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Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF)
海軍特別陸戦隊
Kaigun Tokubetsu Rikusentai
Naval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg
The ensign of the Special Naval Landing Force
Active1932–1945
Country Empire of Japan
AllegianceEmperor of Japan
Branch Imperial Japanese Navy
TypeMarines
RoleAmphibious warfare
Anti-aircraft warfare
Armoured warfare
Close-quarters combat
Cold-weather warfare
Combined arms
Counter-battery fire
Demolition
Fire support
Maneuver warfare
Raiding
Jungle warfare
Reconnaissance
Urban warfare
SizeDivision
EngagementsSecond Sino-Japanese War
World War II

The Special Naval Landing Forces (SNLF; Japanese: 海軍特別陸戦隊, romanizedKaigun Tokubetsu Rikusentai) were naval infantry units of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and were a part of the IJN Land Forces. They saw extensive service in the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific theatre of World War II.

History

Since the late Meiji Era, the IJN had naval landing forces or rikusentai formed from individual ships's crews, who received infantry training as part of their basic training, for special and/or temporary missions. In addition, troops from Naval Bases known as Kaiheidan could form a naval landing force.

IJN Special Naval Landing Forces armed with the Type 11 during the Battle of Shanghai
IJN Special Naval Landing Forces armed with the Type 11 during the Battle of Shanghai

Starting in the Meiji Era the navy began to raise units unofficially known as Special Naval Landing Forces. These forces were raised from kaiheidan at — and took their names from — the four main naval districts/bases in Japan: Kure, Maizuru (deactivated following the Washington naval treaty, reactivated in 1939), Sasebo, and Yokosuka. In 1927 some of these SNLF units were unified under command of the Shanghai Naval Landing Force and saw action in China from 1932 in the January 28 Incident. Afterwards the Shanghai Special Naval Landing Force was officially formed in October 1932, signifying the first official SNLF unit. Official SNLF units from naval bases were authorized in 1936. SNLF units would once again see action at the Battle of Shanghai and countless other battles and cleanup operations throughout the Second Sino-Japanese War.[1]

The 81st Guard Unit (not a Special Naval Landing Force) conducting a landing drill in Cam Ranh Bay, 1941
The 81st Guard Unit (not a Special Naval Landing Force) conducting a landing drill in Cam Ranh Bay, 1941

The strengths of each SNLF ranged from the 200 to over 3000 personnel. Almost all units were a single battalion with a varying number of companies.

The SNLF was not a marine force, but was instead sailors who had basic infantry training and were employed in landings as early as the Russo-Japanese War and the Boxer Rebellion.[1] In 1941, the 1st and 3rd Yokosuka SNLF were converted to parachute units. The SNLF paratroopers were successfully used during the attack on Celebes and the Battle of Manado. Aside from the paratroopers, there were also planned elite units to conduct reconnaissance and raid operations.

Like all landing forces they often experienced heavy casualties when faced with determined resistance, such as at the Battle of Milne Bay. This was due to their poor training and unwillingness to surrender, and when completely out of ammunition, they sometimes resorted to hand-to-hand fighting with their swords and bayonets. After the failure to capture Milne Bay the Special Naval Landing Forces became a defensive force and very few units were raised. Naval Guard Units became much more common IJN infantry units in the Pacific.

The SNLF gained the distinction of being the first foreign forces to establish a foothold on American soil since the War of 1812, when troops of the Maizuru 3rd SNLF landed on Kiska Island, Alaska without opposition on June 6, 1942 and occupied the island as part of the Aleutian Islands Campaign during World War II. After a year of occupation, with reinforcements from thousands of Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) soldiers, they completely evacuated on July 28, 1943 two weeks before Allied forces landed.

In a well known last stand in 1943, approximately 1,700 men of the 7th Sasebo SNLF and 2,000 base personnel (mostly the 3rd Special Base Force) at the Battle of Tarawa accounted for over 3,000 U.S. Marine Corps casualties.

SNLF units

6th Kure SNLF in formation at their home barracks in Japan before deploying for the Midway operation, June 1942.
6th Kure SNLF in formation at their home barracks in Japan before deploying for the Midway operation, June 1942.
Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces on the deck board of the IJN xxx, June 11th.
Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces on the deck board of the IJN xxx, June 11th.

Infantry units

Non-naval base SNLFs

Paratroopers of the SNLF

See also: Japanese marine paratroopers of World War II

Tank and armor units

See also: Imperial Japanese Navy Armor Units

Training

Uniforms

Service dress

The uniforms of SNLF troops were exactly the same as those worn by members of the Imperial Japanese Navy Land Forces. The single exception was the SNLF Paratroopers who had their own specialized uniforms.

When on board ships, the sailors of the SNLF wore their standard IJN blue or white uniforms, but on land the SNLF wore a uniform similar to that of the Imperial Japanese Army. Originally they wore their shipboard dress during ground combat as well, but in the mid 1930s it was replaced with a specialized land uniform. The land uniform consisted of a green single breasted tunic with a stand and fall collar with three buttons which ran down the front, which is often referred to as Rikusenfuku (陸戦服). These uniforms were also worn by regular Naval troops temporarily deployed on land. The SNLF usually wore this uniform with the collar open over the IJN's white trimmed teeshirt, or a heat resistant khaki button-up shirt later in the war. Towards the end of the war, the three-button uniform was replaced by a similar four-button green uniform known as the Class III (三種), which was intended to be the standard combat dress for all members of the Imperial Japanese Navy. In the final stages of the war, what was left of the SNLF could be seen wearing the previously mentioned uniforms, a green five button work uniform, or even a button-up undershirt and trousers. Officers wore their uniform with a shirt and tie, sometimes omitting the tie during combat or in hot weather. The tie was originally dark blue, but was later changed to green. Green long trousers or pantaloons were worn as standard along with the wool puttees or canvas gaiters for enlisted and leather gaiters for officers. All, except mounted troops (who wore breeches and high leather boots), wore this uniform with horsehide, pigskin or leather ankle-boots.

SNLF Paratroopers wore two types of green uniform made from rip stop parachute silk with built in bandoleers and cargo pockets, being better designed than other paratrooper models of the time.

Originally, green rank insignia was used for SNLF officers. These were worn on either shoulder boards or collar tabs. Enlisted men wore red on green, or red on blue round ratings on the upper sleeves. Later the standard black Japanese Naval collar rank was adopted and worn by officers. The enlisted men went to a black on yellow shield rating. During the war, most enlisted men wore a cloth name tag affixed above their left or right breast pocket bearing information such as their name, rank and unit.

The ankle boots had either a hobnailed hard leather sole with metal heel J-cleat or a rubber sole with rubber cleats. When off duty, sailors could wear tabis, although they sometimes wore them in combat as well.

SNLF officers were not usually issued uniforms so they had to procure their own, thus there was a wide variety in the details, color and texture of their uniforms, with uniform colors ranging from pale to dark green. Collars were stiffer and materials were of a higher quality.

Headgear

The SNLF used a mix of models.

Other items

The SNLF carried a variety of items, some of it IJN produced material and others being borrowed from the IJA.

Weapons

Soldiers of an IJN Special Naval Landing Force unit are preparing to fire their Type 97 81mm Infantry Mortars
Soldiers of an IJN Special Naval Landing Force unit are preparing to fire their Type 97 81mm Infantry Mortars
Type 1 37 mm anti-tank gun
IJN Type 1 47mm Antitank Gun, Battle of Okinawa
IJN Type 1 47mm Antitank Gun, Battle of Okinawa

Heavy weapons

Armor and tanks

Yokosuka 1st SNLF Type 2 Ka-Mi Amphibious Tank on Saipan
Yokosuka 1st SNLF Type 2 Ka-Mi Amphibious Tank on Saipan

APCs and armored cars

Sumida Model P armored car

Amphibious and land trucks

Infantry weapons

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b Pacific Files
  2. ^ Ness, Leland (2015). Rikugun: Guide to Japanese Ground Forces 1937-1945: Volume 1. Helion and Company.
  3. ^ a b Donaldson, Graham (1999–2000). "The Japanese paratroopers in the Dutch East Indies, 1941-1942". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. Archived from the original on 2015-07-08.
  4. ^ Rottman & Takizawa 2008, p. 15.

References

Further reading