Death of the Japanese Fleet – Part V

Death of the Japanese Fleet – continued

Operation Kikusui

Planes of the fast carrier force did much damage in Japanese waters and to shore installations now.

On March 19th, carrier Ryuho was hit so hard in a raid on Kure by planes of the task force that she was in-operational for the rest of the war.

Seeing such damage, and knowing what was happening, that the Japanese navy was being swallowed inch by inch, Admiral Toyoda and the high command planned Operation Kikusui, named for the 14th century Japanese patriot Masashige Kusunoki, who led his soldiers to certain death in the battle of Minatogawa so that Japan’s spirit might survive.

Kikusui was to be a series of operations, ten of them in all, largely involving the Kamikazes at Okinawa, where the Americans were expected to land next. But there was a new coordination; the navy would send its fairest flowers out to fight this time on a suicide mission similar to tat of the Kamikazes. It was planned that way.

The Americans did land on Okinawa on April 1. The naval force consisted of so many ships it would be almost too much to have expected the Japanese to believe them if thy saw them. The gunfire and covering force of big ships alone consisted of 10 battleships, 11 heavy cruisers, and a fleet of destroyers. The escort carriers numbered 14, with a swarm of destroyers, and there were no fewer than 17 fleet carriers and light carriers, with all the new battleships and the cruisers and the scores of destroyers. This was just to defend the landing forces against whatever the Japanese might put up.

What the Japanese proposed to put up were the 700 airplanes they had available for attack on the american forces right the, and the strength of the fleet in nland waters.

On paper the Japanese fleet was still a formidable weapon. As of the first few months of 1945, the americans thougt it consisted of 4 battleships and the carriers Unryu (sunk), Amagi, Katsuragi, and Ryuho.

What the Japanese acually did have in home waters were the battleship Haruna, the battlesip – carriers Ise, Hyuga, the battleship Nagato, and the superbattleship Yamato. The carrier Amagi was afloat, and so were Katsuragi and Hosho.

Of the cruisers there were Aoba and Ashigara, Tone, Kitagami, Yahagi, and Oyoda, Sakawa and Kashima.

Admiral Toyoda and his staff had placed Yamato, Yahagi, and 8 destroyers in a command unit, the Second Fleet. And on April5, after the Americans had landed at Okinawa, the Japanese were sending a battleship and cruiser and 8 destroyers on a suicide mission.

The Japanese naval reasoning is very specious here, but the idea generally was to attract the enemy air to the Yamato, as flies to honey, and thus take the attention off the island so the proud army defenders could counterattack during this time and wipe the Americans off Okinawa.

When the operational orders were read to the skippers of the 10 ships, only the captain of Yamato failed to object. The others all had the same idea: why destroy a fleet and its men simply for such an object?

This operation does not offer us a proper place to die,” objected Capt. Kiichi Shintani. “A more fitting place will present itself when we can engage the enemy in hand to hand combat as we oppose his invasion of the homeland. The proposed plan is idiocy!”

Another captain suggested that Combined Fleet staff come out of its air raid shelter at Hiyoshi and fight the battle itself – which was about as close to mutinous talk as one ever heard in the Imperial navy, particularly when voiced in front of the chief of staff of Combined Fleet, as the captain’s suggestion had been.

When the word was out, the seamen aboard the ships began sharpening their bayonets, for they had been told that if they once got among the American ships and did their job, then they might get ashore and join the army fighting for the defense of the homeland. They did not know that they would first have to swim through some 1,200 American ships. That night the crew got sake and salty biscuits called sembes, and celebrated the coming heroic operation.

That night they also jettisoned everyting burnable and not needed on this last voyage of the fleet: wooden objects, paints, canvas, even the ship’s boats. A group of midshipmen, straight out of the naval academy, were sent ashore objecting fiercely that they too should be allowd to give their lives for their country.

Aboard the Yahagi, Adm. Keizo Komura entertained his captains with sake, and they drank many bottles, and threw them into the sea, singing patriotic songs from their naval academy days, and thinking of the morrow.

And on the morrow, at 1500, there sailed from the Inland Sea the strongest force that Japan could put together at that moment, with Nagato under repair, 2 cruisers in the south, and Haruna repaired. For 2 days Yamato had moved to avoid snoopers but now, as they moved out, they were snooped by B-29s and by enemy submarines going through Bungo Suido.

The fleet moved on majestically, past Tanegushima and Yakushima, and a 0600 entered the open sea. At the same time, the Japanese Kamikazes were harrying the American fleet off Okinawa, and hitting a dozen ships with varying degrees of destruction.

Operaton Kikusui was in full-sway, and oddly enough the Japanese seemed to have learned nothing from the failure of Kurita at Leyte.  But Tokyo, perhaps, hoped to distract Americans. Tokyo was also interested in maintaining the Japanese fighting spirit to the end, and it was through such sacrifices as this one, tat seem so needless to the Western mind, that the Japanese would accomplish their aim.

Early on the morning of April 7 a few Japanese planes circled the fleet, but soon they were gone, alone with the seaplanes of Yamato and Yahagi. Planes, as potential Kamikaze weapons, were too valuable to be wasted. In this topsy-turvy world of Japan’s only the greatest battleship in the world could be wasted needlessly. 

…continued with Part VI (A hungry Task Force 58)

Source: THE CARRIER WAR, Author: Edwin P. Hoyt – Avon Books

 

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