(大和), named after the ancient Japanese Yamato Province, was a
battleship of the Imperial Japanese Navy. She was lead ship of her
class. She and her sister Musashi were the largest, heaviest, and
most powerful battleships ever constructed, displacing 72,800 tonnes
at full load. The class carried the largest naval artillery ever
fitted to any warship - 460 mm (18.1 in) guns which fired 1.36 tonne
The ship held special significance for the Empire of Japan as a
symbol of the nation's naval power ('Yamato' was sometimes used to
refer to Japan itself), and its sinking by US aircraft in the final
days of the war during the suicide Operation Ten-Go is sometimes
considered symbolic of Japan's defeat itself.
The Yamato class was built after the Japanese withdrew from the
Washington Naval Treaty at the Second London Conference of 1936. The
treaty, as extended by the London Naval Treaty of 1930, forbade
signatories to build battleships before 1937.
Design work on the class began in 1934 and after modifications the
design for a 68,000 ton vessel was accepted in March 1937. Yamato
was built in intense secrecy at a specially prepared dock to hide
her construction at Kure Naval Dockyards beginning on 4 November
1937. She was launched on 8 August 1940 and commissioned on 16
Originally, five ships of this class were planned. The third,
Shinano, was converted to an aircraft carrier during construction
after the defeat at the Battle of Midway. The un-named "Hull Number
111" was scrapped in 1943 when roughly 30% complete, and "Hull
Number 797", proposed in the 1942 5th Supplementary Program, was
Plans for a "Super Yamato" class, with 20 inch (508 mm) guns,
provisionally designated as "Hull Number 798" and "Hull Number 799",
were abandoned in 1942.
The class was designed to be superior to any ship that the United
States was likely to produce. Her 460 mm main guns were selected
over 406 mm (16 in) ones because the width of the Panama Canal would
make it impractical for the U.S. Navy to construct a battleship with
the same caliber guns without severe design restrictions or
inadequate defensive arrangement. To further confuse the
intelligence agencies of other countries, Yamato's main guns were
officially named 40.6 cm Special, and civilians were never notified
of the true nature of the guns. This worked so well that as late as
1945, the U.S. believed the Yamato had 16 inch (406 mm) guns and a
40,823 tonne displacement, comparable to the Iowas. Funding for the
Yamato class was also scattered among various projects so the huge
costs would not be immediately noticeable.
At the Kure Navy Yard, the construction dock was deepened, the
gantry crane capacity was increased to 100 tonnes, and part of the
dock was roofed over to prevent observation of the work. Many
low-level designers and even senior officers were not informed of
the true dimensions of the battleship until after the war. When the
ship was launched, there was no commissioning ceremony or fanfare.
Yamato was designed by Keiji Fukuda and followed the trend of unique
and generally excellent indigenous Japanese warship designs begun in
the 1920s by Fukuda's predecessor Yuzuru Hiraga. The design of
Yamato contained a number of unique features, some of which
contributed to the striking appearance of the vessel. To begin with,
unlike most of the designs of the 1920s and 1930s, Yamato's deck was
not flush. The undulating line of the main deck forward saved
structural weight without reducing hull girder strength. Tests of
models in a model basin led to the adoption of a semitransom stern
and a bulbous bow, which reduced hull resistance by 8%.
The nine 460 mm main battery were the largest ever fielded at sea, a
major technological challenge to construct and operate. Their
successful implementation in the Yamato class constitutes a major
achievement on the part of Japanese naval constructors. The
exponentially higher blast effect of the main armament prevented the
stowage of boats on deck or the stationing of unshielded personnel
in combat. As a result, all anti-aircraft positions (even the
smallest) were enclosed in blast shields as designed. Later in their
career the anti-aircraft armament of both ships were considerably
augmented by open positions of both light and heavy weapons.
Presumably AA gun crews would evacuate the weather deck prior to the
firing of the main armament. This might help explain Yamato's
ineffectiveness at the Battle off Samar; the ship was under almost
continual air attack and may have been prevented from firing her
main armament at the risk of killing or disabling gunners in open
positions. For similar reasons, the superstructure of the ship was
extremely compact, which reduced armored citadel length but also
hampered anti-aircraft arcs of fire.
Boats were stowed in below-deck hangars and launched via an unusual
traveling crane arrangement mounted on both quarters. The quarter
deck aft of Turret 3 was paved with concrete, beneath which a hangar
for the stowage of up to seven spotter aircraft was provided for via
a wide elevator-like opening in the stern. Contrary to some
descriptions the Yamato and Musashi did not have "Pagoda" masts as
did previous Japanese battleships, but modern tower bridge
structures to house command and fire control facilities. The
mainmast, funnel and tower bridge were all unique in design and
appearance, differing markedly both from other Japanese battleships
and from capital ships of other navies. There is a general
"familial" resemblance however between the architecture of the
Yamatos and the Hiraga/Fujimoto designed series of cruisers of the
1920s and 30s, particularly the Takao and Mogami classes.
The immense beam of these ships made them perhaps the most stable of
all battleships. Both ships were reported to be very stable even in
heavy seas. However, the increased width of the hull also meant that
any loss of stability required a correspondingly greater
righting-arm to correct in the event of significant flooding. The
ship had one single large rudder (at frame 231), which gave it a
small (for a ship of that size) turning circle of 640 m. By
comparison the U.S. Iowa-class fast battleship had one of over 800
m. There was also a smaller auxiliary rudder installed (at frame
219) which was virtually useless.
The steam turbine power plant was a relatively low powered design
(25 kgf/cm² (2.5 MPa), 325 °C), and as such, their fuel usage rate
was very high. This is a primary reason why they were not used
during the Solomon Islands campaign and other mid-war operations. In
addition, installed horsepower was only 147,948 (110,324kW),
limiting her ability to operate with carriers.
Arc welding, a relatively new procedure at that time, was used
extensively. The lower side-belt armor was used as a strength member
of the hull structure. This was done to save weight, an important
concern for the designers, despite the lack of treaty limitations.
There were a total of 1,147 watertight compartments in the ship
(1,065 of these beneath the armored deck).
Yamato was the flagship of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto from 12 February
1942, replacing Nagato. She sailed with Nagato, Mutsu, Hosho,
Sendai, nine destroyers, and four auxiliary ships as Yamamoto's Main
Body during the attempted invasion of Midway Atoll in June 1942, but
took no active part in the Battle of Midway. She remained the
flagship for 364 days until February 11, 1943, when the flag was
transferred to her sister ship Musashi. From 29 August 1942 to 8 May
1943, she spent all of her time at Truk, being underway for only one
day during this entire time. In May 1943, she returned to Kure,
where the two wing 155 mm turrets were removed and replaced by 25 mm
machine guns, and Type-22 surface search radars were added. She
returned to Truk on 25 December 1943. On the way there, she was
damaged by a torpedo from the submarine USS Skate, and was not fully
repaired until April 1944. During these repairs, additional 127 mm
anti-aircraft guns were installed in the place of the 155 mm turrets
removed in May, and additional 25 mm anti-aircraft guns were added.
She joined the fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June
1944. In October, she participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf,
during which she first fired her main guns at enemy aircraft and
surface ships. During the initial air attack, she received two bomb
hits from aircraft which did little damage. However, her sister,
Musashi, bore the brunt of the US carrier aircraft attacks and was
sunk. Yamato compatriots later sank an escort carrier and some
escort vessels at Samar, but Yamato herself was largely absent from
the climax of this engagement due to her having turned away from
American torpedoes launched from USS Heermann (DD-532). She returned
home in November and her anti-aircraft capability was again upgraded
over the winter. She was attacked in the Inland Sea on 19 March 1945
by carrier aircraft from Task Force 58 as they attacked Kure, but
suffered little damage.
On 6 April 1945, Yamato was sent on a suicidal mission (operation
Ten-Go) against more than 1000 US ships off Okinawa. US
carrier-based aircraft sank her before she was close to her target.
Her final mission was as part of Operation Ten-Go following the
invasion of Okinawa on 1 April 1945. It was a suicide mission
(commanded by Admiral Seiichi Ito) to attack the U.S. fleet
supporting the U.S. troops landing on the west of the island; her
mission was to beach herself on the coast, in effect becoming an
unsinkable gun battery. In addition, the Yamato's crew was to join
the defending Japanese forces on Okinawa after the beaching. On 6
April Yamato and her escorts, the light cruiser Yahagi and eight
destroyers, left port at Tokuyama. They were detected by US
submarines on the night of 6 April as they exited the Inland Sea
Yamato had no air cover for her final mission, nor did she have many
escorts. All of the officers and crew assumed it would be her last
voyage. On her final evening, as it was expected U.S. carrier planes
would attack the next morning, the officers allowed or even ordered
the crew to indulge in sake.
At about 0830 hours on 7 April 1945, United States fighter planes
were launched to pinpoint the Japanese task force. By 1000 hours,
Yamato's radar picked up the U.S. planes and a state of battle
readiness was commanded. Within seven minutes all doors, hatches and
ventilators were closed, and battle stations were fully manned. The
super battleship was ready for the coming fury.
Yamato fired beehive shells (三式燃散弾, san-shiki shosan dan?) from her
main guns against the US planes. Each of these anti-aircraft shells
contained thousands of pellets that would be scattered upon
explosion - analogous to a massive shotgun round. However, the
beehive shells were ineffective against the incoming US planes, and
performed little more than pyrotechnic displays. Strafing attacks by
the US warplanes would decimate many of the AA gun crews, reducing
the battleship's ability to fend off the attacking US aircraft.
Planes from the carrier Hornet joined the strike force from
Bennington. Bennington's VB-82, led by Lieutenant Commander Hugh
Wood, was flying at 6,000 m (20,000 ft) altitude in heavy clouds on
the bearing to intercept the ships. Although the radar indicated
they were very close, the pilots were startled when they realized
they were directly above the Japanese task force and within range of
anti-aircraft fire. Lieutenant Commander Wood immediately pushed his
Helldiver into the clouds and made a sharp left turn, commencing
their attack. Wood's wingman was unable to stay with the formation,
leaving Lieutenant (jg) Francis R. Ferry and Lieutenant (jg) Edward
A. Sieber to follow Wood into the first strike on the Yamato.
The dives began at 20,000 ft directly over the Yamato, bearing from
stern to bow. Bombs were released at an altitude of less than about
500 m (1,500 ft). The dives were made as close to a 90-degree angle
as possible to avoid most anti-aircraft guns. Each of the three
planes released eight 127 mm (5 in) rockets; two armor-piercing
bombs and bursts of 20 mm machine gun fire. Lt. (jg) Ferry remembers
that "at this distance a miss was impossible". The first two bombs
dropped by Lt. Commander Wood hit on the starboard side of the
weather deck, knocking out several of the 25 mm machine guns and the
high-angle gun turret and ripping a hole in the flying deck. Seconds
later came the two bombs from Lt. (jg) Ferry, destroying secondary
battery fire control station as they blew through the flying deck,
and starting a fire that was never extinguished. This fire continued
to spread and is believed to have caused the explosion of the main
ammunition magazine as the Yamato capsized some two hours later. Hot
on Ferry's tail was Lt. (jg) Sieber, delivering two bomb hits
forward of the island, ripping more holes in the decks in the
vicinity of the number three main gun turret.
The torpedo plane pilots were ordered to aim for the parts of the
Yamato's hull unprotected by her torpedo defense system: the bow and
stern. They were also ordered to attack her on one side only, so
that their target would capsize more easily since counter-flooding
would become more difficult. Within minutes of the Avengers' torpedo
attacks, the Yamato suffered three torpedo hits to her port side and
Over the next two hours, two more attacks would be launched,
pounding the Yamato with torpedoes and bombs. Attempts of
counter-flooding failed, and shortly after 1400 hours, the
commanding officer gave the word to prepare to abandon ship. As the
ship listed beyond a 90° angle and began sinking, a gigantic
explosion of the stern ammunition magazines tore the ship apart. The
huge mushroom of fire and smoke exploded almost four miles into the
air and the fire was seen by sentries 125 miles away in Kagoshima
prefecture on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands.
Only 280 of the Yamato 2,778-man crew were rescued from the sinking
ship. The end had come for the Yamato, foreshadowing the coming end
of the Imperial Japanese Military. Ten aircraft and 12 airmen were
lost in the attack on the Yamato.
Yamato moments after exploding
Yamato moments after exploding
Naval gunfire took no part in Yamato's demise. The sinking of the
world's largest battleship by aircraft alone confirmed the lessons
learned by the sinking of the Prince of Wales, Repulse, and Musashi:
The battleship had been supplanted by the aircraft carrier as queen
of the sea and the capital ship of any fleet.
The wreckage lies in around 300 meters of water and was surveyed in
1985 and 1999. These surveys show the hull to be in two pieces with
the break occurring in the area of the second ('B') main turret.
The senior surviving bridge officer Mitsuru Yoshida claims that a
fire alert for the magazine of the forward superfiring 155 mm guns
was observed as the ship sank. This fire appears to have detonated
the shell propellant stored as the ship rolled over, which in turn
set off the magazine in Turret No. 2, resulting in the famous
pictures of the actual explosion and subsequent smoke column
photographed by US aircraft (shown above and recorded as being seen
in southern Japan, one hundred miles away).
The bow section landed upright, with the stern section remaining
keel up. The three main turrets fell away as the ship turned over
and landed in the wreckage field around the separated hull pieces.
A further large hole was found in the stern section, strongly
suggesting that a third magazine explosion occurred, possibly the
aft 155 mm gun magazine.
Further examples of capital ships being lost due to magazine
detonations of this nature during or after battle are the British
battlecruisers HMS Queen Mary, Invincible and Indefatigable at the
battle of Jutland in 1916, Hood at battle of the Denmark Strait in
1941, USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and HMS Barham in the
Eastern Mediterranean in 1941.
* In 2005, a Yamato museum opened in Kure, Hiroshima. A 1:10 scale
model of the ship can be seen there.
* A film based on the Yamato and her crew: Otoko-tachi no Yamato,
was made in 2005.
* The ship is frequently referenced in Japanese popular culture,
most notably in the futuristic anime television and movie series
Space Battleship Yamato, broadcast in English as Star Blazers, where
the original battleship is rebuilt as a space warship. It was also
prominently featured in the 2004 anime Zipang.
* The UK television personality Jeremy Clarkson wrote a chapter on
the Yamato in his 2004 book I Know You Got Soul, in which he
searches through history for machines that transcend mechanical
boundaries and almost take on personalities of their own.
* A starship named U.S.S. Yamato, sister ship to the Enterprise, has
featured in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.