Ship model, Japanese battleship "Yamato", launched 1940, scale 1:200, plastic, wood, (Australia), (1960s)
The "Yamato"and its sister battleship "Musashi" were the largest and most heavily armed battleships of World War II. Both were sunk due to aerial and submarine attack, showing that even the largest and most heavily armed ships fell victim to aircraft and submarine attack, to which may now be added guided missile and rocket attacks.
By the end of World War II, the battlership was replaced by ther aircraft carrier as the most important capital ship. However, in contemporary naval warfare even the aircraft carrier with the protection from surrounding support ships is highly susceptable to attack from silent nuclear powered submarines.
Senior Curator, Transport
Researched by Rob Mayrick, Museum Volunteer
The ┬?Yamato┬? and sister ship ┬?Musashi┬? at 72 800 tonnes, length 263 m (863ft) , beam 38.7 m (127ft) and capable of a speed of 27 knots, were the largest and heaviest battleships ever constructed. They boasted the largest and most powerful main armament of nine 18.1┬? (46 cm) guns, far outgunning any other British or American battleships of WW2. A third sister ship ┬?Shinano┬? was commenced but was converted into an aircraft carrier.
In 1934, Japan renounced the League of Nations Treaty Obligations that limited the size and power of capital ships. Japanese planners recognised that Japan would be unable to compete with the output of US naval shipyards so they designed the Yamato class battleship in the late 1930s to be capable of engaging multiple enemy battleships at the same time. Their 70 000 tonnes displacement is to be compared to the 40 000-51 000 tonnes of British and German battleships of the time.
The keel of the ┬?Yamato┬? was laid down at Kure Naval Arsenal, Hiroshima in 1937, launched in 1940 and the ship commissioned in great secrecy in late 1941. As the flagship of Admiral Yamamoto's Combined Fleet, The ┬?Yamato┬? took part in the decisive Battle of Midway, which was disastrous for the Japanese carrier force. US code breakers were able to determine Yamamoto's strategy resulting in the loss of four fleet carriers and 332 carrier based aircraft. The Japanese battle plan required widely dispersed forces with the object of luring the American battle fleet into a trap but the net result was that the battleship group was too distant to play a significant part in the battle.
From August 1943 the ┬?Yamato┬? was based at Truk in the south west Pacific for sorties against US shipping. On Christmas day 1943 on troop-ferrying duties, the ┬?Yamato┬? was struck by a torpedo from US submarine ┬?Skate┬? causing the rear turrets┬? upper magazine to flood. This required a return to Kure for repair.
In June 1944, ┬?Yamato┬? and ┬?Musashi┬? were used as troop transports to reinforce the garrison of Biak, north west of New Guinea, but the operation was cancelled in the light of US carrier attack on the Marianas in the north west Pacific. The Imperial Japanese Navy then concentrated its remaining naval strength in the hope of achieving a decisive success against the US Pacific Fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The Japanese Navy lost three carriers and 426 aircraft. The only significant action of the ┬?Yamato┬? was to mistakenly open fire on their own returning aircraft. Following the battle, the ┬?Yamato┬? withdrew to Kure to refuel and rearm.
In August 1944, the battleships ┬?Yamato┬?, ┬?Musashi┬?, ┬?Kongo┬?, ┬?Nagato┬? and eleven cruisers and destroyers sailed for the Lingga Islands in the East Indies to be near the source of their fuel supplies. By this time, the Japanese tanker fleet had been greatly reduced by US submarine activity, so that fuel was in short supply. In October 1944, ┬?Yamato┬? took part in one of the largest naval engagements in history, the battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippine Sea. On route to Leyte, the Japanese fleet was attacked by two US submarines sinking two Takao class heavy cruisers and damaging the battleship ┬?Atago┬?. The following day, three more heavy cruisers were destroyed, eliminating a substantial part of the Japanese fleet's anti-aircraft defences. ┬?Yamato┬? was struck by two bombs from planes launched from USS ┬?Essex┬?. ┬?Musashi┬? sank after being hit by seventeen torpedoes and nineteen bombs.
The main American defensive force departed Leyte on the evening of the 24 October in the belief that the main Japanese fleet had turned back. The American fleet pursued a decoy group, the Japanese Northern Force. The decoy action was a success in drawing away a large portion of the American force. Shortly before dawn on the morning of the 25 October, the Japanese main fleet attacked the American formation that had remained as close support for the invading troops. This group comprised six escort carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts. ┬?Yamato┬? scored hits on an escort carrier USS ┬?Gambier Bay┬?, but had to turn away from the battle to avoid a spread of four torpedoes and was unable to rejoin the battle. In the mistaken belief that he was facing the full US battle fleet, Admiral Kurita ordered disengagement. Three more Japanese heavy cruisers and one light cruiser were lost in the battle, for the US loss of two escort carriers, two destroyers and a destroyer escort.
With the invasion of Okinawa in April 1945, the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to commit much of the total remaining naval strength to attack the invading Allied fleet. ┬?Yamato┬? was to beach herself to act as an unsinkable gun emplacement and continue to fight until destroyed. Having broken the Japanese naval radio codes, the Allies were aware of this plan. The Japanese fleet was intercepted, and in a two hour battle, the ┬?Yamato┬? was hit by at least eleven torpedoes and eight bombs, eventually sinking with the loss of 2,055 of her 2,332 crew. The cruiser ┬?Yahagi┬? and four destroyers were also sunk.
The wreck of the ┬?Yamato┬? has been located 290 kilometres south east of Kyushu in 340 metres of water. The Battleship ┬?Yamato┬? Memorial Tower was erected in April 1968 on Cape Inutabu, on the Island of Tokunoshima. In 2005, the Yamato Museum was opened near the site of the former Kure shipyards, with a 26.3 metre long replica of the ┬?Yamato┬? as the centrepiece. A film and several books have been produced on the story of the ┬?Yamato┬?, and the ship and crew are accorded a special heroic status.
Research by Rob Mayrick and Helen McGregor, Museum Volunteers