Now our training was over. We had been commissioned to join the Amphibious Forces as a fighting auxiliary and we rightly felt that we had passed our exams and could consider ourselves graduated to the fleet. So, with the scuttlebutt flying we hoisted anchor on the afternoon of December 21, and that night arrived in Los Angeles Harbor. Christmas and New Year's Eve were celebrated there, and on the morning of January 1, 1945, we set sail for Seattle, Washington. Drills, drills, and more drills. Fire drills, collision drills, damage control drills, were held every day on our trip North. We all knew that they were necessary, but that didn't keep us from despising the very word "drill."
On the morning of the fourth we arrived in this busy Northwest port. More stores were taken aboard; the fuel tanks were topped off, and army troops began coming aboard for the first time. In six short days we were ready for sea with a full load of troops and cargo. It was 2230 on the night of January 10 that we pulled away from the dock, headed North up Puget Sound, turned West, passed through the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and plunged our bow into a stormy, unfriendly Pacific Ocean. The waves looked mountainous to our unhappy eyes. Green water crashing over the bow, sent stinging spray into the faces of even the bridge watch while the curse of mal-de-mer settled heavily on the stomachs of even some of the old timers. The chow line became shorter and shorter each day.
As we progressed southwest the seas calmed, and the temperature began to climb. Daily, one hour before sunrise, we were routed out of our sacks by nerve-shattering summons of the general alarm. Not until the sun was clearly above the horizon did we secure for breakfast. It soon became generally agreed that these dawn alerts were probably one of the most disagreeable features of our new Navy life. As we steamed deeper into Southern waters the seas became warmer, the days longer, and the dawn alerts earlier. The skies were particularly beautiful as huge thunderheads towered over the horizons, and sudden squalls would drench us at our morning gun stations. Flying fish and porpoise became so common that they no longer drew any attention.
A short run out of Honolulu we were ordered to delay our arrival for one day, so we backtracked, steamed a couple of hundred miles, turned around again, and on the morning of January 19 the MOUNTRAIL sailed past Diamondhead and came alongside a Honolulu dock. As we tied up at berth D, pier 39, an Army band serenaded us with such native Hawaiian music as "Mr. Five by Five" and "Boogie Woogie Jump."
Here we unloaded our troops and cargo, and on the morning of January 23, we cast off and made the short run into Pearl Harbor. We were given a short availability period at Pearl, during which our camouflage paint job was covered over, giving the ship a coat of solid blue. Liberty was granted and everyone went as his fancy dictated.
In peacetime, Honolulu may be a quiet restful little city, but while we were there the streets were a solid mass of white and khaki as thousands of soldiers, sailors, and marines tried to find amusement for themselves. You had to stand in line for everything, to see a movie, buy your dinner, or get a drink. Everyone wanted to buy souvenirs to send home, but most of the stuff for sale was either manufactured in the States, or too expensive to fit our G.I. budgets. However, in all fairness to the island and city, it must be said that it is a beautiful place. Fantastic and exotic flowers and trees were everywhere. The temperature was warm but not uncomfortable, and just to walk around on dry land after our recent seasickness was treat enough.
Those of the crew not on liberty had to work hard and long during our stay at Pearl. More provisions were loaded aboard. Spare parts were ordered and received from the Naval Supply Depot. Every ship in the harbor was duplicating our activities. We had our first opportunity to see for the first time a large portion of the battle strength of the Pacific Fleet, the huge battle-cruiser ALASKA was busily preparing to set sail for the lwo Jima operation. The old battleship NEW YORK, having returned from the Normandy Invasion, was preparing herself for the Pacific war. Around the harbor, if you knew where to look, were a few mementos of the Jap sneak attack of December 7. The abandoned hull of the battleship UTAH lay partly buried in the mud to remind us that we were not on a sightseeing tour.
During the last few days we spent in the harbor, four 45-ton pontoon barges were secured to the sides of the ship. We were then ready to take on troops.
On January 30, 1-945 we moved to a dock at Honolulu and troops were hurriedly loaded aboard. That afternoon we said, "Aloha Hawaii," as we lumbered out to sea like a dyspeptic elephant carrying twins.
A few miles out we rendezvoused with the U.S.S. MONTROSE (APA 212) and then set our course for Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands. On February 3 we crossed the International Date Line at the 180th Meridian and entered the "Domain of the Golden Dragon." Arriving off Eniwetok Atoll on the morning of February 7, our entry was delayed by a task group of transports, destroyers and battleships coming out of the narrow passage. We later learned that this was part of the force assembling to blast the Japs off lwo Jima. With visions of countless, native Dorothy Lamours dancing before our wishful minds, we entered this, our first, Pacific Atoll. Eniwetok Atoll is made up of a series of small dots of land connected to each other by a reef of coral. The whole group of Islands encircles a lagoon. Normally these islands would be densely covered with cocoanut palms. However, the larger ones had received the "Mitscher Haircut," which means that they had been bombarded by our surface forces and aircraft until they were barren wastes of torn coral and sand. The Sea Bees had constructed an airfield and hangars, but in spite of the construction, we had never seen a more desolate looking spot. It was hard to realize that these specks of land were important pawns in the eventual destruction of the Japanese Empire.
[Fire Drill Picture]
We sweltered here for two days, and on February the 9th formed up with other APAs and sortied out of the Lagoon on our way to Ulithi Atoll in the Western Caroline Islands. The convoy zigzagged the next few days to throw off the aim of any lurking sub, while the destroyer escorts patrolled our front and flanks constantly. As we traveled West we passed atolls still in the hands of by-passed Japanese garrisons. These Islands were no longer active bases except for midget submarines and an occasional plane might be able to slip through our patrols. The islands did serve a very useful purpose though in training our combat pilots and bombardiers for more dangerous missions later. The Army, Navy, and Marines trained hundreds of pilots by sending them on bombing missions over these atolls. This kept them effectively neutralized, and, as mentioned before, served as the sandlot training for the major leagues farther West.
On the morning of February 13 we arrived at Ulithi and anchored in the lagoon. This atoll seemed little different than Eniwetok except that the Navy had not blasted it. It had been taken without opposition, and except for the teeming harbor and the airfield, was much as it had been before the war.
Eliminate the heat and the stifling humidity and it would be a beautiful place. However, no one removed either of these for our benefit. So we were not a bit unhappy when we upped anchor the next day and set sail.
On the l6th, one day later, we sailed through a reef bound passage into Kassol Roads, Palau Islands. To our left was the island of Babelthaup, a large mountainous piece of land, which we had never bothered to take from the Nips. From our anchorage, four miles away, its peaceful and quiet appearance obscured the fact that it still held twenty thousand frustrated and unfriendly Japs. Squadrons of Corsair fighter planes flying out of Pelelieu, one hundred miles to the South, helped make life miserable for the Japs by daily bombing and strafing attacks. These fighter planes were assisted by groups of PT boats who effectively held the Nips in their island cage by constantly patrolling the shoreline shooting up everything that moved. If it hadn't been so terrifically hot we would have been fascinated, because it was as close as we had come to the fighting war. As it was, we just sweated and hoped we would get underway soon so that we could get a breeze.
We had only two days to wait. On the 18th we again weighed anchor and set our course for Leyte, Philippine Islands. At 2119 on the night of February 21 we arrived at our destination and dropped anchor in Leyte Gulf. Even though it was late we cut loose the pontoons that we had been carrying, and then secured all activities but the Watch.
The next morning we awakened to a beautiful sight. A mile and a half away lay the Island of Leyte. The beaches were covered with palms almost to the waters edge. Small native outrigger canoes with grinning Filipinos milled about the American ships. The natives all seemed to speak English, and all seemed to have the Nicotine habit to a marked degree. The clamor for cigarettes was continuous. We were not surprised at the apparent poverty of everyone in the outriggers, since we heard that the Emperor's armies had treated the Filipinos as an inferior race, taking their homes, food, clothing and women, giving nothing in return but disease, misery and death. There was no doubt in our minds that these people were genuinely glad to see us.
The next day we began debarking the troops we had aboard. As we neared the beach we could see that it marked the Eastern edge of a very flat coastal plain, with towering and extremely steep and jagged mountains marking the Western edge. Just back of the palm groves were stagnant swamps and flooded rice paddies. We were surprised to find that up and down the beach for miles, hidden in the palm groves, were the bivouacs of thousands of troops. There were companies of Amtracs, heavy guns, Dukws, and all the men and equipment necessary to make up an amphibious army. We could guess, and the Army confirmed it, that all these troops were lined up on the beach waiting to be transported to some Jap held territory.
Our next job was to load aboard our ship a battalion landing team with all its equipment. We were to "Combat Load" the 1st Battalion of the 307th Regiment of the 77th Infantry Division. "Combat Loading" means putting aboard a ship the cargo in the reverse order in which it will be needed on a beachhead. The first weapons and vehicles to go off onto enemy territory arc loaded last. This meant two things to us. First a lot of work and secondly, that we were now on our way to a first hand view of the war. We commenced loading, using LCMs and an occasional LCT or LSM that would be assigned to us for a couple of round trips to the beach. It was a treacherous shore with sandbars extending just off the beach. Our boats would often broach high and dry. Then the Ship's boat salvage group would spend hours re-floating them. Men in the Beach Party spent a large percentage of their waking hours waist deep in the water, holding broaching lines tied to the stern of the M boats so that the high surf would not swing them sideways upon the beach. Boat crews ate their meals and lived in their boats, while on the ship the hatch and winch crews worked day and night to get her loaded. Several times the beach was secured because of high seas that made it impossible to get the boats safely through the surf with a heavy load. As an added annoyance the Japs would send one or more of their few remaining planes in the Philippines on a bombing raid. The planes flew in from well-camouflaged airstrips on Mindinao, always making their runs at night.
Their apparent target was the Tacloban airfield. Although they did little damage they had a high nuisance value. Since it was night and they flew very high we could not see the planes. We could, however, see the bursts of our anti-aircraft fire and the fiery blossoms of Jap bomb bursts lent a grim festivity to the night skies.
On the morning of February 27 we sent twelve boats on a twenty-mile trip to San Pedro Bay to pick up provisions. A few hours after they had left, the seas began to increase while a strong wind from the East whipped the swells into whitecaps. About six o'clock the Commodore secured all loading operations over the beach, as the surf was becoming dangerously high. At eight o'clock the boats began returning from the stores trip. They were heavily loaded and some of them were taking on water. The hatch and winch crews began unloading them as fast as they could. However, LCV(P) number 4, even though it had been unloaded, began to settle in the water. It was tied up on the starboard side of number one hatch, and the crew assisted by an officer began trying to bail the water out of the boat. It was no use. The swells were running ten and fifteen feet, and in a few minutes the boat sank. As the excitement from this was quieting down, the Officer of the Deck reported to the Captain that the ship was dragging its anchor. Immediately, the special sea detail was set and the ships screw was turned at slow speed to help offset the effect of the wind and sea. There were still fourteen of our boats in the water gathered in a cluster on the starboard side about one hundred yards from the ship. Each was manned-by a three man crew all wearing lifejackets. At 0200 on the morning of the 28th boat number 10 swamped and sank. Fortunately, no one was lost or hurt in either of these sinkings, but we all felt pretty bad about the night's happenings.
The wind and seas had calmed down during the night so, the next morning we continued our loading. On March 2 we shifted berth to San Pedro Bay and took on a load of fuel. The next day we moved back to our anchorage off Tarraguna. We then loaded aboard the last of the 1st Battalion and preparation for a combat landing. The training was for the boat crews, and every day they went through a simulated amphibious landing. On the afternoon of the 13th the squadron of transports to which we were now attached, weighed anchor and set sail for the final invasion rehearsals at two small islands off Southern Leyte.
They were named Cabugan Grande and Cabugan Chico. We sailed all night, and an hour before dawn arrived in the transport area near the islands. Boats were lowered, troops were embarked, and a simulated assault was made on the bits of land. This procedure was duplicated the following day. Then after a series of conferences and critiques, during which all of the apparent errors in procedure were pointed out and discussed, we pulled in our anchor and sailed back up the coast, dropping the hook in San Pedro Bay on March 2nd.
The word was out! We were going to attack islands in the Nansei Shoto group. Our first specified objective would be Kerama Retto, a small group of Islands approximately twenty miles off the Southwestern tip of Okinawa. These islands enclosed a natural basin that would furnish ideal anchorage and base for logistics and service for the main attack that was to follow our attack six days before L Day. "L" or "Love Day" was the time the main landings would be made on Okinawa. The date for this invasion was set as April 1, 1945. We were to make our first landings on Kerama Retto beginning the 26 of March, and were to have the islands secured and an anchorage established by Love Day, It was obvious to all hands that this attack was to be one of the most daring in the Pacific war. From the sizes of the forces that were gathering all over the ocean it certainly was going to be the largest scale operation to date.
Okinawa was considered by the Japs to be a part of their home islands. It is 60 miles long and averages three to ten miles in width. The population was estimated to be one half million Okinawans, who are a mixture of Japanese and Chinese with the Japanese influence predominating. Strategically, the capture of these islands would place us poised for a strike either at the Jap homeland or the mainland of Asia. In addition it would bring most of Japan within medium bomber range of our airforce. To better explain the position of Okinawa in relation to the war the following list of distances might help: It is 330 miles from the tip of Formosa, 790 miles from Manila, 4040 miles from Pearl Harbor, 740 miles from lwo Jima, 450 miles from Shanghai, 845 miles from Tokyo and only 360 miles from the Southern tip of Kyushu which is the Southernmost island of the Jap home Islands. We -were really headed into a hornets nest, and warned, that the Nips could be expected to put up a fanatical fight in defense of these islands.
For weeks we had been told that if we encountered Japanese aircraft we should expect massed suicide attacks. They had started throwing planes and pilots at our ships in the Philippines during the land and sea battles that had raged on and around Leyte and Luzon. The enemy’s purpose was "a ship for a plane."
This information came to us well documented, but in spite of its authenticity we just couldn't believe that the Japanese airforce would use this type of attack on the same scale that they had used their bombers and torpedo planes in the past. It was inconceivable to us that masses of pilots could be whipped to such a fanatic frenzy that they would try to die en masse in a flaming pyre on our decks. In a few days we were to find that we had underestimated the enemy's fanaticism.
On the afternoon of March 21 we sailed out of San Pedro Bay with our squadron of transports. We entered Leyte Gulf and then set our course Northward towards our foe. We were escorted by destroyers, destroyer escorts and assault personnel destroyers. The sea was moderate, and the entire ship was busily preparing for battle. The guns were checked and checked. The boat engines were tuned. Small arms and ammunition were issued the Boat Crews and the Beach Party. Officers and men were briefed on the job the ship had to perform, and each man's individual responsibilities during the operation were explained.
paper our task was relatively simple. The troops we carried aboard were to be
the floating reserve for the landings on Kerama Retto. They were to remain
aboard ship upon call until it was decided by the Army Commander that they were
needed to assist in the securing of some heavily defended beachhead. This
sounded simple, but in reality it was the most difficult assignment to try to
prepare for, because, where other ships had one specific beach to hit and only
one job to do, we had to have complete information and be ready on short notice
to make any one of the seven landings to be made in the Retto. Our boat crews
had to be briefed on the characteristics and identification features of each
shoreline, and the ship had to be ready to change its plans on a moment's
we sailed Northward the destroyers sighted and destroyed many floating mines.
The day after our departure from Leyte, three small aircraft carriers fell in
astern of our formation and added the protection of their planes to give us air
coverage. Two days away from our objective, Jap snooper planes were reported,
but we saw nothing but our own Hellcats.
the night of the 25th and early morning of the 26th we began our
approach to the transport area, -which was three miles off the islands of Yakabi
Shima and Kuba Shima. We went to general quarters many hours before dawn. At
0402 we arrived at our destination. To the East of us towards shore we could see
the flashes of our Naval guns beginning their bombardment. As dawn broke we
could see around us ships of every fighting class. The beautiful (to us)
silhouettes of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers were visible everywhere.
also saw for the first time other and more sinister silhouettes. Tiny specks in
the sky. Jap planes! The anti-aircraft fire from the capital ships was intense
and accurate. One after another of the Nip aircraft would burst into a ball of
flame and fall like an incandescent meteor into the sea. As they hit they would
explode violently and then disappear from sight, leaving only a flaming circle
of gasoline on the surface of the water to mark their graves.
Our attention was attracted to one Jap fighter plane, which was first visible at about five miles off our port. Suddenly, from an altitude of six thousand feet it went into a steep dive. We thought at first that it had been hit, but it was soon obvious that the plane was under control, and that the pilot was hurling himself at a destroyer which was twisting and turning below him. The Jap steepened his dive and gunned his engine, but because of the distance, we could not tell whether he crashed the ship or not. All we saw was a burst of orange flame when he hit. We had seen our first Kamikaze.
it was time for our bombardment vessels and the supporting aircraft to commence
the final softening up before the landings. The LCI rocket boats moved in and we
could see the patterns of their projectiles hissing through the air. Destroyers
began firing their five-inch guns at point blank range. Then group after group
of our divebombers added the screaming crescendo of their deadly loads to this
symphony of amphibious war.
tiny, mountainous dots of land became shrouded in clouds of smoke, flame, and
dust as they were mercilessly worked over. From the ships carrying the assault
battalions, loaded landing craft headed for the line of departure.
remained at general quarters most of the day with everyone taking his turn
eating. The reports from the beach heads were excellent. Very light and
ineffective opposition was being encountered, and all landings were proceeding
according to schedule. Later in the day we saw a destroyer that had been hit by
a suicider. One of its gun turrets was destroyed. Its deck was being cleaned of
burnt debris, and dead were lying on the fantail covered with sheets. We watched
it fascinated, and tried desperately to remember everything we had been taught
about the defensive tactics to be used against this type of attack.
before sunset two boats with an officer in charge departed to assist a net layer
in putting out anti-submarine nets in the Retto. Then just before sunset we
formed up with our squadron and retired for the night retirement area. This
retirement at night was to avoid air and submarine attacks while we were sitting
steamed through the darkness with Jap planes constantly being reported nearby.
The following morning we were again off the Islands. The day was relatively
uneventful. We furnish fuel to an APD, and we waited to be called into the
beach. The fighting on shore was progressing ahead of schedule, and we began to
think that the whole show was going to be a very tame one for us. We returned to
the retirement area again that night, and the next morning, March 29, we had our
first air attack aimed at our convoy. Early in the morning hours a Jap dive
bomber sneaked in and made a low level bombing attack on the AKA off our port
quarter. The plane zoomed over our ship at a low altitude and escaped. We
could hear the roar of its motor and see its exhaust flashes, but as the night
was very dark we could not identify its type. It had dropped one bomb that
missed the AKA, but did some underwater damage and the ship had to drop out of
formation. At dawn we arrived inside the island's harbor and went to a
previously designated anchorage.
Shima was one half mile to the East of us. Kuba Shima was a. half mile to the
West and Yakabi was the same distance to the Northwest. There were several air
alerts during the day when a couple of Zeros came overhead.
Early in the afternoon one of our signalmen reported that he could see a group of Japs on the beach of Aka Shima, We trained our glasses on them and there in full army uniform, but minus weapons, were a group of twenty or thirty bandy legged, Nipponese soldiers. One was waving a white flag tied to a pole, while several of the others were gesturing with what appeared to be white handkerchiefs in their hands. They had had enough and wanted to surrender in the worst sort of way. Not one of the ships sent in boats to pick them up. Several hours later they could still be seen trying forlornly to gain attention. At last they decided that they weren't wanted and began wandering off into the brush, rock, and scrub pine that covered the Island.
On the evening of April I, we again left the anchorage on our way to a night's steaming. The area in which we would travel all night lay between Kerama Retto and the Sakashima Islands to the Southwest, which were still enemy held. The night was dark and overcast with little air activity being reported. An hour before dawn on the morning of April 2, we sleepily dragged ourselves to general quarters. It was misty and the visibility was very limited. We could barely see the last ship in our column even though the vessel was only 1200 yards astern of us. A few moments after we had manned our guns, one of the lockouts reported a plane breaking out of the fog. We all strained our eyes and there above the last ship in the column we could make out the shape of a slow flying, single motor plane. It was skimming along at masthead height trying to keep under the low cloud layer that hung over the water. It calmly flew over the last ship and as it passed over the transport directly astern of us we suddenly heard the staccato bark of a 20MM anti-aircraft gun. All eyes immediately focused upon the plane, which up to now we assumed to be a friendly scout, and as it neared our stern we could clearly see the two red meatballs of the Japanese Empire painted on its wings. We opened fire at a range of about five hundred yards. The pilot, apparently not yet in the mood to die for his Emperor, banked his craft sharply to the left and speedily headed for the nearby cloud cover. As he zoomed for altitude he dropped a bomb, which landed between the columns of ships, doing no damage. All our fire did to him was blow a few pieces of aluminum off his wings and possibly frighten him.
We reached gloomy depths because we felt that we had muffed our chance to get a much-coveted Jap flag painted upon our bridge. We returned and spent the remainder of the day in our usual anchorage.
Early in the afternoon we again went through the narrow passage between Kuba Shima and Yakabi Shima and headed Southwest. Just as we sat down to our evening meal all hell broke loose. The ensuing action is best described in the official action report, which follows, and in the letters of commendation written by the Commander of Army troops aboard, Lt. Col. G. G. Cooney, and his executive officer. Major J. M. Culpepper.
USS MOUNTRAIL (APA-213)
c/o Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, California
6 April 1945
From: Commanding Officer.
To: Commander, Transport Squadron SEVENTEEN.
Subj: Enemy Aircraft—Claim to Destruction of.
Re.: (a) ComTransRon 17 Dispatch 042350.
(b) PacFIt Ltr. 51L-44 of 28 September 1944.
Enc: (A) Statement of Lt. Col. Gerald G. Cooney.
(B) Statement of Major James M. Culpepper.
1. In accordance with reference (a) this vessel submits its claim to have splashed and assisted in splashing five (5) enemy planes during the AA action on the night of 2 April 1945. Three (3) of these planes were "Sure Splashes" unassisted by the gunfire of other ships and two (2) were "Sure Splash Assists."
2. In order to distinguish with unmistakable clarity the particular planes which this vessel claims to have splashed, each plane observed to have participated in the attack, whether taken under fire by this vessel or not is separately discussed, indicating what part, if any, this vessel played in its destruction. This report is based on a careful and discriminating objective analysis of the testimony of all officers participating in, or in a position to observe, the firing; and careful screening has eliminated all possibility of unintentional duplication.
3. As observed by the personnel of this vessel, nine (9) enemy planes identified as "Francis" participated in the attack. Analysis of the actions of each plane involved in the attack is set forth in chronological sequence as follows.
(a) The first plane sighted was destroyed in the air. It was not under fire from surface vessels. Two friendly F4Us attacked it and it exploded in mid-air after showing a trail of smoke. This vessel in no way participated in its destruction.
(b) The second plane was observed immediately thereafter. At the instant it was observed, it had gone into an attack-dive and crashed the U.S.S. HENRICO. No return fire was observed from any ship. This vessel in no way participated in its destruction.
(c) The surprise and speed of attack achieved by the enemy had averted any return fire up to this point. However, by this time this vessel's after twin 40MM and other War-Cruising Condition gun crews had opened fire on a third plane which appeared off our starboard quarter. General Quarters had been sounded and Condition I gun crews were rapidly manning their stations with a consequent increasing volume of fire being delivered. No gunfire from other ships was observed. Hits were observed and the plane was splashed without threatening any surface ship. Credit claimed for a "Sure Splash" unassisted by other ships in this case.
(d) Next a twin-engined bomber (identified as enemy "Francis") appeared off our starboard quarter. It winged over and went into a suicide dive directed at the U.S.S. TELFAIR, which also engaged the plane. Smoke and flame was observed to come from the plane before it struck and splashed over the port bow of the TELFAIR. Observers state that hits were registered by the fire of this vessel. It is believed that the gunfire of this vessel participated in a "Sure Assist."
(e) At this point, a plane was seen to go into a dive well forward of the convoy, followed by a burst and prolonged flames. It is believed that this was the plane that struck the APD-21. This vessel in no way participated in its destruction.
(f) Almost simultaneously a twin-engined bomber (identified as "Francis") appeared slightly forward of the starboard beam on a course of approximately 15 degrees, range about 9000 yards. The 5"/38 gun took it under fire and the first burst appeared to commit the pilot to his course of action. The plane winged over and went into a dive apparently aimed at the bridge of this vessel. Every starboard-bearing gun commenced rapid fire, which was sustained without interruption. The plane kept corning through a solid cone of fire and it appeared that nothing on this earth could possibly stop it. Then, at a range of about 500 yards, it suddenly barreled over and splashed into the sea. Despite the intent to make this a purely objective and conservative report, it is utterly impossible to describe this action without a sense of emotion for the superb gallantry and heroism of all hands, especially the gun crews. In the face of almost certain destruction, not a single man faltered for so much as an instant. This vessel emphatically claims a "Sure Splash," unassisted by the gunfire of other vessels.
(g) With hardly an opportunity for interruption of fire, another plane appeared in approximately the same position as a previous one and on a parallel-and-opposite course (identified as a "Francis") apparently making an estimate of the situation. The 5"/38 took it under fire and its second burst chewed off its tail. The plane dipped, went into a nose-dive and splashed into the sea without having committed itself to an attack. No gunfire from any other ship was observed. This vessel claims, with equal emphasis, a "Sure Splash" of this plane unassisted by the gunfire of other ships.
(h) Simultaneously (or possibly slightly preceding) the Quad 40MM and Forward Twin Starboard 40MM Guns engaged another plane which was crossing forward from starboard to port and apparently aiming at the U.S.S.GOODHUE. Observers reported that hits were scored and flames were seen to emerge from the plane before it struck the GOODHUE on the fantail. It is believed that the gunfire of this vessel may have participated in a "Sure Assist."
(i) The last enemy plane observed by this vessel failed to participate in the attack. Apart from its enemy character, its identification was somewhat uncertain. It circled and left the area, trailed and apparently pursued by two F4Us. It did not appear to be taken under fire by any surface vessel.
4. If any other enemy planes participated in this attack, they were not observed by the personnel of this vessel.
5. The supporting statements of Lt. Col. Gerald G. Cooney and Major James M. Culpepper, both of whom were present on the bridge throughout the major portion of the action, are enclosed. These statements represent entirely independent observation on the action, although, of course, there has been much general discussion of the action throughout the ship.
6. The Commanding Officer is fully conscious of the magnitude of our claims and, for that very reason, subjected all testimony on the subject to a most exacting and rigid scrutiny, rejecting everything that failed to have the support of numerous independent sources of evidence. He even tested his own direct observations and those of the Executive Officer against the testimony of others to check the coincidence of details. Judged by this exacting and objective attitude, the Commanding Officer feels that he could not, in strict honesty and with good faith toward his ship's company, claim less than has been set forth in the preceding paragraphs.
7. The Commanding Officer at this time wishes to state that the results attained show the benefits of an almost unceasing period of drills and especially great benefits derived by the gun crews always tracking planes whenever they are within sight.
R. K. STEVENS.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST BATTALION
On the evening of April 2nd I was aboard the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL with my Battalion (1st Bn. 307th Inf.) when a group of approximately ten (10) Japanese suicide planes attacked our convoy. It was a privilege to witness the splendid courage and devotion to duty of the officers and men of the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL. The U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL I am sure was the first ship to pick up the enemy planes and open fire. The first plane I saw was flying parallel to our Starboard side. All guns opened up on the Jap "Francis." The plane made a slight roll and angled off to the left with smoke streaming from its tail. On its way down the plane hit the forward part of the TELFAIR. Shortly afterwards the plane that dove on the GOODHUE was brought under fire by all guns forward of the bridge. I am sure their assistance helped considerably in setting the Jap plane afire before it hit the GOODHUE.
A few minutes later a Jap "Francis" far out on our Starboard turned and headed directly into our ship. All the guns on the starboard side opened up and stayed on the approaching Jap plane until it exploded about 500 yards from the ship. This particular action was the most impressive experience I have ever witnessed of courage and plain Guts! Considering the fact that these men are 75% new men and their first action. It was extremely encouraging to stand there and watch the crews of two guns in particular stay at their guns with the Jap plane headed directly into the guns. Not as much as an ammunition bearer left his post until the Jap plane exploded close enough to almost feel the blast of the plane as it exploded about 500 yards from the ship. There is absolutely no question that the splendid courage and devotion to duty of these men saved the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL and our men from a disastrous evening.
The next plane witnessed was at a great range passing parallel to our ship. The five ( 5 ) inch gun on the fan-tail fired two shots. The second shot knocked the tail off and the bomber burst into flames and plunged into the sea. Those were the only two shots fired at the plane. To me this whole action showed splendid courage and devotion to duty which can come only as a result of good training and teamwork. I must say I am exceptionally grateful to be aboard the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL after witnessing the action of April 2nd.
Lt. Col. GERALD G. COONEY
1st Bn., 307th Infantry.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST BATTALION'
On the evening of 2 April I was on the bridge of the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL when several enemy planes attacked the convoy. To the best of my knowledge the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL was the first ship to open fire on the attackers. The first plane fired on was flying parallel to the ship on the starboard side. All guns opened up with effective AA fire and as the plane began its suicide run on the U.S.S. TELFAIR it burst into flames before splashing. It is my belief that the fire of the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL greatly assisted in the destruction of this enemy plane.
Following this action a twin-engine bomber was brought under fire by the guns of this ship. The plane started a suicide attack on the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL from about 10,000 yards. The following action was one of gallantry for all officers and men of the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL. The attacker was kept in a solid cone of fire until it splashed several hundred yards from the ship. There is no doubt that the heroic and gallant action of all gun crews in the face of almost certain destruction, saved the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL from serious damage to ship, crew, and troops.
A short time later a two-engine bomber was sighted at a great range moving parallel to the ship. The five (5) inch gun of this ship shot its tail off with the second shot and the plane splashed into the sea. There was no other hits observed on this plane.
Another plane attacked the U.S.S. GOODHUE and was set on fire by AA from the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL and other ships. This plane was kept under constant fire from guns of this ship throughout the suicide run. The actions of all officers and men of the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL under enemy fire assured all army troops aboard that we are in "Good Hands" and showed that this ship is prepared to handle any emergency.
JAMES M. CULPEPPER
Major, 307th Infantry.
The entire action lasted only about twenty minutes, but to us it seemed years. When the plane that nearly got us finally fell, there arose from every man on the ship a cheer of triumph and hate that came from our very hearts. A few moments later when the last enemy plane had been shot down we all stood there straining our eyes looking for another target to destroy, another Jap to kill. That spell lasted only a few minutes, and then we all started chattering like magpies. Every man wanted to give his version of the action, and each had seen the thing a little differently.
We remained at general quarters until 2200 and then wearily went to our bunks to lie awake and let the patterns of planes and tracers whirl around our brains for hours. Our exultation at splashing three planes was more than tempered by the sight of soldiers and sailors dying horrible flaming deaths on the ships that had been hit.
Enemy planes were searching for us all night, but fortunately they didn't find us as the sky was filled with dense low hanging clouds. We were called out of our bunks by the general alarm several times before morning but did not see any more aircraft. We returned to Kerama Retto at dawn and found that the ships that had remained there through the night had also been under constant attack by the suiciders.
We rested at: anchor all (.lay and that evening our squadron again sailed out to the retirement area. This time we headed Southeast, which took us out of the path of aircraft coming up from Sakashima and Formosa. We did not return to the anchorage in the morning but continued steaming for the next ten days. We would travel 140 miles on one course, •change direction 90 degrees to port, steam 40 miles and then alter course 90 degrees to port and sail back 140 miles. Traveling around this rectangle became monotonous but we were more than thankful that the Japs were not bothering us. We had a couple of submarine contacts. Our escorting destroyers depth charged the area each time they suspected a submarine's presence while we put on full power and hauled out of the way. No positive proof in the form of oil or wreckage ever floated to the surface to prove that subs had actually been stalking us. Late at night on the 14th we turned towards Okinawa, sailed up the Western coast of the island and headed for the Hagushi Beaches. As we traveled along the coast we could see the flashes of the artillery duels on shore and close at hand cruisers and battleships were pouring murderous broadsides into the Jap lines. We could see the red hot projectiles arch their fiery path through the night and burst in a mushroom of flame on the shore. One out of every few would be a star shell, which would flood the island with an intense light. On shore, small arms and heavy weapons would blast anything that moved, while thousands of eyes peered across the fireswept no-mans-land. Two hundred years ago Francis Scott Key must have witnessed a smaller but in many ways similar display of deadly pyrotechnics when he described such a scene. We too were witnessing freedom's holy light at its grimmest.
The morning of the 15th we awakened to find ourselves anchored about a mile off the beach where the Army and Marines had stormed ashore I? days earlier. Down the coast, about 5 miles to the south, we could see the pall of smoke that marked the front line positions, while opposite us in the low hills could be seen the Kadena airfield, now being used as a Marine fighter and interceptor base. Up the coast to the north stretched the mountainous section of Okinawa where the Sixth Marine Division was mercilessly digging scattered Jap units out of their caves and hideouts. Around us on all sides were ships representing every class of vessel in commission.
Just at dusk of our first day here we were alerted by an air raid when several Jap planes came over the land, apparently intending to make suicide attacks on the ships in the anchorage. Two were immediately shot down. The third plane, visible to us, miraculously flew one of the densest anti-aircraft barrages that anyone aboard our ship had ever seen. There were numerous other attacks the next two days, but the Marine and Navy pilots did a wonderful job shooting down most of the planes before they even came near the shipping,
We received word on the 16th that we were to participate in a demonstration landing off the southeastern coast of the island. The purpose of this attack was to simulate a full scale landing so that the Japs would draw troops out of their front lines to meet the new threat. This, it was hoped, would enable our army to crack the stubborn defensive positions across the center of the island, which were protecting the capital city of Naha and its adjacent airfields.
On the night of the 17th we got underway, and dawn found the ships about 8 miles off the enemy held beaches. Closer to shore our battleships and cruisers were bombarding the shoreline and the territory immediately inland. Still closer to the beaches LCI rocket ships and gunboats were blasting the hills and shore with tons of explosives.
Along with the other ships present, we lowered our boats, loaded them with troops, and dispatched them to the rendezvous area. The transports then headed out to sea to wait until the feint was completed. Our boats formed up in waves and headed for the line of departure through the rough, whitecap covered seas.
Most of the soldiers were seasick before they had barely begun. As we neared the line of departure our boat waves formed a line abreast and waited with their engines idling for the signal that would start them on a two mile dash towards the Jap held shore. The signal was executed and the boats roared away while the bombarding ships intensified their fire. Several squadrons of divebombers and fighters began bombing and rocketing the shoreline with high explosives. Their gyrations ending in screaming dives reminded us of the attack of an angry swarm of bees.
As we neared the beach we saw a few splashes in the water which we assumed was enemy mortar or artillery fire, but since the shells were falling at least a quarter of a mile away from us it caused no concern. Two thousand yards from shore our boats swung sharply to the left and then headed out to sea again while our control boat remained behind to see that there were no disabled boats left behind to drift onto the beach. All our craft cleared the area safely, then wet, tired and seasick we turned back to the transport area where the ship was waiting to hoist us aboard. Because of the heavy seas it was difficult t-o secure the boats. Soon though, the convoy got under way again for the Hagushi Beaches. We dropped anchor that afternoon about a mile off shore.
Four days were spent waiting for word to unload the troops, and sometimes during the day and always at night there were air raids. When it was dark our two smoke boats would lay a dense smoke screen around the ship at the approach of Jap planes. Most of the time the smoke effectively hid us from aircraft, but waiting at our gun stations in a grey billowing artificial fog was hard on the nervous system when we could hear the engines of the aircraft as they skimmed the water looking for us. We would strain our eyes, and occasionally through a hole in the smoke we would see the exhaust flare of a searching Jap, but gradually we would become used to the routine until a smoke generator would blow up and start burning, or a perverse wind would start to disperse our smoke screen. Our Bullhorn and those of the hundreds of ships around us would bellow out orders over the water to their, often lost, smoke boats. The order "Smoky make smoke" would sound off at first when the planes were miles away and if for some reason the order was not immediately complied with, the horn would keep repeating the order with a volume and urgency entering into the talker's voice that was inversely proportional to the distance the enemy was from us at the time.
Gradually the words "Smoky make smoke" became the battle cry of the Okinawa campaign, while the Hagushi anchorage became known as "Smoky Hollow."
Finally on the 23rd of April we received orders to debark troops and unload cargo. All the boats were lowered and we turned to the job with a will. We wanted to get out of there as soon as we possibly could The beach party went ashore, set up a command post and started surveying the beaches for a suitable spot to land the vehicles. The boats were loaded and started making shuttle trips to and from the beaches and the unloading pontoons that the Sea Bees were operating. All day and night we worked without stopping except for the inevitable air raid. On the following day we carried the last load to shore and our boat crews then wearily returned to the ship and were hoisted aboard by equally weary deck hands. In preparation for our departure we sent out a message to all smaller amphibious ships telling them that we had some fresh provisions for issue. Immediately LCIs, LSMs, and LCTs descended upon us like a swarm of hungry ants upon a picnic cake. When we had finished giving food away we had very little left aboard, but we were glad to give it to those people. We were going to return to a rear area while these poor devils would have to stay out here much longer.
April 26th we heaved in and with the entire ship in high spirits we set sail with our convoy bound for Ulithi Atoll in the Western Carolines. As we sailed southward along the coast of Okinawa, I know there were many of us that said a silent and personal prayer for the safety of the men we had carried aboard and who were now getting ready to go into the front lines. We had found the 1st Battalion willing to work and fight alongside us as comrades. Radio Tokyo referred to these men as "The Bloody Butchers of Guam" but we will remember them always as good shipmates and friends. We steamed past the Western end of the battle line where we could see clearly the artillery duels still thundering; past the Southern tip of this island that was to exact such a toll of blood from our nation, and then we set our course to the Southeast.
On the 30th of April we anchored in the lagoon at Ulithi and began taking life easy for the next few days. The carpenter shop made a couple of aquaplanes which we towed and precariously rode around the lagoon. We sent daily liberty parties of officers and men to the recreation island of Mog Mog while those left on board started cleaning up and painting the ship.
[Mog Mog picture]
A few words should be written about the Island Paradise of Mog Mog. It's a small coral dot about one mile long and half a mile wide at the broadest point. On shore there is a large recreation area and a baseball field with the only substantial buildings on the island being the refrigeration huts where thousands of cases of beer are kept cool for the fighting men of the fleet. So far it sounds good. However, the heat is so bad that you sweat continuously, but because the humidity is high the. Sweat won’t evaporate so you become sticky, smelly and uncomfortable. The glare of the hot sun on the glistening white coral is so bright that you get a splitting headache in a very short time. The icy beer tastes wonderful and refreshing but treacherously assists the sun in torturing your aching cranium. Then there are the crowds. Literally thousands of sailors are ashore trying to relax after weeks aboard crowded ships, and if you find a shady spot to rest you are considered either lucky or quite tough. Then to amuse ourselves we fight. Yes that's right, we start fights with men from other ships. They are not vicious battles, mind you, and it's all done in the spirit of hearty good fellowship with everyone joining in but the shore patrol who vainly try to keep more than three or four hundred men from fighting at one time, and also try to keep themselves from being the victims of some minor mayhem. Yes indeed! Mog Mog was very- relaxing. You could go ashore, let off your steam, have a drink, and return aboard with an entirely new perspective on life.
Beginning the 18th we had four days of anti-aircraft firing practice. We anchored our ship in the firing anchorage and planes towed targets past our guns at every- imaginable angle. We shot down 7 of the targets and felt justifiably proud because it was the best shooting done by any APA in our group. On the night of May the 21st we received a message aboard ship that we just couldn't bring ourselves to believe was intended for us "PROCEED TO THE UNITED STATES." At 0650 the next morning to the strains of "California Here I Come," we sortied from the lagoon and set our course to the East and Home.
May 28th we re-crossed the International Date Line and lost a day. On June 1st we sighted Diamond Head Light on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands and kept right on sailing. By the 5th of the month we had the ship really shining for the Captain's Inspection, and when the Commanding Officer seemed fairly well satisfied with what he found, all minds turned with one accord to making plans for liberty in San Francisco.
On the morning of June 6th we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge while the Chaplain said a prayer over the loud speaking system, thanking God for our safe return and praying for the many men left behind us who would never again see the shores of their homeland.
We all felt serious and reflective because we realized suddenly that during the last five months we had learned some very simple truths. We felt that only those who have come close to death can realize how precious life is; that our country represents everything to us that we are fighting for, our homes, wives and families. We were really grateful to be back alive, and capable of returning to finish the destruction of our hated enemies.
LIBERTY COMMENCED AT 1600