Task Force 58 (and its alter-ego Task Force 38) was the “first-man-in” as the United States (the Allies) advanced methodically westward across the Pacific toward Japan. The ships would attack island groups and enemy bases in advance of amphibious landings in which Marines and infantrymen would slug it out with entrenched, well equipped and tenacious Japanese soldiers, who were ordered to fight until the last man fell – no surrender.
Iwo Jima, like all the “landings” before, proved to be a grueling battle of attrition in which only 216 of the (approximately) 22,000 Japanese defenders taken prisoner by the time the island was declared “secure” on March 26, 1945 – 35 days after the initial assault. The rest were killed. Despite the massive air and ongoing ship bombardments leading up to and during the invasion, there were almost 26,000 American casualties (6,825 dead).
The next “Home Island” target was Okinawa, which proved to be a horrifying harbinger of the planned Invasion of Japan (Operations Olympic and Coronet). There were as many as 500,000 Okinawan civilians living on the island. “Final” casualty counts estimate that as many as 42,000 civilians died, including unknown hundreds who hurled themselves en masse off cliffs rather than be captured by the barbaric Americans. About 108,000 Japanese soldiers (including about 20, 000 Okinawans “conscripted” into the Army) were killed. American assault troop casualties totaled 12,000 killed and about 38,000 wounded.
Japanese strategists had a special surprise for the Americans. They unleashed ten massive raids of kamikaze planes and fighter escorts against both the invasion fleet just offshore and the Task Force ships ranging further offshore. Between April 6 and June 22, 1945, Kikusui Raids (“Floating Chrysanthemums”) swarmed Navy ships day and night. Total numbers are unknown, but some of the raids consisted of several hundred kamikazes and equal numbers of conventional fighter planes and bombers. Hardest hit group were the “Picket Destroyers” stationed in strategic locations around Okinawa as “early warning radar posts” to protect the beachhead invasion and the carriers further offshore from enemy air attacks. The kiketsui extracted a heavy toll: more than 5,000 sailors killed, 21 ships sunk and 66 more damaged — some so heavily they were out of commission for the rest of the war.
The Boston and her crew escaped this madness. They were ordered home for retrofits and repairs in advance of the planned invasion of Japan.
As I mentioned in my last post, the tiny island of Iwo Jima was very important to both sides in the War for the Pacific. The Boston set sail for the Bonin and Volcano Islands four times between mid-June of 1944 and Feb/March of 1945.
In the lead-up to the First Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19-21, 1944), Boston’s Task Group 58.1 (Adm. Clark) was joined by TG 58.4 (Adm. Harrill) in a two-day raid against airfields on those islands – with emphasis on the planes on Iwo Jima. Despite typhoon conditions, deckloads of fighter and bombers took off from the carriers and inflicted major damage on enemy aircraft on the ground (91 planes) and in the air. The raids (June 15 and 16) severely damaged Japanese operational plans during their attacks on the American Invasion Fleet massed off the west coast of the Mariana Islands a few days later.
The actions of the Battle of the Philippine Sea found the ships of Task Force 58 searching for downed airmen in the seas north and east of the Marianas on June 22. Next day, the ships were on their way for resupply and replenishment at Eniwetok (Marshall Islands), with a scheduled raid on the Marianas on the way (a typical WWll “drive-by shooting”) On June 24, raids launched by the carriers of TG58.1 destroyed 66 more planes on the airfields of Iwo. In dogfights over Iwo and Chichi Jima, Navy pilots destroyed 59 planes in the air (and 24 more on the ground.)
The Boston’s next visit to Iwo Jima was July 4 and 5th. As the flagship of Cruiser Divison 10, CA-69 lead a task group of five cruisers and 15 destroyers in bombardments of airfields and military installations on Iwo Jima. With the combined carrier plane strikes and ship’s bombings, the day netted 116 planes on the ground, five enemy ships sunk and several heavily damaged.
After spending the entire month of July in combat (Operation Forager) off various Mariana Islands, Task Force 58 headed back for resupply to Eniwetok. On the way, Jocko Clark’s task group broke north for another two day raid on Iwo, including another cruiser bombardment lead by CruDiv10 on August 4 and 5th.
Boston’s next visit to Iwo was in mid February 1945, when the Combined Fifth Fleet (Task Force 58 and the Invasion Fleet) sailed north from Ulithi for the start of Operation Detachment — the amphibious assault of Iwo Jima.
1944: The first day of February dawned on Task Force 58 ships engaged in the simultaneous attacks on atoll groups in the Marshall Islands (Operation Flintlock.) The Boston and sister cruiser Baltimore, along with several destroyers detached from the group during the night of Feb. 5 and steamed west. On Feb 6, they bombarded targets on Engebi Island (Eniwetok Atoll). Next day, the ships pull into Kwajalein lagoon, and anchor there while the Marines are still “mopping —up” entrenched enemy troops in the Atoll. The ships pull out on Feb 11 and begin Operation Catchpole — the capture of Eniwetok.
1945: The Boston is in anchorage at Ulithi Atoll until Feb 10. The Task Force is changed from TF38 back to TF58, under the over-all command of Raymond Spruance aboard the cruiser Indianapolis. The Boston forms up with group 58.2. Operational command of the ships is the responsibility of Marc Mitscher, aboard the heavy carrier Lexington. The group consists of the carriers: Lexington, Hancock and San Jacinto, the battleships Wisconsin and Missouri, cruisers Boston and San Francisco and nineteen destroyers (including DesRons52 and 53). They begin Operation Detachment (the invasion of Iwo Jima) by steaming north to attack airbases on the Bonin Islands and Operation Jamboree — bombing targets in and around Tokyo.
1946: The Boston has completed her Occupation Duties, and is heading back to the States to unload her crew prior to her retirement in Washington.
1944: On January 19th. The ships take turns leaving Pearl Harbor for the last time. The Boston forms up with other ships in Task Group 58.4 and the rest of Task Force 58 as they accompany the Invasion Fleet — destination: the Marshall Islands. It takes six days for the ships to reach striking distance of their objective. January 26 marks the beginning of the first Central Pacific offensive operation against Japan – starting the attacks and simultaneous amphibious assault on targets spread all across the Marshall Islands — known as Operation Flintlock. The Boston’s task group bombarded and attacked the southeastern atolls through early February, concentrating on Wotje Atoll, Maleolap Atoll and Majuro Atoll.
1945: After refueling on the 11th, Boston’s Task Group 38.1 is joined by TG 38.2 and begins Operation Gratitude – attacks on Japanese targets in Occupied Chinese territory. The ships are in the South China Sea, the furthest west American warships have been in the war. Admiral Halsey is eager to find the Imperial Japanese Fleet — reported to be anchored in CamRahn Bay — and engage it in a great surface battle. (The Japanese Fleet had already departed.) The next six days the ships rode out a typhoon — launching planes whenever possible against targets in Hong Kong, Canton, and IndoChina (Vietnam). The ships come under attack while in the South China Sea. On January 20, the carrier planes are launched against targets on the huge enemy bases on Formosa (Taiwan). The ships begin heading for anchorage at Ulithi Atoll (south of the Marianas – which they reach on the 25th). On the drive-by, they attack targets in the Okinawa group of islands (Jan 22.). The Boston is in anchorage from Jan 26 until Feb 10.
1944: The New Year finds the men still in Pearl Harbor. Week-day at-sea exercises give way to weekend liberty for the men in Honolulu. Task Force 58 is not yet operational; for all practical purposes it does not exist until the ships debouch Pearl Harbor and form into Task Groups on January 19th.
1945: The Boston has been in combat for a year now, first as a unit of Task Force 58 under the command of Raymond Spruance (aboard the USS Indianapolis), then (as of August 1,) as a unit of Task Force 38 under the command of William Halsey (aboard the New Jersey). On December 30, 1944, the Boston weighed anchor and started a new operation to support the Luzon Landing. They rang in the New Year steaming toward Formosa as part of TG38.1. The next several days were spent bobbing in heavy seas, the carriers launching fighters against targets on Formosa. The invasion fleet off Luzon was under heavy kamikaze attack, so for three more days, carrier planes concentrated on targets on Luzon. On Jan. 9, the task groups headed north again toward Formosa, then turned to the southwest into the South China Sea on Jan 10. After refueling on the 11th, Task Group 38.1 is joined by TG 38.2 and begins Operation Gratitude – attacking Hong Kong, Saigon, and other targets.
1946: The Boston remained on Occupation ï»¿Duty off Japan.