Childhood & Early Life
He was born on April 4, 1884 in Nagaoka, Niigata, as the sixth of the seven children of Sadayoshi Takano and his second wife Mineko. Isoroku means 56 denoting the age of his father when he was born.
His father was a school teacher who belonged to a samurai family. He was adopted by a wealthy land owner from the Yamamoto family who had no son. Isoroku Takano thus became Isoroku Yamamoto.
Having been adopted into a wealthy family, he had had his education at the best Japanese schools. He graduated from Etajima, a Japanese Naval Academy in the year 1904.
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In 1905, he started his career as an ensign on Nisshin, a cruiser at the Battle of Tsushima. During the fight against the Russian Baltic Fleet, he lost two of his fingers.
After the Battle of Tsushima, he was in charge of training cruises in Korea and China. He even travelled to United States and to important ports in Australia.
In 1913, he joined the Naval Staff College at Tsukiji on the order of his superiors. Graduating from there after three years, he was appointed as the Lieutenant Commander.
In 1919, he joined Harvard University and studied economics. He also focused on studying oil industry and military aviation.
After graduating from Harvard University in 1921, he returned home and was promoted to the rank of a commander. He was also appointed as an instructor for the Naval Staff College in Tokyo.
In 1923, he became the Captain of the cruiser Fuji. The next year he was sent to Kasumigaura to undertake flying lessons. Three months after the training, he became the Director of Studies.
In 1926, he was appointed as a naval attaché to the Japanese embassy in Washington. He served there for two years and this changed his interest from gunnery to naval aviation.
He returned home in 1928 and was given the commanding charge of the carrier Akagi. Two years later, he rose to the position of Rear Admiral and became instrumental in building many battleships.
In 1934, he was sent as a delegate to participate in the Third London Naval Conference. Two years later, he was promoted as the Vice Minister of the Navy.
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When the U.S. gunboat at Panay across China's Yangtze River was bombed by the Japanese planes in 1937, he expressed his personal apology to the U.S. Ambassador. This incurred the wrath of fellow Japanese.
In 1939, he was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the combined fleet. This kept him away from the assassination attempt made by the right-wing Japanese.
At the outbreak of World War II, he expressed his opposition against the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. He warned the Japanese Premier Konoe not to indulge in a war against the Americans.
However in 1941, he obeyed the government’s decision and prepared for the war with the United States. He planned for a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and succeeded in it.
This infuriated the Americans who decided to avenge him for their loss at Pearl Harbor. Operation Vengeance was planned by the Americans in 1943 to assassinate Yamamoto.
The U.S. pilot Thomas G. Lamphier from his fighter plane identified the aircraft carrying Yamamoto at Bougainville. He attacked the aircraft crashing Yamamoto’s plane and killing him.
He performed a valiant fight in the Russo-Japanese War held in 1905. He lost his index and middle fingers after getting hit by the Russian battle line; however, Japan became victorious in the War.
In December 7, 1941, he executed a surprise air attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This resulted in the destruction of 3,400 American naval staff and 180 aircrafts.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded First Class in the Order of the Chrysanthemum, the highest rank ever to be achieved by a Fleet Admiral. However, he got this award only posthumously.
In recognition of his service in the World War II, the Nazi Germany awarded him with the Knight’s Cross made out of oak leaves. He was the only foreigner to receive this award.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1918, he married Reiko Mihasi, the daughter of a dairy farmer. The couple had four children – two sons and two daughters.
He had many mistresses and he was particularly fond of a geisha by name, Kawai Chiyoko. He was good at calligraphy and he decorated the houses of geishas with his scripts.
He has been portrayed in movies like “I Bombed Pearl Harbor,” “Admiral Yamamoto,” and “Midway.” The award-winning actor Toshiro Mifune played the role of Isoroku in these films.