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A BRIEF HISTORY OF LCS(L)(3) 75
William B. Bell, Communications Officer
LCS (L )(3) 75 was commissioned at the Albina Engineering Works, Portland, Oregon on six March 1945. After our initial cruise down the Columbia River to Astoria, we waited a few days for better weather, then launched through the entrance to the Pacific. The trip from Astoria to San Diego was made in particularly foul weather, we lost all ready boxes, sprung our mast, and lifted the forward 40mm off its mount and onto the deck. We would have been in even worse condition if the group commander had not provided a light, which we were able to follow.
After repairs in San Diego, we proceeded to Pearl Harbor for gunnery and rocket exercises and then to Eniwetok and Saipan. We arrived at Okinawa on July 22, 1945. We operated as anti-aircraft, close-in gunfire support with the fleet marines, anti-suicide swimmers and anti-suicide boat patrol while awaiting our assignment to a radar picket station outside of Okinawa.
We were providing smoke coverage to the battleship PENNSYLVANIA when a large bomb hit it in the stern on August 7. Our LCS crew set up our fire fighting pumps and tried to help the many men trapped in the battleship’s stern. Our crew worked valiantly all night until we were relieved the following morning. The stern of the battleship at this time was two to three feet underwater.
We were then sent to the Philippines to join the Allied invasion fleet, planning to invade Japan, the largest fleet ever assembled. With the surrender of Japan we were detached immediately to proceed to Sasebo which we entered immediately ahead of the typhoon which came on 22 September. We were assigned as harbor entrance control, Sasebo.
Curiously, and to our astonishment, we knew from the plans for the invasion of Japan, that we had chosen to memorize, that this Sasebo harbor entrance was exactly the same as the one were were to “invade”, later in the invasion of Japan, as contrasted with “occupy”. To assist us in our harbor entrance control duties we were given several former Japanese flying officers. It was particularly interesting to meet these flyers who only a couple of weeks earlier had been trying to kill us.
These officers were sent to act as pilots for the occupying ships that entered Sasebo. What happened, after an initial coolness, was that we were able to question them in great detail about their participation in the kamikaze action.
One, Noboru Sakaguti, explained to me, "Is there anything more important to you than your life?" To which I had to admit that protecting my family would justify sacrificing my life, and he responded, that is exactly what we were doing: One man, dedicated enough, could take out two or three thousand of you with a determined attack. I would admit that his evaluation was fairly close!
In addition to our interrogation of the flight officers, we were taken by them and shown the defenses established around the entrances to Sasebo. This had an effect on us that has lasted for sixty years, because this is indeed where many of us would have died. There were, in place, 6-inch naval rifles, with no need for elevation, and only five degrees of track. They were sited in on our approach paths, and it required no imagination to realize that we would have died on that approach. The guns were in reinforced concrete bunkers under many feet of earth, which would have made them almost invulnerable.
It was the formidable nature of these defenses that prompted me later to write President Truman, himself an old artillery man, with a description of what we would have faced, and an expression of gratitude for his decision to terminate the war so decisively. To my surprise, he responded, and I treasure his note to this day. Strangely enough, I maintained contact with one of the naval officers, Lt. Sakaguti, who, after the war, was trained in Philadelphia and returned to Hiroshima University where he became a professor of English Studies for many years.
During the two months of duty as harbor entrance control in October and November of 1945 we were able to move to Nagasaki where the clean up was already underway. It was in November that we left Sasebo for Shanghai, and after several days were ordered to go up the Yangtze to Hankow, 600 miles into the interior of China. The primary purpose of this was to provide fire protection for a coast and geodetic survey vessel. I think there may have been other reasons for this trip based on recent information released under the Freedom of Information Act, but at the time we were fortunate to get past the massed Japanese forces undergoing repatriation. There is every chance that we were the first Navy ships that far inland since the attack on the Panay on 7 July 1937.
On this trip into China’s interior we were accompanied by two other LCSs, which gave us a spread of firepower that was much needed. We got up and back, with no damage to us. The situation was interesting: On the north side of the Yangtse was gathered a Japanese army of around 90,000 in full battle array, field guns and all. They were awaiting transportation to the coast for repatriation to Japan, and were completely disciplined, not firing one shot at us, thank God! We felt as though we were tiptoeing past a 900-pound gorilla.
On the other hand, the Chinese communists, along with an assortment of warlords, were shooting at us constantly. Luckily what they were shooting was an assortment of rocks, glass and other debris which would rain down on us harmlessly. But it did demonstrate an attitude problem, which was much more clearly shown when they attacked the British cruiser AMETHYST with the loss of
many lives somewhat later. I believe that the fact that there were three of us, armed and somewhat separated, discouraged any action at that time. To fire on one of us would have left two others capable of returning fire. Further, we were very quick to return fire, frequently initiating it.
We proceeded, over a period of several days, up the Yangtse, scenically beautiful, but constantly threatening, to Nanking, Anking and an assortment of other cities, to Hankow. I really don't know why we were sent there. We did meet with the local warlord, general, or chief thug, who arrived with a bodyguard of twenty men and a bag of souvenir pistols. In an eminently weird night we went ashore in Hankow. This was a modern city, virtually abandoned, with no electricity, lights, or people. It was cold, and there were stacks of bodies piled up
like cordwood on the edges of the city, literally hundreds unburied.
The awesome spectre of this “city of death” so moved me at the time that, after the war, I investigated the Japanese government’s actions that may have caused this horrible situation. My investigation led me to these two conclusions:
One: The Japanese had experimented through their unit 731 on the development and distribution of Bacterial Warfare agents, and had used an aerosol distributed by planes 2 years earlier in 1943. This had been successful by their standards, killing a lot of Chinese in the Hankow area with bubonic plague. The surprise for them was that once delivered, it recurred in the same area in the following years.
Two: The Japanese in charge, Col. Ishii, was, after the war, granted immunity from prosecution and brought to Fort Deatrick, Maryland, where he was used as a source for Bacterial Warfare technology. This in spite of the accusation that he may have used US prisoners as experimental subjects in his studies. We on the 75, of course, were not informed of this situation. Our job was simply to go to Hankow and return. It was only many years later that I was made aware of the Biological Warfare situation, after reading Sheldon Harris’ very well documented book "Factories of Death, Japanese Biological Warfare 1932-45 and the American Cover-up".
That we were able to complete that trip was our good fortune and onIy one example of the good fortune that accompanied the "75" on her war cruise. It’s true that the difference between a catastrophe and a pleasure cruise can be a 10-foot miss by a kamikaze or a bomb.
Our next assignment was to go to Tsingtao, China, and then to Kunsan, Korea, where we assisted in loading ammunition in old barges for disposal at sea, and to escort LSTs full of repatriates. We felt particular sympathy for the LST guys because a half-mile down wind from the LSTs was almost unbearable because of the stench. We made a trip to Cheju Island, unheard of now, but at one time considered an alternative to Okinawa as an objective for invasion. It was interesting to note that there was not one inch which was not covered by at least two gunnery positions. Another battle which did not occur.
After several trips back and forth on the Yellow Sea during which we ran into rough weather again, we again returned to Shanghai, Tsingtao, then to Okinawa where we were to escort a Japanese battleship to Bikini for the Atomic tests. Because of particularly rough weather we never saw the battleship and proceeded on our own to Guam and then back to Pearl Harbor.
We then returned to Portland where the "75" was placed in the reserve fleet and decommissioned. Of some interest is the fact that even with our determination to go "in harms way" all the men who served on the "75" lived to return home. Ironically, the ship herself was loaned to Japan from February of 1953 until August of 1971 and then sold for scrap to the Honda Metal Traders of Kyoto, Japan, in July of 1972.
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