Yamato: A Doomed Battleship

Titans of the Rising Sun: The Rise and Fall of Japan’s Yamato Class Battleships, by Raymond A. Bawal, Jr. Published by Inland Expressions, 194 pages, softcover, $19.95.

Titans of the Rising SunOne of my earliest maritime history experiences was visiting the USS Missouri at the age of eight or nine. The battleship was tied up with other World War II veterans of the Pacific War in Bremerton, Wash., as part of the U.S. mothball fleet. With a displacement of 45,000 tons, the ship was unimaginably large, almost overwhelming, to a child, though I understood its importance as the site of the final surrender of Imperial Japan in 1945.

As an adult, I wonder if I would have the same feeling standing on the deck of the Yamato, which was half again as large as Missouri at more than 65,000 tons. I’ll never know, because the Japanese super-battleship was sunk by U.S. Navy planes on April 7, 1945. But writer Raymond A. Bawal helps stir the imagination in his new history of Japan’s naval behemoths, Titans of the Rising Sun: The Rise and Fall of Japan’s Yamato Class Battleships.

Bawal painstakingly traces the technical development and strategic thinking behind the Yamato and her sister ship, Musashi, in the context of the entire Japanese Navy. Their roots go back to the rout of Imperial Russia’s Pacific Squadron at Tsushima in 1905 and the Japanese naval command’s belief that the battleship would be the core naval weapon of the 20th century. As Bawal writes, “these symbols of military might were the nuclear weapons of their day, providing security through a deterrent to aggression.”

But a new technology was about to draft an epitaph to the battleship: the airplane. Although some officers foresaw as early as the late 1930s how the bomb and torpedo-carrying plane would trump the Yamato’s 18-inch guns, the Japanese Navy as a whole saw the trend too late, even though it converted one of the unfinished Yamato-class ships to an aircraft carrier, only to see it sunk before it was sent into battle. And ironically, the weapons on which they spent so much money and resources would play virtually no role in the outcome of the war.

The author of two previous books on Great Lakes maritime history, Bawal discusses the Yamato and her sisters in a detached manner, without nostalgia, and the text could have featured a few more anecdotes about the thousands of men who served on these ships. The story is still compelling, however, and students of the Pacific War will better understand the important detail of the Yamato’s history after reading this book.

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