Ugaki Matome (1890-1945)

Photograph of Ugaki Matome

Chiran Kamikaze Peace Museum

Via Wikipedia Commons

Ugaki Matome was born in Okayama prefecture and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1912 and the Naval Staff College in 1924. He was a resident officer in Germany in 1928-1930 and later commanded a cruiser and a battleship. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1938, and by late 1941 he was chief of staff of Combined Fleet. He had opposed the Tripartite Pact, but as Yamamoto's chief of staff, he became a great proponent of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Ugaki was promoted to vice admiral in 1942 and led a battleship division with Kurita’s forces at Leyte Gulf. He was in command of 5 Air Fleet during the Okinawa campaign and directed its kamikaze operations.

Ugaki had a pessimistic disposition, which meant he was sometimes more realistic than other ranking Japanese naval officers. For example, he he was one of the first to realize that the Japanese position on Guadalcanal was untenable, but said nothing at first for fear of antagonizing the Army. He was also a worrier, who in times of stress suffered from gum disorders. Ugaki’s wife had died shortly before the war, a personal blow from which he never really recovered, and his diaries revealed an obsession with finding the right time and place for his own death. His attitude is revealed in a diary entry from shortly after the American conquest of Saipan (Hastings 2007):

It's only to be expected that fighting men should be killed, but for women, children and old men in such large numbers on a helpless, lonely island to prefer death to captivity ... What a tragedy! None but the people of the Yamato nation [Japan] are could do such a thing ... If one hundred million Japanese people could display the same resolution ... it wouldn't be difficult to find a way to victory.

To his subordinates, Ugaki was stern and impassive, so much so that he was nicknamed "The Golden Mask," after a Japanese comic superhero.  He hid his opposition to war with the United States from all but his diary, and found solace in Buddhist philosophy.  He was a heavy drinker when in port, the only time he let the mask came off around his brother officers.

Ugaki flew out on the last kamikaze mission of the war, on August 15, 1945, after removing all his rank insignia.  His close friend, Joshima Takaji, was unable to talk him out of it (Inoguchi et al. 1958):

I know that, as commanding officer, you accept full responsibility for the Fifth Air Fleet. But, in addition to what is past, you must consider the future. There, too, you have duties and responsibilities. I have been told of your present intention and am in complete sympathy with your feelings. Nevertheless, for the good of everyone concerned, I urge you to call off this sortie.

Three and a half hours later, a flight of seven or eight aircraft was shot down near Iheyajima, an islet off Okinawa.  One of the wrecked planes was found on the beach the next morning, and its three aircrew -- one of whom closely fit the description of Ugaki -- were unceremoniously buried in the sand by the Americans.

Ugaki was considered "one of Japan's best officers and a recognized authority on Japanese naval strategy" (Prange 1981). He was a tall, attractive man of great intelligence and a powerful speaker. Temperamental and creative, he was also possessed of an excellent memory. Ugaki's diary was discovered after the surrender, and it become an important source for historians of the war.

Service record

1890-2-15   born
1912-7-17 Midshipman Graduates from Naval Academy, standing 9th in a class of 144. Assigned to CL Adzuma
1913-5-1   CL Hirado
1913-12-1 Ensign  
1914-5-27   BC Ibuki
Lieutenant junior grade
Torpedo School Basic Course
1916-6-1   Gunnery School Basic Course
1916-12-1   BB Kongo
1917-9-10   CL Iwate
1918-8-3   DD Nara
1918-12-1 Lieutenant Gunnery School Advanced Course
1919-12-1   DD Minekaze
1921-12-1   BB Kongo
1922-12-1   Naval College A-Course
1924-12-1 Lieutenant commander     
1925-12-1   Navy General Staff
1928-11-15   Resident officer in Germany
1928-12-10 Commander
1930-12-1   Staff, Cruiser Division 5
1931-12-1   Staff, 2 Fleet
1932-11-15   Instructor, Naval College
1932-12-1 Captain  
1935-10-30   Staff, Combined Fleet
1936-12-1   Commander, CL Yakumo
1937-12-1   Commander, BB Hyuga
1938-11-15 Rear admiral
Navy General Staff
1938-12-15   Chief, N1, Navy General Staff
1941-4-10   Commander, Cruiser Division 8
1941-8-1   Chief of staff, Combined Fleet
1942-11-1 Vice admiral
1943-5-22   Navy General Staff
1944-2-25   Commander, Battleship Division 1
1944-11-15   Navy General Staff
1945-2-10   Commander, 5 Air Fleet
1945-8-15   Killed in action


Dupuy et al. (1992)

Hastings (2007)

Inoguchi, Nakajima, and Pineau (1958)

Materials of IJN (accessed 2008-7-15)

Prange (1981)

Thomas (2006)

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