The first U.S. Navy ship named for a city in, and the seat of government for, Westchester County, N.Y. Following the Battle of Long Island on 27 August 1776, during the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington evacuated Long Island and, later, the entire state of New York. During the retreat through New York and New Jersey, contingents of American soldiers fought a series of sharp rearguard actions that held up the British forces and enabled the Continental Army to escape intact to Pennsylvania. On 28 October 1776, the second of those engagements occurred near White Plains, N.Y. The British drove the American troops from the field, however, the Continentals held the British back long enough to allow Washington’s main force to make good its retreat.
(CVE-66: displacement 10,400; length 512'3"; beam 65'2"; extreme width (flight deck) 108'1"; draft 22'6"; speed 19.3 knots; complement 860; armament 1 5-inch, 12 40-millimeter, 20 20-millimeter, aircraft 24; class Casablanca)
Auxiliary aircraft carrier Elbow Bay (ACV-66) was authorized under a Maritime Commission contract (M.C. Hull 1103); laid down on 11 February 1943 at Vancouver, Wash., by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Co., Inc.; renamed White Plains on 3 April 1943; reclassified to an escort aircraft carrier (CVE-66) on 15 July 1943; and launched on 27 September 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Frances E. Mitscher, née Smalley, wife of Rear Adm. Marc A. Mitscher, Commander, Fleet Air, West Coast. A civilian crew took the ship from Vancouver to Naval Station (NS) Astoria, Ore., on 14 November 1943; she was delivered to the Navy on 15 November 1943 at NS Astoria; and commissioned the same day under gathering clouds and the chill wind of the Oregon coast, Capt. Oscar A. Weller in command.
The nucleus of the commissioning crew by no means consisted entirely of men experienced at sea, but arrived from diverse sources. For the most part, the officers and men alike boarded White Plains fresh from their initial naval training. Key engineering sailors completed special training studying the operation of the ship’s machinery while at Milwaukee, Wisc. A few specialists accomplished training in operating catapults, arresting gear, and much other equipment of late and unfamiliar design for the effective control of air operations on board a carrier. A bare minimum of officers with watch-standing experience arrived from other ships.
The Pre-Commissioning Detail tackled the unenviable duty of integrating the mass of recent civilians into a fighting crew, before and following her commissioning. The detail held classes, gave tests, and arranged for most of the crew to participate in a training cruise on board Casablanca (CVE-55), the name ship of the class, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On the basis of this admittedly slim experience, the new officers slated for divisional responsibility began setting up the complex human machinery required to transform White Plains from a mere hull of mechanism into a compact weapon capable of taking her place in the fleet. The carrier’s historian wryly observed that "the S.O.B. (Ship’s Organizational Book) became the Bible for all hands," a somewhat tongue-in-cheek analogy.
The experience the men gained in this training led them to change the organization so that they transferred the Combat Information Center (CIC) and radio-radar maintenance from the Communications Department to the Air Department, under V-3 Division. This action placed all of the activities in any way connected with prospective air operations under the Air Department, with the exception of aviation ordnance, which remained under the 3rd Division. Throughout the first five months of the ship’s commissioned service, however, her Air Department manning stood at less than half of the full allowance.
The shipyard workers at Vancouver confronted their own challenges attempting to reconcile mass production techniques with the exacting requirements of naval specifications. For example, at the time of launching an insufficient number of 40-millimeter guns made necessary the omission of one of the ship’s four secondary batteries. They also incurred make-shaft arrangements and lack of standby equipment in the auxiliary engineering plant. Yard workmen completed installations and alterations while the green hands of every department learned the location and function of the seemingly endless amounts of unfamiliar gear.
The escort aircraft carrier completed outfitting under the jurisdiction of the CVE Precommissioning Detail at Astoria on 4 December 1943. The following day, Composite Squadron (VC) 68, which was earmarked to deploy with the ship, counted 12 Eastern FM-1 Wildcats, four FM-2s, six Eastern TBM-1 Avengers, and a pair of TBM-1Cs, as the men trained to go to war while at Naval Auxiliary Air Station Brown Field at Otay Mesa, Calif.
White Plains turned from Astoria out to sea on 6 December 1943, and the following day loaded bombs at Port Townsend, Wash. The ship took on board ammunition at Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., on the 8th, and then carried out training in Puget Sound. The crew calibrated radio direction finder and degaussing equipment, held speed trials, and depermed their vessel. She then (13–15 December) moored and loaded provisions, aviation stores, and gasoline at Seattle, Wash. At noon on the 15th, the ship turned southward for Naval Air Station (NAS) San Diego, Calif. White Plains held her first gunnery exercises while passing through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and nearly daily drills at sea on problems of damage control, simulated attack maneuvers, and casualty procedures for navigational and engineering control equipment. The carrier plowed through heavy seas off southern Oregon and northern California, and her chronicler noted that “all hands also learned that all the activities, routine and emergency, required on a naval vessel must be diligently carried on regardless of the human stomach.”
The ship touched briefly on the 18th and 19th at NAS Alameda, Calif., where she loaded under guard secret Mk. 32 proximity-fuzed projectiles for her 5-inch gun, as well as additional supplies and provisions. Men also brought on board their first consignment of aviation spares, and filled the aviation gasoline tanks. White Plains resumed her voyage, and passed Point Loma and moored at NAS San Diego on North Island on 21 December.
While at San Diego the ship set out on her shakedown cruise, a rigorous series of exercises broken only by an all too fleeting time in port to celebrate Christmas (21–24 and 26–29 December 1943).
The carrier turned seaward again just before the New Year (29 December 1943–4 January 1944) and transported 333 passengers from VC-66, Marine Air Warning Squadron (AWS) 1, and Marine Night Fighter Squadron (VMF (N) 531 across the Pacific Ocean bound via Pearl Harbor, T.H., for the Gilbert Islands [Kirabati]. The men embarked with a cargo of assorted radar and amphibious gear, but the aviation elements served to remind the crew of their primary purpose. “During the cruise to Pearl Harbor,” VC-66’s chronicler observed, “the squadron stood round-the-clock security watches, caught up on sack time, received authorization to wear the American Theatre and Asiatic-Pacific campaign ribbons, and traded in scuttlebutt on the future assignment.” White Plains moored directly forward of Nassau (CVE-16) and disembarked her passengers at Pearl Harbor, where the men of VC-66 boarded Nassau for their deployment.
The ship set out again as Task Unit (TU) 19.9.7 with new passengers and cargo, comprising 398 marines, and their 39 Vought F4U-1 and F4U-2 Corsairs of VMF-113 and VMF (N)-532, respectively, for Tarawa Atoll in those islands (8–14 January 1944). In spite of an air of tenseness affecting the crew, including the pilots who had never catapulted before, the first of 36 Corsairs to fly off White Plains soared aloft at 0829 on the 14th, marking the ship’s first catapult launches. Some 22 more planes flew from the ship in the following 40 minutes, and 13 more shortly thereafter. The ship then anchored in Tarawa, and a placid tropical scene greeted the ship’s company, which seemed to bely the bloody battle which had so recently taken place there. The horrific casualties the marines had sustained capturing the atoll, however, and the loss of Liscombe Bay (CVE-56), a sister ship torpedoed and sunk by Japanese submarine I-175 on 24 November, nonetheless lent a particular sense of caution to the men.
Their wariness was vindicated when White Plains received warning of a Japanese air raid and stood out of the lagoon overnight (15–16 January 1944). The enemy planes attacked some of the other vessels in what the ship reported as a “severe air raid” but did not assail White Plains. Despite the enemy threat, the ship took the opportunity to drop below the equator, and the Shellbacks, those men who had already “crossed the line” in the time honored maritime tradition, cleansed White Plains of the Pollywogs, those who had yet to be initiated into the mysteries of King Neptune’s Realm.
The following day she came about carrying two passengers and two enemy prisoners, and used the arresting gear for the first time as 34 Grumman F6F-3 Hellcats of Fighting Squadron (VF) 1, the original naval garrison on Tarawa, landed on board. The ship headed back to Oahu, arriving in Pearl Harbor six days later on the 23rd. Following a four-day turnaround period, White Plains again set course for the Central Pacific to provide aircraft logistics support for Operation Flintlock—landings in the Marshall Islands. The carriers involved in the fighting needed replacement planes, and the ship jammed 70 aircraft on her flight deck and the hangar deck, and also transported pilots of seven squadrons and a large consignment of mail.
By the time she returned to Tarawa on 3 February 1944, the V Amphibious Corps’ Marine Reconnaissance Company and the 2nd Battalion, 106th Infantry Regiment, had taken Majuro Atoll unopposed. The next day, the ship stood out to sea for Majuro, where she arrived on the 4th. White Plains transferred her planes to aircraft carrier Intrepid (CV-11), Coral Sea (CVE-57), Corregidor (CVE-58), and Manila Bay (CVE-61), some by flight and others via barges.
From there, the escort carrier moved on to Kwajalein, which had also just been secured by the marines and soldiers of the landing force, for a brief (7–11 February 1944) visit. Destroyer Caldwell (DD-605) transferred ferry pilots back to White Plains via breeches buoy while the carrier lay anchored off Roi-Namur at Kwajalein, but collided with White Plains during the process, slightly damaging both ships.
White Plains cleared the lagoon and stopped at Makin Atoll in the Gilberts, where additional replacement planes flew off to Enterprise (CV-6), small aircraft carrier Belleau Wood (CVL-24), and to Nassau. The ship swung around carrying 260 passengers and 30 USAAF Bell P-39 Airacobras and delivered her cargo to Tarawa (14–15 February 1944). The next day she loaded more Airacobras of the USAAF’s 72nd Fighter Squadron and turned for home, touching briefly (23–26 February) at Oahu, where she embarked 199 passengers and loaded nine F6F-3s of VF-6, as well as an unusual assortment of eight Consolidated PBY Catalinas, two Lockheed PV-1 Venturas, a Grumman J2F Duck, and a Piper NE-1 Grasshopper, before continuing on toward the west coast on 23 February. On 3 March she slipped beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and moored at NAS Alameda, where the ship discharged her travelers and the planes.
At Alameda 34 officers, 146 enlisted men, 12 FM-2 Wildcats, and nine TBM-1C Avengers of VC-68 reported on board for duty on the 4th. White Plains skirted the coastline as she and her new squadron made for NAS San Diego (4–6 March 1944). While on the west coast, White Plains conducted operational training for her own ship’s company and training for three air squadrons while operating under the auspices of the Western Sea Frontier. The ship held carrier qualifications for VC-68 (8–16 March), then (18–22 March) for the FM-2s and TBM-1Cs of VC-11, scheduled to deploy with Nehenta Bay (CVE-74), and finally for the Curtiss SB2C-1C Helldivers of Bombing Squadron (VB) 20 (23–27 March).
The Helldivers proved especially challenging because of their stiff tail-wheel oleos. When the tail came down hard during arresting, the tail-wheel assembly occasionally failed, in one case resulting in a buckled fuselage. Nonetheless, the ship triumphantly hailed the operations with 182 successful launchings and landings, and four minor accidents, which afforded her crew valuable aircraft handling experience. Throughout the grueling pace, VC-68 crewmen stayed on board to better familiarize themselves with carrier operations at sea, and transferred to Fanshaw Bay (CVE-70) on the 27th.
White Plains required some additional yard work after these operations and did so at Naval Repair Base San Diego (27 March–23 April 1944)—in dry dock (17–22 April). The workers overhauled the engineering plant, redesigned the protection around the bomb stowage to minimize the danger in light of Liscombe Bay’s loss, added rocket and aircraft ammunition magazines, installed a radar indicator on the bridge, and the missing 40-millimeter battery. The collision with Caldwell had crumpled the after port 40-millimeter director instrument’s platform, and they therefore also replaced the platform.
The exigencies of the war, however, led to a change in orders and when White Plains next prepared to turn her prow seaward on the 23rd, she embarked 33 officers, 38 enlisted men, a dozen FM-2s, and eight TBM-1Cs of VC-4 instead of VC-68—which in turn ended up on board Fanshaw Bay. The men of VC-4 had just completed carrier qualifications in Fanshaw Bay, and received “streamlining” orders. Their maintenance complement remained intact, however, and so 160 of the squadron’s maintainers also boarded the ship at North Island, and integrated into the ship’s company. In this way, the carrier’s Air Department finally obtained the full allowance of naval aviation ratings.
In addition, 422 passengers boarded for the voyage to Pearl Harbor (24 April–1 May 1944). Designated Task Group (TG) 19.2, the ship and her screen trained in air operations and gunnery exercises in Hawaiian waters (7–10 May), and then (13–19 May) conducted air operations and rehearsed supporting amphibious landings as part of TG 52.14. While taking part in the latter exercises, she served in Carrier Division (CarDiv) 25, led by Rear Adm. Gerald F. Bogan.
White Plains took part in the training to prepare for her next endeavor, Operation Forager—landings in the Marianas Islands. The ship served as part of Escort Carrier Unit 2, TU 52.14.2, which also comprised Kalinin Bay (CVE-68), Callaghan (DD-792), Longshaw (DD-559), and Porterfield (DD-682). Capt. Weller, the ship’s commanding officer, served “double-hatted” as he also led the unit. The ships sailed in company with Escort Carrier Unit 1, TU 52.14.1, Rear Adm. Bogan in command, and consisting of Fanshaw Bay (the group’s flagship), Midway (CVE-63), Cassin Young (DD-793), Irwin (DD-794), and Ross (DD-563). The two units formed TG 52.15, also led by Rear Adm. Bogan. They in turn escorted the other three destroyers and 19 vessels of TG 52.16, Rear Adm. Harry W. Hill, who hoisted his flag in attack transport Cambria (APA-36). These vessels joined the Fifth Fleet, Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, who broke his flag in heavy cruiser Indianapolis (CA-35), and its Joint Expeditionary Force, TF 51, Vice Adm. Richmond K. Turner, who hoisted his flag in attack transport Monrovia (APA-31).
Wildcats from the carriers flew Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the ships, and Avengers hunted for submarines during the voyage (30 May–9 June 1944). At 0931 on the 3rd, two fighters from White Plains crashed simultaneously. Callaghan recovered the pilot of one of the Wildcats, but Longshaw only recovered a rubber life raft. White Plains touched at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshalls on 9 June 1944, and on the morning of the 11th sortied with the other ships of TG 52.14 and made for Saipan in the Marianas, her air squadron upgraded to 28 aircraft; 16 FM-2s, three TBF-1Cs, and nine TBM-1Cs. The two task units operated to support Attack Groups 1 and 2, respectively, and reached those waters at dawn on the 15th.
The carriers launched planes that strafed and bombed the Japanese as the landing force hit the beaches at Saipan, flew protective CAP over the invasion armada, and patrolled for enemy submarines that might attempt to slip through the screens. In addition, a few of the planes including some flying from White Plains carried USMC or USA observers over the front to spot enemy positions and gunfire. Some of these aircraft later forced landed on Aslito, the single air strip in American hands, while others braved their own antiaircraft fire to land back on the carriers in the midst of an air raid.
The raid occurred when the Japanese struck back at 1715 on 15 June 1944. Fanshaw Bay received a report of five planes heading toward her at high speed, 71 miles to the southeast. White Plains launched four FM-2s of Fanshaw Bay’s old friends VC-4 as CAP, and controllers vectored them to intercept the attackers. The Wildcats intercepted what turned out to be Nakajima B6N1 carrier attack planes at a range of 36 miles out from Fanshaw Bay and splashed three of the Jills. The fighters then turned and pursued the fourth, which they shot down within sight of the warship with the help of radar controlled antiaircraft guns from the other ships.
Lt. Eugene Straughn launched in an FM-2 (BuNo 16218) from White Plains on the morning of on 16 June 1944. Straughn experienced engine failure almost immediately after takeoff and crash-landed in the water off the port bow. Longshaw rushed over and retrieved Staughn at 1103, and at 1153 returned the fighter pilot back to White Plains.
The Japanese persistently struck again at 1920 on the night of 17 June 1944, this time nearly achieving a successful raid. A Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 land attack plane approached White Plains dead ahead of the carrier, but the ship swung her rudder hard over and brought the starboard antiaircraft batteries to bear. GM1c T.E. Pecor manned the forward starboard 40-millimeter director and opened fire first at the Betty, followed almost immediately by all of the starboard 20 and 40-millimeter guns, blanketing the bomber, which flew low to the water. No one saw the Betty again, and although it proved difficult to reliably verify whether the ship splashed the intruder and the plane disintegrated in a shower of fragments that failed to leave distinct debris, or whether it came about and escaped into the gathering darkness, the ship’s gunners triumphantly claimed their first kill.
The raiders attacked after 1800 but White Plains nonetheless scrambled eight Wildcats that pursued the enemy, though without splashing any in the confusing night fighting. Cmdr. Robert C. Evins, VC-4’s commanding officer, flew one of the Wildcats that intercepted the Japanese and called in for an emergency landing due to a damaged oil line, but was never seen again. Lt. Edward R. Fickenscher Jr., VC-4’s executive officer, assumed command of the squadron.
Despite the fighters rising to intercept the Japanese planes, some of the attackers penetrated the CAP and dropped two bombs that narrowly missed White Plains, one of them at scarcely 1,500 yards. A Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 carrier attack plane made a torpedo run at the ship from the starboard bow, but gunfire (probably) splashed the Kate. The battle also demonstrated that the director operators of the forward 40-millimeter guns fought at a disadvantage, due to the location of the director platform aft of the guns, because smoke from the guns quickly obscured the operator’s field of view.
Two of Kalinin Bay’s pilots crashed in proximity to the carriers. Lt. Joseph W. Murphy, USNR, splashed into the swells but Cassin Young rescued the pilot. Lt. (j.g.) Leona R. Porterfield, USNR, also hit the water in his Wildcat but White Plains lowered a boat that retrieved him, and Murphy and Porterfield returned to their ship on the 25th.
At 1852, an enemy plane made a run on Fanshaw Bay and dropped a bomb from approximately 1,500 feet, as the carrier steamed near 15°00'N, 145°00'E. The enemy ordnance penetrated into the corner of the after elevator and crashed through the thin decks, showering fragments into shattered compartments, rupturing a fire main, and severing electrical cables. Multiple fires blazed up, the ship took on a severe list to port, and she settled six feet by the stern; to enable him to continue to exercise command, Rear Adm. Bogan, accompanied by his staff, transferred his flag to Porterfield. The inferno compelled the ship’s planes to attempt to land on board other carriers. Three VC-68 Wildcats (BuNos 16710 and 46858), and one flown by Lt. Daniel H. Stinemetz (BuNo 45446), crashed during the ensuing turmoil or in battle against the Japanese, but nearby destroyers rescued the shaken men from their life rafts.
Three of Fanshaw Bay’s planes found themselves unable to land on their ship and turned instead toward White Plains. Landing in the dark presented its own challenges, and Ens. Edward M. Billinghurst, USNR, attempted to land his Wildcat but slammed into the barrier, resulting in a collision and damage to eight planes parked forward. In addition, the crash killed two men on the flight deck, AMM3c Roger R. Albright and AMM3c James M. Lancaster. The flight deck repair crew quickly extinguished the flames, and retrieved Billinghurst from his wrecked fighter with minor injuries. White Plains fired 5,000 rounds of 20 and 40-millimeter ammunition, and 15 5-inch shells in the hour and a half battle.
As the sun rose on the morning of the 18th, Rear Adm. Bogan boarded White Plains and hoisted his flag in the carrier. The tactical situation that greeted the admiral proved a vexing one, in that the aircraft from the four escort carriers of CarDiv 25 had landed where they could and were all mixed up on board the different ships. Fanshaw Bay could not adequately complete repairs at sea, so because of these issues the other three carriers could only fight with their available aircraft. Turner therefore ordered Bogan to temporarily withdrawal them for a breathing spell. Bogan used the flagship capabilities of White Plains to communicate with the other ships, and planes flying from White Plains flew CAP and antisubmarine patrols as the division retired.
The battle cost the carriers a number of planes and they desperately needed replacements. Kalinin Bay consequently carried out transfers and 17 fighter pilots from other ships reported on board to assist the 17 from VC-3, one from VC-65, and four from VC-68 already on board, in ferrying aircraft to and from Eniwetok. These men helped transfer all of the “flyable” Wildcats off the ship to other carriers, which left only three FM-2s in Kalinin Bay, two of which originated from other ships. Ross then escorted Kalinin Bay as she departed the fighting and steamed to the waters to the west of Eniwetok (19–22 June).
In the meanwhile, White Plains temporarily returned to the fighting. American planes bombed but failed to sink Japanese cargo ship Shoun Maru at Rota, and on the 21st Lt. Fickenscher led Wildcats and Avengers of VC-4 on a sweep and they sank Shoun Maru with torpedoes, about 85 miles to the south of the carrier near 14°10'N, 145°10'E.
While White Plains resumed the battle, Kalinin Bay continued her voyage and upon reaching that area launched 11 Avengers carrying 39 fighter pilots as passengers, which landed at Stickell Field on Eniwetok. These pilots manned what the ship’s historian reported as “the maximum number of FM-2 type aircraft assembled there for transportation to TG 52.14 in the Saipan area,” and then flew 42 of the Wildcats, along with an additional five TBM-1Cs, to the ship from Naval Air Base Eniwetok. The ship packed the aircraft on board, and made some room by sending six Avengers that required work to Carrier Aircraft Service Unit (CASU) 35 at Stickell Field. Time was of the essence and so Kalinin Bay swung around, rang up flank speed, and, in company with Ross, the two ships crashed through the swells as they raced back to the Marianas.
Returning to the Battle of Saipan on 24 June 1944, Kalinin Bay delivered five Wildcats to other carriers and resumed effective air strikes against enemy positions on the embattled island. Additional men from other squadrons sailed on board Kalinin Bay during the bustle of transfers, and five VC-4 pilots and five from VC-65 returned to their respective carriers—White Plains and Midway. Another VC-68 pilot reported on board, making a total of 18 pilots from that squadron embarked.
The Japanese launched their final strike against White Plains of the Battle of Saipan on the 26th, and just before midnight a “heckler” plane flew very low over the task group. The aircraft flew back-and-forth, compelling the ships to man their battle stations several times without the intruder exposing itself to antiaircraft fire. The plane flew its last run and just as it pulled away a heavy explosion erupted in the area, and the crew of White Plains felt the blast under her stern. Some of the eyewitnesses postulated that the enemy dropped a torpedo as a parting gift, but the weapon missed the vessels of the group as they steamed on their way. A destroyer caught the plane on her fire control radar and splashed the (unidentified) heckler as it attempted to escape.
At 1405 on the 28th, a carrier pigeon landed on Longshaw’s bridge. Despite Japanese markings on its leg, the bird did not carry any messages, and crewmen transferred the pigeon to White Plains at 1520. Gambier Bay (CVE-73), Kitkun Bay (CVE-71), and their screen joined the formation later that day. The carrier task organization of TG 52.14 was then dissolved and reformed. Kalinin Bay, Midway, White Plains, and their screen formed TU 52.14.1, led by Bogan. Rear Adm. Harold B. Sallada commanded TU 52.14.2 from his flagship, Kitkun Bay, which also comprised Gambier Bay, Nehenta Bay, and their escorts. Rear Adm. Clifton A.F. Sprague in the meantime assumed command of CarDiv 25.
White Plains anchored off Tanapag, Saipan, on the final day of the month to replenish her supply of aircraft, ammunition, and bombs. Bogan ordered Kalinin Bay, White Plains, Cassin Young, Irwin, and Ross to come about on 9 July 1944 and make for Eniwetok. Following a brief period of resupply and refueling, the ship returned to the Marianas (19–22 July). White Plains turned toward the Battle of Tinian and on the 22nd launched her planes against the Japanese garrison on the island. Rear Adm. Sprague had hoisted his flag in Fanshaw Bay, but the following day transferred his flag to White Plains.
She continued to support the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions as they landed on the island on 24 and 25 July, and on the succeeding days as the marines fought their way inland. Her planes carried out sortie after sortie in support of the troops ashore and over the ships assembled, but White Plains herself suffered no enemy attacks, as the fighting had all but wiped-out enemy air power in the area. The heavy flight schedule proved arduous to the air squadron and ship’s company alike, but Tinian became a vital lynchpin in Allied strategy when men of the Naval Construction Battalions (Seabees) constructed airfields from which USAAF Boeing B-29 Superfortresses bombed the Japanese home islands.
Sprague shifted his flag to Midway on the 29th, and White Plains then (11–17 August) came about and chartered courses for Segond Channel at Espíritu Santo in the New Hebrides [Vanuatu]. The carrier received orders for additional training to support amphibious landings, which her historian explained occurred “in order to keep her hard won battle efficiency and high morale at peak level.” So the ship set out in company with Kitkun Bay and Gambier Bay, screened by Hoel (DD-533), Ross, and Robinson (DD-562), as TU 32.19.1. The convoy steamed to Purvis Bay in the Florida Islands [Nggela] of the Solomons, near Guadalcanal, which the Allies and Japanese had hotly contested in 1942–43.
While en route to the staging area on the 24th, a plane making a routine landing broke a deck pendant and exposed a number of excessively worn sheaves. A poor lubrication system turned out to be the source of the trouble, and the crew laboriously replaced all of the weather deck sheaves. For the next several weeks (26 August–8 September) White Plains trained as TU 32.7.3.
Capt. Dennis J. Sullivan, the commanding officer, wrote a memo to the ship’s company on 1 September 1944, revealing their next orders to support Operation Stalemate II—the landings of the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu and Angaur Islands. Sullivan summarizing the Allied strategy for the forthcoming landings, and added some of his own observations concerning the enemy:
“The Jap[anese] on Palau are expected to put up their usual fanatical resistance, but without adequate air support they cannot last long against the forces that will be opposed to them…
We can expect the Jap submarines to take an active part in this operation. In the past the Jap subs have been used for search, evacuation and supply. The Jap is beginning to realize that this is not a profitable employment for his subs and there are indications that he is ready to abandon all bases which have been cut off. It he pulls them all in and uses them offensively, the Japs have enough to make it very interesting for us. The CVEs are very vulnerable to torpedo attack. All hands must be on the alert and we must watch the lights during darken ship. It is not likely that the Japs will risk any major part of their fleet. But you can never tell about the Jap and if he thinks he has a chance he may do some surprising things. However, there are reports of Motor Torpedo Boats in the Palau’s also barges with torpedo tubes mounted on them. Again the most probable attack will be with torpedoes.
Palau is within range of a number of Jap airfields. Many of them will be entirely or partly neutralized, but there are too many in the Philippines to keep them all neutralized for long. We can expect attacks from East or West, with the most likely times at evening twilight, with attacks also possible at night or early morning. So we are going to be in a tough spot most of the time. Keep on your toes, keep your eyes open and hope that the Japs run out of planes early in the game.”
The Japanese stubbornly held on to many of their far-flung garrisons long after the Allies bypassed them, but Sullivan correctly assessed the threat from enemy submarines, which repeatedly penetrated Allied screens and attacked carriers. The captain’s apprehension concerning the Japanese determination to resist proved well founded during the Battle of Peleliu.
Following the training, White Plains swung around as part of the Western Escort Carrier Group, TG 32.7, and with ten of her sister escort carriers moved into the vicinity of the Palaus. The Japanese prepared their main line of resistance on Peleliu inland from the beaches to escape naval bombardment, and three days of preliminary carrier air attacks in combination with intense naval gunfire failed to suppress the tenacious defenders. The ship hurled her planes against the enemy each day of her deployment to the battle (15–25 September 1944) as they flew photographic reconnaissance flights, bombing and strafing runs, CAP, and antisubmarine barrier patrols to protect the ships operating offshore. No enemy air attacks developed, however, because the Japanese were husbanding their aircraft for the defense of the Philippines, and, as a result of their new strategic concept of defense in depth at some distance from the beaches, few shore batteries lay near to the coast to fire on ships.
The failure of airborne identification equipment increasingly exasperated the ship’s company during the Battle of Peleliu. The wasted effort in CIC as watchstanders plotted and dispatched fighters to intercept “bogies,” only to discover U.S. planes, handicapped operations. Only a single officer handled both shipboard and airborne radar maintenance, and so the overworked man sometimes slighted one over the other. The ship did not fully resolve her dilemma during the battle.
On 21 September 1944, White Plains operated as TU 33.12.2 as she joined the forces detached from the Palau operation for the occupation of Ulithi Atoll. The ship launched an observation flight over Ulithi to gather first-hand information on Japanese activities at the atoll on the 22nd, and the flight discerned a paucity of enemy defenses. The secrecy that surrounded the operation led many of the ship’s company to believe that they were en route to support a strike against Ulithi, but on the 23rd, TG 33.19, Rear Adm. William H.P. Blandy, landed the Army’s 323rd Regimental Combat Team of the 81st Infantry Division on the atoll. White Plains and her consorts launched CAP, aerial spotting, and anti-submarine patrol missions. The Americans converted Ulithi into an enormous anchorage to sustain their future operations, and it supplanted Eniwetok as the Pacific Fleet’s foremost base in the Pacific theater.
In the meanwhile on the 25th, White Plains anchored in Ulithi but departed the same day for Manus in the Admiralty Islands as TU 32.18, in company with the ships of TG 33.19. Her planes again flew CAP and anti-submarine patrols over the task group as they steamed via Hollandia on New Guinea (25–28 September 1944) to Seaadler Harbor at Manus. On the 27th, the captain issued a memo concerning the “Loading and Stability of Ship.”
“Today the moving of one TBM on the flight deck caused a change in list of one degree, indicating an unsatisfactory stability condition. In other words although we are at about full load condition the stability is not satisfactory and can only be accounted for by excess top-side weights.
For the past few months we have operated in good weather with smooth sea conditions. One next operations will carry us into areas were extremely rough weather may be encountered and where the distances involved will make it necessary to carry emergency fuel load whenever we can get it.”
Sullivan observed that from the ship’s draft and listing characteristics she steamed overloaded and top heavy, and directed the ship’s company to make stringent efforts to reduce top hamper and store all possible weights on the hangar deck and above lower down in the vessel.
The ships of the task unit reached Seaadler Harbor on the 1st of the month. Ten days of extensive overhaul and logistics preparation followed, and White Plains utilized the added stocks of spare parts and shore facilities for the work; together with destroyer tender Whitney (AD-4). The engineering crew gave the steam plant a complete inspection and restored it to excellent operating condition. The rest of the ship’s company busily formed working parties loading aviation spares and other supplies to restore stocks depleted by the prolonged absence from major supply bases. They also thoroughly cleaned the ship from top to bottom, paying particular attention to the gallery deck spaces, in light of their anticipated sojourn into waters tossed by tropical storms. While White Plains completed this work, however, the bloody fighting continued on Peleliu. The 81st Infantry Division later reinforced the marines, and the final Japanese on the island only surrendered on 1 February 1945.
Fanshaw Bay, Kalinin Bay, St. Lo (CVE-63), and White Plains formed TU 77.4.31 and cleared Manus on 12 October 1944. Rear Adm. Clifton Sprague hoisted his flag in Fanshaw Bay in command of the task unit, which provided air coverage for the Bombardment and Fire Support Group, TG 77.2, Rear Adm. Jesse B. Oldendorf. Sprague’s orders summarized the plan as to “provide close support for the bombardment beach reconnaissance and landing operation in the Leyte Gulf area.”
Sprague broke away from Oldendorf on the 16th and set course for an assigned operating area eastward of Leyte Gulf and Samar. The voyage validated the men’s anxiety when the very weather conditions they feared formed a typhoon just to the north. The winds rose to gale force, the visibility dropped to a few hundred yards, and White Plains rolled heavily in the swells. The storm finally moved away from the rendezvous area and the formation held its course, though the foul weather buckled the overhang on the gallery deck aft on the port side. The tempest imposed a day’s delay on the operations.
Airplanes from the escort carriers nonetheless flew CAP, air support, and strike missions for the Army’s Sixth Ranger Battalion as they landed on Dinagat and Suluan Islands, at the eastern approaches to Leyte Gulf, to destroy Japanese installations capable of providing early warning of a U.S. attack, on the following day, 17 October 1944. The garrison on Suluan transmitted an alert that prompted Japanese Commander in Chief Combined Fleet Adm. Toyoda Soemu to order Shō-Gō 1—an operation to defend the Philippines. The raid thus helped to bring about the Battle of Leyte Gulf, a succession of distinct fleet engagements. The following day, White Plains and her consorts shaped a course to rendezvous with other ships, and two days later on the 20th, they joined up and their task organization changed.
Adm. William F. Halsey Jr., Commander, Third Fleet, led nine fleet and eight small carriers into those troubled waters. Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid, Commander, Seventh Fleet, led a force that included TG 77.4, Rear Adm. Thomas Sprague—consisting of 18 escort carriers organized in Task Units (TUs) 77.4.1, 77.4.2, and 77.4.3, and known by their voice radio calls as Taffys 1, 2, and 3, respectively.
Chenango (CVE-28), Petrof Bay (CVE-80), Saginaw Bay (CVE-82), Sangamon (CVE-26), Santee (CVE-29), and Suwanee (CVE-27) and their screens formed Taffy 1, Rear Adm. Thomas Sprague, and fought off northern Mindanao. Chenango and Saginaw Bay swung around on the 24th to carry planes to Morotai in the Netherlands East Indies for repairs and overhaul. Kadashan Bay (CVE-76), Manila Bay, Marcus Island (CVE-77), Natoma Bay, Ommaney Bay (CVE-79), and Savo Island (CVE-78) of Taffy 2, Rear Adm. Felix B. Stump, operated off the entrance to Leyte Gulf.
White Plains steamed with the two CarDivs of Taffy 3, Rear Adm. Clifton A. F. Sprague, off Samar. Kalinin Bay, St. Lo, and White Plains formed CarDiv 25, Rear Adm. Clifton Sprague, while Gambier Bay and Kitkun Bay comprised CarDiv 26, Rear Adm. Ralph A. Ofstie. Heermann (DD-523), Hoel, and Johnston (DD-557), and escort ships Dennis (DE-405), John C. Butler (DE-339), Raymond (DE-341), and Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413), screened Taffy 3. Flight operations continued throughout this period as the carriers supported the troops fighting their way ashore on the 20th and then inland, and S2c Bill Wilson, one of White Plains’ crewmen, was killed when a returning plane crashed on board the ship on the 23rd. The following day a plane made a forced landing on Tacloban Airfield on Leyte, and White Plains marked the event as one of the first U.S. naval aircraft to touch wheels on Philippine soil since the Japanese conquered the islands in 1941–42.
In the meanwhile, the Japanese launched Shō-Gō 1 to disrupt the U.S. landings in Leyte Gulf. Acute fuel shortages led them to disperse their fleet into the Northern (decoy), Center, and Southern Forces and converge separately on Leyte Gulf. Attrition had reduced the Northern Force’s 1st Mobile Force, their principal naval aviation command and led by Vice Adm. Ozawa Jisaburō, to carrier Zuikaku and small carriers Chitose, Chiyōda, and Zuihō.
The Center Force, Vice Adm. Kurita Takeo in command, comprised two commands. Force A initially sailed with battleships Musashi, Yamato, and Nagato, heavy cruisers Atago, Chōkai, Haguro, Maya, Myoko, and Takao, light cruiser Noshiro, and destroyers Akishimo, Asashimo, Fujinami, Hamanami, Hayashimo, Kishinami, Kiyoshimo, Naganami, Okinami, and Shimakaze. Force B comprised battleships Haruna and Kongō, heavy cruisers Chikuma, Kumano, Suzuya, and Tone, light cruiser Yahagi, and destroyers Hamakaze, Isokaze, Urakaze, and Yukikaze.
Submarines Darter (SS-227) and Dace (SS-247) daringly attacked what turned out to be the Japanese Center Force. Dace sank Maya, and Darter sank Atago and damaged her sistership Takao, which came about for Brunei. The aircraft of TG 38.2, TG 38.3, and TG 38.4 attacked Kurita as he led the ships across the Sibuyan Sea. Planes from Enterprise, Intrepid, Franklin (CV-13), and Cabot (CVL-28) sank Musashi south of Luzon. Airplanes from the three groups furthermore damaged Yamato, Nagato, Tone, Fujinami, Kiyoshimo, and (separately) Uranami. Ozawa in the meanwhile decoyed Halsey’s Third Fleet northward, and aircraft eventually sank all four Japanese carriers, Chitose with the assistance of cruiser gunfire, off Cape Engaño. Halsey’s aggressive pursuit, however, took his vessels beyond range to protect Taffy 3.
The Allies in the meanwhile defeated the Southern Force, Vice Adm. Nishimura Shoji, and its attached Force C, Vice Adm. Shima Kiyohide, in command. Carriers launched strikes against these ships as they proceeded through the Sulu Sea, sinking destroyer Wakaba and damaging battleships Fusō and Yamashiro. Rear Adm. Oldendorf then savaged the enemy ships as they proceeded through the Sulu Sea and then Surigao Strait. Japanese and friendly fire damaged Albert W. Grant (DD-649) but the Allies defeated the Southern Force, and sank Fusō and Yamashiro, light cruiser Abukuma, and destroyers Asagumo, Michisio, Wakaba, and Yamagumo. Destroyer Akebono later scuttled Mogami, and the enemy lost additional ships during the days following the action.
Intermittent rain squalls passed through the area as the sun dawned at 0614 on Wednesday, 25 October 1944. The visibility gradually increased to about 40,000 yards with a low overcast (three tenths cumulous clouds), the sea was calm, and the wind from a north-northeasterly direction. White Plains and the other ships of Taffy 3 greeted the day preparing to launch strikes against the retiring Southern Force, or against Japanese troops on Leyte. Maintainers thus fitted the latter planes with light bombs and rockets to attack enemy soldiers and positions, or depth charges to fly antisubmarine patrols. The escort carriers launched a dozen Wildcats as Target CAP for their strikes beginning at 0530, and at 0607 the first of four Avengers as an antisubmarine patrol—and to augment the local CAP. White Plains steamed about 80 miles off Homonhon Island in the mouth of Leyte Gulf, and secured from routine general quarters. The ship launched a strike against the Japanese Southern Force, and readied her remaining operational aircraft on deck armed for ground support missions. Her dawn patrol included a recognition officer.
Kurita’s surviving vessels, however, which included Yamato, Haruna, Kongō, and Nagato, Chikuma, Chōkai, Haguro, Kumano, Suzuya, Tone, Noshiro, Yahagi, and 11 Kagerō, Shimikaze, and Yūgumo class destroyers, slipped through San Bernardino Strait into the Philippine Sea.
Ens. William C. Brooks, Jr., USNR, flying a TBM-1C of VC-65 from St. Lo, sighted some of the Japanese ships at 0637 on 25 October 1944. Brooks initially believed them to be Allied reinforcements, but he followed established procedure and radioed a sighting report. His superiors demanded confirmation and when the pilot closed the range, he saw “pagoda” masts and positively identified some of the enemy vessels. Undaunted by the Japanese firepower, Brooks and his Avenger crewmen twice attacked a Japanese heavy cruiser, and dropped depth charges that bounced off the ship, and then joined a pair of Avengers that dived on a battleship, feats of extraordinary heroism for which Brooks later received the Navy Cross.
Lookouts on board the ships of Taffy 3 saw the Japanese antiaircraft fire explode on the northern horizon at 0645, and within minutes, radar operators began to detect the approaching Japanese vessels, while other sailors intercepted enemy message traffic. The Japanese surprised the Americans and caught Taffy 3 unprepared to face such a seemingly overwhelming assault, and the battle quickly became a precipitate flight in the face of the powerful enemy force. Sprague ordered his ships to come about to 090° at 0650, and flee to the eastward, hoping that a rain squall would mask their escape. The carriers scrambled to launch their planes, and the escorts gamely swung around and steamed to what quickly became the rear of the formation to lay smoke screens. The rain squalls and smoke screens imposed multiple delays and some of the aircraft launched in different groups.
A Japanese heavy caliber salvo splashed scarcely 300 yards off White Plains’ starboard beam at 0659, followed three minutes later by a perfect straddle. The enemy rounds temporarily interrupted power throughout White Plains for two agonizing minutes as sailors rushed to restore emergency power, and the normal power supply within eight minutes. The Japanese gunfire knocked out the gyro compass, however, which required a longer period to restore to normal function, and it behaved erratically for some time.
The shellfire also ruptured the canvas expansion joints in the blower ducts supplying air for the forced draft of Nos 3 and 4 boilers. This threatened the maintenance of steam on the starboard main engine, a potentially fatal casualty considering the enemy firepower, but the engineering repair party appreciated the gravity of the situation and patched the damage in about 15 minutes. Machinist F.W. Sample led the team, ably assisted by CWT H.C. Brown, MM1c G.W. Jones, and WT3c F.O. Faccin. Even with the reduced air supply, sailors maintained the speed in the starboard shaft by opening the fuel pumps up wide, as they responded to Sprague’s order to make smoke. Some of the gun crews afterward swore that they distinctly felt the lurch of the ship forward as she increased speed to escape the enemy’s net.
Taffy 3 in the meanwhile called desperately for help. Sprague sent a contact message to the fleet followed by a second chilling missive: “Under attack X 0722 in Lat 11 X Long 126-29 X Enemy composed of 4 BB [battleships] 8 CA [heavy cruisers] and many destroyers X Split in 2 forces one bearing 286 degrees 11 miles second bearing 307 true 15 miles XX”
The Japanese “volume and accuracy of fire was increasing,” Sprague reported to Adm. Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, on 29 October 1944, as salvo after salvo fell “with disconcerting rapidity.”
“At this point,” the admiral added ominously, “it did not appear that any of our ships could survive another five minutes of the heavy caliber fire being received, and counter-action was urgently and immediately required. The Task Unit was surrounded by the ultimate of desperate circumstances. All escorts were ordered to attack the enemy with torpedoes. At this time direct view of the enemy was obscured by smoke and results of our escorts attack could not be ascertained, but it is believed that, regardless of hits, they succeeded in turning the battleships away at least momentarily, and created a diversion of immense value.”
Kalinin Bay led the formation while the carriers turned to the eastward, but as the formation changed course to 180° to the south to keep the enemy astern and escape at 0723 on 25 October 1944, she became the trailing ship in the escort carrier van. Some crewmen grimly referred to her as “Tail-end-Charlie.” White Plains switched from the rear to the van of the formation, flanked (in order) by Kitkun Bay and Gambier Bay to her port, and Fanshaw Bay and St. Lo to her starboard. This change in the ships’ dispositions meant that Kalinin Bay weathered an intense storm of enemy fire.
A heavy rain squall blotted the action from view for a few minutes at 0736 that morning as the ship maneuvered to escape the enemy. The formation turned to 190° but Japanese shells hurtled toward the American ships and splashed near White Plains and off Kitkun Bay’s port beam. In the forefront of the circular formation, Kitkun Bay escaped any direct hits as the shells splashed ever closer astern, but several salvoes bracketed the carrier and the near misses held little hope that her good fortune could continue. The enemy ships closed the range to nine miles at 0849, and later to six miles. White Plains’ Chief Gunner William F. Brisson and his gun crew fired her single 5-inch gun at one of the enemy heavy cruisers, most likely Chokai. Brisson shifted his fire to another cruiser and then a third, firing altogether 127 rounds including 27 of the new Mk 32 projectiles. Samuel B. Roberts fought Chokai as well, and at 0859 a secondary explosion erupted from the enemy vessel, possibly as some of her torpedoes cooked off. The blast knocked out her engines and rudder, and she sheered out of line.
Under heavy attack from the air and harassed by incessant fire from the American escorts, the enemy cruisers broke off the action and turned northward at 0920. The valiant rearguard efforts threw Kurita’s ships into disarray and he retired despite the Japanese superiority in weight and firepower, and the other vessels turned and disengaged. The Japanese shot their parting salvos and reversed course northward at about 0930, but Kalinin Bay scored a direct hit amidships on a destroyer. The vessel heeled sharply out of line, though continued to fire at the American vessels. A lookout on board White Plains spotted a torpedo wake bubbling toward the carrier at 0932 and she swung over on an emergency turn and avoided the deadly weapon. Four ships, valiantly fighting to the end, went down: Gambier Bay, Hoel; Johnston; and Samuel B. Roberts. In addition, Japanese gunfire damaged Kalinin Bay, Heermann, and Dennis, and straddled Kitkun Bay, St. Lo, and White Plains but scored no direct hits.
During the course of the next hour, Fanshaw Bay, Kitkun Bay, St. Lo, White Plains, Dennis, Heermann, John C. Butler, and Raymond formed disposition Charlie. The carriers turned into the wind to launch and recover planes.
In the Battle off Samar and the Japanese retirement, the Americans damaged Yamato, Kongō, Chikuma, Chōkai, Haguro, Kumano, Suzuya, and Tone. Chikuma Chōkai, and Suzuya suffered repeated explosions and fires and destroyers Nowaki, Fujinami, and Okinami, respectively, scuttled the cruisers with torpedoes—though Nowaki may have reached the area after U.S. aircraft delivered the coup de grâce to Chikuma. About 60 planes from TGs 38.2 and 38.4 tore into the retiring Japanese and sank Noshiro on the 26th. That day U.S. cruisers also crippled Nowaki with gunfire, and Owen (DD-536) sank her about 65 miles south-southeast of Legaspi, Luzon. The casualties the Japanese surface fleet sustained and its virtual withdrawal to anchorages because of a lack of fuel finished it as an effective fighting force.
Capt. Sullivan received the Navy Cross for his “outstanding skill” in maneuvering White Plains “to avoid crippling blows from an enemy surface force vastly superior in numbers, armor, firepower, and speed, and successfully brought his ship through this engagement which in numbers and types of opposing forces is unique in naval history. By his own courage and complete mastery of his ship, he gave encouragement to his officers and men during the crucial ordeal and by his actions he brought great distinction upon himself.”
“To Admiral Offstie [Ofstie], officers and men of this unit X,” Sprague signaled following the battle. “I wish to express my sincere admiration and congratulations to all hands for the splendid manner in which all hands performed under overwhelming odds X Never in history has a naval unit been subjected to such continuous bombardment and achieved results we achieved X This small unit together with planes from Taffy 1 and 2 turned back the major part of the Japanese fleet X You may all be proud of yourselves…”
“The high degree of skill,” Sprague reported to Adm. King, “the unflinching courage, the inspired determination to go down fighting, of the officers and men under my command cannot be too highly praised.”
“The Japanese gunnery was good as to mean range,” Sprague added, “poor as to advance range, and with excellent patterns. It is believed they had an airborne spotter overhead. The fact that a large number of shells were AP [armor-piercing], non-explosive, resulted in much less damage from hits received. In summation, the failure of the enemy main body and encircling light forces to completely wipe out all vessels of this Task Unit can be attributed to our successful smoke screen, our torpedo counter-attack, continuous harassment of enemy by bomb, torpedo, and strafing air attacks, timely maneuvers, and the definite partiality of Almighty God.”
Kurita’s withdrawal from the battle, however, did not end the ordeal for White Plains and her consorts. The ships gained a 90-minute respite, but suddenly suffered harassment from a different quarter. At 1050, a formation of six Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 carrier fighters appeared and began simultaneous kamikaze suicide attacks. The kamikaze menace emerged as a relatively new threat and many men of the ship’s company did not suspect what they were about to endure.
Two of the Zekes singled out White Plains, whose antiaircraft gunners responded with a hail of gunfire. They scored a hit on one of the intruders, and he immediately changed course and fatally crashed St. Lo, which steamed on the formation’s port beam. His comrade continued toward White Plains, but Capt. Sullivan ordered the ship to turn sharply to starboard and the kamikaze narrowly missed the carrier. Lt. (j.g.) Gordon S. Husby, USNR, led the after port 20-millimeter guns and alertly opened fire as soon as the Mitsubishi flew into his sector. S1c D.E. Parker, a veteran of the fighting off Guadalcanal, found the mark at almost point-black range, and at 1108 the antiaircraft guns disabled the Zeke so that it fell off on its left wing and crashed mere yards astern, just off the port side, and barely 20 feet from where Parker stood. The explosion scattered debris across her flight deck and hangar deck enclosure, but caused only 11 relatively minor casualties. The rapid and horrifying loss of St. Lo nonetheless brought home to all hands the realization of how narrowly White Plains escaped death, for the second time that day. Kitkun Bay and Kalinin Bay also suffered kamikaze crashes, but neither proved fatal. This attack proved to be the final combat action for White Plains, not only of the Battle off Samar but also of the war.
Dennis “took a position as close as we dared on account of the violent explosions occurring and commenced picking up survivors” of St. Lo, who were by then abandoning ship. Dennis continued picking up survivors for the next several hours, eventually bringing 425 of them on board from St. Lo, six from White Plains, and three from Petrof Bay. Finally, at 1432, Dennis secured from general quarters.
White Plains finally definitely established her position in the morning by using celestial sights, emphasizing the importance of sailors continuing to use such skills in the event of equipment failure, such as occurred with her gyro compass. She worked with the other vessels of Taffy 3 as they patrolled to the eastward of Leyte until they received orders that day, the 26th, to return to Seeadler Harbor for replenishment and repairs. Fanshaw Bay, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay, White Plains, Dennis, Hale, Halligan (DD-584), Haraden (DD-585), Hutchins (DD-476), Raymond, and Twiggs (DD-591) came about and shaped a course to the eastward, though Hale presently detached from the convoy. Planes from some of the carriers flew patrols for the formation on the way to Manus via Mios Woendi in the Padaido Islands of Netherlands New Guinea [Indonesia]. While en route at 1400 on the 27th, Halligan made an underwater sound contact and dropped 11 depth charges with inconclusive results. The damaged carriers required escorts and so she rejoined the formation without regaining contact.
The ships reached Woendi Harbor on 29 October 1944, refueled, and set course for Manus the next morning, and on the afternoon of 1 November slipped into Seeadler Harbor. The port authorities welcomed the returning veterans by sending out a band in a re-arming barge. All of the men of VC-4 remained on board White Plains throughout the voyage. White Plains again utilized the skilled specialists from Whitney to help her continue the cruise. For six days inspection parties ranged the ship with intensive thoroughness to determine the extent of her wounds. Men patched the holes in the hangar deck enclosure sufficiently for light-tightness, and they patched, readjusted, or straightened shock damage. Metalsmiths mended the overhang deck and enclosure bulkheads, which were of light sheet metal.
A stubborn buckle just above the hangar deck level, however, permanently gave out an annoying noise like a big bass drum whenever the carrier encountered heavy seas. A large crack in the hangar deck itself continued to grow worse, and workers could only temporally repair it without the more extensive facilities available in the United States. In addition, the battle slightly buckled some structural bulkheads in the vicinity of the after engine room, and in places the skin of the ship below the bilges was corrugated like a sheet of metal roofing. While these issues did not seriously impact the carrier’s seaworthiness, they did impede the battle-worthiness of the hull.
The most serious discovery concerned the starboard main engine, which had been loosened from its moorings. The enemy fire and the kamikaze strike broke several of the hold-down bolts and badly strained all of the others, shifting the starboard shaft out of line. This caused extensive vibration and necessitated reducing the cruising speed to prevent damaging the engine. In fact, some of the inspectors gravely doubted that repairs would ever suffice to put the engine back in condition so as to provide the 19½ knot top speed that White Plains had used to such advantage during the battle—the engine room bore the brunt of the near misses.
Inspectors thus decided that the battered escort carrier should return to the United States for complete repairs. Accordingly, White Plains discharged all but eight of her aircraft, and continued with Fanshaw Bay, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay, Dennis, Hutchins, and Raymond as they cleared the harbor on the 7th and set course for Hawaiian waters. White Plains launched daily CAP during the journey. The carriers flew off their flyable planes to Ford Island on the morning of the 18th, and that afternoon entered Pearl Harbor.
“Your successful fight against great odds will live as one of the most stirring tales of naval history X” Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, and Commander, Pacific Ocean Areas, welcomed them. “The people of our country and those of us in the naval service are grateful and proud of your outstanding performance against the best the enemy could offer X As long as our country has men with your heart, courage, skill and strength she need not fear for her future X To each and every one a well done.”
While at Pearl Harbor, White Plains learned that she was to continue on to the mainland, and the crew eagerly anticipated liberty and leave at home. The ship loaded 65 “dud aircraft” and pushed on, and returned home and moored at North Island after the brief passage from Hawaiian waters (19–27 November). Following a long and fruitful fellowship, VC-4 detached from the ship and went ashore for rest and further training. Before the streamlined squadron did so, however, the men reviewed their wartime deployment on board White Plains and claimed to splash a dozen Japanese planes and to sink Shoun Maru. They supported four amphibious landings, and fought the enemy during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, though VC-4 mourned the loss of six pilots, three aircrewmen, and one marine officer observer. A squadron Wildcat flew the final CAP of the tour and returned to White Plains just before she entered Pearl Harbor, marking the ship’s 3,058th landing. The carrier recorded a total of six barrier crashes, and eight planes lost while away from the ship.
White Plains meanwhile accomplished battle damage repairs and a scheduled availability at Naval Repair Base San Diego (29 November 1944–10 January 1945). Workers installed a new type of 20-millimeter gun mount, added protection to the torpedo stowage on the hangar deck, installed Loran navigational gear, improved the aviation gasoline delivery system, provided flight deck landing lights, and made changes in the internal communication systems. On her trial runs, the ship demonstrated that she still suffered issues and could only make 17 knots. Many of the ship’s experienced Air Department men were transferred to Bennington (CV-20) and Shipley Bay (CVE-85) to augment those crews. Upon completing the work, White Plains moved to NAS San Diego.
Ready for action once more, White Plains on the other hand spent the remainder of the war carrying out the relatively tame assignment of ferrying replacement aircraft from the U.S. to overseas bases as part of Carrier Transport Squadron Pacific, Rear Adm. Samuel P. Ginder in command. Carrier planes could not fly the vast distances across the Pacific as the Allies clawed their way ever further from the United States in their advance toward the Japanese home islands, and so a need developed for ships to ferry them.
White Plains began these sojourns by loading aircraft and passengers for her first run on 14 January 1945, but while men loaded aviation gasoline they discovered a minor leak that had been overlooked, allowing fuel to escape into the voids surrounding the tanks. They could not overlook such a hazard and consequently spent a day at sea emptying the tanks, and three more in port correcting the condition.
The ship only then (19–26 January 1945) began her ferry services and transported 186 passengers and 69 aircraft to Pearl Harbor. Some of the passengers berthed on cots underneath the planes parked on the hangar deck, and the 69 aircraft represented almost a capacity load on both the flight and hangar decks. Sailors spotted a North American PBJ forward on the flight deck, but the Mitchell occupied space that otherwise could have accommodated up to five additional carrier fighters with folded wings. She also carried a full allowance of ammunition, bombs, aircraft torpedoes, and aviation gasoline, just in case her mission changed.
White Plains disembarked her passengers and a single plane at that anchorage, but embarked an additional 300 passengers, four aircraft, and 429 tons of supplies and turned her prow westward as TU 19.9.10 for Roi-Namur (26 January–2 February 1945). Upon reaching those islands, she disembarked the passengers, unloaded the planes and cargo, and came about for Hawaiian waters, transporting another 28 passengers (3–9 February). The carrier busily repeated her role when she brought on board seven passengers, 53 planes, and 75.6 tons of freight and returned to Roi-Namur (12–19 February). One of these cruises included carrying high priority Water Express Transportation (Wextrans) cargo, which many men stressed as the next best alternative to airlift.
The ship swung around again for home, this time carrying 26 passengers and 65 planes to Pearl Harbor (21–26 February 1945), where she transported 282 passengers and 59 aircraft toward NAS San Diego. Rough seas delayed White Plains during the first two days of the voyage, and so she was rerouted up the Californian coast and beneath the Golden Gate Bridge to NAS Alameda (26 February–5 March). Still operating as TU 19.9.10, White Plains carried 48 passengers, 79 aircraft, and 53 tons of cargo to Pearl Harbor (8–14 March). The ship stood out of Hawaiian waters and continued westward transporting 79 aircraft, an absolute capacity load comprising a mix of North American SNJ Texan trainers, Grumman JRF Goose amphibious flying boats, and other non-combat types, along with aviation supplies, to Seeadler Harbor at Manus (15–26 March), where she was redesignated as TU 19.9.16.
White Plains learned that she was to return to the war zone to support Operation Iceberg—the invasion of Okinawa in the Ryūkyūs. She consequently welcomed 64 marine pilots of VMF-322 and VMF-323, and used the aviation boom to load and transport their 64 F4U-1D Corsairs to Ulithi (27–31 March 1945). The carrier’s chronicler observed that the marines “were spoiling for action.” Lt. William J. Polk Jr., USNR, an air combat information officer, had reported on board at Pearl Harbor, and he gave the marines an intensive course to prepare them for their deployment, discussing known Japanese aircraft and their tactics and how to counter them. The ship accomplished many of these ferry voyages independently but this mission would take her back into the fighting and she steamed in company with Hollandia (CVE-97).
The carriers reached the atoll on the heels of a tropical storm, which caused planners considerable anxiety as they tracked a typhoon to the westward that was threatening to move northward and interfere with the intended course toward Okinawa. Breton (CVE-23) also transported squadrons from the Marshalls for the same mission and weathered the storm while at anchor at Ulithi. As Hollandia and White Plains entered the anchorage at Ulithi, they learned that the vessels there stood an alert for steaming on three hours’ notice. The two tempests continued to confound Allied plans as they merged into a single severe typhoon about midway between Ulithi and Okinawa. The storm passed northeastward in the vicinity of Iwo Jima, disrupted refueling at sea, and piled heavy surf onto the landing beaches at Okinawa.
The carriers lay to at Ulithi while they waited for the storm to pass and for the marines to arrive at the best time to deliver them to the amphibious landings on Okinawa (31 March–2 April 1945). The Special Escort Carrier Group, comprising Hollandia (the flagship), Breton, Sitkoh Bay (CVE-86), and White Plains, screened by high speed transports George E. Badger (APD-33), Greene (APD-36), Kilty (APD-15), and Manley (APD-1), then (2–9 April) steamed to the launching point within 100 miles of Okinawa on the 6th.
The group’s ships maneuvered as they prepared to launch the marine Corsairs into the battle there. LST-774 carried additional men and equipment of VMF-323, but a Japanese plane bombed and damaged the tank landing ship on the beach at Okinawa. Accordingly, Breton and Sitkoh Bay detached and launched their fighters.
That day the Japanese launched the first of a series of ten mass kamikaze attacks, interspersed with smaller raids and named Kikusui (Floating Chrysanthemum) No. 1, against Allied ships operating off Okinawa. As many as 1,465 aircraft took part in the attacks through 28 May 1945. The ferocious enemy strikes shook the men of Hollandia and White Plains as they spent two tense days awaiting instructions, overhearing a great deal of talk on the combat voice circuits between Allied planes and their carriers. With 64 aircraft packed on board, White Plains would have been unable to recover any planes she might have launched in the event of an air raid. Steaming back-and-forth along a line at an average distance of 150 miles southeast of Okinawa, the small formation relied upon secrecy, the scant handful of fighters that other carriers could spare, and their limited antiaircraft armament to survive. In spite of these weaknesses, lookouts only sighted a lone Japanese reconnaissance plane but fighters from the CAP promptly splashed the intruder, and the ships completed their mission unscathed. Hollandia and White Plains finally received word to launch the marines on the 9th, and all of the Corsairs climbed aloft safely and flew to Kadena Air Base [Naka Hikojo] on Okinawa. Some of the marines tangled with Japanese aircraft en route, and First Lt. Vernon E. Ball, USMC, claimed to down at least one of the enemy planes.
Small seaplane tender Williamson (AVP-15) provided plane guard services for White Plains at one point. The escort carrier retired from the fighting and steamed to Apra Harbor on Guam (9–13 April 1945), completing her temporary duty with the Fifth Fleet. Embarking 210 passengers, the escort carrier turned eastward and sailed to Pearl Harbor (14–23 April), from where she carried 348 passengers, two aircraft, and 41 tons of cargo to NAS San Diego, which she reached on the 1st of the month. The sea had not been kind to the ship and she entered Naval Repair Base for additional work (2–11 May). Workers installed a second master gyro compass, removed a radio direction finder that had been superseded by the newer Loran equipment previously installed, provided several new damage control telephone circuits, and completely rearranged the radio-radar repair shop.
Following the yard work she moved to North Island, where she loaded 302 passengers and 75 planes Carrier Air Group (CVG) 1, and then (14–20 May 1945) steamed westerly courses to Pearl Harbor. White Plains continued her ferry voyages and after embarking 190 additional people and loading 71 aircraft, steamed further westward to Saipan (21–31 May) and Apra, Guan (31 May–1 June). Transporting 21 passengers and 71 planes, the ship headed for Ulithi Lagoon (2–3 June), and from there to Guiuan Roadstead at Samar (4–6 June), where her passengers and aircraft went ashore to a growing naval aviation supply depot. White Plains kept up her busy schedule, embarked 92 passengers, loaded seven planes and 39 aircraft engines, and cleared the roadstead for home on the 7th. The ship touched at Ulithi on the 10th, but orders diverted her to Guam and she slipped into Apra Harbor and disembarked her passengers and unloaded the planes and engines on the 11th.
White Plains embarked men and 32 “fly-away” planes, a mix of Hellcats, Corsairs, and Helldivers, of VF-1, VF-31, VB-1, Torpedo Squadron (VT) 1, and VT-31, and swung around in company with Makassar Strait (CVE-91) and steered for San Pedro Bay at Leyte Gulf (12–16 June 1945). The ships reached a position about 50 miles from White Plains’ position at the beginning of the Battle off Samar, from where she fittingly delivered her vital passengers and their aircraft, from which they flew on toward Guiuan. White Plains turned back for Guam, skirting a young typhoon on the way (17–21 June). Several days later the expanding tempest ploughed northward and wreaked havoc with Allied forces in its path.
At Guam, White Plains transported 446 officers and enlisted men of CVG-82, VF-82, VB-82, VT-82, and VMFs-112–123 to Pearl Harbor (22 June–3 July 1945). Independence Day passed without respite and the ship once again turned her prow seaward, this time carrying the 446 passengers and 36 aircraft as TU 19.9.2 to NAS Alameda (3–9 July). With no rest for the weary, she transported 314 passengers and 73 aircraft of CVG-60 to Pearl Harbor, but orders on the 16th diverted her to Hilo Bay, T.H. (13–19 July), where she disembarked 160 people. A further 58 officers and 52 enlisted men of CVG-26 boarded White Plains at Hilo, and she steamed through the serene Hawaiian waters to Pearl Harbor, where she moored on the 20th.
The ship cleared Pearl Harbor carrying 120 passengers and 75 aircraft of CVG-26 as 19.9.6 and steamed to Guam (21 July–1 August 1945). After discharging her passengers and cargo, the seasoned carrier brought 158 passengers and 34 planes on board and turned eastward for Pearl Harbor (3–12 August). Redesignated as TU 19.9.3, she transported 154 passengers and the 34 aircraft to NAS San Diego, and on the 14th joyous news spread through the ship as the crew learned of the Japanese agreement to surrender. The incessant cruises inevitably took their toll and White Plains moved to Naval Repair Base San Diego for an overhaul (21 August–2 September). The end of the war resulted in cancelling all the scheduled alterations and she underwent simply a routine overhaul. White Plains entered dry dock on the last two days of the month, and then held a trial run on the 2nd. Again ready for sea, the ship stood out from Point Loma as she transported 362 men of CVG-15 to Pearl Harbor (6–12 September).
Following the Japanese surrender the U.S. began Operation Magic Carpet to return veterans from the war zones. White Plains cleared Hawaiian waters carrying 258 passengers as TU 16.12.7 for Buckner Bay, Okinawa (14–26 September 1945). The ship dropped anchor in the bay, where she embarked 127 officers and 665 enlisted men for the voyage home (28 September–8 October). A typhoon swept in from southeast of Okinawa and compelled the ship to divert her course on the 28th, but she avoided the tempest and completed the voyage without mishap. The escort carrier entered San Diego on 16 December and disembarked her passengers.
After nine days in port, she stood out for Pearl Harbor and stopped there only briefly on 1 November 1945 before setting out on the return voyage to the west coast. The warship visited San Francisco (7–12 November), and then headed across the Pacific once more. She visited Guam on the 27th, embarked passengers, and then began the return voyage on 30 November. White Plains arrived in Seattle on 14 December 1945. The ship remained there until 30 January 1946, when she embarked upon a journey, via the Panama Canal and Norfolk, Va., to Boston, Mass. The carrier entered Boston on 17 February 1946 and began to prepare for decommissioning.
White Plains was decommissioned on 10 July 1946, and berthed with the Boston Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet. She remained with the reserve fleet for 12 years. On 12 June 1955, she was reclassified to a utility aircraft carrier (CVU-66). Her name was stricken from the Navy list on 1 July 1958. She was sold on 29 July to Hyman Michaels Co., of Chicago, Ill., for scrapping, and scrapped by the end of the following year by Boston Metals at Baltimore, Md.
White Plains received five battle stars during World War II as well as the Presidential Unit Citation for her part in the Battle off Samar.
||Date Assumed Command
|Capt. Oscar A. Weller
||15 November 1943
|Capt. Dennis J. Sullivan
||16 July 1944
|Capt. Frederick Funke Jr.
||20 May 1945
|Cmdr. Donald C. Higgins
Mark L. Evans
13 January 2020