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Kamikaze Destroyer: USS Hugh W. Hadley (DD774)
by Jeffrey R. Veesenmeyer
Merriam Press, 2014, 320 pages

In a mass kamikaze attack on May 11, 1945, the destroyer Hugh W. Hadley (DD-774) shot down 23 planes including three that crashed into the ship at Radar Picket Station #15 to the northwest of Okinawa. The number of planes shot down by Hadley's gunners was a naval record for a ship in a single action. The kamikaze attacks over a period of one hour and 40 minutes resulted in 30 deaths and 121 wounded among the Hadley crew. The destroyer Robley D. Evans (DD-552), which fought with Hadley at the same picket station, shot down another 19 Japanese aircraft during the mass kamikaze attack.

Louis Veesenmeyer, the great uncle of this book's author, was killed in action during the kamikaze attacks on Hadley. He was one of nine men on a 40mm gun mount when a bomb dropped by a kamikaze plane made a direct hit. All nine died as a result of the crash described in the following excerpt (p. 136):

As the kamikaze with 40mm shells streaking into it dove towards the ship's deck, he released a small bomb. The bomb made a direct hit on the portside 40mm (44 mount) and the plane crashed into the deck just aft of the quad 40mm (43 mount) on the starboard side. When the bomb hit the base of the 44 mount, the entire gun just disappeared out to sea. Nothing was left of the mount or most of the men manning it. The plane penetrated the after deck house of the starboard quad 40mm and destroyed the officer quarters below. Flaming gasoline sprayed crewmen on nearby guns. Fires raged and magazines were exploding sending shrapnel through any man who was in the way.

The photograph below shows the hole left where the quad 44 gun mount had been located before the bomb exploded.

This history of the destroyer Hugh W. Hadley includes accounts from many survivors of the kamikaze attacks that nearly sank the ship on May 11, 1945. The book has 20 chapters that tell the ship's story in chronological order, about 80 pages of photos, and nine appendices that include the Captain's Action Report, Presidential Unit Citation, and a poem entitled "The Mighty Hadley" that was written in 1945 by a crewman. The author, Jeffrey Veesenmeyer, did thorough research for this history as evidenced by the number of personal interviews with survivors and three pages of sources in the bibliography. Although accounts of the battle of destroyers Hadley and Evans against the mass kamikaze attack have been included in many other histories, Kamikaze Destroyer published in 2014 is the first book about the destroyer Hadley, which provides a wider distribution of the moving personal stories of Hadley's crewmen. Michael Staton wrote a similar book entitled The Fighting Bob: A Wartime History of the USS Robley D. Evans (DD-552) in 2003, but this history has few personal accounts, although the author talked with many surviving crewmen.

The media had great interest in Hadley's epic fight against kamikaze attackers. "Your Navy Program" featured Hadley in its NBC radio broadcast on May 20, 1945. Captain Mullaney responded to an interviewer's question about what was the final climax of the battle (p. 187):

For us the climax came about nine twenty that morning when ten kamikazes ganged up on us at once. Four came in on the port bow, four on the starboard and two from the stern. They figured they had us this time. Well, we're still here and the Japs aren't. All ten planes were destroyed.

A Ripley's "Believe It or Not" cartoon published in December 1945 included Lt. Ned E. Wheldon, navigator on Hadley. The cartoon explained that he received 900 four-leaf clovers from his mother in Hollywood, Calif., and immediately his ship shot down 23 Japanese kamikazes in a single action. However, no mention was made that he was wounded in action and that 30 Hadley crewmen lost their lives along with 121 men wounded.


The quad 44 gun mount was hit dead center
with a small bomb. The entire mount was blown
out to sea. The bent base ring is all that was left.

The book butchers some Japanese names. For example, Japan's southernmost island of Kyushu gets printed as Kyusha and Kyushi. Another main Japanese island of Shikoku becomes Shikodu. Certain historical details presented for the Japanese side are incorrect. The author writes, "Onishi convinced his superiors that he could destroy the U.S. armada at Okinawa and turn the tide of the war. He was given permission to form a volunteer force. He named it Divine Wind... kamikaze" (p. 67). Although Vice Admiral Onishi formed the first kamikaze units, he did this in the Philippines, not Okinawa, when the Americans invaded the country to take it back from the Japanese. By the time of the Battle of Okinawa, Vice Admiral Ugaki, not Onishi, had command of the Kamikaze Special Attack Forces. The book states that five destroyers sank with the battleship Yamato on her suicide mission toward Okinawa, but the actual number was four.

Hadley received the Presidential Unit Citation for the heroism of her crew as described below:

THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
Washington

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the PRESIDENTIAL UNIT CITATION to the

UNITED STATES SHIP HUGH W. HADLEY

for service as set forth in the following

CITATION: 

“For extraordinary heroism in action as Fighter Direction Ship on Radar Picket Station Number 15 during an attack by approximately 100 enemy Japanese planes, forty miles northwest of the Okinawa Transport Area, May 11, 1945. Fighting valiantly against waves of hostile suicide and dive-bombing planes plunging toward her from all directions, the U.S.S. HUGH W. HADLEY sent up relentless barrages of antiaircraft fire during one of the most furious air-sea battles of the war. Repeatedly finding her targets, she destroyed twenty enemy planes, skillfully directed her Combat Air Patrol in shooting down at least forty others and, by her vigilance and superb battle readiness, avoided damage to herself until subjected to a coordinated attack by ten Japanese planes. Assisting in the destruction of all ten of these, she was crashed by one bomb and three suicide planes with devastating effect. With all engineering spaces flooded and with a fire raging amidships, the gallant officers and men of the HUGH W. HADLEY fought desperately against almost insurmountable odds and, by their indomitable determination, fortitude and skill, brought the damage under control, enabling their ship to be towed to port and saved. Her brilliant performance in this action reflects the highest credit upon the HUGH W. HADLEY and the United States Naval Service.”

For the President,
JAMES FORRESTAL
Secretary of the Navy

Hadley had a short but distinguished battle history after her commissioning on November 25, 1944. The plaque shown below from the National Museum of the Pacific War summarizes the ship's history and accomplishments. Kamikaze Destroyer focuses on Hadley's history and the stories from survivors of the mass kamikaze attack rather than providing a history of the overall course of the Pacific War. The ship's spirit is reflected by the Captain's orders to raise four U.S. flags after the kamikaze strikes ended. He yelled in defiance of the Japanese, "If this ship is going down, she's going with all her flags flying" (p. 142).


Hugh W. Hadley Memorial Plaque at
National Museum of the Pacific War
(Fredericksburg, Texas)

The book's Introduction and Chapter 1 describes the 19th Hadley Reunion in 2012 and a visit by 12 former crewmen to the display of Hadley's Combat Information Center (CIC) at the National Museum of the Pacific War (see photograph below). The display room includes Hadley's original scoreboard of 25 Japanese flags that represent the 23 Japanese planes shot down during the kamikaze attack on May 11, 1945, and two other planes gunned down prior to that date.


Display of Hadley's Combat Information Center (CIC)
at National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas