Monday, December 15, 2014

Mindoro Campaign, 1944

Having begun his invasion of the Philippines with the landing on Leyte, October 20, 1944, Gen. Douglas MacArthur now set his sights on the main Philippine island of Luzon. But first he needed a closer base of operations, a stepping stone to a successful land invasion. For that he chose the smaller island of Mindoro, directly south of Luzon.

Task Force 38 of Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet sailed from Ulithi on December 11th. Sailors, like my father, Frank Dolan, on the repair ship Hector, cheered as the 90-ship flotilla steamed out of the harbor, west toward the Philippines. Halsey's fleet will hit enemy air bases on Luzon, thus providing additional protection for Vice Admiral Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet's amphibious invasion on Mindoro.

On December 13, the Japanese detected the Seventh Fleet convoy, and their fighters attacked. The light cruiser Nashville was badly damaged by a kamikaze, with 133 killed and over 150 wounded. In another attack wave, a kamikaze hit the destroyer Harden, killing 14 and wounding 24. On the 14th, Japanese aircraft made a full-blown attempt to destroy the invasion force, but suffered heavy casualties instead, losing 46 aircraft.

Crewmen cleaning up the port side gun battery after a kamikaze hit on
December 13, 1944, while en route to the Mindoro invasion


As the amphibious forces sailed toward Mindoro, Task Force 38 arrived in the Philippine Sea, east of Luzon. From its position, carrier aircraft covered enemy air bases in Luzon. By continuously patrolling the air over these airfields the Japanese were prevented from launching any serious sorties toward the invasion force. American carrier planes continued to control the air corridors over Luzon, destroying per 270 enemy aircraft, sinking 18 ships, and damaging 37 more.*

On today's date in 1944, the Allied land invasion of Mindoro began. Completely surprising the Japanese defenders there, the invasion force quickly overcame the weak resistance without the loss of a single Allied soldier. Engineers soon began construction of an airfield, which was operational within a couple of weeks.

By the 16th, Task Force 38 was low on fuel. Halsey ordered it 400 miles east into the Philippine Sea to refuel so it could return to guard the skies over Luzon. However, on the 18th a violent typhoon struck the Task Force while it was attempting to refuel. The fleet experienced devastating damage and loss, and was forced to return to Ulithi.

In the days ahead, the Japanese responded to the invasion with air and sea attacks. While American carrier aircraft flew above, a few kamikaze pilots slipped their planes through and attacked Allied forces en route to the Mindoro beachhead. Many of these suicide pilots tried hitting the escort carriers but were shot down or otherwise missed their targets. Others got through to the invasion force and destroyed 2 LSTs (tank landing ships).

Several days later on the evening of December 26th, a Japanese naval task force attempted an ambitious bombardment of Allied shore installations. However, during its approach to the beachhead, the enemy force lost a destroyer and received damage to other ships by the Allied response. The Japanese also made several attempted torpedo strikes against American ships at anchor, but they were not effective. This was the last time that major units of the Japanese fleet tried to interfere with Allied shore operations in the Philippines.

USS LST-738 burning after she was hit by a kamikaze off the Mindoro landing beaches,
December 15, 1944. Smoke in the left distance may be from LST-472, which was also
hit by the kamikaze attack

Source: Naval Historical Center

The Mindoro Campaign continued through January 1945, when MacArthur's forces invaded the main Philippine island of Luzon, and then began their advance on Manila.

*Tragically, unknown to Halsey's pilots, one of the Japanese ships struck by navy bombers was the cargo ship, Oryoku Maru, in whose hold were crammed 1,620 POWs, survivors of the Bataan Death March, awaiting shipment to Japan as slave laborers. Around 270 men died, either from the appalling conditions, or were killed in the bombing or shot in the water as they tried to escape. Experiencing even greater deprivations and death in the months ahead, only 403 of the original 1,620 POWs survived to be liberated from camps at the war's end 9 months later.

Sources: The Two-Ocean War, Samuel Eliot Morrison; Halsey's Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm, and an Untold Rescue, Bob Drury & Tom Calvin; The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia; Reports of General MacArthur: The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific

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