Nagumo, Chuichi.

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Nagumo, Chuichi, born 25-03-1887 in Yonezawa, Yonezawa-shi, Yamagata, Japan Chuichi graduated from the 36th class of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy   in 1908, with a ranking of 8 out of a class of 191 cadets. As a midshipman, he served in the protected cruisers Soya and Niitaka and the armored cruiser Nisshin. After his promotion to ensign in 1910, he was assigned to cruiser Asama.  

After attending torpedo and naval artillery schools, he was promoted to sub-lieutenant and served in the battleship Aki, followed by the destroyer Hatsuyuki. In 1914, he was promoted to lieutenant and was assigned to the battlecruiser Kirishima, followed by the destroyer Sugi. He was assigned his first command, the destroyer Kisaragi, on 15-12-1917.

Nagumo graduated from the Naval War College, and was promoted to lieutenant commander in 1920. His specialty was torpedo and destroyer tactics. From 1920-1921, he was captain of the destroyer Momi, but was soon sent to shore duty with various assignments by the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff. He became a commander in 1924. Nagumo (left) with his friend Ichiro Saeki in Seattle in 1925. From 1925-1926, Nagumo accompanied a Japanese mission to study naval warfare strategy, tactics, and equipment in Europe and the United States.

After his return to Japan, Nagumo served as an instructor at the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy from 1927-1929. Nagumo was promoted to captain in November 1929 and assumed command of the light cruiser Naka and from 1930-1931 was commander of the 11th Destroyer Division. After serving in administrative positions from 1931–1933, he assumed command of the heavy cruiser Takao from 1933–1934, and the battleship Yamashiro from 1934-1935. He was promoted to rear admiral on 01-11-1935.

As a Rear Admiral, Nagumo commanded the 8th Cruiser Division to support Imperial Japanese Army movements in China from the Yellow Sea. As a leading officer of the militaristic Fleet Faction, he also received a boost in his career from political forces.

From 1937-1938, he was Commandant of the Torpedo School, and from 1938–1939, he was commander of the 3rd Cruiser Division. Nagumo was promoted to vice admiral on 15-11-1939. From November 1940-April 1941, Nagumo was Commandant of the Naval War College.

On 10-04-1941, Nagumo was appointed Commander in Chief of the First Air Fleet, the Imperial Japanese Navy′s main aircraft carrier force, largely due to his seniority. Many contemporaries and historians have doubted his suitability for this command, given his lack of familiarity with naval aviation.

By this time, he had visibly aged, physically and mentally. Physically, he suffered from arthritis, perhaps from his younger days as a kendoka. Mentally, he had become a cautious officer who worked hard going over tactical plans of every operation he was involved in.

Admiral Nishizo Tsukahara had some doubts with his appointment, and commented, “Nagumo was an officer of the old school, a specialist of torpedo and surface maneuvers…. He did not have any idea of the capability and potential of naval aviation.” At home, Nagumo did not receive a loving description, either. One of his two sons described him as a brooding father who was obsessed (and later disappointed) with pressuring his sons to follow his footsteps into the navy. By contrast, Nagumo’s junior officers in the navy viewed him as precisely the father figure his sons did not. Nagumo family in 1943 Nagumo in the middle.

However, despite his lack of experience, he was a strong advocate of combining sea and air power. Nevertheless, he was opposed to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto‘s plan to attack the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor. While commanding the First Air Fleet, Nagumo oversaw the effective attack on Pearl Harbor, but he was later criticized for his failure to launch a third attack, which might have destroyed the fuel oil storage and repair facilities which would have rendered the most important American naval base in the Pacific useless, and the submarine base and intelligence station, which were the main factors in Japan’s defeat.

Nagumo was surrounded by able lieutenants such as Minoru Genda and Mitsuo Fuchida. Nagumo also fought well in the early 1942 campaigns. He was the fleet commander during the Bombing of Darwin and his Indian Ocean raid on the British Eastern Fleet was a success, sinking an aircraft carrier, two cruisers and two destroyers, and causing Admiral Sir James Somerville

to retreat to East Africa. Genda survived the war and died on 15-08-1989, exactly 44 years after Japan surrendered (VJ day) in World War II. He was married and had three children. Mitsuo Fuchida also survived the war and died 30-05-1976 (aged 73) in Kashiwara, Osaka, Japan. Admiral Sir James Somerville survived the war and 19-03-1949 (age 66) in Dinder, Mendip District, Somerset, England.

At the end of his trip into the Indian Ocean, Nagumo’s personal score card saw five battleships, one carrier, two cruisers, seven destroyers, dozens of merchantmen, transports, and various other vessels. He was also responsible for downing hundreds of Allied aircraft from six nations. Destruction brought upon Allied ports also disabled or slowed Allied operations. All the while, he had lost no more than a few dozen pilots.

However, at the Battle of Midway, Nagumo’s near-perfect record finally came to an end. His Carrier Striking Task Force lost four carriers in what proved to be the turning point of the Pacific War, and the massive losses of carrier aircraft maintenance personnel would prove decisive to the performance of the Japanese navy in later engagements. Although 110 carrier aircrewmen were lost during the battle, their loss was not as cataclysmic as the loss of the four carriers, their aircraft, and the men responsible for their maintenance.

Afterwards, Nagumo was re-assigned as Commander in Chief of the Third Fleet and commanded aircraft carriers in the Guadalcanal campaign, but his actions there were largely indecisive, and he slowly frittered away much of Japan’s maritime strength.

Death and burial ground of Nagumo, Chuichi

 Last picture of Nagumo (center), Saipan, 1944

On 11-11-1942, Nagumo was re-assigned back to Japan, where he was given command of the Sasebo Naval District. He transferred to the Kure Naval District on 21-06-1943. From October 1943-February 1944, Nagumo was again Commander in Chief of First Fleet, which was largely involved in training duties by that time.

However, as the war situation continued to deteriorate against Japan, Nagumo was once again given a combat command. He was sent to the Mariana Islands on 04-03-1944 as commander in chief of the short-lived Fourteenth Air Fleet, and simultaneously commander in chief of the equally short-lived Central Pacific Area Fleet.

The invasion of Saipan began on 15-06-1944. Within days, the IJN—under Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa —were overwhelmed by the U.S. 5th Fleet under command of Admiral Raymond Ames Spruance (1886–1969) in the decisive Battle of the Philippine Sea, costing Japan approximately 500 aircraft. Nagumo and his Army peer General Yoshitsugu Saito then were left on their own to defend the island of Saipan against the American assault. General Saitō, wounded by shrapnel, committed ritual suicide in a cave at dawn on 10-07-1944, with his adjutant shooting him in the head after he had disemboweled himself. On 6 July, during the last stages of the Battle of Saipan, Nagumo committed suicide; not in the traditional method of seppuku, but rather a pistol to the temple. His remains were later found by U.S. Marines in the cave where he spent his last days as the commander of the Saipan defenders. He was posthumously promoted to admiral. Chuichi Nagumo was buried at Engaku-ji Temple, Kita-Kamamura, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa, Japan. Saitō was given a funeral with military honors by his American counterpart Smith, Holland McTyeire “Howland Mad”.

Seppuku, also called hara-kiri, is the traditional form of suicide for the samurai in Japan, performed by slicing open the abdomen with a razor-sharp long knife and, if possible, then – without a sound – inflicting a cut on the heart .

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