|Born||28 Apr 1889|
|Died||19 Dec 1977|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseTakeo Kurita was born in 1889 and graduated from the Japanese Naval Academy in 1910. Specializing in torpedoes, he had extensive service in destroyers during the 1920s and 1930s, and was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1938.
ww2dbaseDuring WW2, Kurita was one of the most actively-employed Japanese Navy flag officers. As a rear admiral Kurita commanded the 7th Cruiser Division during the East Indies Invasion and the Battle of Midway, losing the cruiser Mikuma during the latter action. As a vice admiral and the commanding officer of the 3rd Battleship Division between Jul 1942 and Jul 1943, he participated in the Guadalcanal campaign, conducting an intense bombardment of Henderson Field on 14 Oct, among other major actions. Between Jul 1943 and Dec 1944, he was the commander-in-chief of the Second Fleet. At the Battle of Philippines Sea, his fleet was met with a disastrous defeat. During the Leyte Gulf Campaign on 24-25 October 1944, he led the main Japanese surface force in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea and suffered heavy losses mainly at the hands of overwhelming American air power. However, he was able to recover from this setback and succeed in reaching behind American naval lines to attack an outgunned force of escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts at the Battle off Samar. After inflicting damage on the light warships, however, he realized that he was not engaging cruisers and fleet carriers as he thought he was. Around the same time, he received a message from his friend Gunichi Mikawa's South West Fleet noting that an American task force was present northeast of him, so he disengaged from the warships, ignored the American transports just beyond, and searched out for the task force instead. The report ended up being incorrect, however, thus he lost the opportunity to destroy a vital American transport fleet. Between Dec 1944 and the end of the war, he returned to Japan and assumed the role of the commandant of the Naval Academy at Etajima in Japan. Unlike some of this predecessors, he avoided teaching the officer candidates to sacrifice themselves for the Emperor; instead, especially toward the final few months of the war, he focused on skills that would aid the young men in the reconstruction of the country.
ww2dbaseAfter the war, Kurita was criticized for the failure to destroy the American transports nearby during the Battle off Samar. His conservative tactics were often described as timid. He was interrogated by the United States Navy in Tokyo after the war, and the interrogating officer noted him as "somewhat on the defensive, giving only the briefest of replies prior to the discussion of [the Leyte campaign actions]. In some instances his memory for details such as times, cruising dispositions, etc. appeared to be inaccurate." In 1946, US Navy officer Thomas H. Moorer interviewed Kurita in Kurita's garden. Moorer asked Kurita, through an interpreter, what caused the Japanese Navy's eventual downfall. Kurita replied, simply: "we ran out of oil". While these interviewers recognized that Kurita was being quiet, they probably did not realize how much information Kurita was withholding. In a conversation he held on 16 Dec 1977, he revealed to his former students of the Naval Academy Isamu Kuboi and Jiro Oka his recollections of the battle. When he was encountered with the question why he failed to attack the transports, he revealed that he made the decision to search out for the American battleships and carriers because he had deemed the report from the South West Fleet sound, and it was his duty as a navy officer to conduct naval war. He said
ww2dbaseThis reflected Kurita as a battleship officer of the Mahanian era who considered warships the only worthy targets, a virtue for naval commanders of all nations of his generation. It would not be until late in his life, however, before he revealed his other motivation for withdrawing: He simply did not wish to sacrifice lives needlessly. With 20,000 to 30,000 lives under his charge, he was unwilling to engage his fleet, with minimal air support, with the overwhelming powerful American carrier fleet that was undoubtedly sailing back south to intercept.
ww2dbaseKurita passed away in his sleep peacefully three days after he revealed many of the secrets about the Leyte campaign to his former students. His wife Hiroko and his son Yukitake stood by him as he fell into a sleep that he would not wake from.
James Hornfischer, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors
Jiro Oka, "The Truth About the Leyte Turnaround of Kurita Force"
Peter Smith, Midway Dauntless Victory
Evan Thomas, Sea of Thunder
Interrogations of Japanese Officials
Last Major Revision: May 2009
Takeo Kurita Timeline
|28 Apr 1889||Takeo Kurita was born.|
|19 Dec 1977||Takeo Kurita passed away.|
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» Interrogation Nav 9, Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita
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Winston Churchill, 1935