back to article Paul Allen hunts down sunken Japanese WWII super-battleship

A team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has located the final resting place of monster Japanese battleship Musashi, some 70 years after she was consigned to the depths off the Philippines during the 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf. The discovery marks the end of an eight-year search for the sunken behemoth, according to …

Pirate

Now that's what I call a hobby!

Just call me Dirk.

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Re: Now that's what I call a hobby!

Only if you call me Al whilst singing the NUMA NUMA song.

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Sad we never got fired at

" Sadly perhaps, these mighty guns never got the chance to fire at any enemy battleships "

for Enemy Battleships read "us" , or pehaps more accurately "US"

I for one am quite happy not to have "the biggest guns ever put to sea" fired at me!

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Anonymous Coward

"[...] the vessels proved fatally vulnerable** to air attack if caught without adequate air cover [...]"

A lesson which the Japanese had already taught the Allies in 1941 with Pearl Harbour - and the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse in the attack on Singapore.

In 1921 William Mitchell in the USA had demonstrated the classic battleships' vulnerability to bombing by sinking the captured Ostfriesland.

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unappreciated prophets

Billy Mitchell got court- martialed for his efforts because it upset Navy brass and a few politicians with interests in shipbuilding. At the same time, the U.S. Army refused funding for Goddards rocket tests. The NAZIs bought the patent details on a lot of his experiments. Seven hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese found American airplanes still wingtip to wingtip on the ground in the Philippines. Gen. McArthur on the Philippines was made a hero. Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short at Pearl Harbor were court-martialed. And this was after the German blitzkriegs, the Battle of Britain and Japanese takeover of French Indo-China. When slow learners have the most political clout, they don't appreciate prophets getting in the way of their profits. But, Japanese naval vessels were rumored to carry plundered gold and sometimes native currencies.

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Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

I did read somewhere that it was the RAF...

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Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

Arguably so as they were our Allies against Germany in the First World War and learnt some of their craft during that campaign. William Forbes-Sempill went there in the 20's and was later found to be passing on military secrets to them.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sempill_Mission

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Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

"I did read somewhere that it was the RAF..."

Fairey Swordfish attack on the Italian fleet in Taranto 1940

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Taranto

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Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

We did a beta release for Pearl Harbour which the Japanese observed Battle of Taranto.

Pity the Americans didn't take any notice - probably because it used canvas biplanes to destroy a naval fleet and the Americans didn't have any canvas biplanes so their fleet was safe.

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LDS
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Not so vulnerable...

... if it took 20 bombs and 17 torpedoes to sink it. Just check what was needed to sink HMS Hood in a far shorter time.

It was clear that the disparity of firepower was so large that a single ship had no chance against waves and waves of airplanes - no matter how powerful it was. Maybe with more AA firepower and in a group protected by something alike British Dido class cruisers and destroyers with enough AA weapons, it could have been a far more difficult target to sink even without air coverage.

From a pure technical point of view, it's a "pity" the Yamato-class battleship never faced the Iowa-class ones in a pure artillery fight. If Halsey didn't fall fully in Ozawa trap, and had at least left Lee group to protect the landing, it could had happened... but maybe it would have caused even more casualties.

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LDS
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Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

The Royal Navy could have made much more damages if it had dive bombers also. Often ships torpedoed in a harbor can be made afloat and repaired - heavy bombs can do much more damage.

The Japanese fleet used both at Pearl Harbor. Anyway, Swordfish would have survived even less than the Devastator and Vindicator against the Zero...

But it's interesting to note that both the Italian and British fleet avoided at all cost a battleship battle in the Mediterranean. Both got battleship sunk while in harbor, by canvas biplanes or converted torpedoes to carry special forces...

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There's an old saying that's very true. The military leadership doesn't prepare for the next war, they prepare to fight the last one. In the case of Germany and Japan, the political leadership pointed the direction. The Germans learned from their experience in Spain about fast tanks, coordinated air strkes. The lessons were lost on the rest of the world's entrenched thinking.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

"The Royal Navy could have made much more damages if it had dive bombers also."

It was 1944 before the RAF had the Tallboy bombs that severely damaged the Tirpitz in Norway.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not so vulnerable...

"Just check what was needed to sink HMS Hood in a far shorter time."

Apparently it was never explained satisfactorily why the Hood's magazine had exploded. It may have been a fluke hit that penetrated a weak spot - a bomb could have had a similar effect.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Hood_%2851%29

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The military leadership doesn't prepare for the next war

> they prepare to fight the last one

Generally the winners fight the last war - after all they won so they must have been doing it right.

The losers generally get the opportunity to hire a new set of younger generals (typically after shooting the incumbents) who take a long look at what went wrong and come up with some new ideas.

In the case where the last war was some considerable time ago it can be quite entertaining - such as the Royal Navy's attempts in WWI to re-fight the Battle of Trafalgar against the Germans.

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LDS
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Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

Tallboys were not the bombs and average carrier bomber could lift and put on a ship far away....

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tfb
Boffin

Re: Not so vulnerable...

Well, Hood was a both a battlecruiser and also substantially a pre-Jutland design. She seems to have been talked up into being a battleship but unfortunately that doesn't count for much. Battlecruisers, particularly British ones, were notorious for exploding for various reasons – inadequate deck armour (saving weight budget to allow more of it to be spent on machinery for speed) causing vulnerability at long-range, as well as to bombs later, is the commonly-accepted reason and probably did for Hood, but there's evidence that poor ammunition-handling practices (leaving scuttles open, piling up cordite in turrets to increase rate of fire) did not help at Jutland either. Hood was always going to lose against Bismarck unless she was very lucky, which she was not unfortunately.

That aside, battleships and battlecruisers both were really done for by air power by the early 30s at the latest: you can afford to throw (and lose) a lot of planes at a ship.

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Holmes

Re: Not so vulnerable...

According to a book I read on the specific history of the Musashi, there were many Japanese ships nearby when she was first attacked, but the Americans focused their efforts on her until she lagged behind and was finally sunk. If I remember correctly, the Yamato may have been elsewhere in the same loosely organized convoy.

As I further recall the stories, the Japanese originally had plans to build four ships of this class, but the third was converted into a makeshift aircraft carrier and the fourth was cancelled as the war situation 'developed not necessarily to their advantage', in the famous imperial euphemism. My memory is fuzzier on the third ship, but I think it was named the Shinano and was sunk by an American submarine quite close to Japan. They had launched it and I believe it had been ordered it to head for the Philippines, too, though it was essentially without armament at that late point in the war.

P.S. More fuzzy recollection, but I think that one of the enabling technologies for Pearl Harbor was a Japanese-designed airplane-delivered torpedo that could be used in relatively shallow water.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not so vulnerable...

[... if it took 20 bombs and 17 torpedoes to sink it. Just check what was needed to sink HMS Hood in a far shorter time.]

You really are comparing apples with pears in your statement. A few points to consider:

1. Hood was built nearly 30 years before the Musashi. Technology had moved on a lot in that time - no WW1-vintage battleship could ever realistically win in a straight-up fight with a WW2 (aka "modern") battleship.

2. Hood was a battlecruiser, not a battleship. Battlecruisers had heavy guns but thin armour, and were intended to fight and destroy cruisers, not battleships - the Battle of the Falklands in WW1 is a perfect example of how they should have been used. In the Battle of the Denmark Strait, Hood's real job was to smash the Prinz Eugene to scrap, not to take on the Bismark.

3. Hood had known flaws in her armour protection. She was scheduled for a rebuild to correct those problems in 1940 or so. Not surprisingly the rebuild was cancalled when WW2 kicked off.

4. Hood was at least sunk in a ship-to-ship fight, which is what she was designed to do. Musashi never fired her guns in anger; she was taken apart by a concentrated aircraft strike.

It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if the Musashi and Yamato ever came face-to-face with an equivalent US battleship force. I suspect that the USN might have found itself gravely overmatched - the 18" monster guns mounted on the Musashi/Yamato would have seriously out-ranged the American 16" guns, and even a single hit by one them would have probably caused major damage. Fortunately for the Americans, Pearl Harbour forced them to use a much more dangerous weapon - the aircraft carrier.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

[But it's interesting to note that both the Italian and British fleet avoided at all cost a battleship battle in the Mediterranean]

I disagree; the RN had a serious attempt to engage a battleship-vs-battleship action at the Battle of Cape Matapan, but the Regia Marina legged it for home when their flag ship (Vittorio Veneto) was hammered by an air attack lauched from the Formidable. The RN got a consultation prize however when then managed to sneak three battlkeshipd up on an Italian force of three cruisers + 2 destroyers at night; the results were pretty predictable when the first warning the Italians had was the gun flashes at point-blank range!

It should be noted that the RN commander subsequently signalled the Regia Marina in the clear giving them the location of survivours and guaranteeing safe passage for a hospital ship.

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Gold badge

Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

I seem to recall that he opened fire at something stupid like 5,000 yards at Matapan. Which isn't terribly sporting. And the Italians apparently decided that night naval fighting wasn't a great idea and didn't do much training for it. That would have been a pre-radar decision.

As for the Yamato and Musashi fighting the US battleships, one of the huge problems these two ships had is their horrific fuel consumption. The Japanese simply couldn't afford to use them very often. That's the downside of being so big.

The Italians had a similar problem, in that they were reliant on Germany for fuel supplies. And the Germans didn't give them enough to use the fleet. It wasn't a priority. At one point (mid 41 I think), the Royal Navy had zero operational battleships in the Med, as the two at Alexandria had been damaged by Italian frogmen - and I can't remember about those in Gibraltar. Torpedo or mine damage and/or being withdrawn for other duties.

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Re: unappreciated prophets

Mitchell managed the test against the Osfriesland to get the result he wanted - a demonstration that aircraft could beat warships, and not a scientific assessment of what it took to beat a warship with an aircraft.

That included having a target that wasn't fighting back, that was slowly travelling in a straight line, and that didn't take measures to counteract the effects of the bombing.

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Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

> It was 1944 before the RAF had the Tallboy bombs that severely damaged the Tirpitz in Norway.

Operation Tungsten?

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LDS
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Re: Not so vulnerable...

I did a perfect comparison between a vulnerable ship - although heavily armed, and one that wasn't. The British did a big mistake trying to match the Bismarck - a proper battleship, although with some fatal flaws as well - and the Hood, which was by design much more vulnerable. They were victims of their own propaganda.

As I said already, it would have been interesting to see the Iowa-class ships against the Yamato ones. But in the Surigao battle, the old - although some were rebuilt after being sunk at Pearl Harbor - US battleship with radar controlled fire - like the West Virginia, launched in 1921 - easily hit and destroyed the Japanese battleship before these ones were even able to obtain a firing solution. Even if your guns have a long range and heavy shells (but power doesn't depend on caliber only, as the Bismarck, again, shown), you still need to be able to get a firing solution on a moving target, and that requires some technology beyond the pure guns one. Would have the Iowa class been able to engage and hit the Yamatos before the latter could fire? Nobody will know...

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LDS
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Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

Sure, but even the British feared the submarines after losing the Eagle, IIRC, and tried to keep "valuable" ships outside dangerous areas. I agree it would have been more in Italian interest to get the RN into a battle - maybe while trying to conquer Malta to clear once for all the supply routes to North Africa, while cutting Gibraltar - Alexandria routes.

For the same reason, destroying the Italian fleet would have given British forces a great advantage in North Africa, cutting the supply lines. But unlike in the Pacific, where Japan and USA put their largest ships in combat, most of the Mediterranean battles were among cruisers and destroyers. Both high commands were reluctant to engage a "definitive" battle.

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"The Germans learned from their experience in Spain..."

As well as from the likes of B.H. Liddell Hart, J.F.C Fuller and Mikhail Tukhachevsky, all of whom (amongst numerous others) had been proposing combined arms warfare since the late 1920's. Sadly Liddell Hart and Fuller were largely ignored by the British military establishment, and Tukhachevsky's significant impact in developing Soviet Deep Battle doctrine came to a fairly abrupt end when Stalin had him purged. People like Ritter von Thoma and Heinz Guerian, who worked to develop German armoured warfare principles, cited Hart and Fuller by name in their writings on the subject.

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Re: Not so vulnerable...

I also read somewhere (very old naval book of my fathers) that the back deck of the Hood was practically awash in most seas because of the extra weight she was carrying (I assume newer anti aircraft gun systems and extra deck armour)

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Re: unappreciated prophets

Billy Mitchell got court martialed because he screwed up the chance to do scientific tests of bomb damage to ships. It was well understood that an unmanned ship at anchor was easy to sink.

In fact, as a result of his grand standing, the US Army standardised on high level bombing against ships. A tactic that proved totally useless when the unsporting chaps on ships being attacked tried turning the steering wheel thingy when someone dropped a bomb....

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Re: Not so vulnerable...

Yep - Ernle Bradford's The Mighty Hood describes that. Apparently the Hood was always wet aft in heavy seas because a late design change to add more armour made her float about four inches deeper than was originally intended.

I gather that the change was made after Jutland had shown the dangers of plunging fire, but it was too late to redesign the ship from the bottom (or the keel in this case) up.

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Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

Blackburn Skua

RN doctrine for air power was a mess - read "They gave me a Seafire" to understand the gap between the plan and reality.

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Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

I don't think a Lancaster counts as a dive-bomber, but with a tall boy or grandslam I doubt people take much notice.

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Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

> Americans didn't have any canvas biplanes so their fleet was safe.

They did have canvas torpedoes so the Japanese fleets were safe too.

The RN not the RAF taught the Japanese in WW2 it was also the RN who set up Top Gun after the USN realised their Aircraft Carriers were being run by clockworknobrains.

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Re: Who trained the Japanese to torpedo bomb?

The British didn't have a decent aircraft carrier in W2. Not for those newfangled monoplanes. The carrying capacity still remained with biplanes, not just because the Hurricane needed a half mile long airstrip until some numbnuts realised the Merlin could power three blades.

At sea, aircraft warfare is all about carrying capacity, the Spitfire never ever became a serious gun deck and the Hurricane remained a short range interceptor until the day it retired. The Whirlwind might have made a viable alternative but it only just made it off the drawing board before that too suffered the fate of having half wits in management.

Good old British blimps. They won the war, don't y'know. Made one of the blighters Prime Minister! No good at war or politics mind you, but the Yanks loved him, what?

Kicked him out soon as we realised what he done, -too late by then of course. Still, never mind, eh? What?

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Re: unappreciated prophets

> not a scientific assessment of what it took to beat a warship including not fighting back, slowly travelling in a straight line, and didn't take counter-measures.

But would have been assaulted with much smaller bombs. And your point is?

Mitchell realised that the limiting factor in the experiment was how much a plane can carry and how far it has to go. Everything else is just a matter of practice and experience -for both sides. The Doolittle raid might have accomplished everything he suggested, had the top brass learned anything from Pearl Harbour. But they never did!

The most incredible lesson from WW2 is that top brass NEVER expect the unexpected. Military training is just not geared for people who have insight.

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Re: unappreciated prophets

"Japanese naval vessels were rumored to carry plundered gold and sometimes native currencies."

Such items are also entombed under various islands in the Philippines, according to various legends.

Dumaguete is the most popular site mentioned. To this day there are fortune hunters toiling through jungle both there and on Mindanao trying to find Yamashita's Treasure.

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Re: Not so vulnerable...

For balance, check how much HMS King George V, HMS Rodney, a pair of cruisers and the best part of a squadron of destroyers dealt to Bismarck before rendering it unable to fight back.

Modern, for the time, battleships were significantly better armoured than the, even refitted, Hood.

EDIT: Pertinent bit from Thickipedia added; "The four British ships fired more than 2,800 shells at Bismarck, and scored more than 400 hits, but were unable to sink Bismarck by gunfire"

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Bronze badge

Re: Not so vulnerable...

> That aside, battleships and battlecruisers both were really done for by air power by the early 30s at the latest: you can afford to throw (and lose) a lot of planes at a ship.

Which is why I don't understand the trend towards a handful of "supercarriers", rather than a lot more smaller models. More flexibility in where you place them, and when a supercarrier gets sunk you're out a LOT of resources.

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Mushroom

The guns aren't (just) for firing at other ships

Well, yer big naval guns weren't just designed for firing at other battleships (torpedoes are better for actually sinking ships anyway, unless you get lucky with your shells and hit something vital or explosive) Big 16" and 18" guns are also for coastal bombardment; you can pulverise defences or level a city many miles away, without having to risk bombers (which may, in any case, not be able to get there if we're talking about an enemy on the other side of the Pacific and you haven't captured a few convenient airstrip islands yet). And a battleship could lob shells at a target day and night, whereas bombers only get a few minutes over the target.

There's a very good Wikipedia photo of USS Iowa firing a broadside. You might not want to be on the receiving end of that.

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Mushroom

Re: The guns aren't (just) for firing at other ships

This one? Where the very sea itself is trembling with the force of the firing?

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Re: The guns aren't (just) for firing at other ships

... though using battleships to "soften" Japanese positions on the Pacific Islands proved to be rather ineffective, as the subsequent landing parties would find out.

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LDS
Silver badge

Re: The guns aren't (just) for firing at other ships

Landings in the Pacific shown that even heavy artillery was often unable to create much damage to well designed bunkers. Especially at low angle, the shell could bounce and did little damage.

Those guns *were* designed to counter the enemy battleship, and caliber increased to be able to penetrate heavier and heavier protections. Usually a battleship carried different types of shells (at least two), with the heavier ones created to perforate enemy ships armors, while high explosive ones could be used for different targets. Anyway, each gun can't fire for too long. It gets hot, and also, it wears out. After a given number of shells, it needs a new interior.

The old "doctrine", was all about battleship firing at each other with heavy guns until one fleet destroyed or made the other retreat. Carries changed that doctrine.

UK tried to build cruisers with large guns for coastal bombardment in mind in WWI. They were the Courageous-class ones. So little useful they were converted into carriers.

Torpedoes could be effective (but battleship had heavy underwater protection as well) were slower, and visible on approach. Hood was not sunk by a torpedo. Some well places shell destroyed it in a while. A torpedo disabled the Bismarck, but didn't sunk it. Usually, torpedoes were much more effective against less protected targets, like cruisers, and especially carriers.

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tfb

Re: The guns aren't (just) for firing at other ships

Actually they really were designed just for dealing with other ships. People later tried to use them for coastal bombardment but they were not very effective for that: a lesson which should have been learnt at Gallipoli, but wasn't. To a great extent people seem to have justified expensive but essentially obsolete ships by trying to make various claims that they could be used for other purposes which in fact they were not very good for.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The guns aren't (just) for firing at other ships

... though using battleships to "soften" Japanese positions on the Pacific Islands proved to be rather ineffective, as the subsequent landing parties would find out.

unlike using German battleships to hold off Soviet ground forces pushing towards the Baltic and the cities of Koenigsberg, Danzig, Gdynia ,Kolberg.

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Re: The guns aren't (just) for firing at other ships

@LDS: the Iowa is now a museum in Long Beach, California. I had the opportunity to visit her recently, and was shown a faint scuff mark somewhere on her superstructure. It seems she was struck by a Japanese 5-inch shell- it barely scratched the paint!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The guns aren't (just) for firing at other ships

True, but all of these historically German cities are now either either Polish or Russian, after being captured several days later by Poles under General Stanislav Poplavsky or other Soviet forces (Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian). I don't necesssarily agree with the removal of prewar German culture there, mostly by the Poles.

Additionally a lot of the final push through the Baltics for example by the Armenian general Bagramyan was further inland, so most likely the opposing forces he was facing were a bit more conventional.

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Anonymous Coward

Astounding stuff

Paul has an astonishing skillset and list of accomplishments. His years playing for Tottenham Hotspur are a bit of a stain on his character, but I think we can forgive him.

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Coat

Re: Astounding stuff

Personally, I thought his run for the title in "So You Think You Can Dance" was the nadir of his ambition :)

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Flame

What is this "closure" that we here about nowadays

"bring closure to the families of those lost"

Can someone actually provide me with a clear definition of what "closure" actually means.

I have no idea why but I always have the impression that this word was invented purely for the media,lawyers or those that believe that people can come back from the dead.

If it simply means "coming to terms with someone death" or the "finally accepting someone's death" why not just use those term. Closure sounds "pityfull", it makes people appear weak even when this is not necassarily the case. It feels as though it is just another one of those words that the media or soap operas like to use to dramatize things unnecessarily.

I really can't imagine that many Japanese famillies have had difficulty sleeping for the last 70 years because they still had some doubts about whether their son's ship really did sink and whether he did or did not die in consequence..

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Re: What is this "closure" that we here about nowadays

While they do in fact fully understand that their loved one is dead and gone it is comforting to loved ones to know the location so that they can pay their respects close to the remains, even simply knowing the location is often enough.

Honestly this is something I hope you never have to understand, because to understand it you would have to experience it.

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Re: What is this "closure" that we here about nowadays

Although if they are like a couple older Germans I've met, they're attitude is probably more "My father? What father? I've never had one of those....my mother gave virgin birth"

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