USS Kitkun Bay underway, 10 February 1944
United States
NameKitkun Bay
NamesakeKitkun Bay, Prince of Wales Island
Orderedas a Type S4-S2-BB3 hull, MCE hull 1108[1]
Awarded18 June 1942
BuilderKaiser Shipyards
Laid down3 May 1943
Launched8 November 1943
Commissioned15 December 1943
Decommissioned19 April 1946
Stricken1 April 1960
IdentificationHull symbol: CVE-71
Honors and
6 Battle stars
FateSold for scrap, 18 November 1946
General characteristics [2]
Class and type Casablanca-class escort carrier
  • 512 ft 3 in (156.13 m) (oa)
  • 490 ft (150 m) (wl)
Draft20 ft 9 in (6.32 m) (max)
Installed power
Speed19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph)
Range10,240 nmi (18,960 km; 11,780 mi) at 15 kn (28 km/h; 17 mph)
  • Total: 910 – 916 officers and men
    • Embarked Squadron: 50 – 56
    • Ship's Crew: 860
Aircraft carried27
Aviation facilities
Service record
Part of: United States Pacific Fleet (1944-1946)

USS Kitkun Bay (CVE-71) was a Casablanca-class escort carrier of the United States Navy. She was named after Kitkun Bay, located within Prince of Wales Island. Launched in November 1943, and commissioned in December, she served in support of the Mariana and Palau Islands campaign, the Philippines campaign, and the Battle off Samar. Postwar, she participated in Operation Magic Carpet. She was decommissioned in April 1946 and sold for scrapping in November.

Design and description

A profile of the design of Takanis Bay, which was shared with all Casablanca-class escort carriers.
A profile of the design of Takanis Bay, which was shared with all Casablanca-class escort carriers.

Main article: Casablanca-class escort carrier

Kitkun Bay was a Casablanca-class escort carrier, the most numerous type of aircraft carriers ever built,[2] and designed specifically to be mass-produced using prefabricated sections, in order to replace heavy early war losses. Standardized with her sister ships, she was 512 ft 3 in (156.13 m) long overall, had a beam of 65 ft 2 in (19.86 m), and a draft of 20 ft 9 in (6.32 m). She displaced 8,188 long tons (8,319 t) standard, 10,902 long tons (11,077 t) with a full load. She had a 257 ft (78 m) long hangar deck and a 477 ft (145 m) long flight deck. She was powered with two Skinner Unaflow reciprocating steam engines, which drove two shafts, providing 9,000 horsepower (6,700 kW), thus enabling her to make 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph). The ship had a cruising range of 10,240 nautical miles (18,960 km; 11,780 mi) at a speed of 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph). Her compact size necessitated the installment of an aircraft catapult at her bow, and there were two aircraft elevators to facilitate movement of aircraft between the flight and hangar deck: one each fore and aft.[3][2][4]

One 5 in (127 mm)/38 caliber dual-purpose gun was mounted on the stern. Anti-aircraft defense was provided by eight Bofors 40 mm (1.6 in) anti-aircraft guns in single mounts, as well as twelve Oerlikon 20 mm (0.79 in) cannons, which were mounted around the perimeter of the deck.[4] By the end of the war, Casablanca-class carriers had been modified to carry thirty 20 mm (0.79 in) cannons, and the amount of Bofors 40 mm (1.6 in) guns had been doubled to sixteen, by putting them into twin mounts. These modifications were in response to increasing casualties due to kamikaze attacks. Casablanca-class escort carriers were designed to carry 27 aircraft, but the hangar deck could accommodate more. During the Mariana and Palau Islands campaign, she carried 12 FM-2 fighters, and 8 TBM-1C torpedo bombers, for a total of 20 aircraft.[5] However, during the Philippines campaign and Battle off Samar, she carried 16 FM-2 fighters and 12 TBM-1C torpedo bombers for a total of 28 aircraft.[6] During the Invasion of Lingayen Gulf, she carried 15 FM-2 fighters, 10 TBM-3 torpedo bombers, along with two reconnaissance planes, an FM-2P and a TBM-3P.[7]


The escort carrier was laid down on 3 May 1943, under a Maritime Commission contract, MC hull 1108, by Kaiser Shipbuilding Company, Vancouver, Washington. She was named Kitkun Bay, as part of a tradition which named escort carriers after bays or sounds in Alaska. She was launched on 8 November 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Francis E. Cruise, the wife of Captain Edgar Allen Cruise, a Navy Cross recipient; transferred to the United States Navy and commissioned on 15 December 1943, with Captain John Perry Whitney in command.[1][8]

Operational missions

Upon being commissioned, Kitkun Bay proceeded southwards to Naval Air Station Tongue Point, Astoria, Oregon, where she fitted out. On 3 January 1944, whilst she was moored at Pier 1, an unidentified aircraft flew over the area, and with the previous shelling of Fort Stevens in mind, the crew entered general quarters at 4:40. Eventually, it became clear that the aircraft was an American plane that failed to follow recognition protocol.[8]

After finishing fitting out, Kitkun Bay embarked on a shakedown cruise around Puget Sound, loading munitions, fueling, and degaussing. She stood out of Seattle on 13 January, stopped at Port Townshend, and proceeded down the West Coast. Upon arriving at Naval Air Station Alameda, she loaded munitions, fuel, and aircraft equipment from 17 to 20 January. After leaving port, she steamed southwards to San Diego, conducting gunnery practice along the way. She arrived on 22 January, whereupon she trained in additional gunnery and torpedo exercises in the vicinity of the Channel Islands, which continued until 27 January. During this time period, Composite Squadron 5 (VC-5), her designated aircraft contingent, trained from Ream Field, near Imperial Beach. At the time, the squadron consisted of 12 FM-2 Wildcats, as well as 7 TBM-1 and 2 TBF-1 Avengers.[8]

After finishing exercises, Kitkun Bay docked back in San Diego, where she took on thirteen naval officers and seventeen TBF-1 Avengers of Marine Torpedo Bomber Squadron 242 (VMTB-242), along with their corresponding complement of crew. This process took place between 27 and 28 January, and upon finishing, she left San Diego on a transport mission bound for the West Pacific. Sailing without escorts for the first leg of her voyage, the crew conducted drills and anti-aircraft exercises. She crossed the equator on 6 February. Upon entering the waters around the Samoan Islands on 9 February, where Japanese submarines were assessed to be possibly located, the destroyer escort Loeser was assigned as an escort. Kitkun Bay arrived at Espiritu Santo on 14 February.[8]

For the next two days, Kitkun Bay disembarked her passengers, as well as the marine air group that she was transporting. She also unloaded spare parts for aircraft based in the region. Upon finishing that task on 17 February, she transited the Segond Channel, where she took on a load of assorted cargo, including fuel, mail, and passengers. She then steamed for Efate, arriving the following day, on 18 February. As she began her return trip on 19 February, she was escorted by the former destroyer, turned high-speed minesweeper, Southard. Transiting via Ford Island, she arrived at Pearl Harbor on 28 February, where she disembarked much of her cargo. She then proceeded back to the West Coast, in conjunction with Gambier Bay, which had also just finished a transport mission, and was now carrying a load of nonfunctional aircraft. The two escort carriers arrived back at port in San Diego on 6 March.[8]

After returning to port, Kitkun Bay took on Composite Squadron 5 (VC-5) on 8 March. She then conducted pilot qualifications off the southern California coast, from 7 to 17 March. During these qualifications, the former destroyer, now seaplane tender, Ballard kept watch. After a brief return to port, where VC-5 was unloaded for further training, she conducted additional pilot qualifications for a variety of squadrons throughout the end of March. From 1 to 27 April, the carrier was moored at Naval Base San Diego, where maintenance and repairs were conducted. During this period, Rear Admiral Harold Bushnell Salada, the commander of Carrier Division 26, went aboard Kitkun Bay, assigning the carrier as his flagship.

Kitkun Bay returned to sea at the end of April, recalibrating her navigational equipment, and conducting additional drills. She then returned to San Diego, this time to pick up an air squadron bound for Pearl Harbor. She left port on 1 May, with twelve FM-2 Wildcats and nine TBM-1C Avengers of VC-5 on board. She was joined by Gambier Bay and Nehenta Bay, and the three carriers were escorted by the destroyers Heywood L. Edwards and Monssen. Arriving at Ford Island on 8 May, the aircraft conducted carrier qualifications with VC-5 off of Oahu. These qualifications were momentarily interrupted by upkeep at Ford Island. She then conducted additional exercises in conjunction with the battleship Maryland. Exercises with the battleship were conducted 10–19 May. After finishing exercises, she yet again entered maintenance, during which preparations for Operation Forager were made, the Mariana and Palau Islands campaign.[8]

Mariana and Palau Islands campaign

The destroyers Benham, Laws, and Morrison escorted Kitkun Bay and Gambier Bay as they sortied from Pearl Harbor on 31 May. Later that day, the two carriers rendezvoused with a bombardment group for the campaign, centered around the battleships California, Colorado, Maryland, and Tennessee. This task group was escorted by a dozen destroyers, which were in turn also escorting the various vessels of Transport Division 16. Kitkun Bay, along with the other carriers, launched fighter patrols to provide an air screen, and launched aircraft to conduct antisubmarine patrols.[8]

During this time period, Kitkun Bay suffered two crashes. The first, involving a Wildcat, occurred on 1 June, but the pilot was rescued by an escorting destroyer. On 4 June, an Avenger, approaching the carrier's flight deck, attempted to land. However, as the plane slowed down, the landing signal officer (LSO) waved the aircraft off, as the carrier was still swinging into the wind. As the torpedo bomber attempted to clear, it stalled, and crashed into the ocean some 25 yd (23 m) away from the starboard side of ship. The gunner escaped, and was recovered by Morrison, but the pilot and the radioman both drowned.[9] On 8 June, she arrived at Kwajalein Atoll. Whilst anchored her crew experienced general quarters three times on 9 June, as a result of U.S. planes that failed to properly identify themselves. There, she was assigned to Task Unit 52.11.1, of Task Group 52.14, commanded by Rear Admiral Gerald F. Bogan.[8][5]

On 10 June, the task group left Kwajalein, this time bound directly for the Marianas. En route, Kitkun Bay launched planes to patrol for submarines and to cover the task force as it steamed westwards. On 13 June, at 08:53 in the morning, an Avenger launched from the carrier spotted what it believed to be a periscope about 6 mi (9.7 km) from the carrier, before dropping two bombs. The carrier began evasive maneuvers, and the contact was marked with smoke. Despite the perceived submarine being engaged by a pair of destroyers and another aircraft, no further contact was reported. Later that morning, at 10:48, the task group's radar operators spotted an unidentified aircraft some 20 mi (32 km) to the east, directing Kitkun Bay's fighters towards the blip. At 11:05, the fighters intercepted a Mitsubishi G4M1 variant bomber, quickly shooting the aircraft down. At the end of the day, at 22:25, the destroyer Melvin fired at a surface signature, with no apparent result.[8][10]

Two escort carriers, Gambier Bay, and Kitkun Bay, accompanied by a destroyer screen, proceeding ahead. At 2:45 in the morning of 14 June, Kitkun Bay's lookouts spotted Saipan, as well as flares illuminating the Japanese-held island. By the morning, Kitkun Bay had been joined by three more carriers, and she began preparing to launch aircraft. During these preparations, as one of her plane handlers was pushing an Avenger into position on the flight deck, one of its rockets discharged, with the sailor being hit by the backblast. The discharged rocket narrowly passed in between several other aircraft, and the unfortunate sailor was badly burned throughout his entire body, succumbing to his injuries the following day. Nonetheless, the carrier continued launching its aircraft complement as planned, providing cover over the attack transports hovering near the island, and scouting out landing positions.[8][10]

On the morning of 15 June, U.S. forces began landing on Saipan. Kitkun Bay's aircraft provided close air support, strafing Japanese positions and covering the initial advance. Japanese surface gunfire did down one of her Wildcats over water, but its crew was recovered by Morrison. During this time period, the carrier's radar operators where continuously bedeviled by unidentified blips. For example, on the night of 16 June, at 3:07, a probable Japanese plane was spotted approaching the carrier, some 7 mi (11 km) out, with her crew being called to general quarters. The plane turned and escaped, and the crew were dismissed, before general quarters was called again eighteen minutes later, due to another array of blips. At 13:45, Morrison detected a submarine signature, and dropped depth charges, without ill result.[8]

During the following days, Kitkun Bay continued launching aircraft in support of ground operations, whilst at the same time enduring almost constant Japanese probing attacks. The task group operated some 30 mi (48 km) east of the island, and aircraft losses were frequent. On 17 June, one of her Avengers was damaged by Japanese ground fire, and the aircraft splashed into the ocean, with the crew being retrieved by the destroyer Bryant. Later that day, the task group came under more concentrated attack. During the afternoon, the Japanese had launched an aerial raid, consisting of about thirty to forty aircraft, from the island of Yap in an attempt to harry ships landing reinforcements on Saipan. Although their attacks were generally unsuccessful, as they retired, they happened across the escort carrier task group.[8]

The Japanese aircraft were spotted by the escort carrier radars some 110 mi (180 km) away. As it became clear that the aircraft were closing in, general quarters were sounded, and additional aircraft were launched to prepare for an interception. At 18:50, after the sun had set, the Japanese aircraft, finding the escort carriers an acceptable target, attacked. Gambier Bay was shaken by two near-hits, and Coral Sea was harried by multiple aircraft. Four torpedo bombers approached Kitkun Bay from the port bow, with at least one dropping a torpedo, which passed behind the carrier. Shortly afterwards, all four where shot down in a carnage of antiaircraft fire. After a brief lull, the task group's air screen shot down two more Japanese planes. The last Japanese attempt at an attack occurred at 19:05, when two dive bombers moved into position for an attack, before being discouraged by antiaircraft fire. Remarkably, due to an effective anti-aircraft screen and concentrated fire, none of the ships of the task group were hit by any Japanese munitions, although a multitude of Japanese planes had been shot down.[8][11]

No American planes were lost to enemy action, but a Wildcat from Kitkun Bay was lost as aircraft were recovered following the attack. By 20:26, Kitkun Bay had already recovered all but one of its fighters. However, the last fighter to be recovered came in too low, and its tailhook hit a metal handrail, bending it into a sharp V. This impact and sudden deacceleration might have stunned the pilot, and as the plane continued forwards, it keeled off starboard, just behind the ship's island, plunging into the ocean. Despite a destroyer searching throughout the night, nothing was recovered.[12]

Enemy planes sent the ships to general quarters at 0421 on 18 June 1944, but they turned out to be snoopers and did not press their attack. Kitkun Bay launched her planes for additional runs against Japanese troops on Saipan and nearby Tinian throughout the day. Radar detected a force of about 30 enemy aircraft approaching from 40 miles to the southward at 1603. As the attackers closed the range rapidly, the crew manned their battle stations, but the enemy kept off at a distance. Wildcats intercepted and splashed two planes at 1755, which fell burning into the sea about five miles from the ship.[8]

Six Japanese planes suddenly approached the formation from the south at about 10,000 feet and all the ships opened fire as soon as they flew within range. An enemy plane, tentatively (and possibly erroneously) identified as a Nakajima J1N1 Gekko made a run on Kitkun Bay on her starboard bow. The Irving delayed releasing its torpedo and the ship's forward starboard guns poured fire into the plane, and at 100 yards one of its engines began smoking. The attacker dropped the torpedo but it missed the carrier by about 25 feet since the captain had her in a sharp turn. As the Irving crossed the bow its tail gunner attempted to strafe the ship but several 20 millimeter shells sliced into him. Additional 40 millimeter rounds hit the plane and it burst into flames, rose vertically for about 1,000 feet, nosed over and plunged into the sea in a "spectacular" splash.[8]

At the same time another plane attacked from Kitkun Bay's starboard beam and passed just astern of the ship. The entire midship and after starboard batteries opened up on the aircraft and possibly killed all of the crew, since it failed to drop a torpedo. As the torpedo bomber cleared the stern, the port guns shot into it and the bomber splashed into the water about 300 yards off the port quarter. Another torpedo plane thrust at either Coral Sea or Gambier Bay, which appeared to bear the brunt of the assault, as they steamed astern of Kitkun Bay. A 5-inch round from Kitkun Bay hit it squarely and a ball of flame erupted from the assailant as it just cleared the bow of the other carrier and crashed into the Pacific.[8]

Lt. William H. Johnson, USNR, and Ens. Krouse flew a pair of Wildcats (BuNos 16180 and 46959) that went down during the chaotic aerial maneuvering on the 18th. Destroyers rescued both men, Krouse after having survived his second fighter loss in as many days.[8]

Throughout the day on 19 June 1944, TF 58 repelled Japanese air attacks and slaughtered their aircraft in what Navy pilots dubbed the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot." Kitkun Bay operated with her cohorts to the eastward of Saipan when American radar detected multiple Japanese strike groups about ten miles out and heading toward the fleet early that morning, and at 0624, Kitkun Bay launched a pair of Wildcats for CAP, joined a minute later by the first of five from Gambier Bay. The enemy closed the range rapidly and within five minutes a trio of dive bombers attacked the formation from an altitude of about 5,000 feet. The Japanese planes dropped two bombs that splashed close aboard Gambier Bay and then winged off, but a minute later two torpedo bombers approached the ships from the east. The vessels of the formation shot a heavy concentration of antiaircraft fire at the pair and they broke off and withdrew without making their runs.[8]

The escort carriers continued flight operations throughout the busy day and that afternoon launched a bomb strike that included six Avengers from Kitkun Bay that attacked the Japanese ashore on Saipan. The usual late afternoon bogey alarms sent the ship's company scrambling to their battle stations at 1618, but the vessels of the formation blazed away with every available gun and the enemy planes came about without attacking.[8]

The following day, Kitkun Bay sent her Avengers aloft for early morning antisubmarine patrols. The ship then worked with Gambier Bay and their screening vessels in providing a triple defense of antiaircraft, antisurface, and antisubmarine cover for the transports of the Joint Expeditionary Force, TF 51, Vice Adm. Richmond K. Turner, as they operated about 60 miles to the east of Saipan. Ens. James C. Lucas, USNR, flew a TBM-1C (BuNo 17055) from the ship that crashed, but a destroyer rescued Lucas and his crew.[8]

Kitkun Bay celebrated her 1,000th landing with cake on 21 June 1944. At noon, Laws slipped alongside Kitkun Bay as the two ships rolled in the swells and transferred a Japanese prisoner to the carrier. The destroyer had picked up the 19-year-old Sumatran when she discovered him floating in a raft two days before. The man served with the Japanese and flew a patrol from Yap (Waʼab) in the Caroline Islands to Rota in the Marianas, and unsuccessfully attacked Gambier Bay on the 17th. Kitkun Bay's security detachment temporarily incarcerated the prisoner in the ship's brig.[8]

A torpedo passed beneath Benham's stern while the ships of the formation covered Turner's transports on the 22nd. Benham attacked the submarine and dropped five depth charges, but the destroyer lost contact and the enemy boat eluded destruction. The task unit joined TU 52.14.2, consisting of the battleships Idaho, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania, cruisers Honolulu and St. Louis, and their screen of destroyers, on 24 June. Two days later, Kitkun Bay sighted Saipan and a plane flew the prisoner to Aslito Airfield on the island. The ship launched daily ground support missions, and early on the 29th sounded general quarters when she detected unidentified planes on her radar, though they did not approach.[8]

Kitkun Bay hurled her aircraft against enemy troops on both Saipan and Tinian, and later that day lookouts on a number of vessels sighted several torpedoes thrusting through the water toward the group, but the escorting destroyers proved unable to obtain good attack runs on the enemy submarine or submarines. Bogeys sent the crew to their battle stations again the following day, only to see the enemy wing off without attacking. Early July brought a brief respite at Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands as Kitkun Bay and her companions swung around on 2 July and made for the atoll.[8]

"Schedule of support aircraft maintained today much appreciated by troops," Rear Adm. Harold B. Sallada, Commander Support Aircraft, messaged Kitkun Bay as she came about. "Supporting aircraft executed close support expertly. Not only the troops like what you are doing but we do."[8]

"At Saipan we became a fighting ship because the crew," Lt. Robert E. Thomlinson, USNR, who served on the staff of Rear Adm. Ralph A. Ofstie (see below), reflected, "which had been full of the usual Navy gripe up to that time, suddenly found itself ... From that time on, the Kitkun Bay was in the thick of the fight and did her share  ... Of the ships I was on during the war, she was my favorite and always will be."[8]

Kitkun Bay took on stores, ammunition, and fuel while at Eniwetok (5–10 July 1944). The warship then turned her prow back to the fighting and, in company with Gambier Bay, Laws, and Morrison, set course for Saipan and arrived in the area on the 15th. Through the end of the month, planes flying from Kitkun Bay performed almost every type of potential carrier assignment against the Japanese forces defending Saipan and Tinian including CAP, hunting for submarines, bombing and strafing attacks, observing for artillery fire, and making smoke to assist minesweepers as they swept the channels for mines.[8]

The ship lost three fighters during these battles. Lt. Cmdr. Richard L. Fowler went down in a Wildcat (BuNo 16346) he flew off the flight deck of the carrier on 15 July but survived. Two days later, it was the turn of Lt. Paul B. Garrison, USNR, in an FM-2 (BuNo 47330). Ships picked up both men and subsequently returned them to the carrier. Lt. Robert C. White of VC-5 went down in a Wildcat (BuNo 55281) while flying a mission from Kitkun Bay on 18 July. At 1321, Morrison rescued White and at 1345 went alongside Kitkun Bay to transfer the pilot, before the destroyer resumed her screening duties.[8]

Gambier Bay, Kitkun Bay, and the destroyers Cassin Young, Callaghan, Irwin, and Porterfield formed a new task unit on 1 August 1944, and charted a course for an operating area east of Guam. The carriers launched planes that provided air cover over the soldiers and marines battling the Japanese for control of the island (2–4 August). At 1704 on 3 August, an Avenger of VC-10 flying an antisubmarine patrol from Gambier Bay sighted a periscope and attacked with depth charges, causing oil and debris to rise to the surface. The enemy submarine escaped.[8]

The ships then came about and anchored at Eniwetok (7–11 August). On the 8th, Rear Adm. Ofstie relieved Rear Adm. Sallada in command of CarDiv 26 and broke his flag in Kitkun Bay. Late on the afternoon of 11 August, Kitkun Bay stood out to sea for Espíritu Santo, where she completed voyage repairs, took on fuel, provisions, and ordnance, and sailors repainted much of the ship. Following that work, the vessels of the task unit got underway for a brief (24–26 August) sail to Purvis Bay in the Florida Islands [Nggela] of the Solomons. Kitkun Bay received orders to anchor at times in the harbor at Gavutu [Ghuvatu Harbour], which afforded the carrier a temporary base of operations while she girded herself for future operations by practicing attacks in support of amphibious landings in an area to the southwest of nearby Guadalcanal, and in New Georgia Sound (27 August–8 September).[8]

Heading westward on 8 September 1944, Kitkun Bay and the ships of the task unit escorted an assault force of transports and dock landing ships for Operation Stalemate II—the landings of the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu and Angaur Islands in the Palaus. The convoy passed around the west end of Florida Island, between Santa Isabel and Malaita Islands, and proceeded at 12.5 knots. The carriers launched daily CAP and antisubmarine patrols to protect the marines during the passage. Kitkun Bay struck a heavy log at 0142 on the 13th and it lodged in her bow, reducing the ship's speed by almost a knot. The log stayed jammed into the hull for nearly 45 minutes in spite of changes of course to dislodge it, but it finally broke free without significantly damaging the ship and she resumed her voyage at the convoy's speed.[8]

The Japanese had prepared their main line of resistance on Peleliu inland from the beaches to escape naval bombardment, and three days of preliminary carrier air attacks in combination with intense naval gunfire failed to suppress the tenacious defenders. The ship hurled her planes against the enemy each day of her deployment to the battle (15–25 September 1944) as they flew photographic reconnaissance flights, and bombing and strafing runs, along with the usual CAP and antisubmarine barrier patrols to protect the ships operating offshore.[8]

Lt. Johnson flew a mission from Kitkun Bay on the 20th that included dropping a message to attack transport Fremont (APA-44). He then joined a strike against the Japanese ashore but one of the aircraft released a bomb that touched off an enemy ammunition dump. The explosion damaged his Wildcat and forced him to land on the war-torn island. The ship later sent a plane that landed on Peleliu Airfield, and picked the pilot up and returned him to the carrier. The following day on 21 September, Japanese antiaircraft fire damaged two of the Avengers flying from the ship over Babelthuap [Babeldaob] Island. Both torpedo bombers landed on the airfield on Peleliu, the first with a couple of wounded crewmen. The second plane managed to lift off again and fly back to the ship.[8]

After recovering aircraft that afternoon, the carriers and their escorts steamed to positions astern of some of the transports and dock landing ships, and the combined group then came about for Ulithi Atoll in the Carolines. The Army's 81st Infantry Division later reinforced the marines and the final Japanese on Peleliu only surrendered on 1 February 1945. Stopping briefly at Ulithi, the escort carriers and their escorts stood down the channel on the afternoon of 25 September 1944, for the three-day trip to New Guinea, and then continued on to Seeadler Harbor on Manus in the Admiralty Islands. Kitkun Bay loaded fuel, ammunition, and stores while at the anchorage (1–11 October), and prepared to take part in the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines.[8]

Screened by four destroyers, Gambier Bay and Kitkun Bay turned their prows seaward on 12 October 1944, and on the following day rendezvoused with a group of cruisers, destroyers, and landing craft. The force steamed toward Philippine waters in the vicinity of Mindanao, where the carriers and their screen detached on the 19th to join other carriers, and the invasion vessels continued on to Leyte Gulf.[8]

Battle off Samar

Adm. William F. Halsey Jr., Commander, Third Fleet, led nine fleet and eight light carriers in those troubled waters. Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid, Commander, Seventh Fleet, led a force that included TG 77.4, Rear Adm. Thomas L. Sprague—consisting of 18 escort carriers organized in Task Units (TUs) 77.4.1, 77.4.2, and 77.4.3, and known by their voice radio calls as Taffys 1, 2, and 3, respectively.[8]

Chenango, Petrof Bay, Saginaw Bay, Sangamon, Santee, and Suwanee and their screens formed Taffy 1, Rear Adm. Thomas Sprague, and fought off northern Mindanao. Chenango and Saginaw Bay swung around on 24 October to carry planes to Morotai in the Netherlands East Indies [Indonesia] for repairs and overhaul. Kadashan Bay, Manila Bay, Marcus Island, Natoma Bay, Ommaney Bay, and Savo Island of Taffy 2, Rear Adm. Felix B. Stump, operated off the entrance to Leyte Gulf.[8]

Two CarDivs formed Taffy 3, Rear Adm. Clifton A. F. Sprague, off Samar. Fanshaw Bay, Kalinin Bay, St. Lo, and White Plains formed CarDiv 25, Rear Adm. Clifton Sprague, while Gambier Bay and Kitkun Bay comprised CarDiv 26, Rear Adm. Ofstie. Heermann, Hoel, and Johnston, together with escort ships Dennis, John C. Butler, Raymond, and Samuel B. Roberts, screened Taffy 3.[8]

The Army's 6th Ranger Battalion landed on Dinagat and Suluan Islands at the entrance to Leyte Gulf to destroy Japanese installations capable of providing early warning of a U.S. attack, on 17 October 1944. The garrison on Suluan transmitted an alert that prompted Adm. Toyoda Soemu, the Japanese Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet to order Shō-Gō 1—an operation to defend the Philippines. The raid thus helped to bring about the Battle of Leyte Gulf.[8]

While the enemy gathered his naval and air forces, the Allies landed on Leyte. Kitkun Bay operated from a position east of Samar and launched multiple air strikes to support the troops as they fought their way ashore and then inland (20–25 October). Planes bombed and strafed the Japanese troops and their positions, flew reconnaissance missions, and maintained CAP over the ship and her consorts. In addition, the carrier provided fighters to protect transports and the invasion beaches. Lt. (j.g.) Donald W. Hyde, USNR, of VC-5 flew a Wildcat (BuNo 16274) from the ship that went down on the 20th, but the pilot survived.[8]

The Battle of Leyte Gulf, a succession of distinct fleet engagements, began on 22 October 1944, when Shō-Gō 1 attempted to disrupt the U.S. landings in Leyte Gulf. Japanese fuel shortages compelled them to disperse their fleet into the Northern (decoy), Central, and Southern Forces and converge separately on Leyte Gulf. Attrition had reduced the Northern Force's 1st Mobile Force, their principal naval aviation command and led by Vice Adm. Ozawa Jisaburō, to carrier Zuikaku and light carriers Chitose, Chiyōda, and Zuihō. Submarine Darter detected a group of Japanese warships northwest of Borneo on the 22nd and into the following day shadowed them. Bream meanwhile torpedoed heavy cruiser Aoba off Manila Bay, and Darter and Dace unflinchingly attacked what turned out to be the Japanese Center Force, Vice Adm. Kurita Takeo in command. Dace sank heavy cruiser Maya, and Darter sank heavy cruiser Atago and damaged her sistership Takao, which came about for at Brunei.[8]

The planes of TG 38.2, TG 38.3, and TG 38.4 attacked Kurita as his ships crossed the Sibuyan Sea. Enterprise, Intrepid (CV-11), Franklin (CV-13), and Cabot launched strikes that sank battleship Musashi south of Luzon. Aircraft from the three task groups also damaged battleships Yamato and Nagato, heavy cruiser Tone, and destroyers Fujinami, Kiyoshimo, and Uranami. Planes furthermore attacked the Southern Force as it proceeded through the Sulu Sea, and sank destroyer Wakaba and damaged battleships Fusō and Yamashiro. Ozawa in the meanwhile decoyed Halsey's Third Fleet northward, and aircraft subsequently sank all four Japanese carriers, Chitose with the assistance of cruiser gunfire, off Cape Engaño. Halsey's rapid thrust, however, carried his ships beyond range to protect the escort carriers of Taffy 3.[8]

Occasional rain squalls swept through the area as the sun dawned on Wednesday, 25 October 1944. The visibility gradually opened to approximately 40,000 yards with a low overcast, and the wind was from the north-northwest. Kitkun Bay and the other ships of Taffy 3 greeted the day preparing to launch strikes to support the troops fighting ashore. The carriers thus armed their planes with light bombs and rockets to attack Japanese soldiers and positions, or depth charges for those intended to fly antisubmarine patrols, armament not well suited for attacking ships.[8]

Unbeknownst to Kitkun Bay and her consorts, however, the surviving ships of the Japanese Center Force, which included battleships Yamato, Haruna, Kongō, and Nagato, heavy cruisers Chikuma, Chōkai, Haguro, Kumano, Suzuya, and Tone, light cruisers Noshiro and Yahagi, and 11 destroyers, made a night passage through San Bernardino Strait into the Philippine Sea.[8]

Ensign William C. Brooks, Jr., US Naval Reserve, of Pasadena, California, flew a TBM-1C of VC-65 from St. Lo and sighted the pagoda masts of some of the Japanese ships at 06:37 on 25 October 1944. Brooks initially surmised that they might be Allied reinforcements but followed established procedure and radioed a sighting report. His superiors demanded confirmation so he closed the range and positively identified some of the enemy vessels. Amidst heavy enemy firepower, Brooks and his Avenger crew pressed two attacks against a Japanese heavy cruiser, dropping depth charges that bounced off the ship, and then joined a pair of Avengers that dived on one of the battleships, for which the pilot later received the Navy Cross.[8]

Lookouts on board the ships of Taffy 3 could see bursts of Japanese antiaircraft fire on the northern horizon as the enemy vessels fired at the Avengers, and within minutes, ships began to detect the approaching Japanese vessels on their radar, and to intercept enemy message traffic. The Japanese surprised the Americans and caught Taffy 3 unprepared to face such a powerful surface force, and the battle almost immediately became flight in the face of the overwhelming enemy force. Sprague ordered his ships to come about to 90° at 06:50, and flee to the eastward, hoping that a rain squall would mask their escape. Taffy 3 urgently called for help, the carriers scrambled to launch their planes, and the escorts steamed to what quickly became the rear of the formation to lay protective smoke screens.[8]

Kitkun Bay's crew raced to man their battle stations and the ship sounded flight quarters as the enemy opened fire. She rang up flank speed for 18.5 knots, and swung around to 70° to head partly into the wind for launching planes and yet to keep away as much as possible from the more heavily armed Japanese ships. The carrier launched eight Wildcats that were already warming up for the day's action (06:56–07:03). At 07:02 ships began making smoke, and the heavy pall of smoke and the general murkiness of the weather often prevented men from seeing the entire picture. Beginning at 07:10, Kitkun Bay launched six Avengers to engage the enemy. The ship changed course to 110°, but briefly turned back into the wind to launch a ninth fighter at 07:11.[8]

A heavy rain squall blotted the action from view for a few minutes that morning and Kitkun Bay continued to zig-zag. The formation turned to 190° but enemy shells hurtled toward the American ships and splashed near White Plains and off Kitkun Bay's port beam. In the forefront of the circular formation, Kitkun Bay escaped any direct hits as the shells splashed ever closer astern, with several salvoes bracketing the carrier.[8]

Sprague ordered the escorts to make a torpedo run at the Japanese ships at 07:40, but by this time, the enemy vessels reached a point bearing 355° from Kitkun Bay at 25,000 yards. Men watched with trepidation as the flashes of the enemy guns announced more salvoes that tore through the air and fell only about 1,500 yards astern of the ship. Kitkun Bay began to jettison her gasoline bombs and smoke tanks at 07:55, and Sprague directed all of the carriers to make as much smoke as possible. Maintainers meanwhile scrambled to load the remaining Avengers in the hangar deck with torpedoes, while the ship swung to 195° at 07:56 to permit the other vessels to get behind the smoke screen. Three destroyers appeared off the port bow at a range of approximately ten miles and in the confusion, lookouts initially identified them as Japanese, only to discover some of the U.S. ships fighting faithfully to protect their vulnerable charges.[8]

"The enemy is now within range," the captain instructed Lieutenant Edward L. Kuhn, US Naval Reserve, Kitkun Bay's gunnery officer, "Mr. Kuhn, you may fire the 5-inch at will." His gunners opened fire and altogether shot 120 of the 180 rounds stored on board, with Kuhn's "cool courage under fire" contributing to the gun crew's efficiency, and resulting in his later receiving a Bronze Star. One of their 5-inch shells plunged into a Japanese ship, tentatively identified as a cruiser, at 07:59 on 25 October 1944, and started a fire forward. Kitkun Bay swung over five degrees to the westward to keep away from the enemy ships, two of which in sight, Chikuma and Tone, changed course to south-southeast to pursue the carriers. Kitkun Bay changed course to 240° at 08:03, and launched a trio of Wildcats.[8]

The crew's hope for survival dropped when an enemy submarine's periscope was reported off the port bow. Japanese submarines aggressively penetrated Allied defensive screens and torpedoed carriers more than once during the war, and the enemy boat, if such she was, maneuvered in a perfect position to pick of a carrier as one passed on its enforced course. Kitkun Bay swung over to 205° to present as small a target as possible and enable the escorts to attack the submarine. One of the Avengers claimed to sight the periscope and dived on it, the pilot later expressing his belief that his depth charges sank the submarine. A puff of reddish smoke and the green dye marker that the plane dropped revealed the only evidence of the submarine, and Kitkun Bay passed almost over the spot where the lookout first sighted the periscope. The elusive submarine, if one indeed ever prowled the area, vanished without a trace.[8]

Japanese shells slammed into Gambier Bay and set the ship ablaze, and some of the enemy vessels, evidently believing they had finished her off, shifted their fire to Kitkun Bay as she briefly emerged from the smoke. A salvo splashed scarcely 1,000 yards astern at 0828, and the captain furiously zig-zagged the ship and attempted to slip back within the cover of the smokescreen to escape the enemy gunfire as they dropped the range. Another salvo erupted in the water 1,000 yards off the port beam at 0830, and a minute later a third salvo splashed 700 yards astern. The next salvo tore into the sea 500 yards off the starboard beam as the Japanese found the range.[8]

Kitkun Bay experienced a ray of hope at 08:34 when she received news that the planes of the strike group had refueled ashore and were returning to protect their ship. The other carriers sent their aircraft aloft and a flight of 24 planes passed over Kitkun Bay a few minutes later and dived on the enemy cruisers, which opened fire at them. Kitkun Bay's 5-inch gun continued the unequal contest and hurled shot after shot at the enemy cruisers, but they, in turn, fired another salvo that splashed off the port beam. The ship's radar picked up unidentified aircraft ten miles to the northwest at 08:58, and worried watchstanders anticipated adding Japanese planes to the threat facing them.[8]

White Plains also fired her single 5-inch gun at one of the enemy heavy cruisers, most likely Chokai. Samuel B. Roberts fought Chokai as well, and at 08:59 a secondary explosion erupted from the enemy vessel, possibly as some of her torpedoes cooked off. The blast knocked out her engines and rudder, and she sheered out of line. The other enemy cruisers continued firing and a salvo splashed barely 200 yards astern of Kitkun Bay. Haguro, which took Chikuma's place in position, and Tone appeared to outdistance the rest of the Japanese ships and drew up toward Kitkun Bay. The enemy ships dropped the range until they closed on Kitkun Bay's port beam at 12,000 yards, and their next salvo straddled the carrier as their shells splashed on both sides.[8]

The embattled carrier's 5-inch had fired almost all of the ammunition at hand, and the captain ordered the gunners to cease fire and conserve the remaining rounds because he expected that the enemy destroyers would attack. A Japanese salvo splashed a mere 20 yards astern and the alarmed gun crew believed that the following salvo would slice into the ship. Capt. Whitney thus swung the warship between 200° and 270° in an effort to forestall the apparently inevitable. Cmdr. Fowler also attempted to save Kitkun Bay and led four Avengers flying from the ship that assailed Chokai at 09:05. One of the planes dropped a 500-pound bomb that tore into the Japanese vessel's stern, and smoke emerged from the cruiser and she slowed.[8]

Just as the situation looked very bleak for Kitkun Bay and the other ships, the enemy suddenly broke off the engagement at 09:25 and retired. As a relieved Capt. Whitney watched them continue to do so at 09:31, he ordered the vessel to slow down to 15 knots and to cease making smoke. Four ships went down: Gambier Bay, Hoel, Johnston, and Samuel B. Roberts. In addition, Japanese gunfire damaged Kalinin Bay, Dennis, and Heermann, and straddled Kitkun Bay, St. Lo, and White Plains but scored no direct hits.[8]

During the course of the next hour, Fanshaw Bay, Kitkun Bay, St. Lo, White Plains, Dennis, Heermann, John C. Butler, and Raymond formed disposition Charlie. The carriers turned into the wind to launch and recover planes, and Kitkun Bay controlled 14 fighters and six torpedo bombers in the air at 09:50.[8]

Kurita ordered Fujinami to escort Chokai at 10:06, and as more aircraft attacked the pair, they shot down an Avenger. Kitkun Bay began launching five Avengers, four armed with torpedoes and the fifth with bombs, at 10:13. At 10:35, these five planes joined a sixth flying from St. Lo and attacked Yamato, the largest and most heavily armed battleship in the Japanese armada. The aircraft dived through intense antiaircraft fire and assailed the behemoth but failed to score any confirmed hits.[8]

The final phase of the Battle off Samar included retaliatory air strikes by both sides. As many as eight enemy aircraft, at least five of them Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 carrier fighter Model 21s of the Tokkōtai suicide squadron Shikishima, suddenly appeared over the formation at 10:49, and singled out the carriers for their fury.[8]

"A few minutes later," Lt. Thomlinson recalled, "another kamikaze came in and landed upon our flight deck, killing and injuring some of our gunners. The sky was full of planes, [Japanese] and ours. Ours were from the 18 escort carriers which were ranged within 75 miles of our position."[8]

The Zeke that Thomlinson described turned and dived on Kitkun Bay from the starboard side. Fanshaw Bay added her guns to those of her fellow carrier, but the kamikaze absorbed the heavy concentration of fire, cleared Kitkun Bay's flight deck, and crashed into the port walkway netting. The shock carried away about 15 feet of the netting and its braces, the port aerial, and the life raft suspended from the netting frame. The 550-pound bomb exploded on impact, bursting evidently on a level with the walkway, and showering fragments into the nearby gun sponsons and the ship's side from the forecastle to No. 6 sponson. The kamikaze assault punctured more than 100 holes in the bulkheads, doors, and gasoline lines. The broken gasoline lines permitted the fuel to flow into a gun sponson but a fire did not start and men washed the gasoline overboard. The attack killed AMM3c Graham C. Hatfield, seriously wounded four more, and slightly wounded another 12. In addition, the kamikaze destroyed two Avengers (BuNos 46201 and 46202) on board the ship.[8]

One enemy plane crashed into the sea and another flew directly into the flight deck of St. Louis, Dennis "took a position as close as we dared on account of the violent explosions occurring and commenced picking up survivors," who were by then abandoning ship from St. Lo. At 11:08, another enemy plane crashed into White Plains. Dennis continued picking up survivors for the next several hours, eventually bringing 425 of them on board from St. Louis, six from White Plains, and three from Petrof Bay. Finally, at 14:32, Dennis "secured from general quarters." Two kamikazes also damaged Kalinin Bay.[8]

Lookouts sighted 15 more Japanese planes at 11:00, and Kitkun Bay hurriedly launched two Wildcats to join the other fighters of the CAP. The enemy aircraft attacked the ship by approaching her from nearly dead astern. A Yokosuka D4Y Type 2 carrier bomber Suisei seemingly intent on destroying the radar mast and island flew toward the ship, but gunfire set the Judy aflame and the kamikaze passed over the bridge and exploded when opposite the forward end of the flight deck. Parts of the plane, including the starboard horizontal stabilizer from its tail, and the pilot, fell onto the flight deck and the forecastle. The bomb, estimated to be a 1,100-pound weapon, dropped into the water near the bow and exploded, inflicting only inconsequential damage to the light metal parts of the ship and throwing a heavy column of water into the air. The carrier's starboard side passed through this column of water, drenching hands on the rope bridge and forward gun sponsons. None of the other aircraft attacked Kitkun Bay and the survivors disappeared a few minutes later as they returned to their field.[8]

Five Avengers from Kitkun Bay meanwhile at 11:05 attacked Chikuma. The Japanese heavy cruiser had already fired most of her antiaircraft ammunition against the U.S. planes that attacked her while crossing the Sibuyan Sea—some of her guns expended all of their live rounds and the gun crews resorted to shooting training rounds. Two torpedoes sliced into the cruiser's port side amidships and water poured into her engine room, causing the ship to lose power. Chikuma drifted to a stop and began listing to port. Nowaki swung around at 11:10 to render assistance to her stricken cohort Chikuma.[8]

The men of Kitkun Bay prepared themselves for another aerial assault when the radar identified a flight of planes, but breathed a sigh of relief when the intruders turned out to be a strike group from Hornet (CV-12) and Wasp (CV-18) en route to attack the retreating the Japanese, at that point about 38 miles to the northward on a heading for San Bernardino Strait. Some of the aircraft from the ship joined the strike.[8]

Chikuma's crew worked to save their ship, but Lt. Allen W. Smith Jr., the commanding officer of VC-75, led a trio of that squadron's TBM-1Cs from Ommaney Bay that dropped three more torpedoes that ripped into her port side at 14:15. Within 15 minutes, the battered warship rolled over and sank by the stern. Nowaki pulled about 120 survivors from the water.[8]

In the Battle off Samar and the Japanese retirement, the Americans damaged Yamato, Kongō, Chikuma, Chōkai, Haguro, Kumano, Suzuya, and Tone. Chikuma, Chōkai, and Suzuya suffered repeated explosions and fires and destroyers Nowaki, Fujinami, and Okinami, respectively, scuttled the cruisers with torpedoes—though Nowaki may have reached the area after U.S. aircraft delivered the coup de grâce to Chikuma. About 60 planes from TGs 38.2 and 38.4 tore into the retiring Japanese and sank Noshiro on the 26th. That day U.S. cruisers also crippled Nowaki with gunfire, and Owen (DD-536) sank her about 65 miles south-southeast of Legaspi, Luzon. The casualties the Japanese surface fleet sustained and its virtual withdrawal to anchorages because of a lack of fuel finished it as an effective fighting force.[8]

Hale (DD-642), Picking (DD-685), and Coolbaugh (DE-217) joined the formation that evening. Kitkun Bay secured from general quarters at 18:40 on 25 October 1944, having been at battle stations for 11 hours and 47 minutes. The weary crew enjoyed little time for a respite when, at 20:02, an unidentified surface contact and believed to be a surfaced submarine, trailed the formation for some time at a range of 19,400 yards. Coolbaugh dropped several depth charges on the contact, though without noticeable results. Kitkun Bay's busy radar plot detected bogeys seven miles to the north at 21:35. For an hour and 34 minutes the planes circled the formation suspiciously at a distance of two to five miles but never attacked, and then just as mysteriously winged off into the night.[8]

Kitkun Bay's losses for the day included two torpedo planes and both of their pilots and two of their crewmen: Ens. James C. Lucas and ARM3c William B. Latimer (BuNo 46343), and Ens. Allen A. Pollard and AOM2 Frank L. Orcutt. One of the Avengers fell into the sea about five miles off Kitkun Bay's port bow—though identifying which proved difficult in the heat of battle. The Japanese furthermore shot down four Wildcats: Lt. (j.g.) Robert T. Sell (BuNo 47393), Ens. Paul Hopfner (BuNo 16386), Ens. Geofrey B. King (BuNo 47247), and Ens Murphy (BuNo 47304). The four fighter pilots flew with VC-3 but in the confusion of the fighting landed on board Kitkun Bay, which, in those tumultuous moments, became the closest carrier in sight and not aflame, and then returned to the fray. All four men survived the harrowing experience.[8]

The following day, Kitkun Bay worked with the other vessels of Taffy 3 as they patrolled to the eastward of Leyte until they received orders to return to Seeadler for replenishment and repairs. Fanshaw Bay, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay, White Plains, Dennis, Hale, Halligan (DD-584), Haraden (DD-585), Hutchins (DD-476), Raymond, and Twiggs (DD-591) came about and shaped a course to the eastward, though Hale presently detached from the convoy. Planes from Kitkun Bay flew patrols for the formation all the way to Manus via Mios Woendi in the Padaido Islands of Netherlands New Guinea [Indonesia]. While en route at 14:00 on the 27th, Halligan made an underwater sound contact and dropped 11 depth charges with inconclusive results. The damaged carriers required escorts and so she rejoined the formation without regaining contact.[8]

The ships reached Woendi harbor on 29 October 1944, refueled, and set course for Manus the next morning, and on the afternoon of 1 November slipped into Seeadler Harbor. The port authorities welcomed the returning veterans by sending out a band in a re-arming barge. Fanshaw Bay, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay, White Plains, Dennis, Hutchins, and Raymond cleared the harbor on 7 November and set a course for Hawaiian waters. The carriers flew off their flyable planes to Ford Island on the morning of 18 November, and that afternoon entered Pearl Harbor. While the ship lay there at 11:00 the following morning, VC-5 went ashore for a much needed period of rest and training. The ship's company gave the aviators a "big send-off and regretted parting with such a fine squadron." That same afternoon the warship began a ten-day (19–29 November) availability in dry dock at the navy yard.[8]

Kitkun Bay wrapped-up her work on 29 November 1944, and that afternoon and evening VC-91 moved on board as her new squadron. Established in February 1944, VC-91 also flew FM-2 Wildcats, as well as TBM-3 Avengers. The ship then (30 November–3 December) trained in the waters south of Oahu, enabling her new pilots to attain their carrier qualifications. A trio of escorts screened the ship as she turned her prow back to the fighting on 5 December. The following day, Ens. Claggett H. Hawkins of VC-91, embarked on board the ship, fatally crashed in a TBM-3 Avenger (BuNo 22880). John C. Butler rescued one survivor, ARM3c T.J. Szpont.[8]

On 11 December, Edmonds (DE-406), one of the carrier's escorts, detected an apparent submarine and made a number of depth charges attacks without noticeable effect. That afternoon, all doubts about the accuracy of her discovery vanished when lookouts sighted two torpedo wakes rushing toward Edmonds, one of which passed beneath her as it evidently ran too deep, and the other swished by just ahead of her. All three escorts fell back and searched for their prey while Kitkun Bay proceeded on a westerly course using evasive tactics. After several hours of fruitless search, the escorts rejoined the ship and they all dropped anchor in Seeadler Harbor on 17 December 1944. Rear Adm. Ofstie returned to Kitkun Bay and broke his flag in command of CarDiv 26 as the ship took on stores, ammunition, fuel, and replacement planes for her next battle.[8]

In spite of almost continuous harsh weather during January 1945, the Allies invaded Lingayen Gulf on western Luzon in the Philippines. Kitkun Bay, Shamrock Bay (CVE-84), and their escorts cleared Seeadler Harbor at 09:41 on 31 December 1944, and set a course to rendezvous with the rest of the invasion fleet. They joined two transport groups at 16:00 that afternoon, and the combined forces continued on their voyage. Lt. Cmdr. Bernard D. Mack, VC-91's commanding officer, wrecked in a Wildcat (BuNo 73569) on 4 January 1945. Mack survived the crash but in a pre-dawn take-off from Kitkun Bay the next morning, disappeared in another Wildcat (BuNo 73551). A thorough search of the area failed to locate either Mack or his plane.[8]

The Japanese reacted vigorously to the landings and their planes attacked the invasion forces during the transit from Leyte Gulf. TF 38, Vice Adm. John S. McCain in command, including seven heavy and four light carriers, a night group of one heavy and one light carrier, and a replenishment group with one hunter-killer and seven escort carriers, nonetheless concentrated on destroying enemy air power and air installations. On 3 January 1945 carrier planes bombed Japanese airfields and ships at Formosa [Taiwan]. Three days later Ofstie's Lingayen Protective Group, TF 77.4.3, part of the vast assemblage and consisting of Kitkun Bay, Shamrock Bay, John C. Butler, and O'Flaherty (DE-340), entered Surigao Strait. An air alert sent men scrambling to man their battle stations but the enemy failed to attack.[8]

The following morning on 7 January 1945, however, a kamikaze aimed his death dive at Kadashan Bay, which steamed about 50 miles to the north of Kitkun Bay. Despite repeated hits the enemy plane plunged into the carrier amidships directly below the bridge. After an hour and a half of feverish damage control effort, the crew checked the fires and flooding. The battered ship returned to Leyte for temporary repairs on 12 January, and on 13 February set out for a complete overhaul at San Francisco, Calif.[8]

The enemy attack served as a heads-up for Kitkun Bay, and she received a report of more unidentified aircraft closing from the north at 15 miles. Lookouts sighted antiaircraft bursts on the horizon scarcely ten miles away as Japanese planes attacked other vessels of the invasion forces. The ship steamed at general quarters several minutes later at 0910, when a lone enemy bomber appeared close to the water and closing the formation just four miles off the starboard quarter. Multiple escorts opened fire and the enemy pilot maneuvered erratically to avoid the gunfire and escaped. The Wildcats of the warship's CAP claimed to splash three other intruders and by 11:15 the radar seemed clear of enemy aircraft and the ship secured from battle stations.[8]

Vice Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson, Commander, TF 79, sent a "Flash Red" at 18:06 that evening as additional bogeys approached from a range of 20 miles. The ship's fighters pounced on the attackers and claimed to splash four to six planes. The enemy determinedly pressed home their attack nevertheless, and cruisers and destroyers closed Kitkun Bay and blasted away at the attackers to protect her. The carriers headed into the wind to conduct flight operations in order to recover aircraft from Kadashan Bay, and two of the latter's FM-2s from VC-20 landed on board Kitkun Bay. Lt. (j.g.) William F. Jordan, USNR, of VC-91 went down in a Wildcat (BuNo 73617) but a destroyer rescued Jordan.[8]

Lookouts sighted enemy planes circling about three miles off the ship's port bow at about 6,000 feet at 18:48 on 7 January 1945, near 16°N, 119°10'E. The rumble of antiaircraft fire from the cruisers and destroyers increased in crescendo; however, in a few minutes two Japanese Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa Army Type 1 fighter planes detached from their formation and flew toward the carriers. One of the Oscars turned at 18:57 and dived on Kitkun Bay from a relative bearing of 330°.[8]

All available guns including Montpelier (CL-57) and Phoenix (CL-46) opened up on the Oscar and shot off parts of the plane, but the pilot continued his dive through what the ship's historian described as "murderous fire," levelled off close to the water at 3,000 yards, and crashed the suicide plane through Kitkun Bay's port side at the waterline amidships. An explosion and large fire flared up simultaneously with a hit by a 5-inch round from one of the other ships, which burst close to the carrier's bow below a gun sponson, killing and wounding several men—the attack killed 16 men altogether and wounded another 37. The Oscar tore a hole in the ship's side approximately 20 feet long and nine feet high between frames 113 and 121, extending three feet below the waterline.[8]

Kitkun Bay lost power and began listing to port rapidly as her after engine room, machine shop, and gyro spaces flooded. The list increased to 13° with the trim down by the stern four feet at 19:04. Maintainers shifted planes to the starboard side of the flight deck to help correct the list. Firefighters valiantly battled the blaze and extinguished the flames by 19:10, but the flooding continued as seawater poured into the ship in spite of the efforts of the engineers and repair party to contain the damage. Rear Adm. Ofstie prudently ordered all secret and confidential publications destroyed to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. The Medical Department tended to the wounded, and then the captain passed the orders to transfer all "unnecessary" crewmen off the ship; wounded first. Destroyers took off 724 men, leaving less than 200 on board—the rescue party supplemented by volunteers. "We stayed upon the flight deck," Lt. Thomlinson reflected, "ready to scramble into the sea, except when we had urgent business below decks. At 19 degrees list there's no comfort on a carrier."[8]

Despite the risk of a fire touching off ammunition and fuel on board Kitkun Bay, fleet ocean tug Chowanac (ATF-100) closed the carrier and secured a tow line to her at 20:42, and they proceeded toward Santiago Island in the vicinity of Lingayen Gulf. The engineers got steam up in the forward engine room and the damage control teams reduced the list to four degrees. Hopewell (DD-681) and Taylor (DD-468) left the formation to guide and escort Shamrock Bay (CVE-84), which operated a distance away, back into the group, and the carrier joined them during the mid watch. Ofstie then transferred his flag to Shamrock Bay.[8]

Unidentified aircraft were reported nearby at 14:30 on 9 January 1945, and the gun crews resignedly manned their weapons, though no attack developed. VC-91 counted 15 FM-2s, one FM-2P, a photographic variant, ten TBM-3s, and a single TBM-3P on board Kitkun Bay. The kamikaze claimed at least two Wildcats (BuNos 73589 and 74027) parked on board the ship. The situation nonetheless looked more hopeful as the morning progressed. The forward engine room had a head of steam and at 08:15 eight fighters appeared overhead and protectively flew CAP over the ships. As the vessels approached Lingayen Gulf, crewmen sighted gunfire from both sides as the fighting continued ashore. Kitkun Bay gradually restored power and communications, and the tug cast off at 10:30 and the carrier proceeded under her own steam, with speed limited to eight knots because of salt water steaming. Kitkun Bay lowered her colors to half mast at 11:30 while the ship's company committed their fallen shipmates to the deep.[8]

Kitkun Bay proceeded on a westerly course to rendezvous with TG 77.4, but at 18:22 received a report of enemy aircraft closing on the formation from the east. The warship sounded general quarters, and, although she could only make ten knots, a brisk breeze from the north enabled her to head into the wind and launch five Wildcats. The Japanese planes swung around and retired to the south without pressing an attack. The wind dropped to barely 15 knots and it was nearly dark by 19:07 when the ship recovered her last fighters.[8]

The ship operated in the vicinity of the task group throughout 10 January, a day punctuated by two air alerts, though the enemy did not attack. Increasingly heavy seas that evening made the battered carrier's seaworthiness doubtful and maneuvering difficult. Capt. Albert Handly, the commanding officer, requested permission to join the first slow convoy to Leyte that passed in the area, and at 22:00 Kitkun Bay received a message to join some tank landing ships of TU 79.14.3 and make for that island.[8]

Kitkun Bay held the course and station by using the magnetic compass while she limped nearly 500 miles to Leyte Gulf during the next several days. On 11 January, Lt. (j.g.) James A. Jones, USNR, of VC-91 crashed in a Wildcat (BuNo 73623) flying from the ship but a plane guard destroyer rescued him.[8]

On 14 January, the ship launched her own CAP, and later sent the fighters on to Tacloban Airfield on Leyte. Sighting Leyte that afternoon, Kitkun Bay entered Surigao Strait at 23:36, and the following morning anchored in Leyte Gulf. Work on the ship progressed despite an enemy air raid on the night of the 18th. Smoke screens mostly obscured the Allied ships anchored in the roadstead, so the Japanese planes bombed some of the searchlights positioned on the beaches that they could spot.[8]

Additional air alerts sent the crew to their battle stations more than once, but they placed a patch over the hole in the side and pumped the water out of the flooded compartments. Men discovered a Japanese 550-pound armor-piercing bomb wedged into the No. 3 boiler on the 20th. The deadly device had torn through Kitkun Bay and stopped there without exploding, but ordnance disposal sailors from Leyte boarded the ship and cut through the boiler to remove the bomb—while all hands stayed clear of the area. The bomb experts discovered a second unexploded 550-pounder in the previously flooded machine shop, and de-armed and jettisoned over the side both bombs, the first one at 23:06 and the second at 15:10 the following day.[8]

"Experiment with converging or diverging boresight patterns on AA [antiaircraft] weapons," Capt. Handly subsequently recommended to the fleet. "Make similar research with range setting and deflection devices. Try the elimination of all tracer and all 5-inch except Mark 32 or similar marks to deny pilot the knowledge of where the AA is and relieve gunners of the confusion of many bursts which tend to hide the plane, particularly at twilight. Tracers did not appear to assist our own gunners, and many guns apparently fired at 5-inch bursts."[8]

The Navy consistently evaluated the results of these battles and evaluators noted that the optimum pattern of antiaircraft guns and their systems varied greatly with the control, weapon, ammunition—and the action of the target. The fleet made tracerless 20-millimeter and 40-millimeter rounds available, and VT (proximity) fuzes did not have tracers. "If the control is adequate," investigators responded, "the suggestion has considerable merit, although there is an undeniable psychological effect of tracers, both on the gunner and the attacking pilot."[8]

Handly's dearly bought experience inspired him to make a number of other suggestions: "Test the value of a very tight screen, possibly with escort vessels closing to 200 yards upon Red alerts, to concentrate firepower, bolster morale, reduce deflection and reduce the masking of fire when low attacks fly between ships ... Place OBB's [old battleships] in the center of CVE formations."[8]

The best attempt to train was a number of simulated surprise attacks conducted by our embarked planes which afforded our gunners, lookouts and CIC [Combat Information Center] personnel an opportunity to improve their alertness making dry runs. These drills were effective, but did not enable us to stop the last attack ... It is suggested that immediate research be pursued along the following lines by appropriate activities: Develop a target for realistic gunnery exercises. This could be a water fillable bomb with a target sleeve attached, and containing a radio controlled device to explode the bomb harmlessly before it could strike the firing ship after being launched by a dive bomber. Radio-controlled gliders or drones, similarly equipped, would be still better.[8]

In addition, the captain expressed his concern about how close Japanese aircraft approached ships before the latter opened fire, in part because of the gunners' fears of hitting their own returning planes. Handly thus proposed what, at first glance, seems a harsh yet practical solution:[8]

"Enforce with a shoot - regardless policy, a doctrine prohibiting friendly pilots from making any but the prescribed approach to a formation of ships. Time cannot be wasted on positive identification." The captain's recommendation seemed merited in light of the horrific casualties the kamikazes caused.[8]

Kitkun Bay stood out for home on 24 January 1945, her temporary repairs completed and 95 percent of the flooded compartments pumped out. A kamikaze had crashed Salamaua (CVE-96) on 13 January, and the damaged carrier and a screen accompanied Kitkun Bay, which sailed in tactical command of the group. The ships dropped anchor in Seeadler Harbor on 30 January, and the following day her men continued work on repairing their vessel. VC-91 detached on 4 February with orders to embark on board Savo Island, and Kitkun Bay's historian observed that "with them went the gratitude and best wishes of the ship's company."[8]

The ship loaded some aviation gasoline and ordnance, and the convoy resumed their voyage and steamed uneventfully to Pearl Harbor (5–17 February), where Kitkun Bay moored to Ford Island. The warship discharged her remaining aviation gasoline and considerable ammunition, and then turned further eastward and sailed to Naval Dry Docks, an activity on Terminal Island near San Pedro, Calif. (20–28 February). Kitkun Bay granted leave to the ship's company in two periods of 20 days each. The welcome news marked the first leave for most of the crew following an extended tour of combat duty.[8]

While the ship completed repairs on 26 February 1945, VC-7 received orders to report to her no later than 10 April. The squadron increased its tempo of training at Naval Air Auxiliary Station (NAAS) Monterey, Calif., but on the following day also participated in simulated close support attacks on the Army's nearby Camp Hunter Liggett. The squadron granted pre-embarkation leave of ten days to all hands on 6 March. On the 19th, Ens. Jack Edwards, successfully landed an FM-2 in the water when his engine failed about 34 miles off Point Pinos. Attack transport Cullman (APA-78) steamed in the area and rescued Edwards after he spent only 16 minutes in his life raft. The Navy cancelled VC-7's orders to Kitkun Bay on 13 April, however, and the men and planes of the squadron subsequently served on board other ships and stations.[8]

Kitkun Bay wrapped-up the yard work and stood out of San Pedro with a full load of planes and carried them to Hawaiian waters (27 April – 3 May 1945). The ship delivered her cargo to Pearl Harbor and into the following week cleaned-up from the repairs. In the process, yard workers at Pearl Harbor discovered that she required more work on the engines and the radar gear, which delayed her departure. Kitkun Bay returned to sea for a post-trial run on 3 June, during which she also carried our drills and gunnery exercises. The veteran ship slipped back into the harbor that evening to enable the navy yard to complete some engineering work. She loaded provisions and ammunition, along with the FM-2s, TBM-3s, and a single TBM-1C of VC-63, which had flown from NAS Hilo on Hawaii. The carrier then (8–13 June) took part in training exercises in the operating area west of Oahu.[8]

On 9 June, Ens. Max I. Polkowski of VC-63 wrecked in a TBM-3E (BuNo 85735) he flew from the ship, but a destroyer rescued the pilot. The string of ill fortune continued as just the very next day, Lt. (j.g.) Richard C. Bunten, USNR, of VC-63 crashed in a Wildcat (BuNo 74781), but a destroyer retrieved Bunten from the water as well.[8]

Kitkun Bay returned to Pearl Harbor and at 08:00 on 15 June 1945, stood down the channel and steamed independently to Guam, holding frequent gunnery drills en route (15–27 June). The ship anchored in the harbor at Apra, and the next day unloaded her squadron and took fuel on board. Kitkun Bay proceeded to Ulithi, but while en route on 28 June, Ens. Walter R. Winiecki, USNR, of VC-63 went down in an FM-2 Wildcat (BuNo 74798), but a destroyer pulled the pilot from the sea and later returned him to the ship. Kitkun Bay reported to Third Fleet Logistic Support Group, TF 30.8, Rear Adm. Donald B. Beary, on the 29th, and loaded provisions and topped off fuel while at the atoll.[8]

The ship joined Steamer Bay (CVE-87) and some other vessels and cleared Ulithi on 3 July 1945, and about three hours later, they formed Carrier Cover Unit, TU 30.8.23, to take part in raids against the Japanese home islands. The Allies planned to invade Japan through two principal plans: Operation Olympic—landings on Kyushu scheduled for 1 November 1945; and Coronet—landings on Honshū scheduled for 1 March 1946. Olympic included a diversion against Shikoku to precede the main landings, and the enemy prepared to defend the islands ferociously. "The sooner [the Americans] come, the better ... One hundred million die proudly," a Japanese slogan exhorted their people. The enemy deployed massed formations of kamikazes, as well as kaiten manned suicide torpedoes, shinyo suicide motorboats, and human mines—soldiers were to strap explosives to their bodies and crawl beneath Allied tanks and vehicles.[8]

The preparations to support these landings included a series of carrier and surface raids by Halsey's Third Fleet against Japanese airfields, ships, and installations from Kyūshū to Hokkaido. Flt. Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, defined Halsey's mission as to: "attack Japanese naval and air forces, shipping, shipyards, and coastal objectives," and to "cover and support Ryukyus forces." As part of this massive undertaking, McCain sailed with TF 38 from Leyte on 1 July 1945. The three task groups under McCain's command, Rear Adm. Thomas Sprague's TG 38.1, Rear Adm. Gerald F. Bogan's TG 38.3, and Rear Adm. Arthur W. Radford's TG 38.4, each comprised an average of three Essex-class carriers and two small carriers. A replenishment group and an antisubmarine group each included escort carriers.[8]

Kitkun Bay and Steamer Bay shared launching daily CAP and antisubmarine patrols, and rendezvoused with other ships of TF 38 on 8 July. That night the reinforced task force fueled and turned toward the first battles of the voyage, when, on 10 July, they hurled strikes against Japanese airfields in the Tokyo plains area. The enemy camouflaged and dispersed most of their planes, reducing the aerial opposition encountered but also diminishing the results obtained. Lt. Herbert Tonry, USNR, of VC-63 went down in an FM-2 Wildcat (BuNo 74923) he flew from Kitkun Bay on 12 July, but a destroyer rescued the pilot. Harsh weather compelled the Americans to shift their attacks to airfields, vessels, and railroads in northern Honshū and Hokkaido (14–15 July), and these two days of raids wrought havoc with the vital shipment of Japanese coal across the Tsugaru Strait.[8]

Allied carrier planes bombed targets around Tokyo on 17 July, and night CAP of planes flying from Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) protected U.S. and British ships that shelled six major industrial plants in the Mito-Hitachi area of Honshū. The following day, the carriers launched aircraft against the naval station at Yokosuka and airfields near Tokyo. The raiders sank training cruiser Kasuga, incomplete escort destroyer Yaezakura, submarine I-372, submarine chaser Harushima, auxiliary patrol vessels Pa No. 37, Pa No. 110, and Pa No. 122, and motor torpedo boat Gyoraitei No. 28, and damaged Nagato, target ship Yakaze, motor torpedo boat Gyoraitei No. 256, landing ship T.110, and auxiliary submarine chaser Cha 225. Carrier raids damaged battleship Haruna and carriers Amagi and Katsuragi on 19 July. Kitkun Bay and Steamer Bay sent their planes aloft daily to protect the other ships from enemy aircraft or submarines.[8]

Kitkun Bay and her consorts protected the group until they rendezvoused with the heavy carriers of the task force and replenished on 20 July 1945. Two days later, McCain set out for more raids and on 24 July attacked Japanese airfields and shipping along the Inland Sea and northern Kyūshū, supported by long-range strikes by USAAF bombers. Carrier planes flew 1,747 sorties and sank 21 ships including battleship Hyūga, Tone, training cruiser Iwate, and target ship Settsu, and damaged 17 vessels. The carriers repeated their sweep the following day. Carrier planes struck targets between Nagoya and northern Kyūshū on 28 July, sinking a number of ships including Haruna, Ise, training ship Izumo, Aoba, light cruiser Ōyodo, escort destroyer Nashi, submarine I-404, and submarine depot ship Komahashi. Aircraft damaged additional vessels.[8]

The ship's planes and escort ships often sighted and sank mines. Despite their maneuvering at times 400–500 miles from the Japanese home islands, the Carrier Cover Unit never encountered opposition. Kitkun Bay operated about 450 miles to the southeast of Honshū, in the vicinity of the Third Fleet rendezvous, as part of the Logistics Support Group, and took part in the third replenishment rendezvous on the last day of the month A typhoon approached the Third Fleet but Halsey brought the ships about on 31 July and 1 August southward to a position near 25°N, 137°E, to evade the tempest. On the evening of 3 August, the task force departed for another series of strikes. The following day, Kitkun Bay, Nehenta Bay, Carlson (DE-9), and Dionne (DE-261) formed TU 30.18.27 and came about for Eniwetok.[8]

A forge in Kitkun Bay's shipfitter's shop exploded at 10:34 on 4 August 1945. The blast caused a fire and burned several men, and two sailors trapped by the fire in that area jumped overboard to avoid the flames. Dionne swung around and rescued both men, and later returned them to the carrier. The conflagration fatally burned one of the victims, but firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze. Kitkun Bay sighted Eniwetok at daybreak on 9 August, and the task unit was dissolved as the ships proceeded individually and anchored at the atoll. Capt. John S. Greenslade relieved Capt. Handly two days later, and Handly proudly announced that he turned over a "fighting crew and a fighting ship."[8]

While the ship prepared to rejoin the carrier sweeps against the Japanese home islands, she received news of the enemy's willingness to surrender. Kitkun Bay then loaded foul weather gear because she received orders to turn northward and serve under Vice Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher, Commander, Ninth Fleet, and Alaskan Sea Frontier. Fanshaw Bay, Kitkun Bay, and their escorts formed TU 49.5.2 and set out at 07:00 on 16 August for their northern journey. The two carriers operated as the duty carrier on alternate days during the voyage, but foul weather pummeled the ships and prevented flight operations.[8]

The seasoned warships steamed through Amutka Pass and entered the Bering Sea on 23 August, and the next morning Kitkun Bay moored to a buoy in Kulak Bay on the Bering (northwestern) side of Adak Island in the Aleutians. The vessels anchored in the shadow of show-capped peaks surmounting the treeless green tundra, and refueled and loaded supplies. Kitkun Bay shifted to Sweeper's Cove at Adak, where nearly 6,000 soldiers toured the ship the following day. That evening she cast off from the pier and returned to Kulak Bay.[8]

From there, Fanshaw Bay, Hoggatt Bay (CVE-75), Kitkun Bay, Manila Bay, Nehenta Bay, Savo Island, and their screen including Chester (CA-27), Pensacola (CA-24), and Salt Lake City (CA-25), sailed in TF 49, Rear Adm. Harold M. Martin, Commander, CarDiv 23, who broke his flag in Hoggatt Bay, and participated in the occupation of the northern Japanese home islands (31 August–9 September 1945). Later that day, the task force was redesignated TF 44, and operated within range of Vice Adm. Fletcher, who hoisted his flag in amphibious force flagship Panamint (AGC-13). Fletcher set out to receive the formal Japanese surrender of their forces in northern Honshū and Hokkaido.[8]

The carriers launched daily CAP and antisubmarine patrols, and the aircraft and ships sighted and destroyed frequent mines en route. An Avenger flying from Kitkun Bay became unable to maintain altitude while attempting an emergency landing on 5 September. The torpedo bomber crashed into the sea as the pilot turned to clear the ship's stern, and Fullam (DD-474) raced over and rescued all three men, and returned the shaken but uninjured crew to the carrier within the hour. Before dawn on 7 September, Kitkun Bay detected a small Japanese patrol craft 3,000 yards on the beam. One of the destroyers intercepted and investigated the vessel, and the convoy continued the voyage.[8]

Lookouts sighted Hokkaido early that morning and at 11:30 northern Honshū appeared on the horizon. The carriers launched photographic planes over the next few days that obtained pictures of coastal installations and traffic on land and the coastal waterways. When the officer in tactical command discovered camps holding Allied prisoners of war as a result of discussions with Japanese prisoners, he promptly ordered all of the available torpedo planes to carry vitally needed supplies to the prisoners, who suffered from malnutrition and disease resulting from Japanese neglect and brutality. Kitkun Bay did her share and launched Avengers that carried six tons of medical supplies, food, clothing, and cigarettes and dropped them to the emaciated men, many of whom lacked the strength to even cheer their liberators. The aircraft also parachuted radios to the prisoners, which enabled the ship to establish communications with the men.[8]

The last of the planes recovered on board Kitkun Bay shortly after 11:00 on 13 September 1945, and she and three of the other carriers and their nine escorts turned toward Tsugaru Strait. The column passed through the strait while gunfire detonated mines to either side (14:30–18:15), and Kitkun Bay detached and entered Mutsu Bay, where she anchored at Ōminato in northern Honshū at 20:14. The Japanese used the port as their main naval station in the north, and although rumors circulated that the enemy might oppose the landings, the garrison had obeyed their high command's orders to surrender without resisting on the 9th. A number of ships of the Fourth Fleet and numerous district and harbor craft also plied the busy harbor or lay at anchor.[8]

Howarth (DD-592) led Kitkun Bay back out to sea on 14 September, and four hours later they entered the anchorage at Hakodate, Hokkaido, to be greeted by British destroyer Barfleur (D.80), which already lay anchored in the harbor. A trio of Japanese tugs flying white surrender flags chugged alongside, one of which brought the British liaison officer on board to expedite the transfer of the Allied prisoners held ashore. Three Japanese officers called on Capt. Greenslade at 16:18, but a few minutes later, Japanese antiaircraft fire erupted from the foothills of the harbor, about five miles away. The guns fired more than half-a-dozen times that afternoon and Japanese officials explained that they were celebrating a festival. The exasperated Americans explained the likelihood of misunderstandings that could lead to more fighting, and the Japanese agreed to halt further demonstrations until the ships departed.[8]

Kitkun Bay brought a number of freed Allied prisoners on board to return them to their homes and loved ones. Many of the men included survivors of the Wake Detachment, First Defense Battalion, USMC, which had served under Maj. James P.S. Devereux, USMC, and Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 211, Maj. Paul A. Putnam, USMC, during their epic defense of Wake Island against the Japanese (8–23 December 1941). Both Devereux and Putnam received the Navy Cross for their valiant defense of the island, and were freed and returned home by separate means. Additional liberated prisoners included sailors and marines captured by the Japanese at Shanghai, China, in 1941, and merchant seamen taken from their ships in several other ports. The newly released men savored their freedom, and praised the food, coffee, and cigarettes the planes had dropped to them.[8]

The ship weighed anchor the following morning at 08:56 on 15 September 1945, in answer to an urgent radio appeal to rescue wounded, sick, and malnourished Allied prisoners still languishing in Japanese captivity that required immediate medical treatment. Kitkun Bay launched eight planes carrying liaison parties to Chitose, an airfield on Hokkaido from which the Japanese had sent kamikazes against Allied ships. The aircraft picked up seven ambulatory British Royal Air Force (RAF) servicemen and brought them back on board by noon. The carrier then cleared the anchorage, turned her prow southward, and dropped anchor at Yokohama on 17 September. After an early lunch, the RAF survivors boarded medium landing ship LSM-208 with the first leg of their long homeward journey completed.[8]

The fighting against the Japanese had ended but not the eternal struggle against the sea. A typhoon lashed the area that night and Kitkun Bay made ready to get underway if necessary. The wind increased until gusts above 75 knots whipped up the sea in the sheltered bay and caused her anchor to drag. The ship maneuvered on one engine in order to avoid drifting and colliding with Ticonderoga (CV-14), which lay nearby. The tempest swamped or set adrift numerous boats and landing craft, among them the captain's gig. Kitkun Bay alternatively used both engines that morning to relieve the strain on the anchor chain and to minimize yawing. The wind abated by noon to a comparatively moderate 45 knots.[8]

The crew rode out the typhoon and savored their first liberty ashore on the Japanese mainland during the ship's ten-day (17–27 September 1945) stay in the Tokyo Bay area. Many of the men explored the devastated cities and purchased souvenir trinkets from the people. Vessels of every description packed the bay when Kitkun Bay arrived, but multiple ships departed each day, and only a few major warships, several dozen destroyers and escorts, some auxiliaries, and a variety of landing craft remained when the carrier prepared to turn for home.[8]

The escort carrier shifted to the Fifth Fleet on 19 September and then (27 September–19 October 1945) took part in Operation Magic Carpet—the return of veterans from the war zones by ships and aircraft. Kitkun Bay made her maiden Magic Carpet voyage carrying 554 troops, and Howarth joined her as they formed TU 16.12.26 and headed for the United States. The two ships touched at Apra, Guam, and Pearl Harbor on their return cruise, and Kitkun Bay slipped beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and moored at San Francisco as she brought the grateful veterans home. Additional voyages to Pearl Harbor and the west coast, and a cruise to Okinawa, concluded at San Pedro on 12 January 1946, and the following day Kitkun Bay moved to the Nineteenth Fleet. The ship steamed up the west coast and entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington, on 18 February.[8]

Kitkun Bay steamed 137,000 miles during her commissioned service, the equivalent of more than five times around the world. The ship crossed the equator a dozen times, and the International Date Line ten times. She withstood heavy caliber Japanese gunfire, and fought off enemy planes that attacked her in both the conventional and suicide rolls. Planes flying from her flight deck claimed to down 26 enemy aircraft, and sank or contributed to sinking two Japanese heavy cruisers and two barges, damaged a battleship and a heavy cruiser, and destroyed five tanks on the ground. Twenty-seven men of the ship's company died and 58 sustained wounds.[8]

Inspectors from the Board of Inspection and Survey even so responded to the large-scale draw down following the war, and recommended that she "was not essential to defense of U.S." and should be decommissioned with a view to sell the hulk for scrap. Consequently, Kitkun Bay was decommissioned on 19 April 1946, at Port Angeles, Washington, and stricken on 8 May. The Navy sold the ship for $12,700 to Zidell Ship Dismantling Company of Portland, Oregon, on 18 November 1946. The veteran carrier was moved in January 1947, and by that October was reported scrapped.[8]

Kitkun Bay received six battle stars for World War II service, and shared in the award of the Presidential Unit Citation to Taffy 3 for extraordinary heroism in the Battle off Samar.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b Kaiser Vancouver 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Chesneau & Gardiner 1980, p. 109.
  3. ^ Y'Blood 2014, pp. 34–35.
  4. ^ a b Hazegray 1998.
  5. ^ a b Y'Blood 2014, p. 61.
  6. ^ Y'Blood 2014, p. 110.
  7. ^ Y'Blood 2014, p. 277.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg ch ci cj ck cl cm cn co cp cq cr cs ct cu cv cw cx cy cz da db dc dd de df dg dh di dj dk dl dm dn do dp dq DANFS 2019.
  9. ^ "MALCOLM LAWTY, LTJG, USNR". USNA Virtual Memorial Hall. Run To Honor, Inc. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  10. ^ a b Y'Blood 2014, p. 64.
  11. ^ Y'Blood 2014, p. 67.
  12. ^ Y'Blood 2014, p. 68.

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.


Online sources