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    The Tragic Fate of the Yamato: A Suicide Mission Unfolds

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    On the morning of April 7, 1945, the Japanese battleship Yamato, a marvel of naval engineering and the Imperial Japanese Navy’s pride, embarked on what was essentially a suicide mission.

    Operation Ten-ichi-go, known as “Heaven Number One,” was the Imperial Japanese Navy’s desperate response to the U.S. invasion of Okinawa.

    Before the Yamato’s crew were fully briefed on their mission, Allied cryptographers had already deciphered Japan’s plan, determining the fate of the vessel and its escorts.

    The Yamato, at 65,000 tons displacement (72,000 tons fully loaded), was the largest battleship ever constructed. Boasting nine 18.1-inch guns capable of hurling a 3,200-pound shell over 22 miles, she was a symbol of Japan’s naval power.

    Commissioned just after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Yamato was a statement of intent from a navy that knew it could never outbuild the U.S. fleet but believed it could outmatch it in quality.

    The Yamato’s massive hull, stretching 863 feet and displacing 70,000 tons when fully loaded, contained a range of weapons that, while powerful, proved ineffective against the changing nature of naval combat.

    As the U.S. forces began their assault on Okinawa, the Yamato was prepared for her final voyage under the command of Vice Admiral Seiichi Ito. On March 29, Yamato was equipped with 1,170 shells for its main guns, 1,629 shells for its six 6.1-inch guns, 13,500 anti-aircraft shells, and 11.5 million rounds of machine-gun ammunition.

    Despite these substantial quantities, they were deemed insufficient for the upcoming challenges.

    The task force, consisting of the Yamato, light cruiser Yahagi, and eight destroyers, was instructed to attack U.S. forces and then beach themselves to fight to the last man.

    The mission, known as a “Surface Special Attack Force,” was an implicit recognition of its suicidal nature. Initially, when the orders were fully disclosed on April 5, the ship captains gathered on Yahagi displayed defiance, debating the pointlessness of launching an attack in daylight without air support.

    The Yamato and its fleet faced a massive aerial assault from almost 400 American planes. Its 1945 arsenal of over 150 anti-aircraft guns retaliated, yet failed to halt the barrage of bombs and torpedoes. Despite its grand appearance adorned with symbols of honor like the “Kikusui” crest, the battleship was not impervious. Most torpedoes hit below its waterline at the bow and stern, exploiting its weakest armor points.

    Within two hours, Yamato took 12 bomb and seven torpedo hits. Despite her 1,150 watertight compartments, the flooding was uncontrollable, and the order was given to abandon ship.

    By the afternoon of April 7, 1945, the battleship was capsized, and a series of massive explosions ensued, ultimately cleaving the ship in two and sealing her tragic demise. The impact of the loss was immense: 2,747 men of her crew perished, with only 269 survivors.

    1/10 battleship yamato” by Takashi H is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The battleship, once the pinnacle of naval power, was surpassed by the might of naval aviation. Its demise signified the conclusion of an era dominated by battleships and served as a stark reminder of the unstoppable progress of military technology.

    The formidable Yamato, boasting a massive hull, enormous guns, and thick armor, proved no match for the tactical and technological superiority of the Allied air forces.

    Relevant articles:
    Sinking the Supership, PBS
    Yamato’s Final Voyage (non-Flash), PBS
    3: Death of Battleship Yamato, Navy (.mil), Apr 3, 2020

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