How Just 1 Simple Design Flaw Sunk an Aircraft Carrier

    Robert Beckhusen


    A history lesson like no other. 

    Either way, Taiho would be more advanced — and beautiful — than any Japanese carrier to that point, and in theory capable with her steel flight deck of withstanding greater punishment while launching up to 84 aircraft. However, by 1944 the IJN trimmed down her compliment to 77 planes — 27 fighters, 27 dive bombers, 16 torpedo bombers and three reconnaissance planes.

    She was also heavy, with a higher proportion of her weight to armor than every Japanese carrier except the Shinano, a converted battleship — originally a Yamato-class superbattleship — sunk by U.S. torpedoes in November 1944. Taiho also had the first island bridge as opposed to a mere conning tower.

    Six torpedoes from the U.S. Navy submarine USS Albacore headed toward the Japanese aircraft Taiho as she launched her planes on the morning of June 19, 1944 during the fighting on the Philippine Sea — the largest carrier battle in history and the last major Japanese carrier operation.

    “White bubbles were seen on the surface,” Cmdr. Shioyama Sakuichi later wrote. “Torpedo wakes! The loudspeakers on the bridged blared a command and some of the crew felt cold.”

    One torpedo struck the ship, sending up a column of water on the starboard side in front of the bridge. One pilot flying near the carrier dived onto another torpedo, destroying it. The other four torpedoes missed.

    Seven hours later, Taiho blew up and sank, taking with her 1,650 sailors and dozens of aircraft. Five hundred sailors survived. It was an irrecoverable blow to Japan’s fleet at this stage of the war and occurred during her first combat mission, only three months after her commissioning.

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