' To Alabama, Very Well Done '.
Note: Title above relates to a condensed story appearing in the June 2004 issue of USNI's Naval History magazine. The unabridged story is as follows:
In the Matter of Reporting Initial Bogies, to IOWA, Well Done, to ALABAMA, Very Well Done.
(1247 19 June 1944 TBS transmission from CTG 58.7 (Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee) to TG 58.7).
By Alvin J. Spinner, DPCM, USN-Ret
A virtually unknown story of WW II concerns the unique role of battleship USS Alabama BB60 in alerting Task Force 58 to a massive force of enemy planes closing on the task force. Historians have written extensively about the Battle of the Philippine Sea, or as it is more commonly referred to, The Mariana Turkey Shoot. However, purposely, or unknowingly, they omit important detail and circumstances of Alabama's initial contact and report.
After WW II, the action reports of individual ships and other official navy documentation related to battle actions slowly became publicly accessible. However, in the matter of initial contact by BB60 an abundance of that early evidence, i.e. action reports, awards, and at least one CinC Pac publicity release, was disregarded or considered unsubstantiated. Alabama's initial contact and report came to be viewed as no more than a "claim".
Other than individuals associated with BB60, the public at large is unaware of Alabama's significant contribution to U.S. success in this battle. With the early documentation now augmented by the action reports of the three on-the-scene Task Force 58.7 Battle Line Division Commanders, Alabama's so-called "claim" is overwhelmingly substantiated. Each battleship division commander cites Alabama, by name, as the ship reporting the initial radar contact.
Ignored for sixty years, this would seem an appropriate time to clarify the record of history; and recognize this significant detail of the battle. Recapitulation of the various documentation related to this incident of naval history is most appropriate. Especially when one considers the many years that documentation, accessible early on, has been overlooked, and in some instances condescendingly labeled as erroneous. Recapitulation serves to provide insight into the incident and how participants on the scene perceived it. Efforts to obtain confirming documentation of the incident is a story unto itself.
In August of 1943, Battleship Division 9 composed of USS South Dakota BB57 and USS Alabama BB60, returned to the states from a tour of duty with the British Home Fleet and paused for ten days at the Norfolk Navy Yard. A new improved SK Air Search Radar was to be installed, replacing the original air search radar. However, due to a time constraint and a need for the two battleships in the Pacific, installation could not be accomplished during the short yard period at Norfolk. So, Captain Fred D. Kirtland had the crated
equipment loaded aboard Alabama, with planned installation at the navy yard at Pearl Harbor. BatDiv 9 sailed for Panama and transited the canal.
A few hours onto the Pacific Ocean, Captain Kirtland announced to the crew that orders had been changed. Instead of going to the Navy Yard at Pearl Harbor, we would be proceeding to an advanced base at Havannah Harbor, Efate, in New Hebrides. There, moored to a buoy, with no early prospect of yard time in Pearl Harbor nor access to a high lift crane, Alabama crewmen demonstrated the initiative and can-do spirit so prevalent during WW II.
The new SK radar would be mounted high on a mast immediately aft of the conning tower. The mast's radar pedestal is at a level that is above the range finder atop the conning tower. The pedestal's elevation being about 130 feet above the water line, with the mast extending about 30 feet higher. Normally, installation requires use of navy yard cranes.
After much planning, a slide or track leading up to the air search radar pedestal was rigged. I have a distinct memory of a large spar or boom temporarily affixed to the conning tower so as to project well above the conning tower, possibly to use the mast and the spar as fixed booms for a yard-and-stay type of cargo whip. With block and tackle, the muscle of crewmen, and an assist by crewmen from a repair ship (probably USS Medusa, which was moored at Efate on our arrival), crewmen of the Alabama dismounted the original air search radar, installed the new SK Air Search Radar and components, and then calibrated the system.
A few months later, that air search radar and it's operators were first to detect, track, and then report the approaching massive air attack force that initiated the 19 June 1944 Battle of the Philippines Sea. Initially detected approximately 190 miles distant, the bogie was considered by many to be an anomaly. A closing plot, Alabama's formal 1006 report at 141 miles and then confirmation by Iowa, removed any doubt as to it's validity. South Dakota's description of the first attack wave at 1028, "bogey now covers an area of four miles", gives indication that the bogey at hand was unusual.
Alabama's action report of 19 June 1944, cited the various reports of enemy
surface force sightings and estimates of their progress toward the Mariana area.
"On the morning of 19 June 1944, this vessel was operating as a unit of Task Group 58.7 (VICE Admiral W. A. Lee, Jr.; USN, Commander Battleships, U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S.S. Washington BB56, Flagship), and of Task Force 58 (Vice Admiral M. A. Mitscher, USN, Commander Fast Carrier Task Force, U.S.S. Lexington (CV16), Flagship) engaged in support of amphibious operations against the Japanese held MARIANAS ISLANDS. Reports had indicated that enemy surface units were approaching the area from the southwest. One report received at 1900(K) on 15 June 1944 reported a large force leaving SAN BERNADINO STRAIT. Another report received at 0318(K) 18 June gave position, course and speed of apparently the same force as of 2155(K) on 17 June. Based on these two reports it was estimated that the enemy's daylight position, 19 June, could be in the vicinity of Lat. 12-30 N., Long. 136-40 E. At 0700(K) on 19 June, a blue submarine report as of 0630(K) on 18 June confirmed the previous estimate. The enemy daylight position from Task Group 58.7 was therefore estimated to be approximately bearing 250 true, distance 410 miles, at daylight on 19 June 1944."
ComBatDiv 7, War Diary entries for the hours of 0001through 1005 of 19 June 1944 further amplify, describing reported enemy contacts during those hours. Excerpts from (un-numbered) paragraphs, as follows:
(1st para.)"Shortly after midnight, the STOCKHAM and YARNELL, picket ships, reported an unidentified aircraft, which was confirmed by IOWA, as a low flying plane bearing 250, distance 21 miles. At 0036 NEW JERSEY reported unidentified aircraft bearing 157, distance 97 miles and at the same time IOWA reported losing contact with the unidentified aircraft which had been previously reported by the pickets." (2nd para.) "A VF(N) was launched by TG 58.3 but it is not known whether or not the VF(N) made contact with unidentified aircraft.) (3rd para.)"At 0541, an unidentified aircraft was reported bearing 165, distance 42 miles and an investigating friendly fighter, when within 5 miles of bogey, reported it to be a group of 4 or more enemy fighters. STOCKHAM at 0551 reported enemy planes were closing on her starboard beam. This information was followed, at 0553, by YARNELL reporting that she had shot down one enemy plane." (5th para) "USS FINBACK in position 14 - 25 N. 135 - 45 E. at 2010 on 18 June had spotted searchlights. A search of the area produced negative results but FINBACK added that during the day of 18 June she had observed unidentiffied planes. It was thus increasingly evident the Japanese were approaching an area from which aerial assaults could be launched against our forces." (7th para.) "At 0913, a report of a search plane of VP211" had a radar contact earlier, at 0115, with a large task force, presumable enemy surface units, although no word of this information was received until about 0910.
Entries from Alabama's action report chronology start with the following:
1000- Position of ALABAMA was Latitude 14-15-55 N., Longitude 143-00-20 E. Task Group 58.7 was disposed in Cruising Disposition 7-Roger, Axis 270, Course 250, Speed 18.
1006 - ALABAMA made initial contact, reporting to CTG 58.7 a large bogie, bearing 268 true, distance 141 miles, angels 24 or greater, closing. CTF 58 asked for confirmation of ALABAMA's contact; IOWA substantiated.
1011 - TG 58.7 formed cruising disposition 7-Victor.
1016 - CTF 58 ordered all Task Group Commanders to launch their deck loads.
(chronology entry later in the day, is as follows:)
1247 TBS transmission from CTG 58.7 to TG 58.7: "In the matter of reporting initial Bogies, to IOWA well done, to ALABAMA very well done".
Selected entries from South Dakota's action report for 19 June 1944, provide dramatic description of early progress of the 19 June action:
1012- General Quarters sounded to repel air attack. Many bogies on the screen. Commenced forming cruising disposition 7-V, Course 250 T, speed 18 knots.
1016 - Battery is manned and ready. Bogey 1 bearing 264 T, range 94 miles.
1018 - Bogey 1 bearing 264 T, range 86 miles, on course 090 T.
1021- Bogey 1 bearing 266 T, range 78 miles. Friendly fighters bearing 275 T, range 30 miles. Machine guns given permission to fire inside formation if elevation is above ships in line of fire. 5" (guns) may not fire inside formation.
1024 - Bogey 1 bearing 268 T, range 67 miles, course 080 T, speed 210 knots.
1026 - Bogey 1 bearing 268 T, range 59 miles.
1027 - Friendly fighters have been ordered to form up at 270 T, range 30 miles.
1028 - Bogey 1 bearing 269 T, range 53 to 57 miles, bogey now covers an area of four miles on this bearing.
1029 - Order given to catapults to jettison bombs and depth charges.
1030 - Friendly planes bearing 269 T, range 39 miles. Bogey 1 bearing 268 T, range 49 miles. Bogey 2 bearing 330 T, range 59 miles.
1031 - Friendly planes bearing 275 T, range 39 miles and 49 miles. Friendly fighters bearing 272 T, range 48 to 52 miles.
1032 - Friendly fighters bearing 273 true, range 40 miles and 48 miles. Increased speed to 22 knots by signal.
1032 1/2 - Bogey 1 bearing 270 T, range 48 miles.
1033 - Large group of friendly planes bearing 290 T, range 48 miles.
1033 1/2 - Large group of bogies bearing 272 T to 273, range 45 to 48 miles.
1034 - Bogie 1 bearing 270 T, range 40 to 45 miles, at altitudes from 16,000 to 21,000 feet. Sky IV is on this target, range 98,000 yards. 1035 - Our fighters intercept Bogey 1. Bogey 2 bearing 282 T, range 55 miles.
1036 - Merged plot on screen, bearing 275 T, range 38 miles, covering an 8 mile area. Order given to get up extra 5" ammunition. 1037 - Bogey 1 bearing 280 T, range 42 miles.
1038 - Bogey 2 bearing 285 T, range 47 miles.
1039 - Bogies 1 and 2 bearing 282 T, range 30
to 40 miles, merged in general melee with our fighters.
1040 - Bogies bearing 285 T, range 35 to 45 miles. Twenty bogies in group reported by friendly fighters. Groups of bogies began breaking through our fighters.
1042 - Bogey 1 has split into two groups. Bogey 1 bearing 277 T, range 21 miles.
1043 1/2 - Sky IV has bogey bearing 280 T, range 37,000 yards. Sky III has bogey at 40,000 yards. Sky I has bogey at 32,000 yards. 1044 - Bogey is bearing 276 T, range 34 miles. Low flying planes on horizon off port bow.
1044 1/2 - Sky II has bogey, three enemy planes visually bearing 293 T, range 29,000 yards. Bogey 1A bearing 283 T, range 13 miles. Friendly fighters are also at that position.
1045 - Sky II has target, range 25,200 yards.
Bogey 1A bearing 280 T, range 11 miles. Our fighters are also in that position.
Alabama's 19 June 1944 action report narrative describes the battle from Alabama's perspective as follows: "Commencing at 1046 and continuing for five hours, repeated Japanese aerial raids were launched against this Task Force. Though seven raids were designated by number throughout this five hour period, but three of the attacks involved Task Group 58.7. This vessel opened fire during two of the three attacks.
Alabama's crewmen, on board on 19 June 1944, were made aware the ship's radar and it's operators had made the initial contact and report of a large unidentified formation of planes closing on the Task Force. Awareness was reinforced on the third day in the ship's Plan-of-the Day. Notes cited in the 21 June 1944 plan-of-the-day included:
A [news] 'Flash: "Our search planes have reported the Jap Fleet in three or four groups about 250 miles to the west of us. At this writing, our Attack planes were taking off and heading for the Enemy. We may have a surface action today, Wednesday."
Also: "messages, originated after the Air Attacks Monday, are quoted below for information."
"from CTF 58 (Vice Admiral Mitscher) to TF 58 , . . ." .skillfull defense of this Task Force enabled the Force to escape a vicious well coordinated Aircraft Attack carried out with determination."";
"from CTG 58.7 (Vice Admiral Lee) to TG 58.7, "In the matter of reporting initial bogies, to IOWA, well done, to ALABAMA, very well done,"";
"from ComBatDiv 9 (Rear Admiral Hanson) to ALABAMA, "Congratulations to you, your ship and especially
to your Super Alert Radar Crew. You were in large measure responsible for yesterday's superlative Air Victory. Southwest corner was getting hot yesterday. Your help is greatly appreciated."";
"from ALABAMA to SOUTH DAKOTA, "All hands here express sympathy and hope casualties were light."";
"from SOUTH DAKOTA to ALABAMA, "Thank You. Twenty men and one officer killed. Twenty three were injured. Ten serious. One five hundred bomb struck port side 0-1level"".
Documentation that Pacific Fleet Headquarters was aware of Alabama's "initial contact", and considered it noteworthy, appeared in U.S. Pacific Fleet, Advance Headquarters, Guam, PRESS RELEASE No.182, labeled ("For release at 0800 (-10), 12 August 1945). It presented brief descriptions of ALABAMA's participation in various operations through to 5 June 1945. The third paragraph of page 2 is as follows: "It was the ALABAMA which first gave the warning to the rest of her task force that a huge air-fleet of Japanese planes was approaching. The resulting battle, in which the Japanese force was turned back, has been called the first battle of the Philippines Sea. American carrier pilots termed the air battle a "turkey shoot".
Newly commissioned, E. Wayne Bundy joined the Alabama at Scapa Flow. He came aboard after a five week chase from Norfolk - 6, 5 and 4 knot convoys to Halifax, Sydney and Argentia, HMS Faulkner to the Firth at Gourock, truck to Glasgow, train to Thurso, packet boat to Scapa, a Royal Navy station ship and midnight launch to BB60. He was assigned to the I division, and duty as watch officer in the CIC. In a book published in 1999, containing statements by various crewmen on their memories of duty in ALABAMA , he commented: "Our Air Search radar was the hottest in the Pacific - probably because our own people installed it. We left Norfolk with our new SK radar crated on the fantail and our guys put it together in Efate with the help of a repair ship. In any case we got bogeys first and further out than anybody else. Turkey Shoot Day off Saipan and Guam, Joe Cook and Cliff O'Brien had incoming Japanese carrier planes so far out the Flag didn't believe us. Nor our 2nd report. Nor 3rd. Finally somebody else confirmed, and they decided it was for real. (We knew that from the first blip on.)
The Radar Officer Captain (then Lt.) John
Henry, USN (Ret), the Radar Technical Officers, Lt. Walter F. Lenoir, jr., USNR
and Lt. Eugene S. Pennebaker, USNR, were each awarded the Bronze Star. The two
radar operators on watch that morning, Joseph G. Cook and Clifford R. O'Brien
were officially honored with commendations for the outstanding performance. Joe
Cook was also promoted to Radar Man 1st class. Rather than promotion to 1st
class, Cliff O'Brien accepted a second option of rotation back to the states to
marry his sweetheart, Mary. At this writing, they are still together.
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