Henry Haywood Bell--born in North Carolina in 1808--was appointed a midshipman on 4 August 1823. Highlights of his service before the Civil War were his time in Grampus as that schooner fought Caribbean pirates in the late 1820s and his command of San Jacinto during the mid 1850s. Under him, that screw frigate took the American diplomat, Townsend Harris, to Siam to establish diplomatic and economic relations between that kingdom and the United States. The ship then carried Harris to Japan where--following up Commodore Matthew C. Perry's diplomatic breakthrough--he became the first United States minister. The screw frigate subsequently participated in operations against the Chinese "Barrier Forts" between Whampoa and Canton before returning home in the summer of 1858. Following a period awaiting orders, Bell became the Navy's Assistant Inspector of Ordnance; and he held that post at the outbreak of the Civil War.
Although a Southerner, Comdr. Bell remained loyal to the Union and initially labored to arm and to outfit the merchantmen that the Navy had purchased to blockade the Confederate coast. When the West Gulf Blockading Squadron was established early in 1862, Bell became Farragut's fleet captain and, as such, assisted the flag officer in administering the squadron and in capturing New Orleans. To prepare for operations against the "Crescent City," he reconnoitered the forts and river obstructions that protected it from attack by sea; and, shortly thereafter, he led the expedition that cut the chain across the Mississippi connecting floating barriers in the river. During Farragut's famous dash past Forts Jackson and St. Philip, Bell commanded the Union force's third division. On 1 July, Bell relieved Capt. Thomas T. Craven in command of Brooklyn. About a fortnight later, the Navy recognized Bell's outstanding service by promoting him to commodore, allowing him to skip the rank of captain.
Commodore Bell was the squadron's highest ranking officer under Farragut; and he exercised immediate command of groups of Union warships in operations on the Mississippi, off Mobile Bay, and along the coast of Texas. Early in August 1863, Bell took temporary command of the squadron while Farragut returned north for a much needed rest; and, under his leadership, the squadron continued to operate effectively.
After a somewhat rejuvenated Farragut returned to New Orleans on 23 January 1864, Bell--by then ill and exhausted--hauled down his broad pennant from the steam sloop Pensacola and returned home to recover his health. Following several months of rest up the Hudson at Newburgh, N.Y., where the high bluffs of the Catskill Mountains overlook the river, the commodore became the Commandant of the New York Navy Yard and held that post through the end of the Civil War.
On 11 August 1865, Bell departed New York harbor in Hartford to reestablish the East India Squadron. Proceeding via the Cape of Good Hope, he reached Macao Roads on 4 February 1866 and spent the next two years laboring to restore respect for the United States in the Orient. He attained the permanent rank of rear admiral on 25 July 1866. His service in the Far East is most remembered for his struggles to suppress piracy along the China coast and to protect the lives and property of American citizens. On the morning of 11 January 1868, he drowned when his barge capsized in the surf off Osaka, Japan, while carrying him ashore for a farewell call on the United States minister there.
(DD-587: dp. 2,050; l. 376'6"; b. 39'8"; dr. 17'4"; s. 37.5 k.; cpl. 273; a. 5 5", 10 40mm., 7 20mm., 10 21" tt., 6 dcp., 2 dct.; cl. Fletcher)
The second Bell (DD-587) was laid down on 30 December 1941 by the Charleston Navy Yard; launched on 24 June 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Cleao Cooke Hulse; and commissioned on 4 March 1943, Comdr. Lynn C. Petross in command.
Bell spent the rest of March and most of April at Charleston completing her outfitting before putting to sea for her shakedown cruise on 26 April. En route to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the destroyer participated in an attack upon a suspected submarine, but the action failed to produce any positive results. After dogging the contact for 24 hours, Bell resumed her voyage to Cuba, and she entered Guantanamo Bay on the 30th. During the next four weeks, she carried out drills and exercises, in the course of which the members of her crew molded themselves into an efficient combat team. Her initial training complete, the warship departed Cuban waters on 27 May and returned to Charleston, where she underwent post-shakedown repairs until 11 June. On that day, Bell headed north to join American forces based at Argentia, Newfoundland. Steaming by way of Boston, she arrived in Argentia on 19 June. The destroyer operated out of that base for about five weeks making her contribution in the defense of transatlantic and coastal shipping against the German submarine menace.
On 24 July, she left Argentia in company with other American warships and, two days later, reached Boston. After a brief repair period, she stood out of Boston on 5 August to rendezvous with SS Queen Mary, which ship carried Winston Churchill, and escort her to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the liner disembarked her distinguished passenger to proceed on to the "Quadrant" conference held later that month in Quebec, Canada. On 11 August, Bell departed Halifax as part of an American contingent bound for service with the Royal Navy's Home Fleet out of its base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. Her tour of duty with thw British Home Fleet lasted for just under a month and included two unsuccessful sorties in search of the German battleship Tirpitz. On 15 September, the destroyer stood out of Scapa Flow on her way back to the United States. After stops at Greenock in Scotland and Londonderry in Northern Ireland, she made the Atlantic crossing in late September and ultimately arrived in Boston on the 29th.
At the conclusion of another repair period, Bell got underway from Boston on 6 November in company with Cabot (CVL-28) and Wickes (DD-578) and embarked on the long voyage to join the Pacific Fleet. She and her traveling companions transited the Panama Canal between 12 and 15 November and reached San Diego on the 22d. She and her colleagues resumed the westward journey almost immediately and arrived in Pearl Harbor on 27 November. Bell remained in the Hawaiian Islands only a few days, returning to sea on 5 December in company with Breton (CVE-23) and shaping a course for the New Hebrides Islands in the southwestern Pacific. Ten days later, she sailed into Segond Channel at Espiritu Santo and reported for duty to the Commander, South Pacific Area. Assigned to the 3d Fleet, Bell stood out of Espiritu Santo on 22 December in Task Group (TG) 37.2, built around Bunker Hill (CV-17) and Monterey (CVL-26), bound for her first combat mission in the Pacific theater.
Bell remained at sea for more than two weeks screening the flattops against submarine and air attack. On Christmas Day, the two carriers launched their aircraft to strike Kavieng, the Japanese base located at the northern end of New Ireland, the long ribbon of an island stretched like nature's rampart shielding the Bismarck Archipelago to the east. The raid served as one part of a large airborne diversion in support of General MacArthur's amphibious knight's hook from eastern New Guinea into New Britain at Cape Gloucester to secure the right flank of his main line of advance through the Dampier and Vitiaz Straits. After a week's intermission, the airmen whose carriers Bell protected returned to Kavieng and celebrated New Year's Day 1944 with another lethal display of fireworks. Some of them also enjoyed roughing up an enemy convoy built around light cruisers Noshiro and Oyodo, though they failed to inflict any really significant damage. The carriers in her task group delivered their third attack on Kavieng on 4 January, and then TG 37.2 shaped a course back to Espiritu Santo on the 5th.
On 19 January 1944, the destroyer departed Espiritu Santo once again with TG 37.2 to rendezvous with the rest of Task Force (TF) 37. The concentration at sea complete, the entire task force set course for Funafuti in the Ellice Islands, where it arrived the next day. That same day, when operational control passed to the Commander, Central Pacific Area, the task force became a part of the 5th Fleet and received the new designation TF 58. Bell became an element of TG 58.3, built around her comrades from TG 37.2, Bunker Hill and Monterey, augmented by Cowpens (CVL-25). Cast in a supporting role for the Fast Carrier Task Force, that mighty winged scythe the Allies used to slice through Japan's central Pacific defenses in 1944 and 1945, she played that part for the next nine months.
Bell's first performance on the central Pacific stage began five days after her arrival at Funafuti when she returned to sea with TF 58 to support the invasion of the Marshall Islands. The planes of TF 58 anticipated the two main events of 31 January, the amphibious assault on Kwajalein and the unopposed occupation of Majuro, with an aerial overture designed to destroy or suppress any Japanese aviation based within range of the objectives. The trio of carriers Bell guarded opened with a destructive prelude on the defenses of Kwajalein Island, one of the islets of the like-named atoll, on 29 January before moving on to Eniwetok on the 30th to begin a four-day stand. During the four days that the aircraft from Bell's task group pounded Eniwetok, 5th Fleet amphibious forces secured Majuro and subdued most of the opposition at Kwajalein. On 2 Februery, her task group shaped a course for Majuro and several days of rest and relaxation in the wake of the Marshall Islands operation.
The destroyer returned to sea again with TG 58.3--reformed around Enterprise (CV-6), Yorktown (CV-10), and Belleau Wood (CVL-24)--on Lincoln's Birthday 1944 to take part in the first Allied strikes on two important Japanese strongholds. Five days later, planes from her carriers began a two-day pounding of the big Japanese base at Truk in the western Carolines. They returned for an encore on the 18th, and then TF 58 retired briefly to Kwajalein before heading north to the second target, the Marianas. The American force lost tactical surprise during the approach on the 22d when an enemy patrol plane snooped the task force, and the night before the strike, the Japanese launched four ineffective air attacks. During the one-day raid, which was carried out on 23 February, Bell's carriers sent their air groups to attend to targets on Tinian and Rota, while Saipan and Guam occupied the attention of airmen from TG 58.2. The mayhem and destruction TF 58 caused the enemy on the four major islands of the Marianas, though significant, really took second place to the mission's primary objective, the collection of photographic intelligence in preparation for the invasion planned for those islands four months later. In spite of America's possession of Guam before the war, United States military planners knew surprisingly little about the Marianas, and the information gathered in the 23 February raid contributed heavily to the success of the Marianas operation that summer.
After the Marianas strike, Bell retired with her compatriots to Majuro, arriving there on the 26th for a brief respite before steaming to Hawaii for repairs. On 28 February, the destroyer left Majuro Lagoon and shaped a course for Pearl Harbor. She arrived at her destination on 4 March and began 11 days during which her maintenance needs vied with the pleasures of liberty for the attention of her crew.
The Ides of March, however, brought the Hawaiian interlude to an end, and Bell returned to sea on her way to rejoin the war. She arrived back at Majuro on 20 March and became a unit of the screen for TG 58.1, built around Hornet (CV-12), Cowpens, Belleau Wood, and Bataan (CVL-29). Two days later, the destroyer stood out of the lagoon at Majuro with TG 58.1 for another series of raids on the shrinking circuit of Japanese defenses in the Pacific. During the foray in question, Bell's carriers concentrated their efforts on potential staging points the enemy might use to oppose General MacArthur's upcoming amphibious leap into Hollandia, a region of New Guinea situated about midway along its northern coast. On 30 March, the airmen hit installations and shipping in the Palau Islands, located only 700 miles northwest of that objective. Nearby Yap Island received similar treatment on the 31st; while Woleai, an atoll positioned some 600 miles due north of Hollandia, bore the brunt of their destructive pranks on April Fool's Day. At the conclusion of the Woleai attacks, Bell retired with TG 58.1 to Majuro, entering the lagoon there on 6 April.
After a week in the anchorage, she returned to sea with the Fast Carrier Task Force on 13 April to take part in the Hollandia operation itself. On 21 April, all carriers sent their aviators aloft in a general blitz on the air bases and other installations at the three objectives that Hollandia comprised as well as those at such nearby places as Wakde, Sarmi, and Sawar that might render assistance to the defenses of the three targets. The next day while TG 58.2 switched assignments to support the landings at Humboldt Bay directly and TG 58.3 went to the aid of the invasion forces at Tanamerah Bay, Bell's carrier quartet continued the successful effort to eliminate Wakde, Sarmi, and Sawar as factors in the Japanese defense. That same day, the destroyer assumed a more direct role in the suppression of the three peripheral bases when she closed the shore and took them under fire with her own guns. Aircraft from Bell's task group kept the three outlying Japanese bases blanketed for two more days before TF 58 reunited to leave the New Guinea coast.
After refueling at sea in the Admiralties, the task force headed off to the northwest to pay Truk another visit. For two days, 29 and 30 April, TF 58 planes bombed and strafed installations ashore and shipping in the lagoon at the enemy's big base in the Carolines. During TF 58's retirement, Bell again joined an ad hoc task unit, TU 58.7.3, in the bombardment of Japanese facilities on Ponape Island. The destroyer arrived in Kwajalein Atoll with TF 58 on 4 May and remained there until the 13th when TF 58 got underway for Majuro. The carriers and their escorts reached that atoll the next day, and Bell operated nearby for a little more than three weeks.
On 6 June, she stood out of Majuro lagoon in the screen of TF 58 that was on its way to deliver the preliminary air strikes in the conquest of the Mariana Islands. Again, Bell served in the escort of TG 58.1, but with a new mix of old friends Hornet, Yorktown, Belleau Wood, and Bataan. On 12 June, while the other three carrier groups launched aircraft to attack Tinian and Saipan to the north, Bell's TG 58.1 sent its planes to raid Guam and Rota. After more attacks in the southern Marianas on the 13th, TG 58.1 steamed north with TG 58.4 to render similar treatment to the Bonin Islands. Bell's carriers subjected those islands to raids on the 15th and 16th and then returned south as TF 58 reconcentrated to parry the counterstroke expected from the Japanese in answer to the 15 June amphibious assault on Saipan.
On the morning of 19 June, Bell steamed with the reassembled TF 58 in a zone of operations centered on a point some 90 miles generally west of Rota Island, waiting for enemy naval air to contest the Marianas invasion. The air battle opened just before 0600 when picket destroyers screening Vice Admiral Willis A. "Ching" Lee's battleship group shot down a Guam-based "Zeke" that attempted a bomb run on the task group. About 90 minutes later, fighters from one of Bell's carriers, Belleau Wood, investigating bogeys reported over Orote Field on Guam, mixed it up with a swarm of enemy aircraft taking off from the field. By the time reinforcements--more fighters from Bell's TG 58.1, joined by a few from TG 58.2's Cabot--reached the scene, the Japanese planes were gone. Some fell to the guns of the initial group of fighters, while the rest landed and hid themselves in concealed revetments.
The Battle of the Philippine Sea spanned the three days from 19 to 21 June, but the main action came on the first day when the Japanese launched four major air raids against American forces in the Marianas. Bell, however, saw little action because none of the four raids penetrated as far as her TG 58.1. Instead, they suffered huge losses to the TF 58 aviators sent to intercept them and to the antiaircraft gunners of Vice Admiral Lee's battleship group which stood between the American carriers and the attacking Japanese.
Ignorant of the magnitude of their losses in carrier air on the 19th because inadequate communications facilities in cruiser Haguro--the temporary flagship after Taiho sank--hindered the receipt and analysis of information, the Japanese planned to renew the attack on the 20th. Both sides spent most of the next day engaged in search missions trying to pinpoint each other's location. Neither succeeded until late afternoon on the 20th. The Americans found the Japanese just before 1645, but the Japanese searches did not locate the Americans until an hour and a half later. By that time, the Japanese command staff had transferred to carrier Zuikaku where better communications facilities enabled it to develop an accurate picture of the appalling losses that Japanese carrier air sustained on the 19th and order the obligatory retirement. Thus, though the Battle of the Philippine Sea really reached its climax in a matter of hours, the delay in the Japanese retreat invited a protracted stern-chase pursuit that caused the battle's denouement to drag on for two more days.
Though the American search planes did not find the enemy carrier force until late in the afternoon of the second day, TF 58 still launched a large strike at extreme range despite the certainty of a dangerous night recovery. The decision proved a wise one. Eight torpedo bombers from Bell's TG 58.1, four each from Belleau Wood and Yorktown, joined forces to attack Hiyo and sank her while some of their comrades damaged Junyo. Planes from other task groups inflicted bomb damage on Chiyoda, Zuikaku, and battleship Haruna. Meanwhile, Bell continued to mount guard over the carriers of her task group, though with Japanese airpower in the immediate vicinity decimated and his submarine threat more apparent than real, the nature of her chores bordered on the routine. After dark, however, the destroyer picked her tempo when she joined in the search for aviators forced to ditch in the ocean during the night recovery and succeeded in rescuing two of them herself.
On the 21st, the American pursuit dropped further behind the fleeing Japanese. Only one group of TF 58 search planes made contact with the enemy force on the second day of the chase, and that encounter came very early in the day at about 0745. After another 12 hours of fruitless searches for cripples, the American fleet abandoned the pursuit around 1920 that evening and headed back to resume operations in support of the conquest of the Marianas.
After fueling on the 22d, Bell's TG 58.1 moved off to the north for a two-day diversion. On the 23d, the carriers sent fighters to sweep Pagan Island; and, on the 24th, they returned to the Volcano Islands. During the latter mission, the Japanese at Iwo Jima, warned by a search plane that snooped TG 58.1, launched counterstrikes, both to intercept the incoming American planes and to go after their carriers. As a result, a grand melee erupted, about halfway between the carriers and Iwo Jima, in which American fighters splashed 29 enemy aircraft. When the planes returned to the carriers, they arrived just in time to help the task group's combat air patrol and antiaircraft gunners annihilate the first of two raids directed at the ships of TG 58.1. Combat air patrol ravaged the second raid at some distance from the task group, shooting down 17 of the 41 attackers and sending the rest scurrying for home.
Following a replenishment call at Eniwetok between 27 and 30 June, Bell and her carriers returned to sea with TF 58 to resume support for the Mariana operation. Upon reentering the struggle again, the carriers from two of the task groups, TG 58.1 and TG 58.2, struck first at Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima on 3 and 4 July, while Bell closed to within 8,600 yards of Iwo Jima in company with other surface units on the 4th and gave her gunners a chance to contribute to the Japanese garrison's torment with an explosive Independence Day demonstration of their own. Bell and her colleagues rejoined their respective task groups after the bombardment and moved off to visit destruction on other enemy strongholds. After a passing punch at Pagan on the 5th, they joined TG 58.3 aircraft on the 7th in an extended engagement over Guam and Rota. For the next fortnight, the two islands bore the full brunt of their close attention. After supporting the amphibious assault on Guam on 21 July, the task force left the Marianas on the 22d to carry out air strikes on Woleai, Yap, and Ulithi between the 24th and the 27th. At the end of the month, Bell returned with the carriers of TF 58 to missions that lended more immediate support to the subjugation of the Marianas. On 4 and 5 August, planes from her task group visited Iwo Jima and the surrounding islands again before TG 58.1 retired toward Eniwetok on the 6th.
Bell and her colleagues reached Eniwetok on 9 August and spent the better part of three weeks in the lagoon there or operating in nearby waters, during which time 5th Fleet was redesignated 3d Fleet when Admiral Halsey and his staff relieved Admiral Spruance and his staff on 26 August in anticipation of the campaigns for the Palaus and the Philippines. As a result, Bell's TG 58.1 became TG 38.1. On the 29th, she stood out of Eniwetok with TG 38.1 for an extended period of operations at sea. For the next month, the destroyer guarded the carriers while their aircraft raided targets throughout the Philippine Islands. After hitting the Palau Islands, themselves subject to imminent invasion, during the outbound voyage on 7 and 8 September, they progressed to objectives on Mindanao on the 9th and 10th, and then widened their circuit on the 12th, 13th and 14th to include enemy positions in the Visayas as well as those on Mindanao. On the 15th and 16th, aircraft from Bell's carriers provided a reassuring, though not indispensable, umbrella for General MacArthur's troops during the unopposed amphibious landing on Morotai Island. On the 15th, Bell left the task group briefly and entered the landing area to transport a staff officer to a conference. Following the Morotai interlude, she returned with TG 38.1 to the vicinity of the Philippines where the carriers launched strikes on the 21st, 22d, and 24th. On the latter day, her task group set a course for Manus in the Admiralty Islands. The warships entered Seeadler Harbor on 28 September.
Bell and her carriers rearmed and reprovisioned at Manus for almost a week in preparation for the upcoming invasion of the Philippines at Leyte. On 2 October, the destroyer stood out of Seeadler Harbor with TG 38.1 to assemble with the Fast Carrier Task Force and embark upon a circuitous mission to suppress enemy aviation during the fortnight preceding the 20 October A-day at Leyte. On the 10th, the carriers sent their planes on a raid against Okinawa while, on the following day, they hit targets in the neighborhood of Aparri, Luzon. From Luzon, the task force returned north to paste its primary objectives, the enemy installations on the island of Formosa, on the 12th and the 13th.
During the latter strikes, two cruisers in the screen of TG 38.2, Canberra (CA-70) and Houston (CL-81), suffered extensive damage from aerial torpedoes in the fierce air defense the Japanese put up to protect their Formosa bases. Since TG 38.2's screen was already depleted, the other three task groups contributed ships from their screens to escort the two crippled cruisers to Ulithi. Bell received orders to that duty and made haste to join the unit, which bluejacket humor nicknamed "CripDiv 1" at first and then, taking a sardonic twist, renamed it "BaitDiv 1" after it was learned that Admiral Halsey hoped to ambush any pursuit that the Japanese might launch in their mistaken belief that the unit constituted the battered remnants of TF 38. The destroyer pursued that task from 15 to 24 October at which time she parted company with Canberra and Houston to rendezvous with TG 38.1 and return to Ulithi to rearm and reprovision.
While TF 38.1 steamed away form the Philippines, great events were brewing in the waters of the archipelago. Japanese Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, activated Sho-Go-1, a scheme for bringing about a decisive naval action off Leyte. The Japanese strategy called for Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa's carriers to lure TF 38 north of Luzon and away from the Leyte beachhead. Then--with the American fleet carriers out of the way--heavy Japanese surface ships were to debouch into Leyte Gulf from two directions: from the south through Surigao Strait and from the north through the San Bernardino Strait and around the island of Samar. During much of the 24th, planes from those parts of TF 38 still in Philippine waters pounded Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's powerful Force "A," or Center Force, as it steamed across the Sibuyan Sea toward San Bernardino Strait. When nightfall brought a halt to their attacks, the American aircraft had sunk battleship Musashi and had damaged several other Japanese warships. Moreover, the pilots reported to Admiral Halsey that Kurita's force had reversed course and was moving away from San Bernardino Strait.
That night, Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura's Force "C," the van of the Southern Force, attempted to force Surigao Strait but met a line of battleships commanded by Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf. The modernized American men-of-war, including some survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack, crossed Nishimura's "T" and all but annihilated his force. Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima, whose Second Striking Force steamed in Nishimura's wake, soon perceived the disaster that had befallen Nishimura and withdrew.
Meanwhile, late in the afternoon of the 24th--after Kurita's Center Force had turned away from San Bernardino Strait in apparent retreat--American scout planes located Ozawa's carrier force a bit less than 200 miles north of TF 38. This intelligence prompted Halsey to lead his own carriers north toward Ozawa. He did not recall Bell's TG 38.1 at this point, however, but allowed it to continue on course to Ulithi.
After dark, however, Kurita's Center Force reversed course again and headed for San Bernardino Strait. About a half an hour into the mid watch, it transited that narrow passage, turned to starboard, and steamed south along the east coast of Samar. Since TF 38 had dashed north pursuing Ozawa's virtually-planeless carriers, only the three 7th Fleet escort carrier groups and their screens, composed of destroyers and destroyer escorts, remained to contest the formidable procession of Kurita's battleships and cruisers to Leyte Gulf and protect the American amphibious ships. Remembered by their radio call signs, "Taffy 1," "Taffy 2," and "Taffy 3," those three escort-carrier groups were deployed along Samar's east coast with "Taffy 3" in the northernmost position, about 40 miles off Paninihian Point. "Taffy 2" was covering Leyte Gulf and "Taffy 1" was still farther south whence its aircraft could keep watch over Surigao Strait.
At 0645, lookouts on board "Taffy 3" ships spotted bursts of antiaircraft fire dirtying the northern sky. Center Force gunners had opened fire on an American antisubmarine patrol plane. Moments later, "Taffy 3" made radar and visual contact almost simultaneously on the advancing Japanese warships. Shortly before 0700, Kurita's guns opened fire on the hapless "baby flattops" and their comparatively tiny, but incredibly courageous, escorts. For more than two hours, the ships and planes of "Taffy 3"--aided by the aircraft from the other two escort-carrier groups to the south--fought back with guns, torpedoes, bombs, and consummate seamanship in what appeared to be an impossibly uneven struggle. Then, at 0911, Kurita--shaken by the loss of three heavy cruisers and convinced, as a result the tenacious resistance put up by the "jeep" carriers and their screens, that he had run headlong into TF 38 itself--broke off the action.
In the meantime, at 0848, Bell's TG 38.1--at the time refueling on its way to Ulithi--received orders to rush back to Philippine waters to help "Taffy 3" in its battle for survival. Bell and her colleagues in the task group raced toward Samar at flank speed until 1030 when they slowed their advance to turn into the wind so the carriers could launch aircraft for strikes on Kurita's ships still some 330 miles distant. While those raids wreaked little damage on Center Force, there is little doubt that they reinforced Kurita in his decision to retire from Leyte.
While those planes were in the air, Bell resumed the westward advance with TG 38.1 in an effort to lessen the distance of the planes' return flight and to reach an optimum position from which to launch additional strikes on the fleeing enemy at dawn. With the first light of the 26th, both TG 38.1 and TG 38.2--which Admiral Halsey had finally dispatched south--sent aloft their first strike of the day against Kurita. The second group of aircraft left the carriers a little over two hours later. These fliers sank light cruiser Noshiro and damaged, but did not sink, heavy cruiser Kumano. The two task groups mounted a third attack in the early afternoon, but it did not add to the score.
Following the Battle for Leyte Gulf, which ended the Japanese Fleet's days as a serious threat to American supremacy at sea in the Far East, TG 38.1 operated in the Philippines for two more days providing close air support before again heading for Ulithi on the 28th. Bell's respite in the anchorage, however, proved a brief one. When Japanese land-based planes attacked troops on Leyte on 1 November, TG 38.1 received orders sending it to their rescue and exited Ulithi Atoll on the 2d.
Bell operated with TG 38.1 for two more weeks, supporting the carriers during another series of air strikes on targets in the Philippines. On 16 November, the destroyer parted company with the flattops to join TG 30.4 for the voyage to the Carolines. She arrived in the lagoon at Ulithi on 17 November and remained there for six days. The warship departed Ulithi on 23 November in company with Burns (DD-588) to escort a trio of tankers to Hollandia, New Guinea. After seeing their charges safely to their destination, the pair of destroyers returned to sea for a voyage to Manus in the Admiralty Islands. On the 27th, Bell and her colleague entered port at Seeadler Harbor at Manus and reported for duty with TG 77.4 in conjunction with the preparations for the invasion of Luzon.
For about a month, Bell screened escort carriers during exercises conducted in the waters between the Admiralty Islands and the Allied bases at Hollandia and Lae on the northern coast of New Guinea. On the day after Christmas 1944, she departed Seeadler Harbor with TG 77.4 bound for the Palau Islands, one of several staging areas for the invasion of Lingayen Gulf. Her task group entered Kossol Roads on the 29th and completed final preparations for the advance on northwestern Luzon. Bell's portion of the assault force left Kossol Roads on New Year's Day 1945 and began the long voyage to Lingayen Gulf. The destroyer and her colleagues steamed by way of Leyte Gulf, where TF 77 assembled for the approach on the objective, thence through Surigao Strait, around the southern shore of Negros, and north through the Sulu Sea.
During TF 77's passage through the Sulu Sea, Japanese air power plagued the American warships with both conventional bombing attacks and the newly devised kamikaze tactics. American combat air patrol intercepted most of the intruders at some distance from the ships, but a few penetrated the defensive screen. In the afternoon of 4 January, one of these aimed his fatal dive at Ommaney Bay (CVE-79), nicked her island, and crashed her starboard side. His two bombs penetrated the flight deck, one exploding among the planes parked on the hangar deck and the second going on through the hangar deck to explode on the starboard side of the second deck. Bell moved in near the stricken escort carrier almost immediately to pick up survivors and to help fight her fires. The struggle against Ommaney Bay's fires soon proved a losing proposition; and, after her remaining crewmembers abandoned ship, Bell's sister ship, Burns (DD-588), scuttled the doomed escort carrier with a torpedo.
That sad episode concluded, the task group resumed its approach to Lingayen Gulf. Bell's TG 77.4 commenced air operations on the 6th to soften the target for the assault troops scheduled to go ashore on the 9th. The enemy, meanwhile, continued his own air attacks, and the destroyer claimed an assist in shooting down an enemy plane on the 7th. The invasion force went ashore on the 9th as planned; and, on the 10th, Bell entered Lingayen Gulf to transfer her Ommaney Bay survivors to Cambria (APA-36). Two days later, she became a unit of the Lingayen Gulf Defense Force. The warship continued on that duty for the remainder of January, during which time she supported the forces that occupied the area around Subic Bay.
On 1 February 1945, Bell departed Luzon in company with TG 77.4 bound for Ulithi Atoll. She stopped at Ulithi for two days, 5 to 7 February, and then returned to sea on her way ultimately to the west coast of the United States. The destroyer paused only briefly at Pearl Harbor, staying overnight on the 21st and 22d, before resuming her voyage east. She arrived at Bremerton, Wash., on 28 February and began a six-week overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 1 March. Bell completed her repairs on 11 April and carried out trials and exercises in Puget Sound for almost a week. On 17 April, she left Bremerton on her way to San Diego, Calif., whence, after another brief overnight stay, she headed back to Hawaii. The warship spent the period between 28 April and 6 May engaged in training operations out of Pearl Harbor and then took departure from Hawaii to return to the western Pacific. After stops at Eniwetok and Ulithi, Bell arrived in Leyte Gulf on 28 May, where she reported to the Commander, 7th Fleet.
The next day the destroyer got underway for Philippine waters, where she arrived on 1 June. Assigned to TG 74.3, she spent the next three days exercising in the vicinity of Subic Bay. On 5 June, Bell's unit stood out of Subic on its way to support the occupation of Brunei Bay, Borneo, in the Netherlands East Indies. Arriving off the objective on the 7th, she spent the next three days supporting the minesweeping operations, an extensive effort mounted as result of recent experience with the mines encountered at Tarakan, and bombarding enemy positions on shore. The assault troops landed on the 10th, encountering very light initial resistance. Bell supported a subsidiary landing on Muara Island and then stood by in the bay to provide call fire as needed.
On 17 June, Bell departed Brunei Bay for Tawi Tawi, the westernmost extension of the Philippine archipelago that nearly reaches the North Borneo shore. She remained there for two days, from the 20th to the 22d, and then escorted the ammunition-laden LST-67 to Balikpapan in southeastern Borneo where minesweepers and gunfire support ships had already begun preparing the way for the occupation of the surrounding area on the 15th and 17th, respectively. Upon arrival at her destination, Bell joined the shore bombardment group while LST-67 distributed her explosive cargo among the assembled warships. Late on the 25th, after the LST had emptied her holds, the destroyer departed Balikpapan to escort her back to Tawi Tawi. Bell returned to Tawi Tawi on 28 June and joined the screen of TG 78.4, built around escort carriers Chenango (CVE-28), Gilbert Islands (CVE-107), and Suwannee (CVE-27) assigned to provide close air-support for the assault on Balikpapan. She headed back to Balikpapan the next day with TG 78.4 and arrived off the objective on the 30th. The assault force, composed of Australian troops, stormed ashore on 1 July, and Bell, relieved of duty screening the escort carriers the following day, shelled enemy positions, facilitating the Australians' advance.
The destroyer remained so engaged until 7 July at which time she cleared Balikpapan in company with Phoenix (CL-46) and Conner (DD-582). The three warships steamed by way of Tawi Tawi, where Nashville (CL-43) and Burns joined them for the voyage to Luzon. Bell and her traveling companions arrived in Subic Bay on 10 July, and she stayed there for almost a month conducting training exercises. On 4 August, the warship embarked upon the passage to Leyte Gulf in company with Metcalf (DD-595), Shields (DD-596), and Burns. She carried out escort and patrol missions from the base in Leyte Gulf until the last week in August. She learned of the end of hostilities on 15 August while steaming back to Leyte in the screen of a convoy on the return leg of a mission during which she escorted New Mexico (BB-40) to Ulithi. On the 24th, Bell shaped a course back to Luzon, again in the company of Burns and Shields. At Subic Bay, she became a unit of TG 71.1 and, on the 28th, she left Subic Bay with that task group to patrol the Yellow Sea during the first phases of the postwar occupation of Japan and territory still controlled by Japanese forces. After two weeks of service screening fueling operations at sea, Bell headed for Jinsen, Korea, where she arrived on 11 September.
For the next three months, she served in North China waters in support of occupation forces. On 13 December, the destroyer stood out of Tsingtao, China, on her way back to the United States. Steaming by way of Guam, Eniwetok, and Pearl Harbor, she entered port at San Francisco, Calif., on 3 January 1946. A week later, the warship entered the Mare Island Naval Shipyard to begin her inactivation overhaul. Later moved to San Diego, Bell was placed out of commission there on 14 June 1946. The destroyer remained inactive with the Pacific Reserve Fleet until 1 November 1972 when her name was struck from the Navy list. She sank on 11 May 1975 as a result of the cumulative effects of missiles and bombs delivered on her during an exercise carried out between 8 and 11 May 1975.
Bell (DD-587) earned 12 battle stars for her service during World War II.
Raymond A. Mann
23 February 2006