|Born||8 Nov 1885|
|Died||23 Feb 1946|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Tomoyuki Yamashita was born to a doctor in the village of Osugi Mura on the island of Shikoku, Kochi Prefecture. He was 5'7" in height and his build was larger than the average Japanese. He graduated from the Hiroshima Military Academy in 1905, then the Japanese War College in 1916 after some time of service. While at the War College, he met Hisako Nagayama, daughter of a retired Army general, and married her. His early army career was not promising. His favor for military reduction and his sympathy toward rebel officers of the February 26 Incident in 1936 lost his support from Emperor Showa's administration. He later clashed with Hideki Tojo's faction as well. After making known his belief that the war in China should be ended and a friendly relationship with United States and Britain would be more beneficial for Japan, Yamashita was posted to an unimportant position as a brigade commander in the Kwantung Army in Korea. In Korea and Manchuria, he would later be promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and eventually commanded the Kwangtung Defense Army.
When WW2 broke out in the Pacific Theater, Yamashita led 30,000 men in Malaya tasked to eliminate British and Indian troops and secure access to Malaya's rich natural resources. His extremely successful two-month campaign from Siam to Singapore captured a total of over 200,000 Commonwealth soldiers and instantly boosted his popularity in Japan: He was crowned the "Tiger of Malaya". After the sweeping victory, however, Tokyo sent him back to Manchuria to training command. Tojo was largely credited for this political (or perhaps, personally motivated) move. At Manchuria, Yamashita missed most action of the war, though it probably saved his reputation, as the Japanese army scored nearly no victory after the Americans started their offensive across the South Pacific.
In 1944, Yamashita was promoted to the rank of general and was sent to the Philippines to command the 14th Area Army in what was called the Army's decisive battle against the United States. He boasted to the Japanese public that "the only words I spoke to the British Commander during negotiations for the surrender of Singapore were, 'All I want to hear from you is yes or no.' I expect to put the same question to [Douglas] MacArthur." MacArthur's response to him, as written in MacArthur's memoir, was that Yamashita was an able commander, but "he talked too much". Yamashita's plan was to fight a defensive campaign at Luzon, where the geography favored the defenders. However, his vision conflicted with the Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ) in Tokyo, which wanted a decisive confrontation at Leyte. Buying too much into their own propaganda, the IGHQ believed the American fleet had been heavily damaged during actions in the previous several weeks, therefore aggressively extending the defensive perimeter southward to Leyte would be a fitting strategy. MacArthur and his army landed on Leyte days after Yamashita's arrival at Manila, and readily crushed the Japanese garrison there. Yamashita understood that Manila was worthless strategically, and moved his headquarters to Baguio north of Manila. When he moved out of the city, he gave command of the remaining troops to Vice Admiral Denshichi Okochi, ordering him to destroy port facilities, declare Manila an open city, and rendezvous with him at Baguio. Okochi took Yamashita's orders too far, allowing his troops to rape and pillage the city. When MacArthur's forces neared Baguio in Apr 1945, he moved his headquarters once again northward to Bangbang, 50 miles further inland, in northern Luzon. Yamashita fought until the last day of the war, and surrendered on 2 Sep only after Emperor Showa's surrender message. Up to the day before his surrender, he planned an extensive plan to use guerilla tactics against American troops in the Philippines.
An American military commission tried Yamashita on war crimes charges. The trial was publicized greatly in the Philippines; Yamashita symbolized the Japanese officers that the Filipinos came to blame for the war time atrocities, and the press buildup swayed the public opinion against the Japanese general. The military commission found his guilty of "deliberate plan to massacre and exterminate a large part of the civilian population of Batangas Province as a result of which more than 25,000 men, women, and children all unarmed noncombatant civilians, were brutally mistreated and killed", and was found guilty on all charges. The hurried trial and execution, despite backing of the United States Supreme Court, led to accusations that he was wrongfully charged for his crimes, possibly driven by MacArthur's personal vendetta against him as revenge for the atrocities committed against the citizens of Manila during the last days of Japanese rule. No concrete evidence linking Yamashita to the atrocities was presented during the trials; instead, any form of evidence, including hearsay, diaries of unidentified persons, and statements of absent persons, were accepted and presented at the court, which went against the basic law of evidence in the American judicial system. According to Major George Guy, one of Yamashita's attorneys,
However, the judges presiding over the military commission insisted that as the supreme commander of the Japanese forces, Yamashita was guilty because as the commander in control of the troops, he was fully responsible for the organized and systematic acts of atrocities upon the people of the Philippines. On behalf of their client, Yamashita's assigned six attorneys filed for appeal first at the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of the Philippines and then the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of the Philippines turned down their request for appeal. The United State Supreme Court judges discussed the case. Even though Justice Wiley Rutledge and Justice Frank Murphy wrote opinions noting that they had reasons to believe an appeal should be granted, the majority of justices voted to deny the appeal. Rutledge said the trial had been "no trial in the tradition of the common law and the Constitution", while Murphy said that Homma and Yamashita were "taken without regard to the due process of law"; together, they commented that such an execution of Yamashita would be "legalized lynching". Regardless, the US Supreme Court found
With that, the US Supreme Court denied the request for appeal. As a last-ditch effort, Colonel Harry E. Clarke, Sr., Yamashita's chief defense counsel, filed for clemency at the desk of President Harry Truman. The president declined to act upon it.
Even before the death sentence was passed, Yamashita had a sense what was coming. To show his appreciation for all his attorneys had done for someone who only months ago was considered an enemy, Yamashita gave each of his attorneys each items that meant much to him as a military officer. Clarke was given a tea service that Yamashita carried though Manchuria, China, Malaya, Japan, and the Philippines, as well as Yamashita's ribbons; Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Feldhaus received Yamashita's general staff fourragere cord and one of his three-star insignias; Lieutenant Colonel Walter Hendricks received the cordovan saber belt and the other three-star insignia; Captain Frank Reel and Captain Milton Sandberg received his sets of brush pens; finally, Guy, a cavalry officer, received Yamashita's gold ceremonial spurs.
Yamashita was sentenced on 7 Dec 1945. Weeks before Yamashita's death sentence was to be carried out, the case came to MacArthur for review. MacArthur stated that "[i]t is not easy for me to pass penal judgment upon a defeated adversary in a major military campaign. I have reviewed the proceedings in vain search for some mitigating circumstances on his behalf. I can find none." After digging into deeper details on the philosophical basis on why he believed he was responsible for the action of his troops, he approved the sentence.
Yamashita was sent to the gallows on 23 Feb 1946 at Los Banos Prison Camp 30 miles south of Manila to die for the crimes committed by his men. Before the fateful hour, he issued a statement through his translator Hamamoto, which, in part, is as follows:
"I were carrying out my duty, as Japanese high commander of Japanese Army in the Philippine Islands, to control my army with my best during wartime. Until now I am believing that I have tried to my best throughout my army."
"As I said in the Manila Supreme Court that I have done with all my capacity, so I don't ashame in front of God for what I have done when I have die. But if you say to me 'you do not have any ability to command the Japanese Army' I should say nothing for it, because it is my own nature. Now, our war criminal trial going on in Manila Supreme Court, so I wish to be justify under your kindness and right."
"I know that all your American and American military affairs always has tolerant and rightful judgment. When I have been investigated in Manila court I have had a good treatment, kindful attitude from your good natured officers who all the time protect me. I never forget for what they have done for me even if I had died. I don't blame my executioner. I'll pray God bless them."
He went on to thank all those who represented him and helped him during the trials. His last words were, loyally, "I will pray for the Emperor's long life and his prosperity forever!"
The United States Supreme Court rulings regarding Yamashita's appeal became known as the Yamashita Standard which set precedence for future war crimes rulings.
Sources: American Caesar, the Defense of General Yamashita, Justice and the Generals, the Pacific Campaign, Reminiscences, Spartacus Educational, Wikipedia.
- "My attack on Singapore was a bluff, a bluff that worked... I was very frightened that all the time the British would discover our numerical weakness and lack of supplies and force me into disastrous street fighting."
» 1 Mar 1942
Tomoyuki Yamashita Timeline
|8 Nov 1885||Tomoyuki Yamashita was born.|
|8 Oct 1945||Japanese General Yamashita was arraigned in war crimes court in the Philippine Islands.|
|7 Dec 1945||Japanese General Yamashita was found guilty of war crimes.|
|23 Feb 1946||Japanese General Yamashita executed by hanging at Los Banos Prison Camp near Manila.|
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