On April 7, 1945, the battleship Yamato, the pride of Japan's navy, succumbed to American airpower in the Pacific. A cataclysmic series of explosions tore the massive ship in half and sent her to the seafloor with, tragically, most of her crew of about 3,000. Only a handful of photographs from Yamato's final hours—many of them taken from attacking aircraft—have survived.
Yamato and her sister ship, Musashi were the biggest battleships ever built (the third hull, Shinano, was converted to an aircraft carrier while still under construction but was sunk on her maiden cruise.*) The battleships displaced 72,000 tons with 18.1-inch guns. By comparison, Germany's Bismarck displaced 45,000 tons. Britain's King George class came in at 35,000 tons with 14-inch guns. The US Navy's North Carolina and Washington were 35,000 tonners with 16-inch guns. Even the mighty USS Missouri (Iowa Class) weighed in at 58,000 tons with 16-inch guns. There were four of these dreadnoughts: Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
The Yamato class was built after the Japanese withdrew from the Washington Naval Treaty at the Second London Conference of 1936. The treaty, as extended by the London Naval Treaty of 1930, forbade signatories to build battleships before 1937.
Originally, five ships of this class were planned. The third, Shinano, was converted to an aircraft carrier during construction after the defeat at the Battle of Midway. The un-named "Hull Number 111" was scrapped in 1943 when roughly 30% complete, and "Hull Number 797", proposed in the 1942 5th Supplementary Program, was never ordered.
Plans for a "Super Yamato" class, with 50.8 cm (20 inch) guns, provisionally designated as "Hull Number 798" and "Hull Number 799", were abandoned in 1942.
The U.S. Navy launched 386 aircraft to intercept the task force, and the planes engaged the ships starting at 12:30 that afternoon. Yamato took 8 bombs and 12 torpedo hits before, at about 14:23, she capsized to port and her aft magazines detonated. She sank while still some 200 km from Okinawa. Of her crew 2,475 were lost, and the 269 survivors were picked up by the escorting destroyers.
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