This Is How USS Archer-Fish Sunk World War II's Biggest Aircraft Carrier

Warfare History Network

Key point: Shinano is the biggest warship ever sunk by a submarine.

The first torpedo struck farthest aft. Over the next 30 seconds three more warheads detonated against the massive aircraft carrier’s hull, working their way forward. The explosions and instant flooding immediately killed scores of men, many asleep in their bunks.

As tons of seawater cascaded into the wounded colossus, men below deck could see the extent of the damage, were seized with panic, and stampeded topside. The missiles had hit 10 feet below the water line, and on the bridge and upper levels the commander and his officers were not yet aware of how sorely they were hurt. Many had survived earlier torpedo attacks, and aboard less formidable vessels than this one. Even as their gargantuan ship began to list, they remained optimistic.

“Expressing the Flavor of an Ancient Samurai”

As 1944 neared its end, the tottering Japanese empire toiled terribly to find ways to hold off U.S. forces as they advanced ever closer to the Home Islands. U.S. troops under General Douglas MacArthur were resolutely reclaiming the Philippines. Huge Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers were beginning the destruction of Japan’s major cities. Perhaps most devastating were the omnipresent U.S. Navy submarines that were sweeping Japanese shipping from the Pacific. Yet, if the Imperial Navy could produce a single monster of a warship perhaps it could at least temporarily stem the advance of the enemy. Maybe this floating megaweapon could even check or turn back the Philippine liberation and abort the anticipated attack on Okinawa.

The aircraft carrier Shinano started out as the third sister of a planned trio of super battleships that included the 70,000-ton Musashi and the Yamato. After the crippling loss of aircraft carriers inflicted on the Japanese Navy at the Battle of Midway, Shinano’s construction was altered to instead make her into the largest carrier ever to float. Named for a province of medieval Japan, Shinano’s builders hoped to have her seaworthy in her redesigned state by February 1945, yet rapidly waning military fortunes resulted in a quickened pace of construction. Overworked shipyard workers toiled in 16-hour shifts to complete the great warship.

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