Photograph of Chinese soldiers being trained by an American
U.S. Army. Via Leighton and Coakley (1955)

Training is a vital element of combat effectiveness, along with morale. Well-trained troops with a strong esprit de corps were found to be effective in combat even when lacking in combat experience. There are several important dimensions to effective military training.

Technical. Sailors and airmen obviously required extensive training in how to operate their aircraft and ships. However, modern warfare requires a fair amount of technical training for soldiers as well. Tankers need to know how to operate their tanks; engineers need to know how to operate their equipment; and artillery gunners need to know how to operate their guns. But even the ordinary rifleman needed to be taught basic field craft and how to use and maintain his own weapons. It was also well if he had some basic familiarity with his company's heavier weapons, in case their regular crews were put out of action.

Teaching basic technical skills was a relatively straightforward process for troops with adequate civilian educations. The American military benefited from what some have described as an "autos and guns" culture, where a large fraction of young men had some mechanical experience and another large fraction were familiar with firearms. Literacy in the United States was quite high at 97.1% in 1940, although African-Americans trailed behind at 89.5%. The latter helps explain (but does not excuse) racial segregation in the armed services. Britain, Australia, and New Zealand also benefited from well-educated populations. The Indian Army maintained high standards by being highly selective of recruits and teaching basic literacy to those who were lacking.

Literacy among Japanese young men in 1941 is difficult to evaluate because literacy is more difficult to define for an ideographic language such as Japanese. Japan claimed high literacy rates, but indications are that as many as one in ten conscripts into the Japanese Army lacked basic practical literacy. In addition, Japan had begun industrialization much later than the West and conscripts with basic mechanical skills were much scarcer in Japan than in the West.

Japanese difficulties with technical training pale compared with those of China, where literacy rates may have been as low as 20%. When one considers that rural peasants were overrepresented in the Chinese Army, it is a fairly safe guess that the overwhelming majority of Chinese soldiers were illiterate.

Physical. Fighting men of all branches needed to be physically and mentally tough. Physical toughness was developed by hard exercise, ranging from calisthenics to long forced marches with heavy packs. Mental toughness was another product of hard physical exercise, but it was also developed by strict discipline amounting to hazing, or worse. One of Wingate's brigadiers, Michael Calvert, observed (Roberts 2011):

Most Europeans do not know what their bodies can stand; it is the mind and willpower which so often give way first. Most soldiers never realized that they could do the things they did ... One advantage of exceptionally heavy training is that it proves to a man what he can do and suffer. If you have marched thirty miles [50 km] in a day, you can take twenty-five miles in your stride.

No power emphasized physical training more than the Japanese. Neither the Army nor the Navy recognized any barrier to striking a subordinate, and new recruits were frequently beaten at the least excuse, or no excuse at all, for the explicit purpose of toughening them up. Even officers were sometimes slapped by their superiors, though this risked causing such loss of face to the inferior that he would commit suicide. Japanese officer cadets, who were recruited as young as 15, were subject to physical demands so strenuous that Japanese officers were significantly shorter than the general population due to stunted growth. This training produced men with "the hearts of lions, but the brains of sheep" (Hastings 2007). Feifer (1992) recounts how

... soldiers were ordered to don very heavy packs and keep going, no matter what. "Why don't you let them sleep?" a British observer asked during a forty-eight-hour marathon. "They already know how to sleep," the training officer answered instantly.

Physical training in the U.S. Army was discovered to be inadequate during the North Africa campaign, and training standards were increased. The obstacle course was devised as a way to train large numbers of men in limited space and adverse weather. Sailors faced a special challenge keeping physically fit, but calisthenics on deck supplemented strenuous duties such as chipping and painting. Similar practices were to be found in the Commonwealth forces.

Marine basic training ("boot camp") was notorious for its demanding physical requirements, which were coupled with a program of psychological hazing designed to inculcate mental toughness.

Moral. Training for physical and mental toughness also helped inculcate high morale. In addition, fighting men were subject to a barrage of propaganda aimed at increasing their enthusiasm for combat. Most of this was of marginal effectiveness. Ideological indoctrination is the work of a lifetime, and it could be practiced in full in peacetime only in the totalitarian powers. The conclusion of most historians is that the basis for morale, apart from competent technical and physical training, is unit cohesion. However, Bartov (1992) has made the case that ideology was far more important for the German Army than other historians have acknowledged, and its importance for other armies may have been underestimated as well.

The most important way to build unit cohesion was for troops to train together and fight together. The Japanese raised units by geographical district, so that all the men in a given company might come from the same town. Only in desperate situations were men sent to units to which they had no geographical tie, and then morale suffered. The British also raised units by geographical district through the regimental system, though they were not as thorough about it as the Japanese. Regiments supplied battalions to the various brigades of the British Army as needed, and when a battalion was worn down by combat, it theoretically was pulled out of the line to absorb replacements from its parent regiment.

The U.S. Marines and paratroops were not raised on a geographical basis and relied on training to build unit cohesion. They were able to do this because of the episodic nature of most of their fighting, which allowed replacements to be absorbed and train with their units between campaigns. The U.S. Army almost completely ignored unit cohesion, and morale suffered as a result, particularly in Europe. However, some division commanders made a point of giving new replacements some training with their units before going into the line, and Army divisions in the Pacific also benefited from the episodic nature of their campaigns.

Training responsibilities. All recruits to the Japanese and Western armed forces were expected to pass through basic training, which emphasized physical training and basic technical skills. Most recruits then received some advanced technical training in their specialty. Division commanders were responsible for ensuring that the troops under their command continued to train for future assignments. Part of the rationale for dismissing commanders whose troops performed poorly was that they had failed in their duty to train them, apart from any tactical errors of judgment on the part of the commander.

Training could be problematic once hostilities broke out, and more so after a division was deployed to a combat theater. Troops cannot simultaneously engage in training exercises and garrison duty. When 3 Marine Division was sent to Guadalcanal after the difficult fighting on Bougainville, it was ordered to provide 1000 men each day for work parties. This so interfered with recuperation and training that 1 Marine Division was sent to an isolated area of Pavuvu in the Russell Islands following the Cape Gloucester campaign, where the division could absorb replacements and train for their next campaign undisturbed by high-ranking garrison commanders. At first glance, this appears to have failed disastrously, since Pavuvu was so undeveloped that the Marines ended up spending much of their time building base facilities and driving off land crabs and jungle rats. However, some Marines later expressed the view that the "battle of Pavuvu" did much to help integrate the new replacements with the veterans.

Training exercises also provide an opportunity to detect weaknesses in doctrine for commanders astute enough to draw the necessary lessons. Unfortunately, red flags raised in training exercises are sometimes ignored. During Fleet Problem XXI in April 1940, several simulated night actions went poorly, which might have warned U.S. Navy commanders that improved training in night fighting skills was called for. The warning was ignored. This may have been in part because plans were already underway to deploy radar with the fleet, and commanders were overconfident in its capabilities.

U.S. Army. Training in the U.S. Army was the responsibility of Leslie McNair, the chief of Army Ground Forces, who believed that "Our Army is no better than its infantry, and victory will come only when and as our infantry gains it" (quoted by Larrabee 1987). All draftees first went through thirteen weeks of basic training, which emphasized physical conditioning, drill, rifle practice, and other basic military skills. Those with the necessary aptitude then attended one of the many noncommissioned officer's schools to learn specialized skills. Some 63,000 officer candidates attended Officer Candidates Schools and emerged after three months as second lieutenants, derisively known as "ninety day wonders".

An important part of the Army's training machinery was the Advanced Specialist Training Program (ASTP). This took place primarily on college campuses, whose enrollment had plummeted with the draft and other wartime demands on manpower. Previously the colleges had been institutions devoted to giving a modest number of students a traditional higher education centered on the humanities, but the new emphasis became scientific, engineering, and mathematical training, to the extent that "the colleges [became] to a large extent vocational schools" (Klein 2013).

McNair put together an impressive machinery for raising new divisions. Ten weeks before the division activation date, the commanding general and two brigadiers were appointed and briefed by Marshall and McNair at Washington. They would select their staff and subordinate commanders, and all would attend a refresher course at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth. A parent division was then selected from the Army's existing divisions to provide up to 185 officers and 1190 men as cadre. Some divisions were gutted for cadre as often as three or four times, to the intense frustration of their commanders, but at its peak the system was producing three or four divisions a month. Churchill later confessed that he never understood how the American system worked, but he admired its results. Roosevelt, too, seemed not to understand the system, but he eventually trusted Marshall enough to let it go forward. However, manpower was not inexhaustible, and the original estimate of 215 divisions required for final victory was repeatedly scaled back.  Marshall ordered the division creation machinery shut down after 92 divisions had been activated, of which only two were never deployed overseas. This seems a rather narrow margin, but the divisions in northwest Europe were already suffering from serious shortages of replacements by the end of 1944.

U.S. Navy. Peacetime training in the Navy was based on long enlistments that gave sailors on-the-job experience. However, by 1939 the Navy had established two Sound Schools for training sonar operators, and in March 1942 the Navy opened a Subchaser School that trained crews for everything from submarine chasers to destroyer escorts. By the end of 1943, some 47,000 officers and sailors had passed through the Subchaser School. Other specialized schools were established to teach the myriad specialty skills required in an increasingly technically sophisticated Navy.

Japan. The Japanese began preparing boys for military service from earliest childhood. Paramilitary training began at age eight under the boys' teachers, and it was accelerated in middle school, where regular Army officers supervised the training. Initially amounting to about 2 hours a week plus 4 to 6 days of annual maneuvers, the amount of training increased greatly after war broke out in the Pacific. Young men who did not continue their education past primary school were given training in youth schools (Seinen Gakko) set up for the purpose. The Army also instituted apprenticeship programs to train future NCOs for the technical services.

Training in the Japanese armed services was invariably brutal by Western standards. One Japanese Navy pilot candidate described his preflight training (Werneth 2008):

Every day there was hard training; especially the cutter boat training, which was the hardest activity for my small body. During the winter the sea around Yokosuka was very windy, and when we circled around a nearby island, we were hit by strong waves. So if you weren't careful you could lose your oar. Due to the intense rowing calluses on my body opened up, and my flesh became visible. Because of the friction between my body and the seat my pants were covered with blood. After that your flesh became infected, and it produced yellow puss [sic]. Even if the hanchō [squad leader] was aware of your condition he ignored it. I would go to the infirmary, and they treated my wounds by applying ointment and gauze. The following day, when I did cutter boat training, the same thing would happen again, and my old wounds would reopen, which was very painful.

The Japanese Army instituted the NCO Preparatory School in 1927. This accepted volunteers, who were typically second or third sons of poor rural farmers. The prospective NCOs were permitted to volunteer after three months in the Army, but were required to continue training alongside private soldiers of their parent units for the remainder of their first year of service before being admitted to the school. If they successfully graduated from the one-year course, they then assumed NCO duties. While this likely improved the professionalism of Japanese NCOs, it is also likely that it created a yawning social gulf between NCOs and ordinary private soldiers. As the war situation deteriorated, the length of the course was reduced.

Beatings were a regular part of life at the Naval Academy, as recalled by Fujita Iyozō (Werneth 2008):

I entered the Naval Academy in April 1935, as a member of the 66th class. Being beaten was part of daily life, and I was hit more than 100 times before the summer vacation in August. However, I think the beatings filled us with Navy spirit.

Such attitudes helped perpetuate the practice. Japanese author Tasaki Hanama described training of new recruits in the Japanese Army (Browne 1967):

Five old soldiers went down the line without warning, slapping each soldier soundly on his cheek. Those that could not keep their posture of attention were slapped more than the others. The sergeant then demanded of each recruit why he thought he had been slapped. As each gave what he thought might be the answer, he was soundly slapped again. Finally, one recruit, when his turn came said he didn't know. "That is right!" The squad leader said. "When you are slapped don't give excuses. As His Majesty has been pleased to admonish in his Imperial Rescript, 'Uninfluenced by worldly thoughts and unhampered by politics, guard well your single destiny of patriotism.' Our sole duty is to be patriotic to the Emperor. You need only obey what you are told."

Feifer (1992) interviewed a survivor of the battle of Okinawa who also described the brutality to which enlisted men were subject:

During a regular "first-year soldier training" session, a senior private ordered a waste disposal team to fall in with their boots in their hands. The bully scrutinized them, then pointed to Norio Watanabe's. "What's this?" he thundered. Watanabe, a former free-lance photographer from Osaka, had cleaned and polished his books with his usual frightened care, but a speck of excrement remained on a heel. "Tell me," screamed the senior private, "from whom did you receive this item to keep and maintain?" As required, diminutive Watanabe replied that he kept and maintained his boots for the Emperor. "What? You  know that and still put shit on it? Lick it off! Eat it!" For all his knowledge of Army ways, Watanabe could not bring himself to obey. His hesitation increased his superior's rage. The senior private lashed out with his fists until Watanabe finally endured his new humiliation....

Such training produced men who were incredibly disciplined but who also lacked any sense of initiative.

The Navy engaged in the most demanding training exercises even in peacetime, and deaths in training accidents were considered an acceptable price for achieving high crew proficiency. On the night of 24 August 1927, light cruisers leading a simulated destroyer attack changed course abruptly and collided with two of their own destroyers. Warabi was sunk with most of its crew, while Ashi lost its stern and suffered additional fatalities. Admiral Kato Kanji responded with a speech in which he asserted that the Navy would continue with "more and more of the training of recent days, into which the navy has poured its life's blood [to provide] certain victory in the three versus five fight" (Evans and Peattie 1997), the latter an allusion to the treaty ratios of capital ships between Japan and the presumptive enemy, the United States.

Japanese naval manpower mushroomed as war approached, as illustrated by the following table:



Other ranks







8095 71,298



After Evans and Peattie (1997)

The rapid increase in the size of the Navy posed a severe training challenge, and the lack of trained junior officers proved particularly severe. Heavy losses in the long campaign of attrition in the South Pacific further aggravated the problem. The Navy's historical emphasis on quality over quality simply could not be maintained, particularly since little effort had been made to build up a reserve. By 1941 the Navy was short 1,151 officers from the number for which it had billets.

China. The best Chinese junior officers had been trained in the Central Military Academy, which offered a basic course lasting 18 months and an advanced course lasting two years. Admission was highly competitive (just 7% of 10,000 applications in 1935) and, in its earlier years, training was provided by German advisers and was of high quality. The best senior officers were graduates of either the Paoting or Whampoa academies, the former established in the last years of the QIng Dynasty and the latter by the Kuomintang. The Paoting graduates seem to have shown greater military skills during the Second Sino-Japanese War, but graduates of any of the three academies were in very short supply.

The Americans under Stilwell established a training base at Ramgarh for Chinese troops that produced some of the best divisions to fight in the war, but these were regrettably few in number, and Stilwell put them to use mainly in Burma rather than in central China where they were arguably most needed.

Civilian Training

Training was not solely a military concern. Production was dependent on an adequate supply of workers and technicians with the necessary skills. With a large fraction of manpower shifted to the military, this was a concern of all the warring nations, and efforts were made by every major power to train replacements for industry.

Mass production methods relied on breaking down a production process into relatively simple steps requiring only a few specialized skills. This greatly reduced training time. The effects were especially great in the U.S. shipbuilding industry, which had relied on highly trained workers with diverse specialized skills who were among the most highly paid craftsmen in American industry. The new Maritime Commission yards for mass production of ships required many times as many workers as were available prior to war, and specialization of the work force was an absolute necessity for manning the yards. Special schools were set up to quickly train a new shipyard worker in the few specialized skills required for his job. These were initially left to the management of the shipyards, but the Maritime Commission gradually increased its supervision of training through such indirect approaches as refusing to reimburse the yards for the costs of training deemed inadequate and fully reimbursing the cost training that met recommended standards.

Significant numbers of women were brought into the labor pool by every power at war in the Pacific, breaking down traditional roles and stereotypes. The increased use of welding and prefabrication created greater roles for women in American shipyards, since welding plates on the ground required less physical strength and stamina than riveting plates inside a partially completed ship hull. The war also increased opportunities for blacks in the United States, though not to the extent it could or should have. Japan conscripted large numbers of Koreans and burakumin as laborers in both the military and in industry, under conditions that were often just a step above slave labor. These new laborers required training to become productive. In the United States, with its high literacy rate even among women and minorities, and with its expertise at assembly-line production (which required only a limited set of specialized skills for each station on the assembly line), these workers became highly productive. This was less the case in Japan, where women were often assigned to hard physical labor, such as mining, where they could not be expected to match the production of the men they replaced. Nor were Korean draft laborers, who often lacked fluency in Japanese, able to replace Japanese skilled labor.

China was a relatively backwards nation whose reserves of skilled laborers and technicians were very thin. However, because large numbers of college-age men in the United States had been drawn into the armed forces, American universities and industry had many open slots for students, and significant numbers of Chinese went to the U.S. to study engineering and other technical fields. This began with 32 engineers sent to the U.S. in 1942 for two-year internships in industry. More than a thousand followed.  Some 400 officials and managers also received management training in the U.S.


Bartov (1992)

Evans and Peattie (1997)

Feifer (1992)

"Handbook on Japanese Military Forces"  (1944-10-1)

Hastings (2007)

Hsiung and Levine (1992)

Klein (2013)

Lane (1951)

Larrabee (1987)

Lundstrom (2006)

NAL (accessed 2008-11-12)

Peattie et al. (2011)

People's Daily (2007-8-1; accessed 2008-11-12) (accessed 2008-11-12)

Roberts (2011)

Roscoe (1953)

Werneth (2008)

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