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TV Program Description
Original PBS Broadcast Date: October 4, 2005


Sinking the Supership homepage

The final phase of the Pacific war during World War II saw a terrible new tactic: massed kamikaze attacks on American ships by Japanese planes. But the biggest kamikaze attack of all was the suicidal mission of the super battleship Yamato, the largest, most advanced warship of the day. In this program, NOVA joins an international team exploring the grave of this magnificent vessel to learn the secrets of her design, her final mission, and the violent events that brought her down.

Yamato lies on the floor of the East China Sea, 200 miles north of Okinawa, blown apart by one of the most massive explosions ever to occur at sea. Altogether, more than 2,700 men went down with the ship or drowned after it sank, making the loss of the Yamato one of the greatest naval disasters of all time. Despite the destruction, the majesty of the ship is unmistakable, symbolized by a six-foot-wide chrysanthemum crest, icon of the Japanese imperial family, still gracing Yamato's prow like a figurehead.

NOVA interviews two survivors of the sinking, who had to meet the most stringent requirements in the Japanese navy to be chosen for the crew (see Survivor Stories). Also interviewed is an American dive-bomber pilot who took part in the attack.

Aircrews were astonished at the size of the ship, which had seen very little naval action during the war. Built in total secrecy and launched just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Yamato may have been almost twice the size of her American counterparts, with the largest guns ever mounted on a warship (see Anatomy of Yamato).

Most of her engineering drawings have disappeared and few photographs survive, making Yamato's exact dimensions and design a mystery. One of her junior designers tells NOVA he was completely in the dark about the scale of the vessel that he was helping to create: "I was building the biggest ship in the world, and I didn't even know it until after the war."

Japan's secrecy was due to her inability to match U.S. naval power ship for ship. Instead, military leaders decided to build a secret weapon that could engage many enemy ships at once. Her main guns were designed to attack at an unprecedented distance of 25 miles, well beyond the range of American battleships.

Had Yamato ever encountered an Allied battleship group, she could have floated safely out of range, while destroying each ship in turn. Instead, Yamato was obsolete the day she was launched, as the Japanese themselves proved at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere by sinking Allied battleships with airpower. World War II would see the aircraft carrier emerge as the key to naval supremacy, supplanting the battleship.

Forced to wait out much of the war due to her vulnerability to air attack, Yamato was committed in a last, desperate gamble during the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945. As waves of kamikazes took to the sky to defend the island, Yamato was ordered to sea on a mission to emulate the suicide planes and take out as many American ships as possible.

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Yamato

A computer-graphic-animation rendering of the Yamato, the most sophisticated battleship ever built, shows its formidable armament.

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Sinking the Supership
Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes
For executive producer Keiko Bang, making this film was cathartic.

Survivor Stories

Survivor Stories
Two eyewitness accounts of Yamato's last battle

Anatomy of Yamato

Anatomy of Yamato
See what made the ship both seemingly unsinkable and highly vulnerable to attack.

Yamato's Final Voyage

Yamato's
Final Voyage

Relive the super battleship's last moments in photographs.



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