Wednesday, April 6, 2011
April 7th and the Yamato
Yamato was the lead ship of the Yamato class of battleships that served with the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. She and her sister ship, Musashi, "were the largest and most powerful battleships ever built", displacing 73,000 tons at full load and armed with nine 18.1 inch main guns. Neither, however, survived the war. (Our Iowa class Battleships displaced 52,000 tons at full load and were armed with 16 inch guns). Two battleships of the class (Yamato and Musashi) were completed, while a third (Shinano) was converted to an aircraft carrier during construction.
Laid down in 1937 and formally commissioned a week after the Pearl Harbor attack in late 1941, Yamato was designed to counter the numerically superior battleship fleet of the United States, Japan's main rival in the Pacific. Throughout 1942 she served as the flagship of the Japanese Combined Fleet, and in June 1942 Admiral Yamamoto directed the fleet from her bridge during the disastrous Battle of Midway. Although she was present at the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, Yamato played no part in the battle. The only time she fired her main guns at enemy surface targets was in October 1944, when she was sent to engage American forces invading the Philippines during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. On the verge of success the Japanese force turned back, believing they were engaging an entire US carrier fleet rather than the light escort carrier group that was all that stood between Yamato and the vulnerable troop transports.
During 1944 the balance of naval power in the Pacific decisively turned against Japan, and by early 1945 the Japanese fleet was much depleted and critically short of fuel stocks in the home islands, limiting its usefulness. In April 1945, in a desperate attempt to slow the Allied advance, Yamato was dispatched on a one way voyage to Okinawa, where it was intended that she should protect the island from invasion and fight until destroyed. Fortunately the Allies had intercepted and decoded their radio transmissions, learning the particulars of Operation. Her task force was spotted south of Kyushu by US submarines and aircraft.
On April 7, 1945 she was sunk by American carrier based bombers and torpedo bombers with the loss of most of her crew. Yamato was hit by at least eleven torpedoes and eight bombs, in the attack one of the two bow magazines detonated in a tremendous explosion. The resulting mushroom cloud—over 3 and a half miles high, was seen 100 miles away on Kyūshū. Yamato sank rapidly afterwards.
Because of the often confused circumstances and incomplete information regarding their sinkings, few wrecks of Japanese capital ships have been discovered and identified. Drawing on US wartime records, an expedition to the South China Sea in 1982 produced some results, but the wreckage discovered could not be clearly identified. A second expedition returned to the site two years later, and the team's photographic and video records were later confirmed by one of the battleship's designers, Shigeru Makino to show the Yamato's last resting place.