Chapter 11


The Radar Picket Line

One of the most hazardous duties faced by the LCS(L) gunboats at Okinawa was duty on the infamous radar picket stations.1 As plans for the invasion of the island were drawn up, it was obvious to the planners that the invasion fleet would face significant attacks by aircraft flying from the home islands of Japan, as well as from Japanese bases on Taiwan. Early detection of these incoming raids was imperative, and the Navy set up a ring of radar picket stations around the island to warn the fleet of approaching enemy aircraft. These stations were set at distances of from eighteen to ninety-five miles from the point of land known as Point Bolo or Zampa Misaki, a part of the island which was just north of the Hagushi invasion beaches at the tip of Motobu Peninsula. Various stations were patrolled from 24 March to 13 August 1945. Stations 6, 8, and 13 were never used. As time went on, the Japanese identified the locations of the stations and it was necessary to move some of them, resulting in an “A” variation.

RADAR PICKET STATIONS AND DATES OF OPERATION 24 MARCH–13 AUGUST 1945

   Radar Picket Station: Dates of Operation

   1:   1 April–6 May (night station for RP #15 , 2 June–17 July)

   2:   1 April–6 May

   3:   1 April–6 May

   4:   1 April–4 May

   5:   24 March, 28 March, 6 May–23 June

   6*

   7:   1 April–21 May

   8*

   9:   24, 26, 28–31 March–1 April, 29 April–1 July

   9A:   2–19 July, 21 July–1 August, 3–13 August

   10:   1 April–6 May

   11:   Used as a night station for RP #11A, 2–16 June

   11A:   21 May–16 June

   12:   1 April–6 May

   13*

   14:   1 April–6 May

   15:   1 April, 6 May–21 May

   15A:   21 May–17 July

   16:   6–8 May

   16A:   9 May–1 July

*These stations were not put into use during the campaign for Okinawa.2

A destroyer, equipped with specialized radar and a fighter director team on each of the radar picket stations, was constantly on watch. To aid and support the radar picket destroyer, additional destroyers (DD), high speed minesweepers (DMS), light minelayers (DM), landing ship medium, rockets, (LSM(R)s, patrol motor gunboats (PGM)s, and landing crafts support, large (LCS(L))s were assigned. By the end of the campaign for Okinawa, eighty-eight of the LCS(L)s served on the seventeen radar picket stations used at Okinawa.

One of the screens created for the invasion of Okinawa involved setting up a ring of radar picket stations around the island to detect Japanese aircraft flying from Kyushu and Taiwan to attack the invasion fleet. Eighty-eight of the LCS(L)s joined the destroyers and LSM(R)s in patrolling the stations.

LCS(L)s, rather than the converted LCI(L) gunboats, were put to use there since the LCS(L)s carried at least two twin 40mm guns, with some mounting a third twin 40mm in the bow. These had proven more useful in anti-aircraft action than the single 40mm guns or the 3"/50 mounted on some LCI(G)s. LCS(L)s with 3"/50 bow guns were not employed in great numbers at Okinawa, but they saw much action in the Philippines and Borneo. This reflected an adaptation to the enemy situation. Where the Japanese barge was a great threat in the southwest Pacific, aircraft had become the prime concern at Okinawa.. This resulted in the latest LCS(L)s mounting a third twin 40mm gun in the bow to combat them.

Once the initial assault phase on Okinawa had been completed, the LCS(L)s began to appear on the radar picket stations. The majority of the LCI(G)s, (M)s, and (R)s were used for call fire, suicide boat patrol, making smoke, and other tasks that made best use of their particular armament. In almost all cases the gunboats were tasked with making smoke at the Hagushi anchorage once they had come off their patrols, whether they were on the radar picket lines or any other type of patrol or assignment.

Radar picket stations #5 and #9 became operational on 24 March 1945, eight days prior to the actual landing of troops on Okinawa. This was necessary because the close proximity of Japanese airfields on Kyushu and Taiwan made it possible for aircraft based there to attack minesweepers operating in the waters before the operation, as well as other advanced elements of the invasion force. At first only destroyers were on the picket lines, but that soon changed. Once the invasion of Okinawa had taken place on 1 April 1945, the lone destroyers that had been operating on the radar picket stations were given additional support by a second destroyer. Radar picket stations that became operable on 1 April were RPs #1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 12, 14, and 15. As time passed, outlying islands were captured and shore based radar was installed on them, resulting in the closing of some of the stations.

On each of the radar picket stations one destroyer, with special radar and fighter director teams on board, was the center of the defensive effort. That destroyer was tasked with detecting incoming Japanese aircraft headed for the main invasion force in and around the Hagushi anchorage. A flight of Combat Air Patrol (CAP) from the carriers and from the fields on Okinawa and later Ie Shima was attached to each fighter director destroyer. Once the incoming Japanese aircraft were detected, the fighter director destroyer notified the CAP and sent them to intercept the enemy. Through that means many were prevented from completing their missions at Hagushi. It soon became evident that getting through the large number of CAP aircraft was difficult, and the Japanese airmen began to pick the nearest targets of opportunity which were the ships on the radar picket stations. As a result, the radar picket ships and their escorts bore the brunt of the kamikaze attacks in what has been labeled the most hazardous naval duty of World War II.

The LCS(L) gunboats, along with their companion LCI gunboats, were involved with the 1 April landings at Hagushi. Once they were completed, new assignments for the gunboats were made. On 2 April, the first day following the landings, four of the LCS(L)s were assigned to radar picket duty. At 0755 on 2 April, LCS(L)62 and 64 joined Bush on RP #1 and later that day, at 0650, LCS(L)84 and 87 joined Bennion on RP #2. Ostensibly, the reason for their presence was to lend anti-aircraft support to the destroyers on station. However, this was not the case at first. Feeling that there were gaps in the coverage between the radar picket stations, the Navy determined that the gunboats should patrol the area between the stations. Therefore, an LCS(L) assigned to RP #2, would have the assignment designated as RP #2R or #2L when located in reference to a line extending from Point Bolo to the station. An assignment to RP #2R indicated that the area to be patrolled lay between radar picket stations #2 and #3. While this may have given additional aircraft spotting capabilities overall, it did not lend support to the destroyer operating directly on the radar picket station. If it came under attack, a relatively slow LCS(L) would not be able to get near enough to the destroyer to render effective anti-aircraft support.

During the time that the radar picket stations at Okinawa were manned, a total of 206 ships served on them. The eighty-eight LCS(L)s serving on the radar picket stations comprised the largest number among the types. By the end of the Okinawa campaign, it was not uncommon to see three destroyer types3 and four LCS(L)s on a picket station.

The relatively small size and maneuverability of the LCS(L)s made them hard targets to hit. While forty-two of the 101 destroyer types (DD, DM, DMS) were struck by kamikazes, only thirteen of the LCS(L)s were crashed by the Japanese planes. The worst hit on the radar picket stations were the larger, slower, and poorly gunned LSMRs, with five of the eleven being hit.

Although the LCS(L)s were continually on the picket lines from 2 April through 13 August 1945, their most daunting experience was the series of ten massed air attacks known as Kikusui 1 through 10, collectively known as the Ten Go campaign. The first of these raids took place from 6 to 7 April and saw a total of 699 aircraft from Kyushu and Taiwan attacking the American forces at Okinawa. Of this number 355 were kamikazes. The ordeal of all ships at Okinawa was linked to the air attacks, but the ships on the radar picket lines bore the brunt of their savagery. As time wore on and the resources of the Japanese declined, successive raids saw fewer and fewer aircraft. By Kikusui 10, which ran from 21 to 22 June, the Japanese sent out only ninety aircraft. Part of this decline in the numbers had to do with declining resources which led the Japanese to save aircraft for what they saw as the coming invasion of Japan. Another factor was the realization that Okinawa was a lost cause.

Although there had been a few scattered attacks on the radar picket ships in the first few days, the bulk of the attacks began with the first of the Kikusui raids on 6 April. American intelligence had picked up Japanese planning for large scale air attacks, but they were not sure how large they would be. Elements of the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 10th, and 13th Air Fleets from the Imperial Japanese Navy and the 3rd and 8th Air Armies were involved. The attacks were scheduled to begin around 0400 on 21 June 1945.

On that day, Radar Picket Station #1 was patrolled by Bush DD 529 and LCS(L)62 and 64. Unfortunately, LCS(L) 62 was ordered to leave the station to patrol elsewhere, leaving Bush and 64 alone to face the oncoming swarms of Japanese aircraft. Radar picket station #1 was directly in line between southern Japan and Okinawa. Any aircraft flying toward Okinawa would be sure to pass over or close by RP #1. In time it would come to be considered the “hottest” of the radar picket stations. Immediately east of RP #1 were RPs #2 and 3. Ships serving on these three radar picket stations would see the most action at Okinawa. On patrol at RP #2 was Colhoun DD 801, while RP #3 was patrolled by Cassin Young DD 793 and LCS(L)109 and 110. These six ships would face the deadliest onslaught of Japanese aircraft to be launched at Okinawa.

Japanese aircraft began to appear near RP #1 about 0245, and most passed by when taken under fire. Apparently they were after choicer targets at Hagushi. One dove at Bush, was taken under fire, and apparently shot down by the destroyer as observers saw it hit the water about ten miles away. At this point, and during the night, the ships were basically alone. There was no possibility of Combat Air Patrol aircraft coming to their rescue. Combat Air Patrols usually began at sunrise and lasted until dark. Carriers were reluctant to show landing lights at night for fear of drawing enemy aircraft.

Colhoun, on RP #2, was attacked eleven times between 0247 and 0600. Fortunately, none of the aircraft were able to hit their target, and Colhoun remained unscathed throughout the night. At dawn the Combat Air Patrol arrived and shot down one plane at 0830. Other carrier aircraft from San Jacinto CVL 30Bennington CV 20Belleau Wood CVL 24Hornet CV 12, and Anzio CVE 57, as well as Marine Corsairs from Kadena and Yontan air fields on Okinawa joined in the gigantic air battle. Generally, the escort or “jeep” carriers (CVEs) carried FM2 Wildcats, while the larger carriers primarily had F4F Hellcats. Marine squadrons flew F4U Corsairs from the fields on Okinawa. One or two of the carriers had Corsair squadrons flown by both Marine and Navy pilots. Facing them were a variety of Japanese Army and Navy aircraft from the latest model fighters, such as the Jack and Tony, to old wood and cloth biplane trainers.

Even the great numbers of American fighters were not enough to stem the onslaught of Japanese aircraft bent on crashing into American ships. By late in the day on 6 April an estimated forty to fifty Japanese aircraft were attacking Bush on RP #1 and a dozen were after Cassin Young at RP #3. Colhoun left RP #2 and went to the aid of Bush which was crashed by a kamikaze at 1515. At that point, LCS(L) 64, patrolling to the east on RP#1R, was unaware that Bush had been hit. Bush began to flood rapidly and took a ten degree list to port.

Overhead, the Combat Air Patrol was taking its toll of Japanese aircraft, but there were just too many. Pilots from Belleau Wood’s VF-30 reported that their Hellcats had shot down forty-six of the enemy planes. However, that still left numerous Japanese aircraft over the picket ships. Other Combat Air Patrol planes scrambled off their carriers, located the air battle, and joined in. Sooner or later they ran out of ammunition or were low on fuel and had to return to their carriers, leaving the picket ships to fend for themselves. As Colhoun arrived on the scene, she noted that Bushwas down by the stern and on fire. LCS(L) 64 arrived shortly thereafter and began taking men off the sinking destroyer. Bush ordered her to clear away in the face of a new attack, and the gunboat maneuvered nearby to keep some semblance of protection for herself and the stricken Bushwhich was soon crashed by another kamikaze. Colhoun was next, taking a kamikaze crash on her main deck. Shortly thereafter, another crashed into her starboard side. It was common for kamikazes to carry a bomb or two which they released just prior to crashing into an American ship. This maximized damage. The bomb in this case exploded and broke the keel of Colhoun, inflicting a mortal wound on the destroyer. A third kamikaze came in from the starboard bow and crashed into the superstructure, spreading flaming gasoline across the deck. Its bomb careened off the deck and exploded in the water just behind the destroyer, holing its hull. Colhoun was finished. Still another kamikaze aimed for Colhoun, overshot, and headed for Bush for a successful crash into her side. Two more kamikaze strikes between 1730 and 1945 finished Bush. At 1830 she began to break up and sank around 1845. The seas were heavy at that point and many men were in the water. Fortunately, a number of ships had been sent to her aid, including LCS(L)24, 36, 37, 40, 64, PCE(R) 855, and Pakana ATF 108. It was not unusual for the gunboats to be survivors in the aftermath of an attack and the ships, generally known as the “Mighty Midgets,” also gained the nickname “the pallbearers,” as they frequently had to pick up the remains after an attack.

LCS(L) 64, near the two destroyers to render anti-aircraft support, also came under attack. At 1725 two Zekes flew by and she turned her guns on them as one turned in to attack her. Executing a turn to port, she brought all her guns to bear on the kamikaze and shot it down only twenty feet off her starboard quarter. Some ships preferred to meet attacks head-on so as to minimize their target area. The LCS(L)s preferred method of firing at an enemy to the front was to turn 45° toward the enemy, allowing both her forward and aft 40mm guns to bear on the target.

Meanwhile, Colhoun’s crew fought to save her but to no avail. Still another kamikaze crashed into her at 1800 and soon after, the decision was made to abandon ship. At 2015 LCS(L) 84 came alongside Colhoun and took off 217 enlisted men and eleven officers. LCS(L) 87 rescued another fifty-six. It was not clear how long it would take Colhoun to go under and so, at 2355, Cassin Young was ordered to sink her with gunfire.

The two gunboats still patrolling on RP #3, LCS(L)109 and 110, also saw their share of the action. At 0515 lookouts on LCS(L) 109 saw a twin-engine Sally heading for her. Gunfire from the ship hit the plane when it was 800 yards out and turned it away. A short while later LCS(L) 110 shot down a Judy as it passed over her. With no destroyer to support, the two gunboats were ordered back to the Nago Wan anchorage.

Radar Picket Station #4 was patrolled by Bennett DD 473 and LCS((L)111 and 114. The station came under attack around 1540 when two Vals attacked her. The destroyer accounted for one of the aircraft, and the Hellcats flying Combat Air Patrol for her got the other. CAP Hellcats accounted for another five, and the destroyer shot down one more. LCS(L) 39 drove off a Zeke at 1813 after taking it under fire. Bennett was moved to RP #2 and the gunboats headed for RP #1, arriving there at 1940 to assist in the search for survivors.

Hudson DD 475 and LCS(L)115 and 116 patrolled RP station #10. The ships came under attack at 1215 and 1702 but, in both cases, drove off the attacking aircraft. At 1829 a twin-engine Betty bomber approached the station and was taken under fire by both Hudson and LCS(L) 115. The gunboat was credited with the kill. Their brief presence and performance on the radar picket stations had not gone unnoticed. Commander Task Force Fifty-One wrote that “The gunboat types proved valuable additions by their AA armament, and by the fact that they are a difficult target to hit.”4 With praise like that it was to be expected that the gunboats would see a great deal of action on the radar picket stations.

Although Kikusui 1 was scheduled to last into 7 April, the Navy brass was unaware of that fact and decided to send some of the ships back. In all, nineteen ships were on patrol on 6 April, but at the end of the day four gunboats were sent back, leaving only fifteen on station overnight. The following day additional ships were sent out, including three LSMRs, which would prove to be extremely vulnerable to attack. A total of twenty-two ships faced the Japanese onslaught on 7 April.

Several days elapsed filled with actual and threatened attacks on the radar picket stations. On 12 April, RP #1 was patrolled by Cassin Young DD 793Purdy DD 734, and LCS(L)3357114, and 115. Although the day was clear and the seas calm, the air above the picket station was not.

The first incoming Japanese air raid was picked up on radar at 1112. The fighter director ship, Cassin Young, controlled a CAP of three divisions of Corsairs from VF-10 on Intrepid CV 11. When the incoming raid was spotted, she vectored the Corsairs to intercept them. The enemy aircraft were fifteen in number, a combination of Nates and Vals. Twelve of them were shot down by the CAP. Wildcats from Petroff Bay CVE 80 joined in the battle which now included Zekes and Oscars. The battle continued throughout the afternoon as the enemy began to zero in on the picket ships. At 1430 Purdy’s lookouts observed a Val approaching on her starboard quarter. It was shot down by the combined fire of Purdy and LCS(L) 114. Several more enemy aircraft were shot down by Purdy and the CAP. At 1500 a Val made it through the combined fire of Purdy and LCS(L) 114, striking the water only twenty feet from the destroyer. It bounced off the water and into Purdy’s side where its bomb went through her hull and exploded, severely damaging the ship. With thirteen dead and fifty-eight wounded, her CO, Commander Frank L. Johnson, headed her back to the anchorage.

As Purdy and LCS(L) 114 were under attack, so was LCS(L) 57. At 1347 eight enemy aircraft were spotted off her starboard beam and one made a run on her. It was shot down fifty yards from the gunboat after dropping a bomb which missed. Another Japanese airman decided to try his luck with the gunboat and made a strafing run on the ship. Fire from the gunboat’s forward twin 40mm gun killed the pilot but his plane kept coming. It struck the forward 40mm gun tub, careened off, and hit the water twenty-five yards to port of the ship. This left the gunboat with much less ability to defend itself. At 1352 three Nates attacked her. The first two were shot down but the third, also hit, exploded only ten feet off her port quarter, blowing an eight foot hole in her side and disabling her aft 40mm twin. With only a single 40mm bow gun, four 20mm guns, and a few .50 caliber machine guns left, the gunboat was in dire straits. She began to take on water and soon had a ten degree list to starboard. LCS(L) 33 came to her aid, picking up men who had been blown into the water. The attacks continued; at 1420 a CAP fighter chased another Nate toward the 57.The enemy plane was hit by fire from the ship and the CAP fighter but still managed to crash into the bow of the 57, disabling her 40mm bow gun. Recognizing that her situation on the picket station was hopeless, her CO, Lieutenant Harry L. Smith, requested permission to leave the station and head back to the anchorage before his ship sank.

Meanwhile, LCS(L) 33 was also under attack. At 1500 two Vals attacked her simultaneously, one from port and one from starboard. Her gunners shot down the Val on the port side, but the Val attacking from the starboard side crashed into the gunboat amidships and exploded. The force of the crash broke the gunboat’s fire mains and she was unable to fight the ensuing fires. Her power was out and her Johnson pumps were on fire. She took a list thirty-five degrees to port.

MoMM 3/c John D. Meader was on duty in the engine room when the 33 was hit. He later wrote:

Suddenly there was a loud noise, even with ear plugs in your ears, something had exploded. The ship just seemed to bounce, like standing on a diving board and someone else jumps on it too. The lights went out, the acid smell of fuel began to enter the engine room, it was a different smell than the manifolds. This must have lasted for about 10 seconds and the backup battery powered lites came on: two battle lanterns. The place looked eerie at least scary. We waited, the phones were dead, the ship started to list badly to port….

Suddenly the red warning lite on the aft bulkhead started to flash. This was the signal to abandon ship. I know we just stood for a second or two and looked at each other. We were going at “Flank Speed.” We had many discussions about this, we should reduce the speed to one-third, so as to be able to get to safety. However no signal came to reduce speed, it was leaning to Port badly, so up we went topside.

Once up there we started forward, just a couple of steps, fire seemed every place forward, lots of black smoke.5

Meader and the other men from the engine room made it off safely. After a couple of hours in the water, he was picked up by LCS(L) 51, the last survivor of the 33 to be rescued.

Her CO, Lieutenant (jg) Frank C. Osterland, was in the conning tower when the kamikaze hit. He later wrote:

A third plane dove down along the ship’s starboard side and leveled off just above the wave tops. It struck Dolly Three (LCS(L) 33) full force, forward of amidships. There was a terrific crash and gasoline was sprayed over the ship. Fires immediately engulfed much of the superstructure.

Many of the crew topside were temporarily rendered unconscious by the concussion. The Captain was thrown violently against the conning tower and suffered a broken vertebra. The mortally wounded ship began to list in the water and go out of control. All engines were shut down. Below decks in what would very quickly become a steel coffin, we were deafened by gunfire and tossed about by the wildly maneuvering ship. Then came a terrific crash when the plane struck and suddenly, for me, there was only darkness, stillness, and emptiness. I was lying on the deck of the radio/radar room which was my Dolly Three battle station. I had apparently been thrown off my feet, unconscious, under the radar console and against the bulkhead. There was a deep dent in my helmet that hadn’t been there before, and I knew that I’d received a hard blow to my head and that my nose was bleeding.6

Dazed and injured, Osterland could hear his officers giving the command to abandon ship. As he crawled out of the radio room and onto the deck he was able to see how badly his ship was damaged. Many of the crew were already in the water and Osterland dove in to assist them. As they tried to keep together in the water, the ship’s magazines began to explode. An hour later the survivors were picked up by LCS(L) 115. Three men were missing and presumed dead. LCS(L) 33 was a smoldering hulk and Purdy was ordered to sink her. Two rounds from the destroyer’s five inch gun put her under.

LCS(L) 115 was the most fortunate of the ships at RP #1 that day. On her way to pick up survivors from LCS(L) 33, she came under attack at 1427 when a Val tried to crash her, strafing her decks on the way in. Three men were wounded in the strafing attack, but the ship maneuvered quickly and the plane overshot her, crashing into the water only twenty-five feet off her port side. Thirty minutes later another Val made an attempt to crash her but, once again, the ship’s maneuvering left the Val to crash one hundred feet off the port beam. She continued on her way and picked survivors from the water.

LCS(L) 114 was the only ship to get through the attack unscathed. Her gunfire supplemented that of the destroyers and other gunboats in successfully shooting down a number of enemy aircraft. In his action report on the battle at RP #1, Commander Frank L. Johnson, noted: “One shipboard enlisted observer who kept a tally of the ‘splashes’ made by friendly fighters, surface ships including LCS type, and by suicide hits, stated that he counted a total of 22 splashes during the 86 minute air action. It is believed that at least 20 and probably about 25–30 Japanese planes were destroyed in the above action.”7

Radar Picket Station #1 continued to be one of the most hazardous assignments. On 16 April three ships on patrol there, Laffey DD 724, LCS(L)51 and 116, saw heavy action. Attacks on the ships began at 0827, with Laffey as the prime target. Four Vals attacked the destroyer, two from each side. The destroyer shot one down and another fell under fire from Laffey and LCS(L) 51. From that point on Laffey was subjected to a series of attacks, successfully shooting down a number of Japanese aircraft, but sustaining kamikaze crashes from eight planes and bombs from three others.

In the early attacks, the Japanese focus had been destroyers, but the gunboats were soon under attack also. At 0815 a Val selected LCS(L) 51 as its target and came in on its starboard beam, only to be met by fire from every gun that could train on it. The Val went down in flames 300 yards off the ship. A half hour later the gunboat shot down a Val heading for Laffey and the plane crashed in the water. Still another Val attacked her from the port side and was shot down.

LCS(L) 33 was active in the battle for Iwo Jima where she provided support for the landing craft and call-fire against enemy targets. While patrolling on Radar Picket Station #1 at Okinawa on 12 April 1945, she was crashed by a kamikaze and sunk. NARA 80GK 2681.

A fifth Val made its crash dive at 1010, coming in from the port side of the gunboat. Gunners Mate 3/c Frances F. Ryers, manning his 20mm gun, faced the incoming Val. Ryers had run out of ammunition but stayed at his post as the enemy plane headed directly toward him. “You could really get a good look at the pilot … he was sitting straight up in there, holding on to his joy stick, and he looked like he was just staring at me.” Ryers “just stared back.”8 The Val was shot down by another gunner only twenty-five feet from the side of the ship. Its engine was propelled forward after the crash and imbedded itself in the side of the gunboat’s hull. Shortly thereafter, the gunboat spotted a Zeke flying across its bow heading for Laffey and shot it down. Her score for the day was six enemy aircraft destroyed. She headed toward Laffey to assist with firefighting and rescuing survivors. At 1150 she was sent back to the anchorage to deliver the wounded. For her actions that day she was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

LCS(L) 57 at Kerama Retto after sustaining damage in a kamikaze attack while on radar picket duty. NARA 80G 330114.

LCS(L) 116 took on three Vals that approached her at 0905. Two were driven off by her gunfire, but the third crashed into her stern and exploded, putting her twin 40mm mount out of action. Eleven men died and nine were wounded in the attack. Two more Vals tried to crash the ship and both were shot down by the gunboat. Her damage was such that she had to be towed back to the anchorage.

The engine from a Japanese Val kamikaze plane was embedded in the side of LCS(L) 51 after it was shot down by the ship at Radar Picket Station #1 on 16 April 1945. NARA 8OG 359030. 

The engine from the Japanese Val that crashed into the side of LCS(L) 51 on 16 April 1945 protrudes into the ship’s crew mess area. Official U.S. Navy photograph.

LCS(L) 116 was on patrol at Radar Picket Station #1 on 16 April 1945 when she was hit by a kamikaze. In addition to damage to her aft gun tub, she suffered twelve dead and twelve wounded. NARA 80G 342580. 

The Aichi D3A Type l99 carrier bomber was frequently used in attacks on American ships at Okinawa. It carried the Allied code name “Val.”

Days and weeks elapsed with the kamikazes coming in droves. Although the massed raids of the Kikusui campaign saw the largest number of Japanese aircraft attacks, the time between them was filled with sporadic attacks on American ships. Lieutenant H. D. Chickering, commanding officer of LCS(L) 51, later wrote: “The raids seemed ceaseless, our guns were always manned and the gunners literally slept at them. As Captain I seldom left the bridge. For a week, we fired on, or reported, dozens of raids, and lost count very quickly. The radio reported continuous fighting, hits and sinking on all stations.”9

Kikusui #4 was scheduled to run from 25 to 29 April 1945, but inclement weather delayed the start until the 27th. Patrolling Radar Picket Station #1 on 28 April were Aaron Ward DM 34Mustin DD 413LCS(L) 11 and LSM(R) 191. LCS(L) 61 was on patrol two-thirds of the way to the station, a practice designed to give additional coverage for the anchorage. At 0023 and 0030 several Japanese aircraft passed by the station. They were too distant to attack the ships directly on the station, but one peeled off and made a run on LCS(L) 61 from dead ahead. The pilot’s aim was off and it passed over the ship before its gunners could fire on it. The best they could manage were a few parting shots from the aft twin 40mm. Throughout the night enemy aircraft attacked the station and were driven off or shot down by the ships. At the station, Ward shot down three aircraft and possibly a fourth.

At 1100 on 28 April Aaron Ward was relieved by Bennion DD 662 and Mustin DD 413LCS(L) 61 was brought in to the station where it joined with the two destroyers and LCS(L) 23, which had relieved LCS(L) 11.

That evening, about 2200, the two gunboats were cruising on RP #1 about three miles to starboard of the destroyers when they came under attack. A third LCS(L), number 31, had joined the station during the day. The three were cruising in a line which was one of the formations used by the gunboats while on RP Duty. LCS(L) 31 was in the lead, followed by 61, with 23 bringing up the rear. The War Diary of LCS(L) 61 describes the action:

Roger Peter One had been alerted for a good part of the night and the DD’s had taken bogies under fire several times. It was an active night all over the Picket Line and we had been at Red & Green for a long period. Our private bogie had not been reported to us by any source until our own Radarman, A. H. Bleiler, RdM2/c, picked him up and tracked him in. LCS 61 was second ship in a column of three and the bogie was closing from ahead, from right to left and at an angle of about 201 to the axis. The lookouts and fire control man sighted him visually while he was still on the starboard side of the column and started tracking. Fire was not opened until he cleared the ship ahead. The number 2 40MM gun with Larry Fabroni, FC 2/c, at the director was right on from the first shot. As soon as he realized he was being fired on the Jap turned in toward the 61 but he was much, much too late. We had him on fire and he fell within 100 yds. on our port beam. 18 rounds of 40MM ammunition were expended. And that was that. The OTC investigating the wreckage, discovering two bodies. Just as easy as falling off a log. We had visions of our take running into the dozens. We were soon to be disillusioned, but our first conquest gave us a world of confidence. Bring on the bogies. We were ready and waiting for them.10

LCS(L)61 and 31 shared the credit for the plane which was identified in action reports as a Myrt.

LCS(L)s’ firefighting abilities were put to the test on 3 May 1945. Three of the gunboats, LCS(L)13, 16, and 61 were on patrol at RP #7 when word was received that the escort carrier Sangamon CVE 26 had been hit by a kamikaze. At 1920, a Nick with a bomb had crashed in the middle of her flight deck starting a raging fire which was out of control. The close proximity of the radar picket station to the carrier meant that the gunboats could be of assistance, so they were sent to her aid. As they approached, they could see aircraft being jettisoned in order to keep them from exploding. Hudson DD 475, which had been nearby, was already on the scene playing water on the fire with her hoses. The three gunboats came alongside and began to fight the fires with their equipment. LCS(L) 13 had her mast broken as ammo on the carrier’s deck went off. LCS(L) 61 was nearly hit by a Hellcat, as Sangamon’s crewmen jettisoned it over the side. Ammunition and star shells exploded around the gunboats as they fought the fires. In time the fires were under control and Sangamon was able to continue on her own. The three gunboats headed back to radar picket duty. Apparently their work had been exemplary. Hudson sent the following message:

THE SUPPORT SHIPS OF ROGER PETER SEVEN ARE TO BE CONGRATULATED FOR A SUPERB JOB LAST NIGHT X YOU WERE CERTAINLY RESPONSIBLE TO A LARGE DEGREE IN SAVING THE CARRIER X REQUEST DUNGEON SIX SUBMIT NAMES OF ALL COMMANDING OFFICERS INCLUDING DUNGEON THREE AND ALBERT FOURTEEN.11

The commanding officers of the three gunboats, Lieutenants Homer O. White, Jr. (16), James W. Kelley (61), and Lieutenant (jg) Billy R. Hart (13) were awarded the Silver Star for their actions in assisting the carrier.

Meanwhile, on Radar Picket Station #10, Aaron Ward DM 34, Little DD 803LCS(L)142583, and LSM(R) 195 were on patrol. At 1883 incoming enemy aircraft were detected and the ships went to general quarters. The two Japanese Vals managed to slip by the four Hellcats on patrol and close in on the ships. Ward shot one down 100 yards to starboard. It disintegrated and its engine, propeller, and part of the wing landed on the Ward’s deck. The second Val was hit by her gunfire and crashed into the water 1,200 yards to port. While Ward’s gunners were concentrating on the Vals, a Zeke with a bomb attacked from port. Although it was hit by the ship’s fire it managed to crash into the ship, killing and wounding a number of men. Ward began taking on water and circled to port, her rudder jammed by the explosion. However, her guns were still operable and she fired on and turned away other attackers.

The gunboats, which had been stationed five miles south of Ward, went to her aid along with Shannon DM 25, which had been on patrol nearby. Aaron Ward underwent another attack which began at 1859. She managed to shoot down a Betty and two Vals before a third Val made it through the hail of gunfire to crash into her main deck. Its bomb, released just prior to the crash, exploded and holed the minelayer. Ward went dead in the water and, within minutes, was crashed by another Val and then a Zeke. She had been hit by five kamikazes but was still afloat. Her gunners had shot down four of the enemy planes.

By this time the LCS(L)s were on the scene. LCS(L) 14 shot down another kamikaze as it made its run on the minelayer. The gunboats came aside, taking off wounded and helping fight fires. It was Little’s turn next. An estimated eighteen to twenty-four enemy aircraft circled over the ships, lining up for their attacks. Between 1843 and 1845 Little was struck by four kamikazes, the last of which broke her keel. At 1851 her CO, Commander Madison Hall, Jr. ordered his crew off the ship, and a few minutes later she went to the bottom.

LSM(R) 195 had been on her way to aid the ships but lost an engine, causing her to fall behind the LCS(L)s. Once separated from the other ships she was a lone target. With only a single 40mm gun to protect herself, she was basically helpless. Within a short space of time she was struck by only one kamikaze. However, the impact of the crash broke her water mains and started fires in her midship and forward magazines. Without the ability to fight the fires she was finished. Her CO gave the order to abandon ship at 1920, and fifteen minutes later she went under. Left on the picket station were three LCS(L)s and Aaron Ward which was dead in the water.

The kamikazes began to target the gunboats. At 1909 one made a run on LCS(L) 25 and was shot down by the combined fire from the 25 and LCS(L) 14. As it crashed into the water its engine broke loose, ricocheted off the water, and broke the mast off LCS(L) 25. Other parts of the plane hit the gunboat’s deck, killing one man, wounding eight, and knocking two overboard. Two more Japanese planes made a run on LCS(L) 83. Her maneuvers caused the planes to miss and both crashed into the water. As the 83 headed for the sinking ships, still another plane came at her from astern. Her gunners faced down the plane’s gunfire and shot it down behind her. The gunboat had arrived in the area where Little sank and began picking up survivors. As she rescued survivors, an Oscar made a run on her. Her gunners poured out a blanket of fire and killed the pilot, causing the plane to miss her. She continued to pick up survivors from Little and Aaron Ward. In his action report for the day, the CO of LCS(L) 83, Lieutenant James M. Faddis, related the courageous acts of his crew during the battle:

They had previous to that day seen the LCS 15 sunk by a suicide plane. They had seen several suicide dives on Destroyers. They had seen the LSM 195 hit and burning. They had seen the DD and DM hit repeatedly. The chances of stopping the suicide attacks seemed remote yet while picking up survivors they were calm, stood to their guns and poured out a murderous fire. The men on number one 40, with the plane barely 50 feet away, were loading and firing unceasingly. Neither noise nor smoke nor confusion bothered the men. They stuck to their guns and fired like demons.12

Radar Picket Station 1 was patrolled by Morrison DD 560, Ingraham DD 694, LSM(R) 194 and LCS(L)2123, and 31 from 3 to 4 May. By the end of the day on 4 May, Morrison and LSM(R) 194 would be sunk and Ingraham and LCS(L) 31 would be damaged in kamikaze attacks. Early in the morning, about 0715, the radar picket station came under attack by an estimated thirty-five to fifty enemy aircraft. The first ship attacked was Morrison, which controlled the nearby CAP. Because of the size of the raid, the destroyer radioed for additional assistance. Within a short time, the combat air patrol numbered forty-eight Hellcats and Corsairs. Morrison shot down three attacking enemy planes. She suffered her first kamikaze hit at 0825 as a Zeke crashed into her forward stack. This was followed by a second Zeke crashing into her main deck near the No. 3 5 inch gun. Seven twin-float biplanes attacked the ship and two made it through to crash into the destroyer. Within minutes Morrison was down by the stern and sinking. She rolled over and went down stern first at 0840 shortly after her commanding officer, Commander James R. Hansen, gave the order to abandon ship. She lost 159 crewmen and suffered 102 injured. LSM(R) 194 sustained a crash into her stern by a Val about the same time that Morrison was sunk. The explosion blew up her boiler and split her seams. She went down within a half hour. Her casualties were thirteen dead and twenty-three wounded. As LCS(L) 21 raced to her aid, the LSM(R)s magazine exploded underwater, damaging the gunboat by opening some of her seams and knocking out her gyro compass. Ingraham was hit by a Zeke which struck her waterline about 0830. Its bomb penetrated the destroyer’s hull near the waterline, and the resultant explosion tore a hole in the port side of her hull thirty feet long. Prior to being hit, Ingraham’s gunners had shot down eight enemy planes, including Vals and Zekes. Her crew set about saving their ship which limped back to Ie Shima for repairs. Her dead numbered fourteen and her wounded thirty-seven.

As the larger ships were under attack, the LCS(L)s were heavily engaged in fighting off kamikazes which were attacking the destroyers and the LSM(R), as well as themselves. LCS(L) 21 shot down three enemy aircraft and hit the Val that crashed into LSM(R) 194, but it still managed its crash into the rocket ship. She patrolled the area, picking up 187 men from Morrison and another fifty from LSM(R) 194. Her decks packed to the rails with survivors, the 21 was barely able to fight off additional kamikazes as they came within range. LCS(L) 23, patrolling nearby, shot down four enemy aircraft and was credited with an assist on three additional enemy planes.

On board LCS(L) 31, Gunners Mate 1/c Thomas Lee watched the action surrounding his ship. As the most experienced gunnery man on the ship, he was stationed on deck just forward of the conning tower. The ship’s gunnery officer, Lieutenant (jg) Laurance McKenna, had assigned him as the trouble shooter for the guns. If there was a problem with any of the ship’s guns, McKenna contacted Lee by phone and sent him to solve the problem.

At 0822 a Zeke dove on the gunboat from the ship’s port beam. It was hit by 40mm fire at a range of about 2,000 yards, diverting its path sufficiently to miss the conning tower. It splashed into the sea fifty feet off the starboard beam of the 31. A problem had arisen with one of the ship’s guns and Lee was sent aft by McKenna to clear a jam on gun No. 7. This saved his life, as moments later another Zeke roared in from the gunboat’s port bow and, in spite of being hit numerous times, crashed into the deck just forward of the conning tower where Lee had been standing. The pointer for the twin 40mm gun dove out of the director’s tub and narrowly escaped death. He survived with a gash on his foot from the Zeke’s propeller.13 The port wing of the plane crashed into the twin 40mm gun, and its starboard wing tore a two by six foot hole in the conning tower. With its wings ripped off, the fuselage of the plane continued on, destroying the starboard 20mm gun before exploding just off the ship’s starboard beam. Five men were killed in this attack and another three injured. Within minutes another Zeke was sighted off the port beam and shot down with the one remaining 40mm gun. At 0837 a Val made an apparent suicide run on the gunboat from her port beam. This time a burst from the 20mm and 40mm gun hit the plane as it was about 500 yards from the ship. Damage to the plane caused it to swerve and pass closely over the aft twin 40mm gun. It left a trail of gasoline and debris on the ship before plunging into the sea off the ship’s starboard quarter. Two men were killed in this attack and three were injured. One man was reported blown over the side and Lee, who had been in the area near the 40mm gun tub, was reported over the side as well. He immediately contacted the conn via headphones, and the gunnery officer was surprised to hear his voice, having been told he was blown overboard in the attack. With only one 20mm gun and a single 40mm gun left, the ship was in no condition to continue fighting. A Zeke approached from the port quarter heading for Ingraham and was shot down by 20mm fire from the 31. The plane crashed into the water twenty-five yards off the ship’s port quarter. At 0855, the aft twin 40mm gun had one barrel operational, just in time to shoot down a sixth Japanese plane coming in on the ship from astern. With no further attacks occurring, the Commanding Officer of LCS(L) 31, Lieutenant Kenneth F. Machacek, led his ship through the area to pick up a few survivors from the sunken ships. She headed for the Hagushi anchorage and repairs. Both of her twin 40mm guns and two of her 20mms were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.14 Her accomplishments for the day would be recognized. For her actions on 4 May 1945, LCS(L) 31 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

The greatest air-sea battle at the radar picket stations took place at RP #15 from 10 to 11 May 1945. Patrolling there were Evans DD 552Hugh W. Hadley DD 774LCS(L)828384 and LSM(R) 193. Overnight between 10 and 11 May, enemy aircraft were constantly in the area, but at 0740 on 11 May, the action escalated. Flying CAP over the station were twelve American aircraft, but they would be greatly outnumbered by the attacking Japanese planes. Virtually the entire Japanese Kikusui #6 raid was headed in their direction. Hadley’s radar indicated a total of 156 aircraft approaching the ships and they went to general quarters. She finished the day having shot down twenty-three enemy aircraft in spite of having been hit by a Baka bomb, a bomb hit aft, and two kamikazes. All but her damage control parties were ordered off the ship, and these fifty men fought fires and kept her afloat until help arrived. She survived the encounter and was towed back to safety by the tug Avoyel ATF 150.

Evans was also severely mauled by the raids, with her engineering spaces flooded by four kamikaze hits. She was dead in the water but still fought back. By the end of her ordeal she had shot down fourteen enemy aircraft. The destroyer was unable to move and had to be towed back to safety. She suffered thirty-two killed and twenty-seven wounded in the attacks. Both destroyers were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

As the destroyers came under attack, the gunboats closed their positions to aid in fighting the kamikazes. LCS(L) 82 assisted in shooting down a Tony as it dove on Evans at 0845. Fourteen minutes later LSM(R) 193 shot down a Kate as it was about to dive on her. LCS(L) 83 spotted a Hamp making a run on her from head on and shot it down at 0910. With Evans dead in the water, support from the gunboats was crucial. LCS(L) 83 fired on and drove off two more aircraft that were attempting to crash into her. The LSM(R) drove two off and then shot down a Hamp at 0912. Three more aircraft approached the gunboats and the LSM(R)’s gunners shot one down, and the LCS(L)s combined their fire power to send the other two down in flames. LCS(L) 84 tried to assist Evans as her crew fought the fires. As she aided the stricken destroyer, she came under attack and shot down a Zeke at 0900. The Zeke crashed close aboard and showered the forward decks of the gunboat with water and flaming gasoline. The near miss blew one man overboard and wounded another. Within the next fifteen minutes her gunners shot down a Zeke and a Tojo.

The air battle raged overhead and many aircraft were shot down by the CAP, but there were just too many. In spite of their valiant action and the destruction of a number of enemy planes, many still managed to get through.

LCS(L) 82 was also in the thick of the fighting. At 0910 an Oscar dove on her and was disintegrated by her gunfire while it was almost directly overhead. Her CO, Lieutenant Peter G. Beierl, ordered flank speed, and the debris from the aircraft showered down just aft the ship. The 82 then went to the aid of Evans and tied up on her starboard side. Another plane attacked as she was tied up to Evans and she shot it down 200 yards away. LCS(L) 84 tied up to Evans’ port side and began pumping her out as she was taking on water. Two Corsairs, following closely on the tail of a Zeke, passed over her fantail. The 84 shot the Zeke down and it crashed in the water 200 yards off the ships.

Had it not been for the presence of the gunboats, it is likely that the two destroyers would have been sunk. LCS(L) 82 had shot down three enemy aircraft and assisted in the destruction of two more. For her actions that day she was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation and her CO, Lieutenant Peter G. Beierl, was awarded the Bronze Star. LCS(L) 83 also was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation. In all, the support gunboats had performed admirably and justified their presence on the radar picket stations.

It would seem logical that the duty performed by the picket ships was appreciated by all, and measures taken to ensure that they were given as much support as possible. This did not always occur. LCS(L) 82, after a harrowing experience on the picket line, went back to the Hagushi area for supplies and skunk patrol. On 20 May, her commanding officer received word to head back to the radar picket station. He notified the SOPA that his ship was short of ammunition and was ordered to an ammunition ship to get more. William J. Ross SM 3/c on the 82 reported:

By the time we got underway and located the AE, it was a little after 1600. We signaled by blinker for permission to come alongside, but could get no response. We had to come in close enough for the Captain to use the bull horn to request them to handle our lines. However, the answer came back that they were a union ship—no work after 5PM!

As I have said, the Captain was a quiet man, but not now. He backed the ship off, and I believe, considered putting a couple of shots across their bow. Finally, we lowered our dinghy and sent a couple of men over to handle our own lines.

To show they weren’t all bad, the union men did show us where the ammunition was stored—about three decks below. Due to union rules, however, they refused to operate their winches. We had to manhandle our ammunition up to the main deck and then, to the 82.15

Radar picket station #5 was patrolled by Braine DD 630Anthony DD 515, and LCS(L)138286, and 123 on 26 May. The CAP shot down two Tojos at 0830 and Braine fired on and destroyed a Betty with an Oka before the piloted bomb could be released by the mother ship. The following morning foul weather closed in. The eight Army P-47 Thunderbolts on CAP asked permission to return to their base on Ie Shima as flying conditions were difficult. No sooner had they departed the radar picket station than the ships went to general quarters at 0737. A Val headed toward LCS(L) 123 from dead ahead and was hit repeatedly by her forward twin 40mm guns. Apparently discouraged, the pilot turned off and headed toward Anthony but it crashed before it got much farther. LCS(L) 123 had claimed her first kill for the day. From that point on, Braine and Anthonysuffered a series of Japanese air attacks, with Braine getting crashed by two kamikazes at 0745. Braine was aflame and the gunboats went to her aid. LCS(L) 86 turned away an incoming attacker with her gunfire and it headed for Anthony. Fire from LCS(L)82, 86, and 123 struck the plane and it crashed before it could get to the destroyer.

Braine was out of control. Fires on her deck effectively divided the ship into three sections and the men in each could not communicate with those in the other sections. Her steering had been damaged, and she nearly ran into LCS(L) 123 which had come to her aid. Men began jumping off the ship and were rescued by the gunboats. However, not all made it safely. Sharks swarmed through the waters, and men on the gunboats fired rifles at them to drive them away. LCS(L) 82 gunners shot a number of them and rescued some men who had been mauled by the sharks. John Rooney, who served as a radioman on board LCS(L) 82, wrote: “We recovered one who had not made it, hanging pale and lifeless in his Mae West, a leg torn away, the other arm gone, gutted by the sharks…. We machine-gunned the sharks. In their mindless savagery they started tearing each other apart, this time turning the ocean crimson with their own blood.”16

Anthony, which had been damaged by a kamikaze’s near miss, tied up to Braine and began to assist in firefighting as the gunboats picked up the rest of the survivors. That having been done, the gunboats turned their firefighting capabilities loose and went to the assistance of the two destroyers. LCS(L) 123 managed to get a boarding party on Braine by 0957 and the fires were eventually brought under control. On board Braine, sixty-seven were dead and 103 wounded.

Anthony began the task of towing her back to the anchorage. The gunboats remained on station and were there when the destroyers, William D. Porter DD 579 and Massey DD 778 reported on station.

Ammen DD 527Boyd DD 544, and LCS(L)525556, and 61 were on patrol at RP #15A on 27 May. Late in the day Ammen detected four enemy aircraft heading toward the station and sent the CAP after them. The four planes escaped the CAP and were not seen again.

Unfortunately, the CAP usually had to return to base at dusk, leaving the picket ships without any air cover. At 1918 the CAP was departing, and an hour later the first of the Japanese planes made their appearance. Between 2028 and 2047 the destroyers detected two Japanese aircraft and their gunfire drove them off. Still another enemy plane was detected at 2221 and the destroyers and gunboats all fired on it. As it approached the ships it passed over LCS(L) 61, which scored a number of hits on the plane. It targeted LCS(L) 52, but fire from both ships shot it down. Its bomb exploded only twenty yards off the starboard quarter of the 52. A bomb going off that close to a ship was sure to cause damage. LCS(L) 52 had nine men and one officer killed, with another officer wounded. LCS(L) 61 closed on the ship and drove off another attacker.

It became imperative for LCS(L) 52 to go back to the anchorage for repair and to transfer wounded. LCS(L) 61 was ordered to escort her. As they headed back to Hagushi they came under attack again. LCS(L) 61 was in the lead with the 52 behind her. A twin-engine Betty bomber approached the ships from astern and the 52 fired on it. The bomber passed over the 52 and made straight for LCS(L) 61 which, at this point, had taken it under fire as well. On board the 61, CO Lieutenant Jim Kelley watched the approaching Betty, knowing that the large bomber would surely sink his small gunboat if it were to crash her. Apparently that was what the Betty intended to do. On fire after having been hit by both ships, it headed directly for the conn of the 61. Kelley coolly watched as the Japanese bomber headed for his ship. At the last moment he called down to Quartermaster Bob Rielly, who was on the wheel, to give the ship hard left rudder. Rielly spun the wheel and the 61 listed severely as she made the rapid turn at flank speed. Many members of the crew thought that they had been hit and that the ship was sinking. The Japanese bomber passed by the ship, missing it by only a few feet. It crashed in the water about twenty feet off the starboard bow. Parts of the plane bounced off the water and landed on the ship’s deck and she was showered with gasoline. Scraping noises could be heard as the ship brushed by the remains of the plane. LCS(L) 61 would live to fight again.17 It was the fifth kamikaze shot down by the gunboat.

Radar picket station #11A was active from 3 to 5 June. Patrolling there on 3 June were Robert H. Smith DM 23Thomas E. Fraser DM 24Cassin Young DD 793, and LCS(L)165483, and 84. On 3 June between 0215 and 0358, enemy aircraft approached the ships but turned away before the destroyers could engage them. Later that day the LCS(L)s, cruising three miles eastward of the destroyers, were not so fortunate. At 1330 a Zeke was spotted between breaks in the clouds, and minutes later it dove on LCS(L) 54. Both LCS(L) 54 and 16 took it under fire, causing it to change course and head for 16. It splashed in the water only fifty feet from the gunboat’s port side. LCS(L) 16 was credited with shooting the plane down and 54 was recorded as having made the assist. Several other aircraft approached the gunboats during the next hour but were turned away by their gunfire.

On patrol on 10 June 1945 at RP Station #15A were William D. Porter DD 579, Aulick DD 569Cogswell DD 651, and LCS(L)188694, and 122. A total of ten aircraft were overhead. Two Corsairs from the radar picket patrol on Okinawa were assigned to provide direct cover for the ships on station, while two divisions of Corsairs from VMF-212 at Awase, Okinawa, and VMF-314 on Ie Shima flew regular CAP. The pilots from VMF-314 spotted a Val approaching the ships but had to turn away from the interception as the destroyers put up a wall of anti-aircraft fire. Aulick and Porter had already spotted the enemy plane and taken defensive action. Unfortunately it was not enough. Although they shot the plane down, it crashed so close to Porter’s stern that its bomb exploded under the ship. It was almost the same as being mined. No damage to the ship was apparent, but the underwater explosion of the bomb lifted her stern and opened Porter’s hull seams. She later reported:

The plane struck the water close aboard to port, abreast the after engine room. There was a single, violent but almost silent explosion, which seemed to lift the ship bodily and drop it again in a quick movement. The Commanding Officer who had been asleep in the sea cabin was awakened by the explosion, and coming out on the bridge was informed by the Officer of the Deck that the ship had been struck by a Val. It is not known whether the explosive was carried within the plane or in a bomb which might have been released, but it is believed that the explosion occurred nearly directly under the ship, under the after engine room or slightly aft of it. All the events of this paragraph occurred within a space of seconds. Pertinent to the failure of any ship in company to make radar contact on this plane until it had closed to 7000 yards, and to the failure of this ship to make radar contact at all was a later report from one of the LCS’s which had recovered parts of the plane, that paper and wood appeared to have been used extensively in its construction.18

Porter had been mortally wounded. In a short time it became evident that she could not be saved. Her stern area was filling rapidly with water and it was just a matter of time before she went under. As Aulick and Cogswell circled her providing anti-aircraft support, the gunboats tied up to her sides and began to aid in pumping her out, but it was a losing battle. Commander C. M. Keyes, the CO of Porter, gave the order to abandon ship. He was the last man off, departing his ship at 1113, and stepping aboard LCS(L) 86. As the gunboats left the side of the destroyer, it pointed its bow skyward and sank stern first.

Radar picket station #15A continued to be a hot spot for air raids. On 11 June it was patrolled by Ammen DD 527Aulick DD 569, and LCS(L)198694, and 122. Some early morning action at 0730 took place with the CAP shooting down an enemy plane north of the station. Later in the day, at 1845, an incoming raid of six Vals was picked up forty miles north of the station and the CAP was vectored to intercept it. The CAP shot down two Vals, but three others escaped their attention and made it to the station. At 1901 the gunboats took the three Vals under fire, shooting one down between LCS(L)86 and 122. Another Val made a run on the ships and, in spite of being hit by Aulick and LCS(L) 122, it crashed into the base of the conning tower on 122 after missing LCS(L) 86 by only ten feet.

LCS(L) 122, her decks filled with survivors from the destroyer William D. Porter DD 579, stands by the sinking ship. Porter was struck by a kamikaze at Radar Picket Station #15A on 10 June 1945. On patrol with her that day were the destroyersAulick DD 569 and Cogswell DD 611, along with LCS(L)s 18, 86, 94, and 122. The four gunboats were instrumental in aiding the destroyer and rescuing its survivors. Porter sank later that day with sixty-one of her men listed as wounded.

The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Richard M. McCool, was knocked unconscious. Eleven of his crew were killed in the attack and another twenty-nine wounded, including McCool. He later wrote:

For the second plane, I had ordered “hard right rudder” to make the pilot have to try to adjust his run after it had begun, but I doubt that it had time to be effective. This plane, I believe a so-called VAL bomber with fixed landing gear, hit us at the base of the conning tower with the closest part of the plane about 6–8 feet from me. I believe that I actually made out the face of the pilot before he hit, but that may be my imagination. The bomb (or naval projectile) apparently exploded a split second after impact having gone through the radio shack and the passageway, exiting on the port side. Probably the cylindrical structure of the pilot house is what saved my life.19

Fires from the crash burned a number of men, causing twenty-three to jump over the side to escape the flames, but others were still below in the burning ship. LCS(L)19 and 94 tied up to the ship and each other and began working to assist survivors and to check the condition of the 122. By that time McCool had regained consciousness and took charge, saving his ship. After ensuring that his crew was being taken care of, he was taken off the ship badly wounded. His Executive Officer, Lieutenant R. K. Bruns, took command. For McCool the war was over.

The commanding officer of LCS(L) 86, Lieutenant (jg) H. N. Houston, went on board the 122 and put one of his officers, Ensign Warren, in charge of his own ship. LCS(L) 86 began the arduous task of towing the 122 to Hagushi. Wounded survivors from the ship were on LCS(L) 94, which took them directly back for aid. LCS(L) 19 stood by for assistance if needed. As they reached the transport area, a tug met them and took over the tow.

The commanding officers of the gunboats were all relatively new to command and many acted with extreme courage. At Iwo Jima, the actions of Lieutenant (jg) Rufus Herring, CO of LCI(G) 449, were so outstanding that he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award. Then, at Okinawa, Lieutenant Richard M. McCool received the same award. It was the war’s second Medal of Honor award to a gunboat’s Commanding Officer. The Medal of Honor citation for Lieutenant Richard M. McCool reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. LCS(L) 3 122 during operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Ryukyu chain, 10 and 11 June 1945. Sharply vigilant during hostile air raids against Allied ships on radar picket duty off Okinawa on 10 June, Lt. McCool aided materially in evacuating all survivors from a sinking destroyer which had sustained mortal damage under the devastating attacks. When his own craft was attacked simultaneously by 2 of the enemy’s suicide squadron in the evening of 1 June, he instantly hurled the full power of his gun batteries against the lunging aircraft, shooting down the first and damaging the second before it crashed his station in the conning tower and engulfed the immediate area in a mass of flames. Although suffering from shrapnel wounds and painful burns, he rallied his concussion-shocked crew and initiated vigorous firefighting measures and then proceeded to the rescue of several trapped in a blazing compartment, subsequently carrying 1 man to safety despite the excruciating pain of additional severe burns. Unmindful of all personal danger, he continued his efforts without respite until aid arrived from other ships and he was evacuated. By his staunch leadership, capable direction, and indomitable determination throughout the crisis, Lt. McCool saved the lives of many who otherwise might have perished and contributed materially to the saving of his ship for further combat service. His valiant spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of extreme peril sustains and enhances the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.20

Lieutenant Richard M. McCool receiving the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman. McCool’s ship, LCS(L) 122, was struck by a Val kamikaze plane while on Radar Picket Station #15A on 11 June 1945. McCool was severely wounded but was able to continue in command of his ship, saving it and a number of his crew. Official U.S. Navy photograph courtesy Captain Richard M. McCool USN (Ret.).

The wheel of the Val kamikaze plane that crashed into the conning tower of LCS(L) 122 may be seen on the lower right. The 122 was on Radar Picket Station #15A when she was hit. Official U.S. Navy photograph courtesy Captain Richard M. McCool USN (Ret.).

The Yokosuka K5Y biplane was a Navy trainer. Its Allied code name was “Willow.” Toward the end of the war the trainers came into use as kamikazes. Their slow speed made them maneuverable and their wood and fabric construction made it hard to pick them up on radar. Willows attacking the American ships at Okinawa were flown from Japanese naval airfields on Taiwan.

McCool spent the rest of the war in the hospital but went on to a successful career in the Navy, retiring with the rank of Captain.

Attacks on the radar picket stations continued nearly until the end of the war. As more land-based radar stations came into use, the number of picket stations diminished significantly. Between 29 and 30 July, Radar Picket Station #9A was patrolled by Callaghan DD 792Pritchett DD 561Cassin Young DD 793, and LCS(L)125129, and 130. Although a significant amount of firepower patrolled the station, it would not be sufficient to prevent the last sinking of the war. The last ship sunk on radar picket duty at Okinawa was Callaghan. A single Japanese plane approached the station at 0030 and was taken under fire by Pritchett and Callaghan, but they failed to stop it. It crashed into Callaghan’s main deck aft. Its 250 lb. bomb penetrated her deck and exploded below in the aft engine room. Although ships frequently suffered stronger attacks, it was always a matter of luck as to whether they survived. An important factor was whether or not the ship’s firefighting apparatus was damaged or destroyed. In the case of Callaghan it was. With her crews unable to stop the fires, it was only a few minutes until flames reached the upper handling room of the number 3 gun and caused a massive explosion. The blast tore a hole in the hull, virtually dooming the ship. Within minutes she was listing fifteen degrees to starboard and was down by the stern. The commanding officer of LCS(L) 125, Lieutenant Howell C. Cobb, moored his ship to Callaghan’s port side and began to fight the fires. Lieutenant William H. File, Jr., CO of LCS(L) 130, brought his ship close along the port side and also began firefighting, while LCS(L) 129, under Lieutenant Louis A. Brennan, circled the area rescuing survivors. With the threat of other approaching enemy aircraft, the LCS(L)s moved away from the destroyer to aid in anti-aircraft activity. An incoming plane fell under the guns of LCS(L) 130 and hit the water near Pritchett.

The fires on Callaghan diminished somewhat but her ammunition began to cook off, causing increasing danger to the men on board and the nearby gunboats. Between 0200 and 0205 she was abandoned and sank at 0234, stern first. Lieutenant Cobb reported:

Passed close aboard the Callaghan and she was settling slowly by the stern. At 0234 the Callaghan sank by the stern with depth charges going off a short time later. At this time we were about a mile away and we received a substantial concussion from charges. It is thought that anyone still in the water within a half mile could not have survived this explosion. As far as we know there were no more men taken from the water afterward.21

The work of the gunboats had been important, even though they were not able to save the ship. For their actions Lieutenant William File (130) was awarded the Silver Star and Lieutenants Howell C. Cobb (125) and Louis A. Brennan (129) were awarded the Bronze Star.

Toward the end of the war, the Japanese had resorted to using biplane trainers as kamikazes. The aircraft were not very fast but were quite maneuverable. Their wood and fabric construction made it extremely hard for the ships to pick them up on radar. The aircraft that attacked the ships at RP #9A on 30 July 1945 were apparently Navy Willow trainers which flew from bases on Taiwan.

As early as 17 May, it was obvious that the picket ships had taken substantial losses, but that they had also performed their task exceptionally well. Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner wrote:

The picket system operated efficiently. While eight and nine picket stations were filled, raids were detected at an average distance of 72 miles from the reference point at PT. BOLO, which was a few miles North of the main transport area and close to KADENA and YONTAN airfields. Only seven percent of all raids approached within 50 miles of PT. BOLO undetected; less than one percent approached within thirty miles undetected.22

The battle for the radar picket stations had taken its toll. Men had been subjected to constant calls to general quarters, making any semblance of rest impossible. Numerous ships had been hit by kamikazes or attacked by aircraft or suicide boats. Lieutenant Howell D. Chickering, Commanding Officer of LCS(L) 51, would later write:

For all practical purposes, the war ended for me shortly after this final episode at Okinawa [sinking of Callaghan]. The island was secured by our armed forces, and all picket ships were called in. We were boarded by a Navy medical crew for examination, and I was ordered to the hospital ship Solace, or maybe it was Comfort—I forget.

I had lost 40 pounds, 85% of the hearing in my left ear, had blast concussion, advanced anorexia—loss of appetite, and couldn’t sleep without Nembutol. Along with other picket Captains, combat fatigue had finally caught up with me, and we were sent back home for rest and recuperation, via ship and plane, stopping at Tinian, Hawaii, San Francisco and, for me, the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia.23

Chickering’s ship had performed exemplary service. For her actions on 16 April at Radar Picket Station #1, she was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, and Chickering was awarded the Navy Cross.

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