US Navy battle group under attack from Kamikaze

This photo provided by former Kamikaze pilot Toshio Yoshitake

This photo provided by former Kamikaze pilot Toshio Yoshitake, shows Yoshitake, right, and his fellow pilots, from left, Tetsuya Ueno, Koshiro Hayashi, Naoki Okagami and Takao Oi, as they pose together in front of a Zero fighter plane before taking off from the Imperial Army airstrip in Choshi, just east of Tokyo, on November 8, 1944. None of the 17 other pilots and flight instructors who flew with Yoshitake on that day survived. Yoshitake only survived because an American warplane shot him out of the air, he crash-landed and was rescued by Japanese soldiers. (AP Photo)

A Japanese torpedo bomber goes down in flames after a direct hit by 5-inch shells from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, on October 25, 1944. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)

A Japanese torpedo bomber goes down in flames after a direct hit by 5-inch shells from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, on October 25, 1944. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)

A Japanese kamikaze pilot in a damaged single-engine bomber, moments before striking the U.S. Aircraft Carrier USS Essex, off the Philippine Islands, on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)

A Japanese kamikaze pilot in a damaged single-engine bomber, moments before striking the U.S. Aircraft Carrier USS Essex, off the Philippine Islands, on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)

A closer view of the Japanese kamikaze aircraft, smoking from antiaircraft hits and veering slightly to left moments before slamming into the USS Essex on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)

A closer view of the Japanese kamikaze aircraft, smoking from antiaircraft hits and veering slightly to left moments before slamming into the USS Essex on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)

As the US landings on the Philippines were consolidated the Japanese Navy became more desperate to halt the American advance across the Pacific. The organised use of Kamikaze suicide planes now became more frequent. Dramatic pictures of the engagement on the 25th November were to publicise the new danger. Two days later another battle group arriving off the Philippines came under a similar attack.

James J. Fahey was serving on the USS Montpelier, one of the busiest ships in the Pacific War, ending the war with 13 battle stars. He kept his diary throughout, written on loose sheets of paper kept in a tin. It was never intended for publication – but won wide acclaim when ‘discovered’ and then published in 1963. Much of the diary is worth reading simply because he covers so much of the routine life on board ship – but on the 27th the Montpelier was in the thick of a desperate fight against Japanese kamikaze planes:

27 November 1944

At 10.50 A.M. this morning General Quarters sounded, all hands went to their battle stations. At the same time a battleship and a destroyer were alongside the tanker getting fuel.

Out of the clouds I saw a big Jap bomber come crashing down into the water. It was not smoking and looked in good condition. It felt like I was in it as it hit the water not too far from the tanker, and the 2 ships that were refueling. One of our P-38 fighters hit it. He must have got the pilot.

At first I thought it was one of our bombers that had engine trouble. It was not long after that when a force of about 30 Jap planes attacked us. Dive bombers and torpedo planes. Our two ships were busy getting away from the tanker because one bomb-hit on the tanker and it would be all over for the 3 ships.

The 2 ships finally got away from the tanker and joined the circle. I think the destroyers were on the outside of the circle. It looked funny to see the tanker all by itself in the center of the ships as we circled it, with our guns blazing away as the planes tried to break through. It was quite a sight, better than the movies…

Jap planes were coming at us from all directions. Before the attack started we did not know that they were suicide planes, with no intention of returning to their base. They had one thing in mind and that was to crash into our ships, bombs and all. You have to blow them up, to damage them doesn’t mean much. Right off the bat a Jap plane made a suicide dive at the cruiser St. Louis, there was a big explosion and flames were seen shortly from the stern.

Another one tried to do the same thing but he was shot down. A Jap plane came in on a battleship with its guns blazing away. Other Jap planes came in strafing one ship, dropping their bombs on another and crashing into another ship. The Jap planes were falling all around us, the air was full of Jap machine gun bullets. Jap planes and bombs were hitting all around us. Some of our ships were being hit by suicide planes, bombs and machine gun fire…

While all this was taking place our ship had its hands full with Jap planes. We knocked our share of planes down but we also got hit by 3 suicide planes, but lucky for us they dropped their bombs before they crashed into us.

In the meantime exploding planes overhead were showering us with their parts. It looked like it was raining plane parts. They were falling all over the ship. Quite a few of the men were hit by big pieces of Jap planes.

We were supposed to have air coverage but all we had was 4 P-38 fighters, and when we opened up on the Jap planes they got out of the range of our exploding shells. They must have had a ring side seat of the show. The men on my mount were also showered with parts of Jap planes.

One suicide dive bomber was heading right for us while we were firing at other attacking planes and if the 40 mm. mount behind us on the port side did not blow the Jap wing off it would have killed all of us. When the wing was blown off it, the plane turned some and bounced off into the water and the bombs blew part of the plane onto our ship.

Another suicide plane crashed into one of the 5 inch mounts, pushing the side of the mount in and injuring some of the men inside. A lot of 5 inch shells were damaged. It was a miracle they did not explode. If that happened the powder and shells would have blown up the ship.

Our 40 mm mount is not too far away. The men threw the 5 inch shells over the side. They expected them to go off at any time. A Jap dive bomber crashed into one of the 40 mm mounts but lucky for them it dropped its bombs on another ship before crashing. Parts of the plane flew everywhere when it crashed into the mount.

Part of the motor hit Tomlinson, he had chunks of it all over him, his stomach, back, legs etc. The rest of the crew were wounded, most of them were sprayed with gasoline from the plane. Tomlinson was thrown a great distance and at first they thought he was knocked over the side. They finally found him in a corner in bad shape.

One of the mt. Captains had the wires cut on his phones and kept talking into the phone, because he did not know they were cut by shrapnel until one of the fellows told him. The explosions were terrific as the suicide planes exploded in the water not too far away from our ship. The water was covered with black smoke that rose high into the air. The water looked like it was on fire. It would have been curtains for us if they had crashed into us.

See James J Fahey: Pacific War Diary, 1942-1945: The Secret Diary of an American Sailor

Detail of the USS Montpelier in the US for a refit in October 1944, with some parts of the construction highlighted.

Detail of the USS Montpelier in the US for a refit in October 1944, with some parts of the construction highlighted.

The USS Montpelier off Mare Island after a refit in October 1944.

The USS Montpelier off Mare Island after a refit in October 1944.

The charred dent in the bulkhead of mount 54's handling room is from a Kamikaze that was splashed 100 yards from the ship while in Leyte Gulf on 27 November 1944. When the plane hit the water it skipped like a stone and impacted the ship. Fortunately it had no bomb. During this engagement, Montpelier was credited with shooting down 4 planes in 2 minutes. From the collection of crewman John Dietz.

The charred dent in the bulkhead of mount 54’s handling room is from a Kamikaze that was splashed 100 yards from the ship while in Leyte Gulf on 27 November 1944. When the plane hit the water it skipped like a stone and impacted the ship. Fortunately it had no bomb. During this engagement, Montpelier was credited with shooting down 4 planes in 2 minutes.
From the collection of crewman John Dietz.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: