Japanese Aircraft Carrier Hiryu: The famous Hiryu’s counter-attack.
Launched. The name of the carrier Hiryū means “Flying Dragon”. The ship was laid down at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal on 8 July 1936, launchedon 16 November 1937 and commissioned on 5 July 1939.She was assigned to the Second Carrier Division on 15 November.
Pre-war operations. In September 1940, the ship’s air group was transferred toHainan Island to support the Japanese invasion of French Indochina. In February 1941, Hiryū supported the blockade of Southern China.Two months later, the 2nd Carrier Division, commanded by Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, was assigned to the First Air Fleet, or Kido Butai, on 10 April. Hiryū returned to Japan on 7 August and began a short refit that was completed on 15 September. She became flagship of the Second Division from 22 September to 26 October while Sōryū was refitting.
Pearl Harbour. In November 1941, the IJN’s Combined Fleet, commanded by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, prepared to participate in Japan’s initiation of a formal war with the United States by conducting a preemptive strike against the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On 22 November, Hiryū, commanded by Captain Tomeo Kaku, and the rest of the Kido Butai, under Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo and including six fleet carriers from the First, Second, and Fifth Carrier Divisions, assembled in Hitokappu Bay at Etorofu Island. The fleet departed Etorofu on 26 November and followed a course across the north-central Pacific to avoid commercial shipping lanes.Now the flagship of the Second Carrier Division, the ship embarked 21 Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters, 18 Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers, and 18 Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bombers. From a position 230 nmi (430 km; 260 mi) north of Oahu, Hiryū and the other five carriers launched two waves of aircraft on the morning of 7 December 1941 Hawaiian time.
Wake Island. While returning to Japan after the attack, Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo, commander of the First Air Fleet, ordered that Sōryū and Hiryū be detached on 16 December to attack the defenders of Wake Island who had already defeated the first Japanese attack on the island. The two carriers reached the vicinity of the island on 21 December and launched 29 D3As and 2 B5Ns, escorted by 18 Zeros, to attack ground targets.
Dutch East Indies and Indian Ocean Raid. The ship supported the conquest of the Dutch East Indies in January 1942. The following month, her aircraft bombed Darwin, Australia, and continued to assist in the Dutch East Indies campaign. In April, Hiryū‘s aircraft helped sink two British heavy cruisers and several merchant ships during the Indian Ocean raid.
Midway Battle. After a brief refit, Hiryū and three other fleet carriers of the First Air Fleet (Kido Butai) participated in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. After bombarding American forces onthe atoll, the carriers were attacked by aircraft from Midway and the carriers USS Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown. Dive bombers from Yorktown and Enterprise crippled Hiryū and set her afire. She was scuttled the following day after it became clear that she could not be salvaged. However, Hiryu was the last survivor and made a brave stand against three American carrier launching an heroic counter-attack.
Hiryu’s counter-attack. While VT-3 was still attacking Hiryū, American dive bombers arrived over the Japanese carriers almost undetected and began their dives. Three American dive bomber squadrons now attacked the three other carriers and set each of them on fire. Hiryū was untouched and proceeded to launch 18 D3As, escorted by 6 Zeros, at 10:54 and a second wave of 10 B5Ns, escorted by 6 Zeros, at 13:30 against the American carrier Yorktown. The Wildcats shot down three of the remaining Zeros for the loss of one of their own and engaged the D3As. Only seven of the dive bombers survived long enough to make their attack on Yorktown and two of those were shot down by flak during their dive, but they made three direct hits and two near misses that badly damaged the carrier and set her on fire
Hiryu strikes again. The Americans had managed to extinguish her fires by 14:00 and Yorktown was making 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph) by 14:30 when the second group of Japanese aircraft launched from the Hiryū was approaching, low level torpedo bombers this time. They had been detected by the ship’s radar at 13:55, but the CAP was held back until they got closer. Six Wildcats were on CAP duty and four were vectored toward the attacking aircraft while the other two were retained to cover the takeoff of the 10 Wildcats fueling on deck. The Japanese were jumped at 14:38 by two Wildcats which shot down one torpedo bomber before they were both shot down by the escorting Zeros. Two Zeros were shot down later for the loss of one Wildcat. Two more B5Ns were shot down before they could drop their torpedoes and three afterwards, but none of these aircraft hit the carrier. The last four torpedo bombers scored two hits (one B5N had its torpedo-release gear fail) on Yorktown that damaged three boilers and knocked out all electrical power so that she could not pump fuel oil to starboard to counteract her six degree list to port. Seventeen minutes later, after the list increased to 23 degrees, the crew was ordered to abandon ship. Later, Hiryu was finally hit and sunk by planes from Hornet and Enterprise.
The defeat led to new strategies for the Japanese Navy. The IJN selected a modified version of the Hiryū design for mass production to replace the carriers lost at the Battle of Midway. Of a planned program of 16 ships of the Unryū class, only six were laid down and three were commissioned before the end of the war.
|Length:||227.4 m (746 ft 1 in) (o/a)|
|Beam:||22.3 m (73 ft 2 in)|
|Draft:||7.8 m (25 ft 7 in)|
|Speed:||34 knots (63 km/h; 39 mph)|
|Range:||10,330 nmi (19,130 km; 11,890 mi) at 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)|