Kurita Takeo (1889-1977)

Photograph of Kurita Takeo

Naval Historical Center #NH-63694

Tremendous controversy swirls around the figure of Kurita Takeo. He was born in Ibaraki prefecture to a scholarly family and graduated from the Japanese naval academy in 1910 and from the Naval Staff College in 1917. He was a torpedo specialist who spent much time in destroyers between the wars. He was promoted to flag rank in 1938.

A rear admiral commanding Japan's Cruiser Division 7 at the start of the Pacific War, Kurita participated in the Philippines invasion, then accompanied Ozawa on a raid into the Indian Ocean that destroyed 23 merchant ships of 112,312 tons. During the Guadalcanal campaign, Kurita led his battleships on a bombardment of Henderson Field that nearly put the field out of business, and which was remembered ever after to the American survivors as The Night.

Kurita commanded C Force of the Mobile Fleet during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, but tactical control of the force was in the hands of Obayashi Sueo.

Kurita commanded 2 Fleet, the pride of Japan's surface forces, by the time of the American liberation of the Philippines. Kurita doggedly endured the loss of his flagship and another cruiser to submarine attack, and the superbattleship Musashi to air attack, as he tried to make his rendezvous with Nishimura's battleship force off Leyte to destroy the American invasion forces. He emerged from San Bernardino Strait to find himself up against what he took to be the main carrier force of Halsey's 3 Fleet, screened by cruisers and destroyers. In fact, he was facing three task groups of slow, poorly-armed escort carriers screened by destroyers and destroyer escorts. But the Americans fought hard, and after losing three more cruisers Kurita had had enough and turned back. 

Kurita was an old sea dog who spent most of his career at sea rather than on shore assignments.  He rose to high command mostly by keeping a low profile and thereby staying out of trouble.  He seems not to have bought into the exaggerated Bushido of the war years, and it is alleged that, near the end of his long life, he confessed to an associate that he had retreated from Leyte Gulf because he could not see the point of taking the sailors of his fleet to a useless death.  Some Japanese historians have claimed that we was deliberately set up as a scapegoat for naval defeat. After the Leyte battle, he was reassigned as superintendent of the naval academy at Eta Jima, and he seems to have used this opportunity to prepare the cadets to be peacetime leaders of postwar Japan.

Boatner tells us that an American journalist in 1947 described him as a "trim, hazel-eyed ... little man with a winning smile now living in poverty in a wood-and-paper shack on Tokyo's outskirts." He worked closely with American historians attempting to reconstruct the history of the war from the Japanese perspective.

Service record

1889-4-28   born
Graduates from Naval Academy, standing 28th in a class of 149. Assigned to Kasagi
1911-3-11   Niitaka
1911-12-1 Ensign
1912-12-1   Torpedo School Basic Course
1913-5-24   Gunnery School Basic Course
1913-12-1 Lieutenant junior grade     
1915-3-17   Sakaki
1915-6-30   Iwate
1916-9-1   3 Naval District
1916-12-1 Lieutenant Tone
1917-8-9   Kaba
1917-12-1   Naval College B Course
1918-4-15   Torpedo School Advanced Course
1918-12-1   Executive officer, Minekaze
1919-6-1   Staff, 5 Squadron
1920-3-1   Executive officer, Yakaze
1920-12-1   Commander, Shigure
1921-6-8   Awaiting assignment
1921-8-6   Commander, Oite
1921-9-6   Staff, 4 Squadron
1921-11-20   Instructor, Torpedo School
1922-12-1 Lieutenant commander     
1924-12-1   Commander, DD-2
1925-12-2   Commander, Hagi
1926-12-1   Commander, Hamakaze
1927-12-1 Commander Commander, Urakaze
1928-12-10   Instructor, Torpedo School
1930-3-8   Staff, Torpedo Research Division
1930-11-15   Commander, Destroyer Division 25
1932-4-1   1 Naval District
1932-5-19   Commander, Destroyer Division 10
1932-12-1 Captain Commander, Destroyer Division 12
1934-11-15   Commander, Abukuma
1935-11-15   Chief instructor, Torpedo School
1937-12-1   Commander, Kongo
1938-11-15 Rear admiral
Commander, Destroyer Squadron 1
1939-11-25   Commander, Destroyer Squadron 4
1940-11-1   Commander, Cruiser Division 7
1942-5-1 Vice admiral
1942-6-25   Staff, Combined Fleet
1942-7-12   Commander, Battleship Division 3
1943-8-9   Commander, 2 Fleet
1945-1-15   Director, Naval Academy
1945-10-1   Department of Navigation
1977-12-19   Dies


Boatner (1996)

Dupuy et al. (1992)

Materials of IJN (accessed 2007-12-6)

Thomas (2006)

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