Kamikaze attacks hit US Fleet at Leyte Gulf

With each salvo of popping, two or three more panicky crew men would leap over the side, and we found that our most urgent task was to persuade those poised on the rail not to jump by a combination of physical restraint and reassurance that fires were being controlled and that more help was on the way. Most of the remaining wounded in the forecastle area were severely burned beyond recognition and hope. All that could be done for the obviously dying was to give the most rudimentary first aid consisting of morphine, a few swallows of water, and some words of companionship, leaving them where we found them and moving on to others.

A Suwannee crewman cuts away the damage so that cross-members can be added for bracing during deck repairs after the first kamikaze attack.
A Suwannee crewman cuts away the damage so that cross-members can be added for bracing during deck repairs after the first kamikaze attack.
A Suwannee crewman inspects the engine of one of the Japanese Zeroes that deliberately crashed into the ship.
A Suwannee crewman inspects the engine of one of the Japanese Zeroes that deliberately crashed into the ship.

The Battle of the Leyte Gulf, the clash of the US Navy and the most important elements of the Imperial Japanese off the Philippines, continued.

The Japanese were now desperate to prevent further US advances and threw the greater part of their remaining Navy into the attack, without the Philippines they would be cut off from their fuel supplies.

The mismatch between the resources of the two sides was now so great that the US Navy had more ships than the IJN had planes. The battle saw the first organised use by the Japanese of ‘Kamikaze’ tactics – their planes would be used in suicide attacks on Allied ships.

LT Walter B. Burwell, MC, USNR, a medical officer on USS Suwannee (CVE-27) describes the situation on the carrier after two Kamikaze attacks. He had been so exhausted by his work over the past few days that he had fallen asleep in a bunk on a lower deck rather than return to his own quarters. It proved to be a lucky escape – because where he should have been sleeping was smashed apart in the Kamikaze attack on the 26th September:

After the first explosion, my corpsman lit out for my stateroom to get me, thinking that’s where I was. But when he got up there he found that my stateroom had been demolished and thought I was gone. I will never forget how after we got working again, he looked up and saw me and said, “My God, you can’t be here.” Indeed, he thought I was dead. “I’m so glad I’m not here by myself,” he said.

The second explosion forced us to evacuate the battle dressing station. After the first explosion, there was smoke and fire fed by aviation gasoline pouring onto the deck above us. The wreckage in the passageway and ladder to the deck above by bomb and ammunition explosions, prevented entrance or exit to or from our dressing station. But up to that point we could have remained where we were, at least temporarily.

However, the second explosion further wrecked our compartment, buckled our bulkheads, and ruptured water mains above and in our compartment, so that we began to flood. As the water level rose to knee height in our compartment, the ship was listing uncomfortably and lying dead in the water without steerage because of destruction of the bridge and wheelhouse. Isolated from the rest of the ship with only the reflection from the gasoline fires above and a few flickering battle lamps for light, I saw my wounded partially covered with wreckage and already awash and knew that we had to evacuate.

I think there were about 30 of us, including two corpsmen, two stretcher bearers, and perhaps 25 wounded resulting from the action of the day before, mostly consisting of extensive burns, blast and fragmentation injuries, traumatic amputations, compound fractures, and multiple severe lacerations. About half the wounded were able to help themselves to some extent in dragging themselves about, but the remainder required stretchers to be moved.

Though I did not know the extent of damage to the compartments aft of us, I knew that they were unoccupied and sealed off during battle conditions. I informed my corpsmen that I would try to find an escape by this route as it seemed to offer our only hope of evacuation. We opened the hatch to the adjacent compartment, and I was able to get through it and lock it behind me without flooding from our compartment. Feeling my way with the help of a pocket flash light, I found the compartment to be intact and dry, though without light or ventilation.

Then I worked my way aft through several adjacent unoccupied compartments in the same way until at last I reached an open space on the main deck. Now, feeling certain that we could make our way out by this route, I returned to my group in the forward battle dressing station. There, with my corpsmen and stretcher bearers, and with the valiant help of some of the mobile wounded, we were able to move our stretcher-bound wounded through the hatches from one compartment to the next without leaving or losing a single member of our party to finally emerge on the open deck.

From there, we entered the Chief Petty Officers’ Mess, to find 2 corpsmen tending to about 20 more wounded. So, we joined forces to organize an amidship’s dressing station and began to gather additional wounded in that area.

On the deck above, we found about 15 or 20 more wounded, mostly burns and blast injuries, who had made their way into bunks in the Chief Petty Officers Quarters. There was no immediate possibility of moving them to our already overflowing and understaffed amidship’s station. One of my corpsmen and I gathered up what medical supplies we could carry and made our way up to the Chiefs’ Quarters to treat the wounded there.

Just as we arrived at the entrance to the compartment, a sailor, apparently in panic, came running along the passageway screaming, “Everybody’s going over the side! The Captain’s dead! Every one on the bridge has been killed! Everybody’s abandoning ship!”

Now, havoc! Now, contagious panic and cold fear! The wounded who had crawled into the compartment began struggling to get out, screaming hysterically, “Where’s my life jacket? Who took my life jacket? Turn that loose! G’mme that! No, it’s mine!” Some were shoving toward the entrance, fighting and scrambling over one another.

My heart sank as I stepped into the threshold to block the entrance and shout over and over, “Get back into your bunks! There’s no order to abandon ship! You don’t need your life jackets!”

I could see this was only having limited effect; so, with much inward trepidation but outwardly extravagant bravado, I made myself step into the compartment from the threshold, remove my own life jacket and helmet and hang them in clear view on a coat hook near the entrance.

Then, I had to consciously force myself to move away from the entrance and the comfort and security of my life jacket and go into the compartment to tend the wounded, fearing that at any moment some panicky sailor might snatch my life jacket and bolt, setting off a wild melee. It seemed to me that time hung in the balance for an eternity, but finally one after another of the men quieted down and crawled back into their bunks, so that gradually things began at last to calm down and sort themselves out.

However this was not the limit of the horror that was unfolding on the ship:

In the meantime one of our corpsmen tending the wounded on the flight deck saw the plight of those isolated by fire on the forecastle. He came below to report that medical help was critically needed there. It seemed to me that we would have to try to get through to them.

So he and I restocked our first aid bags with morphine syrettes, tourniquets, sulfa, Vaseline, and bandages, commandeered a fire extinguisher and made our way forward, dodging flames along the main deck. Along part of the way, we were joined by a sailor manning a seawater fire hose with fairly good pressure, and though the seawater would only scatter the gasoline fires away from us, by using the water and foam alternatively as we advanced, we managed to work our way up several decks, through passageways along the wrecked and burning combat information center and decoding area, through officers’ country, and finally out on the forecastle.

Many of the crew on the forecastle and the catwalks above it had been blown over the side by the explosions. But others trapped below and aft of the forecastle area found themselves under a curtain of fire from aviation gasoline pouring down from burning planes on the flight deck above. Their only escape was to leap aflame into the sea, but some were trapped so that they were incinerated before they could leap.

By the time we arrived on the forecastle, the flow of gasoline had mostly consumed itself, and flames were only erupting and flickering from combustible areas of water and oil. Nonetheless, the decks and bulkheads were still blistering hot and ammunition in the small arms locker on the deck below was popping from the heat like strings of firecrackers.

With each salvo of popping, two or three more panicky crew men would leap over the side, and we found that our most urgent task was to persuade those poised on the rail not to jump by a combination of physical restraint and reassurance that fires were being controlled and that more help was on the way.

Most of the remaining wounded in the forecastle area were severely burned beyond recognition and hope. All that could be done for the obviously dying was to give the most rudimentary first aid consisting of morphine, a few swallows of water, and some words of companionship, leaving them where we found them and moving on to others.

For the full story see Naval History and Heritage

Suwannee leaves Puget Sound Naval Yard following repairs for the damage sustained by kamikazes.
Suwannee leaves Puget Sound Naval Yard following repairs for the damage sustained by kamikazes.

HMAS Australia hit by Kamikaze plane

It was a complete surprise when I saw an enemy aircraft fly across our stern, bank, then fly from our port quarter, apparently aiming at our bridge. ‘I called to our captain, who came over to the port after corner of the compass platform. We watched the kamikaze strike our tripod foremast, debris and flames, apparently from the petrol, covered the whole of the upper bridge.

The cruiser HMAS Australia in 1937.
The cruiser HMAS Australia in 1937.
The bridge and forward superstructure of Australia in September 1944. This area was damaged when a Japanese bomber collided with the ship on 21 October 1944. Captain Emile Dechaineux (white uniform, facing right), was among those killed.
The bridge and forward superstructure of Australia in September 1944. This area was damaged when a Japanese bomber collided with the ship on 21 October 1944. Captain Emile Dechaineux (white uniform, facing right), was among those killed.

Among the 700 ships in the invasion force that crowded the sea off the Phillipines was an Australian force including the cruiser HMAS Australia, fellow cruiser HMAS Shropshire and a number of destroyers and support ships. On this day she suffered the first assault that led to her being amongst the most ‘kamikazied’ ships in the Allied fleet during the war.

The pilot of the plane crashed onto the HMAS Australia is not believed to have been ordered to make the attack, but acted on his own initiative. The first ‘official’ Kamikaze attacks would not come until a few days later, when attacks began at the instigation of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Nor was this the first time that Japanese pilots had committed suicide in this way, there had already been a number of cases where this was apparent.

From the dairy of General Valdes:

At 5:30 a.m. ‘general quarters’ were sounded. All rushed to their respective guns and fired at approaching Japanese planes. The Australian cruiser Australia was about 300 yards from our starboard side. A Japanese plane coming from the stern flew very low strafing the cruiser.

He accidentally came too low and hit the wireless and crashed on the forward deck near the bridge killing the Captain and mortally wounding the Commodore, who died six hours later. The cruiser Honolulu was also hit and was beached to save it. The Australia returned to Australia for repairs.

At 5 p.m. some more Japanese planes attacked us and we downed two.

See Phillipines Diary Project

Des Shinkfield was a 19-year-old midshipman on board HMAS Australia:

It was just after dawn when they appeared on our plot after flying over a nearby range of hills. We tracked them until two disappeared off the screen, presumably shot down, the third plane flew down our starboard side. It was hit by anti-aircraft fire from Shropshire, but the pilot regained control, did a U-turn and came up our port side with guns blazing and on a collision course with the bridge….

There were the bodies of the dead and dying strewn across the decks…. Some of the men were in dreadful agony from burns, others had suffered wounds from hot metal fragments, most were in shock. There was burning debris everywhere.

Gunnery Officer Richard Peek was on the bridge at the time of the attack, and was badly burnt:

It was a complete surprise when I saw an enemy aircraft fly across our stern, bank, then fly from our port quarter, apparently aiming at our bridge. ‘I called to our captain, who came over to the port after corner of the compass platform. We watched the kamikaze strike our tripod foremast, debris and flames, apparently from the petrol, covered the whole of the upper bridge. …

My next memory was of visiting our mortally wounded captain and telling him that everything was under control. My first feeling was horror that human beings could commit such attacks, but eventually my horror changed to an understanding of the pilots’ courage and patriotism.

Chief Petty Officer Roy Ashton:

There were fires to put out, bodies to be removed and the rescue of wounded men trapped under debris. … We were working in the forward part of the ship and I could see the bridge in flames . . . almost everyone on the upper deck was in shock but they all did what was required to save the ship.

See Australian Naval History.

On 21 October 1944, after bombardments in Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, Australia (II) was hit by a Japanese suicide plane. Six officers and 23 ratings were killed and her Commanding Officer, Captain E.F.V. Dechaineux DSC, RAN, later died of wounds. Nine officers, 52 ratings and one AIF soldier were wounded. Whether this was the first deliberate Kamikaze attack on an Allied ship remains the topic of debate. After this action Australia (II) was escorted by HMAS Warramunga (I) to Manus Island and thence to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides for repairs.
On 21 October 1944, after bombardments in Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, Australia (II) was hit by a Japanese suicide plane. Six officers and 23 ratings were killed and her Commanding Officer, Captain E.F.V. Dechaineux DSC, RAN, later died of wounds. Nine officers, 52 ratings and one AIF soldier were wounded. Whether this was the first deliberate Kamikaze attack on an Allied ship remains the topic of debate. After this action Australia (II) was escorted by HMAS Warramunga (I) to Manus Island and thence to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides for repairs.

One man’s lucky escape as kamikazes hit Ticonderoga

I remember they used our compartment as part of Sick Bay that night so we slept wherever we could. The next day the hospital ship took the wounded and we had burials at sea all afternoon. I have never had any doubt that I was saved by divine intervention. If I had been where I was supposed to be, I would surely have been killed. If we started two minutes later we would have been caught on the hangar deck where all the casualties of the first plne were. If we had gone sooner we might have been back to my plaane and I would have been killed then.

USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) afire off Formosa, January 21, 1945, just after her initial kamikaze hit on the forward flight deck. Photographed from USS Miami (CL-89). A Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane is on the cruiser's starboard catapult, in the foreground.
USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) afire off Formosa, January 21, 1945, just after her initial kamikaze hit on the forward flight deck. Photographed from USS Miami (CL-89). A Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane is on the cruiser’s starboard catapult, in the foreground.
Fighting fire from flight deck showing smoke from #1 elevator.
Fighting fire from flight deck showing smoke from #1 elevator.

The Japanese military aim in attacking Pearl Harbor had been to neutralise the major components of the US Navy, enabling to them to win swift territorial victories relatively unopposed. In December 1941 they had failed to sink all the carriers they had hoped to hit. But just three year later they were facing an incomparably greater American Naval force, far stronger than the force that they had hoped to knock out.

The extraordinary expansion of the US Fleet now not only enabled them to deploy huge numbers of ships for their amphibious attacks on Japanese held territories – but also to deploy the roving Fast Carrier Task Force. Within this were four Task Groups each based on four aircraft carriers, defended by numerous support ships – each Task Group had up 24 destroyers screening it.

Operation Gratitude had begun with the conventional support of the landings on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. But the carriers had then moved into the South China Sea and their planes had successfully attacked a wide range of Japanese targets in French Indo-China (now Vietnam), crippling the Japanese mercantile fleet. Now they moved back for an attack on Formosa (Taiwan). The weather was good for flying – which meant it was also good for kamikazes.

Edgar Newlin was part of the aircraft maintenance crew on the USS Ticonderoga:

As I remember, it was a nice calm day, which influenced a later decision. I was a plane captain. For anyone that doesn’t know what that is. I took care of an airplane, a fighter to be exact. I was suppose to keep it fueled, tied down, cleaned etc. We were suppose to stay with the plane anytime we were at flight quarters if it wasn’t tied down.

At this time we were at flight quarters, but for some reason the lunch had been delayed so my plane was just sitting there. I would have been the third plane launched, one on each catapult, and then mine.

It was past noon and we hadn’t had chow when another plane captain came along and talked me into going. Remember, we were not suppose to leave our plane in that condition, but we did and it probably saved my life. We had just reached the mess hall when the fantail 40s started firing, maybe three or four rounds. Then they started General Quarters, maybe two or three boings, when a suicide plane hit and blew up on the hangar deck. It sounded like a bucket with rocks in it;more of a rattle than an explosion.

I dropped my tray and started back up the flight deck, but by then smoke was everywhere and some of the hatches had been closed so I had an awful time getting back to my battle station, which was my plane, and when I got there it was gone! Thats was where the jap had hit. He must have aimed for my plane; it went through the flight deck and blew up on the hangar deck. That was what I heard when I was in the mess hall.

I didn’t have a battle station so I just wandered around kind of in a daze. I had no idea what to do. I tried to help others, but I seemed to be in the road. I don’t know how much later it was, it seemed like hours but was probably not over 30 minutes, when I found myself standing on the flight deck, forward of the five-inch guns, watching a second Jap plane heading straight for the island. I just stood there watching because I was sure he would go down. I could see the tracer shells, going through the plane and the pilot.

It soon became clear that he was going to hit us. About then I realized where I was standing. I looked around;all I could do was jump down to the catwalk and head for the port side under the flight deck. When I was about halfway across I heard the plane hit the island.

From then on I remembered only flashes of what happened. I remember wandering around, trying to find where I was needed but I don’t recall doing anything specific. I still feel the hopeless feeling of not being able to do anything for my friends. I don’t remember many names – Selbe walking around holding a big wad of cotton on what was left of his arm. blown off just above his elbow. He died about 2:00 the next morning – shock they said. There was a little boy named Menard, blown in half. He always wore his dog tags on his belt loop, so we could identify him from that. I don’t think he was much over fifteen at the time.

I remember they used our compartment as part of Sick Bay that night so we slept wherever we could. The next day the hospital ship took the wounded and we had burials at sea all afternoon. I have never had any doubt that I was saved by divine intervention. If I had been where I was supposed to be, I would surely have been killed. If we started two minutes later we would have been caught on the hangar deck where all the casualties of the first plne were. If we had gone sooner we might have been back to my plaane and I would have been killed then.

Read Edgar Newlin’s account and those of others aboard the USS Ticonderoga on that fateful day at CV-14

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) lists to port in the aftermath of a kamikaze attack in which four suicide planes hit the ship, 21 January 1945. Note her camouflage scheme measure 33/10A and the Fletcher-class destroyer in the background.
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) lists to port in the aftermath of a kamikaze attack in which four suicide planes hit the ship, 21 January 1945. Note her camouflage scheme measure 33/10A and the Fletcher-class destroyer in the background.
It was also a hard day on the USS Hancock. The scene moments after bombs fell off an Avenger and exploded, killing 62 men.
It was also a hard day on the USS Hancock. The scene moments after bombs fell off an Avenger and exploded, killing 62 men.

From the Deck Log of the USS Hancock, 21 January 1945:

1328: VT 124, Bu #23539 [a General Motors TBM-3 Avenger], pilot, LT(JG) C.R. Dean, 298954, and crewmen F.J. Blake, ARM3c, and D.E. Zima, AOM2c, made a normal landing and taxied forward. As the plane reached a point abreast the island a violent explosion occurred, believed to have been caused by the detonation of two (2) 500 lb. bombs adrift in the plane’s bomb bay. The immediate results of the explosion were: casualties: killed – 62; critically injured – 46; seriously injured – 25; slightly injured – 20. A 10×16 foot hole in the flight deck, gallery deck area in the vicinity demolished, inboard side signal bridge wrecked. Three airplanes demolished. Numerous shrapnel holes throughout the island structure. Fires broke out on the flight, gallery, and hangar decks. Hauled clear of the formation and commenced maneuvering at various courses and speeds in an attempt to control the winds over the deck, and with high speed turns, to wash flooding water out of the hangar deck.