|Born||4 Apr 1884|
|Died||18 Apr 1943|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Isoroku Yamamoto was born Isoroku Takano, but changed his name after being adopted by the Yamamoto family. His father was a former low-class samurai warrior. He entered the Japanese Naval Academy and graduated in 1904, and participated in the Russo-Japanese War. He was seriously injured during the Battle of Tsushima in 1905; he recovered though left with many scars. Yamamoto was nicknamed "80 sen" by some of his favorite geisha girls because he lost two fingers from the said battle (at the time, a geisha manicure cost 100 sen, or 1 yen). He was American educated (Harvard University, 1919-1921);, and became a junior naval attaché to several nations. In 1924, at age 40, he changed his specialty from gunnery to aviation, recognizing the upcoming trend in naval warfare.
During the period between 1926 and 1928, Yamamoto was the senior naval attaché to Washington DC, United States at the rank of captain. After 1928 he returned to Japan, becoming an advocate of air power, and was partly responsible for the establishment of Japanese naval air fleet. He said his farewell to his commissioned carrier, the Akagi, briefly, as a delegate to the London naval disarmament conference of 1930. At the conference he had risen to become a popular figure among the Japanese military elite. He returned to Japan and served as the head of the technical division of the Navy's Aeronautics Department, and then commander of the First Carrier Division, taking the Akagi as his command ship once again. At the rank of vice admiral, Yamamoto took on the entire Aeronautics Department before becoming the Deputy Navy Minister in 1936. Due to his peaceful nature, his life was seriously threatened by warlike extremists, who at that time influenced Japanese politics greatly during this period of military and territorial expansion. Under the advice of his colleagues, he was transferred to the Combined Fleet as its Commander-in-Chief, escaping feared retribution, or even assassination, against his political views; assassinations could be called commonplace in this period in Japan. Yamamoto was promoted to the rank of full admiral in 1940 at the venerable age of 56. Despite his age, he continue to exercise regularly and keeping in excellent physical shape.
Away from his profession, Yamamoto was an avid gamer and gambler, enjoying Shogi (also known as Japanese chess), billiards, bridge, mah jong, poker, among other games that tested his wits and sharpened his mind. He also enjoyed calligraphy and poetry (some would criticize his poems as being monotonous). He was also known to frequent geisha houses, reflecting the fact that he was never very close with his wife, Reizo. He did, however, father four children with his wife, two sons and two daughters. Reizo revealed to the Japanese public in 1954 that Yamamoto was closer to his favorite geisha Kawai Chiyoko than to her, which stirred some controversy.
In 1940, Admiral Yamamoto was pressured by the government, by now completely in control by the military, to devise an attack on the United States. Although at first the Imperial General Headquarters, dominated by Army generals, favored a westward or northward land-based expansion against the Soviet Union, setbacks suffered in northeastern China and Mongolia and the ever-draining war against China changed the priorities. At this point, especially with the United States and United Kingdom cutting off critical raw materials from Japan, the island nation's need for raw materials led to her eyeing the resource rich South Pacific. With the Netherlands conquered and the United Kingdom busy defending against an expanding Germany, a Japanese expansion into the South Pacific seemed to be without great obstacles. Yamamoto deduced that a Japanese invasion into Britain-held territory would bring the United States into war, therefore before taking British and Dutch territories, the United States must be neutralized. During a private conversation with Prime Minister Prince Konoe, he said that:
This wish of his would not come true; his pessimistic attitude and the inability to use his stature as the former Navy Minister and the current Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet to recruit political allies to his cause. This failure ensured the rude awakening of of the power on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. The previously peaceful Treaty Faction officer who resisted a wide-scale war against multiple western nations accepted his duties from above his chain of command. He not only planned for the war that Imperial General Headquarters wanted against the United States, but he also worked to persuade others for a war against the United States in the name of duty. Going against his own belief that the US was too much to take on for Japan, Yamamoto devised an attack against key military installations in the Pacific Ocean. At the last moment, he added Pearl Harbor in the US Territory of Hawaii to the list of targets. As the attacks commenced, the US was brought into WW2.
It was after the initial victories of the Pacific War that really drew out Yamamoto's manipulative style of leadership. In order to ensure that the Combined Fleet targeted objectives that he deemed important, he slowly maneuvered himself to a position where fellow admirals Osami Nagano and Shigeru Fukudome slowly ceded their authority to Yamamoto. Unable to accept criticism, Yamamoto ran the Combined Fleet with intimidation.
Mere months after the impossibly successful victories, Yamamoto drew up the plan to attack Midway, an atoll northwest of Pearl Harbor, in order to destroy the aircraft carriers that escaped the Pearl Harbor attack. However, poor planning and less than perfect carrier doctrine ultimately led to the demise of four precious fleet carriers, including his former command ship, Akagi. Naval historian Jonathan Parshall said that "[Yamamoto's] needlessly complex operational scheme at the Battle of Midway dispersed his forces in the face of a still-dangerous foe, and directly led to the disaster there." The fact that Yamamoto accepted to take on a campaign in the Aleutian Islands at the same time as the Midway invasion reflected his failure, arrogantly underestimate the capability of the American fleet and reducing the overall effectiveness of his stab at Central Pacific. The two light carriers and 16 submarines sent to the Aleutian Islands could have changed the outcome of the Midway battle.
During the Solomon Islands campaign, Yamamoto was unable or unwilling to leverage Japanese navy's collection of big guns against the American carrier force (when he did, it was too late) and air force at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. Despite of his contributions to the introduction airpower into the Japanese Navy, his endless pursuit of a Mahanian decisive battle with his big guns ultimately became his greatest shortcoming. Many military historians also criticized his strategies at the Solomon Islands, which "frittered away Japanese maritime strength instead of concentrating it", just like what he had done at the Battle of Midway. In addition, Yamamoto must also at least take partial blame for not preparing Japan to manufacture enough aircraft and train enough pilots to replace casualties. Japan's inability to keep the carriers occupied was a mistake that would prove to have had severe consequences later in the war. "A few more mistakes of this order," Dan van der Vat said in his book The Pacific Campaign, "Yamamoto might have come to be seen, even by the Americans, as an asset to their cause".
On 14 Apr 1943, US Navy Fleet Radio Unit Pacific Fleet decoded a intercepted Japanese Navy message, which allowed the US to learn that Yamamoto was planning on an inspection of three front-line bases near Bougainville Island in the Solomon Islands. The message contained specific details regarding Yamamoto's arrival and departure times and locations, as well as the number and types of planes that will transport and accompany him on the journey. When Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the US Navy Pacific Fleet, learned of this message, he decided to go ahead with striking down Yamamoto en route. If successful, his death in battle would also deal a severe blow against Japanese morale, Nimitz concluded. The final go-ahead came from the White House via Navy Secretary Frank Knox. After receiving the approval, Nimitz gave the task to Admiral William Halsey, whose forces were in the Solomon Islands area at the time.
In the morning of 18 Apr, green khaki-clad Yamamoto departed Rabaul, New Britain at 0600 hours. In his hands was a sword given by his now deceased brother. He sat in the left-front seat in the passenger compartment of a G4M2 bomber, next to Chief Petty Officer Kotani. His chief of staff, Matome Ugaki, also traveled in the air convoy, but in a different G4M2 aircraft. Six A6M Zero fighters escorted the G4M aircraft. En route, they were attacked by a group of 18 US Army P-38 Lighting fighters based in Henderson Field on Guadalcanal Island. The P-38 fighters were fitted with extra large drop tanks in order to provide them enough fuel for the return trip after the strike. As the Americans attacked, the G4M2 bombers were strafed repeatedly; one of the many .50 caliber rounds fired hit Yamamoto's shoulder, while another entered his jaw on the left side of his head and exited near the temple on the right side, probably killing him instantly. The credit for killing Yamamoto was given to Lieutenant Rex Barber, but 1st Lieutenant Thomas Lanphier, Jr. would contest it for some time to come; many historians would later disagree with Lanphier's claim. Shortly after, the G4M2 aircraft carrying Yamamoto crashed into the jungle, followed by the G4M2 aircraft that carried Ugaki, who would survive the attack. Yamamoto's body was found by Japanese search and rescue party led by Army engineer Lieutenant Hamasuna the next day in the jungle north of Buin. Hamasuna described that he found Yamamoto thrown clear of the wreckage, sitting perfectly straight under a tree, white-gloved hand grasping the hilt of his sword; it was generally thought that Yamamoto's remains were tidied up by Hamasuna and his search party into the condition that Hamasuna had described, out of respect of the admiral.
The Japanese government did not announce Yamamoto's death until 21 May 1943. To cover up the fact that the Allies were reading Japanese code, American newspapers published a story that civlian coast watchers in the Solomon Islands saw Yamamoto boarding a bomber in the area. The Japanese Navy bought the story and would fail to change its communications code.
Captain Watanabe and his staff cremated Yamamoto's remains at Buin, and the ashes were returned to Tokyo, Japan aboard the battleship Musashi, Yamamoto's last flagship. Yamamoto was given a full state funeral on 5 Jun, where he received, posthumously, the rank of fleet admiral and was awarded the Order of the Chrysanthemum, First Class. Part of his ashes was buried in the public cemetery in Tuma in Tokyo and the remainder at his ancestral burial grounds at the Chuko-Ji Temple in Nagaoka City. Tens of thousands of mourners came to Nagaoka City to pay their last respects.
Bruce Gamble, Fortress Rabaul
Bruce Gamble, Target Rabaul
Dan van der Vat, The Pacific Campaign
Jon Parshall and Anthony Tully, Shattered Sword
"Death of Yamamoto due to 'Magic'"
United States Navy Naval History and Heritage Command
- "The fate of the Empire rests on this enterprise every man must devote himself totally to the task in hand."
» On the attacks across the Pacific, 7 Dec 1941
Isoroku Yamamoto Timeline
|4 Apr 1884||Isoroku Yamamoto was born as Takano Isoroku. His last name would not change to Yamamoto until 1916 when he was adopted into the Yamamoto family.|
|14 Nov 1904||Isoroku Yamamoto was given the rank of midshipman.|
|31 Aug 1905||Isoroku Yamamoto was promoted to the rank of ensign.|
|28 Sep 1907||Isoroku Yamamoto was promoted to the rank of sub-lieutenant.|
|11 Oct 1909||Isoroku Yamamoto was promoted to the rank of lieutenant.|
|13 Dec 1915||Isoroku Yamamoto was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander.|
|1 Dec 1919||Isoroku Yamamoto was promoted to the rank of commander.|
|1 Dec 1923||Isoroku Yamamoto was promoted to the rank of captain.|
|13 Apr 1924||Captain Isoroku Yamamoto visited the United States as a member of the Japanese delegation. Among other places, he visited the United States Naval War College.|
|30 Nov 1929||Isoroku Yamamoto was promoted to the rank of rear admiral.|
|15 Nov 1934||Isoroku Yamamoto was promoted to the rank of vice admiral.|
|30 Aug 1939||Isoroku Yamamoto was appointed the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet by Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai.|
|15 Nov 1940||Isoroku Yamamoto was promoted to the rank of admiral.|
|24 Dec 1941||Isoroku Yamamoto met with his top lieutenants aboard battleship Nagato. It was possibly in this meeting that he began discussing the possibility of a strike on the Americas with aircraft launched from a submarine.|
|9 Mar 1942||Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto issued orders to the fleet to prepare for Operation C, a raid into the Indian Ocean.|
|13 May 1942||Isoroku Yamamoto was granted audience with Emperor Showa, who congratulated him on the success in the Battle of Coral Sea. Knowing that the tactical victory was not as glorious as it appeared, Yamamoto was notedly ambiguous on his responses to the emperor.|
|18 Jan 1943||Admiral Yamamoto came aboard battleship Musashi at Truk in the Caroline Islands, which would officially become his flagship on 11 Feb 1943.|
|3 Apr 1943||Admiral Yamamoto and his staff departed Truk, Caroline Islands for Rabaul, New Britain on two Kawanishi H8K flying boats to supervise Operation I-GO from 7 to 14 Apr 1943, expecting to return to flagship Musashi on 19 Apr 1943. They arrived at Rabaul at 1340 hours.|
|4 Apr 1943||Isoroku Yamamoto and Ryunosuke Kusaka met at Rabaul, New Britain to discuss the details of the I-Go offensive.|
|13 Apr 1943||At Rabaul, New Britain, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto played a game of Shogi with Vice Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka, discussing Pacific War strategy meanwhile. When Yamamoto spoke of his intention to personally inspect forward bases to raise morale, Rear Admiral Takatsugu Jojima and Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa protested but failed to dissuade Yamamoto. Yamamoto's lieutenants were particularly worried about the fact that Yamamoto's detailed travel itinerary were sent over radio.|
|14 Apr 1943||US Navy Fleet Radio Unit Pacific Fleet decoded a intercepted Japanese Navy message, which allowed the US to learn that Yamamoto was planning on an inspection of three front-line bases near Bougainville Island. The decrypted message was immediately forwarded to Admiral Chester Nimitz at Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii.|
|18 Apr 1943||The two aircraft carrying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki took off from Rabaul, New Britain at 0600 hours. Over the island of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, they were shot down by American fighters over Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, killing Yamamoto.|
|19 Apr 1943||A search party found the remains of Isoroku Yamamoto on Bougainville, Solomon Islands.|
|20 Apr 1943||A medical examination was conducted on Isoroku Yamamoto's remains.|
|21 Apr 1943||Isoroku Yamamoto's remains were cremated at Buin, Bougainville, Solomon Islands.|
|23 Apr 1943||In the evening, a flying boat arrived at Truk, Caroline Islands with ashes of Yamamoto and six of his staff officers, who had been shot down in a flying boat over Bougainville five days earlier. Senior staff officer Captain Kameto Kuroshima secretly transferred Yamamoto's ashes to the admiral's sea cabin.|
|21 May 1943||One month after the death of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who had been killed when the aircraft in which he was travelling on a tour of inspection was shot down by US fighters over Bougainville Island, the news was finally revealed to the Japanese public. At Yokosuka, Japan, senior Japanese naval officers led by the Emperor, in person, trooped aboard the battleship Musashi to pay their last respects to Yamamato. Along with the late Admiral's ashes, contained in a small white box, was a poem by the Admiral that had been found in his sea-cabin on the battleship Yamato. It began: "So many are dead, I cannot face the Emperor... soon I shall join the young dead soldiers."|
|23 May 1943||Battleship Musashi arrived at Kisarazu, Chiba, Japan, disembarking Isoroku Yamamoto's ashes.|
|4 Jun 1943||In Tokyo, Japan, Emperor Showa made a rare address about an individual regarding the loss of Isoroku Yamamoto.|
|5 Jun 1943||A full state funeral was given for Isoroku Yamamoto. The funeral procession slowly moved from Tokyo, Japan to Hibiya Park in nearby city of Chiyoda. At 1050 hours, many Japanese citizens across the entire country bowed their heads toward Tokyo in honor of Yamamoto. During the ceremony, Hideki Tojo made an address regarding Yamamoto's contributions to Japan, while Yamamoto was posthumously promoted to the rank of fleet admiral (or, literally, naval marshal) and was given the Order of the Chrysanthemum 1st Class and the German Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords.|
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945