Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Yamato, Suicide Sortie of (6–7 April 1945)

The sinking of the Japanese battleship Yamato is a classic case of a surface warship, unsupported by air cover, succumbing to devastating air attack. Built at the Kure Naval Yard and launched in 1941, the 863-ft-long battleship Yamato displaced 72,000 tons and was armed with a main battery of 9 x 18.1-inch guns. Other armament by 1945 included 150 antiaircraft and machine guns. Her maximum speed was 27.5 knots.

In response to the U.S. invasion of Okinawa, the Japanese navy prepared a desperate surface ship sortie and air attack against American naval forces investing the island. The plan called for the Yamato, supported by the light cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers, to steam to Okinawa and attack Allied shipping there. The Yamato would then be run aground off Okinawa, where, as a stationary battery, she would provide gunfire support to the Japanese defenders of the island. Yamato was only provisioned with sufficient fuel for a one-way mission. The Second Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Ito Seiichi, had overall charge of the operation and was aboard the Yamato, which was commanded by Rear Admiral Aruga Kosaku.

U.S. Navy forces off Okinawa had been alerted to a coming sortie by signals intelligence, and the Japanese task force was quickly detected by U.S. submarines as it emerged from the southernmost exit of Japan's Inland Sea on 6 April. Since all available Japanese aircraft were targeted at naval forces around Okinawa, the Yamato was left exposed and vulnerable to air attack. American aircraft carrier–based planes began striking the Japanese task force on 7 April at 12:32 p.m.

The Japanese warships were subjected to repeated air attacks, but they only shot down 10 of 386 attacking aircraft. The Yamato's guns were eventually knocked out. The American report on the ship's sinking claimed hits by at least 11 torpedoes and 8 bombs; Japanese survivors put the total at nearer to 16 torpedoes and 18 bombs. In any case, amid massive explosions, she sank at 2:23 p.m., less than two hours after the air attacks began. Only 269 of the Yamato's 2,767 crew members survived. The light cruiser Yahagi and four of the destroyers were also sunk, and four damaged destroyers escaped to Japan.

Glenn E. Helm


Further Reading
Barlow, Jeffrey G. "The Battle for Okinawa." In Jack Sweetman, ed., Great American Naval Battles, 371–387. Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998.; Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 5, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942–February 1943. Boston: Little, Brown, 1949.; Yoshida, Mitsuru. Requiem for Battleship Yamato. Trans. Richard Minear. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985.
 

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