Tools of War: The Fubuki-class Destroyer
In 1928, the Imperial Japanese Navy introduced the Special Type destroyer. With much heavier armament than contemporary destroyers, the Fubuki-class became the new standard for destroyers in navies across the globe.
by Seth Marshall
In 1922, the Washington Naval Treaty was signed by the United States, Great Britain, Italy, France, and Japan. The purpose of the treaty was to put an end to a naval arms race which had sprung up in the wake of the First World War. In an effort to stem the cost of massive shipbuilding programs, the Treaty placed limits on the amount of tonnage and size of capital ships. Battleship construction was limited to a displacement of 35,000 tons and a gun caliber no larger than 16”. Cruisers were limited in displacement to no more than 10,000 tons with no larger than 8” guns. Additionally, the size and tonnage of carriers was limited. While it signed the treaty, Japan was not happy with the results of the treaty, and felt that it restricted their ability to operate in the Pacific.
The end of result of this Treaty for Japan was that it came to the conclusion that since it was restricted in the construction of major capital ships, it would have to make up for this gap in other areas. Japan’s solution was the Special Type destroyer, also known as the Fubuki-class. When the first destroyer was commissioned in 1928, it completely changed the way that navies viewed destroyers. The Fubukis were much more powerful than their contemporaries. Armament consisted of six 5” guns in three dual mounts, three triple torpedo launchers, and two 7.7mm machine guns for anti-aircraft protection. The torpedoes made the Fubukis particularly deadly, as the launchers utilized the Type 93 torpedo, the finest torpedo designed by the Japanese and were more than deadly enough to destroy Allied capital ships. The new destroyer’s guns were also a substantial improvement over previous designs. The 5” guns were larger than older designs, and the dual mounts meant that gun crews would not have to operate exposed to the elements, though with .1 inches of armor, the mounts offered little to no protection. When launched, the Fubuki was 50% more powerful in armament than the preceding Mutsuki-class. Propulsion for the was provided by four boilers driving two geared turbines that made 50,000 shaft horsepower, which translated to 35 knots. Additionally, numerous new design features were incorporated, welding on the hull and lighter alloys used on the structure above the main deck.
To emphasize how the Fubuki measured up against its contemporaries, here is a comparison to the US Navy’s Clemson-class and the Royal Navy’s A-class:
As can be seen above, the Fubuki had a marked advantage in firepower over contemporary destroyers. At the time that the Fubuki-class came into service, the Clemson-class was already obsolete and was under-armed against the Fubuki. The A-class was also out-gunned, though it was a better design than the Clemson and served as a basis for future Royal Navy destroyers. Additionally, the IJN destroyer had the advantage of having much better torpedoes than any other navy at the time.
The IJN’s plans called for 24 Fubuki-class destroyers. These were produced in two groups of ten, the Special Type I and the Special Type II which were distinguished by several technical differences. Type A turret, while the Type II had the Type B turret. The most noticeable difference was that the Type I had the The last four ships that were to be produced featured so many changes from the original design that they were redesignated as the Akatsuki-class. The names of the twenty destroyers were: Fubuki, Hatsuyuki, Miyuki, Murakamo, Shinonome, Usugumo, Isonami, Uranami, Ayanami, Shikinami, Asagiri, Sagiri, Oboro, Akebono, Sazanami, and Ushio.
Despite the advantages of the Fubuki-class, it was not without problems. The design was overweight from the outset, which caused serious stability issues. There were also concerns with the structural integrity of the design. On September 26, 1935, the IJN fleet ran into a typhoon at sea. Two Special Type destroyers lost their bows, three more suffered severe structural damage, and six others had hull damage. As a result, from November 1935 to 1938 all of the Fubuki-class were sent back to the shipyards for hull strengthening and weight reduction. A ballast keel and an additional 40 tons of ballast were added. To lighten the topside of the ship, whose weight was the partial source of instability, a number of measures were taken: the bridge was reduced in size, smoke stacks were shortened, the number of torpedo reloads reduced, and magazine storage for the main guns was reduced. The result of these efforts was that the displacement was increased to 2,090 tons and top speed reduced to 34 knots, but the stability concerns had successfully been addressed. 
During the Pacific War, the Fubukis saw extensive service. For example, the Shikinami, which was assigned to Destroyer Division 19, was responsible for finishing off the cruiser USS Houston at the Battle of Sunda Strait during early 1942, participated in the Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal from November 12-15, 1942, survived the Battle of the Bismarck Sea in 1943, and was finally sunk by the submarine USS Growler on September 12, 1944. Another Fubuki-class, the Amagiri, was the ship responsible for sinking John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 on August 2, 1943. It was later sunk by a mine in the Makassar Strait on April 23, 1944. As the war progressed, surviving Fubukis were modified to increase their survivability. Anti-aircraft armament was increased first to 2 x 13mm twin mounts, then to 2 x 25mm triple mounts, then to even more 25mm triple mounts, with some destroyers apparently being armed with as many as fifteen triple 25mm mounts. Seven of the destroyers were also eventually fitted with No. 22 radars, but the first was not installed on the Yugiri until November 1943, long after the tide of the war had shifted in favor of the Allies. Eighteen of the class were sunk- six to Allied submarines, seven to aerial attack, three to Allied surface ships, and two to mines. Only one of the destroyers, the Ushio, survived the war (another destroyer, the Miyuki, was sunk in a collision in 1934).
The Fubuki-class was a destroyer design that became the blueprint for future designs in the IJN, and also influenced plans in other navies. Fast and heavily armed, the Fubukis performed well in their intended role of making massed torpedo attacks against enemy surface ships. However, when faced with increasing numbers of aircraft and submarines, the Fubukis were not as effective and subsequently nearly all of them were lost. Nonetheless, the Fubuki-class destroyer remains an important milestone in the history of the IJN.
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