Voyages of Discovery-New Zealand

The southern Pacific was the last habitable part of the world to be reached by Europeans. It was then only gradually explored at the end of long-haul routes down the coast of South America on one side, and Africa on the other. Once inside the rim of the world’s largest ocean, seafarers faced vast areas to be crossed, always hundreds, even thousands of miles away from any familiar territory. So it required not only steady courage to venture into this region but a high degree of navigational skill.

The islands of the South Pacific – tucked away near the bottom of the globe – remained the domain of Polynesian people for nearly 150 years after the Europeans first burst into the western Pacific. Furthermore, New Zealand was ignored for another 130 years after its initial 1642 sightings by the Dutchman Abel Janszoon Tasman.

It was ultimately left to the Englishman James Cook to put the South Pacific firmly on the world map in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

The Dutch Traders

European knowledge of the Pacific Ocean had gradually expanded during the 16th and 17th centuries. This was the era in which Spanish and Portuguese seafarers such as Magellan and Quiros, and England’s Francis Drake, made their epic expeditions.

Then, towards the end of the 16th century, the Dutch emerged as the great seafaring and trading nation of the central and western Pacific. They set up a major administrative and trading centre at Batavia (now Jakarta) in Java early in the 17th century, an operation dominated by the Dutch East India Company.

For the ensuing 200 years the Dutch were a major power in the region, though for most of that period the voyages of exploration were incidental to the activities of trade.

The Dutch ships eventually found that by staying south after rounding the tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope and catching the consistent westerlies almost as far as the western coast of Australia, they could make the journey to Java more quickly than by adopting the traditional – sailing up the east coast of Africa and then catching the seasonal winds for the journey eastwards. As a result, islands off the west coast of Australia and stretches of the coast of the unknown continent itself began to be noted on charts.

Tasman’s visit

An ambitious governor of Batavia, Anthony van Diemen, showed a more imaginative interest in discovering new lands for trade than most of his predecessors. In 1642 he chose Abel Tasman to lead an expedition south, to be accompanied by a highly competent navigator, Frans Visscher. The proposed voyage would take them first to Mauritius, then southwest to between 50 and 55 degrees south in search of the great southern continent, Terra Australis Incognita. The expedition, aboard the vessels Heemskerck and Zeeshaen, was then to travel eastwards if no land had been found to impede their progress and to sail across, to investigate a shorter route to Chile, a rich trading area and the preserve of the Spanish. As it turned out, the expedition ventured only as far as 49 degrees south before turning eastwards, whereupon it made two great South Pacific discoveries- Tasmania (or van Diemen’s Land, as he named it at the time) and New Zealand (which he called Staten Landt).

On 13 December 1642, Tasman and his men saw what was described as ‘land uplifted high’ – the Southern Alps of the South Island – and, in strong winds and heavy seas, sailed northwards up the coast of Westland, before rounding Cape Farewell and entering what is now known as Golden Bay. Tasman’s voyage was not immediately regarded as a major success, but ultimately he was given his due for a gallant and well-recorded exploration.

Cook’s exploration

Within a year or two, other navigators had established that New Zealand could not be attached to huge continent which was thought may extend all the way across to South America. The name was therefore changed from Staten Landt (the Dutch name for South America) to New Zealand, after a Dutch province of Zeeland.



Over a century passed before serious exploration resumed in the region. It was primarily to observe the transit of Venus over the disc of the Sun in June 1769 that the English Captain James Cook was dispatched to the South Seas in the 373-ton Whitby built barque, Endeavour. He was instructed to sail to Otaheite (Tahiti) for the transit and then to sail southwards as far as 50 degrees south latitude on another search for the great southern continent, charting the positions of any islands he might incidentally discover.

Cook rounded Cape Horn and entered the Pacific Ocean for the first time on 27 January 1769. After observing the transit of Venus and investigating other islands (which he named the Society Islands), he sailed south and then west. On 6 October, a ship’s boy, Nicholas Young, sighted the east coast of the North Island where it is today called Young Nick’s Head. Two days after this first sighting of what Cook knew to be the east coast of New Zealand, the land reported by Tasman, the Endeavour sailed into a bay where smoke could be seen – a clear sign that there were inhabitants. Their first visit ashore ended with violence when a band of Maori attacked four boys left guarding the ship’s boat; one of the attackers was shot dead.

It was discovered that a Tahitian Chief on board the Endeavour, Tupaea, could converse with the Maori, and he was taken ashore with Cook the next morning. But the Maori were in a threatening mood and Cook ordered one of them shot to make them retreat. That afternoon, the firing of a musket over a canoe (merely to attract attention) brought an attack on the boat from which the shot had been fired; a few more Maori were shot. Cook had quickly learnt that the native population was powerful, aggressive and brave. (Rather then commemorating the bloodshed, the bay was named Poverty Bay to record the fact that the English failed to find the supplies they wanted there.)




First friendly encounter

The Endeavour sailed south into Hawke’s Bay, and then north again around the top of East Cape. It spent 10 days in Mercury Bay, so called because an observation of the transit of the planet Mercury was made there. In Mercury Bay, for the first time, the explorers made friends with the local Maori and traded trinkets for supplies of fish, birds and clean water. They were shown over the Maori settlements and inspected a nearby fortified pa, which greatly impressed Cook.

The expedition circumnavigated New Zealand and with brilliant accuracy made a chart of the coastline which proved basically reliable for more than 150 years. Cook and his crew spent weeks in Ship Cove, in a long inlet which he called Queen Charlotte Sound, on the northern coast of the South Island, refurbishing the ship and gathering supplies. The stay gave the two botanists aboard, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, a wonderful opportunity to study closely the flora and fauna of the area, and while the ship was being cleaned, the smaller boats undertook detailed survey work.

The Endeavour left for home at the end of March 1770, sailing up the east coast of Australia, through the Dutch East Indies and then rounding the Cape of Good Hope to complete a circumnavigation of the world. The expedition was an extraordinary feat of seamanship, putting New Zealand firmly on the map and gathering huge amount of data. Cook seemed to personify the Great Discoverer as defined by his biographer, Beaglehole: ‘In every great discoverer there is a dual passion – the passion to see, the passion to report; and in the greatest this duality is fused into one – a passion to see and report truly.’

Cook’s first voyage was one of the most successful and detailed expeditions of exploration in all history.

Return visits

Cook twice again led expeditions into the Pacific – from 1772 to 1775 and from 1776 to 1780. During the second of those, he twice took his ship south of the Antarctic Circle where no vessel was known to have gone before, but he was unlucky in that he did not become the first person ever to see the Antarctic continent. It was to Dusky Sound in the South Island fiords that Cook repaired for rest and recovery after the extreme hardships faced by his crew in the southern ocean.

During the seven weeks the expedition was there, the crew set up a workshop and an observatory, and restored their health with spruce beer (to defeat scurvy) and the plenitude of fish and birds. They made contact with a single family of Maori, in an area which was never thickly populated then or now. They planted seeds on the shore of the sound, and then sailed for their favourite anchorage in Ship Cove at the top of the South Island.

On Cook’s way home from New Zealand during his second voyage a few years later, he gave pigs, fowl and vegetable seeds to the Maori community near Hawke’s Bay, returning again to Ship Cove on his third voyage. By now he had a friendship with some of the local Maori that had lasted nearly ten years. In his journals, he referred to the Maori as ‘manly and mild’ and wrote that ‘they have some arts among them which they execute with great judgement and unwearied patience.’


By then he had done such a thorough job of charting the coasts of New Zealand that there was little else for explorers to discover without going inland. But a number of navigators followed during the remaining years of the 18th century – Frenchman Dumont d’Urville (who arrived only two months after Cook first set foot in New Zealand) and, later, Marion du Fresne; an Italian, Alessandro Malaspina who commanded a Spanish expedition; and George Vancouver, who had served with Cook.

First European Settlement

In 10 years, within the decade of the 1770s, Cook and his contemporaries had opened up the Pacific entirely, and, in 1788, Sydney, in Australia, was established as a British convict settlement. The first Europeans to make an impact on New Zealand, however, were the sealers, with the first gang put ashore on the southwest coast of the South Island in 1792. There was a brief boom in the early years of the 19th century, but it wasn’t long before the seals were in short supply and the ships had to venture further south to the sub-Antarctic islands.

Next, in the last years of the 18th century, came the whalers – some of them driven from the Pacific coast of South America because of the dangers brought about by the war between Spain and Britain. Ships from Britain, Australia and the United States hunted the sperm whales in this region, and visits brought their crew members to frequent contact with the Maori of Northland at Kororareka (later renamed Russell).

At first relations between Europeans and Maori were friendly. But visits were infrequent for a few years after the burning of the brig Boyd and the massacre and eating of its crew in Whangaroa Harbour in 1809. This was a reprisal against previous punishment of high-born Maori seamen by Pakeha (European) skippers.

The inland exploration of New Zealand took place mostly during the early to mid 19th century, mainly those parts that were fairly accessible from the coast. Vast areas of the South Island, however, were not successfully explored by Europeans until the 20th century.

Courtesy of Insight Guides-New Zealand

Admiral Graf Spee

Admiral Graf Spee was a Deutschland-class heavy cruiser which served with the Kriegsmarine during World War IL. The vessel was named after Admiral Maximilian von Spee, commander of the East Asia Squadron that fought the battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands, where he was killed in action, in World War I.


She was ordered by the Reichsmarine from the Reichsmarinewerft shipyard in Wilhelmshaven. Her keel was laid on 1 October 1932, and the ship was launched on 30 June 1934; at her launching, she was christened by the daughter of Admiral Maximilian von Spee, the ship’s namesake. The ship was completed slightly over a year and a half, and commissioned into the German fleet on 6 January 1936. She was nominally under the 10,000 long tons (10,000 t) limitation on warship size imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, though with a full load displacement of 16,020 long tons (16,280 t), this was significantly exceeded. Armed with six 28 cm (11 in) guns in two triple gun turrets, Admiral Graf Spee and her sisters were designed to outgun any cruiser fast enough to catch them. Their top speed of 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph) left only the few battle cruisers in the Anglo-French navies fast enough and powerful enough to sink them.

Admiral Graf Spee spent the first three months of her career conducting extensive sea trials to ready the ship for service. The ship’s first commander was Kapitän KzS Conrad Patzig; he was replaced in 1937 by Walter Warzecha. After joining the fleet, she became the flagship of the German Navy.

  • In the summer of 1936, following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, she deployed to the Atlantic to participate in non-intervention patrols off the Republican-held coast of Spain.
  • Between August 1936 and May 1937, the ship conducted three patrols off Spain.
  • On the return voyage from Spain, Admiral Graf Spee stopped in Great Britain to represent Germany in the Coronation Review on May 20 at Spithead for King George VI.
  • After the conclusion of the Review, Admiral Graf Spee returned to Spain for a fourth non-intervention patrol.
  • Following fleet manoeuvres and a brief visit to Sweden,
  • The ship conducted a fifth and final patrol in February 1938.

In 1938, KzS Hans Langsdorff took command of the vessel; she conducted a series of goodwill visits to various foreign ports throughout the year. These included cruises into the Atlantic, where she stopped in Tangier and Vigo. She also participated in extensive fleet manoeuvres in German waters. She was part of the celebrations for the reintegration of the port of Memel into Germany, and a fleet review in honour of Admiral Miklós Horthy, the Regent of Hungary. Between 18 April and 17 May 1939, she conducted another cruise into the Atlantic, stopping in the ports of Ceuta and Lisbon. On 21 August 1939, Admiral Graf Spee departed Wilhelmshaven, bound for the South Atlantic.

World War II: following the outbreak of war between Germany and the Allies in September 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered the German Navy to begin commerce raiding against Allied merchant traffic. Hitler nevertheless delayed issuing the order until it became clear that Britain would not countenance a peace treaty following the conquest of Poland. The Admiral Graf Spee was instructed to strictly adhere to prize rules, which required raiders to stop and search ships for contraband before sinking them, and to ensure that their crews are safely evacuated. Langsdorff was ordered to avoid combat, even with inferior opponents, and to frequently change position. On 1 September, the cruiser rendezvoused with her supply ship Altmark southwest of the Canary Islands. While replenishing his fuel supplies, Langsdorff ordered superfluous equipment transferred to the Altmark; this included several of the ship’s boats, flammable paint, and two of her ten 2 cm anti-aircraft guns, which were installed on the tanker.

On 11 September, while still transferring supplies from Altmark, Admiral Graf Spee’s Arado floatplane spotted the British heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland approaching the two German ships. Langsdorff ordered both vessels to depart at high speed, successfully evading the British cruiser. On 26 September, the ship finally received orders authorizing attacks on Allied merchant shipping. Four days later Admiral Graf Spee’s Arado located Booth Steam Ship Co’s cargo ship Clement off the coast of Brazil. The cargo ship transmitted an “RRR” signal, “I am under attack by a raider” before the cruiser ordered her to stop.

Admiral Graf Spee took Clement’s captain and chief engineer prisoner but let the rest of her crew to abandon ship in the lifeboats. The cruiser then fired 30 rounds from her 28 cm and 15 cm guns and two torpedoes at the cargo ship, which broke up and sank. Langsdorff ordered a distress signal sent to the naval station in Pernambuco to ensure the rescue of the ship’s crew. The British Admiralty immediately issued a warning to merchant shipping that a German surface raider was in the area. The British crew later reached the Brazilian coast in their lifeboats.

On 5 October, the British and French navies formed eight groups to hunt down Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic. The British aircraft carriers HMS Hermes, Eagle, and Ark Royal, the French aircraft carrier Béarn, the British battlecruiser Renown, and French battleships Dunkerque and Strasbourg, and 16 cruisers were committed to the hunt. Force G, commanded by Commodore Henry Harwood and assigned to the east coast of South America, comprised the cruisers Cumberland and Exeter. Force G was reinforced by the light cruisers Ajax and Achilles; Harwood detached Cumberland to patrol the area off the Falkland Islands while his other three cruisers patrolled off the River Plate.

  • On the same day as the formation of the Anglo-French hunter groups, Admiral Graf Spee captured the steamer Newton Beech. Two days later, she encountered and sank the merchant ship Ashlea.
  • On 8 October, the following day, she sank Newton Beech, which Langsdorff had been using to house prisoners. Newton Beech was too slow to keep up with Admiral Graf Spee, and so the prisoners were transferred to the cruiser.
  • On 10 October, she captured the steamer Huntsman, the captain of which had not sent a distress signal until the last minute, as he had mistakenly identified Admiral Graf Spee as a French warship. Unable to accommodate the crew from Huntsman, Admiral Graf Spee sent the ship to a rendezvous location with a prize crew.
  • On 15 October, Admiral Graf Spee rendezvoused with Altmark to refuel and transfer prisoners; the following morning, the prize Huntsman joined the two ships. The prisoners aboard Huntsman were transferred to Altmark and Langsdorff then sank Huntsman on the night of 17 October.
  • On 22 October, Admiral Graf Spee encountered and sank the steamer Trevanion. At the end of October, Langsdorff sailed his ship into the Indian Ocean south of Madagascar. The purpose of that foray was to divert Allied warships away from the South Atlantic, and to confuse the Allies about his intentions.
  • By this time, Admiral Graf Spee had cruised for almost 30,000 nautical miles (56,000 km; 35,000 mi) and needed an engine overhaul.
  • On 15 November, the ship sank the tanker Africa Shell, and the following day, she stopped an unidentified Dutch steamer, though did not sink her.
  • Admiral Graf Spee returned to the Atlantic between 17 and 26 November to refuel from Altmark. While replenishing supplies, the crew of Admiral Graf Spee built a dummy gun turret on her bridge and erected a dummy second funnel behind the aircraft catapult to alter her silhouette significantly in a bid to confuse allied shipping as to her true identity.
  • Admiral Graf Spee’s Arado floatplane located the merchant ship Doric Star: Langsdorff fired a shot across her bow to stop the ship. Doric Star was able to send out a distress signal before she was sunk, which prompted Harwood to take his three cruisers to the mouth of the River Plate, which he estimated would be Langsdorff’s next target.
  • On the night of 5 December, Admiral Graf Spee sank the steamer Tairoa. The next day, she met with Altmark and transferred 140 prisoners from Doric Star and Tairoa.
  • Admiral Graf Spee encountered her last victim on the evening of 7 December: the freighter Streonshalh. The prize crew recovered secret documents containing shipping route information.
  • Based on that information, Langsdorff decided to head for the seas off Montevideo. On 12 December, the ship’s Arado196 broke down and could not be repaired, depriving Graf Spee of her aerial reconnaissance. The ship’s disguise was removed, so it would not hinder the ship in battle.

Battle of the River Plate

  • At 05:30 on the morning of 13 December 1939, lookouts spotted a pair of masts off the ship’s starboard bow. Langsdorff assumed this to be the escort for a convoy mentioned in the documents recovered from Tairoa.
  • At 05:52, however, the ship was identified as HMS Exeter; she was accompanied by a pair of smaller warships, initially thought to be destroyers but quickly identified as Leander-class cruisers. Langsdorff decided not to flee from the British ships, and so ordered his ship to battle stations and to close at maximum speed.
  • At 06:08, the British spotted Admiral Graf Spee; Commodore Harwood divided his forces up to split the fire of Admiral Graf Spee’s 28 cm guns. The German ship opened fire with her main battery at Exeter and her secondary guns at the flagship Ajax at 06:17.
  • At 06:20, Exeter returned fire, followed by Ajax at 06:21 and Achilles at 06:24. In the span of thirty minutes, Admiral Graf Spee had hit Exeter three times, disabling her two forward turrets, destroying her bridge and her aircraft catapult, and starting major fires. Ajax and Achilles moved closer to Admiral Graf Spee to relieve the pressure on Exeter. Langsdorff thought the two light cruisers were making a torpedo attack, and turned away under a smokescreen.
  • The respite allowed Exeter to withdraw from the action; by now, only one of her gun turrets was still in action, and she had suffered 61 dead and 23 wounded crew members.
  • At around 07:00, Exeter returned to the engagement, firing from her stern turret. Admiral Graf Spee fired on her again, scored more hits, and forced Exeter to withdraw again, this time with a list to port.
  • At 07:25, Admiral Graf Spee scored a hit on Ajax that disabled her aft turrets. Both sides broke off the action, Admiral Graf Spee retreating into the River Plate estuary, while Harwood’s battered cruisers remained outside to observe any possible breakout attempts. In the course of the engagement, Admiral Graf Spee had been hit approximately 70 times; 36 men were killed and 60 more were wounded, including Langsdorff, who had been wounded twice by splinters while standing on the open bridge.



Scuttling in Montevideo: as a result of battle damage and casualties, Langsdorff decided to put into Montevideo, where repairs could be effected and the wounded men could be evacuated from the ship. Most of the hits scored by the British cruisers caused only minor structural and superficial damage but the oil purification plant, which was required to prepare the diesel fuel for the engines, was destroyed. Her desalination plant and galley were also destroyed, which would have increased the difficulty of a return to Germany. A hit in the bow would also have negatively affected her seaworthiness in the heavy seas of the North Atlantic. Admiral Graf Spee had fired much of her ammunition in the engagement with Harwood’s cruisers. After arriving in port, the wounded crewmen were taken to local hospitals and the dead were buried with full military honours. Captive Allied seamen still aboard the ship were released. Repairs necessary to make the ship seaworthy were expected to take up to two weeks.

British naval intelligence worked to convince Langsdorff that vastly superior forces were concentrating to destroy his ship, if he attempted to break out of the harbour. The Admiralty broadcast a series of signals, on frequencies known to be intercepted by German intelligence. The closest heavy units—the carrier Ark Royal and battlecruiser Renown—were some 2,500 nm (4,600 km; 2,900 mi) away, much too far to intervene in the situation. Believing the British reports, Langsdorff discussed his options with commanders in Berlin. These were either to break out and seek refuge in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government would intern the ship, or to scuttle the ship in the Plate estuary.

Langsdorff was unwilling to risk the lives of his crew, so he decided to scuttle the ship. He knew that although Uruguay was neutral, the government was on friendly terms with Britain and if he allowed his ship to be interned, the Uruguayan Navy would allow British intelligence officers access to the ship. Under Article 17 of the Hague Convention, neutrality restrictions limited Admiral Graf Spee to a period of 72 hours for repairs in Montevideo, before she would be interned for the duration of the war.On 17 December 1939, Langsdorff ordered the destruction of all important equipment aboard the ship. The  ship’s remaining ammunition supply was dispersed throughout the ship, in preparation for scuttling.

On 18 December, the ship, with only Langsdorff and 40 other men aboard, moved into the outer roadstead to be scuttled. A crowd of 20,000 watched as the scuttling charges were set; the crew was taken off by an Argentine tug and the ship was scuttled at 20:55. The multiple explosions from the munitions sent jets of flame high into the air and created a large cloud of smoke that obscured the ship which burned in the shallow water for the next two days.

On 20 December, in his room in a Buenos Aires hotel, Langsdorff shot himself in full dress uniform and lying on the ship’s battle ensign. In late January 1940, the neutral American cruiser USS Helena arrived in Montevideo and the crew was permitted to visit the wreck of Admiral Graf Spee. The Americans met the German crewmen, who were still in Montevideo. In the aftermath of the scuttling, the ship’s crew were taken to Argentina, where they were interned for the remainder of the war.

Photo by Imperial War Museum staff – This is photograph HU 3285 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 6307-02), Public Domain,

By S. W. Roskill – The War at Sea 1939–1945, Chapter VI, Public Domain,

By courtesy


Tribute to a great seaman

Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook, FRS, RN (7 November 1728 – 14 February 1779) was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. He made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

Cook joined the British merchant navy as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. He saw action in the Seven Years’ War, and subsequently surveyed and mapped much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege of Quebec. This helped bring him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society. The notice came at a crucial moment in both his career and the direction of British overseas exploration, and led to his commission in 1766 as commander of HMS Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages. In three voyages Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe. He mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously achieved. As he progressed on his voyages of discovery he surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time. He displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.

Cook was killed in Hawaii in a fight with Hawaiians during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific in 1779. He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge which was to influence his successors well into the 20th century and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him.

Cook's Three Voyages

The routes of Captain James Cook’s voyages. The first voyage is shown in red, second voyage in green, and third voyage in blue. The route of Cook’s crew following his death is shown as a dashed blue line.

Early life and family: James Cook was born on 27 October 1728 in the village of Marton in Yorkshire and baptised on 3 November in the local church of St. Cuthbert, where his name can be seen in the church register. He was the second of eight children of James Cook, a Scottish farm labourer from Ednam near Kelso, and his locally born wife, Grace Pace, from Thornaby-on-Tees.  In 1736, his family moved to Airey Holme farm at Great Ayton, where his father’s employer, Thomas Skottowe, paid for him to attend the local school. In 1741, after five years schooling, he began work for his father, who had by now been promoted to farm manager. For leisure, he woul d climb a nearby hill, Roseberry Topping, enjoying the opportunity for solitude. Cooks’ Cottage, his parents’ last home, which he is likely to have visited, is now in Melbourne, having been moved from England and reassembled, brick by brick, in 1934.

In 1745, when he was 16, Cook moved 20 miles (32 km) to the fishing village of Staithes, to be apprenticed as a shop boy to grocer and haberdasher William Sanderson. Historians have speculated that this is where Cook first felt the lure of the sea while gazing out of the shop window. After 18 months, not proving suitable for shop work, Cook travelled to the nearby port town of Whitby to be introduced to friends of Sanderson’s, John and Henry Walker. The Walkers were prominent local ship-owners and Quakers, and were in the coal trade. Their house is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. He was taken on as a merchant navy apprentice in their small fleet of vessels, plying coal along the English coast. His first assignment was aboard the collier Freelove, and he spent several years on this and various other coasters, sailing between the Tyne and London. As part of his apprenticeship, he applied himself to the study of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation and astronomy—all skills he would need one day to command his own ship.

His three-year apprenticeship completed, Cook began working on trading ships in the Baltic Sea. After passing his examinations in 1752, he soon progressed through the merchant navy ranks, starting with his promotion in that year to mate aboard the collier brig Friendship. In 1755, within a month of being offered command of this vessel, he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy, when Britain was re-arming for what was to become the Seven Years’ War. Despite the need to start back at the bottom of the naval hierarchy, Cook realized his career would advance more quickly in military service and entered the Navy at Wapping on 17 June 1755.

Cook married Elizabeth Batts (1742–1835), the daughter of Samuel Batts, keeper of the Bell Inn, Wapping and one of his mentors, on 21 December 1762 at St. Margaret’s Church in Barking, Essex.The couple had six children: James (1763–94), Nathaniel (1764–80, lost aboard HMS Thunderer which foundered with all hands in a hurricane in the West Indies), Elizabeth (1767–71), Joseph (1768–68), George (1772–72) and Hugh (1776–93), the last of whom died of scarlet fever while a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge. When not at sea, Cook lived in the East End of London. He attended St Paul’s Church, Shadwell, where his son James was baptized. Cook has no known direct descendants—all his recorded children either predeceased him or died without issue.

Start of Royal Navy career: His first posting was with HMS Eagle, serving as able seaman and master’s mate under Captain Joseph Hamar for his first year aboard, and Captain Hugh Palliser thereafter. In October and November 1755 he took part in Eagle’s capture of one French warship and the sinking of another, following which he was promoted to boatswain in addition to his other duties.  His first temporary command was in March 1756 when he was briefly master of the Cruizer, a small cutter attached to the Eagle while on patrol. In June 1757 he passed his master’s examinations at Trinity House, Deptford, which qualified him to navigate and handle a ship of the King’s fleet.  He then joined the frigate HMS Solebay as master under Captain Robert Craig.

Conquest of Canada (1758–63): During the Seven Years’ War, Cook served in North America as master of Pembroke (1757). In 1758 he took part in the major amphibious assault that captured the Fortress of Louisbourg from the French, after which he participated in the siege of Quebec City and then the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. He showed a talent for surveying and cartography, and was responsible for mapping much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege, thus allowing General Wolfe to make his famous stealth attack on the Plains of Abraham.

Cook’s surveying ability was put to good use mapping the jagged coast of Newfoundland in the 1760s, aboard HMS Grenville. He surveyed the north-west stretch in 1763 and 1764, the south coast between the Burin Peninsula and Cape Ray in 1765 and 1766, and the west coast in 1767. At this time Cook employed local pilots to point out the “rocks and hidden dangers” along the south and west coasts. During the 1765 season, four pilots were engaged at a daily pay of 4 shillings each: John Beck for the coast west of “Great St. Lawrence”, Morgan Snook for Fortune Bay, John Dawson for Connaigre and Hermitage Bay, and John Peck for the “Bay of Despair.”

His five seasons in Newfoundland produced the first large-scale and accurate maps of the island’s coasts and were the first scientific, large scale, hydrographic surveys to use precise triangulation to establish land outlines. They also gave Cook his mastery of practical surveying, achieved under often adverse conditions, and brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society at a crucial moment both in his career and in the direction of British overseas discovery. Cook’s map would be used into the 20th century—copies of it being referenced by those sailing Newfoundland’s waters for 200 years.

Navigation and science: Cook’s 12 years sailing around the Pacific Ocean contributed much to European knowledge of the area. Several islands such as Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) were encountered for the first time by Europeans, and his more accurate navigational charting of large areas of the Pacific was a major achievement. To create accurate maps, latitude and longitude must be accurately determined. Navigators had been able to work out latitude accurately for centuries by measuring the angle of the sun or a star above the horizon with an instrument such as a backstaff or quadrant. Longitude was more difficult to measure accurately because it requires precise knowledge of the time difference between points on the surface of the earth. The Earth turns a full 360 degrees relative to the sun each day. Thus longitude corresponds to time: 15 degrees every hour or 1 degree every 4 minutes. Cook gathered accurate longitude measurements during his first voyage due to his navigational skills, the help of astronomer Charles Green and by using the newly published Nautical Almanac tables, via the lunar distance method—measuring the angular distance from the moon to either the sun during daytime or one of eight bright stars during night-time to determine the time at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and comparing that to his local time determined via the altitude of the sun, moon, or stars. On his second voyage Cook used the K1 chronometer made by Larcum Kendall, which was the shape of a large pocket watch, 5 inches (13 cm) in diameter. It was a copy of the H4 clock made by John Harrison, which proved to be the first to keep accurate time at sea when used on the ship Deptford’s journey to Jamaica, 1761–62.

Cook succeeded in circumnavigating the world on his first voyage without losing a single man to scurvy, an unusual accomplishment at the time. He tested several preventive measures but the most important was frequent replenishment of fresh food. It was for presenting a paper on this aspect of the voyage to the Royal Society that he was presented with the Copley Medal in 1776. Ever the observer, Cook was the first European to have extensive contact with various people of the Pacific. He correctly postulated a link among all the Pacific peoples, despite their being separated by great ocean stretches (see Malayo-Polynesian languages). Cook theorized that Polynesians originated from Asia, which scientist Bryan Sykes later verified. In New Zealand the coming of Cook is often used to signify the onset of colonization.

Cook carried several scientists on his voyages; they made several significant observations and discoveries. Two botanists, Joseph Banks, and Swede Daniel Solander, were on the first Cook voyage. The two collected over 3,000 plant species. Banks subsequently strongly promoted British settlement of Australia. Several artists also sailed on Cook’s first voyage. Sydney Parkinson was heavily involved in documenting the botanists’ findings, completing 264 drawings before his death near the end of the voyage. They were of immense scientific value to British botanists. Cook’s second expedition included William Hodges, who produced notable landscape paintings of Tahiti, Easter Island, and other locations. Several officers who served under Cook went on to distinctive accomplishments. William Bligh, Cook’s sailing master, was given command of HMS Bounty in 1787 to sail to Tahiti and return with breadfruit. Bligh is most known for the mutiny of his crew which resulted in his being set adrift in 1789. He later became governor of New South Wales, where he was subject of another mutiny—the only successful armed takeover of an Australian government. George Vancouver, one of Cook’s midshipmen, later led a voyage of exploration to the Pacific Coast of North America from 1791 to 1794.  In honour of his former commander, Vancouver’s new ship was also christened HMS Discovery (1789). George Dixon sailed under Cook on his third expedition, and later commanded his own expedition.] A lieutenant under Cook, Henry Roberts, spent many years after that voyage preparing the detailed charts that went into Cook’s posthumous Atlas, published around 1784.

Cook’s contributions to knowledge were internationally recognized during his lifetime. In 1779, while the American colonies were fighting Britain for their independence, Benjamin Franklin wrote to captains of colonial warships at sea, recommending that if they came into contact with Cook’s vessel, they were to “not consider her an enemy, nor suffer any plunder to be made of the effects contained in her, nor obstruct her immediate return to England by detaining her or sending her into any other part of Europe or to America; but that you treat the said Captain Cook and his people with all civility and kindness, … as common friends to mankind.” Unknown to Franklin, Cook had met his death a month before this “passport” was written. Cook’s voyages were involved in another unusual first: The first female to circumnavigate the globe was a goat (“The Goat”), who made that memorable journey twice; the first time on HMS Dolphin, under Samuel Wallis. She was then pressed into service as the personal milk provider for Cook, aboard HMS Endeavor. When they returned to England, Cook presented her with a silver collar engraved with lines from Samuel Johnson: “Perpetui, ambita bis terra, praemia lactis Haec habet altrici Capra secunda Jovis.”. She was put to pasture on Cook’s farm outside London, and also was reportedly admitted to the privileges of the Royal Naval hospital at Greenwich. Cook’s journal recorded the date of The Goat’s death: 28 March 1772.

Death: After a month’s stay, Cook attempted to resume his exploration of the Northern Pacific. Shortly after leaving Hawaii Island, however, the Resolution’s foremast broke, so the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs. Tensions rose, and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay. An unknown group of Hawaiians took one of Cook’s small boats. The evening when the cutter was taken, the people had become “insolent” even with threats to fire upon them. Cook was forced into a wild goose chase that ended with his return to the ship frustrated. He attempted to kidnap and ransom the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu. That following day, 14 February 1779, he marched through the village to retrieve the King. Cook took the aliʻi nui by his own hand and led him willingly away. One of Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s favorite wives, Kanekapolei and two chiefs approached the group as they were heading to boats. They pleaded with the king not to go until he stopped and sat where he stood. An old Kahuna (priest), chanting rapidly while holding out a coconut, attempted to distract Cook and his men as a large crowd began to form at the shore. The king began to understand that Cook was his enemy. As Cook turned his back to help launch the boats, he was struck on the head by the villagers and then stabbed to death as he fell on his face in the surf.  He was first struck on the head with a club by a chief named Kalaimanokahoʻowaha or Kanaʻina (namesake of Charles Kana’ina) and then stabbed by one of the king’s attendants, Nuaa. The Hawaiians carried his body away towards the back of the town, still visible to the ship through their spyglass. Four marines, Corporal James Thomas, Private Theophilus Hinks, Private Thomas Fatchett and Private John Allen, were also killed and two others were wounded in the confrontation.

Courtesy Wikipedia .org

Crossroads; Success Upon Success-Post Pearl Harbour


In the first six to twelve months of war with the United States and Great Britain, I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success—Admiral Yamamoto in an interview with Shigeharu Matsumoto, a member of the Japanese cabinet, 1940.

Odd as it may seem, in the 1930s when Japan was arming furiously and seemed bent on the conquest of Asia, one of the most vigorous opponents of war was a young admiral who was generally regarded as the rising star of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Isoroku Yamamoto. He was a navy man through and through, and always a Japanese patriot. But he knew the United States and Great Britain as did few Japanese military or naval men, and far more than any others, recognized Japan’s strategic inferiority to these great nations in terms of raw materials and financial staying power. For a dozen years—-all the time that Admiral Yamamoto had been rising in the councils of the Empire-—he had opposed any Japanese expansionism that would lead to war with the United States and Britain. Now, in August 1939, Yamamoto who had been serving as vice minister of the navy, was appointed chief of the Combined Fleet, the operational head of Japan’s fighting navy. The irony was that although Admiral Yonai, first as navy minister and later Prime Minister, had been Yamamoto’s mentor and was largely responsible for Yamamoto’s views, these two men would be given the task of preparing Japan for just the war they hated.

In the past few years, the Imperial Japanese Army had been moving closer and closer to gaining absolute power over the Japanese government. The Kwantung Army had first arranged the murder of Warlord Zhang Zoulin of Manchuria, and then in 1931 had staged the “Mukden incident,” a shooting along the South Manchurian railroad that had enabled the army to seize Manchuria. The army had continued its expansionism and had dragged the navy along with it. The war had begun with China. Admiral Yamamoto, as a principal advocate of naval air power, had found himself sending aircraft against China and deeply involved in the incident on the Yangtze River in 1938 when the American gunboat Panay had been sunk and two British gunboats had been attacked by Japanese air force planes.
Admiral Yamamoto had been aghast at the army’s temerity, and his views had become very well known within the army and among that group of young naval officers who believed that it was Japan’s destiny to rule Asia.

In the summer of 1939, a group of young naval officers began talking about Admiral Yamamoto and Admiral Yonai. Both of them, they said, ought to be eliminated as obstructionists. Since 1932, assassination had been a popular method of eliminating army and government officials who opposed the “young lions,” so the threat was not to be taken lightly. Yamamoto was the most outspoken and thus the most likely target for assassination. A crisis arose when Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non aggression treaty, which many in Japan thought was aimed at Japan. So the cabinet of Prime Minister Hiranuma collapsed (since Hiranuma favoured closer relations with Germany) and his cabinet members resigned with him. This meant that Admiral Yonai was out as minister of the navy. The admiral took the threat to Yamamoto’s life so seriously that as Yonai’s term came to an end, he arranged for Yamamoto to head the Combined Fleet. This would take him out of a Tokyo government office and put him aboard the battleship Nagato, the Combined Fleet’s flagship. Out of Tokyo he would be out of sight, and his views would no longer be heard in the streets.
And so on August 28, 1939, Admiral Yamamoto succeeded Admiral Zengo Yoshida as commander of the Combined Fleet. Commander Motoshige Fujita escorted Admiral Yoshida up to Tokyo from the fleet base at Kagashima. On the morning of August 29, Admirals Yoshida and Yamamoto met at the home of Admiral Yonai, and on August 30 they were received at the Imperial Palace by Emperor Hirohito. The admirals came up to the palace gate in cars accompanied by men of the Kempeitai, or military police. These policemen were known to be spies of the army, which was on the verge of seizing total power over Japan. As Admiral Yamamoto emerged from the ceremonial greeting from the Emperor, he told his aide to get rid of the policemen. Since he was no longer vice minister of the navy, he pointed out, he was not entitled to a police escort. So the policemen were dismissed, and Admiral Yamamoto emerged from the scrutiny of the army into the safer hands of his own navy.

News of the appointment had spread through Tokyo, and as Admiral Yamamoto went to Tokyo station that day, hundreds of people came to see him off. He waited in the special room set aside for very important people and was escorted to the observation car of his train, where a red carpet had been laid out for him. At 1 p.m. the train pulled out from the station with Yamamoto in the observation platform giving a snappy salute to all his well-wishers and then waving his cap at them as the train gathered speed. Admiral Yamamoto, a handsome, athletic figure in his white uniform and medals, fifty-five years old and at the height of his powers, was off to a new adventure. There was no man in the Imperial Japanese Navy just then who was more suitable for command of the most modern naval fleet in the world, for from the beginning of the Japanese naval modernization program, Yamamoto had been deeply involved. Indeed Yamamoto was responsible for Japan’s emergence as the prime advocate of naval air power among the major fleets of the world.

Already Admiral Yamamoto was so well known in Japan that as the train headed for Osaka, crowds came out to the stations en route to have a look at him, and in Japanese fashion, to load him down with small gifts of cigarettes, sake, and food delicacies. He smiled and gestured his gratitude, and the train moved on: Yokohama, Shizuoka, and Nagoya. At Nagoya the greetings ended, and the admiral changed from his formal uniform into a civilian suit. Reporters from the Nagoya Chunichi Shimbun and the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun boarded the train and sought interviews. The admiral, whose views were so well known, suddenly became shy and refused to comment. It would not be proper, he said, for an officer on active naval duty to mix in political matters. And from that point on, for the rest of his life, Admiral Yamamoto refused to discuss political affairs. His friends who had sought to save his life from assassination by getting him to sea had also silenced one of the most vigorous critics of a government that was moving headlong toward war.

Success Upon Success-Post Pearl Harbour

Admiral Yamamoto was a very efficient fleet commander in terms of his attention to detail. He insisted on knowing everything that was going on in his combined fleet. For example, just after the New Year, he led his staff on an expedition to see the lookout post established on Ohmishima and a naval shore battery on Nasake Jima. At one o’clock in the afternoon, they left the flagship in small boats and landed at Wasa. Then they started to climb the steep mountain, the admiral leading. They climbed for an hour on a steep and rocky path, until, panting and perspiring, they reached the lookout post. The view below encompassed the two channels, Moroshina and Kodako that led to the anchorage. Matsuyama castle stood in the background against the blue sea. Then they tumbled down the mountain again, and at four o’clock they were ready for the second part of the expedition. They went by the antisubmarine net and to Nasake Jima, where the admiral inspected the battery of four shore guns. Then they went back to the ship, arriving at 6 P.M. Such attention to detail was a mark of the admiral. He had sanctioned the use of the midget submarines in the attack on Pearl Harbour, and now wanted to know what had happened. One of the boats was the I-16, and it was ordered to Hashirajima so that its captain could report to the admiral personally about the mission. The captain reported on the difficulties of carrying a midget submarine on the deck, launching it, and then trying to recover it. In fact, all the midget submarines that were used at Pearl Harbour were lost, and the admiral told his staff that there was still a lot to be learned before the next operation in which midget submarines seemed indicated.

Yamamoto was not very sanguine about the submarine and never had been. At the London naval conference he had joined the faction rejecting the British contention that the submarine should be abandoned altogether as a purely offensive weapon. In the naval conference Japan opposed the abolishment of the submarine on the ground that it was a defensive weapon, not an offensive one. Now it seemed to have become true; they were really defensive. At least, that was the Japanese view. And here Yamamoto showed a major weakness as a fleet commander: He did not understand the primary use of the submarine. Consequently, the Japanese fleet never made adequate use of its submarine fleet, although the I-boats were extremely efficient weapons, with longer range and better torpedoes than the American boats of that periodFor one who had shown so much appreciation of air power in the war in Europe, Admiral Yamamoto showed no appreciation at all of the effectiveness of the German U-boat in the war against BritainThe concept of commerce destruction as a major factor in the war did not seem to interest Yamamoto.

Before the outbreak of the war in 1939, Captain Karl Doenitz, chief of the German submarine service, had written the high command that if they gave him 300 U-boats he could bring England to her knees in less than a year. Fortunately for Britain, Hitler did not pay attention. The man who did pay attention to the concept was Winston Churchill, who shared with Doenitz a perfect understanding of the importance of commerce destruction. But not Yamamoto. He was constantly telling the Sixth Fleet, his submarine force, to concentrate on the sinking of warships. They did so, and they would sink a number, but within a matter of months the Americans were producing warships so rapidly that the sinkings were not a major factor in the war.

Admiral Yamamoto error here was major, and it had an enormous effect on the outcome of the Pacific war. As Admiral Nimitz said, shortly after his arrival at Pearl Harbour, with their I-boat force, the Japanese could have cut off Hawaii from the mainland, and thus crippled the American Pacific war effort, for many, many months.

Yet Yamamoto, who had shown enormous prescience in leading Japan to pre-eminence as the first major carrier power, was not alone by far in his misapplication of the submarine warfare principle. On January 2, 1942, Admiral Ugaki noted in his diary: “It is regrettable for the officers and men of the submarine service that they have not yet sunk any important men of war except merchantmen.”

So the myopia in the fleet was general, and it was shared in Tokyo. While Admiral Nimitz was pulling out all the stops to bring submarine forces into play against Japan, the Japanese I-boats were looking for American carriers and battleships, and this attitude would not change. A few days later, the Fourth Submarine Division reported the sinking of the carrier Langley, the only carrier in the U.S. Asiatic fleet, and that whetted the submarine force’s appetite for war ships. When another I-boat torpedoed the Lexington a few days after that, the seal was put on the Japanese naval attitude.*

  • The reports were in error. Both carriers were sunk in the pacific, but just not then. The Saratoga was the ship torpedoed, but she was repaired.

Admiral Yamamoto had promised five dozen bottles of beer to the first torpedo officer of a submarine to sink a fleet-class carrier, and he paid off to the torpedo officer of the I-6, the submarine that torpedoed the Lexington. She was actually not sunk, but the Japanese did not learn that until several months later when she appeared in the Coral Sea. So radio Tokyo triumphantly announced her sinking, and elaborated on the story for several days. And the commander in chief’s approval of the search for capital warships diverted the whole submarine force. No one was talking about commerce raiding after that.

Japanese troops occupied Manila on January 2 and 3. The Americans and the Philippine Constabulary had fled, mostly to the Bataan Peninsula. The invasion was way ahead of schedule, as it was everywhere else. So Yamamoto reorganized the fleet. The Southern Expeditionary Fleet was renamed the First Southern Expeditionary Fleet, and it prepared for invasion of Rabaul because the other moves had been so successful. A new third Southern Expeditionary Fleet was given charge of the Philippine’s operations, which now consisted of mopping up and the reduction of the Corregidor fortress with its big guns that controlled Manila harbour.

Along with the expeditionary fleet, Admiral Yamamoto prepared to send the carrier task force down south to make way for the Rabaul invasion by softening up the Australian defenses. Yamamoto now expected that the Rabaul phase would be complete by mid-March, and some more plans would have to be made. In the back of his mind was a plan for the capture of Midway Island, which bothered him because of its usefulness as an American submarine and air base, and a simultaneous move against the Aleutian Islands, which would give the Japanese a foothold on the North American perimeter. The staff was talking about invading Hawaii, and in Tokyo plans even to the point of invasion currency was being drawn. Yamamoto’s staff officers began studying alternative plans for future operations.

Whatever the plans, they must be kept strictly within the overall aim of the war: attainment of self-sufficiency for Japan, so that she could continue her major effort which was to swallow China. Admiral Ugaki wanted to send submarines far afield, to the Indian Ocean and to the Panama Canal, but he was restrained by Yamamoto. Even the invasion of Hawaii, for which the staff officers were clamoring, would have to wait until that decisive fleet action, missed by Admiral Nagumo at Pearl Harbour, had been brought to successful completion.

The war was going splendidly for Admiral Yamamoto. The army announced that it was ready now to stage the invasion of Java, weeks ahead of schedule. But the problem with all this success was that no one in Tokyo was able to bring it into perspective. Yamamoto knew that the Americans would soon recover from Pearl Harbour destruction. He had not achieved his decisive action, and it haunted him. Navy and army had more than carried out the tasks assigned to them so far. What was needed now was statesmanship in Tokyo to consolidate the victories without waste and strengthen the empire. Looking around him, Admiral Yamamoto saw no such statesman, no one of the calibre of Britain’s Winston Churchill or America’s Franklin D. Roosevelt. And he confided his fears to Admiral Ugaki, who capsulized them in his diary:

However invincible the Imperial armed forces are, and however great their exploits may be, the great achievement done at the sacrifice of our lives will be only in vain, unless statesmen have a great policy for the country.

On January 8, Admiral Nagumo sailed for the south, and the next day Japanese troops moved into Tarakan and the Celebes islands. Yes, the war was going splendidly. On January 14, after four days of hard work, Admiral Ugaki completed the proposal directed by Admiral Yamamoto for the Midway operation, to be followed by the invasion of Hawaii. The justification was the need to destroy the American fleet and bring the war to a quick conclusion. The directive was turned over to the fleet staff officers for detailed study and recommendations. This, as we have seen, was the Japanese system, in which young staff officers were given enormous responsibility and latitude. In fact, they had almost full sway up to the time of final decision. Even Admiral Ugaki, the chief of staff, was not permitted in the junior officer’s councils, lest his presence inhibit their free discussion of ideas.

On January 22 came favourable reports from Rabaul and Balikpapan: the Japanese were marching on Rangoon, Thailand had declared war on the British, and the advance in Malaya had nearly reached Singapore. The future of the Japanese empire had never seemed brighter. On January 27, Yamamoto’s young staff officers came up with their plan. They had considered an immediate attack on Hawaii but had not been able to figure out how to destroy the land-based air force brought into the islands in the past few weeks. So they had opted for Midway, where that problem did not really exist. The plan was taken to Admiral Yamamoto and he began to study it. At the same time, Commander Yamamoto (no relation) of the naval general staff appeared aboard the flagship on other business, and Admiral Ugaki gave him a copy of the proposal to take back to Tokyo.

For some time Admiral Yamamoto had been concerned about the whereabouts and activities of America’s aircraft carriers. On February 1, 1942, he had some unwelcome news. An American carrier force had moved to the Marshalls for a raid, with cruisers and several destroyers. They hit Wotje, Eniwetok, Kwajalein, and Jaluit. They destroyed a number of planes and several ships, and they killed Rear Admiral Yasuhiro Yukichi, the commander of the naval base. He was the first admiral killed in the war. Yamamoto was very upset, because the Japanese had been caught just as much unaware here as the Americans had at Pearl Harbour, and there was really no excuse for it because everyone knew now that there was a war on. The attack had been successful, said the admiral, because the men of the fleet had grown cocksure after their many easy victories. Everyone felt the admiral’s displeasure that day, including Admiral Ugaki, who indulged himself in a long session of self-recrimination.

From the outset of the war, Admiral Yamamoto had been concerned about the day when American naval power would make it possible for planes to raid Tokyo. He read the press, and he knew that the Americans had diverted ten cruiser hulls to become carriers, so it would not be long before the danger became very real. At this time Tojo and the army were boasting that the Americans would never touch Tokyo, but Yamamoto knew these were empty promises. This was one of the major reasons he so urgently sought the decisive battle and looked with such favour on the Midway plan.

On Saturday, February 7, came the welcome reports of the Japanese success at the Battle of the Java Sea, which destroyed most of the remnants of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet and British and Dutch sea power in the area. On February 12, the admiral’s flag was again shifted to the Yamato, and the admiral and staff celebrated a housewarming with chicken sukiyaki and sake. That night they celebrated again, because they learned of the fall of Singapore. This was considered in Tokyo as the supreme victory of the war.

General Tojo made an important speech about the Greater East Asia co-prosperity sphere, calling on the Australians and New Zealanders to break their alliance with the Western powers and join up. The call was ignored in Canberra. Then, as if on signal, on February 19, Admiral Nagumo’s task force attacked Darwin, sinking three destroyers, a sub-chaser, and eight merchant ships. The harbour was wrecked, and about thirty planes were destroyed. Afterwards Admiral Nagumo sailed on to Truk to await further orders.

Early in March, Admiral Halsey’s task force raided Marcus Island, and although the damage was slight, it made Yamamoto think again about the possibility of American air raids on Tokyo. The war surged on. In early April, Admiral Nagumo’s carrier force hit Ceylon, damaging the harbour and sinking some ships in Colombo, and then it engaged elements of the British fleet off Trincomalee, sinking the carrier Hermes. Once again Admiral Nagumo did not wait around long enough to complete the job: two other British carriers got away. Admiral Yamamoto happened to be in Tokyo at that point, at the Navy club , where he encountered Prince Fushimi. The prince was all congratulations and smiles about the great job being done by the navy, so Yamamoto could not air his own negative views. Everything seemed to be going better than anyone had dared hope. Nagumo sank two cruisers as well.

The plans had been made, and the navy and army now agreed to begin the second stage of war operations, which involved the attack on Australia and Midway. On April 17, Admiral Yamamoto delivered his message to the fleet, and the task forces set out to make landings in the Solomon Islands and Port Moresby on New Guinea. “With this spirit,” wrote Admiral Ugaki triumphantly, “the foundation of the empire can be said to be safe.”

But the fact was that even as the admiral so wrote, forces were in motion to give the Japanese a great shock, and to bear out Admiral Yamamoto’s most startling fears.

Excerpts: Yamamoto by Edwin P. Hoyt, McGraw Hill, New York, 1976