N1K1J “George” fighter

From the standard reference by Rene Francillon, Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War (UK: Conway Maritime Press, 1987; also in US by Naval Institute Press), pages 323-25:

“… [despite engine troubles] … In combat, however, the Shiden was a superlative combat aircraft and experienced pilots had little difficulty in engaging American aircraft and, under the code name GEORGE, it was considered by Allied personnel to be one the best Japanese aircraft.

“… In operation the N1K2-J revealed itself as a truly outstanding fighter capable of meeting on eqial terms the best Allied fighter aircraft. Its qualities were demonstrated spectacularly by such pilots as Warrant Officer Kinsuke Muto of the 343rd Kokutai who, in February 1945, engaged single-handed twelve US Navy Hellcats, destroying four (of them) and forcing the others to break off combat. Against the high-flying B-29s the Shiden Kai was less successful as its climbing speed was insufficient and the power of its Homare 21 (engine) fell rapidly at high altitudes.”


This engine was one of the main problems with flying the Shiden, since it could fail to run up to its full power for combat. The undercarriage was relatively weak as well. But once in the air and at full power it was a dangerous adversary.

There are three surviving N1K2-J examples left today, all in the US. One is in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum near Washington, another in the US Air Force Museum in Ohio, and the third in the New England Air Museum in Connecticut.

In 1993, the Smithsonian’s Shiden was sent to the Champlin Fighter Museum in Arizona for its restoration. There had been a special job of rewiring the engine to match the original six-color, 12- and 16-gauge wiring and its braiding. The experts had enthused that even this job alone was almost a work of art by itself, a common sentiment in rare warplane restoration and maintenance.



Kawanishi N1K1-J Shiden George 11:


One Nakajima NK9H Homare 21 eighteen-cylinder air-cooled radial rated at 1990 hp for takeoff, 1825 hp at 5740 feet, 1625 hp at 20,015 feet.

Performance: Maximum speed 363 mph at 19,355 feet, 334 mph at 8040 feet.

Cruising speed 230 mph at 6560 feet, service ceiling 41,000 feet, cruising speed 230 mph at 6600 feet.

Climb to 19,685 feet in 7 minutes 50 seconds.

Normal range 890 miles at 230 mph at 13,120 feet, maximum range 1580 miles.

Weights: 6387 pounds empty, 8598 pounds loaded, 9526 pounds maximum loaded.

Dimensions: wingspan 39 feet 4 7/16 inches, length 29 feet 1 25/32 inches, height 13 feet 3 27/32 inches, wing area 252.95 square feet.

Armament: Two 7.7-mm Type 97 machine guns in the fuselage, two 20-mm Type 99 Model 2 cannon in the wings, two 20-mm Type 99 Model 2 cannon in underwing gondolas. Two 132-pound bombs or one 88 Imp gall drop tank could be carried externally.


N1K2-J Shiden Kai George 21:


One Nakajima NK9H Homare 21 eighteen-cylinder air-cooled radial rated at 1990 hp for takeoff, 1825 hp at 5740 feet, 1625 hp at 20,015 feet.

Performance: Maximum speed 369 mph at 19,355 feet, 359 mph at 9840 feet.

Cruising speed 230 mph at 9845 feet, service ceiling 35,300 feet, cruising speed 230 mph at 6600 feet.

Climb to 19,685 feet in 7 minutes 22 seconds.

Normal range 1066 miles at 219 mph at 9840 feet, maximum range 1488 miles with 88 Imp. gall. drop tank.

Weights: 5858 pounds empty, 8818 pounds loaded, 10,714 pounds maximum loaded.

Dimensions: wingspan 39 feet 4 7/16 inches, length 30 feet 7 29/32 inches, height 12 feet 11 29/32 inches, wing area 252.95 square feet.

Armament: Four 20-mm Type 99 Model 2 cannon in the wings. Two 551-pound bombs or one 88 Imp. gall. drop tank could be carried externally.


Minoru Genda’s elite 343 Kokutai flew the Shiden-Kai. Training began in January 1945 at Matsuyama Airfield, and the base of operations later moved to Kanoya (April 4), Kokubu (April 17), and Omura (April 25) in Kyushu.

During the Battle of Okinawa, the 343 Kokutai had the task of trying to clear the way for kamikaze planes as they flew from southern Kyushu to Okinawa during the Kikusui operations from April 6 to June 22, 1945. The Shiden-Kai pilots fought several fierce battles with American fighters over Amami Oshima and Kikaigashima. When American planes bombed Kyushu airfields to try to stop kamikaze attacks in April and May 1945, the 343 Kokutai at times engaged enemy aircraft although the Shiden-Kai was not intended for high-altitude interception of B-29s.

Genda’s Blade: Japan’s Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai by Henry Sakaida and Koji Takaki.

All English-language names for Japanese fighters derived from Western Allied identification codes, in which male names were given to enemy fighters and female names to Japanese bombers. The Japanese Naval Air Force (JNAF) Zero, or Mitsubishi A6M “Reisen” (Zero-Sen), was the best fighter available in the Pacific in 1941. It was lighter, faster, and more maneuverable than American land-based aircraft. It also had a much greater range and more nimble handling than any U.S. carrier-based fighters. That gave the Imperial Japanese Navy a critical advantage in early carrier vs. carrier fights such as Coral Sea. The Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) flew three models of the Nakajima Ki-43 “Hayabusa” (“Falcon”). Designated alternately as “Jim” or “Oscar” by the Western Allies, these land-based JAAF fighters saw most service in China and Southeast Asia, flying cover over ground forces. They faced handfuls of older Soviet and other fighters in China until the arrival of American pilots and modern aircraft of the American Volunteer Group, or “Flying Tigers” (“Fei Hu”). Japanese pilots in Hayabusa also faced RAF Spitfire and Hurricanes in Malaya and over Burma. Western pilots were initially shocked at the excellent performance of the Hayabusa, whose characteristics were not known to British or American military intelligence. The JAAF also flew the very fast “Hein,” which reached speeds above 400 mph. The “Frank” (Nakajima Ki-84-Ia “Hayate”), introduced in 1944, and the excellent “George” (Kawanishi N1K1-J “Shiden”), introduced in 1944–1945, were also well-known to Allied sailors, troops, and flyers. But as improved as those aircraft were, neither model could match Western Allied fighters by that point in the war: the Japanese planes were relatively underarmored and undergunned, and by 1944 were usually flown by inexperienced, young pilots. However, over Japan the Hayate’s ceiling of nearly 38,000 feet and rocket weapons did pose a threat even to American B-29 bombers.

The USN F4F Wildcat was overmatched by Zeros in nearly all ways, an often-fatal disadvantage not overcome by introduction of new American fighters for the first two years of the Pacific War. But the USN controlled the skies of the Pacific after powerful Pratt & Whitney engines were put into its heavily armored F6F “Hellcats” and F4U “Corsairs.” The combination of power, climb rate, ceiling, and arms and armament allowed those aircraft to master the fast but lightly armored Zero and to splash hundreds of slow IJN and Japanese Army bombers. The USAAF also had inadequate and mostly short-range fighters at the start of the war. But by war’s end, the USAAF boasted several of the finest and most effective fighters in the world. Many U.S. fighters were shipped to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease, including 4,700 Bell P-39 “Airacobras” personally requested by Stalin. The P-47 “Thunderbolt” and P-51 “Mustang” dominated the skies of Italy, France, and Germany almost as soon as they were introduced in 1943. The P-51 may have been the fi nest fighter of the war. It was equipped with long-range drop tanks that permitted it to escort strategic bomber formations deep into Germany and to the home islands of Japan. Both the P-47 and P-51 were also fitted with rockets and used in a “tank buster” role. In combination with late-war deterioration in Japanese aviator skills, better trained American pilots with new and better tactics in much improved machines achieved a 10:1 or higher kill ratio in Pacific War dogfights.


N1K1 Kyofu

  • N1K1: only standard type as floatplane, which was used from early 1943.
  • N1K2: reserved name for an intended model with larger engine, not built.

N1K1-J Shiden

  • N1K1-J: Prototypes: development of fighter hydroplane N1K1 Kyofu, 1,357 kW (1,820 hp) Nakajima Homare 11 Engine, 9 built
  • N1K1-J Shiden (“Violet Thunder”) Navy Land-Based Interceptor, Model 11: first production model: 1,484 kW (1,990 hp) Homare 21 engine with revised cover, armed with two 7.7 mm (.303 in) Type 97 machine guns and two 20 mm Type 99 cannons. Modified total-vision cockpit.
  • N1K1-Ja, Model 11A: Without frontal 7.7 mm (.303 in) Type 97s, only four 20 mm Type 99s in wings
  • N1K1-Jb, Model 11B: Similar to Model 11A amongst load two 250 kg (550 lb) bombs, revised wing weapons
  • N1K1-Jc,Model 11C: definitive fighter-bomber version, derived from Model 11B. Four bomb racks under wings.
  • N1K1-J KAIa: experimental version with auxiliary rocket. One Model 11 conversion.
  • N1K1-J KAIb: conversion for dive bombing. One 250 kg (550 lb) bomb under belly and six rockets under wings.

N1K2-J Shiden-KAI

  • N1K2-J Prototypes: N1K1-Jb redesigned. Low wings, engine cover and landing gear modified. New fuselage and tail, 8 built
  • N1K2-J Shiden KAI (Violet Thunder, Modified) Navy Land Based Interceptor, Model 21: first model of series
  • N1K2-Ja,Model 21A: Fighter-bomber version. Four 250 kg (550 lb) bombs. Constructed by Kawanishi: 393, Mitsubishi: 9, Aichi: 1, Showa Hikoki: 1, Ohmura Navy Arsenal: 10, Hiro Navy Arsenal: 1.
  • N1K2-K Shiden KAI-Rensen (Violet Thunder Fighter Trainer, Modified) Trainer version of N1K-J Series with two seats, operative or factory conversions

Further variants

  • N1K3-J Shiden KAI 1, Model 31 Prototypes: Engines displaced to ahead, two 13.2 mm (51 in) Type 3 machine guns in front, 2 built
  • N1K3-A Shiden KAI 2, Model 41: Carrier-based version of N1K3-J, project only
  • N1K4-J Shiden KAI 3, Model 3: Prototypes, 1,491 kW (2,000 hp) Homare 23 engine, 2 built.
  • N1K4-A Shiden KAI 4, Model 4: Prototype, experimental conversion of N1K4-J example with equipment for use in carriers, 1 built
  • N1K5-J Shiden KAI 5, Model 25: High-Altitude Interceptor version. Project only

Total Production (all versions): 1,435 examples.

Factory Production


The Sinking of the Musashi

The sinking of the superbattleship Musashi by US carrier aircraft in the battle of the Sibuyan Sea (24 October 1944) gives an idea of Japanese anti-aircraft capability and may be compared to the sinking of Prince of Wales about three years earlier. Musashi was considerably larger than the British battleship, and she absorbed much more damage. The sixteen bombs which hit her did not contribute directly to her sinking, but they did help reduce her anti-aircraft effectiveness and thus indirectly contributed to the success of the torpedo bombers which sank her. The Japanese initially reported that she was struck by twenty-one torpedoes, including two duds, but the US Navy concluded from interrogation of survivors and other Japanese naval personnel that only ten hits and four possible but not probable hits could be identified. Analysis suggested that ten hits equally divided between both sides in the forward three-quarters of the ship would have been enough to sink her. Analysis was complicated because the Japanese did not produce war damage reports comparable to those produced by the US Navy or the Royal Navy, nor were commanding officers required to submit war damage reports. However, both the executive officer and the engineering officer of Musashi kept detailed notebooks, which survived the war.

When she was attacked, Musashi was part of a large Japanese surface action group, Admiral Kurita’s Center Force. It included both superbattleships and three older battleships (Nagato, Haruna and Kongo), plus numerous cruisers and fifteen destroyers. The ship’s CO, Rear Admiral Inoguchi, was a gunnery officer who reportedly placed great faith in the special shrapnel/incendiary shells her main battery could fire. Like Admiral Phillips off Malaya three years earlier, Admiral Kurita asked for fighter cover, which would have been provided by the large naval air force ashore in the Philippines. It was later claimed that ten fighters had been kept aloft over his force, but US attackers saw only four of them, which they quickly shot down. All the losses to the attackers were due to anti-aircraft fire. Musashi had been upgraded considerably since completion, and her numerous 25mm mounts were all controlled by directors comparable to those on board Prince of Wales in 1941. Probably the most significant difference in the two actions was that Musashi was not unfortunate enough to suffer early hits which put her electrical power out of action.

As in the earlier case, prior to the attack the ship was shadowed by a search plane, in this case from the carrier Intrepid. The ship tried unsuccessfully to jam the aircraft’s radio. About two hours later, the first strike (estimated by the Japanese as thirty aircraft, which would be equivalent to Intrepid’s combined torpedo and dive bombing force) arrived. Some aircraft came from the light carrier Cabot. The attack began with eight SB2C dive bombers, which caused minor damage. They were followed by three Avengers, one of which hit the ship amidships, slightly abaft the bridge. The shock of this hit jammed the main battery director, so the ship was unable to fire her 46cm Type 3 shells. Two of the three Avengers were shot down. During this attack the ship fired forty-eight 155mm (low-angle) and sixty 127mm shells. After this attack the ship switched to her after main battery director; changeover of this type was awkward in Japanese ships due to synchro and switchboard design.

About half an hour later the ship’s air-search radar detected a second raid 81km out. A few minutes later the aircraft were sighted, and another eight Helldivers from Intrepid attacked, this time scoring two bomb hits and five near-misses. A bomb fragment which penetrated the muzzle of one gun in No. 1 turret detonated a Type 3 shell which had just been loaded, disabling the turret. Nine Avengers delivered a hammer-and-anvil torpedo attack, eight of them dropping torpedoes. Three hit the port side amidships, flooding one engine room. The director changeover made it possible to fire fifty-four 46cm Type 3 shells. In addition, the ship fired seventeen 155mm and 200 127mm. Bomb damage to an engine room slowed the ship, and she was left down by the bow. The attacking US pilots had never encountered Type 3 shells before, and they were impressed that the Japanese would fire against them at ranges of 25,000 to 30,000 yds, at which the relatively slow train and elevation rates of large-calibre turrets would not be a problem. ‘The fire was surprisingly accurate and somewhat distracting, though no damage was sustained by the planes so attacked.’ US pilots thought the shells were loaded with phosphorus.

About an hour and a half later twenty-nine aircraft from Essex and Lexington attacked, including two strafing Hellcats. Four Helldivers made two hits near starboard amidships and abeam the after 46cm turret, causing casualties among the 25mm crews. Other Helldivers made four bomb hits on the port side. Another hammer and anvil attack, this time by six Avengers, made four more torpedo hits, two on each side. The ship fired another thirty-six 46cm Type 3 shells, plus seventy-nine 155mm and over 500 25mm. The ship was now further down by the bow, reduced to 20kts and thus lagging behind Kurita’s 22kt force.

About two hours later eight Hellcats and twelve Helldivers from Essex attacked two of the other four battleships, Yamato and Nagato. The bomb damage they inflicted had no real effect. At this point the CO of the accompanying cruiser Tone suggested that the ships of the force provide anti-aircraft support for Musashi.

A fifth attack carried out by sixty-nine aircraft from Enterprise and Franklin made four hits with 1000lb AP bombs, three in the bow area, and three torpedo hits. The pilots reported that the ship was dead in the water, heavily down by the bow and smoking. After they left she managed to increase speed to 16kts (soon reduced to 13kts) and she corrected her starboard list.

The sixth and final attack on Kurita’s force was mounted by seventy-five aircraft from Intrepid (thirty-four), Franklin (thirty) and Cabot (one); thirty-seven of them attacked Musashi. They made a total of ten bomb hits, some of which wiped out 25mm guns. It is not clear how many torpedo hits were made, since totals given by different sources vary. A battle narrative gives a total of nineteen torpedo hits (ten to port, nine to starboard), seventeen bomb hits and eighteen near-misses. However, most current Japanese accounts give eleven torpedo hits, ten bomb hits and six near-misses.

A total of 259 US carrier sorties was flown, and eighteen US aircraft were shot down during the attacks, for a loss rate of 6.9 per cent, better than that inflicted by Prince of Wales and Repulse during their final battle. US pilots were unimpressed by the Type 3 shells, and fire by 127mm guns seems to have been limited. The main defence was 25mm guns, for which US pilots had respect. Dive bombing attacks could not sink the ship, but they certainly could destroy the light anti-aircraft guns which were beating off the torpedo bombers. At the least they could help saturate the ship’s anti-aircraft fire control channels. Note that virtually all attacks were combinations of dive bombers and torpedo bombers. It is also obvious that the Japanese had not adopted US-style circular formations with their interlocking fields of anti-aircraft fire. Only at the end did Musashi receive support from other ships (at the end she was attended by the cruiser Tone and the destroyers Shimakaze and Kiyoshimo, neither of them an anti-aircraft destroyer).

This was the first major US air strike against a Japanese capital ship since 1942. In retrospect it seems surprising that attacks were not spread effectively over the rest of Kurita’s force. One answer lies in the way the attacks were carried out, in succession by different Task Groups. No pilots from any one such attack knew what his predecessors had hit, and it was easy to concentrate on one spectacular target. Moreover, pilots in successive waves seem to have thought they were hitting different ships.

Musashi absorbed enormous punishment and in so doing seems also to have absorbed the air striking power available to Task Force 38. Kurita cannot have intended it that way, but because the pilots concentrated on her, they were unable to inflict significant damage on the rest of Kurita’s large surface force. Task force commander Admiral Halsey later commented that the attack showed just how difficult it still was for aircraft to sink a large surface combatant. In effect that was a post-battle justification for his unwillingness to form a battle line (Task Force 34) when he went north to engage the Japanese decoy carrier force. The attack also showed how misleading pilots’ reports could be. They exaggerated the damage they had inflicted on the other battleships (two bombs each on Yamato and Nagato, five near-misses on Haruna). Given their claims, they were too ready to report that they had turned Kurita back. They interpreted ships milling around to support damaged units as ships stopped and ready to retire. Kurita did retire temporarily, calling for strikes by land-based aircraft (which could not materialise) to precede him. On the night after the battle, he turned back towards Leyte Gulf, which had been denuded of capital ship protection on the basis of the exaggerated strike reports.

The most interesting lesson is that battle-damage assessment is the most difficult part of an attack. Issued in March 1945, the Cominch compilation of ‘Battle Experience’ for Leyte Gulf reflects after-action reports. It seems clear that the pilots reported that they had crippled Kurita’s force. TG 38.2, which made more than half the attacks (146 sorties), dropped 23 tons of bombs and twenty-three torpedoes. Its pilots reported that they had hit Yamato with three torpedoes and hit a sister ship (possibly the same ship) with one torpedo and two bombs; that they had hit the battleship Nagato with a torpedo and a bomb; that one Kongo class battleship had been hit by two torpedoes and six bombs; a Mogami class cruiser had possibly been sunk by a torpedo; the cruiser Nachi had been hit by one torpedo. Task Group 38.3 reported one bat-tleship badly hit, two others damaged, and four heavy and two light cruisers damaged. Task Group 38.4 reported one battleship (Musashi?) hit by a torpedo, on fire, down at the bow and probably sunk, one Yamato class battleship hit by one to three torpedoes and two bombs; a Kongo class battleship hit once by a bomb, one light cruiser sunk, one destroyer sunk, one destroyer probably sunk and four destroyers damaged. Although some of this information was not immediately relayed to Admiral Halsey, the impression that great damage had been done was unmistakeable. Halsey was convinced; in his after-action report he wrote that the enemy had turned back to attack off Samar out of blind obedience to an Imperial command to do or die.

It was soon obvious that the pilots had exaggerated about as badly as the Japanese had when they reported sinking the US fleet several times over after attacking the Task Force off Formosa just before Leyte Gulf. In March 1945 Cominch credited the pilots with having damaged Musashi and sunk the heavy cruiser Haguro. In fact the cruiser was quite intact, having steamed south, but Musashi had been sunk. Unlike the Japanese, who orbited the crippled British capital ships to make sure they were sunk, the US carriers did not maintain anyone over the battle scene to be sure of what happened. That was partly due to range (the battle was at extreme strike range for the Task Force) and probably also because the need for such assessment had not been driven home.

The Cominch combat analysis emphasised the problems pilots faced in evaluating their results. In a secret letter, CinCPAC Admiral Nimitz pointed out the problem, and Cominch clearly felt it had to be repeated. Nimitz quoted a report after an air strike early in the war: one 15,000-ton transport (AP) on fire and beached; one transport (AP) sunk and burning; one transport or cargo ship beached and probably sunk; one transport or cargo ship sunk, bottomed in shallow water, and listing; one Mogami class cruiser blown up and sunk; one Kinugasa class cruiser afire and headed for the beach, believed sunk; one light cruiser headed for the beach, believed sunk; one seaplane tender (Kamoi class) damaged and stopped; one destroyer listing, afire, and sinking fast; two other destroyers probably sun; one gunboat set afire and severely damaged; one minesweeper stopped and burning fiercely, probably sunk. Confirmed sinkings were actually three cargo ships of 4000 to 6000 tons. No warships were sunk.

Nimitz did not want to ruin his pilots’ enthusiasm, but he did want them to know that there could be a gap between good-faith reports and reality. The worst problem was that it was generally unwise to remain in an area to assess results, as long as any ships and their AA crews survived to keep firing. With so many aircraft involved, reports would necessarily be duplicated, and they might be difficult to disentangle. Pilots tended to be over-optimistic about the effects of their attacks: there could be tremendous explosions topside, yet a ship might still get underway and get home. Pilots could also be over-optimistic about near-misses: if near enough, they could certainly do tremendous damage, but then again they might not. Similarly, there was over-optimism as to fire and smoke: a small and possibly harmless fire could produce a great deal of smoke. Even ships afire from stem to stern could survive. There was over-valuation of ships ‘beached and sunk’. A damaged ship might well beach herself lightly until the attack was over – but she would survive. Finally, Nimitz cited the ‘lack of familiarity with ships on the part of many pilots, which handicaps them in distinguishing types and tonnages and in estimating the seriousness of the damage or the probability of a ship sinking’. This last point applies to nearly all the examples of air-sea combat already quoted.

The attack on the battleship Yamato in April 1945 contrasts with that against Musashi. The US Navy seems to have realised that the ship’s sheer capacity to absorb aerial punishment ensured that strike aircraft would keep coming back to attack her rather than distribute their fire among the ships in the Japanese surface strike force. This time the strikes were very differently organised. Each of the groups launched by a Carrier Task Group had a coordinator. The effect of coordination shows in that considerable numbers of torpedoes were devoted to the other ships in the force. It probably helped that Yamato was the only large ship in her task force, the others being the light cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers. Concentrating on the one large ship did not have the unfortunate effects of the concentration on Musashi which left the other ships of the surface strike group effectively undamaged to fight the battle off Samar the next day.

Task Force 58 was alerted on the night of 6–7 April by two US submarines (Threadfin and Hackleback) patrolling the Bungo Suido Channel (reportedly the Japanese intercepted the uncoded sighting reports). At dawn the Task Groups launched a total of forty aircraft, all fighters, in groups of four, to search to a depth of 325nm. At 08.22 an Essex search aircraft reported one battleship, probably Yamato class, two cruisers, and eight destroyers making 12kts. The fighter could not contact the carrier directly via her VHF line-of-sight radio, but linking aircraft had been launched. She radioed via them (100 and 200nm away). The next step was to shadow the enemy group, so that a strike group could be vectored to them. At 09.56 a tracking and covering force of sixteen fighters was launched, followed at 10.00 by strikes from Task Groups 58.1 and 58.3 and 45 minutes later by a strike from Task Group 58.4.

All three Task Groups were to have launched together, but the Hancock strike (12 torpedo bombers, 15 dive bombers, and 24 fighters) was 15 minutes late on take-off and failed to join up (and hence to find the targets). This was an immense force, totalling 386 aircraft: 113 from TG 58.1 (52 fighters, 21 dive bombers, 40 torpedo bombers), 167 from TG 58.3 (80 fighters, 29 dive bombers, and 58 torpedo bombers), and 106 from TG 58.4 (48 fighters, 25 dive bombers, 33 torpedo bombers). All the torpedo bombers carried torpedoes. The dive bombers (Helldivers) carried 1000lb SAP and underwing 250lb GP bombs. Each fighter had a 500lb GP bomb and a long-range drop tank. This huge strike left enough fighters with Task Force 58 to deal with enemy attacks (a Kamikaze crashed into the carrier Hancock while the strike was away). The launch position was about 250nm from the estimated position of the Japanese force (i.e., aircraft would have to fly about 240nm). All of the searching was needed: the enemy force unexpectedly turned north, to be found again by a land-based search aircraft from Okinawa. It shadowed the enemy force for the rest of the day, but shadowing reports failed to get through to the Task Force Commander. It turned out that it did not matter very much because the strike leaders were soon in touch with the shadower. Final homing was by APS-4 radar on Helldivers, which picked up the enemy force at 32nm from 6000ft.

When first sighted, the Japanese force was 70nm from the first sighting position. A combination of poor weather and the sheer size of the attacking force made the attack difficult to coordinate. Anti-aircraft fire was heavy but ineffective, and the three Task Groups attacked roughly in sequence, TG 58.1 and 58.3 first and then TG 58.4.

The attack developed in three phases, of which the first consisted of two almost simultaneous attacks. The first two strike groups hit not only Yamato but also the cruiser and three destroyers. The attacks began with strafing to suppress her light anti-aircraft battery. This time the torpedo bombers concentrated on one side of the ship. The first two bomb hits around around No 2 turret. wrecked a 12.7cm anti-aircraft mount and many light anti-aircraft guns. Another two, inflicted a few minutes later, wrecked the after secondary battery director and exploded above the protective deck, starting a fire which was never extinguished. The after 15.5cm mount was gutted. At least the first two hits seem to have been by 500lb GP bombs rather than AP bombs. A second wave of attacks began 40 to 45 minutes later, inflicting three or four torpedo hits on the port side and one on the starboard side. There were no bomb hits. About thirty minutes later a third and last attack began. The ship took two more torpedoes to port and one more to starboard (some Japanese officers thought there were additional hits, but the post-war US analysis discounted that). Altogether Yamato seems to have taken at least nine torpedo hits (plus three possible, but improbable), of which seven were on her port side and two on her starboard side. The ship also took at least four hits from dive bombers.

Yamato capsized to port 20 to 30 minutes after the last three torpedo hits, her magazines exploding as she rolled over. Both the Assistant Gunnery Officer and the Chief of Staff told US officers after the war that they believed that the fire aft ignited the magazines of the after 15.5cm mount, passing to them as the ship rolled over. A study of main battery shell fuses militated against the alternative explanation, given by the ship’s Executive Officer, that as the ship rolled over her HE and incendiary AA shells fell out of their racks in all three 46cm magazines, hit their noses on the deck, and exploded.

US losses amounted to ten aircraft (four dive bombers, three torpedo bombers, and three fighters) and twelve aircrew (four pilots and eight crew).

Assessed results were Yamato and a light cruiser (Yahagi) sunk, as well as four destroyers, plus one badly damaged (Akizuki class) and one left burning. In fact the light cruiser was sunk (she took, among other damage, six torpedoes) and the initial wave sank the destroyer Isokaze and damaged two others so badly that they had to leave the area (one of them, Hamakaze, later sank). Later waves sank the destroyer Asashimo and damaged Kasumi so badly that she sank. Three destroyers rescued survivors and returned to Japan. Thus the assessment in the after-action report was far more accurate than it had been in the October 1944 action, perhaps as a result of Nimitz’ comments at the time. A search and a fighter sweep (thirty-two fighters armed with bombs) the next day failed to find the surviving Japanese ships.


The Shokakus were in many respects the most successful Japanese carriers of the Second World War. This is the name-ship, shortly after commissioning. Note the enclosed gun mountings abaft the funnels, affording a measure of habitability to the crews.

These two carriers were a substantial enlargement of the successful Hiryu design with greater protection, a more powerful antiaircraft battery, and an expanded air group. They were equipped with two catapults forward, the first aboard Japanese carriers.


The two fleet carriers designed in 1936-37 were without question the most successful operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy; they had all the virtues and few of the vices of the Soryus and were, moreover, considerably larger, better armed and more heavily armoured, and could accommodate a larger air group. Their one principal defect was the light construction of the flight deck, aggravated by totally enclosed yet unprotected double hangars and unsatisfactory petrol bunkerage, but of course the proof of this was not available at the time of their conception.

The Imperial Japanese Navy’s practice for landing operations was for aircraft to orbit to one side of the carrier, peeling off and landing as ordered by the air operations officer. When a koku-sentai operated in formation, the carriers were abreast one another, each carrier’s aircraft were orbiting outboard of the formation, and it was considered advantageous to locate the islands to suit. In practice, this island location proved to have serious disadvantages: it limited the landing space, caused excess air turbulence over the flight deck, and obstructed the normal path for aborted landings. Consequently, by the time the carriers of the Shokaku class were fitting out for service, this island arrangement was abandoned in favor of the conventional position forward of amidships on the starboard side.

A longer, beamier hull allowed the provision of heavy-cruiser type 6.5in belt armour along the magazines, reinforced with a further 1.8in across the machinery spaces, with a 3-9in armour deck over the latter and 5.1 in over the former. The bulged clipper bow which would also be a feature of the Yamato class battleships was also incorporated, while extremely powerful machinery bestowed a high sustained sea speed. The original design reportedly envisaged islands to port on one ship and to starboard on the other, together with a funnel to port and to starboard on each, but the ships as completed were generally similar, with both superstructure and uptakes on the starboard side.

The Shokaku and the Zuikaku were unique among Japanese carriers in carrying a pair of catapults, derived from units developed for use on the Yamato-class battleships, on the flight deck.

The wooden flight deck, planked except in the region of the two converging catapult tracks forward and over the boiler uptakes, was serviced by three lifts measuring 42ft 6in x 52ft 6in (forward), 42ft 6in x 39ft 4in (amidships) and 38ft 6in x 42ft 6in (aft), and there were eight transverse arrester wires aft and three further forward, with a hinged screen abaft the catapults to provide a wind break. Eight twin 5in / 40 were disposed along the deck edge in pairs forward and aft, and the 25mm triple mountings were distributed along the flight-deck edge, those abaft the funnel on the starboard side being enclosed as in most other Japanese carriers.

The original designed air group numbered 96 machines (24 B5N torpedo-bombers, 24 D1A dive-bombers, twelve A5M fighters, twelve C3N reconnaissance planes, 24 reserves), but with the cancellation of the C3N and the phasing out of the D1A and A5M the air group upon completion consisted of 27 B5N, 27 D3A (`Val’) dive-bombers and eighteen A6M fighters, with twelve machines in reserve. Trial displacement for each carrier was 29,330 tons.

Japanese carrier development during World War II in large part continued the two central themes of prewar design efforts: a search for both qualitative excellence in individual vessels and for quantitative equality or superiority relative to the United States Navy. The search for qualitative excellence was demonstrated by the Taiho, which combined the performance and aircraft capacity of the Shokaku class (the epitome of Japanese prewar design) with greatly enhanced protection, while the demand for quantity production was exemplified by the Unryu class and the Imperial Japanese Navy’s very extensive “shadow” carrier fleet. The limitations of Japan’s industrial base made this an impossible task. Most of the “shadow” carrier designs required major qualitative concessions of speed, aircraft capacity, or protection that limited their contribution to carrier task force capabilities, the Unryu class represented a step back in Japanese carrier quality, and the Imperial Japanese Navy abandoned its hopes of producing further carriers of the Taiho’s excellence.


As was the pattern in the US and Royal Navies, wartime modifications to the surviving units of Japan’s carrier fleet were concerned principally with the upgrading of the anti-aircraft battery. By the summer of 1942 both Shokaku and Zuikaku had had two additional triple 25mm mountings added at the stern and two at the bows, bolstered later that year with a third at both bow and stern and sixteen single 25mms forward. By the time of her loss Zuikaku had received even more weapons – two more triples, one before and one abaft the island, and twenty more singles, half of which were portable and, operating independently of the ship’s power supply, were dispersed about the flight deck during periods when aircraft were not operating; there were also six 28-barrelled rocket-launchers forward. At some time during 1943-44 both carriers received Type 13 air warning and Type 21 air/surface warning radar systems [Some writers refer to the Type 13 as `Type 3 Mk T and to the Type 21 as `Type 2 Mk 2′.], and following her near-loss in May 1944 Zuikaku had her petrol bunkers reinforced with concrete in an effort to exclude air from the spaces surrounding them and hence mixing with the vapour.

Service Notes

Shokaku: It seems likely that the timing of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, was determined partly by the fact that both Shokaku and Zuikaku would by then be ready for combat, and both carriers played a leading role in that venture. Shokaku carried out raids on New Guinea the following month, and in May 1942 was seriously damaged in the Coral Sea when hit by three bombs; her aircraft accounted for Lexington during that action, but on her return to Japan for repairs she almost sank. She was hit once during the Battle of Eastern Solomons (August 1942), and very badly damaged during her next major engagement, Santa Cruz (October 1942), when she was caught by aircraft from Hornet and received six direct bomb hits. On 19 June 1944, in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, she was sunk by four torpedoes fired by the submarine Cavalla afire and badly listing, she eventually turned turtle.

Zuikaku’s career followed that of her sister-ship for the first six months of the war, her aircraft also being involved in the sinking of Lexington. She escaped damage in that action, and subsequently took part in the Aleutians operations. Zuikaku was seriously mauled during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, but her crew managed to overcome the fires which threatened to engulf the carrier. In October 1944, however, while assisting in feints to draw the US carriers supporting the Leyte Gulf landings (Cape Engano), she was hit first by one torpedo and later by a further six torpedoes and seven bombs and was sunk (25th).


Doihara in a press photo in Tokyo during 1936, by then a Lt. General

With the Japanese samurai all means are permissible as long as they lead to the end in view. To them it is smart to lie, to cheat, to deceive, to intrigue, to be double-faced, hypocritical, provided it pays or brings power. It is in their nature to be false.

Amleto Vespa – former secret agent for Japan

In 1853 the United States sent four warships under Commodore Matthew Perry to barge open trade relations with Japan. The Japanese stalled and so Perry returned to Tokyo Bay a year later with more ships and hinted at war if an agreement was not reached. For centuries Japan had isolated itself from the world and until the coming of Perry it existed in an introspective, feudal cocoon. No one was allowed to leave Japan and no one could visit, with few exceptions. Perry’s arrival changed everything and Japan soon embraced the modern, industrial era, with Western experts advising on everything from postal systems to army reform.

The arrival of so many foreigners caused a schism in Japanese society that affected political life. Although Japan was nominally ruled by an emperor, since the 1600s military dictators known as shoguns had run the country. After several revolts, in 1868 imperial power was restored to the young Emperor Meiji (1852–1912), who passed a series of laws heralding a policy of Westernization and tolerance to foreigners.

While Japan eagerly embraced everything the West had to offer, few Westerners realized the bitterness felt by many Japanese toward foreigners. A philosophy known as Hakko Ichiu (Eight Corners of the World under One Rule) took hold of Japan, which preached a doctrine of racial superiority and the divine right of the Japanese people to do pretty much as they pleased. Japan was said to be at the centre of the world and the tenno (emperor) was a divine being directly descended from the Goddess of the Sun. The Japanese people, furthermore, were protected by their gods and were thus superior to all others. The Hakko Ichiu also had a profound impact on foreign policy, Japan having been given a divine mission to bring all nations under the beneficial rule of the tenno.

To realize these divinely inspired ambitions, Japan needed a modern espionage system. Adopting the German model, Japanese officials were sent to study under Wilhelm Stieber in the mid-1870s. Over the next decade Japan built up separate army and naval intelligence services, each with an accompanying branch of secret military police (Kempeitai for the army and Tokeitai for the navy). These latter organizations also provided an excellent counter-espionage service. However, where the Japanese were unique was in the use of spies belonging to unofficial secret societies working alongside or independently of the official intelligence agencies. These shadowy institutions were ultra-nationalist by nature, drawing their membership from a cross-section of Japanese society, including the military, politics, industry and Yakuza underworld. Under ruthless leadership, their henchmen would spy on, subvert and corrupt Japan’s Far East neighbours.

Perhaps the biggest losers in the Meiji Restoration were samurai warriors – the knights of the shogunate era. As Japan modernized and built an army based on universal conscription, the samurai found themselves an unwanted anachronism – even banned from publicly carrying their swords. Known as ronin, masterless samurai gravitated towards new urban centres where, unwilling to give up their martial way of life, they turned to crime. Realizing their potential, gang leader Mitsuru Toyama (1855–1944) organized the ronin into an effective force of hired muscle specializing in strikebreaking and assassination. Demand for Toyama’s services saw doors opened for him to the highest levels of society. Soon he was one of the most influential figures in the ultra-nationalist underworld, known to many by the sinister appellation ‘Darkside Emperor’ or ‘Shadow Shogun’.

An exponent of Japanese expansion, Toyama became the guiding hand of the Genyosha or Dark Ocean Society formed in 1881 by Kotaro Hiraoka – a rich samurai mine owner with an eye on business opportunities in Manchuria. To collect intelligence on the region and its Triad gangs, Toyama dispatched a hundred Genyosha agents to China. The most effective front for their espionage operations came through activities in the vice trade, with the Genyosha setting up bordellos in Hankow, Shanghai, Tientsin, Pusan and Russian-controlled Central Asia. The most noted of these was the ‘Hall of Pleasurable Delights’ at Hankow. Based on Stieber’s ‘The Green House’, this brothel was extremely popular among Chinese politicians and Triad bosses. While providing a safe house for Japanese spies, it brought in funds for the Genyosha’s clandestine activities and provided ample means to blackmail clients or find potential allies among the growing number of Chinese revolutionaries.

The name ‘Dark Ocean’ referred to the genkai nada – the stretch of water between Japan and Korea, hinting at the location of the group’s first major operation. The close proximity of the Korean peninsula to the Japanese islands gave it considerable strategic value as a springboard into East Asia and as a defensive buffer against China and Russia. At the behest of the minister of war, Soroku Kawakami, Toyama and another leading Genyosha member, Ryohei Uchida, set up the Tenyukyo, a group of 15 hand-picked agent provocateurs sent into Korea as agitators.

Once inside the country the Tenyukyo established contact with the Tonghaks, a radical Korean terrorist group. Together they waged such a campaign of terror that the Korean emperor was compelled to ask China for help. As obliging Chinese troops gathered on the border, Japanese hawks were presented with the excuse they had been hoping for. After condemnation of China’s ‘aggressive’ intervention (the Chinese had not actually entered Korea yet), Japanese troops were landed and, claiming to be acting in defence of Korean sovereignty, they seized the royal palace in Seoul on 23 July 1894. The ensuing conflict, which was declared a few days later on 1 August, saw a quick succession of Japanese victories against the Chinese on land and sea, leaving part of Manchuria and the island of Formosa (Taiwan) in Japanese hands.

Despite the victory, war had stretched Japan’s resources to the limit and rival nations were quick to detect the scent of vulnerability. Pressure from France, Germany and in particular Russia obliged Japan to give up its mainland gains in China. Russia formed an alliance with China against Japan in 1896, which gave it important strategic gains including the lease of Port Arthur (1898) and rights to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Manchuria to the Russian seaport of Vladivostok.

It was clear to the Genyosha leadership that this growing Russian influence would have to be checked. However, after the Korean episode, the society’s activities had come to the attention of headline writers. The unwanted publicity increased after Toyama’s disciples assassinated the Korean princess Bin and terrorized the Korean emperor into seeking refuge in Russia. Its high profile made the Genyosha unsuitable for conducting further secret operations, so in 1898 the group dissolved. Toyama instead formed the East Asia One Culture Society, a pan-Asian group with the ambition of formulating a common system of writing in the region. To help accomplish this, the group formed the Tung Wen College in Shanghai. Still operational in 1945, the Tung Wen College had thousands of graduates working from India to the Philippines. Of course the whole project was a sham front for espionage operations – the Chinese always referred to the Tung Wen as ‘the Japanese Spy School’.

In 1901, under Toyama’s direction, his Black Ocean comrade Ryohei Uchida formed the Kokuryu-kai, or Black Dragon Society. Like the Genyosha before it, the clue to the group’s ambitions lay in its name, which really implied ‘Beyond the Amur River’, the river separating northern Manchuria and Siberia. In Chinese the Amur translates to Black Dragon River, hence the origin of the society’s most common name.

Initially the group recruited its soshi (lit. brave knights) from patriotic ronin and avoided the criminal types increasingly predominant in the Genyosha. As word of their activities spread, other crusaders for the Japanese imperial cause sought membership. Although the society quickly boasted members in upper governmental and military circles, the group was not always in line with government policy, nor did it receive official sanction.

As war with Russia approached, the group successfully lobbied for the appointment of Colonel Motojiro Akashi as military attaché to St Petersburg. Akashi was an excellent intelligence officer sympathetic to the Black Dragons’ aims. He had previously served as military attaché at Japanese embassies in Sweden, France and Switzerland. In these posts he established that Western Europe would not come to the aid of tsarist Russia if it were attacked by Japan.

While fulfilling his duties, Akashi made secret contact with anti-tsarist revolutionary cells inside Russia and around Europe. In return for financial aid, these groups provided Akashi with intelligence on the Russian military and secret services. He also made contact with Abdur Rashid Ibrahim, a Tartar Muslim who provided important information on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. More intelligence came out of Port Arthur from the British agent Sidney Reilly who had met Akashi in St Petersburg. Reilly had set up a sham company in Port Arthur to provide him with a cover story while he spied on Russian defences for Akashi.

In addition to Akashi’s work, Japanese spies posing as coolies and dockworkers infiltrated Russian bases in Manchuria. The Black Dragons were at the forefront of these actions. They sent agents into Manchuria and Siberia – and even opened a ju-jitsu school in Vladivostok to provide a front for their operations against the Russians. They observed troop and naval movements, building up detailed information on the Russian order of battle and logistics. They also had an agent in the north of Manchuria, Hajime Hamamoto, who ran a general store near to a Russian army base. By seducing wives of Russian officers, Hamamoto was able to glean important information from them, which was passed on to Military Intelligence in Japan via an agent in Vladivostok.

These secret operations gave Japan a major advantage in the war, which began on 8 February 1904 with a Japanese surprise attack on Port Arthur, two days before a formal declaration of war was made. Moving to Stockholm, Akashi stretched Russian resources, stirring up Russian and Finnish revolutionaries. On a more practical level, Black Dragon agents acted as interpreters and guides for the Japanese army, organizing guerrilla operations with allied Manchurian warlords such as Marshal Chang Tso-lin.

Japan slowly wore down the Russian opposition, capturing Port Arthur and Mukden (now Shenyang). The Russians were finally forced to agree terms with Japan after its fleet was smashed at the battle of Tsushima (27–29 May 1905). A conference was held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, resulting in Japan gaining control of Port Arthur and the South Manchurian railroad. Russia evacuated southern Manchuria, which was restored to China, and Japan’s dominance of Korea was recognized.

With Russia out of the way, the Black Dragons turned their focus to China. Having met the revolutionaries Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925) and Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) in Tokyo during 1905, the Black Dragons subsidized the 1911 overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty, which made China a republic. However, this assistance was given only to destabilize China and facilitate Japan’s seizure of Manchuria – a long-term ambition of the Black Dragons.

The hunt began for a stooge in whose name the seizure of Manchuria would be justified and world opinion placated. One candidate had been identified by the Black Dragon Naniwa Kawashima, an old samurai and veteran of the Russo-Japanese war. After the war Kawashima found himself chief of police in the Japanese section of Peking. In the course of his duties he befriended his opposite number, Prince Su Chin Wang, head of Peking’s Chinese police force. Prince Su was one of eight princes of the Iron Helmet, traditionally the emperor’s closest companions, which in Kawashima’s opinion gave him the right pedigree. Prince Su agreed to the plan, but it did not receive support from the Japanese government and floundered, much to the Black Dragons’ disappointment. Su went on to form an anti-Republican army in the northeast together with the Mongol general Babojab. When this army was defeated, Su retired to Port Arthur where he died in April 1922. The search for a suitable puppet shifted from Su to the deposed Chinese emperor.

Pu Yi (1906–67), the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, had ascended to the throne in 1908 before his third birthday. Since 1925 Pu Yi had lived in a villa – the Chang, or Quiet, Garden – inside the Japanese concession of Tientsin, where he enjoyed a playboy lifestyle with his increasingly opium-addicted wife ‘Elizabeth’ Wan Jung. Faced with the crippling cost of maintaining his royal trappings, Pu Yi was desperate to regain the throne and hoped he might find support among the Black Dragons. He was well informed of their activities, recording in his memoirs how the society had taken hold in China:

[It] started out with bases in Foochow, Yentai (Chefoo) and Shanghai and operated under such covers as consulates, schools and photographers … its membership was said to have reached several hundred thousand with correspondingly huge funds. Toyama Mitsuru was the most famous of its leaders and under his direction its members had penetrated every stratum of Chinese society. At the side of Ching nobles and high officials and among peddlers and servants, including the attendants in the Chang Garden. Many Japanese personalities were disciples of Toyama’s.

Pu Yi agreed to discuss his restoration with a Black Dragon agent named Tsukuda Nobuo. However, because the Black Dragons’ policy was not shared by the Japanese government, when Nobuo learned the local Japanese consul had also been invited to the interview, he pulled out and promptly disappeared. Puzzled at the agent’s behaviour, Pu Yi sent his advisor and tutor, Chang Hsiao-hsu, to Japan to make contact with the Black Dragons directly.

In the meantime, plans were set to seize Manchuria and its vast, unexploited resources. Since the war with Russia, Japan controlled the South Manchurian Railway, which it protected with a body of troops known as the Kwantung Army based in the Japanese concession at Mukden. Before Manchuria could be seized the powerful Manchurian warlord Marshal Chang Tso-lin had to be eliminated. A former Japanese ally in the war against Russia, the marshal opposed the growing Japanese influence in the region. In 1928 the Japanese assassinated the marshal by bombing his train, leaving Manchuria ripe for the taking. The following year intelligence specialist Colonel Seishiro Itagaki was posted to the Kwantung Army to make the final plans for the seizure of Manchuria. His plan was a masterpiece of ruse and treachery.

On the evening of 18 September 1931, Japanese sappers secretly planted explosives near to the track of the South Manchurian Railway. The objective was not to destroy the tracks, but to give the impression that Chinese saboteurs had attempted to derail a passing train. The Japanese quickly condemned the ‘attack’ and launched a ‘retaliatory’ attack against the Chinese in Mukden. To ensure a successful outcome, two heavy-calibre guns had been hidden in a ‘swimming pool’ constructed at the Japanese officers’ club. One gun was trained on the Chinese constabulary barracks, the other at the air force base at Mukden airport. When news of the ‘attack’ on the railway reached the Japanese garrison, the guns opened fire on the sleeping Chinese. It was a massacre.

News of the ‘battle’ quickly travelled to Port Arthur, where Lieutenant-General Honjo ordered an all-out attack by the 20,000-strong Kwantung Army. In a feat of unparalleled military efficiency, Honjo’s men were already mobilized before his orders arrived. The rival Chinese troops were caught on the back foot and, under general orders not to engage Japanese forces, were pushed back to the Sungari River. This attack left most of southern Manchuria in Japanese hands for the loss of just two men.

The outside world condemned the ‘Mukden Incident’ as a blatant case of Japanese aggression. However, Pu Yi saw it as an opportunity to take up the throne of his native Manchuria. Eight days after the incident, Colonel Itagaki arrived in Tientsin and offered Pu Yi the throne. To his surprise, the former emperor’s advisors urged caution, suspicious that a ‘mere colonel’ was making the offer rather than Japanese politicians. Pausing for thought, Pu Yi wrote to Toyama asking him to clarify the situation.

Three weeks later, Pu Yi was introduced to a senior member of the Kwantung Army, Colonel Kenji Doihara (1883–1948). Another of Toyama’s acolytes, Doihara was an intelligence officer and had been active in northern China and Siberia for some considerable time. Even among the pantheon of villains that were his contemporaries, Doihara stands out as a particularly loathsome individual. His rise to infamy began with tricking his 15-year-old sister into posing nude for some photographs. Armed with the developed pictures, the loving brother touted them to a Japanese imperial prince who was so impressed he made her his number one concubine. In return for this favour, Doihara was posted as an assistant to General Honjo, military attaché to Peking.

Doihara must not be dismissed as a simple thug. He had a deserved reputation as a linguist, claiming to speak nine European languages and four Chinese dialects faultlessly. He enjoyed the attention of Western journalists who dubbed him the ‘Lawrence of the East’ for the way he adopted Chinese costume on his many travels round the country recruiting spies and seeking out potential allies. In 1928 he became military advisor to Marshal Chang and was almost certainly involved in his assassination, after which he was promoted to colonel. In 1931 Doihara was head of the Japanese Special Service Organ in Mukden and was declared mayor of the city after the attack on 19 September.

Doihara arrived at the Quiet Garden villa and offered Pu Yi the throne of Manchuria. Pu Yi knew that Doihara was a ‘disciple’ of Toyama and recorded his opinion of the colonel in his memoirs. Although at first taken in by him, Pu Yi came to realize – too late – the full depth of Doihara’s mendacity:

Because of the mysterious stories that were told about him the Western press described him as the ‘Lawrence of the East’ and the Chinese papers said that he usually wore Chinese clothes and was fluent in several Chinese dialects. But it seems to me that if all his activities were like persuading me to go to the Northeast [Manchuria] he would have had no need for the cunning and ingenuity of a Lawrence: the gambler’s ability to keep a straight face while lying would have been enough.

Doihara asked Pu Yi to travel to Mukden from where he would be placed on the Manchu throne. His sovereignty would be guaranteed by the Kwantung Army, which of course said it had no territorial ambitions in Manchuria. Eager for power, Pu Yi agreed in principle, but sought assurances from Doihara that he would not be merely a Japanese puppet. Doihara assured, but still Pu Yi dithered. It appeared that the empress did not trust the Japanese and would not agree to leave Tientsin. Frustrated, Doihara needed help and so called on Itagaki for advice. The author of the Mukden Incident answered Doihara’s call by playing the joker in the Japanese pack – the Manchu-born agent known as ‘Eastern Jewel’.

The daughter of the pro-Japanese prince Su Chin Wang, Eastern Jewel was born in 1907. In 1913 she was given to the Black Dragon Naniwa Kawashima for adoption as a mark of friendship between the two men. Arriving in Japan, she was renamed Yoshiko Kawashima and educated at the Matsumato school for girls. She was a thrill seeker and tomboy, with a voracious sexual appetite which she claimed was awakened by her adoptive grandfather at 15. After a string of affairs, an arranged marriage was set up for the 21-year-old Eastern Jewel with the Mongol prince Kanjurjab, son of her biological father’s ally, General Babob.

The marriage – which took place in Port Arthur during November of 1927 – was seen as a means of cementing influence in Mongolia, where Japan held territorial ambitions. However, Eastern Jewel claimed that the marriage was never consummated and she quickly ditched the prince. She plunged headlong into the depths of Tokyo’s wild, bohemian underbelly. Outgrowing her adopted land, she travelled widely and even turned up as a houseguest of Pu Yi and the empress at Tientsin in 1928. With similar family backgrounds, Elizabeth and Eastern Jewel struck up an improbable relationship, the closeted empress in turns captivated by and envious of Eastern Jewel’s lurid and exotic exploits.

Eastern Jewel was in seedy Shanghai, having just walked out on a Japanese politician who had run out of money. On the prowl for a new sponsor she daringly set her sights on Major Tanaka, the head of the Shanghai secret service – or Special Service Organ. Attending a New Year party she ushered Tanaka to a discreet location and attempted to seduce him. Tanaka resisted the advances of the Manchu princess, explaining that it would be disrespectful for him – a commoner – to take her to bed. Eastern Jewel was not so easily deterred and dishonoured herself by borrowing money from Tanaka, finally breaking his resistance through a shared fetish for leather boots. Tanaka was impressed by Eastern Jewel’s forward manner and put her on the secret service payroll to fund her whims. Tanaka also paid for her English lessons, believing she might one day prove useful as a spy.

Returning to the matter of Pu Yi and the throne, Itagaki sent a telegram to Shanghai ordering Tanaka to report to Mukden. Fearful of being disgraced for lavishing official funds on his mistress, Tanaka left for Mukden on 1 October 1931. At the subsequent interview Itagaki revealed Doihara had been sent to get Pu Yi and that the Japanese forces were planning the next stage of their advance into Manchuria with the capture of Harbin. Tanaka was charged with keeping the League of Nations’ attention fixed away from Manchuria by provoking a disturbance in Shanghai. Tanaka told Itagaki he had the perfect agent in mind and was surprised – not to mention worried – when Itagaki said he knew all about Eastern Jewel. He then revealed the trouble Doihara was having with the implacable Elizabeth and mentioned he might need to borrow Eastern Jewel. Itagaki gave Tanaka $10,000, which he used to clear Eastern Jewel’s debts and begin the preparations for his Shanghai diversion.

Subsequent to this interview, Doihara wired Shanghai for Eastern Jewel. Calling in a favour from a pilot boyfriend, she flew to Tientsin that same evening. Anxious to make a lasting first impression on Doihara, Eastern Jewel disguised herself in the robes of a Chinese gentleman. She arrived and immediately caused a stir by refusing to divulge her name to the desk sergeant at Doihara’s headquarters. Suspecting treachery was afoot, Doihara placed a revolver on his desk and opened the inquisition.

‘Your name, please?’ he asked. ‘My name is of no importance,’ replied Eastern Jewel, ‘I have come to help you.’ ‘You speak like a eunuch,’ Doihara retorted. ‘Are you one of Pu Yi’s men?’ Eastern Jewel simply laughed in reply. Doihara grabbed his samurai sword. ‘Very well then, if you won’t tell me who you are, let us see what you are.’ Drawing the sword, he began to away cut the ties to her robe. Eastern Jewel did not move, but continued to stare at Doihara provocatively. Doihara flicked open the robe and ‘with a guttural samurai yell’ cut open the silk scarf she bound her breasts with. ‘I saw that she was a woman’ Doihara later confessed, ‘so I conducted a thorough investigation and determined that I had not put even the smallest scratch on any part of her white skin.’

Next day, Eastern Jewel visited the Quiet Garden and heard Elizabeth’s views on the proposed move to Mukden. She was able to report to Doihara that the empress was implacably opposed to any move to Mukden and it would take extreme measures to convince Pu Yi to travel alone. Growing impatient, Doihara resorted to terror tactics. He told Pu Yi that a price had been put on his head by Chang Hsueh-liang, the son of the murdered Marshal Chang. To lend credence to Doihara’s warnings, Eastern Jewel placed some snakes in Pu Yi’s bed. On 8 November bombs were hidden in a basket of fruit delivered anonymously to the Quiet Garden. Pu Yi recalled: ‘an assistant came running into the room shouting “bombs, two bombs”. I was sitting in an armchair and this news gave me such a fright that I was incapable of standing up.’ Eastern Jewel called the Japanese guards who came rushing in led by one of Doihara’s henchmen. He took the bombs away and then later revealed they had been manufactured by stooges of the late marshal’s son.

More was to follow. Along with warning letters, Pu Yi received a telephoned tip-off from ‘a waiter’ at his favourite Victoria Café that men with concealed weapons had been enquiring after him. Doihara then arranged for a crowd of Chinese agents to make trouble in the Chinese-administered part of the city. On 10 November martial law was declared and Japanese armoured cars surrounded the Quiet Garden to defend Pu Yi, whose nerve began to crack. Scared out of his wits, Pu Yi at last agreed to go to Mukden, travelling without the empress on Eastern Jewel’s advice. After dark he was bundled into the trunk of a car and driven to the docks by his Japanese interpreter. Elizabeth, meanwhile, was comforted by a heady mix of Eastern Jewel and opium until reunited with Pu Yi in Port Arthur six weeks later.

Eastern Jewel returned to Shanghai and began preparations with Tanaka for what became known as the Fake War. She hired gangs of Chinese street thugs and provided them with lists of Japanese business and residential addresses to attack. After the attacks began on 18 January 1932, Tanaka stoked up indignation in the Japanese community. Outraged by two more days of attacks, an ultimatum was delivered by the Japanese consul general to the Chinese mayor to stop them. However, with Eastern Jewel controlling the thugs, the Chinese mayor had little chance of success. In the face of Chinese impotence Admiral Shiozawa felt justified in landing his Imperial Marines to protect Japanese nationals. Tanaka’s mission was accomplished.

While engineering the arrival of the Japanese troops, Eastern Jewel had been busy in her now familiar role of seductress extraordinaire. The son of the Chinese republican Sun Yat-sen happened to be in town and soon fell victim to Eastern Jewel, confiding in her the rivalries in the Chinese camp. She also acted as a weathervane on international reaction to the Japanese actions. Putting her English lessons to good use, she took a British military attaché as a lover. From his pillow talk she was able to tell Tanaka that the West was unlikely to back its vigorous condemnations with any real action.

After the Shanghai incident, Eastern Jewel took up with a string of lovers. Her extravagance became so great that Tanaka offloaded her to Pu Yi’s chief military advisor, Major-General Hayao Tada. She was also indulged with the command of 5,000 Manchu ‘rough riders’, the captains of which she selected personally to her own exacting criteria of manhood. During the Japanese bombing of Shanghai in 1937, Eastern Jewel caused outrage among the Chinese when she was seen walking through the ruined streets laughing with Japanese officers. It was rumoured she had even flown over the city in a bomber. When Peking fell to the Japanese in 1937, Eastern Jewel formed part of the administration. She abused her power by blackmailing wealthy Chinese with false accusations of assisting the enemy. Once noted for her beauty, Eastern Jewel’s debauched lifestyle began to weather her looks, although her libido remained undiminished. She found it increasingly harder to attract men and had an actor arrested on trumped-up charges of theft because he spurned her advances. Instead she increasingly began to explore her fantasies with local sing-song girls. Even Tanaka was moved to describe her later conduct as ‘beyond common sense’. At the end of the war Eastern Jewel declined an offer to return to Japan and went into hiding. Acting on a tip-off, Chiang Kai-shek’s counter-intelligence officers picked her up in November 1945. On 25 March 1948 Eastern Jewel was led to a wooden block and decapitated by a swordsman.

After the Pu Yi drama, Doihara began recruiting agents in the newly conquered territories. He broadened the Special Service Organ’s network of spies throughout southern Manchuria, utilizing large numbers of Russian refugees who had fled the Soviet Union. Desperate for employment, the men worked for Doihara as hired thugs, while women filled the brothels. European women were much in demand and acted as opium peddlers, receiving a free pipe for every six they sold.

One of Doihara’s converts was Italian-born spy Amleto Vespa, a one-time agent of Marshal Chang who had since managed a cinema. A fascist sympathizer and former member of the Mexican Revolutionary Army, Vespa had travelled extensively, coming to work with Marshal Chang Tso-lin in 1920. To avoid trouble with the Italian authorities, Vespa had obtained Chinese citizenship. Because of this, after the Mukden Incident Vespa found himself under the Japanese yoke without the usual protection afforded to Westerners. He was forced to work for the Japanese, running the spy service in Harbin until 1936 when he managed to get out of China with his family. Vespa wrote a remarkable book detailing Japan’s brutal clandestine activities in Manchuria. He was taken to meet Doihara on 14 February 1932, an encounter described in his book. Vespa disliked the man intensely:

Foreign journalists had referred to colonel Doihara as the Japanese ‘Lawrence of Manchuria’. I suspect, however, that if his sister had not been concubine of a Japanese Imperial Prince most of his success would have been still in his imagination.

Doihara left Vespa under no illusions about where his future loyalties belonged. If Vespa disobeyed, Doihara would shoot him. Vespa was told to return the following day and be introduced to the chief of the Japanese secret service in Manchuria. Vespa never discovered the true identity of this man, but many believe he must have been a Japanese prince close to Emperor Hirohito. The ensuing interview revealed the true extent of Japanese secret operations in Manchuria. In perfect English the mysterious chief told Vespa:

‘If Colonel Doihara has told you anything unpleasant, please pay no attention to it. Since, in other countries, they call him the Japanese Lawrence, he delights in showing his greatness by his hectoring manner. He has worked under me for many years, however, and I have no hesitation in saying he is much less of a Lawrence than he thinks he is.’

With remarkable candour, the chief explained how it was Japanese policy to make colonies pay for themselves. The Japanese system was to secretly grant certain monopolies to trusted individuals. Naturally the monopolies changed hands for enormous sums, in return for which the holder gained Japanese protection. The principal monopolies were the free transportation of goods by railway under the guise of Japanese military supplies; the monopoly of opium smoking dens, the sale of narcotics, poppy cultivation, the running of gambling houses and the importation of Japanese prostitutes – 70,000 Korean and Japanese prostitutes were shipped to Manchuria in the year after the Mukden Incident.

Although very strict on drug abuse at home, the Japanese flooded Manchuria with narcotics. Throughout the 1930s Manchurian streets were littered with wasted addicts and the corpses of emaciated overdose victims. To meet the demand, soya-bean farms were turned over to poppy production and drug-processing plants were set up along with ‘shooting-galleries’ for those too poor to enjoy the comforts of an opium den. Vespa revealed:

In Mukden, in Harbin, in Kirin etc., one cannot find a street where there are no opium-smoking dens or narcotic shops. In many streets the Japanese and Korean dealers have established a very simple and effective system. The morphine, cocaine or heroin addict does not have to enter the place if he is poor. He simply knocks at the door, a small peep-hole opens, though which he thrusts his bare arm and hand with 20 cents in it. The owner of the joint takes the money and gives the victim a shot in the arm.

The Japanese didn’t need bullets to kill Chinese; the drugs would do it for them – and at a profit.

By 1938 Doihara was the commander of the Kwantung Army. Based in Shanghai he successfully penetrated Chang Kai-shek’s headquarters with spies. Operating under the pseudonym of ‘Ito Soma’ and posing as a Japanese financier, Doihara managed to befriend the republican leader’s personal assistant, Huang-sen. His hook, improbable as it may sound, was a shared passion for goldfish, Doihara being an authority on the subject. In return for information and the procurement of rare goldfish, Huang-sen spied for Doihara. His information was used to foil a Chinese plan to attack Japanese shipping in the Yangtse River. The failure of the plan led to an investigation, after which Huang-sen was exposed and executed by the republicans. A follow-up investigation led in 1938 to the execution of eight Chinese divisional commanders, all of whom were found working for Doihara.

Later, as an air force major-general, Doihara sat on Prime Minister Hideki Tojo’s Supreme War Council. Doihara was present at the session of 4 November 1941 when the attack on Pearl Harbor was decided. He went on to command the army in Singapore (1944–45) and ran brutal POW and internee camps in Malaya, Sumatra, Java and Borneo. Doihara was tried at the Tokyo war crimes trial and executed on 23 December 1948 by hanging. He was joined by Seishiro Itagaki, the author of the Mukden Incident, and Prime Minister Tojo, the former Kwantung Army leader. Eastern Jewel’s case officer, Tanaka, was more fortunate, surviving to tell the tale. Having opposed the decision to attack America, he retired in 1942. After the war he was an aide to the tribunal’s chief American prosecutor, Joseph Keenan. Tanaka claimed he even procured girls for the American.

As for the Black Dragons, their reputation as sinister arch-plotters meant that they were not ignored in the round-up of war criminals in 1945. General MacArthur banned the group on 13 September 1945 and ordered the arrest of seven leadership figures. He need not have bothered. Of the seven, two had never been members, a third had died of old age in 1938, while a fourth had committed suicide in 1943. The other three suspects had once been members but had renounced their membership long before.

In truth the Black Dragons had long since fallen out of favour and had ceased to be a force in Japan. Their last public meeting was held in October 1935 when Toyama protested at Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia – another episode of white aggression against men of colour, as he saw it. The Japanese police used the meeting as a pretext for a crackdown on the Black Dragons and thereafter the society dwindled to a handful of forgotten diehards working out of a dingy, backstreet Tokyo office.

While Toyama and his disciples continued to view Russia as the main enemy, a new group rose to prominence – the Strike South faction. This group called for expansion into Southeast Asia and Indonesia, rich areas abundant in the resources Japan was lacking. After an undeclared border war with Russia, which culminated in Japan’s defeat at the battle of Khalkhin Gol in August 1939, Tokyo began to favour the new option. There was just a one slight problem with their plan. If a strike south occurred, Japan would inevitably clash with Western interests, particularly those of the British Empire and the United States of America.


Admiral Philips still convinced that the Fleet’s guns could ward off an air attack and satisfied that if he remained more than 200 miles from the coast of Indo-China he would be beyond range of Japanese aircraft, Phillips went ahead. According to one officer, Phillips told the assembled meeting: ‘I feel we have got to do something.’ Another recalled: ‘Admiral Phillips summed up in words something like this – “We can stay in Singapore. We can sail away to the East – Australia. Or we can go out and fight. Gentlemen, we sail at five o’clock.”’

The Prince of Wales and Repulse, escorted by the destroyers Express, Electra, Vampire (RAN) and Tenedos, cleared the dockyard boom at 1735 that evening and slowly increased speed to a steady 17 knots. Now identified by the code-name Force Z the squadron was headed by the flagship with the Repulse following 4 cables astern, and the ruddy glow of a spectacular tropical sunset painted a lurid backcloth above the port horizon as the ships altered course north-eastwards.

As the Japanese war machine was embarked for the Malay peninsula on 4 December in an armada of twenty-seven transport ships, its commander, Yamashita Tomoyuki, penned a poem:

On the day the sun shines with the moon

The arrow leaves the bow

It carries my spirit towards the enemy

With me are a hundred million souls

My people of the East

On this day when the moon shines

And the sun both shine.

Yamashita was the son of a country physician, but groomed by his father to be a career soldier from an early age. He had risen fast. He was an imposing physical presence; when on a peacetime posting to Korea he had taken up calligraphy and used the nom de plume ‘Daisen’, or ‘Giant Cedar’. He was a political general in whom many had seen a rival to Tojo, a man with whom, in his early career, Yamashita had been close. They became estranged when radical, reformist young officers of the ‘Imperial Way’ clique looked to Yamashita for leadership. When some of them were involved in a failed coup d’état in February 1936, Yamashita had interceded for them by insisting that an imperial representative should witness their suicides. This impertinence incurred the wrath of the emperor. In many ways, Yamashita saw his subsequent career as an act of expiation for this transgression. Thereafter, even on campaign, he would always place his desk to face the imperial palace in Tokyo. He fought in North China and was entrusted with a mission to Nazi Germany in June 1941, where Hitler and Goring had briefed him on Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. On his return from Europe, he was posted by Tojo out of sight to Manchukuo, but such were his abilities that he was suddenly recalled to Tokyo when the government took the decision to go to war with the West. Only on 8 November 1941 was he given command of the 25th Army: three divisions of 60,000 men. On joining his command at its great muster in Hainan island, Yamashita announced he would be in Singapore by New Year’s Day.

There was hard calculation behind Yamashita’s optimism. Japanese planners were by now well briefed on British weaknesses. In November 1940, a British ship, SS Automedon, had been sunk in the Indian Ocean by a German raider. It was carrying to Singapore the pessimistic defence appreciations of the Imperial General Staff and, with them, a clear indication that Britain was unable adequately to reinforce Malaya. This golden trove of documents had been passed on to Tokyo. But Yamashita also knew that, should he fail, his career would be at an end. His officers were experienced, but most were unknown to him. Many key commanders, such as the sinister planning chief Masanobu Tsuji, were closely identified with his rival Tojo. The men of two of his divisions, the 5th and 18th, were hardened veterans of the war in China. They were supported by the elite Imperial Guard. Yamashita’s first order in assuming command in the field was ‘no looting, no rape, no arson’. To Yamashita, the war was not only one of liberation of subject peoples of Asia, but a sacred task undertaken beneath the full gaze of world opinion. On board the ship, each soldier was given a copy of Masanobu Tsuji’s booklet: Read This Alone and the War Can Be Won. It described war in ‘a world of everlasting summer’: the jungle and mangrove terrain, the food and hygiene, even etiquette in a mosque and local toilet habits (‘the left hand is regarded as unclean’). Soldiers were ordered to ‘show compassion to those who have no guilt’. But, ominously, they were also warned of the ‘Overseas Chinese’: they were extortionists and beyond the pale of any appeal to ‘Asian brotherhood’.

The armada soon ran into cloud. As it broke, around 3 p.m. on 6 December, 300 miles out from the coast of Malaya, the pilot of an Australian Hudson flying out of Kota Bahru sighted the ships. The message was radioed back to British commanders. Both Heath in Kuala Lumpur and Percival, en route from there to Singapore, expected Brooke-Popham to launch Operation Matador. He did not do so. He felt he had insufficient evidence of Japan’s hostile intent. Although Ultra intercepts made it clear that Japan was planning a strike against both Thailand and Malaya, they also left open the possibility that a feint was underway to provoke a British breach of Thai sovereignty, which – as Crosby in Bangkok kept impressing upon Brooke-Popham – might have disastrous diplomatic consequences. Further aircraft were scrambled, and a Catalina flying-boat approaching the fleet on the morning of 7 December was shot down by a Japanese naval Zero. The Japanese task force fanned out towards its landing sites along the coast. Still Brooke-Popham hesitated, to the fury of his subordinates. Proof positive of hostile intent came only with a sighting of warships and transports off Patani and Kota Bahru on the evening of 7 December. By this time Matador became, as it has remained, an academic exercise: it was never launched. Percival declared that it was now ‘unsound’ as it was too late to deny the Japanese the key landing grounds in Thailand. By 1.35 a.m. on 8 December Japanese landings had begun at Kota Bahru. It was the first land battle of the great Asian war: the attack on Pearl Harbor was still several hours away. The battle for Kota Bahru centred on its aerodrome; the Japanese rained fire on its defences. In one day sixty Allied planes in northern Malaya were put out of action. There was a shocked mood of paralysis in the town. As British officials gathered in the residency on the night of 8 December, there was ‘an eerie quietness’ in the air. ‘There was absolutely nothing to do,’ one recalled. It was never intended to defend Kota Bahru. The British commander took the view that once the European women and children were evacuated and the Sultan of Kelantan and his wives had withdrawn to his private residence inland, there was nothing there to defend. The Indian garrison fought back to the railhead at Kuala Krai. In the chaos of the retreat, the 1st Hyderabads who guarded the aerodrome killed their British senior officer. After the aerodrome fell, largely intact, the remaining civilians were ordered out. They told their Malay colleagues to stay at their posts and hope for the best. Kota Bahru would set a pattern to be repeated across the entire peninsula.

Shenton Thomas’s initial reaction to the landings would later haunt his memory: ‘I suppose you’ll shove the little men off’, he is said to have commented. The British had been blinded by racial assumptions: that the Japanese were small, myopic and with a level of military achievement below that even of the Italians. But Allied commanders were soon to concede that the Japanese were far tougher than their own troops. Many of the men of the 18th Division were hardy Kyushu coalminers. Wavell himself called them ‘an army of highly trained gangsters’. Most of the British soldiers had not seen combat before. Their steel helmets and respirators were superfluous; the Japanese went to war in shorts, a light shirt and plimsolls. This was inelegent but effective. The assumption that the Japanese could not tolerate jungle conditions was an irrelevance. ‘Malaya had the best roads in the British Empire’, wrote one engineer shortly afterwards, ‘with the possible exception of Great Britain.’ The Japanese hurtled down them, bypassing British prepared positions. Each Japanese division had been issued with 6,000 bicycles. Years of Japanese imports had left a profusion of spare parts in the towns and villages of Malaya. The ‘bicycle Blitzkrieg’ was strikingly effective; Allied troops mistook the sound of it for the rumble of tanks. One Japanese officer noted that those who had made the long journey down the peninsula, often cycling twenty hours a day, afterwards ‘had a lot of trouble in walking’.

Shenton Thomas had assumed, as did most of Malaya, that a British counterblow would come swiftly. One potential response was a rapid response from the Royal Navy. Yet on 8 December Admiral Phillips was in Manila, and there was no agreement in London as to Force Z’s role. Phillips initially planned to make for Darwin and then, in a symbolic gesture of Anglo-Saxon solidarity, to support the remnants of the US Pacific Fleet. Given the failure to repel the landings in the northeast of the peninsula, Phillips steamed north, leaving Singapore on the late afternoon of 8 December, to engage and destroy the Japanese landing flotilla. It was a bold, risky undertaking. Phillips demanded air cover off the Malayan coast at daylight on 10 December. He was told as he sailed that ‘Fighter protection on Wednesday 10th will not be possible’. Phillips had to rely on surprise. But late on 8 December he was sighted by Japanese aircraft, and decided to turn back to Singapore. He had almost come within sight of the Japanese strike force. Then, just before midnight, came reports of further Japanese landings at Kuantan. Force Z turned to meet them. Phillips did not ask for air cover, probably because he believed none was available, and that he was out of range of Japanese strike aircraft. He also believed in maintaining radio silence at sea. In the event, the Air Force did not know where he was. Neither, initially, did the Japanese. From Indo-China thirty bombers and fifty torpedo bombers had been despatched early on 10 December to find Force Z; they had flown far to the south, and, low on fuel, were returning home, when, just after 11 a.m., the cloud broke and the ships were sighted and attacked. Repulse and Prince of Wales were sunk. Phillips went down with his flagship and 840 men. Fighters had been scrambled from Singapore on the news of the attack. They arrived in time to see the destroyers picking up survivors. The sea lanes to Ceylon, India and Darwin lay open and unprotected.

On the same night as the Kota Bahru landings, the first air raids struck Singapore. They hit the shopping arcades of Raffles Place, blew out the windows of the department stores and threw up the turf of the Padang. But Chinatown bore the worst of it: around sixty people were killed. There was no blackout. The head of air-raid precautions was at the cinema at the time. Lim Kean Siew, son of the Penang Straits Chinese notable Lim Cheng Ean, witnessed the event with his student friends from the elite Raffles College. Its Class of ’41 included men who would dominate the government and politics of Singapore and Malaya for two generations, including two future prime ministers and one future king. ‘The heavens have opened’, commented one student. ‘The heavens had indeed opened for us’, Lim Kean Siew wrote. ‘From a languid, lazy and lackadaisical world, we were catapulted into a world of somersaults and frenzy from which we would never recover.’ Like many of his friends, Lim left Singapore and headed up-country for Penang to be met on arrival with word of the sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse. This event stunned Britain’s Asian empire more deeply than any of the worse news that was later to come. The relentless demonstration of Japanese technological prowess did more to break civilian and military resistance than any other factor. Few people knew the fleet had even put to sea. The kingpin of the China Relief Fund, Tan Kah Kee, was called at his millionaires’ club on the night of 12 December with the ‘terrible news. I could not sleep a wink all night… the enemy had already landed on mainland Malaya, and since the enemy bombers were this effective, it seemed unlikely that Singapore could be defended’. When he was told the next day that the British treasurer had removed government bonds worth $8 million from the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation, ready for them to be burnt, he concluded that the British had no intention of defending the island.

The main thrust of the Japanese advance shifted to the west coast. The British default defence of the borderlands, Krohcol, failed, and Heath’s III Corps fell back into northern Malaya. Yamashita had ordered kiromomi sakusen, a ‘driving charge’. His 5th Division and Imperial Guards competed against each other in the advance. The first of a series of theoretical lines of defence for the British was at Jitra in Kedah. Tsuji commented later that it should have held out for three months, but it collapsed in fifteen hours when Japanese tanks threw its defenders into demoralized confusion. Yamashita celebrated this at his forward HQ in the state capital of Alor Star whilst his troops foraged for ‘Churchill supplies’ of abandoned tinned food and fuel for their vehicles. Yamashita had now captured four ‘Churchill aerodromes’. The tactical retreat and piecemeal British defence of the north created chaos within Heath’s forces. For the remainder of the campaign they were unable to fall back to properly prepared positions. He told Percival that the only practical recourse was to draw back further and form a more robust line of defence in Perak. Vast military stores were abandoned. Within a month of hostilities 3,000 vehicles were crammed into northern Malaya. But within another month they had changed direction. Their Asian drivers were the principal targets of Japanese war planes. In Perak planters were recalled from their soldiery to get their labourers to work on defence projects in the state; they too were attacked from the air. Many of them fled, as people began to abandon the towns of northern Malaya.

The moral collapse of British rule in Southeast Asia came not at Singapore, but at Penang. The retreat through Perak had left Britain’s oldest possession in Malaya stranded. It too was a fortress with a designated ‘fortress commander’. But the decision was taken not to defend it. This gave the Japanese assault when it came, on 9 and 10 December, a terrible surreal quality. For the first two days Japanese planes flew reconnaissance missions, unchallenged. To E. A. Davis, an employee of the Eastern Smelting Company working as a volunteer fireman, it was ‘just like an aeronautical display’. The whole of Georgetown turned out to watch. However, on Thursday 11 December the planes attacked with bombs and almost continuous machine-gun fire. The spectators were hit in their hundreds. ‘They watched with fascination’, wrote Lim Kean Siew, ‘not knowing what was coming as a shoal of fish would stay to watch in silence as a fisherman surrounds them with a net.’ A downtown market was a principal target. Parked handcarts with their handles pointing skywards had been mistaken for ack-ack guns.

An English doctor, Oscar Fisher, recorded in his diary that the scene was like H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds come to life. Refugees fled Georgetown to the suburbs and villages around Penang Hill. The centre of the metropolis had moved overnight. By evening of the first day traffic control, food distribution and policing were largely maintained by Asian and Eurasian ARP wardens and auxiliary firemen. The general hospital was overwhelmed by around 700 casualties: of these 126 died in the first twenty-four hours. There was no anesthetist available and amputations were carried out in the conditions of a nineteenth-century battlefield. There were fourteen operating tables being worked at once. ‘Everybody that could hold a knife was doing all sorts of operations’. The stench of gangrene was appalling. The full extent of the butchery was impossible to assess; it was two to three days before the fallen could be buried.35 Bodies still lay on the streets after the city’s capitulation. The resident commissioner estimated the number of dead and injured at 3,000; some 1,000 lay under the rubble. Army disposal units were overcome by the stench even wearing gas masks. Then came cholera and typhoid.

Japanese radio broadcasts taunted the British: ‘you English gentlemen: “How do you like our bombing? Isn’t it a better tonic than your whisky soda?”’ In the crisis, the politics of racial segregation within colonial society were taken to their brutish extreme. According to one British volunteer fireman who managed to escape, the resident commissioner of Penang, L. Forbes, forbade fire crews to take pumps past a line drawn along Penang Road, a commercial thoroughfare that divided the main area of European settlement from the Asian shophouses of Georgetown. Efforts were to be concentrated on residential property. The rest could burn. When the blazes later spread, he refused to have European homes destroyed as a firebreak. Firemen believed the Japanese planes were targeting them: of the 200 on duty, around sixty perished. The European evacuation was surreptitious and ignominious. The order to leave came quietly in the night on 16 December. Europeans gathered at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel, many of them under strict orders, disgusted at leaving their local staff and servants. Dr Fisher was told abruptly that it was ‘total war’ and he was needed elsewhere. Europeans crowded to the docks on every conceivable form of transport: six people to a rickshaw. At the quayside, the one senior Asian civil servant who had been served the order, the Chinese judge and Volunteer Force officer Lim Khoon Teik, was turned out of the boat, yet the fortress commander still managed to get his car on board. The quay was cordoned off by armed volunteers. Survivors from the Prince of Wales manned the ferries that evacuated the women. J. A. Quitzow, like many single women, had demanded to stay but was ordered out. The manner of the British withdrawal, she wrote a few weeks later, was ‘a thing which I am sure will never be forgotten or forgiven’.

There was no British officer to surrender the island to its new masters. It was M. Saravanamuttu, the Indian editor of the English language newspaper, the Straits Echo, who lowered the Union flag at Fort Cornwallis the next morning. Only one European stayed on the island, a doctor in the general hospital. The news of the surrender of the town was delivered to the Japanese by a Eurasian racehorse trainer, who cycled twenty-one miles to the command at Sungei Patani to tell them and to request that the bombing cease. Thus, over a century and a half of British rule came to an end.

The outrage at the desertion of Penang was inflamed by Duff Cooper’s statement, in a radio broadcast from Singapore on 22 December, that ‘the majority of the population had been evacuated’, and by accompanying images of Europeans disembarking from the ferries to tea and sympathy on the dockside at Singapore. Shenton Thomas had assured the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements a few days earlier that there would be ‘no distinction of race’. But this was already contradicted by the military’s offer of free passages out for service wives. By the end of December the work of European women was on such a scale, with several hundreds in ‘essential war services’, that Thomas continued to resist the compulsory evacuation of married women without children and wondered if any compulsion should be placed on unmarried women to leave. And, as Percival too recognized, they worked side by side with Asian women. Duff Cooper and the governor were at loggerheads on the issue. The War Cabinet discussed it on the same day as Duff Cooper’s speech and Churchill affirmed the earlier principle of non-discrimination. ‘But’, the Cabinet noted, ‘this might not be so easy, since Chinese and Malayans would not be permitted to land in many countries.’ At this point only fifty Chinese and fifty Europeans had been given entry to the Commonwealth of ‘white’ Australia. Ceylon would only take 500 refugees and wanted preference given to the Ceylonese of Malaya. One solution was to take a token few non-European civilians out, land them in the Dutch East Indies and turn round the ships as quickly as possible. The application of this policy was left to the discretion of Duff Cooper. But he believed that it was scandalous to evacuate British troops first ‘and to leave the women and children to the tender mercies of a cruel Asiatic foe’.

Yamashita was enraged by reports of indiscipline in the wake of the capture of Penang. He had offenders from the Kobaysahi Battalion court-martialled and executed. Their battalion and regimental commanders – who were still in the front line – were placed under close arrest for thirty days. The rumour of war created terror and disorder ahead of the Japanese vanguard. Horror stories reached Malaya from the fall of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941. There had been a horrendous slaughter of civilians, over 2,000, as drunken Japanese soldiers ran amok in the flush of victory. European nurses had been raped and killed. Their patients had been bayoneted. British propaganda had played not only on the impregnability of Malaya’s defences, but on Japanese atrocities in China, particularly against women. It had striking success. So much so that when the British ceased to have faith in their ability to defend their own womenfolk, colonial rule shed much of its threadbare legitimacy. The loyalty of key servants of the eastern Raj was severely shaken. In Singapore, Sikh policemen were read a statement by the inspector general of police to explain the abandonment of many of their colleagues in Penang; they were told to accept it as ‘the fortune of war’. Reading it to them, their immediate senior officer added his personal assurance that he would stick by them in Singapore. He was later to escape the island. Japanese propaganda played on these betrayals. ‘Malayan and Indian soldiers!’ it proclaimed, ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and cooperate with the Nippon Army!’

The leader of the Indian Independence League in Bangkok, Pritam Singh, called on overseas Indians ‘to eliminate the Anglo-Saxon from the whole of Asia’. Major Fujiwara Iwaichi, another Japanese intelligence officer who saw himself in the T. E. Lawrence mould, flew down from Bangkok with Pritam Singh to establish a branch of the IIL at Alor Star in Kedah. Fujiwara approached a disaffected Sikh captain of the 1/14 Punjab named Mohan Singh, who had been stranded in the retreat and surrendered near Jitra on 15 December. Fujiwara was impressed by the authoritative bearing and sense of discipline of the Indian army officer. He was enlisted to control Indian stragglers in the north, and persuaded to organize them into a new fighting force. It was to be an Indian National Army. From the outset, Mohan Singh impressed on the Japanese that the soldiers were ‘a very strange mixture’ and were dispirited by the fighting. It would take time to build and prepare a force. At a meeting in Alor Star on New Year’s Eve, the Indian officers involved insisted they would not fight in Malaya, but only in India, and then on equal terms with the Japanese. The name of Subhas Chandra Bose, still in Berlin, was mentioned. ‘In most cases’, Mohan Singh wrote to Fujiwara, ‘people worship him like a god.’ Mohan Singh came south with the advance, to Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and finally Singapore. The POWs who came forward were given white armbands with the letter ‘F’ on them, to show they worked for Fujiwara’s organization. There were only 229 of them, but they added to the atmosphere of rumour and the disillusionment of Indian troops. Mohan Singh had brought into being, by this simple act, one of the great legends of the war in the East and a healing balm for India’s sense of self-respect. In Berlin, Subhas Bose learned of it almost immediately.

As European society rolled back down the peninsula it became entirely detached from the society it governed. The fall of Malaya was not only a military failure but a complete collapse of British administration. Alien artefact that it was, the Malayan Raj was very dependent on its technocratic achievements for legitimacy. The scorched-earth policy destroyed much of this and had a devastating psychological effect on the people of Malaya. Some questioned the policy; Percival himself was very conscious of the dangers of destroying Asian businesses. Many Europeans mourned a life’s work gone up in smoke. In Pahang, the British hastened to abandon not only the port of Kuantan but also the great lode tin mine, the largest in the empire, and the Raub gold mine. Everywhere the story was similar. Officials spent the last days of rule burning their papers, settling wages and dumping stores of rice. All useable transport, tanks, guns, agricultural and engineering plant, and even domestic animals, then joined the stampede south. In Trengganu, with the river bridges blown up and rumours of further Japanese landings at Kuantan, Europeans found themselves stranded, with no order to evacuate. The only way out was over the central range to Kuala Lipis. Fourteen Europeans, including two women, made a 120-mile forced march through the forest to the railhead, accompanied by two Malay policemen. The two European residents on Langkawi island north of Penang only heard about the fall of the north in a Japanese proclamation setting out the new arrangements of government. They fled by sampan and were picked up hundreds of miles south near Port Swettenham. Elsewhere, others took to the jungle.

By this time the industrial heartland of Perak and Selangor was no sanctuary. The casualties from air-raids on up-country towns were heavy; the first raid on Taiping claimed around sixty civilian lives. There was no alert and, again, the market and its surroundings were targeted. The army insisted on a curfew, with a shoot-on-sight policy, just as people began to take to the roads, especially along the coasts where more Japanese landings were expected. The British Resident in Perak was himself shot at as he evacuated, because there were several Malays in his car, who at this stage were all seen as suspect fifth columnists or looters. On 22 December the hotels and golf-courses of the Cameron Highlands were abandoned. The manager of the Cameron Highlands Hotel, Felix Inggold, described morosely to his client the Rajah of Sarawak how hé destroyed his Christmas stock of liquor, all $14,000 worth. As the British pulled out an emotional appeal was made to the Asian members of the local defence force to show their loyalty by remaining with their units. ‘After lengthy discussions amongst themselves, they settled the matter by resigning as a body’. This was repeated elsewhere. Communities had to take responsibility for their own defence. For Ho Thean Fook, a young primary school teacher in Papan in Perak, the first sign of the British rout came with the arrival of a Chinese propaganda theatre troupe from the mining centre of Ipoh. A young actor announced to the townspeople: ‘the British are treating their empire as property and handling the whole thing as if it were a business transaction’. The civic-minded had already taken basic services into their own hands. They had the presence of mind to lay on a tea party for the vanguard of the Imperial Army. As Japanese troops rolled in they demanded women. But in this, too, the townspeople were prepared: all the young women were in hiding. One local recognized the Japanese interpreter as the owner of a photography shop in nearby Ipoh.

On 20 December Port Swettenham was bombed, and on 26 December Klang and Kuala Lumpur. In Klang, Japanese planes came in low over the rubber estates and machine-gunned everything they saw. It was, the British ARP warden, wrote, ‘Klang’s Waterloo, for from that day it ceased to exist as an organised community’. The bombing had lasted less than a minute. Businesses closed, the streets cleared. In Kuala Lumpur, government buildings were demolished and the local watering place, the Spotted Dog, was hit. Kuala Lumpur was the scene of some of the most drastic scorched earth, with the destruction of railway stock and the great marshalling yards at Sentul. British soldiers resented the hard labour this involved. One subaltern saw a sign affixed to an army truck: ‘We are the wogs’. As many as 51 million cigarettes, $50,000 worth of whisky and 800 tons of meat in Cold Storage’s stockroom were destroyed. There was general looting, less for profit than for food from shuttered provision stores. On the night of 9 January the final clearance occurred. The general hospital was abandoned by the military, who had occupied it, and its patients consigned to the care of Asian doctors. Bangsar power station was blown up and the police disbanded. The residency was cleared in five cars and three lorries. The stokers for the trains south from Kuala Lumpur were again recruited from survivors of the Prince of Wales. The government veterinary officer at Banting, on the coast, with Tamil labour drove 2,300 head of government Bali cattle nearly fifty miles down the coast; this stampede was eventually to arrive in Singapore. It was estimated that three-quarters of the Asian population had left the town. One European, the medical officer of the leper settlement at Sungei Buloh, refused to leave. The patients were left with a little food and with 60,000 hoons of opium; 2,000 sufferers of a population of 3,000 were to die within two years. They were also to become a centre of support for guerrilla resistance to the Japanese.

For the Japanese, the principal obstacle on the road to Kuala Lumpur was a ‘rocky bastion’ at Kampar, a 4,000-feet high crag some ten miles south of the mining centre of Ipoh, which was evacuated by 26 December. The last to leave here were the Chinese and Eurasian girls who had manned the telephone exchanges for the military. The position was caught by a dramatic Japanese flank attack, using a flotilla of forty motor boats brought overland from the beachhead at Singora in Thailand and reassembled at the mouth of the Perak river. There were no Royal Navy ships to intercept them. Faced with the landings of Imperial Guards, the British were forced to fall back from Kampar to the Slim river, where Japanese medium tanks cut through the battered and exhausted troops of 11th Indian Division and all but broke it as a fighting force. There were few anti-tank rifles; key bridges were not blown up; stranded units fell into the hands of the Japanese. The road to Kuala Lumpur was open. The first Japanese troops entered the capital of what had been the Federated Malay States on the evening of 11 January. Lieutenant-Colonel Tsuji was among them: ‘This metropolis’, he recorded, ‘presented a dignified and imposing modern appearance.’ Passing through streets lined with Chinese shophouses, ‘We felt as though we had entered the crossroads of the central province of China.’

Mitsubishi G3M long-range land-based naval bomber

Three days after Pearl Harbor, G3Ms made world headlines when a force of 60 bombers helped sink the British battleships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales off Malaysia.

As Bill Gianthof@msn.com pointed out.

“G4M1s were mainly responsible for sinking the British battleship Prince of Wales and battle cruiser Repulse off Malaya in December 1941.”

While it’s likely the G4Ms would have sunk the Prince of Wales by themselves, it was a G3M that scored the critical hit on the ship that enabled the G4Ms to complete the sinking.

At the time of its appearance, the Nell was one of the world’s most advanced long-range bombers. It participated in many famous actions in World War II before assuming transport duties.

In 1934 Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, future head of the Japanese Combined Fleet, advocated development of long-range land-based naval bombers to compliment carrier-based aviation. That year Mitsubishi designed and flew the Ka 9, an unsightly but effective reconnaissance craft with great endurance. It owed more than a passing resemblance to Junkers’s Ju 86, as that firm had assisted Mitsubishi with the design.

Successful demonstration by Mitsubishi of its Ka-9 twin-engine long-range reconnaissance aircraft during 1934 led to the company designing and developing a twin-engine bomber/transport under the initial company designation Mitsubishi Ka-15. A cantilever mid-wing monoplane with wings tapering in thickness and chord from wing root to wingtip, a tail unit incorporating twin fins and rudders, retractable tailwheel landing gear and two 750-hp (559-kW) Hiro Type 91 engines, the prototype was flown for the first time during July 1935. A total of 21 prototypes was built (eight with an unglazed nose) and several engine/propeller combinations were evaluated. Service trials left little doubt that Mitsubishi had developed an excellent aircraft with exceptional range capability, and in June 1936 the type entered production with the official designation Navy Type 96 Attack Bomber Model 11, Mitsubishi designation G3M1. This first production version was powered by two 910-hp (679-kW) Mitsubishi Kinsei 3 radial engines and had a defensive armament of three 7.7-mm (0.303- in) machine-guns, one each in two dorsal and one ventral turret, all three turrets being retractable. However, only 34 G3M1 production aircraft were built before availability of 1,075-hp (802-kW) Kinsei 41 or 42 radials gave the promise of even better performance. The resulting G3M2 Model 21 differed from the early production version by the installation of these engines and by having increased fuel capacity. They soon demonstrated their capability, on 14 August 1937, when a force of G3M2s based on Taipei, Taiwan, attacked targets 1,250 miles (2010 km) distant in China, recording simultaneously the world’s first transoceanic air attack.

Subsequent production, which eventually totalled 1,048 aircraft built by Mitsubishi (636) and Nakajima (412), included the G3M2 Model 22 in which the five men crew of all earlier versions was increased to seven to provide additional gunners to cope with armament that comprised one 20-mm cannon and four 7.7-mm (0.303-in) machine-guns; and the generally similar G3M2 Model 23 which introduced Kinsei 51 engines and increased fuel capacity. A number of G3M1s were converted for service as military transport aircraft under the designation G3M1-L, being provided with two 1,075-hp (802-kW) Kinsei 45 engines, and from 1938 about 24 G3M2s were converted for transport use by civil operators, these being designated Mitsubishi Twin-Engined Transport. Two other transport models were produced later in the war, when the First Naval Air Arsenal at Kasumigaura converted a number of G3M1s and G3M2s to L3Y1 Model 11 and L3Y2 Model 12 Navy Type 96 Transports respectively. Both incorporated cabin windows, a door on the port side and were armed by a single 7.7-mm (0.303-in) machinegun. When deployed throughout the war zone they were allocated the Allied codename ‘Tina’, and all bomber versions had the codename’ ell’.

Mitsubishi G3Ms are remembered for their part in a number of important engagements, but almost certainly best known was the attack made on the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battle-cruiser HMS Repulse on 10 December 1941, just three days after the initial attack on Pearl Harbor. The British vessels were steaming off Malaya, believing they were out of range of shore-based aircraft, when they were caught by a force of G3Ms with a smaller number of G4Ms and sunk. The type remained in service until the end of the Pacific war, but by 1943 most were being used in second-line roles.

Nells were among the first Japanese aircraft shot down by U.S. Navy fighters at Wake Island. The spring of 1942 then witnessed G3Ms functioning as parachute aircraft over the Dutch East Indies. Within months, however, revitalized Allied forces poured into the region, forcing the slow and under-armed Nells to sustain heavy losses. By 1942 most had ceased active combat operations and spent the rest of the war as transports.



    Prototype with either Hiro Type 91 (559 kW/750 hp), Mitsubishi Kinsei 2 (619 kW/830 hp), or Mitsubishi Kinsei 3 (679 kW/910 hp) engines and glass or solid nose, 21 built.


    Redesignated prototypes powered by Hiro Type 91 or Mitsubishi Kinsei engines, glass nose.

G3M1 Model 11

    Land-based attack bomber navy Type 96 first series model. Major extension of the cabin with a revised cover, some with fixed-pitch propeller, 34 built.


    G3M1 converted into an armed or unarmed military transport version and powered by Mitsubishi Kinsei 45 (802 kW/1,075 hp) engines.

G3M2 Model 21

    More powerful engines and increased fuel capacity, dorsal turret; 343 constructed by Mitsubishi, 412 G3M2 and G3M3 manufactured by Nakajima.

G3M2 Model 22

    Upper and belly turrets substituted for one upper turret, glass side positions, 238 built.

G3M3 Model 23

    More powerful engines and increased fuel capacity for longer range, constructed by Nakajima.

L3Y1 Model 11

    Transport navy Type 96, advanced conversion of G3M1 armed transport, built by Yokosuka.

L3Y2 Model 12

    Modification of G3M2 with Mitsubishi Kinsei engines, built by Yokosuka.

Mitsubishi twin-engined transport

    Around two dozen G3M2 Model 21 bombers convrted for use by civil operators such as Nippon Koku K.K..


    One of the twin engined transports converted to carry out a round the world flight in 1939 on behalf of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

Specifications (Mitsubishi G3M2 Model 21)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 7
  • Length: 16.45 m (54 ft 0 in)
  • Wingspan: 25 m (82 ft 0 in)
  • Height: 3.68 m (12 ft 1 in)
  • Wing area: 75 m2 (810 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 4,965 kg (10,946 lb)
  • Gross weight: 8,000 kg (17,637 lb)
  • Fuel capacity: 3,874 l (852.2 imp gal; 1,023.4 US gal)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Mitsubishi Kinsei 14-cyl. air-cooled radial piston engines, 791 kW (1,061 hp) each


  • Maximum speed: 375 km/h (233 mph; 202 kn)
  • Cruise speed: 280 km/h (174 mph; 151 kn)
  • Range: 4,400 km (2,734 mi; 2,376 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 9,200 m (30,200 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 6 m/s (1,200 ft/min)


  • Guns:
  • 1× 20 mm (0.79 in) Type 99 cannon in rear dorsal turret
  • 4× 7.7 mm (0.30 in) Type 92 machine gun in cockpit, left and right side positions, and in retractable forward dorsal turret.
  • Bombs: 800 kg (1,800 lb) of bombs or one aerial torpedo

Kaibo-Kan Escorts


The C Type class escort ships were a class of ships in the service of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. The Japanese called them “C Type” ocean defense ships, and they were the fifth class of Kaibokan (Kai = sea, ocean, Bo = defense, Kan = ship), a name used to denote a multi-purpose vessel.

The C Type, like the Ukuru-class and Mikura-class, were dedicated to the anti-aircraft and anti-submarine role.

In 22 April 1943, the Navy General Staff decided a mass production of escort ships, because of the urgent need to protect the convoys which were under constant attack. The plan was to build a basic escort ship of around 800 tons, with a simple design for easy construction. The first designs, for “Type A” Etorofu class and “Type B” Mikura class, still needed too many man-hours for building, so in June 1943, the Navy General Staff planned for a simplified design. The result was the Ukuru class, and a scaled down model of the Mikura class, which became the “C Type” and “D Type” escort classes.

Because of Japan’s deteriorating war situation, the C Type class was a further simplification of the Ukuru design. They were smaller by 200 tons and the Diesel engines that propelled them were also smaller, at 1900 SHP vs 4200 for the Ukurus. Because of the decrease in engine power, the speed fell from 19.5 knots to 16.5. The range remained the same, 6500 miles at 14 knots. The number of 4.7″ guns went from three to two. The number of depth charges aboard was the same, 120, but the number of depth charge throwers was decreased from 18 to 12 and the depth charge chutes were decreased from two to one.

Due to the simplifications of the design, a significant saving was made in construction time. The C type escorts required approximately 20,000 man-hours each, compared to the 35,000 man-hours of the Ukuru’s and the 57,000 man-hours of the Mikura’s.

The design work of the C Type ships started in March, 1943, the same time as the Ukuru class. They were built concurrently with the Ukuru class and the D Type-class. The C Type class were given odd numbers, while the D Type were given even numbers. The C Type were constructed using prefabricated sections that enabled them to be built in as little as three to four months. The lead ship, No.1 (CD-1) was constructed at Mitsubishi, laid down on 15 September 1943, and completed with the No.3 (CD-3) on 29 February 1944.

The C Type escorts were assigned to the Destroyer Divisions and Escort Divisions for convoy escort operations. However by 1944 the advantage had passed to the US, and many C Type vessels became casualties as the Japanese merchant fleet was devastated by the American submarine offensive. There were 53 finished during the war of the 300 planned, and several completed after World War II ended. 26 were sunk during the war.

Ships lost

    CD-1, commissioned on February 19, 1944. CD-1 was sunk by B-25 bombers on April 6, 1945.

    CD-3, commissioned on February 29, 1944. CD-3 was sunk by TF 38 carrier aircraft on January 9, 1945 at 27-10N, 121-45E.

    CD-5, commissioned on March 19, 1944. CD-5 was sunk by carrier aircraft on September 9, being set afire and later blowing up and sinking at 15-30N, 119-50E.

    CD-7, commissioned on March 10, 1944. CD-7 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Ray on November 14, 1944 at 17-46N, 117-57E.

    CD-9, commissioned on March 28, 1944. CD-9 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Gato on January 12, 1945 at 32-43N, 125-37E.

    CD-11, commissioned on April 5, 1944. CD-11 was damaged and had to be beached by B-25 bombers on November 10, 1944 at 10-51N, 124-32E.

    CD-13, commissioned on April 26, 1944. CD-13 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Torsk on August 14, 1945, the day before the end of the war.

    CD-15, commissioned on May 1, 1944. CD-15 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Raton on June 6, 1944.

    CD-17, commissioned on May 7, 1944. CD-17 was torpedoed and damaged by USS Tilefish on July 18, 1944. CD-17 was sunk by carrier aircraft on January 12, 1945.

    CD-19, commissioned on May 20, 1944. CD-19 was sunk by TF 38 carrier aircraft on January 12, 1945.

    CD-21, commissioned on August 18, 1944. CD-21 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Seahorse on October 6, 1944.

    CD-23, commissioned on October 29, 1944. CD-23 was sunk by carrier aircraft on January 12, 1945.

    CD-25, commissioned on July 30, 1944. CD-25 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Springer on October 6, 1944.

    CD-31, commissioned on October 13, 1944. CD-31 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Tirante on April 14, 1945.

    CD-33, commissioned on October 13, 1944. CD-33 was sunk by carrier aircraft on March 28, 1945.

    CD-35, commissioned on November 21, 1944. CD-35 was sunk by carrier aircraft on January 12, 1945.

    CD-39, commissioned on November 9, 1944. CD-35 was sunk by B-25 “Mitchells” on August 7, 1945, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

    CD-41, commissioned on November 26, 1944. CD-41 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Sea Owl on July 9, 1945.

    CD-43, commissioned on September 10, 1944. CD-43 was sunk by carrier aircraft on January 12, 1945.

    CD-47, commissioned on November 2, 1944. CD-47 was damaged by aircraft on three occasions, on January 29, February 15, and July 30, 1945. She was torpedoed and sunk by USS Torsk on August 14, 1945, the day before the end of the war.

    CD-51, commissioned on October 29, 1944. She was sunk by TF 38 aircraft on January 12, 1945.

    CD-53, completed on November 28, 1944. On February 7, 1945 She was torpedoed and sunk by USS Bergall.

    CD-65, completed on February 13, 1945. She was sunk on July 14, 1945 by TF 38 carrier aircraft.

    CD-69, completed on December 20, 1944. She was sunk on March 16, 1945 by B-25s.

    CD-73, completed on April 5, 1945. On April 16, 1945, just eleven days after completion, she was torpedoed and sunk by USS Sunfish.

    CD-75 , completed on April 12, 1945. She survived the war, but was torpedoed and damaged by Soviet submarine L12 on August 22, 1945. She was scuttled the next day.

    CD-213, completed on February 12, 1945. On August 18, 1945, after the war ended, she sank after striking a mine.

    CD-219, completed on January 25, 1945. She was sunk by TF 38 carrier aircraft on July 15, 1945 off Hakodate.


    USS Growler was sunk on November 8, 1944 by CD-19 with Chiburi and destroyer Shigure.

    USS Trigger was sunk on March 28, 1945 by CD-33 and CD-59 with Mikura.

    USS Bonefish was sunk on June 19, 1945 by C Types CD-63, CD-75 and CD-207 with Okinawa and CD-158.

    USS Salmon was rendered unfit for further service by damage from CD-33 and CD-29 with CD-22 on October 30, 1944.

The D Type class escort ships were a class of ships in the service of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. The Japanese called them “D Type” coast defence ships, and they were the sixth class of Kaibokan (Kai = sea, ocean, Bo = defence, Kan = ship), a name used to denote a multi-purpose vessel.

The D Type, like the Ukuru-class and Mikura-class, were dedicated to the anti-aircraft and anti-submarine role.

In 22 April 1943, the Navy General Staff decided a mass production of escort ships, because of the urgent need to protect the convoys which were under constant attack. The plan was to build a basic escort ship of around 800 tons, with a simple design for easy construction. The first designs, for “Type A” Etorofu class and “Type B” Mikura class, still needed too many man-hours for building, so in June 1943, the Navy General Staff planned for a simplified design. The result was the Ukuru class, and a scaled down model of the Mikura class, which became the “C Type” and “D Type” escort classes.

Because of Japan’s deteriorating war situation, the D Type class was a further simplification of the Ukuru design and were built to the same design as the C Type escort ship. However, due to a shortage of diesel engines to power both groups of vessels, the D Type were powered by turbine engines. This gave a slight increase in speed, from 16.5 to 17.5 knots, but a reduction in range and endurance, 4500 miles at 16 knots instead of 6500 miles. The D Type was the only Kaibokan type to use turbines.

They were smaller by 200 tons than the Ukuru’s and engines that propelled them were also smaller, at 2500 SHP vs 4200 for the Ukurus. Because of the decrease in engine power, the speed fell from 19.5 to 17.5 knots. The number of 4.7″ guns went from three to two. The number of depth charges aboard was the same, 120, but the number of depth charge throwers was decreased from 18 to 12 and the depth charge chutes were decreased from two to one.

Due to the simplifications of the design, the construction time was significantly reduced. The D type escorts required approximately 20,000 man-hours each, compared to the 35,000 man-hours of the Ukuru’s and the 57,000 man-hours of the Mikura’s.

The design work for the D Type ships started in March 1943, at the same time as for the Ukuru class. They were built concurrently with the Ukuru class and the C Type-class. The D Type were given even numbers while the C Type class were given odd numbers. The D Type were constructed using prefabricated sections that enabled them to be built in as little as three to four months. The lead ship, “No.2” (CD-2) was constructed at Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, laid down on 5 October 1943, launched on 30 December 1943, and completed on 28 February 1944. CD-198 was the fastest build, being constructed in only 74 days; she was laid down on 17 January 1945, and completed on 31 March 1945.

Most of the D Type escorts were assigned to the Escort Fleet. However, they were not able to stop the American submarine offensive. One drawback was they did not have an effective fire-control system. They were equipped only with one height rangefinder for the AA guns and were powerless against an air attack. Despite being simple to construct they however proved themselves very durable for their size. Of the 22 instances of torpedoes striking them, they survived 9 times, with the CD-30 being struck and surviving on two separate occasions. Of the seven occasions when they struck mines, only one sank.

During the war 68 ships were finished out of the 200 planned; 25 were sunk during the war.

Ships lost

    CD-4, commissioned on March 7, 1944. CD-4 was attacked and damaged on July 24, 1945 then again on July 25 before being sunk by carrier aircraft on July 28, 1945.

    CD-6, commissioned on March 15, 1944. CD-6 was Torpedoed and sunk by USS Atule and sunk with all 200 men on August 13, 1945, two days before the end of the war.

    CD-10, commissioned on February 29, 1944. CD-10 was torpedoed and damaged by USS Pargo on June 28, 1944. She was torpedoed and sunk by USS Plaice on September 27, 1944, losing all but 8 men.

    CD-18, commissioned on March 8, 1944. CD-18 was sunk by B-25 bombers on March 29, 1945.

    CD-20, commissioned on March 11, 1944. CD-20 was sunk by US aircraft on December 30, 1944.

    CD-24, commissioned on March 28, 1944. CD-24 was sunk by USS Archerfish on June 28, 1944.

    CD-28, commissioned on May 31, 1944. CD-28 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Blenny on December 14, 1944.

    CD-30, launched on May 10, 1944 and commissioned on July 26, 1944. CD-30 was damaged by a torpedo from USS Bang on September 19, 1944. She was again damaged by a torpedo from USS Puffer on January 10, 1945. She was sunk by British carrier aircraft on July 28, 1945.

    CD-38, commissioned on November 6, 1944. CD-38 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Hardhead on November 11, 1944.

    CD-46, commissioned on October 8, 1944. CD-46 was sunk August 17, 1945 by a mine, two days after the war ended.

    CD-48, commissioned on March 13, 1945. CD-48 survived the war and was ceded to the USSR as a war reparation on August 28, 1947.

    CD-54, commissioned on September 30, 1944. CD-54 was sunk by US TF 38 carrier aircraft on December 15, 1944.

    CD-56, completed on September 27, 1944. CD-56 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Bowfin on February 17, 1945.

    CD-64, commissioned on September 25, 1944. CD-64 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Pipefish on December 3, 1944.

    CD-66, commissioned on September 30, 1944. She was sunk on March 13, 1945 by aircraft.

    CD-68, completed November 20, 1944. She was sunk March 24, 1945 by TF 58 carrier aircraft.

    CD-72, completed on January 31, 1945. CD-72 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Haddo on July 1, 1945.

    CD-74, completed on December 10, 1945. CD-74 was sunk by US TF 38 carrier aircraft on July 14, 1945.

    CD-82, commissioned on December 31, 1944. She was sunk by Soviet aircraft on August 10, 1945.

    CD-84, commissioned on December 31, 1944. CD-84 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Hammerhead on March 29, 1945.

    CD-112, completed on December 8, 1944. CD-112 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Barb on July 18, 1945.

    CD-134, completed on November 11, 1944. She was damaged by US PBMs on March 29, 1945 and was sunk April 6, 1945 by US B-25s.

    CD-138, completed on December 5, 1944. She was sunk by US aircraft on January 2, 1945.

    CD-144, completed November 23, 1944. CD-144 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Besugo on October 24, 1944.

    CD-186, commissioned on February 15, 1945. She was sunk by TF 38 carrier aircraft on April 2, 1945.


    USS Harder was sunk on August 24, 1944 by CD-22.

    USS Scamp was sunk on November 11, 1944 by CD-4.

    USS Swordfish may also have been sunk by CD-4 on January 4, 1945, though evidence is unclear.

    USS Snook was sunk by CD-8, CD-32, and CD-52 with Okinawa on April 9, 1945.

    USS Bonefish was sunk on June 19, 1945 by CD-158 with CD-63, CD-75 and CD-207 and Okinawa.

    USS Salmon was rendered unfit for further service by damage from CD-22 with CD-33 and CD-29 on October 30, 1944.





The Shimushu class escort ships were a class of ships in the service of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.

The Japanese called these ships Kaibōkan, “ocean defence ships”, (Kai = sea, ocean, Bo = defence, Kan = ship), to denote a multi-purpose vessel. They were initially intended for patrol and fishery protection, minesweeping and as convoy escorts. The four ships of the Shimushu class would provide the foundation for the five following classes of 171 Japanese Kaibōkan-type escort ships.

The Shimushu class was initially armed with just twelve depth charges, but this was doubled in May 1942 when their minesweeping gear was removed. The ASW weaponry would later rise to 60 depth charges with an 8 cm trench mortar and six depth charge throwers. The number of AA machine guns was increased to 15.

    Shimushu: Launched, 13 December 1939. Commissioned, 30 June 1940. Ceded to the Soviet Union, 5 July 1947.

    Hachijo: Launched, 10 April 1940. Commissioned, 31 March 1941. Scrapped, 30 April 1948.

    Kunashiri: Launched, 6 May 1940. Commissioned, 3 October 1940. Wrecked, 4 June 1946.

    Ishigaki: Launched, 14 September 1940. Commissioned, 15 February 1941. Torpedoed and sunk by submarine USS Herring on 31 May 1944.

The Etorofu class escort ships were a class of ships in the service of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.

The Japanese called these ships Kaibōkan, “ocean defence ships”, (Kai = sea, ocean, Bō = defence, Kan = ship), to denote a multi-purpose vessel. The fourteen ships of the Etorofu class were a major part of Japan’s escorts from the middle of World War II. They were denoted “Improved Type A” ships, and were the second class of Kaibōkan. The Etorofus, unlike the Shimushu-class, received more emphasis on submarine warfare.

The Etorofu class was initially armed with thirty-six depth charges and would later rise to 60 depth charges with an 8 cm trench mortar and six depth charge throwers. The rise of aircraft also saw the number of AA machine guns increase to 15. They would receive Type 22 and Type 13 radars and Type 93 sonar in 1943-1944.

The ships of the class were the Etorofu, Hirado, Tsushima, Fukue, Matsuwa, Mutsure, Sado, Oki , Manju, Kanju, Iki, Amakusa, Wakamiya, and Kasado.

Eight of the fourteen ships, Hirado, Iki, Amakusa, Kanju, Wakamiya, Sado, Mutsure, and Matsuwa were sunk during the war.

The Mikura class escort ships were a class of ships in the service of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.

The Japanese called these ships Kaibōkan, “ocean defence ships” (Kai = sea, ocean, Bō = defense, Kan = ship), a name used to denote a multi-purpose vessel. The eight ships of the Mikura class served as convoy escorts during World War II. They were denoted “Type B” and were the third class of Kaibokan. The Mikuras, unlike the two preceding Etorofu-class and Shimushu-class, were dedicated to the anti-aircraft and anti-submarine role.

The Mikura class was initially armed with 120 depth charges with six depth charge throwers and would later receive an 8 cm trench mortar. The number of AA machine guns was increased to up to eighteen. They received Type 22 and Type 13 radars, and Type 93 or Type 3 sonar in 1943-1944.

Two ships of the class probably had success against US submarines, with Mikura helping to sink USS Trigger with kaibokans CD-33 and CD-59 on March 28, 1945. Chiburi also helped sink USS Growler with destroyer Shigure and kaibokan CD-19 on 8 November 1944.

    Mikura, constructed at Nihon Kōkan, Tsurumi, laid down on October 1, 1942, launched on July 16, 1943, and commissioned on October 30, 1943. Sunk by torpedoes from the USS Threadfin on March 28, 1945, with all 216 men aboard, after probably helping sink the USS Trigger.

    Miyake, constructed at Nihon Kōkan, Tsurumi, laid down on February 12, 1943, launched on August 30, 1943, and commissioned on November 30, 1943. Miyake was sold for scrap on July 2, 1948.

    Awaji, constructed at Hitachi, Sakurajima, and laid down on June 1, 1943, launched on October 30, 1943, and completed on February 15, 1944. Torpedoed on June 2, 1944 by USS Guitarro with the loss of 76 men.

    Kurahashi, constructed at Nihon Kōkan, Tsurumi, being laid down on June 1, 1943, launched on October 15, 1943 and commissioned on March 10, 1944. On January 16, 1945, Kurahashi was damaged by near misses from TF 38 carrier aircraft that killed 2 and wounded 14. She survived the war and was ceded to the UK as a war reparation on September 14, 1947 and shortly after was sold for scrapping.

    Nomi, constructed at Nihon Kōkan, Tsurumi, being laid down on August 10, 1943, launched on December 3, 1943, and commissioned on March 15, 1944. Sunk on April 14, 1945, by two torpedoes from the USS Tirante, that hit her under her bridge and sank her with the loss of 134 men as she was attacking the submarine.

    Chiburi, constructed at Nihon Kōkan, Tsurumi, laid down on July 20, 1943, launched on November 30, 1943 and commissioned on May 13, 1944. Sunk in an air attack on January 12, 1945, losing 88 men.

    Yashiro, constructed at Hitachi, Sakurajima, laid down on November 18, 1943, launched on February 16, 1944, and commissioned on June 6, 1944. Yashiro survived the war and was ceded to China on August 29, 1947, being renamed Cheng An before being discarded in 1954.

    Kusagaki, constructed at Nihon Kōkan, Tsurumi, laid down on September 7, 1943, launched on January 12, 1944, and commissioned on July 1, 1944. Sunk on August 7, 1944, by torpedoes from USS Guitarro, with the loss of 97 men.

The Ukuru class escort ships were a class of ships in the service of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.

The Japanese called these ships Kaibōkan, “ocean defence ships” (Kai = sea, ocean, Bō = defense, Kan = ship), a name used to denote a multi-purpose vessel. The twenty-nine ships of the Ukuru class were a major part of Japan’s escort force from the middle of World War II. They were denoted “Modified Type B”) ships, and they were the fourth class of Kaibokan.

The Ukurus, like the Mikura-class, were dedicated to the anti-aircraft and anti-submarine role. The Ukuru class was a further simplification of the Mikura design. The Ukurus were constructed using prefabricated sections that enabled them to be built in as little as four months. Despite being easy to build, they proved quite durable, with 11 occurrences of the class striking mines and only 3 sinking, one of which was after the war. Ikuna survived being torpedoed by the USS Crevalle and striking a mine as well.

The Ukuru class was initially armed with 120 depth charges with 2 Type 94 depth charge projectors, sixteen Type 3 depth charge throwers and two depth charge chutes and would later receive an 8 cm trench mortar. The number of AA machine guns was increased to 16 to 20 25mm. They received Type 22 and Type 13 radars, and Type 93 or Type 3 sonar in 1943-1944.

Okinawa was the most successful ship of the class, helping to sink two US submarines, the USS Snook on April 14, 1945 with the kaibokans CD-8, CD-32, and CD-52; and USS Bonefish on June 19, 1945 with kaibokans CD-63, CD-75, CD-158, and CD-207

There were 29 ships completed of 142 planned.

    Ukuru, constructed at Nihon Kokan, Tsurumi, laid down on October 9, 1943, launched on May 15, 1944, and commissioned on July 31, 1944. Ukuru survived the war and later became a weather survey ship in the Japanese Maritime Transport Bureau before being sold for scrapping on November 24, 1965.

    Hiburi, constructed at Hitachi, Sakurajima, laid down on January 3, 1944, launched on April 10, 1944, and commissioned on June 27, 1944. Hiburi was torpedoed and sunk by the USS Harder on August 22, 1944 with 154 killed and wounded.

    Shonan, constructed at Hitachi, Sakurajima, laid down on February 23, 1944, launched on May 19, 1944, and commissioned on July 13, 1944. Shonan was torpedoed and sunk by the USS Hoe on February 25, 1945 with 198 crew and passengers killed.

    Daito, constructed at Hitachi, Sakurajima, laid down on February 23, 1944, launched on June 24, 1944, and commissioned on August 7, 1944. Daito survived the war, but was lost while minesweeping shortly after the war ended on November 16, 1945.

    Okinawa, constructed at Nihon Kokan, Tsurumi, laid down on December 10, 1943, launched on June 19, 1944, and commissioned on August 16, 1944. Okinawa was damaged by a bomb in an air attack by P-38s while escorting TA no. 2 on November 5, 1944 and damaged by PT boats on November 9 and by aircraft again on November 18, 1944. Okinawa was sunk on July 30, 1945 by aircraft from HMS Formidable.

    Kume, constructed at Hitachi, Sakurajima, laid down on May 26, 1944, launched on August 15, 1944, and commissioned on September 25, 1944. Kume was torpedoed and sunk by the USS Spadefish with the loss of 89 men.

    Ikuna, constructed at Hitachi, Sakurajima, laid down on June 30, 1944, launched on September 4, 1944, and commissioned on October 15, 1944. Ikuna was hit by a torpedo by USS Crevalle and damaged on April 10, 1945. On August 1, she struck a mine and was damaged. Ikuna survived the war and later became a weather survey ship in the Japanese Maritime Transport Bureau before being sold for scrapping on May 25, 1963.

    Shinnan, constructed at Uraga dock, laid down on June 30, 1944, launched on September 4, 1944, and commissioned on October 21, 1944. Shinnan survived the war and later became a weather survey ship in the Japanese Maritime Transport Bureau before being sent to the petrol development agency in October 1967. She was scrapped in 1975.

    Yaku, constructed at Uraga dock, laid down on June 30, 1944, launched on September 4, 1944, and commissioned on October 23, 1944. Yaku was torpedoed and sunk by the USS Hammerhead with the loss of 132 men.

    Aguni, constructed at Nihon Kokan, Tsurumi, laid down on February 15, 1944, launched on September 21, 1944, and commissioned on December 2, 1944. On May 27, 1945, Aguni was damaged by a Bat glide bomb. The bomb’s 1,000-lb warhead exploded off Aguni’s starboard bow demolishing the whole foredeck area ahead of the bridge and killing 33 sailors. After being hit, Aguni’s crew had to cut her anchor chain to free her. Kaibokan CD-12 was dispatched to assist Okinawa in rescuing Aguni’s crew, but despite the heavy damage the kaibokan remains navigable and proceeds stern first to Pusan, Korea on her own power. Aguni survived the war and was sold for scrapping on May 20, 1948.

    Mokuto, constructed at Hitachi, Sakurajima, laid down on November 5, 1944, launched on January 7, 1945, and commissioned on February 19, 1945. On April 4, 1945, Mokuto struck a mine and sank.

    Inagi, constructed at Mitsui, Tamano, laid down on May 15, 1944, launched on September 25, 1944, and commissioned on December 16, 1944. Inagi was bombed and sunk by planes from HMS Formidable on August 9, 1945 with the loss of 29 killed and 35 wounded.

    Uku, constructed at Sasebo Navy Yard, laid down on August 1, 1944, launched on November 12, 1944, and commissioned on December 30, 1944. Uku struck a mine on 9 April, 1945 and was damaged. She survived the war and was ceded to the United States as a war reparation and later scrapped.

    Chikubu, constructed at Uraga dock, laid down on September 8, 1944, launched on November 24, 1944, and commissioned on December 31, 1944. Chikubu survived the war and later became a weather survey ship in the Japanese Maritime Transport Bureau before being sold for scrapping on October 4, 1962.

    Habushi, constructed at Mitsui, Tamano, laid down on August 20, 1944, launched on November 20, 1944, and commissioned on January 10, 1945. Habushi struck a mine on April 8, 1945 and was damaged. She survived the war and was ceded to the United States as a war reparation and scrapped starting October 17, 1947.

    Sakito, constructed at Hitachi, Sakurajima, laid down on September 7, 1944, launched on November 29, 1944, and commissioned on January 10, 1945. On June 27, 1945, Sakito struck a mine and was damaged. Sakito survived the war and was scrapped on December 1, 1947.

    Kuga, constructed at Sasebo Navy Yard, laid down on August 1, 1944, launched on November 19, 1944, and commissioned on January 25, 1945. Kuga struck a mine on June 25, 1945 and was damaged. She survived the war and was scrapped on June 30, 1947.

    Ojika, constructed at Mitsui, Tamano, laid down on September 7, 1944, launched on December 30, 1944, and commissioned on February 21, 1945. Ojika was torpedoed and sunk by the USS Springer on June 2, 1945.

    Kozu, constructed at Uraga dock, laid down on October 20, 1944, launched on December 31, 1944, and commissioned on February 7, 1945. She survived the war and was ceded to the Soviet Union as a war reparation on August 28, 1947.

    Kanawa, constructed at Mitsui, Tamano, laid down on November 15, 1944, and commissioned on March 25, 1945. Kanawa survived the war and was ceded to the UK as a war reparation and scrapped on August 14, 1947.

    Shiga, constructed at Sasebo Navy Yard, laid down on November 25, 1944, launched on February 9, 1945, and commissioned on March 20, 1945. Shiga survived the war and later became a weather survey ship in the Japanese Maritime Transport Bureau before being discarded on May 6, 1964. Her hull became the pavilion for Maritime Amusement Park in Chiba City, but her hull deteriorated because of poor maintenance and was dismantled and scrapped in 1998.[3]

    Amami, constructed at Nihon Kokan, Tsurumi, laid down on February 14, 1944, launched on November 30, 1944, and commissioned on April 8, 1945. Amami survived the war and was ceded to the UK as a war reparation and scrapped on December 20, 1947.

    Hodaka, constructed at Uraga dock, laid down on November 27, 1944, launched on January 28, 1945, and commissioned on March 30, 1945. She survived the war and was ceded to the United States as a war reparation and scrapped starting March 1, 1948.

    Habuto, constructed at Hitachi, Sakurajima, laid down on December 3, 1944, launched on February 28, 1945, and commissioned on April 7, 1945. Habuto struck a mine on June 6, 1945 and was damaged. She struck a second mine on June 10, 1945 and was again damaged. She survived the war and was ceded to the UK as a war reparation and scrapped on July 16, 1947.

    Iwo, constructed at Maizuru Navy Yard, laid down on November 25, 1944, launched on February 12, 1945, and commissioned on March 24, 1945. Iwo struck a mine on June 13, 1945 and was damaged. She was damaged lightly in an air attack by planes from the USS Shangri-La, losing 4 killed and 61 wounded. She survived the war and was scrapped starting July 2, 1948.

    Takane, constructed at Mitsui, Tamano, laid down on December 15, 1944, launched on February 13, 1945, and commissioned on April 26, 1945. Takane survived the war and was scrapped starting November 27, 1947.

    Ikara, constructed at Uraga dock, laid down on December 26, 1944, launched on February 22, 1945, and commissioned on April 30, 1945. On August 9, 1945, Ikara struck a mine and sank.

    Shisaka, constructed at Hitachi, Sakurajima, laid down on August 21, 1944, launched on October 31, 1944, and commissioned on December 15, 1944. She survived the war and was ceded to the China and later the Peoples Republic of China as a war reparation and was later demilitarized in 1955.

    Ikuno, constructed at Uraga dock, laid down on January 3, 1945, launched on March 11, 1945, and commissioned on July 17, 1945. She survived the war and was ceded to the Soviet Union as a war reparation on July 29, 1947.






Battle of Slim River I


In the battle of Slim River on 7 January 1942, some 30 Japanese tanks and a motorized infantry battalion completed the virtual destruction of the 11th Indian Infantry Division.


Japanese Armor at Slim River

The Japanese used two types of tanks at the Slim River battle. The main medium tank used was the Type 89 I-Go, which was the most common Japanese medium tank throughout the early part of the Pacific war. The light tanks used were Type 95 Ha-Gos, which were encountered by Allied forces throughout the entire war.

The Type 89 I-Go was an older design that was first introduced in 1934. Weighing 15 tons, its armor was only 17mm at its thickest. The tank had a maximum speed of 16 mph, due to its being relatively underpowered. The 57-mm gun was a good infantry support weapon; however, there was no coaxial machine gun – the turret machine gun faced out of the turret rear. In addition, there was a hull machine gun. The Type 89 did carry a large amount of ammunition: 100 57- mm rounds and 2,800 rounds of machine gun ammunition. It was cramped for its crew of five men, and visibility from it was poor. There was no radio to communicate with other vehicles, communication being done by flags or shouted orders. The Type 89 had an unrefueled range of 110 miles.

The Type 95 Ha-Go light tank was a slightly newer design that had some of the same problems of the Type 89 as well as many of its own. The 7.4-ton tank had even thinner armor than the Type 89 (16mm). It was faster than the Type 89 and could achieve its maximum speed of 28 mph. It was armed with a 37-mm gun, as well as two machine guns in a similar arrangement to the Type 89. However, the three-man crew could not operate all the weapons at once. The commander was particularly overtaxed, having to load and fire the main gun or turret machine gun, as well as command the tank. The Type 95 also had an operational radius of about 130 miles.

The Battle

“On this first day of the new year, I breathe the air of the South,” Tomoyuki Yamashita wrote in his diary as the pivotal year of 1942 opened on an IJA in motion across Southeast Asia. “I was up at 5 am and it was already hot. I must put away recollections of the past. My duty is half done, although success is still a problem. The future of my country is now as safe as if we were based on a great mountain. However, I would like to achieve my plan without killing too many of the enemy.”

Writing of the Japanese tactical plan in the Malay Peninsula as 1942 began, Masanobu Tsuji could have been speaking of the Japanese strategic perspective on the entire operation from Sumatra to Luzon when he observed that “the 5th Division pushed southward as fast as possible in order to give the enemy no time to develop new defensive positions.”

However, on New Year’s Eve, it was Tsuji who was scrambling for a defensive position. As the bridge work on the Perak River was ongoing, the spearhead of Japanese 5th Division infantry troops, specifically Major General Saubro Kawamura’s 9th Brigade, including the 41st Infantry Regiment, continued cycling southward on the highway. They had penetrated another 40 miles southward toward the capital of British Malaya at Kuala Lumpur, and had reached a point north of the city of Kampar by December 30. Tsuji and a couple of aides had “requisitioned” an automobile in Ipoh and had decided to drive south “to share a glass of wine with the troops in the line to celebrate the New Year on the battlefield.”

As they approached Kampar, they came under fire from British artillery in the surrounding hills. The 11th Indian Infantry Division, temporarily commanded by Major General Archie Paris (of the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade), had chosen Kampar to erect the sort of defensive barrier the defenders should probably have established on the Perak. Tsuji arrived just as the battle was being joined, and apparently he left shortly thereafter, as Kawamura’s troops undertook a bloody fixed battle that halted the Japanese advance for four days.

At exactly the same time that the battle of Kampar was taking place, Tsuji’s boss, General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the commander of the 25th Army, was implementing a daring tactical move with which his planning officer, Tsuji, fervently disagreed. Indeed, it would result in a brief tantrum of gekokujo from Tsuji that threatened to mar the amazing precision and achievement of the operation thus far.

Yamashita’s plan – brilliant in retrospect as are all unorthodox plans that succeed – was to circle behind the British defenses. This plan, conceived before the battle of Kampar, was to outflank Archie Paris’s 11th Division line, which ran for roughly 30 miles, from Kampar to Telok Anson (now Teluk Intan), where the meandering Perak River flows into the Straits of Malacca. Using the motorized landing boats from the Singora landings that had been brought up for the Perak River crossing, as well as others captured along the way, Yamashita would land 1,500 men, mainly from the 5th Division’s 11th Regiment, behind the enemy’s lines, south of the mouth of the Perak.

Tsuji complained that he was sure the men would be intercepted by British air or naval assets, and not only the men, but vessels necessary for the eventual landings on Singapore’s fortress island, would be lost. In his memoirs, Tsuji writes dramatically that as he watched the regimental commander walk away to undertake the operation, “I could see the shadow of death on his back.”

The contingent put to sea late on December 30 from Lumut, and landed on January 4 near Sungkai. While en route, they were strafed once, but only once, by British aircraft. Realizing that they were sitting ducks for a determined air attack, they expected to be finished off at any moment, but the British never returned. The “shadow of death” that Tsuji had seen was merely an apparition. Yamashita’s plan worked.

In the meantime, Kawamura’s spearhead, reinforced by replacements rushing south from the Perak River crossing, were able to claw their way through the 11th Indian Division positions in Kampar and the surrounding hills. The 11th suffered severe casualties in the battle, but Japanese 5th Army’s 41st Infantry Regiment, which bore the brunt of the unexpectedly difficult fight, had to be withdrawn from combat to regroup.

Despite the damage inflicted to the Japanese at Kampar, this battle had been conceived as a delaying action, not as a counterattack, and in the aftermath, the British executed a further withdrawal, this time to the town of Slim River (now Sungai Slim), near the river of the same name. Meanwhile, any small measure of satisfaction that might have been gained from the successful holding action was offset for the British by the discovery of Japanese troops in their rear along the coast. This only served to hasten the withdrawal and add to the confusion.

By January 5th, 1942, the British were in full retreat from northern Malaya. They had suffered through a month of disastrous engagements, forced out of position after position by Japanese envelopments. On more than one occasion, the road bound British units had to attack through Japanese roadblocks to be able to retreat. This unbroken string of disasters had left its mark on all the British units engaged, particularly the 11th Indian Division, which had done much of the fighting. The men who were to occupy the defenses at Slim River were punch-drunk with fatigue and suffering the low morale of constant defeat.

The Japanese, on the other hand, were on a roll. Although fewer in aggregate numbers, they were able to more effectively mass their combat power along the maneuver corridors. Their tactics were simple but effective. Their advance guard, a reinforced battalion of combined arms elements, including infantry (often mounted on bicycles), armor, and engineers would advance down the maneuver corridor until they made contact. If not able to immediately fight through, the Japanese would launch battalion- or regimental-sized infantry envelopments to get behind the British positions, cut their lines of communications, and attack them on their unprotected flanks. The key to the Japanese success was their ability to sustain momentum and keep the pressure on the British.

By January 4th, the 12th and 28th Brigades of the 11th Indian Division moved into positions forward of Trolak and extending in depth back to the vicinity of the Slim River bridge. The division commander, General Paris, hoped to forestall the previous effects of shallow Japanese envelopments by lacing his troops in depth. To quote him:

“In this country, there is one and only one tactical feature that matters – the roads. I am sure the answer is to hold the roads in real depth.”

This statement is not as unreasonable as it may first appear.

Although the Japanese logistical tail was considerably shorter than that of the British, it still had to use the road system to sustain its force. General Paris reasoned that any Japanese attempt to conduct a short envelopment through the jungle, as previously experienced, could be counterattacked by the brigade in depth. The maneuver corridor did not present much more than a single battalion’s frontage, even considering outposts and security elements placed up to a kilometer into the jungle on either side. Instead of trying to extend their forces into the bush to confront the Japanese while they were infiltrating, the British would commit reserves to counterattack them when they appeared. This would keep their forces mobile along the road system.

The 12th Brigade took up forward positions with its battalions arrayed in depth, beginning in the vicinity of mile post 60 and extending back to mile post 64 (see map, following page). Two battalions of the Indian Army occupied the forward positions; the 4/19th Hyderabad occupied the initial outpost position and the 5/2nd Punjabi occupied the main defense about a mile back.

A third British battalion, the Argyl and Sutherland Highlanders, was positioned in the vicinity of Trolak village, where the jungle began to open out onto an estate road. The brigade reserve, the 5/14th Punjabis, was positioned at Kampong Slim with the mission of being prepared to move to a blocking position one mile south of Trolak near mile post 65. The 28th Brigade’s positions were south of the 12th along the maneuver corridor, and were arrayed as single battalions in depth, much like the 12th Brigade. However, on the early morning of January 7th, the brigade had still not occupied the positions, having been instructed by General Paris to rest and reorganize. The British infantry units had 12.7-mm antitank rifles and 40-mm antitank guns. The AT rifles were only marginally effective. The AT guns would penetrate any Japanese tank with ease.

A key to the defensive scheme would be the defenses and obstacles along the main road. The British should have had enough time to construct defenses that would have precluded a quick Japanese breakthrough. The British were also in the process of preparing to demolish numerous bridges along the main road. However, several factors were to conspire against them.

The first factor was fatigue. Their forces were tired, to the point where they didn’t do a good terrain analysis when setting in their defense. There were many sections of the old highway running parallel to the newer sections that had been straightened. These old sections ran beside the main road through the jungle and were excellent avenues of approach. There were also numerous side roads through the rubber plantations, and many of these roads were overlooked. Others were noted, but did not have sufficient forces allocated to them.

Secondly, the British units had all suffered numerous casualties. Many of their formations were under new and more junior leadership. These leaders were trying to cope with the monumental task of reorganizing their stricken units while conducting defensive preparations, and they were suffering from fatigue as much as (if not more so) than their troops.

Another critical British deficiency was communications equipment. The 11th Indian Division had lost a great deal of its signal equipment in the month-long retreat prior to the Slim River battle. As a result, there was not sufficient communications equipment to lay commo wire between the brigades. This lack of communications, combined with fatigue, also prevented the British artillery from laying in and registering its batteries to support the infantry positions. Lastly, the Japanese had complete mastery of the air. This precluded the British from moving up their supplies in daylight and severely limited the extent of their defensive preparation.

All of these factors combined to rob the British of their opportunity to build a cohesive defense. They had sufficient barrier material, in the form of mines, concrete blocks, and barbed wire to construct an effective obstacle system in depth, but at the time of the Japanese attack, only a fraction of it had been brought forward. In the location where the Japanese actually broke through, there were only 40 AT mines and a few concrete blocks emplaced when the Japanese attacked.

On the afternoon of the 5th, the British 5/16th (the covering force) withdrew, and soon afterward the advance guard of the Japanese 42nd Regiment, 5th Infantry Division, made contact with the forward elements of the Hyderabad battalion. The Japanese probed the Hyderabads’ forward positions and were repulsed. The Japanese advanced guard commander, Colonel Ando, decided to wait for tanks and other supporting troops. The 6th of January was spent by the Japanese reconnoitering the British defenses and preparing for their usual infiltration along the British flanks.

Major Shimada, the commander of the Japanese tank unit attached to the 42nd Infantry (a company plus of 17 medium and 3 light tanks from the organic tank battalion of the Japanese 5th Infantry Division) implored Colonel Ando to be allowed to attack straight down the road. Ando was at first skeptical, but finally acquiesced, reasoning that if the tank attack failed, the infiltration could still continue. The Japanese tank company, with an attached infantry company and engineer platoon in trucks, was set to begin the assault at 0330 the next morning.

The Japanese attack began with artillery and mortar concentrations falling on the 4/19th Hyderabad’s forward positions, while at the same time infantry units assaulted the forward positions of the Hyderabads, and engineers cleared the first antitank obstacles along the road. At approximately 0400, the Japanese armored column started forward, crewmembers initially ground-guiding their vehicles through the British obstacle.

The Hyderabads had no antitank guns, but did manage to call artillery fire on the Japanese, which knocked out one tank. The rest of the Japanese column swept through the breach and continued down the road to the next battalion position. Behind them, the remainder of the 3rd Battalion, 42nd Infantry, completed the destruction of the Hyderabad battalion, leaving only disorganized and bypassed elements to be mopped up later.

The Japanese column moved on. By 0430, it had reached the main defensive belt of the 5/2nd Punjabi battalion. The lead tank hit a mine and was disabled, and the remainder of the column stacked up behind the disabled vehicle almost bumper to bumper. The Punjabis attempted to knock out the Japanese tanks with Molotov cocktails and 12.7-mm antitank rifles, but were largely stopped by a heavy volume of fire from the Japanese tanks and infan try. At this point, the Japanese found one of the unguarded loop roads that paralleled the main road and took it, bypassing the Punjabi defenses and taking them in the flank. The Punjabis’ defense collapsed into a series of small units fighting where they stood or trying to escape. The Japanese armor continued on, leaving the tireless 3d Battalion, 42nd Infantry, and other elements of the Japanese advance guard to complete the destruction of the Punjabis.

Unfortunately for the British, this was the last prepared defensive position facing the Japanese. The Punjabis had emplaced only a single small minefield. In spite of this, they somehow managed to hold the Japanese for almost an hour, taking heavy casualties from the tanks’ fire, before the Japanese found another loop road and were off again. It was about 0600; the Japanese were exploiting like broken-field runners. Almost 1,000 British and Indian soldiers were dead, prisoners or fugitives in small groups heading south along the edge of the jungle.