Tiger of Malaya tamed in the Philippines

Seventy years ago, 2 September 1945, the symbolic end of the Pacific War in the Philippines took place when General Yamashita Tomoyuki, the “Tiger of Malaya,” walked out of the mountains of northern Luzon and surrendered.

General Yamashita, Commander, Japanese forces, "Tiger of Malaya,” and his staff walk down the trail to U.S. forces in northern Luzon, occupied by Company ‘I’, 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Division. Photographer unknown. US Army, via NARA, III-SC 662462)

General Yamashita, Commander, Japanese forces, “Tiger of Malaya,” and his staff walk down the trail to U.S. forces in northern Luzon, occupied by Company ‘I’, 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Division. Photographer unknown. US Army, via NARA, III-SC 662462)

This was the day Japan formally surrendered, ending World War II in a somber ceremony aboard the battleship Missouri in Sagami Wan, near Tokyo.

General Yoshijiro Umezu, Chief of the Army General Staff, signs the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, on board USS Missouri (BB-63), 2 September 1945. Watching from across the table are Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. Representatives of the Allied powers are behind General MacArthur. Photographed from atop Missouri's 16-inch gun turret # 2.  (US Navy)

General Yoshijiro Umezu, Chief of the Army General Staff, signs the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, on board USS Missouri (BB-63), 2 September 1945. Watching from across the table are Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. Representatives of the Allied powers are behind General MacArthur. Photographed from atop Missouri’s 16-inch gun turret # 2. (US Navy)

The subdued event in the mountains of Luzon was a far cry from Yamashita’s incredible success in the Malaya campaign of 1941 – 1942, when as Commander of the Imperial Japanese 25th Army, he delivered a stunning defeat on the British Empire and presided over what has been called the British Army’s greatest humiliation – the surrender of Singapore.

British troops surrender following the fall of Singapore.  (Courtesy http://militaryhistory.about.com)

British troops surrender following the fall of Singapore. (Courtesy http://militaryhistory.about.com)

While Fil-Am forces were battling the Japanese invaders on Luzon and then Bataan, the British forces in Malaya were fighting their own defensive battles against marauding Japanese forces. Singapore was the bulwark of the British Empire in the east, and just the name uttered brought images of a mighty, impregnable fortress to mind.

But Singapore was not all that mighty, and opportunities to make it stronger had been squandered in the years before the war and even after the war began. Even the arrival of a complete division, the 18th Infantry Division, just a couple of weeks before the fall of Singapore was not enough to prevent failure. Despite their superior numbers (some 85,000 to the Japanese 32,000) the British were outmaneuvered, out-imagined, demoralized, and lost the will to fight. On 14 February 1942 they surrendered to a blustering, bluffing Yamashita, who had come quite close to failing before the British lost their nerve.

Lt. Gen. Yamashita Tomoyuki, the Japanese Commander, faces Lt. Gen. A. E. Percival, British Commander, during the final meeting to arrange the surrender of Singapore.  (Courtesy http://ww2today.com)

Lt. Gen. Yamashita Tomoyuki, the Japanese Commander, faces Lt. Gen. A. E. Percival, British Commander, during the final meeting to arrange the surrender of Singapore. (Courtesy http://ww2today.com)

The Fil-Am performance in Bataan is quite the contrast in the Allied response to Japan’s assaults, also reflected in the fate of the commanders. General Yamashita, the “Tiger of Malaya” grew in reputation, though General Tojo reassigned him to obscure duty in Manchuria in an apparent signal of Tojo’s disfavor with him.

Compare this to General Homma Masaharu, who was delayed in capturing the Philippines by Fil-Am resistance. Homma lost status and became the fall guy for the difficulties and losses in the Philippine campaign. He completely retired from the Imperial Japanese Army in August, 1943.

photograph ofLt. Gen. Masaharu Homma, commander of the Japanese 14th Army forces in the Philippine campaign of 1941-1942.  (Courtesy awesomestories.com)

photograph ofLt. Gen. Masaharu Homma, commander of the Japanese 14th Army forces in the Philippine campaign of 1941-1942. (Courtesy awesomestories.com, via corregidorisland.com)

But Yamashita’s fate was also tied to the Philippines. After the fall of Tojo’s government following the loss of the Mariana Islands in the summer of 1944, Yamashita was brought out of Manchuria and ordered to command Japanese Army forces in the Philippines in the fall of 1944. He had little time to prepare for the American return to the islands, arriving in Manila only ten days before the 20 October American landings at Leyte.

Yamashita was over-ruled by Imperial HQ in the strategy to use in the Philippines as well, and was directed to make an all-out effort at Leyte. He did, but the effort failed in the face of superior forces, poor preparation, logistical problems and difficult weather. On Luzon, he lost control over Japanese forces in Manila, undermined by insubordinate juniors, resulting in a catastrophic battle that killed 100,000 Filipino civilians and destroyed much of the “Pearl of the Orient.”

An American soldier in Manila is rescuing an injured Filipino girl during the Battle of Manila, February 1945. Defying orders from General Yamashita, Japanese Marines in Manila went on a barbaric killing spree. MacArthur refused to bomb the city.  The Japanese who refused to surrender had to be rooted out building by building. Civilians were not just caught in the crossfire. The Japanese actually sought out civilians to kill.  An estimated 100,000 civilians perished, most were killed by the Japanese on purpose. (Courtesy MacArthur Memorial via histclo.com)

An American soldier in Manila is rescuing an injured Filipino girl during the Battle of Manila, February 1945. Defying orders from General Yamashita, Japanese Marines in Manila went on a barbaric killing spree. MacArthur refused to bomb the city. The Japanese who refused to surrender had to be rooted out building by building. Civilians were not just caught in the crossfire. The Japanese actually sought out civilians to kill. An estimated 100,000 civilians perished, most were killed by the Japanese on purpose. (Courtesy MacArthur Memorial via histclo.com)

After nearly a year of disaster and defeat, the once proud Tiger of Malaya was tamed in the Philippines. Though he stubbornly held out in northern Luzon, once the surrender of Japan to the Allies was formalized he complied.

General Tomoyuki Yamashita surrenders to Colonel Ernest A. Barlow, 32D Division Chief of Staff, at Kiangan, Luzon, on 2 Sep. 1945.  (Courtesy 32nd-division.org)

General Tomoyuki Yamashita surrenders to Colonel Ernest A. Barlow, 32nd Infantry Division Chief of Staff, at Kiangan, Luzon, on 2 Sep 1945. (Courtesy 32nd-division.org)

In late 1945, an American military tribunal in Manila found Yamashita responsible for the actions of men under his command in the destruction of Manila and atrocities against civilians in the Philippines and Singapore. He was hanged to death on 23 February 1946 at Los Baños, Laguna, prison camp, 30 miles south of Manila.

General Yamashita during post-war trials, probably in a hallway outside the courtroom, circa October 1945.  (Family of Harry E. Clarke, via http://ww2db.com)

General Yamashita during post-war trials, probably in a hallway outside the courtroom, circa October 1945. (Family of Harry E. Clarke, via http://ww2db.com)

His counterpart from the early war Philippine campaign, General Homma, was extradited from Japan to the Philippines by order of General MacArthur and tried before the Manila tribunal; he was found responsible for the conduct of his men against Fil-Am prisoners during the brutal Bataan Death March and atrocities at Camp O’Donnell and Cabanatuan. Homma was shot to death by firing squad on 3 April 1946 at Los Baños, nearly four years after the fall of Bataan. The joint Fil-Am firing squad was ordered by MacArthur, and seen by military men as a less dishonorable fate than hanging. Perhaps this was because the attrocities his men committed were largely against military personnel, unlike the mass slaughter of civilians in Manila by Yamashita’s subordinates in 1945.

Japanese General Masaharu Homma and his defense counsels as seen on December 18, 1945. Pictured (L to R) Seated at Table: Captain George W. Ott, Lieutenant Leonard Nataupsky, Major John H. Skeen, Jr., (chief defense counsel, Japanese General Masaharu Homma, Captain Frank Coder. Standing (L to R) Lieutenant Haig Kantarian, Captain George A. Furness, Lieutenant Roert L. Pelz, and Lieutenant Robert Polaski. (John Paxton via Truman Library)

Japanese General Masaharu Homma and his defense counsels as seen on December 18, 1945. Pictured (L to R) Seated at Table: Captain George W. Ott, Lieutenant Leonard Nataupsky, Major John H. Skeen, Jr., (chief defense counsel, Japanese General Masaharu Homma, Captain Frank Coder. Standing (L to R) Lieutenant Haig Kantarian, Captain George A. Furness, Lieutenant Roert L. Pelz, and Lieutenant Robert Polaski. (John Paxton via Truman Library)

References

IJA 25th Army, Wikipedia entry at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-Fifth_Army_%28Japan%29

Tomoyuki Yamashita, Wikipedia entry, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomoyuki_Yamashita

Masaharu Homma, Wikipedia entry, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masaharu_Homma

The Fall of Singapore – the British Army’s Greatest Humiliation,” at: http://www.historyinanhour.com/2010/02/15/fall-of-singapore/

The Sack of Manila, at: http://www.battlingbastardsbataan.com/som.htm
Images

Yamashita walking out to surrender, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomoyuki_Yamashita#/media/File:General_Yamashita_Surrenders.jpg

Surrender aboard USS Missouri, at:  http://www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/photography/us-people/m/macarthur-douglas-in-japan-august-1945-june-1950/80-g-332701.html

Surrender in Singapore: http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/worldwarii/p/World-War-Ii-Battle-Of-Singapore.htm

Homma in field uniform, at: https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/General-Homma-Photograph

GI saves Manila girl, at: http://histclo.com/essay/war/ww2/camp/pac/phil/lib-luz.html

Yamashita at surrenders in Luzon, at: http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/32ww2-12.html

Yamashita during trial, at: http://ww2db.com/image.php?image_id=2529

Defense counsels with General Homma, at: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/photographs/view.php?id=43745

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