|"Tremendous explosion dead ahead - sky brilliantly illuminated, it looked like a sunset at midnight. Radar reports battleship pip getting smaller – that it has disappeared – leaving only the two smaller pips of the destroyers. Destroyers seen to be milling around vicinity of target. Battleship sunk – the sun set." (Action Report of Eli Reich, Commander of USS Sealion II on action of November 21, 1944, Silent Victory, Volume II, J. B. Lippencott Company, Philadelphia & New York 1975, by Clay Blair, Jr., at page 751)|
The rise of the Imperial Japanese Navy was spectacular. In 1850 when other powers had adapted steam power and within a decade would be building ironclads, Japan was still a closed society. With extremely limited contact with outsiders, in Japan it was perpetually 1600. When Japan opened up, the country seized on the best from western powers. As an island nation a strong navy was considered logical. By the last decade of the century Japan had come to blows with the strongest eastern power, Imperial China. During the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, the antagonists had a combined total of two battleships and both of these were German built designs in the Chinese Navy. These battleships proved impervious to Japanese cruiser fire but the Japanese were victorious. Japan needed battleships and turned to another island nation for assistance, Great Britain.
Japan started building battleships in Great Britain and through a treaty with Britain the Imperial Japanese Navy developed a very close relationship with the Royal Navy. With the disintegration of Imperial China, Imperial Russia stepped into he vacuum. There were a number points of friction. One was the naval base at Port Arthur. Japan had seized that base from China but after the war had been conned by Russia, Germany and France into evacuating it, whereupon Russia grabbed it, much to the consternation of Japan. The more important source of tension was the same as the main bone in the Sino-Japanese War, Korea. In May 1905 Admiral Togo led the line of British built battleships in an annihilating victory over the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima. Japan was the major naval power in the east. She decided that she needed to be self-sufficient in battleship construction and built up a national infrastructure for large warship construction. Early Japanese battleships, such as the Settsu, were home grown products. Although they employed the most current technological features, such as turbine propulsion, they were slow building because ships of this size and complexity were new to Japanese yards.
The Imperial Japanese Navy always valued speed. In the after action review of the Battle of Tsushima, the much higher speed of the Japanese battle line was considered one of the key components of the victory. One of the last armored cruiser designs of the IJN was the Aki. Mounting four 12-inch guns and a heavy 10-inch secondary, the IJN was clearly adding heavier than usual armament to their armored cruisers. However, with the appearance of the battle cruiser, the era of the armored cruiser was over. Japanese Admirals were impressed by the battleship armament on a very high-speed hull. The immediately began designing their own battle cruisers. The design that they prepared was for a 19,000-ton ship with 12-inch guns, much along the lines of Invincible or Indomitable. Just when they were about to order these ships, the Royal Navy kicked over the card table with a new design. The ante was raised with the splendid cats of the Lion class. Larger, faster, better armored and above all, mounting much powerful 13.5-inch guns, these ships were so clearly superior to previous battle cruiser designs that it made no sense to the Japanese Admirals to construct inferior versions. With the alliance with Great Britain, the IJN maintained very close contact with the RN. Japanese officers had access to the British data base and for one thing knew that the 12-inch/50 gun was not successful. Designed with a higher velocity than the earlier 12-inch/45, the extra gas pressure caused reduced barrel life and a significant decrease in accuracy. Although, the IJN had not had a warship built in Great Britain in some time, for the new world-class battle cruiser it was decided to build her in Great Britain.
Vickers-Armstrong was selected as the builder, as the firm was the largest naval builder in the world and the envy of the world's naval arms merchants. Since the company was private, the new Japanese battle cruiser design would not be hamstrung by Royal Navy preferences. Sir George Thurston was the primary designer for Vickers-Armstrong and he threw himself into the project. His original design was a ship very close to HMS Lion, displacing 27,500-tons, mounting 13.5-inch guns, but with greater beam. The main belt was to be 8-inches thick with six-inch strake above the main belt and a 3-inch strake below the main deck. The lower strake was a Japanese requirement based upon the battle lessons of Tsushima. Barbette armor was 10-inches, turrets 9-inches and the armored deck 2-inches. The awkward placement of Q turret in Lion was remedied with the placement of X turret in the new design, although it still might be called Q turret as it was located more amidships than aft. However, it did have end on fire aft, which was not possible with Lion. Although Thurston wanted the already developed 13.5-inch gun, which was a splendid piece of ordnance, the Japanese Admirals wanted their new ships to have the biggest guns in the world and insisted on 14-inch. As Vickers-Armstrong had to develop a new gun of this size, this delayed the project but this would not be the last time that the IJN was first with a new gun size. The new ship to be built in Great Britain would be Kongo. Contracts called for building her three sisters, Haruna, Hiei, and Kirishima, in Japanese yards, but with much of the machinery and equipment provided from Great Britain for the ships.
To achieve the high speed of a battle cruiser a large power plant was required. The Kongo initially had 36 boilers, which were coal-fired with supplemental oil sprayers for extra heat. These were arranged in eight boiler rooms and with this many boilers three funnels were required. The ships, excluding Haruna, had Parsons turbines, while the Haruna had Brown-Curtis turbines. The Kongo class was designed for 64,000shp but on their trials achieved a maximum speed of 27.54 to 27.78-knots with 78,275shp to 82,000shp. The secondary guns were very heavy for the time with sixteen 6-inch/50 guns. This provided a far greater punch than the puny 4-inch battery of Lion. However, the Lion design was very much a product of Jackie Fisher, who always wanted the smallest and lightest secondary possible. A tertiary armament of sixteen 3-inch guns on pedestals. Eight were on the main deck and two on the top of each turret. Only Kongo had the guns on the turret tops and they were landed in 1918. As completed, they were stately ships with minimal superstructure and two tripods. Kongo was laid down on January 17, 1911, launched May 18, 1912 and completed August 16, 1913, in such speed as only British yards were capable in that era. Hiei was laid down in Yokosuka on November 4, 1911, launched November 12, 1912, and completed August 4, 1914. Kirishima and Haruna were laid down in March 1912, launched in December 1913 and completed on April 19, 1915. As completed the ships were 704-feet (214.58m) long overall, 695-feet (211.84m) (wl), (653.5-feet (199.12m)(pp), with a beam of 92-feet (28.04m) and a draught of 27.5-feet (8.38m). Standard displacement was 26,230-tons and full load 32,200-tons. From the start the Royal Navy recognized the superiority of their design over the Lion. It is probable but not conclusive that the design for HMS Tiger was a result of the Kongo.
With World War One Japan entered the war against Germany. This presented the opportunity to seize the German port of Tsing-Tao, home of the German Asiatic Squadron under von Spee, as well as German controlled islands in the Pacific. The German squadron was no match for the Japanese fleet and the presence of Kongo and just completed Hiei were instrumental in von Spee’s decision to sail to the east and round South America. Kongo took part in the hunt for von Spee’s squadron in the western Pacific. The Royal Navy thought so highly of the class that they asked Japan to lease the battle cruisers for the length of the war. Japan declined. In 1920s Kongo and Hiei were given unique curved cowls for their stacks. As built the ships had bare tripods but as the 1920s progressed the IJN started adding additional platforms to the forward tripod, giving the foremast a much more built up look and this became the forerunner of the classic pagoda mast. Although better protected than the Lion class, the Kongos were revisited after British battle cruiser losses at Jutland. After the war it was decided to add a lot more armor to the ships and reclassify them as battleships.
By this time Japan had signed the 1923 Washington Naval Treaty with its caps on total battleship tonnage. She did not have enough tonnage available to have all four retained as battleships, so Hiei did not receive the battleship conversion. Instead Hiei was reclassified as a training ship and had her Y turret and secondary removed. The armor belt was removed and boilers reduced to provide only 13,800shp for a maximum speed of 18-knoys. This conversion was completed from 1929 to 1932. The other three received a full refit that primarily aimed at increasing protection. After Jutland the battle cruiser concept was no longer on fashion so the Kongo redesign was more to change them to fast battleships. An additional 3,600-tons of armor was worked into the design and anti-torpedo bulges were added increasing the beam by three feet. The additional weight caused a loss in speed to 26-knots. The machinery was replaced with a smaller and more efficient set. The boiler count dropped from 36 to 16 but oddly the ships still retained their mixed coal and oil firing. With fewer boilers the fore funnel was removed. Four of the torpedo tubes were removed as their torpedo rooms were in the area covered by the new bulges. Main gun elevation was increased to 43 degrees and provisions were made for the ships to carry three floatplanes. These had to be moved by a crane to the water since the refit did not include a catapult. Haruna was first to receive the treatment and entered the yard in 1927. Kirishima followed that year and was in the yard from 1927 to 1930. Kongo was last as her refit was from October 20, 1928 to September 20, 1931.
This refit was only a stop gap measure because the admirals were still not pleased with the Kongo class specifications. A much greater refit, or more rather rebuild was planned. Haruna was again the first ship for this rebuild. All of the machinery was removed. An all new power plant of eleven oil fired Kampon boilers and new turbines were fitted, which produced a whopping 136,000shp and in spite of an increase in tonnage the maximum speed of the ships jumped to 30.5-knots, although Haruna was slowest at 29.7-knots. In order to increase the speed, in addition to the new machinery, a new stern was designed. Speed is in part determined by the length to beam ratio. The greater the length to beam with a given power plant, the greater the speed. An new stern added an additional 25-feet, which also provided less underwater friction. A full pagoda bridge replaced the numerous platforms clustered around the tripod. The last of the torpedo tubes were removed, as were two 6-inch casemate guns. The AA defense was dramatically improved with four twin 5-inch/40 DP mounts replacing the old 3-inch AA guns. Four Vickers 40mm AA guns and eight 13.2 Hotchkiss machine guns were added to light AA. The Hotchkiss guns were there for only a short period of time because by 1936 the IJN introduced its own design of light AA gun, the Type 96 25mm gun, which would be a feature on all Japanese warships throughout WWII.
On November 1, 1941 Kongo was in the Inland Sea as part of the 3rd Battleship Squadron. Plans had already put into operation for a strike at the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. While two of her sisters were tasked with providing the heavy escort for the strike carriers, Kongo and Haruna went south to support the true objective of the war. With a lack of natural resources Japanese policy was to acquire territory with the resources needed. These resources were found in British and Dutch possessions and the plan was simply to seize them and then negotiate and end to the war, leaving Japan in possession of these resource-rich colonies. Starting on November 7, 1941 Kongo went into the Main Body Southern Force and sailed south in support of the landings in Malaya. Kongo and Haruna had the major task of countering HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse but after the British pair were sunk by air power, there was very little that could oppose the Japanese battleships. On January 8, 1942 Kongo returned to Japan to prepare for her next operation at the end of the month.
This operation was the seizure of the Celebes in the Dutch East Indies. On February 25 all four members of the class were united and steamed as escort for the carrier strike force in a raid into the Indian Ocean. In the process of this operation Kongo and Haruna bombarded Christmas Island. This was only a limited venture as after a short return to Japan from March 11 to March 26, 1942, all Kongos again escorted the carriers for a more ambitious surge into the Indian Ocean. Designated Operation C, the goal was to steam all of the way to the east coast of India, destroying allied warships and merchantmen as they went. On April 4 Kongo spotted a shadowing British Catalina, which was shot down, but the RN knew of the Japanese presence. On April 9 the battleship force was attacked by nine RAF Blenheim’s of which five were shot down. The next day Kongo was detached to return to Japan for maintenance.
Kongo was part of the escort for the Midway invasion force, not the separate carrier strike force. Since the USN carriers went after the Japanese carriers, Kongo was not attacked. On June 9, 1942 as the Japanese were withdrawing from their loss at the Battle of Midway, Kongo was detached to join the Northern Force in the Aleutian adventure. She was in this duty until July 1. On July 14 she joined 2nd fleet and stayed around the Inland Sea until September 6 when she steamed to Truk. On September 11 she sailed for Guadalcanal and was attacked by seven B-17s on the 14th, which caused no damage. After going back to Truk, her next sortie was on October 11 with the mission to bombard Henderson Field. On the night of October 13 to 14 she fired 430 rounds of 14-inch shell and 33 6-inch shells onto the airfield. She hung around the Guadalcanal area and was unsuccessfully attacked several times by US aircraft. Kongo was part of the escort at the Battle of Santa Cruz but was not damaged. She returned to Truk on October 30. From November 9 to 18 she was assigned to escort the Japanese carriers in the Solomons area. Kongo was recalled to Japan on February 15, 1943 and received a refit at Sasebo from February 27 to March 13. After trials in the Inland Sea she went back to Truk at the start of April until May 17 when she steamed back to Japan. Hit by a submarine torpedo on May 18, she suffered only minor damage. After another month in Japan, she went back to Truk in June, where she stayed until October with a couple of side trips to Eniwetok. From October 26 to November 6 she raided Wake Island, which had been earlier reclaimed by the US.
In December she again made her way back to Japanese home waters. From January 30, 1944 to February 14, she received her second wartime refit at Sasebo. On March 6, 1944 she was dispatched to Singapore to join the other battleships, close to the oil supplies from Borneo and the Dutch Indies. In June of 1944 Kongo saw another major battle, as she was part of the Japanese force at the Battle of the Philippine Sea but suffered no damage. After returning to the Singapore/Borneo area, she was assigned to Kurita’s heavy center force for the Battle of Leyte Gulf. For this, she was paired with sistership Haruna again. During the Battle off Samar, Kongo went after the US escort carriers. The USS Hoel tried to torpedo her but missed. In return Kongo smashed the Hoel with gunfire, as well as punishing the USS Johnston. From the US air attacks in the Sibuyan Sea on October 24, through the battle off Samar on the 25th, to the retirement from the Battle of Leyte Gulf Kongo was lucky, as she was not significantly damaged.
As Kurita retreated from the CVE’s of Taffy Three he made his way back the way he had come, to Borneo where fuel supplies were located. As more of the Philippines fell to the allies, it was decided to transfer the battleships back to the Japanese home islands. Although fuel oil was present in Borneo, ammunition resupply was not. After the Battle of Leyte Gulf the four surviving Japanese battleships needed ammunition, plus could not afford to be cut off far from Japanese home waters. It only looked like a matter of time before the sea passage between the Philippines and Formosa and then the Chinese mainland would be under allied ground based air power. It was better to move the ships home now, rather than to wait for the situation to deteriorate any further. Kongo, Haruna and three destroyers were dispatched to make the run back to Japan. In November 1944 four Peal Harbor based submarines were patrolling the East China Sea. One of them was the USS Sealion II under the command of Eli Reich. As the boats broke off into their search patterns, Reich first operated off of Shanghai but there were no targets. Worse yet, the Sealion had two torpedo malfunctions during drills. One had fired through a closed door, rendering the tube inoperational until repaired and in the other incident there was a battery explosion for a tube, which required the Sealion to surface in a fleet of junks. It sure seemed that Sealion was unlucky for this patrol. Well, maybe the Sealion’s luck would be better near Formosa.
The luck of the Sealion was about to change and in a big way. Along with the aircraft carrier the submarines of the USN were the most important instruments in the destruction of the Japanese Navy and merchant marine. In the almost three years since Pearl Harbor, submarines had some spectacular successes. Of course the throttling of the Japanese merchant fleet was the most important to victory but the subs also had success against warships. Destroyers, cruisers and even an occasional carrier had been bagged by the Silent Service but until early morning November 21, 1944 no submarine had gotten one of the big boys, a battleship. A little bit after midnight on November 21 Sealion was running on the surface at the northern end of the Formosa Strait. Suddenly the search radar picked up three huge returns. There was no moon and poor visibility so whatever the targets happened to be, Reich decided to hunt and attack on the surface. As he closed, he finally made out the targets, two battleships and three destroyers. Kongo was in the lead over Haruna. Reich sent off a contact report and spent the next three hours trying to get into an opportune attack position. Finally, at the range of 3,000-yards Sealion fired her forward six tubes at Kongo and then reversed to fire her three operational stern tubes at Haruna. Slow running electric drive torpedoes were used. As Reich watched, he saw the flashes of three hits on Kongo and then heard the rumbling explosions shortly thereafter. The three fired towards Haruna actually hit the destroyer Urakaze, which blew up.
At first it didn’t seem to matter. Both battleships and the remaining destroyers steamed on at 16-knots. Now Sealion was astern and Reich ordered flank speed to catch up for another attack. Sealion was taking it green as she chased her prizes. The nine serviceable tubes had already been reloaded when Reich noticed one battleship and two destroyers fall back, dropping to eleven knots, as the other battleship sped away. Of course this was Kongo as her damage continued to increase due to internal fires. As Reich was deciding the best approach for his second attack on Kongo it was 0524 when Kongo exploded. The fires caused by the first attack had finally reached one of her magazines. A giant blossom of light illuminated the darkness but by 0525 it was pitch black again and the Kongo was gone. (History from: Battleships of World War Two, Arms and Armour Press, London, 1998, by M. J. Whitley; Silent Victory, Volume II, J. B. Lippencott Company, Philadelphia & New York 1975, by Clay Blair, Jr)
The Fujimi Kongo
The Hull – Sprue A
The Fujimi Kongo is a full hull model split along centerline. As such, there are only the two hull halves on this sprue. The hull has beautiful detail. It starts at the top of the cutwater where the degaussing cable starts. There is actually a short area of cutwater above this but those pieces as well as the Imperial Chrysanthemum are separate pieces. The cable molding includes the attachment brackets, which kept the degaussing cable on the hull. Throughout the length of the hull, the metal panel lines are delineated as well as a clear demarcation between the hull proper and the anti-torpedo bulge. From the bow you will see two rows of portholes. The lower row shows the portholes closed with a circular metal plate welded on top of each porthole. The upper row at the bow is still functional. Detail includes the rigol (eyebrow) over the porthole. Portholes are not open and you may consider using a pin-vice to open up the functional fittings. However, there are open hull anchor hawse fittings on each side of the bow.
Aft of the anchor hawse there is a column of foot rungs. As you draw near the torpedo bulge you’ll encounter vent fittings for discharge of bilge water. These series of fittings run just on the top of the torpedo bulge. At the bottom of the torpedo bulges are the bilge keels of admirable thinness. The casemate positions for the secondary guns are found above the degaussing cable. Each gun position is open with the round casemate armor in front and vision ports to the side. With this design the casemate guns can be trained at the modeler’s discretion. On the aft portion of the hull the upper row of portholes starts to have some of the positions welded close with the circular discs but there are still some open positions. Another row of foot rungs appears aft of the end of the torpedo bulge and there are locator outlines for attachment of propeller shafts. At the stern you’ll find locator holes for attachment of boat davits and the aircraft recovery sled. At the top edge on each side of the hull are three open chocks, one in front of the deck break and two aft.
Internal Hull Supports- Sprues B & C
Kongo Unique Parts – Sprue D
This small sprue apparently contains some of the parts unique to Kongo. The hull comes without the very small upper parts that meet at the cutwater. These parts are on this sprue and are characterized by a large and small open chock on each. Additionally the upper point of the cutwater with the distinctive Imperial chrysanthemum is present. The largest piece on this sprue is a large square design. This shows wooden panels, bound and reinforced by metal bands with rivet detail. This device is actually a platform, which was towed during floatplane recovery. The returning floatplane would taxi onto the platform in order to stabilize movement and facilitate recovery by the crane. Other parts include davits, nice sound detection horns, small auxiliary anchors and accommodation ladders. As with the inclined ladders, replace the accommodation ladders with brass photo-etch parts.
Flight Deck & Aft Superstructure – Sprue E
The small tower of the aft superstructure just gives you a taste of the delights of the forward pagoda. Finely detailed, the aft superstructure parts come with open portholes and porthole fittings around them. These are not just holes drilled in the flat plastic but actually have raised fittings. The tower is indented at the top providing for a base for an AA position. There is an access door here, which includes handle and hinge detail. The molded on vertical ladder can be left in place or sanded smooth for replacement with brass ladder. The other prominent parts on this sprue are for the forward funnel. It is extremely distinctive with a flared crown, horizontal foot rails, and extended funnel casings at the base and midway up the length. You’ll also notice the first of the metal deck platforms, which have a distinctive non-skid criss-cross pattern. The splinter shielding has internal bracing. There are a number of other, smaller parts. Among these the boat boom with rigging gets the prize.
Amidships Superstructure Detail – Sprue F
Quarterdeck & Superstructure Decks – Sprue H
The third deck piece found on this sprue is for the 02 deck. Upon this deck are placed the funnels and various amidships towers. Shaped like a potato masher, the wide part of the deck is forward with three boat chock positions per side. On centerline forward is a short 03 deck and aft are two access coamings, flanked by what appears to be inclined ladder wells. I may be in error but it appears that these wells were depicted in two dimensions with a the individual treads depicted. With any inclined ladder well, it would be better to open up the well and use photo-etched brass parts. The aft funnel is also on this sprue along with the unique Japanese mushroom caps and stack gratings.
Forecastle & Superstructure Deck – Sprue I
The short 01 deck piece also has wood plank detail. Dominated by B barbette, there are splinter shields at deck edge for four AA positions, which in turn are surrounded by locator holes for numerous additional fittings. In the center of this part are locator slots for the lowest level of the pagoda. Sunken adder wells are at the rear with individual ladder treads descending into the enclosed space below. Other parts on this sprue include the top fitting of the pagoda, various raised deckhouses, some bulkhead pieces, some smaller platforms, cable reels, windlasses, small directors, davits and assorted smaller detail.
Pagoda Tower – Sprue J
This sprue is for the towering forward pagoda. The lowest level has life ring fittings and open areas with x-shaped ironwork supports. Another level of superstructure has port and starboard running light brackets. Bulkhead detail includes detailed doors, portholes and vertical ladder. The aft face alternates between enclosed positions, some of which have external cross bracing, and open areas. Detail is excellent, including porthole rigols (eyebrows). The pattern of solid bulkheads with external cross bracing and open areas is repeated with smaller bulkhead parts on this sprue. Another unique part are wind baffles designed to channel the wind away from the navigation bridge. The various pagoda platforms provide an additional area for unique detail. Almost each one seems to have a unique deck pattern grid. Some have simple steel with widely spaced juncture lines, others have a square grid and other the criss-cross anti-skid pattern. Some platforms use more than one deck pattern. The upper platform has triangular support brackets surrounding the base of the main director position. The front face has another wind baffle pattern.
AA & Boats – Sprues K
Running Gear, Catapults, HA & LA 6-Inch – Sprue L
Main Gun Turrets – Sprues M
Aircraft & Bridge Windows – Sprues P
Turned Brass Main Gun Barrels
Man the Sides – The Crew
Documentation & Instructions
The instructions qualify as documentation in there own right, as they provide more than the assembly instructions. This presentation almost qualifies for the term monograph. It is a very large stapled 20-page document. Including covers, there are four pages of large glossy photographs on the actual ship as well as the completed model. One page is the ship’s history in Japanese. One page has general instructions and two pages have a parts laydown. The other 12 pages are of the assembly steps. Each page has various modules on assembly of sub-components of the superstructure, decks, equipment, gun positions, aircraft, etc. Although these sub-assemblies can be built in any order, the instructions also provide a sequence of assembly for attachment of the sub-assemblies to the model. The drawings in each module are large and very well done. Almost all text is in Japanese.
When the Japanese four company consortium was formed almost 40 years ago for production of model ships in a constant waterline 1:700 scale, the companies could be divided into two rungs when it came to detail. Tamiya and Hasegawa were generally considered the best in detail with Fujimi and Aoshima following behind. That was two generations ago. The Fujimi 1:350 scale Kongo is not your granddad’s Fujimi kit! This kit is absolutely superb, not only in detail, but also in the comprehensive nature of what Fujimi has included. The Fujimi Kongo blows any of the Tamiya 1:350 scale battleship kits out of the water!