Battlecruiser / Battleship
Introduced as a battlecruiser in 1915, IJN Kirishima was modified into battleship form during the late 1920s and, again, in the mid-1930s.
Authored By: Merv Handlesburg | Last Edited:
From the period between 1912 and 1915, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) put to water four Kongo-class battlecruisers. Battlecruisers were a short-lived naval initiative intended to promote the firepower of a Dreadnought battleship with the speed of a cruiser. While not entirely a successful mating, many of the type found success in some of the battles waged during the 20th Century. Beyond Britain and Japan, German also adopted the battlecruiser form and it was with British assistance that IJN Kirishima was developed. IJN Kirishima formed the third of the four-strong Kongo-class and she was ordered in 1911, laid down on March 17th, 1912 by builder Mitsubishi at the Nagasaki shipyard, and launched on December 1st, 1913. She was formally commissioned on April 19th, 1915 in time to serve in World War 1 and carried the namesake of Mount Kirishima of Kyushu.
Kirishima was limited to patrolling actions in Southeast Asian waters during the war and did not see any major combat service. After the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake on Honshu, the vessel aided in the recovery effort. Joining her sister ships, Kirishima then entered a program of modernization in 1927 which lasted until 1931. She received additional armor protection as well as increased straight-line speed while her classification was revised from battlecruiser to "battleship". Her profile was changed by the loss of one of her smoke funnels. The modified ship existed in this form for only a few short years when, in 1934, she entered yet another program which now saw her converted to a "fast battleship". Her machinery was upgraded to double her horsepower which, in turn, raised her ocean-going speed from 26 knots to 30 knot. Her superstructure was completed reworked and catapults were added for the launching of floatplane aircraft of which she could carry three into action.
As completed, Kirishima displaced 37,200 tons and held a length of 728.3 feet, a beam of 10.7 feet, and a draught of 31.9 feet. Her propulsion system was made up of geared-steam turbines developing 136,000 horsepower to four shafts. Her range was out to 10,000 nautical miles. Armament centered around 8 x 14" (356mm) main guns held in four, two-gun turrets - two fitted forward and two aft of the superstructure. This was complemented by 16 x 6" (152mm) guns in eight, two-gun turrets. Additional support came from 8 x 5" (127mm) guns set in eight, single-gun turrets. She also carried some 20 x 25mm Type 96 cannons for air defense. In terms of armoring, she held up to 203mm thickness at the belt, 280mm thickness at the turrets, and 121mm thickness on her deck. Her complete crew complement was approximately 1,360 personnel.
With her newfound speed, the fast battleship was capable of keeping pace with IJN carriers in the carrier escort role. The important role that the aircraft carrier would play in future wars was realized by this time and their protection was of the utmost importance - and it fell to vessels like Kirishima to support such actions. Her armament also ensured that the ship could match most enemy threats on the sea and support troop actions during amphibious assaults.
The Second Sino-Japanese War between China and Japan had been ongoing since September of 1931. Full scale war eventually broke out in July of 1937 and Kirishima was pressed into support of military action during this period, ferrying troops to the warzone as needed. The war became a prelude to Japanese involvement in World War 2 which would pit the might of the IJN against that of the British Royal Navy and the United States Navy in the Pacific. To keep American involvement in the region limited, the Japanese evolved a plan to cripple the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii - the resulting attack enacted on December 7th, 1941.
The four Kongo-class ships were tied to the 3rd battle Division and made up a portion of the secret task force sent against Pearl. The attack came as a complete surprise to the Americans but failed in knocking her carrier group out of action, they not in harbor at the time. During the attack, Kirishima served as vital escort to the six aircraft carriers used in the strikes. The attack officially launched the United States into war against the nation of Japan.
After supporting Japanese actions in the Dutch East Indies, Kirishima's next participation was during the Battle of Midway in June of 1942. She formed part of the protective force for the four IJN carriers in play. However, the battle proved a decisive American victory and Kirishima took on battle damage during the sortie. All four IJN carriers were lost in this Pacific Theater turning point.
With her sister IJN Hiei, Kirishima then partook in night actions at Guadalcanal during November 12-13, 1942. After supporting forces in the Eastern Solomons and the Santa Cruz Islands, she headed into battle as part of an attack force supported by destroyers. The Japanese ships sank the cruiser USS Atlanta and the destroyers USS Barton and USS Laffey and helped damage USS San Francisco, USS Juneau, USS Helena, and USS Portland.
In a subsequent night sortie, the Japanese attempted to ship its ground troops onto Guadalcanal while dislodge American forces holding Henderson Field through offshore bombardment. However, the USN was on to the plan thanks to airborne intelligence days prior and fielded USS South Dakota and USS Washington in the area. Both ships were recently launched at the start of the war and were of all-modern, radar-carrying designs with 16" main guns. Kirishima managed hits on USS San Francisco while IJN Hiei came under intense focus by the American ships. San Francisco and supporting vessels managed to cripple Hiei and place her out of action, her hulk eventually scuttled and abandoned by the Japanese. The surviving Japanese ships, including Kirishima, retreated north and out of harm's way.
Ordered to reclaim Hiei, the Japanese force made her way back to the previous day's fighting. They found the American forces and opened up on USS South Dakota. Unknown to Japanese spotters was the arriving USS Washington which came into range and unloaded her 16" guns. Kirishima suffered catastrophic damage and was now unable to steer and beginning to list to starboard. Deemed a loss, her crew was rescued by Japanese destroyers and the Kirishima sunk to the depths below. 212 crew died while 1,098 were taken on by rescue forces. Kirishima sank at 3:25AM, November 15th, 1942, her hulk resting some seven miles northwest of Savo Island.
The vessel was discovered in 1992 and shown to have landed on her top side, her bow completely gone - the interpretation held that her forward magazines had detonated at some point in the fighting or during her sinking.