Houck, the World War II naval ace who directed the final attack on the
battleship Yamato, the pride of the Japanese Navy, in the fighting for
died on Feb. 24 in Cape Coral, Fla. He was 86.
Five days after American troops began landing on Okinawa, and on
the day that kamikaze planes began crashing into American ships
supporting the invasion, the Yamato was about to be hurled into the
climactic battle of the Pacific conflict on what amounted to a suicide
mission of its own.
On the afternoon of April 6, 1945, the Yamato headed toward Okinawa
from its port at Kure, Japan, some 600 miles away. The Yamato,
commissioned nine days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and its
sister ship, the Musashi, weighing about 72,000 tons each at full
load, were by far the largest battleships ever built.
But aircraft carriers, not battleships, proved decisive in the
Musashi had been sunk the previous October. The Yamato, while seeing
action in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Battle of Leyte
Gulf in 1944, had been used sparingly. Nonetheless, it was fitted with
armor deemed virtually impenetrable, and it bristled with nine guns
that could hurl 3,200-pound armor- piercing shells, the largest
battleships guns ever to go to sea. It was to cross the East China
Sea, arrive off Okinawa and fire upon American ships and troops
battling for the island.
But the Japanese did not provide air cover for the Yamato, and it
was believed to have carried only enough fuel for a one-way trip.
An American submarine and a scout plane spotted the battleship, and
waves of fighters began attacking it 200 miles north of Okinawa in the
early afternoon of April 7. The battleship took numerous hits from
aerial-launched torpedoes and bombs, and it listed to portside. But
it was still floating when Lieutenant Commander Houck, in command of
more than 40 planes on the carrier Yorktown, went aloft in his Hellcat
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His engines were balky, and he almost turned back, but soon he was
over the Yamato with his torpedo planes.
He ordered that they adjust the depth settings for their torpedoes
to ensure that they struck the huge Yamato low enough to avoid her
armor, and six planes swooped down. Several torpedoes struck the
Yamato. It turned over, and a
huge explosion hurled its sailors into the sea or killed them outright
as Lieutenant Commander Houck took photographs with a wing camera.
"It made a mighty big bang," he remembered. "Smoke went up. The
fireball was about 1,000 feet high."
The Yamato sank with the loss of nearly 2,500 crew members, fewer
than 300 having been rescued; a light cruiser and four of the eight
destroyers accompanying it were also sunk. This was essentially the
end of the Japanese Navy.
"Ten-Go" Operation, April 1945
Smoke rises to the clouds shortly after the Japanese battleship Yamato
capsized, exploded and sank after receiving many bomb and torpedo hits from U.S.
Navy carrier planes north of Okinawa, 7 April 1945. Escorting destroyers are
visible to the left of the smoke.
Photographed from a USS Yorktown (CV-10) plane. Collection of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph
The Yamato, bearing the ancient name for Japan, remained an
object of fascination for the Japanese long after the war. In 1985, a
submarine expedition financed by Japanese veterans' groups found the
wreckage at a depth of 1,100 feet after a seven- year quest.
No human remains were found by the remote-controlled pincers. But
40 years after Japan's naval ambitions came to calamitous end, a
ceremony was held on a ship above the wreckage. As Minoru Akiyama, an
official of the expedition committee, put it, "We want to console the
spirits of the dead."
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Read the US Navy's version of the sinking of the Yamato
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