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Little II (DD-803)

1944–1945

The second U.S. Navy ship named for Capt. George Little (1754–1809). See Little I (Destroyer No. 79) for biography. 

II 

(DD-803: displacement 2,050; length 376'6"; beam 39'4"; draft 13'5"; speed 35.5 knots; complement 273; armament 5 5-inch, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes, 4 40-millimeter, 6 20-millimeter, 6 depth charge projectors, 2 depth charge tracks; class Fletcher

The second Little (DD-803) was laid down on 13 September 1943 at Seattle, Wash., by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Co. (soon to be renamed Todd-Pacific Shipyard); launched on 22 May 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Dorothy P. O’Hara, wife of Russell F. O’Hara, President of the California State Bar Association; and commissioned on 19 August 1944, Cmdr. Madison Hall Jr., in command.


A starboard beam view of Little taken near Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash., 1 September 1944. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS 70692, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
Caption: A starboard beam view of Little taken near Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash., 1 September 1944. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS 70692, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

Assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 58, Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 115, Little commenced fitting out activities in the Puget Sound (Wash.) area. Departing from Pier 91 at the Naval Supply Depot in Seattle on 8 September 1944, the destroyer proceeded to San Diego, Calif., for shakedown training. Upon her arrival on 12 September, she began several weeks of underway exercises in essential destroyer skill areas including antisubmarine tactics, gunnery, antiaircraft tracking, radar calibration, torpedo launching, sonar usage, and towing operations, culminating in the completion of a battle problem on 20 October.


A port bow view of Little following her post-shakedown availability at Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash., 7 November 1944. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS 74024, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
Caption: A port bow view of Little following her post-shakedown availability at Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash., 7 November 1944. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS 74024, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

On the morning of 12 November 1944, Little steamed to Port Angeles, Wash., where the following day the destroyer rendezvoused with a convoy consisting of merchantmen Russell Sage, Franklin MacVeagh, Samuel Gompers, Nathaniel Currier, Richard Mansfield, Alexander Baranof, Windemere Park, and Jotunfjell. Little and the escort ship O’Neill (DE-188), which joined the group on the 14th, accompanied the convoy to Pearl Harbor, T.H., arriving on the afternoon of 23 November. 

For the next eight weeks, Little operated out of Pearl, conducting training evolutions in critical battle skills independently and with her division as well as providing escort and plane guard services for aircraft carriers. During her first week in Hawaii, the ship focused primarily upon exercising her gunnery abilities. From 3–7 December 1944 and again on the 9th, the destroyer, in company with her sister ship Van Valkenburgh (DD-656), screened the carrier Saratoga (CV-3) during exercises. Little then sailed to the island of Kahoolawe with Gregory (DD-802) on the 13th to complete two days of shore bombardment practice. She provided escort services for and completed gunnery exercises with battleship Indiana (BB-58) (15–16 December) and heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa (CA-37) (17–18 December), then completed a variety of gunnery evolutions that included multiple shore bombardment practices at Kahoolawe with Tuscaloosa and light mine layer Henry A. Wiley (DM-29) (20–22 December). 

Following a maintenance availability alongside the destroyer tender Yosemite (AD-19) (23–27 December 1944), Little completed antisubmarine exercises with Van Valkenburgh and the submarine Saury (SS-189) on the 28th. Save for a three-day stay in port to welcome the new year (1–3 January 1945), Little completed exercises with her fellow DesDiv 115 destroyers—Van Valkenburgh, Gregory, Colhoun (DD-801), and Rooks (DD-804)—through the first week of January 1945, drilling in gunnery, division tactics, torpedo firing, and shore bombardment and completing a battle problem. 

For the upcoming operation at the Japanese outpost of Iwo Jima, Little received assignment to Task Group (TG) 51.14, Tractor Group Able. On 11 January 1945, the destroyer sortied with Gunboat Support Units 3 and 4, which included LCI(L)-988 and several support landing craft, to sail to the operation rehearsal area off the island of Maui. Over the next week, Little completed antisubmarine patrol and radar picket ship assignments during simulated and actual practice troop landings at Maalaea Bay and Kahoolawe, conducted antiaircraft gunnery exercises, and took part in day and night bombardments at Kahoolawe. She returned to Pearl Harbor on 18 January to complete upkeep and final preparations for departure. 

Getting underway from Pearl Harbor with TG 51.14 on 22 January 1945, Little steamed for the Marshall Islands with Cmdr. Philip Niekum, Jr., USN (Ret.), task group commander, embarked. After a two-day stop at Eniwetok (3–5 February) for upkeep and replenishment, the ships continued on to Saipan, arriving on the morning of 10 February. Beginning on the afternoon of 12 February, the destroyer took part in another rehearsal off Saipan for the Iwo Jima landings. Early on the 13th, CTG 51.14 transferred to LCI(L)-995, and Little reported to TG 51.2, the transport screen. For the remainder of the practice, the destroyer patrolled on various screening stations offshore, returning to Saipan Harbor on the evening of the 14th. 

Little set course for the main objective on the afternoon of 15 February 1945, once again escorting TG 51.14 with Cmdr. Niekum embarked. After arriving off Iwo Jima early on the morning of 19 February, as during the rehearsal, CTG 51.14 shifted to LCI(L)-995 and the destroyer reported to CTG 51.2 for duty. During the early hours of the invasion, Little served as screening ship, but she was reassigned to relieve destroyer Heywood L. Edwards (DD-663) on fire support duty in the afternoon. Little began lobbing shells at the shore at 1624 and continued with the harassing fire as well as night illumination beginning at 2013 until 0700 when her tasking changed to call fire. Enemy shore batteries directed “sparse and inaccurate” fire her way twice within the hour to no effect. The results of the ship’s own salvos proved unknown, although Cmdr. Madison Hall Jr., the commanding officer, believed that Little had destroyed two antiaircraft machine guns as well as the battery that had fired upon her. Relieved by the destroyer Evans (DD-552) at midday on the 20th, Little replenished her ammunition and assumed a screening station. 

On the morning of 21 February 1945, Little was patrolling 12 miles south of Iwo Jima when at 0755 she stopped to assist a tracked landing vehicle (LVT) from the attack transport Dickens (APA-161). The destroyer took the vehicle’s two crewmen on board and began to tow the LVT, steaming at five knots, but the vehicle soon began to take on water, causing the tow line to part, so Little instead sank the craft with 40-millimeter gunfire. The next day early in the morning watch, the ship was directed to investigate an SOS signal two miles north-northwest of Mt. Suribachi, but she resumed her screening station after searching for a half hour with no results. On 23 February, following a report of enemy aircraft in the area, Little began making smoke at 1913. Within ten minutes, a fire broke out on the ship’s fantail, caused by the smoke screen generator’s “erratic performance.” Crewmen quickly extinguished the flames and the ship emerged undamaged. However, 45 minutes later, the faulty generator ignited again with the same result, and Little ceased making smoke shortly thereafter. 

Little rendezvoused with Task Unit (TU) 51.16.3 on 24 February 1945 and the group left Iwo Jima that afternoon. The destroyer and three tank landing ships—LST-684, LST-1032, and LST-725—were detached on the afternoon of 27 February to enter Saipan Harbor, but Little was directed to remain underway. After patrolling offshore overnight, she put in to Saipan Harbor the next morning. On 1 March Little was reassigned to DesRon 25. She spent the day in upkeep and then departed independently at noon on 2 March to return to Iwo Jima. Upon her arrival on the 4th, the destroyer was assigned to radar picket station 4. After returning to fire support duty on the afternoon of the 6th, Little alternated between screening and shore bombardment assignments for the next several days. On the 11th, she assumed a radar picket station 50 miles northwest of Iwo Jima. The next day, she rendezvoused with Wabash (AOG-4) to escort the gasoline tanker back to Saipan, where they arrived on 14 March. 

With Iwo Jima nearly secured, Allied forces turned their sights to the Japanese island of Okinawa, 800 miles to the west. For the planned invasion scheduled to begin on 1 April 1945, Little was assigned to TG 51.2, the Demonstration Group, whose role would be to conduct decoy landings on the southeastern side of the island to distract the Japanese from the primary invasion force that would be landing at Hagushi Beach on Okinawa’s west coast. From 16–19 March, Little screened for the task group during rehearsals for the operation conducted off Tinian and Saipan. She then completed a four-day tender availability with Cape Junction at Saipan and prepared to put to sea. 

The task group steamed for Okinawa on 27 March 1945. Arriving early on 1 April, Little took part in the demonstration landings on southeast Okinawa on the 1st and 2nd. Then, for the next eight days, the destroyer screened the transports. On the morning of 11 April, the warship rendezvoused with four LSTs and two escort patrol vessels (PCEs) of the Tractor Group to escort the ships to Hagushi Beach. Following her arrival on the morning of 13 April, she spent several hours screening a tanker during refueling operations, and then at 1930, she assumed a screening station in the inner transport area. In a bit of excitement during the mid watch, Little investigated a possible enemy submarine sighting that had been reported by a medium landing ship (LSM) off northeast Kerama Retto, a small island group west of southern Okinawa. When the ship trained her spotlight on the contact, however, the object proved to be just a small rock. 

As screen commander, Little departed Kerama Retto on 14 April 1945 escorting a large convoy of 18 LSTs, two APAs, one attack cargo ship (AKA), one LSM, and one fleet tug en route to Guam for repairs. With three of the vessels under tow and others operating on only one engine, the group limped toward the Marianas at 6.5 knots. In addition, two of the seven screening ships lost their sonar capabilities during the transit. The task group was diverted to Ulithi on the 15th, but just after sunset on the 16th, Little was detached and returned to Hagushi Beach, arriving the next afternoon. 

Little’s next assignment brought her to Ie Shima, a small island just off the northwest coast of Okinawa, for night illumination and bombardment. She fired about 90 illuminating projectiles overnight on 17–18 April 1945 and then at 0800 began firing at troop concentrations on shore. Over the afternoon, the ship screened the offshore refueling area and then overnight screened for Japanese suicide boats off southwest Okinawa. At 1545 on 19 April, Little arrived at radar picket station 1, 15 miles northwest of Iheya Shima, a small island 20 miles northwest of the northern tip of Okinawa, to support Shea (DM-30) and then Cowell (DD-547) in providing advance warning of, and defense against, enemy attacks from the air. 

Up to this point in her career, Little had had limited experience fighting off aircraft. She had been called to general quarters several times to be on the alert for enemy air raids, but typically none of the planes closed to within the destroyer’s gun range, as was the case during her most recent bogie encounter on the evening of 18 April 1945. From 20–22 April, however, Japanese planes frequently flew nearby in the evening and overnight hours, and Little had several opportunities to fire at them, although without any observed results. Both Little and Cowell noted that the Japanese employed countermeasures to jam the ships’ radars on the night of the 20th. A daytime attack occurred on the afternoon of the 22nd when a group of bogies approached from the northwest. At 1743, Little began firing at an Aichi D3A1 Type 99 [Val] carrier bomber. Three minutes later, she and Cowell ceased firing and directed a combat air patrol (CAP) plane to the target, which the CAP promptly shot down. The CAP kept the rest of the Japanese planes away from the radar picket ships, and the station remained quiet for the next two days. Destroyer Mustin (DD-413) relieved Little on the afternoon of the 24th, and the latter then returned to Hagushi Beach to await further orders, refueling and resupplying over the next several days. 

On 28 April 1945, Little was assigned to duty as antiaircraft screen ship in the Hagushi transport area. At approximately 2000 she received orders to proceed to radar picket station 12 to assist destroyer Wadsworth (DD-516), which was under attack by Japanese suicide planes. Although at least one of the kamikazes had hit her, Wadsworth soon stated that she did not need help, and Little instead assumed a screening station off the northernmost point of the Hagushi Beach area, once again firing at enemy planes that evening. At 0415 on the 29th, the destroyer arrived on station north of Ie Shima to patrol with light minelayer Henry A. Wiley (DM-29). She departed that afternoon, and around sunset, Little arrived at radar picket station 10, approximately 45 miles west of Kerama Retto, to relieve J. William Ditter (DM-31). 

As Little patrolled on station that evening, she occasionally spotted enemy planes in the area, and they continued to appear throughout the 30th, although once again not within gunfire range. With CAP now patrolling overhead, 1 May 1945 passed uneventfully, and adverse weather conditions including rain and strong winds kept Japanese planes away on the 2nd. Beginning at midday on 3 May, the weather gradually improved and by the afternoon the sea and winds were calm with scattered clouds in the sky to the west. Cmdr. William H. Sanders Jr., commanding officer of light minelayer Aaron Ward (DM-34) and officer in tactical command of the picket station, later wrote that given the marked change in conditions, “enemy air attack was more or less expected.” 

On the evening of 3 May 1945, Little continued to patrol on station 10 in column with Aaron Ward. Supporting the larger ships, the medium landing ship (rocket) LSM(R)-195 and the large support landing craft LCS(L)(3)-14, LCS(L)(3)-25, and LCS(L)(3)-83 steamed together several miles to the west. At 1813, Little spotted the first of a total of 18–24 enemy planes approaching in small groups from the west. The destroyer sounded general quarters, and Aaron Ward dispatched the CAP of four Grumman F6F Hellcats to intercept the incoming raid. The CAP proved ineffectual in this instance, however, which Little’s commander later attributed to a failure to determine the correct altitude of the enemy planes or the Japanese pilots using the cloud cover to cloak their approach. After two enemy planes fell in with the CAP as it approached Aaron Ward, the CAP was ordered away from the immediate area so that the ships could open fire without risk of accidentally hitting friendly aircraft. 

The ships on radar picket station 10 soon became the targets of a highly coordinated enemy attack. As Little observed a suicide plane strike Aaron Ward at 1841, a Val glided in from the north toward the destroyer’s port side. Although the bomber sustained hits from the ship’s 40-millimeter and 20-millimeter guns, at 1843 it slammed into Little amidships near the No. 4 40-millimeter clipping room, sending its engine crashing through the main deck. Within seconds of the hit, another plane started a low-level attack run but was quickly splashed by the antiaircraft batteries. 

Little’s crew barely had time to react to the damage when yet another Val headed in towards the destroyer from the port side. Again, although taking fire from the ship’s 40-millimeter and 20-millimeter guns, the kamikaze struck Little very close to the original hit. The starboard 40-millimeter clipping room burst into flame and the ammunition stored there began to explode. Then in rapid succession, what was thought to be a Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 Zeke carrier fighter flying low to the water came in strafing the ship, crashing into the destroyer amidships on the starboard side and dislodging the No. 3 boiler aft and to starboard, and another suicider made a vertical dive into the after torpedo mount, exploding the air flasks as well as the No. 3 and No. 4 boilers. Less than five minutes after the first kamikaze, Little lay dead in the water with no power, steering control, or communications. The force of the last two hits broke the ship’s keel and exposed all three after machinery rooms to the elements via a large opening in the main deck and several smaller holes beneath the waterline, enabling seawater to rush into these spaces. 

By 1850, less than ten minutes after the initial kamikaze hit, Little listed 10° to starboard, her main deck awash. Amidships in the vicinity of the two stacks was aflame and demolished, and sounds emanating from the area indicated that the destroyer was breaking apart. Cmdr. Hall issued the order to abandon ship. Five minutes later at 1855, just before sunset, the strain on the hull became too great and the destroyer jackknifed, lifting the bow and stern up, and then slipped into the deep approximately 28 miles west of Kume Shima. In reflecting upon the events of the day in his after action report, Cmdr. Hall marveled at the synchronization of their attackers’ movements, coming in almost simultaneously from different courses and altitudes and striking at the same general area of the ship. “That such coordination could be achieved is almost unbelievable,” he observed, “but such appears to be the case.” 

The remaining ships on radar picket station 10 continued to battle with their Japanese foes. Several minutes after Little’s demise, a suicider slammed into LSM(R)-195, and she, too, sank within 15 minutes. LCS(L)-25 proved fortunate to only lose her mast when an attacking enemy plane splashed close aboard. Station commander Aaron Ward took a total of six kamikazes over 52 minutes of sustained attacks. Although severely damaged, she survived to be towed to Kerama Retto the next day. After the attacks ceased and with Aaron Ward’s fire and damage control situation stabilized, the station’s support landing craft and other ships responding to the scene began to pick up survivors. Of Little’s total complement of 339 men, 30 sailors were killed or missing in action and 79 officers and crewmen suffered injuries in the attack. Stricken from the Navy List on 2 June 1945, Little was awarded two battle stars for her World War II service. Cmdr. Hall received a Gold Star in lieu of a second Silver Star Medal “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity” for his actions on 3 May 1945. 

Commanding Officer Dates of Command
Cmdr. Madison Hall Jr. 19 August 1944–3 May 1945

 

Stephanie Harry
25 April 2019

Published: Fri Apr 26 10:41:02 EDT 2019