The remains of Force A, with battleships Yamato, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna, cruisers and destroyers proceeded out of the Sibuyan Sea that night, towards the open ocean and the Philippine Sea. Yamato had sustained three bomb hits, but they caused minimal damage. At the time of the sinking of Musashi, Force A was midway down the west coast of the island of Burias, and by 9:00pm they were rounding the northern tip of the island of Ticao and headed south towards the entrance of the San Bernardino Strait. Force A passed through that strait in single file at about midnight.
Yamato, Vice Admiral Kurita’s flagship, then entered the Philippine Sea in the early hours, of 25 October 1944, steaming in a easterly direction. Force A changed course to the south, along the eastern coast of the island of Samar, towards Leyte Gulf and the American invasion force landing there. Kurita’s intention was to attack the American amphibious shipping with his battleships and cruisers.
At 5:23am Yamato’s radar picked up ships further to the south, in the path of Force A’s advance, near the south-eastern end of the island of Samar. By 5:45am Force A sighted ships on the horizon, identified them as six small aircraft carriers, with cruisers and destroyers. Yamato immediately opened fire on these ships, but the remainder of Force A was not able to open fire until they were within range (which was at 5:58am). This was the beginning of what was to be called the Battle off Samar. The actual task force under attack by Force A was six escort carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts, and as Yamato and Force A fired at the American carriers, the US Navy destroyers and DEs put up a smoke screen to help defend their carriers. Yamato launched some of her observation aircraft to help spot her fire upon the US carriers, and about the same time aircraft from the US escort carriers, armed with whatever weapons were to hand, made diversionary attacks on Force A.
About 6:55am American destroyers charged out of the smoke screen towards the Japanese force, launching a torpedo attack. The Japanese battleships concentrated their fire on the threat posed by the American destroyers, while the Japanese cruisers continued to fire at the carriers. The US torpedo attack was partially successful, even though the only hit obtained was on the heavy cruiser Kumano, putting her out of action and forcing her to retire towards the San Bernardino Strait. However, torpedo wakes were spotted by the battleships, causing them to scatter, with Yamato and Nagato turning north in an attempt to outrun them, putting them out of the battle area. Kongo and Haruna remained, but were kept busy dodging torpedo wakes and attacking aircraft. At 7:30am the IJN heavy cruiser Suzuya was hit and disabled by near misses from bombs. Meanwhile, the American escort carriers were able to hide in rain squalls in their area.
The rain squalls came to an end about 8:00am and the Japanese assault on the USN carriers and escorts recommenced. The IJN heavy cruiser Haguro led Chokai, Chikuma and Tone south in an attempt to catch the American escort carriers, while Yamato, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna battled the escorting destroyers. Yamato fired on a charging US destroyer, which disappeared in a cloud of smoke, and Kongo dealt like-wise with another destroyer. The battle-ships then turned their attention to the escort carriers but, of hundreds of rounds expended, only a few hits were obtained. In this one-sided running battle between Japanese big-gun surface ships and the American escort carriers and destroyers, the Americans managed to fend off near-certain annihilation by the sacrifice of the destroyers, which attacked with torpedoes several times, causing the Japanese battle force to scatter and giving the carriers time to escape. The Japanese battleships and cruisers were able to sink only three American destroyers and one escort carrier. The Americans did have the advantage of carrier aircraft to attack the Japanese force, and these caused significant losses, sinking the heavy cruisers Suzuya, Chokai and Chikuma. Vice Admiral Kurita ordered Force A to reverse course several times, which enabled the American escort carriers to escape to the south towards Leyte Gulf. At about 12:30pm American carrier aircraft attacked Force A, which turned north to evade them and retreat. Yamato was undamaged in that engagement, but Nagato was hit by one bomb on the foredeck (with minor damage), Kongo was damaged by several near misses, but Haruna was unscathed. At 4:55pm, Force A was again attacked by US carrier aircraft, but not damaged.
About 9:00pm on 25 October 1944 Vice Admiral Kurita’s fleet, lead by Yamato, entered the San Bernardino Strait, headed west. All that remained of the once powerful Force A were the battleships Yamato, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna, the heavy cruisers Haguro and Tone, and destroyers. During the night, Force A was joined by the badly damaged heavy cruisers Kumano and Myoko as they limped westward, back through the Sibuyan Sea.
Dawn on 26 October 1944 found Kurita headed south through the Tablas Strait, east of the island of Mindoro. At about 8:00am the exhausted Japanese task force was attacked by US Navy carrier aircraft for about one hour. Yamato was hit by two bombs with only minor damage, but the light cruiser Noshiro was sunk. Several other warships were slightly damaged by near misses, but they managed to regroup and continue south. At 10:40am, approximately 30 USAAF B-24 bombers made a high-level attack. No direct hits were scored, but there was damage to Haruna from several near misses. On 27 October in the Palawan Passage the battleships refuelled several destroyers running low on fuel. Also on that day, Force A buried their dead at sea (29 on Yamato), and following day arrived back at Brunei Bay.
Yamato and the other warships refuelled upon their arrival, but were unable to replenish their ammunition until 6 November, when a carrier and light cruiser arrived from Japan carrying those supplies. During that time minor repairs were carried out aboard Yamato and the other warships present. On 8 November the battleships Yamato, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna put to sea for four days to avoid air attacks on Brunei Bay. Battleship Division One was disbanded on the 15th and Yamato became flagship of the IJN Second Fleet.
On 16 November Yamato, in company with Nagato, Kongo, the light cruiser Yahagi and destroyers, sailed from Brunei Bay for Japan, but en route the task force was ambushed by the American submarine Sealion. At 3:00am on 21 November, in the Formosa Strait, the American submarine fired first the six bow tubes, and after turning, the four stern tubes at the IJN task force. Three or four torpedoes struck Kongo and one hit a destroyer, which sank immediately. Kongo sheered out of line and took on a severe list; she eventually sank at about 5:30am, just north of Formosa. Yamato and the rest of the task force safely reached Japan, entering the Kure Navy Yard on 23 November 1944.
Yamato went into the dry dock at the yard two days later for a very much needed repair and refit. Bomb damage to her super-structure and fore deck was repaired and all but two of the single 25mm AA mounts were removed and replaced with nine triple 25mm AA mounts, giving her a final outfit of 152 of these light AA guns. On 23 December Vice Admiral Ito would assume command of the Second Fleet and on 1 January 1945 Yamato, Nagato and Haruna were assigned to the reactivated Battleship Division One, Second Fleet. By 3 January Yamato had been undocked and the repairs and refit were complete by 15 January. She departed Kure for Hashirajima Anchoring Area, located 30–40km south of the naval base at Kure.
On 10 February 1945 BatDiv 1 and the Second Fleet were disbanded and Yamato was assigned to Carrier Division 1. Perhaps indicative of the nervous state of the ship’s crew, on 13 March while still sitting at the Hashirajima Anchorage, Yamato accidentally fired on Japanese aircraft overhead. Four days later she returned to Kure Navy Yard and on the 19th a massive air raid by US Navy carrier aircraft was launched against the yard and the warships in Kure Bay. Yamato steamed out to the Inland Sea and was hit by one small bomb on her superstructure. On 28 March the majority of the fleet, including Yamato, was ordered to Sasebo Navy Yard on the north-western coast of Kyushu, but was recalled the same day as US Navy carrier aircraft raided southern Kyushu. At this point the Imperial Japanese Navy planned to anchor its remaining warships in remote locations to make it more difficult for the Americans to find them.
On 3 April 1945 Admiral Ito received new orders: Yamato, the light cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers were to undertake a ‘Kamikaze’ mission against the American invasion forces attacking Okinawa, a mere 400 miles to the south-west of Kyushu. The next day was spent on AA gunnery practice, and on the 5th a detailed planning meeting took place aboard Yamato for her final mission as flagship of the Surface Special Attack Unit. This mission was named ‘Ten-Ichi-Go’, which translated literally meant ‘Heaven Number One.’ The mission was to steam undetected to the north-west of Okinawa and make a high speed run in on the American invasion forces and destroy as many enemy vessels as possible. At that time, the task force was topped up with almost all the remaining fuel oil the IJN could muster – but not enough for a round trip.
On 6 April 1945 Yamato and the other warships of the Surface Special Attack Unit departed for their final mission, sailing at 3:30pm. The Japanese task force was spotted by the American submarine Threadfin at about 9:30pm, which reported the sighting to the US Navy forward head-quarters on Guam. During the night Yamato and the task force passed the southern end of Kyushu and headed west into the East China Sea. The Japanese task force had some air cover, based on Kyushu, but it was sporadic at best. About 8:30am on the 7th the IJN task force was spotted by an American search aircraft from the carrier Essex, and later by more American aircraft. By 11:30am small groups of aircraft had gathered and were circling above IJN task force, waiting for more to join.
The attack upon Yamato and her task force finally began at around 12:30pm and lasted about twenty minutes. This first wave comprised 280 aircraft from nine US Navy aircraft carriers, and almost immediatel, a destroyer was sunk, while Yamato’s bridge was strafed. She was then hit by two bombs, amidships and on the aftermost secondary 6in turret. Yamato was hit by two more bombs in the same vicinity, causing severe damage to her after superstructure and the 6in magazine, and producing a fierce fire in this area. Torpedoes began to strike the ship from port – a lesson learned by the Americans in their attack upon her sister-ship Musashi was that the massive breadth of the Yamato class battleships required all torpedo hits to be on one side only; hits on the other side merely saved the Japanese crew the task of counter-flooding. In this first wave of attacks Yamato took four torpedo hits on the port side, causing about 3000 tons of flooding, initially resulting a 6-degree list, but soon corrected to about 1 or 2 degrees. At the same time strafing of the superstructure by fighter aircraft also reduced the number of operational 25mm mounts. During this first wave of attacks, the light cruiser Yahagi was hit by one torpedo and went dead in the water.
The second phase began at 1:00pm, and during this attack American bombers launched their torpedoes from many directions, ensuring multiple hits. Yamato was hit by three or four torpedoes to port and one to starboard. The portside hits caused the ship to take on a severe list of 15 to 18 degrees, but the starboard hit in effect produced counter-flooding that reduced the list to 10 degrees. Yamato was in a very poor state by that time, because with a list at 10 degrees or more she could not use her main batteries, which fired special ‘shotgun’ AA rounds, against the swarms of American aircraft. There were several bomb hits, decimating more of the AA gun crews stationed in the open mounts, highlighting one of the shortcomings of the Yamato class design – the AA mounts were grouped so closely together that one large bomb hit knocked out several at a time.
Within 5 or 10 minutes of the second attack ending, at 1:45pm the third wave of US Navy aircraft descended upon the Yamato and the IJN task force. This time Yamato was hit by three large bombs amidships, which blew holes in her main deck and even blasted several of the shielded deck-edge 25mm AA mounts right off the ship and into the ocean. Another bomb hit the foredeck, severing the port anchor chain, with the 15-ton main anchor and chain sinking to the bottom of the sea. There were also numerous near misses that sprang leaks in the hull plating and caused significant interior damage due to concussion. Yamato was hit by four torpedoes during this attack that sealed her fate. Three of them were on the port side, with the fourth on the starboard side. Many of the firerooms and machinery spaces were holed and flooded, reducing Yamato’s speed to a mere 10 knots, running on one shaft. Both the main and the auxiliary rudders were out of action and in a hard-over position to port. She was on fire in the area of the after superstructure and smoking heavily, steaming in a large slow circle, out of control.
In the meantime, the other warships of the IJN Surface Special Attack Unit were taking a beating. The light cruiser Yahagi was already dead in the water from a torpedo hit in the first wave, but was hit by a total of twelve bombs and six additional torpedoes by the end of the third wave of attacks. Yahagi sank rapidly at 2:05pm on 7 April 1945, in position 30°40’ North by 128°03’ East. By the end of the attacks, four of the original eight destroyers in the Surface Special Attack Unit had also been sunk. The first, Asashimo at position 31°00’ North by 128°00’ East, with Hamakaze and Isokaze together at position 30°40’ North by 128°03’ East, very near to the light cruiser Yahagi. The destroyer Kasumi was sunk at 30°57’ North by 127°57’ East. The survivors, the damaged destroyers Suzutsuki Hatsushimo, Yukikaze, and Fuyuzuki, all managed to rescue survivors and return to Japan.
The Yamato, however, was doomed, and the end was near. At about 2:15pm the after magazine temperature warning lights were flashing on the bridge, but that magazine could not be flooded because of the complete loss of power in the battleship by 2:20pm. The list was so severe by then that loose objects and damaged AA gun mounts began to topple into the sea. At 2:23pm Yamato rapidly capsized to port, so much so that many crewmen were still below decks, as there was not an ‘abandon ship’ order given. As the massive and once mighty battleship rolled over to about 120 degrees, her magazines erupted into one of the most massive explosions ever recorded. There was a brilliant flash, followed by a large mushroom cloud of smoke, rising thousands of feet into the air. This was seen as far as 125 miles away. When the smoke cleared, nothing was left. When Yamato set out on this last mission, she had a crew of about 3332 men, of whom only 279 were rescued by the four remaining destroyers. Admiral Ito was not among them. She sank at 30°22’ North by 128°04’ East, in the East China Sea, not half-way to her intended destination.
In total, during all of the attacks over a two-hour period, the Yamato was hit by thirteen torpedoes (eleven to port and one to starboard), eight bombs, and numerous near miss bombs that did great shock damage. The destruction was so massive, and the blows so rapid and repetitive, that the damage-control parties had little chance to counter the flooding. In fact, many of these teams were wiped out by the intense pounding Yamato was taking. Because of the close proximity of the light AA mounts, grouped tightly around the superstructure, bomb hits and strafing were very effective in knocking them out, quickly eroding the ship’s defensive capacity. It was at this time that what was once the third largest navy in the world, steadily decimated throughout the Pacific War, ceased to exist as a viable fighting force. In sharp contrast, the American forces deployed in this attack – approximately 386 carrier-based aircraft of 180 fighters, 75 dive bombers, and 131 torpedo bombers – lost 10 aircraft and 12 air crewmen.
Japan’s most able naval designers, engineer Hiraga and Captain Fujimoto, made major contributions to the design of the class, which was generally recognised as a highly successful and effective one despite going beyond all previous bounds of size. However, none of the Yamato class achieved results comparable to their size, expense and power. Musashi was sunk by aerial bombs and torpedoes. The third ship, Shinano, was converted while building to a carrier. Newly completed, it was sunk by torpedoes from the US submarine Archerfish on 29 November 1944. Construction of the fourth ship, never named (No.111), was suspended in November 1941 when it was about 30 per cent completed, and finally abandoned in September 1942. A fifth had been envisaged but no construction order was placed.
ANTI-AIRCRAFT ALTERATIONS TO THE YAMATO CLASS
Yamato July 1943 (total: 12 x 5in + 36 x 25mm)
Four 25mm triple open mounts added on weather deck abreast superstructure
Yamato April 1944 (total: 24 x 5in + 98 x 25mm)
Six 5in twin open mounts added on superstructure
Twelve 25mm triple enclosed mounts added on superstructure and weather deck
Twenty-six 25mm single open mounts added on weather deck
Musashi April 1944 (total: 12 x 5in + 115 x 25mm)
Eighteen 25mm triple open mounts added on superstructure and weather deck
Twenty-five 25mm single open mounts added on weather deck
Yamato July 1944 (total: 24 x 5in + 113 x 25mm)
Five 25mm triple open mounts added
Musashi July 1944 (total: 12 x 5in + 130 x 25mm)
Five 25mm triple open mounts on weather deck
Yamato March 1945 (total: 24 x 5in + 152 x 25mm)
Six 25mm triple enclosed mounts added on weather deck
Fifteen 25mm triple open mounts added on superstructure
Twenty-four 25mm single open mounts removed from weather deck