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IJN Minekaze, Kamikaze and Mutsuki class Destroyers

By: Daniel H. Jones

The Minekaze, Kamikaze and Mutsuki class destroyers were essentially a single design with each group representing progressive development. As a modeling subject, they are visually interesting and are historically important as a pivotal design between early foreign built ships and the later original and highly innovative Kagero/Fubuki "Special Type" destroyers and their successors which played such a dominant role in the early surface battles of the Pacific War.

Prior to the First World War the Imperial Japanese Navy was very dependent on foreign suppliers for its arms and equipment. Many of the prominent overseas warship builders supplied vessels to the Imperial Navy with the majority being built in British yards. In addition, the Japanese Navy acquired many ships as prizes in both the war with China and the Russo-Japanese War. This combination allowed a very rapid expansion of the fleet while also affording ample opportunities to study foreign construction methods and techniques. Destroyers were purchased mainly from Yarrows and Thonnycroft, leaders in destroyer design at the time. Later, some units were built in Japan through licensing agreements.

As Japanese shipbuilding capacity expanded and the ship constructors gained more experience, original designs were built. Initially these were still based on British practice. The break from British design dominance occurred in 1916 when the Navy issued specifications for new First and Second Class destroyers. These new vessels, the Minekaze and Momi classes, departed from the traditional British layout, adopting a design that owed much to German ideas.

When compared with previous designs, the Minekaze class forecastle was lengthened with a break forward of the bridge forming a well deck where the forward torpedo mounts were placed. This well deck layout followed typical German torpedo boat design practice. A traditional turtledeck style forecastle was retained but the bow was flared more for better seakeeping qualities. The four 4.7"/45 cal. S.P. guns were evenly spaced along the hull length and mounted as high as possible so they could be worked in heavy seas. All the main armament, guns and torpedoes, were mounted on the centerline so that all could bear on either broadside. Six 21" torpedo tubes in three twin mountings were provided. Parsons geared turbines were fitted which delivered 38,000 shaft horsepower for a speed of 39 knots on trials. The Momi type, Second Class destroyers, were identical in appearance and design, except in scaled down form. They were smaller in dimensions and mounted only three 4.7" guns and 4 torpedo tubes in two twin mounts. While not all of these new ideas were completely successful, (the forward gun and torpedo mounting were swept by water in heavy seas and were sometimes unworkable), generally the new destroyers were fast and powerful ships that were equal to any of their foreign contemporaries.

The Minekaze and Sawakaze were ordered under the 1917 construction program and were followed by the Hakaze, Nadikaze, Okikaze, Shimakaze, and Yakaze under the 1918 program. None had been laid down when the war ended but it was decided to proceed with construction as many of the operational units were old and in need of replacement. Five additional ships, Akikaze, Hokaze, Slijokaze, Tachikaze, and Yukaze were ordered in 1919.

The last three ships of the class, Namikaze, Nokaze, and Numakaze, were ordered in 1920, built to an improved design with a better gunnery fire control system and improved ammunition magazine arrangements. Essentially these last three vessels, in their external revision, set the pattern for the following Kamikaze class. Gun and torpedo positions were changed, the gun mounted aft of the second funnel was moved further aft to X position. Torpedo mounts 2 and 3 were moved closer together and the searchlight platform formerly between them was moved forward to just aft of the second funnel. The following Kamikaze class ships were visually identical apart from slight detail changes in the bridge and the addition of an improved 4.7"/50 cal. main gun which was designed as a dual purpose mount.

There were nine units in the Kamikaze class. The first five ships were ordered under the 1920 program and assigned names, Okazc, Makaze, Tsumikaze, Soyakaze, and Suyukaze. The orders were carried over into the 1921-22 construction program but upon reordering only hull numbers were assigned in odd numbers from 1 to 17.

The parallel designs, Second Class destroyers of the Momi and Wakataka classes, were also ordered in this period and for a time after their completion were also not given the names assigned to them but were only known by their hull numbers. In 1928, all ships under this designation system received their names. In the case of the Kamikaze class, new names were assigned. In numerical order, these were; Kamikaze, Asakaze, Hanikaze, Matsukaze, Hatakaze, Olte, Hayate, Asanagi, and Yunagi.

Twelve units of the final type, the Mutsuki class, were ordered in 1923 and differed from the previous two groups in several ways. The Mutsukis were the first ships to be fitted with the newly developed 24' torpedoes which were arranged in two triple mountings. The hull form was improved with a swan neck bow design developed as a result of model testing in an experimental tank. The new bow shape became standard for all subsequent Japanese destroyer designs. In spite of an increase in tonnage and added fuel capacity the performance remained the same with no changes in the propulsion machinery. As with the Kamikaze class, the Mutsuki class originally were assigned hull numbers and only received their names in 1928. The hull numbers and names were; (19) Mutsuki, (21) Kisaragi, (23) Yayoi, (25) Uzuki, (27) Satsuki, (28) Minatsuki, (29) Fumisuki, (30) Nagatsuki, (31) Kikusuki, (32) Mikatsuki, (33) Mochitsuki, and (34) Yuzuki.

The Minekaze, Kamikaze and Mutsuki class ships formed the backbone of Japanese destroyer formations throughout the twenties and thirties until they were supplemented and later replaced by the "Special Types". As the Fubuki class and their improved successors became available in numbers the Minekaze and Kamikaze ships were withdrawn from first line service and reassigned to secondary duties. The Mutsukis were retained as first line destroyers due to their increased range and their more powerful torpedo armament.

The three groups retained their original appearance, relatively unchanged until the late thirties. Minor changes were made such as adding windows to the originally open bridge of the Minekazes. l3mm machine guns were replaced by 25mm guns, speaking tubes were added to the torpedo stations, (later being removed and replaced with a telephone system). At various times paravanes were fitted, the ships were classified as minesweepers as well as destroyers Funnels were fitted with higher caps thus visually increasing their raked appearance.

In September of 1935 units of the Combined Fleet while on exercises passed through a typhoon. It was a very violent storm with winds to 85 miles per hour and wave heights of over 50 feet. Many units of the fleet received severe damage including the Mutsuki which had several plates buckled and the top of her bridge wrecked. During 1936-37 Mutsuki and her sisters were fitted with a strengthened, more compact, semienclosed bridge structure. The side plating below the bridge was cut away and the forward boat davits were changed from radials to the swingout, goose neck type and relocated one deck lower. At the same time new watertight shields were fitted to the torpedo mounts similar to those on the "Special Type" destroyers then in service.

The Mutsukis, with their 24" torpedo mounts were able to accept the newly designed 24" oxygen driven "Long Lance" torpedo, a superb weapon with no equal in allied arsenals. With the new protected weather proof shields the torpedoes could be worked in all seas and weather conditions thus extending the useful life of the class in the fleet destroyer role. No such refit was contemplated for the Minekaze and Kamikaze classes as they were considered to be obsolete.

By 1938 most of the Minekaze class ships had been withdrawn and replaced by more modern ships in the fleet escort role. These still useful hulls were then converted to a variety of secondary roles such as patrol boats, escorts, and high speed transports. The Kamikaze and Mutsuki classes were also undergoing refits beginning in 1940-41. A common trend was the suppression of one or more of the 4.7 mounts and the addition of more anti-aircraft guns. This took the form of 25mm machine guns in single, double or triple mountings. This weapon was based on a French Hotchkiss prototype and was a rather elderly design by this time.

On paper, the additional anti-aircraft guns look impressive in their numbers but due to the fact that no central fire control system was developed to direct their fire the adding of more barrels firing independently had little effect on the ship's defensive capability. There was also a large gap in coverage between the 4.7 dual purpose gun and the 25mm gun that was never resolved. Japan possessed examples of the 40mm Bofors gun which would have been a possible solution to the problem but they were never produced in quantity. This serious deficiency in anti-aircraft defensive capability became more critical as the war progressed.

From early 1942 onward the Mutsukis were gradually withdrawn from fleet service. Some were converted to the escort role with reduced boilers and added fuel capacity for longer range. Contrary to some published sources not all of the ships were modified in this way which is apparent from studying wreck photographs. The amount of evidence available is not adequate to document all of the individual ships but there is ample to cover several in detail which can be considered representative of the appearance changes in the class.

The drawings show some of the variety of conversion possibilities offered by the new Minekaze and Kamikaze kits from Skywave. The Minekaze, Kamikaze and Mutsuki classes parallel the USN 4-pipers in that all were available for secondary uses in large numbers and were utilized in very similar roles. It is interesting to compare the conversions done by both navies for the same mission. The degree of standardization apparent in some of the American conversions is not present in the IJN adaptations. Many of the IJN conversions are very individual, almost experimental in nature. So much the better for the modeler as there are more possibilities for creativity.

1/700 Scale Drawings

IJN Minekaze
As built
IJN Sawakaze
1920 with full shields on main guns
IJN Minekaze 1930
Speaking Tubes installed
IJN Shimakaze
Two main guns suppressed and extra 25mm added
IJN Yukaze
Two main guns removed and extra 25mm added

Patrol Boat #2 1944
Ex IJN Nadakaze
IJN Yakaze 1944
Target Ship
IJN Shiokaze 1944
Kaiten Carrier
IJN Namikaze 1945
Kaiten Carrier

This article originally appeared in Plastic Ship Modeler 1994/3 and is reprinted here with the permission of the author and editor.

Copyright © SMML 2003