Sinking the Supership
will use a viewing guide while watching a program about the Battleship
Yamato and discuss answers to their questions after watching.
Students will be able to:
relate the history of the Battleship Yamato.
describe the Battleship Yamato's design, capabilities, and
- copy of the "Battleship Yamato" student handout
launched in 1941, the Yamato was the world's largest and most powerful
warship ever built. It was a symbol of Japanese military power and a response
to attempts by world powers to place limitations on fleet sizes in order to
de-escalate the naval arms race.
The Yamato was built in absolute secrecy. Designed to be twice the size
of any other battleship, it included three large gun turrets—each
weighing more than an American destroyer—that could send a shell 40
kilometers. Its bulbous bow aided the large vessel's hydrodynamics.
The Yamato saw limited action during World War II. Although the ship was
struck a number of times by torpedoes and bombs, it suffered little damage.
Initial successes of Japanese air forces led to the emergence of the aircraft
carrier as the primary weapon at sea, a development that diminished the
Yamato's role in the Japanese fleet.
As American forces prepared for the invasion of Okinawa, the Yamato was
ordered to do everything possible to stop this attack. A decision was made to
sacrifice the ship in a suicide mission. But the Americans intercepted the
Yamato while she was still 320 kilometers away from the closest American
warship. A coordinated attack by more than 400 planes from a dozen U.S.
aircraft carriers sunk the Yamato. The result was the largest naval
disaster in history—only 269 of 3,016 crew members survived.
A large, heavily armored warship.
bulbous bow: A type of protuberant bow that produces its own wake to
interfere with the ship's main wake in such a way as to reduce drag on the
destroyer: A warship with smaller guns designed for speed.
gun turret: A revolving platform on a warship that contains guns and an
area of protection for the operators.
kamikaze: World War II Japanese pilots flying ritual suicide missions
against Allied ships, crashing planes loaded with explosives.
Organize students into five teams. Assign each team a set of four questions.
Distribute a copy of the student handout to each team.
Review key terms with students, and discuss appropriate background
As students watch the program, have each student take notes on the questions
that her or his team has been assigned.
After watching the program, have students meet in their teams to discuss
their notes. Beginning with the first question assigned, ask teams to come to
consensus on an answer. The team response should be written down as the answer
to this question. Continue until all questions are answered.
Have teams share the questions and answers that came out of their group
work. (See Activity Answer on page 4 for possible answers. Accept all
reasonable answers.) Ask students in the rest of the class if they agree
with what the team has presented. If students don't agree, ask them to explain
why and provide evidence from the program that will support their opinion. When
possible, expand upon a question or provide additional historical background
To conclude, discuss with students how war tactics have changed over time.
Have students consider the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II, and
the war in Iraq. What equipment, artillery, and tactics were used in each
conflict? How did each war differ from the one before it? How have changes in
technology influenced changes in warfare?
As an extension, have students list any places or monuments that represent
national symbols. What do they have in common? Why are national symbols
important? Ask students what national symbols they know of that have been
destroyed. (Some examples include the Berlin Wall, New York City's Twin
Towers, and the statue of Saddam Hussein.) What impact does the destruction
of a national symbol have on a nation?
answers to the questions listed on the student handout:
Who took part in the search for the Yamato? an international team
of deep-sea divers and naval historians What was the significance of
locating the Imperial Crest? only the largest of the Japanese ships had
Imperial Crests to indicate they belonged to the Emperor
When did the American fleet learn the location of the Yamato? dawn
of April 7, 1945 How was it able to determine the Yamato's exact
location? through reconnaissance planes
How did American forces coordinate an air assault on the Yamato?
more than 400 planes from a dozen aircraft carriers took part in a
coordinated attack; the first wave of dive bombers dropped bombs on the deck
and launched torpedoes at the ship's hull; the second wave of fighter planes
strafed the ship with gunfire; the third wave of low-altitude bombers launched
12 final torpedoes that sank the ship
Why did thousands of men drown on the Yamato? the ship's
watertight compartments had been sealed shut to prevent further flooding
Why were battleships important components of any fleet? they could
provide devastating firepower across great distances
What steps did the Japanese take to ensure secrecy when building the
Yamato? the dry dock was covered in fish netting and no one person
ever saw a complete design plan; even the Yamato's commanding officers
were not provided with details about the ship's true size
What was unique about the Yamato compared to other battleships? it
was about twice the size of other battleships; each of the three gun turrets
weighed more than an American destroyer; the guns had a range of 40 kilometers
(spotter planes were needed to target over the horizon); the Yamato was
built around the guns; extra width allowed the ship to be fitted with the
Why were American battleships limited in width? since America had a
two-ocean Navy, its ships' widths were limited by the width of the locks of the
Panama Canal, which were 33 meters wide
Why were hydrodynamics an issue for the Yamato? the extra width
needed to support the enormous gun turrets increased the resistance from waves;
the Yamato could not be hydrodynamically efficient with a standard bow
What is a bulbous bow? as a ship moves through water the bow produces a
wave; the bulbous bow produces a wave in front of the ship that reduces the
wave action and the drag effect of the water What benefits does this
shape provide? the bow reduces resistance, which allows the ship to travel
How did Japanese victories in 1941 lead to the demise of the Yamato?
Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the British Battleship Prince of
Wales demonstrated the effective use of airpower and the rising importance
of the aircraft carrier as the primary weapon at sea
Why was the Yamato not committed to the Battle of Midway? the
Battle of Midway was a contest between aircraft carriers; the Yamato
stayed 300 miles away out of range of American planes, and served as a command
center; Japan did not want to risk losing its irreplaceable treasure
What were kamikaze attacks? Japanese pilots who performed ritualistic
suicide missions; pilots attacked 300 ships and sunk 34; to die with honor was
a unique, 800-year-old tradition
Why was the kamikaze strategy used during the final stages of the war?
American forces were approaching the Japanese home islands and this was
the last attempt to halt the advance
What indicated that the Yamato's final mission was a kamikaze
operation? sailors were told to sort everything out, pay off all debts, and
take care of things before boarding the ship; the mission was organized by the
same commanders who organized the kamikaze air attacks; the Yamato only
had enough fuel for a one-way trip; sailors sent last letters home and alcohol
was distributed to crew the night before the attack
Why did the Yamato finally go into battle? air attacks on Tokyo
left 1 million homeless; 5,000 kamikaze pilots were trying to stop American
advance; in the name of honor the Japanese navy decided to sacrifice its
Why did American bombers attack only on one side of the Yamato?
the torpedoes would penetrate below the waterline between the bow and the
stern where the armor was thinnest; flooding on one side would ensure the ship
How do naval historians believe the Yamato sank? flooded on one
side by torpedoes, the Yamato listed to port until it became unstable
and then capsized; the gun turrets were ripped from their mounts by their own
weight; tons of ammunition slammed together causing three massive explosions
which severed the Yamato into two pieces
How many crew members survived? about 200 How were they
rescued? by a Japanese destroyer
Why did the Japanese navy refuse to announce the sinking of the
Yamato? the Yamato was a symbol of national prestige
NOVA—Sinking the Supership
Learn what it took to tell the story of the Yamato, read eyewitness
accounts of the ship's fatal last conflict, use an interactive map to explore
the ship's features, and view dramatic archival photographs from the ship's
Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia—Yamato
Examines the history of the Yamato from construction to
Yamato (Battleship 1941-1945)
Provides historical information and photographs.
A Glorious Way to Die: The Kamikaze Mission of the Battleship Yamato,
by Russell Spur. Newmarket Press, 1981.
Analyzes theYamato's last days from Japanese and American
Kamikaze: Japan's Suicide Gods
by Albert Axell. Longman Publishers, 2002.
Examines the motivation, strategy, and impact of the kamikaze attacks in
the final days of World War II.
Requiem for Battleship Yamato
by Yoshida Mitsuru. Naval Institute Press, 1999.
Focuses on the human side of the Yamato mission from the viewpoint
of a surviving junior officer.
The "Battleship Yamato" activity aligns with the following National
Science Education Standards (see books.nap.edu/html/nses).
Science Standard F
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Science and technology in society
Science Standard F
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges
Classroom Activity Author
A former director of the National Science Teachers Association and President of
the Science Teachers Association of Manitoba, Dan Forbes has been active in
teaching and curriculum development in both Canada and the United States for 20