Tanaka Shinichi (1893-1976)

Photograph of Tanaka Shimishi

U.S. Army. Via

Tanaka Shinichi (Tanaka Shimishi) was born on Hokkaido and graduated from the Japanese Military Academy in 1913 and the Army Staff College in 1923. He was military attaché in Moscow in 1928-1931 and played a major role in founding the Nakano School in 1937. Tanaka was one of the "young Turks" of the Japanese Army who believed that it was the destiny of Japan to take over all of China and Siberia. By 1941, he was chief of the Military Operations Section, Imperial General Headquarters, and one of the three most influential staff officers (bakuryo) in Japan, along with Muto Akira and Oka Takazumi. He considered anything short of total victory in China completely dishonorable, believing it better to lose a war with the United States than make concessions. His convictions strongly influenced the entire Army in the months leading up to war.

Tanaka favored an all-out assault on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, following the German invasion, and succeeded in persuading Tojo to deploy two divisions to Manchuria. This was done in great secrecy under cover of "Kwantung Army Special Maneuvers" and the reservists called up were sent off without the usual public fanfare. However, intelligence showing the Russians were not sending many troops west reduced the Army's enthusiasm for a Siberian adventure.

Tanaka joined the Southern Area Army in 1942 as chief of staff. He was one of the first Japanese senior officers to recognize that the Guadalcanal invasion was more than a reconnaissance-in-force.

Tanaka was deeply opposed to reductions in the Army's shipping pool that would reduce the flow of reinforcements to Guadalcanal. Indeed, he was so vehement that he insulted Tojo to his face on 6 December 1942 and was immediately dismissed from his post. He returned to Southern Area Army in an indeterminate capacity, but was given command of 18 Division on 13 March 1943. His division held the main line of defense against Merrill's Marauders and Stilwell's Chinese troops at Mytkyina and the Hukawng Valley.

Tanaka fought a stubborn retreat against the Allied offensive of early 1944, but his division was all but destroyed in the fighting. In September 1944 he became chief of staff of the Burma Area Army and urged continued last-ditch resistance, particulary at Rangoon. His effectiveness as chief of staff was compromised by his obsession with administrative details. Recalled to Japan in May 1945, he was wounded (evidently in an air raid) later in the month.

Tanaka was probably the most competent Japanese commander in Burma during the final years of the war. However, by May 1945, he was beginning to be out of touch with reality, demanding that 33 Army with just three exhausted battalions could retake Rangoon from the triumphant 14 Army if they had sufficient fighting spirit. Historian Barbara Tuchman described him as "a plump, comfortable-looking officer in a toupee" but also "a soldier of outstanding capacity who maneuvered his resources superbly and knew how to to make the best of what he had."

Service record


Born on Hokkaido
2 Lieutenant     
Graduates from Military Academy as an infantry officer

Graduates from Army Staff College

Resident officer, Russia

General Staff

59 Regiment

Head, Military Administion Section, Military Administration Burea, Ministry of War

Chief of Army Affairs, Military Affairs Bureau, Ministry of War

Chief of staff, Mongolia Garrison Army

Chief of staff, Inspectorate Division, Lines of Communication
Lieutenant general    
Chief, Military Operations Section, Imperial General Headquarters

Southern Area Army Headquarters

Commander, 18 Division

Chief of staff, Burma Area Army

Northeastern District Army Headquarters

Seriously wounded




Allen (1984)

Boatner (1996)

Drea (2009)

Dupuy et al. (1992)

Fuller (1992) (accessed 2007-11-29)

Hayashi and Cox (1959)

Hotta (2013)

Mercado (2002)

Pettibone (2007)

Smith (2000)

Tuchman (1972)

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