The newly-designed and built LCS(L)(3) ships were late entering the war. Much of the fighting across the Pacific had already taken place prior to their first entrance into the war zone at Hollandia, New Guinea, on 5 December 1944. Arriving at Humboldt Bay were the first ships of what would become Flotilla One, the LCS(L)s 26, 27, 48, and 49. By mid–January, LCS(L)s 9, 10, 28, 29, 30, and 50 had joined them and were running constant patrols in Humboldt Bay under the direction of their commander on board LC(FF) 778. Their primary duty there was anti-submarine patrol, although their lack of depth charges made this a somewhat unrealistic task. Their first chance at actual combat would come in the Philippines.
Departing Hollandia for the Philippines on 10 January were LCS(L)s 7, 8, 26, 27, and 48. LCS(L)s 28, 29, 30, and 50 departed on 24 January. Remaining behind, but following soon after, were 9 and 10, whose exploits in the Philippines would be unique.
Once having arrived in the Philippines, the LCS(L)s were assigned to Task Unit 78.3.8, which included LCS(L)s 7, 8, 26, 27, 28, 48, and 49, along with LCI(R)s 225, 226, 337, 338, 340, and 341. The area around San Antonio in Zambalas Province on the western coast of Luzon was of interest to the high command, and the task unit was assigned to fire support for the landing of 30,000 troops of the XI Corps, 8th Army under Major General C. P. Hall. Information had been received that the Japanese had left the area, and the gunboats were told to hold fire rather than obliterating everything on the landing beaches as they normally did. The landing craft with their troops hit the beaches at 0832 on 29 January 1945 and were greeted by Philippine natives waving an American flag. A similar unopposed landing was made at Grande Island in Subic Bay. Subsequent landings would not prove so easy. The next targets would be Corregidor, Bataan Peninsula, and Manila Bay.
To the south of Manila Bay was the area around Nasugbu Point. In order to secure the southern flank of the operations around Manila Bay it was necessary to land troops ashore at Nasugbu. In addition, numerous suicide boats had been located in the area and were a threat to transports.
The troops of the 11th Airborne Division under Major General J. M. Swing were scheduled to land at Nasugbu on 31 January 1945. Escorting them to the beaches and landing them would be Rear Admiral Fechteler’s Group 8 ships from the VII Amphibious Corps. The part of that force supplying direct fire support for the landing was Task Unit 78.2.6 under Commander D. H. Day. It consisted of LCI(R)s 34, 73(F), 74, 331, LCI(G)s 407, 442, 558, 561, 580, 751, and TU 78.2.4, consisting of LCI(M)s 359, 362, 431, and 755.
Bombardment by the gunboats preceded the landing. The landing beaches were inside two points of land, Nasugbu Point and San Diego Point, an area that could provide enfilading fire directed at the landing forces. Beginning at 0715 LCI(R)s 34, 73, and LCI(G)s 558, and 751 delivered rocket barrages on suspected enemy gun positions in those areas. This was followed at 0730 by a mortar barrage from LCI(M)s 359, 362, 431, and 755. Backing up the mortar ships were two LCI(G)s.
The line of departure formed at 0800 and was led by four LCI(R)s flanked by two LCI(G)s on either side. At 0811 the gunboats hit the landing zone with a rocket barrage, and the landing craft passed through and delivered their human cargo to the beach. Enemy mortar and machine gun fire was directed at the beaches from Wawa Village, and at 0915 LCI(G)s 558 and 442 were detailed to suppress the fire, which they did within a half hour. Identification of enemy pillboxes and gun emplacements continued throughout the day with the gunboats firing on and destroying enemy emplacements.
One could never be sure who or what was on the water. In the afternoon, LCI(G) 561 was ordered to investigate a native outrigger with five people on board. Close investigation revealed that it was an Army intelligence officer, Major Vanderpool, the Central Luzon Intelligence Coordinator. He was accompanied by four Filipino guerrillas. The gunboat gave them a lift to the Army headquarters on the beach, dodging machine gun and mortar fire on the way in.
Suicide boats were known to be operating in the area. Fourteen gunboats were anchored in an arc around the landing beaches to protect the LSTs. Destroyers and destroyer escorts on the outer screen encountered several suicide boats and destroyed them. These boats were from the Japanese Army’s 19th Liaison Boat Battalion which was stationed in nearby Binubusan. Just before midnight on 31 January, they left their base and headed for the anchored invasion fleet at Nasugbu. The first to spot the suicide boats was PC 1129. She notified the destroyer Lough DE 586 of their presence and was told to investigate. She was soon surrounded by the suicide boats and under attack. These were Japanese Army Maru-re which carried two depth charges on racks at the rear of the boat. Earl O. Griffis, Sr., a cook on board PC 1129, had just finished baking bread and went on deck for some fresh air when the explosion went off, blowing him back to the fantail. The blast holed the ship near the engine room and it soon listed and went under. Only one man died in the attack; Lough picked up the sixty-three survivors. The destroyer spotted a number of the Maru-re in the water around her and sank six, effectively ending the suicide boat attack that night. None had penetrated to the inner screen of gunboats to get at the transports.
Crewmen on LCI(G) 442’s port 40mm gun fire on a Japanese machine gun nest near Nasugbu, Philippine Islands. NARA 80G 273136.
The following day, the destroyers Claxton DD 571 and Russell DD 414, along with LCI(G)s 73, 442, and 558, were sent into Talin and Matabungay Bays to search out and destroy suspected enemy suicide boat bases. Heavy foliage covered the area and it was difficult to determine what might be hidden there. Some sites were obvious and the gunboats had some limited success. They destroyed two probable suicide boats and three outriggers and strafed suspected locations. Continued patrols by gunboats, destroyers, and PT boats put an end to the scourge of the suicide boats in the area.
Commander Task Unit 78.2.6, Commander D. H. Day, reported the strategy for screening against the suicide boats at Nasugbu:
(a) LCIs were anchored in line at short stay, 500 yards apart. It is not believed possible to be sure of seeing a small low craft at distances exceeding 250 yards. Surface radar cannot be relied on especially in a crowded anchorage.
(b) Crews were at condition II, ready to go to general quarters at first contact. All binoculars were in use and small arms were issued out and ready.
(c) Signal searchlights had color screens removed and were manned. Destroyers had reported that craft were extremely hard to see and gunners were frequently blinded by their own tracers. Instructions were therefore issued for ship making contact to immediately illuminate target and keep searchlight trained on as a guide to gunners and other vessels. It is reported that the small suicide craft have little if any return fire, so use of searchlight does not have its usual danger.
(d) Heavy emphasis is laid on alertness. Vessels were reminded of the usual tactics of suicide craft, to approach from several directions at once, and all hands were warned against the tendency of ships not engaged, to watch the shooting of other ships and forget their own immediate area.1
A round from LCI(G) 442’s port 40mm gun may be seen heading for a target at Talin Point, Nasugbu, Philippine Islands. NARA 80G 273135.
Although Day’s recommendations would have good and bad points, its timing was a bit too soon for the information to filter down to other gunboat units. The disaster at Mariveles Harbor was only days away.
Disaster at Mariveles
The capital of the Philippines, Manila, was an important goal for the American forces. At the entrance to Manila Bay was the island of Corregidor and the Bataan Peninsula, the scene of an inglorious defeat for the Americans only three years earlier.
The 151st Regimental Combat Team under Major General Chase, along with the 3rd Battalion 34th Infantry, was assigned to assault the area around Mariveles Harbor and secure the southern extremity of Bataan Peninsula. Their landing was scheduled for 15 February 1945 and would be covered by TU 78.3.8 under the command of Captain Rae Arison, who served as Commodore of the task unit. It consisted of LCS(L)s 7, 8, 26, 27, 48, 49 and LCI(R)s 225, 226, 337, 338, 340, 341 and two PCs.
Two days of minesweeping in the bay preceded the actual assault. On 15 February 1945, firing on shore targets by cruisers and destroyers commenced at 0840. Forty-five minutes later the area was attacked by American bombers. The gunboat task unit had moved into Mariveles Bay at 0825 on 15 February 1945 and fired on Gordo Point with its automatic weapons. Then they launched rockets at Caracol Point. They cruised the bay area looking for targets of opportunity but found little enemy resistance. The line of departure formed and the gunboats made their first run at the landing beaches at 0947. An enemy gun fired on the gunboats from their left flank and was destroyed by fire from an accompanying destroyer. The first wave of landing craft left the line of departure at 0950 and was on the beach ten minutes later.
This chart shows the assault diagram for the landing of the 151st RCT on the beach at Mariveles Harbor. This was the first assault action for the LCS(L)s. The LCI(R)s were assigned to clear the beaches in front of the assault and the LCS(L)s, with their heavier firepower, were assigned targets on the flanks of the assault force. Unfortunately, several LCS(L)s were lost to suicide boats later that evening. LCS(L) Flotilla One Serial 03, Action Report USS LCI (L) 778 Flagship, 23 February 1945, Enclosure (A).
At 1037 LSM 169 was underway nearby. She struck a mine and her CO, Lieutenant (jg) Paul C. Himelright, gave the order to abandon ship. The fires on the LSM were out of control; men were overboard and other ships moved in to assist. An ocean rescue tug in the area fought the fires with LCS(L) 48 standing by. The gunboat and PC 1133 picked up survivors. LCS(L) 48 picked up thirteen and delivered to them LST 667, which was serving the area as a hospital ship. LSM 169 stayed afloat, but she was decommissioned a year later and then scuttled.
The LCS(L)s were ordered to anchor across the mouth of Mariveles Harbor on a line stretching from Gorda Point to Cockines Point after the day’s action had ended. Their mission was to act as a screen for the landing craft that had deposited their men ashore earlier in the day. Six LSTs were beached at the town of Mariveles, with several LSMs and another LST anchored in the harbor. The six LCI(R)s were anchored in the bay on the western side, leaving the LCS(L)s in the most exposed position. It was thought that the heavier firepower of the LCS(L)s could hold off any attempts to get at the ships in the harbor.
As dusk fell, approximately forty-one Japanese Navy Shinyo suicide boats left their caves on Corregidor to seek out and attack American ships at Mariveles Bay, only four miles from Corregidor. Although the numbers of Shinyo at Corregidor had been steadily reduced over the preceding month, a number had survived. They were protected in their caves and immune to all but direct hits by naval gunfire or air attack. Lieutenant Yoshihisa Matsueda was in command of the thirty-three Shinyo of his 12th Shinyo-tai Unit. Eight more of the craft were from the 9th Shinyo-tai Unit commanded by Lieutenant (jg) Kenjiro Nakajima. An additional group of thirty-three Shinyo, under Lieutenant Commander Shoichi Oyamada, set out from Corregidor, but not all headed for Mariveles. They sought other targets and headed for Subic Bay, but eight of them peeled off from the group and joined in the attack at Mariveles Bay.
The first ships they encountered were the six LCS(L)s anchored across the mouth of the bay. LCS(L) 7, under the command of Lieutenant Franklin L. Elder, was the first gunboat hit. At 0305 two boats slammed into her and blew gaping holes in her sides. Within minutes she went to the bottom. Anchored nearby was LCS(L) 49. Claude Haddock S 1/c was on watch and saw the attack. He wakened the commanding officer, Lieutenant Harry W. Smith, who sounded general quarters. Unfortunately, it was too late and the 49was hit only moments later. Within minutes a second Shinyo crashed into her port side. The ship quickly exploded, rolled over, and went under. Haddock and other crewmen went over the side and managed to paddle ashore.2 LCS(L) 49 suffered twenty-four dead or missing in action and twenty-two wounded.
As an oceangoing tug fights fires on board LSM 169 at Mariveles Bay, Philippine Islands, LCS(L) 48 stands by ready to assist. LSM 169 struck a mine on 15 February 1945. The LSM was saved, but she had two men killed in action. LCS(L) 48picked up thirteen survivors who had been in the water and transferred them to LST 667, which was serving as a hospital ship during the invasion. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
This tunnel on Corregidor housed Imperial Navy Shinyo boats that were used to counter the American assault on the Manila Bay area. NARA 111-SC 263698.
Still another LCS(L) was attacked at the same time as the 49. LCS(L) 26 was struck by Shinyo on both port and starboard sides and began taking on water almost immediately. Fires raged below decks and men died attempting to escape the fires below. Dean Bell S 2/c was in the crew’s compartment and watched two men burn to death attempting to escape up the ladder. With water up to his chest, he finally braved the flames to go topside. The heat of the flames on the handrail had made them too hot to hold and the flesh on his hands was burned away as he made it to the deck. Bell’s injuries made it impossible to tie the strings on his lifejacket. He jumped in the water and was aided by shipmates and finally reached shore along with a number of the crew. By the time they reached shore, their ship had vanished beneath the waters of Mariveles Bay. For Bell the war was over. He would spend time on a hospital ship and then in Navy hospitals before the doctors declared him fit for discharge.
LCS(L) 27 managed to get under way and fight through the swarm of suicide boats. However, after destroying three of the attackers, a forth struck her port side amidships. Her CO, Lieutenant Risley Lawrence, saved his ship by running it up on the beach so that it could not sink. LCS(L) 27’s Engineering Officer, Lieutenant (jg) Harry G. Meister, later wrote:
The Commanding Officer had meantime called the engineering officer to ask if damage was too great to allow beaching of the ship. The engineering officer reported that ship was taking water fast on port side in both engine room and generator room but that it could be attempted on one quad of the main engine. Fires in numbers two and three holds were reported also but were subsequently brought under control. Speed was then made standard and ship was put on course toward the west side of Mariveles Harbor. As ship neared beach, a small boat was observed to be closing on the starboard side. It was engaged by 20mm fire on that side and sunk. At approximately 0340 Item this vessel grounded at standard speed having reached a port list of approximately 25 degrees.3
Three Imperial Navy Shinyo suicide boats are shown on tracks leading from their cave to the water on Corregidor. A series of caves may be seen in the cliffside. This made it difficult to eradicate the boats with air or naval attack, but left them vulnerable to disaster if one caught fire in the tunnel. This photograph was taken on 27 February 1945. NARA 111-SC-263697.
LCS(L) 48 served as the flagship of Captain Rae E. Arison, Commanding Officer of LCS(L) Flotilla One. One of his staff officers, Lieutenant (jg) L. Richard Rhame, later described the pandemonium that struck when the suicide boats attacked:
Suddenly, the stillness of the early morning was shattered by a blinding flash! Simultaneously, multiple explosions erupted all along the line of stationary LCS(L)s. The morning sky was aglow with deadly pyrotechnics: bursting shells, fiery streaks of ricocheting tracers piercing the darkness from all directions. Burning oil transformed Mariveles Bay into a blazing sea of flames…. The staccato firing from the .50 caliber machine guns from the LCS(L)s echoed amidst the din of the battle. The larger guns could not be angled down sufficiently to be effective against the surface-level invaders. Voice messages from the ships of the fleet outside the harbor flooded the Communications Center of the USS LCS(L) 48. The “glamour ships” at sea were not positioned to offer assistance—a destroyer, firing illumination shells over the harbor in its efforts to be helpful, was ordered by Commodore Arison to cease such activity as it was being used by the attackers to zero in on their targets with greater accuracy.4
Arison immediately ordered the ships to get underway. LCS(L) 48 had been fortunate in that it had left the line of anchored ships at 2300 hours on 15 February to aid a nearby damaged LSM that had begun to drag anchor. Her return resulted in her anchoring inside the line and saved her from the initial attack. Also escaping the wrath of the suicide boats was LCS(L) 8. By morning the extent of the disaster was obvious. LCS(L)s 7, 26, and 49 had gone to the bottom and LCS(L) 27 was grounded on the beach with severe damage. It would be the singular worst disaster of the war for the LCS(L)s. Signalman Arden Lee Hunt on LCI(G) 226 wrote that it was “one of the most awful sights that I shall never forget as long as I live.”5
This Shinyo, on tracks outside its cave on Corregidor, was part of the 9th Suicide Unit under Lieutenant (jg) Kenjiro Nakajima. The forward hatch of the vessel may be seen lying on the ground next to it. Commander Task Force SEVENTY-EIGHT Serial 0907, Action Reports, MARIVELES–CORREGIDOR Operation, 12–16 February 1945, Enclosure (G).
The debacle at Mariveles had not gone unnoticed by the higher command. In his action report for the incident, Vice Admiral Daniel E. Barbey was critical of how the Mariveles operation had been handled. He stated:
2. There was considerable information to indicate the probability of attack by Jap suicide boats on any ships left in MARIVELES Harbor during the night following the landing. It would therefore appear that normal prudence would have indicated the need to withdraw and return the following morning for completion of unloading. There is nothing to indicate any compelling reasons to retain the ships at the beachhead during the night.
3. It is noted that the LCS’s which were assigned to protect MARIVELES Harbor from any small craft attempting to enter during the night were anchored across the harbor entrance. Anchored ships could hardly be called an effective screen. Furthermore, the gunboats as a group were not alert.6
The disaster did not stop the war and the campaign had to continue. As the sun rose on 16 February, the remaining ships of Task Unit 78.3.8 prepared to bombard Corregidor in preparation for the landing of Army paratroopers. At 1016 they attacked the landing beaches and nearby slopes with rockets, 3"/50 and automatic weapons. Mortar and enemy gunfire emanated from caves on the left flank of the landing ships. The heavier 3"/50 bow guns of the remaining LCS(L)s 8 and 48 came into use and fired into the caves, silencing the opposition.
Mariveles Harbor was the scene of a deadly attack on the LCS(L) ships on 16 February 1945. Sunk in the attack were LCS(L)s 7, 26, and 49. In addition, LCS(L) 27 was badly damaged. Commander Task Unit 78.3.8 Serial 04, Action Report—Special—Suicide Boat Attack Mariveles, P.I.—16 February 1945, 25 February 1945, p. 31.
The LCI(R)s came under fire from the right flank, with three inch fire directed at them from Caballo Island. LCI(R) 226 was hit in a number of places on her hull and deck house by small caliber fire but suffered no substantial damage. LCI(R) 338 took four 3 inch shell hits in her hull, one just below the water line as she was in the middle of launching her rocket barrages. One of the shells landed only three feet from a fully-loaded rocket launcher, but fortunately none of the rockets exploded. Many were destroyed by shrapnel from the shell. Two of her men were killed and four wounded. LCI(R) 340 had her mast shot off above her conning tower. An enemy shell burrowed through the pilot house on LCI(R) 341, damaging her engine telegraph, but she remained on station. The LCTs passed through the gunboat lines and made their landings. With the landing completed, the task for the ships was ended and at 1700 they formed up and headed for Subic Bay.
Casualties on board the LCS(L)s were difficult to determine. At least four men were known dead and twenty-three wounded, but the actual toll was higher. The total casualties for LCI(R)s 267, 338, and 341 were four dead and twenty-six injured.
Across the bay lay Carabao Island (formerly Fort Frank). Its capture was necessitated by its location rather than its concentration of Japanese, who had already withdrawn. The landing there followed the standard procedure of rocket assault preceding the landing of troops. However, the narrow width of the island, from 100–300 yards, made it necessary for the rocket gunboats to fire their salvos from a stationary position. Movement forward during firing, the standard assault practice, would have placed rocket barrages past the island and into the water behind it. At 0918, the gunboats fired their rockets. Heavier ships and aircraft had already destroyed the island, but prudence dictated that close-in fire support be supplied as the troops landed unopposed.
Lubang Island, lying about twenty-five miles southwest of Nasugbu, was taken on 1 March 1945. The Lubang Island Attack Unit consisted of six LCI(L)s, one LSM, one destroyer, one destroyer escort and LCI(R)s 225, 226, 340, and 341. Its target was Port Tilik which lay on the eastern shore of the island. Landing there were elements of the 24th Infantry Division.
The destroyer and the destroyer escort provided some shore bombardment accompanied by an air strike. As the gunboats prepared for their initial run, the rocket barrage was called off and the troops landed unopposed.
LCS(L) 8 stands by off Corregidor as Army paratroopers from the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment drop onto the island. The tail of the aircraft that carried them may be seen in the upper right of the photograph. The gunboats and PT boats rescued a number of paratroopers who were blown past the island and landed in the water. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
Once Leyte and Luzon had been invaded, the next island in MacArthur’s sights was Palawan. The island was occupied by approximately 2,700 Japanese troops, with the majority centered in the middle of the island near the city of Puerta Princessa.
The importance of the island to American forces was its location. Capture of the island would put the naval forces in range of the oil rich island of Borneo and its aircraft in range of Indo-China. Further, it would allow an easier interdiction of Japanese shipping heading from Borneo and Indo-China to Japan. The date for its invasion and seizure was 28 February 1945. Covering and Support Group (TG 74.2) under Rear Admiral R. S. Riggs protected the convoy on its way to the target area. The firepower of light cruisers Denver CL 58, Montpelier CL 57, and Cleveland CL 55, along with the destroyers Fletcher DD 445, O’Bannon DD 450, Jenkins DD 447, and Abbot DD 629, ensured their safety on the trip to the island. Once the landing was imminent, the covering force of amphibious gunboats took over. The Close Support Unit, under Commander D. H. Day, included LCI(R)s 71, 72, 74, 224, 230(F), 331, 342, LCI(M)s 359(M), 362(M), 431(M) and LCS(L)s 28, 29, 30, and 50.
At 0815 LCI(R)s 71, 72, 74, 230(F), 331, and LCS(L)s 28, 29, 30, and 50 left the departure line and began their rocket run, followed by strafing with 3"/50 and 40mm fire. No counter-fire was taken, and the landing craft deposited troops on the beach. The remaining gunboats were held in reserve and sent to investigate various sections of the shoreline, including a couple of inlets and coves. One of the major concerns was the threat of suicide boats, however, the few that were found had been destroyed by the Japanese in their retreat. Little resistance was encountered by the ground forces until 2 March when the first serious encounters took place in the foothills outside the city.
The operational Japanese airstrip nearby had been constructed using about 150 American prisoners. Prior to the landing of the American forces, they had been herded into a cave and burned alive. Their remains were recovered and given proper burials. The incentive to go after the Japanese with no quarter given was amplified by discoveries such as these.
The gunboats had little to do except screen the transports against suicide boat attacks during the night hours. Finally after several unproductive days of exploring the area and screening, they headed back to Mangarin Bay, Mindoro, on 3 March.
The first of the Visayas to come under attack by the Americans was Panay. It had been occupied by the Japanese since April 1942. They had landed at Iloilo and quickly driven off the Philippine garrison. It took to the hills and was never subdued by the Japanese and remained in the mountains in the center of the island. By early 1945 the Japanese had determined to vacate the island and move their forces to other positions, but continued American air attacks prevented their leaving. Approximately 2,500 Japanese remained on the island, only 1,100 of whom were regular infantry. The rest consisted of 400 civilians and 1,000 airfield service troops. An important feature of the area around Iloilo was four functioning airfields, San Fernando, Santa Barbara, and Mandurriao in the south, and Loctugan in the north.7
The 40th Infantry Division under Major General Rapp Brush led the attacking force. Naval forces were from Task Group 74.3 Amphibious Group 9 under Rear Admiral Arthur D. Struble. The gunboat section providing close-in fire support consisted of LCI(R)s 72, 74, 224, 331, LCI(M) 359, and two sub-chasers. The ships were designated as TU 78.3.6 and covered the landing area which lay about twelve miles from Iloilo. As the hour approached for invasion on 16 March, it was discovered that Japanese had withdrawn inland and only friendly Filipino natives were in the area. The planned rocket and gunfire assault by the gunboats was called off and they were sent on minesweeping duty in the Guimaras Strait between Panay and Negros for a couple of days. One of the valuable infrastructure assets in the area was the bridge over Tigbauan Bay. There was concern that the Japanese might attempt to destroy it. LCI(M) 359 conducted harassing fire in the area to keep the Japanese away. LCI(R) 331, also assigned in the area for mine destruction along with LCI(R) 225, was called on to go to the aid of a PBM that had lost one engine and landed in the area. It towed the aircraft back to Tigbauan. Later in the day on 25 March, LCI(M) 359 found two Japanese barges on the beach. After getting permission from CTU 78.3.6, it took them under fire and put them out of commission.
Victor II—Cebu and Negros Oriental
General Macarthur had determined that the next islands to fall under control of the Americans would be those in the Southern Visayas group. The operation, designated as Victor II, included the islands of Cebu, Bohol, and the southern part of Negros. The Americal Division, under the command of Major General William H. Arnold, was assigned to the capture. Task Group 78.2 under Captain Albert T. Sprague, provided naval support for the landings.
Panay, Negros, Bohol, and Cebu were among the most developed and wealthy areas of the Philippine Visayas group. Contained in the island group were two cities, Iloilo on Panay, and Cebu City on Cebu. They were considered to be the second and third in population and importance throughout the island empire.
The island of Cebu contained Cebu City, the second largest industrial center in the Philippines. It was home to a significant Japanese Army force determined to protect its valuable asset. Invasion day was set for 26 March 1945, and rehearsals for the campaign were held at Hinunangan Bay, Leyte.
Two regiments of the Americal Division were set to land near Talisay, which lay just to the west of Cebu City. The invasion force, with Captain A. T. Sprague on board the 327 foot USCG cutter Spencer, set sail from Hinunangan Bay, Leyte, at 1753 on 24 March, escorted by numerous warships from Rear Admiral R. S. Berkey’s Covering and Support Group. Berkey was on board H.M.A.S. Hobart. The close Support Unit was led by Commander D. H. Day with five LCI(R)s and four LCS(L)s. Designated as TU 78.2.6, the gunboats included LCS(L)s 28, 29, 30, 50 and LCI(R)s 225, 230(F), 340, 341, and 342.
At 0200 on 26 March the minesweepers began working over the area near the landing beaches in the harbor, covered by LCS(L)s 29 and 30. That task finished, the gunboats formed up with the other gunboats at the line of departure at 0800. They preceded the landing boats to the beach, unleashing a rocket barrage and strafing the shore with 3"/50 and 40mm fire. Following that, they patrolled the flanks of the landing area in support of troop movements. Opposition to the troops was light and the gunboats saw little action.
In the evenings of 26 and 27 March, the gunboats “anchored in a semicircle around landing beaches to form a protective screen around landing craft, in order to protect them from attacks by suicide boats.”8 It is interesting to note that only a month earlier the same strategy had proven disastrous at Mariveles Bay. One can only assume that this was known to Commander Day and that a vigilant watch was kept by the ships of TU 78.2.6 to prevent a recurrence of the disaster.
A group of guerrillas were to be picked up twenty miles to the south, and LCS(L) 29 along with LCI(R) 340, escorted four LCI(L)s to pick them up and move them to a new area. Further minesweeping duties to the north occupied LCS(L)s 30 and 50 during this time. Cebu Harbor received some attention from LCS(L) 28 and LCI(R) 230 from 0845 to 1600.
The eastern shores of Negros lay just across Tanon Strait. Two gunboats, LCI(R) 225 and LCS(L) 29, were assigned to escort elements of the Americal Division to their landing near Dumaguete Point on the southeastern shore. The objective in the area was the seizure of Dumaguete Airfield. There was no enemy resistance, and the troops landed safely with the gunboats standing by offshore in case they were needed.
At noon, military installations on nearby Cauit Island in Cebu Harbor were worked over by LCS(L) 28 and LCI(R) 230 in preparation for landing a company of infantry at 1420.
An LCS(L) (left) and an LCI(R) (center) lead the landing craft ashore as the Americal Division assaults the beach at Cebu City, Philippines, on 26 March 1945. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
Concerns over the timing of the covering fire from the gunboats was noted in the action report filed by the task unit commander, Commander D. H. Day. According to Day, the CO of LCS(L) 28 Lieutenant R. H. Bost remarked that
too much time took place between end of rocket barrage and first wave landing. Interval was about two minutes at this landing. It is not practicable to reduce it much further and the remaining time should be filled up with automatic weapon fire until troops actually land. It is desirable that the beachhead be kept under naval fire until the infantry can open up with their own small arms.9
This was a valid observation on the part of Bost. One of the reasons for the development and use of the gunboats was to cut down the available time for the enemy to regroup once naval gunfire had blanketed the landing area. That was to be accomplished by close-in fire support, first with rockets and then with gunfire.
A final landing, albeit a minor one, occurred at the town of Campostela, about fifteen miles to the north of Cebu City on 20 April. LCS(L)s 29 and 30(F) accompanied elements of the Americal Division as they landed. In early afternoon LCS(L) 30 was asked to provide call-fire against an enemy troop concentration near the city. An Army L-1 observation plane flew over, directed the rocket fire and then identified targets for the ship’s 3"/50 and 40mm guns.
A series of landings on several islands took place over the next month on Western Negros (29 March), Legaspi (1 April), Bohol (11 April), and Southern and Eastern Negros (26 April). Small Japanese forces existed on these islands, many of which were under regular attack from Philippine guerrillas. Some, such as Lieutenant Colonel Satyoshi Oie’s 800 man force on Southern Negros, simply retreated to the center of the island where they held out until the end of the war.
One of the last remaining strongholds of the Japanese was the island of Mindanao. The operation to clear the Japanese off the island and put it in American hands was code named “Victor V.” The plan had four objectives:
(a) Lift the Headquarters Xth Corps from LEYTE and land as later directed.
(b) Lift the 24th Infantry Division and reinforcing elements from MINDORO, landing in assault in the MALABANG Area on R-Day.
(c) Lift the 31st Infantry Division from MOROTAI, and land them on R-5 Day in the assault on PARANG or administratively, as later developments dictated.
(d) Cooperate in subsequent shore-to-shore movements and minor operations as requested.10
The attack was executed by Task Group 78.2., the Victor V Attack Group, commanded by Rear Admiral A. G. Noble. It consisted of 137 ships, the largest of which were the cruisers Montpelier CL 57, Denver CL 58, and Cleveland CL 55, along with destroyers Conway DD 507, Eaton DD 510, Stevens DD 479, Young DD 580, Sigourney DD 643, and Cony DD 508. Numerous intermediate and smaller ships rounded out the number, including the Close Support Unit TU 78.2.12 under Captain Rae E. Arison. It was comprised of three LCS(L)s, six LCI(G)s , and nine LCI(R)s. The amphibious gunboats supplied covering fire for the minesweepers and the landing force. Landing on the shores of Mindanao were the 49,711 men of the Xth Corps, Eighth Army. It consisted of the Army’s Xth Corps under Major General Franklin C. Sibert, the 24th Infantry Division (Reinforced), under Major General Roscoe B. Woodruff, and the 31st Infantry Division (Reinforced) under Major General Clarence A. Martin.
LCS(L)s and LCI gunboats were in constant action around the island of Mindanao. One small group of gunboats was also used to support Army troops as they moved inland along the Mindanao River to Fort Pikit. The gunboats went up the river to the fort to supply heavier firepower against the Japanese.
The eastern shore of Mindanao in the area of the coast near Illana Bay was scheduled for invasion on 17 April 1945. Ibus Island, off the town of Malabang, and the town of Parang on Polloc Harbor were the targets. Assigned to cover the landings were the gunboats of Task Unit 78.2.12 which consisted of LCI(FF) 778, LCS(L)s 28, 43, 50, LCI(R)s 71(GF), 72, 74, 226, 337, 338, 340–342, LCI(G)s 21, 22, 24, 61, 66, 67, and PGMs 4–6, and 8.
The ships departed their base area at Mangarin Bay, Mindoro, on 14 April and reformed off Mindanao on 16 April. The invasion of the western coast of Mindanao at Ilana Bay began on 17 April as elements of the Army’s X Corps landed at several locations between Malabang and Parang and in Polloc Harbor. At 0825 a small boat carrying Philippine guerrillas and flying an American flag pulled alongside LCI(G) 778. The guerrillas furnished intelligence indicating that the area around Malabang was free of Japanese but that there was a concentration of them to the south near the town of Parang. The landing area there was bombarded by cruisers, destroyers, and amphibious gunboats, but there was no opposition as the troops landed. With the absence of serious opposition, it was determined to move the schedule ahead.
A key part of the operation was the use of the Mindanao River to advance troop-carrying LCMs of the 533rd Engineer, Boat and Shore Regiment to the center of the island, in conjunction with land advances along Route 1 to the center of the island. It was thought that the rapid advance up the river would surprise the Japanese and lead to the successful elimination of Japanese power on the island.11 The infantry would proceed inland toward Fort Pikit which lay at the intersection of Route 1 and the Mindanao River. Route 1 ran southward along the western coast, passed through Malabang and Parang, and then turned inland toward Fort Pikit. The fort lay on the Pulangi River which emptied into the Mindanao River just to its south. This area was near the important highway junction of Routes 3 and 1 which ran from there to Digos and then to Davao on the east coast of Mindanao. The Army’s 19th Infantry would follow Route 1 to the fort. In a conference on the USS Wasatch AGC-9, held on 18 April 1945, it was requested that a small flotilla of gunboats accompany the Army’s 533rd Engineer, Boat and Shore Regiment, under Lieutenant Colonel Robert Amory, up the Mindanao River to support Army efforts and meet up with the Army units as they headed down Route 1 to assault Fort Pikit.
Captain Rae E. Arison, Commander LCS(L) Flotilla One, in a relaxed moment at the Officers’ Club in Subic Bay, Philippine Islands, in mid–1945. Courtesy Robert J. Amick.
Assigned to the operation was Task Unit 78.2.12, consisting of LCI(G)s 61 and 66, and PGMs 4, 5, 6, and 8 under the command of Captain Rae E. Arison. The plan was for the task group to assemble at Cotabato and proceed upriver to the fort. Captured Japanese prisoners provided some basic information about the nature of the Japanese forces which were thought to be in “disorganized retreat.”12
Communications were problematic, and the unit did not leave the Cotabato area until 19 April after receiving orders from Lieutenant Colonel Robert Amory. He directed them to reach the town of Paidu Palangi by nightfall. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. The river channel narrowed and the less maneuverable 160 foot LCI(G)s had difficulty making their way around the river bends. The 110 foot PGMs did not have this problem and wound up in the lead. By nightfall the convoy had reached only twenty miles upriver and had to stop for the night. Troops of the 21st Infantry on board LCMs accompanied the gunboats. LCI(G) 66 experienced mechanical problems and had to anchor, leaving LCI(G) 61 to proceed upriver with the PGMs. The winding river caused some of the ships to anchor above a bend in the river and some below. A mistake in identification saw the ships briefly exchange .50 caliber gunfire, but there were no injuries.
Lieutenant (jg) Nail of Spokane, Washington, and Lieutenant O’Neal of Peoria, Illinois, officers on LCI(G) 66, question a Japanese prisoner before moving up the Mindanao River in support of the 24th Division. NARA 111-SC 262942.
An LCM came downstream with a message from Lieutenant Colonel Amory that the firepower from at least one 3 inch gun would be needed to take Fort Pikit the following day. The ships headed upriver with the LCMs leading the PGMs and LCI(G) 61. LCI(G) 66’s mechanical problems prevented her from traveling further. In short order, PGM 5 struck a log and was disabled, leaving the LCMs, PGMs 4, 6, and 8, and LCI(G) 61 to continue. They anchored at Inogog after catching up with advanced units of the Army engineers. After a brief meeting it was determined that two of the PGMs, 4 and 6, would lead the assault craft with the LCI(G) 61 and PGM 8 covering the rear flank. All four of the gunboats mounted 3"/50 guns, so they would be able to fulfill the mission as requested by Lieutenant Colonel Amory.
A force of about 500 Japanese was known to be covering the river at Balumis just below the fort. As the gunboats rounded the bend and came into view of the Japanese, they opened up with 3"/50 fire, scattering the enemy troops. It was later discovered that the fire from the gunboats had driven off the Japanese, and Fort Pikit was open to the American forces. Had the gunboats not been in position, it was estimated that there would have been serious resistance, causing a great loss of life among both Japanese and American forces. Surveys of the river beyond the fort were taken by men on board the LCMs, and it was determined that further progress of the gunboats was not possible. They eventually returned downstream and resumed normal duties in deeper water. Lessons learned from the experience revealed that since the rivers were small, winding, and uncharted, it would be advisable to have LCMs precede the larger ships to take soundings. Going upstream was not too difficult, as the combination of the ship’s normal speed and the speed of the current against her made steering relatively easy. However, going downstream was particularly difficult. Although the ship’s navigators knew from previous experience where the shoals were, they had to maintain speed greater than the current carrying them downstream in order to maintain steerage. This situation caused PGM 6 to run aground as the ships headed downriver. It took two days to set her free.
LCI(G)s 61 and 66 remained at anchor below the bridge downstream from Fort Pikit. The PGMs headed downstream on 23 April but their 10 foot 10 inch draft caused them to run aground, effectively blocking the channel. A lack of rain caused the river to drop, and the gunboats were advised to wait for a storm to deepen the river before heading downstream. By 27 April, the LCI(G)s found themselves anchored in a little over six feet of water. That left them little chance of maneuvering downstream without getting grounded, even though they drew only about 6 feet 6 inches aft and 4 feet 9 inches forward. It was decided that the ships should be anchored by their stern anchors instead of the smaller bow anchor so that they would be headed downstream. They were assisted in turning by an LCM. By 4 May the river had begun to rise and the LCMs went downstream to take soundings. Finally, on 5 May the gunboats headed downstream, with four LCMs to assist them if they ran aground. LCI(G) 66 soon went aground at Piugug Market and was pulled free by the LCMs. The following day, after careening off riverbanks, bouncing over shoals, and side-swiping an LCM, the gunboats reached open water and headed to Parang Harbor. For the sailors onboard, their inland mission had been a learning experience and they were glad to be in open water again.
As the fighting progressed across the island of Mindanao, the Army became concerned about Japanese threats to the resupply of American forces in the region. The landing of an additional 1,000 troops from the Army, along with 1,500 tons of supplies, had been made at Digos on Davao Gulf on 4 May. Various enemy bases existed in the region around the entrances to Sarangani Bay and Davao Gulf, including suicide boat and PT boat bases. Task Unit 78.3.6 was sent to take care of the threats. It consisted of LCI(G)s 21, 24, and LCI(R) 226, and PGMs 4, 6, and 8, backed up by Flusser DD 368 and Key DE 348. They arrived in Taloma Bay south of Davao on 11 May 1945 and began to patrol the area. Captain Arison arrived on the morning of 11 May and took over duties as S.O.P.A in Davao Gulf. Howard DMS 7 shelled a suspected suicide boat base at Maputian Point on Samal Island on 12 May, putting an end to threats in that area. Continued work was necessary to contain the threat from suicide boats and torpedo boats. Support for their efforts was supplied by PT boats 332, 334, 336, 340, 342, and 343 from Squadron 24 under the command of Lieutenant Edgar D. Hogland. The PTs and the gunboats joined forces in a series of raids on enemy PT boats in the northeast part of Davao Gulf near Piso Point on 15 May. Close-in work by the PTs had spotted a Japanese PT base hidden up a small creek and well-camouflaged. The Japanese PTs had already taken their toll on American shipping, sinking the Army FS 225 during the night of 10-11 May. The Army Air Force supplied a B-24 to bomb the area, and PTs 335 and 343 undertook the destruction of the six enemy PT boats and a nearby ammunition dump. The enemy boats were reported to be about seventy feet long and painted dark green. They blended in well with their background and were hard to spot even at relatively close range. As the American PTs were destroying their enemy counterparts, LCI(G) 21 found a fifty foot long boat near the shore and destroyed it, along with some pill boxes. Shortly thereafter it fired on an oil dump at Pangasinan Point, leaving it in flames. Later in the day, LCI(G)s 21 and 22 teamed with PTs 106 and 341 off Piso Point. Heavier firepower was supplied by Key DE 348. PT 106 cruised within 400 yards of the beach in an attempt to draw enemy fire. The ruse was successful and the PT beat a hasty retreat to the safety of Key, where Lieutenant Hogland, who had been on board the 106, identified the enemy’s position so that Key could fire on it. The destroyer escort pounded the area with 252 rounds of 5 inch and 1,072 rounds of 40mm fire, setting it ablaze. LCI(G)s 21 and 22 then closed to within 400 yards of the beach and added to the carnage. At this point four Navy Mitchell B-25 bombers hit the area and, as a final blow, FlusserDD 368 fired 384 rounds of 5 inch shells. The combined work of the ships and aircraft left the area ablaze and severely weakened enemy capabilities. They continued their attacks on the Japanese from 14 to 21 May 1945.
Macajalar Bay in the northern part of Mindanao Island, was assaulted by the 108th Regimental Combat Team, 40th Infantry Division on 10 May 1945. LCS(L)s 30, 42, 79, and 80 covered the landing. Standard rocket and gunfire preceded the landing, but there was no return fire or opposition to the landing.
LCS(L)s and LCI gunboats were active in the southern Philippines during the last stages of the war. As other gunboats were involved in the campaign for Okinawa, numerous others were active in the attacks on Borneo, Palawan, and Mindanao to the south.
Continued concerns over security in the area around Davao Gulf and Sarangani Bay led to additional landings in early June 1945. These landings were made on 1, 3, and 5 June at Luayon, Balut Island, and Cape San Augustin respectively. Each of the landing areas was considered to have Japanese troops in the area who might cause problems for American supply lines. The 162nd Regimental Combat Team landed its 275 officers and men at each location, cleaned out the enemy, and then moved on to the next assault. Of primary concern were the estimated forty to sixty radio stations operating in each location. Flusser DD 368 and Leland E. Thomas DE 420 provided heavy gunfire to soften up the area, and LCI(G)s 21, 24, and LCI(R) 226 led the assault waves. Additional support was furnished by a few LCM gunboats, PT boats and a strike by bombers from the 13th Air Force. The only area with significant resistance was at Balut Island which was first attacked on 3 June. A secondary landing had to be made nearby in order to quash the resistance and destroy the island’s radio station.
Mindanao had been a difficult campaign for the Army but had presented some interesting options for the gunboats.
On the western side of Mindanao Island across Moro Gulf, a large peninsula extends southward ending in the city of Zamboanga at its southern extremity. Just to the south, across the Basilan Straits is Basilan Island. The target for 10 March 1945 was the city of Zamboanga. The 41st Infantry Division under Major General Jens A. Doe made a landing there. Several days of minesweeping in the area off the city and in Basilan Straits was performed by Task Unit 78.1.5, consisting of YMSs 6, 8, 9, 46, 50, 52, 68(F), 71, 340, 365, and 481. The ships of TU 78.1.3, which included LCS(L)s 28(F), 29, 30, 41–43, and 50, along with LCI(R)s 225, 226, 337, 340, 341, LCI(M)s 362, 431, and LCI(D)s 227 and 228, covered their landing. Ken Krayer RT 2/c was on board LCS(L) 28 for the Zamboanga assault. He later wrote:
Anytime you think you have a nasty job to do you can always find someone who has it worse. The minesweeps have one nasty job to do. They’re small, mostly wooden craft usually with one deck gun and two 20mm’s. They must trail paravanes on cables behind them in an effort to cut the cables anchoring mines in such a way that they float to the surface…. They could get caught two ways. Either fire from the beach from guns or mortars, or if they are fired at and try to get out of the area they could pull a mine into their fantail with their own paravanes. Or they could just plain run into a mine with their hull. None of this made for pleasant thoughts. The Japs loved two things—mines and mortars. Our job was to escort the sweeps and give them close gunfire support should they need it, so we trailed behind them by several thousand yards. We also tended to any mines the sweeps cut loose. We usually shot them with our 20mms. They either exploded when hit, or sank. I preferred the sinkers myself—but they were far less picturesque.13
March 9 would prove to be a typical day for minesweepers and gunboats. Covering four YMSs were LCS(L)s 41, 42, 43, and 50. As the sweepers worked an area 300 yards off the beach near Caldera Point and the town of Zamboanga at 0920, the gunboats came under fire. LCS(L) 43 found herself bracketed by enemy mortar fire near San Mateo Point. Minesweeping operations were halted and the gunboats made four runs on the beach delivering rockets, 3"/50, and automatic weapons fire. After resuming minesweeping operations, LCS(L)s 41, 42, and 43 spotted machine gun nests off Great Santa Cruz island and destroyed them. Action of this sort continued throughout the day, preparing the landing beaches for the infantry boats.
Fire support of a heavier nature was furnished by the Cruiser Covering Group consisting of cruisers Phoenix CL 46 and Boise CL 47, under Rear Admiral Berkey. They worked alongside the destroyers Nicholas DD 449, Taylor DD 468, Jenkins DD 447, Abbot DD 629, and Fletcher DD 445.Screening the transports were eight destroyers and two destroyer escorts under the command of Captain R. H. Smith. Rear Admiral Forrest B. Royal had overall command of the campaign.
Japanese resistance to the assault was expected to be significant, with an estimated 8,300 Japanese troops in the area around the city of Zamboanga. The Japanese were ready and were well-entrenched in defensive positions near the town. As with all Japanese defenses at this stage of the war, they would not seriously oppose the landing but would hold their force in reserve until the Americans moved off the beach. This enabled them to avoid the fierce bombardment of the naval ships and aircraft as they worked over the landing beaches.
On 1 March the XIII Army Air Force began bombing the area, with additional and continuous bombing starting on 8 March. Marine Air Groups 12, 14, and 32 provided close support strafing and bombing for the 41st Division troops as they advanced against the enemy. Wherever possible the gunboats of Captain Arison’s TU 78.1.3 were on hand to supply call fire on any targets in the vicinity of the beaches, while the heavier firepower of the larger ships could be utilized against targets farther inland.
This is the assault diagram for the landing at Zamboanga on 10 March 1945. LCI(M)s 361 and 432 were on both flanks with three LCS(L)s just inboard and the LCI(R)s in the center positions. Commander Task Unit 78.1.3 Serial 014, Action Report, Zamboanga Operation, 16 March 1945, Enclosure (A).
One day prior to the invasion the ships began working over the landing zones with gunfire. On 10 March 1945, the landing craft were ready for the invasion. The LCS(L)s, LCI(M)s, and LCI(R)s made their run on the beaches with 3"/50 caliber and 40mm fire at 0850 and then delivered their rocket barrage and mortar fire at 0908 as they led the LVTs to the beach near San Mateo Point. Following the landings they supported the flanks, suppressing mortar and automatic weapons fire from the enemy.14 Gavilan Point on the right flank of the landing beaches was of interest, and LCI(M) 431 reported giving particular attention to the area prior to moving its fire inland. The landing beaches were about three miles northwest of the town of Zamboanga and just three miles from the Japanese airstrip at Calarian.
Within an hour, Japanese fire began to plague the ships. LCS(L) 50 reported “being rained by mortar fire and LCS(L)(3) 42 reported that the LCI(L)s which were disembarking troops were being shelled.”15 The situation for the gunboats continued to deteriorate and, at 1340, the ships were ordered out of the area as the mortar fire was intensifying. On 11 March spotter planes located the source of the mortar and artillery fire. The cruiser Boise’s fire was on target and the enemy shelling decreased immensely.
Once the landing craft had delivered the troops ashore, the gunboats maintained a close-in position in order to deliver fire on targets of opportunity and to assist troop movements ashore. Commander Task Unit 78.1.3 Serial 014, Action Report, Zamboanga Operation, 16 March 1945, Enclosure (B).
Across Basilan Strait lay Basilan Island. The strait had already been swept prior to the landing at Zamboanga, and Basilan was next on the list. Assigned to fire support of the landing on 16 March were LCS(L)s 41(FF), 42, 43, LCI(R)s 226, 337, LCI(M)s 362, 431, SC 741 and the destroyers Waller, Robinson and Saufley. Landing on Basilan Island was Company F (reinforced) 162nd Regiment, 41st Division. Standard assault procedures were followed by the gunboats, but shoals prevented the LCMs from landing on shore and they had to be diverted to a local pier several hundred yards to the right of the landing beaches. Fortunately, there was no resistance. However, the village of Semut lay in the path of the shell fire and there was collateral damage. Envoys from the natives ashore approached the ships and asked for assistance as there were a number of casualties among the citizens. Seventeen had died and there were fifty-four with serious injuries. Reports from local guerrilla forces indicated that the Japanese had withdrawn their small force from the coastal area at least eight to ten days prior to the assault and had never actually been in the village of Semut.16 LCI(L) 778 reported to the area bringing medics and supplies, and the villagers were given aid. The gunboats patrolled the areas offshore that night and continued screening and support activities in the area for the next few days before being ordered back to Tacloban, Leyte.
Having secured the tip of Zamboanga peninsula, the Navy began moving down the Sulu Archipelago heading toward Borneo. The value in these islands lay in their close proximity to Borneo which was still to be conquered. The construction of airstrips on islands in the various groups would place Allied aircraft less than one hundred miles from targets on the big island. Naval installations in the Sulu Archipelago would serve as staging areas for the conquest of Borneo. Capture of the islands of Sanga Sanga on 2 March and Jolo on 9 April placed the Allies in position for the attack on Borneo.
Working with Guerrilla Forces
One of the more unusual occurrences of World War II was the formation of Task Group 70.4 and its operations aiding the Philippine guerrillas in the southern areas of the Philippines. As originally constituted, the Task Group consisted of LCS(L)s 9 and 10 and LCI(L)s 361 and 363 under the command of Lieutenant Albert C. Eldridge.17 Organized on 24 January 1945, the main focus of the Task Group was the support and supply of Philippine guerrillas on and around the southern island of Mindanao. On 14 April 1945, LCI(L) 361 sustained damage and her duties in the task group were taken over by LCI(L) 429 for a couple of weeks.
LCS(L) 9, shown here, and LCS(L) 10 were both built at the George Lawley & Sons Shipyard near Boston, Massachusetts. The two were among the first of their class and mounted a 3"/50 gun in the bow.
LCS(L)s 9 and 10 were among the first group of LCS(L)s completed during the war. Both were built at the George Lawley & Sons Shipyard near Boston, Massachusetts. They each mounted a 3"/50 gun in the bow, and additional armament included two twin 40mm guns, four 20mm guns, rocket racks for 4.5 inch rockets, a .50 caliber machine gun, and an 80mm mortar. The two LCI(L)s carried their standard armament of five 20mm guns and two .50 caliber machine guns. Added to their firepower was an 80mm mortar. With the addition of the mortars, the ships had an enhanced ability to attack shore installations where needed. These mortars were not usually found on the ships but had been acquired locally in order to enhance their capabilities. The actual formation of the task group and the inclusion of the two LCS(L)s was one of those random occurrences of the war. LCS(L) 9, commanded by Lieutenant Donovan R. Ellis, and LCS(L) 10, commanded by Lieutenant Albert C. Eldridge, were a part of LCS(L) Flotilla One, under the command of Captain Ray E. Arison. Arison, a stickler for rules and regulations, was regular U.S. Navy and had just been reassigned to the amphibious forces. The informality and lack of adherence to strict regulations by the officers and men of the amphibious forces grated on him. After several incidents involving the LCS(L)s 9 and 10, he decided to teach them a lesson by leaving them behind in disgrace as the rest of the Flotilla’s Group 1 ships headed from Hollandia, New Guinea, to the action at Leyte. Shortly thereafter, the two gunboats were ordered to escort a convoy north to Leyte, thus ending their exile from the group. They arrived in the Philippines and, still on the flotilla commander’s list, were given an alternate duty, that of supplying guerrilla forces on Mindanao. The forces up to that point had been supplied by submarine, a practice which limited the amount of material they could receive. With a strong American presence in the Philippines, it was possible to use surface craft for supply.
LCS(L) 9 crew shortly after the war. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
The Philippine guerrilla forces on Mindanao were under the command of Colonel Wendell W. Fertig. Fertig had been a reserve officer and was called to active duty in 1941. When the capture of Corregidor by the Japanese became imminent, Fertig was assigned to Mindanao. His primary assignment there was to take command of the Army engineers as they constructed airfields on the island. When Mindanao fell in May 1942, Fertig was loathe to surrender. Instead, he headed for the jungle to continue resistance against the Japanese. By February 1943 he had established contact with MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia, and shortly thereafter, his guerrilla forces began to receive shipments of supplies brought in by submarine. These submarine shipments ceased in December 1944, just in time for surface deliveries to begin. It was to this role that the two LCS(L)s and two LCI(L)s were assigned. From 3 February 1945 to late May 1945, Task Group 70.4 completed thirteen missions.
The first mission began on 3 February 1945 when the ships left their base at Tacloban on San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf, and landed about 100 tons of supplies at Mambajao on Camiguin Island and the towns of Iligan and Misamis on the north coast of Mindanao. After delivering supplies, they met with numerous Philippine guerrilla commanders including Colonel Fertig. An added expert in the mix was Commander Charles “Chick” Parsons whose work in organizing the submarine supply of the guerrilla bands had given him a great deal of expertise in the matters facing Task Group 70.4. His advice to the new commander of the task group was described later when Eldridge wrote his ship’s history:
While we were waiting for darkness and the return run to Leyte, the skipper and Comdr. Charles (Chick, Chico) Parsons talked of this and that. Parsons had been the mentor of the previous work by sub and was starting us off on the right foot by giving advice now and then as to what had been done previously and how we might best work with the guerrillas. He had a background as large as all out-doors in Filipino affairs before the war and exploits as long as your arm in spying activities against the Japs in Manila.18
It was during this trip that Eldridge conferred with Parsons, leading to the first raids against Japanese installations. Their conversation went as follows:
“I ’magine there’re quite a few Nips ’round here, Commander.”
“Helluva lot of ’em right close.”
“Right over there—across the strait.”
“Mmmm. Doesn’t appear more than twenty miles. Wonder how much hot water we’d get into, going over to say hello.”
“Can’t say. They have quite a few men, and are building barges in Talisayan.”
“No, that’s not the kind of hot water I mean. I mean we have no orders to go running over here and there shooting people up. And someone back in Tolosa might not like my straying from the path on the first run.”
“You’re right. Some few can cause a lot of trouble. But there’s a mighty nice concentration of them there.”
“Think we could get at them?”
“They’re right on the coast.”
“Mmmm. Like to take a trip? Let’s go look at a chart and see what kind of water there is down there.”
That was the start of our favorite pastime. On the first bombardment by the Nine and Ten we knocked out barrels and barrels of fuel oil and gasoline, burned up the huts the Nips lived in…. We won or spurs by crippling barge traffic in the area when the fuel was destroyed. We were credited enthusiastically, but slightly optimistically by Filipino reports with killing 600.19
Information about their successful raid filtered back to Vice Admiral T. C. Kincaid. Pleased with their success, he authorized them to conduct such raids on future missions whenever practical.
No such opportunity presented itself on the next mission. On 10 February the ships delivered 120 tons of material to guerrilla forces at the port of Sibonga on Cebu Island. However, the third mission saw the ships landing another 120 tons of supplies at Bais on Negros Island. Since the port was safely in guerrilla hands, the two LCS(L)s proceeded to the nearby town of Dumaguete and fired on the electric plant and other Japanese occupied buildings. Guerrilla observers indicated which were held by the Japanese and which were occupied by Filipino civilians. In addition to the structures, three Japanese motor launches and seven fuel dumps were set afire and presumed destroyed. From Dumaguete the LCS(L)s cruised north to the town of Sibulan and supplied supporting fire for guerrillas who were successful in taking the town from the Japanese. Their adventures over for the time being, the gunboats returned to Bais to escort the LCI(L)s back to San Pedro Bay.20 Mission number four departed San Pedro Bay on 22 February 1945 with Colonel Fertig on board. The ships unloaded 120 tons of supplies at Claver, Mindanao, and the colonel met with the local regimental commander to discuss pressing matters. No action against enemy forces was undertaken on this mission. However, on mission number five, the gunboats shelled a Japanese-occupied sugar preparation area at San Carlos on Negros Island as the LCI(L)s unloaded supplies nearby at Toledo, Cebu. Fifty Japanese soldiers were caught in the devastating gunfire and gave their lives for their cause. Also destroyed was an enemy barge loaded with fuel. Their business completed at Toledo, the LCI(L)s headed to their next delivery at Milagros, Masbate, unloaded sixty tons of material, and embarked Major Donato’s 230 man strong guerrilla force.
What followed was a classic use of the LCS(L) gunboats. At Dimasalang, Masbate, the guerrillas staged an amphibious landing with the 9 and 10 supplying shore bombardment, along with a couple of Marine Air Group 12 Corsairs which bombed Japanese positions. Donato’s force accounted for 120 Japanese dead and the ships’ fire killed eleven others. Fifty tons of Japanese ammunition went up in smoke and numerous small arms and souvenirs were liberated from the ruins. With another successful mission under their belts, the ships returned to their base at Tacloban on San Pedro Bay.21 Frank P. Muth, a crewman on board the LCS(L) 9, later described the task group’s experience with the guerrillas. He wrote:
At this time I would like to explain how the Guerrilla troops operated. They would have an American officer and American Sergeant in charge of a group. Most of them had no uniforms or shoes, a lot of them were barefoot. We would take supplies to their base where they were training. We supplied them with rifles, machine guns, and different types of ammunitions. A lot of times the L.C.I.s were loaded down with clothes and shoes to take to them. The ramps had barrels of oil and gasoline in some places, were we would drop the barrels of oil and gasoline in some places and the Guerrillas would swim with them to shore.22
The sixth mission departed San Pedro Bay on 9 March 1945. Their destination was San Carlos, Negros Island, where they delivered supplies and fired on targets under attack by the guerrillas. As a result of their fire, two Japanese Type A barges were destroyed, along with a fuel dump and miscellaneous Japanese structures. The seventh mission, beginning on 16 March 1945, was a very active one. The task group split into two units with LCS(L) 9 and an LCI(L) heading for the east coast of Mindanao where it embarked the headquarters company of Colonel Fertig and transported it to Iligan. LCS(L) 10, accompanied by the other LCI(L), proceeded to Mambajao on Camiguin Island where it left the LCI(L) to await further orders. The 10 then headed for Loay on Bohol Island, arriving there on 16 March. After conferring with local guerrilla forces at Loay, the gunboat proceeded west about ten miles to Baclayon, Bohol, where it provided shore bombardment for a guerrilla force attempting to run the Japanese out of the town. Once their shore bombardment was completed for the day, observers on LCS(L) 10 spotted a Japanese lugger at anchor nearby. They cut its mooring line and made it a prize of war, turning it over to the guerrillas the following day for their use. The next day saw the gunboat again bombarding shore targets in support of the Philippine forces before heading back to a rendezvous with the other ships in the task group. LCS(L) 9 and the LCI(L) accompanying it had disembarked Colonel Fertig’s headquarters company at Mambajao and then moved to Lagonglong on Macajalar Bay, Mindanao, where they embarked 380 guerrillas for transport to their next targets. This included the towns of Talisayan, Lipata, Sipalong, and Bugdan on Mindanao, which were closely located to one another. At this point, the other half of the task group returned from Bohol and joined up with them. Guerrilla landings and the combined fire of the task group accounted for the destruction of numerous Japanese ammunition dumps and facilities. Casualty counts included 145 Japanese dead and six captured, with six of the guerrillas sustaining wounds. Two useable trucks, a good supply of rifles, rice, radios, tools and fuel, along with Japanese defense and other plans, were captured. An added bonus was the capture of two Japanese steel barges which proved useful to the Philippine forces. These were towed to Mambajao, Camiguin Island for repair. Another successful mission completed, the task group headed back to their base at Tacloban, Leyte.23
The crew of LCS(L) 10 fires white phosphorus shells from their 80mm trench mortar at Japanese forces in support of Philippine guerrilla operations at Dimasalang, Masbate Island, 1–4 March 1945. During this mission, guerrilla forces under Major Donato captured enemy equipment and killed 120 Japanese. Fire from the ships accounted for another eleven dead enemy soldiers. NARA 80G 259133.
Continued exposure to and interaction with Philippine guerrillas had changed the crews of the 9 and 10. Where once they adhered strictly to U.S. Navy practices, they had apparently “gone native.” Ken Krayer, on board LCS(L) 28, recalled encountering the two ships after they returned to Tacloban from their campaign at Zamboanga on 15 March 1945:
We were dumb struck when we saw them. They had palm trees, plants, parrots, and monkeys on board. They looked like a zoo. They had been operating with the Filipinos so long they were beginning to look like the Philippine Navy. We heard they had some sickness problems and the Medics went on board—inspected—then told them to get rid of the birds and animals. This was all scuttlebutt, but it made sense to me.24
Philippine guerrilla operations at Dimasalang, Masbate Island, 1–4 March 1945 resulted in the capture of a great deal of enemy equipment. Guerrilla forces, led by Major Donato, display captured equipment. LCI(L) 1074 is beached behind the guerrillas and LCS(L) 9 may be seen offshore. NARA 80G 259134.
The eighth mission, beginning on 26 March 1945, had two stages. The ships again split into two divisions carrying supplies and moving guerrilla forces during the first phase. After completing the initial phase of delivering supplies and embarking guerrilla troops, the ships headed for Masbate City, where they supported a guerrilla assault on several hundred Japanese troops holed up in the city. A narrow channel leading into the harbor at Masbate City caused problems as the ships had to proceed single file, making them a target for Japanese small arms fire. A problem in the reversing gear of the 9 caused it to run aground near shore, making it an easy target. LCS(L) 10 came alongside and both ships exchanged fire with the Japanese. Fortunately this happened during an incoming tide and the 10 was able to pull the 9 off the bar and tow her back to base. The raid was deemed a success with one Japanese airplane captured intact and many Japanese killed.
Mission nine began on 4 April 1945. The task group left their base and headed for Mambajao to retrieve the two barges they had left for repair. They towed them to Iligan and unloaded their supplies there. One hundred fifty guerrillas came aboard and were transported a few miles down the coast to a landing beach about five miles below Dipolog. Another one hundred were picked up at Claver, Mindanao, by LCI(L) 361 and LCS(L) 9, and more supplies were unloaded at Gingoog by LCI(L) 363, accompanied by LCS(L) 10. The unloading area was too shallow for the LCI(L), a problem which was quickly solved by the guerrillas as they lashed together several small boats and made a rudimentary causeway for the task. With the job of delivering supplies finished, Major Paul Marshall and his 220 man 110th Guerrilla Division embarked on LCI(L) 363. At this point, both LCI(L)s were loaded with guerrilla forces which were then transported to a beach below Bilaa Point, Mindanao, and set ashore. The LCS(L)s then proceeded to attack various Japanese installations at Cabadbaran, Buenavista, and several other places before proceeding to Nasipit, Mindanao, where they shelled Japanese positions, damaged two Japanese type A barges, and set a fuel dump afire. Their work for the mission completed, they returned to Tacloban on 10 April to prepare for their next mission.
Philippine guerrillas unload supplies from LCI(L) 363 at Gingoog, Mindanao, as LCS(L) 10 stands by. The photograph was taken during Mission Nine, which took place between 4 and 10 April 1945. The ships moved guerrillas and their equipment from one location to another. When not engaged in moving and supplying guerrillas, the ships frequently attacked Japanese positions in the nearby islands. NARA 80G 31883.
Philippine guerrillas unload rice from LCI(L) 361 at Gingoog, Mindanao, on 20 May 1945. NARA 80G 259554.
LCS(L)s 9, 10, and LCI(L)s 361, and 363, organized as Task Group 70.4, worked with Colonel Wendel W. Fertig’s Philippine guerrilla forces in the area around Mindanao. They were successful in delivering supplies to the guerrilla fighters, as well as attacking Japanese positions in the area. The task group was under the command of Lieutenant Albert C. Eldridge.
Mission ten, from 14 to 20 April, involved the usual transportation of supplies and guerrillas. However, the attack on Nasipit, Mindanao, by guerrillas supported by the ships proved quite profitable. Captured in the attack were three machine guns, twenty rifles, two Class A barges, twenty drums of gasoline, fuel oil, food supplies, a truck and a car. Notable in the haul was a huge quantity of ammunition, including howitzer shells, anti-tank shells, and rifle ammunition. In all, it was the largest haul taken by the guerrillas with their support ships up to that time.25
Missions eleven (25–29 April), twelve (6–13 May), and thirteen (18–23 May 1945) involved the transport of guerrillas and supplies. The only action taken by the ships on mission eleven was the bombardment of Japanese positions at Baluarte, Tagaloan, and Buge on 28 April and Nasipit and Buenavista on 29 April. At that point, Japanese resistance on Mindanao and in the Visayas had diminished to where the services of Task Group 70.4 were no longer needed. The task group moved north and began operations near the Polillo Islands off the eastern coast of Luzon.
An indication of the effectiveness of the task group was demonstrated by a letter of commendation sent by Colonel Fertig to the Commanding General of the Eighth Army.
HEADQUARTERS TENTH MILITARY DISTRICT
8 May 1945
SUBJECT: Letter of Commendation—Task Group 70.4
To: Commanding General. Eighth Army, APO 343
1. It is desired to make the activities of TG 70.4 commanded by Lieut. William [sic] Eldridge, a matter of record. They have landed approximately 600 tons of badly needed supplies in areas outside the operation of American troops. In addition, they have engaged in 4 amphibious operations. These operations were made against isolated Japanese garrisons. Guerrilla troops were loaded on the LCIs of the TG and landings made in each case under fire from the LCS units of the TG. Successful landings were made at Talisayan,(Misamis Oriental), Ananaon, (Surigao), Cabadbaran and Nasipit, (Agusan). In each case the enemy were driven from their positions and with the exception of Cabadbaran the enemy garrisons were annihilated. Large quantities of supplies, both ordnance and quartermaster, were captured. During the present operation, terminating approximately 13 May, troops will be landed at the vicinity of Butuan. This operation expects to eliminate remnants of Japanese garrison in Agusan. In addition to these operations they have shelled the coast of Tagoloan River to Cagayan on several occasions. Then activities in conjunction with guerrilla attacks forced the enemy to withdraw from the beaches at Macajalar Bay, allowing the American units to make an unopposed landing.
2. It is desired further that a copy of this letter be passed to the Commander, Seventh Fleet.
s/ Wendell W. Fertig
By 4 June 1945, Task Group 70.4 had established contact with the guerrilla forces at Infanta on Luzon. It was only a matter of time before the task group, operating among guerrilla forces, would come in contact with the Alamo Scouts of Major General Walter Krueger’s Sixth Army. The Alamo Scouts had been formed late in 1943 and had begun their activities in New Guinea. By 1945 they were operating regularly in the Philippines, gathering information, conducting rescue operations, and other special missions. In June of 1945, they were assigned the task of locating General Tadashi Yamashita’s headquarters on Luzon, as well as elements of the Japanese Army in various areas. In many cases the Alamo Scouts were brought in by submarine or PT boats but, on occasion, heavier firepower was needed. In a number of instances the ships assigned to carry them to their landing places were the four ships of Task Force 70.4. At that point, the original LCI(L)s 361 and 363 had been replaced by LCI(L)s 364 and 342.
Lieutenant Albert C. Eldridge (right), Commanding Officer of LCS(L) 10, receives the Legion of Merit from Vice Admiral T. C. Kincaid for his leadership of TG 70.4 in the Philippines. The Commanding Officer of LCS(L) 9, Lieutenant Donavan Ellis (not pictured), received the Bronze Star.
On 5 June the task group landed a team of Alamo Scouts under Lieutenant Woodrow E. Hobbs at Casiguran Bay, and 7 June landed them again further north at Palanan Bay. The area looked promising, so on 12 June the ships, the Alamo Scouts, and 200 guerrillas returned to Palanan Bay and launched an attack. They successfully killed a number of Japanese troops aided by gunfire from the ships.27
From that time until 29 July 1945, the task group engaged in several other operations against the enemy, along with their constant companions, the Philippine guerrillas. Their final action was on 29 July when they bombarded Japanese held locations at Laguin Bay to the south of Infanta. Their next assignment was to be far to the south in Borneo, but the end of the war retired the task group. After visits to Manila and Tacloban, the ships headed for the states.