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A SHORT HISTORY OF LCS(L)(3) 52
John Harper, Larry Cullen andVirgil Thill
Harper: The U.S.S. LCS(L) (3) 52 was launched on 14 August 1944 at the Albina Engine and Machine Works in Portland, Oregon, and commissioned on 23 September 1944. She carried 65 enlisted men and 6 officers. Her armament of 40MM, 20MM, .50 Caliber guns and Rockets made her a powerful little gunboat, and with pumps that could deliver 1500 GPM at 200 PSI she was also a powerful fireboat. Like her sisters, she was, pound for pound, arguably the most heavily armed gunship on the water.
There were 130 LCSs built during World War II. They were 150 feet long and 23 feet wide, and designed for Island warfare. They came about because the Navy lacked close-in fire support from large ships for Marines and Army troops invading the islands in the South Pacific and Central Pacific. Larger ships like destroyers had a 14 foot draft that prevented them from getting very close inshore, and their armament of 5 inch guns, torpedoes and depth charges were not well suited for inshore work clearing beaches for an invasion, while LCS’s 4 to 6 foot draft could put them within 500 feet of a shoreline, where several salvos of rockets quickly chewed up the beach for a landing force and 40 and 20 MM fire could zero in on gun emplacements.
After outfitting and fueling, the 52 sailed down the Columbia River, crossed the dangerous river bar into the Pacific and turned to port for San Diego. Many became seasick in the rough ocean, inspiring this poem by Storekeeper Larry "Pops" Cullen:
THE MAIDEN VOYAGE OF THE 52
I’m telling you of the 52,
That went to sea with her hapless crew.
Not two hours out the waves got rough ----
Half the crew had had enough.
They were piled knee-deep in the crowded "head"
And bodies strewed the deck like dead.
And everywhere the vomit’s stench
From bowsprit back to the anchor winch.
Quite a mess was the 52,
And quite a mess her groaning crew.
All day long the 52
Ploughed the seas with her seasick crew.
And into the night when the waves got high
Most of the crew now wanted to die.
The ship would hit in the trough with a smack
And shudder and roll and grunt and crack.
And shiver and rumble from stem to stern.
The seasick crew for land would yearn.
But undaunted still the 52
Butted the seas the long night through.
The night somehow passed, and some of the men
Felt just a little like living again.
A few still moaned and lay in their sacks
Or stretched on the fantail flat on their backs.
The seas had calmed to a steady roll
But a day and a night had taken their toll.
And most of the crew was prepared to say
They didn’t know sailors lived this way.
They still felt like they’d always be sick
And would like to be out of the Navy, but quick.
With unslackened speed the 52
Southward carries her seasick crew.
This must go on for three days more
Before the 52 heads for the shore.
Sail on, sail on, O 52,
For I am one of that seasick crew!
Harper: On November 6 LCS 52 steamed out of San Diego in company with LCSs 31, 32, 33 and 51, setting course 245 True for Hawaii, Engineering Officer Spencer Burroughs taking the conn. She entered Pearl Harbor on November 17 and began firing-while-maneuvering practice, using various courses and speeds. The 52 moved to Maui about January 12, 1945 and practiced firing at targets towed by aircraft. There were four practice runs on the beach and on the fourth run the 52 fired rockets at the beach, spending 6 hours total on the firing runs.
On January 22 the 52 left Pearl Harbor for the Central Pacific. The convoy from Pearl sailed at about 10 knots and was comprised of a substantial number and variety of landing craft and support craft that were designated for the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The International Date Line was crossed on January 28, and the 52 arrived Eniwetok, Marshall Islands, February 3, after a 3,000 mile uneventful trip from Hawaii.
After taking on provisions, water and fuel, the 52 departed Eniwetok on February 5 and arrived Saipan February 10.
Thill: Some of us were allowed to go ashore for a short period of time. While walking the beach I spotted a cave on a hillside. When I looked in I spotted a dead Jap soldier lying on the ground near the entrance to the cave. The body wasn’t badly decayed. I thought this is no place for me, so I went back to the ship.
Harper: The stay at Saipan was generally uneventful except for a collision with LCI(L) 627, where the LCI’s bow struck 52’s starboard bulwark at frame 12, with apparently minor damage. Damaged ammunition was thrown overboard, 156 rounds of 40MM. The 52 left Saipan on February 15 to join the invasion of Iwo Jima.
Iwo had crucial strategic value to our war effort. Our B-29s attacking Japan needed an emergency landing field between Japan and the Marianas islands of Guam and Tinian. Land-based fighter planes out of Japan did not have the range to attack Iwo. Japanese radar installations on the island could be neutralized. Iwo-based Japanese fighter planes, inflicting heavy losses on our vulnerable bomb-laden B-29s enroute to Japan would be eliminated. The psychological effect of the loss of Japanese soil would be devastating.
At 0645 on 19 February Captain Harper sighted Iwo Jima at a distance of 7 miles. The first run was begun on Green 1 beach, without trailing LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry), at 0739, 3500 yards from shore. Firing began with 40 MM guns at about 1800 yards from shore, 20 MM at 1400 yards. Fire was directed at enemy pillboxes inland from the beach, since gasoline drums were not found as expected on the beach. A salvo of 120 rockets was launched at 0751. This salvo was seen to land squarely on the beach at 100 to 300 yards inland. After firing the salvo the 52 turned to port and fired on the left flank of the beach area for about 5 minutes. No enemy return fire was seen in the immediate area.
At 0827 six ships of our unit again formed near the line of departure in line-abeam formation and began the second run to the beach, leading the first assault wave, marines in LCIs, by 600 yards. Fired on the beach with 40 MM and 20 MM when within range as in the first run. At 0849 a salvo of 120 rockets was launched, giving a good pattern near the center of Green 1 beach, about 200-400 yards inland. Continued firing guns until the assault force was near the beach, then our unit turned to port in line-astern formation, shifting fire off our side to the left flank of the beach at the foot of Mount Suribachi, where Marines later hoisted our flag, captured in the most famous photo of World War Two.
Thill: I vividly remember seeing the flag flying on Mount Suribachi, but can’t be sure I actually saw it being raised as there was so much other action there that the flag raising seemed insignificant.
Harper: Observations of shelling and rocket fire results were made difficult by smoke and dust on the beach, but the excellent pattern of rocket fire was evidence that any enemy positions within 400 yards of Green 1 beach were neutralized. Some enemy troops were seen, and were taken under fire by 40 MM guns. This seemed to reduce the amount of small arms fire being directed at our troops on Green 1 beach. From 0910 to 1400, call fire was delivered to various areas, with 20 MM and 40 MM and rockets, and no further enemy troop movement was seen. A report from the beach said that enemy mortar fire had been reduced.
Thill: A few days after the invasion I was on the deck talking to one of the cooks. As we were talking he got shot by a Japanese sniper. The bullet pierced his belt buckle but did not go all the way through. It just left a little red mark on his belly.
Harper: On 20 February, responding to calls from a Marine liaison unit in contact with naval forces, the 52 delivered call firing from 0855 to 2200. Targets were enemy troops, pillboxes and gun emplacements. One machine gun nest was silenced and two gun emplacements were uncovered, to be demolished later by destroyer fire. Our gunfire and rocket salvos were reported as very good by the Marines on the beach.
On 21 February the 52 was put in charge of a unit comprised of LCSs 53, 54 and 55, and at 0845 conducted firing runs on assigned areas. Beach spotters reported an enemy pillbox and it was silenced by fire from the unit. On 22 February we picked up 8000 rounds of 40 MM from the battleship U.S.S. NEVADA. On 23 February, with enemy planes reported overhead, the 52 laid a smoke screen until 2115. On 24 February answered calls for fire in general area of boat basin throughout the afternoon. Comments from the beach spotters were "Very good work" and "Doing wonderful job; troops are advancing under your fire."
For several more days the 52 answered call fire, scoring direct hits on a building and several caves, and a plane observing fire reported our fire had knocked out an enemy gun emplacement. On March 2 at 0840 the 52 picked up an observation party from the beach, consisting of Lieutenant Colonel Dillon, USMC, and his aides.
Thill: We were up on the beach and had a couple of marines on board who were in contact with the ground troops directing us where to fire our guns. We used our anchor to winch us off the beach.
Harper: The rest of the day was spent patrolling the northern half of Iwo, spotting enemy gun positions and mortar fire. On March 3 and 4, fire was observed to have started two fires, reported as ammunition dumps, and a machine gun nest near a cliff was believed destroyed. On 8 March at 0720 the 52 picked up an observation party from LCS 31, then patrolled offshore until 1030, spotting artillery fire. At 1030 our ship was released from duty to rendezvous for retirement to the rear of the area. The 52 departed Iwo on the 8th and arrived at Saipan on 11 March.
Thill: As we left Iwo, little did I realize that I would ever see Iwo again, but in 1995 I was given the opportunity to go back with a large group of Iwo veterans for the 50th anniversary of the invasion. While there I got to go to the top of Mount Suribachi and explore many of the caves. I also met the wife, son and daughter of the Japanese general who was then in charge of the island.
Cullen: The chill dawn of a grey February morning brings the usual morning G.Q., but with a difference. For hours the 12-to-4 watch has been watching the parachute flares in the sky ahead, and the 12 and 16 inch shells winging over in a long arc towards the greater darkness of the as yet unseen island. Our warships are giving them hell. There is no sound yet; we are too far away to hear the boom of the guns or the exploding shells.
But we are getting close enough now for our bellies to tighten up and cramp in the anticipation of what is for most of us, our first action. We grin at each other in the pre-sunrise darkness; we are being bold and nonchalant, but we picture the hell of shells bursting on our deck, and the screams of injured men. We are scared.
The day has dawned clear after all, and we can see the beach now, slowly getting nearer. The radar man calls the yards. The 40 MMs open with a crashing slam at 3200 yards, and we can crane our necks to see the tiny shells make their little puff of smoke on the beach. At 2400 yards the 20 MMs add their chatter. A long way to go before our rockets are set off, and we can port the helm to get out of here. When are the Japs going to let us have it? There is comfort in the constant pounding of our guns. Closer and closer. Each 50 yards seems interminable. Finally the signal to clear the forward twin and the single 40. Still no sign of a Jap on the rocky island. Suddenly the slamming hiss of the rockets taking off. The few seconds stretch out. Hard left rudder, port back one third. On our starboard beam is Suribachi, towering over us like a skyscraper; and that damned volcano is a giant pillbox. Well, this is where we get it – but nothing happened.
Back out to the line of departure for our second rocket run, loading rockets as we go. A few didn’t go off the first time – we’ll give them another chance. Well, the Nips know what’s coming now. This is when we’ll catch it. We go in again; the same thing over again, but this time we go closer, to get our rockets up higher on the beach. Still no return fire. Some Japs have been spotted in the grass above the beach area, and we rake the spot with 40 and 20 fire as we go in. Again we fire our salvo of rockets, and again we turn to port. This time we have been followed by the first assault wave, and we watch to see how they make out. It’s murder. Several amphibious tanks get direct hits by mortar fire. There go three within 10 seconds, and a strafing Avenger is brought down almost on the beach. Several planes crash in the fast action. Still the LCS 52 hasn’t had a shot fired at it.
Harper: LCSs had not been fired upon when they had approached the landing beaches either the first or second time because the Japanese defensive strategy was to not give away their gun positions until the landing craft were well on toward the beach. This strategy changed from island to island, and Okinawa was another version. The Japanese lost in excess of 20,000 men on Iwo Jima. The U.S. lost 6,800. History has vindicated the heavy U.S. losses for taking the island, at least from the standpoint of saving B-29 aircraft, thus enabling the 20th Air Force to effectively destroy the Japanese war machine. Countless planes and crews were saved thanks to the landing strip at Iwo Jima. The safe haven was early established. The B-29 Dinah Might was returning from Japan with insufficient fuel and requested to land on the recently taken landing strip. Amid Japanese small arms fire the B-29 landed, refueled and took off to a safe return at Tinian.
On Saipan, LCS 52 moved to Tanapag Harbor on 13 March to take on water and supplies. On the 14th, Ensign Burroughs’ log entry at 1940 indicates "small boat alongside with beer party." On March 15 YMS 162 ran across our anchor cable and cut it. For repairs we tied up alongside the Fulton, AS 11, a submarine tender, which assisted ships other than submarines when necessary. The Fulton was a big tub 530 feet long and 72 feet wide, launched at Mare Island Naval Yard in 1940.
On March 25, LCS 52 departed Saipan, part of a group of LCSs comprising Flotilla Three. On April 1 the 52 formed up on a line of departure to advance and shell a beach on Okinawa.
Our first hardship at Okinawa was not too bad, just eating our Easter dinner on the Saturday before Easter. We were experienced enough from Iwo Jima to know that we would be mighty busy the next day. We had been on Condition Two watches (four hours on – four off) since leaving the staging area, with frequent calls to General Quarters. We had not been molested on our trip from Saipan up to Okinawa.
Our task was to make fake landings on some of the beaches of Okinawa to try to pull a gigantic April fool stunt on the Japs. At dawn on April 1 we were greeted by that popular Jap calling card, a suicide plane. The war was very close to us, we realized, when a neighboring ship caught the diving plane on her decks and went up in flames. That unhappy incident helped us to shake off the tension just a little and we were pretty calm during the landing that morning. We were rather pleased with the rural scene that confronted us – neat gardens, houses, barns, fishing villages, pastures, and one white horse of undetermined age. The horse is still aging, I think, since he sauntered casually through our bombardment of the beaches that morning and was back for a repeat performance the next day.
Our landing went off smoothly that day and we patrolled off shore during the night watching the fireworks on the island. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were probably looked over by some Jap suicide boats and planes that day and night. The next morning we repeated the performance, still playing to an audience of one white horse. We relaxed a little then and thought how soft it was there after hitting those fiery beaches at Iwo.
We were fooled for several days after that, too. We looked for the much talked of suicide boats but found none on our night patrols. I am glad we didn’t see any because I have since operated a captured boat and it is surely fast and maneuverable. We began to see action in the many air attacks the Japs threw at the invasion fleet the first few weeks. We shot at a couple of planes one morning but the battleships and cruisers were red hot and the planes came down as flamers. We had seventeen air raids during the afternoon of that same day.
After about a week of patrol the LCS(L) gunboats began to report to the famed Radar Picket Line for duty. It was then that the Japs turned on the heat with their suicide planes in an effort to knock out every vessel on the RP line. The purpose of the picket line was twofold: one to provide advance warning to ships closer in – battleships, cruisers, hospital ships, etc.; secondly it was hoped that the picket line vessels, destroyers, destroyer escorts and multiple LCSs would take the brunt of the suicide planes thus sparing the more "valuable ships". For their part the Japanese definitely were looking for larger ships but generally went after the first targets. 33 ships were sunk by the Japanese and many others damaged; easily the worst loss ever suffered by the Navy in a single battle, April 1st through roughly July 1st, and it was the picket line ships that suffered the most. The Japs found that the LCS(L)s and destroyers were very glad to assist them in their desire to commit suicide. The tales of the fierce battles out on the RP line began to sound like magnified versions of a movie thriller.
Our turn for the RP came around about April 20 and we made ready for action. After a few days without too much action we had a night attack by a Jap Helen bomber (the Japanese name was Ki-49-IIa Donryu. As mentioned earlier, we gave Japanese aircraft Christian names – female names for bombers and male names for fighter aircraft. This was done for ease and clarity of identification by pilots and spotters. The Helen was a heavy bomber with a range of 1800 miles). This Jap made the mistake of trying to fly directly over the LCS(L)s instead of going around them. He made a nice fire that burned for hours. The tail gunner of the plane survived and was taken prisoner next morning. That was our first plane and we painted it up on the conning tower with a great deal of pride.
Our next successful action was a "honey". After being under observation and attack for several nights in a row we were suddenly hit by a daylight attack in force. I was catching up on some sleep after being up during the night attack when all at once our guns cut loose and the general alarm went crazy. I hit the gun deck on the run to find our guns firing at a couple of retreating enemy planes. They had tried a sneak attack but sharp lookouts had spotted them and they pulled out of their dive and retired for another run. While those two planes held our attention another two sneaked in just off the water and started their run at us. I turned the ship so we could fire broadsides at the leading plane. Their speed fooled us for a while, but we got the range and knocked one plane down just as he passed us on the way after another ship. Before that plane hit the water I turned and looked aft again just in time to see the other plane diving at our fantail (generally an overhang at the rear of a ship). We got our guns turned around and began firing at him so fast that he winged over and dived at the ship on our port side. Perhaps because of the heavy AA (anti-aircraft) fire he was getting he did not attempt to ram that ship but flew over it at masthead height and dropped a bomb squarely on the deck. Before the bomb actually hit the ship we had found the mark and the plane crashed in flames almost instantly. One of my gunners was wounded pretty seriously up on a forward gun by this time, and we had to find a relief for him. It was a good thing we did because we had zig-zagged so much we were out of the formation a little distance and another low-flying Zero (another anomaly, its official Christian name was Zeke, a fighter/bomber) was coming in just over the tops of the waves. We had picked him up several miles out and we just had to sweat it out until he came into range of our guns.
This plane, fortunately, did not select us as his victim, but tried to fly past our starboard beam to get at a destroyer up ahead. Our fire, combined with that of the other ships, succeeded in damaging the plane enough that it missed in its attempt to ram the DD and plunged harmlessly into the sea.
While all this was going on I saw still another plane dive out of the clouds in a steep dive on a destroyer. It missed the ship but I don’t know whether it was really shot down or just misjudged the distance. I learned later that at least one other plane was shot down in the attack but I was just too busy to see, it, I guess. As soon as things cooled down a little we put our casualty aboard another ship for transportation to a hospital ship. Another three planes were painted up on the conning tower and the men and officers began to feel like real fighters.
After a couple of days for fueling and provisioning we headed out again at midnight one night for another Radar Picket assignment. A raid was in progress at the time and we saw a DE (Destroyer Escort, 300’ long, about twice that of an LCS and about 12’ wider. It usually carried 3-inch guns, the equivalent of roughly 80 MMs) shoot down a suicider in flames just about a half mile from us. As we looked toward our RP station we could see the flashes of gunfire as the ships out there ahead of us fought off one attack after another. When we joined the group we were kept under attack until after dawn. During the daylight the U.S. planes knocked down several of our hecklers. We arrived at the station on Thursday morning and from then on we got very little sleep. By Sunday morning we were all worn out, but Sunday was fairly quiet for a change. We had fired on plane after plane during that time, and had seen several dive at the DDs that were with us. Lt.(jg) George Hood, a fellow instructor at Notre Dame, was on one of the DDs and he and I talked on the blinker light several times. By Sunday noon two other LCSs had arrived to relieve others and they had brought out our mail. There were letters and packages for most of the men and officers. Ensign Burroughs, a former student of mine, serving as Engineering Officer aboard, received a package of new phonograph records and we were playing them in the wardroom that evening when the general alarm went wild again. I was getting pretty tired by this time because I was the senior ship out there and was in charge or maneuvering all the LCSs during an attack.
It was so dark we could see nothing at all to shoot at most of the time, though the DDs were firing almost constantly. Suddenly a plane came out of the north and leveled off on a run directly at us. The little light from the gun flashes glittered on his prop so that we see him pretty well. By turning the ship a little we kept him on our beam (the side of a ship or the direction out sideways from a ship) so we could fire all our guns at once. It was hard for the gunners to see him when they once started shooting, so the gunnery officer and I had to keep telling them where to look. We knew he was heading for us for sure, so we kept up a hail of fire for his reception. The plane finally nosed down right on the fantail of our ship and it looked like curtains for us. The after gunners looked right into the whirling prop to let go a last burst at point blank range. This burst of fire caught the bomb load that the suicide plane was carrying and the resulting explosion was terrific. Needless to say, the plane, bombs, pilot, and all were blown to bits right in our faces. Plane parts, engine fragments and shrapnel swept our ship from bow to stern. The quartermaster had stopped the engines without further orders from me since I had been thrown to the deck by the blast. When I reached the fantail of the ship I found the damage control party already at work. Mr. Burroughs had been killed instantly by shrapnel from the blast. A gunner forward was killed, and many men and Ensign Strandquist, the First Lieutenant, were seriously injured. We had picked up a medical officer before going out to the Picket Duty and he and the pharmacist’s mate worked all night with the wounded.
Thill: On May 28 during the middle of the night another suicide plane came toward us. When he got within range, but seconds before the plane would have hit our ship, we hit the plane and its bomb exploded over our ship. We had plane parts and body parts all over the deck. It wasn’t a direct hit, but too close for comfort. Our Engineering Officer Spencer Burroughs was killed instantly. One man died the next day, and we had about 10 wounded. I have the pilot’s belt buckle that says "die for the emperor".
Harper:The ship was still watertight so we manned our guns with anyone available, called the other ships and told them we were taking charge again. They were amazed to see us still afloat after such a blast. Just at that moment another plane came in very low and was taken under fire by us and another ship. I don’t think we got that one, but at least we drove it off. It took me an hour or so to get our ships all back in position again. By that time the medical officer told me we had to get to a hospital ship a soon as possible if we were to save the life of one of our wounded men. I did not relish the thought of a fifty mile trip (that’s how far out from Okinawa the picket line was. Actually there were picket sectors, 15 of them I believe, all designed to intercept the incoming Kamikazes) along during such an attack, but decided to take the chance and go. I took another LCS along as an escort and we started out. Almost as soon as we left the others we were tailed by Jap snooper planes. A snooper plane was probably a spotter for the suicide planes. To complicate matters our own night fighters were out there, too, and we could not distinguish one from another in the dark. We know that if a plane attacked us it was an enemy plane, since our own pilots knew all surface craft were American.
Surely enough, about halfway back to the anchorage we were spotted by a Jap plane and he came after us in a businesslike manner. Since we saw him first we radioed his location to the other LCSs then opened fire. Our escort joined in and the two of us nailed the plane just as it nosed down for its last dive. It crashed in flames just ahead of our escorting ship and the ship reported by radio, "We have just run down a Jap Plane!" The doctor reported to me that he had a little trouble trying to keep the wounded men below during the action.
We arrived at the anchorage at dawn the next morning and transferred our wounded men. Mr. Burroughs was buried in the military cemetery at Okinawa as was Hawks, the other man killed by the plane. The pilot of the Jap plane landed on board our ship, too, but his body was given to the sea without ceremony.
During the afternoon I spied Lt.(jg) Hood of the DD coming past in a boatload of survivors. His ship had been hit at daylight on the same station. He was uninjured but covered in oil.
Those two planes raised our total to six enemy planes destroyed besides several others probably damaged or destroyed. Though the loss to the Japs was heavy our own loss was great. Mr. Burroughs was a splendid fellow. He was a leader in his Midshipman class at Notre Dame and was doing a fine job out here. Hawks was a Carolina lad, cheerful, polite and a splendid man to have aboard.
While waiting for men and officer replacements we had a little easier duty for a while. As soon as we could get our guns manned, though, we were back on duty again. As late as June 21, just a day or two before the island of Okinawa was "secured" we had another attack that saw a suicide plane fly over us and into a ship one hundred yards away. We spent the Fourth of July at Okinawa but left soon afterward. From the time we left for the Iwo Jima invasion until the end of the Okinawa invasion my men had not been ashore on liberty for more than an hour or two. This was six months of rough duty for them and they have surely done a splendid job. Any LCS that was on the radar picket line at Okinawa has earned the respect of naval men anywhere and it is a well-deserved respect.
Cullen: His letter home, between July 9th and August 26th, 1945:
Now, after it is all ancient history, I can tell you something of what I have been doing for the last four months, part of it anyway.
We were at the Invasion of Okinawa, arriving there the day of the invasion, April 1st (Easter Sunday). The first two days we participated in diversionary raids, away from the main invasion point. As you may remember, there was little opposition to the landing. We didn’t get fired on at that time, and we began to think it was going to be another Iwo Jima.
We weren’t long in finding out our mistake, though, as they picked the LCSs, along with destroyers and destroyer escorts for radar picket duty. This Roger Peter (RP), as we called it, was plenty rugged. Our job was to patrol the waters north of Western beaches between the supply ships and transports and Japan, and we learned about suicide planes the hard way.
Before we went out there, however, we had seen the suicide planes in action right in the harbor. One barely missed a cruiser about 500 yards off to our starboard. It was too low; had it been too high it might have hit us, as it was heading in our direction. One night there a Jap bomber came over and dropped a bomb which hit about 100 feet behind our ship. In the meantime the picket lines were getting plenty of fighting.
We were out on the picket lines three different times. Once, a little before the middle of May, the Japs attacked in force and two of them attacked at once from the stern, coming in low on the water to make a hard target. We turned the ship broadside to them, and one of them we pounded at so hard that he finally turned off and went along our starboard side at about 400 yards. We got several shots into him, but he had his eye on a destroyer about a mile off. As he went for her, she opened up with all her guns, and at the last second, the dive fell about 25 or 50 feet short. In the meantime, the other plane had veered off to attack another LCS on our port, about 500 yards off. The plane caught them before they were ready, and dropped a bomb squarely on the stern, wiping off the anchor winch and knocking out the aft gun. As it passed over the conn (conning tower: an armored pilothouse on the deck of a warship) of the LCS, we exploded it in a burst of flame, and it hit the water about 100 yards ahead of the LCS that was hit. One of our boys was badly hit in the face by shrapnel. This was our only casualty on this occasion.
The LCS that was hit by the bomb, LCS 88, though, was badly hurt. It was an awful sight that met our eyes when we pulled alongside to give them protection and assistance. There were three dead men on the after gun, clothes blown off; there were several burned and others killed by shrapnel; the Captain bled to death of a neck wound while we were standing by. Another ship took the casualties, and ours, and we managed to get out of that one okay.
We saw plenty of the suicide planes, out on the picket lines and at the beaches. But the 52’s luck held up until the night of May 27th. We were again out on picket line, about 50 or 60 miles north of Western Beaches, at one of the hottest stations. It seemed like every plane coming down from Japan came our way. That night it seemed they were everywhere. The radar man would call off the direction and distance of each "bogey", and the guns would swing around, and we’d try to spot him. But it was dark. Finally one of them spotted us and headed in. He came in from directly to port, heading for us amidships. The gunners finally spotted him at about half a mile, and opened fire. When you fire at night you are immediately blinded. And you give the plane a line of tracer to come in on. He came. We kept firing, pounding at him with everything we had. A few yards off he banked towards the stern, and then dove in. Every gun that could get a line on him was firing till the last second. There was a loud crash then a silence that was as black as the night itself. We all thought he had hit the ship. Fire from our guns had exploded the plane as it passed over the ship, so low that some of the men swore they had to duck for the wing to go over. When it exploded, it scattered shrapnel from the plane and possibly a bomb it was carrying, all over the ship. We had an engineering officer killed immediately, and about 11 men wounded. One of the wounded men died two days later. Another lost his left hand. Most of the other injuries were fortunately light.
The officer we lost, Ensign Burroughs, was a swell fellow, and he and I had lots of interesting talks together. We argued books and philosophy (he was more of a true student than I, who only too well recognize myself as a dabbler). We had planned to write a story about the amphibs together – that was only a couple of days before his death. I sure did hate to see him go.
I didn’t even get a scratch when we had the near-miss. I was in the pilot house, on the wheel, at the time, and the only one injured in the pilot house was the Quartermaster, who was trying to see out of the porthole, which was closed to see whether we got the "bogey" or he got us. When the explosion came it jarred down the blackout lid over the porthole, and conked him on the dome. He got a knot on his head and a cut over his ear, and a headache. I signaled the engine room to stop the engines (I don’t know why, it seemed like a good idea, and I had a vague idea that it would give the boys in the engine room a chance to get out, as I thought we were hit.) I called the conn to tell them the engines were stopped, but got no answer for several seconds that seemed like about ten minutes, as they had all either "hit the deck" or been knocked down by the explosion.
It was a very busy night, believe me. I went down to the mess hall where they had taken the injured, to give the Doctor and the Pharmacist Mate some help, and I really felt better afterwards, although I was appalled at the sight there. I was on continuous duty in the wheel house from about 10 that night till noon the next day, and had previously had almost continuous GQ all the day before. By the time I got out I was too tired to sleep. However, the only damage to me was to my nerves, and they took quite a beating. I am a little shaky yet, and the slightest excitement gets me to shaking. Even after I bluff somebody out on a poker hand, I get so excited I can hardly pick up the chips! . .
We had a medical officer on board, and he and the Pharmacist Mate were busy with the wounded for hours. In the meantime we had to keep a sharp lookout for planes – the suiciders pick on the cripples. Another LCS was pulled from the picket line to accompany us back to the Beaches to transfer our wounded to hospital ships. We started back on the longest journey I ever lived through. I wouldn’t have given a plugged nickel for our chances of ever getting back – nor would any of the others. For about 4 or 5 hours that seemed like as many weeks, we made our way back to the anchorage. There wasn’t a time during that trip that we didn’t have bogies on our radar. Finally one of them spotted us and came in. We held our fire until we were sure he had seen us, and then opened fire. We threw up so much flak that he veered off, and the accompanying LCS spotted him and opened up. He turned and dove at her, but overshot and hit the water so close that the bottom of the ship scraped him as they went over. We got in about daylight – it seemed like weeks.
That was our last RP duty. We stayed around the anchorage a few days, and were sent to Kerama Retto to protect ships in the harbor there. We had another experience with two suiciders there, when about dusk on a Sunday afternoon, two suicide planes sneaked, unannounced, and one of them dived into the side of a large repair ship about 400 or 500 yards from us. We went to GQ, and were barely in time to see the second plane go into a dive at the same ship. Although not many shots were fired at him, and he didn’t seem to be hit, he missed the ship; too low. The first one did plenty of damage, though; they were all night putting out the fire and taking off the dead and injured. A bomb which the plane was carrying penetrated the side of the ship and exploded inside.
All the time the papers and radio were saying the Japs were just wasting their planes, they seldom hit their targets, etc. That was strictly for the Japanese and civilian consumption. We knew better, and the final story told how heavy the losses had been. Even at that the picket lines got off light. It is amazing how those suiciders can sink cruisers, carriers, etc., and seldom give a mortal blow to an LCS, which is, by comparison to a cruiser, a birchbark canoe. No one has been able to explain it. One LCS took three suicide planes aboard in one attack, and is still afloat and anchored not far from where we are now. We are tied alongside another that exploded a plane coming in on the port beam, and the engine kept coming, sticking in the side of the LCS (LCS 51), halfway in and halfway out.. I saw pictures taken of the engine sticking its nose into the mess hall. (By the way, it had Champion sparkplugs.) I imagine they will find a large stockpile of former U.S. equipment when we take over Japan, which should teach some pacifists a lesson, eh?
All in all, we were very glad to leave Okinawa.
Thill: After the war ended in August we headed for Wakayama, Japan, where we picked up the body of an air force pilot. I helped to lift the box which contained the pilot on board the ship, but before doing so we lifted the lid to make sure what we were getting. Much to our surprise it was headless. There was no sign of decay on the body so it must have been a recent killing. We took the body to a larger ship nearby.
After patrols in Wakayama we called at Nagoya, a large city containing the bombed-out Mitsubishi aircraft factory. On liberty I met a young Japanese man who had just finished his training as a suicide pilot. He could speak and write English very well. We spent a couple of hours talking about the war, while he asked about the USA. When we parted he gave me a picture of himself in his uniform and also signed it.
On November 26 we called at Tientsin, China, where we saw young children living in large cardboard boxes. They were begging us for food which we weren’t allowed to give them. But we took extra large portions for ourselves at chow time, and then when we put some of it into the garbage cans the children were allowed to take it.
On December 7 we called at Tsingtao, China, quite a large modern city much to my surprise. I don’t think I left a very good American image there as I got slightly intoxicated and hired a bicycle-driven rickshaw to give me a tour of the city. After a distance I asked if I could do the pedaling, which the driver agreed to. At the top of a hill I pedaled down the hill as fast as I could go with him in the back, scared and yelling as loud as he could. It was probably the last time he allowed a passenger to take the wheel of his bike.
On December 11 we left China for home by way of Saipan and Pearl Harbor, arriving in Frisco on February 2, 1946. My time on the 52 was pretty exciting compared to the boring life on a farm which I dreaded to go back to. The 52 was put in mothballs back in Oregon after we returned from 30-day leaves.
Harper: His letter to Elaine Burroughs:
Dear Mrs. Burroughs:
It is with heavy and saddened heart that I undertake to tell you of the death of your husband in action aboard this vessel last May twenty-seven. You have my utmost and sincerest sympathy in your bereavement. We who are left to serve on are doing so with saddened spirits and a real feeling of loss. Every officer and man of this vessel is with me in the knowledge that we have lost a very dear friend and comrade, that you have lost a loving and devoted husband, and that our country has lost an admirable, able, and brave officer.
Sunday, May twenty-seven, had begun as a fine day for us, though we knew that enemy action might come at any moment. During the afternoon we received our mail, including packages of books and phonograph records for Spencer. After having admired the books and listened to the records we were called to general quarters as enemy planes were sighted.
Spencer was at his battle station supervising the firing of our after guns when an enemy plane loaded with explosives dived at us in a suicide dive. Though it was a dark night the guns gave a good account of themselves and the plane was forced to change its course and approach from astern. This put the whole burden of our defense on Spencer’s gun. The men on the gun, inspired and encouraged by your husband, courageously kept up a heavy and effective fire despite the fact that the enemy plane was diving upon them at utmost speed.
When the plane was almost upon us their fire succeeded in detonating the bombs it carried, thus destroying the plane. The courage of your husband in facing this attack saved the lives of many, many of his shipmates, but cost him his own. He was struck in the temple by shrapnel from the exploding plane and was killed instantly. The Medical Officer and I were at his side almost immediately, but he passed away quietly and without suffering. A great sense of loss descended upon us at that moment, and will remain with us whose lives he saved until the time we can no longer feel loss or pain.
Spencer was buried with military honors on an Eastward slope of the military cemetery in this area. Close by is the grave of one of our men who perished with him. Had it not been for the unflinching courage of your husband in the performance of his duty those two graves might well have been twenty.
With this letter I send my prayer for the Divine to ease your grief and grant peace to your heart.
John O. Harper
(NOTE: Geoffrey Burroughs, brother of Ensign Spencer Burroughs, compiled the LCS 52 history. Letters from Commanding Officer Harper and Larry Cullen, which form the basis for most of the action accounts in the history, were provided by Cullen’s daughter, Norma C. Vines. Harper’s letter to Elaine Burroughs was provided by Geoffrey Burroughs.)
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