Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sailing for Saipan, 1945

On today’s date in 1945, Hector steamed toward the new Navy base at Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, where she will be stationed with Service Division 103 of Service Squadron Ten. Taking a standard zigzagging course, the ship passed Guam the next morning and the islands of Aguijan and Tinian that same afternoon. That evening she entered Tanapag Harbor at Saipan, Dad’s new home for the balance of the war and beyond.

The plan for a Navy base on the island called for the establishment of a mobile repair facility sufficient to maintain and repair hulls and engines of smaller boats. In the harbor, ServDiv 103 was assigned to repair countless vessels that would be sent there. Many of these boats and ships were essential for ongoing and future amphibious operations against Japan. Before the development of the base on Saipan, Navy Seabees had to upgrade and expand waterfront facilities at Tanapag Harbor for the arrival of Dad’s division and the ships that would need to be serviced and repaired. They dredged the entrance channel and cleared it of coral heads in order to develop the inner harbor.

LST'S, LCI'S, small boats, and other vessels at Tanapag Harbor carried much of the
transport required by the escalating action in the Pacific by May 1945. The work
assigned to Hector’s crews for repairing and maintaining these vessels was daunting. 
SourceThe U.S. Army in World War II:  The War in the Pacific

Seabees also constructed a shore base of Quonset huts and other metal buildings with access roads and utilities. Medical facilities were built, including a hospital for casualties from the Iwo Jima and Okinawa Campaigns. And, of course, airfields for long-range bombers were also created on Saipan as they were on the neighboring islands of Tinian and Guam. Work on the Saipan facilities was ongoing when Dad arrived in Tanapag Harbor on this date. 

A key factor in the success of the Okinawa Campaign was the Navy’s ability to ship personnel and materiel where needed. Of course, a mobile maintenance force, like the service division of which the USS Hector was a member at Saipan, helped to make the operation possible.

Hector will spend the rest of the war stationed in Tanapag Harbor, but that is still a long and difficult five months into the future. After Japan’s surrender, Hector will remain here on station until January 21, 1946.

Sources: USS Hector War Diary, April 1945; Building the Navy's Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps 1940-1946, Department of the Navy; Beans, Bullets and Black Oil, Worrall Reed Carter; The U.S. Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific, Philip A Crowl; Victory in the Pacific, Samuel Eliot Morrison

Friday, April 3, 2015

George Herbert's birthday, 1593

In honor of the poet George Herbert's birthday, one of my favorite of his poems, The Holdfast:
I threatened to observe the strict decree
Of my deare God with all my power and might:
But I was told by one, it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.

Then will I trust, said I, in him alone.
Nay, ev’n to trust in him, was also his:
We must confesse, that nothing is our own.
Then I confesse that he my succour is:

But to have nought is ours, not to confesse
That we have nought. I stood amaz’d at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend expresse,
That all things were more ours by being his.
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Okinawa Campaign on land and sea, 1945

As the U.S. Navy's Task Force 58 began its 1945 operations east of Okinawa in preparation for the invasion of that Japanese island, my dad's repair ship, USS Hector, was returning to TF 58's base at Ulithi from deployment in the Philippines. Dad arrived at the atoll on March 31st, and remained there repairing battle damaged ships and completing other jobs until leaving for Saipan on April 21st.

Located only 350 miles south of mainland Japan, the Okinawa was vital for the planned invasion, which was going to be necessary to end the war. For 5 days prior to the invasion of Okinawa, the U.S. Navy conducted bombing attacks of coastal batteries on the island. These were designed to prepare the way for mine sweeping operations and the amphibious landing of troops. Battleships also bombarded the beaches and enemy installations. All was done without any Japanese air opposition. That would come later in the form of the dreaded kamikaze bombers.

Then on today's date in 1945, Easter Sunday, the Battle of Okinawa, the final amphibious landing of the war began  as U.S. Soldiers and Marines landed on the beaches. It was the last and largest of the Pacific island battles of the war. It also was one of the bloodiest.

From April 1 to June 22, 1945, 287,000 troops of the U.S. Tenth Army and the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions battled against 120,000 soldiers of the Japanese Thirty-second Army. At stake were air bases essential for an invasion of Japan.

The Japanese employed mainly defensive tactics and fought from caves and pillboxes, thus forcing the American invaders to take and destroy each one at a time. The fighting also occurred in more populated areas than earlier Pacific island battles. Consequently, civilian casualties were extremely high, nearly 100,000. Many of these were by suicide.

The ground campaign lasted 82 days. By the end, Japan had lost more than 100,000 soldiers. The Allies suffered more than 65,000 casualties, including 7,000 dead.

Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, Jr.
Interestingly, although tragic, the commanding generals of both sides were killed in the closing days of the campaign. American Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., son of a Confederate general and Kentucky governor, was killed by enemy artillery fire on June 18, 1945. Japanese Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima died in ritual suicide when all was lost for the island's defenders.

The Navy's Task Force 58, commanded by both Admirals Raymond Spruance (5th Fleet) and William Halsey (3rd Fleet), continued to play a significant role in the Okinawa Campaign. While in the initial phase of the invasion Japanese air opposition had been light, by April 6th, enemy air attacks against the fleet commenced. The Japanese kept up periodic heavy air attacks, including kamikaze strikes. These suicide bombings continued through the end of the campaign, taking a huge toll on the fleet.

From the start of naval operations on March 23 through the end of April, 20 ships were sunk and 157 were damaged. Several fleet aircraft carriers were severely damaged, mostly from kamikazes. By the end of the campaign, Task Force 58 suffered more than 4,000 in killed or missing aboard 34 ships that were sunk and 368 that were damaged. Another 6,000 sailors were wounded. The fleet also lost 763 aircraft. At sea and in the air, the Japanese navy lost over 10,000 men. Also destroyed were 2,800 aircraft, a battleship, a light cruiser, and 4 destroyers.

The U.S. fleet's high combat losses at sea influenced the decision against an invasion of the Japanese mainland. The Allies will opt for the atomic bomb to bring about Japan's surrender.

It was during the Okinawa Campaign, on April 12th, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt died at  the "Little White House" in Warm Springs, Georgia. He was succeeded by Harry S. Truman. Victory in the Pacific and in Europe was close, but not imminent. Truman was resolved to continue the fight. In his address to the U.S. Congress 4 days later he declared, "So that there can be no possible misunderstanding, both Germany and Japan can be certain, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that America will continue the fight for freedom until no vestige of resistance remains!"

Sources: The Two-Ocean War, Samuel Eliot Morrison; Report of Operations of Task Force 58 at Okinawa; Marine Corps Association & Foundation