In December 1941, Imamura took command of the Sixteenth Army, which was intended to conquer the Netherlands East Indies. During the invasion of Java on 1 March 1942, the transport that was carrying him, the Rujo Maru, was sunk in the Battle of Sunda Strait. Clinging to a piece of wood, Imamura managed to reach shore. His force soon after overran the Dutch defenders on Java, and on 9 March, Imamura accepted the surrender of all remaining Allied forces in the Netherlands East Indies. As military governor of the former Dutch colony, he established a liberal occupation policy and freed Indonesian dissidents from prison.
In November 1942, Imamura took command of the new Eighth Area Army at Rabaul. Imperial General Headquarters had realized that General Hyakutake Haruyashi could not adequately direct operations on both Guadalcanal and New Guinea. Hyakutake took direct control of the Seventeenth Army on Guadalcanal, and General Adachi Hatazo took over the units on New Guinea, now designated the Eighteenth Army. Imamura was unable to deliver two new divisions to Hyakutake when the Japanese navy failed to control the sea around Guadalcanal. Instead, he had to order Hyakutake to evacuate Guadalcanal.
Imamura's efforts to reinforce New Guinea were also hampered by growing Allied airpower. The complete destruction of a convoy in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea in March 1943 convinced Imamura that New Guinea would also be lost. Within weeks, operations on New Guinea were transferred to the Second Area Army, and Imamura was left with only the Seventeenth Army.
Hyakutake and his Seventeenth Army were cut off on Bougainville by an American invasion in November 1943. On 25 March 1944, Imamura ordered the aggressive Hyakutake to cease offensive operations and adopt a purely defensive stance. Imamura himself was isolated at Rabaul with 70,000 troops when Australian forces captured the rest of New Britain. He hoped his presence would provide a strategic benefit to Japan, and he surrendered in 1945 only after Emperor Hirohito ordered him to do so. Tried and convicted of war crimes after the war, Imamura was imprisoned until 1954. He died in Tokyo on 4 October 1968.
Tim J. Watts
Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal. New York: Random House, 1990.; Hayashi, Saburo. Kogun: The Japanese Army in the Pacific War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1959.; Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 5, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942–February 1943. Boston: Little, Brown, 1949.