Monday, January 26, 2015

Repairs to battle damaged USS Langley

On today's date in 1945, my dad's ship, the USS Hector, stationed at Ulithi Atoll, received the carrier USS Langley alongside for battle damage repairs. The ship had been participating in the 3rd Fleet's daring raid into the South China Sea when off Formosa it was bombed by a Japanese fighter.

Part of the fleet's Task Force 38 (TF 38), Langley was helping to provide cover and support for the Philippine Campaign through air strikes over Formosa, Luzon, and the Visayas. She was also assisting TF 38 in destroying Japanese vessels which might threaten the landings on Luzon. From January 10-20, TF 38 went out in search of an enemy fleet that could menace the ongoing Battle of Luzon.

While TF 38 did not encounter any enemy warships, planes from its force sank 44 enemy ships, mostly merchant marine, with very few of its own planes lost. On January 21st, the carrier planes attacked Formosa, but here the Japanese used their kamikazes in striking back. USS Langley was hit, the bomb penetrating the forward flight deck and exploding in officers' staterooms. Furniture, bulkheads, piping, and deck were damaged or destroyed.*

USS Langley, March 1945, shortly after receiving repairs from USS Hector
Source: Navy Historical Center

In addition to the Langley, the carrier USS Ticonderoga and the destroyer USS Maddox were also damaged, along with 201 aircraft destroyed. In terms of human loss to the fleet, 167 pilots and air crewmen and 205 sailors were killed in the kamikaze attacks.

Langley remained alongside Hector for repairs through February 5th when she was returned to service with the Third Fleet continuing its carrier operations in the South China Sea against the Japanese Home Islands and the invasion of Iwo Jima. More combat activity followed in March through May, as Langley's planes again hit targets in Japan and supported the Okinawa operation. Back to the U.S. for overhaul and modernization in June and July, the carrier was returning to the Pacific combat zone when the war ended in August.

For a couple of months, Langley transported home veterans of the war in the Pacific. Then the ship sailed to the Atlantic where she carried out similar missions from November 1945 through January 1946. Following months of inactivity, Langley was decommissioned in Philadelphia in February 1947. In early 1951, the ship was refurbished and transferred to France under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. After more than a decade of French Navy service under the name La Fayette, the valiant warship was returned to the United States in 1963, and sold for scrap a year later.

The USS Langley received 9 battle stars for her World War II service.

USS Langley leads a very impressive force returning to Ulithi in
December 1944, from strikes on targets in the Philippines.
Source: Naval Historical Center

*The Japanese plane from Formosa that hit the Langley likely carried a 200-pound bomb. The plane narrowly missed the flight deck and crashed into the sea. The pilot may have intended a suicide attack and just missed the deck; or it is possible that he tried to escape after releasing his bombs but ended up crashing after his plane was hit. In either case, the bomb killed 3 of Langley's crew and seriously wounded 11 others.

Sources: The Two-Ocean War, Samuel Eliot Morrison; USS Hector War Diary, January 1945; USS Hector AR7- Ship's Log (WWII); USS Langley War Diary, January & February 1945 and Action Report January 1945: Naval Historical Center

Monday, January 12, 2015

Second kaiten attack at Ulithi

Throughout the first couple of weeks of January 1945, my dad's repair ship, USS Hector, brought the subchaser, USS PC-1130, alongside for emergency repairs. The patrol craft's sonar equipment had been damaged and required Hector's attention. Even while receiving repairs, however, the ship still carried on patrol duties as required. One of the big concerns was the ever-present danger of another attack like the one on November 20, 1944. In that attack, Japanese submarines launched human torpedoes, or "kaitens," toward the anchored fleet, destroying USS Mississinewa and killing 60 of her crewmen.

Nearby, on today's date, the ammunition ship, USS Mazama, which had only days before arrived at Ulithi with a full load of cargo, sighted a suspicious moving object off its starboard side. Moments later, around 7:00 AM, an explosion rocked the ship, causing severe flooding. It had been attacked by a kaiten.

Around 9:00 AM, the PC-1130 was ordered underway from the Hector to patrol for enemy midget subs within the harbor. At 10:15, the subchaser witnessed an explosion about 200 yards away. Although its sonar was temporarily knocked out in the explosion, nevertheless the subchaser immediately altered course to intercept and ram the sub if it surfaced. As it passed over the spot, it dropped 3 depth charges for good measure. Leaving follow-up work for an arriving destroyer, the PC-1130 proceeded on outside the lagoon to continue its patrol.

Meanwhile, the damage and flooding on the Mazama had caused the ship to list. Immediately, pumping was started to handle the flooding. For a while, the crew thought the ship may have to be beached to avoid sinking, so it got underway for land. However, tugboats and other fleet vessels came to assist the struggling ship. A diving crew from Hector also arrived to inspect the damage and effect temporary repairs. Hector's divers confirmed that the explosion had indented a significant section of the ship, and its seams had separated. The next day, a repair party from Hector caulked and plugged the open seams enough to pump out the water.

The Japanese submarine that had launched the attack against the Mazama was the I-36, the same ship that launched its manned torpedoes against Ulithi the previous November. This time, a Navy PBM patrol bomber spotted one of the attacking kaitens in the lagoon and destroyed it by dropping 4 depth charges. But the other 3 managed to attack targets within the harbor. In addition to damaging the Mazama, killing 1 and seriously injuring 7, another of the kaitens sank the infantry landing craft, LCI-600, killing 3.

Temporary repairs to the Mazama were completed by March 6 when the ship steamed for San Francisco for permanent repairs. By June, she was back in the Philippines with 5,000 tons of ammunition. In July, she entered San Pedro Bay where she remained through the end of the war. After participating in the American Occupational Force of the Japanese Home Islands, she enjoyed a long period of service until her permanent decommissioning in 1970. The USS Mazama received 5 battle stars for her WWII service.

PC-1130 also survived the war, and after spending some time in reserve, was transferred to France and then to South Vietnam. She was struck from the Naval Register in 1965.

The I-36 continued to see service in the Japanese fleet, surviving until the surrender in September 1945. On April 1, 1946, as part of "Operation Roads End," the I-36 was towed to sea and scuttled.

Sources: USS PC-1130 War Diary, January 1945; USS Mazama War Diary, January 1945

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Invasion of Lingayen Gulf & The Battle of Luzon, 1945

The Liberation of the Philippines began on October 20, 1944, with the landing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's troops on the beaches at Leyte. Next was Mindoro, a major steppingstone to a successful land invasion of Luzon, the largest of the Philippine Islands. But to take its objective the U.S. 6th Army needed to land in Lingayen Gulf, the same area where 3 years before the Japanese successfully invaded and defeated the American and Filipino forces.

The goal was to take this area from which the Americans could then strike at the heart of the enemy defenses in the Philippines. A successful invasion at Lingayen would provide bases to support further operations against the Japanese, as well as deny them shipping lanes in the South China Sea. The U.S. landing force was scheduled to be put ashore on Luzon on S-Day, January 9th.

Source: The Stamford Historical Society
As a prelude to the scheduled landing on this date in 1945, ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet began a devastating ship and air bombardment of suspected Japanese defenses at Lingayen as well as the invasion sites on Luzon. But the fleet paid a heavy price for the role it played. By January 12th, a total of 24 ships were sunk and another 67 were damaged by Japanese kamikazes.

As planned, on the 9th, about 68,000 soldiers of MacArthur's army under Gen. Walter Krueger landed on the Luzon coast without opposition. Over the next few days, upwards of 203,000 troops were brought ashore, securing a 20-mile beachhead, capturing the coastal towns, as well as penetrating up to 5 miles inland.

The successful invasion at Lingayen Gulf allowed for a vast supply depot for supporting other major landingsin the Battle of Luzon. By March, the Americans controlled all strategically and economically important locations on the island,2  although small groups of Japanese held out in the mountains until Japan’s surrender in August. In all, 10 U.S. divisions and 5 independent regiments fought on Luzon, making it the largest campaign of the Pacific war.

1Two more major landings followed: One to cut off the Bataan Peninsula (captured February 16th) and another that included paratroopers and amphibious units to capture Corregidor at the entrance of Manila Bay on March 2nd. Fighting in Manila was harsh, and it took until March 3rd to clear the capital city of Japanese troops.
2In February, the U.S. Navy began shifting its mobile service force, Service Squadron Ten, from Ulithi in the Western Carolines, to Leyte Gulf in order to provide closer support to the fleet in the naval operations against the Japanese. My father's repair ship, USS Hector, arrived in Leyte Gulf on February 19th, and remained there until the end of March.

Sources: The Two-Ocean War, Samuel Eliot Morrison; Naval Operations in the Pacific from March 1944 to October 1945