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Hunting Battleship Nagato : Air Raid on Yokosuka : 18 July 1945

Hunting Battleship Nagato : Air Raid on Yokosuka : 18 July 1945

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By July 1945, what was left of the Imperial Japanese Navy was immobilized in Japanese ports due to lack of fuel and critical maintenance. Japanese ships contributed to the anti-aircraft defenses of several major bases, several of which, especially the main naval base at Kure, were already heavily defended by shore-based anti-aircraft weapons, making air attacks on the bases a formidable prospect.

Although some argued that attacking the ships was unnecessary as the Japanese navy was a spent force, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz wanted them destroyed, and Admiral William Halsey carried out his orders.

Following strikes by Task Force 38 carrier aircraft in the Tokyo area on 10 July, photo-reconnaissance analysis revealed Japanese battleship Nagato deep in a cove at Yokosuka. 

Nagato was the flagship of the commander-in-chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. (There is a meticulously accurate full-scale replica of Nagato in the opening scene of the 1970 Pearl Harbor movie Tora! Tora! Tora! The super-battleship Yamato was commissioned on 16 December 1941 and Yamamoto shifted his flag to her in February 1942.)

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By the spring of 1945, Nagato had been relegated to a floating coastal defense battery to defend against landings in Sagami Wan and Tokyo Bay. Most of her anti-aircraft weapons were removed and placed on high hills around the ship. Her secondary battery was also removed and dispersed to be used in an anti-landing role at Yokosuka. Moreover, she was anchored in water that was too shallow for torpedoes. In addition, she was heavily camouflaged with netting to include potted pine trees and other plants.

Commencing about 1540 on 18 July, about 100 SB2C Helldiver dive-bombers from carriers Essex (CV-9), Yorktown (CV-10), Randolph (CV-15) and Shangri-La (CV-38) attacked the Nagato, followed by F6F Hellcats from Belleau Wood (CVL-24). In order to maximize underwater hull damage, the dive-bombers had orders to aim for near misses. The raid was originally scheduled for 0400, but was delayed due to bad weather.

Three waves of 592 aircraft struck Yokosuka and other targets toward Tokyo, led by 62 TBM Avengers, each armed with four 500-pound bombs, which attacked the 154 heavy anti-aircraft guns and 225 machine guns around Yokosuka harbor.

Ise was Hyuga's Sister
Ise was Hyuga‘s Sister,” watercolor on paper, Standish Backus, 1946. Wreck of the Japanese battleship-carrier Ise, Kure, Japan (88-186-AL).

At 1540, 60 Helldivers dove on Nagato, led by planes from Yorktown and Randolph. At 1552, Nagato took a direct hit by a 500-pound bomb, which killed her commanding officer, Rear Admiral Miki Otsuka, along with the executive officer, the radar officer, and 12 other sailors. An ensign briefly assumed command until a severely burned commander (the main battery gunnery officer) took charge. Shortly afterward, another bomb hit the aft shelter deck and exploded at the base of the No. 3 16-inch gun turret, killing about 25 men and destroying four 25-mm anti-aircraft gun mounts.

Later, a 5-inch rocket hit the fantail (some accounts say it was an 11.75-inch “Tiny Tim” rocket). It was a dud and passed out the starboard side. The converted minesweeper Harashima Maru was alongside Nagato and was blown in two. Despite the intensity of the attack with 270 tons of bombs, Nagato remained afloat. She would finally capsize and sink on 29 July 1946 only after being severely damaged by the second atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll on 24 July (the first test on 1 July only caused moderate damage).

The attack on Yokusuka ended at about 1610. The old (a 1905 Battle of Tsushima veteran) armored cruiser Kasuga, the incomplete small destroyer Yaezakura, and submarine I-372 were sunk. The pre-dreadnaught battleship Fuji (also a Tsushima veteran, used as a training vessel) and the obsolete destroyer Yakaze (used as a target-control vessel) were damaged.

U.S. losses in the attack were 14 aircraft and 18 aircrewmen, most lost in the intense anti-aircraft fire at Yokosuka. Although the results of the raid were a disappointment, what was not known at the time was that the bomb that destroyed Nagato’s bridge hit the spot where Admiral Yamamoto had given the order to attack Pearl Harbor.

Photo #: 80-G-374671  Japanese battleship Nagato
Japanese battleship Nagato, moored off the Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, 9 September 1945 (80-G-374671). 

Written by US Navy Admiral Sam Cox

Hunting Battleship Nagato : Air Raid on Yokosuka : 18 July 1945

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Hunting Battleship Nagato : Air Raid on Yokosuka : 18 July 1945