The Sitting Ducks
The operation plan assigned the responsibility for this bombardment to Admiral Higgins' Gunfire Support Group, Task Group 90.6; the narrow waters of Inchon harbor placed the main burden on Captain Allan's destroyers. Hydrographic conditions also led to the decision to come in with the flooding tide and anchor, so that the ships would lie head to sea during the bombardment, and retirement in the event of damage would be simplified. At 0700 on the 13th, the destroyers started up the channel in column: MANSFIELD in the lead followed by De HAVEN, SWENSON, COLLETT, GURKE, and HENDERSON. Behind the destroyers came the cruisers: ROCHESTER with Admiral Struble embarked, TOLEDO with Admiral Higgins, JAMAICA, and KENYA. Overhead there orbited a combat air patrol from Task Force 77, while to seaward that force was preparing to launch a strike which would hit the island shortly before the arrival of the destroyers. At 1010 the Support Group entered the approaches to Inchon outer harbor.
The decision to come in on the flooding tide proved advantageous in more ways than one, for at 1145 a string of watching mines was sighted off the port bow in the area from which the British cruisers had bombarded the port 10 days before. Here was a threat for which the bombardment group was ill-prepared The first positive mine sightings had been made on 4 September, southwest of Chinnampo, by the destroyer McKEAN; three days later British units heading north through these same waters had encountered many floaters; on the 10th the Korean PC 703 had sunk a mine-layer off Haeju and had reported that the mouth of Haeju Man had been mined. In Tokyo, on that same day, Admiral Struble had discussed the mine problem with CincFE. if contact mines had been placed in the Inchon approaches, it was the opinion of Commander Joint Task Force 7 that the Attack Force could be pushed through; if the approaches had been salted with modern influence mines the situation was more doubtful, all that could be done was to go on up and see. A conference with ComNavFE led to a recommendation to CincPacFleet for the earliest possible reactivation of more AMS; on the next day Admiral Radford passed this request to CNO and himself started additional sweepers to the Far East.
But reinforcements would be long in arriving, the invasion had to go forward, no sweep had been planned, and the seven minesweepers present in the theater were two days astern with the Transport Group. Before nightfall they would be ordered to the objective area at best speed, but for the moment the best that could be done was to make do. There might be more mines further up the channel: there was no way of knowing. HENDERSON, the tail end destroyer, was detached to sink as many as she could by gunfire before the tide covered them, and the other destroyers continued on toward Wolmi Do.
It was just past noon and the air strike was still on, as MANSFIELD and her followers moved through the harbor to their assigned positions, some less than half a mile from the fortified island. Anchoring at short stay, the ships swung around to head southward, into the flooding current, and trained their batteries out to port. There was boat traffic in the harbor, activity tn the city was visible, but on Wolmi Do there was no sign of life.
Shortly before 1300 the five destroyers commenced deliberate fire on the island's batteries and on the Inchon waterfront. Some minutes of undisturbed bombardment followed, and the enemy batteries opened up. Communist fire was concentrated on SWENSON, COLLETT, and GURKE, the ships nearest the island, and in the course of the next 20 minutes. scored on all three. COLLETT received the heaviest damage, taking nine 75-millimeter hits, one of which disabled her computer and forced her to fire in local control. Three hits were made on GURKE; a near miss killed an officer on SWENSON; total casualties were one killed and five wounded. For nearly an hour, the engagement continued until 1347, after the expenditure at about a thousand 5-inch shells, the destroyers weighed and proceeded down channel. Five minutes later, the cruisers opened from the lower harbor against the Wolmi batteries, and with one intermission for an air strike, continued shooting until 1640, when the task group retired seaward.
The bombardment had been a destructive one. On the other hand the enemy had been alerted: during the day U.N. headquarters had intercepted a North Korean dispatch which reported the bombing of Wolmi Do, the approach of naval vessels, and "every indication that the enemy will perform a landing." The response of Wolmi's defenders had been vigorous, and the island's gunners were still firing as the destroyers departed. For Captain Allan's ships, this persistent opposition merely implied another trip in next day for a repeat performance, but for some in the higher echelons news of the enemy reaction proved unsettling. On board the command ship MOUNT McKINLEY, now steaming northward through the Yellow Sea, one highly placed observer noted that among those who had counted on an unopposed or lightly opposed landing "a certain measure of pessimism appeared."
Up front, however, the problems were problems of detail. In the evening Higgins and Allan went aboard ROCHESTER for a conference with Admiral Struble The decision was taken to do it again the next day COLLETT was detached because of her damage, and told (sic) off along with the tug MATACO to finish the destruction of the mines. Some crystal trouble with aircraft radios, which had made difficulties for air spotting and air coordination, was dealt with by a change in the frequency plan. Otherwise all was routine, and in the morning the other four destroyers, joined by HENDERSON and supported by the cruisers, again filed up the channel.
At 1050, as an air strike against the Wolmi Do and Inchon gun emplacements was beginning, the cruisers anchored in the lower bombardment. area. Twenty minutes later they commenced firing on Wolmi Do, and shortly after noon the destroyers were deployed to their anchorages in Inchon harbor There, following another air strike, they began their pointblank bombardment of the island, firing from 1255 to 1422, and expending some 1,700 rounds. Another strike from Task Force 77 came in as the destroyers moved down channel; for another hour the cruisers continued their work. Enemy fire, this time, was late, sparse. and inaccurate, and no ship was hit Air spotting had been considerably improved, and the itemized claims of destruction and damage inflicted by the two-day effort were encouraging. Together with the work of Task Force 77, the gunfire appeared to have done the job. Wolmi Do was ready for the Marines.
("The Sea Services in the Korean War" - 50th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee)