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Archive for April 7th, 2008

On April 7, 1945, the Japanese battleship Yamato was sunk by U.S. Navy dive- and torpedo-bombers.  On a suicide mission to Okinawa, she was intercepted 200 miles from her destination, thanks to the U.S. military’s ability to read Japanese coded messages.  She didn’t expire easily, requiring several hits with 1,000-pound bombs and nearly a dozen torpedoes.

The Yamato (shown on the left) was the largest battleship ever built, weighing a carrier-esque 73,000 tons and sporting 18.1″ main guns, the largest ever mounted on a capital ship.  As it turns out, the Yamato saw very little action, and certainly none of the “battlewagon vs. battlewagon” encounters for which she and her sister (the Musashi) were built.

So let’s have a bit of fun.  Let’s put their best against ours.  The finest U.S. battleships were, without question, those of the Iowa class, so we’ll look at the USS Iowa (shown on the right).  Though much smaller at roughly 45,000 tons, it was about 25% faster than the Yamato, and slightly less maneuverable…advantage: push to YamatoIowa’s main rifles were smaller (16″ vs. 18″), fired a smaller shell (2,700 lb vs. 3,200 lb), and catapulted that shell over shorter distances (~25mi. vs ~30mi.)…advantage: Yamato.  And both vessels were well armored to withstand 16″ shells, though of course, hits from the Yamato’s 18″ projectiles would have been an entirely different story…advantage: Yamato.

It appears that the Yamato is the clear winner.  At least until you consider a huge wild-card…fire-control.  The USS Iowa was fitted with the most advanced firing systems and radar available.  The Japanese counterparts were more rudimentary, and many Imperial Navy commanders still relied more heavily on the eyes of the scouts and spotter planes than the “voodoo” of electronics.

Since deck armor was less thick (and not even Yamato’s was impervious to 16″ shells), the idea in these battles was to loft the shells so they hit the opposition at high angles and could penetrate deep before exploding.  This meant engagements at long distances (30,000+ yards)…certainly beyond visual range.  This would have given a tremendous edge to the USS Iowa, one that would have been even more pronounced in night encounters…advantage: Iowa.

At the end of the day, a “Yamato vs. Iowa” engagement would have largely come down to who landed the first blows.  With its advantage in speed and large edge in electronics, the USS Iowa’s shells probably stood the best chance to hit first.

Recommended Reading: The Iowa Class Battleships – This is the first military book of any kind I ever purchased…I got it from the Military Book Club 20 years ago, and I’m still a member.  If you can find a copy, pick one up.

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