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Battleship Musashi: The Making and Sinking…
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Battleship Musashi: The Making and Sinking of the Worlds Biggest…

by Akira Yoshimura

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I found this to be long on the security details, and short on the stuff re-created from sailor's stories of life at sea. Well, it passed an idle afternoon. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Feb 3, 2014 |
Having pulled out of the League of Nations following its condemnation of their invasion of Manchuria, the Japanese laid down two hulls for No. 1 battleship and No. 2 battleship. The managers of the Nagasaki shipyard were sworn to secrecy any violation of which was to be punished by whatever punishment the navy deemed appropriate according to the document they had to sign.

Each ship was huge, and the shipways and cranes had to be completely rebuilt to handle their enormous size and weight which dwarfed anything at sea. Carrying 18" guns they were 124 feet wide (to accommodate the tremendous recoil of the guns) some thirty feet wider than the previous records. and they had 40 centimeter (about 16 inches) thick hulls. Each ship would have both diesel and steam engines, diesel having been unreliable. The hulls were specially reinforced to fend off the new shells that they learned could still damage a vessel even in a near miss. They had to build a new freighter with an especially wide hull to transport the 18 inch-turrets to Nagasaki. They had never made rivets this big before. They needed 4-centimeter diameter (about 1.5 inches) rivets and because of the thickness of the hull had to be precisely made.

The book is as much about secrecy as building the ship with its myriad detail about specifications. The Japanese were obsessed with hiding the ship's construction. They built special hemp screens all around the building site, constructed a warehouse in front of the British consulate which had a view of the harbor, and arrested anyone who even looked at the buildings. The incident of the missing blueprint, which turned out to have been destroyed by a young draftsman hoping to work someplace else in the plant, resulted in the imprisonment and torture of several completely innocent designers before the discovered the culprit. All Chinese were deported and anyone protesting the deportations was placed under special watch. When the ship was finally launched, they organized am air raid drill to keep people in their homes, and when the ship caused a mini tidal wave that flooded several homes - -the water in the bay rose 50 centimeters just from the displacement of the huge ship -- police forbad them from leaving their flooded homes lest they see the size of the ship before it could be moved to another dock and again hidden from view.

All because they were afraid the United States might discover the size of the battleships, a size, as it turned out, that was totally irrelevant since the carriers came to dominate naval warfare. Indeed, their 18-inch guns could shoot over the horizon and dominate all other surface ships, but it was those little winged gnats with torpedoes that spelled its doom. Even the Japanese recognized the ultimate uselessness of these great ships and converted battleships 3 and 4 to aircraft carriers.

The desire for secrecy continued to the end. After its sinking, in order to prevent anyone from learning of the loss, the surviving sailors were stripped of their Musashi identity and assigned to some mythical unit. Many were transported back to Japan and were torpedoed again, rescued, reassigned to another ship and again torpedoed. About 146 made it to Corregidor -they were never allowed to leave the Philippines, again to prevent anyone learning of the disaster, where all but 29 were killed in the defense of Manila.

Marred by a couple of minor errors probably due to errors of translation along with a couple of "then's" where "than''s" were called for, it's a fascinating look at the creation and demise of the great battleships. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Battleship Musashi by Akira Yoshimura (translated by Vincent Murphy) is somewhat difficult for me to review, because I really don’t know where to start. On one hand, I enjoyed it; on the other hand, I was left feeling rather underwhelmed. This book can be divided up into two distinct parts. The first two-thirds of the book describe the construction of the battleship Musashi and all the challenges that went along with that, while the last portion explains the final hours of the ship and her crew as she was sunk.

Unlike the Musashi’s sister ship (and the lead ship of the class), the Yamato, which was built at the Kure Naval Arsenal, the Musashi was laid down at Nagasaki Shipyards. Much of the challenges involved in building the Musashi revolved around, 1. whether or not they had the adequate facilities at Nagasaki to construct such a huge vessel, and 2. how they could keep its construction a secret, when the entire harbor is surrounded by a city, of which there exists a large population of foreigners (including the U.S. and British Consulates). Yet, the Japanese Navy, ship designers, and engineers managed to overcome both problems through a bevy of solutions, some ingenious, some absurd, and some outright brutal in their conception and implementation. For example, hiding the construction of the hull behind a huge hemp-rope curtain to keep it out of sight, or even having the police haul in all Chinese male foreigners for a midnight “interrogation”. Even a majority of the construction workers knew nothing about the entire layout of the enormous ship they were building. Secrecy and paranoia were so high during that time and what we really get a glimpse of is a totalitarian state where the military held absolute power over the populace.

Once the Musashi was outfitted and commissioned, again like her sister ship the Yamato, she saw very little action during the course of the war. These were the largest battleships ever constructed and they were armed with the largest guns to ever be fitted on a warship. However, the Japanese Navy was so dead set on the idea of a ‘decisive battle’ between Japan and the U.S. that these behemoths ended up having very unremarkable operational careers since they were being saved explicitly for that ‘decisive battle’ which would never occur. As the world saw during WWII, the aircraft carrier rose to prominence and was able to strike the Musashi well before she was able to close the distance to engage anything with her massive weaponry. Ultimately, the Musashi (or even just the Yamato-class battleships themselves), for all her impressive firepower (including numerous anti-aircraft batteries), was defeated by several waves of carrier-based aircraft dropping bombs and torpedoes.

Now, for what I didn’t enjoy about the book. Although Yoshimura did manage to write a fairly interesting narrative of the ship’s construction and destruction, the writing (or perhaps the translation) comes off as rather lacking in terms of details. I doubt this book will satisfy either die-hard military historians or those seriously interested in naval engineering. Although it does address those topics, it does so in a very cursory manner. I imagine this is for a number a reasons, either because (due to the secrecy of its construction) details of the ship are extremely hard to come by, or because it was written to make it more accessible to the layperson. This book does not contain a great deal of military/naval terminology nor is the Musashi’s final battle written in a very clear or interesting way. We are introduced to a number of ship designers and naval officers; unfortunately, we never get to know them very well. Mostly, this book could be seen as an overview of what logistical and managerial problems went into building such a ship in a country ruled by fascist attitudes during an era of worldwide war. In many ways, the story provides insight into the political and military mindset of the times, but offers little else for the armchair admirals. I’m not aware of what Yoshimura’s background is as a military historian, but based on this book, I get the feeling that naval history is not his area of expertise. Lastly, this book lists no bibliographic information, leading the reader to wonder where the information was attained from (either from primary or secondary sources). The lack of sources is a serious red flag, because we have no way of verifying the accuracy of the work and are left to conjecture if the work itself is merely a product of pure extrapolation. Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The overall narrative is intriguing, but I found myself wishing for more detail. On the upshot though, the appendix does contain some nice technical drawings of the ship, unfortunately, they’re rather small and contain a lot of minute details. ( )
  Hiromatsuo | May 25, 2012 |
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