How Just One Simple Design Error Destroyed an Aircraft Carrier

Robert Beckhusen

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As a matter of engineering, Taiho shouldn’t have gone down like this, as the carrier was designed to be more heavily armored and protected than her predecessors.

How Just One Simple Design Error Destroyed an Aircraft Carrier

Six torpedoes from the U.S. Navy submarine USS Albacore headed toward the Japanese aircraft Taiho as she launched her planes on the morning of June 19, 1944 during the fighting on the Philippine Sea — the largest carrier battle in history and the last major Japanese carrier operation.

“White bubbles were seen on the surface,” Cmdr. Shioyama Sakuichi later wrote. “Torpedo wakes! The loudspeakers on the bridged blared a command and some of the crew felt cold.”

One torpedo struck the ship, sending up a column of water on the starboard side in front of the bridge. One pilot flying near the carrier dived onto another torpedo, destroying it. The other four torpedoes missed.

Seven hours later, Taiho blew up and sank, taking with her 1,650 sailors and dozens of aircraft. Five hundred sailors survived. It was an irrecoverable blow to Japan’s fleet at this stage of the war and occurred during her first combat mission, only three months after her commissioning.

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As a matter of engineering, Taiho shouldn’t have gone down like this, as the carrier was designed to be more heavily armored and protected than her predecessors.

Taiho was unusual for a Japanese carrier when she first launched on April 7, 1943, as she was the first of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s flattops to feature an armored flight deck. Previous decks were made of wooden planks, which saved weight and made for a more-stable design. The downside, obviously, was that bombs could more easily penetrate wooden decks.

To the IJN’s horror during the 1942 Battle of Midway, a 1,000-pound bomb dropped by a U.S. Navy SBD Dauntless dive bomber penetrated the deck of the carrier Kaga — one of several bombs which fatally ignited fuel and gas inside the ship. Kaga was one of four Japanese carriers destroyed during the battle.

Midway was not the impetus for the heavily-armored, 855-foot-long and 37,000-ton Taiho. The IJN first established the carrier’s requirements in 1939, three years before the battle, and put down her hull in 1941, although this lengthy…

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