse of this lunge mine is located in front of the handle. The fougasse contains the powder charge and the detonator, and it has a cavity inside which is peculiar to this mine. The powder charge and the cavity are separated by a metal funnel. It contains about 3 kg (6.6 lbs.) of brownish-powdered charge.

The detonator is attached at the top: At the top, a cover prevents the explosive charge from becoming moist and from leaking. To increase the penetrating power, there are three legs attached at the bottom, and the mine must be made to explode as close as possible to the armor plate. The wooden handle is 59 inches long and has a striker at the end. It has a cylinder which screws on the fougasse. To ensure safety while carrying, there is a safety pin and a holding pin (the holding pin prevents possible explosion by shock caused by the weight of the fougasse and vibrations while carrying). 

Attach the handle to the fougasse. Pull the safety pin out. If the object is struck with sufficient force, the holding pin will be cut, and the striker will move forward to the detonator and set the mine off. The weight of the fougasse is approximately 5 kg (11 lbs). The weight of the handle mechanism is approximately 1.5 kg. The total is approximately 6.5 kg.

The Japanese report advises: “While approaching the enemy, in order to lunge forward, pull the safety pin out and use bayonet tactics to prevent the fougasse from vibrating. Do this by holding the center of the handle as near as possible to its extremity. When lunging forward, thrust the handle forward with sufficient force to insure a certain explosion. However, make contact squarely. Considerable skill is necessary in the lunging operation due to the weight of the mine. The best method is to make a suicide attack, therefore without losing footing, make contact squarely.”

Shown here is a close up of the mine warhead. The three metal legs welded to the face of the warhead helped to ensure the soldier had the weapon correctly aligned to the armor plate.

The lunge mine’s large hollow charge explosive was highly effective in armor penetration, but the user needed to make straight-line contact with the target vehicle, preferably against the thinner side armor. The resulting blast would likely destroy the vehicle and incinerate the lunge mine operator. The Japanese instructions claim: “This mine can be directed against the side of a tank hull of an American. Type M-4 medium tank with armor plating of 40-45mm in thickness.”

Final Thoughts on the Lunge Mines

Suicidal anti-tank efforts were not unique to the Imperial Japanese Army. However, the Japanese military culture made attacks like the lunge mines more common in the later stages of the war.

In the end, the lunge mine proved to be unsuccessful, regardless of Japanese zeal. Its design required close-quarters ambush, but the five-foot length of the weapon made it awkward in this role. Once alerted to its existence, U.S. Army and U.S.M.C. tankers sprayed likely ambush points with machine gun fire, and supporting infantry were careful to scout ahead and protect the flanks.

The original report reads: “All attempts by Jap soldiers to use the Lunge Mine against our tanks thus far have been reported as unsuccessful. Our tank crews are prepared to cope with tactics of such unreasonable zeal. They find that hand grenades are most handy to pitch ahead of their moving tanks into ditches, foxholes, or other hiding places, in which the die-for-the-Emperor soldier may be lurking with his Lunge Mine.”
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