Historical Narrative of USS Salamaua (CVE-96)

Placed in commission by Captain J.D. Barner while moored to Pier No. 3, U.S. Naval Station, Astoria, Oregon, Captain J.I. Taylor, Jr., USN, assumed command of Salamaua at the conclusion of ceremonies conducted on the hangar deck on the rainy morning of 26 May 1944. During the following three weeks of availability, Salamaua's initial complement of 54 officers and 518 enlisted men engaged in fitting her out and exercising at general drills as time and work load would permit. on the morning of 17 June, she was underway for Puget Sound, entering the straits of Juan De Fuca in a thick fog and drizzle late that evening.

From 18 until 22 June Salamaua remained in the vicinity of the Bremerton Navy Yard deperming, degaussing, loading ammunition, torpedoes and stores, and conducting structural firing tests, calibrating magnetic compass and radio direction finder and running the measured mile. With this accomplished, on 22 June she reported her readiness for shakedown training and proceeded into Pier No. 91, Seattle, Washington, to load damaged aircraft and parts for transport to San Diego.

On 23 June as Task Unit 14.5.0, Salamaua departed Seattle enroute San Diego via Alameda, California, where additional supplies were taken aboard from Naval Supply Depot, Oakland.

Arriving at North Island, San Diego, California on 29 June, cargo was unloaded, and on 1 July Salamaua departed on a four day training cruise off lower California and Mexico, conducting limited air operations, gunnery drills, signal drills and fighter-director exercises. Returning to North Island on 4 July, passengers and cargo aircraft were embarked and on 6 July the ship got underway for Pearl Harbor, T.H., arriving at Ford Island on 12 July. Unloading of cargo and passengers and reloading for the return trip consumed four days and on the afternoon of 16 July, the ship departed Pearl Harbor for Alameda, California, mooring at the Naval Air Station, Alameda, on 22 July. After unloading, fifty new aircraft and three hundred naval passengers were embarked for transport to Finschafen, New Guinea.

Departing San Francisco Bay on the morning of 24 July, course was set to pass south of Hawaii. During the evening of 29 July, Moana Loa was sighted rising in the haze ninety miles to the north. No further sighting of land was made until passing abeam of Merig Island in the New Hebrides on 6 August. On 12 August, Salamaua steamed into Drager Harbor, Finschafen, new Guinea, to unload aircraft and disembark passengers at the newly constructed dock.

With a new load of dud aircraft aboard, Salamaua departed Drager Harbor on 14 August enroute San Diego, California via Espiritu Santo, anchoring in Pallikulo Harbor, New Hebrides on the afternoon of 18 August to take on fuel. Upon departure on 19 August, despatch orders were received changing destination to Alameda, California. Return was accomplished without incident and on the morning of 1 September, Salamaua made her way through a dense fog encountered off the Farallon islands and moored to the carrier pier, Naval Air Station, Alameda. Cargo aircraft were put ashore, passengers disembarked and a new cargo of aircraft was loaded on 2 September. The following day the ship got underway for San Diego, arriving on the 4th and moored to Pier "G", North Island. Unloading of cargo, bombs and ammunition was accomplished on 4 September, and on the 6th berth was shifted to U.S. Naval repair base, San Diego for scheduled availability. Availability completed on 26 September, berth was again shifted to Naval Air Station, North Island, where Composite Squadron Eighty-Seven was embarked. Twelve aircraft were also loaded for use in qualifying operations. on 30 September, Salamaua, with USS Thornton (AVD-11) as escort and plane guard, departed San Diego to engage in training exercises, returning on 7 October. On 11 October and again on 14 October, Salamaua left her berth to conduct various engine tests. On 16 October, as a unit of Task Unit 19.15.1 under tactical command of Rear Admiral C.T. Durgin, Commander Carrier Division 29, Salamaua departed San Diego enroute Pearl Harbor, in company with USS Makin Island (CVE-93), USS Lunga Point (CVE-94) and USS Bismark Sea (CVE-95), all of Carrier Division 29.

Arriving in Pearl Harbor on 23 October, Task Group 12.2 was formed, comprising carriers of Carrier Division 29 plus four destroyers, and the group departed for Eniwetok Atoll on 25 October. Upon arrival at Eniwetok on 1 November, ships were fueled. The following day, Salamaua got underway with the Task Group enroute Ulithi Atoll, arriving there on 5 November, whereupon the Task Group was dissolved.

A tropical disturbance centering in the Ulithi area delayed departure until 10 November, when, as a unit of Carrier Division 29, plus USS Hoggatt Bay (CVE-75) and an escort of four screening destroyers, SalamauaMakin Island.

Leaving Kossol Roads on the 13th, the group proceeded towards Leyte Gulf, P.I., providing air cover for troop convoys supporting seizure and occupation of Leyte and Samar until relieved on 23 November by Task Unit 77.4.6 (Rear Admiral Samile in Marcus Island.) Several enemy snoopers were sighted during the ten day period, but none could be overtaken and engaged. On 23 November, one "Betty" got through the screen, subjected the group to a strafing attack and was subsequently shot down by a ship of the transport unit convoy.

Upon being relieved on 23 November, the group departed from the operating area and proceeded toward Manus, Admiralty Islands. Enroute, on 26 November, the screening destroyer Patterson reported submarine sound contact close aboard and proceeded to attack with depth charges. The destroyer Bagley joined in the attack and search, but contact was not re-established following the attack. On the morning of 27 November, Task Group 77.4 entered Seeadler Harbor, Manus Island, and came to anchor, remaining there until 16 December. Salamaua, with Task Unit 77.4.1, comprised of Carrier Division 29 and in company with Task Unit 77.4.2, comprised of Carrier Division 28, proceeded to the Huon Gulf area off Lae, new Guinea to engage in training exercises, rendezvousing with Task Force 79 (Vice Admiral Wilkinson) and furnishing air support for practice amphibious landings of the XIV Corps, Sixth U.S. Army, embarked with that force. On 21 December, the group returned to anchorage in Seeadler Harbor to make final preparations for the forthcoming operation.

In company with Makin Island, Lunga Point, Bismark Sea, Hoggatt Bay and screening destroyers of Task Unit 77.4.1, under tactical command of Rear Admiral Durgin, Salamaua departed Seeadler Harbor on the afternoon of 27 December enroute Kossol Roads to rendezvous with Task Group 77.2 (Vice Admiral Oldendorf.) Task Unit 77.4.2 (Read Admiral Stump), consisting of Natoma Bay, Manila Bay, Steamer Bay, Savo Island, Ommaney Bay and Wake Island, joined the formation in the early evening and the group proceeded to Kossol Roads, arriving on the morning of 30 December. A conference of unit commanders and commanding officers was held aboard Vice Admiral Oldendorf's Flag, USS California, on 31 December, where final plans for the bombardment and landings at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, were discussed. on the following morning Salamaua, with Task Units 77.4.1 and 77.4.2, stood out from Kossol Roads to join up with Task Group 77.2, which had sortied independently.

Arriving off Leyte Gulf on the morning of 3 January, ships of the force were divided into two groups, a van group consisting of Task Unit 77.2.2 and Task Unit 77.4.1, and a rear group consisting of Task Unit 77.2.1 and 77.4.2. Salamaua was a part of the van group.

Transit of Surigao Straits and the Mindanao Sea was attended by numerous calls to General Quarters on reports of enemy planes snooping the formation. None closed within range of our combat air patrol until 4 January, however, when, during the afternoon as we progressed north through the Sulu Sea, one was shot down just beyond our screen. Several minutes later, one single engine enemy aircraft was sighted at one o'clock up four, closing Salamaua on opposite course. Starboard 40 and 20 mm guns opened fire as it commenced to dive, diverting its course to strike Lunga Point on Salamaua's starboard beam. Definite hits were scored on the plane's cockpit, and a moment later it crashed into the sea and exploded close aboard the Lunga Point's port quarter. This suicide "failure" was velieved to have been one of our planes, the remainder of which, two minutes later, attacked the rear group. In the course of the attack, Ommaney Bay received a suicide hit, was set on fire, later abandoned and sunk by our own forces.

5 January marked the opening of wholesale suicide attack tactics employed against our forces as we proceeded up the west coast of Luzon. Salamaua gunfire accounted for two planes during the late afternoon, but her hits failed to stop a third, which struck the Louisville 1500 yards off Salamaua's port beam.

Arriving off Lingayen on the 6th, Salamaua aircraft engaged in bombing, rocket and strafing missions, destroying or neutralizing installations in the beach areas around Lingayen and San Fernando, and providing Combat Air Patrol over both bombardment and carrier forces. 9 January was "S" Day, and with arrival of land forces, aircraft were employed in rendering direct support to these forces in effecting landing and progressing inland, until 13 January, when Salamaua was put out of action as a result of an enemy suicide hit.

At 0858, without previous indication of enemy aircraft in the vicinity, an unidentified Jap aircraft carrying a 250 kilo. bomb under each wing made an almost vertical dive on Salamaua, plunging through the flight deck between frames 130 and 136 and penetrated to the tank top. One bomb exploded in the hold and the second went through the starboard side of the ship at the waterline. As a result, machinery in the after engine room was shattered and subsequently flooding made abandonment of these spaces necessary. There was an imediate loss of power, communication and steering control. Radio and electric power were regained somewhat later, but electrical power was only intermittent.

Fire on teh flight deck was quickly brought under control with CO2 extinguishers, but the hangar deck fire assumed serious porportions, fed by gasoline saturated debris carried down from teh gallery deck bunk rooms and heaped on armed aircraft, which at the time of the hit were being made ready for a strike. The situation was further cojmplicated by absence of pressure on fire mains aft. Fire hoses were led from forward fittings, but fighting the fire and removing bombs from burning aircraft was made extremeely hazardous byu exploding ammunition and hydrostatic fuses which were on the hargar deck ready to be inserted in depth bombs for rearming the next flight.

Almost immediately upon being struck by the suicide plane, Salamaua went to General Quarters and shot down two additional suicide divers, one of which scrashed into the sea close aboard her port quarter and the second of which was disintegrated by gnfire as it approached astern.

Fires inteh engine room were smothered by steam from broken lines or flooded out and by noon the after engine room compartment and hold compartment extyending from frame 118 to frame 152 were flooded to the waterline.The main circulating pump in the after engine room could not control this flooding, due to badly shattered steam lines. pumping was undertaken using the six available submersible pumps, augmented by a large bucket brigae, but the effort proved to b of no avail and was anandoned. in the late afternoon, ,i>Salamaua retired from teh disposition with the destoryers Gridley and Ralph Talbot to rendezvous with the tug Apache and proceed to San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf.

Auxiliary sick bays were set up in the Chief Petty Officer's Quarters and in some officer's quarters to treat the ninety-three burned and injured. Several men who had been blown overboard were picked up by other ships and returned to Salamaua, but five were missing. Fourteen dead were buried at sea.

By noon of 14 January, Salamaua had joined a slow LST convoy, the destroyers had departed and Apache was alongside assisting in pumping operations. The flooded compartments, aside from the after engine room, were largely stores stowage spaces, which caused continual stoppages in pumping gear as fuel oil and salt water were being sucked from the devils chowder of dead bodies and drifting debris. The entire ship's company of officers and enlisted men worked 24 hours a day for four days clearing away the worst of the wreckage and attending the injured. By 16 January, eleven holes had been effectively plugged and the water level had been lowered to the tank tops. Removal of debris continued for several days. Kitkun Bay and the destroyer escort Leland Thomas, arriving there on 30 January.

On 2 February, Salamaua entered floating drydock in Seeadler Harbor for hull inspection below the waterline and removal of starboard screw. leaving drydock on the following day, officers and enlisted personnel of VC-77 were detached to report to Pitylu air strip. Remaining aircraft and disposable aviation gasoline were unloaded. Miscellaneous ordnance and aviation supplies were also put ashore, and on 5 February, Salamaua departed Manus in company with Kitkun Bay and destroyer escort Witter enroute Pearl Harbor, arriving on 17 February. Additional miscellaneous ammunition was transferred to the Naval Air Station, Oahu, and on 19 February Salamaua was once more underway, enroute San Francisco.

Standing in to San Francisco Bay on the afternoon of 26 February, Salamaua anchored off Hunters Point to transfer remaining ammunition and purge the gasoline system preparatory to yard overhaul. On 3 March, she moored to berth in Bethlehem Steel Company yards for repair of battle damage. Repairs were halted on 11 March when it became necessary to take Salamaua in to Naval Air Station, Alameda for further flushing and steaming of her gasoline system. The operation consumed two days, and on 14 March, she returned again to Bethlehem Steel Company yards for continuation of repairs. With yard work completed, Salamaua got underway for harbor trials on 16 April, mooring to the Naval Air Station, Alameda carrier pier the following day. Aircraft and stores were loaded for transport and aviation gasoline and fuel taken aboard at Alameda, and on 21 April Salamaua departed San Francisco Bay, enroute Pearl Harbor, arriving there on 27 April.

At Pearl Harbor Composite Squadron Seventy came on board for duty and upon completion of loading of stores and ammunition, Salamaua got underway with an escort of three destroyer escorts to participate in day and night flight operations and anti-submarine warfare training exercises with the submarine Spearfish. Returning to Pearl Harbor on 4 May, new squadron aircraft were embarked plus an additional 42 aircraft for transport, and on 10 May Salamaua got underway for Apra Harbor, Guam.

Cargo aircraft were unloaded upon arrival at Guam on 20 May, where orders were subsequently received to proceed and join Task Group 52.1.1 off Okinawa. Departing Apra Harbor on 23 May, rendezvous with Task Group 52.1.1 was effected three days later. Comprising the group were the carriers Makin Island, Nahenta Bay, Hoggatt Bay, Shamrock Bay, Natoma Bay, Sergeant Bay, Wake Island, Gilbert Islands, Tulagi and Salamaua, together with escort vessels. On the following day, units of the Fifth Fleet were re-assigned to the Third Fleet, and the group designation was changed to 32.1.1. Commander Task Group and Officer in Tactical Command was Rear Admiral C.T. Durgin, Commander Escort Carrier Force.

Salamaua remained with the group until 3 June, steaming off Okinawa and furnishing direct air support to troops engaged in seizure and occupation of that island. Ordered to report to Task Group 30.8, Third Fleet's Logistic Support Group, Salamaua was detached from Task Group 32.1.1 on 3 June, effecting rendezvous with Task Group 30.8 on the following morning. heavy weather was settling over the area, and indications pointed to the approach of a typhoon. At the time, Task Force 38 was fueling from oilers of Task Group 30.8 and Salamaua aircraft were furnishing Combat Air Patrol and anti-submarine patrol over the operations. By noon it became necessary to suspend fueling and secure flight operations, and course was set to clear the path of the storm. Meanwhile, all aircraft which could be accommodated on the hangar deck were brought below and secured, and those remaining topside were firmly anchored behind palisades erected forward on the flight deck. By later afternoon, the sea was running extremely high and wind from the east southeast had increased to gale force. Shortly after midnight it was apparent that efforts to escape the typhoon had failed. Seas had become mountainous and winds had assumed hurricane force by 0330. Maintaining station in a disposition of some forty ships at intervals of 2,000 yards had become impossible as various units intermittently reported loss of steering control.

At 0335, Salamaua lost steering control and fell off into the trough of phenomenal seas which broke green water over the flight deck and rose in height above the bridge structure. Her forward starboard lookout platform, gallery walkway, No. 1 40 mm. mount and airplane handling boom were carried away by the seas. Flight deck and catapult supporting members and outboard gallery decks and bulkheads were ruptured as the force of the seas twisted and lifted the leading edge of the flight deck into angular upswept lines. In addition to the ship's damage, during the eternal interval of ten minutes while steerageway was being regained, one torpedo plane on the flight deck parted all cables and ran amok, killing one man and wrecking all other aircraft secured topside. Salamaua's flight deck and catapult were rendered inoperative, and on 6 June, in company with the damaged carriers Attu, Windham Bay and Bougainville, she proceeded to Apra Harbor, Guam, arriving there on 10 June to undergo repairs.

Repair of storm damage and loading of stores was completed on 18 July, and Salamaua departed Guam enroute Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, arriving there on the following afternoon. On 21 July, orders were received to form a hunter-killer group and proceed to operate along Marianas-Okinawa convoy lanes. Accordingly, on 22 July as Task Group 94.17, Salamaua departed with escorts Butler and O'Flaherty and proceeded to operating area. The mission was handicapped by extremely unfavorable weather and lack of sufficient destroyer escorts to properly prosecute established contacts, and by 31 July the Task Group had been driven some 300 miles south of the critical submarine area by a typhoon forming to the north. Meanwhile, sinking of the destroyer Underhill and later the cruiser Indianapolis off the Philippines gave evidence of increased enemy submarine activity in those waters. On 31 July, Salamaua, with four escorts of Destroyer Escort Division Seventy, which had relieved Butler and O'Flaherty on the 30th, proceeded to Leyte to make preparations for antisubmarine patrol duty along Leyte-Okinawa routes.

Reporting to Commander Seventh Fleet upon arrival at Leyte on 5 August, fuel and stores were taken aboard. At a brief ceremony on the flight deck, Captain J.I. Taylor, Jr. read his orders to report to Chief of Naval Operations, and Captain J.H. Griffin assumed command of Salamaua. On the following afternoon, Salamaua, with destroyer escorts Seiverling, Moore, Campbell, and Goss of Destroyer Escort Division Seventy, as Task Group 75.19, got underway for antisubmarine warfare operations off northeast Luzon, P.I. Later joined by Task Group 75.18, comprising destroyer escorts Rombach, Munro, Rolf and Hutchins, coordinated operations were conducted under tactical command of Commander Task Group 75.19 until units of Task Group 75.19 were ordered on 24 August to report to Commander Third Fleet. Accomplishments of the mission included the probable destruction of two midget submarines and the possible destruction of a third by Hutchins on 9 August, and the blowing up and sinking of floating mines.

In compliance with Commander Third Fleet orders, Salamaua departed the operating area on 24 August enroute Leyte to fuel and provision preparatory to rendezvous with Task Group 33.1. Arriving in Leyte on 25 August, Salamaua and escorts made ready for sea and departed on the 27th to overtake and provide air cover for Task Group 33.1 transporting the initial echelon of our forces, the U.S. Eighth Army, to Tokyo Bay. As Task Group 32.1, Salamaua joined Task Group 33.1 on 29 August and proceeded to furnish anti-submarine patrol and Combat Air Patrol to the objective. Arriving at the outer approach to Tokyo Bay on the morning of 2 September, Salamaua aircraft flew special photographic missions covering the landing of our forces over the Yokohama docks during signing of formal Japanese surrender terms aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey