Periodically, Japan Security Watch will investigate the role of the Japan Self Defense Forces in pop culture, particularly “kaiju” or “monster” films. Kicking off this series is an analysis of the SDF in the first Godzilla film, 1954′s “Gojira”, or “Godzilla”. (Not to be confused with the re-edit of “Godzilla” that was released in American theaters, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”, starring Raymond Burr.)

The film starts with Godzilla sighted at “Odo Island”, a tropical island with a local Japanese population. Godzilla attacks locals on Odo Island, destroying several buildings, frightening the locals, and leaving trace amounts of radioactivity in its wake.

Although not explicitly stated, Odo Island is apparently part of the Izu island chain, a string of islands located south of Japan’s Izu peninsula. These attacks, which may or may not be within Japan’s territorial waters, are likely within what would later be defined as Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, as defined by the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1962 1982 (Thanks Corey Wallace for the correction!).

Godzilla is described by the superstitious villagers of Odo Island as something like a god, more supernatural than a real being. It is strongly hinted that Godzilla is the product of nuclear radiation, not only from Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also from tests conducted in the South Pacific.

Godzilla is a bipedal lizard, approximately 164 feet tall with a series of spade-like plates descending down his back. He is capable of destroying entire buildings with a sweep of his tail or a kick of his legs. He capable of directing what appears to be high-powered microwave radiation from his mouth which melts metal and is particularly useful against aircraft and ground vehicles.

In addition to the attack on Odo Island, seventeen ships mysteriously go missing. The Japanese government is forced to act.

An “Anti-Godzilla Frigate Fleet” is formed and sent southward to destroy the monster. The fleet is formed by ships of the Coastal Safety Force, the precursor to the Maritime Self Defense Force. The real-life CSF was composed of an assortment of former U.S. destroyers and minesweepers and was originally tasked to de-mine Japanese (and later Korean) waters after World War II. The film refers to the Coastal Safety Force as the “Coast Guard”.

Pictured in the film are two ex-U.S. Tacoma-class frigates. Somewhere around a dozen Tacoma-class ships were transferred to Japan after World War II via the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. Ironically, these ships previously served with the Soviet Navy, having been lent to the Soviet Union during World War II and returned afterward.

Godzilla is attacked underwater by depth charge bombardment. (The Tacoma-class was equipped with two depth charge projectors.)

Note that the uniforms of the Coastal Safety Force look strikingly similar to the Imperial Japanese Navy seaman’s uniform.

Godzilla is inadvertently driven northward towards mainland Japan, where he inflicts heavy damage on coastal population centers, industry and transportation.

Godzilla is immediately engaged by M1919A4 medium machine guns , but appears to not even notice them.

An evacuation of the civilian population in and around Tokyo, supervised by the GSDF, is carried out.

Note the GSDF uniforms, which appears to be a version of the U.S. Army M-1943 Uniform. The troops are also carrying U.S.-made M-1 Garands, which are a considerable welcome improvement over the Type 99 Arisaka rifle (though admittedly when facing Godzilla whether or not your infantry are equipped with a semiautomatic rifle or a bolt-action rifle makes little difference.)

The SDF prepares for Godzilla’s return, and defensive lines are manned.

Here is a convoy consisting of an ex-U.S. Willys MB jeep and several 2.5 ton trucks racing to the front line. The trucks do not resemble any contemporary U.S. models and may be of a postwar Japanese design.

The GSDF’s tanks roll into action in the form of a convoy of M-24 Chaffee light tanks.

The M-24 Chaffee light tank, named after U.S. cavalry commander General Idna Chaffee, was fielded by the U.S. Army at the end of World War II. The M-24 was used to equip the nascent GSDF and served for many years, until the fielding of the Type 61 main battle tank.

Godzilla attacks again, this time making landfall in in the Tokyo area. Minato, Shinagawa, and Osaku are evacauated. The creature causes a great deal of  destruction in an arc surrounding Tokyo Bay from Shinbashi to Chiba. His progress is tracked by the SDF, which plans to use a series of electrical towers to deliver a 50,000 volt attack against Godzilla.

The power lines fail to electrocute Godzilla.

M1917 water-cooled medium machine gun also joins in, and once again the futility of small arms against Godzilla is demonstrated.

As Godzilla breaks through the electrical defenses, he is ambushed by a battery of M1 155mm howitzers, the standard artillery piece for the U.S. Army in World War II. Despite the fact they are parked directly in front of Godzilla, they are employed in indirect fire mode. As a result, a majority of the high explosive shells fired at Godzilla miss.

At this point there is a poorly-lit battle between Godzilla and M-24 tanks.The tanks fire their 75mm main guns repeatedly with little effect. Unlike the machine guns, however, they draw the attention of Godzilla, who returns fire with his radioactive breath. The tanks are destroyed.

Finally the Air Self Defense Forces show up. Several North American F-86F Sabre fighters, equipped with what appears to be 2.75″ rockets, make repeated runs on Godzilla. The rockets are wildly inaccurate and less than one in five hit their mark.

Japan had 435 F-86Fs, some of which were maintained in service until 1982. They were replaced by the Mitsubishi F-1 and F-4EJ Phantom fighters.

During the aerial attack Godzilla moves into deeper water and disappears into Tokyo Bay. Godzilla sustains no obvious signs of physical injury, so it is unknown if he was injured by the rockets or merely irritated into leaving the area.

Despite the best efforts of the SDF, Godzilla has inflicted terrible damage on the greater Tokyo – Chiba area. The “49th Armored Division” is reported completely destroyed.

Rather than risk a third attack, Japan is forced to use the Oxygen Destroyer weapon developed by Dr. Daisuke Serizawa. This is done not without a great deal of soul searching — only nine years after strategic bombing and nuclear weapons ravaged Japan, Japan itself must resort to using a weapon of mass destruction.

The Oxygen Destroyer is successful and Godzilla is destroyed.

The effectiveness of the Self Defense Forces against Godzilla can be assessed as low. Depth charges proved futile against Godzilla, and may have only caused him to move out of the area under attack, putting him on a collision course with Tokyo. The Ground Self Defense Forces used inadequate tactics against Godzilla: artillery was used in indirect fire mode even when presented with an obvious line of sight to target. Evidence exists that GSDF tanks engaged Godzilla in platoon-sized formations and thus failed to mass firepower. As a result, the 49th Armored Division was (unintentionally) defeated in detail.

Only the ASDF can be argued to having had any success against Godzilla. However, Godzilla was able to shrug off repeated direct hits from aerial rockets, which have similar effects as the ineffective tank and cannon fire. It could also be argued it was the disorientation from fighter jets that caused Godzilla to break off the attack. The bottom line, however is that it cannot be conclusively proven that any human activity whatsoever influenced Godzilla.

It can be reasonably assumed that no weapons fielded by the SDF were capable of achieving decisive results against Godzilla. The SDF was not a capable force against Godzilla, and only the timely use of the Oxygen Destroyer saved Japan from indiscriminate, widespread destruction.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch