The Fuso-class were "Dreadnought" battleships in service with Japan during both World War and World War 2, the first true Dreadnought battleships in service to the Empire. "Dreadnought" was a name introduced by the British Royal Navy with the commissioning of their HMS Dreadnought, a warship that immediately made all other steel warships obsolete through her uniform use of big guns (12") coupled to steam turbine propulsion with adequate armor protection and speed. Her introduction in 1906 immediately rewrote the books on naval surface warfare.
Such was its impression that many nations raced to match the capabilities of Dreadnought - all pre-existing warships were now referred to as "Pre-Dreadnought". IJN Fuso was laid down on March 11th, 1912 by the Kure Naval Arsenal and launched on March 28th, 1914. Commissioned on November 8th, 1915, "Fuso" carried what was the classic name for the Japanese Islands and represented the lead ship in the two-strong Fuso-class. Her sister ship was IJN Yamashiro and she was launched in 1915 from the Yokosuka Nava Yard.
The Fuso-class was influenced by Japanese experience with the preceding Kongo-class battlecruisers. These ship were assisted in their development by British support and began entering service in 1913. The battlecruisers eventually evolved into truer battleship types and then as "fast battleships" to serve in protection of Japanese carriers heading into World War 2. Compared to the Kongo-class, the Fuso-class was of extended dimensions and provided with battleship-level armor protection from the outset. This, of course, led to a larger vessel of greater drag in the water as well as increased displacement - leading to reduced ocean-going speeds. By design, the Fuso-class Dreadnoughts carried a quarter more armor protection than the preceding Kongo-class.
As built, IJN Fuso exhibited a length of 673 feet with a beam of 94 feet and a draught of 28.5 feet. Its power came from 24 x Miyahara water-tube boilers feeding 2 x Brown-Curtiss steam turbines developing 40,000 horsepower while driving 4 x shafts. Speed reached a serviceable 23 knots with ranges out to 9,200 miles. Her displacement was 29,800 tons when initially put to water.
Her profile showcased a conventional silhouette with a modest bridge superstructure containing the main mast set ahead of midships. Two smoke funnels were seated in line at center with another mast held aft. The bow was of the usual raised, pointed shape and the stern left curved and low. Under a full head of steam, the Fuso could prove something of an elegant vessel as it cut through still waters. Her complete crew complement numbered 1,198 personnel.
Armament centered around the now widely-supported, all-big-gun approach, featuring 12 x 14" (356mm) main guns set across six twin-gun turrets. Two of these turrets sat ahead of the bridge with the third between the smoke funnels. Another was added before the aft mast with the final two paired over the stern. Additional gunfire support came from 16 x 6" (152mm) guns in single-gun turrets spread about her deck design. She also carried 6 x 21" (533mm) torpedo tubes to round out her armament suite.
In terms of armor, Fuso carried 305mm at the belt with up to 51mm thickness on her deck. Her barbettes featured up to 305mm protection with turrets reaching 279mm thickness. The conning tower managed a protection scheme of 351mm thickness.
Once in action, Fuso was used on patrolling ventures off of the Chinese coast during World War 1 but did not play an active combat role in the conflict. After the war, her foremast took on extra spotter platforms to improve situational awareness. Like other Japanese Navy vessels, she assisted in the rescue and recovery efforts following the large Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. In 1927, she and her sister took on two floatplane aircraft which elevated her over-the-horizon capabilities. Fuso mounted the launching equipment over the third turret amidships.
Beginning in 1930, Fuso entered a period of modernization (her first of two) which lasted until 1935. Her armor was improved and her propulsion system - boilers and turbines - wholly replaced, her speed slightly increased to 24.5 knots through 75,000 horsepower output. Range now reached 13,600 miles. Survivability was increased by the addition of torpedo bulges at the waterline. Her hull was lengthened some at the stern to help retain her speed amidst the added weight - vessel now displaced at 38,000 tons. The bridge superstructure was completed reworked to produce a high-reaching "pagoda-style" foremast which drastically changed her forward profile. Her torpedo launching tubes removed in 1932. While this work was completed in 1935, another modernization was enacted for 1937 which lasted until 1941. From there, she joined the 2nd Division as part of the 1st Fleet along with her sister ship.
By World War 2 standards, the Fuso still retained some combat value though she was not particularly fast nor as well-armed as her Japanese contemporaries. She formed up part of a force that failed to net the carrier group responsible for the famous "Doolittle Raid" in April of 1942. She then supported actions at the Alaskan Aleutian Islands chain in an effort to draw American support away from Midway in May. The Battle of Midway took place from June 4th until June 7th and proved a disastrous failure for the Japanese Navy - four of its aircraft carriers were lost.
From November 1942 to January of 1943, Fuso served in a training role then later came to the aid of the stricken IJN Mutsu, rescuing over 350 personnel. In July, she took on radar equipment (Type 21 air search, Type 13 early warning, and Type 22 surface search) and additional defensive-minded Anti-Aircraft (AA) 25mm cannons (total of 95 guns) before setting sail for Truk in mid-August. She left Truk in February of 1944 to escape an American bombing raid and reached Palau in February but had to disperse one again ahead of an inbound air attack. She served as a training platform at Lingga Island (Indonesia) for a time later to which several support, convoy, and escort missions then followed. As part of Battleship Division 2, 2nd Fleet, she served in the flagship role before transferring command to her sister, IJN Yamashiro, in October.
IJN Fuso's end would come at the Battle of Surigao Strait as part of the wider Battle of Leyte Gulf, Philippines during October 23rd to October 26th, 1944. The Japanese fleet was surprised by a more numerous and overwhelming American naval force which saw Fuso run a through repeated attacks by USN dive bombers, torpedo boats, and battleships (some veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack). Bombs began raked the Fuso and destroyed her catapult system and floatplanes. She also lost all of her crew in the first turret which restricted her firepower projection capabilities. Taking on water into the night, Fuso began to list and confusion set in during the early morning hours when her crews opened fire on her ally, IJN Mogami, killing three. Fuso took on more damage when a torpedo slammed into her starboard side, which made her list further and restricted her speed considerably. The vessel sank - either in one piece or as two sections, accounts vary - around 3:40AM, taking most of her crew with her to the bottom. Her sister ship also met her fate at the Battle of Surigao Strait.