Homma Masaharu (1887-1946)

Photograph of Homma Masanobu

Captured Japanese records, U.S. Army

Homma Masaharu is something of a tragic figure, though it is understandable if survivors of the Death March do not see it that way. Born in Niigata prefecture, the son of a prosperous farmer and devout Buddhist mother, he graduated from the Military Academy in 1907 and from the Army Staff College in 1915. He returned from an assignment as military attaché to Britain in 1932 to discover his wife was living with another man. He divorced her and subsequently married the daughter of an industrialist, Takada Fujiko, who was fifteen years his junior. Fujiko would later unsuccessfully plead with MacArthur for Homma's life.

Homma participated in the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1932 and served with the Press Section of the Army Ministry. He visited Russia in 1937 and concluded that the Red Army purges under Stalin had eliminated Russia as a serious military threat to Japan, a conclusion that found its way into the Osaka press. Homma commanded 27 Division in China in 1938-1940 and directed the blockade of the foreign concessions in Tientsin, where he led the negotiations with the British. He was polite but insistent that the British give a prompt answer to Japanese demands that four suspected Kuomintang assassins be turned over to the Japanese.

Commander of 14 Army in its assault on the Philippines, Homma failed to anticipate MacArthur’s retreat into the Bataan Peninsula. By the time he recognized his mistake, his best infantry division had been replaced by a poorly trained reserve brigade, greatly weakening his assault force. Rather than waste his men in furious frontal assaults, he tried to outmaneuver the Americans on the peninsula. This brought criticism from superiors who believed he had been “contaminated” by Western ideas about conserving the lives of his men. By the time the campaign ended, Homma was commander of 14 Army in name only. He was subsequently forced into retirement, in August 1942.

Homma was a brilliant military theoretician and was considered the senior lieutenant general of the Japanese Army by his peers. However, he seems to have been poor at delegating authority. He was tall for a Japanese, at 5'10" (178 cm). He was something of an Anglophile, having been an observer with British forces in France during the First World War and having served as Resident Officer in India and military attaché to Britain (for which he received the British Military Cross.) He was fluent in English, which he spoke with a flawless educated Englishman's accent. These factors may have contributed to his fall from favor with the Army.

The Bataan Death March

The fall of Bataan was marked by the worst atrocity against American troops during the war, the Bataan Death March. That somebody deserved to be shot for this crime seems clear enough. However, it probably wasn’t Homma. The most likely culprit is the notorious Colonel Tsuji Masanobu, who was responsible for atrocities in Malaya, Guadalcanal, and Burma as well as the Philippines. But Homma refused to implicate anyone else at his war crimes trial, and MacArthur confirmed the sentence of death by firing squad. Homma was executed on April 3, 1946, at Los Banos.

After disarming the American forces on Corregidor, Homma threatened to massacre the American prisoners if all other Allied forces in the Philippines did not surrender at once. This threat was sufficient to secure the surrender of a number of units that were still in a position to put up considerable resistance to the Japanese. Had Homma actually carried out the threat, he would have violated the Third Geneva Convention forbidding reprisals against prisoners of war, which Japan had agreed to abide by on 4 February 1942. However, the mere threat probably did not constitute a war crime.

Service record


Born at Sado Island, Niigata province
Second lieutenant      
Graduates from Military Academy, standing second in his class. Commissioned in the infantry
Captain Army War College

Army Staff College

Military observer, British Expeditionary Force, France

Instructor, War College

Resident officer, India

Aide-de-campe, Crown Prince Chichibu

Military attaché to Britain

Chief, Press Relations Branch, Ministry of War

Commander, 1 Regiment
Major general
Commander, 32 Brigade

General Staff

Head, 2 Bureau, General Staff
Lieutenant general
27 Division, Tientsin

Commander, Formosa Army

Commander, 14th Army

In reserve


Minister of Information

Shot for war crimes


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