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H-040-4: The Invasion of Luzon—Battle of Lingayen Gulf, January 1945


Lingayen Gulf Landings, 1945

Anti-aircraft fire from ships of the U.S. Navy task force in Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. Taken from USS Boise (CL-47) on 10 January 1945 (80-G-304355).

H-Gram 040, Attachment 3

Samuel J. Cox, Director NHHC

January 2020

The invasion of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, was set for 9 January 1945, with preliminary minesweeping and bombardment operations by the U.S. Navy to commence on 6 January. The plan called for 68,000 U.S. troops of the Sixth Army to be put ashore on the first day at the southern end of Lingayen Gulf (with over 200,000 troops to be ashore within several days) all under the overall command of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. The landing beaches at Lingayen are about 110 miles north northwest of the Philippine capital of Manila, MacArthur’s primary objective. Although there were a couple other possible landing areas and avenues of approach to Manila, Lingayen was the best from an Army ground perspective (and was also where the Japanese landed when they invaded the Philippines in December 1941). The challenge from a Navy perspective was that landing at Lingayen would require a long transit up the western side of the Philippines, within relatively short range of Japanese airfields, making surprise unlikely and the likelihood of sustained air attack very serious. In addition, Lingayen Gulf is also notorious shoal water that seriously constrains ship maneuverability, frequently with adverse sea conditions (the Japanese lost more troops to surf at Lingayen than to U.S. opposition in 1941).

The overall naval commander for the Lingayen operation was the Seventh Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, embarked on the command and control ship Wasatch (AGC-9) in command of Task Force 77, the Luzon Attack Force. General MacArthur was embarked on the light cruiser Boise (CL-47 ). The Commander of the Sixth Army, Lieutenant Walter Krueger, was embarked with Kinkaid on Wasatch. The lead element of the force was Task Group 77.2, the Bombardment and Fire Support Group, under the command of Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf (victor of the Battle of Surigao Strait), embarked on the older battleship California (BB-44 ). Oldendorf would be supported by Task Group 77.4, the Escort Carrier Group, under Rear Admiral C.T. Durgin. Following three days behind Oldendorf were Task Force 78, the San Fabian Attack Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Daniel E. Barbey, and Task Force 79, the Lingayen Attack Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Theodore Wilkinson. TF-78 and TF-79 carried the Army assault forces and would put more U.S. troops ashore on the first day at Lingayen than the first day of the D-Day landings at Normandy.

Vice Admiral Oldendorf’s TF-77.2 consisted of 164 ships, including six of the older battleships, six cruisers, and 19 destroyers, accompanied by an escort carrier group with 12 escort carriers, 14 destroyers, six destroyer escorts, a minesweeping and hydrographic group of 72 vessels, ten destroyer-transports with underwater demolition teams (UDT ), two fleet tugs, a seaplane tender, and 11 LCI gunboats. TF-77.2 commenced departure from Leyte Gulf on 2 December, with the slowest units leaving first, to transit via Surigao Strait, the Sulu Sea, Mindoro Strait, and then up the west coast of Luzon. The minesweeper/hydro force was spotted by Japanese army aircraft on 2 January.

The first kamikaze attack on Oldendorf’s force occurred on 3 January, when a Val dive-bomber crashed into the oiler Cowanesque (AO-79). Her crew quickly brought the fire under control, rolled the Val’s unexploded bomb over the side, and continued her mission, at a cost of two dead.

As the main part of Oldendorf’s force passed through Surigao Strait into the Sulu Sea, it divided into a van and rear group, each group centered around a nucleus of escort carriers, which combined could sustain a combat air patrol of about 40 aircraft in daylight hours, supplemented as weather and flying conditions permitted by U.S. Army aircraft flying from Leyte and Mindoro. The escort carrier Makin Island (CVE-93) served as the primary fighter direction for the van and Natoma Bay (CVE-62) served the same function for the rear. During the day, the combat air patrol thwarted a 120-plane effort by the Japanese. (At this point in the war, Japanese kamikaze strikes and their escorts would turn back if it looked like fighter opposition was too great—the object was to die striking a U.S. ship, not to die getting shot down on the way to the ship.) Nevertheless, one kamikaze got close enough to Makin Island to crash 500 yards astern.


Lingayen Gulf Landings, 1945

General Douglas MacArthur and staff coming aboard USS Boise (CL-47) on 5 January 1945 prior to the Lingayen Gulf landings (80-G-304363).

Loss of Ommaney Bay (CVE-79)

At about 1700 on 4 January, approximately 15 Japanese planes were detected on radar at a range of about 45 miles from Oldendorf’s force. The planes then split into two groups. Intercept was complicated by false radar returns from islands in the Sulu Sea, although an Army P-47 succeeded in shooting down one of a group of two Japanese P1Y Frances twin-engine bombers (a three-crewmen fast successor to the Betty bomber), but the results of the intercept were not reported and the survivor continued inbound. At 1712, the Frances penetrated the screen, with a blinding sun at its back, approaching the escort carrier Ommaney Bay bow on. Despite the ship’s radar and having put on extra lookouts, the Frances was not detected until it was too late. Only the battleship New Mexico (BB-40) managed to fire any rounds, but to no avail.

The Frances hit the island superstructure, just missing the commanding officer and executive officer, but wiping out the signal bridge before crashing into the flight deck, releasing two bombs as it did do. One bomb penetrated the flight deck, exploding amongst fully fueled aircraft in the forward hangar bay, while the second bomb penetrated to the second deck before exploding, rupturing the fire main. Wreckage from the plane hit a TBM Avenger on the flight deck, starting a fire that engulfed the aft end of the flight deck. The intense flames and exploding ammunition made it difficult for destroyers to approach and assist, although the Bell (DD-587) was damaged when she collided with Ommaney Bay while attempting to fight the fire.

At 1745, wounded crewmen were lowered into the water on litters with flotation and able-bodied swimmers to assist. At 1750, the entire topside area was in flames and there was no way to prevent flames from reaching the torpedo stowage area aft, which would result in a massive explosion like the ones that sank Liscome Bay (CVE-56) and Princeton (CVL-23 ). Captain Howard L. Young gave the order to abandon ship and was probably the last living man off at 1812. At 1818, the torpedoes blew, and a massive explosion ripped Ommaney Bay apart, hitting nearby destroyers with debris and killing an unknown number of sailors in the water, including two from destroyer escort Eichenberger (DE-202), who were in a whaleboat rescuing survivors. Despite this, Ommaney Bay refused to sink until the destroyer Burns (DD-588) was ordered to sink her with torpedoes. All told, 93 crewmen of Ommaney Bay died and another 65 were wounded. Seven survivors of the escort carrier would be killed aboard the light cruiser Columbia (CL-56), when she was hit by kamikaze on 6 and 9 January. (Captain Young was awarded a Navy Cross for Ommaney Bay’s role in turning back the Japanese force during the Battle off Samar on 25 October 1944).

Sinking of Japanese Destroyer Momi

By 5 January 1945, Oldendorf’s force was about 150 miles west of Japanese airfields on Luzon, and Japanese reconnaissance aircraft tracked the force, giving the Japanese clear indication the destination was Lingayen Gulf. Despite bad weather that grounded U.S. Army aircraft on Mindoro, combat air patrols from the escort carriers succeed in thwarting Japanese strikes in the early morning and then again around noon. However, the Japanese destroyers Momi and Hinoki picked a bad time to try to flee from Manila back to Formosa. (Momi and Hinoki had been the escorts for the carrier Unryu when she was sunk by submarine Redfish [SS-395] on 19 December 1944.)

At 1430, U.S. Navy aircraft sighted the Japanese destroyers. The closest U.S. surface force was the minesweeper group and escorts. The commander of the minesweeper group ordered the destroyer Bennion (DD-662) and Australian sloop Warrego and frigate Gascoyne to intercept. (Future CNO Lieutenant James Holloway III had detached from Bennion for flight training before this action.) As Bennion was the fighter-direction ship for the minesweeper group, she used two combat air patrol aircraft to search and spot.

At 1550, Bennion sighted the Japanese destroyers on the horizon. The destroyers turned back toward Manila and boosted speed to 27 knots. Bennion pursued alone as Warrego and Gascoyne could not keep up. After an hour of stern chase, Bennion had closed to 18,200 yards and commenced fire. The Japanese destroyers increased speed even more and made smoke, but Bennion gained until 14,000 yards when report of an inbound air raid forced her to break off. Bennion turned and fired several broadsides as the Japanese returned fire, but no one was hit. With position information from Bennion, 19 Wildcat fighters and 16 Avenger torpedo bombers found the Japanese an hour later and attacked. Momi was hit by one torpedo and sunk with all hands. Hinoki was also hit by a torpedo with a loss of 21 crewmen, but managed to limp back into Manila.

Kamikaze Attacks, 5 January 1945

As the engagement with the Japanese destroyers was going on, 16 kamikaze and four escort aircraft attacked Oldendorf’s force around 1650 when it was about 100 nautical miles west of Manila. One kamikaze hit the heavy cruiser Louisville (CA-28) on the forward face of the No. 2 turret, killing one crewman and injuring 59 more. Louisville’s commanding officer, Captain Hicks, was badly burned (see overview for additional information). Although the turret was put out of action, Louisville still had two others, and the embarked flag officer, Rear Admiral Theodore Chandler, was determined to continue with the mission to lead his cruiser force in the bombardment of Lingayen, scheduled for the next day. The executive officer assumed command, and the “Lucky Lou” continued on. (Louisville’s damaged turret would later be replaced and would end up being used during a series of atomic bomb tests in Nevada in 1957—it is still in the desert somewhere.)

The same group of kamikaze that hit Louisville also attacked the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, which was hit by a kamikaze with a bomb that killed 25 and wounded 30. Australia had by chance survived the disaster at Savo Island in August 1942, but had been damaged off Leyte with heavy loss of life when it was hit by a crippled Japanese aircraft, which some accounts claim as the first kamikaze attack and others refute. There was no question about this hit. The Australian destroyer HMAS Arunta was nearly hit by two kamikaze, one crashing close enough to kill two crewmen and cause the ship to temporarily go dead in the water.

The escort carrier Savo Island (CVE-78) narrowly avoided being hit by a kamikaze thanks to extraordinary ship handling by Captain Ekstrom and innovative use of the 24-inch searchlight to blind the kamikaze pilot in his terminal dive. As a result, only the radar antenna was clipped and damaged. Escort carrier Manila Bay (CVE-61) had less luck as she was attacked by two kamikaze nearly simultaneously. One crashed her flight deck at the base of the island and its bomb detonated, starting fires, while the second aimed for the bridge but narrowly missed, crashing 30 feet off the stern. Manila Bay suffered 22 killed and 56 wounded, but her crew was able to bring the fires under control and within 24 hours the carrier was ready resume limited flight operations.

Another kamikaze hit the destroyer escort Stafford (DE-411) amidships on her starboard side, opening a 12-by-16-foot hole and flooding No. 2 fire room and engine room. Most crewmen were taken off the ship, while a nucleus damage control party jettisoned all topside weight, which enabled the ship to survive. The destroyer Halligan (DD-584) and tug Quapaw stood by the stricken ship for several days, nearly being hit by friendly aircraft after being mistaken for Japanese, before Stafford could join a slow return convoy to Leyte. Stafford suffered two killed and ten wounded, but the ship was saved, repaired, and returned to the fight off Okinawa later in 1945. Halligan would be sunk by a mine off Okinawa with half her crew in March 1945. As this attack was going on, the minesweeper group also came under attack by four kamikaze. Three scored near misses on three minesweepers, luckily with no serious damage, while one kamikaze hit LCI(G)-70, killing six, wounding nine, and wrecking her main 3-inch gun, but she was able to continue and participate in the landings.


USS OMMANEY BAY (CVE-79)

USS Ommaney Bay (CVE-79) exploding after being hit by a kamikaze attack in the Sulu Sea off Luzon, during the Lingayen operation, 4 January 1944. Two destroyers are standing by (NH 43063).                        

“One Helluva Day”— Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945

Vice Admiral Oldendorf’s bombardment force arrived off Lingayen Gulf before dawn on 6 January 1945. The minesweepers entered the gulf first, followed by designated bombardment ships. After sunrise as the ships commenced preliminary bombardment, the first kamikaze attacks came in, flying from airfields that were very close. The first attack consisted of ten Japanese planes, five of which were shot down by combat air patrol for the loss of one U.S. aircraft and no ships were damaged. Between 1122 and 1143, another kamikaze attack began in earnest, and one crashed close aboard destroyer Richard P. Leary after grazing the two forward 5-inch gun turrets.

At noon, the battleship New Mexico (BB-40), flagship for Rear Admiral George L. Weyler, commander of the San Fabian fire support force, took a devastating kamikaze hit right in the bridge on the port side, killing her commanding officer, Captain Robert W. Fleming, and 29 others and wounding 87 more. Among the dead was British Lieutenant General Herbert Lumsden, who was Prime Minister Churchill’s personal representative to General MacArthur’s headquarters, along with Time magazine’s correspondent William Chickering. Weyler was with British Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser on the starboard side and neither were hurt, although Fraser’s secretary was killed. Fraser was the commander of the British Pacific Fleet, which would grow rapidly in size once Germany surrendered in May 1945, and was onboard New Mexico as an observer. Despite the hit, New Mexico’s main battery remained in action and continued to shell Japanese positions ashore. Captain Fleming would be awarded a posthumous Silver Star.

As the attack on New Mexico was occurring, the destroyer Walke (DD-723) was attacked by four kamikaze in quick succession. Walke shot down two, but was hit on the port side of her bridge by the third. Luckily, the plane’s bomb passed clean through the ship without detonating, but 13 men would be killed and 24 wounded. The commanding officer, Commander George F. Davis (USNA ’34), was sprayed by flaming gasoline and for a moment “burned like a living torch.” Sailors near him doused the flames, and despite his severe burns he continued to con the ship as she engaged and downed the fourth attacker, which crashed close aboard. Continuing to exhort his crew to heroic efforts to save the ship, only when he was convinced the ship would remain afloat did he consent to relinquishing command to the executive officer. Despite the damage, Walke’s crew not only saved their ship, but remained in the battle until after the landings occurred on 9 January. Sadly, Davis succumbed to his burn injuries a few hours after the hit. The Forrest Sherman-class destroyer DD-937 would be named in his honor and would serve from 1955 to 1982. Davis would be awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the USS WALKE engaged in a detached mission in support of minesweeping operations to clear the waters for entry of our heavy surface and amphibious forces preparatory to the invasion of Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 6 January 1945. Operating without gun support of other surface ships when four Japanese suicide planes were detected flying low overland to attack simultaneously, CDR Davis boldly took his position in the exposed wings of the bridge and directed control to pick up the leading plane and open fire. Alert and fearless as the WALKE’s deadly fire sent the first target crashing into the water and caught the second as it passed close over the bridge to plunge into the sea off portside, he remained steadfast in the path of the third plane plunging swiftly to crash the after end of the bridge structure. Seriously wounded when the plane struck, drenched in gasoline and immediately enveloped in flames, he conned the WALKE in the midst of the wreckage; he rallied his command to heroic efforts; he exhorted his officers and men to save the ship and, still on his feet, saw the barrage from his guns destroy the fourth suicide bomber. With the fires under control and the safety of the ship assured, he consented to being carried below. Succumbing several hours later, CDR Davis, by his example of valor and his unhesitating self-sacrifice, steeled the fighting spirit of his command into unyielding purpose in completing a vital mission. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

Also around noon, three kamikaze attacked the destroyer Allen M. Sumner (DD-692 ), lead ship of a new class of destroyers, as she provided cover to the minesweeping force. This first plane turned away in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire, while a second acted as a decoy for a third plane which was diving out of the sun. The third kamikaze crashed the ship near the after funnel and after torpedo bank, killing 14 and wounding 29. Despite severe damage, her crew put out the flames. Although forced to withdraw from inside the gulf, she continued to provide cover for ships operating just outside the gulf, only departing for repairs on 14 January.

A few minutes after noon, two Zeke kamikaze attacked the minesweeper group. Despite attempts to maneuver and evade the Zekes, destroyer-minesweeper Long (DMS-12) was hit portside below the bridge just above the waterline at 1215. With fires and explosions amidships, internal communications were lost. Concerned that the forward magazine was at risk of blowing, the skipper gave permission to the crew trapped in the bow area to abandon ship. This order was misinterpreted and those crewmen aft went over the side, too. Long’s crew was rescued by destroyer-minesweeper Hovey (DMS-11), and the tug Apache (AT-67) came alongside and put the fires out and attempted to put Long’s skipper and a salvage team back on board, but this was interrupted by continuing air raids. At 1730, a second kamikaze hit Long in almost the same spot, causing an explosion that destroyed the bridge and broke the ship’s back. Long remained afloat until the next day when she capsized and sank. She suffered 35 wounded, one of whom later died.

At 1252, the destroyer-transport Brooks (APD-10 ) was hit amidships portside by a kamikaze, which started a fire, severed the main and auxiliary steam lines, and caused the forward engine room the flood. Australian destroyer HMAS Warramunga, which had almost been hit by the same kamikaze, came alongside, brought the fires under control, and then towed Brooks out of the Gulf. Brooks suffered 3 dead and 11 wounded and, although she was towed back to the States, her damage was not repaired and she was decommissioned before the war ended.

At 1427, two Zekes dove almost strait down from out of the overcast as the destroyers O’Brien (DD-725) and Barton (DD-722) were passing in close proximity to each other as O’Brien was handing off minesweeper escort duty to Barton. One of the Zekes crashed about 10 feet ahead of Barton without serious damage and the other crashed on O’Brien’s fantail, fortunately a glancing blow with minimal damage and no casualties. Later in the afternoon, destroyer-minesweeper Southard (DMS-10) was hit by a kamikaze after of her stacks. Although the kamikaze’s engine embedded in the ship, the fuselage bounced off the ship. Southard had to cut loose her sweep gear and had to be towed clear by destroyer-minesweeper Breese (DM-18) to make repairs, but she was back in action the next day sweeping for mines, and fortunately suffered no deaths in the attack.

The situation in Lingayen Gulf would have been even worse were it not for the sweeps by Task Force 38 fighters of the Japanese Luzon airfields and by an overcast that hampered both U.S. and Japanese operations. The U.S. ships could not see the Japanese aircraft until they broke through the overcast with very little time to react. The Japanese only had to find their way to Lingayen Gulf, knowing there would be targets there, but they too had little time to react and pick targets once they dropped below the overcast. The TF-38 aircraft did succeed in destroying about 14 Japanese aircraft in the air and another 18 on the ground, but at a high cost of 17 U.S. aircraft, mostly shot down by anti-aircraft fire.

Kamikaze attacks continued in the afternoon. At 1720, five kamikaze and one escort approached from astern of destroyer Newcomb (DD-586).(Newcomb had hit the battleship Yamashiro with a torpedo during the Battle of Surigao Strait). The 20-mm gunners on the stern of Newcomb downed one kamikaze, but the other used Newcomb as cover, flying by at deck level, during which two of Newcomb’s crew were killed and 15 wounded by “friendly” anti-aircraft fire. The kamikaze then banked sharp left and crashed into Oldendorf’s flagship, California, at the base of the mainmast. A gasoline fire raged and a secondary turret was destroyed by a “friendly” 5-inch round that hit the ship. Although the crew put out the fire in short order, casualties were heavy, with 45 killed and 151 wounded. This action prompted Oldendorf to send a message, “A day which was characterized by brilliant performance on the part of many ships was seriously marred by indiscriminate, promiscuous and uncontrolled shooting. Ammunition was wasted, death and injury to shipmates inflicted, and material damage caused to our ships. All hands are enjoined to make certain their guns are fired at the enemy and not at their shipmates.”

At about 1720, a kamikaze attacked the light cruiser Columbia (CL-56), which was conducting a fire support mission in support of underwater demolition teams. Earlier in the afternoon, at 1425 another kamikaze had barely missed Columbia, passing between her masts and spraying her decks with gasoline, which luckily did not ignite. This second kamikaze struck Columbia’s port quarter and the bomb it was carrying penetrated two decks before exploding in proximity to the aft ammunition magazines, which were promptly flooded, probably preventing a catastrophic explosion. The strike killed 13 (including three survivors of Ommaney Bay) and wounded 44, but throughout the ordeal, Columbia’s forward turrets remained in action, and the crew humped ammunition from the aft magazines (after they were drained) to the forward magazines.

At 1828, Columbia’s gunners shot down a kamikaze attempting to hit HMAS Australia. Australia had already been hit by a kamikaze at 1734, the second in two days, which decimated topside gun crews again to the point that there were only enough qualified anti-aircraft gunners to man guns on one side of the ship at a time. This hit killed 14 and wounded 26 crewmen. Nevertheless, Australia continued her main battery firing mission.

At 1730, a kamikaze hit heavy cruiser Louisville (CA-28 ), also for the second time in two days, this time far more severe than the first. The kamikaze hit on the starboard side of the bridge structure, destroying the flag bridge, sky control, other key spaces, and a 40-mm gun mount in a massive fireball (which was captured on film and can be seen in YouTube). The hit killed 32 men and wounded 56. Rear Admiral Theodore Chandler, commander of Cruiser Division FOUR, was severely burned and his lungs scorched by superheated air. Nevertheless, he assisted in manning a hose to help put out the fire, and attempted to continue commanding his cruiser force until his chief of staff finally compelled him to seek aid. In the sickbay, he patiently waited his turn with other badly burned men, but unfortunately succumbed to his wounds the next day. Chandler would be posthumously awarded a Navy Cross (see overview), along with a posthumous Silver Star (for his actions in command of Battleship Division TWO during the battle of Surigao Strait). Louisville’s executive officer, Commander William P. McCarty, survived both kamikaze hits and would be awarded a Silver Star for his actions in temporary command of the ship after Captain Hicks was severely wounded in the first hit. Although Louisville remained in the battle area, her bombardment control duties were assumed by California on the landing day (9 January).

The results of the kamikaze attacks on 6 January 1945 were deeply concerning to everyone in the chain of command, for although the attacks seemed endless, they had been carried out by only 28 kamikaze and 15 fighter escorts. Nonetheless, they sank one ship and damaged 11 on one day, some severely. At that point in the war, one out of four kamikaze scored a hit on a ship, a vast improvement in accuracy over conventional attacks. The kamikaze also proved much harder to hit, as they were travelling at a significantly higher speed in their terminal approach compared to a plane that was trying to drop a weapon accurately. The attacks were also a shock to the sailors, particularly those who assumed the Japanese were “licked” after their massive losses in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The idea of fighting an enemy that not only was willing to die, but actually intended to die, was an alien concept debilitating to morale. In fact, the U.S. Navy was so concerned about what the impact of the kamikaze might be on the home front, that news of the deliberate Japanese campaign of suicide attacks was censored and kept from the public until March 1945.

Nevertheless, despite the kamikaze, Rear Admiral Oldendorf did not seriously consider halting or postponing the Lingayen landings, but did warn that if the following echelons of troop transports got the same treatment, many soldiers might die before they ever got ashore. He exhorted both MacArthur and Halsey (via Kinkaid) for maximum air effort to suppress the Japanese airfields on Luzon.


Lingayen Gulf Landings

On 9 January 1945, USS Blue Ridge (AGC-2), left, and USS Thuban (AKA-19) lie off the Lingayan transport area, White Beach, as seen from USS Feland (APA-11) (80-G-300633). 

Lingayen Gulf, 7–8 January 1945

A Japanese air attack came in before dawn on 7 January 1945. At 0439, destroyer-minesweeper Chandler (DMS-9, formerly DD-206 and named after Rear Admiral Chandler’s grandfather, a Secretary of the Navy), engaged at least two Japanese aircraft along with destroyer minesweeper Hovey (DMS-11), which was still packed with survivors from the Long (sunk the day before) and Brooks (damaged the day before). One Japanese plane was shot down, but only after it launched a torpedo that struck Hovey amidships, sinking her within three minutes and taking 22 of her crew and 24 survivors of Long and Brooks with her. Chandler was able to rescue 229 survivors of all three ships.

At 0655, the bombardment and fire support re-entered Lingayen Gulf and, by the afternoon, six UDT teams were in operation along the beaches as ships continued to blast suspected Japanese positions. It wasn’t until 1815 that the next Japanese air attacks came in. The destroyer-minesweeper Palmer (DMS-5) had been damaged by a large explosion at 1545 that knocked out her port turbine and had to recover her sweep gear and leave formation to effect repairs. At 1840, a Japanese twin-engine Dinah bomber attacked and dropped two bombs that hit PALMER on her port side, causing a huge fire. Palmer sank in six minutes with a loss of 28 of her crew and 38 wounded, although 123 were rescued.

At 0720 on 8 January, lookouts on California reported five Japanese aircraft heading for the HMAS Australia, and the planes were taken under fire by multiple ships. The aircraft was actually one twin-engine kamikaze being pursued by four U.S. Wildcat fighters. All the planes were shot up and one of the Wildcats was forced to ditch. The kamikaze hit the water about 20 yards from Australia, but skidded into the side of the ship, fortunately with little damage. Another kamikaze was shot down as it attacked Australia a few minutes later and it also skidded into the side of the ship. However, this time the bomb went off, blowing an 8-by-14-foot hole in the ship, and causing a five-degree list but no serious casualties. At this point, Oldendorf made the offer to Australia to withdraw, which was declined by her captain. Australia was hit again at 1311 (the fifth hit in three days). This kamikaze aimed for the bridge, but the plane hit the mast and forward funnel, causing damage but no serious casualties.

The Lingayen Invasion Force

Meanwhile, the main Allied invasion forces were en route to Lingayen. Light cruiser Boise (CL-47), with General MacArthur embarked, had transited Surigao Strait on the night of 4–5 January. At 1509 on 5 January, while transiting the Sulu Sea, light cruiser Phoenix (CL-46) reported torpedo wakes headed for Boise. Boise immediately and successfully maneuvered to avoid the torpedoes. An aircraft on ASW patrol bombed the point of origin, resulting in the midget submarine HA-82 coming to the surface. Destroyer Taylor (DD-468) had also sighted the wakes was running them down to the source, and sighted, rammed, depth-charged, and sank HA-82. After daybreak on 7 January, as Boise transited Mindoro Strait, a Japanese plane managed to drop a bomb that missed off the ship’s port quarter. LST-912 was also hit in the attack, with four killed, but was able to continue her mission.

At about 2100 on the night of 7–8 January, a U.S. Army aircraft reported a surface contact west of Manila. This was the Japanese destroyer Hinoki, which had concluded emergency repairs after being hit by a U.S. aerial torpedo during the engagement on 5 January. Hinoki picked an even more inopportune time to try to flee from Manila. Vice Admiral Barbey directed his right flank destroyers, Charles Ausburne (DD-557, Arleigh Burke’s former flagship at the Battle of Cape St. George ), Braine (DD-630), Shaw (DD-373, resurrected after her bow had been blown off at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941), and Russell (DD-414) to close and destroy the contact. The U.S. destroyers opened fire at 10,000 yards and closed to 1,100 yards, sinking Hinoki with all hands at 2255. This would also be the last significant surface action between the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy in the war.

 After daybreak on 8 January, the escort carriers supporting the Lingayen invasion force came under under almost continuous attack. Despite heavy anti-aircraft fire, a kamikaze made a beeline for the bridge of Kadashan Bay (CVE-76), only at the last moment nose-diving and hitting the ship just above the waterline at 0751. The hit blew a 9-by-17-foot hole, destroyed the junior officers quarters, sparked a gasoline fire, and rendered her gasoline system inoperative. The fire was quickly brought under control, although controlling the flooding took longer. Although no one was killed and only three wounded, the damage was bad enough that the ship had to withdraw to Leyte for temporary repairs, after transferring her aircraft to Marcus Island (CVE-77).

The attack transport Callaway (APA-35), which was manned by a mostly U.S. Coast Guard crew, was hit on the starboard bridge wing. The fire was contained, but 29 of her crew were killed and 22 were wounded, although none of the 1,188 troops aboard were hurt. The damage was superficial and the ship continued with her mission.

Just before sunset on 8 January, six kamikaze made an attack on the escort carriers supporting the Lingayen invasion force. Fighters shot four down, and one turned away, but one continued its attack run. Despite intense fire from multiple escorts, the plane struck the escort carrier Kitkun Bay (CVE-71) on the portside amidships at the waterline, blowing a 20-by-9-foot hole in the ship, starting a large fire, and causing a 17 degree list. At the same time, an errant 5-inch shell from a U.S. ship struck just under the forward gun sponson at the bow. A total of 16 men were killed and another 37 wounded. The fires were brought under control by 1910, but the list continued to increase. The skipper ordered all but essential damage control personnel off the ship, and destroyers took aboard 724 men, while 200 remained aboard. Despite the risk of explosion, the fleet tug Chowanac (ATF-100) took Kitkun Bay under tow while engineers were able to get up steam and the list was reduced to 4 degrees. The embarked flag officer, Rear Admiral Ralph Ofstie, transferred his flag to Shamrock Bay (CVE-84). Kitkun Bay was a survivor of the Taffy 3 battle off Samar in October 1944, and survived this ordeal as well and returned to the fight after repairs.

Lingayen Landings, 9 January 1945

The landings at Lingayen occurred on schedule on 9 January 1945. As it turned out, the Japanese commander, General Tomoyuki Yamashita (arguably Japan’s best general), had decided not to defend at the beaches and instead fight from inland positions in the hills, having absorbed the lesson of the futility of trying to withstand battleship bombardment at the beachhead. As a result, the landings were virtually unopposed, and the sacrifice of the U.S. ships in conducting three days of bombardment under heavy kamikaze attack was essentially unnecessary. By 16 January, the U.S. Army’s XIV Corps would be 30 miles inland, suffering only 30 killed. I Corps suffered 220 killed, almost all well after the landings. (This said, the liberation of the Philippines by the U.S. Army would ultimately prove to be very costly, with over 16,000 U.S. soldiers dead or missing, as General Yamashita put up a tough fight, just not on the beaches of Lingayen).

Despite the relative lack of opposition ashore, some kamikaze continued to get through the gauntlet of fighters and anti-aircraft fire. In the early morning during the landings, light cruiser Columbia was providing fire support and surrounded by landing craft, limiting her mobility when she was struck for a third time by a kamikaze, this time sustaining 24 dead, 97 wounded, and the loss of six gun directors and a gun mount. Despite the shortage of able-bodied men after three kamikaze hits, her crew nevertheless put out the fires, repaired damage, and continued to provide gunfire support to forces ashore. Columbia would be awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for the actions of her crew in continuing her mission despite repeated serious damage.

Although Japanese opposition from shore was limited, it was not non-existent. During the landings at San Fabian, the destroyer Jenkins (DD-447) was hit and damaged by a 75-mm shore battery that killed three and wounded ten. Three LSTs and two LSMs were hit and damaged by artillery fire from shore, with six killed and 31 wounded.

As the battleship Mississippi (BB-41) and heavy cruiser HMAS Australia were standing by to provide fire support to the San Fabian landings, two Val kamikaze made an attack run. One Val crashed into the Mississippi, killing 23 and wounding 63, but not seriously damaging the ship. The second Val was taken under fire by Mississippi gunners and it ultimately hit a strut in Australia’s foremast, crashed into the top of the cruiser’s forward stack, and went overboard, inflicting no casualties.

On 9 January 1945, four kamikaze made an attack run just after sunset. During the ensuing nighttime confusion, battleship Colorado (BB-45) was hit in sky control at 1905 by a “friendly” 5-inch shell that inflicted considerable damage, killing 18 and wounding 51. Colorado had only one air defense station and this hit virtually wiped out her key air defense personnel, significantly degrading the ship’s ability to defend herself.

Also on the night of 9–10 January, the Japanese unleashed a new weapon, small suicide boats. The boats were 18-foot-long, fast plywood craft with a crew of three Japanese army personnel, and fitted with two 260-pound depth charges. The Japanese army had about 70 of them hidden around Lingayen Gulfand they had apparently managed to avoid being destroyed in the three-day bombardment. The Japanese reported that all 70 went out to attack, but most were unaccounted for. The destroyer Philip (DD-498) alertly detected some of the boats on radar (no easy feat given they were made of wood), sent out an alarm, challenged one of them, and opened fire. The boat turned to attack Philip, but exploded 20 yards short. Ten U.S. ships were attacked by suicide boats that night and several sustained significant damage from boats exploding close aboard, but only LCI(M)-974 was sunk. Radio Tokyo claimed 20 to 30 Allied ships sunk, but this essentially ended the suicide boat threat in the Philippines. However, the Allies learned the lesson, and a key reason for taking Kerama Retto prior to the invasion of Okinawa later in 1945 was to eliminate a base for Japanese suicide boats.

Lingayen Aftermath

By 10 January, the Japanese navy and army air forces in the Philipines had been essentially eliminated, but a few kamikaze still got through. At 0711 on 10 January, the destroyer escort LeRay Wilson (DE-414) shot down a twin-engine bomber, but the starboard wing flew into the ship’s side and killed six gunner. However, LeRay Wilson was able to continue operations.

At sunrise on 12 January, the destroyer escorts Gilligan (DE-508) and Richard W. Suesens (DE-342) were on ASW patrol at Lingayen Gulf. Gilligan detected an incoming Betty twin-engine bomber at 8 miles and finally sighted it at very low altitude at 1,000 yards firing its nose gun at the ship. In a rarely recorded case of a sailor losing his nerve, a range finder operator jumped from his station down onto the main battery director, knocking it off target, preventing the 5-inch guns from getting off more than one round before the plane struck. The kamikaze flew directly into the muzzles of the No. 2 40-mm gun, killing 12 men and wounding 13, who stayed at their station firing until the very end. Despite a massive fireball, Gilligan’s crew was able to get the fires under control by 0715. Another kamikaze came in for an attack on Richard W. Suesens, which was searching for Gilligan crewmen who had been blown overboard. Despite her damage, Gilligan’s gunners joined in firing on the kamikaze, which was in a near-vertical dive. The kamikaze pilot was probably killed, but the plane’s momentum carried it down and it clipped the aft 40-mm gun as it crashed into the sea close aboard, wounding 11.

In the morning of 12 January (Morison says 12 January but some other accounts say 11 January), the destroyer transport Belknap (APD-34) was hit by a kamikaze that struck the No. 2 stack and knocked out her engines, killing 38 and wounding 49 including members of UDT 9 who were embarked (UDT 9 lost 11 dead and 13 wounded). Belknap was towed back to the States, but was not repaired before the war ended. (The ship had been awarded a Presidential Unit Citation as DD-251 as part of the Bogue [CVE-9] hunter-killer group against German submarines in the Atlantic.) Also on the 12th, the SS Kyle V. Johnson was hit by a kamikaze, with 129 Army troops killed.

The last successful kamikaze attack in Philippine waters occurred at 0858 on 13 November, when a kamikaze dove vertically out of a heavy overcast at the escort carrier Salamaua (CVE-96), which was waiting to refuel from an oiler. The attack came as a complete surprise, and the plane was not fired on as it dove into Salamaua’s flight deck, penetrated deep into the ship along with two 500-pound bombs, leaving a 16-by-30-foot hole in the flight deck. One bomb narrowly missed Salamaua’s bomb stowage area and the other failed to detonate. Numerous fires were started and the aft engine room was flooded. Power, communications, and steering were lost, and the ship listed 8 degrees to starboard. Despite the severe damage, Salamaua’s crew got the flooding and fires quickly under control, with the exception of a persistent gasoline fire on the hangar deck, which was finally put out. Despite the several close calls with potential catastrophic damage, Salamaua’s crew saved their ship at a cost of 15 dead and 88 wounded, astonishingly low considering the severity of damage. Salamaua would be repaired and return to battle in time for the Okinawa campaign.

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Japanese Kamikaze "VAL" dive bombers.

Japanese "Val" dive-bombers take off on a kamikaze mission from an airfield on the outskirts of Manila, Philippines, in 1944–45 (NH 73099).                        

Published: Fri Jan 10 15:41:09 EST 2020