Nagato (Bikini Atoll – 170 fsw)


The Nagato played a pivotal role in World War II and she will forever be inextricably tied to the US entry into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Given her place in history, she has been on my “to-do” list of wreck dives for as long as I can remember.

There is an almost mythical history of the Nagato. She was the flagship for Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and he gave the order “Climb Mount Niitaka” to attack Pearl Harbor from her bridge which was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” and brought the US into WW II.

I didn’t get a chance to dive her on my first trip, but I finally had the opportunity to conduct two dives on the Nagato on my recent trip. I can confidently say that she does not disappoint. I could literally spend an entire trip to Bikini exploring the Nagato. Unfortunately, I only had two dives on her on this trip and the conditions were not ideal for photography.

Japanese Battleship Nagato

The Nagato was a “super-dreadnought” battleship which was completed in 1920 which makes her over 100 years old.

She underwent modernization in 1934-1936 which resulted in improved armor and machinery and a new superstructure in the so-called “pagoda” style. A pagoda is a temple that has a multi-tiered structure with multiple eaves that is common in many parts of Asia and Japan. Below is a picture of the Nagato superstructure and a typical pagoda.

Notice any similarities?

There is plenty of information on-line about the Nagato so I won’t repeat that here. Instead, I’ll focus on what I see as the dichotomy of the battleship.

An interesting aspect of the Nagato is that she was designed for mass destruction but rarely fired her massive guns.

She had eight 45-caliber 16″ guns in 4 pairs along the centerline — typical for a dreadnought battleship. Just to make sure readers understand the absolutely massive, epic proportions of that: The inner diameter of the barrel was 16 inches and could easily fit your entire head inside with room to spare and the barrels were 60 FEET long.

Below is a diagram of the Nagato produced by the Office of the Naval Intelligence:

The four guns are very obvious. After retrofits, the maximum range was 41,400 yards (23.5 miles). I’m not sure how much a shell weighed, but firing something 16 inches in diameter for more than 23 miles must have required a massive amount of power.

The Nagato also had additional armament such as torpedo launchers and anti-aircraft guns (superseded by dual purpose guns).

Bikini Atoll

The Americans took the Nagato from Yokosuka for Eniwetok in order to participate in the Able and Baker tests at Bikini. She had been badly damaged at the end of WW II and wasn’t fully repaired and was only capable of 10 knots. She was listing seven degrees and ran out of fuel and had to be towed from tugboats from Eniwetok. The tugs were only about to make 1 knot getting her to Eniwetok where she received some repairs before going back out to see and making 13 knots on the way to Bikini.

The Nagato was about a mile from ground zero of the Able blast. She received little damage from that blast and was positioned about .5 miles (870 meters) from the underwater Baker test blast. She rode out the the blast and resulting tsunami, again with not much damage but was displaced sideways nearly 1/4 mile. The pagoda structure is clearly visible on the Nagato in the left foreground at the beginning of the blast.

By Anonymous military photographer – W.A.Schurcliff, Historian, Joint Task Force One,Bombs at Bikini: the Official Report of Operation Crossroads, 1947, plate 28., Public Domain,

They couldn’t make an accurate “on-site” assessment of the Nagato due to the heavy radiation. She started to list to starboard after the initial blast but took 5 days before capsizing and sinking during the night. There is some suspicion that she was “helped” to sink given the potential for embarrassment after her history in the events at Pearl Harbor and the fact that she survived two atomic bomb blasts. We’ll probably never know for sure.

She sits upside down (typical for battleships whose heavy guns cause them to “turtle” when they sink) in about 170 feet of water but she is so tall that the props at the top of the wreck are about 110 feet deep.

The wreck is massive and cannot really be covered in a single dive. I would argue that you can’t even really explore her in two or three dives. I had two but could have easily spent five dives on her and not be bored. I barely even peeked inside on my two dives. Highlights are the guns at the stern, guns at the bow, the massive pagoda laying in the sand, and the props.


Once again, the visibility was not great on either dive. The plan for the first dive was for me to take photos of the divers at the iconic inverted guns at the stern. I started the dive with Lloyd and Nat who went and placed some off board lights. I was using my Retra strobes. The conditions were so dark and there was a ton of particulate matter in the water so the pictures did not turn out nearly as I would have wanted them. We had divers cycle through as I continued to snap away.

I then went to the pagoda and took some photos and decided that maybe natural light photos were the best bet.

On the second dive, I took a few more photos of divers at the stern gun and then went to the bow gun and the finished with more time poking around the pagoda. I could really use a lot more dives on this wreck.

One of the massive props

Portraits at the stern guns:

The “pagoda” structure:

Divers gathering at the stern line getting ready to start the ascent and fulfilling our decompression obligation

I did poke my head into a few spaces in the pagoda and at the forward / bow guns and took some pictures. It deserves a lot more exploration.


Wikipedia Nagato article

Leave a Reply