Yamato, one of the largest and most powerful battleships of all time.

And here are the basic parameters of Yamato: the ship was 256m long, the beam was 38.9m, and the draft was 11m. Yamato’s full load displacement of about 71,000 tons made her the largest ship of the war, eclipsed only by postwar American aircraft carriers.

Yamato and her sister, the battleship Musashi, were armed with 3 × triple 46 cm (18 in) guns, 2 × triple 15.5 cm guns, 12 × twin 12.7 cm guns, 162 × 25mm anti-aircraft guns, and 4 x 13.2 mm heavy machine guns. All this firepower, aimed at sinking enemy battleships without the need to use many warships. An extremely large number of anti-aircraft guns were added during the refit to keep the ship against American air attacks.

Yamato battleship
Yamato battleship

Unfortunately for Yamato and her crew, she was out of date by the time she was launched in 1941. The fast attack capabilities of the enemy aircraft carriers, at the range of torpedo planes and dive, at least twice the range of Yamato’s largest naval gun. By the beginning of 1945, the Japanese Army was in a very difficult situation. The territories that Japan occupied in the Pacific region, were recaptured by the US Army and they approached Japanese territory. Okinawa, the largest island in the Ryukyu island chain, was the last fortress under siege by the US Army.

The invasion of the US Army on Okinawa island began on April 1, 1945. To stop the American advance, the Japanese Navy conducted Operation Ten-Go. Battleship Yamato, escorted by cruisers and eight destroyers, would move to Okinawa to reinforce and intercept American naval forces. Yamato and her fleet, designated the Special Attack Force, left the port of Tokuyama, Japan on April 6, to head south through the Bungo Strait.

The US Navy knew about Operation Ten-Go in advance, thanks to cracked Japanese military codes. Two American submarines were waiting to intercept the Japanese Navy fleet. Yamato and her escorts, were spotted by American submarines; but could not attack, due to the high speed and zigzag tactics of the Japanese fleet. Upon receiving the news, the US naval forces surrounding Okinawa were alerted and ready to fight. At 08:00 on April 7, reconnaissance planes from Admiral Mitscher’s aircraft carrier and the 58th fleet, located Yamato, 80 nautical miles from Okinawa.

Admiral Mitscher decided to launch a massive pre-emptive strike force consisting of 280 fighters, bombers and torpedo bombers. Within two hours, the fleet of the Japanese Navy was subjected to a merciless bombardment from the air by the US Air Force, from the aircraft carriers. Air forces from 11 carriers of the 58th fleet joined the attack. The number of planes in the air was so much that the fear of mid-air collision was real. Yamato was hit by two bombs and one torpedo in one attack; At the same time, two escort destroyers were also sunk.

The second wave of the US Air Force consisted of 100 aircraft. When Yamato showed signs of weakening resistance, the US naval pilots changed tactics, launching torpedoes into the submerged part of the hull. At that time Yamato was hit by 10 torpedoes and 7 bombs, the damage was very heavy. The captain and many sailors tied themselves to the ship, to sacrifice with their battleship, and many sailors tried to escape.

At 14:23, the Yamato’s forward ammunition depot exploded, turning into a spectacular fireball, resembling an exploding tactical nuclear weapon. The pillar of fire reached a height of 2,000 meters, and the mushroom cloud rose to a height of 6,000 meters.

The end of Yamato was the inevitable consequence of an outdated military mindset, when the era of aircraft carriers had replaced battleships. The Japanese generals’ preference for battleships, and their resolute pursuit of outdated military technology, degraded the Japanese Navy’s combat capabilities and resulted in the deaths of thousands of sailors.

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