Mikawa Gunichi (1888-1981)


Naval Historical Center #63697

Few subordinate Japanese flag officers have been subject to more Monday morning quarterbacking than Mikawa Gunichi.  A 1910 graduate of the Naval Academy and twice a student at the Naval Staff College, he was a specialist in navigation and held diplomatic assignments in France and Geneva.  

Mikawa commanded Battleship Division 3 at the start of the Pacific War. He led the first section of his battleship division with Pear Harbor Attack Force while the second section provide heavy support for the Malaya invasion. However, he was skeptical of the Pearl Harbor operation, believing it unduly dispersed the combat power of the Japanese Navy. He likewise led the heavy escort for the Indian Ocean raid and the Midway operation.

Commander of 8 Fleet at Rabaul from its activation on 14 July 1942, Mikawa mustered a scratch force of cruisers and a lone destroyer in response to the Guadalcanal invasion and handed the U.S. Navy the worst defeat in its history off Savo Island. His force sank four Allied cruisers while taking only light casualties.  Believing himself within easy range of U.S. carrier air power, with dawn approaching and no good picture of what lay ahead, Mikawa chose not to push his luck further and returned to Rabaul

In fact, what lay ahead was vital transports guarded by just three cruisers and a handful of destroyers that were as unprepared for battle as the forces he had already defeated. Furthermore, the U.S. carrier support had already been withdrawn out of strike range. But Mikawa had no way to know that, and his decision seems defensible given what he knew at the time. 

Mikawa continued to command Japanese forces in the Solomons, and personally led a bombardment group against Guadalcanal in November.  However, his attempt to run an Army division into Lae led to the disastrous Battle of the Bismarck Sea, and he was eventually scapegoated for the Japanese defeat in the Solomons and relegated to a secondary command, Southwest Area Fleet in Manila, where he played a minor role in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  He then directed “Tokyo Express” operations to Leyte.  When these failed, Mikawa was recalled to Japan and retired in May 1945.

Mikawa was a gentle, soft-spoken man who came across as an intellectual.  However, he was considered a courageous, aggressive leader by his peers.

Service record

1888-8-29   Born
1910-7-18 Midshipman Graduates from Naval Academy, standing 3rd in a class of 149. Assigned to CA Asama
1911-3-11   BB Satsuma
1911-12-1 Ensign
1912-12-1   Kongo
1913-2-8   Awaiting assignment
1913-7-23   CA Soya
1913-9-20   Awaiting assignment
1913-12-1 Lieutenant junior grade      
Torpedo School Basic Course
1914-5-27   Gunnery School Basic Course
1914-12-1   CA Aso
1916-2-10   DD Sugi
1916-12-1 Lieutenant Naval  College B-Course
1917-5-1   Naval College Majored Course
1917-12-1   AP Seito
1918-3-5   Resident in France
1920-5-12   Haruna
1920-7-3   Tatsuta
1921-11-1   BC Ikoma
1922-5-1   CA Aso
1922-12-1 Lieutenant commander
Naval College A-Course
1924-12-1   Staff, Bureau of Personnel, Yokosuka
1926-12-1 Commander Adjutant, Navy General Staff
  Trip to France
1930-2-7   Attache, France
1930-12-1 Captain
1931-4-16   1 Naval District
1931-8-15   Commander, Hayatomo
1931-12-1   Chief Instructor, Naval Academy
1934-2-20   Commander, Aoba
1934-11-15   Commander, Chokai
1935-11-15   Commander, Kirishima
1936-12-1 Rear admiral
Chief of staff, 2 Fleet
1937-11-15   Chief, N2, Navy General Staff
1939-11-15   Commander, Cruiser Division 7
1940-11-1   Commander, Cruiser Division 5
1940-11-15 Vice admiral
1941-9-6   Commander, Battleship Division 3
1942-7-14   Commander, 8 Fleet
1943-4-20   Schoomaster, Navigation School
1943-9-3   Commander, 2 Southern Expeditionary Fleet
1944-8-15   Commander, Southwest Area Fleet
1944-11-1   Awaiting assignment
1981-2-25   Dies


Coombe (1991)

Fuller (1992)

Materials of IJN (accessed 2008-2-18)

Newcomb (1961)

Prange (1981)

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