Throughout the development of the Imperial Japanese Navy, it was closely associated with the Royal Navy. By the start of the 19th century Japan and Great Britain had entered into an alliance. By and large many RN officers considered the Japanese Navy officers as younger brothers. It was only natural that many of the early warships of the Japanese Navy should be built in Great Britain before Japan developed her own infrastructure for large warship construction. In many regards Japanese designs tended to match contemporary British designs, especially in the area of destroyers. Japanese destroyers built during World War One were very similar to British designs. All of this changed in 1922. When the Washington Conference on Naval Disarmament met in late 1921, one of the conditions set by the United States to any treaty was an end to the Anglo-Japanese alliance. This was agreed upon and Japan felt that she had received the short end of the stick. She had lost Great Britain as friend and had been denied parity in numbers with the Royal Navy and United States Navy. A shift in design priorities occurred.
Instead of developing warship designs of qualities similar to western designs, Japanese construction priorities would emphasize the need to have all Japanese designs to exceed the combat qualities of contemporary western designs. As Japan built heavy cruisers that exceeded maximum displacement under the Washington Treaty, she also developed a new series of destroyers that really shocked naval officers in the RN and USN when they appeared. The last of the older Japanese designs was the Mutsuki class laid down from 1924 to 1926. Displacing 1,315-tons standard, 1,772-tons full load, and mounting four 4.7-inch guns, this design was similar to British and American designs. Before the last of the Mutsuki class was laid down on November 27, 1926, the first of a new, revolutionary design was laid down on June 19, 1926.
On that day the keel for the Fubuki was laid down at the Kosakubu Yard. This ship was called the Special Type and special it certainly was. The Fubuki clearly outclassed all existing destroyer types around the world by a wide margin. It wasn’t just the displacement which leaped upwards by more than 400 tons. The Fubuki displaced 1,750-tons standard and was 50-feet longer than the preceding Mutsuki class. The most startling characteristic of the new design was the very heavy armament. Six 5-inch guns were carried in three twin, enclosed mounts. These were the first enclosed gun-mounts ever carried by a destroyer. The actual guns were the 1914 pattern 5-inch/50. In marked contrast the latest British designs, the Amazon and Ambuscade, carried the standard four 4.7-inch guns in open mounts with just gun shields. This armament, puny in comparison the Fubuki was further handicapped by the open mounts in that the closed Japanese mounts "weatherized" the gun crew from heavy seas. The comparison with the latest USN design was even more lop-sided as the USN’s newest was the already obsolescent Flush Deck Four Pipers, which had only three 4-inch guns with only three on a broadside.
An even greater discrepancy was in the realm of torpedo armament in that the British designs carried six 21-inch torpedoes with no reloads. In the new "Special Type" the Japanese destroyer greatly exceeded the combat power of the contemporary British destroyer. As with gun power, the Japanese design carried 50% greater armament in terms of numbers with nine tubes instead of six. When it came to gun armament the Japanese Fubuki class had slightly larger guns with 5-inch compared with 4.7-inch.
However, when it came to the torpedoes, the Japanese mounts were the new, deadly, 24-inch model, subsequently improved with the oxygen propelled "Long Lance" model. Actually it was the Mutsuki class that had introduced the three tube 24-inch torpedo and it was only after the introduction of oxygen propulsion to these large torpedoes that they acquired their phenomenal range. The existence of these weapons and their characteristics was kept a secret. Only during combat of World War Two would the allied navies learn to their sorrow how much superior these torpedoes were over allied models. To further enhance the combat effectiveness of this remarkable design, nine reloads were also carried, allowing the type to execute two full salvos of these battle-winning weapons. The initial design called for one 3-inch, two single Vickers 40mm and two 7.7mm machine guns for anti-aircraft protection.
With this greatly enhanced armament, even with the large jump in displacement over Mutsuki class, something else had to give in order to fit all of the armament into the design. With the Mutsuki the maximum speed was 37.25-knots with 38,500shp. The Fubuki increased power to 50,000shp but in spite of a 40% greater horsepower, the increased displacement only allowed a top speed of 35-knots in the design. However, maximum trial speed is a very unreliable figure, as speed is the first characteristic to fall off in actual operational conditions. Four Kampon-type RO boilers provided steam for the two shafts turned by Kampon geared impulse turbines. Range was 5,000nm at 14-knots, which was 1,000nm greater than the preceding Mutsuki ships. The first of the class to be laid down was Fubuki on June 19, 1926. Twenty of the Fubuki class were ordered and they were built over a five year period.
Given the length of the build run, changes were made to the design, which changed not only capabilities but also outward appearance. The initial ten units, numbered 35 through 44, had Type A gun houses for the five-inchers. These guns had a 40 degrees elevation maximum. Additionally large ventilator cowlings were placed around the funnels. These ten also had less elaborate and smaller fire control fittings atop the bridge. Starting with Ayanami the appearance changed. The brass had wanted dual-purpose main guns and a 40-degree maximum elevation was insufficient. As a consequence a new pattern gun house was developed. The Type B gun house had a maximum elevation of 75-degrees. In theory this would make them DP capable but operationally such was not the case. The mounts had a slow training rate and although suitable for the aircraft of the late 1920s and early 1930s, they could not keep up with the faster aircraft of the 1940s. To accompany the new gun mounts new gun control fittings were installed atop the bridge. These were more elaborate and larger and as a consequence the revised design added a level atop the bridge. The ventilator cowlings were modified to a smaller design. Numbers 45 through 54 received these modifications. The last four units (51 through 54) were a sub-variant of this type. A new higher-pressure boiler was installed that allowed for a reduction from four boilers to three. This in turn allowed for a thinner forward funnel. Also during construction the Vickers 40mm guns and 7.7mm MGs were deleted and two 13.2mm added, although they still carried the 7.7mm guns until sufficient 13.2mm guns were available.
The Ayanami was the first unit to receive the new gun mount, revised ventilators and additional level on the superstructure. She was laid down at the Fujinagata Yard on January 20, 1928, launched October 5, 1929 and commissioned April 30, 1930. Shields were added to the torpedo mounts in 1932. The Fubuki design did pack a huge offensive punch into their displacement but this came at a cost. In common with many Japanese designs, safety margins were paper-thin with designers sailing as close to the wind as possible. The ships were lightly built to save weight and had a high center of gravity because of top weight, which only was aggravated with the additional level added to the Ayanami units’ bridge. This was not evident at first but on March 1934 another of the designs which used minimal safety margins capsized due to the inadequacy of her design. The torpedo boat Tomozuru was only three weeks from completion when she turned turtle in heavy weather during trials. The design had used similar tolerances and margins with the Fubuki and other Japanese designs. Suddenly from having a fleet of wonder ships, the Japanese Admirals wondered if they had a fleet of possible turtles. Every design was revisited and the safety margins recalculated in light of the after action reports on the loss of Tomozuru. This re-examination was only hastened when fleet exercises hit a typhoon in July 1935. Two of the new destroyers lost their bows, three received severe structural damage and another five received other damage. All of this was attributed to the lightness of construction of the vessels.
Between 1937 and 1938 all of the Fubuki class were sent to the yards for a weight reduction and hull strengthening regimen. Bridge and funnels were cut down in height, magazine capacity reduced and oil bunker capacity increased to not only reduce top-weight but to shift some of the weight to the lower hull for a further increase of stability. Torpedo reload capacity was also reduced and eight units replace their main armament for lighter mounts. To remedy the hull weakness of the type demonstrated by the 1935 typhoon damage, with additional riveting and new welding. In spite of the efforts to reduce weight, all of the changes actually increased weight to 2,090-tons, which in turn reduced top speed by a knot. However, the center of gravity was now much lower with the ships far more stable and these changes did solve the initial errors of their design. The oxygen propelled "Long Lance" variant of the 24-inch torpedo was also supplied to the ships during their times in the yard.
In 1937 the Fubuki class received two new design twin 25mm AA cannon. It was in this appearance that the ships entered the Second World War. The bulk of the class was in the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, divided into a number of divisions. Ayanami, along with Uranami, Isonami and Shikinami were in the 19th Division. The 3rd Flotilla had the mission of supporting operations against Malaya, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies. After these conquests the division formed part of the raid into the Indian Ocean in April. After the Battle of Midway, the 19th Division was transferred to the 1st Fleet.. In August 19th Division was escorting the carriers of Admiral Nagumo supporting operations into Guadalcanal. It was here that Ayanami would enter the climatic battle of the Solomons campaign and not return.
On August 7, 1942 the USN initiate their first offensive in the Pacific. Until this time they had been reacting to Japanese moves. However, reconnaissance had spotted the construction of a Japanese airfield on one of the islands of the middle Solomons. If it was completed, an airfield on Guadalcanal would further pinch the extended supply lines from the US to New Zealand and Australia. It was decided to take Guadalcanal before the airfield could be completed. This triggered a grueling six-month campaign for the island in which the USN ruled the day and the IJN ruled the night. After months of fighting in which so many ships on both sides were sunk that the stretch of water of the northern coast of Guadalcanal was called "Iron Bottom Sound" the climax really came in November 1942 in two night battles in the course of three days. The first of these came early on Friday the 13th in which the USN crippled and then sank the battleship Hiei but took a beating themselves and lost two admirals. After that battle the cupboard was bare for cruisers for the US. They still had destroyers but cruisers were under repair from the previous fighting. Until then the USN had not committed battleships into the confined waters of the slot. However, to counter any other edition of the Tokyo Express, battleships were the only game in town. The Japanese did indeed follow up two nights later and as part of this force was the Ayanami.
At 2210 14 November the Japanese force under Admiral Kondo was approaching in three groups. The heavy bombardment group had Kirishima, Atago, and Takao. Running interference was the screening group with light cruiser Nagara and six destroyers. There was a third Sweeping Unit with light cruiser Sendai and three destroyers, including Ayanami. At that time the advanced Sweeping Unit sighted what they thought were two USN cruisers and four destroyers. They were right about the destroyers but in serious error about the cruisers. These two were in reality the battleships USS Washington and USS South Dakota. The Sweeping Unit split into two parts with Ayanami and Uranami sweeping south around the southern coast of Savo Island while Sendai and Shikinami continued eastward north of Savo and the US forces. Kondo now had four separate units when he ordered the entire force to attack. The intent was to confuse the Americans and strike at different angles. The Nagara group would follow Ayanami south of Savo. It wasn’t until 2252 that Washington’s radar picked up any Japanese warships, which were Sendai and Shikinami. At 2316 Admiral Lee ordered his battleships to open fire on these two ships, as his destroyers still had not acquired the targets. When the first salvos splashed near Sendai, she and her destroyer laid smoke and doubled back to the north.
The US destroyers were still looking for this group when USS Walke spotted the Ayanami and Uranami sneaking along the Savo coastline from the south. Walke, followed shortly by Benham and Preston opened fire at the Ayanami force at 2322. Gwin on the other hand spotted the Nagara force and opened up on them. At 2330 Ayanami and Uranami unleashed their Long Lances. Eight minutes later, these found their victims. Walke was hit forward and her bow disappeared all the way to the bridge. Benham was also hit in the bow and although it too was gone, the damage to the ship was not as catastrophic as that on Walke. Gwin was being beat up by gunfire from the Nagara force in their unequal duel. The Washington radar had trouble painting the various Japanese ships because the bulk of Savo Island was behind them. Nonetheless, her secondary batteries were blazing away and Ayanami was their target. Ayanami started to receive hits from Washington’s 5-inch guns and soon was in dire condition.
At 2336 Gwin was abandoned because of uncontrollable fires and at 2342 Walke went under, while Benham, minus her bow was limping from the scene. Lee on Washington saw that his destroyer screen was now combat ineffective and at 2348 ordered them to retire. This order really only covered Preston, as Benham was already crawling away, to sink the next day, and Walke and Gwin were already gone. South Dakota had power failure and when it was restored couldn’t find Washington as she was in a blind spot and communications were out. However, the Japanese main force found South Dakota and flooded her in searchlight beams at 5,000 yards. South Dakota received numerous hits in the superstructure but the unspotted Washington opened up on Kirishima, hitting the Japanese battleship with at least fourteen 16-inch shells. South Dakota, out of communication, retired, so by 0020 Washington was alone. Five minutes later Kondo ordered a withdrawal, ending the battle, except for the removal of the crew from the mortally wounded Kirishima. For the burning Ayanami, it became obvious that the ship could not be saved. After transferring her crew to the Uranami, the ship was scuttled.
The Skywave Ayanami
Main "A" Sprue
At the tip of the bow are two base plates for the jack staff followed immediately behind with two recessed deck hawse for the anchor chain. These hawse have raised lips on the outside perimeter. Molded on anchor chain runs to the anchor windlass before reversing course to run forward to fittings, which guided the chain into the anchor wells. At the juncture of the all-metal deck with the linoleum deck is the raised circular base for A turret. There are a number of fittings between A turret and the base of the bridge. These include four round ventilators, an access plate and two winches. On each side of the bridge the non-skid deck makes a reappearance but only along the deck edges. At the aft end there is a U-shaped cutout where the deck continued for a short distance along the sides with the forward funnel rising upwards at the cutout. Additionally the forecastle has the obligatory twin bollard fittings, as well as fitting base plates around the superstructure. The long main deck continues with the linoleum panels but there is a long thin deckhouse upon which are the bases for both funnels and the base for the first torpedo mount. There is a low gentle trunk rising from this deckhouse leading into the rear of the first funnel.
At the aft end of the deckhouse are reload positions for the second torpedo mount. Where this deckhouse ends the two aft torpedo mounts are placed, separated by a small deckhouse upon which was placed a torpedo fire control station. The metal crosshatched deck is again found here. To the aft of the third torpedo mount as another short deck house, which serves as a reload position for the third torpedo mount, as well as the base for the superfiring X turret. This deckhouse six bulkheads as the rear face forms a shallow V with short inward slanted bulkheads connecting the side bulkheads with the rear bulkhead. The base for Y turret is found just aft of the deckhouse. There is an abundance of deck fittings found to the rear of Y mount. Most of them are access panels and ventilators but there are two additional deck winches. The very stern is another all-metal cross hatched deck with twin depth charge base rails extending outboard over the stern, a stern anchor lying between the depth charge railing and more access plates. Of course there are more deck edge bollards. Although dominated by the hull and deck parts, this sprue also includes the first of many options found for this ship. I say options but it really isn’t. Multiple parts are found for various positions but the selection of which parts to use is entirely dependent upon the ship and year of fit that you are building.
Weapons "B" Sprue
This sprue concentrates on torpedo mounts and AA guns. A lot of these parts are not used in the 1942 Ayanami. As an example there are ten triple 25mm mounts but this ship never survived to receive any of these. They are used in other kits with a later war fit. Two quadruple torpedo mounts are found but again the Fubuki class did not have these. Instead the three triple mounts found on this sprue are used. All of these mounts have the protective housing added after completion. Four twin turrets are found here, as well as individual barrels with blast bags. However, these turrets are used for other destroyer kits in the Skywave line. Five twin 25mm guns are here but only two are used for Ayanami. Twelve single 25mm guns are found, so you’ll have a host of additional parts to spruce up the kits from other manufacturers, which lack this weapon. This is the hallmark of Skywave, completeness. Other parts found on this sprue are cable reels, ensign staff, jack staff, ship’s boats, depth charge racks, boat & depth charge davits, depth charge throwers, ammunition ready boxes, identification lights, searchlight & platform and other assorted parts, only some of which are used on the Ayanami.
Superstructure Fittings "C" Sprue
This sprue concentrates on superstructure parts. Various bridge levels are found here but again not all are used for the Ayanami. Stacks come in two pieces and the fret has the narrow first stack found in the last four units of the class as well as the two funnels used for Ayanami. The modified ventilator cowling found at the base of each stack are on the sprue. Stack caps come in two patterns, as well as a small cap for the small funnel in the last four of the series. Mast parts for the various fits are included, as well as a stove-pipe. This sprue also includes six turrets, barrels and three triple open mount torpedo tube mounts. The three larger turrets and the barrels on this sprue are used for the Ayanami but the torpedo mounts, which lack the crew house, are for the destroyers as completed, not for their World War Two appearances. Other parts are crow’s nest, 25mm platform for the second stack and small dinghy.
Lower Hull "D" Sprue
Decals and Instructions
Skywave has produced a superb destroyer kit. As part of their total coverage of Japanese destroyer designs of World War Two, the Skywave Ayanami presents the second series Fubuki "Special Type" destroyer in her early war appearance. The Skywave Ayanami is available from Bill Gruner of Pacific Front, as well as all of the other Skywave Japanese destroyer kits.