Shokaku Class Aircraft Carriers

The two Shokaku class aircraft carriers were the first purpose built fleet carriers to be constructed in Japan after the Washington Naval Treaty expired, and are considered to have been the most effective Japanese aircraft carriers of the Second World War. For most of the war they were also the most modern fleet carriers in Japanese service – the next purpose built fleet carrier, the Taiho, wasn’t completed until March 1944, and was lost only three months later.

The two Shakaku class carriers were essentially larger versions of the Soryu and Hiryu, the first purpose built Japanese carriers. The end of the Washington Treaty restrictions allowed the new ships to expand in size and displacement – they were 90ft longer than the earlier ships, while the maximum displacement rose by 50%. 

Shokaku under attack at Coral Sea, 8 May 1942
Shokaku under attack
at Coral Sea, 8 May 1942

Part of this extra space was used to increase the maximum number of operational aircraft that could be carried in the ship’s two hangers from 64 on the Hiryu up to 72. Another twelve fully assembled aircraft could be stored onboard and easily brought into operation to replace losses. Most of the remaining weight was used to increase the armour protection around the machinery and magazines.

The Shokaku class ships were given the most powerful engines yet to be installed in a Japanese warship, capable of producing 160,000shp and giving the two ships a top speed of 34.2kts.

In June 1942 both ships were given another four triple 25mm antiaircraft mountings, two forward and two aft, for a total of 48 AA guns. By July 1943 that total had been raised to 70 guns by the addition of two more triple mounts and sixteen single mounts.

The two Shokaku class ships were approved in the 1937 3rd Supplementary Programme, and were completed in August-September 1941, just in time to take part in the attack on Pearl Harbor. After that they took part in every major carrier battle of the Pacific War with the exception of Midway, where their presence would probably have altered the result of the battle (they were absent from Midway because of damage suffered at the earlier battle of the Coral Sea).

Plan of Shokaku class carrier
Plan of Shokaku class carrier

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed




Armour – belt

1.8in (machinery)
6.5in (magazines)

 - desk

3.9in (machinery)
5.1in (magazines)


72 operation, 84 maximum


820ft 3in (waterline)
844ft 10in (maximum)

Armament as built

16 5in/40 Dual Purpose guns in eight dual mountings
36 25mm antiaircraft guns (12 triple mounts)

Crew complement


Ships in class


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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 November 2008), Shokaku Class Aircraft Carriers ,

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