Warship Wednesday March 5, The Japanese Auspicious Phoenix

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday March 5, The Japanese Auspicious Phoenix

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

Here we see the aircraft carrier Zuiho (meaning “Auspicious Phoenix” or “Fortunate Phoenix”) making a run for it during the Battle of Cape Engaño, 25 October 1944. She is painted to mimic a cruiser if seen from the air, to include a false bow wave running over the front of her decking. This was in hopes of high altitude bombers aiming for the ‘center’ of the cruiser, which would be in the carrier’s wake.

Note the very 'oiler' like bow

Note the very ‘oiler’ like bow

Originally laid down as the diesel-engined submarine support ship Takasaki at Yokosuka Naval Arsenal in 1935, she was converted to a light aircraft carrier. After launching, she was completed as a flat top (and with the Japanese navy we do mean flat-top– the ship was characteristically without above deck superstructure.) Re-engined with the same steam turbines found in the IJN’s fast destroyers, she was commissioned as the Zuiho 27 Dec. 1940. Her sister ship, the torpedo support ship Tsurugizaki, was likewise also converted and commissioned as the carrier Shoho (Happy Phoenix) the same year.

She was unattractive but very lucky, covering the evacuation of Guadalcanal and the reinforcement of Rabal without a scratch.

She was unattractive but very lucky, covering the evacuation of Guadalcanal and the reinforcement of Rabal without a scratch.

The 11.500-ton, 646-foot long light carrier had a 590-foot flight deck, two elevators, and could accommodate up to 30 single-engined aircraft. This made her one of the smallest aircraft carriers in the world at the time. Even the US Navy’s diminutive USS Ranger (17,800-tons) and USS Wasp (19,200-tons) were giants compared to Zuiho, and could carry twice the aircraft.

Attached to the 3rd Carrier Div of the 1st Air Fleet, she mainly saw screening operations in the first part of WWII, not participating in any of the opening battles. At the time of the Battle of Midway, she was with the Japanese fleet, but did not take part in that battle, protecting the support units of Yamamoto ‘s task force instead. Her air group consisted of six Mitsubishi A5M “Claude” and six Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zero” fighters, and twelve Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” torpedo bombers.

zuiho color

In the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, her air group passed that of the USS Enterprise and Zuiho came out of the engagement with a couple of bombs in deck. Throughout 1943 and 1944 she dodged US submarines (including a close attack from USS Skate) and aircraft, always coming out smelling like roses, surviving the catastrophic Battle of the Philippine Sea by a combination of luck. Her sister lost her life early, Shōhō was the first Japanese aircraft carrier to be sunk during World War II when aircraft from the USS Lexington (“Scratch one flat top!”) sent her to the bottom in four minutes during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Then came 25 October 1944. Zuiho was then given the task of attacking the US forces in the Leyte Gulf. She, along with the Chiyoda, Chitose and Zuikaku, was to serve as decoys to attract attention away from the two other, better prepared forces approaching from the south and west. The carrier was largely stripped of aircraft and going for her certain doom.

Spotted, the US fleet flew hundreds of aircraft against the ill-fated force. In a running battle Zuiho was struck by no less than three bombs, a torpedo, and 77 near misses (proving the camo may have worked!) in four terrific waves.

Finally, taking on water and listing,  Zuihō sank at 1526 at position 19°20′N 125°15′E with the loss of 7 officers and 208 men. The destroyer Kuwa and the battleship Ise rescued 58 officers and 701 men between them.


Displacement: 11,262 tons (standard); 14,200 tuns (full)
Complement: 785
Length: 674.3′
Beam: 59.9 feet
Draught: 21.7 feet
Aircraft: 30
Speed: 28 kts
8 x 5″/40 cal in 4 twin mounts 2 sets removed .1934
8 x 25mm
56 x 25mm by .1944
8 x 28 barrell rocket launchers .1943
12 x 13.2mm
Machinery: Geared turbines. S.H.P. 52,000 = 28.2 kts, 2 shafts.

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