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History of a Ship: Japan’s Kongo

Ordered by the Japanese government in 1911, Kongo was the first of a class of four battlecruisers, the other three in the class to be built in Japan. The Japanese shipbuilding industry benefited so greatly from observing the latest in British ship construction techniques that she would be the last Japanese capital ship built in a foreign yard.


Kongo early in her career

When launched in 1913 Kongo carried with eight 14 inch guns in four turrets, sixteen 6 inch guns, sixteen 12 pounder guns and eight hull-mounted torpedo tubes. With 36 boilers firing a mix of coal and oil, Kongo at 27,500 tons loaded could make 27.5 knots. Employing the latest in hull construction techniques, armor protection in the form of Vickers cemented steel and a powerful combination of heavy and medium armament, Kongo was the most powerful ship in the world on the eve of World War I. She was also the most expensive warship ever built by any nation up to that time.

The original version of Kongo appeared in Great War at Sea: North Sea, now retired to the Valhalla of Games. She also makes an appearance in Cruiser Warfare. Considered by many the epitome of warship design, other nations lusted for the battle cruiser, with the Royal Navy making a bid on her and the Greeks pondering ordering a copy (using their allies’ money, of course). This last ship made an appearance in the Dreadnoughts supplement.

In late summer 1917 Kongo was used to test the feasibility of launching aircraft from a warship. The experiment proved so successful that all Japanese capital warships were soon fitted to carry them. In the mid-1920s the 12-pounders were removed and replaced with seven 3-inch guns. A reconstruction in the late 1920s reduced the number of boilers, without reducing shaft horsepower, added almost 4,000 tons of armor, removed four of the eight torpedo tubes and reconstructed the deck between “X” and “Y” turrets in order to permit the carrying of three aircraft.

In this variation, Kongo appeared in Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Orange.

In 1936 Kongo (and her three sisters) underwent a second reconstruction, including redesigning the stern and installing new and more efficient oil-fired boilers. Shaft horsepower more than doubled and Kongo’s new top speed climbed to 30.5 knots. The remaining torpedo tubes and two of the 6-inch guns were removed and eight 5-inch and twenty 25 mm AA guns installed. Weight increased to 31,720 tons.


Kongo’s sister Kirishima, after rebuilding

As a result of the extensive changes Kongo was reclassified as a battleship. However, due to her speed she was slated to serve as an escort for carrier groups during wartime, and considered part of the cruiser force rather than the battle line. As such, the four Kongo-class ships fought in the savage surface actions off the Solomons while newer and more powerful battleships were held back from that fray.

This is the version that appeared in Midway and Eastern Fleet and the the now-retired SOPAC.

Of the class only Kongo and Haruna survived the first year of the war. Both were given substantial increases in AA armament in 1944, Kongo adding four 5-inch and seventy-four 25 mm AA guns at a cost of two of the 6-inch guns (reducing the number to 12). This modified Kongo appears in Leyte Gulf.

In an ignominious end for a ship born at the dawn of the dreadnought era, Kongo met her end at the hands of an American submarine in November 1944.

Brian L. Knipple
January 2005