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Honma Masaharu

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Honma Masaharu

Masaharu Homma
Japanese Military Administrator
Japanese Military Commander of the Philippines
In office
January 2, 1942 – January 23, 1942
Preceded by Newly Established
Succeeded by Jorge B. Vargas
Personal details
Born (1888-11-27)November 27, 1888
Sado, Niigata Prefecture, Japan
Died April 3, 1946(1946-04-03) (aged 58)
Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines
Religion Shinto
Military service
Nickname(s) "The Poet General"
Allegiance  Empire of Japan
Service/branch  Imperial Japanese Army
Years of service 1907 - 1943
Rank Lieutenant General
Commands 27th Infantry Division
Taiwan Army of Japan
14th Area Army

Masaharu Homma (本間 雅晴 Honma Masaharu?, 27 November 1887 – 3 April 1946) was a general in the Imperial Japanese Army. He is noteworthy for his role in the invasion and occupation of the Philippines during World War II.

With the 43,110 men of the 14th Army, Homma led the most intense battle in the invasion of the Philippines, the Battle of Bataan commencing in December, 1941. He was in charge of the troops who were responsible in carrying out Bataan Death March in the Philippines during 1942. As a consequence, Homma was executed by firing squad after being convicted by the U.S. military tribunal for war crimes in the Philippines.


Homma was born on Sado Island, in the Sea of Japan off Niigata Prefecture. He graduated from the 14th class of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in 1907, and from the 27th class of the Army Staff College in 1915.

Homma had a deep respect for, and some understanding of, the West, having spent eight years as a military attaché in the United Kingdom. In 1917 he was attached to the East Lancashire Regiment, and in 1918 served with the British Expeditionary Force in France, being awarded the Military Cross.[1]

From 1930-1932, Homma was again sent as a military attaché to the United Kingdom, where his proficiency in the English language was useful. He was also assigned to be part of the Japanese delegation to the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1932 and served with the Press Section of the Army Ministry from 1932-1933. He was given a field command again, as commander of the IJA 1st Infantry Regiment from 1933–1935, and was promoted to command the IJA 32nd Infantry Brigade from 1935-1936.[2]

In 1937, Homma was appointed aide-de-camp to Prince Chichibu, a brother of Emperor Shōwa. With him, he made a diplomatic tour in Europe which ended in Germany. There he attended the Nuremberg rally and met Adolf Hitler, with whom the prince tried to boost relations, following the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936. He then served as the commander of the Taiwan Army of the Imperial Armed Forces, and composed the lyric of the military song, "Taiwan Army." Yamaguchi Yoshiko ("Lee Shiang Lan" in Chinese) was invited to sing the song to boost Taiwanese morale.

With the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Homma was appointed commander of the IJA 27th Division in China from 1938–1940 and directed the blockade of the foreign concessions in Tientsin, where he led the negotiations with the British.[3] After the fall of Nanking, he declared publicly that "unless peace is achieved immediately it will be disastrous".[4] Homma was removed from his position at the front lines, and re-assigned to become commander in chief of the Taiwan Army District from 1940-1941. He was promoted to lieutenant general in July 1938.

With the start of the Pacific War, Homma was named commander of the 43,110-man IJA 14th Army and tasked with the invasion of the Philippines. He ordered his troops to treat the Filipinos not as enemies but as friends, and respect their customs and religion. In one instance, on his approach to Manila, Homma stopped his columns and ordered the men to clean up and tighten formations, knowing that unkempt soldiers are more likely to loot and rape.[5]

This liberal approach towards Filipino civilians earned him the enmity of his superior, General Count Hisaichi Terauchi, commander of the Southern Army, who sent adverse reports about Homma to Tokyo from his headquarters in Saigon. There was also a growing subversion within Homma's command by a small group of insubordinates, under the influence of Colonel Tsuji Masanobu. In Homma's name, they sent out secret orders against his policies, including ordering the execution of Filipino Chief Justice José Abad Santos and attempted execution of former Speaker of the House of Representatives Manuel Roxas, which Homma found out about in time to stop.[6]

Homma failed to give credence to the possibility that a retreat into Bataan Peninsula by Filipino-American forces might succeed in upsetting the Japanese timetable. By the time he recognized his mistake, his best infantry division had been replaced by a poorly trained reserve brigade, greatly weakening his assault force. Rather than waste his men in furious frontal assaults, he tried to outmaneuver the American forces. This brought criticism from superiors who believed he had been "contaminated" by Western ideas about conserving the lives of his men.

Worried about the stalled offensive in Luzon, Hirohito pressed Army Chief of Staff Hajime Sugiyama twice on January 1942 to increase troop strength and launch a quick knockout on Bataan.[7] Following these orders, Sugiyama put pressure on Homma to renew his attacks. The resulting Battle of Bataan commencing in January 1942 was one of the most intense in the campaign. However, the deteriorating relationship between Homma and Sugiyama led to the removal of Homma from command shortly after the fall of Corregidor, and he was thereafter commander of the 14th Army in name only. The New York Times erroneously reported prior to the fall of Bataan that Homma was replaced by General Yamishita, and that Homma had committed suicide.[8]

The Imperial General Headquarters regarded Homma as not aggressive enough in war (resulting in the high cost and long delay in securing the American and Filipino forces' surrender), and too lenient with the Filipino people in peace, and he was subsequently forced into retirement in August 1943. Homma retired from the military and lived in semi-seclusion in Japan until the end of the war.


After the surrender of Japan, the American occupation authorities arrested Homma, and he was extradited to the Philippines at the express order of General Douglas MacArthur so that he could be tried[9] by an American military tribunal rather than the International Allied War Crimes Commission tasked with prosecuting Japanese war-time leaders for war crimes connected with starting the war.

Historian Philip Piccigallo said that Homma was convicted of the actions of his men during the Bataan Death March rather than having a direct hand in the actions themselves.[10]

It is not clear whether Homma ordered the atrocities that occurred during the march, but it is clear that his lack of administrative expertise and inability to adequately delegate authority and control his men led to atrocities. After American-Filipino forces surrendered the Bataan Peninsula, Homma turned logistics of handling the estimated 25,000 prisoners to Major-General Yoshitake Kawane. Homma publicly stated that the POWs would be treated fairly. A plan was formulated to transport and march the prisoners to Camp O'Donnell, which Homma approved. However, the plan was severely flawed, as the American and Filipino POWs were starving, weak with malaria, and numbered not 25,000 but 76,000 men: far more than any Japanese plan had anticipated.[11]

Additionally, the Japanese thought that the surrender would occur some three weeks later, a point at which supplies would have arrived. In his defense at his trial, Homma also claimed that he was so preoccupied with the plans for the Corregidor assault that he had forgotten about the prisoners’ treatment, believing that his officers were properly handling the matter. He claimed that he did not learn of the atrocity until after the war.

Homma was convicted by the U.S. military tribunal for war crimes in the Philippines, including the Bataan Death March, and the atrocities at O'Donnell and Cabanatuan which followed. Homma's chief defense counsel, John H. Skeen, Jr., stated that it was a "highly irregular trial, conducted in an atmosphere that left no doubt as to what the ultimate outcome would be." Associate Justice Frank Murphy of the U.S. Supreme Court protested the verdict, stating: "Either we conduct such a trial as this in the noble spirit and atmosphere of our Constitution or we abandon all pretense to justice, let the ages slip away and descend to the level of revengeful blood purges."[12]

Homma's wife appealed to General MacArthur to spare his life; her pleas were denied. However, MacArthur ordered Homma shot, rather than sent to the gallows, the latter being considered the greater dishonor amongst military men.[13] Homma was executed by firing squad by Filipino and American forces on 3 April 1946 outside Manila.



External links

  • Honma Masaharu The Generals of World War II
  • Homma Masaharu Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
  • Homma Masaharu World War II Database
  • People & Events: Masaharu Homma PBS
  • American Heritage (magazine)
Preceded by
Manuel L. Quezon
President of the Philippines
Japanese Military Administrator of the Philippines
(de facto Head of Government)

January 2, 1942 – January 23, 1942
Succeeded by
Jorge B. Vargas
Philippine Executive Commission

Template:Japanese Governors of the Philippines Template:Head of State of the Philippines

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