YAMATO class gallery

(Yamato image). The construction of Yamato ship began on November 4, 1937, was launched on August 8, 1940 and was commissioned on December 16, 1941. Her sister ship Musashi began to be built on March 29, 1938, it was launched on 1 November 1940 and entered service on August 5, 1942. Kure Navy Yard were in charge of Yamato while Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Nagasaki built the Musashi. Both shipyards had to be modified to house such enormous vessels. In addition, the Yokosuka, Sasebo and Uga shipyards began a series of works to be able to serve these ships if necessary.
(Yamato image). maintain top secrecy, 25% of the Kure shipyard’s dock was roofed to avoid observation from a nearby hill. The slipway for the Musashi were covered with a 408-ton sisal rope curtain, which caused a shortage in the country’s fishing industry for a time. Even a special transport vessel had to be built to be able to transport the turrets and guns from Kure shipyard to other shipyards involved in the ships’s construction. This vessel was the Kashino, with a displacement of 13,000 tons, 135 meters in length and capable of carrying up to 5,800 tons of cargo.
(Yamato image). The protection scheme followed the concept of “all or nothing” in which the thickness of armour prevailed. The ship was intended to be immune to 18 in (460mm) rounds fired between 20 and 30 km away and to withstand the impact of a 1-ton bomb dropped from 5,000 meters above sea level. It also had an anti-torpedo bulkhead under the belt capable of withstanding an explosion of a 400 kg explosive charge. However, indirect protection such as splinter decks or watertight compartments was not addressed in the same way and it can be said that it was one of its weak points.
(Yamato image). The belt armour had a maximum thickness of 410mm at the top, the ammunition magazines were up to 250mm thick and the steering gear was protected with small armoured boxes up to 300mm thick. On top of the boilers, an armoured grill was installed, consisting of a 384mm steel plate perforated with 179mm holes to allow the passage of smoke. The main deck extended only outside the redoubt and had a maximum thickness of 50mm and the protective deck only covered the inside of the redoubt and reached up to 230mm thick. The steel plates of the turrets and the belt in the areas above 280mm thick were covered with Vickers Hardened plates that were around 10% stronger than those used by the British and the Americans in their ships.
(Yamato image). The machinery consisted of 12 Kampon Mark RO bureau type boilers distributed in three rooms, located forward of the machine rooms, which powered 4 groups of steam turbines that moved four three bladed 6 meter diameter screws. The power generated was almost 150,000 shp with which these ships reached 27 knots, enough to lead groups of battleships, but a little scarce to accompany groups with fast aircraft carriers. Its 7,200-mile range was slim enough to operate in the vast Pacific Ocean, but its range was sacrificed to avoid having to carry more fuel, which would have meant an even larger vessel.
(Yamato image). The main armament consisted of nine 460/45mm guns, officially designated as “40cm/45 caliber Type 94” in order to conceal their authentic caliber. The guns were mounted in 3 triple turrets, two placed at bow and one at stern and each turret weighed 2,818 tons!!, more than most of the WWII destroyers ships. Each 460mm barrel weighed 165,000kg and measured 20.70 meters long. The range of these guns was 41,696 meters with HE shells and 41,400 meters with AP shells and could fire a maximum of 2 rounds per minute. The original armament was completed by twelve 15.5cm/60 Type 3 dual purpose guns mounted in 4 triple turrets, twelve 12.7cm/40 Type 89 AA guns in 6 twin mounts and twenty-four 25 mm Type 96 AA guns in twin mounts. However, this secondary armament was widely modified during the war.
The 460mm guns used 3 different types of ammunition. They fired 1,460kg armour-piercing (AP) shells, 1,360kg high explosive (HE) shells and 1,360kg anti-aircraft (Sanshiki) shells. The AP shell could penetrate 494mm of armour at 20km distance, while the HE shell penetrated 109mm equally at 20km. The “Sanshiki” shell was filled with shrapnel and 900 incendiary tubes that once exploded the shell in the air, made these tubes burn for 5 seconds generating a flame about 5 meters long each. This joint combustion generated a “wall of fire” in front of their targets, although unfortunately for Japanese it seems that they were very ineffective in their mission, and also generated great wear on the gun’s barrel so they were rarely used in combat. This image shows the Yamato‘s AP shell (white) and a Sanshiki shell (red).
(Yamato drawing). In addition to its powerful artillery, the Yamato class could operate with up to 7 hydroplanes, although it normally carried 4. For this it had two rotating catapults and a crane at the stern to retrieve the aircrafts from the water. In addition, these battleships had different types of radars during the war, such as the Type 21 (Kai 1, Kai 2 and Kai 3 variants), Type 22 and Type 13. The Type 21 Kai 1 of 1942 was capable of detecting a seaplane at 20km, a torpedo-bomber formation at 40km, a battleship at 35km or a submarine on the surface at 10km with low bearing errors. They even had Navy Type II infrared equipment with an effective range of 15km that complemented the 40 radio receivers and 17 transmitters that operated on LF, MF, HF and VHF frequencies.
(Yamato image). In addition to Yamato and Musashi ships, the construction of two more ships of this class began, the Shinano and the “No.111”. The Shinano was canceled in 1942 when it was 50% complete and was finally completed as an aircraft carrier. No. 111 was also canceled in 1942 when 30% of the ship was built, but it was decided to leave space in the shipyard to urgently build aircraft carriers. Even a fifth unit of this class had been thought to be built according to the 1942 5th Fleet Replenishment Program, but work did not even start. This Japanese Navy Program envisaged the construction of two “Design A-150” battleships armed with guns even larger than the Yamato class. At first it was calculated that these battleships would have a displacement of about 90,000 tons !!, but this idea was discarded and dimensions not exceeding the Yamato class were chosen. Instead, the 510mm guns remained in the project and if they had been manufactured they would have fired shells of about 1,900kg in weight.
(Yamato image). Following her successful sea trials in October 1941, Yamato began its operational history leading the Combined Fleet battleship force during the Midway operations. On May 27, 1942, she left Hiroshima Bay as flagship, but did not take an active part in the battle. During the Guadalcanal campaign she was sent to Truk and from August 29, 1942 to May 8, 1943 she remained there and sailed only 1 day in that period. Yamato also did not participate in the Solomon Islands campaign as it lacked a special shore bombardment ammunition. In May 1943 she went to Kure and on August 16 she returned to Truk. On October 17 she made a sortie from Truk to Eniwetok to face an alleged American attack on Wake Island, which was not finally carried out, so she returned to Truk on October 26.
(Yamato image). On December 25, 1943, during a trip from Yokosuka to Truk carrying some reinforcement troops, the Yamato received a torpedo from the American submarine Skate. The torpedo produced a 5 x 25 meter hole on starboard side aft, flooding the number 3 turret upper magazine with 3,000 tons of water. On January 16, 1944, the ship arrived in Kure to be repaired and it was used to install 6 twins 127mm gun mounts and 12 triple 25mm gun mounts. On April 21, she left Kure for the Philippines and reached Tawi Tawi on 1 May. In mid-June the Yamato joined the 1st Mobile Fleet with a view to engaging in a decisive battle with the American Forces near the Mariana Islands. The 1st Mobile Fleet was composed by 9 carriers, 5 battleships and another 50 ships between cruisers and destroyers. Finally, both forces would meet and lead to the Battle of the Philippine Sea, fought between June 19 and 21, 1944.
(Yamato & Musashi image). Despite the powerful fleet assembled by Japan, the Battle of the Philippine Sea ended in defeat for them, losing 426 aircraft and 3 valuable carriers to only 130 aircraft lost by the US Navy. After the battle Yamato and Musashi returned to Kure where they received more 25mm AA guns and the removal of combustible materials to prevent fires. On July 8, both ships sailed for Lingga Roads, near Singapore, and there they remained until October while a powerful naval force was assembled to face the expected invasion of the Philippines by the Americans. The Japanese plan consisted of attacking the amphibious forces during their assault on the beaches with the powerful 1st Striking Force or “Force A”. For this, a group with several aircraft carriers, designated as “Main Body”, would leave the Japanese Home Islands to attract the American escort force, while Force A would leave from Lingga Roads to destroy the landing force from the south. In addition to these 2 main groups, the Japanese dispatched 2 other smaller groups designated as “Force C” and “Force D”. These operations would be known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
(Yamato image). On October 23, 1944, the Battle of Leyte Gulf began and although the Main Body decoy force was successful in keeping the American escorts away, Force A did not achieve its purpose. On October 25, Force A found one of the three groups of US escort carriers, which was mistaken for one of fleet carriers, and although 2 escort carriers and several American destroyers were sunk, Force A withdrew to avoid serious losses. This cleared the way to the beaches of Leyte and rendered the sacrifice of the Japanese decoy force useless, which despite its success lost another 3 aircraft carriers and several escort units. Force C was in Surigao Strait and during the night of 24-25 October had an engagement against a powerful American surface fleet consisting of 6 old battleships and 4 heavy and 4 light cruisers, which resulted in the loss of two Japanese battleships. This was one of the few classic naval engagement in the entire Pacific War, but unfortunately Yamato was not there to assert its powerful artillery. Force D was quite far from the area and could not support Force C, although the next day they were attacked by American aircrafts and suffered some losses too.
(Yamato image). Force A was composed by Yamato, Musashi, Nagato and two more battleships, six heavy cruisers, four light cruisers and fifteen destroyers, which were attacked since 23 October. On October 24, the Yamato was hit by 2 bombs and was damaged by two bomb near misses, although she could continue fighting. On the 25th, during the battle off Samar used her main artillery for the only time against enemy surface ships. She fired on American screening destroyers of a escort carriers force as they fled the area. On the 26th she received damage again when another bomb hit her and after completing these operations she went to Kure for repairs, arriving there on November 11.
(Yamato image). Since January 1945, Yamato was in Japanese waters without being deployed in any operation, because at this point, the Japanese Fleet was practically immobilized and without resources. On March 19, 1945, while she was in Hiroshima Bay, she was attacked by aircrafts from the US Navy’s Task Force 58 that had been attacking the Japanese Home Islands for several weeks. A bomb hit the forward bridge tower without causing much damage and some bomb near misses had no effect. Shortly after, it was decided to send the Yamato along with a light cruiser and 8 destroyers to help the besieged troops in Okinawa, in a practically suicidal operation.
(Yamato image). On April 6, the so-called “Surface Special Attack Force” set course for Okinawa. This Force was to attack the American landing force from the northwest on April 8, to later run aground on Okinawa beach and become a fortress. The force was sailing at 22 knots, zigzagging continuously to avoid the American submarines and by early morning on April 7, the group was in position and ready for the attack. The US Navy detected this Special Force at 08:23 a.m. and from that moment it had them located at all times. At 12:20 p.m. Yamato detected 3 large formations of American aircrafts heading straight for them, and at 12:32 p.m., all hell broke loose. A total of 386 aircraft were dispatched from 15 American carriers, although a third of them missed their target due to bad weather. Without any air cover to free them from the furious swarm of naval fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo-bombers, the Special Force faced their certain destruction.
(Yamato image). At 12:41 p.m. the first bombs hit Yamato followed by some more shortly after. At 12:45 p.m. she was hit by the first torpedo on the port side producing a small flood, and shortly after another two more torpedoes hit in the same side. After the first attack the ship was listing 5 degrees to port. At 12:59 p.m. a well-coordinated second attack carried by dive bombers and torpedo bombers began. While the dive-bombers attracted the anti-aircraft fire, the torpedo bombers attacked from all sides, getting 3 hits on port side and another on starboard, increasing the listing to 15 degrees to port. The impact on starboard had the consequence of flooding some areas on this side and this leveled the ship, which ended this second attack with a listing of about 5 degrees to port. The final third attack began at 1:42 p.m. and the Yamato again received at least another 4 bombs and 4 torpedoes, 3 of which hit port again. After these impacts, the Yamato stopped, its rudders were locked and the listing was 22 degrees to port, so the order was given to abandon the ship. At 14:23 p.m. the ship capsized and the stern magazines exploded. Of 3,332 crew members, only 269 survived, 23 officers and 246 enlisted men. In summary, it took 11 confirmed (and 2 probable) torpedo hits and 8 confirmed bomb hits to send her to the bottom of the sea.
(Musashi image). The operational career of the Musashi was closely tied to that of Yamato. Her first deployment took her to Truk, where she arrived on January 15, 1943. She relieved the Yamato as Combined Fleet flagship on February 11, but had less action than her sister ship. In June, she brought the remains of Admiral Yamamoto to Japan to celebrate a state funeral. In August she returned to Truk, where she stayed for several months and in November carried out an approach to the Marshall Islands, although she did not enter combat. After this mission she returned to Truk where she remained until February 1944.
(Musashi image). On February 5, 1944 after detecting an American aircraft over Truk, the Japanese decided to transfer all their ships based there to Palau and ordered the Musashi to return to Japan. On February 17 and 18 Truk was attacked by American aircraft carriers that sank several ships and destroyed or damaged some 275 aircraft. On March 29 while en route to Palau, the Musashi was torpedoed by the American submarine Tunny. One torpedo of the 6 fired by the submarine hit the ship far forward on the port side causing a flood. The ship arrived in Palau where they made makeshift repairs so that she could reach Kure, where it arrived on April 3 for permanent repairs. On May 11 she left for Tawi Tawi with 5 aircraft carriers and some escort destroyers to participate in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Her role in that battle was irrelevant and she returned to Japanese waters on June 24.
(Musashi image). On July 8, 1944, Musashi left the Inland Sea for the last time bound for Lingga Roads. She arrived there on July 16 and remained anchored there until October 18, when as part of Force A headed towards the Battle of Sibuyan Sea. The ship was fully loaded and had a very well-trained crew with high morale. At 8:10 a.m., Force A was discovered by an aircraft from the Task Group 38.2 and at 10:25 a.m. the first attack began. This attack was carried out by 45 aircraft launched by the USS Intrepid and USS Cabot carriers, which just two minutes later, at 10:27 a.m., had already hit Musashi with a torpedo. The torpedo hit the starboard side, across the center of the ship, in an area weakened by a near miss bomb a few seconds earlier. At 11:38 a.m. a second attack began and after only 7 minutes of combat, three torpedoes, two bombs, and five bomb near misses hit the Musashi. The torpedoes damaged the port side and the bombs did little damage except to a port engine room and a couple of boilers. The ship had few damages and some flooding but managed to maintain its position in formation.
(Musashi image). At 12:17 p.m. another attack begins and the Musashi receives another torpedo on the starboard side in addition to several bomb near misses that do not cause damage. This attack causes serious flooding in several compartments located in the bow of the ship that causes a two meter trim. At 12:53 a.m. comes the fourth attack in which the ship is hit by 1 torpedo on port side, 3 on starboard and 4 bombs that cause many floods and cause a bow trim of about 4 meters. At 1:15 p.m. a new attack takes place, but is settled without damage. During this attack the Musashi uses 460mm anti-aircraft shells (Sanshiki) that have no effect on the attacking aircraft but render turret 1 useless when one of the shells gets jammed inside a barrel. At 2:45 p.m. the final attack begins, carried out by 75 aircrafts that in few minutes strained the Musashi with another 11 torpedoes, (9 on port and 2 on starboard), 10 bombs and 6 near miss bombs that left the ship defeated. At 5:15 p.m., the order was given to direct the ship to the beach on the nearest island and run it aground there to turn it into a coastal battery, but it was impossible because the bow kept lowering and the ship could hardly be steered. At 7:20 p.m. the ship was abandoned, and at 7:35 p.m. the waters forever swallowed the Musashi and 1,023 of its 2,399 crew members.
(Musashi drawing). The Musashi endured even greater punishment than Yamato before sinking. In total, 20 torpedoes, (13 on port and 7 on starboard), 17 bombs and 18 near miss bombs hit the ship. The power of torpedoes and carrier aviation, capable of sinking any ship, no matter how armoured it was, was clear. The weakness of the antisubmarine protection of these two battleships was also reflected since the armoured belt was one of its weak points due to the fact that it had defective joints that together with the little flexibility of the structure gave way practically at the first impact causing serious flooding. These in turn, showed the careless void compartment scheme to carry out effective counterflloding when necessary. Instead, these ships proved to be practically immune to bombs as none managed to penetrate or destroy any of the main turrets or seriously damage the armoured citadel despite being hit directly.
If there is a single word that can define these ships it is “colossal”. They were the ships with the greatest displacement, the greatest beam, the greatest armour and the largest guns of all battleships built in the World. It held the record for the largest displacement warship, (including aircraft carriers), until 1955, when the US Navy’s Forrestal class carriers entered service. Its only, and not a small, drawback was entering service 30 years late, at a time when Carrier Aviation was shown that heavy armour and gigantic guns were of little value and there are those analysts who wonder if it had not been better for Japan to have built 9 or 10 aircraft carriers instead of these two mammoth ships. Perhaps they are right, but if they had been, they would have deprived all of us warship enthusiasts the enjoyment of seeing these two authentic KINGS of the Oceans. This image shows the spectacular Yamato battleship’s 1:10 scale model on display at the “Yamato Museum”, a nickname given to the Kure Maritime Museum located in Hiroshima, Japan. Even being ten times smaller than the original, the ship looks really impressive.

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