A Short History of LCS 53
The ship was built by the Albina Engine and Machine Works, Inc. of Portland, Oregon and was commissioned on 30 September, 1944. Shakedown training and trial runs were accomplished at San Diego, CA. We departed from the U.S. on 1 December, 1944 and arrived at Pearl Harbor where intensive gunnery training and mock invasion maneuvers were continued.
The ship was attached to the Fifth Amphibious Force of the Third Fleet. She was scheduled to participate in the invasion of Iwo Jima. This was to be the testing ground of the LCS vessels; for being a newly designed ship, it was there that they were first to be in actual combat. The subsequent success of these small support craft was highly lauded by the fighting Marines ashore as well as by high-ranking Marine and Naval officers in charge. Having been accredited with no small share of the hard-earned victory at Iwo, LCS’s were thereafter termed the “Mighty Midgets.” Officers and men of our ships are humbly proud; for though the appellation is singularly apt, the connotation implies a high standard of achievement which we have tried to uphold by assiduously doing our very best in all tasks assigned to us.
We left Pearl Harbor after the first of the year and headed for Iwo by way of Eniwetok and Saipan. The morning of 19 February was a strange and new experience. None of the officers and only three members of the crew had participated in previous invasions. Our initial job was to proceed in advance of the landing boats and clear the beaches. Accordingly, we made two runs, laying three heavy rocket barrages and thoroughly strafing the landing beaches. As the Marines poured ashore in seemingly endless waves, we took position on the left flank about 200 yards offshore of Mt. Suribachi. Here we fired into caves, pillboxes and mortar positions. One cave and a small fuel dump were set afire while numerous direct hits on mortar positions were observed. Marine spotting parties who later came aboard to assist in liaison work said that the number of destroyed Jap positions which they had overrun attested to the high effectiveness of our support firing though we were often unable to assess the results from the ship. During the 18 days we remained at Iwo, our main duty was to patrol the shores of the island and deliver call fires upon request from advanced shore parties. Our supply of ammunition was exhausted several times because of the intensive barrage we were asked to put out. We replenished our stock from battleships which stood several miles offshore. This proved a difficult task in rough seas off Iwo and our sides suffered damage on each occasion. Besides ammunition they gave us ice cream, a rare treat, and in return we gave them an eagerly sought-after first hand account of the battle progress.
The close-in fire support and inshore patrol became routine after the first day. Enemy return fire directed against us was for the most part light to moderate, usually consisting only of small arms, mortar and rifle fire up to 3-inch caliber. Occasionally, however, a 1000-pound Jap rocket would overshoot the island and send up a huge geyser of water a few hundred yards off the ship.
Three events at Iwo will always stand out in our memories: an ammunition dump fire, a rescue at sea, and the flag raising over Mt. Suribachi.
One night we were ordered to put an ammunition dump fire out on the beach. Huge swells necessitated the constant use of our engines to keep the bow of the ship on the beach. Wrecked equipment littered the area and our bow grated dangerously on a submerged tank. The fire burned fiercely. Its intense heat could be felt back to our fantail which was about 100 yards distant from the fire. Like a volcano it erupted sporadically due to exploding shells and showered the ship with bits of hot casings. Japs from the bluffs on the right flank directed a continuous mortar bombardment at the ship in attempts to impede our efforts. However, their aim was bad and most of their shells fell far short of the mark. The few near misses caused no casualties. Ensign John Sterling, Jr., USNR of Provo, Utah and Ensign Stuart Robert Manegold, USNR of Milwaukee, Wisconsin were sent ashore with the following party of men to handle the fire hoses and extinguish the blaze:
Robert Joseph Anderson, SK3; Paul Emment DeMent, S1c; Kenneth Frank Hans, S1c; Victor Deldon Klien, F1c;
Charles Michael Manyak, S1c; George Thomas Opria;
Roy Edwin Petty, S1c; Michael Romona Russo, Sr., S2c;
Wilmer Alvin Yaun, S2c.
The aforementioned officers and men, aided by a party from LCS (L) 54, fought the fire for more than one and a half hours. Hot shells cast out of the fire landed among them. They threw this live ammunition down the embankment into the water. Several exploded after being tossed aside. The deep loose volcanic sand impeded their progress and made the handling of the fire hoses a laborious job. However, the sand proved to be a boon, for just as the last glow of the fire was being put out, a Jap “Betty” glided in at mast height and dropped a stick of four bombs scarcely 75 yards from the scene. The bombs burrowed deeply and exploded harmlessly, showering the area with sand. Gunners at battle stations were ordered not to fire, for although the proximity of the plane made it an easy target, it continued across our lines and, had it been knocked down, it would have crashed into our Marines dug in on the slopes, causing casualties. Physically exhausted from handling hoses with 20 pounds pressure, the fire-fighting party had to be hoisted aboard. Both men and officers who were ashore have been awarded a Bronze Star for their meritorious achievement. Needless to say, the entire crew did its utmost to help. Many others volunteered to go ashore, however, there were guns, pumps, engines, radios and other equipment aboard ship which had to be manned. These stations were not without hazard. Our only casualty was Curtis G. Leonard, S1c of Beldenville, Wisconsin, stationed at one of the after guns. He was cut above the eye with a piece of flying shell casing.
Dusk had overtaken us one night as we completed taking on ammunition. Proceeding into the beach we answered an SOS some six and a half miles offshore. It was sent by a small boat, an LCVP, loaded with nine wounded Marines. They were lost, having spent more than four hours trying to locate a hospital ship, which had, at his time, departed the area, so in spite of the rough sea, we took them aboard and Lt. G. W. House (MC), USNR, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, our group doctor, administered blood plasma and other treatment within our facilities.
During the period of getting them aboard there was an air raid and our gunners fired on a flight of enemy bombers which were in the area. The next day the wounded were transferred to U.S.S. Solace.
One morning several days after D-Day we were requested to lay an intensive 30 minute barrage into the western slopes of Mt. Suribachi. The guns were set on automatic fire and the gunners had a field day. Marine shore batteries, other LCS’s and destroyers added to the merciless bombardment. Upon being secured we lay about 150 yards off the extinct volcano awaiting further orders. An hour later our Marines had overrun the last Jap positions on the “rock” and we witnessed one of the most thrilling moments enacted in the history of the war: the raising of the American flag over Mt. Suribachi. We were very proud of our fighting Marines.
At the close of the Iwo campaign we returned to Saipan where the ship was overhauled, repaired and readied for the capture of Okinawa. The crew was given further training and briefed on the invasion plans.
Upon completion of logistics and training we set out for Okinawa. On D and D plus one day we participated in demonstration landings, designed to draw enemy troops from the real invasion beaches. Our convoy approached the shores in the prescribed manner of a real landing. We fired at the beach area and laid a smoke screen, but our troops did not land. Tokyo Rose later reported that an attempted landing had been thwarted with the infliction of heavy casualties. However, we encountered no opposition, and not a single shot was fired.
Our subsequent duties at Okinawa might roughly be classed into three categories: anti-aircraft picket, suicide boat patrol and smoke screen defense.
As a picket ship we were stationed from twenty-five to seventy-five miles from the transport anchorage. A ring of such stations circled the island and was able to forewarn the ship-laden area of approaching enemy aircraft. The Japs tried to break this ring by concentrating determined Kamikaze attacks on the picket ships. They were never successful. Our primary purpose was to assist the destroyers in repelling these attacks. There was no want of opportunity to accomplish this purpose. During the twenty-five days on picket patrol we shot down three planes and registered hits on others. One evening at dusk a flight of four enemy planes appeared in the area. They hovered about out of range waiting for the cover of darkness before attacking. Just before dark one of them drew near, doubtless to scout the formation of ships. A destroyer promptly brought him down in flames with a single burst of five-inch fire. The others closed in after dark. Again the destroyer scored a direct hit and an LSM splashed another. The fourth plane emerged from a low cloud and came at us in a steep dive. Our guns clipped off his wing tips and probably killed the pilot before the plane hit the water about thirty feet off our starboard side about midships. The ship was showered with fragments of plane parts, and we suffered two personnel casualties. On another occasion six enemy planes were indiscreet enough to attempt an attack before sunset. Our Marine Combat Air Patrol fliers splashed five of them. Only one crippled Val was able to make his run and our gunners disposed of him rather easily. He hit the water ingloriously while still 200 yards off our stern. Several times the Japs tried to make mass attacks during the haze at dusk but without success.
However, not all of the Japs coming to our area came into attack. Many of them passed on to the transport anchorages and others struck at different picket stations. During one 36-hour period we experienced 72 alerts, but were unable to fire a shot because no enemy planes closed in on us.
The Japs had numerous small suicide boats on Okinawa which were used against ships and also to carry raiding parties behind our lines. They had only 18 inches of free board and were particularly difficult to spot at night. Often it was our duty to patrol a specific area to prevent suicide boats from crashing into ships in the transport anchorage and also to thwart any attempted ship boardings. Our gunners sank two suicide craft and damaged a third during one abortive attempt at infiltration.
When enemy aircraft approached the transport area at night a smoke screen was used to protect the ships. While in the anchorage we helped to make that screen. It effectively blanketed the area while shore batteries and night fighters drove off the enemy. If attacks occurred during the day we moved to the fringe of the area and with other gunboats formed a formidable ring of anti-aircraft batteries. Japs trying to suicide into the area were doomed. Such a heavy curtain of steel rose to meet them that it was impossible to determine which ship actually brought the victim down.
Altogether we spent 110 days at Okinawa, 25 on picket stations, 30 days on suicide boat patrol and the remainder at various transport anchorages around the island. During this period the ship was called to general quarters a total of 275 times. We received a “well done” from high Naval officials on several occasions for work against particularly determined enemy attacks. The ship’s success both at Iwo and Okinawa was in a great measure due to the excellent training and leadership of Lt. Comdr. Paul Stone of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the commander of our group of gunboats. His experience on support craft in campaigns in the South Pacific made him well qualified to lead LCS ships and his courage was admired by all for he took an active role no matter how dangerous the duty. He was board the LCS 31 when she was hit by three suicide planes. We also express gratitude at having been able to work with the U.S.S. CONEIL, a destroyer on picket patrol. Her alert personnel kept us so well informed of approaching aircraft that it made the job much easier. She inspired a confidence in our crew that aided their morale immeasurably.
Leaving Okinawa in July we proceeded to San Pedro Bay in the Philippine Islands where for two long months we enjoyed rest and rehabilitation. However before the final Jap surrender we were overhauling the ship and preparing for the next invasion. When the Japs signed the treaty we were ready too, and in Sept. the ship left for Wakayama, Japan, to assist in the occupation. Here our duties consisted solely of patrolling against possible aircraft or small boat attacks. But the occupation proceeded smoothly. A few audacious Jap fishermen who insisted on fishing in restricted waters learned quickly to remain in proper territory when the lesson was punctuated with rifle fire.
Our group of twelve LCS’s had usually worked together on all previous engagements, however, upon leaving Wakayama a month later, we were split into two divisions of six ships each. Our division sailed for Formosa by the way of Shanghai. At Formosa we did mine destruction. All day long we followed mine sweeps and blew up the mines they had cut loose. Occasionally we acted as a pilot vessel for convoys entering the mined areas. Having completed the sweeping operations we returned to Shanghai for the Christmas holidays.
So far our little ship has sailed 25,000 miles. She has weathered some rough seas. Five times typhoons have passed close at hand. She has proven her seaworthiness and the crew, respecting her achievements, are proud to call this “Mighty Midget” their own.
By John Rooney, LCS 82
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