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History of the Yahagi

Don’t miss Joe Simon’s Hasegawa 1/350 scale Yahagi in the November 2017 FineScale Modeler.

You can see more of it here, too.
The Japanese light cruiser Yahagi off Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan, in December 1943. Imperial Japanese Navy photo, Mikasa Memorial Museum, Yokosuka.
The Imperial Japanese Navy light cruiser Yahagi was one of four Agano-class ships in World War II. Japanese light cruisers were initially named after rivers or streams; Yahagi was named after a stream in Aichi Prefecture in Honshu.

Laid down Nov. 11, 1941, launched Oct. 25, 1942, and commissioned on Dec. 29, 1943, Yahagi was 573 feet long and had a beam of just 50 feet, giving it a long, slender look. The ship had four screws and could produce 100,000 ship horsepower with a top speed of 35 knots. Its range was 6,300 nautical miles at 18 knots. The ship’s complement was 736 men.

Main armament was six 5.9-inch guns in three double turrets mounted along the centerline, four 3.7 guns mounted in two turrets outboard amidships, and various anti-aircraft arrangements which were increased throughout the war. Before the ship sailed into its final battle, it carried 28 single 25mm anti-aircraft guns and 10 triple-mount 25mm anti-aircraft guns; the number of 25mm barrels totaled 58. This is the configuration that is represented by my model (November 2017 FineScale Modeler).

Yahagi was designed to lead a destroyer squadron. As it was anticipated that Yahagi would engage in running torpedo battles, it was commissioned with two quadruple 610mm torpedo mounts. Designed to contribute to fleet scouting capabilities, it carried an aircraft handling deck and catapult for its two Type 0 floatplanes. Depth charge rails were installed aft for anti-submarine armament. During a July 1944 refit, a Type 13 air-search radar and Type 22 surface-search radar were installed.

Yahagi participated in three major actions during the war. The first was the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19, 1944, in the last major carrier battle of the war. It was an attempt by the Japanese to thwart the U.S. invasion of the Marianas Islands, but the battle was a rout as the Japanese lost three out of nine carriers and 400 aircraft. The Pearl Harbor veteran carrier Shokaku was torpedoed and sunk during the battle. Unscathed by the battle, Yahagi participated in rescuing the Shokaku’s crew.

The next major action involving Yahagi was the Battle of Leyte Gulf in late October 1944 as the Japanese opposed the U.S. invasion of the Philippines. It was the largest naval battle in history. The Japanese used a decoy fleet, called Northern Force, to lure the American fleet north, while Center Force and Southern Force were to close a massive pincer around the Leyte beachhead. Yahagi was a part of Center Force, the largest of the three fleets, comprising five battleships, 10 heavy cruisers, two light cruisers (including Yahagi) and 15 destroyers.

Center Force was initially attacked by submarines in the Palawan Passage. Two heavy cruisers were sunk and one damaged, but Yahagi was not targeted due to its smaller size. On October 24, Center Force was sighted in the Sibuyan Sea and subjected to a massive hours-long air assault involving more than 250 aircraft. During the ordeal, several ships were damaged and the Yamato-class battleship Musashi was sunk.

Again, Yahagi escaped damage. The fleet reversed course and was reported to be retreating, but then reversed course again and broke through the San Bernardino Strait the next day with nothing to stop it from attacking Leyte Beach except a small U.S. fleet of jeep carriers and destroyers, with the main U.S. fleet headed north to attack the Japanese decoy fleet (Southern Force having been destroyed the evening before).

But the stage was set for a heroic action by the greatly overmatched U.S. jeep carrier and destroyer fleet against Center Force. Miraculously, the Japanese were forced to retreat after a furious combined surface and air battle. During the battle, Yahagi engaged the battered destroyer USS Johnston and was hit by perhaps a dozen 5-inch shells while being strafed by aircraft from the jeep carriers, which killed an officer on the bridge and wounded several others. Ultimately, the Japanese turned and ran, believing that much larger ships were over the horizon — not knowing that the decoy plan had actually worked and there were no large U.S. warships left at Leyte.

Center Force retreated back through the San Bernardino Strait, and Yahagi returned to Brunei, Borneo, with 80 crew killed or wounded in the battle. It was ordered back to Japan in November and was escorting the battleship Kongo when it was torpedoed and sunk by the submarine USS Sealion. Yahagi escaped again and returned to Sasebo, Japan, where it received its final refit, increasing the anti-aircraft armament as described above. The ship also was painted in Sasebo gray, which it wore for the remainder of its life.

By April 1945, the U.S. invasion of Okinawa was in full swing as 300 American ships surrounded the island. It was then that the Japanese unleashed kamikaze attacks out of sheer desperation. Its surface navy almost gone, Japan assigned its few remaining ships to a suicide mission of their own. The mighty Yamato, sister of the late battleship Musashi, the Yahagi, and eight destroyers were ordered to sail 300 miles with no air cover and attack the entire U.S. fleet, beach the ships, and have the crew swim ashore to join the island defenders. The operation was titled “Operation Ten 1 Go.” Only four destroyers would survive.

The sea boils as Yahagi, dead in the water, is pounded by U.S. aircraft. U.S. Navy photo.
On April 7, 1945, the fleet was sighted and attacked by three waves of more than 300 fighters, dive bombers and torpedo planes.

Six minutes into the attack, Yahagi was struck amidships by a Mark XIII torpedo dropped by a TBF Avenger. This hit, on the starboard side near the engine rooms, brought the cruiser to a halt for the rest of the battle.

Another torpedo hit astern likely sheared off the rudder and propellers. A bomb wrecked Turret No. 2.

In the attack’s next wave, dive bombers reduced the superstructure to smoking ruins. A near miss lifted the stern entirely out of the water.

Another torpedo blasted a hole clean through the bow. A bracket of bombs brought down the main mast and wrecked the catapult.
In less than two hours, blasted by seven torpedoes and at least 12 bombs, Yahagi capsized, sank, and exploded underwater.

More than 400 men were lost. Yamato and four of the eight destroyers were also sunk in the last major operation of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

See more of Joe Simon's build of the Yahagi here.


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