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YMS-176



Call sign:
Nan - Yoke - Roger - Oboe

YMS-1 Class Auxiliary Motor Minesweeper:

  • Laid down 4 July 1942 as Contract No. 510 by Henry C. Grebe and Co., Chicago, IL
  • Launched 23 January 1943
  • Starboard engine overheated during sea trials 3 July 1943
  • Entered drydock for engine and shaft repairs
  • Completed 10 July 1943
  • Accepted 23 July 1943
  • Delivered and commissioned 24 July 1943
  • Completed shakedown and sound training 15 September 1943 and reported for duty with Commander Gulf Sea Frontier
  • Assigned to the Pacific Fleet 9 May 1944
  • Arrived San Diego, CA 28 June 1944
  • Grounded in October 1945 at Buckner Bay, Okinawa during Typhoon Louise
  • Reported to Commander Western Sea Frontier 18 February 1946
  • Assigned 2 April 1946 to Commandant 11th Naval District, San Diego, CA for disposal
  • Decommissioned 6 May 1946 at San Diego
  • Made available for disposal 5 September 1946
  • Struck from the Naval Register 25 September 1946
  • Transferred to the War Shipping Administration 14 February 1947 and scrapped.

    Specifications:

  • Displacement 270 t.
  • Length 136'
  • Beam 24' 6"
  • Draft 8'
  • Speed 13 kts.
  • Complement 34
  • Armament: One 3"/50 dual purpose gun mount, two 20mm mounts and two depth charge projectors
  • Propulsion: Two 880shp General Motors 8-268A diesel engines, Snow and Knobstedt single reduction gear, two shafts.
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    for full size image
    Size Image Description Source
    YMS-176 556k A collage of memories by Robert J. Noonan Robert J. Noonan, F1c
    Crew member

    Commanding Officers
    01LT L. H. Countryman, USNR1945
    Courtesy Joe Radigan

    There is no DANFS History currently available for YMS-176
    YMS-176 Okinawa Campaign Recollections

    When we were about to go into a combat area. we were given a chance to visit a clergyman, and transportation was provided to take you to a ship which had a Chaplain. I would go to see a priest and go to confession just in case I needed to qualify for the next world. If you were in port, there would be transportation to go to mass, also. A small boat would go around the harbor to pick up churchgoers.

    I always tried to communicate to my family our destination. That was hard to do because all of our letters to home were censored by one of the officers who would physically cut out references which could disclose classified information. My sister, Rita, had sent me a list of possible destinations which she identified by what was supposed to be a code. For example, a certain island would be identified as #1, etc. The trouble was the officer reading the outgoing mail was aware of things like this, and I don't think my secret message ever got through. Sometimes, when there was no real news, I would write a Ietter in which I cut out words or phrases to make it appear that this letter was loaded with privileged information. What I always did was to say that they wouldn't hear from me for a while. Then when they didn't, they would worry, particularly when the news would announce some action in the Pacific shortly thereafter. They had something to worry about, since at least a half dozen kids from the neighborhood had already been killed in action, and a kid who lived downstairs was missing in action. His body was not discovered for many years after the war - his plane had gone down in the jungles of New Guinea. The jungles were so thick that a plane crashing through the trees would disappear completely, and could not be seen from the air. Servicemen could be killed, and many were.

    It was late in March 1945, and the U.S.S. YMS-176 was underway to an invasion someplace in the direction of the home islands of Japan. I can't remember where we started from - it could have been Guam, Ulithi, or the Philippines, but we were heading for a showdown.

    Nobody had told us where we were going, and speculation was rampant aboard. Finally, the night before we arrived on station the Captain called the crew into the mess halI, or galley, or whatever we called the place where we ate. The entire crew numbered 30 enlisted men, and 4 officers, so all of us couldn't get into the room and keep the ship going at the same time, but the place was full.

    The Skipper, Captain Countryman, spread out map on the table. His first remarks were, " If we get by the first day, we'll be all right." That made me wonder where we were going to be at particular risk the first day more than any other day in an invasion area. It turned out that the invasion would be at Okinawa, only 300 miles from Japan, and our assignment would take us to a group of islands off the west coast of Okinawa, a place called Kerama Retto - as I recall. Our task would be to sweep close into the beach to clear an anchorage for the invasion fleet. We would arrive several days in advance of the invasion force, thus preparing the way for them.

    It was easy to see what the Captain meant when we began to sweep among the islands which were steep sided and hilly. We were so close to the beach that I noted the fact that somebody could throw a rock and hit the ship. We were accompanied, as usual, by destroyers which continued to shell targets of opportunity.

    My battle station now was that of sight setter on our main battery, a 3" naval cannon. The sight setter turned the dials which aimed the gun. The night before we arrived at Kerama the gunnery officer gave me training in my new assignment. He said, "When I say 'range,' you turn this handle lo the setting I give over the headphones. If I say 'deflection,' you turn this one. Got it?" I assured him I did. I really didn't get it, but thought I did. The officer would be stationed on the bridge overhead and behind our main battery where he could see me when we went into action. He was only 20 feet away.

    He wore an oversized helmet on over his earphones the same as I did, and we both looked very military during General Quarters, which means Battle Stations. The first time we prepared to open fire on a target ashore, he called down he range and deflection. I immediately sprang into action, furiously turning a handle on the gun. I watched him remove his helmet and earphones and lean over the edge of the bridge to holler at me, " No, god damn it, the other one." Can you imagine what was going on in the Japanese Navy when we still won the war?"

    One of our destroyers was firing at a "pill box" which is a protected gun emplacement which has an opening through which concealed gunners could fire. We could see the target clearly, and could see that the destroyer was off target. Destroyers had more sophisticated gun controls than we did, and theoretically were very accurate. All we had was the officer on the bridge, who had been a civilian not too long ago, making a calculated guess. We put a shot right in the aperture of the
    pill box.

    Prior to that, and after hearing about what the Captain had to say about the first day, I thought it was an omen when I attempted to put on my oversized helmet, and it fell over the side. Somebody found another for me.

    We found out weeks later, after the invasion took place, that the Japanese had concealed 1000 boats in Kerama Retto which were to be used by suicide crews who were waiting on Okinawa itself, ready to fall back on Kerama Retto and use the boats to attack our invasion fleet. The suicide boats were discovered by our occupying troops who reported the speed boats were equipped with Chevrolet engines and were fitted with explosives in the bows (the front of the boat). The intention was to crash them into our ships, in the manner of the kamikaze planes. It seemed that they were stymied when our troops occupied the Retto first, thus isolating the crews from their boats.

    Being only 300 miles from Japan itself, there was no alternative for the Japanese but to go all out to crush the invasion of Okinawa. And they tried. There were no more bombing attacks, but every attacker was a kamikaze which attempted to crash into a ship and deliver the bomb in person. We were under daily air attack for months, and numerous ships were struck by the suicide planes. Attacks were so frequent that we could not continue to be at General Quarters all the time. It was too tiring, and nothing else could get done. Our Captain simply stationed one man on a 20 millimeter gun, and the rest of the crew went on about its work. General Quarters was not called until a lookout actually could see an attacking plane. The trouble with that system was that often the man on watch would actually be firing at a plane before GQ was sounded. It was very stressful, particularly if you were below decks and did not see how close the plane was or whether we were in its path. The gun began firing, and you hoped a kamikaze would not be coming right at us. One of our sister YMS's was struck a glancing blow by a kamikaze as crewmen were rushing up on deck. Some rushed up just in time be struck by the aircraft.

    Planes would be coming in over the fleet, flying through flak (anti-aircraft fire) which looked so thick that nothing could get through it, but it seemed most of them did get through. As they approached, I kept hoping some gunner would hit them, sort of like hoping somebody would tackle an opponent before he could score a touchdown. The attacks were a daily occurrence. I recall saying it was daily for four months, but I can't remember anymore. It was kamikazes every day. The kamikaze pilots apparently were promised a place in heaven if they died smashing their planes and themselves into our ships. We would hear reports from home saying that many of the suicide pilots would change their minds and veer off before striking targets, but we never saw any of them chicken out. They delivered,
    in person.

    The invasion took place on April 1, 1945. I think it was called L-Day. I believe it was Easter Sunday. This time, we were not a control ship at the beach, but were part of the inner picket line protecting our landing forces. The radar we had was only what was called "station keeping." It was useless for detecting aircraft. There was an outer picket line much further away, out of sight which consisted of destroyers equipped with radar which could warn of incoming planes. The destroyers on the picket line were primary targets of the enemy, and many of them were damaged or destroyed. I guess the enemy figured that if the destroyers were knocked out, our fleet would not have the advance warning. In fact, for the first few months of the invasion, the navy took higher casualties than the soldiers on land. Serving one of those destroyers on the picket line had to be the worst. It is very difficult to hit a diving airplane with anti-aircraft fire, and there was very little time to do so before you got hit.

    A flag ship is the ship on which the commander of your flotilla (group) has his office. At first, our flagship at Okinawa was the USS Terror [CM-5], a big minelayer. That's where our admiral was stationed at first, That's where we went for supplies or things to fix things with, and where we got our orders. I can recall being on board the Terror and looking into one of their galleys where the cooks were cooking French Fries, and wishing I could be on a ship like that one. Turned out it was a good thing I wasn't.

    To protect ships at anchor, we had special machines to create dense smoke which covered the fleet in the harbor, and made it difficult for kamikazes to locate targets. We would get the command "Make Smoke," which always made me nervous because it meant we would be under attack shortly, having been warned by our picket ships that there were incoming "bogies." The smoke was extremely thick. Our machine, mounted on the stern (the back end of the ship) could really create a lot of smoke burning some kind of special oil created for the purpose. In any event, when the make smoke order there would be no anti-aircraft fire whose tracers could reveal a potential target. Our own aircraft, or ships not under cover would be responsible for defense. Despite the smoke, the Terror was struck by a kamikaze. That was the end of the Terror as our flag ship, and our flag officer moved his command to the Coast Guard Cutter Bibb [WPG-35]. It must have been a pain serving on a flag ship. Even while we were constantly under the threat of air attack, we sometimes could see Bibb crew members lined up for what appeared to be inspection. For our part, we were not subject to such formality.

    There was an island called Ie Shima off the coast of Okinawa. This place was distinguished by a single conical shaped hill. This is where the famous war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, was killed. It is also the place where I was sure I and the rest of our crew would be killed, also. It was April 6, 1945. It was afternoon, and we were sweeping close to Ie Shima. As usual, we were not at General Quarters, only a man stationed on a 20 millimeter. I was working on a refrigerator in the galley when the lone 20 millimeter opened up. Rushing to GQ, I saw a Japanese plane which I instantly identified as a "Val" diving in our direction, and being pursued by other planes. At this point I feel I probably saved the life of one or more of our navy fighter pilots. We were about to shoot at anything in the air when the time I had spent studying aircraft silhouettes paid off. I recognized that only one of the planes was Japanese and the other four were ours in pursuit, and we held our fire. The navy fighters evidently were trained to attack as a team, and at the risk of their own lives, the four of them chased the enemy plane over our ships where they, themselves, could have been subject to friendly fire, as many of them were in the Pacific. They shot down the "Val" which crashed on Ie Shima. That was the start of an afternoon which saw the destruction of 500 kamikazes in a day which was evidently one last effort to break up the invasion. I got the figure 500 not from personal observation but from accounts which included planes shot down before they even reached Okinawa. They came thick and fast. I thought the day would
    never end.

    Unfortunately, our fleet suffered losses, too. When we were jumped at Ie Shima, several destroyers which must have been nearby appeared and came to our defense. One was hit by 5 kamikazes. Its bridge glowed like the grates on a gas stove as it was hit over and over and burned. We heard it sank later in the day. It seemed to us that destroyers always were the first choice of the kamikazes. The Japanese planes were coming from everywhere, it seemed. Sometimes they would fly right past us or over us to get at the destroyers. We had good shots at several of them, and finally we could see our tracers from a 20 millimeter ripping into the cockpit of a "George" as it went by. I can still see the big orange ball painted on its side. The plane crashed into the sea and we were proud that we had shot one down with what we felt were popguns.

    We had a humorous episode during the attack. Everyone has a battle station when the ship is at General Quarters. Our cook, a veteran of war in the Atlantic where he had served on a destroyer, had experienced many close calls, and we felt if he got hurt, we were in trouble. His GQ station was a .50 caliber machine gun. This gun fires what looks like a huge bullet, and is packaged in a heavy metal cartridge box which had to be loaded onto the gun as the previous one was emptied. A second person was required to lift the heavy ammunition cannister into place. These containers were heavy enough anytime, but with the gunner constantly turning the gun up and down and sideways while firing on aircraft, the guy doing the lifting had a real problem since the gun never stood still. It turned into a comedy with Cookies firing away, and the other guy trying to catch up the moving gun with the heavy cannister.

    President Roosevelt died while we were a Okinawa, and the flag was lowered to half staff for a short period. In war time, the flag stays up. The atomic bombing of Japan also occurred while we were at Okinawa.

    The Japanese surrendered on August 14, 1945. Our final assignment would be to occupy Japan and clear out the thousands of mines which had been placed around the home islands.. At some point, probably in October, we were sent back to Guam and Saipan. We were being readied for the occupation. Guam was beautiful, and reminded me of New England. There was a super highway the length of Guam which was very impressive to me, since Connecticut had only recently installed its first one.

    We started back up to Okinawa, and ran into a typhoon. A typhoon is a hurricane at sea. This would be the fourth one on our experience, and a very terrifying experience aboard a wooden ship only 130 feet long.

    On a YMS, or on any small ship, I guess, there is seldom a time when you are sailing along smoothly. Even in good weather, the ride is not without rolling side to side or pitching fore and aft. The pitching was the worst for me. As the ship dove down, my stomach went up. In any event we were approaching Okinawa from Southeast about a day away when we ran into the storm. I woke up that morning, regretting that I could not sleep away the horror of what lay ahead. Coming up the ladder from the Crew's Quarters, I got an idea of how bad it was going to be when the ship dove into a wave, and my stomach was up in my throat. Looking out at the cargo vessels we were escorting, I could see a ship would be way up on the crest of a wave where the bottom of the ship could be seen, or in another instant out of sight while down in a trough. In the meantime, our ship was smashing into the on-coming seas which were crashing over the bridge. The ship would hit a wave, stop, shake like a wet dog, and then leap ahead as the wave passed, only to run into the next wave. There is an awful sense that there is nothing you can do, and no where you can go to escape. You can only hope the people who built the ship in Chicago were conscientious and the ship wouldn't fall apart. The decks were awash, and nobody who didn't have to go out on deck didn't for fear of being washed over the side. I had to stand watch in the generator room, so getting there from the galley was a dangerous adventure.

    While on watch, I took a few of our inflatable life belts and tied them together. Also, I was wearing my kapok life jacket. As I think about it, I seem to recall that those of us whose duties took them to the engine room, or generator room, reported in, checked things out then went topside so as not to be below decks if the ship capsized. I figured that if the ship did capsize, I would be a little tougher to sink with all the life jackets I had ready. I even had them tied to myself with a rope so they could not get away from me if I went into the water. The reality was that nobody would have survived if the ship had sunk. We later heard that crewmen of a sister ship had tied themselves to the mast, just like they did on old time sailing ships. To give you an idea of how dangerously the ship was rolling, the ship was designed to withstand a roll of 59 degrees from the perpendicular. Our inclinometer on the bridge said we rolled 61 degrees.

    This went on all day. We were in sight of Okinawa and how I wished I could have been on the beach! The storm was coming from the northeast of the island, and we received the order to put the island between ourselves and the storm, in other words, to sail up the west side or leeward side, to a protected anchorage for small craft at Unten -Ko, a section of Okinawa.

    There were seven YMS's in our group and four of them for some reason did not follow us to the leeward side. They went up the windward, or east side ,and were never heard from again. All four were lost. It happened that my father worked with the father of a kid on one of the doomed 4, and as concerned parents they used to exchange news. Can you imagine exchanging that news?

    It took 12 hours to get around to the west side and get into the anchorage. We finally entered the anchorage through an entrance which was so narrow that trees brushed the side of the ship. When you got through the entry, it opened to an area where small craft could be anchored. The water was relatively calm there, but the wind was blowing 140 miles per hour. We drove the bow of the ship practically up on shore, and had to keep the main engines running just to keep the wind from pushing us off the beach. Despite our efforts, the ship ran aground, and a drive shaft was damaged. After that, the ship vibrated all the time while underway, and finally it was decided that we would not be able to take part in the massive minesweeping operation around Japan. Thousands of mines were said to have been swept there. But we were on our way to the States some time after Christmas, 1945.

    The relief of being saved from the storm was enormous. Everyone who was not on watch was exhausted. I covered up with a heavy coat and slept for the next 12 hours, or to whenever I had to stand watch again.

    The storm ended the next day, and we joined the remaining YMS' s in the search for survivors of the missing ships. We found only a table which came from a galley of one of the unfortunate vessels.

    We spent some time at Unten Ko and had a chance to interact, in a way, with people there. Our anchorage there was near a leper colony. We were not allowed to go there, but the kids from there would come down to the beach. We had a ship's store - more like a closet where we could buy things like Tropical Chocolate bars. These were about 2 inches long, and 1 inch on the other sides. They were relatively heavy for their size and you could throw them a long way. We would buy boxes of them and throw them to kids on the beach. At night, we would sometimes show movies on the bow of the ship. The kids would come down to the beach and watch the films. I guess we had a see-through screen. When we had to stop to change a movie reel, the kids would start yelling, "Daddy, Daddy". We gave them lots of our clothing, and some kid had a jacket with The name Noonan stenciled in big letters on the back. Some days, we would see the kids swimming, dragging sacks of potatoes, or something from one place to another. They wore nothing but hats while swimming, and the hats never got wet. Because the kids were from the leper colony, we could not let them come aboard, or otherwise get close to them.

    The force of the storm was made apparent when we saw Buckner Bay, which was the anchorage for some of bigger ships. Ships had been thrown entirely out of the water, past the sandy beaches and up onto the grass. Hundreds of landing craft were bobbing around the harbor with only their bows showing above the water. Fifteen hundred sailors were lost in that typhoon. If the storm had occurred 6 months or so earlier, it could have broken up the invasion. In fact, the definition of Kamikaze, as I understand it, was "Divine Wind" which the Japanese believed would save them as it had in other times in their history, Kamikaze to me was a combination of suicide planes and
    typhoon winds.

    We boarded an abandoned YMS and salvaged parts we could use. Like dividing up a dead man's clothing. That was spooky. With no power, everything below decks was in darkness. I wondered what had happened to the crew, and was aware that it could have been our ship.

    Ashore, buildings were knocked flat, and their contents strewn around. On an earlier occasion, we had stopped into a supply building which was, like most of them, Quonset-type construction, and had asked somebody there for winter underwear, since we had come from warmer climes, we were not used to what felt like winter at Okinawa. The guy told us to get lost. After the storm, we got our pick of everything we wanted because everything was all over the lot, and the building gone.

    Sometime in November 1945, we went up to the port city of Sasebo, Japan, which is on the island of Kyushu. It was winter there. There was some snow. The downtown had been flattened by our bombers, but port facilities, including warehouses seemed to be intact. After a day or two of liberty ashore, nobody wanted to go. On December 7, 1945, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we were alerted to the possibility of attack by fanatics. All small boas were taken out of the water, and armed guards patrolled our ships. There were no incidents.

    We had come to Japan from warmer climates where we did not need any heat. We had never used our heating units which were electrically controlled. It was part of my job to get them ready. I guess I wasn't too good an electrician because I hooked up the controls backwards which meant the controls for the wardroom (officers' quarters) were controlled from the crew's quarters, and vice versa.

    I mentioned that our ship was now unfit for minesweeping duties, se we were sent toward home. We were afraid, as crewmen, we would be assigned to other ships and kept in Japan. We were relieved to learn that we would be started back to the states. If we made it more than halfway to Guam before the ship broke down, we would be towed to Guam, if less, than back to Japan. We held our breaths and made it to Guam. The next step would be Hawaii with the same towing arrangements. We made it back to Pearl. From there, it was off to California.

    When we were one day out of Long Beach, California. One of our two main engines quit. The seas off the California coast are rough, and now I had to hope the other one would keep going for another day. I thought it would be ironic if the ship turned over that close to home after we had survived the invasions of Leyte Gulf, Lingayen Gulf, Okinawa, a major minesweeping operation near Taiwan, and four typhoons. It was a tense night as the remaining main engine chugged along in the heavy seas. We made it to Long Beach, and as we carne alongside the dock, the Skipper issued the order to "back her down" to tie up the ship. The other engine failed, and we had to be pulled in by our lines. Wow! Exquisite timing.

    We thought we would be going to Washington state from Long Beach, and I wasn't looking forward to that with the condition of the ship, which was still vibrating while underway, only one remaining engine, and the rough water. The remaining engine failure took away that fear.

    The ship was now totally disabled, and some years later, I got the information that the YMS-176 was deemed not necessary to the defense of the United States, and was scrapped. AMEN.

    Robert Noonan
    August 1994


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