With the rise of the samurai class to a position of power Japan became split by the bitter fighting of the Gempei War, fought between the rival clans of Minamoto and Taira. Much use was made of ships in Minamoto Yoshitsune’s pursuit of the Taira through the waters of the Inland Sea, which finished with the greatest naval battle seen in the Far East up to that time: the Battle of Dan no Ura.
The background is as follows. By early 1185 the Taira clan had been driven from their bases on the main Japanese island of Honshu and the island of Shikoku, by a series of battles, such as the famous Ichi-notani and Yashima. In both these cases the Minamoto victory had been somewhat nullified because the Taira had escaped to sea. Their power base had traditionally been in the west of Japan and the Inland Sea, and they possessed a large fleet, but in the pursuit of them the Minamoto had also built and acquired ships, and were becoming well prepared to meet the Taira on their own terms. The Taira’s trump card was that they controlled the narrow straits of Shimonoseki, between Honshu and Kyushu, but by April 1185 the Minamoto felt strong enough to try to attack them, and actually had more ships: 840 to the Taira’s 500.
On 24 April 1185 the Taira fleet, under the command of Taira Tomomori, left its main base of Hikoshima island, which dominates the western approaches to the Shimonoseki Strait, and reached Ta-no-ura on Kyushu, a few miles east of the modern city of Moji. At the same time the Minamoto fleet slowly advanced to Okutsu island, which is probably the island called Manjushima today. The two fleets were then about two miles apart. On the 25th, off a beach named Dan no Ura (east of the modern city of Shimonoseki), the ships, brightly decorated with flags and streamers, approached one another, reducing the gap to about four hundred metres. The Minamoto fleet was upstream from the Taira’s.
We have some idea of the appearance of these war vessels through a large screen painting commissioned in the fourteenth century, but apparently based upon contemporary materials. One Taira ship was a large Chinese-style vessel with battened sails and a double hull, which was used as a decoy to fool the Minamoto into thinking that the child Emperor Antoku was on board. The other ships on both sides were small, clumsy, oar-propelled junks. They are referred to as war vessels, but they do not seem to have differed particularly in construction from ordinary ships, and were probably mainly fishing or ferry boats commandeered for the purpose. This is not of itself remarkable, for the major function of war vessels in those days was to bring two armies within bow range and then sword reach. Ships, in other words, were merely platforms for land warfare to be transferred to the sea, and had no defensive or offensive weapons of their own.
Neither fleet could boast any definite organisation. The officers and men were largely untrained in naval warfare, although the Taira had much more experience because for generations they had been entrusted with the task of clearing the pirates from the Inland Sea. Until Dan no Ura their naval supremacy was secure. The Minamoto fleet was numerically superior because many chiefs from Shikoku and from the provinces of Suo and Nagato in south-western Honshu had gone over to the Minamoto, taking their crews with them. But the Minamoto forces were largely composed of warriors from inland districts in north-eastern Japan, and had much less experience of naval warfare. On the other hand the Taira’s fleet was encumbered by the women and families of the Imperial court, who had to be protected.
The Minamoto ships went into battle with bows and sterns abreast. The Taira formed three squadrons. The battle started between 6 and 8 a. m. with a long-range archery duel at about 300 metres. The Taira took the initiative in the early stages, Taira Tomomori evidently using his knowledge of the ebb tide flowing slowly through the Strait into the Inland Sea. His three squadrons attempted to surround the Minamoto fleet and kill the commander Minamoto Yoshitsune. He succeeded in the first part of the manoeuvre, and almost achieved the second when Taira Noritsune, a giant of a man, pursued Yoshitsune from boat to boat, finally committing suicide by jumping into the sea, holding two Minamoto warriors under his arms.
By 11 a. m. the two forces were closely engaged with sword and dagger fighting, but at about this time the tide changed, and began to flow westwards out of the Strait. This gave the advantage to the Minamoto, who exploited it to the full. Gradually the battle turned in their favour, and victory was assured when one of the Taira commanders, Miura Yoshizumi, turned traitor and attacked the Taira from the rear. He was also able to inform the Minamoto that the Emperor was not aboard the largest ship in the fleet, so the Minamoto turned their forces on to the correct target. The archers concentrated their fire on the rowers and the helmsmen, and the Taira ships were soon virtually out of control and began to drift back with the tide. Realising that the battle was lost, many of the Taira committed suicide. The commander Taira Tomomori tied himself to an anchor, and the grandmother of the infant Emperor flung herself into the sea with the child in her arms. The account of the end in the chronicle Heike Monogatari speaks of the sea turning red from the blood of the slain and the dye from the scarlet banners of the Taira. The area of coastline at Dan no Ura was regarded as a haunted place from then on, and even the crabs found in the vicinity have on their shells the faces of dead samurai.
Prince Shōtoku flanked by younger brother (left: Prince Eguri) and first son (right: Prince Yamashiro), drawn by unknown author
[His mother] was suddenly delivered of him without effort. He was able to speak as soon as he was born, and was so wise when he grew up that he could attend to the [legal] suits of ten men at once and decide them all without error. He knew beforehand what was going to happen …
Prince, war leader, statesman. Seer, scholar, patron of the arts. A gentleman, a humanitarian, and an easy birth to boot. The man known to posterity as Prince Shōtoku often appears less as a historical figure than a character in a fairy tale. In many ways that is exactly what he was. His wondrous deeds come down to us for the most part via one of the archipelago’s oldest works of literature. And we cannot be entirely sure that he ever existed.
And yet the ‘Prince of Holy Virtue’ commands our attention because all the stories told about him are, in their essentials, true. They go right to the heart of a remarkable transformation taking place across the sixth and seventh centuries in central Honshū: the coming together of powerful families, disparate gods and ideas from near and far in the fashioning of the archipelago’s first recognizable state.
Celebrated as that state’s founding father, Prince Shōtoku didn’t so much create it as find himself created by it, becoming a hook on which it hung its most precious claims about itself. Above all, where this new state owed an enormous debt to Chinese and Korean civilization – for its politics and poetry, its laws and religion, its food, clothing and architecture – the Prince is recalled as a cultural diplomat of rare judgement and vision. He is the archipelago’s first great integrator-in-chief. His life takes us from settlements and chiefdoms to the very cusp of ‘Japan’.
Prince Shōtoku’s origins lie in Queen Himiko’s demise. In the decades following her death around 248 CE, burial mounds of the kind in which she was interred began to multiply. These kofun (‘ancient graves’) were built to house great leaders’ wooden or stone coffins, alongside the tools and treasures – swords, shoes, mirrors, jewellery – that marked their status in this life and may have been thought useful in the next. Kofun became progressively grander over time until one appeared around the middle of the 400s that was nearly 500 metres long, 300 metres wide, and rose thirty-five metres above the surrounding landscape. Known as the Daisen Kofun, from the air this awesome structure looks like a keyhole – a circle atop a triangle – set amidst lush greenery and surrounded by three broad moats. It may be the final resting place of ‘Nintoku’, one of the greatest leaders of a chiefdom in the Yamato basin, in south-central Honshū, which across the fourth and fifth centuries was expanding and steadily consolidating its status as regional hegemon.
Tall figurines called haniwa, crafted from reddish-brown clay and arrayed along the external slopes of burial mounds – perhaps as a form of spiritual protection – give us a flavour of how this power was accrued. Farmers brandish hoes. Women carry water vessels on their heads. Whether this up-and-coming Yamato chiefdom was an outgrowth of Himiko’s Yamatai or a geographically distant realm that rose as hers receded, it relied on the extraordinary wealth that came from controlling richly fertile tracts of rice land. Horses saddled for journeys, and men helmeted and armoured for war, reveal the serious military capability purchased with the proceeds. Other haniwa suggest a regime that prospered by honouring the spirits and making alliances, often intermarrying with smaller but strategically important chiefdoms. We find female shamans with ritual headdresses and mirrors; musicians and wrestlers.
By the turn of the sixth century, these Yamato chiefs had taken to calling themselves ‘Great Sovereigns’ (ōkimi), binding their allies ever closer by bestowing upon them lucrative – and hereditary – roles and titles in their own administration. In this way, wealth and power began to depend more upon family, or ‘clan’, than territory. And what started out as a confederation of chiefdoms, with Yamato at its head, steadily morphed into a single polity stretching all the way from Kyūshū in the south-west up into central Honshū.
Never before had so much of the archipelago come under the control, however tentative, of a single leadership. Yet life at the royal court, moving from place to place around the Yamato heartland, was fragile and fractious. The ‘Great Sovereigns’ were rarely so great that they didn’t have to worry about intrigue, murder and violent uprising at the hands of the influential cluster of rival clans now gathered close around them. How, then, to keep the show on the road? How to govern on this scale? How to gain and maintain legitimacy amongst people up and down the archipelago, and even beyond?
Finding solutions to these problems proved to be the work of two long and frequently bloody centuries, culminating in two great creative acts in the early 700s. The first was the building of a capital city in 710, at a place called Nara. The second was the finalizing, under official auspices, of two chronicles: the Record of Ancient Matters (Kojiki) in 712 and the Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki) in 720. The oldest surviving pieces of writing to come out of the archipelago, neither offered a straightforward chronology of the Yamato chiefdom’s rise. They were both less and much more than that. Combining myth, history and high ideals, they furnished the people of the archipelago with some of their earliest exemplars, their founding heroes and heroines, while striving above all to answer that profound, perennial question – ‘Who are we?’
The groundwork had been laid in the centuries since Himiko, as some of the mysterious, impersonal forces with which she communed steadily acquired names, functions and favoured features of the landscape – often great rocks or trees – which they were thought to inhabit on a seasonal or a more or less permanent basis. Clan heads linked themselves with local spirits, or kami, taking personal responsibility for the rituals that ensured adequate rainfall and good harvests. Some went as far as ‘adopting’ particular kami as ancestors, with the Yamato clan choosing a female solar deity called Amaterasu. She was worshipped at Ise on the eastern coast of south-central Honshū, at a site facing towards the rising sun.
The Yamato clan then went one very significant step further. They took a rich oral tradition of kami stories from around the archipelago and wove them into a single fabric, producing in effect a family history, running from the moment of creation down through generations of kami, including Amaterasu, into their own times. This became the substance both of the Record of Ancient Matters, which bursts with poetry, song and saucy anecdote, and the Chronicles of Japan, with its attempt at a more sober ordering of time – closer to the Chinese chronicles in which Queen Himiko had featured.
The ‘Great Sovereigns’ now began to style themselves as ‘Heavenly Sovereign’: tennō, usually rendered in English as ‘emperor’. The Chronicles of Japan read this new self-designation right back into the distant past. It described an Age of the Gods giving way to a line of divine emperors of Japan, beginning with the mythical Emperor Jimmu in the seventh century BCE. From 201 CE to 269, an Empress Jingū was said to have ruled the land, following the death of her husband Chūai, the fourteenth emperor. The compilers of the Chronicles of Japan equated Jingū with the ‘Queen of the Wa’ mentioned in the Records of Wei, sidestepping potential complications by avoiding any use of the name Himiko. By the 500s and 600s, rulers begin to appear in the chronicle for whom there is strong historical evidence.
Allied clans of the Yamato were worked into this grand mytho-historical mix. Their place in the earthly pecking order found itself mirrored in the position of their adopted clan kami, within a hierarchical pantheon that featured Amaterasu at its apex. There was always the risk in such a strategy that allies – both human and divine – might feel underrated or under threat. For all that the Record of Ancient Matters and the Chronicles of Japan treated Yamato rule as a cosmic inevitability, they also hinted at serious bumps along the road as the new state coalesced. It is at just such a moment of crisis that we first encounter Prince Shōtoku, working his diplomatic magic.
As told in the Chronicles of Japan, the trouble began in 552, when an envoy from the Korean kingdom of Paekche arrived at the Yamato court bearing an impressive gold and copper statue of the Buddha, along with a collection of scriptures.
A thousand years had passed, by this point, since the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was said to have laid out his ‘Four Noble Truths’ at a deer park near Varanasi: namely, that human existence is a mass of suffering and frustration; that our appetites and attachments make it so; we can end this situation; and the means of doing so is the Noble Eightfold Path. Centuries of contact with other Indian and Chinese ideas had helped to transform these insights into an enormously rich and varied set of cosmologies, rituals and art forms. But aside from perhaps a few pockets of practice here and there, Buddhism was unknown on the archipelago. And it was controversial from the start. The Chronicles of Japan reports that opinion amongst powerful families at court was divided, in 552, over whether or not to welcome the newcomer. The Mononobe clan feared the wrath of the native gods, the kami, while the rival Soga clan argued – successfully – that Buddhism should be adopted on a trial basis. Members of their clan would perform rituals in front of this new statue, and see what happened.
What happened was a disastrous epidemic, allowing the Soga’s opponents to claim that the kami were indeed offended by this interloper. The statue was duly thrown into a canal and a newly built pagoda was burned to the ground. A second attempt at adoption in 584 again met with natural disaster. This time a Buddhist image, a pagoda and a temple were all set on fire, while three Buddhist nuns were stripped and flogged.
There was politics at play here. The Mononobe’s influence at court rested on their specialist ritual role worshipping the kami. The Soga clan, for their part, seem to have been descended from some of the many Korean migrants who brought with them to Yamato valuable expertise in everything from metallurgy and medicine to irrigation and administration. The Soga perhaps saw in Buddhism another element of the advanced culture of the peninsula, to be welcomed like the rest. For the Mononobe, here was an immigrant god, sponsored by an immigrant clan – and both were quite possibly after their jobs.
In the Chronicles of Japan’s version of events, it is just as hostility between the Soga and Mononobe descends into bloodshed in 587 that Prince Shōtoku appears, quite literally riding to the rescue. He is said to have been born in 573, to parents with both Yamato and Soga blood running through their veins: the great sovereign Yōmei (reigned 585–7) and his consort Princess Anahobe no Hashihito. The Chronicles of Japan refers to Prince Shōtoku as ‘Prince Umayado’, a nickname of sorts relating to the story that his mother’s effortless delivery of him occurred near to a stable door (umayado). The teenage Prince is depicted now taking to the battlefield on horseback, fighting for the Soga in a short but epoch-making conflict. As enemy arrows rain down, and the Soga are pushed back for a third time, the young Prince thrusts himself forward. ‘Will we be beaten?’ he cries. ‘Let us make a vow!’ With that, he cuts down a tree, whittles tiny images of four Buddhist gods known as the Heavenly Kings, places them in his top-knot, and proceeds to pray:
If we are now made to gain the victory over the enemy, I promise faithfully to honour the Four Heavenly Kings, guardians of the world, by erecting to them a temple with a pagoda.
The tide of battle abruptly turns. The Soga forces win out. The promised temple is built, and the Prince now begins to emerge as the leading light in a period of Buddhist-inspired enlightenment across the Yamato kingdom.
The puzzle of how closely Prince Shōtoku’s legend fits a real historical figure, who achieved some or all of the things with which he is credited, may never be solved. But the Soga clan do indeed seem to have enjoyed ascendancy after 587, capable in 593 of placing their favoured candidate on the throne. The Chronicles of Japan refers to her as ‘Empress Suiko’, although the title of tennō (‘Heavenly Sovereign’) was probably not in regular use at this point. According to the Chronicles of Japan, Prince Shōtoku was her nephew, appointed as regent by her in 594 and granted ‘general control of the Government … entrusted with all the details of administration’.
The Prince’s battlefield vow in 587 proved that by bringing in new, Buddhist gods Yamato was not risking its divine protection, but rather reinforcing it. Where rulers like Himiko had interceded with forces or kami for the protection and prosperity of their realms, the role of Yamato sovereigns was now expanded to include the worship of Buddhist deities to the very same ends. In practice, much of this work was delegated to Buddhist monks and nuns, who recited sutras at the temples that began to spring up around the country. Some forty or more were commissioned during Prince Shōtoku’s lifetime alone, the most famous being Hōryū-ji. Said to have been completed under the auspices of the Prince himself in 607, it later burned down and was rebuilt in the late 600s or early 700s. Hōryū-ji went on to become a centre for the veneration of Prince Shōtoku, celebrated in modern times as the world’s oldest wooden building.
Cosmic protection was to remain the primary role of Buddhism for many years to come. It would be a while before it evolved into a religion of the people. But the impact of the new temple complexes on people’s imaginations was nevertheless enormous. With a network of shrines to the kami yet to develop, these were some of the first permanent structures in the archipelago to be dedicated to ritual worship. A typical temple complex consisted of several heavy wooden structures, each topped with a cascade of tiles, situated within a walled enclosure. One of these buildings would be a multistorey pagoda, housing sacred relics and tall enough to dominate the surrounding landscape.
These complexes, including colourful, awe-inspiring temple interiors, were based on Korean and Chinese designs. Many were actually built by Korean hands, with Buddhist monks doubling as carpenters and wood-carvers, roof-tile makers, sculptors and wall-painting artists. Builders, buildings and the rituals that went on within – the wearing of robes, the use of incense and chanting – combined to make a deep impression, putting down permanent cultural roots.
Prince Shōtoku is credited with making all of this possible by replacing ad hoc continental contacts up to this point with something far more systematic, establishing relations around the year 600 with a newly reunified China under the Sui dynasty. Alongside priestly and practical expertise, the Prince drew deeply and thoughtfully on Chinese and Korean scholarship – in Buddhism, classical Chinese philosophy, history, law and administration. According to the Chronicles of Japan and the cult that grew up around his memory, Prince Shōtoku was one of very few people in Yamato to see beyond Buddhism’s ritual potential and appreciate its philosophical depths. He delivered lectures on Buddhism at the Empress’s request – one talk apparently lasted for three days – and composed sutra commentaries that were later sent to China as part of diplomatic missions.
One of the most celebrated products of all this learning was the archipelago’s first constitution, credited to the Prince in 604, though thought in fact to have been the work of a later generation. Consisting of seventeen articles, it was less a legal document than a series of principles on which an ideal state should be based. They included harmony and good faith, the acceptance of differing views and the recognition of merit. Feuding and gluttony were to be strenuously avoided, as were flattery, covetous desire, sycophancy and anger. Government officials were enjoined to place the greatest value on hard work, public-spiritedness, ‘decorous behaviour’ and open debate. Above all, people were encouraged to show reverence for Buddhism and for imperial commands.
These were more than mere airy ideals. Power in Yamato depended upon family, spanning blood ties and claims of godly descent. Prince Shōtoku was suggesting something revolutionary: that leadership and privilege should henceforth be conferred on the basis of merit and moral conduct instead. He instituted, for court officials, a Chinese-style system of ‘cap-ranks’ similar to one that was in use in Korean kingdoms at this time. There were twelve in all, each named after a Confucian principle – virtue, benevolence, propriety, sincerity, justice, and knowledge – and each distinguished from the others by the design of the silk cap worn by a person of that rank.
Anyone aspiring to rise through the new ranks would require, on top of the personal qualities laid out by Prince Shōtoku, a familiarity with Chinese. The lingua franca of East Asian Buddhism, it was also essential to continental statecraft and diplomacy. From the Prince’s time onwards Yamato saw a rapid increase in Chinese literacy amongst the courtly elite, making possible the compilation of the Chronicles of Japan (in literary Chinese) and the Record of Ancient Matters (in a more experimental linguistic blend of Chinese mixed with an early attempt to render spoken Japanese in Chinese script).
Renewed contact with China had all sorts of other impacts besides. Courtiers began to adopt Chinese clothing: for women, a tunic emphasizing a flowing, plaited skirt beneath; for men, a loose, longer tunic with a stand-up collar, atop a pair of trousers tied with a sash. Imported Chinese dress codes meant that, as with the administrative caps, certain colours could be worn only by people of a certain status. Early in the 700s, a new ‘clothing code’ required that all robes be fastened left over right, according to Chinese practice – the origins, some have argued, of what would one day become the kimono.
The archipelago now embarked on a long-term love affair with Chinese styles of poetry. A highlight of diplomatic banquets, the composition of short lines capturing a moment or a mood became a source of cultured competition at court. A few decades after the Record of Ancient Matters and the Chronicles of Japan were completed, the first poetry anthology appeared: The Ten Thousand Leaves (Man’yōshū), featuring more than 4,000 poems composed between the mid-600s and mid-700s and taking for their subject matter the lives of courtiers and the coarser-born alike. The islands, of course, had their own pre-existing poetic traditions. But as in ritual and statecraft, so in the worlds of fashion and literary pursuits the great theme of this era was the integration of the foreign and the domestic.
This was also the case for music and dance. Native traditions included kami songs, folk songs and drinking songs, alongside singing competitions that would end in carnal revelry. Accompaniment was provided by varying combinations of flutes, drums, bells and rattles. To these domestic traditions was added – probably as early as the 400s, but gathering pace during and immediately after Prince Shōtoku’s era – a range of new instruments, songs and dances from mainland Asia. Within the Prince’s lifetime the most important newcomer, from Paekche, was gigaku. Taught at Buddhist temples and performed at court and elsewhere, this was dance-drama using brightly coloured masks of animals, including lions and horses, alongside famous historical figures and caricatures of barbarians and kings. Later on came a form of dance called bugaku, with more of a narrative focus, accompanied by the koto, a horizontal stringed instrument that was laid on the floor and plucked.
The Prince is said to have made a modest musical contribution of his own, burnishing in the process his Chinese-style credentials as a man of virtue and filial values. One day in 613 he was walking along when he noticed a starving man lying in the road. He stopped and gave him food and drink. Taking off his own robe and covering the man with it, he wished him peace and composed for him a song of lament:
The wayfarer lying
Hungered for rice …
Art thou become
Hast thou no lord
Flourishing as a bamboo?
The wayfarer lying
Hungered for rice.
When the man died not long afterwards, Prince Shōtoku had a burial mound built for him. Suspecting that this had been no ordinary human being, the Prince sent one of his attendants back to check the mound. The tomb was found to be empty, with only the Prince’s robe remaining. Writers in later years linked this story to those of Jesus Christ and the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, both of whom left empty tombs and appeared to people after their deaths. Some went further, wondering whether the Prince’s many talents might have extended to helping bring the dead back to life.
As if to counter any impression that Prince Shōtoku was responsible for too slavish an approach to continental culture, his legend extends to one final celebrated act. The Chinese at this point still regarded their neighbours across the water – the ‘Wa’, using the same demeaning ideograph as always – as a vassal people. Given all that the Yamato kingdom was achieving, this would clearly no longer do. So around 608 the Prince drafted a letter for Empress Suiko to send to her counterpart in China. It began with the words: ‘The Child of Heaven [tenshi] of the land where the sun rises sends a letter to the Child of Heaven of the land where the sun sets.’ Other sources credit the Prince with conjuring the term later chosen by the Yamato sovereigns to refer to themselves – ‘Heavenly Sovereign’ (tennō) – and with trying it out for size on the Chinese around this time.
The Yamato kingdom had not yet formally adopted the name ‘Nihon’ (‘root of the sun’), the appellation which, passing through various Asian and European languages, eventually gave the world ‘Japan’. And given the vantage point of mainland Asia, the ‘land where the sun rises’ could be interpreted as no more than a geographical observation. But there were already connotations here of cosmic importance – of a newcomer destined to outshine an old-timer and, above all, the audacious assumption of parity between the two sovereigns. The Chinese Emperor appears to have understood. ‘This letter from the barbarians’, he is said to have complained to one of his staff, ‘contains improprieties. Do not call it to my attention again.’
What some refer to as the broad ‘Yamato period’, beginning around the mid-200s with grand burial mounds suggestive of up-and-coming chiefdoms, gave way in 710 to the ‘Nara period’, named after the location of an impressive new imperial capital established that year. Laid out on a Chinese-style grid pattern and featuring buildings with stone bases and tiled roofs, the archipelago’s first great capital city became home to 100,000 people – out of a national population of around 6 million. When the Chronicles of Japan was completed ten years later, in 720, it confirmed Prince Shōtoku as the person who had laid the city’s cultural and political foundations.
Nara became the focal point of the sort of centralized and professionally managed bureaucratic state, based on Chinese-inspired criminal and administrative codes, that the Prince had envisaged. Government was split into two branches. The Great Council of State (Dajōkan) featured a Chancellor, Ministers of the Left and the Right (each responsible for various specific ministries) and four senior counsellors. The Office of Deities (Jingi-kan) managed rituals and shrines for the kami. A parallel network of Buddhist temples was meanwhile emerging, home to monks and nuns who were regarded essentially as state bureaucrats to be trained, regulated and charged with reciting sutras for the good of the realm.
The realm, encompassing the southern two-thirds of Honshū and most of Kyūshū, was divided up into around sixty provinces, and from there into districts and villages. Villagers paid taxes in kind: a combination of rice and vegetables, raw materials, labour and military service – all of which helped to fund and secure a courtly culture in Nara that was ever more firmly rooted in the Chinese imports facilitated by the Prince. People across the land were encouraged to keep a careful eye on their neighbours as a way of promoting virtuous behaviour: a cheap and effective means of surveillance.
Not everything turned out as the Prince might have liked. His hoped-for meritocracy was conspicuously absent. Family feuding remained intense, with the Soga clan overthrown in the mid-600s and many more violent comings and goings thereafter. When career-minded young men went to study the Confucian classics at Nara’s State Academy (Daigaku-ryō), they did so knowing that districts and villages were controlled largely by influential local families, while provincial governorships were handed out to major clan allies – the country’s emerging aristocracy. Talented individuals of lowly stock might work their way up temple hierarchies as Buddhist monks or nuns, but otherwise birth trumped graft every time.
The impact upon the imperial institution of this heavy focus on family would be profound over the centuries to come. The Yamato sovereigns had achieved something remarkable in remaking themselves as divine emperors, establishing in the sixth and seventh centuries an imperial line that is still going strong in the twenty-first. But the feeling in the realm never went away that they were really just one elite family amongst others. When their earthly fortunes faltered, other families would be quick to muscle in.
For now, however, the emperors enjoyed considerable authority, advertising their divine descent ever more forcefully. Imperial edicts were not personal missives, they were drafted and promulgated by the Great Council of State. But from the reign of Emperor Tenmu (673–86) onwards they opened with the words: ‘Hear ye the edict of an emperor who is a manifest kami’. Emperors also boasted their own armed forces. Clan chiefs had been successfully turned into imperial military commanders, with each province required to raise and maintain a unit of at least 1,000 men and the realm’s roads shored up to accommodate swift and easy troop movements.
The Chronicles of Japan, completed at the beginning of this golden era of Sinicized, centralized imperial governance, made clear in its treatment of Prince Shōtoku’s passing the immense debt owed by the new state to the great diplomatic and integrating feats that he had come to represent:
Spring, 2nd month, 5th day 
In the middle of the night the Imperial Prince died in the Palace of Ikaruga. At this time all the Princes … as well as the people of the Empire [mourned him]. The old, as if they had lost a dear child, had no taste for salt and vinegar in their mouths. The young, as if they had lost a beloved parent, filled the ways with the sound of their lamenting. The farmer ceased from his plough, and the pounding woman laid down her pestle.
They all said: ‘The sun and moon have lost their brightness; Heaven and Earth have crumbled to ruin: henceforward, in whom shall we put our trust?’
At 6:35 A.M., as sunrise revealed a grayed-out and hazy dawn, the most powerful concentration of naval gun power the Japanese empire had ever assembled reordered its geometry in preparation for daylight operations. Twenty-five miles to Taffy 3’s north, lookouts on the heavy cruiser Chokai and light cruiser Noshiro reported aircraft approaching. So Halsey’s planes were coming after all, Takeo Kurita must have thought. Almost simultaneously, cat-eyed lookouts on the battleship Nagato spied masts on the horizon visible here and there through the rainsqualls that dropped down from the heavens like gauzy shrouds. An eight-knot easterly wind roused low swells from the sea. From the Yamato’s gunnery platform high above the bridge, Cdr. Tonosuke Otani, Kurita’s operations officer, squinted through a range-finding telescope and spotted the flat-topped silhouettes of American aircraft carriers.
The presence of carriers meant this was not Nishimura’s squadron. Kurita could not believe his luck. Here, within gun range at last, were the fast, first-line Essex-class fleet carriers that constituted the heart of the American fleet. There looked to be six or seven of them, accompanied by what lookouts took for Baltimore-class heavy cruisers, powerful combatants only six feet shorter than South Dakota-class battleships. The imagination of Admiral Koyanagi, Kurita’s chief of staff, ran wild. He believed they faced not an escort carrier group, but four or five big carriers escorted by one or two battleships and ten or more heavy cruisers.
As Ziggy Sprague’s task unit flees eastward into the wind, its six jeep carriers scrambling their pilots and aircrews, Kurita’s Center Force begins its high-speed pursuit, its battleships firing heavy salvos at extended range.
At 6:59, loaded with rounds designed to penetrate heavy armor, the great 18.1-inch rifles of the battleship Yamato trained to starboard and opened fire on Taffy 3 at a range of nearly twenty miles. One minute later Kurita issued a fleet-wide order for a “general attack.” The Kongo turned out to the east, in fast but independent pursuit. Ahead of the Yamato to port, the six heavy cruisers of Cruiser Divisions 5 and 7 formed into a single column, trying to take the lead in the chase. Angling to the southwest, the Nagato turned her sixteen-inch rifles twenty-five degrees to port and opened fire at a range of more than twenty miles. The swift Haruna loosed fourteen-inch salvos using its crude radar set.
Apparently unaware of the speed advantage his ships held over their American prey, Kurita seemed eager for his heavy cruisers to press the fight before the Americans could escape. A more disciplined (or better-informed) commander might have drawn his ships into a single line of battle, with destroyers in the forward van to scout the enemy and maneuver for a deadly torpedo attack.
For all the strength the Japanese Center Force brought into play, its commanders were unsettled about the manner in which the battle began. In the midst of the shift to a daytime antiaircraft formation, with each captain operating at his own freewheeling discretion, confusion took command of the Center Force. Vice Adm. Matome Ugaki, commanding Kurita’s First Battleship Division, composed of the Yamato and the Nagato, observed, “each unit seemed very slow in starting actions due to uncertainty about the enemy condition.” “I feared the spirit of all-out attack at short range was lacking,” Admiral Ugaki would write.
The heavy cruisers led the Japanese charge on Taffy 3. Cruiser Division 7’s commander, Vice Adm. Kazutaka Shiraishi, was a fifty-two-year-old Nagasaki native who had not had a seagoing command since 1940. Shiraishi received Kurita’s order, “Cruiser divisions attack!” and turned his ships to the southeast, steaming at their maximum speed of thirty-five knots. Aiming to flank the American ships from the east, he radioed each of his captains in succession: “We are closing the enemy. Intend to engage to starboard.” Then—bizarrely—though a general attack had been ordered, the vanguard of any such attack, the Center Force’s two divisions of hard-hitting destroyers, led by the light cruisers Noshiro and Yahagi, were ordered to the rear. Though there were doubters in his midst, Kurita was overjoyed by his perceived good fortune in encountering American carriers. At seven o’clock the Center Force commander dispatched a message that delighted Combined Fleet Headquarters: “WE ARE ENGAGING ENEMY IN GUN BATTLE” … and then “BY HEAVEN-SENT OPPORTUNITY WE ARE DASHING TO ATTACK THE ENEMY CARRIERS. The emperor’s fleet had been handed a dreamed-for chance. Carriers were queens of the seas, mobile and lethally armed with ship-killing planes. Now it was the Imperial Japanese Navy’s turn to move on the Philippine chessboard. Its rooks had America’s queens, so Kurita thought, lined up for slaughter.
As flecks of antiaircraft fire dotted the northern horizon around Bill Brooks’s Avenger, Ernest Evans emerged from his sea cabin on the destroyer Johnston and sized up Taffy 3’s predicament in an instant. Situated closest to the advancing enemy fleet, he could not have missed his ship’s consignment to quick destruction. Faced with it, Evans evidently saw no need to await orders from Commander Thomas aboard the Hoel or from Admiral Sprague. If carrier commanders traditionally saw the destroyers’ primary battle role as laying smoke screens to cover the flattops’ escape, Evans had other ideas about what he was supposed to do. Destroyers sortied. They interposed. They sacrificed themselves for the ships they were assigned to protect. Evans would do his duty for the Fanshaw Bay, the St. Lo, the Gambier Bay, the White Plains, the Kalinin Bay, and the Kitkun Bay. If that meant closing with an enemy whose guns were big enough to sink him with a single hit, so be it. He would make good on his commissioning-day promise—his warning—to his crew: the Johnston was a fighting ship. He would not back down.
Recalling his skipper’s speech in the context of the present situation, Bob Hagen, the Johnston’s gunnery officer, grew ill. As the ship’s senior lieutenant, he knew his skipper. The certainty that Evans would turn the ship into the teeth of the Japanese fleet saddled him with dread. This is an impossible situation with this skipper, Hagen thought. He’s not going to run. He doesn’t know how.
Hagen practically heard the orders before his skipper delivered them. His rapid-fire sequence suggested he had rehearsed all his Navy life for a moment such as this.
All hands to general quarters.
Prepare to attack major portion of the Japanese fleet.
All engines ahead flank.
Commence making smoke and stand by for a torpedo attack.
Left full rudder.
Lt. (jg) Ellsworth Welch couldn’t help but be impressed with his skipper’s brio, his calm, his directness of action, and clarity of thought. Why didn’t I think of that? he found himself wondering. Nothing like having a pro in charge.
Left full rudder meant that the ship would peel off to the north-northwest, away from the illusory sanctuary of the formation and charging toward the enemy fleet. The order made Robert Billie, a Minnesotan, want to go to ground like a gopher. “That was the only time I ever wanted to dig a trench.”
Bob Hagen ran his numbers—the fire-control computer could not help him here—and drew the same conclusion Jack Moore had on the Samuel B. Roberts: there was probably a fifty-fifty chance of survival. The long odds notwithstanding, he was in no hurry to climb up to the gun director. Though the situation seemed to demand urgent action—and indeed, he could count on his men being inside each of the five main gun mounts within about ninety seconds of going to general quarters—what was the point of hurry-up-and-wait? The gunners would have nothing to shoot at until the range to the enemy had closed from 35,000 yards to 18,000 yards, about six miles. Until then, the gunnery officer felt no immediate need to gaze upon the enemy ships through his binoculars.
The shellfire put out by the Japanese force was overwhelming. Battleship main battery rounds plunged down at the Johnston, shrieking like locomotives, smacking the sea with a slap and roar and sending up towers of dye-stained seawater. At that moment Hagen had as good a view of the Japanese dreadnoughts as he cared to have.
The Johnston’s gun boss contemplated the audacious path his captain had chosen and said quietly, “Please, sir, let us not go down before we fire our damn torpedoes.”
He did not doubt that Ernest Evans would do his best. Like the other officers on the Johnston, Hagen had come to see him as “a captain who could strike fighting spirit from his men the way steel strikes spark from a flint.” Evans’s conduct impressed him indelibly. “I can see him now,” Hagen would write, “short, barrel-chested, standing on the bridge with his hands on his hips, giving out with a running fire of orders in a bull voice.”
That Evans acted on instinct, ahead of actual orders, was elemental to his constitution and his experience. The crew in turn vested their faith in the all-encompassing will of the Cherokee warrior who had sworn that he would never withdraw. And who knew, perhaps promises as portentous as his carried with them some kind of implicit magic that assured their survival. The laws of probability and the lessons of recent combat history, however, heralded a different outcome. At the Battle of Savo Island, Japanese cruisers and destroyers had needed only six minutes to annihilate an Allied cruiser column. At Midway, American dive-bombers had wiped out most of a Japanese carrier task force in four decisive minutes. Alone against heavy cruisers and battleships—cruising through shell splashes fired by vessels up to thirty-five times her size—the Johnston would have no business surviving even that long. As the Army troops at Bataan or the Marines on Wake Island could attest, Americans had been overwhelmed in battle before. The Pacific had afforded them several occasions to refight the Alamo. Now, it seemed, it was the Navy’s turn.
As his ship sped to the northwest, alone against the Japanese fleet, Ernest Evans had no illusions that the Johnston’s five-inch main battery would do much damage. He knew that his only chance to send Japanese iron to the bottom of the Philippine Trench was to get close enough to fire his ten torpedoes, mounted in two quintuple mounts amidships, and plant a little torpex into their underbellies. Until then, all he could do was make his best speed and blow out as much smoke as his boilers were capable of making.
When the firemen received Captain Evans’s order to make smoke, they misinterpreted it as a reprimand. “But we are not making smoke,” came the defensive reply. Boiler room personnel trained hard to do anything but make smoke, lest the ship betray its location or foul its boiler tubes and require a painstaking cleaning. Evans grabbed the sound-powered phones and yelled, “I want a smoke screen, and I want it now!”
On the fantail, Lt. Jesse Cochran, the assistant engineering officer and head of a repair party, had trouble getting the chemical smoke generator going. Its valves were stuck fast from saltwater corrosion. Torpedoman first class Jim O’Gorek used a big adjustable wrench and vise grips to jog them loose, while Cochran and his party set depth charges on safe and dogged down all hatches and doors on the aft part of the ship. After a minute or so of urgent wrenching, the gray concoction was billowing in the ship’s wake, hanging close to the sea in the humid monsoon-season air. As the Japanese star shells burned overhead like miniature midday suns, advancing the light of the early morning, black smoke flowed from the ship’s two stacks, turning dawn back into night.
Smoke making was an act of sacrifice: the smoke flowed behind the ship that made it, shrouding everything in its wake. It gave its maker no protection. If Taffy 3 had a prayer to survive, it would depend on confusing Kurita and shielding the retreating escort carriers from view. “We were making smoke, zig-zagging and heading for the Jap fleet,” seaman John Mostowy would write, “at flank speed and alone.”
As the Johnston came around to port on Captain Evans’s order, taking a northwesterly course toward the Japanese fleet, seaman first class Bill Mercer pulled on a kapok life jacket. He was fastening it tight when a seaman named Gorman asked him if he was scared. Mercer, a Texan, said hell yeah, he was scared. In fact, his heart was thumping so hard beneath his ribs that he feared the Japanese might hear it. The only words Gorman could find in reply were a strange non sequitur: “This is fun.”
To quartermaster Neil Dethlefs, the situation seemed like the work of a cruel and uncaring universe. He had been on the Johnston for only three weeks. Not long ago he had been working aboard the hull repair ship Prometheus at Tulagi when the Johnston entered the harbor flashing signal lights requesting a replacement for a quartermaster who had trouble with seasickness. Dethlefs and another quartermaster on the Prometheus fit the job description, so they cut a deck of cards to determine who had to go. Dethlefs pulled an eight to his colleague’s king and dutifully reported to his yeoman for transfer to the destroyer. The bitter thought seized him now: he had arrived aboard the Johnston just in time to get himself killed.
As Captain Evans rang up flank speed, officer of the deck Lt. Ed DiGardi knew the Johnston wasn’t ready for an extended high-speed engagement. The fuel report indicated that the ship had only 12,000 gallons of fuel oil. At standard cruising speed, the ship burned 500 gallons an hour. But at a flank speed of thirty-six knots, the rate jumped to 5,000 gallons an hour. In just over two hours the tanks would be bone dry. The ship would go dead in the water, whether it was hit or not. Lieutenant DiGardi told the engineering officer, Lt. Joe Worling, to do what the engineer already knew had to be done: mix the oil with the 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel the ship carried in separate tanks. Though engineers hated the way the dirty-burning grog fouled the delicate boiler tubes and required a painstaking cleanout, there was no alternative in these desperate circumstances.
Not everyone was entirely despondent. Looking down to the bridge from the gun director, Bob Hagen swore that he could see Captain Evans’s “heart grinning” as he led his ship into the fight.
From the bridge of the Fanshaw Bay, Ziggy Sprague took in the vicious columns of water rising around the White Plains and the other CVEs on the edge of the formation nearest the enemy and saw a terrible beauty. The splashes from the salvos rose in a rainbow of colors: red, pink, purple, green, yellow—each so dyed in order to help the enemy gunners correct the fall of their shots.
In the whole horrible course of the war in four wide oceans, not once had an American aircraft carrier been sunk by gunfire from an enemy surface ship. The historic nature of Sprague’s plight was not lost on him. In the triumphant closing phase of the war against Japan, Admiral Sprague, an emissary of the world’s greatest sea power, was going to see all six of his flattops sunk by gunfire. It was certain to happen. It wouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes. There was no other possible outcome.
For the kid from Rockport, the situation was beyond imagining. “I wouldn’t say it was like a bad dream, for my mind had never experienced anything from which such a nightmare could have been spun.” Once Clifton Sprague had dreamed of going to West Point, of parading on horseback before cheering crowds down his hometown thoroughfare. He had become a Navy admiral instead. Now he would have his appointment with notoriety, leading thirteen ships whose pending destruction would go down in history just as surely as they would go down to the bottomless deep of the Philippine Trench: “Neither could such dream stuff have been recalled from my reading in some history book, because nothing like this had ever happened in history.”
By any measure the mathematics of the engagement were preposterously against them. The Yamato displaced nearly seventy thousand tons. She alone matched almost exactly in weight all thirteen ships of Taffy 3. Each of her three main gun turrets weighed more than an entire Fletcher-class destroyer. Her armor belts—sixteen inches thick at the waterline and more than two feet thick on her gun turrets—were impenetrable to an American destroyer’s guns. Her nine 18.1-inch rifles were the biggest guns that ever went to sea, firing 3,200-pound shells more than twenty-six miles. Their development was so secret that even Admiral Kurita did not know their true size. The superbattleship’s secondary battery of six six-inch guns packed twice the hitting power of anything Ziggy Sprague’s largest escorts had. The ship was a great gray beast whose bulk pressed down into the ocean and possessed it, displacing enough water to raise measurably the level of a small lake. At flank speed of twenty-seven knots, the Yamato sliced the sea and drew it back around her in a roiling maelstrom, leaving a wake that capsized small boats.
The Yamato was not the only ship that completely outgunned Sprague’s task unit. The Nagato, displacing 42,850 tons, fielded eight sixteen-inch guns, and the Kongo and her sister ship the Haruna (36,600 tons) were fast frontline battleships armed with eight-gun fourteen-inch batteries. Kurita’s six heavy cruisers were thirty-five-knot killers that had a cumulative displacement equal to that of the Yamato. Finally, Kurita had two flotillas of destroyers, eleven in all, each led by a light cruiser, the Yahagi and the Noshiro (8,543 tons), with six-inch batteries. On paper each of the destroyers matched the Johnston, the Hoel, or the Heermann in speed and torpedo power if not quite in gunnery. The only weapon in Sprague’s modest arsenal that Kurita could not match was aircraft. Each of the six American jeeps carried about thirty planes. But loaded with depth charges, antipersonnel bombs, rockets, and the machine guns in their wings—not to mention the propaganda leaflets they sometimes carried in lieu of more kinetic payloads—they were not armed for attacking heavy surface ships.
A fighting force cannot be reduced to its order of battle any more than a ship’s value can be reduced to the number of guns she carries or the shaft horsepower her turbines can generate. A vessel draws life from the spirit of her crew, which derives in large part from the leadership qualities of her chiefs and officers. Morale defies quantification—and yet it weighs significantly on the ultimate lethality of the tools of war. A ship’s effectiveness is the product of thousands of bonds that develop between individual officers and crew. The bonds form and break in a chain reaction, the power of which is determined by drill, by relationships, by fortitude, faith, and values. Task force commanders can be only abstractly aware of these uncountable qualities as they exist on the particular ships under their command. The officers of the ships themselves see these qualities more clearly but still can only guess how the chemical reactions will coalesce when the real shooting starts and men begin to die. And so orders of battle are drawn up to focus on the tangibles: speed, displacement, armament, and sensors. On that score Taffy 3 scarcely even registered on the scale of force that Takeo Kurita brought against them.
Thanks to Ensign Brooks’s diligent sighting report, Admiral Sprague knew precisely what he faced. “I thought, we might as well give them all we’ve got before we go down,” he later recalled. That meant getting into position to launch planes and putting as much distance as possible between his ships and the faster Japanese. Both of those goals could be met by heading east, into the wind.
Ziggy Sprague coolly measured what would become a steadily shifting matrix of variables—enemy course headings, patterns of wind and squalls, the effectiveness of his own ships’ evasions and protective smoke laying and the effect of the enemy fire—and instinctively planned his escape. He ordered his ships to turn from their northerly course to an eastward one, on heading 090. Three factors recommended that course: first, it was directly away from the Japanese fleet; second, it brought a strong wind rushing from bow to stern over his carrier decks—an apparent headwind of twenty-two knots was necessary to get a fully loaded Avenger airborne, even with catapult assistance; and third, it took him toward open ocean, where he could hope for the intervention not only of rainsqualls but perhaps also of other American ships. “I wanted to pull the enemy out where somebody could smack him,” he would write; either Oldendorf or Halsey, wherever they were, could handle that job. “If we were going to expend ourselves I wanted to make it count.”
At 6:50 Sprague flipped on the TBS radio and ordered the skippers of his command, “Signal execute on receipt. Shackle baker uncle easy unshackle turn.” Between the words shackle and unshackle was the coded numerical heading Sprague intended to follow. Baker Uncle Easy were the encoded integers for a heading of 090. All as one, the helmsmen on twelve of Taffy 3’s thirteen ships turned to the right, bringing their ships on an eastward heading. Sprague also passed the order to begin making smoke for concealment. Aboard the jeep carriers, flight deck crews raced to ready their planes for launch.
It took only five minutes to turn the six nimble carriers onto a windward course. Sprague ordered, “Launch all planes as soon as possible,” then hedged against the long-shot possibility that the fleet opposing him might yet be friendly: “Caution all pilots to identify all ships before attacking.” The roar and colorful splashes of incoming shells, however, all but removed that distant possibility.
Many of Sprague’s planes had been airborne since first light, flying off before daybreak to strike targets on Leyte. Now, needing the bombs they carried, he ordered them to abort and return. He also needed help from the other two Taffies to his south. On the TBS circuit he raised the commander of Taffy 2, Rear Adm. Felix Stump, “Come in please. Come in please…. To any or all: We have enemy fleet consisting of BBs and cruisers fifteen miles astern closing us. We are being fired on.”
Admiral Stump got on the line, already briefed by intercepted radio transmissions, and said, “Don’t be alarmed, Ziggy, remember we’re back of you. Don’t get excited! Don’t do anything rash!” Since Stump’s Taffy 2 was the only of the three Taffies not under direct attack—Taffy 1 would be fighting off land-based Japanese aircraft most of the morning—he was best positioned to help Sprague. Still, something about his tone tended to undercut his advice.
Thomas Sprague, in simultaneous command of Taffy 1 and all three Taffies, recognized that in the coming fight Ziggy Sprague should be free to decide how to conduct it. All that Thomas Sprague could do for him was cover bureaucratic bases and ask the Seventh Fleet’s commander of support aircraft for permission to launch all available torpedo bombers and “go after them.” The request was duly granted, and thereafter, according to Admiral Stump, “no orders were received from anyone during the entire day, nor were any necessary.” It was Ziggy Sprague’s battle to win or lose, “using the initiative that was required under the prevailing circumstances.”
Ziggy Sprague knew that help was a long way off. What he didn’t know was that Jesse Oldendorf’s battleships, idling in Leyte Gulf after their historic victory in Surigao Strait, would be kept from coming to his assistance because Admiral Kinkaid feared the Southern Force might turn around and attack again through Surigao Strait. Though one might question the wisdom of ensuring against a contingent disaster when a very real one was already at hand, the cold fact of October 25 was that Admiral Sprague, the ships and men of Taffy 3, and their brothers to their south, would have no help from the overwhelming naval power marshaled to their north and south. They were on their own.
Sprague’s moves in the crucible of imminent combat were swift but not rash. One trait of good commanders is that they make simple decisions at the right times and without delay. Sprague was an instinctive and forceful decision maker. He played golf in a hurry. He didn’t line up his putts. He just walked up to the ball and hit it. When he met his future wife, Annabel, he knew immediately he would marry her. At Pearl Harbor he knew right away what to do with the few weapons he had on the Tangier. On the morning of October 25, with an overwhelming Japanese task force pressing down on him, he saw instantly the surest route to his slim hope of survival. If he did not completely resign himself to dying, he at least accepted the reasonable certainty of an imminent swim. If no assistance came from other ships, Sprague would settle for the intervention of a heavenly being of whom during quieter periods of his life he had asked, and to whom he had given, relatively little.
“Aoyama; Kanpeishiki no Zu”. Emperor Meiji holds a military review at army camp in Aoyama.
The Reorganized Superintendency
In May 1885 the army ministry revised the garrison regulations. The commander of each garrison became a division commander while the superintendent controlled two divisions and became a corps commander.48 This was the army’s first step to convert the fixed garrisons to more mobile and modern infantry divisions, but it also required a more thorough overhaul of the superintendency. With Meckel serving as an adviser, recently promoted Maj. Gen. Katsura, chief of the army ministry’s general affairs bureau, and other like-minded general staff officers set to work to reorganize the superintendency to accommodate the command and control requirements of the new division force structure.
Based on preliminary studies, in late 1885 Katsura recommended to Yamagata that the current superintendency be abolished as an operational headquarters and converted to the army’s training command. Simultaneously, the army would introduce a centralized promotion system based on competitive examinations, not seniority, and establish age limits for active-duty service. It would also revise current regulations that made promotion to full general conditional on command of large units during wartime and subsequently on wartime command. These measures were designed to sweep away the deadwood in the officer corps and promote outstanding younger officers by competitive examination based on individual talent.
With Yamagata’s blessing, in March 1886 Katsura established the Provisional Committee to Study Military Systems, a nineteen-member group chaired by Col. Kodama Gentarō, to consider army reorganization. Meckel advised the committee and met with Kodama on a bi-weekly basis to discuss force structure issues and the national army’s mission. Meckel also drafted position papers, including one that addressed the command and control implications of converting the fixed garrisons into mobile divisions.
Meckel saw no need for a wartime corps echelon because the army would be small—only seven divisions —and its strategy defensive: to repel invasion of the home islands. Relying on mobility, individual divisions could quickly deploy to their assigned defensive sectors in wartime and, with attached artillery and technical units, conduct independent operations, much like a small corps in a European army. Thus the division became the army’s operational maneuver element. If a corps echelon was superfluous, so was the current superintendency system, which functioned as a wartime corps command equivalent. According to Meckel, the superintendent could administer two divisions during peacetime, thereby providing unified training at all levels, but would have no wartime role.
In line with previous studies, Meckel further recommended the creation of an inspectorate who would supervise army-wide military training and officer education and report directly to the emperor. The inspector-general would be equal in rank to the chief of staff and the war minister (which replaced the army minister under the newly installed cabinet system, discussed below). Finally, he proposed a personnel section to manage officers’ promotions and assignments. War Minister Ōyama submitted Meckel’s recommendations to the cabinet on July 10, 1886.
Soga, Miura, and their allies adamantly opposed the abolition of the existing superintendency and its replacement by an inspector-general of military education under Yamagata’s control. From their powerful positions—Miura commanded the Tokyo garrison and Soga was vice chief of the army staff—they insisted that neither the general staff nor the war ministry (which had been established in December 1885) had jurisdiction over the regional superintendents because they reported directly to the emperor, and therefore an imperial decree was needed to change their positions. They rejected reforms such as competitive examinations for promotion and drew support from officers whose professional careers were tied to the traditional seniority-based promotion system. Lt. Gen. Tani (agricultural minister at the time but still on active duty) and Chief of Staff Prince Arisugawa likewise rejected the reforms, especially placing the inspectorate functions under the war ministry, which they believed vested excessive power in the war minister’s hands. According to rumors, Emperor Meiji agreed with them and hoped to appoint Miura as chief of staff. Yamagata, however, ignored the emperor’s preference and schemed with Ōyama to undercut Miura by removing him from command of the Tokyo garrison.
After a July 12, 1886, imperial audience with Arisugawa, Emperor Meiji temporarily postponed the initiatives to allow Prime Minister Itō time to broker a compromise. Itō got Arisugawa and Yamagata to agree that the newly established war ministry would manage infantry officer promotions and the inspectorate for all other branches. They also concurred that the general staff would control the new inspectorate based on Itō’s promise that the inspectorate would be subsequently reorganized. The army abolished the superintendency on July 24 and replaced it with the so-called new inspector-general, which was administratively under the war minister.
By moving the inspectorate’s peacetime administrative functions to the war ministry, the army empowered the war minister with the authority to control personnel promotion policies and to issue operational orders to garrison commanders. This change diminished the authority of the regional inspector-generals by converting them from an operational headquarters that issued orders to a training one that took orders. The 1886 revisions also dropped the requirement for wartime command for promotion to flag officer, made selection to full general a matter of imperial appointment, and replaced promotion by seniority with a promotion system based on competitive examination results. For their persistent opposition, Soga was transferred from vice chief of staff to the commandant of the military academy and Miura was transferred to Kumamoto. Miura resigned rather than accept the demotion. Both remained outspoken critics of the army’s direction.
The settlement left unresolved the relationship between the new division force structure and the regional inspectors because the latter still reported directly to the emperor and served in wartime as corps commanders. During the transition period to divisions, the war ministry, as Itō promised, again reorganized the inspectorate. The July 1887 imperial order finally standardized army-wide training by placing it under the new inspectorate general, which was directly subordinate to the emperor and coordinated all military training and competitive examinations. Yamagata, concurrently home minister, was appointed the first inspector-general but served only nine months, apparently to ensure that the new organization got off the ground. The agency was the forerunner of the inspector-general of military education established by imperial order in January 1893 to enforce army-wide proficiency standards.
General Staff Reforms
Regulations issued in December 1885 created ten ministries in the newly organized cabinet. The war minister (formerly the army minister) continued to manage the army’s administrative functions—annual budget preparation, weapons procurement, personnel issues, and relations with the Diet—and reported to the prime minister on such matters. The new rules allowed the chief of staff to report directly to the throne on classified military matters without informing civilian cabinet members. Notwithstanding the chief of staff’s direct access to the throne, the war minister was encouraged to report such occurrences to the prime minister. The chief of the council of state had previously controlled the other ministers and held military command prerogatives; the newly designated prime minister, however, would have no say in matters of military operations or command.
The new cabinet authorized a separate naval general staff under the navy ministry. Two general staffs—one army, one navy—necessitated further reorganization, and in March 1886 the cabinet established a centralized supervisory agency to separate operational military matters from affairs of state. The new agency, in effect a joint general staff, was responsible for joint planning and operational coordination. A neutral imperial family member, Prince Arisugawa, became chief of staff to keep the lid on simmering internal service discord. He had two vice chiefs of staff—one from the army, one from the navy—who directed their respective staffs, and a joint staff to conduct joint planning to enable the services to react quickly to emergencies. This restructuring harkened back to the arrangement under the council of state and reflected the services’ inability to resolve roles and missions. Instead, a compromise imperial figurehead presided over two competitive general staffs that operated independently of each other.
Arisugawa’s appointment as chief of the joint staff attempted to capitalize on the direct link between the army and the throne. The flawed organizational arrangement proved unsatisfactory, in part because army infighting over the nature of the joint staff’s authority continued unabated, in part because the differing expertise of army and navy officers complicated coordination, and in part because Arisugawa, like many of his veteran contemporaries, lacked the formal military education, specialized military knowledge, and technical expertise demanded in a rapidly changing army and navy.
To remedy these deficiencies, two years later—in May 1888—the army again reorganized the general staff, changing the name to the army and navy staff directorate, eliminating the vice chief positions, and replacing them with an army and a navy general staff responsible to a single chief of staff for imperial forces. Arisugawa became chief of staff and served as the emperor’s military adviser on matters of operational planning and national defense. Arisugawa, however, had no staff, only a deputy, and depended on the service staffs for advice. In theory, the chief of staff was the ideal mechanism to coordinate joint planning and large-unit operations, but the services refused to cooperate with each other, joint planning did not materialize, and attempts at unified command again failed.
Articles eleven and twelve of the new Meiji Constitution promulgated in February 1889 formally institutionalized the military’s prerogative of supreme command. Article eleven made the emperor supreme commander of the army and navy, and article twelve established the emperor’s authority to set the peacetime organization of his military forces. Constitutional scholars interpreted the former to empower the general staff to assist the emperor without reference to the cabinet, effectively placing the services beyond the control of the prime minister. This was a major goal of the oligarchs—to keep the army out of politics or, phrased differently, to keep party politicians and political factions from running the army.
Senior army officers also feared that under the new constitution one general officer could in theory control two separate service staffs, a situation that might impinge on imperial prerogatives of command. To prevent this possibility and to retain its dominant position in military affairs, army leaders convinced the emperor to eliminate the chief of staff and place the naval general staff under the new navy minister. The army general staff, however, would be independent of the newly created war ministry and enjoy direct access to the throne. Arisugawa became the chief of the newly reorganized general staff, and the serving army chief of staff moved to the vice chief position. This latest change made the chief of staff the de facto army chief of staff because the navy staff had to issue its orders through the navy minister, who did not enjoy direct access to the throne. The arrangement left the military without an integrated joint staff to oversee operational command and control.
Diehard conservatives like Miura detested the thought of a powerful centralized government, which had already displayed its corrupt nature by promoting regional factionalism within the army. They had devoted most of the decade of the 1880s trying to block the Satsuma-Chōshū monopoly on senior army posts and army reforms, only to see institutional reforms, a new force structure, a reorganized general staff, and a revamped administrative system that strengthened Yamagata, Ōyama, and their respective regional cliques’ grips on the army. Miura claimed that factionalism had led the restoration astray and that Japan’s proper course should be to field a small army tailored to defend the main islands. Together with army Vice Chief of Staff Soga and retired generals Tani and Torio he doggedly opposed Ōyama’s and Yamagata’s attempts to introduce a big army organized in a German-style military system.
Allied with Miura and Soga were an anti-mainstream group of officers, who formed a well-organized opposition centered in the Getsuyōkai, a fraternal organization of army officers established in 1881 by graduates of the military academy’s initial two classes. The Getsuyōkai originally encouraged research into the latest developments in military science to improve army officers’ professional expertise, contribute to national defense, and aid understanding of large-unit operations. Membership soon exceeded fifty officers. Other specialized professional associations for officers—from cavalrymen to veterinarians—proliferated throughout the army.
In 1884 the Getsuyōkai chairman, the Francophile commandant of the Toyama Infantry School, appointed Miura, Soga, Tani (now retired from active duty and director of the Peers Academy), and Torio (also retired and director of the government statistical bureau) the association’s advisers. The French faction of Miura and Soga dominated the organization, using its lectures, newsletter, and later its journal, the Getsuyōkai kiji, to lambaste Yamagata and the army leadership, denounce the army’s Prussian reforms, and promote a small-army, antiexpansionist agenda. Under Soga’s direction, the journal published biting critiques of senior officers, deriding them as superannuated veterans of the wars of restoration living on their past reputations, unaware of the advances in military science, and sitting idly at their desks while real soldiers were maneuvering troops in field exercises.
Stung by charges that they were ignorant of modern military technology and doctrine, top army leaders counterattacked. Maj. Gen. Nogi, a brigade commander, and Vice Chief of Staff Kawakami Sōroku, who had recently returned from a year in Germany, publicly dismissed the critics as irresponsible tyros whose conduct was detrimental to military regulations and undermined army discipline and military order. But the Getsuyōkai would remain a thorn in the army leadership’s side throughout the decade of the 1880s.
Filling the Ranks
The overwhelming majority of conscripts came from farming communities and were overrepresented in the army. Almost 80 percent of the 1888 cohort, for example, was drawn from primary industry (forestry, agriculture, and fishing) at a time when roughly 65 percent of Japanese worked in that sector. Mining, manufacturing, and construction—the second and tertiary sectors—accounted for about 35 percent of all workers but only 11 percent of conscripts in 1888.
In 1887 the army adopted the Prussian system of one-year volunteers to build a reserve officer pool. Instead of facing conscription after their student deferments expired, middle school graduates could volunteer for specialized training designed to produce reserve officers. Candidates volunteered for a one-year specialized active-duty service, at the end of which they were commissioned as reserve second lieutenants. They could select their branch of service, live outside the garrison confines, and were exempt from routine fatigue duties in the barracks. They wore special insignia on their uniforms and were promoted to superior private after six months. With their regimental commander’s endorsement and successful completion of qualifying tests after six more months, they became reserve officers. In exchange for the privileges, the volunteers paid for their clothing, food, and equipment, which the army assessed at 60 yen (80 yen for cavalry to care for a horse). These sums were far beyond the reach of most Japanese, accounting for the tiny number (only 0.7 percent) of volunteers of the total cohort.
About 100 men volunteered the first year of the program, but by 1897 more than 1,000 volunteer reserve officers were enrolled in the program, spurred in part by the 1889 conscription reforms described below.67 Following their year on active duty, reserve officers went into the reserves for seven years, which was better than three years’ active duty followed by nine years in the reserves. They were subject to annual call-ups to active duty to maintain their military proficiency.
Of the more than 35,000 volunteers between 1906 and 1916, almost half chose the infantry branch, but a quarter selected transport or intendance specialties and overloaded branches the army had scant use for. Subsequent reforms created an abbreviated six-month voluntary active-duty training course designed to replace continual student deferments. As the active force gradually grew from about 65,000 in 1888 to 77,000 in 1893, the army simultaneously built a responsive reserve force capable upon mobilization of doubling the size of the force in wartime.
Major changes in 1889 to conscription regulations also followed the Prussian model in order to build a large enlisted reserve that would fill out the wartime divisions. Legislation eliminated deferments and established four categories of service: active duty, first reserve, second reserve, and national militia (territorial reserve), making a clear distinction between active duty and reserve forces.
The new law also delineated induction categories: graded A through E, with A and B being the source of conscripts. In 1899 the B category was subdivided into two groups, identified by minor physical differences. An annual preinduction physical rated 20-year-olds for military duty in this manner: A, fully fit; B, fit with minor deficiencies such as weaker bone and muscle structure, rashes, scars, or tattoos that did not interfere with the execution of military duties; C, those between four foot, eight inches and five feet in height, ineligible for frontline duty but placed in rear service positions; and D, those shorter than four foot, eight inches or suffering from habitual illness or deformity. The “A” candidates were conscripted, served three years on active duty, and then automatically went into the reserves for another four years, available for recall to fill out wartime augmentations. The “B” group usually was placed in the first reserve, and the “C” group went into the second reserve. The first reserve served as replacements and fillers for wartime mobilization whereas the second reserve was assigned to the transport branch to augment the expanded wartime logistics table of organization. Reservists received ninety days of basic training and thereafter were liable for one call-up per year for training, not to exceed sixty days. These remained the induction categories through 1945.
Conscripts, who were forbidden by army regulations from marrying during their first three years on active duty, were separated by year-group (first-, second- , or third-year soldiers) for training purposes. Each year was subdivided into seven training periods. A recruit underwent six months of basic training (periods one through three), followed by six months of unit and field training with second- and third-year soldiers (periods four through seven). Third-year soldiers were less involved in drills and exercises, so their proficiency decreased as their longevity increased. The model stressed technical and weapons proficiency and march-discipline for rapid mobility. After 1889 the army emphasized leadership, the intangible or morale qualities of battle, and tougher discipline.
By the early 1880s, the army had adopted western (mainly French) court-martial regulations for various serious offenses such as mutiny, desertion, disobedience to orders, rape, and mistreatment of prisoners. Caning on the back or buttocks was a standard punishment. Concurrently, a system of harsh, informally administered corporal punishments to deal with minor infractions developed in the barracks. Slapping conscripts was routine, gang beatings were common, and harassment and bullying were constant. The aim was to guarantee absolute obedience to a superior’s orders and instill unquestioning compliance as a reflex or habit in the tractable soldier. Henceforth, a combination of informally administered punishments and officially established courts-martial enforced Spartan discipline, linked to the notion that one’s ability to endure physical hardship and suffering stoically was the essence of the Japanese spirit.
Parallel with the 1889 conscription reform, the army encouraged local jurisdictions with village and city neighborhood associations to honor departing conscripts with neighborhood send-offs and conduct ceremonies to recognize returning veterans. Except for the Imperial Guard, which recruited nationwide, each division was administratively responsible for four local regimental conscription districts (one for each regiment in a division). Because each regiment recruited locally, conscripts knew each other, but more important were known to villagers, neighbors, and local authorities, increasing local peer pressure on conscripts to do well in the army.
The army’s transition during the twenty-year span was remarkable. During the 1870s a hard-pressed, slapdash force had defeated samurai uprisings large and small, ending the warrior threat to the new government. It had crushed peasant uprisings and suppressed the people’s rights movement, eliminating the risk of popular insurrection. By the mid-1890s the army had organized itself into a modern force structure, tested concepts in extensive field exercises, and improved communications and support functions. Its professional officer corps was well versed in tactics and operational concepts, though somewhat weaker in military strategy. A highly trained and well-disciplined NCO corps ensured order and control in the ranks. Conscription reforms in 1883 and 1889 had produced a large, trained reserve force available for mobilization. The army also created a professional military bureaucracy that by 1890 had eliminated French influence in the army and introduced educational and structural reforms to ensure promotion based on merit and ability.
The institution was less successful in the formation of a general staff, which despite several reorganizations still could not coordinate joint planning, much less joint operations. Furthermore, the military’s new bureaucratic processes worked well so long as the civilian and military leaders shared common objectives and respected the informal policy-making apparatus. The gradual appearance of a professional officer class, however, promoted institutionalized processes and mechanisms that undermined the unofficial personality-dependent system. Over time, the emerging military bureaucracy would prove fatal to the traditional dominance of the army’s Chōshū and Satsuma officers because it rewarded professional expertise and education, not personal connections, regional affiliations, or past wartime service.
Even though the genesis of the turbojet began long before World War 2, it would take the war to accelerate the development of this new powerplant to the point that by the close of hostilities jet aircraft had been blooded in battle. Germany can, by some, be considered the leader in turbojet technology during the war, but the US and Britain were not far behind. Japan, too, was not idle in producing its own turbojet but it would take German knowledge to give their industries a boost. One such results was was an historic aircraft in the annals of Japanese aviation history: the Nakajima Kitsuka.
Because the Kitsuka (which in Japanese means ‘Wild Orange Blossom’) was probably the most important Japanese aircraft to use a jet engine as its powerplant, it seems apt to provide a general overview of Japanese turbojet development in this section. The first axial-flow turbojet was patented in 1921 by Frenchman Maxime Guillaume. However, the technology of his day was not enough to realise a working model. In 1930, Englishman Frank Whittle designed a turbojet using a centrifugal compressor and, despite relatively little interest being shown in it, he patented his concept. In 1933, German Hans von Ohain designed a turbojet similar to Whittle’s but it would not be until 1936 that Ernst Heinkel took an interest in the engine and hired von Ohain to continue his work. By March 1937, this resulted in the Heinkel HeS 1, the first German jet engine although in fact a hydrogen demonstrator. The following month Whittle tested his first jet engine, the WU or Whittle Unit.
Around this time, Rear Admiral Kōichi Hanajima became aware of Whittle’s work as well as that of Secondo Campini, an Italian who began work on a thermojet and an aircraft to use it: the Campini Caproni N.1 in 1934. This rekindled his interest in jet propulsion and using his position as head of the engine division of the Dai-Ichi Kaigun Kōkū Gijutsu-shō, saw to it that studies were conducted in such engines. Hanajima reached out to the Tōkyō Imperial University and Mitsubishi Jūkōgyō K.K. and together all manner of rocket and jet engines were investigated such as ramjets. To Hanajima’s disappointment, little official interest was generated from the results.
1938 saw German firm BMW begin their research into turbojets and the Heinkel He 178 V1 prototype was built to test the HeS 3 turbojet that was being developed from the earlier HeS 1. In late 1938, Messerschmitt started work on what would become the world’s first jet fighter to enter squadron service, the Me 262. In Japan, and despite the lack of interest being shown in jet propulsion, Captain Tokiyasu Tanegashima was appointed as the head of the Engine Test and Field Support Shop of Kūgishō. He was issued with a meager sum to fund jet engine research although, with the assistance of Professor Fukusaburō Numachi, he would initially focus his efforts on turboprops. Both men were able to source the Ishikawajima-Shibaura Turbine Company and Ebara Seizō K.K. to help build a number of test engines that used compressors and gas turbines, but these labours did not bear fruit.
By 1939, BMW had tested its first axial-flow turbojet design and on 27 August of that year the He 178 V1 made its first flight, the first turbojet powered aircraft to fly. In February 1940, the British Air Ministry ordered two examples of the E.28/39 research aircraft from the Gloster Aircraft Company to serve as testbed aircraft for Whittle’s engines. 1940 also saw the Italian N.1 fly for the first time and Heinkel began gliding tests of the He 280 jet fighter prototype as it waited for its two HeS 8 turbojets now under development (the He 280 did not enter production). November would see Junkers test the Jumo 004 turbojet and Gloster’s jet fighter proposal, the Meteor, was ordered in February 1941. Also in November, Lockheed commenced work on the L-1000 axial-flow turbojet, the first American jet. Finally, in December, Whittle’s W.1X turbojet, a flight ready engine, was tested for the first time.
Japan though, was not idle in 1940. Early in the year, Tanegashima, with the help of the Mitsui Seiki Kogyo K.K., created a free piston compressor for a gas turbine based on a Junkers design, but it was not a success as a means for aircraft propulsion. Another attempt was tried by a different department. Under the leadership of Lieutenant Commander Osamu Nagano, head of the Kūgishō aircraft engine division, and Masanori Miyata, who led the Kūgishō electric parts section, built a tiny free piston compressor gas turbine, generating one tenth of a horsepower at 12,000rpm that drove a magneto that lit a lamp. Despite this measure of success, apathy on the part of the IJN continued to stymie progress. Tanegashima soon realised that the Japanese industry was not capable of constructing a free piston engine and switched his studies to axial flow jets.
On 15 May 1941, the Gloster E.28/39 flew for the first time, but previously in April, Heinkel’s He 280 V1 had flown under jet power on its maiden flight, the first jet fighter to fly. 1942 saw the Junkers Jumo 004 under test while BMW focused efforts on the BMW 003 Sturm. Heinkel was instructed to concentrate on developing the HeS 011, a turbojet that was to power the second generation of German jets. On 18 July, the Messerschmitt Me 262 flew under turbojet power, becoming the second jet fighter to fly, and on 2 October, the American Bell XP-59 Airacomet jet fighter made its maiden flight. By this time, Japanese engineers and scientists had learned of the flight of the He 178 as proof that an aircraft powered by a jet engine was feasible. This was just the boost the flagging Japanese jet engine research desperately needed.
As a result two different paths were taken with renewed vigour. The first employed the principle of the thermojet (as used by Secondo Campini) and was called the Tsu-11. While this engine was to be selected for use in the Kūgishō Ōka Model 22, it was found to be unsuited as a powerplant for a jet aircraft. The second route, that of a pure jet engine, was pursued further. Kūgishō’s Vice Admiral Misao Wada was the man who oversaw the development of a turbojet and the first result was the TR-10. This had a single stage, centrifugal compressor with a single stage turbine and was, in essence, built by adapting a turbosupercharger. The engine was constructed by Ebara Seizō K.K. When the TR-10 was first tested in the summer of 1943 its performance did not meet expectations. The TR-10 was renamed the Ne 10 and the engine was further developed by adding four axial stages in front of the engine inlet. This reduced the load on the centrifugal compressor, lowered the engine RPM and produced more thrust. The revised jet engine was designated the Ne 12. The problem with the Ne 12, however, was its great weight and so steps were taken to lighten the engine, which resulted in the Ne 12B.
1944 was an ominous year for Japan. When the Mariana Islands of Saipan and Tinian were wrestled from the Japanese by US forces in July and August, Japan found herself well within striking distance of the Boeing B-29 Superfortresses. Prior to this, B-29 raids had to fly from remote bases in China and India and so the bombing of Japanese targets was relatively rare. Staging from Saipan and Tinian, B-29s were far closer, could be more active and the Japanese were only too aware of this. In addition, it was surmised that it would only be a matter of time before the main Japanese islands were targeted for invasion. In August 1944, the Kaigun Koku Hombu called for a meeting to discuss changes in air strategy to combat the air and land threat as well as to consider the aircraft that would be used. The Kaigun Koku Hombu invited aircraft designers from both Nakajima and Kawanishi to attend and the outcome of this meeting was the proposal for three classes of aircraft termed Kōkoku Heiki (one literal translation being ‘Empire Weapon’). The first class, or Kōkoku Heiki No.1, was the adaptation of current aircraft to accept a 800kg (1,760 lb) bomb with which their pilots would undertake shimpū missions and target enemy invasion ships. If the bomb overloaded the carrying capacity of the aircraft, then RATO (Rocket Assisted Take-Off) units would be used to get them airborne. Kōkoku Heiki No.3 was to be a conventional, radial engine aircraft designed by Kawanishi as the Tokkō-ki, which would be used for shimpū missions, but this project was soon abandoned (perhaps because the IJN was to build the similar Nakajima Ki-115 as the Showa Toka). It would be Kōkoku Heiki No.2 which provided the seed for the Nakajima Kitsuka. This ‘Empire Weapon’ was to be an aircraft that used the Tsu-11 and, when available, the Ne 12 turbojet.
However, three months prior to the meeting, efforts were underway to obtain the Me 262 from Germany. In May 1944, the Japanese negotiated for the manufacturing rights to the Me 262 and the Germans initially agreed to the release. However, the deal was not concluded due to the large number of modifications that the design was found to require after its flight testing. It was not until July 1944 that orders were given to provide the Japanese with blueprints of the Me 262 fighter and the Junkers Jumo 004 and BMW 003 turbojets.
On 22 July 1944, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring authorised the licensing of the Me 262 to Japan and the delivery of one sample aircraft. However, the Japanese submarine I-29 had left Lorient, France, on 16 April with a sample Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet and plans for the Me 262 and BMW 003 turbojet among its cargo. Also aboard the submarine was Technical Commander Eiichi Iwaya who carried on his person a portion of the documentation on the German fighter and turbojets. By 14 July, the I-29 had arrived in Singapore. Iwaya, seeking to reach Japan as soon as possible, disembarked from I-29 and took only a portion of the German documentation. From Singapore, Iwaya flew to Tōkyō. On 26 July, Allied code intercepts pinpointed the location of I-29 and the USS Sawfish sent her to the bottom near the Balintang Channel in the Luzon Strait, taking the precious cargo with her.
When Iwaya arrived in Japan, all he possessed of the German files with regards to the Me 262 and turbojets was a single copy of a cross-section of the BMW 003A turbojet. The subsequent news of the loss of I-29 was a crushing blow, but not a fatal one by any means. In studying the BMW 003A document, the Japanese found it to be of a similar design to the Ne 12 but instead of the centrifugal compressor the German engine used an eight stage axial-flow compressor. It was adjudged that this method was superior to the Ne 12 and as such, efforts should be concentrated on building the Japanese equivalent to the BMW 003A. Despite the decision against it, work on the Ne 12B continued. Four companies were involved in the development of the new turbojet. Each was to be provided with a copy of the BMW 003A cross-section and other available data and to build their own versions. Ishikawajima-Shibaura Turbine Company was to develop the Ne 130, Nakajima Hikōki K.K. the Ne 230, Mitsubishi Jūkōgyō K.K. the Ne 330, and Kūgishō would move forwards with the Ne 20.
Following the August conference with the Kaigun Koku Hombu, Ken’ichi Matsumura, chief designer for Nakajima and with the assistance of Kazuo Ōno, produced a number of concept drawings for the Kōkoku Heiki No.2. Within Nakajima, the new aircraft was given the codename Maru-Ten. On 14 September 1944, IJN representatives met with Nakajima at their Koizumi plant to discuss the concepts which had been put forward. The design that stood out was based on a description of the Me 262 as provided by Technical Commander Eiichi Iwaya who, while in Germany, was able to view and study the German jet. Thus, Matsumura’s drawing bore an outward resemblance to the Me 262. After reviewing the concept, the design was approved as the Kōkoku Heiki No.2. In keeping with the shimpū mission of the aircraft, the initial design had no landing gear and was to be launched from catapult ramps, boosted with RATO units. The calculated range was a mere 204km (127 miles) due to the designated engine, the Ne 12, which burned fuel at a rapid rate. At sea level the estimated speed was 639km/h (397mph). A single bomb fixed to the aircraft was the only armament. Another feature was the inclusion of folding wings to allow the aircraft to be hidden in caves and tunnels and protected from bombing attacks.
On 8 October, Kūgishō ordered Kazuo Yoshida, plant director for Nakajima, to have a wooden mock-up of the aircraft completed and ready for inspection by the end of the month. In addition Nakajima was told to have the initial structural plans finished by the same date. This was ordered so that production of the aircraft could begin without delay. Unfortunately, delays would be a major problem. The IJN promised that the Ne 12 would be ready for testing by November 1944 and in short order thereafter, production engines would be available. Based on this assumption, Nakajima was to construct thirty aeroplanes by the end of December 1944. Because of the rush to produce the aircraft, a myriad of problems arose with the design which necessitated changes. A major issue was the lack of critical war materials which required the use of substitutes and brought additional delays. To compound the problem, Nakajima was concerned that the Ne 12B would not be ready despite the IJN’s promises.
Meanwhile, Kūgishō proceeded with the Ne 20. The engineers were forced to use alloys which were not to the standards of the German engine and would be a source of problems during testing. The design of the Ne 20 was smaller than the BMW 003A but it retained the combustion chamber shape of the German engine. While it used the same size of burner as the BMW 003A, it only used twelve instead of sixteen due to the smaller size. Kūgishō would draft and refine the design of the Ne 20 through December.
On 9 December 1944, the IJN called a meeting to discuss the progress and outlook of the Kōkoku Heiki No.2. Based on the problems Nakajima were having with the aircraft, not to mention the doubts about the Ne 12, the production schedule was revised. Nakajima were requested to produce the first prototype by February 1945 for use in static testing. It was also during this meeting that the aircraft’s specifications underwent a revision. Instead of a fixed bomb, the bomb could now be released by the pilot. The role of the aircraft was also changed. No longer was it to be used for a shimpū mission but instead for close air support, the aircraft acting as a fast attack bomber. As a consequence of these changes, the design had to incorporate a landing gear. The IJN issued its specifications for the new jet, which was now called the Kitsuka, and the documents requested:
Span: no more than 5.3m (17.3ft) with the wings folded
Length: no more than 9.5m (31.1ft)
Height: no more than 3.1m (10.1ft)
Powerplant: Two Ne 12 jet engines
Maximum Speed: 513km/h (319mph) with 500kg (1,102 lb) bomb
Range: 204km (127 miles) with a 500kg (1,102 lb) bomb or 278km (173 miles) with a 250kg (551 lb) bomb
Landing Speed: 148km/h (92mph)
Take-off Run: 350m (1,148ft) using two 450kg (992 lb) RATO bottles
Manoeuvrability: The aircraft had to be highly manoeuvrable, have a short turn radius and be stable at speed to facilitate target tracking
Protection: Shatter proof glass for the canopy. Front windscreen to have 70mm of bullet proof glass. 12mm of steel armour plate below and behind the pilot. Fuel tanks to be 22mm sandwich types
Basic Instrumentation: Tachometer, altimeter, artificial horizon, airspeed indicator, Model O Type 1 flux gate compass, fuel pressure gauge, oil pressure gauge, oil temperature gauge, tail pipe temperature gauge and a pitot tube electric heater
Basic Equipment: Type O parachute, automatic fire extinguisher, Type 3 dry battery, Type 3 radio receiver, Type 1 life raft and a reserve weight of 30kg (66.1 lb)
1945 would open with more misfortune for the Japanese war machine. Japanese troops were pushed out of Burma from 5 January and B-29s would bomb Tōkyō the next day. Two days earlier, Matsumura and Ōno, along with others involved in the Kitsuka project, discussed the possibility of using the Ne 20 turbojet in place of the Ne 12. In the debate, some suggested that the Ne 20 was not as far in development than the Ne 12 and would delay progress if used. On the other hand, some argued that the Ne 12 was not achieving significant results. In the end, the consensus was that the Ne 12 should remain as the powerplant only because it was projected to be ready before the Ne 20.
On 28 January 1945, the wooden mock-up of the Kitsuka was finally ready for inspection at Nakajima’s Koizumi plant. Vice Admiral Misao Wada and his staff visited the plant and inspected the mock-up with both Matsumura and Ōno in attendance. It was made clear to the Kūgishō inspectors that the Kitsuka was a very simple aircraft that could be constructed in 7,500 man-hours. By comparison, it took 15,000 man-hours to build a Mitsubishi A6M Reisen. Following the inspection, Nakajima was told to make two slight adjustments to the Kitsuka. The first involved the windscreen. Originally, the front windscreen was rounded but now it was desired that it should be flat panelled. This change may have been suggested to allow for the future installation of a reflector gun sight because such a sight requires flat panels to avoid sighting problems due to canopy distortion. The second alteration was to make the canopy slide to the rear instead of opening to the side. At the conclusion of the meeting, Nakajima was told to cease all work on the Nakajima J5N1 Tenrai and the company was also informed that they could expect the Nakajima G8N1 Renzan to be terminated as well. These changes in production and development were done to speed the coming production of the Kitsuka. The close of January also saw the final design draft of the Ne 20 completed and almost immediately work began to build the first engine. Kūgishō’s Aero Engine Division provided 400 machine tools and engineers and labourers began to toil day and night to realise the Ne 20.
February 1945 opened with the Japanese naval docks in Singapore targeted and destroyed by B-29 bombers along with continued fighting in the Philippines. A second inspection of the Kitsuka was called for on 10 February. Present at the inspection, among the other engineers and Kūgishō personnel, were Technical Commander Iwaya and the man who was destined to fly the Kitsuka, Lieutenant Commander Susumu Takaoka. The Kitsuka was given final approval and production was to commence at once, even before the Kitsuka had been flight tested. The first five Kitsuka aircraft, No.1 through No.5, were to serve as prototypes and none would be fitted with armour plating or self-sealing fuel tanks. In addition the first two aircraft would not to be equipped with the bomb carrying apparatus. February would also see the Ne 12B tested for the first time.
Unfortunately for the Kitsuka, US bombing ensured that production did not go smoothly. Due to the ever increasing number of strikes against the industrial centres of Japan, it was felt that it was only a matter of time before the Nakajima Koizumi plant would attract the attention of US bombers. Therefore, on 17 February, engineering staff for the Kitsuka was moved to Sano in Tochigi Prefecture. Despite the move, a sizable portion of the Kitsuka component construction remained at Koizumi while the wings, tail assembly and the centre and aft portion of the fuselage were constructed by Kūgishō in Yokosuka. In the face of further bombing attacks, production was dispersed among silkworm factories and buildings in Gunma Prefecture (northwest of Tōkyō).
March arrived in a blaze of smoke and fire as the US ramped up their incendiary bomb campaign against Japan’s cities. Tōkyō and Nagoya were particular targets, the burning cities lighting the night sky. On March 26, the first Ne 20 engine was successfully test run from a cave set into a cliff in Yokosuka. With the success of the Ne 20, the Kitsuka engineering team began to seriously consider replacing the Ne 12B with the Ne 20. It was clear that the Ne 20 outperformed the Ne 12B and, based on the higher thrust potential, it was decided that the Kitsuka should use the Ne 20 even if it meant a longer delay while the engine became available. Although the current Kitsuka production did not yet involve the engine mountings, a revision of the aircraft design plans was required to accommodate the Ne 20. By March 31, these revisions were complete and the Kitsuka program entered a stage of finality.
With the revised Kitsuka, some of the specifications were adjusted as follows:
Maximum Speed: 620km/h (385mph) with a 500kg (1,102 lb) bomb at sea level
Range: 351km (218 miles), at sea level, at full power
Take-off Run: 500m (1,640ft) with two 450kg (992 lb) RATO bottles
Landing Speed: 92km/h (57mph)
Bomb Load: 500kg (1,102 lb) as normal with the ability to carry a 800kg (1,763 lb) bomb; a Type 3 rack would be used for the larger bomb
Protection: Reduce the bullet proof glass thickness to 50mm and add 12mm of armour to the front of the cockpit, while the fuel tanks would incorporate an automatic fire suppression system
Engineers working on the Ne 20 found that, although the initial test of the engine was a success, there were many issues to solve. At first, the blades were prone to cracking but this was soon overcome. An electric starter was fitted into the compressor spinner that could spin the engine at 2,250rpm; the engine would reach maximum RPM within 10-15 seconds of engine start. Gasoline was used to start the engine and once running the fuel was switched to a pine root distillate using 20-30 per cent gasoline. What was becoming a problem was how to position the tail cone. Lieutenant Commander Osamu Nagano and his team, along with Captain Tokiyasu Tanegashima, laboured to refine the Ne 20. The worsening bombing situation saw the Ne 20 team moving to Hadano in Kanagawa Prefecture, a three hour drive from Yokosuka.
Set up in warehouses belonging to a tobacco factory, the Ne 20 group comprised 10 officers and 200 men. Here, two bench testing stations were created and Ne 20 development and testing continued. The process revealed numerous flaws. At one stage the pressure of the axial-flow compressor was found to be too low. Nagano came to the conclusion that the camber of the stators was not correct and so he took them out, bent them on an anvil and then reinstalled them. These were tested in the second Ne 20 to be built. Yet another difficulty arose with the thrust bearings on the compressor which was burning out very quickly. Nagano solved the problem by revising the bearings and bearing rings. One problem that reappeared was blade cracking. The blades were made from manganese-chromium-vanadium steel and not the more suitable nickel alloy. These blades were then welded to the disk and, as such, the blades did not have the strength to withstand the operating stresses of the motor. After one to two hours of operation, cracks would appeare on the blade roots at the point where they connected to the disk. The solution was to thicken the blades but this lowered the efficiency of the engine. However, the Ne 20 was able to run for four or five hours before cracks appeared and while the engine could have run longer, there was no guarantee when blade failure would occur. With these improved results, work began to produce a small number of engines.
25 April 1945 would see the first Kitsuka fuselage completed. This was then subjected to stress and load testing which began on 20 May, but with the stipulation that the fuselage was not to be damaged during tests. Nakajima was scheduled to produce 24 Kitsuka aircraft by June 1945 and with the availability of six Ne 20 engines. On the surface, the Kitsuka project looked to be moving along. The reality was a far different story.
On 13 June, Vice Admiral Wada held a meeting to discuss the Kitsuka. Wada addressed a number of issues that were becoming problematic. Nakajima’s G8N1 Renzen program had to be stopped in order to free up production capacity for the Kitsuka as both a special attack aircraft and an interceptor. More troubling was that unless the stock of aluminium was conserved the supply would be exhausted by September 1945. At best, even with conservation, by the close of 1945 there would be no more aluminium available. As a result, only steel and wood would be left and to use such materials would, again, have caused a revision to the Kitsuka design. The final blow was that high grade aviation fuels would only be available for the Homare series of radial engines. All other engines, including the Ne 20, would have to make do with poorer quality fuel. This, coupled with defeat after defeat for the Japanese military, cast a very serious cloud over the Kitsuka project and some no longer saw value in continuing with the aircraft. Others however, had a strong desire to see the Kitsuka taken to completion because it would put Japan into the jet age.
On 25 June 1945, the first Kitsuka was completed but without its engines. Although externally the Kitsuka bore a resemblance to the Me 262, that was as far as it went. The wings of the Kitsuka had a total of 13° sweepback, the centreline of the wings being at 9°. Wing tip slots eliminated the tip stall discovered during wind tunnel testing and split flaps and droop ailerons were fitted to compensate for the heavy wing loading. Nakajima K series airfoils were used – a K 125 airfoil at the wing root and a K 309 airfoil at the wing tip. The wings were of double spar construction with nine main support ribs, all covered with steel and duralumin skinning. Mitsubishi A6M Reisen flap hinges were used on the trailing edge flaps and the wing tips were fabricated from wood and steel sheeting. The outer wing folded upwards. The Kitsuka had a slight gull wing form thanks to 5° dihedral of the centre span and 2° dihedral of the outer wing. All control surfaces were fabric covered. The fuselage had a slight triangular shape, being composed of three sections (nose, centre section and aft). The centre section had the centre wing span built into it and much of this and the other two sections were constructed from sheet steel due to the unavailability of duralumin in quantity. Twenty-four bulkheads were contained within the complete fuselage with two bulkheads coming together where each section met, which were then bolted together to complete the fuselage. Two fuel tanks were fitted, one in front of and the other behind the cockpit. The tail of the Kitsuka was fairly conventional and the aft fuselage line was kept high so that the stabiliser would not be effected by the jet efflux. For the tricycle landing gear, the main gear (to include the brake system) from a Mitsubishi A6M Reisen was modified to suit the Kitsuka and the 600mm x 172mm-sized wheels retracted into the wing. The 400mm x 140mm-sized nose wheel was taken from the tail wheel of a Kūgishō P1Y Ginga and it retracted into the rear of the nose.
After being assembled the Kitsuka was then broken down, loaded into trucks, and moved to Nakajima’s Koizumi plant where two Ne 20 engines awaited it. By 27 June, the Kitsuka had been put back together and the engines installed, and two days later weight and balance checks had been completed. The Kitsuka was then declared ready for flight testing. On 30 June 30 1945, both Ne 20 engines on the Kitsuka were started and run for a short time. Flight testing could not be conducted at the airfield at Koizumi because the runway was too short and had many approach restrictions. Misawa Air Base (Misawa Hikōjō), in Aomori Prefecture 684km (425 miles) north of Tōkyō, was also considered since it had open approaches and was rarely visited by Allied long range fighters. However, because of the great distance it was ruled out. Finally, it was settled that the airfield at Kisarazu Air Base (Kisarazu Hikōjō) would be the location for the first flight because it was far closer to Yokosuka than Misawa. Once more the Kitsuka was disassembled, loaded into trucks, and moved to the Kisarazu airfield, adjacent to Tōkyō Bay.
On arrival, the Kitsuka was reassembled and made ready for its first flight. Unfortunately, on 14 July, during engine testing, a loose nut was ingested which completely shattered the blades in one of the compressors. The damage to the engine was so extensive that repairs were simply not possible and replacement the only option. This delayed the flight for many days. As the Kitsuka was being repaired, the personnel for the 724 Kōkūtai, which had been designated a special attack unit and which would fly the Kitsuka in service, had been assembled at Yokosuka after its formation on 1 July 1945. On 15 July, the new unit moved to Misawa Air Base where it began training using Aichi D3A1 and D3A2 carrier bombers (known as Val to the Allies), which had been relegated to the training role.
On 27 July, Lieutenant Wada conducted some successful taxi tests with the Kitsuka. High speed taxi tests, however, were prepared by appointed Kitsuka test pilot Lieutenant Commander Susumu Takaoka. Two days after the initial taxi tests, Takaoka ran the Kitsuka up to 129km/h (80mph) and then applied the brakes to test their effectiveness. He found that their stopping power was not adequate, though he felt the problem was not so severe that flight testing had to be stopped. Ground testing was finally completed on 6 August, the same date that Hiroshima was devastated by the ‘Little Boy’ atomic bomb dropped from the B-29 ‘Enola Gay’. News of this strike soon reached the Kitsuka crews, technicians and engineers.
7 August 1945 would see excellent flying conditions and the Kitsuka was made ready for flight. Weather reports stated a 24km/h (15mph) southwest wind and a crosswind blowing from the right across the 1,692m (5,550ft) length of Runway 20 that pointed towards Tōkyō Bay. The Kitsuka was only given a partial fuel load to keep the weight to 3,150kg (6,945 lb); this allowed for approximately 16 minutes of flight time. No RATO bottles were fitted so that the take-off characteristics of the aircraft could be assessed. Takaoka climbed into the cockpit and made ready to take-off. On his signal the Ne 20 turbojets were started and he was soon taxiing out to the start of the runway. Once there, he extended the flaps to 20° and kept the brakes set. So as not to cause a compressor stall, Takaoka slowly eased the engine throttles forward and when both had reached 11,000rpm, he released the brakes and the Kitsuka began to roll. Twenty-five seconds later and after a run of 725m (2,378ft), the Kitsuka was airborne and went into the history books as the first Japanese jet to fly.
At 610m (2,000ft), Takaoka levelled off. He was instructed to not retract the landing gear nor exceed 314km/h (195mph). As a test pilot he was used to hearing the roar of a conventional aircraft engine and used such noise as a means to detect problems. However, Takaoka was not prepared for the whine of the turbojets that told him almost nothing outside of what his instruments reported. He circled Kisarazu airfield, keeping it in sight in case of a failure and because the airspeed kept rising, Takaoka had to constantly throttle back to keep from exceeding the gear down speed limit. A brief test of the control sensitivity showed that the rudder was stiff, the ailerons were heavy but were working and the elevators were overly responsive. When his flight time was up, Takaoka was wary of how he would land. He did not want to drop the turbojets to below 6,000rpm since that risked a flameout from which he would likely not recover in time. Therefore, he chose a long, shallow drop, lowered his flaps 40° and brought the turbojets down to 7,000rpm. On touchdown, he only needed moderate braking to bring the Kitsuka to a stop using only a little under 610m (2,000ft) of runway. Takaoka brought the Kitsuka back to the ramp amid throngs of cheering men. The total flight time was 11 minutes. In his immediate report on the flight, Takaoka stated he had experienced no problems with the engines and had no recommendations for improving the aircraft. During his debriefing, technicians had removed the cowlings to the Ne 20 turbojets and examined each engine. They found no faults and so gave the Kitsuka clearance for another flight, scheduled for 10 August 1945.
For the second flight, more fuel was to be stored and RATO bottles used; this would allow for a longer flight and test the RATO units as boosters. Takaoka would again pilot the Kitsuka. Prior to the flight Takaoka examined the RATO bottles which were fitted to the underside of the fuselage and found fault with the angle at which they were set. However, to adjust them would have taken too much time and so instead of 800kg (1,763 lb) of thrust, the bottles were reduced to 400kg (881 lb) each.
On the day of the second flight, Allied air power was highly active and any flight attempt was bound to be spotted putting the Kitsuka at risk. Consequently, it was decided to wait until the following day on 10 August. However, it would be remembered for the drafting of the Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War by the Japanese cabinet at the behest of Emperor Hirohito, though the populace had no knowledge of this.
11 August 1945 shared a similar weather pattern to the day the Kitsuka had first flown. The difference was that several IJN and IJA officials of high rank had arrived to witness the second flight. Once more Takaoka climbed into the cockpit, signalled for engine start and taxied out to the runway. As before he extended the flaps 20°, and after receiving the signal to takeoff, he slowly opened the throttles until the engines had reached 11,000rpm before releasing the brakes and the Kitsuka rolled forwards. At four seconds into the take-off roll, Takaoka activated the RATO units. Immediately, the acceleration caused the nose of the Kitsuka to pop up, the tail slamming onto the runway. Takaoka fought to get the nose down by jamming the stick forwards but he received no response from the aircraft’s elevators. The two RATO units burned for a total of nine seconds and during eight of those seconds Takaoka was helpless and unable to correct the nose up condition. One second prior to the units burning out, the elevators finally took effect and the nose came down so hard Takaoka was sure the front tyre had blown when it contacted the runway. Takaoka felt a sense of deceleration as the Kitsuka reached the halfway point on the runway – his speed at that point was 166km/h/103mph. A second later, with the feeling of deceleration still present, Takaoka decided to abort the take-off and he cut the power to the engines. Unfortunately, the brake issue Takaoka had discovered during highspeed taxi tests now came back to haunt him.
Despite maximum application of the brakes, the Kitsuka showed no signs of slowing and Takaoka was rapidly running out of runway. As he neared one of the taxiways, Takaoka held the left brake in an attempt to make the Kitsuka bring its left wing down into the ground to bleed off speed (known as a ground loop). The Kitsuka’s nose turned slightly but this then put the aircraft on a crash course with a group of hangars and buildings. Takaoka reversed the braking, holding the right brake. The Kitsuka came back around onto the runway and despite Takaoka working the brakes, it was to no avail. The aircraft ran out of tarmac and crossed the 100m (328ft) of grass overrun before the landing gear caught in a drainage ditch and collapsed. The Kitsuka slid along its belly until finally coming to a halt by the edge of the water of Tōkyō Bay. The damage to the Kitsuka was extensive. In addition to the mangled landing gear, the two Ne 20 engines were badly damaged, having been jarred from their mounts but still remaining attached to the wings. Initial assessments suggested that the damage was so severe the Kitsuka could not be repaired. On the positive side, the aircraft did not catch fire and causes of the accident were swiftly looked into. IJN Captain Itō, who was present for the flight, was thankful that the Kitsuka did not become airborne with the nose high attitude during the RATO burn. Had that happened and once the RATO bottles cut out, the Kitsuka would have most likely crashed into the ground. A motion picture camera captured the flight and the film developed to see if it could shed any light on the crash.
On 15 August, the film of the ill-fated flight was studied but proved inconclusive as to whether or not the Kitsuka was airborne once the RATO bottles were exhauasted, as was suspected. This would have explained the heavy impact of the front landing gear on the runway and the sense of deceleration experienced by Takaoka. In any case, the Kitsuka would never fly again for at 12.00pm the Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War was broadcast on the radio bringing World War 2 to a conclusion.
The end of the war would see none of the Kitsuka production plans realised. Nakajima, by the close of December 1945, was to have produced 200 Kitsukas. In reality, Nakajima completed only one with a further 22 under construction. The Kyūshū Hikōki K.K. was, also by the end of the year, to have turned out 135 Kitsuka aircraft but was only able to begin construction of two aircraft, started in July 1945, which remained unfinished by the close of hostilities. A third producer, the Sasebo Naval Arsenal (Sasebo Kaigun Kōshō), was scheduled to have begun production of the Kitsuka in September 1945 with 115 completed by the close of December. The fourth production line was to be at the Kasumigaura Naval Air Arsenal with the commencement of Kitsuka construction scheduled for October 1945; 80 aircraft were to have been completed by the end of December.
A number of variants of the Kitsuka were planned, none of which would see completion come the capitulation. One of these was a two-seat trainer. Given the nature of the Kitsuka, it was appreciated that a trainer would be required to help the conversion of pilots used to conventional piston engined aircraft to the peculiarities of a turbojet powered aircraft. Five of the Kitsuka airframes under production by Nakajima were modified by including a second cockpit for the instructor. Outside of the inclusion of the additional cockpit, it is unknown exactly what other changes were made in the Kitsuka to accommodate it. If there were a parallel to the German Me 262B-1a two-seat trainer, the rear fuel tank would have been removed to make room for the instructor’s cockpit. The German solution to the loss of fuel was to utilise the two front bomb racks for drop tanks. Whether Nakajima considered the use of drop tanks (as the Kitsuka could use them) or simply accepted the reduced endurance for the sake of expediency is not known. The two-seat trainer would be the only variant of the Kitsuka to reach the production phase.
It was planned that some of the two-seaters were to be modified for reconnaissance roles. The instructor’s cockpit was to be removed and replaced with a crew position for an observer. He was to have a Type 96 Model 3 radio set at his disposal for use in relaying target information to other aircraft. It is unknown if any cameras were to be fitted but it would not be unreasonable to conclude that the observer would at least have had a hand-held camera.
An interceptor version of the Kitsuka was discussed, as previously mentioned, and a number of general arrangements for it were considered. One of these was the inclusion of a single Type 5 30mm cannon with 50 rounds of ammunition installed in the nose. A second design was to feature enlarged and extended wings incorporating flaps and double-edged leading slots. A more definitive interceptor was to replace the Ne 20 engines with either Ne 130 or Ne 330 turbojets. A second cannon was to be added in the nose. Interestingly, it appears that if the IJA had used the Kitsuka, the Type 5 cannons would be replaced with two Ho-155 30mm cannons. This may have been a stopgap or fallback if the IJA’s own Ki-201 Karyū failed to materialise. With the heavier weight the structure of the Kitsuka, including the landing gear, would have been strengthened. A fighter-bomber model was envisioned for the definitive interceptor by including a fitting for a single 500kg (1,102 lb) or 800kg (1,763 lb) bomb.
As originally planned, a model of the Kitsuka was proposed for shimpū missions. Similar to the Kitsuka as constructed, this version was to carry either a 500kg (1,102 lb) bomb, a 250kg (551 lb) bomb or two Type 99 20mm cannons. With the latter, it could be assumed the cannons would be used for self-defence and for firing at the target before ramming the aircraft into the victim using any remaining fuel and ammunition as the secondary explosive element. A variant of this Kitsuka was to utilise a 200m (656ft) launch rail that Kūgishō had been designing and which they expected to have ready for testing by September 1945. Using a rocket booster, the Kitsuka would leave the launch rail at 220km/h (137mph) at an acceleration of between three to four ‘g’.
In regards to the 724 Kōkūtai, with the end of the war they would never see their Kitsuka aircraft. It was planned that by November 1945 the unit would have been based near Yokosuka at a site along the Miura Peninsula, west of Tōkyō Bay. It was expected that by then the unit would have received sixteen Kitsukas. In addition, the unit was to use one of the handfuls of Kawanishi E15K1 Shiun (meaning ‘Violet Cloud’; codenamed Norm by the Allies) reconnaissance floatplanes, which were removed from active service following their disastrous combat debut in 1944. The Shiun, operating from a nearby harbour, would locate the shipping targets, mark them and then loiter in the area to broadcast radio signals. The Kitsukas would then be rapidly launched and, by means of the radio signals received through the Kuruku system, attack the ships at low level with bombs and ramming tactics. Had the reconnaissance version of the Kitsuka gone into production, the 724 Kōkūtai was to receive it as a replacement for the far more vulnerable Shiun.
Finally, with the close of the war, none of the projected turbojet successors to the Ne 20 would enter production. One prototype of the Ishikawajima Ne 130 had been completed by June 1945 but testing was unfinished by the time the war ended. Nakajima started development of the Ne 230 in May 1945 and had three under construction by August 1945. However, none of the engines were completed or tested. Mitsubishi was unable to construct a Ne 330 and so it remained on the design board.
A note about the use of the name Kitsuka as opposed to the more commonly used Kikka. Kitsuka is the proper translation of the kanji characters. However, it is pronounced ‘kikka’. Kikka was used in post-war reports as phonetically it approximated to Kitsuka and thus has become the accepted name of the aircraft. Neither name is incorrect. Also, some sources use the J9Y1 (or sometimes J9N1) designation for the Kitsuka. While logical for the interceptor version of the Kitsuka, there is no evidence in wartime Japanese sources to support the designation. One may also find the designation J8N1 used but this is not supported.
In January 1880 Yamagata had warned the emperor of the dangers posed by Russia’s remorseless advance into East Asia and China’s military modernization. Japan’s lengthy coastlines left it especially vulnerable to attack from multiple directions or to a naval blockade and isolation. Yamagata would neutralize such threats by fortifying small off-shore islands as the nation’s first line of defense and completing the coastal battery construction projects around Tokyo Bay that the government had suspended to pay for the Satsuma Rebellion. He voiced a recurrent theme: without a strong military, Japan could not maintain its sovereignty from the European powers—who, he claimed, built armies and navies regardless of national wealth or poverty.
The army’s January 1882 budget proposed a ten-year plan to field seven modern infantry divisions with supporting troops, improve coastal defenses, and upgrade weaponry, especially artillery. It reflected Yamagata’s concern over the growing tension with Korea and China, which appeared to justify a larger army. Since 1877 the army had expanded slowly from around 40,000 officers and men to more than 46,000 by 1882, and its budget grew accordingly, from about 6.6 million yen (US$6 million) to 9.4 million yen (US$8.5 million), respectively. Army expansionism to counter perceived continental threats was consistent with the 1870 calls for a Korean expedition and overseas expansion. Yet it also demonstrated the government’s concern that Korea under foreign (non-Japanese) influence would pose an unacceptable threat to Japan’s home islands and that a larger military was necessary for self-defense against invasion.
Outbursts of anti-Japanese violence in Korea during the summer of 1882 culminated that July with the murder of the Japanese military adviser to the newly organized Korean army and an attack against the Japanese legation in Seoul. Tokyo sent two infantry companies to restore order, made demands on the Korean court, and moved large forces to Kyūshū opposite Korea during the so-called Jingo Incident. The Korean court promptly sought assistance from China, which dispatched 5,000 troops that eliminated pro-Japanese elements in the rebellious Korean army, installed a pro-Chinese Korean faction in power, and reasserted Chinese influence throughout the peninsula.
Although the general staff had an 1880 operational plan for offensive operations in north China, it was premised on wishful thinking because Japan was too weak militarily to confront the Chinese empire. During the Korea crisis the army remained passive, fearful that China might seize Tsushima Island to use as a springboard to attack Kyūshū. If that occurred, the navy would support the Tsushima garrison by cutting the sea-lanes from China or Korea, and the army would defend strategic locations on the Kyūshū coast.
The Chinese intervention unmasked the government’s and the army’s inability to protect Japanese interests in Korea. In August 1882 Yamagata reiterated to the throne the need for military expansion to counterbalance China’s military modernization program and conduct in Korea. In his view this necessitated expanding the navy to forty-eight warships and restructuring the army into seven divisions plus a 200,000-man reserve by 1885. Lt. Gen. Miura Gorō along with Lt. Gen. Soga Sukenori, both of whom had previously petitioned the emperor on the Hokkaidō sale issue, opposed a larger standing army. Much like Yamada Akiyoshi in the 1870s, they advocated a small standing army, perhaps 30,000 men, organized as a one-division force backed by a home guard available for duty during emergencies. Their proposal would also reduce the current three-year active duty obligation for conscripts to a single year.
The general staff’s western bureau director, Col. Katsura Tarō, however, insisted on a streamlined modern division structure because combining garrisons during wartime created patchwork and unwieldy units with huge administrative and personnel overhead that were too large to move rapidly. Yamagata supported Katsura and expected the finance ministry to impose new taxes on tobacco to pay for the enlarged military and division conversion expenses. But Finance Minister Matsukata Masayoshi cited the perilous state of Japan’s finances that made additional military spending impossible. In September, Minister of the Right Iwakura Tomomi advocated an emergency tax to underwrite military expansion and modernization. Emperor Meiji endorsed Iwakura’s recommendation and in November notified prefectural governors that military expansion was a matter of vital national security. The next month the government enacted emergency tax legislation to pay the increased personnel costs associated with the conversion to a seven-division force structure and the improvement of coastal fortifications.
About half of the additional annual tax revenue went to the army (1.2 million yen), with the remainder divided between naval shipbuilding and coastal defense construction programs spread over eight years. The National Defense Council (kokubō kaigi), established in March 1883, coordinated coastal defensive responsibilities between the army and the navy, establishing Japan’s first line of defense on the high seas, its second along the coast, and its third, and final, on homeland soil.
Advocates of a larger standing army, including Yamagata, Ōyama, Katsura, and the commander of the 2d Guard Infantry Brigade, Maj. Gen. Kawakami Sōroku, next rewrote conscription legislation to create a much larger reserve force. Reforms in 1883 created a first reserve with a four-year obligation and second reserve with five additional years of military commitment. The new legislation also eliminated paid substitutes, tightened restrictions on exemptions, and provided for volunteer one-year enlistments.
Although army budgets increased substantially in 1883 and 1884 and personnel grew from 42,300 in 1880 to 54,000 by 1885, division conversion lagged behind schedule because the purchase of new weapons and equipment, the coastal defense projects, and naval expansion created trade imbalances and unacceptable government deficits. These were especially sensitive issues because Foreign Minister Inoue Kaoru, hoping to impress the western powers with Japan’s fiscal responsibility during renewed negotiations to secure treaty revision, rejected running a deficit to pay for military modernization. At the same time, however, Inoue and imperial councilor Itō Hirobumi recognized the need for a stronger military to offset the rise of Chinese and western influence in northeast Asia. French and British naval squadrons were active around Taiwan and Korea, respectively, the Russian Vladivostok Squadron routinely operated in Korean waters, and China was modernizing its Northern Fleet to control the Yellow Sea.
Inoue would economize by cutting the army by 20,000 men, reducing terms of conscription by six months, and establishing a joint general staff. The savings would pay for limited naval expansion. Japan would rely on alliances either with England or Russia to ensure national security at a cheaper cost. Inoue drew support from big-army opponents like Miura, army Vice Chief of Staff Soga Sukenori, Minister of the Left Prince Arisugawa, and the retired but influential generals Tani and Torio. Yamagata, War Minister Ōyama, and Katsura adamantly opposed the initiative. According to Katsura, the hallmark of a first-class nation was an army capable of operating beyond its national borders, and Japan’s inability to project military power overseas would relegate it to the status of a perpetual second-class power.
Looking to save money, Emperor Meiji agreed with Arisugawa, Miura, and Soga, who also had the support of Prime Minister Itō. But Ōyama insisted that the volatile international situation placed Japan in such grave danger that the larger force structure was essential. When his obstinate opposition threatened to rupture Satsuma-Chōshū political hegemony, Inoue gave in to Ōyama’s demands.
The military share of the budget increased substantially, from about 15 million yen in 1885 to more than 20.5 million yen the next year, with the army getting an additional 2.2 million yen and the navy 3.5 million. The resulting huge deficit ruined Inoue’s fiscal plans, and when serious negotiations on treaty rectification began in 1886, western insistence on certain prerogatives produced a political and popular backlash that made amendment impossible. Tani resigned his portfolio to protest the terms of the proposed treaty revision, and Miura’s and Soga’s unwavering opposition to the government’s concessions on the emotional issue of treaty revision cost them Inoue’s and Itō’s backing. Their fall was attributable to their loss of patronage and support from the prime minister and the foreign minister over the intertwined issues of army expansion, treaty revision, and fiscal retrenchment. The break-up of the opposition coalition of conservative generals, the court, and civilian ministers left Yamagata and Ōyama free to implement their plans. Between 1875 and 1882 the ordinary military budget ranged from about 14 to 19 percent of the national budget. Thereafter naval construction and army modernization (the conversion to divisions) steadily increased it to a 31 percent share in 1892.
Construction started in late 1886 to improve Tsushima’s coastal defense fortress, and the next year the emperor’s personal donation of 300,000 yen to the army engineer branch launched a nationwide campaign that solicited 2.3 million more yen from wealthy individuals to employ additional laborers for work on an expanded network of fortifications. The same year the army assigned division numbers to the respective garrisons; for example, the Tokyo garrison became the 1st Division. The army then projected that the conversion process would take two years, but recurrent funding shortages ultimately delayed the Guard conversion. Nevertheless, in May 1887 the army officially abolished the garrisons and adopted the division force structure. Picked officers who would lead and staff the new divisions were sent to Europe for extended study of military organization and force structure. By the time conversion was completed in 1891 the army fielded seven modern divisions and had a reserve mobilization capability of 240,000 troops.
The army modeled its original 1888 division force structure on the Prussian mountain division, but with a larger peacetime establishment of about 9,000 officers and men that would double in wartime with the addition of an infantry brigade, a cavalry squadron, and various support units. The 1893-type division was organized around two infantry brigades each with two infantry regiments (a so-called square division) and had 18,500 officers and men at wartime strength as the gradual expansion of the active ranks, reform of conscription system, and volunteers provided cadre and reserves for rapid wartime expansion. The modern mobile division complemented the fixed coastal fortresses already under construction by enabling troops to move rapidly and reinforce threatened points or contain enemy landings.
The phased transition to a division structure is often regarded as prima facie evidence that Japan harbored offensive continental aspirations and tailored its army for overseas deployment and aggression. No doubt some high-ranking officers dreamed of imperial expansion on the Asian continent, but not until 1900 did the general staff begin formal planning for offensive operations there. In the meantime, the army continued to emphasize coastal defense against a Russian attack, and as late as 1891 the theme of the annual grand maneuvers was repelling an amphibious invasion.
It would likewise be inaccurate to say military preparations were not aimed at an external threat, but an operational offensive capability was part of a larger policy of strategic defense designed to spare Japan from foreign invasion. Rather than an indication of imminent aggressive warfare, the division force structure was a long-considered adaptation of the most up-to-date western military organization at a time when Japan was striving to master the secrets of the West’s success. Rectification of the unequal treaties, rebuilding the financial and political system, and checking the Russian threat from the north were the priorities of the Meiji government. In that context, the division organization was simultaneously offensive, because of the possibility of intervention in Korea due to deteriorating relations with China, and defensive, because of the emerging Russian threat in northeast Asia.
Educational Reforms and the Influence of Maj. Jakob Meckel
The growing number of critics of oligarchic rule during the mid-1880s, the violence of the people’s rights movement, and the specter of antigovernment political parties in control of the promised Diet fed Yamagata’s determination to isolate the army from those who would control it for political ends different from his own. One means to this end was to reorganize the army’s administrative system.
Army doctrine, training, and education were haphazard well into the 1880s, relying on at least five different versions of translated French infantry manuals between 1871 and 1885. Military organization followed the French model: training a peacetime establishment in drill and ceremonies, military courtesy, and proper care of the uniform and equipment. Tactics stressed junior officer and NCO responsibilities as small-unit leaders (battalion echelon and below) but were learned by rote and consequently lacked practical application and originality. French instructors at the military academy, for example, taught cadets to prepare detailed tactical orders and rigidly apply approved formations (columns shifting to skirmisher lines) to small-unit (battalion and below) tactical problems. Senior Japanese officers believed that the overemphasis on minor tactics and technical expertise had hampered strategic planning for large-unit operations during the Satsuma Rebellion. Their hard-won experience in that conflict seemingly made foreign instruction irrelevant, and in 1879 the government terminated the French military mission’s contract. But startling European advances in military science and weaponry could not long be ignored. Many officers admired the emerging Prussian doctrine, proven against the French in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and thought it more suited for higher-echelon operations involving brigades and divisions.
In 1884 a delegation composed of four senior officers—Army Minister Lt. Gen. Ōyama; Lt. Gen. Miura, now commandant of the military academy; Col. Kawakami Sōroku, commander of the 1st Guards Infantry Regiment; and Col. Katsura conducted a year-long inspection tour of European armies. With the exception of Miura, who had been trained by the French, the delegation favored the Prussian military system, which was widely regarded as the standard for modern armies. Miura’s views were well known, and he had likely been included to balance regional sensibilities; Ōyama and Kawakami were from Satsuma, and Katsura and Miura hailed from Chōshū. In any case, Ōyama overrode Miura’s objections and asked Prussian War Minister Paul von Schellendorff to recommend a senior instructor for Japan’s staff college. Von Schellendorff nominated Maj. Colmar von de Goltz, but the Chief of Staff, Helmut von Moltke, wanted Goltz to rebuild the Turkish army, which had been recently defeated by Russia. Moltke then nominated 43-year-old Maj. Klemens Wilhelm Jakob Meckel, a tactician, not an instructor, for the assignment. The delegation returned to Japan in January 1885, and Meckel arrived in Tokyo two months later.
Tall, ramrod straight, and imposing, the bald-headed Meckel looked like the stereotypical Prussian officer martinet. Indeed, he was an exacting taskmaster and demanded the same attention to duty and detail from students. But he lacked arrogance, enjoyed drinking, and was a genial personality.
Unlike the large French advisory mission, which had numbered as many as forty officers in the mid-1870s, Meckel’s advisory group never numbered more than seven. The army also retained four or five French advisers into the early twentieth century as language instructors and ordnance experts. Several Italian military advisers served in Japan between 1884 and 1896, a period when the army relied on Italian-produced bronze artillery guns.
Meckel and his team introduced the Prussian military education model, which switched the emphasis from technical proficiency to a more general military education, especially in the staff college, whose course was extended to three years. Meckel’s dominance at the staff college changed the way Japanese officers thought about warfare, and his intellectual synthesis of modern strategy and traditional martial values held widespread appeal among the officer class. Meckel, for instance, preached that victory or defeat in battle was not simply a function of advanced weaponry. The decisive feature was élan, and he stressed the importance of the psychological dimension of warfare and offensive spirit, a philosophy of warfare that meshed nicely with the army’s existing concepts of seishin, or fighting spirit. With the exception of foreign languages, Meckel refocused the new curriculum almost exclusively on military art and science—tactics, military history, ordnance, gunnery, fortification, communications, terrain studies, equestrian arts, and health and sanitation matters. His slighting of logistics in favor of instruction devoted to techniques of operational planning and command found a receptive audience, but it left students with a poor grasp of the planning and organization of the movement of troops, equipment, and supplies and little knowledge of the science of modern military logistics.
Meckel used primary source documents and staff rides to educate officers in the application of theory on tactics and the influence of terrain on maneuver and battle, basing instruction on military history, not military theory. Lessons placed a premium on resolute decision making and glossed over intelligence gathering because that could delay action. Language was a problem because the question-translation-answer-translation format of Meckel’s classroom lectures made them lengthy and boring. Written translations of the lectures were, however, widely distributed to officers throughout the army as study materials.
Under Meckel’s guidance the army switched to the German field manual that emphasized importance of the company echelon in tactical formations. Standardized training and procedures accompanied the shift to the new manual. Until 1887 individual regiments had determined their training tables, but that year troop training regulations standardized training army-wide. In keeping with the Prussian reforms, the army adopted the so-called family training concept, which placed the company commander in charge of conscripts’ training. The army expected junior officers to both lead and teach and demanded proficiency in military art as well as the ability as instructors to inculcate the ideal of fighting spirit into the ranks. By 1889 the Prussian draft 1884 field service regulations had been translated into Japanese, and two years later the army completed the transition from the French to the Prussian training regimen and immersed recruits in training and drilling according to the new infantry manual.
Rightly praised as the father of modern military education in Japan, Meckel exerted a significant and enduring influence on the army. Yet his departure from Japan was clouded, apparently because certain influential Japanese officers suspected Meckel was a German spy. He received gifts and accolades but had to insist to get the emperor’s personal seal on his commendation and was awarded a lesser-grade medal. Nonetheless, Meckel took lasting pride in his accomplishments and his Japanese students.
As the military education system became institutionalized, officers took competitive entrance examinations for admittance to the staff college (in 1886 the course was extended to three years). At a minimum, candidates had to be first lieutenants, be in good health, possess a good service record, and demonstrate intellectual ability. Other qualifications mandated a minimum of two years service with a troop unit, an age limit of 28 (specialists like artillerymen and engineers were eligible until age 30 because of the extra technical schooling required in those branches), and the recommendation of the candidate’s commanding officer. Transportation branch officers initially were ineligible for admission because there was no logistics branch on the general staff, another indication of the army’s low regard for the services of supply.
Normally it took a junior officer two or three years to prepare himself for the staff college examination. Because a candidate’s admission to the staff college reflected favorably on his regiment, over time it became customary for battalion or regimental commanders to assign their most promising junior officers to light duties to enable them to study and prepare for the exam. At first, class ranking was critical, and beginning in 1887 the commandant or his deputy reported student grades to the chief of staff, who used the results to determine subsequent assignments and promotions. After the turn of the century, class ranking declined in importance as a factor in promotion, at least to the general officer ranks, and battlefield valor and practical experience with troop units were given greater consideration.
The army also schooled promising officers at foreign military institutions. In 1882 there were nine student-officers in France and three in Germany; in 1898 there were three in France and twelve in Germany. Throughout its existence the army routinely assigned officers to foreign military schools, almost all in Europe, and like their navy counterparts, a high proportion of senior army officers had overseas assignments as students, attaches, or observers on their service records. Popular wisdom credits the imperial navy with producing cosmopolitan and sophisticated officers while dismissing army officers as provincial bumpkins ignorant of the West. But the army routinely dispatched its best and brightest to Europe for study and professional grooming.
Branch schools were established to educate officers and train troops in their respective military specialties. The army ministry created the transport corps bureau in 1885 and issued the transport corps field manual the next year. The army managed its own medical training school in 1871 but because of the length of medical training and the expertise demanded of instructors in 1877 abolished it and used the Tokyo University Medical School to train military doctors. After graduation they received specialized instruction in military medicine. In 1888 the army reestablished its medical school as a postgraduate center for army doctors, to offer the latest surgical techniques to reserve doctors and to train medical orderlies. In 1894 it became the army sanitary school.
Prussian influence likewise changed the military academy. After 1890 cadets no longer received commissions upon graduation. Instead, using the Prussian model, before entering the academy they spent one year serving in a unit (six months if preparatory school graduates) as cadets, nineteen months at the academy, and six months after graduation as cadet aspirants with a unit. If the aspirant successfully completed his duty assignment, he received a commission as a second lieutenant. Later reforms in 1920 added a two-year preparatory course at the academy followed by six months attached to a unit as a cadet, then twenty-two months at the academy’s main course, followed by two months with a unit as an aspirant.
In 1896 the army adopted the Prussian system of separating the central military preparatory academy from regional preparatory academies. Thirteen-year-old boys entered the three-year course to prepare themselves for a two-year course at the central preparatory academy in Tokyo. Except for the sons of deceased soldiers or senior bureaucrats, the preparatory schools charged tuition, making it difficult for the poor to send their sons into officers’ careers. After graduation, cadets spent six months with a unit before entering the military academy. Maj. Gen. Kodama Gentarō insisted on emphasizing spiritual education in the cadet academies, where it became a standard feature of the curriculum from the 1890s.
On May 14, 1878, the most powerful man in Japan, Minister of Home Affairs Ōkubo, was riding alone in his unescorted carriage from his Tokyo residence to a morning appointment. Six sword-wielding former samurai surrounded his carriage in a narrow lane and hacked and stabbed him to death. The ringleader later admitted that the killers feared an Ōkubo dictatorship and had planned to murder him since they heard of Saigō’s suicide. One captured assassin joked to interrogators that if life was a stage, their act might be seen as a cheap burlesque.
Besides Ōkubo’s brazen murder, lingering questions of loyalty and obedience to orders clouded the national army’s victory over Saigō’s warriors. In the aftermath of the rebellion, many units felt slighted by a government that neither recognized nor rewarded their wartime sacrifices. For example, the Imperial Guard artillery battery, despite its prominent wartime role, received belated commendations and smaller monetary awards than soldiers had expected. The parsimoniousness reflected the government’s financial retrenchment policy deemed necessary to repay the enormous cost of the war, including more than 30 million yen in supplemental funding (five times the army’s annual budget). In order to balance the national budget, in December 1877 the council of state ordered 20 percent across-the-board reductions to ministry budgets. The following May the army ministry reduced military pay by 5 percent and temporarily suspended work on its showcase coastal fortification construction projects. These actions only added to the list of soldiers’ grievances.
On the night of August 23, 1878, about 200 noncommissioned officers and enlisted men of the Guard artillery battalion garrisoned near Tokyo’s Takebashi Bridge mutinied, murdered their commanding officer and the officer of the day, perfunctorily shelled the finance minister’s official residence, and demanded to speak directly to the emperor. The army ministry, having been tipped off in advance, quickly crushed the insurrection. Courts-martial held in October sentenced 55 mutineers to death and punished over 300 more (including accomplices in other units) with prison terms or banishment. Unrewarded wartime service had sparked the so-called Takebashi Incident, but the trials also revealed that many of the enlisted troops were active in the nascent liberty and people’s rights movement, a popular national political campaign demanding democratic rights from the Meiji government that leaders like Yamagata regarded as subversive and dangerous.
Yamagata sought to inoculate the army from the virus of mutiny by appealing to a romanticized imperial past. Fifty days after the Takebashi Incident, the army distributed his Admonition to Soldiers (gunjin kunkai) to all its company commanders. The instructions, aimed specifically at the officer corps, stressed that strict military discipline and unquestioning obedience to a superior’s orders were the foundation of the military institution. He portrayed officers as the heirs to a glorious samurai tradition in which loyalty and valor were the “way of the warrior” (bushidō).3 Real samurai were discredited, so officers and conscripts were indoctrinated to aspire to the greatly romanticized version of idealized warriors.
Yamagata also warned that disobedience to orders led to military involvement in political activities and spread subversion among the ranks. He justified that claim with another dubious assertion: that in ancient times the army had belonged to the emperor and was therefore above politics. By equating obedience to a superior’s orders with compliance to a direct imperial order, Yamagata further implied that a superior’s orders had to be followed unquestionably, regardless of legality. In sum, Yamagata wanted an apolitical army under his control to prevent a reoccurrence of the Satsuma Rebellion or Takebashi Incident, and one means to achieve this goal was to make the military directly responsible to the emperor, thereby insuring imperial control of the army.
In the decade following the Satsuma Rebellion, the army thoroughly reorganized. The process was gradual, but the reforms were radical. The army’s fundamental institutions—a general staff, an inspector general, a general staff college, and a division force structure—evolved, but only after acrimonious debates within the army that pitted Francophile traditionalists against pro-Prussian reformers.
In the wake of rebellion, mutiny, and popular demonstrations, Yamagata feared that antigovernment politicians would restrict the army’s freedom of action, or that antigovernment forces might incite the ranks to revolt and overthrow the government. These concerns justified reforms to ensure an apolitical army by removing the supreme command from the political arena. The ruling oligarchy concurred because they wanted no more Saigō Takamoris—men who held dual military-civilian appointments and might use their military power to usurp the civilian government. One possible solution was to create a general staff with direct access to the emperor that could execute imperial commands unencumbered by the agenda of civilian political leaders or military administrators.
The idea was an extension of Yamagata’s 1874 establishment of the sixth bureau, augmented with fresh ideas from Europe. Capt. Katsura Tarō, one of Yamagata’s many Chōshū protégés, had spent the Satsuma insurrection studying at the Prussian military academy at his own expense. He returned home in 1878 convinced of the merits of a general staff that was independent of the army ministry’s administrative control and enjoyed direct access to the emperor. That October, apparently on Katsura’s advice, Yamagata formally recommended to the council of state the separation of staff and administrative functions.
The council of state abolished the general staff bureau on December 5, 1878, and established a general staff separate from the army minister and directly responsible to the emperor, although without clearly delineating the new staff’s authority. During peacetime the general staff controlled the Imperial Guard and regional garrisons, and the chief of staff, an imperial appointee, also served as the emperor’s highest military adviser. During wartime the chief of staff assisted the emperor with military matters but lacked command and decision-making authority, those formally being the prerogatives of the emperor. He could, however, issue operational orders in the emperor’s name. This provision institutionalized the prerogative of the independence of command (tōsuiken) executed in the emperor’s name as supreme commander (daigensui).
The new general staff had two bureaus divided by geographic interest. The eastern bureau was responsible for the garrisons in the Tokyo and Sendai military administrative districts as well as Hokkaidō, Siberia, and Manchuria; the western oversaw the other four regional garrisons plus Korea and China. Each bureau had operational and intelligence functions, and two smaller subsections handled administration, prepared gazetteers, translated materials, and archived documents.
Within days of creating a general staff, Yamagata, who became the first chief of staff, established a superintendency on December 30 as a separate headquarters in Tokyo. It too reported directly to the emperor, coordinated army-wide training, standardized tactics and equipment, ensured that units carried out the general staff’s orders, and enforced army regulations. The superintendency had no director, and the duties of its headquarters in Tokyo were limited, but its three regional superintendents enjoyed broad authority because they reported directly to the emperor, bypassing the general staff and army ministry. In peacetime each regional superintendent was responsible for the education and training at two garrisons and in wartime commanded a two-division corps formed by combining the garrisons’ forces.
The three regional superintendents were superimposed on the existing garrison system, and each was of lieutenant-general rank; Tani supervised the eastern commandaries, Nozu the central, and Miura the western. Each had the authority to enforce orders issued by the general staff with imperial approval. This reorganization of the army’s administrative system with a new inspectorate and an independent general staff was an attempt by Yamagata and Army Minister Ōyama to consolidate their power and, by extension, the Satsuma-Chōshū monopoly on senior army positions.
The Satsuma Rebellion had exposed the need for trained staff officers to plan and coordinate operations, formulate strategy, and remedy deficiencies in operational planning. In 1882 the army had a total of forty-nine staff officers: fourteen assigned to the general staff, five to the army ministry, and the remaining thirty to the various garrisons, the Imperial Guard, or the military districts. That year the army opened the general staff college to train and educate officers for future staff assignments. Nineteen students were selected for the three-year course. The first year was remedial and concentrated on the study of foreign languages (German and French), mathematics, and drafting for engineering and map-making purposes. Officer-students studied military organization, mobilization, tactics, and road march formations in their second year; their third year focused on the mechanics of overnight unit bivouacs, reconnaissance, strategy, and military history. Instruction in tactics and strategy was initially limited because of a lack of qualified Japanese instructors and the continuing debate within the army over adopting French or German doctrine. From its inception, the staff college had a close association with the throne, personified by the emperor’s personal presentation of an imperial gift to the top graduates: a telescope in the case of the first six graduating classes, and thereafter a sword.
Another manifestation of the link between emperor and army was the conversion of Ōmura’s Shōkonsha concept of a public memorial to commemorate those who died in the Boshin Civil War to a state-sponsored Shintō shrine to promote imperial divinity and Japanese uniqueness. In June 1879 the Shōkonsha was renamed the Yasukuni Shrine, with a status second in ranking only to the imperial shrines. The home ministry, army, and navy administered the shrine while the army paid for its upkeep. For purposes of army morale, the army reinterred its war dead from the Satsuma Rebellion at the Yasukuni and announced that they had been transmogrified into spirits guarding the nation. Interment was strictly limited to those killed in action; soldiers who died on active service during peacetime were interred in army-designated regional cemeteries.
Promulgating a New Ideology
Political agitation since the mid-1870s for a constitution and a parliament gradually matured into a campaign for freedom and people’s rights, a broader-based political movement whose origins lay in samurai discontent. By the late 1870s, peasant unrest had also increased because the government resorted to deflationary fiscal policies to repay the foreign loans that underwrote the military costs of suppressing Saigō’s rebellion. Retrenchment caused a sharper decline in market prices for rice and raw silk, the cash crops of the peasantry, than in overall consumer prices. Many peasants fell into debt, borrowed money to buy seed or pay land taxes, and in some cases were unable to repay the loans. Disaffected peasants organized into groups seeking debt relief, and outbreaks of armed violence—some led by local political party branch members—erupted in central Japan during 1882.
Soldiers had also been active in the people’s rights movement since its inception. In January 1879 police arrested several enlisted men assigned to the Guard infantry regiment for conspiring to murder their company commander and high-ranking government officials. Sometime later they apprehended a disgruntled artillery officer who was threatening to bombard the imperial palace. Dissatisfied over the awarding of medals, troops also complained about the five-year term of active service for those assigned to the Guard, demanded special pay and allowances, and sought political redress for grievances over the living conditions of enlisted men in garrisons.
Yamagata did initiate reforms that shortened the Guards’ length of service and reduced pay inequalities. Conscription reforms in October 1879 extended terms of reserve duty from four to seven years by creating a first (three-year) and second reserve (four-year), halved the fee to purchase a substitute, and tightened deferments. Yamagata refused, however, to allow soldiers greater political expression, believing that it would undermine military discipline. As if to underscore his fears, in 1880 a soldier stationed in Tokyo committed suicide in front of the imperial palace when the government refused to accept his petition calling for the opening of a parliament.
Internal army dissent also targeted the government and Yamagata, particularly the council of state’s fire sale of the Hokkaidō Colonization Office’s assets to private Mitsubishi interests allegedly to defray the retrenchment costs. Among the most vocal and persistent critics were four general officers: lieutenant generals Torio Koyata, Guard commander; Tani Tateki, commandant of the military academy and the Toyama Infantry School; Miura Gorō, superintendent of the western commandary district; and Maj. Gen. Soga Sukenori, acting superintendent of the central commandary district. The four claimed to be acting from bushidō principles when in September 1881 they petitioned the throne to reverse the transaction.
The people’s rights movement also criticized the sale, and the generals’ petition forged another link in the chain of protests during the so-called crisis of 1881, which climaxed that October when the emperor canceled the sale and promised a national assembly by 1890. To prepare for the assembly, a cabinet system of government would replace the council of state in 1886 (the change actually occurred in December 1885).
Liberal members of the government resigned to join the popular rights movement in anticipation of greater political opportunity. The four generals remained on the active duty list, continued to hold important positions, and formed the conservative opposition to Yamagata’s efforts to reorganize and unify the national army. The involvement of enlisted troops and senior officers in political activity stimulated army chief of staff Yamagata’s fears about the military’s security and reliability.
On January 4, 1882, Yamagata promulgated the imperial rescript to soldiers and sailors to remedy what he perceived as lax military discipline and military involvement in the popular rights movement. Its audience was the army rank and file, and the language was clearer and easier to understand than the highly stylized 1878 injunctions to officers. The message, however, was the same. Yamagata reemphasized respect for superiors, the spirit of courage and sacrifice, and absolute obedience because superiors’ orders were direct commands from the throne. Soldiers and sailors, he wrote, should loyally serve the emperor, their commander-in-chief, “neither being led astray by current opinions or meddling in political affairs,” and always recalling that “duty is heavier than a mountain while death is lighter than a feather.” Yamagata again relied on hoary martial values to send a message of modernity based on loyalty to the emperor and nation, not one’s former domain, and issue a caution against political involvement. The 1882 memorial would shape official popular ideology and the notion of duty and loyalty to the emperor.
The army’s role in controlling domestic disorders peaked in the autumn of 1884 when troops suppressed a large popular uprising in Chichibu, west of Tokyo. That October a 5,000-man-strong peasant army protesting usurious interest rates and demanding lower taxes and debt relief attacked government offices and moneylenders. In early November government troops used overwhelming force to restore order and shatter the popular rights movement, whose members disbanded rather than risk being labeled traitors for supporting insurrections. By that time, the army was engaged in reorganizing its basic force structure and command and control apparatus.