Saito Yoshitsugu (1890-1944)

Photograph of Saito Yoshitsugu

Saito was born in Tokyo and graduated from the Military Academy in 1912 as a cavalryman. He graduated from the Army Staff College in 1924 and rose steadily through the ranks, though without achieving any great distinction. He was responsible for procuring horses for the Army at the time war broke out in the Pacific.

Saito commanded 43 Division at the time of its deployment to Saipan in May 1944. The American submarine blockade was in full stride by then, and the division suffered heavily during the move. Though Saito was not an experienced combat leader and was in poor health, he was the senior officer on the island, and he was therefore expected to take command of Army forces. However, he consulted with Admiral Nagumo, the senior naval commander, throughout the campaign.

After consulting with Nagumo, Saito had his forces retreat into the northern part of the island for a final defense. After he was wounded by shrapnel, he broke with Nagumo to give the order for all troops to make a final suicidal assault in the early hours of 7 July 1944. 

Saito committed ritual suicide at dawn, his adjutant shooting him in the head after he had disemboweled himself. He was joined by Nagumo and their chiefs of staff.

The barbarous attack of the enemy is being continued. Even though the enemy has occupied only a corner of Saipan, we are dying without avail under the violent shelling and bombing. Whether we attack or whether we stay where we are, there is only death. However, in death there is life. We must utilize this opportunity to exalt true Japanese manhood. I will advance with those who remain to deliver still another blow to the American Devils, and leave my bones on Saipan as a bulwark of the Pacific.

As it says in Battle Ethics, I will never suffer the disgrace of being taken alive, and I will offer up the courage of my soul and calmly rejoice in living by the eternal principle.

Prior to committing suicide, Saito was asked what would happen to the many Japanese civilians sharing the caves of northern Saipan with the remaining troops. Saito allegedly replied that

There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops. It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than be captured.

One can only speculate much this contributed to the subsequent mass suicide of civilians on the north shore of Saipan.

Service record


Born at Tokyo
Second lieutenant     


Army Staff College
Commander, 14 Cavalry Regiment

Commander, 8 Cavalry Regiment

Commander, 24 Regiment

Instructor, Cavalry School

Chief of staff, 5 Depot Division

Chief, Horse Administration Section, Kwantung Army
Lieutenant general     
Commander, 43 Division, Saipan

Commits ritual suicide


Dupuy et al. (1992)

Fuller (1992) (accessed 2008-6-26)

Leckie (1962)

Toland (1970)

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