Soryu and Hiryu were the first purpose built aircraft carriers to enter Japanese service in the 1930s (following a series of conversions), and played a significant part in the early stages of the Pacific War, before being sunk at Midway. The Unryu class were similar ships ordered into production after the defeat at Midway, but that arrived too late to have any real impact on the course of the fighting. This book looks at the background to their construction, the reasons behind their design, their technical details, their aviation facilities and their service records.
One big theme of the book is an argument against the idea that the Japanese chose to build more medium carriers because they believed them to be the ideal type. The pre-war construction programme that Soryu and Hiryu were part of soon moved on to larger carriers, the two ships of the famous Shokaku class. It was the loss of four carriers at Midway that forced the Japanese to turn to the medium carrier, and fourteen Unryu and modified Unryu class carriers were ordered as part of the emergency construction programme.
Only the two pre-war carriers actually saw significant service, before their loss at Midway. Of the six Unryu class carriers, only three were actually completed, only one ever left the Inland Sea (Unryu), only to be sunk with a higher loss of life than in the two lost at Midway. This does prove that the Japanese were right not to try and built any new large carriers after Midway, but by the time Unryu and her sisters were ready Japan no longer had a naval aviation force to place on its carriers.
The book does get very technical in places – certainly enough to make sure that I’d have to do some research to understand some of the details. However most of it is very readable, and those technical sections will be of great value to those who understand them.
One nice feature is that one of the larger chapters is entirely dedicated to the carrier’s aviation facilities, something that isn’t always the case in books on aircraft carriers. This includes sections on the construction of the flight deck, the layout of the hangers, fuel and ammo storage and most importantly the deck operations – how aircraft were handled, took off and landed. This is the real key to how effective an aircraft carrier was, and is often skipped over in books of this sort.
This is an excellent study of these carriers, generally balanced towards the two earlier carriers, but with plenty of material on the later Unryu class and the changes made on those ships.
1 – Background
2 – The Building of Soryuand Hiryu
3 – Concentration on the Medium-Sized Aircraft Carrier
4 – Outline Description
5 – Hull with Appendages
6 – Protection
7 – Armament
8 – Aviation Facilities
9 – Weight Distributions
10 – Propulsion Systems
11 – Illumination, Signaling and Navigation
12 – Interior Communication Systems
13 – Complement
14 – Operational Histories
Author: Lars Ahlberg & Hans Lengerer