April 16, 1945 as recorded by Ari Phoutrides, QM2/c at the time
On June 9, 1945, upon our return from Okinawa, I wrote a letter to my brother, who was then serving as a combat infantryman in Europe. The following narrative was included.
On April 13, 1945 - a Friday at that - we were assigned to Radar Picket Station #1. There were about 15 such stations at various locations and distances from Okinawa. The job of the Radar Picket was to intercept Japanese aircraft coming from the homeland and destroy them before they reached the transport area at Okinawa. We had control of 8-F4U Corsairs which we directed to intercept the enemy planes. We were stationed 001 degrees (T) , 50 miles from a reference point on Okinawa (Pt. Bolo). Incidentally, this was considered the hottest station of them all. I understand there were 4 other destroyers that had been there before us and every one of them was hit by suicide planes.
Early on the 14th, our skipper went out of his way to get mail for us.. We had been underway for about 7 weeks without getting any mail and the crew was pretty much in the dumps about it. On top of that, many of us had a premonition we were going to be hit, and when you feel that way, a measly letter sure helps out.
On the afternoon of the 14th, we were patrolling our assigned station. Nothing much happened. Our fighter intercepted a few planes and shot them down with no trouble at all. The next days was just the same. Only this time, they shot down a larger number of Japanese planes. On the same day, we received the news of President Roosevelt's death. This was a great shock to all of us. It is such a pity that he could not have lived to see at least the defeat of Germany.
During the night, we were constantly harassed by observation planes whose sole purpose was to keep us awake all night. They came within the maximum gun range of our ship and just circled us knowing we wouldn't fire at them. Nevertheless, we were forced to go to general quarters each time they approached the ship. Our last alert was around 3 in the morning. When we finally hit our racks, we knew we were going to the attacked in the morning.
Around 0815, we picked up a single plane coming in at about 2,000 feet. You've heard 90mm guns firing. They make just as much noise as our 5"-38's. We fired so much at that one plane, and so fast, that our main battery sounded like a king sized machine gun. Anyway, we scared him away. Somehow, I think he was the navigating plane for all the other suicide planes and was merely observing the situation.
The Japanese pulled a pretty fast one on us. At the same time this single plane came in, several Japanese planes came down from the north flying very high- at about 20,000 feet. We sent all of our fighters after them. They were intercepted but only after a long period of time. This was because they were flying so high and were hard to find. During all this time, the 22 suicide planes which attacked us came in flying relatively low. They caught us without any fighter coverage. Thank God they didn't hit all at once. The entire action lasted 79 minutes - it seemed like eternity at the time.
The first 4 planes that came in used some mighty good tactics - something suicide planes haven't been doing. These 4 came from dead ahead, flying low. At about 4,000 yards, they split into 2 groups of 2 and came in at us from either side. Immediately our Gunnery Officer set all the batteries into local control. In this case, the ship is divided into four quadrants and each one attempts to take care of his sector. These 4 planes met a hot reception and all 4 were shot down. With our 6-5", 12-40mm, and 11-20mm guns, you can understand why.
After these first four, they came in groups of ones and twos. It almost appeared that they waited their turn. At one time we had 7 Vals circling overhead that didn't attack us until a few others went in. They used all the tricks they could....flying low, coming in fast, and diving from the sun. In fact, many of them made bombing runs on us before attempting a suicide dive. All of them strafed as they came in. About one quarter of the way through the action, a fragmentation bomb hit extremely close to the fantail and jammed our rudder which was turned 27 degrees to the left. All we could do was go in circles. Evidently, the Japs didn't realize this because they certainly did not take advantage of it.
About half way through the action, one of them hit us on the superstructure deck and exploded all of our 40mm ammunition. I thought for sure we would have to abandon ship. It was during this time that our skipper made himself famous by saying, "I will never abandon ship as long as I have one gun to fire." He said this to one of the officers. One of the lookouts added - out of the earshot of the skipper - "and if I can find one man to fire it"
Just after this, our air coverage returned together with a few reinforcements. In all, there must have been about 15 of our planes trying to protect us. Then the Japes came in from all over. To this day, I don't know what happened, Bombs and planes were hitting us and Japanese planes were being shot down all over the place.
My battle station is on the bridge as Quartermaster of the Watch. I'm supposed to record everything that happens and take over for the helmsman in the event he is injured. During much of this time, I couldn't even hold a pencil, let alone write. So I acted as a voluntary lookout and personal messenger for the Captain when our communications went of commission. I spotted one plane coming in low forward of the port beam. The main batteries were busy with a plane on the starboard side. I had to practically beat the OOD over the head with my fist before he paid any attention to me. This was the only time I've hit an officer and gotten away with it. Incidentally, the plane I spotted was shot down.
Finally, a single plane made a bombing run on us from the starboard bow. Only 2-20mm guns were in commission to fire at him. He was trying for the bridge but missed by 3 feet and hit the 20mms that were firing at him. That left us without any secondary battery. Somehow, I felt this was the last plane that would attack us. Fortunately, it was. The final score was: we were hit directly by 6 suicide planes 2 bombs, shot down 8 planes, and our fighter coverage shot down the other 8.
Fortunately, we had full boiler power, but we still couldn't get back to the transport areas because of our rudder problems. So we lay-to for 3 hours awaiting the arrival of 2 fleet tugs to tow us in. We had less than a foot of freeboard on the fantail and were taking on water before the fleet tugs came to our assistance. In the meantime, they sent 2 destroyers and 12 planes to escort us back to the beachhead. Perhaps the nicest thing that happened was when 8-F6F Hellcats came to assist us. They were originally supposed to protect the transport area, but when they heard of our predicament, they came to protect us.
Some additional comments and incidents, during and after the attack.
1.One of the lookouts - Felipe Salcido, I believe - tackled the skipper to protect him from a strafing plane
2.During a lull in the action, the skipper sent me back to check out after steering. Our CAP (Combat Air Patrol) still wasn't back from their chase of the high flying Japanese planes. When I returned to the bridge, one of the lookouts yelled "There's 7 planes overhead". Without looking up, I said to him, "Thank God the CAP has returned." "CAP, hell," was his reply "they're Jap Vals". Needless to say, in a moment's time, I aged another 10 years.
3.During another lull, when I was checking on damage aft, I ran into John Schneider, Torpedoman 1/c. Absent mindedly I said, "What are you doing, John?" He replied, "Looking for a small piece of rust to crawl under."
4.While the main battery was firing on a plane coming in from port, I noticed a kamikaze that was coming in from the starboard beam. It must have been 2000 yards away. All I could see as it approached was the huge bomb strapped on its underbelly. Fortunately, the gun captain on #2 mount saw it at the same time, directed his mount to starboard and fired point blank at this plane. It disintegrated in the air no more than 100 yards from the ship.
5.The OOD and me (wearing Mae West life jackets) getting stuck in the hatch leading out to the flying bridge.
6.Walking back to the signal bridge and seeing landing gear from an airplane next to the flag bags. My only thought was -how in the devil did these get here. I found out later that a Japanese plane being pursued by a Corsair clipped one side of the yardarm and the Corsair clipped the other side. This gives you some idea how low they were flying.
7.When the last plane came in, the JOOD yelled "He's dropping a bomb." Immediately, 3 of us got under the navigating table which may have been 3' x 1-1/2'. If our lives depended on it, I don't think we could duplicate this feat a second time.
8. After the attack, were dead in the water. Waiting for assistance seemed like eternity. Finally, the destroyers showed up and after 2 failures, they took us in tow. The fleet tugs actually save us from sinking - there was approximately 10" of freeboard aft when they started to pump.
9.Once we got underway, we were provided with about a 20 plane air coverage - 10 flying low and 10 flying high. Only then did we have some sense of security.
10. About the only area that wasn't damaged was our ship's stores. We had plenty of cigarettes to quiet our nerves over the next few days.
11. Looking back on it now, we must have been in a semi-state of shock. We were nervous and anxious to get out of the area. Once we returned to the transport area at Okinawa, I believe we realized what had actually happened and the close call we had with total destruction. Transferring the wounded and dead certainly contributed to the realization of what had transpired.
12. The 5 days we spent in the transport area were no relief to our nerves. We were harassed by the enemy t night and were not allowed to return fire. Finally, on the 22nd of April, we got underway for Saipan, and our ordeal was behind us.
13. After it was all over, we talked. The one question asked by practically everyone was - why did they concentrate on us? What was their purpose nd what did they expect to accomplish. No one has ever answered this question for me. Perhaps the picket ships were a thorn in the enemies side.
Some comments on kamikazes.
1. As I stated before, there is nothing mnore terrifying than to see a kamikaze strike a ship. We had seen at least 100 individual attacks. Most hit the ships, but others missed. Most would go after the heavies - if they had a choice - and would invariably aim for the bridge. This tactic saved a good portion of the U. S. Destroyer Fleet. Had they hit the water line, I feel ceertain one plane could sink one destroyer.
2. When a plane hit, all you could see was a large ball of fire followed by an explosion and billowing clouds of smoke. This scene was imbedded in our minds. Actually, whenever a kamikaze hit our ship, from the bridge it sounded like a large firecracker.
Comments on some of the officers.
Our Captain - F. Julian Becton
One of the finest men I have had the privilege of serving. Competent, strong, fair, considerate and inspirational. The crew placed their full trust in him. There was no question in my mind during the attack that he would handle the ship properly. Our complete faith in him was established firmly at the bombardment of Cherbourg a few days after the Invasion of France. He was one of the few officers I truly respected.
Our Navigator - Robert Thomsen
Ensign Thomsen lost his life during the attack. He fought fires voluntarily in the spaces below Mount 53 and sas sealed in the compartment when 2 kamikazes hit above him. Ensign Thomsen was an Annapolis graduate....quiet, unassuming, competent, and certainly brave. There was no question in my mind he should have received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions that day. He was awarded the Navy Cross.