|Born||2 Jun 1891|
|Died||16 Aug 1945|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Takijiro Onishi had been involved with naval aviation for many years before becoming the head of the Naval Aviation Development Division in the Munitions Ministry early in WW2. He had been a controversial figure for nearly as long, too. Many considered him an impulsive and simple-minded leader, but there were also fellow officers who admired his perseverance and aggressiveness. "However right or wrong his decisions might be, he never shirked responsibility for their consequences", recalled Captain Rikihei Inoguchi. Onishi was among the architects of the attack on Pearl Harbor, though he personally sided with Admiral Osami Nagano against declaring war on the United States. In Oct 1944 he took command of the First Air Fleet in the Philippines. Among the first actions he had taken was to meet Inoguchi, Staff Officer Chuichi Yoshioka, Lieutenant Yokoyama, and Lieutenant Ibusuki. "As you know, the war situation is grave," he began. "The fate of the Empire depends on the outcome of the Sho operation, which Imperial General Headquarters has activated to hurl back the enemy assault on the Philippines." For Sho-Go to succeed, American carriers must be disabled or destroyed so the playing field would be more even. At this stage of the war, however, Japan's air power was so weak that conventional attacks would not achieve it. Inoguchi remembered when Onishi gave the difficult order:
As Admiral Onishi spoke, we sensed that he had come here for something more than just to repeat what we already knew was our mission. The question in all our minds was how we were to accomplish that mission against such overwhelming odds, and we waited for him to provide the answer.
I watched the Admiral's heavily lined face as he spoke again.
"In my opinion, there is only one way of assuring that our meager strength will be effective to a maximum degree. That is to organize suicide attack units composed of Zero fighters armed with 250-kilogram bombs, with each plane to crash-dive into an enemy carrier.... What do you think?"
As the commanders accepted their duty for each of their units, Onishi nodded and withdrew with a face showing "a look of relief coupled with a shadow of sorrow." Naturally, he was not proud of the decision that called for the sacrifice of bright Japanese youth (many were university students or graduates), but given the situation, he felt he had little choice. On 20 Oct 1944, he gave the following speech to the pilots who volunteered for the special attack duty. As Inoguchi remembered, Onishi's voice shook with emotion as he spoke the words.
Japan is in grave danger. The salvation of our country is now beyond the power of the ministers of the state, the General Staff, and lowly commanders like myself. It can come only from spirited young men such as you. Thus, on behalf of your hundred million countrymen, I ask of you this sacrifice and pray for your success.
You are already gods, without earthly desires. But one thing you want to know is that your own crash-dive is not in vain. Regrettably, we will not be able to tell you the results. But I shall watch your efforts to the end and report your deeds to the Throne. You may all rest assured on this point.
I ask you all to do your best.
"I have never heard such moving words", Inoguchi commented years later on Onishi's speech to the pilots. Soon after the Leyte Gulf battles, however, Emperor Showa expressed a different opinion. "Was it necessary to go to this extreme?" Questioned the Emperor. The only response Onishi could provide was to order his subordinates to "redouble our efforts to relieve His Majesty of this concern." He was reported extremely upset to receive this criticism from the Imperial Palace, but his faith in the special attack never faltered. He presented the following poem, written in the style of traditional Japanese calligraphy, to his special attack pilots. It was perhaps a reflection of his unfaltering faith in his service as well.
Life is so like a delicate flower.
How can one expect the fragrance to last forever?
On 16 Aug 1945, following Emperor Showa's radio address declaring his intention to surrender, Onishi committed ritual suicide in his quarters. His suicide note written the night before expressed his personal apology for sending special attack pilots to their deaths and urged the people of Japan to follow the lead of the Emperor for a peaceful occupation.
I wish to express my deep appreciation to the souls of the brave special attackers. They fought and died valiantly with faith in our ultimate victory. In death I wish to atone for my part in the failure to achieve that victory and I apologize to the souls of those dead fliers and their bereaved families.
I wish the young people of Japan to find a moral in my death. To be reckless is only to aid the enemy. You must abide by the spirit of the Emperor's decision with utmost perseverance. Do not forget your rightful pride in being Japanese.
You are the treasure of the nation. With all the fervor of spirit of the special attackers, strive for the welfare of Japan and for peace throughout the world.
It was recorded that while the seppuku was cleanly done, Onishi's attempt to slit his own throat was not as successful. When others found him and offered to assist, he declined. "Do not try to help me" he said, choosing to suffer fifteen hours of pain to repay the debt of sending off so many special attack pilots.
Rikihei Inoguchi and Tadashi Nakajima, The Divine Wind
Takijiro Onishi Timeline
|2 Jun 1891||Takijiro Onishi was born.|
|15 Jan 1941||The Japanese Navy formed the 11th Air Fleet with the 21st, 22nd, and 24th Air Flotillas with Vice Admiral Eikichi Katagiri in command and Rear Admiral Takijiro Onishi as his chief of staff.|
|7 Oct 1944||Takijiro Onishi arrived in Manila, Philippine Islands.|
|17 Oct 1944||Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi took command of the 1st Air Fleet based in the Philippine Islands.|
|19 Oct 1944||Takijiro Onishi met with the senior staff officers of Japanese 201st Kokutai at Mabalacat airfield north of Manila, Philippine Islands, and asked for volunteers to form a special attack unit.|
|16 Aug 1945||Takijiro Onishi committed ritual suicide in his quarters.|
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Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945