The battleships Kongo and Haruna were hardly the super battleships described by Nikolai Stevenson in “Four Months on the Front Line” (October/November 1985). These two ships, along with their sisters Hiei and Kirishima , were launched as battlecruisers in 1912–13 and saw service in World War I. As a result of the Washington Naval Conference of 1921–22, the Hiei was demilitarized to a training ship, while, in accordance with the treaty’s provisions, her three sisters were rebuilt with new engines, additional armor, and improved antiaircraft armament, in effect being upgraded to fast battleships. Ships in England, France, Italy, and the United States all received much the same modernization. The only possible treaty violation regarding this excellent class involved the Hiei , which was later reconstructed from trainingship status to match the other three ships. As far as the main armament is concerned, the four Kongo class were armed with eight 14-inch guns—the same as all the U.S. battleships at Pearl Harbor excepting West Virginia and Maryland . (Incidentally, the Hiei was sunk off Guadalcanal on November 13, 1942, and the Kirishima went down two nights later off Savo Island.)
Mr. Stevenson has, perhaps, confused the two older ships with the Yamato and Musashi , which mounted the largest artillery afloat—18.1-inch—and were built in great secrecy from 1937 to 1941. Although the plans were drawn up in violation of the spirit of the 1921–22 Washington and 1930 London Naval conferences, the actual building of the Yamato and Musashi was not in violation of the 1935–36 London Naval Conference. Japan never signed this treaty, which would have limited battleships to thirty-five thousand tons and a main armament of 14-inch guns—the size of the Kongo .