Iwabuchi Sanji (1893–1945)


Iwabuchi Sanji

Japanese navy admiral who vigorously defended Manila in the waning months of the war. Born in Niigata Prefecture, Japan, on 2 March 1893, Iwabuchi Sanji graduated from the Naval Academy in 1915. Trained as a pilot, he then become a gunnery specialist and entered the Gunnery School in 1923. Between 1930 and 1933, he served as a gunnery officer on cruisers and battleships. Promoted to captain in 1937, Iwabuchi was assigned to command the training cruiser Kashii in 1941, then the battleship Kirishima in April 1942. His battleship took part in the Battle of Midway and the campaign for the Solomon Islands during 1942. On 15 November 1942, in the naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Kirishima was fatally damaged by gunfire from the U.S. battleship Washington and had to be scuttled.

Promoted to rear admiral in May 1943, Iwabuchi was appointed commander of the 31st Naval Special Base Force in Manila. In November 1944, he was also assigned 4,000 army personnel and named commander of the Manila Naval Defense Force. General Yamashita Tomoyuki, commander of Japanese forces in the Philippines, ordered Iwabuchi’s forces to evacuate Manila and conduct a protracted struggle in the mountainous regions of northern and central Luzon as well as east of Manila, but Iwabuchi refused to carry out the order. Commanding 15,000 navy and 4,000 army personnel, he was determined to defend Manila to the last. During three weeks in February 1945, there was fierce house-to-house fighting in Manila, and most Japanese forces chose to fight to the death rather than surrender. Iwabuchi died near the end of the battle on 26 February at Intramuros; he received a brevet promotion to vice admiral after his death.

Iwabuchi’s decision to defend Manila to the last resulted in the deaths of some 16,000 Japanese troops, 1,000 American forces, and perhaps 100,000 civilians. Some of the latter were deliberately massacred by Japanese troops, but most were killed by U.S. artillery fire. Iwabuchi’s actions also resulted in the trial and execution of General Yamashita as a war criminal.

References Lear, Elmer Norton. The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines: Leyte, 1941–1945. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 1961. Smith, Robert Ross. The United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific—Triumph in the Philippines. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1963.

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