Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, 1886-1966

Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa (1886-1966) was a Japanese admiral who took part in the early successes in Malaya, Sumatra and Java but who is best known for suffering a crushing defeat at the battle of the Philippine Sea and commanding a decoy carrier group at Leyte Gulf.

Ozawa was born in 1886. He attended the Japanese Naval Academy, graduating in 1909. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1936, and became Chief of Staff for the Combined Fleet in 1937. In 1940 he was promoted to vice admiral and became president of the Naval Academy.

In October 1941 he was put in charge of naval operations in the South China Sea, making him responsible for the naval part of the invasions of Malaysia, Sumatra and Java. From January to March 1942 he shipped the 16th Army from Indochina to Sumatra and Java, helping to crush the last Allied resistance in the Dutch East Indies.

In April 1942 the Japanese carried out a large scale raid into the Indian Ocean, aiming for Ceylon. The main carrier fleet was commanded by Admiral Nagumo. Admiral Kondo commanded the Southern Area Fleet. Finally Ozawa commanded the small force that would strike into the Bay of Bengal, built around the carrier Ryujo. During this raid the Ryujo's aircraft sank twenty-three merchant ships, a total of 112,312 tons of shipping.

Ozawa was then promoted to command the Mobile Fleet, the main Japanese carrier force and the strongest part of the Japanese navy. Unfortunately for Ozawa by the time he took command the Japanese had lost many of their experienced naval aviators, and the carrier fleet he commanded was a shadow of its former self.

On 15 June 1944 the Americans attacked Saipan. The Japanese high command decided to send the navy to destroy the American fleets in the Philippine Sea, but instead the Japanese suffered a crushing defeat, loosing vast numbers of naval aviators in the battle of the Philippine Sea (or Great Marianas Turkey Shoot). Ozawa's plan for this battle was based on the longer range of his aircraft, which should have allowed him to attack the American carriers from a position of relative safety. He also expected to have the support of the ground based aircraft on Saipan. Unfortunately most of these aircraft had already been lost in combat with American Hellcats. Worse was to come - the new Hellcat outclassed the Japanese aircraft it was facing, and the American pilots were now better trained than their Japanese opponents. In a series of aerial battles around the American fleet Ozawa lost 346 aircraft, the Americans only 15. Japanese naval aviation had been crippled, and would never recover. To rub salt into the wounds torpedoes from American submarines sank the carriers Shokaku and Taiho. This second ship was Ozawa's flagship, and it took a great deal of effort from his staff to talk him out of going down with the ship. The carrier Hiyo was sunk on the second day of the battle, completing the defeat. 

In the aftermath of this defeat the surviving carriers were withdrawn from their advanced position at Lingga Roads south of Singapore back into the Inland Sea. A great deal of effort went into training a new group of aviators, ready for the final 'decisive battle', which the Japanese planned to fight when the Americans invaded either the Philippines or Formosa. Ozawa's fleet was meant to approach the battle area from the north, while the main surface vessels came from Lingga Roads (which was nearer to their source of fuel in the Dutch East Indies). Ozawa's part in the upcoming battle had to be changed after the disastrous battles off Formosa (12-16 October 1944), which saw his carefully horded aviators called away to Formosa where most of them were lost.

Admiral Ozawa being transferred from Zuikaku to Oyodo
Admiral Ozawa
being transferred from
to Oyodo

This meant that when Ozawa sailed from Japan to take part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf his four aircraft carriers only contained just over 100 aircraft. Ozawa's original role was to join Kurita's surface fleet and take part in the final battle, but Ozawa realised that without aircraft his fleet wouldn't be able to make much of a contribution. Instead he suggested that his carriers should be used as a decoy in an attempt to drag the most powerful American ships out of position. This part of the Japanese plan worked perfectly. During the battle of Leyte Gulf (23-26 October 1944) Admiral Halsey decided to take the entire 3rd Fleet north to deal with the Japanese carriers. Ozawa's four carriers were all sunk (battle of Cape Engano, 25 October 1944), but they had carried out their role. Elsewhere the Japanese were less successful and the battle ended as a crushing American victory.

Ozawa survived the battle and was appointed commander of the 3rd Fleet. His last mission was the suicidal dash of the giant battleship Yamato towards Okinawa. The Japanese hoped that the battleship would reach the island and could be grounded to act as a massive gun battery but instead she was sunk on the day after leaving the safety of the Sea of Japan (7 April 1945). Ozawa hadn't accompanied the Yamato, and despite the failure of this last dash was promoted to command what was left of the Combined Fleet.

After the war Ozawa cooperated with the American naval historian S.E. Morrison during the production of the epic fifteen volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (8 May 2012), Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, 1886-1966 ,

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