Book Review
Japanese Heavy Cruisers
Imperial Japanese Navy Heavy Cruisers 1941–45, New Vanguard 176
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Imperial Japanese Navy Heavy Cruisers 1941 – 45
New Vanguard 176
Author: Mark Stille
Illustrator : Paul Wright
$17.95 £9.99

Eighteen heavy cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy bore the brunt of Japanese surface action in World War Two. Technically superior to their Allied rivals, they were also heavily armed with guns and the deadly Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedo, scourge of Allied ships. IJN expert Mark Stilles continues his series with this war history of those 18 ships of six classes.

Heavy cruisers (naval initialism “CA”) of the Imperial Japanese navy were powerful, innovative, aesthetically handsome (most of them) warships. Japanese tactical doctrine designed them to bristle with powerful guns and torpedoes. They were to confront the advancing US fleet with long range torpedo barrages, whittling it down before the ultimate gun battle between battleships. Even with the rise of the aircraft carrier the Japanese Navy expected a final battleship action and kept their battleships in reserve. Thus the heavy cruisers of The Second Fleet (the IJN Heavy Cruiser Force) were the power projectors outside of home waters. Tactics emphasizing small-unit and night actions paid off handsomely in early engagements against the Allies.

Designing the cruisers with integral torpedo batteries was controversial but the General Naval Staff forced the issue and most cruisers had dozens of torpedoes. Initial main battery armament was the 7.9-inch gun, changed to 8-inch 50-caliber naval rifles before the war. Their secondary armament of 4.7-in and 5-in guns was competitive although their fire control was ineffective. And their standard 25mm light automatic anti-aircraft guns were probably the worst of any combatant, and IJN never successfully developed a weapon like the 40mm used by the Allies.

Some Japanese cruisers were very fast, exceeding 35 knots. Japanese planners emphasized night action and the cruisers were their primary night weapon, thus the ships were equipped with excellent optics and powerful searchlights. If IJN ships had a weakness it was lack of radar; IJN ships lagged well behind Allied ships in radar installation, to their eventual sorrow. Despite this, Allied crews and commanders were slow in exploiting their radar advantage and Japanese sailors with trained eyes, exceptional optics and searchlights frequently devastated radar-equipped Allied forces into 1943.

However, Mr. Stille recounts that despite Japanese training and equipment, just how many shells and torpedoes were fired to achieve a hit by a particular ship in a specific fight. The results are very surprising.

Mr. Stille concludes that despite some design and equipment flaws, Japan’s heavy cruisers ended the war with a record unmatched by any other navy.

Most of Imperial Japanese heavy cruisers were developed under the constraints of the successive Washington Naval Treaty, London Naval Treaty and Geneva Naval Conference. The Imperial Naval Staff took great liberties with the weight limits. Mr. Stille touches upon these facts in addition to detailed discussion of the ships and equipment, such as:

    • IJN radars
    • Light AA guns
    • Heavy AA guns
    • Main battery armament, ammunition, and fire dispersion
    • Armor
    • Powerplants
    • Torpedoes

Tactical doctrine is explored. Effectiveness (or lack thereof) and modifications are presented, as well as tables concerning the subjects. The design and rebuilding of the ships is discussed, i.e., Japanese designers fitted anti-torpedo bulges calculated to withstand 440lb warheads, and not all CAs were upgraded with the 5in AA gun. I was surprised to learn that what I always considered to be turrets should be termed “gunhouses” due to lack of armor plating. Notwithstanding that, IJN cruiser armor compared well to US Navy and Royal Navy treaty designs. Sidebars include the explanation of Japanese heavy cruiser names and the official classification of the ships.

Furthermore, Mr. Stille discusses each of the six classes in satisfying detail:
    • Design And Construction
    • Armament
    • Service Modifications
    • Wartime Service
    • Class Specifications

This excellent information is presented through 48 pages in six sections and an index:

      a. Japanese Heavy Cruiser Weapons
      b. Japanese Heavy Cruiser Radar

      a. Furutaka and Aoba Classes
      b. Myoko Class
      c. Takao Class
      d. Mogami Class
      e. Tone Class


Photographs and Illustrations
Supporting the text are several dozen black and white photographs. Most are surprisingly clear. Several are even studio quality. The majority are from water level although there are several taken from Japanese aircraft. Many are, expectedly, from Allied aircraft. Some photographs are detailed shots of parts of the ships.

Osprey is known for their original artwork and this book is no exception. The painting of Chokai used for the cover art is actually quite an attractive artwork. Six exceptional illustrations by artist Paul Wright enhance the subject:

    A. Furutaka and Aoba Classes. Two profiles and one planform: Furutaka at the battle of Savo Island, August 1942; Aoba during the battle of Leyte Gulf, October 1944.
    B. Myoko Class. Two profiles and one planform: Nachi at the battle of the Java Sea, February 1942; Myoko in her October 1944 up-gunned AA configuration.
    C. HIJMS Takao. Cutaway, October 1944.
    D. Takao Class Cruiser Chokai, flagship of Vice Admiral Mikawa Gunichi, departing Rabual on a beautiful late afternoon winters day for destiny at Savo Island.
    E. The Mogami Class. Two profiles and one planform: Mikuma during the conquest of the Dutch East Indies; Mogami in 1944 following her conversion to a hybrid cruiser-carrier.
    F. Kumano Under Attack By US Carrier Aircraft. The book’s “in-action” painting of a tough IJN heavy cruiser.
    G. The Tone Class. Tone in profile and planform at the battle of Midway. Included are profiles of her Type 94 “Alf” E7N2 seaplane and a E13A1 “Jake” Type O reconnaissance seaplane.

Additionally, over a dozen tables detail topics, e.g., Mogami class anti-aircraft fit, October 1944, and Losses of IJN heavy cruisers by primary cause, to name a couple.
This is an excellent book about Imperial Japanese heavy cruisers for historians, modelers and illustrators with an interest in the subject. It is by no means comprehensive, nor is it meant to be. What it is, is a detailed basis for further research about one of the particular ships at a particular time. The data concerning weapons is very interesting if you want to compare Allied weapons. As are other technical aspects. The graphic support – photographs, artwork, profiles and tables – alone are worth the price of the book. My only complaint is nitpicky – I would like the subject of IJN deck linoleum mentioned.

Highly recommended!

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on ModelShipWrights.
Highs: Excellent photographs, artwork, profiles and tables. Authoritative text and information.
Lows: Nitpicky – I would like the subject of IJN deck linoleum mentioned.
Verdict: This is an excellent book about Imperial Japanese heavy cruisers for historians, modelers and illustrators with an interest in the subject.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: ISBN:978-1-84908-148-1
  Suggested Retail: $17.95 £9.99
  Related Link: Osprey IJN Light Cruisers
  PUBLISHED: Dec 21, 2011
  NATIONALITY: Japan / 日本

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Model Shipwrights. All rights reserved.


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