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Book Review, NRJ 69.2

June 30, 2024 10:06 AM | JAMES HATCH (Administrator)

Yamato - Flagship of the Imperial Japanese Navy

By Daniel Knowles

  • Yamato and its sister ship, Musashi, were the largest battleships ever created that put to sea during wartime. Neither vessel, however, was employed for the purpose for which it had been designed: to engage and destroy the principally intended targets: American battleships. The two were built in secrecy by the Japanese in late 1937 and 1938 respectively, using sophisticated domestic naval construction. American naval experts repeatedly dismissed accurate information about the two ships that proved the Japanese had mastered innovative technologies. There was widespread assumption in the United States Navy that Japanese workmanship was inferior to that of the United States. This was the result of racial and cultural prejudice combined with strict Japanese concealment that thwarted American naval intelligence leading up to World War II. In many ways, this makes Knowles's book an international, maritime ghost story. The plans for Yamato were drafted in strictest secrecy and few photographs were taken of the completed vessel, either at anchor or underway. Upon sinking, Yamato s remains lay hidden under over 1,100 feet of water until 1985, when the broken hull was discovered. After the war, blueprints and pictorial documents were destroyed by the defeated Japanese government.

    Imperial Japan had won a decisive naval victory in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-1905 by applying the tenets put forth in Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783. Mahan argued that naval dominance was achieved through the employment of a fleet of powerful battleships. The last great battleship clash among these powerful vessels was the 1916 Battle of Jutland during World War I. The Japanese hierarchy was content to use the old but successful naval engagement playbook.

    Japan saw the United States as an imminent threat in the Pacific that sought to dominate the region and control its natural resources. The Japanese reasoned that if they built huge battleships too large to fit through the Panama Canal the Americans were unlikely to match them in size because their east coast shipyards were the main builders. Deploying them it would necessitate sailing around Cape Hom or the Cape of Good Hope, plus creating a resupply logistical nightmare. Also, the Yamato class vessels were to be equipped with superior armor and possess greater fire power than the United States could reasonably muster. It was believed that this would enable the Imperial Japanese government to dominate the western Pacific. They gambled that, although the United States was far more industrialized and had greater access to more natural resources, they were strategically vulnerable because they were heavily engaged in an Atlantic War front.

    The 71,659-ton Yamato and Musashi were armed with nine 18.1-inch guns that fired 3,200-pound shells with a range of up to 27 miles. In comparison, American battleships were armed with 16-inch guns that fired shells weighing 2,700 pounds with a maximum range of approximately 22 miles. Therefore, there was a five-mile range difference, but speed of aim adjustment, accuracy, and rate of salvo delivery were arguably the most important factors in a sea battle.

    Each battleship met its end about six months apart. Musashi was sunk on 24 October 1944 in the battle of Leyte Gulf. Yamato met its demise during Operation Ten-Go after being struck by two torpedo hits and many aircraft bombs on 7 April 1945. Both vessels were destroyed in battle, but not due to a combat of big guns fired from huge ships. Their demise was a quasi­ metaphor for the emergence of the new age of naval warfare, dominated by air power. The aircraft carrier had emerged as the new capital ship. 

    Yamato is a slim book with an abundance of excellent illustrations. Knowles provides an assortment of technical information about the ship assembled in a coherent way and background data to place the Pacific conflict in its historical perspective. The author vividly narrates the battles of Leyte Gulf and Ten-Go mostly from the Japanese standpoint, but also integrating it with the American counter-narrative or viewpoint. A major problem is the use of only one confusing map to illustrate the locations of the warship maneuvers and counter-maneuvers in these naval battles. Still, Daniel Knowles's book is a valuable addition to the library of maritime historians, especially those interested in the design, building, and demise of the largest and most powerful battleships to ever put to sea.

  • Stroud: Fonthill Media
  • 7” x 10”, hardcover, 192 pages
  • Photographs, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography index. $49.00
  • ISBN: 9781781558140

Reviewed by: Jeremy Costlaw, Little Rock, Arkansas

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