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An Introduction to IJA dog tag specifications and regulations (1894-1945)

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    An Introduction to IJA dog tag specifications and regulations (1894-1945)

    An Introduction to IJA dog tag specifications and regulations (1894-1945)

    This is my latest long article for the forum. Please refrain from commenting until the whole work is uploaded. Association members are welcome to post photos of their tags for IDing here later in the thread. Other members without direct uploading rights are requested to open an independent thread instead of posting photos here, as I would not like to see this thread pock-marked with dead photo links later.

    Ever since writing about army pay books, I have had the intention to cover the other item of personal identification, the dog tags. Three years ago, I even mentioned on the forum that one day I would write on that subject, so I owed forum members an article already for quite some time. However, the subject involved a lot of tedious directory compiling and that had discouraged me from taking up the challenge earlier. The directories are an integral part of the story, because to a non-Japanese person, tags are virtually double encrypted in how they are stamped. Firstly, it is stamped in Japanese and secondly, even the early tags employ abbreviated Japanese, akin to English acronyms, not to mention WW2 tags that use outright codes, numbers that cannot be deciphered without a code list. Unless I made a directory that decoded those Japanese acronyms into English, there was not much point in writing about the subject. But finally, I told myself that life was getting a too short to keep procrastinating about doing what must get done, so I gritted my teeth and dove into the Japanese National Archives. For the pre-1940 tags all the decoding directories that existed have been translated into English for your benefit.

    For the post-1940 tags that employ unit designations expressed by 3 to 5 digit code numbers under a kanji character, (called Tsushogo codes, “Tsusho” means nickname and “go” means designation) creating a directory would have been an undertaking of phone book proportions. Instead, I chose to provide links to the various directories that already exist in Japanese, which were made by the Ministry of Welfare in the 40s and 60s to assist repatriation of ex-soldiers. Some of these lists have already been introduced on this forum and on others, but I also break some totally fresh ground here that many collectors should appreciate. Instead of just lists that run through the numbers, I will also introduce lists organized by theater of operations, compiled in the 60s, which should be more comprehensive and accurate than those made in haste in 1946. These “by theater” lists should be particularly helpful to collectors that specialize in a certain island campaign, etc and may be cross referenced against the “by number” list. Granted, it is still not in English, but I have done 80% of the decoding for you. Once you get the unit designation in Japanese, it is just a matter of straightforward translation.

    In order to show how the real things were stamped, I borrowed numerous photos I found on this forum and added some others I found on the net. I would like to acknowledge here those whose forum photos I took the liberty of using. I thank in advance, Alex, Chris, David, Paul, Stu, helmhunter and kaigun air, and belatedly and humbly ask for your permission.

    The Key Points, the 4W1H of ID tag regulations
    IJA dog tags were first introduced on 22 June, 1894 by Army Ordinance No.63 as “Specifications and Issuing Procedures for ID tags”, immediately before the Sino-Japanese War, which broke out only a month later. At that time, this regulation discussed the following 9 aspects.

    1. Who were to be issued tags for free
    2. Who had to purchase their own tags
    3. How the tags were to be worn
    4. How to keep track of who got assigned which number
    5. What to do with outdated tags improvised by units prior to the regulation
    6. Specifications for the disc and cord
    7. What information to be stamped and where
    8. Who had to assign numbers to the tags
    9. Which budget to use for preparing the tags

    Of these attributes the first 7 changed over time, so I will show how each of these items evolved. However, before putting points 8 and 9 totally aside, let me simply say that it was the responsibility of the headquarters of each unit to assign numbers to their members. Later when replacement units supplied soldiers to field units, numbers given by the replacement units served as personal numbers and the designation of the replacement unit was inserted between the field unit designation and the personal numbers. Budget coverage ceased to be mentioned from the 1924 regulation change, but until that time, it was the army trust account that got charged for the cost.
    For the other 7 points, let’s take a look at each and see how each point evolved over the years.

    Item 1: Ranks subject to issue of ID tags

    At time of introduction on June 22, 1894
    “The purpose of an ID tag is to identify those soldiers and civilians serving the military upon death or injury, and is to be issued to master sergeants (特務曹長), NCOs and enlisted men upon mobilization by the unit they are attached to.” The general idea was that tags were issued only to individuals going to war ( homeland units were initially not given tags).

    March 29, 1917
    “Master sergeants (特務曹長)” earned the privilege to move out the barracks and ceased to be issued tags and were now required to purchase their own as per officers. This was considered a NCO rank at the time, but in 1932 they were switched to warrant officers and the rank was discontinued.

    November 14, 1917
    The garrison hospital for replacements of the Taiwan Garrison and Rusu Reserve units (Rusu units were skeleton units of approx. one third of full unit size left behind by divisions or regiments at home base after they vacate the base due to deployment overseas. They induct new recruits and train them as replacements for their parent unit in the field) were excluded from issuance. Civilians in army service, who could be issued tags, were limited to those equivalent to EM and NCOs. EM and NCOs as replacements were now issued tags.

    April 12th, 1924
    The above exclusions for replacements of the Taiwan Garrison and Rusu Reserve units were reversed, and now simply all NCOs and below were issued tags.

    October 27, 1943
    The final regulation said, “The purpose of an ID tag is to identify those soldiers and civilians serving the military upon death or injury, and are to be issued to officers and below upon mobilization. It is also to be issued to officers and below, who are assigned as replacements to a field unit”. From this time, even officers were now issued tags.

    Item 2: Those who had to pay for their own tags

    At time of introduction on June 22, 1894
    Officers and their equivalents (相当官), warrant officers (准士官) and civilians in army service (軍属) shall provide ID tags at their personal expense. Paymasters and such did not hold officer ranks until 1932 and referred to as “officer equivalents”.

    November 14, 1917 update
    Civilians in service of the army equivalent to EM and NCOs were now issued tags.

    October 27, 1943
    Even officers were now issued dog tags, so private purchase of tags are no longer an issue from this point.

    Officer tags were always engraved by chisel, as the huge range of kanji used in names made it totally impractical to prepare stamping dies.
    Attached Files

    Item 3: Manner of wear of ID tags

    At time of introduction on June 22, 1894
    The tag was to be hung from the neck at the chest with a cord under the undershirt. For the first 23 years of its existence, the tags were not worn diagonally in the WW2 style, although the cord length had been the same throughout.

    November 14, 1917 update
    The tag was now to be worn with the cord diagonally from the right shoulder to the left flank under the undershirt. The 1943 spec change did not alter the manner of wear, so the 1917 rule on this point applied until 1945. Officers, however, took more liberty in the manner of wear of their tags and many sewed theirs onto their canvas sword belts during WW2.

    Item 4: Master Log of tag numbers

    At time of introduction on June 22, 1894
    When issuing tags, the tag number should be recorded in the field roster (戦時名簿)

    November 14, 1917 update
    When issuing tags, the tag number should be recorded in the new format field roster (戦時イロハ名簿)

    October 27, 1943
    The name of the roster had evolved into戦時イロハ留守擔當者名簿

    Although the self-proclaimed purpose of the tags had always been the identification of the dead and wounded, IJA tags only had tenuous claim to such attributes in reality. In the beginning, even the tag’s numbers were only like seat numbers in a theater, pre-numbered to the standard headcount allocation of a company. So if a soldier died, someone else just took that seat and number. Then the roster was the only link between a soldier’s name and his tag number, so whether one could identify the name of a soldier through his ID tag hinged on this document. Although I call it a roster, it is actually one sheet per soldier, in which the soldier’s war record was entered along with information similar to those in the front pages of the pay book. The sheet was first created as one entered training camp, and when those troops moved out, it went with them. Unfortunately most units that carried out suicide Banzai attacks burned all such records in advance, so the majority of those tags have lost their function of identifying the soldier forever. However, after the surrender, in October of 1945, the Ministry of the Army belatedly reversed its earlier instructions to burn the rosters and issued a memo ordering troops in the field to return with the papers. So some did survive like those for soldiers drafted from Okinawa, as well as for Gunma Prefecture units that served in China and Ibaraki Prefecture units returning from Burma, China and the New Britain Islands.

    Item 5: Run-out of previously improvised tags

    At time of introduction on June 22, 1894
    “If units have already provided their own tags, these may be allowed concurrent use despite being of nonconforming specifications.”

    From November 14, 1917
    Tags stamped prior to the issuance of the 1917 stamping guideline could still be put into service

    From April 12th, 1924
    Tags stamped prior to the issuance of the 1924 revised stamping guideline and which no longer complied with those new guidelines were to have the outdated entries crossed out with 2 lines and had the updated stamping made beside it.
    Attached Files


      Item 6: Specifications of ID tags

      At time of introduction on June 22, 1894

      The design and specification of the ID tags are to be as shown in the attached sheet
      Tag material: Brass
      Tag length: 1 Sun 5 Bu (45mm)
      Tag width: 1 Sun 1 Bu (33mm)
      Tag thickness: 3 Rin (1mm)

      Cord material: White woven tape
      Cord length: 3 Shaku 6 Sun (1090mm)
      Cord width: 2 Bu (6mm)
      Dimensions were initially in the Japanese Shaku and Sun measuring units and later in metric millimeters, but was only the yardstick that changed not the dimensions .

      1897 feasibility study for name stamping and alternative materials
      The army discussed the feasibility of stamping the actual names of the soldiers directly unto the tags to expedite identification of the individual, but this was regarded as not feasible, though desirable. At the same time, wood and bamboo as alternatives for tag material was rejected as unsuitable in the memo of December 11, 1897

      October 27, 1943 (Amy Ordinance No.90, superceding Ordinance No.44 of 1917)
      Since changing the manner of wear to a diagonal one in 1917, nothing had physically changed on the tags for 26 years, but in 1943, now facing material shortages of war, they had to revisit the issue of alternative materials for the metal tags, which they had once rejected back in the 1897 study.
      Tag material description was now changed to “Brass or similar material”.
      The alternative materials for the tags were already identified in an earlier spec notice issued on March 25th of that year as “Aluminum” or “Soft steal sheeting” This spec sheet was extremely detailed about the material characteristics of the disc, so I will cover those points below.

      ID Tag Spec details issued on 25th March, 1943
      Alloy Material
      a. For brass, the alloy mix norm should be copper 67% and Zinc 33%
      b. For aluminum alloy, the purity of aluminum to be 93% or more
      a. Brass: 90 grams
      b. Aluminum alloy: 32 grams
      c. Soft steal sheeting: 100 grams

      Plating (applicable only for steal sheeting)
      Durable brass plating is to be applied. Durability to be tested by 5 hours of immersion in 5% salt water followed by 5 hours of exposure to air. No excessive corrosion to be observed during or after.

      Corrosion Proofing of Aluminum
      Rubber, varnish, or epoxy coating is to be baked onto the pressed disc.

      Allowance is made for variance in copper and zinc content ratios when recycled brass is used.
      Attached Files


        Note: Earlier versions of the above spec sheet did exist, but the 25th March 1943 issue is the only one that seemed to have survived. The revisions log, however, does mention a 21st May, 1941 revision, as well as a 25th July, 1927 and a 5th July, 1919 version, so the addition of steel sheeting and aluminum may also have happened around 1941. This explains the existence of tags that appear to be steel in photos, yet have Tsushogo numerical unit codes that gradually prevailed between 1940 and 1942. If steel came into use only in 1943, all such tags should show this late war coding instead.

        Item 7: Stamping of unit designations

        June 22, 1894
        At the time of introduction of ID tags, the composition of the IJA was simple enough, so that how to stamp the three lines on the disc could be simply demonstrated by a single example illustration of a tag for an infantry regiment, doubling also as a spec diagram. Other services were merely to follow the same principle.
        The following comments were the only instructions given in the diagram.

        -Warrant officers and above and civilians in army service were to have only their rank and name stamped.

        - (Example) ID tags for an infantry regiment would have”歩” for Infantry regiment (or”後歩”for infantry reserve regiment or”歩補” replacement infantry
         regiment) above the regiment number.

        -The number in the center of the tag was the company number, if preceded by a “中” or when one belonged to the battalion HQ, one may stamp “大” and   follow it with a battalion number. However, in case of indicating regimental HQ, this number would be omitted.

        -The third and last line was the personnel number preceded by “番”, and in the case of an Infantry company, this number will run typically from 1 to 218,   for regimental HQ from 1 to 7, and for battalion HQ 1 to 69. Thus at this time, these numbers were merely allocated within the standard headcount     allocation of the soldier’s home unit.
        Attached Files


          November 14, 1917 update
          The vast number and variety of formations mobilized by WW1 made the simple follow-the-example stamping guide in the 1894 regulation insufficient. For this reason the 1917 revision introduced “Guidelines for stamping characters into ID tags, Army Secret Ordinance No. 271”, a new regulation, separate from “Revised Specifications and Issuing Procedures for ID tags , Army Ordinance No.44” which was an update of regulations on specs, issuance and wear that had existed since 1894. This 1917 version of the Specs and Procedure regulations remained long unchanged, only to see the next revision as late as a quarter of a century later, in 1943. On the other hand, the stamping guidelines would continue to evolve as the army continued to modernize and grow and finally even had to conceal, in wartime, the true identity of the unit from the enemy, not to give away the battle order. But for now, the point was still to be as brief as possible with the stamping, yet keep the unit’s name easily identifiable.

          The new stamping regulations of 1917 differentiated between three categories of ID tags, those for “mobilized troops”, those for “homeland reserves and replacements” and lastly those for “Officers”, and set out stamping format instructions for each category.

          For mobilized troops, a listing of abbreviated stampings of unit designations, called Ryakufugo (略符号) was established. For replacement personnel, the first line of stampings showed where he was assigned to and his original replacement unit was to be stamped above the personnel number of the third line.

          It was also this regulation that established the unique manner in which numbers above 10 were to be stamped. The correct Japanese way to write 15 and 20 is 十五 and二十 respectively, where 十 has the same meaning as the Roman numeral X. However, 十 was not to be used for stamping ID tag numbers, so 15 was simply to be stamped 一五 (1 and 5) like in Western Arabic numerals. 20 was to be stamped as 二〇 (2 and 0) by employing 〇 which otherwise did not exist in Japanese style writing. The advantage of this method becomes clear when one has to stamp numbers above 20. So the correct way to write 25 in Japanese is 二十五(same principle as XXV), but the simplified method of stamping would read二五, which was one character less to stamp. Space savings became even more clear when stamping numbers like 2745, which in correct Japanese would have been ”二千七百四十五”, but through the expedient method, could now be shortened to “二七四五” , knocking out 3 characters that stood for 1000, 100, and 10.  

          Guidelines for stamping characters into ID tags, Army Secret Ordinance No. 271 (issued on 14th November, 1917)

          I. Stamping guideline for tags of mobilized troops

          ID tags for NCOs and below of mobilized troops (excluding the garrison hospital for replacements of the Taiwan Garrison and Rusu留守Reserve units) were to be pre-stamped according to the following guidelines and stocked by the unit responsible for keeping supplies.

          A. “Unit designation (first line)” was to be stamped in abbreviated form (略符号Ryakufugo) as given in the attached “List 1”, along with numbers of the unit, if any.

          B. “HQ Company designation (second line)” was to be stamped according to the following rule only when the unit consisted of headquarters, companies (logistic train units for regimental MG units included), columns (縦列) and groups (班).

          i) Regiments composed of several battalions, and HQ companies (material depots for rail regiments were treated as battalion HQ) were to be stamped and regimental HQ to be denoted only by “聯”. Battalion HQ and company to be denoted by “大” and “中” respectively, followed by the unit’s number (for example, 12th company would be stamped as “中一二”) and machine gun units were to be indicated by a “機” and regimental logistic train units(連隊段列) by a “聯段”.

          ii) Units composed of HQ and companies, columns (縦列) and groups (班). Headquarters were to be indicated by “本” only. Company or group to be indicated respectively as “中” (stretcher or ambulance companies within medic units were to be indicated respectively by “擔” and “車” in lieu of “中”) or “班” followed by unit number. Infantry ammunition columns, Artillery ammunition columns, ammunition columns, rations supply columns, gas warfare columns were indicated respectively by “歩弾” “砲弾” “弾” “糧” and “瓦” followed by its unit number, if any.  

          C. “Number番 “(third line). Each respective HQ, company, column, group or unit should stamp consecutive numbers based on the standard NCO and EM headcount allocations (including those assigned over and above the standard count). As an example, 115 should be stamped as “一一五 ”(not as百十五)

          II. Stamping guidelines for tags of Homeland Reserve troops
          ID tags for Rusu Reserve units (留守部隊), including the Garrison hospital for replacements of the Taiwan Garrison as well as those for replacement personnel drawn from schools, etc based on article 30, clause 3 of the Wartime Replacement Code were to have, as the first line, the designation of the unit requesting this replacement, and in the third line, consecutive numbers, starting from 1. Preceding the numbers should be the abbreviated name of the institution supplying the replacement in accordance with the forgoing guidelines for stamping (as an example, those from the 1st Field Artillery Regiment replacement unit, First Tokyo Medical Hospital or Army officer’s academy would be stamped “野砲一補”,“東一病” and “陸士” respectively above the serial number.

          III. Stamping guideline for tags of Officers
          ID tags of warrant officers and above, probationary officers, probationary intendants, probationary medical personnel, probationary pharmacists, probationary veterinarians and civilians in the service of the army were required to stamp their unit designations and their rank and name, according to the foregoing guidelines.
          Attached Files


            Attached Files


              1917 list
              Attached Files


                Additions in November 1918

                Minor additions to the 1917 Ryakufugo Listing became necessary in November 1918
                This was due to the Permanent Infantry Regiments being equipped with the Light 75mm, so-called “Japanese Mortars”. This resulted in the establishment of a “Special Mortar Unit” in infantry regiments along with a “Special Ammunition Column” in the Transport Battalions.

                Furthermore Cavalry Companies were discontinued as a divisional component and were replaced by Cavalry Regiments.
                Attached Files


                  From April 12th, 1924
                  The 1917 Ryakufugo code list for abbreviated stamping of unit designations was updated to reflect newly formed units such as air units and motor vehicle units. Furthermore a second and third list also got newly added for abbreviations to be used for the second line stamping of subunit information, and the source of replacement personnel that could be added above the personnel numbers in the third line.
                  In addition, the numbering system for personnel numbers in the third row was changed from this time to truly personal numbers unique to that individual. Until 1924 the personnel number was merely a serial number out of the standard headcount for his unit. So in case of a company, typically the range of numbers was from 1 to roughly 200. If soldier “15” were to fall, his replacement would have taken over that number. However as of this 1924 change, replacements coming in after the mobilization of the unit were to be assigned consecutive numbers above and beyond the pre-mobilization headcount numbers.
                  Attached Files


                    Revised Guidelines for stamping characters into ID tags, Army Secret Ordinance No. 85 (issued on 12th April, 1924)

                    Article 1
                    Unless otherwise specified, ID tags of NCO ranks and below of mobilized troops were to be stamped in accordance with the following points. (Pre-stamped stock of such tags was to be prepared in advance by the units responsible for stocking supplies).

                    1. Main unit designations (first line) to be stamped based on List 1.

                    2. Sub-unit designations (second line) to be stamped based on List 2 provided that the unit was organized to possess a Company HQ.

                    3. Personnel Numbers were to be consecutive numbers based on the unit’s standard headcount, including any additional headcount assignments. For units structured to possess components such as a Company HQ, these numbers were to be assigned within each component. Units structured differently were to assign these numbers within each such unit. These numbers were to be stamped below the character “番 (number)”. These numbers were assigned personally to whom the ID tag was issued, and those, who later transfer (excluding those replacements covered in the next Article 2) into the unit after mobilization out of home grounds were to be assigned consecutive numbers above and beyond those already assigned.

                    Article 2
                    ID tags for NCOs and below of Rusu Reserve units (including the garrison hospital for replacements at the Taiwan Garrison) as well as for other replacement personnel of NCO rank and below were to get stamped according to the following rules.

                    1. The main unit designation in the first line was to be the Ryakufugo of the unit requesting the replacement as selected from List 1 along with its unit number.

                    2. The personnel number was to be a consecutive series assigned within each replacement unit before which the designation of the unit supplying the replacement was to be stamped based on List 3

                    Article 3
                    ID tags for warrant officers and above, probationary officers, probationary intendants, probationary medical personnel, probationary pharmacists, probationary nursing staff (this was newly added from this 1924 revision), probationary veterinarians and civilians in the service of the army were required to stamp their unit designations from List 1 upon mobilization, followed by their rank and name.
                    Attached Files


                      Article 4
                      Numerals to be used in stamping ID tags were to be limited to “一, 二, 三, 四, 五, 六, 七, 八, 九, 〇”

                      Article 5
                      Units newly formed during wartime were to have ID tags stamped in an appropriate manner in line with the guidelines provided herein.

                      1. The 1917 regulation, number 271 is hereby discontinued and superceded.
                      2. Those tags that had been stamped based on previous guidelines, and which no longer complied with these new rules, were to have their characters crossed out by double lines and re-stamped in the correct manner.
                      3. Timing for pre-stamping and stocking up on tags as well as updating of stamping discussed above will be advised separately.
                      Here the 1924 lists 1 to 3
                      Attached Files


                        list 1 continued
                        Attached Files


                          Remainder of list 1 and list 2
                          Attached Files


                            List 3
                            Attached Files


                              Wartime Coding of Unit Designations

                              The Mafia style unit naming
                              The 1924 stamping guidelines were in effect throughout the Manchurian Incident of 1931, but as the China Incident broke out in 1937, the army started to feel the need to conceal its order of battle from the enemy. So on September 1, 1937, Army Secret Ordinance 1014 decreed that while troops in Japan may continue to use their official unit designations, troops deployed outside Japan should refrain from using them and instead use the family name of its commanders and call themselves the Tanaka unit, Suzuki unit, etc. However, the frequent switching of commanders in wartime soon doomed this system and caused utter confusion, so this practice had to be abandoned.

                              The Advent of the Tsushogo Codes
                              The new alternative was announced on 10th September 1940. This idea consisted of giving self-sufficient operational units such as Divisions and Independent Mixed Brigades a code name consisting of one kanji character called Heidan Mojifu (兵団文字符, Corps Character Code ) and each component belonging to these units were to be given code numbers of 3 to 5 digits called Tsusho Bango (通称番号, Alias Numbers). Thus the combination of “Heidan Mojifu” and “Tsusho Bango” represented the full coded address. This combination was called Tsushogo (通称号). Prior to this, already on 29th July, 1940, Army Secret Ordinance 1533 spelled out when to use the conventional official designations and when to use Tsushogo. The general idea was to use Tsushogo on all things that got exposed to the public outside the army. However, internal army records of a permanent nature were to continue using the full designations. These exceptions to Tsushogo use included rosters, personal war records, award related documents, Yasukuni Shrine enshrinement lists, etc. Because of some grey areas, they also specified that Pay Books, diligence and good conduct citations (excluding orders) and documentation for court cases should use Tsushogo. All else was automatically to switch over to Tsushogo, and this included ID tags. As such, there were no revisions issued for the 1924 stamping guidelines and no grace period for old tags. Ordinance 1533 served as a blanket order for the switch across the board.
                              Attached Files


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