Post-war, the Naval budget was slashed, but to a considerably lesser degree than what was expected. The Palace, the Government and the Allies were grimly satisfied by the performance of the Navy: more significantly, the British and the Americans were seeing in Japan a godsent. In all the ways that really counted, Japan had proven herself to be the single stabilising force in the eastern hemisphere and the bastion of the old regimes against the Communist threat.
And her successes were not limited to the battlefronts. Her spying rings delivered the designs of the new German Battlecruisers. The June Junta (or "Deutsche Demokratische Republik" as they called themselves) classified them as Deutschland
-class; the Japanese insistently called them Graf Spee
-class, as they had originally been named at the start of her construction under Wilhelm's rule.
They were not bad
ships, all told; but their design showed a crippling inexperience in modern warfare. For one thing, they sported a 12-inch belt, that was heavy enough to cost them a knot in speed, but not
heavy enough to stop the Japanese 17-inchers at any
range. For another, they carried less guns (and smaller
guns) than the Fearsome Four. Finally, they were more than 3k tons heavier than their Japanese counterparts (and considerably more expensive to produce) with, essentially, nothing to show for it except 2.5 inches of useless belt armor.
Despite the declaration of peace, nobody in Japan believed that this would be more than a temporary cease-fire. It was time to prepare for the next round. The upgunning of the Japanese heavy cruisers continued, with the Myokos
entering the drydocks; and all of the Fearsome Four were also drydocked, for extensive maintenance of their machinery and gunnery systems.
The Admiralty was not particularly happy when the Prime Minister suggested a repeat of the old shooting competitions: most of the favourites were unavailable. However, it was a good opportunity to show the flag in the South China Sea
and antagonise the Russians.Mikasa
made the best showing; but, in the end, the old girl spanked the youngster.
A look at the international situation. Note that Japan dominates the Dreadnought tonnage over her opponents, but loses in Battlecruiser tonnage to the Germans. The Admiralty was not particularly concerned about that. Quality over quantity; and, given what the Japanese had seen so far, German quality had gone downhill quite fast in the last years. Also, the newest Japanese BBS were just three knots slower than the fastest German battlecruisers.
As a sidenote: holy crap
, America, 990k tons of BCs?
And all of them 35-36k ton designs (sigh).
I mean, seriously?
Well, crap. That was unfortunate.
Wait, what? They still operate these things? Holy crap, DDR, get your **** together.
Or, better yet, don't.
Ooooh, now here's an interesting design. An almost destroyer-like light cruiser. It can't stand up to a fight with the Kumas
, but it's two knots faster, so it can disengage. Reminds me of the French Syrcoufs
, only a knot faster.
Well, it should be a good raider - unless the Russians got that extra knot by tuning the engines for speed rather than reliability, in which case this thing will fall apart three months in a war.Because Socialist maintenance practices are known around the world.
By May, the Japanese Battle-line was coming together again. Note that Japan leads the world
(including the Brits and Americans) in cruiser tonnage; and that most of her cruiser fleet is comprised of heavy cruisers, capable of punching considerably above their class. The Japanese 8-inchers were capable of easily punching through a 12-inch belt at 5000 yards and rendered all armour under 6.5 inches irrelevant at any range.
In June 1946, a Communist riot in Panjin escalated into a rebellion, with Russia feeding the rebels with weapons and ammunition. Several Japanese nationals were trapped by the rebels and used as hostages; unfortunately for the rebels, the Japanese had a no-negotiating policy. Three captives (an Army Major and two Captains) took their own lives to prevent being used as negotiating chips; five more were rescued when a detachment of the Imperial Guard was deployed, in collaboration with the Chinese authorities. Following the release of the hostages, Yamato
dropped more than three hundred shells on rebel strongholds, from 25 kilometres away.
The Japanese response was felt throughout the international scene. The Russians and Germans exploded with official denouncements of the 'capitalist and imperialistic opporession of the fighting proletariat'; the western world were grimly supportive of the Japanese efforts. Sadly, the congratulatory message sent by the USA did not come from the pen of F.D Roosevelt. Three days before the release of the hostages, 'Franklin-ojii-san' died in his bed. Harry Truman took up the Presidency; and, while he was not the fanatic supporter of Japanese policies that his predecessor was and allowed the USA-Japan Military Alliance to lapse, he stayed true to the spirit of the 'Pacific Neighbours' ideal.
And then, military intelligence presented the Japanese Admiralty with the designs of the new Izmail
battlecruiser. Oh, those Russians
In short, the Reds had taken the Graf Spee design from the Germans, and had gone full ham with it. The Izmail
bore the heaviest broadside ever to be put on a battlecruiser, with twelve 16-inchers, in an ABQXY 32223 configuration. It paid for this broadside with an inch less armor than its German counterpart (still more armor than it could effectively use), and with a top speed that was equivalent to the modern Japanese Dreads.
In short, the Russians were putting a lot of gun-eggs in a single, fragile, slow basket. This ship would be able to seriously
hurt any of the Fearsome Four in a one-on-one duel, but the Japanese battlecruisers never
operated alone. And they could disengage at will, given their considerably higher speeds, and
dictate the engagement (i.e. cross the Russian's T).
Bad, bad, bad
In contrast, the Latvik
-class heavy cruisers were quite capable design. They had less guns than their Japanese counterparts, but they were 9
-inchers, which gave them an extra punch against capital ships. And they were as fast as the older Takaos
In response, the Japanese commenced a modernisation program for their light forces. Modernisation designs were suggested, first for a new destroyer class (the Shimakazes
) and, then, for a modernisation of the Mutsukis
. But, in the end, funds were channeled to the Sendai
Like the Kumas
, the Sendais
were relatively slow raiders. But they bore a heavier armament than their older cousins (nine 6-inchers), very reliable machinery, a massive mine- and torpedo complement and very good torpedo protection for their class.
And then, on the afternoon of the 5th of May 1947, the Kuma
ran aground on the treacherous waters off Kamtchatka, in blatant violation (again) of Russian territory. Being much lighter than the Myoko
, she did not take long to float herself off again; but the Russians had had enough of the Japanese provocations. The Russian cruiser Pamyat Merkuryia
was deployed to intercept her as she returned to Japan. Unfortunately for the Russians, the Yaeyama
had been joined by her sister-ship Unebi
, in turn escorted by a destroyer flotilla. Unaware, the Russian ship sailed into a massively superior force.
Shortly after 09:30, on the 6th, the Japanese ships picked up the Merkuryia
in their ITMS scopes. Frantic messages were sent for orders to HQ: the Admiralty response was: 'If they should fire but a single shot at you, you must engage them with your all, until their ship is destroyed'
At 09:49, the Merkuryia
fires a full broadside at Unebi
. The Japanese ship is hit once, on her deck, and the Russian shell fails to penetrate.
And the rest, as they say, is history. With that single shot, the Great War began - a war that would serve as Japan's final and greatest test.
-END PART 5-