By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
In 1939, the Japanese Navy ordered two new destroyer designs,
breaking with the “Special Type” that had been
the basis of fleet destroyers since Fubuki was laid
down in 1926. Many documents of the time describe them as
“cruiser” types. Navy planners believed the destroyer’s
mission had been radically changed by the advent of capable
aircraft, and two very different roles would be filled by
future destroyers: anti-aircraft defense of fleet carriers
and nighttime surface combat.
Shimakaze, the “experimental” destroyer
(known as Type C) produced for the surface combat role, greatly
exceeded her designers’ expectations. She was a large
boat, in the same size range as the French Mogador-class super destroyers or Italian Capitani Romani small
light cruisers. Normal displacement was 3,048 tons, compared
to 2,250 for the Yugumo-class fleet destroyers built
during the same time or 2,610 for the big American Sumner-class of the late war years.
Laid down in August 1941, construction slowed down once war
broke out and she was not completed until May 1943. Shimakaze
then took part in extended trials, and the results greatly
exceeded what were already an ambitious set of design parameters.
At Shimakaze’s heart lay a sophisticated set
of three high-pressure Kampon boilers. Expected to produce 75,000
horsepower, on trails they almost touched 80,000. By contrast,
most Japanese destroyers were designed to reach 52,000 horsepower;
the 8,300-ton American Atlanta class also made 75,000
horsepower. Designed for 39 knots, Shimakaze made 41
— a speed equalled by very few warships.
Shimakaze on speed trials following re-armament,
May 1944. Only known photo.
But it was her armament that set Shimakaze apart
from other destroyers. Like the Special Type destroyers, she
carried six five-inch dual-purpose guns in three turrets (though
a new model with faster traverse than previous destroyers).
Unlike them, she had 15 tubes for the Imperial Navy’s
huge and deadly 24-inch “Long Lance” oxygen-fueled
torpedoes. This gave her immense firepower, though in practice
the Japanese tactic of opening surface engagements with large
spreads of the big torpedoes fired at maximum range had very
little effect for the number of weapons expended. Shimakaze
also carried two depth charge throwers and 18 charges,
and was one of the first Japanese warships fitted with radar.
When her fine qualities became apparent, the Navy ordered
sixteen slightly enlarged near-sisters, none of which were
laid down before the war ended. The big power plants were
extremely expensive to build, and resources went to cheaper
and desperately needed anti-submarine escorts, and to cheaper
and ultimately useless suicide weapons.
In service, Shimakaze’s very different capabilities
made it difficult to integrate her into tactical formations.
She saw her first sortie in July 1943, as part of the force
covering the evacuation of Kiska. A Japanese cruiser-destroyer
force slipped into the Aleutians under the cover of fog and
took the island’s 5,183-man garrison aboard in a 55-minute
operation on 28 July. Two days later, the Americans flung
thousands of shells at the rocky island and then landed over
34,000 men on it, only to discover that the Japanese had disappeared.
In early 1944, Shimakaze underwent a refit similar
to those given the Japanese Special Type destroyers. She lost
one of her 5-inch turrets, and received at first 14 and then
28 25mm anti-aircraft guns in exchange. The Japanese disliked
removing torpedoes from any warship, however, and all 15 tubes
Battleship Musashi under air attack in the
Sibuyan Sea, 24 October 1944. Shimakaze may
be the destroyer under attack in the background.
Afterwards, Shimakaze went to Truk to join the Combined
Fleet, operating as a separate attached destroyer though usually
steaming with the 32nd Destroyer Division (four Yugumo-class
boats). She deployed with the giant battleships Yamato
and Musashi during the Battle of the Philippine
Sea, and in the attempt to reinforce Biak in June 1944.
Though Shimakaze was part of Admiral Takeo Kurita’s
surface action group that surprised the American escort carriers
off Samar on 25 October 1944, she was held out of the fighting.
Hundreds of survivors from the heavy cruiser Maya, sunk
a day earlier by four torpedoes from the American submarine
Dace, crowded Shimakaze’s decks and made it
nearly impossible to use her guns and torpedoes. Kurita ordered
her to stand off, and she slipped away with the rest of his
force when they retired from the fight.
An extraordinary ship, Shimakaze was lost on an
exceedingly ordinary mission. On 11 November 1944, she helped
escort a troop convoy to Ormoc on the northwest coast of Leyte,
bringing 10,000 troops of the 26th Infantry Division to reinforce
the Japanese forces on the island. Attacked by hundreds of
carrier planes from the American Task Force 38, Shimakaze and three other destroyers were lost, along with all five
troop transports and over 9,000 soldiers.
Shimakaze is present in Second
World War at Sea: Leyte Gulf and we gave her three
sisters as well. She’s the most powerful destroyer seen
in the game series, and four of them together are a formidable
force in a surface engagement.
This piece originally appeared in December 2005.