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Banzai charge

A was a name applied during World War II to human wave-style attacks mounted by infantry forces of the Imperial Japanese Army. These attacks were usually launched as a suicide attack to avoid surrender and perceived dishonor or as a final attempt at maximizing the odds of success in the face of usually numerically superior Allied forces.


, literally " " is a Japanese euphemism for suicide attack, or suicide (seppuku) in the face of defeat. It is based on a quote of the 7th century Classical Chinese text Book of Northern Qi, 大丈夫寧可玉砕何能瓦全 "a great man should die as a shattered jewel rather than live as an intact tile". It was applied to a conception of honourable death in defeat by Saigō Takamori (1827–1877), and employed as a slogan "one hundred million broken jewels" by the Japanese government during the last months of the Pacific War, when Japan faced invasion by the Allies. Some of the precepts for this belief also came from misinterpretations of a key line in Tsunetomo Yamamoto's Hagakure, a well-known 18th-century treatise on bushido.

It is important to note that the terms banzai charge or banzai attack were used by Westerners to describe this type of desperate action. Though banzai is a Japanese term, it was never used this way by the Japanese. , which became a Japanese battle cry during the war, is translated literally as "Ten thousand years" but more accurately as "Long Live". Suicide charges and human-wave attacks alike were called "banzai charges" by Allied troops due to the Japanese Army's practice of shouting , meaning "Long live the emperor!", during such charges.


Early in the Second Sino-Japanese War, Japanese banzai charges had proven effective as an offensive infantry tactic against poorly-trained Chinese soldiers armed mostly with bolt-action rifles and hand-to-hand combat weapons. Against Allied troops armed with semi-automatic rifles and machine guns, the banzai charge proved to be costly, despite having a chance of success, and its use was largely discontinued, except as a final suicidal gesture by surrounded Japanese forces.

Colonel Yasugo Yamazaki of the Special Naval Landing Force (Marines), who led troops occupying Attu island, Alaska, in 1943, was determined to die rather than surrender to US forces attempting to recapture Attu. A medical officer subordinated to him wrote the last entry to his diary shortly before the attack: "only 33 years of living and I am to die here... I have no regrets. Banzai to the Emperor... Goodbye my beloved wife. On May 29, 1943, Yamazaki gathered the remaining 1,000 Japanese troops and personally led a Banzai charge, ceremonial katana (Japanese long sword) in hand. He and almost all involved in the charge died. The attack penetrated American lines far enough to encounter shocked rear-echelon units of the American force. After furious, brutal, close-quarter, and often hand-to-hand, combat the Japanese force was killed almost to the last man: only 28 prisoners were taken, none of them an officer.

The Cowra breakout, a 1944 mass escape by Japanese prisoners of war in Australia, is often seen in the same context as banzai charges because of its high risk nature and the death rate experienced by the escapees.

The kamikaze tactic may be considered an airborne variant of the banzai charge, and the final sortie of Yamato and her escorts off Okinawa could be viewed as a seaborne equivalent, although it could also be argued that a closer naval equivalent was the battleships Fusō and Yamashiro assaulting a line of Allied battleships and cruisers during the Battle of Surigao Strait.

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