Australia-Japan Research Project

Australian and Japanese attitudes to the war
Southern Cross: I Cornered

Early in November 1942, while still at H.Q. of 2nd Area Army at Chichi Haru, Manchuria, I suddenly received a telegram: "Prepare for transfer".

It was a sudden peal of thunder in a clear sky. I had only just begun work in a newly established unit, so there was absolutely nothing completed. My place of transfer? My duties? Nobody seemed to know, but it was far too soon for an army order for me to leave Area Army G.O.C. ANAMI with whom I had first served, and I could not help feeling that I would have liked to have his guidance for a little longer.

Although I was extremely busy handing over my duties and preparing for departure, thoughts about my new place of duty and the duties themselves were coming and going in my head. It was not likely that I might have second sight and see what the ending would be. Whatever I did, I found the questions popping up. Guadalcanal? Buna? Presentiments galore.

After the midway naval battle defeat conditions in the south east area became fragmentary, and although the dates skipped past, there was no favourable news whatsoever. It was a natural precept not to ask about east or west, old or new, when to know the state of things was an evil omen.

When I presented myself to Kwantung Army H.Q. at Shinkyo it was revealed that as I expected I was appointed Chief of Staff to the newly formed 18th Army (Mo Group) operating in New Guinea.

In the hotel at Shinkyo was waiting Lt Col TANAKA Goro who had come from 20th Army H.Q. and had been appointed as a staff officer to 18th Army. This was my first meeting with a new comrade in arms. Lt Col TANAKA was known as a model staff officer with knowledge and judgment, and I felt that he would be an excellent subordinate. By the same evening I felt as if I had known him for a hundred years and as we talked we were thinking of a battlefield we had never seen.

Next day we made a hurried non-stop plane flight to Tokyo. As well as being formally appointed to 18th Army I met General ADACHI and General IMAMURA who had been newly appointed Supreme Commander of all South East Area Armies and had returned from Batavia, his former area of command, and also his Chief of Staff Lt Gen KATO. Since we were on terms of old friends, I felt as if a heavy load had been lifted. In particular, the honour of serving directly on General IMAMURA’s H.Q. strengthened my morale enormously. This was because, at the time when large scale exercises were carried out exactly like real warfare in Central China and Northern Kyushu in order to decide on the design of operations in the opening stages of the Great East Asia War, I had been the Chief of Staff for the G.O.C. exercise, General IMAMURA, and for three months I basked in the brilliance of his presence as I received my training.

On the next day we received our orders from Field Marshal SUGIYAMA, the Chief of the General Staff. These were: "The Army will quickly go to the south east area, and will enter the command of 8th Area Army, and prepare for future operations in the New Guinea area." Premier TOJO, the former War Minister, sent all kinds of messages to General IMAMURA and us, his three subordinates: "I know that the tasks demanded of each rank this time are great, and that they will be difficult. It goes without saying that the welfare of our nation depends on this operation, so important is it. Therefore I hope you will make your plans well and ease the Emperor’s mind." And he passed on to us the hopes of the Emperor at an audience he had had.

The orders of the Chief of Staff and the instructions of War Minister TOJO were to carry out the arranged southward advance after annihilating MacArthur’s army, which was advancing in the Guadalcanal and Buna areas. At all costs we were to stop the enemy’s advance.

I heard explanations from every type of staff officer at G.H.Q. from Lt Gen TANAKA, Chief of the Operations Staff, down, and gradually learned the serious nature of the situation: in the Guadalcanal area, the 17th Army under the command of Lt Gen HYAKUTAKE was on an isolated island, and was uneasy about its rear supply lines, and so the desperate struggle continued. All our airfields on the island of Guadalcanal had returned to the hands of the enemy, so that the enemy planes were taking off and landing before their eyes. And our naval planes’ forward base was in the Munda region, so it was hard not to be irritated by this. However, Imperial G.H.Q. were planning a do-or-die reinforcement in order to obtain either victory or defeat.

In the New Guinea area, the South Seas Detachment, which landed on the Buna coast, crossed the long Owen Stanley Range and advanced on the rear or Moresby, and even while they gazed at this space called a town, since their supply lines did not continue, all their efforts availed naught, and weeping tears of blood they had to fall back again. All night long I gave this matter earnest consideration. To protect Buna and Guadalcanal we would have to make many sacrifices of what few transport ships and light warships we had. But could we be given these or not? And what if, after sacrificing as many as we could, we were still unable to maintain our position? In places where it was possible to maintain the position, it would be reasonable to make a considerable number of sacrifices, but in places where it was not possible to maintain our position, to make sacrifices would be like throwing good money after bad. The distinction between these two was important. I came to the decision that we should, being strict in not worrying about appearances, make these distinctions and withdraw, in the Solomons archipelago area, to Munda and Kolombangara region, and in the New Guinea area, to Lae and Salamaua, thus planning a rear scheme to defeat the enemy onslaught.

But as yet I did not know the battle position and all my information was second hand, and as it is distasteful to make the mistake of an arbitrary decision, I felt it would be a little presumptuous to report my opinions, so I had the Staff officer in charge of Operations, Colonel SUGIYAMA, consult with the responsible officer at Operations Section. As a result of this came the statement: "As these problems have already been the subject of a government conference and a study has been written of them, there is no place for alterations." To rehash the completed study was not a very adult thing, especially when the situation was not confirmed, and since I had no foundation for insisting on anything, I put off making a statement of my views, but I could not suppress the anxiety in my innermost heart.

Again, when an operational army is formed it is the custom for the various materials to be handed over which have already been assembled, such as military topography material and maps. However, this time there were only a few confiscated maps; it goes without saying that they were at H.Q., they were not for front line troops, by heaven. It is not hard to imagine the struggle.

Now, the New Guinea campaign was something that had broken out suddenly, and it seemed that there was nothing planned pre-war. The Centre’s main policy was to try to occupy Fiji and Samoa, thus isolating the mainland of the U.S. and the Australian continent, and no thought had been given to the possibility of a collision with the main strength of the Allied forces in a place such as New Guinea. Although its importance was recognised, the assembly of operations material in such an uncivilised and vast region as New Guinea was extremely difficult in the midst of extreme difficulty. Even if it had been a civilised country with a big population and a reasonable amount of literature, and we had been able to collect all of this material, it would have fallen short of operational needs. At the time of the China Incident creeks like ropes in the vicinity of Shanghai gave our troops considerable trouble. Because it was the vicinity of Shanghai, Japanese did not know the true situation. It goes without saying that it would be worse in New Guinea. Was it at all likely that there would be many Japanese who had visited this dark, uncivilised place before the war?

We eventually left from Yokohama airfield in 4 flights of naval flying boats on the first step of our southward journey. We stayed overnight at Saipan and headed off for the big naval base at Truk.

As we looked down on Truk, the main strength of the combined fleets showed its imposing might as far as the eye could see. As soon as we landed on the water, Admiral YAMAMOTO invited us to the battle ship Yamato. The Commander in chief welcomed us to his ship on his travels and although we had heard so many rumours about its might, this was the first time we had ever seen it. Viewed from the air, the super-dreadnought class battleships floating alongside the Yamato boldly straddled the world – The Rikyo, Nagato, Yamashiro; the Tatsukawa class destroyers thronged around the battleships looked just like children following their mothers about. It is easy to say "70,000 tons" but the mind boggles at the actual thing. From the deck, when we looked up, the gun turrets looked like mountains of iron.

It was after the wounds of the combined fleet in the Midway battle, but they could still boast to the world of their majestic strength.

The day after we visited the battleship Yamato we crossed the equator and headed into the southern hemisphere, where perhaps we were to leave our bones. As we left the northern hemisphere everyone on the plane drank a toast in beer to the northern hemisphere, long life and prosperity. Absurdly enough, when we took out the corks the beer frothed everywhere because of the atmospheric pressure, and it became a toast of froth.

Four or five hours from Truk we approached New Britain, and looked down on blue Rabaul Harbour surrounded by volcanoes belching smoke, and reddish trees. As we came down and were watching the orderly coconut palms, the luxuriant jungle and were expecting to collide with numerous transport ships the plane landed on Rabaul Harbour. We had really landed in Rabaul, which for days I had pictured in dreams. In the ten days since I had left Chichi Haru in North Manchuria I had come from a cold climate where furs were necessary to a hot tropical region.

Rabaul is on the eastern tip of New Britain island, situated at the base of the Solomon Islands, and as a strategic point, from a communications viewpoint its value was the greatest in the Pacific. As a result, the South East Area Fleet (C. in C. Vice-admiral KUSAKA) was already there. Under its command were the 5th fleet and the South East Area Air Fleet. Now with the advance of 8th Area Army, the desperate fighting of the 17th Army in Guadalcanal (G.C.C. Lt Gen HYAKUTAKE), and again, the opening of operations in the New Guinea area by 18th Army and 16th Air Group (G.C. Lt Gen SAKABANA) all these were under its joint control and it was the pivot of operations.

At last on 26th November there was activity for the taking over of the command by the army without delay, and orders came from the South Seas Detachment fighting in the Buna area and the 21st Mixed Brigade (C.O. Major-Gen YAMAGATA Ken) which had recently arrived in Rabaul, and the 65th Independent Mixed Brigade (C.C. Maj-Gen MANO). According to the story of Lt Gen Eichelberger’s "Bloody Chronicle", as reported in the Yomiuri Newspaper, every day Lt Gen Eichelberger was summoned by Gen Macarthur to Moresby. So the Japanese destroyers were given orders about this.

From the evening we arrived in Rabaul we were visited by enemy bombers, and it was the practice to go to the air raid trenches each time the sirens sounded. However, as the planes were coming and going all the night long, and as our AA guns welcomed their attacks, it was impossible to sleep at night and we passed it sweating in the shelters. The bombs from the enemy planes fell near the ships and the airfield and the ground rumbled as though there were a gigantic earthquake.

Printed on 06/14/2024 03:56:57 PM