Monday, 7 September 2009

The Biggest of them all. Sinking of the Battleship YAMATO

By any measure, the Japanese Battleship YAMATO is a beautiful creation of man's dreadful hand. Created in war, meant for one purpose and one purpose alone; the sinking of enemy combatants and the killing of the enemy's men.

Yamato (大和), named after the ancient Japanese Yamato Province, was a battleship of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.

Flagship of the Japanese Combined Fleet, she was lead ship of the Yamato class. She and her sister ship, Musashi, were the largest and heaviest battleships ever constructed, displacing 72,800 tonnes at full load, and armed with nine 46 cm (18.1 inch) main guns.

Constructed from 1937 – 1940 and formally commissioned in late 1941, Yamato served as the flagship of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto throughout 1942, first sailing as part of the Combined Fleet during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. Throughout 1943, Yamato continually transferred between Truk, Kure and Brunei in response to American airstrikes on Japanese island bases. The only time Yamato fired her main guns at enemy targets was in October 1944, but was ordered to turn back after attacks by destroyers and aircraft of the "Taffy" light escort carrier task groups managed to sink three heavy cruisers during the Battle off Samar. Yamato was sunk in April 1945 during Operation Ten-Go.

Yamato was the lead ship of the Yamato class of heavy-battleships, designed by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1937. The class of battleship was designed to be capable of engaging multiple enemy targets, as a method of compensating for Japan's incapability to industrially compete with the United States Navy.

With the vessels of the Yamato class displacing over 70,000 tons each, it was hoped that the firepower of the constructed battleships could offset American industrial power. The keel of Yamato was laid down at Kure Naval Arsenal on 4 November 1937, in a specially designed dockyard. Throughout construction, large canvases prevented observation of the construction from elsewhere in the Kure Dockyards. Due to the size of the vessel, upgraded gantry cranes—each capable of lifting 150 and 350 tonnes—had to be designed and built for use during construction.

Yamato was launched 8 August 1940, with Captain (later Vice Admiral) Miyazato Shutoku in command.


Yamato's main battery consisted of nine 18.1-inch 40 cm/45 Type 94 naval guns—the largest caliber of naval artillery ever fitted to a warship. 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 armour-piercing shells 42.0 kilometres (26.1 mi).

Her secondary battery comprised twelve 6.1-inch (15 cm) guns mounted in four triple turrets (one forward, one aft, two midships), and twelve 5-inch (13 cm) guns in six double-turrets (three on each side amidships). In addition, Yamato carried twenty-four 1-inch (2.5 cm) anti-aircraft guns, primarily mounted amidships. When refitted in 1944, the secondary battery configuration was changed to six 6.1-inch (15 cm) guns, twenty-four 5-inch (13 cm) guns, and one hundred sixty-two 1-inch (2.5 cm) antiaircraft guns, in preparation for naval engagements in the South Pacific.

Yamato's magazines finally explode, sending the mighty Battleship to the bottom.

1944: Combat

On 16 January 1944, Yamato arrived at Kure for repairs, and was drydocked until 3 February 1944. While drydocked, Captain Nobuei Morishita—former Captain of the battleship Haruna—assumed command of Yamato. On 25 February, both Yamato and Musashi were reassigned from the 1st Battleship Division to the Second Fleet. Yamato was again drydocked for upgrades to her radar and antiaircraft systems throughout March 1944, with a final AA suite of one hundred sixty-two 1-inch (25 mm) antiaircraft guns and twenty-four 5-inch (13 cm) medium guns. The radar suite was also upgraded to include infrared identification systems, aircraft-search and gunnery-control radar systems.

Following a short transport mission to the South Pacific in April, Yamato departed for Lingga alongside Jisaburo Ozawa's Mobile Fleet. In early June 1944, Yamato and Musashi departed as troop transports for Biak, with the intention of reinforcing both the garrison and naval defenses of the island. When word reached Ozawa's headquarters of American carrier attacks on the Mariana Islands, the mission was aborted.

From 19–23 June 1944, Yamato escorted forces of Ozawa's Mobile Fleet during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, dubbed by American pilots as "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot". Japanese aircraft losses exceeded 400, while three aircraft carriers were lost to submarines and airstrikes. Yamato's only major engagement throughout the operation was mistakenly opening fire on returning Japanese aircraft. Following the battle, Yamato and the Mobile Fleet withdrew to Brunei to refuel and rearm.

Yamato hit by a bomb on 24 October 1944 during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea; this hit did little damage, however.

From 22–25 October 1944, Yamato joined Admiral Takeo Kurita's Centre force in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement in history. While en route, the force was attacked in Palawan Passage by the submarines USS Darter and Dace. With torpedoes, they sank Maya and Atago (Kurita's flagship), and damaged Takao. This forced Kurita to transfer his flag to Yamato. During the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, Yamato was hit with three armour-piercing bombs from aircraft of the USS Essex. Her sister-ship Musashi sank after being hit with seventeen torpedoes and nineteen bombs. On the evening of 24 October, Kurita's Centre Force navigated the San Bernardino Strait, attacking a small force of escort carriers and destroyers shortly after dawn.

In the initial stages of the Battle off Samar, Yamato engaged enemy surface forces for the first and last time, confirming hits on an escort carrier, a destroyer, and a destroyer escort. After confirming primary battery hits on USS Gambier Bay, a spread of American torpedoes heading for Yamato were spotted; the battleship was forced to withdraw from the fighting, and was unable to rejoin the battle. The task force disengaged later after three heavy cruisers were sunk, and the entire force was only able to sink one escort carrier and three destroyers.

Following the engagement off Samar, Yamato and the remainder of Force A returned to Brunei. On 15 November 1944, the 1st Battleship Division was disbanded, and Yamato became the flagship of the Second Fleet. On 21 November, while transiting the East China Sea in a withdrawal to Kure Naval Base, Yamato's battlegroup was attacked by the submarine USS Sealion, with the battleship Kongo and several destroyers lost. Upon returning to Kure, Yamato was immediately drydocked for repairs and antiaircraft upgrades, with several older antiaircraft guns being replaced. On 25 November, Captain Aruga Kosaku was named commander of Yamato.

Please click here for a most atmospheric rendering of the story yet to unfold.

With the sinking of the Bismarck in the Atlantic, the strategic value of the once almighty naval battleship was called into question. With the sinking of the Yamato, the fate of this class of ship was sealed, and so too the previously unquestioned precepts of naval warfare. From Nelson to the Yamato, the ensign had been stretched to breaking point. New thinking was urgently needed. It came from the air.

1945: Final operations and sinking

On 1 January 1945, Yamato, Haruna and Nagato were all transferred to the newly reactivated 1st Battleship Division; Yamato left drydock two days later. When the 1st Battleship Division was deactivated once again on 10 February, Yamato was reassigned to the 1st Carrier Division. On 19 March 1945 Yamato came under heavy attack when American carrier aircraft from Enterprise, Yorktown and Intrepid raided the major naval base of Kure where she was docked. Damage to the battleship, however, was light, due in part to the base being defended by elite veteran Japanese fighter instructors flying Kawanishi N1K "Shiden" or "George" fighters

Led by the man who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor, Minoru Genda, the appearance of these fighters, which were equal or superior to the F6F Hellcat in performance, surprised the attackers, and several American planes were shot down. Heavy antiaircraft defensive fire and the heavy upper-deck armour plating on Yamato also prevented any significant damage to the vessel. On 29 March, Yamato took on a full stock of ammunition, in preparation for combat off Okinawa in Operation Ten-Go.

Operation Ten-Go was a deliberate suicide attack against American forces off Okinawa by Yamato and nine escorts, beginning on 6 April 1945. Embarking from Kure, Yamato was to beach herself near Okinawa, and act as an unsinkable gun-emplacement—bombarding American forces on Okinawa with her 18.1-inch heavy-guns.

Yamato carried only enough fuel to reach Okinawa, as the fuel stocks available were insufficient to provide enough fuel to reach Okinawa and return. While navigating the Bungo Strait, Yamato and her escorts were spotted by the American submarines Threadfin and Hackleback, both of which notified Task Force 58 of Yamato's position. At 12:32 on 7 April 1945, Yamato was attacked by a first wave of 280 aircraft from Task Force 58, taking three hits (two bombs, one torpedo).

By 14:00, two of Yamato's escorts had been sunk. Shortly afterward, a second strike of 100 aircraft attacked Yamato and her remaining escorts. At 14:23, having taken 10 torpedo and 7 bomb hits, Yamato's forward ammunition magazines detonated. The smoke from the explosion—over 4 miles (6.4 km) high—was seen 100 miles (160 km) away on Kyūshū. An estimated 2,498 of the 2,700 crew members on Yamato were lost, including Vice-Admiral Seiichi Itō, the fleet commander.

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