Special Naval Landing Forces

The Special Naval Landing Forces (SNLF), (海軍特別陸戦隊 Kaigun Tokubetsu Rikusentai) were the marine troops of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and were a part of the IJN Land Forces. They saw extensive service in the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific theatre of World War II.

Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF)
Kaigun Tokubetsu Rikusentai
The ensign of the Special Naval Landing Force
Country Empire of Japan
AllegianceEmperor of Japan
Branch Imperial Japanese Navy
RoleAmphibious warfare
EngagementsSino-Japanese War
Soviet-Japanese border conflicts
World War I
World War II
Commander Masajiro Hayashi


Before the late 1920s the IJN did not have a separate marine force, instead it used naval landing forces or rikusentai formed from individual ships's crews, who received infantry training as part of their basic training, for special and/or temporary missions.

In the late 1920s the navy began to form Special Naval Landing Forces as standing regiments (albeit of battalion size). These forces were raised at and took their names from the four main naval districts/bases in Japan: Kure, Maizuru, Sasebo, and Yokosuka. These SNLF units saw action in China from 1932 in the January 28 Incident and at the Battle of Shanghai in naval operations along the China coast and up the Yangtze River and its tributaries during the Second Sino-Japanese War.[1] Soon, they became involved in successful Japanese seaborne assaults throughout South East Asia.

Other SNLF were later raised from IJN personnel in China, at Hankow, and Shanghai, for service in Canton and on the Yangtze River. On 7 December 1941 there were 16 SNLF units, this increased to 21 units during the war. The strengths of each SNLF ranged from the prewar peak of 1,200 to a later 650 personnel. There was also a special detachment in the Kwantung area, garrisoning the ports of Dairen and Ryojun.

Initially, the SNLF was not a marine force, but was instead sailors who had basic infantry training and were employed in landings during the Russo-Japanese War and the Boxer Rebellion. Soon their training and equipment were improved upon drastically, and their forces were given a variety of other operations as well.[1] In 1941, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Yokosuka SNLF were converted to parachute units. They conducted more combat drops than Japanese Army parachute units during World War II.[2] The SNLF paratroopers were successfully used during the attack on Celebes and the Battle of Manado. Aside from the paratroopers, there were also elite squads who conducted reconnaissance and raid operations.

From that point onward, the Landing Forces were influential in Japan's expansion of territories during World War II, and their tactics of surprising their enemies through sea invasions proved effective.[2] The original SNLF personnel were well-trained, high-quality troops with good morale and they performed well against opposition across Southeast Asia. However, like all landing forces they often experienced heavy casualties when faced with determined resistance, such as at the invasion of Timor and the Battle of Milne Bay. This was due to their unwillingness to surrender, and when completely out of ammunition, they would often resort to hand-to-hand fighting with their swords and bayonets. To combat highly defended positions in the Pacific, the Landing Forces created new tactics and techniques, that would later be adopted by the Allies in their sea-borne invasions.[2][3]

The SNLF gained the distinction of being the first foreign forces to establish a foothold on American soil since the War of 1812, when 500 troops landed on Kiska Island, Alaska without opposition on June 6, 1942 and occupied the island as part of the Aleutian Islands Campaign during World War II. After a year of occupation, with reinforcements from thousands of Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) soldiers, they completely evacuated on July 28, 1943 two weeks before Allied forces landed.

In a well known last stand in 1943, 2,619 men of the 7th Sasebo SNLF and 2,000 base personnel at the Battle of Tarawa accounted for over 3,000 U.S. Marine Corps casualties.

SNLF Units

Infantry Units

  • Kure Naval Base
  • Maizuru Naval Base
  • Sasebo Naval Base
    • 1st Sasebo SNLF
    • 2nd Sasebo SNLF-Under 32nd Special Base Force, 3rd Fleet
    • 5th Sasebo SNLF
    • 6th Sasebo SNLF
    • 7th Sasebo SNLF
    • 8th Sasebo SNLF Shanghai Naval Base (Operated along the Yangtze river, China)
    • Sasebo Combined SNLF (Combined 1st and 2nd Sasebo SNLF)
  • Yokosuka Naval Base
    • 1st Yokosuka SNLF (Originally an SNLF Para formation)
    • 2nd Yokosuka SNLF
    • 3rd Yokosuka SNLF (Originally an SNLF Para formation)
    • 4th Yokosuka SNLF
    • 5th Yokosuka SNLF
    • 6th Yokosuka SNLF
    • 7th Yokosuka SNLF

Special Guard Detachments

  • Ryojun SNLF: special naval guard detached in Ryojun port, Kwantung belonged in Ryojun Guard District.
  • Shanghai SNLF (746 men): special naval guard based in Shanghai port, China belonged in China Theater Fleet. Later merged into Canton Special Base Force based in Guangzhou area.
  • Yangtze SNLF: special river squadron detached along the Yangtze river area inside of 1st China Fleet.
  • Hankow SNLF: special naval guard based in Hankow and Wuchang ports,belonged to Middle River Division,inside Yangtze River Fleet and 1st China Fleet.
  • Canton SNLF: special naval guard detached in Guangzhou port, Kwangtung belonged inside of Canton Special Base Force.

Paratroopers of the SNLF

See article:Japanese marine paratroopers of World War II

  • Yokosuka Naval Base
    • 1st Yokosuka SNLF (Parachute trained) the 1st was disbanded after its operations in Celebes were completed.[4]
    • 3rd Yokosuka SNLF (Parachute trained) Made a drop on Timor. Later taken into the 1st Yokosuka SNLF.[4]

Tank and Armor Units

See article:Imperial Japanese Navy Armor Units

  • Shanghai SNLF Tank Company
  • Milne Tank Platoon of Kure 5th SNLF
  • Tarawa Tank Unit of Sasebo 7th SNLF
  • Kwajalein Armor Unit of Sasebo 7th SNLF
  • Navy tank unit of 55th Guard Unit,Yokosuka 1st SNLF
  • Itoh Armored Detachment SNLF
  • Makin Armor SNLF Detachment of Navy 3rd Special Base Force

SNLF Training Units

  • SNLF infantry training centers: Located in main bases of Kure, Maizuru, Sasebo, Yokosuka along special training centers of Ryojun and Dairen in Kantogun.
  • SNLF paratrooper school: Recruits were trained at the army/navy paratrooper training base on Kanto Plain.
  • SNLF land armor school: Created in the Tateyama IJN Ordnance School that was across from Tokyo on the Boso Peninsula.
  • SNLF amphibious armor school: Was established in the IJN aquatic armour unit at Q-Base on Nasakejima in 1943 and the first trained units were sent to Rabaul (New Guinea) and the Marshall Islands in October of same year.

Uniforms of the SNLF

Service dress

The uniforms of SNLF troops were exactly the same as those worn by members of the Imperial Japanese Navy Land Forces. The single exception was the SNLF Paratroopers, who had their own specialized uniforms.

On board ship the sailors of the SNLF wore their standard IJN blue or white uniforms but when on land the SNLF wore a uniform similar to that of the Imperial Japanese Army. Originally they wore their shipboard dress during ground combat as well, but in the mid 1930s it was replaced with a specialized land uniform. The land uniform consisted of a green single breasted tunic with a stand and fall collar with three buttons which ran down the front, which is often referred to as Rikusenfuku (陸戦服). These uniforms were also worn by regular Naval troops temporarily deployed on land. The SNLF usually wore this uniform with the collar open over the IJN's white trimmed teeshirt, or a heat resistant button-up shirt later in the war. Towards the closure of the war, the uniform was replaced by a similar four button green uniform known as the Class III (三種), which was intended to be the standard combat dress for all members of the Imperial Japanese Navy. In the final stages of the war, what was left of the SNLF could be seen wearing the previously mentioned uniforms, a green five button work uniform or even just a button-up undershirt and trousers. Officers wore their uniform with a shirt and tie, sometimes opting to not wear the tie during combat and in hot conditions. The tie was originally dark blue but was later changed to green. Green long trousers or pantaloons were worn as standard along with the wool puttees or canvas gaiters for enlisted and leather gaiters for officers. All, except mounted troops (who wore breeches and high leather boots), wore this uniform with horsehide, pigskin or leather ankle-boots.

SNLF Paratroopers wore two types of green uniform made from rip stop parachute silk with built in bandoleers and cargo pockets, being better designed than other paratrooper models of the time.

Originally green rank insignia was used for SNLF officers. These were worn on either shoulder boards or collar tabs. Enlisted men wore red on green, or red on blue round ratings on the upper sleeves. Later the standard black Japanese Naval collar rank was adopted and worn by officers. The enlisted men went to a black on yellow shield rating. During the war most enlisted men wore a cloth name tag affixed above their left breast pocket bearing information such as their name, rank and unit.

The ankle boots had either a hobnailed hard leather sole with metal heel J-cleat or a rubber sole with rubber cleats. When off duty, sailors could wear tabis, although they sometimes wore them in combat as well.

SNLF officers were not usually issued uniforms so they had to procure their own, thus there was a wide variety in the details, color and texture of their uniforms, with uniform colors ranging from pale to dark green. Collars were stiffer and materials were of a higher quality.


The first helmets used by the SNLF was a mix of three models. These included two variations of an adrian-styled army helmet, the first which had a metal anchor on the front and was nicked-named the "star vent" helmet as it had several open vents on the top in the shape of a star. The second variation was an improved star vent helmet with a metal sakura attached above the vents to prevent rainwater from entering the helmet. The third helmet was a navy-designed prototype helmet bearing some resemblance to the Brodie helmet, and was extensively utilized during the January 28 incident. On top of these helmets, Army issue Type 90 helmets were also occasionally be seen in use during the early to mid 1930s. In 1932 the IJN adopted their own version of the IJA's Type 90 helmet and gave it the designation of Type 2. The previously aforementioned star vent, sakura and navy prototype helmets were then grouped under the designation of Type 1. The Type 1 star vent and sakura helmets continued to be sporadically used by rear units until about 1941. The new Type 2 helmet was officially called tetsubo (steel cap) but was called tetsukabuto ("steel helmet") by troops. It was made in the shape of a dome with a short protruding rim all the way around it evenly, unlike the frontally flared rim on the IJN's Type 1 helmets. This helmet was made of a thin inferior chrome-molybdenum steel with many proving to be fragile, being easily pierced by shrapnel and/or gunfire. An anchor for the IJN was fixed to the front with two bendable prongs attached to the back of the badge. They passed through a slit in the front of the shell and were then bent over to secure the badge to the helmet. The helmet and anchor were then painted in an earth brown color. Late into the war the IJN simplified their helmet production and removed the metal anchor from the design, replacing it with a rivet and a yellow anchor painted on the front. A tan cover known as a first pattern was adopted around the middle of 1938, it featured a two layer, fiber reinforced olive linen cover with a wool/felt two piece anchor sewn on the front. The second pattern cover had a one piece embroidered anchor insignia sewn on the front. The third pattern was further simplified with a bevo woven anchor insignia sewn onto its front. Nets were then used to add a camo effect. The helmet was secured to the head by an elaborate set of straps descended from those of the Kabuto samurai helmet, although IJN helmet tapes were tied differently from the way the IJA tied them. It was also able to be worn over a field cap, which was commonly done in the field for comfort. Camouflage nets were widely worn over the helmet especially in the Southern theatre and Pacific island campaign.

Other Items

The SNLF carried a variety of items, some of it IJN produced material and others being borrowed from the IJA.

  • Ammunition Belt - A leather belt with a brass buckle was worn by enlisted members of the SNLF. For riflemen it carried two front ammunition pouches and a rear pouch with an oiler, along with a bayonet attached to the left side. Secondary support troops in the SNLF generally wore the belt just with a bayonet attached on the left side, accompanied by a pistol holster secured by a secondary belt that went over the right shoulder.
  • Haversack - Enlisted troops were issued a haversack similar to IJA troops, but the material differed and it was a slightly smaller size. The haversack was normally worn with the strap tucked under their ammunition belt on the left hip and carried rations and items necessary for daily use.
  • Canteen - Japanese navy issue canteen, distinct in appearance from the IJA canteen, was standard for all SNLF troops. The canteen had a metal body with a khaki or olive green canvas cover, along with an aluminum cap that was gold, silver or black in color, connected to a shoulder strap by a small chain. For enlisted men the canteen was commonly worn on the right hip and with the strap tucked under the ammunition belt.
  • First Aid Kit - Most of the SNLF troops were initially intended to carry a small medical pouch marked with a red cross on the top, held by an adjustable shoulder strap. Inside of it were medical items for troops to conduct emergency first aid should an injury occur during combat.
  • Gas Mask - Some troops carried a Japanese navy issue gas mask with them. The gas mask was stored in a canvas bag secured by a small belt. A flexible tube ran from the gas mask to a canister worn on the back with adjustable canvas straps supporting it. The two common gas masks were the Type 93 and Type 97, which saw use by the SNLF extensively during the late 1930s, with sporadic use continuing throughout the entire Pacific War.
  • Signal Flags - In SNLF units some of the troops were issued two signal flags, one red and one white, stored in a canvas pouch worn on the belt. These flags were intended to be used for communication with Japanese aircraft operating within the area.
  • Bugle - Although not common with later war units, initially the SNLF had many troops carry bugles for communication. They carried the same three-looped Type 90 bugle as the IJA and in some cases older double-looped bugles predating the Type 90. Unlike the IJA who held their bugles sideways while playing, SNLF held their bugles straight.
  • Heat Resistant Fatigues - Light-khaki cotton fatigues consisting of an open collared three button tunic with a single breast pocket along with shorts were adopted as a work uniform for hot weather, and in some rare circumstances were worn in combat. The fatigues were often worn with white tube socks and a white cotton navy cap or a khaki bucket hat.
  • Tenugui (手ぬぐい) is a multi purpose cloth or towel in the Japanese culture, usually made of white cloth, printed with an anchor or patriotic phrases often accompanied by patriotic symbols as well. These were sometimes worn under the helmet or during work as a "Hachimaki" (鉢巻) headband.
  • Senninbari (千人針) were a red-sash 1,000 stitch belt sometimes worn around the waist of their uniforms. They were supposed to bring good luck, confer courage, and make the wearer immune from bullets.

Weapons of the SNLF

Heavy weapons

Armor and Tanks

APCs and Armoured Cars

Amphibious Trucks and Land Trucks

Infantry Weapons

See also


  1. Pacific Files
  2. Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces
  3. Rose, Lisle A. , Power at Sea, Volume 2: The Breaking Storm, 1919-1945, University of Missouri (December 30, 2006) p. 141. ISBN 978-0826217028
  4. Donaldson, Graham (1999–2000). "The Japanese paratroopers in the Dutch East Indies, 1941-1942". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. Archived from the original on 2015-07-08.


  • Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipment by Tadao Nakata and Thomas B. Nelson
  • Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipments by Lionel Leventhal Limited
  • Rottman, Gordon L.; Takizawa, Akira (2008). World War II Japanese Tank Tactics. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1846032349.
  • United States Army's TM-E 30-480 Handbook On Japanese Military Forces
  • Zaloga, Steven J. (2007). Japanese Tanks 1939–45. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-8460-3091-8.
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