Chūichi Nagumo

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Chūichi Nagumo
Vice Admiral Nagumo (circa 1941–42)
Native name
南雲 忠一
Born25 March 1887
Yonezawa, Yamagata, Empire of Japan
Died6 July 1944(1944-07-06) (aged 57)[1]
Saipan, South Seas Mandate
Allegiance Empire of Japan
Service/branch Imperial Japanese Navy
Years of service1908–1944
Rank Admiral (posthumous)
Commands heldKisaragi, Momi, Saga, Uji, Naka, 11th Destroyer Division, Takao, Yamashiro, 1st Destroyer Squadron, 8th Squadron, Naval Torpedo School, 3rd Squadron, Naval War College, 1st Air Fleet, 1st Carrier Division, 3rd Fleet, Sasebo Naval District, Kure Naval District, 1st Fleet, Central Pacific Area Fleet, 14th Air Fleet[2]
AwardsOrder of the Rising Sun (3rd class)
Order of the Rising Sun (4th class)
Order of the Golden Kite (3rd class)
Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure (1st class)[2]

Chūichi Nagumo (南雲 忠一, Nagumo Chūichi, 25 March 1887 – 6 July 1944) was an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) during World War II. Nagumo led Japan's main carrier battle group, the Kido Butai, in the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Indian Ocean raid and the Battle of Midway.[3] He committed suicide during the Battle of Saipan.

Early life[edit]

Nagumo was born in the city of Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture, in northern Japan in 1887. He graduated from the 36th class of the IJN Academy in 1908, with a ranking of 8 out of a class of 191 cadets. As a midshipman, he served in the protected cruisers Soya and Niitaka and the armored cruiser Nisshin. After his promotion to ensign in 1910, he was assigned to cruiser Asama.

After attending torpedo and naval artillery schools, he was promoted to sub-lieutenant and served in the battleship Aki, followed by the destroyer Hatsuyuki. In 1914, he was promoted to lieutenant and was assigned to the battlecruiser Kirishima, followed by the destroyer Sugi. He was assigned his first command, the destroyer Kisaragi, on 15 December 1917.

Nagumo graduated from the Naval War College, and was promoted to lieutenant commander in 1920. His specialty was torpedo and destroyer tactics. From 1920 to 1921, he was captain of the destroyer Momi, but was soon sent to shore duty with various assignments by the IJN General Staff. He became a commander in 1924. From 1925 to 1926, Nagumo accompanied a Japanese mission to study naval warfare strategy, tactics, and equipment in Western Europe and the United States.

Nagumo (left) with his middle school friend Ichiro Saeki in Seattle, Washington in 1925

After his return to Japan, Nagumo was assigned to duties in Chinese territorial waters. He was appointed captain of the river gunboat Saga from 20 March 1926 to 15 October 1926, followed by the gunboat Uji from 15 October 1926 to 15 November 1927. He then served as an instructor at the IJN Academy from 1927 to 1929. Nagumo was promoted to captain in November 1929 and assumed command of the light cruiser Naka and from 1930 to 1931 was commander of the 11th Destroyer Division. After serving in administrative positions from 1931 to 1933, he assumed command of the heavy cruiser Takao from 1933 to 1934, and the battleship Yamashiro from 1934 to 1935. He was promoted to Rear Admiral on 1 November 1935.

As a Rear Admiral, Nagumo commanded the 8th Cruiser Division to support Imperial Japanese Army movements in China from the Yellow Sea. As a leading officer of the militaristic Fleet Faction, he also received a boost in his career from political forces.

From 1937 to 1938, he was commandant of the Torpedo School, and from 1938 to 1939, he was commander of the 3rd Cruiser Division. Nagumo was promoted to vice admiral on 15 November 1939. From November 1940 to April 1941, Nagumo was commandant of the Naval War College.

World War II[edit]

On 10 April 1941, Nagumo was appointed commander-in-chief of the First Air Fleet, the IJN's main carrier battle group, largely due to his seniority. Many contemporaries and historians have doubted his suitability for this command, given his lack of familiarity with naval aviation.[citation needed]

Nagumo as commander of the First Air Fleet

By this time, he had visibly aged, physically and mentally. Physically, he suffered from arthritis, possibly from his younger days as a kendoka.[4] Mentally, he had become a cautious officer who carefully worked over the tactical plans of every operation in which he was involved.[citation needed]

Admiral Nishizo Tsukahara had doubts about Nagumo's appointment, and commented, "Nagumo was an officer of the old school, a specialist of torpedo and surface maneuvers.... He did not have any idea of the capability and potential of naval aviation." One son of Nagumo described him as a brooding father, obsessed with and later regretful about pressuring his sons into joining the IJN. In contrast, Nagumo's junior naval officers thought of him as a father figure.[4]

Despite his limited experience, he was a strong advocate of combining sea and air power, although he was opposed to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's plan to attack the United States Navy Naval Station Pearl Harbor.[5] While commanding the First Air Fleet, Nagumo oversaw the attack on Pearl Harbor, but he was later criticized for his failure to launch a third attack,[6][7][8] which might have destroyed the fuel oil storage and repair facilities. This could have rendered the most important U.S. naval base in the Pacific useless, especially as the use of the submarine base and intelligence station at the installation were critical factors in Japan's defeat in the Pacific War.[9]

Nagumo was surrounded by able lieutenants such as Minoru Genda and Mitsuo Fuchida. He also fought well in the early 1942 campaigns, obtaining success as a fleet commander at the Bombing of Darwin and at the Indian Ocean raid on the Eastern Fleet, the latter of which sank an aircraft carrier, two cruisers, and two destroyers, and caused Admiral Sir James Somerville to retreat to East Africa.

Battle of Midway[edit]

The Battle of Midway, in June 1942, brought Nagumo's near-perfect record to an end. During the battle, a Martin B-26 Marauder, after being seriously damaged by anti-aircraft fire, flew directly towards the bridge of the aircraft carrier Akagi. The aircraft, either attempting a suicide ramming, or out of control due to battle damage or a wounded or killed pilot, narrowly missed crashing into the carrier's bridge, which could have killed Nagumo and his command staff, before it cartwheeled into the sea.[10][11] This experience may well have contributed to Nagumo's determination to launch another attack on Midway, in direct violation of Yamamoto's order to keep the reserve strike force armed for anti-ship operations.[12] However, when Nagumo received scouting reports that American ships were in the area, he changed plans and ordered his planes be armed back to attack American ships.[13] It appears the situation caught him somewhere in-between, with half his planes armed with torpedoes (for ships) and the other half with bombs (for land offensives) and no time to switch everything back to torpedoes. And, as an officer always going by naval doctrine, he decided to wait to arm the entire air fleet with torpedoes before launching an offensive, instead of starting it with whatever available at hand.

American dive-bombers scored several hits on Akagi, Kaga and Sōryū, resulting in fires and further explosions due to unsecured ordinance, crippling all three. As Nagumo began to grasp the enormity of what had happened, he appears to have gone into a state of shock.[14] Nagumo stood near the ship's compass looking out at the flames on his flagship and two other carriers in a trance-like daze. Despite being asked to abandon ship, Nagumo was reluctant to leave, just muttering, “It's not time yet”. Nagumo's chief of staff, Rear Admiral Ryūnosuke Kusaka, was able to persuade him and Nagumo responded with a barely perceptible nod, with tears in his eyes.[15] Nagumo and his staff were forced to evacuate through the forward windows of the bridge by rope. An expert in judo, Nagumo landed lightly, whereas Kusaka badly sprained both ankles and was burned during the evacuation.[16] The First Air Fleet lost four carriers during the turning point of the Pacific War, and the massive losses of carrier aircraft maintenance personnel would prove detrimental to the performance of the IJN in later engagements. The loss of the four carriers, their aircraft, and their maintenance crews, plus the loss of 120 experienced pilots, resulted in Japan losing the strategic initiative in the Pacific.[17] Nagumo contemplated suicide but was eventually talked out of taking his own life by Kusaka. Following the battle, Nagumo appeared to have lost his aggressiveness and effectiveness. He never recovered from the loss of his carriers, and teared up when talking about the defeat to his son in 1944.[18]

Later naval operations, Guadalcanal campaign and the Battle of Saipan[edit]

Afterwards, Nagumo was reassigned as commander-in-chief of the Third Fleet and commanded aircraft carriers in the Guadalcanal campaign in the battles of the Eastern Solomons and the Santa Cruz Islands. There his actions were largely indecisive and slowly frittered away much of Japan's maritime strength.[citation needed]

Nagumo family in 1943 with Chūichi Nagumo in the middle

On 11 November 1942, Nagumo was reassigned to Japan, where he was given command of the Sasebo Naval District. He transferred to the Kure Naval District on 21 June 1943. From October 1943 to February 1944, Nagumo was again commander-in-chief of First Fleet, which was by that time largely involved in only training duties.[citation needed]

As Japan's military situation deteriorated, Nagumo was deployed on 4 March 1944 for the short-lived command of the 14th Air Fleet and the Central Pacific Area Fleet in the Mariana Islands.

Last picture of Nagumo (center), Saipan, 1944

The Battle of Saipan began on 15 June 1944. The IJN, under Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa, was overwhelmed within days by the U.S. 5th Fleet in the decisive Battle of the Philippine Sea, where Japan lost three fleet carriers and about 600 aircraft. Nagumo and his Army peer Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito were now on their own to keep control of Saipan.


On 6 July 1944, Nagumo killed himself with a pistol to the temple rather than the traditional seppuku. His remains were recovered by U.S. Marines in the cave where he spent his last days as the Japanese commander of Saipan.[19] He was posthumously promoted to admiral and awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Golden Kite.

Nagumo's grave is located at the Ōbai-in sub-temple of Engaku-ji in Kamakura, next to the grave of his son, Susumu Nagumo, who was killed in battle aboard the destroyer Kishinami on 4 December 1944.

Naval career[edit]

IJN Insignia Rank Date
海軍少尉候補生 Kaigun Shōi Kōhōsei
21 November 1908
海軍少尉 Kaigun Shōi
15 January 1910
海軍中尉 Kaigun Chūi
(Sub-Lieutenant/Lieutenant Junior Grade)
1 December 1911
海軍大尉 Kaigun Daii
1 December 1914
海軍少佐 Kaigun Shōsa
1 December 1920
海軍中佐 Kaigun Chūsa
1 December 1924
海軍大佐 Kaigun Daisa
30 November 1929
海軍少将 Kaigun Shōshō
15 November 1935
海軍中将 Kaigun Chūjō
15 November 1939
海軍大将 Kaigun Taishō
8 July 1944 (Posthumous)[1]


  1. ^ a b Nishida, Imperial Japanese Navy
  2. ^ a b Nagumo Chuichi at
  3. ^ Klemen, L. "Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942. Archived from the original on June 30, 2012.
  4. ^ a b World War II Database page on Nagumo.
  5. ^ Evans 1979, p. 529.
  6. ^ Blair, Clay Jr. (1975). Silent Victory. Lippincott.
  7. ^ Willmott, H. P. Barrier and the Javelin (United States Naval Institute Press, 1983)
  8. ^ Holmes, W. J. (1979). Double-Edged Secrets. United States Naval Institute Press.
  9. ^ Blair 1975, passim; Holmes 1979, passim.
  10. ^ Parshall & Tully 2005, pp. 151–152.
  11. ^ Lundstrom, p. 337
  12. ^ Prange, Goldstein & Dillon 1982, pp. 207–212; Parshall & Tully 2005, pp. 149–152; "Office of Naval Intelligence Combat Narrative: "Midway's Attack on the Enemy Carriers"". Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  13. ^ The True Story of the Battle of Midway, Smithsonian magazine, Meilan Solly, Nov. 8, 2019. This article focuses on how accurate the 2019 Hollywood movie is.
  14. ^ Groom, Winston (2005). 1942: The Year That Tried Men's Souls. Grove Press. p. 238. ISBN 9780802142504.
  15. ^ Lord 1967, pp. 183; Parshall & Tully 2005, p. 260.
  16. ^ Dull 1978, p. 161; Parshall & Tully 2005.
  17. ^ Judge, Sean M. (2018). House, Jonathan M. (ed.). The Turn of the Tide in the Pacific War. University Press of Kansas. p. 143.
  18. ^ Parshall & Tully 2005, p. 352.
  19. ^ Breaching the Marianas: The Battle for Saipan


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by Naka
Commanding Officer

30 November 1929 – 1 December 1930
Succeeded by
Preceded by Takao
Commanding Officer

15 November 1933 – 15 November 1934
Succeeded by
Preceded by Yamashiro
Commanding Officer

15 November 1934 – 15 November 1935
Succeeded by
Preceded by Naval War College

1 November 1940 – 10 April 1941
Succeeded by
Acting Headmaster
Abe Kasuke
Ozawa Jisaburō
Fleet created 1st Air Fleet

10 April 1941 – 14 July 1942
Succeeded by
Fleet reorganized as 3rd Fleet
Fleet dissolved, post next held by
Kakuji Kakuta
Preceded by
Fleet reorganized from 1st Air Fleet
Fleet recreated, post last held by
Takahashi Ibō
3rd Fleet

14 July 1942 – 11 November 1942
Succeeded by
Preceded by Sasebo Naval District

11 November 1942 – 21 June 1943
Succeeded by
Preceded by Kure Naval District

21 June 1943 – 20 October 1943
Succeeded by
Preceded by 1st Fleet

20 October 1943 – 25 February 1944
Fleet dissolved
Fleet created Central Pacific Area Fleet & 14th Air Fleet

4 March 1944 – 8 July 1944
Post left vacant following Nagumo's death
Fleet dissolved
18 July 1944