© July 2001 A.P. Tully


The Loss of Battleship KONGO: As told in Chapter "November Woes" of "Total Eclipse: The Last Battles of the IJN - Leyte to Kure 1944 to 1945".

@ Anthony P. Tully 1998

During the ongoing struggle to reinforce and preserve Suzuki's 35th Army on Leyte, the First Striking Force had spent all it's time hovering at Brunei Bay. Apart from it's sortie in its vain diversion attempt during the TA IV and III transportations, it had scarcely moved from there since returning from the great battle of Leyte Gulf

The warships of the fleet had spent all this time making what emergency repairs and overhauls that they could, while awaiting final instructions on who was to go where from Tokyo. Actually, that had already been decided, but had yet to be put into effect. As early as 4 November an inspection team led by Radms. Yagasaki Masatsume and Iwasaki Wasaburo of the Manila Technical Department had made its recommendations to Kurita and to Tokyo. Intervening urgent needs, like the need to support the TA Operations, had prevented its earlier implementation; now the damage states of the individual ships basically determined their ultimate destination. Of the battleships, YAMATO, NAGATO, and KONGO must all go home to Japan for repairs to their damages suffered at Leyte Gulf. Only HARUNA was fit for duty and to proceed to Singapore.

[KONGO had to return because of oft-unreported damage: the text from the Samar chapter says in part :"On 25 October 1944, during the air attacks of TF 38, the heretofore charmed KONGO had in fact suffered notable damage. At 1330 she was bracketed by six very near-misses that heavily shook the old lady. A gash was torn in the blister on the starboard side abreast the bridge, opening fifteen oil tanks to the sea. Another bomb off the starboard quarter damaged the blades of both starboard propellers. As a result of these shocks, KONGO lost 307 tons of fuel and had three 25mm mounts wrecked. Casualties included 12 killed and 36 wounded from flying fragments. This damage, overlooked in prior credits, can almost certainly be credited to the flyers of McCain's TG 38.1, and proved sufficient to force the return of the KONGO to homeland in November. By so doing, resulting in the fatal encounter with USS SEALION II to be described later." Thus, it was simply a case of the three damaged BBs going home, and the shipshape BB remaining on duty - Tony].

Among the cruisers, the TONE had heavy damage to stern and starboard engines; her hull seriously strained. She had to go home to Japan, as did YAHAGI. MYOKO and TAKAO were even worse off, and immobilized at Singapore. ASHIGARA was fit for action and were earmarked for Singapore.

Of course, since this report had been issued circumstances had made some of it's statements past-tense. Some of the vessels involved had already gone--either home or to the bottom. TONE for example, had departed for the homeland on the 8th with JUNYO. Essentially the recommendations remained unchanged and on the 15th of November Combined Fleet ordered a major fleet reorganization effective that date. It's structure reflected the changed situation and the increased emphasis on the Second Striking Force as the major operational fleet from now on.

Vice Admiral Ugaki Matome's First Battleship Division was abolished completely, with YAMATO designated flagship of the 2nd Fleet, and the NAGATO reassigned to join Vice Admiral Suzuki's Third Battleship Division of KONGO and HARUNA. Also eliminated was Ozawa's shredded Mobile Fleet and his extinct Cardiv 3, as well as Crudivs 4 and 7. DesRons 1 and 10 were deactivated, and their survivors incorporated into a vastly expanded DesRon 2 five days later on 20 November. The Second Striking Force would go to Singapore, while the bulk of First Striking Force would return to Japan.

This last part was to be carried out immediately. In fact, Kurita himself was to take the YAMATO, NAGATO, and KONGO home for repairs the moment refueling was finished, which meant by the afternoon of the next day. Since YAMATO was going home anyway, Vice Admrial Ugaki, though no longer in command of ships, decided to ride her home as a passenger. It appears that Rear Admiral Kimura Susumu made the same decision on YAHAGI.

The next day, Saturday the 16th, Vadm Shima arrived off Brunei aboard HATSUSHIMO in company with ASASHIMO and TAKE. Before they could catch their breath the air-raid alarm sounded at 1100. The Japanese warships hastily got underway, as the long-feared air attack on Brunei arrived at last in the form of forty B-24s and 15 P-38s. Not caught by surprise, the big ships were underway and maneauvered at high speed in the roomy waters of the vast bay. The great YAMATO was an impressive sight as she looped around at 24 knots, her great 18in guns joining the barrage of anti-aircraft fire. The enemy planes broke formation and scattered when the first San-shiki exploded, but none of them were seen to fall.

After YAMATO's guns had belched forth ten salvos the attackers drew away. The long-feared air raid on Brunei had finally occurred but had turned out to be largely a no-show. Of course the story might have been different had they been Halsey's carrier planes, trained and equipped for such a task. That very option had been denied the fighting admiral by his commitments to Leyte's support.

The only damage inflicted had been slight fragment and bullet damage on cruisers HAGURO and OYODO and killed a man on destroyer YUKIKAZE. But Kurita was anxious to depart knowing full well, that next time, they might not be so lucky. His opinions were shared by the Chief of Staff of the 5th Fleet, Rear Admiral Takeshi Matsumoto. He had just arrived in Brunei with Admiral Shima and had too vivid a memory of narrowly escaping the sinking of NACHI. That flagship's destruction had taken place in a wide bay much like this one. After leaving Manila late on the 13th Shima had arrived at Brunei just as the air raid was breaking and had waited outside till the all clear. For a few hours the fleet at Brunei was swollen to considerable strength.

It didn't last long, because at 1820, right on schedule, YAMATO blinkered the orders for the designated home-bound ships to weigh anchor. Light cruiser YAHAGI led the way, then battleships KONGO and NAGATO, with graceful YAMATO bringing up the rear. Screening them was all four ships of DesDiv 17; flagship URAKAZE, the ISOKAZE, YUKIKAZE, and HAMAKAZE.

The fleet set course northwest past the Pratas and toward Formosa Straits, and beyond it Japan. Left behind was the HARUNA, now assigned to Shima. The KONGO's and HARUNA's crews regarded this separation with some unease. The lucky pair had been constant companions since the beginning and this may have been the first time KONGO and HARUNA parted company in a combat zone. If so, it was as if some tenuous invisible thread of fortune had been severed. The two sisters would never see each other again.

Karma notwithstanding, the separation had a simple practical reason. RADM Shigenaga Kazutake's HARUNA was still in fighting shape, and so had been assigned to accompany Shima's 2-YB south to Singapore. She would serve as the southern fleet's main strength, her big guns and speed making her ideal to keep company with the cruisers and destroyers.

Shima's preparations for sailing did not take very long, and having broken his flag on heavy cruiser Ashigara he followed Kurita to sea at 0400 the 17th with HARUNA, HAGURO, and OYODO. Screening them were HATSUSHIMO and ASASHIMO. Escort destroyer TAKE proceeded independently to Shinnan Gunto, under orders to return to Manila and escort the Fifth Transport Operation.(See Chapter 12)

Before proceeding to Lingga they moved north to the Pratas Islands (SE of Hong Kong). Arriving 1300 18 November, they found KASUMI and USHIO waiting. Also present was Matsuda's Cardiv 4 (HYUGA; ISE) which had arrived that day accompanied by SHIMOTSUKI. The rendezvous with Matsuda's battleships effected and their supplies for Manila transhipped, Shima was ready to lead his much expanded command to Lingga. Departing the Pratas on the 19th, his force of three battleships, two heavy and one light cruiser, plus five destroyers headed southwest for Lingga.

The voyage was made without incident until the very last day at sea. At 0705 22 November the OYODO reported sighting a submarine and opened fire. With smoke streaming from their stacks HATSUSHIMO and SHIMOTSUKI charged the submarine and laid down a depth charge attack, but no results were observed. After this the fleet hurried into Lingga, arriving at 1500 later that day. It apparently hurried too fast, for as the ships moved toward their assigned anchorages the HARUNA ran suddenly aground sixty miles out with an unnerving grinding and lurch.

Anxious moments passed, and it was seen that the battleship was stuck fast. At length she was finally pulled loose, but not before the tide and her weight did much damage to her underwater hull on the port side forward of the bridge. The Lingga harbor masters hastened to offer apologies of the deepest sympathy and shame that their navigation aides had proven faulty. That brought Shima little comfort. The severity of the damage had in effect deprived him of his best capital ship---she would have to return to Japan for docking, no question about it. The heretofore charmed HARUNA's luck had turned unaccountably sour. What her disgusted captain and crew did not know, was just the day prior, Fortune had already more harshly withdrawn her favor from their sister battleship.

Since leaving Brunei, Kurita's section (including YAMATO) had proceeded northward toward Formosa without incident. At lunchtime on 20 November, the first section of the once proud First Striking Force was passing through the straits between the Pescadores Islands and the southern part of Formosa. Ugaki scanned the seas, but noted with pleasure that the current, as usual, was quite strong, and that no enemy submarines frequented this area, apparently for that selfsame reason.

For a while the escort-destroyers UME and KIRI had joined the screen, to bolster the coverage in the sub-infested waters south of Formosa. It is unclear if they were intended to transit the strait with 1-YB, for the KIRI suffered a casualty of some kind, and she and UME had to sheer off for Mako, where they arrived 21 November. Other than this, nothing disturbed the force, and in any case four days would see all back home in the Inland Sea. With a nod of approval, Ugaki let his eyes once more take in the view of the other ships. His own ship YAMATO, on which he was a mere passenger, albeit an illustrious one, was still last in line of the four ships. Ahead, he could see his beloved NAGATO, and in front of her, the tall pagoda of the veteran KONGO, with the lead ship YAHAGI occasionally coming into view as the fleet zigged and zagged.

On the flanks, ever vigilant, patrolled the four destroyers, ISOKAZE and HAMAKAZE to port, ComDesDiv 17's URAKAZE and the YUKIKAZE to starboard; all veterans of countless voyages like this one. The fleet steamed on, making a steady 16 knots. Though Ugaki might have wished for more speed, the economics of fuel made this pace a necessity. For his part, Admiral Kurita Takeo probably didn't mind. He was surely in no hurry to face the moment of explanation before his superiors in Tokyo. No trace of reprimand had been issued, but still, there were rumors. Assumptions.

After sundown, the night turned out to be dark and cloudy, with moonlight shining dimly through silvery wisps of clouds in a black sky and sea. Shortly before midnight, disturbing news brought Ugaki to the bridge of the YAMATO. Enemy radar waves had been detected: Anywhere at some spot between a bearing of 0 and 70 degrees. There was some consternation.

Was it an enemy plane, shadowing the battle fleet by night, or more dangerous, an enemy submarine? No one knew. As YAMATO's C.O. RADM Morishita stared with silent concentration into the black expanse beyond the windows of the bridge, it was observed that the waves seemed to be shifting; more like a night spotter would do. The question was, what action to take?

Ugaki was party to the short midnight discussion that followed, as the officers studied the bearings and leaned over their charts in the subdued light. After a moment, the decision was made. Course would be set to 050 degrees, and the battle group would seek to break past whatever lay ahead, plane, or sub, at 16 knots by minimal zigzagging.

The signal went out to YAHAGI, KONGO, and NAGATO, and the destroyers were instructed to maintain a vigilant watch for signs of submarine activity. Soon those aboard could just feel YAMATO's huge hull swinging to starboard to the new course, with scarcely any heel. The minutes ticked by steadily, as Tuesday 21 November 1944 arrived and drew on. Visibility was still dim, with the horizon just discernible from the black sky. To starboard, loomed the brooding bulk of Formosa, some 60 miles distant. As the fleet pounded on, it was seen that the enemy radar waves were now swinging left, drawing around to port and astern as the fleet turned and steered northeast.

Heads nodded in satisfaction. By 0230 it seemed pretty clear that it was a shadowing aircraft, for if it was a submarine, the signal would have ceased abruptly, as it dived for the approach to attack. Ugaki was considering this, and took yet another peering look out YAMATO's windows into the night where the dark shape of NAGATO and the wakes of the ships ahead were just visible. It was perhaps high time to leave the bridge and turn in. It would be dawn in about four hours.

Unbeknownst to Kurita and Ugaki, the contact being tracked was not an airplane, but indeed a submarine. She was the USS SEALION II(SS-315) under command of the thirty-four year old Captain Eli T. Reich. He had been on patrol near the northern tip of Formosa when at 0020 his radar had detected three and unusually strong pips off the starboard quarter at the incredibly long range of 44,000 yards.

At first, Reich was convinced he was somehow bouncing off Formosa, but at 0048 radar reported that the range had closed to 32,000 yards and the following electrifying report was passed: "Two targets of battleship proportions and two of large cruiser size! Course 060 True! Speed 16 knots! Not zigging!"

Reich got off a contact report to Pearl immediately, and came about for an end-run. The night was overcast and moonless, the sea fairly calm though with rising wind, and visibility was some 1,500 yards. Nevertheless, Reich decided to chase and attack on the surface. This was an unusual decision in a situation with heavy fleet units, for SEALION II would be running the grave risk of being detected by Japanese radar (in fact, already had been, apparently, by YAMATO!) and would be on the receiving end of a devastating potential of salvos if discovered. Nevertheless, Reich realized he would need all the surface speed he could achieve if he was to get around and ahead of the task force for an attack position.

He stepped up to full speed and commenced his end run. By 0146, in increasing winds and seas, SEALION was parallel on the enemy's port beam, and radar showed four heavy ships in line of column, cruiser, battleship, battleship, another cruiser; escorted by apparently three destroyers - one 1,800 yards off either bow of the first battleship, with a third on the BB's starboard quarter. The Japanese fleet still was not zigzagging, and was steaming blissfully unaware on course 057 as the submarine gradually edged out in front.

Unaware of the mighty guns he was in fact challenging, Reich at 0245 was in perfect attack position. He slowed SEALION, and turned in to make the run at the enemy's port bow. Selecting the second ship in line, ie the first battleship, as target, Reich kept his bow pointed at the nearest destroyer [ISOKAZE] which the conning tower watch could now dimly make out some 1,800 yards away. This was the first visual contact with the enemy in a chase that had been till then entirely conducted by radar.

Noting the tendency of the destroyers to overlap on the radar with the BBs, Reich set his torpedo depths forward at eight-feet. This way, he just might hit a destroyer too. The choice was to have an interesting consequence. At 0256, Reich came to heading 168 and fired all six bow electric torpedoes from the tubes on a 90 degree port track, at a range of 3,000 yards. As they did, the bridge quartermaster reported that he could make out a high, pagoda-like outline on the target, definitely a battleship.

Reich came right with full rudder to a westerly heading for a stern shot, and at 0259:30 fired three stern tubes (the fourth, No. 8, was out of order) at a range of 3,100 yards at a ten-foot depth setting, keeping it shallow like the first. Target was the third ship, the second battleship (NAGATO). As the last fish left the tubes, Reich ordered flank speed due west to clear the area.

The Japanese ships had been fighting the same worsening weather as the SEALION. On the destroyers the seas were so stormy that water flooding into the bridges constantly so that some men on watch took their shoes off. Still, this weather made enemy attack less likely and all had silently relaxed. Aboard the YAMATO, Ugaki was just about to turn in himself. He took a final glance out of the red-lighted bridge into the night. Suddenly, at 0301, there was a sudden burst of light, a flash of dim flame, and a waterspout climbed the side of KONGO near the head of the line. Alarms sounded, even as another flash and column of water followed, and perhaps more.

When she saw the waterspouts on KONGO, the NAGATO, followed by YAMATO astern, instinctively and instantly threw her helm hard to port to comb any more torpedoes that might be approaching. By doing so, she successfully deprived Reich of a double-battleship score, with SEALION's second salvo crossing ahead of NAGATO and continuing on to the west.

This salvo did connect anyway, for the torpedoes went straight on to intersect the path of the first destroyer of the starboard screen, DesDiv 17 flagship URAKAZE herself. At 0304, probably just as she was rigging her depth charges and preparing anti-submarine action, the flagship was hit in the port side by the third torpedo of Sealion's salvo aimed at NAGATO. There was a brilliant "circle of light" and a series of "lesser detonations" as URAKAZE was blown apart. Perhaps the torpedo had caught her forward magazine, or exploded her torpedo tubes amidships, as often happened. In any case, within two minutes, she had vanished into the black waters, the "lesser detonations" perhaps her own depth charges exploding with fatal effect among what survivors had managed to get off her.

Her sudden disappearance was not well understood and was misinterpreted by her comrades. Since URAKAZE had been to starboard of KONGO when she blew up, the other destroyers at first assumed the attack had come from the east, and YUKIKAZE astern immediately charged out to depth charge the sea there. This spawned both Sealion and post-war (and slightly unfair) claims of Japanese anti-submarine incompetence. As it was, perhaps not having observed the hits on KONGO clearly, the mistake was natural. And the loss of the division leader could only have added to the confusion.

Nor was that the only confusing thing. At the moment of impact, some of KONGO's fantail 25mm batteries had opened fire, shooting blindly into the sky for a few seconds. Some officers apparently believing the strikes had come from the suspected shadowing bomber. It seems that no one immediately guessed a submarine.

Two of Sealion's six torpedoes had caught the KONGO . One in the port bow chain locker, the other aft of amidships, port side, under the No.2 stack jarring the great battleship and causing spouts visible two ships astern on YAMATO. The hits came with two loud booms followed by a `low grinding sound which vibrated the whole body of the ship'. The bugle blared over the speakers, sounding the crew to action stations. Loudspeakers called for emergency teams to proceed to the inner anchor deck and effect shoring procedures. The torpedo hit there had torn a large gash in the bow. The second hit had flooded KONGO's Nos. 6 and 8 boiler rooms, but the remaining boilers could provide adequate steam pressure, and despite the loss of fuel, enough remained to continue onward at fleet speed of 16 knots. However, the KONGO did begin to assume a slow list to port and stayed there.

The NAGATO and YAMATO completed their evasive circles to port and seeing that KONGO was still underway, resumed formation. While still in the turn the YAMATO had seen a burst of light where URAKAZE was supposed to be, and contact had now been lost with her. The Japanese suspected the worst, but there could be no stopping now with a damaged battleship to look after. Gradually order returned and encouraged by KONGO's reports, returned to the base northeast course.

Though a considerable section of the port side and machinery spaces amidships aft were flooded, there was little initial concern among KONGO's veteran crew. The men were well trained, and there was no panic, or even much excitement. Many returned to their stations, and some even to bed, as the battleship pounded onward. ComBatDiv 3 Vice Admiral Suzuki Yoshio was on the bridge and after hearing the report from the BB's C.O. RADM Shimazaki Toshio, signaled CinC Kurita and his friend Ugaki aboard YAMATO the details. Once it was learned that KONGO's damage appeared manageable, the decision was made to maintain speed and attempt to escape any pursuit by the enemy.(At the time it appears that URAKAZE had not even been missed yet).

The enemy was indeed pursuing. From the conning tower of the SEALION II, now 8,000 yards west of the fleet, Reich was chagrined to learn that the enemy force was continuing on at 16 knots and that apparently his low depth setting had only dented the battleships. No more aware than the Japanese were that he had already sunk URAKAZE, Reich feared he had blown his shot by being greedy with the shallow setting and clearly, another attack was necessary.

He rushed a reload of his bow tubes and set off in hot pursuit at full speed into the teeth of a steadily mounting gale. Calling for more speed, he plowed his submarine through the seas at 16.8 to 17 knots, under increasing strain on the engines and the worsening seas that were now about Force 5 or 6. The winds were caterwauling and solid water was coming over the bridge and water down the conning tower hatch, but Reich drove onward.

The KONGO and the other battleships knew Sealion was in pursuit. They had detected Reich's radar waves and at about 0405 begun to zig-zag. The YAMATO was tracking the enemy submarine and if necessary could open fire, but the best chance of avoiding harm was to maintain course and speed. However the increasing gale complicated things for the Japanese too. It was true that the torpedo hits had inflicted moderate to severe initial damage that seemed under control, but since Shimazaki continued to maintain KONGO's speed after the hits, the pressure of the inrushing water steadily buckled and crushed other bulkheads one after another. This aggravated the damage, and made damage control's task harder. As the battle fleet drove northeast in the heavy seas, the opened portion of KONGO's bow was constantly shipping water. The hole in the bow was being wrenched wider, as had happened to MUSASHI at Sibuyan Sea the past month.

Divers assigned to the task fearlessly donned their gear and despite the heavy seas and danger, proceeded to the damaged area to try to seal the hull. But each pitch of the battleship brought more flooding. The DCO speculated that the enemy torpedoes had been set a depth where they gashed the torpedo bulge, thus causing the hole to tear bigger over time. The high speed was in fact acting as a damage multiplier. Despite the danger of second attack, there was no choice: first KONGO had to suspend zigzagging, then she had to slow to 14 to 12 knots.

As she did, the NAGATO overtook her and blinkered encouragement and assurances as she sailed by and KONGO assumed the rear position. The mood indeed remained guardedly optimistic. KONGO's list had been checked at 12 degrees and her navigator reported that other than the water flooding the chain locker and speed reduction, they were holding station. Up in the HA gun director forward, Heicho Takahashi Masahiko saw that the port rail was inclined toward the sea, but it seemed only slightly worse than prior times off Samar. KONGO had survived that action, and would this one as well. But there was a catch. Though it appeared that damage control had stabilized the heel, that was not the only danger. He and the others were well aware the enemy was continuing to pursue the task force.

On the bridge, Shimazaki eyed the inclinometer with growing concern. His ship was continuing a slow, but steady heel to port, indicating that the flooding was not being adequately checked. Damage control soon confirmed the bad news: progressive flooding was spreading through leaks, fractured bulkheads, sprung seams and pipes throughout the old lady. The listing had resumed and the situation was becoming unsettling. Still, no thought was given that the KONGO might actually sink. The Secondary Battery Officer LtCdr. Yutaka Takahata pointed out that KONGO had listed more than 5 degrees from the near-misses at Samar, but had recovered. It was more a question of whether she remained with the formation, or make for Formosa for temporary repairs.

In fact, at 14 degrees the listing slowed, then checked once more. The good news was reported to YAMATO. Nonetheless, it was now one and a half hours since the hits and Shimazaki's mind was made up. He was worried enough to signal Kurita that he had better consider heading for the nearest port. After consultation, and signals exchanged with Kurita and Ugaki aboard YAMATO, Vice Admiral Suzuki concurred in the assessment, and ordered Shimazaki to separate from 1-YB and make for Keelung, Formosa some sixty-five nautical miles distant. After emergency repairs, she would resume the voyage to Japan, perhaps with the AOBA also limping home at Formosa at the time. Two ships of Desdiv 17, HAMAKAZE and ISOKAZE, would be detached to protect and screen her, and to standby should the worst case scenario eventuate.

At 0440, KONGO sheared out of formation to the east, heading for Keelung, followed by the two destroyers in flanking positions. The rest of 1-YB, screened only by YUKIKAZE, would proceed at flank speed for Japan as planned. At the time, KONGO's list to port was holding at 15 degrees and aboard YAMATO, Ugaki watched with some relief as the battleship turned away. He had been worried about her staying with them, but felt she would be alright now, and thus assured, went to grab some sleep. His friend, Vice Admiral Yoshio Suzuki, had declined to transfer BatDiv 3's flag and elected to remain aboard the KONGO for the trip to Keelung. It was a fateful decision.

Still making 10 knots the KONGO headed for Keelung as angry seas continued to surge into her torn hull. At this speed the Chief Navigator reported they would arrive in approximately six hours. This was far too optimistic. Though Ugaki thought she might be alright if she made emergency repairs at Keelung, it seems he and everyone else underestimated the spread and pace of the leakage. KONGO did not have six hours left; she didn't even have one. Despite heroic efforts by damage control teams and even sacrifices of divers, they were unable to shore up the gashes in the port side. Thus, not long after separating from 1-YB, KONGO's listing to port began to resume, this time heeling over beyond 20 degrees.

To compensate, Shimazaki ordered that all hands who could move to the high starboard side to help check the list. The bow was dipping deeper into the sea, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain her heading. To make matters worse, the destroyers reported that the enemy waves were closing faster now. Vice Admiral Suzuki understood: the enemy had decided to make a sure kill rather than pursue the main force. The one good thing was that the stormy weather made pursuit difficult and there was some chance KONGO might yet escape. HAMAKAZE and ISOKAZE maneuvered to stay between, to foil the enemy's approach. Still, they wondered why the enemy had not already attacked?

It did not matter. SEALION's pursuit was not the greatest menace. Fifteen minutes after heading for Keelung, the list increased to 45 degrees. Still in his director, the previously confident Takahashi saw with consternation that the normally 30 meter drop to the sea had shrunk to almost jumping distance and the port rail was coming awash. Hasty flooding of starboard voids either came too late, or the valves did not work well. The engine rooms were now flooding, speed crumbled, and by 0518 KONGO was going dead in the water. She became unnavigable. A suggestion that HAMAKAZE and ISOKAZE attempt a tow was swiftly quashed; the seas were too heavy and the battleship too waterlogged. On the bridge, to Suzuki and Shimazaki the grim truth was now clear. The KONGO was, in fact, sinking , and damage control had lost the battle to prolong her life. If any confirmation was needed, it was provided when they heard the Chief DCO had committed suicide in frustration at the failure.

Reluctantly, Suzuki and Shimazaki passed the order to have all hands lay up on deck and prepare to Abandon Ship. Shimazaki ordered the ensign lowered and the crew gathered and saluted as the battleship's heel became acute. An orderly was sent for the Imperial Portrait but there would be no time for a transfer.

At about 0522 Shimazaki gave the order to Abandon Ship. With singular calm and discipline, the men began to go over the side. Isokaze and Hamakaze both moved in on the high starboard side, ignoring for the moment the danger of a second attack. The urgency now was to rescue the men from the sinking leviathan in the unfavorable conditions of heavy seas and pitch dark. Yet the danger of a second attack was very real, even imminent. At that exact moment, the breathless submariner's were watching with gratified amazement as the battleship they had damaged was seen to slow down, and then at 0520 stop dead in the water. The BB's pip seemed to be shrinking. This was puzzling, but irrelevant: this was the break they had been praying for! Unable to see the state of the enemy, Reich eagerly closed for a third attack. It was not required.

KONGO began to roll onto her beam ends as officers and crew sought to scramble and slip off her sides into the dark seas. But as the list accelerated past 60 degrees, calamity struck. At 0524 without warning, the forward 14-inch magazines exploded with four horrifying detonations and a brilliantly bright red flash. Reich wrote "sky brilliantly illuminated - it looked like a sunset at night". Pieces of metal, guns, and men were flung skyward in all directions in a fiery cauliflower of mayhem. There came a second wracking explosion, but no others followed. Within a minute, the shattered remains of KONGO were swallowed by the sea, even as HAMAKAZE and ISOKAZE pitched and rolled, having narrowly escaped slaughtering fragmentation as they approached the high side. The thunderclap of the detonation ended, and with it the illumination, with a stygian dark slamming a curtain over the disaster with a suddenness as terrifying as the explosion had been. All that was left was one of KONGO's float planes left burning on the water.

When the shock of the catastrophe had passed, the numbed destroyers signaled to YAMATO the terrible news, and set to the desperate task of seeking out any living that might yet remain in the heavy seas. It was feared that given the suddenness of the capsize, and the horrendous blast, the loss was bound to be heavy, if not total. The only bright spot was that dawn was now just over an hour away, and the sky at last already beginning to lighten. Finding survivors would be easier then. Steadily, tenaciously, the HAMAKAZE and ISOKAZE combed the sea, seeking and fishing out the bobbing forms wherever they appeared. As it happened, the destroyers were unmolested during their efforts, for the ever-professional Reich had not tarried, but immediately set course north in dogged pursuit of the YAMATO group in a chase which was not abandoned until 0742.

Unaware of this reprieve, the destroyers worked through the whole morning. When they finished, the harvest was indeed pitiful, yet perhaps, given the circumstances, better than might be expected. The HAMAKAZE rescued the larger number, seven officers and 139 petty officers and men, but it was the ISOKAZE that found KONGO's senior ranking survivor. That proved proved to be Secondary Battery Officer, LtCdr. Takahata Yutaka, whom with five other officers and eighty-five petty officers and men ISOKAZE plucked from death. Only a total of thirteen officers and 224 petty officers and men survived KONGO's catastrophic sinking. Some 1,250 perished, among them ComBatDiv 3 VAdm Suzuki Yoshio and her commanding officer, RAdm Shimazaki Toshio.

After rescuing KONGO's survivors, effort was made to ascertain the condition of the squadron commander, URAKAZE. She might even still be afloat, but unnavigable and unable to use her radio. Such had happened before, and fairly often. The Desdiv 17 men had hopes they would yet find their flagship in just such a state. Perhaps missing stern or bow, but afloat and alive, drifting down Formosa Strait. However, a long search found only a large oil slick at the site of the torpedo attack, and nothing more. Hope died and was replaced by regret. The URAKAZE had been blown into oblivion, and ComDesDiv 17 Captain Tanii Tamotsu, veteran skipper LtCdr. Yokota Yasuteru, and all hands - some fourteen officers and 293 men - lost.[See: Note 3]

The saddened remnant of the First Striking Force continued on its way, joined by FUYUZUKI and SUZUTSUKI of Desdiv 41 sent down by Combined Fleet to backup YUKIKAZE in her solo screening of the task force. They were followed soon by the HAMAKAZE and ISOKAZE. The rescuing destroyers passed through Bungo Straits and at 1400 on the 23rd arrived at Kure. There was to be little rest for the weary men of Desdiv 17. At 1215 the next day, Combined Fleet ordered Desdiv 17 to proceed with NAGATO to Yokosuka. There they were to escort the new super-carrier SHINANO from Yokosuka to the Inland Sea.

The NAGATO, Hamakaze, Isokaze, and YUKIKAZE arrived at Yokosuka on 25 November. For NAGATO, when she tied up to a buoy at 1445, life's journey was all but over. The destroyers however were, as said, assigned to escort the SHINANO. In a matter of days, they would be going right back the way they came, back to Kure.

But that is of course, another story...

All Rights Reserved,
Copyright@2001, Anthony P. Tully 2001

End Note Commentary:

For reference, the chapter continues through the loss of the SHINANO and the subsequent submarine brawl with JUNYO and HARUNA. From the above, a couple of points merit mention. Though Ugaki's diary entry cuts off at a point that has allowed continued uncertainty, the new information appears to remove any doubts. KONGO had stopped from progressive flooding, and even ordered Abandon Ship when the explosion came. Prior, she had been in communication with YAMATO and had made no report of fire, nor do the survivors. Further KONGO's explosion came at a point well beyond a 60 degree list to port. There seems no doubt that the hypothesis of 1992 is true: the KONGO was lost as a result of progressive flooding that brought her to a halt, and was capsizing and already finished when she exploded. Visually, it would indeed resemble HMS BARHAM's fate, except the cause of the magazine explosion would appear to have been the result of falling shells or spark, and not from a previously burning fire. But in truth, I am not qualified to answer on this technical point.

BARHAM's own loss is not without both interest and obscurity. Though a fire speading to secondary magazines was indicted in the British battleship's explosion, it seems clear that no fire was aboard KONGO. Unlike BARHAM, there was ample time for it to be both noticed and reported accurately if present. No such mention occurs. Only dramatic recollections of combatting mounting flooding, as in SHINANO's case. Like BARHAM, the induced explosion appears redundant to the sinking, though a major culprit in high casualties. Regarding the explosion itself, the one clue seems to be the series of four detonations comprising the first blast, followed by a second heavy one. This could suggest multiple shell detonations but it would seem surprising for KONGO's shells to have been fused at this time.

After the loss of the HIEI and KIRISHIMA in the Guadalcanal campaigns, the HARUNA and KONGO had been refitted to improve survivability, including the addition of hydraulic rams with 50 pounds of pressure to keep the rudder straight if necessary. In addition on both sides of the hull twenty compartments for quick counterflooding and twenty-six compartments for ordinary flooding had been fitted. Use of both could correct lists of up to 7 degrees. However, KONGO's steering did not fail till she was sinking, if at all, and I found no mention of the use of counterflooding, let alone these new voids, in the sources. Presumably, they were used but not equal to the task.

As for the character of the damage, the SEALION II claimed three torpedo hits, but the Japanese log only two areas of damage: one at the port bow chain locker, the other in the vicinity of No.2 stack. It is possible two hits amidships were seen as one, and is noteworthy that boiler rooms No.6 and No.8 both flooded. But Japanese accounts most often say two, and arguably three would have sunk her faster. Survivors felt two shocks, YAMATO observed two spouts. It hardly detracts from the brilliance of SEALION's attack, an attack that Admiral Miwa would cite as a perfect example for Japanese submariners to emulate.

A.P. Tully, July 2001

Note 1: The Japanese language `Maru Special' and `Ships of the World' series started reaching here in the 1980's. They actually had revealed a great deal of detail in TROMS in the mid-80's, but the information in them was not well circulated or published, and with the major exception of Lacroix & Well's work, this remains true today. Even so, the KONGO's loss is not discussed at length even in these.

Note 2: It appears that the Ugaki Diary was not available -- though extant in Japanese - at the time of the publication of the Warship Profiles which stated that HARUNA was with KONGO. This had been first reported in W.J. Holmes' "UnderSea Victory" in 1966 - origin unknown, and was duly repeated by Clay Blair's "Silent Victory" after the Profiles. Nor does the Ugaki diary mention HARUNA's subsequent grounding; confirmation for Silverstone's note had to be found elsewhere. Paul Silverstone himself was kind enough to explain in a letter of November 1993 that he found the mention in the reference "Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II" which is a tabular style book/and microfilm available in the Naval Historical Center. Subsequently, a detailed account of what happened to HARUNA at Lingga was then found in the in 5th Fleet War Diaries for November 1944.

Note 3: The current complement figures are given in the URAKAZE's own roster in the November 1944 DesDiv 17 report. Though still approximate, it would be 95% accurate. Since all hands were lost, and no other ships were in clear position to observe, almost nothing can be known about URAKAZE's final moments. It is generally assumed she exploded and sank immediately, but it should be pointed out that the circumstances do not rule out a slower foundering from a mortal hit, only to have any survivors perish in the heavy seas and several hours before the screen could complete the KONGO rescue and search for her. YAMATO reported a "circle of light" to the starboard side of KONGO, but it is unclear whether this is of the magnitude to be a magazine explosion. However, SEALION no longer saw her pip, and this seemed to justify the account above. The best guess is that URAKAZE indeed exploded, and when sinking her depth charges went off, largely negating any chances of survivors.

- Tony

Any correspondence from readers with interest in the subject and details described wishing to engage in commentary and discussion would be welcome.

E-Mail: tullyfleet -aol.com

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16 July 2001