Tojo, Koiso ignore defeats: Continuation of war
Those mainly responsible
Japanese forces declined precipitously after initial operations in the war with the United States. Why did Japan overlook crucial turning points in the war situation? The first major turning point was the Battle of Midway in June 1942. In that battle, Japan lost four major aircraft carriers and much of its air power, resulting in the loss of both air and naval supremacy in the Pacific Ocean in one sweep. Top Navy officials including Shigeru Fukutome, chief of the Operations Bureau of the Naval General Staff, were unable to foresee the deployment of enemy aircraft carriers. Proud of the victory in the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy obviously underestimated the strength of the U.S. forces.
Furthermore, Japan staged an operation to regain Guadalcanal Island from August 1942 through February 1943 but wrongly predicted when a major U.S. counteroffensive would likely be launched. Chief of the Army General Staff Hajime Sugiyama made the mistake of sending troops in several small deployments.
Chief of Operations at the Army General Staff Lieutenant General Shinichi Tanaka yelled “You idiot!” at Prime Minister Hideki Tojo when Tojo rejected his request for more vessels to be sent to ensure the operation’s success.
Deprived of air and naval superiority in the Pacific, Japan had tremendous difficulty providing supplies such as food, weapons and ammunition through sea transportation. It was becoming obvious that Japan could not continue the war against the United States. As he distrusted the central command, Tojo decided to concurrently serve as Chief of Army General Staff in February 1944, breaking a longstanding rule of the Army. Tojo also appointed Navy Minister Shigetaro Shimada to the post of Chief of the Naval General Staff.
In July 1944, Saipan and other parts of the Mariana Islands were taken over by the enemy, puncturing the “Absolute National Defense Zone” of Japan—areas deemed indispensable for Japan’s mainland defense and continuation of the war. The government had ordered that these areas be defended at all cost. News of these defeats greatly shocked the public. The War Coordination Group of the Army Department at the Imperial Headquarters concluded: “The Empire has no prospect of regaining its previous strength and it will likely decline gradually. Thus, we should seek an end to the war immediately.”
Finally, the momentum to oust the Tojo administration became irresistible and the Cabinet resigned en masse later that month.
Three years earlier, when asked by the Emperor about the prospects in the event of war against the United States, then Chief of the Army General Staff Sugiyama replied that Japan would “rout the enemy” in about three months.
Even after the Japanese forces had lost all prospect of turning the tide and winning, not only Sugiyama but also Chief of Military Affairs Bureau at the War Ministry Kenryo Sato, Chief of the Naval General Staff Osami Nagano and chief of the Navy Ministry’s Naval Affairs Bureau Takazumi Oka, who all had supported the Tojo regime, favored “carrying on with the war.”
If the successor to the Tojo Cabinet had embraced the view of the War Coordination Group of the Imperial Headquarters, it would have been a prime opportunity to end the war. However, Prime Minister Kuniaki Koiso failed to initiate earnest discussions aimed at ending the war. Koiso believed that Japan needed to win a battle against the United States in the Philippines to gain leverage in any peace negotiations. Koiso decided to carry out operations to counter U.S. advances toward Japan and to engage them in battles on Japanese soil later. Koiso established the Imperial Supreme War Council, which superseded the Imperial Headquarters-Government Liaison Conference. Its August 19, 1944, meeting was attended by Chief of the Army General Staff Yoshijiro Umezu, War Minister Hajime Sugiyama and Chief of the Naval General Staff Koshiro Oikawa among others. The participants, undaunted by the deteriorating situation, said, “We should continue to prosecute the war” and “We should overcome the serious situation.”
In October 1944, the Japanese forces were decimated in ground and naval battles on the Philippines’ Leyte Island, losing the bulk of their remaining air and naval capabilities. In January 1945, the Army and Navy Departments of the Imperial Headquarters decided to prepare for final battles on Okinawa and the mainland. At this point, Japan spurned a chance to avert tragedy at Iwo Jima island, where 20,800 Japanese troops died, and in the Battle of Okinawa, where 188,000 Japanese lost their lives.