How Japan Ironically Made Their Own Super Battleships Obsolete

The rapid end of the battleship era

Grant Piper
6 min readJun 12, 2022


Yamato undergoing sea trials (Public domain)

The Japanese battleship Yamato was the largest such ship ever designed and built by any nation. She displaced 64,000 long tons when empty. The ship measured 839 feet long. It was armed with terrifying 18-inch guns that were two inches larger than her American counterparts. Yamato was designed to dominate the seas. She was supposed to be the tip of the spear for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and her girth and power were designed to carry the navy through a climactic meeting engagement at sea.

Naval philosophy in 1937, when the battleship was first laid down, dictated that any war would be decided by two groups of capital ships duking it out with long-range artillery. The nation with the more aggressive battleship commanders and the bigger guns would come out the other side victorious. Japan’s super battleship was supposed to outrange and outclass the American ships in the Pacific. One engagement where Yamato could unleash hell with her 18-inch guns could be enough to win the war.

At least, that is how the thinking went.

Yamato was officially commissioned on December 16th, 1941 exactly six days after the Japanese made all battleships obsolete.

The Sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse

Sailors abandon ship from the Prince of Wales (Public domain)

On December 10th, 1941, just days after Pearl Harbor, Asia was at war. The Japanese had blitzed the Americans and the British from Hawaii to Malaysia in a stunning offensive. The British military assets in the region were considerable. Two such assets were the HMS Prince of Wales, a battleship, and the HMS Repulse, a battlecruiser.

The two ships were large and represented British naval power in the world. It was ships like these that had helped in the Great War and had firmly cemented the dominance of the British Empire in all quadrants of the world.

The Prince of Wales was a brand new battleship, less than a year old, and represented the kind of thinking that had produced the Yamato as well. The…



Grant Piper

Thought provoking articles, when time and payouts permit it.