Tomoyuki Yamashita

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In this Japanese name, the family name is Yamashita.
Tomoyuki Yamashita
Native name 山下 奉文
Nickname(s) The Beast of Bataan[1]
Tiger of Malaya
Born (1885-11-08)November 8, 1885
Ōtoyo, Japan
Died February 23, 1946(1946-02-23) (aged 60)
Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines
Allegiance Empire of Japan
Service/branch Imperial Japanese Army
Years of service 1905–1945
Rank General
Commands held 25th Army
1st Area Army
14th Area Army
Battles/wars Second Sino-Japanese War
Pacific War
Awards Order of the Golden Kite
Order of the Rising Sun

Tomoyuki Yamashita (山下 奉文 Yamashita Tomoyuki?, November 8, 1885 – February 23, 1946) was an Imperial Japanese Army general during World War II. At the forefront of the invasion of Malaya and Singapore, his accomplishment of conquering Malaya and Singapore in 70 days even led to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill calling the ignominious fall of Singapore to the Japanese the "worst disaster" and "largest capitulation" in British military history.[2] The accomplishment earned Yamashita the sobriquet "The Tiger of Malaya". After the war, following a trial in Manila, he was found guilty of war crimes and executed by hanging for his troops' conduct during the Japanese defense of the occupied Philippines in 1944.


Yamashita was the second son of a local doctor in Osugi, a village in what is now part of Ōtoyo, Kōchi prefecture, Shikoku. He attended military preparatory schools in his youth.

Early military career[edit]

In November 1905 Yamashita graduated from the 18th class of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy. He was ranked 16th out of 920 cadets.[3] In December 1908 he was promoted to lieutenant and fought against the German Empire in Shantung, China in 1914.[citation needed] In May 1916 he was promoted to captain.[citation needed] He attended the 28th class of the Army War College, graduating sixth in his class in 1916.[citation needed]

He married Hisako Nagayama, the daughter of retired Gen. Nagayama, in 1916.[citation needed] Yamashita became an expert on Germany, serving as assistant military attaché at Bern, Switzerland, and Berlin, Germany from 1919–22.[citation needed]

In February 1922 he was promoted to major. He twice served in the Military Affairs Bureau of the War Ministry responsible for the Ugaki Army Reduction Program, which was aimed at reforming the Japanese army by streamlining its organisation, despite facing fierce opposition from factions within the army itself.[3]

In 1922, on his return to Japan, Maj. Yamashita served in the Imperial Headquarters and the Staff College, receiving promotion to lieutenant-colonel in August 1925. While posted to the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff, Yamashita unsuccessfully promoted a military reduction plan. Despite his ability, Yamashita fell into disfavor as a result of his involvement with political factions within the Japanese military. As a leading member of the "Imperial Way" group, he became a rival to Hideki Tōjō and other members of the "Control Faction". In 1927 Yamashita was posted to Vienna, Austria, as a military attaché until 1930. He was then promoted to the rank of Colonel. In 1930 Col. Yamashita was given command of the elite 3rd Imperial Infantry Regiment. (Imperial Guards Division). He was promoted to major-general in August 1934.

After the February 26 Incident of 1936, he fell into disfavor with Emperor Hirohito due to his appeal for leniency toward rebel officers involved in the attempted coup. He realized that he had lost the trust of the Emperor and decided to resign from the Army--a decision that his superiors dissuaded him from carrying out. He was eventually relegated to a post in Korea, being given command of a brigade. Akashi Yoji argued in his article "General Yamashita Tomoyuki: Commander of the Twenty-Fifth Army" that his time in Korea gave him the chance to reflect on his conduct during the 1936 coup and at the same time study Zen Buddhism, something which caused him to mellow down in character but yet instilled a high level of discipline for himself.[3]

Yamashita was promoted to lieutenant-general in November 1937. He insisted that Japan should end the conflict with China and keep peaceful relations with the United States and Great Britain, but he was ignored and subsequently assigned to an unimportant post in the Kwantung Army.

From 1938-40 he was assigned to command the IJA 4th Division which saw some action in northern China against insurgents fighting the occupying Japanese armies. In December 1940 Yamashita was sent on a six-month clandestine military mission to Germany and Italy, where he met with Adolf Hitler on 16 June 1941 in Berlin as well as Benito Mussolini.

Throughout his time in the military he had consistently urged the implementation of his proposals, which included "streamlining the air arm, to mechanise the Army, to integrate control of the armed forces in a defence ministry coordinated by a chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, to create a paratroop corps and to employ effective propaganda".[3] Such strategies caused much friction between himself and Gen. Hideki Tojo, the War Minister, who was not keen on implementing these proposals.

World War II[edit]

Malaya and Singapore[edit]

Lt. Gen. Yamashita Tomoyuki (seated, center) insists upon unconditional surrender of Singapore as Lt. Gen. Percival, seated between his officers, demurs (photo from Imperial War Museum)

On 6 November 1941 Lt. Gen. Yamashita was put in command of the Twenty-Fifth Army. It was his belief that victory in Malaya would be successful only if his troops cold make an amphibious landing--something that was dependent on whether he would have enough air and naval support to provide a good landing site.

On 8 December he launched an invasion of Malaya from bases in French Indochina. Yamashita remarked that only a "driving charge" would ensure victory in Malaya. This is because the Japanese force was roughly about one-third of what the British had in Malaya and Singapore. The plan was to conquer Malaya and Singapore in the shortest time possible in order to overcome any numerical disadvantage, as well as to minimize any potential losses from a long, drawn-out battle.

The Malayan campaign concluded with the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, in which Yamashita's 30,000 front-line soldiers captured 130,000 British, Indian and Australian troops, the largest surrender of British-led personnel in history. He became known as the "Tiger of Malaya".

The campaign and the subsequent Japanese occupation of Singapore included war crimes committed against captive Allied personnel and civilians, such as the Alexandra Hospital and Sook Ching massacres. Yamashita's culpability for these events remains a matter of controversy, as some argued that he had failed to prevent them. However, Yamashita had the officer who instigated the hospital massacre, and some soldiers caught looting, executed for these acts, and he personally apologized to the surviving Alexandra Hospital patients.[4] This was in line with Yamashita's personality and belief, as Akashi Yoji argued, that the first orders given by Yamashita to the soldiers was "no looting; no rape; no arson". and that any soldier committing such acts would be severely punished and his superior held accountable[3]

Nevertheless, Yamashita's warnings to his troops were generally not heeded, and wanton acts of violence were reported. In his article, Yoji argued that the main issue was that despite being an excellent tactician and leader, his personal ideals constantly placed him at odds with the General Staff and War Ministry. His humane treatment of prisoners of war as well as British leaders was something the other officers had difficulty coming to terms with.

Despite the finger of blame for the Sook Ching Massacre being pointed at Yamashita, it was now argued that he had no direct part in it and that it was in fact his subordinates who were behind the incident. A study by Ian Ward concluded that Yamashita should not be held responsible for the Sook Ching Massacre, but Ward did hold him responsible "for failing to guard against Tsuji's manipulation of Command affairs"[5]


On 17 July 1942 Yamashita was reassigned from Singapore to faraway Manchukuo again, having been given the command of the First Area Army, and was effectively sidelined for a major part of the Pacific War. It is thought that Tōjō, by then the Prime Minister, was responsible for his banishment, taking advantage of Yamashita's gaffe during a speech made to Singaporean civilian leaders in early 1942, when he referred to the local populace as "citizens of the Empire of Japan" (this was considered embarrassing for the Japanese government, which officially did not consider the residents of occupied territories to have the rights or privileges of Japanese citizenship). He was promoted to full general in February 1943.

The Philippines[edit]

Gen. Yamashita and staff surrender on September 2, 1945

In 1944, when the war situation was critical for Japan, Yamashita was rescued from his enforced exile in China by the new Japanese government after the downfall of Hideki Tōjō and his cabinet, and he assumed the command of the Fourteenth Area Army to defend the occupied Philippines on 10 October. U.S. forces landed on Leyte on 20 October, only ten days after Yamashita's arrival at Manila. On 6 January 1945 the Sixth U.S. Army, totalling 200,000 men, landed at Lingayen Gulf in Luzon.

Yamashita commanded approximately 262,000 troops in three defensive groups; the largest, the Shobo Group--under his personal command--numbered 152,000 and defended northern Luzon. The smallest group, totaling 30,000 troops and known as the Kembu Group, under the command of Tsukada, defended Bataan and the western shores. The last group, the Shimbu Group, totaling 80,000 men under the command of Yokoyama, defended Manila and southern Luzon. Yamashita tried to rebuild his army but was forced to retreat from Manila to the Sierra Madre mountains of northern Luzon, as well as the Cordillera Central mountains. Yamashita ordered all troops, except those tasked with security, out of the city.

Almost immediately, Imperial Japanese Navy Rear Adm. Sanji Iwabuchi re-occupied Manila with 16,000 sailors, intending to destroy all port facilities and naval storehouses. Once there, Iwabuchi took command of the 3,750 Army security troops, and against Yamashita's specific orders turned the city into a battlefield.[6] The battle and Japanese atrocities resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 Filipino civilians, in what would be later known as the Manila massacre, during the fierce street fighting for the capital which raged between February 4 to March 3.

Yamashita would continue to use delaying tactics to maintain his army in Kiangan (part of Ifugao Province), until 2 September 1945, several weeks after the surrender of Japan. At the time of his surrender, his forces had been reduced to under 50,000 by the lack of supplies and tough campaigning by American and Filipino troops and a very effective Filipino guerrilla movement. Yamashita surrendered in the presence of American Gen. Jonathan Wainwright and British Gen. Arthur Percival, both of whom had been prisoners of war in Manchuria. Percival had surrendered to Yamashita after the Battle of Singapore.


Gen. Yamashita (second from right) at his trial in Manila, November 1945

From 29 October to 7 December 1945, an American military tribunal in Manila tried Gen. Yamashita for war crimes relating to the Manila massacre and atrocities in the Philippines and Singapore against civilians and prisoners of war, such as the Sook Ching massacre, and sentenced him to death. This controversial case has become a precedent regarding command responsibility for war crimes and is known as the Yamashita Standard.

The principal accusation against Yamashita was that he had failed in his duty as commander of Japanese forces in the Philippines to prevent them from committing atrocities. The defense acknowledged that atrocities had been committed but contended that the breakdown of communications and the Japanese chain of command in the chaotic battle of the second Philippines campaign was such that Yamashita could not have controlled his troops even if he had known of their actions, which was not certain in any case; furthermore, many of the atrocities had been committed by Japanese naval forces outside his command.

During his trial, the defense attorneys who challenged U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur deeply impressed Yamashita with their dedication to the case,[citation needed] and reaffirmed his respect for his former enemies. American lawyer Harry E. Clarke, Sr., a colonel in the United States Army at the time, served as the chief counsel for the defense. In his opening statement, Clarke asserted:

Gen. Yamashita is removed from the courtroom by military police immediately after hearing the verdict of death by hanging

The court found Yamashita guilty as charged and sentenced him to death. Clarke appealed the sentence to Gen. MacArthur, who upheld it. He then appealed to the Supreme Court of the Philippines and the Supreme Court of the United States, both of which declined to review the verdict.

The trial was not without criticism. In dissent from the Supreme Court of the United States' majority, Justice W.B. Rutledge wrote:[7]

The legitimacy of the hasty trial was questioned at the time, including by Justice Frank Murphy, who protested various procedural issues, the inclusion of hearsay evidence and the general lack of professional conduct by the prosecuting officers.[8] The considerable body of evidence that Yamashita did not have ultimate command responsibility over all military units in the Philippines was not admitted in court.[9]

The Yamashita Trial Commission. From left to right: Maj. Gen. Donovan, Brig. Gen. Harwerk, Maj. Gen. Reynolds, Brig. Gen. Bullens, Maj. Gen. Lester

Former war crimes prosecutor Allan Ryan argues that by order of five American generals, Gen. MacArthur and the Supreme Court of the United States, Gen. Yamashita was executed for what his soldiers did without his approval or even his prior knowledge. The two dissenting Supreme Court Justices called the entire trial a miscarriage of justice, an exercise in vengeance and a denial of human rights.[10]


Following the Supreme Court decision, an appeal for clemency was made to U.S. President Harry S Truman; Truman, however, declined to intervene and left the matter entirely in the hands of the military authorities. In due course, Gen. MacArthur confirmed the sentence of the Commission.

On 23 February 1946, at Los Baños, Laguna Prison Camp, 30 miles (48 km) south of Manila, Yamashita was hanged. After climbing the 13 steps leading to the gallows, he was asked if he had a final statement. To this Yamashita replied through a translator:[citation needed]

On 23 December 1948, Yamashita's chief of staff in the Philippines, Akira Mutō, was executed after having been found guilty of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.

Enduring legal legacy[edit]

The U.S. Supreme Court has never overruled its 1946 Yamashita decision. The precedent the decision established was that a commander can be held accountable before the law for the crimes committed by his troops even if he did not order them, did not stand by to allow them or possibly even know about them or have the means to stop them. This doctrine of command accountability has been added to the Geneva Conventions and was applied to dozens of trials in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It has also been adopted by the International Criminal Court established in 2002.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Marouf Hasian, In the Name of Necessity: Military Tribunals and the Loss of American Civil Liberties, University of Alabama Press, 2012, p. 286 (chapter 7, note 6). "Contemporary writers sometimes called Yamashita the “Beast of Bataan.” See “The Philippines: Quiet Room in Manila,” Time, November 12, 194.5, 21."
  2. ^ Churchill, Winston (2002). Churchill, Winston (2002). The Second World War. London: Pimlico. ISBN 9780712667029. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Sixty Years On: The Fall of Singapore Revisited. Eastern Universities Press. 2003. p. 190. 
  4. ^ "Alexandra Hospital". Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  5. ^ Ward, Ian (1992). The Killer They Called A God. Singapore. p. 237. 
  6. ^ John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936–1945, Random House, 1970, p. 677.
  7. ^ Yamashita v. Styer decision.
  8. ^ In re Yamashita 327 U.S. 1, 27 (1946).327 U.S. 1 "Full text of the opinion on"] Check |url= scheme (help). 
  9. ^ Barber, The Yamashita Trial Revisited.
  10. ^ a b Ryan, Allan A. (October 2012). Yamashita's Ghost- War Crimes, MacArthur’s Justice, and Command Accountability (PDF). Lawrence, Kansas, USA: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1881-1. 


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