I received this sample from Kitmaker Network for review. Before receiving the volume I was not aware of Osprey’s Command Series. The Series covers famous military commanders throughout history, from Julius Caesar to Robert E. Lee and Horatio Nelson to Dwight D. Eisenhower and, in its latest volume reviewed here, Isoroku Yamamoto. Yamamoto was commander of Japan’s Combined Fleet from 1939 to his death in 1943 and the mastermind behind some of the most important battles of the Pacific war: Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea, Midway and the naval battles around Guadalcanal. He is commonly regarded as Japan’s most prolific naval commander.
The book comes in Osprey’s standard format and has 64 pages. It includes maps, several full-page color illustrations, many black and white and some color photographs. The author, Mark E. Stille, is a retired US Navy Commander who now works as a Senior Analyst in the Washington DC area. He has written several books for Osprey Publishing, including three New Vanguard titles on Japanese naval technology in WWII.
The Early Years
The Military Life
The Hour of Destiny
When War is Done
Inside the Mind
A Life in Words
The book starts with Yamamoto’s (born Takano Isoroku) difficult family background and naval academy years. It then focuses exclusively on Yamamoto’s military career from his participation as a young officer in the Battle of Tsushima Strait on May 26 1905 through his more political career (he was naval attaché in Washington and participated in two London Naval Conferences) in the 1920ies and 30ies and his command of the aircraft carrier Akagi to the eve of WWII. Aside from the fact that he was adopted into another family and took on the name Yamamoto, one learns nothing about his personal life.
The major portion of the book then covers Yamamoto’s major battles one by one. Starting with the planning and execution of the attack on Pearl Harbor it moves on to the attempted invasion of Port Moresby as a staging area for the invasion of Australia, which led to the battle of the Coral Sea. This is followed by the battle of Midway and the Guadalcanal Campaign.
The planning and thinking behind these operations is revealed in depth and the myth surrounding Yamamoto as a great Naval strategist is thoroughly dismantled. All these battles are in essence Yamamoto’s brainchild and all of them ultimately failed, with the sole exception of Pearl Harbor. However, as the author convincingly demonstrates, even this victory was hollow in a strategic sense, as it contributed nothing to Japan’s victories in the Southwest Pacific. The Author even goes as far as arguing that had the attack on the United Stated been avoided altogether, Roosevelt would have had difficulties justifying an entry into WWII and war with the United States could have been averted altogether. In thinking that the United States would be devastated by a surprise attack and the loss of most of its Battle Ships and therefore would go for a negotiated peace, Yamamoto completely misjudged American psyche. This is especially astonishing for someone who knew America very well due to several assignments to the Japanese embassy in Washington. Yamamoto then failed to mass his forces at Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal and thus to a large extent was responsible for Japan’s ultimate defeat.
A short section of the book is dedicated to a comparison with Yamamoto’s counterpart on the US side, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Contrary to Yamamoto, Nimitz recognized the central role of the aircraft carrier even though he never held any commands related to them. Contrary to Yamamoto, Nimitz was prepared to mass his forces to gain the initiative.
The book concludes with Operation Vengeance, the successful interception of Yamamoto’s plane. This is followed by a short chapter on Yamamoto’s way of thinking which reveals the many contradictions of the man. It is interesting to note that the author considers Yamamoto not a “modern” admiral focused on the Aircraft Carrier, even though he had personal experience with the Carrier force before the War. Indeed, many of his actions point to the conclusion that he still clung to the notion that the Battleship was the decisive naval asset.
All the decisive battles of Yamamoto’s career are well illustrated by photos, battle maps and several first class color plates. However, few – if any – of these illustrations will serve the modeler and the book has to be considered a pure history book. Nevertheless it is a great quick read for anyone who wants to know a bit more about Japan’s most famous Admiral and I’m looking forward to reading more of this series in the future.
All told, I’m very satisfied with this book, though not as a modeler, but as a history buff. The contents are presented in a very interesting fashion with good illustrations and the quality of the text is first class. Historians however, will probably want to know a bit more about the author’s sources (notes) especially since the author does not portray the common image of Yamamoto but instead thoroughly dismantles several myths, not only on the man, but also his operations and planning. This and the lack of information on Yamamoto’s personal life may be considered the weak points of the book. The size and format of the book would make such detail impossible. The book is first class for anyone who wants to get the basics and his major operations. I will certainly be looking into other titles in Osprey’s Command series.
Highs: Quick and easy read, good illustrations, dismantles several mythsLows: The small format makes some corner cutting unavoidable (sources and personal life).Verdict: Great read for anyone wanting a quick overview on Yamamoto’s life and most important battles.
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