Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Long lost sister found......

The Paul Allen led research group announced on March 4 2015 that they had discovered the wreck of the IJN Musashi two days before in the Sibuyan Sea.  She was sunk on Oct 24 1944 and had no been discovered until now.

After WWI, Japan began an expansion of her plans for a Japanese Empire throughout the region.  By 1934 it had withdrawn from the League of Nations and that opened the door for the construction of new battleships that were not limited by the treaty.  Japan made plans to build a new class of battleship then and by 1939, the final choice of designs was tweaked a bit and became known as the Yamato class of battleship.  This design managed to win out over the demand for new aircraft carriers and a total of five Yamato class ships were planned.

The ships were built in extreme secrecy so that US intelligence would not discover the actual size and armaments they were to carry.  That plan worked because the US had not discovered their existence until 1942 and even then, they only knew their name and little else.  Only three of the planned five ships were ever built and of those, the IJN Yamato and Musashi were true sister ships.

The Yamato was the first to be built with her keel placed in Nov 4 1937 and launched in Aug 8 1940.  After her commission in Dec 16 1941 she became the flagship for the Japanese Combined Fleet during the Battle of Midway.  The Musashi was ordered built in March of 1937, the same time that the Yamato had been but she had not been started until March 29 1938.  She was launched on Nov 1 1940 and was commissioned on Aug 5 1942.  Both ships were the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleships ever constructed at over 800 feet long and capable of over 30 mph while underway.

In comparison, the Bismark was almost as long in overall length and speed but displaced almost half what the Yamato class ships did.  The US Iowa class battleships were similar to the Bismark but the Montana class that had been planned by the US leading into WWII would have become the largest built at that time if they had not been cancelled in May 1942 after the battle of Midway.  The Us chose at that time to put their effort in submarines and aircraft carriers instead of larger class battleships.  The Bismark was sunk in 1941, the US cancelled their Montana class ships in 1942 and the Yamato class battleships were left to sail the seas as the largest and most powerful in WWII.

The Musashi and her sister ship Yamato were not identical ships since they had been built separately and at different ship yards.  The Musashi was built in the Mitsubishi Shipyard in Nagasaki and being the second of five that had been planned, there were changes made to the original plans.  These changes included modifications to the secondary battery armour, additional communications gear and improvements to the bridge and Admiral's cabins so that she could take on the duty of being the primary flagship for the commander-in-chief.  The ship was fitted with two catapults and carried 6-7 planes aboard.

She was named after the Provence of Musashi though there are persistent rumors that she had been named after the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi but that is false.  The ship was built in such secrecy that the Japanese public did not know or even the US Embassy that was across the bay from the slip where she was being constructed lay.  The entire construction area had been covered so well that even Russian planes that flew over in May 1938 to take pictures and drop leaflets had not known what they had seen.  The US had also viewed the photos and they did not see anything that aroused any suspicion of a huge warship being built under their noses.

The Musashi was assigned to the Combined Fleet on Jan 15 1943 and set sail for Truk where on Feb 11, she officially took over the spot of flagship from the Yamato.  She was commanded by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto who flew off the Musashi on April 3 1943 headed to Rabaul, New Britain to personally oversee a Japanese offensive in the Solomon Islands.  The US had intercepted his orders and he was shot down before he could reach his destination.  His ashes were quietly snuck onto the Musashi on April 23rd while the ship was in Truk, placed in his cabin and returned to Japan on May 23rd for a state funeral.

Following that the Musashi set sail to help support Aleutian Islands but that was cancelled when they fell back in American hands.  She was visited by Emperor Hirohito while she was having work done on her in the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal in Tokyo Bay.  Soon after that she was moved to dry dock in Kure to have her radar and firing controls upgraded.  The ship did not see combat though she had gone out with groupings that ended with no contact with US forces at sea.  The Musashi remained docked in Truk until Feb 1944 when she was used to transport a Japanese Army battalion and a Special landing unit as well as there equipment.  Even that task did not go well for the Musashi as she lost most off the cargo that was stored on the deck during a typhoon.

On March 29 1944, she was snuck out of port in Palau under the cover of darkness so that they could avoid what they believed to be an imminent air raid.  The ship crossed paths with the US submarine Tunny which fired six torpedoes at her.  all but one missed but that one punched a 19 foot hole in the bow, flooding that area and forcing temporary repairs to be made.  Seven crewmen were killed by the torpedo hit and the Musashi was back in Japan for repairs as well as improvements to her armaments and radar.

The Musashi again saw very little action in the naval war that surrounded them until Aug 12 1944 when the command of the ship was given to Captain Inoguchi.  In September he ordered the ship to be repainted in a dark color and by Oct he had ordered the deck to be darkened with soot.  On Oct 18 the Musashi sailed to Brunei Bay Borneo to meet up with the Japanese fleet that was going to take part in Operation Sho-1.  The objective was to draw out the American forces that were in the Sibuyan Sea with part of the fleet and then move in with the heavy ships to destroy the American forces.

The plan did not go as the Japanese had planned and the ships came under attack on Oct 24 after the USS Dace had torpedoed and sunk the heavy cruiser Maya the day before.  The Musashi took aboard 769 survivors from that ship later on the 23rd and in the morning of the 24th, aircraft from the USS Intrepid spotted the Japanese ships and attacked.  By 1:30 pm that afternoon, the Musashi had been hit by 17 bombs and 19 torpedos and she had been left to fend for herself by 3:30 pm while she was heading north, listing to port and her bow nearly under water.

When the fleet encountered her again, two destroyers and a heavy cruiser were sent to accompany her in an effort to get her beached.  The crew was alerted to abandon ship at 7:15 pm and fifteen minutes later the list had reached 30 degrees and the crew abandoned her. It was only six minutes later when the Musashi rolled and sunk taking with her 1,023 of her crew along with Inoguchi.  About half of those survivors were taken back to Japan while the others took part in the defence of the Philippines.  The majority of the rescued crew of the Maya totalling 635 were rescued from the Musashi as well.

The Musashi was not found until Paul Allen invested about eight years patiently surveying the ocean bottom around Sibuyan Bay.  He stated that he had begun the search for the huge battleship because he has always been fascinated by the history of World War Two.  It was discovered by an AUV that his research team had launched from his mega yacht the My Octopus.  They had also used historical documents from four different countries in order to narrow their field of search in the waters of the bay.

There were some still photos released and in one the bow and anchor of the ship there can be a chrysanthemum which is the symbol of the royal family.  In another picture of a valve handle, there can be seen the Japanese characters for main valve handle and open are clearly visible.  Allen's group also has released a small video clip from the dive to the wreck and while most historian's agree that he has probably found the Musashi, they are going to hold off for more definitive evidence before they announce that it is the correct ship.

Allen has lent out his ship to numerous other water explorations as well as working with Google earth and Discovery Channel on projects.  I am sure that we can expect to see move photos of the wreck of such an important ship in WWII history and maybe some answers can be found in the wreckage as to how it managed to take such a beating and survive afloat for as long as she did.

The two sister ships Yamato and Shinano also did not survive WWII.  The Yamato which was the first constructed in the Yamato class battleships was constructed at Kure Naval Arsenal.  It was begun on Nov 4 1937 and commissioned on Dec 16 1941.  It was damaged in the same battle that sank the Musashi and was finally sunk on April 7 1945 by an air attack during what was known by the Japanese as Operation Ten-Go.

Damaged in Sibuyan Sea

The Allieds had been able to decipher the Japanese transmissions and were ready for the fleet.  The Yamato was under fire from 12:37 pm until 2:23 pm when she rolled and one of her forward ammunition magazines exploded.  She rapidly sank taking with her 3,055 of her 3,332 crewmembers with her.  The wreck of the Yamato was discovered in the South China Sea in 1982 and was confirmed to be her when the exploration team returned two years later with one of the battleship's designers aboard.
Senior officers prior to beginning of Ten-Go

The Shinano was begun on May 4 1940 at Yokosuka Naval Arsenal and was meant to be the third of five Yamato class ships in the Japanese Navy.  Following the Japanese defeat in Midway in June 1942, construction of the Shinano was suspended.  The hull of the ship was gradually rebuilt so that she would be an aircraft carrier instead of a battleship.  The ship was not planned to be commissioned until early 1945 but the construction was pushed so that she could be commissioned on Nov 19 1944.  The ship was rushed into service and on Nov 29th she was sunk by four torpedoes from the submarine USS Archerfish while heading to Kure, taking with her 1,435 of her crew of 2,400

The Shinano suffered from serious design flaws as well as an unfamiliar crew, fire mains and bailing systems lacked pumps, many of the watertight doors had not bee installed and most of the holes made for cables, ducts and pipes had not been sealed.  These managed to make a ship that could have survived the torpedo hits into a ship that did not stand a chance of staying afloat.

Warship Number 111 was supposed to be the fourth ship in this class and the keel was laid on Nov 7 1940 but was delayed as the war effort dragged on in Japan.  The Japanese held up the construction of it and finally cancelled the construction in March 1942 when only 30% of it had been built.  The ship was then dismantled and materials from it were used to convert two hybrid carriers, the Hyuga and the Ise.  The fifth planned Yamato class battleship was never constructed.


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