Best Japanese Officer of WWII?

May 2018
928
Michigan
A question I have not often seen come up. If I were to ask, "Who was the best Wehrmacht general of WWII?" I'd get a lot of answers, most of them containing words like "Guderian", "Manstein", "Rommel" etc...

Admittedly, some of this is probably due to post war racism: it was probably more "okay" to glorify white officers/generals who fought the Allies moreso than non-white Japanese. Particularly in cases where a white general lost to a non-white one. And I'm usually one to tell SJWs they need to ease up about race in general.

Several lists from Google tend to use Yamamoto, but Shattered Sword takes apart Yamamoto's reputation quite thoroughly. The sheer level of arrogance, groupthink, and lack of moral/intellectual courage in the IJN leading up to Midway at times reminds me of petty infighting among Napoleon's Marshals, or the stupid duel in which Arthur Wellesley's friend, Colonel Ashton, was tragically killed (Wellesley apparently advised Ashton to not send the letter which led directly to the duel). It's military machismo and ego at its very worst, and the results were predictably disastrous for the IJN.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2015
949
Virginia
Yamashita. Conqueror of Malaya and Singapore. Advised against reinforcement of Leyte, but was overruled. Ordered withdrawal from Manila but was disobeyed. Held out on Luzon till the end of the war.
Actually, other Army officers like Kuribayashi and Ushijima had little opportunity to display any operational or tactical skill other than extracting the highest price in blood from the attacker.
Admiral Ozawa displayed skill and determination, but the odds were usually against him.
 
Apr 2018
753
India
One reason why IJN commanders are not considered in the so called toppers' list is the lack of well popularized stunning victories that can be directly attributed to them. OTOH, they are very often made scapegoats for defeats, completely ignoring the nigh impossible odds against them.

Nagumo's hesitation is often blamed for Midway, but rarely have I seen praise for Cdr. Tamon Yamaguchi for saving the face of the IGN.

Captain Raizo Tanaka's Tassafaronga feat has no match in the entire war. Still he is rarely mentioned.

Mikawa is often given credit for the whole Guadalcanal 'first day first show' (Indian slang for first theatre screening of a movie) but the truth is sheer God gifted luck.

Nishimura on the other hand is barely given any credit for anything just because either victory or breakout was technically impossible and there was nowhere to run back to. He gave a good fight till the end. At least it wasn't as stupid as Heaven Numbaah Waan.

Yamamoto's fame primarily comes from his opposition to the war. This praise is often extended, with the Pearl story, to portray him as a military genious. Nagumo is often blamed for being overcautious whereas it was Yamamoto who kept the entire firepower of the IJN bunched up a world away from the fight.
 
Apr 2018
753
India
IMHO, just like the Eastern Front, the whole history of the Pacific war (both sides) is mired with undeserving medicores becoming heroes and people losing their heads for no good reason other than just because somebody else could keep theirs.
 
May 2018
928
Michigan
One reason why IJN commanders are not considered in the so called toppers' list is the lack of well popularized stunning victories that can be directly attributed to them. OTOH, they are very often made scapegoats for defeats, completely ignoring the nigh impossible odds against them.

Nagumo's hesitation is often blamed for Midway, but rarely have I seen praise for Cdr. Tamon Yamaguchi for saving the face of the IGN.

Captain Raizo Tanaka's Tassafaronga feat has no match in the entire war. Still he is rarely mentioned.

Mikawa is often given credit for the whole Guadalcanal 'first day first show' (Indian slang for first theatre screening of a movie) but the truth is sheer God gifted luck.

Nishimura on the other hand is barely given any credit for anything just because either victory or breakout was technically impossible and there was nowhere to run back to. He gave a good fight till the end. At least it wasn't as stupid as Heaven Numbaah Waan.

Yamamoto's fame primarily comes from his opposition to the war. This praise is often extended, with the Pearl story, to portray him as a military genious. Nagumo is often blamed for being overcautious whereas it was Yamamoto who kept the entire firepower of the IJN bunched up a world away from the fight.
While I'd mostly agree with your second post, your first got me thinking that the problem may not be just Japanese commanders: As a former member of the American Army, I tend to see things in terms of how the American Army sees them when it comes to observing or studying battles: soldiers lives are a precious resource to be conserved both for military and ethical reasons, prisoners of war are to be accorded good treatment (as are civilians), and (even as an NCO), had something of an obligation to speak up if stupid LT decisions were about to get people killed. Naturally, I tend to understand the motivations and personal feelings of western generals, even hundreds of years ago (Wellington could have in fact taught the U.S. Army a thing or two about COIN).

Japan's "sneak attack" on Hawaii, the Philippines and other territories on Dec 8 (local) 1941 were viewed as great victories by most in Japan. The more I read about the IJN (and to a lesser extent, the IJA), the more I realize that they did basic things, such as approach operational planning, differently than I was taught (and I am guessing, as contemporary American officers and NCOs were taught): from being just as much the "Cult of the Offense" as their German allies, to how staff officers could hold meetings on carriers (separate from the ship's captain and his staff, in the U.S. Navy). In Burma, many Japanese soldiers didn't know how to use western style toilets!

I suppose that the "military arrogance" I often associate with the IJN and IJA was simply just their military culture, and if I had been a young soldier in that environment, I may not have turned out any different. Given that senior officers were known to attack each other with actual daggers (and I mean physical, not just metaphorical) over matters of pride, "the world wonders" how William Halsey might have reacted to Nimitz's accidental rebuke had they been brought up in a different military culture. While soldiers, even today, still brawl, it is not something expected of, or tolerated from, General-level officers in the U.S. military.

The IJN/IJA of World War II had such a fatalistic mentality, it literally must have been the inspiration for the Jem'hadar of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And scarily, it is not too dissimilar to the mentality of your average suicide bomber, or the insurgent fighters in Iraq or Afghanistan: some of those guys were just as ready to die for 72 virgins as "Special Attack Units" were ready to die for the Divine Emperor.

Tamon Yamaguichi did, in a militarily significant way (sinking a carrier) save the IJN some face. While his suicide means little to us, it probably meant a lot to his men, and America did lose a carrier. Given the rest of the days events for the IJN, his actions were probably the best of the IJN that day being able to put together a strike on the fly and have it succeed. One might roughly equate it with the efficiency and success of the British withdraw from the Dardanelles, which some have said was the "best executed operation" of the war, even considering the British tendency to turn defeats into victories.

You make an excellent point about IJN/IJA officers often being blamed for hopeless situations or defeats. This is probably more true of the IJA, as the IJN made some very quixotic charges at a strategic level, as opposed to cut off IJA units with few options but surrender or banzai charge.
 
May 2018
928
Michigan
Yamashita. Conqueror of Malaya and Singapore. Advised against reinforcement of Leyte, but was overruled. Ordered withdrawal from Manila but was disobeyed. Held out on Luzon till the end of the war.
Actually, other Army officers like Kuribayashi and Ushijima had little opportunity to display any operational or tactical skill other than extracting the highest price in blood from the attacker.
Admiral Ozawa displayed skill and determination, but the odds were usually against him.
I was reading about Yamashita and the "Yamashita Standard." On the face of it, it is not a legal principle I would entirely support: under some interpretations of the standard, Wellington at Badajoz in 1812 could have been charged with war crimes. While obviously times are different, I don't think that someone in Wellington's position, who did all he could to stop or prevent the crimes of his troops short of basically destroying his own army, should be guilty of war crimes. if he had tried to hang every man guilty of a hang-able offense at Badajoz, he'd probably lose at least a regiment's worth of troops in addition to the grievous casualties of the storming itself.

Funny thing about Japan in WWII is that, even more so than Germany, there is no shortage of "3 star generals and field grade officers" who seemed to have the correct idea, but get overruled by incompetent superiors. This is probably an over-dramatization on the part of historians, as sometimes it seems that if the IJN had promoted one echelon lower (starting with Tojo himself at the top), they would have won the war, or the war wouldn't have happened.
 
Oct 2015
949
Virginia
Oddly there are also numerous examples of Japanese commanders unable to get subordinate officers to obey their orders. Ichikki and Kawaguchi on Guadalcanal, and Admiral Iwabuchi in Manila come to mind. The officers who occupied Manchuria in 1931 and who instigated the "Marco Polo Bridge" incident in 1937 both did so without, or in defiance of, orders from higher authority.
 

Lee-Sensei

Ad Honorem
Aug 2012
2,122
A question I have not often seen come up. If I were to ask, "Who was the best Wehrmacht general of WWII?" I'd get a lot of answers, most of them containing words like "Guderian", "Manstein", "Rommel" etc...

Admittedly, some of this is probably due to post war racism: it was probably more "okay" to glorify white officers/generals who fought the Allies moreso than non-white Japanese. Particularly in cases where a white general lost to a non-white one. And I'm usually one to tell SJWs they need to ease up about race in general.

Several lists from Google tend to use Yamamoto, but Shattered Sword takes apart Yamamoto's reputation quite thoroughly. The sheer level of arrogance, groupthink, and lack of moral/intellectual courage in the IJN leading up to Midway at times reminds me of petty infighting among Napoleon's Marshals, or the stupid duel in which Arthur Wellesley's friend, Colonel Ashton, was tragically killed (Wellesley apparently advised Ashton to not send the letter which led directly to the duel). It's military machismo and ego at its very worst, and the results were predictably disastrous for the IJN.
Yamashit for the army. For the Navy, I’d still go with Yamamoto. He was very forward think, he was quick to se the use of aircraft carriers and he understood that a war with the U.S. would inevitably end in disaster for Japan due to the sheer gap in resources, technology and industrial muscle.
 
May 2018
928
Michigan
Yamashit for the army. For the Navy, I’d still go with Yamamoto. He was very forward think, he was quick to se the use of aircraft carriers and he understood that a war with the U.S. would inevitably end in disaster for Japan due to the sheer gap in resources, technology and industrial muscle.
Those are some positives for Yamamoto. "Military genius" he was not, and I wouldn't put him on any list that contains the names Wellington, Napoleon or Julius Caesar, unless he is very far down. However, I wonder if he could be called the "Heinz Guderian of Naval Aviation" and if not, who would probably qualify for that title. Naval Aviation and its force concentration was to Japan what Panzer Divisions and armored theory were to Germany.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,357
Sydney
Yamashita , with three divisions assaulted five , pushing them back relentlessly ,
giving a final assault across a large waterway telling the guard division that if they kept being difficult he would leave them behind
forced the British command to bow to his will while he had run out of ammo ,all of this with losses 3 times smaller than his opponent

When his commander , count Hisaichi Terauchi , asked about his victory parade, Yamashita told him there would not be one but a funeral ceremony was planned

a less well known officer worthy of mention is a captain fighting on the North wing of the Japanese defenses at Kalkhin gol
he held his position for two days against repeated and furious assault
Zhukov furious at the delay , changed three time the local commander and
he trew one brigade of paratroopers and a brigade of tank equipped with flame thrower on top to make a decision

the Japanese commander had run out of ammunition , the few survivors of his units were all wounded and the Japanese defense had been crushed everywhere
he decided to evacuate his men and was told to commit sepuku for having left his position
 
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