Empire of the Sun

I'm going ahead and steaming through the fact that I've not moved an inch on my 150. Panzer Brigade project since finishing the SS-Jagers. However, I can't resist the call of a more compelling project... Recently, I've really been interested in pushing forward yet another Early War company in my painting queue: the Japanese.

Now, my first inclination was to try the tanks. I'm a sucker for the Type 89 as it looks so brilliantly awkward with its tall frame and it's door in the front. But I quickly remembered a promise I made over six years ago. Several months before I knew I was going to move to New Zealand, I promised myself that the first Japanese force I would paint is a Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) company. Remembering that made me so intensely desire an SNLF force, that I immediately purchased a Hohei Chutai (JBX01) box, two platoons of HMGs (JP704), a pack of Nikuhaku teams (JP706), and two boxes of Light Sensha Platoons (JBX03).

The SNLF were the elite infantry force of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), sometimes mistakenly referred to as the Imperial Navy's marines. They were the navy's assault force, organised to take beaches by storm, conquer the island they have been set upon, and then occupy it. Formed in the late 1920s, their first major operation was the Shanghai Incident in 1932, executing operations along the Chinese coast and up the Yangtze River.

Each of the original four SNLF were established at the IJN's major ports, which gave the SNLF units their names: Kure, Maizuru, Sasebo, and Yokosuka. By 7 December 1941, there were 16 SNLF units and this was expanded to 21 during the war. The SNLF troops underwent intense training and were among the Emperor's most most skilled and loyal troops. The US reports on the SNLF placed them better trained and motivated than any Imperial Army formation, and noted that the SNLF placed greater emphasis on small unit operations. They were notably fierce in their determination, often to a fault when faced with impossible tasks.

SNLF-Dutch East Indies 1942
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the SNLF lead the way as the Japanese empire expanded into the South Pacific, fighting in all of the major island campaigns. The often victorious SNLF troops then entrenched on the islands they conquered, ensuring at least one more battle with the enemy when the war turned against the Empire of the Sun.

One of my all time favorite battles to read about in World War II was Tarawa. There, on this tiny spit of land in late November 1943, the 2nd Marine Division landed against fierce opposition from the Japanese garrison. This Japanese force consisted of the Yokosuka 6th Special Navy Landing Force (1122 men), the Sasebo 7th SNLF (1497 men, Commander Takeo Sugai), 111th Pioneers (1247 men), and the 4th Construction Unit. The pioneers and construction personnel were mostly Korean forced laborers brought in to improve the the island defenses. The garrison was reinforced with Ensign Ohtani's 14 Type 95 tanks.

SNLF Type 95 Ha-Go tank on Tarawa
In three days of fierce fighting, the Japanese garrison was utterly destroyed. 4690 of the Japanese soldiers were killed and only 17 soldiers and 129 laborers captured. However, they had inflicted a terrible toll on the US Marines and Navy with 1696 killed and 2101 wounded. The casualty figure was sobering in the US public eyes, and demonstrated that the Japanese would not be easily swept aside.

More on the Battle of Tarawa here ...

In Flames Of War
Currently there is not an SNLF briefing for Flames Of War. Their major operations in the Early War period consist of a handful of battles in 1941 (including a parachute operation), which is reason enough to model the force. The SNLF troops involved in the 1932 Shanghai Incident are a little too far removed from the Japanese forces found in Rising Sun, however it offers a basis to use the Fearless Veteran rating rather than the Fearless Trained one (however newly raised SNLF units could use this rating).

For my part, I'm using this as an excuse to get ready for the our inevitable entry into the Pacific Theater. The general organisation of the SNLF varies little from the army's Hohei Chutai (Rifle Company), so I'll use that as a basis and work from there. Much of the heavy equipment is the same, if missing a few obscure converted naval guns and AA weapons.

In terms of painting, the conversion should be simple. The SNLF used a navy color cloth for their uniforms, best represented using Russian Uniform (VP924). Their helmets were sometimes in the army's beige colors, but also often in the olive drab of their uniform. The helmet also featured a Navy anchor instead of the Army's star insignia. SNLF banners depicting the Rising Sun used the off-set red circle, in contrast to the Army's centered one. Their boots were black, versus the army's brown footwear. Finally, each SNLF soldier wore the Navy patch indicating their rank on their shoulder boards or collars (officers) or right shoulder (enlisted).

More on SNLF Uniforms here ...
More on SNLF Enlisted insignia here ...

Their tanks were in IJN colors, typically an overall deep green, which I will have to investigate further. Reports of grey-blue colors are incorrect, according to Gordon Rottman, one of the most knowledgeable researchers of the Pacific conflict, which is a shame because I would have liked to do some that way (I still might). Often the tanks would be camouflaged in the field, using no particular pattern or set of colors that I can discern at present. They featured a small Rising Sun or IJN anchor insignia on the turret or hull sides, as well as an brass IJN anchor symbol on the front of the tank.

Not exactly an EW tank (photo is taken in Saipan), but I'd like to add a banner to my tank...
SNLF Rising Sun insignia on the turret side.
Imperial Japanese Navy, SNLF flag
I'll be basing these on sandy beach-like bases. I've also purchased four LCM (XBX05) to use as the SNLF's Daihatsu landing craft and a D-Day Beach Landing Mat (FW403A). I also intend to build some MG and gun emplacements for later use.

Wow! So there it is! This, combined with an exciting 2014 New Years Resolution (more on that soon), I'll be swamped. But who am I kidding? I love it!

Thanks for reading!


  1. Nice idea! Love the focus for later use..but I'd not quibble to much if you showed up with them at an EW event to face my Soviets!

  2. Sorry for the late drop, but I just picked up a sprue of Warlord Japanese (28mm) plastics. Have not ever done WW2 Japanese before (interestingly enough I am of Japanese descent, growing up in Hawaii). Your post on the SNLF here as convinced me to paint them up as such. Warm regards, Dean


Post a Comment