Picket Line Duty Around Okinawa
Anti-Kamikaze and submarine patrol
The map of the Okinawa region (below) shows the way destroyers were positioned around the island to form radar picket stations capable of monitoring air activity. R.P. 10, for example, is the location of Radar Picket station 10. The initial invasion in late March 1945 resulted in the occupation of a small cluster of islands, Karama Retto, west of the southern tip of Okinawa. This location became a fleet supply and repair anchorage, crucial to operations at Okinawa.
On April 1st, the main invasion force went ashore on the southwest shore of Okinawa on the beaches near Hagushi. There were hundreds of ships in the Hagushi anchorage bringing in the men, munitions, supplies, etc. needed to conduct the campaign, and it was essential to protect them. The radar picket screen was devised as a means to get radar early warning of enemy planes approaching the anchorage. Kamikazes flew down from Kiushu, the southernmost of the main Japanese Islands 300 miles to the north, and also from Formosa, 300 miles to the southwest. For kamikazes, since it was a one-way trip, most of them had sufficient range capability that they could vary the approach direction quite a bit.
When we got there on May 3rd the actual land fighting on Okinawa was going southward below Hagushi against heavily fortified ridges that ran across the island.
May 3, 1945
We dropped anchor at the Hagushi anchorage at about 4:30 pm and found ourselves not far from the battleship New Mexico. Everything seemed peaceful and we were on deck looking south to the horizon where battleships and cruisers were bombarding the shore. You could see the smoke from a battle ship salvo, perhaps 10 miles away, and then, about a minute later, you’d feel the pressure wave hit your face. I think the New Mexico had come into the anchorage after having her turn at bombarding.
There was also a troopship nearby unloading men to small craft to take them ashore. Suddenly there was a burst of gunfire from the New Mexico, and several of the men being unloaded were killed. Somehow a 40 mm battery hadn’t been properly secured, or someone was fooling with it, and it happened to be pointing at the troopship and not us. Being killed by friendly fire is especially disheartening. As you can see from the photo, the New Mexico was a pretty imposing ship.
That very afternoon we were assigned to an anti-submarine patrol station, B-7, and had hardly gotten there when we were sent on out to Radar Picket Station 10, about 70 miles west of Okinawa, to search for survivors of a kamikaze attack. Unbeknown to us, Kikusui #5, a mass raid of about 130 kamikazes and a similar number of protecting fighters, had begun.
It was 10:30 pm when we reached Radar Picket Station 10 and we used our 24” searchlights to scan the waters. Normally, we couldn’t smoke a cigarette outside the ship in order to keep the ship dark, so turning on a searchlight was a major departure. With kamikazes around it was a trifle foolhardy. A radar picket station would be a location, sailed in a 3-4 mile long figure 8 pattern, so we had a lot of dark ocean to search in. We didn’t find anything until 11:45 pm when someone saw a small point of light in the water. Two sailors from the LCS-25 were in the water and one had a flashlight, otherwise we’d never have found them. Lord knows how we kept from being sunk by a kamikaze that first night! The first thing the survivors said when we got them aboard, was “turn off that damn light!.” Paczkowski, E.J. Electrician’s Mate 3rd class, 726 32 49 and Mancini, J.A., Seaman 1st Class, 908 84 10 were the two crewmen from the LCS-25 that we brought aboard.
Radar Picket Station 10 had been manned by the USS Aaron Ward (DM 34), the USS Little (DD 803), LSM-195, and LCS’s, 14, 25, and 38. The USS Aaron Ward was the lead ship and coordinated with the Combat Air Patrol to help them intercept incoming kamikazes. She and the USS Little were both very capable destroyers and were reinforced by the antiaircraft fire power of the LSM and the LCS’s. Those smaller ships were commonly called “pall bearers” by the destroyer men. An LCS (Landing Craft, Support) was a derivative of an LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry), both flat- bottomed craft designed to come in close to shore to support an invasion. The LSM (Landing Ship, Medium) was a similar craft with a lot of firepower. In fact, the LSM-195 was also equipped with rockets.
The destroyer USS Little, a Fletcher class destroyer, is shown to the right. The USS Fletcher (DD 445) was the first of this class of destroyer, so there had been about 350 others of this class made before the USS Little (DD 803), so she was a new, up-to-date, ship.
The USS Aaron Ward was a still newer Sumner-class destroyer. Note the three twin 5” gun turrets.
Landing craft support ships, like the LCS(L 25) at right, were referred to as “pallbearers”. LCS-L’s were derived from the LCI, a flat-bottomed ship that could deliver infantry right in to the beach. The LCS was designed to bring antiaircraft capability and close-in fire support for troops going ashore, and could go into shallow water in relative safety, water-wise, without risking more valuable ships. They carried three dual-mount 40 mm guns and thus had as much effective night time anti-aircraft fire as the Pavlic did, hence providing good back-up support to the destroyers on the radar picket stations.
Another type of landing craft support ship, the LSM-R, were also flat-bottomed for close-in bombardment of shorelines. The “R” meant they were equipped with rockets as well as guns. The ship at left is a sister ship to the LSM-R 195, sunk at Radar Picket Station 10, to which the Pavlic was dispatched to rescue the crew.
LSM’s were also used to support the radar picket stations. The photo below shows three of them in action bombarding a beach with rockets.
In this action at Radar Picket Station 10, the USS Little (DD 803) and the LSM-195 were sunk by kamikazes. The USS Aaron Ward (DM 34) was very badly damaged, also by kamikazes. The LCS-25 was dismasted by a kamikaze. The two sailors we pulled out of the water were from the LCS-25.
When you look at what happened to the superstructure of the USS Aaron Ward, you wonder why more men weren’t killed. In spite of the damage, she was patched up enough to steam under her own power and later limped 3,000 miles back to the States, where she was ultimately sold for scrap. War or no war, I wouldn’t have wanted to try sailing across the Pacific in that ship.
Site by Beau Designs