USS Tennessee BB-43 Chronology and Significant Events Page Two
In the early morning of 13 January 1944, Tennessee set her course for Hawaii with Task Unit 58.5.1 and anchored in Lahaina Roads off Maui, on the 21st. That day, the ship was inspected by a group headed by Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal. On the 29th, Tennessee, with Forrestal on board, headed for the Marshalls.
D-Day was set for 31 January 1944. As one attack force landed on the unoccupied Majuro atoll, the major force approached Kwajalein. Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and two destroyers took up their stations 2,900 yards to the east of the atoll. At 0625, Tennessee catapulted off her observation floatplanes; and, at 0701, she began throwing 14-inch salvoes at Japanese pillboxes on Roi Island. Her two forward turrets were busily engaged when fire had to be checked to allow carrier dive bombers to strike the island. Japanese antiaircraft guns opened up on the planes. As soon as the attackers were clear of the area, the ship demolished the enemy guns with two three-gun salvoes, The 5-inch battery then opened up on beach defenses. Main and secondary guns continued to pound Roi and adjacent Namur until noon, the high point of the morning coming when the guns of Mobile (CL-63) detonated a Japanese ammunition dump on Namur and sent an enormous mushroom of thick black smoke into the air. At midday, Tennessee retired from the firing area to recover and service her spotting planes. Following a welcome midday meal served to the crew at their battle stations, the battleship returned to be fighting and shelled Roi and Namur through the afternoon. At 1700, Tennessee turned away to screen supporting escort carriers for the night.
While the fire support ships pounded Roi and Namur on the 31st, marines captured five small nearby islands; and the northern passage into Kwajalein lagoon was cleared for ships to pass in. On 1 February, Tennessee and Colorado, with Mobile and Louisville, were back in their assigned area to be eastward and commenced firing at 0708. The ships pounded Namur through the morning; marines began to land on both islands at about noon; and Tennessee and her unit continued supporting fire until 1245. Roi fell quickly, but Namur's defenders were well dug in and fought fiercely until the early afternoon on 2 February.
Later that day, the battleship entered Kwajalein lagoon. Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance and Rear Admiral Richard Conolly, commander of the Roi-Namur invasion force, visited Mr. Forrestal on board Tennessee; the Undersecretary and his party then went ashore to inspect the newly seized islands and departed the following day by seaplane.
Useful lessons were learned from this operation. Since the Navy had won command of the surface and in the air around the landing area, gunfire support ships could close their objective and fire at what was, for a battleship, virtually point-blank ranges. The heavy, short-range fire of the supporting gunfire ships "met the most sanguine expectations" of the assaulting marines and foretold the shape of operations to come.
By 7 February, the whole Kwajalein atoll was in American hands; and preparations began for the capture of Eniwetok atoll, at the northwest end of the Marshalls group in the direction of the Marianas. Pre-war Japanese security had been tight, and little was known about the atoll, but aerial photographs and a Japanese chart found in a beached enemy ship on one of Kwajalein's small islets gave planners enough to work with.
Tennessee arrived at Majuro on 7 February to take on ammunition and supplies before returning to Kwajalein. On the afternoon of the 16th, she sailed for Eniwetok with Colorado, Pennsylvania, and transports carrying Army troops and marines. Ships of the fast carrier force screened their approach and cruisers and destroyers opened the action on the morning of 17 February by bombarding Eniwetok island, on the southwest side of the circular atoll, and the smaller islands flanking the selected entry to the lagoon, Deep Passage. Minesweepers cleared Deep Passage and the nearby, though shallower, Wide Passage; and, at 0915 Tennessee led the transport convoy into the lagoon an headed for the atoll's northern island of Engebi. The battleship bombarded Engebi while landing forces went ashore on neighboring islets to site artillery pieces. Her 5-inch guns were active during the early evening in support of a marine reconnaissance company which approached Engebi to plant marker buoys for the next day's assault waves and to acquaint themselves with the beaches. During the night, Tennessee drew off into the lagoon as light field pieces from the newly captured ground harassed Engebi's defenders. The pre-landing bombardment began at 0700 the next morning, and Tennessee joined in at 0733. The first wave went ashore at 0844 and, with the help of supporting ships and planes, had Engebi in their hands by late afternoon.
The atoll was not yet secure. Japanese defenders on Eniwetok and Parry Islands had carefully dug in and camouflaged their positions. Transports and landing vehicles carried a force of soldiers and marines to the southern end of the lagoon and, after a preparatory bombardment, the troops went ashore on Eniwetok. There had not been enough time to give the island a satisfactory softening, and progress was slow.
Tennessee spent the day anchored 5,500 yards north of the island, but her services were not called for until night fell. During the night, Army troops called several times for illumination. Destroyers played their searchlights over Japanese-held areas, while Tennessee's 5-inch guns fired large numbers of star shells. The fight for Eniwetok went on into the afternoon of 21 February, but Tennessee's efforts had, by then, been diverted to Parry Island.
Parry, at the mouth of Deep Channel, was defended by more than 1,300 well-trained, carefully-entrenched Japanese troops. The assault plan called for a careful preliminary working-over with bombs and gunfire, and marine light howitzers began to shell Parry from a nearby islet in the evening of 20 February while carrier planes carried out repeated attacks. Tennessee and Pennsylvania took up positions 900 yards off Parry during the morning of the 20th and, at 1204, began to blast the island.
The bombardment continued through the 21st, ships and planes taking their turns. Gun crews paused for a "breather" while planes From the escort carriers unloaded their ordnance, then resumed their work. Colorado's 16-inch rifles added to the weight of Tennessee and Pennsylvania's 14-inch fire, and Louisville and Indianapolis joined in with their 8-inch turret guns. Tennessee was firing at so short a range that, during the afternoon of the 20th, she was able to take on beach defenses with her 40-millimeter guns.
The final shelling, on the morning of 22 February, kicked up a dense mixture of smoke and dust as the landing craft went in. Tennessee's heavy guns checked fire at 0852 when the first amphibian tractors were 300 yards from the beach, and her 40- millimeters took up the fire until the vehicles landed. Ships' guns continued to provide support during the first two hours of land fighting but ceased firing as the troops expanded their foothold and advanced across the island. By afternoon, Parry was secured, and Eniwetok atoll was securely in American hands.
On 23 February 1944, Tennessee sailed for Majuro. Here, she joined New Mexico (BB-40), Mississippi (BB-41), and Idaho (BB- 42) . Under the command of Rear Admiral Robert M. Griffin, the battleships sortied from Majuro on 15 March with two escort carriers and a screen of 15 destroyers.
Their objective was the Japanese air and naval base at Kavieng, at the northern end of New Ireland. The Bismarck Archipelago-the two large islands of New Britain and New Ireland-lie just to the east of New Guinea. Rabaul, the by-low legendary Japanese operating base, is at the eastern end of New Britain, just across a narrow channel from New Ireland. About 240 miles northwest of Rabaul, across the Bismarck Sea, is the small Admiralty Island group. Another small island, Emirau, lies northwest of New Ireland and east of the Admiralties. Southeast from Rabaul, the Solomons chain extended for more than five hundred miles. Since the first landing on Guadalcanal in August 1942, the chain had been slowly climbed in a series of strongly contested actions by sea, land, and air. By the end of 1943, American forces held a strong foothold on Bougainville, little more than 200 miles from Rabaul.
The final steps in Rabaul's encirclement and isolation were planned for the spring of 1944. Kavieng was to have been captured early in April, but the success of the land-based air offensive against Rabaul convinced Admiral Nimitz that it would be more profitable to occupy undefended Emirau instead, sending the bombardment ships against Kavieng to convince the Japanese that a landing on New Ireland was planned.
Admiral Griffin, accordingly, headed for Kavieng and, on the morning of 20 March 1944, approached the harbor. Rain squalls and low-hanging clouds shrouded the area as Tennessee and the other gunfire ships zigzagged toward New Ireland. The island appeared through the overcast at about 0700. Tennessee launched her spotting planes an hour later, and they were soon out of sight in the rain and mist. By 0905, the range to the target was within 15,000 yards, and the battleships opened a deliberate fire. Steaming at 15 knots, Tennessee dropped single 14-inch rounds and two- or three-gun salvoes on Kavieng as the bombardment force slowly closed the range. Poor visibility made gunfire spotting difficult, and the pace of firing was held down to avoid wasting ammunition.
Tennessee was about 7,500 yards from the island when her lookouts reported gun flashes from the beach, quickly followed by shell splashes just off the starboard bow and close to one of her screening destroyers. At 0928, Tennessee's port 5-inch guns opened rapid continuous fire at the coastal battery, estimated to consist of four to six 4-inch guns. A 180-degree turn brought the battleship's starboard secondaries to bear, and the duel continued. The Japanese gunners began to get the range, and some projectiles hit close aboard on the starboard beam while others came similarly close to Idaho. Tennessee was straddled several times and drew away from the shore at 18 knots before checking fire at 0934. Reducing speed to 15 knots and turning back to firing position, Tennessee reopened fire at 0936. Her main and secondary batteries pounded the enemy guns for 10 minutes, and nothing more was heard from the Japanese guns. For the next three hours, the ships steamed back and forth off Kavieng, shelling the Japanese airfield and shore facilities. Other coastal gun positions were sighted, but the battleship's 14-inch fire silenced them before they could get off a round. Visibility continued to be a problem; observers in the ships' floatplanes could not get a clear view of the targets. When the 5-inch guns were firing at targets in wooded areas, spotters in the ship's gun directors could not observe hits in the heavy foliage. More than once, rounds had to be dropped in the water to obtain a definite point of reference before "walking" fire onto the desired target.
The bombardment ended at 1235. Tennessee turned away and made rendezvous with the covering escort carriers as Admiral Halsey wired his "congratulations on your effective plastering of Kavieng." This diversion had had its effect. While Admiral Griffin's battleships blasted Kavieng, Emirau had been seized without opposition. Pausing at Purvis Bay and Efate, Tennessee arrived at Pearl Harbor on 16 April to refurbish and prepare for her next task.
Operation "Forager," the assault on the Marianas, was planned as a two-pronged thrust. Vice Admiral Richmond K, Turner's Task Force 51 was organized into a Northern Attack Force (TF 52), under his command, and a Southern Attack Force (TF 53) under Rear Admiral Richard Conolly. While TF 52 attacked Saipan and nearby Tinian, Conolly's TF 52 was aimed at Guam. The bombardment and fire support force arrayed for this operation included Tennessee and seven other older battleships, 11 cruisers, and about 26 destroyers. These ships were divided into two fire support groups, Tennessee, with California, Maryland, and Colorado, was assigned to Fire Support Group One (TG 52.17) under Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf.
The Northern Attack Force assembled at Hawaii in mid-May 1944. After rehearsals off Maui and Kahoolawe, Fire Support Group One sailed for Kwajalein while the transports staged at Eniwetok. On 10 June 1944, Tennessee and her task group departed Kwajalein, bound for Saipan,
Early on 13 June, as the force approached the Marianas, signs of Japanese activity began to appear, A patrol plane reported sighting a surfaced submarine some 20 miles ahead and attacked it. Another plane shot down a land-based Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" which had been trailing along 10 miles astern of the ships. Another submarine contact was reported to port of the formation, and screening destroyers dropped depth charges. During the 13th, Vice Admiral Willis .A. Lee's Task Group 68.7-seven new fast battleships of the North Carolina, South Dakota, and IOWA classes- temporarily detached from Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's Task Force 68-hurled a furious bombardment at Saipan.
Throughout the following night, lookouts reported gun flashes on the horizon, and escorting destroyers attacked suspected submarines. General quarters was sounded at 0400 on 14 June as the old battleships drew near to Saipan. Near the horizon, a Japanese cargo ship, set afire by the guns of Melvin (DD-680), burned brightly. Shortly before dawn, Oldendorf's battleships passed to the north of Saipan as the second fire-support group steamed through Saipan Channel at the southern end of the island. The southern group opened fire at 0539. Nine minutes later, Tennessee began a methodical bombardment of the selected landing area, the southern portion of Saipan's west coast, in support of minesweepers carrying out an assault sweep on the landing zone. Enemy coastal guns had fired a few shots at Oldendorf's ships as they rounded the northern tip of the island, and attacking carrier planes as well as the ships' observation floatplanes encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire. Maryland drew fire from a battery concealed on a tiny islet off Tanapag harbor. She and California turned on this foe and soon silenced it.
Released from this duty, Tennessee sailed southward to the area of Agingan Point, at the southwest corner of Saipan and the southern end of the designated landing area. Underwater demolition teams (UDT) approached the beach in small craft to reconnoiter the landing beaches and to plant radar beacons which would provide reference points to the next day's landing. Tennessee closed to 3,000 yards of Agingan Point and, at 0831, opened up with 14-inch, 5-inch, and 40-millimeter batteries. Some smoldering powder grains from the 5-inch guns fell on the port side of the battleship's quarterdeck and burst into flame, but were quickly extinguished. Japanese guns dropped shells near the UDT's as mortars and machine guns joined in; at about 0920, projectile splashes began to appear near the supporting ships as batteries on nearby Tinian opened fire. Cleveland (CL-56) was straddled, and California and Bramie (DD-630) took hits. Tennessee aimed counterbattery fore at the defenders who were opposing the UDT's, and her turret guns fired at Tinian. Shortly before noon, she moved to the northwest to bombard Japanese fortifications on Afetna Point, near the center of the landing zone. At 1331, the ship ceased fire and withdrew from the firing area to recover her seaplanes, later closing Wadleigh (DD-689) and Brooks (APD-10) to take on board five wounded UDT men for treatment. She joined the rest of her fire support group and took up night stations to the west of Saipan.
D-Day on Saipan was 15 June 1944. Circling to the north of the island, well out of sight from shore during the last hours of darkness the assault force was off the landing beaches by day. Reserve landing forces staged an elaborate feint off Tanapag harbor, hoping to induce the Japanese to reinforce its defenses before the actual landing took place further south. At 0430, the pre-landing bombardment began. Tennessee joined in at 0640 with a heavy barrage from her main, secondary and 40-millimeter guns from 3,000 yards west of Agingan Point. At 0642, the landing craft and amphibian tractors of the landing force began to load and assemble for the movement to shore. Gunfire was lifted at 0630 to allow carrier planes to bombard the island's defenses, resuming at 0700. At 0812, the assault waves headed for the beach. The first went ashore at 0844 and met heavy opposition. The pre-landing bombardment, though prolonged and intense, had left much of the Japanese defenses still able to fight; and, as the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions landed on a 4-mile front south of Garapan, they found that much still remained to be done.
Tennessee's assault station was off the southern end of the landing beach. During the first wave's approach, her guns enfiladed that end of the objective to prepare the way for the right-hand elements of the 4th Division. She checked fire as the troops neared the beach, resuming it a few minutes later as the marines fought to establish themselves ashore. Japanese 4.7-inch field guns, emplaced in a cave on Tinian, opened on Tennessee. The battleship commenced counterbattery fire, but the third enemy salvo scored three hits, all of which burst on impact. One projectile knocked out a 5-inch twin gun mount; the second struck the ship's side, while the third tore a hole in the after portion of main deck and sprayed fragments into the wardroom below. An intense fire inside the disabled gun mount was subdued in two minutes by repair parties and men from nearby gun crews; the hit to the hull damaged external blister plating, but was prevented from inflicting further damage by the battleship's heavy belt armor. Eight men were killed by projectile fragments, while 26 more were wounded by fragments and flash burns. Tennessee's damages did not prevent her from delivering call fire to help break up a developing Japanese counterattack near Agingan Point before leaving the firing line to make emergency repairs. During the afternoon and night, she took station to screen assembled transports. Four Japanese dive bombers attacked nearby ships at 1846, and Tennessee's 6-inch guns briefly engaged them but claimed no hits. That evening, Tennessee buried her dead. Tokyo radio claimed victory in the battle for Saipan, stating that they had sunk a battleship which they identified as "probably the New Jersey."
The "sunken" Tennessee returned to Saipan Channel early the next day. Several Japanese counterattacks had been stopped during the night, and Tennessee's supporting fire assisted the marines in organizing and consolidating their beachhead. During the evening, the first troops of the Army's 27th Infantry Division began to come ashore; another counterattack, this one involving tanks, was turned back during the night of 16 and 17 June.
The original plan laid called for landings on Guam on the 18th. However, during the afternoon of the 16th and the early hours of the 16th, Admiral Spruance was advised that Japanese warships were at sea, off the Philippines, heading for the Marianas. The Japanese plan for the defense of these vital islands called for their garrison to hold out while a naval force mounted a counterstroke to destroy the American invasion fleet. By the morning of the 16th, Spruance decided to cancel the attack on Guam while continuing the fight for Saipan and disposing his naval forces for battle. The fast carrier force was sent to counter the Japanese thrust, while the fire-support battleships were to be deployed to the west of Saipan in case the Japanese should evade Task Force 58 and direct a surface thrust at the island. Tennessee held station west of Saipan with the other elderly battleships as the two fleets groped toward each other about 150 miles away.
On the 19th, Mitscher's task force clashed with Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa's Mobile Fleet in what was to be called the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot." By this time, American carrier operations had attained a high level of excellence while the Japanese air arm, its experienced airmen mostly lost during the long campaigns of 1942 and 1943, had to make do with unskilled pilots. The result was striking. In more than eight hours of intense aerial combat, more than 300 Japanese planes were knocked down, most of these by carrier fighters. By the 20th, counterattacking American planes and submarines had sent carriers Hiyo, Shokaku, and Taiho to the bottom. Thus, Japan's last serious carrier offensive operation ended in disaster.
Ozawa's fleet never got close enough to Saipan for Tennessee and her cousins to be called upon. On the 20th, she fueled east of Saipan as the Japanese carrier force headed westward. The next day, she was back on the gun line to blast gun positions on Manigassa Island, off Tanapag harbor. Call fire occupied the afternoon, as she took on several targets near Garapan. Tennessee's 14-inch guns commenced firing at 0555 the next day, pounding Garapan from 6,000 yards. Shell hits on the battered town raised clouds of smoke and dust, reminding the battleship's gunners of the Aleutian murk. Fire was shifted onto Mount Tapotchau, east of Garapan, before being returned to Garapan to assist the American troops who were working their way into the southern part of town.
On the night of 22 June, Tennessee got underway for Eniwetok where Hector (AR-7) repaired her battle damage as the fight for Saipan ground to its end on 9 July. Her next destination was Guam. Departing Eniwetok on 16 July with California, she joined Rear Admiral Ainsworth's Southern Fire Support Group (TG 53.5) off Guam in the afternoon of the 19th. The next day, she joined in a systematic bombardment begun on the 8th which was carefully planned to soften up the enemy's defenses while avoiding harm to the island's friendly Chamorro population. Tennessee launched her planes; and, at 0742, her turret guns opened fire while the 5-inch battery raked nearby Cabras Island. The ship slowly maneuvered to a position north of Asan Point, several miles north of Apra harbor, where one of two landing beaches was sited. UDT's scouted the beaches while planes laid smoke screens to cover their movements, and the ships' guns kept the Japanese defenders occupied. Firing ceased at midday and resumed late in the afternoon, as Tennessee continued to hammer Japanese positions north of Apra.
Shortly after dawn on 21 July, the bombardment ships again took up their work. Tennessee renewed her attentions to Cabras Island as the assault waves formed and headed for shore and continued to provide support during the first stage of the landing. At 1003, she ceased firing. Late that day, she put to sea with California and Colorado and returned to Saipan on 22 July.
Tennessee anchored in Tanapag harbor to replenish ammunition before taking up her night position to the west of Tinian. At 0607 on 23 July, she opened fire on the waterfront area of Tinian Town, as part of a deception scheme intended to convince the strong Japanese garrison that the landing would take place at Sunharon Bay, on the southwest coast of the island. A UDT even made a daylight reconnaissance of the beaches to strengthen the impression, and Tennessee's guns supported the frogmen. Fire paused around midday and resumed again in the afternoon before the ship retired to her night position off the island.
Early in the morning of the 24th, Tennessee took up her position off Tinian's northwest coast with California, Louisville (CA- 28), and several destroyers. From 2,500 yards offshore, the ships opened fire at 0532 ceasing fire as the first wave closed the beach at 0747. For the rest of the day, the ship stood by to deliver fire if needed, then retired for the night. In the morning of 26 July, Tennessee relieved California as the "duty ship " to furnish call fire upon request from the beach. Through the 25th and 26th, Tennessee delivered supporting fire by day and star shell by night. After returning briefly to Saipan to replenish on the 27th, the battleship was back on the firing line on the 28th, and her fire supported the advancing marines through the afternoon. Following replenishment at Saipan on the 29th, Tennessee began the 30th in support of marines advancing southward through Tinian Town. In the early morning, one of her observation planes collided in midair with a land-based marine OY-I spotting plane. Both aircraft plummeted to earth behind Japanese lines and burst into flames; the crews of both were killed.
Firing continued through that day and into the 31st, as the marines crowded the last defenders into the southern tip of: the island. At 0830 on 31 July, Tennessee's guns fell silent, and she returned to Saipan with her task accomplished. On the evening of 2 August, she arrived off Guam to resume fire-support duty. Rejoining Ainsworth's gunfire task group, she delivered call fire and illumination until 8 August when she joined California and Louisville for the voyage to Eniwetok and thence to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides. The ships arrived at Espiritu Santo on 24 August. On 2 September, Tennessee arrived at Tulagi for a brief period of amphibious support training.
Meanwhile, decisions had been made which would reshape the Allied offensive in the western Pacific. Meeting at Pearl Harbor in July 1944, President Roosevelt Admiral Nimitz, and General MacArthur had finally reached an agreement that the Philippines were to be liberated, not merely bypassed. After further discussions, the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved landings beginning at Mindanao, continuing north through Leyte, then taking either Luzon or Formosa and Amoy. During early September, Task Force 38 hit Japanese bases from the Palaus to the Visayas, inflicting considerable damage. Surprisingly little resistance was encountered by the roving carriers, leading to a conclusion that enemy air strength was virtually nonexistent. Nimitz, MacArthur, and Halsey agreed that this eliminated any need for a network of southern air bases to support the capture of the Philippines. Proposed landings on Yap and Mindanao were scrapped, although Morotai was invaded in September and preparations were made for an assault on the Palaus before bypassing the southern Philippines and going into Leyte.
The Palaus were to be Tennessee's next objective. This group is not an atoll, but an elongated cluster of islands just north of the Equator and at the western end of the Carolines. The group is about 110 miles long from small islands and reefs to the north through the large island of Babelthuap to the small southern islands of Peleliu and Angaur.
The objectives of the assault force were Kossol Roads, a reef- sheltered anchorage at the northern end of the chain, and the two southern islands; the large Japanese garrison on Babelthuap was to be isolated and left to its own devices. Planes and gunfire ships took turns pounding Peleliu from the morning of 12 September until the assault waves went ashore on the 15th. The battle for that island was to be one of the most bitter of the Pacific war, and organized resistance was not eliminated until November, at a heavy cost in lives. Tennessee's target was the smaller island of Angaur, a few miles south of Peleliu. On the morning of 12 September, Tennessee and Pennsylvania, with four light cruisers and five destroyers, began a prolonged bombardment as carrier aircraft did their share.
The flash and roar of bombs and gunfire from ships and planes attacking Peleliu were plain on the horizon as Tennessee closed Angaur early on 12 September. The battleship opened fire at 0682, hurling 14-inch shells at targets ashore from 14,000 yards. Through the morning and afternoon, her guns hit coast- defense positions and antiaircraft sites. During the afternoon, minesweepers cleared the approaches to the beaches. By this time, Tennessee was only 8,760 yards from shore, and her 40- millimeters had joined in. A prominent masonry lighthouse on the west coast of Angaur was ordered destroyed to keep the Japanese from using it as a gunfire observation point. Twelve 14-inch rounds were aimed at it, scarring the area and scoring three hits, but the tower remained standing. Other targets absorbed Tennessee's attention for the next three days. Tennessee stood by off Peleliu during the morning of the 15th in case her guns should be needed to assist the assault landing. When this work was completed, she returned on the evening of 16 September to finish off the stubborn tower before the next morning's scheduled landings. As the ship's turret guns trained out on the target, a 6-inch projectile from Denver (CL-58) screamed in from the far side of the island and sent the lighthouse crashing down in a cloud of smoke and dust.