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Colonel Tsuji of Malaya (part 2)

Getting ready for a larger war

In 1939, when Britain declared war on Germany, Imperial Army General Staff sent an officer to scout Hong Kong, French Indochina, and Singapore. He drafted a preliminary invasion plan for Hong Kong and Singapore. In 1940 other officers made a similar reconnaissance of the Dutch Indies and the Philippines. They concluded that many Filipinos and most Malaysians and Indonesians would applaud the overthrow of colonial governments. However, the plans drawn up were sketchy, and no spy networks were put in place.

In Dec 1940, however, three divisions in China were ordered to train for tropical duty. Col Yoshihide Hayashi put in charge of the Taiwan Army Research Section with the task of collecting data on tropical warfare. On 1 Jan 1941 Tsuji arrived to join the unit--exiled to Taiwan, it was said, by Ishihara's nemesis Hideki Tojo. On the other hand, a British historian regarded Tsuji as Tojo's man, and his assignment an effort by Tojo to get the best possible planning into the invasion of Malay, which produced 38 percent of the world's rubber and 58 percent of its tin, and which was also the gateway to Britain's major naval base on the island of Singapore. In any event, he soon became "the driving force" of the department: "his brilliant maverick spirit inspired fantastic devotion in the younger staff officers," who soon dubbed him the "God of Operations."

Among them was the sturdy Capt Asaeda, now 29. Transferred to a desk job at the War Ministry, he had abandoned his post and his family, taken a new name, and headed south with the intention of fighting Dutch colonialism in Indonesia. He made the mistake of visiting Tsuji, who sent him under guard to Japan, where he was allowed to retire from the army to avoid scandal. He returned to Formosa to confront his betrayer but again became a convert, volunteering to serve as a secret agent. He was assigned to Burma, Malaya, and Thailand, and began to study the language and geography of all three.

In March or April, Asaeda went to Thailand as an agricultural engineer. He photographed key areas, chatted with Thais of low and high rank, and decided that the country could be taken over a fight. He then went to Burma, apparently by crossing the border, and "discovered terrain and climate peculiarities that changed the accepted theories of tropical warfare." Tsuji next sent Asaeda to Malaya to gather information on beaches and tides.

In June, secret maneuvers on Japanese-controlled Hainan Island in the Gulf of Tonkin under supervision of Hayashi and Tsuji. Like a good samurai, Tsuji was convinced that training and attitude would overcome physical obstacles: against doctrine, "he packed thousands of full equipped soldiers into the sweltering holds of ships, three to a tatami (a mat about six by three feet), and kept them there for a week in temperatures up to 120 degrees with little water." The same with horses. They were then landed on open beaches under simulated combat conditions--infantry, artillery, and engineers.

Gen Yamashita and his 25th Army were assigned to the Malaya invasion. He welcomed Tsuji's information but took the precaution of supplementing it with his own, sending Major Teruno Kunitake on a clandestine survey of the Malay peninsula. Traveling the length of the colony, he reported that it had far more bridges than Tsuji had estimated, prompting Yamashita to attach an engineer regiment to each division, with quantities of bridging material, and that the engineers be given additional and strenuous practice in river crossing.

Tsuji meanwhile must have returned to Tokyo, for we see him in action against Prime Minister Konoye. Decision to war: he wore a pistol (see?). "two secret organizations, which had learned of the proposed Konoye-Roosevelt meetings, were plotting to murder the Prime Minister." One a "gangland-style assault in Tokyo," the other a railroad bombing as with Marshal Chang. "The latter plan was devised by a lieutenant colonel named Masanobu Tsuji, already an idol of the most radical young officers. A chauvinist of the first water, he was determined to thwart a summit meeting that was destined to end in a disgraceful peace."

Tsuji picked his acquaintance from China: Yoshio Kodama, now leader of the most active nationalist party, who had been jailed for handing the Emperor a rightist petition demanding relief for the unemployed, and again (wrongly, says Toland) for dynamiting the Finance Minister's home. Konoye would travel by train from Tokyo to Yokosuka, and would blow it up at the Rokugo Bridge outside Tokyo. An unsuccessful attempt on Koyone's life was made by four men armed with daggers and presumably unallied with Tsuji, Sep 18 as the PM was leaving his rural home in Ogikubo, 45 min from Tokyo. In the event, the trip was never made, and on Sep 17 Konoye left the capital to rusticate in the seaside resort of Kamakura. On Oct 17 the Emperor ordered Tojo to form a new cabinet; the war party was in the saddle.

On 22 Oct Tsuji decided to make his own reconnaissance of Malaya. Persuaded Captain Ikeda, commander of a reconnaissance squadron (probably the 18th Independent Chutai: Francillon roster), to fly him over the British colony. They took off from Saigon at dawn in a twin-engined Mitsubishi Ki-46 "commandant reconnaissance" plane, called Type 100 by the JAAF and later dubbed "Dinah" by Allied pilots. Could fly high and fast and far. Tsuji in air force uniform in case they were forced down, but the plane was unmarked. Overflew northern Malaya and scouted its airfields, with rain clouds forcing them as low as 6,500 ft. Still in air force uniform, Tsuji reported findings to General Hisaichi Terauchi, Southern Army commander, and new plans were drawn up. He flew to Tokyo to present it to Army General Staff in person with the help of another old friend, Col Takushiro Hattori, two years older than Tsuji, and now chief of Operations Section of General Staff.

On to Singapore

The convoys sailed on 4 Dec, each man religiously studying the pamphlet Tsuji had written, and reached the coast of Malaya at midnight on December 7/8. (Because of the time zones involved, this was actually before the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.) The main landing went brilliantly, but Tsuji's probes into Thailand were the stuff of which comic operas are made. Major Asaeda found himself landing on mudflat instead of the white-sand beach he had reconnoitered; some men drowned and others were killed by Thai fire. Tsuji had a better landing but his local contact was fast asleep; he had to go to the Japanese consulate and awaken him. When they tried to enlist the Thai police to assist them in crossing the Malay border, their answer was a volley of shots.

Though outnumbered two-to-one, the Japanese never stopped to consolidate their gains, to rest or regroup or resupply; they came down the main roads on bicycles, impressing native conscripts to carry and care for the bicycles during firefights; they crossed rivers on plank bridges resting on the shoulders of the engineer troops; when the bicycle tires burst from the heat, they rode on the rims, raising such a din that terrified Indian troops broke and ran in the belief that tanks were approaching; when the bikes broke down, they were repaired with parts from local machines--cheap, Japanese-built bicycles that the Malays had imported in preference to more expensive British models.

The Japanese advanced so quickly in Malaya that even they were often unprepared to follow up their successes. Only Tsuji seemed to take it in stride. He was often at the front giving advice and devising fresh plans. At a roadblock halfway down the peninsula he decided that a frontal attack was called for, but army hq insisted on a flank attack, which was successful. Nevertheless, Tsuji stormed in headquarters at midnight, shouting: "What are you doing sleeping while a battle is going on?" He went into the bedroom of Lt General Sosaku Suzuki, Yamashita's chief of staff, who greeted him politely. "What do you mean wearing nightwear when I'm reporting from the front line?" Tsuji yelled. Suzuki dutifully changed into his dress uniform and buckled on his sword. "I am the chief operational staff officer responsible for the operations of the entire [25th] army. I submitted my idea based on actual front-line conditions and your rejection of my request means you no longer have confidence in me." He raved until dawn, when he wrote out his resignation and retired to his quarters, emerging a week later to resume his duties. He, Suzuki, and Yamashita all acted as if nothing had happened.

In Singapore, "five thousand Chinese had been murdered largely at his instigation for 'supporting' British colonialism." According to Lt General Sosaku Suzuki, quoted by a fellow officer later in the war: "It was the Ishihara-Tsuji clique--the personification of gekokujo--that brought the Japanese Army to this deplorable situation. In Malaya, Tsuji's speech and conduct were often insolent; and there was this problem of inhumane treatment of Chinese merchants, so I advised General Yamashita to punish Tsuji severely and then dismiss him. But he feigned ignorance. I tell you, so long as they [such men] exert influence on the Army, it can only lead to ruin. Extermination of these poisonous insects should take precedence over all other problems."

continued in part 3