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Eye Witness Account to Okinawa

This story was contributed by fellow blogger, Mike Tuggle, in tribute to his father, who sailed his final voyage this past Saturday.

My account of the Invasion of Okinawa

By:  Clayton C. Tuggle

I was one of the approximately twelve hundred men aboard the USS Birmingham CL-62. We set out for Okinawa in March, 1945.

Clayton Tuggle

Arriving in Okinawa, we were stationed about five miles from shore. We bombarded the island with 6-inch guns at night hitting several ammunition dumps and shore guns of several sizes. This went on until the invasion began on April 1, 1945. This battle was something entirely different from any the Navy had experienced. Torpedoes were exploding all around our ship, the skies were full of explosions from guns on both sides.

On the 5th of May, 1945, I was cleaning officers’ quarters when the captain [John Wilkes] came on the PA system. He said he’d just got word that 300 Kamikaze planes were headed for our fleet. He said, “The odds are against us but, men, for God’s sake, go down fighting.”

USS Birmingham

My battle station was fire control on the 40 mm guns. I received orders from the gunnery officer and relayed the message to the gun crews as per instructions to aim the guns at the oncoming planes. This was done by the radar system.

In my battle station I could see almost everything around our ship. Kamikaze planes were coming in from the port side, some would crash just before hitting our ship, some would be on fire and head for a ship of any size to hit. I saw one ship get hit by two planes at the same time. I saw several planes get shot out of the sky and crash into the sea. Some would fall near our ship.

Our Marines fired the 20 mm guns constantly as planes came as close as 50 ft from us. The sky was full of explosions. After the all-clear signal came, we headed toward the island for more bombardment. About a half-hour later everyone was back on regular duty.

USS Birmingham ripped apart by kamikaze plane, 1945

One Kamikaze having hidden in the clouds undetected by the radar came down. This tragedy killed forty-seven and wounded eighty-one on our ship. One sailor standing next to me was blown away. I never saw him again.

I was down below in officers’ quarters when the chaplain came to me and commanded me to take him topside. He was burned bad and suffering smoke inhalation. I was suffering from smoke inhalation, and something told me to get in the shower and turn it on for air. I stayed close to the shower for about a minute, then I was able to get the chaplain topside. He died three days later on a hospital ship.

I saw mangled bodies all over the deck, arms and legs were everywhere, bodies without limbs. I had known them personally. I walked by my living quarters and heard men screaming as the rescue squad was closing the hatch on them to keep the compartment from flooding. I then walked to the back of the ship and sat down for a while.

I was elected pall bearer as most of them were from my own division and I knew most of them. We were friends. They were all buried at sea.

Burial at sea.

We went back to normal duties. All my belongings had been destroyed, and I was assigned to another division temporarily and started out again as a sailor going about normal duty. We headed to Pearl Harbor for repairs. We were there for three months.

After repairs were finished we sailed to Tokyo Bay. We were preparing to attack, but the Enola Gay dropped some bombs and peace was declared.

Clayton Tuggle
3-14-1995

April 10, 1925 – May 12, 2018

Click on images to enlarge.

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Farewell Salutes – 

Jeremiah Adams – Oswego, IL; US Navy, USS Nimitz

Robert Buchert – Cincinnatti, OH; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 152nd AAA/11th Airborne Division

Bill Cooley – Seattle, WA; US Army, WWII, Lt.

Thomas Davis – Albuquerque, NM; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, Major, Silver Star

Thomas Eager – Lacona, NY; US Navy, WWII, USS Princeton

Felix Cruz-Gomez – Brandon, FL; US Army, WWII, KOrea, Vietnam, MSgt. (Ret.)

Ballard Marshall – Richmond, KY; US Army, Korea & Vietnam, Sgt.

Art Paul – Chicago, IL; US Army

Jhoon Rhee – Asan, So.KOR; civilian employee US Air Force, Korea War, interpreter

Emil Smith – Paeroa, NZ; RNZ Navy # 10828, WWII

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Lingayen Gulf, 2-8 January 1945

USS Ommaney Bay, January 1945

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The USS Louisville is struck by a kamikaze Yokosuka D4Y at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945

On 2 January, the US carrier, USS Ommaney Bay, was severely damaged by a kamikaze aircraft and would later need to be scuttled.  Three days later, the cruiser, USS Columbia, was also damaged when she was hit by 2 of the Japanese suicide planes.  US shipping received relentless kamikaze strikes that cost the Navy more than 1000 men due to those 30 hits.

Beginning on 6 January, a heavy naval and air bombardment of suspected Japanese defenses on Lingayen began.  Aircraft and naval artillery bombardment of the soon-to-be landing areas occurred, with kamikazes attacking again on the 7th.

USS Columbia hit by kamikaze

On the 8th, it was observed that in the town of Lingayen, as a response to the prelanding shelling, Filipinos had begun to form a parade, complete with United States and Philippine flags – firing was shifted away from that area.

The USS Louisville had been hit on the 5th of January with one man killed and 52 wounded, including the captain.  The following day she was attacked by six successive plane, 5 were shot down, but one got through.

USS Louisville, hit by kamikaze

The strike on the Louisville was also notable for the death of RAdmiral Theodore Chandler, commanding the battleships and cruiser in Lingayen Gulf.  He was badly burned when his Flag ship was engulfed in flames, but jumped down to the signal deck and deployed hoses to the enlisted men before waiting in line for treatment with the other wounded sailors.  However, his lungs had been scorched by the petroleum flash and he died the following day.

Rear Admiral Theodore Edson Chandler

An eye witness account of the attack on the USS Louisville, from John Duffy:

“All of a sudden, the ship shuddered and I knew we were hit again.  I was in charge of the 1st Division men and I yelled, “We’re hit, let’s go men!”  I was the first man out the Turret door followed by Lt.Commmander Foster and Lt. Hastin, our Division Officer, then a dozen more men.

“The starboard side of the ship was on fire from the forecastle deck down.  One almost naked body was laying about ten feet from the turret with the top of his head missing.  It was the kamikaze pilot that had hit us.  He made a direct hit on the Communications deck.

“As the men poured out of the turret behind me, they just stood there in shock.  Explosions were still coming from the ammunition lockers at the scene of the crash.  We could see fire there too.  Injured men were screaming for help on the Communications Deck above us.  I ordered 2 men to put out the fire on the starboard side by leaning over the side with a hose.  That fire was coming from a ruptured aviation fuel pipe that runs full length of the forecastle on the outside of the ship’s hull.  That fuel pipe was probably hit by machine-gun bullets from the kamikaze just before he slammed into us.

“Although there was no easy access to the deck above us, I ordered several men to scale up the side of the bulkhead (wall) and aid the badly burned victims who were standing there like zombies.  I also ordered 3 men to crawl under the rear Turret 1’s overhang, open the hatch there and get the additional fire hose from Officers Quarters.  These 3 orders were given only seconds apart and everyone responded immediately, but when they got near the dead Jap’s body, which was lying right in the way, it slowed them down…”

For some additional information on the Kamikaze, Click HERE.

The HMAS Australia was included in this fleet and would also come under heavy attack.  Her full story will be the following post.

Click on images to enlarge

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Military Humor – 

“I wish they’d get someone else to make up the mess duty roster!”

“Hold it , sailor! – Let’s see your orders!”

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Farewell Salutes – 

Robert Chapman – Macon, GA; US Army, WWII, PTO

George Cramer – Prichard, AL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Major, B-17 belly gunner

Peter Ferracuti – Ottawa, IL; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Charles Galloway – Clinton, SC; US Army (Ret.), WWII, Korea & Vietnam

Margaret Glazener – NC; US War Dept.; code breaker

William Hayes – London, ENG; RAF, CBI

Vance Larson – Saskatoon, CAN; RC Air Force, WWII, Captain

Richard Nichols – Billings, MT; US Army (Ret. 22 y.), 11th, 82nd & 101st Airborne Divisions, 2 bronze Stars

Thomas O’Brien – Broad Channel, NY; US Navy, WWII

Daphne White – Melbourne, AUS; Women’s British Air Force, WWII

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October 1944 (7)

Chiang Kai-shek and Gen. Stilwell

2 October – Lord Mountbatten, Commander of the SEAC, continued issuing pressure on the Japanese 15th Army in Burma.  The British IV and XXXIII Corps pursued the enemy even throughout the monsoon season.

6 October – FDR relieved Gen. Joseph Stilwell of his post as Chief of Staff to Chiang Kai-shek in an effort to appease the Nationalist leader.  [Chiang wanted to withdraw his Y Force, the Chinese Nationalist Revolutionary Army) from Burma, but when Stilwell notified FDR of his plans, he lost his patience.  FDR had tried to put Stilwell in charge of the Y Force so it could be reenforced, but Chiang became offended and the President made an about-face.

Gen. Stilwell in the field

Stilwell’s domain was split into two parts.  MGen. Albert C. Wedermeyer became Chiang’s new Chief of Staff and Chief of the China Theater.  Lt.Gen. Daniel Sultan, and engineer officer and Stilwell’s CBI deputy, now took over the India-Burma Theater.

10 October – The oil refineries at Balikpapen were devastated by a US raid using B-24 bombers in North Borneo.  Being as this area was producing 40% of Japan’s oil imports at this stage, the attack greatly affected the enemy’s resources.

As the British XV Corps prepared to advance down the Burma coastline, Gen. Sultan could now call on one British and 5 Chinese divisions, as well as a new long-range penetration group, the 532nd Brigade, known as the Mars Task Force.  This brigade-size unit consisted of the 475th infantry, containing survivors of Operation Galahad and the recently dismounted 124th Cavalry of the Texas National Guard.  A detailed account of their movements can be found HERE!

The Allies possessed nearly complete command of the air and an Allied victory in Burma was only a matter of time.  The CBI’s logistics apparatus was well established as their advance continued in 2 stages.

The suicide kamikaze attacks increased around Leyte.  The destroyer, the USS Abner Road, was sunk.  The US Vessels, Anderson, Claxton, Ammen and two other destroyers received damage.

“Burma Peacock” salvage boys shown in this photo are: W/O Herbert Carr, Capt. Charles A. Herzog, S/Sgt. Don Hall, M/Sgt. Irving C. Sallette, Pfc. Ernest Luzier, Sgts. Roland Wechsler and Clifford Baumgart.

CBI Roundup – October 26, 1944 –  “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” they’re beginning to call Chief W.O. Herbert W. Carr of this Air Service Group’s reclamation detachment. Carr makes a specialty of going into jungle or rice paddies or the mountain country in search of crashed airplanes; of bringing out those ships whole or in “complete pieces;” and recently he climaxed all his previous Frank-Buck exploits.
He took a crew behind Jap lines, and brought back a C-47 which had crashed into a crater hole – the location being behind the known perimeter of the Jap knees.
According to the commander of Carr’s outfit, the “Burma Peacock’s,” the opportunity to attempt reclamation came by merest chance, when a liaison airplane reported having seen a mired C-47 on the ground.
The party was flown into the area by Capt. Charles A. Herzog, on a UC-64 light cargo ship.  Equipment consisted of two five-gallon cans of drinking water, K-rations, 180 pounds of rice, 10 pounds of tea, and 20 pounds of sugar, in addition to kits of tools, a chain hoist, axe and other items for the job. The rice, tea and sugar were for such coolie helpers as they hoped to impress from neighboring jungle settlements.
For the next six days the men fumed and tussled in the hot sun; gradually jacked up and pulled the C-47 from the bottom of a bomb crater; repaired its gear and got its engines going.
At first, no coolies appeared, so a runner was dispatched to try to rent some elephants, when and if the pachyderms could be located. One elephant almost arrived on the job, but unfortunately Dumbo put his foot into a booby trap and plunged, screaming with hurt, through the grass, his body stinging with shrapnel. In a day, the coolies, ever sensing the need for their well-paid services, began to show up.
The extra workmen were sorely needed, according to Carr, who was forced to call off work on the first all-day shift, due to excessive heat and lack of salt to counteract the drain of energy. Eventually, the C-47 was removed from the crater by piece-meal hauling along a fresh-cut incline up the mud slopes.
When the airplane was on dry land again, engines were turned up, and the craft soon was lined up for take-off. However, an overnight wait came into the picture, the ship being absent one pilot. In the morning Combat Cargo Command dropped in with a pilot; the rejuvenated C-47 took off like a breeze, and another craft had been brought back “alive” under the ministrations of “Frank Buck” Carr.
No trouble was caused by Japs during the stay of the mechani-commandos. The Japs had learned from previous experience that Chindits and Chinese-American forces do not allow Nippons to intrude on workers without one hell of a fight.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – CBI Round-up style – 

“You Myitkyina boys should have seen the Carolina maneuvers!”

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Farewell Salutes – 

Jack Albert – Charleston, WV; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Medical Corps

Jack Bates – Presque Isle, ME; US Army, WWII, ETO

Ronald Cagle – Palm Beach, FL; US Army, 11th Airborne Division, communications

Dorothy Cook Eierman – Townsend, DE; civilian aircraft spotting station, WWII

painting “Take a Trip With Me” by SFC Peter G. Varisano

Gordon Fowler – Ottawa, CAN; RC Army, WWII

Vernon Galle – San Antonio, TX; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Pres. Jackson

Leslie Langford – Battle Creek, MI; US Army, WWII, ETO

Eric Mexted – Waikato, NZ; RNZ Army # 242467, WWII, 22nd Battalion

Donald Peterson – Salt Lake City, UT; US Navy, WWII

Marge Tarnowski – Madison, FL; US Coast Guard, WWII, radio operator

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Kamikaze

USS Reno fighting the fires on the USS Princeton

USS Reno fighting the fires on the USS Princeton

1 February 1942 is the earliest mention of a Kamikaze attack, but it was more likely an opportunist rather than a planned event. The USS Enterprise was damaged by the crashed plane. Admiral Takijiro Onishi did not create the Special Attacks Groups (Tokubetsu Kogeki Tai) until 19 October 1944, and gave them the title of Kamikaze after the ‘Divine Wind’ that scattered the Mongol invasion of Kublai Khan in 1274 and 1281.

Adm. Takijiro Onishi

Adm. Takijiro Onishi

These men volunteered mainly out of a sense of duty, generally university students, in their 20’s, being taught to “transcend life and death… which will enable you to concentrate your attention on eradicating the enemy with unwavering determination…” — an excerpt from the Kamikaze manual kept in their cockpit. Three times as many men volunteered as the number of planes available and experienced pilots were rejected. They would prepare for their fate by writing letters and poems to their loved ones. Each pilot received a “thousand-stitch sash” which was a cloth belt that 1,000 women had sewn one stitch as a symbolic union with the Kamikaze. A ceremony would be held and a last drink to give him a “spiritual lifting” and the toast – “Tennoheika Banzai!” (Long live the Emperor!) before take-off would seal his destiny.

Kamikaze receiving his sortie orders

Kamikaze receiving his sortie orders

Their initial mission was to attack the Allied shipping around the Philippines. 21 October 1944, the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy, the cruiser HMAS Australia was hit by a Kamikaze carrying a 441 pound bomb – it did not explode – but it killed 30 crew members. Four days later, the ship was hit again and forced to leave for repairs.

Shinbu kamikaze, 1945

Shinbu kamikaze, 1945

During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, antiaircraft fire was unable to stop a bomber from getting in and the 1000 lb. bomb went through the flight deck of the USS Princeton. 25 October, Lt. Yukio Seki led five Zeros, with bombs on their wings, to fly below radar aimed at Admiral Sprague’s fleet. Two of the planes were shot down by the gunners on the Fanshaw Bay.

Kamikaze commander, Lt. Yukio Seki (why the life preserver?)

Kamikaze commander, Lt. Yukio Seki (why the life preserver?)

During the following months, over 2,000 planes were used in attacks and other suicide equipment was added. The Kaiten, a manned torpedo with a 3,000 lb. warhead; Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka “Cherry Blossom” rocket bombs, bakas – flying bombs and the Shinyo, which was a one-man exploding motorboat.

At Iwo Jima and Okinawa during February through May 1945, the Kamikaze wrecked havoc with the Allies and sailors did not take long to nickname them “devil divers.” Such prestigious names as USS Saratoga, Enterprise, Franklin, Bismark Sea and Hancock were hit. The destroyer, Laffey was bombarded by 20 aircraft at once.

US07Kamikaze.001

The idea of the Special Attack Groups was not a widely accepted concept back home in Japan. Just as parents in the Allied countries, they prayed their sons would return when the war ended – being a Kamikaze eliminated that hope and on 17 July, being a part of these units was no longer voluntary.

The nickname “Zero” was basically the term for every Japanese fighter, but the Kamikaze’s “flying coffin” was the Mitsubishi A6M2. It had a maximum speed of 332 mph and a range of 1,930 miles. It had a wingspan of 39 feet and was 29′ 9″ long and then modified to accommodate a heavier payload. Several thousand of these had been put in reserve in anticipation of an invasion on the Japanese mainland, which never happened.

On the eve of the Japanese surrender, Takijiro Onishi ended his own life. He left a note of apology to his dead pilots – their sacrifice had been in vain.

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Farewell Salutes –

Crissie Glendinning – born in Monticello, GA; US Marine Corps Women’s Reserves, WWII

Joseph B. Love Sr.. – Ellenwood, GA; US Army Air Corps, B-17 flight engineer, WWII

Jerome Martin Bronfman, DDS – W. Orange, NJ & Boca Raton, FL; US Army 1942-44, WWII and 1951-53 Captain in the Dental Corps, Korean War

Joseph Samuel Tarascio – Stuart, FL; US Navy, WWII

James Joseph Heaney – Salt Lake City, Utah; US Army Military Intelligence Specialist

Michael George Malinowski – Boynton Beach, Florida; Vietnam War ( gpcox met him many times)

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New Zealand Coast Watchers – update

After publishing my coast watcher’s post, I located this information – The 17 New Zealand coast watchers beheaded by the Japanese on 15 October 1942 were first located by a priest who found their bones in one grave and skulls in another; he re-buried them. The American organization, History Flight, assisted New Zealand in relocating the gravesite. Seventy years after their tragic deaths, a memorial service was held and the last surviving coast watcher, Jack Jones, placed the first wreath on his friend’s memorial in tribute to their sacrifice.

Jack Jones pays tribute

Jack Jones pays tribute

The first wreath

The first wreath

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resources: US history.org; “The Pacific War” by John Costello; “The Pacific War: Dad by Day” by John Davison; Wikipedia; the Palm Beach Post

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