During the early months of the involvement of Japan in World War 2, Japanese land armies performed well against British, American and other Allied (Filipino, Dutch) troops. From my research, on books and internet, the usual explanation is that those troops were well-prepared, well-equipped, and had the experience of fighting in China.

However, it seems that later in the war, those divisions were not noticeable any more: most of the fights occurred on the water and in the air, and Japanese only seemed to perish. Why is that? Why didn't the Japanese "elite" divisions did not oppose fierce resistance? Which force of the Allies beat them (British, Chinese, Australian, American?), and where (Burma, China, Pacific?)?

My previous research already gave me this data on those "elite" divisions, where they fought after the victories of 1942, but it is sometimes incomplete:

Malayan Campaign:

  • 18th division: One brigade destroyed at Guadalcanal. The rest destroyed in Burma
  • 5th division: unclear: fought in New Guinea and Rabaul: this division was the true elite during the Malayan campaign, has it only faded in New Guinea?
  • Imperial Guards: Did nothing, stayed in Japan?

Burma 1942:

  • 33th division: destroyed à Imphal, reformed and destroyed in Burma
  • 55th division: losses at Arakan battle (the second one), then in Burma


  • 48th division: Did not fight? Only garrison in Java and Timor
  • 16th division: Garrison in Manilla, then destroyed in the Philippines in 1944

Armoured divisions:

1st, 2nd and 3rd mainly fought in China, with some battalions destroyed in Guam and the Philippines, and some by the Soviets in Mandchuria at the end of the war

So why? They were supposed to be the elite, and it seems like they just were slaughtered in Burma and the Philippines, even if those theater saw forces of equal size fighting (only 600 000 Americans facing 500 000 Japanese in the Philippines).


If it is not clear, I am interested in a detailed answer for each of these units about how they lost their potential: I understand the logistical issue overall, but then the question is:

  • What are the numbers about supplies lost?
  • How were those supplies lost (sea, air, land)?
  • When were they lacking for those different units?
  • Where those units actually beaten on the field, or just depleted by logistic lack?

The specific example of Kohima and Imphal battles was given in the comment: I know that the Japanese at Kohima lacked supplies, but they did not ask them to Japan territory: only to their superiors in Burma. So was the blocking point only in Burma?

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    They weren't very well-equipped, and their experience fighting Chinese soldiers who were even less well-equipped didn't prepare them very well for fighting more modern armies. There were other issues as well (e.g. a tactical doctrine which emphasized near-suicidal infantry charges) but logistics was definitely an Achilles heel for them. Aug 3 at 13:00
  • The Burmese and New Guinea campaign were hampered by the lack of supplies. And, of course, the jungle does not care whether you're an elite soldier or not. ;) Aug 3 at 13:22
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    I believe the premise of the question to be flawed. Assertions are being made with out evidence to back them up. For example some of the earlier battles was a lack of prepared troops on the allied side for how to deal with charging Japanese. Allied soldiers had never had hundreds of soldiers charge headlong into a barrage of bullets. Not to mention the Japanese were well dug in in the pacific theater at the start, but being well dug in and and well equipped are two different things.
    – EvanM
    Aug 3 at 13:26
  • Can I just have explanation on how the question lacks details or clarity? There is one comment from @EvanM about assertions without evidence, is it related to the closing of the question? I put details in the question about units I am interested in Aug 3 at 16:59
  • @ThirstforKnowledge I understand the point about logistic for let's said New Guinea, but any evidence for Burma? I mean, I don't think US submarines were enough to cut an entire Japanese army, so much that it lost. About elite, I use this word precisely because the Japanese soldiers of the 5th or the 55th divisions were better than the Allies in jungle fighting Aug 3 at 17:01