Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Those who have read my site since the beginning know that I have written much in terms of Naval History. One of the things that I am drawn to are the great ships that were sacrificed with the crews in futile attempts of salvage victory from defeat, or which were sacrificed in order to save others. Regardless of the circumstance I have a soft spot in my heart for sailors of any nation who pay with their lives when their ships are sunk. This is the story of the IJN Yamato who along with her sister ship, the Musashi were the largest battleships ever constructed.
As dawn broke on April 7th 1945 the great Super-Battleship Yamato, the pride of the Japanese Imperial Navy and nine escorts steamed toward Okinawa on a suicide mission. It was literally the end of empire and the end of a navy. What had begun on December 7th 1941 was now winding down as the Imperial Navy launched its last offensive operation against the United States Navy.
The Imperial Navy was already at the end of its tether. Following the disasters at the Battle of the Philippine Sea which decimated the carrier air arm of the Imperial Navy; the subsequent losses in the defense of Formosa which used up the majority of any remaining carrier aircraft and crews; and the Battle of Leyte Gulf which decimated the surface forces of the navy what remained was a pitiful remnant of a once dominant fleet.
The great battleship Yamato and her sister ship Musashi were the largest warships ever built until the advent of the USS Enterprise CVN-65. Displacing over 72,000 tons 863 feet long and 127 feet in beam these ships mounted the heaviest artillery battery ever placed on a warship. Their nine 18.1” guns mounted in three triple turrets each weighing over 2500 tons weighed as much or more than the largest destroyers of the time. They could fire their massive shells 26 miles and even had the capability of firing a special anti-aircraft shell known as the Sanshiki or beehive round.the largest anti-aircraft shell ever developed.
Musashi was sunk during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea at Leyte Gulf on October 24th 1944 after being hit by 19 aerial torpedoes and 17 bombs. Yamato engaged the American Escort Carriers and destroyers of Taffy-3 at the Battle off Samar the following day but was prevented by the audacity of the inferior American destroyers and timidity of the Japanese commander Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita from achieving any notable success.
The remains of the Imperial Navy were hampered by a lack of fuel, air power and training time. When the United States attacked Iwo Jima in February 1945, barely 700 miles from the home islands of Japan not a single Japanese surface ship sortied to challenge the American Navy.
However when the American attacked Okinawa on April 1st 1945 the Imperial Navy launched Operation Ten-Go. In spite of overwhelming American superiority in both naval air and surface forces the tiny task force was to fight its way to Okinawa, beach their ships and once the ships were destroyed the crews were to join Japanese Army forces on the island.
The doomed sortie was in part due to the insistence of the Imperial Army which derided the Imperial Navy for its failures at Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf and pressure from Emperor Hirohito who asked “But what about the Navy? What are they doing to assist in defending Okinawa? Have we no more ships?” In response the Naval High command devised what amounted to a suicide mission for Yamato and her escorts. The plan was opposed by many in the Navy and leaders of the task force who saw it as a futile mission. Only the insistence of Admiral Kusaka who told the reticent commanders that the Emperor expected the Navy to make its best effort to defend Okinawa persuaded the Captains of the doomed force to accept the mission. Honor now matter more than lives.
At about 1600 on April 6th the ships of the task force weighed anchor and departed their anchorage at Tokuyama hoping to take advantage of approaching darkness to mask their departure. They were detected and shadowed by American submarines which provided real time information on the course and speed of the Japanese ships to the American leadership.
The next morning the task force was spotted by patrol planes and its position relayed to the American fleet commander, Admiral Raymond Spruance, the victor of Midway. Spruance ordered the six fast battleships, accompanied by two battlecruisers, seven cruisers and 21 destroyers engaged in shore bombardment to intercept the Japanese force. However, Admiral Marc Mitscher of Task Force 58, the fast carriers launched a massive air strike of over 400 aircraft against the Japanese.
At 1232 the first wave of American aircraft began their attacks on the doomed Japanese force. As the succeeding waves of American aircraft attacked Yamato was hit by 15 bombs and at least 8 torpedoes, almost all of which struck her port side created an imminent risk of capsizing. The damage control teams’ counter flooded the starboard engine and boiler rooms which kept the ship from turning turtle, but which also further reduced her speed.
By 1405 the great ship was dead in the water with a heavy list, just minutes before her commander had ordered the crew to abandon ship. At 1420 Yamato capsized and began to sink and at 1423 she blew apart in a massive explosion that was reportedly heard and seen 120 miles away and created a mushroom cloud that reached 20,000 feet.
Captain Tameichi Hara of the light cruiser Yahagi which had already sank described the demise of the great ship in his book Japanese Destroyer Captain:
“We looked and saw Yamato, still moving. What a beautiful sight. Suddenly smoke belched from her waterline. We both groaned as white smoke billowed out until it covered the great battleship, giving her the appearance of a snow-capped Mount Fuji. Next came black smoke mingled with the white, forming to a huge cloud which climbed to 2000 meters. As it drifted away we looked to the surface of the sea again and there was nothing. Yamato had vanished. Tremendous detonations at 1423 of that seventh day of April signaled the end of this “unsinkable” symbol of the Imperial Navy.”
Only 280 men of the estimated 3000 crew members aboard Yamato were rescued by the surviving escorts. Of her escorts, the Yahagi and four destroyers were also sunk. The Americans lost a total of ten aircraft and 12 men. Never again would the surface forces of the Imperial Navy threaten U.S. forces or take any meaningful part in the war.
The sacrifice of Yamato and her escorts was a futile was of lives and though many in Japan revere their sacrifice as noble it served no purpose. The loss of Yamato, named after the ancient Yamato province in a sense was symbolic of the demise of the Japanese Empire.
I cannot help but think of gallantry of the doomed crews of these ships, sacrificed for the “honor” of leaders that did not really value their sacrifice. Likewise, I regret the fact that Naval engineers, and maritime archeologists never got to examine this great ship while still afloat, or even to see how she would have faired as a target ship in the Bikini Atoll Nuclear tests.
I regret that so many sailors died in what was a senseless, and useless from an operation operation of any tactical, operational, or strategic point of view. Likewise I regret that a relatively intact Yamato was never fully examined by non-Japanese maritime engineers and ship designers to examine and learn lessons from. If Yamato had survived the war, been thoroughly examined and the. Been expended as a target ship at Bikini, which in light of the examples of the USS Nevada, USS New York, the DKM Prinz Eugen, and other ships might have assisted Naval engineers even today.
I am a career military man, and sailor. I am a humanist who abhors the indiscriminate and nonsensical sacrifice of lives for so called National Honor or pride. I am also a military and naval historical historian who believes that the preservation and study of such instruments of war save lives.
It is a commentary that is timeless. The useless sacrifice of over 2,800 human beings and the ultimate battleship ever built into, to do nothing more than commiserate over the lives that had not been so sacrificed, and the lessons that might prevent the loss of life in future conflicts.
I wonder if another Naval power, perhaps not the Japanese, but maybe the Americans, Russians, English, Indian, or Chinese aircraft carrier will be the latest to succumb to the myth of the great and allegedly indestructible capital ship.
It is a question worth asking as the United States Navy struggles to regain pure-eminence in the Pacific against the Chinese, in the Arctic against Chinese and the Russians, and against less than peer competitors in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. When Yamato was sunk the Japanese were no longer under the illusion that they were the greatest sea power ever; if a United States Navy Aircraft were to be sunk in the North Atlantic, the Northeast Pacific, the Persian Gulf, or the Mediterranean it would be more than a military defeat, it would be a national catastrophe. Trust me, I have played the war games at the Joint Forces Staff College. I cannot go into detail about the war game scenarios, but the were favorable to the United States and its allies.
If any of our Nimitz class carriers were sunk along with the majority of their escorts it would be a crisis like we have not experienced since Pearl Harbor. Thus, Yamato, and her escorts serve as a lesson for all who believe in the myth of American Naval and Military superiority. In January of 1019, this year the Chinese boasted that they could not just sink one, but two Nimitz Class carriers in the South China Sea https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/8098177/chinese-admiral-south-china-sea-sink-us-aircraft-carriers/
That possibility has to be acknowledged, and even if one were sunk or seriously damaged it would be a disaster for United States Strategic interests; not Just in the South China Sea, but also Northeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, or the North Atlantic. The United States has not experienced such Naval disasters since 1941 and 1942 at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Navy, trust me; I have serve for almost 38 years in the Army and the Navy and I am a historian. If we to experience such losses it would be a strategic disaster that would collapse the confidence of an American public in the myth of American military superiority. There is no amount of #MAGA that can change that. The economy would collapse and the dream world that Americans have lived I would be destroyed. We would have to start again from scratch, like the Japanese in 1945 or the Chinese in 1274 and 1281, or more recently the defeat of the Russian Fleet, operation far from home at Tsushima in 1905 by Admiral Togo and his Japanese Fleet.
This my friends is history, and this is reality when a nation is led by a man with the stupidity of Czar Nicholas, the hubris of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and the racist, non-historical, and not strategically grounded ideology of Adolf Hitler, and their present day manifestations in President Donald Trump.
2 responses to “All the Drowned Sailors: The Sacrifice Of the Yamato, at Okinawa and the Myth Of Trump’s #MAGA”
Powerful post. Thank you
I have long been a student of history, but tonight I have learned much from you! Fascinating history … thank you! And yes, we have a ‘man’ in the Oval Office who has been given power that was never intended for his role, and he is but one step away from becoming a dictator, at least in my view. Sigh. Thanks, though, for this great post!