INVASION of HOLLANDIA 17 APRIL 1944

INVASION of BIAK IS. 26 May - 22 June 1944

INVASION of NOEMFOOR ISLAND 2 JULY 1944

OPERATION OF CAPE SANSPOR, 30 JULY 1944

 

 

 

THE HOLLANDIA LANDINGS

“Operation Reckless”

22 April 1944

 

We were lying at anchor in Buna Roads when we got word that SWANSON had been chosen to be flagship of what was at that time to be the largest and longest and possibly the most daring amphibious assault of the Pacific war. The Admiralty Islands seizure where we had just completed what was probably the most outstanding service of our career and was probably as daring a stroke, and certainly bore great strategic value, but it had been hastily organized “shoestring” affair compared with what was now in the offing.

 

Southwest Pacific forces were to make three large landings roughly 750 miles westward of our currently most advanced position on that long north coast of New Guinea. We would completely bypass the Japanese Second and Eighteenth Armies and their strongholds at Madang, Hansa Bay, and Wewak. We would seize Aitape to the east of and Tanamerah Bay to the west of the fine harbor of Humboldt Bay, where Hollandia, the capital “city” of Dutch New Guinea, was located. It was like all other outposts of civilization on that whole coast, little more than a village.

 

Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey, known in the fleet as “Uncle Dan, the Amphibious Man”, would command the naval assault and transport forces, and Lieutenant General Robert E.L. Eichelberger, Commander Ground Forces Southwest Pacific, the assault troops. Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, Commander Sixth Army, shared this responsibility in the Army hierarchy, and would be riding in our sister ship WILKES. General Douglas MacArthur, the Southwest Pacific Theater of Operations version of “El Supremo,” would ride the cruiser NASHVILLE.

 

Preparations for embarking a substantial number of passengers in a ship of our size took quite a few hours, mainly involving the swinging of extra bunks and hammocks wherever space could be scrounged. Admiral Barbey and his staff came aboard the afternoon of 16 April and we weighed anchor and were on our way.

 

During the night we steamed southeastward past the old familiar landmark Cape Sudest, and shortly after dawn the morning of 17 April dropped anchor in Beli Beli Anchorage off Goodenough Island, which was a major staging and training area for the 24th and 41st Infantry Divisions of the Army. By that time many of our crew had already done some shifting of their quarters to conform to orders to make room for our expected guests for the next several days. This included even Captain Robertson, who had surrendered his cabin to Admiral Barbey, and assigned “Warhead” Williams to be his personal steward, much to the Admiral’s temporary confusion upon their first meeting. (Warhead had knocked on the Admiral’s door and the Admiral asked: “ Who is it?” and Warhead answered: “Warhead Williams!Sir!”, then explained that the Captain assigned him to the Admiral as Steward) Later the Admiral asked Captain Robertson how Warhead got his name and Captain Robertson’s explained. That’s too long to explain here but it is in Captain Robertson “Recollections” in Personal Recollections entitled: “The Story of Warhead Williams”.

 

Among the Army of the United States passengers that soon boarded us were:

Lt. General Eichelberger, area ground force commander,

Major General Frederick A. Irving, Commander 24th Division

Brigadier General Clovis E. Byers, Chief of Staff to General Eichelberger.

Colonel F.S. Bowen, Jr.,

Colonel A.S. Newman,

Lt. Colonel F.R. Zierath,

Major D. K. Edwards,

M/Sgt. Benjamin, F. Romano,

Pvt. Roland Jimenez,

Corporal Joseph Sigon,

T/4 Otto Sukes,

And T/4 Thaddeus Dombrowski.

 

From the news media and press we had Frazier Hunt of the “Saturday Evening Post”, W.C. Wilson of the United Press, and Frank Priest, Jr. with Acme Photographers.

 

Photographer Priest was a few months later to be given worldwide credit and acclaim for discovering a previously unknown tribe of people – tillers of the soil, not headhunters and cannibals like so many of the native tribes were (and may still be), and with relatively very light skin. They lived high up in a remote valley between the two mountain ranges of western New Guinea, where the measured peaks soar from 13 to 16 thousand feet. He had been flown in to land in their village clearing at his request in an Army spotting plane. He was later to be killed in action in the Philippines.

 

We were to have many other guests and temporary passengers both military and media on board at times during the operation.

 

A tightly planned schedule was now going into effect, and at 1120 we weighed anchor and headed back northwest, with four fully loaded transport and two other destroyers falling into column astern. As we went back up the Solomon Sea and through the straits between New Britain and New Guinea various other transports and escorts were joining us from other staging areas to complete the formation of Task Group 77.1 (destination Tanahmerah Bay) by mid-morning the next day, 18 April. We had turned north after transiting the straits during the night and headed for the Admiralties. We skirted them to the east during the night of the 19th and by early morning of 20 April were well north of them and heading west.

 

We slowed to form Cruising Formation CAST as we were joined by Task Group 77.2, destination Hollandia, with their American light cruiser covering force (Task Force 75) and Task Group 77.3, destination Aitape. Task Force 74, the Australian heavy cruiser covering force, assigned to Tanamerah Bay, also joined up.

 

CRUISING DISPOSITION CAST

 

Task Group 77.1, Center, Target Tanahmerah Bay

 

Destroyers: USS SWANSON (TF 77 Flagship), USS HOBBY, USS NICHOLSON, USS GRAYSON, USS WILKES, and USS GILLESPIE.

 

TRANSPORT: HENRY T. ALLEN, HMAS MANOORA, HMAS KANIMOLA, USS CARTER HALL (LSD), TRIANGULUM (Cargo), 7 LST’s , 16 LCI’s.

 

SPECIAL SERVICE:  HMAS RESERVE (Tug), USS SC736, USS SC738, USS LCI 731 (Rockets), YMS 8, and YMS 10.

 

Task Group 77.2, Right Flank, Target Hollandia

 

DESTROYERS: USS STEVENSON, USS STOCKTON, USS THORNE, USS WELLES, USS ROE, USS RADFORD, USS TAYLOR.

 

TRANSPORTS:  HMAS WESTRALIA, USS GUNSTON HALL (LSD), GANYMEDA (CARGO), APD’s USS’s HUMPHREYS, BROOKS, SANDS, GILMER, and HERBERT; 7 LST’s, 16 LCI’s

 

SPECIAL SERVICE: USS HOGAN, USS HOVEY, (Both DMS’s) USS SC’s 703 and 734, USS SONOMA (Tug), YM’s 46 and 47, USS LCI’s 34 and 73 (Both Rockets).

 

Task Group 77.3, Left Flank, Target Aitape

 

DESTROYERS:  USS NICHOLAS, USS O’BANNON, USS JENKINS, USS HOPEWELL, AND USS HOWORTH.

 

TRANSPORTS:  APD’s   USS’s KILTY, WARD, CROSBY, DICKERSON, TALBOT, SCHLEY, KANE, DENT, and NOA; USS BELLE GROVE (LSD), USS ETAMIN (AK), 7 LST’s.

SPECIAL SERVICE: DMS’s  USS’s  HAMILTON and PERRY;  SC’s USS’s  742,  981, 637, and 648; YMS’s 48 and 51; USS CHETCO (Tug).

 

Task Force, Covering Force  “A”

 

HEAVY CRUISERS:  HMAS AUSTRALIA, HMAS SHROPSHIRE.

 

DESTROYERS:   HMAS ARUNTA, HMAS WARRAMUNGA, USS AMMEN, AND USS MULLANY.

 

Task Force 75, Covering Force  “B”

LIGHT CRUISERS: USS PHOENIX, USS NASHVILLE, AND USS BOISE.

DESTROYERS:     USS HUTCHINS, USS BACHE, USS DALEY, USS ABNER READ, AND USS BUSH.

 

With the assault and covering forces now assembled all together we resumed modest speed westward, angling somewhat northerly to within about 50 miles of the equator before arching southwest toward our targets.

 

This huge force was now well out of range of land-based air cover, but we were well protected nonetheless. Task Force 78 whose main body consisted of small escort or “jeep” aircraft carriers of “MacArthur’s Navy” was cruising generally south of us for protection from whatever might come toward us from the coast. The famed Task Force 58, the powerful main striking force of the United States Navy, with their large, fast carriers, were cruising generally north and west of us. They were still under Admiral Chester Nimitz’s Central Pacific Area Command, but his orders to TF Commander Vice Admiral Marc A. “Pete” Mitscher were to give our forces all possible protection from any enemy coming from seaward and to strike the beaches full strength before the assaults and afterwards at Admiral Barbey’s request. Mitscher’s Chief of Staff Captain “Commodore” Arleigh A. Burke was riding with MacArthur in NASHVILLE as liaison between the two area commands.

 

These aircraft carriers forces were well out of our sight most of the time, but our immediate formation was now truly a sight to behold from the bridge of Swanson, steaming as force guide in the exact center. One hundred forty nine ships of many types and sizes spread out over a 30-mile front!

 

Most of the next day, 21 April, was the time-honored log entry: “Steaming as before.” Task Force 58, however, was busy all day making their planned strikes on enemy airfields on schedule. At 1730 we left station to pick up a packet of photographs dropped by one of their planes for our Army Intelligence passengers. Half an hour later Task Group 77.3 left the formation on schedule and set course for Aitape. This assault was designed to protect our eastern flank from the Japanese Eighteenth Army at Wewak under the command of Lt.Gen. Hatazo Adachi. We learned later that Lt. Gen. Tusataro Tesnima, in overall area command in Hollandia, had ordered him on 25 March to move to the west in reinforcement of Hollandia, but he had delayed, however, because he was fully convinced that our main strike would hit Hansa Bay and be destroyed by his Army. Major Gen. Kitazono had arrived in Hollandia  on 12 April and relieved Tesnima, who must have shared Thucydide’s thought expressed in 400 B.C. : “I fear our mistakes far more than the strategy of our enemies.”

 

The departure of these ships necessitated rearranging the disposition of the remaining ships, and we shifted forward to a screening position dead ahead of USS Carter Hall, the new formation guide. An LSD, she was of a new design, able to discharge smaller landing craft through her stern by partially submerging instead of grounding on the beach and unloading through bow doors and a ramp.

 

About midnight Task Group 77.2 and their American light cruiser covering force (TF75) departed the formation and headed for Humboldt Bay for their assault on Hollandia.  Swanson continued as TF77 flagship along with Task Group 77.1 and Task Force 74 (the Australian heavy cruiser group) on towards Tanahmerah Bay just a few miles further west.  At 0245 we slowed to drop back nearer the transports as we approached the harbor entrance. At 0300 we quietly went to General Quarters. Admiral Barbey soon arrived on the bridge, followed shortly thereafter by General Eichelberger.

 

It was very still and quite dark.  At 0400 we were on the final approach and entering Tanahmerach Bay. The question on all of our minds was “Are we sailing into a trap?” It was almost inconceivable that such a large force could have sailed so many miles unobserved by the enemy. Hopefully the devious route of  our passage  and observance of strict radio silence had paid off, but we could not be sure.

 

At 0410 the transports were in their assigned areas and preparing to disembark the assault troops, consisting mainly of the 24th Infantry Division. The cruisers and destroyers of the covering force and the fire support destroyers and rocket-launching LCI of the assault group were on station and ready. As morning twilight began and the coastline and mountains became clearly visible to all eyes were assiduously perusing the beaches and elevations for any sign of enemy defenses.

 

At  0600 with the landing forces already on the way all of the gunfire support ships let loose with their main batteries. At 0630 with the leading wave of landing craft halfway to the beach they ceased firing, and the planes from Task Force 58 began their bombing runs. As they completed their furious attack and soared away the high trajectory rockets flew from the converted LCI and blasted the shoreline just seconds before the first wave of troops charged ashore, unopposed, on Red Beach 1 precisely on schedule at 0645. THE ENTIRE OPERATION HAD BEEN PERFECTLY PLANNED, TIMED, AND EXECUTED!

 

As we began to get word from our troops as to what they were encountering, which was very nominal opposition, it was decided to advise Admiral Mitscher that his TF58 planes no longer needed to stand by for additional strikes on the landing beach.

 

The tension was relieved but there was still work to be done. We did not drop anchor in Tanahmerah Bay but spent the rest of the day “Steaming as before”, going back and forth from bare steerageway to hove to, as we continued our duties carrying the flag. A couple of hours after the actual landings there was some light harassing gunfire directed toward some of the landing craft scurrying to and fro amongst the transport type ships still in the Bay, so at 0815 we let loose a ten-minute fire-hosing of Kwakebok Island, spraying it with 165 rounds of 40mm and 99 rounds of 20mm projectiles. The harassment ceased. At 0925 we secured from General Quarters and opened up the ship to Condition II. At this time Major General Frederick A. Irving left the ship to be with his infantrymen of the 24th Division ashore, along with two of our colonel passengers.  Our average propeller RPM’s for the forenoon watch was 18!

 

It was more, but less, of the same for the ship and crew during the afternoon watch. Very little of a work routine went on, as about all off-duty hands tried to catch a little shut eye. However in mid-afternoon the NASHVILLE, carrying General Douglas MacArthur with his staff and many other command personnel, hove to sort of in the entrance to the Bay and called for most command people still in Wilkes and us to meet with him for a review of the situation. So for an hour or so there was a show for us still topside with the landing barges loaded with high ranking officers and lots of press people coming and going.

 

Contrary to a legend that sprang up amongst our crew in later months and years General MacArthur did not come aboard! He did come alongside two times in an LCVP to pick up people and return them after taking them to the landing beach, and on both occasions exchanged brief pleasant conversation with our officer of the deck, “Little Hill”, who invited him to come aboard, but he graciously declined.

 

Things in the Bay passed routinely and quietly until at 1900 during the second dogwatch when we had resumed our off shore patrol we went to GQ upon the threat of enemy planes. A half hour later one of them slipped through the radar contacts – we ourselves had no contact with it – and dropped a single bomb on a Japanese ammunition dump. on the beach over at Hollandia. Its explosion hurled burning ammunition hundreds of feet into the air and quickly spread the fire into our own supply dumps. Twenty-four men were killed outright and a hundred or more burned or wounded by this secondary explosion. This was possibly the largest loss of men and material during the entire three-pronged operation in a single event. We knew that they enemy had aircraft based at Manokwari over the eastern tip of the Volgelkop Peninsula and also at Wakde, Biak, Noemfoor, and Cape Sansapor. Nonetheless, this lone unopposed “bogey” had sneaked into the area and ironically created great damage by dropping a single explosive upon an already secured beachhead.

 

Early on the morning of 24 April, we reentered Tanahmerah Bay after a routine dawn General Quarters and again hove to instead of anchoring. We only stayed about an hour and a half. Finding everything there in copacetic order, Admiral Barbey and General Eichelberger decided we should get over to Humboldt Bay for them to appraise the situation there, especially in view of the tremendous explosion at Hollandia. We lighted off a third boiler to give us reserve power, and at 25 knots were over there and anchored in 11 fathoms at 1105. It was pleasant to steam at good speed again and then not to have to hold position with barely turning screws.

 

We immediately took on board Lt.Col. J.M. Weikert of the Army Air Corps for treatment by our good Doctor Gaines of shrapnel wounds suffered in the big explosion.

 

During the day several of our passengers went ashore. Upon their return a good while later we learned that our troops had literally broken the bank at Hollandia, just as they had done at Buna Mission months before. General Eichelberger and Admiral Barbey took great smiling delight and also delighted many of our crew by hanging around topside and holding "Pay Day” in Japanese occupational currency for any and all hands that wanted a little “cash” to send home, or maybe to pay a long-standing debt to a friend or relative, as one of our officers did to his older brother still in training Stateside.

 

There was a great deal of coming and going to our sea ladder all day, both from other ships and the beach, where smoke was still rising from the big explosions, but things were generally under control. Around sunset we got underway to establish a night patrol three miles off the coast between Humboldt and Tanahmerah Bays. We had been secured from a routine sunset General Quarters about 35 minutes, when it was back to battle stations again. No drill. Our radar had picked up bogeys some 20 miles out to sea. They circled around for 20 minutes or so and then dropped a good number of those Japanese parachute flares – highly touted for their fantastic brilliance. By the time they finally hit the water, still turning the darkness into almost daylight, our radar screens were clear.

 

The next morning, 25 April, we anchored again in Humboldt Bay at 0801, this time only a quarter mile off shore in five fathoms of water. This was to facilitate traffic to and from the beach. Mid-morning an Army brigadier general and three colonels who had ridden us from Tanahmerah Bay learned that quarters were now available for them ashore and were logged off. About that time Captain “31-knot” Burke came aboard to tell Admiral Barbey that he was leaving our force to return to his duty with Task Force 58, which was leaving the area. After lunch General Eichelberger and his staff, along with some of our media guests, bade us goodbye and departed.

 

In a “Saturday Evening Post” article in 1949 General Eichelberger quoted from a letter he wrote his wife, which he did every night while aboard us, regarding his passage in the SWANSON: “Our sister service does a fine job and a friendly one – no inefficiency here.”

 

As they were leaving another boat brought out for transportation in us Lt. Col. Clarkin and Lt. Col. Philip LaFollete of the famous political family from Wisconsin. Minutes later we got underway and upon leaving the harbor set course almost due east at first at 26 knots. Wd steamed at full speed all night, hugging the coastline fairly closely and passing Aitape, where things had also gone quite well, on the way. Leaving Blup Blup and other not so romantically named islands to port as we worked more to the southeast, we transited Vitiaz Strait and anchored off Cape Cretin, near Finschafen, in 45 fathoms of water late in the morning of 26 April. All of our non-Navy passengers then left us.

 

After lunch, Admiral Barbey and his staff, according to our log, “left the ship, having completed temporary duty on board in connection with current operations.”

 

At 1342 we weighed anchor and set course for the Buna area. We were through with flag shipping for a while.

 

CONCLUSION  - OPERATION   RECKLESS

 

“Reckless?”  Perhaps it at least seemed to be in its conception. Successful in its implementation?  AFFIRMATIVE, by all counts! Samuel Eliot Morrison in the condensation entitled “Two Ocean War” of his authoritative naval history of those times said it was “perfectly planned and smoothly executed.” The march of Times Television tape  “Crusade in the Pacific: Part 14” said that the road back to the Philippines up the 1500 mile north coast of New Guinea “was war at its worst. The troops could never be sure that the enemy was in any place.” On this operation, however, the enemy could never know where WE were until it was too late for them. This film also showed a memorable and classic few feet of General MacArthur’s response when he was advised on the bridge of USS NASHVILLE the morning of 22 April that the assaults at Humboldt Bay under Rear Admiral William M. Fechteler and at Aitape under Captain A.G. Noble had been executed on schedule as efficiently as one at Tahahmarah Bay. His stentorian and dramatic reply was “Swell! It couldn’t be better!”

 

The officers and men of USS SWANSON were indeed pleased with what we had done and felt that it was an invaluable experience. Our Gunnery Division, while always on the alert, hardly been exercised at all. The Radio Gang had enjoyed the partial rest of strict silence for a very few days, but were quite busy later.

 

Our Supply Corps people, such as cooks, bakers, and stewards, were quite ready and overdue for a rest when it was over. The Engineering Division got a good practice at using the propellers instead of anchors, and was quite busy with the evaporators in those warm equatorial waters with very little way upon us.

 

The Signal Gang, mainly under the supervision of Signalman First Class Jim, “Short arms” Semaphore” Sackett, and Signalman Second Class Ed “Hot Halyards” Perian, really found out what the word flagship meant. Chief Signalman Jack Sloan, while keeping an eye on them, was carrying out an unusual assignment as Ship’s Navigator for the first time, due to some personnel changes, and did it well. In later years he particularly remembered being so proud of his daily 0800 fixes being signaled to the entire force without challenge or question from the Admiral’s staff looking over his shoulder.

 

All hands got a TARE VICTOR GEORGE!

 

The only major disappointment of the operation was the terrain back around Lake Sentani proving to be not only tough operationally but also not good enough to support landing strips suitable for our heavy planes. This necessitated the capture of Wakde Island a few days later, by the 163rd Regiment of Infantry, the same troops that had seize Aitape. It was a relatively small operation.

 

Best of all was the knowledge that in less than two months SWANSON had been quite instrumental, in different ways, in securing for the Allies two of the world’s finest anchorages - Seeadler Harbor and Humboldt Bay. They were both to become major staging and supply bases for our continuing moves further west and then north.

 

THE INVASION OF BIAK ISLAND

 

For a month after the Hollandia operation we performed what we were beginning to call “bird dog” duty, running back and forth essentially between the Buna area and Humboldt Bay, including a brief stop at Aitape and even going up a little river and tying up under the trees to quickly pick up some material at Alexhaffen. During this general period of time we had experienced quite a few changes in personnel. Our Executive Officer LT. Oscar B. Parker had been detached for duty at the Bureau of Personnel and relieved by Lt.Cdr. Joseph C. Snyder, an interesting person who was a Naval Academy graduate who had left the service to become a medical doctor practicing in the Far East, but had come back into the line as a reservist after Pearl Harbor. He sported probably the finest “art gallery” of tattoo work on board, but was soon to be detached for medical treatment and was relieved as Exec by our First Lieutenant John B. O’Neill.

While at anchor down in Buna Roads one day we had to transfer a very fine Gunner’s Mate 2/c to the hospital because an accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wound to his thigh, while standing quarterdeck watch at the sea ladder. His explanation to the OOD who raced out from the wardroom upon hearing the shot was “I didn’t know it was loaded.”

 

On 14 May Lt.Cdr. William K. Ratliff reported aboard to relieve Cdr. Edward L. Robertson, Jr. as our Commanding Officer. He was still wearing his lieutenant’s silver bars when he came on board, but carried his very recent promotion dispatch with him. Chief Urquhart’s men in the machine shop fixed him up with some “genuine gold” oak leaves posthaste!

 

Two days later our fine Skipper, excellent sailorman, and memorable shipmate Cdr. Robertson was piped and logged ashore, having been Captain of the Swanson longer than any other commanding officer the ship ever had or ever would have. A plank owner, he was her first engineering officer, then executive officer, and had risen to command on 1 December 1942, between the North African landings and our later trips to that area, including Sicily. He left Swanson to serve on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet.

 

On 1 June during the Biak affair, 34 of our enlisted men received a much-deserved promotion in rating. By the same date our total commissioned personnel, down to only 18 in number, due to individual dispatches, now included a full dozen “JAY GEES” and only three ensigns, including CMM Oliver Mollett, who had just “mustanged”. When we had reported to Seventh Fleet less than six months earlier we had been ridiculed some other ships as “wardroom full of ensigns.”

 

A special word is appropriate here about Oliver Mollett. A plank owner of Swanson, he had been a real leader of the men in the engineering spaces below decks. He had not only been outstanding in all technical aspects but a true Navy man made all who knew him proud to be in the same service. When he sensed promotion in the offing he very rapidly became a very fine deck watch officer. He elected to go the route of commission rather than warrant for personnel reasons, among which we believe was pride in the service.

 

Very shortly after we received unofficial word that we would be flagship of the forthcoming strike on Biak Island we banged up a propeller on a log during one of our coastal runs and had to go way back down east to Milne again for dry-docking. This delay caused us to be replaced as flag by USS SAMPSON. We were instead assigned to escort, fighter director, and gunfire support originally in Task Group 77.3, which, as support Echelon H-2, would follow the assault by 24 hours. We were not destined to miss a great deal, however, as Abe Lincoln said, “the honor of the thing.”

 

At this time the Japanese Imperial High Command was in a quandary. Admiral Nimitz’s forces were on a high roll thrusting westward across the Central Pacific and General MacArthur’s were leapfrogging through the Southwest Pacific. Both were acquiring a great deal of real estate and strategic advantage at relatively light cost in attrition. Their Colonel Kuzume had 10,000 troops and Admiral Senda 1500 naval support personnel on Biak. The fact that our intelligence gathering people had estimated the island’s total garrison at a much lower figure did not matter to them. They quavered between reinforcing and not reinforcing, and that was to cost them the island.

 

The enemy had full capability of launching a powerful attack against anything Seventh Fleet could bring forth in the area. At Batjan, some 500 miles west of Biak, and at Davao, Tawi Tawi, and Halmehera they had the fabled super battleships YAMATO and MUSASHI, each of 70,000 tons displacement and mounting 18-inch rifles. They also had the formidable battleship FUSO with nine 16 inchers. Three heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and a dozen destroyers supported them. They were also capable of shifting land-based aircraft toward the Vogelkop Peninsula from the Marianas and the Philippines.

 

Neither antagonist would have carrier-based aircraft available for support or protection in this operation. Both Central Pacific’s Task Force 58 and our Task Force 78 of slower escort carriers were far away and actively engaged in the soon-to-be-launched seizure of the Marianas Islands, starting with Saipan – D-day 15 June. Both sides would depend on land-based planes.

 

Seventh Fleet’s surface power consisted of one heavy cruiser, three light cruisers, and 36 destroyers. We were also supported by air cover by the Fifth Air Force, who nearest base was Wakde Island, some 225 miles east of Biak. And so, on 25 May we had already run over to Wakde and picked up a team of fighter director people from the Fifth Air Force to help in our efforts, and returned to Humboldt Bay to watch the departure of the assault force westward to Biak.

 

BIAK   ISLAND INVASION  - ALLIED SHIPS

Task Force 77, RADM William E. Fechteler, Commanding

 

 Destroyers:                                                                                Heavy Cruiser  

USS AMMEN                      USS MULLANY                        HMAS AUSTRALIA

HMAS ARUNTA                 USS NICHOLSON                   

USS BEALE                         USS RUSSELL                            Light Cruisers:

USS BACHE                        USS RADFORD                           USS BOISE

USS BALCH                        USS ROE                                      USS NASHVILLE

USS BUSH                            USS ABNER READ                     USS PHOENIX

USS DALEY                        USS REID                                  

USS FLETCHER                   USS STEVENSON                    Amphibious:

USS GRAYSON                   USS SWANSON                       32 LCI’s

USS GILESPIE                    USS STOCKTON                      14 LST’s

USS HOBBY                       USS SAMPSON (Flagship)        Destroyer Transports:

USS HUGHES                      USS TRATHEN                          USS HERBERT

USS HUTCHINS                 USS Van BUREN                       USS CROSBY

USS JENKINS                     HMAS WARRAMUNGA          USS KILTY

USS KALK                          USS WILKES                             USS SCHLEY

USS LaVALLETTE              USS WELLES                            USS WARD

USS LOVELACE                 USS WARRINGTON

USS MUSTIN                      USS WHITEHURST

 

Special Services:

Subchasers:

USS SC   703                        USS SC 734                               USS SC 736

USS SC 742                         USS SC 699                               USS SC 981

 

Rocket Launching   Craft:

USS LCI 34                          USS LCI 34                                 USS LCI 73

 

USS SONOMA  (Tug)

 

The assault forces departed Humbolt Bay for Biak late afternoon of 25 May. This was not to be a long, evasive trip such as had been used for the Hollandia operation,

but rather a one and a half – day run along the coast for roughly 325 miles, or about 36 hours of steaming at the 8 + knots that prevailed in such movements. D-day was the 27th, and the order to execute the plan was issued on schedule at 0629 hours. The light cruisers PHOENIX, BOISE, and NASHVILLE opened the ball with their bombardment of areas around the airfields, while the screening destroyers lying off Bosnik opened fire on targets near the landing beaches. Fifth Air Force B-24’s had made their bombing runs earlier, and the rocket – launching LCI’s let loose their missiles as the assault wave of troops headed for the beaches.

 

The landings were completely successful, as the enemy had almost predictably with drawn from the beaches and retreated into caves and prepared positions further inland.

 

The only major American casualty occurred in the late afternoon when four Japanese bombers accompanied by fighters made low-level bombing runs with no explosions or damage, but they then attempted to crash-dive the nearby destroyers and one of them did very severe damage to the fine subchaser SC 699, whose surviving crewmen saved the ship with assistance from other craft, and started a long trip to Australia in tow of the Tug Sonoma.

 

Meanwhile, back on the Swanson, we had departed Humboldt Bay enroute Biak in company with Wilkes, Nicholson, Lovelace, and Whitehurst at 1727 hours on 26 May, as escorts for support Echelon H-2, consisting of three LST’s and three LCVT’s. The LST’s were towing LCVP’s to ferry troops over the reefs off the village of Bosnik where the enemy had built two small jetties. We were to escort eight such echelons back and forth on this route by the middle of June, while conducting shore bombardments, fighter director duties, and routine patrols, as well as firing at a few enemy aircraft in between.

 

During the midwatch on 28 May the force changed courses from westerly to nearly south and as we approached Japen Strait we broke off from the group to take up patrol station off the eastern tip of Biak with an assignment as secondary director (F/D) ship. Our Army Air Corps passengers were charged with this duty, but during ensuing weeks our CIC personnel and deck watch officers became quite familiar with the job, which was to serve us in good stead in later months with our fast carrier forces.

 

At noon we left the area independently and headed back east to rendezvous support Echelon H-3.  At 0525 hours the next morning, 29 May, we joined up with their eight LST’s and destroyers Balch, Roe, and Warrington and headed back for Biak again.

This was the day that the Japanese high command belatedly reversed their earlier decision not to reinforce Biak but to strengthen the Marianas. They now decided to land some 2,500 experienced combat troops from Mindanao and others from very nearby Manokwari on Biak on 3 June. The troop movement was to be supported by their battleship FUSO, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and eight destroyers.

 

Also their Admiral Ito commanding the 23rd Air Flotilla at Sorong had been ordered to attack and defeat Allied ships off Biak. His force was being strengthened to 200 planes with reinforcements from the Marianas, which they did by island hopping on their islands, which they viewed as unsinkable carriers.

 

Back near Biak at dawn of the 30th Swanson left the group and assumed primary F/D duty patrolling an area 15 miles southwest of Bosnik at 14.5 knots. No lying to here, as we had done in Tanahmerah Bay!

 

At 1807 hours while enroute to help escort Echelon H-3 out of the area an enemy plane arrived over our charges and they opened fire. We went to GQ and fired 29 rounds of 5” projectiles at him, but at a range of about 8,000 yards without effect. We joined up with H-3, but 2 hours later as they were leaving the area we were detached to join the Roe in shore bombardments, plus more F/D duty. During the night from an area south of Mokmer Airstrip we shelled targets designated as #’s 71, 72, and 73 seven different times with a total of 188 rounds of 5” ammunition expended. The Roe was doing the same. Next morning at dawn, 31 May, we headed back to patrol 15 miles southeast of Bosnik as primary F/D ship again. Early that afternoon we were relieved on station and went up near Bosnik to join Hobby and Roe in escorting Echelon H-5, consisting of 16 LST’s all the way back to Humboldt Bay.

 

We arrived there late afternoon 1 June and immediately refueled. The next morning of 3 June we took on ammunition from HMAS Poyang.  Previous day we had also taken on stores and supplies. 

 

During the day the Japanese reinforcement group that had put to sea from Mindanao the day before aborted the effort to reinforce Biak and turned back because they believed that there was a major American carrier in the area. However, at 1100 the same day their land forces launched a strong air attack with 32 Zekes, 9 navy bombers, and 10 army planes. They pressed vigorous attacks on DD’s Reid, Mustin, and Russell and eight LST’s, 3 LCI’s (rocket) and 1 LCT.  Fourteen of them bombed and strafed the Reid, who had 1 man killed and 5 wounded before hiding in a rain squall. Air Corps fighters, delayed by weather, arrived at 1130 and chased them off.

 

At 1750 we joined with Warrington, Balch, Nicholson, Wilkes, and VanBuren to sail for Biak as escort for Ehelon H-6’s 9 LST’s.  As we steamed westward during the night Admiral Crutchley , RN, was proceeding to a point about 25 miles north of Biak with the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia and the light cruisers USS’s Phoenix, Boise, and Nashville escorted by 14 destroyers and under orders to destroy any inferior enemy forces but to retire before superior forces. At noon the next day, 4 June, they were spotted by an enemy reconnaissance plane while still 120 miles to the east and attacked by 34 enemy planes in late afternoon, sustaining minor damage to Nashville.

About this time the second attempt to reinforce our enemy of Biak began as three Japanese destroyers carrying 600 troops escorted by three other DD’s, all towing landing barges, sailed from Sorong, over west of the “head of the bird” on Dampier Strait and headed our way. The Japanese had a heavy and a light cruiser sailing out of nearby Salawati for protection. Their orders were to land the troops on Biak two nights later.

 

A half hour after going to dawn General Quarters on the morning of 8 June as we were approaching Japen Strait three different enemy dive bombers began making attacks on our LST’s.  We were within range to fire on the last two of them and expended 36 rounds of 5”/38 shells and 28 rounds of 40mm. Neither team scored.

 

We then went up five miles northwest of Warawi Point and took station as a secondary F/D ship. In mid-afternoon we spotted a twin-engine enemy “Betty” bomber within range and fired 26 rounds of 5” at him. Same score.

 

Meanwhile, earlier in the afternoon Allied aircraft had spotted the enemy reinforcement group headed for Biak and sunk one of their escorting destroyers. Their remaining force continued on.

 

As darkness was falling over the northwest coast of Biak the enemy reinforcement group was heading southeast for the island. About the same time the Allied Covering Force consisting of the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, the light cruisers USS’s Boise and Phoenix, with escorting destroyers, under the command of Rear Admiral Victor Crutchley, RN, was steaming west to break up their party and passed north of our group, within radar range.

 

Early in the evening watch we had an uneventful half hour “bogeys on the screen” General Quarters.

 

Nearing midnight an enemy destroyer sighted Crutchley’s force approaching them rapidly so they quickly cut loose their landing barges, on their own, and headed out of there to the north at maximum speed.  Our force quickly spotted this development and fired at the barges as they sped past, and then let loose our destroyers at flank speed in pursuit of the enemy. The faster Japanese cans escaped with only minor damage. Our troops on the beach were able to handle the few Japanese who made it to the beach without too much trouble, and thus ended the second enemy reinforcement attempt of the battle.

 

During this time the Japanese were putting together a massive third attempt to reinforce their beleaguered troops on Biak. To escort the numerous transports and to force the issue at all costs they assigned the fabled 18” – gunned super battleships YAMATO and MUSASHI, supported by three heavy cruisers, two light crusiers, seven destroyers, and two minelayers. This was indeed a force not to be spooked by Admiral Crutchley’s group! They were scheduled to be enroute Biak by 15 June.

 

In the early evening of 12 June Swanson sailed with four other destroyers to escort the ten LST’s of Echelon H-9 to Biak. The extremely fierce resistance was still engendering a great need for support that our troops continued meeting. The enemy numbers had proven much higher than had been anticipated and from their pre-planned defensive positions, especially in the area of caves, they were turning Biak into one of the most fiercely contested battles of the Pacific War.

 

Major events were taking place elsewhere however. About the time YAMATO and MUSASHI and the other ships of the third reinforcement effort were weighing anchor to sail for our destruction Admiral Chester Nimitz’s massive Central Pacific Force was bombarding and then landing wave after wave of Marine and Army troops on the beaches of Saipan, in the Marianas Islands, which the Japanese considered to be almost their front yard. Their Imperial High Command quickly diverted the fighting ships destined for our area toward the forthcoming Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the transports never sailed.

 

About the same time General MacArthur had had enough of the almost stalemate on Biak, and for the second time called on his old college roommate, our passenger and friend from Operation Reckless, General Eichelberger to take its seizure. It would now be a new ball game.

 

CONCLUSION

 

During the night of 21/22 June the Japanese commander on Biak Island, Colonel Kuzume, ordered his regimental colors to be struck and burned. His fate is unknown except that he did not survive. The island was soon in complete Allied control. Our forces ashore, mostly American with a few Australian, had sustained 438 killed and 2361 wounded.

 

This operation was different from the preceding ones, as they all are, both in concept and execution. However, it was another major step in gaining complete Allied Control of the Southwest Pacific. Biak furnished us admirably with another major base for heavy aircraft. While Swanson’s part in the battle did not carry the prominence of what we had done in the Admiralties and at Hollandia, we had performed our assigned duties well. There were still many miles to be sailed and calls to battle stations to be answered.

 

THE INVASIONS 0F NOEMFOOR and CAPE SANSAPOR

 

TASK FORCE 77 - NOEMFOOR ISLAND

New Guinea                                 

 

RADM William M. Fechteler, Commanding 

“Operation Table Tennis” 

 

ASSAULT FORCE DESTROYERS:

USS’s REID (Flagship), GILLESPIE, GRAYSON, HOBBY, JENKINS, LAVELLETTE, NICHOLSON, RADFORD, ROE, STEVENSON, STOCKTON, SWANSON, WELLES, and WILKES.

 

PATROL CRAFT: 

PC  1120, PC 1132, PC1133, PC 1134

 

ROCKET LAUNCHERS:

USS LCI 31, USS LCI 34, USS LCI 73

 

SPECIAL SERVICE:

USS YMA (Ocean Tug), LCI 534, LCI 544

 

COVERING FORCE:

HMAS AUSTRALIA, USS’s BOISE and PHOENIX

                                                              ********

With Biak now in the mopping – up phase, which occurs after every battle, especially on land, plans were already being implemented for the next step westward. The choice was the little, rather unimpressive island called Noemfoor (Numfor on later charts) which lies halfway between much larger Biak Island and Manokwari on the Wogelkop Peninsula, in the northern edge of Gelvink Bay. It is generally circular; with a little bay called Roemboi opposite tiny Manim Island off its southwest coast substantially larger Broe Bay on the northeast coast. The terrain is relatively flat except for a hilly area in the south. Only about eleven miles in diameter, Noemfoor’s only raison d’etre a target was that it had three airfields, Kamiri, Kornasoren, and Namber. All of them were on good solid ground; unlike during the Biak action, there was now in our area little reason to fear the threat of interruption of our planned operation by the Japanese Imperial Navy. The 15 June assault on Saipan by Allied Central Pacific forces had precipitated the Battle of the Philippine Sea four days later. There the enemy mustered all their available naval forces of any consequence in an effort to hold that area at any cost. The cost to them was catastrophic – 346 planes and two aircraft carriers. Our pilots, who lost only 30 planes, called the melee “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, even though the Japanese Imperial Headquarters propaganda machine announced a “Great Victory” for their fleet.

 

There were 2000 Japanese troops on Noemfoor, commanded by Colonel Shimui. Their plan was, when attacked, to withdraw to Broe Bay and await their navy not to reinforce but to evacuate them. They were to wait in vain.

 

Amphibious U.S. Army Engineers manning 40 LCM’s  (50 foot open landing craft) had sailed from Finschafen, 700 miles away, toward Geelvink Bay on 19 June and they became a major part of the hastily-organized plan to seize Noemfoor. They were 12 days in those open boats, and were undoubtedly ready to go ashore anywhere. Eight LCT’s carrying tanks, tractors, and bulldozers were on their way from nearby Toem and would embark troops at Mios Woendi Island.

 

Swanson sailed late afternoon of 30 June 1944 from the Wakde area and took station in the screen at a patrolling speed of 9 knots. Late the next afternoon, 1 July, the formation paused off Mios Woendi Island to take the eight LCT’s in tow as planned. The escorting destroyers circled their charges clockwise until they could establish a cruising disposition and resume course. During our dawn general quarters the next morning, 2 July, we assumed an anti-submarine patrol on station 4 miles northeast of the transport area off Kamiri airstrip while fire support ships bombarded the landing beach.  At 0807 the first wave of troops landed after a relatively easy approach through the reefs. Opposition was minor, thanks to the bombardments, and more than 7,000 troops made it safely on that first day. At 1800 hours the landing craft of the first echelon were departing the area.

At 0830 the next morning 3 July we had joined with the Stevenson and Stockton and proceeded in column around to the northeast of Kornasoren airstrip where at the Army’s request we bombarded targets areas 20 and 32 for 25 minutes, expending 163 rounds of 5” and 264 rounds of 40mm ammunition. Soon after noon we steamed back to the west of Kamiri airstrip and relieved the Grayson on fighter director station.  Mid-afternoon the Grayson returned and we resumed A/S patrol in our morning position. During the evening watch we were ordered down to the area of Roembi Bay and Manim Island, where we fired on a village and an airstrip for 40 minutes, expending 150 5” and 180 40 mm projectiles. We then returned to our A/S station.

 

During the day we had watched the spectacular sight of pair after pair of C-3 transport planes from Hollandia dropping 739men from 3rd Battalion of the 503rd Parachute Infantry onto the Kamiri Airstrip. Their performance drew much criticism, because of approaching in pairs instead of single file over a narrow target and also for jumping at too low an altitude. Their landing accident casualty rate was listed as nine percent – too high. Another battalion tried again the next day with little improvement.

 

Very early the next morning, the Fourth of July, we were called upon to repeat our bombardment in the Roemboi Bay area, including the south end of Namber airstrip. After firing 145 rounds of 5” ammunition we retuned to A/S patrol at 0700. At about this time the enemy made on of its few counterattacks against our troops, just south of Kamiri, and was repelled with heavy casualties. Later during the day our forces captured Kornasoren airstrip.

 

During the dogwatches we relieved the Gillespie as F/D ship 15 miles northwest of Noemfoor, and during the evening watch went to a 30 minute GQ because of bogeys, but nothing developed.

 

Before dawn next day, 5 July, the Grayson relieved us on station so we could respond to a call for gunfire support from the Army in the area around the newly captured Kornasoren airstrip, firing 100 rounds of 5”. In early afternoon we were called upon to close in on the newly employed anchorage north of Noemfoor to provide anti- aircraft support, but the numerous bogeys turned out to be “some of ours” after all. At 1750 that afternoon we joined up with Stevenson, Stockton, and Grayson to leave the area as escorts for Support Echelon T-2, composed of 4 LST’s and 2 LCI’s heading back east to Toem on initial course 090, speed 9 knots.

 

The attack and landing phase of the Noemfoor Island operation was now complete. From a Naval point of view it was a flawlessly planned and executed operation, however hastily ordered it may have been. The troops and their equipment were delivered safely and on time to their designated beaches. The gunfire support ships (all either destroyers or rocket – equipped LCI’s) delivered effective fire, both pre-planned and on-call, to their designated targets. This made a definite difference between the enemy and American final casualty reports. They had 1900 killed and 186 captured, which was a very high percentage of prisoners. We had 61 killed, only one of which occurred during the actual landing phase, and 343 wounded.

 

A tragic postscript was the discovery that only 403 of the 3000 Indonesian slave laborers, which the Japanese had shipped to the island a year earlier, had survived the treatment they had received. The 5000 natives faired relatively well, coming out of hiding and helping direct our troops to enemy pockets when they realized that we would be the winners.

 

TASK FORCE 77 - CAPE SANSAPOR

RADM William M. Fechteler, Commanding

“Operation Globetrotter”

 

DESTROYERS;

USS’s SWANSON (Flagship), FLETCHER, HUGHES, JENKINS, LaVALETTE,

 MORRIS, RADFORD, RUSSELL, STEVENSON, and WELLES.

 

DESTROYER TRANSPORTS;

USS’s CROSBY, HERBERT, KILTY, SCHLEY, and WARD

 

PATROL CRAFT: USS PC’s 1120, 1132, 1133, and   1134

 

ROCKET LAUNCHERS: USS LCI’s   134, and 173

 

LANDING CRAFT:

Nine LST’s (Landing Ship Tank) and 17 LCI’s  (Landing Craft Infantry)

 

SPECIAL SERVICE:  USS VIREO (Tug) and two PT (patrol torpedo) Boats

 

COVERING FORCE:

TASK FORCE 75  - RADM Berkley commanding three U.S. Cruisers and nine destroyers.          

                                                   ***********

 

We had arrived and anchored in Humboldt Bay in late afternoon on 7 July, and spent the next couple of weeks in that general area refueling, taking on stores, and replenishing ammunition and other such things that a ship and crew need to do now and then.

 

The next westward step in a march across the length of New Guinea was originally designated for Sorong, down in Dampier Strait, with a full bypass of Manokwari. After a scouting party from the submarine S-47 went ashore in the Mar-Sansapor area about 60 miles northeast of Sorong it was decided to land there instead, because of the secluded but favorable terrain, with no enemy forces at all evident. There were 18000 Japanese troops based around the airfields at Manokwari and Sorong, and a strike between them would leapfrog one force and isolate the other.

 

During this time Swanson was selected to carry the flag of the striking force again. Thus while anchored in Maffin Bay, near Wakde, on 27 July we embarked CTF 77, Admiral Fechteler and the assault troop commander Major General Franklin C. Sibert, with their staffs. We weighed anchor at 2215 and by 23200 the formation was on the way with Swanson as fleet guide.

After arrival off Cape Sansapor, the two PT’s were active in putting Army scouting parties ashore, and their reports convinced General Sibert and Admiral Fechteler that  the tactical surprise of an unannounced landing would be of greater value than a preliminary bombardment.

 

The first wave of the landing force had headed for the beach at 0600 and there was no opposition to them at all – no surprises.   A piece of cake, if there could ever be such a thing in the nasty business of warfare. At 0752 we secured from General Quarters, and at 0911 General Sibert and his staff left the ship. Eventually, later in the day a single infantryman was killed during the seizure of one of the small islands, but that was the only casualty during our part of the operation.

 

Leaving the group early afternoon the next day, 31 July, we proceeded to Humboldt Bay we arrived there on the morning of August 2nd.  RADM Fechteler, and his staff “disembarked having completed temporary duty on board this vessel.”  Swanson would not carry an Admiral’s Flag again.

 

CONCLUSION

(Chapters IV and V)

 

This will conclude all the chapters we had write in the story of the Pacific War up until now since we soon will be serving in different waters under a different command, and participating in a totally new-to-us kind of warfare. When we had reported for duty with the Seventh Fleet, nearly seven months earlier, we felt like the new boy on the block, but now we had been fully accepted into the club. Our first duty was in the tail end of the Marines’ seizure of Cape Gloucester, New Britain as escort for some of the supporting echelons. We did see one enemy plane, and also put an Australian coast watcher ashore in a rubber raft several miles east of our perimeter one evening, picking him up the next night. We did not do a great deal, but what we did qualified us for a “Battle Star”.

 

Quickly thereafter, we earned our spurs with the First Cavalry when the call went out “Send the destroyers!” to the Admiralties. We “pulled a stroke oar” for a month in that endeavor, which was the final link in the chain which locked  “the ring around Rabaul.” The fact that our captain was frequently Senior Officer Present Afloat on the scene and that no one expected the cavalry to be riding horses but they also had left most of their artillery behind may have helped, but we could still say, as others did, that we were of very significant assistance to the troopers ashore.

 

We were honored to carry the flag for the massive, three –pronged simultaneous seizures of Aitape, Hollandia, and Tanahmerah Bay, and received much acclaim for doing it, thanks to “good press”. It was indeed a creditable performance and a memorable experience.

Related Information
Chart of the Hollandia and Tanahmerah Bay Invasion Landings
Chart of Actions off Biak Island
Chart of Swanson's Fire Support Positions
Chart of Swanson's activities off Noemfoor Island
Chart of Invasion of Sansapor Island

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