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Clay (APA-39)


An aerial view of Clay, 29 December 1943. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph, Naval History and Heritage Command)
Caption: An aerial view of Clay, 29 December 1943. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph, Naval History and Heritage Command)

Counties in 18 states.

(APA-39: displacement 8,100; length 492'; beam 69'6"; draft 26'6"; speed 18.4 knots; complement 575; troop accommodation 1,226; armament 2 5-inch, 8 1.1-inch, 4 40-millimeter, 18 20-millimeter; class Bayfield; type C3-S-A2)

Sea Carp was laid down on 14 October 1942, at San Francisco, Calif., by the Western Pipe & Steel Co. under a Maritime Commission contract (M.C.V. Hull 274); launched on 23 January 1943; and sponsored by Mrs. Nina E. Warren, née Palmquist, wife of Governor Earl Warren of California. The ship was assigned to the Navy as a transport (AP-84); reclassified to an attack transport (APA-39) on 1 February 1943; acquired by the service at 1031 on 29 June 1943, and placed in full commission as Clay (APA-39) with Ferry Crew No. 2 as the ship’s company while moored starboard side to Pier 27 at San Francisco in order to steam to the east coast, Cmdr. Hans B. Olsen, USNR, in command.

Clay steamed down the west coast to San Pedro, Calif. (4–5 July 1943), from which she sailed on the 9th of July and then (16–19 July) moored starboard side to Pier No. 16 at Balboa on the Pacific coast and unloaded most of her cargo to motor torpedo boats (PT boats) and barges. Clay passed through the Panama Canal (19–20 July) and moored port side to Pier 8 at Cristóbal at Colón on the Atlantic side of the canal while she refueled and provisioned. The ship turned her prow across the Caribbean (21–23 July) and next in the journey discharged more cargo and loaded sugar while moored port side to the United Fruit Dock at Havana, Cuba. United States Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Cuba Spruille Braden boarded the ship and ate lunch with Cmdr. Olsen on the afternoon of the 28th.

A Navy Martin PBM patrolled overhead to safeguard the ship against prowling U-boats (German submarines) when she resumed the voyage, and when the Mariner departed the area to refuel a blimp took over to watch the waters for threats on 30 July. Clay passed up the east coast of the United States and moored port side to Pier 7 at New York on the morning of 2 August 1943, where she unloaded general cargo and, in addition, the ammunition into a barge that slipped alongside her starboard quarter. Clay shifted berths more than once during the following days, and unloaded the sugar while moored at the Domino Sugar Docks and furthermore at the American Sugar Refining Company. Clay was decommissioned at 0902 on 11 August 1943, at Pier J at Todd Dry Dock Company, Hoboken, N.J., for conversion; and was recommissioned on 21 December 1943, Capt. Everett W. Abdill in command.

The ship’s historian described the arduous endeavors necessary to prepare the ship and her crew as they steamed to the Pacific to fight the Japanese:

“For weeks while the objective was under attack from the air and from the sea, the transports, brought together in selected anchorages in the Pacific, were loading and unloading, embarking and debarking troops, training for the enormous complexities of invasion day. For each ship it meant the careful stowing of cargo in accordance with pre-determined loading plans so that the most important equipment would be discharged from the cargo holds first; it meant the detailed formulation of plans for loading troops into the landing craft to meet the tactical situation ashore, the formation of waves to arrive at the proper beach at the correct time; it meant the ceaseless preparation of the ship for the ordeal ahead, the drilling of gun crews to repel air and surface attack, the distribution of all information relative to the objective, winds, tides, currents, beach characteristics, landmarks, enemy defenses, the charting of courses, and the plotting of enemy minefields; it meant, in addition, the planning of casualty evacuation from shore to ship, the assembly of medical stores and training of personnel to care for the wounded, the preparation for feeding large numbers of troops, and the anticipation of a thousand other problems. Beyond this was the coordination of the detailed plans for each ship, into one final problem until the amazing feat of landing divisions of infantry on hostile beaches in a period of minutes could be accomplished with almost the smoothness of a dress rehearsal.”

Clay began these preparations by fitting out at the New York Navy Yard at Brooklyn, N.Y., and carried out her post commissioning trial runs off Long Island and in Chesapeake Bay (21 December 1943–1 January 1944). The work included loading stores, provisions, equipment, spare parts, ammunition, and fuel at the 33rd Street Pier at Brooklyn (22–26 December), the following day deperming at Bayonne, N.J., and carrying out the tests in Long Island Sound (28–30 December) and then (31 December 1943–1 January 1944) Chesapeake Bay. Clay reported that most of her equipment and machinery functioned satisfactorily but that the SG Surface Search and Navigational Radar required additional adjustments, and that the conversion yard did not complete their work on the port feed pump. The ship then (2–25 January 1944) cast off all lines from the 33rd Street Pier and carried out her shakedown cruise off the east coast. Clay followed these operations by completing a post-shakedown availability at Berth 11-12 at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va.

Clay sailed from Berth 32 at the Naval Operating Base Norfolk on 27 January 1944, with 1,389 officers and enlisted men of the 39th Marine Replacement Battalion, and 163 more of the 17th Marine Depot Company, embarked, bound for Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. The newly commissioned ship set out in company with the other vessels of Task Group (TG) 29.7 escorted by destroyers Roe (DD-418), with Commander Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 23 embarked, and Mertz (DD-691), together with escort ship Eichenberger (DE-202). The convoy also included Athos II, an ex-French steamer run by the War Shipping Administration as a troop transport by French Lines, Inc., for the United States Army.

Vice Adm. Arthur B. Cook, Commander Caribbean Sea Frontier, routed the ships west of Navassa Island, which lies northeast of Jamaica, in order to clear a convoy heading south on the 29th. The following day Athos II experienced engineering trouble with a turbine bearing that dropped her speed (and thus that of the task group) to 11 knots, delaying the convoy’s arrival by a day.

The task group was dissolved and became Convoy Z-50 as the ships, joined by Swearer (DE-186), passed through the Panama Canal into the Pacific (1–2 February 1944). On the 13th of February Z-50 was dissolved as the ships reached Pearl Harbor on the first leg of Clay’s nearly 100,000 miles of war operations that included four assault landings on enemy-held shores. Clay stood in to Pearl Harbor and debarked 1,554 officers and enlisted marines (two more joined during the cruise) and their gear. The attack transport loaded 35 landing boats and transferred them to the Amphibious Training Base at Port Allen on Kauai, T.H., on the 19th. She then carried out training and gunnery practice, followed by a brief (21–27 February) availability for voyage repairs and maintenance at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard.

Four echelons of the 22nd Marine Regiment and some passengers, 111 commissioned and 400 enlisted men, boarded the ship and she moreover loaded seven vehicle and personnel landing craft (LCVPs) and carried the men and boats to Kahului, Maui, T.H. (28 February–1 March 1944). Some 102 officers and 514 enlisted marines there boarded the ship. She put to sea escorted by Franks (DD-554) three days later for the invasion of Kavieng on New Ireland in the Bismarcks. Clay and Franks crossed the equator on 8 March and on the 11th anchored at Berth B-13 at Funafuti in the Ellice Islands [Tuvalu]. The pair of warships continued their journey later that day. Franks detected a sound contact that she believed to be a Japanese submarine during the morning watch on the 13th. Clay maneuvered to avoid the ensuing battle as Franks depth charged the area. The destroyer’s depth charge patterns brought up barnacle-covered logs, boxes, and coconuts, and when she lost contact the ships resumed their expedition.

Clay and her faithful shepherd reached Tulagi in the Solomon Islands on the 15th, where Clay anchored in Berth 25 and Franks steamed to Purvis Bay in the Nggela Islands. Clay shifted to Lunga Point off Guadalcanal two days later and anchored and unloaded the marines, passengers, and their cargo. Capt. Henry E. Thornhill boarded Clay and broke his broad pennant in her as Commander Transport Division (TransDiv) 10. Allied air and naval raids in the meanwhile all but neutralized the Japanese bases at Kavieng and planners cancelled the landings. Clay therefore swung around as part of Task Unit (TU) 34.9.1, crossed the equator again on the 24th, and four days later loaded 20 officers and 224 enlisted sailors of Standard Landing Craft Unit 24 at Funafuti. The ship experienced “considerable westward set” when the crossed the International Date Line on the 2nd, on 3 April crossed the equator at 173°W, and returned to Pearl Harbor on the 9th. The following day Capt. George D. Morrison, Commander TransDiv 30, relieved Capt. Thornhill.

Clay next (12–18 April 1944) loaded the Headquarters of the 23rd Marine Regimental Combat Team for training with the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions as part of TU 55.1.12 in Mā'alaea Bay at Maui, T.H. The ship unloaded the marines at Kahului and embarked men of the 25th Marine Regimental Combat Team and trained with them back at Mā'alaea Bay (18–27 April). Strong gale force winds plagued the training at the bay and made small boating extremely difficult. The ship nonetheless proudly reported that “excellent seamanship” kept the damage to a minimum and she did not suffer any casualties. Clay then accomplished a limited availability at Pearl Harbor. The busy attack transport loaded the Headquarters of the 2nd Marine Regimental Combat Team plus the team’s 3rd Battalion, both from the 4th Marine Division, while moored port side to Pier 3 at Hilo on Hawaii on 5 May.

The day turned out to be an action-packed one when the ship received word of a Japanese submarine sighted bearing 008° (all bearings are true) at 15 miles from Leweiwi Point at 1115. Destroyer Wadleigh (DD-689) and planes flying from Hilo raced to the scene but could not detect the mysterious foe, which, if she did prowl the area, may have dived and escaped. The authorities nonetheless prudently recalled Arthur Middleton (APA-25) as she lay outside the harbor and the ship entered the port. Clay’s watchstanders anxiously pored over their charts and noted that the submarine’s reported operations placed her astride the convoy’s track, and so the ships altered course to starboard on their return voyage to avoid the area. Following the excitement a quick stop at Pearl Harbor on the 8th afforded the vessel the opportunity for upkeep and training, though two days later three men diagnosed with cerebrospinal fever, meningococci, required hospitalization. The ship then (15–18 May) took part with her embarked marines in maneuvers at Lahaina Roads off Maui, and on the 19th called for logistics purposes at Honolulu, T.H.

Clay’s baptism of fire occurred during Operation Forager, specifically the landings on Saipan in the Marianas Islands. The 3rd Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division, along with the regiment’s Headquarters, and Maj. Gen. Sanderford Jarman, USA, Commanding General, Army Garrison Forces, and Army Forces Central Pacific Area, and his staff boarded Clay while she lay at Pearl Harbor. On 30 May Clay stood out of the fleet anchorage with TU 52.3.1 and steamed as the flagship of a division of seven ships. The ship’s company did not underestimate the daunting task they faced and their chronicler summarized that all of the “officers and men are being schooled in the forthcoming operations. Detailed ship plans are being assembled, daily school sessions are the order of the day.”

A Japanese submarine attacked escort aircraft carrier Kalinin Bay (CVE-68) as she steamed in the formation at 1008 on 1 June 1944. Lookouts sighted two torpedoes on an apparent course of 250°, the first off the ship’s port bow at a distance of 75 yards, and the second off her starboard bow at 50 yards. Both of the deadly weapons rushed toward the ship perilously close and, in all likelihood, had already approached too close to avoid them. Men braced for what seemed to be the inevitable impact but the torpedoes narrowly missed as they straddled the ship and continued on and disappeared off the starboard bow. “The “K.B.” had seen death,” the carrier’s historian observed, “but her number was not yet up.” The formation executed evasive maneuvers and Clay swung her helm hard over as she joined the other vessels in attempting to avoid a second attack. None of the destroyers acquired a positive sonar contact and the enemy boat eluded detection and escaped. Despite that harrowing experience the vessels and their marines trained, staged and transferred troops, and loaded and shifted supplies while at Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands (9–11 June).

Clay went alongside self-propelled fuel oil barge YO-185 to pump water on board at Eniwetok during the 1st dog watch on the 9th. At 2202 the ship finishing pumping the water and prepared to return to her assigned Berth 233. When Clay’s bridge moved abreast of YO-185’s bow the ship put the rudder hard left. Shortly thereafter the anchor caught on the barge’s anchor chain, pulling ahead that vessel and Comet (AP-166), moored on her port side. Clay emergency backed engines to clear but when the bridge team realized that they were about to collide they reduced the sternway by use of the engines. Comet’s bow struck Clay’s port side at frame 57 with a sickening crunch, rupturing the side between the main and second deck for an area of about six by six feet. The impact did not cause any underwater damage or casualties to any of the three vessels. Destroyer tender Prairie (AD-15) affected repairs to the trio the following day and once she fixed Clay’s damaged plates the ship cleared Eniwetok and pushed on toward Saipan. Salvage ship Preserver (ARS-8) transferred Sea1c Roland K. Ask, USNR, to Clay for an emergency appendectomy on the 14th, from which Ask recovered.

The 15th of June 1944, dawned bright and blue but the incessant bombardment shrouded in smoke much of Saipan’s southwestern coast, where the main landings hit the beach. Clay served in the Demonstration Group, TG 52.9, led by Capt. Morrison, who commanded the ships of TransDiv 10 and TransDiv 30 as they executed a realistic feint landing off northwestern Saipan to divert Japanese troops. The ship spared no effort to increase the authenticity of her part in the feint and hoisted out boats that formed into waves and headed for the beach. Clay did not embark any of the marines in the boats because of the limited numbers of men available for the subsequent operations, which precluded risking casualties that might imperil the actual landings, and because they would have sought shelter whenever possible behind the sides of the craft and the enemy might not have discerned the effectiveness of the ruse. Intelligence observers rode the boats, however, as they closed to within 6,000 yards of the beach luridly lit by flames that leapt nearly 300 feet into the air from burning Japanese fuel dumps at Machito Point. The boats then swung around and returned to the ship without a single casualty.

The ship followed up her diversion by moving into the transport area and loading the marines into the boats in the early afternoon and by 1500 the leathernecks were en route to storm Red Beach No. 2. Fierce Japanese resistance combined with a broad coral reef stretching about a mile offshore and breached by only a single channel delayed unloading. Clay nonetheless launched the 2nd Marines into the bitter struggle and did so as efficiently as possible in the maelstrom of war. “This expeditious transfer of troops from the LCVPs to LVTs [tracked landing vehicles],” Capt. Everett W. Abdill, the ship’s commanding officer, reported, “is due to the initiative, in my opinion, of the Boat Group Commander, Lt. (j.g.) Lehman H. Garrison, Jr., D-V(G), USNR, and his assistants.” Sailors brought a total of 41 casualties from the fighting ashore to Clay during the afternoon, of which two men arrived already died and two more expired later. In addition, Lt. Cmdr. Ritchie, MC, led a medical team from Clay to LST-450 to assist the tank landing ship while she operated as a hospital ship.

Capt. Abdill sighted a Japanese plane that he tentatively identified as a Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 Carrier Fighter and estimated that it approached the ship from a range of ten miles on the 16th. The Zeke bore in toward the ship “intermediate and fast” and when the attacker reached scarcely 1,900 yards she fired four 5-inch, 75 1.1-inch, and 460 20-millimeter rounds at the plane without result and it winged from the area. Following the disappointing performance Clay disembarked her beach party for Red Beach No. 3 on the 17th. At 0825 on the 19th Pfc. James McArdle, USMC, one of the casualties that had been evacuated to the ship, succumbed to his wounds, and the ship buried the fallen marine at sea with full military honors the following morning. At 0150 on the 22nd U.S. antiaircraft batteries deployed ashore opened fire, bursting broad on Clay’s starboard quarter at an altitude of 3,000 feet. Mere seconds later an enemy bomber dropped a stick of (apparently) 100-pound bombs that straddled the ship with six geysers, two to port and four to starboard, but without seriously damaging her. Fragments hit the starboard side and a near miss caused a leak from a split elbow on the auxiliary injection line in the engine room. The disconcertingly swift attacker disappeared into the darkness. Maj. Gen. Jarman and his staff went ashore later that morning, and Japanese artillery on Tinian fired at Clay and shell fragments fell on the ship without inflicting significant damage or causing casualties.

Clay came about and steamed with TU 51.18.16 to Eniwetok (23–27 June 1944). At 0845 on the 24th Sgt. George Demchak, USMC, died on board from wounds he sustained while fighting the Japanese during the landings on Saipan and at 1415 the ship’s company buried him at sea with full military honors. Poor visibility caused Clay problems as she approached the Deep Entrance to Eniwetok on the morning of the 27th, and she swung hard over on an emergency course to avoid a flotilla of LSTs as they suddenly turned and crossed the formation from port to starboard. Clay narrowly avoided colliding with one of the ships, the vessel’s identity uncertain, before she turned back on course and anchored at Berth 210.

Fuller (APA-7) transferred 59 Japanese prisoners to Clay, and she in turn transferred 32 men and eight LCVPs to Leonard Wood (APA-12). The ship furthermore left two medium landing ships (LSMs) and five LCVPs at the atoll, and loaded one damaged LSM and four LCVPs to return them to Pearl Harbor to be rebuilt. Another scheduled LSM failed to show up, and she could not load one more LCVP that arrived missing its hoisting pads and time did not permit rigging slings to hoist her on board. The convoy journeyed to Makin Island in the Gilberts [Kiribati] and Clay anchored in Berth F-1 at Butaritari Anchorage on the 30th. Some 38 officers and 961 enlisted soldiers of the Army’s 98th Antiaircraft Battalion boarded and on the 3rd she made for Pearl Harbor. In order to handle casualties the ship detailed certain men as stretcher bearers but Abdill noted that “it was extremely gratifying” to note that a number of others volunteered to help. On the return voyage sailors made an awning so that they could bring stretcher cases up on deck for sunshine and fresh air. “Many touching scenes of tough bluejackets attending valorous marines were evident throughout the return trip,” the commanding officer summarized.

Clay and her consorts reached Pearl Harbor on 9 July and she disembarked 70 casualties, 999 soldiers, and 59 prisoners. Clay transferred a “dud” mechanized landing craft (LCM) to Naval Amphibious Base Waipio Point, Pearl Harbor. Some 91 ambulatory patients and 113 passengers boarded and the transport hoisted a control landing craft (LCC) aloft at the last minute for passage, and then proceeded with her naval division to San Diego, Calif. (10–17 July). There the ship received one new LSM and 16 LCVPs to replace the ones she left behind.

The 2nd Battalion Landing Team, 26th Marines, 5th Marine Division, embarked (20–22 July 1944) for the landings on Guam in the Marianas. Clay sortied with other vessels intended for the landings and turned toward Hawaiian waters. As she prepared to return, however, Japanese resistance on that island and on Saipan gradually succumbed to the U.S. assaults in the grisly fighting. The ship thus unloaded the marines at Hilo on the 29th and then (1–8 August) swung around for San Diego, where she loaded the Headquarters 5th Marine Division, along with the division’s 2nd Battalion Landing Team, 27th Marines (8–11 August). Clay continued to fill a packed schedule as she also embarked Maj. Gen. Keller E. Rockey, USMC, commanding general, 5th Marine Division, and his staff, making a total of 66 officers and 1,537 enlisted  marines. Clay formed up with TU 116.11.5 and steamed for Pearl Harbor but was diverted and unloaded the marines while moored starboard side to Pier 2 at Hilo on the 18th and then (20–28 August) worked on logistics and a limited availability at Pearl Harbor. The ship slipped over to Pier 39-A at the Army Port of Embarkation at Honolulu and loaded 66 officers and 624 soldiers of the Army’s Headquarters 381st Infantry Regimental Combat Team of the 96th Infantry Division for training and maneuvers at Mā'alaea Bay (28 August–7 September).

Clay departed Hawaiian waters with the assault group scheduled for Yap in the Western Caroline Islands on 7 September 1944. On the 25th the ships reached Eniwetok but received momentous news. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill led a meeting named Octagon of the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff at Québec, Canada (11–16 September). The leaders cancelled the planned attack on Yap, approved the advance of the date for the invasion of the Philippines from 20 December to 20 October, and shifted the assault from southern Mindanão to Leyte. They made their decision in large part because of the recommendation of Adm. William F. Halsey Jr., Commander Third Fleet, who based his proposal upon intelligence that indicated Japanese weakness in the central Philippines corroborated by a lack of aerial opposition—though the Japanese preserved their forces to repel the landings. Ens. Thomas C. Tillar, USNR, of Fighting Squadron (VF) 2 from Carrier Air Group (CVG) 2, embarked on board aircraft carrier Hornet (CV-12), had crashed in a Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat off Apit Island off southwestern Leyte. Filipino freedom fighters rescued Tillar and revealed to the pilot the vulnerable state of the Japanese defenses prior to his return via a Cruiser Scouting Squadron (VCS) 6 Curtiss SOC Seagull from heavy cruiser Wichita (CA-45).

Clay was therefore diverted to serve with the Seventh Fleet at Manus in the Admiralties and stage for the invasion of Leyte. She embarked Brig. Gen. Boniface Campbell, USA, Commander, Artillery, IX Corps, and Col. W. L. Coughlan, USA, and a total of 89 officers and 1,116 enlisted soldiers of the 96th Infantry Division including the Headquarters (and some detachments) of the 381st Infantry Regiment, Headquarters 361st Field Artillery, Headquarters 363rd Field Artillery, and the Headquarters 170th Engineers. She also loaded most notably four crated Piper L-4 Grasshoppers, usually known as Cubs, as deck cargo, as well as 500 drums of gasoline, 71 vehicles, a wide variety of general cargo, 50% of it palletized, organizational gear, special equipment, and loose rations. “Because of the quantity of cargo required to be carried and the nature of it,” the ship’s historian succinctly summarized, “this ship could not be said to have been combat loaded.” The heavily laden transport nonetheless set out but at 0500 on the 19th an escort ship detected a possible Japanese submarine contact and the formation executed a 40° emergency turn to starboard, though no enemy attack developed and they turned back on course. The same thing occurred at 1228 on the 21st.

“At 1700 [on 1 October 1944] pursuant to orders from Neptunus Rex,” Clay’s historian wryly observed, “Davy Jones came on board to issue subpoenas to lowly Polywogs” as the ship prepared to cross the equator. “At 0900 [the following day on the 2nd] Neptunus Rex and his Royal Family came on board to initiate all Polywogs into his Royal Domain.”

While Clay anchored in Berth W-39 at Seeadler Harbor at Manus (4–14 October 1944) the ship debarked some additional men she had picked up along the way including two officers and 37 enlisted gunners of the Army’s Battery B, 504th Antiaircraft Artillery, to LST-704 for further transportation. She also transferred two officers and 32 enlisted men of the Army’s 51st Portable Surgical Hospital Unit to Frederick Funston (APA-89).

Clay returned to sea on 14 October 1944, in company with the ships of TG 79.2 making up Transport Group B of the Southern Attack Force. Rear Adm. Forrest B. Royal broke his flag in amphibious force command ship Rocky Mount (AGC-3) as the officer in tactical command. The convoy followed Route Shearwater at a speed of advance of 12 knots, and lookouts on board Clay strived to keep Transport Group A in sight ahead at an average range of six miles. Wickes (DD-578) detected a sound contact at 1215 on the 17th and the formation executed a series of emergency turns and speed changes while Wickes dropped a pattern of depth charges but lost contact. Kidd (DD-661) left her screening station the following afternoon and destroyed a floating mine the destroyer’s lookouts sighted off her port beam.

Transport Group B formed the approach cruising formation at 1600 on 19 October 1944, Clay steaming as the lead ship in the port column. Soon thereafter she streamed paravanes against possible mines. On the morning of A Day, the 20th, Clay and the other vessels of the group passed into the approach channel through Transport Area I and at 0830 anchored in Transport Area II. Clay dropped her anchor in a position bearing 126° from Catmon Hill and a distance of four and one-half miles from the Blue Landing Beaches on Leyte.

A slight wind and calm sea favored landing operations on the morning of the 20th. The ship landed some of the embarked soldiers and at 1155 unloaded the four Piper Cubs and other equipment via LCMs and LCVPs that churned through the crowded water to Transport Area III. In addition, she landed Brig. Gen. Campbell and Col. Coughlan ashore—to act as observers for the XXIV Corps. The Army called the 170th Engineers, attached to the 381st Infantry Regiment, to the beach as a shore party before the regiment.

The only enemy aircraft that the ship positively identified while she supported the landings turned out to be a Nakajima B6N1 carrier attack plane that flew between the vessels within range of Clay’s guns at 1600 on the afternoon of the first day. The Jill made a torpedo run against light cruiser Honolulu (CL-48) and despite the warship’s skillful maneuvering and extensive antiaircraft fire from a number of vessels in the vicinity the torpedo sliced into her port side. Honolulu fought from an area about 4,000 yards off Clay’s port quarter at the moment of impact so that the ship’s company watched the whole sad episode but the light cruiser’s crew valiantly contained the damage. The Jill escaped and Honolulu subsequently came about for repairs at Manus. The recurring aerial attacks frayed some sailors’ nerves and later that evening Clay’s No. 7 20-millimeter gun crew accidently fired 60 rounds while carelessly securing their weapon. The gunners fortuitously did not hit anyone and the ship took disciplinary action.

Strong winds gusted to 26 knots for a few hours on A plus 1 day, the second day, causing the ship to drag anchor and she thus briefly shifted anchorages about 100 yards away. The visibility proved good though hindered at times by smoke screens that ships made to protect themselves from the frequent Japanese air raids. Enemy aircraft repeatedly attacked ships in the roadstead but did not assail Clay. The seasoned vessel deployed two smoke boats that expended a total of 420 M4-I smoke floats and Mk III smoke pots to lay her smoke screens, and the handlers reported that the smoke floats performed more effectively than the smoke pots. Rocky Mount replaced some of Clay’s spent smoke floats, pots, and fog oil, and then Riddle (DE-185) and Cambria (APA-36) left her theirs as they departed for further operations. Clay returned the favors at times to other vessels and provided fresh water to infantry landing craft LCI-658 and LCI-755, along with fresh water and provisions to “numerous small craft” that slid alongside the attack transport.

In the meantime on the forenoon watch on 22 October 1944, Clay shifted anchorages in Transport Area III to a position one and two-tenths of a mile from the beach, bearing 137° and three and three-fourths of a mile from Catmon Island. The 321st Engineers attached to the 381st Infantry Regiment went ashore in ship’s boats before noon on the 22nd. Around noon an American plane crashed into the water about two miles off the starboard bow. The ship launched her LCC and a pair of large personnel landing craft (LCPLs) to rescue the pilot but a destroyer in the vicinity raced over and pulled him from the surf before any Japanese could reach him.

Most of the regimental troops and their equipment hit the beach on the third and fourth days of the landings by the ship’s boats and those of Standard Landing Craft Unit 24. Clay unloaded the greater part of the gasoline needed for the men ashore in that sector to tank landing craft LCT-822 on A plus 3 day. At 0700 that morning the TransDiv 10 beach party deployed to Blue Beach, and Clay’s own beach party (minus the medical team) debarked for Orange II Beach at 1500 that afternoon. The ship finished unloading all of her embarked men and gear by 1030 on the 24th.

Clay received 43 casualties on board for medical treatment, 20 stretcher cases and 23 ambulatory. The casualties comprised one naval officer, four enlisted sailors, an enlisted marine, and 37 enlisted soldiers. The ship did what she could for these men but transferred 20 ashore and one to a nearby ship for further medical treatment. Five of the wounded men died on board and the ship’s company sadly took two of the men ashore and transferred them to another command for burial on Leyte.

The ship emerged unscathed from the landings and then (24–29 October 1944) swung around from the transport area. While she stood out to sea Japanese aircraft attacked some of the vessels and the convoy executed a series of emergency turns. Picking (DD-685) steamed nearby and protected Clay with her antiaircraft fire. The ships then learned of the enemy naval onslaught against the Allied ships operating off Samar Island during the Battle of Leyte Gulf and the destroyer turned to help. Clay continued on however, in company with Rocky Mount (the flagship) and the other ships of TU 79.14.8.

Pvt. Zenna Radowicz, USA, Company A, 174th Engineers, died from his wounds incurred fighting the Japanese ashore on Leyte while being evacuated on board Clay, and the ship’s company buried him with full military honors at 1000 on 25 October 1944. Two more wounded soldiers sadly died during the voyage and the ship buried them with full military honors on the 27th: Sgt. F. T. Scheesley, USA, 88th Chemical Warfare (who expired at 1312 on the 26th), and Pvt. W. Roden, USA, 91st Chemical Warfare (who died at 1750 on the 26th). Clay reached Hollandia [Jayapura] at Humboldt Bay, New Guinea, in the Netherlands East Indies [Indonesia]. While there she disembarked the Sheridan (APA-51) Beach party of one officer and 29 enlisted sailors, as well as two Navy, one Marine Corps, and 13 Army casualties from the Battle of Leyte to Naval Base Hospital No. 17. In addition, five officers and 15 sailors of the TransDiv 18 Beach Party transferred to James O’Hara (APA-90).

Capt. Stanley M. Haight relieved Morrison in command of TransDiv 10 on board Clay, which continued to operate as the division’s flagship, on the 1st of the month. From there the ship steamed to Morotai in the Halmahera Group and anchored in Berth 4. Antiaircraft bursts, searchlight beams, flares, and bomb explosions repeatedly broke the stillness of the night (2–10 November) as Japanese aircraft flying from Halmahera kept the gun crews on the alert. The enemy planes sometimes dropped phosphorous bombs ashore but did not attack the ship.

Dutch Lt. J. Visser, RNN, boarded to help the ship navigate the unfamiliar channel. Clay battled heavy weather as she prepared to get underway from Army Dock No. 2 at Morotai at 0615 on 7 November 1944. An LCM and a pair of LCVPs attempted to push the bow clear of the dock, while an LCP(L) and a trio of LCVPs stood by to tow the stern line clear. The wind increased, however, and the various craft proved woefully ineffective laboring against the strong winds and pounding swells. Clay let go all lines except No. 5, but the dolphin to which the wire line was attached began to give way at 0625.

Clay moved slowly but inexorably aft and collided with the stem of John Owen, a Liberty ship (EC2-S-C1) chartered to the William J. Roundtree Company that lay moored directly astern. Neither ship reported extensive damage or casualties. Clay used headway to keep her propeller away from the dock. The wind alarmingly rose to a strong breeze and shoved the bow, despite the craft striving vainly against the elements, in toward the dock. It became increasingly apparent that Clay could not move ahead and at 1629 she rang “All Stop” followed immediately by backing bells up to emergency full astern to keep her off the shoals ahead and to clear the dock. Clay’s port bow slid against John Owen’s starboard side abreast the bridge and wiped aft to the after end of her midships superstructure. The damage to both vessels proved superficial, and Clay finally cleared the harbor and anchored off Morotai Island at 1722.

While at Morotai Clay endured embarked a total of 86 officers and 610 enlisted men of Headquarters XI Corps, the USAAF’s 310th Bombardment Wing, and the 211th Military Police Company, along with five USA and five USAAF men earmarked for the fighting on Leyte. Clay finally joined the ships of TU 79.15.2 as they charted courses for Leyte (10–14 November 1944). On the 12th a man fell overboard from Fayette (APA-43) but McDermut (DD-677) recovered him uninjured.

Enemy aircraft lunged at the ships more than once and at 1703 on the 13th lookouts sighted a Japanese torpedo bomber approaching from 000° and six miles, flying at an altitude of 3,000 feet off the starboard flank of the convoy, which steamed 320° at 13 knots. The plane flew diagonally across the ships on a heading of 230° and dropped a torpedo at vehicle landing ship Catskill (LSV-1). Every gun in the convoy that could bear opened a withering fire on the attacker, Catskill made an emergency turn to port, and the torpedo passed about 50 feet astern of her and missed all of the other vessels. Antiaircraft fire splashed the bomber off Catskill’s port quarter, and Clay’s crew witnessed the tense battle. As the vessels of the convoy stood into Leyte Gulf Australian infantry landing ship Kanimbla (F-23) reported a mine ahead in Clay’s path at 0038 on the 14th and she changed course to avoid the lethal weapon.

The battle-hardened ship unloaded her passengers and their gear in one day at Leyte. Eight enlisted men from a Joint Assault Signal Company (JASCO) temporarily stationed at Advanced Base No. 4, along with a (separate) officer, boarded for Manus. Clay then turned for Manus, though light minelayer Ramsey (DM-16) detected an underwater sound contact ahead and to starboard of the formation on the afternoon of the 16th and the ships swung over on an emergency turn to port. Another destroyer detected a possible submarine two mornings later and dropped a pair of depth charges while the vessels executed an emergency turn to port, only to have the warship report her sonar echoes as false.

Clay anchored in Berth 288 at Seeadler Harbor on the 20th and then (27–28 November 1944) charted a course for Borgen Bay, Cape Gloucester on New Britain, to prepare for the invasion of Luzon at Lingayen Gulf. Luce (DD-522) screened ahead of the formation but as the ships steamed out of Manus she suffered a steering casualty and the convoy made a 60° to port to avoid any of the vessels colliding with the destroyer while her engineering sailors scrambled to restore steering. Following the vexing experience the 1st of the month found Clay anchored in Berth H at Borgen Bay while 62 officers and 752 enlisted soldiers of the Headquarters, 185th Regimental Combat Team, Col. John B. Maloney, USA, 40th Infantry Division, boarded on the 9th of December.

The following day she turned for Manus but as the convoy steamed through a calm sea at 0751 on the 11th, one of Luce’s lookouts sighted what he believed to be a periscope and the formation swung over to starboard. The ship refueled and provisioned while anchored in Berth 504 at Seeadler Harbor (11–16 December), and then (16–19 December) sailed to Huon Bay at Lae, New Guinea, where she lay to initially in Transport Area 2, and then shifted to Transport Area 3. Clay returned to Seeadler Harbor on the 21st and after several moves anchored in Berth 13. Four officers and 191 men of the Sixth Army’s 245th Port Company arrived to familiarize themselves with their new berths on board the ship on the 23rd. Christmas found Santa Claus visiting Clay and distributing gifts to the crewmen and troops while they carried out a mild celebration in the hot and humid climate. A fire on board an LCVP interrupted the peace of the holiday and the ship called away her Fire and Rescue Party to extinguish the flames.

On the last day of Clay’s eventful year of 1944, she and the other attack transports of TG 79.1, Commodore Herbert B. Knowles, Commander TransRon 12, began the tortuous passage to Luzon, threading their course through waters flanked by Japanese-held islands. Clay carried 23 LCVPs, two LCP(L)s, and a single LCC, all naval manned, together with an LCM(VI) and a “J” boat manned by soldiers. Clay encountered issues with her No. 2 Boiler and hauled out of the line to repair the troublesome boiler (1123–1725 on 1 January 1945). The other vessels temporarily changed positions and she fell back into the last position in the starboard column while working on the machinery so as not to foul any of the other ships’ tracks.

While the attack transport operated with other vessels at 1423 on 3 January 1945, destroyer Sigourney (DD-643) picked up a sound contact bearing 240° and just two miles off Clay’s port beam. Sigourney immediately attacked the apparent Japanese submarine with depth charges and the rest of the vessels in the formation executed an emergency turn to starboard. The officer in tactical command dispatched Sigourney and Oberrender (DE-344) to continue to search for their elusive prey until they lost contact and rejoined the formation.

Additional alarums and excursions punctuated their voyage and Eaton (DD-510) detached from the screen to investigate another sound contact at 1228 on the 4th. Clay and her consorts once again swung hard over on an emergency turn, this time to port, and then turned back onto their plotted course. Suesens (DE-342) joined Eaton and the pair searched unsuccessfully for the enemy boat. Mustin (DD-413) reported a sound contact at 1012 on 7 January and the convoy swung over on two 40° emergency turns to port while Mustin dropped depth charges on her seeming prey. The destroyer vigorously attacked but could not accurately evaluate the contact and so everyone turned back onto their course. Suesens’ turn came at 1622 on the 7th, when she detected an apparent submarine contact bearing 020° and began depth charging. The doughty escort ship failed to maintain the contact and discontinued dropping depth charges and returned to the formation.

Japanese planes repeatedly attacked the vessels as they rounded Luzon. Clay escaped the furious assaults unscathed though her men observed horribly when Kitkun Bay (CVE-71) proved less fortunate. The carrier’s lookouts sighted enemy planes circling about three miles off the ship’s port bow at about 6,000 feet at 1848 on 7 January 1945, near 16°N, 119°10'E. The rumble of antiaircraft fire from the cruisers and destroyers increased in crescendo but in a few minutes two Japanese Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa Army Type 1 fighter planes detached from their formation and flew toward the carriers. One of the Oscars turned at 1857 and dived on Kitkun Bay.

All available guns including Montpelier (CL-57) and Phoenix (CL-46) fired at the Oscar and shot off parts of the plane, but the kamikaze suicide pilot continued his dive through what Kitkun Bay’s historian described as “murderous fire,” levelled off close to the water at 3,000 yards, and crashed through the port side at the waterline amidships. An explosion and large fire flared up simultaneously with a hit by a 5-inch round from one of the other ships, which burst close to the carrier’s bow below a gun sponson, killing and wounding several men—the attack killed 16 men altogether and wounded another 37. The Oscar tore a hole in the ship’s side approximately 20 feet long and nine feet high between frames 113 and 121, extending three feet below the waterline.

Kitkun Bay lost power and began listing to port rapidly as her after engine room, machine shop, and gyro spaces flooded. The list increased to 13° with the trim down by the stern four feet at 1904. Maintainers shifted planes to the starboard side of the flight deck to help correct the list. Firefighters valiantly battled the blaze and extinguished the flames by 1910, but the flooding continued as seawater poured into the ship in spite of the efforts of the engineers and repair party to contain the damage. Rear Adm. Ralph A. Ofstie, Commander Carrier Division 26, prudently ordered all secret and confidential publications destroyed to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. The Medical Department tended to the wounded, and then the captain passed the orders to transfer all “unnecessary” crewmen off the ship; wounded first. Destroyers took off 724 men, leaving less than 200 on board—the rescue party supplemented by volunteers. “We stayed upon the flight deck,” Lt. Robert E. Thomlinson, USNR, a member of Ofstie’s staff, reflected, “ready to scramble into the sea, except when we had urgent business below decks. At 19 degrees list there’s no comfort on a carrier.”

Clay’s men watched the sorrowful strike unfold and her chronicler observed that they last sighted Kitkun Bay “astern of the formation down at the stern with a list to port, and dead in the water. Several escorts and a tug were dispatched to tow her to LINGAYEN GULF.” In spite of the sobering experience Clay’s crewmen did not know for some time that the carrier survived to resume the fight. Despite the risk of a fire touching off ammunition and fuel on board Kitkun Bay, fleet ocean tug Chowanac (ATF-100) closed the carrier and secured a tow line to her at 2042, and they proceeded toward Santiago Island in the vicinity of Lingayen Gulf. The carrier’s engineers got steam up in the forward engine room and the damage control teams reduced the list to four degrees. Hopewell (DD-681) and Taylor (DD-468) left the formation to guide and escort Shamrock Bay (CVE-84), which operated a distance away, into the group, and the carrier joined them during the mid watch. Ofstie then transferred his flag to Shamrock Bay.

Clay lost her port paravane and the starboard one fouled the ship so she temporarily hauled out of line during the morning watch on 9 January 1945. Shortly thereafter she gingerly passed through an area charted as a Japanese minefield without incident into Lingayen Gulf, but just after sounding routine general quarters received an air raid warning from the officer in tactical command. None of her lookouts sighted Japanese planes, however, and she reduced speed, made preparations to lower boats, and recovered the starboard paravane, which had touched coral and fouled under the ship. Clay entered Transport Area 1, sighted but did not fire on enemy aircraft, and at 0720 received the signal “Land the Landing Force.” Clay a few minutes later anchored in LST Area X and began debarking troops and special boats. The crew launched boats from Welin davits and from skids over cargo hatches by cargo booms. Throughout the war the ship’s company directed the landing troops to leave their life belts in their boats and also posted conspicuous signs to that effect, yet grew increasingly frustrated as soldiers and marines kept their life belts or discarded them along the beaches or inland. Clay thus recovered an average of less than 50% of her required life belts following each landing, which imposed logistics issues as she attempted to replace the lost equipment.

Lookouts suddenly spotted a Japanese plane high on the port beam and another one bearing 190°, and Clay opened fire on the aircraft on the port beam but missed the attacker as he winged off. Additional attacks materialized and lookouts sighted through binoculars a flight of five Japanese planes approaching the ships from an altitude varying from 4,000–8,000 feet at a distance of five miles at another point. Two of the aircraft, believed to be Zekes, flew toward Clay’s sector and her gunners fired one of the 5-inch, nine 20-millimeter, and one of the 1.1-inch guns at the assailants. Antiaircraft fire from Clay and some of the other vessels hit at least one of the Zekes and the pair disengaged after the attack transport shot one 5-inch, 579 20-millimeter, and 216 1.1-inch rounds at them in two minutes of furious firing. One of the 20-millimeter guns suffered a “short blowback” but the gunners and their weapons otherwise ably defended the ship.

Clay finished unloading her cargo before nightfall on 9 January 1945. Crewmen brought on board a Navy sailor from large infantry landing craft LCI(L)-658 wounded by an exploding 20-millimeter round, and two Army enlisted soldiers struck by falling Allied antiaircraft shell fragments. The ship fired two 5-inch, 555 20-millimeter, 216 1.1-inch, and 60 50 cal. rounds on the busy day. Clay then stood out to sea with TU 79.14.1, Commodore Donald W. Loomis, Commander TransDiv 31, acting as the guide and officer in tactical command in Leonard Wood, and set course for Leyte. Capt. Samuel P. Jenkins meanwhile relieved Haight in command of the ship’s division, which also underwent a reclassification to TransDiv 35. Japanese planes swarmed the convoy as the vessels navigated their way out of the gulf and at 1902 the ship opened fire on one aircraft that seemed to threaten her but it escaped. Clay lost steam pressure due to water in her fuel oil and hauled out of column to starboard while her engineering team frantically attempted to restore the pressure, and as lookouts anxiously scanned the horizon and radar operators their scopes for kamikazes before returning to the convoy (1925–1943 on the 11th).

On 12 January 1945 the ship began to embark what would total 66 officers and 1,395 troopers of the 1st Brigade Headquarters and the 5th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division at Leyte. TransDiv 10 was dissolved on the 13th and the following day Capt. Jenkins once more broke his flag in Clay. On that eventful day Brig. Gen. William C. Chase, USA, Commanding General 1st Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, also boarded for transportation. Clay sounded general quarters multiple times from enemy aircraft alerts while she anchored at varying anchorages in Leyte Gulf, and on several occasions also made chemical smoke.

The ship stood out with TU 78.12.4, the other vessels of which initially formed three columns, and screened by Maury (DD-401) and five additional destroyers turned for Lingayen Gulf (24–27 January 1945). Stack (DD-406) reported propeller noise during the second dog watch on the 24th and the ships executed a 50° emergency turn. Stack took off after the culprit while her sonar operator heard a torpedo wake pass from starboard to port and clear the ships. The action-packed watch continued with another battle when a Japanese plane flew toward the vessels on the starboard side of the formation but antiaircraft fire splashed the intruder in flames.

The aircraft turned out to be carrying a torpedo and it dropped its weapon before the gunfire downed it. The torpedo struck just forward of amidships on the starboard side of Shadwell (LSD-15), tearing a hole in her bottom 60 feet wide. The landing ship was taking water badly and soon began to sink. The convoy steamed on while Wilson (DE-408) stood by to evacuate her crew if necessary. Shadwell's crew worked frantically to save their sinking ship and, by morning, their efforts were rewarded. Shadwell resumed steaming under her own power, steering for Leyte by trick wheel. Of the more than 500 men on board Shadwell at the time, she suffered only three casualties, all slightly injured. The repeated aerial attacks put some of the gunners on the different ships on edge, and when a U.S. plane approached in the midst of an enemy aircraft warning at 2024 on the 26th, they opened fire at the apparent assailant. The friendly plane swung around and escaped, and Clay’s chronicler evidently considered it discreet not to record the pilot’s reactions.

Clay stood in to Lingayen Gulf with the vessels of the convoy and unloaded the troopers in a single day. She also embarked additional soldiers as well as 41 Army casualties transferred from LSM-8. Clay set out with TU 78.12.4 for the nearly 3,300 mile run to Guadalcanal (27 January–12 February 1945). On the afternoon of the 28th Lang (DD-399) left the formation to investigate what she believed to be an enemy submarine stalking the convoy but quickly rejoined the task unit. Clay also took part in the reforming of transport squadrons and divisions on the 30th and 31st while anchored at various anchorages at Leyte Gulf, and shifted to the Third Fleet. She also embarked LCC-53 and her crew—after they completed their temporary duty at Lingayen Gulf and Arthur Middleton transported them to Leyte Gulf.

In addition to the usual and often terrifying round of air raid alerts that the ship endured, destroyers patrolling to seaward of the vital anchorages reported an underwater contact that could indicate a Japanese submarine attempting to slip past their watch and the nets into the gulf at 1135 on the last day of the month. Clay manned her batteries and trained both 5-inch guns on the likely direction but just before noon the destroyers passed the word that they did not verify the contact as an enemy boat and the relieved gunners stood down. Clay resumed the journey as the new month began. Morris (DD-417) reported a sound contact at 0910 on 9 February 1945, and the convoy swung over on a 70° emergency turn to port while Mustin investigated the contact, only to discover it a false one. The formation turned back on course and again took up the voyage.

The ship disembarked the casualties and completed rehabilitation and logistics requirements at Berth 28 at Gavutu in the Solomon Islands (12–23 February 1945). Clay shifted from the Seventh Fleet to the Pacific Fleet per se, specifically serving with the 4th Amphibious Group, Rear Adm. Lawrence F. Reifsnider. While anchored at Berth 134 at Kokumbona, Guadalcanal, the vessel embarked one officer and 80 sailors of Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees) 11 on the 23rd, the following day an officer and ten men of Beach Communication Party Team No. 55, and on the 28th some 66 officers and 1,327 enlisted men of the 3rd Battalion Landing Team, 29th Marine Regimental Combat Team, Col. Victor F. Bleasdale, USMC, along with the team’s Headquarters and the 39th Combat Landing Team, all from the 6th Marine Division. Clay began rehearsing for the next dagger thrust into the heart of the Japanese empire, Operation Iceberg—the invasion of Okinawa in the Ryūkyūs. Capt. Russell C. Bartman relieved Jenkins in command of TransDiv 35.

Clay embarked 84 officers and 1,604 enlisted marines as she stood out with a vast invasion fleet on 15 March 1945. Morris led the four other destroyers of the screen as the convoy ploughed westward. The ship stopped briefly (21–27 March) at several anchorages at Ulithi Atoll in the Carolines for logistics, and then set out again. Morris led a half dozen other destroyers and the four columns of ships of TU 53.1. Two escort carriers and their screen steamed just aft of the formation, and Transport Group B about 20 miles astern.

A number of incidents marked the voyage; on 31 March 1945, Clay sheered out of column to starboard from 1249–1355 to receive F1c Julius G. Nagy, V-6, USNR, suffering from appendicitis, from Sterett (DD-407). Riding a hurricane en route and making the final approach through a chaotic night of attacking planes and gunfire, Clay arrived off her assigned Okinawa beach before daylight on 1 April.

“Land the Landing Force” electrified Clay’s crew as they received the signal at 0535 on 1 April 1945. Clay endured enemy air raids while she moved to Transport Area U and began unloading her embarked marines at five minutes after noon. The ship sent the leathernecks ashore and then shifted to Transport Area A, where she covered all holds and kept station on Cambria while anchored, and then opened the beach to spend the night further out in the hope of gaining more room to maneuver from the seemingly incessant enemy aerial attacks. The ship thus began a cycle of closing the beach to unload cargo and open the coast overnight. A coral reef that extended the length of the beach hindered landing and unloading craft, and small boats could only land on the beach itself at flood tide. After boats so unloaded or during Japanese air attacks they often proceeded to dock landing ship Casa Grande (LSD-13) for a haven.

Watchstanders heard an aircraft fly over Clay several minutes after midnight on 2 April 1945. The ship escaped what could have been a close call and vessels astern opened fire on the plane without visible result. Clay’s lookouts sighted a Zeke through binoculars at a range of less than five miles off the starboard beam at 0600. The fighter maneuvered between an altitude of 4,000–6,000 feet as it flew toward Clay and a minute later seven of her 20-millimeter and one of the 1.1-inch guns began shooting 340 and five rounds, respectively, but the nimble plane escaped damage as it broke away within a minute on a heading of 060° without harming the ship. The Japanese pilot’s good fortune did not continue as he attempted to overfly some of the fire support ships and they splashed him ablaze. Clay’s gunners spotted locally but fired under central control. The transport also received 14 casualties from Beach No. 1 for further medical treatment—six wounded transferred from LST-951, three more from LST-952, and the other five from both vessels as they operated as hospital ships.

Watchstanders heard a plane diving overhead at 0549 on the 3rd and as they anxiously scanned the skies a Zeke suddenly lunged from the clouds and splashed into the water off the starboard quarter, bearing 240° at 1,200 yards, and off the starboard beam of Menifee (APA-202), the second ship in the third column. The kamikaze pilot disconcertingly evaded Clay’s radar and the lookouts sighted him mere seconds before he narrowly missed both ships. Before dusk the warship transferred a dozen of the casualties to hospital ship Comfort (AH-6), and a further casualty from White Beach on the 4th. The vessel loaded some additional casualties during the fierce fighting, and transferred the remaining eight men on board to Green Evacuation Station 2 at 0720 on the 4th.

Enemy aircraft savaged the ships around the clock and Clay repeatedly sounded general quarters and at times made smoke. The ship’s company believed that their smoke screens proved very effective in masking her from enemy attacks. Clay also weathered heavy winds that reached moderate gale force overnight on the 4th and 5th. The ship dragged her anchor and received numerous reports of other vessels struggling and so got underway, using a signal searchlight to illuminate herself and nearby vessels. The decision to weigh anchor proved a fortuitous one when Leon (APA-48) dragged her anchor and drifted close to Clay’s port side at 2335 on the 4th. Clay sounded collision quarters and rang speeds up to ten knots to clear Leon and the adjacent ships. Leon maneuvered clear of Clay at 2342 and 45 minutes into the mid watch the latter secured from collision quarters.

Mass conventional aerial and kamikaze attacks delayed Clay from unloading and she only sailed at 0915 on 5 April, unharmed, for San Francisco and yard work to prepare for the final assault on the Japanese home islands. The ship steamed in company with TU 51.29.4 and her lookouts sighted a floating mine 150 yards on the starboard beam at 1632 on the 6th and Oberrender quickly destroyed the ever-present hazard. Clay stopped at Saipan and transferred two LSMs and 13 LCVPs to the small boat basin there (9–10 April). In company with Adair (APA-91) and Monrovia (APA-31), Clay battled heavy swells during the first several days of their return voyage but crossed the International Date Line on the 16th and next (20–21 April) refueled and provisioned at Pearl Harbor. The ship transferred 11 LCVPs to Waipio, and loaded two damaged LSMs and a damaged ramped personnel landing craft (LCPR) for transportation and set out again. Clay steamed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge for a stop at San Francisco on 28 April, and her historian summarized his war weary fellow crewmen’s’ reactions when he appended the ship’s history with a simple entry: “Leave!!!” Clay received additional armament during a more than two-month (30 April–16 July) overhaul at Kaiser Shipyard No. 3 at Richmond, Calif., and carried out refresher training at San Diego on 18 July.

Clay steams at low speed while undergoing sea trials off San Francisco following her yard work in this port view, 10 July 1945. Many of her guns and life rafts are visible, a sign of her intended return to the fighting, and the stern and screws of PA-39-3, one of her boats, can be seen just aft of amidships. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 95371)
Caption: Clay steams at low speed while undergoing sea trials off San Francisco following her yard work in this port view, 10 July 1945. Many of her guns and life rafts are visible, a sign of her intended return to the fighting, and the stern and screws of PA-39-3, one of her boats, can be seen just aft of amidships. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 95371)

On 27 July 1945, Clay again headed for the Pacific, this time with 1,650 passengers, numbering 1,550 naval replacements known as “casuals” and 100 Army officers. The ship’s previous experience with kamikazes led her to carry out almost daily antiaircraft gunnery drills. Clay refueled and provisioned at Eniwetok on 9 August and on the 14th at Berth 33 at Ulithi. As the ship plunged westward in Convoy No. 81 at 0942 on 15 August she received the world-shaking news of the Japanese announcement of their willingness to surrender when Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal sent the fleet a message to cease offensive operations. “The war has come to an incredibly swift ending,” the incredulous ship’s historian reflected.

The Allies nonetheless sensibly maintained their vigilance in case some of the Japanese failed to receive or heed the orders, and Bell (DD-587) reported a possible submarine contact at 1340 that afternoon. All of the ships executed a 45° emergency turn to port and only swung back on course at 1419 after Bell evaluated the contact as “doubtful.” Holton (DE-703) reported another possible submarine bearing 141° 2½ miles from the convoy at 1040 the following day. The ships swung hard over 45° to starboard but Holton sent a second missive explaining that she lost the contact as it went deep. The ship continued her voyage and slid into Leyte Gulf on the 17th and anchored in Berth 75. The day the Japanese emissaries arrived in the Philippine capital of Manila to effect surrender arrangements, Clay was swinging around her anchor in Leyte Gulf. In the meanwhile on the 19th she debarked 100 enlisted sailors to Fuller and received another 98 from her for further assignment, and debarked 90 Army servicemen to Tacloban Island.

Clay received orders directing her to take part in the occupation of the Japanese home islands and so from Leyte she proceeded through Surigao Strait, crossed the Mindanao Sea, and turned north through the Bohol Strait to the once beautiful but ruined city of Cebu. There she embarked 85 officers and 1,122 soldiers of the Headquarters of the Army’s 182nd Regimental Combat Team of the Americal Division (27–28 August 1945). On 1 September Clay sailed as the flagship of Temporary Squadron 13, led by Capt. Bartman, as part of “Tokyo Force.” High speed transport Odum (APD-71) reported a floating mine and detached to investigate and destroyed it during the morning watch on the 6th.

Early on 8 September, Clay steamed up the swept channel through minefields and swift currents into Tōkyō Bay. “Sighted with pride and emotion,” her diarist recorded, “a great fleet of American men of war anchored from YOKOSUKA Naval Base north beyond YOKOHAMA.” Clay watchstanders also sighted the battered pagoda structure of Nagato and cut her in as a fixed navigational aid as they passed the sunken Japanese battleship. Clay debarked some of the Headquarters soldiers and then anchored in Berth 20 off the ruined and silent industrial section that extended from Yokohama into Tōkyō. The following day the ship shifted to Berth 10 and unloaded the remaining soldiers and their cargo over the Yokohama docks, which emerged from the Allied bombing relatively undamaged. She also transferred four LSMs to the Army’s 542nd Engineers Boat and Shore Regiment.

Unloading swiftly Clay sailed the next day to refuel and provision at Leyte Gulf but received orders en route switching her destination to Buckner Bay, Okinawa, to pick up Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees freed from the Japanese. New orders switched the port back to Leyte Gulf so Clay continued on her way, skirting a typhoon that passed to the eastward. The ship refueled and provisioned in San Pedro Bay as originally envisioned, and an officer and 20 men of the 543rd Engineers Boat and Shore Regiment, 3rd Engineers Special Brigade, boarded and the ship loaded their four LSMs (16–17 September 1945).

Clay crossed the moonlit Mindanao Sea for Cebu and anchored outside the city overnight on the 19th. The following day Clay moored port side to Customs House Berth 4 and embarked 69 officers and 856 soldiers, primarily of the Headquarters of the Army’s 307th Regimental Combat Team, 77th Infantry Division (20–21 September). The men boarded for another occupation move, this time to Otaru on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The ship steamed in company with the vessels of TG 34.8 to Leyte Gulf (25–26 September), where she anchored for conferences concerning the operation.

The task group returned to sea and turned northward on the evening of the 26th. Their route led through the edge of a typhoon from the northeast that brought heavy seas and high winds for a time, so the ships turned to easterly courses to stay astern of the tempest. Gale force winds pounded the vessels as they cut through the swells on the 28th. “We appear to have got within 150 miles of the center or less,” Clay’s historian laconically remarked, “before the typhoon finally picked up way and proceeded westward.” Mayo (DD-422) sank two floating mines (separately) with gunfire on the 2nd.

Clay and her consorts steamed out of the warm Japanese current into the cold one setting down from the Sea of Okhotsk, which her diarist described as “noticeably raw and chill,” through the strong currents and rips of the Tsugaru Strait (4–5 October) and northward into the Sea of Japan. The ship disembarked the troops on the “cold and cloudy dawn” of 5 October. Clay’s “boats with the first advance details of this force,” her chronicler penned, “passed through the breakwater in formation at full speed — An impressive sight to all who watched, including the inhabitants gathered on the waterfront.” The men landed without resistance by the Japanese garrison, who obeyed orders not to resist. The ship then closed the shore and moored to Berth A2 to disgorge her remaining troops to take control of Otaru. All of the soldiers and their equipment landed by 0100, with the exception of the military policemen, who landed after breakfast.

Working through the night, Clay, still acting as TransDiv 35’s flagship and the officer in tactical command, joined some of the other ships as they turned for Guam. The convoy passed back through the Tsugaru Strait on the 7th but slowed briefly at Aomori Bay in Northern Honshū while Clay put over four LCMs for attack cargo ship Polana (AKA-35) to reinforce the troops operating there, and then resumed their cruise. “We have again been extremely fortunate,” the ship reported on the 9th, “in that an extremely destructive typhoon has passed ahead of us to the south, then across Okinawa to the west of our course and is now curving far enough to the north to pass clear astern.” Clay reached Guam late in the afternoon of 12 October and moored to Buoy 703–she shifted berths more than once. After effecting voyage repairs and refueling and provisioning, Clay embarked men of the 6th Marines of the III Amphibious Corps for passage to North China (22 October).

Two days later the lookouts sighted a floating buoy and the gunners unsuccessfully attempted to sink it. On the 26th Clay steamed across the Japanese current, which her historian dubbed “the warm river of the ocean,” then up the eastern waters of the East China Sea into the strong northeast monsoon cold chilled by Siberian winds and currents. The ship passed the western approaches to the Tsushima Strait the following day, entered the Yellow Sea, and at 0840 on the 29th anchored in the Transport Area in the Gulf of Pohai [Bohai Gulf] off the Taku [Dagu] Forts southeast of Tientsin [Tianjin], China. There she disembarked the marines and took on board 47 officers and 372 enlisted homeward-bound servicemen as part of Operation Magic Carpet, the return of veterans to the United States (11–12 November). From Tientsin she sailed on 13 November 1945, for Saipan to take on board more homeward-bound servicemen. Clay stood out to the Yellow Sea and turned toward the Marianas. In spite of the Japanese surrender the voyage sparked its own challenges and Robert F. Keller (DE-419) exploded a floating mine abeam to Clay’s portside that threatened the convoy on the 14th.

Clay also received an urgent radio message requesting assistance for a patient suffering from heart trouble and malaria on board Liberty ship Malcolm W. Stewart at 0127 on the 17th. At 0448 she detached from the convoy and turned toward the merchantman, rendezvousing and laying to approximately 200 yards to starboard from her at 0608. Clay lowered a boat and the men rowed to and boarded Malcolm W. Stewart. The men of the assistant party discovered that Japanese repatriates from Rabaul on New Britain covered the deck topside as they delivered the medicines and vitally needed supplies. Clay recovered her boat crew and turned to catch up to the formation, and the Liberty ship resumed her voyage to Yokohama. Harbor tugs YT-387 and YT-468 gently nudged Clay to her berth as the ship moored starboard side to Pier A-4 at Saipan during the afternoon watch on 19 November. The ship continued her support of Magic Carpet as 13 Army officers and 1,301 soldiers, one marine officer and two enlisted marines, and a merchant marine officer boarded for their voyage home. Clay passed Marpi Point on Saipan abeam to starboard as she set out on the evening of the 20th for the long cruise, and her historian added that it marked “the last land we shall see until we raise the U.S.A. over 5,000 miles away.”

The ship’s company presented a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings to their guests on the 22nd. “Appropriately celebrated Thanksgiving by Divine Services by a huge turkey dinner and music, pyrotechnics, and games for passengers not too full to participate.” The transport pitched heavily while cutting through deep swells caused by a storm nearly 500 miles northeast of her on the 25th. The following day she crossed the 180th Meridian and reached San Pedro, Calif., on 5 December 1945. She made another Magic Carpet voyage to the western Pacific and then (9–27 March 1946) sailed from San Francisco through the Panama Canal and via Baltimore, Md., for New York. Clay was decommissioned there on 15 May 1946, and on 19 July 1946, stricken from the Naval Register.

Clay was transferred to the Hudson River Reserve Fleet on 12 September 1946. On 17 March 1947, she was allocated through the Maritime Commission to American President Lines, and on the 20th of May of that year sold to the company for disposal. American President Lines accepted the ship for reconversion “without cost to commission” via Moran Towing (recorded as “Moran Tugs”) at Tomkins Cove, N.Y., on 4 March 1948. On 23 October 1948, American President Lines formally acquired the vessel and renamed her President Johnson in honor of President Andrew Johnson, and she began mercantile service by initially sailing out of Mobile, Ala. The company sold the veteran ship to Waterman Steamship Corp., on 17 July 1968, which renamed her La Salle. She was sold again on 19 January 1971, this time to the Oceanbridge Steamship Corp. Waterman purchased La Salle back on 13 November 1974. On 27 November 1974, she was sold for scrapping to Swie Hong Steel Enterprise Corp., of Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Clay received the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon with four battle stars for the following campaigns: Marianas Operation Capture and Occupation of Saipan (15–24 June 1944); Leyte Operation Leyte Landings (20 October–14 November 1944); Luzon Operation Lingayen Gulf Landings (9 January 1945); and Okinawa Gunto Operation Assault and Occupation of Okinawa Gunto (1–5 April 1945). The ship furthermore was awarded the Navy Occupation Service Medal (5–14 September and 2–6 October 1945), and the China Service Medal (Extended) (8–13 November 1945).

Commanding Officers Date Assumed Command
Cmdr. Hans B. Olsen, USNR 29 June 1943
Capt. Everett W. Abdill 21 December 1943
Capt. Nicholas B. Van Bergen 12 August 1944
Capt. Ernest M. Eller 1 June 1945
Cmdr. Archibald M. Simenstad, USNR 31 October 1945

Mark L. Evans

15 December 2020

Published: Tue Dec 15 12:25:57 EST 2020