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Götterdämmerung in the Pacific: The Okinawa Campaign

USMC-M-Okinawa-2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Saturday, June 22nd is 74th anniversary  of the end of the Okinawa Campaign, one of the longest and bloodiest campaigns waged by United States Forces in the Pacific during the Second World War. I have resurrected this article from the archives because even today Okinawa is a key strategic location, and the base of thousands of U.S. military personnel, mostly Marines and Air Force personnel, along with Navy and Army personnel. In the event of a military conflict with with North Korea or China, Okinawa would be at the center of the conflagration.

Today, many Okinawans do not consider themselves Japanese, though the United States returned control of Okinawa to Japan in 1972. They are culturally more Chinese than Japanese and during the battle over a third of the civilian population died. Many are opposed to the continued presence of over 26,000 American troops, and also desire independence from Japan. So as you can see the conflict over Okinawa is not yet finished.

The Okinawa Campaign 

The United States decided to invade Okinawa in the fall of 1944 following the seizure of Peleliu and the Philippine landings.  The planned invasion of Formosa was cancelled after General Simon Bolivar Buckner objected.[i] Buckner argued that the Japanese army on it was “much too strong to be attacked by the forces by American Forces then available in the Pacific.”[ii] The strategic rationale behind the decision to invade Okinawa included Okinawa’s proximity to Japan as a staging base for a future invasion of the Japanese mainland.  Likewise taking the island would severe Japan’s lines of communication and commerce with Southeast Asia and to serve as base for strategic bombers.[iii] Planning began in October 1944 and the detailed plan for OPERATION ICEBERG was issued 9 February 1945.[iv] The campaign was not planned in isolation but “was bound up strategically with the operations against Luzon and Iwo Jima; they were all calculated to maintain unremitting pressure against Japan and to effect the attrition of its military forces.”[v]

LIEUTENANT_GENERAL_SIMON_B._BUCKNER_in_Okinawa     Lt General Simon Bolivar Buckner Commander of US 10th Army

The War Department insisted that Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner command the newly formed 10th US Army.[vi] .  Buckner was chosen to command based on his taking of the Aleutians, displacing the veteran Marine Holland M. Smith. One critical history noted that “compared to his subordinates, Buckner was hardly fit to command a corps, let alone a field army.”[vii]

The 10th Army consisted of the 3rd Amphibious Corps (1st, 2nd and 6th Marine Divisions) under Major General Roy Geiger and the XXIV Army Corps (7th, 27th, 77th and 96th Divisions) under Major General John Hodge.[viii] 2nd Marine Division was designated as a diversionary force, and the 77th Division was assigned to take the nearby island of Kerama Retto prior to the landings to provide the Navy a safe anchorage and as an artillery platform to shell Okinawa. The 27th Division was in corps reserve.  All were veteran units and had it was believed they would be “more than enough to overwhelm the estimated 70,000 Japanese on Okinawa.”[ix] However, much of XXIV Corps had only been engaged in hard combat on Leyte and was not relieved of their duties on Leyte on 1 March 1945.  This provided these units with no time to rest and refit.[x] More importantly badly needed troop replacements had been diverted to Europe due to the crisis in infantry strength there during the battle of the Bulge.[xi] The operation was very large and “mounted on a scale that matched the previous year’s Allied landing in Normandy.”[xii]

                                      The Japanese Preparations

Mitsuru_UshijimaJapanese Commander Lt General Ushijima

American intelligence underestimated the number of Japanese on the island, with an estimate of 55,000 with the expectation of 66,000 by 1 April.[xiii] However by the time of the invasion the Japanese defenders numbered over 100,000.[xiv] The defense of Okinawa was entrusted to the 32nd Army was activated in 1 April 1944 commanded by Lieutenant General Ushijima.  In addition to Okinawa the 32nd Army was responsible for the entire Ryukyu chain.[xv] General Ushijima had commanded an infantry group in Burma and was commander of the military academy when appointed to command 32nd Army and ordered to Okinawa.  His Chief of Staff, General Cho was a firebrand.  Cho had served in China and had participated in a number of attempted military coups in the 1930s as a member of the “Cherry Group.”[xvi] Another key officer though relatively junior was Colonel Yahara the Operations Officer. He had served as an exchange officer in the United States and was intellectual and a modern soldier. He viewed war as a science, won by “superior tactics adjusted to terrain, weapons and troops…not Banzai charges.”[xvii] He was “widely recognized as an expert in his field,”[xviii] and devised the Japanese defensive plan for Okinawa.

Yahara_Hiromichi          Colonel Yahara Architect of the Japanese Defensive Plan

Until 32nd Army was activated Okinawa was garrisoned by a mere 600 troops,[xix] and until major units arrived these soldiers concentrated on airfield construction.[xx] Eventually the 9th, 24thand 62nd Infantry Divisions, the 44th Mixed Brigade along with a light tank regiment and significant artillery came to Okinawa. Additional forces were alloted to outlying islands.  The 24th Division was a triangular division of 3 infantry regiments of 3 battalions each and supporting arms. The 62nd Division was a “brigaded” division activated in 1943 was formed from the veteran 63rd and 64thbrigades each with 4 infantry battalions and supporting arms. It had no organic artillery.  Both of the brigades of this division received an additional infantry battalion in January 1945 giving the division ten maneuver battalions.[xxi] Okinawa’s defenses were significantly weakened when 9th Division was transferred to Formosa by the 10thArea Army in late 1944. To compensate General Ushijima converted Naval and service troops on the island into front line troops. Additionally he called the Okinawan Boeitai volunteers and conscripts into service.[xxii] The Boeitai numbered 20,000 and burned “with ardor to serve their emperor.”[xxiii] Seven sea raiding units were converted into infantry battalions.[xxiv] The major units, with the exception of 24th Division which had been transferred from Manchuria had combat experience.[xxv]

BB-43-LVT-okinawaUSS Tennessee Provides Naval Gunfire Support while LVTs Advance toward the Beaches

Ushijima’s plans to concentrate his forces in the south were delayed by Tokyo.[xxvi] Likewise the number and disposition of troops in the Ryukyu’s were decided by Imperial Headquarters.[xxvii] Colonel Yahara wrote that had Imperial Headquarters “been able to give us an overall plan with specific unit names and arrival dates, we would have been able to follow a consistent policy, disposing units in an efficient manner rather than moving them left and right.”[xxviii] He noted how the 44th Mixed Brigade had to change location and thus its defensive preparations “seven times during the ten months before the actual battle….”[xxix]

XXIV_Corps_turns_south                                     XXIV Corps Advancing South

The loss of the 9th Division and its 25,000 soldiers forced Ushijima to change his initial plan to defend the beaches and then launch a major counterattack to drive the Americans into the sea.[xxx]Ushijima decided to defend the south end of the island. This was the most defensible area, with a network of fortifications and underground caves centered on the ancient citadel of Shuri Castle. “Troop disposition would conform to local terrain; troop strength would be concentrated; and an extensive system of subterranean fortifications constructed.”[xxxi] The defenses were “anchored in natural and artificial caves which dotted the mountainous regions around Shuri.”[xxxii] “Terrain features were incorporated into the defense and weapons were well sited with excellent fields of fire.”[xxxiii] General Ushijima left Colonel Udo’s 2nd Infantry Unit to fight a delaying action in the north,[xxxiv] having decided that the area was of “little military value.”[xxxv] Likewise Ushijima decided not to contest the landings or to defend the airfields at Kadena and Yontan.[xxxvi] He planned to use Boeitai units to demolish the airfields when the Americans approached.[xxxvii]

Okinawa_flamethrowerFlamethrowers were Widely Employed their Operators were Targeted by the Japanese

Ushijima’s defensive scheme laid out by Yahara involved concentric defensive lines, tunnels and bunker systems and even the Chinese tombs which dotted the island were converted to pillboxes over the objections of Okinawan elders.[xxxviii] Yahara and Ushijima planned a battle of attrition with all artillery in the army concentrated on the southern end of Okinawa.  Yahara believed the battle would be a “bitter yard-by-yard” defense of the island,[xxxix]with a focus on defense in depth with preparations for anti-tank warfare. There were to be no Banzai charges.[xl] Ushijima turned Bushido “inside out” and urged his soldiers to “Devise combat method [sic] based on mathematical precision, then think about displaying your spiritual power.”[xli] The defenders would be assisted by suicide boat squadrons based on Okinawa and Kerama Retto and over 4000 aircraft, conventional and Kamikaze and a naval force built around the super battleship Yamato.[xlii]

                                                      The Landings

Attack_on_bloody_ridgeWrecked Tanks on Skyline Ridge

The assault on Okinawa began with landings by 77th Division on Kerama Retto on 26 March.   The landings were met with little opposition as most of the combat troops on the islands had been moved to Okinawa leaving only base and service troops and members of a Sea Raiding Unit and Korean laborers to defend the small island.[xliii] By the 29th of March the islands were taken, along with numerous prisoners.  Over 350 of the fast “Suicide Boats” that were to attack US transports and landing craft were destroyed at Kerama Retto and long range artillery was emplaced were it could support the Okinawa landings.[xliv] More importantly Kerama Retto provided the Navy a safe anchorage, and Service Squadron 10 arrived on 27 March to support naval forces around the island.[xlv]The naval bombardment was led by Admiral Deyo’s battleships and Admiral Blandy’s escort carriers[xlvi] and culminated on 1 April when 10th Army went ashore. By the time of the landing 10 battleships and 11 cruisers would join the attack.[xlvii] Over 13,000 large caliber shells were fired and a total of 5,162 tons of ammunition were expended on ground targets and 3,095 air sorties were flown by L Day.[xlviii] Fortunately for the Japanese Ushijima had listened to Colonel Yahara and elected not to defend the beach, and thus most of the shells fell on empty positions and terrain.[xlix]

The Americans landed on the Hagushi beaches adjacent to Kadena and Yontan air bases.  No organized resistance was encountered and in the first hour 16,000 troops landed.[l] There was little disorganization and all units landed on time on the planned beaches.[li] The beaches were bisected by the Bishi River which served as the Corps boundary.  The 1st and 6th Marine Divisions landed north of it and the 7th and 96th to the south.  The Marines chopped up the “Bimbo Butai” in their area many of whom melted back into the civilian population.[lii] The Americans moved rapidly inland and by nightfall over 60,000 Marines and Soldiers were ashore.[liii] As the landings were made the 2nd Marine Division conducted a demonstration off Minatoga on the east side of the Okinawa actually launching several waves of landing craft.[liv] On 2 April the operation was repeated which helped divert some Japanese attention off of the actual landings. Ushijima reported that the attempt “was complete foiled, with heavy losses to the enemy.”[lv] Some Marine veterans of Peleliu were jubilant at not having to land and some wondered what the Japanese were up to.[lvi]

US_Flag_raised_over_Shuri_castle_on_Okinawa     Marine Battalion Commander Raising Flag over Shuri Castle

In the following days the two Marine divisions would race north and east while Army troops advanced cautiously to the south first encountering light opposition.[lvii] The 1st Marine Division cut the island in two on April 3rd and was allowed to clear the Katchin Peninsula which it took without opposition.[lviii] The 6th Marine Division moved north and by the 7th it had had taken Nago.  Colonel Udo’s troops of the 2nd infantry Unit defended the Motubu with great skill[lix] but the Marines took the center of resistance on April 18th.[lx] They then cleared the remainder of the peninsula and the rest of the northern end of the island by the 20th.[lxi] The Marines had advanced 84 miles and killed 2,500 Japanese at the cost of 261 killed and 1,061 wounded. The Japanese survivors according to the plan of Colonel Udo afterward retreated into the hills and engaged in guerilla warfare.[lxii]

                                                  The Ordeal Begins

Corkscrew-demolition_team                                      Demolition Team Advancing

As the Soldiers of the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions felt their way south, they began to encounter resistance from Japanese outposts.  On 4 April 96th Division’s advanced elements including the 96thRecon Troop and 763rd Tank Battalion encountered the first Japanese anti-tank defenses, losing 3 tanks to well concealed 47mm anti-tank guns.[lxiii] The following day both the 7th and 96thdivisions encountered more resistance and were held to minimal gains as they drove the Japanese out of their outpost positions. On the 6th and 7th they captured “the Pinnacle” and “Cactus ridge” from elements of 3 independent infantry battalions which put up stiff resistance.[lxiv] By the end of 8 April against strong opposition XXIV Corps had suffered 1,510 battle casualties and was virtually halted.[lxv] Savage hand to hand fighting took place as the defenders worked to separate the American tanks from their infantry. They held the Americans outside the Shuri zone for 8 days.[lxvi]

USMC-C-Okinawa burialThe Human Cost of War: Marine Colonel Fenton prays for his Fallen Son

The 96th Division attacked the heavily defended Kakazu Ridge and Tombstone Ridge and was repulsed.  The 7th Division was halted at Hill 178.  The Japanese fought at close quarters and desperate hand to hand fighting “would characterize the Okinawa land battle.” While the Japanese infantry contested every yard “carefully concealed anti-tank guns seemed anchored into the terrain.”[lxvii]The deployment and concealment of the anti-tank guns helped nullify the American advantages in armor. The Japanese also employed 320mm spigot mortars[lxviii] and well sited machine guns and artillery sited on reverse slopes took a heavy toll of the attacking Americans. Of one company of 89 men which attacked Kakazu on 9 April “only three returned unwounded.”[lxix] Assisted by monsoon rains, “the Japanese turned every hill, every ridge into a bloody deathtrap.[lxx] On the 10th two regiments of 96th Division attempted a power drive with battalions advancing on line and were thrown back.[lxxi] The two divisions suffered 2.890 casualties in their abortive attacks while the Japanese lost close to 4,000, mainly to artillery fire.[lxxii] Ushijima’s defense planned by Yahara was “chillingly professional and efficient. Within a week the Japanese had stopped two very good Army divisions in their tracks.”[lxxiii]General Buckner paused sent for the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions and brought the 27th and 77th Divisions ashore to strengthen XXIV Corps.[lxxiv]

                                                  Counterattack

475px-USS_Bunker_Hill_burningThe War at Sea: Kamikaze Attack on USS Bunker Hill

It was at this point when “Yahara’s war of attrition was working well” that a division arose in the 32nd Army Staff, when General Cho; Ushijima’s Chief of Staff had “his first outburst of samurai offensive fever.”[lxxv] Cho noted the failure of the American attacks and believed reports that the American Navy had been heavily damaged by Japanese air power and by the reported success of Operation Ten-Go, the sortie of the Yamato and her escorts on their suicide mission.  He based his optimism on a telegraph from Imperial Navy headquarters “claiming that Ten-go had been “very successful”[lxxvi] when in fact the Yamato and her escorts had been dispatched in hours by carrier aircraft with few American losses.  Cho also assumed a reduction in the number of ships in the Hagushi anchorage and in the number of air sorties as signs of American weakness.[lxxvii] Cho persuaded Ushijima to launch a counterattack over the protestations of Yahara who argued that “it would waste men.”[lxxviii] The attack by four battalions of the 62nd and 24thDivisions began the night of 12-13 April. Based on infiltration tactics and supported by artillery the attack was badly planned and coordinated. One attack almost overran American positions on the draw on Kakazu Ridge, but the Japanese return to “bamboo spear tactics” exposing them to the “overwhelmingly superior America artillery fire….”[lxxix] The attack was a “total failure.”[lxxx]The Japanese lost nearly 1,600 men, half their force in an “operation ill conceived, understrength, misdirected, haphazard and uncoordinated.”[lxxxi]

                                     Cracking the Outer Line

Reinforced by the 27th Division XXIV Corps prepared for another attack against the outlying Shuri defenses. In the interval between the Japanese attack and the new offensive the 77th Division landed on Ie Shima on 16 April and secured it on the 24th amid very heavy fighting killing over 4,700 Japanese, many armed civilians against the loss of 172 killed and 902 wounded Americans.[lxxxii] Among the American dead was legendary reporter Ernie Pyle.

The Americans aimed to penetrate the defenses and “seize the low valley linking Yonabaru on the east coast with the capital of Naha on the west.”[lxxxiii] The attack was supported by 27 battalions of artillery[lxxxiv] including 9 Marine artillery battalions.[lxxxv]Additional Naval gunfire support in the form of 6 battleships, 6 cruisers and 9 destroyers added to the rain of steel unleashed on the Japanese.[lxxxvi] Morison notes that Army historians stated that “Naval gunfire…was employed in greater quantities in the battle for Okinawa than in any other in history.”[lxxxvii] The 7th Division was to take Hill 178 and drive south to the Naha Yonabaru road. 96thDivision minus the 383rd Infantry was to “drive straight through the heart of the Shuri defenses seizing the town of Shuri and the highway beyond.”  27th Division attacking 50 minutes later to take advantage of artillery was to take Kakazu ridge and the coast plain north of Naha.[lxxxviii]

The attack began on April 19th and was preceded by a 19,000 shell bombardment.[lxxxix] Ushijima wisely ordered his men to remain in their caves.  The Corps Artillery commander “doubted as many as 190 Japanese…had been killed in the bombardment.”[xc] The attack was immediately halted all along the line, gains, where there were any were measured in yards. Over 750 casualties were inflicted by the Japanese on the corps and 27th Division’s tank battalion lost 22 of 30 tanks to well positioned 47mm anti-tank guns.[xci] Buckner rejected the requests of the Corps commander Hodge and the Marine divisional commanders,[xcii] to launch a flanking amphibious operation at Minatoga with the 2nd Marine Division, and continued the frontal attacks.  John Toland writing of the rejection of the amphibious operation noted that Ushijima “feared such a maneuver (“It would bring a prompt end to the fighting”) and had already been forced to move his “rear guard division north to beef up the Shuri line.”[xciii] Thus the three divisions continued to press their attacks, suffering heavy casualties.  Eventually the Americans forced the Japanese off Skyline ridge[xciv] though the Japanese still held Kakazu.[xcv] When the 27th Division attacked again it found Kakazu abandoned by the Japanese.[xcvi] By the 24th Ushijima’s line was “pierced in so many places that it was in danger of collapsing….So General Ushijima withdrew to his next chain of defenses.”[xcvii] On April 30th the 1st Marine Division relieved the battered 27th Division which had suffered 2,661 casualties in less than two weeks.”[xcviii] The 1st Marine Regiment launched an attack on 1 May and was driven back with heavy causalities.[xcix]

                                    General Cho’s Final Offensive

General Cho supported by 62nd Division’s commander, General Fujioka persuaded Ushijima over the strenuous objections of Yahara to launch a counter-offensive with the intention of isolating and annihilating the 1st Marine Division and “rolling up” XXIV Corps.[c]The attack was to occur along the entire line and include an amphibious landing behind American lines.[ci] The 62nd Division would take the lead as it had been less heavily engaged than 24thDivision.[cii] Yahara argued his case strongly and warned the Ushijima that to attack “is reckless and will lead to an early defeat.”[ciii] The attack began on the night of 3 May and the forces making the amphibious landing were annihilated by the Marines.[civ] The Japanese made little headway during the main attack; one battalion achieved a small penetration of American lines at Tanabaru but was eliminated the next day.[cv] The Japanese 27thTank Regiment lost most of its tanks and those remaining were used as “stationary artillery and pillboxes.”[cvi] The Japanese lost about 5,000 troops in the offensive.[cvii] Ushijima halted it and told Yahara “as you predicted this offensive has been a total failure.  Your judgment was correct….”  He ordered Yahara “to do whatever you feel is necessary.”[cviii] Cho saw “no hope at all”[cix] and asked Yahara jokingly “when will it be okay for me to commit hari-kari?” [cx]

                                               Göttdammerung

The American offensive resumed on 11 May and amid stubborn Japanese defense and heavy rains which hindered movement. The 1st and 6th Marine Divisions[cxi] and the 77th and the 96th infantry divisions attacked along the line but the primary objective was Shuri.[cxii] The Americans continued to apply pressure and make small gains against strong Japanese resistance put up by the 44thMixed Brigade.  The defense was particularly strong on Sugar Loaf Hill[cxiii] which cost 6th Marine Division nearly 4,000 total casualties before it was cleared out on 21 May.[cxiv] The 96thDivision turned the Japanese east flank at Conical Hill on the 13th  [cxv] while the First Marine Division cracked through the Japanese lines at Dakeshi Ridge.  It fought through Wana Ridge[cxvi] and engaged the Japanese in a costly battle in the Wana Draw. The 2ndBattalion 5th Marines supported by 30 tanks blasted their way through the draw, again against brutal Japanese resistance.[cxvii]On the 22nd Yahara persuaded Ushijima to withdraw from Shuri to the Kiyan Peninsula.[cxviii] The 1st Battalion 5th Marines crossed the divisional boundary of 77th Division to capture Shuri Castle on 24May.[cxix] The Company commander, from South Carolina who took it did not have an American flag so he “substituted the flag of the Confederacy, a banner that he…carried in his helmet.” [cxx] Two days later the American flag was raised along with the standard of the 1st Marine Division in full view of the Japanese.[cxxi]

Following the Japanese withdraw from Shuri the battle continued with heavy rains hampering both sides, especially the more vehicle dependant Americans.[cxxii] The 6th Marine Division cleared the Oruku Peninsula south of Naha the first two weeks of June[cxxiii]killing 5,000 of the Japanese Navy defenders at a cost of 1,608 Marines. The Japanese resistance crumbled when Admiral Ota committed suicide and many defenders fled while others surrendered.[cxxiv] 7th Division pushed onto the Chinen Peninsula and 1st Marine and both 77th and 96th Infantry Divisions pushed steadily south against Japanese rear-guards.[cxxv] The 8th Marines from 2nd Marine Division were brought to the island to reinforce the depleted 3rd Amphibious Corps[cxxvi] A hard fight was fought along the Kunishi-Yuza-Yaeju escarpment where the Japanese conducted their last organized defense.[cxxvii] By the 17th the “32nd Army was dazed and shattered. Discipline had evaporated.”[cxxviii] The 32ndArmy’s discipline and morale collapsed, and it “degenerated into a mob.”[cxxix] Yahara noted that “naturally, morale is low at the end of a battle, but we had never experienced anything like this.”[cxxx]

Last_picture_of_LtGen._Buckner_at_OkinawaLt General Buckner (Right) Observing 8th Marines Assault minutes before Being Killed

General Buckner was killed while observing 8th Marines attack Kunishi on the 18th and was succeeded by General Geiger of the Marine amphibious corps.[cxxxi] A final message from Tokyo congratulated 32nd Army on its achievements on the 20th.[cxxxii]General Ushijima and General Cho committed Hari-Kari early on the 23rd after ordering Yahara not to do so. Cho told Yahara “to bear witness as to how I died.”[cxxxiii]

American battle casualties totaled 49,151 including 12,520 dead.[cxxxiv] The Japanese lost over 110,000 killed and 7,400 taken prisoner by the Americans.[cxxxv] About 75,000 Okinawan civilians were killed.[cxxxvi] Small numbers of Japanese renegades and Okinawan rebels conducted low-level guerilla operations until 1947.[cxxxvii]

                                                         Analysis

The key Japanese mistake occurred at the strategic level when 9thDivision was transferred off the island[cxxxviii] and no further reinforcements were sent.  With these forces Ushijima might have been able to hold out until the end of hostilities. Yahara criticized Imperial Headquarters which panicked when the landings occurred and ordered a counterattack which “left our army in utter confusion.”[cxxxix] General Ushijima’s major mistakes during the battle were the two costly offensives urged by General Cho against the protest of Colonel Yahara. These attacks sacrificed of some of his best troops for no effect and significantly weakened the 32nd Army’s defensive posture.  Yahara objected to both of these offensives. According to the American intelligence debriefing Yahara considered the May 4th offensive “as the decisive action of the campaign.”[cxl] Gordon Rottman simply called that attack a “blunder.”[cxli]

On the American side Buckner fought an unimaginative and uninspired battle, much like Mark Clark’s Italian campaign or Courtney Hodges at the Huertgen Forrest.  Murray and Millett, note that Buckner’s “flawed generalship contributed to the slaughter.”[cxlii] Buckner’s decision not to land the 2nd Marine Division or the 77th Division at Minatoga surrendered his one opportunity to maneuver against the Japanese to force them out of their prepared positions.[cxliii] Ronald Spector notes that “in retrospect Buckner ought to have given more consideration to an amphibious attack[cxliv] while Murray and Millett state that Buckner “did not have the experience to make such a critical decision.”[cxlv] Nimitz wondered if “the Army was using slow, methodical tactics to save the lives of soldiers at the expense of the Navy”[cxlvi] which was exposed to Kamikaze attacks as they had to continue to provide the close in support to 10th Army. Buckner’s rejection of this opportunity left him with the straight ahead attack.   Another option which was available to Buckner was to seal off the Japanese and let them wither on the vine. Such an action in effect would have bypasses the Japanese defenders and force them to make Banzai attacks against dug in Americans.[cxlvii] The Americans had the airfields on day one and most of the key facilities needed for future operations and there was little to gain by continuing offensive operations in the south.  Sealing off the Japanese would have certainly caused the Americans fewer casualties than the strategy which Buckner employed.[cxlviii]

Buckner’s leadership was poor his strategy and tactics both unimaginative and foolish bordering on incompetent.  In a time when American infantry replacements were tapped out and no new Infantry divisions were available for action he decimated good formations by throwing them into frontal attacks against well prepared fortified positions manned by experienced troops.  Had Ushijima not followed General Cho’s advice squandering is own troops the battle would have cost even more American lives with the invasion of Japan looming.  The War Department in its attempt to wrest control of an operation that should have remained under the control of the Navy and Marine Corps put the wrong man in the job when other more competent corps commanders such as General “Lighting Joe” Collins who had finished off the Japanese at Guadalcanal were available with European hostilities winding down.  Why Buckner was chosen despite his incredibly limited command experience serving in the relatively inactive Aleutians and not even commanding a company in World War One had to be due to Army politics and in the end it cost nearly 50,000 American casualties on the land alone, not counting Navy casualties which totaled almost 10,000 including over 4,900 dead. The capture of Okinawa provided the Americans with valuable anchorages and airfields close to Japan had there been an invasion of the home islands, but they were obtained at great cost.

Notes


[i] Appleman, Roy, E., Burns, James M., Gugeler, Russell A., and Stevens, John. The United States Army in World War II, The War In the Pacific. Okinawa: The Last Battle, Center of Military History, United States Army. Washington DC. 1948.  p.4

[ii] Leckie, Robert. Okinawa: the Last Battle in the Pacific Penguin Books, New York NY 1996. p.2.  Although not mentioned by Leckie this shortage of forces was due to the American decision to limit the Army to 90 Divisions with dire consequences in Europe and Asia especially in the number of infantry available.  For a good account of the impact of this see Russell Weigley’s Eisenhower’s Lieutenants.

[iii] Willmont, H.P. The Second World War in the Far East. John Keegan General Editor. Cassell Books, London, 1999. p.186.

[iv] Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, Boston MA 1963. p.525

[v] Ibid. Appleman. p.4

[vi] Costello, John. The Pacific War: 1941-1945 Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1981. p.554.

[vii] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.515

[viii] Ibid. Leckie. pp. 53-54.  Note Costello misidentifies both of these corps calling them 3rd Marine Corps and XIV Army Corps.   He also does not count the 77th Division in his figures.

[ix] Ibid. Costello. pp. 554-555.  Costello’s figures are slightly above the official estimates listed below.

[x] Ibid. Leckie. p.56

[xi] Ibid. Leckie. p.57 An important point to note is that the Army had reached a critical point in its ability to conduct the war.  The steady drain on infantry strength that began in Normandy was heightened in the Huertgen Forrest and the Bulge.

[xii] Ibid. Costello. p.556

[xiii] Ibid. Appleman. p.15

[xiv] Ibid. Costello. p.555

[xv] Yahara, Hiromichi. The Battle for Okinawa. Introduction and Forward by Frank Gibney. Translated by Frank Pineau and Masatoshi Uehara. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY. 1995. p.3

[xvi] Rottman, Gordon R. Okinawa 1945: The Last Battle. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2002. p.35

[xvii] Ibid. Leckie. pp.31-32

[xviii] Ibid. Rottman. p.37

[xix] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945. Random House, New York, NY 1970. p.683.

[xx] Ibid. Yahara. p.7

[xxi] Ibid. Rottman. Pp.47-48

[xxii] Ibid. Toland. pp.683-684.  Yahara also notes the arrival of the 15th Mixed Brigade and the fact that the Japanese considered the 44th Mixed Brigade “one of our Army’s prized units.” (p.12)

[xxiii] Ibid. Toland. p.683.  Leckie comments on the low opinion of many Japanese soldiers about the Boeitai calling them Bimbo Butai(Poor Detachment), as the most of the Japanese had come to loathe Okinawa and all things Okinawan. A comment from my own service in Okinawa in 2000-2001 is that this loathing of Okinawa by Japanese is still common, Japanese tend to look down on Okinawans and the Okinawans now tend to resent the Japanese.

[xxiv] Ibid. Appleman. p.87

[xxv] Ibid. Yahara. p.31 All sources note that the 24th was a “well trained” division.

[xxvi] Ibid. Costello. p.555

[xxvii] Ibid. Yahara. p.15

[xxviii] Ibid. Yahara. pp. 14-15

[xxix] Ibid. Yahara. p.15

[xxx] Ibid. Yahara. pp. 20-22 and 32.  Yahara details the initial plan and the changes necessitated by the departure of 9th Division.  Rottman gives 9th Division a strength of 17,000. (Rottman p.46)

[xxxi] Ibid. Yahara. p.20

[xxxii] Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan. The Free Press and Division of MacMillan, Inc. New York, NY 1985. p.533

[xxxiii] Ibid. Rottman. p.25

[xxxiv] Ibid. Leckie p.32 and Costello. p.555. The unit was between 3000 and 3500 strong. Leckie simply identifies the force as the 2ndInfantry Unit while Costello identifies them as a Special Naval Landing Force. Appleman identifies Colonel Udo and the approximate number of troops but does not identify the unit. There appears to be confusion about the Japanese units, Appleman says that the 2nd Infantry Unit was constituted from survivors of 44thMixed Brigade (which had lost most of its troops when their ship was sunk by an American submarine) and 15th Independent Mixed Regiment which was brought in to bolster it, but Yahara consistently places the reconstituted 44th in the south as part of the main defense. (see Appleman p.87) I will relay on Yahara as he was the 32nd Army Operations Officer and in a position to have first hand knowledge.

[xxxv] Ibid. Yahara. pp.22-23

[xxxvi] Ibid. Leckie. p.32

[xxxvii] Ibid. Leckie. pp.32-33

[xxxviii] Ibid. Toland. p.684

[xxxix] Ibid. Yahara. p.32

[xl] Ibid. Yahara. p.25

[xli] Ibid. Leckie. p.35

[xlii] Ibid. Leckie. p.19

[xliii] Ibid. Appleman. pp.52-58

[xliv] Ibid. Appleman. p.60

[xlv] Potter, E.B. Nimitz. Naval Institute Press. Annapolis, MD. 1976. p.369

[xlvi] Ibid. Costello. p. 556 and Morison p.530.

[xlvii] Ibid. Appleman. p.64. Leckie (pp. 67-68) names only 9 battleships: Arkansas, New York, Texas, Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado, Tennessee and West Virginia. Of these ships all were built before the war and four were in commission before the US entered the First World War.  Three had been at Pearl Harbor and with the exception of their engines the Tennessee and West Virginia had been completely rebuilt and modernized to the standards of the fast new battleships of the South Dakota class.

[xlviii] Ibid. Appleman. p.64

[xlix] Ibid. Leckie. p.69.

[l] Ibid. Leckie. p.72

[li] Ibid. Appleman. p.74

[lii] Ibid. Leckie. p.73

[liii] Ibid. Appleman. p.75

[liv] Ibid. Appleman. p.74

[lv] Ibid. Leckie. p.72  A point to note is that the “Demonstration” is still one of the Amphibious Operations in the USMC Amphibious doctrine.

[lvi] Sledge, E.B. With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. Presidio Press. Novato, CA. 1981. Oxford University Press Paperback, New York, NY 1990. pp. 187-188  William Manchester in Goodbye Darkness talks about the first few days as his 6th Marine Division moved up North.  He talks of the minimal resistance and the beauty of the island. Manchester, William, Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War Little Brown and Company, New York NY, 1979.pp.356-357

[lvii] Ibid. Potter. pp.370-371

[lviii] Ibid. Leckie. p.78

[lix] Ibid. Manchester. p.357.  Manchester notes that the fight in the north was like “French and Indian Warfare.”

[lx] Ibid. Appleman. p.148

[lxi] Ibid. Leckie. p.83

[lxii] Ibid. Appleman. p.148

[lxiii] Ibid. Appleman. p.104

[lxiv] Ibid. Appleman. pp.107-110

[lxv] Ibid. Appleman. pp.112-113.

[lxvi] Ibid. Appleman. p.112.

[lxvii] Ibid Yahara. p.35

[lxviii] Ibid. Leckie. p.104

[lxix] Ibid. Spector. p.534

[lxx] Ibid. Murray and Millet. p.514

[lxxi] Ibid. Appleman. pp. 126-127

[lxxii] Ibid. Leckie. pp.104-105

[lxxiii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.514

[lxxiv] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.514

[lxxv] Ibid. Yahara. p.36

[lxxvi] Ibid. Leckie. p.108

[lxxvii] Ibid. Leckie. p.108

[lxxviii] Ibid. Yahara. p.36  The battle for a counter-offensive began on 6 April but was rejected. (Appleman. p.130)  Yahara actually went to the commanders of the 24th and 62nd divisions and persuaded them not to use 3 battalions each but only two. (Leckie. pp.107-108)

[lxxix] Ibid. Leckie. p.113

[lxxx] Ibid. Appleman. p.137

[lxxxi] Ibid. Leckie. p.113.

[lxxxii] Ibid. Appleman. p.182. Leckie gives the total of 258 killed and 879 wounded. (Leckie. p.125) and estimates that most might have been uniformed civilians.  Appleman citing Army figures estimates about 1,500 civilians.  Even adding the American MIA totals the differences between Appleman and Leckie’s count of US casualties is puzzling.

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Leckie. p.126

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Leckie. p.127

[lxxxv] Ibid. Appleman. p.185

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Leckie. p.127

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Morison. p.553

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Appleman. pp.184-185

[lxxxix] Ibid. Leckie. p.128

[xc] Ibid. Leckie. p.128

[xci] Ibid. Leckie. p.131 It is interesting to note the vulnerability of the Sherman tanks to the obsolescent 47mm anti-tank guns used by the Japanese.  By this stage of the war comparable German and Russian tanks would not be stopped by such weapons, baring a luck shot.

[xcii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.515

[xciii] Ibid. Toland. p.706

[xciv] Ibid. Toland. pp.708-709

[xcv] Ibid. Leckie. p.138

[xcvi] Ibid. Appleman. pp. 243 and 247

[xcvii] Ibid. Leckie. p.139

[xcviii] Ibid. Toland. p.709

[xcix] McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in World War Two. The Infantry Journal Inc., Washington DC. 1949. p.375

[c] Ibid. Leckie. pp.148-149

[ci] Ibid. McMillan. p.377

[cii] Ibid. Yahara. p.37

[ciii] Ibid. Toland. p.710

[civ] Ibid. Toland. p.710

[cv] Ibid. Appleman. p.299

[cvi] Ibid. Appleman. p.302

[cvii] Ibid. Appleman. p.302.  Rottman states 7,000 and Leckie 6,000.

[cviii] Ibid. Yahara. p.41

[cix] Ibid. Toland. p.712

[cx] Ibid. Yahara. p.42

[cxi] Ibid. Manchester. pp. 358-359. Manchester notes the distain that the Marines felt toward 27th Division which both they and 1stMarine Division had relieved in the south.  Manchester comments that they felt that “the dogfaces lacked our spirit.”

[cxii] Ibid. Rottman. p.80

[cxiii] See Manchester pp.363-378 for a chilling description of the battle for Sugar Loaf.

[cxiv] Ibid. Leckie. pp.172-173

[cxv] Ibid. Appleman. pp.355-356

[cxvi] Ibid. McMillan. pp.385-395. 7th Marine Regiment suffered 1,249 casualties in this fight.

[cxvii] Ibid. Sledge. p.243

[cxviii] Ibid. Yahara. pp.67-73.  Yahara has an interesting account both listing the military options available and the interaction between him and the other officers leading tom the withdraw.  Among those he had to persuade were the divisional commanders of 24th and 62nd Divisions.

[cxix] Ibid. McMillan. p.401

[cxx] Ibid. McMillan. p.401

[cxxi] Ibid. Leckie. p.186

[cxxii] Ibid. Rottman. p.81

[cxxiii] Ibid. Rottman. p. 82  This included an amphibious landing by two regiments to flank the position which was the last opposed amphibious landing in the war.

[cxxiv] Ibid. Leckie. pp.199-200

[cxxv] Ibid. Rottman. p.83

[cxxvi] Ibid. Leckie. p.197  Leckie notes that the 2nd Marine Division had been transported back to Saipan rather than remain at sea as a target for Kamikazes.  As a result the Marines had no reserve on the island.

[cxxvii] Ibid. Sledge. p.301

[cxxviii] Ibid. Toland p.721

[cxxix] Ibid. Appleman. p.456

[cxxx] Ibid. Yahara. p.133

[cxxxi] Ibid. Rottman. p.83

[cxxxii] Ibid. Yahara. p.144

[cxxxiii] Ibid. Yahara. pp.154-156.  Yahara would hide among refugees hoping that he might escape to Japan but was discovered by an interrogation panel and identified on 26 July. (Yahara pp.189-191)

[cxxxiv] Ibid. Appleman. p. 473 This includes Navy losses of 4,907 killed and 4,824 wounded, mostly to Kamikaze strikes on ships supporting the operation. 10th Army lost 7,613 killed and 31,800 wounded. (Morison. p.556)

[cxxxv] Ibid. Appleman. pp473-474.  Other sources report Japanese losses at 65,000 to 70,000.  This may be from listing military civilians like those in the Naval Force and Okinawan militia as civilian casualties and only counting actually Japanese Army and Navy troops in this tally.  Costello gives a count of 10,755 prisoners; this could again be a tally including these civilians and auxiliaries. (Costello. p.578)  Rottman spends some time analyzing the discrepancies in the Japanese casualty numbers and comes to the same conclusion. (Rottman pp.84-85)

[cxxxvi] Ibid. Toland. p.726

[cxxxvii] Ibid. Rottman. p.85

[cxxxviii] Ibid. Yahara. p.31

[cxxxix] Ibid. Yahara. p.196.

[cxl] Ibid. Yahara. p.214

[cxli] Ibid. Rottman. p.73

[cxlii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.514

[cxliii] Ibid. Leckie. p.162

[cxliv] Ibid. Spector. p.535

[cxlv] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.515

[cxlvi] Ibid. Potter. p.373

[cxlvii] Ibid. Leckie. p.162  Leckie does not know if this was considered by Buckner though the tactic was used throughout the “island hopping” campaign where Japanese strong points were bypassed and isolated to whither on the vine.

[cxlviii] Ibid. Leckie. p.162

 

                                                Bibliography

 

Appleman, Roy, E., Burns, James M., Gugeler, Russell A., and Stevens, John. The United States Army in World War II, The War In the Pacific. Okinawa: The Last Battle, Center of Military History, United States Army. Washington DC. 1948

Costello, John. The Pacific War: 1941-1945 Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1981

Leckie, Robert. Okinawa: the Last Battle in the Pacific Penguin Books, New York NY 1996.

McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in World War Two. The Infantry Journal Inc., Washington DC. 1949.

Manchester, William, Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War Little Brown and Company, New York NY, 1979

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, Boston MA 1963

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000.

Potter, E.B. Nimitz. Naval Institute Press. Annapolis, MD. 1976.

Rottman, Gordon R. Okinawa 1945: The Last Battle. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2002.

Sledge, E.B. With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. Presidio Press. Novato, CA. 1981. Oxford University Press Paperback, New York, NY 1990.

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan. The Free Press and Division of MacMillan, Inc. New York, NY 1985.

Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945. Random House, New York, NY 1970.

Willmont, H.P. The Second World War in the Far East. John Keegan General Editor. Cassell Books, London, 1999.

Yahara, Hiromichi. The Battle for Okinawa. Introduction and Forward by Frank Gibney. Translated by Frank Pineau and Masatoshi Uehara. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY. 1995

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The Ships at Pearl Harbor, December 7th 1941: A Brief History of Each Ship

harbrmap1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the seminal moments in the history of the United States where at one time the nation rose up as one to the challenge of an attack against it and against its armed forces. Sadly, for most Americans today no matter what their political ideology the concept of coming together in a crisis is a foreign and possibly even a hateful idea.

However, in December 1941 the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor of the nation came together as it never had before. On the morning of December 7th 1941 there were over ninety ships of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. While over twenty percent of these ships were sunk or damaged in the attack, almost all returned to service in the war. Likewise, many of the surviving shipswere lost in action during the war. Only two ships or craft remain of the ships present on December 7th 1941, the tug USS Hoga and the Coast Guard Cutter USCG Taney which is now a museum ship in Baltimore Maryland. The rest, lost in action, sunk as targets or scrapped. Of the gallant men who served as their crews during the war and at Pearl Harbor very few remain. They are part of what we now refer as the “Greatest Generation.” 

In 1978 I had the opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor and visit the USS Arizona and USS Utah Memorials during what was a nearly three week long cruise and visit to Pearl Harbor while a Navy Junior ROTC Cadet.  I cannot forget forget that experience, as the visits to both memorials, sited above the wrecks of the two sunken ships in which more than 1000 Americans remain entombed to this day left a mark on me.

Today I remember all of the ships present, from the greatest to the most humble, as well as their gallant crews, many of whom were volunteers who had gone into service not long before the attack, because they believed that the nation was in danger who were present at Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. I also remember a government which though torn by by ideological differences decided to unite to meet the threat of advancing enemies even before they targeted the United States.

The fact ids that only two of the ships present at the Pearl Harbor attack are still afloat, and the vast majority of their crews have passed away. Very few survivors of that day of infamy remain and it is our sad task to keep reminding the nation and the world of the price of arrogance.

This is the story of the ships that were at Pearl Harbor that fateful morning of December 7th 1941.

Peace

Padre Steve+

A few years ago I wrote a piece called The Battleships of Pearl Harbor. I have added to it, and recently republished it. I followed that with an article entitled “Forgotten on the Far Side of Ford Island: The USS Utah, USS Raleigh, USS Detroit and USS Tangier.

Of course most anyone that has see either Tora! Tora! Tora! or Pearl Harbor is acquainted with the attack on “Battleship Row” and the airfields on Oahu.  What are often overlooked in many accounts are the stories of some of the lesser known ships that played key roles or were damaged in the attack.  Since none of the articles that I have seen have discussed all of the U.S. Navy ships at Pearl Harbor on that fateful morning I have taken the time to list all the ships with the exception of yard and patrol craft present at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.I have also excluded Coast Guard cutters in Honolulu. A brief account of each ship’s war service and final disposition is included.  I believe that this is the only site that has this information in a single article.

During the attack 18 ships were sunk or damaged but only three, Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah never returned to service.  During the war a further 18 ships were sunk or written off as losses during the war. All ships lost in the war are marked with an asterisk. One ship, the USS Castor remained in active service until 1968 serving in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. One ship, the Light Cruiser Phoenix was sunk in the Falklands War while serving as the Argentine ship General Belgrano. No U.S. Navy ships apart from the Yard Tug Hoga (not included in this article) remain today.  It is unfortunate that the Navy or any organization had the foresight to save one of these ships. It would have been fitting for one of the battleships that survived the war to be preserved as a memorial ship near the Arizona Memorial. While the USS Missouri serves this purpose symbolic of the end of the war it is a pity that no ship at Pearl Harbor was preserved so that people could see for themselves what these gallant ships was like.

Battleships

uss Nevadab36

Nevada (BB-36) Nevada was the only Battleship to get underway during the attack.  As she attempted to escape the harbor she was heavily damaged and to prevent her sinking in the main channel she was beached off Hospital Point.  She would be raised and returned to service by the May 1943 assault on Attu.  She would then return to the Atlantic where she would take part in the Normandy landings off Utah Beach and the invasion of southern France in July 1944.  She then returned to the Pacific and took part in the operations against Iwo Jima and Okinawa where she again provided naval gunfire support.  Following the war she would be assigned as a target at the Bikini atoll atomic bomb tests, surviving these she would be sunk as a target on 31 July 1948. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

uss_oklahoma1

USS Oklahoma

*Oklahoma (BB-37) During the Pearl Harbor attack Oklahomawas struck by 5 aerial torpedoes capsized and sank at her mooring with the loss of 415 officers and crew. Her hulk would be raised but she would never again see service and sank on the way to the breakers in 1946.  She was awarded one battle star for her service during the attack.

USS Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania (BB-38) Pennsylvania was the Pacific Fleet Flagship on December 7th 1941 and was in dry dock undergoing maintenance at the time of the attack. Struck by two bombs she received minor damage and would be in action in early 1942. She underwent minor refits and took part in many amphibious landings in the Pacific and was present at the Battle of Surigo Strait.  Heavily damaged by an aerial torpedo at Okinawa Pennsylvania would be repaired and following the war used as a target for the atomic bomb tests. She was sunk as a gunnery target in 1948.  She received 8 battle stars for her WWII service.

USS_Arizona_(BB-39)_-_1930s

The USS Arizona before the attack

*Arizona (BB-39) Arizona was destroyed during the attack.  Hit by 8 armor piercing bombs one of which penetrated her forward black powder magazine she was consumed in a cataclysmic explosion which killed 1103 of her 1400 member crew.  She was decommissioned as a war loss but her colors are raised and lowered every day over the Memorial which sits astride her broken hull.  She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Tennessee (BB-43) Tennessee was damaged by two bombs and was shield from torpedo hits by West Virginia. After repairs she conducted operations in the Pacific until she reported to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in August 1942 for a complete rebuild and modernized with the latest in radar, fire control equipment and anti-aircraft armaments. She returned to active service in May 1943. She provided Naval Gunfire support in numerous amphibious operations and was a key ship during the Battle of Surigo Strait firing in six-gun salvos to make careful use of her limited supply of armor-piercing projectiles, Tennessee got off 69 of her big 14-inch bullets before checking fire.  Her gunfire helped sink the Japanese Battleships Fuso and Yamishiro and other ships of Admiral Nishimura’s Southern Force.  She was damaged by a Kamikaze off Okinawa on 18 April 1945 which killed 22 and wounded 107 of her crew but did not put her out of action.  Her final assignment of the war was to cover the landing of occupation troops at Wakayama, Japan.  She was decommissioned in 1947 and remained in reserve until 1959 when she was sold for scrap. Tennessee earned a Navy Unit Commendation and 10 battles stars for World War II service.

USSCalifornia

USS California transiting the Panama Canal

California (BB-44) California was hit by two torpedoes but had the bad luck to have all of her major watertight hatches unhinged in preparation for an inspection. Hit by two torpedoes and two bombs she sank at her moorings suffering the loss of 98 killed and 61 wounded. She was refloated and received temporary repairs at Pearl Harbor before sailing to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to be completely rebuilt and modernized with the latest in radar, fire control equipment and anti-aircraft armaments. She returned to service in January 1944. She saw her first action in the Marianas and was in continuous action to the end of the war. She played an important part in the Battle of Surigo Strait and in the amphibious landings at Guam and Tinian, Leyte, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  She was decommissioned in 1947 and placed in reserve finally being sold for scrap in 1959. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Maryland (BB-45) At Pearl Harbor Maryland was moored inboard of Oklahoma and was hit by 2 bombs.  She would be quickly repaired and returned to action and receive minimal modernization during the war. She would participate in operations throughout the entirety of the Pacific Campaign providing naval gunfire support to the landings at Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, where she was damaged by an aerial torpedo, Palau, Leyte where she was damaged by a Kamikaze, Okinawa and the battleship action at Surigo Strait.  Decommissioned in 1947 she was placed in reserve and sold for scrap in 1959. On 2 June 1961 the Honorable J. Millard Tawes, Governor of Maryland, dedicated a lasting monument to the memory of the venerable battleship and her fighting men. Built of granite and bronze and incorporating the bell of “Fighting Mary,” this monument honors a ship and her 258 men who gave their lives while serving aboard her in WWII.  This monument is located on the grounds of the State House, Annapolis, Md. Maryland received seven battle stars for World War II service.

The USS West Virginia before the war and after her salvage and reconstruction

West Virginia (BB-48) West Virginia suffered some of the worst damage in the attack. Hit by at least 5 torpedoes and two bombs she was saved from Oklahoma’s fate by the quick action of her damage control officer to counter flood so she would sink on an even keel.  She would be raised, refloated and taken back to the West Coast for an extensive modernization on the order of the Tennessee and California. The last Pearl Harbor battleship to re-enter service she made up for lost time as she lead the battle line at Surigo Strait firing 16 full salvos at the Japanese squadron helping sink the Japanese Battleship Yamashiro in the last battleship versus battleship action in history West Virginia was decommissioned in 1947, placed in reserve and sold for scrap in 1959.

Heavy Cruisers

New Orleans (CA-32) Minor shrapnel damage from near miss. Fought throughout the war in the Pacific; bow blown off by Japanese torpedo at Battle of Trassafaronga in November 1942, repaired. 17 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned 1947 and sold for scrap in 1957.

san fran

USS San Francisco CA-38

San Francisco (CA-38 Undamaged at Pearl Harbor, fought through Pacific war, most noted for actions at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal fighting Japanese Battleship Hiei. Decommissioned 1946 and sold for scrap in 1959. San Francisco earned 17 battle stars during World War II. For her participation in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, she was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. For the same action, three members of her crew were awarded the Medal of Honor: Lieutenant Commander Herbert E. Schonland, Lieutenant Commander Bruce McCandless , and Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Reinhardt J. Keppler (posthumous). Admiral Daniel Callaghan was also awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumous).  During the November 1942 repair at Mare Island, it was necessary to extensively rebuild the bridge. The bridge wings were removed as part of that repair, and are now mounted on a promontory in Lands End, San Francisco at Golden Gate National Recreation Area overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They are set on the great circle course from San Francisco  to Guadalcanal.  The old ship’s bell is housed at the Marines Memorial Club in San Francisco.

Light Cruisers

uss Raliegh

Raleigh (CL-7) Heavily damaged by torpedo, repaired served throughout war mainly in North Pacific . Decommissioned 1945 and scrapped 1946

Detroit (CL-8) Undamaged and got underway during attack. Mainly served in North Pacific and on convoy duty earning 6 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned and sold for scrap 1946

USS Phoenix

Belgrano-Sunk-copy2

The Argentine Navy Cruiser General Belgrano, the former USS Phoenix sinking during the Battle of the Falklands 1982

Phoenix (CL-46) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor and served throughout war and at the Battle of Surigo Strait she helped sink the Japanese Battleship Fuso.  She earned 9 battle stars for WWII service. Decommissioned 1946 and transferred to Argentina 1951. Served as General Belgrano and sunk by submarine HMS Conqueror on 2 May 1982 during the Falklands War.

Honolulu (CL-48) Suffered minor hull damage from near miss. Served in Pacific and fought several engagements against Japanese surface forces in the Solomons. At the Battle of Kolombangara on the night of 12-13 July 1943 she was damaged by a torpedo but sank the Japanese Light Cruiser Jintsu. Earned 9 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned 1947 and sold for scrap 1949

USS St. Louis

St. Louis (CL-49) St. Louis got underway at 0930 nearly torpedoed by Japanese midget sub. She served throughout war in numerous operations and was damaged at the Battle of Kolombangara. She earned 11 battle stars for WWII service. She decommissioned 1946 and transferred to Brazil where she was renamed Tamandare stricken in 1976 sold for scrap in 1980 but sank while under tow to Taiwan.

*Helena (CL-50) Damaged and repaired. Engaged in many battles around Solomon Islands where at the Battle of Cape Esperance at Guadalcanal she sank the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Furutaka and destroyer Fubiki. She was engaged during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal and was sunk at Battle of Kula Gulf 6 July 1943.  She was the first ship to be awarded the Naval Unit Commendation and was awarded 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Destroyers

Allen (DD-66) Undamaged during attack spent war in local operations in Oahu area. Decommissioned 1945 and scrapped 1946

Schley (DD-103) Being overhauled on December 7th was undamaged in attack. Converted into High Speed Transport (APD) in 1942, earned 11 battle stars for WWII service and decommissioned in 1945 and scrapped in 1946

Chew (DD-106) Undamaged during attack and conducted local operations in Oahu operations for remainder or war, decommissioned 1945 and scrapped 1946.

h95201

USS Ward

*Ward (DD-139) Ward was underway patrolling Channel entrance to Pearl Harbor on December 7th, sank Japanese midget submarine. Converted to APD in 1943 and served in numerous operations prior to being heavily damaged by Japanese bombers at Ormoc Bay off Leyte in December 1944 starting fires that could not be controlled. She was sunk by USS O’Brien (DD-725) after survivors were rescued. By a strange twist of fate the C.O. of O’Brien LCDR Outerbridge who had commanded Ward when she sank the Japanese submarine at Pearl Harbor. Ward earned 10 battle stars for WWII service.

Dewey (DD-349) Being overhauled on December 7th Dewey served throughout the war earning 13 battle stars escorting carriers, convoys and supporting amphibious operations. Decommissioned October 1945 and sold for scrap 1946

Farragut (DD-348) Got underway during attack suffered minor damage from strafing. During the war she operated from the Aleutians to the South Pacific and Central Pacific escorting carriers and supporting amphibious operations. She earned 14 battle stars for WWII service. Decommissioned 1945 and sold for scrap 1947

*Hull (DD-350) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor she operated from the Aleutians to the South Pacific and Central Pacific escorting carriers and supporting amphibious operations. She earned 10 battle stars before sinking in “Halsey’s Typhoon” on 18 December 1944.

MacDonough (DD-351) MacDonough got underway during attack and was undamaged, during war served in North and Central Pacific escorting carriers and supporting amphibious operations. She earned 13 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned October 1945 and sold for scrap 1946

*Worden (DD-352) Worden got underway during attack and went to sea with ships searching for Japanese strike force. Served at Midway and the South Pacific before being transferred to the Aleutians where she grounded on a pinnacle due to winds and currents at Constantine Harbor Amchitka Island on 12 January 193, she broke up in the surf and was written off as a total loss. Wordenwas awarded 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Dale (DD-353) Dale got underway immediately under the command of her Command Duty Officer, an Ensign and joined ships searching for Japanese strike force. During war served in North and Central Pacific and took part in the Battle of the Komandorski Islands on 26 March 1943.  Earned 12 battle stars for WWII service, decommissioned October 1945 sold for scrap December 1946.

*Monaghan (DD-354)  Monaghan was the Ready destroyer on December 7th and ordered underway when Ward sank the midget submarine. On way out of harbor rammed, depth charged and sank a Japanese midget submarine that had gotten into Pearl Harbor. She participated in Coral Sea, Midway, Aleutians, the Battle of the Komandorski Islands and Central Pacific operations before sinking with the loss of all but 6 crewmen during the great Typhoon of November 1944 sinking on 17 November. She received 12 battle stars for her WWII service.

dd_uss_aylwin_dd355

USS Aylwin

Aylwin (DD-355) Got underway within an hour of the beginning of the attack with 50% of her crew and four officers, all Ensigns manning her leaving her Commanding Officer and others behind in a launch as she was under direction not to stop for anything. This incident was captured in the movie In Harm’s Way. During the war Aylwin saw action at Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, the Aleutians, and the Central Pacific up to the Okinawa and due to the action of her crew survived the great typhoon of November 1944. She earned 13 battle stars for her WWII service and was decommissioned in October 1945. She was sold for scrap in December 1946.

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USS Selfridge

Selfridge (DD-357) Manned by a crew from 7 different ships Selfridge got underway at 1300 and was undamaged in the attack. Throughout war she served primarily as an escort to carriers and transports. Torpedoed by Japanese destroyer and lost her bow at Battle of Vella Lavella on 6 October 1942. Repaired and finished war. Earned 4 battle stars for WWII service and was decommissioned in October 1945 and sold for scrap in December 1946.

Phelps (DD-360) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Phelps was credited with shooting down one enemy aircraft. She was in action at Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, the Aleutians and the Central Pacific picking up 12 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned in October 1945 and scrapped 1947.

Cummings (DD-365) Sustained minor damage from bomb fragments but got underway quickly. During war served on convoy escort, with fast carrier task forces and provided Naval Gunfire Support from the Aleutians to the Indian Ocean where she operated with the Royal Navy. On 12 August 1944, President Roosevelt broadcast a nationwide address from the forecastle of Cummings after a trip the Alaska. Cummings was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1947.

*Reid (DD-369) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Reid escorted convoys and amphibious operations throughout the Pacific until she was sunk by Kamikazes at Ormoc Bay in the Philippines on 11 December 1944. On 31 August 1942 she sank by gunfire the Japanese submarine RO-1 off Adak Alaska. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Case (DD-370) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Case escorted the fast carrier task forces throughout much of the war as well as conducted Anti-Submarine Warfare operations and Naval Gunfire Support. She sank a Midget submarine outside the fleet anchorage at Ulithi on 20 November 1944 and a Japanese transport off of Iwo Jima on 24 December 1944. She earned 7 battle stars for her WWII service and was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in December 1947.

Conyngham (DD-371) Undamaged during attack she was underway that afternoon. Spent most of war on convoy escort, escorting carrier task forces and conducting Naval Gunfire Support missions she was damaged twice by strafing Japanese aircraft she earned 14 battle stars for her WWII service. Used in 1946 Atomic Bomb tests and destroyed by sinking in 1948.

Cassin (DD-372) Destroyed in drydock but salvaged returned to service 1944 escorting convoys and TG 38.1 the Battle Force of the fleet at Leyte Gulf as well as supporting amphibious operations. She earned 6 battle stars for her WWII service.  Decommissioned December 1945 and sold for scrap 1947

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USS Shaw

Shaw (DD-373) Sustained massive damage due to magazine explosion, salvaged and repaired served throughout war and awarded 11 battle stars. Damaged by Japanese dive bombers off Cape Gloucester on 25 December 1943 with loss of 3 killed and 33 wounded. Decommissioned October 1945 and scrapped 1947

*Tucker (DD-374) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Tucker conducted convoy escort operations and was sunk when she struck a mine escorting a transport to Espiritu Santo on 1 August 1942 sinking on 4 August. She received one battle star for her WWII service.

Downes (DD-375) Destroyed in drydock and salvaged. Decommissioned June 1942, rebuilt and recommissioned 1943. After she was recommissioned and used to escort convoys and conduct Naval Gunfire Support to amphibious operations. She earned 4 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned 1947 and sold for scrap.

USS Bagley

Bagley (DD-386) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Bagley conducted convoy escort operations and supported amphibious landings throughout the Pacific earning 1 battle stars ended the war on occupation duty at the Sasebo-Nagasaki area until returning to the United States. She earned 12 battle stars for her WWII service and was decommissioned in June 1946 and sold for scrap in October 1947.

*Blue (DD-387) Blue was undamaged and got underway during the attack under the direction of 4 Ensigns.  Served on convoy escort duties, present at Battle of Savo Island on 9 August 192 and was torpedoed off Guadalcanal by Japanese destroyer Kawakaze on 21 August and was scuttled 22 August. She earned five battle stars for her WWII service.

Helm (DD-388) Helm was underway, nearing West Loch at the time of the attack. Helm served in the Solomons and the South Pacific until February 19. She joined the fast carrier task forces of 5thFleet in May 1944. On 28 October at Leyte Gulf 28 October 1944 Helm and companion destroyer Gridley made sank the Japanese submarine I-46. She was used for a target during Operation Crossroads and scrapped in 1946. She received 11 battle stars for her WWII service.

Mugford (DD-389) Mugford was on standby status and had steam up which allowed her to get to sea during the attack in which she shot down Japanese aircraft. She spent much of 1942 on convoy duty between the U.S. and Australia. She took part in the Guadalcanal invasion and was struck by a bomb which killed 8 men, wounded 17 and left 10 missing in action. She would go on to serve in the Central and South Pacific being damaged by a near miss from a bomb on 25 December off Cape Gloucester and was stuck by a Kamikaze on 5 December 1944 in Surigo Strait. She escorted the fast carriers of TF 8 and 58 and later served on anti-submarine and radar picket duty. She decommissioned 1946 and was used in the Atomic Bomb tests and after use as a test ship for radioactive decontamination was sunk on 22 March 1948 at Kwajalein. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ralph Talbot (DD-390) Ralph Talbot got underway by 0900 on the morning of the attack and joined other ships at sea attempting to find the Japanese strike force. She spent much of 1942 engaged in escort duties and took part in the Battle of Savo Island where she engaged the Japanese as part of the Northern Group and was damaged by Japanese shellfire. She spent the war in the South and Central Pacific escorting convoys and supporting amphibious operations and was damaged by a Kamikaze off Okinawa. She remained in service until 1946 when she was assigned to JTF-1 and the Operations Crossroads Atomic Bomb test. She survived the blast and was sunk in 198. She earned 12 battle stars for her WWII service.

*Henley (DD-391) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Henley was already at General Quarters when the attack began because a new sailor sounded the General Quarters alarm instead of Quarters for Muster. As a result her weapons were manned. She got underway during the attack under the command of a junior Lieutenant and joined other ships patrolling outside of Pearl Harbor. Henley carried out convoy and anti-submarine patrols mainly around Australian continuing those duties through the Guadalcanal campaign. She was torpedoed and sunk by Japanese bombers on 3 October 1943 while conducting a sweep in support of troops ashore near Finshafen New Guinea. Henley earned 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Patterson (DD-392) Patterson was undamaged during the attack and proceeded to sea conducting anti-submarine warfare patrols. She would spend the bulk of the war as an escort for fast carrier task forces. She was with the Southern Group during the Battle of Savo Island and suffered a hit on her #4 gun mount that killed 10 sailors.  She was awarded 13 battle stars for her WWII service. Decommissioned in November 1945 she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 1947 and sold for scrap.

*Jarvis (DD-393) Jarvis survived Pearl Harbor undamaged and got underway to join other ships in patrols around Oahu.  She served as an escort for carriers and convoys and the invasion of Guadalcanal. She was heavily damaged by an aircraft launched torpedo during the landings but her crew made temporary repairs and restored power. She was ordered to Efate New Hebrides but evidently unaware of the order her Commanding Officer set sail for Sidney Australian and repairs from the Destroyer Tender USS Dobbin. She passed south of Savo Island as the Japanese cruiser force approached and refused assistance for the USS Blue.  She was last seen on the morning of 9 August 1942 by a scout plane from Saratoga. Already heavily damaged and having little speed, no radio communications and few operable guns was attacked by a force of 31 Japanese bombers sinking with all hands at 1300 on 9 August. Jarvis was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

Submarines

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USS Narwhal

Narwhal (SS-167) Narwhal was one of a class of three large cruiser submarines that was built in the mid 1920s. Narwhal was 14 years old at the time of the attack. She was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and was used primarily to support special missions and special operations forces in raids against Japanese shore installations. Narwhal earned 15 battle stars for her service in the Pacific and was decommissioned in February 1945 and sold for scrap in May. Her 6” guns are enshrined at the Naval Submarine Base Groton.

Dolphin (SS-169) Undamaged in the Pearl Harbor attack Dolphin made 3 war patrols in late 1941 and early 1942 before being withdrawn from combat service and used for training due to her age. She was decommissioned in October 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She received 2 battle stars for her service in WWII.

Cachalot (SS-170) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Cachalot conducted three war patrols damaging an enemy tanker before being withdrawn from combat service in the fall of 1942 being judged too old for arduous combat service. She served as a training ship until June 1945 and was decommissioned in October 1945 and sold for scrap in January 1947. She was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

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USS Tautog

Tautog (SS-199) Tautog was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and made the Japanese pay for not sinking her. She helped avenge the Pearl Harbor attack sinking 26 enemy ships of 71,900 tons including the submarines RO-30 and I-28 and destroyers Isoname and Shirakumo in 13 war patrols. She was withdrawn from combat service in April 1945 and served and operated in conjunction with the University of California’s Department of War Research in experimenting with new equipment which it had developed to improve submarine safety. She was decommissioned in December 1945. Spared from the Atomic Bomb tests she served as an immobile reserve training ship in the Great Lakes until 1957 and was scrapped in 1960.  Tautog was awarded 14 battle stars and a Naval Unit Commendation for her service in WWII.

Minelayer

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USS Oglala

Oglala (CM-4) Sank due to concussion from torpedo hit on Helena. Raised and repaired, converted to internal combustion repair ship. Decommissioned 1946 transferred to Maritime Commission custody and scrapped 1965

Minesweepers

Turkey (AM-13) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor she was redesignated as a Fleet Tug in 1942. She was decommissioned in November 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Bobolink (AM-20) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor and redesignated as an Ocean Going Tug in 1942. She decommissioned in 1946 and sold through the Maritime Administration. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Rail (AM-26) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Rail was redesignated as a Ocean Going Tug in June 1942. She supported operations throughout the Pacific earning 6 battle stars for her WWII service. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration for disposal in 1947.

Tern (AM-31) Undamaged in the attack Tern was redesignated as an Ocean Going Tug in June 1942 and supported the fleet for the remainder of the war. She was decommissioned and struck from the Navy List in December 1945. She earned one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

*Grebe (AM-43) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Grebe was redesignated as an Ocean Going Tug in June 1942.  On 6 December 1942 Grebe grounded while attempting to float SS Thomas A. Edison at Vuanta Vatoa, Fiji Islands. Salvage operations were broken up by a hurricane that destroyed both ships 1-2 January 1943.

Vireo (AM-52) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Vireo was designated an Ocean Going Tug in May 1942. At the Battle of Midway she was assisting USS Yorktown CV-5 when that ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk.  She was damaged in a Japanese air strike off Guadalcanal on October 15th 1942 abandoned but recovered by U.S. Forces and repaired supporting damaged fleet units. She was decommissioned in 1946 and disposed of by the Maritime Administration in 1947. Her final disposition is unknown. She was awarded 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Coastal Minesweepers

Cockatoo (AMC-8) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Cockatoooperated in the 14th Naval District from Pearl Harbor throughout the war. She was transferred to the Maritime Commission 23 September 1946.

Crossbill (AMC-9) Undamaged in the attack she operated in an in-service status attached to the 14th Naval District from 1941 to 1947.

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USS Condor

Condor (AMC-14) Undamaged in the attack she operated in the Hawaiian Islands throughout World War II. Placed out of service 17 January 1946, she was transferred to the Maritime Commission for disposal 24 July 1946.

Reedbird (AMC-30) Undamaged during the attack she operated in Hawaiian waters throughout World War II. Then ordered inactivated, Reedbird returned to San Diego where she was stripped and placed out of service 14 January 1946. Her name was struck from the Navy list 7 February 1946 and on 8 November 1946 she was delivered to the Maritime Commission for disposal.

Light Minelayers (Note: All of these ships were WWI era “four piper” destroyers converted to Mine Warfare ships in the 1920s and 1930s)

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USS Gamble

*Gamble (DM-15) Gamble was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and served throughout the Pacific. On 29 August 1942 she sank Japanese submarine I-123 near Guadalcanal. On 6 May 1943 she mined the Blackett Strait with her sisters USS Preble and USS Breese. On the night of 7-8 May a Japanese destroyer force entered the minefield one of which Kurashio, went down and two others Oyashio and Kagero were sunk by Allied aircraft the next day. The sinking of Kagero provided a measure of revenge as that ship was part of the Japanese Carrier Strike Group that attacked Pearl Harbor. On 18 February 1945 Gamble was damaged by two bombs while operating off of Iwo Jima. Badly damaged she was towed to Saipan but salvage was impossible and she was decommissioned sunk off of Apra Harbor Guam on 16 July 1945. She was awarded 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ramsay (DM-16) Ramsey got underway during the attack and dropped depth charges in the vicinity of what was believed to be a midget submarine. She served in the Solomons and Aleutians and was redesignated as a Miscellaneous Auxiliary (AG-98) in 1944 operating around Pearl Harbor. She was decommissioned in October 1945 and scrapped in 1946. She received 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

*Montgomery (DM-17) Undamaged in the attack Montgomeryconducted ASW operations in the wake of the attack. She operated throughout the Pacific until she was damaged by a mine while anchored off Ngulu on 17 October 1944. She was decommissioned on 23 April 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Breese (DM-18) Breese got underway during the attack and assisted in sinking a midget submarine. She was engaged throughout the war in the Pacific and operated with Gamble and Preble to mine the Blackett Strait in May 1943, an operation that resulted in the sinking of 3 Japanese destroyers. She was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 10 battle stars for her WWII service

Tracy (DM-19) Tracy was being overhauled during the attack and all machinery and armament was dismounted.  After the overhaul she operated around the Pacific and in February 1943 she Tracy, as task group leader, led Montgomery (DM-17) and Preble (DM-20) in laying a field of 300 mines between Doma Reef and Cape Esperance. That night, Japanese destroyer Makigumo struck one of these mines and was damaged so badly that she was scuttled. Tracy was decommissioned and scrapped in 1946. She received 7 battle stars for her WWII service

Preble (DM-20) Preble was being overhauled on December 7thand took no part in the action. During the war she operated throughout the Pacific and in company with Gamble and Breeselaid a minefield on 6 May 1943 which resulted in sinking 3 Japanese destroyers. She was redesignated as a Miscellaneous Auxiliary (AG-99) and she was regulated to convoy escort duties until the end of the war. She was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 8 battle stars for WWII service.

Sicard (DM-21) Sicard was under overhaul at the Naval Shipyard during the attack. During the war she primarily served on convoy escort duty with and in some mine laying operations. She was reclassified a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG-100, effective 5 June 1945, decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Pruitt (DM-22) Pruitt was being overhauled during the attack and served throughout the Pacific during the war. She was reclassified a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG-101, effective 5 June 1945, decommissioned November and stricken from the Navy List in December 1945 being scrapped at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. She was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

High Speed Minesweepers (Note: All of these ships were WWI era “four piper” destroyers converted to Mine Warfare ships in the 1920s and 1930s)

Zane (DMS-14) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Zane saw much service in the South and Central Pacific in WWII. She conducted minesweeping, convoy escort and ASW operations from Pearl Harbor to the Marianas campaign. She was damaged in a firefight with Japanese destroyers at Guadalcanal in 1942.  After the invasion of Guam she was reassigned to target towing duties. Reclassified from high-speed minesweeper to a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG-109, on 5 June 1945 she decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She was awarded 6 battle stars and a Naval Unit Commendation for her service in WWII.

*Wasmuth  (DMS-15) Wasmuth was undamaged during the attack and spent 1942  conducting patrol and convoy escort duties in the Aleutians and the West Coast. On 27 December 1942 while escorting a convoy in heavy seas two of her depth charges were ripped off their racks and exploded under her fantail blowing off her stern.  Despite repair attempts her crew was evacuated and she sank on 29 December 1942. She was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Trever (DMS-16) Trever got underway during the attack without her Commanding Officer. During the war she saw extensive service. In 1945 she was regulated to training and local operations around Pearl Harbor. On 4 June 1945, she was reclassified as a miscellaneous auxiliary and designated as AG-110 and decommissioned in December 1945 and sold for scrapping in 1946. She received 5 battle stars for her WWII service.

*Perry (DMS-17) Perry got underway during the attack and was undamaged. During the war she engaged in numerous minesweeping and escort duties. She struck a mine during the Peleliu invasion off Florida Island and sank on 6 September 1944. She was awarded 6 battle stars for her WWII service.

Gunboat

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USS Sacramento

Sacramento (PG-19) The elderly Sacramento was undamaged during the attack and participated in rescue and salvage operations after the attack. During the war she served as a tender for PT Boats and an air sea rescue vessel.  Sacramento was decommissioned on 6 February 1946 at Suisun Bay, Calif., and simultaneously transferred to the War Shipping Administration for disposal. She was sold on 23 August 1947 for mercantile service, initially operating under Italian registry as Fermina. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Destroyer Tenders

USS Dobbin with USS Lawrence and three other destroyers

Dobbin (AD-3) Dobbin received minor damage from a bomb burst alongside which killed 2 crewmembers.  During the war she would serve in the South Pacific supporting Pacific Fleet Destroyer Squadrons. She was decommissioned and transferred to the Maritime Administration in 1946. She was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Whitney (AD-4) Whitney was moored with a nest of destroyers during the attack and helped them prepare for sea during the attack issuing supplies and ammunition to help them get underway. Her sailors helped in repair and salvage operations on several ships during and after the attack.  She would provide vital support to destroyer squadrons during the war and serve until 1946 when she was decommissioned and transferred to the Maritime Administration and scrapped in 1948. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Seaplane Tenders

Curtiss (AV-4) Damaged by bomb and repaired. She served throughout the war and was damaged by a  Kamikaze in 1945 while operating off Okinawa. Repaired she finished the war and served on active duty until 1956 when she was decommissioned and placed in reserve. She was scrapped 1972. Curtiss received 7 battle stars for her WWII service.

Tangier (AV-8) Moored just past the USS Utah Tangier was undamaged in the attack and contributed her guns to the air defense as well as shooting at a Japanese midget submarine that had penetrated the harbor. She maintained a very active operational carrier in the Pacific. Decommissioned in 1946 Tangier was sold for scrap in 1961. She earned 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

Seaplane Tenders (Small)

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Avocet (AVP-4) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Avocet Avocetserved in the Alaskan and Aleutian theatres of operations as a unit of Patrol Wing 4. During the years, she tended patrol squadrons, transported personnel and cargo, and participated in patrol, survey, and salvage duties. She was decommissioned in December 1945 and sold in 1946. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Swan (AVP-7) Swan was on the Marine Railway drydock during the attack and was undamaged. During the war she was primarily used on target towing duties. She was decommissioned in December 1945 and disposed of by the Maritime Commission in 1946. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Seaplane Tenders (Destroyer) (Note: All of these ships were WWI era “four piper” destroyers converted to Seaplane Tenders in the 1920s and 1930s)

Hulbert (AVD-6) Hulbert was undamaged during the attack and spent 1942-1943 conducting support missions for flying boats. Reclassified DD-342 she was used as an escort and plane guard for new Escort Carriers at San Diego until the end of the war. She was decommissioned in November 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946. She received 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

USS Thornton

*Thornton (AVD-11) Thornton contributed her guns to the defense of Pearl Harbor and served in varying locales in the Pacific supporting the operations of flying boats. She was lost during the Okinawa invasion when collided with Ashtabula (AO-51) and Escalante (AO-70). Her starboard side was severely damaged. She was towed to Kerama Retto. On 29 May 1945 a board of inspection and survey recommended that Thornton be decommissioned, beached stripped of all useful materiel as needed, and then abandoned. She was beached and decommissioned on 2 May 1945. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 13 August 1945. In July 1957, Thornton’s abandoned hulk was donated to the government of the Ryukyu Islands. She received 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ammunition Ship

Pyro (AE-1) Pyro was undamaged in the attack and served the war transporting ammunition to naval bases around the Pacific. She was decommissioned in 1946 and scrapped in 1950. She was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Oilers

Ramapo (AO-12) Ramapo was not damaged at Pearl Harbor and due to her slow speed was regulated to fuel transport operations between the Aleutians and the Puget Sound. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration.

*Neosho (AO-23) Undamaged during the attack her Captain alertly moved her from her berth near Battleship Row to a less exposed part of the harbor.  She operated with the carrier task forces and was heavily damaged at the Battle of Coral Sea by Japanese aircraft. Her crew kept her afloat for 4 days until she was discovered and her crew rescued before she was sunk by gunfire from USS Henley on 11 May 1942. Neosho was awarded 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Repair Ships

Medusa (AR-1) Medusa was undamaged at Pearl Harbor and spent the war throughout the South Pacific repairing numerous vessels damaged in combat. After the war she served to prepare ships for inactivation before being decommissioned in 1947 and turned over to the Maritime Administration. She was scrapped in 1950. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

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USS Vestal after the attack

Vestal (AR-4) Vestal was damaged while moored adjacent to USS Arizona. Repaired following the attack Vestal served throughout war in the Pacific and was vital during the critical days of 1942 when she and her crew performed valiant service on major fleet units damaged during the Guadalcanal campaign and actions around the Solomon Islands. Carriers Enterprise and Saratoga, battleships South Dakota and North Carolina, cruisers San Francisco, New Orleans, Pensacola and St. Louis were among the 5,603 jobs on 279 ships and 24 shore activities that she completed in a 12 month tour at Espiratu Santo. She would continue to perform this level of service the remainder of the war. During a stint at Ulithi she completed 2,195 jobs for 149 ships including 14 battleships, 9 carriers, 5 cruisers and 5 destroyers.  She continued her vital work even after the war into 1946 when she was finally decommissioned.  She was sold for scrap in 1950. She received 1 battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Rigel (AR-11) Rigel was at Pearl Harbor completing her transformation from Destroyer Tender to Repari Ship. She incurred minor damage and she served throughout the war conducting vital repairs to numerous ships. She was decommissioned and transferred to the Maritime Administration in 1946.  Her ultimate fate is unknown. She was awarded 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

Submarine Tender

USS Pelias with 5 Submarines

Pelias (AS-14) Undamaged during the attack Pelias supported submarine squadrons based in the Pacific throughout the war. She was placed in commission in reserve 6 September 1946, and in service in reserve 1 February 1947. On 21 March 1950 she was placed out of service in reserve but later performed berthing ship duty at Mare Island until she decommissioned 14 June 1970. She was scrapped in 1973.

Submarine Rescue Ship

Widgeon (ASR-1) Widgeon conducted salvage, rescue and fire fighting operations on the sunk and damaged battleships on battleship row. During the war she served as the duty submarine rescue ship at Pearl Harbor and San Diego.  After the war she supported the Operation Crossroads. She was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1947. She received on battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Hospital Ship

Solace (AH-5) Solace was undamaged in the attack and provided medical care to many of the wounded after the attack. She served throughout the war caring for the wounded and dying in the Gilberts, the Marshalls, Guam, Saipan, Palau, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  Solace was decommissioned at Norfolk on 27 March, struck from the Navy list on 21 May, and returned to the War Shipping Administration on 18 July 1946. She was sold to the Turkish Maritime Lines on 16 April 1948 and renamed SS Ankara, rebuilt as a passenger liner. SS Ankara was laid up in 1977 and scrapped at Aliaga, Turkey, in 1981. Solace received seven battle stars for World War II service.

Cargo Ship

Vega (AK-17) Vega was at Honolulu offloading ammunition when the attack occurred. She served in the Aleutians and in the Central Pacific during the war. Decommissioned and scrapped in 1946. She received 4 battle stars for her WWII service.

General-Stores-Issue Ships

Castor (AKS-1) Castor was strafed by Japanese aircraft during the attack but suffered little damage. She would go on to an illustrious career in WWII, Korea and Vietnam before being decommissioned 1968 and scrapped in Japan in 1969. She was awarded three battle stars for World War II service, two for Korean War service and six campaign stars for Vietnam War service.

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USS Antares 

Antares (AKS-3) Antares was at the Pearl Harbor entrance and spotted a midget submarine. She reported the contact to the USS Ward which sank the sub.  During the war Antares made many supply runs in the Pacific and was at Okinawa. Sailing from Saipan to Pearl Harbor she was attacked by the Japanese submarines I-36, whose torpedoes missed their target and the kaiten-carrying I-165. She opened fire on one of the subs forcing it to dive. She was decommissioned in 1946 and sold for scrap in 1947. She was awarded 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Ocean-going Tugs

Ontario (AT-13) Undamaged at Pearl Harbor Ontario would support operations in the Pacific throughout the war. She was decommissioned in 1946 and sold in 1947. She received one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

Sunnadin (AT-28) Undamaged in the attack she operated at Pearl Harbor for the duration of the war. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration. Her final disposition is unknown. She was awarded one battle star for her service during the Pearl Harbor attack.

Keosanqua (AT-38) Keosanqua was at the Pearl Harbor entrance preparing to transfer a tow from the USS Antares. She took the tow to Honolulu during the attack. She operated at Pearl Harbor and in the Central Pacific conducting towing operations. She was decommissioned in 1946   ransferred to the Maritime Commission 11 July for disposal, she was sold the same day to Puget Sound Tug & Barge Co., Seattle, Wash. Resold to a Canadian shipping firm in 1948, she was renamed Edward J. Coyle. In 1960 she was renamed Commodore Straits.

*Navajo (AT-64) Navaho was 12 miles outside Pearl Harbor entrance when the attack occurred. She operated in the South Pacific until 12 December 1942 when she was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese submarine I-39 while towing gasoline barge YOG-42 150 miles east of Espiritu Santo, 12 December 1943 with the loss of all but 17 of her crew of 80.  She earned 2 battle stars for her WWII service.

Miscellaneous Auxiliaries

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USS UTah AG-16

*Utah (AG-16 ex-BB-31) Sunk at her moorings and righted 1944 but not raised, wreck is now a memorial at Ford Island.

USS Argonne as a Submarine Tender

Argonne (AG-31) A former Submarine Tender, Argonne was undamaged during the attack and served in a variety of capacities during the war supporting operations in the Pacific. For a time she was Admiral Halsey’s flagship as Commander Southwest Pacific in 1942 during the Guadalcanal Campaign.  On 10 November 1944, Argonne lay moored to a buoy in berth 14, Seeadler Harbor, when the ammunition ship Mount Hood (AE-11) blew up, 1,100 yards away causing damage to her and other ships which she assisted after the explosion. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration. She was scrapped in 1950. Argonne was awarded one battle star for her service at Pearl Harbor.

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USS Sumner (ex-Bushnell)

Sumner (AG-32) Sumner was undamaged during the attack and was redesignated as a Survey Ship AGS-5. She was damaged by a Japanese shell off Iwo Jima on 8 March 1945. She was decommissioned in 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Administration. She was awarded 3 battle stars for her WWII service.

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Requiem for Yamato…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Those who have read my site since the beginning know that I have written much in terms of Naval History. One of the things that I am drawn to are the great ships that were sacrificed with the crews in futile attempts of salvage victory from defeat, or which were sacrificed in order to save others. Regardless of the circumstance I have a soft spot in my heart for sailors of any nation who pay with their lives when their ships are sunk. This is the story of the IJN Yamato, who along with her sister ship, the Musashi were the largest battleship ever constructed.

As dawn broke on April 7th 1945 the great Super-Battleship Yamato, the pride of the Japanese Imperial Navy and nine escorts steamed toward Okinawa on a suicide mission. It was literally the end of empire and the end of a navy. What had begun on December 7th 1941 was now winding down as the Imperial Navy launched its last offensive operation against the United States Navy.

The Imperial Navy was already at the end of its tether. Following the disasters at the Battle of the Philippine Sea which decimated the carrier air arm of the Imperial Navy; the subsequent losses in the defense of Formosa which used up the majority of any remaining carrier aircraft and crews; and the Battle of Leyte Gulf which decimated the surface forces of the navy what remained was a pitiful remnant of a once dominant fleet.

The great battleship Yamato and her sister ship Musashi were the largest warships ever built until the advent of the USS Enterprise CVN-65. Displacing over 72,000 tons 863 feet long and 127 feet in beam these ships mounted the heaviest artillery battery ever placed on a warship. Their nine 18.1” guns mounted in three triple turrets each weighing over 2500 tons weighed as much or more than the largest destroyers of the time. They could fire their massive shells 26 miles and even had the capability of firing a special anti-aircraft shell known as the Sanshiki or beehive round.

Musashi was sunk during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea at Leyte Gulf on October 24th 1944 after being hit by 19 aerial torpedoes and 17 bombs. Yamato engaged the American Escort Carriers and destroyers of Taffy-3 at the Battle off Samar the following day but was prevented by the audacity of the inferior American destroyers and timidity of the Japanese commander Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita from achieving any notable success.

The remains of the Imperial Navy were hampered by a lack of fuel, air power and training time. When the United States attacked Iwo Jima in February 1945, barely 700 miles from the home islands of Japan not a single Japanese surface ship sortied to challenge the American Navy.

However when the American attacked Okinawa on April 1st the Navy launched Operation Ten-Go. In spite of overwhelming American superiority in both naval air and surface forces the tiny task force was to fight its way to Okinawa, beach their ships and once the ships were destroyed the crews were to join Japanese Army forces on the island.

The doomed sortie was in part due to the insistence of the Imperial Army which derided the Imperial Navy for its failures at Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf and pressure from Emperor Hirohito who asked “But what about the Navy? What are they doing to assist in defending Okinawa? Have we no more ships?” In response the Naval High command devised what amounted to a suicide mission for Yamato and her escorts. The plan was opposed by many in the Navy and leaders of the task force who saw it as a futile mission. Only the insistence of Admiral Kusaka who told the reticent commanders that the Emperor expected the Navy to make its best effort to defend Okinawa persuaded the Captains of the doomed force to accept the mission.

At about 1600 on April 6th the ships of the task force weighed anchor and departed their anchorage at Tokuyama hoping to take advantage of approaching darkness to mask their departure. They were detected and shadowed by American submarines which provided real time information on the course and speed of the Japanese ships to the American leadership.

The next morning the task force was spotted by patrol planes and its position relayed to the American fleet commander, Admiral Raymond Spruance, the victor of Midway. Spruance ordered the six fast battleships, accompanied by two battlecruisers, seven cruisers and 21 destroyers engaged in shore bombardment to intercept the Japanese force. However, Admiral Marc Mitscher of Task Force 58, the fast carriers launched a massive air strike of over 400 aircraft against the Japanese.

At 1232 the first wave of American aircraft began their attacks on the doomed Japanese force. As the succeeding waves of American aircraft attacked Yamato was hit by 15 bombs and at least 8 torpedoes, almost all of which struck her port side created an imminent risk of capsizing. The damage control teams’ counter flooded the starboard engine and boiler rooms which kept the ship from turning turtle, but which also further reduced her speed.

By 1405 the great ship was dead in the water and just minutes before her commander had ordered the crew to abandon ship. At 1420 she capsized and began to sink and at 1423 she blew apart in a massive explosion that was reportedly heard and seen 120 miles away and created a mushroom cloud that reached 20,000 feet.

Captain Tameichi Hara of the light cruiser Yahagi which had already sank described the demise of the great ship in his book Japanese Destroyer Captain:

“We looked and saw Yamato, still moving. What a beautiful sight. Suddenly smoke belched from her waterline. We both groaned as white smoke billowed out until it covered the great battleship, giving her the appearance of a snow-capped Mount Fuji. Next came black smoke mingled with the white, forming to a huge cloud which climbed to 2000 meters. As it drifted away we looked to the surface of the sea again and there was nothing. Yamato had vanished. Tremendous detonations at 1423 of that seventh day of April signaled the end of this “unsinkable” symbol of the Imperial Navy.”

Only 280 men of the estimated 3000 crew members were rescued by the surviving escorts. Of her escorts, the Yahagi and four destroyers were also sunk. The Americans lost a total of ten aircraft and 12 men. Never again would the surface forces of the Imperial Navy threaten U.S. forces or take any meaningful part in the war.

The sacrifice of Yamato and her escorts was a futile was of lives and though many in Japan revere their sacrifice as noble it served no purpose. The loss of Yamato, named after the ancient Yamato province in a sense was symbolic of the demise of the Japanese Empire.

I cannot help but think of gallantry of the doomed crews of these ships, sacrificed for the “honor” of leaders that did not really value their sacrifice.

It is a commentary that is timeless.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

A Miracle of Maritime Salvage: The Salvage of the Fleet at Pearl Harbor

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the more interesting aspects of the Pearl Harbor attack were the efforts of the US Navy to salvage and return to duty the ships sunk or so heavily damaged that they were thought to be irreparable after the attack. 19 ships were sunk or damaged during the attack, or roughly 20% of the fleet present on December 7th 1941. Unlike other great feats of maritime salvage like that of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow after the First World War, this massive effort led to the majority of the ships being returned to an operational status for further service in the war.

Captain Homer Wallin directing Salvage Operations

Many people know something about the attack, but one of the most remarkable aspects of it was the effort to salvage the fleet in the months following the attack. Under the leadership of Captain Homer N. Wallin teams of Navy and civilian divers from the Pacific Bridge Company worked day and night to salvage the sunken ships. The divers spent over 20,000 man hours under water in the highly hazardous waters; which were filled with unexploded ordinance, and contaminated by fuel and sadly decomposing human bodies. Wallin wrote: “The scene to the newcomer was foreboding indeed. There was a general feeling of depression throughout the Pearl Harbor area when it was seen and firmly believed that none of the ships sunk would ever fight again.”

The divers wore were rubberized coveralls with gloves. The divers were equipped with a lead-weighted belt which weighed 84 pounds and lead-weighted shoes, each of which weighed 36 pounds. Each diver wore a copper helmet attached to a breastplate. Air was supplied through a hose which was attached to the helmet and ran up to a compressor monitored by men on the surface. The work was extremely hazardous, the wrecked ships contained numerous hazards, any of which could cut his air hose and cause his death, and they also contained highly toxic gasses. They often worked in total darkness and had to communicate with the men on the surface via a telephone cable. The divers had to be exceptionally talented to and needed a great amount of coordination senses and balance to work with welding torches, suction hoses, and heavy equipment in the confines of the shattered ships. During the salvage operations a number of divers lost their lives. Before the ships could be raised ammunition, including the massive 14 and 16 inch shells weighing anywhere from 1300 to 2000 pounds each, Japanese bombs and torpedoes, fuel oil, gasoline, electrical equipment and batteries, weapons, and whenever possible the bodies of the entombed crews had to be removed, and then every hole had to be patched to make them buoyant. After the ships were raised cleanup crews had to go aboard and clear the ships of other hazardous waste as repair crews began their work to repair the basic systems needed to get the ships to West Coast shipyards for the major overhauls, The herculean effort was one of the greatest engineering feats in maritime history.

Of these were battleships, the USS Arizona sunk by a cataclysmic explosion, her broken hulk with her collapsed foremast the iconic symbol of the attack. USS Oklahoma was capsized on Battleship Row.  USS Nevada was grounded and sunk off Hospital Point after an abortive attempt to sortie during the attack. USS California and USS West Virginia lay upright on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, their superstructure, distinctive cage masts and gun turrets visible above the oily water.

The former battleship USS Utah lay capsized on the far side of Ford Island while the light cruiser USS Raleigh was fighting for her life barely afloat near Utah.  The ancient Minelayer USS Oglala was laying on her side next to the light cruiser USS Helena at the 1010 Dock. She was not hit by a bomb or torpedo but was said to have “died of fright” when Helena was hit by a torpedo, the blast which opened the seams of her hull. The destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes were wrecks in the main dry dock. USS Shaw was minus her bow in the floating dry dock after exploding in what was one of the more iconic images of the attack. Other ships received varying amounts of damage.

As the engineers, damage control and salvage experts looked at the damage they realized that every ship would be needed for the long term fight. The building program of the US Navy was just beginning to pick up steam and it would be some time before new construction could not only make up for the losses but also be ready to fight a Two Ocean War. The decision was made to salvage and return to duty any ship deemed salvageable.

Even the seemingly less important ships needed to be rapidly salvaged. Some which initially appeared to be unsalvageable needed at the minimum to be cleared from dry docks and docks needed by operational or less damaged ships. Likewise equipment, machinery and armaments from these ships needed to be salvaged for use in other ships.

Even by modern standards the efforts of the Navy divers and salvage experts and the civilians who worked alongside them were amazing. In the end only three of the 19 ships never returned to service. The work began quickly and on December 14th Commander James Steele began to direct the salvage operations on the sunken hulks. Captain Wallin relieved Steele on January 9th 1942. Wallin formed a salvage organization of Navy officers and civilian contractors. The civilian contractors were instrumental in the operation. Many of the civilians had experience in salvage operations, or underwater construction efforts, such as working on the Golden Gate Bridge which often exceeded the experience of the Navy divers.

The divers recovered bodies whenever possible, salvaged equipment, removed weapons and ammunition, made temporary repairs and help rig the ships for righting or re-floating. In each case the salvage experts, divers and engineers faced different challenges.

Arizona was never raised. Her superstructure was cut down, main battery and some anti-aircraft guns removed. The main batter guns were delivered to the Army Coastal Artillery for use as shore batteries but none reached an operational status before the end of the war. The dives aboard were so dangerous that eventually the attempts to recover bodies ceased as several divers lost their lives in the wreck.  Over the years the National Parks Service has continued to dive on the wreck to assess it as a war grave and memorial.

Utah too was not raised. She was righted in 1942 but efforts to do more were halted because the elderly wreck had no remaining military value. Her wreck along with that of Arizona are war graves, many of their crew members, including over 1000 of Arizona’s men forever remain entombed in their ships. When I visited Pearl Harbor in 1978 as a Navy Junior ROTC Cadet and visited both memorials I was humbled at what I saw. They are haunting reminders of the cost paid by sailors during wartime.

Nevada was the first major ship salvaged. She was re-floated in February 1942 and after temporary repairs sailed to the West Coast on her own power. After repairs and a significant modernization of her anti-aircraft systems was complete she returned to action in 1943 in the invasion of Attu Alaska. She participated in many amphibious operations including Normandy, Southern France, Iwo Jim and Okinawa. She survived the Atomic Bomb tests in 1946 but wrecked and radioactive she was sunk as a target off Hawaii in 1948.

 

 

The salvage of the Oklahoma was one of the more challenging endeavors faced by Wallin’s men. Hit by at least five torpedoes during the attack the great ship capsized, her tripod masts digging deep into the mud of the harbor as she settled. Over 400 over her crew lay dead inside the ship. Since it was apparent that the ship was a total loss the salvage operations did not commence until the middle of 1942. The primary goal of the operation was to clear needed space for berthing large ships along Battleship Row. The operation involved making the ship as watertight as possible, solidifying the bottom of the harbor around her to enable her to roll and emplacing a massive system of righting frames, anchor chains and shore mounted winches and cables. The process involved cutting away wrecked superstructure, removing ammunition, weapons and the bodies of those entombed in their former home. She was completely righted in July 1943, and floated again in November. Moved to a dry dock in December she was made watertight and moored in another part of the harbor. Following the war she was being towed to a scrap yard but sank in a storm in May 1947.

California was raised in March and after temporary repairs sailed under her own power to the West Coast. Her repairs and modernization were a major undertaking. Fully reconditioned and modernized to standards of most modern battleships she returned to service in January 1944. She served in retaking Saipan, Guam, Tinian, as well as Leyte Gulf were she had a significant part in the Battle of Surigao Strait. Hit by a Kamikaze she was repaired and returned to action at Okinawa and support the occupation operations of the Japanese Home Islands. She was decommissioned in 1947 and sold for scrapping in 1959.

West Virginia suffered the most severe damage of the battleships returned to duty. She was raised in July 1942 and after repairs sailed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Like California she was completely rebuilt and returned to action in October 1944 in time to take the lead role in destroying the Japanese Battleship Yamashiro. She served throughout the remainder of the war in the Pacific at Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the occupation of Japan.

The Mahan Class destroyers Cassin and Downes were so badly damaged sitting in the Dry Dock Number One with Pennsylvania that initially they were believed beyond salvage. However after closer inspection it was determined that the hull fittings, main weapons systems and propulsion machinery on both ships were worth salvaging. These items were removed, shipped to Mare Island Naval Shipyard and installed on new hulls being constructed. The hulks of the old ships were scrapped at Pearl Harbor. Those ships were commissioned as the Cassin and Downes and served throughout the war.

Both were decommissioned in 1945 and scrapped in 1947. Their sister ship Shaw which had blown up in the floating dry dock was wrecked from her bridge forward. However the rest of the ship including her engineering spaces were intact. A temporary bow was fashioned and the ship sailed to Mare Island under her own power. Completely overhauled she was back in service by July 1942. She was decommissioned in 1945 and scrapped in 1946.

The ancient minelayer Oglala was raised in July and sent back to the West Coast where she was repaired and recommissioned as an internal combustion engine repair ship. She survived the war was decommissioned and transferred to Maritime Commission custody. She was a depot ship at the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet until 1965 when she was sold for scrap.

The salvage feat to return these ships to duty was one of the most remarkable operations of its type ever conducted. Not only were most of the ships salvaged but most returned to duty. While none survive today many played key roles during the war. Artifacts of some of the ships are on display at various Naval Bases, Museums and State Capitals. They, their brave crews and the Navy Divers and civilian diving and salvage experts who conducted this task exhibited the finest traditions of the US Navy. The successors of the Navy divers at Mobile Diving Salvage Units One and Two still carry on that tradition today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, world war two in the pacific

The Futile Sacrifice of a Naval Leviathan: The Sinking of the Yamato

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Those who have read my site since the beginning know that I have written much in terms of Naval History. One of the things that I am drawn to are the great ships that were sacrificed with the crews in futile attempts of salvage victory from defeat, or which were sacrificed in order to save others. Regardless of the circumstance I have a soft spot in my heart for sailors of any nation who pay with their lives when their ships are sunk. This is the story of the IJN Yamato, who along with her sister ship, the Musashi were the largest battleship ever constructed.

As dawn broke on April 7th 1945 the great Super-Battleship Yamato, the pride of the Japanese Imperial Navy and nine escorts steamed toward Okinawa on a suicide mission. It was literally the end of empire and the end of a navy. What had begun on December 7th 1941 was now winding down as the Imperial Navy launched its last offensive operation against the United States Navy.

The Imperial Navy was already at the end of its tether. Following the disasters at the Battle of the Philippine Sea which decimated the carrier air arm of the Imperial Navy; the subsequent losses in the defense of Formosa which used up the majority of any remaining carrier aircraft and crews; and the Battle of Leyte Gulf which decimated the surface forces of the navy what remained was a pitiful remnant of a once dominant fleet.

The great battleship Yamato and her sister ship Musashi were the largest warships ever built until the advent of the USS Enterprise CVN-65. Displacing over 72,000 tons 863 feet long and 127 feet in beam these ships mounted the largest artillery battery ever placed on a warship. Their nine 18.1” guns mounted in three triple turrets each weighing over 2500 tons weighed as much or more than the largest destroyers of the time. They could fire their massive shells 26 miles and had the capability of firing a special anti-aircraft shell known as the Sanshiki or beehive round.

Musashi was sunk during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea at Leyte Gulf on October 24th 1944 after being hit by 19 aerial torpedoes and 17 bombs. Yamato engaged the American Escort Carriers and destroyers of Taffy-3 at the Battle off Samar the following day but was prevented by the audacity of the inferior American destroyers and timidity of the Japanese commander Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita from achieving any notable success.

The remains of the Imperial Navy were hampered by a lack of fuel, air power and training time. When the United States attacked Iwo Jima in February 1945, barely 700 miles from the home islands of Japan not a single Japanese surface ship sortied to challenge the American Navy.

However when the American attacked Okinawa on April 1st the Navy launched Operation Ten-Go. In spite of overwhelming American superiority in both naval air and surface forces the tiny task force was to fight its way to Okinawa, beach their ships and once the ships were destroyed the crews were to join Japanese Army forces on the island.

The doomed sortie was in part due to the insistence of the Imperial Army which derided the Imperial Navy for its failures at Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf and pressure from Emperor Hirohito who asked “But what about the Navy? What are they doing to assist in defending Okinawa? Have we no more ships?” In response the Naval High command devised what amounted to a suicide mission for Yamato and her escorts. The plan was opposed by many in the Navy and leaders of the task force who saw it as a futile mission. Only the insistence of Admiral Kusaka who told the reticent commanders that the Emperor expected the Navy to make its best effort to defend Okinawa persuaded the Captains of the doomed force to accept the mission.

At about 1600 on April 6th the ships of the task force weighed anchor and departed their anchorage at Tokuyama hoping to take advantage of approaching darkness to mask their departure. They were detected and shadowed by American submarines which provided real time information on the course and speed of the Japanese ships to the American leadership.

The next morning the task force was spotted by patrol planes and its position relayed to the American fleet commander, Admiral Raymond Spruance, the victor of Midway. Spruance ordered the six fast battleships, accompanied by two battlecruisers, seven cruisers and 21 destroyers engaged in shore bombardment to intercept the Japanese force. However, Admiral Marc Mitscher of Task Force 58, the fast carriers launched a massive air strike of over 400 aircraft against the Japanese.

At 1232 the first wave of American aircraft began their attacks on the doomed Japanese force. As the succeeding waves of American aircraft attacked Yamato was hit by 15 bombs and at least 8 torpedoes, almost all of which struck her port side created an imminent risk of capsizing. The damage control teams’ counter flooded the starboard engine and boiler rooms which kept the ship from turning turtle, but which also further reduced her speed.

By 1405 the great ship was dead in the water and just minutes before her commander had ordered the crew to abandon ship. At 1420 she capsized and began to sink and at 1423 she blew apart in a massive explosion that was reportedly heard and seen 120 miles away and created a mushroom cloud that reached 20,000 feet.

Captain Tameichi Hara of the light cruiser Yahagi which had already sank described the demise of the great ship in his book Japanese Destroyer Captain:

“We looked and saw Yamato, still moving. What a beautiful sight. Suddenly smoke belched from her waterline. We both groaned as white smoke billowed out until it covered the great battleship, giving her the appearance of a snow-capped Mount Fuji. Next came black smoke mingled with the white, forming to a huge cloud which climbed to 2000 meters. As it drifted away we looked to the surface of the sea again and there was nothing. Yamato had vanished. Tremendous detonations at 1423 of that seventh day of April signaled the end of this “unsinkable” symbol of the Imperial Navy.”

Only 280 men of the estimated 3000 crew members were rescued by the surviving escorts. Of her escorts, the Yahagi and four destroyers were also sunk. The Americans lost a total of ten aircraft and 12 men. Never again would the surface forces of the Imperial Navy threaten U.S. forces or take any meaningful part in the war.

The sacrifice of Yamato and her escorts was a futile was of lives and though many in Japan revere their sacrifice as noble it served no purpose. The loss of Yamato, named after the ancient Yamato province in a sense was symbolic of the demise of the Japanese Empire.

I cannot help but think of gallantry of the doomed crews of these ships, sacrificed for the “honor” of leaders that did not really value their sacrifice.

It is a commentary that is timeless.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, World War II at Sea

We Can do It: The Amazing Work of the Salvage Divers at Pearl Harbor

markV

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

One of the more interesting aspects of the Pearl Harbor attack were the efforts of the US Navy to salvage and return to duty the ships sunk or so heavily damaged that they were thought to be irreparable after the attack. 19 ships were sunk or damaged during the attack, or roughly 20% of the fleet present on December 7th 1941.

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Captain Homer Wallin directing Salvage Operations

Many people know something about the attack, but one of the most remarkable aspects of it was the effort to salvage the fleet in the months following the attack. Under the leadership of Captain Homer N. Wallin teams of Navy and civilian divers from the Pacific Bridge Company worked day and night to salvage the sunken ships. The divers spend over 20,000 man hours under water in the highly hazardous waters; which were filled with unexploded ordinance, and contaminated by fuel and sadly decomposing human bodies. Wallin wrote, “The scene to the newcomer was foreboding indeed. There was a general feeling of depression throughout the Pearl Harbor area when it was seen and firmly believed that none of the ships sunk would ever fight again.”

h63921

The divers wore were rubberized coveralls with gloves. The divers were equipped with a lead-weighted belt which weighed 84 pounds and lead-weighted shoes, each of which weighed 36 pounds. Each diver wore a copper helmet attached to a breastplate. Air was supplied through a hose which was attached to the helmet and ran up to a compressor monitored by men on the surface. The work was extremely hazardous, the wrecked ships contained numerous hazards, any of which could cut his air hose and cause his death, and they also contained highly toxic gasses. They often worked in total darkness and had to communicate with the men on the surface via a telephone cable. The divers had to be exceptionally talented to and needed a great amount of coordination senses and balance to work with welding torches, suction hoses, and heavy equipment in the confines of the shattered ships. During the salvage operations a number of divers lost their lives. Before the ships could be raised ammunition, including the massive 14 and 16 inch shells weighing anywhere from 1300 to 2000 pounds each, Japanese bombs and torpedoes, fuel oil, gasoline, electrical equipment and batteries, weapons, and whenever possible the bodies of the entombed crews had to be removed, and then every hole had to be patched to make them buoyant. After the ships were raised cleanup crews had to go aboard and clear the ships of other hazardous waste as repair crews began their work to repair the basic systems needed to get the ships to West Coast shipyards for the major overhauls, The herculean effort was one of the greatest engineering feats in maritime history.

Of these were battleships, the USS Arizona sunk by a cataclysmic explosion, her broken hulk with her collapsed foremast the iconic symbol of the attack. USS Oklahoma was capsized on Battleship Row.  USS Nevada was grounded and sunk off Hospital Point after an abortive attempt to sortie during the attack. USS California and USS West Virginia lay upright on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, their superstructure, distinctive cage masts and gun turrets visible above the oily water.

BB-37_Oklahoma105c

The former battleship USS Utah lay capsized on the far side of Ford Island while the light cruiser USS Raleigh was fighting for her life barely afloat near Utah.  The ancient Minelayer USS Oglala was laying on her side next to the light cruiser USS Helena at the 1010 Dock. She was not hit by a bomb or torpedo but was said to have “died of fright” when Helena was hit by a torpedo, the blast which opened the seams of her hull. The destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes were wrecks in the main dry dock. USS Shaw was minus her bow in the floating dry dock after exploding in what was one of the more iconic images of the attack. Other ships received varying amounts of damage.

h64474

As the engineers, damage control and salvage experts looked at the damage they realized that every ship would be needed for the long term fight. The building program of the US Navy was just beginning to pick up steam and it would be some time before new construction could not only make up for the losses but also be ready to fight a Two Ocean War. The decision was made to salvage and return to duty any ship deemed salvageable.

salvage09

Even the seemingly less important ships needed to be rapidly salvaged. Some which initially appeared to be unsalvageable needed at the minimum to be cleared from dry docks and docks needed by operational or less damaged ships. Likewise equipment, machinery and armaments from these ships needed to be salvaged for use in other ships.

h64496

Even by modern standards the efforts of the Navy divers and salvage experts and the civilians who worked alongside them were amazing. In the end only three of the 19 ships never returned to service. The work began quickly and on December 14th Commander James Steele began to direct the salvage operations on the sunken hulks. Captain Wallin relieved Steele on January 9th 1942. Wallin formed a salvage organization of Navy officers and civilian contractors. The civilian contractors were instrumental in the operation. Many of the civilians had experience in salvage operations, or underwater construction efforts, such as working on the Golden Gate Bridge which often exceeded the experience of the Navy divers.

h64493

The divers recovered bodies whenever possible, salvaged equipment, removed weapons and ammunition, made temporary repairs and help rig the ships for righting or re-floating. In each case the salvage experts, divers and engineers faced different challenges.

arizona-buring

Arizona was never raised. Her superstructure was cut down, main battery and some anti-aircraft guns removed. The main batter guns were delivered to the Army Coastal Artillery for use as shore batteries but none reached an operational status before the end of the war. The dives aboard were so dangerous that eventually the attempts to recover bodies ceased as several divers lost their lives in the wreck.  Over the years the National Parks Service has continued to dive on the wreck to assess it as a war grave and memorial.

Utah too was not raised. She was righted in 1942 but efforts to do more were halted because the elderly wreck had no remaining military value. Her wreck along with that of Arizona are war graves, many of their crew members, including over 1000 of Arizona’s men forever remain entombed in their ships. When I visited Pearl Harbor in 1978 as a Navy Junior ROTC Cadet and visited both memorials I was humbled at what I saw. They are haunting reminders of the cost paid by sailors during wartime.

Nevada was the first major ship salvaged. She was re-floated in February 1942 and after temporary repairs sailed to the West Coast on her own power. After repairs and a significant modernization of her anti-aircraft systems was complete she returned to action in 1943 in the invasion of Attu Alaska. She participated in many amphibious operations including Normandy, Southern France, Iwo Jim and Okinawa. She survived the Atomic Bomb tests in 1946 but wrecked and radioactive she was sunk as a target off Hawaii in 1948.

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BB-37_Oklahoma052org

oklahoma-salvage

The salvage of the Oklahoma was one of the more challenging endeavors faced by Wallin’s men. Hit by at least five torpedoes during the attack the great ship capsized, her tripod masts digging deep into the mud of the harbor as she settled. Over 400 over her crew lay dead inside the ship. Since it was apparent that the ship was a total loss the salvage operations did not commence until the middle of 1942. The primary goal of the operation was to clear needed space for berthing large ships along Battleship Row. The operation involved making the ship as watertight as possible, solidifying the bottom of the harbor around her to enable her to roll and emplacing a massive system of righting frames, anchor chains and shore mounted winches and cables. The process involved cutting away wrecked superstructure, removing ammunition, weapons and the bodies of those entombed in their former home. She was completely righted in July 1943, and floated again in November. Moved to a dry dock in December she was made watertight and moored in another part of the harbor. Following the war she was being towed to a scrap yard but sank in a storm in May 1947.

California was raised in March and after temporary repairs sailed under her own power to the West Coast. Her repairs and modernization were a major undertaking. Fully reconditioned and modernized to standards of most modern battleships she returned to service in January 1944. She served in retaking Saipan, Guam, Tinian, as well as Leyte Gulf were she had a significant part in the Battle of Surigao Strait. Hit by a Kamikaze she was repaired and returned to action at Okinawa and support the occupation operations of the Japanese Home Islands. She was decommissioned in 1947 and sold for scrapping in 1959.

729px-Photograph_of_the_damage_done_to_the_USS_West_Virginia,_sunk_in_the_Japanese_raid_on_Pearl_Harbor_-_NARA_-_306536

west-virginia-damage

West Virginia suffered the most severe damage of the battleships returned to duty. She was raised in July 1942 and after repairs sailed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Like California she was completely rebuilt and returned to action in October 1944 in time to take the lead role in destroying the Japanese Battleship Yamashiro. She served throughout the remainder of the war in the Pacific at Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the occupation of Japan.

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The Mahan Class destroyers Cassin and Downes were so badly damaged sitting in the Dry Dock Number One with Pennsylvania that initially they were believed beyond salvage. However after closer inspection it was determined that the hull fittings, main weapons systems and propulsion machinery on both ships were worth salvaging. These items were removed, shipped to Mare Island Naval Shipyard and installed on new hulls being constructed. The hulks of the old ships were scrapped at Pearl Harbor. Those ships were commissioned as the Cassin and Downes and served throughout the war.

h50005

Both were decommissioned in 1945 and scrapped in 1947. Their sister ship Shaw which had blown up in the floating dry dock was wrecked from her bridge forward. However the rest of the ship including her engineering spaces were intact. A temporary bow was fashioned and the ship sailed to Mare Island under her own power. Completely overhauled she was back in service by July 1942. She was decommissioned in 1945 and scrapped in 1946.

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The ancient minelayer Oglala was raised in July and sent back to the West Coast where she was repaired and recommissioned as an internal combustion engine repair ship. She survived the war was decommissioned and transferred to Maritime Commission custody. She was a depot ship at the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet until 1965 when she was sold for scrap.

The salvage feat to return these ships to duty was one of the most remarkable operations of its type ever conducted. Not only were most of the ships salvaged but most returned to duty. While none survive today many played key roles during the war. Artifacts of some of the ships are on display at various Naval Bases, Museums and State Capitals. They, their brave crews and the Navy Divers and civilian diving and salvage experts who conducted this task exhibited the finest traditions of the US Navy. The successors of the Navy divers at Mobile Diving Salvage Units One and Two still carry on that tradition today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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From Monitor to Musashi: a Tale of Legendary Warships

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Musashi and Monitor

I have been thinking about two ships this past week. One of these ships was the Japanese Super-Battleship Musashi. The Musashi was one of the two largest battleships ever constructed and her wreck was discovered last week where she sank in the Sibuyan Sea. The other ship was the USS Monitor. The tiny Monitor was progenitor of all the great battleships that followed and 153 years ago Monitor helped propel naval architecture and warfare into a new era when she challenged the CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads.

The Monitor was one of three experimental designs chosen by the Navy’s Ironclad board to deal with the Virginia. Her design and construction were remarkable, especially for her day. The ship was entirely experimental, nothing like Monitor had ever been built before, but even so it was less than five months from the date she was ordered until she was commissioned and just a few days more than that before she was in action. I cannot imagine any warship ship new design ever breaking that record.

Her designer was John Ericsson, a Swede. Ericsson was the inventor of the screw propeller and designer of the first U.S. Navy Screw Frigate the USS Princeton. Ericsson had be shunned by the Navy after a rifled cannon, which was not of his design or construction exploded aboard Princeton during a gunnery demonstration which killed the Secretary of the Navy and others. Ericcson was not planning to submit a design but was persuaded to and his design, the Monitor was one of the three designs selected.

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The Officers of Monitor

The Monitor was like nothing ever seen on the ocean. Described by some as a “cheese box on a raft” the small ship had all of her machinery located below the waterline on a completely iron hull that only drew 11 feet of water. She was 179 feet long, had a beam of 41 and a half feet and displaced 987 tons. Her single vibrating lever steam engine powered by two boilers produced 340 horsepower and drove her at a top speed of six knots.

Her hull was protected by armor plate, but the most notable and innovative feature was a heavily armored revolving turret with eight inches of armor, mounted two massive 11 inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns which “could fire a 170-pound shot or 136-pound shell in any direction except straight ahead, where the pilot house sheathed in nine inches of armor was located.” Future ships remedied this defect. Ericcson’s ship was mocked around the navy and by naval designers, but he and it would prove them wrong. The Monitor’s most notable features, full steam propulsion, heavy armor and the revolving turret mounting heavy caliber guns would set the standard to which future battleships would be constructed.

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The Battle of Hampton Roads

Monitor had a brief service life, she fought the Virginia, took part in actions along the James River and sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras North Carolina on December 31st 1861. The British Royal Navy designed an improved monitor with higher freeboard and finally an ocean going turret ship, the HMS Devastation.

Soon, the navies of the world began to build battleships and in 1906 the Royal Navy built the HMS Dreadnought which like Monitor revolutionized warship construction and naval warfare. Navies around the world began building ever larger, faster and more powerful Dreadnoughts culminating the designs of the late 1930s, the German Bismarck class, the American Iowa class, the British Vanguard, and the Japanese Yamato Class. It is the last ships, the Yamato and her sister Musashi that I want to discuss here, not that the others are not interesting or important, but because of the almost mythic status that these ships maintain in the annals of naval history, as well as their tragic end.

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Emperor Hirohito on Musashi in 1943

The Yamato and Musashi were the largest and most heavily armed battleships ever built. Shrouded in secrecy by the Imperial Japanese Navy and Government the ships were designed to offset projected American numerical superiority. Their names were symbolic of Japan’s history. Yamato was named after Yamato Province, the ancestral home of the Yamato People, the dominant native ethnic group in Japan. Musashi was named after Musashi Province in which lays Tokyo Prefecture.  A third ship of the class, Shinano, was named after Shinano Province in central Japan which was the home of the prestigious Taketa Shingen family during the Senguku period.

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The Conning Tower and Bridge of Musashi

The secrecy surrounding their design and construction was unprecedented. Those charged with their design and construction were thoroughly checked out by Japan’s secret police and sworn to an oath of secrecy. The oath sworn by builders of Musashi at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagasaki Shipyard were sworn to the oath shown below:

I am aware that all work involving the construction of the No. 2 Battleship is vital to national security. I will make utmost effort to maintain the secrecy of the project, and swear that I will leak no information relating to the said battleship, even to relatives and close friends. In the event I violate this oath,  I will submit to the punishment determined by the company and the Navy.  

Security measures around the shipyards where Yamato and Musashi were constructed were immense. At Nagasaki where there was a large foreign business and missionary population where the shipyard was visible from most of the city at hemp screen of 75,000 square meters was constructed to shield the ship from prying eyes and spies.

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Musashi under Construction

When actual preparations for construction were taken in 1937 secret police swept the areas of foreign, especially Chinese workers. Security was increased inside and outside the shipyard, all blueprints accounted for and placed under strict guard while all shipyard workers were photographed with any having knowledge of the plans or supervising the construction sworn to the secrecy oath.

When a top secret blueprint went missing in 1938 at Nagasaki an intense investigation that included the torture of numerous suspects and the jailing of a blueprinter who accidentally swept the document into the trash was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

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Armor and Protection of Yamato Class

Few pictures exist of the ships and Japanese Naval Officers destroyed many of the records of the ships design and construction just prior to the end of the Second World War. Throughout their existence they were a mystery to the American Navy. During the war the U.S. Navy estimated them to carry nine 16” guns and displace between 40,000-57,000 tons. Even the highly regarded Jane’s Fighting Ships listed them at just 45,000 tons.

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Yamato and Musashi together in 1943

Preliminary design work began in 1934 and progressed rapidly following Japan’s withdraw from the League of Nations and renunciation of the Washington and London Naval Treaties and withdraw from the 1936 naval talks in London. The early designs varied in the caliber of guns, size and armor, propulsion systems and endurance. Gun calibers ranged from 16” to 18.1” and a combined diesel-turbine system was considered but rejected in favor of traditional steam turbines.

The final design was for a class of five ships. Each would displace 64,000 tons standard displacement and 72,000 tons at full load. They were 862 feet long with a beam of 127 feet.  They were so large that the docks they were built needed to be expanded and special extra-large launch platforms had to be built.  At Nagasaki the dock at to be expanded by cutting into the hill adjacent to it.

They were armed with nine 18.1 inch guns in triple turrets which could fire a projectile weighing over a ton. The secondary armament consisted of 12 6.1 inch guns mounted in triple turrets formerly mounted on the Mogami Class cruisers when those ships were equipped with 8” guns. Anti-aircraft defense included twelve 5” guns and twenty-four 25mm anti-aircraft guns. During the war two of the 6.1 inch turrets were removed and replaced with twelve more 5” guns and the 25mm battery was raised to 162 guns. Fire control systems were designed in such a way that the ships could engage multiple surface targets at the same time.

The ships were protected by a massive armored belt ranging from 16 inches to 8 inches with 26 inch armor on the face plates of the main gun turrets. The armor was advanced with excellent sloping but had a flaw where the upper and lower belts connected just below the waterline which exposed them to damage from torpedoes.

Photographed just prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Ships are, from left to right Musashi, Yamato, a cruiser and Nagato.

Yamato and Musashi viewed beside Battleship Nagato (foreground) just before the Battle of Leyte Gulf

They were powered by 12 Kampon boilers which powered 4 steam turbines and four three bladed propellers. These developed 150,000 shp and could drive the ship at a top speed of 27 knots.

Construction of Yamato began on November 4th 1937 at Kure Naval Shipyard. Musashi on March 28th 1938. Traditionally such events were large public ceremonies but these were limited to just a few Naval Staff and Shipyard executives.  Yamato was launched on August 8th 1940 and commissioned on December 16th 1941, just 9 days after Pearl Harbor. Musashi was launched on November 8th 1940 and commissioned on August 5th 1942 just two days before the U.S. Marines invaded Guadalcanal and two months after the disaster at the Battle of Midway.

Yamato served as Admiral Yamamoto’s flagship at Midway where she saw no action. The next two years she was and Musashi alternated as fleet flagship and conducted operations with Battleship Division One in operations between Mainland Japan and the major Japanese base at Truk. On December 25th 1943 while escorting a convoy she was torpedoed by the submarine USS Skate and suffered heavy damage which flooded a magazine.  On March 29th while underway Musashi was struck near the bow by a torpedo from the USS Tunny.

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Musashi under attack at the Battle of Sibuyan Sea

Both ships participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and were part of Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s Central Force in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Musashi was sunk by U.S. Navy Carrier aircraft from the Third Fleet on October 24th 1944 during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea. Hit by 17 bombs and 19 torpedoes she sank with the loss of nearly 1100 of her crew of almost 2400 men. The survivors were rescued by destroyers and disembarked at Corregidor. Some were sent by troop transport to Japan but one of the ships was torpedoed and sunk leaving her survivors adrift for 19 hours before rescue. Those who reached Japan were isolated from the population while about half of the survivors remained in the Philippines where 117 of 146 of those assigned to the defense of Manila were killed in action.

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Yamato or Musashi under air Attack

Yamato saw action in the surface engagement on October 25th against the Escort Carriers and Destroyers of Taffy-3 during the Battle off Samar. Her guns helped sink the Escort Carrier USS Gambier Bay but was forced away from the action by torpedo attacks from the valiant destroyers of Taffy-3.

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Yamato under Attack April 7th 1945

By April 1944 Japan’s Navy was decimated and U.S. Naval Forces were raiding Mainland Japan. When the United States landed on Okinawa the Japanese Navy and air force launched wave after wave of Kamikaze attacks on the ships in the waters around the island. Yamato, along with Light Cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers were designated the Surface Special Attack Force and loaded with a full load of ammunition but only enough fuel for a one way trip got underway on April 6th. The mission was for Yamato to reach Okinawa, beach herself and serve as an “unsinkable” gun battery until she was destroyed. The force was spotted by U.S. Navy flying boats hours after their departure and on April 7th over 400 aircraft launched from Task Groups 58.1 and 58.3. The first wave began its attack at 1230 and by 1400 the ship was mortally wounded. Stuck by at least 8 torpedoes and 11 bombs she was dead in the water and began to capsize at 1405. At 1420 she turned turtle and at 1423 exploded when her forward blew up sending up a mushroom cloud nearly 20,000 feet.  Under 300 of her crew of nearly 2400 were rescued.

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The End: Yamato Explodes

What had begun with the tiny “cheese box on a raft” had culminated in two of the largest warships ever built, designed when naval experts planned for a war where the battleship would rule and aircraft carriers play a supporting role. Instead both never faced enemy battleships in combat and both were destroyed by the weapon that the battleship admirals had discounted. It is somewhat fitting that each was commissioned shortly after the triumphs of Japanese and American Naval air power at Pearl Harbor and Midway. However they have attained an almost mythic status in naval lore and are symbols to many Japanese of the sacrifice and futility of the war. Both of the cities where the ships were constructed were destroyed by Atomic bombs. They are tragic reminders of the cost of war in human lives, suffering, economic cost and destruction.

musashi wreck

Musashi’s wreck was discovered by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. He posted the first picture of the ship taken in over seventy years, showing the Chrysanthemum seal on her bow to Twitter. As a devotee of these great ships I was amazed to see this.

In a sense their poetic names and the myth ascribed to them are a tragic requiem to the Japanese Empire and the cost of war. They and their brave sailors were sacrificed when the war was already for all intents and purposes lost. They, especially the Yamato were sacrificed for no military purpose save a convoluted sense of honor. Let us pray that it never happens again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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