IJN Heavy Cruiser Takao

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.

Japanese Submarines: No.71 & Type ST

Type ST Sentaka type submarine

General arrangements and sections of the type I 201 class submarine.

I 201 Japanese submarine class. These Type ST submarines were designed after exhaustive tests and trials with the high underwater speed experimental submarine No 71. The hull was fully welded and very carefully streamlined; no gun or other deck obstruction was allowed which might impair the under- water performance. Even the 25-mm (1-in) mount retracted into a streamlined housing in the conning tower. The whole design concentrated on underwater performance, and new electric motors were installed giving the vessels an underwater speed of 19 knots. The high-capacity batteries carried sufficient energy to give the vessels an underwater radius of action of 135 nautical miles at 3 knots. The maximum submerged depth achieved by the submarines was 110m (360 ft), the greatest depth achieved by a Japanese submarine. In many respects the vessels resembled the German Type XXI and when completed they were the first operational GUPPY type submarine in the world. Specially designed lightweight MAN diesels were used for surface propulsion, to keep displacement low. Only small bunkerage was provided, and the surfaced radius of action was only 5800 nautical miles with an endurance of 25 days.

Construction employed full mass-production techniques, with the submarines assembled in section in factories, the completed sections being welded together on the slip. The whole operation from start to finish took on average only ten months. A total of 23 units were ordered from the Kure navy yard under the 1943 Programme, construction commencing in March 1944. A further 76 units were projected under the 1944 Programme, but the progress of the war and the decision to concentrate construction on suicide units led to the cancellation of I 209-122­ in 1945, and the units in the 1944 Programme were never ordered at all. I 201 entered service on February 2, 1945, followed on February 12 by 1202and on May 29 by I 203. I 204-I 208 were laid down but never completed and all the boats were surrendered at the end of the war.

General characteristics
Displacement:1,290 t (1,270 long tons; 1,420 short tons) surfaced 1,503 t (1,479 long tons; 1,657 short tons) submerged
Length:79 m (259 ft) overall 59.2 m (194 ft) pressure hull
Beam:5.8 m (19 ft) pressure hull 9.2 m (30 ft) max. across stern fins
Height:7 m (23 ft) (keel to main deck)
Propulsion:Diesel-electric 2 × MAN Mk.1 diesel (Ma-Shiki 1 Gō diesel), build by Kawasaki and Mitsubishi. 2,750 hp (2,050 kW) 4 × electric motors, 5,000 hp (3,700 kW) at 600 rpm 2 shafts
Speed:15.75 knots (29.17 km/h) surfaced 19 knots (35 km/h) submerged
Range:15,000 nmi (28,000 km) at 6 knots (11 km/h) 7,800 nmi (14,400 km) at 11 knots (20 km/h) 5,800 nmi (10,700 km) at 14 knots (26 km/h) Submerged: 135 nmi (250 km) at 3 knots (5.6 km/h)
Test depth:110 m (360 ft)
Complement:31 (plan) approx. 50 (actual)
Armament:4 × 533 mm (21 in) bow torpedo tubes 10 × Type 95 torpedoes 2 × Type 96 25 mm AA guns

1942: Japanese Options

Hitler’s blitz swept through Poland, the low countries, and France from September 1939 to June 1940, but it paled in comparison to the military feat accomplished by the Japanese in an even shorter period of time. Adolph’s European conquest geographically would not even cover the Japanese home islands, yet Japan extended its power and control 4,000 miles east toward Hawaii, 4,000 miles south toward Australia, and 4,000 miles west into the Indian Ocean. Admiral Nagumo’s fleet alone had swept almost 50,000 miles across the high seas from Japan to Hawaii and back, to New Britain, to Truk, to Java, to the Celebes, toward Australia, toward Ceylon and back to Japan. The triumphant Japanese had lost but 23 war-fighting vessels, none larger than a destroyer. Though 300,000 tons of Japanese merchant shipping went to the bottom, what they captured in Allied harbors more than exceeded their losses.

On the surface, it all seemed to come easily for the Japanese. In a mere five months, every objective of the imperial grand scheme had been achieved. Across 10,000 miles of ocean from Hawaii to Australia to India, the Combined Fleet reigned supreme. The Allies had been routed out of the Southwest Pacific with the exception of New Guinea. No one on the imperial staff doubted Port Moresby on New Guinea’s south coast would soon capitulate, just as the other Allied bastions had. Once Japan moved east into the Bismark Archipelago and finished securing the Solomon Islands, Australia would be dealt with next.

Japanese military doctrine stressed offense. Their fighting ships, aircraft, submarines, and ground forces were designed for and functioned well when on the attack. Little consideration was given to defense. When attacked, the Japanese soldier, sailor, airman, flag officer, or even emperor had difficulty reacting properly. Poorly considered attempts at swift vengeance were the typical response: the April 18, 1942, Doolittle Raid a prime example. The imperial staff planning focused on continuing the offensive, since reverting to a hold-and-consolidate posture might indicate temerity and yield the initiative to the Allies.

The Battle of Coral Sea by Robert Taylor

As the lights were going out in the Philippines in late April and early May, American listening posts picked up message traffic indicating a Japanese invasion force was proceeding around the northern side of New Guinea, intent on seizing Port Moresby. This outpost was the last remaining Allied base of any size north of Australia. An Allied loss here would put Japan’s air power well within reach of the southern continent’s northern extremities and provide jumping off points should invasion of Eastern Australia be in the offing.

Admiral Nimitz in Hawaii and General MacArthur in Australia recognized the extreme threat to Australia that this Japanese gambit represented. To ambush the invasion, Nimitz ordered into action both the Lexington under Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch and Yorktown under Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, the overall commander of the task forces that included escorting cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and tankers.

En route to the battle for Port Moresby, the 4th Japanese fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inouye included two carriers, Zuikaku and Shokaku, along with one light carrier, Shoho, four heavy cruisers, submarine-hunting destroyers, and 14 troop/supply transports. The Japanese task force swung east for a stop on May 3 at Tulagi. The Japanese were lucky; the Australians had abandoned their outpost on this small island three days prior. Without opposition, a garrison made up of troops, seaplanes, destroyers, minesweepers, and support equipment disembarked and occupied the small island and its harbor located just north of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Then the main force continued on toward Port Moresby.

Upon learning of the Tulagi landings while at sea, Fletcher launched an air strike on May 4, from 100 miles south. Three waves of planes struck the island’s new tenants. One Japanese destroyer had to be beached, and five seaplanes were sunk, as were four barges and three minesweepers. But Fletcher had given himself away. He withdrew his force south, then swung west, hoping to surprise the Port Moresby-bound transports, which his intelligence estimated were about to appear rounding the eastern tip of New Guinea on the sixth.

But Admiral Inouye instructed his invasion transports to remain at sea while he detached his striking force to take up hot pursuit of the maneuvering American carriers. On the night of May 6, the two fleets passed 60 miles abeam each other going in opposite directions. A Japanese scout plane, flying well to the south of the two American carriers, spotted the U.S. oiler Neosho and her escort, the destroyer USS Sims, before 8 a.m. on the 7th, yet the Japanese crew reported these ships as a “carrier and cruiser.”

Later that morning, a U.S. scout plane alerted Fletcher that two Japanese carriers and four heavy cruisers were headed his way from the northwest. It, too, was mistaken. The carriers were now southeast. Based on these botched reports, both sides felt pressed to act. Thus began what would come to be known as the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Japanese launched two strikes in the direction of their sighting. Both found the ships, but the first strike employed level bombing from altitude. All bombs missed. This was not the case for the second attempt by dive bombers. Shortly after noon, the Sims went to the bottom and the Neosho was reduced to a drifting wreck that was scuttled four days later.

Fletcher’s strike involved 93 aircraft. They found the wrong ships just before noon. Lieutenant Commander Weldon L. Hamilton in an SBD Dauntless dive bomber spotted the light carrier Shoho and decided that, light or not, it was a carrier and needed to be sent to the bottom. All 93 aircraft took part in one continuous, chaotic, attack lasting 26 minutes.

At the Combat Information Centers aboard both American carriers, little of the garbled radio transmissions made much sense. Suddenly, Lieutenant Commander Robert E. Dixon, Lexington’s second SBD flight leader, transmitted clearly and loudly, “Scratch one flattop! Dixon to Carrier, scratch one flattop!” The tension on the carriers exploded as men cheered in jubilation.

It was, in retrospect, a hollow rejoicing. That same day, May 7, some 2,700 miles to the northwest, General Wainwright formally surrendered the Philippines to the Japanese.

On May 8, Japanese and American scout planes out over the Coral Sea located each other’s main fleets east of New Guinea. Every available aircraft was launched by both sides. Yorktown was hit by one delay-action bomb that penetrated four decks and exploded, killing 64 sailors. The Lexington was hit by at least two torpedoes and two bombs but kept up steam even though on fire. She began to list, but the crew counter-flooded compartments with oil ballast to stabilize her while they fought the fires.

Lexington’s airborne planes along with those from the Yorktown spotted the carrier Shokaku turning into the wind to launch aircraft. The attack was on. American torpedo bombers launched at too great a distance and missed, but the dive bombers had better luck. One bomb struck near the bow and one aft. A third later smashed into her deck. The now heavily damaged Shokaku limped away, her decks of steel and planks mangled and burning.

The American planes headed home, with Lexington’s aircraft recovering aboard in spite of her heavy damage. Just after one in the afternoon, a smoldering fire aboard the Lexington, caused by a motor generator left running, spread to high-octane fuel, touching off a succession of explosions. Seven hours later she went to the bottom. Fletcher then reversed course for Hawaii with his remaining carrier and supporting ships.

Though the Japanese suffered less damage and loss, the invasion of Port Moresby was turned away, since Inouye withdrew his fleet to Japan for repairs. The engagement was the first carrier versus carrier engagement and the first between naval forces that never came within sight of each other. This was the second time a Japanese invasion had been turned back, the first being the initial Wake Island attack in early December 1941.


The battle of the Coral Sea was the third naval probe by the American fleet, and Admiral Yamamoto’s concern regarding maintaining the initiative now peaked. Though the first two U.S. forays involved the Gilbert and Marshal Islands in February and the Marcus Islands in March, the Coral Sea operation was a deep Pacific probe. Early on, Yamamoto became fully aware that air power was making the difference in virtually every operation the Japanese were conducting, and that the proper application of that arm would determine the outcome of the war. In that light, he felt the aircraft carrier, not the battleship, determined fleet strength, and as such the Allied carriers needed to be dealt with promptly while the Japanese Navy had numerical superiority. Early in Yamamoto’s career, the Russian fleet had been surprised at Port Arthur, then drawn into battle at Tsushima Strait where they were soundly defeated. What works, works, was Yamamoto’s creed, and he intended to repeat the performance. A strike at Midway, two small islands (Sand and Eastern) located 1,150 miles northwest of Hawaii, would be the setting, an operation that was sure to draw the American carriers into battle. Only this time, instead of being an ordinary seaman fighting the battle, he would be the commander who devised and orchestrated Japan’s most decisive victory.

In preparation, an odd exercise had been tested. Called Operation K, two H8K1 Emily flying boats took off from Wotje Island in the Marshalls on March 4. They set down at French Frigate Shoals, a reef 487 miles northwest of Honolulu, Hawaii. Refueled by submarines, they then launched on a night reconnaissance and bombing mission over Pearl Harbor, Oahu. U.S. Army radars detected the Japanese planes while they were some 200 miles from Oahu. Fighters were launched to intercept, but were unable to obtain visual contact in the dark. The two Emily seaplanes arrived over Oahu just after two in the morning, but the island was shrouded in clouds. Both planes released their bombs above what they thought was Ford Island and subsequently reported success. One stick of bombs actually struck harmlessly on Mount Tantalus above Waikiki. The other string splashed into the sea at the entrance to Pearl Harbor. In view of the reported results, Yamamoto incorporated a similar mission into his maturing Midway Plan, which had been forwarded to the imperial staff in April.

The generals and admirals in Tokyo had other ideas. Being debated were three options: thrusts toward either Australia, India, or Hawaii. The “Australia first” group considered the continent a grave threat, an eventual springboard for an Allied counteroffensive. As such, Australia needed to be under Japanese control or its sea lanes closed to U.S. shipping. But the Army generals vigorously opposed the idea of invading Australia. The China problem had given them no illusions regarding the task being suggested. The Army staff concluded it could not assemble the 10 or more divisions needed for such an operation. Navy staff officers bristled, suspecting the Army was holding back its divisions, counting on the success of Hitler’s upcoming Caucasus offensive in the spring to allow Japan to initiate a ground offensive against the Russians in the vulnerable Soviet Far East. The Army was also opposed to extending control westward into the Indian Ocean. A proposed amphibious assault on Ceylon would again pull divisions from China and make things there vulnerable to a Soviet counter.

The Hawaii option envisioned occupation of Midway, Johnston and Palmyra Islands from which air power could be brought to bear on Hawaii to support amphibious landings there. Once Hawaii was under Japanese control, the U.S. would effectively be shut out of the Central and Western Pacific. But surprise would no longer be available, and the amount of airspace over the Hawaiian Islands was considered too extensive for medium bombers and long-range fighters to adequately cover.

While the fractured staff worked toward a solution that all could agree upon, plans had gone forward to at least isolate Australia by extending control east beyond New Guinea into the Solomon Islands, plus the New Caledonia, Fiji Islands, and Samoa area.

Yamamoto’s scheme at Midway, though complex, seemed more manageable than the other three options the staff was deliberating. More importantly, the Army had no objections, their contribution to the effort being minimal.

Yamamoto wanted to draw out the American carriers via a feint at the Aleutians immediately prior to the assault on Midway. The plan would require the largest Japanese naval commitment to date. Within the Combined Fleet, the only outspoken opposition against the plan came from Vice Admiral Inouye and his 4th Fleet staff. Inouye had presided over the debacle on the first attempt to invade Wake Island. It was one of his destroyers that was among the largest Japanese war ships lost during the first four months of the war. Yamamoto, not altogether thrilled with the 4th Fleet performance to date, ignored Inouye’s rebuff. But the admiralty staff in Tokyo also had misgivings about the value of Midway, and in particular the heavy logistic requirement needed to supply both it and the Aleutian Islands once occupied. After successfully invading Midway, long-range bombers from Hawaii could attack the island, while Japanese land-based medium bombers on Midway would be limited in their ability to respond in kind. Due to its size, Midway offered little hope for dispersal and concealment of aircraft, fuel, and munitions, while the Hawaiian Islands had ample locations to disperse everything. Continuous day and night air patrols would be required around Midway to minimize losses from these expected forays.

The admiralty staff eventually leaned toward the isolation of Australia. They believed that severing the sea lanes would be the best way to draw out the American carriers. In doing so, the decisive battle would occur much farther from Hawaii such that logistics issues for both sides would be equalized.

Yamamoto threw aside these objections, claiming the most direct way to isolate Australia was to “destroy the enemy’s carrier forces, without which the supply line could not in any case be maintained.” Japan’s superiority over the U.S. Pacific Fleet in carriers alone at that time was nearly three to one, with Japan possessing seven large and four light carriers against America’s four large carriers. The admiral also pointed out that even if the four U.S. carriers could not be drawn to battle, “we shall still realize an important gain by advancing our defensive perimeter to Midway and the Western Aleutians without obstruction.”

In the months following the opening of the Pacific War, Yamamoto’s efforts in protecting of Tokyo and the Imperial Palace became close to an obsession. He had established the picket boat line, yet the U.S. Navy incursion at Marcus Islands in March made him nervous. But all the arguments against Yamamoto’s Midway plan paled when the unthinkable did happen.

Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo on April 18 ended the wrangling. The admiralty staff threw in the towel and signed off on the Yamamoto venture. Key to its success was timing. Yamamoto wanted the mission launched in early June when the moon was full. Complex maneuvers would be conducted at night, and the fleet’s lack of radar once again was having a direct impact in strategic decisions. A delay until July’s full moon was considered unacceptable by Yamamoto.

A mission rehearsal, or rather a table-top war game, was scheduled by Yamamoto on the Yamato during the first week in May. The exercise went smoothly. It did so because chief of staff Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki canceled or revised the adverse rulings of the game’s umpires at every negative outcome. In one reported instance of what would become supreme irony, the Japanese officer acting as the American player rolled his dice the first time and sank four of Yamamoto’s carriers. The Japanese side complained that it was not possible for this to happen and had him re-roll. This attempt resulted in one carrier sunk and two damaged.

That same week, the New Guinea part of the headquarters plan to isolate Australia hit a snag as a consequence of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Once again Vice Admiral Inouye had failed to deliver on time. The Japanese staff, now with increased urgency, sought a means to prevent the U.S. fleet from establishing a secure sea lane to and from Australia. How to go about it was what had them stymied. Yamamoto with his Midway plan offered a solution.

Two fleet commanders who would find themselves in leading roles at Midway, Vice Admirals Kondo (Second Fleet) and Nagumo (First Air Fleet), were engaged in battle operations during the planning cycle. By the time they learned of the proposed operation, it was no longer being argued, but had been locked in. Thus the Japanese Combined Fleet began assembling for the largest naval operation in history.

The plan called for over 200 ships and submarines including 8 carriers bearing over 700 planes, 11 battleships, 22 cruisers, 65 destroyers, 21 submarines, plus 80 transports and auxiliary support ships, all arranged in 16 different fleets. The required fuel alone exceeded that needed for a full year of peacetime operations.


At naval headquarters on Oahu, Admiral Nimitz had an element that most wartime commanders could only dream about. Designated Station Hypo, it was the admiral’s code-breaking team led by Commander Joe Rochefort. The commander was regarded by some as brilliant but eccentric, often wearing a red smoking jacket and carpet slippers at work. He assembled a group of similarly minded code breakers whose work would ultimately change the outcome of the war. By the first week in May, Station Hypo had already discovered that Yamamoto had a grand scheme in the works. What they did not yet know was the where and when. The Japanese began referring to the next battle as occurring at point AF. But where was AF? Rochefort thought it was Midway, but had to prove it. He got the nod from Admiral Nimitz to send a message to Midway via secure underwater cable asking them to transmit in the clear that their fresh-water distilling plant was out of service. The hope was that the Japanese would intercept the transmission and comment on it. They did. On May 20, code breaker Tommy Dyer working in Station Hypo decoded a message sent to Tokyo from the Japanese listening station now on Wake Island. The message alerted Yamamoto regarding a water emergency at point AF. Bingo!

Nimitz now had enough deciphered message traffic from Japan to convince him that the next push by the Japanese was toward Midway and the Aleutians. This was no gambit aimed at an Australian outpost on a backwater island thousands of miles away. This was aimed at American soil, and there would be no thought of anything but a maximum response.

Nimitz had already visited Midway on May 2, ordering an increase in the garrison force and aircraft needed to defend the island. Nineteen Marine Corps SBD-2 Dauntless dive bombers, seven F4F Wildcat fighters, 30 PBY flying boats, plus 18 B-17 and four B-26 bombers were added to the air power on station, bringing the total to 119 aircraft. The admiral also stationed 20 submarines in three patrol arcs around the island at 100, 150, and 200 miles out. All were in place as the Nagumo force closed the distance to Midway.

Nimitz did not ignore Alaska. The command arrangement there was a merger of U.S. Army, Navy, and Canadian forces, with the U.S. Navy as the senior service.


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.

Nakajima G10N – strategic heavy bomber

Japan shared a fundamental flaw with Germany in regards to not developing a bomber capable of long range missions. The lack of this capability is considered by some to be a pivotal nail in the coffins of each country during the war. In both cases, efforts to develop such a bomber came too late to affect the outcome of the conflict. Although the Japanese had considered the need for such a bomber at the outset of hostilities – as had the Germans with the disastrous Heinkel He 177 Greif – very little happened until the need was dire, and by then the noose was tight, choking any hope for putting a long range bomber into service. The main cause of this apathy was the early success in the Pacific theatre where the short and medium range bombers then in use by the Japanese were adequate to fulfil the needs of the IJA and IJN. With the entry of the United When the tide of war turned against the Japanese, it was soon realised that some means to attack the US mainland had to be acquired, not only to destroy the war industry of America but to ravage the civilian population centres to reduce morale and bring the war to the US doorstep. In consequence, the US would have to allocate or divert resources to increase the defence of the homeland which would affect the war on other fronts. As history was to show, the Japanese did succeed in launching attacks against America, but only in the form of the Fu-Go balloon bombs and isolated attacks on the west coast from submarine-launched float planes. None had much of an effect.

There were some early attempts to produce a long-range bomber – for example, the Mitsubishi G7M1 Taizan (a 16-shi project) – plus designs that were actually built such as the Nakajima G5N Shinzan and Nakajima G8N Renzan. The Shinzan was not a success and the Renzan failed to reach operational States into the war a formidable problem arose. Geography put the military machine of the US far out of reach of Japan. service as a combat aircraft, let alone reach America and return.

It was to be Nakajima who would attempt to provide a strategic long-range bomber capable of bringing the war to America. The man behind the project was Chikuhei Nakajima, chairman and engineer of Nakajima Hikoki K. K. Motivated by his fears over the inability of the Japanese to reach and destroy US industrial capacity, Chikuhei tried to convince the IJN and the IJA of the need for a strategic bomber. However, officials from both services refused to consider his ideas. Thus, without official sanction or request, Chikuhei invested a portion of Nakajima’s resource to draft designs for a bomber that could take-off from Japanese bases, cross the Pacific, attack targets on the West Coast of America and return to either their original bases or elsewhere in Japanese or Axis held territory. Nakajima gave the design work the name ‘Project Z’.

On 29 January 1943, Nakajima began the task of assembling drafts and studies for the design of the bomber, along with reports which studied the feasibility and problems of production. On the completion of this stage in April 1943, he again pitched the concept to both the IJA and the IJN. This time, neither service turned Nakajima away. However, despite the information Nakajima had assembled for the proposed bomber, and despite both services now accepting the need for such an aircraft, the IJA and the IJN also produced their own ideas. Not surprisingly, the two services had differing opinions on the requirements for the bomber. The IJA desired a type that could operate at 9,998m (32,800ft) and carry a heavy defensive armament. By contrast, the IJN wanted a bomber capable of flying at a height of 14,996m (49,200ft), an altitude where interception would be minimal and thereby allowed a lighter defensive weapon load to be carried. Furthermore, the IJN wanted the bomber to take-off from Japan, bomb any target within the US, then utilise bases in Germany or German held territory to land, as opposed to making a round trip.

Though there were a number of variations of the aircraft during the Project Z development, three basic designs of what became the Fugaku emerged. The project presented by the IJA used a ‘tail sitter’ undercarriage, featured dual vertical stabilisers and bore some resemblance to German designs. It also had a rounded off nose similar to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and Messerschmitt Me 264 ‘Amerika’ bomber. The IJN’s proposed design used a tricycle landing gear arrangement and rounded nose but utilised a single vertical stabiliser. Nakajima’s proposal kept the single vertical stabiliser but had a stepped nose much like that used on the G5N Shinzan which the company had previously worked on.

By June 1943, Nakajima had received plans from the IJA and IJN, reviewed them and begun work on drafting a final design. To continue the research and further development and study the Project Z aircraft, the Army and Navy Aviation Technical Committee was formed on 9 August 1943. The IJA delegation was headed by Captain Ando. Later in August, Chikuhei Nakajima prepared a thesis entitled ‘Strategy for Ultimate Victory’. Chikuhei used his personal clout to make sure his document reached not only IJA and IJN officials, but also politicians and even Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. His thesis was laid out in six chapters and contained Chikuhei’s plan for defeating the US as well as defending Japan. The key component was the Project Z bomber which he proposed could be used to destroy US airfields as a means to deny the US the ability to launch raids against Japan. This suggestion was in part due to his belief that Japanese air forces were not strong enough to repel a bombing raid. Another facet of the thesis was the use of the bomber to attack the US war industry. Without materials and oil, the US could not produce aircraft, tanks and other weapons. More importantly, he added, the Japanese should use the bomber to destroy the Soviet military industry as a means to support Germany. This implied that Nakajima could provide Germany with such long-range bombers.

The Project Z bomber would employ an all metal structure with the wings mounted in the mid-fuselage position. The plane was envisioned to be powered by the Nakajima Ha-54, 36-cylinder radial engine, also known as the D. BH. The Ha-54 was, in fact, two Ha-44 18-cylinderradials paired together. It was projected that the Ha-54 engine could produce up to 5,000hp and that six of these would be sufficient to propel the bomber to a generous maximum speed of 679km/h (422mph). Each engine would drive two contra-rotating, three-bladed propellers with a 4.5m (14.7ft) diameter. The Ha-54 engine, however, would not be ready for some time (and as events turned out, by war’s end it was still only a prototype engine and problems with cooling the power unit through the use of a ducted cowling were never solved). Therefore, Nakajima had to settle for the experimental NK11A (Ha-53) which, while also in development, was expected to be ready for trials. The drawback was that the NK11A was expected to muster only 2,500hp and this would certainly have lowered the performance estimates. The introduction of the NK11A meant that a revision of the Project Z airframe became necessary.

The bomber’s ceiling was estimated to be 15,000m (49,212ft) and it was believed that a heavy defensive armament was not necessary as the high altitude would offer protection from fighter opposition. To a lesser extent the projected speed would also reduce vulnerability. Consequently, the bomber would carry at least four Type 99 20mm cannons, but contemporary illustrations of the bomber often show a much heavier armament. This may be a result of having to settle for the less powerful NKIIA and any speed/altitude advantage would have been lost, so an increased weapon load would have been necessary to protect the aircraft. Typically, illustrations show two cannon mounted in the tail, two in the nose, two twin-cannon turrets placed in the front and rear of the fuselage top and at least one belly turret. Variations included waist gunner stations. For a normal bomb load, the bomber was expected to carry up to 20,000kg (44,092Ib) of bombs, but in the case of anti-shipping missions, torpedoes could be carried (see below). For attacks on the United States, the bomber would carry only up to 5,000kg (11,023Ib) of bombs.

As work continued on the Project Z, plans were made to assemble and house the bomber’s production line. By the fall of 1943, these plans had been completed and construction of the new facility had begun. By January 1944, the Project Z moniker was dropped and changed to the Fugaku which means ‘Mount Fuji’.

As it was, more pressing demands on Nakajima resulted in less and less work being done on the Fugaku. To compound the problem, by the time the design was nearing completion, Japan was on the defensive and chances of producing the Fugaku, let alone using it to attack America, were about nil. The UA believed that there was no probability of the Fugaku being built and therefore abandoned the project, leaving the UN as the sole remaining party involved. Even the Gunjusho (the Ministry of Munitions) felt the Fugaku was impossible to realise and ordered Kawanishi to design a new long-range bomber. Unfortunately, the Gunjushō failed to inform the UA, UN and Nakajima about the Kawanishi bomber, which was known as the TB. When the new bomber project was discovered, a hail of protests and arguments erupted that hampered not only the development of the Fugaku but all long-range bomber projects including the TB which was soon cancelled.

However, it was the fall of Saipan in 1944 that sealed the Fugaku’s fate. The Japanese air forces no longer had need of a super long-range bomber and demanded more pertinent aircraft to protect the mainland. As such, all work on the Fugaku was stopped and the plans, calculations and drafts were shelved. Work on the production facility was halted prior to completion and left unfinished. With the Japanese surrender, all documentation for the Fugaku was to be destroyed to prevent the information being handed over to the Allies. Papers on the Fugaku that survive to this day, including a number of drafts for various Project Z/Fugaku proposals, were mislaid or kept for safe-keeping by individuals. Since the war it has been claimed that the Misawa Air Base would have been used by Fugaku bombers to launch raids against the US. While Misawa was used by the UA and operational UA bombers flew from this facility, there has been no definitive evidence to support or refute Misawa being considered as a Fugaku base.

Bombing was not the only mission that was envisioned for the Fugaku and during the Project Z brainstorming three other concepts arose and later formed part of Chikuhei’s thesis. The first was an attack design that had 400 Type 97 7.7mm machine guns crammed into the aircraft. The front and the back of the bomber would accommodate 40 machine guns arranged in ten rows. The intention was to rain thousands of rounds of bullets down on to enemy ships with the theory that a swath of destruction 45m (148ft) wide and 10km (6.2 miles) long could be achieved by 15 Fugaku aircraft. Once the decks of these ships were swept of personnel, nine Fugaku bombers, each with twenty 907kg (2,000Ib) bombs or torpedoes, would deliver the coup de grace, covering a path 200m (656ft) wide and I km (0.62 miles) in length with high explosive.

Another version had the Fugaku loaded with 96 Type 99 20mm cannons. The front and the back of the aircraft would contain 12 cannons arranged in eight rows while another 36 cannons were fitted on each side of the aircraft. This particular variant was to target enemy bombers flying missions against Japan and would use hidden bases untouched by the Japanese airfield bombing campaign. By flying over the enemy bomber formation and unleashing a withering fusillade of cannon fire, it was speculated that ten of the cannon equipped Fugaku could bring down 100 bombers, the area covered by the cannons from one plane being 2.5m (8.2ft) and 3km (1.86 miles) long. A system of ground radar stations would give advance warning of the incoming enemy bomber force, allowing time for the Fugaku to intercept and destroy the bombers before they reached Japan. This was all very impressive on paper but had it been put into practice the results were likely to have been less than stellar, especially when considering the failure of the Mitsubishi G6M1 heavy escort fighter (a G4M converted into a gunship to provide cover for bomber formations). Finally, the Fugaku was considered as a transport which would have provided a significant heavy lift capability. It was estimated that one Fugaku transport would be able to carry 300 soldiers with full equipment, about equal to one infantry rifle company with a heavy weapon platoon. Chikuhei envisioned a grand scheme of a raid against America where four hundred transports would deposit 120,000 men (equivalent to a Japanese Army, which equates to a US and British Corps) on US soil to take over the Seattle-Tacoma airport located in Washington. After landing the troops would move overland to attack and destroy Boeing’s B-29 producing Renton Factory in Renton before returning to Japan.

There is no evidence to suggest any of these concepts made it to the final Fugaku designs. However, if any of the three ideas were supported, a transport may have topped the list for possible consideration given the late war need for aircraft capable of bringing raw materials into Japan to feed the war industry that was slowly being starved. As a note, although the designations G10N and G10N1have been used in print for this aircraft for many years, there has been no confirmation in historical sources that confirms this was the case.

Specifications (Project Z / Fugaku projected)

General characteristics

Crew: 6 to 10

Fugaku: 7 to 8

Length: 44.98 m (147 ft 7 in)

Fugaku: 39.98 m (131 ft)

Wingspan: 64.98 m (213 ft 2 in)

Fugaku: 62.97 m (207 ft)

Height: 8.77 m (28 ft 9 in)

Wing area: 352.01 m2 (3,789.0 sq ft)

Fugaku: 330 m2 (3,552.09 sq ft)

Aspect ratio: 12.1

Empty weight: 65,000 kg (143,300 lb)

Fugaku: 33,800 kg (74,516.24 lb)

Gross weight: 122,000 kg (268,964 lb)

Fugaku: 42,000 kg (92,594.15 lb)

Max takeoff weight: 160,000 kg (352,740 lb)

Fugaku: 70,000 kg (154,323.58 lb)

Powerplant: 6 × Nakajima Ha-54 36-cyl. air-cooled radial piston engines, 3,700 kW (5,000 hp) each at take-off

Fugaku: 6x Nakajima NK11A 18-cyl. air-cooled radial piston engines developing 2,500 hp (1,864 kW) at take-off

Propellers: 6-bladed contra-rotating constant speed propellers, 4.5 m (14 ft 9 in) diameter

Fugaku: 4-bladed constant speed propellers 4.8 m (16 ft) diameter


Maximum speed: 679 km/h (422 mph; 367 kn) at 10,000 m (32,808 ft)

Fugaku: 779 km (484 mi)at 10,000 m (32,808 ft)

Range: 17,999 km (11,184 mi; 9,719 nmi) maximum

Fugaku: 19,400 km (12,055 mi)

Service ceiling: 15,000 m (49,213 ft)

Wing loading: 456.99 kg/m2 (93.60 lb/sq ft)

Fugaku: 211.89 m² (43.4 lb/ft²)

Power/mass: 0.103 kW/kg (0.063 hp/lb)

Fugaku: 0.118 kW/kg (0.07 hp/lb)


Guns: 4× 20mm Type 99 cannon

Bombs: 20,000 kg (44,092 lb) of bombs

It’s very difficult to find precise Fugaku variant drawings.

Almost all drawings were lost.

Base design: Nakajima  HA54 engine (5,000hp in take-off) ×6

Variant 1: Nakajima  HA44 engine (2,500hp in take-off) ×6

Variant 2: Mitsubishi HA50 engine (3,000hp in take-off) ×6

Variant 3: Kawanishi design

Medieval Japanese Warrior Values


Muromachi samurai (1538)


Nanban [“Southern barbarian trade” i.e European] ships arriving for trade in Japan. 16th century painting.

The medieval warrior values similar to those described in detail below were perhaps first summarized in the Chikubasho (Bamboo stilt anthology), a Muromachi-period volume providing moral instruction for samurai. Completed in 1383 by an Ashikaga deputy shogun (kanrei) named Shiba Yoshimasa (1350–1410), the text outlined explicit rules to guide the behavior of the military class. At the same time, this work also stressed the importance of cultivating both the martial arts and the traditional four scholarly accomplishments first identified with Confucius’s ideal gentleman: games of strategy, scholarship through skilled calligraphic copies of the classical texts, music, and painting. In advocating the “dual way” of both military abilities and cultural pursuits, Chikubasho identified the balance of cultural and martial knowledge sought by the warrior class. At the same time, this early warrior manual laid foundations for samurai of limited regional authority and humble origins to achieve social, economic, and political prominence previously available only to the cultivated aristocracy.

First and foremost, the samurai was a professional soldier, and thus was expected to perform martial duties at the request of his lord in exchange for remuneration in the form of land, subvassals who worked samurai fields and served in his military unit, and other tangible rewards, such as protection. The lord-vassal relationship was the primary factor that determined a warrior’s role and socioeconomic status. Since a samurai provided service to his lord by means of achievement in combat, in both military encounters and civilian life, warriors were expected to exhibit discipline and fortitude even off the battlefield. For example, a well-known Edo-period anecdote relates the deep disgrace samurai would experience at betraying hunger through the rumbling of an empty stomach, or even by acknowledging such a basic need. Upholding such stringent ideals of honor and restraint helped to ensure that warriors were constantly prepared for battle as well as other forms of adversity, while cultivating a sense of group pride and integrity lacking in nonmilitary circles.

Warriors were expected to cultivate other exemplary traits, such as loyalty, prudence, and stability, along with military leadership. Such appropriate samurai attributes were first expounded in literary sources dating to the medieval period. Literary sources highlighted samurai devotion, such as the vow to commit seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment; also known as hara-kiri) if faced with disgrace, especially when confronting certain enemy triumph. Willingness to follow one’s lord in death (junshi) was a related act of ultimate loyalty. Samurai demonstrated such values when imperial forces defeated the Hojo clan in 1333, and thousands of loyal warriors emulated the fate of their Hojo masters by performing ritual disembowelment, an event recorded in the Taiheiki (Chronicle of the great peace), completed by 1374.

Despite the picture of duty painted in historical accounts like the Taiheiki, loyalty was not an absolute for the military retainer throughout the medieval and early modern periods. In principle, a samurai might owe allegiance to a lord through his obligation to uphold loyalty and duty, but such a debt might also derive from material benefits, such as financial support and other rewards, offered to a warrior by a daimyo. Although traditionally the Japanese military class has been characterized as selfless and disinterested in personal gain, in reality warriors put their own needs ahead of those of their lords at various times. Certainly samurai were not immune to the allure of improving their socioeconomic position. Military units often fought on behalf of a distant lord, and even lofty moral principles could not prevent samurai bands from enjoying the spoils of warfare directly, rather than being satisfied with token parcels offered by their lords when redistribution of conquered lands occurred.

Theoretically, Bushido principles required that samurai were chivalrous champions of the weak and the disadvantaged, and protectors of the vanquished. However, since samurai had been trained to fight until capture or casualties occurred, they were often ruthless in pursuing their objectives. From the early medieval era, both the law and widespread precedents worked to prevent warriors from pursuing private interests through violent means. In the Kamakura period, legally, samurai were granted authority only to chastise lawbreakers on behalf of a superior ruler. Many incidents occurred during the medieval era in which warriors usurped ruling authority, took advantage of disorder and military power, or simply extended their responsibilities in order to achieve personal gains. Thus, many samurai failed to consistently demonstrate honorable behavior and loyalty as extolled in Bushido principles. Eventually, the civil order established by the Tokugawa shogunate eliminated samurai incentives to pursue personal gain through military prowess.

Other warrior values attest to connections between learning, lineage, social status, and righteous administration first introduced to Japan from China, along with centralized government, during the Asuka period (552–645). Long seen as the purview of the ruling class, knowledge and education became central samurai ideals during the Muromachi era as Japan experienced renewed Chinese cultural influence. As in ancient China, learned samurai were expected to be familiar with standard Chinese texts, and to master related skills such as calligraphy, poetry, and principles of strategy. Once the Ashikaga shogunate was established in Kyoto, the residence of Japan’s imperial family for nearly 1,100 years and a city distinguished by its aristocratic elegance and refinement, military rulers and other members of the warrior classes sought to establish their cultural acumen as well as the right to govern the nobility. The prominent influence of Chinese culture in the Muromachi age also contributed to the growing sense that a military figure should demonstrate characteristics typical of the superior gentleman, a moral and cultural ideal first identified by the Chinese sage Confucius (Kongfuzi), ca. 551–479 B.C.E.


The Franco–Thai War (1940–1941)

The Battle of Ko Chang took place on 17 January 1941 during the Franco-Thai War and resulted in a victory by the French Navy over the Royal Thai Navy. During the battle, a flotilla of French warships attacked a smaller force of Thai vessels, including a coastal defence ship.
In the end, two Thai ships were sunk and one was heavily damaged. Within a month of the engagement, the Vichy French and the Thais negotiated a peace which ended the war.

Vichy versus Asia: The Franco-Siamese War of 1941

Dr. Andrew McGregor

Aberfoyle International Security

Toronto, Ontario

In 1940 the Vichy government of French Indo-China was isolated and threatened by the imperialist Japanese, the neighbouring Thais and by native rebel movements. The French had about 50,000 colonial and metropolitan troops stationed in the colony. They outnumbered the small French civilian population of 40,000 colonists in a territory of 25 million Indo-Chinese. The French collapse in the spring of 1940 resulted in the German occupation of 60% of France, but Marshall Pétain’s Vichy government retained control of the remainder, as well as France’s colonial empire. Indo-China was, however, cut off from re-supply from Vichy France. A British blockade proved effective, meaning that troops could not be rotated for the duration of the war, nor could parts be obtained for military equipment. Fuel supplies could also not be replenished so long as the petroleum-short Japanese Empire controlled the Asian theatre.

Vichy diplomats attempted to persuade Germany to allow them to ship arms and equipment to Indo-China, appealing to the Germans on racial grounds, pointing out the possibility of the ‘white race’ losing ground in Asia. The Germans would promise only to speak to the Japanese. At the same time Vichy was fending off offers from the Chinese to occupy Indo-China to ‘protect’ it from the Japanese. Aware of China’s own irredentist claims in the area, the French doubted they would ever get their colony back if the Chinese were allowed in.

The Japanese deliver a shock

As France fell, the Japanese began to make demands of the Governor-General of Indo-China, General Catroux. When the General acceded to demands that rail traffic to China be stopped he was promptly replaced. Vichy named the loyal commander of the FNEO (Forces Navales d’Extreme-Orient), Vice-Admiral Jean Decoux, as Governor General. By September Decoux was facing far greater demands from the Japanese, including the right to station and transport troops through Indo-China, the use of selected airfields, and the evacuation of a hard-pressed Japanese division fighting in China through the port of Haiphong. An appeal to the Americans for help was poorly received.

Aware of his predecessor’s fate, Decoux hesitated, signing the agreement just before the Japanese ultimatum ran out. The Japanese division was tired of waiting, however, and proceeded to cross the border on September 22, 1940, attacking the Tonkinese cities of Dong Dang and Lang Son with tanks and infantry. The Japanese navy made landings along the coast, Haiphong was bombed, and the Japanese Air Force flew repeatedly over Hanoi. The Japanese offensive came as a shock to some senior French officers, who still believed in natural European superiority and often talked about taking tough action against the Japanese. Dong Dang fell immediately, and Lang Son fell two days later, with many of the locally raised colonial units breaking and running before their first experience of artillery and disciplined infantry attacks carried out by veteran soldiers. French intelligence had reported that the Japanese were demoralized, but it was the French who collapsed under pressure. Local villagers revealed French positions to the Japanese, French artillery fired on French positions, ammunition ran out quickly, and over a thousand Indo-Chinese troops deserted.

A statement issued by the Japanese emperor on October 5 called the Lang Son attack unfortunate but not important. The French prisoners were released, but 200 German legionnaires who had been separated from the other French prisoners were not released until the 13th of October. The pursuing Chinese army made numerous forays across the frontier, and the French administration remained fearful of a full-scale Chinese invasion until the end of the war. The French had lost 800 men in two days of battle with the Japanese.

Nationalist rebellions

The fall of Lang Son had almost immediate consequences for French rule. Discontented locals had witnessed how easily an Asian army defeated the whites. Vietnamese nationalist Tran Trung Lap was able to raise some 3,000 men in the Lang Son region, many of them deserters from the Indo-Chinese units defeated by the Japanese. Their arms were provided from French stocks captured by the Japanese. The returning French demonstrated they could still deal with a poorly trained rabble, and quickly drove the revolutionaries into the mountains, where planes and artillery hammered them. Tran Trung Lap was ambushed, and though he escaped the massacre of his men by machine-gun, he was shortly after captured and executed at Lang Son in December.

In the south of Vietnam, then known as Cochin China, an even more dangerous rebellion broke out in late November. Thai troops had begun to deploy along the Cambodian border and most of the garrisons in Cochin China had been sent to the frontier. Fighting broke out in the My Tho region and French police found themselves overwhelmed. The rebellion spread to Saigon and a number of southern provinces. A battalion of the Foreign Legion and a battalion of Tonkinese colonial troops on their way to Cambodia were diverted to the south and, with the help of artillery, air and naval detachments, quickly repressed the rebellion with utmost ruthlessness. The French had made their point, and could now send their forces west to deal with the Thais.

War with Thailand

The French now had to deal with a growth of militarism and Thai nationalism in neighbouring Thailand (the name was changed from Siam in 1938). Just as Germany sought to regain the territories lost in the Treaty of Versailles, Thailand was eager to retake the ethnic Thai lands along the Mekong River it was forced to cede to the French colony of Laos in 1904. In 1907 the French had also forced Siam to cede the largely Khmer provinces of Siemreap, Sisophon and Battambang to French Cambodia. The pro-Japanese government of Marshal Pibul Songgram sensed an exploitable weakness in the now isolated French colony, and began a military campaign to retake these territories after the French rejected demands for their return in October 1940.

The Thais had signed a non-aggression pact with the French in June 1940, but failed to ratify it after the collapse of metropolitan France. By October Marshal Songgram had mobilized 50,000 troops (in five divisions) and obtained 100 modern fighters, bombers and seaplanes from Japan. The Thai air-force was now three times the size of that available to the French, with the new aircraft added to the 100 American planes obtained between 1936 and 1938 (mostly Vough Corsairs and Curtiss Hawks). The Thai navy had also been equipped with modern ships and outclassed the French colonial fleet on paper at least. Border skirmishes began in November and the Thais crossed the Mekong in December. Hard-pressed elsewhere, the French could only commit fourteen battalions to the defence of Battambang Province.

On January 5, 1941, the Thais launched a full attack with artillery and aerial bombardment of French positions. The Thai offensive covered four fronts:

1) North Laos, where the Thais took the disputed territories with little opposition

2) South Laos, where the Thais crossed the Mekong by the 19th of January

3) The Dangreks Sector, where confused fighting went back and forth

4) Colonial Route 1 (RC 1) in Battambang province, where the heaviest fighting occurred.

The initial advance on the RC 1 was repulsed by the Cambodian Tirailleurs (riflemen). The main Thai column ran into a French counter-attack on January 16, colliding with the French at Yang Dam Koum in Battambang. The Thai force was equipped with Vickers 6-ton tanks while the French lacked any armour. The French counter-offensive had three parts:

1) A counter-attack on the RC 1 in the region of Yang Dam Koum

2) An assault by the Brigade d’Annam-Laos on the islands of the Mekong River

3) Operations by the naval ‘Groupement occasionnel’ against the Thai fleet in the Gulf of Siam

The main thrust of the offensive was by Col. Jacomy’s forces along the RC 1. The attack at Yang Dam Koum was a debacle from the start. The assault forces consisted of one battalion of Colonial Infantry (European) and two battalions of ‘Mixed Infantry’ (European and Indo-Chinese). The forest made artillery operations difficult, French aircraft never showed, leaving the skies to the Thai air-force, and radio communications were poor. The French transmitted orders using Morse code, perhaps explaining why the Thais often anticipated their movements. A complete rout was prevented when the Thais ran into a battalion of the Fifth regiment of Legion infantry at Phum Préau. The legionnaires were hit hard by a Thai armoured assault, but brought up two 25mm and one 75mm gun for use against the tanks. The motorized detachment of the 11th Regiment of Colonial Infantry reinforced the line, and three Thai tanks were destroyed, the rest deciding to retire. The diversionary assault on the Mekong was successful, but the largest battle of the war was to be fought in the Gulf of Siam.

Naval war in the Gulf of Siam

The French navy was all important in Indo-China, as with any overseas colony. The modest force had a virtually non-existent role in the great Asian war of 1941-45, being unable to resist either Japanese advances or Allied blockades, but they were nevertheless to have one great, unexpected battle before meeting an ignominious end. The fleet in Indo-China was divided into two parts with separate levels of responsibility. The FNEO was assigned responsibility for the overall defence of French colonies in Indo-China and the Pacific, while the Marine Indochine with its river gunboats was responsible for interior security in Indo-China.

With the land war going badly for the French, it was decided to send the small French fleet to the Gulf of Siam to engage a Thai naval force supporting the flank of the Thai advance. The Thai ships had been spotted lying at anchorage in the Koh Chang islands by a French navy flying boat. The French task-force (or Groupement occasionel) consisted of the light cruiser Lamotte-Piquet, the two colonial sloops Dumont d’Urville and Amiral Charner, and the WW1 vintage gunboats Tahure and Marne.

During the night of January 16 the French ships closed in on the islands, dividing themselves into three groups to cover the exits from the island group. On the morning of the 17th the French roared in under cover of the mist to engage the Thais. The Thai ships included three Italian-built torpedo boats and the dual-pride of the Thai fleet, the two new Japanese-made armoured coastal defence ships with 6” guns, Donburi and Ahidéa. The French were surprised to find both coastal defence ships there, as they expected only the Ahidéa, but the Donburi had arrived the day before in a standard rotation. The French lost the advantage of surprise when an overeager Loire 130 seaplane tried to bomb the Thai ships. The Thais received the French with the opening salvoes of the battle at 6:14 AM. The Lamotte-Piquet quickly inflicted fatal damage on the Ahidéa with gunfire and torpedoes, forcing it to run aground. By 7 AM French guns had sunk all three torpedo boats.

The Donburi was spotted attempting to escape through the 200m high islands and the French cruiser set off in pursuit. The Donburi was set afire but continued to engage the cruiser and the sloops, which now began to pour fire into the Donburi. Badly damaged and listing to starboard, the Donburi eventually disappeared behind an island and the French broke off. Later in the day the Donburi was taken in tow by a Thai transport but capsized soon after. Throughout the engagement the French sailors were impressed by the courage of the Thai sailors under fire.

The French ships were unable to exploit their victory, however, due to the arrival of Thai Corsairs targeting the Lamotte-Piquet . Fierce anti-aircraft fire drove off the attacks, and by 9:40 AM the French turned for home. In a brief but decisive engagement the Thai fleet had been destroyed at negligible cost to the French. It appeared at the time to be a sudden and dramatic reversal of French fortunes.


The Japanese had seen enough and accompanied an offer to mediate the conflict with the arrival of a powerful naval force off the mouth of the Mekong River to encourage negotiations. A tentative armistice was imposed on January 28, but Thai provocations on the frontier continued until a formal armistice was signed aboard the Japanese battleship Natori off Saigon. The extent of Thai-Japanese collaboration was revealed when a Japanese-imposed treaty between Vichy and Thailand was signed on May 9, 1941. The disputed territories of Laos, part of the Cambodian province of Siem Réap and the whole of Battambang were awarded to Thailand. The conflict had cost the French over 300 men and a further loss of prestige amongst its colonial subjects. European troops and material losses could not be replaced due to the blockade. The French garrison remained highly demoralized until the Japanese coup in 1945 destroyed the Vichy colonial army in Indo-China.

In the end the Thais fared little better. The Khmers largely evacuated the lost Cambodian territories, preferring French rule, and Thailand itself was soon occupied by its more powerful ally, the Japanese. American Flying Fortresses bombed Bangkok in 1942. The Thais declared war against the allies in 1944, but there was some confusion over whether the declaration was actually delivered to the US government, and after the war the Thai government certified the declaration of war as null and void. The uncomfortable affair was mutually forgotten. The disputed territories in Laos and Cambodia were returned to the new Gaullist government at the end of the war.

The French light cruiser Lamotte-Piquet was laid up shortly after the battle of Koh Chang due to the shortage of fuel. In 1945 the ship was bombed by American planes before being scuttled during the brutal Japanese coup of March 1945. The remaining naval force continued to escort convoys up and down the Vietnamese coast as best they could from 1941 to 1945. In their sudden seizure of Indo-China, the Japanese sank a number of French ships with shore fire, while the remainder were scuttled by their crews, who were then imprisoned. The French colonial armed forces in Indo-China had ceased to exist by the time the British and Chinese armies arrived after the Japanese surrender. It was the British and Chinese, rather than the men of Vichy, who would turn over the colony to Gaullist France at the end of World War II.

Military History Online – The Franco-Siamese War of 1941

The Pearl Harbor attack was imperfect




During the pre-war years, the Japanese Navy had painstakingly prepared its fleet for one particular strategy: a “decisive battle” to be held in its home waters, after the US fleet had been whittled down by aircraft and submarines during its long transit from Pearl Harbor into Japanese waters. The fleet was designed for this task, where fuel endurance and habitability and (in some cases) ships’ stability was sacrificed for speed and firepower. Logistics ships, tenders, repair ships, and developed forward support bases were unneeded in this strategy. Bases were to receive only minimal development, enough to support long-range reconnaissance and bombing aircraft and a sacrificial garrison. They were only speed bumps in the path of the American fleet and likely to be lost to the Americans’ advance. Fleet auxiliaries were not needed, because the most intense combat was expected to occur near the Japanese homeland in one cataclysmic decisive battle.

When the Japanese government decided on a war of conquest, this strategy was set on its ear. Now, the Navy would be required to take and hold outlying islands as a way to prevent the Allies from retaking the vital natural resources areas the Japanese would conquer in order to sustain their warfighting machine. The decisive battle was moved further and further from Empire waters until it eventually was in the vicinity of the Marshall Islands, 2,300nm from Japan. Now bases would be needed and auxiliaries commissioned to service the fleet far from its homeports, but the very lack of resources that would force Japan into the war would also prevent her from establishing the needed bases and auxiliaries.

But first, the Japanese had to achieve the desired conquests, a process which, even in the force vacuum in the Pacific caused by the war in Europe, was likely to take months. The Japanese would need most of their fleet for the offensive, scattered over thousands of miles supporting multiple simultaneous thrusts. The wild card was the United States Pacific Fleet. While it consisted of less than half the Americans’ commissioned battleships, it could be reinforced, and a move by the fleet to the Philippines would cut off the Japanese lines of communication to the southern advance, cut off resources returning to Japan, and threaten the Japanese with defeat.

Yamamoto proposed a strike against the Pacific Fleet’s main base at Pearl Harbor, using all his available fleet carrier strength. What is clear is that Yamamoto was after battleships, mainly to strike a psychological blow against the United States, hoping that it would result in a negotiated peace after the Japanese had secured their conquests. In the shadow of the historical results of the Pearl Harbor attack, what is little understood is that Yamamoto (and the rest of the Japanese command structure) was expecting to sacrifice at least two fleet carriers to this goal and perhaps more, making it a “carriers for battleships” swap. This realization belies the previous general assumption that Yamamoto was an aviation visionary who believed battleships to be obsolete. This is confirmed by Yamamoto’s instructions to Kido Butai, ordering them to press their attack even if they were detected 24 hours before the strike, and to attack even if there were no carriers in Pearl Harbor. Clearly, Yamamoto was willing to put his fragile carriers in harm’s way in order to cripple battleships.

Japanese testimony indicates that they needed to cripple four American battleships. This number was likely based on the calculations used to determine the needed force ratios to defeat the American fleet after a trans-Pacific advance. This number is confirmed by back-calculating from the targeted ratios that the Japanese attempted to obtain in negotiations during the various naval arms limitations conferences between 1922 and 1936. Even then, there would be little margin for a Japanese victory—they admitted that, if the confrontation occurred as planned, they had only a 50-50 chance of victory, a rather low chance of success considering that the fate of the country was at risk.

Yamamoto’s avowed objective was to cripple the Pacific Fleet sufficiently to prevent it from moving against the flank of the Japanese advance for at least six months. What is not commonly recognized is that this objective put the torch to the conventional Japanese plans for a decisive battle between the fleets at odds that would allow a Japanese victory. In fact, if the Americans were delayed by six months, they would have no incentive to engage the Japanese in a fleet action until their strength was sufficiently reinforced by the oncoming flood of new construction. A successful attack against Pearl Harbor would force the Americans into a “long war” strategy from the outset, exactly the kind of war that the Japanese knew they could not win. Yamamoto recognized this. After the conquest of resource areas, he had to force the Americans’ hand. He needed a decisive battle by whatever means possible. He tried to force one in the middle of the Pacific, which then led to defeat at the Battle of Midway.

The most telling indictment against the Japanese strategists and intelligence service is that they did not need an attack on Pearl Harbor to get their needed six months. It would have taken six months for the Americans to assemble sufficient oilers and auxiliaries to permit significant offensive operations, assuming that the course of the war in Europe allowed such a concentration. Raids would have been possible, but nothing serious enough to influence the course and outcome of Japan’s phase-one expansion to the south. Generally blind to logistics constraints, the Japanese did not care to visualize or understand the constraints under which the Americans would operate.

Contrary to the accolades of most chroniclers, the planning and execution of the Pearl Harbor attack was imperfect; in many ways it was not state-of-the-art.

• The planning was inflexible. The battleship-killers, the B5N Kates, the only Japanese carrier attack bombers that could carry either heavy armor-piercing bombs or torpedoes, were allocated their weapons very early in the planning process. This allocation was not adjusted to account for the results of training and tests, or intelligence regarding the presence or absence of torpedo nets in Pearl Harbor. The problems associated with delivering torpedoes in shallow water were solved literally only two weeks before the expedition departed home waters.

• The planners were to execute the attack even if the torpedo delivery problem had not been solved, or if the battleships were protected by torpedo nets. This contributed to the decision to over-allocate B5N Kates to the high-altitude bombing role.

• Although the level bombers exceeded accuracy expectations, a disgraceful number of their AP bombs failed to properly explode.

• In another example of inflexibility, the Japanese received a detailed intelligence report 24 hours ahead of the attack, yet did not adjust their plan to the observed conditions. The staff planners were so intent upon sinking carriers that they decided to allow an attack against the carrier anchorage to remain in place after learning there were no carriers in port.

• Had more B5N Kates been assigned to carry torpedoes the attack would have been considerably more lethal. As it was, three of the eight viable torpedo targets were untouched, and one was hit only by mistake.

• The plan was based entirely upon achieving a surprise attack, and provided for no SEAD support for the torpedo bombers. Even when a “no surprise” plan option was included, the torpedo bombers were not provided with any support—indeed, they were not even escorted the entire way to the target by fighters.

• The plan for the torpedo bombers was faulty. Planned attack routes were not deconflicted and caused mutual interference.

• The Japanese scheme of prioritizing targets was unexecutable. The burden of responsibility was put onto the individual aircrews, who could not have the information needed to appropriately execute the plan, and did not have the needed communications to mutually coordinate their efforts. The result was an overconcentration on the easiest targets, wasted torpedoes, and the escape of half the major targets on the torpedo prioritization list. Eleven torpedoes accomplished the mission—the rest were misses, overkills, or hits on inappropriate targets.

• Fuchida’s mistake with the flares, rather than an inconsequential error, threw the torpedo bombers’ attack into some confusion and rushed their approach. This gaffe was a contributing factor to the problems the torpedo bombers faced, including mutual interference, aborted runs, and likely a reduction in delivery accuracy and reliability. Fuchida’s error directly contributed to the B5N Kate aircraft losses.

• The loss of Arizona was the result of a bomb that penetrated the ship’s forward magazine, not the convoluted explanation in the Navy’s official report. Simulation modeling shows that the hit was not a “one in a million” outlier, but the most probable result for the attack.

• Japanese aerial communications were ineffective.

• The Japanese leaders could not exert effective control over the strike, especially after Fuchida’s error with the flares turned the first wave into an aerial Preakness.

• The attack formation adopted for the torpedo bombers, long strings of up to 12 bombers separated by 500 yards or more (which often became 1,500 to 1,800 yards under combat conditions), eliminated any possibility of anything but the most basic “follow the leader” control of targeting.

• The attacks by the dive-bombers on Nevada were an inappropriate employment of the planes’ ordnance. These bombs did nothing towards accomplishing the mission of the attack.

• The idea of sinking a warship in the channel in order to bottle up the Pacific Fleet was a quixotic half-measure, an exceedingly poor decision.

• The dive-bombers assigned to fleet targets contributed little. Of 81 bombers tasked with this mission only two hits were accomplished against what should have been their primary target, cruisers. Six of the eight cruisers in harbor escaped significant damage, with the other two were damaged by torpedo hits. Much of the damage caused by the dive-bombers came from bombs that missed their intended targets.

• A disgraceful percentage of the dive-bombers’ 250kg bombs were defective.

• The dive-bombers’ target identification was exceedingly poor. Tenders were identified as battleships and cruisers, destroyers identified as cruisers, drydocks identified as battleships.

• The plan for the employment of the fighters was poor. Fighter cover for the first wave’s bombers was not in accordance with the importance of the attack groups. Unbelievably, the torpedo bombers were not escorted all the way to the target, and had no top cover for the duration of their attack.

• Much of the “conventional wisdom” about the attack is false:

• The Japanese did not employ a corps of “super aviators” for the attack.

• Any third wave attack directed against the shipyard could have damaged only a small part of Pearl Harbor’s total repair capacity. Any damage could have been put to rights rapidly, and would not have caused the war in the Pacific to be extended by any appreciable period.

• While the fuel tanks were vulnerable and the majority of them could have been destroyed in a third wave attack, the effects of their destruction could have been mitigated. Damage to the fuel tanks would not have put back the course of the war by any significant duration and would not have forced the Pacific Fleet to abandon Pearl Harbor as some have asserted.

• The Japanese fourteen-part diplomatic message, delivered late and after the attack, was not a declaration of war. An on-time delivery would not have changed the American people’s righteous anger catalyzed by the Japanese “sneak attack.”

• The probability that the fifth midget submarine penetrated into the waters adjacent to Battleship Row and torpedoed Oklahoma or Arizona is vanishingly small.

One significant discovery is the extent to which many historians have been wrong in their opinions of the battle. This has in turn led to much distortion in the historical assessments of the roles, skills, and judgment of the participants. Care must be taken before previous historians’ value judgments are accepted. Even the most prestigious of the contemporary warfighters might be wrong.