Admiral Chuichi Nagumo By Maya gibson

Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was a driven, strategic figure, who rose quickly through Japanese ranks to play a crucial role in the events of World War Two. Nagumo was a figure of high importance in the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), leading the Kido Butai in the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Indian Ocean Raid and the Battle of Midway. Nagumo was the scapegoat for the Japanese defeat in the Pacific War and was criticised harshly on many fronts, however, ultimately, he was an honourable Japanese admiral and commander.

Admiral Chuichi Nagumo

Chuichi Nagumo was born on 25 March 1887, in Yamagato, Japan. He joined the Japanese navy at the age of 21 and by 21 November 1908, he had gained the title of midshipman through training with the Imperial Japanese Navy. Nagumo was determined and excelled in his training, specialising in torpedo and destroyer tactics. In 1920, Chuichi Nagumo graduated from the Naval War College and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. Following on from this, Nagumo was placed in control of a destroyer, before being promoted to Commander in 1924 and travelling to Europe and the United States to study naval warfare strategy, tactics and equipment. Upon returning to Japan, he was appointed Captain of various gunboats, before serving as an instructor at the IJN Academy. In November of 1935, Nagumo gained rank again, becoming a Rear-Admiral and commanding the 8th Cruiser division. Along with his military success, Chuichi Nagumo’s career was also boosted by political support, as he was a leading officer in the militaristic Fleet Faction.

The Imperial Japanese Navy Academy

When World War 2 began on 1 September 1939, Nagumo held the position of Vice Admiral and in early 1941, he was appointed Commander in Chief of the Kido Butai, or the First Air Fleet, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s major carrier group. Nagumo was given this role due to his seniority and training, however there were many doubts surrounding this decision, given the Vice-Admiral's lack of familiarity with naval aviation. In this role, Nagumo oversaw the attack that the Japanese carried out on Pearl Harbour, on 7 December 1941. Despite the success of the attack on the United States’ most important naval base, Nagumo was criticised for failing to launch the third strike, in an attempt to take out the fuel oil storage and repair facilities, further impairing the US in the ongoing war. This decision was made on the grounds of not wanting to incur a vicious counter attack, from a now highly alert defence, in an attempt to take out targets that were barely visible due to smoke from the previous attacks. A success in this third wave would have rendered the US submarines incapable of the damage they caused the Japanese in the Pacific War and thus, Nagumo was blamed for the defeat that followed.

The Bombing of Pearl Harbour

Nagumo gained further success as a Fleet Commander in the bombing of Darwin, in February of 1942, as well as the Indian Ocean raid that caused the British Eastern fleet to retreat to East Africa. From here however, Nagumo’s successful streak ended, with a major loss of aircraft, maintenance crews and numerous experienced pilots in the Battle of Midway in June 1942, which would prove detrimental to the Imperial Japanese navy in the Pacific. Nagumo was then reassigned to Commander in Chief of the Third Fleet, commanding aircraft in the carrier battles that took place in the Guadalcanal campaign. Further indecisive actions and cautiousness, along with a failure to push his advantage, resulted in Nagumo being held responsible for Japan’s diminishing maritime strength. Nagumo was then reassigned to Japan where he was again given command of the First Fleet, but this time his primary role was in training duties.

The Battle of Midway

As Japan’s situation deteriorated further, Nagumo was again deployed in March of 1944, taking command of a small fleet in the Mariana Islands. This was a short-lived command and Nagumo found himself in a different battle soon after. The Battle of Saipan began on 15 June 1944 and within days, the Japanese forces were overwhelmed by the US 5th Fleet, resulting in Japan’s loss of multiple carriers and close to 600 aircraft. Vice Admiral Jisaburo Osawa had been in command of the operation in Saipan but following the devastating loss, Nagumo and his peer, General Yoshitsugu Saito were left in control. The fighting in Saipan was especially brutal and, rather than face further blame for Japanese failure, Nagumo committed suicide on 6 July 1944; he shot himself in the temple, his body recovered by US marines from the caves where he spent his last days as a Saipan commander.

The Battle of Saipan

Following his death, Chuichi Nagumo was promoted to Admiral and awarded the Grand Cordon of the Golden Kite for the bravery and leadership he had shown in battle. Admiral Chuichi Nagumo is a prime example of the honour of war that is instilled into Japanese military figures through the Bushido Code of the Samurai, meaning “the way of the warrior”. To the Japanese, surrender is the last option. This is evident in Nagumo’s decision to take his life and is reinforced by the well-known harsh treatment that the Japanese inflicted upon their enemies who had surrendered, and were placed in prisoner of war camps. While Nagumo’s decisions were criticised and his authority was questioned, he achieved many successes as a leader within the Imperial Japanese Navy and was rightly recognised for this after his death, becoming a true historical icon.

The Grand Cordon of the Golden Kite

Nagumo appears on a stamp marking the 50th anniversary of the end of WW2

Throughout my education so far we have always been taught history from the Australian perspective, with little acknowledgement regarding the opposing side’s outlook. Therefore, I found this process extremely informative and it was enlightening to gain a new perspective. In my opinion, the Japanese code of honour is highly commendable and in stark contrast to the famous surrenders associated with the Allied forces. The actions of Lieutenant General Percival, in the surrender of Singapore on 15 February 1942 and Lieutenant General Gordon Bennett's abandonment of his men, retreating from the island before the fall, remain controversial and questionable even now, long after the end of the war. I think that this has subsequently helped me to better understand Japan's military actions, in their brutal treatment of prisoners of war which I had always seen as entirely unjust. This process has also allowed me to develop a deep admiration, brutality aside, for Japan’s strategies, advanced technology and methodical approach to war, which resulted in many achievements despite extreme disparity in numbers.

WW2 Tanks


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