Kawaguchi Kiyotake (1892-1961)

Photograph of Kawaguchi Kiyotake

Wikipedia Commons

Kawaguchi Kiyotake was born in Kochi prefecture, Shikoku, and graduated from the Military Academy in 1914 and the Army Staff College in 1922. He had managed a camp for German POWs during the First World War and prided himself on the correct treatment of the prisoners. He spent most of his career in staff positions in Japan and China.

Kawaguchi began the war in command of 35 Brigade, 18 Division, which was detached for operations in Borneo. His experiences in Borneo left him with a misguided fondness for movement by barge. Following the success of the Borneo operations, his brigade was sent to the central Philippines in January 1942, with headquarters at Cebu City.

Originally earmarked for service in New Guiniea, Kawaguchi's brigade was diverted to Guadalcanal to reinforce 17 Army, and Kawaguchi intuited that Guadalcanal would become the focus of the war. Important elements of Combined Fleet went to sea as a covering force, leading to the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. When the Japanese lost the battle and withdrew the carriers, the convoy with Kawaguchi’s brigade, which was led by Tanaka Raizo, was heavily attacked and forced to retreat with heavy losses. The Japanese turned to “Tokyo Express” runs, which they referred to as “rat runs”, and the use of barges (“ant activities”), to get the rest of the unit ashore.

Leckie (1962) claims that Kawaguchi was so confident of victory at Guadalcanal that he brought his dress whites to the island so that he could wear them to receive Vandegrift's surrender, only to have them captured by Marine Raiders during a raid on Kawaguchi's base of supplies at Tasimboko.

Kawaguchi's forces were defeated at the Battle of Bloody Ridge, September 1942, and he was recalled to Rabaul to explain his failure to Hyakutake. He returned to Guadalcanal with the 17 Army commander and was given command of a detachment of 2 Division. His force was supposed to form the right wing of the forthcoming attack on Henderson Field. He concluded that his unit had a better chance if it attacked from the southeast, but he failed to inform his immediate superior of his plans, and his attack came late and was not coordinated with the rest of the attacking force.

I cannot take responsibility for a frontal attack as a unit commander.

Kawaguchi was promptly relieved of command and recalled to Tokyo. Forced to retire in March 1943, he was recalled in March 1945 to command the coastal defenses of Tsushima. In 1946 Kawaguchi was convicted of complicity in the execution of Jose Abad Santos, chief justice of the Phillipine Supreme Court, and imprisoned until 1953. This was painfully ironic: Kawaguchi had been accused by Japanese Army radicals of being a "liberal" because he had opposed revenge killings of senior Philippine officials.

Kawaguchi was strongwilled, often to the point of insubordination. Frank (1990) notes that "in his view, orders merely formed a handy agenda for discussion", but also believed that the talkative general had a good grasp of the importance of the Guadalcanal campaign. Smith (2000) describes him as Vandegrift's worthiest opponent. Kawaguchi was unusually solicitious of his troops, and once gave a man who had been assigned a dangerous mission a can of sardines that he had personally brought with him from Japan.

Service record


Born in Kochi prefecture

Graduates from Military Academy

Graduates from Army Staff College

Staff, 4 Division

Tokyo Bay Fortress

Chief, Propaganda Section, North China Area Army

Staff, North China Area Army

Staff, Chubu Defense Army
Major general     
Commander, 35 Brigade

Eastern Army


Recalled and given command of Tsushima Fortress


Tried for war crimes

Condemned to six years inprisonment




Dupuy (1992)

Fuller (1992)

Hastings (2007) (accessed 2007-11-30)

Leckie (1962)

"Official Gazette" (accessed 2012-7-14)

Smith (2000)

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