This Day in History for April 7: Japanese Battleship Yamato Sunk (1945)

Japanese Battleship Yamato Sunk (1945)

Yamato (大和) was the lead ship of her class of battleships built for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) shortly before World War II. She and her sister ship, Musashi, were the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleships ever constructed, displacing 72,800 tonnes at full load and armed with nine 46 cm (18.1 in) Type 94 main guns, which were the largest guns ever mounted on a warship.

Named after the ancient Japanese Yamato Province, Yamato was designed to counter the numerically superior battleship fleet of the United States, Japan’s main rival in the Pacific. She was laid down in 1937 and formally commissioned a week after the Pearl Harbor attack in late 1941. Throughout 1942, she served as the flagship of the Combined Fleet, and in June 1942 Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto directed the fleet from her bridge during the Battle of Midway, a disastrous defeat for Japan. Musashi took over as the Combined Fleet flagship in early 1943, and Yamato spent the rest of the year, and much of 1944, moving between the major Japanese naval bases of Truk and Kure in response to American threats. Although present at the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, she played no part in the battle.

The only time Yamato fired her main guns at enemy surface targets was in October 1944, when she was sent to engage American forces invading the Philippines during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. On the verge of success, the Japanese force turned back, believing they were engaging an entire US carrier fleet rather than a light escort carrier group that was all which stood between the battleship and vulnerable troop transports.

During 1944, the balance of naval power in the Pacific decisively turned against Japan, and by early 1945, its fleet was much depleted and badly hobbled by critical fuel shortages in the home islands. In a desperate attempt to slow the Allied advance, Yamato was dispatched on a one-way mission to Okinawa in April 1945, with orders to beach herself and fight until destroyed protecting the island. The task force was spotted south of Kyushu by US submarines and aircraft, and on 7 April 1945 she was sunk by American carrier-based bombers and torpedo bombers with the loss of most of her crew.

Design and construction

During the 1930s the Japanese government adopted an ultranationalist militancy with a view to greatly expand the Japanese Empire.[1] Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1934, renouncing its treaty obligations.[2] After withdrawing from the Washington Naval Treaty, which limited the size and power of capital ships, the Imperial Japanese Navy began their design of the new Yamato class of heavy battleships. Their planners recognized Japan would be unable to compete with the output of U.S. naval shipyards should war break out, so the 70,000 ton[3] vessels of the Yamato class were designed to be capable of engaging multiple enemy battleships at the same time.[4][5]

The keel of Yamato, the lead ship of the class,[6] was laid down at the Kure Naval Arsenal, Hiroshima, on 4 November 1937, in a dockyard that had to be adapted to accommodate her enormous hull.[7][8] The dock was deepened by one meter, and gantry cranes capable of lifting up to 350 tonnes were installed.[7][9] Extreme secrecy was maintained throughout construction,[7][10] a canopy even being erected over part of the drydock to screen the ship from view.[11]Yamato was launched on 8 August 1940, with Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Miyazato Shutoku in command.[12] A great effort was made in Japan to ensure that the ships were built in extreme secrecy to prevent American intelligence officials from learning of their existence and specifications.[7][10]

Armament

Yamatos main battery consisted of nine 46 cm (18.1 in) 45 Caliber Type 94 naval guns—the largest caliber of naval artillery ever fitted to a warship,[14] although the shells were not as heavy as those fired by the British 18-inch naval guns of World War I. Each gun was 21.13 metres (69.3 ft) long, weighed 147.3 metric tons (162.4 short tons), and was capable of firing high-explosive or armor-piercing shells 42 kilometres (26 mi).[15] Her secondary battery comprised twelve 155-millimetre (6.1 in) guns mounted in four triple turrets (one forward, one aft, two midships), and twelve 127-millimetre (5.0 in) guns in six twin mounts (three on each side amidships). These turrets had been taken off the Mogami-class cruisers when those vessels were converted to a main armament of 20.3-centimetre (8.0 in) guns. In addition, Yamato carried twenty-four 25-millimetre (0.98 in) anti-aircraft guns, primarily mounted amidships.[14] When refitted in 1944 and 1945 for naval engagements in the South Pacific,[16] the secondary battery configuration was changed to six 155 mm guns and twenty-four 127 mm guns, and the number of 25 mm anti-aircraft guns was increased to 162.[17]

Service

Trials and initial operations

During October or November 1941 Yamato underwent sea trials, reaching her maximum possible speed of 27.4 knots (50.7 km/h; 31.5 mph).[12][N 1] As war loomed, priority was given to accelerating military construction. On 16 December, months ahead of schedule, the battleship was formally commissioned at Kure, in a ceremony more austere than usual, as the Japanese were still intent on concealing the ship’s characteristics.[12] The same day, under Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Gihachi Takayanagi, she joined fellow battleships Nagato and Mutsu in the 1st Battleship Division.[19]

On 12 February 1942, Yamato became the flagship of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s Combined Fleet.[12][18] A veteran of Japan’s crushing victory over Russia at the Battle of Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War, the Pearl Harbor victor was planning a decisive engagement with the United States Navy at Midway Island. After participating in war games Yamato departed Hiroshima Bay on 27 May for duty with Yamamoto’s main battleship group.[12][20] US codebreakers were aware of Yamamoto’s intentions and the Battle of Midway proved disastrous for Japan’s carrier force, with four fleet carriers and 332 aircraft lost.[12]Yamamoto exercised overall command from Yamatos bridge,[20] but his battle plan had widely dispersed his forces to lure the Americans into a trap, and the battleship group was too far away to take part in the engagement.[12] On 5 June, Yamamoto ordered the remaining ships to return to Japan, so Yamato withdrew with the main battleship force to Hashirajima, before making her way back to Kure.[18][19]

Yamato left Kure for Truk on 17 August 1942.[21][N 2] After 11 days at sea, she was sighted by the American submarine USS Flying Fish, which fired four torpedoes, all of which missed; Yamato arrived safely at Truk later that day.[18][21][N 3] She remained there throughout the Guadalcanal Campaign because of a lack of 46 cm ammunition suitable for shore bombardment, uncharted seas around Guadalcanal, and her high fuel consumption.[12][16] Before the year’s end, Captain (later Rear Admiral) Chiaki Matsuda was assigned to command Yamato.[21]

On 11 February 1943, Yamato was replaced by her sister ship Musashi as flagship of the Combined Fleet.[12] The battleship spent only a single day away from Truk between her arrival in August 1942 and her departure on 8 May 1943.[12][22] On that day, she set sail for Yokosuka and from there for Kure, arriving on 14 May.[12][22] She spent nine days in dry dock for inspection and general repairs,[21] and after sailing to Japan’s western Inland Sea she was again dry-docked in late July for significant refitting and upgrades. On 16 August, Yamato began her return to Truk, where she joined a large task force formed in response to American raids on the Tarawa and Makin atolls.[21] She sortied in late September with Nagato, three carriers, and smaller warships to intercept US Task Force 15, and again a month later with six battleships, three carriers, and eleven cruisers. Intelligence had reported that the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor was nearly empty of ships,[12] which the Japanese interpreted to mean that an American naval force would strike at Wake Island.[12] But there were no radar contacts for six days, and the fleet returned to Truk, arriving on 26 October.[12]

Yamato escorted Transport Operation BO-1 from Truk to Yokosuka during 12–17 December.[22] Subsequently, because of their extensive storage capacity and thick armor protection, Yamato and Musashi were pressed into service as transport vessels.[23] On 25 December, while ferrying troops and equipment—which were wanted as reinforcements for the garrisons at Kavieng and the Admiralty Islands—from Yokosuka to Truk, Yamato and her task group were intercepted by the American submarine Skate about 180 miles (290 km) out at sea.[12][24] Skate fired a spread of four torpedoes at Yamato; one struck the battleship’s starboard side toward the stern.[12] A hole 5 metres (16 ft) below the top of her anti-torpedo bulge and measuring some 25 metres (82 ft) across was ripped open in the hull, and a joint between the upper and lower armored belts failed, causing the rear turret’s upper magazine to flood.[13] Yamatotook on about 3,000 tons of water,[13][24] but reached Truk later that day. The repair ship Akashi effected temporary repairs,[21] and Yamato departed on 10 January for Kure.[24]

On 16 January 1944, Yamato arrived at Kure for repairs of the torpedo damage and was dry-docked until 3 February.[21] During this time, armor plate sloped at 45° was fitted in the area of damage to her hull. It had been proposed that 5,000 long tons (5,100 t) of steel be used to bolster the ship’s defense against flooding from torpedo hits outside the armored citadel, but this was rejected out of hand because the additional weight would have increased Yamatos displacement and draft too much.[13] While Yamato was dry-docked, Captain Nobuei Morishita—former captain of the battleship Haruna—assumed command.[21] On 25 February, Yamato and Musashi were reassigned from the 1st Battleship Division to the Second Fleet.

Yamato was again dry-docked at Kure for further upgrades to all her radar and anti-aircraft systems from 25 February to 18 March 1944.[21] Each of the two beam-mounted 6.1 inch (155-mm) triple turrets was removed and replaced by three pairs of 5-inch (127-mm) AA guns in double mounts. In addition, 8 triple and 26 single 25mm AA mounts were added, increasing the total number of 127 mm and 25 mm anti-aircraft guns to 24 and 162, respectively.[17] Shelters were also added on the upper deck for the increased AA crews. A Type 13 air search and Type 22, Mod 4, surface search/gunnery control radar were installed, and the main mast was altered. Her radar suite was also upgraded to include infrared identification systems and aircraft search and gunnery control radars.[21] She left the dry dock on 18 March and went through several trials beginning on 11 April.[24] Yamato left Kure on 21 April and embarked soldiers and materiel the following day at Okinoshima for a mission to Manila, reaching the Philippines on 28 April.[13] She then moved on to Malaya to join Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s Mobile Fleet at Lingga;[21] this force arrived at Tawi Tawi on 14 May.[21] Read More….

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