IJN Destroyer – Shimakaze 島風

Shimakaze running ahead full on trials
Line drawing of Shimakaze

(The Type 13 radar on the mainmast indicates that this drawing depicts a refit)
  • Builder: Maizuru Navy Yard
  • Laid Down: August 8, 1941
  • Launched: July 18, 1942
  • Completed: April 30, 1943
  • Commissioned: May 10, 1943
  • Fate: Sunk by carrier aircraft November 11, 1944

Characteristics

  • Displacement: 2,567 ton (standard)
  • Dimensions: Length 415 ft, beam 36.75 ft, draft 13.5 ft
  • Propulsion: 2x Kampon geared turbines (2 shafts), 3x Kampon boilers, 76,010 shp
  • Speed: 39 kts
  • Range: 5,800 nm at 18 kts
  • Crew: 267

Armament (as built):

  • 6x 5”/50 dual-purpose guns in 3x Type D twin mounts
  • 3x quintuple torpedo mounts (24” Type 93 torpedoes)
  • 2x triple 25mm mounts
  • 1x twin 13mm mount
  • 18 depth charges

Design

The Shimakaze was an experimental destroyer in the Imperial Japanese Navy that was unique largely due to her impressive speed and torpedo armament.  Ordered under the 1939 Supplement Building Program as a Type C design, hull number 125, she was essentially a modified Yugumo-class destroyer that had been lengthened 25 feet in order to accommodate a third quintuple torpedo launcher.  Consequently, she had one of the heaviest torpedo armaments of any destroyer in WWII. However, what was gained in weight meant that she could not carry any torpedo reloads. She was also one of the first Japanese destroyers to be fitted with radar as completed, in this case a Type 22 set mounted on the foremast (Nevitt, n.d.).

The speed of the Shimakaze was achieved due to her experimental power plant of 3 Kampon boilers operating at 571 psi and 400 degrees Celsius powering turbines which generated  76,010 shp driving two shafts (Watts & Gordon, 1971, p. 290). Her turbines were 50% more powerful than typical destroyer turbines, and during trials, they actually developed 79,240 shp and a speed of 40.9 kts (Stille, 2013, p. 310).

The 16 additional destroyers of the class ordered under the 1942 program were cancelled because the Shimakaze’s design was too complex and economically unfeasible in light of wartime exigencies which necessitated more proven and simpler designs (Stille, 2013, p. 310).

Shimakaze underwent a refit in June of 1944 where she received additional triple 25mm mounts, 7x single 25mm mounts, and one single 13mm mount.  A Type 13 radar was also installed on the mainmast (Stille, 2013, p. 310). In contrast to other sources, Anthony Watts and Brian Gordon note that she originally carried 5 additional torpedos for a total of 20 and that at some point in 1944, her torpedo reloads were removed along with one of the 5” gun mounts which was replaced by 2x triple 25mm mounts (Watts & Gordon, 1971, p. 290-291).

Operational History

Commissioned in May of 1943 under Commander Hirose Hiromu.  She assisted in the evacuation of Kiska in late July where she was the flagship of the screening force. According to Masataka Chihaya (1969), the Shimakaze was chosen for the operation by Admiral Kimura specifically because of her radar which would alert them to any approaching American warships in the heavy fog that the operation depended on (p. 256). In October, Commander Hirose was relieved by Commander Uwai Hiroshi who would remain Shimakaze’s CO for the rest of her career.  For the remainder of 1943 and the first few months of 1944, she escorted merchant vessels and fleet units around before putting in at Kure in March for refit.  She participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea from June 19th-20th and then returned to Japan to receive further anti-aircraft armament refits.

During the Battle of Leyte Gulf on October 24, 1944, she took on survivors of the heavy cruiser Maya from the battleship Musashi as it sank.  While present at the Battle of Samar the following day, she played no active role due to her being in the rear of the fleet and loaded with survivors.  For the remainder of the month, she assisted in troop operations around Manila.

On November 11, while escorting troop convoy TA No. 3 in Ormoc Bay, she was attacked by carrier aircraft from TF38.  Disabled early on by near-misses and strafing, she drifted burning for the afternoon before exploding and sinking with an unknown number of survivors.  She was removed from the navy list on January 10, 1945 (Nevitt, 1998).

On December 1, 2017, Paul Allen’s research vessel Petrel located and photographed the wreck of the Shimakaze.  She lies 715 ft below the surface in Ormoc Bay. Reports seem to indicate that she did not have one of her 5” mount removed as was originally thought (IJN Shimakaze, n.d.).

Evaluation

An examination of her Tabular Record of Movement shows that the Shimakaze was never assigned to a destroyer division, but rather always operated independently at the squadron level (Nevitt, n.d.).  This may be due to the fact that she was the only ship in her class. Being the one-off destroyer that the Shimakaze was, despite her impressive torpedo armament and speed, naval historians like Allyn Nevitt and Mark Stille opine that she was never used to her full potential and ultimately had a very “ordinary” career (Stille, 2013, p. 310).

It is difficult to evaluate a ship that never even got the chance to do what she was designed to do in her short service that only lasted a year and a half.  Whether or not she would have been able to use her significant torpedo battery to great effect in battle is a matter of speculation and probably reliant on any number of factors, not the least being the captain’s aggressiveness and the crew’s skill.  That being said, many Japanese destroyer captains were naturally aggressive and experts in the use of the Type 93 torpedo. While the Shimakaze may have been useful in some of the naval actions in the Solomons or later campaigns, we must remember that in the grand scheme of the Pacific War, it is unlikely that a single one-off destroyer would have been a decisive factor.  This was not a capital ship, after all. Further speculation would risk going into the minefield of counterfactualism.

Overall, the Shimakaze was an interesting design, and like many Imperial Japanese Navy destroyers, she epitomized their philosophy of destroyers being torpedo attack platforms.  However, also like many Imperial Japanese Navy ships, she was also a very specialized design. Her anti-submarine capabilities seem underwhelming and her anti-air armament was sorely lacking which is ultimately what did her in.  But the same could be said for many Imperial Japanese Navy vessels. In many ways, the Shimakaze seems to be the victim of wartime economic realities. Her powerplant was way too complex and expensive to produce in large numbers and by the time of her commissioning, the tide was turning in favor of the Americans who were beginning to get a grasp on the use of radar in night-fighting, not to mention their ability to leverage their enormous industrial capacity to churn out ships.

References

Chihaya, M. (1969). The Withdrawal from Kiska. In D.C. Evans (Eds.). The Japanese Navy in World War II (2nd ed.) (pp. 245 – 277). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.

Jentschura, H., Jung, D., & Mickel, P. (1982). Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869-1945 (A. Preston & J.D. Brown, Trans.). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. (Original work published 1970)

Stille, M.E. (2013). The Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing.

Watts, A.J. & Gordon, B.G. (1971). The Imperial Japanese Navy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company Inc.

Nevitt, A.D. (1998). IJN Shimakaze: Tabular Record of Movement. Retrieved from http://www.combinedfleet.com/shimak_t.htm

Nevitt, A.D. (n.d.). Shimakaze Class Notes. Retrieved from http://www.combinedfleet.com/shimak_n.htm

IJN Shimakaze. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://paulallen.com/Indepth/Petrel/discoveries/ijn-shimakaze.php

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