THE TIN CAN PICKET LINE vs. THE KAMIKAZE
Bob McMahon USS OKLAHOMA
The Invasion of Okinawa, only 350 miles from the Japanese mainland, brought about a new threat to the U S Navy: the Kamikaze Airplanes. They were conceived by the Japanese to stop the Invasion of Okinawa by destroying the invasion fleet and cut off supplies to the troops on shore.
These planes carried only enough fuel to reach the fleet protecting the invasion forces. They were flying bombs, guided by a fanatic pilot determined to crash his plane into a ship. He believed this would insure his immortality and prevent the humility of a Japanese defeat. They were determined to keep our fleet away from their homeland.
This did indeed give Admiral Halsey and other fleet commanders one of their greatest concerns. The 2100 ton Destroyers, were formed in a half circle to the north, about 40 to 70 miles out, to establish an early warning, Radar Picket line. They were deployed in four ship formations and could pick up incoming enemy Kamikazes up to 150 miles north of Okinawa. They became the pigeons, or the first ships of the fleet to be reached by the attacking Kamikazes; and often the fighter planes didn't arrive to intercept and shoot them down before they reached the Destroyers on the picket line.
This had to work, as it was the only option the Navy had if we were to continue successfully to Japan. Captain Moosebrugger was put in charge of the Destroyer Squadron by Admiral Halsey. Code name, "Iceberg", was assigned to the overall operation and on March 25, 1945, never in the history of modern Naval Warfare, had so many ships gathered in one place for the attack.
On April 6,1945, the Kamikaze came out in force-determined to sink our ships that were waiting at their battle stations on full alert. They came like a swarm of locust, at all angles and attitudes. The Destroyers on the Radar Picket Line were the first to be subjected to the onslaught.
Sixteen American ships were hit by the Kamikazes the first day of the invasion. In the predawn darkness of the second day, April 7, 1945, Battleships, Carriers and Cruisers, with their screening Destroyers, of Task Group 54, headed north to intercept the largest suicide weapon of all: The Japanese Fleet.
The Japanese Fleet coming to attack comprised of ten ships: the mighty battleship Yamato, 1 cruiser and 8 destroyers. They wanted to stop the troops now landing on Okinawa, after thirty hours of intense bombardment by the our Naval forces.
The Dreadnought, Yamato, one Heavy Cruiser and one Destroyer were sunk in the initial engagement, two additional Destroyers were sunk, fleeing toward Japan. Five Japanese Destroyers managed to limp back to Sasibo,ending their threat to the US Fleet.
The Destroyer USS Sterett, DD407, was attacked by 5 enemy aircraft, April 10th, 1945. The first two enemy planes were shot down. The third Kamikaze, estimated to be carrying about 2000 pounds of explosive, crashed into the starboard side, at the waterline of the Sterett, causing fires, loss of power, communications and steering: She still fought back with everything they had and was given credit for shooting down 4 enemy planes that day.
Despite the Japanese desperate effort, their missions failed to destroy the invading ships around Okinawa. The Radar Pickets once again saved the Main Battle Force and protected the US Capital Ships. Those on Picket Stations forged new and shining traditions of the heroic devotion, in the highest traditions of the US Navy, above and beyond the call of duty.
Our 2100 ton Destroyers made their contribution in blood, lost ships and men. Never in the history of the US Navy were so many men sacrificed to save our Capitol Ships from the Kamikazes. The Japanese Homeland would later feel the results of our Navy.
I was an eye witness to the death and destruction taking place around Okinawa during this period. I served on the USS Wedderburn, DD 684, and the USS Cushing, DD797: both Destroyers were 2100 tons and both ships were in DESRON 58, assigned to the RADAR PICKET LINE.
"It was an important time in the History of the United States!"
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