YAMATO, IJN Imperial Japanese Navy super battleship, sister ship of the IJN Musashi and the largest battleship ever floated. Its 18-inch guns outranged every other warship in the world, while its name bore reverential meaning in Japan. But this was not a battleship war, and the great ship never lived up to its promise. Yamato fought at Leyte Gulf, where it was bombed from the air but not sunk. After the loss of Musashi, the Yamato repaired to Japan. It reemerged during the Battle of the East China Sea as the centerpiece of a suicide naval squadron making a one-way sortie to Okinawa . It was escorted by a cruiser and eight destroyers. The plan was to beach Yamato, then use its huge guns to ravage the invasion fleet and the landing zones. Instead, 380 U. S. carrier-based aircraft from TF 58 intercepted the squadron on April 7, 1945, as it steamed at high speed toward Okinawa, and fi re, death, and destruction. Without air cover, the exposed Yamato was struck repeatedly by overwhelming dive bomber and torpedo attacks. The lone cruiser and four of the destroyers of the Ten-Go sortie were also sunk. Out of IJN Yamato’s crew of 3,332, only 269 men survived.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and the Japanese penchant for using shock tactics against the invasion force was exemplified in a final operational sortie for the giant battleship Yamato. Vice-Admiral Seiichi Ito was given command of what was always likely to be a suicide mission – one designed to take out as many of the Allied fleet as he could train his guns on before being overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers. On 6 April, Ito left the naval base at Tokuyama on the Yamato accompanied by a light cruiser and eight destroyers. His task force was spotted by a B-29 reconnaissance plane shortly thereafter and twice more after emerging from the Bungo-suido (Bungo Channel) by two American submarines. Further sightings were made by flying boats and reconnaissance planes from two carrier groups belonging to TF 58 situated south of Amami-Ō-Shima as Ito’s force steamed southwest of Kyu-shu- towards Okinawa. At 1000 hours 280 aircraft set off from TG 58.1 and TG 58.3 to attack the oncoming ships. They succeeded in sinking the light cruiser Yahagi and one of the destroyers Hamakaze and in torpedoing and getting two bomb hits upon the centrepiece of Ito’s force the Yamato. Wounded, but not mortally so, the superbattleship ploughed on and Mitscher was forced to send off another 106 aircraft to finish off the task force in the mid-afternoon. This time three more destroyers perished (Asashimo, Isokaze and Kasumi) and the Yamato, after being torpedoed nine more times and receiving three bomb hits, sank too with the loss of all 2,498 officers and crew on board. All four remaining destroyers limped home. Ito’s sortie had been an expensive exercise of waste and futility. It had cost the lives of 3,665 sailors and had destroyed six perfectly good warships including the largest remaining capital ship ever built. If ever an operation was misguided this was it. Kamikaze and ohka pilots at least set out with an opportunity of securing a glorious and fiery end to their lives, but it is difficult to see how those on board the Yamato and the other warships accompanying her on this one-way trip to oblivion were given even the briefest glimmer of such a chance. Apart from the ten US carrier aircraft that were lost in these two sets of attacks, the Allied invasion fleet was not affected by this extravagant and hopeless manoeuvre.