|Born||March 5, 1893|
Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
|Died||February 26, 1959(aged 65)|
|Allegiance||Empire of Japan|
|Service/||Imperial Japanese Army|
|Years of service||1913 -1945|
|Commands held||31st Division|
|Battles/wars||Soviet-Japanese Border Wars|
World War II
As a colonel, he commanded the 75th Infantry Regiment at the battle of Lake Khasan in 1938. His regiment ousted the Soviet forces from a disputed hill in a night assault which the Japanese considered to be a model of its tactical type.
At the time of the Nomonhan Incident in 1939, after his promotion to major general, Sato was in command of the 2d Sector Unit, 8th Border Garrison Unit (Hailar) under General Michitaro Komatsubara. As a lieutenant general, he was assigned command of the 31st Division from the time of its activation in China in March, 1943. Assigned to construction operations in Thailand, the division was ordered to Burma to join the Fifteenth Army in September, 1943. The Japanese plan to invade India, codenamed U-Go, was originally intended as a spoiling attack against the IV Corps at Imphal, to disrupt the Allied offensive plans for that year. The commander of the Japanese Fifteenth Army, Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi, enlarged the plan to invade India itself and perhaps even overthrow the British Raj. The objections of the staffs of various headquarters were eventually overruled by War Minister Hideki Tojo.
Part of the plan involved sending the 31st Division (which was composed of 58th, 124th, and 138th Regiments, and the 31st Mountain Artillery Regiment) to capture Kohima and thus cut off Imphal, and then destroy the rail yard at Dimapur. Divisional commander Sato was unhappy with his role. He had not been involved in the planning of the offensive and seriously doubted the Japanese chances for success; he had already told his staff that they might all starve to death.
In common with many senior Japanese officers, Sato considered Mutaguchi to be a "blockhead", although General William Slim considered Sato himself to be
...the most unenterprising of all the Japanese generals I encountered. He had been ordered to take Kohima and dig in. His bullet head was filled with one idea only - to take Kohima. It never struck him that he could inflict terrible damage on us without taking Kohima at all. Leaving a small force to contain it, and moving by tracks to the east of Warren's brigade at Nichugard, he could, by 5 April, have struck the railway with the bulk of his division. But he had no vision, so, as his troops came up, he flung them into attack after attack on the little town of Kohima.— William Slim, Defeat into Victory
He and Mutaguchi had also been on opposite sides during the split between the Toseiha and Kodoha factions within the Japanese Army during the early 1930s, and Sato believed he had cause to mistrust Mutaguchi's motives.
By the middle of May, Sato's troops were starving. He considered that Mutaguchi and the HQ of Japanese Fifteenth Army were taking little notice of his situation, as they had issued several confusing and contradictory orders to him during April. Because the main attack on Imphal faltered around the middle of April, Mutaguchi wished 31st Division or parts of it to join in the attack on Imphal from the north, even while the division was struggling to capture and hold Kohima. Sato considered that his division was being "messed around" without proper planning or consideration for the conditions. Nor did Sato believe that Fifteenth Army headquarters were exerting themselves to move supplies to his division. He began pulling his troops back to conserve their strength, thus allowing the British to secure Kohima Ridge.
On 25 May, Sato notified Fifteenth Army HQ that he would withdraw on 1 June unless his division received supplies. Finally on 31 May, he abandoned positions north of the road, in spite of orders from Mutaguchi to hold his positions. (For a divisional commander to retreat without orders or permission from his superior was unheard-of in the Japanese Army.) After ignoring army orders for several weeks, Sato was removed from command of 31st Division on 7 July 1944.
Sato refused an invitation to commit seppuku and demanded a court martial to clear his name and publicly expose Mutaguchi's incompetence. At the prompting of Lieutenant General Masakazu Kawabe, commander of Burma Area Army, doctors declared that he had suffered a mental breakdown and was unfit to stand trial on 23 November 1944. Sato was recalled to active duty in late 1944 and assigned to the headquarters of the Sixteenth Army, which became the Northeast Area Army in 1945.
After the surrender of Japan, Sato devoted his efforts to assisting surviving members of his former command, and the group of ex-army men he created erected a monument to the fallen of the Imphal Campaign in Matsuyama, Ehime and in Shonai, Yamagata.
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- Allen, p.292 (fn), p.308
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- "After the war my father didn't recognise me". BBC News. August 13, 2004. Retrieved 2008-03-27.