22 Interesting Facts about Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) Admiral, Isoroku Yamamoto, was the navy tactician who masterminded the Pearl Harbor attack on the U.S. on December 7, 1940. Historians and military experts reason that Isoroku Yamamoto’s daring and sneaky attack ended up damaging the fortunes of the Axis Powers – Germany, Italy and Japan – in World War II. Due to his actions, the United States declared war on not just Japan but Japan’s allies as well – Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany and Mussolini of Fascist Italy. Here are 22 very interesting facts about Isoroku Yamamoto’s life, the Pearl Harbor operation and planning:
- Isoroku Yamamoto’s birth name was actually Takano Isoroku. The name meant “56”, symbolizing the age of his father, Sadayoshi Tankano, at time of his birth.
- In Admiral Yamamoto’s first battle – the Battle of Tsushima against Russia – he lost two fingers on his left hand – the index and the middle fingers.
- The fact that America had an unbridled industrial capacity, relative to Japan, Yamamoto planned not to engage in a lengthy war with the U.S. He dreaded the likelihood of the war prolonging. But as soon as the emperor gave his approval for the war, all Yamamoto had to kotow to people like Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and take a preemptive strike against the US.
- Although Yamamoto is infamously credited with conceiving the idea for Pearl Harbor attack, it must be noted that he was not the one who planned the attack. And with respect to the execution and command of the operation, that responsibility fell to Vice Adm. Nagumo Chuichi.
- Yamomoto’s idea to attack Pearl Harbor was put before his colleagues around April 1940. Less than 24 hours after the Pearl Harbor Attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his “a day that which will leave on infamy” speech to a Congressional meeting. The speech, to this day, is considered one of the most memorable speeches of the 20th century.
- From when the Pearl Harbor Attack took place (December 1941) to the spring of 1942, Yamamoto and his men were high flying. The Japanese Navy handed out several defeats after defeat to the United States in those six months. Tactically, the Japanese were superior to the Americans. Yamamoto started getting a hero’s treatment in Japan.
- The Admiral was known for over engineering his battle strategy. His junior officers struggled to fully comprehend his complex plans. With his operation objectives not clear enough, his men began to suffer some defeats. The tides gradually shifted in favor of the U.S.
- He did not support the 1940 Tripartite Pact that involved Japan, Hitler’s Germany, and Mussolini’s fascist Italy. Neither was he a fan of full-scale invasions of China in the late 1930s; instead, he preferred intimidating his opponents.
- Also, Admiral Yamamoto vehemently opposed the invasion of Manchuria in 1931. He was against the idea of expanding into China in the manner in which the Japanese Imperial Forces did. Instead, he was all in favor of using scare tactics through building massive amount of naval forces and facilities in the region. That way, he hoped that regional powers would be scared and willingly come to negotiating table and perhaps cede territories to Japan.
- Yamamoto, although an expert tactician, was deficient when it came to having the necessary resources needed to smoothly carry out the operation.
- The position that Yamamoto occupied – Commander of the Combined Fleet – was a two-year tenure. However, Yamamoto stayed on in this position long after the elapsing of the two years. Had he not stayed, perhaps the outcomes in World War II might have been different.
- For about nine months, Yamamoto and the Japanese Naval General Staff (NGS) were at odds over the planned Pearl Harbor attack. The NGS reasoned that the Pearl Harbor attack would only leave a small dent on America’s naval capacity. Yamamoto, on the other hand, argued that if the attack goes according to plan America’s spirit and morale could be crippled. However, he did caution his country that such an attack had to be done swiftly. He did not want to have a prolong battle with the U.S.
- After months of deliberation, and with a bit of skepticism, the Naval General Staff agreed to go through with a war game to test the Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plan. After the war games in September, 1941, the Naval General Staff still stood skeptical and viewed the operation as one of risk. Yamamoto tried to twist the arms of the Naval General Staff by threatening to resign should his plan not be carried out in full.
- All throughout the conception and planning of the attack, the Americans were still firmly rooted on the idea that Japan’s current military thinking was one of a defensive mindset. It never crossed the mind of military experts that Japan was in the process of changing from a defensive military strategy to an offensive one.
- He never for once believed that Japan could successfully conquer the United States in an open war. What he hoped for was to engage them on Pacific in a manner that allowed Japan to have a higher bargaining power during the peace treaty negotiations.
- Had it not been for his close relationship to the Japanese imperial family, as well as the loyalty he enjoyed within the fleet, Yamamoto’s career could have been ended by his fierce rival, Gen. Hideki Tojo, commander of the Imperial Japanese Army and later Prime Minister of Japan. Hideki and Yamamoto clashed over the issue of attacking Europe or the U.S. The general and his top army officials wanted Japan to go all out and attack Europe and her allies. On the other hand, Yamamoto stuck through to his gunboat diplomacy. He maintained that outright war against the U.S. would have dire consequences on the Empire of Japan.
- A close colleague of Yamamoto, Lt. Gen. Hotoshi Imamura – Japanese army commander at Rabaul – had escaped by the skin of his teeth when his plane almost went down from shots fired at him over Bougainville. The incident occurred a couple months earlier. As a result of this, he implored his good friend Yamamoto to postpone his inspection tour. The reason why Yamamoto and his staff refused cancelling the tour was because they felt doing so would bankrupt the morale of the Japanese soldiers in the region. So the Admiral proceeded as planned.
- In the lead up to Yamamoto’s death, the Admiral was scheduled to arrive at about 9:45 on April 18. American intelligence officers planned to launch the attack 10 minutes before Yamamoto arrived.
- The plane that Yamamoto was in was a Mitsubishi G4M bomber. As it carried on board Yamamoto across a 507-kilometer journey, the Admiral was accompanied by six Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes.
- Code named “Operation Vengeance”, Yamamoto’s plane was brought down by sixteen P-38 U.S. fighter pilots. The pilots that shot down the plane came from the 347th Fighter Group.
- Yamamoto’s crashed plane, along with his body, was discovered in a thick jungle around the Island of Bougainville. On June 5, 1943, a state funeral was held for Yamamoto in Japan. His ashes were buried at Tama Cemetery. The Japanese officials gave some of his ashes to his wife Reiko, which was later buried at the family shrine in Nagaoka, Niigata, Japan.
- For his bravery and sacrifice, the Japanese Empire posthumously awarded him the title of Marshal Admiral and the Order of Chrysanthemum, First Class. The Nazis, however, bestowed on him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords.
For more details about what happened in the U.S. Congress on December 8, 1941, please read: Pearl Harbor: How and Why Japan Attacked the U.S.