The Japanese Destroyer Kagero

The destroyer was laid down in September 1937 and launched a year later. She was commissioned in 1939 with Lt Cdr Yokoi Minoru as her first skipper. Kagero class vessels served with Destroyer Divisions, which were part of Destroyer Squadrons. Those in turn were attached to different Fleets. Kagero was assigned to the Desdiv 18, Destroyer Squadron 2.
Although the Kagero class warships were custom-tailored for offensive surface actions, the lead ship’s wartime career consisted mainly of escort or transport operations. Before she was sunk Kagero did participate in several major surface battles, but her role was almost always limited to escorting aircraft carriers or carrying troops and supplies for the Imperial Army. It was during one of such operations that Kagero became part of one of the most famous actions involving IJN destroyers.
Initially Kagero was assigned escort duties in support of the Japanese Kido Butai, the Mobile Force, or the Combined Fleet’s carrier strike force. It quickly became apparent that the pre-war concepts of huge battleship engagements needed urgent revision. The commander of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, was a fervent supporter of carrier aviation and considered battleships to be relics of the past. Isoroku’s plan was an attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor using a strike force consisting of aircraft carriers. Kagero was among the escort vessels supporting the force of six aircraft carriers that launched their deadly attack against Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Japanese had good reasons to celebrate: most of the Pacific Fleet battleships were either sunk or severely damaged in the attack. The USN aircraft carriers escaped the slaughter, but at least for now the core of the U.S. fleet was neutralized allowing the Empire to invade the Philippines, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.
After the return from Hawaii Lt Cdr Yokoi stepped down as the ship’s commanding officer due to poor health (he died in April 1943) and was replaced by Lt Cdr Arimoto Terumichi. In January the destroyer escorted IJN aircraft carriers on their way to Truk. She then supported aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku during attacks on Lae and Salamua (New Guinea), as well as a strike on the Australian naval base at Rabaul (New Britain) The Japanese attacks were almost unopposed, which led one of Japan’s leading naval aviators, Lt Cdr Fuchida Mitsuo to comment on the use of aircraft carriers in the engagement as “a waste of time”.
In late January and early 1942 Kagero was assigned escort duties for aircraft carrier Shikaku during her transit from Truk back to Japan. Upon arrival the destroyer took part in a series of exercises and combat patrols in Japan’s home waters. In March she joined destroyers Arare and Akigumo as escort for aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku during their transit to Celebes. The ships then joined the carrier strike force steaming out to the Indian Ocean in order to engage the British Eastern Fleet and strike targets on Ceylon in support of the Imperial Army operations in Burma. The Japanese attack, led by the mighty Kido Butai, resulted in the sinking of the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and two heavy cruisers. British shipping and air assets in the area also suffered heavy losses, while the Japanese force remained largely intact.
Following the operations in the Indian Ocean, Kagero returned to Japan where she underwent a refit and repairs. She then took part in the ill-fated battle of Midway, although her role was limited to escorting the Japanese Midway Invasion Force. Following her return to Japan Kagero was once more deployed on a series of escort missions, including protection for freighter Kikukawa Maru during her passage to the recently captured Kiska Island in the Aleutians. On June 20 Kagero was assigned to Desdiv 15 joining destroyers Hayashio, Kuroshio and Oyashio.
After the U.S. invasion of Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942 the Salomon Islands became the central stage of the Pacific theater. The capture of the island’s airfield by the U.S. Marines sparked a six-month campaign of relentless fighting for that tiny scrap of land. During that period there were also several naval surface engagements between the American and Japanese fleets, with neither side being able to secure a decisive victory. However, from the very beginning the U.S. air advantage had been growing steadily. It is rather ironic that Kagero, custom-built for night-time engagements and torpedo attacks, was used in the fighting in a transport role. The Japanese use of fast destroyers in re-supply missions for the island’s garrison was quickly nick-named by the Americans “Tokyo Express”. In all fairness, the fast destroyer re-supply missions were mostly very successful, but this was not the intended role of those warships.