The Formidable Power of One-Hit Sinking

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Damaged William D. Porter listing heavily. Landing Craft Support ships LCS(L)(3)-86 and LCS(L)(3)-122 (behind) are assisting.

On 28 May, Japan’s Navy Ministry for the first time made public the operations of the Thunder Gods, extolling them for their fighting spirit and “the formidable power of one-hit sinking.” Newspaper accounts also carried the names of 332 Thunder God pilots who had already sacrificed their lives. Despite the public adulation, most ka pilots now went about their duties under a cloud of despondency, often ignoring the frequent air raid alarms, instead staying in their quarters. Increasingly, petty officers were even sneaking off base to carouse at local inns.

For Ryuji Nagatsuka, meanwhile, May’s end marked the completion of suicide tactical training for Jun-no Special Attack Corps. Nagatsuka received his promotion to flying officer and now was in line for a posthumous promotion. Credible war news was sparse, but conditions were undoubtedly desperate. Each time flights of American Grummans headed for their base northwest of Tokyo, the pilots flew to safer airspace. Machine guns had been removed from their planes and the primary objective was to preserve them for tokko missions.

The rainy season was in full swing, and the only possible bright spot was a brief visit from his mother and two of his sisters. But even this reunion was awkward. Candor about the future went unspoken in the presence of the young girls. When Nagatsuka left the three of them at a nearby train station, he knew he was seeing them for the last time.

The horrid weather, while it curtailed American air attacks, also delayed launch of Kikusui No. 9. An announcement trumpeting the assault went out each morning only to be rescinded by afternoon. Finally, on 3 June, a break in the weather set Kikusui No. 9 in motion. The operation’s buildup vastly overshadowed its substance: in a scattered series of sorties, barely fifty suicide aircraft flew south toward Okinawa, most without escorts.

These handfuls of kamikazes were having a harder time sneaking through, and their attacks seemed to be odd sideshows. Though not any less chaotic or dangerous, the air-sea duels involved many fewer planes and ships.

On 6 June, eight bogeys set upon DMs J. William Ditter and Harry F. Bauer on patrol southeast of Nakagusuku Wan. One attacker’s wing clipped Ditter’s after stack and tore open a long strip of shell plating on the port side, flooding the after fire room and forward engine room.

A plane also crashed close to Bauer’s starboard beam, tearing a twelve-foot gash in her side. Bauer’s damage seemed to be limited to flooding, but crewmen also spotted a large hunk of metal submerged near the forward fireroom and worried it might be a bomb. After taking a look, a bomb disposal expert dispatched from Wiseman’s Cove assured Bauer’s XO Robert Morgenthau it might be the plane’s engine or its landing gear, but was no bomb.

Destroyer William D. Porter’s time off Okinawa did much to erase the stigma that plagued her CO and crew since the accidental but near disastrous torpedo shot at battleship Iowa. But then, on 10 June, bad luck caught up with Porter on RP15 when an undetected kamikaze Val dove at her through a low overcast. The plane struck only a glancing blow to Porter’s radar mast, but when its bomb exploded in the water nearby, the blast tore up the after half of Porter’s hull and unleashed uncontrollable flooding. Even the pumps on LCSs dispatched to help Porter could not stay ahead of the rising water, made worse by the explosion of several jettisoned depth charges. Porter’s sailors were finally evacuated to CO Richard McCool’s LCS-122. Lined up along LCS-122’s railings, Porter’s men watched their hard-luck ship sink at 1119.

On RP15 at dusk the next day, it was LCS-122’s turn, but almost a different kind of turn. After escaping a near miss crash by one Val, LCS-122 took a direct hit to its conning tower by a second Val. The crash and explosion killed 11 men and seriously wounded another 29, including McCool. Despite his wounds, with 122 on fire and sinking, McCool somehow managed to exit the conning tower, jumping first to the gun deck and finally the main deck. McCool rallied his crew to fight fires, hauled one man to safety, and helped rescue several others before 122 had to be abandoned.

This was to be the last kamikaze blow for a week—though by no means the last off Okinawa or the last of the war. Still it was almost a showcase—an attack that occurred in focus and isolation, instead of the thudding, relentless blur of April’s and May’s attacks (and, earlier, the attacks in the Philippines). The LCS-122’s casualties (over half the crew) and the actions of the survivors and the rookie CO somehow symbolized all the suffering, determination, and instinctive heroism displayed by thousands of men through the seemingly unending days of eight long months.

Lieutenant Richard M. McCool, captain of the landing ship LCS(L)(3)-122, received the Medal of Honor in part for assisting in rescue of survivors of William D. Porter.

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