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IJN Yamato Class Battleship

Yamato, lead ship of a class of two 65,000-ton (over 72,800-tons at full load) battleships, was built at Kure, Japan. She and her sister, Musashi were by far the largest battleships ever built, even exceeding in size and gun caliber (though not in weight of broadside) the U.S. Navy's abortive Montana class. Their nine 460mm (18.1-inch) main battery guns, which fired 1460kg (3200 pound) armor piercing shells, were the largest battleship guns ever to go to sea, and the two ships' scale of armor protection was also unsurpassed.

Commissioned in December 1941, just over a week after the start of the Pacific war, Yamato served as flagship of Combined Fleet commander Isoroku Yamamoto during the critical battles of 1942. During the following year, she spent most of her time at Truk, as part of a mobile naval force defending Japan's Centeral Pacific bases. Torpedoed by USS Skate (SS-305) in December 1943, Yamato was under repair until April 1944, during which time her anti-aircraft battery was considerably increased. She then took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June and the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October. During the latter action, she was attacked several times by U.S. Navy aircraft, and fired her big guns in an engagement with U.S. escort carriers and destroyers off the island of Samar.

On 20 October 1944, U.S. Forces landed on the Island of Leyte, the first of the Japanese-held Philippine Islands to be invaded. In response, the Japanese Navy activated the complex "Sho-Go" Operation, in which several different surface and air forces would converge on the Philippines to try and drive off the Americans. As part of Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's Center Force, Yamato moved up to Brunei Bay, Borneo, to refuel and then steamed toward the operational area in company with four other battleships, ten heavy cruisers and numerous other warships. On 23 October, while west of the Philippines, the Center Force was attacked by the U.S. submarines Darter (SS-227) and Dace (SS-247). Three heavy cruisers were torpedoed and two sunk, including Kurita's flagship, Atago. The Admiral then moved to Yamato, which served as his flagship for the rest of the operation.

The next day, 24 October, as the Center Force steamed through the Philippines' central Sibuyan Sea, it was repeatedly attacked by planes from U.S. aircraft carriers. Battleship Musashi was sunk and a heavy cruiser forced to retire. Yamato and several other ships were hit but remained battleworthy. The Americans thought the entire Center Force had retreated, but it transited the San Bernardino Strait under cover of darkness and entered the Pacific.

In the morning of 25 October, while off Samar, Kurita's Center Force encountered a U.S. Navy escort aircraft carrier task group. In a long running battle, in which Yamato fired her big guns at enemy ships for the only time in her career, one U.S. carrier and three destroyers were sunk. Fiercely opposed by the escort carriers' planes and the destroyers' guns and torpedoes, Vice Admiral Kurita lost three heavy cruisers, and his nerve. Though the way was almost clear to move onward to Leyte Gulf, where a climactic battleship gunnery duel would have certainly resulted, he ordered his force to withdraw and return to Brunei Bay. That ended Yamato's participation in the last great naval battle of World War II, and marked the end of the Japanese Fleet as a major threat to Allied offensive operations in the Western Pacific.

Soon after Okinawa was invaded on 1 April 1945, the Japanese implemented a desperate effort to destroy the fleet supporting the landings. Designated "Ten-Go", this operation largely consisted of massed "Kamikaze" suicide plane attacks. However, the battleship Yamato, largest surviving ship of the Japanese Navy, was also to play a role, steaming down from the home islands to blast invasion shipping off Okinawa's western coast. This mission was also understood to be suicidal, and only enough fuel was provided for a one-way cruise.

Yamato and her consorts, including the light cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers, left port in mid-afternoon on 6 April 1945, the day that the "Ten-Go" suicide planes began their all-too-horrible onslaught. While exiting the Inland Sea, the ships were twice sighted by U.S. submarines, and were again seen by a carrier search plane in the morning of the 7th. U.S. Navy carriers launched nearly 400 aircraft to hit the oncoming Japanese ships. Six U.S. battleships prepared to intercept the Japanese, in case they somehow got past the overwhelming aerial force. The Yamato group was provided with no air support, so the U.S. planes were opposed only by generally ineffective anti-aircraft gun fire.

The carrier planes began their attacks in the early afternoon, scoring immediate bomb and torpedo hits on Yamato and sinking Yahagi and a destroyer. Three other destroyers were sunk over the next hour, as the Japanese continued to steam southwards. In all, Yamato was struck by some ten torpedoes, mainly on the port side, and several bombs. At about 1420 on the afternoon of 7 April, less than two hours after she was first hit, the great battleship capsized to port, exploded and sank, leaving behind a towering "mushroom" cloud. Fewer than 300 men of Yamato's crew were rescued. Nearly 2500 of her men were lost, plus over a thousand more from Yahagi and the escorting destroyers. U.S. losses totalled ten aircraft and twelve aircrewmen.

After the war, the great battleship became an object of intense fascination in Japan, as well as in foreign countries. Yamato's remains were located and examined in 1985 and again examined, more precisely, in 1999. She lies in two main parts in some 1000 feet of water. Her bow portion, severed from the rest of the ship in the vicinity of the second main battery turret, is upright. The midships and stern section is upside down nearby, with a large hole in the lower starboard side close to the after magazines.

Musashi, "sister" of the 65,000-ton battleship Yamato, was built at Nagasaki, Japan. Commissioned in August 1942, she was stationed at Truk from January 1943 into 1944 as part of a heavy force covering the Central Pacific against the threat of an American offensive. When the latter materialized, with the invasion of the Marshalls and raids by aircraft carrier planes against Japanese positions further west, Musashi's base was moved to the Palaus. She was torpedoed by the submarine USS Tunny (SS-282) on 29 March 1944, necessitating repairs in Japan, during which her anti-aircraft firepower was enhanced.

In June 1944, with the torpedo damage repaired, Musashi took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Her next, and last, major operation was the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in which the Japanese surface navy made a final major effort to repulse the U.S. drive into the Western Pacific. On 24 October 1944, while en route to the prospective battle area off the Leyte landing beaches, Musashi and her consorts were attacked by hundreds of U.S. Navy carrier aircraft. In this Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, she was hit by some nineteen torpedoes and seventeen bombs. Though her heavy protection withstood this massive damage to a degree probably unsurpassed by any other contemporary warship, Musashi capsized and sank about four hours after she received her last hit.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:26:17 ZULU