Kamikaze pilots find the remote US base at Ulithi

 A Life magazine image of the US Naval base at Ulithi atoll in the Caroline islands. The remote Pacific location, with an anchorage larger than Pearl Harbour, was used asa staging base in preparation fro major amphibious operations, including Okinawa.
A Life magazine image of the US Naval base at Ulithi atoll in the Caroline islands. The remote Pacific location, with an anchorage larger than Pearl Harbour, was used as a staging base in preparation for major amphibious operations, including the invasion of Okinawa.
USS Iowa in a floating drydock at Manus Island, Ulithi Atoll, 28 December 1944.
USS Iowa in a floating drydock at Manus Island, Ulithi Atoll, 28 December 1944.

The disparity in resources between the United States and Japan had now become quite incredible. It was hard to believe that the Japanese had calculated, just over three years before, that a single knockout blow at Pearl Harbour could overcome the Americans. While one fleet of hundreds of U.S. Navy ships was still besieging the island of Iwo Jima, another fleet was gathering at the remote base at Ulithi, preparing for the invasion of Okinawa. The U.S. Navy had occupied the islands, unopposed, in September 1944.

The supply situation for many Japanese bases was now imperilled by their lack of shipping, with their transports now constantly threatened by Allied submarines. Many Japanese troops had their food strictly rationed. On Iwo Jima their men had been on a very restricted diet for a long time and they struggled to find enough drinking water. By contrast the Americans were able to provide their men with ice cream.

Within a month of the occupation of Ulithi, a complete floating base was in operation. Six thousand ship fitters, artificers, welders, carpenters, and electricians arrived aboard repair ships, destroyer tenders, and floating dry docks. The USS Ajax had an air-conditioned optical shop and a metal fabrication shop with a supply of base metals from which she could make any alloy to form any part needed. The USS Abatan, which looked like a big tanker, distilled fresh water and baked bread and pies. The ice cream barge made 500 gallons a shift. The dry docks towed to Ulithi were large enough to lift dry a 45,000 ton battleship. The small island of Mog Mog became a rest and recreation site for sailors.

Fleet oilers sortied from Ulithi to meet the task forces at sea, refueling the warships a short distance from their combat operational areas. The result was something never seen before: a vast floating service station enabling the entire Pacific fleet to operate indefinitely at unprecedented distances from its mainland bases. Ulithi was as far away from the US Naval base at San Francisco as San Francisco was from London, England. The Japanese had considered that the vastness of the Pacific Ocean would make it very difficult for the US to sustain operations in the western Pacific. With the Ulithi naval base to refit, repair and resupply, many ships were able to deploy and operate in the western Pacific for a year or more without returning to the Naval base at Pearl Harbor.

Source: Wikipedia

40mm mount in action at Ulithi. At left are twin .50 cal. guns on the tail of a PBM on board.
40mm mount in action at Ulithi. At left are twin .50 cal. guns on the tail of a PBM on board U.S.S. Cumberland Sound (AV-17).

On the island itself was a young Marine Corps pilot, still training with his squadron, in preparation for combat with an enemy they had yet to meet. Samuel Hynes was to go on to write a reflective memoir of his time in the Marines, as befits a man who is now Professor of Literature at Princeton University:

Out in the lagoon the warships gathered and waited, but as we flew over them, coming and going on our solitary patrols, they did not look like menacing machines designed to burn and drown men, but like delicate abstractions – slender, tapered shapes at rest on the smooth bright water, part of the static pattern of our lives.

And so when the air-raid sirens began to howl one evening in the early dark, we took it for a drill. After all, the nearest Japanese planes were away off in the Philippines, and there weren’t many of them left even there.

As the island lights went out, we left the club and gathered curiously at the lagoon-end of the landing strip, and watched the fleet black out – a ship here, a ship there, one or two of the big ones delaying, and then suddenly blinking out, until at last the whole lagoon was dark. Not a very successful drill, I thought; it had been far too slow.

And then, astonishingly, anti-aircraft guns began to fire, and tracers sprayed up into the darkness, as though the lights that had burned across the waters of the lagoon were being hurled into the sky. I began to feel exposed, standing there on the runway while the guns fired; but no one else moved, so I didn’t.

Across the lagoon a plane screamed into a dive, higher and higher pitched, and there was a flash and an explosion, and an instant later another explosion in what seemed the center of the moored ships. Then darkness and silence, until the all- clear sounded, and lights began to come on in the harbor again.

It had been a kamikaze raid. The Japanese planes had flown all the way from the main islands, touching at the Philippines. They had planned to refuel at Yap, and then fly on to attack the fleet at Ulithi; but bad navigation, bad weather, bad luck, whatever it was, had delayed them, and sent some planes back.

Others had crash-landed on the Yap beach. Only three reached Ulithi. One was shot down; one crashed into the deck of the carrier Randolph, where the crew was crowded into the hangar deck watching a movie; and one, taking an island for a large ship, dove on Mogmog and blew up a kitchen.

The whole lasted perhaps fifteen minutes. We were excited by it – perhaps entertained is a more precise word – it was a spectacle, like a son et lumiére, with noise, light, explosions.

We didn’t know what was happening to human lives while we watched, but even if we had, I wonder if it would have mattered. We were a mile or so from the Randolph, and perhaps a mile is too far to project the imagination to another man’s death. We took it as a sign that the war was still with us, that we still had an enemy, and went to bed heartened by the incident.

See Samuel Hynes: Flights of Passage: Recollections of a World War II Aviator

Yokosuka P1Y "Frances" shot down next to USS Ommaney Bay (CVE-79),  0945 on December 15, 1944
Yokosuka P1Y “Frances” shot down next to USS Ommaney Bay (CVE-79), 0945 on December 15, 1944
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CV-15) alongside repair ship USS Jason (ARH-1) at Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, 13 March 1945, showing damage to her aft flight deck resulting from a kamikaze hit on 11 March. The photograph was taken from a floatplane from the light cruiser USS Miami (CL-89).
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CV-15) alongside repair ship USS Jason (ARH-1) at Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, 13 March 1945, showing damage to her aft flight deck resulting from a kamikaze hit on 11 March. The photograph was taken from a floatplane from the light cruiser USS Miami (CL-89).

26 thoughts on “Kamikaze pilots find the remote US base at Ulithi”

  1. My dad Robert Hoffman was a gunner’s mate on the APA USS Eastland which was at Ulithi 3/25 – 4/26/45. While there the Eastland splashed 4 Japanese planes but was given credit for 3 – 1/2. My dad said admirals’ heads would always twist in port when they saw that an APA had splashed 3-1/2 Japanese planes. In response to questions about him shooting down any planes, my dad always said he manned the ship’s 5-inch gun which was only used to soften up the islands before unloading Marines. Many years later at his first ship reunion, we learned from his shipmates that my dad was the one who had shot down all 4 Japanese planes. The irony is that my dad’s beloved little brother married a Japanese women while he was on R&R from Korea. Just a few years ago she revealed to me that her older brother had been a kamikaze pilot. My dad died in May 2017 at age 95.

  2. My father was a navy corpsman (Pharmacists’s Mate) with Standard Landing Craft Unit 34 on Sorlen when the attack occurred. What I remember of the story from when I was a child was that the plane wound up at the water’s edge, and he and some other men approached it; being the corpsman he checked the pilot and found him to have perished, but also pulled a map from his pockets which was then turned over to Navy Intelligence. They found it to be of no use as it was simply a general map of the pacific, and stamped it and gave it back to him as a souvenir. I have the map.

  3. My Daddy signed up for WWll (USMC) at 15 yrs old and was on the USS Randolph on its maiden voyage from VA to Trinidad, thru the Panama Canal, San Francisco and on to the Pacific. He was on board the ship when it was hit by the kamikaze, including him as of the injured. He is a USS Randolph plank owner, and also, very much alive and kicking at 92 years old. Sempre Fidelis!

  4. My father served on Falalop at Ulithi. He was in the Argus 14 unit, part of a naval unit. The Argus units were secretive as they set up radar units. He never spoke of the war. After his death, I found his Argus unit photo. I did find an old gentleman who lived near me in Northern California and chatted with him about the Argus units – he was in Argus 24. He told me that the Argus units would storm the beaches alongside the Marines.
    I’d love to hear from anyone who had a relative in an Argus unit.

  5. Discussing this historic event, right now with my 95 year old father Leonard Allen, who was serving on the Randolph as an aircraft mechanic. He was in the hanger deck watching the movie when the kamaikazi hit the fantail.

    This site really brought back some memories for our dear dad, thank everyone for their contributions to these events, and god bless those who served in WWII.

  6. My Father was a Fire Control Man 2nd class on the USS Vicksburg, a Cleveland Class Light Cruiser which had arrived at Ulithi after providing fire support at Iwo Jima. My Dad was on the fantail of his ship with most of the ship’s crew including the Ship’s Captain waiting for the night’s movie to begin. At this time the young Officer of the Deck had left the bridge and was looking for the Captain in the dark. At almost the same time a Japanese Kamikaze plane barely cleared the Vicksburg before crashing into the Randolph.
    My Dad was mad as hell, at the Officer of the Deck! It is not practical in an anchorage like Ulithi to have all the ships radars turned on. Only a few radars were needed to warn the Fleet of an air attack. The standing order was that if any unidentified aircraft came towards Ulithi that general quarters be sounded for all the ships at the anchorage.

    The enlisted men in Fire Control had been tracking the planes almost as soon as they left Yap. The Officer of the Deck’s responsibility was to alert all the ships and call general quarters. Instead, he left the bridge to ask the Captain what he should do even though his orders were clear.

  7. My father Paul Sartorio was a Seabee on Ulithi Atoll during World War II. Though he had experience in concrete construction they made him a supervisor in the warehouse keeping track of the materials. He told me that at times he had to take watch, carrying a weapon. I still have some of his emblems and badges.

  8. My dad was the Randolph’s skipper (Felix Baker) and a plank owner and always said if his men had not been watching a movie casualties would’ve been a lot worse.

  9. My father, Milton Hutchins, passed away Aug 4th, 2017. He was on LCT-1263 tied to the USS Randolph on the aft starboard side, unloading ammunition they had transported from the ammo supply ship to the carrier. He told me the crew of the USS Randolph yelled at them to cast off and get the hell away from them because Japanese planes were coming. They did and backed off as fast as they could. They saw that kamikase fly into the USS Randolph.
    I knew for a long time that he was in the Pacific but it wasn’t till he was 89 or 90 that he told me about the USS Randolph. Like so many others he was only 19 at the time.

  10. My Father, Calvin D Pigman just passed away last November 14, 2017, He had his original orders for mission he flew, was awarded Air Medal for Mission 6 August 1945! He was stranded on Ulithi 4 August 1945

  11. I am transcribing my Dad’s journal. He just passed away in January 2018 at the age of 92. He was 17 and on the USS Magoffin. I just got to April 1, 1945 where he was writing about a huge battle. I stopped typing to look up Ulithi and found this site. Amazing!

  12. My father was a Marine aboard the U.S.S. Tennessee. He wrote in his log book that they left Iwo Jima for Ulithi on March 7, 1945 and noted that they arrived at Ulithi on March 10, 1945. They left on March 21, 1945 for the next operation – Okinawa.

  13. My dad was on the USS San Juan, anchored next to the Randolph when this happened. They were also watching a movie that evening, on the fantail of the ship (Dad said it was a John Wayne movie). He saw the explosion from the one plane diving into the island, and said that the other plane that got through flew so low that if he’d been standing, it might have taken his head off. He saw it slam into the Randolph, and learned later about the casualties. He was on the San Juan until after the surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay, and spent time in Japan liberating POWs (including Pappy Boyington). He’s over 91 now and I still hear amazing stories about WWII from him.

  14. My father was a Seabee on the Ulithi, Asor at the time the Randolph was struck.

    It was a hot day in the tropics as usual. The sun just went down and a full moon
    was appearing. Most of the men were off duty and waiting for the movie to begin.
    Suddenly a plane flew so low over our camp it was deafening. A few minutes later a
    loud explosion was heard in the atoll from an aircraft (USS Randolph). It lit up the
    entire fantail in the darkness. A Kamikaze made a direct hit killing 27 sailors aboard. At the same time another Kamikaze dove into a small island called Sorlen alongside of us. It lit up the island. Twenty one sailors were buried on our island (Asor) with the remains of the Jap pilot.

  15. Hi my father served on HMS Implacable Fleet Carrier during world war 11 he was part of the task force T 37 made up of American and British navy forces
    based at Truk Caroline Islands carried out raids against Japanese forces returned to Australia then back to Britain at end of war debt of gratitude owed to all American and British who died or survived this war your freedom today was won by all who fought for a better world.

  16. I had read that Ulithi atoll was the 2nd largest atoll in world and I discovered this website with comments about Ulithi and Yap. I had been assigned to USS Chicot, AK170 on December 23, 1949, our home port was Guam. When we were at Ulithi in 1950, I was not aware that atoll served such an important part in the defeat of the Japanese! There were Naval bases on several islands that we resupplied during 18 months I was aboard the USS Chicot; Koror, Palau, Truk, Ponape, Kwajalein, Eniwetok , Majuro, Saipan, Tinian!!

  17. My father Roy Kerley was an electricians mate on the USS Jason during this event.He relayed this story to me as a young teenager and I could see the pride and sorrow in his eyes as he spoke. He was very proud of his time on the Jason and his time in the service. I was unable to appreciate the work and his role during this period until several years later. My service was during the Vietnam War era. I came to fully understand what my father’s service meant to him. I am sorry, that we never got to see the ship before it was scrapped. He passed away in 2001.

  18. My grandfather was on the Randolph, a Hellcat pilot. He was one of the men enjoying the movie being shown that the Marine mentioned. The man sitting next to him was killed.

  19. My grandfather was stationed on Ulithi.

    I had heard stories of this attack on the island.
    He said when the plane hit the island, most everyone was the the other end watching a movie.
    He, along with others, made their way down to the crash site, and cut chunks of aluminum out of the plane that crashed and molded them into bracletts.

    I am fortunate and lucky enough to actually have this “braclett” in my possession.

    My grandfather gave it to me on my 30th birthday!

  20. I was a Signalman 2/c on the islet of Sorlen from January 1945 until October. On March 11, 1945 two (not three) Japanese planes attached Ulithi. One hit the carrier Randolph and the other hit the islet of Sorlen (NOT MogMog). The only recognizable thing was a tire which flew over the mess hall and landed on the reef.

  21. My dad was there for the duration– he never said much about it– I do know he turned down a purple heart — he mentioned a bit about the Zeros coming in with gun fire the island time to time.

  22. My dad was stationed on the island as a Mailman 1st Class ,I believe. He recounted the kamikaze attack to us as the Duty officer leaving on the communication tower lights on movie night and everyone was at the other end of the island as the plane struck the tower. Only a big crater as a result of the attack. No one hurt.

  23. I know an old timer who was there serving on the carrier USS Shamrock Bay when the Japanese attacked. His ship was at a lot of the major Pacific battles on day 1, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and survived. His name is Stan Groth, engine man and gunner. He’s got a lot of stories to tell.

  24. My father Amerigo J Ratti ( NY) SF 3c was a plank owner abord The USS Jason ARH1, he was very proud of the repair work The Jason was called to do during his service in WWII.

  25. Thank you for your great research and presentation in this daily documentary. I’ve been viewing your site daily for years and look forward to it every day. My grandfather was a Randolph crew member at the time of this attack and I clearly recall his stories of this day. He avoided death by a last minute decision to skip the movie on the hanger deck and go elsewhere for a smoke. He also related to me how he was a ships firefighter and had to remove many bodies from the wreckage.

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