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Tomoyuki Yamashita (山下 奉文 Yamashita Tomoyuki?, November 8, 1885 – February 23, 1946) was an Imperial Japanese Army general during World War II. He was most famous for conquering the British possessions of Malaya and Singapore.


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

Early military career

After graduating from the 18th class of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in November 1905, Yamashita was commissioned a second lieutenant in June 1906. Promoted to lieutenant in December 1908, he fought against the German Empire in Shantung, China in 1914. Promoted to captain in May 1916, he attended the 28th class of the Army War College, graduating sixth in his class in 1916. He married Hisako Nagayama, the daughter of retired General Nagayama in 1916. Yamashita became an expert on Germany, serving as assistant military attaché at Bern, Switzerland and Berlin, Germany from 1919–1922. He was promoted to major in February 1922.

On his return to Japan in 1922, Major 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 1928, Yamashita was posted to Vienna, Austria, as the military attaché, and was promoted to colonel in August 1929.

In 1930, Colonel Yamashita was given command of the elite 3rd Imperial Infantry Regiment. 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 the rebel officers involved in the attempted coup.

Early war years

Yamashita insisted 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. However, he was promoted to lieutenant-general in November 1937. From 1938 to 1940, he was assigned to command the IJA 4th Division which saw some action in northern China against Chinese insurgents fighting the occupying Japanese armies.

In December 1940, Yamashita was sent on a clandestine military mission to Germany and Italy, where he met with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Malaya and Singapore

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

On 6 November 1941, Lieutenant-General Yamashita was put in command of the Twenty-Fifth Army. On 8 December, he launched an invasion of Malaya, from bases in French Indochina. In the campaign, which concluded with the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, 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.[1]


On 17 July 1942, Yamashita was reassigned from Singapore to far-away Manchukuo again, having been given a post in commanding 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, who 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

General Yamashita Tomoyuki and staff surrender 2 September 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 Philippines on 10 October. The 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 troops, defended northern Luzon. The smallest group, totaling 30,000 troops, 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 Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi re-occupied Manila with 16,000 sailors, with the intent of destroying all port facilities and naval storehouses. Once there, Iwabuchi took command of the 3,750 Army security troops, and against Yamashita's specific order, turned the city into a battlefield.[2] The battle and the 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 from February 4 to March 3.

Yamashita used delaying tactics to maintain his army in Kiangan (part of the Ifugao Province), until 2 September 1945, after the surrender of Japan, where his forces were reduced to under 50,000 by the tough campaigning by elements of the combined American and Filipino soldiers including the recognized guerrillas. Yamashita surrendered in the presence of Generals Jonathan Wainwright and Arthur Percival, both of whom had been prisoners of war in Manchuria. Percival had surrendered to Yamashita after the Battle of Singapore.


From 29 October to 7 December 1945, an American military tribunal in Manila tried General Yamashita for war crimes relating to the Manila Massacre and many 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 the command responsibility for war crimes and is known as the Yamashita Standard.

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

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 MacArthur deeply impressed General Yamashita with their dedication to the case, 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:

The Accused is not charged with having done something or having failed to do something, but solely with having been something....American jurisprudence recognizes no such principle so far as its own military personnel are concerned....No one would even suggest that the Commanding General of an American occupational force becomes a criminal every time an American soldier violates the man is not held to answer for the crime of another.

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

The trial was not without criticism.

In dissent from the Supreme Court of the United States's majority, Justice W.B. Rutledge wrote:[3]

More is at stake than General Yamashita's fate. There could be no possible sympathy for him if he is guilty of the atrocities for which his death is sought. But there can be and should be justice administered according to the law....It is not too early, it is never too early, for the nation steadfastly to follow its great constitutional traditions, none older or more universally protective against unbridled power than due process of law in the trial and punishment of men, that is, of all men, whether citizens, aliens, alien enemies or enemy belligerents.

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.[4] 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.[5]

Former war crimes prosecutor Allan Ryan argues that by order of five American generals, General Douglas MacArthur, and the Supreme Court of the United States, General Yamashita was executed for what his soldiers did without his approval or even 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.[6]


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, General 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 thirteen steps leading to the gallows, he was asked if he had a final statement. To this Yamashita replied through a translator:[citation needed]

As I said in the Manila Supreme Court that I have done with my all capacity, so I don't ashame in front of the gods for what I have done when I have died. But if you say to me 'you do not have any ability to command the Japanese Army' I should say nothing for it, because it is my own nature. Now, our war criminal trial going on in Manila Supreme Court, so I wish to be justify under your kindness and right. I know that all your American and American military affairs always has tolerant and rightful judgment. When I have been investigated in Manila court I have had a good treatment, kindful attitude from your good natured officers who protected me all the time. I never forget for what they have done for me even if I had died. I don't blame my executioner. I'll pray the gods bless them. Please send my thankful word to Col. Clarke and Lt. Col. Feldhaus, Lt. Col. Hendrix, Maj. Guy, Capt. Sandburg, Capt. Reel, at Manila court, and Col. Arnard. I thank you.

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

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

Enduring legal legacy

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

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 tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It has also been adopted by the International Criminal Court established in 2002.[6]

See also


  1. "Alexandra Hospital". Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  2. John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936–1945, Random House, 1970, p. 677.
  3. Yamashita v. Styer decision.
  4. In re Yamashita 327 U.S. 1, 27 (1946).327 U.S. 1 "Full text of the opinion on"]. 327 U.S. 1]. 
  5. Barber, The Yamashita Trial Revisited.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ryan, Allan A. (October 2012). Yamashita's Ghost- War Crimes, MacArthur’s Justice, and Command Accountability. Lawrence, Kansas, USA: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1881-1. 


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