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During the evening of the second of April 1945 a destroyer on patrol duty some fifty miles northeast of the newly established American beachhead on Okinawa blinked a challenge to a little ship on the gray horizon. On receiving the proper reply the destroyer flashed the following message: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT HERE?” “RADAR PICKET SUPPORT ASSIGNED THIS AREA” blinked the little ship, not much worried by the note of derision in the question. There was a pause as the destroyer drew closer to investigate. Her light flashed out again, “WHAT KIND OF SHIP?” There was a brief wait, then “LANDING CRAFT SUPPORT,” the little ship replied.
That little ship was the LCS (L) (3) 114, a new type of rocket-firing gunboat which had been so quietly developed that the majority of Navy people knew little or nothing about it. Ton for ton, the LCS was one of the toughest fighting units in the Navy. Her length is 157 feet, she draws 6 feet of water aft, very little forward and has one of those flat bottoms that enables her to beach. She bristles with anti-aircraft guns and can unload a salvo of 120 rockets on a beach in a matter of seconds. To fight her, she has a crew of 6 officers and 65 enlisted men.
The LCS 114 was commissioned at the George Lawley Shipyard in Neponset, Massachusetts on the 12th of November 1944. Her crew had been formed at the Amphibious Training base at Solomons, Maryland, with gunners trained at Fort Pierce, Florida and communications personnel at Little Creek, Virginia. The LCS 114 sailed from Boston, on the cold afternoon of November 20th for a brief shakedown at Solomons, Maryland, then to Norfolk for minor alterations, and on the 26th of December sailed for the west coast via the Panama Canal.
She transitted the Canal on the 7th of January and arrived in San Diego on the 18th of January. At San Diego she was given a few days of gunnery training and voyage repairs and hurried on to Pearl Harbor as guide for four other LCSs. She arrived in Pearl on the 10th of February, and sailed on the 26th for Eniwetok. On the 14th of March she left Eniwetok for Saipan, arriving there on the 18th. By the 24th of March voyage repairs and logistics had been completed, and the following morning LCS 114 joined a convoy bound westward for the invasion of Okinawa one week later.
At dawn on April first 1945, which was also Easter Sunday, the crew of the LCS 114 found itself at war. Two suicide planes attacked the convoy as it approached Okinawa, one of them making a successful crash into an LST, the other diving into the sea in flames. Men at their general quarters stations were tense and a feeling of alertness pervaded the ship. There were no other attacks on the convoy and the LCS 114 proceeded on her assigned mission as a close-in fire support ship for the demonstration landing on the southeastern shores of Okinawa.
As an introduction to war, the landing was mild. As the LCS 114 approached the beach, wondering what to expect in the way of opposition, the old battleship MARYLAND steamed up parallel to the beach and anchored well inshore. All hands relaxed. There was almost no opposition. One shell fell astern of the LCS 111 but did no damage. Well before noon the LCSs retired from the beach and stood by for further orders. Those orders came in the late afternoon, ordering the LCSs to the “Picket Line”, the outer defense ring of destroyers and smaller support craft which took the brunt of the suicide attacks during the early days of the Okinawa campaign. The LCS 114 had 49 days out on the picket line, brief periods in port for logistics and repairs, and one week spent doing coastal patrol work on the eastern shores of Okinawa.
The first day on the picket station the LCS 114 with its companion LCS 111 and the destroyer MANNERT L. ABELE (DD-733) were attacked by 6 planes. Two dropped bombs, which missed, another made an unsuccessful suicide dive on the destroyer. The others disappeared to the south. The picket line was like that --- small raids almost daily, and scattered throughout the night and early morning were odd bogeys which sent the men to general quarters.
The LCS 114 experienced her largest raid on the 12th of April on picket station #1, known as “Coffin Corner”, about 50 miles north of the initial landing on Okinawa. It was one of those 40-to-50-plane raids where all of them came within a few minutes, managing by sheer numbers to get through and do some damage. With the LCS 114 that afternoon were the destroyers PURDY and CASSIN YOUNG, the LCS 33, the 57 and the 115. Of the 6 ships, the LCS 114 was the only that was not hit by a suicide plane. She had 11 planes under fire, bagged one, claimed an assist on another, probably damaged two more.
Both destroyers were hit by suicide planes. The LCS 114 rescued 10 men from the destroyer PURDY and picked up a Marine flyer, First Lieutenant W.A. Nickerson, who had made a water landing after an aerial argument with a Jap torpedo plane. Nickerson, who had run out of ammunition, flew in close and chopped a Kate’s tail off with his propeller, breaking an oil line on his Corsair which forced him down.
LCS 33 took one suicider and sank. The LCS 115 was strafed by a plane which literally grazed her stern and had another wing-over between the conning tower and a gun mount ahead of it. The LCS 57 was hit by 3 suiciders and shot down four more. She was badly damaged on both sides. As dusk settled on the station, LCS 114, out of ammunition but undamaged, put pumps aboard the 57, took her in tow, and headed for Hagushi anchorage in Okinawa. We were the last ships to leave the station. When we arrived in port at midnight we learned that President Roosevelt had died. Destroyers PURDY and CASSIN YOUNG made it back to port under their own power.
The LCS 114 got some coastal patrol duty during the last week in April. A high spot was on the 30th of April when, covered by LCSs 118 and 119, she went into Yonabaru Bay on the east side of Okinawa to investigate the crash of an American Plane. When she was well in the Bay the Japs cut loose on her with machine guns and mortars. One of the latter passed just over the ship, another just off the stern causing minor underwater damages. She suffered no casualties. Retiring to a safer distance she bombarded the beach, setting much of the town on fire and blowing up an ammunition dump which went up with a great explosion to leave a tremendous cloud of black smoke in the bay.
The next big day was back on the picket line on the 11th of May. It was a morning attack by high and low flying suicide planes. Eight planes were shot down. One LCS, the 88, was hit by a bomb and the LCSs 52, 88 and 114 were strafed. The LCS 114 took the LCS 88 in tow until a tug could be sent out for her.
On the night of May 27 a single plane attacked the LCS 114. The 114 stopped her engines, and leaving no wake, the plane was unable to see her. The 114 fired in bursts at the plane but did not shoot it down. Soon the plane moved away, was taken under fire by the LCS 119, and crashed into the 119 doing considerable damage. Within a few minutes the LCS 114 was ordered to replace an LCS which had been hit on a station north of Okinawa --- in the vicinity of “Coffin Corner”, scene of the April 12th action. As the LCS 114 approached the picket station an air raid was in progress. The destroyer DREXLER was under attack by a number of Jap planes. One of them managed to get through her defense and suicided on her starboard quarter. One minute later a twin-engined Francis eluded two American fighters and suicided into the port side of the DREXLER. Within 3 minutes she went down by the stern, leaving two big oil fires and many survivors. The LCS 114 picked up 119 survivors, treating her wounded and dying. The LCS 55 and 56 picked up lesser numbers. All hands tried to haul the men aboard and 3 members of the LCS 114’s crew dove over the side to rescue drowning men while the air attack was still in progress.
On the 3rd of June eight doomed planes came out of the rainy sky to make runs on the ships at Coffin Corner. Two low flyers attacked the LCSs. The air fighter cover got one, all the “small boys” ganged up on the other and shot him down just off the bow of the LCS 56. In June the LCS 114 had another 12-day session in the vicinity of Coffin Corner but it was not bad. The Japs weren’t attacking very often and they used fewer planes --- and there was a lot more American fighter coverage. Nevertheless, when the 114’s crew got back in port for a bit of rest, they voiced their sentiments in a song introduced during a shipboard talent show: “I Don’t Want To Go To _____ _____ _____.” The blanks were filled by the code names describing Coffin Corner.
She didn’t go back. On the 10th of July LCS 114 sailed for Leyte in the Philippines. While at Leyte the word came that the Japs had enough. On the 3rd of September the LCS 114 sailed with LCS Flotilla Four for Tokyo Bay, to become part of the Naval Occupation Force.
Looking back, had LCS 114 known what would transpire out on the radar picket stations during the Okinawa campaign, she could have responded to the picket destroyer’s question “WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT HERE?” by blinking, “WE HAVE COME TO RESCUE MORE THAN 2,500 OF YOUR MEN OUT HERE ON PATROL; TO DIVERT THE KAMIKAZES FROM YOU AND MAYBE TO SHOOT DOWN SOME OF THEM; TO CARE FOR HUNDREDS OF YOUR WOUNDED AND DYING MEN; TO PUT OUT RAGING FIRES IN AT LEAST EIGHT OF YOUR SHIPS; AND TO KEEP SEVERAL OF YOUR SHIPS AFLOAT UNTIL THEY COULD BE TOWED AWAY.”
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