Kure Maritime Museum: The tragic story of Battleship Yamato


A NOVA episode detailing the story of Battleship Yamato

Ensign Nakatani, of the Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II, was the only American aboard the Japanese battleship Yamato when it sank in 1945. As a Nisei, the term for second-generation Americans of Japanese descent, the outbreak of war with the United States in 1941 caught him off-guard as he was studying in Japan. Bilingual and familiar with America, he found himself immediately pressed into service for the Emperor, serving as a translator and codebreaker for the Japanese. Like most Nisei, he was treated with great disdain and suspicion by the ultra-nationalistic Japanese. Nakatani, his communications with his stateside family severed, and was unable to contact his parents or younger brothers. He was alone.

Yamato Scale Model

Yamato Scale Model

Only as he departed from the Japanese city and shipyards of Kure on the Yamato‘s last mission did Nakatani reportedly receive his first and only family contact during the entire War. A single letter, from his mother, written years earlier had meandered through the channels of the International Red Cross, finally finding its way to him in Japan via Switzerland. The letter read, in part, “We are fine. Please put your best effort into your duties. And let’s both pray for peace.”

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, ship model on display WM

But peace was not to come in time for Nakatani. According to Yamato survivor Mitsuru Yoshida’s memoirs in Requiem for Battleship Yamato, Nakatani was inconsolable, knowing he would never live to see his family again. Such tragic stories are solemnly told in the Kure Maritime Museum, more commonly known as the “Yamato Museum,” located in Kure, Japan.

Triple 25mm Anti-Aircraft Mount

Triple 25mm Anti-Aircraft Mount

Yamato under Construction

Yamato under Construction

Yamato (大和) was the lead ship of the Yamato class of Imperial Japanese Navy World War II battleships. During the 1930s, as the Japanese became ultra-nationalist with views to expand their Empire, new designs for heavy fighting ships were begun. The Japanese recognized that they would simply be unable to match the output of U.S. war machine once war broke out, so these massive vessels were designed to engage multiple enemy battleships at the same time, and engage them first with very long-range guns. She and her sister ship, Musashi, were the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleships ever constructed, displacing 72,800 tons and armed with a main battery of nine 18.1 inch main guns, the largest caliber naval artillery ever fitted to a warship, which gave the ships an unmatched range 26 miles. Formidable by any standard, by 1945 her secondary battery comprised six 6.1 inch and twenty-four 5 inch guns. For more close-in defense against aircraft, Yamato carried an astounding 162 anti-aircraft guns of 25mm! Despite this protection, neither ship survived the war.

18 inch Main Battery and Scout Floatplane

18 inch Main Battery and Scout Floatplane

Yamato Underway

Yamato Underway

Laid down in 1937 and formally commissioned a week after Pearl Harbor in 1941, she served as the flagship during the Battle of Midway, a disastrous defeat for Japan in the middle of 1942. After the initiative of the war in the Pacific shifted to the Americans, the battleship remained in the vicinity of the Japanese-held Island and anchorage of Truk for much of 1943-1944, and played little part in any battle of significance. Yamato fired her main guns at American surface ships only once in late 1944 with little effect.

Massive 1:10 Scale Model

Massive 1:10 Scale Model

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, scale model from the stern WM1945 saw the Japanese suffering a crippling loss of fuel oil, raw materials, and general supplies, and in a desperate attempt to slow the Allied advance on the Japanese “home” islands, Yamato was dispatched on a one-way mission to Okinawa with orders to beach herself and fight until destroyed. Allied forces invaded Okinawa on 1 April 1945, and facing American boots on Japan soil proper, the imperial war machine responded in desperation with a mission codenamed “Operation Ten-Go” that would see the suicidal commitment of much of the remaining strength of the Japanese Imperial Navy. Yamato and nine escorts (one cruiser 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 was fully stocked with ammunition, but not enough fuel for a return voyage. Designated the “Surface Special Attack Force,” the ships sortied on the afternoon of April 6th, 1945, the same day the USS Emmons was sunk by kamikazes off Okinawa’s Motobu peninsula (see my blog Wreck of the USS Emmons for more).

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, scout float-plane on the Battleship Yamato WM

The Yamato’s task force, however, was spotted by an American sub as it sailed south of Kyushu, and on April 7th, 1945, she was sunk by American carrier-based aircraft with the loss of vast majority of her crew.

Crews of these exposed gun positions suffered greatly.

Crews of these exposed gun positions suffered greatly.

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, Japanese standard on the bow WMThe Allies had been decoding Japanese radio traffic for some time, and were well aware of Japan’s intent. Further, numerous American submarines spotted the Special Attack Force as it sailed south, but were unable to attack due to the ships’ high speed evasive maneuvering. They were, however, able to radio position, course and speed to the American fleet waiting to the south. With these reports, the Allied forces around Okinawa began to brace for the Special Attack Force’s assault by placing six battleships, seven cruisers and twenty-one destroyers on alert to intercept Yamato if aircraft-carrier based planes were unable to stop the group from reaching vulnerable Allied transports and landing craft.

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, admiring the ship's model WM

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, armed Japanese Zero WMYamato’s crew was at general quarters and ready for action as dawn broke over cloudy skies on April 7th, 1945, only a day out of port. The first Allied scout aircraft made contact with Battleship Yamato at 8:23am, catching glimpses of their bright wakes playing peek-a-boo through the clouds. The group of ships was then shadowed by the America aircraft for the next few hours as the Allied Fleet Carriers readied their aircraft for strikes. At around 10:00am that morning, Yamato held radar contact with the first wave of Allied attack planes, American F6F Hellcat fighters which were sent to sweep the skies over the battleship clear of Japanese aircraft. The Yamato and her escorts, however, were sent without air cover.

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, bow on Yamato scale model WM

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, 13mm aircraft machine gun WMAt about 12:30pm, a large raiding force of 280 bomber and torpedo aircraft arrived to stop the Yamato’s advance. As the Yamato increased speed to 24 knots and her destroyers closed to provide anti-aircraft fire, the Allied attack started at 12:37pm. The Yamato initially remained unscathed, throwing up an almost impenetrable wall of large and small-caliber defensive fires. But at 12:41pm, time quickly ran out for the proud ship. Two bombs obliterated two of her triple 25 mm anti-aircraft mounts and blew a hole in her deck, where fires started and raged. A third bomb exploded in quick succession, destroying her radar room and more of her secondary battery. Within minutes, two more bombs struck the battleship’s port side, causing significant damage to the ship’s main battery guns.

The Museum also has a beautiful Japanese Zero

The Museum also has a beautiful Japanese Zero

Yamato under Attack

Yamato under Attack

As the dive bombers attacked from almost directly overhead, the torpedo bombers started their attack runs at near sea level height. Splitting the ship’s defensive fire, already greatly reduced by exploding bombs, four torpedoes ran home and struck Yamato, damaging this ship’s boilers, engines and steering gear. The attacking swarm spent, the aerial assault ended as quickly as it started at around 12:47pm. In ten short minutes, explosion after explosion left the battleship listing 5–6° to port and on fire, her top speed significantly reduced, and with most of her unprotected 25mm anti-aircraft crews killed or wounded.

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, battleship scale model 3 WM

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, ship model WMThe ship was now easy to find, a thick plume of black smoke beckoning other approaching waves of aircraft. Suffering reduced maneuverability and sharply curtailed anti-aircraft capability, the second wave of Allied planes found a much easier target. Starting at just before 1:00pm, the Americans again swarmed the battleship, attacking simultaneously from above and on level from all directions. Three or four torpedoes found their marks, their massive explosions furthered reducing steam to the ship’s engines and dramatically increasing flooding. Yamato was now listing perilously 15–18° to port, but the ship’s crew was able to counterflood and reduce the list to 10°. Although the ship had so far absorbed a massive amount of punishment, she was still in no real danger of sinking.

The Museum also holds many other Traces of War like this midget submarine

The Museum also holds many other Traces of War like this midget submarine

Yamato Hit by a Bomb

Yamato Hit by a Bomb

Still a third attack wave was launched and struck beginning at about 1:40pm that afternoon. At least four bombs hit the ship’s superstructure and caused heavy casualties among Yamato’s remaining 25 mm anti-aircraft gun crews. More serious though were four more torpedo impacts, resulting in flooding that was almost uncontrollable. With the auxiliary steering room now completely flooded, the ship lost all maneuverability and became stuck in a starboard turn. Yet the ship and her crew fought on.

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, heavy caliber deck guns B&W WM

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter 5 WMThe fires and flooding began to take their tool, and by about 2pm that afternoon, the ship could only make 10 knots through the water with a steadily increasing list. Fires forward near the ship’s main battery raged out of control, and alarms were sounding about temperatures in the ship’s magazine. At 2:02pm, the order was given to abandon ship since the crew was unable to flood the vital and dangerous ammunition storage areas to keep them from exploding.

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, crew and idle guns WM

Yamato Explodes

Yamato Explodes

The final assault began at 2:05pm. Torpedo bombers once again scored more hits. The battleship continued her inexorable roll to port, losing all power 2:20pm. Three minutes later, Yamato capsized, and as she rolled, one of the two bow magazines detonated in a tremendous explosion, resulting in a mushroom cloud almost four miles high that was seen for hundreds of miles. Yamato sank rapidly, quickly killing over 3,000 of her crew. Only 269 sailors survived the onslaught, while the Allies lost only ten aircraft and twelve airmen in the attack.

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, breech of a heavy naval gun WM

Kure 2015, Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Museum, Akishio SS-579 crewmember volunteer WMKure 2015, Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Kure Museum, Akishio SS-579 submarine made by Mitsubishi WMIn 2005, the “Yamato Museum” was opened near the site of the former Kure shipyards where the battleships were built. The centerpiece of the museum, occupying a large section of the first floor, is an almost 90 foot long model of Yamato at an amazing 1:10 scale. For naval historians and those interested in learning about how such engineering genius and manufacturing acumen could result in such tragic circumstances, this museum is a must-see. Although a small fee is charged, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Kure Museum, located right across the street, is totally free. The two museums complement each other in dramatic fashion, and make for a wonderful day of discovering Japanese Traces of War.

The JMSDF Museum right across the street! It's free.

The JMSDF Museum right across the street! It’s free.

When you do visit, please take a moment or two to contemplate and honor Nakatani’s fate. Born in a different time, place, and circumstance, we all could have suffered the same, as many do today.

Kure 2015, Kure Maritime (Yamato) Museum, enjoying the Yamato museum together

Sources:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/supership/producer.html

WWII Photos used licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Should the Rising Sun Finally Set?


“When the sun rises, it rises for everyone.”  ~ Unknown

Apparently there is no limit to Cosplay in Japan

Apparently there is no limit to Cosplay in Japan

Who would ever wear a swastika T-shirt?  No one would who has a basic knowledge of recent history and a common sense of decency.  Although perverted by the Nazi party, the swastika has become permanently representative of a political regime that committed acts so horrible that their flag became the very symbol of crimes against humanity.  Put another way, the Nazi flag is not just offensive to a few, but has become to be one of the most recognizable insults to the very ideal of human rights that we in Western democracies (mostly, at least) hold centrally sacred.

There is no good Nazi, especially true for these G-Men.

There is no good Nazi, especially true for these G-Men.

But the peoples in those same Western democracies, for whatever reason, do not apply the same logical justice or even emotional reaction when it comes to the symbols of Germany’s fellow Axis power – and partner in crimes against humanity, Imperial Japan.  It’s hard to explain why it is so easy to find contemporarily popular images of the Rising Sun in Japanese pop culture, given the memory of Nazi German that persists elsewhere.  Don’t get me wrong, the Japanese people underwent a complete paradigm shift in their beliefs and culture at the end of World War II, and they are perhaps the most peaceful, non-violent society to which I have been exposed.

Nothing says "party" like dressing up as a Nazi.

Nothing says “party” like dressing up as a Nazi.

But think about it another way:  we in the West are taught clearly about the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party.  Reflect on just how many books, documentaries, movies and memorials are dedicated to the holocaust, and how much it remains in the forefront of our collective consciousness.  It’s an impossible reality to escape…unless you happen to be the President of Iran.  But how many of us were ever really educated about what happened to many Asian countries during the war in the Pacific, all of which occurred during the exact same timeframes that the Nazis were brutalizing Europe, Northern Africa, and Russia.  I ask you this:  how much do you really know and understand about Japan’s sexual slavery of hundreds of thousands of Asian “comfort women,” the Japanese government and military-sanctioned human experimentation program call maruta, and the “Rape of Nanking” where upwards of 300,000 Chinese civilians were tortured, murdered, and mutilated?  Perhaps if we all were better informed….  But more to the point, I think, things would be different if Japan, from the inside-out, was more ashamed of their decade of horrific war crimes, and if they outwardly acknowledge events of the 1930s and 1940s instead of constantly attempting to skirt the central issues, more and more poeple would all equate their barbarisms with those of Nazi Germany.  But what country wishes that upon themselves?

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The national flag of Japan, officially called Nisshōki (日章旗, “sun-mark flag”), consists of a white rectangular flag with a centered large red disc representing the sun.  It is, however, more commonly known as Hinomaru (日の丸, “circle of the sun”).  The flag has had a troubled past since the end of World War II, but in 1999, “The Law Regarding the National Flag and National Anthem” was passed which designated the flag Hinomaru and national anthem Kimigayo as Japan’s official national symbols.  Although no earlier legislation had specified a national flag, the sun-disc flag had already become the de facto national flag of Japan for many decades.  But this is really not the flag in question.

800px-Naval_Ensign_of_Japan_svg

Perhaps the most well-known variant of the Japanese flag is the sun disc with 16 red rays in a star formation, historically used by Japan’s military, but especially associated with the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy of the first half of the 20th century.  The ensign, known in Japanese as the Jyūrokujō-Kyokujitsu-ki (十六条旭日旗), was first adopted as the Japanese War flag in 1870, and remained in use until the end of World War in the Pacific.  This is the genesis of Japanese being referred to as the “Land of the Rising Sun.”

How can this connection ever be broken?

How can this connection ever be broken?

Use of the Hinomaru was severely restricted during the early years of the American occupation of Japan after World War II, but these were quickly relaxed.  The Jyūrokujō-Kyokujitsu-ki, however, took much longer to be re-accepted.  After falling out of use and favor (for a whole slew of really good reasons), modified versions were none-the-less re-adopted in 1954 with the re-establishment of military defense forces in Japan.  It is now used as the war flag and naval ensign of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), respectively.

Flag_of_JSDF

The modified flag currently in use by the Japanese Self Defense (Ground) Forces

The naval ensign (modified) is also incorporated into many commercial products and advertisements throughout Japan.  However, as the flag was used by the Japanese in the conquest and occupation of much of East Asia during the war, it is considered offensive in South Korea and China where it remains forever connected with Japanese militarism, imperialism, and brutalities.

usa-z-battle-flags-of-confederate-states

This situation, in my opinion, is very similar to our (America’s) struggle with the Confederate battle flag, popularly referred to as the “Stars and Bars.”  Much like the situation in Japan, while the flag remains associated with aggression, repression, racism, slavery and militarism, it was not the national flag of the break-away Confederate States of America (CSA), referred to by North and South alike collectively as “the rebels.”

We too have dealt with use of questionable symbols in our pop culture.

We too have dealt with use of questionable symbols in our pop culture.

Although the Rebel Flag is often displayed in the Deep South as a “proud” emblem of Southern heritage, it is almost impossible to escape its deep association with and as a shameful reminder of slavery and segregation.  For many years some Southern states flew the Confederate battle flag along with the U.S. and state flags over their statehouses, while others incorporated the provocative emblem into the design of their state flags.  As is to be expected by all sides, the display of the Confederate battle flag remains a highly controversial and emotional topic, owing to charged disagreements over the nature of its intended – and resulting symbolism (the road to hell is paved with good intentions).  And we in American have largely banned official government-sanctioned use of the flag.

At one time Japan did dream of war....

At one time Japan did dream of war….

Germans also has faced their own flag-inspired demons.  In particular, Germany maintains a keenly watchful eye over the public use of Swastikas and other nationalistic emblems to help forge against any reemergence of a militaristic or overly nationalistic regime.  In general, at least in so far as appearances go, Germans seem to be much more regretful and weary of their past war crimes, and have been proactive in attempting to make right of their many wrongs.  The same can’t be said or seen about Japan.

These are real pictures from a real marriage.  Wow.

This is a real picture from a real marriage. Wow.

Why is it then, that here in the West, symbols or banners that relate back to Nazi Germany or the Confederate States of America are subjects of public debate and legal sanctions, while Japan’s use of their imperial, militaristic symbols go, not unchallenged, but without change.  As recently as the Beijing Olympics, Japan was warned not to stir fervor over (horrific) war crimes in China committed by Japan by using sun-rayed flags, but the practice was common and the Japanese government unapologetic.  In fact, the Japanese Prime Minister recently officially stated in 2013 the government’s position on use and display of the flag as “no problem”.  No one would ever allow the hoisting and waving of a Swastika at an international sporting event in Europe!

I guess it's possible to make even Nazis...loveable.

I guess it’s possible to make even Nazis…loveable.

If humanity is to truly abide with the lofty notion of human rights being universally inalienable, we – all of us – must be true to these utopia ideals.  While personally I can see past the historic and ill-conceived use of such symbols and can appreciate them as part of history and even heritage, it is unfair to the collective human race that we selectively remember war crimes and atrocities in an unbalanced West versus East fashion.

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But then again, the flag that was the symbol of slavery on the high seas for a very long time before the American Civil War was not the Confederate battle or national flag.  It was, sadly, often the Stars and Stripes of the United States.

confederate_flag_erased

Now where does that leave us???