Isoroku Yamamoto

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Isoroku Yamamoto
Isoroku Yamamoto.jpg
Native name
山本 五十六
Born(1884-04-04)April 4, 1884
Nagaoka, Niigata, Empire of Japan
DiedApril 18, 1943(1943-04-18) (aged 59)
Buin, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, Territory of New Guinea
AllegianceMerchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Empire of Japan
Service/branchNaval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg  Imperial Japanese Navy
Years of service1904–1943
Rank
Commands held Isuzu, Akagi
Naval Air Command, 1st Fleet, Combined Fleet, 1st Battleship Division [1]
Battles/wars Russo-Japanese War
Battle of Tsushima

World War I [ citation needed ]
World War II

Pacific War  
Awards
Spouse(s)
Reiko Mihashi(m. 1918)

Isoroku Yamamoto( 山本 五十六 ,Yamamoto Isoroku, April 4, 1884 – April 18, 1943) was a Japanese Fleet Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II until his death.

Japanese people ethnic group native to Japan

Japanese people are a nation and an ethnic group that is native to Japan and makes up 98.5% of the total population of the country. Worldwide, approximately 129 million people are of Japanese descent; of these, approximately 125 million are residents of Japan. People of Japanese ancestry who live outside Japan are referred to as nikkeijin(日系人), the Japanese diaspora. The term ethnic Japanese is often used to refer to Japanese people, specifically Yamato people. Japanese are one of the largest ethnic groups in the world.

Marshal-admiral was the highest rank in the prewar Imperial Japanese Navy. The term gensui was used for both the navy and the Imperial Japanese Army, and was a largely honorific title awarded for extremely meritorious service to the Emperor. In the Meiji period, the title was awarded to five generals and three admirals. In the Taishō period it was awarded to six generals and six admirals, and in the Shōwa period it was awarded to six generals and four admirals. Equivalent to a five-star rank (OF-10), it is similar to Admiral of the Fleet in the UK Royal Navy and fleet admiral in the United States Navy.

Imperial Japanese Navy Naval branch of the Empire of Japan

The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1868 until 1945, when it was dissolved following Japan's surrender in World War II. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) was formed after the dissolution of the IJN.

Contents

Yamamoto held several important posts in the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), and undertook many of its changes and reorganizations, especially its development of naval aviation. He was the commander-in-chief during the early years of the Pacific War and oversaw major engagements including the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway. He was killed when American code breakers identified his flight plans, enabling the United States Army Air Forces to shoot down his plane. His death was a major blow to Japanese military morale during World War II. [3] [4]

Pacific War theatre of war in the Second World War

The Pacific War, sometimes called the Asia–Pacific War, was the theater of World War II that was fought in the Pacific and Asia. It was fought over a vast area that included the Pacific Ocean and islands, the South West Pacific, South-East Asia, and in China.

Attack on Pearl Harbor Surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service upon the United States against the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. The attack led to the United States' formal entry into World War II the next day. The Japanese military leadership referred to the attack as the Hawaii Operation and Operation AI, and as Operation Z during its planning.

Battle of Midway World War II naval battle in the Pacific Ocean

The Battle of Midway was a decisive naval battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II that took place between 4 and 7 June 1942, only six months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea. The United States Navy under Admirals Chester Nimitz, Frank Jack Fletcher, and Raymond A. Spruance defeated an attacking fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy under Admirals Isoroku Yamamoto, Chūichi Nagumo, and Nobutake Kondō near Midway Atoll, inflicting devastating damage on the Japanese fleet that proved irreparable. Military historian John Keegan called it "the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare".

Family background

Yamamoto was born Isoroku Takano( 高野 五十六,Takano Isoroku) in Nagaoka, Niigata. His father was Sadayoshi Takano (高野 貞吉), an intermediate-rank samurai of the Nagaoka Domain. "Isoroku" is an old Japanese term meaning "56"; the name referred to his father's age at Isoroku's birth. [5]

Nagaoka, Niigata Special city in Chūbu, Japan

Nagaoka is a city located in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. It is the second largest city in the prefecture, after the capital city of Niigata. As of 12 October 2018, the city had an estimated population of 271,444 in 107,374 households and a population density of 300 inhabitants per square kilometre (780/sq mi). The total area of the city was 891.06 square kilometres (344.04 sq mi).

Niigata Prefecture Prefecture of Japan

Niigata Prefecture is a prefecture of Japan located in the Chūbu region of Honshu. Niigata Prefecture has a population of 2,285,856 (2016) and is the fifth-largest prefecture of Japan by geographic area at 12,582 km2. Niigata Prefecture borders Toyama Prefecture and Nagano Prefecture to the southwest, Gunma Prefecture to the south, Fukushima Prefecture to the east, and Yamagata Prefecture to the northeast.

Samurai Military nobility of pre-industrial Japan

Samurai (侍) were the military nobility and officer caste of medieval and early-modern Japan.

In 1916, Isoroku was adopted into the Yamamoto family (another family of former Nagaoka samurai) and took the Yamamoto name. It was a common practice for samurai families lacking sons to adopt suitable young men in this fashion to carry on the family name, the rank and the income that comes with it. In 1918 Isoroku married Reiko Mihashi, with whom he had two sons and two daughters. [6]

Yamamoto Tatewaki was a Japanese samurai of the late Edo period, who served the Makino clan of Nagaoka. Also known by his formal name, Yoshimichi (義路). Yamamoto served as a senior commander of Nagaoka forces during the Boshin War. He continued to fight after the fall of Nagaoka, and was killed in action in Aizu in the fall of 1868.

Early career

Yamamoto in 1905 Yamamoto1905.jpg
Yamamoto in 1905

After graduating from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in 1904, Yamamoto served on the armored cruiser Nisshin during the Russo-Japanese War. He was wounded at the Battle of Tsushima, losing two fingers (the index and middle fingers) on his left hand, as the cruiser was hit repeatedly by the Russian battle line. He returned to the Naval Staff College in 1914, emerging as a lieutenant commander in 1916.

Imperial Japanese Naval Academy

The Imperial Japanese Naval Academy was a school established to train officers for the Imperial Japanese Navy. It was originally located in Nagasaki, moved to Yokohama in 1866, and was relocated to Tsukiji, Tokyo in 1869. It moved to Etajima, Hiroshima in 1888. Students studied for three or four years, and upon graduation were commissioned as midshipmen, attaining the rank of ensign after a period of active duty and an overseas cruise. In 1943, a separate school for naval aviation was opened in Iwakuni, and in 1944, another naval aviation school was established in Maizuru. The Academy was closed in 1945, when the Imperial Japanese Navy was abolished. The Naval Academy Etajima opened in 1956 and the site now serves as the location for Officer Candidate School of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Armored cruiser type of cruiser in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

The armored cruiser was a type of warship of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was designed like other types of cruisers to operate as a long-range, independent warship, capable of defeating any ship apart from a battleship and fast enough to outrun any battleship it encountered. Varying in size, it was distinguished from other types of cruiser by its belt armor—thick iron plating on much of the hull to protect the ship from shellfire much like that on battleships. The first armored cruiser, the Imperial Russian Navy's General-Admiral, was launched in 1873 and combined sail and steam propulsion. By the 1890s cruisers had abandoned sail and took on a modern appearance.

Japanese cruiser <i>Nisshin</i> Kasuga-class cruiser

Nisshin (日進), also transliterated as Nissin, was a Kasuga-class armored cruiser of the Imperial Japanese Navy, built in the first decade of the 20th century by Gio. Ansaldo & C., Sestri Ponente, Italy, where the type was known as the Giuseppe Garibaldi class. The ship was originally ordered by the Argentine Navy during the Argentine–Chilean naval arms race, but the lessening of tensions with Chile and financial pressures caused the Argentinians to sell her before delivery. At this time tensions between the Empire of Japan and the Russian Empire were rising, and the ship was offered to both sides before she was purchased by the Japanese.

1920s and 1930s

Yamamoto was part of the Japanese Navy establishment, who were rivals of the more aggressive army establishment, especially the officers of the Kwantung Army. As such, he promoted a policy of a strong fleet to project force through gunboat diplomacy, rather than a fleet used primarily for transport of invasion land forces, as some of his political opponents in the army wanted. [7] This stance led him to oppose the invasion of China. He also opposed war against the United States partly because of his studies at Harvard University (1919–1921) and his two postings as a naval attaché in Washington, D.C., where he learned to speak fluent English. Yamamoto traveled extensively in the United States during his tour of duty there, where he studied American customs and business practices.

Kwantung Army military unit

The Kwantung Army was an army group of the Imperial Japanese Army in the first half of the 20th century. It became the largest and most prestigious command in the IJA. Many of its personnel, such as Chiefs of staff Seishirō Itagaki and Hideki Tōjō were promoted to high positions in both the military and civil government in the Empire of Japan and it was largely responsible for the creation of the Japanese-dominated Empire of Manchuria. In August 1945, the army group, around 713,000 men at the time, was defeated by and surrendered to Soviet troops as a result of the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation.

Gunboat diplomacy pursuit of foreign policy objectives with the aid of conspicuous displays of naval power

In international politics, gunboat diplomacy refers to the pursuit of foreign policy objectives with the aid of conspicuous displays of naval power – implying or constituting a direct threat of warfare, should terms not be agreeable to the superior force.

Harvard University private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities.

He was promoted to captain in 1923. On February 13, 1924, at the rank of captain, he was part of the Japanese delegation visiting the US Naval War College. [8] Later that year, he changed his specialty from gunnery to naval aviation. His first command was the cruiser Isuzu in 1928, followed by the aircraft carrier Akagi.

Isoroku Yamamoto with United States Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur. H78628 Isoroku Yamamoto.jpg
Isoroku Yamamoto with United States Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur.

He participated in the second London Naval Conference of 1930 as a rear admiral and the 1934 London Naval Conference as a vice admiral, as the growing military influence on the government at the time deemed that a career military specialist needed to accompany the diplomats to the arms limitations talks. Yamamoto was a strong proponent of naval aviation, and served as head of the Aeronautics Department before accepting a post as commander of the First Carrier Division. Yamamoto opposed the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the subsequent land war with China (1937), and the 1940 Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. As Deputy Navy Minister, he apologized to United States Ambassador Joseph C. Grew for the bombing of the gunboat USS Panay in December 1937. These issues made him a target of assassination threats by pro-war militarists.

Throughout 1938, many young army and naval officers began to speak publicly against Yamamoto and certain other Japanese admirals such as Mitsumasa Yonai and Shigeyoshi Inoue for their strong opposition to a tripartite pact with Nazi Germany as they saw it as inimical to "Japan's natural interests". [9] :101 Yamamoto received a steady stream of hate mail and death threats from Japanese nationalists. His reaction to the prospect of death by assassination was passive and accepting. The admiral wrote: To die for Emperor and Nation is the highest hope of a military man. After a brave hard fight the blossoms are scattered on the fighting field. But if a person wants to take a life instead, still the fighting man will go to eternity for Emperor and country. One man's life or death is a matter of no importance. All that matters is the Empire. As Confucius said, "They may crush cinnabar, yet they do not take away its color; one may burn a fragrant herb, yet it will not destroy the scent." They may destroy my body, yet they will not take away my will. [9] :101–02

The Japanese Army, annoyed at Yamamoto's unflinching opposition to a Rome-Berlin-Tokyo treaty, dispatched military police to "guard" Yamamoto, a ruse by the army to keep an eye on him. [9] :102-103 He was later reassigned from the naval ministry to sea as the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet on August 30, 1939. This was done as one of the last acts of the then-acting Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai, under Baron Hiranuma's short-lived administration. It was done partly to make it harder for assassins to target Yamamoto. Yonai was certain that if Yamamoto remained ashore, he would be killed before the year [1939] ended. [9] :103

1940–1941

Marshal Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto Yamamoto-Isoroku.jpg
Marshal Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

Yamamoto was promoted to admiral on November 15, 1940. This, in spite of the fact that when Hideki Tōjō was appointed prime minister on October 18, 1941, many political observers thought that Yamamoto's career was essentially over. [9] :114 Tōjō had been Yamamoto's old opponent from the time when the latter served as Japan's deputy naval minister and Tōjō was the prime mover behind Japan's takeover of Manchuria. It was believed that Yamamoto would be appointed to command the Yokosuka Naval Base, "a nice safe demotion with a big house and no power at all". [9] :114 After the new Japanese cabinet was announced, however, Yamamoto found himself left alone in his position despite his open conflicts with Tōjō and other members of the army's oligarchy who favored war with the European powers and the United States. Two of the main reasons for Yamamoto's political survival were his immense popularity within the fleet, where he commanded the respect of his men and officers, and his close relations with the imperial family. [9] :115 He also had the acceptance of Japan's naval hierarchy:

There was no officer more competent to lead the Combined Fleet to victory than Admiral Yamamoto. His daring plan for the Pearl Harbor attack had passed through the crucible of the Japanese naval establishment, and after many expressed misgivings, his fellow admirals had realized that Yamamoto spoke no more than the truth when he said that Japan's hope for victory in this [upcoming] war was limited by time and oil. Every sensible officer of the navy was well aware of the perennial oil problems. Also, it had to be recognized that if the enemy could seriously disturb Japanese merchant shipping, then the fleet would be endangered even more. [9] :115–16

Consequently, Yamamoto stayed in his post. With Tōjō now in charge of Japan's highest political office, it became clear the army would lead the navy into a war about which Yamamoto had serious reservations. He wrote to an ultranationalist:

Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it would not be enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians [who speak so lightly of a Japanese-American war] have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. [10]

This quote was spread by the militarists, minus the last sentence, where it was interpreted in America as a boast that Japan would conquer the entire continental United States. [10] The omitted sentence showed Yamamoto's counsel of caution towards a war that could cost Japan dearly. Nevertheless, Yamamoto accepted the reality of impending war and planned for a quick victory by destroying the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in a preventive strike while simultaneously thrusting into the oil and rubber resource-rich areas of Southeast Asia, especially the Dutch East Indies, Borneo, and Malaya. In naval matters, Yamamoto opposed the building of the super-battleships Yamato and Musashi as an unwise investment of resources.

Yamamoto was responsible for a number of innovations in Japanese naval aviation. Although remembered for his association with aircraft carriers, Yamamoto did more to influence the development of land-based naval aviation, particularly the Mitsubishi G3M and G4M medium bombers. His demand for great range and the ability to carry a torpedo was intended to conform to Japanese conceptions of bleeding the American fleet as it advanced across the Pacific. The planes did achieve long range, but long-range fighter escorts were not available. These planes were lightly constructed and when fully fueled, they were especially vulnerable to enemy fire. This earned the G4M the sardonic nickname the "flying cigarette lighter". Yamamoto would eventually die in one of these aircraft.

The range of the G3M and G4M contributed to a demand for great range in a fighter aircraft. This partly drove the requirements for the A6M Zero which was as noteworthy for its range as for its maneuverability. Both qualities were again purchased at the expense of light construction and flammability that later contributed to the A6M's high casualty rates as the war progressed.

Yamamoto on a Navy Planning meeting on battleship Nagato in 1940 Yamamoto h63430.jpg
Yamamoto on a Navy Planning meeting on battleship Nagato in 1940

As Japan moved toward war during 1940, Yamamoto gradually moved toward strategic as well as tactical innovation, again with mixed results. Prompted by talented young officers such as Lieutenant Commander Minoru Genda, Yamamoto approved the reorganization of Japanese carrier forces into the First Air Fleet, a consolidated striking force that gathered Japan's six largest carriers into one unit. This innovation gave great striking capacity, but also concentrated the vulnerable carriers into a compact target. Yamamoto also oversaw the organization of a similar large land-based organization in the 11th Air Fleet, which would later use the G3M and G4M to neutralize American air forces in the Philippines and sink the British "Force Z".

In January 1941, Yamamoto went even further and proposed a radical revision of Japanese naval strategy. For two decades, in keeping with the doctrine of Captain Alfred T. Mahan, [11] the Naval General Staff had planned in terms of Japanese light surface forces, submarines, and land-based air units whittling down the American Fleet as it advanced across the Pacific until the Japanese Navy engaged it in a climactic "decisive battle" in the northern Philippine Sea (between the Ryukyu Islands and the Marianas), with battleships meeting in the traditional exchange between battle lines.

Correctly pointing out this plan had never worked even in Japanese war games, and painfully aware of American strategic advantages in military production capacity, Yamamoto proposed instead to seek a decision with the Americans by first reducing their forces with a preventive strike, and following it with a "decisive battle" fought offensively, rather than defensively. Yamamoto hoped, but probably did not believe, that if the Americans could be dealt terrific blows early in the war, they might be willing to negotiate an end to the conflict. The Naval General Staff proved reluctant to go along and Yamamoto was eventually driven to capitalize on his popularity in the fleet by threatening to resign to get his way. Admiral Osami Nagano and the Naval General Staff eventually caved in to this pressure, but only insofar as approving the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The First Air Fleet commenced preparations for the Pearl Harbor raid, solving a number of technical problems along the way, including how to launch torpedoes in the shallow water of Pearl Harbor and how to craft armor-piercing bombs by machining down battleship gun projectiles.

Attack on Pearl Harbor

As the U.S. and Japan were officially at peace and continued diplomatic negotiations, the First Air Fleet of six carriers attacked the U.S. on December 7, 1941, launching 353 [12] aircraft against Pearl Harbor and other locations within Honolulu in two waves. The attack was a complete success according to the parameters of the mission, which sought to sink at least four American battleships and prevent the U.S. from interfering in Japan's southward advance for at least six months. American aircraft carriers were also considered a choice target, but these were not in port at the time of the attack.

In the end, five American battleships were sunk, three were damaged, and eleven other cruisers, destroyers, and auxiliaries were sunk or seriously damaged, 188 American aircraft were destroyed and 159 others damaged, and 2,403 people were killed and 1,178 others wounded. The Japanese lost 64 servicemen and only 29 aircraft, [13] with 74 others damaged by anti-aircraft fire from the ground. The damaged aircraft were disproportionately dive and torpedo bombers, seriously impacting available firepower to exploit the first two waves' success, so the commander of the First Air Fleet, Naval Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, withdrew. Yamamoto later lamented Nagumo's failure to seize the initiative to seek out and destroy the U.S. carriers, absent from the harbor, or further bombard various strategically important facilities on Oahu. Nagumo had absolutely no idea where the American carriers might be, and remaining on station while his forces cast about looking for them ran the risk of his own forces being found first and attacked while his aircraft were absent searching. In any case, insufficient daylight remained after recovering the aircraft from the first two waves for the carriers to launch and recover a third before dark, and Nagumo's escorting destroyers lacked the fuel capacity for him to loiter long. Much has been made of Yamamoto's hindsight, but, in keeping with Japanese military tradition not to criticize the commander on the spot, [14] he did not punish Nagumo for his withdrawal.

On the strategic, moral, and political level, the attack was a disaster for Japan, rousing American passions for revenge due to what is now famously coined a "sneak attack". The shock of the attack, coming in an unexpected place with devastating results and without a declaration of war, galvanized the U.S. public's determination to avenge the attack. When asked by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe in mid-1941 about the outcome of a possible war with the United States, Yamamoto made a well-known and prophetic statement: If ordered to fight, he said, "I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years." [15] His prediction would be vindicated, as Japan easily conquered territories and islands in Asia and the Pacific for the first six months of the war, before suffering a major defeat at the Battle of Midway on June 4–7, 1942, which ultimately tilted the balance of power in the Pacific towards the U.S.

As a strategic blow intended to prevent American interference in the Dutch East Indies for six months, the Pearl Harbor attack was a success, but unbeknownst to Yamamoto, it was a pointless one. In 1935, in keeping with the evolution of War Plan Orange, the U.S. Navy had abandoned any intention of attempting to charge across the Pacific towards the Philippines at the outset of a war with Japan. In 1937, the U.S. Navy had further determined even fully manning the fleet to wartime levels could not be accomplished in less than six months, and myriad other logistic assets needed to execute a trans-Pacific movement simply did not exist and would require two years to construct after the onset of war. In 1940, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold Stark had penned a Plan Dog memorandum, which emphasized a defensive war in the Pacific while the US concentrated on defeating Nazi Germany first, and consigned Admiral Husband Kimmel's Pacific Fleet to merely keeping the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) out of the eastern Pacific and away from the shipping lanes to Australia. Moreover, it is questionable whether the US would have gone to war at all had Japan attacked only British and Dutch possessions in the Far East. [16]

December 1941 – May 1942

With the US fleet largely neutralized at Pearl Harbor, Yamamoto's Combined Fleet turned to the task of executing the larger Japanese war plan devised by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and Navy General Staff. The First Air Fleet made a circuit of the Pacific, striking American, Australian, Dutch and British installations from Wake Island to Australia to Ceylon in the Indian Ocean. The 11th Air Fleet caught the US 5th Air Force on the ground in the Philippines hours after Pearl Harbor, and then sank the British Force Z battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse underway at sea.

Under Yamamoto's able subordinates, Vice Admirals Jisaburō Ozawa, Nobutake Kondō, and Ibō Takahashi, the Japanese swept the inadequate remaining American, British, Dutch and Australian naval assets from the Dutch East Indies in a series of amphibious landings and surface naval battles culminating in the Battle of the Java Sea on February 27, 1942. Along with the occupation of the Dutch East Indies came the fall of Singapore on February 15, 1942, and the eventual reduction of the remaining American-Filipino defensive positions in the Philippines on the Bataan peninsula, April 9, 1942, and Corregidor Island on May 6, 1942. The Japanese had secured their oil- and rubber-rich "southern resources area".

By late-March, having achieved their initial aims with surprising speed and little loss, albeit against enemies ill-prepared to resist them, the Japanese paused to consider their next moves. Yamamoto and a few Japanese military leaders and officials waited, hoping that the United States or Great Britain would negotiate an armistice or a peace treaty to end the war. But when the British, as well as the Americans, expressed no interest in negotiating a ceasefire with Japan, Japanese thoughts turned to securing their newly seized territory and acquiring more with an eye to forcing one or more of their enemies out of the war.

Competing plans were developed at this stage, including thrusts to the west against India, the south against Australia, and east against the United States. Yamamoto was involved in this debate, supporting different plans at different times with varying degrees of enthusiasm and for varying purposes, including "horse-trading" for support of his own objectives.

Plans included ideas as ambitious as invading India or Australia, or seizing Hawaii. These grandiose ventures were inevitably set aside as the army could not spare enough troops from China for the first two, which would require a minimum of 250,000 men, nor shipping to support the latter two. (Shipping was allocated separately to the IJN and IJA, and jealously guarded. [17] ) Instead, the Imperial General Staff supported an army thrust into Burma in hopes of linking up with Indian Nationalists revolting against British rule, and attacks in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands designed to imperil Australia's lines of communication with the United States. Yamamoto argued for a decisive offensive strike in the east to finish off the US fleet, but the more conservative Naval General Staff officers were unwilling to risk it.

On April 18, in the midst of these debates, the Doolittle Raid struck Tokyo and surrounding areas, demonstrating the threat posed by US aircraft carriers, and giving Yamamoto an event he could exploit to get his way as further debate over military strategy came to a quick end. The Naval General Staff agreed to Yamamoto's Midway Island (MI) Operation, subsequent to the first phase of the operations against Australia's link with America, and concurrent with its plan to seize positions in the Aleutian Islands.

Yamamoto rushed planning for the Midway and Aleutians missions, while dispatching a force under Naval Major-General Takeo Takagi, including the Fifth Carrier Division (the large, new carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku), to support the effort to seize the islands of Tulagi and Guadalcanal for seaplane and aeroplane bases, and the town of Port Moresby on Papua New Guinea's south coast facing Australia.

The Port Moresby (MO) Operation proved an unwelcome setback. Although Tulagi and Guadalcanal were taken, the Port Moresby invasion fleet was compelled to turn back when Takagi clashed with a US carrier task force in the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May. Although the Japanese sank the US carrier USS Lexington and damaged the USS Yorktown (CV-5), the Americans damaged the carrier Shōkaku so badly that she required dockyard repairs, and the Japanese lost the light carrier Shoho. Just as importantly, Japanese operational mishaps and US fighters and anti-aircraft fire devastated the dive bomber and torpedo plane formations of both Shōkaku's and Zuikaku's air groups. These losses sidelined Zuikaku while she awaited replacement aircraft and aircrews, and saw to tactical integration and training. These two ships would be sorely missed a month later at Midway. [18]

Battle of Midway, June 1942

Yamamoto's plan for Midway Island was an extension of his efforts to knock the US Pacific Fleet out of action long enough for Japan to fortify its defensive perimeter in the Pacific island chains. Yamamoto felt it necessary to seek an early, offensive decisive battle.

This plan was long believed to have been to draw American attention—and possibly carrier forces—north from Pearl Harbor by sending his Fifth Fleet (two light carriers, five cruisers, 13 destroyers, and four transports) against the Aleutians, raiding Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island and invading the more distant islands of Kiska and Attu. [19] [20]

While Fifth Fleet attacked the Aleutians, First Mobile Force (four carriers, two battleships, three cruisers, and 12 destroyers) would raid Midway and destroy its air force. Once this was neutralized, Second Fleet (one light carrier, two battleships, 10 cruisers, 21 destroyers, and 11 transports) would land 5,000 troops to seize the atoll from the US Marines.

The seizure of Midway was expected to draw the US carriers west into a trap where the First Mobile Force would engage and destroy them. Afterwards, First Fleet (one light carrier, seven battleships, three cruisers and 13 destroyers), in conjunction with elements of Second Fleet, would mop up remaining US surface forces and complete the destruction of the US Pacific Fleet.

To guard against failure, Yamamoto initiated two security measures. The first was an aerial reconnaissance mission (Operation K) over Pearl Harbor to ascertain if the US carriers were there. The second was a picket line of submarines to detect the movement of US carriers toward Midway in time for First Mobile Force, First Fleet, and Second Fleet to combine against it. In the event, the first measure was aborted and the second delayed until after US carriers had already sortied.

The plan was a compromise and hastily prepared, apparently so it could be launched in time for the anniversary of Tsushima, [21] but appeared well thought out, well organized, and finely timed when viewed from a Japanese viewpoint. Against four carriers, two light carriers, 11 battleships, 16 cruisers and 46 destroyers likely to be in the area of the main battle the US could field only three carriers, eight cruisers, and 15 destroyers. The disparity appeared crushing. Only in numbers of carrier decks, available aircraft, and submarines was there near parity between the two sides. Despite various mishaps developed in the execution, it appeared that—barring something unforeseen—Yamamoto held all the cards.

Unbeknownst to Admiral Yamamoto, the US had learned of Japanese plans thanks to the code breaking of Japanese naval code D (known to the US as JN-25). [20] As a result, Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Pacific Fleet commander, was able to circumvent both of Yamamoto's security measures and place his outnumbered forces in a position to conduct an ambush. By Nimitz's calculation, his three available carrier decks, plus Midway, gave him rough parity with Nagumo's First Mobile Force.

Following a nuisance raid by Japanese flying boats in May, [22] Nimitz dispatched a minesweeper to guard the intended refueling point for Operation K near French Frigate Shoals, causing the reconnaissance mission to be aborted and leaving Yamamoto ignorant of whether Pacific Fleet carriers were still at Pearl Harbor. It remains unclear why Yamamoto permitted the earlier attack, and why his submarines did not sortie sooner, as reconnaissance was essential to success at Midway. Nimitz also dispatched his carriers toward Midway early, and they passed the intended picket line force of submarines en route to their station, negating Yamamoto's back-up security measure. Nimitz's carriers positioned themselves to ambush the Kidō Butai (striking force) when it struck Midway. A token cruiser and destroyer force was sent toward the Aleutians, but otherwise Nimitz ignored them. On June 4, 1942, days before Yamamoto expected them to interfere in the Midway operation, US carrier-based aircraft destroyed the four carriers of the Kidō Butai, catching the Japanese carriers at an especially vulnerable moment.

With his air power destroyed and his forces not yet concentrated for a fleet battle, Yamamoto maneuvered his remaining forces, still strong on paper, to trap the US forces. He was unable to do so because his initial dispositions had placed his surface combatants too far from Midway, [23] and because Admiral Raymond Spruance prudently withdrew to the east in a position to further defend Midway Island, believing (based on a mistaken submarine report) the Japanese still intended to invade. [24] Not knowing several battleships, including the powerful Yamato, were on the Japanese order of battle, he did not comprehend the severe risk of a night surface battle, in which his carriers and cruisers would be at a disadvantage. [24] However, his move to the east did avoid the possibility of such a battle taking place. Correctly perceiving he had lost and could not bring surface forces into action, Yamamoto aborted the invasion of Midway and withdrew. The defeat marked the high tide of Japanese expansion.

Yamamoto's plan for Midway Island has been the subject of much criticism. Some historians state it violated the principle of concentration of force, and was overly complex. Others point to similarly complex Allied operations, such as Operation MB8, that were successful, and note the extent to which the US intelligence coup derailed the operation before it began. Had Yamamoto's dispositions not denied Nagumo adequate pre-attack reconnaissance assets, both the American cryptanalytic success and the unexpected appearance of the American carriers would have been irrelevant. [23]

Actions after Midway

The Battle of Midway checked Japanese momentum, but the IJN was still a powerful force, capable of regaining the initiative. It planned to resume the thrust with Operation FS aimed at eventually taking Samoa and Fiji to cut the US lifeline to Australia.

Yamamoto remained in command as commander-in-chief, retained at least partly to avoid diminishing the morale of the Combined Fleet. However, he had lost face as a result of the Midway defeat and the Naval General Staff were disinclined to indulge in further gambles. This reduced Yamamoto to pursuing the classic defensive "decisive battle strategy" he had attempted to overturn.

Yamamoto committed Combined Fleet units to a series of small attrition actions across the south and central Pacific that stung the Americans, but suffered losses he could ill afford in return. Three major efforts to beat the Americans moving on Guadalcanal precipitated a pair of carrier battles that Yamamoto commanded personally: the Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz Islands in September and October, and finally a wild pair of surface engagements in November, all timed to coincide with Japanese Army pushes. The effort was wasted when the army could not hold up its end of the operation. Yamamoto's naval forces won a few victories and inflicted considerable losses and damage to the US fleet in several naval battles around Guadalcanal which included the battles of Savo Island, Cape Esperance, and Tassafaronga, but he could never draw the US into a decisive fleet action. As a result, Japanese naval strength was reduced.

Death

Admiral Yamamoto, a few hours before his death, saluting Japanese naval pilots at Rabaul, April 18, 1943 Yamamoto last image alive.jpg
Admiral Yamamoto, a few hours before his death, saluting Japanese naval pilots at Rabaul, April 18, 1943

To boost morale following the defeat at Guadalcanal, Yamamoto decided to make an inspection tour throughout the South Pacific. On April 14, 1943, the US naval intelligence effort, code-named "Magic", intercepted and decrypted a message containing specifics of Yamamoto's tour, including arrival and departure times and locations, as well as the number and types of aircraft that would transport and accompany him on the journey. Yamamoto, the itinerary revealed, would be flying from Rabaul to Balalae Airfield, on an island near Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, on the morning of April 18, 1943.

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox to "get Yamamoto". Knox instructed Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King of Roosevelt's wishes. Admiral King telephoned Admiral Chester W. Nimitz at Pearl Harbor. This mission would be top secret and urgent. Admiral Nimitz consulted Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander, South Pacific, then authorized a mission on April 17 to intercept Yamamoto's flight en route and shoot it down. A squadron of USAAF Lockheed P-38 Lightning aircraft were assigned the task as only they possessed sufficient range to intercept and engage. Select pilots from three units were informed that they were intercepting an "important high officer" with no specific name given.

Sleeve insignia of Kaigun Taisho (Admiral); the rank Yamamoto held at the time of his death. Japan-navy-1931-1944-sleeve 30-1-.gif
Sleeve insignia of Kaigun Taishō (Admiral); the rank Yamamoto held at the time of his death.

On the morning of April 18, despite urging by local commanders to cancel the trip for fear of ambush, Yamamoto's two Mitsubishi G4M bombers, used as fast transport aircraft without bombs, left Rabaul as scheduled for the 315 mi (507 km) trip. Sixteen P-38 Lightnings intercepted the flight over Bougainville and a dogfight ensued between them and the six escorting Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes. First Lieutenant Rex T. Barber engaged the first of the two Japanese transports, which turned out to be T1-323 (Yamamoto's aircraft). He fired on the aircraft until it began to spew smoke from its left engine. Barber turned away to attack the other transport as Yamamoto's plane crashed into the jungle.

The crash site and body of Yamamoto were found the next day in the jungle of the island of Bougainville by a Japanese search and rescue party, led by army engineer Lieutenant Hamasuna. According to Hamasuna, Yamamoto had been thrown clear of the plane's wreckage, his white-gloved hand grasping the hilt of his katana, still upright in his seat under a tree. Hamasuna said Yamamoto was instantly recognizable, head dipped down as if deep in thought. A post-mortem of the body disclosed that Yamamoto had received two 0.50-caliber bullet wounds, one to the back of his left shoulder and another to his left lower jaw that exited above his right eye. The Japanese navy doctor examining the body determined that the head wound killed Yamamoto. The more violent details of Yamamoto's death were hidden from the Japanese public. The medical report was whitewashed, changed "on orders from above", according to biographer Hiroyuki Agawa. [25] [26]

Yamamoto's staff cremated his remains at Buin and his ashes were returned to Tokyo aboard the battleship Musashi, Yamamoto's last flagship. Yamamoto was given a full state funeral on June 5, 1943, [27] where he received, posthumously, the title of Marshal and was awarded the Order of the Chrysanthemum (1st Class). He was also awarded Nazi Germany's Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Some of his ashes were buried in the public Tama Cemetery, Tokyo (多摩霊園) and the remainder at his ancestral burial grounds at the temple of Chuko-ji in Nagaoka City. He was succeeded as commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet by Admiral Mineichi Koga.

Personal life

Yamamoto practiced calligraphy. He and his wife, Reiko, had four children: two sons and two daughters. Yamamoto was an avid gambler, enjoying Go , [28] shogi , billiards, bridge, mah jong, poker, and other games that tested his wits and sharpened his mind. He frequently made jokes about moving to Monaco and starting his own casino. He enjoyed the company of geisha , and his wife Reiko revealed to the Japanese public in 1954 that Yamamoto was closer to his favorite geisha Kawai Chiyoko than to her, which stirred some controversy. [29] His funeral procession passed by Kawai's quarters on the way to the cemetery. [30]

Decorations

From the Japanese Wikipedia

JPN Daikun'i kikkasho BAR.svg Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum (posthumous appointment, 18 April 1943)
JPN Kyokujitsu-sho Paulownia BAR.svg Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flowers (4 April 1942)
JPN Kyokujitsu-sho 1Class BAR.svg Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun (29 April 1940)
JPN Zuiho-sho (WW2) 1Class BAR.svg Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure (23 March 1939)
JPN Kinshi-kunsho 1Class BAR.svg Order of the Golden Kite (1st class: 18 April 1943 (posthumous); Second Class: 4 April 1942)
Ribbon of Order of the German Eagle.svg Grand Cross of the Order of the German Eagle (Nazi Germany, 9 February 1940)
DEU EK Ritter oak-sword BAR.svg Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Nazi Germany, 27 May 1943 (posthumous))

Yamamoto's career promotions

Since the end of the Second World War, a number of Japanese and American films have depicted the character of Isoroku Yamamoto.

One of the most notable films is the 1970 movie Tora! Tora! Tora! , which stars Japanese actor Sô Yamamura as Yamamoto, who states after the attack on Pearl Harbor:

I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.

attributed to Yamamoto in Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), in reference to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

There is no evidence that Yamamoto said this in reality despite the film calling it a quote. (See Isoroku Yamamoto's sleeping giant quote for further discussion.)

The first film to feature Yamamoto was Toho's 1953 film Taiheiyô no washi , (later released in the United States as Eagle of the Pacific ), in which Yamamoto was portrayed by Denjirô Ôkôchi. [31]

The 1960 film The Gallant Hours depicts the battle of wits between Vice-Admiral William Halsey, Jr. and Yamamoto from the start of the Guadalcanal Campaign in August 1942 to Yamamoto's death in April 1943. The film, however, portrays Yamamoto's death as occurring in November 1942, the day after the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, and the P-38 aircraft that killed him as coming from Guadalcanal.

In Daiei Studios's 1969 film Aa, kaigun (later released in the United States as Gateway to Glory), Yamamoto was portrayed by Shôgo Shimada. [32] [33]

Award-winning Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune (star of The Seven Samurai ) portrayed Yamamoto in three films:

In Shūe Matsubayashi's 1981 film Rengō kantai (lit. "Combined Fleet", later released in the United States as The Imperial Navy ), Yamamoto was portrayed by Keiju Kobayashi. [36]

In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor , Yamamoto was portrayed by Oscar-nominated Japanese-born American actor Mako Iwamatsu. Like Tora! Tora! Tora! , this film also features the sleeping giant quote.

In Toei's 2011 war film Rengō Kantai Shirei Chōkan: Yamamoto Isoroku , Yamamoto was portrayed by Kōji Yakusho. [37]

A fictionalized version of Yamamoto's death was portrayed in the Baa Baa Black Sheep (TV series) episode "The Hawk Flies on Sunday", though only photos of Yamamoto were shown. In this episode, set much later in the war than in real life, the Black Sheep, a Marine Corsair squadron, joins an army squadron of P-51 Mustangs. The Marines intercepted fighter cover while the army shot down Yamamoto.

Alternate history

In the 1993 OVA series Konpeki no Kantai (lit. Deep Blue Fleet), instead of dying in the plane crash, Yamamoto blacks out and suddenly wakes up as his younger self, Isoroku Takano, after the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. His memory from the original timeline intact, Yamamoto uses his knowledge of the future to help Japan become a stronger military power, eventually launching a coup d'état against Hideki Tōjō's government. In the subsequent Pacific War, Japan's technologically advanced navy decisively defeats the United States, and grants all of the former European and American colonies in Asia full independence. Later on, Yamamoto convinces Japan to join forces with the United States and Britain to defeat Nazi Germany.

In the 2004 anime series Zipang , Yamamoto (voiced by Bunmei Tobayama) works to develop the uneasy partnership with the crew of the JMSDF Mirai, which has been transported back sixty years through time to the year 1942.

In the Axis of Time trilogy by author John Birmingham, after a naval task force from the year 2021 is accidentally transported back through time to 1942, Yamamoto assumes a leadership role in the dramatic alteration of Japan's war strategy.

In Douglas Niles' 2007 book MacArthur's War: A Novel of the Invasion of Japan (written with Michael Dobson), which focuses on General Douglas MacArthur and an alternate history of the Pacific War (following a considerably different outcome of the Battle of Midway), Yamamoto is portrayed sympathetically, with much of the action in the Japanese government seen through his eyes, though he could not change the major decisions of Japan in World War II.

In Robert Conroy's 2011 book Rising Sun, Yamamoto directs the IJN to launch a series of attacks on the American West Coast, in the hope the United States can be convinced to sue for peace and securing Japan's place as a world power; but cannot escape his lingering fear the war will ultimately doom Japan.

In Neal Stephenson's 1999 book Cryptonomicon , Yamamoto's final moments are depicted, with him realising Japan's naval codes have been broken and he must inform headquarters.

Notes

  1. Yamamoto Isoroku. navalhistory.flixco.info
  2. Yamamoto Isoroku. navalhistory.flixco.info
  3. Pricer, Douglas (2014). Cornerstones of Courage: The Story of Ssgt. William J. Bordelon, USMC. Xlibris. p. 73. ISBN   1499012519.
  4. Mark Stille (20 June 2012). Yamamoto Isoroku. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 59. ISBN   978-1-84908-732-2.
  5. Stille, Mark (2012). "The Early Years". Yamamoto Isoroku. Osprey Publishing. ISBN   1849087318.
  6. Davis, Donald (2006). Lightning Strike: The Secret Mission to Kill Admiral Yamamoto and Avenge Pearl Harbor. St. Martin's Griffin;. p. 38. ISBN   0312309074.
  7. Making of Japanese Manchuria, Matsusaka
  8. "1920–1929". Chronology of Courses and Significant Events. U.S. Naval War College. Retrieved May 29, 2010.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Hoyt, Edwin P (1990). Yamamoto: The Man Who Planned Pearl Harbor. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN   978-1-58574-428-2 . Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  10. 1 2 Prange, At Dawn We Slept, p. 11
  11. Mahan, The Influence of Seapower on History
  12. Parillo 2006 , p. 288
  13. "December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor Casualties". PearlHarbor.org. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  14. Peattie & Evans, Kaigun; Coox, Kobun.
  15. Harry A. Gailey, The War in the Pacific: From Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay, Presidio Press: 1995. p. 68
  16. Willmott, Barrier and the Javelin.
  17. Parillo, Japanese Merchant Marine in World War II
  18. Dull (1978), Evans & Peattie (1997), Lundstrom (1984), Parillo
  19. Lightbody, Bradley (2003). "Part 5 – Containment". The Second World War (1st ed.). London: Routledge. p. 136. ISBN   0-415-22404-7.
  20. 1 2 Kennedy, David M. (March 1999). "Victory at Sea". The Atlantic (March 1999). The Atlantic. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  21. Bicheno, Hugh. Midway.
  22. Holmes, Wilfred J. "Jasper". Double-Edged Secrets and Undersea Victory
  23. 1 2 Willmott, H.P. Barrier and the Javelin. Annapolis: United States Naval Institute Pres, 1983.
  24. 1 2 Blair, Clay, Jr. Silent Victory. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975).
  25. Gamble, Bruce (2010). Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942 – April 1943. Zenith Imprint. p. 343. ISBN   978-0-7603-2350-2.
  26. Agawa 2000, p. 364
  27. Glines, 1991, p. 110
  28. ‘The Broken Seal’ by Ladislas Farago [ page needed ]
  29. H-Net Review: Charles C. Kolb <CKolb@neh.gov> on The Pearl Harbor Papers: Inside the Japanese Plans
  30. Davis, Lightning Strike.
  31. Taiheiyô no washi (1953). IMDB.com.
  32. Aa, kaigun (1970). IMDB.com.
  33. Gateway to Glory (1970). Turner Classic Movies.
  34. Admiral Yamamoto (1968, original title: Rengō Kantai Shirei Chōkan: Yamamoto Isoroku), imdb.com
  35. Gekido no showashi 'Gunbatsu' (1970). IMDB.com
  36. Rengō Kantai (1981). IMDB.com
  37. Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet (2011). IMDB.com

Sources

Military offices
Preceded by
Yoshida Zengo
Commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet
30 August 1939 – 18 April 1943
Succeeded by
Koga Mineichi
Political offices
Preceded by
Hasegawa Kiyoshi
Vice-Minister of the Navy
1 December 1936 – 30 August 1939
Succeeded by
Sumiyama Tokutarō

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