Banzai charge

Banzai charge or Banzai attack (Japanese: バンザイ突撃 or 万歳突撃, romanizedBanzai Totsugeki) is the term that was used by the Allied forces of World War II to refer to Japanese human wave attacks and swarming staged by infantry units.[1][2] This term came from the Japanese battle cry Tennōheika Banzai (天皇陛下万歳, lit.'His Majesty the Emperor [shall live to] ten thousand years old'), and was shortened to banzai, specifically referring to the tactic used by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Pacific War. This tactic was used when the Japanese commanders of infantry battalions foresaw that a battle was about to be lost, as a last ditch effort in thwarting Allied Forces.[3][4]

Japanese woodcut print depicting an infantry charge in the Russo-Japanese War


The charge of Saigō Takamori inspired the government that the charge was their final, honorable action.

The banzai charge is considered to be one method of gyokusai (玉砕, "shattered jewel"; honorable suicide), a suicide attack, or suicide before being captured by the enemy such as seppuku.[5] The origin of the term is a classical Chinese phrase in the 7th-century Book of Northern Qi, which states "丈夫玉碎恥甎全", "A true man would [rather] be the shattered jewel, ashamed to be the intact tile."[6] Among the rules there existed a code of honor that was later used 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 samurais were trained to commit suicide when a great humiliation was about to befall them, the government taught troops that it was a greater humiliation to surrender to the enemy than to die. The suicide of Saigō Takamori, 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.[7]

During the Siege of Port Arthur human wave attacks were conducted on Russian artillery and machine guns by the Japanese which ended up becoming suicidal.[8] Since the Japanese suffered massive casualties in the attacks,[9] one description of the aftermath was that "[a] thick, unbroken mass of corpses covered the cold earth like a coverlet".[10]

In the 1930s, the Japanese found this type of attack to be effective in China. It became an accepted military tactic in the Imperial Japanese Army, where numerically weaker Japanese forces, using their superior training and bayonets, were able to defeat larger Chinese forces. The Japanese here did not face massed automatic weapons but rather the bolt-action rifle of the Chinese, which could not fire as rapidly as a machine gun.[11]

World War IIEdit

Japanese soldiers honor the Emperor with the shout "Banzai" during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1938).
Dead Imperial Japanese Army soldiers on the sandbar of Alligator Creek on Guadalcanal after being killed by U.S. Marines during the Battle of the Tenaru, August 21, 1942.

During the war period, the Japanese militarist government disseminated propaganda that romanticized suicide attacks, 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.[12] By the end of 1944, the government announced the last protocol, unofficially named ichioku gyokusai (一億玉砕, literally "100 million shattered jewels"), implying the will of sacrificing the entire Japanese population of 100 million, if necessary, for the purpose of resisting opposition forces.

It was used extensively by the Japanese in China, especially against Chinese soldiers without machine guns or automatic weapons, though it was less effective against those who had machine guns.[13]

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 charge with bayonets and swords, but were stopped by American firepower. The pattern was repeated in further attacks, with similar results.[14]

During the Guadalcanal campaign, on August 21, 1942, Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki led 800 soldiers in a direct attack on the American line guarding Henderson Field in the Battle of the Tenaru. After small-scale combat engagement in the jungle, Ichiki's army mounted a banzai charge on the enemy; however, against an organized American defense line, most of the Japanese soldiers were killed and Ichiki subsequently committed suicide.[15]

On May 29, 1943, during the Battle of Attu, the beleaguered Japanese soldiers led by Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki on Attu Island, Alaska, launched a massive banzai charge through American lines near Massacre Bay. Despite intense fighting, the Japanese force was quickly wiped out. At the end of the battle, only 28 remained of the Japanese force which had originally numbered roughly 2,600, while the Americans lost 549 combatants out of 15,000.[16]

The largest banzai charge of the war took place during the Battle of Saipan. General Yoshitsugu Saitō gathered almost 4,300 Japanese soldiers, walking wounded and some civilians, many unarmed, and ordered the charge. On July 7, 1944, it slammed directly into the Army's 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Infantry Regiment, which lost almost 2,000 men[17] in the 15-hour pitched battle. The attack was ultimately repulsed, and almost all the Japanese soldiers taking part in the charge were killed.

During the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, as the 1st Red Banner Army invaded Mutanchiang, the Soviet 5th Army to the south continued its advance westward, enveloping and destroying the Japanese 278th Infantry Regiment, the survivors of which mounted a last-ditch banzai charge rather than surrender.[18] By the end of the day, all of Mutanchiang had fallen into Soviet hands, and the battle for the city was over.[19] Shortly afterward, the main strength of the Kwantung Army laid down its arms in surrender as per the Emperor's broadcast. The Battle of Mutanchiang, and World War II, had come to an end.

Some Japanese commanders, such as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, forbade their men from carrying out Banzai charges. Indeed, the Americans were surprised that the Japanese did not employ banzai charges at the Battle of Iwo Jima.[20][21]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Godbey, Holly (5 September 2017). "Banzai Cliff, The Site of Hundreds of Suicides at the End of the Battle of Saipan". War History Online. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  2. ^ Ryall, Julian (19 April 2016). "Japan plans final push to bring home its war dead". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  3. ^ "Banzai Attack: Saipan". The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. Retrieved 2021-12-15.
  4. ^ "8 Legendary Battle Cries | HISTORY". Retrieved 2021-12-15.
  5. ^ Sato, Hiroaki (February 1, 2008). "Gyokusai or "Shattering like a Jewel": Reflection on the Pacific War". The Asia-Pacific Journal. Retrieved October 16, 2022.
  6. ^ "Chinese Notes".
  7. ^ Hoffman, Michael (December 10, 2016). "Meiji Restoration leader's lessons of sincerity". The Japan Times. Retrieved October 16, 2022.
  8. ^ John H. Miller (2 April 2014). American Political and Cultural Perspectives on Japan: From Perry to Obama. Lexington Books. pp. 41–. ISBN 978-0-7391-8913-9.
  9. ^ Robert B. Edgerton (1997). Warriors of the Rising Sun: A History of the Japanese Military. Norton. pp. 167–. ISBN 978-0-393-04085-2.
  10. ^ Robert L. O'Connell; John H. Batchelor (2002). Soul of the Sword: An Illustrated History of Weaponry and Warfare from Prehistory to the Present. Simon and Schuster. pp. 243–. ISBN 978-0-684-84407-7.
  11. ^ Carmichael, Cathie; Maguire, Richard C. (May 2015). The Routledge History of Genocide. ISBN 9781317514848.
  12. ^ "BBC – History – World Wars: Japan: No Surrender in World War Two". Retrieved 2018-05-23.
  13. ^ Carmichael, Cathie; Maguire, Richard C. (May 2015). The Routledge History of Genocide. ISBN 9781317514848.
  14. ^ U.S. Marine Corps Andrew A. Bufalo (November 10, 2004). Hard Corps: Legends of the Marine Corps. S&B Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9745793-5-1. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  15. ^ Staff (2000–2012). "The Battle of Guadalcanal". History Learning Site. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  16. ^ US National Park Service
  17. ^ Harold Goldberg, D-Day in the Pacific: The Battle of Saipan, Indiana University Press, 2007. pp. 167–194
  18. ^ Glantz & June 1983, p. 96.
  19. ^ Glantz & June 1983, p. 95.
  20. ^ Derrick Wright, The Battle for Iwo Jima, Sutton Publishing, 2006. Page 80.
  21. ^ According to military historian Shigetoki Hosoki, "This writer was stunned to find the following comments in the 'Iwo Jima Report,' a collection of memoirs by Iwo Jima survivors. 'The men we saw weighed no more than thirty kilos and did not look human. Nonetheless, these emaciated soldiers who looked like they came from Mars faced the enemy with a force that could not be believed. I sensed a high morale.' Even under such circumstances, the underground shelters that the Japanese built proved advantageous for a while. Enemy mortar and bombing could not reach them ten meters underground. It was then that the Americans began to dig holes and poured yellow phosphorus gas into the ground. Their infantry was also burning its way through passages, slowly but surely, at the rate of ten meters per hour. A telegram has been preserved which says, 'This is like killing cockroaches.' American troops made daily advances to the north. On the evening of 16 March, they reported that they had completely occupied the island of Iwo Jima."Picture Letters from the Commander-in-Chief, page 237.


  • Glantz, David (June 1983). August Storm: Soviet Tactical and Operational Combat in Manchuria, 1945. Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College.