Japanese Cruiser Takao,
by Lukasz Kasperczyk
Takao was the first of four Takao-class heavy cruisers, designed to be an improvement over the previous Myōkō-class design.
The Takao-class ships were part of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s strategy of the Decisive Battle and of forming the backbone of a multipurpose long-range strike force. Takao was named after a mountain.
At the start of World War II, Takao was commanded by Captain Asakura Bunji and assigned to Vice Admiral Kondo Nobutake’s Cruiser Division 4 together with her sister ships Atago and Maya. In late December 1941, she provided gunfire support for the landings at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon in the Philippines.
In early 1942, Takao operated in the Battle of the Java Sea in early March. On March 1, one of Takao’s floatplanes bombed the Dutch merchant ship Enggano. The next night, Takao and Atago sank the old United States Navy destroyer Pillsbury with no survivors.
On March 4, Takao, Atago, Maya and two destroyers, attacked a convoy near Tjilatjap. The Royal Australian Navy sloop HMAS Yarra defending the convoy was sunk with 34 survivors of her crew of 151. (Of these 34 survivors, only 13 were alive to be picked up a week later by the Dutch submarine K XI and taken to Ceylon.) The Japanese cruisers then sank three ships from the convoy: the tanker Francol, the depot ship Anking, and a minesweeper. Two Dutch freighters were also captured.
In June 1942, Takao and Maya supported the invasion of the Aleutian Islands. On June 5, Takao shot down a B-17 Flying Fortress.
In August 1942, Takao was assigned to Operation Ka, the Japanese reinforcement during the Battle of Guadalcanal, and participated in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26. A determined attempt to shell the US base at Henderson Field led to the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal: early in the morning of 15 November 1942, the battleship Kirishima, supported by Takao and Atago, engaged the American battleships Washington and South Dakota. All three Japanese ships hit South Dakota multiple times with shells, knocking out her radar and fire controls. However, Kirishima was quickly disabled by Washington and sank a few hours later. Atago was damaged. Takao escaped unharmed.
In 1943, Takao supported the evacuation of Guadalcanal. She operated in the central Pacific from her base at Truk. On 5 November 1943, while being refueled at Rabaul in the Bismarck Islands she came under attack by SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Saratoga. Takao was hit by two bombs that killed 23. Her damaged steering mechanism forced her to return to Yokosuka in Japan for repairs.
On 22 October 1944, Takao joined the “Centre Force”. On October 23, as she was passing Palawan Island, the force came under attack from two US submarines. Takao was hit by two torpedoes from USS Darter, which shattered two shafts, broke her fantail and flooded three boiler rooms. She turned back to Brunei, escorted by the destroyers Naganami and Asashimo, the torpedo boat Hiyodori and the transport Mitsu Maru. This flotilla was tailed by Darter and Dace until after midnight on 24 October, when Darter ran aground on the Bombay Shoal and Dace stayed to rescue her crew.
Takao was so badly damaged that it was considered impossible to send her back to Japan any time soon for full repairs. So the stern was cut off and shored up, and she was moored as an anti-aircraft battery for the defense of Singapore. While berthed there, she was attacked on July 31, 1945 by the British midget submarine HMS XE3. The submarine attached six limpet mines to Takao’s hull using a piece of rope (the hull was covered with thick layer of seaweed, and the magnets of the limpet mines would not hold them on the hull.) When the mines exploded, they blew a hole 20 m by 10 m. Most of Takao’s guns were put out of action, the rangefinders were destroyed.
On 5 September 1945, the Straits of Johor naval base was surrendered by the Japanese to the British and the formal boarding of the still partially manned Takao took place on 21 September 1945. She was finally towed to the Straits of Malacca to be used as a target ship for HMS Newfoundland and sunk on October 19, 1946.