HMS Agincourt (1913)


HMS Agincourt was a dreadnought battleship built in the United Kingdom in the early 1910s. Originally part of Brazil’s role in a South American naval arms race, she held the distinction of mounting more heavy guns (fourteen) and more turrets (seven) than any other dreadnought battleship constructed, in keeping with the Brazilians’ requirement for an especially impressive design.

Brazil ordered the ship as Rio de Janeiro from the British Armstrong Whitworth shipyard, but the collapse of the rubber boom and a warming in relations with the country’s chief rival, Argentina, led to the ship’s sale while under construction to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans renamed her Sultan Osman I, after the empire’s founder. The ship was nearly complete when World War I broke out, and British Admiralty fears of a German–Ottoman alliance led to her seizure for use by the Royal Navy. This act was a major contributor to the decision of the Ottoman Empire to support Germany in the war. Renamed Agincourt by the British, she joined the Grand Fleet in the North Sea. The ship spent the bulk of her time during the war on patrols and exercises, although she did participate in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Agincourt was put into reserve in 1919 and sold for scrap in 1922 to meet the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty.


Target California I

Japanese 6th Fleet Headquarters at Kwajalein had come up with a further innovative use for submarines that had already been employed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The seven submarines of 1st Submarine Squadron were given a new task, and were to bring the war in the Pacific to America’s doorstep. Joined by the I-10 and I-26 from the original Pearl Harbor Reconnaissance Unit, Vice-Admiral Shimizu ordered the nine submarines to pursue the enemy eastwards and to patrol off the American west coast. The American public and military were already jittery following the audacious Japanese aerial and submarine attack on Hawaii, and rumours abounded of the likely next move by the Japanese towards the mainland of the United States. Perhaps an enemy landing on the lightly defended Pacific coasts of California or Oregon was a distinct possibility? The Japanese knew of American invasion fears and the redeployment of Japanese submarines close to these very coasts would hopefully have an adverse effect on civilian morale far outweighing any strategic or military impact they would have been able to make with the limited resources placed at their disposal.

Each of the eventual eight Japanese submarines that moved into position was ordered to interdict American coastal shipping by lying off the major shipping lanes, such as those located off Los Angeles and San Francisco. Rear-Admiral Sato, commander of 1st Submarine Squadron, was aboard his flagship, the I-9, directing operations at sea. It was expected that each skipper would make each of his seventeen torpedoes tell, and 6th Fleet had ordered them to only expend one torpedo per enemy ship. The submarine captains had also been ordered to expend all of the ammunition for their submarine’s 140mm deck-gun before returning to base. This would be achieved by supplementing the limited supply of torpedoes carried onboard by blasting merchant ships to pieces with the submarine’s artillery piece, and then turning the gun on vulnerable American coastal installations. It was a plan intended to spread fear and panic along the huge Pacific Ocean coast of the United States, a plan to set the inshore waters and shoreline ablaze.

The I-17 was a Type-B1 Japanese fleet submarine skippered by Lieutenant-Commander Kozo Nishino, an example of the most common and numerous class of submarine employed by Japan during the Second World War. Between 1940 and 1943 twenty were constructed, earlier examples such as the I-17 being equipped with the ingenious Yokosuka E14Y1 floatplane used for reconnaissance. A watertight hanger was fitted aft of the conning tower, the aircraft being launched by means of a catapult and ramp built into the submarine’s deck. Each B1 submarine was 356.5 feet long with a top speed on the surface of 23.5 knots, or 8 knots submerged and running on electric motors. Prior to the introduction of nuclear-powered submarines in the 1950s the vessels that fought in the Second World War were essentially submersibles rather than true submarines. Japanese, German, British and American submarines, and the submarines of every nation able to maintain undersea fleets, were all limited by their central power sources. Submarines at this stage were powered by diesel engines while they were at the surface, making them relatively fast and ideal platforms to launch anti-commerce and anti-warship attacks from, especially when cloaked by the cover of darkness. The power of large Japanese diesels fitted to many types of their submarines produced enough speed to allow the vessels to keep pace with the surface battle fleet – which remained a primary consideration of Japanese submarine designers throughout the Second World War. If forced below the surface of the water, or if attempting a submerged attack, the submarine was powered by electric motors running off cumbersome and space consuming batteries. The submarine immediately lost its speed and agility beneath the sea, and could only remain submerged while the air aboard remained breathable for the crew. The Japanese would not be able to match the Germans in advanced submarine design during the Second World War to overcome the twin problems of increasing underwater speed and staying semi-permanently submerged during patrols, and their submarine force would pay a heavy price as Allied anti-submarine technology developed exponentially as the war progressed. The Germans went some way to overcoming the problems of extended periods spent below the surface and running on electric motors by the incorporation of a Dutch design known as the snorkel. Basically, a submarine was fitted with a large mast that could be raised until the head was above the surface of the water, the submarine remaining submerged. Air would be sucked into the snorkel head, allowing the diesel engines to be run while the submarine was submerged, and the boat aired, theoretically enabling a German U-boat to conduct its patrol entirely submerged and therefore rendering it less vulnerable to Allied attacks. Fitted to most late-war German U-boats the snorkel often malfunctioned due to poor construction or components, and if waves splashed over the snorkel head the diesel engines would suck air from inside the U-boat, causing the crew great discomfort, especially to their ears and occasionally causing unconsciousness. Allied warships could also locate the snorkel head in the same way as a periscope mast, and the submarine would be attacked. Japanese submarines were not fitted with this technology, even though the Germans gave the Japanese detailed plans of the apparatus as part of ongoing German-Japanese trade and military technology exchanges between 1942 and 1945.

If a Type-B1 submarine was run at full speed on the surface the skipper would have rapidly used up his available diesel fuel, severely curtailing the boats operational potential, so a top speed was simply the boats potential power. Rather, a sensible skipper would be able to take his B1 on a round-trip patrol of approximately 14,000 nautical miles at a conservative 16 knots without requiring a single refuelling pit stop. This would make the B1 submarine the ideal platform with which to sail across the Northern Pacific to the west coast of the United States, and bring the war to America’s doorstep. Added to the potency of the B1’s great range was a 140mm deck-gun designed to assist a skipper in sinking ships. The deck-gun fired armour piercing anti-ship ammunition, designed to penetrate the steel hulls of ships and explode within. Pump a sufficient quantity of these cheap shells into a merchant ship and the result was a foregone conclusion, and just as effective as a torpedo. It was a more economical option than expending one of the seventeen torpedoes carried aboard the B1 through one of the boat’s six torpedo tubes. Ninety-four officers and men crewed the B1, including two pilots and two observers to man the Yokosuka floatplane (one pilot and observer acting as a reserve crew).

Although the B1 was not the biggest submarine type employed by the Imperial Navy, the Japanese nonetheless cornered the market in producing large submarines during the Second World War. The B1 was bigger, better armed, quicker and with a greater range than the closest comparable German U-boat type. For example, the Type IXC U-boat had given the Germans the ability to take the war to the east coasts of the United States, Canada and all around South Africa by 1942 and could motor an impressive 11,000 nautical miles at 12 knots before requiring refuelling. However, the Type IXC, at 252 feet long, was nearly 100 feet shorter than the Japanese B1, and was armed with fourteen torpedoes and a 105mm deck-gun and anti-aircraft weapons. Importantly, although German U-boats were smaller, had a shorter range and carried less munitions than their Japanese counterparts, they were quicker to submerge and were progressively equipped with superior technology such as radar detectors and snorkels that increased their survivability. The fundamental difference between a Japanese submarine and a German U-boat was not so much the technical specifications and technologies utilized in creating them, but the method in which they were employed. The Japanese viewed submarines as essentially fleet reconnaissance vessels to replace cruisers in that role, whereas the Germans saw submarines as the tool with which to sink millions of tons of enemy merchant shipping in order to reduce the industrial/military output of their opponents, and create hardship on the enemy home front.

Nishino aboard the I-17 was proceeding on the surface in the pre-dawn darkness fifteen miles off Cape Mendocino, California on 18 December 1941, lookouts armed with powerful binoculars patiently scanning the barely discernable horizon on all points of the compass, and studying the sky in case of air attack. They were quiet, speaking only briefly in hushed tones, using their ears as well as their eyes to search out engine noises above the rhythmic reverberations of the I-17’s twin diesels as they lazily pushed them through the dark Pacific waters. The eerie red glow of low night lighting crept up the conning tower ladder from the control room below, etching the faces of the Japanese submariners into fixed masks of concentration and anticipation. Suddenly, as the first glow of dawn began to rise on the eastern horizon a lookout let out a guttural exclamation. His arm shot out in the direction of the approaching ship, a compass bearing relayed to the helmsman below, as Nishino ordered his vessel closed up and made ready for action. In normal circumstances a submarine captain would attack his intended target with a spread of torpedoes, a staggered shot that would fan out to intercept the intended target(s) after calculations of the speed and direction of the prey had been computed into the attack plot. Nishino was under strict orders to only expend a single torpedo per enemy ship, which did not give him much latitude for attack, and meant that the Japanese submarine would have to move up very close to the target ship to be sure of not wasting the valuable mechanical fish. Nishino decided that the best method of attack as the merchant ship hove into view was the employment of the deck-gun for the time being. If he could inflict sufficient damage to the freighter with his gun, enough to stop her, he could then decide whether to finish her off with more armour-piercing shells or close in for a single torpedo strike against a static target. The I-17, however, was rolling heavily in the swell as crewmen busily prepared the deck-gun for immediate action, manhandling shells from the gun’s ready locker, ramming home a round with a solid thump as the breech was closed and the gun commander awaited the signal from the bridge to open fire.

The ship in the gunners’ sights was the American freighter Samoa under the command of Captain Nels Sinnes, who was about to be abruptly awoken by the report of a submarine close by. The Samoa had already sustained damage, but not from enemy action. She had been caught by a heavy storm which had washed away one of the ship’s lifeboats. The Samoa also had a noticeable list to port, as the engineers had been shifting water in the ballast tanks following the battering from the ocean. The pronounced list, and the remnants of the wooden lifeboat hanging from its launching davits, would be providential in saving the ship from the attentions of the I-17 in the minutes that followed.

Captain Sinnes quickly dressed and, grasping a life jacket, ordered his crew to muster at their lifeboat stations. The sailors frantically stripped the covers from the open boats and began swinging them out on their davits ready to launch when the Japanese opened fire. Five times the I-17’s deck-gun barked, its flat high velocity report sounding out across the empty sea, the armour-piercing shells tearing towards the defenceless Samoa. Four missed to fountain in the choppy ocean, the Japanese gunners pitching hot, steaming shell cases overboard as others fetched fresh shells from the ready locker. The fifth shell exploded above the Samoa with an ear-splitting crack, white-hot shrapnel pummelling the deck. The Japanese submarine was rolling erratically on the disturbed sea, making it difficult for the gunners to accurately target the American ship, and they were reduced to flinging shells in the general direction of the enemy vessel and hoping for a lucky strike. Commander Nishino quickly tired of this pointless shooting and ordered a surfaced torpedo attack, the fish leaving the I-17’s bow with a hiss of compressed air and a trail of bubbles, quickly crossing the barely seventy yards that separated hunter and prey. In the early dawn light it appeared to the crews of both vessels to be a foregone conclusion.

Incredibly, as the crew of the Samoa braced for impact and a thunderous explosion, nothing happened. The torpedo passed clean underneath the merchant ship. The blind torpedo cruised on a short distance and then erupted in a massive tumult of water, smoke, fire and flying shrapnel. Fragments of the torpedo thumped harmlessly onto the Samoa’s deck, the I-17 a low black shape that drifted ominously closer to the American ship. Officers aboard the submarine attempted to assess the damage the torpedo, which they erroneously assumed had struck the Samoa, had caused. Now perhaps no more than forty feet from the side of the merchant ship, the early morning gloom frustrated their efforts. Still the I-17 closed with the Samoa, coming to within fifteen feet of the hull. Someone aboard the I-17, according to the Americans, yelled out in English ‘Hi ya!’ Captain Sinnes yelling back ‘What do you want of us?’ when he already knew the answer. From his position alongside the Samoa Nishino observed the vessel’s heavy port list and assumed she was doomed. The I-17 slowly pulled away and disappeared. Nishino instructed his radio operator to report a successful kill to the I-15, coordinating submarine operations from her position off San Francisco.

The Samoa arrived safely in San Diego on 20 December after her close encounter, saved by storm damage and the poor early dawn light. On the same day Nishino redirected his submarine to its original position off Cape Mendocino, some twenty miles from the American coast. The crew of the I-17 awaited another target of opportunity, buoyed up by their apparent first successful sinking of an enemy vessel of the mission. The day wore on with no sightings of American merchant ships, until, bathed by early afternoon winter sunshine, the lookouts were once more laboriously scanning the horizon and biding their time. Nishino made no attempt to disguise his presence so close to the coast, believing he had little to fear from American naval or air forces still reeling from the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor fourteen days previously. Just after 1.30 p.m. the sight of the oil tanker Emidio heading towards San Francisco rewarded Nishino’s patience. The Emidio was only carrying ballast, returning empty from Seattle’s Socony-Vacuum Oil Company facility.

Captain Clark Farrow reacted as swiftly as he could to the report of a submarine gaining on his ship. Nishino aboard the I-17 ordered full power, the big diesels churning confidently ahead, the submarine making fully 20 knots, her exhausts trailing blue clouds of fumes into the clear Pacific air. Captain Farrow lightened his ship, dumping ballast that made the Emidio steady in the water but painfully slow, frantically ringing ‘full speed ahead’ on the engine room telegraph. The I-17 cut through the water, closing rapidly on the Emidio’s stern, crew racing to man the deck-gun as Nishino manoeuvred his boat for the attack. It was imperative that the American ship be prevented from radioing for assistance, and therefore reporting Nishino’s position to United States forces. Captain Farrow was already a step ahead of Nishino, however, as he had ordered his radio operator to send the following short Morse message: ‘SOS, SOS: Under attack by enemy sub.’

Nishino ordered the gun crew into action, the first shell exploding close to the Emidio’s radio antenna, blowing the fragile communication mast into useless scrap. In rapid succession the submarine’s gun banged twice more, the shells screaming across the ocean into the defenceless Emidio, a lifeboat exploding into smouldering matchwood. Ashore, the US Army Air Corps were already scrambling a pair of medium bombers following the receipt of the Emidio’s distress signal and position, in the hope of destroying the Japanese submarine. Captain Farrow realized his ship was doomed, as the bombers would take some time to arrive, and he ordered the engines stopped. Meanwhile, the plucky radio operator had managed to restore communications with the shore by erecting a makeshift antenna. A white flag was hastily run up a mast and the tanker gradually slowed. The crew worked feverishly to swing out the remaining lifeboats while under constant shellfire from the I-17, Nishino ignoring the white flag and refusing to give the merchant seamen time to depart in the boats. It was not long before another shell found its mark, blowing three unfortunate crewmen into the water as it ploughed into their lifeboat. Twenty-nine crewmen were crowded aboard the lifeboats and pulled hard on the oars in an attempt to get clear of the Emidio, while four men, including the resourceful radio operator, remained aboard the ship, perhaps from a refusal to give up the vessel, or out of ignorance of the order to abandon ship issued by the captain.

On board the I-17 lookouts had reported two black dots approaching from the mainland, which could only mean aircraft. Nishino ordered the bridge cleared, the submariners hastily clattering down into the pressure hull, securing the hatches as the submarine blew its tanks and slid beneath the waves in a swirl of white water. The Emidio’s remaining crewmen now turned their eyes skyward as the American bombers roared in low over the stricken merchantman. The two aircraft circled the spot where the I-17 had a moment before submerged, eventually releasing a single depth charge. The I-17 lurched violently as the depth charge detonated, but it was not close enough to cause the submarine any damage. Perhaps realizing that the American aircraft lacked the wherewithal and experience to launch a more devastating and coordinated anti-submarine attack Nishino did the opposite of most submarine skippers in his position. Ordering the I-17 to periscope depth Nishino swiftly relocated the fully stopped Emidio. Orders were issued to partially surface the boat, and a torpedo was launched at the stationary American ship 200 yards distant. The torpedo ran true, impacting in the Emidio’s stern and detonating inside the ship with a massive blast of fire, smoke and debris. The Emidio lurched over as the engine room rapidly filled with freezing seawater. The torpedo claimed two of the four crewmen who had not vacated the ship earlier, and a third was injured. The radio operator, topside in his shack, frantically transmitted ‘Torpedoed in the stern’ before throwing himself clear of the ship into the sea. The surviving engineer, though wounded, also managed to struggle clear of the Emidio, and along with the radio operator he was plucked to safety by the small flotilla of lifeboats standing off the tanker.

The I-17 slipped once more beneath the waves as the two American bombers roared in to resume their ineffectual attack. Another depth charge plummeted into the sea and detonated in a giant plume of white water, concentric circles created by the sonic force of the explosion pushing out from the epicentre. The I-17 escaped damage once more and motored quietly away from the scene, sure again of a confirmed kill.

The Emidio, though grievously wounded and abandoned by her crew, drifted off with the current. Lost for several days from human eyes, this Second World War Mary Celeste eventually ground up against jagged rocks opposite Crescent City, California, over eighty miles from her encounter with the I-17. As for her crew, their ordeal was to be sixteen hours in open boats and battling through an unsettling rainstorm before rescue by the US Coast Guard lightship Shawnee located off Humboldt Bay.

The I-23, another Type-B1 Japanese submarine with orders to sink unescorted American merchant ships, was active at the same time as the I-17 was attempting to sink the tanker Emidio. Constructed at the Yokosuka Navy Yard, the I-23 had entered service in September 1941. She was just in time to play a crucial part in ‘Operation Z’, the submarine contribution to the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor. On 13 December the I-23 began her relocation from the waters off Hawaii for the west coast of the United States.

On 20 December the I-23 was approximately twenty miles off Monterey Bay, California, and with a target in sight. The American tanker Agwiworld, a 6,771-tonner belonging to the Richmond Oil Company was the Japanese target. Like a fighter pilot swooping down on a hapless rookie opponent, Lieutenant-Commander Shibata approached the oblivious Agwiworld with the early afternoon sun behind his boat, a classic attack from out of the sun. Coupled with a heavy swell the big Japanese submarine’s approach behind the tanker was unobserved. The first the Agwiworld and her captain, Frederick Goncalves, knew of the presence of the Japanese submarine was the thump of the impact and explosion of a 140mm armour-piercing shell in the ship’s stern. The I-23 moved into a firing position to enable her deck-gunners to blast the tanker to scrap. However, due to the rough conditions, the Japanese sailors experienced difficulties loading and aiming the deck-gun. The I-23’s deck was awash as the boat rolled and pitched in the swell. Captain Goncalves did everything he could to make the Agwiworld as difficult a target as possible to hit, zigzagging through the whistling shells, probably eight or nine of them, before the I-23 was seen to submerge. Commander Shibata had clearly lost interest in his prey. The heavy seas and the fact that in order to achieve a good attacking position he would have had to have driven the I-23 harder would have risked the lives of his gunners, who could have been swept overboard. A further factor which precluded a more determined assault on the tanker originated in the submarine’s own radio room. The operator alerted his captain to the fact that the enemy ship had reported the Japanese submarine’s attack to the US Navy, and assistance in the form of anti-submarine assets were undoubtedly on their way.

Shibata and the crew of the I-23 were frustrated as they departed from the scene of their first attack on an American ship to search out further prey. Some time later Shibata encountered the 2,119-ton American merchant ship Dorothy Phillips. Employing an identical method of attack as that used against the Agwiworld, gunners again pumped high velocity armour piercing rounds into the hapless steamer. Although the I-23 successfully disabled the Dorothy Phillips’s steering by wrecking the ship’s rudder with a shell strike, a torpedo attack was not pressed home, presumably because the sea conditions were still unfavourable. Nevertheless, the Dorothy Phillips eventually ran aground so Shibata had scored a victory of sorts.

Lieutenant-Commander Kanji Matsumura was an experienced submarine skipper, having previously commanded the RO-65, RO-66 and RO-61 before commissioning the I-21 into service on 15 July 1941. As with the other boats assigned to operations along the United States west coast, the I-21 was formerly part of the submarine task group that made up an element of ‘Operation Z’. On 9 December the submarine I-6 had reported a Lexington-class aircraft carrier and two cruisers heading north-east. The Japanese were well aware that although they had scored a notable victory against the US Pacific Fleet’s battleship squadron they had failed to sink or damage a single American aircraft carrier. It was imperative that American carriers be sunk or damaged wherever found for the Japanese themselves had already demonstrated the power of naval aviation in this new conflict, and the days of the big-gun battleship appeared to be numbered. Vice-Admiral Shimizu at 6th Fleet Headquarters at Kwajalein, on receiving the intelligence report from the I-6, immediately ordered all submarines not involved with the launching of the midget submarines during the Pearl Harbor operation, known as the Special Attack Force, to proceed at flank speed and sink the American carrier. The I-21 was included in Shimizu’s force sent to intercept the vessel later identified as the USS Enterprise, but her progress was hampered by problems with the submarine’s diesel engines and electrics. Carrier-based Douglas SBD Dauntless aircraft spotted the I-21 on the surface on a number of occasions, necessitating Matsumura to crash-dive. Matsumura became increasingly fed up with constantly being forced beneath the waves by patrolling American aircraft. He decided upon a bold course of action – to remain surfaced and take on the enemy aircraft with his anti-aircraft armament. Motoring on the surface at 1 p.m. on the afternoon of 13 December a lone Dauntless attacked the submarine from the port side, but the accuracy of the Japanese anti-aircraft barrage caused the pilot to abort his attack run and go around for a second attempt. Diving towards the port side of the submarine again the American aircraft released a single bomb which slammed into the sea close to the I-21, but which failed to detonate.

Target California II

Japanese B1-type I-15 submarine on initial sea trials 15 September 1940 with integral aircraft hangar visible.

Following the unsuccessful operation to intercept and sink the Enterprise and her escorts, on 14 December Matsumura and the I-21 were assigned a new patrol area off Point Arguello in California, a promontory of land fifty-five miles north of Santa Barbara. Motoring just below the surface close to the shore on the morning of 22 December, Commander Matsumura spotted the H. M. Story, a Standard Oil Company tanker, as he scanned the horizon at periscope depth. For two days the I-21 had waited in this position, only coming to the surface at night to recharge the submarine’s batteries and air the boat. Lookouts aboard the H. M. Story never spied the periscope mast cutting through the waves, as the instrument’s blank gaze determined the American ship’s speed and course. Matsumura now seized his opportunity and ordered the I-21 to surface. The bulky submarine rose majestically to the surface, ballast tanks blowing noisily and hatches clanking metallically as officers and men manned the conning tower bridge and the deck-gun, the air thick with bellowed commands. As Matsumura and his officers fixed the H. M. Story in their binoculars the submarine’s deck-gun blazed into life.

Witnesses ashore said they saw a torpedo running in the sea, as the I-21 was between the H. M. Story and the quiet beach at Point Arguello. The tanker was approximately three miles from the shoreline. What had first attracted the witnesses’ attention was the report of the submarine’s deck-gun, but the gunners view of the target was quickly obscured by thick black smoke emitted from the H. M. Story as the vessel attempted to avoid destruction. What was believed to have been a torpedo was observed rapidly exiting the smoke screen as the H. M. Story went full ahead. The Japanese Long Lance torpedo shot through the water towards the tanker, occasionally coming to the surface, slapping white spray off the tops of the waves as it did so. Matsumura was once more unsuccessful as the torpedo passed in front of the tanker. This indicates again the limiting effect of the order issued to submarine commanders to only expend one torpedo per merchant ship. If the German method of firing a spread of two or three torpedoes had been employed the H. M. Story, and probably many other merchant ships throughout the region, would have almost certainly been struck. The use of the deck-gun to attempt to wreck a merchant ship’s communications equipment, as well as hasten the ship’s sinking, was also proving to be a suspect attack method. The H. M. Story was able to radio for assistance, and shore-based US Army Air Corps bombers quickly arrived on the scene. These aircraft dropped several bombs in an attempt to destroy the now submerged I-21, but without effect. More importantly, however, was the fact that Matsumura had intercepted and failed to sink two American tankers, on each occasion being forced to give up the hunt and slink off frustrated to attempt to locate some other target.

North of Point Arguello along the coast is the little town of Cayucas, and by the early morning of 23 December the I-21 was sitting quietly on the surface off the settlement, all eyes scanning the horizon. At 3 a.m. lookouts spotted the Larry Doheny, a twenty-year old empty Richmond Oil Company tanker skippered by Captain Roy Brieland. The Larry Doheny was six miles off Cayucas when Matsumura attempted once again to disable a ship with his deck-gun. The first shot roused the crew aboard the Larry Doheny, Captain Brieland frantically ordering the helmsman to deviate from his course and begin zigzagging in a desperate attempt to throw the Japanese gunners off target. In fact, Brieland’s evasive manoeuvres had almost succeeded in stalling Matsumura’s attack, for the Japanese skipper, after two shots had missed from his deck-gun, was about to issue the order to curtail the attack. The I-21 was hampered by both darkness and by Brieland’s violent evasive manoeuvring of his ship. However, at the last moment a lookout reported the enemy ship to be less than 200 yards from the submarine, and, importantly, exposing her port side. Matsumura ordered an immediate torpedo attack, the Long Lance quickly crossing the water between the two vessels. However, luck was on Brieland’s side, for as the Larry Doheny made another turn the Japanese torpedo sailed past the tanker and exploded some way off, the massive detonation clearly audible to the citizens of Cayucas already woken by the firing of the submarine’s deck-gun. With the expending of a torpedo Matsumura followed his standing orders and broke off the attack. The Larry Doheny had survived, but was, ironically, to come to grief at the hands of another Japanese submarine the following year, also off the west coast.

At 3 a.m. that same morning the 8,272-ton Union Oil Company tanker Montebello pulled away from the dockside at Port San Luis, California. She was bound for the Canadian port of Vancouver in British Columbia with a mixed cargo of oil and petrol. The bulk of her cargo, however, consisted of 4.1 million gallons of heavy crude oil loaded into ten separate storage tanks. Her captain, Olaf Eckstrom, placed her on course, not realizing that his route would bring his ship into the sights of the I-21 less than two hours later. He, and other merchant skippers, had received no warnings from the US Navy or the Coast Guard regarding prowling Japanese submarines that had already made several attacks on coastal shipping.

Commander Matsumura must have felt a dull rage at his failure to sink two defenceless American ships, both of which should have been easy kills for the big I-21. As the I-21 motored further north the search resumed once more for targets of opportunity, and that elusive first successful kill of the mission. At 5.30 a.m. Captain Eckstrom aboard the Montebello was informed that what appeared to be a submarine was stalking his vessel. Eckstrom went immediately to investigate and there was no mistaking the size and outline of a big submarine closing on the ship’s stern. Eckstrom followed the only anti-submarine direction at his disposal and ordered the helmsman to begin zigzagging in the hope of throwing the submarine’s aim off target, the same manoeuvre that had saved the Larry Doheny from destruction. After ten minutes Eckstrom realized that the manoeuvre was a futile gesture. The I-21 was closer than ever, and a Long Lance exited the submarine when the Montebello was broadside to her. With a blinding flash and a tremendous explosion the torpedo impacted amidships, the Montebello shuddering perceptively as the tanker slowed. It seemed clear to the crew aboard that the Montebello had been struck a fatal blow from which the only recourse was to abandon ship in the four wooden lifeboats available. Incredibly, through sheer good luck, the Japanese torpedo had struck the only compartment that was empty of oil or petrol. Had it struck elsewhere it is doubtful if more than a handful of the thirty-six men aboard would have survived the resultant inferno. What many crewmen remembered most was the courage under fire displayed by their Scandinavian skipper. And Eckstrom had only been promoted to captain one hour before the Montebello had departed port, when he was serving as first mate and the original captain had suddenly resigned. Eckstrom was ‘as cool as a snowdrift’ recalled the new first mate as he stood on the deck and ordered his crew to their lifeboats, and then gave the order to abandon ship. For his part, Eckstrom was not entirely convinced the Montebello was done for, and ordered the lifeboats to be rowed a distance from the vessel, and told the crew to sit on their oars and wait. Hopefully the Japanese submarine would depart, and perhaps the Montebello could be re-boarded if she was not discovered to be foundering. Commander Matsumura, however, had darker ideas concerning the fate of the American crew.

Even as the crew was taking to the lifeboats the Japanese opened fire on the Montebello with their deck-gun, firing approximately ten rounds at the listing vessel as the crew began to lower themselves over the side in their boats. Clearly, to Matsumura’s mind, the crew was expendable as the object of the attack was to make sure the Montebello went to the bottom. This kind of coldblooded assault was characteristic of Japanese naval operations throughout the Second World War, and was repeated on countless occasions. It is in direct contrast to the behaviour of German U-boat crews, who very often gave merchant seamen time to abandon their ship before finishing off a vessel with a torpedo or the deck-gun. Eckstrom and his crew rowed a distance from the Montebello, by another stroke of good fortune suffering no injuries from flying shrapnel as round after round hammered into the stricken tanker, and within forty-five minutes the Montebello had slid beneath the waves. Eckstrom now ordered his crew to begin pulling for the shore. They were some four miles from the Piedras Biancas lighthouse.

Matsumura had achieved the first kill of his mission to the United States west coast, but what followed was an attempt to murder the American sailors in their lifeboats. Machine guns were brought up into the conning tower of the submarine and fire was poured forth on the helpless lifeboats pulling hard for the coast. It was only poor visibility that saved the crew of the Montebello from murder at the hands of the Japanese, and Matsumura eventually ordered the submarine to leave the vicinity of the attack. Machine-gun bullets had struck lifeboats, though fortunately the crewmen sheltering inside them had not been injured. Although the malevolent Japanese submarine had departed, the hapless crew of the Montebello faced a new battle for survival in attempting to row lifeboats holed by machine-gun rounds to the shore through a heavy sea. Men took turns pulling on the oars or bailing water from their boats until, utterly exhausted, around noon they washed up on the beach opposite the town of Cambria.

Why the Japanese were intent on murdering the civilian crewmen of a vessel they had successfully sunk has an explanation. It was official policy even though it violated laws to which the Japanese were themselves signatories. According to Lord Russell of Liverpool’s seminal work The Knights of Bushido: A Short History of Japanese War Crimes when Japan had signed the 1922 London Naval Treaty, Article 22 of that agreement provided that submarine actions must conform to International Law, and that ‘except in the case of persistent refusal to stop on being duly summoned, or of active resistance to visit and search, warships, whether surface vessel or submarine may not sink or render incapable of navigation a merchant vessel without having first placed passengers, crew and ship’s papers in a place of safety’. A ‘place of safety’ in the case of the Montebello was the ship’s lifeboats. The Japanese had allowed the 1922 Treaty to expire on 31 December 1936, but Article 22 remained binding on all signatories, ‘by virtue of Article 23, which laid down in Part IV of the expiring Treaty relating to submarines should remain in force without time limit’. So even though Japan considered the treaty expired, the section concerning submarine action remained in force forever, because it accorded with basic International Law. Further to this, Lord Russell also points out that Japan had signed a further Protocol in London on 6 November 1936 with the United States, Great Britain (including the Dominions and Empire), France and Italy, which incorporated verbatim the very provisions of Part IV of the 1922 Treaty relating to the conduct of submarines in war. Interestingly, Commander Matsumura’s actions regarding the crew of the Montebello actually predated the accepted change in Japanese government and naval policy towards merchant ship crews. His actions, however, certainly conform to the de facto attitude of the Imperial Navy to non-combatants. It was only following talks between Lieutenant-General Hiroshi Oshima, Japanese Ambassador to Germany, and Adolf Hitler in Berlin on 3 January 1942, a little under a month after the entry of the United States into the war, that Hitler suggested murdering surviving merchant ship crewmen. Although the German Navy flatly refused to entertain such a notion, Oshima was apparently sufficiently impressed by Hitler’s argument that depriving the Americans of trained crewmen would undermine their massive shipbuilding capacity that he reported to the Japanese government that such a measure should be adopted. It duly was, in flagrant violation of the laws outlined above, on 20 March 1943, when submarine skippers were ordered to exterminate all survivors from sunken ships, and Imperial forces faithfully carried out this order. Matsumura’s actions certainly predate the official order, but it is clear that either he was unaware of International Law and the agreements his country had signed regarding the correct behaviour of submarine skippers (which seems unlikely owing to his rank and experience), or that Matsumura and his contemporaries had been given tacit approval for such measures to be taken against helpless survivors. Subordinate Japanese military officers were not generally known for thinking for themselves, and following orders to the letter regardless of cost was very much the rule (one torpedo per merchant ship for example). It appears unlikely that Matsumura decided to murder some three dozen unarmed and defenceless sailors on a whim, or out of revenge for his earlier humiliation at failing to sink the H. M. Story and the Larry Doheny. There was a certain cold, calculated method in Matsumura’s actions that could only have been sanctioned by a higher authority than he.

The consequences of Matsumura’s sinking of the Montebello are still felt today. In 1996 the wreck of the tanker was located in 900 feet of water, sitting upright on the seabed adjacent to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. A preliminary investigation of the wreck by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) revealed that the Japanese torpedo had ruptured only two out of the Montebello’s ten oil storage tanks. The remaining eight tanks were still watertight, and full of millions of gallons of crude oil. As the wreck naturally deteriorates over time eventually that oil will be released into the surrounding ocean, which poses an alarming ecological issue for the nearby marine sanctuary. Salvaging the wreck has not been seriously considered due to the costs involved, so scientists can only regularly inspect the wreck for signs of degradation. Inevitably, this ghost of the Second World War sits rusting away, a potential ecological time bomb waiting to go off.

Commander Matsumura decided to remain in the vicinity of his successful sinking of the Montebello. He was rewarded later that day, 23 December, by the appearance of the 6,418-ton American tanker Idaho, which he shelled and damaged with his deck-gun before breaking off his attack. However, the following day Matsumura and the I-21 came close to running foul of American anti-submarine forces in the region. The I-21 was patrolling at periscope depth when a small, depth charge armed patrol vessel surprised her. Two depth charges were released which exploded close to the submarine’s hull. The I-21’s vertical rudder was wrecked, and the explosions also knocked out all of her lights. Matsumura decided that instead of staying down and being bombarded to pieces by depth charges, the I-21 would surface, enabling the gunners to fight it out with the patrol boat and any reinforcements that showed up. Matsumura’s banzai tactic was forestalled just as the boat was rising to the surface as the lights suddenly came back on and the engineering department reported that they had repaired the submarine’s steering. This meant that the I-21 could be saved, and more importantly returned to Kwajalein for repairs. Matsumura immediately left the area and set a course for home. On 11 January 1942 the I-21 arrived back at base, and Commander Matsumura was incorrectly credited with sinking two enemy tankers.

On 14 December 1941, in common with the other Japanese submarines the I-25 was reassigned to the United States west coast. The I-25 was given a patrol area off the cities of Astoria and Portland in Oregon, specifically targeting merchant shipping using the important Columbia River estuary. The I-25 struck early on in the Japanese attempt to plague American coastal commerce, locating the Union Oil tanker L. P. St. Clair. Following standard operational orders issued to all submarine skippers before the commencement of the west coast campaign, the captain of the I-25, Lieutenant-Commander Meiji Tagami, assigned the job of sinking the tanker to his deck-gun crew. No torpedoes were used during the night time attack. As the gunners attempted to hit the L. P. St. Clair with gunfire, the captain put her hard to port and managed to evade ten armour-piercing rounds before disappearing into the dark Columbia River Channel.

On 22 December Commander Tagami was offered something enticing in a radio message from 6th Fleet Headquarters at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. The Combined Fleet Intelligence Bureau had received information that the battleships USS Mississippi, New Mexico and Idaho were in the process of transferring into the Pacific from the Atlantic via the Panama Canal to reinforce the shattered US Pacific Fleet. Although this information would prove to be false, Vice-Admiral Shimizu immediately radioed the submarines I-25, I-17 and I-9. Japanese naval intelligence estimated that the battleships were due to arrive at Los Angeles on or about Christmas Day 1941. The I-25 was ordered to patrol the area between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the hope of intercepting the capital ships as they made their way to port. After the intelligence concerning the three American battleships had turned out to be false the I-25 was ordered to patrol off the Oregon coast, to continue her original mission of commerce interdiction.

On 27 December the submarine’s lookouts located the 8,684-ton American tanker Connecticut during the night off the aptly named Cape Disappointment. The lookouts saw the tanker’s white masthead running light in the distance, and discerned her engine noise on the clear night air. Tagami gave immediate chase, spending twenty minutes manoeuvring into a suitable attack position before launching a single torpedo at the Connecticut’s stern. The Long Lance struck the tanker squarely in the stern, submarine and prey both brilliantly illuminated for a second by the flash of the explosion that immediately ignited a large fire. Tagami assumed that he had dealt the Connecticut a killer blow from which the tanker would not recover. Satisfied that the tanker would eventually sink, Tagami ordered the I-25 to motor away from the scene some ten miles off the American coast. The Connecticut, however, although settling by the stern, was not ready to disappear just yet. She escaped the scene of the attack and eventually went aground in the mouth of the Columbia River where she was salvaged for repairs. Once again, the single torpedo mantra being adhered to by Japanese submarine skippers was costing them their kills, though most commanders left the scene of their attacks believing that they had successfully sunk the ships they had struck.

Following the attack on the Connecticut, Tagami took the I-25 back to base to refuel, rearm and revictual. On 11 January 1942 the I-25 arrived at the 6th Fleet’s anchorage at Kwajalein. On 8 February the submarine set sail again, this time bound not for America, but for the coasts of Australia and New Zealand.

Japanese submarine I-19

The I-19 first struck at commercial traffic off the west coast early on Christmas Eve 1941. Completed at Kobe by Mitsubishi Shipbuilding in April 1941, the I-19 under Lieutenant-Commander Shogo Narahara had already untaken duties during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent failed pursuit of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. For the move to the coast of the United States the I-19 had been assigned a patrol area off the great metropolis of Los Angeles. On 22 December the I-19 had chased the American oil tanker H.M. Storey for an hour before Narahara had been satisfied that his firing position was good. Disregarding orders concerning the use of torpedoes, Narahara ordered a spread of three released from the bow tubes, all of which missed the tanker. The H.M. Storey made good her escape and a frustrated Narahara continued his patrol, itching for another opportunity to prove his usefulness.

On the morning of Christmas Eve Commander Narahara sighted the Barbara Olsen, a freighter loaded down with lumber that was on her way to San Diego. The Long Lance torpedo released by the I-19 passed clean beneath the Barbara Olsen, and detonated approximately 100 feet from the ship’s hull. The booming detonation of the torpedo, and the massive column of black smoke which rose to 300 feet, was spied by lookouts aboard the US Navy sub chaser USS Amethyst that was patrolling the entrance to Los Angeles harbour four miles away from the aborted Japanese attack. The Amethyst immediately went to ‘Action Stations’ and raced to the assistance of the Barbara Olsen. On this occasion, although the Amethyst conducted a thorough search of the area, no trace was found of the offending submarine. In fact, Narahara had taken his boat several miles north to an area close to the lighthouse at Point Fermin. By 10 a.m. that Christmas Eve the I-19 was settled down at periscope depth awaiting a target of opportunity to emerge from the nearby Catalina Channel. By 10.30 a.m. a 5,700-ton lumber freighter named Absaroka was observed by the I-19 off Point Fermin.

Commanded by Captain Louie Pringle, the McCormick Steamship Company vessel would pass within one mile of a US Army coastal defence gun position located in front of the Point Fermin lighthouse, the soldiers having a grandstand view of the events that followed. The I-19 pressed home its attack on the Absaroka with determination. The first torpedo passed wide of the freighter, but a second torpedo was launched almost immediately, Commander Narahara continuing to disregard the ‘one torpedo per enemy ship’ order previously issued to the Japanese submarines operating off America. This second torpedo slammed into the Absaroka’s Number 5 Hold, the blast throwing three crewmen, busily engaged in checking that the lumber carried on deck was securely fastened down, overboard. Massive quantities of lumber were blown into the air by the force of the explosion, one crewman recalling that it appeared ‘as if a man were throwing matchsticks around’. One of the three crewmen flung into the water by the torpedo strike was able to get back aboard the Absaroka almost immediately. The ship heeled over in the blast, her main deck railing touching the surface of the sea. The seaman took a firm hold of the railing, and as the ship righted herself he was lifted clear of the water and scrambled back aboard. Another of the men who had gone overboard managed to climb back onto the deck with the aid of a rope. The third man had been injured during the explosion and would require assistance from his shipmates to get safely back aboard the ship. Standing on deck, Seaman Ryan picked up a rope mooring line and flung it at the man struggling in the water. However, in the midst of this rescue attempt a tragedy struck. The force of the torpedo’s explosion had upset the tons of lumber stored on the freighter’s deck, and the lashings holding everything securely in place had parted or were no longer tight. As Ryan concentrated on trying to save his comrade a massive pile of lumber suddenly broke free with a roar and fell upon him. Ryan was crushed to death and his body swept over the ship’s side as tons of lumber splashed into the sea.

In the Absaroka’s radio shack the operator had picked himself up off the floor where he had been flung by the force of the Japanese torpedo impact and had sent an SOS distress call and details of the submarine attack to the shore. On deck, the remaining crew had already begun to make the ship’s lifeboats ready as the Absaroka settled lower and lower in the water. Responding to the Absaroka’s distress call, US Army Air Corps planes soon arrived at the scene, dropping bombs into the sea close to the I-19’s last reported position. The USS Amethyst steamed defiantly up to the Absaroka, taking off the crew, and then spent several hours’ depth charging the area in the vain hope of destroying the elusive Japanese submarine. It was all to no avail, as none of the thirty-two depth charges found their target. As time passed it became apparent to Captain Pringle that his ship, although with her main deck awash, was not in any immediate danger of foundering. Perhaps the Absaroka could be salvaged, and with this in mind a US Navy tug tied up to the freighter ready to haul her to land. Pringle and seven volunteers re-boarded the Absaroka to assist with the salvage operation. With great care the freighter was taken into shore and beached below Fort MacArthur. The great hole in the Absaroka’s hull made by the Japanese torpedo became a useful propaganda tool for the American home front. In a similar tone to the British slogan ‘Careless talk costs lives’, movie actress Jane Russell was photographed standing in the gaping hole holding a poster emblazoned with the slogan ‘A slip of the lip may sink a ship.’ The photograph appeared in LIFE magazine in January 1942. The press speculated on the possible involvement of Japanese-Americans in assisting enemy submarines in finding their targets, all of which was completely unfounded and further demonstrated the fear and paranoia gripping the west coast.

By Christmas Day 1941 the Japanese submarines assigned to interdict American coastal shipping had begun to break off their attacks and plot a course for their home bases. Originally, all of the submarines were to have moved even closer inshore, and were supposed to have expended their deck-gun ammunition against shore installations along the west coast before heading home. Admiral Osami Nagano, Chief of the Naval General Staff in Tokyo, had countermanded Vice-Admiral Shimizu’s original shore bombardment order. It has been surmised that Nagano feared that American submarines would retaliate by bombarding Japanese coastal installations and towns. Only Commander Nishino and the I-17 would go against his wishes and conduct a coastal bombardment sortie against the United States before departing across the Pacific.

Japanese Naval AAA Early War

Japan developed naval radar to a far greater extent than her Axis partners, because her fleets spent much more time in contact with enemy fleets and enemy aircraft. Unlike the Germans, the Japanese pursued both metric-wave and microwave technology. They did not develop the powerful magnetrons which made British and US microwave radar fully effective (output was typically half a kW rather than the hundreds of kW of the Western sets). Also, because the first radars they saw (in Germany) were air-search sets, the Japanese were inclined to begin with that type of radar rather than, as in the German navy, to limit themselves to fire-control sets. The first two installations were on board the battleships Ise and Hyuga, prior to Midway. Meanwhile US and British metric army radars fell into Japanese hands at Singapore and in the Philippines.

The first major operational sets were a metric air-search radar (Type 2 Mk 2 Mod 1) and a microwave surface-search set (Mk 2 Mod 2, a developmental designation). Mk 2 Mod 1 had a mattress antenna. On a carrier it was typically free-standing; on a battleship or cruiser it was on the foretop. Range on an aircraft was 70 to 100km (38 to 54nm). Because there was no Japanese PPI scope, the surface-search set was also treated as a fire-control rangefinder.

After the battle of the Philippine Sea, the Naval General Staff ordered all surviving ships equipped with both an air-search set (Type 3 Mk 1 Mod 3) and a surface-search set (Mk 2 Mod 3, with increased power [10 kW]). Type 3 Mk 1 was a new set, development of which was completed only in February 1944, based on a land-based radar. The great deficiency was a complete lack of anti-aircraft fire-control radar. There were also airborne radars, including sea-search sets. Unfortunately they were heavy. Thus during the battle of the Philippine Sea Japanese torpedo bombers equipped with Mk 6 radars were ordered to remove them: they could not lift both the radar and a torpedo.

The pre-war Imperial Japanese Navy was determined to maintain radio silence, which to the higher staff included radar silence. That view stopped radar development for a time before the war, when it was first proposed, and the ban on emissions (until ships were under fire) was not completely lifted until the spring of 1944, just before the battle of the Philippine Sea. By that time ships had been lost under circumstances suggesting that they would have survived had they had air warning. The battleship Musashi had been damaged by a surprise attack while steaming from Japan to Palau in the latter part of February 1944. The cruiser Atago had given a practical demonstration of the value of radar. During repairs after Guadalcanal, the Communications Officer of First Fleet convinced his superiors to mount an early Mk 2 Mod 2 microwave surface-search set aboard the cruiser. The radar was credited with the survival of seven cruisers after the battle of Empress Augusta Bay in November 1943.

In the 1930s, like the US Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy considered its carriers both powerful and vulnerable; the question was how to use them most effectively before they could be destroyed. The initial answer for both navies was dispersal. Thus a November 1936 Staff College study called for dispersal of the carriers so that they could envelop an enemy force. The largest carriers would steam alone, the smaller ones in dispersed formations so that they could combine to provide sufficient striking power. The paper emphasised the need for greater range than the enemy’s, a continuing theme later on.36 The experience of war in China seems to have convinced the Imperial Navy that only by massing could it realise the offensive power of its carriers. The 1939–40 fleet exercises employed co-ordinated air group attacks. Since it was essential not to reveal the positions of the carriers, the Japanese saw little point in using radio to co-ordinate dispersed ships. They had to be within visual range if their air groups were to work together. The compromise solution reached in 1940 was for the carriers of each division to concentrate, but the divisions to disperse so as to envelop the enemy.

The Japanese Navy was the first in the world to concentrate all the aircraft of several carriers into an integrated Air Fleet. By May 1941 it had a multi-carrier operational doctrine. By this time, at least as conveyed to the contemporary Royal Italian Navy by a high-level Japanese mission, the Imperial Navy considered the enemy carriers its prime target, since once they were sunk the enemy’s naval force would be deprived of essential air services: search, attack, and fighter defence. Once the carriers were gone, the enemy fleet would lose about half its fighting potential. Conversely, great attention had to be paid to safe-guarding the Japanese carriers. The Japanese seem to have envisaged a two-phase battle, the carriers first destroying the enemy carriers, and the main body (surface force) then engaging the enemy’s surface force, the unstated assumption being that carrier aircraft probably could not sink the enemy’s battleships. That was a logical assumption at the time, given the large number of torpedoes a modern battleship could absorb and the ineffectiveness of dive-bombing armoured decks.

Each Japanese task force (a phrase used in the 1941 Italian notes) would have attached to it a carrier division of up to three carriers. At this stage there was no expectation of unifying the air groups. Instead, the idea was to specialise – to place all the fighters on one carrier, the dive bombers on a second, and the torpedo bombers on a third. It was understood that specialisation might be dangerous, but until the two fleets engaged the only real danger was submarine attack, which was considered minimal. Apparently Japanese doctrine also allowed for mixing different types on each carrier, but that was considered an inferior solution. All-fighter carriers would be responsible for protection of non-fighter carriers, but carriers with mixed air groups would be at the direct disposal of a task force commander both to protect the main body and for use during the surface battle and subsequent pursuit.

The carriers had to be separated from the main body – the surface force – so that they were unlikely to fall victim to enemy light or heavy ships. Prevailing wind, for launch or recovery, would determine where the carriers might be placed. In the simplest formation, the carriers were about ten miles ahead of the main body, with attached destroyers for submarine protection and cruisers to protect them from enemy light forces. Once combat was imminent, the carriers would move so that the Japanese main body was between them and the enemy, beyond gun and torpedo range (a 1941 diagram showed the carriers 20–25nm off the track of the Japanese main body, with 20nm a bare minimum).

The emphasis on fighter defence of both the carriers and the main body suggests that by the spring of 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy had limited faith in its anti-aircraft guns – which was much the position of the US Navy at the time. However, by 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy was building Akizuki class destroyers which may have been intended specifically to provide anti-aircraft support to carriers. The provision of the destroyers may have reflected fear that it would be difficult to spot high-performance attackers in time. Carriers, like capital ships, were well armed with anti-aircraft guns. Overall the Japanese seem to have had much the same view of carrier survivability as the US Navy: carriers were eggshells armed with hammers. Fighters were the only real defensive option, but attackers would probably succeed. That is certainly what happened in the 1942 carrier battles.

It is not at all clear that the Japanese had thought through the requirements of fleet air defence. The standard carrier fighter complement was eighteen aircraft, nine of which were expected to accompany its strike aircraft. Without reliable voice radio, and without radar, fighter direction could not even be imagined. The standard fighter formation was the three-plane shotai. In theory a carrier would maintain a shotai continuously aloft (with two-hour endurance), keep another on deck alert and a third at a lesser readiness. If an attack developed, the two reserve units would be launched to supplement the one aloft. Individual pilots had assigned sectors. In theory, further aircraft could be vectored to a threatened sector, but little attention went to direction of any kind.

Carriers were grouped together as an integrated force (mobile aircraft force) for the first time in the June 1940 manoeuvres, and on 1 April 1941 two carrier divisions were formed into the 1st Air Fleet as a unified entity. By the time of Pearl Harbor six carrier air groups had been integrated together. In such a force each carrier had its own mixed air group. That presented a new operational problem, as each carrier would have to launch and recover aircraft more frequently, usually manoeuvring into and out of the wind. Like the contemporary US Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy seems to have concluded that carriers should be well separated to this end. Separation would also make it more difficult for an enemy to find and attack all of the carriers. Separation in turn made it impossible to provide the destroyer screens previously envisaged. Instead, each carrier was assigned two plane guard destroyers. Carrier survival would be based on manoeuvre (evasion) and dispersal (an enemy strike should not find all of them together).

Given their First World War experience working alongside the Royal Navy, it seems likely that the Japanese adopted the British emphasis on radio silence for security. On that basis it is not clear how well air operations from separated carriers could be conducted. It would be much simpler to concentrate a pre-arranged strike than fleet air defence. Fighter defence seems to have been conducted by a strong CAP, without any form of fighter direction. It does appear that the Japanese hoped for early warning provided by lookouts on board dispersed surface ships.

Given limited faith in fleet anti-aircraft firepower, ships could manoeuvre freely to evade attack, even though that would ruin fire-control solutions. The Japanese adopted a standard circular evasive manoeuvre, familiar from photographs of Japanese ships under attack, from Shoho at the Coral Sea onwards, had the important virtue that it might frustrate dive bombing, as an attacker would find it difficult at best to compensate for a radically varying aim point and with the changing effect of wind as the ship moved. At least one US officer espoused exactly this manoeuvre in 1942. Note that if all the ships in a formation began to circle at high speed, the formation would break up. That was probably acceptable given that there was apparently little interest in mutual support other than by integrating the air groups of carriers working together. It is not clear whether the circular manoeuvre was adopted pre-war or during the war.

Thus the Akizuki class, armed with four twin 10cm/60, and specifically intended for anti-aircraft screening, seemed to contradict evolving Japanese carrier thinking. The first six were inserted into the naval programme as modified in December 1938, under the designation ‘direct protection’ destroyers. As sketched they would displace 2600 tons, with a speed of 34kts, armed with four twin 10cm, four 25mm and a bank of four torpedo tubes. The light torpedo battery testified to their unconventional mission. They were described as close protection for carrier divisions. The projected Maru 5 and Maru 6 programmes planned in 1941 included a new class of anti-aircraft cruisers, to displace about 5000 tons and to be armed with six twin 10cm guns. However, they were not included in the programme as projected in the spring of 1941. Instead, it included sixteen improved Akizukis (2900 tons, design F-53). The other sixteen destroyers in the programme were of more traditional (Shimakaze) type (a repeat pre-war type was eventually built).

The Japanese distinguished three types of operation. One was the massed strike against a land target, as at Pearl Harbor. In that operation the carriers occupied a box about 8km on a side, the distance providing sufficient sea room for the carriers. The six ships which struck Pearl Harbor were in two widely-separated staggered columns, with screening ships around the box. Much the same formation was adopted for Midway, the only major difference being that there was columns of two rather than three. In the Indian Ocean operation (March/April 1942), the major units were in line ahead, the head of the column being a bent screen of destroyers with a cruiser on either flank. This formation would make sense (as in British operations in the Mediterranean) if the object was to clear a corridor of submarines.

A second type of operation was a fleet vs. fleet battle, as at the Coral Sea. Carriers operated loosely co-ordinated, each having only plane guards in company. The surface force (the main body) would be nearby but not too close. Probably the Japanese had learned from pre-war exercises that it was much easier to spot a large surface force from the air, and that carriers should not be so close that any scout spotting the surface force would also see them. That was much the lesson the US Navy had learned pre-war.

At Santa Cruz battleships and cruisers formed a vanguard formation, with the carriers about 100km astern. This vanguard was largely line abreast, which suggests it was a scouting formation, except that it had a pair of Kongos in line ahead at its centre. The four carriers were in loose formation, the carrier Shokaku leading her sister Zuikaku by about 8000m, with Zuiho 8000m to one side and Junyo 100 miles away (originally she was to have had Hiyo with her, but that ship had to retire due to an engine fire). Each carrier had two plane-guard destroyers as her only escorts. Compared to the Eastern Solomons, the carriers were considerably further astern of the vanguard. This combination of Main Body and Advance Force was used again at the Philippine Sea in June 1944. A third type of operation was direct support of a surface force, a single carrier being more or less integrated with the surface force. That was the case of Shoho at the Coral Sea, with cruisers in company.

In August 1943 Combined Fleet issued a memorandum explaining that for future operations it was necessary to have a standard set of operating procedures and doctrines. At just about the same time the US Navy was developing its own set of standardised procedures under the designation PAC-10 (or USF-10A). Both navies had to deal with the disintegration of the pre-war fleet. In the US case, the flood of new construction (and new air groups) could be absorbed only in standardised forms, so that each new ship or squadron knew where it fitted in. In the Japanese case, the pre-war navy understood enough that limited orders sufficed. Enough of that fleet was destroyed, particularly in the Solomons, to bring up officers who had not absorbed enough standard procedures pre-war. Like their US counterparts, they needed standardised procedures laid out explicitly. Probably the doctrines involved were not too different from those of the past, but the officers of the past did not need such explicitness. At about the same time the Japanese introduced circular screening formations for carriers, mainly for protection against submarines (almost no Japanese destroyers had area anti-aircraft capability). No other surface combatants were involved, and multicarrier formations were not envisaged; this was not contemporary US circular-screen practice.

A May 1943 paper on strike force tactics drew the lesson of the 1942 carrier battles: ‘the secret … is to divert and restrain the enemy on one side, and then to attack suddenly from the flank. This discovery was a product of chance in successive battles. We must deliberately develop such situations and, advancing, destroy the enemy on the field of battle.’ That changed the likely role of the heavy surface group from a hammer against the enemy’s surface ships (and damaged carriers) to a means of diverting his attention from the carriers, which were now to be the hammer. The May paper advocated forming a diversionary force comprising a battleship division and decoy carriers. The latter could be useful only if they were used aggressively, hence had to be fast. A light cruiser, for example, might be camouflaged to look like a carrier. Official doctrine promulgated in March 1944 went further. The Advance Force of the past (the heavy surface force) was renamed the Diversionary Attack Force in line with current thinking. This logic was inverted at Leyte Gulf, the carriers, almost bare of aircraft, acting to divert attention from the heavy attack force approaching invasion shipping.

The new doctrine emphasised air attack against the enemy’s carriers, not only as a means of reducing the enemy’s overall strength prior to a surface battle, but as the main part of a battle. In the face of enemy aircraft, the fleet would retire quickly and reorganise. That made sense, since the Japanese could expect to outreach the Americans, striking first to (they hoped) destroy US carriers and their aircraft. Only if the US Navy achieved surprise (due to a failure of Japanese scouting) or managed to wipe out the Japanese air strike force (as happened at the Philippine Sea) would the Japanese carriers see US carrier aircraft. Alternative fleet dispositions were a concentration of all three carrier divisions, a concentration of two with a third carrier division at a distance, and three separate carrier divisions. Since relatively few surface ships operated with each carrier or carrier division, the Japanese did not feel any pressure to consolidate the carriers into US-style formations.

Admiral Lazarev class monitor

The Admiral Lazarev class was a pair of monitors built for the Imperial Russian Navy in the late 1860s (designated frigates by the navy). Four ships were ordered, but the last two were significantly modified and became the separate Admiral Spiridov class of ships. Admiral Lazarev and Admiral Greig became the first turreted warships in the Russian Navy.

The ships were similar in size to earlier Russian ironclads. They had a shorter beam due to the turret, rather than broadside weaponry. A longer draft made the ships more stable at the sea. Due to the heavy weight, the masts of the ships were significantly lighter and smaller than initially planned, but the more powerful 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW) engine made the ships somewhat faster than earlier monitors, with the top speed of 11 knots (20 km/h).

The ships were protected by a 4.5 in (114 mm) armor belt and turrets by 6.5 in (165 mm) armor. The main armament was three gun turrets, each with two 9-inch (229 mm) guns. Later, all four ships had turrets refitted with 11-inch (279 mm) guns, one gun per turret. With the new guns, the Admiral Lazarev and Admiral Spiridov classes became among the most powerful ships of the Baltic Fleet.


British Aircraft Carrier – MALTA CLASS

The final version of Malta’s flight deck design in 1945. The dotted lines show the dimensions of the single-deck hangar below it.

Malta’s open hangar design in 1945 compared with the USS Essex and the closed hangar in the Ark Royal that was under construction at the time.

The Malta Class marked a major change in British aircraft carrier design. Work on them started after the Joint Technical Committee recommended that future naval aircraft should be allowed to grow in both size and weight up to a maximum of 30,000lb to provide improved performance. The Future Building Committee had already considered the impact such aircraft would have on the design of the ships that would operate them, and ordered new designs. Previous British carriers had been designed around the assumption that the aircraft complement would be the maximum number of aircraft that could be stowed in the hangar, and that aircraft would be launched in small numbers over a long period. Experience by 1942 had shown that many more aircraft needed to embarked, and that they would often need to be launched in large numbers for strike operations. The Admiralty accepted at this time that embarked fighters represented a better air defence for the fleet than either guns or armour. The armoured double hangar limited the size of the flight deck, and the medium-range-gun mountings on their sponsons aft narrowed it still further, limiting the size of any deck park and the maximum number of aircraft that could be ranged for take-off at any one time. Despite the acceptance of a low maximum speed for the 1942 light fleet carriers, it was believed that fleet carriers must be able to accelerate rapidly to 30 knots in order to launch large, heavy aircraft, and that powerful machinery would be needed for them.

Technical background

Design studies began in February 1943 with consideration of a lengthened Ark Royal, but were soon expanded to consider ships with single or double hangars, up to 900ft long and 54,000 tons deep load. Hangars with open sides like the USN Essex Class were considered, but DNC recommended against them as closed hangar designs, even if the sides were not armoured, represented a more efficient and lighter hull. A ship’s hull can be considered as a hollow beam which is stressed by the distribution of buoyancy caused by wave motion. In closed-hangar ships the flight deck is the upper part of the beam; in open-hangar ships the flight deck is built as superstructure and the hangar deck becomes the upper part of a smaller beam. The deeper beam of the closed hangar represents the stronger and lighter structure; it is capable of resisting greater loadings, and the difference between the two can be considerable. Against this, the Admiralty was aware that the USN was able to run aircraft engines in its open-hangared ships and bring them rapidly to the flight deck to increase the size of a launch. It was also believed to be easier to move aircraft in the large, open hangars of American ships than in the relatively cramped closed hangars of existing British ships, but many other factors would have to be taken into consideration if an open-hangar design was to be considered seriously. Both four-and five-shaft layouts were considered and various applications of armour were investigated.

The initial Design A was considered too small and replaced by Designs B and C, which were put before the Admiralty Board on 17 July 1943. Design B featured a single closed hangar and C a double closed hangar at 55,000 tons deep load. It was to operate 108 aircraft in a fifty/fifty mixture of fighters and TBD requiring a ship’s company of at least 3,300. An open-hangar equivalent was sketched and submitted for comparison; it had an unarmoured flight deck but armour in the hull under the hangar deck. It was calculated at 61,060 tons at deep load. Design C, although not yet fully developed, was approved by the Board on 8 October 1943. Such was the importance placed on these ships by the Board that the order for a fourth unit of the Audacious Class was changed to a Malta on 12 July 1943, and three others were ordered on 15 July so that no time would be lost while the design was finalised. Design C was ready for Board approval by April 1944, but the Fifth Sea Lord, responsible for air matters, reopened the question of an open hangar design after urgent representations from aircrew with extensive operational experience. The matter was discussed again, and the Board decided at its meeting on 19 May 1944 that the operational advantages of an open hangar were sufficiently compelling for it to be substituted for design C. DNC objected that the change of policy would delay the ships’ construction by eight months and demonstrated how aircraft could be warmed up in the after part of the upper hangar to allow large launches from Design C, but the requirement for an open hangar stood.

A new Design X was prepared and submitted to the Board in August 1944. At 60,000 tons deep load it had a hangar that was open-sided aft but plated-in forward to prevent water ingress in rough weather. There was no flight deck armour, but it had 6in protection over the citadel under the hangar deck; there were two centreline and two side lifts. The latter were virtually impossible to fit in a closed-hangar design and had become appreciated by the Americans as one of the big advantages of the open design, as they allowed rapid aircraft movements while flying operations were in progress. As logistic resupply in the Pacific grew in importance it was also appreciated that the side lift allowed stores to be transferred rapidly into the hangar by jackstay transfer from a stores ship alongside and then distributed throughout the hull.

The design differed from all previous British carriers in that the flight deck would be built as superstructure and, therefore, needed to incorporate expansion joints. The island had grown to accommodate new radars under development and the air direction rooms and operations rooms to make use of them. By Design X it was split in two to allow an expansion joint approximately amidships. Advantage was taken of the gap to make both sections into aerofoil shapes to smooth the airflow away from the landing area aft. The 190,000shp machinery design of Design C was increased to 20,000shp for Design X but slightly reduced to 200,000 for Design X1, the final iteration; it would have been of an advanced, highly superheated design that was superior to the machinery fitted in Ark Royal. This would have given a speed in excess of 32 knots clean at deep load, and rapid acceleration.

The sixteen 4.5in guns were to be mounted in eight turrets, two on each quarter as in previous fleet carrier designs, but the requirement for them to fire across the deck was recognised as impractical and dropped. They would have been fitted in Mark 7 turrets, internally similar to the Mark 6 fitted to the majority of postwar British destroyers and frigates, but with a larger, 14ft-diameter roller path. Externally they would have been circular with a flat roof flush with the flight deck, like those in Implacable and Indefatigable. Like these earlier ships they would have been strong enough for aircraft to taxi over them or even to be parked with a wheel on the turret roof. Close-range armament included eight six-barrelled and seven single 40mm Bofors. Directors were mostly sited on or near the island so that they did not encroach on the rectangular shape of the flight deck or project above it, where aircraft wings might hit them. ‘Less than perfect’ fire control arrangements were accepted in the interests of optimal flying operations from the deck. The radar outfit would have been a considerable improvement on previous carriers, and was to include Type 960 air-warning, Type 982 intercept and Type 983 height-finding radars as well as Type 293M target indication radar and a number of target-tracking radars for the gunnery systems. Type 961 carrier-controlled approach radar for recoveries at night and in bad weather would also have been fitted.

Design X offered the largest flight deck yet designed for a British warship, at 938ft long overall, 6ft longer than that of the contemporary USS Midway, CV-41. However, there were fears that such a large ship would be unable to enter either Portsmouth or Devonport Dockyards, and alternative hulls 850ft and 750ft long were considered. Both offered less aircraft operating capability than Design X, and thus less value for money. A compromise hull 888ft long and 56,800 tons deep load, designated Design X1, was adopted. It was the shortest hull that could realistically have two side lifts, both on the port side, but was at the upper limit of size for the dry docks available in the Royal Dockyards. On 27 February 1945 DNC was tasked with completing the new design, and it was worked out in detail for Board approval on 12 April 1945.

The final design, X1, was intended from the outset to operate 30,000lb aircraft in large numbers, especially on long-range strike operations, and the Future Building Committee accepted that the requirements of aircraft operation dictated the design. This was in marked contrast to the armoured carriers of the Illustrious group, in which the ship design had dictated the size and type of aircraft and the way that they could be operated. It was appreciated that heavy aircraft, and especially jets, would need to be launched by catapult, and two were specified capable of launching 30,000lb aircraft at ends speeds of up to 130 knots in quick succession. This was a big ask, and Eagle, completed in 1951 with two BH5s, the most powerful British hydraulic catapults, could only achieve end speeds of 75 knots at this weight. The Admiralty’s early enthusiasm for the steam catapult is explained by the limitations on aircraft launch weights posed by legacy catapults.

The Admiralty decided in June 1944 that the flight deck should be constructed of mild steel plate on top of transverse beams that would provide the main strength, and that it should be covered with wood planking, following the USN practice. This gave a good non-slip surface that could easily be replaced after minor damage and aircraft accidents, but subsequent iterations of Design X1 may have reverted to a non-armoured steel deck, in line with the light fleet carriers. There would have been sixteen arrester wires reeved to eight operating units, each to be capable of stopping a 20,000lb aircraft at an entry speed of 75 knots. The three barriers would have had the same weight and entry speed parameters but a pull-out limited to 40ft. Movement of aircraft would have been easier than in any previous British design, with two centreline lifts, each 54ft long and 46ft wide, capable of lifting 30,000lb. The side lifts were 54ft long by 36ft wide and capable of lifting 30,000lb; aircraft positioned on them could overhang the ship’s side.

Their length was reduced from 60ft in Design X in order to support the sides of the lift opening on main transverse bulkheads. They were positioned one forward of the barriers and one aft and, during aircraft recoveries, it was intended that ‘sidetracking’ gear on the flight deck would allow aircraft that had just landed on to be moved on to the after side lift and struck down into the hangar quickly while the recovery continued. Others would taxi into Fly 1 ahead of the barriers, allowing large numbers of aircraft to be landed-on in a single recovery. The aircraft struck down could taxi and shut down their engines in the hangar parking area. Conversely, during launch operations, about seventy aircraft could be ranged aft on the flight deck and taxi forward to be catapulted; others would be run-up in the hangar, brought up to deck level on the forward side lift and moved into line with the catapults on the ‘side-tracking’ gear to be launched quickly. The ideas were novel, founded on experience, but were never tried because the Gibraltars were cancelled and the angled deck and steam catapults were adopted before newer ships were completed.

The guides for the deck-edge lifts were outside the main hull, and in their lower position at hangar-deck level they would have been vulnerable to wave damage. However, this seems not to have been a problem with the single side-lift in the USN Essex Class, and the novelty of the design may have caused DNC to overstate the potential problem. The side lifts were designed to be hinged up for entry into harbour and docking.

There were concerns about the effect of fire in an open hangar, and it was designed to be divided, if necessary, into four sections, each of which could be isolated by steel doors. Each section had its own lift which could be used to evacuate aircraft, and the normal spray arrangements were provided. DNC believed that it would be possible to continue flying operations in action while fire in a single section was brought under control. While the deck area of Malta’s hangar was larger than the upper hangar in Ark Royal, the funnel uptakes made significant inroads on the starboard side because the funnel uptakes were brought as far to port as possible to avoid the uptake problems that had contributed to the loss of Ark Royal in 1941.

Without armoured sides to the hangar there was little point in armouring the flight deck, although the question was raised again in May 1945, following hits by kamikaze aircraft on British carriers in the Pacific. Adding armour to the flight deck would have required another major redesign, and idea was finally rejected by the First Sea Lord in a statement to DNC on 20 May 1945. Armour was concentrated on the hangar deck and ship’s sides. Since the hangar deck was penetrated by access hatches to the deck below, the 4in armour was concentrated in the centre of the deck as an uncompromised ‘slab’ over the machinery. Armour of the same thickness was taken down the ship’s sides to create an armoured ‘box’ over the machinery spaces. The magazines for 4.5in ammunition and the steering gear compartment lay outside this armoured citadel and were armoured with their own 4in inverted ‘boxes’ with 3in end bulkheads. In addition the design included a number of transverse bulkheads to limit the effect of underwater explosions and the subsequent flooding. The machinery was divided into forward and aft boiler room groups separated by auxiliary machinery, with an engine room further aft. The ‘sandwich’ underwater protection, effectively an interior ‘bulge’ 20ft thick, was based on a complete re-examination of the subject, and differed from the that fitted in earlier fleet carriers. Designed to protect against charges up to 1,200lb exploding 10ft below the deep waterline, it featured a water/water/air ‘sandwich’ backed by a holding bulkhead installed at an angle to the vertical. This had the advantages of grading the protection to meet the increased damaging effect as depth increased, and making it easier to provide the desired level of protection forward and aft of amidships.

Suspensions and cancellation

The change to an open-hangar design led to delays in laying down these ships. The Admiralty Plans Division effectively suspended Africa and Gibraltar in its 1944 construction programme, and expected Malta to be laid down at the end of 1944 and New Zealand in April 1945. The suspended ships were to be undertaken only if the work did not interfere with orders for other urgently needed warships. A report by the Controller in October 1944 clearly had the end of the war against in Germany in sight and anticipated Japanese defeat by December 1946. He recommended that Malta and New Zealand should still be laid down and proceeded with slowly, but that Africa and Gibraltar should remain suspended. The Board gave its approval for the revised plan in November 1944. A Paper on the composition of the postwar navy was prepared by Plans Division on 29 May 1945; it made no changes, but the reality of postwar austerity forced the Admiralty to make drastic cuts in the following weeks.

On 29 September 1945 the Controller recommended the outright cancellation of Africa and Gibraltar, together with the four ships of the Hermes Class that had not yet been laid down and large numbers of cruisers, destroyers, sloops and submarines that were accepted as surplus to postwar requirements and on which little work had been done. The Admiralty Board gave its approval for the cancellations on 15 October 1945. Malta and New Zealand were eventually cancelled on 13 December 1945, and some writers have taken the delay to indicate that work on them might have started. If this is so, there can have been very little metal on the slipway and the later date probably indicates little more than the growing pressure on the Admiralty to reduce the size of its residual building programme in a period of extreme austerity, and to make slipways available for mercantile construction.

A lost potential?

The potential offered by the Gibraltar class design is enigmatic. After two years’ design effort they had reached the point where the design was mature enough to start in mid-1945, but three other large carriers and a number of smaller ones were actually being built and the Admiralty assumed, wrongly as it transpired, that the legacy Illustrious group, the largest of which were only two years old, could be modified at reasonable cost to operate the new generation of jet aircraft. A decade later it was realised that the armoured carriers, including Ark Royal, Eagle and Victorious, were extremely difficult and very expensive to adapt to take the new generation of carrier equipment including steam catapults, angled decks, larger radars and bigger operations rooms. With hindsight, the Maltas could have been modified in a shorter timescale at considerably less cost, and would have been more effective operational ships with the first- and second-generation jet strike fighters, just like the contemporary USN Midway Class. Their more modern machinery would also have given them a distinct advantage. It is difficult not to surmise that the RN would have been better off building two Maltas rather than the two Audacious Class ships that were retained and built to modified designs after 1945.


Kronshtadt-class battlecruisers

Technical data of the heavy cruiser designs and the battlecruiser


On 5 September 1938 the Soviet government had informed the British, in accordance with the ‘Anglo-Soviet Qualitative Naval Agreement’ of 1937, about the dates of new ships of 44,190t stdd.63 Of the 15 battleships of projekt 23, planned in the August 1938 programme, the revision of August 1939 now planned to build eight ships in the first part up to 1942, and six in the second part up to 1947. The first two vessels, the Sovetskii Soyuz and Sovetskaya Ukraina were meantime laid down on 31 July 1938 and 28 November 1938 at the Ordzhonikidze yard at Leningrad and the Marti yard at Nikolaev respectively. The third and fourth ship, the Sovetskaya Belorossiya and the Sovetskaya Rossiya were planned to be laid down in autumn 1939 and 1940 at the new yard at Molotovsk.

Even more interesting is the development of the battlecruiser of projekt 69 from its start as an ‘anti-Washington’ cruiser, based on some different designs to become the projekt 22 Tyazhely krejser and then a replacement for the cancelled battleship projekts 25 and 64. As mentioned – there were in 1935–36 several pre-designs of Bol’shogo krejsera, first the cruiser X, and the design of V.P. Rimskii-Korsakov of TsKB-1, and of variants of a Linejnyi krejser design by the Italian Ansaldo yard, culminating in the Tyazhely krejser of projekt 22, which was then redesigned into the first version of projekt 69, only to be considered inadequate in a session of the STO under Stalin’s chairmanship against the new German fast battleships of the Scharnhorst-class. The designers of the earlier projects, Bzhezinskii and Rimskii-Korsakov, were purged and a commission under Flagman 2 Ranga S.P. Stavitskii was installed to consider the situation. Based on Stalin’s recommendations the renamed TsKB-17 under V.A. Nikitin and F.E. Bespolov was ordered to construct in place of the first version of projekt 69 and the cancelled projekts 25/64, a real battlecruiser superior to the German ships. These were to become Stalin’s beloved favourite ships, on which he kept close watch.

This intervention by Stalin into the building of battlecruisers, which was not welcomed by the naval experts, had its parallel in Hitler’s cancelling of the 12 planned new Panzerschiffe of 22,145t stdd. with six 280mm guns of the Z-Plan of 1939 for three battlecruisers of 28,900t stdd. with six 380mm guns. While it was planned in 1938 to add one unit of projekt 69 to a class of 16, in August 1939 the revised plan called for five in the first part up to 1942, and six in the second part up to 1947. The first two ships, the Kronshtadt and Sevastopol’, were laid down in November 1939 before the plan was finally approved at the Marti yard at Leningrad and the No. 61 Kommunar yard at Nikolaev respectively. A third ship, possibly to be called Stalingrad, was never started.