The last Japanese capital ships built in UK
The Kongo class were started as battlecruisers on paper back in 1911, and these were the last built in the United Kingdom. That habit that started in 1890 and then continued after the success of Tsushima ended there. These were battle cruisers, a type then at the tip of all expectations in 1912. But these four ships ordered by the Japanese Admiralty in 1911 to various yards, also differed significantly from British equivalents.
In general it was recognised they had a certain resemblance to the three “Princess Royal” built at the same time. The three uneven-sized funnels, square bow and the pointed, tapered stern, the offset C and D turrets, were all similar, as was the relatively weak submarine and overall protection. All four ships were ready on time to see the Great War, but their career had nothing memorable to offer. For more on this, see the WW1 section about these ships.
Hiei at Sasebo NyD 1926
From battlecruiser to fast battleships
Fortunately for the Japanese, the admiralty undertook in 1925 to strengthen this protection. The first two ships, Kongo and Haruna were actually delivered by two British shipyards, launched in 1912 and completed in 1914, with Armstrong guns. But the Hiei and Kirishima were built and completed in Kure, a yard just freshly upgraded with new drydocks capable of housing such massive capital ships, the largest on record. In 1914, when these last two ships were completed, the class was the most impressive lot of the Pacific.
The Americans then had nothing to compete. If their 32 knots top speed and eight 356 mm caliber broadside to 20,000 meters range was not impressive enough their secondary armament was complemented by an impressive barbette battery of 18 cruiser-caliber artillery and a superstructure bristling of quick-firing anti-torpedo boat guns.
Kongo after her first reconstruction
Second reconstruction (1928-31)
From 1928 until 1931, all four ships underwent a thorough reconstruction. It was total and concerned virtually everything from the keel to the masts, propulsion to armament, superstructures to armor. The first priority was to increase armor while taking advantage of the modernization of their propulsion system, using oil for a net gain in internal space. An elongated hull helped to keep speed up despite the tremendous added weight.
In fact, even after a considerable reinforcement of their protection, and nearly 10,000 tons more on the scale, they were still capable of 26 knots, definitely reclassed in the brand new category of “fast battleships”. Later on a second powerplant refit made them regain a top speed of 30,5 knots.
Battleship Haruna in 1934
One of their most characteristic sign after this modernization was their trademark and imposing “pagoda”, a gradual assembly of bridges around the front tripod mast, which remained relatively reasonable in height, mainly for reasons of stability. But this approach also taken by partly modernized battleships of the Queen Elisabeth class went off as three of these battleships superstructures were totally modernized.
Hiei off Tsukugewan on trials, 1938
The Kongo in action
Displacement: 36 600 t. standard -37 187 tonnes fully loaded
Dimensions: 220 m x 30,8 m x 9,7 m fully loaded
Propulsion: 4 propellers, 4 Parsons turbines, 11 boilers, 136 600 hp, top speed 30,5 knots, range 15,000 Km/26 knots
Armour: Belt 279 mm, turrets 227 mm, ammunition wells 101 mm, citadel 254 mm.
Armament: 8 x 356 mm (4×2), 16 x 152 mm barbettes, 8 x 127 mm AA, 118 x 25 mm Type 96 AA, 8 x 533 mm TTs, 3 Nakajima seaplanes.
Kirishima in 1944