|Died||5 Jun 1942|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Tamon Yamaguchi was born in the Shimane prefecture in Japan in 1892, and graduated from the Japanese Naval Academy in 1912. In 1918, as a navigation officer, he was exposed to naval aviation while escorting German submarines en route to be delivered as repatriation payments. Between 1921 and 1923 he studied American History at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, United States, though did not pursue a formal degree; instead, he returned to Japan and completed his studies at the Naval Staff College in 1924. However, he was described as enthusiastic about the American university. After participating in the London Naval Conference in 1929, the diplomatic Captain Yamaguchi was Japan's last naval attaché to Washington D.C., which lasted from 1934 to 1937. He returned to Japan for sea-bound service once again, filling the role of Chief of Staff to the Japanese 5th Fleet from 1938 to 1940. In 1940, he was promoted rear admiral and assigned the 2nd Carrier Division which consisted of the Hiryu and the Soryu. By this time, he was often understood as the successor to Isoroku Yamamoto for the position of the commander of the Combined Fleet.
Commonly credited as being perhaps Japan's most gifted carrier admiral, Yamaguchi was astute, aggressive, and ambitious. Unfortunately for Japan's war effort, he was also heavily steeped in the Bushido Code, which meant that he was pretty much obligated to do away with himself after having lost his carrier Hiryu during the closing stages of the Battle of Midway. "He was, in short, the epitome of the traditional samurai - hot tempered, aggressive to a fault; a man who valued honor as the ultimate virtue", as described in the book Shattered Sword; or as Japanese navy officer Masatake Chihaya said, the "Oriental Hero Type". When he determined that Hiryu was unsaveable, he gathered the 800 men who were still aboard the ship, including the wounded, on the flight deck near the bridge, and led them in yelling banzai three times toward Tokyo, followed by the playing of the national anthem. After the ceremony, the order to abandon ship was issued. It was recorded that Yamaguchi and Tomeo Kaku (Hiryu's captain) had this exchange as they shared naval biscuits and water while the ship being abandoned, the exchange signifying how much the two officers had in common.
"Let us enjoy the beauty of the moon", Yamaguchi said to Kaku.
"How bright it shines," Kaku responds.
"It must be in its 21st day."
The foundation of the decision to go down with the ship probably was established when his top pilot Joichi Tomonaga bravely headed off to attack the carrier Yorktown in a damaged torpedo plane that carried too little fuel for a return trip. "I will gladly follow you", Yamaguchi said to Tomonaga before the pilot boarded the plane. He probably could have saved himself to fight another day, but that was not the Bushido way. His idealistic devotion to Bushido was likely one of the key reasons why Japan, after three fleet carrier on the verge of sinking (and eventually would sink), was unable to steer Hiryu from the same fate. Yamaguchi placed Hiryu in increasingly more dangerous positions by sailing toward the enemy, therefore eventually sacrificing assets for his personal honor instead of preserving the strength for his country in a later fight.
Sources: Nihon Kaigun, the Pacific Campaign, Shattered Sword, Wikipedia, World War II Plus 55.
Tamon Yamaguchi Timeline
|1 Jan 1892||Tamon Yamaguchi was born in Shimane, Japan.|
|17 Jul 1912||Tamon Yamaguchi was promoted to the rank of midshipman.|
|1 Dec 1913||Tamon Yamaguchi was promoted to the rank of ensign.|
|13 Dec 1915||Tamon Yamaguchi was promoted to the rank of sub-lieutenant.|
|1 Dec 1918||Tamon Yamaguchi was promoted to the rank of lieutenant.|
|1 Dec 1924||Tamon Yamaguchi was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander.|
|10 Dec 1928||Tamon Yamaguchi was promoted to the rank of commander.|
|1 Dec 1932||Tamon Yamaguchi was promoted to the rank of captain.|
|15 Nov 1938||Tamon Yamaguchi was promoted to the rank of rear admiral.|
|21 Feb 1942||Japanese Navy Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, commanding officer of Carrier Division 2, distributed copies of his plans for a new offensive against Hawaii beginning in early 1943.|
|5 Jun 1942||Tamon Yamaguchi went down with the sinking carrier Hiryu. He was promoted to the rank of vice admiral posthumously.|
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