Manila Bay (CVE-61)
A large inlet of the South China Sea along the western coast of Luzon, Philippine Islands, and the scene of a resounding American naval victory during the Spanish-American War.
Manila Bay (CVE‑61) was laid down as Bucareli Bay (ACV‑61) under Maritime Commission contract by Kaiser Co., Inc., Vancouver, Wash., 15 January 1943; renamed Manila Bay 3 April 1943; launched 10 July 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Robert W. Bockins; reclassified CVE‑61 on 15 July 1943; acquired by the Navy 5 October 1943; and commissioned the same day at Astoria, Oreg., Capt. Boynton L. Braun in command.
After shakedown along the west coast, Manila Bay sailed for Pearl Harbor 20 November and returned a load of damaged planes to San Diego 4 December. After training exercises, with VC‑7 embarked, she departed Hawaii 3 January 1944. A week later she embarked Rear Adm. Ralph Davidson and became flagship for CarDiv 24. Joining TF 52, she sortied 22 January for the invasion of the Marshalls. Between 31 January and 6 February she launched air and antisubmarine patrols as well as dozens of combat missions. Her planes bombed and strafed enemy positions from Kwajalein Island north to Bigej Island and destroyed ammunition dumps and ground installations. She remained in the Marshalls during the next month and extended her operations late in February first to Eniwetok and then to Majuro.
Departing Majuro 7 March, Manila Bay reached Espiritu Santo the 12th. Three days later she joined TF 37 for airstrikes and surface bombardments against Kavieng, New Ireland, 19 to 20 March. During the next month she cruised between the Solomons and the Bismarck Archipelago supporting the protracted offensive to neutralize the Archipelago and render impotent the Japanese fortress at Rabaul. Thence, on 19 April she steamed to unleash the fury of her planes against enemy positions on New Guinea.
American naval and ground forces began a three‑pronged invasion along northern New Guinea at Aitape, Hollandia, and Tanahmerah Bay 22 April. During and after the invasion Manila Bay launched protective air patrols and sent fighters and bombers to attack and destroy Japanese installations in the Aitape area. On 4 May she returned to Manus where Rear Adm. Felix B. Stump relieved Admiral Davidson as Commander, Carrier Division 24. Admiral Stump transferred his flag to Corregidor (CVE‑58) 6 May, and the following day Manila Bay sailed for overhaul at Pearl Harbor where she arrived 18 May.
After loading 37 Army P‑47 fighters, Manila Bay sailed 5 June for the Marianas. Steaming via Eniwetok, she reached the eastern approaches to Saipan 19 June. During the next 4 days she remained east of the embattled island as ships and planes of the Fast Carrier Task Force repulsed the Japanese Fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and inflicted staggering losses on the enemy, thus crippling the Imperial Navy's air strength permanently.
On 23 June Manila Bay came under enemy air attack during refueling operations east of Saipan. Two fighter bombers attacked her from dead ahead, dropping four bombs which exploded wide to port. Intense antiaircraft fire suppressed further attacks; and, as a precautionary and rather unusual move which Admiral Spruance later characterized as "commendable initiative," Manila Bay launched four of the Army P‑47's she was ferrying to fly protective CAP until radar screens were clear of contacts. The Army fighters then flew to Saipan, their intended destination. Manila Bay launched the remaining planes the next day and returned to Eniwetok, arriving 27 June. After embarking 207 wounded troops, she departed 1 July, touched Pearl Harbor the 8th, and reached San Diego 16 July.
Manila Bay returned to Pearl 31 August. Two days later Capt. Fitzhugh Lee took command of the veteran carrier; thence, after embarking Composite Squadron 80 , Manila Bay departed 15 September as a unit of CarDiv 24. Steaming via Eniwetok, she reached Manus 3 October and began final preparations for the invasion of the Philippines at Leyte Gulf.
Assigned to the Escort Carrier Group (TG 77.4), Manila Bay departed 12 October for waters east of the Philippines. Prior to the invasion, her planes pounded enemy ground targets on Leyte, Samar, and Cebu. She launched ground support, spotting, and air cover strikes during the amphibious assaults 20 October; thence, she sent bombers and fighters to support ground forces during the critical first few days at Leyte.
As Manila Bay cruised to the east of Leyte Gulf with other carriers of Rear Adm. Felix B. Stump's Taffy 2 (TU 77.4.2), powerful Japanese naval forces converged upon the Philippines and launched a three‑pronged offensive to drive the Americans from Leyte. In a series of masterful and coordinated surface attacks, an American battleship, cruiser, and destroyer force met and smashed enemy ships in the Battle of Surigao Strait early 25 October. Surviving Japanese ships retreated into the Mindinao Sea pursued by destroyers, PT boats, and after sunrise by carrier‑based bombers and fighters.
Manila Bay sent an eight‑plane strike against ground targets on Leyte before sunrise; subsequently, these planes bombed and strafed retiring enemy ships southwest of Panaon Island. A second strike about midmorning pounded the disabled heavy cruiser Magami. In the meantime, however, Manila Bay turned her planes against a more immediate threat-the enemy attack against ships of Taffy 3.
The running battle between the escort carriers of Rear Adm. Clifton Sprague's Taffy 3 and the larger, vastly more powerful surface ships of Admiral Kurita's Center Force; the brilliant, self‑sacrificing attacks by gallant American destroyers and destroyer escorts, and the prompt, aggressive, and unceasing torpedo, bomb, and strafing strikes by planes from Taffy 2 and Taffy 3, all contributed to the American victory against great odds in the Battle off Samar.
Manila Bay launched two airstrikes during the enemy pursuit of Taffy 3 and two more as the Japanese retreated. At 0830 she sent four torpedo‑laden TBMs and a seven‑plane escort to join the desperate fight. Three launched torpedoes at a battleship, probably Yamato, but she combed the wakes. The fourth plane launched her torpedo at a heavy cruiser, most likely Chikuma. It hit her to starboard near the fantail, forcing her out of control. The second strike an hour later by two TBMs resulted in one torpedo hit on the portside amidships against an unidentified battleship.
As the Japanese ships broke off attack and circled off Samar, the fierce airstrikes continued. At 1120 Manila Bay launched four TBMs, carrying 500‑pound bombs, and four bombers from other carriers. Escorted by FM‑2s and led by Comdr. R. L. Fowler, they soon joined planes from other Taffy carriers. Shortly after 1230, some 70 planes jumped the retiring Center Force, strafing and bombing through intense antiaircraft fire. Manila Bay's bombers made a hit and two near misses on the lead battleship, probably Kongo or Haruna. Manila Bay launched her final strike at 1245, strafing destroyers and getting two hits on a cruiser.
Later that afternoon, Manila Bay's CAP intercepted a Japanese bomber‑fighter strike about 50 miles north of Taffy 2. Her four fighters broke up the enemy formation, and with reinforcements drove off the attackers before they reached the carriers. Her planes continued to pound enemy ships the following day. Laden with rockets and bombs, one of her TBMs scored two hits on light cruiser Kinu and several rocket hits on Uranami, an escorting destroyer. Both ships sank about noon in the Visayan Sea after numerous air attacks.
Manila Bay resumed air operations in support of Leyte ground forces 27 October. During ground support and air cover missions her planes shot down a Val on the 27th and bagged two Oscars on the 29th. Late on 30 October she sailed for the Admiralties, arriving Manus 4 November.
After steaming to Kossol Passage late in November, Manila Bay departed 10 December to provide air cover for the Mindoro invasion convoys. The task force entered Mindanao Sea early 13 December. Late that afternoon in the Sulu Sea south of Negros, they encountered enemy aircraft. The fighter cover splashed or repulsed most of the attackers. Accurate fire from Manila Bay splashed one kamikaze. A second suicide plane hit Haraden.
During and after the Mindoro landings 15 December, Manila Bay sent her planes on ground support and air cover missions. As troops poured ashore, more kamikazes attemped to break the air cover and crash ships of the covering and carrier group. The few that escaped the combat air patrols either were splashed or driven off by accurate antiaircraft fire. Manila Bay helped splash three of the raiders and her fighters knocked out two more. After recovering her planes 16 December, she sailed in convoy via Surigao Strait and reached Kossol 19 December.
After a trip to Manus, Manila Bay sortied New Year's Day 1945 with ships of the Luzon Attack Force. With five other CVEs she provided air cover for Vice Admiral Oldendorf's Bombardment and Fire Support Group and direct air support for Vice Admiral Barbey's San Fabian Attack Force.
The task groups steamed via Surigao Strait and the Mindanao Sea into the Sulu Sea where they turned north for the Mindoro Strait. Enemy nuisance and suicide raids began in earnest 4 January; and despite the tight air cover provided by CVE aircraft, a kamikaze crashed the flight deck of Ommaney Bay causing her loss.
The enemy air attacks intensified 5 January. Patrolling lighters broke up morning and early afternoon strikes, shooting down numerous raiders. At 1650 a third attack sent all hands to general quarters. Vectored CAP bagged several enemy planes and antiaircraft fire splashed still more. Three planes got through to Louisville, Stafford, and HMAS Australia. Just before 1750, two kamikazes dove at Manila Bay from the portside. The first plane hit the flight deck to starboard abaft the bridge, causing fires on the flight and hangar decks, destroying radar transmitting spaces, and wiping out all communications. The second plane, aimed for the bridge, missed the island close aboard to starboard and splashed off the fantail.
Firefighting parties promptly brought the blazes under control including those of two fueled and burning torpedo planes in the hangar deck. Within 24 hours she resumed limited air operations. Most repairs to her damaged electrical and communication circuits were completed by 9 January when the amphibious invasion in Lingayen Gulf got underway.
Manila Bay had 14 men killed and 52 wounded, but by 10 January she resumed full duty in support of the Lingayen Gulf operations. In addition to providing air cover for the task force, her planes flew 104 sorties against targets in western Luzon. They gave effective close support for ground troops at Lingayen and San Fabian and bombed, rocketed, and strafed gun emplacements, buildings, truck convoys, and troop concentrations from Lingayen to Baguio.
Manila Bay departed in convoy late 17 January. Steaming via Leyte, Ulithi, and Pearl Harbor she arrived San Diego 15 February. Battle damage repairs completed late in April, with Composite Squadron 72 embarked she trained in Hawaiian waters until sailing for the western Pacific 24 May. She closed the coast of Okinawa 13 June and during the next week launched rocket and strafing strikes in the Ryukyus. She departed for the Marianas 20 June and operated out of Guam and Eniwetok, Marshalls, during the closing weeks of the war.
Manila Bay steamed to the Aleutians in mid‑August. As a unit of TF 44, she departed Adak 31 August to support occupation operations in northern Japan. Between 7 and 12 September her planes carried out photographic and reconnaissance missions over northern Honshu and southern Hokkaido and dropped emergency supplies at POW camps. She returned to Pearl Harbor 24 September, unloaded her aircraft, and steamed to the Marshalls carrying replacement troops.
Assigned to "Magic Carpet" duty, Manila Bay embarked 1,031 veterans at Eniwetok and from 6 to 18 October sailed to San Francisco. After completing 2 more "Magic Carpet" runs, she departed Pearl Harbor 27 January 1946 and reached Norfolk, Va., 18 February. She steamed to Boston 15 to 17 April, decommissioned there 31 July 1946, and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. She was reclassified CVU‑61 on 12 June 1955; her name was struck from the Navy list 27 May 1958; and she was sold for scrap to Hugo New Corp., 2 September 1959.
Manila Bay received eight battle stars for World War II service.