BEHIND THE IMAGE: the struck Japanese fleet carrier Amagi, 24 July 1945

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Here lies the toppled Japanese aircraft carrier Amagi. Photographed towards the very end of the Second World War, it is a metaphor for the vanquished hopes of Japanese military ambition.

As the ship lists to the side, a pylon points forlornly towards the sky – creating a dynamic diagonal across the picture, balanced by the dark mass of the underside of the carrier.

The hull, almost like some metal iceberg, dominates the image. The contrast of the dark underside with the light of the carrier’s flat top creates drama, before returning to dark with the silhouetted mass of the ship’s superstructure.

Amagi, or Heaven Castle, was an Unryū class aircraft carrier. Some 16 were planned as part of a huge naval construction programme begun in 1942 and designed to replace the losses suffered at the Battle of Midway.

The Unryū series proved to be the last purpose-built carriers constructed by the Japanese, and then only three were completed before the end of the war.

The Amagi had an overall length of around 225 metres, a beam of 22 metres, and a draft of 8.73 metres, displacing some 20,450 metric tons. The crew consisted of 1,595 officers and men.

When it was commissioned in 1944, the carrier was intended to carry a mixed compliment of 48 aircraft.

However, by then the shortage of carrier-qualified aircrew was such that planes were ordered to operate from shore bases and Amagi never embarked her air group.

By July 1945, Japan’s remaining large warships were concentrated at the major naval base at Kure, on the Inland Sea. On the 24th of that month, the US Third Fleet launched a massive attack against these remaining capital ships.

On this day, routine attacks by Superfortresses, around 570 on this mission, were joined by carrierbased aircraft that flew some 1,747 planes. Raids continued the following day.

The attacks accounted for one battleship, one fleet (the Amagi) and two escort carriers, one heavy cruiser, and several smaller vessels, including nine merchantmen. The Imperial Japanese Navy was left with only one capital ship.

Pearl Harbor had been well and truly avenged.

Keith Robinson

This is an article from the October 2017 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.

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