Over the period of fifty years the Japanese navy went from a minor newcomer to being one of the foremost fleets in the world and on to near-total destruction. This book is a photographic study of the major surface units of that fleet, tracing the rise of the Japanese fleet, and its eventual destruction.
The ships covered here fall into several broad categories. First are the largely British ships ordered by the Japanese Navy before the First World War. These were often excellent ships for their time, and helped the Japanese establish a modern fleet. Second are the ships taken over from the Russians after their victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Finally Japan began to produce her own warships, quickly becoming a major naval power in her own right.
Burt has chosen to cover a wider range of ships that the title would suggest - as well as the comparatively small number of true battleships operated by the Japanese fleet, he also covers their battlecruisers and some of the heavier armoured cruisers. This is a good decision - the Japanese actually produced a surprisingly small number of battleships, and the ships that fought the Second World War were generally older that you might expect. The two Ise class ships were laid down and completed during the First World War and the two Nagato class ships were laid down during the war but completed just afterwards. After that the Japanese didn't lay down another battleship until the massive Yamato and Musashi in 1937-38.
The heart of the Japanese battle line during the Second World War was thus made up of fairly elderly ships that had been modernised far more extensively than was the case for most nations. This included the pre First World War Kongo class battlecruisers, turned into battleships in the 1930s, as well as the Ise and Nagato class ships.
Burt covers each of these ships in their original configuration and through their massive reconstructions. The most obvious visual change in most cases was the construction of the famous 'pagoda' bridge structures, but there were many internal changes as well, allowing many of these ships to perform a valuable role decades after they were first built. Japanese military secrecy of the late 1930s means that later pictures are rarer, and many 1940s pictures are from the point of view of their American attackers, but Burt had found enough good pictures to illustrate each of these ships. The pictures are supported by useful captions and by clear plans showing the changes to the more dramatically altered classes.
Author: R A Burt