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The sinking of the Yamato and the Musashi

Written by Sakhal

Sinking of the Musashi

In the morning of the 24th October 1944, Admiral Kurita was in the command bridge of the superbattleship Yamato, sister of the Musashi and then flagship of the Imperial Japanese Fleet, commanding the Japanese naval force that navigated towards San Bernardino Strait, when a raid of American aircraft attacked it. The Japanese squadron had been already spotted by American submarines, which had previously sunk the heavy cruisers Takao and Maya. However, Kurita was determined to carry his squadron towards Samar and Leyte, to annihilate there, in a decisive surface battle, the American fleet that assisted the disembarkation contingent. The ultimate purpose of the battle was to return the Philippines to Japan. The Commander of the squadron had a positive mood due to the fact of having the two largest battleships ever built as part of the fleet. However, the construction of these superbattleships had not been exempt of controversy within the authorities: many stated that the era of the battleships was over and that no more of these ships should be built. Having entered in service one year later, the Musashi had somewhat more modern equipment than the Yamato. In that time, these ships were still considered as unsinkable. But in the morning of that fatidic 24th October, the attacks from the American naval aviation would prove otherwise. The first wave of attackers, aircraft departed from the carriers Intrepid and Cabot, attacked the naval force commanded by Kurita at 8:37 o'clock, covering the two superbattleships with a rainfall of bombs and torpedoes. It seemed that the Yamato had been hit, but she emerged untouched from the columns of water around her. All the anti-aircraft batteries operated together to create a barrier of fire around the superbattleships, but unexpectedly two explosions made the Musashi to tremble; a bomb and a torpedo had hit her. The Musashi however continued navigating like nothing had happened. The American aircraft finally left and the Japanese squadron retook its formation.

Towards the noon, a new wave of attackers rammed against the Japanese fleet, and the Musashi received three torpedo hits. However, all the damages were put under control, and the superbattleship continued navigating as she were untouched. Around 13:30 o'clock, a third wave of attackers, coming from the carriers Essex and Lexington, attacked once again the Japanese squadron. A few land- based Japanese air squadrons departed to protect the naval force, but they were easily overthrown by the enemy swarm. The hammering of bombs was already close when Koshino, fire control chief on the Musashi, asked permission to fire against the enemy formations with the 460-millimeter cannons; each of those artillery pieces could send more than 1400 kilograms of shrapnel against the enemy aircraft formations. But the permission was denied; the High Command wanted to preserve all the heavy ammunitions for the immense surface battle that had been foreseen in the Japanese battle plan. Meanwhile, the wave of attackers arrived, and four bombs destroyed the bridges of the Musashi, while a torpedo opened a breach in the hull. The great battleship was then really hurt, and had to decrease her speed. Admiral Kurita, observing the action with binoculars, ordered the squadron to decrease speed to 22 knots, to prevent the Musashi from losing contact. The slower speed made the Musashi more vulnerable, and the American aircraft fluttered around her like birds of prey. Sixty-five aircraft had arrived from the carriers Enterprise and Franklin, and the Musashi was already heeled. Koshino finally obtained permission to fire the 460-millimeter cannons, and the Musashi trembled with this last action of proudness, which despite irrelevant for the final result, brought down more than one of the attackers.

A row of three torpedoes hit the left flank of the Musashi and a bomb fell upon her main superstructure, the pagoda-style conning tower, killing everyone in the first command bridge. Only the Commander, who had been absent for a moment, saved his life. The Musashi was not surrendered yet, but the inclination was increasing. The crew was ordered to inundate the right side of the hull, but there was no electrical power to activate the machinery. Shiro Hosoya, chief of the signalmen, was one of the survivors, who witnessed the disaster from the open top of the second command bridge. He received the order to transmit a message to the Yamato, which was already moving away: "Musashi in conditions of navigating at 15 knots. A bomb has fell in the first command bridge; all the officers dead. Five bombs and twelve torpedoes have hit. The Commander is still alive." At 15:20 o'clock, a new wave of attackers, coming from the carriers Intrepid, Cabot and Essex, joined the saraband of the aircraft from the previous wave, which were already exhausting their fuel. From the ships of the Japanese squadron the anti-aircraft artillery continued shooting to create a barrier of fire, but it was impossible to prevent an increasing number of enemy aircraft being able to find a gap from where sending their lethal loads. New explosions trembled the Musashi and everyone onboard assumed that the fate of the superbattleship was already decided. The water reached already the bridges while the attackers left. A great silence fell upon the ship, broken by the crackle of fires and the laments of the wounded. Suddenly, the mariners shouted "Banzai!" and somebody asked the motive of the exaltation. "The enemy fleet has been destroyed", a mariner said. "Who said you that?", he was inquired. "The fire control chief", he answered. It was a false information, but the intention was to keep in a high level the morale of the crew.

Hosoya received orders to transmit another message: "Speed six knots, possibility to maneuver. Severe damages. What should we do?". From the Yamato, the orders stated that the Musashi should leave the battle zone escorted by two destroyers. The inclination was increasing, and all the personnel and many objects were moved towards the prow to compensate the effect. Then the orders from the Yamato stated that the Musashi should be stranded in the nearest isle to turn her into a ground battery. It was the end, and the books and codes were burnt with gasoline, while other important packs were thrown to the waters, ballasted by the machine guns, to prevent them to return afloat. The inclination of the ship reached already 20 degrees. Commander Inoguchi wrote his testament in a notebook, entrusting it to an officer, together with his saber and a portrait of the Emperor. In the testament, Inoguchi asked forgiveness to the Emperor for being favorable to the construction of the superbattleships. Inoguchi ordered the officers to occupy a boat; the Lieutenant Commander wanted to die with the ship, but Inoguchi did not allow him to proceed like that: "Damned madman! My responsibility is so big, that not even the death will erase it, and for such I must share the fate of the ship, but the Lieutenant Commander is responsible of the salvation and safety of the crew, and must make possible that they are aboard of the second or third Musashi to avenge the defeat of today". Then Inoguchi called for Hosoya and said to him: "Thanks for your services, signalman. Behave the best possible until the end." And gave to him a bag with money and cupcakes. At 19:15 o'clock, the Commander ordered to rollcall the crew, and while the cornet played the national anthem, the flag was hauled down and ceremoniously wrapped around the waist of a skilled swimmer. The ship was then so heeled over that everything on the deck started to roll, including the numerous corpses. The Lieutenant Commander ordered to evacuate the ship, and a multitude of men instantly jumped to the waters and swam franctically to avoid the suction created by the sinking hull. The Musashi raised her stern above the waters before disappearing in the ocean, and four destroyers started to gather the castaways.

The sinking of the Yamato and the Musashi

Sinking of the Yamato

During the assault to Okinawa, the 2nd Fleet was the last Japanese naval squadron that participated in combat during the Second World War. This fleet had been gathered with a lot of effort and many doubts. The High Command of the Imperial Japanese Navy had already decided that there was no real possibility to resist against the enemy. Any attempt to comfront the American forces would suppose the sacrifice of the units that still floated on the water... and the certain death of their crews. The only element of strenght in the 2nd Fleet was represented by the impressive superbattleship Yamato. The rest of the squadron was merely an escort for the largest warship that existed then. Apart from the light cruiser Yahagi, the 2nd Fleet encompassed only a total of eight destroyers. The Yamato had been recently repaired from the damages suffered during the Battle of Leyte, and she was consciously sent to the slaughter in a desperate illusion to block somehow the advance of the American fleet. The battle plan disposed by Vice Admiral Seichi Ito, Commander of the 2nd Fleet, foresaw that the Yamato and the Yahagi would arrive, accompanied by the eight destroyers, to the east of Okinawa in the dawning of the 8th April 1945, paying attention to not approach in excess the American aircraft carriers. The order was the simplest one: use the artillery to sink the largest number of enemy units possible. The task assigned to the 2nd Fleet was almost a kamikaze attack. Nor the Yamato neither the Yahagi had in their tanks fuel enough to return to Japan; only the destroyers had received a full load of fuel. The Yamato should be stranded in the coast of Okinawa after finishing her mission and be used there as a coastal battery, and the crew of the ship, nearly 3500 men, should join the garrison of the island to fight until the bitter end when the Yamato had her ammunitions depleted.

The Americans were warned of the departure of the 2nd Fleet by a reconnaissance aircraft that flew over Tukuyama Base while the aforementioned orders were being given to the mariners of said squadron by Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka. However, the fleet could not be located by the numerous submarines that were put into alarm. The 2nd Fleet was eventually spotted in the noon of the following day by reconnaissance aircraft from the American carriers, from 12:34 onwards. The first wave of attackers had the chance to get protection by flying above the low clouds. In a couple of minutes, two bombs damaged the low-caliber anti-aircraft guns that were located next to the secondary tower astern of the Yamato, and shortly after a torpedo hit the left flank of the prow, opening a huge hole. Until then, the 2nd Fleet had not fired a single projectile against the American fleet, which could not locate. All the energies had been focused in the attempt to repel the aerial attack, but despite of how numerous were the anti-aircraft batteries of the Yamato, these were unable to stop the enemy aircraft without the help of an escort from aircraft. Shortly after the Yamato started to leak water, a torpedo hit the Yahagi, stopping her instantly. And while this happened, the destroyer Hamakaze was sunk with all her crew aboard, including Commander Isami Mukoi. The situation of the 2nd Fleet was critical, and Vice Admiral Ito, recognizing already the defeat, gave order to reach Okinawa and disembark the crew there. After all, that would be a lesser harm than to continue an useless fight in the sea. But they had no time to arrive to Okinawa.

Shortly after 13 o'clock, a second wave of aircraft fell upon the Japanese squadron, coming from the east, the west and the southeast. Clusters of bombs fell over the Yamato, shaking her, and then two torpedoes hitting in the left flank made her to tremble and silenced the radio station. Close to the Yamato, two of the destroyers that still survived, the Yukikaze and the Fuyutsuki, tried to defend the superbattleship by desperately navigating around her in circles. The sea boiled by the amount of explosions, and the Yamato continued to send fire from the majority of her guns. Then started the dancing of a squadron of twenty torpedo bombers. Since some of the artillery pieces at the left flank had ceased fire, the torpedo bombers attacked from that side. Three torpedoes hit the Yamato, rendering inoperative the secondary rudder, due to the inclination that the Yamato was already suffering. With haste, the crew operated to decrease the inclination and allow said rudder to be operative again, but the draft, increased by the water leaked, slowed the movements of the superbattleship, making her an even easier target than before. Again, clusters of bombs were dropped over the Yamato, causing devastation in the superstructures, while some torpedoes opened new holes in the flanks of the hull. Around 14 o'clock, the speed of the Yamato had been reduced to seven knots. Fifteen minutes later, another torpedo - the tenth one - stopped the Yamato with a terrorific explosion. This contundent action against the superbattleship was being performed by a force of 386 aircraft sent from the aircraft carriers commanded by Admiral M. A. Mitscher.

Through the radio of one of the three destroyers that miraculously had managed to survive the deluge of bombs, Admiral Toyoda received the notification of the sinking of the Yamato. As a consolation prize, the Japanese made use of the unwise approach of the American aircraft carriers to the Japanese air bases caused by the 2nd Fleet, by later attacking said carriers with kamikaze pilots. A long controversy was generated among the Japanese experts and the American historians in respect of the desperate action assigned to the Yamato. In opinion of the most, it was a huge mistake, because the largest battleship in the world should not be sent to battle without the assistance of a minimal air force. Admiral Toyoda, maximum responsible of the action, explained time later that they "should do anything possible to help the soldiers that were fighting in Okinawa. We had to venture into that reckless action. As far as that decision of mine could be now condemned, I do not try to say anything to justify myself. I only want to add that in that moment I had no other alternative."

The sinking of the Yamato and the Musashi

The Yamato in her final conditions in 1945. Note the numerous - but not proportionally powerful - anti-aircraft armament and the devices for the auxiliary aircraft astern - rails, catapults and crane -. The aircraft carried were the seaplanes Mitsubishi F1M2 "Pete" and Aichi E13A1 "Jake".

Class: Yamato (3 units, one reconverted in aircraft carrier)

Type: Battleship

Shipyard: Kure (Yamato); Mitsubishi, Nagasaki (Musashi)

Development (Yamato): Ordered in 1937, keel laid the 4th November 1937, launched the 8th August 1940, completed the 16th December 1941, sunk the 7th April 1945

Development (Musashi): Ordered in 1937, keel laid the 29th March 1938, launched the 11th November 1941, completed the 5th August 1942, sunk the 24th October 1944

Length (total): 263 meters

Length (in waterline): 256 meters

Beam (total): 38.9 meters

Beam (in waterline): 36.9 meters

Draft: 11.7 meters

Armament (as built): 9 x 460 millimeters (45 calibers) cannons, 12 x 155 millimeters (55 calibers) cannons, 12 x 127 millimeters (40 calibers) cannons, 24 x 25-millimeter cannons, 4 x 13.2 -millimeter machine guns

Armament (in 1945): 9 460 millimeters (45 calibers) cannons, 12 x 155 millimeters (55 calibers) cannons, 24 x 127 millimeters (40 calibers) cannons, 146 x 25-millimeter cannons, 4 x 13.2 -millimeter machine guns

Armor: 100-410 millimeters in armored belt, 300-340 millimeters in bulkheads, 200-230 millimeters in deck, 380-560 millimeters in barbettes, 190-650 millimeters in main turrets, 25 millimeters in secondary turrets, 500 millimeters in conning tower Displacement (standard): 65020 tonnes

Displacement (normal): 70605 tonnes

Displacement (full load): 73970 tonnes

Propulsion plant: 12 boilers Kanpon, 4 shafts actuated by steam turbines Kanpon, developing 153000 horsepower

Maximum speed: 27.5 knots (50.9 kilometers/hour)

Operational range: 6054 nautic miles (11212 kilometers) at 16 knots

Fuel load: 6400 tonnes

Complement: 2200 in 1941, 3500 in 1945

Categories: Naval Warfare - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-02-03

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