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The Emmons Saga: A History of the USS Emmons (DD457-DMS22)
by Edward Baxter Billingsley
iUniverse, 2005, revised edition, originally published in 1989, 438 pages

On April 6, 1945, five kamikaze aircraft hit the high-speed minesweeper USS Emmons (DMS-22) in quick succession. The surviving crewmen soon abandoned the seriously damaged ship, and Emmons was intentionally sunk by another high-speed minesweeper in the early morning hours of April 7, 1945, since the ship had uncontrolled fires and was drifting toward enemy-held territory. Edward Baxter Billingsley, author of The Emmons Saga, served as the ship's third commanding officer from July 1943 to November 1944 and previously had served as Engineering Officer and Executive Officer since the commissioning of the destroyer in December 1941 (designated DD-457 at that time), two days prior to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. This book presents an extremely well-researched history of Emmons' entire career. However, other than some individual accounts of the kamikaze attack and its aftermath, the narrative generally lacks personal stories to make the crew come alive.

Billingsley spent eight years performing research for this thorough history. The primary sources included ship's logs, war diaries, and action reports. He also utilized recordings of survivors' memories taped at the October 1982 reunion of the Emmons Association and written accounts of the kamikaze attack prepared by surviving crewmen within four days after the sinking. The book includes 25 pages of personal accounts of the kamikaze attack from these reports, but they lose some of their impact as Billingsley has converted them from first to third person accounts. The Emmons Association privately published Billingsley's history in 1989. This subsequent edition published in 2005 includes two short additional chapters, one about the 2001 discovery of the Emmons wreck by divers and another about the special bond of Emmons' survivors and their reunion meetings.

The Emmons Saga chronologically covers the complete history of the destroyer (converted to a high-speed minesweeper in November and December 1944) from her commissioning to her sinking. The book lacks an index to quickly locate specific references and maps to follow the ship's numerous movements to relatively obscure places in both the Atlantic and Pacific. A 12-page Employment Schedule at the back of the book summarizes Emmons' actions during the war. The book has 25 photos that effectively supplement the narrative, but most are not that clear. The cover has a fine painting by Dwight Shepler, Navy Combat Artist aboard Emmons during the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy. The painting on the cover is entitled "Target of Opportunity," which shows Emmons firing her guns at German gun emplacements on top of rugged cliffs to the east of Omaha beach.

After Emmons' commissioning and fitting out, the destroyer's shakedown cruise took her to South America for diplomatic reasons. Afterward, while Emmons served in the Atlantic and European theaters, she suffered no casualties and participated directly in few battles, which makes the first 13 chapters somewhat slow reading in places with many pages describing rather uninteresting patrol and escort missions. The tension increases with Emmons' participation in the Normandy landings in June 1944 and the invasion of southern France in August 1944, but even these events rarely put the ship in real danger. In late 1944, Emmons was one of 24 destroyers no longer needed in the Atlantic that the Navy decided to convert to high-speed minesweepers for use in the Pacific War. The conversion took six weeks. The new ship, designated DMS-22, still had the primary characteristics of a destroyer but with fewer guns and depth charges, and minesweeping equipment had been added to the stern.

After minesweeping training, Emmons went by way of Ulithi to the waters around Okinawa in preparation for the planned invasion on April 1, 1945. Early in the morning of March 24, Emmons and other destroyer minesweepers began sweeping assigned areas south and southwest of Okinawa. On April 6, the day of Japan's first and largest of ten mass kamikaze attacks called Kikusui (Floating Chrysanthemum), Emmons and her sister ship Rodman were assigned northwest of Okinawa to provide gunfire support for AM class minesweeper units. At 1532, three kamikaze planes attacked Rodman, with one crashing into the forecastle starting huge fires and another one hitting close aboard to starboard with a bomb rupturing the hull and causing flooding in several compartments. Emmons started to circle Rodman to provide fire support to the seriously damaged ship with an estimated 50 to 75 enemy aircraft heading their way. Combat Air Patrol (CAP) destroyed many Japanese planes, and Emmons shot down six. Another four planes crashed close aboard without causing serious damage. Finally, a kamikaze succeeded in crashing into Emmons at 1732, and four more kamikaze aircraft hit the ship within two minutes killing 60 and wounding 77 [1]. At about the same time, another suicide aircraft hit the damaged Rodman, which suffered casualties of 16 dead and 20 wounded [2] from a total of three kamikaze aircraft hits. About 1800, the decision was made aboard Emmons to abandon ship, and the drifting ship with uncontrolled files was sunk by gunfire from the high-speed minesweeper Ellyson (DMS-19) in the early morning of April 7, 1945.

Several officers and crewmen from Emmons received individual recognition for outstanding performance of duty on April 6, 1945, with awards of one Navy Cross, four Silver Stars, and eight Bronze Stars. All personnel serving on Emmons at the time of the sinking received a Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon from the Secretary of the Navy. The commendation reads as follows:

For outstanding heroism in action while attached to Mine Squadron TWENTY, operating under Commander Mine Force, Pacific Fleet, from March 24 to 31; and thereafter under the operational control of Commander Transport Screen, from April 1 to 6, 1945, during operations for the seizure of enemy-held Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands. Although lightly armed and highly vulnerable while operating in dangerous mined waters, the U.S.S. EMMONS rendered heroic service in minesweeping, fire support, radar picket, anti-suicide boat, antisubmarine and antiaircraft screen missions. A natural and frequent target for heavy Japanese aerial attack, she was constantly vigilant and ready for battle, fighting her guns valiantly against a group of Japanese suicide planes striking in force on April 6, and downing six of the attackers before five others crashed her in rapid succession, killing or wounding many personnel and inflicting damage which necessitated her sinking. By her own aggressiveness and the courage and skill of her officers and men, the U.S.S. EMMONS achieved a record of gallantry in combat reflecting the highest credit upon herself and the United States Naval Service.

Personnel who served on Emmons' sister ship Rodman (DD-456/DMS-21), which underwent temporary repairs at Kerama Retto and then returned to the States, also received a Navy Unit Commendation for outstanding heroism during the Battle of Okinawa.


USS Emmons DD-457
during service in Atlantic

Notes

1. From Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS) entry for Emmons. Surprisingly, Billingsley never summarizes in the book the total number of casualties from the hits by five kamikaze aircraft. A photo of a plaque affixed to the Emmons wreck in 2003 lists 18 killed and 42 missing (p. 385), which agrees with the total of 60 dead in the DANFS entry.

Appendix B lists the names of officers and crew killed, missing in action and wounded in addition to showing the names of survivors. This list has 18 killed and 40 missing, which makes a total of 58 dead, two less than the DANFS entry. Appendix B lists 72 wounded, which also differs from the DANFS entry that indicates 77 wounded.

2. From DANFS entry for Rodman.

Source Cited

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center. Web site: <http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/> Other web site: <http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/> (June 26, 2010).