Sunday, June 19, 2016

65) Jack has to defend against a Kamikaze- Later, he would say, it was his "closest call."

9th FS Unit History- Late December 1944

December 26th our ground echelon left on LST 734 bound for Mindoro. On the same day the news was flashed that Mindoro was under attack by a Jap Naval Task Force. As far as tactical operations were concerned there was nothing of interest for the remainder of the month with only routine missions performed. The air echelon remained patiently at Leyte, occupying the area located near the ground echelon of Group Headquarters.

The ground echelon had a very hectic voyage, not soon to be forgotten. Below Leyte the convoy of which our unit was a part, was subjected to constant attack by dive-bombers. The LST on which the outfit had embarked had a prominent place in the lead in the convoy. A Liberty ship nearby vanished in a terrific explosion after a Jap plane made a suicide dive on it. Another Jap plane crash-dived the LST containing our squadron, damaging but not sinking it. Several of our officers and men were volunteers on the ship's gun crews and casualties were suffered by them in the crash. A .30 caliber machine gun, manned by Sgt. J. Riley and Sgt. E. Poplansky did yeoman service and wings from the enemy airplane showed a large number of caliber .30 holes. 1st Lt. Les Nelson acting as plane spotter (as were 1st Lt. D. Fisher and 1st Lt. W. Lewis, Jr. at other turrets) was badly wounded by the crash. Private 1st Class D. Smith, who was performing the duties of an aid man on the deck, was also wounded in the action.

The ground echelon landed at Mindoro on the morning of the 30th without further loss. The vessel was speedily unloaded and camp was set up. That night and the following had many bombings and many more alerts but no bombs fell close to our area. Thus ended another eventful month.

Another Account About The Move From Tacloban to Mindoro 
From: Protect & Avenge, The 49th Fighter Group in World War II, by S.W. Ferguson & William K. Pascalis. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, PA, 1996.

“On the night of the 25th (December), the men at Tacloban ate a Christmas dinner of canned turkey and fruit cocktail, then gathered up their duffel bags and crowded down to the San Pedro Bay docks.” The 9th Squadron and the HQ personnel settled down on board LST #734.

“No one was sad to leave the muddy, mosquito infested Tacloban. The miserable Leyte airfield fared equally as bad in comparison to any New Guinea camp. Food had never been abundant nor good and many times, there was a shortage of potable water. It seemed everyone had some down with jungle rot, or malaria, or mild dysentery. The mail was much later than ever before. A shortage of bivouac supplies never allowed the men to even remotely modernize the camp.”

“the LST officers asked the 49ers personnel to help man the ship’s AA batteries. The Navy only had enough life vests for two-thirds of the company. The Staff Sergeants chose senior sergeants and corporals from their sections to man the Navy guns.”

On the 29th of December, as the 49ers convoy laid off the beachhead of Mindoro, the Japanese slipped through the air defense at mid-morning. “A kamikaze pilot even reached LST #734 bearing the 9th Squadron and HQ personnel.” The death plane’s course was thrown off by anti-aircraft fire and the broken kamikaze just glanced off the prow of the LST. Finally by noon the next day the LST’s were able to come ashore onto the Mindoro beach.

LST 734- August 1944
NavSource Online: Amphibious Photo Archive. 
Gary P. Priolo © 1996 - 2006 NavSource Naval History. All Rights Reserved

64) Background details- Late Dec. 1944 & Jan. 1945

Mindoro- Doorstep to Luzon -Link to Wiki Article summarized here:

Before the invasion of Luzon was to get underway, Gen. MacArthur needed a base of operations closer to the northern island than Leyte.  Mindoro became a logical choice for this strategy. Just south of Luzon, the island is covered by mountains, with a few narrow plains along its coast. Almost daily rains and high humidity, caused by clouds moving up from the south trapped by the high peaks made it a breeding ground for malaria and other tropical diseases. Furthermore, Japanese defenses on the island were minimal.

Taking Mindoro proved a daunting task. Amphibious landings on its northeastern part were best, but were vulnerable to what was left of Japanese air power on Luzon, so this was ruled out. The town of San Jose on its southwest corner, though nearer to Mangarin Bay, Mindoro’s best deepwater port, was the spot chosen by his planners.

The main threat for the amphibious assault vessels and supporting warships came from land-based Japanese kamikaze suicide planes. The Japanese had begun the deadly practice as a desperate measure during the final stages of the Leyte Campaign and perfected it by December 1944.

On Dec. 13th, 1944, two days before the scheduled assault on the island, kamikazes struck at the naval task force ferrying the invading troops. The light cruiser Nashville was hit by a kamikaze, killing over 130 men and wounding another 190.  Other kamikaze attacks damaged two landing ships, tank (LSTs) and disabled several other ships.

On Dec. 15th, the invasion of Mindoro began. The clear weather allowed the full use of American air and naval power, including six escort carriers, three battleships, six cruisers and many other support warships against light Japanese resistance. The paratroopers of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team came ashore in Mangarin Bay with the landing forces, being unable to make the jump due to inadequate airstrip facilities at Leyte. Destroyers provided fire support for the troop landings and anti-aircraft protection for the ships in the transport area. Two LSTs (Landing Ship-Tank) were struck by kamikazes, abandoned and sunk.

The defending Japanese forces on Mindoro suffered some 200 killed and 375 wounded. The 24th Infantry Division lost 18 men and had 81 wounded. By the end of the first day, Army engineers were at work preparing airfields for the invasion of Luzon. Two were completed in thirteen days. Together, the airfields allowed U.S. aircraft to provide closer direct support for the planned Luzon beachhead, striking kamikaze airfields, before the deadly enemy planes could take off, and enabled interdiction flights on Japanese shipping between northern and southern Luzon and Formosa. 

Click here for Wiki article about Kamikaze