Mutaguchi Renya (1888-1966)

Photograph of Mutaguchi Renya

Wikimedia Commons

Mutaguchi Renya was born in Saga prefecture and adopted by the Mutaguchi family. He graduated from the Military Academy in 1910 as an infantry officer. He graduated from the Army Staff College in 1917 and served with the Siberian Expedition. He was also a resident officer in France.

A member of the Imperial Way (Kōdōha) faction, Mutaguchi was the regiment commander over the units involved in the Marco Polo Incident of 7 July 1937, and his arrogance helped launched the second Sino-Japanese War. He believed that weakness was provocative and rapidly escalated what was originally a minor local skirmish. Well-connected politically, he was subsequently promoted to major general and held numerous responsible staff assignments in China and Manchuria

Mutaguchi was given command of 18 Division in April 1942. His division participated in the Malaya offensive during the early months of the war, and he was wounded in the shoulder during the final assault on Singapore, in February 1942. The division was then transferred to the Philippines to assist in the reduction of Bataan. By April 1942 it was on the move again, this time to Rangoon.

Mutaguchi was given command of 15 Army in March 1943. Impressed with the accomplishments of the Chindits, he strongly pushed his own plan to attack Imphal and Assam, U-Go. He sacked his own intelligence chief for suggesting that the offensive was impossible, and made an emotional plea to his superior, Kawabe Masakazu, to approve the plan. Mutaguchi and Kawabe had both been involved in the Marco Polo Incident, and Mutaguchi suggested that since they were the pair who had started the Greater East Asia War, they should be the pair to end it (Allen 1984):

I started off the Marco Polo Incident, which broadened out into the China Incident, and then expanded until it turned into the Great East Asia War. If I push into India now, by my own efforts, and can exercise a decisive influence on the Great East Asia War, I, who was the remote cause of the outbreak of this great war, will have justified myself in the eyes of our nation.

Mutaguchi was reluctant to leave his headquarters at Maymyo to direct U-Go, not departing for the front until 29 April 1944, over a month after the offensive had kicked off. Even then, he lingered in Shwebo long enough to set up his staff's "comfort station."

When the offensive collapsed, Mutaguchi refused to permit his division commanders to retreat, and by July 1944 he had dismissed the commanders of 15 Division, 31 Division, and 33 Division.  Because of the disastrous failure of U-Go, Mutaguchi was recalled to Tokyo on 30 August 1944, retiring in December.

Mutaguchi was reputed to have considerable physical courage and a deep commitment in Bushido. He was respected but disliked. He was fond of sex, sake, and publicity. As his army collapsed around him, he ordered an area of jungle cleared near his headquarters, where he constructed a Shinto shrine consisting of a patch of white sand with four decorated bamboo poles at the four points of the compass. He worshiped here each morning thereafter, calling on the eight hundred gods of Japan for aid.

Mutaguchi managed to avoid being charged with war crimes, but in 1963 he came out in support of a study claiming that the Imphal campaign had failed only because Sato had failed to move on Dimapur. Mutaguchi even went so far as to denounce Sato in a pamphlet distributed at the latter's funeral in 1959. The bad blood between the two went back as far as 1934, when Sato was aligned with the Control Faction (Tōseiha) and discovered that his movements were being reported to Mutaguchi (then part of the General Affairs Bureau).

Service record


Born in Saga prefecture

Graduates from Military Academy as an infantry officer
Lieutenant colonel     


Section chief, Army General Staff


Commander, Peiping garrison
Major general
Staff, Kwantung Army

Chief of staff, 4 Army

Commandant, Military Academy
Lieutenant general     
Commander, 18 Division

Commander, 15 Army

Instructor, Military Academy



Allen (1984)

Boatner (1996)

Drea (2009)

Dupuy et al. (1992)

Fuller (1992)

Hastings (2007)

Tamayama and Nunneley (2000)

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