Up until early 1944 the choice of targets for the Americans had been relatively straight forward. In the Central Pacific Area, naval forces under the direction of Admiral Chester Nimitz forged ahead taking one island after another, their choice determined by naval considerations and strategy. In like manner, the Southwest Pacific Area under General Douglas MacArthur had a relatively logical choice of targets. The extermination of Japanese forces along the northern coast of New Guinea and the subsequent neutralization of the Japanese base at Rabaul were primary concerns. At some point the two forces would come together and determine where the next strike would take place. It was obvious that the ultimate goal was a landing on the home islands of Japan, and Okinawa was seen as the logical steppingstone. How to approach Okinawa was another matter. Two schools of thought contended. The Navy asserted that Taiwan was the better target. Once having captured Taiwan, the sea lanes between the southwest Pacific and Japan proper would be cut. In addition, Allied troops could land in China and begin to expel the Japanese from Chiang Kai-Shek’s territory as they worked their way northward toward Japan. An invasion of Japan might be launched from Chinese territory at some point. At the very least, the occupation of China would give the Allies numerous air and naval bases from which to conduct operations against the Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan.
A second school of thought, as proposed by General MacArthur, involved the recapture of the Philippines. Most saw this as partly strategic and partly political. Navy planners held that there was no strategic reason for fighting through the jungles of the numerous islands of the Philippines as it would simply waste time and manpower. MacArthur’s interest was seen as primarily ego-driven and politically motivated. Although he had vowed to return to the Philippines, this was not necessarily the plan of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had earlier pondered this problem and on 2 March 1944, they
announced to the commanders in the Pacific that the “first major objective” of strategy in the Pacific was to be “the vital Luzon, Formosa, China Coast Area.” A tentative target date of 15 February 1945 was set for the occupation of Formosa, with the possibility that Luzon would be taken instead on the same date “should such operations prove necessary prior to the move on Formosa [Taiwan].” Decision between the two was deferred. It was this absence of a decision that caused protracted and sometimes heated discussion during the succeeding months of 1944.1
By late May, the conclusion had been reached that once the Marianas had been taken, Taiwan would be the next logical step. However, MacArthur had already advanced a timetable for the Southwest Pacific Area which included: “21 May—Wadke; 1 June—Biak; 1 August—Northern Vogelkop; 15 September—Halmahera; 15 November—Mindanao.”2 Inasmuch as the landings at Wadke had already been accomplished ahead of schedule, MacArthur felt that his timetable was reasonable. The Joint Chiefs were not sure if some of the operations proposed by MacArthur were necessary and that perhaps other options might be more beneficial to the overall strategy. To gain further insight into the problem, they wanted to consult with both MacArthur and Nimitz about the possible course of the war in the Pacific. MacArthur asserted that the taking of Taiwan was not a viable alternative without land-based air support, a situation only possible if Luzon were taken first. He denied that the return to the Philippines had any political considerations attached to it and that his desire to mount an offensive to take the Philippines was based solely on strategic considerations. That having been noted, General MacArthur also allowed that the Japanese would reap a propaganda benefit in the Philippines if we were to bypass them, also noting that they were American territory. The debate went back and forth, and eventually MacArthur met with President Roosevelt in Honolulu to present his views. Also present were Admirals Nimitz and Raymond A. Spruance, along with Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner. Admiral Ernest King had just left the island, leaving Nimitz to present his views. No firm conclusion came out of the meeting, with Roosevelt leaning toward MacArthur’s plan, but the Joint Chiefs still had to study the matter further. It was not settled until 3 October when MacArthur was given the go-ahead to take Luzon. The date set for the return to Luzon was 20 December 1944, but MacArthur was already preparing for a toehold in the Philippines at Leyte Island.
The Philippines consist of 7,083 islands, many of which are less than one square mile in area.
The Philippines consist of 7,083 islands of various sizes, most of which are less than one square mile in size. Luzon and Mindanao are the two largest. Leyte, Panay, Negros, Samar, Bohol, Mindoro, Cebu, Palawan, and Masbate round out the larger islands, many of which were occupied by the Japanese because of their strategic position or the value of their resources. Some would prove of great strategic value to the American forces, but others would be taken simply to free them of Japanese domination.
Return to the Philippines—Leyte Gulf
The initial landings in the Philippines took place at Leyte Gulf on the northeastern side of Leyte Island on 20 October 1944. Numerous LCI gunboats were involved in the assault.
Many of the LCI(G)s were recent conversions and mounted twenty-four 4.5 inch rocket launchers. On 4 October 1944, LCI(G)s 366, 372, 373, 439, 440, 451(F), 461, 462, 464, 465, 467, 472, and 475 of TU 79.6.22 arrived at Manus Island for conversion. The Group Commander, Lieutenant Frank R. Giliberty, reported that “Twenty four rocket launchers were placed aboard. The two ramps and cat heads were removed. The launchers were welded in 3 banks of four on port and starboard side. Some 40 MM ammunition was removed. More 40 MM HEI was brought aboard as well as 500 complete rockets.”3
In order to secure the entrance to Leyte Gulf for the invasion fleet, several islands had to be liberated from Japanese forces. These included the large island of Dinagat at the southern entrance to Leyte Gulf and the smaller islands of Homonhon, Calicoan, and Suluan which were on the northern side of the entrance to Leyte Gulf. Between Dinagat and the island of Leyte lay Surigao Strait. At the southernmost tip of Leyte Island was Panaon Island, which stood across the strait to the west of Dinagat. Japanese installations were at each of these locations and would be able to monitor the American invasion force and keep the Japanese on Leyte informed of their actions. Accordingly, the Japanese had to be driven off these islands.
The initial landings on Leyte Island took place on 20 October 1944 in two places on the eastern coast of the island. The Northern Attack Force landed the Army’s X Corps in the area between Tacloban and Palo, while the Southern Attack Force landed the XXIV Corps near Dulag. Once sufficient control had been established in the eastern part of the island, the Army’s 77th Division landed at Ormoc on 7 December.
Assigned to take the island of Suluan was the 6th Ranger Infantry Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel H. A. Mucci and supported by the Dinagat Attack Group under Rear Admiral Arthur D. Struble. Company D of the Ranger Battalion landed at 0820 on 17 October with no opposition from the Japanese. A shell from Denver CL 58 had hit the lighthouse in which the Japanese unit was stationed and had driven them out. The Rangers made short work of them, killing thirty-two.
Dinagat Island was next on the list, but conditions were worsening. In the face of increasing wind and sea, it was impossible to re-embark the Rangers. The LCP(R)s sent to remove them from the island were swamped in the face of sixty knot winds, and their withdrawal was postponed until the next day. Sea conditions were still difficult, but the Rangers made it off the island and were transported to Dinagat where they made an unopposed landing at Desolation Point, the northernmost tip of the island. Filipino guerrillas, led by Captain Hemingway, had driven the Japanese out of the area, and the Rangers had little to do but confiscate Japanese materials for American intelligence.4 The landing on Homonhon Island on 18 October was similar. The Rangers once again found themselves unopposed, leaving them little to do but forage for intelligence material.
Panaon Island was scheduled to be attacked simultaneously with the main landings on Leyte Island. Task Unit 78.3.5, consisting of LCI(G)s 68 and 70, along with LCI(R)s 31 and 342 and PCs 1122 and 1133, furnished fire support for the landing at Green Beach on Panaon, with the two PCs also acting as control vessels. The landing of the 21st Infantry Regiment was slowed by coral reefs. At 0747, the scheduled pre-landing bombardment and the close-in fire support of the gunboats were called off. There were no Japanese forces in the area, only friendly Filipino natives. The following day, 21 October, saw an enemy air attack by one Japanese Army fighter. On 22 October the gunboats were directed to destroy a nearby Japanese radio station at Malitbog. LCI(G)s 68 and 79 fired on the building containing the station, driving twenty-eight Japanese into the guns of Filipino guerrillas who killed them.
On 24 October, the task unit received news of the approaching Japanese Task Force heading through Surigao Strait. They were ordered to remain close to shore near Sogod Bay. PT boats, working in conjunction with the task group, were scheduled to attack the Japanese force as it transited Surigao Strait. During this encounter, the LCI gunboats were active in relaying messages between the various PT boats while they attacked the Japanese during the night of 24-25 October. The two PCs were directed to hide near shore off Timba and Calipian Point. They observed parts of the battle near them and on 25 October were ordered back to the main assault area near Red Beach in San Pedro Bay.5
Northern Attack Force
The invasion at Leyte Island involved two distinct areas. As a result, the invasion force and its covering ships were divided into two units. The Northern Attack Force TF 78, under Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey, was responsible for White and Red Beaches between the towns of San Ricardo and Palo. Fire support ships under Rear Admiral G. L. Weyler bombarded the beaches. They included the battleships West Virginia BB 48, Maryland BB 46, Mississippi BB 41, destroyers Aulick DD 569, Cony DD 508, and Sigourney DD 643. They were bolstered by Rear Admiral R. S. Berkey’s Close Covering Forces which included the cruisers Phoenix CL 46, Boise CL 47, HMAS Australia, HMAS Shropshire, and seven destroyers. Barbey led the invasion against Red Beach and Rear Admiral W. M. Fechteler led his forces against White Beach just to the north. Further north of this area was the peninsula holding the airstrip, and the town of Tacloban lay just across the bay. Landing on the White Beaches were the 5th, 7th, and 12th Cavalry Regiments of the 1st Cavalry Division, with the 8th Regiment held in reserve. Their goal was to capture Leyte Valley.
Tacloban Airfield was an important target. The division’s 2nd Brigade, under Brigadier General Hugh F. Hoffman, was assigned to land and immediately capture the airfield. It headed northwest and captured the airfield and the entirety of Cataisan Peninsula on which it was located. Other units of the 7th Cavalry would “push inland, capture San Jose and a bridge across the Burayan River northwest of the town, and seize a beachhead line a thousand yards from White Beach. Cataisan Peninsula would then be sealed off.”6
Flying bombing and strafing missions over all of the landing beaches were aircraft from the seventeen escort carriers under Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague. Landing day saw little air action, but this was to change. Between 25 and 26 October, seven of the jeep carriers were hit by kamikazes. One of them, St. Lo CVE 63, was sunk by the newly instituted kamikaze corps. Japanese air attacks on the assembled invasion fleet would make the airfield at Tacloban exceedingly important. Even though it was in poor condition and not completed, American fighters from the carriers used it as a landing spot to refuel. Many crashed on the field, and still others were patched together, refueled, and sent back into the air to fight the Japanese. The field operated under emergency condition for nearly a week. But on 27 October, the 9th Fighter Squadron, 49th Air Group began flying their thirty-four P-38 Lightnings off the field. By mid–November, there were two groups operating P-38s at Tacloban. This was an important step, as the fighters could challenge any Japanese aircraft sent to attack the ships and the men ashore. Unfortunately, the airfield at Dulag was not in as good condition. Although it was captured on 21 October, it did not become operational until 21 November when the 475th Fighter Squadron arrived.
The situation for the amphibious gunboats and their sister ships, the LCI(L)s, was always perilous. Lieutenant (jg) Edward H. Laylin, Commanding Officer of LCI(L) 1064, wrote:
When we first steamed into Leyte Gulf, through Surigao Strait, all seemed pretty quiet. It was an interesting sight to sit at anchor, after our first arrival, and watch the battlewagons and cruisers pour tons of explosives into the Japanese positions on the shore. They kept it up with almost monotonous regularity, and there didn’t seem to be any appreciable return fire. We had no planes in the area, but then the Japs didn’t either, so it was just a fight with guns, ship-borne and ashore. That relative quiet lasted for about two days. Then came the deluge. We still had no planes except for a few Wildcats from escort carriers outside the gulf, but the Japanese had a lot, a mighty big lot, too. For about three of four days they made life mighty tough for us, coming over at all hours of the day and night, and keeping us from sleeping or eating or indulging in any of the usual affairs of life. One morning, a nice clear warm peaceful day it was too, they came over “in force” and really made life miserable for us. We were at battle stations just about all that day and that night, and had real good shots at Japanese planes. I think we could legitimately take credit for one or two, but the general confusion was so great that nobody bothered to “credit” any planes to anybody in particular. The main point was that there were at least 25 shot down in flames over the harbor. The Wildcats got a few, but most of them were victims of anti-aircraft fire from the ships in the bay.7
As H-Hour approached (1000) on 20 October, the gunboats prepared to make their rocket runs on the beaches. LCI(G) 72, as part of TU 78.1.8 (LCI(R)s 71, 72, 73, 74, 331(F)), was assigned to a position inside the left side of the Red Beach boat lane. Her mission, as that of the other rocket gunboats, was to fire a barrage of rockets on to Red Beach, timing the launch of the rockets so that they would cover an area extending to a depth of 800 yards from the water line. She formed up with the other gunboats and began her rocket run at 0940 proceeding toward shore. Enemy shells landed around her, missing her by a close margin. She fired back with her 40mm gun but to no avail and, at 0950 and 0951, fired ranging rockets toward the beach. As the second range rocket was fired, the ship was hit by two shells from Japanese batteries. Nonetheless, she was able to complete her mission, firing twelve salvos of rockets on the beach before slowing to allow the LCVPs to pass through on the way in. Once they had passed, the gunboat turned to port and strafed the left side of Red Beach. Her mission completed, LCI(G) 72 lay to and assessed her damage. She had been hit on the portside with her hull and pilot house sustaining damage. Eight men had been wounded. LCI(G) 331 had taken a hit from a 3 inch shell on her port bulwark, causing minor damage and wounding one man. In addition, LCI(G) 71 sustained casualties and damage at 0950 when she was hit by a mortar round on her starboard side; eight rocket launchers were knocked out. A few minutes later, her pilot house was struck by a 75mm shell, followed by an additional strike from a shell which passed through her starboard bow and exited her port side. Many of the gunboats were saved from serious damage by their light construction. They were designed as troop transports, not warships. Artillery shells frequently passed right through their thin skins without exploding.
On board LCI(G) 568, Joe Dumenigo, who served as pointer on the 40mm bow gun during general quarters, recalled the effect of the rocket salvos. According to Dumenigo, “it looked like an inferno.”8
The CO of LCI(G) 72, Lieutenant (jg) J. F. Dray, was concerned that pre-landing bombardment of the beach by the larger ships was inadequate. In his action report he wrote:
It was noticed from the station of this ship at the line of departure that the prelanding naval air bombardment of Red Beach seemed highly inadequate. The gun fire of BB’s, DD’s, etc. appeared to be directed entirely at White Beach and at the area to the right of Red Beach. As a result very few shells landed on Red Beach where the assault wave was put ashore. It is believed that had the beach been heavier bombarded and that had the bombardment continued as the Rocket Ships closed the beach the damage and casualties on the Rocket Ships would not have occurred.9
During the Battle off Samar, the unfinished Tacloban strip provided refuge for Navy fighters from the beleaguered escort carriers that could not make it back to their ships. At Tacloban they landed under difficult conditions, refueled, and headed back to the battle. This FM-2 Hellcat had a rough landing. NARA 342 FH 4A 40839.
Tacloban airstrip was located on Cataisan Point, a spit of land just to the north of the town of San Jose and across the water from the town of Tacloban. This photograph, taken during late October 1944, shows the airstrip from the north looking south. NARA 80G 102183.
After the landing had been completed, Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey, Commander Task Force 78, reported that: “Eleven LCI(R) delivered about 5500 4.5 barrage rockets along RED and WHITE Beaches between 0955 and 1000 (H-hour). This rocket barrage was the best and most effective observed to date in the Southwest Pacific Area. Each ship covered about 400 yards of beach.”10
Southern Attack Force
The Southern Attack Force was under the command of Vice Admiral T. S. Wilkinson. It would land the 7th and 96th Divisions of the XXIV Corps on the beaches between the town of San Jose on the northern end of Orange Beach 2, as well as the area between the town of Dulag and Yellow Beach 1 near the mouth of the Daguitan River on the south. The beaches from north to south were: Orange 2, 1, Blue 2, 1, Violet 2, 1, and Yellow 2, 1. Dulag was an important site because, like Tacloban, it had an airstrip. The landing of the 96th Division under Major General J. O. Bradley was supported by the ships of Rear Admiral F. B. Royal’s TG 79.2. The gunboats of TU 79.7.2, LCI(G)s 461, 462, 464, 472, covered the landing at Orange Beach 2, LCI(G)s 439, 440, 467 Orange Beach 1, LCI(G)s 366, 451, 475 Blue Beach 2, and LCI(G)s, 373, 372, and 465 Blue Beach 1. Supporting their flanks were LCI(M)s 658, 659, 660 and 754. Heavier firepower in Wilkinson’s Task Force 79 included the battleships Tennessee BB 43, California BB 44, Pennsylvania BB 38, along with six cruisers and thirteen destroyers.
Landing zones at Leyte had been reconnoitered by UDTs 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10. Unfortunately, the storm that swept through the area during the time they were investigating the beaches made it impossible to provide the close-in fire support from the gunboats that usually took place. As a result, many of the teams suffered losses, but they still managed to get the job done. Previous experiences with air support made the UDTs reject it as there was too great a danger of bombs dropping in the water.
While the destroyers and APDs were able to fire on the beaches, they were not in the best position to do so, and the UDTs suffered. Numerous casualties were taken during the survey phase of their work. The CO of UDT 10, Lieutenant Commander A. O. Choate Jr., reported:
Covering destroyers remained approximately three thousand, five hundred (3500) to four thousand (4000) yards off shore instead of inside the three thousand yard line as planned. Four thousand (4000) yards seems to be more than the maximum accurate range of 40mm guns. During operation a great many shorts were observed in the water, some landing as much as three hundred yards from the beach. One destroyer, when asked for 40MM support in one sector, informed the Underwater Demolition Team commander that he was outside 40MM range.11
To which Lieutenant Commander J. B. Eaton, Jr., commanding officer of UDT 9, added:
Past operations show that best possible fire-support can be gained by using LCI’s within 500 to 1,000 yards of the beach, firing continued fire from all 40 and 20 MM weapons. For this sort of support it is recommended that three (3) or four (4) LCI’s be used for each Team.12
Casualties suffered by the UDTs at Leyte were directly laid to the absence of LCI gunboat support. Rear Admiral R. L. Conolly, Commander Task Group 79.1, which was Attack Group “Able,” would later recommend that:
LCI gunboats be used extensively and habitually to render close support and coverage of the underwater demolition teams. The success of landing on hostile beaches often depends on the accurate reconnaissance and successful beach preparation by the demolition teams. Experience has shown that the LCI gunboats have saved many lives and are of inestimable value as close-inshore fire-support units in keeping down mortar, machine gun and rifle fire.13
The landings at Leyte included significant use of mortars on board the amphibious gunboats. Since they were an unfamiliar weapon for the Navy men, each LCI(M) had an Army detachment on board that was in charge of firing them. It was not certain how useful the mortars would be. In his action report, Lieutenant (jg) Philip P. Marvin, CO of LCI(M) 660, noted: “As this was the first attempt at supporting amphibious operations with mortar fire from a ship, [in actuality Peleliu was the first] assumptions were difficult to make. The effectiveness and accuracy of the mortar fire had not been fully determined. However, it was assumed that the shelling of the beach by mortars would assist in preventing the enemy from making any sort of counter strike against the landing waves.”14 He later noted that “The performance of the 4.2 Army mortars aboard an LCI proved to be highly useful and effective. This was a time where a unit of the Navy and the Army had to work together as one team and the cooperation and work of both branches was highly satisfactory.15
The mortars proved to be effective weapons. Direct fire by 20mm and 40mm guns could only reach so far and could not hit targets on the reverse sides of the hills. Rockets could not do this, and their range was much less than that of the mortars which had a range of 3,200 yards. That gave them the ability to reach farther inland than the 4.5 inch barrage rockets carried by the gunboats, which had a range of about 1,200 yards. Mortar fire could be sustained for at least a half hour, but mortar tubes could become overheated and set off powder rings if the tubes were used to fire an excessive number of rounds. The maximum rate of fire for a mortar was twenty rounds per minute for five minutes. After that the barrel was too hot to continue and had to be cooled down. It was thought that the addition of a water jacket might extend the firing time and some experiments were undertaken. Water jackets could be made on board the ships by fabricating them from metal buckets. Lieutenant Commander Carl F. Robinson, Commander LCI(M) Group 18, reported that one of the ships in his group, LCI(M) 1056, had been fitted with an experimental water jacket for the invasion of Leyte. This had been designed by Robinson and Major R. H. Skinner of the Army. Robinson described the water jacket as follows:
The jackets were made from regular water buckets. The bottom of the bucket was cut out and covers were made for the tops out of twelve (12) gauge sheet metal and welded on to the bucket. The jackets were fitted around the lower part of the barrel just above the base cap. They were held in place by a screw collar 1¼" wide. A one half inch (½") hose connection was installed at the top and bottom of the jacket. Water was run in at the bottom and out of the top so as to make sure that jacket would contain water at all times and would not run out in case water supply failed; in which case the jacket would still act as a cooler to some extent by radiating steam out through top outlet. The facilities and equipment aboard for making and properly installing these jackets was very limited but upon completion jackets appeared to be quite substantial and to warrant a trial.16
The water jacket seemed to work up to a point, but the rapid firing loosened its fittings and it had to be removed. The principle of cooling the mortar tubes seemed to be viable, but more work would have to be made in the design of the water jackets. An additional problem noted by Robinson was the lack of splinter shields to protect the gunners on the outboard mortars. As the mortar gunboats were configured, there was no protection for the gun crews manning these weapons. The addition of a 40mm gun to the ship’s armament was also recommended, as once mortar fire targets had been covered, the 40mm might be used effectively against pill boxes and other targets ashore. The 383rd Infantry Regiment landed on Orange and Blue Beaches and headed north to secure the heights around Labiranan Head, while the 382nd landed and drove inland. The 381st Infantry Regiment was held in reserve and landed later.
Just to the south, on Violet and Yellow Beaches, the 32nd Infantry Regiment and 184th Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division prepared to hit the beaches. The 17th Infantry Regiment was the reserve for this section, and the 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment was to land at Yellow 1, the southernmost beach. This battalion, first held in reserve, would be responsible for covering the left flank of the 184th Infantry Regiment as it drove inland to capture Dulag Airfield. Providing close-in fire support for Violet and Yellow Beaches were the gunboats of TU 79.7.1 under Lieutenant Commander Robert S. Rickabaugh, which included LCI(G)s 365, 407, 422, 442, 558–561, 564, 565, 567, 568, 580, 676, 751, 752, 975, and 1055. LCI(M)s 1056–1059 were assigned to work the beaches over with mortar fire prior to the rocket assault by the LCI(G)s. LCI(L) 564was assigned to the area to perform salvage work as needed.
Lieutenant Stewart W. Hellman watched the shore bombardment from his ship, Knox APA 46. He got on board a landing craft to make the trip to the PC that was serving as the control boat for Knox’s landing craft. At 0900 troops from Knox headed for Violet Beach 2. He marveled at the close-in fire support supplied by the gunboats:
As the little gunboats reached a position closer in to the shore they opened up with their rapid fire weapons. The din was terrific. The destroyers, too, had increased the tempo of their fire until the sound was deafening and we could only make signs to each other on the bridge. This was American firepower at its peak…. But the final blast was yet to come. The gunboats were now approaching the beach and with a mighty “swoosh,” that defies description, they discharged their rockets. If hell hadn’t broken loose before it certainly it had now. With a thunderous clap thousands of rockets blanketed practically every square inch on and behind the beaches. Violet Two was for a moment a solid sheet of blinding and exploding flame. This was the force of War operating against the force of nature and there was no doubt of the outcome. What a moment before had been green was now ashen. What a moment before was growing was now scorched. What had been lush jungle and a place of concealment was now a barren, tangled, smoking, dust covered waste. Seeing it was to understand why nothing could live in its path. The “swoosh” of the rockets, their scream in flight and the blaze of fire as they struck with their terrible power will live long in the memory of those who witnessed it.17
Fire directed at the gunboats reflected an adaptation of the Japanese to the assault of the rocket gunboats. As the ships provided rocket fire for the immediate landing zone, it was noted that a number of mortar and artillery shells were bracketing the gunboats. Aware that the Americans were using the rocket ships, the Japanese had moved their anti-ship guns and mortars back from the beach so that they were out of range. Although they could not be reached by rockets, they were still within range of the mortars.18
Occasional air attacks plagued the gunboats and the invasion force. At 0630 on 20 October, an enemy air attack developed over the landing fleet but it was beaten off. The ships had sufficient firepower, and they also had air support from the escort carriers off-shore. Some of the ships, such as the LCI(M)s, did not bother to fire, as their 20mm guns could not reach the aircraft. Only the 40mm guns on the (G)s and (R)s could do the job. LCI(G) 580 was strafed and had nine men wounded, one of whom died.
Labiranan Head, located inland to the north of Orange 2 Beach, was an elevated area that overlooked the landing zone, a perfect place for enemy guns. It needed to be neutralized. At 0915 the four mortar gunboats of TU 79.6.21, LCI(M)s, 658, 659, 660, and 754under Lieutenant Commander G. W. Hannett, were sent just offshore to bombard the landing area at Orange Beach 2 with mortar fire. Beginning at 0915, the four LCI(M)s each fired 120 4.2 mortar rounds on the northernmost landing beach, Orange Beach 2. Following that, the four turned north and unleashed their firepower on the town of San Jose and then targeted Labiranan Head. The lack of return fire by the enemy was seen as an indication of the effectiveness of the mortar ships’ fire, which had been extensive. By mid-afternoon, each of the LCI(M)s had fired in excess of 1,150 mortar rounds on San Jose, Libiranan Head, Catmon Hill, and the surrounding area. Some of the most vital targets for the mortar gunboats were the reverse slopes of Liberanan Head and Catmon Hill, which could not be reached by rockets or direct naval gunfire. Mortars and artillery pieces were firing on the invasion ships from those locations.
Plan for the mortar attack on Orange 1 and 2 Beaches, San Jose, Leyte Island, 20 October 1945. After the initial assault, the mortar gunboats were assigned to deliver fire on the reverse sides of Liberanan Head. Commander Task Unit 79.6.21 Commander LCI(L) Group 17 Serial 114, Action Report, 4 November 1945, Enclosure (A).
After the mortar gunboats had finished their assault, it was time for the LCI(G)s to unleash their rockets just prior to the landing. The order to land came at 0930.
Lieutenant (jg) W.P. Henricks, CO of LCI(G) 372 reported that the
[r]ocket barrage was most effective yet seen by originator. First salvo of ranging rockets was fired at 1000 yard radar range from trees on beach (100 yards behind waterline) and all hit the beach approximately 10 yards inland from waterline. Rocket salvos were spaced over interval while ship moved ahead 400 yards. All rocket fired hit beach including ranging shots. From information received subsequently from Army officers, rocket salvos were extremely effective in neutralizing beach area. Casualties to landing personnel were observed from this ship to be much lighter than in previous operations where volume of rocket fire was smaller.19
Hendricks was also concerned with the close proximity of the LCI(R) to the beach. His ship delivered its rockets and then moved to within one hundred yards from the beach to use their 40mm and 20mm guns effectively. This was ideal for targeting enemy positions but left the rocket gunboat little room to maneuver if it were fired on by the enemy. He asserted that the closest approach should be 200 to 250 yards, ensuring both good target acquisition and maneuvering room.20 Additional fire was directed at Liberanan Head by LCI(G)s 461, 462, 464, and 472 after they had unleashed their rocket barrage on Orange Beach Two.
Landing craft streak toward the beach during the landing at Leyte, Philippines, on 20 October 1944. In the bottom right hand side of the picture, a row of LCI gunboats may be seen. They are partly obscured by smoke from their rocket fire. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
Some return fire was taken from shore. LCI(G) 422 was struck by an unidentified shell at 0950 as she fired her first salvo of rockets. Early casualties were unknown as the rocket barrage was underway. Once the rockets had been fired, she turned to port and began strafing the beach with her starboard guns. Normally the 40mm bow gun would have fired also, but the shell had pierced the gun tub and set off some of the 40mm ammunition, killing two men and wounding four. The entire 40mm gun crew in the bow had been put out of commission. The dead and wounded were transferred to Appalachian AGC-1 for treatment and burial.21
Task Force 78, the Northern Attack Force, landed on the northern beaches at Leyte.
The effectiveness of rocket fire was summed up by Lieutenant Carlton W. Hartness, CO of LCI(G) 475. In his action report he stated:
The spacing of salvo fire for the rockets made it possible to cover an area 200 yards wide and 500 yards deep. The thirteen LCI(G)’s in our group each fired in this manner thus covering a beach area 2600 yards long. The troops landing in this reported that they found no living Japanese in this area and met no enemy resistance till they were 500 yards inland, thus showing that rocket fire had completely cleaned out the area in which they fell, from the point at which last salvo or rockets were fired (450 Yards off beach) to a point 100 yards off beach.22
Although there was little return fire from the enemy as the ships made their initial rocket runs, resistance picked up as the gunboats made their right hand turns to strafe the beach. Machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire began to show up near them. As they were retiring from the beach area, they noticed that there was a mortar barrage with rounds falling about 1,200 yards from the beach. The gunboats had to pass through it in order to escape, and it lasted until they were about 1,500 yards offshore. Fortunately, there were no hits on the gunboats. The only casualty was an LVT which took a direct hit from a mortar round while it was only twenty yards off the starboard beam of LCI(G) 568. Numerous casualties were suffered by the LVT.23
Assistance from Philippine natives was not unusual. They were eager to have the Japanese defeated and their islands returned to their control. On 21 October, LCI(G) 462 was anchored 300 yards north of San Roque off Catamon Head and spent the morning hours strafing the area with her 40mm and 20mm guns. At 1435, she picked up three Philippine natives who were eager to inform them as to the Japanese locations. Apparently there was a line of trenches just behind the beach, with sand mounds in front, in which the Japanese had taken shelter. Based on the information, the gunboat fired on four low mounds of sand. The Filipinos felt sure that the Japanese in that area had been killed. They were sent on to CTU 79.6.22 for further debriefing.24
The gunboats found themselves in a variety of situations at Leyte. On 24 October, the fleet tug Sonoma ATO 12 was tied up to the merchant ship Augustus Thomas and LCI(L) 1065 in San Pedro Bay, when the ships came under attack by four Sally bombers at 0839. One of them was damaged by gunfire from the ships and crashed into the LCI(L) which burst into flames and began taking on water. Sonoma cast off and was about to escape when, at 0845, another plane crashed into her. She began to take on water and was quickly aided by LCI(R)s 71, 72, 331, 337 and Chickasaw ATF 83 which put out her fires. Twenty-seven men from Sonoma were brought aboard LCI(R) 72 for medical treatment as the tug was beginning to sink. An additional twenty were taken on board LCI(R) 337. Sonoma’s records and registered publications were transferred to LCI(R) 72. Sonoma was towed into shallow water off Dio Island and settled on the bottom where she was stripped of valuable gear.
On the northeastern side of Leyte Island lay San Juanico Strait, separating Leyte and Samar. There were concerns that the Japanese might be able to transit the strait and bring supplies and reinforcements to their troops by landing in the area or by taking them through the strait. It was decided that the capture of both shores along the strait would secure the area and prevent Japanese reinforcements and supplies from being landed there. The towns of Babatangon and Guintiguian on Leyte and La Paz on Samar were the targets.
Task Force 79, the Southern Attack Force, landed its troops on the southern beaches at Leyte.
On 24 October LCI(G) 23, with three other gunboats and some LCMs, found herself at the northeastern tip of Leyte in Opong Bay off the town of Babatangon. Their mission was to deliver the 1st Squadron of the 7th Cavalry from Tacloban to the area, landing their men and supplies. Eager natives assisted in the unloading of the ships and it seemed as though the mission was a simple one. The men of LCI(G) 23 and LCI(R) 338 were near a concrete wharf enjoying the scenery when a Zeke came out of the clouds and dropped two bombs which scored a near miss on the gunboats. Men scrambled for their general quarters positions and the gunboat prepared to get away from the wharf and underway. A Val appeared from behind the hills, strafing the ships and dropping two bombs, one of which hit the stern of one of the LCI(G)s. The gunboats went alongside and assisted in tending to the wounded. A crewman on one of the gunboats recalled:
We cast off from the wharf and pulled alongside the blasted ship. Lines made her fast to us and hose was broken out for the fire below decks. Astern on the starboard deck three denimed sailors lay crumpled, their blood clotting on the blue painted metal. The entire crew of the 3" 50 rifle had been wounded on the LCI 23. One sailor had fallen out of position to the main deck where he sprawled with horrible limpness, his face hidden by a chalky hand.
At the 40mm gun position a sailor still sat in the trainer’s seat, blood running down his face, his dazed eyes fixed on the loader’s body huddled under the steel tractor seat at the left of the gun. There was a large jagged hole in the loader’s back. A bomb fragment had hit him full in the chest.25
It had been a costly attack for LCI(G) 23. She suffered ten crewmen dead and three officers and twenty-one enlisted men wounded. Her crew tied her up close to shore where she was camouflaged with palm fronds and tree branches. Eventually she was towed back to Hollandia and repaired.
On 25 October, LCI(G) 752 was lying to in Tacloban Harbor at 1243 when she came under attack by several Japanese dive bombers escorted by one fighter. Her gunners put up some heavy anti-aircraft fire and the bombs missed her. An hour later several more planes attacked her from astern. This was a weak spot for the LCI gunboats, and the plane dropped a 500 lb. bomb which narrowly missed the stern of the boat and exploded underwater. The blast bent her shafts, jammed her right rudder, and took a chunk from the left. The hull had a large dent from the stern to frame 84 and she began taking on water. Fortunately Achilles ARL 41 was nearby and the gunboat was towed to her for emergency repairs.26 A few days later, on 27 October, LCI(G) 752 was anchored in San Pedro Bay when she was attacked by a Hamp. The plane dropped a bomb about thirty yards off her starboard beam, loosened her plating, bent some deck plates and opened her seams. She developed some leaks but they were repaired in short order.
When not actively strafing shore targets or patrolling various areas, the ships frequently were involved in laying smoke screens to protect larger ships from air attack. Overnight between 25 and 26 October, LCI(G) 568 had the task of covering the area near her with smoke. This caused additional problems, as the smoke obscured vision and resulted in a collision between several of the gunboats.
Rescue work was a normal part of any Navy ship’s tasks. On 25 October the battle off Samar Island kept a number of them busy. LCI(G) 340 received a message from CTG 78.2 at 1736 on 25 October to proceed, along with LCI(R)s 34, 71, 341, 357, and PCs 111 and 625, to rescue survivors. Gambier Bay CVE 73 and Johnston DD 557 had gone down in the battle and there were men to rescue. The first survivor picked up at 1700 on 26 October was Japanese. He was placed under guard, strip-searched, given medical attention, and fed. On 27 October a survivor from Gambier Baywas found and taken aboard. At 0156 seven life rafts were found lashed together. About 110 survivors from Gambier Bay were clinging to them. Some were badly wounded and all needed dry clothing, food, and water. Feeding everyone strained the ship’s facilities, but they were accommodated. More survivors from Johnston were located at 0856 on a life raft the next morning. LCI(G) 340 took on board another fifteen men, most of whom were badly wounded. With a full load of rescued men, the gunboat left for Leyte where the prisoner was turned over to AGC 9and the survivors to LST 226 and PCE 852.27
LCI(G) 342 had the ability to put to use her newly-installed firefighting equipment. On 27 October, the freighter Benjamin Ide Wheeler was crashed by a twin engine bomber at 1845 as she lay at anchor in San Pedro Bay. Wheeler’s hold was full of gasoline, and she was soon ablaze and in danger of exploding. LCI(G) 342 went to her aid, placed her bow against the side of the burning ship, and played four streams of water against her side and into her hold. In short order she replaced the water with foam, which seemed a better choice since the flames were being fed by the gasoline. Her efforts were later joined by Cable ARS 19, and by 0130 of the next morning the fires were under control. The freighter suffered two dead and three wounded. It was noted that the crew of the freighter made little effort to fight the fire.28
Many of the ships used San Pedro Bay and the surrounding area as an anchorage as it afforded better protection from the sea’s action. However, the close proximity of the airfield at Tacloban made it less than safe. Numerous enemy raids occurred over the area with frequent attacks on the ships and the aircraft ashore.
When a number of LCI(L)s were converted to LCI(R)s, they were equipped with special firefighting equipment. This proved useful in many cases but dangerous in others. At 1900 on 31 October, LCI(G)s 337, 338, 340, LCI(R)s 34, 71, 72, 74, 341, and two other gunboats beached near the airfield and spent several hours fighting fires in aircraft and a gasoline dump. Continued explosions of fifty gallon drums of oil plagued their efforts, but in the end the fires were under control. When they tried to retract from the beach several hours later, they were unable to leave due to a receding tide. They had to wait until the following morning to get off the beach.
Other problems were evident in the practice of beaching ships to fight fires ashore. Enemy aircraft were active in the area and the beached ships were sitting ducks for an air attack. Only the dark of the night prevented them from being attacked. The two ships left ashore during the following day were subject to such attacks, one in which a Japanese plane dropped a stick of bombs that missed by only a few hundred yards.
Commanding officers of the rocket gunboats equipped with firefighting equipment noted some very specific problems in using these ships for firefighting, beached or otherwise. It was the practice of the rocket gunboats to keep some of their launchers loaded for possible call-fire missions. When ordered to fight a fire, they had to pull alongside a burning ship with their rockets exposed to flames. When LCI(R) 71 went to the aid of an LCI(L), her canvas rocket launcher covers caught fire and had to be extinguished. Fortunately, none of the rockets exploded. It was considered impossible to be prepared for rocket call-fire missions and firefighting at the same time. The presence of the rocket launchers on the side landing ramps made it difficult to run hoses effectively; they were frequently caught on the launchers and it took time to move them about effectively. When coming alongside a ship to fight fires, the launchers were easily bent by contact with the ship. Once the launchers were bent even a little, they could not fire their rockets. Attempts to straighten them were usually unsuccessful. The last consideration was the ammunition carried by a rocket gunboat. In addition to the normal load, the LCI(R) had another fifty-five tons of ammunition aboard. Of this amount, the Number 2 hold in the forward part of the ship usually held from 1,100 to 1,400 high explosive rockets.
The weight of the additional ammunition in the hold made it a little more difficult to beach, as it increased the forward draft of the ship. When beached to fight a fire, the firefighting team had difficulty getting ashore. In order to mount the rocket launchers, the landing ramps had been removed. Once the LCI(R) had beached, the water at the bow area would be at least 5 feet 3 inches deep. Firefighting crews had to manually lower a ladder to climb off, and often had to swim before they could get to water shallow enough to work. This proved problematic, as it was time-consuming and dangerous.29 What had seemed a good idea at first proved to be more of a burden. It was a success in spite of the ships’ configuration, not because of it.
On 3 November Tacloban Airfield was attacked and several aircraft were set afire. At 0325 LCI(R)s 337 and 342, along with another gunboat, were ordered to the beach off the airstrip to assist in firefighting. They beached at 0500 and found three aircraft aflame. While the majority of the crews remained at general quarters, fire hoses were run ashore to combat the fires in two of them, the third being too far apart from the other aircraft to be a threat. As they fought the fires, a Rufe flew down the length of the field and dropped small anti-personnel bombs, followed by a fighter that strafed the field. The three ships, silhouetted by the fires, made fine targets and three more fighters attempted to bomb them. Men engaged in firefighting found themselves covered in dirt and debris from the nearby bomb explosions. One of the aircraft was brought down by antiaircraft fire from the field. By about 0600 the fires were under control and the LCI(R)s retracted from the beach. But it was not a peaceful departure, as additional enemy aircraft attacked the area. Several were shot down by Army fighters. The gunboats were then ordered to assist fighting a fire on a nearby Liberty ship. Firefighting duties in the area continued as the constant air attacks on the field set aircraft ablaze, along with supply and gas dumps.30
Kamikaze action continued. On 12 November LCI(G) 751 was on screen in San Pedro Bay. Three Hamps came out of the east over the island of Samar and made their attack. On board LCI(G) 751, SM 3/c Harold Hoover picked them up at a range of five miles and sounded the alarm. The gunboat and a nearby destroyer took them under fire. Anchored nearby were about twenty cargo ships. One plane passed over the gunboat and crashed into Alexander Majors after taking some hits from the gunboat’s 40mm guns. The Liberty ship had two men killed and fifteen wounded. Thomas Nelson and Matthew P. Deady were also crashed by kamikazes, with the worst damage done to Thomas Nelson. The plane that hit her penetrated her deck and its bomb went off inside, killing 133 men and wounding eighty-eight. Many of these were Army troops waiting to disembark at Dulag. Matthew P. Deady had minor damage and no casualties. Nearby, LCI(M)1056 was tied up to the repair ship Achilles ARL 41 when a third kamikaze crashed into both of them. The gunboat escaped with minor damage and no casualties, but Achilles suffered thirty-three dead and twenty-eight wounded.
LCI(G)s 422, 559, 560, 751, 1058, and 1059 were steaming in a column toward an anchorage in San Pedro Bay when four Zekes and a Val appeared from the south and west, heading for the anchored transports. All gunboats opened up with 20mm and 40mm fire. One Zeke, hit by several ships, lost a wing and crashed in the water. The Val was shot down close aboard one of the Liberty ships. Another Zeke passed over the gunboats and had a wing shot off; however, it still managed a crash into troop carrier Jeremiah M. Daily. Killed in the attack were 106 men, with forty-three others wounded. As with the crash on Thomas Nelson, many of the killed and wounded were Army troops waiting to land. Several other cargo carriers and troop ships were hit that day, and the gunboats shot down a number of would-be kamikazes.
LCI(G) 558 experienced a dawn air attack on 23 October. She was anchored 200 yards off Dulag when a Zeke made a pass on her, dropping its bomb. Fortunately it was a dud. The Zeke circled around for a strafing run on the gunboat which took it under fire. Forty and 20mm rounds struck the plane in the fuselage near the engine and cockpit area. It is probable that the pilot was wounded by these shots. The plane lost power and went down to the south of the ship. The pilot’s body was later recovered. LCI(G) 558was credited with one Japanese plane shot down. Two days later the gunboat was making smoke early in the morning when an enemy plane dropped a bomb near the transports that the gunboat was screening. It hit the water and exploded fifty yards off the port quarter of the 558, wounding one man slightly. The transports were spared and the plane was driven off by gunfire from the ships in the bay. LCI(G) 558 seemed to be in the midst of the action almost every day. On 26 October, a high flying formation of Japanese aircraft commanded the attention of many of the ships, taking their attention away from an attack that came in at a low altitude. One Zeke headed for a PT tender and was taken under fire by LCI(G) 558 whose 40mm fire set it ablaze. It crashed into the bay short of its target. A second Zeke was hit by its gunfire, giving the 558 its second kill in the space of a few days. Continued attacks over the next couple of weeks would give the ship’s gunners ample opportunity to practice their skill, but she had no additional enemy planes to her credit during that time.31
Gunboats fulfilled a number of roles during the war, including the supplying of Filipino guerrilla forces and the retrieval of Americans behind enemy lines. LCI(G) 558 became the sole ship in Task Unit 78.2.31 in mid–November 1944 when orders were delivered to its commanding officer, Lieutenant (jg) Harold S. Lewis, stating “Commanding General Sixth Army desires to land 20 tons of supplies on the southeast coast of Samar. This command desires to evacuate a number of survivors, approximately six now under the care of guerrilla forces.”32 Apparently, several American pilots and air crews were safely in the hands of the guerrillas and two tasks might be accomplished by the gunboat.
Following orders, LCI(G) 558 beached at Leyte and took on supplies for the guerrillas, as well as some passengers. Accompanying them to deal with the guerrillas were Lieutenant Colonel Smith and Lieutenants Charles Hall and James Johns, all from A.U.S., along with five allied war correspondents to record the mission. The gunboat was loaded with guests and supplies and left Leyte at 1504 on 14 November 1944. She headed for Homonhan Island, arriving at dusk. Currents in the area were running at four knots, and the gunboat finally made it to open seas at 0300 on 15 November. The gunboat was essentially on its own and navigating by radar, but the night provided coverage. Before dawn broke, the 558 made it safely into Napla Bay north of Andis lsland. A rain storm erupted around dawn and the ship was able to slip undetected into an anchorage near the island. Guerrillas waiting for the ship to appear did not discover her until daybreak when she was visible. They quickly covered her with coconut branches so that she was well disguised and unloaded the supply of food, rifles, mortars, ammunition, clothing, and medical supplies in the space of two hours.
Later in the day, as the ship sat camouflaged only 150 yards off Punta Maria, Samar, the survivors were brought aboard. Two naval pilots and four enlisted men were in relatively good condition, having survived naval battles against the Japanese on 26 October 1944. At 1830 that evening, the gunboat weighed anchor and headed back to San Pedro Bay, arriving at 0910 the following morning. Her passengers were off-loaded and transferred to Fremont APA 44.33
The landings at Leyte had been successful, but the ships there continued to be plagued by Japanese air attacks. An attack by two Zekes at 1215 on 28 November resulted in damage to Oak Ridge ARD 19. Eugene Reed, SM 3/c, was the lookout on duty on board LCI(G) 751 when he spotted the first plane coming in at a distance of five miles. The ship turned to meet the aircraft head on and began firing at a range of three miles. It passed eight hundred yards across the gunboat’s bow as the 751 scored a number of hits on the plane. Other ships fired on the plane and the combined fire caused it to waver. It seemed obvious that it would pass over the ARD, but at the last moment it crashed into the floating drydock’s starboard quarter. A second Zeke passed directly over the ship and was hit by several rounds, but it circled the drydock and then flew off.
The landings on the eastern side of Leyte Island at Dulag and the area around Tacloban had been successful. A beachhead had been established, troops had moved inland and were in pursuit of the Japanese, and airfields at Tacloban and Dulag were made operational. By mid–November, it was time to expand the plan. A landing at Ormoc, almost due west of an area just north of Dulag, was the next target. Capture of this area would prevent the Japanese from reinforcing their units and allow the Americans to attack them from the rear. Chosen to land there on 7 December 1944 was the Army’s 77th Infantry Division under Major General A. D. Bruce. Transporting them to the attack would be the Ormoc Attack Group TG 78.3, under the command of Rear Admiral A. D. Struble. The Task Group consisted of eight APDs, twenty-seven LCIs, twelve LSMs and four LSTs to move men and supplies. Supporting the landings and providing fire support for the trip from Dulag to Ormoc were twelve destroyers. Prior to the landing, the area was to be swept by nine AM minesweepers. LCI(R)s 31, 71, 73, 331 and 342 provided covering fire for the actual landing. Two sub-chasers, SCs 726 and 731, acted as guides for the landing craft. An ATR tug was on hand to assist any landing craft that became stuck on the beach. Air cover, including bombing and strafing the beaches was a joint venture by the Army and Marine Corps.
The attack force staged at Tacloban in San Pedro Bay on 6 December 1944 and headed south. Their route took them around the southern tip of Leyte Island, through Suragao Strait, then north into the Camotes Sea to Ormoc Bay. During the trip from Dulag to Ormoc there was little enemy presence. Destroyers and LCI(R)s bombarded the beaches and the troops landed without much opposition. The attention of the Japanese had been diverted to the south where they were combating the American’s 7th Division which was driving northward up the coast. Once the landings had been completed the Japanese air attacks began. Opposing them were Army and Marine fighters, but the number of attacking aircraft was overwhelming. In spite of many Japanese aircraft being shot down, the newly instituted kamikazes took their toll. By the time the task group made it back to San Pedro Bay, Mahan DD 364 and Ward APD 16 had been sunk by Japanese air attacks. Two other ships, Liddle APD 60 and Lamson DD 367 sustained serious damage. LSM 318 was crashed by a kamikaze at 1525, and LST 737 was crashed by another at 1619. Army P-38s and Marine Corsairs took their toll and shot down numerous planes, but the Japanese still managed to get through.
On the morning of 7 December the landing craft were ready to head to the two landing beaches planned for the assault. Task Unit 78.3.7, with the CTU on board SC 726, included LCI(R)s 31, 71, 73, 331. The rocket gunboats covered the landing beaches with their standard rocket barrage, but there was no opposition. Planning for the assault had placed the landing beaches about ten miles south of the Japanese troop concentration. A major concern for the attacking force was the presence of a large number of enemy aircraft. The convoy and landing force was under frequent attack during the day on 7 December, suffering fourteen different air raids. Damaged in these kamikaze attacks were Kephart APD 61, Liddle APD 60, Lamson DD 366, Mahan DD 364, and LST 737. LCI(R) 331 spotted two incoming Zekes near the landing area at 1215 and took them under fire. She shot down one and was credited with an assist on the second which crashed into the sea.
Resupply of Ormoc was a continuing problem. The large number of operational Japanese airfields in the area gave rise to continued air attacks, many of them utilizing kamikaze tactics. Navy, Marine, and Army Air Force pilots would have their hands full until the Japanese air bases were neutralized.
The Taking of Mindoro Island
With a foothold firmly established in the Philippines through the landings on Leyte Island, the Army’s next major target was Luzon and its capital, Manila. However, the Japanese had numerous airfields on the island and any invasion force was sure to feel the wrath of both the Japanese Army and Navy aviators. On Luzon alone, the Japanese had at least twenty-eight airfields, with an additional four on Panay, and six on Negros.34 Any invasion fleet heading for Luzon would be seriously damaged by air attacks before they reached the beaches. The major problem for the American forces was the lack of air power in the area. The airfields at Tacloban and Dulag were not fully developed by the beginning of December 1944, and occupation of Mindoro would give the Americans additional airfields at San Jose in the southwest corner of the island. Four airstrips existed there but were not in use. They could be quickly improved and would serve as a base for fighters covering the invasion fleet bound for Luzon.
The Regimental Combat Team of the 24th Infantry Division and the 503rd Parachute Regiment landed at San Augustin near the town of San Jose on Mindoro Island on 15 December. Both units were under the command of Brigadier General William C. Dunckel. They numbered over 16,500 men, with 5,000 to follow. A token force of several hundred Japanese near San Jose was their opposition. Their main threat came from Japanese aircraft flying off the fields on Luzon, Panay, and Negros.
American infantrymen are shown getting information about Japanese activity from a Filipino native near San Jose, Mindoro, after their landing. Such cooperation from the people of the Philippines was common and aided in the effort against the Japanese. U.S. Army Signal Corps photograph.
The Visayan Attack Force, under Rear Admiral Arthur D. Struble, consisted of three parts: the Mindoro Attack Group under Struble; the Close Covering Group under Rear Admiral Berkey; and the Motor Torpedo Boat Group under Lieutenant Commander N. Burt Davis. Included in the Mindoro Attack Group were the LCI gunboats LCI(G)s 64, 68, 69, 70. The Inshore Support Unit (TU 78.3.7) included LCI(R)s 34, 230(F), 337, 338, 342 and LCI(D) 228. They left the line of departure and laid a rocket barrage on the beach at 0740. The landing at San Jose was uneventful, with sporadic air attacks on the landing ships and covering force. The gunboats delivered their barrage and then attempted to clear the area. An offshore wind, a common problem, complicated matters. As soon as the first rockets hit, the wind carried the smoke toward the LCI(R)s and made it impossible to determine the effectiveness of the barrage. The smoke was so thick that LCI(R) 342 ran into an LCI(L) which was heading for the beach, damaging its bow and landing ramp. Normally the gunboats followed up a rocket barrage by strafing the area with their 40mm guns, but the smoke obscured targets ashore and prevented their firing on suspected enemy targets. LCI(R) 337 reported that the best she could do was fire on some tree clumps to the right of the landing beaches.35
At 0845 seven Japanese Army Tonys attempted crash dives on the LSTs and managed to hit two of them. At 0852 a single engine fighter made a run on one of the LCI(R)s which was in the company of two LCI(G)s just off the beach. LCI(R)337 scored some .50 caliber hits on the plane and it began to waver. Other gunboats took the plane under fire as it headed for an LST, and it was shot down between LCI(R) 337 and the LST.
P-38 Lightnings of the 36th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group are lined up on the airfield at San Jose, Mindoro Island, 20 December 1944. They were instrumental in destroying the remaining Japanese air forces in the Philippines and covered the landings at Lingayen Gulf. NARA 111-SC-A30104.
The airfields at Mindoro were quickly developed and supplied air cover for the landings at Lingayen on 9 January 1945. Supply ships transiting from Leyte Gulf to Mindoro were continually plagued by kamikaze and conventional Japanese air attacks until the threat was eliminated in early January 1945.
Lingayen—9 January 1945
The largest and most heavily-defended of the Philippine Islands was the island of Luzon. There, in addition to the island nation’s capital of Manila, were numerous airfields and the largest concentration of Japanese military personnel in the islands. They numbered 293,000 and were divided into three main regions.
The largest force consisted of the Army’s Shobu Group under General Tomoyuki Yamashita. It was divided into four infantry and one tank division, plus the Tsuda Detachment and elements of the 4th Air Army, a total of 152,000 men. Yamashita’s force controlled the northern and central part of the island.
In the middle of the island, centered on Clark Field and the Bataan Peninsula, was the Kembu Group under Major General Rikichi Tsukada. His 30,000 troops were made up of the 1st Raiding Group, 2nd Mobile Infantry, 39th Infantry, and elements of the 4th Air Army. An additional 15,000 naval combat and service troops were also in the area.
From Manila down to the end of the Bicol Peninsula, Lieutenant General Shizuo Yokoyama’s Shimbu Group held control. Under Yokoyama were 80,000 troops that included the 8th and 105th Army Divisions and elements of the 4th Air Army. The Manila Defense Force under Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi added another 16,000 men to the total.36
The assault at Lingayen Gulf involved two separate task forces, TFs 78 and 79. Landing on 9 January 1945 were the 6th, 37th, 43rd, and 40th Army Infantry Divisions. LCI gunboats were active in covering the UDT operations prior to the landing, as well as the landing itself.
The attack at Lingayen put American forces in direct conflict with Yamashita’s forces. The overall plan was to land at Lingayen and then drive south to link up with American divisions that would drive northward from Manila.
U.S. Navy estimates of the strength of the Japanese placed the number at 224,500, noting that in the area near the Lingayen landing beaches
were an estimated 35,000 troops, including two divisions, a mixed brigade, and an armored unit of at least one battalion. An examination of the beaches after our landing indicated that no determined defense of the beaches had been contemplated…. It was evident, however, that the enemy intended to hold all the hill country to the north and east of our beaches and had constructed many gun emplacement and other defenses throughout this area.37
The Japanese had twenty-eight air bases on Luzon, most lying in the central part of the island, although two were located on the southern end of Bicol Peninsula at Legaspi and Bulan.
They were not expected to mount a major air offensive against the invasion, as American air attacks carried out by the 5th and 13th Air Forces and the carriers of the Third Fleet had taken their toll on Japanese air power. Approximately 700 Japanese aircraft had been destroyed in raids on Japanese fields on Luzon, Taiwan, and Okinawa. American aircraft flew off fields newly-won on Mindoro, Leyte, Morotai, Sansapor, Palau, and Saipan, and air cover over the invasion force was potent. Japanese air attacks were scattered and consisted of a few aircraft in single raids.
Lieutenant (jg) Homer Roesti (in helmet), checks on members of his crew who were wounded in an attack by Japanese aircraft on 3 January 1945. NARA 80G 472019.
Japanese naval attacks on the invasion fleet were deemed unlikely. After the Second Battle of the Philippines, the Americans controlled the area to the east of the Philippines. The carriers of the Third Fleet roamed far and wide and were a serious threat to any Japanese ships attempting to intercept the invasion force. That, coupled with the ever growing effect of the American submarine fleet, made a Japanese naval intervention unlikely.
The trip to Lingayen was not without its perils. Task Group 77.6 departed San Pedro Bay, Leyte, on 2 January and headed for Lingayen to cover the activities of the Minesweeping and Hydrographic Group. It included LCI(G)s 64, 65, 68, 69, and 70. Along the way it suffered heavy air attacks. On 5 January, on board LCI(G) 69, CO Homer R. Roesti watched as a kamikaze headed toward his ship. Fire from the 69 and LCI(G) 64 hit home and the Japanese plane splashed in the water. Other attacks took place, and by the end of the action LCI(G) 69 had suffered six casualties from shrapnel.
Other ships en route to the invasion site came under attack on 7 January. At 1830 LCI(G) 567 was strafed by one Japanese plane and bombed by another. Fortunately there were no injuries and the bomb missed the ship. LCI(G) 580, astern of the 567, took the plane under fire as it passed by the column of ships and was fired on by LCI(G)s 564 and 568 and LCI(L) 676. One plane was shot down and the other escaped after being hit several times.
The assault on any beach was never a simple matter. Prior to the landing of troops, extensive surveys were needed to determine the best location for the assault beaches, the depth of water off the beaches, currents, surf conditions, location of obstacles and mines, and the clearing of these obstacles. This work was performed under great peril by the minesweepers and the Underwater Demolition Teams. Tasked as the Inshore Cover Unit TU 77.2.8 for the preliminary activities at Lingayen, were LCI(G)s 64, 65, 68, 69,and 70, all of which mounted 3"/50s as their main gun. The remainder of the TU consisted of LCI(G)s 442, 558, 559, 560, and 751, which had three 40mm guns, four 20mm guns, and rockets. Overall command of the task unit was held by Lieutenant Commander Robert S. Rickabaugh. Dividing the TU into two separate sections allowed Rickabaugh to directly command the ships covering the Lingayen area with LCI(G)s 64, 68, 558, 559, and 751. Covering the San Fabian area were LCI(G)s 65, 69(GF), 70, 422, and 560under Lieutenant Commander Holmes. UDT operations were conducted on 7 January with reports indicating that there were no obstacles or mines in the beach area.
On 5 January LCI(G) 70 had finished performing her screening duties for the hydrographic ships when she came under attack by Japanese aircraft. A Zeke made a crash dive on her at 1974, coming in from her stern. It clipped off her mast before plowing into her 3"/50 gun tub, effectively knocking it out of commission. She suffered six dead and nine wounded but was still able to participate in the landings, although without the use of her main gun.
The covering plan for the UDT was to have a half-hour barrage of the landing beaches executed by the heavy ships in the fire support group. Following that, they would remain underway in the area and provide additional fire support as needed. The gunboats provided close-in fire support. They moved to positions 600 yards from the beach and kept up a heavy strafing attack on the beaches to one hundred yards past the waterline while the frogmen were at work.
Fire support stations for coverage of landing beaches Crimson, Yellow, Green, and Orange at Lingayen during UDT activity on 7 January 1945. Commander Task Unit 79.7.1 (Commander LCI(G) Group 16), Serial 017, Action Report for Luzon Operation 24 December 1944 to 23 January 1945, Enclosure Baker.
Difficult conditions faced both the frogmen and their supporting gunboats on 7 January. Heavy swells and a strong undertow hampered their work, and it was only through great effort that they were able to complete their mission. They were harassed by sniper fire as they did their surveys, but the close-in fire support of the gunboats suppressed the enemy sufficiently. Unfortunately, the gunboats’ fire was not as accurate as all would have hoped. Heavy swells rocked the flat bottomed boats and made it difficult for them to hit targets as effectively as they might have. More than a few rounds fell in the water near the swimmers but none were wounded. Additional fire was supplied by the APDs whose heavier hulls and design made for a more stable firing platform. Larger warships such as West Virginia BB 48, Laffey DD 724, and the survey ship Sumner AGS 5 added their firepower to the mix, but their shells were aimed at larger targets behind the immediate beach line.
LCI(G) 559 was off the Green and Orange Beaches supporting UDT 9. Prior to beginning her mission her CO, Lieutenant (jg) J. M. Horner, had decided to establish a given allowance per hour for each of his guns, based on his existing ammunition supply. This proved to be a relatively slow rate of fire, which under most conditions might be acceptable. As she approached the beach, enemy machine gun fire erupted in front of the bow of the LCP(R) carrying the UDT which was only fifty yards ahead. This sudden attack changed his philosophy on the rate of fire, with the gunboat sending a heavy barrage of 40mm and 20mm toward the suspected enemy gun emplacement.39
LCI(G) 558, cruising nearby, noted the presence of houses, warehouses, and two large buildings about one hundred yards off the beach. The town of Lingayen had its capitol building in this area as well. At 1330 incoming fire from the enemy emanated from a warehouse, and the gunboat directed 40mm fire on the warehouse, silencing the guns there. More gunfire erupted from the right hand side of the capitol building, and several gunboats directed their fire to the building and soon neutralized the enemy emplacements. The next enemy fire came from the second story of a nearby schoolhouse. Gunboat fire penetrated every window on the second floor, as well as the edge of the roof where suspected enemy snipers were located. To make sure that all opposition was quelled, every hut and house in the area was shelled, allowing UDT 9 to complete its work by 1623. The frogmen were picked up by their LCP(R) and left the area.40
Fire support stations for coverage of landing beaches White and Blue at Lingayen during UDT activity on 7 January 1945. Commander Task Unit 79.7.1 (Commander LCI(G) Group 16), Serial 017, Action Report for Luzon Operation 24 December 1944 to 23 January 1945, Enclosure Charlie.
On 8 January the UDT operations had ceased and the gunboats were able to pursue other targets. LCI(G)s 64, 68, 70, 422, 558, 559, 560, and 751 of TU 77.6.14, under Lieutenant Commander Rickabaugh, lay to in Lingayen Gulf as larger ships bombarded targets ashore. LCI(G) 558 picked up a blip on her radar that indicated a small object two miles off her port bow. She headed to the object and found a converted fishing boat carrying a supply of airplane tires to the port at San Fernando. Two Japanese were in charge of the boat, along with twelve Filipinos who had been pressed into service. Apparently the boat had been targeted by a destroyer earlier in the day and presumed sunk. The Filipinos were taken on board and treated as enemy combatants, but the Japanese refused to get on board and were killed as the gunboat pulled away.41
Finally a target just right for the gunboat’s abilities was discovered. A group of enemy barges and small freighters had been discovered near shore a mile south of Poro Point. The gunboats formed a column and headed in their direction. At a range of 2,000 yards, the first of the gunboats opened fire then turned right and ran broadside to the targets until they were out of range. The entire line proceeded in this practice until the target ships were left in ruin. Fire from one of the gunboats ignited an ammunition dump on shore and it exploded.
Invasion Day—9 January 1945
The invasion force scheduled to land at Lingayen was divided into two Task Forces, TF 78 and TF 79. Task Force 78, The San Fabian Attack Force, was under the command of Vice Admiral Daniel E. Barbey. It was to deliver the Army’s I Corps under Major General I. P. Swift, to the White and Blue Beaches. The I Corps consisted of the 6th and 43rd Divisions. The 6th Division was commanded by Major General E. D. Patrick and the 43rd by Major General L. F. Wing.
Task Force 79, The Lingayen Attack Force, under the command of Vice Admiral T. S. Wilkinson was due to land the Army’s XIV Corps, which was commanded by Major General O. W. Griswold. The XIV Corps consisted of the 37th and 40th Divisions. The 37th was commanded by Major General R. S. Beightler and the 40th by Major General Rapp Brush.
Task Force 78, the San Fabian Attack Force, was assigned to land the Army’s I Corps on beaches White 1, 2, 3 and Blue 1 and 2. Landing on White Beach 1 was the 1st BLT, 172nd RCT. White Beach 2 was assaulted by the 169th RCT and White Beach 3 by the 103rd RCT. All units were part of the 43rd Infantry Division I Corps. The gunboats reported to the line of departure at 0800 and were soon underway. The mortar gunboats LCI(M)s 359, 362, 431 were in position for their barrage at 0845 and began their bombardment of beach positions on White Beach 1 and to its left. Running along the coast in that location were railroad tracks, and the mortars from the ships were on target. Two hills just behind the beach area were in their target area, and the mortar boats laid another barrage on both the forward and reverse sides of the hills. LCI(M) 359 reported delivering 167 rounds of high explosives and white phosphorous on the first hill and another 115 rounds of high explosive on the second. The other two mortar ships delivered similar barrages. By 0942, their slow speed of only three knots had carried them to within 1,000 yards of the beach, and they turned off to await call-fire orders. As with most assaults by rockets and mortars, the ships’ commanding officers reported that the target was so obscured by smoke and dust that it was almost impossible to correctly find targets or determine the effectiveness of their fire. In many cases radar would have solved the problem, and the ships continually mentioned the need for radar in their action reports. The best they could do was to take fixes on various shore points or depend on larger ships’ radar as a guide.
Leading the landing craft to the White Beaches were LCI(G)s 31, 73, 342, and LCI(R)s 72 and 331. They were to provide rocket fire on the beaches in advance of the LVTs carrying elements of the 43rd Infantry Reinforced. Reports indicated a line of trenches and pill boxes near the beach that were expected to offer heavy resistance to the landing. Beginning at 0857 the rocket ships left the line of departure and began firing 40mm guns at 0913. Their first rocket salvos went shoreward at 0921. LCI(G) 342 spotted a sandbar dead ahead as she was in the middle of her run. Unfazed by its presence, her CO, Lieutenant (jg) James A. Hynes, ran his ship forward and completed firing his rockets until he grounded on the bar. He deemed it more important to support the troops landing in front of him. Fortunately the ship’s slow speed allowed him to back off the bar once his firing was completed. All ships at White Beach reported misfires with their rockets because of wiring problems. However, the overwhelming majority of the rockets did fire, with only about five percent failures reported. Occasional Japanese aircraft passed over the area, but most were shot down by ships’ fire or American aircraft. The consolidation of the airfields on islands already captured had given the fleet at Lingayen excellent air cover.
This is the assault course for LCI(M) 431 at the White Beach flank during the landing at Lingayen. In many beach assaults the LCI(M)s were used on the flanks because of their longer range weapons and their ability to reach the reverse slopes of hills. U.S.S. LCI(M) 432Serial 01, Action Report—Lingayen Operation, 15 January 1945, Enclosure (A).
The Blue Beaches, just to the south, were to be the landing sites of elements of the 6th Infantry Division I Corps. Blue Beach 1 was assigned to the 1st RCT and Blue Beach 2 to the 20th RCT. TU 78.5.8 under Lieutenant Commander A. M. Holmes, composed of LCI(G)s 64, 69 LCI(R)s 225, 226, 230, 337, 338, and 341, supplied close-in fire support for the landing.
The gunboats were at the line of departure at 0900 and got underway for their rocket runs. The LCI(G)s were on the flanks with the rocket ships in the center. At 0925 the fourth of the ranging rockets hit the beach and was followed shortly thereafter by eight salvos of forty-four rockets from each of the LCI(R)s. LCI(R) 226 noted a number of five inch shells hitting the water twenty-five to one hundred yards off her bow, seriously imperiling the advancing LVTs. Her CO, Lieutenant (jg) W. L. Harned, ordered the engines backed and gave the order to strafe the beach with all available guns. One 40mm, three 20mm and four .50 caliber guns opened up on suspected enemy locations for a full minute. The boat waves passed by and landed safely. It was just this kind of enemy opposition that doomed many Marines and soldiers in the early days of the war. It called for advances in close-in fire support, which led to the development of the amphibious gunboats. Had it not been for their presence, the LVTs would have been sitting ducks. By the time the gunboats had finished firing off their rocket salvos, they were within 300 yards of the beach.
On board LCI(G) 226, Signalman Arden Lee Hunt recorded his experiences as the attack on Lingayen’s Blue Beaches developed:
We all went to General Quarters at 0500 in the morning. It is not dawn yet. All the Can’s and Cruisers opened up as soon as it was light enough. There was also three battle ships firing, the first I have seen overseas. They sure could throw the shells in.
We were to lay back until 0900, then proceed to the beach and fire our 528 rockets. Before this we had an air attack. We came very close to hitting one zero. They hit a destroyer with a bomb. We, the convoy, shot down several of their planes. One plane crashed dived on a ship setting it afire. Don’t know how many were killed. We went in at 0900. We could now hear the battle ships shells singing by over our heads.
We were about 200 yd. from the beach when we started letting the rockets go. About that time there was a big explosion and water shot way up about 100 feet off our stern. About ten seconds later there was another about 100 feet on our port beam. By now we were so scared we were laying on the deck. Then the big one came. It hit just a little over 10 feet from our port bow, spraying us all with water. The boys were really scared now. By now we had launched all the rockets and were backing away from the beach like hell, with engines all wide open. Two more shells hit close off our starboard beam on the way out.
We were never so glad to leave a beach.42
The landing beaches assigned to the I Corps lay to the east of the Dagupan River and were designated as Blue 1 and 2, White 3, and White 2 and 1 respectively. Beaches assigned to the XIV Corps to the west of the Dagupan River were Crimson Beaches 1 and 2, Yellow Beaches 1 and 2, and Green Beaches 1 and 2. At the farthest western extreme were Orange Beaches 1 and 2. Army historians described the beaches facing the XIV Corps thus: “In peacetime one would have considered the shore line a beautiful swimming beach, a magnificent strand of firm sand stretching eastward almost nine miles from the mouth of the Calmay River to the mouth of the Dagupan.”43
Although the beauty of the beaches was notable, a six to ten foot surf had kicked up by 10 January, promising a less than ideal landing for the troops and their supplies. The 43rd Infantry Division was scheduled to land on the three White Beaches. However, conditions on White Beach 3 were poor and it proved unusable. LSTs found themselves too far from the shore for efficient unloading. White Beaches 1 and 2 were much better, affording the landing ships the ability to get in close to shore. With this change in planning, White Beaches 1 and 2 soon became overcrowded, adding to congestion in the area. The downside to White Beaches 1 and 2 were their close proximity to Japanese forces, who soon took them under attack. Fire from the LCI(G)s, which were just off shore ended the threat from these enemy troops.
With the initial landings completed, the gunboats turned to routine patrols and harassment of targets ashore. Laying smoke and screening for the anchored transports was standard duty. Beginning on 10 January 1945, a new threat arose with the appearance of suicide boats and suicide swimmers.
Port Sual on the southwest end of the landing beaches, was home to the Japanese 12th Fishing Boat Battalion. This unit consisted of nearly seventy Maru-re suicide boats. Under command of Captain Isao Takahashi, the battalion had lost thirty boats in previous encounters but was still capable of inflicting much damage. During the evening of 9-10 January, three companies, under Second Lieutenants Hayashi, Uemura, and Tahara, led the entire force out into the Lingayen Gulf in search of prey.
LCI(M) 974 supplied mortar fire in the area of Yellow and Crimson Beaches during the landing on 9 January. She had no requests for call-fire for the remainder of the day and prepared for her nighttime assignment of laying a smoke screen to cover the transport. She was anchored to seaward of the anchorage when, at 0400 in the morning, one of the Maru-re’s dropped its depth charges next to her hull. The explosion tore a hole in her bottom and she went under in six minutes. The combined crew of Navy sailors and Army mortar men took many casualties, and all but a few of the men were uninjured.
The suicide boats swarmed through the anchorage. The close quarters of the anchored boats and poor visibility from the smoke were excellent conditions for the Maru-re. Philip DD 498, Robinson DD 562, and Leutze DD 481 were underway and fired on a number of the boats with some success. However, the crowded anchorage made it difficult to fire for fear of hitting friendly ships. In addition, their guns could not depress sufficiently to hit the suicide boats when they were close to the ship.
At 0325 LST 925 was attacked by two boats, one from port and one from starboard. She was severely damaged, and it took three days of repairs before she was able to land her troops and cargo. War Hawk AP 168 was hit at 0410. The explosion of the depth charges tore a twenty-five foot hole in her side and killed sixty-one of her crew. She was severely damaged, but her crew patched her together and she survived. The destroyer Robinson, attempting to catch some of the boats, had a close call at 0414 when a Maru-re dropped its charges near her, but the ship was not damaged.
The LSTs were prime targets. LST 610 was anchored when she was struck at 0436. The explosion damaged one of her engines and she had difficulty the following day when she tried to beach and discharge her cargo. LST 1028 came to the aid of LST 925 after she had been hit and soon was a victim of the suicide boats as well. At 0441, as she was anchored near the 925, she was able to open fire on the boat, but it got in too close to her for her guns to depress sufficiently and it dropped its depth charges. The pilot of the Maru-re was able to get away before the explosion, however, he was caught by the LST’s gunners and killed in a crossfire. LST 548 was attacked at 0524 but was not damaged seriously.
At 0430 LCI(G) 365 was alerted by the explosion that sank LCI(M) 974. She could hear gunfire from other ships in the area but had no knowledge of what was transpiring. At 0443 her lookouts spotted a Maru-re off her port beam but did not recognize it for what it was. Ships were wary of firing too quickly on small craft, as there were a number of small boats operating in the area that were from American ships. After several challenges with no response, the order was given to take the craft under fire with the aft 20mm gun. Hits were scored on the suicide boat, but the 20mm jammed after only firing forty-eight rounds. As a result the suicide boat made it to her side and dropped its charges. Lieutenant (jg) John M. Hoctor, CO of the 365, was on the conn when the blast occurred. He was injured in the attack when the binnacle tore loose and struck him. No one was killed and only three men had minor injuries. Handy billys were rigged to pump out the water which was rapidly filling the hold, however, they could not keep up with the inflow of water and the ship began to list heavily to port. The lines leading to the sea chest intakes had been ruptured, causing water to flood her engine room. LCI(G)s 442 and 662 came to her aid and began to tow her toward the beach. A Chrysler suction pump was supplied by LCI(G) 442, but it was still not sufficient. Ammunition and heavy equipment was transferred to the starboard side to help in righting the ship. Hidatsa ATF 102 came on the scene with additional pumps. A half hour later the 365was safe, however her damage was so extensive that she was out of the war. Her crew and ammunition were transferred to LCI(G) 442. A skeleton crew remained on board for the long tow back to Pearl Harbor.44
The following morning, at 0720, lookouts on LCI(G) 559 spotted a Japanese swimmer in a life jacket. He was covered with oil and they suspected that he was a pilot or crewman on one of the suicide boats from the earlier attack. Their attempts to entice him on board were to no avail. He slipped out of his life jacket and dove underwater. He never surfaced, apparently preferring death to capture.45
In addition to the suicide boats, the ships also had to be on the lookout for suicide swimmers. Japanese soldiers tied explosives to their bodies or pushed explosives on small rafts. Their plan was to get close enough to the ships to set them off.
In his report on the Lingayen Operation, Vice Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson reported:
In attacks by hand placed charges miscellaneous small boats were used. These boats depended upon stealth rather than speed in their approach. They have been described as about 18 feet long and “looked like an ordinary rowboat with an outboard motor” or “like a wherry with an outboard motor.” … One boat was reported to be in the form of a small catamaran with an outboard motor. In this case the resulting explosion was of such intensity that it was evident that the charge must have been of such size that it could not have been carried by the catamaran but must have been suspended beneath. In two instances the Japs were seen to roll a spherical mine-like object about two feet in diameter over the gunwale as the boat reached the ship’s side…. The success of these attacks by small boats can be attributed mainly to the lack of alertness and readiness for action by the ships at anchor. Attack by PT boats was anticipated but infiltration by small, quiet, low powered boats caught those on watch unprepared…. Most boats when first seen were so close that machine guns mounted on the ship could not be brought to bear. Corrective measures are obvious, in special watches, portable machine-guns, hand grenades.46
Had Admiral Wilkinson known what lay ahead in regard to suicide boats, he would have begun some rapid revision of ship tactics. The disasters at Mariveles and Nasugbu were only weeks away.
Crimson Beach 1–2
Beaches on the southern section of Lingayen Gulf were Crimson 1, 2, Yellow 1, 2, Green 1, 2, and Orange 1 and 2 lying from north to south respectively. The Lingayen Attack Force TF 79 landed the Army’s XIV Corps there.
Crimson Beaches 1 and 2 were assaulted by the 129th RCT of the 37th Infantry Division. Yellow Beaches 1 and 2 were taken by the 148th RCR of the 37th Infantry Division. Units of the 40th Infantry Division landed on the Green and Orange Beaches, the 160th RCT on Green 1 and 2, and the 185th RCT on Orange 1 and 2.
The initial assault began at 0826 with the LCI gunboats leaving the line of departure. After firing four rocket salvos, the gunboats lay to and allowed the LVTs to pass. They retired to the left of the beaches to provide call-fire as Army troops advanced along the beach. Participating in this mission were LCI(G)s 565, 567, 568, 580, and three mortar gunboats. They strafed the beach about 600 yards ahead of the 129th RCT as it advanced north along the beach.
Lieutenant (jg) Charles J. Macres, CO of LCI(G) 560, noted the relative uselessness of both .30 and .50 caliber fire in repelling air attacks. Even the 20mm gun had a range limited enough so that the only danger from these small caliber guns was to other ships in the fleet. He further recommended that ships should “secure all 50 caliber guns not mounted forward on rocket—mortar ships as they approach beach. Some of this small caliber fire is an absolute menace to our own ships.”47
Army landings at beaches designated as Green and Orange were supported by gunboats from Flotilla Fourteen under Captain T. W. Rimer’s TU 79.8.2. Under Rimer were two units, TU 79.87.2, consisting of thirteen LCI(G)s, 366, 372, 373, 439, 440, 451(F), 461, 462, 464, 465, 467, 472, and 475 under Lieutenant Frank R. Giliberty and TU 79.8.1 comprised of LCI(M)s 659, 660(GF), 658, 754, 755, and 975 under Lieutenant Commander G. W. Hannett. Two LCI(L)s, 598 and 738, performed salvage and firefighting duties under Captain T. W. Rimer, who held overall command of TU 79.8.2. LCI(G) 462, part of TU 79.8.2 with her companions, attacked the beach directly in front of the provincial capitol building .
On 10 January LCI(G )s 440, 461, 465, 467, and 475, after supporting the landing of the 40th Infantry Division on Orange Beach One, were ordered to strafe the Cabalitian Bay area while seeking out and destroying any small boats visible. Their first rockets were sent shoreward at 1645 along with 40mm and 20mm fire. The attack destroyed some small boats and a number of houses near the water. Friendly natives reported the absence of Japanese in the area.
Getting the mortar boats on line for the assault proved difficult as the larger fire-support ships were in the area, making it necessary for the LCI(M)s to zig-zag through their line to get to the line of departure. At 0730, while the mortar boats were about 4,000 yards off the beach, a kamikaze attacked and crashed on Columbia CL 56. Numerous ships in the area fired at the plane, and a 20mm shell from one landed on the deck of LCI(M) 975, wounding four of the crew and one of the officers. The group’s doctor was on board LCI(M) 658 and the men were brought there for medical aid. Having delivered the wounded safely, the 975 went back to her assignment.
The mortar ships accompanied the LCI(G)s as they left the line of departure at 0845 and began firing their mortars fifteen minutes later. They had to slow their progress, as the landing craft were slower and could not keep up. The mortar gunboats finished their run at a distance of 300 yards from the beach as the landing craft passed through their lines. Since their mortars had a long range, they continued to fire them after the troops landed. The order came to lift their firing range to positions one thousand yards inland, and they continued to fire until fifteen minutes after the landing. From that point on their mortar fire was coordinated with the advances of the 185th RCT as it moved westward along the beach.
By late in the evening the mortar ships were in the area off the Agno River. The next afternoon, around 1245, they received a message from the 185th RCT to fire on a grid containing a large contingent of Japanese infantry. Reports indicated that their mortars had been successful in killing many of the enemy and forcing them to retreat from the area.
Later in the day, at 1310, the mortar gunboats joined forces with other gunboats and were sent on a search and destroy mission in the area around Salamanca Island. There they shelled suspected enemy positions including boats, houses, caves, and brush piles. They then entered Salamanca Bay and found numerous small boats on the beach and some suspected enemy positions. These were taken under fire with mortars and rockets and left on fire.
The mortar ships used at Lingayen lacked 40mm bow guns, and it was recommended by Lieutenant Commander Hannett that one be mounted on the LCI(M)s to increase the usefulness of the ship.48 A number of the mortar gunboats had Army personnel on board to fire the 4.2 mortars. On 12 January the mortar personnel were landed on shore to join their Army comrades. Rocket gunboats in the assault had some problems. The units reported that rocket firing only had a 77 percent successful firing rate, primarily due to electrical malfunctions. With their primary mission completed, most of the gunboats departed for Leyte on 18 January 1945.