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Human face of war
TSUJI Masanobu
Lieutenant Colonel TSUJI Masanobu arrived in Rabaul from the Philippines on 24 July 1942 along with the staff of 17th Army Headquarters. He had been sent as a representative of Imperial Headquarters to direct operations in Papua. He was originally intended to make a judgement about the overland offensive on Port Moresby based on the report of the Advance Party. TSUJI, however, acting on his own authority, ordered the overland offensive to be conducted without waiting for the feasibility study report. Staff of the 17th Army were advised on 15 July after TSUJI’s arrival in the Philippines.

In order to effectively carry out an air war of attrition against eastern New Guinea, it is imperative that Port Moresby be attacked as soon as possible. Even the Emperor is particularly concerned about this issue. Therefore, without waiting for the results of the Ri-gô study, Imperial GHQ has ordered the 17th Army, by this Great Order, to attack Port Moresby. It is expected that central Army and Navy agreements concerning this will be telegraphed to Rabaul and Davao no later than 24 July. The Ri-gô Operation must now be executed without the feasibility study. I would like the 17th Army to proceed with local agreements with the Navy and begin the offensive against Port Moresby. I would like this achieved at all haste and with firm resolve.

TSUJI’s initiative was not challenged at the time, as many in Imperial Headquarters were leaning towards the idea of the overland offensive, despite the logistical difficulties. Consequently, TSUJI began mobilising for the campaign, specifically by procuring additional supply and engineering units. In order to assess the situation first-hand, and to encourage the commander of the Advance Party whom he had known from Malaya, TSUJI headed for Buna by Navy patrol vessel on 25 July.
Unfortunately, TSUJI was seriously wounded when his vessel came under Allied air attack near the Buna coast several days later, and he was subsequently repatriated to Tokyo.

A career soldier of undoubted ability, TSUJI attracted as many critics as admirers with his fanaticism and zeal. Acclaimed for his role in the brilliant strategies of the Malaya campaigns, he was influential on strategic decisions of the Japanese Army at one time or another in most theatres of war in Asia and the Pacific. TSUJI was implicated in several atrocities against Chinese civilians in Malaya and Singapore, and against Allied POWs in the Philippines and Burma, but escaped from Bangkok at the end of the war, thus denying the Allies the opportunity to prosecute him as a war criminal.

He was elected to the Japanese parliament in 1952 on the popularity of his best-selling accounts of his escape from the Allies and his role in the Malaya campaigns. Always controversial, he disappeared, presumed dead, from Laos in 1961 after a turbulent political career from which the shadow of his military past was never fully erased. He was pronounced dead in 1968.

Contributed by Steven Bullard (AJRP)

Bôeichô Bôei Kenshûjo Senshishitu (ed.), Senshi sôsho Minami Taiheiyô rikugun sakusen 1: Pôto Morusubii-Gashima shoki sakusen (Official war history South Pacific Area army operations, vol.1: Port Moresby-Guadalcanal first campaigns), Tokyo: Asagumo Shinbunsha, 1968, p.180 and p.195.

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