Gyokusai (Honorable Defeat) or
Gyakusatsu (Massacre): Japanese
accounts of the Battle of Manila
Ricardo Trota Jose
Department of History
Few Japanese are aware of the
horrors of that occurred during the 1945 Battle of Manila. This is partly
because little has been written about it in the mainstream Japanese media.
When, in August 2007, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), aired a
long special documentary on the battle, many Japanese learned for the
first time of the atrocities committed in the battle. While the
documentary had its flaws (such as trying to pin much of the blame on the
Americans rather than the Japanese, relying heavily on interviews without
double checking the information and other items), it was a significant
event in at least bringing the battle to mainstream Japanese
consciousness. And it was the first time that Japanese survivors were
interviewed on camera, even though they held back much.
The battle of
Manila is not seriously tackled in Japanese textbooks, and some Japanese
students who come to Manila are suddenly confronted by the enormity of the
battle when they meet elderly Filipinos or see the memorials. Worse, some
of the published works discuss the battle in an antiseptic, detached
military point of view without mentioning the civilian casualties. The
published official histories of the Japanese Army and Navy, for example,
deal with strategic and tactical issues, the difficulties encountered by
the Japanese forces and the changing lines of command. There are two
volumes of the Senshi Sosho (War
History Series), published in 1972 (one for the Army, one for the Navy),
which include sections on the battle, but there is nothing on the civilian
deaths, either as a result of deliberate massacre or as victims of the
crossfire. A very detailed monograph exclusively on the battle published
by the Japanese Self Defense Force War History Section in 1982 similarly
has no mention of the civilians and the atrocities committed on them. At
least two civilian survivors of the battle wrote short narratives of the
battle, focusing mainly on the sacrifices faced by the Japanese in the
face of overwhelming American power and surrounded by a hostile
population. One popular writer, Noboru Kojima, published a book in 1969 on
the Manila Naval Defense Force, based on some serious research: he was
able to interview some of the surviving Japanese officers and men of the
naval force and also the widow of Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, who was still
alive at that time. But his bibliography and acknowledgements do not
include a single work of a Filipino survivor of the battle, nor did he
interview any victim. He does admit that the truth of the battle of Manila
will never be known, because of the darkness surrounding the events of
February 1945, the severity of the experience and the unwillingness of
persons to remember those days.
A few Japanese
survivors did write about their experiences, although some of these were
published posthumously. One of the two senior Japanese Navy officers to
survive the battle, Lt Commander Koichi Kayashima, wrote a lengthy
narrative of his personal experiences a few years after the war, which was
published only in 1995. This memoir was published in a special issue of
Maru Magazine, a rightist
publication which focuses on military affairs and particularly Japanese
exploits during the Second World War. This particular issue was entitled “Gyokusai,”
a word peculiar to the Japanese martial tradition.
Gyokusai in Japanese
literally meant “crushed jewels”, but figuratively it meant “death for
honor” or dying honorably in battle in the face of impossible odds.
Glorious annihilation – fighting to the last man - is another way of
translating this term. Instances of
Gyokusai include the bloody battles of Tarawa, Attu, Saipan, Peleliu,
Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Civilians were also present in the battles of Saipan
and Okinawa, and thousands perished in the fighting – many at the
instigation or order of the Japanese Army.
It is, however,
surprising to see Manila as being classified as a case of glorious
annihilation. As early as late February 1945, Ambassador Shozo Murata, in
Baguio at the time, mentioned the annihilation of the Manila Naval Defense
Force as being a case of gyokusai.
Using this term conveniently sidesteps the deliberate killing of
unarmed civilian noncombatants and the destruction of their homes.
Another Japanese word more
accurately describes what happened in Manila in February 1945:
gyakusatsu or massacre. The Rape of Nanking in 1937 has been aptly
described as a massacre, although the rightists have long since denied
that it happened on a large scale. The killings of civilians in Manila,
Los Baños, Lipa, Tanuan and elsewhere in the Philippines in early 1945
also are considered massacres, although very few Japanese writers
outrightly refer to these incidents as such.
Most of the published works
which mention the Battle of Manila stick to the
gyokusai frame and focus on the
hardships faced by the Japanese forces – primarily the Manila Naval
Defense Force and units attached to it. One of the first to appear was a
memoir by Lt. Gen. Akira Muto, Gen. Yamashita’s chief of staff. Muto wrote
his memoirs while in Sugamo Prison, awaiting trial as a Class A War
Criminal. Muto was in the Japanese Army’s General Headquarters in 1937 and
was accused of playing a role in the Rape of Nanking, pushing Japan to
sign the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy and otherwise settgin
Japan on the road to war. Given the gravity of the offenses charged
against him, what happened in the Philippines was a much lesser evil, it
seems, which is why he wrote what he called “The Truth of the Philippine
Campaign” in 1947. It was published in book form in 1952, after Muto had
been executed for war crimes, and has been reprinted.
Various other articles are
persona accounts by survivors. Already mentioned is Comdr. Kayashima’s
memoir, printed in 1995. Lt. Comdr. Shizuhiko Mineo, a naval officer with
the Southern Force of the Manila Naval Defense Force, also wrote a memoir
which was published (again by Maru
Magazine) in 1986. The Southern Force, which defended Nichols Field and
Fort McKinley, was later ordered to Infanta, Quezon, where civilians were
massacred. Mineo, in fact, was charged as a war criminal and found guilty.
There are a few
articles written by journalists who were present in the battle, but again
focused on the difficulties faced by the Japanese fighting men – in
particular the male civilians who were conscripted in late October 1944.
Many of these, including long-term pre-war residents of Manila and
correspondents, were killed in the fighting. They had no choice but to
fight since their officers or noncommissioned officers could kill them if
they tried to surrender. One of these is Isamu Kobayashi’s “Manila Street
Fighting” (printed in 1951; reprinted in 1985 as “Manila’s Last Day”).
Kobayashi was a newsman with Mainichi Shimbun who was conscripted into the Japanese Department of
Information in Manila during the occupation.
Only a handful or publications
deal with the gyakusatsu –
massacre – view of the battle. Only one writer has come to grips squarely
with the atrocities issue – Walang
Hiya (1990) by Jintaro Ishida. He confronted Japanese veterans
directly – he ambushed them at home confronting them with their past – and
also interviewed many Filipino victims. Ishida was a member of the
Japanese Navy but was conscripted very late in the war and served in the
home front. Feeling a sense of anguish of Japanese war crimes, he sought
justice for victims of Japan’s militarism by publishing about the
atrocities. This was a dangerous task for a writer in Japan, given the
power of the right wing politicians and groups (some of whom are yakuza
types), as well as the political clout of the Bereaved Families
Association. He chose to use a pseudonym partly for safety, but was very
much home in his visits to the Philippines. One of his books has been
translated into English (The Remains
of War: Apology and Forgiveness, 2001) but this deals with atrocities
in Laguna and Batangas), but Walang
Hiya remains only in Japanese. With a section on Manila, Lipa, Laguna
and Infanta, the book caused much controversy among Japanese veterans.
Two other works, although not
on the Battle of Manila, deserve mention. One, a researched account by
writer Etsuro Kawamura, deals with the Infanta Massacre (Massacre
by the Sacred Army, 1991) which occurred after the Battle of Manila.
Ironically, the unit which committed the atrocities was the Southern Force
of the Manila Naval Defense Force, remnants of which were ordered to
Infanta after the Americans took Nichols Airfield (now Villamor Air Base
and a part of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport) and Fort Bonifacio.
Captain Takasue Furuse, its commander, was the senior survivor of the
Manila Naval Defense Force, and was tried as a war criminal for the
atrocities in Infanta. He pled guilty and spent time in prison. Although
he survived, he did not write his own memoirs.
A Japanese veteran, Takashi
Tomokiyo, wrote about the massacres he saw in Batangas. His book,
Madness – the Truth of the Slaughter of Luzon Residents (1983, with
several reprints) was, like Walang
Hiya, controversial and led to Tomokiyo’s being ostracized by his
As writer Noboru
Kojima noted, the Japanese side of the Battle of Manila would never be
complete. Virtually all the officers in Manila proper were killed in
action or committed suicide, and strict orders were given to burn or
however, some Japanese who survived the battle. Some were captured
involuntarily, while trying to rejoin Japanese forces outside Manila,
while others surrendered. Most of them never spoke out after the war, but
some records allow us to gain at least partial insights into the thinking
of the Japanese who fought in Manila. The 2007 NHK documentary was able to
locate a few Japanese participants of the battle, but they held back and
did not admit to committing atrocities themselves.
Postwar statements and reports
Some of the key Japanese
officers who survived the Philippine fighting were asked to write
statements about specific aspects of their experiences. The senior
surviving Japanese naval officers in the Philippines, Vice Admiral
Denshichi Okochi (commander of the Southwest Area Fleet and highest
Japanese Navy officer in the Philippines – Rear Admiral Iwabuchi’s
immediate superior), and Capt. Furuse (commander of the South Force,
Manila Naval Defense Force), did not write any statement or report, but
Lt. Comdr. Koichi Kayashima did. Commander Kayashima was the Manila Naval
Defense Force’s staff officer in charge of operations and worked closely
with Admiral Iwabuchi. He survived because he was sent to Montalban to
contact Adm. Iwabuchi’s operational superior, Lt. Gen. Shizuo Yokoyama.
Kayashima was able to get back to Fort McKinley but no further. Unable to
rejoin Adm. Iwabuchi, Kayashima was attached to Capt. Furuse’s Southern
Force and joined it in its move to Infanta. Excerpts from Kayashima’s
statement are given below.
Although Adm. Okochi did not
write anything, his chief of staff, Rear Admiral Arima, was asked by US
occupation forces to write a statement. He covered part of the battle as
he – from headquarters – saw it.
Adm. Okochi did, however,
testify in the trial against Gen. Yamashita: he testified for the
prosecution, highlighting the fact that all the naval troops in Manila had
been placed under Japanese Army operational control. Adm. Okochi and the
Japanese Navy, he thus testified, had nothing to do with its ground
operations – and ergo, were innocent of the atrocities. Yamashita’s
defense lawyers were able to get him to grudgingly admit that the navy did
have orders which superseded the Army orders, which were issued before the
Manila Naval Defense Force was placed under Army control. Okochi did not
elaborate on the naval orders except to say that these concerned the
destruction of naval facilities and resources the US could use. He was not
asked for details, or the source of these orders.
The statements and
memoirs – as well as more extensive histories written by former Japanese
officers – were written after the Yamashita trial and well after Gen.
Yamashita’s execution. Gen. Muto’s memoir is self serving and inaccurate
in many places – perhaps deliberately, to whitewash the case against him.
For example, he states that orders were given to free prisoners of war in
Cabanatuan and to release the internees in Santo Tomas. Neither was done;
US Rangers had to stage a surprise raid and catch Japanese guards by
surprise in Cabanatuan. Japanese guards in UST even held internees in one
building hostage for almost 24 hours before they agreed to leave, provided
they were escorted back to their own lines.
Gen Muto also
testified in the Yamashita trial, but this time as a defense witness.
While in prison in Muntinglupa, he met with other accused war criminals.
Lt. Toshimi Kumai, accused of murdering a civilian in Panay, remembered
that Muto specifically met with them. Being former chief of staff of Army
headquarters in the Philippines, he commanded a lot of respect. Muto told
the Panay war criminal suspects:
“The war had not ended in the
real sense of the word. The US is trying to kill as many Japanese
officers and soldiers as possible. In war, the important thing is to
cause as few Japanese victims as possible. In the trials as well, what
we should do is not to name any others. You are all honorable kamikaze
fighters. You should fight the trial with the spirit of a kamikaze. In
addition, the US forces want to say that the top commanders of the
Japanese Army ordered the killing of non-combatants. You should never
say, for the sake of the Japanese Army, that anyone who graduated from
the Imperial Military Academy had ever ordered the killing of
As a result, high-ranking
officers in their respective trials always repeated that they knew
nothing about massacres and had nothing to do with them. Their
subordinate officers and men thus paid the price, although many were
found lying and were found guilty.
in the trial transcripts and post-war statements of Japanese officers can
be viewed with skepticism. Comdr. Kayashima’s and Adm. Arima’s statement
were both written in 1949, when both men had time to ponder their
respective stories. It was easy to pin the blame on General Yamashita and
Admiral Iwabuchi, who were both dead.
A further reason
for particularly doubting Muto’s and Arima’s accounts was the fact that
Muto and Arima frequently consulted with each other in Baguio and in the
mountains of northern Luzon. After the surrender and during the war crimes
trials in Manila, Muto and Arima were placed together in prison camp. Not
surprisingly, Arima vouched for everything that Muto said.
revelations are made when one inspects the background of some of these
officers. Gen. Muto was tried for inciting Japan to go to war. But he was
also tried for his role in the Rape of Nanking, which he was fully aware
of. Admiral Okochi, on the other hand, was commander of the Special Naval
Landing Force in Shanghai at the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in
1937. This Special Naval Landing Force carried out amphibious landings to
isolate Chinese forces in Shanghai and was in the frontline in the street
fighting there. Overshadowed by the Rape of Nanking a month after the
Battle of Shanghai, the cost in civilian lives and destroyed buildings was
itself enormous. He was never tried for atrocities in Shanghai or in the
Rear Admiral Sanji
Iwabuchi, commander of the Manila Naval Defense Force, was a career navy
officer who rose up the ranks, commanding destroyers, cruisers and finally
the battleship Kirishima. His
career was skewed when the Kirishima was sunk in 1942 in the Guadalcanal
campaign. Iwabuchi was dishonored by surviving the sinking of his ship at
a time when the Japanese Navy literally called for a captain to go down
with his ship. He was assigned as personnel officer in Tsuchiura Naval
Base in Japan.
Admiral Okochi, who was also in the south Pacific at that time, was
brought back to Japan and later assigned to the same Tsuchiura naval base
that Iwabuchi was in.
At least one of the
Japanese sailors in Manila had actually fought in the Battle of Shanghai
as a member of the Special Naval Landing Force.
Since most of the
members of the Manila Naval Defense Force were killed in battle or
committed suicide – the four naval battalions in Manila suffered from 71
to 92 % battle deaths (battalions outside the city proper suffered only
40-50%) – oral or written testimony after the battle are extremely sparse.
(Adm. Iwabuchi committed suicide on February 26, inside the Agriculture
and Commerce building. He was promoted posthumously to Vice Admiral. Col
Katsuzo Noguchi, senior Japanese Army commander in Manila who held the
area north of the Pasig until military stores and key buildings were
demolished, was killed on February 25). As seen above, of these few
reports, not all can be taken at face value.
Documents taken on the
field of battle
There are two other sources to
help recount the Japanese side of the battle.
One are the interrogations of prisoners of war who either
surrendered or were captured in the course of the fighting. US Army
interrogators, however, were particularly interested in tactical and
strategic information of value to fighting the battle and winning the war.
Thus, no questions were asked concerning the massacres of civilians.
Prisoners of war either
surrendered voluntarily – several after hearing loudspeaker broadcasts
promising safe treatment. Several others seriously considered surrendering
but were afraid their officers would shoot them when they tried. Most of
those who surrendered were recent recruits, usually civilians and pre-war
Manila residents who had been in uniform for only three months before the
battle. They usually proved willing to provide information, although since
they had only limited experience, could not give much.
Many of those
captured were spotted by guerrillas while trying to escape the city to
rejoin forces in the mountains. Some were captured when they were wounded
(a few were interrogated while still undergoing medical treatment). Some
tried to swim across the Pasig, others tried to get to Malabon by raft,
while still others sought to infiltrate American lines on land, at night.
A few were captured wearing civilian clothes, ostensibly to escape the
guerrillas. Almost all still wanted to fight. Again, the new recruits were
quick to share information they had; the seasoned combat veterans were
reluctant to give details and maintained their sense of security. Thus,
the quality of these interrogations varies, but all yield interesting bits
of information. At least one prisoner of war did mention atrocities he
heard about, but no one volunteered that he was personally responsible for
killing civilians. In one case, a Japanese soldier in Antipolo told of
guiding Filipinos to safety after he heard of an order to kill them.
Despite orders to
destroy documents, a number of revealing orders and diaries were recovered
by the Americans on the battlefield. Some indicate that the killings were
ordered. As late as February 21, orders were still being issued – either
mimeographed or carbon copied – and distributed. But since many more were
lost – including documents in the higher headquarters and in Japan – the
full picture will not be known.
documents, we find that the Japanese forces in Manila were truly mixed:
mostly navy, but with a significant army force. The navy men included
trained and experienced special naval landing force (the Japanese
equivalent of the US Marines) veterans, survivors of the battleship
Nachi and other ships, and hospital patients released for battle.
and actual weapons, confirmed by prisoner of war interrogations, reveal
that the Manila Naval Defense Force had at its disposal several 120 mm.
dual-purpose naval guns – useful for both antiaircraft and ground warfare.
(Two of these, incidentally, grace the front of the Armed Forces of the
Philippines General Headquarters building in Camp Aguinaldo. Another sits
where it was originally placed in Intramuros, facing the Rizal Monument).
This durable gun was used on most Pacific islands and was the basic
secondary armament of Japanese ships from battleships to carriers to
cruisers. A mix of other artillery pieces of different calibers – some
army and some navy – provided the force with very powerful artillery. The
force had several 200mm rockets – frightening particularly at the
receiving end because of their size and the racket they made in flight.
These rockets were first used by the Japanese in the Battle of Manila.
Each battalion had mortars; each platoon had grenades, anti-tank mines and
rifles – many of which were captured American Springfields and Enfields.
In addition, mines – including ceramic mines which could not be detected
by mine detectors – were planted in major roads and intersections. Apart
from conventional mines, the Japanese used aerial bombs and depth charges
rigged as land mines. But not all the men could be armed with rifles, and
some were given sharpened bamboo poles and swords made from automobile
expected a long siege – key positions such as the Finance Building (used
as headquarters by the army) had up to six months supply of food.
Ammunition was less plentiful, and the men were urged to make each shot
Many US accounts of
the battle criticize the Japanese as having lacked flexibility, unable to
maneuver properly or stage concerted attacks. But original mission of the
Manila Naval Defense Force – as shown by a captured order – was to “Hold
Manila City and surrounding essential areas. “ Headquarters was to direct
all operations, while each sector was to engage in defense and commando
warfare within the respective sectors. (Manila Naval Defense Force
Operations Order No. 17, 21
January 1945). Recipients of the orders were told to “complete their
combat preparations by the end of January.”