Battles of Yamato
It's sometimes mistakenly said that Yamato would never have fired it's main guns, but they certainly were put in plenty of use in the Battle off Samar, where several Allied ships were destroyed. According to Yamato's tabular record of movement, Yamato scores hits to various ships. However this document seems to have some mistakes, ie. it includes a hit on an Allied cruiser even there were no cruisers around. Yamato used it's guns at least on USS Gambier Bay and USS Hoel, which were both sunk. Whether Yamato had any hits on them isn't exactly sure. Also USS Johnston was sunk during the battle.
This page is a collage of all the fights that Yamato took part in. Quite ironically, even Yamato-class vessels were the most powerful warhips, they didn't really participate that much in fighting. Yamato and Musashi were enormous oil-hogs and were kept at port in Kure the most of the time, since the Japanese wanted to save them for a decisive battle that never came.
In fact, all Yamato-class ships were rather ill-fated. Take Shinano for example, the third Yamato-class warship, that was intended to be a battleship but was then converted to the largest aircraft carrier of its time. Her operational career lasted less than 20 hours. She never launched a plane, never fired a gun, never made a port.
However, Yamato did take part in many operations and was a fearsome weapon for more than three years. Have a look at the important locations during Yamato's career, giving you an idea where her main destinations are battles took place. And make sure you don't miss the action photos from the Battle off Samar, some of those shells may very well be fired from Yamato!
You might also be interested in the collision between Yamato and Musashi.
Yamato often used Truk Lagoon - previously terrotory belonging to Japan - as it's base for refuelling and repairs. Today Truk is called Chuuk and is part of the Federal States of Micronesia.
Truk (Chuuk). Click for exact location.
Americans rallied to Truk during the Operation Hailstone destroying more than 30 vessels making Truk a fascinating dive destination today.
On 29 May Yamato sailed from Hashirajima Bay accompanied by Nagato and Mutsu at the start of the Midway operation, but because of the disposition of the Japanese fleet, the battleships played no part in the subsequent debacle and were unable to prevent the annihilation of the Japanese carrier force by the Americans. On 5 June Admiral Yamamoto ordered the Japanese ships to abandon the operation and retire, the battleships reaching home waters again on 14 June. A month or two later, when US forces invaded Guadalcanal (located at Solomon Islands) on 8 August, heavy Japanese reinforcements were ordered to the defence of the island. Yamato was sailed for the base at Truk, located nearby, on 11 August. She arrived on the 28th but in fact took no part in the subsequent bitter fighting in the confined waters off Guadalcanal, partly because of their confined and poorly charted nature, but also because there was no bombardment ammunition available for her 18in guns, and there was a general shortage of oil. She remained at Truk, being relieved as Fleet Flagship by her sister on 11 February 1943, until 8 May when she sailed for Kure, having been at sea only one day during the intervening period. Japanese felt they could not risk losing an ireplacable treasure and just kept her at port. Sailors joked about being stationed at the 'Hotel Yamato'. No wonder, they were given white rice and a free flow of sake. In the meanwhile, the Japanese navy was losing the war.
Yamato left Truk the 8th May when she sailed for Kure, having been at sea only one day during the intervening period. Yamato arrived at Kure on 14 May 1943 and moved into the Inland Sea on 21 July. Her stay in home waters was not prolonged and after being assigned to the Battleship Force on 15 August, sailed the next day from Heigun Jima to return to Truk.
After her arrival on 23 August she was incorporated into the Combined Fleet, Main Body, and re-assumed the role of Flagship, acting in command of operations at sea in which she herself played no part. But in October it was believed that a US assault on Wake Island (near Marshall Islands) was impending and the fleet sailed for Eniwetok (an atoll on Marshall Islands which was later used for nuclear tests) on 17 October; it returned to Truk on the 26th without having made contact with the enemy.
On 12 December 1943 Yamato left Truk for Yokosuka (close to Yokohama & Tokyo), covering Transport Operation BO-1, arriving at Yokosuka on the 17th. Her stay here was brief and after embarking stores for Truk she sailed again on 20 December, with orders to transport troop reinforcements to Kavieng and the Admiralty Islands. After sailing from Yokosuka for Truk, she was hit by a torpedo from the US submarine Skate on 25 December, which struck her on the starboard side aft, badly displacing the armour belt and exposing a significant defect in the protective scheme design. More than 3.000 tons of water flooded into the hull, but she managed to reach Truk safely.
After unloading her cargo she effected makeshift repairs and then sailed for Kure on 10 January 1944, arriving on the 16th. During this passage, she was once more in contact with a US submarine and detached the destroyer Fujinami to attack it. After her arrival in Kure, the battleship was put into No. 4 dry dock for inspection.
While in dockyard hands the ship had been assigned to the 2nd Battle Squadron. In mid April, following completion of work, she loaded stores and equipment for transport to the war zone and sailed once more on 21 April. Steaming via Manila, where the stores were disembarked, she reached Lingga Roads (located at eastern Sumatra - see map below on bottom right) on 1 May. Here she was assigned to the Mobile Force and spent the first half of May in working-up before departing on the 11th for Tawi Tawi, the westernmost island of the Sulu Archipelago on western Philippines, where the fleet was presently based. She anchored there on the 14th to join the Mobile Force Vanguard for the A-Go Operation.
This is when the worlds two biggest battleships ever almost had a look which one is stronger. At 4 PM both ships accompanied by many others depart Tawi Tawi at South Pacific. Shortly after departure, a periscope (perhaps the USS Harder's) is sighted and a submarine alert is given. All ships quickly execute "hard left-rudder", but the Musashi turns too late. She closes on the Yamato just ahead. On the Yamato's bridge, near panic reigns! Captain Morishita takes over the helm himself and carries out an evasive turn, but the situation remains critical. Then a lookout reports that the "ship behind us has stopped." All aboard both super-battleships are relieved that a collision between them has been avoided on the eve of battle.
On 10 June Yamato sailed with a force ordered to support the recently invaded island of Biak (the northern coast of Papua , an Indonesian province), but this operation was cancelled consequent upon the activities of US forces in the Marianas, and on 16 June Yamato joined the 1st Mobile Fleet to participate the operation A-Go, or the Battle of the Philippine Sea between June 19th and 23rd. From the Japanese point of view the battle had an embarrasing start and embarrasing finish. In the morning, Yamato spots an airplane approaching at 13.000 feet. This is the fighter unit of Japanese Air Group 601's second strike, but Admiral Kurita has not received information about a friendly overflight so all ships except Musashi (which is able to spot the friendly planes) open fire. Four Zekes are damaged and one ditches. Yamato may have damaged some of the planes, even though the fire was opened from various ships. This incident was to set the course of luck for the days to come.
The Battle of the Philippine Sea was essentially a carrier aircraft battle. It was a decisive victory for the Allies, who lost only 123 planes while Japanese lost 600 planes, 3 crucial carriers (Hiyo, Shokaku and Taiho), 2 oilers, and had 6 ships seriously damaged. Japanese retreated and by 24th June Yamato - having once again taken no part in the fight - was back in the Inland Sea where she remained until 8 July 1944. when, accompanied by her sister Musashi, she sailed for Singapore, arriving in Lingga Roads on the 16th, in preparation for the anticipated US attack on the Philippines. It was this battle of the Philippine Sea that eventually costed Yamato and Musashi their existence. Even Yamato remained unharmed, Japan lost three crucial aircraft carriers, Hiyo, Shokaku and Taiho went all down in this battle which meant absolutely nonexisting aircraft support for the Yamato's desperate mission to come.
On 20 October 1944, U.S. Forces landed on the Island of Leyte, the first of the Japanese-held Philippine Islands to be invaded. In response, the Japanese Navy activated the complex "Sho-Go" Operation, in which several different surface and air forces would converge on the Philippines to try and drive off the Americans. As part of Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's Center Force, Yamato moved up to Brunei Bay, Borneo, to refuel and then on the 22nd steamed toward the operational area in company with four other battleships, ten heavy cruisers and numerous other warships. On 23 October, while west of the Philippines, the Center Force was attacked by the U.S. submarines Darter (SS-227 - photo above) and Dace (SS-247) in The Battle of the Palawan Passage. Three heavy cruisers were torpedoed and two sunk, including Kurita's flagship, Atago . The Admiral then moved to Yamato , which served as his flagship for the rest of the operation.
Japanese warships docked in Brunei (left) and leaving Brunei 22nd Oct 1944. (right)
Imperial Japanese Navy plan of attack at Leyte Gulf : From Borneo, VADM Kurita's Centre Force was to strike Leyte Gulf via San Bernardino Strait, north of Samar (Yellow line, including Yamato). Meanwhile Vice Admiral Nishimura's Southern Force Van (Purple) was to attack via Surigao Strait, south of Leyte. The Southern Force Rear (Red) led by VADM Shima would arrive from north to reenforce the Van. Vice Admiral Ozawa's Northern Force (Blue) would be used as a decoy to draw ADM Halsey's Third Fleet away from Leyte Gulf.
If you would like to study more about this fascinating battle, you might want to check out History Channels Battle of Leyte Gulf DVD
The next day, 24 October, as the Center Force steamed through the Philippines' central Sibuyan Sea, it was repeatedly attacked by planes from U.S. aircraft carriers. Battleship Musashi was sunk (see picture where Musashi is under attack) after being hit by a total of 19 torpedo and 17 bombs (up to 500kg each) in seven separate air raids. Like all the other Yamato class ships, Musashi goes down without having caused any real damage to Allied forces. Yamato and several other ships were hit but remained battleworthy. The Americans thought the entire Center Force had retreated, but it transited the San Bernardino Strait under cover of darkness and entered the Pacific.
Yamato is hit by a bomb near her forward 460mm gun turret, during attacks by U.S. carrier planes as she transited the Sibuyan Sea. This hit did not produce serious damage. (source: Naval Historical Center)
Either Yamato or Musashi manouvering 180 degrees in the Battle of Sibuyan sea, Oct 24, 1944.(source: Naval Historical Center)
Yamato under attack in the Battle of Sibuyan Sea.
Today was to be the closest Yamato was ever going to get into a real sea battle. In the morning of 25 October, while off Samar, Kurita's Center Force encountered by surprise a U.S. Navy escort aircraft carrier task group.
Both of the Yamato's forward turrets open fire at a distance of 30 kilometers miles. (See later Report by VADM Matome Ugaki) Of her six forward rifles only two are initially loaded with armor piercing shells, the remainder with Type 3s. Yamato's F1M2 "Pete" spotter plane confirms that the first salvo is a hit. The carrier USS Gambier Bay starts to smoke. Three six-gun salvos are fired on the same target, then the fire is shifted to the next carrier. It is concealed immediately by a smoke screen made by the American destroyers. At 06:51 AM A charging cruiser emerges from behind the smoke. Yamato engages her from a distance of more than 10 miles and scores a hit with the first salvo. The target is seen burning before it is lost sight of.
In a long running battle, in which Yamato fired her big guns at enemy ships for the only time in her career, one U.S. carrier USS Gambier Bay and three destroyers were sunk. Americans were outnumbered and Vice Admiral Clifton Srague ordered its carriers to flee, but put on an aggressive strategy and started to attack with small destroyers to give time for the carriers to run away and prepare their airplanes. At 06:54 destroyer Heerman fires three torpedoes at Haruna, but miss. Now the torpedoes are heading towards Yamato which now found herself between two torpedoes on parallel courses and for ten minutes she headed away from the action, unable to turn back for fear of being hit. By the time the torpedoes had ran out of fuel, Yamato was too far from taking part anymore.
A salvo of shells from the Japanese heavy cruiser, possibly Chikuma, in the distance - marked by a circle - falls around USS Gambier Bay during the Second battle of the Philippine Sea on October 25, 1944. Chikuma is later sank in the same day. I've heard doubts that image might be manipulated. In the foreground, officers and men of a US Navy escort carrier watch the dramatic action. (from the personal collection of LT (jg) Russell Wood, USNR Composite Squadron VC-4, USS White Plains (CVE 66) )
An American escort carrier of Task Unit 77.4.3 becomes the focal point of Japanese heavy caliber gunfire during the Battle Off Samar on October 25, 1944. (from the personal collection of LT (jg) Russell Wood, USNR Composite Squadron VC-4, USS White Plains (CVE 66) )
Yamato at the Battle of Samar. "At 0644, just before the order to form circular formation was issued, four masts, apparently destroyers, were suddenly spotted bearing 060° to port, 37 kilometers from Yamato ...This was followed by the sighting of three carriers, three cruisers, and two destroyers. It was a surprise encounter since no situation reports had been received since the previous night, and although we had long considered various measures for such an event, the ships, I thought, were extremely slow in reacting because of their lack of enemy information. Measures taken by the fleet headquarters, too, occasionally seemed lacking in promptness. At any rate at 0658 Battleship Division 1 opened fire with its forward guns at a range of 31 kilometers..." (Report by VADM Matome Ugaki, IJN, Commander Battleship Division One, HIJMS Yamato.) (from Bosamar.com) Another battleship is in the left distance, steaming in the opposite direction.
"At about 0700 it was said that there were six carriers. From 0706 we advanced generally on an easterly course and employed our secondary guns at the enemy who appeared from behind the smoke. It was generally about this time that one carrier ( White Plains) was sunk, one carrier ( St Lo) was heavily damaged, one cruiser ( Heol ) was sunk, etc. We were now rapidly approaching the enemy - the range by radar was 2200 meters and visibility was gradually improving from the east. We hoped to destroy the enemy at one blow if he came out from behind the smoke. In the meantime we were attacked by enemy aircraft. Several salvos from medium caliber enemy guns fell near Yamato , and two shells hit the starboard after gallery and outer boat shed..." Report by VADM Matome Ugaki, IJN Commander Battleship Division One, HIJMS Yamato) (from Bosamar.com) Yamato on the foreground photographed from a USS Petrof Bay (CVE-80) plane.
It now seemed like a certain death to Admiral Clifton Srague's remaining ships. Most of his ships were either sank, hit or damaged and it It seemed impossible for his force - the Taffy 3 - to escape total destruction. Japanese force began firing on the other two Taffy groups as they were able to close the range with their superior speed. American small carriers returned fire with the only guns they had, their single stern-mounted five-inch (127mm) anti-aircraft guns. The weapons, loaded solely with anti-aircraft shells, they had little chance of inflicting any damage on even unarmored surface ships. But at 09:20 Kurita suddenly turned and retreated north. He had also lost three carriers (Chokai, Suzuya and Chikuma) and lost his nerve at the important moment. He was distracyed by bad weather and poor intelligence, and was mistakingly thinking that he was against the whole of the American 3rd fleet meaning that the longer he stayed the more air-attacks would occur. Admiral Clifton Strague watches in astonishment how he has escaped his certain doom.
Yamato vs. Iowa - the slugfest of the national prides
This is the topic of a never-ending debate. In a one-on-one fight between the Yamato and USS Iowa, which one would have won? Yamato's gun have longer range but Iowa was faster and had better fire control system. It was here in the Battle off Samar that this scenario was as close as it ever was to be. Had Halsey not bitten the trap by Ozawa's Northern Force and starting to pursue his carriers, a slug-out between the Japanese Yamato, Nagato, Haruna, and Kongo and the American Iowa, New Jersey, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Washington, and Alabama might have resulted. (Read more from USS Iowa at War)
Next day Yamato is under heavy air attacks from the planes of USS Wasp and USS Cowpens. Two bombs hit, the first penetrates the forecastle forward and to the right of the main breakwater, demolishing nearby crew's spaces. The second bomb causes slight damage to the side of main gun turret No. 1. Yamato and the Nagato open fire with their main armament using Type 3 "sanshikidan" shells. Their gun crews claim several bombers shot down. The Yamato group is damaged heavily.
Yamato group retires to Brunei for refuelling starts to retire to Kure for repairs with battleships Kongo, Nagato and escorts. They are attacked by submarine USS Sealion II on the 21st November, Kongo and a destroyer Urakaze are sunk. Yamato arrives at Kure on 24th of Novemeber, after which she moved into the Inland Sea on 3rd January 1945. There on 19th March, she was hit again by a bomb during attacks by US Task Force 58, while in Hiroshima Bay. That month it was resolved to deploy the battleship for what was essentially a suicide mission to support the defence of Okinawa.
Yamato under heavy air attack from the Allied Task Force 58 on he 19th March 1945.
Following the invasion of Okinawa on April 1 , 1945, the Japanese tactics became more and more desperate. Short of everything but human lifes, the air force started their infamous kamikaze missions flying their airplanes directly into American ships. From Yamato's point of view, this was happening only one day sail away.
Yamato and her escorts were sent to attack the US fleet supporting the US troops landing on the west of the island. She was to beach herself between Higashi and Yomitan and fight as a shore battery until she was destroyed. The operation was reportedly conceived by the Japanese Imperial Navy leadership in response to a question from Japanese Emperor Hirohito (picture). While briefing the emperor on preparations by the army to defend Okinawa against the allied invasion, the emperor reportedly asked his advisors, "And where is the navy? Aren't they participating in the defense of Okinawa?" This question consequently sealed the fate of over 3,000 members of the Japanese Navy.
This mission was truly doomed from the very beginning. Yamato with a handful of escorts was sent without any aircover against hundreds of ships reaching Okinawa. Everyone knew they would not return. She was supposed to be given only enough fuel for a one-way trip to Okinawa. However, the crews at the fuel depot at Tokuyama defied orders and supplied the task force with much more. Yamato was supposed to fight against the Allies to the very last man. Common sense told even the navy officers that this was a certain death, but then again, if Allies would capture Okinawa, then Japan would certainly lose the war. They refused to see that the war was already lost far ago. Besides since so many pilots were losing their lives for the country, how was it acceptable that the largest ship was doing nothing. Nave decided to sacrifice Yamato in the name of honor.
On 6 April Yamato , the light cruiser Yahagi , and eight destroyers left port at Tokuyama. They were sighted on 7 April as they exited the Inland Sea southwards. The U.S. Navy launched around 400 aircraft from eleven carriers of Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher 's Task Force 58 ( Hornet , Bennington , Belleau Wood , San Jacinto , Essex , Bunker Hill , Hancock , Bataan , Intrepid , Yorktown and Langley ), and assembled a force of six battleships ( Massachusetts , Indiana , New Jersey , South Dakota , Wisconsin , and Missouri ), supported by cruisers (including Alaska and Guam ) and destroyers to intercept the Japanese fleet if the air-strikes did not succeed.
The important locations in Yamato's Career
When I first studied the history of Yamato, all kind of strange place names kept popping up. The above illustration shows the locations that became important during her career.
1 - Kure, Inland Sea, Japan. This is where Yamato was built and where the test trials were made.
[ exact location ]
2 - Truk, nowadays Chuuk, lagoon used to belong to Japan. Today it's part of Micronesia.
[ exact location ]
3 - Eniwetok, also part of Federal States of Micronesia, became later famous for the US nuclear tests.
(I tried my best locating Truk and Eniwetok on the map) [ exact location ]
4 - Lingga Roads, just off Singapore, is an island east of Sumatra. [ exact location ]
5 - Tawa Tawa, the south-western point of Sulu Archipelago, is located in the Western Philippines.
[ exact location ]
6 - Brunei [ exact location ]
7 - Samar and Leyte Gulf are at the Eastern Philippines, this is where Yamato fired her guns at enemy ships for the only time. [ exact location ]
8 - Today Yamato lies at 30-22 N, 128-04 E in the depth of 1.410 feet about 50 miles southwest of Kyushu, Japan.
Naval Historical Center
Imperial Japanese Navy Page
Bosamar.com (Personal Collection of Russell Wood )