USS Tennessee BB-43 Chronology and Significant Events Page Three
Ships and carrier planes pounded the island for five days before Army troops of the 81st Infantry Division went ashore on Angaur on the morning of 17 September. Tennessee's guns supported the soldiers through the 19th. By the morning of 20 September, organized resistance was at an end; and the battleship steamed away from the island to Kossol Roads to refuel and to take on ammunition. On 28 September, she arrived at Manus to prepare for her next operation.
Tennessee weighed anchor on 12 October and set her course for Leyte Gulf, Under the supreme command of General MacArthur, Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid's 7th Fleet carried two Army corps toward the invasion area. Their objectives were two landing zones on the eastern coast of Leyte. A Northern Attack Force (TF 78) under Rear Admiral Daniel Barbey was aimed at Tacloban, while Vice Admiral Theodore Wilson command TF 79, the Southern Attack Force whose target was Dulag. The old battleships were divided between two fire-support units. Tennessee, with California and Pennsylvania, sailed with the Dulag attack force under Rear Admiral Oldendorf,
During its approach to the Philippines, the invasion force was alert for air and submarine attack; but none came. As the ships steamed under hot, clear skies, their radios brought news of Task Force 38 as the fast carriers ranged an arc from the Ryukyus to Formosa before turning on Japanese air bases in Luzon and the central Philippines. Preliminary minesweeping and bombardment, to clear the way into Leyte Gulf, began on the morning of 17 October 1944. The entrance to the gulf was secured, but the approaches to the objective area were partially swept when Oldendorf, to avoid delaying the operation, decided to order his ships into the gulf. At 0609 on the morning of the 18th, Tennessee, with her fire-support unit, entered the channel between Homonhon and Dinagat islands. Paravanes streamed from her bows, and marines were stationed in her upperworks to sink or explode floating mines. The minesweepers continued their work as the heavy ships moved slowly up Leyte Gulf.
Tennessee took up her position off Dulag before dawn on 19 October and, at 0645, began to bombard the landing area north of the town. Her main battery opened up from 8,300 yards, and her secondaries chimed in a few minutes later as she aimed at fortifications and antiaircraft gun emplacements. Catmon Hill, a 1,000-foot elevation just inland, received particular attention from the ships. Japanese planes were reported in the offing, but the only attack came from a horizontal bomber which dropped one bomb into the water near Honolulu (CL-48) before being knocked down by gunfire. Heavy shelling continued through the afternoon, and the bombardment ships took up night cruising stations off the mouth of Leyte Gulf.
The landings were scheduled for 20 October; and at 0600 Tennessee opened neutralization fire on the beaches. As the northern force pounded Tacloban and went in to the attack, transports assembled off Dulag and put the landing force into the water. Infantry landing craft armed with heavy mortars (LCI(M)) began dropping shells on reverse slopes at 0915; and, at 0930, the landing waves crossed the line of departure and moved for the beach. At 0945, rocket-firing landing craft (LCI(R)) began to hurl their masses of explosive bombardment rockets at the beach defenses, and the first troops went ashore 15 minutes later. Naval gunfire was shifted inland and to the flanks to assist the landing troops as they began to carve out a beachhead. The landing went well. During the afternoon, Honolulu was again attacked, this time by a torpedo bomber which scored a hit and forced the cruiser to withdraw. Night air attacks were feared; a screen of destroyers was placed around the ships in the gulf, smoke was generated, and much nervous firing flared up in the darkness and caused some casualties.
The Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, on noting the scale of the operation being mounted against Leyte, had decided to make that island the focus of a decisive naval counterstroke. The principal surface strength of the Combined Fleet had gone to Lingga Roads, an anchorage in the Lingga Archipelago off Sumatra at the southwest end of the South China Sea, to be near their fuel supply since American submarines had made it increasingly difficult to get oil through to Japan. The surviving carriers had returned to the Inland Sea to train aircrews. Under the Japanese plan, dictated by a combination of geography, logistics, and the lack of adequate carrier aviation, four widely separated forces were to converge on the area of Leyte Gulf in an effort to destroy, at whatever cost, the American invasion force.
While the Japanese fleet set out for Leyte, Tennessee continued her work off the beachhead. Fire support was not required from her for the time being, but the increasing tempo of Japanese air activity in the area required her to place herself where her antiaircraft guns could assist in the defense of the assembled transports and cargo ships. In the evening of 21 October, while lying dead in the water in a smoke screen laid to protect the shipping from attacking planes, Tennessee was rammed near the stern by the transport WAR HAWK (AP-168). No one was injured, and the battleship's tough hull was little harmed, but her orders for a night fire-support mission were canceled.
Matters continued to go well ashore, where the town of Tacloban was captured and declared a temporary seat of the Philippine government. Air defense, rather than shore bombardment, was still Tennessee's mission; on the morning of the 24th, enemy planes sank an LCI(L) and damaged a cargo ship before being driven off. A larger raid came in from several directions before noon, hitting American positions on Leyte. The afternoon was mostly quiet. A third attack occurred at 1700. As the enemy aircraft drew away, the battleship's executive officer passed the electrifying word that a Japanese naval task force was expected to try to enter Leyte Gulf that night. The six old battleships of the fire support groups formed columns and moved south to take up positions at the mouth of Surigao Strait, the body of water between Leyte and Dinagat which formed a southern entrance to Leyte Gulf.
The Japanese forces set in motion some days earlier were now approaching their objective. A force of four carriers and two converted hermaphrodite "battleship-carriers" was steaming south from Japan toward the Philippine Sea, while a small surface force under Admiral Shima had sailed from Japanese waters heading for the Sulu Sea. Two striking forces of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers had sailed from Lingga Roads; north of Borneo they separated. The larger force, under Admiral Kurita, passed north of Palawan (losing three cruisers to submarine attack) to transit the Sibuyan Sea and emerge to the north of Samar. A smaller force, commanded by Admiral Nishimura, turned to the south of Palawan and crossed the Sulu Sea to pass between Mindanao and Leyte. Shima's orders directed him to support Nishimura, and his force followed some miles behind Nishimura's.
If the Sho plan, as it was called, worked properly, Kurita would approach Leyte Gulf from the north while Nishimura and Shima came up from the south, catching the massed amphibious shipping in the jaws of a vise and destroying it. Ozawa's force was toothless since prolonged heavy casualties and an inadequate pilot training program had left the Imperial Navy with few experienced carrier pilots. The carrier force advancing southward from Japan carried only enough planes to make a convincing decoy; its job was to lure Halsey's 3d Fleet to the north while the converging surface forces did their job.
During the morning of 24 October, carrier planes sighted the three Japanese groups in the Sulu and Sibuyan seas. Recognizing Kurita's as the most powerful, Halsey directed the fast carriers' air groups against him as the Japanese ships steamed across the Sibuyan Sea. With no air cover, Kurita had to endure repeated bomb and torpedo attacks which forced one of his cruisers to turn back with serious damage and, as the day ended, sank the giant battleship Musashi. Complaining of the lack of air support, Kurita turned back in midafternoon; and this movement was reported to Halsey by his pilots.
Early on the 24th, a Japanese scout plane from Luzon had spotted Task Force 38 east of that island. All available land-based planes were sent against it, mortally wounding the light carrier Princeton (CVL-23 ). Halsey concluded that the attackers were carrier-based. During the morning, Ozawa's reconnaissance planes sighted Halsey's carriers; and an unproductive air strike was launched against Task Force 38 at 1145. In the afternoon, the Japanese carriers were sighted and, in the evening of 24 October, Halsey ordered the fast carrier force to go after them. Shortly before sunset, Kurita had again reversed course and was heading back in the direction of Leyte Gulf; Halsey had been informed of this, but exaggerated reports of damage inflicted by his planes led him to believe that the Japanese force had been more grievously hurt than was the case. Judging that Kurita was too badly crippled to do an harm to the ships in Leyte Gulf, Halsey continued north through the night. By midnight the Japanese Center Force, as the American commanders referred to it was pushing, unobserved, toward San Bernardino Strait before turning south toward Leyte Gulf.
Halsey had not sent his planes against the surface forces of Nishimura and Shima, believing that Kinkaid's warships would be able to deal with them. This was to be Oldendorf's job; and, in the evening of the 24th, he deployed his six battleships across the northern end of Surigao Strait. Besides his capital ships, Oldendorf had available eight cruisers and 28 destroyers. These were arranged toward the flanks, the destroyers placed in suitable position to launch torpedo attacks. A great deal of shooting in support of the landing operation had already occurred, and most of the shells remaining in the battleship's magazines were thin-walled, high-capacity bombardment ammunition rather than armor-piercing projectiles. Their handling-room crews carefully arranged the projectile supply so that high- capacity shells would be ready for use against anything smaller than a battleship. The big ships were directed to hold their fire until the enemy was within 20,000 yards to insure as many hits as possible.
The sea was smooth and the moonless night intensely dark as the ships steamed slowly to and fro along their assigned lines of position. Tennessee quietly awaited her first action against her own kind.
All available 7th Fleet PT boats had been stationed in Surigao Strait and along its approaches. At 2286, the first PT's made radar contact with Nishimura. Successive torpedo attacks were launched as Nishimura entered Surigao Strait and steamed north, with Shima trailing well behind; Nishimura was annoyed but not injured, though one of Shima's cruisers took a torpedo and had to drop out of the running. Shortly before 0800, Nishimura was well into the strait and taking up battle formation when he was hit by a well-planned torpedo attack by five American destroyers. The battleship Fuso was hit and dropped out of formation; other torpedo spreads sank two Japanese destroyers and crippled a third. Another torpedo struck, but did not stop, Fuso's sistership Yamashiro. Ten minutes later, another destroyer attack scored a second hit on Yamashiro The disabled Fuso had apparently been set afire by the torpedo that had hit her; her magazines exploded at 0888 as Arizona's had on the morning of 7 December; and the two shattered halves of the battleship slowly drifted back down the strait before sinking.
On board Tennessee, observers had seen distant flashes of gunfire, star shells, and searchlights as the torpedo boats and destroyers engaged the Japanese. Soon explosions could be heard. At 0302, the battleship's radar picked up Nishimura's approach at nearly 44,000 yards and began to track the lead ship. This was the flagship, Yamashiro. With the cruiser Mogami and destroyer Shigure, she was all that remained of the first Japanese force. At 0351 Oldendorf ordered the flanking cruisers to open fire; and, at 0356, the battleships let fly from 20,600 yards.
Tennessee's forward turret fired a three-gun salvo, and the rest of her 14-inch battery joined in. In this duel, Tennessee, California, and the recently arrived West Virginia had a considerable advantage over the other battleships. During their wartime modernization, all three had received new Mark 34 main- battery directors provided with Mark 8 fire-control radars and associated modern gunfire computing equipment. The main batteries of the other ships were still controlled by systems developed 20 years or more before and were using earlier Mark 3 radars. This handicap showed in their shooting. Firing in six- gun salvos to make careful use of her limited supply of armor- piercing projectiles, Tennessee got off 69 of her big 14-inch bullets before checking fire at 0408. The battle line had increased speed to 16 knots before opening fire, and, as it drew near the eastern end of its line of position, simultaneous turns brought the ships around to a westward heading. California miscalculated her turn and came sharply across Tennessee's bow, narrowly avoiding a collision and fouling Tennessee's line of fire for about five minutes.
The effect of this intense bombardment was awesome. As one of Tennessee's crew described it, "when a ship fired there would be a terrific whirling sheet of golden flame bolting across the sea, followed by a massive thunder, and then three red balls would go into the sky; up, arch-over, and then down. When the salvoes found the target there would be a huge shower of sparks, and after a moment a dull orange glow would appear. This low would increase, brighten, and then slowly dull." Little of the enemy could be seen from Tennessee. Occasionally, the vague outline of a ship could be seen against the glare of an explosion; and, at one point, the single stack and high "pagoda" foremast of Yamashiro could be seen. Nishimura's three ships found themselves at the focus of a massive crossfire of battleship and cruiser fire. By 0400, both of the larger Japanese ships had been hit repeatedly as they gallantly attempted to return fire; Mogami, sorely damaged and her engineering plant crippled, had turned back, and Yamashiro, burning intensely, came about to follow. Oldendorf ordered gunfire to cease at 0409, after hearing that flanking destroyers were being endangered by American gunfire. Yamashiro, still able to make 16 knots after her frightful beating, was fatally hurt and, at 0419, rolled over and sank with all but a few of her crew. Mogami was able to draw out of radar range but had been slowed to a crawl. Shigure, more or less over-looked and relatively undamaged, escaped southward. [Shigure's career in W.W.II is replete with such battles and survivals as this. --- LWJ]
Shima's force, following along in Nishimura's wake, was unaware of what had befallen. When they were about halfway up Surigao Strait, they sighted what seemed to be two flaming ships; these were the broken halves of Fuso. Shima's two cruisers made a radar torpedo attack on what they believed to be American ships but was, in fact, Hibuson Island. "The island," as Samuel E. Morison remarked, "was not damaged."
The Japanese admiral decided that Nishimura's force had met with disaster and decided on a retreat. As his ships turned to steam back, cruiser Nachi collided with limping, burning Mogami, but both vessels were able to continue southward. Collecting Shigure, the only other survivor of Nishimura's attack, Shima retired back through the strait. Oldendorf sent some of his cruisers and destroyers after him, and the patrolling PT's joined in. Fire was engaged with the stubborn Mogami, but she continued on her way only to be sunk by carrier planes shortly afterward. Destroyer Asagumo, her bow blown off by destroyer torpedoes during Nishimura's approach, was sighted and sent to the bottom with her guns still firing. Oldendorf now received reports that Kurita's "crippled" force had emerged from San Bernardino Strait and joined action east of Samar with some of the supporting escort carrier force stationed there. Plans were hurriedly drawn for another surface battle, and Oldendorf's ships turned toward the northern entrance to Leyte Gulf to defend the landing area.
Their services were, however, not needed. In an epic action off Samar, the escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts of Rear Admiral C. A. F. Sprague's "Taffy Three" put up so desperate a fight that Kurita judged the odds against him hopeless and turned back. Halsey's carrier planes and surface ships sank all four of Ozawa's decoy carriers, and a submarine finished off a damaged cruiser.
The Battle for Leyte Gulf was over. The last major Japanese naval counterstroke had been defeated, and Tennessee had had a share in the last naval action fought by a battle line.
The next several days were quiet ones for Tennessee, though the Japanese sent numerous land-based air strikes against Leyte Gulf. On 29 October, the battlewagon's crew was told that their next destination was to be the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Late that day, she got underway for Ulithi with West Virginia, Maryland, and four cruisers. From there, she proceeded to Pearl Harbor and thence to Bremerton where she entered the shipyard on 26 November.
Unlike her last Yard overhaul, this refit made no remarkable changes in Tennessee's appearance. She retained her battery of 10 40-millimeter quadruple anti-aircraft mounts and 43 20- millimeter guns, but her main-battery directors received improved models of the Mark 8 radar, and the Mark 4 radars used with the 5-inch gun directors were replaced by the newer combination of paired Mark 12 and Mark 22 dual-purpose equipment. Tennessee's usefulness as an anti-aircraft ship was enhanced by the addition of a model SP height-finding radar. Her pattern camouflage scheme was replaced by a dark gray finish which was calculated to provide a less conspicuous aiming point for kamikaze suicide planes, introduced during the recapture of the Philippines and becoming more and more of a fact of naval life during the winter of 1944 and 1945.
On 2 February 1945, Tennessee headed back toward the western Pacific. While she was being refitted, landings had been made in the Central Philippines and on Luzon; and the liberation of the Philippines was nearly accomplished. From its base in the Marianas, the 20th Army Air Force was hitting Japan with B-29s. Their track led past the Bonin Islands, whose garrison could send an early warning to Japanese airfields and gunners in the home islands. To eliminate this danger, provide an advanced base for fighter escorts, and obtain an emergency landing field for damaged bombers, Nimitz had been directed to capture Iwo Jima before going on to the Ryukyus to seize Okinawa as an advanced base for the assault on Japan proper. Japanese resistance on Leyte delayed the landing on Luzon from 20 December 1944 to 9 January 1945, while the landing in the Bonins, scheduled for 20 January 1945, had to be deferred until 19 February. The schedule for landings in the new year was tight; but planners deemed it essential to move as expeditiously as possible since the invasion of southern Japan, scheduled for the fall, depended on the use of Iwo Jima and Okinawa as bases for a long and intensive aerial bombardment.
The Japanese had predicted that a landing would be made on Iwo Jima, and a large garrison of good troops under Lieutenant General Tadanichi Kuribayashi had done a thorough job of digging themselves in. The volcanic island's rugged terrain was heavily fortified with strongly built firing positions supported by a deep and intricate network of tunnels.
B-24 Liberators of the 7th Army Air Force bombed Iwo Jima for 74 consecutive days to soften it up for an assault, and five naval bombardments were delivered. This pounding had no significant effect except to accelerate the work of the defenders.
Steaming by way of Pearl Harbor and Saipan, Tennessee was just in time to join Rear Admiral W. H. P. Blandy's bombardment force. Blandy, an ordnance specialist, had been Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance earlier in the war. With the expert help of Lt. Col. Donald Weller, USMC, the preinvasion bombardment was thoroughly planned and was modified to meet immediate needs as the shelling progressed. The Japanese defensive tactic called for the landing troops to be stopped on the beaches before they could move inland, and a heavy belt of defenses extended along the shoreline. The mission of the bombarding ships and planes was to break down the Japanese cordon and permit the landing marines to push through before they could be cut to pieces.
Blandy's gunfire force arrived off Iwo Jima early on 16 February 1945. The morning was cool, with occasional rain squalls, and low cloud cover hindered spotting planes. Shortly after daybreak, the warships deployed to their stations, with escort carriers in the near distance providing air cover. Minesweepers began to clear the approaches to the island at 0645, and gunfire opened at 0707. Tennessee's assigned firing course took her along the southeastern shore of Iwo Jima, and her 14-inch guns struck the slopes of Mount Suribachi while the secondaries aimed at the high ground at the north end of the beach. Floatplanes and fighters observing gunfire over the island were followed by dark puffs of antiaircraft fire. Blandy ordered the ships to fire only when air spot could function effectively in the intermittent visibility . Whenever the airplanes could observe the results, the ships kept their fire up through the day. During the afternoon, an OB2U Kingfisher seaplane from the cruiser Pensacola (CA-24) found a Japanese "Zeke" on its tail. The observation pilot, determined to put up all the fight he could, went at the fighter though his plane was much slower and less maneuverable, and armed only with one .30-caliber forward- Firing machine gun plus a second flexible gun in the observer's cockpit. Against all the odds, the "Zeke" went down in flames.
Visibility was better the next day, and the ships began to approach beaches at 0803. Beginning at 10,000 yards, Tennessee, with Idaho and Nevada, soon closed to 3,000 yards and delivered heavy direct fire to assigned targets while assault minesweeping went on. At 1025, the battleships were ordered to retire to make way for UDT's supported by LCI(G)'s. The defenders concluded that this was the beginning of the actual landing and unmasked guns and mortars in a heavy fire on the gunboats and frogmen. Casualties mounted; one gunboat was sunk another set afire. The other LCI's returned fire but had to withdraw as the bombardment ships resumed firing against the defenses. Three damaged gunboats came alongside Tennessee to transfer their wounded to the battleship's sick bay.
Bombardment continued through the 18th under orders prescribing concentrated hammering of the landing beaches. Once more, Tennessee's big guns pounded Suribachi while her secondaries attacked gun positions overlooking the right flank of the objective area. While the heavier guns fired from ranges varying between 2,200 and 6,000 yards, the 40-millimeter battery raked other targets on cliffs at the north end of the beach and shot up the wrecks of several Japanese ships beached near the shore; these had been used as havens for snipers and machine gunners at Tarawa and in later landings, and were always treated as potential threats. Several fires were started ashore; an ammunition dump exploded spectacularly and burned for several hours. Coastal guns and antiaircraft weapons were still firing when Tennessee retired for the night, even though she and Idaho had been able to demolish many massive masonry pillboxes with direct hits.
Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner arrived off Iwo Jima at 0600 on the morning of 19 February with the main body of the invasion force and assumed command. Transports formed up in the darkness and, at daybreak, put their landing craft into the water as troops clambered down the ship's cargo nets. The loaded landing craft circled near the transports as they awaited the signal to land. Tank landing ships moved closer to shore, opened their bow doors and launched LVT's carrying the first wave of assault troops. Shortly after daylight, a heavy bombardment was opened by the ships of Task Force 54 reinforced by the newer battleships North Carolina (BB-55), Washington (BB-56), and three cruisers lent for the occasion by Task Force 58. A total of seven battleships, four 8-inch gun heavy cruisers, and three light cruisers armed with 6-inchers laid their fire on the landing areas. At first, the fire was slow and deliberate. It was checked for an air strike, as lanes from the fast carrier force delivered bombs, rockets, and napalm before the ships resumed a heavier fire. Beginning at 0850, fire was so adjusted that carrier fighters could strafe the beaches during the last few minutes before H-hour. One minute before H-hour, the turret guns ceased firing, and the secondary guns began to drop a rolling barrage just ahead of the marines as they landed and moved inland, shore fire control parties (SFCP) accompanied the marines ashore; one SFCP was assigned to work with each of the supporting battleships and cruisers.
The first wave crossed the line of departure at 0830 and landed only a fraction before the scheduled 0900 H-hour. As the troops landed, the Japanese, who had waited out the bombardment in their deep tunnels, manned guns and mortars in protected emplacement and opened an increasingly heavy fire. The ships' guns were kept busy; main batteries took on gun positions as they were located while the lighter guns kept up their barrage ahead of the men on the ground. Tennessee's station was 8,000 yards from Suribachi at the southern end of the landing area, and the water and her was churned by hundreds of vehicles and landing craft as the successive waves moved in. By the end of the day, some 30,000 marines were on Iwo Jima, and some tanks and artillery had been landed.
Ground fighting on Iwo Jima continued until 26 March, as the stubborn Japanese were slowly rooted out or the positions that they continued to defend to the last. Even before the struggle ended, though, Army engineers had patched up the island's battered airstrip; and damaged B-29s were able to seek refuge on dry land instead of ditching. Tennessee was a part of this struggle until 7 March, when she sailed for Ulithi. The days after the landing were a steady routine of call fire and counterbattery work as Japanese guns continued to reveal themselves by opening fire on the hovering support ships before being located and taken out. For this purpose, it had been found that single-gun salvoes at close range, using "pointer fire" (in which the gun is directly aimed by telescopic sight), were the most precise and effective. The notion of using a 14-inch naval gun for sniping was rather new, but it seemed to work very well.
Tennessee left the area having deposited 1,370 rounds of main- battery fire on Iwo Jima along with 6,380 5-inch and 11,481 40- millimeter projectiles. At Ulithi, she began to prepare for the Okinawa operation. Supplies and ammunition were loaded, and the tired sailors stretched their legs and drank beer on tiny Mog Mog Island, whose principal selling point as a vacation resort seemed to be that it did not move underfoot.
Everyone involved knew that this job would be attended by special hazards. Censorship had prevented any mention of the Japanese kamikaze weapon in the American press, but it was much in the mind of the Fleet. Admiral Oldendorf, injured and hospitalized shortly after reaching Ulithi, was replaced by Rear Admiral Morton Deyo, who broke his flag in Tennessee on 15 March On the 21st, Task Force 54, the gunfire force, was underway for the Ryukyus. As Kerama Retto, a small cluster of islands near Okinawa was taken for use as an advanced base, the battleships arrived off the main island. With Tennessee were Colorado, Maryland, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Idaho, as well as Nevada, New York, Texas, and the venerable Arkansas (BB-33), first commissioned in 1912 and still pulling her weight; she was the only battleship in the fleet still armed with 12-inch guns. With the capital ships came 10 cruisers, 32 destroyer and destroyer escorts, and numerous gun- and rocket-firing LCI's and LSM's.
Shortly after midnight on 26 March 1946, Task Force 54 approached Okinawa with its crews at general quarters in the darkness. At daylight, it deployed; the bombardment began at long range since the nearer waters had not yet been swept for mines. The minesweepers began to work as the ships fired on targets located by previous aerial reconnaissance. No enemy fire answered the American guns though antiaircraft shells pecked at spotting planes. Japanese submarines were in the area, and a number of ships sighted torpedo wakes, but no damage resulted. Planes from the escort carriers and from Task Force 58 mounted strikes on the island, took detailed photographs, and flew air cover for the surface ships. The need for this became quite evident early on the next morning, when a number of kamikazes came in at a time when no combat air patrol (CAP) was overhead. One suicider hit Nevada, knocking out one of her turrets; another damaged Biloxi (CL-80) at the waterline, while a third went into the water to port of Tennessee. The converted "flushdecker" Dorsey (DMS-1) was hit by a kamikaze which glanced off the ship, damaging, but not crippling, her.
This was to be the pattern of life off Okinawa during the grueling weeks to come, as the "fleet that came to stay" battled to see the land battle through while keeping itself alive. Long hours at general quarters kept all hands tense and tired as the ships prowled off the island Firing at every likely target while reports of suicide attacks piled up.
The day of the Landing-1 April 1945, Easter Sunday-was bright and fair, with a gentle breeze. At 0600, Admiral Turner assumed overall command of the operation as Deyo continued to direct the gunfire ships. After a morning bombardment which Morison described as "the most impressive gunfire support that any assault troops had ever had," the landing began. H-Hour was 0830, preceded by the by-now customary intense battering by everything from battleships and carrier planes to sheaves of rockets from flat-bottomed landing craft. As the troops hit the beach, the bombardment was lifted. Early progress was good, meeting surprisingly light opposition. Veterans of earlier landings, and even the intelligence staffs, were puzzled at not having to fight the usual savage struggle to get ashore. Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima, commanding nearly 100,000 defenders-three-quarters of whom were regular Army troops-had decided to make no attempt to stop the landing at the beaches. Instead, he dug his main strength into the hilly southern end of Okinawa, thoroughly fortified as Iwo Jima had been but on a much larger scale. Japanese artillery held its fire during the pre- landing bombardment so that their positions would not be given away; instead of dueling with the ships they would save their fire for the landing troops. His general idea was to pin down the invasion force and delay it as long as possible, while a massive suicide air offensive wore down the supporting naval forces.
By 18 April, all of northern and central Okinawa was in American hands. The long fight for the Japanese citadel around the old island capital of Naha was to last much longer, and the island was not secured until 21 June. In the meanwhile, the Navy battled by day and night against the unremitting kamikaze offensive. On the afternoon of 12 April, Tennessee instead of taking up a fire-support station-was steaming in air-defense formation, Deyo had been warned that a heavy air attack was on the way and, during the afternoon, it arrived. Some suiciders were knocked down by picket destroyers or splashed by CAP; others, though, got through and aimed themselves at the firing, maneuvering ships. More bandits were shot down by antiaircraft fire, but Zellars (DD-777) was set ablaze by a crashing plane. Five more picked Tennessee and came in through puffs of shell bursts and the heavy smoke from Zellars. Four were shot down, the last three only hundreds of yards from the battleship. The last diver came down on the bow at a 45-degree angle, was set aflame by 5-inch fire, and plunged into the water. At the same time, an Aichi A6M "Val" divebomber, flying low on the starboard bow, headed directly for Tennessee's bridge. Lookouts spotted the "Val" at 2,500 yards, and every automatic weapon that could bear opened up. One of the plane's fixed wheels was torn off, and its engine began to smoke. Heading at first for Tennessee's tower foremast, the Japanese pilot swerved slightly and crashed into the signal bridge. The burning wreck slid aft along the superstructure, crushing antiaircraft guns and their crews, and stopped next to Turret Three. It had carried a 250-pound bomb which, with what was left of the plane, went through the wooden deck and exploded. Twenty-two men were killed or fatally wounded, with another 107 injured.
This was not enough to put Tennessee out of action. The dead were buried at sea, and the wounded transferred the following day to the casualty-evacuation transport Pinkney (APH-2). The ship's company turned to on emergency repairs; and, by 14 April, the ship was back on the firing line. Tennessee remained off Okinawa for two more weeks. On 1 May, Admiral Deyo shifted his flag to a cruiser, and Tennessee set her course for Ulithi. Here, the repair ship Ajax (AR-6) made repairs, cutting away damaged plating and installing new guns to replace those lost. On 3 June, the ship sailed for Okinawa, arriving on the 9th. By now, the worst was over. Army troops were making a final drive to clear the island, and Tennessee's gunfire again helped to clear the way. With the other old battlewagons, she remained in support until organized resistance was declared at an end on 21 June. By this time, the scene in the air was different. Besides Navy carrier planes, large numbers of Army Air Force fighters were now flying from Okinawan fields; and the days when everything that flew was a cause for alarm had ended-for the time being.
Vice Admiral Oldendorf was subsequently placed in command of naval forces in the Ryukyus, and Tennessee flew his flag as she covered minesweeping operations in the East China Sea and patrolled the waters off Shanghai for Japanese shipping as escort carriers sent strikes against the China coast. This was Tennessee's station until V-J Day brought an end to the war in the Pacific. When this glad day came, the big ship was operating out of Okinawa and preparing to take part in the planned invasion of Japan.
The battleship's final assignment of the war was to cover the landing of occupation troops at Wakayama, Japan. She arrived there on 23 September, then went on to Yokosuka. Tennessee's crew had the chance to look over the Imperial Navy's big shipyard and operating base and do some sightseeing before she got underway for Singapore on 16 October. At Singapore Oldendorf shifted his flag to the cruiser Springfield (CL-66), and Tennessee continued her long voyage home by way of the Cape of Good Hope.
On the fourth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the old veteran moored at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. During those years, she had hurled 9,347 14-inch rounds at the enemy, with 46,341 shells from her 5-inch guns and more than 100,000 rounds from her antiaircraft battery.
The process of trimming the wartime Navy down to postwar size was already well underway. Tennessee was one of the older, yet still useful, ships selected for inclusion in the "mothball fleet;" and, during 1946, she underwent a process of preservation and preparation for inactivation. The work went slowly; there were many ships to lay up and not too many people to do it. Finally, on 14 February 1947, Tennessee's ensign was hauled down for the last time as she was placed out of commission.
Tennessee remained in the inactive fleet for another 12 years. By then, time and technology had passed her by; and, on 1 March 1959, her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register. On 10 July of that year, she was sold to the Bethlehem Steel Company for scrapping.
Tennessee earned a Navy Unit Commendation and 10 battles stars for World War II service.