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