Revealed: Why Japan Gave Up On Building More World War II Aircraft Carriers

Warfare History Network

Key Point: The Japanese war effort was so unbalanced and so crippled by industrial and managerial weaknesses that the June 30, 1942, aircraft carrier plan was little more than a feverish reaction to Coral Sea and Midway.

Japan lacked the industrial strength needed to wage a war against the United States. Yet, Japanese military planners seldom considered the limitations to their nation’s construction capabilities. One example is the Imperial Japanese Navy’s June 30, 1942, plan for aircraft carrier construction. The loss of one light and four fleet carriers sunk and one badly damaged at the Battles of the Coral Seaand Midway had shocked naval planners. Warship construction in June 1942 was already minuscule, yet the Navy laid impossible goals on an industrial base patently incapable of meeting expectations.

Mass-Producing the Unryu-class Aircraft Carrier

At the time, Japan was constructing a single, keel-up, purpose-built aircraft carrier. Kawasaki had laid down Taiho on July 10, 1941; she was the only carrier laid down in 1941 and the only ship of her class. That same year, the United States laid down five Essex– class carriers. Taiho was the only nonconversion fleet carrier laid down from 1941 onward by the Japanese versus 24 U.S. Essex– and Midway-class carriers laid down in the same period. Taiho displaced 29,300 tons and was Japan’s only nonconversion, war-built fleet carrier that was similar to (actually bigger than) an Essex. The Japanese Navy commissioned Taiho on March 7, 1944.

Taiho exemplifies Japan’s industrial capabilities. She was the only nonconversion fleet carrier commissioned during the war against 17 U.S. purpose-built fleet carriers. Taiho took 32 months to complete. Essex, laid down less than three months before Taiho, was commissioned in just 20 months. The Japanese Navy ordered two improved Taiho designs in 1942 but then cancelled both. Another attempt, the June 30, 1942, effort, resulted in plans for five modified Taihos. The appearance of these ships in the order of battle was scheduled for 1947 (two ships) and 1948 (three ships), not an encouraging production program. They, too, were never laid down.

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