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    Admiral Yamamoto's Rank Flag, taken from the Nagato, 30 August 1945. Nagato was the flagship of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto during the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which began the American involvement in World War II. It was on Nagato's flag bridge that he issued the now infamous command, "Niitaka yama nobore" (Climb Mount Niitaka), a coded signal to proceed with the Pearl Harbor attack. For this reason, the Nagato became important to the Japanese Navy as a "spiritual" flagship, its "capital" battleship and, therefore, special target for destruction by the United States Navy.

    The Nagato's Admiral's Rank Flag, which likely represented Admiral Yamamoto in 1941-1942, is a 99" x 152", hand sewn, double-faced, joined fabric, wool bunting flag finished with a roped canvas hoist and an upper hoist stiffener. The flag is marked in Japanese ? ?, which translates Big Six, likely a reference to the flag's size and importance. It was likely shipboard-made and it exceeds the known Japanese sizes for similar rank flags. It is made in the style of rank flags used for full admirals of the Imperial Japanese Navy from 1897 to 1945. All Japanese admirals' flags were white with a red, centered sun disc from which eight unequal rays extended off the flag. In order to difference the grades of junior admirals, the flag for a vice admiral was defaced with a red stripe across the top, while that of a rear admiral had red stripes at the top and bottom.

    Commissioned in 1920, the Imperial Japanese Navy super-dreadnought 42,850 ton battleship Nagato, named for the province of Nagato (echoing the American practice of naming battleships for states), was the lead ship of her class; her sister ship was the Mutsu. She was sleek with rakish lines, powerful engines, and eight 16-inch guns mounted in four turrets. The world's first such warship. Nagato spent much of her service as flagship for the Imperial Japanese Navy and as such did not engage in ship-to-ship combat. In 1937, she was a participant in the Sino-Japanese War.

    At the beginning of the American involvement in WWII, as the flagship of the Combined Fleet under the command of Admiral Yamamoto, and likely wearing this flag, she sortied to screen the ships returning from the Pearl Harbor attack. In 1942, when he transferred his flag to the new battleship Yamato, the Nagato remained in Japanese home waters training.

    The Nagato sortied to Truk in 1943 and saw her first ship-to-ship combat during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944. She returned to the Yokosuka naval base in Japan where the wartime fuel shortages prevented her further deployment and she became a costal defense and anti-aircraft ship. She was the only Japanese battleship to survive the war.

    It was a universal custom among both Allied and Axis navies during WWII to indicate the status of a commissioned warship with a commission or masthead pennant worn at the maintop or other conspicuous hoist. Whenever a warship was designated as a flagship, the flag-officer's rank flag replaced that pennant. Of the twelve battleships in the Imperial Japanese Fleet during WWII, Fuso, Haruna, Hiei, Hyuga, Ise, Kirishima, Kongo, Musashi, Mutsu, Nagato, Yamashiro, and Yamato, the Nagato had the distinction of serving as a flagship at least seven times, more than any other Japanese battleship.

    After the Nagato was lightly damaged by American dive bombers in the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23-26, 1944), she returned to the Yokosuka Naval Base in Tokyo Bay. Arriving in late November 1944, she underwent modest repairs and major modifications for conversion into an anti-aircraft and coastal defense ship. Nagato's secondary armament was removed and additional anti-aircraft guns were mounted. Her mainmast, funnels, and the top of her "pagoda" style superstructure were removed to increase the arcs of fire for her anti-aircraft batteries. She was heavily camouflaged with netting, sandbags, scaffolding, and plants. She was further protected by torpedo nets and smaller ships moored alongside. Nagato remained a flagship for a rear admiral.

    In July 1945, as a part of Admiral William Halsey, Jr.'s drive to destroy the Imperial Japanese Navy's last surviving capital ships, the Haruna, Hyuga, Ise, and Nagato were all attacked by U.S. carrier aircraft. Only the Nagato survived. She was damaged by two 500-pound bombs, one of which struck her flag bridge, killing Rear Admiral Otsuka Miki and ten other crewmen. Somewhat ironically, but perhaps Halsey's primary motivation, that bridge was the very location from which Admiral Yamamoto had issued the command to attack Pearl Harbor.

    After the attack, the still seaworthy Nagato was partially refitted. On August 2nd she prepared for possible sortie, but the orders never came. Although she gave the appearance of a severely damaged battleship, she still retained her anti-aircraft capabilities, her propulsion, and the formidable lethality of her 16-inch guns.

    On August 15th, Rear Admiral Ikeguchi assembled the crew of Nagato assembled on the afterdeck to hear the emperor's fateful live radio transmission calling for an end to hostilities. Shortly after that she shoved off from the Yokosuka wharf to anchor in Tokyo Bay, her forward guns toward on the harbor entrance.

    Mindful that this was the last Japanese battleship afloat, Nagato's captain determined to deprive the Americans of war trophies to exhibit at Annapolis. While awaiting the American fleet, he gave orders to remove the gilt carved wooden chrysanthemum crest from Nagato's bow and had it burned on the afterdeck. It was fortunate for the American prize crew that his concerns did not extend to Nagato's ensigns, jacks, flags, and signals.

    Task Force 31 (TF31) of the U.S. Navy's Third Fleet, led by the USS San Diego, steamed into Tokyo Bay on August 27, 1945. TF31 was the Yokosuka Occupation Force, charged with clearing mines, securing and occupying the Yokosuka Naval Base and airfield, supporting the release of Allied POWs, demilitarizing all enemy defenses, preparing for the landing of additional forces, and accepting the surrender of the Nagato.

    On August 29, 1945, the USS Missouri (BB-63), named for President Truman's home state and chosen by him to accept the formal surrender of the Japanese government, and the USS Iowa (BB-61), flagship of the Third Fleet, entered Tokyo Bay as final preparations for the surrender of the Nagato were under way. On August 30, 1945, a prize crew commanded by the executive officer of the Iowa, Captain Cornelius W. Flynn, boarded Nagato. After some perfunctory courtesies, Captain Flynn directed Nagato's captain to strike his ensign. The captain gave the order to a Japanese sailor, but Flynn curtly snapped: "No. Haul them down yourself!" With this act the Nagato passed into U.S. Navy hands as the U.S. ensign was hoisted in its place. The "capture" of Nagato symbolized the unconditional surrender of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

    Capt. Flynn's prize crew comprised of 35 sailors and marines, Underwater Demolition Team 18, and crewmen from the USS Iowa and the USS Horace A. Bass. After the surrender, the prize crew swarmed over Nagato, placing the crew under "house arrest", searching for sabotage demolition charges, checking the boilers and powerplants, taking control of the small arms, and securing the over 900 16-inch shells for the main guns. In spite of their assigned duties, the American bluejackets and marines still had time to take into "protective custody" a wide variety of maps, sidearms, swords, binoculars, Japanese uniforms, and the entire contents of the Nagato flag locker.

    Serving on the prize crew on August 30, 1945 was a 37-year-old chief boatswain's mate and the Iowa's Master-at-Arms, Prince "Ted" Duncan. A career navy man, "the Chief" had served aboard the USS Pennsylvania before transferring to the USS Iowa in 1943. He left the Nagato with a huge Admiral's Rank Flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy, a piece of halyard, and 20 small Japanese silk stick flags and ensigns. It is not known if Chief Duncan realized the true significance of his trophies. The documentation accompanying the flag indicates that the large flag was referred to it as "the Admiral's flag" as a treasured trophy the flag that was always well cared for.

    By repute the flag acquired by Chief Duncan reported as "hauled down" on August 30,1945. However, it is unclear why the Nagato may have been wearing a full admiral's flag. The last flag officer to actually command from the Nagato was Rear Admiral Masamichi Ikeguchi, and the last commander of the Yokosuka Naval District was Vice Admiral Tsukahara Nishizo, neither of whom rated a full admiral's flag. A review of the Nagato's WWII service record reveals that she served as a flagship for a full admiral only from December 7, 1941 until February 12, 1942-for Admiral Yamamoto. At all other times she was the flagship of either a vice or rear admiral. Perhaps the Nagato wore this flag one last time as an homage to Marshal Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto or the term "hauled down" was a sailor's tale. Either way, this was the only Admiral's flag taken as a trophy on August 30, 1945.

    This is a flag for an advanced collector of WWII Japanese naval artifacts. Flags from the Nagato are highly sought after. The Nagato was taken with her ensigns flying and her flag locker intact. As a result, documented ensigns for the only Japanese battleship to survive WWII are well placed in prominent institutions. Besides the Capt. Flynn flag conveyed to the United States Naval Museum at Annapolis, Maryland, there are documented Nagato ensigns at: National Park Service, Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Hawaii, Office of Naval Intelligence, Washington, D.C., Yamato Museum, Kure, Japan, and the USS South Dakota Museum, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Two other documented Nagato ensigns have come to auction and remain in private hands.

    In addition to ensigns, the oft-used flagship Nagato carried appropriate admirals' flags in all grades; admiral, vice admiral, and rear admiral. There is an Imperial Japanese Navy rear admiral's flag at the National Park Service, Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Hawaii, and another flag reputed to be from the Nagato in private hands. There are two documented flags for a Japanese vice-admiral, one at the USS Yorktown Museum, Point Pleasant, South Carolina, and another at the National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, Texas. A rank flag for a full admiral, current location is unknown, was reportedly taken from the Nagato in September of 1945 by a crewman from the USS Wren.

    Condition: Yamamoto's Admirals flag from the Nagato is used, worn and soiled but otherwise intact.

    Provenance: Imperial Japanese Navy, HIJMS Nagato; acquired by Chief Boatswain's Mate Prince "Ted" Duncan as a trophy-of-war 30 August 1945 and retained until the 1960s when gifted to Mr. Richard Brundo, a former mayor of Culver City, California, and thence until his death in 2016, and then by descent to the current consignor.




    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2020
    6th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 20
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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