The Japanese had probably the best cruisers of the early Pacific War era. Their crews were superbly trained and the boats themselves superbly handled, and used very imaginatively as well.
The Takao class was a class of four heavy cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched between May 1930 and April 1931.
They were an evolution from the preceding Myoko class, with heavier torpedo armament and had an almost battleship-like, large bridge structure. Their bridges able to accommodate an Fleet staff.
Their main gun armament was ten 8-inch (203 mm) guns in twin mounts and they were also armed with sixteen 24 inch torpedoes (carrying more than the Myokos or Mogamis), making the Takaos the most heavily armed cruisers of the IJN. The only flaw was that they were considered top-heavy and thus prone to capsizing, while Turret #3 had a poor firing arc. These two problems were rectified in the follow-up Mogamis; nonetheless the Takaos were considered the best cruisers that the IJN ever built.
IJN Takao: Early in the morning of 15 November 1942, the battleship Kirishima, supported by Takao and Atago, engaged the American battleships Washington and South Dakota. All three Japanese ships hit South Dakota multiple times with shells, knocking out her radar and fire controls. Takao and Atago fired Long Lance torpedoes at Washington but missed. However, Kirishima was quickly disabled by Washington and sank a few hours later. Atago was damaged. Takao escaped unharmed, but was forced to retreat to Truk.
Takao was launched on 12 May 1930 at the Yokosuka Navy Yard and commissioned on 31 May 1932, and was the lead ship of her class.
At the start of World War II, Takao was commanded by Captain Asakura Bunji and assigned to Vice Admiral Kondo Nobutake’s Cruiser Division 4 together with her sister ships Atago and Maya. In late December 1941, she provided gunfire support for the landings at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon in the Philippines.
In early 1942, Takao operated in the Java Sea in operations culminating in the Battle of the Java Sea in early March. On 1 March, one of Takao’s floatplanes bombed the Dutch merchant ship Enggano. The next night, Takao and Atago overtook the old United States Navy destroyer Pillsbury and sank her with no survivors. Early on 4 March, Takao, Atago, Maya and two destroyers of Destroyer Division 4, Arashi and Nowaki attacked a convoy near Tjilatjap. The Royal Australian Navy sloop HMAS Yarra defended the convoy for an hour and half, but was sunk with 34 survivors of her crew of 151. (Of these 34 survivors, only 13 were alive to be picked up a week later by the Dutch submarine K-XI and taken to Ceylon.) The Japanese cruisers then sank three ships from the convoy: the tanker Francol, the depot ship Anking, and a minesweeper. Two Dutch freighters were also captured.
In June 1942, Takao and Maya supported the invasion of the Aleutian Islands. On 3 June 1942, their reconnaissance floatplanes were attacked by United States Army Air Forces Curtiss P-40 fighters from Umnak and two were shot down; on 5 June, Takao shot down a B-17 Flying Fortress.
In August 1942, she was assigned to Operation Ka, the Japanese reinforcement during the Battle of Guadalcanal, and participated in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October. A determined attempt to shell the US base at Henderson Field led to the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal: early in the morning of 15 November 1942, the battleship Kirishima, supported by Takao and Atago, engaged the American battleships Washington and South Dakota. All three Japanese ships hit South Dakota multiple times with shells, knocking out her radar and fire controls. Takao and Atago fired Long Lance torpedoes at Washington but missed. However, Kirishima was quickly disabled by Washington and sank a few hours later. Atago was damaged. Takao escaped unharmed, but was forced to retreat to Truk.
Despite everything that Rear- Admiral Shoji Nishimura’s two heavy cruisers (Maya and Suzuya) threw at it during the following night, Henderson Field remained defiantly operational. Its aircraft proved that on the morning of 14 November by attacking the rest of Nishimura’s force (the light cruiser Tenryu and four destroyers) and the units of Gunichi Mikawa’s 8th Fleet (the two heavy cruisers Chokai and Kinugasa, the light cruiser Isuzu and two destroyers) which had been acting as a covering force for the previous evening’s bombardment. Along with carrier aircraft from the Enterprise, the Americans swiftly got their own back on the Japanese for the destruction of TG. 67.4. After waves of attacks, hits and near-misses, the heavy cruiser Kinugasa was sunk, while two others (Chokai and Maya) and the light cruiser Isuzu, along with one of Nishimura’s destroyers, were damaged to the extent that they could not go to Tanaka’s assistance as he brought his transports down `The Slot’ to their landing sites on Guadalcanal later that day. More punishment was meted out to the Japanese when carrier aircraft from the Enterprise, along with planes from both Henderson Field and Espiritu Santo, found these troop transports. Six were sunk and one was damaged in a series of savage attacks that killed 400 troops and left another 5,000 to be rescued and put ashore by their destroyer escorts. Tanaka stoically pressed on with only four transports left and got his troops ashore on the northwest of the island during the hours of darkness(14-15 November). It was just as well because more air attacks followed the next day and all the empty transports were hit and sunk.
As Tanaka was disembarking his troops, Kondo’s 2nd Fleet – comprising the battleship Kirishima, the heavy cruisers Atago and Takao, two escort cruisers and their eight destroyers – were trying to do what Abe and Nishimura’s forces were supposed to have done the previous two evenings and eliminate Henderson Field. Once again, the night time operation was thwarted. On this occasion the perpetrators were the two battleships South Dakota and Washington and four destroyers belonging to Rear-Admiral Willis Lee’s TF 64 which Vice-Admiral William `Bull’ Halsey, the recently appointed C-in-C South Pacific, had sent the previous day from their holding position south of Guadalcanal to go to Turner’s aid after the loss of Callaghan, Scott and their ships. Once again, the nightfighting skills of the Japanese wreaked havoc with the American ships when they confronted one another in Iron Bottom Sound off the northeast coast of Guadalcanal. Three of Lee’s destroyers were swiftly dispatched by a mixture of shells and torpedoes and the other one, Gwin, was damaged. His leading battleship (South Dakota) lost her radar and shortly thereafter the ability to avoid the concentrated fire of her heaviest opponents. Despite being battered, she was still able to defend herself as the destroyer Ayanami found out the hard way when she tried to torpedo her. While all of this was going on, Lee’s other battleship (Washington) remained unseen and unaffected. Captain G. B. Davis, expertly using his radar, brought her to within 8,000 metres of the Kirishima and sank her in a seven-minute bout of shelling. Kondo, on his flagship Atago, had no option but to abandon his mission and withdraw taking the rest of his fleet with him. Henderson Field’s extraordinary durability was set to continue.
In 1943, Takao supported the evacuation of Guadalcanal. Under the command of Inoguchi Toshihira, she operated in the central Pacific from her base at Truk. On 5 November 1943, she was refuelling at Rabaul in the Bismarck Islands when she came under attack by SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Saratoga (see Attack on Rabaul). Takao was hit by two bombs, killing 23 and damaging her steering; she was forced to return to Yokosuka in Japan for dry dock repairs.
On 22 October 1944, she joined Takeo Kurita’s “Centre Force” and sailed from Brunei Bay for the Battle of Leyte Gulf. On 23 October, as she was passing Palawan Island, the force came under attack from two US submarines. At 06:34, Takao was hit by two torpedoes from USS Darter, which shattered two shafts, broke her fantail and flooded three boiler rooms. She turned back to Brunei, escorted by the destroyers Naganami and Asashimo, the torpedo boat Hiyodori and the transport Mitsu Maru. This flotilla was tailed by Darter and Dace until just after midnight on 24 October, when Darter ran aground on the Bombay Shoal and Dace remained to rescue her crew.
Takao was so badly damaged that it was considered impossible to send her back to Japan any time soon for full repairs. So the stern was cut off and shored up, and she was moored as an anti-aircraft battery for the defence of Singapore. While berthed there, she was attacked (Operation Struggle) on 31 July 1945 by the British midget submarine HMS XE3, commanded by Lieutenant Ian Edward Fraser and Acting Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Magennis attached six limpet mines to Takao’s hull using a piece of rope (the hull was covered with thick layer of seaweed, and the magnets of the limpet mines would not hold them on the hull); when the mines exploded, they blew a hole 20 m by 10 m. Most of Takao’s guns were put out of action, the rangefinders were destroyed and a number of compartments flooded.
On 5 September 1945, the Straits of Johor naval base was surrendered by the Japanese to the British and the formal boarding of the still partially manned Takao took place on 21 September 1945. She was finally towed to the Straits of Malacca to be used as a target ship for HMS Newfoundland and sunk on October 19, 1946 (03°05′05″N 100°41′00″ECoordinates: 03°05′05″N 100°41′00″E).
Other Takao-class heavy cruisers
Continuing in her role as a fleet flagship, Chokai was assigned to the Eighth Fleet in August 1942. As the flagship of Vice Admiral Mikawa Gunichi, she played a central role in the Japanese victory at Savo Island, although she also received the most damage of any Japanese ship present – American cruisers achieved several hits, killing 34 crewmen. Throughout the campaign, Chokai was a regular visitor to the waters around Guadalcanal, and on 14 October she and Kinugasa bombarded Henderson Field. On November 3, the other three ships of Sentai 4 departed Truk to reinforce the Eighth Fleet. Later, on November 13, Maya and Chokai left Shortland anchorage to conduct a night bombardment of Henderson Field alongside Suzuya. After hitting the airfield with 989 shells, the cruisers were attacked during their withdrawal by aircraft from the carrier Enterprise. Kinugasa was sunk, Chokai slightly damaged, and Maya more heavily damaged when a dive-bomber struck the ship’s mainmast and crashed into her port side, igniting fires. Maya’s torpedoes were jettisoned to avoid a disaster and she was sent back to Japan for repairs.
After her repairs, Maya was assigned to the Fifth Fleet and took part with Nachi in the March 1943 battle of Komandorski Islands, as already recounted. Later that year, Takao, Atago, Maya, and other heavy cruisers were forward-deployed to Rabaul with the aim of launching a massive cruiser attack on the American invasion forces at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville. To forestall such an operation, the Americans hastily mounted a carrier air attack on the cruisers on November 5, while the Japanese vessels were still anchored in Rabaul Harbor. Takao was hit by a bomb near No. 2 turret, killing 23 men; she departed the same day with Atago for Truk. Atago suffered three near misses that caused flooding in the boiler and engine rooms. Maya was heavily damaged when a dive-bomber hit the aircraft deck above the No. 3 engine room and started a major fire in the engine room itself that killed 70. Maya returned to Japan in December 1943 and underwent major repairs and conversion.
The entire Takao class participated in the Philippine Sea operation. Maya was slightly damaged by near misses from carrier air attack. Leyte Gulf, however, was the death knell of the IJN’s finest class of cruisers. All four were assigned to the First Diversionary Attack Force. On October 23, the force was ambushed by two American submarines in the Palawan Passage. Darter sank Atago with four torpedoes and hit Takao with two others, setting her afire and stopping her dead in the water. Dace sank Maya with four torpedoes, killing 470 of 1,105 crewmen. Takao was able to get under way and arrived in Singapore on November 12. The cruiser was deemed irreparable and was moved to join Myoko in Seletar Harbor as a floating anti-aircraft battery.
Plans for modernizing the Takao class were complete by April 1938, but the approach of war meant that only two ships in the class were fully modernized: Takao at Yokosuka from May 1938 to August 1939 and Atago from April 1938 to October 1939. Chokai and Maya received only limited modernization before the war, including modifications to handle the Type 93 oxygen-propelled torpedo, heavier catapults, and the standard fit of 13mm and 25mm light anti-aircraft guns.
During the modernization, the anti-aircraft armament was increased, though the projected fit of the Type 89 5in twin guns did not begin until after the start of the war: Atago and Takao received theirs in May 1942; Chokai retained the single 4.7in guns until she was lost in 1944; Maya kept hers until reconstruction as an anti-aircraft cruiser began in November 1943. The light anti-aircraft armament was standardized and in the autumn of 1941 the two twin 13mm mounts were replaced with two 25mm mounts. The torpedo armament was augmented by the substitution of quad mounts for the existing double torpedo mounts.
The largest change was to the bridge structure, which was rebuilt to reduce topweight. When completed, the bridge was much smaller in appearance and was the primary feature for distinguishing Atago and Takao from their sisters Maya and Chokai. The bridge accommodated new fire-control equipment and featured the placement of an almost 20ft rangefinder in a separate tower immediately aft of the Type 94 fire-control director.
The other primary change was the alteration of the aircraft-handling facilities and the area of the hangar. To do this, the mainmast was moved 82ft aft. Two heavier catapults were also fitted and moved forward. As on the Myoko class, larger bulges were fitted to increase anti-torpedo protection and stability.
During the war, modifications were made to the ships’ radar and light anti-aircraft fit. In July-August 1943, Atago and Takao received the foremast-mounted No. 21 radar and two triple 25mm guns, making their total light anti-aircraft fit six twin and two triple mounts. Maya and Chokai received the No. 21 radar and two twin 25mm mounts between August and September, making their total anti-aircraft fit eight twin mounts.
In November 1943-January 1944, Atago and Takao were fitted with No. 22 radars and eight 25mm single guns. Chokai could not return to Japan during this period, but was given ten single 25mm guns at Truk. After receiving severe damage in November 1943, Maya returned to Yokosuka in December 1943 for repair and conversion into an anti-aircraft cruiser. Her No. 3 8in gun turret was removed, as were all her twin 25mm mounts, the single 4.7in mounts, and her old twin torpedo tubes. In their place were fitted six twin Type 89 guns with two Type 94 directors, plus 13 triple and nine single Type 96 guns. In addition, 36 13mm machine-guns on moveable mounts and four quadruple torpedo mounts with no reserve torpedoes were fitted. A No. 22 radar was added, and the No. 21 radar received a larger antenna.
Another round of modernization began after the battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944. All four units received a No. 13 radar and Chokai finally received a No. 22 set. In June 1944, Atago and Takao received four triple and 22 single 25mm guns. Maya received another 18 single guns, while Chokai received 12 more single mounts. Plans were made to convert her as Maya, but since she did not return to Japan until June 1944, these was never carried out.
IJN Cruiser Armour
Kako – Belt 79.88m X 4.12m of 76mm NVNC plate at 9 degree slope, AD 35-32mm, 51mm sides and 35mm roofs on magazines, total wt 1200t, 12% of trial displacement
Aoba – as Kako.
Myoko – belt 123.15m X 3.5m of 102mm NVNC plate at 12 degree slope. AD as Kako, total wt 2032.5t, 16.1% of trial displacement.
Takao – belt 119.8m X 3.5m (Amidships) of 102mm NVNC plate at 12 degrees, but thickness and height varied at the ends (38-127mm thick). AD as Kako, total wt 2368t 16.8% of trial displacement.
Mogami – belt over machinery tapered from 100mm to 25mm over magazines tapered from 140mm to 30mm (total length and height not given) at 20 degree slope. AD 35mm flat, 60mm sloped. total wt in 1935 was 2029t 15.6% of trial displacement.
Tone – belt over machinery 77.8m X 6.95m tapering from 100 to 18mm, belt over magazines 44.82m X ? high, tapering 145 to 55mm all at 20 degree slope
AD 31mm flat 60mm slope, total 2053t 14.6% of trial displacement.
Ibuki – similar to Mogami.
Note, none of the above protection schemes were modified during the various reconstructions only minor plating added.