KONGO BATTLECRUISER

The design of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) Kongo class battle-cruisers originated from Great Britain. At first the new warships were to follow the Royal Navy (RN) Invincible class, but, impressed with the new RN Lion class, the IJN opted for an improved version of that design.

The lead ship of this then new class of battlecruiser, Kongo, was built at the Vickers & Sons Shipyard in Great Britain. However, at that time Japan was quickly expanding its ship building capabilities, and set out to construct the remaining three vessels of the class in Japan. For the Hiei, approximately 30% of construction material was supplied from England, but Kirishima and Haruna were constructed entirely with material from Japan. All machinery and armament for Hiei, Kirishima and Haruna was fabricated in Japan under licence.

As originally designed, the Kongos were battlecruisers, requiring high speeds, necessitating a massive steam plant of 36 coal fired boilers. On trial, Kongo attained nearly 28 knots. Kongo also had the feature of oil spaying, which meant that oil could be sprayed onto the coal fires for a small increase in range and power.

Soon after the completion of all four of the Kongo class battlecruisers, they each had minor up-grades to the bridge structures. During the ‘Great War’ life for the Kongo class was largely uneventful, except for Haruna. She hit what was believed to be a German mine in the summer of 1917. She nearly sank from the extensive flooding, but just managed to make port for repairs. By 1918, the 3in AA mounts were removed from atop the main gun turrets. In the early 1920s, an odd shaped cowling was added to the fore funnel to keep smoke away from the back of the bridge structure on all vessels of the class.

By the late 1920s, a major reconstruction of the four Kongos was planned, as Japan was still adhering to the Washington Naval Treaty. Haruna was first to enter Yokosuka dockyard in March 1924, Kirishima at Kure in March 1927, both Kongo at Yokosuka and Hiei at Kure in September 1929. Kongo, Kirishima and Haruna would each receive additional armour protection, more efficient oil-fired boilers, reduction to two funnels, main gun elevation raised to 43°, aircraft facilities between main gun turrets 3 and 4, and anti-torpedo bulges on the hull. Hiei was demilitarised at this time, with removal of side armour, No 4 main gun turret, all 6in broadside guns removed and a reduction of boilers to reduce her top speed to 18kts. Haruna completed this major reconstruction in July 1928, Kirishima in March 1930, Kongo in March 1931 and Hiei completed her demilitarisation in December 1932. Due to the increase in both weight and beam, the top speed of the first three fell 2.5kts. and it was at this time that these warships were re-rated as battleships.

During the early 1930s, the Kongo class battleships had a few modifications, including the addition of 150cm searchlights for improved night fighting, four pairs of twin 127mm AA mounts, twin 40mm AA mounts, quadruple 13mm AA mounts, mainmast reduced in height and a catapult added to the aircraft deck between turrets 3 and 4. This was accomplished on a ship by ship basis, as time allowed.

Even as work was finished on these vessels, another major reconstruction was drawn up for the Kongo class battleships. Haruna went into the Kure Navy Yard in August 1933, Kirishima at Sasebo in June 1934, Kongo at Yokosuka in June 1935. This would be the most extensive of all reconstructions done to the Kongos. They had their stern lengthened by 25ft and all boilers were replaced with more efficient oil-fired units, giving these vessels an increase in speed to 30kts. An upgraded catapult and expansion of the aircraft handling deck, improved barbette armour, and removal of the foremost 6in casemate guns were other improvements. The entire bridge structure was radically rebuilt, enlarging all the platforms substantially, as well as adding searchlight towers around the fore funnel. A large after fire control tower was constructed abaft the mainmast with duplicate systems to those atop the bridge. The then new twin 25mm AA mounts were also installed at this time. Haruna completed in September 1934, followed by Kirishima in June 1936 and Kongo in January 1937.

Japan rejected the Washington Naval Treaty in 1936 and in doing so, drew up plans to reconstruct Hiei. All components removed earlier had been carefully stored and were then reused where needed. Hiei had the same modifications as her sister-ships during this reconstruction, but the bridge structure was built to a new experimental design, and her armour was also improved over that of her sisterships. Her reconstruction began in November 1936 at Kure and was completed by December 1939.

By the early 1940s, the Kongos had minor improvements to the bridge in the form of an air defence platform at the top level, as well as additional flash protection to the main turrets. In 1941, a degaussing cable was fitted to the exterior of the hull at the deck edge on all four vessels of this class. By the middle of 1941, the Kongo class battleships would then have all the latest technology available from the Imperial Japanese Navy.

By August 1941, all four of the Kongos were stationed together with the First Fleet, at the Combined Fleet anchorage Hiroshima Bay, making up Battleship Division 3 (BatDiv3). Hiei and Kirishima made up Section 1 and Kongo and Haruna Section 2.

In November 1941, BatDiv3, Section 1 joined First Fleet Striking Force at Hitokappu Bay, while BatDiv3, Section 2 joined Second Fleet Southern Force at Mako, Pescadores Islands.

In December 1941, Hiei and Kirishima (BatDiv3/1) were the primary escort for the surprise attack upon the US Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. They returned to Hitokappu Bay by the end of that month. Kongo and Haruna (BatDiv3/2) were the primary escort for the invasion of Indochina. They deployed to intercept the British ‘Force Z’, Prince of Wales and Repulse, but the British force was sunk by IJN land based bombers before interception could take place. BatDiv3/2 returned to Mako by early January 1942.

BatDiv3/1 moved to the new primary IJN anchorage at Truk Lagoon in January 1942. BatDiv3/2 was the cover force for the Japanese Invasion of the Dutch East Indies during the same month.

During February and March 1942, BatDiv3/1 escorted the Carrier Striking Force during raids on Port Darwin, Australia, and the Battle of the Java Sea, returning to Staring Bay anchorage. BatDiv3/2 escorted the force that invaded the Netherlands East Indies, then bombarded Christmas Island, before returning to Staring Bay.

April 1942 saw the entire Kongo class battleships operate together as the escort for the Carrier Striking Force on a raid into the Indian Ocean against the British Royal Navy. They retired to the newly captured IJN base at Singapore by mid-April to refuel. The majority of the Striking Force and BatDiv3 then steamed to Japan, arriving at the end of April.

May 1942 saw the transfer of Kongo to BatDiv3, Section 1, then made up of Kongo and Hiei, with BatDiv3/2 then made up of Haruna and Kirishima. Both Kongo and Haruna had minor refits that month as well. At the end of that month, BatDiv3/1 escorted the Main Body of the Japanese Fleet, while BatDiv3/2 escorted the Carrier Strike Force to the Battle of Midway on June 4-6. Haruna was slightly damaged by USN carrier air attack, but at the end of the battle she and Kirishima picked up survivors from the sunken carriers. All of BatDiv3 returned to Japan by mid-June.

In July, BatDiv3 was consolidated to Kongo and Haruna, while Kirishima and Hiei made up the then new BatDiv11. All four Kongos had a minor refit, and Kongo was fitted with Type 21 Air and Surface Search Radar, through to mid-August.

During the period of mid-August through mid-September, all four Kongo class battleships participated in battle practice in Japanese waters. Afterwards, all four Kongos departed from Japan, BatDiv3, made up of Kongo and Haruna, and BatDiv11’s Kirishima and Hiei, arrived at Truk. From there they departed for the Solomon Islands, BatDiv3 with cruisers in the Bombardment Force and BatDiv11 escorting the Carrier Strike Force. The operation was cancelled, and the entire force returned to Truk by late September. At that time Kongo and Haruna were fitted with the Type 22 Surface Search Radar.

By Mid-October 1942, both BatDiv3 and 11 departed again for the Solomon Islands. Kongo and Haruna bombarded Henderson Field on Guadalcanal Island on the night of October 13. The Battle of Santa Cruz took place on 25-26 October, where BatDiv3 and 11 covered the IJN Carrier Strike Force, with BatDiv11 attacked numerous times, but not hit. The IJN Fleet returned to Truk at the end of October. After refuelling BatDiv11 transferred to Shortland Island.

Kirishima and Hiei, as BatDiv11, steamed for Guadalcanal, arriving 13 November, to be deployed as the bombardment force for an invasion of that island. At 0150 hrs the Japanese force of BatDiv11, with light cruiser Nagara and 13 destroyers, opened fire upon the US Navy cruisers and destroyers around Savo Island. The first Battle of Guadalcanal, also known as the ‘Bar Room Brawl’, was a very confusing gun and torpedo battle that took place at close quarters in the night. Kirishima was hit by only one 8in shell with minimal damage, but Hiei was badly damaged by a torpedo hit and as many as thirty 8in shells, even more 5in and was sprayed by 20mm rounds. By daybreak of 13 November Hiei had managed to limp to the west of Savo Island, only to be attacked by numerous USAAF bombers, USN and USMC land and carrier borne aircraft. She was hit numerous times and was last seen, a smoldering wreck, sinking sometime just after midnight on November 14. Hiei has the dubious distinction of being the first Imperial Japanese Navy battleship sunk during the Second World War. Hiei and Kirishima managed to sink the US Navy light cruiser Atlanta, four destroyers and severely damage two heavy, two light cruisers and one destroyer.

The second Battle of Guadalcanal began in the very early morning darkness of 15 November, at 0016hrs, as ships of both the IJN and USN manoeuvred south of Savo Island. The USN battleships South Dakota and Washington with destroyers opened fire upon IJN light cruisers Nagara, Sendai and destroyers in a sweep towards Guadalcanal. Kirishima, heavy cruisers Atago and Takao fired upon South Dakota. Kirishima hit the American battleship only once, but the heavy cruisers obtained many hits. Suddenly, unobserved by the IJN, at 0100hrs, Washington fired upon Kirishima with main battery 16in guns and Atago and Takao with secondary battery 5in guns. Kirishima was hit by nine 16in shells in less than six minutes, knocking her completely out of action. She had also been hit by as many as forty 5in shells. Washington also hit Atago and Takao several times with 5in shells. Kirishima’s rudder was jammed and she steamed in a circle, burning furiously. She began to list to starboard, and at 0325hrs, capsized seven miles NW of Savo Island. As she capsized, her forward magazines detonated, blasting the battleship in two as she sank.

Kongo and Haruna of BatDiv3 escorted the carrier Junyo in search of the USN carrier Enterprise, but were unsuccessful and by 17 November 1942 had returned to Truk. BatDiv3 remained at Truk for the rest of that year.

At the end of January 1943, BatDiv3 formed part of a large fleet acting as a diversion so that IJN destroyers could evacuate Japanese Army troops from Guadalcanal. They had returned to Truk by 9 February after a successful operation.

At the end of February, BatDiv3 returned to Japan for an overhaul at the Kure Naval Base. Haruna was fitted with the Type 21 Radar system, and both battleships had six 6in secondary guns removed at the same time, as well as additional 25mm mounts installed. Concrete protection was added around the steering gear. This refit was finished by the end of March 1943.

BatDiv3 steamed for the Truk anchorage by mid-April, only to remain inactive until departing for Yokosuka in mid-May. Kongo and Haruna remained in Japanese waters until mid-June, before returning to Truk.

In late September 1943, BatDiv3 with other IJN fleet units, steamed to Eniwetok in response to US Navy attacks upon Tarawa, Makin, and Abemama Atolls. With no action, the IJN Fleet returned to Truk by the end of September. Again, BatDiv3 sortied from Truk in mid-October in response to a US Navy attack upon Wake Island, but again, the IJN fleet took no action, returning to Truk by the end of October.

Kongo and Haruna transferred to Sasebo Naval Base, Japan in mid-December 1943 for drydocking and were fitted with additional 25mm AA mounts. This refit was completed in mid-February 1944, and they then exercised in the Inland Sea until early March.

BatDiv3, still made up of Kongo and Haruna, in company with other IJN fleet units, steamed for the Lingga anchorage in mid-March 1944. Once there, BatDiv3 trained in Indonesian waters and visited Singapore on one occasion, until trans-fering to a new anchorage at Tawi Tawi with the majority of IJN fleet from May through mid-June.

BatDiv3 moved to Philippine waters for the Battle of Philippine Sea in mid-June 1944. Kongo and Haruna were part of Force C, which sortied east through the Philippine Sea toward Saipan. On 20 June they were attacked by aircraft from the USN carriers Bunker Hill, Monterey and Cabot. Kongo was not hit, but Haruna was struck by 500lb bombs on No 4 turret and the quarterdeck, but managed to maintain top speed. BatDiv3 retired, via Okinawa to refuel and returned to Japan by the end of June.

While at the Kure Naval Base in early July, Kongo was drydocked and received additional 25mm AA mounts and Type 13 Radar. Haruna’s bomb damage was repaired at that time at Sasebo, where she received similar upgrades to those for Kongo.

Kongo departed on 8 July for the Lingga anchorage, without Haruna, but with other main IJN fleet units. Haruna departed Sasebo with destroyers and arrived at Lingga in late August 1944. Both units of BatDiv3 would remain at the Lingga anchorage until mid-October.

BatDiv3 departed Lingga for Brunei Bay, Borneo in late October 1944. From there they sortied with other major units of the IJN fleet, known as Force A, for Leyte Gulf. This was the beginning of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, a conflict that had smaller clashes within the main battle. As the IJN fleet passed through the Palawan Passage, they were intercepted by the USN submarines Darter and Dace. These submarines were able to torpedo three heavy cruisers, Takao, Atago and Maya, severely damaging Takao and sinking the other two. The rest of the IJN fleet passed without harm. This event was later known as the Battle of Palawan Passage.

The remaining IJN fleet units, including BatDiv3, proceeded into the Sibuyan Sea, where USN carrier aircraft attacked the entire IJN fleet with over 250 aircraft, sinking the super battleship Musashi. Kongo was not hit, but again, Haruna was damaged by near misses.

In the early hours of 25 October 1944, the IJN fleet surprised a division of USN escort aircraft carriers off Samar Island. In the ensuing melee, the Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers, including Kongo and Haruna fired upon the hapless small carriers, but were run off by USN destroyers in a brave torpedo attack. The IJN sank one carrier, and three destroyers at the cost of three heavy cruisers.

On the following day, USAAF B-24 bombers attack the retiring IJN fleet, hitting the super battleship Yamato, sinking the light cruiser Noshiro, but Kongo and Haruna were unharmed. The remnants of Force A arrived at Brunei on 28 October 1944.

In early November, BatDiv3 left Brunei Bay to escort a resupply mission by other warships to Manila for the Japanese Army. They returned to Brunei by mid-November. At that time, the battleship Nagato was assigned to BatDiv3. On November 16, the IJN fleet at Brunei was attacked by USAAF B-24 bombers and P-38 fighters. Kongo and Haruna were not damaged. On that same day, Kongo, in company with Yamato, Nagato, light cruiser Yahagi and six destroyers departed for Japan. The next day, Haruna and the heavy cruisers Ashigara, Haguro and light cruiser Oyodo departed for the Lingga anchorage, via the Spratly Island anchorage.

Meanwhile, on 21 November, in the early morning, Kongo and her companions were off of Formosa, making 16kts, when they were intercepted by the USN submarine Sealion. At 0256 hrs Sealion fired all six bow tubes, turned and fired all four stern tubes by 0300hrs. Minutes later, two huge geysers of water shot up into the air alongside the port side of Kongo, which shook with a terrible shudder. Another minute later, one of the destroyers disappeared in a huge explosion, sinking immediately. One torpedo hit forward, at the leading edge of Kongo’s torpedo blister, with the other striking her abreast the second funnel, flooding several engine rooms. Kongo’s captain kept up her speed, but in so doing caused her damage from the forward hit to worsen and increase flooding, also increasing the warship’s list to almost 45°. Soon her speed slowed to 10kts. About 0520, Kongo went dead in the water with her list increasing. At 0524, Kongo capsized to port, at the same time causing her forward magazine to detonate.

On 22 November Haruna, along with the cruisers and destroyers arrived at Lingga. As she was attempting to anchor, she grounded on a reef, doing significant damage to her hull, necessitating repairs in Japan. Haruna departed Lingga alone for Singapore on 28 November to pick up two destroyers and continued on to Mako, where she joined the carrier Junyo and three destroyers on 5 December 1944. This group departed for Japan the next day.

On 9 December en route to Japan, the IJN task group was intercepted by a USN submarine group. The carrier Junyo was struck by two torpedoes, as was one of the escorting destroyers. All IJN warships arrived at Sasebo Navy Yard the next day. Haruna and two destroyers continued on to Kure the day after, arriving two days later.

Haruna was drydocked and hull damage was repaired. She really needed an extensive refit due to the numerous times she had been damaged, but this was not possible due to the lack of supplies and constant air attacks. Also, because of the lack of fuel available, Haruna remained in port, assigned to the Kure Naval District.

On 19 March 1945, USN carriers launched a massive air assault upon the Kure Naval District. Haruna was hit once, with slight damage, but June 22 saw another air assault, this time by USAAF B-29s, with one bomb hit on the quarterdeck causing slight damage. On 24 July yet another carrier aircraft attack resulted in three bomb hits and moderate damage.

The end came for Haruna on 28 July 1945. This was another carrier aircraft attack, obtaining about nine hits. She sank in very shallow water, her fore and centre-deck above water. Her wreck was later broken up between 1946 and 1948.

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