Relief map of Formosa (Taiwan)

Today known as Taiwan, Formosa is a large island (14,000 square miles or 36,000 km2) located off the southeast coast of the Chinese mainland. It had been part of the Japanese Empire since the Sino-Japanese War of 1896, when its seizure as the first Japanese colonial territory was more opportunistic than strategic. Except for lingering resistance by indigenous tribesmen in the deep interior, the island was swiftly pacified: The Treaty of Shimonoseki that transferred sovereignty to Japan had an unusual clause giving the Chinese on the island two years to leave rather that accept Japanese rule,which was intented to eliminate potential troublemakers. The initial wave of Army administrators and civilian carpetbaggers was soon replaced by the administration of Governor-General Kodama Gentaro and his brilliant civil administrator, Goto Shinpei.

During the next decade, Formosa was transformed into a laboratory for showing off the Japanese skills at modernization, modeled after Japan's own modernization in the Meiji Era. Goto took the time to understand local customs, and adapted local institutions such as the pao-chia village militia to help maintain order. Careful thought went into planning the development of a local sugar industry, which soon became self-sufficient. However, Law 63 (Rokusan hō) giving the governor-general authority to legislate for the colony was repeatedly attacked as infringing on the legislative monopoly of the Japanese Diet.

By 1941, the island had sizable military bases and some industrial development. It supplied Japan with most of its sugar (something like a million tons a year) and small amounts of bauxite. The terrain is mountainous except for the western coastal plain, where most of the population lives, and the climate is subtropical. The most important cities were Taipeh on the north coast and and Takao (Kaohsiung) on the southwest coast. The island was ruled by a governor-general, who held the highest bureaucratic rank (shin'nin) and was often a vice admiral or lieutenant general, and who was personally recommended to the Emperor by the prime minister on the advice of the genro and Army leadership. The governor-general was Admiral Hasegawa Kiyoshi when war broke out and General Ando Rikichi from 30 August 1944.

The native Formosans (Takasago to the Japanese) were an Austronesian people predating the first Chinese settlements in the 17th century. The Japanese initially confined the takasago to large reserves in the deep interior, where they were literally fenced off, with a special permit required for anyone to enter or leave the reserves. Amost 50% of the colonial police force was directed towards policing the aborigines as late as 1931. Much of the policing took the form of encouraging the aborigines to "switch from firearms to peaceful agricultural implements" (quoted inMyers and Peattie 1984.) This was largely successful, with acreage under aborigine cultivation more than doubling and rice yield more than tripling.

The takasago numbered about 140,000 in 1929 and were relatively loyal to the Japanese, and takasago civilian volunteers at Buna proved to be excellent carriers and scouts. The Japanese compared them favorably with Koreans, who they accused of eating the rice they were supposed to be carrying along the Kokoda Trail, whereas the takasago reputedly would starve rather than open the bags of rice entrusted to them. Later takasago recruits were organized into companies under Japanese officers who were trained in guerrilla warfare. The Allies first encountered these units at Leyte when 1 Raiding Company carried out a suicidal attack from aircraft deliberately crash landed on Brauen airfield

A total of 1,360,423 Formosans volunteered for military service in 1942-1943, often under pressure from recruiters. Only 3,505 of these were inducted into regular Japanese Army units. Formosans were not subject to conscription until January 1945.

By late 1944 the island had 15 Army airfields, 11 Navy air stations, and two seaplane bases.

U.S. Navy commander Ernest J. King favored landing on Formosa rather than Luzon as the ultimate objective of the Pacific counteroffensive. He was opposed by Douglas MacArthur and, surprisingly, his own Pacific Fleet commander, Chester W. Nimitz. MacArthur's staff estimated that the conquest of Formosa would require nine divisions and more service troops than would be available until after the defeat of Germany. The decision to invade Luzon was made by Roosevelt himself, who was persuaded in part by MacArthur's argument that it was a political imperative to liberate the U.S. commonwealth. The Joint Chiefs of Staff formalized this decision on 3 October 1944, following the recommendations of the San Francisco conference of 29 September — 1 October 1945.

Battle of Formosa. From 10 to 14 October 1944, Halsey conducted a series of strikes against Okinawa and Formosa to interdict Japanese air reinforcements to the Philippines. The strikes against Formosa, beginning on 11 October, caught Japanese Combined Fleet commander Toyoda on Formosa, and his chief of staff, Kusaka, immediately ordered preliminary preparations to execute Sho, the Japanese Navy's contingency plan for an Allied move against the inner Japanese defense perimeter. Kusaka also ordered the air groups from the remaining Japanese carriers to deploy to Formosa. As a result, these air groups were savaged and their carriers rendered toothless for the upcoming Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Halsey's strikes destroyed between 550 and 600 Japanese aircraft and sank about 40 merchant ships at the cost of 78 Allied aircraft. The large aircraft maintenance facility at Okayama was heavily bombed by Superfortresses of 20 Air Force, while medium and heavy bombers from 14 Air Force struck Hong Kong. However, the Japanese managed to slip eight torpedo bombers past the American fleet defenses at sunset on 13 October 1944 and badly damage heavy cruiser Canberra, flooding both engine rooms. Rather than scuttle the ship, Halsey decided to tow the cripple to safety while conducting an additional unscheduled strike against Formosa. That night, another Japanese dusk raid put a torpedo into light cruiser Houston, flooding all engineering spaces. Again, Halsey chose to tow the cripple to safety rather than scuttle. The two ships were joined by escorts and organized into "CripDiv1" for their long tow to Ulithi. The Japanese sent several strikes against the cripples, inflicting very light damage from a bomb hit on carrier Franklin and scoring another torpedo hit on Houston. This nearly finished the cruiser, but excellent damage control saved the ship.

At this point, based on Japanese radio broadcasts claiming a great naval victory off Formosa, Halsey decided to use the cripples as bait to ambush any sortie by the main strength of the Japanese Navy. Thus they became "BaitDiv1", a play on BatDiv1 (Battleship Division 1). However, the Japanese sent out only a small force of cruisers and destroyers to "mop up" the "shattered" U.S. Fleet, and its commander, Shima, sensed a trap and withdrew before his force could be ambushed.

Formosa remained in Japanese hands until the surrender.


Australian War Memorial (accesssed 2011-6-18)

Cohen (1949)

Collie and Marutani (2009)

Jowett (2002)
Morison (1958, 1959)

Myers and Peattie (1984)

Van Royen and Bowles (1952)

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