The Japanese view of a ‘serene death’

The Retreat into India: Electrical equipment at the Yenangyaung oilfields being destroyed as part of the 'scorched earth' policy pursued by the British in the face of the Japanese advance.

In Burma the British were now falling back just as they had in Malaya. The few contemporary Japanese accounts of this period available in English provide us with some insight into their perspective on events.

There are numerous records of atrocities being committed on wounded men captured by the Japanese – of prisoners of war being killed – such as at Parit Sulong. It it hard to understand the mind-set of the people who committed these acts, of whether they even recognised their actions as being in any way unacceptable. Some apparently did not:

On the night of 10 February 1942, we crossed the River Salween, and on the next night the Second Battalion of our regiment attacked British troops around a small village on the river called Kuzeik.

The battalion attacked according to a traditional japanese system in which soldiers were not allowed to load bullets in their rifles; and their bayonets were dulled by spreading mud on them, to prevent them from reflecting enemy gunfire, and conceal the moves of the Japanese under cover of a moonless dark night. They charged into the enemy positions using only bayonets as their weapon.

My company was located with the regimental headquarters. We got no message, but British gunfire was heard continually for a long time. We were worried at not knowing the progress of the night attack; if it did not succeed we would be at a disadvantage as the British had superior gun power and air power. So I proposed that the major portion of my company attack the rear of the British position and this was approved. The two 75mm infantry guns were left just a few gunners, and loaded with shrapnel shells with instantaneous fuses, in case they were attacked.

The rest of the company, armed with rifles and bayonets, advanced in high spirits, bypassed the west of the hill where the enemy might be positioned, and kept moving south along the River Salween in the early morning light.
Unexpectedly we found several tents. We advanced and stabbed a few men who were outside.

When we entered a tent which looked like a combat headquarters I saw a wounded commander (a British Lieutenant Colonel) sitting upright with several of his men. He signed to us to shoot him and died in a serene frame of mind. His attitude really was in keeping with the honour of a military man. I sincerely respected him and wished I might do the same.

Thanks to the determined attack of the Second Battalion the enemy in Kuzeik were almost completely destroyed. This was our first victory in Burma. Then we marched westward with heightened morale.

This account by Captain Tadashi Suzuki (Gun Company, 215 Infantry Regiment, 33 Division) of events near Sittang, Monywa, Burma is one of 62 different accounts of the campaign that appear in Tales By Japanese Soldiers .

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