ACTION AT OKINAWA
The seizure of Okinawa was a long and costly operation. Merchant ships went to this island in great numbers from April to June, 1945 in order to bring the bombs, gasoline, and thousands of other items needed to consolidate the conquest of this outpost on the direct road to Tokyo. Many of these ships were Victory ships, a much finer and faster ship than the slow Liberty. The action at Okinawa differed somewhat from that in the Philippines in that the whole emphasis was on concealing merchant ships by smoke. Armed Guards who had been highly trained in local control firing and who had been trained in many previous actions were now ordered not to fire at enemy planes unless direct attacked or unless their ships were not adequately covered by smoke. This wise procedure undoubtedly saved many ships. Nothing marks a ship out clearer as a target than tracer fire on a dark night. Armed Guards in the European theater and in the Pacific were quick to observe that their ships often escaped detection by the enemy when they did not fire. Another reason why unrestrained firing was discouraged at Okinawa was the elaborate air coverage which was supplied. Merchant ships risked shooting down our own planes. All in all the Okinawa campaign
was a very trying experience for Armed Guards. They spent long hours at general quarters, endured the constant strain of having the enemy attacking close by, and were able to do little but wait for the enemy which came too close or for that moment when the protective curtain of smoke was swept away by the wind. It has seemed proper in this account to deal only with the significant actions of the Armed Guards at Okinawa. With so many ships involved, it hardly appears practical to record every remote contact with the enemy. This chapter describes damage done to merchant ships and damage done to enemy planes by the guns of merchant ships. It makes no attempt to list all ships which went to Okinawa and which fired at enemy planes.
The first merchant ships in the Okinawa area arrived at Kerama Retto on April 6, 1945. These ships were the Pierre Victory, the Logan Victory, the Hobbs Victory, the Halaula Victory, and the Green Bay Victory. Enemy planes heavily attacked the first three ships, which were loaded with ammunition, and an LST, all of which were in the outer anchorage on April 6. First a plane crashed into the LST at about 1620. The next ship to be hit by a suicide plane was the Logan Victory at about 1647. This ship had already shot down one plane and assisted in destroying another. The suicide plane hit just aft of her deck house on the port side at the boat deck level. A large explosion followed and flames spread rapidly. Wooden deck houses added to the intensity of the flames. Many acts of heroism
followed. One Armed Guard was killed and two were missing. Wounded Armed Guards and other Naval personnel injured number nine. The ship was abandoned. The Hobbs Victory assisted in the destruction of a plane which crashed about 100 yards from the Pierre Victory at 1640, but at 1945 a plane crashed into the ship just forward of amidships at boat deck level. There was a large explosion and flames quickly covered the deck. Armed Guards and other Navy personnel killed numbered two, and two Armed Guards were wounded. Merchant crewmen killed or missing numbered thirteen, and another merchant crewman was wounded. The ship was abandoned. The Pierre Victory scored three assists against enemy planes and survived to arrive at Okinawa on April 11. Her only close call came on April 27 when artillery shells landed within 100 yards. The Green Bay Victory and the Halaula Victory escaped damage inside the harbor. The former was credited with one plane downed and one assist. On April 14 at Nago Wan, shells from shore based artillery fell around the ship.
Some 15 additional merchant ships defended by Armed Guards arrived at Okinawa on April 11. One of these, the Minot Victory, brought down a plane on April 12 which strafed the ship and crashed into her No. 4 kingpost. Five Armed Guards were wounded. Between April 11 and 20 the United Victory claimed the destruction of one enemy bomber and the probable destruction of two enemy fighters.
This action took place on April 15. The Afoundria claimed assists on April 12 and 15, and was credited with an assist on the latter date. The Dashing Wave was under fire from shore batteries on April 14 but escaped damage. The Saginaw Victory was credited with the destruction of one enemy plane on April 12 and another on April 15. Bombs landed about 300 yards from the ship on the latter date and the ship was strafed. The Flagstaff Victory reported ineffective fire from shore batteries, and was officially credited with two assists against enemy planes on April 12. She reported 56 air alerts, mostly at night, between April 11 and May 4. According to the Sioux Falls Victory, there were air raids throughout April except for April 24 and 25. Suicide boats also entered the anchorage on at least two occasions and actually hit a ship on April 26. Enemy shelling was not the only menace; a number of times the Sioux Falls Victory was showered with shell fragments from our own anti-aircraft fire. An Armed Guard was wounded by a fragment or by an unexploded 20mm shell on April 28. This ship claimed the probable destruction of one plane on April 15. The Brigham Victory fired at a plane which passed directly over her stern and then burst into flames on April 12. Many ships were firing, and it is impossible to assign definite credit in such cases. Other ships which fired during the early days of the invasion without any definite credit for destruction of enemy planes were the Cape Georgia, the Claremont Victory, the Whirlwind, the Silverbow Victory, and the
Sea Runner. The latter ship made two trips to the Okinawa area in April and May. Two ships, the Morning Light and the Czechoslovakia Victory reported no action at Okinawa from April 11 to 26.
After the initial convoys ships came to Okinawa in rapid succession. Most of these merchant vessels had some contact with the enemy. But the fighting for the Armed Guards was not as tough as that in the early stages for the invasion of the Philippines. The Michael Pupin established an enviable record by downing one plane, probably destroying another, and assisting in the destruction of three planes between April 14 and June 19. She was at Okinawa much longer than the average merchant vessel. On May 28 a bomb fell only 25 to 40 feet away from the ship. The Kelso Victory reported that enemy torpedo boats and swimmers were active but than none attacked her. The William R. Davie had the interesting experience of being at both the western and eastern sides of Okinawa. Japanese attacks were normally much heavier at Hagushi than at Nakagusuki Wan on the eastern side. While anchored to the west, the Davie Armed Guard officer reported a suicide attack by small craft or two-man submarines on April 28 which damaged one ship. The Davie brought down a plane on the same day. On May 4, two days after she changed anchorages, the Davie became involved in another attack by Japanese small craft. She fired at an object resembling a small submarine. Perhaps the action which gave
the Armed Guards the most satisfaction was the attack by a Japanese suicide pilot on some rocks jutting out into the sea. The pilot apparently took these rocks to be a large ship, and crashed his plane into them on May 9.
The Mariscal Sucre was in bombardments by enemy artillery on April 27 and 29 and reported 205 air raids and the suicide boat attack on May 4. Two phosphorous bombs landed close to the Rockland Victory during her stay at Okinawa from April 26 to May 15. The Virginia City Victory reported considerable losses in navy ships as a result of the suicide boat attack of May 4 and indicated that a plane hit a cruiser on the same day.
A serious loss was the sinking of the Canada Victory on April 27. A plane crashed into the ship and dropped into the number 5 hold. An explosion blew out the side of the ship and it sank in seven minutes. Two Armed Guards were killed and twelve were wounded. On the same day, a shell landed only 15 yards from Clarksdale Victory and threw fragments on the deck. One lifeboat was damaged.
The Moline Victory was at Okinawa and nearby Ie Shima in May. She downed one plane and assisted in destroying another. This action took place at Ie Shima on May 18 and 20. There her Armed Guards witnessed the torpedoing of an LST and a suicide dive by a Japanese plane on the damaged naval unit.
The Clearwater Victory assisted in destroying a plane on May 6
and another on May 11. Like so many ships at Okinawa, she was present when a Japanese plane crashed into the [battleship] New Mexico on May 12. The Clearwater Victory was hit by stray anti-aircraft fire and by shell fragments. The Robert M. La Follette also reported shell fragments on her deck on May 13, mute testimony to the tremendous amount of flak which was sent into the sky around Okinawa.
At less than two hours past midnight on the morning of May 4 the Paducah Victory was approached by a Japanese suicide boat which slipped alongside and then headed away at high speed as the Armed Guards fired. Later that morning her Armed Guards witnessed a suicide plane crash into the cruiser Birmingham. Once again on May 13 patrol boats fired at the "skunk boats" as the Japanese suicide boats were called. The Henry J. Raymond may have scored hits on the plane which crashed into the Birmingham. Phosphorous bombs fell on either side of the Raymond on May 9 and an anti-personnel bomb landed on her deck on May 24. The purser on the ship was wounded. Bombs again fell on May 25. The Sea Flasher also claimed hits on the plane which crashed into the Birmingham. The Henry L. Gantt had shell fragments land on her deck on May 4, while the Laredo Victory was either hit by a small bomb or by shell fire. Two of her Armed Guards were wounded. According to the Henry L. Gantt Armed Guard officer, there were over 300 raids between May 3 and June 6, and well over 2,000 planes over the
area during this period. Her Armed Guard officer observed that few ships protected by smoke suffered damage and in most cases only after they opened fire.
Many ships which arrived in the May 3 convoy had little or no action. The Anniston Victory had bombs fall moderately close only twice in May. The chief mate on the Ames Victory was hit by shell fragments on May 4. This ship claimed hits on the plane which crashed [into] the Birmingham. The J. S. Hutchinson claimed hits on one of four planes observed on May 4. One military passenger was wounded when shell fragments and a 20 mm projectile struck the J. Maurice Thompson on May 4. Shell fragments also landed on this ship on May 6 and 9. One merchant seaman on the El Reno Victory was wounded by a shell fragment on May 12.
The Harvard Victory, which arrived on May 4 and departed on May 27, described the effectiveness of the anti-aircraft protection around Okinawa. Only fourteen times during this crucial period were planes able to break through the outside patrol and damage ships and shore installations. This Armed Guard officer believed that his ship hit one Japanese plane. Only once did a phosphorous bomb fall close.
But all merchant ships were not able to escape the blows of a ruthless enemy who was quite willing to give his life to achieve limited damage. On May 11, the Tjisadane was crashed by a plane already afire from her guns. This plane struck the booms of No. 2
hold and disintegrated, throwing wreckage and flaming gasoline over the forward deck and on the bridge. This plane had previously launched a torpedo which passed astern of the Tjisadane and under the Panamint. The Tjisadane shot down another plane, brought her fire under control, and left the area under her own power. Four Army and Navy personnel were killed and nine were wounded.
Three merchant ships fell victims to the suicide planes on May 28. These ships, the Josiah Snelling, the Mary A. Livermore, and the Brown Victory were badly damaged but survived. The Livermore was hit on the starboard side of her bridge at 0525. Her losses were heavy, including seven merchant crewmen killed, three Armed Guards killed, four merchant crewmen wounded, and three Armed Guards wounded. But her Armed Guards continued to fight in the best tradition of the Navy and claimed a plane shot down and one or two more hit before the morning was over. The Josiah Snelling was credited with two planes and an assist and probably assisted in bringing down another. Just after 0800 a plane struck her in No. 1 hold and sent flames upward as high as the masthead. Wounded personnel aboard the ship numbered eleven, of which three were Armed Guards. On the same day, the Brown Victory at Ie Shima was hit by a suicide plane, with two Armed Guards killed and nine wounded. Earlier, on May 25, the William B. Allison had been hit by an aerial torpedo while anchored at Nakagusuku Wan.
There were no Armed Guard casualties, but one Navy man was killed, six merchant crewmen died and two were wounded. This ship assisted in shooting down a plane on the same morning.
Many ships were present when these attacks took place and claimed a part in bringing down enemy planes. The Sea Partridge claimed that she assisted in bringing down the plane which struck the Tjisadane on May 11. The C.W. Post, which earlier had been saved from damage by the discovery of five enemy swimmers in the vicinity of the ship, also fired at the plane which hit the Tjisadane. The Ethiopia Victory may have hit the plane which crashed the battleship New Mexico on May 12. The Jubal A. Early was credited with an assist against another plane which missed the battleship. The Early suffered casualties on May 24 when a 20 mm projectile fell into her No. 4 gun tub and exploded. Two Armed Guards and a merchant seaman were wounded.
The Clark Howell claimed an assist on May 25 in shooting down a plane which crashed about 10 feet from the starboard side of the ship by No. 4 hatch. There were no casualties. On May 28 she claimed three assists. One of these planes crashed into a Liberty. The John Owen assisted in the destruction of a plane which dropped two bombs at the disabled Allison. The Donald MacCleary claimed credit for an assist in downing a plane at Ie Shima on May 20. The Norman J. Colman scored an assist in the destruction of a plane on May 28. She had also fired on May 25 and had shell fragments land on her deck on that
The Segundo Ruiz-Belvis was missed by a plane by only about 100 yards on May 25. The plane exploded and littered her decks with debris. Shell fragments also landed aboard. At 0905 on the same day, she assisted in downing a plane which landed about 150 yards from her side. She claimed an assist against the plane which hit the Brown Victory at Ie Shima on May 26, as did the Dartmouth Victory . The Charles M. Conrad claimed an assist against the plane which hit the Snelling. The Jean La Fitte was credited with an assist on May 27 and three more on May 28. A claim for a fifth assist was not credited. The Clovis Victory destroyed two planes and assisted in the destruction of three other planes on May 28. The Cape Alexander was credited with an assist on May 28. She also claimed hits on two other planes on that date, and on a plane on May 25 and on June 11 on another. All these planes crashed into the sea except one which hit the Snelling. The Uriah M. Rose brought down a plane on May 18 which missed her by about 50 feet. She shot down one plane and assisted in destroying another on May 28, and was also credited with the destruction of one plane on each of two other days, June 3 and another on June 11.
The Kota Inten assisted in bringing down a plane on the afternoon of May 20 at Ie Shima, and in seven minutes shot down another plane. The latter landed not more than 40 or 50 yards from the Inten.
Parts of the plane, the pilot, oil and water were scattered over the ship from bow to stern. Within five minutes the ship probably destroyed another plane. On May 21 she shot down a plane which had friendly markings but behaved in a hostile manner. There was doubt as to the identity of the aircraft.
The Cornelius Vanderbilt claimed the destruction of five planes at Ie Shima on May 18 and 20 and credit for four of these was confirmed by recognized authority. Three planes dived at the ship on May 18 and her Armed Guards shot down all three. A near miss from a bomb late on this date caused small fires. When two suicide planes dived at the ship on May 20, she again brought both of them down, accordong to her Armed Guard officer. This was big league shooting. The Stanley Matthews at Hagushi, Okinawa was credited with assists on June 3 and 11. On the former date a bomb missed the ship by only 30 feet and a nearby ship hit her with a 40 mm projectile. The Sea Quail claimed two assists at Ie Shima on May 20. The Cape Douglas was credited with assists on May 21 and 27. In the latter part of May and the first part of June the Greeneville Victory found Nakagusuku Wan in eastern Okinawa a rather quite place as compared with Hagushi in western Okinawa. She fired only twice, and one of her targets was quickly discovered to be an American plane. On the other hand, the Kota Agoeng Armed Guards would have insisted that Nakagusuku Wan was still a rather dangerous place. When this ship arrived on May
27 from four to six bombs, all near misses, welcomed her to Okinawa. She claimed direct hits on three planes on May 28. One June 3 an Army private was wounded by a stray shell fragment. An enemy plane was strafing. The Dutch crew manned a 37 mm gun, and American Armed Guards manned the other guns on this Dutch vessel. She claimed credit for two and one-half planes which is presumed to mean two planes and an assist. The Berea Victory was credited with three assists on May 28. She reported that bombs fell on two occasions but they were not very close.
By the end of May the worst of the fighting at Okinawa was over for merchant ships. But there was still some action. That the peril to merchant ships was not much greater may be attributed perhaps in large part to the excellent fighter screen which Marine pilots operated. From May 22 to July 12, according to the William H. Dale, there were 86 alerts but planes only came near Hagushi some 20 times. These figures testify to the efficiency of the fighter screen. The Belle of the West had four fragmentation bombs fall 100 yards from her bow on June 17 and was showered with bomb fragments.
On June 3 the Cape Bon fired at a plane which fell into the water near another ship. It is impossible to assign definite credit in such cases. The Norman Hapgood was credited with an assist on June 11. After assisting in the destruction of a plane on June 3, the Walter Colton had a narrow escape on June 11 when a plane missed her bridge by only a few feet. Water, gasoline, and debris were thrown over the ship.
Several Naval Construction Battalion personnel [Seabees] were injured by shell fragments and one passenger had his helmet knocked off by a .50 cal. bullet. On June 16 shell fragments landed around the George E. Waldo, but she did not fire her guns during 44 air alerts. Many other ships had little or no actual action with the enemy and are not even mentioned in this account.
The Hurricane, anchored at the Nakagusuku Wan from June 7 to 28 reported that enemy planes penetrated the harbor region only three times. She scored an assist on June 11 and was in turn hit by shell fragments and 20 mm fire from other ships. The Skagway Victory observed that the Japanese bombing was very inaccurate. The Rock Springs Victory had no bombs fall very close but a hole was discovered in the skin of the ship near her stern post after her departure from Okinawa. The Master believed that this was caused by a bomb fragment. On June 26 three small bombs landed about 50 yards from the John Muir, proving that the Japanese pilots could still bomb with a certain degree of accuracy. A fragment hit the No. 3 gun tub on the Muir. Two light bombs also landed 50 feet from the Henry George on the same day.
While the common Armed Guard report for the latter part of June and the first part of July indicated either no direct contact or, at best firing on one or two occasions, alerts were still frequent and some warships were being hit. One of the last reports to indicate
bombs falling in the vicinity of merchant ships was that of the Peter Lassen for June 30. The William T. Sherman also indicates that bombs were close to the ship on several occasions, but her report does not give exact dates. All of this means that the back of Japanese air power had been definitely broken. Japan was no longer able to defend even such a vital key to her homeland as Okinawa. That merchant ships were able to come through such a campaign with so little damage and to inflict so much damage on enemy planes was due in no small degree to the Armed Guard service. Here was the final fruit of the long years of developing Armed Guards. No finer group of fighting men ever sailed on any ships than those who had come through so many campaigns and were now participating in their last battle before the end of hostilities. Once more sea power of a new and terrible kind challenged land based air power and came out victorious. In this strange but none the less real fact lay many omens for the future.
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