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aval supremacy was vital in the Second World War, especially in the pacific. In order to win naval supremacy in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, Japan was thinking of building a new warship, which would be the largest and most powerful in history. This is how the two Yamato class battleships appeared: Yamato battleship and her sister ship, Musashi. However, in this article, we will be only focusing on the big bad Wolf, Yamato.

Yamato was equipped with nine 460 mm guns mounted on three turrets and had a length of 263m, with a maximum displacement of 72,800 tons. The outcome of the Pacific naval war, however, was not decided by the battleships but by aircraft carriers. Thus, the Japanese wasted enormous resources on the construction of these massive ships in the hopes of winning the war with naval supremacy and not taking into account the quick advancements the aircraft industry would go through.

The design and construction of the Yamato

Yamato-class battleship construction projects began in 1934, with Keiji Fukuda as chief designer. After the Japanese Empire withdrew in 1936 from the Washington Naval Treaty (1922), Fukuda’s plans were sent for approval by the Japanese Navy General Staff. The original Yamato battleship construction project was prepared in March 1935 and provided larger dimensions than the model to be built in the end.

The first project mentioned that the ship would be 294m long and a maximum displacement of 75,000 tonnes, compared to a length of 263m and a maximum displacement of 72,800 tonnes provided for in the final project. The displacement speed was reduced from 31 knots, as initially fixed, up to 27 knots, contrary to the wishes of Japanese strategists who gave great importance to the speed of warships. When it was decided to reduce the size of the Yamato Battleship. the capacity of the Japanese port facilities was also taken into account. At full load, the Japanese vessel reached a draft of 10,86 m, so some portions of the port basins had to be dredged to ensure optimum depth.

Yamato Design and size comparison to aircraft (Source: Wikimedia Public Domain)

The second challenge for Japanese builders was how to reduce the strength of the ship’s body in such a way as to make the propulsion more efficient. The solution was to make a giant bulb prow. The strength of the body of the ship was reduced only by approximately 8% at a speed of 27 knots. One of the characteristics of the shield was that some of its elements were adapted to serve as resistance structures. In addition, the Japanese also used electrical welding on a large scale, except for longitudinal components. The shield in front of the main turrets was 650 mm.

The deck was the most vulnerable, with 200 mm armor. The propulsion was provided by four steam engines that developed almost 150,000 hp. The range was 7200 nautical miles, at a standard speed of 18 knots. The low speed was due to very low propulsion, given the tonnage of the ship. The four steam engines were struggling to produce enough mechanical work, which resulted in a significant increase in fuel consumption. The crew consisted of 2,500 people.

On November 4, 1937, the construction of the Yamato battleship began in secret at the Kure shipyard. In order for the foreign powers not to know the true size of the Yamato battleship, the execution of the project was compartmentalized. Few people knew the true purpose of the project. The ship was launched on August 8, 1940, and entered the Japanese Navy on December 16, 1941, immediately after the outbreak of the war between the Japanese Empire and the United States.

Yamato during World War II

On February 12, 1942, the Yamato battleship became the command ship of the entire Japanese fleet, led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. In the Battle of Midway (June 4–7, 1942), the battleship was too far away to participate in the naval battle actively. After the Midway disaster (the biggest defeat suffered by the Japanese in the last 300 years), which resulted in the loss of 4 Japanese aircraft carriers, Yamato’s battleship left for Truk Atoll, ending his journey in August 1942.

The Japanese battleship remained long anchored in Truk Atoll. In May 1943, the ship returned to the Kure shipyard to mount its radar. On the return route to Truk Atoll, Yamato Battleship is hit by a torpedo launched from the USS Skate.

Yamato Battleship engaging in Combat 1943 (Source: Wikimedia Public Domain)

After its repair, the Yamato battleship joins the Japanese fleet participating in the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19–20, 1944). Again, the warship made no significant contribution to the fight. The battleship even made a mistake when it opened fire on a Japanese plane returning from the mission. On June 24, Yamato and Musashi battleships returned to the Kure shipyard.

Between October 23 and 26, Yamato participated in the Battle of Leyte Bay (the second battle in the Philippine Sea), one of the largest naval confrontations in history. For the first time, the battleship uses its main 460 mm cannon in combat. Even though he was hit by two bombs launched by USS Essex aircraft carriers, Yamato’s battleship managed to sink an American escort carrier, USS Gambier Bay, and several more destroyers. Following the battle of Leyte Bay, Yamato suffered moderate damage (about 3,300 tons of water was reported) but remained operational.

With the beginning of the American invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, Japanese strategists prepared Operation Ten-Go. As in the case of the Midway battle, the Americans managed to break the Japanese radio communications code and find out all the details of the operation. From a tactical point of view, the mission was a suicide. Yamato was expected to sail east and attack the US invasion fleet in Okinawa, and then land on the island and play the role of a massive artillery battery. Once the battleship was destroyed, the remaining sailors would join the defenders of the island.

Japanese battleship Yamato burning and under fire during Operation Ten-Go, April 7, 1945 (Source: WarshipP)

The Yamato Battleship embarked on its last sea mission on April 6, 1945. The onboard crew knew they had to complete a mission with no luck. On the evening of departure, many sailors drank sake (a Japanese alcoholic beverage obtained from fermenting rice) to forget the fate that awaited them. The Japanese warship had an escort of 8 destroyers and a light cruiser. Yamato did not receive any air support in his Okinawa mission.

The American submarines located the position of the battleship. On April 7, an American airstrike was prepared on the Japanese ship. The American bombing attack took place in 3 waves. American aircraft bombarded the battleship’s deck with bombs and missiles while torpedo bombers attacked the ship’s port. The order of abandonment of the ship was given at 2:00 pm of that day. As Yamato started to overturn, the stern ammunition compartment caught fire, causing a huge explosion. It is estimated that Yamato was hit by at least 11 torpedoes and 6 six bombs.

At that time, on the Yamato battleship, there were approximately 2700 crew members, of whom only 280 were rescued. The wreck of the Yamato battleship found its place forever at 340m depth in the Pacific Ocean.

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