The Imperial Navy's Final Sortie

By Takekuni Ikeda

On the afternoon of 3 April 2006, I embarked in the chartered cruise ship Fuji-Maru at Tokuyama, on Japan's Inland Sea. Joining me were more than 280 bereaved family members and surviving veterans of the First Strike Force—the ten Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) warships that set out for Okinawa in April 1945. I knew that this might be the final memorial voyage for the mission's war dead. The scene from the deck was similar to the one I recalled from 61 years earlier, leaving the same port. Soon after the Fuji-Maru 's departure, I saw cherry blossoms in full bloom on the mainland and on scattered islands. We were now about to duplicate the same course the First Strike Force had followed in 1945. 

Light Cruiser Yahagi  
Launched: 25 October 1942
Completed: 29 December 1943
Length: 531 feet 6 inches
Beam: 49 feet 10 inches
Draught: 18 feet 5 inches
Displacement: 7,710 tons
1945 Armament: 6 6-inch guns
4 3.1-inch
anti-aircraft guns
61 25-mm
anti-aircraft guns
8 24-inch
torpedo tubes
16 depth charges   
Shaft Horsepower: 100,000
Speed: 35 knots

I entered the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in 1940, the year before the IJN attacked Pearl Harbor. My 624 classmates and I graduated in September 1943. After a two-month training cruise on board the battleship Ise , I was ordered to join the precommissioning crew of the 7,710-ton light cruiser Yahagi . She was then undergoing 24-hour rush work while fitting out at the Sasebo Naval Shipyard. When she was commissioned on 29 December 1943, I was assigned as assistant navigator. In the meantime, I was busy under the instructions of the navigator, gathering the charts and other documents we needed in order to be prepared for sea.

In February 1944, the Yahagi joined the first-line fleet at the Lingga Roads anchorage near Sumatra in the East Indies. She became the flagship of Destroyer Squadron 10. In March 1944 I rose to ensign and that June fought in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. In my first baptism of battle at sea, I was nearby when our aircraft carriers Taiho and Shokaku were sunk. Shortly afterward, in September, I was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade). Despite the efforts of the Imperial Japanese Navy to concentrate its remaining forces, the U.S. Navy defeated it at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The IJN lost the greater part of its vessels, including the battleship Musashi . The damage on our Yahagi was considerable. Lieutenant (junior grade) Hirao Ito, my only naval academy classmate on board the cruiser, was killed in action while directing the starboard antiaircraft guns.

The U.S. Marine Corps occupied Iwo Jima in February and March 1945. By this time I had become the Yahagi 's target-designating officer and concurrently Fourth Division officer. On 23 February 1945, Rear Admiral Keizo Komura transferred his flag from the destroyer Kasumi to our ship. Soon after he came aboard, he learned that the ship's radar system was the old type. The admiral asked the Naval Ministry and the Kure Navy Shipyard for a replacement radar set of the latest type. However, his requests were futile because suicide weapons, including kaiten—human torpedoes—were the first priority at that time.

On 1 April, American Soldiers and Marines invaded Okinawa, not far from the Japanese home islands. At this time in the war, most of the remaining IJN ships belonged to the Second Fleet. Two of the three battleships, the Nagato and Haruna , were damaged; only the Yamato was intact. The aircraft carrier pilots were not well trained. Most of the destroyers were brand new, and the training for their crews was also insufficient. At that time, the U.S. naval forces off Okinawa were overwhelming; they included hundreds of warships and hundreds of combat aircraft. Even so, Admiral Soemu Toyoda, commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet, decided to attack the U.S. forces there with a surface force and special-attack aircraft—Operation Ten-Go. In his memoir, he explained that it would have been a miracle if the mission succeeded, but he would not consider leaving his ships safely in homeland waters. Despite the sacrifices involved, he was not willing to leave the Japanese soldiers fighting on Okinawa to their fate without trying to do something on their behalf.

At 1355 on 5 April, Admiral Toyoda issued the operational order for the First Strike Force. It was to prepare to sortie as a special, or suicide, attack surface force and then proceed through Bungo Strait, which separates the home islands of Kyushu and Shikoku. Vice Admiral Seiichi Ito, commander the Second Fleet, would command the operation at sea. The attack force consisted of a battleship, the Yamato , our light cruiser, and eight destroyers. At that late stage of the Pacific war, the Imperial Japanese Navy, once powerful and glorious, could supply only ten ships.


Special Attack Surface Force

Battleship Yamato (Vice Admiral Seiichi Ito)

Destroyer Squadron 2 (Rear Admiral Keizo Komura)
    Light Cruiser Yahagi

Destroyer Division 41(Captain Masayoshi Yoshida)
    Destroyers Fuyutsuki , Suzutsuki

Destroyer Division 21 (Captain Hisao Kotaki)
    Destroyers Asashimo , Hatsushimo , Kasumi

Destroyer Division 17 (Captain Kiichi Shintani)
    Destroyers Isokaze , Yukikaze , Hamakaze

On the deck of the Fuji-Maru , we held a joint memorial service during the cruise from Tokuyama to Bungo Strait. The altar was decorated with wreaths from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, sacred lights, and photographs of the ten ships. As a representative of the ships' crews, I made a speech. Dr. Kunio Kotaki, a retired captain of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, is the son of the late Captain Hisao Kotaki, commander of Destroyer Division 21, which was part of the First Strike Force. He gave a speech on the behalf of the bereaved families. Poetry was dedicated by two survivors and two priests, who were also survivors and entered the priesthood after the war. At the close of the hour-long ceremony, all the participants offered flowers. It was a solemn ceremony that touched the heart. During dinner that evening, everybody discussed deceased crewmen, the Special Attack Surface Force's battle, and the hard days during the war and afterward. We talked with deep emotion and comforted each other. I recalled that on the eve of battle, many years earlier, I was on the bridge of the Yahagi and in an extremely tense mood.   


At 1600 on 6 April 1945 the Special Attack Surface Force sallied forth from Tokuyama. I learned later that even though the Japanese Naval General Staff had instructed the fuel facility to supply oil for only one way, each ship was filled to capacity. The Yahagi carried 1,250 tons of fuel. The afternoon was a bit chilly at 50 degrees, and a southeast wind blew at 15.6 knots. Thick clouds were overhead as we cast off mooring lines and got under way. The Yahagi was in the lead, followed by the eight destroyers, and the Yamato brought up the rear. 

Battleship Yamato  
Launched: 8 August 1940   
Completed: 16 December 1941
Length: 862 feet 10 inches
Beam: 121 feet 1 inch   
Draught: 32 feet 11 inches
Displacement: 71,659 tons
1945 Armament: 9 18.1-inch guns
6   6.1-inch guns
24  5-inch
anti-aircraft guns
150 25-mm
anti-aircraft guns
4 13-mm
machine guns
Shaft Horsepower: 150,000   
Speed: 27.5 knots

We soon increased speed to 20 knots and passed through the Bungo Strait about sunset under a strict antisubmarine warning. To avoid attack from enemy subs, we were taking a course close to land. We used infrared signals for communications among the ships. Gradually, the wind strengthened and the sea became heavy. At 1940 the attack force turned to course 140 degrees because of a warning about enemy subs in the Sea of Hyuga and soon changed to an arrowhead formation, with the destroyers positioned as a screen. At 2000, the attack force started zigzagging to evade submarine attacks. In the distance, astern to starboard, I saw the mountains of Kyushu in a haze, as if painted in black and white. Clouds were low and dark, and, as the ships plowed ahead in the dark sea, we could only clearly see the blue-white waves.

On board the Yahagi , at 2010, the radio room intercepted a transmission from a submarine, and then the radar got a contact that seemed to be a surfaced submarine at the range of 7,000 meters off the port quarter. The cruiser's commanding officer, Captain Tameichi Hara, ordered all hands to battle stations. I told a signalman to turn his searchlight toward where the submarine was detected and be ready to illuminate when ordered.

Soon, our men heard two submarines talking to each other via radio in plain language, frequently mentioning the Yamato . Ensign Shigeo Yamada, who was a Nisei (second generation Japanese American), translated almost simultaneously and reported to the bridge from the radio room. The enemy submarines were calling the Yamato the "king battleship." According to U.S. Navy records, which we learned of after the war, the submarines were the Threadfin (SS-410) and Hackleback (SS-295). Their mission was to track our ships and report their movements and to attack only after receiving permission from headquarters.

At 2025, the Yahagi 's radar again detected a probable submarine at 7,000 meters. The sonar room reported that the sub was chasing us and closing the distance. Our force changed course several times. As depth-charge men stood by at their station on the quarterdeck, the bridge was wrapped in an extremely tense atmosphere. There, Admiral Komura's staff discussed whether we should attack the shadowing submarine, concluding not to because racing to Okinawa must be given first priority.

At 2100, the Yahagi' s radio room again intercepted a submarine's clear emergency transmission to her senior command at Guam. Admiral Ito signaled our ships to immediate execute of a simultaneous 45-degree turn to starboard. The destroyer Kasumi reported sighting a torpedo wake to port at 2333, but soon she sent a correction. The supposed torpedo wake was made by dolphins. The formation's base course was changed to 225 degrees shortly before midnight. The special attack force, constantly harassed by the submarines, kept proceeding through the pitch-dark sea off the southeastern coast of Kyushu.

After dinner, other passengers left the dining room and returned to their cabins. I was left alone and ordered another cup of coffee before heading back to my cabin. This was the fourth memorial cruise. Previous ones had taken place in 1987, 1994, and 1995. This time even the youngest survivor was more than 80 years old. The veterans and family members had concluded that this would be the final such voyage.

The television set in my cabin showed the exact position of the Fuji-Maru , obtained by Global Positioning System. Moving at 16 knots, she was tracing the same course as the attack force. Relaxing on a sofa, I remembered that 61 years earlier I had felt only a bit fatigued despite standing at the bridge for many hours. I surely was young then.

From 0200 to 0345 on 7 April 1945, the attack force proceeded through the Osumi Strait at the southern tip of Kyushu. At approximately 0400, headquarters on board the Yamato received a message from Combined Fleet headquarters: "Between 0600 and 1000 on April 7, nine Zero fighters from the Flight Squadron 203 will take the direct antiaircraft escort." I had been up on the bridge since departure, so I decided to take a short rest. Shortly after I returned to the bridge at about 0600, just around sunrise, the attack force changed from an antisubmarine column formation to a antiaircraft circular formation. The Yahagi was the lead ship, 1,500 meters ahead of the Yamato . Breakfast for each man was a rice ball served at battle stations. At 0630, a lookout reported, "Nine Zero fighters are approaching with bank, right 60 degrees, and angle 40 degrees."

At 0657, the destroyer Asashimo hoisted a signal: "Engine casualty." She was ordered to proceed to southern Kyushu's Kagoshima Bay. Momentarily, the Asashimo replied: "Able to make 12 knots. I will follow the main body." But she continued to fall behind and gradually disappeared in the mist. I clearly remember that the bridge of the Yahagi was in total silence. The day of destiny began under such circumstance.

At 0815, the Yahagi broke from the formation for a short time and launched a reconnaissance floatplane from a catapult. It reported the approach of enemy fighters and later managed to land safely ashore at the mother base on Kyushu. Around 0845, seven U.S. Navy F6F fighters flew over and circled around the attack unit, keeping their distance. At 1016, two enemy PBM seaplanes were detected. The Yamato jammed the frequency of their operational transmission and fired a salvo with her 18-inch guns, but the planes were out of range.

As the morning proceeded, the Yamato 's radar detected more and more enemy aircraft—F6Fs and F4Us—but still no attacks. Shortly after noon reports were received from the Asashimo , far to the rear. She reported engaging enemy planes at 1210. There were no more messages from the ship. I was able to see her antiaircraft fire beyond the horizon through my binoculars; it was the last sight of her. Rice balls were delivered to the bridge. Crews remained on station during lunch, but I missed my chance to eat.

On board the Fuji-Maru , morning came on 4 April. The sky was covered by thick clouds and a strong south wind, as it was 61 years earlier. I exchanged recollections with other veterans: the deck officer of the Yahagi , a petty officer of the Hamakaze 's engineering department, a sailor from the Isokaze 's supply department, a petty officer from the Isokaze 's gunnery division, and the former Asashimo navigator, who transferred just before her departure. Their descriptions were fresh, vivid, and precious. In the afternoon, the Fuji-Maru arrived at the point where the Asashimo sank. She was the most tragic ship among those of the First Strike Force. All on board lost their lives.

The mourning ceremony for the Asashimo began on the aft deck at 1330. At the end, while the traditional Japanese tune "Umiyukaba" was playing, the participants grieved for his or her relatives and comrades and cast a bouquet onto the sea. The Fuji-Maru circled slowly and then proceeded to the last positions of the Yahagi and Kasumi. The memorial service for those two ships was held at 1510, and then came the one for the Hamakaze at 1600, for the Isokaze at 1650, and for the
Yamato at 1755 .


Special Attack Surface Force Casualties    
Sunken Ships Killed Injured
Yamato 2,740 117
Yahagi 446 133
Asashimo 3261  
Hamakaze 100 45
Isokaze 20 54
Kasumi 17 47
Damaged Ships    
Suzutsuki 57 34
Fuyutsuki 12 12
Yukikaze 3 15
Hatsushimo 0 2
Totals 3,721 459
  1 –
entire crew
U.S. Casualties    
Aircraft shot down: 10    
Aircrew killed: 14    
Aircrew injured: 3    


The reason I missed my lunch the day of the battle was because at 1220 the Yamato had detected enemy aircraft off the port bow, at 40,000 yards. At 1234, before I could put a rice ball in my mouth, the Yamato fired, and the antiaircraft battle began. At 1241, our force increased speed to 28 knots, the maximum for the Yamato . Before enemy aircraft reached the Yahagi , our crew had turned all torpedo tubes perpendicular to the ship's axis in order to prevent secondary explosions of our own torpedoes. It was a bitter lesson learned in the Battle of Leyte Gulf the previous October. We saw Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters, Curtiss SB2C Helldiver dive bombers, Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers, and Vought F4U Corsair fighter bombers. The Yahagi countered them with an array of antiaircraft guns.

My job as a target designating officer was to report exact bearings and ranges of enemy aircraft to the gunnery officer and navigator. There were so many planes that it required a great deal of concentration. When under enemy torpedo and bomb attack, evasive maneuvers were the first priority for the Yahagi . This was the job for the navigator, Commander Ryoichi Kawazoe; I had great respect for his conning skill. The commanding officer and navigator were at an open-air post up on the bridge as they gave orders to the helmsman via speaking tube. Columns of water continuously rose around the Yahagi from the many bombs that were near misses. Suddenly, a young sailor who was serving as an orderly sank down helplessly to the deck even though he was unhurt. His knees crumpled under him because it was his first battle. My earplugs were blown out, and my eardrums were damaged. I had trouble hearing for a while.

The radar room reported vacuum tubes breaking due to the near misses, so the radar stopped working. Enemy aircraft machine-gun fire hit the bridge bulkhead and ricocheted inside the bridge. All the sudden, a lookout was hit and fell to the deck. Around that time, we lost the Hamakaze , which was steaming to port of the Yahagi . A bomb hit her aft deck and sent up a pillar of flames. She dropped behind before a torpedo broke her into two pieces. The destroyer sank at 1247.
Meanwhile, the bomb and torpedo attacks against the other ships continued relentlessly. At Leyte Gulf, the Yahagi was with a number of larger ships and thus a secondary target. But this time she was the next target after the Yamato .

More enemy planes appeared and suddenly attacked the Yahagi from a break in the low clouds, making it difficult to maneuver quickly to escape. At 1330 she was hit at the stern. The rudder and propellers seemed to be damaged, and the ship started to make a continuous turn to starboard. Then she stopped completely and began to drift in a swell. Damage-control teams were ordered to the stern. Weapons fire from the American aircraft hit the motionless Yahagi again and again. I felt my whole body shaking heavily. Because of the damage to my eardrums, it was as if I were watching a silent movie. Columns of water jumped up around the ship, one after another, taller than the mast. Steam spouted from the cruiser's funnel. The bloody odor of our dead and wounded sailors mixed with the smell of gunpowder.

Rear Admiral Komura concluded that the Yahagi would soon sink and decided to transfer his flag to another ship. He sent a signal to the Isokaze to approach. But because of the ship's list and the continuous enemy air attacks, it was difficult to lower a boat on the port side to transfer his staff. Unable to just stand by watching, I decided to take charge of this job by going down to the upper deck myself. By that time I had no duty as target-designating officer because the radar was destroyed. The Isokaze was approaching the Yahagi but could not stop because she was maneuvering to avoid torpedoes and bombs.

Just when we, struggling on the listing deck, succeeded in lowering the cutter almost to the water, the boat took a direct hit. The deck officer, Lieutenant (junior grade) Torao Ohtsubo, was called to the bridge and ordered to rush to the forecastle deck. The crew there was ordered to throw the port main anchor and chain into the sea. It was a countermeasure to overcome the incline of the ship as much as possible. On the center deck, the assistant antisubmarine warfare officer, Lieutenant (junior grade) Masayoshi Nakamoto, and his men were desperately trying to unload the torpedoes from their tubes and throw them into the water. After a short pause in the attack, more than 100 enemy planes flew over us. We could see pillars of flame as other ships, including the Yamato , took bomb and torpedo hits.

As I learned later, Vice Admiral Ito concluded around this time that the Yamato , though already damaged, was still able to steam for the time being, but the time of the arrival at Okinawa would have to be rescheduled. The Yamato turned toward the Yahagi to assess the condition of our ship. It was dire. The rudder was blown away, and yellow smoke was coming from number 1 turret. Lieutenant (junior grade) Kenji Hatta reported the flooding of a powder magazine to prevent it from exploding.

At 1345 dozens more enemy planes attacked us. The Yahagi took additional bomb and torpedo hits, and the list increased to port. Everybody was instinctively trying to climb the starboard side. Then the Yahagi got a torpedo hit in the starboard side of the hull, and the cruiser began sinking while rolling to starboard. The commanding officer, Captain Hara, ordered, "Abandon the ship." The Yahagi 's last gasp was at 1405. According to the record, the cruiser had received 12 direct hits from bombs and seven from torpedoes. An explosion had blown me into the water, and I was caught in a whirlpool. I had a powder burn on my face. At 1423 the Yamato sank with huge explosions. I saw the black smoke rising to the sky as I drifted in the waves.

Enemy planes remained in the area and repeatedly machine-gunned our survivors drifting in the sea. I was treading water and holding onto a wooden box I found floating nearby. The seawater in early April was so cold and I was so fatigued that I almost fainted. After a while, I felt sick and threw up. I had not eaten lunch, and heavy oil and seawater had filled my empty stomach. In the meantime, a PBM flying boat came flying in. It alighted on the water to pick up American pilots who were shot down and then flew away.

I was thinking that we might not be rescued and were going to die, as we were the Special (Suicide) Attack Surface Force. However, I learned later that Admiral Ito had decided the special attack could not be established, so he ordered the rescue of survivors. The fleet staff transferred to the destroyer Fuyutsuki in order to gather the remaining ships. Admiral Toyoda concurred with the decision to abort the mission and to commence the rescue operation.

The survivors drifting near me were exchanging conversations or singing Navy songs to encourage each other. But gradually, they lost their voices and their strength. Little by little, they were separated from each other. Meanwhile, the destroyer Kasumi 's boiler room had fully flooded, the result of direct hits and near misses. After the enemy planes flew away, her survivors were transferred to the Fuyutsuki , which finished off the Kasumi with torpedoes at 1657. The Isokaze 's boiler room was also completely flooded, and she was unable to sail. Her survivors were transferred to the Yukikaze , and that destroyer's gunfire sank the Isokaze at 2240.

After the Yahagi went down, I cannot imagine how many hours passed before I was rescued. The cold seawater chilled me to the bone, and I felt fatigue extending through my entire body. Some sailors who were floating near me sank after suddenly thrashing about; they never resurfaced. I clearly remember feeling faint and that the ability to think was gradually fading away. I thought that if the body got cold, it would mean freezing to death.

Almost at sunset, somebody shouted with loud voice, "The ship is coming." When I rose up on the top of a swell and tried to see it, I could not open my eyes because of the heavy oil that coated my face. I pushed my hand down into the sea under the oil layer and rubbed the oil off and made a tight fist in order to keep it clean as I raised it up in the air. I then wiped my eyes. At last I could open them and see the destroyer that was coming close to us. She was the Fuyutsuki . The lifeline hanging down on her side was slippery because of heavy oil. After I climbed to the deck with great difficulty, I found the four fingers on each of my hands were stuck together and could not move as I liked. I slowly took off my clothes and shoes.

Wearing only underpants, I walked unsteadily to the sailors' compartment on the quarterdeck. The navigator of the Fuyutsuki was Lieutenant (junior grade) Takayasu Nakata, my classmate at the Naval Academy. When I was rescued, he was lying in bed, wounded in both wrists by machine-gun fire. The sailors in the group that had drifted around me were all rescued, and many of them, including me, were wounded. The uninjured were laying the wounded in a passage on the deck so as not to hinder the crew of the Fuyutsuki . But some of those injured comrades were corpses by the next morning. The bodies of men who died en route to Sasebo Naval Base were piled up in the narrow storage on the upper deck, port side.

Of the ten ships that had set out as the Special Attack Surface Force, only four made it to Sasebo; the destroyers Hatsushimo , Yukikaze , Fuyutsuki , and Suzutsuki arrived on 8 April 1945. The first two were repaired in a week and the third in two weeks. It took three months to restore the Suzutsuki to full operating condition.

Rear Admiral Nobue Morishita, former commanding officer of the Yamato , was the chief of staff of the First Strike Force. When he reported to the Naval General Staff on 16 April, he argued that any assault operation requires thorough preparation and a plan in which the favorable odds can be expected. The detailed action report of Destroyer Squadron 2 was stern in its denunciation of the Okinawa mission, saying that naval operations must be cautiously and calculatingly executed. Otherwise, great loss and little benefit should be expected.

Captain Hara, the commanding officer of the Yahagi , was rescued by the Hatsushimo and returned to the Sasebo Naval Base. The night of his return he stayed in the submarine support facility. Lieutenant (junior grade) Kenji Osako, another Yahagi survivor who stayed at the same facility, told me that as he was walking down a hallway he overheard Captain Hara's angry voice. He was talking to Commander Sakuo Mikami, a Combined Fleet staff officer who had come to hear the details of the battle.

From these post-battle reports and accounts, one can assume that it was an extremely difficult mission for the higher-ranking officers in the chain of command to carry out. They were responsible for the fleet, squadron, divisions, and/or ships as well as the lives of hundreds to thousands of men under them. Their words are sorrowful because they lost the lives of huge numbers of those men all at once.

I, however, wonder what other kind of operation against the overwhelmingly strong enemy force at Okinawa could have been considered. What would the headquarters of the Special Attack Surface Force have done if it could have replaced the headquarters of the Combined Fleet? Under such circumstances, what kind of operation could have been planned to satisfy unit commanders? The moment Japan entered the war in December 1941, the tragic fate of the Okinawa Special Attack Surface Force was established.

As one of the junior officers whose ill fate made him part this special attack force, I can clearly recall my own reaction when I heard that the ships were not expected to return. My heart was unexpectedly quiet, and I felt rather mentally refreshed to know that I had found a suitable place to die as a samurai warrior. Now, when I calmly reflect on that time more than 60 years ago, I believe the operation was a worthy end for the great Yamato . She was the symbol of the Imperial Japanese Navy, and her loss was a practice of the aesthetic of Yamato damashii (Spirit of Japan) and a manifestation of the Bushido warrior spirit.

We should aspire to learn some important lessons from those long-ago years: first, by inquiring into the historical background and facts of the war that Japan's leaders led the country into; and second, by seeking the wisdom to learn the way toward world peace.

On board the Fuji-Maru the memorial services ended at the point where the Yamato sank. At that moment, evening dusk was gathering on the East China Sea. To me the scene appeared the same, with the same weather, as when I floated several hours in the water nearby 61 years ago. For some time, I was full of deep emotion as I watched the swelling sea. I've heard that although Vice Admiral Ito had disagreed with the Special Attack Surface Force operation, he had been persuaded to accept command of it when he heard the explanation by the Naval General Staff. He was told that the one-way mission would lead "the special attacks of 100 million people." His son, Lieutenant (junior grade) Hiroshi Ito, was my classmate. Hiroshi was killed at Okinawa on 28 April 1945, just three weeks after his father went down with the Yamoto . My September 1943 Naval Academy class had 625 graduates, but only 290 survived to the end of the war.

Dr. Ikeda, who earned a Ph.D. in architecture from Tokyo University in 1954, is president architect of the Ikeda Institute and a professor emeritus at Nagasaki Institute of Applied Science.



Finishing Off the Yahagi and Yamato

During the early afternoon of 7 April 1945, more than 375 U.S. Navy planes attacked the Japanese First Strike Force, sinking six of its ten ships—including the Yamato and Yahagi . Aircraft from Task Group (TG) 58.1 struck first, at 1237, followed by TG 58.3's planes about 30 minutes later. By the time the skies cleared, torpedoes and bombs had seriously wounded the Yamato and Yahagi . The burning battleship was still making 20 knots, but the light cruiser was dead in the water.

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At 1325, 115 TG 58.4 aircraft arrived over the enemy flotilla. While planes from the Lexington (CV-16) circled beyond enemy gun range, Intrepid (CV-11) and Langley (CVL-27) aircraft immediately went after the biggest prize, the Yamato , and hit her with five torpedoes, increasing her port list to 10 degrees. Although the Lexington 's flight had been ordered to attack the Yahagi , Lieutenant Tom Stetson, commander of the carrier's Torpedo Squadron 9, received permission to split his 13 TBF Avengers into two groups in order to hit the battleship as well as the cruiser.

First up was the Yahagi . Arrayed in two lines abreast, the seven Avengers of Lieutenant (junior grade) Clyde "Ugh" Lee's division made a textbook attack against the cruiser's starboard side. Five of their ""fish"" splashed into the water, but Lee's and Ensign Don Page's torpedoes did not release. One of the other pilots, Lieutenant (junior grade) Stewart Bass, turned around after releasing his fish: "I suddenly saw all five torpedoes hit—bang! bang! bang! bang! bang! For a moment, nothing seemed to happen. Then [the cruiser] began erupting." The Yahagi made a half roll and quickly sank at 1405.

Lee and Page then attacked the destroyer Isokaze , whose antiaircraft guns were furiously firing away. On his first run, Lee's torpedo again failed to drop. It released on his second run but missed the tin can by ten feet. Page succeeded on his first try, his torpedo hitting her starboard quarter.

Crewmen in VT-9's remaining six Avengers, meanwhile, changed the settings on their torpedoes to make the fish run deeper against their bigger target. By this time, the Yamato was making only eight knots. When Stetson's bombers descended from the clouds and into a wall of antiaircraft fire, four of the planes were line abreast, while the Avengers flown by Lieutenants (junior grade) John Carter and Grady Jean trailed the formation. At 100 yards from their massive target, the leading planes released their torpedoes, which exploded against the Yamato 's starboard underbelly. As the battleship continued a port turn, Carter's and Jean's fish slammed into her. About five minutes later, at 1423, the Yamato rolled over and blew up.

Sources :
Clark G. Reynolds, The Fighting Lady: The New Yorktown in the Pacific War (Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1986; Tim Thornton, "The Sinking of the Yamato ," Warships 1989 (London: Conway Maritime Press Ltd., 1989).

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See the full Naval Institute guide to The Pacific.


Dr. Ikeda, who earned a Ph.D. in architecture from Tokyo University in 1954, is president architect of the Ikeda Institute and a professor emeritus at Nagasaki Institute of Applied Science.

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