Tomoyuki Yamashita

Singapore Infopedia

by Wong, Heng


Tomoyuki Yamashita (b. 8 November 1885, Osugi Mura, Shikoku, Japan–d. 23 February 1946, Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines1), was the Army Commander of the 25th Army that captured Malaya and Singapore during World War II. The capture was the most decisive victory of the East over the West.2

Yamashita distinguished himself as the “Tiger of Malaya” during World War II. After the war, he surrendered in the Philippines, where he was tried for war crimes by the Allied Forces.He was hanged as a war criminal at 3.02 am on 23 February 1946 on Luzon Island, Manila, and buried in a Japanese cemetery at Los Banos Prisoner-of-war Camp, Philippine Islands.4 His record in history is a mix of brilliance and bad luck, and he is remembered as a higeki no shogun, a tragic general.A waxwork model of Yamashita can be found at the Surrender Chambers, Waxwork Museum, Sentosa.

Early life
Yamashita was the son of a village doctor, Sakichi. His mother, Yuu, was the daughter of a wealthy farmer.He had two sisters and an elder brother who had followed in his father’s footsteps and became a doctor. Yamashita, on the other hand, took on the rigid life of a military man, dedicated to service in war.In 1916, he married Hisako, the daughter of General Nagayama. They had no children.9

Military career
After graduating from the Military Academy in Hiroshima in 1908, Yamashita was gazetted into the infantry. In 1916, he graduated from the Staff College and was promoted to Major General by 1926.10 In February 1936, he was implicated in an attempted coup d’etat in Tokyo, which was led by the Imperial Way faction, a group of radical young officers who had long admired him.11 His career was seemingly cut short, as his only two options then were either resignation, or an obscure posting to Korea. He chose the command in Korea. The move, as it turned out, gave him the opportunity to distinguish himself during the 1937 Sino-Japanese Crisis and he was promoted to Lieutenant-General in November 1937 for his leadership during the conflict. His rival, General Hideki Tojo, apparently sought to have him removed, and this led to Yamashita serving in North China and Manchuria between 1938 and 1939. Yamashita only returned to Tokyo in July 1940 and had by then been promoted to Inspector General of Aviation. In January 1941, he toured military establishments in Germany and Italy and was posted to Manchuria as Commander of the Kwantung Defence Army.12

Invasion of Malaya and Singapore
Yamashita was appointed Commanding General of the hurriedly formed 25th Army with the Order of Battle, gazetted on 6 November, for the invasion of Malaya and Singapore.13 The invasion began on 8 December 1941 with the attack on Singhora, Patani and Kota Bahru.14 The radical Yamashita made unorthodox decisions such as sending his troops on bicycles and reducing them by one full division.15

Malaya fell to the Japanese within 100 days and the eventual capture of Singapore, the reputedly impregnable British stronghold in Southeast Asia on 15 February 1942 under Yamashita’s command, was considered the worst defeat for British troops.16 Yamashita was credited for forcing the British to surrender unconditionally.17 For this success, he was nicknamed the “Tiger of Malaya”.18 He also attained the highest honour as a warrior for this conquest. His strategy to attack Singapore was “a bluff that worked”, despite his men actually being outnumbered.19

In July 1942, Yamashita was posted to Manchuria without visiting Tokyo or gaining an audience with the emperor.20 But by 10 February 1943, Yamashita had been promoted to General. He was appointed as the Commanding General of the 14th Area Army to defend the Philippines from an impending American invasion.21

On 2 September 1945, Yamashita surrendered to the Allied Forces at Kiangan, Luzon, Philippines. He was tried by an American Military Tribunal in the ballroom of the US High Commissioner’s residence in downtown Manila.22 He was charged with failing to control his troops from committing atrocities against the people of the United States and its allies and dependencies, particularly the Philippines, where his troops had carried out wild massacres and rapes in Manila. The trial invariably focused on Japanese atrocities in the Philippines, rather than British Malaya.23

Yamashita Treasure
“Yamashita Treasure” refers to the supposed treasure made up of war loots stolen in Southeast Asia by the Imperial Japanese forces during World War II.24 Named after Yamashita, it was speculated to be hidden in more than 145 underground tunnels and caves in the Philippines before Japan’s surrender under the command of Yamashita.25

26 Jun 1906: Graduates from Military Academy, Hiroshima with high honours.27
1916: Graduates from Staff College in sixth place and begins a tour of duty on the General Staff.28
1918: Posted to the Japanese Embassy in Switzerland as assistant military attaché.29
1919–37: Serves in the War Ministry, with occasional special assignments to Europe and the United States.30
1919: Serves as military attaché to Switzerland and then Germany.31
1923: Promoted to Colonel and given command of the Third Regiment.32
1929: Promoted to Colonel.33
1932: Section Chief of Military Affairs, War Ministry.
1934: Succeeds General Hideki Tojo as Chief of the Military Investigation Bureau, War Ministry.34
1936: Assigned to command an infantry brigade in Korea.35 / Posted to Korea, disgraced for allegedly supporting a fascist movement by the Imperial Way, which threatened a coup d'etat in Tokyo.
Nov 1937: Promoted to Lieutenant General36 for distinguishing himself during the China incident of July 1937. The promotion makes him the Japanese overseer for North Korea.
1938: Chief-of-Staff, North China Expeditionary Force. 
1939: Commanding General, Fourth Division, Manchukuo (Manchuria). 
Jul 1940: Inspector General of Aviation, Tokyo. 
Jan 1941: Military Minister to Germany and Italy,37 heading a mission to Berlin and Rome.
Sep 1941: Transferred to Manchuria to command the Kwantung Army.38
Nov 1941: Commanding General, 25th Army assigned to Malaya and Singapore.39
1942: Supreme Commander, Malaya.40
10 Feb 1943: Promoted to General after the surrender of the British forces in Singapore.41
Nov–Dec 1943: Commander at Timor, Netherlands East Indies.
7 Oct 1944: Commander-in-Chief, 14th Area Army, operating in the Philippine Islands. 
9 Oct 1944: Commanding General, 14th Area Army, operating in the Philippine Islands. 
2 Sep 1945: Protective custody of American Army at Kiangan, Luzon, Philippines. 
7 Dec 1945: Found guilty and sentenced to hang. 
23 Feb 1946: Hanged at 3.02 am at Los Banos Camp by the official executioner, First Lieutenant Charles R. Rexroad, United States Army.42

Wong Heng

1. Aubrey Saint Kenworthy, The Tiger of Malaya: The Story of General Tomoyuki Yamashita and “Death March” General Masaharu Homma (New York: Exposition Press, 1953), 33, 43, 66, 68, 84–85, 88. (Call no. RSEA 940.5405 KEN-[WAR])
2. John Deane Potter, A Soldier Must Hang: The Biography of an Oriental General (London: Muller, 1963), 196. (Call no. RCLOS 940.541352 POT)
3. Abridged Encyclopedia of World Biography, vol. 2 (Detroit: Gale Group, 1992), 702. (Call no. R q920.003 ABR)
4. Kenworthy, Tiger of Malaya, 88; Potter, Soldier Must Hang, 195.
5. Potter, Soldier Must Hang, 196; A. Yoji, “General Yamashita Tomoyuki: Commander of the Twenty-Fifth Army,” in Sixty Years On: The Fall of Singapore Revisited, ed., Brian Farrell and Sandy Hunter (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2002), 204. (Call no. RSING 940.5425 SIX-[WAR])
6. David Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore (Singapore: Times Books International, 1991), 242. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS]) 
7. Arthur Swinson, Four Samurai: A Quartet of Japanese Army Commanders in the Second World War (London, Hutchinson, 1968), 80. (Call no. RSING 940.5425 SWI-[WAR])
8. Lawrence Taylor, A Trial of Generals: Homma, Yamashita, Macarthur (South Bend: Icarus Press, 1981), 105 (Call no. RSING 341.69 TAY); John Deane Potter, The Boy Who Chose Spartan Life of a Soldier...,” Straits Times, 6 March 1963, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Swinson, Four Samurai, 82; Edwin P. Hoyt, Three Military Leaders: Heihachiro Togo, Isoroku Yamamoto, Tomoyuki Yamashita (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993), 122. (Call no. RSING 940.54092052 HOY-[WAR])
10. Swinson, Four Samurai, 81.
11. Yoji, “General Yamashita Tomoyuki,” 187, 204; Swinson, Four Samurai, 83, 89.
12. Swinson, Four Samurai, 90–91.
13. Masanobu Tsuji, Japan’s Greatest Victory, Britain’s Worst Defeat (New York: Sarpedon, 1997), 27, 32. (Call no. RSING 940.5425 TSU-[WAR])
14. Hoyt, Three Military Leaders, 138.
15. Potter, Soldier Must Hang, 60, 67.
16. Yoji, “General Yamashita Tomoyuki,” 185; Jaime Koh and Stephanie Ho, Culture and Customs of Singapore and Malaysia (Calif.: Greenwood Press, 2009), 18. (Call no. YRSING 305.80095957 KOH)
17. “General Tomoyuki Yamashita (1885–1946),” Straits Times, 12 September 2005, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Brazil, Street Smart, 242.
19. Potter, Soldier Must Hang, 81, 195; Bill Yenne, The Imperial Japanese Army: The Invincible Years 1941–42 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2014), 172–73 (Call no. RSEA 952.03 YEN)
20. Potter, Soldier Must Hang, 99.
21. Potter, Soldier Must Hang, 105.
22. Kenworthy, Tiger of Malaya, 31, 39–41.
23. Potter, Soldier Must Hang, 182–83.
24. Fernando Del Mundo, “There Is No Yamashita Treasure, Says War Crime Investigator,” Straits Times, 12 May 1978, 33. (From NewspaperSG)
25. T. Cindy, “Has the Secret Treasure Stolen by a Japanese WWII General Been Uncovered in the Philippines? Adventurers Claim Gold Bars Have Been Found ‘Booby Trapped’ in a Cave,” Mail Online, 6 January 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
26. Kenworthy, Tiger of Malaya, 32–33.
27. Kenworthy, Tiger of Malaya, 32; Swinson, Four Samurai, 81.
28. Swinson, Four Samurai, 81.
29. Hoyt, Three Military Leaders, 122–23.
30. Lawrence Taylor, A Trial of Generals: Homma, Yamashita, Macarthur (South Bend: Icarus Press, 1981), 106. (Call no. RSING 341.69 TAY)
31. Swinson, Four Samurai, 80.
32. Hoyt, Three Military Leaders, 123.
33. Kenworthy, Tiger of Malaya, 32.
34. Yoji, “General Yamashita Tomoyuki,” 186.
35. Hoyt, Three Military Leaders, 123.
36. Kenworthy, Tiger of Malaya, 33.
37. Kenworthy, Tiger of Malaya, 33.
38. Taylor, Trial of Generals, 108.
39. Swinson, Four Samurai, 91; Kenworthy, Tiger of Malaya, 33.
40. Kenworthy, Tiger of Malaya, 33.
41. “Conqueror of Singapore Gets Promotion,” Syonan Shimbun, 11 February 1943, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
42. Kenworthy, Tiger of Malaya, 33, 43, 66, 68, 84–85, 88.

Further resources
A. Frank Reel, The Case of General Yamashita (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949). (Call no. RDTYS 341.69 REE)

Alan Warren, Singapore 1942: Britain’s Greatest Defeat (Singapore: Talisman, 2002), 301–06. (Call no. RSING 940.5425 WAR-[WAR])

Bill Yenne, The Imperial Japanese Army: The Invincible Years 1941–42 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2014), 172–73 (Call no. RSEA 952.03 YEN)

Brian P. Farrell, The Defence and fall of Singapore 1940–1942 (Singapore: Monsoon Books Pte Ltd, 2015), 473–77. (Call no. RSING 940.5425957 FAR-[WAR])

Fujiwara Iwaichi, F. Kikan: Japanese Army Intelligence Operations in Southeast Asia during World War II (Hong Kong: Heinemann Asia, 1983). (Call no. RCLOS 940.548752 FUJ-[WAR])

Masanobu Tsuji, Singapore 1941–1942: The Japanese Version of the Malayan Campaign of World War II (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1988), 34–41.

The information in this article is valid as at September 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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