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Colhoun II (DD-801)

1944–1945

The second U.S. Navy ship named for Rear Adm. Edmund Ross Colhoun (1821–1897), see Colhoun I (Destroyer No. 85) for biography.

II

(DD-801: displacement 2,050; length 376'5"; beam 39'7"; draft 17'9"; speed 35.5 knots;

complement 329; armament 5 5-inch, 10 40-millimeter, 7 20-millimeter, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes, 6 depth charge projectors, 2 depth charge tracks; class Fletcher)

The second Colhoun (DD-801) was laid down on 3 August 1943 at Seattle, Wash., by the Todd Pacific Shipyards, Inc. (formerly the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corp.); launched on 10 April 1944; sponsored by Capt. Kathryn Kurtz Johnson, WAC, great grandniece of the ship’s namesake; and commissioned on 8 July 1944, Cmdr. George R. Wilson in command.


Colhoun lies-to in Puget Sound, 21 July 1944, painted in a disruptive three-color camouflage. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS-71252, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
Caption: Colhoun lies-to in Puget Sound, 21 July 1944, painted in a disruptive three-color camouflage. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS-71252, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

Following her commissioning, Colhoun spent most of the rest of July fitting out in the Puget Sound (Wash.) area. On 27 July 1944, the destroyer departed Seattle and proceeded independently to San Diego, Calif. Upon her arrival on 31 July, the ship commenced a six-week shakedown training period during which her crew practiced essential skills such as antisubmarine tactics, gunnery, torpedo firing, depth charge deployment, damage control, engineering casualties, and refueling at sea. On 16–17 August and again on the 20th, the destroyer also took part in experiments for the U.S. Navy Radio and Sound Laboratory with the patrol vessel (coastal yacht) Jasper (PYc-13). After completing an inspection and battle problem on 12 September and an antisubmarine exercise the next day, Colhoun left San Diego on 14 September and steamed up the coast. Adverse weather conditions, however, forced the cancellation of scheduled exercises in Monterey Bay on the 15th, and the ship continued on to the Pacific Northwest, reaching Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., on the morning of 18 September to begin ten days of post-shakedown repairs.

On 29 September 1944, Colhoun loaded ammunition and then sailed to Naval Supply Depot Seattle to make preparations to join the Fleet in Hawaii. Again steaming independently, the destroyer departed Seattle on the afternoon of 3 October and arrived at Pearl Harbor, T.H., one week later. For the next six weeks, she conducted training exercises and supported aircraft carrier operations off Hawaii. On 13–14 October, Colhoun completed tactical drills and a shore bombardment exercise at Kahoolawe Island in company with destroyers English (DD-696) and Ault (DD-698). From 15–19 October, Colhoun and Williamson (DD-244) provided screening and plane guard services for the escort carrier Corregidor (CVE-58). She returned to Kahoolawe on 23–24 October to conduct experimental gunnery exercises, night battle practice, and another shore bombardment exercise. She then served as plane guard with English and Ault for the small aircraft carrier Bataan (CVL-29) conducting flight operations south of Oahu (26-30 October).

On 3 November 1944, the destroyer escorted the seaplane tender Cumberland Sound (AV-17) to Pearl Harbor. She then conducted exercises with the heavy cruiser Baltimore (CA-68) and destroyer Bancroft (DD-598) (4–7 November) and provided screening and plane guard services for Makassar Strait (CVE-91) (8–10 November) and aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3) (10–13 November). On 9 November she searched for Ens. Robert L. Raglund Jr., USNR, a pilot from Makassar Strait whose Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat (BuNo 41544) splashed after having been waved-off. Colhoun only recovered headgear and a flare in that incident, but on the 13th, the destroyer successfully rescued Ens. Robert A. Holmes III, USNR, who splashed his Canadian Car & Foundry Co. SBW-3 Helldiver (BuNo 21282). She concluded her activities with a gunnery exercise, sinking a tank landing ship hulk with destroyers Hyman (DD-732) and Gregory (DD-802) on the 13th before returning to Pearl Harbor that evening. From 15 November–9 December, Colhoun had additional radio and radar equipment installed at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard.

Getting underway again on 11 December 1944 with Capt. Alvin D. Chandler, commander of Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 58, embarked, Colhoun headed for Kahoolawe in company with battleship Texas (BB-35) and destroyer Van Valkenburgh (DD-656) to conduct shore bombardment exercises. Early on the morning of the 13th, Colhoun detached and proceed to a point 650 miles east of Pearl Harbor to search for a downed Martin PBM-3D Mariner (BuNo 45382) flying from Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay that had become lost while on patrol and ditched in rough seas when low on fuel at 2210 on the 12th. After more than 31 hours scanning the ocean in vain for survivors, Colhoun set course for Pearl on the evening of 14 December, arriving the next afternoon. A passing ship rescued three of the patrol bomber’s 10 aircrewmen on the 16th, but the rest of the men were never recovered.

Colhoun spent the rest of the month once again engaged in training exercises and screening services. From 16–22 December 1944, the destroyer served as screening ship for a training group of amphibious command ships led by Eldorado (AGC-11). In company with Bradford (DD-545) on the 23rd, she served as a firing platform and target ship for torpedo school training. Following a two day pause in port over Christmas, the destroyer conducted tracking drills and torpedo exercises with Gregory on the 26th, sonar exercises with Gregory and the submarine Pollack (SS-180) on the 27th, and night steaming with Saury (SS-189) overnight on the 27th–28th. She concluded the year with three days of exercises and maneuvers with her fellow DesRon 58 Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 115 ships—Van Valkenburgh, Gregory, Little (DD-803), and Rooks (DD-804)—returning to port late in the afternoon of 31 December.

Continuing her training activities into the New Year, Colhoun was underway on 4–5 January 1945 conducting shore bombardment exercises at Kahoolawe with her division-mates less Van Valkenburgh. From 6–9 January, in a rehearsal for the upcoming operation at Iwo Jima, she served as screening ship for Transport Squadron (TransRon) 15 during amphibious training exercises in Maalea Bay, Maui. After completing another shore bombardment evolution at Kahoolawe on the 11th, the destroyer spent most of the next week at sea with various groups from Task Force (TF) 51 practicing battle tactics, gunnery skills, and shore bombardment as well as screening transports during their training exercises and night steaming. Following her return to Pearl on the afternoon of 18 January, she spent most of the rest of the month completing upkeep, refueling, provisioning, and loading ammunition in preparation for her first major assignment.

On the morning of 27 January 1945, Colhoun departed Pearl Harbor with Task Group (TG) 51.11. Serving as escort for the group of transports led by flagship Eldorado, the destroyer arrived at Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands on 5 February. Two days later, the task group continued on to Saipan, conducting numerous exercises during these transits, particularly from Colhoun’s perspective antiaircraft firing exercises using TDD drones as targets. Cmdr. George Wilson, the destroyer’s commanding officer, reported that the ship transported 24 of the drones to Saipan as well as their large catapult. “Our daily life consisted of steaming up and down a column of transports flying these drones for them to fire at,” he later said ruefully, “We got to fire at only one of them.”

On the morning of 11 February 1945, the screening ships assumed their patrol stations as the transports entered the harbor at Saipan. At 1113, however, Colhoun left her station and headed for the harbor to transport WT2c George F. Gallagher to shore for an undetermined ailment. Unfortunately, Gallagher, one of the ship’s plankowners, died a half hour later. The ship continued on into the harbor and transferred the deceased’s body to the Navy Dispensary for autopsy and burial, then returned to her patrol station off Saipan that afternoon. The following day, as Colhoun continued with her screening duties, the transports left Saipan harbor and moved offshore. Early on the morning of 13 February, the task group conducted a practice amphibious landing at Tinian. The warships then returned to Saipan to debrief and make final preparations before departing for Iwo Jima on the afternoon of 16 February.

Within three hours of the task force’s arrival off Iwo on the morning of 19 February 1945, the Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions began storming the Japanese island. The group’s transports waited offshore for their turn to join the assault. Over the next eight days, Colhoun alternated roles between transport screening, radar picket, and gunfire support duties. Her gunfire took out at least one battery of mortars and helped the marines to clear parts of the tenaciously defended island. The destroyer searched for a missing aircraft on the 22nd and was straddled by friendly fire on the 23rd during an attack by three Japanese planes. Cmdr. Wilson later recalled, “The morale of the crew was considerably uplifted by some action against the enemy after our long period of training.”

On the afternoon of 27 February 1945, Colhoun had just been relieved of fire support duty and was getting underway for night retirement from her position at anchor near the island when at 1554 her fantail fouled Knox’s (APA-46) anchor chain. As a result the destroyer struck the attack transport’s bow, punching a three-foot by 18-inch hole five feet above the water line that ruptured Knox’s forward fresh water tank and bent her stem to starboard. Colhoun sustained damage along 12 frames of her starboard side aft, with her hull pushed in one and a half feet and a one-foot wide hole over six frames. She also lost a life raft with its davits mangled by the impact. Colhoun maneuvered back and forth to break free from the anchor chain and in the process just six minutes after her collision with Knox, ran into Libra (AKA-12), also at anchor. Fortunately the attack cargo ship suffered no harm in the incident, but Colhoun’s damage now also included five frames forward dished in, a severed degaussing coil, a severed reproducing cable for the 1MC in the chief petty officers’ quarters, and another hole in her hull. After freeing herself from Knox’s anchor chain, the destroyer anchored off Tachiiwa Point and ship’s company commenced repairs.

While the destroyer still lay at anchor making repairs on her collision damage on the morning of 1 March 1945, and simultaneously carrying out call-fire, a shell from a Japanese shore battery struck Colhoun’s No. 2 stack. A metal fragment from the stack in turn penetrated the No. 2 torpedo tube, causing the torpedo’s air flask to burst. Flying fragments killed MM1c Albert D. Pheris, another of the ship’s plankowners, instantly and injured an additional 16 men. Damage incurred by the ship besides the destroyed torpedo tube and a sizeable hole in the stack included large and small holes in the torpedo and main decks, a damaged 20-millimeter gun, and holes in the spray shield of the No. 3 40-millimeter mount.

After transferring the deceased machinist mate’s body to Bayfield (APA-33) for burial at sea, Colhoun got underway at 1800 to rendezvous with TG 51.29.2, consisting of Bayfield, Shoshone (AKA-65), Southampton (AKA-66), Barrow (APA-61), Boyd (DD-544), Connolly (DE-306), and Stern (DE-187). The group proceeded to Saipan, arriving on 4 March. Colhoun then moored alongside the destroyer tender Hamul (AD-20), which according to Cmdr. Wilson “managed to piece us together in time for the Okinawa operation.”

Completing her repairs on 13 March 1945, Colhoun made preparations to get underway. Sailing as screen ship for TG 51.2, a group of transports and cargo ships led by command ship Ancon (AGC-4), the destroyer participated in a rehearsal of the planned Okinawa operation off Saipan and Tinian on 16 March. The Demonstration Group would serve as a decoy during the real operation, conducting a simulated landing on the southeastern coast of Okinawa to divert Japanese attention from the main landings that would take place on the western side of the island. The task group completed its trial run on the 19th and returned to Saipan.

Reassigned to the screen for TG 51.8, the Demonstration Tractor Group, prior to departure for Okinawa, Colhoun stood out from Saipan on 25 March 1945 having embarked Cmdr. Philip Niekum, Jr. USN (Ret.), CTG 51.8 (who came on board the previous day with a staff of six officers and three enlisted men for “…duties in connection with Commander LST Group 18”). The Demonstration Tractor Group consisted of more than 60 amphibious craft and a gasoline tanker. Colhoun led the screening ships, which included LeRay Wilson (DE-414), several submarine chasers, “and practically anything else that would float.” On the afternoon of 31 March, Cmdr. Niekum shifted his broad pennant to LCI-995, and after an uneventful passage, the task group arrived off southeastern Okinawa early the following morning. Shortly thereafter, Colhoun detached from the Demonstration Tractor Group and reported to CTG 51.5.

During the transit to her assignment to assume radar picket duty north of Okinawa on the morning of 1 April 1945, the destroyer observed a Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver (BuNo 20265) splash nearby. She soon plucked pilot Lt. James T. Maloney and radioman ARM1c William N. England of Hancock (CV-19) from the sea. By 1130, the ship had reached her station near Yoron Jima, and she received defensive support from the air with a 12-plane combat air patrol (CAP). All was quiet in the skies until 1830, 45 minutes after the CAP returned to their ships, when the first of three groups of enemy planes was detected. With the exception of one plane repelled by the destroyer during the mid watch on 2 April, however, none of the bogies approached Colhoun but instead flew low and fast over Okinawa.

On the morning of 2 April 1945, Colhoun again benefitted from the services of a CAP group, and LCS(L)-109 and LCS(L)-110 also joined the destroyer to patrol the area of the picket station. At about midday, LCS(L)-109 reported enemy barge activity near Okina Yeruba [Okinoerabujima]. The CAP planes went to investigate and found no barges but did take fire from Japanese antiaircraft batteries, sending the General Motors FM-2 Wildcat (BuNo 47306) of Lt. (j.g.) Donald G. Wells, USNR, into the ocean. The destroyer retrieved the Marcus Island (CVE-77) pilot shortly thereafter. Again that night, the ship tracked Japanese planes, but the aircraft once again did not fly any closer than ten miles to the ship until the mid watch, when Colhoun fired at and turned away an air raid group at 10,000 yards.

Cassin Young (DD-793) relieved Colhoun on radar picket station 3 on the afternoon of 3 April 1945. Colhoun then retired to Kerama Retto, a group of islands off the southwestern coast of Okinawa. There she transferred all of the rescued aviators to seaplane tender Chandeleur (AV-10) and on 4 April refueled from oiler Neshanic (AO-71) before steaming north again to relieve Bennion (DD-662) on radar picket station 2. Things were relatively quiet until the afternoon of 5 April, when Colhoun received word that a pilot flying from Bennington (CV-20) had splashed about 30 miles from the destroyer. Struck by antiaircraft fire while flying over Tokuno Airfield on Tokuno Shima, 1st Lt. Junie B. Lohan, USMC, ditched his Vought F4U-1D Corsair (BuNo 82464) in the water off Amami Ō Shima. Guided to the pilot’s location by another aircraft, Colhoun rescued Lohan at 1601. She returned to her picket station, and in less than an hour around dusk, an enemy aircraft approached from the southwest. The destroyer’s single-plane CAP intercepted and shot down the intruder, an unfamiliar single-engine float plane.

In the early morning hours of 6 April 1945 while still on radar picket station 2, Colhoun came under heavy air attack. Roughly every 15 minutes for about three hours until dawn, two Japanese planes would make a bombing run on the ship while other planes circled at five to seven miles out. Japanese pilots made a total of 11 runs on the destroyer but never hit the ship, prompting Cmdr. Wilson to comment that “the pilots were obviously poor bombers and probably could not hit us anyway,” particularly as Colhoun’s gunners only ever fired at one enemy plane during the entire episode. Although the ship incurred no physical damage during this series of attacks, Wilson noted that “the harassing value…was such that the crew members were pretty tired and possibly were not at their physical peak” for the rest of the day. Fortunately the rest of the morning remained relatively quiet, with a CAP team defending the ships on the three northern radar picket stations from the occasional single bogie.

At 1500 on the afternoon of 6 April 1945, Colhoun detected large air raid groups closing from the north. As had been typical over the past several days, most of the planes continued south over Okinawa. However, this time many planes also remained in the area of the radar picket stations north of the island. Colhoun went to general quarters, but none of the planes came closer than ten miles to her. Instead, Bush (DD-529) in picket station 1 to the west appeared to be taking the brunt of the attack, with 40­–50 Japanese planes circling and attacking her. To Colhoun’s east, about a dozen planes took on Cassin Young in picket station 3. A half hour later, Colhoun received the beginning of a radio transmission from Bush and then silence. Assuming that the message had been a call for assistance from her sister ship, Colhoun rushed to the scene at more than 30 knots.

While making the transit to Bush’s position, Colhoun took control of Bush’s CAP, consisting of a single plane, which had dispensed with several enemy aircraft by this time. The pilot reported that he needed to return to base to replenish his fuel and ammunition and also that Bush was sinking. Another four-plane CAP came to assist, but they too soon had to depart when their fuel and ammunition ran low. A total of 20 more CAP planes were en route to the scene from the south, but about 12–18 miles away they encountered so many bogies that “a general melee developed” and they never reached the destroyers.

When Colhoun reached Bush at 1635, she found the stricken destroyer “dead in [the] water smoking badly and down by the stern [with the] remains of what appeared to be a Betty [Mitsubishi G4M Type 1 land attack plane] plastered on her starboard side amidships.” Twelve Japanese aircraft still circled at five miles distance. Colhoun placed herself between the planes and Bush, all the while readying her damage control and firefighting equipment to aid the crippled vessel as soon as it was safe to do so. LCS(L)-64 began evacuating Bush’s crew.

With the American CAP planes engaged with the enemy elsewhere, the lurking Japanese aviators made their next move at 1700, closing to within 8,000 yards of Colhoun in an apparent attack. The destroyer’s gunfire at the leading Val [Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bomber] caused the assailants to turn away. However, ten minutes later, a Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 Zeke left the orbiting formation to make an attack run on Colhoun. As the plane approached at a 45° angle on the starboard bow, the destroyer unleashed her firepower, scoring hits but not deterring the pilot from his suicidal mission. The plane strafed the ship and dropped a 100-pound bomb at 1,000 yards that missed its mark. Gliding over Colhoun, the Zeke continued onward towards the hapless Bush, 4,000 yards away. Finally the destroyer’s gunfire bore results as the plane splashed midway between the two ships.

It was a short-lived victory, however, as within minutes another Zeke broke away and came in for attack on the port bow, followed by a Val coming in on the starboard bow as well as a second Zeke attacking on the starboard quarter. The No. 1 and 2 five-inch guns on automatic control took aim at the plane on the port bow, setting her on fire at about 4,000 yards. The forward guns then directed their firepower to the plane on the starboard bow, which the No. 3 gun (Mt. 53) on local control had not been able to successfully target. The Val took a direct hit to the nose on the first shot and plunged into the water 50 yards abeam to starboard.

Unfortunately the Zeke on the port bow was still aloft, and despite the destroyer’s last second maneuver to evade, the flaming aircraft crashed into Colhoun at the No. 4 40-millimeter gun mount, spreading fiery debris as she slid across the deck. The plane’s bomb broke through the deck along with the engine and exploded in the after fireroom, putting a four foot square hole in the destroyer’s hull on the port side below the water line. Flying debris also punctured the main steam line, limiting the ship to one engine at only 15 knots.

In short order, another trio of planes commenced an attack, with a Zeke headed in on the starboard bow, joined by a Val on the port bow and another on the port quarter. Five-inch gunfire took out the Val on the port quarter about 200 yards short of the ship. The second Val, also hit by five-inch shells, missed Colhoun and instead tried to inflict further damage upon Bush, but the foundering destroyer and LCS(L)-64 splashed that plane with gunfire. The Zeke, however, slammed into Colhoun’s forward fireroom, detonating the kamikaze’s bomb. The explosion sliced a four foot wide, 20 foot long gash in her starboard side below the waterline, broke the ship’s keel, and caused massive fires. Shards of metal penetrated the two boilers, leaving the destroyer without power and unable to maneuver. Less than 20 minutes had elapsed from the beginning of the Japanese suicide assault upon Colhoun, and all hands not involved in gunnery operations or medical treatment of the injured engaged in firefighting and damage control.

Just as Colhoun’s crew seemed to be getting the situation under control, another trio of Japanese planes made a run at the destroyer using the same three-pronged approach as the previous two attacks. With all remaining guns now controlled manually, five-inch gunfire took out a Zeke approaching on the port bow. A Val on the port quarter missed Colhoun but pulled out of its suicidal plunge before splashing. Flying low to the water, the plane instead smashed into Bush. The third attacker, another Val, clipped Colhoun’s after stack with its left wing, causing the aircraft to carom off Mt. 53, off the main deck and over the side. The plane’s bomb then exploded, blowing a large hole in the destroyer’s side below the waterline.

The final two planes from the group of 12 attackers then made their move. Flying in loose echelon 4,000 yards apart off the starboard quarter, the two Vals strafed the ship and dropped their bombs to no effect. One plane was observed to be headed back to the north, while the second Val inflicted a final insult upon Bush, making a kamikaze run into the foundering destroyer at 1745.

With no further Japanese planes left to fight off, Colhoun’s crew focused on saving their ship. The communications officer had been able to send out a request for assistance and Cassin Young was en route to help, with a tug also being dispatched from Okinawa. The destroyer began to list to starboard as efforts to patch the hole from the last plane strike with plating and mattresses had not succeeded. Stemming the flooding became imperative, but all of the ship’s pumps had been destroyed in the first kamikaze attack.

Suddenly at approximately 1800, a Mitsubishi A6M3 Model 32 Hamp materialized, already smoking badly, diving towards Colhoun’s starboard bow. Three of the forward guns scored direct hits on the foe, but the plane was already in proximity to the ship. The Hamp’s left wing took out Colhoun’s pilot house, sending the rest of the plane over the side in flames on the port beam. At this point, the destroyer’s officers gathered to confer and Cmdr. Wilson decided to abandon ship save for a skeleton crew to continue damage control and firefighting efforts.

Cassin Young arrived on the scene at 1900 and was directed by Colhoun to look for survivors from Bush, which had finally plunged to her watery grave just after sunset a few minutes earlier. After a preliminary search, the destroyer turned the effort over to nearby support landing craft and approached Colhoun bow-to-bow at 1945 to begin taking off the stricken vessel’s crew. The weather had deteriorated over the course of the afternoon, however, and the rolling motion of the two ships in the 10–12 foot swells endangered both destroyers. Cassin Young backed away and shortly thereafter LCS(L)(3)-84 came alongside to commence Colhoun’s evacuation.

Meanwhile Cassin Young tried to tow her listing, water-laden sister ship, but the strain of the attempt immediately began to break Colhoun apart amidships and the tow line soon parted at 2100. Ten minutes later, LCS(L)(3)-84 cast off with more than 200 Colhoun sailors embarked. Over the next half hour, LCS(L)(3)-87 evacuated an additional 40 men, leaving behind four officers and 17 crewmen to continue the fight to keep the ship afloat.

Hope remained that if some of the seawater that weighed her down and stressed Colhoun’s broken hull could be drained from the battered destroyer, then a second attempt might be made to tow the vessel to port. Fleet tug Pakana (ATF-108) reached the ship at 2145, but unfortunately her two small electric portable pumps would not suffice for the task at hand. With Colhoun listing 23° to starboard, her stern awash to Mt. 54, no way to stem the flooding, and her hull continuing to split, Cmdr. Wilson gave the order to abandon ship and LCS(L)(3)-87 returned to retrieve the remaining skeleton crew.

At Cmdr. Wilson’s request and upon the order of Adm. Richmond K. Turner, Commander Task Force 51, Cassin Young began shelling Colhoun’s hulk just prior to midnight. The destroyer ceased fire at 0050 on 7 April 1945, and Colhoun slipped beneath the waves north of Iheya Jima shortly thereafter. All told, 35 members of Colhoun’s crew died and 21 were injured. She was stricken from the Navy List on 28 April 1945.

Colhoun was awarded one battle star for her World War II service at Okinawa. Cmdr. Wilson received a Gold Star in lieu of his second Navy Cross for his “extraordinary heroism” and “outstanding leadership and courage” during the events of 6 April 1945.

Commanding Officer Dates of Command
Cmdr. George R. Wilson 8 July 1944–7 April 1945


Stephanie Harry

26 March 2019

Published: Tue Apr 02 07:50:56 EDT 2019