General Tomoyuki Yamashita (1885-1946)

General Yamashita, the "Tiger of Malaya", was one of Japan's master strategists in World War II, and one of its most effective commanders. He was posted to the General Staff in 1916, soon after graduating with honors from the Army war college. During the years between the two World Wars, he served in staff, command, and attache duties in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

The Tiger of Malaya

His first command was an infantry brigade in Korea. He rose quickly through the ranks, and by 1941 he commanded the Twenty-Fifth Army. His assault of Singapore, the "Gibraltar of the East" on December 8, 1941, with a nine-week march through the treacherous Malaysian jungle resulted in the largest British surrender in history (Lt. Gen Sir Arthur Percival and 130,000 British troops). He won the loyalty and admiration of his men by being one of the first in the front lines during the assault. This victory gave him the moniker the "Tiger of Malaya".

Unfortunately, his swift rise in both rank and fame also bought enemies in the Imperial Court. Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, long jealous of his fame and of Yamashita's well-known dislike of his policies, had the general reassigned to Manchuria, where he languished for two years, while his best officers and men were moved to more active fronts.

The Philippine Campaign

In 1944, with the Allies sweeping across the Pacific, Yamashita received orders to command the defense of the Philippine islands. He arrived in Manila on October 5, 1944, aware of the importance of his task. The Philippines sat astride the most vital of Japan's supply lines, and offered the Japanese air force the range it needed to cover almost all of Southeast Asia.

The American forces, led by General Douglas MacArthur, landed almost unopposed onto the island of Leyte on October 20, 1944. With MacArthur's "I shall return" speech still resounding over local guerilla radio, the Americans pounded the hastily reinforced Japanese garrison for over two months; when the island finally fell in December Yamashita had sent a total of 75,000 men into the fight and lost over 60,000, while the Americans had only 3,500 killed and 12,000 wounded.

Island-hopping towards Luzon and the capital Manila, MacArthur then ordered his troops to take the island of Mindoro, one hop away from the main island of Luzon. Yamashita mistakenly thought that the marshy ground of Mindoro was too soft to build airfields, and that MacArthur would put up his air bases farther south, on Leyte or Negros. He was wrong; American and Australian crews had two fighter strips operational within 8 days of landing. Within the next week, a bomber-capable runway was up and running.

With the proper air support, MacArthur could finally take out the kamikaze squadrons that had been pounding his ships (the Americans lost a total of 16 ships and 80 damaged before they won control of the air). Also, bombers cut most of the supply lines into Manila and further north; over a thousand troops drowned and more than half the supply ships were lost. What troops Yamashita now had (about 275,000) were ill-equipped and starving.

On January 9, 1945, MacArthur ordered two separate landings on Lingayen Gulf; two days later they marched on Manila. Several more landings later, and almost the entire Sixth Army was ashore, although the Japanese, under Rear Adm. Sanji Iwabuchi, fought them every step of the way.

Iwabuchi, however, was operating counter to orders given by Yamashita; the general had earlier ordered all troops to withdraw from Manila and disperse in the surrounding countryside, into the mountains to the north and east. His plan was to deny the towns and farms surrounding Manila to MacArthur, however, Admiral Iwabuchi felt this was a cowardly plan, not worthy of the ideals of bushido.

The Fall of Manila

By February 3, 1945, Manila was completely surrounded, with Iwabuchi's marines barricading themselves alongside nearly 700,000 civilians. While MacArthur initially forbade tactical airstrikes and artillery during the siege, mounting casualties by Feb. 6 convinced him that artillery bombardment was necessary. By February 23, the Japanese had holed up within Intramuros, the old Spanish walled city. While retreating, the increasingly fanatic Japanese had left thousands of mutilated and tortured civilians across Manila. Inside Intramuros were 4,000 more.

The massive stone walls and buildings led the American troops to use heavy artillery to level fortifications; when the smoke cleared, all 16,000 Japanese troops under Iwabuchi were dead. American casualties numbered 1,000 dead, 5,500 wounded. Civilian casualties numbered more than 100,000 dead, uncounted wounded or missing, including those inside Intramuros, of whom almost none survived.

MacArthur and Yamashita

The rest of the Luzon Campaign consisted of hit-and-run attacks in the Cordillera mountains. It was not until the surrender in Tokyo Bay was officially broadcast that Yamashita gave himself up on September 2, 1945. On October 8, Yamashita was arraigned before a military commission at the New Bilibid prison in Manila, and charged with the following:

He pled "not guilty" and maintained his innocence. Twelve days before his execution, General Douglas MacArthur denied his request for an appeal, writing "I have reviewed the proceedings in vain search for some mitigating circumstance on his behalf. I can find none."

Throughout the trial, he maintained his plea of "not guilty", up until his execution by hanging on February 23, 1946. At the site of the execution in Los Banos, Laguna is now a small, moss-covered shrine near the Boy Scout Jamboree camp site.

Facts checked from and the Los Banos Yamashita shrine.