INVASION of HOLLANDIA 17
INVASION of BIAK IS. 26
May - 22 June 1944
INVASION of NOEMFOOR
ISLAND 2 JULY 1944
OPERATION OF CAPE SANSPOR,
30 JULY 1944
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
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
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
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.
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.
HMAS RESERVE (Tug), USS SC736, USS SC738, USS LCI 731 (Rockets), YMS 8,
and YMS 10.
Task Group 77.2,
Right Flank, Target Hollandia
STEVENSON, USS STOCKTON, USS THORNE, USS WELLES, USS ROE, USS RADFORD, USS
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
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.
DMS’s USS’s HAMILTON and PERRY; SC’s USS’s 742, 981, 637, and 648; YMS’s 48 and 51;
USS CHETCO (Tug).
CRUISERS: HMAS AUSTRALIA,
DESTROYERS: HMAS ARUNTA, HMAS
WARRAMUNGA, USS AMMEN, AND USS MULLANY.
Task Force 75,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
USS ABNER READ
USS SAMPSON (Flagship)
USS Van BUREN
USS SC 703
USS SC 734
USS SC 736
USS SC 742
USS SC 699
USS SC 981
USS LCI 34
USS LCI 34
USS LCI 73
USS SONOMA (Tug)
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
PC 1120, PC
1132, PC1133, PC 1134
USS LCI 31, USS LCI 34, USS LCI 73
USS YMA (Ocean Tug), LCI 534, LCI 544
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
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
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
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 -
RADM William M. Fechteler, Commanding
USS’s SWANSON (Flagship), FLETCHER, HUGHES, JENKINS,
RADFORD, RUSSELL, STEVENSON, and WELLES.
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
Nine LST’s (Landing Ship Tank) and 17 LCI’s (Landing Craft Infantry)
USS VIREO (Tug) and two PT (patrol torpedo) Boats
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.
(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
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
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.
the Hollandia and Tanahmerah Bay Invasion Landings
Actions off Biak Island
Swanson's Fire Support Positions
Swanson's activities off Noemfoor Island
Invasion of Sansapor Island
the Swanson Action Page