Boston——to Jacksonville (41,000 Miles by Sea)
by Earl Blanton
Goose Creek Publications, 1991, 228 pages
This candid WWII memoir features diaries of two crewmembers of
LCS(L)(3) 118. The diaries of gunner Earl Blanton and radarman Jim Ries
frankly describe several kamikaze attacks and their aftermath during the Battle
of Okinawa. This LCS(L)(3) (Landing Craft Support, Large, Mark 3), nicknamed
"mighty midget" due to her heavy armament, earned a Navy Unit Commendation for
her crew's shooting down four (one considered probable) kamikaze aircraft,
putting out fires aboard an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) hit by a kamikaze plane,
and providing other support to radar picket ships for a total of 50 days during
the Battle of Okinawa. Despite battle action for three
months, the crew of some 70 men all survived.
Chapter 1 gives background information on the LCS(L)(3) amphibious assault
ship. The Navy used 130 of these small fighting ships during WWII, and many of
them saw battle action at radar picket stations around Okinawa. The other ten
chapters, arranged in chronological order, tell the ship's history through the
two crewmen's diaries, the ship's official deck log, and author Earl Blanton's
comments. About half of this book describes action during the Battle of Okinawa
from April to June 1945. The author provides helpful summaries of battle action
for each month and for the entire Battle of Okinawa. The book contains many
other valuable resources such as seven pages of photos, a glossary including
meanings of acronyms, and a listing of officers and men on the ship during
different time periods. There are also several helpful illustrations (including
a layout of main deck and first platform) and a world map of the voyage of LCS(L)(3) 118 from her commissioning in Boston on November 23, 1944, to
her decommissioning in Jacksonville on June 6, 1946.
On the first day of the Battle of Okinawa (April 1, 1945), a kamikaze plane
crashed into the port side of LST 884. Fires broke out both topside and
below deck, so about 300 men abandoned the ship loaded with fuel and ammunition
after failing to extinguish the blaze with the ship's limited water supply.
LCS 118 soon arrived and used fire hoses to direct water onto LST 884's
deck after a couple of other ships had difficulty in approaching the burning
ship due to high swells. LCS 118 then went alongside the LST, and several
crewmembers boarded with fire fighting equipment. With later assistance from
three other LCS(L)(3)s and a destroyer, the fires were brought under control in
the midst of exploding ammunition. The boarding party found seven marines below
deck who had been burned to death.
A little after 8 a.m. on May 4, 1945, 18 or 20 planes (according to Ries'
diary) attacked Radar Picket Station 12, where the destroyer Luce
(DD-522), LSM(R) (Landing Ship Medium, Rocket) 190, and three
LCS(L)(3)s including the 118 were on patrol. One attacking plane, despite
being hit by LCS 118 gunners, crashed amidships into Luce, which sank in less
than ten minutes. LCS 118's forward guns shot down an attacking Betty
bomber, which crashed into the water about 100 yards ahead of the ship. LCS
118 picked up 114 Luce survivors from the thick oil slick on the water, and
LCS 81 picked up another 47 survivors. Another kamikaze plane hit
LSM(R) 190, which sank about 45 minutes later.
At about 2 a.m. on June 3, 1945, an LCS(L)(3) 118 gunner from New
Zealand named "Limey" Jones single-handedly shot down a Japanese aircraft with
the forward port 20mm gun when the plane passed overhead the LCS(L)(3) 118, after
other ships at Radar Picket Station 16A had failed to bring the aircraft down.
In the afternoon of June 6, the guns of LCS 118 opened fire on a kamikaze
plane that suddenly dove from the clouds, and it crashed in flames about 200
feet from the destroyer Cowell (DD-547), whose gunners were occupied firing at
another Japanese plane directly ahead.
LCS 114 and LCS 118 moored
at Yokosuka after end of war
The diaries of the two crewmen include blunt opinions about Japanese kamikaze
pilots, called "suicide pilots" in Ries' diary. Blanton recorded the following on
April 9, 1945, on the day he saw LCS 87, which had picked up survivors
from the destroyer Colhoun after kamikaze aircraft hit and sank the ship
They were sunk by the latest Jap weapon - the suicide plane. We were told
about them some time ago and that we might expect them. In Japan before a
raid these pilots are taken before Tojo and are declared officially dead.
Their property is settled, insurance paid off, and all the business a dead
Jap would have is taken care of. He is happy for he is to die for the
Empire, and his family is happy for he is a hero, and all that bunk. A lot
of them have special armor planes that can take a lot of punishment before
being shot down, and some of them fly old crates, and some of them regular
In Ries' diary entry dated April 23, 1945, he expressed his views on kamikaze
pilots based partly on a somewhat preposterous story from one of four marines
who had lunch on the LCS 118 while visiting the ship after coming from
Okinawa in a duck boat (truck that travels on land and water) (p. 77):
One of the marines was telling me about a Jap suicide plane who landed on
the field on his own accord after the other two planes that were with him
were shot down. He stepped out of the cockpit with his hands up and dressed
in a white robe. You see, the Japanese give their suicide pilots their
burial ceremony before they leave the homeland, as they are not supposed to
come back. To the Japs, it is an honor to die for the emperor by crashing
your plane. Well, this pilot was understood to die in this manner but, I
guess he figured living was much easier. He spoke English very fluently.
They put the pilot in the brig and I think they are going to send the plane
back to the states, maybe for exhibit, it was in 4.0 condition.
The above diary excerpts provide lots of conjecture based on rumors, and they
reveal typical misimpressions that US military personnel during WWII had about kamikaze pilots.
Blanton's diary has an entry dated May 4, 1945, when the destroyer Luce
and LSM(R) 190 sank. This entry gives an excellent description of battle action
at the radar picket stations surrounding Okinawa (p. 89):
When the Japs gang up and they are suicide, you don't have much chance,
for no matter how good a shot you are, you have to shoot everything apart
except the prop to keep them from diving into you. Over 9/10 of the ships
lost here are being sunk by suicide planes, boats, or swimmers. That just
shows what kind of people we are up against. Maybe it's fair fighting, but I
don't see it that way. In 24 hours time right around here there have been
two cans [destroyers] and two LSMs sunk and several others damaged. There
have been at least 300 men killed. To them - today a total of 18 planes shot
down around us according to radio - I couldn't count them all, but I think I
saw most of them go down - out of 18 sent. They lose every plane they send
out , but yet what is 10 planes or 20 planes to one Destroyer. These patrols
are really suffering but we are doing what we came out here for. We are
intercepting the planes and destroying them and above all keeping them away
from the island and main anchorage. Only a few are getting through. It's
only a matter of time at this rate before every ship will get it, but we
will hold these little bastards back at any cost - so help us.
Many WWII ship histories written decades after the war tend to embellish
accomplishments and to use generalities to describe events. In contrast, the two
diaries at the heart of this LCS(L)(3) 118 history give unvarnished
contemporary accounts of kamikaze attacks and their aftermath that many LCSs
experienced at radar picket stations during the Battle of Okinawa.