The Little Giants: U.S. Escort Carriers Against Japan
by William T. Y'Blood
Naval Institute Press, 1987, 468 pages
American escort aircraft carriers (designated as CVEs) had significant roles
in the Pacific War when they escorted convoys, provided air support for invasion
forces, ferried men and planes, delivered replacement aircraft and pilots to the
fast carriers (designated as CVs), and worked as troop transports. During
operations in the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, escort carriers and pilots of their aircraft had many encounters with Japanese kamikaze planes.
There were 86 escort carriers that were built, although some did not get
finished until after the war's end. CVEs also participated in the European
Theater of World War II, which is covered in William T. Y'Blood's 1983 book
Hunter-Killer: U.S. Escort Carriers in the Battle of the Atlantic. He served
as a historian for the U.S. Air Force and authored several other books.
Japanese kamikaze attacks sank three escort carriers: St. Lo (CVE–63)
on October 25, 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf with 114 men killed ;
Ommaney Bay (CVE-79) on January 4, 1945, in the Sulu Sea with 95 men
killed; and Bismarck Sea (CVE-95) on February 21, 1945, during the Battle
of Iwo Jima with 318 men killed. St. Lo was the first of 47 ships that
were sunk by Japanese kamikaze aircraft . A member
of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps Shikishima Squadron, possibly Squadron
Commander Lieutenant Yukio Seki, sank the escort carrier St. Lo. The book
contains two pages of very helpful detail drawings for each of these three
escort carriers that show where the aircraft and bombs hit and the damage that
was caused. The drawings contain explanatory notes to assist in understanding
what exactly happened after the kamikaze planes crashed into the ships. Many
other CVEs got hit by kamikaze aircraft starting in October 1944. For example,
Rear Admiral George Henderson had the following comment on the damage suffered
by CVEs during the Philippines Campaign from October 1944 to January 1945 (p.
Consideration of a few CVE figures presents a rather surprising picture.
In approximately eleven weeks, twenty-eight ships of the CVE class, Kaiser
and Sangamon types, have been employed in the operations at Leyte and
Lingayen. Of this number thirteen have been sunk or damaged by enemy action,
and one damaged by a bomb explosion on deck in connection with an arrested
landing. Three ships have been sunk—the remaining eleven have been damaged
to an extent necessitating from one to six months' absence for repairs. This
appears to be a record for punishment absorption that has never been
achieved by any other type over such a short period. The major amount of
damage by far has been accomplished by suicide dives.
This exhaustive history of CVEs during the Pacific War is presented
chronologically starting in August 1942 with the Solomon Islands Campaign. Inside
the front and back covers there is a useful map of the locations of the thirteen
different CVE operations in the Pacific. The history sometimes can be difficult
to follow due to the sheer number of CVEs included in the book's scope, the
far-flung geographical reach of the operations, and the number of technical
terms. The book's front has a four-page glossary with many of these terms.
Official records such as action reports and war diaries constitute the
foundation for the history, but the author also exchanged correspondence or
interviewed over 30 CVE veterans, which provided some of the personal vignettes
sprinkled throughout the book. Y'Blood covers thoroughly the battle action of
the air squadrons assigned to CVEs including the kamikaze planes that they shot
down before their targets could be reached.
The author includes two contrasting assessments of the effectiveness of
kamikaze attacks. Paddy Kane, Commanding Officer of Petrof Bay (CVE-80),
wrote the following evaluation after the kamikaze aircraft attack on October 25,
1944, sank St. Lo and damaged five other CVEs, although his ship narrowly
escaped with a Zero fighter that crashed into the sea after being shot down by
antiaircraft fire (p. 209):
- A kamikaze attack is a stupid way to attack because it has less
chance of getting home than other types of bombing. [Italics in
- The reason it has less chance is that the plane should be shot down
between 2,000 and 500 feet when the plane is quite large in the sights
and the density of shot required to bring it down decreases with
- Keep firing at it until it breaks up, blows up, or crashes. The best
chance of stopping it is when it looks like a freight car in your
- It actually does less damage as a rule than a regularly dropped bomb
that reaches the vitals of the ship. It is more spectacular but has less
- It is like the "bayonet charge" of infantry and like enemy infantry
it is most surely stopped at close quarters, so keep shooting!
[Italics in original.]
Y'Blood comments on the above assessment, "Only time would show terribly wrong Captain Kane's
observations were" (p. 210).
The executive officer of Kitkun Bay (CVE-71) wrote the following
opposing assessment of the effectiveness of kamikaze attacks after his ship got
hit on January 8, 1945, by a kamikaze attack that killed 17 and wounded 36 (pp.
It has been stated that the suicide attack is the most stupid form of
attack because it has the least chance of getting in. This idea does not
sell well to people who know better from bitter experience. This form of
attack has the following very obvious advantages:
- It is an aerial torpedo with human control all the way in,
which enables it to pick the most favorable target and maneuver to the
- It offers the biggest return for the least investment.
- A one-way trip doubles the range of the plane.
- Pilot training probably requires but a fraction of the
- One attacking plane ties up a prohibitive number of
defending CAP [Combat Air Patrol] planes.
- It has terrifying psychological value. [Italics in
This was the second time that Kitkun Bay had been hit by a kamikaze
plane. The first hit was a glancing blow that killed 1 and wounded 16 on October
Bismarck Sea explodes in kamikaze attack on February 21, 1945
(as seen from escort carrier Saginaw Bay)
1. The number of men killed on each of the three CVEs sunk by kamikaze aircraft comes from
The Little Giants. Other sources may have different numbers.
See 47 Ships Sunk by Kamikaze