The Final Voyage : "The Fate of the Empire hangs on this battle."

On April 7, 1945, the battleship Yamato , the pride of Japan's navy, succumbed to American airpower in the Pacific. It was to face the whole American fleet practically alone. Gasoline is provided only for one day. "We were all prepared to die." She leaves the port early morning on the 6th and heads towards Okinawa. The escorts provide a screen around her to protect Yamato from submarine attacks, but nothing could save her from an aerial attack. On the way, the crew is given a free flow of sake to ease the pain. "We were drunk. The officers were not so drunk, but we were drunk to the point of staggering. The officers and the us drank together. How could I possibly not drink, when I was ordered to?" And so Yamato remained its course towards the fifteen-hundred ship american fleet.

Only a handful of photographs from Yamato's final hours — many of them taken from attacking aircraft — have survived. View dramatic archival images from the final kamikaze mission of Japan's supership. View the minute-to-minute details of the last 24 hours of Yamato. Have a look how Kazuhiro Fukumoto and 268 other Yamato crewmembers survived one of the biggest naval disaster of all time.

Torpedoes explode against the doomed Yamato

Torpedoes explode against Yamato 's port side as she turns to avoid the onslaught from bombers.

 

Yamato in battle

While the Americans' 1,000-pound bombs held fearsome destructive power, as seen in this one exploding off Yamato 's port bow, it was their air-launched torpedoes that ultimately led to the supership's demise. American aviators received orders to drop their torpedoes such that they would penetrate Yamato below the waterline near her bow and stern where her armor was thinnest. They were also instructed to concentrate their torpedoes on just one of Yamato 's sides, an approach most likely to cause flooding and eventual sinking. Note the fire in one of the ship's aft turrets.

Yahagi covering Yamato's last mission

Eight Japanese destroyers and one cruiser, the Yahagi , tried to assist Yamato in fending off her attackers. Here, the Yahagi fires its 6-inch guns. By the end of the battle, Yahagi and most of the destroyers were lost.

 

Helldiver attacking Yamato

After a dozen torpedo hits, even the Yamato 's 1,000 watertight compartments couldn't save her, and her lower decks rapidly began to flood. A Curtiss Helldiver bomber like the one seen at right photographed the destruction. At this point, after just a few hours of battle, most of the American pilots returned to their carriers, knowing Yamato 's injuries were fatal. In all, Yamato took 12 bomb and seven torpedo hits within two hours of battle.

Yamato explodes

An astounding series of explosions onboard Yamato produced the mushroom cloud seen here shortly before she sank. Yamato settled on the seafloor 1,400 feet down and about 50 miles southwest of Kyushu, Japan. Experts believe that a fire raging in the battleship's aft secondary magazine caused tons of ammunition to ignite almost simultaneously, producing the blasts that tore the ship in half and sank her. These blasts were perhaps the largest ever to occur at sea.

Yamato just before sinking

One of the final photographs of the supership shows her severely damaged hull burning just prior to disappearing beneath the waves. When Yamato sank, marking the last Japanese naval action of the war, she took 2,747 men with her—all but 269 of her crew. Surrounding Japanese ships lost an additional 1,467 men. Only 10 American aircraft went down in the battle, with the loss of just 12 men.

The Final Voyage in Detail

5 April 1945: Operation Ten-Ichi-Go - ("Heaven Number One"):
1359: A detailed order is received: "The Surface Special Attack Unit is ordered to proceed via Bungo Suido Channel at dawn on Y-1 day to reach the prescribed holding position for a high-speed run-in to the area west of Okinawa at dawn on Y-day. Your mission is to attack the enemy fleet and supply train and destroy them. Y-day is April 8th."

1500: Captain Aruga informs his assembled crew about the sortie.

1730: Sixty-seven naval cadets of Etajima class No. 74,
who arrived three days before, are sent ashore. Then a farewell party is held aboard the YAMATO.




6 April 1945:Operation Ten-I-Go ("Heaven Number One") The Attack on the U.S. Invasion Forces at Okinawa:
At the Mitajiri anchorage. In the early morning, Vice Admiral Kusaka Ryunosuke (former CO of CV AKAGI), Chief of Staff of the Combined Fleet, accompanied by Cdr Mikami Sakuo of the Combined Fleet Staff arrive by a float biplane from Kanoya to confer about the mission with Vice Admiral Ito, Commander, Second Fleet and staff.



This map illustrates well the final voyage of Yamato. On 6th of April, she lefts Tokyama towards Okinawa, where she is supposed to demolish the Allied forces invading the island. The following morning at 8.20 she is spotted by Allied planes from the Task Force 58, who soon return with force. Yamato puts up a tremendous battle but being ill-equipped for aerial combat and being totally without air-support, the battle is hopeless. A bomb hits the ammunition storage of Yamato which explodes and sinks at 2.43 PM on 7th April. Less than 300 men survive out of 2700. Map from Karol Bohm.

The sick and some older sailors disembark. The YAMATO departs Mitajiri for the Tokuyama Oil Depot. The YAMATO takes on 3, 400 tons of fuel oil. (Enough for one way only). The destroyers also refuel.

1520: Departs Tokuyama escorted by DesDiv 43: HANAZUKI, KAYA, MAKI as far as the Bungo Suido where the destroyers detach for port. Vice Admiral Ito, leads the Surface Special Attack Force: YAMATO, DesRon 2's light cruiser YAHAGI, DesDiv 17: ISOKAZE, HAMAKAZE, YUKIKAZE, DesDiv 21: KASUMI, HATSUSHIMO, ASASHIMO, DesDiv 41: FUYUZUKI and SUZUTSUKI. Earlier, two Nakajima A6M2-N "Rufe" float planes and six submarine chasers are dispatched to search the area.

1830: The Attack Force negotiaties the western channel of Bungo Suido at 22 knots when a patrol plane radios the YAMATO that it has sighted an enemy submarine ten miles from Tsukudajima. The Attack Force changes course to 140 degrees and assumes an anti-submarine formation. To avoid a submarine in the Hyuga-nada, the force changes to a westerly course. The escorting destroyers move ahead and the whole group begins zigzagging. A lookout on the ISOKAZE spots the submarine USS THREADFIN (SS-410) on the surface.

2100: The Attack Force swings to the south to avoid a possible torpedo attack.

2144: The THREADFIN radios a detailed sighting report of the Attack Force's presence in the Bungo Suido to COMSUBPAC at Guam. The report is intercepted by the YAMATO. Later, the USS HACKLEBACK (SS-295) also sights the Attack Force and reports, but neither submarine is able to close the range for an attack.

7 April 1945:
0200: The Attack Force, zigzagging at 22 knots on a southerly course, passes the Miyazaki coast and reaches the entrance to Osumi Kaikyo Channel. Speed is slowed to 16 knots.

0600: The YAMATO launches her Aichi E13A1 Type 0 "Jake" reconnaissance floatplane.

0630: Six Mitsubishi A6M "Zeke" fighters of Vice Admiral Ugaki's 5th Air Fleet's 203rd Naval Air Group arrive to provide air cover. For the next three and one-half hours, a total of 14 "Zekes" from the Kasanbara air base on Kyushu, provide cover in small groups. The YAMATO's "Jake" returns to Kyushu.

0657: The ASASHIMO begins lagging behind the force with engine trouble.

0832: The Attack Force is sighted by a searching Grumman F6F "Hellcat" from the USS ESSEX (CV-9).

0840: The Attack Force briefly sights seven "Hellcat" fighters, but they are not seen by the escorting "Zekes".

1014: The Attack Force sights two large Martin "Mariner" PBM flying boats. The Japanese also spot the HACKLEBACK trailing the Attack Force.

1017: The YAMATO turns towards the planes and opens fire unsuccessfully as does the cruiser YAHAGI. While the YAHAGI jams their sighting messages, the YAMATO receives a report from a Japanese scout plane that Task Force 58 has been located east of Okinawa, 250 nautical miles from the Attack Force.

1018: The aircraft are lost behind the clouds. Both ships cease firing.

1022: The Attack Force turns towards Sasebo.

1107: The YAMATO's Type 13 air search radar operator reports contact with a large aircraft formation at his set's maximum range of 63 miles. He reports the formation at bearing 180, heading north, and splitting into two groups. All ships increase speed to 25 knots and commence a simultaneous turn.

1115: A report that had been delayed for 25 minutes by transmission and decoding, is received finally. It says that the Kikaigashima Island lookout station saw 150 carrier planes heading northwest. Just then, eight F6F "Hellcats" appear and begin circling over the force to maintain contact until the main formation arrives. The YAMATO and the YAHAGI open fire, increase speed to 24 knots and commence a series of sharp evasive maneuvers.

Air search reports two groups of aircraft, range 44 miles, closing at high speed. The sky is still overcast and visibility is poor. Then radar reports the closing aircraft have turned towards the force. The Attack Force resumes zigzagging.

1129: The Attack Force turns to course 205, towards Okinawa.

1222: A lookout spots three Japanese troopships on bearing 0250 heading for Amami-Oshima.

1232: A lookout spots American planes 25 degrees to port, elevation 8, range 4,375 yards, moving to port. This is the first wave of 280 aircraft (132 fighters, 50 bombers, 98 torpedo planes) from Task Group 58. 1: USS HORNET (CV-12), HANCOCK (CV-19), BENNINGTON (CV-20), BELLEAU WOOD (CVL-24) and the SAN JACINTO (CVL-30) and from Task Group 58. 3: USS ESSEX (CV-9), BUNKER HILL (CV-17), BATAAN (CVL-24) and the CABOT (CVL-28).

Lagging behind the main force, the destroyer ASASHIMO is attacked and sunk by aircraft from the SAN JACINTO.

1234: The YAMATO opens fire with her two forward main turrets and AA guns.

1235: The YAMATO stops zigzagging and increases speed to 24 knots. Her nine 18.1-inch guns firing "Sanshikidan" beehive shells, twenty-four 127-mm. AA guns and one hundred fifty-two 25-mm AA guns all open fire. The American planes release their bombs and torpedoes and strafe the bridge with machine-gun fire.

1240: The YAMATO is hit by two AP bombs. Smoke rises from the vicinity of the mainmast and a bomb explodes in the same area. The aft secondary battery fire control, secondary gun turret and the air search radar are knocked out.

AA fire
Yamato fighting the Allied aircraft. (Picture from the movie Otokotachi no Yamatoad

The Attack Force changes course to 100 degrees. "Helldivers" from the BENNINGTON and the HORNET attack from port. At flank speed, the YAMATO commences a right turn but two 1000-lb AP bombs hit her. The first explodes in the crew's quarters abaft the Type 13 radar shack. The second penetrates the port side of the aft Command station and explodes between the 155-mm gun magazine and main gun turret No. 3's upper powder magazine. It starts a fire that cannot be extinguished and rips a 60-foot hole in the weather deck. One "Helldiver" is shot down, another is damaged badly.

1243: A section of five low flying "Avengers" from the HORNET start a torpedo run from the port, bearing 70 degrees. The YAMATO, at 27 knots flank speed, heels to starboard in evasive action. The "Avengers" drop three torpedoes. One strikes her port side near the forward windlass room. One "Avenger" is shot down.

The YAMATO ships 2,350-tons of water. Damage Control counterfloods with 604-tons of water. Fourteen F4U Chance-Vought "Corsairs" from the BUNKER HILL strafe and rocket the YAMATO but cause only minor damage. Hundreds of men are trapped inside when the water-tight compartments are sealed to prevent further flooding.

1245: Thirty-four "Hellcats", 22 "Helldivers" and one "Corsair" attack the YAMATO's escorts. DesDiv 17's HAMAKAZE takes a near miss on her starboard quarter that disables her starboard shaft.

1247: A torpedo strikes the HAMAKAZE starboard, aft of amidships and she jackknifes. The SUZUTSUKI takes a 500-lb GP bomb hit to starboard, abreast her No. 2 gun mount. Two dud rockets hit the FUYUTSUKI.

1250: The first attack wave retires. The destroyer SUZUTSUKI wreathed in black smoke, burns furiously. The light cruiser YAHAGI, without headway, drifts helplessly behind the main force. The YAMATO, despite hits by two bombs and one torpedo, maintains flank speed.

1300: The YAMATO changes course to 180 degrees, due South.

1302: Her remaining air search radar reports the approach of a second attack wave. The Attack Force changes course due south to 180 degrees.

1302: Fifty aircraft from the ESSEX and the BATAAN are sighted approaching from the SSW, range 18.5 miles.

1322: The YAMATO increases speed to 22 knots. A "Corsair" from the ESSEX drops a 1000-lb GP bomb that hits the superstructure in the port bow area. Twelve "Helldivers" claim several hits near the bridge and main gun turret No. 3. Five "Helldivers" are damaged by AA fire.

1333: Another 110 aircraft from Task Group 58. 4: USS YORKTOWN (CV-10), INTREPID (CV-11), LANGLEY (CVL-27) engage the Attack Force. This time all the attacks are concentrated against the battleship. Twenty "Avengers" make a new torpedo run from 60 degrees to port. The YAMATO starts a sharp turn to port but three torpedoes rip into her port side amidships. Her auxiliary rudder is jammed in position hard port.

The YAMATO has taken a total of four torpedo hits. She ships about 3,000-tons of seawater. She lists about seven degrees to port. Damage Control counter-floods both starboard engine and boiler rooms and almost entirely corrects the list.

The YAMATO starts a turn starboard to course 230 degrees. One of her lookouts spots the tracks of four torpedoes approaching. The first torpedoes pass by harmlessly, but the remaining two strike her port amidships. She takes on a heavy list to port and her speed drops to 18 knots. Armor-piercing and other bombs make a shambles of her upper works.

1342: The YAMATO turns hard to port. She continues to throw up a screen of desperate flak fire. One "Avenger" is shot down but her barrage is largely ineffective because each AA battery fires independently without coordination. The escorts cannot defend the flagship either.


1402: Three bombs explode port amidships, five minutes later a torpedo hits her starboard side amidships. Ten minutes later, two more torpedoes strike her port side. The YAMATO's list increases to about 15 degrees and her speed slows to 12 knots.

Executive Officer Nomura Jiro reports to Captain Aruga that his damage control officers are all dead and that the counter-flooding system can no longer correct the list. He suggests that the order to abandon ship be given. The Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Ito, orders the mission cancelled and directs the remaining ships to pick up as many survivors as possible. The Emperor's portrait is removed.

1405: The light cruiser YAHAGI, hit by 12 bombs and seven torpedoes sinks exactly one minute after the last bomb hits. LtCdr (later Captain) Herbert Houck, the leader of 43 TBM Avengers of VT-9 from the YORKTOWN, detaches Lt Thomas Stetson's six Avengers in a final torpedo attack from the ship's starboard side. Stetson's crewmen reset their Mark 13 torpedoes' running depth to 20 feet. Listing heavily to port, the YAMATO's exposed hull is hit by several more torpedoes. She rolls slowly over her port side on her beam ends.

1423: Sunk: The YAMATO's No. 1 magazine explodes and sends up a cloud of smoke seen 100 miles away. She slips under followed by an underwater explosion. The YAMATO sinks at 30-22 N, 128-04 E.

269 survivors are rescued including Rear Admiral Morishita Nobuei, Chief of Staff, Second Fleet (and former YAMATO skipper).

Vice Admiral Ito and the YAMATO's skipper Captain Aruga and 3,063 men are lost. Aruga receives a rare double promotion posthumously to Vice Admiral on the request of Admiral Toyoda. Later that day, the battered destroyers ISOKAZE and the KASUMI are scuttled and sink. 1,187 crewmen of DesRon 2's light cruiser the YAHAGI and the four destroyers are also lost.

The Imperial Japanese Navy ceases to exist as a fighting force. The Americans lose 10 aircraft and 12 crewmen.

Survivals picked by the destroyer

269 crewmembers survived out of almost 3000. Yamato survivor Kazuhiro Fukumoto describes how after the ship was down, he was drawn into the whirlpool from the propeller and struggling powerless. "One propeller blade was five meters long, so just one turn created a huge whirlpool. I started getting short of breath. I couldn't take it anymore, and I swallowed a mouthful of water." He says. "I started to get short of breath and then I began to lose consciousness." He wasn't thinking about getting rescued or what I was supposed to be doing - he was just a step away from death. Nearby destroyer Yukikaze picked almost three hundred horrified, exhausted and oily Yamato survivors from the sea. " We got orders to return to Kure, and I was put on a train. We were held in Kure for a month. So parents who knew about the Yamato sinking didn't see their sons for a month and a half. They gave up, thinking that their sons had died. " says Fukumoto. "But after I was rescued I gained real desire for life. I wanted more than ever to survive. It was the first time I was afraid of war." Read full interview.

Yamato survivor Kazuhiro Fukumoto was picked up from the sea by the destroyer Yukikaze, both pictured on the right.

Why did Yamato sink?

The world's biggest, baddest and strongest battleship ever. Why did it sink? How come such a great structure with the biggest armor, guns, and crew ever, could end up with a defeat in less than two hours? What caused the huge explosions - far more powerful than the blasts of torpedoes - pictured during her last moments?

Yamato gets hit by several torpedoes and starts to list heavily to port, becomes unstable and capsizes. Three 3000-ton gun turrets are ripped from their mountings by their own weight. In the powder magazines, tons of ammunition slam together causing at least three powerful blasts - perhaps the largests explosions ever to occur on sea - and rip the ship in two halves. For the Japanese this was the end of the imperial navy.

In Pearl Harbour, a week before Yamato was commissioned, Japanese themselves demonstrated to the world's navies how a skillful use of aircrafts can overpower even large fleet of battleships. They had destroyed or damaged every American battleship on the Pacific. And yet, they put their fate on building bigger abd better battleships than everone else, believing that being the way to obtain the authority on the seas.

Asking why Yamato sank is like asking why Japan lost the war. Yamato sank because Japan was outproduced by superior resources. For each airplane the Japanese built, the Allied built two. For each ship the Japanese sank, Allied built two more. Allied natural resources and technology to benefit from it outclassed the Japanese, the more and more so towards the end of the war. Yamato sank because Japan had already lost, but the never-give-up mentality didn't let them surrender before the dropping of the atomic bombs. The essential aircrafts were lost in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and Yamato was not a match against nearly four hundred attack planes all alone without any air support. Air dropped torpedoes and bombs eventually sank the greatest ship ever built and put an end of an era of the battleships. After the war, almost all battleships were scrapped since they were now outclassed by carriers.

Sources:

NOVA, sinking the supership (interview, images) and Bob Hackett's IJN Yamato : Tabular record of movement (final moments in detail) and Karol Bohm's website (map of the final voyage). Naval Historical Center (image of the Yukikaze, combined with image of Fukumoto from Nova)

 

 

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