Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Last Fight of Yamato

Yamato and Musashi anchored in the waters off of the Truk Islands in 1943. (Source)
I recently came across a clip of a Japanese film which was released in 2005. 男たちの大和 (Otoko-tachi no Yamato, "Men of Yamato"). The clip is of the final battle of this proud ship of the Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II. It is in Japanese, with English subtitles.

As an amateur historian, I am constantly reminded that there are two sides in every conflict.  One can despise the cause, the leadership, and/or the principles of one (sometimes both) of the combatants. Atrocities are committed by both sides, sometimes as a matter of policy, sometimes in the heat of combat. But in wartime, bravery also exists, on both sides.

While I can (and do) despise many of the actions of the Empire of Japan in World War II, there is no denying that the average Japanese soldier, sailor, and airman displayed great fortitude and courage during that conflict.

The common men and women of a nation do not start wars. Yes, they may support the war and its objectives, though often they really have no say in the matter, one way or the other. While Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr. may have coined the phrase, "Our country – In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right, and always successful, right or wrong.", the citizens of many nations have no doubt shared and expressed that sentiment over the years. It is the timing and location of one's birth that determines one's loyalties.

All that aside, Yamato was a magnificent warship, though in truth she was obsolete from the day her keel was laid down, warfare had changed. Yamato and her crew would experience that fact first hand.

Yamato (大和) was the lead ship of the Yamato class of Imperial Japanese Navy World War II battleships. She and her sister ship, Musashi (武蔵), were the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleships ever constructed, displacing 72,800 tons at full load and armed with nine 46 cm (18.1 inch) 45 Caliber Type 94 main guns. Neither ship survived the war.

Named after the ancient Japanese Yamato Province, Yamato was designed to counter the numerically superior battleship fleet of the United States, Japan's main rival in the Pacific. She was laid down in 1937 and formally commissioned a week after the Pearl Harbor attack in late 1941. Throughout 1942, she served as the flagship of the Japanese Combined Fleet, and in June 1942 Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto directed the fleet from her bridge during the Battle of Midway, a disastrous defeat for Japan. Musashi took over as the Combined Fleet flagship in early 1943, and Yamato spent the rest of the year, and much of 1944, moving between the major Japanese naval bases of Truk and Kure in response to American threats. Although present at the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, she played no part in the battle.



As the final step before their planned invasion of the Japanese mainland, Allied forces invaded Okinawa on 1 April. The Imperial Japanese Navy's response was to organize a mission codenamed Operation Ten-Go that would see the commitment of much of Japan's remaining surface strength. Yamato and nine escorts (the cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers) would sail to Okinawa and, in concert with kamikaze and Okinawa-based army units, attack the Allied forces assembled on and around Okinawa. Yamato would then be beached to act as an unsinkable gun emplacement and continue to fight until destroyed. In preparation for the mission, Yamato had taken on a full stock of ammunition on 29 March. According to the Japanese plan, the ships were supposed to take aboard only enough fuel for a one way voyage to Okinawa, but additional fuel amounting to 60 percent of capacity was issued on the authority of local base commanders. Designated the "Surface Special Attack Force", the ships left Tokuyama at 15:20 on 6 April.



Yamato's crew were at general quarters and ready for anti-aircraft action by dawn on 7 April. The first Allied aircraft made contact with the Surface Special Attack Force at 08:23; two flying boats arrived soon thereafter, and for the next five hours, Yamato fired Common Type 3 or Beehive shells at the Allied seaplanes, but could not prevent them from shadowing the force. Yamato obtained her first radar contact with aircraft at 10:00; an hour later, American F6F Hellcat fighters appeared overhead to deal with any Japanese aircraft that might appear. None did.
Wikipedia

While there are some historical inaccuracies in the clip, the portrayal of men at war rings true. In any language.

Ladies and gentlemen, the last battle of Yamato, not for the faint of heart...






26 comments:

  1. I always thought that the nonskid on the deck was for seawater........ man oh man.....

    I remember reading Eight Bailed Out right before the Balkans exploded in the early 90's. An American bomber crew wound up in a Chetnik partisan group. They said when they were strafed by P-47's it was terrifying beyond belief. I think this is the first movie clip I've seen to back that up.

    The Chetniks were allied with the Germans because we backed Tito. The Chetniks hated the communists. But were weak by themselves. Convoluted....

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    1. Yugoslavia during World War II was a convoluted mess. Chetniks, Tito's Communists, Muslim SS anti-partisan units, the list goes on.

      My Uncle Charlie (my Dad's brother) related to me how his unit was strafed during World War II, by an Me-262. Terrifying to be strafed, even more so as none of them knew what kind of weird aircraft had just strafed them.

      There's a reason why flyers don't want to get shot down anywhere near people they've just bombed or strafed...

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    2. Yes, generally a bad idea. They just might be a bit peeved. Which is why my habit after pickling and pulling was to push the throttles to mil power. I wanted that action in muscle memory so that if I ever did it for real, I'd come off the target accelerating. I figured adrenaline would assist my arm in the push past mil power into AB. Every second is a thousand feet at 600K.

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  2. The After AA Director was under the direction of a JG from San Diego. He was visiting Grampa and Grandma in Dec, 1941. He was told that his grandparents were Japanese, his parents were Japanese, and therefore, he was Japanese. Either join the IJN, or die.

    He was in a situation I would not want to have been in. You grew up in CA, the guys in the blue planes are your people, not the crew of your ship! What does one do, other than try to survive? ( he did !)

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    1. Sometimes circumstance dictates who you fight for. Had a friend of German-Irish ancestry. Two of his uncles on the German side of the family were visiting Germany when WWII broke out. Both wound up in the German military, only one survived the war.

      Interesting story Scott, thanks for sharing!

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  3. The Balkans have always been a convoluted mess. Another outstanding post and video Sarge. Hard to imagine just how big those ships were -twice the size of the USS North Carolina. Interesting reading that prior to the war, until events proved otherwise, that we believed that the Japanese could not fight well, could not see at night, had poor aiming skills, etc. Our cultural biases were pretty strong.

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    1. Oh yes, the cultural bias was strong at the start of the war. Their Long Lance torpedoes were superior to anything we had, their nighttime naval gunnery was superb, that was a long list.

      Every culture in every war always seems to underestimate the enemy. I guess it's human nature.

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  4. "She and her sister ship, Musashi (武蔵), were the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleships ever constructed, displacing 72,800 tons at full load and armed with nine 46 cm (18.1 inch) 45 Caliber Type 94 main guns."

    True enough, however most analyses show that an Iowa Class could, and would have defeated a Yamato in head to head combat. The 16" guns aboard Iowas were actually superior to the 18" in Yamatos in range, accuracy, and penetrating power. Add in far superior Radar fire control, rate of fire and speed, and the Iowas--competently handled--win every time.

    The other point--ethnicity determines nationality--is a creeping menace to our society. Melting pot forever!

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    1. Spot on Cap'n, though Yamato and Musashi were bigger, the Iowa Class were better in nearly every respect. Biggest isn't always better!

      Where one is born and raised or should determine where one's loyalties lie, not where one's parents/grandparents/ancestors were born. 'Tis a good point you raise, ethnicity determining loyalty is a cancer.

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    2. Great points. I recall way back in the mid 60's when we were getting ready to go drop nukes on the Soviet Bloc a course mate who was second generation Estonian was having serious security problems. I remember him vividly standing up and screaming, " I don't give a shit if it is my uncle, I'll nuke him anyway!" Viljo made it through and we destroyed many billions of air molecules over Germany.

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    3. Hoorah for Viljo! A real American that lad!

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  5. I was thinking that the strafing by .50 cal had to have killed a lot of the sailors. Then I am thinking of the bravery of those torpedo planes continuation to press the attack when that battleship is throwing everything she had at them.

    Bravery on both sides.

    I remember reading somewhere that in the IJN the joke was the Yamato crewmen were living in a hotel as the ship was moored for a long time in Japan.

    Didn't realize that she was also at Leyte Gulf - thought it was just her sister ship the Musashi.

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    1. Throughout 1942, she served as the flagship of the Japanese Combined Fleet, and in June 1942 Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto directed the fleet from her bridge during the Battle of Midway, a disastrous defeat for Japan. Musashi took over as the Combined Fleet flagship in early 1943, and Yamato spent the rest of the year, and much of 1944, moving between the major Japanese naval bases of Truk and Kure in response to American threats. Although present at the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, she played no part in the battle. Wikipedia

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  6. They never gave up, got to give them credit for that.

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  7. Hey Guys;

    I saw the actual movie on Youtube a couple of years ago. I had blogged about the movie. the Yamato has assumed mystical proportions in Japan, from the "Space Cruiser Yamato" or as we Americans knew it as "Star Blazers." There is a museum in Japan dedicated to the ship. Watch the whole movie, it will explain a lot of the backstory. To me the movie was very good, it did give another perspective on WWII

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    1. Hey MrGarabaldi, I am going to find that movie and watch it. I like the premise behind the film.

      Can you provide a link to the post you wrote? I'd like to read your take.

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  8. I did find it somewhat ironic that the medics wore a Red Cross in the movie. I had heard that our medics stopped doing that after the first few islands for some reason or another.

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  9. My late father told of watching an outdoor movie in India and being strafed. Several were wounded but all deaths were from being trampled. Years later he would flinch if a multi engine aircraft engines were running un-synchronized.

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  10. You might want to read "Requiem for Battleship Yamato" by Yoshida Mitsuru. He was an Ensign on the bridge for the last battle. I got the book years ago from a book club but it's still available. It reads almost like a diary.

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    1. I'll have to check that out, thanks Pogue!

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  11. Hey Guys;

    I found the blog post.....http://mydailykona.blogspot.com/search?q=yamato.

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    1. An excellent post, thank you for finding it! I noted that you've also seen the movie Emperor with Tommy Lee Jones and Matthew Fox. I really enjoyed that film.

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