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Combat Loaded: Across the Pacific on the USS Tate
by Thomas E. Crew
Texas A&M University Press, 2007, 232 pages

An AKA was the designation for an attack cargo ship, which played key roles in the Pacific War in landing amphibious assault troops with the ship's boats and in supplying these men with combat cargo. USS Tate (AKA-70), one of 108 AKA class ships commissioned in WWII, fought in the invasions of Kerama Retto in late March 1945 and Ie Shima in the middle of April 1945. On April 2, 1945, Tate helped fight and shoot down multiple kamikaze aircraft that attacked her transport squadron, but four squadron ships suffered heavy casualties when hit by Japanese planes. Combat Loaded, the first comprehensive history ever written about an AKA, succeeds in detailing the experiences of Tate and her crew and in providing valuable background on the specific roles that this class of amphibious ship played in the Pacific War.

Thomas E. Crew, who has worked almost 20 years at the Naval Oceanographic Office, became interested in Tate's history from his father's stories about his service aboard the ship. He sought to find his father's shipmates, and 21 crewmembers met together for Tate's first reunion in 2003 at which he gained many insights as each of them told about his most memorable wartime experience. Crew interviewed about 50 veterans for this book, and he also did an immense amount of meticulous research as evidenced by the eight pages of published and unpublished material in the bibliography and by the 20 pages of notes providing sources at the end of the book.

Despite the author's numerous interviews with Tate veterans, the book lacks a central character for readers to follow. The personal episodes generally tend to be short, many just one paragraph, and do not have the veterans' actual words but rather the author's summaries of the interviews in which the information was obtained. Although the personal incidents individually are interesting, the stories jump between many different characters. Of course, this can be expected on an attack cargo ship with 62 officers and 333 enlisted men in addition to the soldiers carried into battle. Captain Rupert Estey Lyon, somewhat unconventional at times, turns out to be the ship's most memorable character. For example, after the end of the war, the powerful captain took on all comers in a wrestling tournament aboard ship and won.

The 12 chapters cover Tate's history chronologically from her commissioning in November 1944 to her decommissioning in July 1946. One chapter each covers the invasion of Kerama Retto from March 26 to 29, 1945, and the kamikaze attacks on April 2. Two chapters describe Tate's roles in the invasion of Ie Shima from April 16 to 21, 1945. The book describes in great detail and provides an understanding of the military importance of the invasions of Kerama Retto and Ie Shima, often skipped over quickly in other histories. Maps and diagrams greatly help in understanding the overall battles and Tate's responsibilities.

In the early evening of April 2, 1945, about 15 kamikaze aircraft attacked the 16 ships of Transport Squadron 17, which were fully laden with troops, and the three escorting ships. Tate's gunners officially shared in the credit for shooting down two of the attacking enemy planes, although it was difficult to determine who exactly fired the shots that brought down the enemy aircraft with so many ships' guns shooting at once. All of Tate's 21 gun mounts fired, and the ship narrowly averted disaster with three attacking planes. The first plane splashed just off the port side and showered men with seawater. The second plane passed just over the ship from the port side after a five-inch shell hit the plane's wing root and did not explode but seemed to cause the bomb-carrying plane to climb involuntarily. The plane exploded in the water on the starboard side less than 100 feet away. The third plane passed directly overhead from the stern, and one of the 40-mm gun mounts pointed its guns vertically, shot only four rounds, hit the Japanese plane twice in the fuselage, and lit it up like a torch. The aircraft crashed into the water just 35 yards astern of Rixey (APH-3), the ship directly in front of Tate in the squadron's formation. Other ships did not have the same luck, as the following four ships were hit by kamikaze aircraft: Henrico (APA-45) (51 killed including Army troops on board), Dickerson (APD-21) (54 killed and 23 wounded), Goodhue (APA-107) (24 killed and 119 wounded), and Telfair (APA-210) (1 killed and 16 wounded). Two diagrams, one at the beginning of the attack at 1840 and one at the end of the attack at 1903, show clearly what happened to each of the 15 Japanese aircraft.

The majority of the kamikaze aircraft that attacked Transport Squadron 17 were twin-engine planes carrying bombs, but Crew incorrectly concludes that these were Betty bombers (Type 1 Attack Bombers) from Kanoya Naval Air Base in southern Kyushu (pp. 53, 70). He states, but provides no source, that 45 Betty bombers took off from Kanoya on April 2, 1945, and only 31 returned, so he concludes that these twin-engine bombers must have been the ones to attack Transport Squadron 17. The Japanese Navy did not use the slow-moving Betty bombers for kamikaze attacks except for carrying ohka glider bombs into battle, and Japanese records indicate that the only kamikaze special attack planes that took off from Kanoya on that date and did not return were four Zero bomb-carrying fighters [1]. Eight twin-engine Ki-45 Army Type 2 Toryu Fighters (Nicks) took off from the airfield at Miyako Island in the late afternoon of April 2 [2], so these were almost certainly the twin-engine aircraft that attacked Transport Squadron 17.

Tate suffered no casualties in four weeks of nearly continuous battle action. The ship's newspaper published several months later playfully described the ship's battles with kamikaze (pp. 128-9):

She's seen action off the Philippines, Okinawa, Ie Shima, and Kerama Retto, where the kamikaze has not been taught to show respect to the female sex, gender of which belongs to all our ships of the Navy. The men in her life and who live within her are bound with decency and respect for this maiden of the amphibious fleet. They fight with fury to protect her from the lustful raping kamikazes.

Decades later, when the author gathered material for this book, the veterans still vividly remembered the kamikaze (p. 170):

Accounts of the April 2, 1945, kamikaze battle, Tate's most dramatic action, contain a common visual theme: the face of the enemy. When aircraft pressed close during their attacks, the veterans consistently recalled the same details: "I could see the pilot's face, his white scarf, and his flying helmet." It was the face of an enemy who was resolved to die in battle and take his enemy with him. The Japanese believed their highest destiny lay in dying for their emperor. The Americans they were trying to kill received no such conditioning. While their enemies were undergoing their morbid indoctrination, the Americans had spent their youths on the playing fields of the United States, learning to hit, catch, and throw. Judging the speed and distance of a baseball or a football became their childhood training for estimating the speed, range, and altitude of plunging aircraft. For William Polikowski, the memory of the Japanese pilot's face as his plane crashed into the sea lingered throughout the years.

Cargo Loaded, Thomas E. Crew's first book, is as a finely written objective history. The numerous personal accounts from veterans, the thoroughness of research and documentation, and even the added humor such as a four-page article written by the ship's pet monkey Josephine make this a great book to read for anyone interested in the Pacific War.


USS Tate (AKA-70)

Notes

1. Refer to Hara 2004, 187-8 and Osuo 2005a, 194. Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki (1990, 570), Commander of the 5th Air Fleet, mentions in his diary that "the special attack carried out in the evening with fighter bombers seemed to be mostly successful." This reference would include the four Zero bomb-carrying fighters from Kanoya.

2. Fukutani 1994; Hara 2004, 187-8; Osuo 2005b, 212.

Sources Cited

Fukutani, Muneo. 1994. Fuun tsuzuki no shutsugeki ni goukyuu su: Makoto dai 114 tokkoutai ki (Weeping bitterly over sorties that had run of misfortunes: Makoto 114th Special Attack Squadron record). Tokkou (Special Attacks). 21 (November): 8-11.

Hara, Katsuhiro. 2004. Shinsou kamikaze tokkou: Hisshi hitchuu no 300 nichi (Kamikaze special attack facts: 300 days of certain-death, sure-hit attacks). Tokyo: KK Bestsellers.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005a. Tokubetsu kougekitai no kiroku (kaigun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.

________. 2005b. Tokubetsu kougekitai no kiroku (rikugun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Army)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.

Ugaki, Matome. 1991. Fading Victory: The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1941-1945. Translated by Masataka Chihaya. Edited by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.