Masaharu Homma

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Masaharu Homma
Honma Masaharu.jpg
Japanese Military Administrator
Japanese Military Commander of the Philippines
In office
January 2, 1942 - January 23, 1942
Born November 27, 1887
Sado, Niigata Prefecture, Japan
Died April 3, 1946
Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines

Masaharu Homma (Honma Masaharu, born : November 27, 1887 in Sado, Niigata Prefecture, Japan; died : April 3, 1946 in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines), was the Japanese Lieutenant General in charge of the 14th Army and tasked with the invasion of the Philippines during World War II.

General Homma, who was an amateur playwright and also known as the Poet General, had long opposed the war. He had a deep respect and some understanding of the West, having spent eight years with the British, which included serving in France in 1918 with the British Expeditionary Force. After the fall of Nanking, he declared publicly that "unless peace is achieved immediately it will be disastrous". [1] With the 43,110 men of the 14th Army, he 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 and actions that created the Bataan Death March in Philippines during 1942.

Homma is thought to have been a moderate, not a fanatical militarist. He attended military academies and Oxford, spoke English and was known to like western movies. During battles, he painted and composed poetry and thus was given the nickname, the Poet General. Despite his eventual conviction for war crimes, there is much evidence that he believed and practiced bushido, the samurai code of conduct similar to English chivalry. 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. [2] General Count Hisaichi Terauchi, commander of the Southern Army, was displeased with Homma for his lenient treatment of Filipino civilians. Homma ordered his troops to treat the Filipinos not as enemies but as friends, and respect their customs and religion. He was attempting to follow the Emperor's wishes to spread the enlightenment of the Japanese empire throughout Southeast Asia.

Homma's liberal policies caused him to fall out of favor with the Army General Staff, and prompted Terauchi to send adverse reports to Tokyo from his headquarters in Saigon. Also, there was a growing subversion of Homma's command among a small group of insubordinates, under the influence of Colonel Tsuji Masanobu. In Homma's name, they sent out secret orders against his liberal policy, including the execution of Filipino Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos and attempted execution of former Speaker of the House of Representatives Manuel Roxas, which Homma found out about in time to stop. [3]

He was removed from command shortly after the fall of Corregidor because Tokyo regarded him as not aggressive enough in war (resulting in the high cost and long delay in securing the American and Philippine forces surrender), and too lenient with the Philippine people in peace. Homma retired from the military and lived in semi-seclusion in Japan until the end of the war.



General Douglas MacArthur had Homma removed from Japan to the Philippines so that his court-martial panel there would try him rather than the Allied War Crimes Commission who were trying war criminals in Japan. Historian Philip Piccigallo said that Homma was convicted of the actions of his men during the march rather than having a direct hand in the actions themselves.

It is not clear whether Homma ordered the atrocities that occurred during the Bataan Death March, but it is clear that his lack of administrative expertise and delegatory skills led to the atrocities. After American-Filipino forces surrendered the Bataan Peninsula, Homma turned logistics of handling the estimated 25,000 prisoners to Major-General Kawane Yoshikata. Homma publicly stated that the POW's 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 POW's were starving, weak with malaria, and numbered not 25,000 but 76,000. [4] 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 war crime 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 allegedly did not learn of the death toll until after the war.

Homma was convicted by a U.S. Military Commission in the Philippines of war crimes, including the atrocities of the death march out of Bataan, and the atrocities at O' Donnell and Cabanatuan that followed. Homma's chief defense council, John H. Skeen Jr., stated that in his opinion 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. [5]"

His wife appealed to General MacArthur to spare his life; her pleas were denied. He was executed by firing squad on April 3, 1946 outside Manila.


  1. ^ John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House, 1970, p. 250
  2. ^ Toland, ibid, p. 258
  3. ^ Toland, ibid, p. 317-18
  4. ^ Toland, ibid, p. 294
  5. ^ Toland, ibid, p. 320

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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

Original Source

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