News | Dec. 21, 2022

The Aircraft Carrier Hiryu

By Cmdr. Peter Mersky, USNR (Ret.)

I may be prejudiced, but this medium-format, very-well illustrated volume is one of the most unusual books I have seen in some time. It is the latest title in Osprey’s “Anatomy of the Ship” series and is worth every penny of its price. Photographs of Japanese aircraft carriers are relatively rare, especially during actual operations in World War II. Most of the photos available show the carriers before the war, either during construction or during initial tests at sea.

In this case, the illustrations are not only photographs, but also a surprising number of highly-detailed renderings not only of the overall ship, but also unusually focused parts of the carrier outside and inside, as well as the various aircraft, e.g., Zero, Val and Kate in their relative positions aboard the ship both on the flight deck and below. Single drawings of often esoteric parts of the ship as well as such things as lifeboats definitely are a modeler’s dream, although I don’t know of any scale models available of this or, frankly, most other Japanese ships. Those skilled modelers who specialize in scratch-built replicas should have a ball over what would sure to be at least a five-year project. Surprisingly and perhaps sadly, there is no index, which reduces the book’s value somewhat as a reference tool.

As most WWII historians would know, the Hiryu was one of four Japanese fleet carriers sunk in the Battle of Midway in June 1942 in what many claim—with some justification—was the pivotal turning point in the naval war in the Pacific. Many aircraft as well as their highly trained and combat-experienced crews were lost in this engagement that took place during a spread of four (June 4-7) action-filled days that at the time left both sides unsure of the overall outcome and effect of the future prosecution of the war. After Midway, the Japanese scrambled to replace the valuable men as well as their planes and carriers (which they never did), while the Allies, particularly the U.S., were on their way to establishing the huge construction industry Japanese leaders like Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, who conceived and led the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, feared.

This book begins with a 33-page description and history of the Hiryu, accompanied by photos and a chronology of its brief service with the Imperial Japanese Navy, which ended with its sinking on June 5, 1942, at Midway after being mortally damaged by American SBD Dauntless dive bombers on the 4th and finally scuttled by two torpedoes fired by a Japanese destroyer. Hiryu’s Capt. Tomeo Kaku and Rear Adm. Tamon Yamaguchi, Commander, Carrier Division 2 (including Hiryu and another fleet carrier Soryu, sunk on June 4), elected to go down with the ship.

From that point, Draminski’s book takes on a rather different route by devoting the remaining nearly 300 pages to an intense graphic description of its external and internal appearances and the various parts that contributed to the carrier’s overall construction and use as a ship of war.
Besides the expected aircraft that she carried as her air wing, such unique views as deck plans, showing aircraft placing and various aspects of the ship, almost as if you were standing on the flight deck, or off her side from another ship. Other details are much too numerous to list here.

A most unusual publication that should have a place in most enthusiasts’ or historians’ collections.