Kongo class Fast Battleships -- Kongo, Haruna, Hiei, Kirishima

Kongo was the first dreadnought in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and it was built in British naval yards, since Britain was mentoring Japan in the early 20th Century, as a counterbalance to U.S. power in the Pacific. The other ships in the class were built in Japan.

The Kongos were extensively reconstructed, within treaty limits, before World War II. Their 30-knot speed enabled them to escort the Japanese Navy's carrier striking force, the Kido Butai, along with the heavy cruiser/seaplane carriers Tone and Chikuma.

Because of their speed, they could get down the (Solomon Islands) "Slot"/straits, from the Japanese fortress of Rabaul to Guadalcanal, and bombard our Marine (and Army) positions there at night and get well away from aerial counterattack to come the following day.
What the Marines called "The Bombardment" was the one time this occurred with battleships -- Haruna and Kongo -- and after that, our Navy was prepared to sacrifice itself to protect the Marines ... as happened in the First and Second Guadalcanal night-time naval battles in mid-November 1942.

In First Guadalcanal, a scratch team of U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers shot (and torpedoed) it out at pointblank range with Hiei, Kirishima, a light cruiser, and a flotilla of destroyers. Both our admirals, Callaghan and Scott, were killed. (Even by many British naval historians, it is considered to be the most desperate, vicious naval battle of the war.) Despite terrific punishment, Hiei was still afloat but drifting the next morning and was finished off by our unharmed Henderson Field fliers from Guadalcanal.

In Second Guadalcanal, the surviving Kirishima returned a couple days later accompanied by heavy cruisers Atago and Takao and many destroyers, only to be ambushed by modern American battleships Washington and South Dakota. The latter had electrical malfunctions and thus served basically as a diversion target, while Washington calculated the necessary firing solutions and then opened fire, swiftly holing, capsizing, and sinking Kirishima.
The rest of the Japanese ships fled, and the Marines were saved again. But what is generally unknown is that Haruna and Kongo were available and could have been in the battle as well.
Why they weren't is an interesting question for historians. What would have happened is an intriguing question and challenge for naval wargamers.

Kongo and Haruna survived the Solomons. They would participate in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, joining in the attack on our escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts off Samar. It is Kongo which is credited with sinking destroyer Johnston and destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts with deadly accurate gunfire ... which might have been enabled by the fact that Kongo was toward the rear of the Japanese ships and less molested by our carrier aircraft which the other ships had to evade.

Kongo would soon after be sunk by one of our subs, while Haruna ended the war a sunken hulk in a Japanese port.

Here are photos of the Navy's recognition model of the class. They were taken from a variety of surface and airborne angles, to help both sailors and airman identify the ships:


Here are photos of ships of the class right before World War II:

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18May09