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

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