LST 794 at the Invasion of Okinawa
The sequence of events described below is roughly chronological
The invasion of Okinawa, known as Operation Iceberg, had been in the planning stage since the fall of 1944. Okinawa was needed as an air base and staging area for the anticipated invasion of Japan. When the '794 was first sent to the Pacific in late 1944, she was equipped specifically for this operation. After training with amphibious troops of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regt. 6th Marine Division on Guadalcanal, she embarked with those same troops for the staging area at Ulithi atoll. On March 25th, she departed Ulithi, headed for Okinawa with the rest of the invasion fleet.
Marines picnicing on board. There wasn't seating space in the mess for everybody when the ship had troops on board, so they ate wherever they could! There also wasn't enough bunk space for the troops (besides, it was hot below decks with the ship sealed up at night) so they slept wherever they could. The main deck was largely covered by the LCT 1392, which was supported about 18 inches off the deck by large timbers, so many of the marines slept underneath it!
On April 1st, 1945, the '794 arrived at northern Hagushi beaches of Okinawa and launched her troops of the 1st Battalion., 4th Marine Regt., 6th Marine Division. First out of the hold were 13 amphibious tanks. Next out were the Marine troops in amphibious tractors (amphtracs). Fortunately, resistance on the beach was light and the 1st Battalion did not meet serious enemy resistance until their second day ashore, as they moved toward the town of Ishikawa on the Eastern coast.
Twenty four Marines head ashore in an amphtrac from the '794.
Don McKay recalls a friendly fire incident which took place on that day:
Just after dawn on April 1st, a 'kingfisher' OS2U observation plane had been catapulted from one of the capital ships and was observing the effectivness of the heavy bombardment on the beach when it happened to swing over our LST task group. One of the ships started firing, and soon others joined in,sadly down went the plane. I'm certain that our guns did not fire. Commander Ageton who was in command of the group blasted out over the radio "Hope you dumb bastards are satisfied, you just shot down one of our own." Our guys were trained to wait for the order to commence firing. So the Commander's remarks from his capital ship, did not apply to us. Two or three minutes later we sailed right up to the spot where the crash took place. I looked down from the conn. No sign of the tiny mustard colored plane. No sign of the pilot. Just small bits of wreckage and an enlarging, blue, green oil slick.
Lt. Cain (the Captain) and Ensign Goodman (Gunnery officer) obviously trained the '794 gun crews well. They did not panic and kept their fingers off the triggers without a clear order to fire.
A view of the invasion beachead as seen from the ship. The '794 was part of Task Group 53.3, the Northern Tractor Flotilla, and landed her troops on GREEN BEACH.
According to Morison (History of the United States Navy in World War II; Victory in the Pacific 1945, Vol. XIV, p173)
"LST's of Captain J.S. Laidlaw's Northern Tractor Flotilla were overloaded with cargo, amphtracs, land tanks, dukws, wheeled vehicles, engineer equipment and naval ammunition. Twenty-nine LST's carried pontoon barges or causeway sets secured alongside, 16 carried LCT's on their decks (note: the 794 carried BOTH!), and none of these could be unloaded promptly; vehicles stowed in an LCT, and naval ammunition stowed under them, had to be removed before the landing craft could be launched. LST stowage in this operation was something like those Chinese nests of boxes which must be unpacked in order, or not at all.
Although each LST in the transport area discharged her men and amphtracs in time to land on schedule, the LST's themselves were delayed coming into the northern beaches until L-day plus 1, when eleven slots were ready for them on Beaches Blue 1 and Yellow 2. Unloading continued all night from 2 April on, with the aid of lights."
According to the ship's log, after launching her Marines at 7:00 am, the ship moved several times during the day, and stood into the beach at 12:38 in the afternoon. That evening, the '794 was anchored one mile off of GREEN BEACH TWO and unloaded ammunition until there were no more vehicles available to carry it - around 9 pm. Watches were set overnight on the bow doors and the port and starboard pontoons to guard against possible underwater demolition.
The photo below shows LST 794 on the beach at Okinawa, together with LST 796, LST 843, and LST 1030. This photo was taken in July 1945, after the island was secured.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Dobey, U.S.C.G., LST 796
The next day, the LCT 1392 was launched from the main deck. (Read "How to launch an LCT"). The pontoon bridging units that the ship had carried all the way from the States were also launched. The crew spent the next six days unloading priority cargo for the troops ashore. This photo shows the LCT being readied for launching.
For the invasion of Okinawa, the '794 was loaded with 5 inch ammunition, which was stored in shipping tubes on the tank deck. The ammo was then covered over with miscellaneous building lumber. Amphibious vehicles were driven in and parked on top of the stacked "floor" of ammunition. Good thing they didn't get hit! On the morning of April 3, the '794 offloaded her ammunition to the destroyer Heywood L. Edwards, DD-663, one of the antiaircraft picket ships that protected the landing areas. As you can see from the photos below, the offloading was a major operation! The broken crates on the LST's deck are ammo crates that were taken aboard from the Heywood L. Edwards for storage and disposal.
As usual - Click to enlarge!
(Thanks to William Hooper for making this composite image!)
As the first line of defense against incoming Kamikaze planes, the picket ships took a tremendous beating. Overall, in the Okinawa campaign, 30 Naval ships were sunk, mostly by Kamikaze attacks, and 368 were damaged. Over 49,000 sailors were killed or missing and 4824 were wounded. The Heywood L. Edwards survived this campaign and the war. In 1959 she was loaned to the Japanese Navy! where she served as the Ariake.
You can read the history of the Heywood L. Edwards Here
Some of the crew out on one of the landing craft at Okinawa. On April 4, three days after the landing, one of the ship's two small boats (LCVP), moored alongside, was swamped and sunk during a "moderate gale."
Kamikaze Attacks: Operation Ten-Go
The Japanese plan for defending Okinawa called for massive Kamikaze attacks to destroy the U.S. Naval forces. The Kamikaze plan, Operation Ten-Go, commenced on April sixth with assaults by 699 Japanese aircraft. 355 of them were Kamikazes.
On the April sixth, the flotilla was attacked several times by Kamikazes. In one incident, three planes were shot down about two miles from the ship. In the second incident, one plane came in very close. With every ship in the area firing, the attack was defeated. The plane crashed into the water between the '794 and the ship to starboard. On impact, the propeller popped off and landed on the aft deck of the neighboring ship. During this attack, four of the crew (Felix Mangin, Marcus Holmes, Arnold Lucas, and Charles Murphy) were wounded by 20mm shell fragments fired from from neighboring ships! They later recieved Purple Heart medals.
April 7th, another attack. On the '794, Raymond H. Charitat of the Navy 58th construction battalion was injured in the head by flying shrapnel.
The following pictures of Japanese aircraft were taken at Yonton airfield on Okinawa.
A Japanese plane,
destroyed under its camoflauge netting. U.S. troops in the
background. This is plane is a Kawasaki-61 Interceptor, code named
Tony, belonging to the 23rd Independent Co.
(Thanks to Aaron Parsons and Bill Lawson for the identification).
A Nakajima Army Fighter Type 1 Ki-43 "Hayabusa, " which the U.S. code named Oscar, being inspected by U.S. personnel.
(Thanks to Hervé Pigeon for correcting the identification)
Departure for Resupply
On April 11, the '794 left Okinawa for the Saipan to load reinforcements and supplies. By May 14, the ship was back at Okinawa unloading once again. On May 20, 1945 the LST 794 left Okinawa for other assignments in the Phillipines.
Okinawa is Taken
For over two months, the Marines on Okinawa faced some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, but finally, on June 21, the island was declared taken:
The ship returned to Okinawa late in September and had to leave the Hagushi anchorage in early October to avoid a severe typhoon. They weathered it at sea. Read all about it Here.
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