The Wreck of the IJN Chokai

IJN Chokai, 1942 -by: Paul Wright

Chokai was the last of the four-strong Takao class of heavy cruisers built for the Imperial Japanese Navy in the late 1920s. Imperial Japanese designers worked for several years under the restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty to make warships that were superior in quality to their American and British opponents, but the tonnage limitations imposed by the treaty made designs that would satisfy the General Staff almost impossible.

In WWII,  Chokai participated in several of the early operations in Southeast Asia, including convoy escort, assisting in the Hunt for Force Z, and the destruction of ABDA forces.

In March 1942, the IJN made a raid into the Indian Ocean with impressive results. The British aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, the heavy cruisers Cornwall and Dorsetshire, and the destroyers Tenedos and Vampire were all sunk. Additionally, several ports were raided on the island of Ceylon and the Indian mainland, and more than 25 merchant vessels were sunk for the loss of around 25 Japanese aircraft.

After a short refit at Yokosuka, Chokai was assigned to the occupation force for the Midway Invasion operation, with the intention of providing support to the Special Naval Landing Forces while they assaulted the atoll. However, the destruction of the Kido Butai and the resulting loss of Japanese air cover on June 4th resulted in the failure of the operation, and Chokai returned to Japan.

IJN heavy cruiser Chokai at Ruk 20 Nov. 1942, Yamato in background

On the night of August 9th, Chokai acted as the flagship for Vice Admiral Mikawa as the 6th Cruiser Division went into the Battle of Savo Island, a mostly one-sided beating of the Allied naval forces in the waters off the island.  Four Allied heavy cruisers were sunk (CanberraAstoriaVincennes, and Quincy) by the combined weight of gunfire and torpedoes from the Japanese force, and another survived with heavy damage. Despite the surprise of the attack, two Japanese cruisers were damaged by return fire, including ChokaiQuincy and Astoria succeeded at hitting Chokai’s Number I turret, disabling it and killing 34 of the crew inside. Repairs are made at Rabaul over the next several days.

For the rest of 1942, Chokai participated in bombardments of Henderson Field and escorted Tokyo express convoys to the island. For several more months most of Chokai’s time was spent escorting convoys, and in some minor refits that added newer radar and more AA guns.  In June 1944, she was part of the Mobile Force at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, a colossally one-sided battle that saw the loss of three Japanese aircraft carriers, three more carriers damaged, damage to several surface combatants, and the loss of more than 700 aircraft. Chokai emerged unscathed from the battle.

 

October 1944 would see the end of Chokai. In an effort to halt the American landing on the island of Leyte, the IJN put together a massive operation to divert the main striking power of the US navy away from the island, so that their battleships and cruisers could attack the vulnerable transport ships in the gulf.

IJN Center Force departing Brunei Bay, Borneo, for P.I. 22 Oct. 1944 w/ Yamato & Musashi

The Center Force under Admiral Takeo Kurita comprised four battleships (including Yamato and Musashi, the largest battleships ever built), ten heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and fifteen destroyers. Despite two devastating attacks on the 23rd and 24th by American submarines and aircraft (which sank two of her sister ships and critically damaged another), Chokai made it into the gulf for what would have been the main event.

During the Battle off Samar on October 25th, the Center Force totally failed to utilize its advantage in survivability and firepower and was turned back by the boldness and audacity of the Americans in the small task forces that were supporting the marines on the island. For the loss of an escort carrier, two destroyers, a destroyer escort, several aircraft, and damage to several other warships, the Japanese lost three more heavy cruisers and another three were seriously damaged.

At 0558 the Center Force opened fire on Taffy 3, by 0850 Chokai started to take 5” shellfire from the guns on the escort carriers and destroyer escort Roberts. It is probable that several of them were from USS White Plains (CVE-66).  Less than ten minutes later, reports indicate a large explosion, long believed to be from Chokai’s torpedoes detonating from a near hit by a 5” shell. Her engines and rudder were disabled, and she fell out of formation. At 0905, a flight of four TBM Avengers from Kitkun Bay scored a hit with a 500 pound bomb on the stern, and they reported billowing smoke.

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Towards the end of the hour, the heavy cruiser Tone reports that Chokai is dead in the water. Kurita orders the destroyer Fujinami to escort the stricken cruiser away a few minutes after 1000, and the destroyer takes off the survivors. At last, at 2148 hours Fujunami reports that she had scuttled Chokai with torpedoes.

But even after their ship was sunk, Chokai’s crew weren’t safe. On October 27th, while diverting to pick up more survivors from another lost Japanese ship, aircraft from USS Essex attacked Fujinami in the afternoon. Fujunami was sunk with all hands, including all of the survivors from Chokai.

On May 5th, 2019, the R/V Petrel located Chokai at a depth of 16,970 feet (5,173 meters), and on May 30th they conducted an ROV survey of the wreck.  Chokai is resting upright, her bow broke off in front of the Number I turret and is resting about 980 feet (300 meters) away, an aircraft catapult also broke away, and the rear deck has fallen in.

Aside from that, most of the ship is in one piece.

 

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Military Humor – Navy Chief style – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Leon Ahlquist – Scarborough, ME; US Navy, WWII, USS Antietam

Daniel H. Bergolc – Euclid, OH; US Army, Iraq & Afghanistan, Captain, 2 Bronze Stars, 2 Purple Hearts

Jack Childress – Ridgeland, MS; USMC, WWII, PTO, 1st marine Division, 3 purple Hearts

Robert Dishmond – Science Hill, KY; US Army, Korea, 101st Airborne & 3rd Infantry Division

Charles Gwinn – Silverdale, WA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Co. B/674 Artillery/11th Airborne Division

Norris Halstead – Notomine, WV; US Navy, WWII

Fred Kerhoff – Lena, IL; US Army, WWII

Laverne Mertz – Walnut, IA; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Oliver Williams Jr. – New Orleans, LA; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Hutchins

Thomas Francis Wills – NYC, NY; US Navy, WWII, ETO & PTO, radioman 1st Class, USS Upshur Inshore Patrol/10th ND/Navy 116; USS Chickadee, Monitor & Dyess

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on August 10, 2020, in Post WWII, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 82 Comments.

  1. Thank you, GP, for including my father Thomas Francis Wills on today’s Farewell Salutes. This is an appropriate post. As RM1 Thomas Wills served on the USS Monitor (LSV-5) during the October 20th, 1944 landings Leyte Gulf landings.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Never ceases to impress on me the amount of actual Planes and Crafts that were destroyed during every individual battle or conflict during the war years, can you imagine the global uproar today if these words made the headlines in tomorrows newspapers……..and the loss of more than 700 aircraft

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your like of my post, “Israel In Isaiah, 2:10-22, Notes.” I appreciate the articles that you put in your blog; please keep up your good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I just finished rereading “Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.” thanks for sharing this. Question, do you know if they’ve found the Roberts or Johnston yet?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Quite a hardy ship. When you go to the PH it would be nice if you could do some diving, even at open water level (unless you’re already doing advanced levels). ‘Just make sure it’s summer! ☀⛵🌊

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m completely fascinated by the work of ROVs, and this is one more tale to add to my list of interesting exploits by them. Strange as it might seem, I like that we’re able to see into history in this new way; looking at these ships, and telling their tales, honors the men who served on them, regardless of the side on which they fought.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. How long have you been writing your posts on WordPress? ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  8. A wonderful ship, even it had been built by the (former) enemies. Thank you for sharing the information, GP! Hope you are well, and enoy the summer. Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thinking of you during these trying times…I hope that you are well. Stay safe!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. An amazing story of the toughness of IJN heavy cruiser Chokai

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I love stories about underdogs, and during the battle off Samar Island, the US Navy escort ships were punching way above their weight. Too bad for the Chokai and the Fujinami, but a pretty inspirational story of never-say-die attitude in the American crews. I love those underwater pictures, and the cruiser’s cannons still look pretty impressive, don’t they.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Reblogged this on Rosalinda R Morgan and commented:
    It’s sad to see a great ship sunk with plenty of men on board but they were the enemy. The Battle at Leyte Gulf was one great battle in WWII and Taffy 3 outfought and outlasted the mightly Imperial Japanese Navy. Great Post, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Go Navy! Love the photos, too.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Thank you for another fascinating account of the war in the Pacific. All those years reading about WW2 and I never realised that the Japanese raided ports on the island of Ceylon and even attacked the Indian mainland. I knew that they bombed the docks at Calcutta but the rest was news to me! Thanks for the info.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Certainly, John. The more I research that war, the more I realize that I really don’t know much at all. Every story seems to have a surprise in it.
      Thank you very much for your interest here, my friend.

      Like

  15. The underwater photographs of the Chokai are very eerie.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. The slideshow photos are fabulous!
    Thank you for teaching me about Chokai’s story.
    HUGS!!!
    PS…love the Navy Chief humor! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  17. If ever there were ghosts, I expect they would be hanging around those old sunken ships, G. Bone was taken on a diving expedition several years ago the visit a sunken Japanese destroyer in the South Pacific. –Curt

    Liked by 3 people

  18. I loved those underwater pics, GP. The facts were gripping. I felt for the crew of Chokai who probably thought they were safe.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. How unlucky to be rescued from one ship, then perish when the recue ship is sunk. My uncle was on three Royal Navy ships sunk during WW2, including HMS Barham. He survived the war, but was never right after he got home. He turned to drink in later life.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Great and gripping story! And those old photos — terrific. The other side of the war…

    Liked by 2 people

    • They were quite formidable, especially for what they had to work with. Their main fault was having the Army/Navy run by ancient members of the service. Their old ways didn’t succeed in the 1940’s

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Great photos and artwork. As always, I learn so much about the final days of WWII in the Pacific and the Occupation of Japan from you, GP.
    — John

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Good article. Proud warships, just had to lose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • With so much aluminium in her and poor welding, she held up pretty well for a lot of years. The more I learned about the Chokai, the more respect I had for her.

      Like

  23. I wonder if they would ever bring it up as a piece of history?

    Liked by 1 person

    • As far as I know (I could be wrong), the Japanese feel pretty much the same about their sunken vessels as we do. We leave them be, as a grave for those who died with her. That is usually the reason why the exact location of such vessels are top secret.

      Like

  24. wow, the underwater pics! and i always learn so much from you

    Liked by 1 person

  25. That ship served well. It’s ironic that after such a span of good fortune, the crew was lost as they were. That’s sad. I know they were the enemy, but I still feel bad for them as people. I’ve heard of all these battles, but never this ship. Thanks for sharing its story.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Love the Chief jokes. I’ve heard that one of a Chief’s main jobs is train new Ensigns. I supposed senior sergeants have a similar job with Second Lieutenants.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Pierre Lagacé

    How we never stop learning about WWII.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. Another addition to my learning from you about the Japanese war.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Amazing underwater shots of it GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Thank you for sharing this article.

    Like

  1. Pingback: The Wreck of the IJN Chokai — Pacific Paratrooper | A tribute to Richard "Chick" Harmer and US Navy Night Fighter Squadron VF(N)-101

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