Slow Death of the Nachi, 75 years on

One of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s mighty quartet of Myoko-class heavy cruisers, Nachi was a 13,000-ton brawler built at the Kure Naval Arsenal and commissioned in 1928. Carrying five dual twin turrets each with 8″/50cal 3rd Year Type naval guns, her class was the most heavily-armed cruisers in the world when they were constructed.

Nachi fought in the Java Sea (sharing in the sinking the Dutch cruiser HNLMS Java along with Graf Spee veteran HMS Exeter) and at the Komandorski Islands (where she, in turn, took a beating from the USS Salt Lake City) before she ended up as part of VADM Kiyohide Shima’s terribly utilized cruiser-destroyer force during the Battle of Surigao Strait in October 1944.

Shima, who was later described by one author as “the buffoon of the tragedy” ordered his cruisers to attack two islands he thought were American ships then raised the signal to turn and beat feet after they found the wreckage of the battleship Fuso, a move that left Nachi, the 5th Fleet flagship, damaged in a crackup with the heavy cruiser Mogami, the latter of which had to be left behind for the U.S. Navy to finish off.

Nachi pulled in to Manila Bay, which was still something of a Japanese stronghold on the front line of the Pacific War, for emergency repairs.

Discovered there two weeks after the battle by the Americans, while Shima was ashore at a meeting, Nachi was plastered by carrier SBDs and TBMs flying from USS Lexington and Essex.

In all, she absorbed at least 20 bombs and five torpedos, breaking apart into three large pieces and sinking in about 100-feet of water under the view of Corregidor. The day was 5 November 1944, 75 years ago today.

Nachi maneuvers to avoid bomb and torpedo plane attacks in Manila Bay, 5 November 1944. Note torpedo tracks intersecting at the bottom, and bomb splashes. Catalog #: 80-G-272728

Nachi under air attack from Task Group 38.3, in Manila Bay, 5 November 1944. Photographed by a plane from USS ESSEX (CV-9). Catalog #: 80-G-287018

Nachi under air attack from Task Group 38.3, in Manila Bay, 5 November 1944. Photographed by a plane from USS ESSEX (CV-9). Catalog #: 80-G-287019

Nachi dead in the water after air attacks in Manila Bay, 5 November 1944. Taken by a USS LEXINGTON plane. Catalog #: 80-G-288866

Nachi dead in the water and sinking, following air attacks by Navy planes, in Manila Bay, 5 November 1944. A destroyer of the FUBUKI class is in the background. Taken by a USS LEXINGTON plane. Note: Destroyer is either AKEBOND or USHIO. Catalog #: 80-G-288868

Nachi sinking in Manila Bay, after being bombed and torpedoed by U.S. Navy carrier planes, 5 November 1944. Note that her bow has been blown off, and the main deck is nearly washed away. The photo was taken from a USS LEXINGTON plane. Catalog #: 80-G-288871

Nachi nearly sunk, after U.S. carrier plane bomb and torpedo attacks, in Manila Bay, 5 November 1944. Air bubbles at right are rising from her midship section, while the stern is still floating, perpendicular to the water. The photo was taken from a USS LEXINGTON plane. Catalog #: 80-G-288873

Although close to shore and with several Japanese destroyers and gunboats at hand, Nachi went down with 80 percent of her crew including her skipper, Capt. Kanooka Enpei.

Also headed to the bottom with the ship were 74 officers of the IJN’s Fifth Fleet’s staff and a treasure trove of intel documents and records, the latter of which was promptly salvaged by the U.S. Navy when they moved into Manila Bay and put to good use. The library brought to the surface by hardhat divers was called “the most completely authentic exposition of current Japanese naval doctrine then in Allied hands, detailed information being included relative to the composition, and command structure of the entire Japanese fleet.”

Even though it was late in the war, Nachi was the first of her class to be lost in action. Within six months, two of her remaining sisters, Ashigara and Haguro, were sunk while Myoko was holed up in crippled condition at Singapore, where the British under Mountbatten would capture her in September. 

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