Death of the Old Gambler – Yamamoto’s End

I was browsing through the movie selections on my TV a few weeks ago looking for something to occupy my time while I was on the treadmill. One of the movies that came up was about Admiral Halsey called The Gallant Hours.

The Gallant Hours is an American docudrama from 1960 about William F. Halsey, Jr. and his efforts in fighting against Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Guadalcanal campaign of World War II.

This film was directed by Robert Montgomery, who also did uncredited narration, and it stars James Cagney as Admiral Halsey. Featured in the cast are Dennis Weaver, Ward Costello, Vaughn Taylor, Richard Jaeckel, and Les Tremayne. The screenplay was by Frank D. Gilroy and Beirne Lay, Jr., and the unusual a cappella choral score was composed and conducted by Roger Wagner, although the theme song was written by Ward Costello.

The film was produced by Montgomery and Cagney, and it was the only film made by their joint production company. It was also Cagney’s last starring role in a dramatic film. The Gallant Hours was released by the United Artists Company on June 22, 1960.

I am not sure how I missed this movie up to this point in my life, but it was certainly something I wanted to see.

In the movie, it talked several times about Yamamoto and his penchant for poker.

So, it was interesting to find this article in today’s National Newspaper Archives.

February 5, 1942, Washington Times Newspaper

Jap Navy Chief, as Aide Here, Laid Fifth Column Groundwork

US Officers recall Yamamoto’s Cunning; Poker Skill Cited in Hart’s Report

By Helen Lombard

The commander in chief of the Nipponese fleet, who announced he intends to dictate peace in Washington, is familiar with the Capital of the United States. Not so many years ago, Capt. Isoroku Yamamoto was stationed here as naval attaché at the Japanese Embassy and was lavishly entertaining American naval officers and their wives. There have been many Japanese naval attaches who entertained lavishly, but Yamamoto was especially remembered for the after-dinner diversions he offered. He would don a ceremonial kimono and demonstrate his skill in the delicate art of Japanese brush print. The slender hands would glide out of brocaded sleeves and produce mysterious looking characters with incredible rapidity. Yamamoto was very proud of his mastery of the difficult art of Japanese calligraphy and would present mementos of his work to the ladies present. The smiling host, at the moment of presentation, would lisp the message of friendship he had flicked onto paper.

Some Were Skeptical.

Some of the American officers who went to Yamamoto’s house suspected that he had other skills besides that of Japanese character writing. Others found it hard to believe that so much hospitality and good will could be mixed up with deceit. Many of them concurred in the comfortable belief that it did not matter much which theory about the “little Jap” was correct. Now they all agree that their artistic friend of the early thirties is a “tough proposition.” One of the first American naval officers to understand that the loyalty of a Japanese toward his own country could withstand the hospitality of Washington was small, wiry Admiral Thomas Hart, present commander of the Asiatic Fleet. Admiral Hart knew Yamamoto from his Washington days and subsequently observed his work in Toklo when the Japanese naval officer was serving as vice minister of the navy. American naval officers passing through Toklo on their way to or from China always found Yamamoto amiably aware of their presence. Ha entertained them all and never failed to talk humbly about poor Japan, so inferior in naval strength and “being maligned by war alarmists in America.” The war mongers should know that Japan would never dare measure herself against the American giant.

Organized Fifth Column.

American officers now stationed in Washington smile at these memories, for it is known now that it was Yamamoto himself who laid the groundwork for the fifth column organization In Hawaii and on the West Coast. The work began while he was serving as naval attaché In Washington. His numerous and very busy assistants were shutting back and forth between Honolulu and other parts of Hawaii. The naval Intelligence in Washington was not entirely comfortable about the state of affairs, but could do nothing about It. The Congress which refused to fortify Guam for fear of Irritating Japan was not providing funds for follow up work on the movements of the extremely active and much traveling Japanese attaches and agents. In the file of the Navy Department, however, is a long and complimentary report on the caliber and quality of Admiral Ernest King’s opposite number, Admiral Yamamoto. One of the most telling comments in the personality sketch of the artistic Japanese naval officer is the summary of Asiatic Commander Tommy Hart: “Yamamoto is the outstanding Japanese naval officer because he plays poker so well. He knows when to take a chance, but never bluffs without a pair in hand.” (Released by the Bell Syndicate. Inc.)

In the end, the Americans played a pretty hard game of poker too. A vastly inferior force of ships fought Yamamoto to a standstill on Guadalcanal and eventually brought his life to an end.

The 60-year-old mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941 knew his forces needed a psychological boost in the face of a string of defeats at the hands of the U.S. Navy in 1942 and early 1943. By the spring of 1943, the Americans had firmly established themselves on Guadalcanal in the Soloman Islands, having defeated multiple attempts by the Japanese over a six-month period from August 1942 to February 1943 to recapture the island.

The Japanese had captured Rabaul, which was located on New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago in January 1942 and transformed it into a major air and naval base. The Base was manned by as many as 100,000 Japanese soldiers, sailors, airmen, and military personnel, from which the Japanese could continue their conquests to the south in the direction of New Guinea. The Japanese eventually constructed five airfields on the island. In April 1943, Yamamoto was stationed on Rabaul at the time of the sustained Japanese air offensive known as I-GO, which had as its primary objective the destruction of Allied ships, aircraft, and land installations in the southeast Solomon Islands and New Guinea. Yamamoto and Vice Admiral Jinichi Kusaka were the co-commanders of I-GO, which began on April 1.

One of the key warnings he received came from Lt. Gen. Hitoshi Imamura, commander of the ground forces at Rabaul, who had barely escaped death on a similar flight just two months earlier. Another high-ranking officer, Rear Admiral Takoji Joshima, also had grave reservations about Yamamoto’s tour. When he learned that Yamamoto’s schedule was going to be sent encoded out over the radio, he was flabbergasted. Joshima landed at Rabaul to beg Yamamoto not to proceed with his plans to visit forward-deployed units at Ballale, Buin, and Shortland Islands. Joshima argued that such a trip was sheer madness and an “open invitation to the enemy” to intercept his plane because of the close presence of American forces in the South Pacific.

Yamamoto pressed ahead as a sign of confidence to his men and despite having left a poem to his mistress locked in his personal safe. “The body is frail, yet with a mind firm with unshakable resolve I will drive deep into the enemy’s positions and let him see the blood of a Japanese man,” wrote Yamamoto. “Wait but a while, young men! One last battle, fought gallantly to the death, and I will be joining you!”

The poem seemed to foretell Yamamoto’s fate as he emerged on April 18, 1943, from his quarters on Rabaul wearing his green uniform rather than the bright white ceremonial uniform usually worn on goodwill visits. It would be the last uniform he would wear.

Within hours Yamamoto would be shot down and killed in a daring daylight attack near Bougainville, ending the life of the man who initially cautioned against war with the United States but later diligently planned the successful surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor.

The war would continue until the US Forces played the ultimate trump card: the nuclear bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But Yamamoto would not be there to see the end.

Mister Mac


One thought on “Death of the Old Gambler – Yamamoto’s End

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s