Zuikaku, the second ship of the 'Shokaku' class, was laid down in May 1938 and entered service in September 1941. She joined her sister in Carrier Division 5, and for the next three years the two were inseparable. The inexperience of CarDiv 5's aircrews prevented the ships from having anything more than a supporting role during the Pearl Harbor attack, but they were fully worked up by the time CarDiv 5 began its destructive raids on the British in Ceylon. They then left the main carrier force and went to Truk, from where they covered the invasion of Port Moresby on 1 May 1942.
In the ensuing Battle of the Coral Sea CarDiv 5 scored a tactical victory by sinking the Lexington, in exchange for the light carrier Shoho. The Japanese carriers wasted their efforts on sinking a destroyer and a fleet oiler, which they misidentified as a cruiser and a carrier. A strike of 24 Nakajima B5N 'Kate' and 36 Aichi D3A 'Val' bombers failed to penetrate the US carriers' screen, but on 8 May a similar strike failed to find the Zuikaku in a rain squall. Although Zuikaku was undamaged her highly trained aircrew had suffered serious attrition, and she had to return to Japan with her damaged sister to retrain her air group. As a result CarDiv 5 missed the Battle of Midway, and in the month after Midway they were incorporated into a new CarDiv 1. In the following month they left for the Solomons to challenge American power in Guadalcanal, but so severe was the shortage that neither carrier had her full complement of aircraft embarked.
In the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on 24 August Zuikaku damaged the Enterprise but at the price of heavy losses. She escaped from the slaughter of the Philippine Sea Battle in June 1944 but as part of the reconstituted CarDiv 3 she was part of the forlorn hope which tried to lure the American fast carriers away from Leyte Gulf. They sailed on 20 October, and four days later Zuikaku launched her last air strike against the enemy. All were shot down, and next day the American pilots took their revenge by sinking all four Japanese carriers, in the Battle of Cape Engano. The Zuikaku was made the chief target, some 80 aircraft attacking her from all sides with bombs and torpedoes. She took an early hit from a torpedo and started to list heavily. A second wave of more than 100 aircraft attacked and hit with an estimated seven torpedoes and four bombs. No ship could withstand such damage, and she soon rolled over and sank.
Specification Zuikaku Displacement: 25,675 tons standard, 32,000 tons full load Dimensions: length 257.5 m (844 ft 9 in) overall; beam 26,0 m (85 ft 4 in); draught 8,9 m (29 ft 2 in) Machinery: 4-shaft geared steam turbines delivering 160,000 shp (119310kW) Speed: 34.2 knots Armour: belt 215 mm (8 Va in); deck 170 mm (6% in) Armament: eight twin 127-mm (5-in) dual-purpose and 12 triple 25-mm AA guns Aircraft: 27 fighters, 27 dive-bombers and 18 torpedo-bombers Complement: 1,660 officers and men