Shokaku (Flying Heron)

The Shokaku (Flying Heron) was the name ship of the Shokaku class of aircraft carriers, the best designed carriers to serve with the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Second World War.

The Shokaku entered service in August 1941, just in time to take part in the attack on Pearl Harbor. After that she served in every carrier battle of the Pacific War, with the exception of the battle of Midway, before being sunk during the battle of the Philippine Sea.

After Pearl Harbor the Shokaku took part in raids on the weak Allied forces at Rabaul and on New Guinea, missing the raid on Darwin. She rejoined Vice-Admiral Nagumo’s fleet for the April 1942 raid on Ceylon, but was then detached from the main fleet to cover the planned invasion of Port Moresby.

Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor: Torpedo plane takes off from Shokaku to attack Pearl Harbor

This invasion was called off after the battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942), the first carrier battle in history. Although aircraft from the Shokaku and her sister ship the Zuikaku sank the USS Yorktown, the Shokaku was badly damaged by American bombs, and thus missed the battle of Midway (as did the Zuikaku). That battle would probably have ended very differently if the two most modern Japanese carriers had taken part.

Nakajima B5N 'Kate' taking off from Shokaku to attack Pearl Harbor
Nakajima B5N 'Kate'
taking off from

to attack Pearl Harbor

Shokaku under attack at Coral Sea, 8 May 1942
Shokaku under attack at Coral Sea, 8 May 1942

Plan of Shokaku class carrier
Plan of Shokaku class carrier

The Shokaku was damaged again during the battle of the Eastern Solomons (24 August 1942), but this time only by bomb fragments.

During the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands of October 1942 the Shokaku was the flagship of Admiral Nagumo. On 26 October her aircraft took part in the attack which sank the USS Hornet, but at the same time the Shokaku fell victim to an American attack, being hit by between three and six 1,000 bombs. Admiral Nagumo was forced to send her back to base for repairs, and she would not be operational for nine months.

When she did return the Japanese carrier force was being kept out of action. The Naval high command believed that Japan’s best chance of gaining an acceptable peace was to fight one final decisive battle with the US fleet, in which the Japanese navy would win the crushing victory they had been seeking at Midway. The chance to fight this battle came in the summer of 1944, when the Americans began to invade the Mariana Islands, an essential part of the Japanese defensive system.

During the battle of the Philippine Sea the Shokaku was part of Admiral Ozawa’s A Force. In the fighting on the morning of 19 June 1944 the majority of A Force’s aircraft were destroyed in what became known as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. At 12.20pm the Shokaku turned into the wind to take on some of the 30 survivors, and by doing this exposed herself to attack by the American submarine USS Cavalla. Three or four torpedoes hit the Shokaku, all in the bow. The torpedo hits caused fires which were made worse by leaking petrol fumes. The Shokaku burnt for three hours before sinking (either because of a final explosion or after water reached the forward elevator, flooding the hangers). The crew had just been ordered to abandon ship, but 1,272 men went down with the ship.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed




Armour – belt

1.8in (machinery)
6.5in (magazines)

 - desk

3.9in (machinery)
5.1in (magazines)


72 operation, 84 maximum


820ft 3in (waterline)
844ft 10in (maximum)

Armament as built

16 5in/40 Dual Purpose guns in eight dual mountings
36 25mm antiaircraft guns (12 triple mounts)

Crew complement


Laid down

12 December 1937


1 June 1939


8 August 1941

Sunk at Coral Sea

19 June 1944

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 November 2008), Shokaku (Flying Heron) ,

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