allied naval bombardment of japan

By July and August of 1945, the war in the Pacific was nearing its end. Japan’s naval strength had its back broken and was in its final death throes. The Japanese home islands were now under constant attack from American B-29 bombers operating off of Pacific islands. American submarines and aircraft had torn apart Japanese trade routes. The resulting shortage of fuel hampered operations by surviving aircraft and naval vessels. The American Navy was now largely free to sail anywhere in the Pacific. Japan became painfully aware of this in July of 1945 when the US Navy arrived on Japan’s doorstep. The Allied Naval Bombardment of Japan drove home the message that the war was lost.

On July 1, the US 3rd Fleet under William Halsey set sail from the Philippine Islands to commence direct attacks on the Japanese Home islands. US Submarines went in first to search for naval mines and scout the shorelines for potential targets. Meanwhile, United States B-29 and B-24 bombers began reconnaissance flights over Japan to pick out targets and observe Japanese military movements. Halsey planned to use Battleships and Cruisers to attack military facilities and factories. Meanwhile, carrier aircraft would strike airfields, ships, and other targets. The 3rd fleet arrived off Japan on July 10 and immediately commenced an attack on navy facilities around Tokyo using carrier aircraft form Task Force 38. On July 14, the task force then sailed north and attacked Honshu and Hokkaido which until that point had managed to avoid damage since they were outside the range of B-29 bombers. 19 warships, 41 merchant ships, and 25 aircraft were claimed destroyed.

On July 14, the first naval bombardment also took place. Rear Admiral John F. Shafroth took command of Task Unit 34.8.1 which broke off from Task Force 38. Taking place while the carrier aircraft were attacking targets elsewhere, they were ordered to attack iron works in Kamaishi. The unit was made up of the battleships USS South Dakota, Indiana, and Massachusetts. In addition the Baltimore class cruisers Quincy and Chicago plus nine destroyers supported the battleships.

allied naval bombardment of japan
Task Unit 34.8.1 approaching the Japanese Coast to begin their bombardment.

Unit 34.8.1 approaching Kamaishi

The bombardment began at 12:10 at a range of 29,000 yards. The warships had to maintain distance as there were no minesweepers to escort them. For two hours the warships fired on the plant. They sailed past the area six times. When the bombardment ended, a total of 802 16″ shells, 728 8″ shells, and 825 5″ shells had been fired. A majority of the shells hit the target, but the massive blasts caused fires to break out over the city. The plant was shut down for four weeks in iron production in addition to two months for coke production.

The battleship USS Indiana (BB-58) bombarding Kamaishi on July 14, 1945.

On the night of July 14/15, another bombardment unit, Task Unit 34.8.2 , commenced an attack on the town of Muroran. TU 34.8.2 was made up of the Iowa class battleships Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri and the Cleveland class light cruisers Atlanta and Dayton plus 8 escorting destroyers. Halsey himself was aboard the Missouri. The force commenced firing at roughly 30,000 yards. 860 16″ shells were fired during the six hour engagement. The main target was another iron plant. Damage to the plant was considerable and production was down for two months. Halsey was reported to be surprised by the fact that no Japanese aircraft attempted to attack the force. He believed that the Japanese were saving them up for later, possibly the allied invasion of the Home Islands.

allied naval bombardment of japan
USS Iowa (BB-61) steaming offshore of Japan during a bombardment operation. The battleship USS Indiana (BB-58) came be seen in the distance.

Following these attacks, TF38 sailed out into open water to resupply. They also joined up with the British Pacific Fleet TF37. Once ships were ready, TU 34.8.2 broke away to once again bombard the city of Hitachi. Three additional ships joined the unit in the form of HMS King George V and her two escorting destroyers. The total force was made up of Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Alabama and HMS King George V, light cruisers Atlanta and Dayton and eight U.S. and two British destroyers. Once again, Halsey was present onboard the Missouri. They arrived at the target location on July 17/18 and immediately began to commence firing. American warships targeted nine separate industrial sites. Rain and fog made the attack difficult but American warships were able to use radar to pick out targets. The attack took place at 23:10 and ended by 1:10. US battleships expended 1238 16″ shells. HMS King George V attacked other sites and expended 267 14″ shells. The US light cruisers attacked a radar post to the south and expended 292 6″ shells. The city was further damaged by a B-29 bomber raid that took place later that day. 80% of the city was destroyed or damaged.

allied naval bombardment of japan
HMS King George V. She took part in the final bombardments of Japan, being the last British battleship to fire her guns in combat.

On July 29, another warship group was detached and set off to attack the city of Hamamatsu. The unit was made up of the battleships USS South Dakota, Indiana, Massachusetts, and HMS King George V. In addition the Baltimore class cruisers Quincy and Chicago provided additional support. The group attacked a Japanese plant producing aircraft parts. US Battleships attacked Plant-1 while King George V attacked Plant-2. Following the attack on the manufacturing plants, the US battleships later fired on locomotive sheds and a rail yard. The attack did slight damage to the plants, but caused many of the workers to flee, cutting production for a substantial time. The rail yard was out of commission for 3 days and the locomotive works was out for 3 months. This engagement was the final time a British Battleship fired her guns in anger.

August 9/10 saw the final and largest attack. Allied carriers launched attacks on Japanese airfields, destroying over 700 aircraft. At the same time, TU 34.8.1 launched a second attack on the iron plants at Kamaishi. Cruisers USS Boston, Saint Paul ,HMS Newfoundland, HMNZS Gambia ,and several destroyers provided additional support. At 12:54, the Allied force opened fire at 14,000yards. The allied force made four passes outside the harbor. 803 16″ shells, 1,383 8″ shells, and 733 6″ shells were fired into the plant. Interestingly, the attack was broadcasted live in the USA thanks to a radio relay onboard the USS Iowa. Sadly, the Japanese had built a POW camp at the plant. The attack resulted in the deaths of 27 allied POWs.

allied naval bombardment of japan
The battleship USS Massachusetts firing a broadside towards Kamaishi, Japan. Her shells can be seen in the upper left corner of the photo.

(USS Massachusetts firing a broadside -Notice the shells at the left-)

A further raid was planned for August 13 by the HMS King George V and three light cruisers plus supporting destroyers. However, mechanical problems prevented the British battleship from attacking in addition to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No further bombardments were conducted by allied warships.

The allied bombardments of the Japanese Home Islands were successful in the destruction of several Japanese industrial centers. Later assessments found that air attacks seemed to be more successful in overall damage. GP 1000lb and 2000lb bombs were shown to do more damage to industrial centers than even that caused by 16″ shells. However, the overall risk to warships is less than that of heavy bombers. The bombardments also did much greater damage to morale. Japanese civilians later stated that between Naval and Air attack, they found the Naval attacks to be more terrifying as they tended to be longer and unpredictable. The presence of Allied battleships right off the coast was the largest blow to Japanese morale. Many became convinced that the war truly was over when presented with allied fleets steaming right off the Home Islands.

allied naval bombardment of japan
A picture of elements of TF 37 and TF 38 off Japan in August. USS Missouri, USS Colorado, HMS King George V, and HMS Duke of York can be seen.

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Chris Knupp

A student of military history, I am working to make history more interesting and accessible for everyone.

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