The 1800s gave rise to battleships. Some say the first battleships were the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia of Civil War fame. Others say the first real battleship was the USS Michigan, an iron clad side wheel steamer commissioned on September 29, 1844 to patrol and defend the US on Lake Erie.
Whichever you believe to be the first, the rise of iron clad battleships was launched. They were used in the 1894-5 Russian-Japanese War. Their success was obvious and the navies of a number of nations, including the US, began building and putting their trust in battleships.
In 1895, the US commissioned the first real battleship, the USS Texas. In 1907, the US commissioned the battleship USS Kansas which was nearly twice the size of the Texas.
By 1940, most navies, including the US and Japan believed that sea battles would be won with battleships. They were making them bigger than ever before and arming them with bigger and more powerful guns. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, their main targets were the US battleships of famed Battleship Row. They hoped to also attack and sink US air craft carriers, but the battleships the primary targets.
In November 1937, Kure Naval Arsenal in Japan started construction of what would become the greatest battleship in the world, the IJN Yamato. Initially referred to as Battleship No, 1, the Yamato measured 863 feet long, was 121 feet at the beam and had a 34-foot draft. The mighty ship had a displacement of 65,027 tons standard and 72,809 tons fully loaded.
The Yamato was armed with nine of the biggest guns on any ship, measuring 18.1 inches in diameter that could send a 3,200 pound shell a distance of 26 miles. The closest thing the American’s had was the USS Iowa which had nine 16 guns that fired 2,700 pound shells a distance of 24 miles.
The Yamato possessed thicker armor than the Iowa. The Yamato had 16 inches of belt armor, 9 inches of deck armor and 26 inches of armor on the main gun turrets. The Iowa had only 12 inches of belt armor, 9 inches of deck armor and only 20 inches of armor on the main gun turrets.
The Japanese launched the Yamato on August 4, 1940 with a crew of 2,750. The next year and half was spent outfitting the mighty battleship and running it through a barrage of tests. On December 7, 1941, the Yamato sailed from Kure to conduct gunnery tests. On December 16, 1941, Battleship No. 1 was formally finished, commissioned and given the name Yamato, just 9 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
For the next two months, the Yamato and her crew went through more sea and war trials and training. In April 1942, the Yamato heads into the Indian Ocean for more trails and training. On May 1, 1942, the Yamato’s Captain Takayanagi is promoted to rear admiral. On May 27, 1942, Yamato is finally deemed operational and joins the First Fleet, Main Body, BatDiv 1.
Yamato saw its first real combat in August 1942 when it was sent to Truk Island. The USS Flying Fish had no information about the new Yamato class battleship and mistakenly identified it as a Kongo class battleship. The Flying Fish fired four torpedoes at the Yamato and thought two made contact, but what they saw were premature explosions. Four Japanese escort ships attacked the Flying Fish which managed to escape.
In November 1942, the first real battle between battleships took place at Guadalcanal, but the Yamato was not involved. Due to a shortage of fuel, the Yamato remained at Truk Island.
In May 1943, the Yamato drydocked for inspections and repairs. In July, 1943, it is once again drydocked for installation of radar and new guns mounted on the weather deck. In August 1943, the Yamato once again leaves port fully loaded with troops and heads back to Truk Island. The rest of 1943, Yamato is used to transport troops and to stand guard at several transport operations.
On December 13, 1943, Americans learn that Yamato is heading back to Truk on December 25. Early Christmas morning, the American submarine, USS Skate locates the Yamato and manages to fire four torpedoes. At least one torpedo hits its mark ripping a 15 foot by 75 foot on Yamato’s starboard hull near turret number 3. The size of the hole was linked to a fault in the joint between upper and lower side projection belts. After taking on nearly 3,000 tons of sea water, the Yamato cancels its transport mission and leaves the area. Other Japanese ships launch depth charges, but none of them damage the Skate. The Yamato returns to Truk for emergency repairs and then sails back to Kure, Japan where it is again drydocked for further repairs and more advanced radar.
In April, 1944, the Yamato returns to active duty. On June 10, 1944, the Yamato is sailing with its sister ship the IJN Musashi and other smaller ships when a periscope is spotted. The order to evade with a hard left rudder is issued, but the Musashi doesn’t turn fast enough and nearly collides with the Yamato. A collision would have been disastrous for both monster battleships.
After shooting down several Japanese fighter planes due to mistaken identity in July 1944, the Yamato returns to Kure for more repairs and gun upgrades. To this point, the largest battleship in World War II has seen limited action. Several times it was ordered back, as if to protect it from harm. For nearly two years the main function of the Yamato is to transport troops and supplies.
On October 24, 1944, the Yamato is involved at the Battle of Sibuyan Sea. The battleship is hit by several bombs from US aircraft. One bomb rips through the deck and explodes below the waterline, ripping a hole in the side plate and bow. Two more bombs explode near turret #1 and another rips through the deck and explodes in the crew quarters. After taking on 3,000 tons of seawater, the Yamato lists 5 degrees to port. To counter the list, they counter flood parts of opposite side, bringing the ship back to only a 1-degree list.
On October 25, 1944, the Yamato engages a US carrier fleet, firing some 20 miles away. One US carrier is hit and set on fire. As the Yamato turns its guns to a second carrier, US ships put up a smoke screen to hide the carrier. A US cruiser charges out of the smoke screen, but is hit by Yamato’s guns over 10 miles away.
On October 26, 1944, the Yamato is hit by two more American bombs, but the damage is not as great as earlier hits. On October 28, 1944, Yamato and the task force arrives at Brunei for fuel and emergency repairs. In early November 1944, the Yamato sails from Brunei to Pratas Islands to avoid air raids.
On November 15, 1944, the Yamato becomes the flagship of the Second Fleet since BatDiv 1 was disbanded. On November 16, 1944, Yamato, along with Kongo, Nagato and some escorts sail from Brunei to head back to Kure. On November 21, 1944, the USS Sealion II spot the Japanese ships and attacks. The Sealion II manages to sink the Kongo and the Urakaze, a destroyer. Two days later on November 23, 1944, Yamato reaches Kure drydock for repairs and to once again have new guns installed.
On January 1, 1945, Japan reactivates BatDiv 1, Second Fleet. The Yamato, Nagato and Haruna are reassigned to the new battel group. After departing Kure on January 15, 1945, Yamato and company sail to Hashirajima. On February 10, 1945, BatDiv 1, Second Fleet is once again deactivated, but this time for good. Yamato is then reassigned to CarDiv 1 and returns to the Kure Naval Arsenal port.
On March 19, 1945, US Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher’s Task Force 58, makes the first aircraft carrier attack on the Kure Naval Arsenal. US air craft carriers involved in the attack include the USS Belleau Wood, Bennington, Essex, Hancock, Hornet, Intrepid and Wasp. Over 240 US planes make the aerial attack on the key Japanese naval port. The Yamato only sustains minor damage as it sails to the Inland Sea to the Tokuyama Navy Fuel Depot.
On March 25, 1945, Yamato takes on fuel and munitions consisting of 11.5 million rounds for their small caliber guns, 13, 500 rounds of anti-aircraft shells, 1,620 rounds for the secondary guns and 1,170 rounds of shells for their 18.1 guns.
On April 2, 1945, Yamato and Second Fleet departs for Mitajiri Bight. On April 5, 1945, Yamato and the Second Fleet receive orders to attack and destroy the US fleet near Bungo Suido Channel, near Okinawa.
On April 6, 1945, the Japanese Second Fleet groups and prepares to engage the US fleet.
On this day, April 7, 1945, at 10:17 am, Yamato receives word from a scout plain that US Task Force 58 was located east of Okinawa at a distance 250 nautical miles. Less than an hour later, US planes are spotted approaching the Japanese Task Force. At 12:35, the Yamato starts zig zag evasive maneuvers to avoid being hit by the US planes.
At 12:40pm, two US bombs hit the Yamato near the mainmast, knocking out the air search radar, aft secondary battery fire control and secondary gun turret. The Yamato makes a sharp right turn, but fails to evade two more US 1,000 pound bombs. One of the bombs hits a crew quarter and the other hits near a 155mm gun magazine and the main gun turret #3’s upper powder magazine, setting off a massive fire. A few minutes later, the Yamato is struck on the port side by a torpedo fired from a low flying torpedo bomber.
At 1:22pm, a US Corsair hits the Yamato with another 1,000-pound bomb at the ship’s superstructure on the port bow.
At 1:33pm, the Yamato makes a sharp right turn as it is hit by 3 torpedoes at her port side amidship. One of the torpedoes damage the auxiliary rudder, leaving it stuck in the sharp right turn. The torpedo hits below waterline causes the Yamato to take on 3,000 tons of seawater and list 7 degrees to port. Damage control is forced to flood the starboard engine and boiler rooms in order to correct the listing. Shortly thereafter, two more torpedoes strike Yamato port amidship, causing a heavier list than before.
In the next half hour, Yamato is hit by three more bombs and three more torpedoes. The mighty battleship is now listing nearly 15 degrees and has been slowed to less than half speed.
At 2:02pm, Yamato’s captain is informed that all of the damage control officers have been killed and that there is no more possibility of counter-flooding to correct the list. His Executive Officer suggests the captain give the order to abandon ship.
At 2:05pm, Yamato is hit by two more torpedoes, causing it to begin to roll over to the port side.
At 2:23pm, the #1 magazine explodes, sending up a plume of smoke visible from 100 miles away. The Yamato, the largest and most powerful battleship in the world at the time, disappears below the surface, followed by several more underwater explosions.
The death toll of the Yamato sinking included Vice Admiral Ito, Yamato’s Captain Aruga and 3,055 crew. Only 276 crew members were rescued.
Less than four months later on September 2, 1945, Japan signs a condition of surrender on board the USS Missouri as it sat proudly in Tokyo Bay.
With the sinking of the Yamato, it was now known that sea battles were no longer won with the battleships, but by an aerial war launched by aircraft carriers and from island bases.
Sources for the above includes: Killing the Yamato; The Best Battleship of WWII; Japanese battleship Yamato is sunk by Allied forces; Which Battleship Was The Best One Out There?; World War II: Battleship Yamato; IJN Yamato Battleship (1941); IJN Battleship YAMATO: Tabular Record of Movement; The Ultimate Battleship Battle: Japan’s Yamato vs. America’s Iowa; Yamato; Battleships: A Short History.