Yamato was the lead ship of her class of "heavy-battleships", designed by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1937. The class of battleship was designed to be capable of engaging multiple enemy targets, as a method of compensating for Japan's incapability to industrially compete with the United States Navy. With the vessels of the Yamato class displacing over 70,000 tons each, it was hoped that the firepower of the constructed battleships could offset American industrial power.
The keel of Yamato was laid down at Kure Naval Arsenal on 4 November 1937, in a specially designed dockyard. Throughout construction, large canvases prevented observation of the construction from elsewhere in the Kure Dockyards. Due to the size of the vessel, upgraded gantry cranes—each capable of lifting 150 and 350 tonnes—had to be designed and built for use during construction. Yamato was launched 8 August 1940, with Captain (later Vice Admiral) Miyazato Shutoku in command.
Yamato's main battery consisted of nine 18.1 inch 40 cm/45 Type 94 naval guns—the largest caliber of naval artillery ever fitted to a warship. Each gun was 21.13 metres (69.3 ft) long, weighed 147.3 metric tons (162.4 short tons), and was capable of firing high-explosive or armour-piercing shells 42.0 kilometres (26.1 mi). Her secondary battery comprised twelve 6.1-inch (15 cm) guns mounted in four triple turrets (one forward, one aft, two midships), and twelve 5-inch (13 cm) guns in six double-turrets (three on each side amidships). In addition, Yamato carried twenty-four 1-inch (2.5 cm) anti-aircraft guns, primarily mounted amidships. When refitted in 1944, the secondary battery configuration was changed to six 6.1-inch (15 cm) guns, twenty-four 5-inch (13 cm) guns, and one hundred and sixty-two 1-inch (2.5 cm) antiaircraft guns, in preparation for naval engagements in the South Pacific.
1942: Trials and Initial Operations
On 16 December 1941, Yamato was officially commissioned at Kure, with Captain (later Vice Admiral) Takayanagi Gihachi in overall command of the ship; she joined fellow battleships Nagato and Mutsu in the 1st Battleship Division on the same day. On 12 February 1942, Yamato became the flagship of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's Combined Fleet. Following extensive sea trials and war-games, Yamato was deemed fully operational and serviceable on 27 May 1942, and was assigned to Yamamoto's Main Battleship force for the upcoming Battle of Midway. During the pivotal battle, Yamamoto exercised overall command of the Japanese assault force from Yamato's bridge. Following the disastrous defeat of Japan's primary carrier force (four fleet carriers and 332 aircraft destroyed), Yamato and the main battleship force withdrew to Hashirajima.
On 17 August 1942, Yamato departed Kure for Truk. Eleven days later, the submarine USS Flying Fish spotted Yamato, firing four torpedoes at the battleship. No hits were scored, and Yamato entered Truk later in the day. Throughout the American naval campaign at Guadalcanal, Yamato remained at Truk, as her high fuel consumption rates prevented feasible use in the Solomon Islands Campaign. In December 1942, Captain (later Rear-Admiral) Matsuda Chiaki was assigned to command of Yamato.
1943: Movement between bases
On 11 February 1943, Musashi replaced Yamato as flagship of the Combined Fleet. Yamato remained at Truk until May 1943, when it departed first for Yokosuka, and then for Kure. For nine days, Yamato was drydocked for both inspection and general repairs. Yamato was again drydocked in July, with her antiaircraft suite, secondary-turret armour, and rudder controls undergoing significant refitting and upgrades. In August, Yamato returned to Truk, joining a large Japanese Task Force in response to American raids on Tarawa and Makin atolls. In November 1943, Yamato joined a larger task-force—six battleships, three carriers, and eleven cruisers—in response to American airstrikes on Wake Island. On both occasions, no contact was made with American forces, and the fleet retired to Truk.
In November 1943, the decision was made to use Yamato and Musashi as transport vessels, due to their extensive storage capacity and armour protection. On 23 December, while transporting troops and equipment to the Admiralty Islands, Yamato and her taskgroup were intercepted by the submarine USS SkateTemplate:WP Ships USS instances. Skate fired a spread of four torpedoes at Yamato, with two striking on the starboard side near Turret #3. Severe failure of the armoured belt flooded the upper magazine of the rear turret, and Yamato was forced to retire to Truk for emergency repairs.
Line Drawing of Yamato as she appeared in 1944–1945.
On 16 January 1944, Yamato arrived at Kure for repairs, and was drydocked until 3 February 1944. While drydocked, Captain Morishita Nobuei—former Captain of the battleship Haruna—assumed command of Yamato. On 25 February, both Yamato and Musashi were reassigned from the 1st Battleship Division to the Second Fleet. Yamato was again drydocked for extensive upgrading of radar and antiaircraft systems throughout March 1944, with a final AA suite of one hundred sixty-two 1-inch (25 mm) antiaircraft guns and twenty-four 5-inch (13 cm) medium guns. The radar suite was also upgraded to include infrared identification systems, aircraft-search and gunnery-control radar systems. Following a short transport mission to the South Pacific in April, Yamato departed for Lingga alongside Jisaburo Ozawa's Mobile Fleet. In early June 1944, Yamato and Musashi departed as troop transports for Biak, with the intention of reinforcing both the garrison and naval defenses of the island. When word reached Ozawa's headquarters of American carrier attacks on the Mariana Islands, the mission was aborted.
From 19–23 June 1944, Yamato escorted forces of Ozawa's Mobile Fleet during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, dubbed by American pilots as "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot". Japanese aircraft losses exceeded 400, while three aircraft carriers were lost to submarines and airstrikes. Yamato's only major engagement throughout the operation was mistakingly opening fire on returning Japanese aircraft. Following the battle, Yamato and the Mobile Fleet withdrew to Brunei to refuel and rearm. Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, 24 October 1944. Yamato is hit by a bomb near her forward 460 mm gun turret during attacks by American carrier aircraft
From 22–25 October 1944, Yamato joined Admiral Takeo Kurita's Centre force in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement in history. During the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, Yamato was hit with three armour-piercing bombs from aircraft of the USS EssexTemplate:WP Ships USS instances, while her sister-ship Musashi—having been hit with seventeen torpedoes and nineteen bombs—sank, forcing Kurita to transfer his flag to Yamato. On the evening of 24 October, Kurita's Centre Force navigated the San Bernardino Strait, attacking a small force of escort carriers and destroyers shortly after dawn. In the initial stages of the Battle off Samar, Yamato engaged enemy surface forces for the first time, confirming hits on an escort carrier, a destroyer, and a destroyer escort. When, after confirming primary battery hits on USS Gambier Bay, a spread of American torpedoes trailed towards Yamato, the battleship was forced to withdraw from the fighting, and was unable to rejoin the battle.
Following the engagement off Samar, Yamato and the remainder of Force A returned to Brunei. On 15 November 1944, the 1st Battleship Division was disbanded, and Yamato became the flagship of the Second Fleet. On 21 November, while transiting the East China Sea in a withdrawal to Kure Naval Base, Yamato's battlegroup was attacked by the submarine USS SealionTemplate:WP Ships USS instances, with the battleship Kongo and several destroyers lost. Upon returning to Kure, Yamato was immediately drydocked for repairs and antiaircraft upgrades, with several older antiaircraft guns being replaced. On 25 November, Captain Aruga Kosaku was named commander of Yamato.
1945: Final Operations and Sinking
On 1 January 1945, Yamato, Haruna and Nagato were all transferred to the newly reactivated 1st Battleship Division; Yamato left drydock two days later. When the 1st Battleship Division was deactivated once again on 10 February, Yamato was reassigned to the 1st Carrier Division. On 19 March 1945 Yamato came under heavy attack when American carrier aircraft from EnterpriseTemplate:WP Ships USS instances, YorktownTemplate:WP Ships USS instances and IntrepidTemplate:WP Ships USS instances raided the major naval base of Kure where she was docked. Damage to the battleship, however, was light, due in part to a stalwart defense of the base by elite Japanese fighter pilots flying Kawanishi N1K "George" fighters; these fighters were led by the famed Minoru Genda, who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. On 29 March, Yamato took on a full stock of ammunition, in preparation for combat off Okinawa in Operation Ten-Go. The magazines of the sinking Yamato explode
Operation Ten-Go was a deliberate suicide attack against American forces off Okinawa by Yamato and nine escorts, beginning on 6 April 1945. Embarking from Kure, Yamato was to beach herself near Okinawa, and act as an unsinkable gun-emplacement—bombarding American forces on Okinawa with her formidable 18.1 inch heavy-guns. Yamato carried only enough fuel to reach Okinawa, as the fuel stocks available were insufficient to provide enough fuel to reach Okinawa and return. While navigating the Bungo Strait, Yamato and her escorts were spotted by the American submarines ThreadfinTemplate:WP Ships USS instances and HacklebackTemplate:WP Ships USS instances, both of which notified Task Force 58 of Yamato's position.
At 12:32 on 7 April 1945, Yamato was attacked by a first wave of 280 aircraft from Task Force 58, taking three hits (two bombs, one torpedo). By 14:00, two of Yamato's escorts had been sunk. Shortly afterwards, a second strike of 100 aircraft attacked Yamato and her remaining escorts. At 14:23, having taken 10 torpedo and 7 bomb hits, Yamato's forward ammunition magazines detonated. The explosion—over four miles high—was seen 100 miles (160 km) away on Kyushu. 2,498 of the 2,700 crew members on Yamato were lost, including Admiral Seiichi Itō.