The ever-losing and rarely-known but superbly brilliant naval commander — Ozawa Jisaburo (小沢治三郎)

Jul 2018
Hong Kong
It seems like the American generally overestimated him while the Japanese underestimated him, this was an interesting phenomenom. Was he really a great naval commander ? Let me begin from the Malayan Campaign.
Jul 2018
Hong Kong
Before I depict the Malayan naval campaign, let me flash back to the military exercise hosted in March 1940 wherein Ozawa Jisaburo performed his marvelous talent in naval aviation as a carrier commander.


Naval aviation military exercise (March 1940)

Mission : sink all the vessels of the opponent team in the "virtual combat"
Result : Ozawa scored the crushing victory;his talent as a naval air fleet commander was widely recognized

The Japanese carrier Akagi.jpg

At that time, Ozawa Jisaburo was a rear-admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the commander of the First Carrier Division which was a mobile air fleet unit. For the content of the exercise, Rear-Admiral Ozawa was instructed to command two aircraft carriers Akagi (“red castle”) and Ryujo (“prancing dragon”), coupled with four destroyers to attack the Combined Fleet comprising two dreadnought-class battleships Nagato, Mutsu and a carrier Soryu (“Blue Dragon”) commanded by the famous Yamamoto Isoroku, who was reputed for his direction of the Pearl Harbor Raid. Ozawa had 18 carrier bombers (equipped with a single torpedo), 36 land-based bombers and 27 dive bombers at disposal, while Yamamoto could utilize 27 fighters to intercept the attackers.

The large-sized bombers which had the wing span stretching to 25-meters long pressed close to sea and swooped down against the targets in masses, swiftly flew high after dropping a torpedo. Torpedo after torpedo was unleashed in this way as they were dashing towards the “enemy” ships carving a number of glided trails on the surface of the sea. The opponent team’s commanders were utterly terrified and cursed “Ozawa, you bastard!” in madness since never had they witnessed such an attack so thunderously shocking in visual perception.

Vice-Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto silently gazed this scene, until he asked his chief-of staff Fukudome Shigeru :

“Could we actually bomb Hawaii by aircraft ? ”

Prior to the Pearl Harbor Raid, Ozawa had been taking charge of command and training of the Japanese naval air fleet for many years. His triumph in the military exercise that soundly defeated Yamamoto's line-of-battleships won him the huge reputation. Yet the command of carrier fleet had been rendered to Nagumo Chuichi (南雲忠一) due to the inflexible rule of seniority. It was very obvious that Ozawa had far much knowledge and experience than Nagumo in carrier warfare, thus I personally think that placing Nagumo to that position was clearly a grave mistake for the Imperial Japanese navy.

Next time, I'll begin to narrate Ozawa's epic (?) first real battle in the Pacific War — Malaya Naval Campaign. Stay tuned.


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Jul 2018
Hong Kong
Malaya Naval Campaign (2nd - 10th December)

Mission : cover the landing operation of the 25th Army at the northeastern Malaya Peninsula
Result : success;though Ozawa took no part in engagement

On 2nd December, the Japanese Imperial Conference made the decision of waging war against the UK and the US. Ozawa Jisaburo who had been already promoted to the vice-admiral was charged with escorting of the expeditionary army (commanded by the renowned “Tiger of Malaya” Yamashita Tomoyuki) invading Malaya by taking command of the Southern Expeditionary Fleet composed of five heavy cruisers (Chokai, Kumano, Suzuya, Mikuma, Mogami), four light cruisers and some other escort warships.

As early as November, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill determined to send the deterrent force to stop the possible Japanese incursion into the British possession in the Far East, particularly Singapore, which was reputed “the Eastern Gibraltar” for its invaluable strategic position. On 2nd November, the redoubtable British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse were dispatched to reinforce the Far East Fleet. They had the overwhelming superiority in firepower over the vastly majority of the Japanese warships (HMS Prince of Wales’ 14-inch giant-calibre cannons sent people a shiver...). None of the ships under Ozawa’s command would be able to stand against such “monstrous” dreadnoughts. In addition, according to the original plan, the British carrier HMS Indomitable was also sent out for reinforcement, but unfortunately it ran aground and was forced to proceed the emergent repair in the Caribbean (so lucky for Japanese!) — this incident would cause the decisive impact on the oncoming battle.

Nonetheless, just these two British “behemoths” alone were already a substantial threat to Ozawa’s fleet composed of lesser-class ships and even the whole landing operation. On top of that, four British destroyers were accompanied with them. Together they formed the Force Z, sailed to Singapore as a counter force to the Japanese troops in the Far East region.

That's not the all. Ozawa didn't even have a single battleship, carrier or submarine at his disposal because the Japanese Navy's main force had been commited to the utmostly important Pearl Harbor Raid.

Seriously, if Ozawa's fleet collide with Force Z, very likely the result would be suicidal with the entire fleet utterly crushed. Therefore, the Japanese commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet Yamamoto Isoroku was very hesitated for the decision that whether sending the inferior Southern Expeditionary Navy to carry out such a dangerous mission. When everyone was perplexed at that, Ozawa stand out and said confidently :

"I dare to bet with Sir Yamamoto even at the expense of the destruction of the Southern Expeditionary Navy. Don't worry, I'll convince the other Japanese naval officers by myself. All you have to do is crush the enemy ! "

Admiral Yamamoto was greatly impressed of Ozawa's spirit and thus consented the southward advance of the Southern Expeditionary Navy.

On 4th December 1941, the Japanese Expeditionary Army (including the 5th and the 18th division, which were the vanguard of the 25th Army) under the escort of Ozawa's fleet set sail to the Malaya Peninsula from Sanya, Hainan Island of China, signalized the commencement of the Japanese Invasion of Malaya. Afterward, the famous event of the sinking of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse occurred and astounded the whole world.

However, Ozawa ended up fail to score any significant merit other than the successful cover of the landing force. What was going on ? I'll depict the next part of the story at next time !

~ to be continued ~