Aboard the Cruiser Denver at Okinawa

By Boomer, John | Sea Classics, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Aboard the Cruiser Denver at Okinawa


Boomer, John, Sea Classics


The end of hostilities with Japan brought one of the bloodiest campaignsofthe war to a halt

A few words about the Okinawa campaign: The action was desired for airfields it could provide in the Air War on Japan. The Japanese defenders numbered approximately 115,000. The invading force consisted of 1600 Allied ships bringing 190,000 American assault troops. Because planning for the Okinawa operation was largely completed before heavy kamikaze raids developed in the Philippine campaign, the Fifth Fleet commanders had not anticipated large-scale Japanese suicide attacks at Okinawa. The island was secured on 21 June 1945. Captured were 7400, killed were 107,000 Japanese soldiers and Okinawa civilians; and nearly 12,000 Americans had died. Thirty-six US Naval vessels were sunk and 368 Allied damaged vessels by the kamikazes.

My ship, USS Denver (CL-58), a light cruiser of 612ft, entered Buckner Bay, Okinawa (named after Army Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, who died 18 June 1945, when five Japanese shells struck his command post). We had returned from Balikpapan, Borneo, assisting in landings of Australian, Dutch, and American troops. Buckner Bay was an assembly point, the closest deepwater port available (about 340-mi from Japan) for the US Navy, and upon the direction of General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur, we were ordered to prepare for the invasion of Honshu Island, the main island of Japan.

As a result, the ship's company was overhauling and reconditioning all equipment preparatory to this coming action. There was no fear, and we were "gung ho" to go and get it over with. Actually, serving on a United States Man-of-War during WWII was 95% waiting, repairing, painting, cleaning, and boredom - and 5% action. There was no fear, as men 18-30 never believed they were going to die. Death on a ship comes in the "blink of an eye lid."

There was one small problem, though. Due to the short distance to Japanese airfields (340-mi), each evening Japanese torpedo planes came in ("Washing Machine Charlies" we called them) keeping everyone up at "General Quarters" most of the night and they frequently hit and disabled a ship. For instance, on 12 August 1945, at 2045 hours, a "cease fire" was announced by Adm. Halsey, a lone Japanese torpedo plane dropped a Long Lance torpedo which struck the battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB38) killing 20 men, wounding many more, including V/Adm. Oldendorf who had just transferred his flag from USS Tennessee (BB-43).

At 1100 hours on 15 August 1945, Adm. William "Bull" Halsey ordered the Navy to "cease all offensive operations against Japan." USS Missouri sounded its horn for one full minute!

Prior to the incident with the USS Pennsylvania, the SOPA (Senior Officer Present Afloat) had ordered all ships, cruisers, and above, with their destroyer escorts should get underway, depart the harbor and spend the night at sea, where they could better defend themselves against air attack, and the crews and officers could get a night's sleep.

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