Nakano School

The Nakano School was established in December 1937, under the cover name "Training Center for Rear Duties Personnel," to train Japanese military intelligence officers. It fell under the authority of Eighth Section, Second Bureau, the branch of the Army General Staff responsible for covert operations, which also operated the Noborito Research Institute established in November 1937. The Noborito Research Institute was responsible for developing spyware and worked closely with Nakano School throughout the war. Nakano graduates considered themselves a special elite and tended to operate outside the usual organizational channels within the Army.

There is always a temptation for a special intelligence organization to emphasize sabotage, subversion, assassination, and other covert actions over intelligence gathering, and this tendency was aggravated in the Japanese Army both by the placement of Nakano School under the Army's covert operations section and by the historical romanticism surrounding ninjas and other operatives in feudal Japan. The Nakano School emphasized espionage, propaganda, security, and black operations. It published the Introduction to Covert War (Himitsu-sen Gairon) and taught a curriculum that ranged from modern signals intelligence and cryptology to Kokutai-gaku ("Study for National Structure and Mind") and the 14th-century Jinno Shoto-ki ("Record of the Legitimate Succession of the Divine Emperors") "which became a mental and spiritual 'Bible' for the students" (Kotani 2005). This spiritual training was thought necessary to strengthen officers against bribery or "honey traps." Students were given pseudonyms and were encouraged to report for classes in civilian clothing, to grow their hair long, and to behave like civilians. A total of 1900 students eventually graduated from the Nakano School. Standards were high: Of 600 candidates for the first class, 60 were actually summoned for further interviews and only 18 were accepted, graduating in August 1939. Students could drop out of the school at any point without serious consequences.

Noborito Research Institute supported Nakano School by developing equipment such as secret inks, cameras concealed in cigarette lighters, and explosives disguised as innocuous objects. Nakano students were trained in the use of this equipment, which also included instruments resembling fountain pens but containing pathogenic cultures for contaminating wells. Noborito later played a role in the balloon bomb program. By 1945, almost a thousand persons were employed at Noborito.

Nakano graduates were often assigned to embassy and consulate staffs to monitor local activities. Others operated under cover as journalists, or through cover provided by trading companies, some of which were existing firms willing to cooperate and others were set up specifically by the Army as fronts. Many Nakano men were assigned to Kikans ("agencies") with specific responsibilities, often on a regional basis. One of the first was Yama Kikan, which engaged primarily in counterintelligence. Koa Kikan ("Asia Development Agency") was active in Hong Kong prior to and during the battle of Hong Kong. Asano Kikan was established in Manchuria to recruit White Russians to operate across the border into Siberia, while Chientau Special Service Kikan ran antiguerrilla operations in the border area between Manchuria and Korea. Sakata Kikan in Shanghai worked with with the Triad secret society in Hong Kong. Matsu Kikan ("Pine Agency") engaged in extensive counterfeiting of Chinese currency, which was shipped to Shanghai at a peak of 200 million yuan per month. Ume Kikan ("Plum Agency") was created to work with the Chinese collaborationist government of Wang Ching-wei, and Minami Kikan ("Little Tree Agency") sponsored the Burma Independence Army.

Tomi Kikan initially operated out of Saigon to gather intelligence from the Netherlands East Indies, particularly from Japanese emigrants in the islands. Most of the emigrants were brought back to Japan in November 1941, just before war broke out, and were interrogated for useful intelligence. Nakano School graduates subsequently helped plan and carry out the paratroop drop on Palembang to capture the oil facilities intact. Tomi Kiku also used the powerful transmitters at Saigon to broadcast faked Dutch news reports, being careful to duplicate the voices and mannerisms of authentic Dutch announcers as closely as possible. These succeeded at times at misleading the Allies, but also misled Tokyo monitors on at least one occasion.

Fujiwara Kikan worked to establish a collaborationist government for India, operating principally out of Bangkok, where there was a strong exiled Indian nationalist presence. Fujiwara negotiated an agreement with a Sihk prisoner of war, Major Mohan Singh, to organize a collaborationist army. However, Singh dissolved the first Indian National Army following a dispute with the civilian leaders of the Indian Independence League in December 1942 and was promptly arrested by the Kempeitai. Fujiwara Kikan was replaced by Iwakuro Kikan, which also operated from Bangkok and then Rangoon and took its name from its director, Colonel Iwakuro Hidea. It became one of the largest Nakano agencies, with over 500 men stationed throughout Southeast Asia. On 1 May 1942, Iwakuro staged a conference in Bangkok of over 2000 Indian nationalists that was attended by the Japanese, German, and Italian ambassadors to Thailand. The agency landed 50 agents by submarine near Karachi and Bombay, sent other agents over the border, and began training paratroops. However, the British skillfully countered Iwakuro's propaganda broadcasts with their own, and scored a brilliant propaganda victory with the defection of one of the Indian agents, Major Dhillon. The defection resulted in a purge of the INA leadership by the Japanese that permanently soured relations with the Indian nationalists.This was little relieved by the organization of the Provisional Government of Free India in on 21 October 1942. The shakeup included replacement of Iwakuro by Colonel Yamamoto Hayashi, who renamed the agency Hikari Kikan ("Shining Agency"). Indian National Army subsequently performed poorly in the 1944 Burma campaign, suffering heavy desertion and the near-disintegration of 1 INA Division.

Minami Kikan initially operated out of Bangkok as well, scouting routes into Burma from Thailand. There is evidence that Minami Kikan was preparing to run arms into Burma to support a nationalist insurgency even before Tokyo made the decision to go to war with Britain. When Burmese nationalist Aung San had had himself smuggled out of Burma on a Norwegian freighter and contacted the Japanese in Amoy, he was flown to Tokyo to meet with the chief of Minami Kikan, Colonel Suzuki Keiji. Suzuki identified so closely with the Burmese that he took the name of a legendary Burmese hero named Bo Mogyo. Suzuki claimed authority from Prince Kanin, the military counselor to the Emperor, and thus by implication from the Emperor himself. Aung San and Suzuki organized the group known as the Thirty Comrades. These were all trained in guerrilla tactics by the Japanese, but the Japanese began to alienate the Burmese through such insensitive treatment as requiring the Burmese to join them in bowing towards the Imperial Palace.

Aung returned to Burma with the conquering Japanese in February 1942 as commander of Burma Independence Army. His forces were accompanied by two dozen Nakano "advisers" and engaged in little actual combat (except at Shwedaung, where they shot down 70 surrendering Indian troops in the heat of battle) but provided useful intelligence for the Japanese. However, the independent attitude of his mentor, Suzuki, led to friction between the BIA and the Japanese Army, including the expulsion of the BIA, now renamed Burma Defense Army, from Moulmein by the Kempeitai. Suzuki, accused by fellow officers of having "gone native", became enough of a nuisance to the Army command in Burma that he was recalled in June 1942 and Minami Kikan disbanded.

Matsu Kikan was redeployed to the Netherlands East Indies by the end of 1943, and on 14 January 1944, elements of the unit departed from Kupang aboard a 25-ton fishing vessel, Hiroshi Maru. The crew consisted of Lieutenant Mizuno Susihika, nine Japanese soldiers and sailors, and fifteen natives of Timor to man the boat and put off any inquisitive Allied patrols. Their mission was to reconnoiter Admiralty Bay (125.892E 14.286S) to determine if the Americans were constructing a naval base in the area. The party was forced back to port by a tropical storm but departed again on 16 January. They were provided with a Ki-51 "Sonia" escort, a rather strange accompaniment to what was supposed to be a covert mission, and the aircraft forced down and depth charged an Allied submarine at one point. However, the mission was otherwise completely uneventful, and the Japanese scouts made their first landing on 17 January. They continued to scout the area until 20 January, finding absolutely nothing of military interest, and then returned to Timor. Rumors of additional scouting missions to northern Australia have never been confirmed.

Some local Japanese Army units created their own intelligence organizations. 28 Army in Burma, for example, organized Hayate Tai ("Gale Unit") in October 1944 to conduct guerrilla operations from the Pegu Yomas hills. The unit ended up conducting intelligence gathering in preparation for the breakout across the Sittang instead. Its members were chosen for their physical resemblance to Burmese natives and were steeped in Burmese customs and mannerisms so that they could blend with the local population. They even plucked the hairs out of their legs to better resemble the very smooth-skinned Burmese. Nonetheless, casualties were high, and just 34 men out of the original 160 were left when the unit was disbanded at Moulmein at the time of the Japanese surrender.

As the war turned against Japan, Nakano attempted to expand its unconventional warfare activities. Nakano graduates in New Guinea organized Saito Special Volunteer Corps under 18 Army on 1 August 1943, and this raiding group claimed to have inflicted hundreds of casualties on Australian rear area garrisons while suffering negligible casualties of their own. In January 1944, 1 Raiding Company was organized from Taiwanese led by Nakano School officers. This was deployed to the Philippines in June 1944 under 4 Air Army and attempted a crash landing at the American airfield at Dulag on Leyte on 26 November 1944. One of the four transports disappeared, another crashed with no survivors and the occupants of the other two fled into the jungle, a debacle that Tokyo radio tried to spin as a great success. Another raid on 6 December, this time by parachute, was coordinated with ground forces and managed to establish a toehold on the Buri airfield that was not dislodged until 11 December.

On 1 September 1944, some 220 men graduated as the first class from the Futamata Branch of the Nakano School. The course was highly abbreviated, taking just three months to complete, and it consciously modeled its training on that of the ninja of feudal Japan. These men were trained to act as coast watchers and guerrillas. The school emphasized survival skills and one of its graduates, Hiroo Onoda, who was sent to the Philippines, did not surrender until 1974. The graduates of Futama Branch were given orders, unusual in the Japanese Army, that they were not to commit suicide but were to stay alive at any cost, enduring even the shame of capture in order to feed the enemy false intelligence.

When it became increasingly clear that Japan would not be able to hold its overseas empire, many Nakano graduates, and their Kempeitai counterparts, acted to ensure that the Western powers would not have an easy time of reestablishing rule over their former colonies. Nakano graduates of Akira Kikan were deeply involved in overthrowing the French administration in French Indochina, and others cooperated with the Kempeita in preparing Indonesian nationalists in Java to resist the return of the Dutch.

With the home islands becoming exposed to invasion, Nakano School prepared for guerrilla warfare in the heart of the empire. Nakano men were assigned to the Ryukyu Islands, but immediately stood out among the indigenous people as Yamatojin, Japanese from the home islands. Nakano men also lead small units in northern Okinawa to harass the Marine advance. Meanwhile, Nakano School graduates who had specialized in strategic intelligence were redeployed to Kyushu to help meet the expected Allied invasion, since strategic intelligence seemed increasingly irrelevant. These were organized into Kirishima Unit for guerrilla warfare, and their commander, Captain Kishimoto Iwao, issued "A Reference for Guerrilla Warfare in Japan" based on Soviet and Chinese Communist documents on guerrilla warfare. Some 5000 guerrillas were trained on Kyushu. Meanwhile Yashima Unit was organized to play a similar role in the Tokyo area. Captured arms from crashed B-29s and other supplies were hidden in secret caches around the countryside. These plans were shattered by directives from the high command to redeploy to the beaches to meet the Allied invasion head on, a change in plans the Nakano men strongly protested but could not reverse.

The final effort by Nakano School was to organize Izumi Unit, which was to be a guerrilla unit to contest the Allied occupation of Japan. The men of the unit slipped quietly back into civilian roles in their home towns with orders to carry out a terror campaign against the occupying forces and Japanese collaborators. Nakano  men also made plans to hide a young grandson of the Emperor Meiji, Prince Michihisa, to preserve the imperial line in case the Americans executed or exiled Hirohito and his family. Nakano men also hid the Burmese nationalist leader, Ba Maw, in a Buddhist monastery. Ba Maw was later betrayed by one of the local Japanese, but the British chose to release him rather than risk making a martyr of him.

When the Russians invaded Manchuria in August 1945, they rapidly identified Nakano men by such ploys as demanding that the Japanese supply interpreters during negotiations. The Russians correctly assumed that most of these would turn out to be intelligence officers. Some of the Manchurians and White Russians with whom the Nakano men had worked betrayed them, either to try to save themselves or out of bitterness at the arrogant treatment they had received from the Japanese. 

Postwar, Nagano men attempted to use the detailed intelligence they had gathered on Russia as bargaining chips with the occupying Americans. MacArthur's intelligence chief, Charles Willoughby, proved willing to work closely with former Nakano officers, and many Nakano men became prominent in the postwar Japanese Self Defense Forces and in nationalist politics.

Notwithstanding its emphasis on covert operations, Nakano School could have produced a corps of capable intelligence officers for the Japanese Army. Alas for the Japanese, the school was organized very late in a military culture that was surprisingly hostile to conventional military intelligence, and Japanese military intelligence suffered during the war accordingly.


Kotani (2009)

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