Ormoc Bay and Mindoro Landings--Admiral Halsey on the Rampage--"Bull in the China Sea"--Some Dull Routine at Ulithi--Another Midget Attack--Ammunition Ship "Mazama" Hit
Early in December, ground forces of the Southwest Pacific held eastern Leyte but still had not secured the western portion, separated from the east by a central mountain range. To put a pincers squeeze on enemy troops in the Ormoc Bay region, an amphibious landing on the west coast, cutting into the center of the Japanese forces, was decided upon.
Landings at Ormoc Bay and Mindoro: December 1944
Rear Admiral A.D. Struble, with Task Group 78.3, commanded the Ormoc attack, which was to land two regimental combat teams of the 77th Division. His group included 13 destroyers, 9 high-speed transports, 27 landing craft (infantry), 12 landing ships (medium), 4 landing ships (tank), 9 large minesweepers, 2 submarine chasers, 4 landing craft (infantry) (rocket), and 1 rescue tug. They assembled for logistic services from Service Force Seventh Fleet at San Pedro Bay, Leyte, prior to sortie on 6 December.
Landing proceeded on schedule early in the morning of the 7th without opposition. By 9 a.m. all vessels were unloaded with the exception of 1 LCI and 4 LSM's which had become beached. Fortunately for our troops, enemy air attacks did not begin until about 9:40 a.m., when suicide planes began to inflict some damage on our ships. The destroyer Mahan, acting as a fighter-director ship off Ormoc Bay, was struck about 9:55 a.m. by three Japanese planes. A fourth strafed the ship but did
not crash. Several minutes later the high-speed transport Ward was struck by a diving plane. Fires broke out on both ships almost immediately. Casualties were not high, but because of intense fires and unrelenting pressure from the air, it was at that time thought necessary to sink both ships by our own gunfire.
Shortly afterward another high-speed transport, the Liddle, was struck by a plane which crashed the bridge, killing 8 officers, including the captain, and 26 enlisted men. The Liddle was able to maintain full power and stayed in the formation, though the rescue tug ATR-31, with salvage and firefighting teams aboard, was ordered to stand by. Next victim was the destroyer Lamson. A single-engine fighter came in low and fast, crashed her superstructure just below the bridge, and killed 2 officers and 19 men. After her fires were controlled, she was towed to port by the ATR-31.
By nightfall the attacks had ceased and the formation proceeded toward Leyte Gulf, the Liddle assisted by neighboring ships with hooded lights to help her control; the Lamson, towed by ATR-31, followed astern. The net layer Silver Bell was able to make temporary repairs to the Liddle, while the fleet tug Quapaw and the salvage vessel Cable aided the Lamson. Both ships eventually went to west-coast ports for completion of repairs.
Servicing of the Ormoc Attack Group was by Seventh Fleet Service Forces, among them the cargo ship Rutilicus issuing dry and other stores and medical supplies; cfargo ships Murzim and Bootes with ammunition; Arethusa, Caribou, and Panda, oilers; Midas and Egeria, battle-damage repair ships; salvage ship Cable; fleet tug Quapaw; floating drydock ARD-19; and others. No fresh or frozen provisions were available.
Planning for the Mindoro operation, known as LOVE THREE of MUSKETEER, was initiated in October 1944 by directives of Commander in Chief Southwest Pacific Area and Commander Allied Naval Forces Southwest Pacific. On 17 November representatives of the Army, Army Air Forces, and Navy met at Leyte to discuss support of the action. D-day was tentatively set for 5 December. Besides using Seventh Fleet's Task Group 78.3, which was to form the assault force, Task Force 28 was to be used to blanket the 100 or more enemy airfields on Luzon in a 3-day operation from 4 to 6 December, thus seriously curtailing Japanese air power while landings were in progress on Mindoro. To do this, Task Group 38.4 was dissolved and its vessels were reassigned to the other three groups to maintain them at maximum strength for protection against suicide air attacks, which daly became more threatening.
Shortly after leaving Ulithi, Commander Third Fleet received a dispatch from the Commander in Chief Southwest Pacific Area postponing the Mindoro attack from 6 to 15 December. Leaving a small force at sea, temporarily designated as Task Group 38.5, the three groups returned to Ulithi on the 2d. Admiral Halsey directed that maximum advantage be taken of this for repairs, rest, recreation, and rehabilitation, as it was the first time since August that the fleet had had an opportunity to lie at anchor except for essential quick turn-around periods of replenishing and rearming.This brief respite was used to still further advantage by the Seventh Fleet in carrying out the Ormoc Bay assault on the 7th.
The service group (Task Group 30.8) for Task Force 38 left Ulithi 10 December, the force itself the following day. The service group consisted of 12 oilers, 2 escort carriers, 4 destroyers, 8 destroyer escorts, and 3 fleet tugs. Fueling rendezvous was made on the 13th with Task Force 38, after which the latter began a high-speed run in against Luzon airfields preliminary to the Mindoro landing by the Seventh Fleet and ground forces. At this fueling 237,000 barrels of Navy special and 377,000 gallons of aviation gasoline were issued by the Nantahala, Caliente, Chikaskia, Aucilla, Monongahela, Neosho, Patunxent, Marias, Atascosa, Mascoma, Cache, and Manatee.
Rear Admiral Struble, this time commanding the Mindoro attack group, 78.3, and 1 heavy and 3 light cruisers, 20 destroyers, 9 high-speed troop transports, 10 large mine sweepers, 7 motor mine sweepers, 31 LCI(L)'s, 12 LSM's, 30 LST's, 1 rescue tug, 2 submarine chasers, 4 LCI(G)'s, 5 LCI(R)'s, 1 patrol craft escort (rescue type), 1 LCI(D), and 23 motor torpedo boats. This force was serviced completely by Service Force Seventh Fleet at Leyte, Hollandia, Manus, and Woendi. Since embarkation was at Leyte, facilities there were used immediately prior to departure. The battle-damage repair ship Midas and landing-craft-repair ships Achillesand Egeria remained at San Pedro Bay for minor work, while ARD-19 provided drydocking for destroyers or smaller vessels. Hollandia had a destroyer repair base with several drydocks, floating repair ships, and tenders. Manus could do hull and engine work on all classes, and Biak had a mobile amphibious repair base for medium and small craft, but larger ships generally went back to Pearl or the west coast for extensive repairing.
Task Group 78.3 sortied from San Pedro Bay 12 December after filling its logistic requirements. It carried the landing force of one regimental combat team (reinforced) of the 24th Infantry and the 503d Parachute
Regiment. While en route, the cruiser Nashville, Admiral Struble's flagship, was hit by a single-engine Japanese suicide plane on the port side aft of the Admiral's cabin. A tremendous explosion followed which shook the ship from stem to stern and wrecked the flag bridge, killing the Admiral's chief of staff, staff communications and medical officers, and 129 men, wounding 190 and leaving 4 "missing." Ready ammunition for the 5-inch and 40-mm. guns in both port and starboard mounts exploded, the combined blasts wrecking the combat information center and communications office. Admiral Struble shifted his flag to the destroyer Dashiell, while the Nashville returned to San Pedro Bay, transferred the dead and wounded to LST's equipped to handle casualties, and left for Manus, whence she was eventually sent to Puget Sound Navy Yard for battle-damage repairs and overhaul.
While Task Force 38 was launching its second day of air strikes against airfields, air installations, and shipping at Luzon, the Mindoro landings of the 15th were made with little opposition. "The only handicap," the war diary of the Phoenix records, "appeared to be friendly natives and cattle who established themselves as spectators squarely in the middle of a target are." Unloading on the beaches progressed so rapidly that all but one LST were able to leave by the early evening of D-day, 24 hours ahead of schedule. The task group returned to Leyte with a loss of 2 LST's, both by suicide planes. Of the 16,000 troops landed on Mindoro, 553 casualties were evacuated, most of whom were taken to hospitals at Biak and Hollandia by the hospital ships Bountiful and Mercy.
After its 3-day successful support effort, Task Force 28 retired eastward toward a fueling rendezvous scheduled for 17 December. Throughout the day, sea conditions were so bad that fueling was suspended at 1:30 p.m. and a new rendezvous selected for the following day. Again fueling was unsuccessful, though many of the destroyers were dangerously low on oil. The typhoon was a bad one and caused much damage. Fires broke out on some ships because of shorted wiring and gasoline from a plane that had broken adrift. The main body of the task force was barely able to escape the center of the typhoon by steaming south, but the destroyers Hull, Spence, and Monaghan capsized and were lost. The limited advance information of the storm, the heavy seas, excessive roll, and a shortage of fuel were contributing factors in preventing these ships from moving from the typhoon's path.
On the 19th fueling was accomplished, and until the 21st the storm area was searched for survivors of the lost ships. Additional carrier strikes
on Luzon scheduled for this time were canceled. After fueling 23 December, Task Force 38 with accompanying oiler group proceeded to Ulithi for repairs and resupply arriving on the 24th. Most of the damaged ships had reached port several days earlier and were already under repair when the main force arrived. The repair ship Ajax had begun on the Altamaha and Jicarilla, the Hector on the San Jacinto, and the Prairie had the destroyer Dewey moored alongside fore repair of her storm-demolished smokestack and attached gear, in addition rendering services to the Hickox and Aylwin. The Buchanan was alongside the tender Cascade, while the Dixie had begun on the Dyson. On arrival on the 23d the destroyer escort Melvin R. Newman moored alongside the Markab for 24 hours and then docked in the ARD-13. Soon afterward, in company with the small carrier Monterey and the destroyer escort Tabberer, the Newman was sent to Pearl to complete repairs to her shaft. The hull-repair ship Jason took on the Cowpens. Before the Monterey left for Pearl (and eventually the west coast) she was cannibalized to provide replacement parts and material for the Cowpens and San Jacinto. The battleship Iowa likewise needed extensive repairs, and she too returned to Pearl. Service Squadron Ten performed a tremendous job in expediting repairs and replenishment of Task Force 38 at Ulithi. By 29 December all major damage had been repaired and the force was ready for the next operation in support of the attack on Luzon by Southwest Pacific Forces.
Late in December the tactical situation and control of the air in the Leyte area had improved sufficiently to move forward additional tenders, docks, and supply ships of the Seventh Fleet Service Force. Newly captured Mindoro was also being developed into a forward supply base.
"Bull" Again on the Rampage. Target date for landings in the Lingayen Gulf area of northern Luzon had been set for 9 January 1945. Careful coordination of effort between air strikes of the Third Fleet, Southwest Pacific Air Forces, and the 14th and 20th Air Forces was secured. Third Fleet operations included air strikes on Formosa and Luzon during the first week in January. Operations after the Lingayen landings were necessarily indefinite, depending upon developments, but destruction of enemy surface units, particularly in the South China Sea, was desired as soon as opportunity offered. With little or no encouragement from existing information, Admiral Halsey was the one to create the opportunity for rampaging against any targets he could find in the South China Sea and along the coast of the mainland.
The airmen of Vice Admiral McCain's Task Force 38, which left Ulithi 30 December, notwithstanding unfavorable weather conditions pushed
home attacks on Formosa airfields on 3 and 4 January. Suicide planes, apparently from Luzon or Formosa, struck Seventh Fleet bombardment and mines weeping units in Lingayen Gulf, inflicting substantial damage and bringing a request from Admiral Kinkaid for Third Fleet attacks on 7 January on Luzon. Because of this the plan to hit Formosa again was canceled and strikes were launched against Luzon airfields. By this time the weather had improved; results were excellent, and Seventh Fleet operations in Lingayen were practically unhampered. Captain Acuff's oiler group, Task Group 39.8, which had left Ulithi ahead of McCain for a 2 January fueling rendezvous at sea, was brought relatively closer to the combat area for fueling on the 8th, a risk justified by our control of the air. Formosa was struck again on the 9th as our troops went ashore in Lingayen Gulf against slight resistance.
"The Bull in the China Sea." On the night of 9-10 January, the time seeming opportune, a high-speed run was made into the China Sea using Bashi Channel for Task Force 38 and Balingtang Channel for the group of fast fleet oilers under Captain Acuff, Commander Task Group 30.8. On the 10th the fleet ran down the China Sea to the southwest, and a major part of the 11th was spent in fueling from the oilers. On the 12th, air strikes were made on the French Indo-China coast, and though no major enemy ships were found, other shipping was severely mauled, 1 enemy convoy entirely destroyed, 2 others badly cut up. Altogether 41 ships were sunk and 28 damaged, 112 enemy planes destroyed, and the Indo-China coast had felt the striking power of the United States Fleet.
High seas prevented fueling on the 13th, and not until evening next day was this vital operation completed. On the 15h and 16th, Formosa, Hongkong, Canton, and Hainan were all struck, air opposition again being negligible. Admiral Halsey reported: "Enemy air strength in this area, as in French Indo-China, proved very weak; the China coast in January appeared as wide open and defenseless from an air and naval standpoints as Mindanao and the Visayas appeared in October. Feverish enemy efforts to remedy this easily recognized condition . . . could be anticipated . . . It is believed the indirect strategic results of the attack on the China coast will be quite as valuable as the tangible destruction inflicted."
Bad weather, preventing any celestial observations between the 14th and 19th, continued to hinder operations against the Hongkong-Canton and Hainan areas on the 16th. Fueling was again delayed by the weather, and though the 17th saw indifferent success, not until the 19th could
China, Japan, and the Philippines.
replenishment at sea be completed. China Sea weather regrettably was running true to the forecasts. However, on the night of 20-21 January the weather proved unexpectedly favorable and expeditious return passage was made through Balingtang Channel. After striking Formosa and southern Nansei Shoto again the next day, the 22d saw the conclusion of the current phase of Third Fleet offensive operations, with 3,800 miles covered in the China Sea without battle damage. No enemy aircraft had been able to approach Task Force 38 closer than 20 miles. Fueling was completed on the 23d, and all units except the San Juan--sent off on a mission of deception--returned to Ulithi for much-needed repair and replenishment. In his action report Admiral Halsey wrote: "Command was turned over the Admiral Spruance of those Pacific Fleet units and fighting men who had so magnificently extended the domination of United States naval forces over the reaches of the Western Pacific and the China Sea."
Stretching the Supply Lines. This account of the operation of the Third Fleet has been given to keep before the reader the picture of the combat tasks whose logistics were the responsibility of the service group. These tasks were made much more difficult because of their great distance from normal bases of supply. Aside from the military significance of breaching the hitherto undisputed Japanese zone of influence in the China Sea, the foray of the Third Fleet marked the extreme limit thus far reached by our logistic support. Operations in the China Sea west of Luzon found the fleet at times more than 1,300 air miles from Service Squadron Ten's main floating base in the Western Carolines at Ulithi. It was therefore necessary that oilers and carrier escorts accompany the Third Fleet to supply fuel and aircraft replacements. Tankers full of oil were dispatched from Ulithi to report to Commander Task Group 30.8, Captain Acuff. From time to time empties were escorted back to Ulithi, a system which applied to the plane-supplying escort carriers also.
An annex to Admiral Halsey's operating plan covered Captain Acuff's mission, requiring in part that, commencing 2 January, 12 oilers, 3 escort carriers, 3 fleet tugs, destroyers, and destroyer escorts be maintained at sea in support of the fleet. It also outlined the rendezvous and schedule of replacements for both oilers and escort carriers.
Captain Acuff's Splendid Support
Between 7 and 23 January the escort carrier Sargent Bay, Captain W.T.
Rassieur, had as its mission air coverage of Acuff's various units. Other escort carriers operating with Acuff's group included the Shipley Bay, Kwajalein, Nehenta Bay, Altamaha, and Rudyard Bay. ON 2 January, Task Force 38, consisting of Task Groups 38-1-2-3, joined the oiler groups at previously assigned stations and fueled, with the Shipley Bay servicing as required. Fueling was completed at 3:30 p.m., with 283,000 barrels of fuel and 338,000 gallons of aviation gasoline issued. Next day the destroyer escort Robert F.Keller, Lieutenant Commander R.J. Toner, while passing official mail collided with the Sargent Bay, damaging both slightly. The Keller was detached and sent to Ulithi, where the destroyer tender Dixie began to get her ready for sea again.
On other days Captain Acuff fueled his own escort carriers and destroyers, consolidated cargoes, and reorganized oiler groups. On the 8th, replacement aircraft were delivered and 240,000 barrels of fuel and 820,000 gallons of aviation gasoline issued to Task Force 38. Early in the morning of 10 January the oiler Nantahala while proceeding in formation through the Balintang Channel had a gyro failure, and in the darkness crossed the bow of and collided with the oiler Guadalupe. Captain Acuff reported: "In spite of rather severe damage both ships continued with the group in the face of heavy weather and furnished oil to Task Group 38, without which an important phase of its operation could not have been completed." He further reported that on the 13th heavy weather existed in the area (the groups were then in the South China Sea), caused by a tropical low pressure to the south, and that as a result many casualties were recorded during the refueling. On the 15th, though four destroyers of the screen too fuel, the weather was unfavorable for issuing oil to escort carriers. On the 17th the weather still hindered operations. The war diary of the oiler Patuxent, Lieutenant F.P. Ferrell, gives this account of the day:
"Heavy seas running, decks swept periodically by full force of seas. Personnel greatly endangered at their fueling stations. Hoses to all ships parted despite additional lengths of hose used to lengthen standard hose rigs . . . Five men seriously bruised at fueling stations. Retrieved one man from water lost over the side from U.S.S. Baltimore. Also Captain R.C. Spaulding of the U.S.S. Niobrara reported that for this date 'due to these conditions, which caused heavy seas to sweep weather deck, one officer and nine men were injured when knocked off their feet.'"
Notwithstanding the discouraging outlook for continued bad weather, plans were made to resume fueling next day at dawn, but had to be canceled. Task Force 38 and service units retired southward, where at least a reasonable calm area was found on the 19th and fueling was
completed. The total issue 17-19 January was 392,000 barrels of fuel and 720,000 gallons of aviation gasoline.
Something of the work of a replacement carrier operating with Halsey's forces in the South China Sea is shown by the war diary of the escort carrier Cape Esperance, Captain R.W. Bockius, for 17 January: "At 0546 (5:46 a.m.) in accordance with orders of Commander Task Group 30.8, Task Group 30.8.11, consisting of the U.S.S. Cape Esperance, U.S.S. Altamaha, Captain A.C. Olney, and escorts . . . left Task Group 30.8 and took station for replenishment operation . . . at 1230 U.S.S. Hank came alongside to receive 2 pilots and 2 aircrewmen for the U.S.S. Hancock. At 1315 (1:15 p.m.) the U.S.S. Charles S. Sperry came alongside to receive 4 pilots and 8 aircrewmen for the U.S.S. Lexington. At 1615 (4:15 p.m.) began launching planes. At 1651 U.S.S. Callaghan came alongside to receive 1 pilot and 2 aircrewmen for the U.S.S. San Jacinto and to transfer 24 pilots on board to fly off replacement planes. We completed launching planes at 1643, having launched 8 F6F-5s, 1 F6FSP and 2 TBM-3s for the U.S.S. Essex. At 1647 U.S.S. Caperton came alongside to transfer pilots but was unable to make transfers because of heavy seas." Admiral McCain's task force did not always receive o-the-spot replacements of aircraft and pilots with "the greatest of ease."
On the 20th Captain Acuff's oilers commenced cargo consolidation at dawn, and temporary task units were formed with orders to leave the China Sea via Mindoro and Surigao Strait, other units with orders elsewhere. On the 21st, on orders from Admiral Halsey, Captain Acuff took his ship back by way of Surigao Strait and Leyte Gulf, reporting to Commodore Carter, Commander Task Group 30.9, at Ulithi, whereupon Task Group 30.8 was dissolved. During Acuff's splendid support of the Third Fleet while Halsey was rampaging through the China Sea, 1,559,000 barrels of fuel oil and 3,416,000 gallons of aviation gas had been issued. To appreciate the quantity of fuel oil expended, the reader is invited to consider that he is on his way to the Army-Navy football game, his way blocked at a railroad crossing by a train traveling at a speed of 30 miles per hour. Assuming that each tank car carriers 8,000 gallons and has on over-all length of 43 feet, the train would consist of 8,814 cars, would be 66.6 miles long, and would need 2 hours and 13 minutes to clear the crossing. The reader would miss the game.
At Ulithi in January. From 25 to 29 December the average number of ships at Ulithi per day was 356. This number decreased as Admiral Halsey's forces left for support of the Lingayen operations and the forays
in the South China Sea. For the first half of January the daily number of ships present for servicing was 235. This average was generally maintained until the 27th, after which, with Halsey's return, it rose to 308. The volume of work confronting the service squadron varied more or less directly with the number of ships present and with the nature of the current operations, but the wide variety of tasks was ever present.
Motion-Picture Exchange. Motion-picture programs have long been recognized as one of the most important mediums for the entertainment of officers and men on sea duty, and rank with good food and mail as contributing most to building morale. Carriers, with their large hangar decks, are ideally constituted for showing movies both at sea and in port without violation of "darkened ship" security. In port, as at Ulithi for instance, the senior officer present permitted the showing of movies on topside unless the threat of an attack made a complete black-out necessary. With the visits of combat ships for services, rest, and recreation, with other ships staging through, and for the service vessels themselves, providing adequate movie service was a duty of considerable importance.
Mobile Fleet Motion Picture Sub-Exchange No. 1 was established on 8 March 1944 by Commander Service Squadron Ten to service the fleet when it was at Majuro. The operation of this exchange was delegated to the destroyer tender Prairie, which functioned in this capacity until 24 September, when the exchange was transferred to the Orvetta. It operated first at Majuro, then at Eniwetok, and later at Ulithi. Adequate trained personnel were necessary for its operation. Errors in issuing programs had to be kept to a minimum and the films maintained in good condition to provide the best possible entertainment. In January 1945 the personnel included 1 officer and 2 enlisted men who had had previous experience in operating naval motion-picture exchanges, 1 man who had had experience as a civilian in the distribution of films, and 11 other enlisted men of no previous experience. Only 3 of the men were rated: One electrician's mate 3d class, one motor machinist's made 2d class, and one yeoman 3d class. To service ships in the southern anchorage, mostly destroyers, a branch exchange was established aboard the tender Cascade. Enlisted personnel of the mobile sub-exchange operated it. The picture program was a busy one, with one-hundred 35-millimeter films and six-hundred fifty-two 16-millimeter issued daily during December 1944.
Mobile Issuing Office. For the distribution of classified material, Mobile Issuing Office No. 7 was located in the Prairie and constituted another phase of service rendered the fleet at an advanced floating base. Though
it functioned as an integral part of the ship in which located, the office operated directly under the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commander ion Chief Pacific Fleet.
The office had a combined incoming-outgoing monthly traffic of 60,000 publications, every one of which required the signature of a commissioned officer. From two to four hundred ships had to be supplied with the latest publications and changes to publications by the 2 officers and 2 specially qualified enlisted men operating this office. With approximately 2,000 publications handled daily, keeping perpetual inventory was laborious in itself.
Visual Communications. Handling communications is always complicated, and at Ulithi the delivery of visual messages from the flagship, for instance, in the northern anchorage to a ship in the southern, approximately 20 miles away, or to a ship somewhere in between, was particularly vexing. The problem was solved by a relay system. Twelve intervening anchorages were designated as berths for relay ships. Any vessel occupying one of these berths was required to pass along the visual traffic.
Fleet Freight. The activities of the fleet-freight section were tremendously important in making timely deliveries of consignments of previously ordered materials. Under Squadron Ten's supply officer the section's "outgoing" gang was continuously on the go in catching up with ships to make deliveries. The week of 21 January 1945 through the 27th is illustrative of its activities: (1) Air freight deliveries, 1,232 pieces weighing 107,000 pounds, to 245 ships; (2) fleet freight, 35,340 pieces, 849 tons, to 161 ships; (3) storage, 187,077 pieces, 6,141 tons, for 653 ships, and 1,521 pieces weighing 70 tons for transshipment to 132 consignees; (4) transshipment direct from incoming carrier to on-carrying vessels, 2,417 pieces, 86 tons, to 2 consignees; (5) small units of cargo discharged, 4,087 pieces, 802 tons, from 9 ships to 233 consignees; (6) continuance of discharge from two merchant ships, beginning of discharge and delivery from Navy cargo ship Caelum, Lieutenant Commander E. Johnson. All these activities required planning, supervision, unloading, loading, storage, and delivery. Possibly the most troublesome was transportation, for at Ulithi as at other anchorages, both before and after the time considered here, the demand for boats and motor-driven barges always exceeded the number available.
Damage to the "Mazama." Shortly before 7 a.m. on 12 January the squadron flagship received word that "an ammunition ship has been torpedoed," and those who heard braced themselves, but the shock did
not come. The Mazama had in fact been torpedoed, but she did not blow up. At 6:53 a.m. a man on watch on her reported sighting a periscope off the starboard quarter. General quarters was sounded immediately. It is believed the enemy submarine must have passed under the ship's bow and exploded its torpedo, or itself, just afterward. The explosion occurred underwater off the port side abreast No. 1 hold, rapidly filling it with water, causing a 2-degree list to port, with the ship down by the head. At 7:10 Captain P.V.R. Harris got his ship underway, intending to beach her if the flooding got beyond control. At 7:53 the Tatarrax, Lieutenant (j.g.) L.A. Hill, was the first of 11 rugs to reach the Mazama. At 7:44 a.m. the ship anchored and her draft was found to be 35 feet forward instead of the normal 23--down by the head 12 feet. Additional gasoline and electric pumps from 3 of the tugs were placed on board, but the former were not used for fear of fire and explosion. At 10:25 a.m. a voice radio message was intercepted reporting the sighting of a submarine 2,000 yards from the Mazama. An escort destroyer dropped depth charges and the Mazama's crew went to general quarters, but later secured and gave full attention to salvage. A repair party from the repair ship Hector conducted diving operations and reported the ship's port side indented from frame 124 to 162, from A platform deck. Seams had been opened, rivets sheared off, watertight bulkhead at frame 137 buckled, the anchor windlass knocked out of line, and two forward 3-inch guns, 22-mm. guns, and director rendered inoperative. Commencing at 2:40 p.m. serviceable ammunition was discharged from No. 1 hold into an LCM and from No. 2 into barge YF-693. To add to the anxiety, at 8:45 p.m. another voice radio message was intercepted reporting a midget submarine breaking surface 5 miles from the Mazama. She went to general quarters, securing once more at 9:11 p.m. Here casualties for the day as a result of the explosion were 1 missing, 7 injured sufficiently to require hospitalization, and 13 treated for minor injuries and returned to duty. These personnel casualties were regrettable but very slight compared to what they might have been. It was fortunate that the ship did not blow up when hit, as did the Mount Hood at Manus.
The salvage vessel Current, Lieutenant Commander J.B. Duffy, Jr., made fast to the Mazama to furnish power to 6-inch submersible electric pumps in No. 1 hold. Outside, temporary repair was made by divers until the hold could be pumped out. Then followed inside patching and caulking, the Hector getting the ship off the critical list in a few days.
Later, in February, a more thorough job was done by placing a cofferdam over the ruptured area, enabling welders and caulkers to do what the divers had been unable to accomplish, thus stopping the bottom leakage which was still giving trouble.
The entry in Mazama's war diary for 13 January had this notation: "At 1213 an underwater explosion occurred bearing 250° true, distance 2,000 yards from this ship." COnsidering this notation along with her torpedoing and the contact reports received in midmorning and during the evening of 12 January, supposedly of enemy submarines, there is a strong probability that again an attack in force, possibly of four or five midget submarines, had been launched at the anchorage. The explosion was the suicide of one of these midget submarines.
January at Ulithi was not too dull!
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