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Colonel Tsuji of Malaya

[Colonel Tsuji Masanobu (I put his family name first, in the Asian convention) was a tactical genius, a master of improvisation, and one of the criminals to wear uniform in the period 1932-1945. These are notes I put together in 1994 from various sources. They're presented in chronological order, divided into rough "chapters." I have omitted source references, to make the text easier to read, but it's followed by a bibliography, then with comments from readers of this page. -- Daniel Ford]

Education of a soldier

Tsuji was born in Ishikawa Prefecture on October 11, 1900, according to his own account, though others have placed his birthdate in 1903. At 16 entered the Nagyoa Yonen Gekko (Preparatory Military School) along with one Iwakuni whom he would know throughout his army career to its inglorious end in Hanoi in 1945. "There in Nagoya, under the shade of the camphor tree . . . we had studied together, gazing often at the golden dolphins atop the Nagoya Castle." Then the Military Academy in the Ichigaya section of Tokyo. It was free, evidently, and his classmates there and in pre school would become a band of helpers and followers over the next 30 years. Attached to Army General Staff May 1921. Graduated War College (more advanced level evidently than Military Academy) November 1924.

About this time he posed for a photograph, carrying a samurai sword but dressed in a field uniform. The cloth forage cap bears one star over the bill. From what can be seen of it under the cap, Tsuji's head appears to have been shaved clean, and his wears the round-lensed Oriental spectacles that were so savagely caricatured in American propaganda cartoons during the Pacific War. He is wide of jaw but narrow of shoulder.

About 1930 he attended the War University as a lieutenant, where he quarreled, he said, with his instructors on matters of military tactics. Studied Chinese, though indifferently, and at some time studied Russian to about the same degree of enthusiasm. Perhaps it was here that he was, as he later claimed, a classmate of Prince Chichibu, the Emperor's younger brother.

To war in China

In Feb 1932 he landed in China during the first Shanghai Incident as a company commander, a skirmish which he lost 16 men and from which he emerged "gripping my sword with soaring spirits." Also in 1932 he went on a trip though Sinkiang province with an interpreter named Wang Chan-chun. In Lanchow, both were thrown in jail.

It was a time of conspiracies. In the army, the two major groups were the Tosei (Control) faction, of which Majo Gen Hideko Tojo was a prominent member, and which favored a strong army that did not mix into politics. The more radical Kodo (Imperial Way) group wanted a "restoration" with the Emperor acting as a god, free of political advisers, bureaucrats, and business interests, with the army as his main support. The Kodo faction was condemned not only by army headquarters but by the Emperor himself. The officers who held to this view were ready to mount a coup in November 1934, when Capt Tsuji was a company commander at the Military Academy. (Among his students was a young Thai whom he would meet again in Bangkok in 1945.) Learning that five cadets were involved in the coup, he infiltrated a trusted cadet into the conspiracy and got a list of names which he sent to Major Katakura at Imperial Headquarters. The cadets were arrested on Nov 2; though not convicted, they were expelled from the academy, and the two officers who had recruited them were dismissed from the army. The Kodo group believed that the entire affair had been devised as a trap by Tsuji. In any event, he stored up influence where it mattered: with such future commanders as Tojo, Renya Mutaguchi, and Tomioka Yamashita.

"Tsuji was one of the most extraordinary men in the entire Japanese army. . . . Tsuji was a man of extraordinary ingenuity and courage; he declared himself immune to death by enemy action, he was cruel and barbarous; he had mysterious sources of power and probably direct access to Tojo; he carried out the functions of a government spy. No respecter of persons he would advise his superiors without hesitation; often he would give orders in their name without the slightest authority. Not unexpectedly he was detested throughout the entire Japanese Army; but where the business of fighting was concerned, he was invariably right."

"With his roundish face, bald head and small, blinking eyes, he looked like the typical staff officer." But was he bald or merely shaven? He was a protege of Col Takeo Ishihira, who was "determined to make Manchuria into a Buddhist paradise of five nationalities living in harmony." Tsuji would have gone further, "making Asia one great brotherhood, an Asia for the Asians." By his own account, when in his thirties "I . . . divorced my wife and left my (two) children to participate in the movement for national reformation," and it may be this period he had in mind.

By 1935, in what appears to be a passport photo, he has grown a small mustache; his spectacles reflect the light and magnify his Oriental eyefolds, giving him a cruel aspect that would have satisfied Americans devotees of "Yellow Peril" books, movies, and comics. Two years later, by which time the Japanese army and navy had launched a two-pronged attack on China proper, a photograph shows him wearing wore the mushroom-cap steel helmet and an officer's high-necked tunic, crossed by a belt of the sort standard in the British army of the time, which further emphasizes his narrow shoulders. A photograph taken later, though still apparently in China (perhaps Manchuria?), shows him as a grubby field soldier, his mustache now seems to have flowered into what, for a Japanese, would be a full beard. He is seated on the ground with his lower legs crossed, almost in a lotus position, a rifle across his thigh, a tin cup in his right hand, a canteen or hongo mess-kit in his lap, much braid on his right shoulder, and an indubitably sour look on his face. Behind him is a horse from which he may have just dismounted, a bedroll tied behind the saddle. Again, the single star on the front of his forage cap.

Rising Sun Over Burma

Spring 1938 the Emperor's younger brother Prince Chichibu inspected Manchuria, at which time Tsuji and other members of his graduating class at Army University attended a banquet in his honor.

Identified as one of the "officers responsible for provoking the disastrous Nomonhan incident in 1939. With the rank of major, Tsuji was one of the senior staff officers for General Ueda Kenkichi, commander of the Kwantung Army. Immediately thereafter (Sept 1939) posted to 11th Army Headquarters in Hankou.

He recruited friends and acolytes in China. One was a young officer named Shigeharu Asaeda, "an agile, muscular six-footer." From a poor family, Asaeda applied to the Military Academy because it was free. "In China he fought so recklessly that Tsuji sought him out."

Another devotee was Yoshio Kodama, commended to Tsuji by Ishihara. Looked for him at Nanjing Army Headquarters. "Oh, that crazy man lives in a filthy little room behind the stable," Colonel Imai told him. Asking Tsuji about his quarters, Kodama was lectured: "These headquarters officers are all rotten. They are only working for their medals. Every night they go to parties and play with geishas. Since the China Incident, all the military have gone bad. They hate me because I know all this and speak out." He had also turned one staff officer over to the kempeitai for "corruption," as a result of which the officer committed suicide. As the story was told, he had once burned down a geisha house with his fellow officers inside. Either through loyalty to his wife and children, or out of a more generalized misogyny or perhaps homosexuality, had nothing to do with women when he was campaigning.

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.

Flying Tigers

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."

Tsuji by this time had managed to move 33rd Army headquarters 80 miles into China, to Mangshih. As a Japanese biographer related the story in 1953, he put on a remarkable banquet to which he invited several war correspondents. An air raid destroyed the bridge leading to Mangshih, so they were unable to attend, but afterward they were told that Tsuji and some other staff officers had eaten the liver of an enemy pilot. In this version, the pilot was British. The same story was told by a Japanese army officer, Major Mitsuo Abe of the 49th Division who was actually present at the macabre meal; according to him, the pilot was an American lieutenant named Parker. In this version, the banquet was spontaneous. Parker was shot down in a raid, questioned by Abe and Tsuji, and refused to give any useful information. Another air-raid killed two Japanese soldiers and persuaded the officers that they must pull back from Mangshih. There was a clamor for Parker's execution, both for revenge and for the practical consideration that there was scarcely enough transport for the Japanese staff, without taking the American along. The two officers supposedly refused to have him executed. Instead, Parker was killed while they were at dinner, "while trying to escape." It was then and there, in this version, that the pilot's liver was brought in.

As the war correspondents heard the story, the liver was cut up and roasted on skewers. "The more we consume," Tsuji proclaimed, "the more we shall be inspired by a hostile spirit towards the enemy." Some officers merely toyed with their portions, some ate a bit and spit it out. Tsuji called them cowards and ate until his own portion was finished. This was some time in August.

By September, holding South Burma had become the main priority. Honda accordingly gave away one of his divisions to the 15th Army, which was hard-pressed by the British pressing into Burma from the west. Yamamoto was furious, and predictably blamed the quixotic gesture upon Tsuji: "He's up to his old tricks again--trying to get publicity." Tsuji celebrated his birthday on Oct 11 "in the front lines" in North Burma, picking "bracken sprouts" for dinner in "our headquarters in the bamboo groves of Monyeu." (possibly Mong Yu on the Burma-China border)

The collapse in Burma

Not long after, on October 16, Stilwell launched his last offensive, with British and Chinese divisions pressing the much- weakened 33rd Army in a giant pincers. To prevent being cut off, he had to pull back into Burma, under cover of a desperate stand at Bhamo, where Tsuji served as liaison officer, as usual in the front trench. The 33rd Army fought well and long, not withdrawing to Lashio until January 30. From that moment, there could be no further obstacle to American supply route from India to China; the Allies had succeeded in a major objective of the Burma, and the Japanese had failed.

Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

On Feb 11, Honda and Tsuji went to a conference called by Burma Area Army, accompanied in Tusji's case by a medal for the gallantry he had displayed in Operation Dan. Obnoxious as always, he tried to refuse it, until Honda told him: "If you don't wish to accept the award for yourself, consider it for the whole 33rd Army staff." On that basis, Tsuji took the medal. By his own account, Tsuji was badly wounded in the Burma campaign, and this may have been the occasion for the medal.

Again Honda gave away one of his divisions, the 18th, for which Yamamoto again blamed Tsuji, but with the consolation this time that Tsuji was to go with it to 15th Army. By April, however, Yamamoto had been wounded and evacuated and Tsuji was back at Honda's side. The headquarters group was trapped in a temple at Pyinmana when the town was overrun by 161 Indian Brigade; they were joined by some private soldiers, to whom Tsuji hissed: "Keep still and be quiet--I'll kill anyone who moves." After dark, they slipped out. Tsuji took time to post a greeting on a tree outside the temple: "Last night was located here General Honda and the headquarters of the 33rd Army. If you push a little harder you may catch us. Goodbye." The group escaped to the north, guessing that the Indian troops would be watching the road to the south; then turned east until they reached the railroad, which they used to bypass the town. On his own authority, Tsuji got hold of a radio and told Burma Area Army that what remained of the 33rd Army could concentrate east of Toungoo by April 27-28 and suggested that the 15th Army cover them while they hurried down the Sittang River to reinforce 28th Army in South Burma. Honda's staff was furious; the troops were dead on their feet. "I know that crossing the Sittang River [toward Rangoon] will be dangerous," Tsuji told them. "But unless we do our duty than all the forces in Burma will be lost. Personally I do not think that the Allies have reached the estuary, but if they have we must throw them out. Do you seriously think we can slink away to Moulmein [and Thailand] and live 28th Army to its fate? If any of you haven't got the guts to come, then go and hide in the mountains with 15th Army. I will go--even if I am alone." Honda agreed that this was the proper course.

On 25 Aug, 10 days after the end of the war, Honda surrendered to General Sir Montagu Stopford of the British 12th Army. The headquarters staff was put in Rangoon Jail, and Honda eventually was put in command of all Japanese prisoners in Burma, enjoying good relations with the British. Things went harder with his staff, especially Major Abe and Colonel Tsuji. A Captain Lily of the U.S. Army Military Police turned up to investigate the incident of cannibalism in China, and the two officers feared that they would be charged with Lieutenant Parker's murder. They escaped to Thailand, with Abe posing as an enlisted man.

Underground in Bangkok

Tsuji's own account is radically different. In Underground Escape, published in 1952, he claimed that in June 1945 he was transferred to Thailand. "With my right arm in a sling and with dragging heels, I bid farewell to my comrades and soon found myself in Bangkok." He had, by his own account, been wounded seven times and carried "more than 30 odd pieces of shrapnel, both large and small" in his body.

His assignment in Bangkok, he said, was to quell a likely uprising of the 150,000-man Thai army and police force, which were being held in check with a lazy and spoiled garrison of 10,000 Japanese. He went by truck from Bilin to Moulmein, accompanied by "Lance Corporal Kubo," his orderly for the past six months. (Wherever Tsuji traveled, he seemed to find a "pure- hearted" youngster who wept upon parting from him. Whether this was a literary cliche or a reference to homosexual liaisons, I can't decide.) With his "half-useless hands and feet," he was lifted into the plane and flown to Don Maung, where he met "Commander Nakamura" (Aketo, says B), his former instructor at the Military Academy, and "Staff Officer Konishi," a classmate there. On June 8 he attended the month early-morning rites at the Shinto Daigi (Loyalty) Shrine, celebrating the December 8 breakout in 1941. He was offended by the sight of "comfort women," there and at the nightly parties. In his puritan fashion, he set about to clean them up.

Met Major Att Chalenshilba, once his student at the Military Academy. Thai garrison raised to army status under Lt Gen Hanatani, former division commander in the 15th Army in Burma. Divisions moved in from Indochina and China.

August 12 flew to Saigon, hoping to fly to Tokyo and persuade the high command to prepare for a long-range war in exile. He was brushed off, so he returned to Bangkok. Here he was asked by "Deputy Chief of Staff Hamada" of the Thai area army: "Japan must suffer for the next ten or twenty years. If possible, I'd like you to go underground in China and open up a new way for the future of Asia." Did this have anything to do with his being sought by British authorities? "Although I had not heard of my being designated as a war crimes suspect, I was fully read to meet such a fate." Says a band of seven young "special attack" (kamikaze) officers were in Thailand, disguised as priests while spying for the Japanese authorities; they "insisted on joining me." At 3 a.m. on August 17: "I bowed toward the north-east and deeply apologized to the Emperor. I then took off my uniform which I had worn with pride for 30 years and changed to my yellow robe. I felt that the great ship, `the Army,' had sunk, and I, a solitary survivor, was throwing myself into the giant waves of a bottomless sea." He went to an ossuary where the bones of Japanese soldiers were kept, on the grounds of bombed-out Ryab Temple. He took the identity of Aoki Norinobu, to be tutored by a 60 yr old Buddhist of the Nichiren sect. "Young Kubo" was with him; his orderly or one of the seven? They had a year's supply of miso, rice, dehydrated vegetables, canned goods, and dried fish.

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On Aug 20 he reported for an ID card, taking off his glasses to change his appearance. He met "Ishida" a classmate at the Military Academy and a spy in Thailand for some years. He and his seven disciples were all approved as Buddhist students. The oldest he sent to Mahatat Temple, keeping the youngest with him for a time, Fukuzawa Takashi, though later sending him as well.

Here the two possible trails out of Burma come together: whether he escaped from jail in Rangoon, or had spent the past three months in Bangkok, On Sept 15, a British advance party arrived in Bangkok, with the occupation complete at the end of the month. Tsuji heard that they intended to intern priests on Oct. 29. Also heard, from Japanese soldiers removing remains from ossuary, that the British were looking for Tsuji. He decides to go underground in China. Here as earlier he shows his fascination with the British prime minister: "If Churchill were in my place, he would undoubtedly have done what I did."

Through French Indochina

Tsuji contacted agents of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government, working for the Military Bureau of Investigation and Statistics, run by Tai Li, charged with anti-Japanese and anti- Communist subversion in parts China not occupied by the Nationalists. Tsuji calls them the Blue Shirts, though that term is more often applied to a paramilitary organization analagous to Hitler's Brown Shirts. Their offices, he says, were on Surion Avenue, next door to a British officers' club.

He used notes to converse with them, taking advantage of the fact that Japan used Chinese characters as the basis of its written language. Says he told them his real name, his military history, his activites in the East Asia Federation, and his acquaintance real or imaginary with Tai Li himself. He left notes saying hs was committing suicide by drowning himself in the Menam River, addressed to the Thai police, the monks at the ossuary, and his disciples at the temple. Overnight on Oct 28-29 he slipped out of the ossuary, and after hiding in the fields until morning, took a rickshaw to Chinese hq. He was hidden in a "safe house" in the outskirts of Bangkok. (1.5 million Chinese in Thai.)

Disguised as a Chinese merchant in white jacket, black trousers, white pith helmet, and colored glasses, he boarded a train on Nov 1 with two escorts, one of whom was disguised as a Thai military policeman. Overnight in Kohraht; to Ubon next day, thence by a charcoal-burning bus to the Thai-Indochina border on Nov 3 "the auspicious birthday" of the Emperor Meiji, creator of modern Imperial Japan. Slipped past British sentries and crossed the Mekong River in a dugout canoe. Thence to Vientiene (?) by bus, oxcart, and pedicab. Northern Indochina occupied by the Chinese; they looted, raped, and extorted money, which behavior he blames for the success of the Viet Minh communists in organizing this part of Indochina. He contacts local MBIS office, tells them he was in Nanjing 20 years. Sees occasonal Japanese soldiers in employee of Chinese.

Given an escort of four soldiers and set off down the Mekong on Nov 10, trading as they went, tying up at hamlets overnight, seeing occasional French roadblocks now. At Sahanaket, registered as a Chinese doctor. Again sees Japanese soldiers, free to move about. Left by automobile for Hanoi Nov 23. Sees Viet Minh platoon led by Chinese communist; sees Japanese conscripted by Chinese as drivers and technicians, along with Japanese military horses and even dogs.

Reached Hanoi Nov 29 and reported to Chinese hq.

Vietnam was in chaos, with an indigenous Communist government under Ho Chi Minh contending for power against the returning French. Thousands of Japanese soldiers were still in northern Vietnam, preferring desertion over a return to the homeland in disgrace; they served as instructors and weapons experts for Ho's Viet Minh army. (For more on this, see Did Japanese soldiers fight with the Viet Minh? on this website.) Possibly Tsuji joined this mercenary force, though he claims not: Found Japanese working for Chinese in Hanoi, and heard reports of Japanese working also with the Viet Minh; says he himself was recruited (by a Chinese) but declined. Noted that the Chinese in Vietnam, like the British in Thailand, were so rapacious than the people longed for the Japanese to return.

By now he is wearing Chinese robes. Mentions staff officers Iwakuni (whom he knew from their days together at military prep school) and Commander Dobashi. Dec 25 went to Japanese army liaison office, where recognized by Major Suga, former student of his at Supreme Hq Nanjing. Met staff officer Misawa; moved in with them Dec 29 under name of Uesugi Masanobu, an army priest with the honorary rank of major. (He was called upon to administer the rites to the dead after a cholera epidemic.) Got the usual fond orderly to take care of him. 40-50 officers and soldiers there, some being held as war crimes suspects. Sato: instructor at Military College and aide-de-camp to Gen Terauchi. Also names Sakai and Kashiwara. Three months in Hanoi. T129-138.

Left Hanoi on March 9 in a four-engined plane with "a giant American pilot," flying up the Red River Valley along the route of the old "Michelin" railroad, along which he'd once planned an invasion of China, to Kunming, just a few hundred miles from where he had begun his remarkable odessey. His name now is Shih Kung-yu. Astonished to see the variety and quantity of American goods on sale. On March 19 flew on to Chongqing in a B-29(!) Landed on the island airport in the river. Bought Russian military magazines in the bookstores. Chongqing then closing down as government and industry returned to Nanjing.

Working for Chiang Kai-shek

Says his hopes were dashed when General Tai Li was killed in an airplane crash. Tsuji eulogized him as "clean and honest"; says his men were called Blue Shirts because he wore a cheap blue worker's garment, and they emulated him: most American writers take a somewhat different view of this man. Tsuji's position now "midway between that of a prisoner and a guest." Despite this setback, he goes to work at the Military Control Bureau's propaganda department and even obtains "a fine loveable young soldier" as his orderly. all quotes: Speaks a mixture of Russian and Chinese. Hears that Dr Miao Pin shot May 21 despite the fact that Tai Li supposed knew about his work, so a double agent in Wang's govt?

Suffered a bout with cholera, wrote an appeal in his own blood, and on May 7 was visited by "a sinister looking man" who proved to be Maj Gen Mao Jen-huang, who discussed his letter to CKS. He translated a Japanese document on the Chinese communists and generally became a lecturer on this subject. Says he asked Mao to make it seem that he was arrested while hiding in Hanoi! Was that indeed the way it happened?

Sent to Nanjing Jul 1 under new alias Wu Chieh-nan. Flew over Hankou and east along the Yangzi, which he had last seen two years before. He found Nanjing much changed: "The Japanese stores along Chungshaw East Road had been returned to their former owners." He is put to work for the National Defense Deparmtent Section [ntelligence] Comprehensive Study Group. On Aug 4 moved to former Japanese Supreme Hq! Met another Japanese, "a pure hearted youth" deciphering Chinese communist codes. Also an interpreter with his family. "Many thousand" Japanese PWs sent to Chongqing, where a third died of malnutrition (during the war, I guess).

Remains - A Story of the Flying Tigers

Wrote another report on likelihood of WWIII, a manual on cold- weather operations, a basic training manual, a manual on "strategic uses of topography," and lectured on WWIII to Defense Dept officers. Spent six months translating Japanese manual of 1924 about fighting Soviet Union in Siberia.

"As long as the Chinese Nationalists felt that a man was useful to them, they detained and used him." Notes that a Major Kanda sent home toward end of 1946 because he was sick. A visitor from Manchuria told him that 100,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians were held there.

Refers to his outfit as Third Research Group, aka The Bamboo Shelter. It was, he says, "a miserable intelligence unit." They call him Mr Tsuji. Greatly upset when he missed dinner and went off on his own to eat. He and Lt Gen Tsuchida only Japanese officers, but joined in May 1947 by another general and two colonels hired from Japan. In July 1947 asked to be returned to Japan; refused on the grounds that the British were still looking for him. "Our treatment was equivalent to detention."

Received a letter from his son, followed by a later one from his wife, detailing their hardships during the war and now in defeat.

War crimes trials going on in Nanjing. Three generals and several lesser officers executed for their part in the 1937 Rape of Nanjing. A general he identifies as Isoya (and Bergamini as Isagai Rensuke), who'd mentored Lt Tsuji 20 years before, c/o 7th Infantry Regt 9th Division serving a life sentence for the same crime. Tsuji visited him, emaciated and in dirty quilted garments of a Chinese soldier, in prison, and took credit for having him transferred to better quarters in Shanghai.

In Oct 1947 began work translating a multi-volume Japanese manual on Soviet war potential. Submitted resignation Feb 1948 and in April granted two months' leave. May 15 bade goodbye to his orderly, who of course wept bitter tears, and to Col Okawa and his men and took the train to Shanghai. Most Japanese now gone home, except for technicians and convicted war criminals, which in Shanghai included Gen Okamura (B. says first name Yasuji) former commander of Jap Exped Forces in China, sick with TB. May 16 board ship w/ 150 Jap civilians and 50-60 war crimes suspects being returned to Japan for trial. Same pier at which he'd landed 16 years earlier. Stopped in Taiwan, where another 300 Japs boarded: war crimes suspects, professors, detained technicians, merchants, and artisans, with most of the voluntary repatriates alarmed by the Feb massacre of Taiwanese and Japanese by the Nationalist Chinese. Tsuji recognized several of the military men, including Gen Fukuyama, a classmate at the Army University, and Kodoya Hiroshi whom he'd known in at Supreme Hq in Nanjing; he played "go' with both men, but they did not recognize him.

Landed at Sasebo May 26, 1948. He kissed the earth: "Though the country was defeated, the hills and the streams were still left, together with the Emperor."

Elected to Diet 1952 "and twice thereafter"; wrote numerous books & articles. In UNDERGROUND ESCAPE, published in 1952, he ranked the fighting qualities of all the armies he had opposed. The Japanese of course were highest, with one Japanese soldier the equivalent of 10 Chinese--the army he rated second, given equivalance in equipment and training. Following in order were 3) Russians, 4) Ghurkas in British service, 5) Americans, 6) Australians, 7) Indians in British service, 8) British, 9) Filipinos, 10) Burmese, 11) Thai, 12) Vietnamese, and 13) French.

Even after he returned to public life in Japan, writing several books about the war, "he still lived mysteriously, travelling on secret missions, and in April, 1961, he went to Vietnam," as a British military historian told the story in 1968. "Since this date he has not reappeared but information reaching the author from Japan indicates that he is back in uniform and serving as an Operations Staff officer under Vo Nguyen Giap. When one considers the ruthless and brilliance of the North Vietnamese operations, the hand of Masanobu Tsuji can be seen clearly."

[For more about left-behind Japanese in Vietnam, see Japanese soldiers with the Viet Minh on this website. -- DF]

Click here to order Tsuji's Japan's Greatest Victory from Amazon.com.

Sources for the information above

Herbert Bix: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (NY: Harpercollins, 2000)

Saburo Hayashi: Kogun: The Japanese Army in the Pacific War [Taiheiyo Senso Rikusen Gaishi 1951) (Quantico: Marine Corps Assoc., 1959)

Sterling Seagrave: The Soong Dynasty NY: Harper, 1985

Neil Sheehan: A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (NY: Random House 1988)

Arthur Swimson Four Samurai: A Quartet of Japanese Generals (London: Hutchinson 1968)

John Toland: The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 NY: Bantam, 1971. Toland interviewed Chitose Tsuji, "widow of Colonel Masanobu Tsuji." Among his sources are Tsuji "Guadalcanal" (sic) Tamba-shi, Nara: Yotokusha, 1950. Also Singapore St Martin's 1960.

Masanobu Tsjui Underground Escape (Tokyo: Booth & Fukuda 1952) (with marginalia by Bergamini)

Horie Yoshitaka: Tsuji Masanobu 1980

Comments by readers of this page

From: kangshen@
Date: Sat, 27 Jun 1998 15:05:36 +1000
Subject: Tsuji Masanobu

Hi, I just read your wonderful short essay of Tsuji Masanobu. I note in part of it you mention that the KMT (Guo Min Dang) kept many Imperial Soldiers on station for a period after the war. Regretably, I don't have the reference, but an article appeared (I think 1979) in the "Journal of Asian History", about the Japanese nationalist philosopher Kitta Ikki, which mentioned in part that as late as October 1946, there were large disciplined formations of Japanese troops, under their own officers, and with air support, still operating in southern China against communist forces. I suppose they were eventually repatriated - but who knows? Tsuji was a close freind of Kitta, and several post war nationalist leaders, notably Pak Chung Hee and Sukarno, claimed inspiration from him. -- Dave, Australia

From: omura mineharu
Subject: about masanobu tsuji
Date: Sun, 7 Jun 1998 21:46:05 +0900

I am Mineharu Omura of Kyodo news ,Japan .I work in Kyoto branch. I went to Laos this februery on buisness ,and happened to know that Tsuji Masanobu alledgedly was missing in Laos .Nobody knows his where-about. Althoug he is over 90 years old, if he is still alive ,I would like to know how he was died or killed . In Japan "he is already dead" legally because he had been missing for 7 years.... It is difficult to know about this case.

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