Early Royal Navy Cruisers

Cruisers evolved from the frigates of the nineteenth century and were broadly defined as ships capable of independent operations on distant stations, able to fight any opponent other than a capital ship, and adaptable to a wide variety of tasks. They had the fuel stowage and workshops to enable them to undertake long periods without support from depot ships or bases. After 1890 cruisers were reclassified according to a system in which First Class ships had 9.2-inch guns and were capable of acting as a fast squadron of the battle fleet, although not of engaging battleships independently. Second Class ships had 6-inch guns; Third Class ships had lesser guns and were not expected to work with the fleet. They were spread throughout the British Empire to protect trade and British interests. All sailors were given military training and, as well as landing Royal Marines, cruisers were expected to be able to land a company of ‘bluejackets’, usually stokers, for operations on land when required. Some of the lighter ship’s guns were designed to be dismounted and fitted on wheeled carriages for operations ashore, the origin of the Field Gun Competition which is still familiar in military tournaments. The ability of cruisers to spread their influence from the sea onto the land in this manner may have given the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, the germ of the idea to form a Royal Naval Division for operations on land in 1914.

By 1905 the large, protected cruisers of the old first class were reduced to reserve, their role being taken over in the next decade by battlecruisers. Ships that survived after 1914 were used for subsidiary duties, dispersed to remote stations where they were unlikely to see action, or expended as block-ships. Admiral Fisher had originally no intention of including cruisers in his modernised fleet but experience showed that battlecruisers on their own were too expensive to provide a large fleet with all the reconnaissance it needed and, at the other end of the spectrum, as a cruiser-substitute the large destroyer Swift proved to be a disappointment in service. In response, a series of fast, light cruisers were built, starting with the Bristol class of five ships completed in 1910. In 1911 the old system of classification was discontinued, the larger armoured ships becoming known simply as cruisers, and the new ships, all of which were named after cities and towns, as light cruisers. Steady evolution of the design brought a series of classes after Bristol, including the Weymouth, Chatham and Birmingham classes. Three ships of the Chatham class were built for the Royal Australian Navy, two of which, Melbourne and Sydney, served with the Grand Fleet. By 1918 town names were replaced by classes of ships with names which began with the same letter of the alphabet; first the ‘C’s and then the ‘D’s and further construction evolved through the Caroline, Cambrian and Centaur classes. Light cruisers bore the brunt of fighting in the North Sea, and many continued in service after 1919.

Gibraltar was laid down in 1889 and this highly detailed 1/48 scale model was made by her builder, William Beardmore of Dalmuir on the Clyde. She was one of nine First Class protected cruisers of the Edgar class; well-liked ships with an armament of two 9.2-inch and ten 6-inch guns. She had triple-expansion steam engines driving two shafts and four double-ended, coal-fired boilers. Top speed was 19 knots and the whole class had a reputation for being mechanically reliable in service. One of Gibraltar’s sister-ships steamed at 18 knots – effectively full speed – for 48 hours. She had four submerged 18-inch torpedo tubes with a number of reloads and a 5-inch armoured deck.

Like all builder’s models, this one shows considerable detail. The single 9.2-inch guns are visible fore and aft with the 6-inch guns distributed around the central superstructure. Boats are stowed inboard and on davits with derricks rigged to work the former; all fittings are gold- and silver-plated so that they stand out against their backgrounds. The large number of ventilators visible around the funnels were there to draw air into the boilers. The hull below the real ship’s waterline was sheathed in copper as an antifouling measure and this is accurately represented on the model.

Like her sister-ships, Gibraltar spent her early life deployed outside the UK, in the Mediterranean, South Atlantic and the America and West Indies Stations between 1894 and 1906. Reduced to a nucleus ship’s company in Devonport, she was brought forward to escort the new destroyers Parramatta and Yarra to Australia in 1910/11. By 1914 she was in use as a depot ship for the anti-submarine school at Portland but on the outbreak of war she joined the 10th Cruiser Squadron which formed the Northern Patrol, guarding the northern entrances to the North Sea to prevent German shipping from evading the British blockade. When armed merchant cruisers more suited to the task became available in 1915, she was disarmed and used as a depot ship for the Northern Patrol, based in the Shetland Islands until 1918. In 1919 she returned to the anti-submarine school as a depot ship until 1922 when she was withdrawn from service and scrapped.


Earlier RN cruisers had relied on a protective armoured deck for defence against shellfire (and hence were usually classified as ‘protected cruisers’), but the advent of face-hardened steel armour in the mid-1890s allowed a comparatively large area of the hull sides to be armoured as well; the new ships with this form of protection were known as armoured cruisers. The first of these were the six 12,000-ton Cressy class ordered in 1898.

By the outbreak of war in August 1914 they were obsolescent, but five of class formed the 7th Cruiser Squadron. The following month three of them, the Cressy, Aboukir and Hogue, were being used to patrol an area of the southern North Sea known as the ‘Broad Fourteens’ off the Dutch coast. They were intended to provide distant cover for the movement of troops to France but were themselves exposed by the lack of immediate cover by capital ships, and rough weather in the previous days had prevented them from having any destroyer escort. By dawn on 22 September the weather had abated and the ships were cruising slowly in company without taking any evasive measures. At 0630 Aboukir was hit by a torpedo from U 9 and began to sink. Thinking that she had struck a mine, Hogue closed her to pick up survivors and was, in turn, torpedoed by U 9. Seeing both her sister-ships sinking, Cressy stopped among the survivors. By then U 9 had surfaced and Cressy opened fire on her before she, too, was torpedoed and sunk. Between them, the three cruisers lost 1449 men; among them were many from an entire term of Dartmouth cadets that had been embarked to gain sea experience. This incident taught the Royal Navy hard lessons about the new technology and tactics required in naval warfare.

This finely-detailed waterline model from the Imperial War Museum’s collection depicts Cressy, the name ship of a class of six armoured cruisers. She was built by Fairfield at Govan and completed in 1901. The design was based on the earlier Diadem class protected cruisers, but with two single 9.2-inch guns replacing four of the earlier ship’s sixteen 6-inch guns. Her forward and after secondary 6-inch guns were mounted in the same unsatisfactory double-tiered casemates, with the lower guns difficult, if not impossible, to use in rough seas. The guns mounted between them, although not double-tiered were also too close to the waterline. This 1/192 scale model was made by Julian Glossop and shows the ship as she appeared in 1914. Rigging and boats are well formed with larger boats stowed on deck aft of the after funnel below the derrick used to launch them. Two boats are suspended from davits and the forward one is a sea-boat with white painted gripes holding it firmly in place. The forward boat boom can be seen in its stowed position just aft of the forward, lower 6-inch casemate.

The Drake class was a logical development of the earlier Cressy class armoured cruisers with improved machinery making them among the world’s fastest major warships at the time of their completion (some exceeded their design speed of 23 knots on trials). Referred to by Lord Goschen, the First Lord of the Admiralty, as ‘mighty cruisers’, they were also unusual for their time in being able to steam for long distances at high speed. In terms of armament they showed less progress, however, with their secondary 6-inch guns mounted one above the other in four double casemates on each side of the hull. The lower guns were close to the waterline and proved to be impossible to work in rough weather. They had an armoured belt along the side of the hull which was 6 inches at its thickest point, tapering to 3 inches at either end with a full armoured deck 3 inches thick at the centre, tapering to 1 inch at the bow and stern. As a type, however, they were soon rendered obsolescent by battlecruisers.

Leviathan was one of the four ships of the Drake class that formed part of the 1898 Construction Programme and this 1/48 model was made by her builder, John Brown of Clydebank. It is exceptionally well detailed and many of its finer points are beautiful little models in their own right. It shows her as she appeared when completed in 1903, shortly before the Royal Navy adopted a grey paint scheme for ships on the Home Station.

Leviathan: the lower 6-inch guns in their double casements stand out clearly, as does the fully-detailed rigging. Anchors, cables, boats and the bridge are all finely detailed. The bridge wings were intended both to give the captain a good view over the side when coming alongside in harbour and space for signalmen to work at flag-hoists, semaphore and the use of the signal lamps at the outer edge while at sea. The enclosed bridge contains a ship’s wheel and compass binnacle, features that are replicated in the secondary conning position aft of the main mast. The three after funnels are lozenge-shaped and the forward one is circular, indicating the differing number of boilers connected to it. Seventeen boats are stowed on deck or suspended from davits; three of the boats stowed aft of the funnels are steam pinnaces, each capable of being armed with quick-firing guns and torpedoes in their own right to attack enemy vessels in harbour. Mechanical semaphore arms are located in the bridge wing and at the top of the main mast; other details include hose reels, winches and a number of small guns. The whole class, including Leviathan, were intended to be used as cruiser squadron flagships on distant stations and they all had a stern walk right aft, opening out of the admiral’s harbour accommodation.

Leviathan was laid down in 1899 and completed on 3 July 1901. She spent her early years on the Home, Channel, Mediterranean and America and West Indies Stations before becoming the flagship of the Training Squadron in UK waters during 1912. In 1913 she was reduced to a lower degree of readiness and formed part of the 6th Cruiser Squadron in the Third, or Reserve, Fleet. In 1914 she was brought out of reserve with other ships of the 6th, but in December she transferred to the 5th Cruiser squadron which formed part of the Grand Fleet. Her gunnery systems were no longer up to the standard required by the principal fleet, however, and in 1915 she became the flagship of the America and West Indies Station where she looked impressive without too much risk of having to fight a superior opponent. In 1918 she joined other ships in escorting Atlantic convoys and in 1919 she was replaced as the flagship on station and returned to the UK where she was paid off and sold for scrap in 1920.

Leviathan’s amidships area showing the wealth of deck detail in this model, especially the boats. Note the stepping rungs on the side of the hull between the casemates to give access from boats alongside; they are very similar to those in Victory built over a century earlier. A number of quick-firing 3-pounders and Maxim machine-guns are fitted on the upper deck to give a ‘last ditch’ defence against small torpedo-craft at close range.

Midship detail showing steam pinnaces stowed to port and cutters to starboard. A whaler is turned inboard on davits and rope falls are stowed realistically on drums, ready for use. Note the derrick attached to the main mast which was used to lower boats into the water and recover them. It was hand operated with seamen pulling on ropes. The white hatches amidships were opened at sea to provide light and ventilation to the engine rooms below. Note also the after, or secondary, compass platform and wheelhouse with wings similar to the primary position forward. The cruciform shape stowed on the wing extremity is a ‘fog-buoy’ towed astern to create a splash at a safe distance on which other ships could keep station in fog.

The secondary or after bridge, with 3-pounders and Maxim machine-guns mounted behind the screen ahead of the after 9.2-inch turret, which has sighting hoods for the layer, trainer and turret captain. The after bridge duplicated much of the equipment on the main bridge, including the semaphore arm and signal lanterns on the bridge wings, the compass platform with its binnacle over the secondary steering position; there is an engine telegraph and revolution telegraph by the wheelhouse. The wheels for the ship’s landing guns are stowed under the bridge wings.

Detail of Leviathan’s main top showing the small aft-facing signal lantern.

Bow detail showing the ram which was thought to be of value as a weapon in the late nineteenth century but of little value at the ranges ships fought at in the First World War. Note the ‘bow-chaser’ 12-pounder guns in their embrasures and the way anchors were stowed before the introduction of stockless anchors in the early twentieth century. Two anchors were fitted on this side (only one to port) and the blanked off apertures led down to the cable locker. If left open at sea, they could allow water to flood the cable locker, which was one good reason for the subsequent adoption of cable led up onto the forecastle from below leading across hardened plates known as ‘Scotchmen’ to stockless anchors in hawsepipes.

Leviathan’s compass platform and wheelhouse seen from the port side. Note the Maxim machine-gun and semaphore arm near the signal lantern and the superbly detailed deck fittings. Note the circular, armoured conning tower below the wheelhouse from which the ship could be fought in action.

The fore funnel showing its bracing wires and the brass sirens with their steam supply pipes fitted to the small platform half way up. The boats suspended from davits, drums of rope and lockers on the upper deck are all beautiful models in their own right.


After 1900, as torpedo boat destroyers developed realistic sea-keeping qualities that enabled them to operate in the open ocean, a new type of cruiser evolved that was intended to locate and shadow the enemy fleet, command and control destroyer flotillas, lead torpedo attacks and back up destroyers with gunfire when they were required to repel an attack by the enemy’s flotillas. Four classes, each of two ships, were built in quick succession from 1904 onwards, comprising vessels that proved to be an evolutionary step between the earlier Third Class cruisers and the subsequent generation of light cruisers. They were known, initially, as scout cruisers. All eight ships were built to broad Admiralty specifications by firms with experience of destroyer construction, but there were significant differences between them.

Forward was built by Fairfield at Govan, laid down on 22 October 1903 and completed in August 1905, and this 1/48 scale full hull model was made by her builder to show the ship in accurate detail as she appeared when she left the yard. She was 379 feet long with a displacement of 2860 tons and she was powered by two-shaft, three-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines with twelve Thornycroft boilers delivering 16,500 horsepower, which gave her a top speed of 25 knots. The boilers were coal-fired and her bunkers had capacity for 500 tons, giving only a limited radius of action, but at the time the destroyers she was intended to lead were not expected to operate far from their bases. She was lightly armoured with a half-inch deck and 2-inch belt abreast the machinery and her armament reflected the requirement to bring a great deal of rapid fire to bear on the enemy in a high-speed, close-quarter melee. For this reason she was initially armed with ten 12-pounder, unshielded, quick-firing guns. She was not intended to fight enemy cruisers but the two 18-inch torpedo tubes on the upper deck aft of the after funnel gave her the ability to engage larger warships or take part in her flotilla’s attacks. The three forward guns are fitted ahead of the bridge, three are on the raised poop, and the others are mounted along the sides of the deck further aft. Boats are rigged to davits and the open bridge has a covered chart table and other navigational equipment. The single pole mast has a high gaff fitted to it from which wireless telegraphy aerials were rigged.

Forward spent her first two years after completion with a nucleus ship’s company in reserve at Portsmouth before becoming leader of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla in the Home Fleet in 1909. In 1910 she was attached to the 4th Destroyer Flotilla at Portsmouth and re-armed with nine 4-inch guns, bringing her into line with the new light cruisers. She was also fitted with a single 3-inch anti-aircraft gun. Later in 1910 she joined the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla at the Nore until the outbreak of war when she joined the 9th Destroyer Flotilla which formed the Shetland Island Patrol. During 1915 she served in the Humber but was considered too slow for work with light cruisers or destroyers on operations in the North Sea and she moved to the Mediterranean Fleet where she remained on escort duties until 1918 when she returned to the Nore to pay off. She was sold for scrap in 1921.


By 1909 the older, small cruisers and the newer scout cruisers had evolved into the light cruiser, one of the most prominent warship types used in the First World War. This was a return to traditional cruiser requirements, in between the extremes of armoured cruisers (in effect second class battleships) and the ‘scouts’, which were little more than destroyer leaders. Designed to combine speed, protection, firepower and sea-keeping, the new cruisers were built in four incrementally improved groups, all named after towns. The third group was the Chatham class, three ships of which were built for the Royal Navy and a further three for the Royal Australian Navy. One of the latter was HMAS Sydney, superbly represented by this model in the Australian National Maritime Museum.

At 1/100 scale, the model is finely detailed and accurately depicts Sydney as she appeared in service. Displacing 6000 tons deep load, she was armed with eight 6-inch guns in open shields and two submerged 21-inch torpedo tubes on the beam. The guns were disposed with one on the centreline on the forecastle, one on either side of the bridge; one on either side of the third funnel; one on either side at the break of the quarterdeck and one on the centreline of the quarterdeck further aft. With this arrangement only five guns could be fired on either beam and only three directly ahead or astern. She has been fitted with a spotting top on the tripod fore mast, on the roof of which is a director that controlled the fire of all the guns. She has not yet been fitted with the rotatable aircraft-launching platform added forward of the bridge in 1918, however. The absence of scuttles low on the port side amidships shows where the 2-inch armour belt was fitted to the ship’s side and she had a full armoured deck which was 1.5 inches thick over the machinery, tapering to 0.5 of an inch forward and aft. Sydney had four-shaft machinery with Parsons turbines and twelve Yarrow boilers developing 25,000 shaft horsepower, giving her a speed of slightly over 25 knots. The deck is covered with realistic looking wood planking.

Sydney was built by the London and Glasgow Shipbuilding Company at Govan and completed in June 1913. Together with the battlecruiser Australia and her sister-ship Melbourne, she formed part of the first entry of the Royal Australian Navy fleet unit into Sydney harbour in October 1913. She served in the Pacific in 1914, sinking the German cruiser Emden in a famous ‘ship-versus-ship’ action on 9 November 1914. She subsequently joined the America and West Indies Station until 1916 when she joined the 2nd Light Cruiser squadron in the Grand Fleet. In 1919 she returned to Australia and continued in service until May 1928. She was broken up in Cockatoo Island Dockyard in 1929-30 but her tripod fore mast was removed and mounted on Bradley‘s head in Sydney Harbour where it still stands in 2014 as a memorial


The only vessel left afloat that fought at Jutland, and the most important British warship of that era, is the cruiser Caroline, currently at Belfast in the care of the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Fortunately the National Maritime Museum’s collection contains this fine 1/48 scale builder’s model of Caroline, as completed in December 1914, which clearly shows how she was designed for a specific purpose. The flared forecastle and hydrodynamic bow allowed her to use her high speed to drive into a rough sea and the large number of light, quick-firing guns mounted forward were intended to facilitate her role as a ‘ destroyer-killer’, defending the Grand Fleet against enemy torpedo-craft in a close range melee. The small, armoured conning tower just forward of the bridge would have given the captain some protection during such a fight but his situational awareness, viewing the action through the narrow slits, would have been minimal. The high forecastle, breakwater aft of the cable deck and gun shields would have given the forward guns’ crews some protection against the elements but, with ammunition supplied and loaded by hand, serving the guns in any sort of sea state would not have been work for the weak or faint-hearted. The Director of Naval Construction originally thought that these vessels would be too lively to use 6-inch guns effectively but wartime experience proved that the after guns could be used and their heavier weight of shell was more effective against the larger destroyers being built by the Germans. Caroline was re-armed with an all 6-inch main armament in 1916.

Yamato (1941) Part I

IJN Yamato by Chris Flodberg 

The tower carried Type 21 and 22 radar, the main battery range-finder, and Type 98 low-angle fire control director. Uppermost bridge deck is the combat bridge, with compass bridge below. The conning-tower top with its periscopes is just above the 155mm (6.1in) turret.

IJN Yamato as built. The deck plan reveals the distinctive hull shape, reaching maximum beam towards the stern. The ‘wings’ carried Type 96 25mm AA guns in triple mounts.

‘Suicide mission’ On 6 April 1945 it was sent to help repel the American landings on Okinawa in an operation code-named Ten-go, generally considered a large-scale suicide mission. Yamato was to be beached on the island to act as a fixed artillery fortress. With nine escorting craft but no air protection, it was attacked on the 7th, southwest of the Kyushu Islands, by around 400 American bombers and torpedo bombers in three waves. The attacks began at 12:37 and, hit by six bombs and 11 or more torpedoes, Yamato was progressively disabled and partially flooded, with little power and no steering. At 14:23 the ship capsized, one of the two fore magazines exploding at the same time. Around 2055 of the crew were killed or drowned.

The class were to be ‘super-battleships’, bigger, more heavily armed and better-protected than anything else afloat. Intended to enforce Japan’s mastery of the Pacific, they made a minimal contribution to the country’s war effort.

The design of the Yamato class battleships grew out of Japanese resentment at the outcome the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty and the 1930 London Naval Treaty. These negotiations, in which Great Britain accepted parity with the United States, forced Japan to agree to a 5:5:3 ratio in capital ships – three for every five in the Royal and US Navies. When Japan invaded Manchuria, China in 1934, the League of Nations imposed sanctions upon Japan, at which point Japan dropped out of the League and abandoned all naval treaties. Already inferior in numbers, the Imperial Japanese Navy planned to redress the balance with ships more powerful than those of its rivals and likely enemies, so the designs for a new class of battleship that began at this point were unrestricted by any of the previous treaty limitations.

During the years 1934 to 1937 about twenty-four different designs were drawn up. Displacements ranged from 49,000 to 69,000 tons, speeds from 24 to 31 knots, various forms of a combined steam and diesel power plant were considered, and main gun calibres from 16in to 18in. Twin, triple and even quad mounts were proposed for the main armament, in different arrangements, including a layout similar to that of the British battleship Nelson. By late 1935 a design requirement of nine 18in guns in three triple turrets and a top speed of at least 27 knots had been established. The use of diesel engines was dropped from consideration, as the Japanese Navy was having trouble with some of their larger diesel power plants, and the complexity and cost of removing and replacing them in a capital ship would be too high. By early 1937 the final design of this new class of battleship was completely steam powered. The final design was approved in March 1937, but the first vessel, Yamato, could not be laid down until improvements to the yard facilities could be completed. The navy yards were well set up to construct battleships, but not on the scale of these new behemoths. The construction facilities had to be widened, lengthened and the approaches dredged deeper.

The Japanese wanted to keep the construction of this new class of warship a total secret, so there was a complete restriction on photography, as well as the construction of a roof over part of the building slip; there was even a gigantic curtain of rope used to block any view of construction and at Nagasaki a 400-ton camouflage net. These efforts to keep information from the Americans were generally successful, and by 1942, although the US Navy knew of the construction of at least two new battleships, they only had a rough sketch of the vessels. In fact, the US Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence assumed that these vessels were armed with 16in guns and displaced 45,000 tons, and did not know the size of the main guns and the actual displacement of the battleships until after the war.

After the extensive modification to the Kure, Nagasaki, Yokosuka and even the Sasebo naval shipyards, which also included heavy lift equipment for the construction of these massive warships, Yamato’s keel was laid down in the dry dock at the Kure Navy Yard on 4 November 1937.

Prior to this, extensive research was conducted in hull model tank testing to develop the most efficient hull form possible. It was found that the large bulbous bow reduced hull resistance by over 8 per cent, as well as increasing buoyancy forward in heavy seas. It was also discovered that careful streamlining of the propeller shafts and the bilge keel added at least half a knot at full speed. Because of this research Yamato was able to achieve her maximum speed of 27.5 knots and an efficient cruising speed of 16 to 18 knots with only 150,000shp on a vessel displacing over 70,000 tons. Because of the extreme breadth of the hull, Yamato’s draught was only four feet more than other battleships in the Japanese Navy that displaced 30,000 to 40,000 tons less.

Other innovations incorporated in the construction of these warships included the methods of hull plating, using a mixture of lap- and butt-jointed plates. The smoother butt-jointed plating was used fore and aft to reduce frictional resistance in those higher water pressure areas, while the stronger lap-jointed method was used over the central portion of the hull. Extensive use of electric welding, new to shipbuilding at that time, was also made, although more of this assembly technique was used in the construction of the superstructure than in the hull.

Another innovation in the construction of the Yamato was the use of the armour plating as part of the actual hull structure, as opposed to an add-on. This made the armour an integral part of the hull, thereby increasing the strength of the hull as well as reducing the weight of its construction. The weight of Yamato’s armour was the heaviest of any warship ever built, and the ship was divided into the most watertight compartments (1147) of any battleship in history. These features made this class by far the most difficult battleships to sink by bombs and/or torpedoes.

The Musashi’s keel was laid down on the slipway at the Mitsubishi Industries Dock Yard in Nagasaki on 29 March 1938. Later, from May to November of 1939, the boilers, reduction gear and steam turbines were installed into the hull of Yamato. Although the Musashi was laid down five months later than Yamato, her construction was progressing at a faster rate, so that Musashi’s propulsion machinery was installed at approximately the same time as Yamato’s.

In July of 1939 the Mitsubishi Dock Yard also began the construction of a 10,000-ton freighter, the Kashino, which was purpose-built for transporting the massive 18.1in main gun barrels and the associated turrets. These were constructed at the Kure Arsenal and had to be transported by this ship to Nagasaki for installation aboard Musashi. For this role the hull form was unique and unusually broad for a freighter of this size, in order to accommodate the huge barbette and main gun turret assemblies. Kashino was completed in July 1940, after a couple of grounding accidents during her trials delayed her commissioning. This in turn delayed the construction of the Musashi by at least two months. The freighter was then used to transport further mountings to Yokosuka for the third Yamato class battleship.

The keel of this ship was laid down on 4 May 1940 in the dry dock at the Yokosuka Navy Yard. At this time the third member of the Yamato class was not yet named and was known simply as ‘Warship No 110’. She was to be built to a design slightly modified from that of the Yamato and Musashi, with slightly thinner armour, designed to withstand hits from 16in shells, as opposed to 18in shell protection of her sister-ships. Her beam was three feet narrower in an effort to increase her speed and she was to be fitted with the then new 3.9in twin mount AA weapon, as opposed to the 5in twin AA mounts fitted on the Yamato and Musashi.

In an effort to preserve the secrecy surrounding these warships, the mighty Yamato was ‘launched’ with little fanfare (actually floated out of the dry dock at the Kure Navy Yard) on 8 August 1940. Construction of her superstructure began at this point, as did the laying of her wooden decks. For these decks Japanese ‘Hinoki’ cypress was used, a relatively new timber first fitted to the Imperial Japanese Navy flagship Nagato. This wood was laid in smaller 5in widths, compared with the customary 7in wide teak planking fitted on all previous Japanese battleships.

The Musashi was launched on 1 November 1940, setting a record weight for a conventional slipway of 35,737 tons. The fourth and final Yamato class battleship had its keel laid down on 7 November 1940 in the same dry dock in which the Yamato had been built at the Kure Navy Yard. At that time this vessel was known as ‘Warship No 111’, and was to be a duplicate of No 110, a modified Yamato class.

Work was progressing at a steady rate on both the Yamato and the Musashi throughout early 1941. The gigantic size of these two warships was becoming apparent as the superstructures took form. The construction of the main gun turrets had actually started as far back as early 1940, but their complexity meant that they were not ready much before the point of completion of the entire vessel. Yamato had her main gun barrels installed during the months of May to July 1941.

In early October 1941 the Kashino transported the first of the massive 18.1in gun barrels for the second of the class, and thereafter would make regular trips from the Kure Naval Ordnance Arsenal to the Mitsubishi Industries Dock Yard to transport the turret components and the rest of the main gun barrels for the Musashi.

By late October, Yamato was running her trials in the Inland Sea, which went on into November. Numerous short voyages out to the Inland Sea were needed to calibrate and work up all equipment, including weapons, machinery, rangefinders, and many other aspects of this completely new weapons platform. Her final fitting out and adjustments after trials continued into December 1941.

The nine 460mm (18.1in) 45-calibre guns were the heaviest ever used afloat. The triple turrets each weighed 2516 tonnes (2774 tons). Barrel length was 21.13m (69ft 4in), they weighed 162 tonnes (178.6 tons) and had a range of 44km (27.3 miles) at an elevation of 45 degrees. The HE shells weighed 1460kg (3219lb). The secondary armament was 12 155mm (6.1in) guns mounted in four triple turrets and 12 127mm (5in) guns in twin mounts. Building was done on the raft body principle, with the vital areas contained within side armour of 410mm (16in) thickness, tapering towards the bottom to 75mm (2.9in), topped by a 200mm (7.8in) armoured deck and terminated by transverse bulkheads. Only the barbettes, flue gas uptakes and trunks for command systems, all heavily armoured, protruded through the ‘raft’.

Underwater defences

Torpedo protection consisted of a bulkhead and a torpedo bulge with a maximum width of 3m (10ft), and to guard against explosions from below the side armour was continued as a floor 80–50mm (3.15–2in) thick beneath the magazines, with a space of around 4m (13ft 6in) to absorb explosive energy. Altogether there were 1065 watertight compartments below the armoured deck, and 82 above.

Instead of the ‘pagoda’ style superstructure of previous Japanese battleships there was a tall octagonal tower-mast, reaching 28m (92ft) above the waterline, with relatively few external features, though signalling wings were built out at bridge level. Control and chartrooms were arranged round a central armoured cylinder. A 15m (49ft) rangefinder surmounted the tower, with gunnery control centres above and below. The upper bridge extended forwards some 5m (16ft 4in), flanked by triple searchlights on each side.

Kampon line

The hull attained its maximum beam aft of the mid-point, part of the design scheme sometimes referred to as the ‘Kampon line’ and intended to minimise the stresses caused by the ship’s great length and the massive weight of the turrets. Despite its huge dimensions, Yamato was intended to be a fast ship, and at one stage diesel propulsion was proposed for the two outer shafts, with turbines for the inner ones. In the end an all-turbine drive was chosen, as in the original plan.

In Service

The surprise attack on the US Navy at Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy on 7 December 1941 not only caught the Americans off-guard but also the citizens of Japan and the yard workers constructing the Yamato class battleships. Yamato herself was commissioned on 16 December 1941 and became part of the First Battleship Division as third ship, with Nagato (flagship) and Mutsu. They would train together during the remainder of December and on into February 1942. On 12 February Yamato became the Flagship of the Combined Fleet, under the command of Admiral Yamamoto.

During this time work on the Musashi was pushed forward as quickly as possible, and the Mitsubishi Dock Yard assigned more workers to accelerate her construction. In the meantime the IJN was seriously reconsidering the construction of any more battleships. The successful attack upon the US Navy at Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the Royal Navy capital ships HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse dramatically emphasised the increasing potency of air power, and suggested a need for more aircraft carriers. In January 1942, work was ordered to be stopped on Warships No 110 and No 111, the modified Yamato class battleships, until the strategic direction of the IJN could be determined. By February, work resumed, but at a much reduced pace in an effort to finish the hull for No 110 in one year.

The Yamato remained in Japanese waters for the next few months, training her gun crews with particularly thorough drills, made necessary by the characteristics of the new monster 18.1in main armament. These weapons required a new approach to firing because their muzzle blast was so powerful it would shatter anything in its path. Crew members had to take complete cover, anti-aircraft gun mounts had to be covered with blast-proof shields, vents had to be faced away from the direction of discharge, and any optical devices had to be protected. Members of the future crew of her sister-ship Musashi were also aboard for this training.

On its first operational sortie Yamato, as the Imperial Japanese Navy Fleet Flagship, departed Japanese waters with a massive task force bound for Midway Island. The planned assault on that US Navy base was to be the next step in the Japanese advance across the Pacific Ocean, but in the ensuing Battle of Midway the US Navy won a decisive victory over the IJN in what turned out to be a massive duel between aircraft carriers alone. All four of the aircraft carriers in the IJN’s primary strike force were sunk, but the greater loss was that of the air crews from those carriers – a loss that the IJN was never to recover from. The Yamato was with the main invasion force, which turned back after the loss of the aircraft carrier force, and the entire operation was cancelled, with the fleet returning to Japan.

This battle changed the direction of planning within the Imperial Japanese Navy. There was a drastic and immediate need for more aircraft carriers after the traumatic losses at Midway, and it was at this time that the IJN made the decision to convert Warship No 110 to an aircraft carrier. The hull was about 50 per cent complete, with the propulsion machinery installed, which enabled the Yokosuka Navy Yard to make the conversion with less effort. The vessel was then given the name Shinano, but her completion as a carrier was never to be realized, as she was torpedoed by the USN submarine Archerfish on 29 November 1944 while being relocated to avoid destruction from American bombing of the Japanese home islands. At the time the ship’s fitting-out was far from complete, but she remained afloat for seven hours after four torpedo hits, barely assisted by the poorly organised efforts of an inexperienced crew, which must have been attributable to the basically sound underwater protection system. Also during the summer of 1942 the construction of Warship No 111 was halted and the 30 per cent complete hull was scrapped. Another battleship of a modified Yamato design (actually a modified No 110 design), known as Warship No 797, scheduled to start construction in the summer of 1942, was cancelled and was never laid down.

At this time the construction of the Musashi was delayed by at least three months due to the decision to fit her with flagship accommodation. In order to finish fitting her out and to run trials, she had been moved from Nagasaki to Kure. Musashi was commissioned into the IJN on 5 August 1942 and was assigned to Battleship Division One with Yamato, Nagato and Mutsu. However, Musashi remained at Kure for the next five months for additional fitting out and extensive trials and training of her crew in the Inland Sea. In September 1942 Musashi received the IJN Type 21 radar, with its massive antenna atop the main gun director arms. She also received four additional 25mm mounts on her main deck fore and aft of the wing triple 6in secondary turrets, both port and starboard. During this time, in August 1942, the Yamato sailed for the IJN forward base of Truk, in the Caroline Islands, about 1000 miles north of the Solomon Island chain. The Yamato was stationed at Truk with other IJN battleships of the Kongo class, who were very active during this time with the Guadalcanal campaign, but Yamato would remain idle for the next few months.

During the month of December 1942 Musashi exercised in the Inland Sea with the battleships Nagato, Yamashiro and Fuso. When she was finished with her training and post-trial refits, she was transferred to Truk, on 22 January 1943. Admiral Yamamoto then transferred his flag from the Yamato to the Musashi on 11 February 1943, but both battleships remained idle through April and into May 1943, even though the battleships Kongo and Haruna, also based at Truk, were still very active with the Guadalcanal campaign. On 18 April USAAF P-38 fighter aircraft, acting upon code breaking information, intercepted Admiral Yamamoto’s ‘Betty’ bomber transport aircraft and shot it and another down, killing the IJN fleet commander and most of his staff. By early May Admiral Koga had replaced Yamamoto as Fleet Commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy Combined Fleet. Musashi departed Truk bound for Yokosuka on 17 May 1943, eventually making a call at Tokyo, carrying the ashes of Admiral Yamamoto for his state funeral. Yamato had departed Truk one week prior to Musashi, bound for Kure Navy Yard.

In June of 1943, Musashi was cleaned up and prepared for an inspection tour by Navy Yard officials. The Japanese Emperor Hirohito visited the Musashi for a festive dinner and a tour of the entire battleship, including the crew’s quarters and the anti-aircraft defence position on the upper bridge. This was the one and only time the Japanese Emperor visited either one of his two super battleships.

During the month of July 1943 both Yamato and Musashi underwent a refit and upgrade at the Kure Navy Yard. Both battleships were dry-docked for hull cleaning and repainting, and the new paint job was extended to the entire superstructure and armament. Yamato received her first radar system, IJN Type 21, with its massive antenna atop the main director arms. Musashi was fitted with her second radar, the IJN Type 22, on both the port and starboard bridge top. Yamato received four additional 25mm AA mounts on her main deck fore and aft of the wing triple 6in turrets, both port and starboard. By the end of July 1943, with their refits and modifications complete, Musashi departed for Truk, followed by Yamato in mid-August.

On 18 September 1943 American forces attacked the Japanese-held island fortress of Tarawa with carrier-borne aircraft, in what was a prelude to the invasion of that island. In response to this the IJN Combined Fleet sortied from Truk for the Eniwetok atoll. This force included the battleships Yamato and Nagato, two fleet carriers, a light carrier, heavy and light cruisers and destroyers. Musashi, Fuso, Kongo and Haruna remained at Truk in reserve. The operation ended in anti-climax: after not making contact with the US fleet, Yamato and the IJN Fleet returned to Truk by the end of September.

Yamato (1941) Part II

In October the IJN was convinced that an attack by US forces upon Wake Island was imminent. Admiral Koga sortied with Yamato, Musashi, Nagato, Fuso, Kongo, Haruna, two fleet carriers, one light carrier, a large force of heavy and light cruisers and numerous destroyers in an effort to intercept the US fleet. Admiral Koga stationed the Task Force 250nm miles south of Wake Island, but was unable to make contact with the US Navy, and the IJN fleet returned to Truk at the end of October after another unsuccessful attempt to engage the enemy. As it turned out, the American Navy then raided Wake and the Marshall Islands in early November after waiting for the Japanese Navy to retire from the area. Unsuspected by the Japanese, the Americans were intercepting and reading IJN coded transmissions, which made them better able to anticipate most of the moves made by the Japanese Navy.

Yamato departed Truk on 12 December 1943, as the main escort for a force of two fleet carriers, troop transports and destroyers, bound for Yokosuka, Japan. After reaching Japan, Yamato would turn around, and with destroyers, sail back to Truk, herself loaded with troops and supplies. As she was approaching Truk on the return voyage, on 25 December, she was hit by one torpedo from a spread of four from the USN submarine USS Skate. The detonation of this torpedo on Yamato’s starboard side, abreast the No 3 turret, crushed some 30m of her anti-torpedo blister, causing 3000 tons of water to flood into the No 3 turret magazine and into one of the adjacent engine rooms. More importantly, Yamato’s side armour failed due to a flawed joint between the upper and lower belts. Counter-flooding added 2000 tons of water to reduce the list and enable her to continue on to Truk, where she arrived the next day. Yamato underwent emergency repairs at Truk for twelve days in preparation to departing for Kure for more extensive repairs on 10 January 1944. En route, Yamato was spotted by two US Navy submarines, but they were too far away to make a successful attack, and she arrived safely at Kure on 16 January 1944.

Yamato was immediately dry-docked at Kure to repair her failed side belt armour and the torpedo damage, which took until 3 February 1944. Yamato then went to the fitting-out pier for a major refit and modifications. She had both the port and starboard triple 6in secondary gun mounts removed and the superstructure extended outward to accommodate additional AA weapons: six twin 5in DP gun mounts were installed, three port and three starboard, on the new superstructure. Twelve triple 25mm AA mounts were also added, six port and six starboard, as well as two additional 25mm directors, IJN Type 13 radar on the mainmast and Type 22 radar on the port and starboard bridge top. Yamato completed these major alterations in early April 1944, at which time she ran trials in the Inland Sea until late in the month.

During this time Musashi remained at Truk, with other units of the Combined Fleet, until on 4 February 1944 an over-flight by American PB4Y patrol bombers, alerted the IJN that an air raid by US carrier-based planes was imminent. Musashi, along with other warships, departed for Yokosuka, Japan, on 10 February. Truk was then attacked by US carrier aircraft for two days, 17–18 February, in what was one of the most successful carrier operations of the Second World War. The Japanese lost two light cruisers, three destroyers and thirty-five other naval and merchant supply vessels, as well as over 250 aircraft destroyed on the ground. Musashi arrived at Yokosuka on 15 February 1944, loaded troops and supplies and departed for Palau on 24 February, with Admiral Koga aboard.

En route to Palau Musashi and her escorting three destroyers encountered a massive typhoon. Army munitions, fuel and vehicles stowed on the deck of Musashi were washed overboard or jettisoned during this storm. The Japanese Army troops aboard Musashi were crowded below with her crew, which made living conditions extremely difficult. The battleship was forced to slow to 6 knots to allow the three destroyers to keep station with her. After arriving at Palau, 29 February 1944, Musashi remained there until 29 March, when due to the impending American air raids, she departed for the Philippines. Just before, on 28 March, Admiral Koga decided not to travel aboard Musashi, but rather to travel by aircraft to the Philippines.

At almost 6pm on the day Musashi departed Palau, she was hit by a single torpedo, just as she cleared the channel to the open sea. Luckily for her, only this one found its target out of a spread of six fired by the American submarine USS Tunny. The hit, in the port bow, caused 3000 tons of water to flood many forward compartments. She was forced to stop to make emergency repairs, which lasted well into the night, but once the patching-up was deemed adequate, she headed for a new destination, Kure.

Admiral Koga and his staff may have felt lucky to avoid the set-back, and on the night of 31 March 1944 they took off from Palau in a pair of four-engined Kawanishi ‘Emily’ flying boats, bound for the Philippines. However, they ran into a fierce typhoon, both planes going down: only Admiral Koga’s Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Fukudome survived, found at sea days later by the Japanese Army.

When Musashi arrived at Kure on 3 April 1944 she was dry-docked right away to repair the torpedo damage to her hull. It was planned that Musashi was to receive the same major modifications applied to her sister-ship Yamato, but there was a shortage of material and time. Her superstructure was modified in similar fashion to that of Yamato, but she was only to receive temporary 25mm triple AA gun mounts in place of the proposed 5in twin mounts. Additional 25mm gun directors were installed, as well as the IJN Type 13 radar antenna on the mainmast. Musashi ran her post-refit trials from the end of April to early May, and then sailed with six light carriers and destroyers for Okinawa on 10 May 1944.

Yamato had left Kure on 21 April 1944 for Manila in the Philippines with a load of troops and supplies. She would stop there just long enough to disembark the troops and supplies for that base and then departed for Singapore on the 28th. Upon her arrival at Singapore (1 May 1944), Yamato was designated as Flagship of Battleship Division One, Admiral Ugaki transferring from Nagato, which had been temporary flagship while Yamato and Musashi were in Japanese waters. On 11 May Yamato steamed for the IJN anchorage at Tawi Tawi, off the northern coast of Borneo, dividing the Sulu and Celebes Seas, with BatDiv 2 and 3, arriving on 14 May 1944. Meanwhile, Musashi arrived from Okinawa on 16 May, joining BatDiv 1 and Admiral Ozawa’s Mobile Fleet, consisting of BatDiv 1’s Yamato, Musashi and Nagato, BatDiv 2’s Fuso, and BatDiv 3’s Kongo and Haruna. All six of these Japanese battleships participated, with cruisers and destroyers of the Mobile Fleet, in battle exercises and joint gunnery drills in the Sulu Sea during the period of late May and into early June 1944. During one of these gunnery drills Yamato and Musashi shot to a range of 22 miles.

While this was happening the American Navy staged an invasion of the island of Biak, on the north-western coast of New Guinea on 27 May 1944. In response the IJN Mobile Fleet at Tawi Tawi sailed in three groups between 30 May and 11 June. Yamato and Musashi, with cruisers and destroyers, sortied on 10 June, but soon sighted a submarine periscope and in the confusion of wild manoeuvring the two super-battleships almost ran into each other, Musashi coming to a complete stop to avoid colliding with Yamato. This operation was cancelled, and by 17 June Yamato and Musashi had joined with other units of the Mobile Fleet to counter the US Navy’s latest offensive, the invasions of Guam and Saipan in the Mariana Islands. In the opening phase of the resulting Battle of the Philippine Sea the Japanese Navy launched hundreds of carrier-borne aircraft to attack the US Navy invasion fleet, but were utterly destroyed in a one-sided engagement that became known as the ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’. The defeated IJN Mobile Fleet then retired north, first to Okinawa to refuel, then back to various naval bases in Japan, Yamato and Musashi to Kure Navy Yard, arriving on 29 June 1944.

Both super-battleships received a refit while at Kure during this time. They were fitted with five triple and five single 25mm AA open mounts on the main deck at the fore and aft ends of the superstructure. It was known that Yamato had some of, or possibly the entire main deck planking replaced at that time. Both warships would complete this refit about 7 July 1944.

The Mobile Fleet departed Kure for Okinawa on 9 July, Yamato and Musashi steaming in company with Nagato, Kongo, cruisers and destroyers. After refuelling at Okinawa, they split into two groups, with Group A (Yamato, Musashi, cruisers and destroyers) departing Okinawa, 10 July, for the Lingga Roads anchorage, just south of Singapore. En route, Group A then split into two parts with the super-battleships dropping anchor at Lingga and the cruisers and destroyers at Singapore, both arriving on 17 July 1944.

The majority of the Imperial Japanese Navy was concentrated at the Singapore anchorages in an effort to counter the American forces in what the Japanese suspected to be their next assault, the Philippine Islands. Yamato, and Musashi, with Nagato, Kongo and Haruna, all battleships, participated in gunnery drills both day and night, with the addition of radar guided fire-control systems. These battleships and other units of the Imperial Japanese Navy would train, practice and undergo maintenance while based at both the Lingga Roads and Singapore anchorages and naval yard, July through mid-October 1944. Also during this time, both Yamato and Musashi had their main decks painted a very dark grey; the tinting for this paint was the soot from their funnels. During September 1944 Musashi had her vertical surfaces painted a very dark grey from former Royal Navy paint stocks found at Singapore after the British surrender.

On 18 October 1944 Yamato and Musashi, with Nagato, Fuso, Yamashiro, Kongo and Haruna, sailed from the Lingga Roads anchorage for Brunei Bay, on the north-western coast of the island of Borneo, arriving there on 20 October. At Brunei Bay the IJN Fleet refuelled and resupplied for one day and prepared for an operation dubbed ‘Sho-I-Go’ (Victory). They would sortie from Brunei Bay on 22 October in two large task forces, heading for what was to become the largest naval battle of all time – Leyte Gulf.

The massive four-day engagement that is known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf was actually made up of a number of actions that took place within this time frame. The first of these was a small but disastrous engagement for the Japanese Navy usually called the Battle of the Palawan Passage. Under the leadership of Vice Admiral Kurita, Force A, comprising the battleships Yamato (with Admiral Ugaki aboard), Musashi, Nagato, Kongo, Haruna, with cruisers and destroyers, left Brunei Bay and steamed north by north-east along the coast of the island of Palawan, north of Borneo. En route Force A was ambushed by two American fleet submarines, Darter and Dace. At 5:30am on 23 October 1944 each submarine fired a spread of six torpedoes at the oncoming Japanese task force. Vice Admiral Kurita’s flagship was the heavy cruiser Atago, which along with her sister-ship Maya were sunk, while another sister-ship, the Takao, was severely damaged, but managed to limp back to Singapore. Losing three major combatants before engaging the enemy fleet was a serious blow to the IJN, but Vice Admiral Kurita was rescued from the sea by a destroyer and later transferred to the battleship Yamato. The two American submarines waited until nightfall and attempted to move in for the kill on the damaged Takao, but suddenly Darter ran hard aground and became a total loss, although her crew were later rescued by Dace, providing for the Americans a satisfactory conclusion to the Battle of the Palawan Passage.

Force A re-grouped and through the night Vice Admiral Kurita’s reduced but still powerful task force continued on their course towards the Philippine Islands. In the early hours of the morning Force A was headed in a easterly direction, rounding the southern end of the island of Mindoro and proceeding through the Tablas Strait. The new day brought a new battle: at 8:10am on 24 October Yamato spotted three American scout planes at 31 miles distant, shadowing Force A. Musashi was busy for over an hour trying to jam the scout planes’ radio transmissions, but obviously to no avail.

By 10:18am a wave of at least 45 American aircraft was sighted, and at 10:26am Force A opened fire on the approaching aircraft, thus beginning the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea. By 10:45am this first attack was over, the American aircraft having concentrated their attentions on Musashi. Several near miss bombs cause minor leaking in her bow, while another hit atop turret No 1, but with no effect. A torpedo, however, hit Musashi on her star-board side amidships, causing major flooding. The shock from the blast of that torpedo hit also jammed Musashi’s main director. Counter-flooding corrected the list and the super-battleship steamed on with about 3000 tons of water and a 1-degree list to starboard. After a brief lull, at 11:54am Force A detected more aircraft approaching.

By 12:45pm the next wave of American carrier-based aircraft attacked Force A, concentrating upon the capital ships. This group of aircraft was of the same strength as the last, and the mixture of dive and torpedo bombers scored two bomb hits, five near misses and three torpedo hits amidships on the port side on Musashi, as well as two bomb hits on Yamato. Yamato was able to maintain speed and her fighting capability, but Musashi, with severe damage to the AA gun mounts and crews and down six feet by the bow, was slowed to 22 knots. Both of the super-battleships were firing their shotgun-like AA shells at the attacking aircraft from their main armament during these engagements. Aboard Musashi, as one such shell was being loaded into the breech, a bomb fragment somehow found its was down the muzzle of the centre gun of the No 1 main turret and caused the 18.1in AA ammunition to ignite, destroying the interior of the turret and rendering it inoperable. Just as this wave of attacking aircraft departed, another swooped in for a further attack.

At 1:30pm 24 carrier aircraft attacked, again concentrating upon Musashi, then showing visible signs of distress. Although Force A slowed to help Musashi keep up and protect her with the fleet’s AA fire, Musashi received damage from strafing by American fighter aircraft, two bomb hits abreast the No 3 main turret, four bomb hits abreast Nos 1 and 2 main gun turrets, and four torpedo hits on the hull. The first torpedo hit was starboard amidships, the second was on the starboard bow, the third portside abreast No 1 main gun turret and the fourth was portside amidships. Musashi was then down 13 feet by the bow with speed reduced to 19 knots. Yamato received only minor damage during this attack, but once again, it was followed almost immediately by another, this one aimed at Yamato and Nagato.

At this time, 2:15pm, Vice Admiral Kurita ordered Force A to increase speed to 22 knots, leaving Musashi behind. During this fourth attack by American carrier aircraft, Yamato was hit by five bombs, causing major damage and giving the ship a 5-degree list to port. Counter-flooding and damage control reduce the list to less than 1 degree, but she was down at the bow by 2 feet. Nagato received two bomb hits, temporarily slowing her to 20 knots, but she managed repairs and was able to return to the fleet speed of 22 knots. The heavy cruiser Myoko was also hit by a torpedo in the stern and disabled. She would later limp back to Singapore. This attack was over by 2:45pm.

In the meantime Musashi slowed to 8 knots and had dropped far behind Force A, the effects of the serious damage from the numerous attacks escalating all the time. Again, at 2:55pm, yet another wave of American carrier aircraft pounced on the crippled battleship. A force of 69 aircraft pounded the super-battleship in this fifth attack upon Force A. Musashi received four bomb and three more torpedo hits, and numerous near misses during this assault. As the American aircraft left the scene, they reported that the super-battleship was trailing oil, on fire, wreathed in heavy smoke, and dead in the water. Damage to Musashi is difficult to determine at this point. She had received hit after hit, and the number of dead, especially amongst her AA crews, must have been staggering. Nonetheless, her damage control teams – or what was left of them – were able to counter-flood and somewhat control her list. They were able to get the vessel moving once again at 8 knots, although by this stage her bow was almost under water.

But there was no respite: a sixth attack by American aircraft began almost as the previous wave flew off. It seemed like whole wings of US Navy aircraft were circling, waiting for their turn at the struggling giant. The American air crews were amazed that any battleship could withstand this level of punishment, but they pressed home their attacks regardless. The next round began at 3:45pm with another combined dive and torpedo bomber attack, aimed at the Musashi alone. She was hit with ten bombs during this phase, decimating what was left of the AA gun crews. One bomb hit the bridge, killing over 50 crew; another penetrated to the boiler rooms, knocking out two of them. Also during this attack Musashi was struck by as many as nine torpedoes, hitting her on both the port and starboard sides, some in the vicinity of previous hits, the explosions digging deeper into the already ravaged hull. As the last of the American aircraft departed the area at about 4:20pm, they observed a burning, smoking wreck of what used to be one of the most powerful battleships ever constructed, dead in the water, listing at least 9 degrees, with a couple of destroyers moving in to lend assistance.

Musashi took on an 11-degree list to port, but this was partially corrected by counter-flooding, although only for a short time. The flooding by this stage was uncontrollable and progressing at a steady rate. She was able to get underway, at about 5 knots, but soon even this would not be possible. Force A reversed course about 4:30pm and was headed back towards Musashi, but Vice Admiral Kurita soon realized that her situation was hopeless and resumed his original course eastward towards the island of Samar, although he did instruct the heavy cruiser Tone and destroyers to remain with Musashi and lend what assistance they could. The captain of the doomed battleship was then attempting to head north towards the Bondoc Peninsula to beach the ship. The port anchor was let go, anything not bolted down was jettisoned, and even the crew were moved to the starboard side aft, in an attempt to counter the list. Crawling along at 4 to 5 knots, the bow down 26 feet, forecastle awash, the engines finally gave out and she slowed to a stop, still burning in the area of the superstructure. At 7:15pm, when Musashi’s list had increased to 12 degrees to port, the captain gave the order to prepare to abandon ship and for the crew to assemble aft. By 7:30pm, with most of the crew drawn up on the aircraft deck, her list having then reached 30 degrees to port, the captain finally gave the order to abandon ship. Musashi slowly rolled over to port and capsized at 7:36pm, at location 13°07’ North by 122°32’ East, about 2.5 miles south-west of Bondoc Point. Three destroyers rescued about 1379 crew, plus 635 survivors from the heavy cruiser Maya, sunk the day before. Including those lost when the ship went down, casualties totalled about 1023 of the crew.

IJN Yamato by Chris Flodberg

Yamato (1941) Part III

Japanese sources indicate that Musashi was hit by eleven torpedoes and ten bombs, while American records stated that they hit her with twenty torpedoes and seventeen bombs, plus fifteen near misses. In either case, this was a massive amount of punishment that no warship could survive. Approximately 260 US Navy aircraft attacked the IJN surface fleet in this 6-hour running battle across the Sibuyan Sea, during which the Japanese were only able to shoot down 18 American aircraft.

The remains of Force A, with battleships Yamato, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna, cruisers and destroyers proceeded out of the Sibuyan Sea that night, towards the open ocean and the Philippine Sea. Yamato had sustained three bomb hits, but they caused minimal damage. At the time of the sinking of Musashi, Force A was midway down the west coast of the island of Burias, and by 9:00pm they were rounding the northern tip of the island of Ticao and headed south towards the entrance of the San Bernardino Strait. Force A passed through that strait in single file at about midnight.

Yamato, Vice Admiral Kurita’s flagship, then entered the Philippine Sea in the early hours, of 25 October 1944, steaming in a easterly direction. Force A changed course to the south, along the eastern coast of the island of Samar, towards Leyte Gulf and the American invasion force landing there. Kurita’s intention was to attack the American amphibious shipping with his battleships and cruisers.

At 5:23am Yamato’s radar picked up ships further to the south, in the path of Force A’s advance, near the south-eastern end of the island of Samar. By 5:45am Force A sighted ships on the horizon, identified them as six small aircraft carriers, with cruisers and destroyers. Yamato immediately opened fire on these ships, but the remainder of Force A was not able to open fire until they were within range (which was at 5:58am). This was the beginning of what was to be called the Battle off Samar. The actual task force under attack by Force A was six escort carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts, and as Yamato and Force A fired at the American carriers, the US Navy destroyers and DEs put up a smoke screen to help defend their carriers. Yamato launched some of her observation aircraft to help spot her fire upon the US carriers, and about the same time aircraft from the US escort carriers, armed with whatever weapons were to hand, made diversionary attacks on Force A.

About 6:55am American destroyers charged out of the smoke screen towards the Japanese force, launching a torpedo attack. The Japanese battleships concentrated their fire on the threat posed by the American destroyers, while the Japanese cruisers continued to fire at the carriers. The US torpedo attack was partially successful, even though the only hit obtained was on the heavy cruiser Kumano, putting her out of action and forcing her to retire towards the San Bernardino Strait. However, torpedo wakes were spotted by the battleships, causing them to scatter, with Yamato and Nagato turning north in an attempt to outrun them, putting them out of the battle area. Kongo and Haruna remained, but were kept busy dodging torpedo wakes and attacking aircraft. At 7:30am the IJN heavy cruiser Suzuya was hit and disabled by near misses from bombs. Meanwhile, the American escort carriers were able to hide in rain squalls in their area.

The rain squalls came to an end about 8:00am and the Japanese assault on the USN carriers and escorts recommenced. The IJN heavy cruiser Haguro led Chokai, Chikuma and Tone south in an attempt to catch the American escort carriers, while Yamato, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna battled the escorting destroyers. Yamato fired on a charging US destroyer, which disappeared in a cloud of smoke, and Kongo dealt like-wise with another destroyer. The battle-ships then turned their attention to the escort carriers but, of hundreds of rounds expended, only a few hits were obtained. In this one-sided running battle between Japanese big-gun surface ships and the American escort carriers and destroyers, the Americans managed to fend off near-certain annihilation by the sacrifice of the destroyers, which attacked with torpedoes several times, causing the Japanese battle force to scatter and giving the carriers time to escape. The Japanese battleships and cruisers were able to sink only three American destroyers and one escort carrier. The Americans did have the advantage of carrier aircraft to attack the Japanese force, and these caused significant losses, sinking the heavy cruisers Suzuya, Chokai and Chikuma. Vice Admiral Kurita ordered Force A to reverse course several times, which enabled the American escort carriers to escape to the south towards Leyte Gulf. At about 12:30pm American carrier aircraft attacked Force A, which turned north to evade them and retreat. Yamato was undamaged in that engagement, but Nagato was hit by one bomb on the foredeck (with minor damage), Kongo was damaged by several near misses, but Haruna was unscathed. At 4:55pm, Force A was again attacked by US carrier aircraft, but not damaged.

About 9:00pm on 25 October 1944 Vice Admiral Kurita’s fleet, lead by Yamato, entered the San Bernardino Strait, headed west. All that remained of the once powerful Force A were the battleships Yamato, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna, the heavy cruisers Haguro and Tone, and destroyers. During the night, Force A was joined by the badly damaged heavy cruisers Kumano and Myoko as they limped westward, back through the Sibuyan Sea.

Dawn on 26 October 1944 found Kurita headed south through the Tablas Strait, east of the island of Mindoro. At about 8:00am the exhausted Japanese task force was attacked by US Navy carrier aircraft for about one hour. Yamato was hit by two bombs with only minor damage, but the light cruiser Noshiro was sunk. Several other warships were slightly damaged by near misses, but they managed to regroup and continue south. At 10:40am, approximately 30 USAAF B-24 bombers made a high-level attack. No direct hits were scored, but there was damage to Haruna from several near misses. On 27 October in the Palawan Passage the battleships refuelled several destroyers running low on fuel. Also on that day, Force A buried their dead at sea (29 on Yamato), and following day arrived back at Brunei Bay.

Yamato and the other warships refuelled upon their arrival, but were unable to replenish their ammunition until 6 November, when a carrier and light cruiser arrived from Japan carrying those supplies. During that time minor repairs were carried out aboard Yamato and the other warships present. On 8 November the battleships Yamato, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna put to sea for four days to avoid air attacks on Brunei Bay. Battleship Division One was disbanded on the 15th and Yamato became flagship of the IJN Second Fleet.

On 16 November Yamato, in company with Nagato, Kongo, the light cruiser Yahagi and destroyers, sailed from Brunei Bay for Japan, but en route the task force was ambushed by the American submarine Sealion. At 3:00am on 21 November, in the Formosa Strait, the American submarine fired first the six bow tubes, and after turning, the four stern tubes at the IJN task force. Three or four torpedoes struck Kongo and one hit a destroyer, which sank immediately. Kongo sheered out of line and took on a severe list; she eventually sank at about 5:30am, just north of Formosa. Yamato and the rest of the task force safely reached Japan, entering the Kure Navy Yard on 23 November 1944.

Yamato went into the dry dock at the yard two days later for a very much needed repair and refit. Bomb damage to her super-structure and fore deck was repaired and all but two of the single 25mm AA mounts were removed and replaced with nine triple 25mm AA mounts, giving her a final outfit of 152 of these light AA guns. On 23 December Vice Admiral Ito would assume command of the Second Fleet and on 1 January 1945 Yamato, Nagato and Haruna were assigned to the reactivated Battleship Division One, Second Fleet. By 3 January Yamato had been undocked and the repairs and refit were complete by 15 January. She departed Kure for Hashirajima Anchoring Area, located 30–40km south of the naval base at Kure.

On 10 February 1945 BatDiv 1 and the Second Fleet were disbanded and Yamato was assigned to Carrier Division 1. Perhaps indicative of the nervous state of the ship’s crew, on 13 March while still sitting at the Hashirajima Anchorage, Yamato accidentally fired on Japanese aircraft overhead. Four days later she returned to Kure Navy Yard and on the 19th a massive air raid by US Navy carrier aircraft was launched against the yard and the warships in Kure Bay. Yamato steamed out to the Inland Sea and was hit by one small bomb on her superstructure. On 28 March the majority of the fleet, including Yamato, was ordered to Sasebo Navy Yard on the north-western coast of Kyushu, but was recalled the same day as US Navy carrier aircraft raided southern Kyushu. At this point the Imperial Japanese Navy planned to anchor its remaining warships in remote locations to make it more difficult for the Americans to find them.

On 3 April 1945 Admiral Ito received new orders: Yamato, the light cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers were to undertake a ‘Kamikaze’ mission against the American invasion forces attacking Okinawa, a mere 400 miles to the south-west of Kyushu. The next day was spent on AA gunnery practice, and on the 5th a detailed planning meeting took place aboard Yamato for her final mission as flagship of the Surface Special Attack Unit. This mission was named ‘Ten-Ichi-Go’, which translated literally meant ‘Heaven Number One.’ The mission was to steam undetected to the north-west of Okinawa and make a high speed run in on the American invasion forces and destroy as many enemy vessels as possible. At that time, the task force was topped up with almost all the remaining fuel oil the IJN could muster – but not enough for a round trip.

On 6 April 1945 Yamato and the other warships of the Surface Special Attack Unit departed for their final mission, sailing at 3:30pm. The Japanese task force was spotted by the American submarine Threadfin at about 9:30pm, which reported the sighting to the US Navy forward head-quarters on Guam. During the night Yamato and the task force passed the southern end of Kyushu and headed west into the East China Sea. The Japanese task force had some air cover, based on Kyushu, but it was sporadic at best. About 8:30am on the 7th the IJN task force was spotted by an American search aircraft from the carrier Essex, and later by more American aircraft. By 11:30am small groups of aircraft had gathered and were circling above IJN task force, waiting for more to join.

The attack upon Yamato and her task force finally began at around 12:30pm and lasted about twenty minutes. This first wave comprised 280 aircraft from nine US Navy aircraft carriers, and almost immediatel, a destroyer was sunk, while Yamato’s bridge was strafed. She was then hit by two bombs, amidships and on the aftermost secondary 6in turret. Yamato was hit by two more bombs in the same vicinity, causing severe damage to her after superstructure and the 6in magazine, and producing a fierce fire in this area. Torpedoes began to strike the ship from port – a lesson learned by the Americans in their attack upon her sister-ship Musashi was that the massive breadth of the Yamato class battleships required all torpedo hits to be on one side only; hits on the other side merely saved the Japanese crew the task of counter-flooding. In this first wave of attacks Yamato took four torpedo hits on the port side, causing about 3000 tons of flooding, initially resulting a 6-degree list, but soon corrected to about 1 or 2 degrees. At the same time strafing of the superstructure by fighter aircraft also reduced the number of operational 25mm mounts. During this first wave of attacks, the light cruiser Yahagi was hit by one torpedo and went dead in the water.

The second phase began at 1:00pm, and during this attack American bombers launched their torpedoes from many directions, ensuring multiple hits. Yamato was hit by three or four torpedoes to port and one to starboard. The portside hits caused the ship to take on a severe list of 15 to 18 degrees, but the starboard hit in effect produced counter-flooding that reduced the list to 10 degrees. Yamato was in a very poor state by that time, because with a list at 10 degrees or more she could not use her main batteries, which fired special ‘shotgun’ AA rounds, against the swarms of American aircraft. There were several bomb hits, decimating more of the AA gun crews stationed in the open mounts, highlighting one of the shortcomings of the Yamato class design – the AA mounts were grouped so closely together that one large bomb hit knocked out several at a time.

Within 5 or 10 minutes of the second attack ending, at 1:45pm the third wave of US Navy aircraft descended upon the Yamato and the IJN task force. This time Yamato was hit by three large bombs amidships, which blew holes in her main deck and even blasted several of the shielded deck-edge 25mm AA mounts right off the ship and into the ocean. Another bomb hit the foredeck, severing the port anchor chain, with the 15-ton main anchor and chain sinking to the bottom of the sea. There were also numerous near misses that sprang leaks in the hull plating and caused significant interior damage due to concussion. Yamato was hit by four torpedoes during this attack that sealed her fate. Three of them were on the port side, with the fourth on the starboard side. Many of the firerooms and machinery spaces were holed and flooded, reducing Yamato’s speed to a mere 10 knots, running on one shaft. Both the main and the auxiliary rudders were out of action and in a hard-over position to port. She was on fire in the area of the after superstructure and smoking heavily, steaming in a large slow circle, out of control.

In the meantime, the other warships of the IJN Surface Special Attack Unit were taking a beating. The light cruiser Yahagi was already dead in the water from a torpedo hit in the first wave, but was hit by a total of twelve bombs and six additional torpedoes by the end of the third wave of attacks. Yahagi sank rapidly at 2:05pm on 7 April 1945, in position 30°40’ North by 128°03’ East. By the end of the attacks, four of the original eight destroyers in the Surface Special Attack Unit had also been sunk. The first, Asashimo at position 31°00’ North by 128°00’ East, with Hamakaze and Isokaze together at position 30°40’ North by 128°03’ East, very near to the light cruiser Yahagi. The destroyer Kasumi was sunk at 30°57’ North by 127°57’ East. The survivors, the damaged destroyers Suzutsuki Hatsushimo, Yukikaze, and Fuyuzuki, all managed to rescue survivors and return to Japan.

The Yamato, however, was doomed, and the end was near. At about 2:15pm the after magazine temperature warning lights were flashing on the bridge, but that magazine could not be flooded because of the complete loss of power in the battleship by 2:20pm. The list was so severe by then that loose objects and damaged AA gun mounts began to topple into the sea. At 2:23pm Yamato rapidly capsized to port, so much so that many crewmen were still below decks, as there was not an ‘abandon ship’ order given. As the massive and once mighty battleship rolled over to about 120 degrees, her magazines erupted into one of the most massive explosions ever recorded. There was a brilliant flash, followed by a large mushroom cloud of smoke, rising thousands of feet into the air. This was seen as far as 125 miles away. When the smoke cleared, nothing was left. When Yamato set out on this last mission, she had a crew of about 3332 men, of whom only 279 were rescued by the four remaining destroyers. Admiral Ito was not among them. She sank at 30°22’ North by 128°04’ East, in the East China Sea, not half-way to her intended destination.

In total, during all of the attacks over a two-hour period, the Yamato was hit by thirteen torpedoes (eleven to port and one to starboard), eight bombs, and numerous near miss bombs that did great shock damage. The destruction was so massive, and the blows so rapid and repetitive, that the damage-control parties had little chance to counter the flooding. In fact, many of these teams were wiped out by the intense pounding Yamato was taking. Because of the close proximity of the light AA mounts, grouped tightly around the superstructure, bomb hits and strafing were very effective in knocking them out, quickly eroding the ship’s defensive capacity. It was at this time that what was once the third largest navy in the world, steadily decimated throughout the Pacific War, ceased to exist as a viable fighting force. In sharp contrast, the American forces deployed in this attack – approximately 386 carrier-based aircraft of 180 fighters, 75 dive bombers, and 131 torpedo bombers – lost 10 aircraft and 12 air crewmen.

Successful class?

Japan’s most able naval designers, engineer Hiraga and Captain Fujimoto, made major contributions to the design of the class, which was generally recognised as a highly successful and effective one despite going beyond all previous bounds of size. However, none of the Yamato class achieved results comparable to their size, expense and power. Musashi was sunk by aerial bombs and torpedoes. The third ship, Shinano, was converted while building to a carrier. Newly completed, it was sunk by torpedoes from the US submarine Archerfish on 29 November 1944. Construction of the fourth ship, never named (No.111), was suspended in November 1941 when it was about 30 per cent completed, and finally abandoned in September 1942. A fifth had been envisaged but no construction order was placed.


Yamato July 1943 (total: 12 x 5in + 36 x 25mm)

Four 25mm triple open mounts added on weather deck abreast superstructure

Yamato April 1944 (total: 24 x 5in + 98 x 25mm)

Six 5in twin open mounts added on superstructure

Twelve 25mm triple enclosed mounts added on superstructure and weather deck

Twenty-six 25mm single open mounts added on weather deck

Musashi April 1944 (total: 12 x 5in + 115 x 25mm)

Eighteen 25mm triple open mounts added on superstructure and weather deck

Twenty-five 25mm single open mounts added on weather deck

Yamato July 1944 (total: 24 x 5in + 113 x 25mm)

Five 25mm triple open mounts added

Musashi July 1944 (total: 12 x 5in + 130 x 25mm)

Five 25mm triple open mounts on weather deck

Yamato March 1945 (total: 24 x 5in + 152 x 25mm)

Six 25mm triple enclosed mounts added on weather deck

Fifteen 25mm triple open mounts added on superstructure

Twenty-four 25mm single open mounts removed from weather deck

The National Fleets of the Spanish American War

By the end of 1865 the United States had perhaps become the world’s foremost naval power with its unmatched fleet of ar­mored monitors, but after the Civil War had ceased to maintain it. By 1874 the US had sold, dismantled, or retired nearly the en­tire fleet. Some lamented that hardly enough ships remained to defend the coast, let alone America’s growing interests abroad ‑ the US finally came to rank some­where behind Chile and China. In 1874, the first step was taken (by Secretary of the Navy, G. Robeson) to correct the problem. A reconstruction program was begun on the best five Civil War monitors. Officially termed “repair,” the program was partly funded by selling other monitors as scrap. Later, a great scandal developed when Con­gress discovered that the actual purpose of the program was unauthorized new con­struction. The US was not quite ready to return to sea.

During the 1870s Britain and France were the prominent naval powers. Both had world‑wide empires, and for a while they competed ship for ship. Soon, however, French naval thought became dominated by the jeune e’cole (the Young School) which believed the battleship’s usefulness had passed. This school favored heavy gun­boats and torpedo boats for coast defense and cruisers for commerce raiding, a defen­sive attitude that probably was derived from the perception that nearly all major na­val actions took place within sight of land. Interestingly, Britain was not regarded as likely an enemy as Germany, Russia or It­aly. War with the latter countries would be in coastal seas. The greatest appeal of the jeune e’cole was that its fleet and strategy were inexpensive and not technologically vulnerable.

The 1870s and 80s brought rapid tech­nological change. Construction switched from armor covering an entire ship, which had proved too heavy, to an armor belt cov­ering only the ship’s vitals (for example, the engine room and magazines). When armor piercing ammunition was developed, de­signers answered with improved metals and thicker belts. International arms manufac­turers profited immensely and, if the case of Krupp is typical, improved their profits by simultaneously developing the gun that would defeat the new armor they were then selling. Governments probably knew they were being drawn into successive rounds of buying but they emptied their treasuries anyway. In 1898, the best armor used in the US fleet was nickel‑steel hardened by the “Harvey” process.

Another technical improvement of the mid‑1880s was the development of triple and quadruple expansion reciprocating en­gines which dramatically improved steam­ing efficiency. This allowed ship designers to dispense with full sail rigging. Thus, by the 1890s, warships began to display recog­nizably modern lines.

The year 1883 saw pro‑Navy forces fi­nally prevail in Congress and the first US steel warships were approved. These were known as the “ABCD” ships: cruisers At­lanta, Boston, and Chicago and the dispatch boat Dolphin. They formed the White Squadron and showed the flag around the world. The “New Navy” was born. Whereas Americans once led the world in ship design, the design for the New Navy came from Europe. With European technol­ogy came the theories of France’s jeune e’cole and these directed the new construc­tion for the fleet.

The first two battleships, Maine and Texas, were intended as armored cruisers but were upgraded to “second‑class” bat­tleships when heavier guns were installed. The next three battleships (Indiana class) were “seagoing coast‑line battleships de­signed to carry the heaviest armor and most powerful ordinance.” The cruisers Colum­bia, Minneapolis, and Olympia were of a class termed “protected” cruisers and de­signed for “commerce destroying” as were the armored cruisers Brooklyn and New York. Essentially, none of the American ships at the outbreak of the war was de­signed for a general fleet engagement ex­cept in confined coastal waters.

At war’s outbreak the US had four good battleships, one second‑line battleship (having lost Maine), six harbor defense monitors, two armored cruisers, fourteen protected cruisers and about 30 other armed vessels. Anticipating war, the Navy acquired or chartered about 123 other ships. These included former private yachts, harbor tugs, US Coast Guard cut­ters, hospital ships, and a large miscellany of converted freighters. Eleven of the best freighters and liners were armed and given a scouting role as auxiliary cruisers.

Many ships from the merchant marine came complete with crews for temporary federal service. Fortunately, the US had a good reserve of naval manpower. By war’s end the number of seamen in uniform had about doubled to 24,242 officers and men. American crews were efficient, sturdy, well trained, and had high morale. They were not the “300 Swedish sailors” of dubious quality alluded to in one European journal nor the inefficient, polyglot crews referred to in Spanish newspapers, where it was as­sumed US gun crews would desert at the first shot.

Spain, too, was influenced by the jeune e’cole, perhaps more so than the US, as ne­cessitated by a tighter naval budget. De­spite their common frontier, Spain and France did not consider themselves rivals; indeed, a number of Spanish ships were French‑built. The most important of these was Pelayo, Spain’s only battleship. Launched in 1887, she closely followed French naval thought in sacrificing sea en­durance for greater armor protection, much like the various classes of French armored coast defense ships, although it had lighter guns. In the early 1890s, Spain launched its first three armored cruisers, these being patterned after the British Aurora class. In them, Spain had a good, efficient force, but sacrificed firepower and some armor for greater speed and endurance, a classic pattern for commerce raiders.

The Depression of 1893 stopped launchings of all types, but as it waned two more armored cruisers were launched in 1895/96 and another begun. Lack of naval funds prevented these and two protected cruisers (launched 1890/91) from being completed in time for war. However, Spain did complete many units of two important combat classes: torpedo boats and de­stroyers. France’s recognition of the torpe­do’s importance (France built 240 torpedo boats from 1890 to 1907) influenced Spain to build torpedo boats (19, but only 7 were of value in 1898) and arm with torpedoes virtually all its important gunboats and lighter cruisers. Spain took an important lead by building destroyers, a recent British invention for dealing with torpedo boats. She built seven in 1896/1897 and included torpedoes with their armament. The US had constructed no destroyers and only eight torpedo boats.

The Spanish Navy in 1897 had about 15,000 officers and men, of whom about 1,500 were in Cuba and another 1500 in the Far East manning the small gunboats and cruisers on station. The Spanish presumed they could mobilize more from the mer­chant marine to fill out ship’s crews, yet they nearly failed at this. In addition, those personnel present lacked sea experience and gunnery practice.

This inefficiency in personnel was also reflected in the state of its fleet. In January 1898, only four armored cruisers, three de­stroyers, three torpedo boats, and a handful of gunboats were combat ready. Refitting would add one battleship, one armored cruiser, one old ironclad, four destroyers, and a number of merchant ships converted to auxiliary cruisers. Spain had quite a fleet besides these: 6 protected cruisers, 9 small cruisers (more properly classified as gun­boats), 16 gunboats and torpedo gunboats, and 70 very small gunboats (38 being in Cuba and 21 in the Philippines). In all, there were some 140 armed vessels excluding armed merchant ships. In sheer numbers of armed vessels, excluding armed merchant ships, Spain could claim to be nearly the equal to the US.

Realizing that war was fast approach­ing, both navies scrambled to augment their fleets. Spain faced a major problem as so many of its ships required overhauling. In the US, the big monitors required extensive repair and, additionally, it was decided to re­fit the old Jason class Civil War monitors. These measures added some units to both fleets, but the most important pre‑war preparation was the purchase of surplus ships. For both countries, the best market was their domestic merchant marine, but as Spain’s smaller merchant fleet was critical to her economy, she deferred efforts until after the war began.

In the international market, the best source seemed to be Britain. There Spain tried to buy two well‑armed cruisers under construction for Brazil. When the US learned of these negotiations, a special ap­propriation was hurried through Congress for a competitive bid, which won. In April, the completed cruiser Amazonas was brought home. Renamed New Orleans, it joined the fleet armed and ready on May 8th. The second cruiser was still incom­plete and did not join the fleet until well after the war. The US also bought a gunboat from Britain (named Topeka), a torpedo boat from Germany, and, during the war, a num­ber of British merchantmen as colliers and supply vessels. Spain bought three mer­chant ships from Germany and converted them to well‑armed auxiliary cruisers.

Spain and the US also competed for several months to buy the efficient, British ­built armored cruiser O’Higgins from Chile. Spain won the bidding but not until June 25th, well after the Cape Verde Squadron had been trapped, and too late to participate in the war.

As war drew closer, both fleets were assembled. Spain sent Vizcaya to New York on a good‑will tour to offset the Maine at Havana, but her arrival three days after Maine’s destruction only inflamed the US public. Simultaneously, Oquendo arrived in Havana to bolster Spanish morale. She was later joined by Vizcaya, and on April 8th both left to rendezvous with a flotilla of tor­pedo boats and destroyers from the Canar­ies well out in the Atlantic. The unseaworthiness of the fight flotilla obliged the combined force to make for the Cape Verde Islands, the closest port, where they were joined by Colon and Teresa from Spain. Thus, the Spanish fleet was assem­bled. The US recalled its South American Squadron (Cincinnati and two gunboats), two gunboats intended for China, one gun­boat each from Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and Oregon from San Francisco. The voy­age of Oregon around South America is an epic of the US Navy and was later cited as an argument in favor of digging the Panama Canal.


The Barbarigo, seen here in the Garonne estuary returning to Bordeaux after an Atlantic patrol, was the most successful submarine of the Marcello class, sinking seven ships totalling 39,300 grt. With LtCdr. Enzo Grossi in command, the Barbarigo attacked two groups of enemy warships, one off Brazil in May and one off Freetown in October 1942 respectively. Both attacks took place at night, and in each case one US battleship was reported as sunk, thus giving a big boost to Italian wartime propaganda. Actually, the ships attacked by the Barbarigo were much smaller and none was sunk. The two events won LtCdr. Grossi important decorations and awards, but he was stripped of them after the war, sparking numerous controversies which lasted for many years after the end of the Second World War. The Barbarigo was sunk by enemy aircraft in the Bay of Biscay, probably between 17 and 19 June 1943.

Italian submarine of the BETASOM base in the mercantile harbour dry dock, Bordeaux, 1940

Bordeaux Sommergibile — Italian Navy submarine base, set up in August 1940.

BETASOM is an Italian language acronym meaning B Sommergibile or B submarines and it refers to the submarine base established at Bordeaux by the Regia Marina during World War II. From this base, Italian submarines participated in the Battle of the Atlantic, the anti-shipping campaign against Britain.

Axis naval co-operation started after signing the Pact of Steel in June 1939 with meetings in Friedrichshafen and an agreement to exchange technical information. After the Italian entry into the war and the Fall of France, the Italian Navy established a base at Bordeaux, which was within the German occupation zone. The Italians were allocated a sector of the Atlantic south of Lisbon to patrol. The base was opened in August 1940 and the captured French passenger ship De Grasse was used a depot ship. Admiral Perona commanded the base, under control of the German u-boat commander, Doenitz. About 1600 men were based there.

The base could house up to 30 submarines and it had dry docks and two basins connected by locks. Shore barracks accommodated a security guard of 250 men of the San Marco Battalion.

A second base was established at La Pallice to allow submerged training, which was not possible at Bordeaux.

Operational detail

Three Italian submarines patrolled off the Canary Islands and Madeira from June 1940, followed by three more off the Azores. When these patrols were completed the six boats returned to their new base at Bordeaux. Their initial patrol area was the North western Approaches and at the start they out-numbered their German allies’ submarines. Doenitz was pragmatic about the Italians, seeing them as inexperienced but useful for reconnaissance and likely to gain expertise.

He was disappointed. The Italian submarines sighted convoys but lost contact and failed to make effective reports. Even when assigned to weather reporting – critical for the war effort on both sides – they failed to do this competently. Fearing that German operations would be prejudiced, Doenitz reassigned the Italians to the southern area where they could act independently. In this way, about thirty Italian boats achieved some success, without much impact on the critical areas of the campaign.

German assessments were scathing. Doenitz described the Italians as “inadequately disciplined” and “unable to remain calm in the face of the enemy”. When the British tanker British Fame was attacked by the Malaspina, “the officer of the watch and lookouts were on the bridge and the captain was dozing in a deckchair below”. It took five torpedoes to sink the tanker and, at one point, the tanker’s gunfire forced the Malaspina to submerge to safety. The Italians towed the lifeboats to safety, an act worthy of praise, but one against Doenitz’s orders and leaving the submarine open to attack for 24 hours.

Seven Betasom submarines were adapted to carry critical war materiel from the Far East (Bagnolin, Barbarigo, Cappellini, Finzi, Finzi, Giuliani, Tazzoli, Giuliani and Torelli). Two were sunk, two were captured in the Far East by the Germans after the Italian surrender and used by them and a fifth was captured in Bordeaux by the Germans, but not used.

Altogether, thirty-two Italian boats operated in the Atlantic between 1940 and 1943, of which sixteen were lost as shown in the following list:

1940: Tarantini, Faà di Bruno and Nani.

1941: Marcello, Glauco, Bianchi, Baracca, Malaspina, Ferraris, Marconi.

1942: Calvi and Morosini.

1943: Archimede, Tazzoli, Da Vinci and Barbarigo.

Of the sixteen remaining boats, on 8 September 1943 the Cagni was in the southern Indian Ocean, and made for the Allied port of Durban, South Africa; prior to that, other submarines had returned to the Mediterranean and only seven boats were in Bordeaux as of mid-1943: Cappellini, Tazzoli, Giuliani, Barbarigo, Finzi, Bagnolini and Torelli. All were scheduled to be converted into transport submarines to ferry strategic materials to and from the Far East and, in fact, three one-way transport missions were carried out successfully. Tazzoli and Barbarigo were sunk on their first missions, while Cappellini, Giuliani and Torelli managed to reach Singapore between July and August 1943; after the Armistice they were seized by the Japanese, and later handed over to the Kriegsmarine. The Giuliani was lost in 1944, while the Cappellini and Torelli came under Japanese control after May 1945 and were scrapped after the war. The two last transport boats – Bagnolini and Finzi – were being overhauled at Bordeaux when the Armistice was proclaimed, and were thus seized by the Germans. Altogether, the thirty-two submarines of the Regia Marina operating in the Atlantic between 1940 and 1943 sank 101 Allied merchant ships totalling 568,573 grt; an additional four freighters (35,765 grt) were damaged. The most successful submarine was the Da Vinci, with sixteen ships totalling over 120,000 grt, and other boats sank from one to seven ships each; only four submarines (Faà di Bruno, Glauco, Marcello and Velella) sank no ships at all.


The base was bombed by the British on several occasions

After the Italian Armistice in September 1943 the base was seized by the Germans. Some of the Italian personnel joined the Germans independently of the Italian Social Republic.

List of submarines operating from Betasom

All Italian submarines based in the Mediterranean had to transit the Straits of Gibraltar to reach the Atlantic. Twenty eight did this sucessfully, without incident. Another four boats based in Italian East Africa reached the base after the fall of the Colony in 1941.

Transferred from the Mediterranean in 1940






Giuliani (this boat was transferred for a time to Gdynia to train Italian submariners in German Navy techniques)



Da Vinci











Faà di Bruno








The Cagni was transferred in 1942

Transferred from the Red Sea Flotilla





In 1941 it was decided to return some of the boats to the Mediterranean. The Perla, Guglielmotti, Brin, Argo, Velella, Dandolo, Emo, Otaria, Mocenigo, and Veniero Glauco made the passage but Glauco was sunk by the Royal Navy.

Transport Submarines

Hitler asked Admiral Doenitz to find a cheaper solution to the Far East transport problem. Unwilling to remove from the operation theatre some good fighting vessels, Admiral Doenitz turned to Italy and proposed an agreement to Mussolini himself in order to exchange a number of submarines. Seven Italian ocean-going U-boats whose base was at Betasom ( Bordeaux ) were, according to Doenitz, too large and unfit for modern fighting techniques but they could still be converted into cargo ships. Mussolini accepted the proposal and within few months seven Italian vessels were sent to the yards for a total refitting.

In the second half of May 1943, as soon as the hulls had been thoroughly refitted, the first Italian cargo submarine sailed from Bordeaux soon followed by some more, all awaited by a tragic doom. Two of them, in fact, ( the Tazzoli and the Barbarigo ) disappeared in the sea, soon after leaving, probably sunk by allied aero naval forces, while the Giuliani and the Torelli, caught by the armistice of September 8th, when they were still in Malayan port of call, were seized by German naval forces operating in that base.

The apparent misfortune of the Italian submarines gave, however, a good opportunity to the Japanese who could recover from the captured ships 355 tons of strategic materials shipped from Germany, that is 55% of the total cargo. On the contrary the 377 tons of rubber and the 184 tons of pewter which had already been stowed in the holds of the three Italian ships never got to Germany because the Germans didn’t feel like using such worn out means of transport.

Russian Project 1241.2 [Pauk]

The Pauk class is the NATO reporting name for a class of small patrol corvettes built for the Soviet Navy and export customers between 1977 and 1989. The Russian designation is “Project 1241.2” Molniya-2. These ships are designed for coastal patrol and inshore anti-submarine warfare. The design is the patrol version of the Tarantul class corvette which is designated “Project 1241.1” by the Russians, but is slightly longer and has diesel engines. The boats are fitted with a dipping sonar which is also used in Soviet helicopters.

The superstructure the Molniya is divided into 3 levels, 3 different types of radar installation.

First, the upper which has installed fire-control radar for anti-ship missile Garpun-Bal-E (in Project 1241 RE Tarantul, radar is located on the top of the mast), followed by the fire control radar MR-123 Vympel for gunboat AK-176 and rapid firing AK-630 guns, on top of the mast to install the target search radar MR 352 positiv-E (note ship missiles Project 1241 RE Tarantul does not have this type of radar ).

Masts of Project 1241 RE Tarantul circle at an angle to the rear has also mast vertical box Molniya and lower,  the second mast column has installed 2 electronic warfare systems.

Weapons of Molniya more powerful than Tarantul, Molniya is fitted to 16 subsonic anti-ship missile Kh-35 Uran-E (NATO name SS-N-25 Switchblade range of 130 km, which is arranged into four launched two sides clusters with 4 missiles each cluster.

Project 1241.8 Molniya gunboat is equipped with AK-176M 76.2 mm, two rapid fire guns AK-630M, low-to-air missiles, Igla-1M, (with Russian weapons, M is used for a variation undergoing modernization).

Power source system of the two ships are the same are used engine CODOG (combined diesel gas turbines). The displacement of Molniya is little more than a little than Tarantul due carrying more missiles (550 tonnes compared with 490 tonnes).

Overall, the combat capability of the Molniya is higher than with Tarantul.

Displacement, tons: 580 full load

Dimensions, feet (metres): 190.3 x 34.4 x 8.2 (58 x 10.5 x 25)

Main machinery: 4 M504 diesels, 16 000 hp, 2 shafts

Speed, knots; 28-34

Complement: 40

Missiles: SAM SA N-5quad launcher, manual aiming: IR homing to 10 km (5.5 nm) at 1.5 Mach, warhead 25 kg, 8 missiles Guns: 1-3 in (76 mm)/60, 85° elevation, 120 rounds/minute to 7 km (3.8 nm); weight of shell 16 kg

1 -30 mm/65, 6 barrels. 3 000 rounds/minute combined to 2 km

Torpedoes: 4-1 6 m (406 mm) tubes Type 40. anti-submarine; active/passive homing up to 15 km (8 nm) at up to 40 knots, warhead 100- 150 kg

A/S mortars: 2 RBU 1 200 5 tubed fixed, range 1 200 m, warhead 34 kg.

Depth charges: 2 racks (12)

Countermeasures: Decoys 2-1 6-barrelled Chaff launchers ESM Passive receivers

Radars: Air/surface search Peel Cone, E band

Surface search Spin Trough, I band

Fire control Bass Tilt, H/l band

Sonars: VDS (mounted on transom), active attack, high frequency

Programmes: First laid down in 1977 and completed in 1979 Replacement for “Poti” class. In series production Soviet type name is maly prottvolodochny korabl meaning small anti-submarine ship.

IJN Hyuga and Ise Hybrid Battleships – Leyte Gulf

IJN Ise 1944
IJN ISE at Leyte Gulf
IJN Hyuga on trials 1943

The sinking of the British capital ships Prince of Wales and Repulse by Japanese land-based aircraft on 10 December 1941 led the IJN to realize that battleships could not operate in the face of enemy aircraft and required friendly air support to protect them. The loss of four Japanese aircraft carriers during the Battle of Midway in June 1942 severely limited the ability of the IJN to provide any air cover and alternatives were sought. Earlier proposals to convert one or more battleships into carriers had been made and rejected at the beginning of the war, but they were revived after Midway. Plans for more elaborate conversions were rejected on the grounds of expense and, most critically, time, and the IJN settled on removing the rear pair of turrets and replacing them with a flight deck equipped with two catapults to launch floatplanes. The Ise-class ships were selected for the conversion because Hyūga had suffered an explosion in Turret No. 5 in early May that virtually destroyed the turret and their Turret No. 6 could not elevate to the full +43 degrees deemed necessary for the long-range engagement anticipated by the IJN. The Fusōs were scheduled to follow once the first two were completed.

On 20 October 1944, after preliminary strikes by aircraft from the escort carriers and a bombardment by the battleships, the landing was duly made and achieved complete success. On the 21st, Tacloban and Dulag airfields were captured, though both were so badly flooded that they were scarcely fit for use. By the 23rd, 132,400 men and 200,000 tons of supplies were ashore. On the 24th, Krueger set up his command post on Leyte and MacArthur did the same on the following day.

Seventh Fleet suffered only minor casualties as the price for its success. On 19 October, destroyer Ross hit two mines but proved to be the only destroyer to survive such a dual misfortune in the whole war. On the afternoon of the 20th, a torpedo-bomber badly damaged light cruiser Honolulu. Early on the 21st, a bomber crashed, apparently deliberately, into HMAS Australia, a heavy cruiser that was a veteran of Seventh Fleet operations and she, like Honolulu, had to retire from the combat-zone. Two of the escort carriers withdrew on the 24th to collect replacement aircraft. None of these events, however, had any real effect on Seventh Fleet’s ability to cover and support the landing forces.

Seventh Fleet in turn received cover and support from Halsey’s mighty Third Fleet, which had taken station east of the Philippines. This would not be quite as strong as it had been during the strikes on Formosa, for on the evening of 22 October, Halsey had detached one of his four Task Groups for rest and reprovisioning. Unfortunately, the Group that he chose was that of Vice Admiral John McCain which was the strongest of the four, including fleet carriers Wasp, Hornet and Hancock and light carriers Monterey and Cowpens, and he did not recall it when the first reports of Japanese movements were received.

Even without McCain’s Group, Third Fleet could boast fleet carriers Lexington (Mitscher’s flagship), Essex, Intrepid, Franklin and the veteran Enterprise, light carriers Princeton, Langley, Independence, Cabot, San Jacinto and Belleau Wood, six battleships, two heavy cruisers, seven light cruisers and forty-four destroyers. Although the number of warplanes varied on every ship, on average the five large carriers contained thirty Helldivers, eighteen Avengers and forty-two Hellcats each, and the six light carriers, nine Avengers and twenty-two Hellcats each. These resources were quite sufficient to enable Halsey alone to cope with any fleet the Japanese might send into battle.

Yet in practice, the Americans’ situation was not as satisfactory as it appeared. The chain of command had a fundamental weakness in that while Kinkaid was under MacArthur, Halsey took his orders from Admiral Nimitz in Pearl Harbour. The result was a lack of liaison between Third and Seventh Fleets. Worse still, as it transpired, Halsey’s instructions told him not only to protect the beachhead but to destroy any enemy force that appeared. Aggressive by nature and dangerously contemptuous of his enemies, he believed this implied that he could regard the protection of the beachhead as subsidiary, and persisted in his view despite clear statements to the contrary from both Nimitz and MacArthur.

Halsey’s eagerness for action had one further adverse effect. He issued orders directly to his Task Group Commanders, bypassing his chief subordinate Vice Admiral Mitscher, who, as Professor Morison states in his volume on the battle, Leyte June 1944 – January 1945 became ‘little better than a passenger in his beloved Fast Carrier Forces, Pacific Fleet’. This was most unfortunate because Mitscher’s much greater combat experience would probably have prevented most if not all of the errors that would bedevil the Americans throughout the coming conflict.

Any American difficulties, however, were minor compared with the anxieties faced by Admiral Toyoda. The chief of these was that Vice Admiral Ozawa’s carrier force, now based in home waters, was desperately weak. Since the Battle of the Philippine Sea it had been joined by three fleet carriers of some 17,000 tons, Amagi, Unryu and Katsuragi, but unfortunately they were all valueless, because there were no trained pilots to man their aircraft. The Japanese had also adapted two battleships, Hyuga and Ise, replacing their after guns with a flight deck, hangar and lift. It was intended each should house twenty-two seaplanes that would be launched by catapults and subsequently land in the sea and be hoisted aboard by cranes. None of the special seaplanes needed ever became available, however, and there would have been no pilots for them even if they had done.

Nonetheless, there was never any possibility that the Imperial Navy would not take part in the fight for Leyte. As Toyoda bluntly put it: ‘There would be no sense in saving the fleet at the expense of the loss of the Philippines.’ Since his carriers could not hope to save Leyte, the essence of Toyoda’s plan, optimistically named Operation SHO – the word means ‘victory’ – was to attack Leyte Gulf with his Fleet’s heavy gunnery units, particularly the great battleships Yamato and Musashi. These had a standard displacement of over 64,000 tons, were of almost 72,000 tons when fully laden and mounted the largest naval guns in existence, nine of 18.1-inch calibre set in three triple turrets, two forward and one aft. These vessels and indeed most of Japan’s surface warships under Vice Admiral Kurita had been stationed near Singapore so as to be close to their fuel supplies but on 18 October, they proceeded to Brunei Bay, Borneo. Here they were refuelled and at 0800 on 22 October, Kurita, with the bulk of his ships, set out again – for Leyte Gulf.

This group that for simplicity’s sake may be called the Japanese Central Force consisted of Yamato, Musashi, three smaller battleships, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna, ten heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and fifteen destroyers. Kurita’s mission was to steam west of Palawan, itself the most westerly of the Philippines, then turn east to pass south of Mindoro, cross the Sibuyan Sea, move through the San Bernardino Strait between Luzon and Samar and finally head south along Samar’s eastern coast to attack Leyte Gulf from the north.

Seven hours after Kurita’s departure, Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura, who had a shorter distance to cover, also left Brunei. The Van of the Southern Force, as the Americans named it, contained battleships Yamashiro and Fuso, heavy cruiser Mogami and four destroyers. It was to pass south of Palawan into the Sulu Sea, proceed north of Mindanao and then, turning sharply north, enter the Surigao Strait between Leyte and the small island of Dinagat to attack Leyte Gulf from the south.

To reinforce Nishimura, the Rear of the Southern Force, heavy cruisers Nachi and Ashigara, light cruiser Abukuma and four more destroyers, set out from Okinawa, steaming west of Luzon and Mindoro before entering the Sulu Sea. However, Shima had only been detailed to support Nishimura at the last minute and knew nothing of his colleague’s plans. He did not, therefore, wish to join the Van Force, when as the senior officer, he would have had to take command; instead he followed it at a distance of at least 40 miles.

Had even a fair proportion of these vessels reached Leyte Gulf, the Americans would have suffered a major disaster. Though the bulk of the transports had left by 25 October when the Japanese ships were planned to arrive, the landing beaches, piled high with food, ammunition and other equipment, would have presented a wonderful target for the Japanese big guns. So would the temporary headquarters of the Army commanders, including that of MacArthur; all, like the supplies, within easy range of ships in the Gulf. If the beaches were shelled, the US Sixth Army would have been deprived of its food, its ammunition and its leaders. It would also have been deprived of its air support.

Ironically, the Japanese did not know of the existence of Seventh Fleet’s escort carriers but they lay right in Kurita’s path. Should they be annihilated, then, declares Professor Morison, ‘General MacArthur’s Army would have been cut off like that of Athens at Syracuse in 413 BC. Third Fleet alone could not have maintained its communications’; – a fact that was admitted by Halsey in a signal to MacArthur on 26 October. Such a disaster, particularly coming after a long series of American successes, might have had immense repercussions.

It seems that this prospect was suddenly realized by the Japanese Army for it belatedly decided to dispatch reinforcements to Leyte. These were to be landed at Ormoc Bay on the west of the island by two transport groups: the larger under Vice Admiral Naomasa Sakonju consisting of one heavy cruiser, one light cruiser, one destroyer and four transports; the other under Commander Hisashi Ishii containing only three destroyers.

But how was Kurita to deal with the mighty Third Fleet that blocked his path to Seventh Fleet and the landing beaches? Operation SHO decreed that he would do so by evading it. It would be lured northward during Kurita’s approach, and after causing havoc in Leyte Gulf, he would again elude it by retiring through Surigao Strait, by then already penetrated by Nishimura and Shima.

The unhappy task of providing the lure was given to Vice Admiral Ozawa’s Northern Force. The Japanese had for some time considered using the battleship-carriers Hyuga and Ise as sacrificial decoys in the same way as Ryujo had been used at the Eastern Solomons – a scheme of which, incidentally, the Americans were aware from Intelligence reports. To sweeten the bait, Toyoda now decided to add to them fleet carrier Zuikaku, light carriers Zuiho, Chiyoda and Chitose, three light cruisers and ten destroyers. On board the carriers were just twenty-five Jills, four Kates used as high-level bombers, seven Judys and eighty Zeros, twenty-eight of them fighter-bombers. The standard of their airmen was so low that Ozawa felt it advisable to fly several off to shore bases – but it scarcely mattered for both Toyoda and Ozawa were grimly aware that if the Northern Force succeeded in its mission, this might well be at the cost of its own destruction.

To support their surface warships in the absence of carrier aircraft, the Japanese land-based naval aircraft in the Philippines were ordered to attack Third Fleet as from 24 October, and Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi decided that as Japan’s sailors were risking all in the coming battle, her airmen should make similar sacrifices: to be certain of a hit, they should be prepared to crash deliberately into American carriers. On 20 and 21 October, he formed the first units of a ‘Special Attack Corps’ to do just that. It was given the name ‘Kamikaze’ meaning ‘Divine Wind’, after a typhoon that had destroyed a Mongol invasion fleet in 1281. And already on the 15th, a subordinate commander, Rear Admiral Masafumi Arima, had set out with the express intention of ramming an American carrier. Though shot down at a safe distance, he had ‘lit the fuse of the ardent wishes of his men.’

Admiral Halsey had been receiving other welcome news. He was desperately anxious to locate the Japanese carriers which, he was certain, must be participating in the present operation. Ironically, of course, his enemies wanted him to do so and Ozawa’s flagship Zuikaku had therefore deliberately broken radio silence on various frequencies, though an undetected fault in her transmitter meant that her temptations passed unnoticed. The logical place for the carriers to be was north-east of the Philippines, heading straight for Leyte Gulf from the Japanese homeland. Halsey, inexplicably, had ordered no early searches in this direction, and when he attempted to retrieve his error, he was delayed by the air-attacks on Third Fleet. Not until 1405 did Helldivers from Lexington set out to find the elusive ‘flat-tops’.

At 1540, Lieutenant Walters spotted an enemy force, built around Hyuga and Ise, that Ozawa had sent ahead in a somewhat desperate attempt to divert attention away from Kurita by bringing about a surface battle. Next, two big destroyers, detached as pickets, were sighted, and finally, at 1640, Lieutenant Crapser located Northern Force’s carriers. Ozawa was delighted. He recalled the Advance Force, sent the picket destroyers home and, since he wished to pull Third Fleet as far north of the San Bernardino Strait as possible, he spent the night of 24/25 October steering various courses while remaining roughly 200 miles from Luzon’s north-eastern cape. To this, by a weird quirk of fate, a sixteenth-century Spanish navigator, for reasons unknown, had given the name of Engano: Cape Deception.

Admiral Halsey was certainly deceived – and beyond the most optimistic hopes of Toyoda or Ozawa. He knew that enemy forces were approaching from three different directions but as he had left Nishimura and Shima to Kinkaid, he was concerned only with Kurita and Ozawa. Of these, the former was reported to be retiring but the Japanese were notoriously stubborn and there was always the possibility that Central Force’s retirement was only temporary, as indeed Kurita intended it should be. Unfortunately, Halsey had accepted at face value the vastly exaggerated claims made by his pilots and so felt that even if a few undamaged vessels should ‘plod through San Bernardino Strait’ they ‘could no longer be considered a serious menace to Seventh Fleet’.

At 1512, that is before any part of the Northern Force had been sighted, Halsey had stated that a new group, to be called Task Force 34, consisting of four battleships and supporting vessels under the command of Vice Admiral Willis Lee, ‘will be formed’ to deal with Kurita if he sortied from San Bernardino. Halsey had intended this as merely an indication of future intentions, but it was taken as an order by Nimitz, by Mitscher and, most important, by Kinkaid, all of whom thought the new Task Force had actually come into existence.

Having located the Japanese carriers, Halsey could have formed Task Force 34 and left it to guard San Bernardino Strait while the rest of Third Fleet attacked the Northern Force. Or if he felt that Task Force 34 would need fighter protection – though Lee would have been happy to dispense with this in view of the decline in Japan’s air power and in the skill of her airmen – he could have left one of his Task Groups to support it. Or, indeed, he could have massed his whole strength off San Bernardino, destroyed any of Kurita’s ships that emerged from it, which they would have had to do in single file, and turned on Ozawa later.

Unfortunately, acting defensively was never to Halsey’s taste. Moreover, he had again unquestioningly accepted exaggerated reports from his pilots and so believed the Northern Force was considerably stronger than was in fact the case. There was little excuse for Halsey’s error. He had been notified, for instance, that Ozawa had four battleships with him. Yet Intelligence reports had shown that there were only nine Japanese battleships in existence and seven of these had been located with Kurita or Nishimura. There could thus have been only two in the Northern Force and they had to be Hyuga and Ise with their limited armament – a fact confirmed by information that at least one had a flight deck aft. Incidentally, Intelligence had also revealed that the Japanese had long considered using this pair as decoys, so their presence should perhaps have raised some doubts in Halsey’s mind – as it did in that of Vice Admiral Lee for one. He therefore determined he would bring against it every gun and every aircraft he possessed. At 2022, without leaving even a picket destroyer to send warning of the approach of Central Force, the whole of Third Fleet raced after Ozawa – exactly as the Japanese had wanted.

Dawn on 25 October found another Japanese force apparently facing total destruction. Losses in action or operationally had left Ozawa’s Northern Force with just four Jills, a solitary Judy, nineteen Zero fighters and five Zero fighter-bombers – twenty-nine in all; whereas Vice Admiral Mitscher, to whom Halsey had at last delegated tactical command, controlled 214 Helldivers, 171 Avengers and 404 Hellcats, three of them survivors from Princeton. Shortly before 0600, a seemingly endless succession of aircraft began to leave the US carriers’ decks: first the Combat Air Patrol, next search-planes from Lexington, finally sixty-five Helldivers, fifty-five Avengers and sixty Hellcats coming from all three Task Groups with the record-breaking Commander David McCampbell acting as target co-ordinator.

At 0710, the scouts sighted the Japanese ships 145 miles distant heading northward and at about 0830, the first attack began. As the raiders appeared, Zuiho pulled out of formation to launch fifteen Zeros that gallantly rushed into action, downing one Avenger and damaging others before they were overwhelmed by the Hellcats. Nine Zeros were shot down; presumably the rest perished when their fuel was exhausted. The Americans met no further opposition in the air, though they were faced by a daunting barrage of AA fire that, rather surprisingly, claimed only ten victims during the course of the day. It seems, however, that it did help to spoil the attackers’ aim.

This first raid, though, achieved considerable success. The Helldivers from Lexington and Essex scored numerous bomb hits on light carrier Chitose that staggered to a halt, burning and listing, to sink at 0937. The Helldivers from Intrepid scored one hit on Zuiho but this did only minor damage. Intrepid’s torpedo-planes attacked Zuikaku, as did those from light carrier San Jacinto. She was hit aft, her speed reduced to 18 knots, her steering control so damaged that she had to be steered by hand, and her communications system wrecked, forcing Ozawa to transfer his flag to light cruiser Oyodo so that he could continue to exercise his command. A torpedo also hit destroyer Akitsuki which blew up and sank instantly. Akitsuki and three of the other destroyers then with Ozawa were big vessels of 2,700 tons. The Americans consistently reported them as light cruisers and Ozawa’s genuine light cruisers, Oyodo, Tama and Isuzu, as heavy cruisers – a further way in which the strength of the Northern Force was exaggerated.

Even as this assault was ending at about 1000, a second small raid began. Light cruiser Tama, struck by a torpedo, fell out of formation with her speed reduced to about 10 knots. Helldivers – they came from Lexington and Franklin – concentrated on light carrier Chiyoda, scoring three hits that left her dead in the water and on fire, while Hyuga, light cruiser Isuzu and two destroyers hovered round her trying to help. The Americans had now finally formed Task Force 34 under Lee, containing all six battleships, and sent it ahead of their carriers specifically to dispose of any cripples: the group around Chiyoda made splendid potential victims.

But Vice Admiral Lee would never get the opportunity to engage them. At 0822, as the first American formations were preparing to attack the Northern Force, a signal was received on Halsey’s flagship, battleship New Jersey. It had been sent off by Kinkaid an hour and a quarter earlier, its urgency was made clear by its being not in code but in plain English and its contents were horrifying: Japanese capital ships, confirmed in later signals as including four battleships and eight cruisers, were firing on Seventh Fleet’s escort carriers and threatening to penetrate to the vital beachhead in Leyte Gulf.

A whole series of appeals for aid followed from Kinkaid and the Seventh Fleet units under fire. Halsey ignored them. He did order McCain’s Group to help Seventh Fleet but McCain was further away than Halsey. Only at 1000, when he received a signal from Nimitz, demanding to know the whereabouts of Task Force 34 which Nimitz thought had been left to guard San Bernardino, did Halsey falter. After mulling over the situation for about an hour, he finally ordered Task Force 34 to go to the aid of Seventh Fleet. To give Lee air cover, he added Bogan’s Task Group – Intrepid, Cabot and Independence – to his strength.

Ironically enough, Halsey had now divided his command in the very manner that Lee and Bogan had wished him to do when the Northern Force was first discovered. He then split it up still further by forming a new Task Group consisting of his two fastest battleships, Iowa and his own New Jersey, with a small escort and sending this well ahead – ultimately 40 miles ahead – of Lee’s remaining four battleships and Bogan’s carriers. Third Fleet, with a fire-power greater than that of the entire Japanese Navy, was now outgunned by Ozawa in the north and outgunned by Kurita in the south.

Third Fleet’s overwhelming superiority in carrier-aircraft, by contrast, was employed by Mitscher with cool efficiency. Shortly before 1200, he launched the day’s third raid on Northern Force: some 200 warplanes from both his remaining Task Groups with Commander Hugh Winters from Lexington as target co-ordinator. On the way, some of Franklin’s aircraft attacked Hyuga and her escorts, doing no damage but persuading them to rejoin Ozawa. Chiyoda was left alone with her crew still on board – probably at their own request.

Reaching the main part of Northern Force at about 1310, Winters directed his men to attack in two waves. In the first, Helldivers from Essex and Langley scored several hits on Zuiho, starting fires that were, however, brought under control. The airmen from Lexington, together with a few from Langley, assaulted Zuikaku. She too was hit by bombs and in her case also by three torpedoes that struck her almost simultaneously, bringing her to a halt, burning and listing heavily. Winters then sent the aircraft from Enterprise, Franklin and San Jacinto against Zuiho. They scored more bomb hits, reducing her speed and causing her fires to spring up again, but she doggedly continued limping northward.

Zuikaku, though, had reached the end of her remarkable career. At 1414, quietly and without any explosion, the last of the carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbour rolled over and sank. Commander Winters, watching with triumph, not unmixed with a strange sense of regret, reported that she flew to the end ‘a battle flag of tremendous size, perhaps fifty feet square’ that her crew had hoisted to the masthead as a last defiant gesture.

Three more raids followed during the course of the afternoon. A small one from Lexington and Langley attacked at 1445, most of its pilots concentrating on Zuiho. They hit her with two more bombs and at last two torpedoes found their mark. The gallant little light carrier had also used up all her luck; she went down at 1526. The later attacks between them scored seven near misses on Hyuga and one hit and an astonishing thirty-four near misses on Ise, but both suffered only slight injuries.

Yet the Northern Force would still suffer further casualties. At 1625, a cruiser-destroyer force detached by Mitscher opened fire on Chiyoda. She promptly burst into a mass of flames and a towering column of smoke. At 1650, she capsized, sinking almost at once. The Americans continued their pursuit after dark and engaged three Japanese destroyers that had been searching for survivors; they sank the 2,700-ton Hatsutsuki. Also after dark damaged light cruiser Tama, limping home alone, was sunk with all hands by US submarine Jallao. Even so, despite the odds against them, ten of Ozawa’s ships made good their escape.

The decoys had carried out their difficult and dangerous task at less cost than either Toyoda or Ozawa had anticipated. It remained to be seen whether their unselfish valour had won the Battle of Leyte Gulf for the Japanese.