Warship Wednesday July 6, 2016: Of British frogmen and Japanese holy mountains

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off 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. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday July 6, 2016: Of British frogmen and Japanese holy mountains

Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter

Here we see His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s Ship Takao, the leader of her class, who would go on to fight giants only to be crippled by midgets.

Beginning in the 1920s, the Imperial Japanese Navy had progressed from their traditional enemies– the Chinese, Russians, and Imperial Germans– to the prospect of taking on the British and Americans in the Pacific. This led to new battleships and carriers.

To screen these ships, heavy cruisers were needed. This led to the eight ships that included the 9,500-ton Furutaka-class, 8,900-ton Aoba-class, and 14,500-ton Myōkō-class heavy cruisers built between 1925-29. Building on the lessons learned from these, the Navy ordered four impressive 15,490-ton Takao-class ships, each mounting 10 20 cm/50 3rd Year Type naval guns (the heaviest armament of any heavy cruiser in the world at the time) and buttressed by up to five inches of armor plate.

Bow turrets of Takao about 1932. Via Navweaps

Bow turrets of Takao about 1932. Via Navweaps

Capable of making 35+ knots, these were bruisers and if their main guns did not catch you then their eight tubes of Type 90 (and later Type 93) torpedoes would.

Laid down at Yokosuka Naval Arsenal on 28 April 1927, class leader Takao was named after the holy mountain in Kyoto which is home to the Jingo-ji temple that dates back to the 9th Century.

She was commissioned 20 May 1932 and soon three sisters followed her into service.

IJN heavy cruiser Takao as published in The Air and Sea Co. - The Air and Sea, vol.2, no.6 1933

IJN heavy cruiser Takao as published in The Air and Sea Co. – The Air and Sea, vol.2, no.6 1933

Japanese heavy cruiser ship: H.I.J.M.S. TAKAO Catalog #: NH 111672

Japanese heavy cruiser ship: H.I.J.M.S. TAKAO Catalog #: NH 111672

May.11,1937 Takao class Heavy-cruiser Takao at Sukumo Bay. Note her extensive bridge and mast location. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

May.11,1937 Takao class Heavy-cruiser Takao at Sukumo Bay. Note her extensive bridge and mast location. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter

Proving top-heavy, Takao and to a lesser degree her sisters were modified by having their bridge reduced, main mast was relocated aft, and hull budges added to improve stability.

World War II era recognition drawings, showing the configuration of Takao (1932-1945) and Atago (1932-1944), as modernized in 1938-39. The original print came from Office of Naval Intelligence files. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 97770

World War II era recognition drawings, showing the configuration of Takao (1932-1945) and Atago (1932-1944), as modernized in 1938-39. The original print came from Office of Naval Intelligence files. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 97770

July 14, 1939 Takao-class Heavy cruiser "Takao" on sea trials at Tateyama after reconstruction. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

July 14, 1939 Takao-class Heavy cruiser “Takao” on sea trials at Tateyama after reconstruction. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter

1939 Yokosuka

1939 Yokosuka

Takao cut her teeth patrolling off the coast of China during military operations there and on Dec. 8, 1941 fired her first shots in anger against Americans when she plastered the shoreline of the Lingayen Gulf on Luzon in the Philippines.

Moving into the Dutch East Indies operating with Cruiser Division 4, she quickly sank five Dutch merchantmen, the British minesweepers HMS Scott Harley and M-51, the Clemson-class destroyer USS Pillsbury (DD-227) with all hands, and the Royal Australian Navy sloop HMAS Yarra in the first part of 1942.

During the Battle of Midway, Takao and her sister Maya took part in the diversionary task force to capture Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians.

November 1942 found her off Guadalcanal with Adm.Nobutake Kondō’s task force built around the battleship Kirishima, Takao and her sister Atago, light cruisers Nagara and Sendai, and nine destroyers. There they collided with TF-64 under Admiral Willis A. Lee made up of the new battleships USS Washington (BB-56) and South Dakota (BB-57), together with four destroyers.

By Lukasz Kasperczyk

By Lukasz Kasperczyk

IJN Takao in Action

In the ensuing melee, Takao hit SoDak multiple times with shells, knocking out her radar and fire controls and fired Long Lance torpedoes at Washington but missed. Kirishima sank and the battle was a strategic victory for Halsey and the U.S. fleet.

For the next year, she spent her life on the run, hiding from the ever-increasing U.S. submarine force while she helped evac Guadalcanal and hid out at Truk. During the war her armament and sensor package changed a number of times (as evidenced by the plans under the specs section below).

In Nov. 1943 Takao was shellacked by SBDs Dauntless from USS Saratoga, dodged torps from USS Dace the next April, then sucked up two torpedoes from USS Darter that October which left her unable to do much more than limp around the ocean at 10-knots.

By Halloween 1944, Takao was the last of her class. Sisterships Atago, Maya and Chokai were all sunk (two by submarines) within the same week during the Battle of Leyte Gulf/Samar by U.S. forces.

A wreck, by Nov. 1944 she was largely immobile at Singapore, afloat with nothing but a skeleton crew on board and no ammunition for her large guns. Her value strictly as a floating and heavily camouflaged anti-air battery.

Crucero pesado Takao en 1945 - Lukasz Kasperczyk

Crucero Takao en 1945 – Lukasz Kasperczyk

She was joined there by Myōkō, who like Takao and the rest of the available Combined Fleet, had participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf which left her with an air-dropped torpedo in her hull and another, picked up from the submarine USS Bergall as the heavy cruiser staggered off to Southeast Asia, left her irreparable at Singapore without more materials, and impossible to tow to Japan.

Operation Struggle

During the war, the British built a more than two dozen 54-foot long X/XE/XT-class midget submarines. Capable of just a short 24-36 hour sortie, they had to be launched close to their target (think SMS Tirpitz) by a tender ship and, after penetrating an enemy harbor, frogmen would attach demo charges to ships belonging to the Emperor or Der Fuhrer.

diagram_600They carried a crew of four: typically a Lieutenant in command, with a Sub-Lieutenant as deputy, an Engine Room Artificer in charge of the mechanical side and a Seaman or Leading-Seaman. At least one of them was qualified as a diver.

In January 1945, the converted freighter HMS Bonaventure (F139) set sail for the Pacific with six XE-type submarines on her deck, arriving at Brisbane, Australia on 27 April– as the European war ended. The first action these Lilliputian subs saw was in an attempt to cut the Japanese underwater telegraph lines off Borneo.

In Hervey Bay, Queensland, XE3 prepares for trials July 1945

In Hervey Bay, Queensland, XE3 prepares for trials July 1945

Warming up for more daring missions, the Brits launched Operation Struggle in August in which Bonaventure sailed for the coast near Singapore and launched HMS XE1 and XE3 into the waves with a mission to sink the (already busted) Japanese cruisers Myōkō and Takao respectively. Escorted closer by the S-class submarine HMS Stygian, the tiny XE boats took all afternoon and night to penetrate the harbor defenses.

Lieutenant Ian Edward Fraser RNR, commanded the three-man crew inside XE-3 when they found Takao, then lying in the Johore Straits to guard the entrance to occupied Singapore, and what he saw was surreal.

The plates of the hull and the rivets of the big cruiser could be seen very clearly through the porthole of XE-3 in the 18-feet of seawater between the bottom of the ship and the mud. One side tank held 2-tons of amatol high explosive, the second one held six 200-pound limpet mines, and Fraser held two “spare” limpets in the casing of the midget sub.

tako attack

After setting all of their charges, Fraser surfaced the tiny sub not too far off from the cruiser so the crew could see the vessel for what they thought was the last time, “I thought they might like to see it,” he said in a post-war interview.

Six hours later the charges tore a gaping hole in the cruiser’s hull, putting her turrets out of action, damaging her range finders, flooding numerous compartments and immobilizing the cruiser for the remainder of the war. She settled six feet six feet deeper into the harbor though her 01 deck was still above water even at high tide and was still technically afloat.

Both Magennis and Fraser gained the Victoria Cross for this hazardous mission, with the other two crew members also decorated ( Sub-Lieutenant William James Lanyon Smith, RNZNVR, who was at the controls of XE3 during the attack, received the DSO; Engine Room Artificer Third Class Charles Alfred Reed, who was at the wheel, received the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal).

James Magennis VC and Ian Fraser VC WWII IWM 26940A

James Magennis VC and Ian Fraser VC WWII IWM 26940A

A week later, after aerial recon showed the Takao was still in the harbor– though nearly on the bottom of it– Fraser and his crew were readying a second go round on the ship and the Myōkō that was postponed by the dropping of the A-bomb and then later canceled once the surrender was announced.

This, Fraser said, made him a big fan of the Bomb and left him with a rough attitude towards Japanese.

Both Myōkō and Takao surrendered to the British when they arrived in Singapore in force on Sept. 21 as part of Operation Tiderace, and when the RN got a closer look at the two found out the truth about their condition.

Fraser even returned to inspect the Takao in Singapore himself just after the end of the war. The beaten cruiser, however, would never see Japan again. She was patched up and scuttled 27 October 1946 by British Forces, with the Crown Colony-class light cruiser HMS Newfoundland (59) sending her into very deep water by the judicious use of naval gunfire and torpedoes– likely one of the last time a cruiser used a torpedo on another.

Her crew was repatriated to Japan in 1947.

As for XE-3, she was scrapped along with most of the other British midgets with only XE8 “Expunger” saved and put on public display at the Chatham Historic Dockyard.

For Takao, little remains.

A 1930 1:100 scale builder’s model of the Takao, captured in Japan in 1945, is in the collection of the Naval History and Heritage Command and has been displayed off an on for generations.

Catalog #: NH 84079

Catalog #: NH 84079. Note her original mast and bridge.

Takao has, however, inspired a number of pieces of naval art, mainly for model covers over the past several decades.

39070 14705281 1268706194823 Japanese heavy cruiser Takao

In the UK, the Imperial War Museum has the frogman swim suit worn on by Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis RN, VC when as the diver of the midget submarine XE3 (commanded by Lieutenant Ian Edward Fraser RNR) he attached limpet explosive charges to the hull of  ‘Takao‘, as well as a white IJN captain’s field cap recovered from the vessel.

Underwater swim suit Mark III, Royal Navy used in Takao raid

The IWM also has a 1980 interview with XE 3 skipper Lt. Comm. Ian Fraser, V.C., D S.C. that includes his own account of the Takao strike (reel 2 and 3).

He wrote a book about his WWII exploits, which is long out of print but is still very much in circulation.

frogman vc

Takao plans via shipbucket http://www.shipbucket.com/images.php?dir=Real%20Designs/Japan

Takao’s ever-changing plans via shipbucket

9,850 t (9,690 long tons) (standard)
15,490 t (15,250 long tons) (full load)
192.5 m (632 ft.)
203.76 m (668.5 ft.) overall
19 m (62 ft.)
20.4 m (67 ft.)
6.11 m (20.0 ft)
6.32 m (20.7 ft.)
4 shaft geared turbine
12 Kampon boilers
132,000 shp (98,000 kW)
Speed: 35.5–34.2 knots (65.7–63.3 km/h; 40.9–39.4 mph)
Range: 8,500 nautical miles (15,700 km; 9,800 mi) at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph)
Complement: 773
Original layout:
10 × 20 cm/50 3rd Year Type naval guns (5×2)
4 × Type 10 12 cm high angle guns (4×1)
8 × 61 cm torpedo tubes (4×2)
2 × 40 mm AA guns (2×1)
2 x 7.7 mm Type 92 MG (2×1)
Final Layout (Takao):
10 × 20 cm/50 3rd Year Type naval guns (5×2)
4 × Type 89 12.7 cm (5 in) dual-purpose guns, (4×1)
66 × Type 96 25 mm (1.0 in) AA guns (26×1, 12×2, 24×3)
4 × Type 93 13.2 mm (0.5 in) AA machine guns
Type 93 torpedoes (4×4 + 8 reloads)
depth charges
main belt: 38 to 127 mm
main deck: 37 mm (max)
upper deck: 12.7 to 25 mm
bulkheads: 76 to 100 mm
turrets: 25 mm
Aircraft carried:
One Aichi E13A1 “Jake”
Two F1M2 “Pete” seaplanes
Aviation facilities: 2 catapults

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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