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Always"watching"

A Pair of Japanese Giants: IJN Yamato and Musashi

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It seems to me that building any costly and large-scale weapon of war that breaks records in terms of size and armament is somewhat foolish; in any war, that weapon will surely become an instant prized target for the enemy, who will do everything they can to destroy it. In addition, there is also the problem of time and changes in circumstances whereby a major military project that takes time to deliver may be obsolete by the time it is fully functioning. Nevertheless, nations have been attracted to such mammoth projects, and it has probably always been thus, since humans decided to wage wars upon each other.

In this short topic, I am looking at two such massive record-breakers – a pair of Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) battleships (or super-battleships) both of which were to be sunk by the US Navy in the 1940s towards the end of World War Two. Interestingly, many design elements of these giants, Yamato and Musashi, as well as the other two designated Yamato class battleships, were kept secret, and in August 1945 all the drawings and official photographs of these ships were destroyed. For reasons that will become obvious here below, I am focusing on just Yamato and Musashi for this topic, featuring Yamato as the class leader, so to speak, and I only intend this piece as an introduction - being aware that I am not a naval or military historian.

 

 

This grainy image shows both Yamato and Musashi together at sea: it accompanies a 2015 news snippet concerning the discovery by computer millionare Paul Allen of the sunken remains of Musashi in the Sibuyan Sea off the Philippines (pic from cdn4.img.sputniknews.com):

1019044935.jpg

 

 

 

The initial proposal to design these battleships was in 1934, and the first presentation was submitted on 10 March 1935, with the foresight that the Washington and London Treaties that controlled the construction of new capital ships would expire on 31 December 1936. In fact, the first stages of the design process were tortuous, with no less than 22 more design submissions before authorization to proceed was finally granted, and construction of the Yamato began on 4 November 1937, at Kure Naval Yard. Construction of Yamato's sister ship, Musashi, began in March 1938, at Nagasaki. Two other Yamato class vessels were authorized – the Shinano*, later (after the Battle of Midway) completed as an aircraft carrier, and the unnamed, “no. 111,” never completed and broken up. An important intention in the design of these ships was to provide them with a combined steam and diesel powerplant, with a possible diesel-only option being considered. Ultimately though, the 30,000hp engines required were not available, and Yamato and her sister were to be steam-powered using four-shaft Kampon geared turbines producing 150,000hp.

The method of launch for Yamato and Musashi was different. Yamato was floated out of the specially enlarged dry-dock at Kure on 8 August 1940, while her main guns, transported by a specially built heavy-lift ship, the Kashimo, were mounted between May and July 1941. Musashi, on the other hand, was launched from a slipway, and she holds the record for the largest warship so launched, weighing in at 35,737t.

Yamato was finally commissioned on 16 December 1941, nine days after the attack on Pearl Harbour, and on 12 February 1942, she became Admiral Yamamoto's flagship, serving in that capacity at Midway. Both Yamato and her sister ship, Musashi, were the ultimate of their kind – the biggest, best-protected, and best-armed warships of all time. They were essentially gun-armed warships, supposedly impregnable to 1000kg (2200lb) AP bombs, and featuring guns that could fire shells weighing 1.46t to a distance of 23 nautical miles at a rate of up to two rounds a minute for each barrel. The thickness of armour ranged from 7.9-9.1in (200-230mm) deck, to a massive 25.6in (650mm) on the turret faces. Over time, minor changes were made to armament on the Yamato, but she was always essentially a huge gun platform (with apparently capacity to carry six or seven aircraft on board), with her huge 18.1in (460mm) guns numbering nine. Yamato had a maximum speed of 27 knots with a range of 7,200 nautical miles (13,320km) at 16 knots. There was a complement of 2,500 and the standard displacement was 63,000t (later, 65,000t).

 

 

Yamato as she looked 1944-45, specifically configured here in from 7 April 1945 (pic from upload.wikimedia.org):

Yamato1945.png

 

Digital computer graphic image of Yamato by RunzhuoCG (pic from cdn.cgsociety.org):

501604_1370155211_orig.jpg

 

 

 

At the Battle of Midway, it was the intention that Yamato should bombard the island using her 18.1in rifles, but ironically it was during that engagement that the limitations and obsolescence of battleships like Yamato became evident, as compared to the obvious effectiveness of carrier-based aircraft. During Midway in June 1942, which was a serious defeat for the Japanese, Yamato was battle HQ for the Japanese Navy but in June 1943, Musashi replaced Yamato as the flagship for the combined fleet. 

On Christmas Day 1943, off Truk, Yamato was hit by a single torpedo from the US submarine, “Skate,” and took on board 3000t of water. She managed to limp back to Kure - having been unable to make use of her heavy guns - arriving home on 16 January 1944, and was then repaired and given a modified heavy anti aircraft battery. On 1 May, she rejoined the fleet, engaging in combat in the Marianas in June. Eventually, on 25 October 1944, the day after her sister ship, Musashi, had been sunk by US warplanes after being hit by 17 bombs and perhaps a similar number of torpedos, Yamato at last fired her main guns in anger, 104 rounds in total, at US warships in an action off Samar, part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf/Samur Sea, sinking an escort carrier and a destroyer.

The fate of the Yamato was not long in coming, however. On 7 April 1945, in what is considered to be one of the worst Kamikaze missions of the War, Yamato was sunk off Okinawa. She was hit by six bombs and about 10 torpedos and went down at 1423hrs with massive loss of life – only about 280 officers and men survived the sinking. It has also been said that Musashi's last defence was also futile, with furious battle waged by both parties and resulting in great loss of life - 1023 crew of the Musashi were lost. The Yamato and the Musashi had been rendered obsolete before their time, with warfare at sea rapidly being dominated by the use of aircraft and their seaborne carriers.

 

 

Yamato during sea trials in 1941 (pic from upload.wikimedia.org):

1024px-Yamato_during_Trial_Service.jpg

 

 

A photo of Yamato on 20 September 1941, in the final stages of her fitting out (pic from upload.wikimedia.org):

Yamato_battleship_under_construction.jpg

 

 

There is still veneration in Japan, for the largest warship ever built - here is a shot of the one tenth scale model in the Yamato Museum at Kure (pic from visithiroshima.net):

yamato_museum_01.jpg

 

 

Picture of IJN Musashi (other picture details not known) (Pic from i.pinimg.com/originals):

4c437c7bff9e1f88e58f323e32c2b33a.jpg

 

 

*Additional note on the Shinano: Although commenced as a Yamato class battleship, the Shinano was finished as an aircraft carrier – at that time by far the largest such vessel in the world, and yet still relatively fast at 27 knots. In December 1941, construction of the Shinano had been halted, and later, after Midway, it was decided to complete her as an aircraft carrier. On 29 November 1944, as she was being moved from Yokosuka to Kure Navy Yard for final fitting out, USS Archerfish torpedoed her four times. Pumps and watertight doors had not been fitted yet, and Shinano slowly filled and sank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As usual good article....wonder if the new Queen Elizabeth carrier falls into this obsolescence catagory????

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@Always"watching"

Weird, I'm in the middle of studying WW2 Japanese military, and have been reading up on these ships. Apparently they had the largest naval artillery ever fitted to a warship.

 

 

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Great read, thanks for that, I know nowt about the Japanese navy.

14 hours ago, bridgeman said:

As usual good article....wonder if the new Queen Elizabeth carrier falls into this obsolescence catagory????

Great big waste of steel, energy and money.  I would put a fiver on the second one going straight into mothballs.  Between Gordon Clown and David Camoron, The Navy's air capacity has been rendered totally ineffective and almost non-existent.

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Many thanks for the positive comments and reactions. It is difficult to now what non-watch subjects will find a ready audience on the Forum and I do enjoy it when I know that Forum members (and any visitors) have read with pleasure any of my topics.:)

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It is interesting when studying modern warfare, that the first modern war is considered, by many, to be the American Civil War. Many lessons about tactics could have been learned by European countries fighting in the First World War, but were ignored. The "death" of the large battle ship was perhaps prophesied by Brigadere General "Billy" Mitchell in 1921. 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Mitchell

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There is a Japanese movie in which the Yamato is extracted from the Pacific sea bed, and sent into space to fight with aliens and save humanity. Honestly, it's not as bad as it sounds.

 

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