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Author Topic: The Yamato Class Battleships  (Read 4927 times)
Mad Russian
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« on: 21 May 2009, 04:10:17 »
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The Yamato Class Battleships

The Japanese Imperial Navy attempted to build ships with which it was hoped "peace" could be maintained
throughout the Pacific Rim by intimidation alone.  At the heart of this concept, was the legendary YAMATO class and later ships that were never built.

Responding to the American naval construction plan approved in August 1916, which called for "a fleet second
to none," the Japanese accelerated the progress of an earlier adopted plan, called "8/8," which was to lead to
the construction of eight battleships and eight battle cruisers.  The Japanese considered this program vital to
strengthen their position in the Far East and secure it militarily, and to counter growing opposition from the
United States.

With the agreements of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, Japan was forced to amend her construction plans.
Nine battleships and three battle cruisers were scrapped on the ways as a result of this Treaty.  Two vessels,
battleship KAGA and battle cruiser AKAGI, were spared and converted into aircraft carriers.

In 1934, Japanese League of Nations delegates were angered by sanctions imposed on their country by that
organization over the Manchurian Affair and Japan withdrew from that august body and renounced all naval treaty
obligations.  Soon after, long term plans were considered along with the possible actions and reactions of
foreign nations, particularly potential adversaries such as the United States.  Along with the preliminary design of
the future YAMATO class, plans were drawn up that, hopefully, would allow Japan's pace for expansion to remain
unhindered without triggering a war with America until the fleet was ready.  The cornerstone of this belief was the battleship armed with the highly secret 18-inch gun.

After quitting the League of Nations, specific minimum requirements were drawn up dealing with future capital
ships.

According to these long-term plans, battleship superiority was to begin in 1936, with the construction of
seven YAMATO class ships, each with nine 18-inch guns, which would enter service in 1941.  During this same time period, it was believed the United States would begin building an unknown number of new battleships armed with 16-inch guns. As the YAMATO's entered service, construction would start on four SUPER YAMATO battleships, armed with six 20-inch guns, two of which became designs 798 and 799; with completion estimated for 1946.  Again, during this time period America, it was believed, would probably begin service with her new 16-inch gunned battleships and start constructing the first ships armed with the 18-inch weapon. In 1946, Japan felt she would then begin rearming the seven original YAMATO class ships with six 20-inch guns at the same time the four SUPER YAMATO's entered service. America, in 1946, would commission her first 18-inch armed
battleships and begin building the first 20-inch gunned ships that Japan felt could not ready before 1951.  By 1946 with this plan, Japan would have at least eleven battleships armed with 20-inch guns on duty and, Japanese
naval authorities believed, capable of handling any threat the US Navy battle line could mount.  Victory could be
assured by intimidation alone with their "Peace Goddesses of the Pacific," and if war was unavoidable, Japan's super battleships would be irresistible.  "The side whose ships possessed the largest guns would win the battle."  Of course, all this required the United States to act as predicted.

This plan did not count on Japanese Army war lords starting war with America so soon.  Neither did it consider the aircraft carrier, and five ESSEX class fleet carriers and five INDEPENDENCE class light carriers were building by
1941, with seven fleet carriers already in service.

The veil of secrecy surrounding the 18-inch gun held up well.  American officials never knew Japan was building
ships armed with the 18-inch gun until after the war.  The United States did not plan to arm any ships with that
weapon until 1944.  If war had not broken out when it did, in theory, Japan could have had eleven ships with 18-inch guns against the US Navy's seventeen new battleships (BB-55 USS NORTH CAROLINA to BB-71 USS LOUISIANA), all armed with 16-inch guns.  Despite the fact that neither their economy nor industrial capacity would support it, in 1936 Japanese officials drew up plans for a "dream fleet" thatwas to be ready by 1950.  It included 19 battleships.

All this speculation and planning was conducted in the early 1930s, during a lull in the various worldwide ship
building programs.

Among the Japanese naval architects at that time, was Captain (for shipbuilding) Kikuo Fujimoto, the chief
designer in the Naval Technical Bureau.   His design clearly showed a vessel which could out-gun anything
afloat.

Unfortunately for Fujimoto, just before his creation was announced to the Naval High Command, a torpedo boat he designed capsized in a storm and he was relieved of his post.  The office was assumed by Rear Admiral Keiji
Fukuda who headed teams that brought-forth more design studies.

In Admiral Fukuda's A-140 designs, some of the traditional Japanese characteristics are evident, such as
the "pagoda" style superstructure amidships, and thick armor protection, rather than minute compartmentation.
This feature is the so-called "direct system" of protection, while ships with many, small compartments are
said to have "indirect" protection.  Part of the design called for the future replacement of the 18.1-inch
guns with 20-inchers and this foresaw a most difficult problem that was already being felt with the smaller
weapons: gun blast.  When guns of such size are fired, the resulting blast effect and vibration aboard ship can be
devastating if not addressed in the design phase.  Machine shops can become disabled, radar and other electronic
equipment can malfunction, the optics in rangefinders can crack or come out of alignment, boats and other gear stowed on deck can be damaged or blown overboard, etc.  One approach to solving the gun blast problem was to
concentrate the main battery together (usually forward) and simply not allow any material or structure near them that might present difficulties when the big guns were fired. The disadvantages of such an arrangement, include the possibility of a lucky hit taking out most, if not all, the main battery and that the ship cannot fire dead astern, if necessary.

Another designer who contributed to Japan's future battleship program was Vice Admiral Dr. Yuzuru Hiraga,
director of the Naval Technical Research Laboratory. Hiraga presented his own private ideas of future
battleships for his nation.  They stressed heavy armor protection and reduced the areas requiring this protection
by squeezing the main battery and superstructure together as closely as possible.  In all, the Hiraga design team
proposed numerous designs (too numerous to go into here).

In 1935, he proposed a fast battleship with all its heavy guns forward, possibly as a counter to HMS NELSON and
RODNEY.  The design was called A140-A and it is believed to be the original design for YAMATO.

In addition to being the heaviest battleships ever constructed, and mounting the largest guns ever to go to
sea, they were simply very beautiful ships.  The rakish bow (like the IOWA class), flowed aft past the tall, vertical
superstructure and rearward canted funnel, to give an almost "streamlined" appearance.  The secondary battery of six 6-inch guns (originally twelve) and anti-aircraft guns and gun tubs were clustered around the superstructure, giving the open decks a very clean appearance. Her three massive 18-inch gun turrets, two forward one aft, each weighing 2,510 tons (without ammunition), seemed to blend
into this sleek structure with no difficulty whatsoever.

One very fascinating factor about the ammunition, since Japan suffered heavy losses in her naval aviation
community early in the war, capital ships were expected to provide their own defense against allied aircraft.  As a
result of this, the 18-inch gun was provided with an anti-aircraft shell of its own, called "San Shiki" (the Beehive)
Model 13. This round weighed 2,998 pounds and was filled with 900 incendiary tubes (of rubber thermite) and 600
steel stays.  A time fuze was supplied, set before firing, that went off at a predetermined altitude and when the fuze functioned, the explosive and metal contents burst in a cone extending 20 degrees forward, towards the oncoming aircraft.  Instantly after detonating, the projectile shell itself was destroyed by a bursting charge, increasing the quantity of steel splinters.  The incendiary tubes ignited about half a second later and burned for five seconds at 3000 degrees C, producing a flame about 16 feet long.

While there were rumors concerning Japanese "super ships" with 18-inch guns circulated with the US
Intelligence community, in December 1942, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) listed YAMATO and her sister ship MUSASHI with approximately the correct length but with far too little beam (110 rather than the correct 127') and displacing 40,000 to 57,000 tons.  As late as July 1945, they were still thought to carry a main battery of 9 16-inch guns.

The third ship in the YAMATO class began life as Warship Number 110. Laid down in May 1940, it was believed
she would not to be completed before 1945.  Following the highly successful attack on Pearl Harbor, which showed the growing importance of air power, the Japanese were reluctant to commit the necessary manpower, construction space and money on another battleship.  The work force was drastically reduced and the hull was to be completed only enough to float it out of the dock to clear that facility for other construction.  The hull was 45% complete when, in June 1942, the decision was made to convert Number 110 into an aircraft carrier and name her SHINANO.  This decision was a direct result of Japan's staggering loss of four carriers at the Battle of Midway that same month.  As a carrier she was to carry 20 fighters, 20 bombers and 7 scouts.  Ten days after her commissioning on 19 November 1944, SHINANO was steaming from Yokosuka to Kure to pick up her air wing.  Submarine USS ARCHERFISH spotted her while patrolling the entrance to Tokyo Bay and fired six
torpedoes, of which four struck.  Six hours later, SHINANO sank with 75% of her crew.

Like SHINANO, neither MUSASHI or YAMATO survived the war.  On 24 October 1944, while participating in the Battle for Leyte Gulf, MUSASHI was attacked by aircraft from USS ENTERPRISE, CABOT, INDEPENDENCE and INTREPID.  Over a 4 1/2 hour period, she was hit by 17 bombs and 20 torpedoes and sank taking 1,023 officers and men with her, 43% of her complement.

YAMATO ended her career, as the ultimate kamikaze.  On 6 April 1945, she sailed with one light cruiser and nine
destroyers from Japan's Inland Sea with orders to attack the US invasion fleet around Okinawa (1,500 ships).
After fighting her way through, she was to beach herself on Okinawa and become a fortress to aid the defenders
against the American ground troops.  The next day, while still 270 miles north of Okinawa, the force was attacked by many aircraft from Task Force 58.  YAMATO took 13
torpedoes,  8 bombs and sank, killing 3,063 men.

Warship Number 111, never named, was to be the fourth YAMATO.  Work was stopped when the hull was 30% complete in November 1941.  The order was canceled in September the following year.

Warship Number 797, also never named, was to be the fifth YAMATO class battleship.  This vessel was to have two 155mm triple turrets removed and replaced with a large battery of 100mm anti-aircraft guns.  No construction order was ever placed.

Warship Number 798 and 799 were to be the first SUPER YAMATO class battleships.  These were designed in 1941 with construction to begin the following year.  The orders were never placed, so any specifications are rudimentary at best.  These ships were also referred to as design A-150.

Additional protection was planned and full-scale models of the magazines and handling rooms for the turrets were
constructed.  Ballistic tests were conducted on the 20-inch gun with an AP round that weighed 4,188 lb!  No
examples of this gun were found after the war.  No further preparations were carried out on these ships due to the changing strategic situation after 1942.

There are frustratingly few details on four ships that were to be the ultimate Japanese battleship. Designed in
1941,  it is uncertain when these were to begin building. These four, all unnamed, were to each carry eight 20-inch guns, and displace some 100,000 tons (SUPER DUPER YAMATO's).  Unfortunately, no further specifics are
available.


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