Onishi Takijiro (1891-1945)

Photograph of Onishi Takijiro

Japanese Navy. Via Wikimedia Commons

Onishi Takijiro was born in Hyogo prefecture and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1912. He was an early advocate of air power and became an ace in China during the 1930s. Like his close associate, Yamamoto Isoroku, he enjoyed games of chance. He a reputation as a man of action rather than a thinker (though he had a genius for working out tactical plans), and once won a national mah-jongg competition under an assumed name. He flew every type of aircraft in the Japanese arsenal and had even taken paratrooper jump training. He was also fond of geisha houses. He was flunked out of the Navy War College for conduct unbecoming an officer (he had slapped a geisha) but, as perhaps the foremost Japanese authority on naval air power, he was able to overcome this seemingly fatal blow to his career through sheer driving determination. He sometimes make startling or even shocking statements in order to provoke his listeners into revealing their own private views.

In 1934, Captain Onishi wrote a memorandum calling for the scrapping of capital ships in favor of a massive fleet of aircraft. He was particularly scathing in his criticism of rumored plans to construct super battleships (Peattie 2001):

It is already dangerous for surface units to enter within the range of such a bomber group. Because battleships are fragile under enemy attack, it is wrong to make them the navy's main force. For our naval armament we should shift from battleships to land-based air power.

In July 1937 Onishi drafted a report opposing an independent air arm.

Onishi was a rear admiral on the Navy General Staff in 1941, where he helped plan the Pearl Harbor attack. Here he correctly predicted that the Americans would never accept a negotiated peace if the war began without a declaration of war. He was reassigned as chief of staff of 11 Air Fleet just prior to the outbreak of the Pacific war.

Onishi took command of 1 Air Fleet in the Philippines on 2 October 1944 as a vice admiral. It was here that he developed the idea of the Special Attack Corps, known to Westerners as the kamikazes: Though he initially disliked the concept, he found that there were only fifty aircraft left under his command, and concluded that no other tactics could be effective. His pilots credited him with providing the driving force that made it possible to sustain a prolonged suicide campaign (Inoguchi et al. 1958):

Even if we are defeated, the noble spirit of the kamikaze attack corps will keep our homeland from ruin. Without this spirit, ruin would certainly follow defeat.

However, the Emperor's reaction on hearing the first reports of kamikaze attacks ("Was it necessary to go to this extreme? They certainly did a magnificent job": Inoguchi et al. 1958) was interpreted by Onishi as a stinging rebuke.

Onishi became vice chief of the Navy General Staff in May 1945, and committed ritual suicide on the announcement of the Japanese surrender, to which he was deeply opposed. He was found on the morning of 16 August, having disemboweled himself but failed to successfully cut his throat; according to witnesses, he refused either medical aid or a coup de grâce and lingered on in agony for eighteen hours. His final note read (Inoguchi et al. 1958):

I wish to express my deep appreciation to the souls of the brave special attackers. They fought and died valiantly with faith in our ultimate victory. In death I wish to atone for my part in the failure to achieve that victory and I apologize to the souls of those dead fliers and their bereaved families.

I wish the young people of Japan to find a moral in my death. To be reckless is only to aid the enemy. You must abide by the spirit of the Emperor's decision with utmost perseverance. Do not forget your rightful pride in being Japanese.

You are the treasure of the nation. With all the fervor of spirit of the special attackers, strive for the welfare of Japan and for peace throughout the world.

Service record

  born in Hyogo prefecture

Graduates from Naval Academy, ranking 20th in a class of 144
1912-7-17 Midshipman      
CL Soya
1913-5-1   BC Tsukuba
1913-12-1 Sublieutenant     
1914-5-27   BB Kawachi
1914-12-1   Completes Gunnery School Basic Course
1915-5-26   Completes Torpedo School Basic Course
1915-12-13 Lieutenant junior grade     
AV Wakamiya
1916-4-1   Yokosuka Air Group
1916-9-1   Fleet Air Group
1916-12-1   Yokosuka Air Group
1917-11-20   Staff, 1 Special Task Fleet
1918-1-21   Yokosuka Air Group
1918.11. 1   1 Naval District
1918-12-1 Lieutenant Naval attache, Britain

Naval attache, France
1921-8-6   Yokosuka Air Group
1923-11-1   Navy General Staff
1924-9-10   1 Naval District
1924-10-1   Kasumigaura Air Group
1924-12-1 Lieutenant commander
1925-1-7   Instructor, Kasumigaura Air Group
1926-2-1   Sasebo Air Group
1926-12-1   CL Notoro
1927-12-1   Staff, Combined Fleet
1928-12-10   Chief Air Officer, CVL Hosho
1929-11-1   Staff, Burea of Education, Naval Air Command
1929-11-30 Commander  
1932-2-2   Staff, 3 Fleet
1932-4-7   Staff, Burea of Education, Naval Air Command
1932-11-15   Executive officer, CV Kaga
1933-10-20   Commander, Sasebo Air Group
1933-11-15 Captain Executive officer, Yokosuka Air Group
1936-4-1   Chief, Burea of Education, Naval Air Command
1939-10-19   Commander, Carrier Division 2
1939-11-15 Rear admiral
1940-11-1   Commander, Carrier Division 1
1941-1-15   Chief of staff, 11 Air Fleet
1942- 2-10   Naval Air Command
1942-3-20   Chief, Burea of Administration, Naval Air Command
1943-5-1 Vice admiral
1943-11-1   Chief, Bureau of Administration, Warplane Agency, Department of Military Supply
1944-10- 5   Staff, Combined Fleet
1944-10-2   Commander, 1 Air Fleet
1945-5-10   Navy General Staff
1945-5-19   Vice chief, Navy General Staff
1945-8-15   Commits suicide

Boatner (1996)

Craig (1967)

Dupuy et al. (1992)

Fuller (1992)

Inoguchi, Nakajima, and Pineau (1958)

Materials of IJN (accessed 2007-11-14)
Peattie (2001)

Prados (1995)

Prange (1981)

Roberts (2011)

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