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World War II: Operation Ten-Go

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World War II: Operation Ten-Go

Yamato burns during Operation Ten-Go, April 7, 1945

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Conflict & Date:

Operation Ten-Go took place on April 7, 1945, and was part of the Pacific Theater of World War II.

Fleets & Commanders:

Allies

Japan

  • Vice Admiral Seiichi Ito
  • 1 battleship, 1 light cruisers, 8 destroyers

Operation Ten-Go Overview:

By early 1945, having suffered crippling defeats at the Battles of Midway, Philippine Sea, and Leyte Gulf, the Japanese Combined Fleet was reduced to a small number of operational warships. Concentrated in the home islands, these remaining vessels were too few in number to directly engage the Allies' fleets. As a final precursor to the invasion of Japan, Allied troops began attacking Okinawa on April 1, 1945. A month prior, realizing that Okinawa would be the Allies' next target, Emperor Hirohito convened a meeting to discuss plans for the island's defense.

Having listened to the army's plans to defend Okinawa through the use of kamikaze attacks and determined fighting on the ground, the Emperor demanded to how the navy planned to aid in the effort. Feeling pressured, the Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Toyoda Soemu met with his planners and conceived Operation Ten-Go. A kamikaze-style operation, Ten-Go called for the massive battleship Yamato, the light cruiser Yahagi, and eight destroyers to fight their way through the Allied fleet and beach themselves on Okinawa.

Once ashore, the ships were to act as shore batteries until destroyed at which point their surviving crews were to disembark and fight as infantry. As the navy's air arm had effectively been destroyed, no air cover would be available to support the effort. Though many, including the Ten-Go force commander Vice Admiral Seiichi Ito, felt that the operation was a waste of scant resources, Toyoda pushed it forward and preparations began. On March 29, Ito shifted his ships from Kure to Tokuyama. Arriving, Ito continued preparations but could not bring himself to order the operation to commence.

On April 5, Vice Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka arrived in Tokuyama to convince the Combined Fleet's commanders to accept Ten-Go. Upon learning the details, most sided with Ito believing that the operation was a futile waste. Kusaka persisted and told them that the operation would draw American aircraft away from the army's planned air attacks on Okinawa and that the Emperor was expecting the navy to make a maximum effort in the island's defense. Unable to resist the Emperor's wishes, those in attendance reluctantly agreed to move forward with the operation.

Briefing his crews on the nature of the mission, Ito permitted any sailor who wished to stay behind to leave the ships (none did) and sent ashore new recruits, sick, and wounded. Through the day on April 6, intense damage-control drills were conducted and the ships fueled. Sailing at 4:00 PM, Yamato and its consorts were spotted by the submarines USS Threadfin and USS Hackleback as they passed through the Bundo Strait. Unable to get into an attack position the submarines radioed in sighting reports. By dawn, Ito had cleared the Osumi Peninsula at the south end of Kyushu.

Shadowed by American reconnaissance aircraft, Ito's fleet was reduced on the morning of April 7 when the destroyer Asashimo developed engine trouble and turned back. At 10:00 AM, Ito feinted west in an attempt to make the Americans think he was retreating. After steaming west for an hour and half, he returned to a southerly course after being spotted by two American PBY Catalinas. In effort to drive off the aircraft, Yamato opened fire with its 18-inch guns using special "beehive" anti-aircraft shells.

Aware of Ito's progress, the eleven carriers of Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's Task Force 58 began launching several waves of aircraft around 10:00 AM. In addition, a force of six battleships and two large cruisers was sent north in case air strikes failed to stop the Japanese. Flying north from Okinawa, the first wave spotted Yamato shortly after noon. As the Japanese lacked air cover, the American fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo planes patiently set up their attacks. Commencing around 12:30 PM, the torpedo bombers focused their attacks on Yamato's port side to increase the chances of the ship capsizing.

As the first wave struck, Yahagi was hit in the engine room by a torpedo. Dead in the water, the light cruiser was struck by six more torpedoes and twelve bombs in the course of the battle before sinking at 2:05 PM. While Yahagi was being crippled, Yamato took a torpedo and two bomb hits. Though not effecting its speed, a large fire erupted aft of the battleship's superstructure. The second and third waves of aircraft launched their attacks between 1:20 PM and 2:15 PM. Maneuvering for its life, the battleship was hit by at least eight torpedoes and as many as fifteen bombs.

Losing power, Yamato began listing severely to port. Due to the destruction of the ship's water damage-control station, the crew was unable to counter-flood specially designed spaces on the starboard side. At 1:33 PM, Ito ordered the starboard boiler and engine rooms flooded in an effort to right the ship. This effort killed the several hundred crewmen working in those spaces and reduced the ship's speed to ten knots. At 2:02 PM, Ito ordered the mission canceled and the crew to abandon ship. Three minutes later, Yamato began to capsize. Around 2:20 PM, the battleship rolled completely and began sink before being torn open by a massive explosion. Four of the Japanese destroyers were also sunk during the battle.

Aftermath

Operation Ten-Go cost the Japanese between 3,700–4,250 dead as well as Yamato, Yahagi, and four destroyers. American losses were a mere twelve killed and ten aircraft. Operation Ten-Go was the Imperial Japanese Navy's last significant action of World War II and its few remaining ships would have little effect during the final weeks of the war. The operation had minimal effect on the Allied operations around Okinawa and the island was declared secure on June 21, 1945.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Naval Warfare
  5. Naval Battles: 1900-Today
  6. World War II
  7. World War II at Sea - Pacific
  8. Operation Ten-Go - World War II Operation Ten-Go

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