Japan’s Super Aircraft Carrier Was the Biggest Warship Ever Sunk by a Submarine

Japan’s Super Aircraft Carrier Was the Biggest Warship Ever Sunk by a Submarine

Michael Peck


Here is how it went ‘down’.

Still, the Shinano’s crew wasn’t unduly worried. The ship was designed to absorb such damage, and in fact continued to try to sail at maximum speed. But water flooded through the holes in the ship’s side, flowing into unsecured spaces and through what should have been watertight doors. Pumps and generators failed. Soon the carrier acquired a list to starboard that only got worse.

If weight alone could determine victory, then the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Shinano might still be afloat.

At 69,000 tons when launched in 1944, the Shinano would have remained the world’s largest aircraft until the 1960s. But that was not to be. Instead the Shinano earned a distinction of a different kind: the title of largest warship ever sunk by a submarine.

(This first appeared several years ago.)

And the submarine that accomplished—the 1,500-ton USS Archerfish—was one-forty-sixth the size of its victim.

The story begins in May 1940, when the Shinano was laid down as the third of Japan’s legendary Yamato-class battleships. These giants were the largest battleships in history, built as part of Japan’s desperate attempt to counter U.S. naval quantity with a few—hopefully—qualitatively superior warships. If all went according to plan, the Shinano would join her sisters Yamato and Musashi as the three queens of Second World War battlewagons.

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Yet by 1942, Japan began to realize that it needed aircraft carriers more than battleships. Naval warfare was now ruled by these floating airfields, and Japan had lost its four best at the Battle of Midway. The orders came down to convert Shinano into an aircraft carrier such as the world had never seen.

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