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About 20 years ago, I acquired a Japanese helmet in exceptionally fine condition from a Pacific War vet. Unfortunately, he passed away before I could learn about it. Instead of the star insignia typically found on Japanese helmets, this one has a sort of anchor insignia on the front. Painted on the side is an inscription in English: “CEBU, P.I. Spring ’45, Americal Div.” Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated. —J. D. G. Hummel, Leavenworth, Kansas

As American forces relentlessly advanced across the Pacific Theater, beginning with victory at Guadalcanal in 1942-43, they continually confronted the fighting ability and tenacity of the Japanese Tokubetsu Rikusentai, or Special Naval Landing Forces (SNLF). The SNLF was the product, in part, of an intense rivalry between the Japanese army and navy. In an attempt to lessen its reliance on the army for troops, the Japanese navy had experimented with the SNLF, formalizing it by 1932 to give it a fighting force of its own. However, by 1944-45, during the American campaign to liberate the Philippines, the SNLF’s fighting strength had greatly diminished.

Judging by the inscription, a member of the Americal Division captured this Navy Type 2 steel SNLF helmet during the fighting to retake Cebu City on the Philippine island of Cebu in March-April 1945. Also known as the 23rd Infantry Division, the Americal had the distinction of being the only American division formed overseas during the war, and had seen fighting since Guadalcanal. The SNLF force the division faced consisted of the 36th Naval Guard Unit and the 33rd Naval Special Base Force, under the command of Japanese Rear Admiral Kaku Harada. The Japanese lost 5,500 servicemen during the campaign; American loses included 410 men killed, 1,700 wounded, and 8,000 non-combat casualties from disease. —James M. Linn IV, Curator


This column was originally published in the March/April 2017 issue of World War II magazine. Subscribe here.