The Japanese Cruiser Maya

The Japanese Cruiser Maya

Following the defeat in the Guadalcanal campaign, at the beginning of 1943, the Navy Technical Department and The High Command of the Imperial Japanese Navy strived to increase the defensive potential of all their warships.

Apart from standard refits of the majority of the Imperial Japanese Navy units, a plan was adopted, which called for reconstruction of two “Takao” class heavy cruisers into anti-aircraft units. Through a coincidence only the Maya underwent such conversion. This publication shows the cruiser in her anti-aircraft configuration and briefly describes her career.
In March 1927, the Japanese government appropriated the budget of 261.31 million yen (in 1928, the rate of exchange was $1=2.3 yen) for the five-year New Warship-Building Replenishment Program, which called for construction of 27 warships. Within the allocated funds, the amount of 113.48 million yen would be spent on construction of four heavy cruisers of a new class (A-class). These ships would be built in compliance with the limitations of the Washington Treaty signed in 1922. The units, with displacement of 10.000 t (long ton=Imperial ton=1016.05 kg), were an improved version of the previous “Myōkō” class design. They were assigned provisional designations from No.9 to No.12. However, according to plan, the construction of the first two vessels would begin in 1927, with the other pair to follow the next year. On September 11, 1928, vessel No.11 was given the name Maya after the mountain located in the vicinity of the city where her construction would commence. The keel was finally laid down on December 11, 1928, in a private shipyard of the Kawasaki Dockyard Company Ltd. in Kobe. It was eight months behind  schedule due to the bankruptcy of the company. The construction began with the endorsement and protection of the Navy. The ceremonial launching took place on November 8, 1930, and was attended by a crowd of 30 thousand spectators. The fitting-out work followed. On April 4, 1932, during a speed trial in the Kii Strait (separating the islands of Honshu and Shikoku), the ship attained the maximum speed of 35 knots, with the displacement of 12.175 t.

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Operational history
Period before the outbreak of World War II

The cruiser was accepted by a naval commission on June 30, 1932, and registered at the Yokosuka Naval Station. She was maintained as the first reserve ship, so that her crew would undergo training. On December 1, 1932, all four “Takao” class units were assigned to the 4th Cruiser Division (Sentai 4) of the Second Fleet (Kantai 2) as replacement of the “Myōkō” class cruisers. In 1933, ships of the Squadron participated in gunnery exercises, took part in Special Great Manoeuvres and in the Naval Review off Yokohama. On September 12, cruiser Maya was dry-docked at Yokosuka. During the overhaul, the wireless equipment was replaced, new secondary battery directors were mounted and improvements were made to the main battery command installation. Huge air intakes were installed in the rear section of the bridge tower. The work on the 4th Squadron vessels was completed on February 2, 1934, and on the same day they left Tokyo Bay, heading for the area off Kyushu for a two-month training. By the end of October, the Squadron returned to Yokosuka for refitting. Their steering gear installation was improved, which in the case of the Maya lasted from October 22 until December 20. At that time the ship received, a new, three-seat Kawanishi E7K1 “Alf” reconnaissance floatplane. In March-April, 1935, the Squadron operated in the waters of the East China Sea. In August-September, the 4th Cruiser Squadron again participated in Great Manoeuvres. On December 1, the Maya and the Takao were again assigned to the 4th Cruiser Squadron of the Second Fleet, and the former became the Squadron’s flagship. The ship received new, two-seat Nakajima E8N1 “Dave” reconnaissance floatplanes, which replaced the E4N2 ones. In the period between March 27 and April 6, 1937, both cruisers left Sasebo and, as part of a routine training, headed for mainland China. Due to the fighting in Shanghai, since August 20, the cruiser Maya, along with the 5th Cruiser Squadron and lighter units took part in the redeployment of the troops from Nagoya to Chusan Islands (at present Zhoushan, China). Between December 8, 1937, and January 14, 1938, the Maya was slightly modified at Yokosuka. Her donkey boiler installation was replaced, cruising modification on four shafts was adopted, the foremast was shortened, searchlights replaced by new, stronger ones and light anti-aircraft artillery was replaced. Both Chōkai and Maya were scheduled to undergo a similar refit as their sister ships from January 1941. However, since the preparations for war had already begun and the ships had to be ready in June 1941, the modernization program for them was cancelled on November 15, 1940. Between March 11-28, the ships participated in warlike manoeuvres off southern Kyushu and returned to Yokosuka on March 30. All the units of the Division were dry-docked; in the case of Maya, this took place from April 2 until 10, at the Yokohama shipyard. It is possible, that following the refit, the cruiser, similarly to other units of the class, took part in manoeuvres, sailing around Kyushu and Shikoku. Maya was again dry-docked, between September 2 and 9, at Kure, where she was stationed with Chōkai, being prepared for war. The characteristic degaussing cables may have been installed on both units at that time. On November 5, final war preparations had begun and the ships started loading stores, fuel and ammunition. Then they sailed to their respective staging bases. The cruiser Maya, prepared for war, was at Hashirajima anchorage in Kure, awaiting orders. On November 12, she was joined by her sister ship Atago and on November 25, both units steamed to Saeki, arriving there on November 27. They were joined by the cruiser Takao. Two days later, the ships left the bay and headed for Mako, where they arrived on December 2. On that day, commander of the Second Fleet, Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondō, who became the commander of the South Area Force, hoisted his flag on the Takao. While stationed there, the ships received the order, transmitted from the high command of the Combined Fleet, which set the date of the attack against the Allied forces on December 8 (Japan time). The objective of the South Area Force was to reinforce and secure the invasion of Malaya and the Philippines (M and L Operations). The cruiser Maya was attached to the main force, however, on December 4, the cruiser detached and headed back to Mako. Three days later, she joined Vice Admiral Ibō Takahashi’s Third Fleet, the Philippine Seizure Force.

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 The war, December 1941 to July 1942

The cruiser Maya left the Pescadores on December 7 with a portion of the Japanese forces and covered the landings at Aparri and Vigan in northern Philippines on December 10-11. In the morning of December 10, west of Luzon, the ships were attacked by five Consolidated PBY-4 Catalina flying boats. U.S. planes scored no hits. Maya returned to Mako on December 14 and five days later, with units of the Philippine Seizure Force, she escorted the convoy and on December 22, supported the landing in the Lingayen Gulf. She returned to the Pescadores the next day. The ship put to sea again on December 31, to cover the Third Malaya Convoy. She returned to base on January 4, 1942. On January 18, Maya joined Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondō’s forces and until mid-February formed a long-distance escort of the invasion force attacking the Dutch East Indies. In the meantime, on January 21-28, she escorted a convoy to Davao on Mindanao, Philippines. On February 16, Maya and Takao left Palau and headed for the Moluccan Sea and Banda, to provide a distant cover for Japanese aircraft carriers which attacked Port Darwin, Australia on February 19. Since February 25, a force including Takao, Atago, Maya and two destroyers of the 4th Destroyer Division headed for the area near the Dutch harbour of Tijlatjap at the southern coast of Java. Their objective was to protect the invasion forces and eliminate the Allied ABDA naval forces.

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The invasion began on March 1, and on that day Vice Admiral Kondō’s forces sank first enemy ships, Dutch motorship Toradja and British auxiliary minesweeper HMS Scott Harley. The next day, the cruiser Maya along with the destroyers sank an old British destroyer HMS Stronghold, spotted earlier by reconnaissance floatplanes. Maya expended as many as 653 203.2 mm shells to send her to the bottom. The surrender of Allied forces on Java on March 9, marked the end of the first phase of planned Japanese operations, therefore, on March 11, Maya and Takao departed Celebes and headed to their home port of Yokosuka. The ship was refitted by April 14. Small-calibre guns were added and their type and calibre were unified (25 mm). Following the refit, the cruiser Maya headed south of Yokosuka, to Owase Bay. On May 1, the cruiser along with Takao headed for Hiroshima Bay and remained at Hashirajima anchorage in Kure. The ships began training in preparation for a new operation. On May 20, Takao and Maya were attached to the Second Mobile Force under command of Rear Admiral Kakuji Kakuta, which was a part of Vice Admiral Boshirō Hosogaya’s Fifth Fleet. The objective was to attack Dutch Harbor and to invade the Aleutians (AL Operation), in order to divert the American attention from the main objective, which was the capture of Midway (MI Operation). The cruisers left Kure on May 22, and headed towards the north of Honshu, to Ominato naval base, in the Mutsu Bay. They arrived there on May 25.

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They departed two days later with the tankers Fujisan Maru and Nissan Maru, three supply vessels, two destroyers, and headed for Paramushiro in the Kuril Islands, arriving on June 2. On the next day, the entire strike force put to sea. The carrier-based planes were to attack military installations at Dutch Harbor and Unalaska Island. During the operation both cruisers launched their reconnaissance floatplanes to locate U.S. warships reported by returning Japanese planes. The floatplanes failed to find them, but were intercepted by Curtiss P-40 Warhawks stationed on Umnak Island, which in turn were looking for Japanese warships. Two Japanese planes were shot down and two more, heavily damaged, performed emergency landings in the vicinity of their ships. Following the attack on Dutch Harbor, the ships remained in the area. On June 5, Japanese forces were attacked by U.S. bombers and managed to shoot down one of the planes. The force, joined by larger units detached from the forces operating near Midway, protected the landings on Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians. The ships remained in the area until June 20, however, since there was no American opposition, Japanese ships returned to their bases. The cruisers Takao and Maya arrived at Ominato on June 24. Four days later they departed to join a force including aircraft carriers, which secured a second convoy to Kiska. The force remained in the area near the Aleutians between July 4 and 7, then the ships returned to their bases. The cruisers Maya and Takao headed for Hajirashima anchorage and arrived there on July 13. Following the defeat at Midway, where the Japanese lost 4 large aircraft carriers, the Japanese Admiralty made numerous plans to convert battleships and cruisers into aircraft carriers. One of such designs called for the conversion of the “Takao” class and other heavy cruisers into aircraft carriers within nine months. These conversions were to carry about 30 planes, but finally the idea was abandoned.

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August 1942 to December 1942
Due to U.S. landings at Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, the 4th Cruiser Division, along with other units, left Kure on August 11 and headed for Truk. For the first time the ship received a new, three-seat Aichi E13A1 Jake floatplane. On August 20, the KA Operation was launched with the objective to recapture Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Vice Admiral Kondō’s ships left Truk and reinforced Vice Admiral Nagumo’s Third Fleet. For days later, an aerial battle took place, near the eastern coast of the Solomon Islands. A few days before the battle the Americans completed the construction of the airfield at Guadalcanal, which had been started by the Japanese. Therefore, the strategic situation in the area did not look good for the Japanese. The cruiser Maya, along with other units, returned to Truk on September 5. Five days later, warships of the Second and Third Fleet put to sea again and headed south, towards the Solomon Islands. U.S. forces were not engaged and on September 20, the ships were ordered to return to the Carolines, where they arrived on September 23. On October 11, the 4th Cruiser Division left Truk again to support Vice Admiral Nagumo’s forces, which were supposed to defeat U.S. aircraft carriers and support the Guadalcanal offensive. The cruisers Maya and Myōkō, along with light escort units, were assigned to bombard Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, to reduce the risk of attacks by the planes stationed there. The action took place at night of October 15-16. The cruisers fired 450 Type 3 and 462 Type 91 main calibre rounds respectively. On October 26, there was a carrier battle, known as the battle of the Santa Cruz islands.

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