Service Troops

Photograph of African-American sailors training at the Service School

National Archives #80-G-294731

Service troops are troops that perform noncombat services such as logistics, construction, equipment maintenance, and similar activities. They usually operate in rear areas. Because they are not expected to engage in combat, they are typically only lightly armed and are given only the most basic combat training.

The U.S. made extensive use of African-Americans as service troops, since there was a widespread belief that they were racially incapable of making good combat soldiers. Likewise, the Japanese Army made widespread use of Koreans, Formosans, and burakumin as service troops. Chinese divisions consisted of as much as 30% unarmed service troops, who substituted for nonexistent motor transport and scarce pack animals.

Japanese service troops were organized into pioneer (Setsueitai) battalions of between 800 and 1300 men, of whom two-thirds or more were Koreans or Formosans. These were commanded by a captain or commander and typically had a significant number of civilian supervisors.

Service troops proved a precious, underrated asset in the Pacific War. It was natural for commanders to want most of the limited passenger shipping capacity to be used to bring more combat troops into a theater, but service troops were vital for building the extensive facilities that were needed for modern combat. In the far reaches of the Pacific, where facilities were almost entirely lacking, there were 18 American service troops for every American infantryman. By contrast, the Japanese felt compelled to make do with a much shorter logistical tail, and there was just one Japanese service soldier for every Japanese infantryman.


Collingham (2011)
"Handbook on Japanese Military Forces" (1944-9-15)



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