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Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto
Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto
Photograph courtesy U.S. Naval Historical Center


The commander in chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet at the start of the war, Yamamoto was the key architect of Japan’s success at the start of the war. He had conceived of a surprise attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor early in 1941 as a means of stopping the U.S. from interfering with Japanese expansion in the Pacific. He was aboard his flagship in Tokyo Harbor at the time of the attack.

In January 1941 Yamamoto had written: “Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it is not enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. We would have to march into Washington and sign the treaty in the White House. I wonder if our politicians (who speak so lightly of a Japanese-American war) have confidence as to the outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices?”

Yamamoto was perhaps the most imaginative and skillful Japanese admiral to go to war against the United States. Yet his campaigns had all the merits and faults of a gambler’s strategy, especially when their actual execution was left to more cautious men.

Yamamoto was killed in April 1943, when his aircraft was ambushed by U.S. fighter planes--U.S. code breakers had intercepted the admiral’s schedule. Adm. Chester W. Nimitz and Adm. William F. Halsey had decided to send U.S. Navy P-38 Lightning fighters from Guadalcanal to shoot down Yamamoto’s plane as he carried out a forward-area inspection of his forces.


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