The Japanese battleship Kongō had some of the greatest nicknames in history; the Japanese translations for the vessel’s many names are “Indestructible Diamond,” “Indra’s Spear” and “Divine Thunder.” In addition to this, she also saw extensive service in both World War I and II. This is the story of one of the most heavily-armored battleships of her era.
Construction of Kongō
The construction of the battlecruiser Kongō began in January 1911. Designed by British naval engineer George Thurston, it was the first and last of its class to be built in the United Kingdom, with construction occurring at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, England. The other three battlecruisers in the class were built in Japan.
The building of Kongō was marred by scandal. In January 1914, it was revealed via a leaked telegram that Japanese officials have been receiving kickbacks from German and English armaments corporations to use their products. As a result, Prime Minister Yamamoto’s entire government resigned, as did senior business executives. Japanese Vice Adm. Matsumoto Kazu was also courtmartialed and sentenced to three years in prison for his involvement.
Kongō was loaded with armaments
Kongō featured eight 14-inch heavy-caliber main naval guns in four twin turrets. These guns were capable of firing armor-piercing and high-explosive shells, and were the first 14-inch guns in the world to be equipped to a naval vessel. It was essential for the Japanese military to feel as if it could easily outgun opponents, and the battleship’s armaments ensured that would happen more often than not.
Kongō‘s secondary battery featured 16 six-inch .50-caliber guns in single casemates, eight three-inch guns and an additional eight 21-inch submerged torpedo tubes. More firepower was added in 1929 when the cruiser was converted into a battleship, and by October 1944, the vessel’s secondary armament featured eight six-inch guns, 122 Type 96 anti-aircraft rapid-fire cannons, and eight five-inch guns.
Service during World War I
Kongō was formally commissioned in August 1913 as a battlecruiser, and it didn’t take long for her to be pressed into service. At the outset of the First World War, she was sent to patrol German lines of communication at sea, before supporting Japanese units during the Siege of Tsingtao. Following the British defeat of Germany at the Battle of the Falkland Islands, there was little need for Kongō. As such, she was either kept at Sasebo Naval Base or on patrol near China for the remainder of the conflict.
Following WWI, world powers didn’t want to see another conflict and the Washington Naval Treaty was signed, placing restrictions on the building of new naval ships. This led to a decrease in the size of the Japanese Navy.
Interwar period and the start of World War II
In 1923, Kongō was used to transport Crown Prince (later Emperor) Hirohito to an official visit of Taiwan, and over the interwar period saw a number of upgrades. Starting in 1929, the Japanese Empire began transforming Kongō from a cruiser to a full-on battleship, completing the process six years later. The vessel was made to be significantly faster and had the armor near her ammunition magazines strengthened, among a number of other upgrades.
The newly rebuilt ship was active during the Second Sino-Japanese War, with two of her floatplanes bombing the Chinese town of Fuzhou. When the Second World War began, however, Kongō was sent off to the Pacific.
On February 22, 1942, the battleship participated in the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies. The rest of year saw Kongō frequently battling and sinking ships from the British Empire across the Pacific.
The loss of Kongō in the Formosa Strait
For Kongō and Japan, the start of the Pacific campaign went very well. However, the tides turned during the Battle of Midway with the loss of four of the Combined Fleet’s aircraft carriers. The ship also took part in the Guadalcanal Campaign, during which Henderson Field was bombarded with high-explosive shells in what was the most successful Japanese battleship action of the Second World War.
The next two major offensives the vessel took part in were the battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf. Kongō played an important role in Leyte Gulf, sinking multiple American vessels, including the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413). Despite this, the battle resulted in a victory for the Allies.
Not long after, in November 1944, Kongō was spotted by the submarine USS Sealion (SS-315) in the Formosa Strait. The vessel fired six bow torpedoes at the battleship, two of which hit and flooded Kongō‘s boiler rooms. While she was able to escape the scene, the damage proved to be too much, with her sinking to the bottom of the strait after her forward 14-inch magazine exploded. Over 1,200 crewmen died.
Kongō was the only Japanese battleship to be sunk by a submarine during WWII, while Sealion was the only Allied submarine to sink an enemy battleship.