On 19 June 1944, Japanese aircraft carrier Taiho was involved in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
American submarine USS Albacore, which had spotted Ozawa’s carriers earlier that morning, reached an ideal attack position and fired a spread of six torpedoes at the carrier.
One of Taihō’s strike pilots, Warrant Officer Sakio Komatsu, saw the torpedo wakes, broke formation and deliberately dived his plane into the path of one torpedo. The weapon detonated short of its targe and four of the remaining five missed.
The sixth torpedo, however, found its mark and the resulting explosion holed the carrier’s hull on the starboard side, just ahead of the island. The impact also fractured the aviation fuel tanks and jammed the forward elevator between the flight deck and upper hangar deck.
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With the ship down 5 ft by the bows due to flooding, the forward elevator pit filled with a mixture of seawater, fuel oil and aviation gasoline.
Seven hours later, Taiho blew up and sank, taking with her 1,650 sailors and dozens of aircraft. Five hundred sailors survived. It was an irrecoverable blow to Japan’s fleet at this stage of the war and occurred during her first combat mission, only three months after her commissioning.
As a matter of engineering, Taiho shouldn’t have gone down like this, as the carrier was designed to be more heavily armored and protected than her predecessors.
Taiho’s captain marginally reduced her speed by a knot and a half to slow the ingress of seawater into the hull where the torpedo had struck.
As no fires had started, Vice-Admiral Ozawa ordered that the open elevator well be planked over by a flight deck damage control party in order to allow resumption of normal flight operations.
By 09:20, using wooden benches and tables from the petty officers’ and sailors’ mess rooms, this task was completed. Ozawa proceeded to launch two more waves of aircraft.
Meanwhile, leaking aviation gasoline accumulating in the forward elevator pit began vaporising and soon permeated the upper and lower hangar decks. The danger this posed to the ship was readily apparent to the damage control crews but, whether through inadequate training, lack of practice (only three months had passed since the ship’s commissioning) or general incompetence, their response to it proved fatally ineffectual. Efforts to pump out the damaged elevator well were bungled and no one thought to try to cover the increasingly lethal mixture with foam from the hangar’s fire suppression system.
Because Taihō’s hangars were completely enclosed, mechanical ventilation was the only means of exhausting fouled air and replacing it with fresh. Ventilation duct gates were opened on either side of hangar sections No. 1 and No. 2 and, for a time, the carrier’s aft elevator was lowered to try to increase the draught. But even this failed to have any appreciable effect and, in any case, air operations were resumed about noon, requiring the elevator to be periodically raised as aircraft were brought up to the flight deck. In desperation, damage control parties used hammers to smash out the glass in the ship’s portholes
Taihō’s chief damage control officer eventually ordered the ship’s general ventilation system switched to full capacity and, where possible, all doors and hatches opened to try to rid the ship of fumes.
Unfortunately, this simply resulted in saturation of areas previously unexposed to the vapors and increased the chances of accidental or spontaneous ignition.
About 14:30 that afternoon, 6½ hours after the initial torpedo hit, Taihō was jolted by a severe explosion. A senior staff officer on the bridge saw the flight deck heave up.
The sides blew out. Taihō dropped out of formation and began to settle in the water, clearly doomed. Though Admiral Ozawa wanted to go down with the ship, his staff prevailed on him to survive and to transfer his flag to the cruiser Haguro. Taking the Emperor’s portrait, Ozawa transferred to Haguro by the destroyer. After he left, Taihō was torn by a second thunderous explosion and sank stern first at 16:28, taking 1,650 officers and men out of a complement of 2,150 down with her.