The sinking of the HMS Curacao

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Today marks the 77th anniversary of the sinking HMS Curacao and it wasn’t sunk by the Germans or Japanese or other Axis powers but by one of the most famous cruise liners HMS Queen Mary.

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On the morning of 2 October 1942, Curacoa rendezvoused north of Ireland with the ocean liner Queen Mary, who was carrying 10,000-odd American troops of the 29th Infantry Division.The liner was steaming an evasive “Zig-Zag Pattern No. 8” course at a speed of 28.5 knots (52.8 km/h; 32.8 mph), an overall rate of advance of 26.5 knots (49.1 km/h; 30.5 mph), to evade submarine attacks. The elderly cruiser remained on a straight course at a top speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) and would eventually be overtaken by the liner.

Each captain had different interpretations of The Rule of the Road believing their ship had the right of way.Captain John Boutwood of the Curacoa kept to the liner’s mean course to maximize his ability to defend the liner from enemy aircraft, while Captain Charles Illingworth of the Queen Mary continued their zig-zag pattern expecting the escort cruiser to give way.

“We could see our escort zig-zagging in front of us it was common for the ships and cruisers to zig-zag to confuse the U-boats. In this particular case however the escort was very, very close to us.

I said to my mate “You know she’s zig-zigging all over the place in front of us, I’m sure we’re going to hit her.”

And sure enough, the Queen Mary sliced the cruiser in two like a piece of butter, straight through the six-inch armoured plating.

— Alfred Johnson, eye witness, BBC: “HMS Curacao Tragedy
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The RMS Queen Mary was used as a troopship throughout World War II and usually crossed the Atlantic without an escort, relying on her speed to evade the U-Boats. In the WWII conversion, the ship’s hull, superstructure and funnels were painted navy grey. As a result of her new colour, and in combination with her great speed, she became known as the “Grey Ghost.” To protect against magnetic mines, a degaussing coil was fitted around the outside of the hull. Inside, stateroom furniture and decoration were removed and replaced with triple-tiered wooden bunks, which were later replaced by standee bunks.

As she came north of Ireland on the 2nd October 1942 she was joined by HMS Curacoa, providing an anti-aircraft escort for the last leg into Scotland.

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At 13:32, during the zig-zag, it became apparent that Queen Mary would come too close to the cruiser and the liner’s officer of the watch interrupted the turn to avoid Curacoa. Upon hearing this command, Illington told his officer to: “Carry on with the zig-zag. These chaps are used to escorting; they will keep out of your way and won’t interfere with you.”At 14:04, Queen Mary started the starboard turn from a position slightly behind the cruiser and at a distance of two cables (about 200 yards (183 m)). Boutwood perceived the danger, but the distance was too close for either of the hard turns ordered for each ship to make any difference at the speeds that they were travelling. Queen Mary struck Curacoa amidships at full speed, cutting the cruiser in half. The aft end sank almost immediately, but the rest of the ship stayed on the surface a few minutes longer.

Acting under orders not to stop due to the risk of U-boat attacks, Queen Mary steamed onwards with a damaged bow. She radioed the other destroyers of her escort, about 7 nautical miles(13 km; 8.1 mi) away, and reported the collision.Hours later, the convoy’s lead escort, consisting of HMS Bramham and one other ship, returned to rescue approximately 101 survivors.

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Lost with Curacoa were 337 officers and men of her crew, according to the Naval Casualty file released by The National Archives in June 2013.Most of the lost men are commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial and the rest on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. The graves of those who died after rescue, or whose bodies were recovered, were buried in Chatham and in Arisaig Cemetery in Invernesshire.Under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, Curacoas wrecksite is designated a “protected place”.

 

Those who witnessed the collision were sworn to secrecy because of national security concerns.The loss was not publicly reported until after the war ended, although the Admiralty filed a writ against the Queen Mary’s owners, Cunard White Star Line, on 22 September 1943 in the Admiralty Court of the High Court of Justice. Little happened until 1945, when the case went to trial in June; it was adjourned to November and then to December 1946. Mr. Justice Pilcher exonerated the Queen Marys crew and her owners from blame on 21 January 1947 and laid all fault on the Curacoas officers. The Admiralty appealed his ruling and the Court of Appeal modified the ruling, assigning two-thirds of the blame to the Admiralty and one third to Cunard White Star. The latter appealed to the House of Lords, but they upheld the decision.

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I am not sure how to qualify this event because it wasn’t even ‘Friendly Fire’ it was purely accidental but a tragedy nonetheless.

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The Sinking of the HMS Courageous

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On September 15 1939, a convoy contact was made due west of the English Channel, in an area the British called the Western Approaches. The sea lanes were abuzz with traffic and some successes against British shipping had occurred in the early days of the war. To provide at least some form of protection for these ships, the Admiralty had deployed the old aircraft carrier HMS Courageous with a destroyer escort screen to conduct anti-submarine patrols.

Launched in February 1916 and commissioned in January 1917, the HMS Courageous was originally laid down as a Battle Cruiser,

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being converted into an aircraft carrier between June 1924 and May 1928. A hangar and flight deck were installed aft of the hull with the original armament of two twin 15-inch guns being removed and replaced with 4.7 inch anti-aircraft guns. The light armament meant that she had to rely on her screening escorts for protection against surface ships.

When Donitz received word of the convoy contact, he ordered all boats in the Western Approaches to converge on the convoy. That included Otto Schuhart in U-29 and Ernst-Gunther Heinicke in U-53.

Searching for the convoy on September 17, Heinicke found and attacked the 5,000 ton British freighter, Kafristan with a combination of gunfire and torpedoes. The ASW fleet of the HMS Courageous was close by. Two of her destroyer escorts (out of four) and Swordfish biplanes from the Courageous were dispatched to the area of the Kafristan sinking to hunt Heinicke.

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Meanwhile to the east, Schuhart in U-29 was still searching for the convoy. While running submerged, he spotted a Swordfish biplane instead.

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A Swordfish 300 miles out in the open sea could only mean one thing – that an aircraft carrier had to be close by. Keeping a sharp watch, at 1800 hours a puff of smoke was spotted on the horizon. It was the carrier Courageous. Schuhart sent his crew to battle stations and adjusted for an interception course.

But he could not mount an attack. Planes were circling over the carrier and the two remaining destroyer escorts were clearly visible. He later wrote in his log “At that time it looked like a hopeless operation. Because of the aircraft, I could not surface and my underwater speed was less than 8 knots while the carrier could do 26. But we were told during our training to always stay close and that is exactly what I did, following him submerged”.

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Schuhart trailed on for another one and a half hours, all the while losing distance with the carrier. Then suddenly at 1930 hours, the carrier turned into the wind to launch aircraft, inadvertently placing the ship in perfect position for a torpedo attack. By 1940 hours, U-29 was in position and Schuhart fired all three forward torpedoes from less than 3,000 yards. Schuhart logged “the vast size of the target upset all normal calculations and in any case, I was looking straight into the sun”

Just 500 yards away, while the torpedoes were still making its run, Schuhart observed through his periscope lens as one of the destroyers sailed by, still unaware of the impending attack. To evade, he dived deep – to a depth of 180 feet, the deepest he had ever dived. Then, in the creaking silence of U-boat’s pressure hull, the crew heard two resounding explosions. Two torpedoes had it the target and exploded with such force that Schuhart thought he had been attacked. The crew cheered, although they all knew what was to follow next – an impending depth charge attack.

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They braced themselves for the attack and minutes later, one of the destroyers picked up the U-29 on sonar. The second destroyer rushed to the location to join the hunt and both attacked with such fury and ferocity that during the pounding, Schuhart thought he had lost the U-29. The boat reeled and creaked under the force of the explosion which lasted for hours. Then at 2340 hours, the last depth charge exploded. Both destroyers had expended all depth charges and were now weaponless in attacking the enemy down below. Silently easing away, Schuhart in the U-29 made good his escape. As soon as he surfaced, he radioed to Donitz, “Courageous destroyed. U-29 homebound”.

Meanwhile, back at the sinking of the Courageous, a Dutch passenger liner Veendam was passing nearby.

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Eye witnesses account that a huge white cloud had engulfed the Courageous. They thought it was a smoke screen and paid little attention until two tremendous explosions ripped through the carrier. Pieces of steel and dismembered aircraft shot upwards as with the flames and oil slick which soon followed. The Courageous sank in less than 15 minutes with the loss of 519 lives, including her commander Captain W T Makeig-Jones. Her total complement was 1,260 officers and ratings (including air group), and two squadrons of Fairey Swordfish aircraft (48 planes). The Veendam and a British freighter Collingsworth participated in the rescue, fishing survivors from the oily waters.

By the next morning of September 18, news of the sinking had been broadcast worldwide. The sinking of the HMS Courageous was the first U-boat offensive against the Royal Navy, and more importantly, Schuhart’s victory prompted the Admiralty to withdraw all three remaining carriers from the Western Approaches. The first naval engagement turned out to be a resounding victory, as carriers were not to be seen in those waters for another four years.

This was precisely what Donitz had wanted, as the withdrawal of ASW vessels allowed his U-boats to continue with their sinkings unabated. Politically, Hitler was neither pleased, nor displeased. He was still hopeful of a diplomatic solution with Great Britain and did not want to further antagonize the Western Powers by sinking a major capital warship. However, no specific orders had been issued otherwise and in fact, the Kriegsmarine was ecstatic. Donitz noted gleefully in his diary “A wonderful success”.

Schuhart was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and the entire crew the Iron Cross Second Class. In tonnage sunk for a single patrol, his tally was 41,905 tons which was to stand as a record high for a very long time.

The U-29 was a Type VIIA U-boat, an oceangoing boat which had four bow and one stern torpedo tube.

HMS Courageous was sunk on September 17 1939 at 1940 hours at the Western Approaches (Southwest of Ireland), Grid BE3198, 150nm WSW of Mizen Head, Ireland.

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Her sister ship, the HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, Ardent and Acasta was to suffer the same fate on June 8 1940, during an attack by two German battle cruisers, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst

 

The Sinking of the HMS Oxley

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HMS Oxley was the Royal Navy’s first loss in WWII.

You probably are wondering why I am doing a blog about it. Because lets face it , it was war and there were going to be losses. This is true,however, what makes this special is not because it was the 1st loss but the fact it was sunk by another Royal Navy submarine the HMS Triton.

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When the Admiralty was notified that the United Kingdom would declare war on Germany, five submarines of the 2nd Submarine Flotilla were ordered to patrol on the Obrestad line off Norway on 24 August 1939.Thus, on 3 September all British submarines were in their combat patrol sectors.

At 19:55 on 10 September 1939, Triton had surfaced, fixed a position off the Obrestad Light, set a slow zigzag patrol, and began charging batteries. Lieutenant Commander Steel, having verified that the area was clear and having posted lookouts, gave the bridge to the officer of the watch and went below, leaving orders that he was to be called if anything unusual appeared. At 20:45, he was called to the bridge when an object in the water could be seen very fine on the port bow.

Steel ordered propulsion shifted to the main motors, the signalman to the bridge, and torpedo tubes 7 and 8 readied for firing. The object was recognised as a submarine low in the water.

Once on the bridge, the signalman sent three challenges over several minutes with the box lamp, none of which were answered. Steel wondered if the boat could be HMS Oxley, which should have been patrolling next in line, but some distance away. Steel and his bridge crew studied the silhouette, but could not distinguish what type of submarine it was.

A fourth challenge was sent: three green rifle-grenade flares. After firing, Steel counted slowly to 15 and then decided that they were seeing a German U-boat.

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He ordered tubes 7 and 8 fired with a three-second interval. Less than a minute later, an explosion was heard.

Triton moved into the area to investigate and heard cries for help. The light from the Aldis lamp revealed three men floundering amid oil and debris.

Lieutenant Guy C. I. St.B. Watkins and Lieutenant Harry A. Stacey entered the water and rescued Lieutenant Commander H.G. Bowerman,Oxley’s commanding officer, as well as Able Seaman Gluckes, a lookout. The third person in the water, Lieutenant F.K. Manley, was seen to be swimming strongly when he suddenly sank from view. Neither Manley’s body nor any other survivors from Oxley were found.

A Board of Enquiry found that Steel had done all he reasonably could in the circumstances. Oxley was out of position, Triton had acted correctly, and the first Allied submarine casualty of World War II was due to “friendly fire.” During the war, the loss of Oxley was attributed to an accidental explosion. After the war, it was explained to have been a collision with Triton. The truth was not revealed until the 1950s

Charles Herbert Lightoller:Titanic survivor,WWI Hero and rescuer in Dunkirk.

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Some people really have lived a life. Charles Herbet Lightoller survived three major dramatice events and lived to tell the tale.

Charles Herbert Lightoller (30 March 1874 – 8 December 1952) was the second mate (second officer) on board the RMS Titanic and the most senior officer to survive the Titanic disaster.

As an officer in charge of loading passengers into lifeboats, Lightoller not only enforced with utmost strictness the “women and children first” protocol; he also effectively extended it to mean “women and children only”. In pursuance of this principle, Lightoller lowered lifeboats with empty seats if there were no women or children waiting to board.Indeed, Lightoller is known to have permitted exactly one adult male passenger to board a lifeboat, namely Arthur Godfrey Peuchen, who was permitted to board a lifeboat (no.6) that was otherwise full of women, because he had sailing experience and could help navigate the boat. Lightoller stayed until the last, was sucked against a grate and held until he was under water, but then was blown from the grate from a rush of warm air as a boiler exploded. He clung to a capsized collapsible boat with 30 others until their rescue.

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Lightoller served as an officer of the Royal Navy during the First World War. Despite his involvement in the alleged massacre of shipwrecked German sailors, he was decorated for gallantry.

On August 4th 1914, the Great War began and the R.M.S. Oceanic became H.M.S.Oceanic, armed merchant cruiser, while First Officer Lightoller of White Star Lines became Lieutenant Lightoller of the Royal Navy. Oceanic had two captains, a Royal Navy skipper, Captain William Slayter, and Captain Henry Smith, who had been the commander of the Oceanic for the last two years.

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Just before Christmas 1915 Lightoller got his own command, the torpedo boat HMTB 117. During his tour with this boat, on 31 July 1916, Lightoller attacked the Zeppelin L31 with the ships Hotchkiss guns. For his actions Lightoller was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and he was also promoted to commander of the torpedo-boat-destroyer Falcon.

On 1 April 1918, Lightoller was again off watch, laying in his bunk, when the Falcon collided with the trawler John Fitzgerald. She stayed afloat for a few hours, eventually sinking just about same time, six years to the day as the Titanic sinking.

Lightoller was now given a new command, the destroyer Garry. On 19 July 1918, they rammed and sank the German submarine UB-110.

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The ramming damaged the bows of the Garry so badly that she had to steam 100 miles in reverse to relieve the strain on the forward bulkheads as she returned to port for repairs. For this action Lightoller was awarded a bar to his DSC and promoted to Lieutenant-Commander.

In his 1933 memoirs, Kapitän leutnant Fürbringer ,the Captain of the UB-110 accused Lightoller of hoving to and ordering his crew to open fire on the unarmed survivors of UB-110 with revolvers and machine guns. During the ensuing massacre, Fürbringer watched the skull of an 18-year old member of his crew being split open by a lump of coal hurled by a Royal Navy sailor. When Fürbringer attempted to help a wounded officer to swim, he was told, “Let me die in peace. The swine are going to murder us anyhow.” The shooting only ceased when the convoy the Garry had been escorting, which contained many neutral-flagged ships, arrived on the scene. Fürbringer later recalled, “As if by magic the British now let down some life boats into the water.”

In 1929, Lightoller had purchased a discarded Admiralty steam launch, built in 1912 by G. Cooper at Conyer. She was 52 feet long by 12,2 feet wide, powered by a petrol-paraffin Parsons 60 hp. Commander Lightoller had her refitted and lengthened to 58 feet, converting her into a 62 hp Glennifer diesel motor yacht that was christened Sundowner by Sylvia,Lightoller’s wife. Throughout the thirties she was used by the Lightoller family mainly for trips around England and Europe. In July 1939, Lightoller was approached by the Royal Navy and asked to perform a survey of the German coastline. This they did under the guise of an elderly couple on vacation in their yacht. When World War II started in September 1939, the Lightollers were raising chickens in Hertfordshire. The Sundowner was kept in a yacht basin at Chiswick.

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Then in the closing days of May 1940, after eight months of quiet known as the “phony war”, Britain found itself on the edge of military disaster. The German armies blitzkrieged through Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Northern France in just over two weeks. Allied resistance had disintegrated and almost the entire British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was penned into a tiny pocket on the French Belgian border.

On 24 May 1940, some 400,000 Allied troops lay pinned against the coast of Flanders near the French port of Dunkirk. German tanks were only ten miles away. Yet the trapped army was saved. In the next 11 days over 338,000 men were evacuated safely to England in Operation Dynamo, one of the greatest rescues of all time.

At 5pm on 31 May 1940, Lightoller got a phone call from the Admiralty asking him to take theSundowner to Ramsgate, where a Navy crew would take over and sail her to Dunkirk. Lightoller informed them that nobody would take the Sundowner to Dunkirk but him.

On the 1 June 1940, the 66 year old Lightoller, accompanied by his eldest son Roger and an 18 year old Sea-Scout named Gerald, took the Sundowner and sailed for Dunkirk and the trapped BEF. Although the Sundowner had never carried more than 21 persons before, they succeeded in carrying a total of 130 men from the beaches of Dunkirk. In addition to the three crew members, there were two crew members who had been rescued from another small boat, the motor cruiser Westerly. There were another three Naval Ratings also rescued from waters off Dunkirk, plus 122 troops taken from the destroyer Worchester. Despite numerous bombing and strafing runs by Luftwaffe aircraft, they all arrived safely back to Ramsgate just about 12 hours after they had departed. It is said that when one of the soldiers heard that the captain had been on the Titanic, he was tempted to jump overboard. However his mate was quick to reply that if Lightoller could survive the Titanic, he could survive anything and that was all the more reason to stay.

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Following Dunkirk, Commander Lightoller joined the Home Guard, but the Royal Navy engaged him to work with the Small Vessel Pool until the end of World War II. The Lightollers youngest son, Brian, was in the RAF as a pilot. On the first night of World War II, he was killed in a bombing raid on Wilhelmshaven. Their eldest son, Roger, went on to join the Royal Navy where he commanded Motor Gun Boats. During the final months of the war, he was killed during a German Commando raid on Granville on the North French Coast

Later, in retirement, he further distinguished himself in the Second World War by providing and sailing as a volunteer on one of the “little ships”, his personal yacht that had been requisitioned by the Admiralty for wartime service, during the perilous Dunkirk evacuation.

Lightoller died of chronic heart disease on 8 December 1952, aged 78. A long-time pipe smoker, he was living in London during that city’s Great Smog of 1952 when he died.

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His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at Mortlake Crematorium in Richmond, Surrey.

Japanese Hell ships

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In May 1942 the Japanese began transferring POWs by sea. Similar to treatment on the Bataan Death March, prisoners were often crammed into cargo holds with little air, food or water for journeys that would last weeks. Many died due to asphyxia, starvation or dysentery. Some POWs became delirious and unresponsive in their environment of heat, humidity and lack of oxygen, food, and water. These unmarked prisoner transports were targeted as enemy ships by Allied submarines and aircraft.

More than 20,000 Allied POWs died at sea when the transport ships carrying them were attacked by Allied submarines and aircraft. Although Allied headquarters often knew of the presence of POWs through radio interception and code breaking, the ships were sunk because interdiction of critical strategic materials was more important than the deaths of prisoners-of-war.

There are too many ships to mention but below are a the stories of a few of them.

Lisbon Maru

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Lisbon Maru was carrying 2,000 British POWs from Hong Kong to Japan in appalling conditions when torpedoed by USS Grouper on 1 October 1942. 800 POWs died when the ship sank the following day.

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Many were shot or otherwise killed by the ship’s Japanese guards.

Rakuyo Maru

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Rakuyo Maru was torpedoed 12 September 1944 by USS Sealion which later realized the ship carried 1,317 Australian and British prisoners of war (POWs) from Singapore to Formosa (Taiwan).

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A total of 1,159 POWs died, 350 in lifeboats which were bombarded by a Japanese navy vessel the next day when they were rowing towards land. On 15 September, three submarines returned to the area and rescued 63 surviving POWs who were on rafts. Four of them died before they could be landed at Tanapag Harbor, Saipan, in the Mariana Islands.

Junyō Maru

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The 5,065-ton tramp steamer Junyo Maru sailed from Batavia (Tandjoeng Priok) on 16 September 1944 with about 4,200 romusha slave labourers and 2,300 POWs aboard. These Dutch POWs included 1,600 from the 10th Battalion camp and 700 from the Kampong Makassar camp. This 23rd transport of POWs from Java was called Java Party 23. Java Party 23 included about 6,500 men bound for Padang on the west coast of Sumatra to work on the Sumatra railway (Mid-Sumatra).

On 18 September 1944 the ship was 15 miles off the west coast of Sumatra near Benkoelen when HMS Tradewind hit her with two torpedoes, one in the bow and one in the stern.

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About 4,000 romushas and 1,626 POWs died when the ship sank in 20 minutes. About 200 romushas and 674 POWs were rescued by Japanese ships and taken to the Prison in Padang, where eight prisoners died.

Oryoku Maru

Oryoku Maru was a 7,363-ton passenger cargo liner transporting 1,620 survivors of the Bataan Death March, Corregidor, and other battles, mostly American and seven Czech, packed in the holds, and 1,900 Japanese civilians and military personnel in the cabins.She left Manila on 13 December 1944, and over the next two days was bombed and strafed by US planes. As she neared the naval base at Olongapo in Subic Bay, US Navy planes from the USS Hornet attacked the unmarked ship, causing it to sink on December 15.

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About 270 died aboard ship. Some died from suffocation or dehydration. Others were killed in the attack, drowned or were shot while escaping the ship at it sunk in Subic Bay where the ‘Hell Ship Memorial’ is located. A colonel, in his official report, wrote:

Many men lost their minds and crawled about in the absolute darkness armed with knives, attempting to kill people in order to drink their blood or armed with canteens filled with urine and swinging them in the dark. The hold was so crowded and everyone so interlocked with one another that the only movement possible was over the heads and bodies of others

John F. Kennedy and PT 109

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PT-109 was a PT boat (Patrol Torpedo boat) last commanded by Lieutenant, junior grade (LTJG) John F. Kennedy (later President of the United States) in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Kennedy’s actions to save his surviving crew after the sinking of PT-109 made him a war hero, which proved helpful in his political career.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of The Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109 being rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri and sinking of the boat Lt. John F. Kennedy, saved all but two of his crew.

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Lieutenant John F. Kennedy’s encounter with a Japanese destroyer on the night of August 1, 1943, may be the most famous small-craft engagement in naval history, and it was an unmitigated disaster.

At a later date, when asked to explain how he had come to be a hero, Kennedy replied laconically, “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.”

PT-109 belonged to the PT-103 class, hundreds of which were completed between 1942 and 1945 by Elco in Bayonne, New Jersey. PT-109s keel was laid 4 March 1942 as the seventh Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) of the 80-foot-long (24 m)-class built by Elco and was launched on 20 June. She was delivered to the Navy on 10 July 1942, and fitted out in the New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn.

Despite having a bad back, JFK used his father Joseph P. Kennedy’s influence to get into the war. He started out in October 1941 as an ensign with a desk job for the Office of Naval Intelligence. Kennedy was reassigned to South Carolina in January 1942.On 27 July 1942, Kennedy entered the Naval Reserve Officers Training School in Chicago.

After completing this training on 27 September, Kennedy voluntarily entered the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center in Melville, Rhode Island, where he was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) (LTJG).

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He completed his training there on 2 December. He was then ordered to the training squadron, Motor Torpedo Squadron 4, to take over the command of motor torpedo boat PT-101, a 78-foot Huckins PT boat.

In January 1943, PT-101 and four other boats were ordered to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 14 (RON 14), which was assigned to Panama. He detached from RON 14 in February 1943 while the squadron was in Jacksonville, Florida, preparing for transfer to the Panama Canal Zone.

The Allies had been in a campaign of island hopping since securing Guadalcanal in a bloody battle in early 1943. Seeking combat duty, Kennedy transferred on 23 February 1943, as a replacement officer to Motor Torpedo BoatSquadron 2, which was based at Tulagi Island in the Solomon Islands. Traveling to the Pacific on USS Rochambeau,

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Kennedy arrived at Tulagi on 14 April and took command of PT-109 on 23 April. On 30 May, several PT boats, including PT-109, were ordered to the Russell Islands in preparation for the invasion of New Georgia.

After the capture of Rendova Island, the PT boat operations were moved to a “bush” berth there on 16 June.From that base, PT boats conducted nightly operations, both to disturb the heavy Japanese barge traffic that was resupplying the Japanese garrisons in New Georgia, and to patrol the Ferguson and Blackett Straits in order to sight and to give warning when the Japanese Tokyo Express warships came into the straits to assault U.S. forces in the New Georgia–Rendova area.

PT-109 stood at her station, one of fifteen PT boats (“Patrol Torpedo” boats) that had set out to engage, damage, and maybe even turn back the well-known “Tokyo Express.” US forces gave that name to the Japanese navy’s more or less regular supply convoy to soldiers fighting the advance of US forces in the islands farther south.

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When the patrol actually did come in contact with the Tokyo Express—three Japanese destroyers acting as transports with a fourth serving as escort—the encounter did not go well. Thirty torpedoes were fired without damaging the Japanese ships. No US vessels suffered hits or casualties. Boats that had used up their complement of torpedoes were ordered home. The few that still had torpedoes remained in the strait for another try.

PT 109 was one of the boats left behind. Lieutenant Kennedy rendezvoused his boat with two others, PT 162 and PT 169. The three boats spread out to make a picket line across the strait. At about 2:30 in the morning, a shape loomed out of the darkness three hundred yards off PT 109’s starboard bow. The young lieutenant and his crew first believed it to be another PT boat. When it became apparent that it was one of the Japanese destroyers, Kennedy attempted to turn to starboard to bring his torpedoes to bear. But there was not enough time.

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The destroyer, later identified as theAmagiri, struck PT 109 just forward of the forward starboard torpedo tube, ripping away the starboard aft side of the boat. The impact tossed Kennedy around the cockpit. Most of the crew were knocked into the water. The one man below decks, engineer Patrick McMahon, miraculously escaped, although he was badly burned by exploding fuel.

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Fear that PT 109 would go up in flames drove Kennedy to order the men who still remained on the wreck to abandon ship. But the destroyer’s wake dispersed the burning fuel, and when the fire began to subside, Kennedy sent his men back to what was left of the boat. From the wreckage, Kennedy ordered the men with him, Edgar Mauer and John E. Maguire, to identify the locations of their crew mates still in the water. Leonard Thom, Gerard Zinser, George Ross, and Raymond Albert were able to swim back on their own.

Kennedy swam out to McMahon and Charles Harris. Kennedy towed the injured McMahon by a life-vest strap, and alternately cajoled and berated the exhausted Harris to get him through the difficult swim. Meanwhile, Thom pulled in William Johnston, who was debilitated by the gasoline he had accidentally swallowed and the heavy fumes that lay on the water. Finally Raymond Starkey swam in from where he had been flung by the shock. Floating on and around the hulk, the crew took stock.

Harold Marney and Andrew Jackson Kirksey had disappeared in the collision, very likely killed at impact. All the men were exhausted, and a few were hurt, and several had been sickened by the fuel fumes. There was no sign of other boats or ships in the area; the men were afraid to fire their flare gun for fear of attracting the attention of the Japanese who were on islands on all sides. Although the wreckage was still afloat, it was taking on water, and it capsized on the morning of August 2.

The eleven survivors clung to PT-109’s bow section as it drifted slowly south. By about 2:00 p.m., it was apparent that the hull was taking on water and would soon sink, so the men decided to abandon it and swim for land. As there were Japanese camps on all the nearby large islands, they chose the tiny deserted Plum Pudding Island, southwest of Kolombangara. They placed their lantern, shoes, and non-swimmers on one of the timbers used as a gun mount and began kicking together to propel it. Kennedy, who had been on the Harvard University swim team, used a life jacket strap clenched between his teeth to tow his badly-burned senior enlisted machinist mate, MM1 Patrick McMahon.It took four hours to reach their destination, 3.5 miles (5.6 km) away, which they reached without interference by sharks or crocodiles.

The island was only 100 yards (91 m) in diameter, with no food or water. The crew had to hide from passing Japanese barges. Kennedy swam to Naru and Olasana islands, a round trip of about 2.5 miles (4.0 km), in search of help and food. He then led his men to Olasana Island, which had coconut trees and drinkable water.

The explosion on 2 August was spotted by an Australian coastwatcher, Sub-lieutenant Arthur Reginald Evans, who manned a secret observation post at the top of the Mount Veve volcano on Kolombangara, where more than 10,000 Japanese troops were garrisoned below on the southeast portion.

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The Navy and its squadron of PT boats held a memorial service for the crew of PT-109 after reports were made of the large explosion.

However, Evans dispatched islanders Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana in a dugout canoe to look for possible survivors after decoding news that the explosion he had witnessed was probably from the lost PT-109. They could avoid detection by Japanese ships and aircraft and, if spotted, would probably be taken for native fishermen.

Kennedy and his men survived for six days on coconuts before they were found by the scouts. Gasa and Kumana disobeyed an order by stopping by Naru to investigate a Japanese wreck, from which they salvaged fuel and food. They first fled by canoe from Kennedy, who to them was simply a shouting stranger. On the next island, they pointed their Tommy guns at the rest of the crew since the only light-skinned people they expected to find were Japanese and they were not familiar with either the language or the people.

Gasa later said “All white people looked the same to me.” Kennedy convinced them they were on the same side. The small canoe was not big enough for passengers. Though the Donovan book and movie depict Kennedy offering a coconut inscribed with a message, according to a National Geographic interview, it was Gasa who suggested it and Kumana who climbed a coconut tree to pick one. Kennedy cut the following message on a coconut:

JFK_PT-109_Coconut

NAURO ISL
COMMANDER… NATIVE KNOWS POS’IT…
HE CAN PILOT… 11 ALIVE
NEED SMALL BOAT… KENNEDY

Kennedy told Gasa and Kumana, “If Japan man comes, scratch out the message.”

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The message was delivered at great risk through 35 nmi (65 km; 40 mi) of hostile waters patrolled by the Japanese to the nearest Allied base at Rendova. Other coastwatcher natives who were caught had been tortured and killed. Later, a canoe returned for Kennedy, taking him to the coastwatcher to coordinate the rescue. PT-157, commanded by Lieutenant William Liebenow, was able to pick up the survivors.

The arranged signal was four shots, but since Kennedy only had three bullets in his pistol, Evans gave him a Japanese rifle for the fourth signal shot. The sailors sang “Yes Jesus Loves Me” to pass the time. Gasa and Kumana received little notice or credit in military reports, books, or movies until 2002 when they were interviewed by National Geographic shortly before Gasa’s death.

In a more recent visit to the area, writer/photographer Jad Davenport managed to track down the then-90-year-old Eroni Kumana, and together they made a visit to view Kennedy Island. In typical fashion for the time, Kumana reports that the first thing the survivors asked for was cigarettes. When they realized they had no matches, Kumana surprised and delighted the men by making a fire by rubbing two sticks together.

The coconut shell came into the possession of Ernest W. Gibson, Jr. who was serving in the South Pacific with the 43rd Infantry Division.

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Gibson later returned it to Kennedy. Kennedy preserved it in a glass paperweight on his Oval Office desk during his presidency. It is now on display at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts.

Kennedy’s coconut message was not the only message given to the coastwatchers. A more detailed message was written by the executive officer of PT-109, Leonard Jay Thom. Thom’s message was a “penciled note” written on paper.Kennedy’s message was written on a more hidden location in case the native coastwatchers were stopped and searched by the Japanese.

Thom’s message read:

To: Commanding Officer–Oak O
From:Crew P.T. 109 (Oak 14)
Subject: Rescue of 11(eleven) men lost since Sunday, August 1 in enemy action. Native knows our position & will bring P.T. Boat back to small islands of Ferguson Passage off NURU IS. A small boat (outboard or oars) is needed to take men off as some are seriously burned.
Signal at night three dashes (- – -) Password–Roger—Answer—Wilco If attempted at day time–advise air coverage or a PBY could set down. Please work out a suitable plan & act immediately Help is urgent & in sore need. Rely on native boys to any extent
Thom
Ens. U.S.N.R
Exec. 109

Thom and Kennedy were both awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. Kennedy was also awarded the Purple Heart for injuries he sustained in the collision. Following their rescue, Thom was assigned as commander of PT-587 and Kennedy was assigned as commander of PT-59 (a.k.a. PTGB-1).Kennedy and Thom remained friends, and when Thom died in a 1946 car accident, Kennedy was one of his pallbearers.

PT-109_crew

Gerard Zinser, a retired chief petty officer and the last survivor of PT-109, died in Florida in 2001. Both Solomon Islanders Biuki Gasa and Eroni Kumana were alive when visited by National Geographic in 2002. They were each presented with a gift from the Kennedy family.

Biuki Gasa died in late August 2005, his passing noted only in a single blog by a relative. According to Time Pacific magazine, Gasa and Kumana were invited to Kennedy’s inauguration. However, the island authorities tricked them into giving their trip to local officials. Gasa and Kumana gained a little fame only after being identified by National Geographic. In 2007, the commanding officer of USS Peleliu, Captain Ed Rhoades, presented Eroni Kumana with gifts, including an American flag for his actions more than sixty years earlier.In 2008, Mark Roche visited Kumana and discussed the PT-109 incident. Kumana was a scout for the Coastwatchers throughout the war, and besides rescuing the crew of PT-109, also rescued two downed American pilots who parachuted into the sea. Kumana noted that Kennedy visited him several times after the rescue and always brought trinkets to swap. Regarding attending the inauguration, Kumana noted that he and Gasa made it to the airport in Honiara, but were turned back by Solomon Island officials on the grounds that they would be an embarrassment in their appearance. Kumana lived atop a cliff on his native island with his extended family. His most prized possession was his bust of President Kennedy, given him by the Kennedy family. Kumana gave Roche a valuable family heirloom, a large piece of Kustom Money, to place on the President’s grave. Among other uses, Kustom Money was used to pay tribute to a chief, especially by placing it on the chief’s grave. In November 2008, Roche placed the tribute on the President’s grave in a private ceremony. The artifact was then taken to the Kennedy Library and placed on display beside the coconut with the rescue message.

Eroni Kumana died on 2 August 2014, exactly 71 years after PT-109s collision with Amagiri. He was 93.

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Stop that Island! The remarkable story of HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen

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Without trying to blow my own trumpet, or in this case my countries trumpet, it is a well know fact that the Dutch are among the most inventive people in the world. As was the case with the crew of the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen(and HMAS Abraham Crijnssen for a while)

Sometimes in life, the guy with the drunken, so-crazy-it-just-might-work ideas hits one out of the park and saves the day.This seems to be what happened in 1942 aboard the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, the last Dutch warship standing after the Battle of the Java Sea.

HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen was a minesweeper of the Royal Netherlands Navy (RNN). Built during the 1930s, she was based in the Netherlands East Indies when Japan attacked at the end of 1941. Ordered to retreat to Australia, the ship was disguised as a tropical island to avoid detection, and was the last Dutch ship to escape from the region. On arriving in Australia in 1942, she was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) as HMAS Abraham Crijnssen and operated as an anti-submarine escort. Although returned to RNN control in 1943, the ship remained in Australian waters for most of World War II. After the war, Abraham Crijnssen operated on anti-revolution patrols in the East Indies, before returning to the Netherlands and being converted into a boom defence ship in 1956. Removed from service in 1960, the vessel was donated to the Netherlands Sea Cadet Corps for training purposes. In 1995, Abraham Crijnssen was acquired by the Dutch Navy Museum for preservation as a museum ship.

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After the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies in 1941 and their decisive defeat of a combined Dutch, British, Australian, and US naval force, the remaining Dutch ships in the East Indies were ordered to flee to Australia. Many Dutch ships were either scuttled or fell prey to Japanese warships or aircraft patrolling their escape routes.

However, the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, a tiny minesweeper with little in the way of offensive armament or speed, was able to successfully escape to Australia because the captain came up with a crazy scheme. He disguised the entire ship as a small island.1a-ship-disguised-as-island-rawAlthough the Abraham Crijnssen was a relatively small ship, it was still a big object—approximately 55 meters (180 ft) long and 7 meters (25 ft) wide. So the crew used foliage from island vegetation and gray paint to make the ship’s hull look like rock faces.

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Moving only at night, the ship was able to blend in with the thousands of other tiny islands around Indonesia, and the Japanese didn’t notice the moving island. The Abraham Crijnssen was the last Allied ship that escaped the Dutch East Indies.

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.The ship was based at Surabaya in the Netherlands East Indies when Japan invaded in 1941.Following the Allied defeats at the Battles of the Java Sea and Sunda Strait in late March 1942, all Allied ships were ordered to withdraw to Australia.Abraham Crijnssen was meant to sail with three other warships, but found herself proceeding alone.

To escape detection by Japanese aircraft (which the minesweeper did not have the armament to defend effectively against), the ship was heavily camouflaged with jungle foliage, giving the impression of a small island Personnel cut down trees and branches from nearby islands, and arranged the cuttings to form a jungle canopy covering as much of the ship as possible.Any hull still exposed was painted to resemble rocks and cliffs.To further the illusion, the ship would remain close to shore, anchored and immobile during daylight,

(see if you can spot it)

HRMS_Abraham_Crijnssen_disguised_as_a_tropical_island

and only sail at night She headed for Fremantle, Western Australia, where she arrived on 20 March 1942; Abraham Crijnssen was the last vessel to successfully escape Java, and the only ship of her class in the region to survive.

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The Crijnssen managed to go undetected by Japanese planes and avoid the destroyer that sank the other Dutch warships, surviving the eight-day journey to Australia and reuniting with Allied forces.

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After arriving in Australian waters, the minesweeper underwent a refit, which included the installation of new ASDIC equipment.

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On 28 September, the minesweeper was commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Abraham Crijnssen.She was reclassified as an anti-submarine convoy escort, and was also used as a submarine tender for the Dutch submarines that relocated to Australia following the Japanese conquest.The ship’s Dutch sailors were supplemented with survivors from the British destroyer HMS Jupiter and Australian personnel, all under the command of an Australian lieutenant.

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The wardroom tradition of hanging a portrait of the commissioned ship’s reigning monarch led to some tension before it was decided to leave Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands on the bulkhead instead of replacing her with King George VI of the United Kingdom, which was installed in the lieutenant’s cabin.

It was agreed however that Miss Hayworth was worthy of wardroom status and she was installed on the bulkhead opposite Queen Wilhelmina.

While escorting a convoy to Sydney through Bass Strait on 26 January 1943, Abraham Crijnssen detected a submarine on ASDIC. The convoy was ordered to scatter, while Abraham Crijnssen and HMAS Bundaberg depth charged the submarine contact.

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No wreckage of the suspected submarine was found.A pair of hastily released depth charges at the start of the engagement damaged the minesweeper; several fittings and pipes were damaged, and all of her centreline rivets had to be replaced during a week-long dry-docking.

Abraham Crijnssen was returned to RNN service on 5 May 1943, but remained in Australian waters for most of World War II.On 7 June 1945, the minesweeper left Sydney for Darwin, with the oil lighter (and former submarine) K9 in tow.On 8 June, the tow cable snapped, and K9 washed ashore at Seal Rocks, New South Wales.

HMAS_K9_(AWM_P04979002)

Abraham Crijnssen was used for mine-clearing sweeps of Kupang Harbour prior to the arrival of a RAN force to accept the Japanese surrender of Timor.

The ship was removed from the Navy List in 1960. After leaving service, Abraham Crijnssen was donated to the Sea Cadet Corps (Zeekadetkorps Nederland) for training purposes. She was docked at The Hague from 1962 to 1972, after which she was moved to Rotterdam. The ship was also used as a storage hulk during this time.

In 1995, Abraham Crijnssen was marked for preservation by the Dutch Navy Museum at Den Helder.She was retrofitted to her wartime configuration.

Amazingly I was able to find out most of the details of the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, even which pictures hang in the wardroom, but I could not find out any crew members name and most importantly who came up with the idea. If anyone knows please let me know.

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Forgotten History-Irish WWII Losses

Even though Ireland was a neutral country during WWII it didn’t escape the war completely unscathed.

It was especially it’s mercantile marine which was affected by the German Navy.

Ireland, unlike the majority of more recent independent nations, made no attempt to encourage the development of her own mercantile marine. Each year the fleet declined: from 127 in 1923, until in September 1939 they had only 56 ships flying the Irish flag, none ocean-going, all designed for the short sea trades.

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This tiny fleet increased with the formation of Irish Shipping Ltd. in March 1941 when, under great difficulty, 15 ocean-going dry cargo ships were purchased or chartered.

16 Ships were lost in unprovoked actions. I will not be talking  about all 16 but I will focus to the ones which were registered in my hometown of Limerick.

The City of Limerick

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City of Limerick was the first Irish ship to be sunk by German aircraft in World War Two. Owned by Palgrave Murphy Ltd. and commanded by Captain Robert Ferguson she departed Cartagena, Spain for Liverpool in early July 1940. At 8 a.m. on 15th July, when 100 miles west of Ushant, she was attacked from astern by an aircraft with machine-gun fire. As the plane roared overhead it dropped a stick of bombs which hit the ship but failed to explode. It returned for another attack and this time two men were killed. The ship was now stopped and disabled and the captain gave the order to abandon her. As the crew pulled away in lifeboats more German planes appeared and following further attacks the ship sank. After a cold night in the boats the survivors were rescued next day by a Belgian trawler and landed at Penzance, Cornwall.

Luimneach

luimneach

On 4 Sep, 1940, the un-escorted and neutral Luimneach (Master Eric Septimus Jones) was stopped by U-46 with two shots across her bow west-southwest of the Scilly Isles and was sunk at 20.00 hours by gunfire. There are differences in the accounts given by the captains. Endrass claimed that Capt Eric Jones and his crew “lost their heads completely” with one man jumping into the water, at the shot across the bows by his U-boat. But Jones was an experienced captain. The Luimneach had survived twelve aerial attacks during the Spanish Civil War. He took the ship’s papers with him and they are now in the Dublin Public Records Office. Following an inquiry, on 4 March 1941, Dönitz concluded that the U-boat acted correctly in sinking an “abandoned ship”. Endrass did not converse with the Luimneach, who were of the opinion that he was Italian. Endrass said that the flag was “British or Irish”. There were two lifeboats, One was picked up by a Spanish trawler and brought to Spain. The other was picked up by a French trawler. Those landed in France were detained by the Nazis. Two of the crew were British and were imprisoned. The Chief Officer, from Belfast, also had British papers, but because of his advanced age was allowed to live in Paris. The Second Engineer was Dutch and was allowed to go to Antwerp. The remainder returned to Ireland via Portugal.

The Crew

Captain E. Jones, Wales Captain’s Boat Returned
Chief Officer J McKelvey Belfast Mate’s Boat Paris
Second Officer C. Meriditt, Dublin; Captain’s Boat Returned
Chief Engineer R. Spence, Dublin; Captain’s Boat Returned
Second Engineer H. Madsen Antwerp Mate’s Boat Antwerp
Cook S. Tice, London; Captain’s Boat Returned
Steward R. Wilkes, London; Captain’s Boat Returned
Able Seaman A. Robert­son, Limerick; Captain’s Boat Returned
Able Seaman B. Quirk, Kilmore Quay, Captain’s Boat Returned
Able Seaman M. Carrol, Dungarvan Captain’s Boat died
Able Seaman J Moran Tarbet, Kerry Mate’s Boat Returned
Able Seaman M Curran Tarbet, Kerry Mate’s Boat Returned
Fireman M McCarthy Tarbet, Kerry Mate’s Boat Returned
Fireman L O’Neill, Glasgow; Captain’s Boat Returned
Fireman E. Richards Bristol Mate’s Boat imprisoned
Fireman N. Bartello Malta Mate’s Boat imprisoned
Fireman T. Conway Dublin Mate’s Boat Returned
Fireman John. Confrey Dun Laoghaire Mate’s Boat Returned

Clonlara

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Notes on event At 23.31 hours on 22 August 1941, U-564 fired a salvo of four torpedoes at the convoy OG-71 west of Aveiro, Portugal and observed four different detonations and three columns of fire, later lifeboats were seen. Suhren thought that he had sunk two ships and damaged two others. However, only two ships were hit and sunk, the Empire Oak and Clonlara.

The Clonlara (Master Joseph Reynolds) had picked up 13 survivors from Alva on 19 August. The master, ten crew members and nine survivors were lost. Eight crew members and five survivors were picked up by HMS Campion(LtCdr A. Johnson, RNVR) and landed at Gibraltar on 24 August.

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Kyleclare

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Kyleclare was built at Dundee in 1932 for the Limerick Steam Ship Company and up to the outbreak of the war mainly traded from ports in the west of Ireland to Liverpool. The morning of 21st February 1943 saw her departing Lisbon for Dublin as she steamed down the Tagus and into the Atlantic. Two days later she had made good progress northwards and was at 48 50 north, 12 20 west when sighted by U-456 (Kapitanleutnant Max Teichert).

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He manoeuvred into attack position; wind was south-south-west, force 3, sea smooth, gentle swell, good visibility. He later claimed that he had not seen Kyleclare ’s neutrality markings as she was so low in the water, listing to starboard and his periscope was awash. From a distance of 500 metres he fired a fan of three torpedoes. The moment of firing was logged; 2.38 p.m. Central European Time, 23 February 1943. As the torpedoes left the tubes, the submarine rose higher in the water and at that instance Teichert saw the double inscription EIRE on the ship’s side. Seconds later a double explosion echoed throughout the submarine. He proceeded to the position of the sinking but found nothing except wreckage; Kyleclare had disintegrated in a massive cloud of brown smoke. Eighteen Irish lives were blasted into eternity with her.

The crew that perished at sea

Barry, Edward, Wexford Morgan, John, Dublin
Brannock, Patrick, Dublin Mooney, Daniel, Dublin
Brady, Thomas, Galway O’Brien, L., Dublin
deBurca, Diarmuid, Dublin O’Brien, Richard, Dublin
Grimes, Richard, Dublin O’Brien, Daniel, Dublin
Hamilton, A.R., Galway O’Neill, P., Dublin
Hopkins, Philip, Ringsend, Dublin Ryan, Thomas, Rush, Co. Dublin
Larkin, John, Dublin Simms, W.J., Kildare
Lynch, T., Clogherhead, Co. Louth Todd, Ultan,; New Ross

Kamikaze-Divine wind

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Kamikaze translates into divine wind and refers to a typhoon that destroyed an enemy fleet in the 13th century.

In the middle of the 13th century, Mongol fleets sailed to attack a helpless Japan. As the invaders approached the Japanese coast, terrific winds arose, smashed the Mongol ships and thwarted the attack. This “Divine Wind” – what the Japanese referred to as the “kamikaze” – saved Japan.

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Seven hundred years later, as the American war machine moved slowly but inexorably across the Pacific towards their home islands, the Japanese again called upon the kamikaze for salvation. This time the “Divine Wind” took the form of suicidal pilots who sacrificed their lives in order to assure that their explosive-laden planes hit their targets. It became the Japanese weapon that the American Navy feared most

These pilots really thought it was an honor to die for the emperor, who was still considered a divine entity. Apparently Kamikaze pilots would only considered a hero if 50 people died through their action.

img_kamikaze_fallingThere are quite some similarities between the Kamikazes and suicide bombers nowadays both had some delusional notion of what a hero is.In warfare this must be undoubtedly one of the scariest and difficult,even impossible, tactics to prepare for. Human instinct is to survive at all cost but how do you fight an enemy who does not adhere to that instinct and is willing to sacrifice himself for a ‘higher’ cause.

After the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 they were defeated in many important battles in which they lost ships and airplanes.  During 1943 and 1944 Allied forces were moving towards Japan quickly. They pushed the Japanese back to the Philippines, a group of islands that were very important for them. They were located between the oil fields of Southeast Asia and Japan.

Kamikaze aircraft were essentially pilot-guided explosive missiles, purpose-built or converted from conventional aircraft. Pilots would attempt to crash their aircraft into enemy ships in what was called a “body attack” (体当たり; 体当り, taiatari) in planes laden with some combination of explosives, bombs, torpedoes and full fuel tanks; accuracy was much better than a conventional attack, the payload and explosion larger. A kamikaze could sustain damage which would disable a conventional attacker and still achieve its objective. The goal of crippling or destroying large numbers of Allied ships, particularly aircraft carriers, was considered by the Empire of Japan to be a just reason for sacrificing pilots and aircraft

These attacks, which began in October 1944, followed several critical military defeats for the Japanese. They had long since lost aerial dominance due to outdated aircraft and the loss of experienced pilots. On a macroeconomic scale, Japan suffered from a diminishing capacity for war, and a rapidly declining industrial capacity relative to the Allies. Despite these problems, the Japanese government expressed its reluctance to surrender. In combination, these factors led to the use of kamikaze tactics as Allied forces advanced towards the Japanese home islands.

While the term “kamikaze” usually refers to the aerial strikes, it has also been applied to various other suicide attacks. The Japanese military also used or made plans for non-aerial Japanese Special Attack Units, including those involving submarines, human torpedoes, speedboats and divers.

The tradition of death instead of defeat, capture, and perceived shame was deeply entrenched in Japanese military culture. It was one of the primary traditions in the samurai life and the Bushido code: loyalty and honour until death, as the Japanese perceived it.

During this phase of the war the Japanese were not able to build as many ships and warplanes as they were losing in the battles. They did not have the industries that the Americans did. The Japanese admirals realized that it was almost impossible to win against the Allied troops with few aircraft and not enough good pilots.

For this reason the Japanese emperor decided to form a special attack unit. 24 pilots volunteered for the mission. It was their task to crash into Allied ships and kill as many sailors as possible. The first kamikaze attack took place in October 1944. A Japanese plane flew straight into an Australian navy ship, killing 30 sailors.

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The kamikaze attacks were successful at first. Many pilots were trained to become kamikaze. The Japanese built cheap planes with older engines for these missions. Pilots usually dropped their landing gear after takeoff so that it could be used by other planes.

The Allied troops were afraid of these kamikaze attacks because they could not defend themselves against them. By the end of the war over 2500 Japanese pilots had sacrificed their lives. About 5000 American and Allied sailors were killed in the attacks.

Captain Motoharu Okamura, in charge of the Tateyama Base in Tokyo, as well as the 341st Air Group Home, was, according to some sources, the first officer to officially propose kamikaze attack tactics. He arranged, with his superiors, the first investigations on the plausibility and mechanisms of intentional suicide attacks on 15 June 1944.

In August 1944, it was announced by the Domei news agency that a flight instructor named Takeo Tagata was training pilots in Taiwan for suicide missions.

One source claims that the first kamikaze mission occurred on 13 September 1944. A group of pilots from the army’s 31st Fighter Squadron on Negros Island decided to launch a suicide attack the following morning.First Lieutenant Takeshi Kosai and a sergeant were selected. Two 100 kg (220 lb) bombs were attached to two fighters, and the pilots took off before dawn, planning to crash into carriers. They never returned, but there is no record of an enemy plane hitting an Allied ship that day.

Rear Admiral Masafumi Arima, the commander of the 26th Air Flotilla (part of the 11th Air Fleet), is sometimes credited with inventing the kamikaze tactic.

Arima_Masafumi

Arima personally led an attack by about 100 Yokosuka D4Y Suisei (“Judy”) dive bombers against a large Essex-class aircraft carrier, USS Franklin, near Leyte Gulf, on (or about, accounts vary) 15 October 1944.

Arima was killed and part of a plane hit Franklin. The Japanese high command and propagandists seized on Arima’s example: He was promoted posthumously to Admiral and was given official credit for making the first kamikaze attack. However, it is not clear that this was a planned suicide attack, and official Japanese accounts of Arima’s attack bore little resemblance to the actual events.

On 17 October 1944, Allied forces assaulted Suluan Island, beginning the Battle of Leyte Gulf.The Imperial Japanese Navy’s 1st Air Fleet, based at Manila, was assigned the task of assisting the Japanese ships which would attempt to destroy Allied forces in Leyte Gulf. However, the 1st Air Fleet at that time only had 40 aircraft: 34 A6M Zero carrier-based fighters, three Nakajima B6N Tenzan torpedo bombers, one Mitsubishi G4M (“Betty”) and two Yokosuka P1Y Ginga  land-based bombers, and one additional reconnaissance plane.

The task facing the Japanese air forces seemed impossible. The 1st Air Fleet commandant, Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi, decided to form a suicide offensive force, the Special Attack Unit.

Takijiro_Onishi

In a meeting at Mabalacat Airfield (known to the U.S. military as Clark Air Base) near Manila, on 19 October, Onishi told officers of the 201st Flying Group headquarters: “I don’t think there would be any other certain way to carry out the operation [to hold the Philippines], than to put a 250 kg bomb on a Zero and let it crash into a U.S. carrier, in order to disable her for a week.”

Commander Asaiki Tamai asked a group of 23 talented student pilots, all of whom he had trained, to volunteer for the special attack force. All of the pilots raised both of their hands, volunteering to join the operation. Later, Tamai asked Lieutenant Yukio Seki to command the special attack force.

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Seki is said to have closed his eyes, lowered his head and thought for 10 seconds, before saying: “Please do appoint me to the post.” Seki became the 24th kamikaze pilot to be chosen. However, Seki later said: “Japan’s future is bleak if it is forced to kill one of its best pilots.” and “I am not going on this mission for the Emperor or for the Empire… I am going because I was ordered to.”

Several suicide attacks, carried out during the invasion of Leyte, by Japanese pilots from units other than the Special Attack Force, have been described as the first kamikaze attack. Early on 21 October, a Japanese aircraft, possibly an Aichi D3A dive-bomber or a Mitsubishi Ki-51  deliberately crashed into the foremast of the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia.

The attack killed 30 personnel, including the cruiser’s captain, Emile Dechaineux, and wounded 64, including the Australian force commander, Commodore John Collins.The Australian official history of the war claimed that this was the first kamikaze attack on an Allied ship, although other sources disagree because it was not a planned attack by a member of the Special Attack Force, but was most likely to have been undertaken on the pilot’s own initiative.

The sinking of the ocean tug USS Sonoma on 24 October is listed in some sources as the first ship lost to a kamikaze strike, but the attack occurred before 25 October, and the aircraft used, a Mitsubishi G4M, was not flown by the original four Special Attack Squadrons.

USS_Sonoma_(ATO-12)

On 25 October 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Kamikaze Special Attack Force carried out its first mission. Five Zeros, led by Seki, and escorted to the target by leading Japanese ace Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, attacked several escort carriers. One Zero attempted to hit the bridge of USS Kitkun Bay but instead exploded on the port catwalk and cartwheeled into the sea. Two others dived at USS Fanshaw Bay but were destroyed by anti-aircraft fire. The last two ran at USS White Plains. One, under heavy fire and trailing smoke, aborted the attempt on White Plains and instead banked toward USS St. Lo, plowing into the flight deck. Its bomb caused fires that resulted in the bomb magazine exploding, sinking the carrier. By day’s end on 26 October, 55 kamikazes from the Special Attack Force had also damaged the large escort carriers USS Sangamon, Suwannee which had also been struck by a kamikaze at 08:04 forward of its aft elevator on 25 October,Santee, and the smaller escorts USS White Plains, Kalinin Bay, and Kitkun Bay. In total, seven carriers were hit, as well as 40 other ships (five sunk, 23 heavily damaged, and 12 moderately damaged).

Early successes – such as the sinking of St. Lo – were followed by an immediate expansion of the program, and over the next few months over 2,000 planes made such attacks.

When Japan began to be subject to intense strategic bombing by B-29s, the Japanese military attempted to use suicide attacks against this threat. During the northern hemisphere winter of 1944–45, the IJAAF formed the 47th Air Regiment, also known as the Shinten Special Unit (Shinten Seiku Tai) at Narimasu Airfield, Nerima, Tokyo, to defend the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. The unit was equipped with Nakajima Ki-44 Shoki fighters, with which they were to ram United States Army Air Forces  B-29s in their attacks on Japan. However, this proved much less successful and practical since an airplane is a much faster, more maneuverable, and smaller target than a warship. The B-29 also had formidable defensive weaponry, so suicide attacks against the plane demanded considerable piloting skill to be successful, which worked against the very purpose of using expendable pilots. Even encouraging capable pilots to bail out before impact was ineffective because vital personnel were often lost when they mistimed their exits and were killed as a result.

On 11 March, the U.S. carrier USS Randolph was hit and moderately damaged at Ulithi Atoll, in the Caroline Islands, by a kamikaze that had flown almost 4,000 km (2,500 mi) from Japan, in a mission called Operation Tan No. 2. On 20 March, the submarine USS Devilfish survived a hit from an aircraft, just off Japan.

Purpose-built kamikaze planes, as opposed to converted fighters and dive-bombers, were also being constructed. Ensign Mitsuo Ohta had suggested that piloted glider bombs, carried within range of targets by a mother plane, should be developed. The First Naval Air Technical Bureau (Kugisho), in Yokosuka, refined Ohta’s idea. Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka rocket planes, launched from bombers, were first deployed in kamikaze attacks from March 1945. U.S. personnel gave them the derisive nickname “Baka Bombs” (baka is Japanese for “idiot” or “stupid”).

rocket_plane

The Nakajima Ki-115 Tsurugi was a simple, easily built propeller aircraft with a wooden airframe which used engines from existing stocks. Its non-retractable landing gear was jettisoned shortly after take-off for a suicide mission, and re-used.

Nakajima_Ki-115

During 1945, the Japanese military began stockpiling hundreds of Tsurugi, other aircraft, Ohkas, and suicide boats, for use against Allied forces expected to invade Japan. The invasion never happened, and few were ever used.

In early 1945 U.S. Navy aviator Commander John Thach,

Thach,_John

already famous for developing effective aerial tactics against the Japanese such as the Thach Weave, developed a defensive strategy against kamikazes called the “big blue blanket” to establish Allied air supremacy well away from the carrier force. This recommended combat air patrols (CAP) which were larger and operated further from the carriers than before, a line of picket destroyers and destroyer escorts at least 80 km (50 mi) from the main body of the fleet to provide earlier radar interception, and improved coordination between fighter direction officers on carriers. This plan also called for round-the-clock fighter patrols over Allied fleets, though the U.S. Navy had cut back training of fighter pilots so there were not enough Navy pilots available to counter the kamikaze threat. A final element included intensive fighter sweeps over Japanese airfields, and bombing of Japanese runways, using delayed action bombs to make repairs more difficult.

Late in 1944 the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) used the good high-altitude performance of their Supermarine Seafires (naval version of the Spitfire) on combat air patrol duties. Seafires were heavily involved in countering the kamikaze attacks during the Iwo Jima landings and beyond. The Seafires’ best day was 15 August 1945, shooting down eight attacking aircraft for a single loss.

Seafire_1

Allied pilots were experienced and better-trained, and flew superior aircraft, making the poorly trained kamikaze pilots easy targets. The U.S. Fast Carrier Task Force alone could bring over 1,000 fighter aircraft into play. Allied pilots became adept at destroying enemy aircraft before they struck ships.

Allied gunners had begun to develop techniques to negate kamikaze attacks. Light rapid fire anti-aircraft weapons such as the 40 mm Bofors and 20 mm Oerlikon autocannons were highly effective,but heavy anti-aircraft guns such as the 5″/38 caliber gun (127 mm) had the punch to blow kamikazes out of the air, which was preferable since even a heavily damaged kamikaze could complete its mission.

The Ohkas with their high speed presented a very difficult problem for anti-aircraft fire, since their velocity made fire control extremely difficult.

Plane ohka

 

By 1945, large numbers of anti-aircraft shells with radio frequency proximity fuzes, on average seven times more effective than regular shells, became available, and the USN recommended their use against kamikaze attacks.

The peak in kamikaze attacks came during the period of April–June 1945, at the Battle of Okinawa. On 6 April 1945, waves of planes made hundreds of attacks in Operation Kikusui (“floating chrysanthemums”).At Okinawa, kamikaze attacks focused at first on Allied destroyers on picket duty, and then on the carriers in the middle of the fleet. Suicide attacks by planes or boats at Okinawa sank or put out of action at least 30 U.S. warships,and at least three U.S. merchant ships, along with some from other Allied forces. The attacks expended 1,465 planes. Many warships of all classes were damaged, some severely, but no aircraft carriers, battleships or cruisers were sunk by kamikaze at Okinawa. Most of the ships lost were destroyers or smaller vessels, especially those on picket duty.The destroyer USS Laffey earned the nickname “The Ship That Would Not Die” after surviving six kamikaze attacks and four bomb hits during this battle. So many destroyers were attacked that one ship’s crew, considering the aircraft carriers to be more important targets, erected a large sign with an arrow which read “That way to the carriers”

_Laffey_DD-724

U.S. carriers, with their wooden flight decks, appeared to suffer more damage from kamikaze hits than the reinforced steel-decked carriers from the British Pacific Fleet. US carriers also suffered considerably heavier casualties from kamikaze strikes; for instance, 389 men were killed in one attack on USS Bunker Hill, greater than the combined number of fatalities suffered on all six Royal Navy armoured carriers from all forms of attack during the entire war (Bunker Hill and Franklin were both hit while conducting operations with fully fueled and armed aircraft spotted on deck for takeoff, an extremely vulnerable state for any carrier). Eight kamikaze hits on five British carriers resulted in only 20 deaths while a combined total of 15 bomb hits, most of 500 kg weight or greater, and one torpedo hit on four carriers caused 193 fatal casualties earlier in the war – striking proof of the protective value of the armoured flight deck.

Bunker_Hill_(CV-17)

The resilience of well-armoured vessels was shown on 4 May, just after 11:30, when there was a wave of suicide attacks against the BPF. One Japanese plane made a steep dive from “a great height” at the carrier HMS Formidable and was engaged by AA guns.

HMS_Formidable_

Although it was hit by gunfire, a bomb from the kamikaze detonated on the flight deck, making a crater 3 m (9.8 ft) long, 0.6 m (2 ft) wide and 0.6 m (2 ft) deep. A long steel splinter speared down, through the hangar deck and the main boiler room (where it ruptured a steam line), before coming to rest in a fuel tank near the aircraft park, where it started a major fire. Eight personnel were killed and 47 were wounded. One Corsair and 10 Avengers were destroyed.

However, the fires were gradually brought under control, and the crater in the deck was repaired with concrete and steel plate. By 17:00, Corsairs were able to land. On 9 May, Formidable was again damaged by a kamikaze, as were the carrier HMS Victorious and the battleship HMS Howe. The British were able to clear the flight deck and resume flight operations in just hours, while their American counterparts took a few days or even months, as observed by a USN liaison officer on HMS Indefatigable who commented: “When a kamikaze hits a U.S. carrier it means 6 months of repair at Pearl Harbor. When a kamikaze hits a Limey carrier it’s just a case of “Sweepers, man your brooms.””

Sometimes twin-engined aircraft were used in planned kamikaze attacks. For example, Mitsubishi Ki-67 Hiryū (“Peggy”) medium bombers, based on Formosa, undertook kamikaze attacks on Allied forces off Okinawa.

Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki, the second in command of the Combined Pacific Fleet, directed the last official kamikaze attack, sending “Judys” from the 701st Air Group against the Allied fleet at Okinawa on 15 August 1945.

Ugaki_Matome

The number of ships sunk is a matter of debate. According to a wartime Japanese propaganda announcement, the missions sank 81 ships and damaged 195, and according to a Japanese tally, kamikaze attacks accounted for up to 80% of the U.S. losses in the final phase of the war in the Pacific. In a 2004 book, World War II, the historians Wilmott, Cross and Messenger stated that more than 70 U.S. vessels were “sunk or damaged beyond repair” by kamikazes.

According to a U.S Air Force webpage:Approximately 2,800 Kamikaze attackers sank 34 Navy ships, damaged 368 others, killed 4,900 sailors, and wounded over 4,800. Despite radar detection and cuing, airborne interception, attrition, and massive anti-aircraft barrages, 14 percent of Kamikazes survived to score a hit on a ship; nearly 8.5 percent of all ships hit by Kamikazes sank.

Even though is not related it is noteworthy to mention that more German citizens died due to suicide during the last days of the war,approximately 10,000, then Japanese Kamikaze suicide pilots.