Sitrep February 27th 1944 - afternoon
The "Heavenly Wind" strikes again - and is given a blow in the guts!
The recent, and regular, successes all around the South-East and South-Western Theatre of Operations - the British have finally taken Bandjermasin on Borneo, the USN has promised them some amphibious vessels to help in their future operations in the DEI, the Chinese are pushing south on the Korean Peninsula and the US and Philippine ground forces outside Kagoshima have been reinforced by the 92nd Infantry Division that was never needed in the capture of Nagasaki - has put MacArthur and his staff in a somewhat euphoric state, bordering on recklessness.
Yesterday they were brutally awakened! Two battleship groups were cruising eastwards south of Shikoku Island after bombarding Kagoshima in support of the land operations there. They had started from Shimonoseki the night before and were heading for Yokohama were it was planned for a period of rest and replenishment before the bombardment of Tokyo should start. As enemy air activity had been almost non-existent for weeks they had no air protection, all carriers except CVE Anzio, also on her way to Yokohama, had been withdrawn to Yokohama and Osaka to prepare for the upcoming attack on Tokyo. In the morning she was quite a distance east of the two east-bound battleship groups. Her air complement also wasn't exactly what was needed for the occasion, it consisted of two squadrons of dive bombers that had participated in the bombing of Kagoshima.
The only places west of Tokyo still in enemy hands were two small cities on the land tongue bordering the east of the Inland Sea, south of Osaka - these were already under siege by army and marine units freed up by the fall of Nagasaki, and Takamatsu on the north-eastern tip of Shikoku. Plans were under way to move on that city, too, but it had not proceeded farther than the landing of naval support units in Hochi, on the south side of the island, to prepare for the reception of proper fighting units for the purpose. While there had been some air activity originating from Tsu none had ben detected coming from Takamatsu. And the local US leadership had absolutely no idea on what had obviously been going on there lately, namely an enormous build-up of air assets.
As the first blips indicating enemy activity started to pop up on the radar screens of the battleships and their escorts they weren't too worried. They had, after all, an impressive AA defense and the enemy air forces were known to have been virtually annihilated. The destroyers closed up to their valuable big sisters. The first enemy formation, consisting of three "Bettys" and three "Daves", escorted by a similar number of Zeros, split up and attacked the battleships Oklahoma and New Mexico. All but two were shot down but those two, one Betty and one Dave, didn't launch torpedoes or bombs in the usual way, they simply crashed themselves into the enemy ships. This pattern continued through the day with an ever-increasing number of planes. At the end of the day four battleships had been seriously damaged, one hit by seven death-defying enemy bombers crashing themselves into the ship. They were the "Kamikazes" - carriers of the "Heavenly Wind"! As the attacks developed many bomb-carrying fighters also rammed the US ships.
In-between the attacks on the battleship groups, similar attacks were performed against shipping in the port of Kobe. Four valuable transports, among them two large tankers, were sunk, and several damaged. Over Kobe many enemy bombers were shot down by fighters flying CAP from Osaka and Maizuru but for the US ships out in the sea only minimal support could be given. Even then, when the day was over 185 enemy planes were claimed by US flak and fighter units. As reports filed in through the day it also became clear that all the enemy strikes had originated from Takamatsu on Shokaku Island. How could this enomous undetected assembly be possible - several hundred planes had participated in the attacks?
As the day passed into night several important decisons were made by the US leadership, the most important to see to that the damaged battleships reached Yokohama safely. CVE Anzio was instructed to turn around and join the convoy escorting the damaged ships to Yokohama, her dive bombers were flown off to give space for a large Corsair squadron transferring from Chiba. A four-ship escort carrier force also was organized in Yokohama to meet the retreating ships.
As important was the purpose of attacking the enemy base, Takamatsu, before they could repeat their performance the next day. This operation consisted of a naval bombardment force of two battleships and half a dozen destroyers dispatched full speed from Shimonokesi in the early evening so that they could make the safety of Osaka before daylight. The second part was that of two hundred high-level and dive bombers starting from the US airfields closest to Takamatsu.
In retrospect, the previous day's disclosure of the enemy's new tactics may, in the long run, have been of the good as the next day's fighting was a large US victory. The nightly naval bombardment of the tightly packed enemy airfields was devastating, followed by a number of totally unopposed air bombardments. With this, and the much increased US CAPs, no enemy bombers got near the damaged battleships the next day. Claims by AA and fighter units, and follow-up photo-reconnaissance of the Takamatsu airfields, indicated enemy losses on the ground and the air in the hundreds.
The final nail in the enemy's plans coffin was the decision to order a desperate attack on Takamatsu by the Shimonoseki-based US para units. During the evening, five C-47 squadrons transferred from Kanoya to Shimonoseki. With the transport units already there, most of the 503rd Para Bde, 1st Special Bde and the 2nd Marine Para Bn could be dropped in a single lift. In the middle of the next day's bomb strikes the Paras jumped over three locations around the city, before nightfall the enemy was chased out and the airfields captured with a loot of several hundred planes in addition to those lost in air operations. The next morning the damaged battleships arrived safely in Yokohama. They were immediately put into the wharfs to prepare them for the Tokyo attacks.
Picture: Aircraft loss figures February 27th 1944