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Z-Day The Battle For Biak

Discussion in 'Land Warfare in the Pacific' started by Biak, May 28, 2010.

  1. Biak

    Biak Adjutant

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    Found another site with more interesting information.


    THE INVASION OF BIAK ISLAND

    For a month after the Hollandia operation we performed what we were beginning to call “bird dog” duty, running back and forth essentially between the Buna area and Humboldt Bay, including a brief stop at Aitape and even going up a little river and tying up under the trees to quickly pick up some material at Alexhaffen. During this general period of time we had experienced quite a few changes in personnel. Our Executive Officer LT. Oscar B. Parker had been detached for duty at the Bureau of Personnel and relieved by Lt.Cdr. Joseph C. Snyder, an interesting person who was a Naval Academy graduate who had left the service to become a medical doctor practicing in the Far East, but had come back into the line as a reservist after Pearl Harbor. He sported probably the finest “art gallery” of tattoo work on board, but was soon to be detached for medical treatment and was relieved as Exec by our First Lieutenant John B. O’Neill.
    While at anchor down in Buna Roads one day we had to transfer a very fine Gunner’s Mate 2/c to the hospital because an accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wound to his thigh, while standing quarterdeck watch at the sea ladder. His explanation to the OOD who raced out from the wardroom upon hearing the shot was “I didn’t know it was loaded.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    BIAK ISLAND INVASION - ALLIED SHIPS
    Task Force 77, RADM William E. Fechteler, Commanding

    Destroyers: Heavy Cruiser
    USS AMMEN USS MULLANY HMAS AUSTRALIA
    HMAS ARUNTA USS NICHOLSON
    USS BEALE USS RUSSELL Light Cruisers:
    USS BACHE USS RADFORD USS BOISE
    USS BALCH USS ROE USS NASHVILLE
    USS BUSH USS ABNER READ USS PHOENIX
    USS DALEY USS REID
    USS FLETCHER USS STEVENSON Amphibious:
    USS GRAYSON USS SWANSON 32 LCI’s
    USS GILESPIE USS STOCKTON 14 LST’s
    USS HOBBY USS SAMPSON (Flagship) Destroyer Transports:
    USS HUGHES USS TRATHEN USS HERBERT
    USS HUTCHINS USS Van BUREN USS CROSBY
    USS JENKINS HMAS WARRAMUNGA USS KILTY
    USS KALK USS WILKES USS SCHLEY
    USS LaVALLETTE USS WELLES USS WARD
    USS LOVELACE USS WARRINGTON
    USS MUSTIN USS WHITEHURST

    Special Services:
    Subchasers:
    USS SC 703 USS SC 734 USS SC 736
    USS SC 742 USS SC 699 USS SC 981

    Rocket Launching Craft:
    USS LCI 34 USS LCI 34 USS LCI 73

    USS SONOMA (Tug)

    The assault forces departed Humbolt Bay for Biak late afternoon of 25 May. This was not to be a long, evasive trip such as had been used for the Hollandia operation,
    but rather a one and a half – day run along the coast for roughly 325 miles, or about 36 hours of steaming at the 8 + knots that prevailed in such movements. D-day was the 27th, and the order to execute the plan was issued on schedule at 0629 hours. The light cruisers PHOENIX, BOISE, and NASHVILLE opened the ball with their bombardment of areas around the airfields, while the screening destroyers lying off Bosnik opened fire on targets near the landing beaches. Fifth Air Force B-24’s had made their bombing runs earlier, and the rocket – launching LCI’s let loose their missiles as the assault wave of troops headed for the beaches.

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

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

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

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

    At noon we left the area independently and headed back east to rendezvous support Echelon H-3. At 0525 hours the next morning, 29 May, we joined up with their eight LST’s and destroyers Balch, Roe, and Warrington and headed back for Biak again.
    This was the day that the Japanese high command belatedly reversed their earlier decision not to reinforce Biak but to strengthen the Marianas. They now decided to land some 2,500 experienced combat troops from Mindanao and others from very nearby Manokwari on Biak on 3 June. The troop movement was to be supported by their battleship FUSO, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and eight destroyers.

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

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

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

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

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

    At 1750 we joined with Warrington, Balch, Nicholson, Wilkes, and VanBuren to sail for Biak as escort for Ehelon H-6’s 9 LST’s. As we steamed westward during the night Admiral Crutchley , RN, was proceeding to a point about 25 miles north of Biak with the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia and the light cruisers USS’s Phoenix, Boise, and Nashville escorted by 14 destroyers and under orders to destroy any inferior enemy forces but to retire before superior forces. At noon the next day, 4 June, they were spotted by an enemy reconnaissance plane while still 120 miles to the east and attacked by 34 enemy planes in late afternoon, sustaining minor damage to Nashville.
    About this time the second attempt to reinforce our enemy of Biak began as three Japanese destroyers carrying 600 troops escorted by three other DD’s, all towing landing barges, sailed from Sorong, over west of the “head of the bird” on Dampier Strait and headed our way. The Japanese had a heavy and a light cruiser sailing out of nearby Salawati for protection. Their orders were to land the troops on Biak two nights later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    CONCLUSION

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

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

    For a similar report on

    INVASION of HOLLANDIA 17 APRIL 1944
    INVASION of NOEMFOOR ISLAND 2 JULY 1944
    OPERATION OF CAPE SANSPOR, 30 JULY 1944

    Destroyer At War Online: The story of the USS Swanson DD443

    http://ussjpkennedyjr.org/swanson443/swanhol.html
     

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