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Banzai charge is the term used by the Allied forces to refer to Japanese human wave attacks mounted by infantry units. This term came from the Japanese cry "Tenno Heika Banzai" (天皇陛下萬歲, "Long live the Emperor"), shortened to banzai, and it specifically refers to a tactic used by Japanese soldiers during the Pacific War. Banzai charge had made some successes at the end of the battle by assaulting the American soldiers that were unprepared for such types of attack. The banzai charge can be considered one of the least efficient strategies used in the Pacific War in terms of Japanese-to-American casualty ratios.
Banzai charge is considered to be one method of Gyokusai (玉砕, "jade shards"; honorable suicide). It is a word used to describe the suicide attack, or the suicide before being captured by the enemy such as seppuku (切腹). The origin of such belief is the Classical Chinese text in 7th century called Book of Northern Qi, which states "大丈夫寧可玉砕何能瓦全", literally translated as "A man would rather be a shattered jade than be a complete roof tile". In Japan, since the Sengoku period, samurai made the rule called bushido to set their behaviors and keep them loyal and honourable. Among the rules samurai needed to follow, there existed an "honour" (名誉 meiyo ) that was later misused by Japanese military governments.
With the revolutionary change in the Meiji Restoration and frequent wars against China and Russia, the militarist government of Japan adopted the concepts of Bushido to condition the country's population to be ideologically obedient to the emperor. Impressed with how samurai were trained to commit suicide when a great humiliation was about to befall them, the government educated troops that it was a greater humiliation to surrender to the enemy than to die. The suicide of Saigo Takamori (西郷隆盛), the leader of old samurai during the Meiji Restoration, also inspired the nation to idealize and romanticize death in battle and to consider suicide an honorable final action.
In World War II
It was first reported during the invasion of China where banzai charges worked extremely well, possibly because the Chinese had slow-loading bolt action rifles and were unable to put up enough firepower to stop the charges. However, during the U.S. raid on Makin island, on August 17, 1942, the U.S. Marine Raiders attacking the island initially spotted and then killed Japanese machine gunners. The Japanese defenders then launched a banzai attack with rifles and swords but were stopped by rapid and accurate American fire from M1 Garand rifles, Thompsons, and BARs that left dozens of Japanese dead. Following this defeat, the Japanese mounted a second banzai attack but once again, superior American firepower made the difference as the charge was stopped by the same previously mentioned weapons. The Japanese Army had never heard of the M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle as according to their field manuals, the Americans were only armed with M1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles. Being that the bolt needs to be manually cycled after each shot, the Japanese felt it would be safe to attempt to locate the shooter after a shot was heard. But with the Garand, 8 rounds could be fired as fast as the shooter could pull the trigger. As such, the Marines would fire a single shot, prompting the Japanese to investigate, in which case the Marines would fire on now exposed targets. Finally, the Japanese staged a third and final attack, which was also unsuccessful.
During the war period, the Japanese militarist government began disseminating propaganda that romanticized suicide attack, using one of the virtues of Bushido as the basis for the campaign. The Japanese government presented war as purifying, with death defined as a duty. By the end of 1944, the government announced the last protocol, unofficially named ichioku gyokusai (一億玉砕, literally "100 million shattered jewels"), for the purpose of resisting opposition forces until August, 1945.
There are accounts from Malaya, Burma, Hong Kong and the Philippines of Japanese commanders throwing everything they had at a British or American key point, especially if it put up fierce resistance, to overrun the position by sheer brute force.
During the Battle of Guadalcanal, on 21 August 1942, Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki led 800 soldiers to launch a direct attack against the American line guarding Henderson Field in the Battle of the Tenaru. After small-scale combat engagement in the jungle, Ichiki's army launched its banzai charge on the enemy; however, with an organized American defense line already in place, most of the Japanese soldiers were killed before the commencement of fighting and Ichiki subsequently committed suicide during the battle.
The last and largest Banzai attack of the war took place in the Battle of Saipan in 1944 where, at the cost of almost 4,300 dead Japanese soldiers, it almost destroyed the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th U.S. Infantry who lost almost 650 men.
- U.S. Marine Corps Andrew A. Bufalo (November 10, 2004). Hard Corps Hard Corps: Legends of the Marine Corps. S&B Publishing. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
- Staff (2000-2012). "The Battle of Guadalcanal". History Learning Site. HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
- Harold Goldberg, D-Day in the Pacific: The Battle of Saipan, Indiana University Press, 2007. pp. 167–194