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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Sangamon

 

A river in central Illinois.

 

II

 

(AO-28: dp. 7,256 (It.); l. 553'; b. 75'; dr. 32'4"; s. 18 k.; cpl. 272; a. 4 5"; cl. Cimmaron; T. MC-N)

 

The second Sangamon (AO-28), one of twelve tankers built on a joint Navy-Maritime Commission design later duplicated by the T3-S2-A1 type, was laid down as Esso Trenton (MC hull 7) on 13 March 1939 by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Kearny, N.J.; launched on 4 November 1939; sponsored by Mrs. Clara Esselborn; operated by the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey on runs from gulf coast ports to the east coast; and acquired by the Navy on 22 October 1940. Renamed Sangamon and designated a fleet oiler, AO-28, she was commissioned on 23 October 1940, Comdr. J. R. Duncan in command.

 

After service off the west coast and in Hawaiian waters, Sangamon shifted to the Atlantic Fleet in the spring of 1941; and, through the Neutrality Patrol period, carried fuel from the gulf coast oil ports to bases on the east coast, in Canada, and in Iceland. On 7 December, when the United States entered World War II, she was at Argentia offloading her liquid cargo. Within the week, she started south again to renew her schedule on a tighter time frame.

 

With the new year, 1942, however, she was designated for conversion to an auxiliary aircraft carrier. On 11 February, she arrived in Hampton Roads. Three days later, she was reclassified AVG-26; and, on the 25th, she was decommissioned and conversion was begun at the Norfolk Navy Yard.

 

During the spring and summer, the need for auxiliary, later escort, carriers increased. Work on Sangamon, three other Cimarron class oilers, and twenty C-3 merchant hulls was continued and sped up. In August, Sangamon, the first of her class of escort carriers, was ready. Her conversion had added a flight deck 502 feet long and 81 feet wide, elevators, a hangar deck, a catapult, sonar gear, aircraft ordnance magazines, work shops, and stowage space for aviation spares. Her accommodations had been enlarged to house her increased complement and embarked aviation personnel, and her armament had been changed to 2 5 inch, 22 40 millimeter, and 21 20 millimeter guns to increase her antiaircraft defense. On 20 August, she was redesignated ACV-26; and, five days later, she was recommissioned, Capt. C. W. Wieber in command.

 

Shakedown in Chesapeake Bay and off Bermuda followed a return to the yard for repair and improvements to her ventilation system; and, on 25 October, she sailed east with Task Force 34 to provide air cover for Operation “Torch,” the invasion of North Africa. Assigned to the Northern Support Force, she arrived off Port Lyautey on 8 November. Prior to and during the landings, and subsequent action, her air group, Composite Squadron 26 (VC 26), flew combat air patrol (CAP), antisubmarine patrol (ASP), and ground support missions. At mid-month, she got underway to return to Norfolk; whence, after repairs, she sailed for Panama and the Pacific.

 

By mid-January 1943, Sangamon had arrived at Efate, New Hebrides. As a unit of Carrier Division 22 (CarDiv 22), she operated in the New Caledonia—New Hebrides—Solomons area for the next eight months. With Suwanee and Chenango, she provided protection for resupply convoys en route to Guadalcanal and for the assault forces moving on the Russells.

 

Redesignated CVE-26 on 15 July 1943, Sangamon shifted her base of operations from Efate to Espiritu Santo in August; and, in September, she returned to the United States for an overhaul at Mare Island. There she received more modern equipment for her flight deck and a combat information center.

 

On 19 October, she departed San Diego with VC 37 embarked and sailed for Espiritu Santo. She got underway from the latter on 13 November; rendezvoused with Task Force (TF) 53 the next day; and, on the 20th, arrived in the Gilberts to support the assault on Tarawa. During the first two days of this operation, her planes struck enemy positions on the island. Then, through 6 December, they were sent out on CAP and ASP missions to protect the escort carrier group and the target area.

 

The former oiler then set course to return to San Diego. During early January 1944, she trained off southern California and, on the 13th, sailed west. Steaming via Pearl Harbor, she pushed on toward her next amphibious operation, the assault on Kwajalein in the Marshalls. At 1651, on the 25th, during routine flight operations, a returning fighter failed to hook a wire on landing; broke through the barriers; and crashed into parked planes on the forward flight deck. Its belly tank, torn loose, skidded forward, spewing flaming fuel. Fire soon spread among the planes.

 

It raged along the flight deck and flames beat up over the bridge, making ship control extremely difficult. The former oiler was turned out of the wind, so that the fire could be fought. By 1659, it was under control.

 

Seven of the crew died in those 8 minutes. Seven others were seriously injured; and, of the 15 who jumped over the side to escape the flames, 13 were picked up, two were missing.

 

Temporary repairs were made at sea; and, from 31 January until mid-February, Sangamon supported the assault and occupation of Kwajalein. She then moved on to Eniwetok, where her planes covered the landing forces from the 17th to the 24th. On the latter date, she departed the Marshalls and headed back to Pearl Harbor to complete repairs.

 

On 15 March, the CVE got underway again. Departing Hawaii, she rendezvoused with Task Group (TG) 50.15, the fast carrier force support group, on the 26th. For the remainder of the month and into April, she escorted that group as it operated north of the Admiralties to refuel and resupply the fast carrier force after it had conducted strikes on the Palaus. In early April, Sangamon retired to Espiritu Santo and, at mid-month, sailed for New Guinea. Briefly attached to the 7th Fleet, she covered the landing at Aitape from the 22d to the 24th; retired to Manus for two days; then returned to the Aitape area where she conducted patrols until 5 May.

 

Sangamon then returned to Espiritu Santo, whence she departed on 19 May. Rehearsals for the Marianas campaign followed; and, on 2 June, she sailed for the Marshalls. Rendezvousing with TF 53 en route, she covered that force to Kwajalein, then to the Marianas. From the 17th to the 20th, she guarded the force as it steamed to the east of Saipan as a backup force for TF 52, which was then engaged in the assault on, and the occupation of, the island.

 

After the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Sangamon was detached from T'F 53. On the 21st, she joined TF 52 and, into July, conducted operations in support of the occupation of Saipan. On 4 July, she steamed for Eniwetok; arrived on the 7th; and sortied again on the 10th. From 13 July to 1 August, she covered the bombardment groups engaged in the capture of Guam. On 4 August, she returned to Eniwetok, whence, on the 9th, she proceeded to Manus where she was anchored for almost a month.

 

On 9 September, Sangamon departed Seeadler Harbor and steamed for Morotai. There, from the 15th to the 27th, she again covered Allied assault forces. After the initial waves had landed, her planes shifted from combat support to bombing and strafing missions to destroy Japanese airfields on nearby Halmahera.

 

The CVE again anchored in Seeadler Harbor on 1 October. Twelve days later, she sortied with TG 77.4, the escort carrier group of the Leyte invasion force. That group, comprised of 18 CVE's, was broken down into Task Units 77.4.1, 77.4.2, and 77.4.3, and referred to as “Taffy” 1, 2, and 3, respectively. During the operation, they would steam to the east of Leyte Gulf: “Taffy 1,” including Sangamon, was off northern Mindanao; “Taffy 2” off the entrance to Leyte Gulf; and "Taffy 3" off Samar.

 

Prior to the 20 October landings on Leyte, Sangamon launched regular flights in support of the advance units of the invasion force and sent strikes against Leyte and Visayan airfields. On the 20th, her planes covered the landing forces and the ships in the transport areas. That day, she also came under enemy air attack and took a hit at the main deck level. The bomb, dropped by a Zeke, tore a two by six foot section of plating loose, then fell into the sea and exploded some 300 yards away from the “jeep” carrier.

 

Enemy airfields again became Sangamon's primary targets in the days immediately following the landings. On the 24th, however, her planes fought off waves of Japanese aircraft over the landing area. Early on the 25th, two flights took off: one toward the Mindanao Sea to locate and finish off Japanese survivors of the Battle of Surigao Strait; the other toward Leyte for CAP missions. About an hour later, Sangamon received word that “Taffy 3,” 120 miles to the north, had been attacked by the Japanese Center Force which had transited San Bernardino Strait during the night.

 

Within a half hour, Sangamon's CAP flight had been diverted to Samar and she had launched another, smaller, group to further aid the attacked unit. Soon thereafter, however, at about 0740, as “Taffy 1” planes were being recovered, rearmed, and launched, the unit became the target of the first strike of the Kamikaze Corps.

 

Santee took the first hit, and as her flight and hangar decks blazed, Suwanee was attacked. Antiaircraft fire from that CVE scored on the planes, which then dived toward Sangamon. A 5-inch shell from Suwanee finished one plane only 50 yards from Sangamon. By 0755, a Japanese submarine, 1-56, had joined the fight; and, as Santee's crew brought her fires under control, sent a torpedo into that luckless CVE. Minutes later, Suwanee was crashed by a Zeke forward of the after elevator.

 

During the intense fighting, several of Sangamon's crew were injured and one was killed by strafing fire. Later in the morning, as the attacks fell off, she sent medical personnel to assist casualties of the damaged ships; then began bringing them aboard for treatment. At mid-day, she suffered malfunctions in her steering gear, generators, and catapult; but repairs were completed in time for her to launch afternoon strikes as scheduled. Those flights gave chase to the retreating Japanese Center Force.

 

On the 26th, Sangamon recovered her scattered planes and again launched CAP flights. At 1215, however, enemy planes were reported coming in from the north. Several broke through the air defenses, and Suwanee suffered another kamikaze hit. On the 29th, the escort carriers retired.

 

Sangamon anchored in Seeadler Harbor on 3 November. Six days later, she headed back to the United States for a shipyard overhaul at Bremerton, Wash. From 30 November 1944 to 24 January 1945, the yard installed rocket stowage racks, a second catapult, improved radar gear, new 40 millimeter mounts, a bomb elevator, and additional fire fighting equipment. In mid-February, the CVE arrived in Hawaiian waters to train a new squadron, VC 33, which included night fighters. On 5 March, she continued westward; and, on the 16th, she arrived at Ulithi. There she was temporarily detached from her division to join Task Unit 52.1.1, one of the escort carrier groups assigned to the initial assault phase of Operation "Iceberg"—the invasion of the Ryukyus.

 

On the 21st, Sangamon departed Ulithi with other ships assigned to the Kerama Retto assault force. Covering the force en route, she operated to the south of Okinawa and launched planes for CAP and landing force support as Kerama Retto was secured. On 1 April, as the landings on the Hagushi beaches of Okinawa were taking place, she shifted to TU 52.1.3, thus rejoining her division, CarDiv 22. Through the 8th, however, she continued to launch supporting strikes and patrol groups from an area some 50 miles south of Okinawa.

 

On the 9th, she moved, with her unit, into an area 70 miles east of Sakishima Gunto. From there, her planes raided airfields on Miyako and Ishigaki. Detached on the 12th, she again provided air support for the forces fighting on Okinawa; then covered the occupation of le Shima. On the 18th, she returned to Sakishima. Dawn and dusk strikes were launched daily, and heckler flights were sent over the fields at night. On the 22d, eight fighters and four bombers of a dusk strike caught 25 to 30 enemy planes warming up on Nobara Field, central Miyako. Seven Oscars attempted to intercept Sangamon's planes, but the attack was pressed home. After delivering their loads, the bombers were sent back to the CVE, while the fighters engaged the Oscars and downed five. Night fighters from Sangamon were diverted to the area and arrived as four more enemy planes joined the fight. The latter, also Oscars, were engaged; and two of the four were shot down before the fight was over.

 

Through the end of the month, Sangamon continued to launch her planes to neutralize Japanese airfields. On 4 May, she put into Kerama Retto to rearm. Loading, frequently interrupted by the presence of bogies in the area, was not completed until evening. At 1830, the CVE got underway. Japanese attackers, however, were soon reported only some 29 miles off. Land-based fighters were vectored out to intercept the enemy planes and shot down nine. One got through and, at about 1900, began circling toward a position on Sangamon's port quarter. The CVE went into a hard left turn to avoid the enemy and to maneuver into a launching position. She then opened fire and was joined by her escorts. The enemy crashed into the water some 25 feet off the starboard beam.

 

Other bogies followed the first. At 1925, another broke through the interceptor screen; ran into clouds to avoid antiaircraft fire; then came out and, with increased speed, headed for Sangamon. At 1933, the kamikaze dropped his bomb and crashed into the center of the flight deck. The bomb, and parts of the plane, penetrated that deck and exploded below-hurling flames and shrapnel in all directions. Initial damage was extensive; fires broke out on the flight deck, the hangar deck, and in the fuel deck; communications from the bridge were lost within 15 minutes; and the ship was soon out of control.

 

Sangamon's swinging through the wind caused the flames and smoke to change direction, spreading the fires. By 2015, however, after steering had established steering control and brought the ship back to a course which helped the crew fight the myriad fires scattered over the CVE. But water pressure was low; the fire-main and risers had ruptured. COa bottles were brought into action. Nearby ships came alongside to assist. By 2230, all fires were under control. Communication with other units had been regained; at first through Fullam's radios, then by using a VHF channel in the sole remaining plane. At 2320, Sangamon with 11 dead, 25 missing, and 21 seriously wounded, got underway to return to Kerama Retto for temporary repairs.

 

United States. On 12 June, she arrived at Norfolk and commenced repairs. Work was suspended with the cessation of hostilities in mid-August; and, in September, she was ordered inactivated. Decommissioned on 24 October 1945, Sangamon was struck from the Navy list on 1 November of that year. She was subsequently sold to Hillcone Steamship Co., San Francisco, and was delivered to that company's representative at Norfolk on 11 February 1948.

 

Sangamon earned 8 battle stars during World War II. Her three air groups were each awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.