HISTORY OF THE USS NATRONA (APA 214) (FOR PUBLIC INFORMATION PURPOSES)
At 1408, 8 November at Richmond Ship Yard #2, Richmond, California, the National Ensign, Union Jack, and Commission Pennant were hoisted and the USS NATRONA was officially commissioned. During the ceremony the ship was delivered to the Commanding Officer, Captain E. E. WINQUIST. Executive Officer Lt. Comdr, C. R. BOWER, gave the order to set the watch; our ship began her relatively short but active career.
The first two weeks were hectic ones. Loading was done around the clock in bad weather. The ship had to a camouflage paint job. Two units had to report aboard for duty, and the ship in all ways had to be made ready for sea. On 12 November the boat Group reported aboard for duty. On the 15 November the Beach Group reported aboard. After loading ammunition at Mare Island the ship was ready for sea and her shakedown.
On 23 November 1944 we got underway for San Pedro, CA with a crew consisting mostly of men going on their first cruise. For a majority of the Junior Officers and men it was their first time out of the States. General Drills were held for the first time and the watch quarter and station bill had to be ironed out on completion of them.
It was Thanksgiving Day; turkey and all the fixings were served, but there was one thing we were not thankful for on that day; that was the weather, for it was a wild night. Despite the excellence of our Thanksgiving feast many of the neophytes were definitely "off their chow". Further more, some Officers and men were standing underway watches for the first time and it was natural for them to desire less rugged conditions of wind and wave. When we arrived at San Pedro the next morning we felt that our ship had shown the ability to take it from the elements. So began a process of building confidence in ourselves and in our ship.
At San Pedro, on 24 November 1944, the ship commenced the shakedown and training cruise under the guidance of the San Pedro shakedown Group. For twelve days the ship underwent extensive tactical maneuvers, firing exercises, general drills, and battle problems.
On 9 December 1944 the ship got underway for San Diego, where we were to execute a two-week program in amphibious operations and doctrine. This was a familiar beach for the boat group, as they had spent eights weeks previous to reporting aboard for duty. Landing operations daylight and at night. On the afternoon of 22 December, 1944 our shakedown and amphibious training had been completed and the ship got underway for the U.S.N. Repair Base, San Diego, CA to undergo repairs and alterations. It was here that the ship spent Christmas Day. For the fortunate few, who lived in or near San Diego it was of course a very happy circumstance. Aboard ship a bountiful meal was served with all the trimmings to help ease the loneliness of those who were away from their families during the holiday season, some, for the first time. The first and second days of the New Year 1945, the ship began the accomplishment primary mission. Marines from the Marine landing Service Squadron 1 and 4, and Air Warning Squadron 6 and 7, came aboard for transportation to Pearl Harbor. The loading of these troops and their equipment was our first exercise in combat loading. (This same group we were to later meet at Okinawa). At 12:27 we got underway and stood out of San Diego harbor, sailing independently. There were many backward glances as the last outline of the United States, which we were destined not to see again for seven months, slowly dropped behind the horizon.
Arriving in Pearl Harbor on the morning of 9 January 1945, many saw for the first time our great Naval Base, acquiring a better conception of the vastness and complexity of Naval warfare in the Pacific. It was here that the war started, and we saw that our great powerhouse in the Pacific had not only been rebuilt but also tremendously expanded.
On 17 January 1945, we left Pearl Harbor, this time in convoy (PD256 -T) an eight-ship group of the USS WHARTON (APA-7), USS TAZWELL (APA-209), USS TELFAIR (APA-210), USS EASTLAND (APA-163), USS BUTTE (APA-68), all escorted by USS COCKRELL and USS FRENCH to form Task Unit 16.8.13, proceeding to Saipan via Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. Our troops were the 806th Engineering Battalion bound for Saipan. At Eniwetok we changed convoys, joining the USS BUTTE (APA-68), SS CAPE JOHN, SS GELASCO, SS W.S. CLARK, SS ACHESON, SS NAPIER, SS CODDINGTON, SS R.R.ROSS, SS RICHARD O'BRIEN, USS LST 481 and using escorts USS BUOYANT (AM-153), USS PC1127, USS CASTLEROCK (AVP-35), and USS CLIMAX (AM-161), our commanding officer being convoy commodore for the 900 mile run to Saipan.
From Saipan, on 5 February 1945, we sailed toward Ulithi in the Western Caroline Islands, carrying some 700 sacks of mail and a number of transient passengers destined for Leyte in the Philippine Island, returning to duty from hospitalization. The USS BUTTE sailed in company with us.
We arrived in Ulithi Lagoon on the morning of 7 February 1945. Here we visited the famous little island of Mog Mog that has been a fleet recreation center since shortly after the atoll was taken. At this time there rode at anchor in Ulithi Lagoon the mightiest force we had ever seen. All of Task Force 58 was there: and what a show of power: Shortly afterwards we read in the ship's paper of their strike on Tokyo which preceded the Iwo Jima invasion. It was here in Ulithi that we took aboard some of our combat load for the invasion everyone felt in the offing. Our new passengers were a squadron of Marine night fighters whom we were to land on Okinawa.
We stood out of Ulithi Lagoon and formed an eighteen-ship convoy in route to Leyte via Kossol Roads in the Palau Islands. With us was the USS
While en route to Leyte we read in the ships paper that Iwo had been invaded.
At Kossol Roads other ships joined us. Among them was the SS CAPE NEDDICK, USS CHILTON (APA-38), USS OBERTON (APA-14). USS LST-813, USS LST 814, USS LSM 321, USS CEBU (ARG-6) DE-708, DE-355, and DE-356 HENRICO (APA-45), USS TETON (AGC-14), USS VIRGO (AKA), USS TYRRELL (AKA-80, USS MONTROSE (212), USS MONTRAIL (APA-213), USS LYCOMING (APA-155), USS NESHOBA (APA-216), USS TATE (AKA-70), DE 439, DE 440 and AM 319.
The morning, 16 February, a score of Marine Corsairs were dive-bombing and strafing installations on Babelthuap Island. This was our first sight of active warfare.
The NATRONA arrived in Leyte Gulf on the morning of 21 February. Here we were engaged for thirty days in preparations for the largest scale invasion ever undertaken in the Pacific. We spent our time between Tarraguna and San Pedro Bay loading our ship and others of Transport Squadron 17. Our beach party was ashore, supervising the loading of the 77th Infantry Division on to our ships. Cargo of the 77th Division Quartermaster Corps, Thirty-sixth Field Hospital, 203rd Port Company, and the 305th Infantry, was loaded aboard our ship. Soon after arrival in the Leyte area we were subjected to night air attacks and although we didn't see an enemy plane we knew what it was like to hear general quarters piped over the P.A. system for other than training purposes.
There were times in those 30 days at Leyte when the air was almost as full of gripes and growls as it was of rain. There was much labor and loss of sleep for all hands, executing logistics plan devised by experts who thought of everything except that there were only 24 hours in each day. There was a rehearsal of our forth-coming amphibious operations. Seven Boat Group Officers were detached and reported to L.S.T.'s for temporary duty as Wave Guide Officers. Weather and surf conditions were very bad and some costly accidents to landing craft resulted. We felt tired when we left Leyte, but were a more experienced, better-coordinated, more toughened crew than we had been on arrival. This was well.
The afternoon of 21 March 1945, we got underway for the Kerama Retto area, Ryukyu Islands. Our convoy consisted of 21 ships, six destroyers, four destroyer escorts as screen, and three CVE's assigned for air coverage. Among them were the following; USS MT McKinley (AGC 7), USS Henrico (APA-45), USS Samuel Chase (APA-26), USS Tate (AKA-70), USS Rixey (APH-3), USS Clamp (AMS-33), USS Goodhue (APA-107), USS Eastland (APA-163), USS Telfair (APA-210), USS Montrail (APA-213), USS Montrose (APA- 212). USS LaGrange (APA-124), USS Drew (APA-162), USS Wyandot (AKA-92), USS Chilton (APA-38), USS St Marys (APA-126), USS Tazwell (APA-209), USS Suffolk (AKA-69), USS Oberon (AKA-14), USS Torrance (AKA-76), USS PCE (R) 853, and the USS Tekesta (ATF-93). DesRon 49 was our escort command on the USS Picking (DD 585), with USS Sproston (DD 577), USS Isherwood (DD 520), USS Porter (DD 579), USS Badger (DD 567), USS Kimberly (DD 521), and Escort Division 69 in USS Suesen (DE 342), with USS Abercrombie DE 343), USS Oberrender (DE 344), and USS Stern (DE 187). As task Group 51.1, we were a part of the largest task force ever formed for a Pacific operation; we were the Western Islands Attack Force under the leadership of Rear Admiral KILAND who was aboard the USS MT MCKINLEY (AGC-7) our flagship. We met no opposition as we sailed closer to our objective.
For most of us aboard the NATRONA it was our first amphibious assault and little sleep was to be had the night before L-6 day, the day we were to hit the several small islands in the Kerama Retto group just 20 miles west of the southern part of Okinawa. On the morning of March 26 1945 at 04:57, we arrived at the designated transport area FOX.
Our air forces had been there before us and on the island several large fires were observed.
Here we left the squadron and proceeded with two APD escorts to an area designated as JIG, set condition 1 Able, and lowered away 9 boats that were to be used as wave-guides.
Returning to area FOX we were under air attack. It gave one a dread feeling to be able to see planes whose pilot's intent was to crash their planes into our ships. One suicide attempt was unsuccessful as a plane careened into the water carrying away only the stack on a nearby APD. A flash of flame was seen on the horizon as one of our outlying escorts was hit by a Kamikaze. Two other enemy aircraft were observed to have gone down in flames about five miles away. Later when "All Clear" was sounded, we were thankful that our ship and its crew came through their baptism of fire unscathed.
We move into inner transport area GEORGE and commenced giving fuel and ammunition to small craft, as we did also on following days. Late that same afternoon our boats returned bearing the tidings we were anxious to hear; that our Boat Group Commander, Wave Guide Officers, and boat crews were all safe, that the landings were successful, and that American casualties had been very light.
They brought other news also; we were astonished to learn that Kerama Retto had been developed by the Japs as a base to launch suicidal attacks using small powerboats loaded with TNT. Several hundred of these boats were destroyed. Thus, the capture of Kerama Retto was more than merely an acquisition of a fine, strategically located anchorage; it was a serious blow to Japanese plans for the defense of Okinawa. All seven of our Boat Group Officers returned safely in the next few days; each with his own particular story to tell of how his wave landed on the beaches.
In accordance with operational plans our squadron retired from the Kerama Retto anchorage each evening, to avoid the heavy air attacks which were expected in that area. Air alerts were frequent but no actual contact was made with the enemy until the night of 29 March, when one Jap heavy bomber, possibly a Betty, flew over the group dropping mines in the path of the ships. Unfortunately the USS WYANDOTTE (AKA 92) struck one of these mines, but remained operational and managed to get back to Kerama Retto independently. Then on the night of April first, the day the main body of our forces struck Okinawa, several formations of Jap planes attacked our squadron. They were either shot down or driven off with no damage sustained to of our ships.
The next night, (April 2) however produced a battle lasting about thirteen hours. It began without warning when one of our ships, the USS HENRICO (APA 45), in column next to the NATRONA, was struck on the starboard side of the bridge by a twin engine Jap bomber, causing great damage and heavy casualties. The terrific explosion on the HENRICO was a soul-shaking prelude to general quarters, which, although sounded immediately, found many who had seen or heard this suicidal attack were already on their way to battle stations. This was quite fortunate, for the USS RISEY, (APH 3), in the column behind us, opened fire immediately on the second attacking plane placing several three inch bursts right under it as it was apparently preparing to dive on the NATRONA. This plane banked to port instead of diving, swinging in a wide arc, which terminated in a dive on one of our screening ships ahead. We felt that this was a narrow escape for us, particularly as one of our holds was full of gasoline, and we believe the Rixey's three bursts below him did more to drive this Jap away from the NATRONA than our own fire. Within a short time Kamikaze attacks by enemy planes had resulted in damage and casualties aboard two other transports and one of our escorting ships, the sinking of another escort ship, and damage to a destroyer cruising about three miles east of our squadron.
Through out the night Japanese aircraft continued to hover in our vicinity, some attacking and being driven off. It was not until dawn, when we were returning to the anchorage that the battle ended with the shooting down of a Jap Judy and Tojo by ships at Kerama Retto. It had been a night of tense waiting and swift action. The NATRONA is credited with an assist on one of the shot down, and if we had not felt like "Old Hands" before that night, we certainly did when we sat down to a late breakfast the next morning.
On 3 April 1945, we remained at anchor at Kerama Retto, although the rest of the squadron retired for a two-day period. On 4 April, we anchored in the south gate anchorage.
Seven G.Q.'s later on April 6, the Japanese launched a typical three-point attack. This attack appeared to be an all out offensive against our forces in the Okinawa area. It was the heaviest air attack on the Kerama Retto anchorage. Combat Information Center reported that on almost every bearing "Bogies" were closing. At 16:27 two planes believed to have been Japanese Judy's came winging in towards the southern entrance. Although the curtain of anti-aircraft fire was terrific they managed to get in; one hitting an LST anchored astern of us. The second plane was taken under fire by this ship and others nearby, then it turned in an opposite direction and disappeared behind Fukashi Jima and it was undetermined whether this plane hit a ship in the western anchorage or was shot down.
At 18:47 a Japanese Jill was observed closing the vicinity in which we were anchored and appeared to be heading straight for us. Our Five-inch gun opened up on him at 3200 yards. The bursts were effective and he changed course to avert being hit; the thirteenth shot burst right over his nose and he hit the water before having a chance to drop his torpedo. The shooting down of this plane was the first sure "Kill" for the NATRONA and all hands were proud of our five-inch gun crew.
Shortly after-wards another plane got through the rain of anti-aircraft fire and succeeded in suicide on a merchant ship just outside the southern entrance to the anchorage. Many ships were hit that day and again we felt we were on a lucky ship. It is not a pleasant sight to see a ship go in flames, and that day will be remembered by the men on the NATRONA, as we saw much that could not be forgotten.
The next day, 7 April 1945, we completed the unloading of 77th Division cargo and were relieved to see the last of the 350 drums of gasoline loaded onto the LST that was along side. All of us, I guess had in the back of our minds that if the ship were hit our chances of survival were better without all that gasoline aboard.
On 8 April we got underway for Hagushi Beach area, Okinawa, where we debarked the Marine Night Fighter Squadron we had picked up at Ulithi. The unloading of their gear and other cargo we had aboard for Okinawa was performed in extremely good time, considering that it had to be transferred from our boats to amphibious tracked vehicles at points outside the coral reefs.
We returned to Kerama Retto on 10 April, to embark Lt Gen Bruce, Commanding Officer of the 77th Division, and his staff, for transportation to Okinawa. Arriving again at Hagushi Beach on 11 April, Gen BRUCE and his staff were transferred to the USS PANAMINT, (AGC-13). At 03:30 the next morning we were again under heavy air attack. One plane, a Jap Betty, crashed off our port quarter about 1600 yards. At 05:46 one Zeke was observed dead ahead 2000 yards. Our quad 40MM gun and three 20MM guns, as well as guns on other ships, took this plane under fire, bringing him down in flames off our port bow at 1800 yards. This was our second sure assist.
Not to be overlooked was the death of our Commander-in-Chief, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. According to Navy custom, flags flew at half-mast on April 14th.
Returning to Kerama Retto on 14 April, completely unloaded, we thought we were to retire to rear areas and breathe some air that was not so full of Jap planes. Other plans, however, were in store for us, and when the anchor was let go in berth K-62, there we were to stay until 10 July, twelve weeks and two days. It was then we began to learn the extreme versatility of an attack transport.
In the following weeks we acted as station and receiving ship for Kerama Retto area, as well as Fleet Post Office, Headquarters for ComDesRon 2 and ComRepDesPac, Fleet Replacement Center, ComSerDiv 104, Registered Publications Issuing Office, ComSerRon 10 Representative B, and Fog Oil Coordinator and distributor for the Kerama Retto area. Many destroyers and destroyer escorts that had been damaged by Kamikaze planes were brought alongside us and made fast until repair facilities were available for them. We subsisted their crews, furnished boats to bury their dead on Zamami Shima, and supplied them with whatever we could of the things they needed. Throughout the many days and nights working parties and our ship's boats with crews were provided for various ships in the area.
It was not, however, such a "hum drum" routine as it sounds. We continued of course to have our meals, the little recreations we could find, our letters to our wives, and sleep interrupted at any and all hours by enemy air attacks originating from Kyuahu, Sakashima, or Formosa. In the entire sixteen weeks of our stay in the Okinawa area there were some two hundred eight of these disturbances. We wondered how the deck stood up under the pounding of feet running to battle stations.
Among the most unforgettable of these Japanese air attacks are the ones of 28 April, 6 May, and 22 June. On 28 April without warning one lone Jap plane got through the Radar guard and hit the USS PINKNEY (APH-2), anchored in the southern anchorage, causing heavy damage and many casualties among her crew and patients. Our boats were lowered away and sent to her assistance.
It is believed that one of our boats evacuated the first four casualties, bringing them to our ship for treatment. All this while a cone of anti-aircraft fire, centered on another one of the Jap attackers, appeared to be coming closer to our ship.
On 6 May at 09:00 another single Jap plane, believed to be Val or a Tony, was spotted coming in high over Aka Shima. At 3200 our ship and others took him under fire. When this plane started his long steep dive it looked as though he was headed straight for us. By the time he had gotten down to 1,000 he sheered off, probably out of control, causing minor damage on the USS ST GEORGE (AV-16), anchored a short distance away on the other side of Amuro Shima.
On 22 June, a surprise attack was launched on the anchorage by an undetermined number of Jap Oscars. The first warning came at 18:25 when one of ships, the USS CURTISS, (AV-4), had been hit by a suicide plane. One of our signalmen called out, "Suicide Planes!" Another plane was observed closing the NATRONA at about 2,000 feet. One of our 20MM guns started shooting from the open bridge.
All action that evening was so swift that many rounds were fired before we were called to G.Q. Our ship had been the first to fire in the anchorage and many observers aboard this ship believed that this effective 20MM fire caused the Oscar to turn away, going down smoking badly, and it must be presumed that this caused him to miss his target which he then had singled out as the USS KENNETH WHITING (AV-14).
We were given credit for another sure kill. Two other ships were hit in the anchorage that evening. These actions occurred for the most part during the hours of daylight or twilight and it was possible to see what was going on. During the night attacks it was necessary for us to man our battle stations under a heavy smoke screen, simply "Sweating it out" until Combat Information Center was satisfied there were no more "Bogies" in the area. The smoke screen was laid by specially equipped boats from ships in the harbor. They were kept constantly ready for this purpose and patrolled their stations from dusk until dawn. The smoke screen was extremely effective; the haze obscuring the target seemed to be the greatest discouragement to the intended Kamikaze.
The Kerama Retto anchorage was to be cleared eventually, and on 10 July we proceeded to Nakagusukuwan which had been renamed BUCKNER BAY. It was a thrill to be underway again even for so short a trip to change anchorages. At 11:38 we let go the anchor in berth L-32, firmly expecting to spend three months or so in our new location. Events however took another course; we were being relieved of all our duties. The various offices and activities that we were maintaining were being transferred to other ships. Scuttlebutt had it that the NATRONA was to retire to rear areas. When on the 14 July we received orders to sail the next day, it was almost too unbelievable to be true. Paraphrasing an announcement we had many times, (often with considerable irritation), the word was passed, on 15 July, 12:58, "All personnel for further transfer to the rear areas and the United States go to your special details!" Any criticism of the boatswains mate of the watch for deviating from Navy procedure was lost in a resounding roar of jubilation that rocked the ship.
We retired from Okinawa with such a record as caused us to be re-commended for the Navy Unit Commendation, endorsed by Commodore BRITTEN, our squadron commander, for the Okinawa invasion. For services rendered we received many a "Well done", both official and unofficial. We were credited with two enemy planes shot down. Our ship, along with the USS GOSPER, (APA-170), which had been with us throughout, had been in the area for a longer consecutive period of time than any other ship of our class- 16 weeks. We had been to our battle stations 208 times for a total of 203 hours and 49 minutes.
Sailing this time in a convoy of 7 ships, with 4 destroyers as escorts, we were the convoy commodore. We arrived in Ulithi 19 July and sailed the next day straight through to the UNITED STATES, with no more of a load than a few transient Navy personnel. At 08:00, on 5 August, we sailed through the Golden Gate and arrived in San Francisco for some earned "State-side" liberty. The crew was fortunate to be home with family and friends, to remember and pray for those left behind in the tragedies of Goodhue, Henrico, Pinckney, the destroyer and destroyer escort fleet torn apart by the Kamikaze terror as they performed such a faithful duty screening our ships from open attack, and so many others.
After anchoring temporarily in the Bay, the ship moved to Pier 18 south of the Bay Bridge where various off-loading activities commenced, certain watches received short liberty while others took off on extended leaves for home territory. Almost immediately on arrival, yard workers began alterations and repairs, a job that continued for the next 12 days
It was August 14th at 16:30 that President Harry Truman announced the Japanese capitulation and cessation of hostilities for World War II.
We were fortunate to be home the day the Japanese surrendered - the day, which we had so often prayed. Some of us were more fortunate than others to be home with our families when that news was received. Several of our experienced shipmates were eligible for discharge under the newly announced point system and they were replaced by men who, as we had been some eight months previously, were new to the ways of the sea.
Although the war was over, there was work still to be done. The NATRONA would be needed badly in the months to come to move troops from and to the forward areas. The NATRONA moved to Richmond Ship Yard # 3 on 6 August for much needed reconditioning. In dry dock the ship was painted reprovisioned and in all ways made ready for a second voyage. 2,100 pounds of fresh vegetables came aboard with 7 tons of K rations to follow, 2 tons of GSK stores, 10,045 gallons of lube oil and 14,595 gallons of fuel oil. With no further need for most of the landing craft, LCM's and LCVP's alike were left at the Albany, CA Naval Landing Force Equipment Depot.
At 10:20, 18 August 1945, the ship got underway for Pier 19 San Francisco where we commenced embarking troops. At Pier 15, on 20 August, we completed embarking 1,486 troops and 77 officers whom we were to take to Manila, P.I., then stood out of San Francisco harbor. The situation was different this time and we were more at ease, knowing it was only a question of time before we would be home with our families to stay.
En route to Manila we said goodbye to officers and men who had acquired enough points for discharge. They were sent from such places as Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok and Ulithi. At Pearl our commanding officer, Captain E.E. WINQUIST, USNR, was detached and released form active duty under the Navy demobilization system. The Executive officer, LT Comdr. C.R. BOWER, assumed command of our ship after being relieved of his duties as executive officer by LT. E.N. DUDMAN, USNR. At Eniwetok we received word that it was considered no longer necessary to darken ship at night. It was a pleasure to be able to smoke a cigarette on deck and to have the doors and ports open, making the ship a little cooler. At Manila on the 16 September, the troops that we were carrying were debarked and transferred to the beach in our boats. Then, docking at Pier 9 Manila on 16 September, we discharged 14 armored bulldozers and 18 ammunition trailers that we had loaded at Pearl Harbor. In Manila several more officers and men had become eligible for discharge, and were detached to be sent back to the states. Among these was Lt. E.N. DUDMAN who was relieved of his duties as executive officer by Lt. G. PARTIS, USN.
We were assigned to the TransRon 20 (temporary) and on 17 September the NATRONA (APA-214), MONTOUR (APA-101), GALLATIN (APA-169), PRESDENT HAYS (APA-20), McCRACKEN (APA-198), JERAULD (APA-174), ARENAC (APA-128), got underway for Lingayen Gulf, P.I., to embark troops and load cargo of the 25th Division. We completed loading troops and cargo of the First Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment on 23 September. At present we are lying at anchor awaiting orders from our commander to form up in accordance with operational plans to sail for Yokkaichi, Japan, where our troops will be landed as occupational forces.
Our sailing from Lingayen Gulf had been delayed twice due to bad weather north and a typhoon that was moving in the direction of our intended course. Good use was made of this time however, and the Officers and crew enjoyed several beer parties ashore. Others that were interested availed themselves of the opportunity of seeing the Filipinos and their villages first hand. It was not an uncommon sight to see men from the NATRONA trading with the natives in such towns as San Fabian and Dagupan. Some of us saw friends and relatives that were stationed nearby. Most all agreed that the shore parties at Lingayen Gulf had been the best recreation and relaxation we had ever had outside the United States
Finally the weather ahead cleared and at 16:45, on 1 October, 1945 Transport Squadron 20 composed of 19 ships, got underway and formed in column formation. We were immediately astern of the USS DUPAGE (APA-41), our Transport division Commander. Our destination being Yokkaichi, Japan, plans had been made to land our troops in waves of landing craft, fully prepared for any opposition we might encounter.
Sailing north to Yokkaichi our destination was changed and it was indefinite whether we would unload our troops directly to the docks at Nagoya (this was the ultimate destination of the 25th division), land them as scheduled or sail to Wakayama and await further orders. The latter was chosen as apparently mine sweeping operations had been delayed due to a typhoon that had previously hit the area.
First land was sighted at 04:55, the 7th of October. Later that morning all hands that were not on duty below decks came topside to watch the squadron of ships sail majestically into inland waters of a country that a few months previous we had been at war with. Knowing that had the hostilities not ceased we were scheduled to invade the Japanese homeland on 1 November, and the arrival in these waters would not have been as peaceful, made us all the more thankful that the war had ended.
Nearly a week en route, the ship arrived a Wakayama, Japan at 11:14 and anchored in berth 6, Wakayama Harbor, and, shortly later, (9 October), shifted to a typhoon anchorage area, for indeed, typical of the season, a typhoon was bearing down on southern Honshu.
The engine room was placed on 30-minute notice for getting underway. It was not long before the typhoon hit and hit hard. The ship held position by surging ahead with engine at various speeds just to relieve the stain on the anchor chain and prevent dragging of the anchor. This was 10 October we encountered winds up to 48 Knots that caused no damage but made us wary of getting to far away form lifebelts.
Most of the month of October was spent in Wakayama with no orders of consequence pending. There were the usual transfers to the hospital ships, troops remained on board, liberty came for some crew and boredom that caused one stewards mate to strike another in the face with a meat cleaver. Of course, the injured man went to the hospital after the ships own Dr. Putnam did a remarkable piece of patchwork on his face. We confined the other in the brig for a few days to cool off. Eventually, the man did a few years duty making little rocks out of big ones at Portsmouth Naval Prison. Indeed, Wakayama and its recreational facility in Wakanura was not a good liberty port for the Navy.
At 13:l6, on 26 October, we finally got underway for Nagoya, with the remaining half of Transport Squadron 20, the other half sailing the day before. At 13:28 the next day, we anchored in the Outer Harbor of Ise Wan. Early the next morning on 28 October the major portion of our troops were debarked into two LCT's. The beach party left the ship for Nagoya shortly after to be ready to receive the cargo and to assist in mooring the ship.
At 08:45 after a Japanese pilot came aboard we were ready to move into the inner Harbor at Nagoya to discharge the remaining troops and their cargo. At 11:09 we were alongside the assigned dock. By 04:30 the next morning the ship was unloaded, and had fulfilled its mission of transporting occupational troops, combat loaded, to the Japanese homeland. We got underway at 05:42 to return to our original berth in the outer harbor to await sailing orders
Word was received that a mail ship had come in from the Philippines and this was news we had all been waiting for, as there had been no mail received aboard other than official, since we left Lingayen Gulf. However" there was no mail'" for us. A few days later when the mailman did bring back a half sack of airmail letters and some second-class matter we all felt sure that it must have been lost to find us where it did.
While momentarily expecting sailing orders, which did not arrive until seven days after we had completed the unloading of 25th Division troops, it was decided to send at least one recreation party ashore, The afternoon when they returned one "wise crack" was most descriptive of Nagoya. One sailor, after looking him and seeing nothing, but a flat looking area and a few shattered buildings, asked a soldier where the center of town was, to which the soldier replied, "Brother you're standing in the center of it".
For those who took the time to look, as far as the eye could see, Nagoya was a mass of rubble; only a few steel-reinforced concrete buildings were left standing. A few fellows ventured through one warehouse bombed out ruins to be surprised by what looked like boxes laden with gold coins. Correctly interpreting the writing on the coins' faces as Chinese, they took what they could back to the ship. The more learned ones aboard named them for what they were -- Chinese coins, yes, but of copper! The Japanese were smelting the coins to produce copper wire for communications and power wiring.
Having received our orders the previous night the NATRONA got underway at 10:28 on 5 November for Buckner Bay, Okinawa, to pick up passengers for transportation to United States. Most of us were pleased with the orders given us as it offered the coolest and perhaps the quickest route home and we were anxious to see how Okinawa had expanded, and built into a formidable advanced base since we left it in July. The enthusiasm was short lived, however, and we had gotten no more than four or five miles toward the open sea when a cancellation came through on the previous sailing orders directing us now to report to the Commander of the Australian waters to pick up troops at Milne Bay, New Guinea. Some of the crew and officers who had been to New Guinea on duty aboard other units of the fleet, told us that if we had ever enjoyed the heat before we were surely in for a sweltering hot time of it now. We reversed course and proceeded to our old anchorage. The same day our executive officer Lieutenant GEORGE PARTIS was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
The next morning, 6 November, the special sea detail was set and we were underway for Milne Bay, New Guinea. Anticipating the crossing of the equator The "Shellbacks" aboard began formulating plans to initiate the lowly "Pollywogs" into the order of Neptunus Rex. Hazing started almost immediately after we had lost sight of land with the issuing of red neckties to the lowest form of animal life, the "Pollywogs" to be worn at all times. The gleam in the eyes of the Shellbacks in anticipation of things to come died out when the radio gang received a message, on the evening of 7 November, canceling our orders to Milne Bay with further orders to report Commander of the Marianas area. The course was laid for Guam and the "Pollywogs" breathed a sigh of relief. Orders were again changed enroute to Guam, on 9 November, to proceed to Saipan to embark passengers for transportation to the West Coast of the United States.
Arriving in Saipan at 1640 on 10 November, it was merely an in and out proposition. We were there just long enough to load some much needed supplies, refuel, take aboard three hundred and twenty one sacks of mail for delivery to the United States, and embark 1545 army personnel and 85 Officers. We were there long enough, however, to see how this island, which we had occasion to visit in February, had expanded and now presented an impressive picture to any would be aggressors.
At 1600 11 November, all lines were cast off from the pier and we were underway for San Pedro, California. The usual underway routine was carried out. General drills were held, decks were chipped and painted. The cooks as usual, when we had a capacity load, had their hands full preparing chow for all hands. There were two showings of movies every night, alternating between troops one night, officers and crew the next. All hands were topside the morning of 24 November, fourteen days at sea to see the first outlines of the United States hove into view. For some of our passengers who had been away' from home for two or three years it was indeed a welcome sight but no more so than it was for the officers and crew of the NATRONA who had been away for only three months. At12:00 we were in sight of Long Beach harbor and by 13:40 we were tied up to pier 98" San Pedro. No time was lost in de-barking our troops who were raring to get started for their demobilization areas. Officers and men who were eligible for discharge left the ship within the first hour. At 16:00 we got underway to shift berths to pier 199, Wilmington, where we were scheduled to have our availability. First liberty in the United States commenced for those who were not on duty at 19:00. Our Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander C. R. BOWER was promoted to the rank of Commander.
During the two-week period we were to have in the States, much wartime equipment had to be removed. All but six of our boats were delivered to Boat Pool at San Pedro, as we would no longer need them. Work in the engine room had to be done. The hull was sand blasted and painted. All of our guns but two 20mm machine guns, left aboard for mine disposal, were taken off. Three hundred tons ballast was taken on in number four hold. New men came aboard replacing men who were or would be soon eligible for discharge. Five new Officers reported aboard for duty. Four newly commissioned Ensigns reported aboard for intensive training.
The Third Voyage
Of course, before Christmas that year, Natrona was bound again for the Western Pacific, this time for Yokosuka, Japan.
Five days out of San Pedro area, the seas were running heavy. As luck would have it, the ship lost fires under both boilers due to lack of fuel oil pump suction. With no power, steerage way was lost. The ship drifted in the trough, foundering in 40 to 60 foot waves. Rolling was so severe as to approach the critical angle of heel. Ensign Phil Arnot, who had the Officer of the Deck watch, yelled to young Ensign Hoyt Ambrosius in the engine room, "Get the damn fires lit, Hoyt!" It was all Ambrosius could do to dodge cargo that became adrift in the engine room let alone "get the fires lit". For a large box of spare parts and several 50 pound Freon bottles torn loose from their restraints were crashing around the engine room on every pitch, yaw and roll of the ship. Fortunately for the survival of all hands and the ship, all landing craft were removed from the ship at Long Beach. For if the craft had been in their davits, raising the center of gravity, the ship would have capsized. As fuel oil suction resumed, Ambrosius relit the fires. With the propellers turning once again, the steering was controlled, the waves quartered and steaming toward Japan resumed as before.
(Another Version about the storm)
John D Miller --- I am going to tell all of you what I remember about the storm on our Third trip to South Pacific. A large round mine with horns all over it was spotted floating near our ship. Commander Bower was at this time the Captain of our ship. He ask a twin twenty millimeter gun crew to fire on it. I watched from the open deck with the huge waves rocking the ship and the mine. They were not able to hit it-Commander Bower halted the ships movement and he got in the gun mount and tried to hit the mine- due to the rough water he also was unable to hit it. Then bringing the ship to a halt. They lost the control of the ship and it fell in a trough between the waves. They had all of us that was not on duty to put on life jackets and hang unto to the railings of the deck, the next thing I heard was they had lost suction on the sea water because of the extreme rolls that the whip was taking. When they took landing craft at San Pedro-- that the screw to come far out of the water that they had tons of lead bars -in the bottom of #4 hold. I watched them cover the lead bars from bulkhead to bulkhead with wide thick metal straps, which was welded to the bulkheads until they were secured. These lead bars off set the weight of the landing craft gave us the same draft and put the screw back down in the water. When our ship was making such drastic rolls they stated that our ship could not take no more than a 40-degree roll and they also said we made a 41 degree roll. My thought, were on those lead bars if they had broke loose the ship would have rolled and sank. At time we were taking a northern route to Japan. It was very Cold water. God was with us through the 3-1/2 months at Okinawa. He was surely with us in that storm. In the last few years I have thought of this storm many times- my thoughts was that Capt. Winquist would never stop our ship in this kind of sea.
Looking back we came very close of losing our ship and crew in that storm. I have a book titled "Operation Iceberg" by Gerald Aston that's code name for the invasion of Okinawa. This book was written by an officer who served on board a ship at Okinawa. (End of quote))
Chuck, Where did you get the information on our ship being dead in the water in that storm? Signed by J. P. Arnot
For years I wondered if they would write the truth in ships log. Stopping the ship in that kind of sea was a bad mistake. No mention of trying to explode a mine in the water with 20mm gun. First the gun crew and when they could not hit it. Skipper Bowers came down and got on that gun and could not hit. Too much roll of ship and mine. I don't blame Bowers for trying to explode the mine. Put that in the ships log as it really happened, would not be a good ideal for the skipper. Some one gave the order to engine room to stop. Bowers must have given the order before he came down to the gun tub. I told you there was a bunch of us topside with life jackets on, holding on to deck rail. That ship did not lose power till it was stopped and fell into the trough between huge waves. There were a lot of men on open deck that was seeing what I saw. They told us they had lost suction on the sea water going to the boilers. When they lost seawater to the boilers they had to shut the fire off. To this day I don't know how they got water to the boilers. We were sure lucky that they did. Sorry this happening was not logged like it happened, John D. Miller.
The weather continuing bad above 30 degrees North Latitude we changed course in order to avoid the storms and resumed our westerly heading 120 miles south of our original course line.
On the 23 of December our orders to Yokosuka were cancelled and we were directed to proceed to Buckner Bay, Okinawa, to embark troops and naval personnel for transportation to Seattle.
Christmas Eve the crew gathered in the mess hall for the singing of Christmas Carols, and coffee and doughnuts. Presents donated by the Red Cross were given to each member of the crew.
Christmas morning we sighted the most Northerly group of the Bonin Islands, Muko Shima Retto. The usual turkey day dinner was had by all hands.
The estimated time of arrival at Buckner Bay was 13:00 27 December 1945.
Arriving at Bucker Bay it was practically a direct turnaround. She loaded 1800 enlisted men and 95 officers from the Eighth Air Force, all B-29 men returning to the States, and headed for Seattle, WA. We are headed Seattle, WA, then crossing the International Dateline and we get orders toward San Pedro, CA.
Once there, it was unload troops, unload the mail, unload cargo, take on fuel, take on stores, separate men, take on replacements, dump the garbage, discipline AOL cases, and unload ammunition into shore facilities. During that long period of many weeks, even months, the crew, seeing the ship being stripped of everything for lighter duty, must have realized that this was the beginning of the end for their home of two years and three Pacific crossings.
On March 9, 1946, Natrona was steaming toward San Francisco and Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Here she would remain until April 20, 1946 when transferred inland on the San Joaquin River to the Port of Stockton, CA. A long rest of three months duration at Rough and Ready Island's Naval Supply Annex foretold of the awaited decommissioning.
Don Bates, S2/c and Ed Pagnano F1/c, a pair of the last crewmembers, on board offer this recollection of those wearisome days: "Boring as it was, 30 sailors came from Camp Shoemaker in Livermore, CA to replace those ship crew members not discharged or transferred elsewhere. There was plenty of housing as eight APA's were tied up along the banks of the San Joaquin River. As Natrona was in the process of preparations for mothballing, the USS Montrose (APA-212) housed our men. The crews were assigned to various divisions, but mainly to chip paint on decks and bulkheads, then to repaint the ship. Others with engineering specialties were assigned duty with the "M" Division in the engine room. The work spaces there in the heat of a California summer were a hot, dirty environment in which the men separated steam and water lines to pour liquid metal preservatives in the lines from 55 gallon drums. Working on this "cold iron watch" in four hour shifts 24 hours a day, the boilers were opened and the tubes brushed and cleaned with a long rod, the end of which carried a rotating brush. Pushing this rod in and out removed the carbon residue built up over many months of steaming. At the end of each watch, a log was completed and signed."
In the end, the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer of the ship were awarded a commendation ribbon for their actions during the Okinawa Operation. Many felt the crew deserved a similar commendation award. Even our Chaplain Donald Caughey, LT, USN tried to influence the overlords in Washington to no avail. Words of commendation came from T.B Brittain, Commodore, USN commander Task Force Squadron 17, USS Thornton (AVD-11), USS Pinckney (APH-2), USS Lakewood Victory (AK-236), USS Oberrender (DE-344), USS Barry (APD-29), USS Kishwaukee (AGC-9), J.J. McLean, CAPT, USN, Commander Destroyer Squadron 2, F. Pardee, Jr., Officer-in-Charge, Boat Pool Kerama Retto, USS Las Vegas Victory (AK-229), B. Van Mater, CAPT, USN, Commander, Destroyer Squadron Division 12 and J.C. Jolly, Commander USS Shubrick.
The crew became entitled to the World War II Victory Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal with Bronze Star, the Navy Occupation Service Medal with Asia clasp, the National China Service Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Service Medal with two Bronze Stars, and the American Campaign Medal.
USS Natrona (APA-214) entered the United States Maritime Administration Reserve Fleet at Suisun, CA on August 26, 1958 at 1500 PDT as a Military Auxiliary. She ballasted her voids light for the last trip down the San Joaquin River from Stockton, CA to the "mothball" fleet on Suisun Bay, a mere 15' 03" forward and 16" 00" aft. Fully fueled she would have dropped another four or five feet. The Navy agreed to bear retention costs at the rate of $118 per month until FY 1960. In 1959, the contract for preservation called for an annual sum not to exceed $16,000.
As time, weather, wear and time took a toll, as cold wars ended and peace prevailed, USS Natrona (APA-214) was sold for scrap March 5,1975 under PD-X-993 for $178,789.40 and withdrawn from the Reserve Fleet April 1, 1975 at 12:30 PDT. Not a ship of the line, rather one of unassuming necessities there in the Pacific backwashes, USS Natrona (APA-214) performed well for her crew, a crew that still remembers a proud ship in all that she accomplished and does so with pride and honor. A parting whisper from one of the last crewmembers on board -- "With thanks to God, and to you Old Girl, you brought us through without a scratch!"