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Japanese Super Battleship Yamato

ole timer Sep 13, 2014

  1. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Death Ride of the Japanese Super Battleship Yamato


    The keen eyed Japanese look-out observer atop the superstructure foremast of the super battleship Yamato was left momentarily speechless and utterly horrified at the ominous, blood curdling sight of many stacked formations of hundreds of US Navy strike aircraft now headed directly towards them. He wildly pointed at the incoming wall of blue painted American fighters, torpedo planes and dive bombers, before screaming loudly into the ship's communications microphone the warning of. "HELLDIVERS!!"

    The Japanese super battleship Yamato and her escorting warships cruised at 16 knots through the pleasant, sunny spring weather and calm, offshore waters south of Kyushu Japan on her one way, suicidal voyage towards the savage fighting now taking place on the nearby home island of Okinawa. The Japanese Naval March blared loudly and endlessly, over and over again on the ship's loud speakers to inspire its crew as to what lay in store. Six friendly escorting Japanese fighter planes orbited lazily directly overhead, acting as both air cover and an anti-submarine escort for the task force. Upon reaching open ocean waters the super battleship and her escorts began running a zig-zag course to frustrate torpedo attacks from Allied submarines reportedly in the area. Captain Aruga, Yamato's commander stood on the ship's bridge. He frowned as he received a report from the radar room saying that hundreds of aircraft were now headed in their direction and but 63 miles away. The ship immediately went to General Quarters as her gun crew of sailors dashed to their battle stations to man Yamato's hundreds of light and heavy anti aircraft guns. Deep down in the bowels of the ship, her engine room crews cut in all boilers to provide emergency propulsion power should the need arise.

    With the conclusion of the Washington Naval Conference of 1922 following the end of World War I, it was decided that in the interests of world peace, all of the victorious Allied powers would cut down the size of their navies and take a ten year holiday from the building of new battleships. This would prevent a ruinous and costly arms race between Great Britain and the United States. The called for 5:5:3 allowance of new battleships meant that while the US and UK could, after the ten year holiday build five new battleships, Japan could build only 3. The land grabbing, expansive minded, military leaders of Imperial Japan angrily disagreed but were forced to abide by the restrictions of the treaty until 1936 when they abrogated and tore up the treaty to embark upon a massive fleet building and expansion program. Knowing full well their own quantitative industrial limitations as to their ship building abilities vs. those of her primary rivals, the United States and Great Britain, the Japanese decided to err on the side of quality rather than quantity and build a class of massive super battleships. These ships were designed to be the largest ever built with the heaviest main gun calibers ever to be mounted on a battleship of 18.1" diameter. The largest battleship main guns in the Anglo-American navies were of 16" diameter. Three of these super battleships were designed and secretly laid down in Japanese naval ship yards in the late 1930's. The IJN's Yamato, Musashi and Shinano were envisioned to be the first of five of these revolutionary super battleships they would one day use to help wrest control of the Pacific rim of colonies and nations from the influence and grasp of the Dutch, French, US and UK to allow Japan to seize their own longed for, proper place in the sun.

    The Yamato weighed 70,000 tons with a length of 840 feet and a beam width of 127 feet. 12 Kanpon boilers and four steam turbines gave her a top speed of 27 knots. However, she was a notoriously uneconomical "fuel hog" that burned enormous amounts of oil even while running at low speeds. This was why she spent almost an entire year during the war anchored in Truk Lagoon, and was given the derisive title of "Hotel Yamato" by her crew. During this tim, she was used as little more than a fuel tanker, allowing other warships to refuel from her massive, cavernous fuel bunkers aboard. Yamato mounted 9x18.1" guns, 9x6" guns and 12x5" guns as originally built. Later in the war her anti aircraft gun suite was greatly increased with the addition of heavier flak guns and well over a hundred 25mm light flak guns. She also carried 4 scout aircraft and had a crew of just under 2,800 men. Yamato's sister battleship Musashi was her near exact twin, but the third super battleship Shinano was later converted into an aircraft carrier following the disastrous Japanese defeat at the Battle of Midway that cost the Japanese four invaluable aircraft carriers sunk. Yamato and Musashi were heavily armored throughout much of the ship to resist and shrug off numerous torpedo hits or direct hits from 16" battleship shells, but actual wartime battle experience soon proved otherwise. In professional boxing parlance, the Yamato's had a "glass jaw." While her decks and hull were well armored in the center of the ship, the area forward of her number 1 main gun turret running up to the bow were poorly armored. So too was the area aft of her number 3 turret running all the way back to the stern. On Christmas Day 1943, Yamato was ferrying troops to the garrisons of the Admiralty Islands and Kavieng when she ran afoul of the US submarine Skate who hit her with a single torpedo. The torpedo opened a hole in her starboard side aft that measured some 82 feet across, causing the battleship's rear main gun turret magazine to flood. After taking on some 3,000 tons of water, Yamato managed to put into Truk lagoon that same day for temporary repairs. She later returned to Japan for permanent repairs. Some thought was given towards adding additional armor to her hull, but the ship's designers were afraid the additional weight would hurt her stability and lower her maximum speed while underway.

    During the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea in October 1944, planes from the aircraft carrier USS Essex hit Yamato with two armor piercing bombs, while also scoring an additional near miss that again opened her seams up forward. This time she shipped aboard well over 3,200 tons of sea water and was down a few degrees at the bow but remained fully serviceable throughout the action. At the same time, Yamato's sister ship Musashi was sunk after being struck by over 19 aircraft launched torpedoes and 17 armor piercing bombs. Following the subsequent Battle of Leyte Gulf, Yamato again returned to Japan for major repairs of battle damage, a refit and a further upgrade to her anti aircraft gun suite. However, the writing was clearly on the wall. The day of the battleship and their long, unchallenged reign over the seas was clearly over, especially in the modern age of aircraft carrier aviation that could literally bring down hundreds of attacking aircraft to sink any such warship. On 1 April 1945, "April Fool's Day", US Marines and Army troops stormed the beaches of the Japanese home island of Okinawa encountering virtually no initial resistance. They soon fanned out across the island, quickly cutting it in two, but the main battle would take place on the southerly portion of the island where over 100,000 well fortified and well armed Japanese troops awaited in a fortress line of complex, mutually supporting, underground caves, tunnels and galleries extending several levels underground. Okinawa was also the home of the Japanese Army's artillery school, so every square inch of the island was pre-registered for their dug-in artillery observers. This meant that the battle would soon degenerate into a major bloodletting by both sides. In the meantime, hundreds of Japanese Kamikaze suicide aircraft flying from nearby Japan began savaging the Allied ships offshore by deliberately diving their bomb laden planes into them. These desperate, suicidal tactics of self-immolation, were clearly the acts of a crippled and dying empire. They were designed to inflict as many enemy casualties as possible in the hope of winning the best possible conditions at the peace table towards a war ending, general armistice, short of unconditional surrender. This would allow the Japanese to "save face" and perhaps keep something of their territorial land conquests after the nation's long struggle of wartime sacrifice. As so often happened many times during the war, the Japanese completely misjudged and underestimated the fortitude, national resolve and will of the Allied Powers. One way or another, the Japanese Empire was doomed, although the Emperor and his many fanatical navy and army minions were the last to realize it. To the Japanese national way of thinking, every last vestige of Japanese military and civilian support must now be enlisted to provide a suicidal, self sacrificial resistance in order to defend the threatened homeland and its god-head Emperor. From the most lowly rice farmer wielding a bamboo bokan stick, to the highest naval officer standing on the deck of his warship, all must be prepared to drink from this bitter cup and all must be prepared to make the supreme sacrifice of their own lives. No one and nothing could be spared.

    At this stage of the war, most of Japan's largest industrial cities were burned out blackened ruins from the US strategic bombing campaign. These cities built largely of wood and paper proved to be the ideal medium for incendiary bomb raids by B-29 long range heavy bombers flying out of the newly captured Mariana Islands. One by one Japan's cities were systematically razed to the ground by incendiary bomb induced fire tornadoes, with only buildings built of brick and concrete remaining. Millions were left homeless. By April 1945, it was theorized there would be no Japanese cities large or small remaining for the US XXI Bomber Command to destroy by fire bombing raids after October. At the same time, the few remaining serviceable warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy were either anchored in sea ports of the empire's few remaining overseas colonies and located close to their sources of fuel, or laid up in home island naval ports for lack of the same. There was little fuel to be had in the Japanese homeland. The brutal and ruinous, but highly effective four year long US and now Allied campaign of unconditional submarine warfare had seen to that. As a result the Japanese merchant marine was but a mere faint shadow of its former self after losing over 4/5's of its once massive fleet of cargo and tanker ships to primarily US submarine torpedo attacks. This acute lack of fuel was felt by all members and levels of the military. Newly raised Army and Navy aircraft crews were unable to receive adequate flight training before going into combat. In spite of flying improved, newer models of aircraft, these poorly trained Japanese pilots and crews soon proved to be "easy meat" for Allied fighter planes that regularly shot them from the skies in embarrassingly large, wholesale lots. For the civilian economy, the vast majority of the few remaining vehicles and mass motor transport running on Japanese roads were propelled by charcoal. The Japanese were even forced to distill fuel from pine tree stumps and other oily conifer tree wood. The nation's transportation system was breaking down which boded even worse for its citizens. For the civilians of the island nation, the caloric food intake of its people was reduced to a bare subsistence level as hunger stalked the land. Over ten million Japanese people now suffered the effects of long term malnutrition. A national famine was not far off if the war was not ended in one way or another.

    Within days of the Okinawa invasion, the detailed battle order of Operation "TEN-ICHI-GO" (Heaven Number One) was received by Captain Aruga aboard the IJN Yamato on 5 April 1945. It read as follows:

    "The Surface Special Attack Unit is ordered to proceed via Bungo Suido Channel at dawn on Y-1 day to reach the prescribed holding position for a high-speed run-in to the area west of Okinawa at dawn on Y-day. Your mission is to attack the enemy fleet and supply train and destroy them. Y-day is April 8th."

    In short, the Yamato was supposed to somehow get past the massive screen of supporting Allied warships and patrolling aircraft to attack the soft-skinned transport ships and other support craft. If damaged, Yamato was supposed to run herself aground on Okinawa's shore to be used as a shore battery to blast US troop concentrations ashore and the transport ships offshore. Yamato took aboard over 1,170 rounds of main gun ammunition, some of them the "San Shiki Dan" (beehive) anti aircraft shells designed to be fired from her main gun turrets at attacking planes like a giant shotgun. She also loaded aboard 13,500 other secondary anti aircraft rounds plus 11.5 million 25mm shells.

    Yamato was now fully armed for her mission but took aboard only enough fuel for a one way voyage. The other ships in her task force were the brand new light cruiser Yahagi and 8 destroyers. At 1520 hours on 6 April the Surface Special Attack Force left the Tokuyama Naval Fuel depot, headed for Okinawa. Less than three hours later Yamato's force was sighted by the submarine USS Threadfin who radioed a warning of their departure, course and speed to the US Fifth Fleet located off Okinawa. The following morning, Yamato's task force was sighted by patrolling US aircraft and its course closely monitored. For the Americans, serious consideration was initially given towards using US battleships to intercept Yamato and sink her in a traditional slugfest sea battle. Fleet Admiral Ray Spruance ordered his subordinate Admiral Marc Mitscher to send all US battleships on a course to attack Yamato's task force, but never ordered him not to use his considerable airstrike component. Mitscher responded by quickly launching some 280 bombers, torpedo bombers and fighter planes to attack Yamato and her escorting warships. The planes originated from the US Task Group's aircraft carriers USS Bennington, Hancock, Hornet, Essex, Bunker Hill, Belleau Wood, San Jacinto, Cabot and Bataan.

    At 1107 hours Yamato's radar operator reports a very large formation of enemy aircraft. He further reports they are heading north towards them, while splitting into two groups. All ships increase speed to 25 knots. Yamato has but three hours to live. Upon sighting the approaching US aircraft, Yamato opened fire with her forward 18.1" main gun turrets and secondary flak guns. Sadly for the Japanese, the beehive rounds had little to no effect upon the attacking US planes, neither did her 24 127mm secondary AA guns and 153 25mm automatic flak guns. As US fighter planes charge in to fire rockets and strafe the Yamato's decks, bridge superstructure and open light flak gun mounts with machine gun and light cannon fire, the bombs begin falling. Two armor piercing bombs struck Yamato near her main mast and she lost her aft secondary gun battery fire control and air search radar. This meant most of her flak guns were now reduced to using much less accurate local firing control. Two more 1,000 lb. armor piercing bombs slamed into her, starting fires aft. Meanwhile the first wave of Avenger torpedo planes began dropping their torpedoes, one of which struck Yamato's port side up forward and she took on a slight list. Her damage control officer quickly counter flooded and Yamato resumes her normal steaming pattern. The first US attack force soon retired, leaving all of Yamato's task force damaged, disabled or burning, although Yamato continued steaming at full flank speed of 25 knots. The second US strike force of 160 aircraft now arrived, circling the formation of Japanese ships below. More bombs rained down and several direct hits were scored on Yamato's bow and superstructure, and three more torpedoes struck the ship's port side, jamming her auxiliary rudder, while giving her a list to port. Two additional torpedoes hit her port side amidships, flooding one of her boiler rooms and reducing her speed to 18 knots. More bombs slammed into her upper works, killing many of her gun crews in their open flak gun mounts. Throughout the attack Yamato's anti aircraft guns somehow continued blazing away at the attacking US aircraft, but without fire control direction their accuracy was poor. Three additional bombs hit her amidships on her port side as another torpedo struck her undamaged starboard side. Within minutes, two more torpedoes exploded into her port side. Yamato slowed to 12 knots as her list increased to 15 degrees. Her damage control officer told the captain he can no longer counter flood to correct the ship's list and the executive officer advised the captain to abandon ship. Several additional torpedoes now hit Yamato's badly damaged port side hull and the ship begins to roll over tiredly onto her side like a badly hurt bull in a bull fighting arena. Yamato's forward magazine exploded sending a massive smoke cloud thousands of feet into the air, and one that could be seen over a hundred miles away. If one looks at the picture taken immediately following the explosion, in the left hand upper most part of the photo the smoke plume very much resembles the side profile of the head of a traditional Samurai Warrior, like some ancient martial spirit now released from the body of the doomed super battleship. And so, the Yamato went to her grave, as did the light cruiser Yahagi and four of the escorting destroyers. Over 5,000 Japanese sailors were lost at the cost of but 10 American aircraft and 12 men. The day of the battleship was over and the once powerful Japanese Imperial Navy ceased to exist. Only the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki prevented Japan from committing national suicide, while finally ending the war.


    March 1937


    Kure DY

    Laid down:

    4 November 1937


    8 August 1940


    16 December 1941


    31 August 1945


    Sunk 7 April 1945 north of Okinawa

    General characteristics

    Class & type:

    Yamato-class battleship


    65,027 tonnes (64,000 long tons)
    71,659 tonnes (70,527 long tons) (full load)


    256 m (839 ft 11 in) (waterline)
    263 m (862 ft 10 in) (overall)


    38.9 m (127 ft 7 in)


    11 m (36 ft 1 in)

    Installed power:

    150,000 shp (111,855 kW)


    12 Kampon boilers, driving four steam turbines
    Four three-bladed propellers


    27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph)


    7,200 nmi (13,334 km; 8,286 mi) at 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph)




    9 ? 46 cm (18.1 in) (3?3)

    12 ? 155 mm (6.1 in) (4?3)
    12 ? 127 mm (5.0 in) (6x2)
    24 ? 25 mm (0.98 in) (8?3)
    4 ? 13.2 mm (0.52 in) AA (2?2)


    9 ? 46 cm (18.1 in) (3?3)

    6 ? 155 mm (6.1 in) (2?3)
    24 ? 127 mm (5.0 in) (12x2)
    162 ? 25 mm (0.98 in) Anti-Aircraft (52?3, 6?1)
    4 ? 13.2 mm (0.52 in) AA (2?2)


    650 mm (26 in) on face of main turrets
    410 mm (16 in) side armor
    200 mm (7.9 in) central(75%) armored deck
    226.5 mm (8.92 in) outer(25%) armored deck

    Aircraft carried:7

    Aviation facilities:

    2 aircraft catapults