Japanese Aircraft Carriers of WW2

In December of 1941, Japanese aircraft carriers changed the face of naval warfare forever, with their swift, deadly strikes on Pearl Harbor and the British warships HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales.

But by 1944, the US Navy had sunk most of the them, which is why only the Hosho and Shokaku are shown here. They were the only surviving Japanese carriers when the US Navy Recognition Manual (source of these images) was produced.


Lt. Comdr. Herman Kossler, captain of the American submarine Cavalla, watched the big Japanese carrier Shokaku steam a steady course into the southeast wind, raising large bow waves. It was 1100 19 June 1944; the three crack carriers Taiho, Zuikaku, and Shokaku were steaming in formation, having launched air strikes against the U.S. carrier fleet covering the invasion of the Marianas.

The destroyer Urakaze covered Shokaku’s starboard side, but seemed unaware of Cavalla, while two cruisers were off her port bow. It was a submariner’s dream. At 1118, after peeking with the periscope only three times, and at a range of 1,200 yards the Cavalla unleashed six torpedoes at the Shokaku’s starboard side.

Postwar reports provide the barest details: “… struck by not more than three submarine torpedoes. One was close to the forward bomb magazines. Gasoline tanks were ruptured, and there was a fire of undetermined proportions. The fire was extinguished promptly, according to survivors, by closing all access to the spaces surrounding the gasoline tanks. Gasoline fumes, however, began to seep throughout the ship. Several hours later an enormous explosion caused her to disintegrate. It may have been her bomb magazines.”

“Damage to the carrier, already severe, was compounded by the outbreak of fires which soon enveloped the entire ship. The situation soon became hopeless as the ship settled rapidly by the bow. Water quickly reached the flight deck and spilled through the open Number 1 elevator into the hanger. Thus stricken the Shokaku lost stability, turned over, and sank”.

One of the longest-surviving of Japanese fleet carriers, Shokaku took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor and in the Battle of the Coral Sea, before being sunk by US submarine Cavalla on June 19, 1944, at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, although the precise details of her sinking remain a bit of a mystery.


Shokaku was one of the newest Japanese carriers at the time of Pearl Harbor, having been commissioned in August, 1941. Displacing 30,000 tons, carrying up to 80 airplanes, and able to make 34 knots, she was the pride of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Her enhanced protection compared to contemporary Allied aircraft carriers enabled Shōkaku to survive serious battle damage during Coral Sea and Santa Cruz.

Shōkaku and her sister ship Zuikaku, forming the Japanese 5th Carrier Division. Her aircraft complement consisted of 15 Mitsubishi A6M fighters, 27 Aichi D3A dive bombers, and 27 Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers.


Hosho (meaning “flying phoenix”) became the first flat-deck aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1921, and was the first purpose-designed aircraft carrier in the world to be commissioned.

The hull of the Hosho was based on a cruiser design, but it was not a conversion. She was built from the keel up as an aircraft carrier. Hosho was commissioned on 27 December 1922, thirteen months before the Royal Navy’s first purpose-built carrier Hermes. The Hosho however was originally conceived as a mixed aircraft carrier and seaplane tender and only during construction was her design modified to a dedicated carrier.

The Hosho was designed with the assistance of a British technical mission which provided broad details of the Hermes. Her design was originally based on a cruiser-style hull, a flight deck with a depressed fore-part to accelerate lift-off, a starboard island, and three starboard funnels that were reclinable during flight operations. After trials, she was improved by removing the island and flattening the flight deck, giving her a flush-deck design.

Hosho was used to develop the aircraft carrier operational methods and tactics of the Japanese Navy during the 1920s. She served during the 1932 Shanghai Incident and Sino-Japanese War in late 1937, supporting land operations of the Japanese Army in China. Her aircraft complement consisted of nine Nakajima A2N fighters and six Yokosuka B3Y1 attack planes. By the beginning of World War II, Hosho had been superseded by other models: she was too small and too slow to accommodate the newest types of carrier planes such as the Mitsubishi Zero. Moreover, the Hosho did not have enough stability to carry her full armament and aircraft complement. She saw action however during the battle of Midway in June 1942, offering modest air support to the main fleet. Her aircraft complement consisted of eight Yokosuka B4Y1 “Jean” torpedo bombers.

She was retired from combat duty after Midway and survived the war.