Hearts of Iron III – Japanese Strategy Guide

The Goal of this Guide is to provide essential information, data and so on about Japan, it’s weaknesses and strength, navy and ground forces as well as air-force to prevent allied forces winning the biggest conflict fought in human History.


Hello and welcome to my Hearts of Iron 3 (TFH) guide , played with the Downfall mod (Basically vnailla+ mod, it does not change that much on game mechanics, dont worry same things works in vanilla TFH).

This guide’s goal is to provide the reader with rich information to succesfully play Japan in Hoi3 (without much blabla).

I’ll give more of an Idea on how japan should be played rather than “holding hands”, so i won’t say go tech industry to level 3 or something similar. However, if you read that guide, you will have an idea on what you should tech and this is the better approach in my opinion because there are many ways to play this game.

Basically my goal is to give you a very good Position by 1942 / 43 on where you can chase your own goals from there on. This will be in this guide.

1) Overview

Japan is an island country. That means unlike other countries in hoi3 (Germany, USSR and the like) our main component and weapon is the Navy.

The fleets i like to play with:

(More detail will be in “Naval Warfare”)

CL and Carriers / CL don’t cost much, give screening and the CAGs do the rest.

DD and CVE (so called Hunter Killer Groups) / Submarine hunting. This speaks for itself. Supply routes are vital and we do not want them to be sunk all the time.

I dont have 1 single Battleship, the vast majority of the fighting capital fleet is Carriers (9).

CAGs and Naval Bombers are the majority of the Airforce.

Airforce: NAV. These guys are in the later stages of War super powerful.

Multirole / Interceptors, i prefer Multirole, but everyone can use whatever shoots down enemy planes. Mainly used for Enemy CAGs or if we use our Naval bombers to bomb ports to intercept enemy Airforce.

I will go into more detail later this guide.


  • War with China
  • Expansion in the South
  • Conquering Mainland Southeast Asia
  • Singapore
  • Phillipines

Please Note that everyone has their own preferable Playstyle and what they want to achieve etc.

This is mine, you can use it for your own ideas or just plain and simple copy it.

Normally, i conquer China and All of South East Asia (SEA) and then do other things. We are talking about the first ~3 years of War here.

As far as Tech goes:

  • Tech everything Carrier related. We need Infantry, Mountain, Engineers, Marines
  • Definately tech anything Supply related.

2) Naval Warfare

Welcome to the most important Part in this Guide.

As mentioned earlier, we are an Island nation and our strongest Weapon will be the Navy.

Let me explain real quick and dirty the basics of Naval warfare in hoi3.

Dont mix Batlteships with Carriers.

Basically i dont bother with Battleships at all and , in fact, if i start a custom game, i dont build any and scrap them. Instead, i make Carrier fleets. In the real War, when Pearl harbor happened and 8 Battleships got damaged or sunk, the US still had carriers and produced a carrier fleet instead. This was very lethal for the Japanese fleet, losing few carriers of their own in Midway made the US win the naval warfare. This is because the Pacific is the biggest Ocean on this planet and distance is very far from Island to Island and port to port. Thats why Airplanes did a fantastic Job in this theatre of War. I could go into more detail, but i think this is not the part of this Guide, people have written books hundreads of pages long in this regard.

January 1943

These are just 2 Carriers of 9 in Total, other 6 are Escort carriers and are mainly for soptting and subhunting.

CAGs are just very strong, also for Port strike. If the enemy port is down in health, ships wont get repaired and they take heavy damage aswell. Most of these ships with this doctrine will be sunk in ports.

Carriers and Light cruisers are the way to go. This will be the main fleet.

2 – 3 Hunter killer gorups for anti sub hunt (thats essential) so: CVE and DDs.

Naval bombers. I cant stress that enough, these guys are absolutely OP in singleplayer. Make 4 – 5 squadrons.

In hoi3 you have to persistently attack a fleet over a period of days to guarantee any damage. This is regardless of whether you’re using land-based aircraft or CAGs.

That being said naval bombardments against vessels aren’t automatic or immediately decisive. Also, you’ll never be notified when your naval bombers sink a vessel – you’ll have to look at the stats for that. If you keep doing damage they’ll spend more time in port than they will attacking you.

Also, naval bombers are best against vessels in port, so port strike them when you can.

Work with the Carrierfleet and NAVs to annihilate any enemy fleet in their port, if they leave, the Cruisers will do the rest.

  • 1) Find out where the enemy fleet is or you encounter them and have a Naval battle.
  • 2) You either win or lose, if the enemy fleet is fleeing, find out on what port they go.
  • 3) If in range of your naval bomber, bomb the port, if not use the other carrier fleet and chase them down and bomb them in their port with CAGs, use 4 CAGS Day the other 4 Night, the other fleet is getting repaired in mainland Japan.
  • 4) Do that over and over again
  • 5) Win.

Tech Wise, everything NAV related, Carriers and cruisers.

Interceptors and Multiroles also play a part in Naval warfare because whenever we have an Airfield, we want to use our interceptors to shoot down enemy CAGs.

I had quite a success with this, in fact, when i made a playthrough with this doctrine, there were no enemy ships left by 1943 in the pacific. I sunk over 60 Ships from the USA alone (in 1 year).

Sinking the british fleet with Naval bombers and Carriers, january 1943.

3) Land Combat

Example Mountain Corps.

Its very essential to make specialized infantry like Mountain divisions and Marines. Because otherwise you will face a lot of penalities in combat.

In the above screenshot i share my buildup of a Mountain Corps. These guys are very very essential since we fight in rough terrain most of the time and if its not Mountains its jungle.

Make Mountain Divsions. Atleast 2 Corps, 1 Corps 5 Divisions so: MNT/MNT/MNT/ART (i know i know some people say dont mix MNT and MAR with anything else because losing bonuses. However i still prefer it this way. Simply because we will not only fight in pure Mountain terrain, also some hills and plains thats why the arty.

Make Marines (for landing and river crossing, fortress busting): MAR/MAR/MAR/MAR or MAR/MAR/ENG/ENG for fortressbusting and landing.

Infantry: INF/INF/ART/ENG or INF/INF/ART/ART/ENG or INF/INF/INF/ART/ART <- this will be your back of the Army.

You can also make some armored brigades, i prefer Light Armor and some Motorized Infantry with AT Guns, but only a very few divisions like 2 – 3 they are just there for spearheading.

Assign Leaders with good traits for your Divisions. Most of them will get very good traits like Jungle Rat and Mountaineer. Since youve been fighting in China quite a lot, they will gain a lot of Experience making your army and its leaders quite experienced for this kind of warfare.

A look over to the USA:

If you want to go for the USA, keep in mind the terrain. You can see very good why we need Mountain Divisions here. Later use some of your armor to pierce through, keep in mind the USA will have tanks so make some AT brigades. Nothing too hard here, especially not if we manage to sink their fleet by the vast majority.

The most important thing we have to do first of all in a war with the U.S., I firmly believe, is to fiercely attack and destroy the U.S. main fleet at the outset of the war so that the morale of the U.S. Navy and her people goes down to such an extent that it cannot be recovered.

Isoroku Yamamoto

4) War with China

As soon as you can start the Event, trigger it (the war with china event).

This will be the biggest struggle in the beginning, mistakes can be really bad here and eventually end your playthrough right there, so be careful. However, the good news is that it’s doable if you are doing it right, thats why the guide, right?

China has lots and lots of Manpower but crappy Milita / Inf divisions with bad Organization.

Things to consider:

  • 1) We do not want a war of attrition
  • 2) South China is a lot of Mountains
  • 3) There are a lot of rivers
  • 4) We need to encircle divisions and destroy them otherwise we are doomed

Now, in the North we will attack. At the same time, we will land on multiple sides of the Coast of China. Use the marines, then the mountain divisions. Repeat that 2 times or 3 times, depending on how much you have on divisions.

That means: Land with your Marines, move in your mountain divisions and use them there. Believe me if they are supplied, the Chinese will never get them out of the Mountains ever again.

Make encirclements and destroy these crappy Chinese divisions.

This is a good point in positioning and also allows us to bring our backbone, the infantry and pierce through the chinese lines.

Please Note the Mountain divisions in the South, thats what i meant earlier.

5) Malay Peninsula and the Philippines

Straight forward Jungle warfare there. Watch out for Attrition, land with your marines, get everything else in, encircle and rinse and repeat until everything is destroyed.

Before that, move your carrier fleet to Singapore and Bomb the Port if there are Ships in, you will want to kill the UK fleet there. Use NAV and Carrier fleet.

Also, use the Hunter Killer groups to kill submarines and enemy convoys in this Region.

Should be relatively easy, actually. Dont use too much infantry, use your marines for the jungle and also keep in mind the attrition there, supply is rare.

As far as the Philippines goes, most likely the USA will send expeditionary forces – but we dont care at all.

Land in the North with your 1st Marine Corps, send in 1 Inf Corps.

Land somewhere in the Middle with another Marine corps, encircle and destroy.

Also straight forward. Please use your fleet around the Philippines for obvious reasons.

6) Ways to Go

Be it Australia, South America, India… or even the USA, multiple ways from here. Choose how you’d like. The most important thing is to win the Naval war because that means we have the initiative and the enemy does not. He is in defense because everything he will try to do fails without a powerful fleet.

January 1943.

Now, we have sunk the vast majority of the UK fleet and the US fleet and we can begin the further expansion.

Furthermore we have conquered Mainland China, South East Asia giving us strong opportunities to go further down to Australia and the same time British Raj. Do what you want.

Good luck from there on.

Helena Stamatina
About Helena Stamatina 2706 Articles
My first game was Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot (PlayStation) back in 1996. And since then gaming has been my main hobby. I turned my passion for gaming into a job by starting my first geek blog in 2009. When I’m not working on the site, I play mostly on my PlayStation. But I also love outdoor activities and especially skiing.

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