Killer Subs in Pearl Harbor

Yamato's Last Voyage

During WWII, both the United States and Japan mourned the loss of giant battleships and the crews they carried. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor at the start of the war devastated Battleship Row and took the lives of over 2,400 Americans. Near the war's end, on April 7, 1945, the pride of Japan's navy, the battleship Yamato, succumbed to American airpower. Cataclysmic explosions tore the massive ship in half and sent her to the seafloor with 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. Here, see a slide show of dramatic archival images from the sinking of Japan's supership.—Lexi Krock


Rock's Peony
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On her last morning, before the first American planes intercepted her, Yamato would have appeared indestructible. After all, she was the heaviest and most powerful battleship ever built, carrying the most formidable guns ever mounted at sea. This photograph was taken in December 1941, shortly after the Yamato first took to the sea.



Dawn Redwood
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As she came under attack on that April morning, the Yamato fired her 18-inch guns at approaching American aircraft, one-third of which were torpedo bombers that hit from low altitudes. This image of the battleship gives a sense of the 18-inch guns' enormous size (note sailors on deck).



Fortune's Rhododendron
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Cloud cover precluded accurate firing of the battleship's guns. Almost all of the nearly 400 American fighters and bombers sent to engage Yamato made it into position above her and soon began to strafe the battleship with bullets and drop 1,000-pound bombs. Here, an aircraft's overhead view of its target. This particular image was taken during an earlier battle with American carrier aircraft on October 24, 1944 as Yamato transited the Sibuyan Sea.



Dove Tree
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Torpedoes explode against Yamato's port side as she turns to avoid the onslaught from bombers.



Primula Wilsonii
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While the Americans' 1,000-pound bombs held fearsome destructive power, as seen in this one exploding off Yamato's port bow, it was their air-launched torpedoes that ultimately led to the supership's demise. American aviators received orders to drop their torpedoes such that they would penetrate Yamato below the waterline near her bow and stern where her armor was thinnest. They were also instructed to concentrate their torpedoes on just one of Yamato's sides, an approach most likely to cause flooding and eventual sinking. Note the fire in one of the ship's aft turrets.



Regal Lily
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Eight Japanese destroyers and one cruiser, the Yahagi (left), tried to assist Yamato in fending off her attackers. By the end of the battle, Yahagi and all eight destroyers were lost.



Paperback Maple
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After a dozen torpedo hits, even the Yamato's 1,000 watertight compartments couldn't save her, and her lower decks rapidly began to flood. A Curtiss Helldiver bomber like the one seen at right photographed the destruction. At this point, after just a few hours of battle, most of the American pilots returned to their carriers, knowing Yamato's injuries were fatal. In all, Yamato took 12 bomb and seven torpedo hits within two hours of battle.



Peach Tree
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An astounding series of explosions onboard Yamato produced the mushroom cloud seen here shortly before she sank. Yamato settled on the seafloor 1,200 feet down and about 50 miles southwest of Kyushu, Japan. Experts believe that a fire raging in the battleship's aft secondary magazine caused tons of ammunition to ignite almost simultaneously, producing the blasts that tore the ship in half and sank her. These blasts were perhaps the largest ever to occur at sea.



Peach Tree
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One of the final photographs of the supership shows her severely damaged hull burning just prior to disappearing beneath the waves. When Yamato sank, marking the last Japanese naval action of the war, she took 2,747 men with her—all but 269 of her crew. Surrounding Japanese ships lost an additional 1,167 men. Only 10 American aircraft went down in the battle, with the loss of just 12 men.



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