The Japanese Navy ranked as the third most powerful ocean-going force on the planet prior to World War 2 (1939-1945) and with good reason - much of her interests lay in areas outside of the mainland, the country being an isolated island nation positioned in the northwest Pacific Ocean. As such, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was to become the spearhead of the expansion effort across the Pacific during the war, designed to tangle with the American and British navies in the region - both of which posed the greatest threat. When the British began armoring the decks of their new Illustrious-class aircraft carriers, Japanese authorities took notice and ordered this same sort of survivability quality for a new breed of indigenous carrier - embodied by the Taiho-class group made up of IJN Taiho (her name meaning the "Great Phoenix") - the sole vessel of the class.
Taiho was laid down on July 10th, 1941 and launched on April 7th, 1942. By this time, the Empire was in total war across the Pacific, having consolidated gains in Asia and parts of the Pacific. The United States Navy was ramping up to meet the challenge ahead which left little time for the Japanese to continue their march. The devastating results for the IJN at the Battle of Midway (June 4-7th, 1942) only drove home the point further that a new, all-modern carrier was desperately needed. A pair of sister ships were quickly ordered to cover losses and join Taiho. Midway became a notably decisive American victory and marked the loss of four important IJN carriers to America's one. The battle further cost the lives of 3,057 Japanese servicemen and marked the first Japanese naval defeat since the 1860s.
Taiho was commissioned on March 7th, 1944 as the tide in the Pacific was shifting. The vessel was armored up to 3" on the flight deck and between the hangar elevators of which there were two, one fore and the other aft. The belt was given up to 6" of armor protection with her propulsion rooms covered in 2.2" armor thickness. All of this extra weight made the vessel top-heavy but the idea behind it was to produce a warship capable of sustaining such terrible damage that she could still carry on fighting despite of it.
While the vessel's original design lacked radar, the wide scale European adoption of radar on warships led to the Japanese quickly implementing their own local solution on Taiho - a pair of Type 21 air search systems and a Type 13 air search unit gave awareness out to 92 miles from the island superstructure.
Local defense was through the new 100mm (3.9") Type 98 /65 caliber quick-firing, high-velocity autocannon. Twelve of these weapons were fitted across six turrets. Further anti-aircraft support was added through 51 x 25mm (1") guns in seventeen three-gunned turrets installed about the design. Beyond this, local defense was to fall on any accompanying warships.
Displacement of the vessel was 30,250 tons (short) under standard load with 37,870 tons (short) under full load. Dimensions included a length of 855 feet, a beam of 90 feet, and a draught of 31.5 feet. Power was served through 8 x Kampon RO Go boilers feeding 4 x Kampon geared steam turbines delivering a combined 160,000 horsepower to 4 x shafts. Maximum speed could reach over 33 knots with ranges out to 12,000 miles.
As designed, Taiho was given a conventional arrangement with a straight line flight deck fitting two hangar elevators. A crane was fitted aft along starboard for recovery of outboard items including downed aircraft and supplies brought along by support ships. The island superstructure was sat over the starboard side of the vessel and proved the only obstruction to pilots taking off or landing. The flush deck allowed for multiple aircraft to be readied and one launched right after the other to send as many aircraft into the sky as quickly as possible. Authorities originally envisioned the ship carrying up to 80 aircraft into the fray but no more than 75 were realistically fielded in practice - this primarily due to a shortage of aircrew more than anything else, such were the losses being heaped upon the IJN by this point in the war. Her aircraft stable would eventually include several types - fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers. The entire crew complement for the ship numbered 1,751 men though over 2,100 were carried before the end.
All told, the Taiho became the most technologically advanced Japanese carrier of the war. Her class never grew beyond herself despite the additional two vessels considered. She would lead a short life in service with the IJN in World War 2 - finding a fate that would befall many of the IJN's most important warships. Taiho was an amazing effort nonetheless considering the untested changes enacted to her design over previous Japanese carrier attempts - and all this completed while under the stress of war and pressure from loss of territory, manpower, and vital resources.
Shortly after commissioning in March 1944, Taiho was sent to Singapore to join veterans Shokaku and Zuikaku under the flag of Carrier Division I. After a period of training for her naval aviators and sea trials to prove her design and systems sound she arrived at Tawi Tawi in the extreme south Philippines to form part of the First Mobile Fleet.
It was in June of 1944 that the Taiho would quickly meet her end during the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19th). In response to the American presence, Taiho ordered her air wing launched. However, the American Navy attack submarine USS Albacore had spotted her and proceeded to engage the massive floating vessel. A full spread of six torpedoes were fired against the Japanese target though only one managed to score a direct hit (four missed and one was intercepted by a suicide dive by a Japanese pilot). The blast caused by the sole impacting torpedo generated a hole in the starboard side of the ship in front of the island superstructure, sending aviation fuel spraying and rendered the forward hangar elevator useless. Flooding ensued which added to the crew's mounting woes.
The damaged elevator now meant that aircraft could not be launched or retrieved as normal and the damage was forcing a slight list. Speed was reduced to compensate for the latter while the elevator well was ordered covered up on the flight deck. The quick fixes allowed normal service of the flight deck heading into the afternoon hours.
Despite this, deadly vapors have been amassing in the lower sections of the ship and attempts to remedy this were largely ineffective. An ignition source somewhere on the ship eventually caused a mighty explosion which buffeted the deck and fractured the sides of the hull, allowing more seawater to enter. A second massive explosion then followed, spelling ultimate doom for the ship which sank in about 90 minutes. Of the 2,150 crew onboard, only 500 survived.
Taiho lasted a short few months in IJN service and was a critical loss for the Japanese war effort in the Pacific.
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