Japanese Battleship Yamato: WW2's Greatest Ghost
The Japanese Battleship Yamato was one of the heaviest armed battleships constructed during World War II. The ship aimed to strengthen the Japanese navy in case it needed to face powerful opponents such as the US navy.
In order to build such a powerful battleship, the Japanese government even had to quit the league of nations because of the league’s restrictions on the size and power a certain ship could possess. As a result, the ambitious Japanese government quickly began constructing the most powerful battleship, Yamato, under great secrecy.
The Yamato battleship was intended for fighting against numerous battleships, given its impressive power and heavy weaponries, including the largest naval caliber, 45 caliber type naval guns, triple turrets, and anti aircraft guns that were designed to counter the US's lethal air force.
Notably, during its redesign in 1944, the number of anti aircraft guns increased to 162 in response to the heavy aircraft power in the pacific ocean campaigns that the US navy was utilizing. In addition it also had tremendous sailing speed, reaching 27.4 knots (31.5mph) , while the average speed of ships was about 20 knots. By having a significantly faster speed, the Yamato battleship could catch up with the enemy quickly.
Space Yamato, a Japanese dream
The design of the Yamato battleship essentially attempts to demonstrate the excellence of the Japanese naval engineering technology and the power of the Japanese Empire; yet, Yamato’s battle results against the US navy during the pacific campaigns were not so promising due to some flaw designs and mistakes of the Japanese commanders.
With forward knowledge of Yamato’s battle plan, the US navy quickly responded and inflicted significant damages on the Japanese navy, resulting in 4 Aircraft Carriers being destroyed, and 332 aircraft lost. In response to the huge loss, the ship’s commander Kōsaku Aruga had no choice but to call the remaining aircraft and vessels to retreat, including the Yamato battleship.
Ever since her first campaign, the Yamato battleship had been docked numerous times because of its high fuel consumption and lack of ammunition. The Japanese military was not well prepared to load Yamato with sufficient ammunition for battle. Japan simply had not produced the necessary munitions that the Yamato needed.
Another troublesome part of the ship was its high fuel consumption which would essentially increase substantially the entire fuel usage of the navy; therefore the Japanese navy's plan was to save the ship for the best options.
But, getting all of the admirals to agree to send her out was a fete that never ocurred and so she wasn't operated in any substantial campaigns. She was sailed from one Japanese port to another on short trips, acting as a domestic moral booster.
The Japanese were very short on fuel reserves throughout the entire military and were stretched thin. As a result, the Yamato battleship was not used in several consecutive campaigns against the US navy and was even replaced by its sister battleship for the following battles.
Instead, the Yamato battleship was occasionally used as a transport ship due to its large food storage and armor protection.
From 1943-1944, the Japanese navy continually suffered great losses of aircrafts and battleships while Yamato battleships were dry docked. Eventually, after months of modifications, Yamato returned to the next campaign which was a minor one at that.
Still, the results were not promising. One of the main reasons was the hull design of the ship.
Some parts of the ship were not fully protected against the bombs and torpedoes released by the US air force, so when the battleship takes the damage, it would be massively damaged, despite several modifications by the Japanese engineers to optimize its protection against aircrafts. It was a ship designed for an earlier time of naval warfare, and it struggled against the shift of power in naval warfare from battleships to aircraft carriers.
During the battle of Samar, due to its imperfect defense system, torpedoes from the US air force killed crews on the battleship. In that battle, although the Yamato battleship also incurred damages on the US navy, the commander mistakenly believed that the navy was outnumbered because of the ferocious response by the US navy. Again, he made the call to retreat.
During its last campaign, the operation ten-go, Yamato attempted to fight against the victorious US aircraft at Okinawa but stood powerless against the relentless bombing. For Yamato, this operation was a one way ticket where it would fight until it sank.
Due to previous miscalculations, only a few vessels were left to defend the island. Along with nine other vessels, the Yamato battleship went on this suicidal mission. During the battle, Yamato could not defend itself against the large number of aircrafts, which made its anti-aircraft weapon ineffective.
In the end Yamato was surpassed by the US air power. Many aircraft-bombers with dumb bombs guided by heroic and skillful pilots could put enough of those dumb bombs on it as a target that sunk it, a sad ending.
This was the final turning point of naval warfare, and the transition of power from the dreadnaughts of old, to the carriers of new.
From this perspective, it is significant that numbers and tactics take the dominance in a war despite the other side may have powerful individuals such as the Yamato battleship.
It was reported that the ship suffered damages from at least 11 torpedoes and 6 bombs, a significant damage that even the Yamato battleship could not withstand.
If the Japanese had had the fuel to be able to widely utilize Yamato throughout the way, that might have reduced the loss of vessels, and slowed the progress of war in the Pacific. Nevertheless, the flawed design and conservative use of the Yamato battleship eventually made the Japanese navy pay a huge cost, thus resulting in the loss of war.
Written by Danny Su
Edited by Alexander Fleiss, Jeremy Knopp, Jules Hirschkorn, Brian Linville, Calvin Ma, Hantong Wu & Ramsay Bader