Early on in the war against Japan it was necessary to develop strategies that would see the eventual defeat of the enemy. As MacArthur advanced across the southern rim of the Pacific through the Solomons and along the coast of New Guinea, equal attention to the central Pacific islands was needed. MacArthur could only advance so far before Japanese forces on numerous islands throughout the Central Pacific would be able to attack both his flanks and that of the naval forces operating in the Western Pacific. The islands of Micronesia would have to be captured or neutralized. Samuel Eliot Morison noted
the farther west that America projected her sea power, the more dangerous it became to leave in enemy possession such ample means for flank attacks on Allied lines of communication, and the more urgent it became to capture his airfields and fleet anchorages. Eniwetok, lying a little more than a thousand miles from Saipan, would be worth a dozen Wakes. The Carolines not only included the naval bases of Truk and Palau; they threatened General MacArthur’s advance after the Bismarck Barrier was broken. Saipan and Guam in enemy control screened the Philippines; in Allied possession they might bring B-29s within range of Japan. The Marshall’s spider web could entangle any westward advance from Pearl Harbor; that of the Gilberts enabled man-made insects to pounce on the America-Australia lifeline.1
The vast area that had to be covered by American forces is obvious in this map of the Central Pacific Area.
The key feature of many of these island groups was the presence of airfields or significant harbors from which the Japanese could extend their reach toward American forces. The capture of key bases in each of these areas would ensure American success in the drive westward. Where airfields with lengthy runways existed, these could be used by American aircraft and their capture denied to the enemy. Some of the island airfields could easily be bypassed and neutralized if the aircraft there could be destroyed by American air attacks. The pattern of advancement across the Pacific was designed to accomplish this.
The first of the campaigns was aimed at the Gilbert Islands, with the main targets at Tarawa and Makin. The key island at Makin Atoll was Butaritari. Landing there on 19 November 1943 were 6,472 Army troops from the 165th RCT and a battalion landing team from the 105th Infantry. Both were units of the 27th Division. By 23 November the island had been taken with a loss of only sixty-six dead and 152 wounded. The American Navy fared worse. A turret on the battleship Mississippi BB 41 blew up killing forty-three and wounding nineteen. Flying air support for the operation were Navy fighters off three carriers under Rear Admiral H. M. Mullinnix’s TG 52.3 Air Support Group. They included Liscome Bay CVE 56, Coral Sea CVB 43, and Corregidor CVE 58.Liscome Bay was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on 24 November while operating twenty miles southeast of the atoll. She went to the bottom taking with her fifty-three officers and 591 men, with many more wounded who managed to get off the ship. The Japanese had lost approximately 800, a combination of combat troops and laborers.
By comparison, the battle for Tarawa from 19 to 23 November was among the bloodiest to be fought by the Marines in World War II. The key island in the atoll was Betio where the Japanese had an airfield and their strongest defenses. Surrounding Betio was a reef that extended almost 200–300 yards from the island in some areas. The day of the invasion, 19 November, would see a neap tide during the hours of the actual landings, making it difficult to get the landing craft across the reef. Marines found themselves sitting ducks for the Japanese as they waded ashore. The naval bombardment and air attacks that preceded their landing had pounded the island, but the defenders, dug in deep, had survived. There was no cover as the Marines made their way to shore and many were killed while still in waist deep water. Marine losses at Tarawa totaled 980 dead with 2,101 wounded. Additionally, the Navy lost twenty-nine. The details of the heroic landing and victory at Tarawa have been recounted by numerous historians, and it is not necessary to go into great detail here. The important fact to consider is that the Marines had no close-in fire support as they made their landing, a situation that led to numerous deaths and casualties.
Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner was an astute observer of the situation and quickly saw the weakness in an American amphibious assault. In his report on “Lessons Learned at Tarawa,” written only a week after the end of the battle for Tarawa, Turner advocated better air and submarine reconnaissance of target areas, a greater number of ships that could supply counter-fire against defensive positions, and longer bombardment of the enemy island prior to landing. The LCI gunboats had just come into existence and had been successful in the Treasuries. Turner recommended that they be an integral part of any island assault in future operations, ensuring the conversion of numerous LCI(L)s to gunboat configuration, as well as the completely modified hull that would become the LCS(L). They would be rushed into conversion for the coming assaults in the Marshalls.
The Marshalls occupied a large area and numerous atolls and islets had to be investigated. Part of the task involved clearing them of any Japanese and surveying them for any possible use as an anchorage or base. The first of the Marshall Islands to be taken was Kwajalein Atoll.
The assault on Kwajalein Atoll had two primary objectives. In the north were the islands of Roi and Namur, connected by a spit of land and a causeway that made them basically one target. In the south the island of Kwajalein was the primary objective. Both were heavily defended, with islands on either side that had to be secured to provide security for the invading forces and positions for artillery to support the landings. Roi-Namur served as the atoll’s air base and Kwajalein as the naval base. Just to the north of Kwajalein the Japanese maintained a seaplane base at the island of Ebeye.
Two Task Forces were assigned to the assault on Kwajalein Atoll. The Northern Attack Force (TF 53) under Rear Admiral R. L. Conolly would assault the northern part of Kwajalein Atoll, while the Southern Attack Force (TF 52), under Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, was to attack the southern islands of Kwajalein Atoll. Invasion day for Kwajalein Atoll was 31 January 1944.
On 31 January, LCI(G) 450 was making its run on Ennubirr Island. The noise of the bombardment was so intense that the CO, Lieutenant (jg) Thomas F. Kennedy, Jr., didn’t notice when his ship ran aground on a reef as the gunboats were leading the landing craft to shore. In the midst of the attack and grounding, crewmen on the 450 noticed that four LVTs had capsized a few hundred yards astern of the gunboat. Approximately fifty men were in the water being battered by the waves and in danger of being run down by LVTs in the following wave. Lines were thrown to the men and several of them managed to tie the end to a reef buoy, allowing others to hold on. Other lines were thrown to the men and most of them were hauled aboard, severely weakened by their struggle in the rough surf. By 1300 most of the men had been saved but two had drowned. Two more LVTs capsized and three men went under; the rest were dragged on board where emergency facilities had been set up to treat them. Many were suffering from cuts and needed medical care. Because of the efforts of the crew of LCI(G) 450, fifty men had been saved. The following day the gunboat was dragged off the reef, but her screws and keel had been damaged. She was towed back to Pearl Harbor for repairs.2
Part of Task Force 52, gunboat Support Unit TU 52.8.8 under Lieutenant Commander Theodore Blanchard, departed Maalaea Bay, Maui, Hawaiian Islands, on 14 January 1944 after training in the islands and making preparations for their next assignment. Included in the unit were Division 15 LCI(G)s 365(F), 438, 439, 440, 441, and 442. They arrived off Kwajalein Atoll on 31 January 1944 and prepared for the assault. The first island to feel their power would be Ennylabegan. The assault and landing there were similar to the procedure for most island landings. The gunboats led the landing craft from the line of departure, released rocket salvos, turned out of the boat lanes as the landing craft passed through, and provided covering and call-fire as the troops landed. In some cases there was little or no resistance, and in others the resistance was strong. The interconnectivity of many of the islands in the atolls made it necessary for the ships to keep a vigilant eye on the areas between the islands where Japanese troops might try to escape from one island to the next by wading across the reefs. In like manner, it was also possible for troops and supplies to be brought to an island to reinforce the defenders. Some of the islands were vacant or lightly defended, and others had significant defensive positions and weapons that needed to be eliminated.
The landings on Ennylabegan and Kwajalein saw little return fire at the ships and they suffered no losses. However, after withdrawing from their covering fire runs at Ebeye on 3 February, several of the ships discovered holes in their sides indicating that they had been hit by enemy fire. The most significant was LCI(G) 442 which counted five holes in her side made by 20mm gunfire, but the damage was slight. Other ships hit that day, but not seriously damaged, were LCI(G)s 365, 440, and 441.
Kwajalein Atoll, the world’s largest atoll, is sixty-six miles long and about twenty-two miles wide. It consists of ninety-three small islands of various sizes. The expanse of the atoll was so great that the American forces attacking it had to divide into two task forces, Northern and Southern. Many of the islands were uninhabited and had no known names. As a result, they were only known by the code names assigned to them by the Americans. Names such as Roi, Namur, Ennylabegan and Enubuj stand in contrast to the code names Beverly, Buster, and Burton.
After leaving the Ebeye area, the ships steamed near other islands, strafing suspected enemy locations on Ebeye and Loi Islands in the company of McKee DD 575. Firing on Loi had to be halted around 1500 when twenty-five natives appeared on the beach waving white flags. The group consisted of men, women and children, placed in danger by the fighting. The services of the gunboats were no longer needed at Kwajalein and they moved on to Eniwetok Atoll on 15 February.
Eniwetok Atoll, located approximately 340 miles northwest of Kwajalein Atoll, was assaulted on 17 February 1944. The atoll consists of thirty islands and islets in an area approximately twenty-one by seventeen miles. Two breaks in the atoll, Deep Passage and Wide Passage, allow entrance to its lagoon. The islands of Engebi, Parry, and Eniwetok were at the extreme north and south of the atoll. Engebi, at the northern end of the atoll, was home to an airstrip 4,025 feet in length with a large contingent of Japanese troops. However, her defenses were still under construction. Eniwetok and Parry Islands in the south did not have an airstrip but they did have coastal guns in place to cover the two entrances to the lagoon.
Operations began at Eniwetok Atoll on 17 February with the assault on Canna and Camellia Islands. Landings on both islands at around 1320 were completed successfully, with the gunboats unopposed. A short while later, at 1550, LCI(G) 365 was requested to provide covering fire for the Joint Beach Reconnaissance Party that was set to investigate the landing beaches on Engebi. Heavy fire was directed at the two DUKWs and the single LCVP sent to investigate. The ships responded with heavy covering fire, silencing the opposition. The reconnaissance group finished their work and withdrew from the area at 1810. Engebi was successfully invaded the following day.
On 19 February the gunboats had little resistance during the landing on Eniwetok Island. Once the landing had been completed, they anchored near the island to prevent any movement of the Japanese troops off the island.
The most difficult battle for gunboats was still ahead. On 22 February the assault on Parry Island would be the most dangerous, yet unexpected, trial for the gunboats. The 22nd Marines, supported by an Army artillery battalion that had been moved to Eniwetok Island, were scheduled to land on the island. As the gunboats maneuvered toward the line of departure at 0805, a message was sent by the Marine Corps attack team that heavy resistance was anticipated on the right flank of the landing beaches. Extra naval gunfire was requested and the Navy complied with the request. The three most aggressive gunboats, LCI(G)s 365, 440, and 442, were assigned to the right flank and additional naval fire from the larger ships was directed at the area.
Eniwetok Atoll is approximately twenty-two miles long and seventeen miles wide. It consists of thirty islands of various sizes. Names such as Eniwetok, Ruunitto, and Engebi were well known but other unnamed islands were assigned code names such as Camellia, Posy, and Zinnia.
A major problem existed in this assault as the ships approached the landing beaches from a downwind position. All the smoke and dust from the bombardment blew back toward them, obscuring the target area. As a result, the landing zone was hidden, making it necessary for the destroyers to fire by radar. Their close proximity to the landing beaches placed the three gunboats under the fire of the destroyers, and they were hit by 5 inch shells from the American ships. LCI(G) 365 took a 5 inch shell in her starboard side amidships. It exploded inside the ship killing and wounding a number of men. LCI(G) 440 took two shells which killed seven men and wounded forty. At 0855 another destroyer shell hit the fantail of LCI(G) 442, killing six and wounding five. Dominick C. Maurone, whose general quarters position was first loader on the boat’s 40mm gun, recalled:
This diagram, taken from the report of the Commander Eniwetok Expeditionary Group, shows the areas of fire support for the conquest of the atoll. Commander Eniwetok Expeditionary Group (Commander Task Group 51.11—Commander Fifth Amphibious Force Group 2, Fifth Amphibious Force) Serial 044, Eniwetok Operations—Report of, 7 March 1944, Enclosure (A).
We had just begun to fire on the island when our 40mm gun jammed. I was the first loader on the gun. I had to go beneath the gun to get the shell out that jammed the gun…. While under the gun I heard this large hissing sound, it sounded like rockets going off. I then noticed the second loader of our gun lying on the deck. When I looked at him he was bleeding and had a large gap in his back. I didn’t hear anymore firing from our ship and we were under attack…. We were out of action and we were told to take cover. To this day I don’t know what made me go to the rear of the gun deck and slide down the ladder to the fan tail while the rest of the crew on the front of the gun deck went down the ladder to the well deck. We were hit with 5" shells. The first one hitting on the front starboard side of the gundeck. The second one hit the ladder going down to the well deck. That day we were carrying some guest Officers who wanted to see what the action looked like up front. The first shell hit the starboard side destroying the 40 mm gun, damaging the conning tower, wounding some of the officers in the conning tower, putting the radio room and steering out of business. While we were drifting out of control we could hear the bullets hitting the winch which sat in the middle of the fantail. Up to that time I was too occupied to feel any fear. Sitting there and praying I was sure as hell scared…. The marines had secured the beachhead and we were able to restart our engines and pull away from the island. We then started to treat our wounded. We were giving morphine to those that were in pain. Our Pharm. Mate was one of the 8 crewmen that was killed.3
All three ships were seriously damaged and burning. Their crews commenced fire fighting and soon had the flames under control. The same destroyer fire shot down a Navy observation plane. Later in the day CTG 51.11, Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill, sent the following message to Lieutenant Commander Blanchard and the commanding officers of the three ships:
I AM DEEPLY GRIEVED BY THE DEATH AND INJURIES SUSTAINED IN ACTION BY YOUR FINE MEN. THE GALLANTRY AND CONTEMPTUOUS DISREGARD OF DANGERS DISPLAYED BY ALL LCI(L)S (LCI (L) DIV. 15) ATTACHED TO THIS COMMAND HAS BEEN AN INSPIRATION TO US ALL.4
In his comments and recommendations on the operation Captain D. W. Loomis noted, “The use of LCI(L)s for close range support of the leading assault wave, by rocket barrage and 40mm fire, has now become an almost standard procedure in the boat approach phase, since their first employment in atoll landings at RUOTTO-NAMUR and KWAJALEIN.”5
Night illumination of the targets was deemed desirable as the enemy could not move effectively without cover of darkness. Destroyers normally fired star shells over the area to be illuminated, however they were not able to get into many of the lagoons for fear of running aground. Loomis suggested that it would be a good idea to design a flare rocket which could be fired by the LCI gunboats. Their shallow draft would make it possible for them to get into the shallow waters close to shore and illuminate enemy positions.6
The gunboats departed Kwajalein Atoll on 29 February 1944 and headed back to Pearl Harbor for repairs and rest.
On 7 March 1944, a reconnaissance force was sent out from Kwajalein to investigate Wotho, Ujae, and Lae Atolls. The force included Requisite AM 109, LST 23, LCI(G)s 441 and 345. On board the LST were Marines from the 1st Battalion, 22nd Regiment. Callaghan DD 792 was sent along as an escort. Landings were made on all three atolls between 7 and 13 March with slight resistance from a few Japanese on Wotho and Ujae. Once the Japanese realized their plight they committed suicide. The three atolls were explored and the ships went back to base after raising the flag in front of some groups of unfriendly natives.8
The war in the Pacific was going well for the Allied forces. Since the initial strike on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, the American Navy had rebuilt many of the damaged ships and the production of new ships increased with each passing day. McArthur’s forces had made significant headway along the coast of New Guinea and Hollandia was in his sights. The Gilbert and Marshall Island groups had fallen to American forces, and the Marianas were considered an important target. From airfields on the islands of Saipan and Tinian, bombers could reach the home islands of Japan. In addition, naval bases on the islands could be developed, giving the Navy an advanced position in the Pacific. The invasion was scheduled for 15 June 1944.
Attacking the Marianas were two task forces organized as TFs 52 and 53. They were both part of Task Force 51 which was the Joint Expeditionary Force under Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner. The Expeditionary Troops were under the command of Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith USMC. Task Force 52, under Vice Admiral Turner and General Smith, attacked Saipan and Tinian. This assault force consisted of the V Amphibious Corps with the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions reinforced. Task Force 53, under Rear Admiral Richmond L. Conolly, contained the III Amphibious Corps under Major General Roy S. Geiger. This command held the 3rd Marine Division and the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade. Task Force 53 was to attack Guam.
Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith USMC (left) checks his watch as Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner looks on. The photograph was taken at H-Hour on D-Day at Saipan, 15 June 1944. NARA 80G 307681.
By the time of the campaign to seize the Marianias, close fire support by LCI gunboats had become a standard practice. However, the reef conditions in these islands posed a particular problem. Because the reefs extended too far offshore, it was feared that it would not be possible for the twenty-four LCI(G)s to get within rocket range on the northern beaches. This would place the landing craft in a particularly perilous position. They would have limited fire support as they approached the beach. Vice Admiral Turner, CTF 51, decided to experiment with other landing craft. Mortars had been mounted on three LCTs and used successfully at Bougainville in November of 1943. Further tests were made at Pearl Harbor when eight 4.2 inch Army mortars were mounted on the LCT(6) hull. The rate of fire and range of the mortars was thought to be a good supplement to the rocket fire delivered by the LCI(G)s. Rather than heading into the beach, these mortar gunboats could cruise parallel to the beaches and deliver their deadly mortars ahead of the landing craft. The mortars could easily be dismounted from the LCTs and they could then resume regular cargo carrying duties. Rehearsals were held for the invasion of the Marianas, with the LCTs being carried on the decks of LSTs. Heavy weather caused damage and loss of several of the LCTs when their lashings failed and the LCTs went over the side. Short of time, and mindful that the same fate might befall the LCTs on the way to the Marianas, the project was abandoned with the idea that it might be used in some future campaign either with LCTs or LCI(L)s.9 This proved a valuable experiment, and the mortars eventually found a home on the LCI(L)s. They entered the war at Peleliu in September 1944 as the new LCI(M) gunboat.
Record keepers in the Navy command could not keep up with the rapid conversion of many of the landing craft. It was not unusual for many of the gunboats to keep their initial designation for several months after their conversion. For instance, LCI(L) 754, which had been converted to a (G) configuration, was filing her action reports as LCI(G) 754 at Iwo Jima while she was firing mortars at the enemy on that island. She had already been converted to a mortar gunboat by that time.
Experimenting with various configurations of landing craft used for fire support, Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner had mortars mounted on six LCTs with the intention of using them for the invasion of Saipan. Operational accidents prevented their use there, but left open for consideration such adaptations in the future. NARA 80G 307495.
Underwater Demolition Team swimmers had been used at Tarawa and Kwajelein, but their technique had not been refined. Pick up of the swimmers was particularly problematic as the small landing craft, usually an LCPR, had to stop to make the pickup. The boat was a difficult target when it was underway, but once it stopped it was an easy target. By the time the Marianas were ready for invasion, new methods had been developed.
Two men would crouch on a rubber raft that was fastened to the offshore side of the landing craft. One of the men would hold a three-foot length of stiff rope with a loop at each end. The landing craft would approach a swimmer at high speed. Raising his arm, the swimmer would hook his elbow in the loop of the rope held toward him by the man on the raft. This would jerk him alongside the rubber raft, and the second man would boost him aboard.10
Task Force 52, under the command of Vice Admiral Turner was involved in the assault on the islands of Saipan and Tinian. Directly under him was the Western Landing Group (TG 52.2) which included the Gunboat Support Group and the Beach Demolition Group. The Gunboat Support Group was designated TU 52.2.3 and was under the command of Commander Michael Malanaphy. It consisted of three LCI Groups: LCI Group Seven under Lieutenant Commander McFadden, contained LCI(G)s 77 (GF) 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 347, 372, 373 (FF), 454, 725 and 726; LCI Group Nine under Lieutenant Commander Eikel, was comprised of LCI(G)s 451, 452, 453, 455, 456 (GF), 458, 459,460, 461, 462, and 463 and 470; LCI Group Eight (less Division Fifteen) under Lieutenant Commander Blanchard and consisted of LCI(G)s 345, 346, 438, 441, 449, 457 (GF).
The first island scheduled for conquest was Saipan. Invasion day was set for 15 June 1944. Defending the island were approximately 32,000 Japanese troops, the bulk of which were members of the 31st Army under Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito. Although the Japanese were capable of putting up a strong defense, they were hampered by continued American submarine and air attacks on their supply ships. Its western Pacific location placed it well within the extreme limits of Japanese conquest, and they did not realize until late that it would have to be defended. Accordingly, preparations to build up defenses were underway but not complete at the time of the American attack.
LCI(G)s 725 and 726 approach Saipan to fire rockets on 15 June 1944. NARA 80G 253886.
The reefs off the assault beaches at Saipan (shown as a jagged line) prevented the gunboats from getting within rocket range in the northern beach areas and in some of the southern beach areas. Commander Amphibious Forces, Pacific (Commander Joint Expeditionary Force) Serial 00704, Report of Amphibious Operations for the Capture of the Marianas Islands: Forager Operation, 25 August 1944, Annex 2 Enclosure (F).
At 0700 on 15 June the LCI gunboats assembled on the line of departure and waited to lead the assault. As they waited, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers bombarded the island with their heavier guns. Heavy strikes on the landing area were made by about 160 carrier based planes prior to the landing, with another seventy-two planes strafing the beaches just as the landing craft touched shore. By 0810 the preliminaries were completed. The gunboats made their attack in typical fashion and then stood by just off shore providing covering fire. However, their fire was not as effective as hoped for. The Commanding General V Amphibious Corps, General Holland Smith, reported:
LCI(G)’s preceded the boat waves and fired 40mm and rocket barrages onto the beaches. However, the reef off CHARAN-KANOA on all northern beaches and on some southern beaches extended further than the maximum rocket range; this prevented the use of rockets against those beaches. The bombardment enabled our troops to get ashore in effective numbers. But a number of important targets were not destroyed or neutralized. These included enemy mortar and artillery which were able to bear on the beaches from reverse slopes and machine gun and troop positions on the low ground immediately behind the beaches.11
LCI(G) 458 reported that the ships in Group Nine, operating off the northern beaches, were hampered in their mission:
The northern group was held off at least 1800 yards from the beach by an out cropping reef, making rocket fire impossible. The beaches were strongly held by an enemy equipped with light tanks, mortars, machine guns, and artillery. The LCIs were to advance on the beaches just ahead of the first waves of LCTs and by means of their barrage fire hold the enemy down until the initial landings could be made.12
Direct Japanese fire on the gunboats was not practical. Any gun battery firing from the shore toward the sea would be quickly spotted and put out of action by the destroyers, cruisers, and battleships. The fire that plagued the gunboats usually came from mortars located on the reverse slopes near shore. These could not be seen and destroyed. Mortar fire came near the gunboats on a number of occasions and, about 0830, LCI(G) 451 was hit by a mortar round and partially disabled. LCI(G) 79 reported near mortar misses with shrapnel scattered over her stern. The gunboats completed their mission and withdrew from the immediate area of the assault.
Most of the LCI(G)s converted in 1944 carried rockets in addition to guns. Once they fired their rocket salvo, they depended on 40mm and 20mm fire to suppress the enemy. Unfortunately, this was not always sufficient. An LCI(G) usually mounted a single 40mm gun in the bow and one near the stern. In front of the conning tower were two gun tubs, each holding a 20mm. Two additional tubs were behind the conning tower, also mounting 20mm single guns. This meant that on a direct run to the beach, the LCI(G) could only deliver fire from the single bow-mounted 40mm gun directly ahead and the two 20mm guns in front of the conning tower. They were limited to 40 degrees from dead ahead. Lieutenant (jg) Francis W. Cole Jr., Commanding Officer of LCI(G) 458 at Saipan, reported:
In supporting troop landings this ship has never been able to bring more than one or two forty MM guns and no twenty MM guns to bear on the particular sector of beach it is supposed to cover. This is because the bow forty is the only gun which can shoot dead ahead. By turning broadside we can bring two forties and two twenties to bear out of our battery of three forties and four twenties, but are then a large target for the enemy. This deficiency was particularly felt the morning of 18 June when we wanted to head the ship directly for specific targets and bring as many guns to bear as possible.
It is therefore recommended that the forecastle superstructure with its winch be removed and that the bow forty be mounted on the main deck, and that the ramps be removed and the two bow twenties be mounted on the forward ends of the ramp platforms.13
The problem noted for the direct fire of the gunboats was remedied later with the introduction of the LCS(L) variant. The LCS(L)s carried a twin 40mm gun just forward of the conn and a bow gun that might be either a 3"/50, a single 40mm, or a twin 40mm gun. Thus the LCS(L) could deliver fire from three or four barrels directly ahead of the ship.
On 18 June, a few days after the landings, enemy barges were sighted off the town of Garapan as they made an attempt to land troops behind the Americans. The LCI(G)s were sent to destroy them. Working in concert, LCI(G)s 79, 81, 371, 451, 452, 458, and 460 attacked them. They reported sinking thirteen of the forty-foot-long barges after a gun battle with several.14 Mortar fire from shore bracketed some of the ships, but none were hit. However, a shell from a 5 inch gun hit LCI(G) 371, jamming her rudder. Excellent ship handling by her CO, Lieutenant E. W. Gooding, and covering fire from LCI(G) 460, allowed her escape and survival. A week later, at 0220 on 26 June, LCI(G) 438 sighted two enemy barges near Mutcho Point on Saipan and illuminated them with her signal searchlight. The barges fired on them with 37mm guns and hit the gunboat causing significant damage. At 0230, LCI(G) 456 sank a barge in the same area, receiving some minor damage from its return fire. Lieutenant Commander T. Blanchard, Commander of LCI(L) Group Eight, led several other gunboats to the area, but no further action occurred.15
Enemy troops were still in the area. At 0515 on 4 July, the OD on board LCI(G) 345 spotted a small boat moving away from Saipan toward Tinian. As the gunboat approached, its occupants were seen to be dropping objects in the water and then hiding in the bottom of the boat to avoid being seen. With all guns trained on the boat, the 345 came alongside and captured four Japanese soldiers who were then taken into custody for interrogation. They had been dropping their rifles, equipment, and grenades over the side before they were captured.
With the capture of Saipan completed, it was time to move on to Tinian. The island of Tinian is only ten miles long and about five miles wide. It lies just to the south of Saipan and is separated from that island by a channel three miles wide. The valuable assets of the island were its relatively flat terrain and four operational airfields. Japanese forces on the island numbered about 9,000, about half of which were Army and the other half Navy. The most senior Japanese officer on Tinian was Vice Admiral Kakuji Kakuta, but the Army’s operational command was under Colonel Kiyochi Ogata, Commanding Officer of the 50th Infantry Regiment, 29th Army Division. Naval forces were under the direct command of Captain Goichi Oya.
The conquest of Saipan just to the north made Tinian a less important target. However, it still had to be taken. Propaganda leaflets calling on the Japanese to surrender failed to do the trick and American forces prepared to take the island. Isolated from any support or supplies, the Japanese on Tinian could only wait for the attack. With little to hurry about, the American forces were able to take a deliberate approach to the annihilation of the Japanese defenders. Coordinated efforts between the Navy and the Army Air Force slowly weakened the Japanese, and by the time the day of the assault arrived, Tinian’s infrastructure had been severely damaged. Air attacks were conducted by planes flying off a fast carrier task group, as well as aircraft from five CVEs and land-based planes from fields on Saipan. The relatively small size of the island, coupled with the large number of aircraft, ensured that very few targets were missed in the aerial assault.
The assault on Tinian took place on 24 July 1944, with twelve LCI gunboats leading the assault on White Beaches 1 and 2. Commander Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet (Commander Fifth Amphibious Force, Commander Task Force 51) Report on Amphibious Operations for the Capture of the Marianas Islands (Forager Operation), 25 August 1944, Annex 6 Enclosure (A).
One factor not seen in many landings was the use of shore-based artillery. The closeness of Saipan made it possible to use Army artillery fire from there as part of the pre-landing bombardment. Ninety-six 105mm, twenty-six 155mm howitzers, and twenty-four 155mm guns, located on the south coast of Saipan participated. D-day was set for 24 July 1944. The 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions, totaling 35,000 men, were scheduled to land. The 27th Army Infantry Division was held in reserve on Saipan.
Disputes arose over which of the beaches at Tinian to use for landing, and the Marine’s V Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Battalion was sent ashore at night in rubber boats to survey the area. Accompanied by UDT swimmers, they identified that the White Beaches were the best landing areas. The mission investigated the Yellow Beaches and White Beach 1 on the night of 10-11 July, and White Beach 2 on the night of 11-12 July.
The plan for using the gunboats to support the landings was outlined in CTF 52’s action report for the assault on Tinian. It indicated:
The LCI(G) support plan generally prescribed the following: 6 LCI(G)’s in WHITE beach ONE boat lane and nine in WHITE beach TWO boat lane, preceded leading LCT wave toward beach and delivered 20 MM and 40 MM and barrage rocket fire on the beaches in close support of the landing. Six LCI(G)’s on the northern flank of WHITE beach ONE boat lane and nine on the southern flank of WHITE beach TWO boat lane, left line of departure at HOW Hour and passed between boat lanes and flanking battleships delivering 20 and 40 MM and rocket fire on flanks of landing beaches at a point 1000 yards from extremities of the beach areas. Flanking LCI(G)’s turned away from landing area, paralleling shoreline on completion of first barrage rocket salvos, reloaded rocket racks and again turned toward shore to deliver second salvos. They continued this until areas were covered to USHI and FAIBUS POINTS respectively. LCI’s in the boat lanes turned toward the nearest flanks when the LCT’s had passed, and followed the flanking LCI’s with fire on the flanks north and south of the landing area.16
Gunboats of TU 52.6.7 arrived off the beaches of Tinian at 0625 on 24 July. A strong wind and current from the northeast continually blew them off station, and they frequently had to adjust to keep position. At 0721 they headed toward the beaches firing their 40mm guns, but many of the possible targets ashore were obscured by smoke from the fires started by shelling from the larger ships. Radar equipped LCI(G) 77 was able to fire her rockets at the appropriate time. Other ships in the group noted her fire and launched their rockets immediately after. Group Nine ships encountered similar problems with obscured targets but still managed to get their rocket salvos off, striking the beach areas. Advancing to within 500 yards of the beach, the gunboats fired on shore targets and then stood by as the LVTs passed through their lines and landed the Marines.
The following morning, at 0635, LCI(G) 453 received a radio message from CTF 52 to take under fire some specific targets just to the south of the landing beaches. The targets appeared to be several small buildings, and they were hit with a dozen rockets, 508 rounds of 40mm and 1,160 rounds of 20mm fire. Apparently this was enough to support the Marines ashore and the gunboat departed the area.17 The seven ships of Group Eight followed a similar pattern. When it was over, they reported having launched a total of 1,582 rockets on White Beach 2, along with 8,860 rounds of 40mm and 20,995 rounds of 20mm ammunition.
For the next several days, the gunboats worked in conjunction with the Marines ashore, providing call-fire where needed and firing on Japanese positions. At the end of July and into the first few days of August, the ships lay a few hundred yards off shore. Loudspeakers were used to encourage the Japanese to surrender. Many did, but some committed suicide, and a few were taken prisoner. Group Eight reported that “Marine Headquarters announced that LCI(G) 457 with Public Address System aboard had talked approximately twenty five hundred (2500) Japanese civilians and soldiers out of the caves to surrender. Only twenty five or thirty personnel remained in caves.”18
The conquest of the Marianas had taken its toll on American forces, however, for the Japanese, it was a disaster. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey later reported:
The Japanese, for their part, were now faced with a vastly changed strategic situation with American forces strongly emplaced on their inner defense line in a position which gravely threatened their ability to continue hostilities…. Almost unanimously, informed Japanese considered Saipan as the decisive battle of the war and its loss as ending all hope for a Japanese victory.19
The last island conquest in the Marianas was Guam. Originally scheduled for 18 June, the invasion was put off by the Battle of the Philippine Sea, 19 to 20 June, which diverted some of the American naval forces from the Marianas. In addition, the battle for Saipan proved to be more difficult than originally envisioned, and it was determined to increase the size of the landing force on Guam. The Southern Attack Force TF 53, under Rear Admiral Richard Conolly, would land the III Amphibious Corps under Major General Roy S. Geiger. This Corps consisted of the 3rd Marine Division commanded by Major General Alan Turnage and the 1st Provisional Brigade commanded by Brigadier General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. along with the Army’s 77th Division under Major General Andrew D. Bruce. This placed a total of 19,000 soldiers and 37,000 Marines on Guam. Opposing them on Guam was the 29th Infantry Division under Lieutenant General Takeshi Takashina. In addition, the 6th Expeditionary Force under Major General Kiyoshi Shigemitsu had 5,100 men. Additional manpower was available, including a 3,000 man naval guard and other miscellaneous units. The total available Japanese fighting force numbered 19,000.
The postponement of the attack on Guam gave additional time for Task Force 53 to choose its targets carefully and deliberately. Using a combination of air and ship attacks, which resulted in the destruction of most of the Japanese artillery on the island, the Task Force significantly weakened Japanese defensive abilities.
The first gunboat casualty connected with the assault on Guam came on 17 June 1944 as LCI(G) 468 was en route from Kwajalein to Guam as part of Task Group 53.16. Included in the task group were nine LCI(G)s, fifteen LSTs, the landing craft repair ship ARL 3, and the net layers Holly AN 19 and Aloe AN 6.
About 1750, as the ships were about 180 miles east of Guam, they came under attack by several Japanese aircraft. The action report of LCI(G) 468 indicates:
When the first plane was sighted condition one was set and all guns were ready to fire when the first plane started its run a few seconds later. The first plane came in very low on the beam of the ARL3 which was approximately 800 yards ahead of the LCI(G) 468. This plane dropped a torpedo approximately 700 yards from the ARL3 and turned away going ahead of the formation. At this time another plane appeared from cloud near the point from which the first plane came. Fire was stopped and switched to the second as soon as the second was judged to be in range. At this time tracers were observed coming very near the ship and a few seconds later the ship was hit by fire either from another ship in the formation or from the machine guns of the attacking plane. One wounded officer and man at the after 20 MM guns and one wounded officer on the conning station are believed to have been hit by this fire. It was planned to turn sharply toward the attacking plane to present a smaller target but the casualty on the conning station (bridge) prevented this plan from being carried out. The second plane came within an estimated 150 yards of the LCI(G) 468 and released its torpedo which struck the bow of the ship…. Approximately the forward third of the ship was destroyed…. There was no fire or explosion of ammunition from the torpedo hit and no excessive flooding occurred, with the result that the ship might have remained afloat indefinitely except for threat of further enemy attack and the distance to a friendly base.20
Guam was the last island in the Marianas taken as part of Operation Forager. Originally scheduled for assault on 18 June 1944, the invasion was delayed until 21 July 1944 by the Battle of the Philippine Sea, which took place from 19 to 20 June 1944. Commander Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet (Commander Fifth Amphibious Force, Commander Task Force 51) Report on Amphibious Operations for the Capture of the Marianas Islands (Forager Operation), 25 August 1944, Annex 5 Enclosure (A).
Two officers and thirteen men were killed in the attack. In addition the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant (jg) George D. Mayo, and two crewmen were wounded. With a third of the ship gone and no safe port nearby, the ship was ordered sunk by gunfire from Stembel DD 644 the following day.
Prior to the landings, UDTs 3, 4, and 6 conducted underwater reconnaissance of the proposed landing beaches on Guam. They arrived at Guam on board Dickerson APD 21, Kane APD 18, and Clemson APD 32 respectively, with UDT 3 arriving on 14 July and teams 4 and 6 arriving on 17 July. Three days were allotted for reconnaissance with four more for demolition of beach obstacles.
Underwater obstacles encountered by the UDT consisted of piles of coral contained in wire mesh and spaced about five feet apart. Once identified, they had to be blasted apart to prevent their interfering with landing craft. Some of this work had to be done at night, but foul weather and heavy rain hampered the nighttime missions during the pre-invasion period. The UDTs used a combination of real and diversionary reconnaissance missions to confuse the enemy. In the case of a diversion, the LCPRs ran in close to shore as if to drop off swimmers, but did not. In all cases, the fire from enemy shore positions was heavy, but the combination of gunboats, destroyers, and cruisers soon put an end to it.
LCI(G)s 469, 471, 472, and 473 were tasked to provide support of the UDTs. Combining forces with the four gunboats were the destroyers Dewey DD 349 and MacDonough DD 351 which were replaced part way through the coverage by Sigsbee DD 502 and Schroeder DD 501. The combination of LCI(G)s with destroyers proved so effective in providing covering fire for UDT 3 that additional gunboats were requested for the other teams. Within twenty-four hours of making the request, Lieutenant Commander Blanchard arrived with LCI(G)s 345, 346, 348, 438, 441, 449, 455, and 457.
Problems in working around the islands frequently occurred, as many of the waters were uncharted. At 2000 on 17 July, LCI(G) 348 was covering the operations of UDT 3 off Red Beach 2 when she grounded on a reef. She was soon under mortar and machine gun fire from shore. LCI(G) 471unsuccessfully attempted to pull her off twice to no avail. Enemy gunfire continued to threaten the two gunboats, and the Task Unit Commander (CO of Sigsbee) ordered the crew and officers, along with classified materials, off the ship and to a safer haven on Sigsbee. Sigsbee and Schroederpatrolled nearby to keep away any Japanese attempts to board the ship. Within hours, the cruisers Wichita CA 45, St. Louis CL 49, and Minneapolis CA 36 arrived, and their combined fire put an end to any Japanese attempts to shell the stranded gunboat. Under their cover the crew and officers returned. The following day, the tug Apache ATF 67 arrived from Saipan and pulled the gunboat clear. She was towed back to Saipan for repairs to her bent propeller.21
In his report on the operations of UDT 3 at Guam, Lieutenant T. C. Crist, the Officer in Charge of UDT 3, noted:
One of the most important factors contributing to the success of the Demolition Operation was the fire support furnished, particularly by the LCI(G)’s. They kept the beach covered with such a volume of 40 and 20 MM fire at close range that it seemed almost impossible for the enemy to make extensive attempts to stop the operation. Their fire was accurate (it was often necessary to fire directly over the heads of Demolition personnel working the reef). It is believed that our work would not have been possible without heavy casualties had it not been for this close-in fire support. It is recommended that the LCIs be included in all future pre-assault demolition operations. One difficulty encountered was the problem of keeping the LCIs in proper position and away from foul water during night operations. It is possible that Radar on the LCIs would solve this problem if such installation is practical.
The intensity and accuracy of fire cover during the two days prior to W-day were amazing, considering the fact that while demolition personnel were working within 50 yards of the beach, the beach itself was covered with fire from LCIs, Destroyers, Cruisers, and also from bombing and strafing planes.22
Numerous obstacles had to be removed by the UDTs prior to the assault on Guam. This map shows the underwater obstacles removed at Asan Beach, Guam, by UDT 3. Officer in Charge Underwater Demolition Team #3 Serial 0022, Underwater Demolition Team #3—Operation Report, 18 August 1944. Enclosure (A).
On 20 July the area around Agat Bay was covered by LCI(G)s 437, 442, 474, and 475. The work of the UDTs had been finished and there were concerns that the Japanese might attempt to mine or install obstructions to the already cleared areas. The gunboats patrolled off the beach between Alutom Island and Pelagi Rock. Star shells from the cruiser Honolulu CL 48 illuminated the beaches and gave the gunboats the opportunity to fire on various targets of opportunity.
The assignment for Blanchard’s ships at Guam had been the protection of the UDTs. With their task completed, they left Guam and headed back to Saipan for reassignment on 20 July. Other gunboats would cover the invasion.
On 21 July the invasion began. Two hours of bombardment by the larger ships was followed by the assault of the LCI gunboats. The area for the landings was at the Red, Green, and Blue beaches near Asan on the western coast of Guam, and the Yellow and White Beaches near Agat which lay six miles to the south. The eighteen LCI(G)s had recently been converted on the West Coast and their armament now included forty-two CIT Type 8 rocket launchers giving each ship the capacity to launch 504 rockets in each salvo. Enough rockets for two salvos were carried by each ship. The northern and southern landing beaches each had nine LCI(G)s to provide close support. The northern beaches off Asan were supported by LCI(G)s 348, 464, 465, 466, 467, 469, 471, 472 and 473 under Lieutenant Commander William R. McCaleb.
The southern beaches at Agat were supported by LCI(G) Division Fifteen, Group Nine ships under Lieutenant L. Howard Rabenstein, which included LCI(G)s 365(F), 366, 437, 439, 440, 442, 450, 474 and 475. The landing assault of the gunboats began shortly after 0801 as they left the line of departure. A total of 4,536 rockets were launched against the beaches, giving the Marines excellent cover as they landed. The number of American Marine lives saved by such a barrage can only be guessed, but it had to be significant.
Lieutenant John F. Auge, CO of LCI(G) 469 noted:
By first firing the rockets in launchers set at 30° and then those in launchers set at 45° a barrage was placed upon a strip of beach approximately 250 to 350 yards deep through which it is doubtful if any enemy resistance could exist. The 40MM guns were particularly effective in knocking out visible enemy machine gun emplacements, etc. and in strafing beach together with the 20MM guns.23
Continued enemy resistance near the shore led to increased bombardment by the LCI gunboats. Mortar fire was a particular problem, one that was hard to combat as the mortars were fired from the reverse sides of hills. Most of it seemed to be aimed at the LVT(A)s which were near the beaches, with four of them suffering direct hits. Ninety minutes after the landings at Agat, LCI(G) 365 was hit by a 75mm shell, killing six of her men and wounding eighteen. Return fire from the area around Pelagi Rock and Bangi Point was directed at the gunboats. One of the guns was located in a cave north of the beach, and another was thought to be on top of the bluff. LCI(G) 437 reported some near misses from what appeared to be three inch shells which showered her with water and shrapnel. Fire was directed at the area near Pelagi Rock and the nearby town of Agat until the counter-fire ceased.
Word was received that the commander of TU 54.4.6, Lieutenant L. Howard Rabenstein, had been injured in the attack on LCI(G) 365 and Lieutenant Schenck from LCI(G) 439 assumed command of the task unit. LCI(G)s 439, 440, 442, 450, 474, and 475withdrew from the boat lanes at 0850 and strafed the beaches between Alutom Island and Bangi Point with 40mm and 20mm guns. Bombardment of the area continued until 0944 when the gunboats withdrew from the area to regroup.
For several days after the landings, continued call-fire missions and nighttime attacks on the enemy’s positions were completed. LCI(G)s 465, 466, and 467 fired salvos of rockets onto Anigua Beach and strafed the area in support of Marine positions in the area. Apparently their work was quite effective, as in the afternoon of 27 July the ships received the following message which had been sent from the Headquarters of the Third Marine Division to CTG 53.1:
DURING THE NIGHTS OF 25 AND 26 JULY LCI GUN BOAT FIRING INTO OUR LEFT FRONT PRODUCED SECURITY FOR OUR DIVISION LEFT FLANK BY DENYING THE AGANA-ASAN ROAD TO THE ENEMY X LT HAYDEN LIAISON OFFICER ON GUNBOATS REPORTS ROCKETS ST 5 LARGE FIRES AND CAUSED TWO EXPOSIONS IN TARGET AREA 605 WX AND 585 C X THIS DESTRUCTION OF ENEMY SUPPLIES COMBINED WITH CLOSE SUPPORT OF 3RD BATTALION HAS PROVED TO BE OF GREAT ASSISTANCE IN OUR ASSAULT X PLEASE PASS THANKS TO RESPONSIBLE NAVAL SUPPORT.24
Although the landings had been completed, the gunboats still found themselves in peril. LCI(G) 465, lying to off Adalup Point, suffered a close miss when a fragmentation bomb exploded twenty yards off her starboard quarter, wounding three of her men and puncturing her hull in twelve places. Apparently the bomb came from a TBF Avenger. A group of these had been bombing the ridge east of Adelup Point. After dropping their bombs on the enemy positions, they circled seaward for another run. It was thought that this bomb had become stuck and fell off as the plane was overhead near the ship.
On 24 July, LCI(G)s 366, 439, 440, 442, 450, 474, and 475 headed into the south side of Orote and fired on enemy positions. Counter-fire from shore resulted in two of the ships, 366 and 439, sustaining heavy damage and a number of casualties. Both were hit by 75mm gunfire. Two days later, LCI(G) 437 was cruising in the same area and came under fire but escaped without damage.
On 28 July LCI(G) 469 was cruising near Adelup Point to pick up a man from LCI(G) 466 when she came under shore fire at 1805. Her lookouts first noticed shells falling in the water near some beached LSTs, and within a few minutes she was bracketed by enemy artillery shells. Shrapnel hit her deck but no one was injured. LCI(G)s 466, 469, 471, 472, and 473 formed a line and approached Agana Town, opening fire with 20mm and 40mm guns. Fortunately a Marine liaison officer was aboard LCI(G) 473 and helped to coordinate the fire which suppressed the attack. As soon as the gunboats ceased firing, the shore fire returned. CTG 53.16 ordered the ships to head seaward to escape the threat as it seemed too difficult to pinpoint the source.25 Additional support was requested by the Marines ashore. On 30 July LCI(G) 437 took on board a Marine Corps fire support team from the V Phib Corps Artillery. The fire support team found targets on shore in Apra Harbor, and the ship fired on them with 40mm fire from a distance of 650 yards. Two machine gun nests had been discovered there and were slowing the Marine’s advance. Difficulties in communication with the shore observers precluded the use of rockets since the Marines location was not obvious.
Although assaults on the beach were usually conducted with landing boats carrying Marines or Army troops, there were often variations to the pattern. On 31 July five amphibious tanks moored alongside LCI(G) 437 and requested assistance. They were about to attempt an over-the-reef landing near the cliffs in Apra Harbor. Covering fire from the gunboats was requested and agreed upon. At 1000 the tanks headed for shore near the base of the cliff as the gunboats fired into suspected enemy positions with 40mm fire. The gunboats hit beach targets with four salvos of five rockets each. Once the tanks reached the reef, the gunboats ceased firing and stood by in case they were needed. The tanks landed safely and the gunboats retired from the area at 1033.
The possibility of a Japanese counter-attack was relayed to the fleet by Marine intelligence. They had been alerted by natives of Guam and requested that an area be attacked by the gunboats. On 3 August LCI(G)s 471, 472, and 473 strafed the area on the eastern side of Tumon Bay. After their strafing attack, the gunboats sent five hundred rockets over the cliffs into the suspect area and then stayed in the area until the next day in case they were needed. With the campaign for Guam under control, not all of the gunboats were needed. On 4 August LCI(G)s 464, 465, 467, and 472 left Guam and on 12 July LCI(G)s 437 and 442 were detached and headed for Pearl Harbor.
Although the island had been captured, there were still pockets of Japanese ready to fight. On 11 August LCI(G)s 466 and 469 were on patrol off the Ritidian Point-Pat Point area. On shore a Marine patrol had been ambushed and cut off from their unit. After being signaled by semaphore, the 466 sent a dinghy ashore to evacuate three casualties. One of the Marines had already died and the ship’s boat was too small to get through the heavy surf. A Japanese flat-bottomed collapsible boat was spotted nearby on the beach and pressed into service. Both wounded Marines were removed and the ship sent food and water to the remainder of the Marine patrol. The wounded Marines were transferred to Solace AH 5.
The following day saw a patrol from the 22nd Marine Pac Howitzer Division ambushed and in need of assistance in the same area. The commanding officer of the patrol had been killed and the remaining men scattered. Two of the patrol were evacuated by LCI(G) 469.
From mid–August until the end of the month, the gunboats patrolled the area around Ritidian Point and the surrounding area in northern Guam. Here and there enemy resistance was encountered, with the ships strafing enemy locations. On 16 August LCI(G)s 466 and 474 went after some Japanese snipers operating between LaFac and Anao points. It is not clear what the Japanese hoped to accomplish by using rifle fire against the gunboats, but they were outranged and outgunned when they did. Both gunboats unleashed 40mm and 20mm fire and some rockets in the areas from which the fire emanated and it was silenced. It was not clear if the enemy had been killed or had taken cover in some of the many caves in the area. Occasionally small numbers of Japanese would appear on the beach and surrender.
LCI(G) 469 took a Marine liaison officer on board for a call-fire mission. En route to the area she grounded on Luminao Reef as she was returning to Apra Harbor. One man went over the side, possibly to inspect the situation and did not surface. His body was recovered the next afternoon. Attempts to get the gunboat off the reef were unsuccessful until she was pulled off by a tug on 3 September. Her commanding officer was found to be at fault and was relieved of command.
Rescue of wounded men was a task occasionally assigned to the gunboats. Their combination of fire power and shallow draft made it possible to do the pickup and evacuation. At 0600 on 13 September LCI(G) 466 made contact with Marines ashore who had a sick man to evacuate. The gunboat sent its small boat ashore with some food for the Marines. The boat was in peril as a number of Japanese soldiers appeared on top of a nearby ridge. Concerned that the Japanese might fire on their boat as it made its way back, the gunboat unleashed a torrent of 40mm and 20mm gunfire on the Japanese with the Marines acting as spotters. By 0730 the Japanese had either been killed or driven away, and the boat made its way back to the 466 carrying the sick Marine.
At about 1630 lookouts on the gunboat spotted smoke ashore, possibly from a cooking fire. After checking to see if there were Marines in the area and receiving a negative reply, the gunboat sent a rocket barrage into the area followed by 40mm and 20mm gunfire with indeterminate results. It didn’t matter much as the purpose of the fire was simply to deliver harassing fire on the enemy.26 Such fire was designed to deny the enemy rest and to hopefully cause casualties.
By September most of the Japanese had been driven to the northeast coast of Guam. The month was spent attempting to get them to surrender. Japanese language interpreters, along with captured Japanese, were put on some of the gunboats and loudspeakers were installed on them to entice stragglers. They were guaranteed safety if they would show themselves on the beach and allow themselves to be picked up. Many took advantage of the offer but others refused.
The loudspeaker set up on the gunboat was a temporary installation. It had a limited range depending on wind direction and the terrain. With favorable wind and terrain it might be heard at a range of 500 yards. The jungle could absorb the sound and cut the range in half, so the only Japanese able to hear the surrender call were those relatively near the beaches.
On Thursday, 7 September, about 1,300 leaflets printed in Japanese were dropped in the area known to hold Japanese stragglers. Its English translation stated:
1. On Guam all organized Japanese resistance has ceased. American troops control the entire island. The Japanese Army and Navy troops fought gallantly, but now it is futile to continue hostilities.
2. American troops do not want to kill unarmed soldiers and Navy personnel, civilians, women and children. Many Jap Officers, enlisted men and civilians have already surrendered. They are living in a nice camp. They have plenty of food, water and tobacco. They have received new clothing. They have had the same medical treatment as American troops.
3. They have said you, also, would like to surrender. Therefore we have a plan which gives you an opportunity to surrender. It is as follows:
(1) Today and tomorrow American forces have been ordered not to fire on any Japanese in the coastal area between Lafac Point and Pago Point. We guarantee you will not be fired on by patrols, by planes, or by gun boats.
(2) Tomorrow a gun boat will move along the shore between Lafac Point and Pago Point to pick you up from the beaches. This ship will have a banner on saying “SURRENDER.”
(3) When you see this ship, you are to walk out from the beaches into the water and wait to be picked up. You will not carry any sort of weapon on you and must have your hands raised above your head.
(4) If you do not take this opportunity tomorrow of joining comrades who have surrendered, we shall blast you from the land, sea, and air till we have killed all of you.27
From 8 to 20 September, LCI(G) 471 was designated as the “surrender ship” and cruised from Ritidian Point to Fadian Point. After additional warnings many Japanese still did not surrender. They were fired on and killed by 20mm and 40mm fire after refusing the offer. LCI(G) 471 captured approximately one hundred Japanese during this period. Of the group, three were found to be Korean women. They had probably been forced into service by the Japanese as “comfort women.” There were also a couple of other women and a few children. Not all of the remainder were Army soldiers; some were also laborers. By the end of September there were still stragglers from the Japanese forces being encountered, but the need for the gunboats had ended.28 They were reassigned in small groups and sent to other areas where their services would be needed.
Instrumental in the surrender process were captured Japanese who agreed to act as interpreters and to talk to their compatriots about surrender. Junzo Niitsuma, a 2nd Class Petty Officer from the Japanese Navy, was notable among them. Niitsuma had been treated well by his American captors on board LCI(G) 471 and was considered to be a “trustee.” On numerous occasions he went ashore to meet with individuals or small groups to negotiate their surrender. In time, one or two other Japanese “trustees” accompanied him. Their missions were usually successful, owing in large part to the condition of the Japanese ashore. Many of those surrendering had been without sufficient food or medical care for some time and were in poor physical condition. In one case, a group of Japanese was seriously considering surrender due to their lack of food. However, the day prior to their surrender they discovered a cache of food left behind by American Marines. Bolstered by the food supply, they decided to remain ashore and fight. Others refused to surrender because they were convinced they would be killed.
As the gunboats patrolled the inshore areas seeking the surrender of Japanese, they were wary of not giving the appearance of deception. On the other hand, they had to have credibility. Japanese stragglers were given at least five opportunities to surrender with the admonition that they would be killed if they did not. In several cases it was necessary to fire on Japanese who obviously would not surrender.
Getting the surrendering Japanese from shore to the gunboats was frequently a difficult task. The gunboats could only come to the edge of the reef which might lay a couple of hundred yards from the beach. Their method would be to drop their stern anchor farther out and then slowly approach the edge of the reef. Once there, a small boat would be lowered and taken across the reef to shore. Strong currents and breaking surf frequently complicated the transport and, on many occasions, Americans had to swim ashore with a line and life preservers to drag the Japanese back across the reefs. The weakened condition of many of the Japanese made it necessary for them to be assisted in most cases. The process was detailed in the Marines’ action report:
The Northeast coast of Guam is almost entirely surrounded by coral reef. Much of the terrain opposite the beach is sheer cliff, numerous caves and precipitous ridges characterize the beach area. Because of the character of the terrain, evacuation of Japanese was difficult and hazardous.
The evacuation was accomplished by putting into the water a two-man dinghy, which then went to the edge of the reef. The sailor in the dinghy would then throw a reef line to the Japanese on the reef and the Japanese would be pulled out to the dinghy. This system worked in six instances. In four other instances (including the 3 Jap women) it was necessary for a swimmer to swim in across the reef with a line and life jacket, then swim back across the reef with the prisoner. Three prisoners were evacuated in this manner by Lt. (jg) Charles E. Crandall, USNR and the fourth by PFC John R. Brice, C Company, 1st Battalion, 3d Mar. Interrogation of the prisoners and location of their surrender indicated that the following concentration of Japanese remained along the northeast coast of Guam:
(1) Five officers and 200 men in vicinity of target square 548 Love.
(2) One officer and forty men in 648 Queen.
(3) Forty disorganized laborers in the vicinity of 853 Love.29
Not all went well for the Japanese trustees as they worked to obtain the surrender of their countrymen. They were working for the Americans and, as such, were considered traitors. On 19 September the trustees returned to the 471 at 0820. They “reported they were chased by an officer who threatened to cut their heads off with his sword.”30 By the end of September, LCI(G) 471 had obtained the surrender of about one hundred Japanese.
The gunboats had performed excellently at Guam. Lieutenant W. G. Carbury, commanding officer of UDT Four, later wrote:
The one big lesson learned from the near perfect Guam U. D. T. operation was the very successful application of LCI(G) fire support. It was strongly recommended by the participating Teams 3 and 4, that this coverage be employed where at all possible. The LCI(G)’s 40 mm. guns can effectively spray the beach preceding the teams going in and then stand ready to fire over or flank the personnel in the water should any machine gun or snipers open up. The DD’s and CL’s in turn support the LCI(G)’s.31
The capture of the Marianas, in particular Saipan and Tinian, gave the United States important air bases from which they could attack the home islands of Japan. Before the fighting on the island concluded, the 6,000 foot Isley Field runway was operational and handling 150 fighters. Their primary mission was the support of troops still fighting in the Marianas. Within a short time after the conquest of the Marianas, development of the runways to accommodate B-29s was well underway, and the islands became the primary base for attacks on the home islands of Japan.
An additional and unexpected result of the taking of the Marianas was the effect on the Tojo cabinet in Japan. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded:
Announcing the fall of Saipan to the nation, General Tojo, the one man most responsible for his country’s entry into war, said: “Japan has come to face an unprecedentedly great national crisis.” On 18 July, the Tojo cabinet, which had guided the destinies of Japan since pre–Pearl Harbor days, was forced from office to be succeeded by a government charged with giving “fundamental reconsideration” to the problem of continuing the war.32
Caroline Islands, The Palaus
Having taken the Gilberts, Marshalls, and Marianas islands, the next logical step in the advances for the Central Pacific forces were the islands of the central and western Carolines. These included the Palaus, Yap, and Ulithi Islands. This was the last extension of Japanese power in the area. Possession of the islands would give the American forces a solid line of defense, stretching across the Pacific from north to south, and would also provide an excellent forward base at Ulithi which would serve the fleets. The campaign to capture the western Carolines ran from July through September 1944. Enemy air attacks were considered to be less of a problem than the possibility of submarine attacks on American ships in the area. Although Ulithi was considered to be lightly defended, it was thought that the Japanese had 38,000 troops in the Palaus and 10,000 on Yap.
Beginning in March 1944, the fast carriers had begun air attacks on the Palau Islands with such intensity that Japanese air capability was almost non-existent and her shipping in the area was brought to a virtual standstill. Between the last week in August and the first week of September 1944, B-24 Liberators, flying from bases in the Southwest Pacific, conducted nine air attacks on Peleliu, further damaging its infrastructure. Just prior to the landings in the Palaus, additional air attacks were completed against Iwo Jima, Chichi Jima, Mindanao, Luzon, and the Visayas to suppress the enemy’s ability to launch air attacks against the landing forces at the Palaus.
Japanese strength in the Palaus was centered on the largest island in the group, Babelthuap. The original garrison of 5,000 had been bolstered in May 1944 with the arrival of the 14th Infantry Division under Lieutenant General Sadae Inoue. The troops there numbered about 25,000. Inoue had his headquarters at Koror Island which lay directly south of the larger island of Babelthuap. Communications between all of the islands in the Palaus was excellent, with cables laid underwater between the islands so that Inoue could be made aware of the situation on any of them. The islands were ringed by a coral reef, and resupply or reinforcement between the islands was easily accomplished by barge. Screening against barge traffic occupied much of the gunboat’s time in the Palaus.
Babelthuap’s use to the Americans was limited, but this was not the case for the two islands in the southern end of the island group, Peleliu and Angaur. Not as heavily defended as Babelthuap, the two islands were flatter and better suited to the building of airstrips. An existing airstrip on Peleliu was an inviting prize. As a result, it was decided to bypass Babelthuap and land only on Peleliu and Angaur. Air attacks suppressed Japanese forces on Babelthuap, and patrols in the passages between Babelthuap and the other islands to the south prevented the Japanese from moving troops south. Much of this patrolling involved the use of the LCI gunboats and over the succeeding several months, involved them in action as the Japanese on Babelthuap attempted to strike at them.
Most of the island landings in the Pacific followed a similar pattern, with Marine reconnaissance units going ashore in rubber boats several days prior to the landing to identify enemy positions and strength. A few days prior to the landing, underwater demolition teams investigated the inshore waters, identifying features of the bottom and destroying obstacles placed in the water by the enemy. In the case of Peleliu, this was different. Japanese defense in the beach area was considered too heavy for the recon Marines to penetrate safely. UDT reconnaissance of the beaches was only for one day, and their work involved the landing beaches, not what lay beyond. A three day bombardment of the beaches was completed but was not sufficient to suppress Japanese forces.
Once the islands of Angaur and Peleliu had been secured, a major problem existed with Japanese forces on the northern islands. Although they had been bombed and shelled repeatedly by American aircraft and ships, they had not lost any of their fighting strength. They continually attempted to infiltrate their forces to the south. In order to prevent the resupply of men and equipment, three picket lines were set up between the islands to prevent barge traffic from moving south. LCI gunboats were assigned the task and were continually in peril.
Japanese defense strategy had evolved by mid–July 1944. Realizing that most of their holdings in the Pacific involved small islands and that the American advance would involve amphibious assaults, they devised new tactics. Each American landing had followed a similar pattern. For a month or two prior to the landing heavy ships bombarded targets on the island and made numerous airstrikes in the region designed to eliminate any air opposition to the landing. Several days prior to the actual invasion naval gunfire from larger ships blanketed the areas near and behind the landing beaches. Additional American air sorties sought out and bombed enemy positions near the beaches and behind them to prevent a build-up of forces or defenses. Just prior to the invasion, Underwater Demolition Teams scouted the beaches and cleared obstacles. Minesweepers cleared the area in front of landing beaches in preparation for the landing craft. The assault began in the morning with additional heavy gunfire aimed at Japanese positions, followed by another air strike. Just preceding the landing craft was a line of amphibious gunboats covering the beaches and the area just behind the beaches with rocket and gun fire.
Landing beaches at Peleliu, 15 September 1944. From Robert Ross Smith, United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific: The Approach to the Philippines (Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1953), map IX.
As a result of their experiences in prior invasions in mid–July 1944, the Japanese changed their strategy. Fortifications were built underground with just the gun ports above ground. There were few blockhouses or pillboxes for the enemy to spot. Since the islands were the remnants of ancient volcanoes and built up coral, they were usually honeycombed with caves. As a result, the Japanese built their command posts and a network of connecting tunnels underground. The mouths of caves that faced the ocean were used for gun emplacements carefully hidden behind underbrush and difficult, if not impossible, to spot from the air. Many of the caves were vulnerable to armor piercing shells, but the Navy saved them for engagement with the Japanese Navy and did not use them against shore targets. No longer would the Japanese oppose the Americans at the invasion beach; they would mount defenses near the beaches that would slow down the assault. However, their main line of defense was at sufficient distance from the landing beaches so as not to be destroyed by naval gunfire. The position of their guns was hidden from direct and aerial observation by use of caves and undergrowth. Forces were held in reserve to counterattack the Americans as the opportunity arose.
At Peleliu the lack of American knowledge of the terrain was of great benefit to the Japanese. Maps of the island were sadly out of date and inaccurate. Aircraft and submarine reconnaissance of the island failed to reveal the existence of a thirty foot high ridge on the left flank of the landing beaches. On the extreme right, a small island overlooked the landing beaches. Colonel Kunio Nakagawa, commander of the Japanese 2nd Infantry Regiment on Peleliu, had constructed gun emplacements on both flanks that were capable of delivering a deadly cross-fire on the landing zone. Although the ridge had been denuded of foliage by the naval bombardment and the rocket barrages, the Japanese guns were still in place but not evident.
It was a matter of pride among the amphibious forces that the rocket barrage preceding the landing would ensure that there were no Japanese alive in the landing zone to oppose the Marines and soldiers. In many cases, the rocket barrage killed few Japanese; they simply were not there. Rather than oppose the massive force of American naval gunfire and aircraft bombardment, the Japanese chose defenses inland that were well thought out and provided adequate protection for the Japanese. It was a classic case of adapt or perish.
Landing on the beaches at Peleliu was the 1st Marine Division under Major General Rupertus, with the Army’s 81st Division under Major General Paul J. Mueller held in reserve. An overconfident Major General Rupertus informed the press on board that the conquest of Peleliu should only take about four days. Facing them on Peleliu were Nakagawa’s 5,300 men, supplemented by another 5,000 support troops. Nakagawa had the advantage of an immense cave system within the Umurbrogol Mountain ridges. Interconnecting tunnels led from one cave to another, and the Japanese could stay there indefinitely as they slowly bled the Marines. This was the first time during the war that this new tactic was used, and it proved to be a useful model for Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi as he prepared to defend Iwo Jima several months later.
Eighteen LCI(G)s carrying rockets were active in the attack on Peleliu. They included Group Nine LCI(G)s 77(GF), 78, 79, 81, 82, 347, 454, 725 and 726 comprising Unit 1 under Lieutenant Commander J. F. McFadden. Unit 2 consisted of LCI(G)s 452, 453, 455, 456, 458 (GF), 459, 460, 463, and 470 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Robert Eikel. A second group of nine LCI(G)s under Lieutenant Commander E. L. Yates was in Group 39. It was comprised of LCI(G)s 396, 397, 404, 405, 406, 727, 728, 729, and 730 (F).
The assault forces attacking Peleliu had a new weapon in their arsenal, the LCI(M). On 16 September the mortar gunboats LCI(G) 739, 740, 741, and 742, under the command of Lieutenant Commander M. J. Lindemann, were added to the Group Nine ships. Plans to mount the Army’s 4.2 chemical mortar on Navy ships had been ongoing since early 1943. After experiments with LCVPs and LCTs, the Navy finally settled on converting the LCI(L) to carry three of the mortars. The first ships converted were from Flotilla 14, Group 10. They were LCI(L)s 739, 740, 741, and 742.All four of the ships had been built at Commercial Iron Works in Portland, Oregon, and were commissioned in March and April 1944. After shakedown cruises and training at San Diego, they reported to Pearl Harbor for additional training. While there they were converted to LCI(M)s in late July 1944.
Rehearsals for the assault had taken place at Tetere, Guadalcanal Island, on 1 September, and the mortar gunboats had their first real practice using their new mortars in conjunction with other gunboats. The four mortar gunboats, under Lieutenant Commander Lindemann, were then assigned to Flotilla 14 Group 40 for the attack on Peleliu. Beginning on 16 September, they were assigned Flotilla 13 Group 9.
The gunboats formed up at the line of departure at 0720 on 15 September. At 0749 Hazlewood DD 531 gave the flag signal to begin the assault and the LCI(G)s and LCI(M)s headed toward the beaches. The assault on Peleliu had begun. At 2,000 yards the gunboats opened fire with their 40mm guns and fired their first salvo of rockets about 1,000 yards off the beach. Having sent their salvo of rockets at the Japanese, they then resumed gunfire as the LCTs passed ahead of them. By 0823 the LCTs were too close to shore for the gunboats to safely fire without hitting them and they ceased fire. Mortar fire from the Japanese was a major problem, with many of the gunboats reporting near misses. LCI(G) 79 was hit by an armor-piercing shell estimated to be 37mm, which hit near her port-after hatch and passed into the gunboat. Minor damage to the ship occurred with no casualties. The Marines on the beaches were particularly vulnerable to this kind of fire until they secured areas inland. Several of their tanks were hit by mortars and set ablaze.
Private Robert Leckie, of the First Marine Division, observed first-hand the attack of the LCI(G)s at Peleliu. He later wrote: “Slender rocket ships and destroyers were running close-in to shore, as graceful as thoroughbred horses. When the rocket ships discharged their dread salvos there came a terrible roaring noise, like the introduction of hot steel into water, and the air above them would be darkened by flights of missiles.”33
Their first mortar attacks by LCI(M)s took place at Peleliu from 15 to 16 September 1944 and from 17 to 20 September at Angaur. LCI(M) 739 reported delivering 1,300 rounds of high explosive mortar rounds on Peleliu and later sent another 834 rounds against Angaur Island.34 The mortar ships would again be in action at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, but their debut had been a huge success.
Islands to the north of Peleliu held Japanese garrisons that might be sent to reinforce their position on Peleliu. To prevent resupply and reinforcement, a nightly picket station was in place beginning on 16 September. This usually included four LCI(G)s and one or two destroyers patrolling the eastern reef between Ngargersiul and Gorokottan Islands. Destroyers had the capability to provide star shell illumination to the area to help spot any barges attempting to make the run. The first of these supply attempts was made during the night of 22-23 September. The destroyers and gunboats fired on the barges with indeterminate results.
Call-fire was supplied by the ships as needed. On 17 September, LCI(G) 453 received a call from Marines ashore to assist them against enemy positions. Lieutenant (jg) John H. Terry, CO of LCI(G) 453 reported:
As we approached the designated area a yellow smoke grenade was fired by our troops to mark their front line, and we were in radio contact with them through Lieut. Comdr. Eikel. At 1625 we proceeded toward the beach at the designated target area. At 1636 the decks were cleared and ranging rockets fired, our troops ashore “spotting” the rocket ranging shots and reporting via radio that they were on the target; immediately the report was received the entire salvo of rockets was fired. As the target was several hundred yards inshore from the beach it was necessary for us to approach to the very edge of the reef in order to get within proper range. At 1639 we had swung to port to proceed off the reef and opened fire on the target area with the bow and starboard guns. At 1643 ceased fire and proceeded away from the reef. Two days later the LCI(G) 459 on a similar mission in the same area hit a mine and sank rapidly.35
Zero hour at Peleliu, 15 September 1944. A line of rocket gunboats are seen in the distance providing rocket fire against Japanese positions as the landing boats prepare to deliver troops to shore. NARA 80G 46642.
At 1000 the following day, LCI(G) 452 stood off the Umurbrogol Ridge to provide support for the Marines. She fired a salvo of rockets into the foothills of the mountain. Later in the day, at 1705, she came back for another rocket barrage. Sniper fire from shore plagued the gunboat, but she soon fired her salvo of rockets. This time the result was a large explosion and fire which continued burning until the next day.
The following morning at 1120 on 19 September, LCI(G)s 458 and 459 were off White Beach One to provide rocket support for the troops ashore. The CO of LCI(G) 458, Lieutenant (jg) Francis W. Cole Jr., was observing the mission of LCI(G) 459 through his field glasses. The 459 was just off the reef and slowly coming into position for her rocket salvo when she disappeared in a large explosion. It was not clear if she had been hit by an artillery round fired from shore or had struck a mine. Smoke and debris shot several hundred feet in the air. When the smoke cleared, the gunboat was seen to be severely damaged amidships and low in the water. LCI(G) 458 immediately went to her aid. As she approached the stricken ship, it was obvious that it was probably damaged beyond repair. There was a hole ten feet in circumference in her starboard side and she had a forty-five degree list. A number of her men were in the water and the 458 began picking them up. Three crewmen from the 458, Seamen Arthur L. Davies, James Bricker, and Albert L. Rice, went aboard the sinking ship and searched through it looking for survivors. They left the ship safely after not finding any. Within minutes the ship lurched sharply to port and went under bow first. All the men from the gunboat were saved, including a Marine officer and two Marine non-commissioned officers who had been serving as liaison with the Marines ashore.36 Among the injured were nine men, including the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant (jg) J. R. Rann, and the Commander of LCI Group Nine, Lieutenant Commander Robert Eikel.
Loading rockets on LCI(G) 456 at Peleliu on 19 September 1944. NARA 80G 257599.
A line of LCI(R)s fire rockets at Peleliu on 15 September 1944. The gunboat in the foreground is LCI(R) 77. NARA 80G 59500.
A short while later, at 1400, call-fire was requested again. LCI(G)s 82 and 456 headed toward shore to fire their rockets with 456 in the lead. LCI(G) 82 spotted a mine dead ahead between the two ships. No sooner had LCI(G) 456 unleashed her rockets than the mine exploded. Fortunately neither ship was damaged and the two were ordered out of the area because of the threat from mines. Having already lost one gunboat, the Navy was not inclined to lose a second. Nine men on 456 had slight wounds but none were serious.
By 20 September the fighting had moved far enough inland so as to be out of rocket range. In order to reach the targets, the ships would have to enter the shallow waters where they had encountered mines. The Marines were on their own.37
Overnight between 23 and 24 September, the Japanese attempted to bring ammunition to their troops on Peleliu with barges. The LCI(G)s on patrol discovered them and quickly took them under fire. Destroyers cruising nearby picked up on the location of the barges as the gunboats scored 40mm hits on them and finished them off, closing in on the reef in spite of the danger from mines. By the end of the action thirteen barges had been sunk in the lagoon midway between Ngargersiul and Gorokottan Islands. Most of them had exploded when hit, indicating that they had heavy supplies of ammunition on board. The following night the Japanese attempted to send a couple of barges again, and one was caught in the channel off Gorokottan Island and sunk while the other escaped. Patrols around the island continued until the end of the war, preventing supply of the remaining forces on the island and movement between the islands.
Reefs extending off shore at Peleliu prevented the LCL(R)s from getting as close as they planned. This diminished the effect of their rocket coverage. NARA 80G 283746.
An important task for the LCI gunboats was the supply of “call-fire” to support troops who had already landed. This was usually accomplished by taking on board an observer from the infantry unit to coordinate efforts. Here a U.S. Marine observer on board LCI(G) 456looks for targets on Peleliu on 19 September 1944. NARA 80G 257561.
Damage by friendly fire was always a possibility. On 2 November, LCI(G) 406 was on picket duty when she was strafed by an American plane. Sixty holes in her hull were the result, along with a good deal of equipment damage.
Additional Army units were brought in to reinforce the Marines who had suffered heavy casualties. Army and Marine units continued to attack the Japanese on the Umurbrogol Ridge for several weeks. Finally on 25 October, Colonel Nakagawa, following the traditions of his military caste, committed suicide. Two days later the final remnants of the Japanese fighting force on the island had been eliminated. Small groups of Japanese managed to evade the Americans on Peleliu and kept hidden in the northern part of the island awaiting the chance to attack. They held out until April 1947 when they finally surrendered.
Angaur, to the south of Peleliu, was invaded on 17 September. Landing there was the Army’s 81st Division 321 and 322 Regimental Combat Teams. One Japanese battalion, under the command of Major Ushio Goto, defended Angaur. Although he was not a senior office, Goto understood the process by which he could cause the most damage to the American invaders. The landing beaches to the south of the island and the waters just off them were perfect for mining, a task which the Japanese had undertaken. Land on the island was flat in the southern and central areas, gradually rising to an elevated plateau in the northwest area known as Ramuldo Hill. The center of the irregularly-shaped plateau was hollow, giving it the appearance of an old volcano. Both the interior and exterior walls of the plateau were filled with caves that were perfect gun emplacements. Fire from the guns facing outward could blanket the entire island, including the landing beaches. The interior of the plateau was also covered with caves so that any American force attempting to assault one side would come under fire from guns hidden in caves on the opposite side of the depression. Landing beaches were situated on the northeast and southeast sections of the island, away from the guns of Goto’s forces which had retired to Ramuldo Hill.
Two days prior to the landing, Rear Admiral Blandy decided to probe the enemy’s defenses. Into the breach he sent LCI(G)s 404 and 728. Accompanying them was the destroyer Fullam DD 474 which had damaged one screw on the way to the islands. On 15 September, the three ships ran close to shore while firing on suspected Japanese gun emplacements. Return fire from the shore was minimal and soon ended. Goto’s men realized that their defenses were being probed and held back fire. Thinking they had destroyed enemy gun emplacements the commanding officer of LCI(G) 728 reported back that they had silenced the enemy forces near the beach. Not convinced, Blandy sent them back the following day to check again, this time accompanying them in his command ship Fremont APA 44. At this point the Japanese revealed some of their defenses when they directed mortar fire at Blandy’s ship. It was not hit.38
The landings were made unopposed after a five day bombardment by Navy ships. The gunboats of TU 32.6.5 under Commander John H. Morrill participated in the pre-landing assault. LCI Unit Able, under command of Lieutenant Commander Lindeman, consisting of LCI(M)s 739, 740 (F), 741, 742 and LCI(G)s 396 and 397, attacked Red Beach. Unit Baker, under Commander Morrill, which was comprised of LCI(G)s 404, 405, 406, 727, 728, 729, and 730 (FF), attacked Blue Beach. The standard rocket and mortar fire was delivered on the beaches prior to the landing of the troops, but the gunboats soon realized that they were in minefields. The best they could do at that point was to put out markers by each mine to indicate its presence. Minesweeping in the beach area had not been an option, as coral heads near the beaches would have snagged the minesweepers’ equipment.
Constant patrols were needed to keep the Japanese away from Peleliu. This duty was performed by the LCI gunboats and, at the end, LCI(L)s. USS LCI(G) 405 No Serial, Action Report—Report of Action Morning 24 December 1944, 15 February 1945, Enclosure “A.”
After the initial landing, the gunboats worked in concert with the troops ashore. They remained just behind them as they advanced along the beaches and provided call-fire as needed. Major Goto’s 1,600 man battalion had withdrawn to Ramuldo Hill in the northern part of the island where they held out until 23 October. As the final stages of the battle on Angaur were taking place, Army engineers were busy constructing an airfield. It became operational on 15 October and served as a base for B-24 Liberators by 21 October.
The taking of Peleliu and Angaur was complete. Angaur, separated from Peleliu by seven miles of water and lying outside of the reef system that encircled most of the Palaus, was fairly secure once the initial conquest had been made. The lack of a significant Japanese force there, along with its small and relatively flat size, made it easier to conquer. Holding it was not a problem, as Japanese reinforcements from the north had too many obstacles to overcome in reaching it.
Peleliu, by comparison, was larger and a bit more difficult to control. Once the Japanese force there had been defeated, there was a constant threat from the north. The Japanese forces on Babelthuap and other islands to the north of Peleliu were still in good condition and ready to cause trouble for the Americans on Peleliu. A large part of the problem came from the number of islands separating Peleliu and Babelthuap, many of which contained Japanese soldiers who could advance further south to raid Peleliu.
To the north of Babelthuap lay Kossol Passage, a large area surrounded by reefs that provided shelter and an anchorage for many Navy ships. Constant patrols of the passage were necessary to ensure that the Japanese did not attempt to attack anchored ships. Inside the reef to the south were numerous islands and good anchorages for American ships. The problem lay in getting to them, as many of the inlets to the inner lagoons had been heavily mined. Of particular value was Schonian Harbor just to the north of Peleliu, which was well-sheltered and close to the island. In order to protect ships anchored there and Pelelilu itself, three picket lines were set up. They were known as the upper, middle, and lower picket lines. The entrance to Schonian Harbor was at Denges Passage, and the middle picket line ran from the ocean to the east, through the passage, and across the lagoon to the reefs on the western side. The upper picket line extended through Yoo Passage to the north. Islands in the area were controlled by the Japanese who attacked the pickets at every opportunity.
LCI Flotilla Thirteen under Commander Morrill was assigned to keep the Japanese north of Peleliu away from the Americans on the island. Morrill had been instrumental in devising strategies to patrol the waters north of Peleliu and had worked well with the Army command under Major General Paul J. Mueller. On 17 October the Navy forces in the Palaus received a new commanding officer, Rear Admiral John W. Reeves. Morrill was called into a conference with his new boss and General Mueller. Mueller announced that he was giving Morrill one hundred Army men for his gunboats to be used at his discretion. The LCI(G)s were also to receive one 4.2 mortar each for an amplification of their armament. Reeves was apparently a realistic commander. He recognized what Flotilla Thirteen under Morrill had been doing and requested a tour north of Peleliu to better understand the situation the gunboats faced. At 0700 the following morning, he went aboard LCI(G) 730 for his tour. Morrill took him to the areas north of Peleliu and fired on suspected enemy positions. Admiral Reeves was able to judge the situation himself as the gunboat dodged return fire.
Within three days Reeves had devised a plan. He wanted a three-mile buffer zone between the Army forces on Peleliu and the enemy forces on the northern islands. In that area there were to be no Japanese. Morrill set about devising a plan. The Army troops would be used on any islands suspected of harboring Japanese. Working in conjunction with the gunboats, they were to reconnoiter each island, identify any Japanese there, and assist in destroying them. The three picket lines set up by Morrill were manned continuously to prevent further infiltration.39
A new threat arose in the waters off Peleliu. Around 0100 in the morning of 17 November, suicide swimmers made an in-force attack on the ships in Schonian Harbor. Lookouts on board Commander Morrill’s flotilla flagship, LCI(G) 730, spotted something unusual in the water and searchlights were turned on. Dick Arnold, Quartermaster on LCI(G) 730, described the scene:
There were dozens of Kamikaze swimmers in the water, all wearing yellow caps (we found out the significance of that later). They all had grappling hooks and bamboo poles and some of them were pushing rafts of bamboo loaded with explosives.
Their objective was two-fold; to board the ships silently and kill the crew (whom they assumed would be sleeping) and to place the five hundred pound bombs under the sterns of the LCIs and blow them up. All of the swimmers had large sashes tightly bound around their waists to protect them from the blast of the bomb going off.
The problem was that many of the kamikaze swimmers were too close to the boats for our 20mm and .30 caliber guns to be leveled at them.
Our shouts brought the entire crew topside and everyone started shooting at the swimmers with their .45’s. It was like shooting clay pigeons. Those further away were dispatched with the machine guns. We also had to be careful not to hit any of the other LCIs close to us.
In the middle of this chaos, one Japanese had managed to hide behind our LCVP, which was tied to the stern. When all the swimmers had been killed or driven off, we discovered this lone Japanese. The “old man,” Captain Morrill (John Henry) yelled “hold fire” and we brought him on board.40
Robert F. Heath, a crewman on board LCI(G) 404, heard an explosion in Schonian Harbor and then heard the reports of the attack. His ship immediately headed for the scene, but by the time they reached the area, the action was over. He noted: “these swimmers are dangerous. There are reports of them climbing up LCI anchor housings and stabbing unsuspecting crew members. I would rather be moving all the time when we are close to Jap held islands at night time. With this latest information we are strengthening our watches even though we have never had problems with watches not being alert.”41
By 25 November 1944 organized Japanese resistance on Peleliu had ceased. LCI gunboats found themselves patrolling off the island to prevent the escape of any Japanese stragglers and to prevent any Japanese from sneaking troops onto the island. However, they were not out of danger. LCI(G) 397 had participated in the assault on Angaur Island on 17 December and had participated in the occupation of Ulithi. Following that, she was sent to the Palaus to perform patrol and picket duties in Kossol Passage. A flagship for LCI Group 19, she was part of a six ship mission beginning on 28 November 1944. Their assignment was to patrol the circumference of Eil Malk Island, intercepting and destroying any enemy ships and personnel they encountered. LCI(G) 397 was anchored near the island the night of 5 December. The weather had turned sour, with intermittent rain and drizzle which blocked out the moon. In all, it was a perfect night for enemy action. Lieutenant James C. Carlton, the CO of LCI(G) 397, reported
at 2120 the OOD noticed a phosphorescent glow about 75 yards bearing 005 degrees relative, the ship’s heading about 025 degrees True. Binocular inspection by the OOD proved the phosphorescent glow to be steady in intensity and to be closing the ship. At 2141 the OOD phones the gun captain on the bow 40 MM and asked if they could see anything in the water about 50 to 100 yards ahead of the ship, bearing approximately 005 degrees relative. The answer to this query came back negative. At 2142, not satisfied with this answer, the OOD immediately turned the 12" blinker light on the area and illuminated three swimmers in the water about 30 feet from the bow, bearing about 010 degrees relative. At 2143 the OOD immediately gave the general order to all guns that could bear to fire upon and destroy the swimmers and at the same time brought the ship to General Quarters. 2143. The first person to open fire was the OOD who immediately destroyed one swimmer with a .30 cal. Rifle. The Quartermaster Third Class on watch accounted for another. By this time, seconds later there were so many guns firing that it was not definitely determined who accounted for the third originally in sight off the starboard bow.42
It was suspected that there might have been three additional swimmers in the water, but they could not be found. The men had been pushing a wooden raft about 2 × 3 feet in size and it was thought that it might contain explosives. It was taken under fire by 20mm and 40mm guns but proved to be a float with no demolitions attached. Lieutenant Carlton believed that the explosives had already been detached from the raft and that the swimmers were guiding it towards the gunboat. At 2248 the sound of an incoming round was heard, and a small caliber shell exploded about one hundred yards off the ship’s port beam. The action raised the concerns about further attacks, and the ship raised anchor and moved to another spot 1,000 yards away.
LCI(G) 405 underwent a similar experience the night of 24 December. She was anchored by her stern anchor in Yoo Passage at 0430 when the OOD and men on watch discovered five Japanese swimmers approaching her port quarter with a 5 × 10 foot raft. On board the raft was a demolition charge estimated to be 12 × 14 inches in size. LCI(G) 405 was one of many gunboats that had “acquired” additional firepower that could depress sufficiently to combat targets close to the boat. Mounted on her fantail was a .30 caliber machine gun. General quarters was sounded and the men on watch opened up with the .30 caliber machine gun and small arms fire. Three of the swimmers were hit with the first bursts, but two managed to escape by swimming underwater. Unfortunately for them, they surfaced to additional gunfire which killed them. LCI(G) 405’s CO, Lieutenant (jg) A. C. Timmons, recommended that ships in the area anchor with their bow anchors, as it would permit them to get underway faster in case of attack.43
The continued stealth attacks by the Japanese caused changes in the manner in which the crews were prepared. Virtually all men, particularly those on watch, were issued .45 caliber pistols along with rifles and machine guns. They were directed to fire at anything in the water that moved and alert the remainder of the crew to any possible attack. Since the ships were anchored and their guns could not depress sufficiently to cover the area near the ship, it was necessary to use small arms. In this manner, many such attacks by swimmers were thwarted. However, an attack on LCI(G) 404 during the night of 8 January was successful. Anchored in Yoo Passage on a dark and rainy night, the gunboat came under attack from an estimated forty swimmers. Most were killed by gunfire, but one managed to set a bomb under the stern of the ship before he was killed. It exploded and disabled the gunboat. She was hauled back to Schonian Harbor for repairs. Her skipper was relieved of duty shortly thereafter.
A similar attack occurred on 12 January 1945 when LCI(L) 732 was covering the east side of Yoo Passage with LCI(G)s 405 and 729 on the east. The gunboats were at anchor and in position to cover one another. It was expected that the 732 was more likely to be a target than the two gunboats as she lay closer to the island of Garameyaosu, giving the enemy more cover to attack her.
It was a dark, rainy night, just the sort of conditions needed for a suicide mission to succeed. Two twelve foot row boats, each carrying five Japanese soldiers armed with grenades and rifles, left shore. At 2235 the two boats were spotted by the gunboat’s search light at a distance of 350 yards and taken under fire by her automatic weapons. Both boats were destroyed and the shore near them was strafed heavily in case any of the Japanese had made it to shore. The following morning a badly shot up boat was found drifting in Yoo Passage with some Japanese clothing, a sheath knife, some detonators and hand grenade. These were turned over to naval intelligence.44
The Palaus were never completely safe. Sporadic enemy attacks continued to plague the gunboats. At 1130 on 18 January 1945, LCI(G) 396 was heading out of Yoo Passage when she spotted a mine and took it under fire southeast of Ngarmediu Point on Urukthapel Island. Lookouts were stationed to spot any others in the area. At 1155 the gunboat struck another mine which went off underneath the ship amidships on the starboard side. The ship lurched to port under the blast. The Officer of the Deck, Lieutenant (jg) W. B. Townsend, and the signalman were blown out of the conning tower and down on to the gun deck. The CO of the ship, Lieutenant J. Peil, went forward to check damage and saw that the forward part of the ship had been ripped free and was settling to starboard. Oil fires on the water engulfed the forward part of the ship and it broke off and sank. Crewmen extinguished fires on board the ship and a small boat was put over to rescue men who had been blown overboard. LCI(G) 728 came immediately to her aid and began to tow her out to sea. LCI(G)s 729, 732, and 730 arrived to assist. Enemy shore batteries opened up with what appeared to be five or six inch guns. To cover the gunboats, LCI(G)s 729 and 730 made smoke and returned fire as the damaged vessel was towed out to sea and away from shore batteries. Air support in the form of several Marine Corsairs arrived from the field on Peleliu and silenced the enemy battery. Four men were killed, three missing and presumed dead, and fifty wounded.
Changes in the command structure of the Palaus took place in late January and saw a number of the gunboats reassigned to the coming invasion of the Philippines or sent back to rear bases for repairs. Replacing them were LCI(L)s with untrained commanding officers. Whereas the gunboat skippers knew how to handle the Japanese and had 40mm guns, rockets, and mortars to combat them, the new ships lacked their firepower or experience. The situation grew steadily worse. Commander Morrill later wrote: “At any time after April of 45, Japanese General Sadae Inooue could have retaken Peleliu and Angaur. He did not choose to do so, apparently because the war was winding down in his homeland Japan. Instead, he made raids on our ships and the Peleliu Garrison.”45
Enemy swimmers continued to be a problem. At 0240 on 17 April 1945, LCI(G) 456 was anchored in Schonian Harbor, along with fifteen other LCIs and two PGMs, when four Japanese on a bamboo raft tried to approach her. The raft was about three by eight feet, and secured in the middle was a demolition charge. Once sighted by the ship’s searchlight, the four Japanese dove overboard and tried to swim away. Two were definitely killed by rifle fire and it was thought that the other two were killed as well. The raft and its demolition charge were sunk near the gunboat.
At the end of April 1945, Commander M. B. Brown, Commander LCI(L) Flotilla Thirteen, reported:
During the month of April the LCI Picket Line has been subjected to more enemy attacks than during any previous month. During April the LCI Force was fired on by shore installations fourteen times, was attacked by three parties of swimmers, and destroyed 17 enemy mines. This increased enemy activity is indicative that the enemy is probably releasing mortar and light field weapons from BABELTHUAP to the south and has changed his tactics temporarily from suicide swimmers attack with demolition charges to organized and controlled gunfire against our picket ships. Increased heavy shore bombardments and air strikes by our forces against enemy areas of activity have been used as countermeasures against the enemy, in addition to harassing mortar and automatic weapon fire from our pickets.46
A new device was added to the patrol gunboats in the form of a sixty-inch searchlight which was installed on LCI(L) 733. This replaced the former twelve-inch light and was able to illuminate the entire Yoo Passage area from a distance far enough from shore to prevent attacks on it by Japanese mortars. A noticeable decline in the number of mortar, artillery, and swimmer attacks was noted during May, however, sporadic attacks against the gunboats and LCI(L)s continued until the end of the war. There was no letting down of the guard for the LCIs.
Colonel Tokuchi Tada (left) studies terms of surrender as Lieutenant General Sadae Inoue (center) watches. Seated at the end of the table is Brigadier General Ford O. Rogers, USMC. The surrender took place on 3 September 1945 on boardAmick DE 168. NARA 80G 338573.
Such activities picked up again in June and continued through July. In the midst of enemy action against the gunboats, there were a number of Japanese who indicated their willingness to surrender, usually in groups of two or three. They would take rafts or small boats out to areas near the gunboats and wave white flags. On occasion their comrades from shore unsuccessfully tried to kill them with mortar fire. Here and there the gunboats destroyed small craft or were fired upon by mortars or artillery, but the war was in its final weeks. The end of the war on 14 August did not signal the end of hostilities at Peleliu. Although the accord had been reached in Imperial Headquarters, it took several days to filter down to the far-flung commands that had been bypassed and isolated. Mortar fire still continued to be directed at Japanese personnel surrendering as late as 16 August. By direction, the gunboats ceased to fire on any Japanese spotted in the area. Finally, on 29 August, two Japanese landing craft with Colonel Nakagawa and nine other Japanese, came alongside LCI(L) 737 off Abappaomogan to deliver a message from General Inoue to the American Commander. It read:
From Sadae Inoue Commanding General Japanese Forces to F. O. Rogers Commanding General American Forces X I am going to send my representative off the coast of Airai intending to confer with your forces at 1300 Tokyo time Tomorrow 30 August X This military messenger shall wait for your answer aboard ship which this message is sent X Signed Sadae Inoue Commanding General Japanese Forces.’ Colonel Nakagawa also had in his possession a sealed envelope addressed to the Commanding General American Forces which was delivered the following morning. At 0027(K) the following message was received from Island Command, Peleliu, for relay to the Japanese envoy: ‘For Lieut General Inoue X Members of my staff will meet in conference with your representatives at 1300 Tokyo time 30 August in accordance with your proposal X Signed F. O. Rogers Commanding General. Upon receipt of this message the Japanese were allowed to return to their base.47
The hostilities at Peleliu had ended.
On 2 September 1945, Lieutenant General Inoue’s party boarded the destroyer escort Amick DE 168 and formally surrendered the Palau Islands.
Present during August 1945 at the Palaus were LCI(G)s 406, 566, 729, and 730, along with LCI(L)s 396, 550, 731–737, 820, 821, 866–872, 874, 875, 973, 991, 1066, 1067 and 1073. The bulk of the patrolling had been carried out, not by gunboats, but by LCI(L)s. With the end of the war, some were sent on to assist in landing Marines in China and others headed home. On 3 November 1945, LCI(L)s 869, 870, 871, 874, and 875 headed for Guam. Although the war was over, there was still work to be done. Many of the LCIs of Flotilla Thirteen remained in the area of the Palaus to sweep mines from the passages and harbors, finally departing for Pearl Harbor on 18 November 1945.