Advanced Japanese Destroyers
of World War II

Destroyers of the Imperial Japanese Navy,
Nippon Teikoku Kaigun-no Kuchikukan,

Akikaze no
inaba no oto ni
itsusu no ie o
ide ni keru kana.
Drawn by the sound
of the autumn wind
in the rice fields,
I shall leave
the five houses.
Waka recited by the deceased Emperor Horikawa (1086-1107) in a dream to the courtier Minamoto no Kuninobu, as related to Fujiwara no Munetada [Jacqueline I. Stone, Right Thoughts at the Last Moment, Buddhism and Deathbed Practices in Early Medieval Japan, Kuroda Institute, University of Hawai'i Press, 2016, pp.215-216].

Japanese destroyers, starting with the Fubuki, began the state of the art destroyer design for World War II. With enclosed, double turrets and heavy gun and torpedo armament, the Fubukis and their successors, the "special type," set the standard for all later design -- although the Japanese desire to pack as much as possible onto the ships tended to make them top heavy. With the design also went the tactics.

As the means of protecting capital ships from torpedo boats, the kind of ship originally called the "torpedo boat destroyer" eventually, with Japanese tactics (first in the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905), came into its own as the successor to the torpedo boats. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN, Dai Nippon Teikoku Kaigun, ) had excellent torpedoes, and they planned how to use them. Japanese torpedoes had very long ranges; but the best shot for torpedoes is always as close as possible, and the best circumstances for close shots are at night. The Japanese navy thus drilled and planned for night combat. Only the British Royal Navy had a similar emphasis, after their mortifying experience of the Germans escaping in the night at the battle of Jutland in 1916.

The Royal Navy would use its night training to devastate the Italian navy at the battle of Matapan in 1941, but then the Japanese would frequently use their night training to devastate both the British and United States navies in 1941, 1942, and 1943. The campaigns in Indonesia, culminating in the battle of the Java Sea, 27 February 1942, and then the long campaign in the Solomon Islands from 1942 to 1943, provided many opportunities for Japanese torpedo and night combat training to pay off. On the other hand, the United States Navy was dominated by a group, derisively called the "Gun Club," that emphasized tactics based on gunnery. American torpedoes, poor in themselves, were actually removed from cruisers. There would be hell to pay for this bias.

The supreme achievements of Japanese torpedo and night combat were the battles near Guadalcanal of Savo Island, 9 August 1942, and Tassafaronga, 30 November 1942. The Savo Island force, ironically, consisted entirely of cruisers, except for a single pre-Fubuki destroyer, the Yunagi, trailing along. But the destroyers would get their chance. Indeed, as attrition mounted off Guadalcanal, and then the battleships Hiei and Kirishima were sunk there in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 November 1942, Japan gave up seriously contesting the waters, and used destroyers for such actions as were necessary -- combat and both to supply the troops on Guadalcanal and then finally to take them off.

In the course of one such operation, a very superior American force surprised Japanese destroyers in the battle of Tassafaronga. Turning away and filling the water with torpedoes, the Japanese force only lost one ship, while sinking or seriously damaging several American heavy cruisers. For the time being, that all but knocked the American cruisers, like the Japanese, out of the war; and, mercifully, it was about the end of the line for the "Gun Club." American destroyers finally came into their own with victory in the battle of Vela Gulf, 6/7 August 1943. In subsequent battles in the Solomons, the Japanese were without all of their previous advantages, and their reliance on destroyers to carry the brunt of supply as well as combat actions simply meant a terrific attrition in the destroyer force.

Besides their excellent design and combat history, perhaps the most striking thing about Japanese destroyers are their names. They were named after phenomena of weather, sea, and sky, with several groups based on wind (), snow (), rain (), clouds (), waves (), mist (), frost (), tides (), and moons (). In compounds, the unvoiced initial consonants of these are often voiced, e.g. gumo for kumo or zuki for tsuki. Seldom have so many poetic names been bestowed on such devices of violence, although characteristic of the Japanese moral aestheticism that made war and death things of art and beauty.

The first element of the names, although exhibiting great variation, does feature some common references, such as the seasons -- spring ( haru), summer ( natsu), autumn ( aki), and winter ( fuyu) -- or times of day -- morning ( asa), evening ( ), -- etc. The suffix maru, , "circle," is commonly seen in the name of Japanese ships. But this is not used with warships.

The "London Treaty" refers to the London Naval Treaty of 1930, under whose limitations two classes of ships were built. The subsequent "cruiser" types, like the Yugomo, were built free of the limitations of naval treaties, which had been repudiated. They therefore represent the most advanced thinking of the Japanese naval architects. The final "anti-aircraft" class of large destroyers is the only attempt made in this direction comparable to the American anti-aircraft light cruisers, like the Atlanta and Juneau (both tragically sunk when improperly deployed into surface combat around Guadalcanal).

There are several landmarks in the history of building a ship. A ship is (1) ordered, (2) laid down, (3) launched, (4) completed, and (5) commissioned. "Laid down" means, of course, that construction is started. When the hull is complete enough for the ship to float, it is launched. Much of the construction of a ship is thus subsequent to launching. Once the ship is completed, it can be tested at sea. Not until the tests are completed is a ship "commissioned," which means it is accepted into active service, with a crew and commanding officer. A commissioned ship has a watch on duty at all times, in port or at sea. A ship that is laid up in reserve, with no crew, has been "decommissioned." The following table gives dates for (4) completion.

Several ships given here have some hinagana syllabic signs -- such as -- written with their names. These are part of the dictionary rendering of the words, but the names themselves customarily are given in just characters, without hiragana -- although on Japanese warships the entire name was usually written in hiragana below the characters on the stern. Since the pronunciation of Chinese characters in Japanese is often ambiguous, the display of the proper reading would have helped prevent possibly dangerous confusions. The hiragana here can be recognized because no Chinese prounciation is given below it. On pre-War Japanese destroyers, the name of the ship was often written in large katakana letters on the sides. Katakana is the other Japanese syllabary, and it is used as the equivalent of italics in the Latin alphabet, i.e. for foreign names and words or for emphasis. However, since the forms of katakana are in a more squarish shape than hinagana, unlike italic writing, which is more cursive than the default forms, katakana was perhaps used on the sides of destroyers as the equivalent of block capitals in the Latin alphabet.

Special Type, Initial Group,
Fubuki Class, Model-I
10 Aug 2812 Oct 42, Battle of Cape Esperance, 11/12 Oct
(White Snow)
18 Dec 282 Mar 43, Battle of the Bismark Sea, 2-5 Mar
Hatsuyuki (First Snow)30 Mar 2917 July 43
Miyuki (Deep Snow)29 June 2929 June 34, Sunk in collision
Murakumo (Cloud Masses)10 May 2912 Oct 42, Battle of Cape Esperance, 11/12 Oct
Shinonome (Daybreak)25 July 2818 Dec 41
Usugumo (Fleecy Cloud)26 July 287 July 44
Shirakumo (White Cloud)28 July 2816 Mar 44
Isonami (Surf)30 June 289 Apr 43
Uranami (Breaker)30 June 2926 Oct 44, Battle of Leyte Gulf, 24-26 Oct
Intermediate Group, Model IIcompletedlost
Ayanami (Twill Wave)30 Apr 3015 Nov 42, Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 Nov
Shikinami (Chasing Waves)24 Dec 2912 Sept 44
Asagiri (Morning Mist)30 June 3028 Aug 42
Yûgiri (Evening Mist)3 Dec 3025 Nov 43, Battle of Cape St. George, 25 Nov
Amagiri (Sky Mist)10 Nov 3023 Apr 44
Sagiri (Thin Fog)31 Jan 3121 Dec 41
Oboro (Hazy/Misty)31 Oct 3116 Oct 42
Akebono (Dawn)31 July 3113 Nov 44
Sazanami (Rippling Waves, Ripples)19 May 3214 Jan 44
Ushio (the Tide)14 Nov 31scrapped
Latter Group, Model-IIIcompletedlost
Akatsuki (Dawn)30 Nov 3213 Nov 42, Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 Nov
Hibiki (Crash/Peal)31 Mar 33to USSR
Ikazuchi (Thunder)15 Aug 3213 Apr 44
Inazuma (Lightning)15 Nov 3214 May 44
London Treaty group, First Class,
Hatsuharu Class
Hatsuharu (Early Spring)30 Sept 3313 Nov 44
Nenohi (Hour of the Rat, Midnight)30 Sept 334 July 42
Wakaba (Young Foliage)31 Oct 3424 Oct 44, Battle of Leyte Gulf, 24-26 Oct
Hatsushimo (First Frost)27 Sept 3430 July 45
Ariake (Daybreak)25 Mar 3528 July 43
Yûgure (Evening/Twilight)30 Mar 3520 July 43
Second Class,
Shiratsuyu Class
(White Dew)
20 Aug 3615 June 44
Shigure (Autumn or Winter Rain Shower)7 Sept 3624 Jan 45
Murasame (Passing Shower)7 Jan 376 Mar 43
Yûdachi (Sudden/Evening Shower)7 Jan 3713 Nov 42, Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 Nov
(Spring Rain)
26 Aug 378 June 44
Samidare (Early Summer Rain)29 Jan 3726 Aug 44
Umikaze (Sea Breeze)31 May 371 Feb 44
Yamakaze (Mountain Wind)30 June 3725 June 42
Kawakaze (River Breeze)30 Apr 376 Aug 43, Battle of Vella Gulf, 6/7 Aug
Suzukaze (Cool Breeze)31 Aug 3726 Jan 44
Cruiser Type, First Class,
Asashio Class
(Morning Tide)
31 Aug 373 Mar 43, Battle of the Bismark Sea, 2-5 Mar
Arashio (Rough Tide)20 Dec 373 Mar 43, Battle of the Bismark Sea, 2-5 Mar
Ooshio (Big Tide)31 Oct 3720 Feb 43
Michishio (High Tide)31 Oct 3725 Oct 44, Battle of Leyte Gulf, 24-26 Oct
Asagumo (Morning Cloud)31 Mar 3825 Oct 44, Battle of Leyte Gulf, 24-26 Oct
Yamagumo (Mountain Cloud)15 Jan 3825 Oct 44, Battle of Leyte Gulf, 24-26 Oct
Minegumo (Ridge/Summit Cloud)30 Apr 386 Mar 43
Natsugumo (Summer Cloud)10 Feb 3812 Oct 42, Battle of Cape Esperance, 11/12 Oct
Kasumi (Haze)28 June 397 Apr 45, Battle of Okinawa/Sinking of Yamato, 7 Apr
Arare (Hail)15 Apr 395 July 42
Second Class, Kagero Classcompletedlost
Kagerô (Heat Haze)6 Nov 398 May 43
Shiranu(h)i (Bioluminescence)20 Dec 3927 Oct 44
Kuroshio (the Black, Japan Current)27 Jan 408 May 43
Oyashio (the Kurile Current)20 Aug 409 May 43
Hayashio (Fast Current)31 Aug 4024 Nov 42
Natsushio (Summer Current)31 Aug 408 Feb 42
Hatsukaze (First Wind)15 Feb 402 Nov 43, Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, 2 Nov
Yukikaze (Snow Wind)20 Jan 40to China
Amatsukaze (Celestial Wind)26 Oct 406 Apr 45
Tokitsukaze (Peaceful Reign)15 Dec 403 Mar 43, Battle of the Bismark Sea, 2-5 Mar
Urakaze (Bay Wind)15 Dec 4021 Nov 44
Isokaze (Rocky Beach Wind)30 Nov 407 Apr 45, Battle of Okinawa/Sinking of Yamato, 7 Apr
Hamakaze (Sandy Beach Wind)30 June 417 Apr 45, Battle of Okinawa/Sinking of Yamato, 7 Apr
Tanikaze (Valley Wind)25 Apr 419 June 44
Nowake (Autumn Typhoon)28 Apr 4126 Oct 44, Battle of Leyte Gulf, 24-26 Oct
Arashi (Stormy Wind)27 Jan 417 Aug 43, Battle of Vella Gulf, 6/7 Aug
Hagikaze (Reedy Wind)31 Mar 417 Aug 43, Battle of Vella Gulf, 6/7 Aug
Maikaze (Dancing Wind)15 July 4117 Feb 44
Third Class, Yugumo Classcompletedlost
Yugumo (Evening Cloud)5 Dec 416 Oct 43, Battle of Vella Lavella, 6 Oct
Akigumo (Autumn Cloud)27 Sept 4111 Nov 44
Makigumo (Rolled Cloud)14 Mar 421 Feb 43
Kazagumo (Wind Cloud)28 Mar 428 June 44
Naganami (Long Wave)30 June 4211 Nov 44
Makinami (Rolled Wave)18 Aug 4225 Nov 43, Battle of Cape St. George, 25 Nov
Takanami (High Wave, High Sea)31 Aug 4230 Nov 42, Battle of Tassafaronga, 30 Nov
Oonami (Big Wave)29 Dec 4225 Nov 43, Battle of Cape St. George, 25 Nov
Kiyonami (Clear Wave)25 Jan 4320 July 43
Tamanami (Jade Wave)30 Apr 437 July 44
Suzunami (Cool Wave)31 July 4311 Nov 43
Fujinami (Purple Wave, Waves of Wisterias)31 July 4327 Oct 44
Hayanami (Early Wave)31 July 437 June 44
Hamanami (Beach Wave)15 Oct 4311 Nov 44
Okinami (Open Sea Wave)10 Dec 4313 Nov 44
Kishinami (Shore Wave)3 Dec 434 Dec 44
Asashimo (Morning Frost)27 Nov 437 Apr 45, Battle of Okinawa/Sinking of Yamato, 7 Apr
Hayashimo (Early Frost)20 Feb 4426 Oct 44, Battle of Leyte Gulf, 24-26 Oct
(Autumn Frost)
11 Mar 4413 Nov 44
Kiyoshimo (Clear Frost)15 May 4426 Dec 44
Fourth Classcompletedlost
Umigiri (Ocean Mist)never ordered
Yamagiri (Mountain Mist)never ordered
Tanigiri (Valley Mist)never ordered
Kawagiri (River Mist)never ordered
Taekaze (Faint Wind)never ordered
Kiyokaze (Clear Wind)never ordered
Satokaze (Country Wind)never ordered
Murakaze (Fitful Wind)never ordered
Experimental 40 Knot
Cruiser Class
Shimakaze (Island Wind)10 May 194311 Nov 1944
Anti-Aircraft Classcompletedlost
Akizuki (Autumn Moon)13 June 4225 Oct 44, Battle of Leyte Gulf, 24-26 Oct
Teruzuki (Shining Moon)31 Aug 4212 Dec 42
Suzutsuki (Cool Moon)29 Dec 42breakwater
Hatsuzuki (First Moon)29 Dec 4225 Oct 44, Battle of Leyte Gulf, 24-26 Oct
Niizuki (New Moon)31 Mar 436 July 43, Battle of Kula Gulf, 6 Jul
Wakatsuki (Young Moon)31 May 4311 Nov 44
Shimotsuki (Frost Moon)31 Mar 4425 Nov 44
Fuyuzuki (Winter Moon)25 May 44breakwater
Haruzuki (Spring Moon)28 Dec 44to USSR
Yoizuki (Evening Moon)31 Jan 45to China
Natsuzuki (Summer Moon)8 Apr 45to UK
Michizuki (Full Moon)incompletebroken up

The Shiratsuyu, , bears the name of a Chinese Solar Term, "White Dew." Other names, like the Akishimo, , "Autumn Frost," contain elements that can be found among the Solar Terms. For all the meteorological names among the destroyers, Shiratsuyu is the only one named for a dew, .

One combination we do not see in ship names is , "clouds and rain," because this is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. The reversal of the characters, , although it can simply mean "rain cloud" (amagumo), is also not used, perhaps because it is too much like the former and in Chinese may sometimes actually mean the same thing.

Another unused combination is , "Floating Cloud," an expression from Confucius, Analects VII:15, despite the many names we see based on kinds of clouds, . Why it is not used is a matter of some curiosity. First, one wonders how it would be pronounced. It could possibly be rendered Ukikumo -- but then in pronunciation the "i" would drop out (giving Ukkumo), and that seems to be something avoided for these names. So we might try Ukigumo, where the voiced "k" preserves the vowel and the syllable. As it happens, ukigumo actually is a word in Japanese, glossed as meaning, "a cloud drift, a floating [drifting] cloud" or "the transience of human life" [Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary, Kenkyusha, Tokyo, 1974, p.1913]. Now, "drifting cloud" sounds exactly like the sort of thing we find in the destroyer names; but "the transience of human life" may be exactly what precludes this. While, for the old Japanese ethos, battle certainly embodies the transience of life, this may be rather inauspicious when applied as the name of a warship. And the associations of "floating," , with prostitution (, ukareme, "floating woman," is actually a prostitute) may really help put it off the table. However, , ukishiro, "floating castle," actually can mean "battleship."

A name that it is rather a shame not to see is , Akikaze, "Autumn Wind," which certainly is a possible name, even as it figures in the epigraph to this page, which is a waka poem reportedly recited by the deceased Emperor Horikawa, who died at the age of 29, in a dream experienced by a courtier after his death and recorded in a diary. The Emperor had had a difficult time in his final illness, and there was some question about his post-mortem fate. The dream was taken as evidence that he had left the world of the five elements and been reborn in the Pure Land, .

Other missing combinations are , , and . The first, "harbor wave," in Japanese is tsunami, a tidal wave. A tsunami is a thing of great power and so might be a good name for a warship; but since Japan itself has often been its victim, and so has contributed its own word for the phenomenon to approved international scientific discourse, perhaps this would strike too close to home, or be regarded as ill omened, as the name of a Japanese ship.

The second expression, "dragon roll," read tatsumaki in Japanese, which can also be in Chinese ("dragon roll wind"), is a tornado or waterspout. I don't hear much about tornadoes in Japan, or about damage from waterspouts, so perhaps this phenomenon just did not suggest itself to the ship namers.

Third is , taifû in Japanese, which is the typhoon, the equivalent for the Western Pacific what a hurricane is for the Eastern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This can also be written , where we see that the character , which is "typhoon" by itself, simply combines the radical for "wind" with as the "phonetic," to give the pronunciation. Indeed, seems to be rare enough that it does not even occur in Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary [Harvard, 1972]. As the name for a ship, the problem may be the same with tsunami:  It is just too much.

A notable incident in the New Georgia campaign in the Solomon Islands was the ramming and sinking of torpedo boat PT-109 by the destroyer Amagiri, on 2 August 1943. Since PT-109 was commanded by John F. Kennedy, who was credited with heroism, this became part of the story of his Presidency. The Amagiri was subsequently lost when it hit a mine while operating out of Singapore on 23 April 44. Mines in that area were often laid from American submarines operating out of Fremantle, Australia. My late father-in-law was actually in charge of mine-laying on such submarines. After the War, he would follow the shipping news; and if a vessel hit an old mine around Indonesia, he would quip, "Got another one." Perhaps he had already gotten the Amagiri.

It is no accident that destroyers were frequently named in groups of four, e.g. four "-gumos" or "-shimos." Such groups of four ships would then later operate as single destroyer squadrons. This followed British usage, where several destroyers whose names begin with the same letter, belong to the same class and operate as squadrons together. Several squadrons, as in the following tables, would then be collected into a destroyer flotilla commanded by a Rear Admiral, who would fly his flag in one of the older cruisers.Such cruisers were so lightly armed that by World War II they were little better than large destroyers, which is how they were used -- the equivalent of what would have been called a "destroyer leader" elsewhere.

Destroyer Flotilla (DF), 2 to 4 Squadrons, commanded by a Rear Admiral (RA) in a Light Cruiser (CL)Destroyer Squadron (Division), 4 ships, commanded by a Senior Officer
Destroyer Squadron (Division), 4 ships, commanded by a Senior Officer

In December 1941, there were six destroyer flotillas in the Imperial Japanese Navy. The following table lists the six flotillas with their station, flagships, and, in the case of the Pearl Harbor Strike Force, the destroyers in them.

Six Flotillas in Combined Fleet, December 1941
First (Battle) Fleet & Strike Force, Hiroshima Bay DF 1, RA Omori in CL Abukuma, with Pearl Harbor Strike Force Kasumi, Arare, Kagero, Shiranuhi, Urakaze, Isokaze, Hamakaze, Tanikaze, Akigumo
DF 3, CL Sendai
Second (Scouting) Fleet, Hainan DF 2, CL Jintsu
DF 4, CL Naka
Third (Blockade & Transport) Fleet, Formosa DF 5, CL Natori
Fourth (Mandate) Fleet, Truk DF 6 CL Yubari

The Pearl Harbor Strike Force

The Battleship Kongō Russian Battleships


The Treaty Cruisers

A Guadalcanal Chronology, 7 August 1942 - 6 March 1943


Waterline Models

Philosophy of History, Military History

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