The Japanese 1st Air Fleet, or kido butai, that attacked Pearl Harbor was made up of six aircraft carriers escorted by a full complement of battleships, cruisers, tankers, and destroyers. In the long and bloody war that followed, most of those ships were lost. Among them was the destroyer Isokaze, whose wreckage was recently located.
In 2016, while surveying the World War II Japanese battleship Yamato, which had been located off Japan’s coast in the 1980s, researchers happened upon the wreckage of Isokaze. Revealing the discovery to the public was held off for nearly two years, until after the highly publicized survey of Yamato was complete.
A Tenacious Destroyer
Beyond being a part of the Pearl Harbor striking force, Isokaze also took part in the Battle of Midway and, despite heavy Japanese losses there, survived. She was also present at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which both ended in an American victory.
Through all of the engagements in which she participated, the destroyer was able to sail away. Though she frequently suffered damage, Isokaze was always repaired and returned to battle. Her luck ran out, however, on April 7, 1945, while she steamed towards Okinawa.
Isokaze’s Last Fight
In the days leading up to the Battle of Okinawa, the Imperial Japanese Navy found itself desperate to divide the Allied forces and prevent an invasion of the Japanese home islands. Gathering a powerful fleet of ships led by the battleship Yamato, the IJN launched Operation Ten-Go, a mission that had little promise of any return. The intention was to direct Allied attention away from Okinawa and divert a portion of the American fleet away to be targeted by kamikaze attacks.
The fatal flaw with the plan was that the Japanese vessels involved would have no air support, leaving them completely vulnerable. This was immediately made clear when the diversionary fleet was immediately spotted by US aircraft. Twenty of the 364 crewmen aboard Isokaze were killed and the rest of the crew were forced to abandon their ship. Moments later, fire from the destroyer Yukikaze scuttled the ship.
For more than 70 years, Isokaze remained lost in the waters of the Pacific along with battleship Yamato, destroyers Asashimo, Hamakaze, and Kasumi, and the light cruiser Yahagi, all of which were lost during the battle.
In the spring of 2016, a research team led by Tadaaki Hanato began surveying the area where Yamato had been discovered. Using sonar, they searched the ocean floor, hoping to find signs of other Japanese warships. On their first day, May 28, 2016, their remote sub came across the wreckage of an unidentified ship. Looking at the damage done and the torpedo tubes that were still intact, it was determined that the wreckage was that of Isokaze.