Both Germany and Japan had put their faith in super battleships, only to discover that Naval air power had fundamentally altered the potential threat of such huge ships. Germany’s Bismarck had come to grief early in the war. Her sister ship, the Tirpitz was never able to operate as an ocean raider as first intended, although she tied up significant British resources for much of the war.
Japan had built two ships even larger than the Bismarck class. The Yamato and the Musashi each displaced over 65,000 tons and were over 250 metres (820 feet) long, both carried nine 18 inch guns. On 23 October 1944 the Yamato had a narrow escape, although USN submarines were to put a significant dent in Japanese forces in the opening moves of the Battle of the Leyte Gulf.
In the early hours of 23 October 1944 Admiral Matome Ugaki was sailing with a large Japanese naval force commanded by Admiral Kurita, consisting of several cruisers and the battleship Yamato, north through the Palawan Passage in the Philippines.
Fair. Although I had expected it, could there be any worse day than today? I went up on the bridge as usual with the order ‘all hands to quarters’ one hour before sunrise.
We were sailing in an alert formation against submarines, with column abreast with 18 knots on course of 35°. While we were simultaneously turning to port in a zigzag movement, at 0625 all of a sudden I saw port ahead the flame of an explosion and what seemed like a spread water column on the dawn sea. I shouted involuntarily, ‘Done it!’ which proved to be the earliest discovery of it.
Immediately we made a simultaneous 45° turn to starboard with the signal ‘green green.’ Soon a second explosion took place in the same direction. The same ship seemed to have induced another explosion.
Asked about the situation of the Fourth Heavy Cruiser Division, the lookout replied there were three of them. Then, thinking it might have been a destroyer, I came to the port side where I saw a ship lying dead, emitting white smoke, and another one, damaged and heavily listing, which was approaching us.
The former was Takao, second ship of the line, and the latter Atago, first ship. One destroyer each from the left wing was standing by the damaged ships, while another was sent to the rescue. The visibility gradually widened.
Since there were many friendly ships in addition to enemy submarines, not only did excessive evasion pose a danger, but as a senior commander I couldn’t go too far away because of the prevailing visibility.
Therefore, following the turning of the Fifth Heavy Cruiser Division, we turned to port and formed a column. At this moment Maya, fourth ship of the Fourth Heavy Cruiser Division, sailing starboard ahead, exploded. Nothing was left after the smoke and spray subsided. The firing position of the torpedo could be seen at about 1500 meters port ahead of her.
How dangerous it was! Had Yamato been situated a little bit either way, she would have taken three to four torpedoes. Evading to starboard and still advancing, we found another periscope to the port ahead, so we went over to the starboard. By this time the First Force was put into great confusion; some advanced while others turned back. It was certain that there were four submarines.