The Truly Reluctant Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – Part III

Admiral Yamamoto’s white gloves. Source unknown.

Admiral Yamamoto nearly always had on white gloves when in public.

Do you wonder why?

Please read on…


By the time he graduated from the Naval Academy, he had established himself as a leader among the cadets.

His samurai familial heritage helped form the foundation of his strong character, a requirement of a strong leader. This was enhanced with his high school education which promoted cooperation.  He was calm, even when hassled by fellow cadets.

Yamamoto’s white gloves on board ship.

In one example and throughout his training, Yamamoto (remember his last name is still Torano) always carried around his Bible. His thirst to learn of Western ways was insatiable. With his diminutive size an invitation, a group of fellow cadets confronted him in his room about it. They interrogated him if he was Christian to which he calmly replied he wasn’t, and that he read the Bible to learn of Western ways. The cadets weren’t satisfied and continued throwing question after question at him. Yamamoto continued to calmly answer the questions then threw them out of his room.

The cadets, including Yamamoto, put out to sea on warships to learn seamanship on relatively short cruises due to national fuel reserves.  At this time, tensions between Japan and Russia began to percolate.  Both were eyeing conquering  Manchuria and Korea for their resources.  As such, the cadets talked frequently of what they would do if war erupted.  Yamamoto decided gunnery would be his specialty.

When Russia did not comply with a treaty with Japan, war did erupt.  A man named Heihachiro Togo was put in command as admiral of the combined Japanese fleet. While Yamamoto was still in school, Togo was victorious in two battles against the Russians.

Yamamoto graduated from the Naval Academy on November 14, 1904, commissioned as an ensign.  He graduated 7th in his class of 200. (Admiral Chester Nimitz also graduated from Annapolis the same year; he was also seventh in his class but it only numbered 114.)

Nisshin 1904. Masthead clearly visible. Source unknown.

By early 1905, Yamamoto had been assigned to the new cruiser Nisshin with Russo-Japanese War still raging. The fleet was under command of Admiral Togo. Yamamoto’s duty on deck as gunnery and watch officer was to man the masthead and scan the horizon for Russian warships. On May 26, 1905, he did so but did not see anything during his watch.

Depiction of Togo on the Mikasa.

His watch ended at 4:00 am and had retired but was awakened at 4:45 am. The Russians had been sighted. In typical samurai fashion, he completely changed his uniform down to his underwear and went back topside.

In the early afternoon, Togo engaged the Russians in a historic battle referred to as the Battle of Tsushima Straits. (1)

Yamamoto was able to observe the tactics of Togo first hand. Gunfire was exchanged but the Japanese gunnery was more accurate. Thousands of Russian sailors were killed and warships sunk.

However, during the battle, it appears that the two guns just below Yamamoto’s battle station on deck exploded, knocking him unconscious momentarily.  (2) When he regained consciousness, he found a baseball-sized chunk of thigh had been blown away and shrapnel had peppered his body. He then looked at his left hand – his first and second fingers were dangling.  While remaining calm and ignoring the pain, he used his handkerchief to bind up his hand and it is documented he continued with his duties.

Gun damage on the Nisshin.
Closeup of the guns that apparently exploded during the engagement, seriously wounding a young Ensign Isoroku Torano. Source unknown.

When the battle was over, he was taken below for immediate treatment.  They removed his blood stained uniform but he asked they be kept.  He was later transferred to a hospital ship then to Sasebo for treatment.

A rare photo taken of Admiral Yamamoto showing his injured left hand – ungloved.

He would lose his two fingers. You can see in this rare photo.

Now you know why Admiral Yamamoto usually wore white gloves in public.  He wanted to try and hide his injuries from view.

His missing two fingers, however, would also become well known later in geisha houses.  He would be given a loving nickname on account of them.


By the way, why did he have his bloodied uniform saved?  He shipped them to his father, Sadayoshi Torano, to evidence he did his duty.  Being a samurai, Sadayoshi was extremely proud and kept them in a special box until his death in 1913.


Yamamoto received a commendation from Admiral Togo, a huge feather in his cap.  While the combat, coolness in battle, injuries and commendation shaped Yamamoto’s psyche and future rise in the Imperial Navy, the Russo-Japanese had a much larger effect on the Japanese military and therefore, directly on the young ensign.

The Japanese military was extremely angry that Theodore Roosevelt prevented Japan from getting any cash reparations from Russia.  Japan had gone into tremendous debt building their warships and military to fight the Russians.  The career military would never forget; it would fester.  Roosevelt’s political decision had tremendous consequences on Japan trusting Western powers, ultimately contributing to war against FDR-led America.

(Editor’s Note: The original post was removed due an error caught by my good friend Mustang and also because of formatting issues caused by the WP editing application.)

More in Part IV.

Part I is here.

Part II is here.



(1) The Battle of Tsushima Straits was significant as it involved the first naval battle between all steel warships and used a primitive form of radio (sometimes called wireless telegraphy).

(2) Some military and combat experts report a squib round was the likely cause of the explosion which destroyed the guns.

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