Japan: Aircraft Carriers of the Second World War

Japanese Aircraft Carriers of the Second World War

Heavy carriers

Fleet Carrier Class Type Ships Years in Service Displacement


(IJN Photo)

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Akagi undergoing trials off Iyonada, 17 June 1927. Early in her career, she was fitted with three flight decks; the two lower decks were later plated over in a mid-1930s refit.

(IJN Photo, Kure Maritime Museum)

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Akagi in April, 1942 during the Indian Ocean Raid as seen from an aircraft that has just taken off from her deck. The aircraft on the flight deck preparing for takeoff are Aichi D3A Type 99 dive bombers, 1 April 1942.

(Official U.S. Navy Photo NH 73058 from the U.S. Navy Naval Heritage Command)

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Akagi in Sukumo Bay, southern Shikoku (Japan), on 27 April 1939, following her extensive 1935-38 modernization.

(U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation Photo No. NH 73059)

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Akagi, summer of 1941.

Aircraft carrier Akagi (1927–1942), 36,500 tonnes. Converted from an Amagi-class battlecruiser. Sunk at Midway on 5 June 1942.


(Yamato Museum Photo)

The Imperial Japanese Navy Carrier Kaga, after her massive refitting. Its smokestack is directed downwards to extinguish the smoke with seawater.

Aircraft carrier Kaga (1928–1942), 38,200 tonnes. Converted from a Tosa-class battleship. Sunk at Midway on 4 June 1942.

Soryu- class

(Photo from the Archives of the Kure Maritime Museum)

Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Soryu rushed on trials, Tateyama, Chiba Prefecture.

Aircraft carrier Soryu (1937–1942). Soryu took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Wake Island, and supported the conquest of the Dutch East Indies. She was sunk at Midway on 4 June 1942.

(U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph Donation of Kazutoshi Hando, 1970, Photo NH 73063)

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Hiryū running her speed trials, 28 April 1939.

(Photo from the Archives of the Kure Maritime Museum)

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Hiryu in Yokosuka naval port.

Hiryū (1939–1942), 16,200 tonnes. Hiryū is often considered to be a separate class. Sunk at Midway on 5 June 1942.


(U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 73066, donation of Kazutoshi Hando, 1970)

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Shokaku (Japanese Aircraft Carrier, 1941-1944) At Yokosuka, 23 August 1941, shortly after she was completed.

Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighters onboard IJN aircraft carrier Zuikaku, 1942.

(IJN Photo)

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Zuikaku, November 1941.

Zuikaku (1941–1944, )25,675 tonnes. With the exception of the Battle of Midway, Shokaku and Zuikaku participated in every major naval action of the Pacific War, including the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Indian Ocean Raid, the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the Guadalcanal Campaign. Both carriers were sunk during the 1944 Pacific campaigns.


(Yamato Museum Photo)

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Unryu leaving Yokosuka, 16 July 1944.

Aircraft carriers Unryu (1944–1944), Amagi (1944–1945), Katsuragi (1944–1945), 17,480 tonnes. The design for these ships was based on the aircraft carrier Hiryu. The IJN planned to build 16 ships, however only 3 were completed and 2 almost completed (one of which was sunk as a target then salvaged and later scrapped) before the project was abandoned in favour of Shinano's construction. Unryū was sunk by the USS Redfish, Amagi capsized after air attacks and Katsuragi was the only heavy carrier to survive the war.

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Katsuragi.

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photo, 80-G-485841)

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Kasagi, 84% complete. Construction stopped on 1 April 1945. Scrapped between 1 September 1946 – 31 December 1947.


(IJN Photo)

IJMS Taiho anchored in Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines, May 1944.

Aircraft carrier Taiho (1944–1944), 30,250 tonnes. A slight break from the traditional Japanese carrier designs, Taiho was a heavily armoured carrier expected to withstand multiple bombs and torpedo strikes. However, design faults and poor damage control allowed it to be sunk with one torpedo from the USS Albacore on 19 June 1944.


(Collection of Kure Maritime History Science Museum, Photo)

Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano underway during her sea trials, 11 November 1944.

Aircraft carrier Shinano (1944–1944), 65,800 tonnes. Initially laid down as the third of the Yamato-class battleships, Shinano was converted into an aircraft carrier due to the Japanese defeat at Midway. She was sunk on 29 November 1944, by torpedoes from USS Archerfish.

Light Aircraft Carriers


(Kure Maritime Museum Photo)

Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Hōshō conducts tests in Tokyo Bay in December 1922.

Light aircraft carrier Hosho (1922–1945), 7,470 tonnes. This was the first purpose-built carrier in the world. It was scrapped in 1946.


(Photo from the Archives of the Kure Maritime Museum)

The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Ryūjō underway on 6 September 1934.

Ryujo (1931–1942), 8,000 tonnes. Sunk in 1942.


(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photo, 80-G-701429)

IJN Junyo, in Ebisu Bay, Sasebo, 25 September 1945.

(AGC-7, 80-G-352473)

IJN Junyo, in Ebisu Bay, Sasebo, 25 September 1945.

Light aircraft carriers Hiyo (1942–1944), and Jun'yo (1942–1946), 24,150 tonnes. Converted from an ocean liner in 1939. Hiyō was sunk and Jun'yō was scrapped 1946–1947.


Japanese aircraft carrier Zuihō at Yokosuka, Japan, on 28 December 1940.

(IJN Photo)

Japanese aircraft carrier Zuihō at Yokosuka, Japan, on 28 December 1940.

Light aircraft carrier Zuiho

(1940–1944), sunk during the war.

(IJN Photo)

Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō, 20 December 1941.

Shoho (1939–1942), 11,443 tonnes. Shōhō was the first Japanese aircraft carrier lost during the Second World War.


(IJN Photo)

Japanese aircraft carrier Chitose.

Light aircraft carrier Chitose (1938/1944–1944), Chiyoda (1938/1944–1944), 11,200 tonnes. Both ships were seaplane tenders before their conversion in 1943. Both ships were sunk in 1944.


(IJN Photo)

Japanese aircraft carrier Ryūhō, 1942.

Light aircraft carrier Ryuho (1934/1942–1945), 16,700 tonnes. Converted from the submarine tender Taigei 1941–1942. Recommissioned as Ryūhō 1942. Scrapped 1946.

Escort Carrier Taiyo-class


Escort carrier Taiyo (1941–44), Chuyo (1942–43), Unyo (1942–44), 17,830 tonnes. All were sunk during the war.



Escort carrier Kaiyo (1943–1945), 13,600 tonnes. Converted from ocean liner Argentina Maru. Scrapped in 1946.


Aircraft carrier Shinyo.JPG

Escort carrier Shin'yo (1943–1944), 17,500 tonnes.

Akitsu Maru-class


Escort carriers Akitsu Maru (1942–1944), and Nigitsu Maru (1942–1944), 11,800 tonnes. Operated by the Imperial Japanese Army. These were the worlds' first Amphibious Assault ships.

Shimane Maru-class


Escort carrier Shimane Maru (1945–1945), 11,989 tonnes.

Yamashio Maru-class


Escort carrier Yamashio Maru (1945–1945)16,119 tonnes.

Kumano Maru-class


Escort carrier Kumano Maru (1945–1945), 8,258 tonnes. Operated by Imperial Japanese Army.

Seaplane Tender Nisshin-class

Seaplane tender Nisshin (1942–1943), 11,499 tonnes. Also a midget submarine carrier and minelayer. Nisshin was built at Kure Naval Arsenal as part of the (1937), she was originally planned as a minelayer but ultimately converted to a hybrid seaplane carrier/minelayer design, albeit the optional 700 mines reduced her seaplane complement from 20 to 12. Her seaplane operations were also hindered by the reduced number of catapults, 2 instead of 4 like in the Chitose class and Mizuho. Her armament was downgraded to three 14 cm/50 double mounts, but her diesel propulsion system was greatly enhanced compared to Mizuho, giving her more than twice the horse powers and allowing for a maximum speed of 28 knots. While she was launched in 1939 it took three more years before her formal completion because it was decided to modify her in order to carry 12 Type A midget submarines, like in the case of the mines this configuration halved her seaplane complement.Nisshin fst combat deployment was the Battle of Midway, where she was supposed to deploy her Type A midget submarines, together with Chiyoda, in order to reinforce the landing forces, but this never came to be. From 3 October 1942 she started doing runs, her high speed, large range and cranes capable of unloading heavy equipment like artillery pieces and tanks made her very valuable for this kind of missions (her half-sister Chitose was also part of the Tokyo Express for the same reasons). It was during one of such runs that Nisshin was sunk by American aircrafts in the Bougainville Strait on 22 July 1943; she was transporting troops, tanks, artillery pieces, food and fuel for the troops fighting the Americans at Buin (Shortland islands) but her anchorage position was discovered by the Americans thanks to decrypted communications and an elaborately planned ambush was prepared for her. The first attack by B-17 (13:45) was successfully evaded with Nisshin reaching up to 34 knots during her manoeuvring, but the second wave (13:53) of dive bombers managed to hit her three times, on her second turret, on the forward end of the aircraft deck starting a fire and most importantly inside her hangar deck that was opened at the time in preparation of off-loading operations. As result of these hits her electric power was cut, speed more than halved and her rudder was jammed, still some countermeasures were taken in time and the rudder was recovered. Just after some more minutes the third wave of American aircrafts hit her again twice (13:59) striking the port sides amidships, tearing a large hole in the deck and blowing through the bottom. Nisshin kept moving but she started listing visibly to starboard and settling rapidly by the bow, one last 6th bomb hit her starboard side amidships and accelerated her listing. Nisshin's gunners showed remarkable courage, manning their guns to the very end, until they were washed away from their positions. At 14:05 Nisshin disappeared under the sea, Captain Ito, his XO Tanaka Eichu and Chief Engineer Cdr. Terada Torao went down with her, only seven officers and eighty men of her crew escaped and despite the best efforts of Nisshin's crew just 91 soldiers out of 630 on board survived, in total 1085 lives were lost; her accompanying destroyers already loaded with evacuated soldiers couldn't spare more than two hours in search of survivors.

Kamikawa Maru-class

Kamikawa Maru

Seaplane tenders Kamikawa Maru (1937–1943), Kiyokawa Maru (1941–1946), (1937–1944), Kunikawa Maru (1937–1945), 6,862 tonnes. Hirokawa Maru of the same class was converted to an auxiliary (anti-aircraft) cruiser instead of seaplane tender when it was impressed for Navy service.


Akitsushima in 1942

Seaplane tender Akitsushima (1942–1944), 4,725 tonnes.


Kamoi in 1937

Seaplane tender Kamoi (1922-1947), 17,273 tonnes.


Notoro in 1943

Seaplane tender Notoro (1934-1947)15,647 tonnes. Of 7 oilers in class, Notoro was converted to seaplane tender and Shiretoko to munition ship.


Seaplane tender Mizuho (1939-1942), 10,930 tonnes. Also served as a midget submarine carrier. The American submarine USS Drum torpedoed Mizuho at 23:03 hours on 1 May 1942 40 nautical miles (74 kilometres) off Omaezaki, Japan. She capsized and sank at 04:16 hours on 2 May 1942 with the loss of 101 lives. There were 472 survivors, of which 31 were wounded.

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