Yamato and Musashi were the two most powerful battleships ever completed, part of a Japanese attempt to use the individual superiority of their warships to make up for a lack of numbers. Despite their impressive size, armour and fire power, both of these ships were sunk by American carrier aircraft, without ever getting close to US battleships, and at fairly low cost to the Americans.
For me this book has one great advantage over some other entries in the series, in that it focuses on two battles in which its subjects were involved in head-to-head clashes involving almost no other forces (other Japanese warships were present on both occasions, but Japanese defensive tactics meant that they fought almost independently). This is rarely the case - when comparing the performance of two types of infantry one always has to remember that they were fighting alongside armour, cavalry, artillery or air power (depending on the period), and were thus part of a more complex battle. Here we genuinely have a direct duel.
The book is split into two main sections. We begin with a technical history of the Japanese battleships and their anti aircraft guns, and the American aircraft involved in the battle and their main weapons (in particular their torpedoes). Amongst other things this makes you realise that despite their impressive size and fire power, the Yamato class battleships were still pre-war designs, produced before it was clear just how dominant air power would become at sea. This shows in their limited underwater protection against torpedoes, and their original anti-aircraft defences. On the American side we have yet another case of pre-war torpedoes failing to live up to expectations (you'll find the same in accounts of German and British naval warfare – only the Japanese torpedoes seem to have began the war as fully functioning weapons).
The general image of these two battles is of the Japanese battleships being overwhelming by vast Allied air attacks. In fact of 386 aircraft launched against the Yamato, only 227 found their target, attacking in two main groups and several waves. Only ten aircraft and twelve aircrew were lost on the US side, compared to over 3,000 men on the Yamato. This battle, more than any other, demonstrated that the age of the battleship was truly over.
Design and Development
The Strategic Situation
Statistics and Analysis
Author: Mark Stille