Zuikaku (Joyous Heron)

The Zuikaku was the second member of the Shokaku class of aircraft carriers, the best carriers to see service with the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Second World War.

She had a very similar service carrier to her sister Shokaku, but was somewhat luckier, avoiding serious damage until her final battle. Both ships took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor. They were then sent to attack Rabaul and New Guinea, missing the raid on Darwin. They rejoined Admiral Nagumo’s fleet during the April 1942 raid on Ceylon, but in the following month were detached from the main fleet to support the invasion of Port Moresby.

This move weakened the main fleet just before the crucial battle of Midway, and was only made on the understanding that the two most modern carriers in the Japanese fleet would rejoin the fleet in time to join the attack on Midway. That was not to be. At the battle of the Coral Sea the Shokaku was badly damaged, and although the Zuikaku survived intact, her air groups suffered very heavy losses, making it impossible for her to rejoin the main fleet in time.

Throwing explosives off the sinking Zuikaku, Cape Engano
Throwing explosives off the sinking Zuikaku, Cape Engano

Both ships took part in the battle of the Eastern Solomons (August 1942) and the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands (October 1942), two attempts to get reinforcements onto Guadalcanal. The Zuikaku emerged from both battles intact, avoiding a torpedo from a PBY Catalina early on 26 October at Santa Cruz, but one again she lost a large number of her aircraft and their irreplaceable aircrews.

During the battle of the Philippine Sea the Zuikaku was part of Admiral Ozawa’s A Force. She survived the fighting of 19 June 1944 intact, although like all of the Japanese carriers lost most of her aircraft. On the following day Admiral Mitscher launched a daring twilight attack on the retreating Japanese fleet. The Zuikaku was hit by at least one bomb, which penetrated the flight deck and started a fire in the hanger. The same attack also damaged the Chiyoda and sank the Hiyo.

Admiral Ozawa being transferred from Zuikaku to Oyodo
Admiral Ozawa
being transferred from
to Oyodo

By the time the Zuikaku returned to service in August 1944 she had been equipped with 26 extra 25mm anti-aircraft guns, for a total of 96. Ten of these last guns were on portable mounts that were mounted on the flight deck when no flight operations were expected. The Japanese carrier force was now a spent force. Although a number of large carriers remained intact, the aircrew needed to make them effective weapons no longer existed.

At the battle of Leyte Gulf the Japanese carriers were used as a decoy force, under Vice-Admiral Ozawa, in an attempt to draw the main American fleet away from the fleet invading the Philippines. It was hoped that this would allow the Japanese battleships to fall on the vulnerable invasion fleet.

The first part of the plan worked perfectly. Admiral Halsey had no way to know that the Japanese carriers were no longer dangerous, and so when a massive carrier force was reported approaching from the north he had little choice but to move north to intercept.  American carrier aircraft inflicting a crushing defeat on the remnants of the Japanese carrier force. On 25 October the Zuikaku was hit by seven torpedoes and nine bombs from three waves of attackers. At 2.14pm she capsized and sank.

Plan of Shokaku class carrier
Plan of Shokaku class carrier

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

25 May 1938


27 November 1939


25 September 1941

Sunk during battle of the Philippines Sea

25 October 1944

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 November 2008), Zuikaku (Joyous Heron) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_zuikaku.html

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