Thursday, 10 March 2016

Was Admiral Yamamoto was an early wargamer?

Whilst writing about the life of Fred Jane, I remembered a discussion that I had with Richard Brooks – the author of the official biography of Fred Jane – about the involvement of officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy in some of Jane's early naval wargames.

Some years ago, whilst I was doing research into Jane's Naval War Game, I acquired a photocopy of the 1901 edition of the rules. It included a section entitled REPORT OF A LARGE COMBINED TACTICAL AND STRATEGIC "WAR" PLAYED AT PORTSMOUTH AND ELSEWHERE IN MARCH, APRIL AND MAY 1900. Amongst the players listed as taking part is a certain "Rear Admiral" Yamamoto (i.e. a young Japanese naval officer stationed in the UK at the time) who commanding the Dupuy de Lomé, the Hertha, and the Jémappes during the opening moves of the war.

(It is interesting to note the following fates of these ships:
  • Dupuy de Lomé: Totally disabled in engine room
  • Hertha: Sunk by gunfire
  • Jémappes: Little hurt.)
It would be great to think that this "Rear Admiral" Yamamoto was in fact Isoroku Yamamoto ... but unfortunately my researches seem to indicate that it cannot be. Yamamoto was born Isoroku Takano in 1884, and only became Isoroku Yamamoto in 1916, when he was adopted into the Yamamoto clan in order to ensure that the family name did not die out. Furthermore he did not graduate from the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy as a Midshipman until 1904, just in time to serve aboard the armoured cruiser Nisshin during the Russo-Japanese War. He was wounded at the Battle of Tsushima, and lost the index and middle finger on his left hand.

It would therefore appear that these two Yamamotos cannot be one and the same person ... which is a great pity as it would have made for a great bit of wargaming trivia. That said, Yamamoto was a renowned games player and gambler (he is reputed to have enjoyed playing Go, shogi, billiards, bridge, mah jong, and poker) and the Imperial Japanese Navy used naval war games right up until the end of World War II, so he must have taken part in naval wargames during his career ... but not in Portsmouth in the early 1900s!

A scene from the film 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' showing officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy taking part in a naval war game prior to the attack on Pearl Harbour. Whilst it makes for a dramatic film sequence, it is doubtful that the participants would have sat in neat rows as shown in this shot. It is far more likely that the post-game debrief would have looked like this.


  1. I've read in several places that Midway was extensively gamed before the battle. An initial run-through foretold the actual events pretty closely, however, so the umpire fudged things during a re-play in order to ensure a crushing Japanese victory.

    I haven't discovered which side Yamamoto played, or even if he took part. As you said, a great bit of wargaming trivia!

    Best regards,


    1. Chris,

      One of the interesting points about the famous Midway wargame was the fact that the umpire ruled against the original result (the sinking of two of the Japanese carriers) because they were 'sunk' by land-based B-17 bombers NOT US carrier-based aircraft. When seen in that light - and the fact that high-level, land-based USAAF aircraft did not have a record of successful attacks on ships - it is not an unreasonable decision on his part.

      All the best,


    2. Your reply motivated me to find out where I went astray. Ron Larham, a mathematician with experience in operational analysis, has done probably the most in-depth research on the subject of whether the Midway games were "fixed". He concluded that much of what has been written (including what I have been relying on for years) is the product of restating what others had previously stated, without adequate attribution or research.

      He cited the Umpire's ruling that land-based aircraft would not cause the severity of damage the game suggested, and thus ignored it. This was not really "fixing" the game, as the Umpire was correct about what the results would have been. More serious were rulings regarding air-to-air combats that always favored the Japanese.

      However, all this occurred in the second of 3 games. In the first, results approximating what actually occurred came about because the American fleet sortied to confront the Japanese attack; it was ruled irrelevant, because the Americans would not sortie. The third game produced other results that the Japanese did not want to contemplate, as American bravery and fortitude were discounted; so they also were ignored.

      He concluded that wishful thinking and arrogance are the actual culprits, not fixing the game as such.

      So, another urban legend has gone down in flames for me. Live and learn. Thanks for motivating me to get things straight! :)

      Best regards,


    3. Chris,

      Wow! You have really managed to explode the urban myth about the Japanese Midway wargame ... or as we now know, wargames. I knew about the umpire's ruling about the B-17 attacks, but had no idea that they had re-fought the battle several times. It would appear that the overall results were fairly accurate, and that - as you write - it was wishful thinking and arrogance that led to the lessons being ignored.

      Thanks very much for sharing this information.

      All the best,



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