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IJN Shokaku Class Aircraft Carriers

The Shokuku ("Flying Crane") and Zuikaku ("Lucky Crane") were Japan's next venture into aircraft carrier construction following the Soryu and Hiryu. These carriers were kept fairly well under wraps, insofar as specifications are concerned. They were authorized under the very ambitious Fleet Replenishment Program of 1937, the same program under which the famed super battleships Yamato and Musashi were built. Shokaku was laid down December 12, 1937 at the Yokosuka Navy Yard, while Zuikaku was started at Kawasaki Dockyard May 25, 1938.

Basically, the ships had similar specifications. They displaced 25,675 tons standard, had a designed speed of 34.2 knots, carried 16 five-inch guns in twin mounts, and could carry up to 84 aircraft, although a normal complement was 73. There were no major differences between the ships. Zuikaku, however, was fitted with a bulbous bow, the first Japanese warship so designed. Shokuku was launched June 1, 1939, and completed August 8, 1941; Zuikuku was launched November 27, 1939, and completed September 25, 1941.

Completion of both carriers was delayed when the original funnel arrangement was changed in mid-construction by the Aeronautical Headquarters. As designed, the funnels were to appear one on each side of the island bridge, fore and aft on the starboard side. This was changed by placing the two funnels immediately aft of the island. Critically, concrete was used to fill the air spaces around the aircraft fuel tanks to avoid replication of the destructive fires that occured on the carriers at the Battle of Midway.

The Japanese did not give either ship much publicity. Both ships, Zuikaku and Shokaku, were to figure prominently in most sea battles of WW II involving naval air. Their design was based on the best material gathered from experiences in Akagi, Kaga, and the Soryu types. Later Japanese carriers (i.e., multiple ship design classes) were constructed in two groups: the large to be like Taiho (with armored flight deck), and the medium to be repeats of the Soryu class. Zuikaku and Shokaku comprised an entire class.

The Shokaku participated in Japan's early wartime offensives, including the attack on Pearl Harbor, the raid into the Indian Ocean and the Battle of Coral Sea. In the latter action, on 8 May 1942, Shokaku was seriously damaged by dive bombers from USS Yorktown (CV-5) and had to return to Japan for repairs.

Later in 1942, Shokaku took part in the August Battle of the Eastern Solomons and the October Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. She was again badly damaged by bombs in the latter action. In 1943-44, she continued operations as one of the Japanese Navy's most important fleet carriers. Shokaku was sunk by the U.S. submarine Cavalla (SS-244) on 19 June 1944, during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

The Zuikaku took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the great Japanese Pacific offensive of late 1941 and early 1942, Zuikaku was a participant in attacks on Rabaul, the East Indies, and the Indian Ocean. While covering an intended invasion of Port Moresby, New Guinea, in early May 1942, Zuikaku and Shokaku formed the Japanese side of the World's first significant battle between aircraft carriers, the Battle of the Coral Sea. On 8 May, her planes helped disable USS Lexington (CV-2) and damage USS Yorktown (CV-5). In return, Shokaku was seriously damaged, and Zuikaku's air group was greatly depleted, ensuring that both ships were unavailable for the pivotal Battle of Midway in June.

During the rest of 1942, Zuikaku was an important component of the Japanese forces involved in the Guadalcanal campaign, taking part in the carrier battles of the Eastern Solomons in August and Santa Cruz Islands in October. After the long lull in carrier actions that covered all of 1943 and the first part of 1944, Zuikaku again engaged her American opposite numbers in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, on 19-20 June 1944. That action, which cost Japan three more carriers, hundreds of planes and most of the rest of her trained carrier pilots, reduced her once-irresistable aircraft carrier fleet to a state of virtual impotence. Zuikaku was damaged in the battle, but was soon repaired.

In October 1944, Zuikaku led the remaining Japanese carriers in the role of "bait" to divert U.S. carrier planes away from the surface forces that were attempting to attack U.S. ships off Leyte, in the Philippines. This mission was successful, though it did not lead to Japanese victory in any component of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and it came at great cost to Zuikaku and her consorts, who had few planes embarked to defend themselves. In the resulting Battle off Cape Engano, on 25 October 1944, the four Japanese aircraft carriers were repeatedly hit by U.S. carrier planes' bombs and torpedoes. All of them, including Zuikaku, were sunk.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:25:27 ZULU