Unryu Class aircraft carriers

The Unryo class of aircraft carriers was rushing into production in 1942 in an attempt to increase the wartime strength of the Japanese carrier fleet, but of the seventeen carriers ordered only six were laid down and the three that were completed arrived too late to take part in any carrier battle.

In order to speed up construction the Unryu class carriers were based on the Hiryu of 1939 rather than the better designed but larger and more complex Shokaku class carriers of 1941. As a result they were smaller than the Shokaku class carriers, and could only carry 64-65 aircraft – 57 operational in the two hangers and the rest in storage. The two hangers were served by two elevators, one less than on the Hiryu. The biggest visual difference was the position of the island. On the Hiryu the small island had been positioned amidships on the port side of the flight deck. This had caused problems with aircraft operations, and so on the Unryu class the island was moved forward, and placed on the starboard side, level with the forward elevator.

Amagi sunk at Kure
Amagi sunk at Kure

Six Unryu class ships were ordered in the 1941-42 War Construction Programme. All six of these ships were launched, but only three were completed. Another carrier was ordered in the 1942 Programme and ten in the 1942 Supplementary Programme, but no work was carried out on these aircraft.

By the time the first three ships were completed the Japanese navy was no longer capable of fighting carrier battles. The ships might have existed but the skilled pilots did not. Although Unryu and Amagi were completed well before the battle of Leyte Gulf, there were simply not enough aircrews for them to join the fleet.

Completed Ships

Unryu was the first to be completed, on 6 August 1944. She was assigned to the Mobile Fleet, but did not accompany to the Philippines in October 1944. She was the only member of her class to see any operational service. In December 1944 she was used to deliver a cargo of Ohka rocket powered manned suicide missiles to Manila. On 19 December she was attacked by the submarine USS Redfish, and hit by two torpedoes. The second hit her forward aviation fuel tanks, causing a devastating explosion. The Unryu sank in seven minutes with the loss of all but 147 of her crew.

Top view of Katsuragi, Kure, October 1945
Top view of Katsuragi, Kure, October 1945

Amagi was completed next, on 10 August 1944. A shortage of fuel, aircraft and pilots meant that she never left Japanese home waters, but that did not mean she was safe. On 19 March 1945 she was damaged by aircraft from Task Force 58, and on 24 July 1945 she was sunk in shallow water off Kure by aircraft from Task Force 38.

Paint scheme for Unryu, 1944
Paint scheme for
Unryu, 1944

Katsuragi was the last of the class to be completed, on 15 October 1944. Like the Amagi she never left Japanese home waters, and was also damaged in the air raids of 19 March and 24 July. The Katsuragi survived the war, and was used as a repatriation transport until 11 November 1946. She was broken up in 1947.

Uncompleted Ships

Work on Kasagi was suspended on 1 April 1945, when she was 85% complete. She survived the war and was broken up in 1947

The Aso was 60% complete when work was suspended in January 1945. She was also badly damaged on 24 July 1945, and after that was used to test warheads for suicide weapons.

Ikoma was 60% complete when work was suspended. She was also badly damaged on 24 July, but survived to be broken up in 1947.

Displacement (standard)

17,150-17,460t

Displacement (loaded)

22,400-22,534t

Top Speed

34kts (Katsuragi 32kts)

Range

8,000 nautical miles

Armour – deck

1in (machinery)
2.2in (magazines)

 - belt

1.8in (machinery)
5.9in (magazines)

Aircraft

57 operational

Length

746ft 1in (maximum)

Armament (all)

12 5in/40 Dual Purpose guns in six double mountings

Unryu

51 25mm AA guns

Amagi and Katsuragi

89 25mm AA guns

Crew complement

1595 (Katsuragi 1500)

Ships in class

Unryu
Amagi
Katsuragi

Never completed

Kasagi
Aso
Ikoma

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 November 2008), Unryu Class aircraft carriers , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_unryu_class.html

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