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USS Tennessee (BB-43) Part 3

Due to the length of this article, it has been split up.
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Operation Forager[?], the assault on the Mariana Islands[?], 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 (BB-44), Maryland (BB-46), and Colorado (BB-45), 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 landbased Mitsubishi G4M Betty[?] which had been trailing along ten 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, five-inch, and 40-millimeter batteries. Some smoldering powder grains from the five-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 UDTs 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 fire at the defenders who were opposing the UDTs, 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 four-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 five-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 six-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 June.

The original plan laid called for landings on Guam on 18 June. However, during the afternoon of the 16th and the early hours of the 16th, Admiral Raymond 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 19 June, 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 20 June, 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 19 July. The next day, she joined in a systematic bombardment begun on 8 July 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 five-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. UDTs 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 24 July, 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 fi rst 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 26 July, Tennessee delivered supporting fire by day and star shell by night. After returning briefly to Saipan to replenish on 27 July, the battleship was back on the firing line on 28 July, and her fire supported the advancing marines through the afternoon. Following replenishment at Saipan on 29 July, Tennessee began 30 July in support of marines advancing southward through Tinian Town. In the early morning, one of her observation planes collided in midair with a landbased 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 31 July, 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 of the United States Franklin Roosevelt, Admiral Chester Nimitz, and General Douglas 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 Palau Islands[?] to the Visaya Islands[?], 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 William Halsey, Jr. 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 Palau Islands[?] 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 Caroline Islands. 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 15 September. 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 15 September 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 six-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.

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 19 September. 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 Seventh 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 Ryukyu Islands[?] 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 18 October, 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)s, 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)s, 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.

Tennessee continued her work off the beachhead until her fire support was no longer required and 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 24 October, 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.

They were in place for the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Due to the length of this article, it has been split up.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5



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