Zuiho (Lucky Pheonix)

The Zuiho was a light carrier that resulted from a Japanese attempt to bypass the restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty. A number of Japanese auxiliaries of the 1930s were designed so that they could easily be converted into aircraft carriers if needed. The Zuiho was originally to have been the submarine support ship Takasaki, but she was never completed in this form. In January 1940 while she was still under construction work began on turning her into a carrier.

Zuiho at Cape Engano, 25 October 1944
Zuiho at Cape Engano,
25 October 1944

This conversion, which was completed on 27 December 1940, involved replacing her diesel engines with destroyer boilers and turbines, fitting a single hanger with two elevators, capable of operating 30 aircraft, and giving her a full length flight deck. No island was installed, and she was controlled from a position in front of the hanger and underneath the flight deck.

Like most Japanese carriers her anti-aircraft armament was steadily increased throughout the war. She was built with 8 25mm AA guns in four double mountings. In 1943 this was increased to 48 25mm guns, and in 1944 to 68 25mm guns and 8 28 barrelled rocket launchers.

The Zuiho took part in the battle of Midway, where she was one of two small carriers that were attached to the Main Body, to support its battleships. 

Zuiho sinking, 25 October 1944
Zuiho sinking, 25 October 1944

Plan of Zuiho
Plan of Zuiho

During the battle of Santa Cruz of October 1942 the Zuiho operated alongside the larger Shokaku and Zuikaku in Admiral Nagumo’s Carrier Force. Just before 7:00am the Japanese discovered the location of the USS Hornet and USS Enterprise, and launched their first attack wave. Just after the last of these aircraft departed two American dive-bombers, piloted by Lieutenant-Command Strong and Ensign Irvine of the Enterprise launched a successful surprise attack on the Zuiho. Both bombs hit their target, blowing a hole in her flight deck, and forcing Nagumo to send her back to base for repairs.

At the battle of Leyte Gulf the Zuiho was part of Vice-Admiral Ozawa’s Main Body, with the task of pulling the main American fleet away from the fleet invading the Philippines. Admiral Halsey, who had no way to know that the powerful Japanese carrier force approaching from the north was actually a toothless decoy force, charged north. On 25 October 1944 the Zuiho was hit by two torpedoes and a series of bombs from three attack waves. The fatal damage was probably inflicted at around 1.30pm, and progressive flooding caused her to sink at 3.26pm, after most of the crew had been evacuated.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed









660ft 9in waterline


Eight 4in/40 DP (4 double mountings)
Eight 25mm anti-aircraft guns (four mountings)

Crew complement



19 June 1936


27 December 1940

Sunk at Cape Engano

25 October 1944

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 November 2008), Zuiho (Lucky Pheonix) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_zuiho.html

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