The Japanese Destroyer Kagero


The destroyers deployed to the Solomons and New Guinea continued to be used as transport ships. In an attempt to reinforce their presence in the Solomons the Japanese established Munda airfield on New Georgia. That did not escape the attention of the U.S. intelligence and it was not long before the airfield came under attacks by U.S. aircraft and surface ships. The Japanese tried their best to maintain their own presence in the air and went to great lengths to re-supply the Imperial Army troops on New Georgia and the surrounding islands. However, in the face of growing enemy presence the re-supply missions were too risky to be performed by freighters. Lessons learned from Guadalcanal and the disastrous results of the battle of the Bismarck Sea4 clearly demonstrated that transports, even with a strong escort, stood little chance against air attacks. The re-supply missions were therefore handed once more to destroyers and submarines. Once more modern and capable warships were relegated to risky troop carrying duties and re-supply missions. Most of such operations were successful, although there were some losses as well. It was on one of such missions (re-supply of the Japanese garrison on Kolombangara, an island near New Guinea) that Kagero’s luck would run out.
In February and March the destroyer underwent a refit and repairs at Kure. In late March she took to the sea with three other destroyers as escort for carriers Junyo and Hiyo on their way to Truk. In late April the ship arrived at Shortland, from where she would carry out re-supply missions in support of the Japanese troops on Kolombangara. The first operation took place on May 3 and went without a glitch. However, the one that follow would be the destroyer’s final mission.
In addition to air and surface attacks, the U.S. forces made life difficult for the Imperial Navy using mines laid by ships and aircraft. On the night of May 6/7 three old ex-destroyers converted into fast mine-layers (USS Breese, USS Gamble and USS Preble), escorted by the destroyer USS Radford, laid some 250 Mark 6 mines across Blackett Strait, separating Kolombangara from New Guinea. Due to poor weather and diversionary actions by American cruisers, the Japanese were unaware of the new threat.
On the following night the ships of Desdiv 15, including destroyers Kagero, Kuroshio and Oyashio, entered the waters of Blackett Strait carrying 18 tons of cargo and 300 troops. The ships made it to shore safely, unloaded the supplies and picked up 300 ground troops heading back to Rabaul. Shortly before dawn the destroyers were underway again following the same route. The tragic end of Desdiv 15 began when Oyashio, the division’s flagship, hit one of the American mines which put her propulsion system out of action. Initially the Japanese believed Oyashio was attacked by a submarine and they moved in to form a protective umbrella around the damaged ship – a costly mistake as it would soon turn out. At 04.50 Kagero (a veteran of 14 re-supply missions) hit what was most likely three U.S. mines and sat dead in the water. An hour later Kuroshio, still trying to protect her sister ships, hit another mine, which damaged her steering gear. Before long the destroyer drifted into more mines, which sealed her fate sending her to the bottom with 83 crew members. Kagero and Oyashio continued to drift until May 8. The Japanese did send the distress signal and hoped that destroyers Hagikaze and Umikaze would reach them in time to save them. However, the Australian coast watcher Lt A. R. Evans spotted the battered destroyers first and called in an air strike. A 454 kg bomb dropped by an SBD Dauntless scored a direct hit on Oyashio, but the destroyer remained afloat. Kagero too was still kicking, despite several bombs exploding right off her hull. The second wave of dive bombers appeared in the afternoon and scored two hits on the wounded destroyer5. Both ships came to grief in the evening of May 8. Still drifting, Oyashio hit the coral reef, capsized and sank at 08o 08’ S, 155o 55’ E. Kagero finally sank at around 22.00 taking with her 18 of her crew (36 crew members suffered wounds). The survivors, including the ship’s skipper, were picked up by Japanese Army barges, whose crews labored until May 12 before further search was called off.
It is commonly believed that 18 Kagero class destroyers were built. According to the research by a Japanese naval historian Tamura Toshio there were in fact 19 vessels in that class. Toshio claims that the destroyer Akigumo (traditionally classified as member of the Yugumo class) was in fact a Kagero class warship. Of the 19 ships built only one – Yukikaze – survived the war with all of her sister ships being lost in combat. At least six Kagero class destroyers went down in the waters off the Solomon Islands. As far as direct causes of their losses are concerned, six were sunk by enemy aircraft, five were lost in surface actions, four fell victim to submarines and one went down after hitting mines. Two other destroyers (including Kagero) were finished off by USN aircraft after suffering damage from enemy mines.

Bibliography

Z. Flisowski, Burza nad Pacyfikiem, t. 1, Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, Poznań 1986;
Z. Flisowski, Burza nad Pacyfikiem, t. 2, Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, Poznań 1989;
T. Hara, Dowódca niszczyciela, wydawnictwo Finna, Gdańsk 2003;
M. Kopacz, Koniec Kagero, „Technika Wojskowa. Historia”, 3/2010, pp. 56 – 65;
Z. J. Krala, Kampanie powietrzne II wojny światowej. Daleki Wschód, część III, Wydawnictwa Komunikacji i Łączności, Warszawa 1994;
S. E. Morison, Guadalcanal, wydawnictwo Finna, Gdańsk 2004;
S. E. Morison, Przełamanie Bariery Bismarcka. 22 lipca 1942–1 maja 1944, wydawnictwo Finna, Gdańsk 2010;
M. Stille, Imperial Japanese Navy Destroyers 1919-1945 (1). Minekaze to Shiratsuyu class, Osprey Publishing Ltd;
M. Stille, USN Destroyers vs IJN Destroyers. The Pacific 1943, Osprey Publishing Ltd.;
P. Winiarski, Japoński niszczyciel Yukikaze, Profile morskie 24, BS Firma Wydawniczo-Handlowa, Wyszków 2000;
K. Zalewski, Japońskie lotnictwo pokładowe, wydawnictwo Lampart, Warszawa 1992;
http://www.combinedfleet.com/kagero_n.htm
http://www.combinedfleet.com/kagero_t.htm
http://www.combinedfleet.com/desdiv15.htm

Endnotes

1    Some sources claim that the reload time was in fact even shorter.
2    Not all sources confirm the use of this type of weapons on the IJN destroyers. It is likely though that the lessons learned in combat operations led to the installation of 13 mm machine guns in the AA role.
3    The name of the landing strip on Guadalcanal was chosen to commemorate one of the U.S. aviators killed during the Battle of Midway.
4    In early March the Japanese effort to re-supply the ground forces on New Guinea ended in a wholesale massacre of the convoy by Allied aircraft. The Japanese lost eight transports and four destroyers in addition to a large part of the personnel of 51st Division embarked on the troop carrying ships.
5    Some sources mention only one attack by U.S. dive bombers.

 

 

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3D24 Jap destroyer Kagero