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Yonai Mitsumasa (1880-1948)


Photograph of Yonai Mitsumasa

Wikipedia Commons

Yonai Mitsumasa was born in Iwate prefecture and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1901 and the Naval Staff College in 1914. He was a language officer in Russia and Germany before commanding several battleships. He became a rear admiral in 1925 and vice admiral in 1930, commanding Combined Fleet in 1936. He was promoted to full admiral and became Navy minister in 1937, with Yamamoto Isoroku as his deputy. Evans and Peattie (1997) describe him as "a rarity in the navy, an officer with extensive sea experience, a broad perspective on the international scene, and an understanding that Japan's interests were best served by cooperation, not confrontation, with the Anglo-American maritime powers." Both Yonai and Yamamoto opposed the Tripartite Pact, but Yamamoto was so outspoken in his views that Yonai sent him to sea as commander of Combined Fleet in August 1939 to protect him from assassination by ultranationalists. Described by American naval attachés as gracious but perceptive, Yonai was opposed both to a military solution to the border dispute with Russia at Changkufeng and to war with the United States. However, he also opposed continued adherence to the naval disarmament treaties.

Yonai was named as prime minister in January 1940 after retiring from active duty. His cabinet collapsed after just six months due to pressure from the Army and ultranationalists. Out of favor during the Tojo years, his adamant refusal of an offer to serve as Navy Minister in place of Shimada helped precipitate the fall of Tojo following the loss of Saipan. However, Yonai agreed to serve as Navy Minister in the Koiso cabinet, with the understanding that the Emperor wished him to act as a virtual "co-premier" with Koiso. Yonai was one of the “doves” in the Cabinet that sought a negotiated peace with the Allies, and he continued to serve as Navy Minister in the Suzuki cabinet. His suggestion on 12 May 1945 that peace negotiations be pursued through Russian intermediaries was the first time the possibility of making peace was raised openly in the Cabinet. However, the Russians proved duplicitous, and the Japanese conditions would have been rejected out of hand by the Americans in any case.

Following the nuclear attacks, Yonai made a final plea (Toland 1970):

Therefore, we must forget about 'face' and surrender as quickly as possible, and begin to consider at once how best to preserve the country.

Yonai was the only member of the Suzuki cabinet to continue in office with the Higashikuni peace cabinet.

Following the war, Yonai testified in defense of accused war criminals, then became a strong patron of the economic development of Hokkaido.

Service record

1880-3-2   born
1901-12-14     
Midshipman Graduates from Naval Academy, standing 68th in a class of 115. Assigned to ironclad Kongo
1902-9-3   CL Tokiwa
1903-1-23 Ensign  
1903-5-14   Torpedo Boat Division 1
1903-9-14   Torpedo Boat Division 16
1904-7-13 Lieutenant junior grade
 
1904-10-20   Awaiting assignment
1904-12-30   3 Naval District
1905-1-12   DD Inazuma
1905-8-5   CL Iwate
1905-12-12   Student, Gunnery Training Center
1906-6-12   CL Niitaka
1906-9-28 Lieutenant
1908-4-20   Instructor, Gunnery School
1909-12-1   BB Shikishima
1910-4-1   BB Satsuma
1911-1-23   CL Tone
1911-12-1   Instructor, Gunnery School
1912-12-1 Lieutenant commander     
Naval College A-Course
1914-5-27   Staff, Ryojun Guard District
1915-2-12   Resident officer in Russia
1916-12-1 Commander  
1917-5-1   Staff, 3 Naval District
1918-4-1   Navy General Staff
1919-9-4   Executive officer, BB Fuji
1919-12-1   Navy General Staff
1920-6-3   Trip to Europe
1920-12-1 Captain  
1921-11-25   Trip to Polant
1922-12-10   Coommaner, CL Kasuga
1923-3-5   Commander, CL Iwatenegotiated
1924-7-18   Commander, BB Fuso
1924-11-10   Commander, BB Mutsu
1925-12-1 Rear admiral
Chief of staff, 2 Fleet
1926-12-1   Chief, N3, Navy General Staff
1928-12-10   Commander, 1 Expeditionary Fleet
1930-12-1 Vice admiral
Commander, Chinkai Guard District
1932-12-1   Commander, 3 Fleet
1933-9-15   Navy General Staff
1933-11-15   Commander, 3 Naval District
1934-11-15   Commander, 2 Fleet
1935-12-2   Commander, 1 Naval District
1936-12-1   Commander, Combined Fleet
1937-2-2   Navy Minister
1937-4-1 Admiral  
1939-8-30   Supreme War Council
1940-1-16
Prime Minister
1940-7-22   Retires
1944-7-22
Recalled. Navy Minister
1945-11-30
Retires
1948-4-20   Dies


References

Dupuy et al. (1992)

Evans and Peattie (1997)

Goldman (2012)

Hoyt (1993)

Materials of IJN (accessed 2008-7-11)

Toland (1970)



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