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H-044-2: "Floating Chrysanthemums"—The Naval Battle of Okinawa, Part 1


<p>USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6)</p>


USS Leutze (DD-481) after being gravely damaged by a kamikaze attack on 6 April 1945 off Okinawa (NH 65822).

H-Gram 044, Attachment 2

Samuel J. Cox, Director NHHC

April 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, just over 4,900 U.S. Navy personnel. This H-gram focuses only on those actions that resulted in significant U.S. damage and casualties, from the initiation of the operation in late March 1945 to the end of the first Japanese mass suicide air attack, Kikusui No. 1 on 8 April. Each U.S. ship listed below was sunk or put out of action for over 30 days, but in every case there are superb examples of the Navy core values of honor, courage, and commitment, and core attributes of initiative, accountability, integrity, and—especially— toughness. I do not cover the innumerable near misses and close calls or minor damage, or frequent shoot-downs of Japanese aircraft.

For the most part, casualty figures are from Appendix 2 in Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. XIV: Victory in the Pacific. In many cases, more detailed analysis in years since has led to changes in the casualty figures—frequently with deaths being somewhat higher as those who died of wounds much later are factored in, but these are scattered in various accounts. If I came across other more recent figures, I used the higher number. For symbols denoting ship damage/repair status, I’ve used the following:

* = sunk

# = damaged beyond repair

## = repairs completed after the war ended

_______________ 

19 March 1945

Franklin (CV-13) ## and Wasp (CV-18). See H-Gram H-043.

20 March

Halsey Powell (DD-686). As the U.S. Fast Carrier Task Force (TF 58) continued to steam away from Japan after the U.S. carrier strikes on Kure and the Inland Sea, destroyer Halsey Powell was pulling away after refueling alongside carrier Hancock (CV-19), when a Zeke kamikaze attempting to hit Hancock overshot and hit the destroyer near her after 5-inch mount, jamming her steering gear. The Zeke’s bomb went clear through Halsey Powell’s hull without exploding. Halsey Powell used her engines to steer and avoided colliding with Hancock; she suffered 12 killed and 29 wounded.

23 March

The Fast Carrier Task Force (TF-58) commenced air strikes on Okinawa on 23 March and would strike again during the following two days.

24 March

The first U.S. minesweepers arrived off Okinawa and commenced clearing channels. To date, most Japanese islands had not had very many mines, but the minesweepers found some at Okinawa.

25 March

Fast battleships temporarily detached from TF 59 bombarded targets on Okinawa.  The bombardment task unit included battleships New Jersey (BB-62), Missouri (BB-63), and Wisconsin (BB-64) in the primary landing area, and Massachusetts (BB-59) and Indiana (BB-58) at another.

Shore bombardment of Kerama Retto commenced. The group of small islands was about 20 nautical miles southwest of Okinawa and created a relatively protected (from the weather) anchorage area. Taking the Kerama Retto islands for use as an advance staging base, which initially met major opposition, was the idea of Vice Admiral Turner, overcoming concerns that the operation would result in a Japanese response that would exhaust U.S. capability before the landings on Okinawa took place. Turner persisted and won out, and it turned out to be one of the smartest moves of the entire campaign. Another reason to take the islands was to keep the Japanese from using them as a base for small suicide boats—250 such one-man craft were found concealed on the islands when they were captured. Most of the islands were under U.S. control by the end of 26 March.

26 March

Rear Admiral Durgin’s Escort Carrier Groups (TG 52.1) of 18 escort carriers in five task units arrived over the course of 25–26 March, commencing air strikes on Okinawa. The first air opposition occurred on the morning of 26 March with a flight of nine kamikaze. Shore bombardment by the pre-war battleships commenced, and Nevada (BB-36) was damaged by a kamikaze, but continued bombardment operations. Shore bombardment continued every day up until the landings.

Halligan (DD-584).* At 1835 on 26 March, while conducting a fire support patrol offshore Okinawa, Halligan hit a moored mine dead on. The explosion at the bow detonated her two forward magazines, blowing off everything forward of the forward stack, and inflicted heavy casualties of 153 dead, including the commanding officer (Commander C. E. Cortner) and executive officer, and wounded 39. Only two of 21 officers were among the 80 survivors. The abandoned after end drifted aground and was hit by shore battery fire.

Kimberly (DD-521). While on radar picket duty, Kimberly was attacked by two D3A Val dive-bombers. Despite radical maneuvering and accurate anti-aircraft fire, one Japanese pilot kept his damaged and flaming Val in the air, getting astern of Kimberly and crashing into the aft 40-mm gun mount, killing four men and wounding 57. Despite the damage, Kimberly remained on patrol until Kerama Retto was captured before she headed to Mare Island for repairs on 1 April. On the same day, a Val kamikaze hit destroyer-transport Gilmer’s (APD-11) galley deck house before going over the side and killing one, wounding three, and causing relatively minor damage.

27 March

O’Brien (DD-725). Under the command of Commander William Outerbridge, and after providing star shell services for U.S. forces ashore on Kerama Retto, destroyer O’Brien was attacked at dawn by Japanese aircraft. O’Brien shot one plane down, but one D3A Val dive- bomber with a 500-pound bomb crashed into the port side amidships, setting off a large explosion that resulted in 50 dead and 76 wounded. Despite severe damage, the destroyer was able to make it to Mare Island for repairs. This was the second time O’Brien had been hit by a kamikaze—the first was on 6 January 1945 in Lingayen Gulf and caused light damage. Outerbridge had been in command of Ward (DD-139) when she fired the opening shot of the Pacific War, sinking a Japanese midget submarine shortly before the 7 December 1941 air attack on Pearl Harbor. While in command of O’Brien, Outerbridge had to scuttle Ward after she had been crippled by Japanese air attack in the Philippines on 7 December 1944.

Murray (DD-576). While screening Task Force 58 carriers, a single B6N Jill torpedo bomber attacked, launching a torpedo at Murray before it was shot down. The torpedo passed through Murray before exploding, doing relatively little damage, but killing one and wounding 16 men. Some accounts say it was a bomb. (Murray later was the first destroyer to gain and maintain contact on a Soviet submarine during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962).

28 March

Skylark (AM-63).* While leading a group of minesweepers sweeping mines off Okinawa, minesweeper Skylark hit a moored mine, which caused a large fuel fire on the surface. As her crew tried valiantly to save the disabled vessel, she drifted into a second mine 20 minutes later, causing her to sink in less than 15 minutes. Somewhat miraculously, only five men were killed and 25 wounded by the explosions. Every one of her 105-man crew who made it into the water was rescued.

LSM(R)-188 ##. While supporting the U.S. landings on Kerama Retto, LSM(R)-188 (medium landing ship [rocket]) was attacked at night by Japanese aircraft still operational on Okinawa. LSM(R)-188 was badly damaged and suffered the loss of 15 killed and 32 wounded (of her crew of about 80). The damage would not be repaired before the war ended.

29 March

Fast Carrier Task Force (TF 58) conducted large-scale fighter sweeps over the southernmost Japanese home island of Kyushu in an attempt to suppress any air opposition to the impending landings on Okinawa. Two 15-plane squadrons of PBM Mariner flying boats flew into Kerama-shōtto on 29 March and commenced reconnaissance operations.

Wyandot (AKA-92). At about 0400, a Japanese bomber dropped two bombs over attack cargo ship Wyandot. One bomb hit close aboard the starboard quarter, while the second went into the water and hit the ship below the waterline, causing the two forward holds and magazine to flood. Due to great damage control, Wyandot remained afloat. Luckily, only one crewman was wounded and none killed. Wyandot put her landing craft into the water to tow her to Kerama- shōtto, where she was quickly repaired and returned to Okinawa to offload her cargo of ammunition, gasoline, vehicles, and provisions intended for U.S. Army forces.

30 March

Underwater demolition and reconnaissance of the beaches on Okinawa commenced.

31 March

Elements of the Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion captured several small islands off the beach area without opposition. These were to be used as forward artillery positions to support the landings.

Indianapolis (CA-35). The first major U.S. combatant to be knocked out of the Battle for Okinawa was Fifth Fleet commander Admiral Raymond Spruance’s own flagship, the heavy cruiser Indianapolis, veteran of nine previous battles. After having bombarding Japanese positions on Okinawa for seven days, and shooting down six planes and damaging two others, Indianapolis was attacked by a lone Ki-43 Oscar fighter that came right out of the dawn sun. With less than 15 seconds to react, Indianapolis’ 20-mm gunners hit the plane, but not before it released its bomb. The plane struck a glancing blow on the ship, causing minimal damage. The bomb, however, passed through the crew’s mess, through berthing, fuel oil tanks, and the keel before exploding underneath the ship with an effect similar to an influence mine. Nine crewmen were killed, 20 were wounded, the bottom was holed, and the Number 4 propeller shaft was damaged. An attempt to repair the ship at Kerama-shōtto discovered the damage was more severe than initially thought and the damaged shaft was accidentally lost in deep water. Spruance transferred his flag to battleship New Mexico (BB-40). Indianapolis transited to Mare Island for repair, setting in motion the chain of events that would lead to her role in transporting the components of the first atomic bomb to the B-29 bomber base on Tinian, and to her tragic demise just before the war ended.

1 April

The main landings on Okinawa take place at the Hagushi beaches. Other than a few air attacks, the landings were essentially unopposed.

LST-884 #. As part of a demonstration group maneuvering off southeast Okinawa that was intended to draw Japanese attention away from the main landing area on the southwestern coast of the island, LST-884, with 300 Marines embarked, was hit by a kamikaze at 0549. Ammunition exploded and raging fire forced the ship to be abandoned. The destroyer Van Valkenburgh (DD-656) came alongside and put a fire and repair party aboard, aided by four support landing craft (LCS) that acted as makeshift fireboats, and succeeded in getting the fires out by 1100. LST-884 suffered 24 Sailors and Marines dead and 21 wounded. Her damage was so bad that she was not repaired, and her stripped hulk was scuttled in May.

Hinsdale (APA-120) ##. Prior to dawn, as attack transport Hinsdale was making her way to the transport area to debark about 1,200 Marines for a “demonstration” (deception) landing on the southeast coast of Okinawa on D-Day, she was attacked by a Japanese kamikaze, believed to be a Kawasaki Ki-61 Tony fighter, armed with three bombs. An alert petty officer (James O. Perry) saw the kamikaze approaching and cleared the deck area that was packed with Marines before the plane crashed into the engine room on the port side. Two bombs detonated (a third was a dud), killing all but one sailor in the engine room by scalding steam and exploding boilers. Had the Marines not been cleared, it would have been more horrific than the 16 who were killed and 39 wounded. The ship’s dangerous 13-degree list was corrected and she was towed to Kerama Retto. She returned to the States for repairs, which were completed after the war ended.

Alpine (APA-92). Attack transport Alpine had just commenced disembarking troops onto landing craft for the main amphibious assault on Okinawa when she was attacked by two Japanese aircraft. Alpine shot down the first and hit the second. The flaming plane aimed for Alpine’s bridge, but lost control and crashed into the port side, causing two large explosions and fires. In 90 minutes, Alpine’s crew had the fires under control and resumed unloading the rest of her troops and cargo. Alpine suffered 16 dead and 27 wounded.

Adams (DMS-27). Operating southeast of Kerama Retto, a badly damaged Japanese aircraft crashed just astern of the destroyer-minesweeper Adams, but the two bombs exploded under her stern, jamming her rudders to the right and causing severe damage, but amazingly killing and wounding no one. Two kamikaze, possibly expecting easy pickings from the circling destroyer, commenced an attack. One was shot down by Adams and the other by destroyer Mullany (DD-528), which raced to assist. Adams was towed to Kerama Retto for emergency repairs before continuing to Mare Island, where she was repaired just in time to get back to the western Pacific for the end of the war.

2 April

Achernar (AKA-53). At 0043, attack cargo ship Achernar was hit by a kamikaze on the starboard side and, almost at the same time, by a bomb on the port side. By 0100, damage control teams had the fires out and list corrected with a loss of 5 dead and 41 wounded. She proceeded to the U.S. West Coast via Kerama Retto for repairs.

Goodhue (APA-107). Japanese kamikaze attacked transports Goodhue and Telfair (APA-210). One kamikaze was hit and blew up in mid-air. The second was hit and “bounced like a billiard ball from hell” between the kingposts of Telfair before falling overboard, killing one and wounding 16. The third kamikaze aimed for Goodhue’s bridge, but was hit and deflected enough that it clipped the mainmast, then crashed into a cargo boom, before falling into aft 20-mm gun tubs and then into the water. Nineteen Sailors and five soldiers were killed, and 84 Sailors and 35 soldiers wounded. The damage did not prevent Goodhue from continuing to support the Okinawa landings until late April, when she departed for repairs.

Henrico (APA-45) ##. At sunset, a P1Y Frances twin-engine bomber dove out of a cloud formation at attack transport Henrico, flagship of Transport Division (TRANSDIV) 15 and crashed into the bridge. The aircraft’s two bombs penetrated into the ship before exploding, killing 49 and wounded 125. Among the dead were Captain Elmer Kiehl (TRANSDIV 15), Captain W. C. France (Henrico commanding officer), and Colonel Vincent Tanzola, USA (305th Infantry Regiment commander). The executive officer assumed command and damage control teams brought the flames under control. She sailed under her own power to Kerama Retto and then to San Francisco, but repairs would not be complete before the war ended. (Henrico would later be awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for her role in the Inchon landings in September 1950 during the Korean War).

Dickerson (APD-21) #. After disembarking her troops to capture the island of Keise Shima off Okinawa, destroyer-transport Dickerson was hit by a kamikaze on the night of 2 April. Approaching from the stern, the kamikaze sheered off the tops of her two funnels before hitting the bridge from behind, knocking down the mast and igniting intense gasoline fires that killed the commanding officer (Lieutenant Commander Ralph E. Lounsbury, USNR) and many others. Almost at the same time, a second kamikaze hit dead center of the forecastle, tearing a hole the entire width of the ship. Despite valiant attempts to bring the fires under control, the fires threatened the forward magazine and forced the ship to be abandoned. Dickerson lost 54 men and 23 were wounded. The ship continued to burn itself out, but didn’t sink. She was towed to Kerama Retto, but the damage was too severe and she was towed out and scuttled on 4 April.

3 April

Prichett (DD-561). In the pre-dawn hours, destroyer Prichett fought off several aircraft while at radar picket station Number 1, north-northwest of Okinawa, and, working with a night fighter, knocked down two. Finally, one aircraft closed in and planted a 500-pound bomb on her fantail, holing the ship below the waterline and starting a fire. In order to minimize the flooding and bring the fire under control, Prichett was obliged to steam at 28 knots, but she remained on station until relieved at noon, warding off additional air attacks. No crewmen were killed or wounded, and Prichett eventually made it to Kerama Retto for initial repairs.

LST-599 ##. In the early morning, Japanese planes attacked the Kerama Retto anchorage. LST-599’s gunners blew the wing off a kamikaze, but the plane still struck and penetrated the main deck and then exploded, destroying most of the gear of a Marine fighter squadron and wounding 21. Repairs would not be completed until after the war.

LCT-876 #. While being piggy-backed on LST-599, LCT-876 was badly damaged by the same kamikaze and not subsequently repaired. Two crewmen were wounded.

Foreman (DE-633). While on anti-submarine patrol at the entrance to the Kerama Retto transport anchorage, destroyer escort Foreman was hit by a bomb that passed clean through the ship, detonating 30 feet under her keel and flooding one of her fire rooms and knocking out power. Two Sailors were killed and three wounded. The situation was under control within 30 minutes and Foreman proceeded into Kerama Retto for emergency repair and then to Ulithi, returning to Okinawa in June.

Wake Island (CVE-65). Dusk was approaching as escort carrier Wake Island was operating southeast of Okinawa and providing air support to ground forces ashore. Radar reported an incoming Japanese raid of five planes at the same time a huge wave slammed the ship, knocking two FM-2 Wildcat fighters off the flight deck into the sea. Two other Wildcats on the hangar deck broke free at the same time. At 1744, a kamikaze dove out of the clouds, barely missing the forward port corner of the flight deck and exploding abeam the forecastle. Moments later, a second kamikaze narrowly missed the bridge and exploded on hitting the water ten feet from the ship, blowing a 45-by-18-foot hole in the hull below the waterline, causing extensive damage to the main condensers, water and fuel tanks, and forcing shutdown of the forward engine due to salting. Other than the Japanese pilot, no one was killed or wounded. Wake Island proceeded to Guam for repair and returned to Okinawa on 20 May to resume air support to ground operations.

4 April

LCI(G)-82*. Infantry landing craft (gunboat) LCI(G)-82 was sunk by a Japanese Shinyo suicide boat during a night attack off the east coast of Okinawa, with 8 killed and 11 wounded.

5 April

Nevada (BB-36). While firing on Japanese targets near Naha, Okinawa, a Japanese shore battery fired on both battleship Nevada and heavy cruise Salt Lake City. At 1740, Nevada was hit by five rounds of 6- or 8-inch shells, suffering two killed and 16 wounded, but she remained operational. (Nevada had already been damaged on 26 March while shelling Japanese airfields, shore batteries, and supply dumps on Okinawa.) One Japanese aircraft was repeatedly hit by anti-aircraft fire, turning into a flaming torch over Nevada, and fell on her deck next to turret Number 2, damaging both 14-inch guns so they could not be fired, plus taking out three 20-mm gun mounts. Nevada suffered 11 killed and 49 wounded in that attack, but kept firing with her other three main battery turrets.


USS Rodman (DMS-21) and USS Witter (DE-636)

USS Rodman (DMS-21) and USS Witter (DE-636) receiving repairs at Kerama Retto on 9 April 1945. Both had been hit by kamikaze attacks on 6 April off Okinawa (NH 69111).

6 April: Kikusui (“Floating Chrysanthemums”) Attack No. 1

By 6 April 1945, in reaction to the U.S. landings on Okinawa, the Japanese had amassed about 700 aircraft in Formosa and the southern Japanese island of Kyushu to attack the U.S. force. The Japanese launched their first and largest mass kamikaze attack, Kikusui No. 1, during which 230 Japanese navy and 125 Japanese army (355 total) kamikaze attacked U.S. ships off Okinawa through 7 April. Another 340 or so planes conducted conventional attacks. Some attacks occurred in large formations and others occurred in small numbers or even by single aircraft at almost all hours, so the threat was near constant. Dawn and especially dusk were the worst times, as the Japanese tried to time the bigger raids for when U.S. combat air patrols were returning to their carriers before nightfall.

Haynsworth (DD-700). Destroyer Haynsworth was patrolling off Okinawa when she was attacked by a Judy dive-bomber at about 1300. After the plane’s bomb missed by 1,000 yards (the plane was being pursued by Hellcat fighters and may have jettisoned the bomb). The Judy then came in for a kamikaze attack, hitting Haynsworth at the front of the forward superstructure and sending a fireball through the combat information center, main radio room, and radar transmitter room. Haynsworth’s casualties were seven dead and 25 wounded. She remained in action. On the following day and rescued eight crewmen from the carrier Hancock (CV-19) who had ended up in the water after the carrier was hit by a kamikaze. Haynsworth then proceeded to Mare Island for repairs.

Bush (DD-529)* and Colhoun (DD-801)*. The destroyer Bush (DD-529) was on duty on radar picket station No. 1 (the northernmost on the flight path from Kyushu) when Kikusui No. 1 came in. Many of the kamikaze pilots were very inexperienced and went for the first ship they saw, and, as a result, the radar pickets often bore the brunt of the attacks. After troops had been put ashore on Okinawa, some amphibious craft such as LCS’s were assigned to radar picket stations to add some anti-aircraft fire, act as rescue vessels, and occasionally became targets themselves.

Destroyer Colhoun was operating nearby on radar picket station No. 2 and had been attacked 11 times by Japanese bombers during the course of the day, but all bombs had missed in what appeared to be more nuisance attacks. However, about 1500, 40 to 50 Japanese kamikaze approached from Kyushu and commenced attacks on Bush, while another 12 went after destroyer Cassin Young (DD-793) occupying radar picket station No. 3 to the east of Bush and Colhoun.

As the mass attack commenced, Bush shot down two Val dive-bombers and drove off two others. Then a Jill torpedo bomber (carrying a bomb) bore in for an attack with an apparently skilled pilot who jinked and wove his way through a torrent of anti-aircraft fire, hitting Bush amidships between the two stacks. The plane’s bomb detonated in the forward engine room, killing everyone in the space along with most of the crewmen in both fire rooms. Escaping steam smothered the fires (and killed crewmen) and mobile hand-pumps were used to control flooding. Although badly damaged and dead in the water, the list was corrected and it appeared Bush could be saved. Colhoun began closing at 35 knots to assist, bringing four combat air patrol fighters along, to join four that arrived overhead Bush. Additional fighters were dispatched, but soon there were so many Japanese aircraft that it turned into a giant air-to-air mêlée over the radar picket stations.

At 1635, Colhoun arrived in sight of the afire Bush just in time to interpose herself between Bush and an incoming flight of 15 Japanese aircraft. Colhoun shot down one kamikaze, which crashed between the two ships, then shot down a second and a third, until a fourth already flaming kamikaze hit the Colhoun amidships, killing the gunners in the 40-mm mounts while the plane’s bomb exploded in the after fireroom, killing everyone in the space and rupturing the main steam line. In the meantime, another kamikaze made directly for the Bush, and with his ship a sitting duck, the commanding officer ordered all the crewmen who were topside fighting the fires (about 150) to jump overboard for safety, but the 40-mm gunners continued firing and the plane turned away looking for easier pickings.

Just as Colhoun was getting her fires under control, at 1717 she was attacked by three more kamikaze. One kamikaze was shot down by Colhoun’s gunners, and a second downed by fire from Bush and LCS-84. The third kamikaze crashed into Colhoun’s forward fire room, and the bomb detonated, blowing both boilers and breaking the keel, and the ship lost all power and communications and went dead in the water. Nevertheless, damage control teams once again got the fires and flooding under control, but at 1725 yet another kamikaze attack came in, with three planes approaching from three directions simultaneously. Colhoun, with all guns in manual, shot down one kamikaze and hit the other two, which both kept coming. One hit the after stack, fell on top of the Number 3 5-inch gun, fell over the side where it exploded, dousing the fires, but washing everyone on the fantail overboard. The third kamikaze missed Colhoun and went for Bush, hitting her amidships with such force the Bush’ hull was virtually severed in two, with only her keel holding her together. Nevertheless, her crewmen climbed out of the water and had the fires almost under control again when she was hit by a fourth kamikaze. This crashed into her port side and ignited a massive fire that killed (or fatally burned) all the wounded who had been collected in the wardroom, and the entire bow of the ship was in flames.

Still, neither crew would give up their ship. Colhoun’s crew continued with a bucket brigade. Expecting his ship to break in two, Bush’s commanding officer tried to take steps to ensure that both halves would be salvageable. At 1800, yet another kamikaze made a run at Bush, but apparently decided she was already done for and crashed into Colhoun instead, despite receiving multiple hits from Colhoun’s gunners, who wouldn’t give up. Bush’s crew continued to try to save her, but, as dusk approached, she lost her fight to a very large swell that caused her tortured keel to break, and both hull segments finally went under. LCS-64, damaged herself in the battle, picked up some of Bush’s survivors. Others were picked up during the night, but a number died in the cold water from wounds and hypothermia. Bush lost 94 valiant men, including the commander of Destroyer Division 98, Commander James S. Willis, and 32 wounded of 333 aboard. Commanding Officer Commander Rollin Everton Westholm would be awarded the Navy Cross (to go with a Silver Star awarded while in command of PT-112 during action off Guadalcanal in 1943). Willis was also awarded a posthumous Navy Cross.

Destroyer Cassin Young arrived on scene as Colhoun’s commanding officer, Commander George Rees Wilson, had finally—and reluctantly—given the order to abandon ship. LCS-84 picked up about 200 of Colhoun’s crew, which were transferred to Cassin Young. LCS-87 came alongside Colhoun and took off the remaining men, except for a skeleton crew of four officers and 17 men who were still trying to save the ship. By the time the fleet tug Pakena arrived at 2320, the fires had flared up again, the ship was listing 23 degrees, and could not be towed in the rough sea. LCS-87 took off the skeleton crew and Cassin Young sank the gallant Colhoun with gunfire. Colhoun’s casualties included 35 dead and 21 wounded. Wilson was awarded his second Navy Cross (to go with a Navy Cross and Silver Star awarded while in command of destroyer Chevalier [DD-451] in actions in the central Solomon Islands in 1943).

Newcomb (DD-586) #. At about 1800 6 April, as the battleship bombardment force was withdrawing from the beachhead area to their night disposition, 12 Kate torpedo bombers and Oscar fighters came in so low that lookouts saw them before radar. All ships opened fire with a massive volume of anti-aircraft fire. Newcomb was the first to be hit when a kamikaze crashed into her after stack. The destroyer shot down a second kamikaze, but, at 1806, a third hit her amidships and the large bomb or torpedo the plane was carrying exploded deep in the ship, destroying both engine rooms and the forward fire room. Despite the severe damage, Newcomb’s forward guns kept firing on a fourth kamikaze, which kept on coming and struck the ship on the forward stack, adding a new supply of gasoline to the already raging inferno in Newcomb’s mid- section. In the smoke of the explosion, observers on other ships first assumed Newcomb had gone down.

Leutze (DD-481) raced to rescue survivors, swinging her boats out to lower them in the water, only then to discover Newcomb was still afloat despite the mass of flame from her bridge to her Number 3 gun. Leutze’s commanding officer was 1941 Naval Academy graduate, Lieutenant Leon Grabowsky, in command since the ship’s commanding officer had been badly wounded when she was hit by shore fire off Iwo Jima. Grabowski brought Leutze alongside Newcomb at 1811, passing hoses over to help fight the fires. At 1815, a fifth kamikaze was aiming for Newcomb’s bridge, but was hit by a 5-inch shell and crashed onto Leutze’s fantail instead, starting a fire in the after ammunition-handling room, jamming her rudder, and opening many compartments to the sea. One of Leutze’s repair parties continued to fight the fires on Newcomb while others fought to save Leutze, which was in danger of sinking herself. There were numerous accounts of heroism on both ships, but Morison’s quote from Lord Nelson probably sums it up: “They fought as one man and that man a hero.” Newcomb’s valiant crew, under the command of Commander Ira E. McMillian, saved their ship at a cost of 43 dead and 64 wounded. McMillian would be awarded the Navy Cross (to go with the Silver Star he had received while in command of Newcomb during the Battle of Surigao Strait). Newcomb was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation. She was ultimately towed back to the United States, but was not repaired.

Leutze (DD-481) #. After disengaging from her heroic attempt to assist Newcomb when destroyer Beale (DD-471) came alongside to assist, Leutze’s crew brought the fire and flooding under control and she was towed into Kerama Retto by minesweeper Defense (AM-317), herself hit by two kamikaze that luckily caused only minor damage and only wounded nine. Leutze lost 8 crewmen and 34 wounded. Acting Commanding Officer Lieutenant Grabowsky was awarded the Navy Cross.  His award citation states: “…Although substituting for LEUTZE’s regular commanding officer [he] handled his ship like a veteran commander and maintained a high standard of fighting efficiency on board his gallant craft throughout a long and terrific aerial attack. By his fearless leadership and outstanding courage in the face of grave danger, he contributed to the destruction of an enemy plane and to the preservation of his own and another destroyer….” Luetze was brought back to the United States, but repairs were halted at the end of the war and never completed.


Okinawa Operation, 1945

USS Morris (DD-417): Starboard view from director's deck of damage received in the mass kamikaze attack off Okinawa on 6 April 1945. Photo taken in the Kerama Retto anchorage, June 1945 (NH 9448).                        

Defense (AM-317) ##. After shooting down one kamikaze, being hit by two, rescuing 60 sailors from destroyer Newcomb and towing crippled destroyer Leutze into Kerama Retto, Defense sailed for the U.S. West Coast, but her repairs were not completed until after the war ended. During the kamikaze hits on 6 April, Defense suffered nine wounded.

Witter (DE-636) # and Morris (DD-417) #. Destroyer escort Witter was operating with destroyer Gregory (DD-802) on anti-submarine patrol duty off southern Okinawa when they were attacked by two Japanese aircraft at 1612. Gregory shot one down and Witter gunners hit the other, but the burning plane kept coming and hit Witter at the waterline, with the plane’s bomb exploding in the forward fire room, and killing six crewmen and wounding six. Damage control parties got the flooding under control and Witter was steaming on her own power toward Kerama Retto at ten knots, accompanied by Gregory, destroyer Morris (DD-417), Richard P. Leary (DD-664), and the tug Arikara (ATF-98).

Morris detached from the group, but then came under attack by a single Kate torpedo bomber. Although Morris gunners hit the Kate repeatedly, it kept coming and crashed on the port side between 5-inch gun mounts Number 1 and 2, igniting stubborn fires that took two and a half hours to put out. Richard P. Leary arrived to assist and escorted Morris to Kerama Retto. Morris suffered 13 killed and 45 wounded. Although both Witter and Morris eventually made their way back Stateside, repairs were never fully completed on either ship.

Hyman (DD-732). Destroyer Hyman was covering the transport area when she was attacked by four kamikaze at 1612 on 6 April. Hyman shot down three of the kamikaze, but was hit by the fourth on her torpedo tubes, which resulted in a massive explosion and flooded the forward engine room. As damage control parties stopped the flooding and put out the fires, Hyman’s gunners, along with gunners on destroyer Rooks (DD-804), which had come to Hyman’s aid, helped to down two more kamikaze. Rooks had already shot down five Japanese aircraft earlier in the day and would remain in nearly constant action off Okinawa until late June, suffering no hits and no casualties in an incredible lucky streak. Hyman suffered 12 killed and over 40 wounded, but the ship was saved. She returned from repair in the United States just in time for the Japanese surrender.

Howorth (DD-592). Destroyer Howorth was steaming with light cruiser St. Louis (CL-49), protecting the transport area, when a two-plane Japanese kamikaze attack came in about 1600. The two ships combined to shoot the first kamikaze down. The second kamikaze barely missed Howarth, passing between her stacks and crashing in the water on the far side. Howarth began heading to assist Hyman, when two groups of four Zeke fighters commenced an attack on her. From the first group, one was shot down, two missed, and the fourth just grazed the fantail before hitting the water. A fifth Zeke was shot down, but the sixth aimed for and hit the main battery gun director, killing nine and wounding 14. As damage control parties were quickly bringing the fires under control, Howarth’s 40-mm guns shot down yet another Zeke attacking from the stern. Howarth made it to Kerama Retto under her own power and then Stateside for repairs.

Mullany (DD-528) ##. Destroyer Mullany was on anti-submarine patrol when she was attacked by a solo kamikaze at 1745. Despite being hit numerous times, the kamikaze kept coming and crashed into the after deckhouse. As damage control parties swung into action, Mullany’s depth charges blew up in a massive explosion. As the ship’s crew struggled to keep her afloat, Mullany’s forward gunners engaged three more inbound kamikaze, downing two and causing the third to turn away. After an hour of fighting the fire, the temperature in the aft magazine reached a level where it was at risk of exploding, and the commanding officer, Commander Albert Momm, gave the order to abandon ship. Minesweepers Gherardi (DMS-30) and Execute (AM-232) rescued survivors and were then joined by destroyer Purdy (DD-734), which came alongside to fight the fires. Commander Momm took a skeleton crew back on board. An attempt to tow Mullany failed, but the skeleton crew was able to light off one boiler and get her underway again to Kerama Retto. Mullany suffered 30 dead and 36 wounded. She eventually made her way back to the United States, but repairs were not complete before the war ended.

Fieberling (DE-640). Destroyer escort Fieberling suffered damage from a near miss by a kamikaze, but incurred no casualties. She escorted a convoy of unloaded transports to Guam and, after repairs, returned to Okinawa on 28 June.

Rodman (DD-456/DMS-21) ## and Emmons (DD-457/DMS-22)*. The destroyer-minesweepers Rodman and Emmons were covering a group of six small minesweepers sweeping a channel off Okinawa, when they were attacked by a large group of kamikaze. The first kamikaze popped out of the clouds with little warning, hitting Rodman from forward and its bomb exploded under the superstructure. Damage control teams brought the fires under control by 1600 and Rodman’s engineering plant was still in order. Emmons was maneuvering to assist Rodman, when the swarm of kamikaze descended. Emmons circled the wounded Rodman, shooting down six kamikaze, but two got through to Rodman and crashed into her, one causing a fire that gutted the superstructure after hitting the captain’s cabin.

At this point, a large number of Marine Corps fighters arrived overhead and engaged the Japanese, shooting down as many as 20 aircraft. Emmons downed six more kamikaze, but was then overwhelmed. Marine Corsairs bravely flew into Emmons’ anti-aircraft fire in pursuit, but couldn’t prevent the ship from being hit by five kamikaze in quick succession; four others narrowly missed. Emmons’ fantail and rudder were blown off when two of the kamikaze crashed into her stern simultaneously. A third hit her forward 5-inch gun. The fourth hit just under the bridge, killing everyone in the combat information center (four officers and ten men). Intense fire went into the pilothouse, forcing the badly burned commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Foss, and others to seek shelter on the bridge, which, however, was gone, and they were forced to jump over the side. The fifth kamikaze strafed the ship, then circled back and crashed into the already destroyed superstructure.

The gunnery officer, Lieutenant J. J. Griffin, took command of Emmons as the wounded skipper was in the water and the executive officer was dead. Gun crews were still firing and downed a sixth inbound kamikaze. The ship was listing ten degrees, fires burning throughout and ready ammunition was exploding, but the good news was the sprinklers in the ammunition-handling rooms worked and the power plant was intact. Griffin worked to save the ship, as teams brought the superstructure fire under control, topside weight was jettisoned, and the less-severely wounded were put overboard in life rafts. After an hour of fighting the fire forward, there was a large explosion in the forward handling room. With help, the ship might still have been saved, but the damaged Rodman was in no condition to help anyone and all fleet tugs were occupied with other cripples. The small minesweepers had rescued some Emmons crewmen from the water, including the skipper.

Griffin finally gave the abandon-ship order. The small mine disposal vessel PGM-11 stood by Emmons until the end, coming alongside the burning ship to take off the last 60 men around 2000. Still, Emmons drifted for another two hours until destroyer-minesweeper Ellyson (DMS-19) arrived, but couldn’t put a party aboard due to the rough sea. On order, she sank the valiant Emmons with gunfire. Of Emmons’ crew, eight of 19 officers and 53 out of 237 men were killed, with four officers later succumbing to burn wounds; 71 others were wounded.

Rodman made it to Kerama Retto with 16 dead and 20 wounded. Her repairs were not completed before the war ended. (Rodman went on to star as the fictitious USS Caine in the movie The Caine Mutiny in 1954 before being transferred to the Taiwanese navy, where she was involved in two collisions—earning the nickname in Chinese for “Ram”—and finally running aground in 1969.)

Emmons was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for actions prior to her sinking. Her crew were awarded a Navy Cross, four Silver Stars, and eight Bronze Stars. Lieutenant Griffin was awarded one of the Silver Stars (I can’t find who received the Navy Cross). Emmons’ wreck site was discovered in shallow water in 2001 and has become a popular dive suite. The builder’s plaque was illegally removed by a diver. Warship wrecks and their contents remain sovereign property of their nation in perpetuity, and, working with NCIS, NHHC was able to recover the plaque. It has since undergone extensive conservation treatment to prevent the rapid deterioration that occurs when an artifact is improperly removed from salt water.


Photo #: 80-G-328574  USS Hancock (CV-19)

USS LST-447 is hit by a kamikaze while entering the Kerama Retto roadstead on 6 April 1945. Photographed from the deck of USS Tulagi (CVE-72). LST-447 was gutted by fire after this hit and sank the following day (80-G-339258).

LST-447 *. Besides being a place of refuge for damaged ships, Kerama Retto also had a large concentration of ammunition and fuel ships. As LST-447 was approaching the Kerama roadstead at 1627, she spotted two Zeke fighters heading in to the anchorage, opened fire, and hit one of them, which then changed course and aimed for the landing ship. Despite being hit by more anti-aircraft fire, the Zeke crashed the ship just above the waterline and its bomb exploded inside the LST, starting a massive fire. Within ten minutes, the vessel had to be abandoned, and then burned for 24 hours before she finally sank. Five crewmen were killed and 17 wounded.

Hobbs Victory * and Logan Victory *. Meanwhile, other kamikaze passed up the LST and took aim at the escort carrier Tulagi (CVE-72) and three Victory ships being used as ammunition carriers. One kamikaze commenced a run on Tulagi, but shifted to Logan Victory instead. Her Merchant Marine crew promptly abandoned her; most of the 16 dead and 11 wounded were in the Naval Armed Guard. Hobbs Victory quickly got underway, but was hit in the aft of her bridge and also quickly abandoned, with 15 killed and three wounded. Both ships drifted burning and exploding for a day before any ship went close enough to sink them with gunfire. The Navy-manned Las Vegas Victory was in the act of offloading ammunition onto smaller landing craft and shot down the kamikaze that tried to attack her.

7 April

Bennett (DD-473) ##. At 0850, while on radar picket duty, destroyer Bennett was hit by a kamikaze that damaged the forward engine room and knocked out all electrical power. Seven crewmen were killed and 14 were wounded, but the ship was able to make it to Kerama Retto on her own and then to Puget Sound for repairs. These weren’t completed before the war ended.

Wesson (De-184). At 0917, while on screening duty off the west coast of Okinawa, destroyer escort Wesson was engaging three Japanese aircraft crossing ahead of her when a fourth dove out of the clouds and crashed into her torpedo tube bank. Fortunately, there was not a catastrophic explosion, but her crew fought fires and flooding in the engineering spaces. Destroyer Lang (Dd-399) came alongside to assist, transferred a submersible pump, and then attempted to take Wesson in tow, but the line parted. Nevertheless, Wesson was able to make it to Kerama Retto under her own power and then to San Francisco for repairs. Eight crewmen died and 23 were wounded.

Hancock (CV-19). Although Hancock’s 53-plane strike failed to find Yamato in the lousy weather conditions (see attachment H-044-3), one Japanese kamikaze found Hancock at 1212. Attacking from ahead, the plane dropped a bomb that hit the port catapult forward. Then, the aircraft cartwheeled across the deck, crashing into some parked aircraft aft. The explosions and fires killed 72 crewmen and wounded another 82. Damage control teams had the fires out in 30 minutes. Hancock was able to recover her own strike and then continue operations on an emergency basis. She detached on 9 April to Pearl Harbor for repairs and returned to combat action in June.

Maryland (BB-46) ##. After steaming north with the other old battleships to counter the sortie of the Japanese battleship Yamato before being called off when Task Force 58 aircraft sank her, Maryland was hit at dusk on top of main battery turret Number 3 by a kamikaze with a bomb. The explosion destroyed the 20-mm guns near the turret and started a fire that cooked off 20-mm ammunition. Maryland’s casualties were 16 killed and 37 wounded. Turret Number 3 remained useable, but did not fire again, although Maryland continued shore bombardment duty for another week before heading for repairs. Back at Puget Sound shipyard, Maryland commenced a major weapons upgrade that was not finished by the time the war ended.

PGM-18 *. Gunboat PGM-18 struck a mine off Okinawa and sank, with a loss of 14 crewmen killed and 14 wounded.

YMS-103 *. Auxiliary motor minesweeper YMS-102 struck a mine and sank off Okinawa. Five of her crew were killed and none wounded.


Photo #: 80-G-328574  USS Hancock (CV-19)

USS Hancock (CV-19) casualties are buried at sea on 9 April 1945. They were killed when Hancock was hit by a kamikaze while operating off Okinawa on 7 April (80-G-328574). 

8 April

Gregory (DD-802) ##. Destroyer Gregory had assumed duty on radar picket station No. 3 north of Okinawa when her lookouts sighted three Japanese aircraft coming out of the setting sun. Gregory’s gunners immediately opened fire and, although the first aircraft took repeated hits with parts and pieces falling off, it still crashed into Gregory’s port side amidships just above the waterline, flooding the forward engine and firerooms. Gregory’s gunners didn’t flinch and kept firing on the second and third kamikaze, downing both of them close aboard. Damage control teams had the fires out in short order and Gregory steamed to Kerama Retto under her own power and then to Pearl Harbor for repairs, which weren’t complete when the war ended. Somewhat amazingly, Gregory suffered only two wounded and none killed. Of note, Gregory was under the command of Commander Bruce McCandless, who had been awarded a Medal of Honor for assuming command of heavy cruiser San Francisco (CA-38) after Captain Cassin Young, other senior officers, and embarked Rear Admiral Dan Callaghan were all killed during the 13 November 1942 night battle off Guadalcanal.

YMS-92. Auxiliary motor minesweeper YMS-92 was damaged as a result of an air attack. Although she suffered no casualties, she was put out of action for over 30 days.

9 April

Charles J. Badger (DD-657) ##. In low light before sunrise off Naha, Okinawa, an 18-foot Japanese Shinyo suicide boat made a run at destroyer Charles J. Badger, dropping a depth charge close aboard and then speeding away (apparently without the suicide part). No one was killed or injured, but the powerful blast caused serious flooding and knocked the destroyer’s engines off line. A second Shinyo was detected and fired on by destroyer Purdy (DD-734). The Shinyo dropped its depth charge and sped away. The cargo ship Starr was attacked by another Shinyo, but an LSM alongside absorbed the blast, which in this case was a suicide for the Japanese. Three other boats and 15 Japanese swimmers armed with hand grenades were also detected and dispatched in this series of attacks. Meanwhile, the flooding was quickly controlled on Charles J. Badger and she was towed to Kerama Retto for temporary repairs. She then proceeded to Bremerton for additional repairs which weren’t complete when the war ended.

Sterrett (DD-407). Destroyer Sterrett was on patrol at radar picket station No. 4 northeast of Okinawa when she was attacked by five Val kamikaze. Sterrett’s gunners caused the first kamikaze to seek an easier target. The second kamikaze was destroyed by 5-inch gunfire from Sterrett, but the third, despite repeated hits, pressed home the attack and hit the destroyer amidships at the waterline. Despite loss of electrical power to all guns and directors, Sterrett’s gunners kept firing and brought down the fourth kamikaze, although the fuselage passed over the ship and hit the water on the far side. What happened to the fifth kamikaze is unknown. Steering control was out, as were all communications, and the forward fuel tanks were ruptured. Moving at 32 knots when she was kit, Sterrrtt’s fires were extinguished in part by spray, and the crew did the rest. Steering control was reestablished, and the ship made it to Kerama Retto and then to Bremerton for repairs.

Hopping (APD-51). While conducting a reconnaissance of what would become known as Buckner Bay on the east side of Okinawa, destroyer-transport Hopping exchanged fire with a Japanese shore battery, silencing the battery, but getting hit several times in return. Two crewmen were killed and 18 wounded. She subsequently proceeded to Ulithi for repairs, returning to Okinawa on 17 May.

Sources include: NHHC Dictionary of American Fighting Ships (DANFS) for U.S. ships and combinedfleet.com for Japanese ships. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. XIV: Victory in the Pacific by Samuel Eliot Morison, Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1969; Japanese Destroyer Captain by Tameichi Hara, New York: Ballantine Books, 1961; Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II by John Prados, New York: Random House, 1995.

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Published: Fri Apr 03 18:32:09 EDT 2020