Imperial Japanese Navy Light Cruisers 1941 – 45
New Vanguard 187
Author: Mark Stille
Illustrator : Paul Wright
Twenty-two light cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy missed much of Japanese surface action in World War Two. Lightly armed compared to their Allied rivals, they lacked the batteries of deadly Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedo, and offered paltry anti-aircraft capability. IJN expert Mark Stilles continues his IJN series with this war history of those 22 ships of seven classes.
Actually, IJN sailed 25 light cruisers in the war. Three were training cruisers, a unique concept of the time; thus there were in fact eight light cruiser classes. Light cruisers (naval initialism “CL”) of the Imperial Japanese Navy were marginally armed. Japanese tactical doctrine designed them to scout and lead the destroyer and submarine squadrons that bristled with powerful (for destroyers) broadsides and torpedoes. As such many featured extra space for command and control. They were to confront the advancing US fleet with long range torpedo barrages, whittling USN down before the ultimate gun battle between battleships. Thus the light cruisers of The Second Fleet (the IJN Cruiser Force) were the scouts and command centers for destroyers outside of home waters. Tactics emphasizing small-unit and night actions paid off handsomely in early engagements against the Allies.
Pre-war IJN CLs were of a relatively small 5,500-ton class and lacked the ability to mount powerful offensive weapons of the heavy cruiser force. Initial main battery armament was the Type 3 5.5-inch 50-caliber gun. They did not upgrade to the 6-inch weapons deployed on many Allied CLs, and only the war time classes, Agano
, mounted 6-inch batteries. Their main weapon was to be the torpedo, yet IJN modern destroyers usually equaled or exceeded the cruiser’s torpedo fitting. With a weak secondary armament of anti-aircraft guns of five different designs, IJN CLs could not offer much defense against air attack. And their standard of 13mm machine guns and Type 96 25mm light automatic anti-aircraft guns were probably the worst of any combatant; IJN never successfully developed a weapon like the 20mm or 40mm used by the Allies. Eventually, surviving CLs were smothered with up to 70 25mm gun tubes (it wasn’t enough). The Japanese also armed their light cruisers with depth charges.
Some Japanese heavy cruisers were very fast, exceeding 35 knots. Most light cruisers were as fast although their range was lacking, limiting their ability to escort carrier groups. Japanese planners emphasized night action with the cruisers leading the destroyers, thus the ships were equipped with excellent optics and powerful searchlights. If IJN ships had a weakness it was lack of radar; IJN ships lagged well behind Allied ships in radar installation, to their eventual sorrow. Despite this, Allied crews and commanders were slow in exploiting their radar advantage and Japanese sailors with trained eyes, exceptional optics and searchlights frequently devastated radar-equipped Allied forces into 1943.
However, Mr. Stille often includes in combat narratives for a ship just how many shells and torpedoes were fired to achieve a hit by a particular ship in a specific fight. The results are surprising low.
IJN light cruisers spent much of their time after the opening months of the war in patrol and escort duties. Recognizing the weakness of their torpedo and gun armament, Oi
had many of their cannon replaced with quadruple torpedo launchers. War shortages and new priorities found them loosing many torpedoes for space to carry landing craft.
Mr. Stille concludes that due to limitations of design and equipment, Japan’s light cruisers ended the war with an unimpressive record. As the tactical situation evolved, the role IJN CLs were envisioned for never really presented itself. If anything, light cruiser success can only be reflected by the success of IJN destroyer squadrons, for which the CLs were designed to be flagships.
Ultimately, only two non-training cruisers survived the war. Despite their depth charge armament the light cruisers were slaughtered by Allied submarines, a full half of the units harvested by torpedo attack. Only two went down by gunfire, the rest met destruction from the air.
Most of Imperial Japanese light cruisers were developed under the constraints of the successive Washington Naval Treaty, London Naval Treaty and Geneva Naval Conference. The Imperial Naval Staff struggled to build balanced designs within the weight limits. Mr. Stille touches upon these facts in addition to detailed discussion of the ships and equipment, such as:
• IJN radars
• Light AA guns
• Heavy AA guns
• Main battery armament
Tactical doctrine is explored. Effectiveness (or lack thereof) and modifications are presented, as well as tables concerning the subjects. The design and rebuilding of the ships is discussed. IJN cruiser armor was lacking compared to US Navy and Royal Navy treaty designs. Sidebars include the explanation of Japanese light cruiser names and the official classification of the ships. Also included is discussion of IJN ship camouflage, and the linoleum weather deck covering.
Furthermore, Mr. Stille discusses each of the eight classes in satisfying detail:
Imperial Japanese Navy Light Cruisers 1941 – 45
• Design And Construction
• Service Modifications
• Wartime Service
• Class Specifications
is presented through 48 pages in eight sections and an index:
II. JAPANESE LIGHT CRUISER DEVELOPMENT
III. JAPANESE NAVAL STRATEGY AND THE ROLE OF THE LIGHT CRUISER
IV. JAPANESE LIGHT CRUISER WEAPONS
a. Main Guns
b. Torpedo Armament
c. Heavy Antiaircraft Armament
d. Light Antiaircraft Armament
V. THE LIGHT CRUISER CLASSES
a. Tenryu Class
b. Kuma Class
c. Nagara Class
d. Sendai Class
e. Yubari Class
f. Agano Class
g. Oyodo Class
h. Katori Class
VI. ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION
Naval fights are usually team efforts, thus thwarting the ability to award a coup de grâce to an individual ship. The author discusses wartime service relating confirmed victories and the demise of each unit. Yura
sank three merchantmen raiding the Bay of Bengal. Yura
was also the first light cruiser sunk after succumbing to bombs from Dauntless divebombers and B-17s on October 25, 1942. Nagara
sank USS Preston
during the Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November, 1942.
Photographs and Illustrations
Supporting the text are several dozen black and white photographs. Most are surprisingly clear. Several are even studio quality. The majority are from water level although there are several taken from Japanese aircraft. A few are, expectedly, from Allied aircraft. Some photographs are detailed shots of parts of the ships.
Osprey is known for their original artwork and this book is no exception. The painting of Yahagi
used for the cover art is detailed and dramatic. Fourteen exceptional illustrations by artist Paul Wright enhance the subject:
A. HIJMS Sendai (1943). Cutaway.
B. Kuma Class. Three profiles: Tama in her unique camouflage; Kisi, 1944, and Kitakami in her torpedo cruiser configuration.
C. The Nagara Class. Three profiles: Abukuma during Pearl Harbor, Isuzu as an antiaircraft cruiser, and Nagara in 1944.
D. Yubari, departing Rabual on a beautiful late afternoon winters day for destiny at Savo Island.
E. Yahagi Under Attack By US Carrier Aircraft In April 1945. The book’s “in-action” painting of an escort for superbattleship Yamato being savaged by carrier planes.
F. The War-Built Cruisers. Agano in profile and planform, and Oyodo in profile.
G. The Tenryu and Katori Classes. Tenryu, Katori and Kashii in profile.
Additionally, over a dozen tables detail topics, e.g., torpedo launchers, anti-aircraft fit, main battery data and Losses Of IJN Light Cruisers By Primary Cause
, to name a few.
This is an excellent book about Imperial Japanese light cruisers for historians, modelers and illustrators with an interest in the subject. It is by no means comprehensive, nor is it meant to be. What it is is a detailed basis for further research about one of the particular ships at a particular time. The data concerning weapons is very interesting if you want to compare Allied weapons. As are other technical aspects. The graphic support – photographs, artwork, profiles and tables – alone are worth the price of the book. My only complaint is nitpicky – typos.
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