Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 31, 1944: A little World War II History

USS England
USS England (DE-635), a Buckley-class destroyer escort of the United States Navy, was named in honor of Ensign John C. England (1920–1941), who was killed in action aboard the battleship Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Her sinking of six Japanese submarines in twelve days is a feat unparalleled in the history of antisubmarine warfare.

England was launched on 26 September 1943 at the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation shipyard in San Francisco, California, sponsored by Mrs. H. B. England, mother of Ensign England; and commissioned on 10 December 1943, with Commander W. B. Pendleton in command.

England arrived at Espiritu Santo on 12 March 1944 from San Francisco, Pearl Harbor, Funafuti, and Guadalcanal. She took up escort duty between Espiritu Santo and Guadalcanal, occasionally sailing to Nouméa, and once to the Marshalls.

United States Pacific Fleet Military intelligence decoded a 13 May 1944 message from Japanese submarine I-16 including a scheduled delivery of rice for Japanese troops at Buin on the southern tip of Bougainville Island. England, George (DE-697) and Raby (DE-698) were ordered to intercept I-16. England detected I-16 during calm, sunny weather on the early afternoon of 18 May 1944. The first hedgehog attack at 1341 was a miss. A second hedgehog attack scored one hit at a depth of 130 feet (40 m). A third hedgehog attack at 1410 missed because depth was assumed to be 200 feet (61 m) rather than the 325 feet (99 m) revealed by the fathometer following the attack. I-16 outmaneuvered a fourth hedgehog attack. The fifth hedgehog attack at 1433 scored four to six detonations and was followed by a large underwater explosion which lifted Englands fantail and knocked men off their feet. Debris began floating to the surface twenty minutes later. The following day, a three by six-mile (5 by 10-kilometer) oil slick marked the location on the calm surface of the Pacific.

A 20 May 1944 message was decoded revealing Japanese plans for a submarine trap north of the Admiralty Islands to intercept an anticipated movement of United States aircraft carriers. RO-104, RO-105, RO-106, RO-108, RO-109, RO-112, and RO-116 of the Japanese seventh submarine squadron formed a patrol line across a route Admiral Halsey had used twice before. George detected RO-106 on radar at 0350 on 22 May, saw the submarine dive when located by searchlight, and missed with a hedgehog attack at 0415. England regained contact at 0425, missed with one hedgehog attack, and scored at least three detonations on a second attack at 0501. A large underwater explosion was detected as England prepared to conduct a third attack, and a heavy oil slick with debris was evident after sunrise.

The three destroyer escorts formed a search line with a scouting interval of 16,000 yards during hours of darkness. Raby detected RO-104 on radar at 0600 on 23 May, made sonar contact at 0610, and missed with four hedgehog attacks beginning at 0617. George missed with a hedgehog attack at 0717. George then missed with four more hedgehog attacks between 0730 and 0810. England then missed with a first hedgehog attack and scored an estimated ten or twelve detonations on a second hedgehog attack at 0834. The hits were followed by noises of the submarine breaking up and a large underwater explosion three minutes later. Debris and oil appeared on the surface at 1045.

George detected RO-116 on radar at 0120 24 May. England made sonar contact at 0150, and scored three to five detonations on the first hedgehog attack at 0214. Breaking-up noises were not followed by the major explosions noted on earlier sinkings. A small quantity of oil and debris was evident after sunrise at 0702 and the oil slick had expanded to cover several square miles the following day.

A hunter-killer group consisting of the escort carrier Hoggatt Bay (CVE-75) with destroyers Hazelwood (DD-531), Heermann (DD-532), Hoel (DD-533), and McCord (DD-534) arrived on 26 May so the three destroyer escorts could leave to refuel and rearm. The destroyer escorts maintained their search formation en route to Manus. Raby detected RO-108 on radar at 2303 26 May. England made radar contact at 2304, sonar contact at 2318, and scored four to six detonations with the first hedgehog attack. There was no major explosion following the breaking-up noises, but a fountain of oil was observed rising to the surface at dawn.

The three destroyer escorts reached Manus at 1500 on 27 May. After taking on fuel, provisions, and ammunition, they sailed at 1800 28 May with Spangler (DE-696) to rejoin the search. Hazelwood detected RO-105 on RADAR at 0156 on 30 May and missed with a depth charge attack. George and Raby joined Hazelwood and made sixteen hedgehog and depth charge attacks over a period of 25 hours. RO-105 came up for air at 0310 on 31 May and was immediately detected by George and Raby. RO-105 stayed directly between the two destroyer escorts for five minutes before submerging so neither Raby nor George could fire without endangering the other. Sequential hedgehog attacks were then made by Raby, George, Raby, and Spangler. All missed. Division Commander Hains then radioed, "Oh, hell. Go ahead, England." England then scored six to ten detonations in a hedgehog attack at 0736. A major explosion followed at 0741 and a fountain of oil and debris appeared on the surface.

This anti-submarine warfare performance was never matched in World War II, and won for England a Presidential Unit Citation, and the assurance from the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral E. J. King, "There'll always be an England in the United States Navy." His pledge was fulfilled on 6 October 1960, when DLG-22 was assigned the name England.

Live Long and Prosper....

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