The biggest Aerial Array ever rigged on ANY vessel

Portsmouth Harbour entrance in 1963, with an Isle of Wight *paddle steamer entering, making its way to its berth at the seaward end of Portsmouth Harbour railway station. *Note the turbulence and start of wake on the port side alongside the bridge superstructure.

The inimitable and incomparable H.I.J.M.S. KONGO ! - a warship with a hell of a lot of clout!

A mountain can be defined by any of the following definitions:-

In Japan, they have a 'pile' which they call a mountain - Mount Kongo - which reaches up to 3691 feet. Seemingly, whilst not universally known or acclaimed, to Asians it is not just well known, but unique in that you can get a modern cable car right to the peak. That doesn't impress me because UK's own Mount Snowden is but a few feet smaller in height and they run a rickety old diesel train giving a wonderful panoramic view of north-central Wales and that's as good as Japan any day in my book. For centuries, the Japanese have referred to this Mt as indestructible, and well it might be, just as much as any other terra firma pile of earth not affected by volcano's or structural faults giving rise to major earthquakes is. Being fundamentally a war-like nation, they have associated this indestructibility with military/naval prowess, and for many a long year, named warships after it.

As well as being known to be a warring, aggressive, cruel and barbaric nation, they were also known for their ability to copy other peoples work, and when I was a boy in the 40's, the expressions "made in Japan" and "made in Hong Kong" spelt tat, for at that time, their copying skills were in the embryonic stages: or were they? Incidentally, war made garments in the UK, whilst fit for purpose, just, was tat when compared with pre and post-war quality garments, and labels were sewn-in which carried the one word "Utility". 

Back at the start of the 20th century, Japan went to war with Russia and won hands down. Why?  Well, their navy was trained by the British and configured along the lines of the Royal Navy and many of their finest ships were British designed and built on proven technical standards.

Want to see some of those ships, well at least splendid scaled models made by the builders themselves? There are several around the country all of which I have visited and much enjoyed. However, for warships, there are two which I highly recommend. Lord Armstrong who died in 1900 aged 90, born just five years after Trafalgar, the famous munitions designer and manufacturer of everything from small arms to massive warships, left us his splendid house at his death, packed full of his life's work, including the machinery which gave the house electricity, the first house and factory in the UK to have it. It is called Cragside, in Northumberland, and is managed by the National Trust. If you are interested in naval matters, it should be the top of your bucket list. Then, secondly, a place which most modern-day submariners will know about, is Barrow-in-Furness, specifically the wonderful maritime museum called "The Dock Museum" named after a famous shipbuilding Victorian dock which is still there and which was used to build many a fine ship, mercantile and naval. They have the most wonderful model of the HIJMS Kongo [His Imperial Japanese Majesty's Ship], launched in the same year in which the Titanic was lost, 1912. The model, sadly not good for photography purposes because it sits inside a huge polished mahogany wooden case surrounded by glass, so one gets lots of reflections, is sited a good distance above deck level so observers get a good view of everything. Having read this story and if ever in the north west, it is an excellent way to put a 'picture to a face'. Whilst you are at it, two hours by car due south is Liverpool's Titanic Exhibition, a must for all devotees of the sea!

Bucket List? That reminds me of a little amusing anecdote I heard the other day. After Obama delivered his last 'State of the Union address' in his tenure as President of the USA, he was asked about his plans for retirement and whether or not he had a bucket list. He told the enquirer no, but I have something that rhymes with one. Wasn't he also the guy who, when talking about moral values in the USA on the high rate of divorces and gun-crime, said that marriage appeared to be like a pack of playing cards! At the beginning it is two hearts and a diamond and later on its a club and a spade?

After that Russo-Japanese war [1905] the Japanese approached the British again [we had built many of Japan's warships in the Victorian age and were continuing that association into the Edwardian period] asking them to design from scratch a class of powerful warships [battlecruisers without peers] and thereafter lay one down, build it, test and trial it, provide spares and stores for it, ready in all respects for it to sail to Japan ready for immediate use. This the British agreed to do and the vessel was built at Barrow in Furness by the Vickers Group. The first of the class was to be called Kongo. They took their shinny new ship home, temporarily stopping off at Singapore and on arrival Japan, put it into reserve. It was the finest warship afloat, the envy of the world, and the Japanese set about copying every detail of every rivet, screw, bolt whatever, and from those copies and the Vickers plans of the Kongo, they completed the class by building three more ships.

What's more, the British exported the very latest in technologies in things like wireless telegraphy and rigged the ship as though she were to be a part of the British fleet: Japan demanded and got far more wireless telegraphy equipment than ever did our comparably sized ships [Hood] for example. This picture shows the aerial rig of the Kongo as fitted and exported, never before seen, and greatly marveled at.

Kongo with her wonderful aerial array.  Wouldn't like to be aerial party in this vessel.

and Kongo later on in WW2, sporting her radar aerial.

The ideal for efficient communications at this time [known as the Marconi aerial] was to feed the transmitter output into a long vertical wire aerial and then to connect this vertical output into a horizontal wire aerial high up in the ship, strung between masts, usually between the fore and main mast. If that distance was inadequate, as in Kongo's case, the horizontal legs, known as the main roof, could bend towards the bow or stern, with the loose ends tethered by wire ropes, isolated from the main roof via glass or ceramic insulators, the wires being terminated at the bow and the stern free of harm to personnel and to the radio sets.

Unlike almost every USN battleship; all German Kreigsmarine surface units, all British capital ships including the luckless Hood after a long life of fun, flag-showing but virtually no war duty, the KONGO and her sisters, saw much raw action, forever being modified after a battle to take into account lessons learned, and when not that, put into dry dock to be rebuilt into something the class was never intended to be. When Kongo was modified/rebuilt, so too were her three sisters. It begs the question as to why the Hood was not continuously modified between 1919 and 1939 rather than just showing it to the world on jollies? It is recognised that the I.J.N. [Imperial Japanese Navy] operated rather like the USN and the RN [plus allies] in that these navies were deployed to fight other warships, and not as the Germans and Italians did, almost entirely pre-occupied [surface raiders and submarines] in sinking 'trade, passenger liners, hospital ships] indeed anything that couldn't fight back. When they were forced into fighting warships, they invariably lost as history has shown!

Kongo started life as a fast battlecruiser, loaded with gunnery [and later radar] in every conceivable part of the ship. The Japanese wanted more from the hull, and after ignoring all warship restrictive treaties [Washington and London] changed the class into first-off a battleship, then a fast-battleship able to match and escort fast carrier groups, armed with over 100 different firing weapons including her eight 14" guns built into four turrets. This was achieved by changing all the boilers and all the engines at more than one event; adopting state-of-the-art oil technology; changing gun calibres [some of 50 calibre, which means that the gun barrel length was 50 times longer than the bore of the gun], gun sets often HA for LA and vice versa [HA = High Angle for AA shooting and LA = Low Angle for surface shooting] 4" for 6", 3" for high rate large calibre AA machine guns etc. Between all these dockings, up-lifts and modernisation's which included thousands of tons of  extra armour plating and many more tons updating her torpedo blisters, she was in the thick of it, fighting the undoubted might of the USN and faring very well too. When coming out of a major rebuild to the whole of her bridge superstructure [designed to take the new directors for each and every one of the 100 gunnery pieces], and fitted with a concrete assembly aft protecting her 'A' frames, shafts and propellers, she immediately sailed to take part in the biggest naval battle of all times, then as now, namely the battle of Leyte Gulf which was a disaster for the IJN and an utter all out victory for the USN. However Kongo survived. In her time she sank many ships, chiefly American, bombarded many shores including the total destruction of a major US airfield, and through thick and thin, fought her way, literally, right through until November 1944 - remember too that she had seen service in WW1 whilst on our side, albeit not too demanding! It was ill-opportune that in that month, she, with others, the massive 9 x 18" gun battleship Yamoto* [the largest battleship every built] and the lesser Nagato included, were returning home to Sasebo via the Formosa Straits [Taiwan] when they were intercepted by an American submarine called the USS Sealion. Sealion using her radar out to a massive range of 18nm, set up a resolution to fire on the main capital ships, a once in a lifetime chance of fame, fired nine torpedoes, six from forward tubes and three from after tubes at the group. Two 'fish' struck the Kongo and one sank an escorting destroyer despatched in a major explosion with the loss of all hands. Kongo, with a crew of nearly 1600 men eventually sank taking 1200 of them to a watery grave.

*Yamoto's sister the Musashi was sunk by an estimated 19 torpedoes and 17 direct bomb hits [punishment unprecedented] from American carrier-based aircraft on 24 October 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Over half of her crew of nigh on 3000 was rescued.

Whatever we might say [or think] about this disgusting Japanese enemy, Kongo fought as a true warrior in a British built ship, and caused great losses to the allies, prolonging the war, until she was trapped herself. We cannot, and should not forget, that the sea wars in Europe and the Atlantic were fought to protect merchant ships thereby protecting our food and materiel supplies, and to deliver war supplies to allies [Russia], whereas in the Pacific they were fought navy against navy, carrier groups against carrier groups for territorial gain, armies transported and protected by the navy as they island-hopped getting nearer and nearer to the Japanese mainland. An American friend of mine, a wise researcher and somebody whose wisdom I respect and admire, once said that Britain's Pearl Harbour was the surprise attack and sinking of the Royal Oak at Scapa Flow. WW2 had already started so it didn't drag us into a war as did the attack on Pearl Harbour, but it did act as a wake-up call, a kick-down for us to fight that war with all our might and passion and commitment.  If that were the case of the  Royal Oak being our Pearl Harbour, then it puts the agony of Pearl Harbour proper into true perspective.     

Only three British built battleships were sunk by submarine action in WW2. The Barham and Royal Oak by German submarines and the Kongo by an American submarine.