Blog Archives

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

################################################################################################################

Military Humor – Navy Chief style – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

################################################################################################################

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

################################################################################################################

%d bloggers like this: