Nagano Osami (1880-1947)

Naval Historical Center Photo #63422

Nagano Osami was a consummate bureaucrat who only held one ship command in his entire career. A former Japanese naval attaché to the United States and part of the Navy’s Treaty Faction, he initially opposed war with the western powers. He had spent five years in the United States, spoke of New York as a second home and had many Western friends, and was probably the Japanese Navy’s foremost expert on the United States. He nevertheless was a staunch Japanese nationalist and helped build support in the Navy for a Pacific war. He pulled Japan out of the London Conference in 1936 after failing to get parity with the United States and Britain. After serving as Navy minister and commander of Combined Fleet during the 1930s, he was was pulled out of semiretirement to become chief of the Naval General Staff in 1941. He served here until February 1944, when he was sacked by Tojo. He was tried as a war criminal but died of pneumonia before the verdict was announced.

We must build bases in French Indochina and Thailand in order to launch military operations. We must resolutely attack anyone who tries to stop us. We must resort to force....

— Nagano Osami, Imperial Liaison Conference of 11 June 1941 (Evans and Peattie 1997)

Nagano’s change in attitude during the last years of peace was quite striking. His shift from dove to hawk coincided with a marked decrease in his personal drive, suggesting he had become a tired old man (he was 62 and the oldest officer on the active duty list, and had acquired the nickname "The Elephant"). Critics called him the "Dozing Admiral" and joked that he needed to conserve his energy to keep up with his young fourth wife. Yamamoto snarked that Nagano was "the kind of man who thinks he's a genius, even though he's not" and regarded him as "a dead loss" (Symonds 2012). On the other hand, Nagano put many members of the Treaty Faction, such as Yamamoto and Inoue, into responsible positions as war approached. It is possible that his change of heart reflected a view that, if war was truly unavoidable, it was vital that it not be put off until Japan had run out of oil and the Americans had completed their massive fleet expansion. Or it is possible that Nagano was playing the role he felt obligated to play in a culture that puts enormous importance on consensus.

Service record

1880-6-15   born
Graduates from Naval Academy, standing 2nd in a class of 105. Assigned to CA Hashidate
1901-8-22   BB Asahi
1902-1-18 Ensign  
1902-3-14   CA Asama
1903-8-24   1 Naval District
1903-9-26 Lieutenant junior grade     
1903-12-9   Student, Gunnery Training Center
1903-12-22   Ariake Maru
1904-4-16   3 Naval District
1904-4-21   1 Fleet
1904-4-26   Hong Kong Maru
1905-1-12 Lieutenant Staff, Ryojun Navy Yard
1905-6-14   BB Shikishima
1905-9-12   Student, Gunnery Training Center
1906-1-25   Gunnery Institute, Naval Academy
1906-9-28   CA Itsukushima
1908-11-20   Adjutant, 3 Naval District
1909-5-25   Naval College A-Course
1910-12-1 Lieutenant commander     
BB Katori
1911-11-1   Navy General Staff
1912-9-27   Staff, Bureau of Naval Affairs, Navy Department
1913-1-10   Resident in US (Harvard University)
1914-12-1 Commander  
1915-5-26   Executive officer, CA Nisshin
1915-12-12   Executive officer, Iwate
1916-8-24   Staff, Bureau of Personnel, Navy Department
1918-10-1 Captain Chief, S1, Bureau of Personnel, Navy Department
1919-11-1   Commander, CA Hirado
1920-12-1   Attache, US
1923-12-1 Rear admiral
1924-2-5   Chief, N3, Navy General Staff
1924-12-1   Commander, Battleship Division 3
1925-4-20   Commander, 1 Expeditionary Fleet
1926-8-20   Navy General Staff
1927-2-1   Commander, Training Fleet
1927-12-1 Vice admiral
1928-1-15   Navy General Staff
1928-12-10   Director, Naval Academy
1930-6-10   Vice chief, Navy General Staff
1931-10-10   Navy General Staff
1933-11-15   Commander, 1 Naval District
1934-3-1 Admiral  
1934-11-15   Supreme War Council
1936-3-9   Navy Minister
1937-2-2   Commander, Combined Fleet
1937-12-1   Supreme War Council
1941-4-9   Chief, Navy General Staff
1943-6-21 Fleet admiral
1944-2-21   resigned
1946-3   arrested for war crimes
1947-1-5   died


Evans and Peattie (1997)
Fuller (1992)

Hotta (2013)

Materials of IJN (accessed 2008-1-30)

Prados (1995)
Prange (1981)

Symonds (2011)

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