Japanese Cruisers of WW2

Cruiser Tone

Ask any moderately well-informed history buff what he or she knows of the Japanese cruiser Tone, and he will surely say, “Ah, yes, the cruiser whose scout plane was delayed before the Battle of Midway.”

On the morning of June 4, 1942, Admiral Nagumo’s fleet was steaming toward, Midway, somewhat blindly, as were all fleets of the day. He thought he had the element of surpise, but he wanted to be sure; the Americans still had 2 or 3 carriers (in fact we had 4). He ordered the cruisers’ scout planes to fan out in a careful search pattern, but one of Tone’s was delayed getting off.

After the scout planes went off, the Japanese strike planes hit Midway, which was well-alerted and not heavily damaged. It looked like a second strike would be needed. Midway-based aircraft were attacking the Japanese fleet; Nagumo needed little convincing. He ordered his planes re-armed to hit the island, rather than warships. Just as that task got under way, the Tone’s scout plane radioed in “ten ships, apparently enemy, bearing ten degrees …”

The rest is history. Nagumo got confirmation that an American carrier was with the group, and he was thus compelled to halt the re-arming, and switch back to torpedoes and armor-piercing bombs. In the midst of this high-explosive work on the carrier decks, the American dive bombers struck, and in ten minutes three Japanese carriers: Soryu, Akaga and Kaga were destroyed.

Thus one of the great “might-have-beens” of naval history: What if the Tone’s scout plane had launched on time and spotted the American naval forces in good time?


Tenryu, a 3230-ton light cruiser built at Yokosuka, Japan, was commissioned in November 1919. With three straight, widely-spaced funnels amidships and single gun turrets, the Tenryu class of light cruisers resembles the Natori class.

She served as a destroyer flotilla leader in the 1920s, cruisign to Siberia and China, as well as home waters. The ship was refitted between 1927 and 1930, when it was given a tripod foremast. From 1931 to 1933, Tenryu patrolled the Yangtze River in China and usually operated in Chinese waters for the rest of the decade, periodically serving as a training ship and in reserve.

Plans to convert her to an anti-aircraft ship were cancelled in 1939, and she spent the next two years as a training ship at Maizuru Naval Station and on a cruise through the central Pacific in mid-1941.

In late 1940, Tenryu was based out of Truk, in the Caroline Islands. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Tenryu’s CruDiv 18 was part of the Wake Island invasion force. Tenryu was strafed with machine-gun fire by a USMC Wildcat that damaged three torpedoes on its deck on December 11, 1941, but otherwise suffered no damage during the first Battle of Wake Island. The cruiser also participated in the second (successful) invasion attempt on Wake Island on December 21.

In January-April 1942, she participated in the capture of New Ireland, New Britain, northeastern New Guinea, Bougainville and the Admiralty Islands. From March through May, CruDiv 18 and Tenryu covered numerous troop landings throughout the Solomon Islands and New Guinea.

Tenryu returned to Japan for a month of repairs on May 23.

In July and August 1942, following an overhaul in Japan, she served as an escort for transports in the New Britain and New Guinea areas, and also took part in the Battle of Savo Island on 9 August. On August 9, 1942, Tenryu was in the Battle of Savo Island, together with the cruisers Yubari, Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa, Furutaka, and Chokai, and the destroyer Yunagi, which attacked US Task Group 62.6 that was screening transports with Allied invasion forces for Guadalcanal. During nighttime gun and torpedo action, Tenryu sank the USS Quincy with two torpedoes. She also contributed to sinking the USS Astoria, USS Vincennes, and HMAS Canberra. In addition, the USS Chicago, USS Ralph Talbot, and USS Patterson were damaged. Tenryu was hit by the Chicago, with 23 crewmen killed. Tenryu remained based out of Rabaul through the end of August, escorting convoys of troops and supplies.

Over the next four months, she was actively engaged in the unsuccessful campaigns to capture Milne Bay, in eastern New Guinea, and retake Guadalcanal. On October 1, the cruiser was hit by a bomb dropped by a B-17 of the 19th Bomb Group, Fifth Air Force while at Rabaul. The bomb killed 30 crewmen, but the ship was not severely damaged. Tenryu was then tasked with “Tokyo Express” transport runs from Rabaul to Tassafaronga, Guadalcanal, through early November. She made two transport runs to Guadalcanal in early November and covered the 14 November bombardment of Henderson Field.

On December 16, 1942, Tenryu departed for New Guinea; the following day, as Tenryu was departing, it was attacked by USS Albacore, which fired three torpedoes each at a transport and what it identified as a destroyer. The torpedoes missed the transport, but one hit Tenryu in the stern. Tenryu sank at 11:20 p.m. on December 19, 1942. Twenty-three crewmen were lost, but Suzukaze rescued the survivors, including Captain Ueda.

Tenryu was struck from the Navy list on January 20, 1943.


With three widely-spaced straight funnels and seven single turrets scattered around her deck, Natori looked, and was, out-of-date by World War Two. But she saw plenty of action, until a US submarine sank her in late 1944.

Natori was the fourth in the Nagara-class of light cruisers, which were intended for use as the flagship of a destroyer flotilla.

Natori was completed in 1922. Soon after commissioning, Natori was assigned to patrols off the China coast. From 1938, it was based in Taiwan, and helped cover the landings of Japanese troops in southern China.

On 26 November 1941, Natori became flagship of Rear Admiral Kenzaburo Hara’s DesRon 5. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Natori was escorting six troop transports to northern Luzon. The landing force was attacked by three USAAF B-17s on 10 December 1941, which slightly damaged Natori and its escorting destroyer Harukaze with near misses.

Natori was later assigned to cover the invasion of the Dutch East Indies, and participated in the Battle of Sunda Strait in February 1942. Natori and other Japanese ships deployed around the landing areas. The USS Houston (CA-30) and the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth attacked Japanese troop transports. At 2300, Natori and her destroyers arrived. Natori, with Hatsuyuki and Shirayuki, then opened fire and rapidly closed the range. At 2308, the Allied cruisers turned NE and Natori and her destroyers headed SE in three columns.

On 10 March 1942, Natori was assigned to CruDiv 16 with the light cruiser Nagara. After the occupation of Java, Natori participated in the Battle of Christmas Island.

In April, Natori was assigned to patrols of the Java Sea, which continued into June. After a refit back at Maizuru, Natori returned to the Java Sea and Timor Sea until December, with occasional calls at Mergui in Burma, Penang, Singapore and Davao.

In December 1942, Natori delivered a Special Naval Landing Force to Hollandia, New Guinea.

On 9 January 1943, southeast of Ambon, Natori was sighted by USS Tautog (SS-199). The Tautog fired two torpedoes which hit the Natori in the stern. It broke off and carried away her rudder. In the next few minutes, as Natori got underway at reduced speed, Tautog fired two more torpedoes, but they either missed or were duds and Natori escaped without further damage.

On 21 January 1943, while at Ambon, Natori was damaged by a near-miss from a B-24. The bomb opened plates and flooded a boiler room. Natori departed for repairs at Seletar Naval Base, Singapore. Repairs were not completed until 24 May 1943, but then Natori was sent back to Japan for further repairs and modernization.

At Maizuru, two large guns were removed as were her catapult and derrick, and more anti-aircraft guns were installed. This brought Natori’s 25 mm AA suite to fourteen barrels. Better air-search radar was fitted and hydrophones were installed at her bow. Repairs and modernization were completed on 1 April 1944, and Natori was assigned as the flagship of the Central Pacific Fleet’s DesRon 3.

In June 1944, Natori ferried Japanese Army troops to Mindanao and Palau. Natori remained at Davao in late June through August as a guard ship.

On 18 August 1944, 200 nautical miles east of Samar, Natori was spotted by USS Hardhead (SS-365). USS Hardhead identified the target as a battleship and closed for a surface attack. One Mark 23 Torpedo fired at 2,800 yards (2,600 m) hit the Natori portside in a boiler room. She stopped dead in the water and was hit starboard amidships with another from the second salvo. At 0704, Natori sank, taking 330 crewmen including Captain Kubota with her. The destroyers Uranami and Kiyoshimo rescued 194 survivors, and the USS Stingray (SS-186) recovered four more survivors in a rubber raft. On 12 September 1944, almost a month after her sinking, USS Marshall (DD-676) captured a lifeboat with another 44 survivors of the Natori aboard.

Natori was removed from the Navy List on 10 October 1944.


Another powerful IJN heavy cruiser of WW2, armed with six 8″ guns in twin turrets: two forward and one aft. She was laid down in 1924 and completed in 1927. Aoba’s distinctive profile was marked by a heavy bridge superstructure and twin stacks, the foward stack being especially large. A catapult on the after deck could launch seaplanes.

Aoba saw action in the capture of Wake Island, took part in many of the naval battles around Guadalcanal, and survived to participate in the last sortie of the Yamato in April, 1945.

Aoba suffered heavy damage at the battle of Cape Esperance, in Octoer, 1942. Her bridge was hit by gunfire from USS Helena, and Admiral Goto was killed. Her action reports noted that she took forty hits in Number 2 and 3 turrets, but she still was able to retire from the scene at 30 knots.

Atago Class Cruisers

Commander David McClintock looked through Darter’s periscope in the early morning of 23 October 1944. The sight must have been a submariner’s dream: Japanese battleships and cruisers stretched out in front of him in Palawan Passage.

The IJN warships were steaming for Tacloban, part of the multi-pronged, last-ditch Japanese effort to dispute the American landings on the Philippines. Having been on patrol with her partner USS Dace (SS-247) for a month, Darter (SS-227) hit the jackpot this morning. The two subs strained their engines to get themselves ahead of the Japanese fleet, in ambush position. Darter fired a spread of torpedoes and four hit Atago; in less than twenty minutes, the cruiser went down with over 300 hands. Next, Darter turned her attention to cruiser Takao, striking with two torpedoes and making her dead in the water. Just as the American sailors had anticipated, the Japanese force turned away from the deadly Darter, and right towards LtCdr Bladen Caggett’s USS Dace, which then sank the heavy cruiser Maya. A good morning for US submarines; a very bad morning for Japanese cruisers.

Atago was one of four in her class of heavy cruisers, an improvement over the previous Myoko class. Their 8-inch guns could over-match almost all warships of the time, and a top speed of 34+ knots would permit them to elude any battleships with larger guns. Approved in the 1927 budget, Atago was built by the Kure Naval shipyards near Hiroshima, and like her sister ships, was named after a mountain (Mount Atago, outside of Kyoto).

30 March 1932:
Kure Navy Yard. Atago is completed and commissioned in the IJN.

December 1941: At the start of the Pacific War, the Atago was the flagship of Vice Admiral Kondo Nobutake’s Cruiser Division 4, along with sister ships Maya and Takao, and assigned to support the invasion of Malaya and the Philippines. On 2 December, she arrives at Mako, Pescadore Islands, and receives the signal “Climb Mt. Niitaka,” from the Combined Fleet. This signifies that X-Day hostilities will commence on 8 December (Japan Time).

February-March 1942:
Battleship Kongo, cruisers Atago and Takao, and four destroyers operate in Dutch East Indies. On 2 March, the cruisers overhaul and sink LtCdr H. C. Pound’s old four stack destroyer USS Pillsbury (DD-227).

4 March 1942:
280 miles south of Java. At sunrise, Atago and other Japanese warships attack an Allied convoy. For more than ninety minutes, Australian sloop HMAS Yarra fights back, but is smothered by 5-inch and 8-inch shells and finally sinks, a blazing wreck. The cruisers also sink three British ships: tanker Francol, a minesweeper, and depot ship Anking. The Japanese pick up one lifeboat of survivors from Francol, but they are never heard of again. That same day, Atago captures Dutch freighter Duymaer Van Twist, later placed in Japanese service.

12 April 1942:
Arrives at Yokosuka for refit: dual 127-mm. High Angle (HA) guns are installed, replacing single 120-mm guns. Work completed in time for the Battle of Midway.

27 May 1942: Operation “MI” – The Battle of Midway:
Departs Hashirajima in Kondo’s Second Fleet, accompanying battleships Hiei and Kongo. Atago not engaged in the battle.

20 August 1942 – Operation “KA”: The Reinforcement of Guadalcanal: Atago’s CruDiv 4 departs Truk with Rear Admiral Abe Hiroaki’s battleships Hiei and Kirishima, and other cruisers and destroyers. This force joins Vice Admiral Nagumo Chuichi’s Third Fleet, Carrier Strike Force: Shokaku, Zuikaku and Zuiho.

24 August 1942 – The Battle of the Eastern Solomons:
Cruises NE of Guadalcanal with the Carrier Strike Force. USN Vice Admiral Fletcher’s Saratoga (CV-3) and Enterprise (CV-6) launch aircraft that sink light carrier Ryujo. In turn, aircraft from Shokaku and Zuikaku find and hit Enterprise with three bombs. That evening, aircraft from Saratoga damage seaplane carrier Chitose. Atago undamaged.

9 November 1942:

Vice Admiral Kondo departs Truk for Ontong Java area with CruDiv 4’s Atago and Takao, carrier Junyo, Screen’s BatDiv 3’s Kongo and Haruna, CruDiv 8’s Tone, light cruiser Sendai, and destroyers. The Main Body also includes battleships Hiei and Kirishima, light cruiser Nagara, and six destroyers.

10 November 1942:
DesDiv 27’s Shigure, Shiratsuyu and Yugure depart the Shortland Islands, Bougainville to execute Vice Admiral Kondo’s planned landing of 14,500 men, heavy weapons and supplies of the IJA’s 38th “Hiroshima” Infantry Division and the 8th Special Naval Landing Force on Guadalcanal. The twelve destroyers of Rear Admiral Tanaka Raizo’s DesRon 2 will escort an 11-ship high-speed reinforcement convoy. The landing is to be preceded by another bombardment of Henderson Field, Guadalcanal. Part of Kondo’s plan calls for DesDiv 27’s destroyers to act as picket ships between Guadalcanal and the Russell Islands.

13 November 1942 – The First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal: CruDiv 4 cruises off Ontong Java with Kondo’s fleet. Abe’s force engages an American cruiser-destroyer force off Guadalcanal. Hiei is damaged heavily by gunfire and later sunk off Savo Island by American aircraft.

15 November 1942 – The Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal:
In a night gun battle with USS South Dakota (BB-57) and Washington (BB-56) and destroyers, the Atago and Takao hit South Dakota twenty-three times. Kirishima also hits South Dakota with a single 14-inch round. South Dakota is damaged but not sunk. Early in the battle, Atago and Takao each launch eight Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedoes at Washington, but they all miss. The Kirishima and destroyer Ayanami are sunk as a result of the action. The Atago is damaged slightly. IJN cruisers and destroyers retire northward.

December 1942:
Battle-damage repairs at Kure.

17 October 1943: The Japanese intercept radio traffic that suggests the Americans are planning another raid on Wake. Admiral Koga’s fleet, including Atago, sorties from Truk to intercept the enemy task force, but no engagement occurs. By 26 October, the fleet arrives back at Truk.

5 November 1943: The Carrier Raid on Rabaul:
The cruiser force arrives at Rabaul. About noon, while refueling in Simpson Harbor, the cruisers are attacked by 97 planes from Saratoga (CV-3) and Princeton (CVL-23). Bombs damage cruisers Atago, Takao, Maya, Mogami, Agano, Noshiro, and two destroyers. Atago sustains three near-misses by 500-lb. bombs that kill 22 crewmen including her skipper Captain Nakaoka, who is hit by a bomb splinter while on the bridge. Later that day, she departs Rabaul with Takao.

November – December 1943:
At Yokosuka for repairs and re-fit. Captain Araki Tsutau assumes command. Additional 25-mm. AA guns are installed and a Type 22 surface-search radar is fitted. Then training cruises out of Yokosuka.

early January 1944:
Departs Yokosuka for Truk with Maikaze and Nowaki. On 7 January 1944, she is sighted by USS Halibut (SS-232), but the submarine is unable to attack. Arrives at Truk unharmed on 9 January.

6 April 1944: The cruiser force is attacked by submarine Dace (SS-247), but misses with improperly set torpedoes. The cruiser force is also sighted by Darter (SS-227), but it is unable to attack.

22 October 1944: The Battle of Leyte Gulf. Atago sorties with CruDiv 4’s Chokai, Takao, and Maya, battleships Yamato, Musashi, and Nagato, light cruiser Noshiro, and eight destroyers.

23 October 1944: The Battle of the Palawan Passage:
At 0533, Atago is hit by four torpedoes from Cdr David McClintock’s USS Darter (SS-227). Takao is also hit, set afire and goes dead in the water. Off to starboard, destroyers attempt to draw alongside but Atago is heeling so heavily that they cannot approach. When Atago takes on a severe list, Kurita takes to the sea. Some thirty staff officers swim towards the destroyers. CoS Rear Admiral Koyanagi Tomiji also reaches Kishinami. At 0553, Atago sinks in 1000 fathoms of water. 360 are killed, but 529 survivors including Vice Admiral Kurita, Rear Admiral Koyanagi, and Rear Admiral Araki are taken aboard Kishinami. 171 other survivors are rescued.

20 December 1944:
Removed from the Navy List.