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Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

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Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief, Japanese Combined Fleet

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, by Shugaku Homma, 1943

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center

Isoroku Yamamoto - Birth & Personal Life:

 

The sixth son of Sadayoshi Takano, Isoroku Takano was born April 4, 1884. His name means "56" which was his father's age the time of his birth. In 1916, following the death of his parents, the 32 year-old Takano was adopted into the Yamamoto family and assumed their name. It was common custom in Japan for families without sons to adopt one so that their name would continue. While serving as a lieutenant commander in 1918, he married Reiko Mihashi with whom he would have four children.

 

Isoroku Yamamoto - Early Career:

 

At age 16, Yamamoto entered the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy at Etajima. Graduating in 1904, and ranked seventh in his class, he was assigned to the cruiser Nisshin. While on board he fought in the decisive Battle of Tsushima (May 27/28, 1905) and lost two fingers on his left hand. Recognized for his leadership skill, Yamamoto was sent to the Naval Staff College in 1913.

 

Isoroku Yamamoto - 1920s:

 

In 1919, Yamamoto departed for the United States where he spent the next two years studying the oil industry at Harvard University. Returning to Japan in 1923, he was promoted to captain and given command of the cruiser Fuji. The following year he changed his specialty from gunnery to naval aviation after taking flying lessons at Kasumigaura. Fascinated by air power, he soon became the school's director and began to produce elite pilots for the navy. In 1926, Yamamoto returned to the United States for a two year tour as the Japanese naval attaché in Washington.

 

Isoroku Yamamoto - Early 1930s:

 

After returning home in 1928, Yamamoto was given command of the aircraft carrier Akagi, and later was asked to serve as a special assistant to the Japanese delegation at the second London Naval Conference. Promoted to rear admiral in 1930, he was a key factor in raising the amount of ships the Japanese were permitted to build under the treaty. For his performance, he was sent to the third London Naval Conference in 1934. In late 1936, Yamamoto was made vice minister of the navy. From this position he argued strenuously for naval aviation and fought against the construction of new battleships.

 

Isoroku Yamamoto - Road to War:

 

Throughout his career, Yamamoto had opposed many of Japan's military adventures, such as the invasion of Manchuria and the ongoing war with China. In addition, he was vocal in his opposition to any war with the United States, and delivered the official apology for the sinking of USS Panay in 1937. These stances made the admiral very unpopular with the pro-war factions in Japan, many of which put bounties on his head. On August 30, 1939, Navy Minister Admiral Yonai Mitsumasa promoted Yamamoto to commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet commenting, "It was the only way to save his life - send him off to sea."

 

 

Following the signing of the Tripartiate Pact with Germany and Italy, Yamamoto warned Premier Konoe that if he were forced to fight the United States he expected to have success for no more than six months to a year. After that time, nothing was guaranteed. With war almost unavoidable, Yamamoto began planning for the fight. Going against traditional Japanese naval strategy, he advocated a quick first strike to cripple the Americans followed by an offensively-minded "decisive" battle. Such an approach, he argued, would increase their chances of victory and might make the Americans willing to negotiate a peace.

 

Isoroku Yamamoto - Pearl Harbor:

 

As diplomatic relations continued to break down, Yamamoto began planning his strike to destroy the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, HI. On November 26, 1941, six of Yamamoto's carriers sailed for Hawaii. Approaching from the north they attacked on December 7, sinking four battleships and damaging an additional four beginning World War II. While the attack was a political disaster for the Japanese, it provided Yamamoto with six months (as he anticipated) to consolidate and expand their territory in the Pacific without American interference.

 

Isoroku Yamamoto - Midway:

 

Following the triumph at Pearl Harbor, Yamamoto's ships and planes proceeded to mop up Allied forces across the Pacific. Surprised by the speed of the Japanese victories, the Imperial General Staff (IGS) began to ponder competing plans for future operations. While Yamamoto argued in favor of seeking a decisive battle with the American fleet, the IGS preferred to move towards Burma. Following the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942, Yamamoto was able to convince the Naval General Staff to let him move against Midway Island, 1,300 miles northwest of Hawaii.

 

 

Knowing that Midway was key to the defense of Hawaii, Yamamoto hoped to draw the American fleet out so that it could be destroyed. Moving east with a large force, including four carriers, Yamamoto was unaware that the Americans had broken his codes and were informed about the attack. After bombing the island, his carriers were attacked by US Navy aircraft flying from three carriers. The Americans managed to sink all four Japanese carriers in exchange for one of their own. The defeat at Midway blunted Japanese offensive operations and shifted the initiative to the Americans.

 

Isoroku Yamamoto - After Midway and Death:

 

Despite the heavy losses at Midway, Yamamoto sought to press forward with operations to take Samoa and Fiji. As a steppingstone for this move Japanese forces landed on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and commenced building an airfield. This was countered by American landings on the island in August 1942. Forced to fight for the island, Yamamoto was pulled into a battle of attrition that his fleet could not afford.

Having lost face due the defeat at Midway, Yamamoto was forced to assume the defensive posture preferred by the Naval General Staff. Through the fall he fought a pair of carrier battles (Eastern Solomons & Santa Cruz) as well as numerous surface engagements in support of the troops on Guadalcanal. Following the fall of Guadalcanal in February 1943, Yamamoto decided to make an inspection tour through the South Pacific to boost morale. Using radio intercepts, American forces were able to isolate the route of the admiral's plane. On the morning of April 18, 1943, P-38 Lightnings from the 339th Fighter Squadron ambushed Yamamoto's plane and its escorts near Bougainville. In the fight that ensued, Yamamoto's plane was hit and went down killing all on board. The kill is generally credited to 1st Lt. Rex T. Barber.

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