Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The crew of the battleship Kawachi (1918)

Long isolationist, Japan began muscling its way on to the world stage around the turn of the 20th century. Their ambitious and costly Eight-Eight Fleet Program envisioned a fleet of eight battleships and eight cruisers to be on par with other world powers operating in the Pacific.

The Kawachi was the first of a class of 20,000 ton battleships. It was armed with six turrets with twelve 12-inch guns, backed up with thirty 40 caliber guns and 4 25 caliber guns. The larger guns were purchased from the UK and the engines were constructed by Kawasaki. (Yes, that Kawasaki.)

Built at Yokosuka Naval Arsenal on Tokyo Bay, it went to sea in 1912. During World War I, as part of Japan's alliance with Allied powers, it patrolled the sea lanes of the South China and Yellow Seas and participated in the Japanese/UK siege of the German-controlled Chinese city of Tsingtao.

The career of the Kawachi was cut short on July 12, 1918 at Tokuyama Bay. Cordite ignited in its ammo magazine, and the ship exploded and sank, taking 621 of its crew of 1059 with her.

Only one other Kawachi class battleship was built, the Settsu. The Settsu was also at Tsingtao and went on to have a much longer career, and even hosted Emperor Taishō during a 1918 naval review. In 1924, it became a target ship for weapons practice. It was sunk by a US air raid in 1945, three weeks before VJ Day.

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