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World War II: Battleship Yamato

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World War II: Battleship Yamato

Japanese Battleship Yamato running sea trials on October 30, 1941.

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center

Overview:

  • Nation: Japan
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: Kure Naval Dockyard
  • Laid Down: November 4, 1937
  • Launched: August 8, 1940
  • Commissioned: December 16, 1941
  • Fate: Sunk in action, April 7, 1945

Specifications:

  • Displacement: 72,800 tonnes
  • Length: 862 ft. 6 in. (overall)
  • Beam: 127 ft.
  • Draft:: 36 ft.
  • Propulsion: 12 Kampon boilers, driving 4 steam turbines and 4 propellers
  • Speed: 27 knots
  • Range: 7,145 miles at 16 knots
  • Complement: 2,767 men

Armament (1945):

Guns

  • 9 x 18.1 in. (3 turrets with 3 guns each)
  • 6 x 6.1 in.
  • 24 x 5 in.
  • 162 x 25 mm anti-aircraft
  • 4 x 13.2 mm anti-aircraft

Aircraft

  • 7 aircraft using 2 catapults

Construction:

Naval architects in Japan began work on the Yamato-class of battleships in 1934, with Keiji Fukuda serving as the chief designer. Following Japan's 1936 withdrawal from the Washington Naval Treaty, which forbade new battleship construction before 1937, Fukuda's plans were submitted for approval. Initially meant to be 68,000-ton behemoths, the design of the Yamato-class followed the Japanese philosophy of creating ships that were bigger and superior to those likely to be produced by other nations.

For the ships' primary armament, 18.1" (460 mm) guns were selected as it was believed that no US ship with similar guns would be capable of transiting the Panama Canal. Originally conceived as a class of five ships, only two Yamatos were completed as battleships. With the approval of Fukuda's design, plans quietly moved forward to expand and specially prepare a drydock at the Kure Naval Dockyards for construction of the first ship. Veiled in secrecy, Yamato was laid down on November 4, 1937.

In order to prevent foreign nations from learning the actual size of the ship, Yamato's design and cost were compartmentalized with few knowing the true scope of the project. In order to accommodate the massive 18.1" guns, Yamato featured an extremely wide beam which made the ship very stable even in high seas. Though the ship's hull design, which featured a bulbous bow and a semi-transom stern, was tested extensively, Yamato was unable to achieve speeds higher than 27 knots making it unable to keep up with most Japanese cruisers and aircraft carriers.

This slow speed was largely due to the vessel being underpowered. In addition, this issue led to high levels of fuel consumption as the boilers struggled to produce enough power. Launched with no fanfare on August 8, 1940, Yamato was completed and commissioned on December 16, 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Entering service, Yamato, and later its sister Musashi, became the largest and most powerful battleship ever built.

Operational History:

Two months after its commissioning, Yamato became the flagship of the Japanese Combined Fleet led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. That May, Yamato sailed as part of Yamamoto's Main Body in support of the attack on Midway. Following the Japanese defeat at the Battle of Midway, the battleship moved to the anchorage at Truk Atoll arriving in August 1942. The ship remained at Truk for much of the next year largely due to its slow speed. In May 1943, Yamato sailed to Kure and had its secondary armament altered and new Type-22 search radars added.

Returning to Truk that December, Yamato was damaged by a torpedo from USS Skate en route. After repairs were completed in April 1944, Yamato joined the fleet during the Battle of the Philippine Sea that June. In October, Yamato fired its main guns for the first time in battle during the Japanese defeat at Leyte Gulf. Though hit by two bombs, the battleship aided in sinking an escort carrier and several destroyers off Samar. The following month, Yamato returned to Japan to have its anti-aircraft armament further enhanced.

After this upgrade was completed, Yamato was attacked by US aircraft with little effect while sailing in the Inland Sea on March 19, 1945. With the Allied invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, Japanese planners devised Operation Ten-Go. Essentially a suicide mission, they intended to have Yamato sail south and attack the Allied invasion fleet before beaching itself on Okinawa as a massive gun battery. Once the ship was destroyed, the crew was to join the island's defenders.

Departing Japan on April 6, 1945, Yamato's officers understood that it was to be the vessel's last voyage. As a result, they permitted the crew to indulge in saki that evening. Sailing with an escort of eight destroyers and one light cruiser, Yamato possessed no air cover to protect it as it approached Okinawa. Spotted by Allied submarines as it exited the Inland Sea, Yamato's position was fixed by US aircraft the next morning.

Attacking in three waves, US dive bombers pummeled the battleship with bombs and rockets while torpedo bombers assaulted Yamato's port side. Battered and listing, the order to abandon ship was given around 2:00 PM. As Yamato began to capsize, a massive explosion tore through the after part of the ship as fires reached the stern magazines. Of the ship's crew of 2,778, only 280 were rescued. The US Navy lost ten aircraft and twelve airmen in the attack.

Selected Sources

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  3. Military History
  4. Naval Warfare
  5. Ship Profiles
  6. World War II
  7. Japanese Battleship Yamato - World War II History

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