The Kongo class of battleships were originally built as battlecruisers to a pre-First World War design, with one built at Barrow and three in Japan. This history of the class is based around an impressive collection of photographs of all four ships, taking them from their construction, through their significant reconstructions and on to the Second World War service, and in two cases to the end of their career.
These ships came at a key point in the history of the Japanese shipbuilding industry, towards the end of the period when Japan was buying her warships from abroad (mainly from Britain) and at the start of period when she built her own. The early chapters here give us some insights into how that was achieved, with representatives from the Japanese Navy and Japanese industry closely involved in the construction of Kongo at Vickersyard at Barrow-in-Furness. This included representatives from Mitsubishi’s Nagasaki shipyard and Kawasaki’s Kobe shipyard. These yards used the knowledge gained in Barrow to improve their own facilities, and quickly became world-class. The gigantic battleship Musashi would be built by Mitsubishi, while Kawasaki built submarines and aircraft carriers, including the Zuikaku, so the effort clearly paid off.
These ships were extensively modified after their construction, so much so that they were reclassified from battlecruisers to battleships after their first reconstruction in the 1920s and unofficially to fast battleships after their 1930s reconstruction. The ships went through massive changes during these reconstructions, with most having their boilers replaced on both occasions, extra armour added and their length increased by nearly 8 meters! The most obvious change was the construction of the famous ‘pagoda’ style of foremast, which used the original tripod masts to support a series of new structures which contained the increasingly complex fire control systems, chart rooms, and a series of bridges. We get some useful pictures and a good side-on plan explaining what each level contained, showing that these structures were actually quite a practical solution to the problem of finding space for gun control systems as high as possible to increase their effective range.
Despite the extensive modifications these ships proved to be pretty vulnerable during the Second World War. The Hiei was lost during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (12-15 November 1942) after suffering heavy damage at the hands of a number of American cruisers and destroyers, then being finished off by torpedo bombers. The Kirishima was sunk by 16in gunfire from the newer American battleships Washingtonand South Dakota, demonstrating that her protection was still not good enough to cope with enemy capital units. The Kongo sank a few hours after being hit by torpedoes from the submarine USS Sealion, suggesting problems with her damage control efforts. The Haruna was sunk in shallow water at Kure in 1945, by which time the Japanese fleet had been eliminated as a serious threat.
This is an excellent photographic history. There is enough text to give us a good history of the ships, and a splendid selection of photographs, well matched to the text. I was pleased to see an explanation of what each layer was for on the pagoda bridge structure, and an honest assessment of the results of their reconstructions.
1 – Introduction and Summary
2 – Requirement and Design
3 – Revision from the Dreadnought Type to the Super-Dreadnought Type
4 – Construction
5 – General Arrangement
6 – Protection
7 – Machinery
8 – Armament
9 – Reconstruction and Modifications
10 – Operational Histories
Author: Lars Ahlberg and Hans Lengerer