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USS LCI (L) 803 was constructed at the New Jersey Shipbuilding Company, Barber, New Jersey. The ship was designed as one of the LCI (L) 351 class with central landing ramp and bow doors.
Like other ships of this class her armament consisted of five twenty-millimeter anti-aircraft guns.
The ship’s complement was obtained from the amphibious training base at Solomons, Maryland. There were four officers and twenty-five enlisted men in the original crew. The officers and enlisted men had been independently trained for their respective jobs at Solomons. Then they had served together on LCI training ships in Chesapeake Bay.
On August 20, 1944 the ship’s crew completed its training and received orders to report to New York for the outfitting and commissioning of LCI (L) 803. The pre-commissioning work was carried on at Pier 42, New York City.
On Saturday, September 2, 1944, after a thorough inspection of the ship by the prospective Commanding Officer, the crew was mustered on the gun deck. Lt. Comdr. J.A. Jordan read his orders from the Chief of Naval Operations to accept the USS LCI (L) 803 for the Navy and placed the ship in full commission.
Pursuant to COMPHIBTRALANT Orders Ser. No. FE25-5/P16-4/00/NM/16 of 21 August 1944, Lt. (JG) Howard N. Houston, USNR accepted command of the ship. Acting in accordance with the same order, the following officers reported aboard for duty: Ensign John P. Yotka USNR, Executive Officer; Ensign Robert B. Webster, Engineering Officer; and Ensign Kenneth G. Ryder, Communications Officer.
Outfitting of the ship was completed by 8 September. On that date the ship went to sea for the first time, making the trip to Solomons, Maryland, which was to be the base of operations during the period of the ship’s shakedown cruise.
The shakedown cruise lasted for eleven days. During this period the ship operated with other LCI’s in the Chesapeake. Innumerable drills were held to test the condition of the ship’s equipment and to give necessary experience to the green crew. Practice in beaching landing craft was obtained near Solomons, Maryland and at Virginia Beach. Firing practice against both surface and air targets was obtained off the Virginia coast.
On September 22nd, having passed all shakedown inspections satisfactorily, the ship proceeded to Norfolk, Virginia, for repairs and supplies. Here the crew obtained their last liberty on the east coast. Most of the men were able to go to their homes for final farewells.
The trip from Norfolk to the west coast, which commenced on 3 October, was essentially uneventful, barring two bad spells of weather. Everyone seemed pleased that the hectic activity of the training period was past, and fell into the sea going routine with little difficulty. Short stops at Key West, Florida and Coco Solo, C.Z. were the only interruptions in a trip that brought the 803 into San Diego harbor on 30 October 1944.
The month of November was spent at San Diego, and much of the time was devoted to training the men further for combat duty. There were two week long cruises in the waters near San Clemente and San Nicholas Islands which gave the ship practice in cruising with other ships of her group, then forming at San Diego.
On 23 November Lt. (JG) Howard N. Houston left the ship for an emergency leave. A week later, on 30 November 1944, he was succeeded in command by Lt. (JG) Chester R. Allender USNR.
On the 7th. of December the LCI (L) 803 reported to San Pedro, California, where at the Craig Shipbuilding Corporation she was converted to an LCI (M). The ship’s armament was substantially altered. A single forty-millimeter gun replaced the twenty-millimeter gun on the bow. Three 4.2 mortars were emplaced on the well deck. The #2 troop compartment beneath the well deck was changed into a magazine for the mortar ammunition.
With conversion to a mortar ship, the 803’s complement was increased. Twenty-five new enlisted men were received aboard in the last two weeks of December. On December 23rd. a new gunnery officer, Ensign Earl A. DeGowin reported aboard for duty.
Final preparations for going to sea were completed in early January. On 6 January 1945 this ship departed from San Pedro, California for Pearl Harbor, T.H. in company with eleven other LCI’s.
From 15 January until 3 February the ship remained at Pearl Harbor, undergoing repairs and receiving logistics for the long journey ahead. Here the mortar crews received some slight practice in firing mortars at an Army firing range.
The trip from Pearl Harbor to Eniwetok Atoll took ten days. The ship sailed in a convoy of LCI’s and LSM’s. After a one-day layover at Eniwetok, the convoy pushed on to Guam, which it reached on the morning of February 19th.
The ship was scheduled for onward routing to Leyte, P.I., but a temporary shortage of escort ships made a short stay at Guam necessary. On the 22nd of February the ship was underway again proceeding to Kossol Roads, in the Palau Islands. Near Kossol Roads the ship joined a large convoy of merchant vessels on 1 March. The remainder of the journey to San Pedro Bay, Leyte was uneventful.
At Leyte it was definitely learned that the ship was to take part in the coming invasion of Okinawa. The period from the 5th. to the 19th. of March was principally spent in preparing for this operation. Necessary repairs were accomplished; fueling and provisions were completed. On the 13th. and 14th. of March the ship took part in pre-invasion maneuvers off the southeaster coast of Leyte.
On the 19th. of March the LCI (M) 803 left Leyte as apart of the Western Tractor Group, which was scheduled to attack Kerama Retto, commencing the 26th. of March. The voyage to Okinawa was without incident. No enemy forces were encountered.
The 803’s first action was in support of the landing operations at Purple Beach on Zamami Shima. The landing was successful and little enemy opposition was observed. On the 27th. this ship supported the attack on Takashiki Shima. The results were the same. On the second day considerably more accuracy was attained with the mortar fire. The assigned target area was blanketed with hits.
The next three days were spent in operations against the southern diversionary beaches. To cover the activity of underwater demolition teams, this LCI in company with several others lay close to the shore. Fire from mortars and the 40 MM gun was used to reduce enemy fire on the UDT swimmers.
On the last day of March this ship participated in the seizure of Keise Shima, the small island off the western beaches that was to be used for artillery support of the invasion assault.
Before dawn on April 1st. the 803 proceeded to an assembly area of the western beaches. At 0800 the ship advanced toward the beach in concert with other support craft, preceding the first assault waves. The support craft stopped when approximately one thousand yards from the beach, and the assault waves passed among them continuing on to the beaches. The LCI (M) 803 maintained a heavy mortar barrage along beaches Green #1 and Green #2 and Red #1 until the troops were ashore. Five hundred rounds of 4.2 mortar shells were expended in the action.
The night following the main attack the 803 was assigned to patrol duty in Nago Wan protecting the northern flank of the beachhead from Japanese counter landings and guarding against suicide boat activity. In the middle of the night the patrol route was moved to seaward because of the presence of great numbers of drifting mines in the waters being patrolled. Mine sweeps destroyed most of these mines the following day. Fortunately no ships were observed to suffer damage from the mines.
During the first week of April the 803’s principal function was as a screening ship for the vessels anchored at Hagushi. Light air attacks were experienced frequently, but not until the 6th. of April did any large-scale attack occur. On the afternoon of the 6th. a total of fourteen Japanese planes were seen shot down in the vicinity of Hagushi anchorage. One plane approached the anchorage from the north unobserved until less than a mile away. The LCI (M) 803 was the first ship to open fire. The 40 MM gun kept on the plane continually until it splashed. Several good hits were observed, and credit for the plane was given to the number one gun crew.
On the morning of April 7th. the 803 was proceeding in Nago Wan to join the other ships of her division. Shortly after 0400 a Japanese dive-bombed the ship from directly ahead. The heavy bomb exploded less than 50 years off the port quarter of the ship. No casualties were suffered.
From the 7th. to the 9th. of April, the LCI (M) 803 supported the Marines in the advance along the shores of Nago Wan and on Motobu peninsula. On April 9th. in a strike at Unten Ko north of Motobu, the Executive Officer, J.P. Yotka suffered severe injury to his hands and face by the explosion of an exposed mortar fuse. He was transferred to the hospital ship USS Comfort, then at Nagushi. Ensign Yotka’s replacement, Ensign Arthur J. Egan USNR, reported aboard for duty on April 18th.
For the next few days the ship operated in the waters near Ie Shima. There were nightly patrols in the waters to the north of Ie Shima while other fleet units softened the island for invasion.
On April 16th. the LCI 803 stood by in reserve while Ie Shima was invaded. In the week that followed until the island was brought completely under American control, the 803 patrolled continuously along the eastern coast of the island. On the 20th. the patrol was interrupted to make mortar assaults on certain points of resistance that the Marines had uncovered on Sesoka Shima, Kouri Shima and ad Kadena Ko.
While patrolling to the eastward of Ie Shima on the night of April 22nd. the 803 captured seven Japanese soldiers who were attempting to escape in a native dugout from doomed Ie Shima. They were taken aboard after being forced to strip and leave all weapons in their boat. On the following morning they were delivered to the Commander of the Ie Shima support ships for imprisonment ashore.
On April 28th. the ship was again dive-bombed, again without suffering damage. The bombing occurred while the 803 was on patrol near Ie Shima. The bomb struck the water 75 to 100 yards astern. On the 29th. of April the 803 discontinued the active patrolling and took an anchored screening station in the anchorage south of Ie Shima. Throughout May and until June 14th. she remained on this duty. Some of the bitterest air attacks occurred during the first weeks of May. The gun crews were often at their stations throughout most of the night. Numerous Kamikaze plane attacks were made in the vicinity of Ie Shima. Most LCI’s escaped such attacks however because of their small size and the presence in the area of more desirable targets.
On June 14th. the 803 returned to the larger anchorage at Hagushi and there assumed screening duties. With few interruptions she remained either there or at the contiguous Naha anchorage throughout the remainder of her stay at Okinawa.
In the middle of June the Japanese were being squeezed into a few remaining pockets on the southwestern tip of the island. On the 17th. and 8th. of June the 803 was sent to the southern shores of Okinawa to assist in cleaning out the last core of enemy resistance. During the two days of the operation the ship made several mortar attacks against the stretch of coast between O Shima and the islands southwestern tip. Some enemy return fire was observed, but ship or personnel suffered no casualties.
A sixth officer, Ensign Gerald C. Cain, USNR reported on June 23rd. for training. A further change of officers occurred in July while the ship was stationed at the Naha anchorage. On July 14th. Ensign A.J. Egan returned to the U.S. for leave, being replaced as Executive Officer by Lt. (JG) George F. Slusser, USNR.
The 803 was released from duty at Okinawa on August 13th. and returned to Leyte for necessary repairs and equally necessary relaxation for the men. The stay at Leyte was cut short by the official end of the war. The 803 returned to Okinawa on September 6th. to prepare for the coming occupation of China. The trip to Okinawa was difficult one as the ships sailed into the path of a typhoon. Considerable time was lost and several days of rough weather were experienced. A second typhoon was ridden out in Buckner Bay a week after arriving at the island. The ship survived the second typhoon with little damage except the loss of two anchors.
At Okinawa the first high point men to be discharged were released. Among those transferred was Ensign E. A. Cain.
The 803 left Okinawa in convoy on September 25th. en route to Taku Bay, China. The First Marines were landed in the Tientsin area on September 30th. and the 803 participated in landing troops during the first week of October.
On October 8th. the 803, with other ships of her division sailed for Tsingtao, China, were the Marines were scheduled to land on October 10th. At Tsingtao, the ship’s duties were few. After the landing of the Marines, most of the ship’s company was granted liberty in the city.
On the night of October 13th. the 803 was sent on a special rescue mission to Hwangkiatang Wan where a naval aviator had made an emergency landing. Because the coastal waters were uncharted in the upper reaches of the bay, no attempt could be made to affect the rescue of the flier until the following day. On the 14th. the flier was rescued, certain items of the plane’s equipment were salvaged, and the plane was burned in accordance with orders.
The 803’s division returned to Taku Bay on October 15th. Six days after her return to Taku Baby the ship was sent to Chinwangtao in northern China. Operating from this base, the ship sailed on October 25th. to Taching Ho. Here a demonstration of force was staged to assist the Kailan Mining Administration in recovering a dredge stolen earlier by Communist forces.
The 803 returned to Taku Bay on October 26th. and remained in the Tientsin area in November. While stationed in this area, the 803 acted as a liberty ship for the larger vessels in Taku Bay who were unable to navigate the shallow waters at the entrance of the Hai Ho. The LCI, having a shallow draft, was able to carry passengers the forty miles of the Peking River that separates Tientsin from the sea. These liberty runs were made regularly throughout the month of November.
On the 4th. of November Ensign E.A. DeGowin was transferred for a leave in the U.S. pending his prospective transfer to the regular navy.
At the end of the month of November the 803 discontinued her duty as a liberty ship and on order made ready for sea.
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