Picket Line Duty Around Okinawa
Our patrolling assignments continued through June with no further narrow escapes. However, the deck log showed that we were at general quarters 46 times in May and 39 times in June, so it hadn’t slacked off too much. In July the deck log showed only 10 times at general quarters, but we weren’t out of the woods yet.
July 2, 1945
We were patrolling at station C-4 off Ie Shima, where Ernie Pyle had been killed earlier, when, at 1:49 AM, “a low-flying airplane crossed over our starboard quarter and dropped an unidentified object into the water, about 100 yards astern”, that quote from the deck log. (That unidentified object was apparently a torpedo). My understanding from the guys who were on watch was that it passed right underneath the ship and out the other side. We had a shallow draft, ten to twelve feet with maximum fuel load, and the Japanese aerial torpedo must have been set for deeper hulls. We weren’t at general quarters, so we were dead ducks if the torpedo had been at the right depth. It would have been a disaster, whatever our state of readiness, because a Japanese torpedo would cut our ship in half. Fletcher class and Sumner class destroyers sat 2 or 3 feet deeper in the water at 14-15 feet. A light cruiser would have a draft of about 20 feet.
July 22, 1945
We were on anti-submarine patrol at station L-1 guarding the entrance to Chimu Wan, a bay on the east coast of Okinawa being used as a seaplane base. There were several seaplane tenders there, ships that supplied and cared for the PBY’s (Catalinas) and PBM’s (Martin Mariners) that were based there. Those planes were routinely taking off and landing there. Having friendly planes approaching was not unusual, and they were identified by their “IFF” signal. “IFF” stood for Identification, Friend or Foe.
At 1:21 AM an unidentified plane approached from 4,000 yards, bearing 230 deg. relative, showing weak friendly identification. At 1,000 yards it dropped a torpedo. At 1:23 AM it was opening range. It was a beautiful moonlit night and the OOD (Officer of the Deck), in spite of CIC (Combat Information Center) observing the plane on radar for several minutes before the attack, didn’t sound general quarters or tell the gunners to open fire, presumably because of fear of shooting down a friendly. The Japanese apparently did have some capability in simulating our IFF signals.
The torpedo went directly under the ship and would, again, have sunk us if set for the right depth. We didn’t get off a shot and we could see the torpedo wake going away from the ship. We lucked out, but it wasn’t one of our finer moments. I might have survived this hit because I was on the 12 to 4 AM watch and was just taking a message up to the bridge when it happened. I might possibly have been blown off into the water, but would probably have survived somehow. If I had been sleeping below decks in my bunk not far from the spot where the torpedo would have impacted, I wouldn’t have known what hit me.
July 24, 1945
We were doing anti-submarine patrol off Chimu Wan. The USS Dyson (DD 572) joined us in the evening to provide added anti-aircraft coverage. Similarly, the next day when we moved to Station K-1 off Buckner Bay, the USS Converse joined us at 7 pm to provide added anti-aircraft coverage. I mention this only because these two veteran destroyers were two of the five destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 23, the “Little Beavers” who, commanded by Captain Arleigh Burke, distinguished themselves in the Solomon Islands campaign. They each received 11 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation.
August 1, 1945
For several days we had been patrolling Station L-1 off Chimu Wan. A typhoon was approaching, coming north from the Philippines, and most of the other ships had left to ride out the storm at sea, or avoid it if they could. We kept waiting for orders to leave and put to sea. I guess we had to be last because they couldn’t leave the bay without antisubmarine protection until all the other ships were gone. The typhoon was almost upon us. Half the sky was black. At 6:04 PM we finally got orders and proceeded to escort the USS Burrows (AP 6) and the USS ST. John’s Victory, heading south into the typhoon.
The seas were humongous. You could temporarily stand on the walls because the ship was rolling so hard. Sleeping was difficult because of the motion and some of the fellows were badly bruised from falling from upper bunks onto the steel deck. Our bunk frames were stacked 4-high. I had a bottom bunk right over the footlockers, so didn’t have much of a problem. In fact, I slept right through our maximum roll, reported to be 49 degrees. We were two full days riding out the storm and returning to Patrol Station Love off Chimu Wan.
It’s a wonder we survived that typhoon, since we hadn’t taken aboard fuel for eight or nine days and had been steaming steadily. Looking at the deck logs now, it appears we went out to ride out the typhoon with about one quarter of our fuel capacity. In an earlier typhoon in the Philippines, the US lost three destroyers because they had been unable to refuel before the storm hit and were too top-heavy. The wind force and seventy-five foot waves made three of them roll over and capsize. In that typhoon, typhoon Cobra, Admiral Halsey’s fleet lost the destroyers Spence, Hull, and Monaghan, and 27 other ships were damaged. 778 sailors died. USS Tabberer (DE 418) rode out the storm, losing her mast and her radio and radar capability, but persisted in searching for survivors for two days, though badly damaged herself. She managed to rescue 55 men which is really amazing in rough seas like that. It appears that DE’s and APD’s were surprisingly seaworthy.
August 6, 1945
We were patrolling at Nakagusuku Wan, by now changed to the name Buckner Bay, when the B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, dropped “Little Boy”, an atomic bomb, on Hiroshima, Japan.
August 8, 1945
We had now shifted to the west side of Okinawa and were patrolling at screening station Able off Ie Shima. We didn’t know it then, but Russia had entered the war against Japan in “Operation August Storm” unleashing a battle-hardened combination of armies of one and a half million men. They rapidly defeated a Japanese army of a million men in Manchuria in a couple of weeks of fighting spread over an area the size of Europe. It is hard to know the impact of this huge army defeat on Japanese thinking, but the choice between a U.S. occupation army and a Russian occupation army, may have hastened the emperor’s decision to surrender to the U.S.
August 9, 1945
For us it was still the same patrolling and general quarters routine when the second atomic bomb, “Fat Man”, was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. We weren’t hearing anything like news broadcasts so the word didn’t get to us right away. The Japanese still hadn’t surrendered.
August 14, 1945
We steamed to the other side of Okinawa to Nakagusuku Wan (Buckner Bay) to fuel and take aboard 12 depth charges. There we joined the USS Sims with ComTransDiv 105 aboard, USS Barr (APD 39), USS Runnels (APD 85), USS Bass (APD 124), and USS Wantuck (APD 125) and at 11:25 pm we all got underway to join Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet on its way to Japan.
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