Fukudome Shigeru (1891-1971)

Photograph of Fukudome Shigeru

Japanese Navy. Via

Fukudome Shigeru was born in Tottori prefecture. He graduated from the Japanese Naval Academy in 1912 and from the Naval Staff College in 1925. He was chief of staff to Prince Fushimi in 1935, when the Navy General Staff determined that foul weather was eight times as common in the Bonin Islands area as the Hawaii area. Seeking every advantage in a future war with the United States, Fukudome deliberately scheduled the fleet maneuvers for the worst weather season of the year. The result was that the fleet was caught squarely by a typhoon and the Tomozuru capsized and sank. This led to considerable revision of Japanese ship design practices, but maneuvers in heavy weather continued.

Fukudome later served as naval attaché to the United States. Like Yamamoto, Fukudome was willing to believe that aircraft could prove the decisive weapon in a naval war. He was chief of the Operations Section of the general staff from 1935-1938 and was promoted to rear admiral in 1939. He was chief of staff of Combined Fleet from 1939-1940, where he won the friendship and respect of Yamamoto and often discussed strategy with him. He was one of the first officers with whom Yamamoto discussed the idea of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, in March or April 1940.

In April 1941 Fukudome became chief of the operations division of the Naval General Staff. As such, he was peripherally involved in the planning for the Pearl Harbor operation. He was an advocate of southward expansion. However, like Yamamoto, he was skeptical of the chances of success in a protracted war against the United States, and he was the lone advocate of withdrawing from China and the Tripartite Pact at a Navy conference held on 6 October 1941.

Following Japan's initial victories, Fukudome became an advocate of an invasion of Hawaii or at least the isolation of Australia. He was promoted to vice admiral in 1942 and made commander of 2 Air Fleet, which was a land-based air unit operating in the Philippines and Formosa. By mid-1943 he was again chief of staff of Combined Fleet.

On 31 March 1944 Fukudome survived an airplane crash off Mindanao during the same storm that took the life of Combined Fleet commander Koga. He was captured by Philippine guerrillas, but a combination of savage reprisals by the Japanese Army on the island and Fukudome's own bluster secured his release. However, the documents he was carrying, which he had lost when he was thrown from his aircraft but which drifted ashore, were passed along to Allied intelligence. On 18 April 1944, Fukudome successfully obfuscated these events before a Naval Board of Inquiry and was acquitted of failing to commit suicide to avoid becoming a prisoner of war. The Board rationalized that guerrillas could not be considered enemy soldiers and so Fukudome was never actually a prisoner of war. Straus (2003) writes:

[The Navy personnel chief] wrote a memo on the Navy ministry's deliberations that stated it was "not clear whether Adm. Fukudome in the bottom of his heart wants to commit suicide." If the admiral were "undecided about ending his life," the panel agreed that "we should permit him discretion in this matter in the light of doubts that had been raised." With such elliptical and hazy language, Fukudome's honor was preserved.

Along with many other senior staff officers, Fukudome found himself assigned to an operational command towards the end of 1944, returning to command of the 2 Air Fleet on 15 June 1944. His command was slaughtered by carrier strikes led by Halsey and inflicted only minimal damage on the American fleet. This left 2 Air Fleet almost powerless during the Leyte campaign. Fukudome resisted the use of suicide tactics, but was forced to accept the concept when it gained official approval from the Emperor. He ended the war as commander of naval forces at Singapore, which he surrendered to the British in September 1945. He was subsequently convicted of failing to prevent the execution of American airmen at Singapore and of subsequently helping to cover up the crime, and sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

Fukudome was regarded as a very able and influential staff officer. However, he accepted orders without question once they were decided upon. He seems to have had a calm and retiring personality, and rarely smiled. He was a steady rather than brilliant thinker.  He was one of the most senior naval officers to survive the war, and he was interviewed at length by numerous historians after the war was over. Much of the conventional wisdom about the war from the Japanese perspective can be traced back to him.

Service record

1891-2-1   Born in Tottori prefecture
1912   Graduates from Naval Academy, ranking 8 in a class of 144
1912-7-17 Midshipman     
1913-5-1   Idzumo
1913-12-1 Ensign
1914-9-21   Hizen
1915-3-17   Kashima
1915-12-13 Lieutenant junior grade     
Completes Gunnery School Basic Course
1916-6-1   Completes Torpedo School Basic Course
1916-12-1   Manshu
1917-12-1   Chitose
1918-7-16   Torpedo Boat Division 1
1918-12-1 Lieutenant Completes Navy College Navigation Course
1919-12-1   Sakura
1920-12-1   Chief navigator, Niitaka
1921-12-1   Kamoi
1922-9-12   Kamoi
1924-1-8   Staff, 1 Fleet
1924-10-15   Instructor, Naval Academy
1924-12-1 Lieutenant commander     
Graduates from Navy College
1926-12-1   Iwate
1928-1-15   Navy General Staff
1929-11-30 Commander  
1930-12-1   Bureau of Personnel, Department of Navigation
1933-9-9   Staff, Combined Fleet
1933-11-15 Captain  
1934-11-15   Chief, S2, N1, Navy General Staff
1935-10-30   Chief, S1, N1, Navy General Staff
1938-4-25   Vice chief of staff, China Area Fleet
1938-12-15   Commander, Nagato
1939-11- 5   Staff, Combined Fleet
1939-11-15 Rear admiral
Chief of staff, Combined Fleet
1941-4-10   Chief, N1, Navy General Staff
1942-11-1 Vice admiral
Commander, 2 Air Fleet
1943-5-22   Chief of staff, Combined Fleet
1944-4-6   Navy General Staff
1944-6-15   Commander, 2 Air Fleet
1945-1-8   Staff, Southwest Area Fleet
1945-1-13   Commander, 13 Air Fleet
1945-2-5   Commander, 10 Area Fleet / 13 Air Fleet / 1 Southern Expeditionary Fleet
1971-2-6   Died


Beckman (accessed 2012-5-21)

Dupuy (1992)

Fuller (1992)

Materials of IJN (accessed 2007-11-12)

Prange (1981)

World War II Dabase (accessed 2007-11-12)

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