Sobaku Doctrine

Japanese troops performing the Sobaku Doctrine principle of constant patrols surveying the enemy.

Sobaku Doctrine (Japanese for 'Reconnaissance') is a general name given to a series of tactics used by Japanese planners during World War II, especially in the harsh conditions of the Pacific Islands. It was especially adapted to jungle warfare because of the key component of the tactic, stealth. It consisted of constant reconnaissance of enemy positions with as little disturbance as possible.

The reconnaissance troops were then instructed to map out enemy positions, most often troops would sketch them. The most important target to mark were machine gun nests and mortar positions. Then, the reconnaissance troops would make their way back to their observation posts. The most important findings were immediately radioed back to command.

Typically, these reconnaissance troops were armed with heavy weapons to engage the enemy if need be. Mechanization in general was lacking, though it was not uncommon for reconnaissance troops to be equipped with trucks and tankettes instead of horses. However, this generally only occurred during the combat in China. In the Pacific, there was little to none mechanization. Even horses were lacking. As such, the heavier weapons such as anti-tank guns were left behind if they could no longer be transported by foot.

Since the Japanese radios were typically of inferior quality and telephone lines were constantly being destroyed, it was often up to repeated reconnaissance patrols in the night to prepare for the real offenses in the dawn. Though, should the enemy change his tactics, Japanese commanders could quickly find themselves performing the completely wrong course of action.

History of the Doctrine

The Sobaku doctrine was developed and refined throughout the early to late 1930s during Japan's rearmament. The first use of the doctrine was naturally in China during the various conflicts and skirmishes that occurred there leading up to World War II. The doctrine proved quite effective and was adopted by the IJA as a standard tactic to be used in future conflicts. The next use of the tactic was of course in the Pacific.

Again, the tactic was useful for Japanese tacticians, though as the war progressed and Allied planners studied the Japanese tactics more closely, Allied troops were able to successfully predict the patrol movements and counter them more effectively. Furthermore, the tactic was often misused and sometimes completely ignored in favor of temporary gains through aggressive attacks without coordination. Another issue with the doctrine was that most of the findings of the forward observers could only be brought back to command as quickly as an observer could travel, with radios being very sparse.


  1. "British Observations of Japanese Tactics" Tactical and Technical Trends, US Military Intelligence Service
  2. Rottman L. Gordon, World War II Combat Reconnsaissance Tactics. Osprey Publishing (2007), Page 57

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