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H-049-1: Victory at Okinawa

Ryukyus Campaign: An LST, loaded to the gunwales, approaches the beach on Iheya Jima, a strategic island about 15 miles northwest of Okinawa, on D-day, 3 June 1945. Equipment and American troops fill the small ship as it nears its objective.

An LST, loaded to the gunwales, approaches the beach on Iheya Jima, a strategic island about 15 miles northwest of Okinawa, on D-day, 3 June 1945. Equipment and American troops fill the small ship, which is nearing its objective (NH 86405). 

H-Gram 049, Attachment 1

Samuel J. Cox, Director NHHC

June 2020

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 ninth mass kamikaze attack (Kikusui No. 9), 3–7 June 1945, and the end of the Okinawa campaign on 22 June 1945. I also include significant antisubmarine actions, as U.S. ships faced kamikaze threats from above and Kaiten manned suicide torpedoes from below.

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. 14, 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

I would also note that because the Japanese threw everything except the kitchen sink in terms of types of aircraft, and because most attacks took place at dusk in fading light, aircraft identifications in the original after-action reports are tenuous at best and frequently wrong.

Kikusui No. 9, 3–7 June 1945

Kikusui No. 9 was strung out over five days (3–7 June) and was the smallest Kikusui yet, with only 50 kamikaze aircraft (20 navy and 30 army). From the Japanese perspective, it was a failure. This was partly due to Typhoon Viper that blew through the area.

J. William Ditter (#) and Harry F. Bauer, 6 June 1945

J. William Ditter was one of twelve Allen M. Sumner–class destroyers that were converted to Robert H. Smith–class destroyer minelayers. Their torpedo tubes (two banks of five 21-inch tubes) and two side-throwing depth charge launchers having been sacrificed in exchange for the capability to lay 80 mines, the ships were otherwise the same as Sumner-class destroyers and were frequently used with them interchangeably. J. William Ditter was commissioned on 28 October 1944, under the command of Commander Robert Roy Sampson, who would be her first and only commanding officer.

J. William Ditter made it to Okinawa just in time for the commencement of the operation, on 25 March 1945, initially providing screening services for minesweeping operations and, on 26 March, evaded a torpedo fired by a Japanese submarine. On 29 March, she sank a Japanese suicide boat, and on the night of 2 April she shot down two Japanese bombers. While on radar picket duty on 12 April 1945, she shot down several Japanese aircraft and was not hit. Her luck ran out on the late afternoon of 6 June while she was back on radar picket duty and in company with destroyer-minelayer Harry F. Bauer one of the luckiest ships in the Navy, and converted Gleaves-class destroyer minesweeper Ellyson (DMS-19, formerly DD-454).

At 1713, about eight Japanese aircraft attacked (variously identified as four different types, although most of them would have been older Japanese Army Ki-27 Nates, with possibly a couple Ki-61 Tony fighters mixed in), most of them headed for J. William Ditter. With help from Harry F. Bauer, J. William Ditter’s gunners shot down the first five kamikazes, but the sixth got through and bounced off the aft stack and into the water with minimal damage. However, the seventh kamikaze hit her portside amidships. The plane’s bomb ripped open a seven- by 50-foot gash in the hull and demolished the forward fireroom and engine room, causing the ship to lose all power. Despite the serious damage, J. William Ditter’s crew kept her afloat, suffering 10 dead and 27 wounded.

Meanwhile, Harry F. Bauer was also under attack. Like J. William Ditter, she was a Robert H. Smith–class destroyer minelayer, commissioned a couple of months earlier—in time to participate in the Iwo Jima operation. Harry F. Bauer was named for the commanding officer of the destroyer transport Gregory (APD-3), which had been lost along with Little (APD-4) on 5 September 1942 in a night action against a superior force of Japanese destroyers after providing U.S. Marines on Guadalcanal with desperately needed supplies. (The commanding officer of Little was Hugh W. Hadley, the namesake of DD-774, which still holds the record for the number of aircraft shot down by a single ship in a single engagement. See H-Gram 046.)

Arriving off Okinawa on 25 March 1945, Harry F. Bauer commenced an unusually charmed life. On 29 March, she was attacked by several Japanese aircraft and shot down three of them without suffering significant damage. She shot down several other aircraft in the next days. On 6 April, she was hit by an aerial torpedo that passed clean through the bow ballast tank and out the other side without exploding, although it left its tail assembly inside. On 20 April, the ship was attacked again, but shot down three Japanese aircraft and assisted in downing two others. Later that day, she shot down two more kamikazes and was hit by a kamikaze that sheared off a depth charge rack on the stern with none of the depth charges exploding, causing minimal damage. On the night of 29 April, she shot down three more Japanese planes. On 11 May, she assisted in the destruction of a Japanese submarine. She shot down a total of 13 Japanese aircraft in multiple engagements, while suffering no serious damage or casualties. And, in early June, she missed Typhoon Viper, which veered away from Okinawa into the Third Fleet area of operations.

On 6 June 1945, Harry F. Bauer’s gunners shot down the plane headed straight for their ship and assisted in shooting down two of the planes heading for J. William Ditter. One kamikaze (probably a Ki-27 Nate fighter) glanced off the superstructure and crashed in the water close aboard. One of Harry F. Bauer’s below-waterline fuel tanks was ruptured. A couple of compartments flooded, but no one on Harry F. Bauer was killed or wounded. Despite her damage, once the air attack ceased, Harry F. Bauer went alongside the more seriously damaged J. William Ditter to assist and then escorted her to Kerama Retto.

J. William Ditter was taken in tow to Kerama Retto by fleet tug Ute (AT-76) for emergency repairs. She then made her way to Saipan and then to New York City, arriving there in August. Her damage was deemed not worth repairing, and she was decommissioned and scrapped in 1946. Commander Sampson was awarded a Silver Star

While being surveyed for damage, Harry F. Bauer’s fuel tank was drained, revealing an unexploded 550-pound bomb. The Japanese kamikaze pilot had released his bomb a fraction of a second too late for it to properly arm, and as everyone was understandably ducking for cover when the plane almost struck a direct blow on the ship, no one saw the bomb come off and penetrate the ship. As it turned out, the bomb had been on board for 17 days before it was discovered. An ordnance officer from one of the aircraft carriers was brought aboard and spent four hours alone working to de-arm the bomb by removing the nose and tail fuses, which were apparently “three threads” from dropping the firing pins on the activating charges. Had the bomb exploded, the effect would have been severe, quite likely resulting in the loss of the ship in a manner similar to that of Drexler (DD-741) on 28 May 1945 (see H-Gram 048).

After repairs at Leyte, Harry F. Bauer returned to Okinawa on 15 August, just as the war ended. Her commanding officer, Commander Richard Claggett Williams Jr., was awarded a Silver Star; he would later be awarded a Distinguished Service Medal in command of Mine Squadron 3 during the Korean War and would retire as a rear admiral. The executive officer of Harry F. Bauer was Robert M. Morgenthau, born into great wealth, who chose to serve in the U.S. Navy just before the outbreak of World War II, survived the sinking of the destroyer Lansdale (DD-426) by German aircraft and would go on to be U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (1961–70) and the longest-serving District Attorney of New York County (1975– 2009). Harry F. Bauer was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for her actions in the Okinawa campaign.

Harry F. Bauer Presidential Unit citation:

For extraordinary heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces as Support Ship on Radar Picket Station and in the Transport Screen during the Okinawa Campaign from 24 March to 11 June 1945. One of the first ships to enter Kerama Retto seven days prior to the invasion, the USS Harry F. Bauer (DM-26) operated in waters protected by mines and numerous enemy suicide craft and provided fire support for our minesweeping groups against hostile attacks by air, surface, submarine and shore fire. Constantly vigilant and ready for battle, she furnished cover for our anti-submarine screen, served as an anti-aircraft buffer for our Naval Forces off the Okinawa beachhead and, with her own gunfire, downed thirteen Japanese planes and assisted in the destruction of three others. A natural and frequent target for heavy Japanese aerial attack while occupying advanced and isolated stations, she defeated all efforts of enemy Kamikaze and dive-bombing planes to destroy her. On 2 April, she rendered invaluable service by fighting fires and conducting salvage operations on a seriously damaged attack transport. Although herself damaged by a Japanese suicide plane which crashed near her on 6 June, she remained on station and escorted another stricken vessel back to port. A seaworthy fighting ship complemented by skilled and courageous officers and men, the Harry F. Bauer achieved a notable record of gallantry in combat, attesting to the teamwork of her entire company and enhancing the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Anthony (DD-515), 7 June 1945

Like Harry F. Bauer, the destroyer Anthony, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Clyde James Van Arsdall Jr., was a lucky ship (probably primarily due to really good gunners).  On 7 June 1945, she was in the most dangerous Radar Picket Station, No.1, north of Okinawa. Anthony had previously rescued survivors blown off of the destroyer Braine (DD-630), which survived, badly damaged, on 25 May. On 7 June, a combat air patrol fighter shot down a Ki-61 Tony fighter directly overhead Anthony. In an unusual occurrence, the Japanese pilot actually bailed out, but his chute didn’t open. Three more Japanese aircraft were shot down by fighters under Anthony’s control. At dusk, two more kamikazes (probably Japanese Army Ki-51 Sonia dive-bombers) made a run on Anthony, coming in low through the haze. One was either shot down or driven off, but the second kept coming until it was hit at the last moment by 40-mm fire. The plane exploded close aboard—close enough to shower the bridge, gun director and forecastle with burning gasoline, which luckily was immediately doused by the splash of the crashed aircraft. Five crewmen who were washed overboard were rescued. Anthony lost stanchions and lifelines and had a large hole in her side, but once again escaped a close call. This action was included in the citation of the Navy Cross awarded to Commander Van Arsdall (see H-Gram 048).

William D. Porter (*), 10 June 1945

The Fletcher-class destroyer William D. Porter was not a lucky ship but had a very lucky crew. On 10 June 1945, she was at Radar Picket Station No. 15A, northwest of Okinawa, in company with destroyers Aulick (DD-569) and Cogswell (DD-561) and the “pallbearers” LCS(L)-18, -86, -94 and -122. William D. Porter was serving as the fighter direction ship, with two fighters stationed overhead and eight other Marine Corsairs nearby. At about 0815, a lone “Val dive-bomber” (probably a Japanese Army Ki-27 Nate), which was only 7,000 yards away when it was detected by radar, suddenly dropped out of the overcast. The fighters made an unsuccessful intercept, and the plane slipped through.

William D. Porter managed to avoid being hit by the kamikaze, but the sinking plane ended up under the ship, where the plane’s bomb exploded. Like that of an influence mine, the effect was disastrous. Although no one was killed, 61 crewmen were injured. Many seams were opened in the ship, and the after engine room flooded immediately. Steam lines were ruptured, power was lost, and a number of fires were started. By 0836, the ship had an 8-degree starboard list, and the fantail was awash, but the crew refused to give up. The four LCSs came to assist, and two tied up alongside and brought their pumps to bear. For over three hours, the crew fought to save their ship, jettisoning torpedoes, depth charges, and any topside weight that could be gotten over the side. Despite their best efforts, the flooding was uncontrollable, and the ship continued settling by the stern. The list had reached 25 degrees by 1108. As Commander Charles Melville Keyes finally gave the abandon ship order, LCS(L)-86 and LCS(L)-122 (commanded by Lieutenant Richard McCool) brought aboard the doomed destroyer’s crew, with LCS-86 taking off Commander Keyes and the last of the men. All 273 of them survived. Twelve minutes after the abandon ship order, William D. Porter rolled over and sank at 1119.

The ship, under her previous commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Wilfred A. Walter, had earned a notorious reputation after she accidentally fired a live torpedo at the battleship Iowa (BB-61) on 14 November 1943 while President Roosevelt, Admiral King, and a host of senior government and military leaders were on board Iowa crossing the Atlantic en route to the Cairo and Tehran conferences. After a confused series of flashing lights and then radio calls (breaking radio silence), Iowa received the warning from William D. Porter and took evasive action. The torpedo ultimately detonated in Iowa’s wake, 3,000 yards astern. And, from there, the legend grew and grew, as they say, and has become increasingly sensationalized in various accounts.

How much of William D. Porter’s string of bad luck before and after the torpedo firing is true and how much is apocryphal is increasingly difficult to sort out, as the story appears to be embellished in succeeding accounts. Supposedly, William D. Porter suffered a mishap in Norfolk, Virginia, as she was rushing to get underway (the short notice supposedly due to the secrecy of Roosevelt’s transit on Iowa), her raised anchor ripped stanchions, lifelines and lifeboat mounts of another destroyer berthed astern. Neither of the two nearby destroyers’ logs–– Cogswell (DD-651) and Young (DD-580)—mentions any damage, however. Then, shortly after joining up with Iowa, William D. Porter supposedly lost a depth charge overboard, which exploded, causing a short period of evasive action in the formation under the mistaken assumption that the explosion had been the result of a German attack. (This incident, too, fails to appear in any of the relevant logs.) William D. Porter next suffered a boiler tube failure, causing the ship to fall behind until another boiler could be brought on line. (This incident, unlike the others, is verified in the logs.) Some accounts also say William D. Porter lost a man overboard.

The facts of the accidental torpedo firing were fairly well established by subsequent investigation. On 14 November 1943, President Roosevelt asked that a live-fire antiaircraft drill be conducted because he wanted to watch. Target balloons were released, most of which were shot down by Iowa gunners. William D. Porter joined in, shooting down some balloons that headed her way. She and other escorts then conducted a simulated torpedo-firing drill using Iowa as a target, but one torpedo on William D. Porter fired by accident and headed for Iowa. The subsequent investigation determined that the chief torpedoman had failed to remove the primer charge from torpedo No. 3 on torpedo mount No. 2. Upon discovering his mistake after the torpedo discharged, he threw the evidence overboard in an attempt to cover up the mistake.

As the formation was in strict radio silence, William D. Porter used a signal lamp to try to warn Iowa, but since there were no code words for such a situation, the message caused confusion. William D. Porter’s commanding officer finally broke radio silence, initially meeting with rebuke for doing so, but word of the danger got through. Iowa then took evasive action with a hard turn. When informed that a torpedo was inbound, Roosevelt supposedly asked his Secret Service agents to wheel him to a position from where he could see it coming. Fortunately, it missed by a wide margin. Admiral King was reportedly apoplectic over the incident, which is probably true. Iowa also supposedly trained her guns on William D. Porter out of concern that this apparent accident might actually have been some kind of assassination attempt (this may also be embellished).

After breaking from her escort duties, William D. Porter proceeded to Bermuda, where an official inquiry was conducted. However, accounts that the ship was surrounded by Marines and the entire crew was arrested are mostly legend. The inquiry did determine what had happened, and the chief torpedoman was sentenced to some time at hard labor for negligence. The sentence was subsequently commuted by Roosevelt when he learned of it. Contrary to some accounts, Lieutenant Commander Walter was not relieved of command, although he and his ship were sent to the Aleutians. Reportedly, if improbably, whenever William D. Porter arrived in port or encountered other ships, she would be greeted with a signal, “Don’t shoot! We’re Republicans!”

On 30 May 1944, Commander Charles M. Keyes assumed command of William D. Porter. In June 1944, the ship conducted three bombardment missions on Japanese installations in the Kuril Islands. She then proceeded to the Western Pacific, arriving after the Battle of Leyte Gulf, but shooting down her first plane in that area and then a couple more while escorting convoys between New Guinea and the Philippines. She then participated in the landings at Lingayen Gulf in January 1945, shooting down two more Japanese planes. In the early phase of the Okinawa campaign, she provided gunfire support to troops ashore, expending more than 8,500 5-inch rounds, and shot down five more Japanese planes. After being assigned to radar picket duty, William D. Porter shot down another Japanese plane. Fighters under her control shot down seven more. Commander Keyes was awarded a Silver Star for his actions in command of William D. Porter.

LCS(L)-122, 11 June 1945

The day after LCS(L)-122 rescued crewmen from William D. Porter, kamikazes dropped out of the clouds at about 1900 and attacked the ships at Radar Picket Station No. 15, northwest of Okinawa. The same ships were still at the station, with the exception of William D. Porter, now sunk and replaced with the destroyer Ammen (DD-527), the fighter direction ship.

Ammen picked up the incoming aircraft on radar at 42 miles. Two Val dive bombers made for LCS(L)-122, which shot the first one down. The second Val crashed at the base of LCS(L)-122’s conning tower. The Val’s bomb passed through the hull of the ship and detonated on the port side, sparing the ship a direct blast but nevertheless spraying her with many fragments, which started a serious fire. (It’s not clear what became of the third Val.)  Although the skipper of LCS(L)-122, Lieutenant Richard McCool, was initially knocked unconscious and badly wounded, he came to and valiantly led the damage control effort and personally carried and saved one wounded crewman from a burning compartment. LCS(L)-86, which had also participated in saving the crew of William D. Porter, came alongside LCS(L)-122 to assist. Despite suffering 11 killed and 29 wounded, LCS(L)-122 was able to make it to Kerama Retto under her own power. Both LCS(L)-86 and LCS(L)-122 were awarded Navy Unit Commendations. LCS(L)-122 was repaired and served until being scrapped in 1951. Lieutenant McCool was awarded a Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor for Lieutenant Richard Miles McCool

 The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Richard Miles McCool, Jr., United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the USS LCS(L)-122 during operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Ryukyu Chain, 10 and 11 June 1945. Sharply vigilant during hostile air raids against Allied ships on radar picket duty off Okinawa on 10 June, Lieutenant McCool aided materially in evacuating survivors from a sinking destroyer which had sustained mortal damage under the devastating attacks. When his own craft was attacked simultaneously by two of the enemy’s suicide squadron early in the evening of 11 June, he instantly hurled the full power of his gun batteries against the plunging aircraft, shooting down the first and damaging the second before it crashed his station in the conning tower and engulfed the immediate area in a mass of flames. Although suffering from shrapnel wounds and painful burns, he rallied his concussion-shocked crew and initiated vigorous firefighting measures and then proceeded to the rescue of men trapped in a blazing compartment, subsequently carrying one man to safety despite the excruciating pain of additional severe burns. Unmindful of all personal danger, he continued his efforts without respite until aid arrived from other ships and he was evacuated. By his staunch leadership, capable direction, and indomitable determination throughout the crisis, Lieutenant McCool saved the lives of many who otherwise might have perished and contributed materially to the saving of his ship for further combat service. His valiant spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of extreme peril sustains and enhances the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Richard McCool recovered from his wounds and served in both Korea and Vietnam before retiring as a captain in 1974. He passed away in 2008. The 13th San Antonio–class amphibious transport, dock, laid down on 12 April 2019, is named USS Richard M. McCool, Jr. (LPD-29) in his honor.

 I-363’s Futile War Patrol

On 15 June 1945, Japanese Kaiten mother submarine I-363 sighted a convoy about 500 nautical miles southeast of Okinawa. As the seas were too rough to launch any of her five Kaiten manned suicide torpedoes, the commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Kihara, conducted an attack with conventional torpedoes, claiming one hit.

In reality, there were no hits and no damage. I-363 had departed Japan on 28 May 1945 as part of the Todoroki (“Thunderclap” or “Sound of Big Cannon,” depending on the translation) group of four Kaiten mother submarines (I-36, I-165, and I-361.)  On 18 June, I-363 received a message recalling her to Japan.

Twiggs (*),16 June 1945

The Fletcher-class destroyer Twiggs, commanded by Commander George Philip Jr., was on duty at Radar Picket Station No. 16, west-northwest of Okinawa, on 16 June 1945. Commander Philip was a battle veteran with a Silver Star as executive officer of the charmed destroyer O’Bannon (DD-450) in action in the Central Solomon Islands in 1943. Commissioned in November 1943, Twiggs had previous combat experience at Leyte Gulf and Mindoro, where she aided destroyer Haraden (DD-585), which had been badly damaged by a kamikaze. Twiggs then rescued 211 survivors of the escort carrier Ommaney Bay (CVE-79), which had been hit by a kamikaze and sunk on 4 January 1945 while en route to the landings at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, Philippines (see H-Gram 040). Twiggs then participated in the landings at Iwo Jima, where she was almost hit by a kamikaze that grazed the fantail.

On 28 April 1945, while on radar picket duty off Okinawa, Twiggs was again almost hit by a kamikaze—close enough that the explosion of the bomb caused fragmentation and hull damage to the ship. She was repaired by the battle damage repair ship Nestor (ARB-6), a modified LST, at Kerama Retto and returned to action on 17 May. In June 1945, Twiggs provided gunfire support to landings on small islands off western Okinawa. (Nestor would be driven aground at Okinawa by a typhoon in October 1945.)

Twiggs had just come off radar picket duty and resumed fire support duty. Having just resumed fire support duty after coming off radar picket duty, Twiggs was answering a call for fire just after sunset on 16 June 1945 when a single Japanese torpedo-bomber (identified as a “B6N Jill”) penetrated close enough to drop a torpedo, which hit Twiggs on her port side. (The torpedo itself apparently hit the ship while it was still airborne, never touching the water.)  The torpedo bomber then circled back and crashed into Twiggs, adding to the already raging fire started by the torpedo. The fire then caused the No. 2 magazine to explode, with devastating results. The damage was beyond hope and within an hour the ship sank upon the explosion of an after magazine. The sinking took 152 crewmen to the bottom, including Commander Philip and the ship’s mascot dog Jeanie. The destroyer Putnam (DD-757) and LCS(L)-14 came in close, despite exploding ammunition, to rescue as many survivors as possible. Putnam picked up 114, while other vessels accounted for another 74 survivors. Thirty-four survivors were wounded. Commander Philip was posthumously awarded a Navy Cross.

Navy Cross for Commander George Philip

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Commander George Philip, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of destroyer USS Twiggs (DD-591) during operations against the enemy in the vicinity of Okinawa Gunto, Nansei Shoto, from 25 March 1945 to 16 June 1945. Despite frequent attacks both day and night by enemy aircraft, and in the face of tremendous difficulties, Commander Philip directed the operation of his ship in such a manner that every mission was accomplished effectively. When his ship was damaged by an enemy suicide plane, Commander Philip brought her sagely through the attack and supervised repair of battle damage in the combat area, returning to action in the minimum possible time. By his heroism in the destruction of enemy aircraft and shore installations, by his courage and endurance in commanding one of the destroyer pickets at Okinawa, an extraordinarily hazardous duty, and by virtue of conspicuous personal leadership in maintaining the morale of a battle-worn crew under extremely trying conditions, Commander Philip distinguished himself and his command and contributed greatly to the success of a very difficult operation. His determination and heroic conduct were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Lieutenant General Buckner Killed, 18 June 1945

On 18 June 1945, the commander of U.S. forces ashore on Okinawa (the Tenth Army), Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, was killed by coral shrapnel from a near miss by Japanese artillery, as he was very near the forward line to observe the final push against obstinate Japanese defenders. Final victory on Okinawa was only two miles and four days away when Buckner died.

Marine Major General Roy S. Geiger assumed command, becoming the first Marine to command a U.S. Army, and held it until Lieutenant General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell assumed command five days later.

On 19 June 1945, the commander of Japanese forces on Okinawa, Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima, sent a farewell message to Japan and ordered his remaining troops to fight and die to the last. In three months of bitter fighting, as many as 110,000 Japanese soldiers and Okinawan auxiliaries had done just that. At the very end, only 106 Japanese soldiers and 238 Okinawan auxiliary troops surrendered. As many as 150,000 Okinawan civilians had died during the battle. On 22 June 1945, Ushijima and his chief of staff committed suicide. The battle was declared over on 22 June, at least on land.

Kikusui No. 10 – 21-22 June 1945

On 21–22 June 1945, the Japanese launched the tenth and last massed kamikaze attack (Kikusui No. 10) with only 45 aircraft (30 navy and 15 army). The commander of the Japanese navy’s First Air Fleet, Admiral Matome Ugaki, who had overall command of the kamikaze attacks at Okinawa, had concluded by this time that Okinawa was lost and that scarce resources in planes and pilots should be conserved for the last-ditch defense of the Japanese Home Islands. Nevertheless, these last few kamikazes would inflict pain on U.S. ships off Okinawa right up to the end.

Curtiss (##), 21 June 1945

The seaplane tenders Curtiss (AV-4) and Kenneth Whiting (AVP-14) came under attack at Kerama Retto on the evening of 21 June 1945. Kenneth Whiting was comparatively new, commissioned in May 1944.

Curtiss was a battle-scarred veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack, where she fired on and damaged a Japanese midget submarine that had penetrated the harbor and where she was near-missed by a torpedo from the same midget before it could be rammed and sunk by the destroyer Monaghan (DD-354). (Monaghan would later be sunk by Typhoon Cobra in December 1944.)  Curtiss’s gunners hit a Japanese Val dive bomber at Pearl Harbor, which then crashed into her No. 1 crane. Three minutes later, she was hit in the same area by a bomb from another Val, which in turn was hit by gunfire and crashed off Curtiss’s port beam. She lost 19 men killed in the Pearl Harbor attack and many wounded.

After repairs from her Pearl Harbor battle damage, Curtiss tended seaplanes at various locations as the U.S. Navy advanced across the Pacific and served also as the flagship for Commander, Naval Air, South Pacific, and then Commander, Naval Air, Central Pacific. While at Okinawa, in addition to tending seaplanes, she served as the flagship for Commander, Fleet Air Wing One. She was under the command of Captain Scott Ernest Peck, who had been a machinist on the U.S. Navy’s first dirigible, DN-1, in 1917. Peck had survived the crash of the airship Macon (ZRS-5) in a storm off the California coast in 1935 and had been a U.S. Navy observer on flights of the German airship LZ-129, soon to be renamed Hindenburg, which famously crashed in 1937.  

Near dusk on 21 June 1945, a small group of Japanese kamikazes penetrated into the anchorage area at Kerama Retto. At about 1830, one Ki-43 “Oscar” fighter (more likely a Ki-84 Frank) attempted to crash Kenneth Whiting but was shot down, although parts of the Oscar hit the seaplane tender and wounded five men. Fifteen minutes later a Ki-84 Frank fighter and its bomb hit Curtiss on her starboard side at the third deck, blowing two large holes in the ship and igniting a persistent fire that required the flooding of the forward magazines and that took almost 15 hours to put out. Although about half the ship was rendered unlivable, damage control teams kept her from sinking, and she was underway for repairs at Mare Island only four days later. Casualties were fairly heavy, with 41 men killed and 82 wounded.

One officer who had been embarked on Curtiss for a couple years but who was not on board at the time of the attack was Lieutenant Henry Fonda, already a famous Hollywood actor when he signed up for service in the U.S. Navy. At age 37, Fonda gave up a salary worth about 2.3 million dollars in today’s money to enlist in the Navy. He initially served as a quartermaster aboard destroyer Satterlee (DD-626) in the Atlantic but was subsequently commissioned and transferred to the Pacific, where he served as an assistant operations officer and air combat intelligence officer on the staff of Commander, Forward Area Pacific, embarked on Curtiss for operations in the Marianas, the Western Carolines, and Iwo Jima. The staff went land-based after Iwo Jima, which was why Fonda was not on board Curtiss at the time of the kamikaze attack.

Fonda was awarded a Bronze Star for his service aboard Curtiss. Although he left active duty at the end of the war, Fonda remained in the U.S. Naval Reserve until 1948, when he had to leave due to being “over age.”  Fonda starred as Lieutenant (j.g.) Douglas Roberts in two iterations of Mr. Roberts: a Broadway production that won the 1948 Tony Award for “Best Play” and the film version, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1955. Both were set aboard a fictitious cargo ship, which was played in the film by USS Hewell (AG-145). The plot has Fonda’s character seeing his wish to serve aboard a combat destroyer finally fulfilled, only to lose his life in a kamikaze attack once on board.

Bronze Star citation for Lieutenant Henry Fonda

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Bronze Star Medal to Lieutenant Henry Jaymes Fonda, United States Naval Reserve, for services as set forth in the following citation: For Meritorious Service as Assistant Operations Officer and Air Combat Intelligence Officer on the staff of Commander Forward Area Pacific and Commander Marianas, during operations against enemy Japanese forces from 12 May 1944 to 12 August 1945. Displaying professional ability and untiring energy, Lieutenant Fonda rendered valuable assistance in planning and executing air operations which effectively supported the Marianas, Western Carolines and Iwo Jima Campaigns, neutralized hostile installations on nearby enemy-held islands and atolls, and subsequently developed into search missions in Empire waters and strikes on the Japanese homeland. His untiring devotion to duty was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

LSM-59 (*), 21 June

On 21 June 1945, shortly after the hit on Curtiss, the fleet tug Lipan (ATF-85) was towing the stripped hulk of the destroyer transport Barry out of Kerama Retto to be used as a kamikaze decoy. (Lipan herself was being escorted by LSM-59, commanded by Lieutenant David C. Hawley. LSM-59 had lost an engine due to artillery or mortar fire at Iwo Jima but was still providing useful service.) Barry had barely survived being hit by a kamikaze on 25 May (see H-Gram 048) and Barry had since been fitted with flashing lights (remotely controlled from LSM-59) to simulate antiaircraft fire as well as smoke generators. Shortly after leaving Kerama Retto, the small group was attacked by two kamikazes (probably Ki-84 Franks). At 1841, the first kamikaze crashed LSM-59 starboard aft and passed through the tank deck and into the engine room. The plane ultimately ripped a hole in the bottom of the LSM-59, which went down in only a few minutes, with the loss of two crewmen killed and eight wounded. The second kamikaze crashed into the hulk of Barry, which capsized after an attempted tow and then sank. (Japanese records indicate only four Franks launched that night, all attacking Kerama Retto, sinking LSM-59 and the derelict Barry, badly damaging Curtiss, and near-missing Kenneth Whiting.)

Halloran (DE-305), 21 June 1945

The destroyer-escort Halloran, commanded by Lieutenant Commander J. G. Scripps, USNR, had been performing antisubmarine and antiair screening services off Okinawa since 9 April 1945, after having escorted a convoy transporting an Army division. On 12 April 1945, she fought off six attacking aircraft, downing one and damaging two others. On 20 April, she was almost hit by a Japanese torpedo. On 22 April, she assisted the badly damaged destroyer Isherwood (DD-520), which had been hit by a kamikaze and then had one of her own depth charges explode on deck. At about 2330 on 21 June 1945, Halloran shot down a kamikaze (probably a K11W “Pete” float-plane fighter) just in time: It crashed 75 yards from the ship. However, shrapnel spray from the plane’s bomb caused considerable topside damage, killing four and wounding 24 crewmen. Following repairs at Kerama Retto, Halloran returned to duty off Okinawa on 5 July 1945.

LSM-213 (##), 22 June 1945

Shortly after midnight on 22 June 1945, LSM-213, commanded by Lieutenant (j.g.) Grant L. Kilmer, USNR, was hit by a probable K11W Pete float-plane fighter at Kimmu Wan, off Okinawa, suffering severe hull damage, three dead, and 10 wounded. Repairs were not complete until after the war ended. (Japanese records indicate that five Petes launched for attacks on the night of 21–22 June 1945.)

The Last Gasp of the Last Kikusui, 22 June 1945.

On 22 June, the Japanese launched 11 army Ki-84 Franks, seven navy A6M Zekes, and six navy G4M Betty bombers carrying Ohka manned rocket-assisted glide bombs, escorted by 65 Zekes, in what was the final large kamikaze mission of the Okinawa campaign. Of the six Bettys, two turned back with engine trouble. Only two Bettys made it to the target area and both Ohka missed. All four of the Bettys were shot down by U.S. Marine and Army fighters.

Destroyers Massey (DD-778) and Dyson (DD-572) were at Radar Picket Station No. 15, northwest of Okinawa, between 0749 and 0925 on 22 June, when the bulk of Kikusui No. 10 came in. Fighters controlled by Massey shot down 29 of an estimated 40 aircraft (most of Kikusui No. 10) and drove others away. Neither Massey nor Dyson expended any ammunition during the engagement.

LST-534 (##), 22 June 1945

LST-534 was a survivor of the D-Day landings at Normandy in June 1944, and she almost made it through the Okinawa campaign without being hit.

At about 0920 on 22 June 1945, several LSTs were located in Nakagusuku Wan, off Okinawa. LST-534 was beached with her bow doors open when a single kamikaze attacked. Numerous ships in the bay opened fire, possibly doing more damage to each other than to the kamikaze, which hit LST-534 on the port side, starting a fire in 300 barrels of gasoline on board. Five men were killed (including three from a shore party), and 35 were wounded. LST-534 settled only a few feet to the bottom. The executive officer on another LST later wondered about the Japanese pilot’s target selection, as he had hit the only ship in the bay that couldn’t actually be sunk.

LST-534 would be raised and repaired, although repairs were not complete until after the war ended. In October 1945, she would be driven aground in Buckner Bay, Okinawa, by a typhoon and deemed not worth repairing. About two months later, she was towed out to sea and scuttled.

More Japanese Kaiten Futility, Late June 1945

In June 1945, the Japanese run of futility with Kaiten-carrying submarines continued. I-36 had departed Japan on 4 June 1945 as part of the Todoroki Group of Kaiten mother submarines. I-36 had six Kaiten manned suicide torpedoes embarked.

On 10 June 1945, while recharging her batteries on the surface in the East China Sea, I-36 was attacked by the submarine Tirante, commanded by Commander George L. Street III (see H-049-2). (Tirante was the command boat of a nine-submarine wolfpack dubbed “Street’s Sweepers.”)  Tirante fired two Mk. 18 electric torpedoes. Both missed. Street was awarded a Medal of Honor for his previous war patrol on Tirante (her second) and would be awarded a Navy Cross for this one. I-36 was a rare one that got away.

On 22 June 1945, I-36 sighted an oiler transiting alone and attempted to launch two Kaiten, but both malfunctioned. I-36 then attacked with four conventional torpedoes, which all detonated prematurely. A torpedo caused slight damage to the landing craft repair ship Endymion (ARL-9), a modified LST. Once again, I-36 escaped.

On 28 June 1945, I-36 sighted the stores ship Antares (AKS-3) transiting alone from Saipan to Pearl Harbor. Antares’s lookouts were alert, sighting a periscope at 1329 and an inbound torpedo fired by I-36 in enough time for Antares to take evasive action. The torpedo missed astern.

I-36 had also launched a Kaiten, which Antares’s lookouts sighted in her wake. At 1331, Antares gunners opened fire on the Kaiten and hit it with a 3-inch shell, causing the submersible to go under. At 1344, I-36 broached and Antares’s 5-inch gun took it under fire, before the sub went back under.

The destroyer Sproston (DD-577) received Antares’s message that she was under attack and responded quickly. Sproston made sonar contact at 1,000 yards and then sighted a periscope at 500 yards. She tried to ram I-36, which was unsuccessful. She then dropped a full pattern of depth charges, which produced a large oil slick. The crew then made six more depth charge attacks, expending all of the ship’s depth charges. All of this caused I-36 to spring a leak in her forward torpedo room, and the situation was getting increasingly desperate. Lieutenant Commander Sugamasa, the commanding officer, then ordered the launch of two Kaiten while at a depth of 200 feet. A Sproston lookout sighted a Kaiten coming in from the port bow and the ship maneuvered to avoid it. Then, a Kaiten periscope was sighted on the port quarter, and the ship opened up with her 5-inch guns, hitting the Kaiten and causing a large secondary explosion. In time, several amphibious ships arrived to provide radar coverage during the night, and the next morning three destroyer escorts came to continue the search. However, the sacrifice of the two Kaiten pilots worked and I-36 made good her getaway.

On 9 July 1945, I-36 was approaching Bungo Strait, returning to the Japanese Inland Sea, when she was attacked by the submarine Gunnel (SS-253), commanded by Lieutenant Commander Guy E. O’Neil, but all four torpedoes missed astern.

On 6 August 1945, the crew of I-36 witnessed the atomic bomb explosion at Hiroshima.

On 11 August, I-36 was strafed by a P-51 Mustang fighter while in port Kure and the commanding officer and navigator were wounded, but the sub survived the war and was surrendered. I-36 was later towed out to sea by the Navy and was scuttled, along with 23 other Japanese submarines, at “Point Deep Six” on 1 April 1946 in Operation Road’s End (to prevent Japanese technology from falling into Soviet hands). Lieutenant Commander O-Neil was awarded a Navy Cross for Gunnel’s previous patrol (her seventh) and two Silver Stars for previous service aboard other boats.

I-165, with two Kaiten manned suicide torpedoes embarked was the last of the four Todoriki Group of submarines to depart Japan. On 16 June 1945, as I-165 was exiting the Bungo Strait in foul weather, she was attacked by the submarine Devilfish (SS-292), commanded by Lieutenant Commander Stephen S. Mann Jr. Devilfish fired two torpedoes, but I-165 avoided them and crash-dived.

On 23 June 1945, minelayer Champion (AM-314) and destroyer-escort Gilligan (DE-508) detected a submerged submarine (probably I-165.)  Champion and Gilligan executed several depth charge runs, and Gilligan launched a hedgehog attack, which resulted in air bubbles and diesel fuel traces, but no definitive proof that the submarine had gone down, although it was last heard passing 300 feet.

On 27 June 1945, a PV-2 Harpoon of VPB-142, flown by Lieutenant (j.g.) R. C. Janes, sighted a surfaced submarine east of Saipan heading northwest. The submarine had two midget subs on her back. Janes attacked, dropping three Mk. 47 depth charges and five markers. The submarine made a hard turn and then crash-dived. Janes came in for another attack and sighted an oil slick, fragments of wood, and two midget submarines (which had probably been jettisoned).  Janes dropped a Mk. 24 “Fido” acoustic homing torpedo. Lieutenant Yasushi Ono and all 105 of his crewmen were lost.

Lieutenant Henry Fonda, USNR, circa 1945. He was a noted motion picture actor in civilian life.

Lieutenant Henry Fonda, USNR, circa 1945. A noted motion picture actor in civilian life, he also served at Okinawa (80-G-K-6235).

Published: Fri Jun 19 14:03:21 EDT 2020