The sortie of the battleship Yamato

Battleship Yamato, by Chris Flodberg

Battleship Yamato under attack, by Michal Korotko

7 April 1945: At 1230, destroyer ASASHIMO, lagging behind with engine trouble, is sunk by aircraft from escort carrier USS SAN JACINTO (CVL-30). At 1235, Vice Admiral Ito’s Attack Force encounters the first wave of 280 aircraft (132 fighters, 50 bombers, 98 torpedo planes) from Task Group 58. 1: USS HORNET (CV-12), HANCOCK (CV-19), BENNINGTON (CV-20), BELLEAU WOOD (CVL-24), SAN JACINTO (CVL-30), and Task Group 58. 3: USS ESSEX (CV-9), BUNKER HILL (CV-17), BATAAN (CVL-24), and CABOT (CVL-28). All ships open fire at aircraft including YAMATO’s 18.1-inch guns firing “San-shiki-dan” shells. YAMATO is hit by bombs near aft secondary gun turret. Several 25-mm. AA guns are disabled and the after radar room is damaged. At 1243, DesDiv 17’s HAMAKAZE is sunk by a bomb and torpedo. Two or three torpedoes hit YAMATO on her port side.

IJN Yamato midday on 04/07/1945.

At 1342, the Attack Force is engaged by another 110 aircraft from Task Group 58. 4: USS YORKTOWN (CV-10), INTREPID (CV-11), LANGLEY (CVL-27). YAMATO is hit by armor-piercing and other bombs. From five to seven torpedoes hit her port side, two hit her starboard side. YAMATO’s list to port increases. Damage control counter-floods both starboard engine and boiler rooms. A torpedo hit jams her rudder hard to port. More bombs make a shambles of her upper works. At 1405, light cruiser YAHAGI, hit by 12 bombs and seven torpedoes, sinks. Listing heavily to port, YAMATO’s exposed hull is hit by one or two more torpedoes. She rolls on her beam ends.

Sunk: At 1423, YAMATO’s No. 2 magazine explodes and sends up a cloud of smoke that is seen 100 miles away. She sinks at 30-43 N, 128-04 E. 3,063 men are lost including Vice Admiral Ito, skipper Rear Admiral Ariga Kosaku. 269 survivors are rescued including Rear Admiral Moroshita Nobuei, Chief of Staff, Second Fleet (and former YAMATO skipper). Later that day, battered destroyers ISOKAZE and KASUMI are scuttled and sink. 1,187 crewmen of DesRon 2’s light cruiser YAHAGI and the four destroyers are also lost. The Americans lose 10 aircraft and 12 crewmen.

The sortie of the battleship Yamato in support of the garrison on Okinawa and her sinking in attacks by 179 strike aircraft from the carriers of Task Force 38 in the East China Sea on 7 April 1945.

The sortie of the Yamato was ordered in full awareness that she would not survive the mission, and the fact that she carried enough fuel for only a one-way voyage is well known. Less well known is the fact that she was ordered to sail because the Imperial Navy considered it dishonourable for the ship that bore the ancient name of Japan to survive the surrender of the country. Equally obscure is the fact that the foray was mounted after the Imperial Navy relieved the merchant fleet of one month’s supply of fuel. This was at a time when every ton of oil was needed for the merchant marine if Japan was to have any chance of avoiding mass starvation and when 200,000 barrels of oil – compared to the 20 million with which Japan had gone to war – remained in stock. At the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal it was the Imperial Army that bore the brunt of national guilt and failure but, other than the demise of the Yamato, few if any episodes better illustrate the conceit and irresponsibility of an Imperial Navy that was infinitely more culpable than the Imperial Army for the war that began in December 1941. The Imperial Navy wrecked limitations treaties that afforded Japan security and in 1941 insisted on war with the United States. When that war was lost and its own failure apparent, it contemptuously subordinated nation and society to its own concept of service honour rather than seek, however unavailingly, to discharge its duty to the state it was supposed to serve.

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