Roll Call of Valor and Sacrifice
The Battle of Okinawa was so massive that it is impossible to capture the scope of the U.S. Navy’s valor and sacrifice in a relatively short piece. Victory has a price and, in the case of Okinawa, an incredibly high one––more than 4,900 U.S. Navy personnel. This H-gram attachment focuses on only those actions that resulted in significant U.S. damage and casualties in the period between the sixth mass kamikaze attack (Kikusui No. 6) on 10–11 May 1945 and Typhoon Viper on 5 June 1945. I also include significant antisubmarine actions, as U.S. ships faced Kaiten manned suicide torpedoes from below in addition to the kamikaze threats from above.
Each U.S. ship listed here was sunk or put out of action for more than 30 days, but in every case there are superb examples of Navy core values—honor, courage and commitment—and Navy core attributes—initiative, accountability, integrity, and especially toughness. I do not cover the innumerable near misses and close calls, frequent shoot-downs of Japanese aircraft, or instances of minor damage. So many damaged U.S. ships sought refuge at Kerama Retto that it acquired the black-humor nickname of “Busted Ship Bay.”
For the most part, casualty figures are from Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. XIV: Victory in the Pacific, 1945, Appendix 2. In many cases, more detailed analysis in years since has led to changes in the casualty figures. These changes often give a greater number of deaths, as those who died of wounds much later are factored in. If I came across other, more recent figures, I used the higher number.
I have used the following symbols to distinguish among the fates of the various U.S. Navy vessels involved in the battle:
* = sunk
# = damaged beyond repair
## = repairs completed after the war ended
Kikusui No. 6 (150 Aircraft—70 Navy, 80 Army), 10–11 May 1945
Japanese massed suicide attack Kikusui No. 6 by 150 Japanese kamikaze aircraft cost over 463 American lives, making it the second worst of the Kikusui attacks in terms of deaths. The attacks on destroyers Hugh W. Hadley and Evans were covered in H-Gram 045. The attack on flagships Bunker Hill (11 May), New Mexico (12 May), and Enterprise (14 May) are covered in this H-gram’s attachment H-048-1.
USS LCS(L)-88 (##), 11 May 1945
On 11 May 1945, destroyer Douglas H. Fox and destroyer-minelayer Harry F. Bauer (DM-26) were on a radar pickett station, along with LCS(L)-52, -88, -109, and -114, when they were attacked by one G4M Betty bomber and four Ki-43 Oscar fighters. One of the kamikazes crashed Harry F. Bauer on the stern, plowing through the rack of depth charges and shoving them into the sea with none of them exploding. (Harry F. Bauer would prove to be one of the luckiest ships in the U.S. Navy.)
LCS(L)-88 shot down one of the Oscars, but another circled around to attack. Although LCS(L)-88 shot off a wing with 20-mm fire, the plane kept coming for the ship until it was hit at point-blank range by the aft 40-mm and crashed in the water. The pilot still managed to release a 220-pound bomb that destroyed the 40-mm mount that had just shot him down, killing the entire gun crew. The bomb also disabled the steering and started a serious fire. The skipper of the LCS, Lieutenant Casimir Lucian Bigos, suffered a fatal head wound from bomb fragments. Therefore, engineer led the damage control effort that saved the ship, which suffered nine dead and seven wounded. LCS(L)-88 was towed to Kerama Retto for temporary repair before making her way back to San Francisco, where she was when the war ended. Lieutenant Bigos was awarded a posthumous Silver Star. After the war, LCS(L)-88 was loaned to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, which kept her in use from 1953 to 1964. The vessel was then transferred to the Philippines Navy to be cannibalized for spare parts in 1975.
During the Battle of Okinawa, 12 LCSs were hit by kamikazes and bombs, most while assisting destroyers on the radar picket stations, with a combined total of 65 crewmen killed and 103 wounded.
USS Bache (DD-470 ##), 13 May 1945
Although Kikusui No. 6 was over, small groups of Japanese aircraft continued to attack U.S. ships off Okinawa. At dusk on 13 May 1945, the destroyer Bache (DD-470), commanded by Lieutenant Commander Alan R. McFarland, came under attack by several Japanese kamikazes. Bache had come to the rescue of other ships and survivors multiple times in the preceding month and had been attacked without sustaining significant damage, but now her luck ran out. She shot down the first two aircraft coming in at low altitude and badly damaged a third, which nevertheless hit the No. 2 stack with its wing before spinning down to the main deck. The plane’s bomb exploded, rupturing steam and power lines, which caused extensive topside and engineering space casualties. Despite 41 dead and 32 wounded, Bache’s crew brought the fires under control by 1912. The ship was towed to Kerama Retto before eventually making her way to New York City, where repairs were not yet completed when the war ended.
Bache would be reactivated in 1950 and would serve until 6 February 1968, when she was driven aground by a gale during a port visit to Rhodes, Greece. She was declared a constructive total loss and scrapped in place.
Lieutenant Commander McFarland was awarded a Navy Cross for his role in previous rescues and for saving his ship on 13 May 1945.
Navy Cross citation for Lieutenant Commander McFarland:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Commander (then Lieutenant Commander) Alan Roberts McFarland, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as commanding officer of the destroyer Bache (DD-470) during operations against enemy Japanese forces off Okinawa Shima in the Ryukyu Chain, from 1 April to 2 June 1945. Coolly vigilant as he patrolled the hazardous waters of his assigned picket station, Commander McFarland boldly met the challenge of Japanese kamikaze planes, hurling the full force of his gun batteries at the aggressors and fighting off repeated attacks with unfaltering skill and accuracy to effect the destruction of seven hostile aircraft by his ship’s gunfire and two additional planes by combat air patrol under his direction. Rendering valiant support during 15 days of intensive combat action, he unhesitatingly proceeded to the assistance of other vessels in his group as they sustained serious damage under the enemy’s suicide dives, providing prompt firefighting and medical aid to damaged craft and assisting in the rescue of numerous survivors despite the constant threat of renewed aerial attack. A forceful leader, Commander McFarland, by his superb ship-handling, consistently sound judgment and unrelenting aggressiveness in the face of tremendous opposition, contributed essentially to the safety of all our forces in the Okinawa area, and his conduct throughout sustained and enhanced the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
USS Bright (DE-747 ##), 13 May 1945
Also at dusk on 13 May 1945, the destroyer escort Bright, commanded by Lieutenant Commander William Alva McMahan, USNR, came under kamikaze attack as she was screening the transport area off southwestern Okinawa. At 1919, a single, low-flying Zeke fighter made it through the intense antiaircraft barrage. Despite being hit in the engine and port wing, which sheared off, the Japanese pilot managed to hit Bright on the fantail, and the plane’s bomb exploded. Damage was extensive. The after engine room was wrecked, the rudder was jammed hard left, both depth charge racks on the stern were damaged (but fortunately did not explode), the main deck was buckled with a large hole, and three compartments were flooded. Nevertheless, as Bright steamed in a circle for the next hour, her damage control teams gained the upper hand on the fires, and her gunners joined with nearby destroyer transport Barr (APD-39) in shooting down another aircraft. Fortunately, Bright’s casualties were surprisingly light, with no dead and only two wounded. Bright was towed to Kerama Retto for temporary repair before proceeding to Portland, Oregon, where she arrived in June 1945. Her repairs were not yet complete when the war ended. Bright would subsequently serve in the French navy as Toureg from 1950 to 1960 before being scrapped in 1965.
USS LST-808 (*), 18 May 1945
On the evening of 18 May 1946, LST-808, commanded by Lieutenant John Calvin Stevens, was anchored of Ie Shima, a small island off the west coast of Okinawa (where famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire on 17 April 1945). Earlier that day, LST-808 had completed delivery of fresh water and fog oil (for smoke- screen generation) to ships on radar picket duty off Okinawa. Although LST-808 (and other vessels in the anchorage) was protected by a smoke screen (which was standard practice), she was hit in the engine room by a torpedo from a low-flying Japanese aircraft at 2207, which killed five crewmen initially, although ultimately 17 personnel died and 11 were wounded. Most of the crew was evacuated except for a small security detail, and several landing craft pushed her onto a coral reef. However, at 1600 on 20 May, the immobile LST-808 was hit and sunk by a kamikaze, fortunately with no further loss of life.
USS Chase (APD-54 #), 20 May 1945
At dusk on 20 May 1945, several kamikaze aircraft penetrated the Kerama Retto roadstead and into the transport area. Destroyer transport Chase, commanded by Lieutenant Commander George Orvil Knapp II, USNR, was attacked by a kamikaze. Chase shot the plane down but had to maneuver radically to avoid the falling wreckage, which crashed only 10 yards from the ship. The two bombs on the plane detonated, inflicting severe damage to Chase’s hull and causing the engine and firerooms to flood. The ship began to list to the point of being in danger of capsizing, all while her steering was jammed hard over to the left and as a second suicide plane had to be driven off. Nevertheless, her crew managed to keep her afloat, and she was towed to Kerama Retto and then across the Pacific to San Diego, where she arrived in October 1945, only to be decommissioned in January 1946, her repairs not having been completed. Chase was lucky, suffering 35 wounded but no deaths.
USS John C. Butler (DE-339), 20 May 1945
At dusk on 20 May 1945, destroyer escort John C. Butler was on radar picket duty north of the transport area near the island of Ie Shima off the west coast of Okinawa. She was still under the command of Lieutenant Commander John Edward Pace, who had been awarded a Navy Cross for his actions in command of the ship (which had been awarded a Presidential Unit Citation) during "Taffy 3’s valiant fight against overwhelming odds in the Battle off Samar on 25 October 1944. John C. Butler came through that battle virtually unscathed, despite a running gun battle with a Japanese heavy cruiser. John C. Butler also rescued many of the survivors of the escort carrier St. Lo (CVE-63) after she became the first major U.S. ship to be sunk by a kamikaze, also on 25 October 1944.
Prior to sunset, John C. Butler received an alert radio warning that 8 to 10 Japanese Zeke and Oscar fighters were headed her way, and a few minutes before sunset six kamikaze aircraft came in for the attack. The ship commenced firing and blew apart the first two aircraft before they commenced their dives. Gunners hit the third kamikaze, and the flaming plane clipped a radio antenna before crashing close aboard. A fourth aircraft was already in flames when it exploded in midair. The fifth aircraft was hit and damaged and lost control at the very end, sheering off radar antennas from the mast before it too crashed in the water. A sixth kamikaze was driven off by the arrival of Marine F4U Corsair fighters. John C. Butler’s gunners had downed four Zekes and an Oscar. Once again, the ship came through nearly unscathed with no dead and no wounded. The damage was significant enough that she had to proceed to Leyte for repairs before returning to Okinawa on 4 July 1945. Lieutenant Commander Pace was awarded a Silver Star and the ship a Navy Unit Commendation. John C. Butler served as a reserve training ship until decommissioned in 1957 and sunk as a target in 1971.
USS Thatcher (DD-514 #), 20 May 1945
The Fletcher-class destroyer Thatcher was a battle-hardened ship (12 battle stars) with an experienced skipper, Lieutenant Commander Charles Richardson Chandler, who had been awarded a Silver Star as executive officer of the destroyer Drayton (DD-366) and had survived serious burn injuries. On the evening of 20 May 1945, Thatcher was assigned radar picket duty, guarding the transport area near Kerama Retto. The ship’s radar detected a large number of Japanese aircraft heading for the anchorage and gave warning, and the planes were met with an intense barrage from all ships in the anchorage. Thatcher increased speed to 35 knots and maneuvered to bring maximum number of guns to bear at an approaching Ki-43 Oscar fighter coming in at low altitude. The fast Oscar sailed through the storm of fire, passed down Thatcher’s port side, did some acrobatic stunt flying while popping up, reversed course, and then went into a steep dive, crashing into Thatcher’s superstructure just aft of the bridge. The impact caused serious damage on the starboard side, blowing a six-by-nine–foot hole between the keel and the bilge, knocking out the radars, gyros, and all power and steering from the bridge. Lieutenant Commander Chandler made his way through the flames and debris to after steering, where he resumed control of the ship and directed damage control efforts.
Destroyer Boyd (DD-544) and destroyer-transport Pavlic (APD-70) came alongside to assist with firefighting and with the wounded. Thatcher suffered 14 dead and 53 wounded, but the crew controlled the flooding and put out the fires. The ship made her way to Kerama Retto under her own power. Lieutenant Commander Chandler was awarded his second Silver Star. Due to the backlog of damaged ships in Kerama Retto, Thatcher waited until 1 July to go into the floating dry dock, rode out a typhoon in Buckner Bay on 13 July, and then was hit by one of the last kamikaze strikes on 20 July. A Japanese aircraft infiltrated the anchorage and bounced off Thatcher’s side above the waterline, exploded, and burned alongside, but did not do serious additional damage. Thatcher finally arrived at Bremerton on 20 August, but was not deemed suitable for additional repair and was scrapped.
Kikusui No. 7, 23–25 May 1945
Mass kamikaze attack Kikusui No. 7 included 165 kamikaze aircraft (65 navy and 100 army) and was strung out over several nights between 23 and 25 May. It started out mostly as a fizzle, with aircraft on the 23rd arriving after dark during a full moon. Radar Pickett Station No. 15, northwest of Okinawa, came under seven hours of intermittent attack, but only LCS(L)-121 suffered damage—minor—from a near-miss bomb. The next night went not much better for the Japanese, with no damage inflicted on U.S. ships despite considerable effort, but would be noteworthy for a bold Japanese attack on the U.S. airfield at Yontan. The Japanese also commenced the eighth Kaiten suicide submarine mission, with the Todoroki (“Thunderclap”) Group of four submarines departing Japan en route waters off Okinawa.
Yontan Airfield Attack, 24–25 May 1945
On the night of 24–25 May 1945, several waves of Japanese conventional bombers attacked Yontan and Kadena airfields on Okinawa and the recently captured airfield on Ie Shima, providing cover for Operation Giretsu (Faith). The operation called for twelve specially equipped Ki-21 Sally twin-engine bombers to crash land on Yontan airfield, each delivering ten special attack unit soldiers to destroy U.S. aircraft on the field. Unfortunately for the Japanese, several of the Sallys got lost in the darkness, and others turned back due to engine trouble. Only four Sallys were made it to the target area, and three were shot down by alert gunners.
One of the Sallys succeeded in making a belly landing on Yontan airfield and disgorged her ten commandos, which the U.S. forces defending the airfield were not expecting. During several hours of running gun battle, the Japanese destroyed seven aircraft, damaged 26 others with hand grenades and phosphorous charges, and blew up two fuel dumps containing a combined 70,000 gallons of gasoline. Eventually, U.S. forces hunted down and killed all the Japanese. Including those in the planes that were shot down, 56 Japanese were killed in the attack, while U.S. losses were two killed and 18 wounded.
USS Stormes (DD-780 ##), 25 May 1945
On 23 May, the newly constructed Allen M. Sumner–class destroyer Stormes arrived at Okinawa after escorting the heavy cruiser Louisville (CA-28) from Pearl Harbor, her first operational assignment. Two days later, she was hit by a kamikaze and knocked out of the war. Stormes was commanded by Commander William Naylor Wylie, who had previously been awarded a Navy Cross while in command of submarine Scorpion (SS-278) on her first war patrol in April–May 1943, the first mining of Japanese coastal waters. (Scorpion was later lost with all hands in 1944, probably after hitting a Japanese mine.)
On the morning of 25 May 1945, Stormes was at Radar Picket Station No. 15, where she was on anti-air screening duty for the Hagushi anchorage area off southwestern Okinawa. The weather was poor. Suddenly, at 0905, a Japanese plane dropped out of the overcast 2,000 yards from Stormes, passing between two U.S. aircraft. The aircraft was heading for destroyer Ammen (DD-527), located ahead of Stormes. The kamikaze suddenly flipped over, changed course, and dove into Stormes, hitting the aft torpedo bank. The bomb exploded in the No. 3 handling room, resulting in severe fires and a large hole in the hull between the propeller shafts, and flooding the stern of the ship. Stormes suffered 21 dead and 15 wounded, but her crew was able to control the flooding and put out the fires by noon. She slowly made Kerama Retto on her own power.
After temporary repairs in the floating drydock, Stormes crossed the Pacific in August even though only one shaft was operational. Repairs were not complete when the war ended. Commander Wylie was awarded a Silver Star for his actions in saving the ship.
Stormes served in combat during the Korean War (three battle stars) and Vietnam (one battle star) before being sold to Iran in 1972, where she served as Palang (“Leopard”) until being decommissioned in 1994. She still remains at Bandar Abbas, Iran.
USS Butler (DD-636), 25 May 1945
On 25 May 1945, the Gleaves-class converted fast minesweeper Butler was on patrol off Okinawa, under the command of Commander Robert Messinger Hinckley, Jr. Earlier in the war, Butler had escorted the French vessels Richelieu (a battleship) and Montcalm (a cruiser) from French West Africa (after the Vichy French in Africa had switched sides to the Free French) for overhaul at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Butler had previously been attacked five times by kamikazes, with no direct hits, and had downed several. But, on 25 May, two bombs from a kamikaze exploded under Butler’s keel, flooding the forward fireroom, rupturing steam lines, and causing the loss of all power. The ship suffered 14 killed and 15 wounded. (West Virginia [BB-48] was nearby and drove off two additional Japanese aircraft.) Butler eventually made it to Kerama Retto and then to the U.S. West Coast in August. She was subsequently decommissioned without being fully repaired. Commander Hinckley was awarded a Silver Star for his actions against Japanese aircraft and for saving his ship.
USS Spectacle (AM-305 #) and USS LSM-135 (*), 25 May 1945
The minesweeper Spectacle (AM-305), commanded by Lieutenant Gordon Bullitt Williams, had been in action off Okinawa since 25 March. At 0805 on 25 May, a kamikaze hit her under the port 40-mm gun tub, causing serious damage, jamming her rudder, and blowing many of her crew over the side. The ship dropped anchor to avoid running down the men in the water. The fires were out of control, and the ship had to be abandoned. LSM-135 was picking up survivors when she, too, was hit by a kamikaze at 0815 and had to be beached on a reef and abandoned. Spectacle did not sink, however, and was partially re-manned and towed to Ie Shima by fleet tug Tekesta (ATF-93). Spectacle lost 29 crewmen with 6 wounded, while LSM-135 suffered 11 killed and 10 wounded. Spectacle subsequently proceeded to Kerama Retto and then to Seattle. Further repairs were not completed, and she was scrapped.
USS Barry (APD-29*), 25 May (and 21 June) 1945
On 25 May 1945, the converted fast transport Barry, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Clemens Francis Hand, USNR, was on patrol 35 nautical miles northwest of Okinawa. As a destroyer in the Atlantic, Barry had served in the screen of the highly successful escort carrier Card (CVE-11).
At 1300 on 25 May 1945, Barry sighted two Japanese planes coming in at low altitude at 2,200 yards and took them under fire. The lead plane was strafing before it was shot down. A few seconds later the second plane crashed Barry’s starboard side below the bridge. Amazingly, no one was killed, but 30 were wounded. However, the plane’s bomb, combined with the plane’s gasoline tanks, ignited a major fire from Barry’s ruptured oil tanks, threatening the forward magazine and cutting off access to the controls to flood the magazine. The crew fought the stubborn fire. Unable to flood the magazine, the commanding officer ordered that the ship be abandoned. The entire crew made it off safely. By 1500, the bow had settled enough in the water that the magazine was flooded, and a skeleton crew, assisted by crewmen from destroyer-transports Sims (APD-50) and Roper, re-boarded the ship and put the fires out.
Barry was towed to Kerama Retto and deemed beyond repair. Her hull was stripped of everything of value with the intent to tow her out to be used as a kamikaze decoy. As she was being towed out of Kerama Retto on 21 June, escorted by LSM-59, two Japanese kamikazes attacked; one crashed and sank LSM-59 and the other crashed and sank the derelict Barry, fulfilling her decoy purpose even sooner than intended.
USS Bates (APD-47*), 25 May 1945
At about 1115 on 25 May 1945, the converted fast transport Bates (formerly DE-68), commanded by Lieutenant Commander Henry Albert Wilmerding Jr., USNR, was on patrol just south of Ie Shima when she was attacked by three kamikazes. The first plane crashed on her fantail on the starboard side, while the plane’s bomb, released just before the kamikaze hit, exploded a few feet away from the ship, rupturing many hull plates on the starboard side. The second kamikaze crashed into the bridge area. The bomb from the third kamikaze hit close aboard, rupturing the hull on the port side. Bates went dead in the water and lost all fire main pressure, and the fires got out of control. The ship was surrounded by burning fuel oil and an attempt to come alongside by Gosselin (APD-126) was aborted. At 1145, Lieutenant Commander Wilmerding ordered the ship abandoned, with 21 dead and 35 wounded. The fleet tug Cree (ATF-84) succeeded in getting a towline onto Bates and towed her to the Ie Shima anchorage as Bates continued burning. After arriving at the anchorage, at 1923, Bates capsized and sank.
USS Roper (APD-20#), 25 May 1945
The converted fast transport Roper had the distinction of being the first U.S. Navy ship to sink a German U-boat, U-85, on 14 April 1942. (The subsequent looting of U-85 by private divers beginning in the 1960s was part of the impetus for the U.S. Congress to pass the Sunken Military Craft Act in 2004.)
On 25 May 1945, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Ulysses B. Carter, Roper was patrolling near Ie Shima when she was hit in the starboard bow by a kamikaze that wounded 10 crewmen. Despite the damage, Roper still proceeded to the assistance of Barry, which had been badly damaged by a kamikaze. Roper’s damage was serious enough that she was ordered to return to San Pedro for repair, but with the end of the war and her age (she had been commissioned in 1918), repairs were not completed, and she was scrapped.
Liberty Ship William R. Allison, 25 May 1945
On 25 May 1945, the Liberty ship William R. Allison was hit by a torpedo from a Japanese aircraft while in a bay on the east side of Okinawa. She suffered eight killed and two wounded. Although she didn’t sink, she was declared a constructive total loss and deemed not worth repair. However, she was accepted from the War Shipping Administration by the U.S. Navy and re-designated as a non–self-propelled floating dry storage ship.
She became known as USS Inca, but the name Inca had actually been given to another Liberty ship that had not actually been accepted by the U.S. Navy. Before the paperwork mix up that had led to her misnaming could be corrected, “Inca” (IX-229) was battered by typhoons and eventually driven aground in December 1945. Reports of her loss caused more paperwork confusion.
USS O’Neill (DE-188##), 26 May 1945
Destroyer escort O’Neal, commanded by Lieutenant Commander David Spencer Bill, Jr., spent 60 days on antisubmarine picket duty off Okinawa. On 25 May, she shot down a Japanese twin-engine bomber, and on 26 May she was hit by a kamikaze in the starboard bow and knocked out of the war. Two men were killed and 17 wounded. Repairs at Saipan were not complete when the war ended. O’Neal subsequently served in the Netherlands navy as HMNLS Dubois from 1950 to 1967.
Fifth Fleet to Third Fleet: Admiral Halsey Relieves Admiral Spruance, 27 May 1945
On 27 May 1945, Admiral Halsey relieved Admiral Spruance, and the Fifth Fleet once again became Third Fleet. On 28 May 1945, Vice Admiral John “Slew” McCain relieved Vice Admiral Mitscher on board Randolph, and the Fast Carrier Task Force was re-designated from Task Force 58 to Task Force 38.
Neither Spruance nor Mitscher expected when they started the Okinawa campaign in mid-March that it would still be ongoing at the end of May. In that time, more than 90 U.S. Navy ships had been sunk or damaged badly enough to be out of action for more than a month. As U.S. ships were getting clobbered day after day off Okinawa, animosity among Navy commanders toward the Army began to grow, due to the Tenth Army’s slow pace of advance in finishing off the Japanese deeply dug in on the southern end of Okinawa. Admiral Nimitz did his best to tamp down such criticism within Navy ranks, but the criticism of Army Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner by the war correspondents was vociferous and scathing. The very high casualties being suffered ashore only added fuel to the fire. Admiral Halsey disliked Admiral Spruance’s approach of remaining tethered to supporting the forces ashore and wanted to take a more offensive approach. A few days later, this would result i in Halsey driving the Third Fleet right into another typhoon (see H-Gram 039 for more on Typhoon Cobra in December 1944).
Kikusui No. 8, 27–29 May 1945
Massed kamikaze attack Kikusui No. 8 took place between 27 and 29 May, and would be the last one to employ more than 100 kamikaze aircraft, as the Japanese began to husband planes for the expected defense of the home islands. Kikusui No. 8 involved 110 aircraft (60 navy and 50 army) and would inflict significantly more pain than Kikusui No. 7, but not as much as Kikusui No. 6.
USS Braine (DD-630##), 27 May 1945
Braine and Anthony (DD-515) and four LCSs had been on Radar Picket Station No. 5 northeast of Okinawa for several days, and on 25 May had combined to shoot down five Japanese kamikazes, including a Betty bomber with an Ohka suicide plane. Braine, a Fletcher-class destroyer, was under the command of Commander William Wilson Fitts, who had previously been awarded a Silver Star as executive officer of a destroyer in the Aleutians and another Silver Star in command of Braine during an engagement with a Japanese destroyer in January 1945. Braine had been slightly damaged by shore fire during the bombardment of Tinian in June 1944. The Fletcher-class destroyer Anthony was also a battle veteran (seven battle stars), under the command of Lieutenant Commander Clyde James Van Arsdall, Jr., since July 1944.
The weather on the morning of 27 May was foul, and the eight U.S. Army P-47 Thunderbolt fighters on combat air patrol requested to return to base, which the fighter direction officer on Braine granted. No sooner thatthe P-47s were out of range than four Val dive-bombers dropped out of the clouds. Both destroyers and the LCSs opened fire on the Japanese aircraft. The first kamikaze was shot down. The second was set on fire at 2,000 yards from Anthony but kept coming, passing right over Anthony before making a sharp turn and crashing Braine in the No. 2. handling room, blowing the splinter shield right off the No. 2 5-inch gun mount, and the resulting explosion severely damaged the bridge and demolished the wardroom and officer’s country. Commander Fitts was badly wounded, but refused to relinquish command while directing the continued defense of the ship. Meanwhile a third Val orbiting directly over Anthony tipped over into a steep dive. Gunfire from Anthony deflected the Val enough that it crashed 50 feet off the starboard beam, and parts of the plane and the pilot’s body landed on Anthony. At the same time, another Val dove on Braine. The plane crashed into the sickbay and the bomb exploded in the No. 3 boiler uptake. The resulting explosion blew the No. 2 funnel right off the ship and completely wrecked the amidships superstructure.
After the second kamikaze hit, raging flames essentially divided Braine into three sections unable to communicate with each other, and the ship went dead in the water. Despite this, Braine’s crewmen fought the fires, and two LCSs rescued men who’d been blown over the side, some of whom in this case were attacked by sharks. Once the air threat diminished, Anthony grappled Braine and came right alongside to help fight the fires and provide medical assistance. By noon, the fires were mostly out. Braine’s casualties were heavy, with 67 dead and 103 wounded. Anthony was mostly unscathed and took Braine in tow until the former was relieved by fleet tug Ute (AT-76), which towed Braine to Kerama Retto. Braine subsequently transited to Boston for repairs, which were not completed before the war ended. Braine was recommissioned in 1951, starred in the movie In Harm’s Way in 1964, and then served in the Argentine navy as Almirante Domecq Garcia from 1971 until she was sunk as a target in 1983.
Braine Navy Cross citation:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Commander William Wilson Fitts, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as commanding officer of the destroyer USS Braine (DD-630), in action against enemy Japanese forces off the coast of Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands, on 27 May 1945. Although painfully wounded when his ship was struck and severely damaged by two hostile suicide planes, Commander Fitts boldly initiated effective firefighting measures and directed the establishment of first aid stations for the wounded. Despite heavy and accurate enemy fire and the danger of exploding ammunition, he contributed greatly toward saving his vessel from destruction. By his courage, leadership and devotion to duty, Commander Fitts upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Anthony Navy Cross citation:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Commander Clyde James Van Arsdall Jr., United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as commanding officer of the destroyer USS Anthony (DD-515) in action against the enemy from 25 through 27 May 1945, at Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands. Immediately following a hostile suicide attack in which his ship shot down two enemy planes, Commander Van Arsdall courageously maneuvered his vessel alongside the fiercely burning USS Braine (DD-630) which had been struck by a Japanese suicide plane and, capably directing rescue operations, succeeded in saving the damaged ship from destruction and in rescuing many personnel who might otherwise have perished. His excellent leadership, gallant fighting spirit and devotion to duty throughout were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Commander Van Arsdall was also awarded a Silver Star for other actions at Okinawa in command of Anthony.
USS Forrest (DMS-24#), 27 May 1945
On 27 May 1945, the Gleaves-class converted destroyer minesweeper Forrest (formerly DD-461) was screening other small minesweepers when she was attacked by three kamikazes that had dropped suddenly out of the clouds. Forrest shot down two of the kamikazes, but the third popped back up into the clouds and then attacked from a different direction with little warning. The kamikaze hit Forrest amidships on the starboard side at the waterline, killing 5 men and wounding 20. Her crew quickly got the fires under control, and she made Kerama Retto under her own power. She transited to Boston, where she was decommissioned without completing repairs and scrapped. The commanding officer of Forrest, Lieutenant Commander Sanford Elza “Red Dog” Woodard, was awarded a Silver Star. Lieutenant Commander Woodard had a previous Navy–Marine Corps Medal for rescuing five people from a merchant ship that had run aground in the Dutch East Indies in February 1942.
USS Rednour (APD-102##) and USS Loy (APD-56), 27 May 1945
Shortly before midnight on 27 May 1945, the converted high-speed destroyer transport Rednour (APD-102, formerly DE-592), under the command of Lieutenant Commander Roland Heinrich Cramer, USNR, was on an anti-air patrol station west of Okinawa in company with Loy (APD-56, formerly DE-160) and destroyer escort Eisele (DE-34). Several kamikazes attacked the group, with the first two heading for Loy. She shot down the first plane, which exploded in midair, but the second exploded close aboard and showered Loy with fragments. The third plane veered off under heavy fire, while the fourth shifted aim for Rednour and came in from her starboard bow. Despite intense fire, the kamikaze crashed on Rednour’s fantail, blasting a 10-foot hole in the main deck. Rednour’s gunners kept firing and drove off yet another Japanese aircraft. Despite the damage, Rednour proceeded to Kerama Retto and then to San Pedro, where her repairs were completed after the Japanese surrender. Rednour later served in the Mexican navy as ARM Chihuahua from 1968 to 2001.
Loy, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Robert William Pond Jr., USNR, suffered three dead and 15 wounded in the attack. As Loy was heading to Hagushi Anchorage for temporary repair early on 28 May, she shot down another kamikaze that crashed just off her stern. She then proceeded to Leyte for more repair and was there when the war ended.
LCS(L)-119 (##), 28 May 1945
On 21 May, while returning from duty on a radar picket station, LCS(L)-119 was attacked by two Val dive-bombers and one Nell twin-engine bomber. LCS(L)-119 shot down the Nell at 1,500 yards off the port beam. The first Val dove from overhead, strafing the ship, before it barely missed off the port bow, spraying the LCS(L)-119 with burning gasoline, which was quickly extinguished. The second Val turned away under fire.
On 28 May LCS(L)-119’s luck ran out while she was on anti–suicide-boat patrol just outside the Hagushi anchorage. Shortly before midnight, the vessel shot down a Betty twin-engine bomber. However, shortly afterwards a Rufe (A6M2-N Zero floatplane) with a big bomb came out of the darkness and crashed LCS(L)-119 on her starboard quarter near the engine room, starting a raging fire from amidships to the stern and causing ready-service ammunition boxes to cook off and explode. The vessel’s pumps were knocked out and, for a time, the fire could not be controlled. With 10 dead and 18 seriously wounded, the ship was in serious danger of being lost, until a tug came alongside and evacuated the wounded and put out the fire. The skipper of LCS(L)-119, Lieutenant Emil Saroch, Jr., was awarded a Silver Star for bringing the vessel alongside another burning ship and extinguishing the fire on 1 April, for shooting down two aircraft and driving off a third on 1 May, and, on 28 May, for saving his ship and going into a burning compartment to extricate and carry a wounded crewman to relative safety. LCS(L)-119 was also awarded a Navy Unit Commendation. Her repairs were not completed until after the war was over. She ended up serving in the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense force from 1953 to 1958.
USS Drexler (DD-741*), 28 May 1945
Kikusui No. 8 attacks continued on the morning of 28 May, and Radar Picket Station No. 15 northwest of Okinawa took the brunt. The new Allen M. Sumner–class destroyers Drexler and Lowry (DD-770) were on station, along with LCS-52, -55, -56, and -114. Drexler was under the command of Commander Robert Lee Wilson, and Lowry was commanded by Commander Edwin Swain Miller. At 0650, radar detected an incoming raid, and both destroyers maneuvered to bring maximum firepower to bear. (High-speed and radical maneuvers were effective in throwing off the aim of bombers, but not of much use against a “guided” weapon like a kamikaze; the ships simply weren’t fast enough relative to the speed of the kamikazes. U.S. tactics had evolved such that the primary consideration was to bring as many guns to bear on the kamikaze as possible.) Combat air patrol reported six aircraft inbound, and an F4U Corsair was able to shoot one of them down.
At 0700, the Japanese attack commenced with what appeared to be a well-coordinated scheme of maneuver by very good pilots flying fast aircraft, probably Japanese army twin-engine Ki-45 “Nick” fighters. The aircraft approached from different directions, and one was shot down by the combined fire of combat air patrol, Drexler and Lowry. The second approached from Drexler’s starboard bow and was aiming for Lowry. Drexler had to fire over Lowry to try to hit it. Hit multiple times, the kamikaze missed Lowry by several feet and seemed as if it was about to crash in the water when it pulled up and managed to hit Drexler instead, on the starboard side just above the waterline, knocking out all power and starting a large gasoline fire. Nevertheless, Drexler’s fire-fighting teams had the fire out in about 30 seconds, and despite the damage, Drexler’s gunners kept firing as more Japanese aircraft came in. Combined with Lowry, the gunners shot down two more aircraft. However, the next kamikaze came in trailing smoke with a Corsair on its tail. Hit multiple times, the kamikaze passed directly over Drexler from bow to stern and looked as if it was about to crash behind the ship when the pilot executed a stunning turning loop maneuver and re-attacked from the bow, grazing the signal bridge, ripping away halyards and boat davits, until the plane hit Drexler’s aft stack. The plane’s two bombs caused an explosion so devastating that it broke the destroyer’s back, and she went under in less than a minute. U.S. fighters shot down the sixth kamikaze as Drexler sank. (Most accounts identify the aircraft that made the fatal blow as a Yokosuka P1Y Frances twin-engine bomber, but, based on Japanese records, that is not the case. Actually, all six planes would have been Nicks from the Army 45th Shinbu Squadron.)
Drexler sank so fast that few men below decks had a chance to escape, and 164 crewmen were lost with the ship. Of the 199 survivors rescued by Lowry and the LCSs, 51 were wounded, including the commanding officer. The catastrophic loss of Drexler, the latest class of U.S. destroyer, was of such concern that Commander Wilson was called back twice to Washington to provide more details.
USS Sandoval (APA-194##), 28 May 1945
During Kikusui No. 8, a number of kamikazes reached the transport areas off Okinawa, which had actually been the primary objectives of the previous kamikaze attacks, although few had made it that far. On 27 May, the attack transport Sandoval (APA-194) reached Nakagusuku Wan on the southeast coast of Nagasaki as a nighttime air raid was in progress. Sandoval commenced offloading Seabees and their equipment at dawn, but the process was interrupted by additional raid alerts.
At 0737, Sandoval opened fire on a Japanese army Ki-61 Tony fighter coming in low about 50 feet off the water. Despite taking hits, the Tony crashed into the port side of the pilot house, killing the executive officer and four others, and wounding the commanding officer, Commander Richard Casey Scherrer, and 28 others, three of whom later died from their wounds. The ship’s navigator, Lieutenant Kewin (or Kevin) Vincent Kerth (or Keith), assumed command and directed the continued defense of the ship as a second kamikaze came in strafing, crossing 500 feet ahead of the bow before impacting the water. By 0800, damage control teams had the bridge fire under control. Another kamikaze came in at 0815, which missed the Sandova,l but managed to crash on the foredeck of the cargo ship SS Joseph Snelling. By 0830, all fires were extinguished, and Sandoval began offloading the Seabees. The cargo ships Brown Victory and Mary Livermore were also hit in the attack, but damage was not serious. Sandoval proceeded to Mare Island, California, but repairs were not complete when the war ended. Sandoval was later reactivated and served during the Korean War.
USS Shubrick (DD-639#), 29 May 1945
On the night of 28–29 May, Gleaves-class destroyer Shubrick was headed toward Radar Picket Station No. 16, west northwest of Okinawa, for her second stint as a radar picket ship. Commanded by Lieutenant Commander John Chapman Jolly (USNA ‘39), Shubrick was a veteran of the landings at Sicily (where she’d been hit by a German bomb), Normandy (D-Day), and Southern France. She was transferred to the Pacific and, on 12 May, shot down two Japanese aircraft in concert with another destroyer.
At 2355 on 28 May, under a full moon, Shubrick spotted a twin-engine aircraft passing ahead with its running lights on. The ship immediately slowed down to minimize her wake and reduce the chance of being spotted, but to no avail. At 0007 on 29 May, the plane apparently detected Shubrick and commenced an attack. Some accounts indicate that two planes were involved, but make no mention of what the second plane did. Shubrick opened fire on the first aircraft, but it kept coming and crashed into the gun director and 40mm mount on the aft deckhouse, starting a large gasoline fire and killing the men in emergency radio. The plane’s bomb, released just before the plane’s impact, blew a 30-foot hole in the starboard side, flooding the after fireroom and engine room and trapping several men in the No. 3 magazine. A depth charge in one of the side-throwing mounts exploded, which caused more damage, but had the beneficial effect of blowing out the fire.
Shubrick continued to settle until by 0130 the fantail was awash. Destroyer Van Valkenburgh came alongside and took off the wounded and all but a volunteer skeleton crew, which managed to stem further flooding with additional handy-billy pumps provided by Van Valkenburgh. Pavlic came alongside at 0200 and passed over more pumps. Shubrick lost 35 men and suffered 25 wounded. Salvage tug ATR-9 took Shubrick in tow at 0510 to Kerama Retto. Following emergency repairs, Shubrick steamed across the Pacific on one engine to Puget Sound, where it was decided not to make further repairs, and the ship was sold for scrap. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Jolly, was awarded a Navy Cross for his actions in saving his ship.
Thus ended Kikusui No. 8, with loss of another destroyer sunk, others badly damaged and over 250 U.S. Sailors killed.
Shubrick Navy Cross citation:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Commander John Chapman Jolly, United States Navy for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as commanding officer of the destroyer USS Shubrick (DD-639) in action against enemy Japanese forces off Okinawa Shima, on 29 May 1945. When his ship was attacked by enemy suicide planes, Lieutenant Commander Jolly coolly and capably directed his guns in delivering prolonged and effective fire, destroying at least one hostile aircraft. [With the ship in danger of sinking after having been hit and severely damaged, Lieutenant Commander Jolly] disregarded the hazards of fire and exploding ammunition and, exercising initiative and considerable ability, took all possible measures and succeeded in keeping his ship afloat. His gallant leadership and perseverance were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
I-361 Sunk, 31 May 1945
On 28 May, a U.S. minesweeper sighted a Japanese submarine southeast of Okinawa. This was I-361, which had departed Japan on 24 May with the Torodoroki (“Thunderclap”) Group, with five Kaiten manned suicide torpedoes on board. I-361 was setting up on the convoy route from Saipan to Okinawa.
The escort carrier Anzio, with four destroyer escorts, immediately headed for the reported datum and commenced searches by embarked composite squadron VC-13 aircraft. At 0436 on 31 May, a TBM-3E Avenger flown by Lieutenant (j.g.) Sam Stovall gained radar contact. The Avenger dropped out of the clouds and caught I-361 on the surface, firing four 5-inch rockets with two possible hits. The submarine crash-dived, and Stovall dropped sonobuoys and a Mark 24 “Fido” acoustic homing torpedo, which tracked and probably hit the submarine. Destroyer escort Oliver Mitchell (DE-417) felt the large underwater shock while still 15 nautical miles away. When Oliver Mitchell and Tabberer (DE-418) reached the datum, the sea was covered in a large oil slick, with planking and other debris present. I-361 was lost with all 76 crewmen and five Kaiten pilots.
Kikusui No. 9, 3–7 June 1945
Kikusui No. 9 was strung out over five days from 3–7 June and was the smallest yet, with only 50 kamikaze aircraft (20 navy and 30 army). From the Japanese perspective, it was a failure, partly due to Typhoon Viper.
USS LCI(L)-90, 3 June 1945
On 3 June 1945, the U.S. Coast Guard–manned LCI(L)-90, under the command of Lieutenant (j.g.) William H. Nadon, USCGR, was attacked by a Japanese kamikaze fighter. LCI(L)-90 was a veteran of the landings in French North Africa, Sicily, Anzio and Omaha Beach. The vessel was hit and damaged in the attack, but fortunately suffered only one dead and seven wounded. LCI(L)-90 was out of action for the rest of the war. (One account says LCI(L)-90 was hit on 14 June, although the table in Morison says 3 June.)
Typhoon Viper, 5 June 1945
On 1 June 1945, Fleet Weather Center Guam reported that a major storm was forming north of the Palau Islands. Early on 3 June, a search plane from Samar reported a typhoon east of the Philippines moving north. After the disastrous typhoon of 18 December 1944, Third Fleet Commander Admiral Halsey and other senior task force and task group commanders were acutely sensitive to the movement of the typhoon, but accurate information was lacking. (It should be noted that forces under Halsey’s command had avoided eleven typhoons since theTyphoon Cobra in December 1944.)
On 2 and 3 June, fast carrier Task Group TG 38.1, under Rear Admiral J. J. “Jocko” Clark, was supporting operations at Okinawa, while TG 38.4, under Rear Admiral Arthur Radford, was conducting fighter sweeps over Japanese airfields on Kyushu in line with Halsey’s offensive strategy. Clark’s group (TG 38.1) was scheduled to refuel early on 4 June, but Halsey ordered him to break it off and prepare for heavy weather. However, this typhoon, like the one in December 1944, was powerful, but it was also small and tight, so the weather remained deceptively good throughout 4 June. Refueling was resumed and concluded that evening. Nevertheless, at 1732, Halsey ordered Radford (TG 38.4) to desist from further strike operations until the anticipated storm passed.
Halsey, embarked on battleship Missouri (BB-63), and Vice Admiral McCain, commander of Task Force 38, embarked on carrier Shangri-La (CV-38), were both in company with Radford’s TG 38.4. The first definitive word of the typhoon’s location was a radar report of the eye, which came through at 2200 on 4 June from amphibious command ship Ancon (AGC-4). The report did not reach Halsey until 0130 on 5 June. This report caused some confusion, as it indicated a very high rate of advance that did not seem plausible. Halsey ordered the force to change from an easterly heading to 300 degrees, believing that this action would avoid the storm.
At 0246 on 5 June, Rear Admiral Donald Beary, commander of the refueling group (TG 30.8), about 30 miles south of TF 38.4, sent a message stating he believed that the 300-degree course was taking them into the storm rather than away from it. McCain then changed TF 38’s course from 300 to 360 degrees. Beary subsequently reported that course 360 was causing the escort carriers in his group to roll heavily, so he changed course back to 300 degrees, which, as it turned out, took his group right into the center of the storm, as he had initially predicted.
Rear Admiral Clark’s group (TG 38.1) was between TG 38.4 and the refueling group. In TG 38.1, destroyer Maddox (DD-731) reported taking 60-degree rolls, and destroyer John Rogers (DD-574) lost steering control and one engine. Clark radioed that if he moved to 120 degrees, he could avoid the storm, which by 0240 was then visible on TG 38.1’s radars. McCain hesitated in giving permission for Clark to proceed independently, and when he finally gave the permission, it turned out to be too late. In process of trying to find a good course for his destroyers in the rapidly mounting winds and seas, Clark inadvertently drove TG 38.1 right into the eyewall, with seas of 50–60 feet and winds near 100 knots, just after 0500. Radford’s group (TG 38.4) further north actually fared pretty well by maintaining 360 degrees.
Virtually every ship in TG 38.1 and TG 30.1 suffered some degree of damage, with the new heavy cruiser Pittsburgh taking the worst of it. At 0555, winds blew a floatplane off the port catapult on the fantail, causing it to land upside down on the deck. A small fire broke out in the anchor windlass compartment that was quickly extinguished. At 0612, Captain John Edward Gingrich set damage control condition one, which dogged down the entire ship. At 0615, Gingrich ordered battle stations (Condition Z), which brought out all of the crewmen from the forward berthing compartments, an action which saved their lives. At 0630, Pittsburgh hit two massive seas, which ripped 104 feet of the bow clean off. For the next hours, Pittsburgh maneuvered to keep the forward bulkheads from collapsing, aided by the fact that the chief carpenter had acquired double the normal allowance of shoring timber.
Pittsburgh survived and arrived at Guam on 10 June 1945. The tug Munsee (ATF-107) found the bow still afloat (which gave Pittsburgh her claim to being “the longest ship afloat”) and, in what turned out to be an extremely difficult tow, brought it to Guam.
Pittsburgh’s sister Baltimore (CA-68) suffered similar damage, but her bow did not break off. The light cruiser Duluth (CL-87) also suffered significant structural damage to her bow. One destroyer, Samuel L. Moore (DD-747), suffered significant superstructure damage.
All four of the carriers in TG 38.1 were damaged. Hornet (CV-12) and Bennington had 25 feet of their forward flight decks collapsed and the next 25 feet so weakened that the forward flight decks could not support aircraft. Both ships lost a catapult. The light carriers Belleau Wood (CVL-24) and San Jacinto (CVL-30) also suffered significant damage, but not as bad as the bigger fleet carriers. Aircraft losses were significant with 33 washed overboard, 36 jettisoned overboard, 7 damaged beyond repair, and 16 requiring major repair work.
In the refueling group (TG 30.1), the escort carrier Windham Bay (CVE-92) lost 20 feet of her forward flight deck and suffered a damaged elevator. Salamaua (CVE-96) suffered damage as well. The tanker Millicoma (AO) had all her booms on one side ripped away.
Although damage and personnel losses (one officer and five crewmen lost overboard, and four others seriously injured) in Typhoon Viper were far lower than in Typhoon Cobra (three destroyers lost and about 790 killed) in December 1944, the court of inquiry (COI) held in Guam and presided by Vice Admiral John Hoover was scathing in its criticism. The COI pointed out that the lessons learned from Typhoon Cobra had not been followed. The COI further concluded that the course change to 300 degrees at 0134 on 5 June was “extremely ill-advised” given all information available. The COI also concluded that the fleet weather organization “did not function efficiently or effectively” and that radio communications in Third Fleet were so bad that corrective action was required. Moreover, the COI noted that the new cruisers were structurally deficient. Responsibility was primarly placed on Admiral Halsey and secondarily on Admirals McCain, Clark, and Beary. The COI even went so far as to recommend that “serious consideration” be given to assigning Halsey and McCain “to other duty.” Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal wanted to relieve Halsey, but was talked out of it on grounds that such a move would give aid and comfort to the enemy. All commanders remained in their position, although afterward B-29s from the Marianas began flying typhoon reconnaissance missions.