Monthly Archives: September 2015

Kamikaze

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BB55 under attack off Okinawa, April 7, 1945. Note splash of enemy plane to left of Battleship.

BB55 under attack off Okinawa, April 7, 1945. Note splash of enemy plane to left of Battleship.

“The suicide attack represents by far the most difficult antiaircraft problem yet faced by the fleet. Expert aviation opinion agrees that an unhindered and undamaged plane has virtually a 100% chance of crashing a ship of any size regardless of her evasive action.”

Antiaircraft Action Summary, April 1945

“These kamikaze tactics started while we were at Puget Sound and this was our first time actually see them [November 1944]. We have been informed about them but really seeing kamikazes brought it home how terrifying they were. They generally would only put a carrier out of operation about an hour unless they also had a bomb on the plane. They did kill a lot of men and men were injured with flash burns. These attacks were endured every time we left port until the war ended. I saw an awful lot of suicide dives on ships. There were a lot of hits and misses too. It is an awful thing to witness. It makes you very angry and helpless. You have to hit the plane and cause him to veer off course…. It is maddening to think a person is willing to sacrifice his life to do this.”

C.J. Baker, FireControlman 3/c

“While at General Quarters at Batt II with Commander Stryker during an air attack a kamikaze pilot flew his plane very, very close, right at our level. In the glare of all antiaircraft guns firing, his being not more than 40 feet from where we were standing, looked squarely into our eyes, then in a flash passed forward, with his plane flipping into the sea over the port bow.”

Ensign Paul Rhyne

“We all became trigger happy whenever any aircraft were sighted within or near the formation. One morning we launched our Kingfishers on a mission to rescue downed pilots. Five minutes before the launch and for every minute thereafter until the planes cleared the formation we alerted our Task Group that they were “friendlies.” In spite of those announcements they were taken under fire five separate times by our own ships as they climbed to operating altitude and departed the formation.”

Captain Tracy Wilder [then Lt(jg) Wilder]

“When the kamikazes came in we set up our window [chaff] fire just like an umbrella. Some got through. It didn’t hit us but we shot a lot of their planes down but some get through. They always do. They would get between us and another ship and you couldn’t fire at them. That’s casualties of war I guess.”

Henry Okuski, Fireman 3/c

“When the kamikazes hit that was the most demoralizing part of the whole war as far as I was concerned. They sank some ships but they didn’t seem to do as much damage. They put some carriers out of commission but it was the fact that they were throwing everything up there and they were still coming in. There isn’t anything you can do. That was about the worst part of the war as far as I was concerned. The sky went black with flack and everything. These guys were still coming in. It almost had to be a direct hit to get them. You saw some of them with part of a wing coming off but they would still be there, almost like a missile. Diving. Nothing turned them away.”

Harold Smith, FireControlman 1/c

“We have been in Hell for the last four days. It is getting late so I will close and go to bed, the first time in four days and nights and I can say this much, we are really tired but we are ready for more planes.”

Joseph A. Halas, Seaman 1/c, March 21, 1945, after days at battle stations

Japanese kamikaze pilot saluting as he receives his sortie orders, 1944-45.

Japanese kamikaze pilot saluting as he receives his sortie orders, 1944-45.

“Went to air defense at 0100 this morning. Many enemy planes came in and we opened up at 12000 yards and we shot one down. We were at air defense the greatest part of the day. Three planes came in today and there were shot down. One Japanese plane came in this morning at G.Q. at about 12000 yards. We didn’t open fire but several ships did. The three that came in were in the afternoon and late morning. I was on watch in Spot One at the time they came in. The first one was at a high altitude and flew right over the ship. I was on him with my periscope. We opened up with everything we had and finally shot him down.”

Jerry Kass, FireControlman, April 16 and 17, 1945

“Okinawa is where we got hit. It is when the Japanese came out with everything they had or almost everything they had. There were a lot of suicide planes. We didn’t get hit by a suicide plane but we fired at a lot of them, knocked some down.”

Anonymous

“We had been participating in the pre-invasion bombardments and aerial attacks on Okinawa since March 4th [1945] during which time the Task Force had been subjected to hundreds of kamikaze attacks. April 6th was different only in that the kamikazes were even more numerous than usual. By 1300 the NORTH CAROLINA alone had shot down two kamikazes and at least three others were splashed by other ships. Our fighters shot down several more.

“We picked him up visually when he came hedge-hopping over the ships in the center of the formation heading directly for us. We had just shot down our second kamikaze of the day and were unable to bear on the bomber until he was over the ship. He passed over the radar mast just aft of Sky 2, so low and so near that from my elevated perch in Sky 2 I could almost look the pilot in the eye.”

Ensign Al Dunn

“Our chief enemy has become the single fanatic suicide attacks during the daytime. The suicide attack is even more difficult for the A.A. batteries because the Japanese use our returning strikes to keep hidden from our radar…and they have learned much about our radar and their fade zone. He comes in high and dives down through the fade zone. We must be alert and have our machine guns alerted to cover the limitations of radar. An overhead lookout will be stationed on every 20mm group.”

General A.A. Procedure memorandum, BB55

Learn More About It:

The origin of the name “kamikaze” derives from the Mongol invasion fleet that was destroyed by a tornado as it sailed towards Japan in 1281. The people believed that Tenshi, the Son of Heaven, had intervened saving them by unleashing a “kamikaze,” the Divine Wind.

“Kamikaze: A Japanese Pilot’s Own Spectacular Story of the Famous Suicide Squadrons,” by Yasuo Kuwahara and Gordon Allred

“Kamikaze Nightmare,” by Ron Burt

“I Was A Kamikaze,” by Ryuji Nagatsuka

VIDEO LINK – Japanese Attacks on U.S. Navy carriers, March 20, 1945. “This film shows several ships as Japanese planes attacked. The ships shown include the USS Hancock (CV-19), the USS Enterprise (CV-6), the USS North Carolina (BB-55), and the USS Cleveland (CL-55).”

Torpedo Strike

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Torpedo damage view

Torpedo damage view

“September 14, 1942: They passed the word last night that we would have early G.Q. than ordinary. So this morning all hands up ravin for action, but so far nothing has happened.

September 15, 1942: If I ever put in another day quite like today I shall put in a chit for the Recruiting Station in Des Moines, Iowa. In the first place I had the mid-watch last night. I couldn’t get any sleep to make up for [it]. I was woke up three times this afternoon then I went below to my bunk determined to get a little sleep somehow.

WASP under attack

WASP under attack

I had just dropped off when Wagner shook me and said the WASP had been bombed or torpedoed. Naturally I got topside in nothing flat just in time to see the WASP at about 290 or 300 degrees relative. I’ll never be able to completely express what I saw.

The WASP was making a port turn as we swung to starboard. A huge billowing black cloud hung above her superstructure punctuated amidships with a flame – a flame that something told me came from a burning airplane. The flame flickered and died as if in prelude to the great tongue of fire that leaped more than 100 feet into the air with the advent of a second cloud of black oily smoke.

By this time I had reached my gun but was totally captivated by the sight of what was evidently the third torpedo striking on her port beam. The water, black with oil, geysered [stet] up high above her flight deck. The flame that gutted her midship third was sickening. My stomach knotted up and I actually felt ill.

Bull Williams stood alongside of me as all of this happened and shouted, ‘Aerial Attack.’ I looked at him and past him as the USS O’BRIEN took a torpedo. I saw the black water spout up. I looked forward and saw another geyser on our port bow. I thought sure he was right after that for they looked like thousand pound bomb explosions.

Then I felt rather than heard a dull, whispered thud as I fell to the deck. I began picking myself up and as I rolled over the blue of the sky was blotted out by brown billowing gas. It was the familiar smell of fuel oil but it terrified me so much that I placed my arm over my eyes and stumbled to the ready box.”

-Diary of Arthur G. Hahn, Storekeeper 1/c

“On a quiet day, I was on a gun deck looking out at the [carrier] WASP which was quite a ways from us when I saw an explosion. Instinct told me to head to my battle station even before the alarm sounded. In a matter of seconds, there was a major explosion on the port side. The explosion was so big, I didn’t realize it was the destroyer O’BRIEN which had been hit by a torpedo. I just knew I had to get to my battle station.

The procedure when General Quarters sounded was to go forward and up on the starboard side, down and aft on the port side. I was on the port side and cheated a little. No one was around and I’d save time. All of a sudden we took our torpedo hit. I didn’t know if we had been bombed or what. There was smoke and cordite all around. I was tempted to go aft because the hit was ahead of me. I shrugged off the thought, but felt my way gingerly forward because the smoke still obscured my path. I subsequently went up the many ladders to my battle station. I could see our oil slick from there. Worse, I could see the WASP ablaze with towering clouds of black smoke. Through my binoculars I could see their crew pushing planes overboard so they wouldn’t explode and make matters worse. She was subsequently sunk during the night.

In a matter of a few weeks, we lost four cruisers off Guadalcanal. Lost one carrier with us, had two carriers damaged, and limped back to Pearl for repairs after burying our dead on an island. I was 19 at the time, and sort of matured.”

- Larry Resen, Fire Controlman 1/c and Asst. to the Air Defense Officer

“We were now operating with the WASP. We were getting very leery of Mondays. When Monday, September 14th came and went, we all had a sigh of relief. On September 15th, I was on my way to my battle station in Sky 2 when I heard an explosion. Off our port side the WASP was hit with one torpedo. When I got to the top of [5-inch] director two more torpedoes had hit the WASP which was fueling planes for their next strike. The gas lines were ruptured and flaming gasoline we flowing over the sides like a waterfall. It was then we got hit….”

- Harold Smith, Fire Controlman 1/c

Torpedo damage

Torpedo damage

Summary:

On September 15, 1942, Japanese submarine I-19 quickly fired six long-range torpedoes at the U.S. carrier WASP. Three torpedoes struck their target causing such damage that the task force commander ordered WASP to be sunk that night. The remaining three torpedoes raced on across several miles into a second carrier force. One torpedo slammed into the U.S. destroyer O’BRIEN that would break up several weeks later due to severe hull damage.

Another torpedo blasted NORTH CAROLINA on her port (left) side just forward of the thick armor belt designed to protect her from torpedoes. The enormous blast shook the Ship and crew and sent tons of oil and water skyward. Tons more water quickly flooded into the resulting 32 by 18 foot hole causing the Ship to lean, a situation the crew quickly corrected by purposefully flooding compartments on the opposite side. Five men were killed and 23 were wounded.

Killed in Action:
Albert Geary, Seaman 1/c
Ingwald Nelson, Ship Fitter 2/c
Leonard Pone, Gunner’s Mate 3/c
William Skelton, Seaman 2/c
Oscar Stone, Ship Fitter 3/c