USS Liscome Bay
USS Liscome Bay (ACV/CVE-56) was an American Casablanca-class escort carrier during World War II; she was the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for Liscome Bay in Dall Island in the Alexander Archipelago of Alaska. She detonated due to a torpedo attack by the Japanese submarine I-175 during Operation Galvanic, with the loss of 644 men, on 24 November 1943. Her loss is the deadliest sinking of a carrier in the history of the United States Navy.[note 1]
|Namesake:||Liscome Bay, Alaska|
|Ordered:||as a Type S4-S2-BB3 hull, MCE hull 1137|
|Awarded:||18 June 1942|
|Builder:||Kaiser Shipbuilding Company, Vancouver, Washington|
|Laid down:||12 December 1942|
|Launched:||19 April 1943|
|Sponsored by:||Mrs. Ben Moreell|
|Commissioned:||7 August 1943|
|Reclassified:||CVE, 15 July 1943|
|Fate:||Lost in action, 24 November 1943|
|General characteristics |
|Class and type:||Casablanca-class escort carrier|
|Draft:||20 ft 9 in (6.32 m) (max)|
|Speed:||19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph)|
|Range:||10,240 nmi (18,960 km; 11,780 mi) at 15 kn (28 km/h; 17 mph)|
|Aircraft carried:||27 aircraft|
|Part of:||United States Pacific Fleet (1943)|
|Commanders:||Captain I.D. Wiltsie|
Liscome Bay was a Casablanca-class escort carrier, the most numerous type of aircraft carriers ever built, and designed specifically to be mass-produced using prefabricated sections. Standardized with her sister ships, she was 512 ft 3 in (156.13 m) long overall, had a beam of 65 ft 2 in (19.86 m), and a draft of 20 ft 9 in (6.32 m). She displaced 8,188 long tons (8,319 t) whilst empty, and displaced 10,902 long tons (11,077 t) with a full load. She had a 257 ft (78 m) long hangar deck, a 477 ft (145 m) long flight deck, and, powered with Uniflow reciprocating steam engines, she could make 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph). The ship had a cruising range of 10,240 nautical miles (18,960 km; 11,780 mi), assuming that it traveled at a constant speed of 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph).
One 5"/38 caliber gun was mounted on the stern, and she was equipped with 16 Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft guns in twin mounts, as well as 20 Oerlikon 20 mm cannons, which were used in an anti-aircraft capability. Casablanca-class escort carriers were designed to carry 27 aircraft, but she sometimes went over or under this number. For example, during her only combat deployment, Operation Kourbash, she carried 11 FM-1 and 5 F4F-4 fighters, as well as 9 TBM-1 and 3 TBM-1C torpedo bombers, for a total of 28 aircraft.
She was laid down on 12 December 1942, under a Maritime Commission contract, MC hull 1137, by Kaiser Shipbuilding Company, Vancouver, Washington. She was launched on 19 April 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Ben Moreell, wife of the Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Yards & Docks. Originally, she was intended to be sent to the British Royal Navy under the name HMS Ameer. However, a change in plans resulted in the Bogue-class escort carrier USS Baffins being redesignated as Ameer in what would become Liscome Bay's place. She was named Liscome Bay on 28 June 1943, and assigned the hull classification symbol CVE-56 on 15 July 1943: she was acquired by the Navy and commissioned on 7 August 1943, Captain Irving D. Wiltsie in command, and with a crew derived from the Bogue-class escort carrier USS Glacier, which was ordered in July 1942 to become a part of the Lend-Lease program and sent to the Royal Navy.
After being commissioned, Liscome Bay proceeded southwards towards San Diego, California, picking up and ferrying 60 aircraft from San Francisco on the way, arriving on 22 September 1943. For the next month, she engaged in training operations off the Southern California coast. On 11 October, she was designated as the flagship of Carrier Division 24, under the command of Rear Admiral Henry M. Mullinnix. On 14 October, she received her aircraft contingent, and on 21 October, she departed for Pearl Harbor, arriving a week later, on 27 October. Once additional drills and operational exercises were completed, the escort carrier set off on 10 November to what was to be her first and last battle mission. As a member of Carrier Division 24, she departed from Pearl Harbor on 10 November as part of Task Force 52 commanded by Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, bound for the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.
As part of Task Force 52, Liscome Bay was assigned to the naval forces supporting the invasion of Makin. The invasion bombardment announcing the first major U.S. naval thrust into the central Pacific began on 20 November at 5 a.m. Just 76 hours later, Tarawa and Makin Islands were both captured. Liscome Bay's aircraft had played a vital role in the capture of Makin, providing close air support and bombing Japanese positions. In total, there were 2,278 action sorties conducted by the carrier task group in support of Operation Galvanic, which neutralized enemy airbases, supported U.S. Army landings and ground operations in bombing and strafing missions, and intercepted enemy aircraft. With the islands secured, U.S. naval forces began retiring. However, Liscome Bay was forced to stay with the rest of her task force, in the waters off the Gilbert Islands: supporting the mopping up of resistance on Butaritari Island.
The invasion of the Gilbert Islands had caught Japanese command by surprise. Japanese Admiral Mineichi Koga, in desperation, issued orders to recall four Japanese submarines southwest of Hawaii and five submarines near Truk and Rabaul to converge on the Gilberts. Of the nine Japanese submarines sent to sortie against the U.S. forces in the Gilberts, six were lost.
On 23 November however, the submarine I-175, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Sunao Tabata, arrived off Makin. The U.S. task group, built around Rear Admiral Henry M. Mullinnix's three escort carriers, was steaming 20 mi (32 km) southwest of Butaritari Island at 15 knots. The task group was traveling in a circular formation, with seven destroyers, the cruiser Baltimore, the battleships Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Mississippi, and Liscome Bay's two sister ships: Corregidor, and Coral Sea surrounding her. Liscome Bay, as the guide for the group, was located dead center between the other ships. As collisions posed a greater risk to the ships than a potential submarine attack, the ships were not zig-zagging.
At 04:30 on 24 November, reveille was sounded in Liscome Bay. On 4:34, the destroyer Franks left to investigate a signal beacon, likely dropped from a Japanese plane. This resulted in a gap within Liscome Bay's screen. At 4:36, the radar operators on New Mexico spotted a short-lived blip, which may have represented I-175 diving into position. Flight quarters was sounded at 04:50. The crew went to routine general quarters at 05:05, when flight crews prepared their planes for dawn launching. Thirteen planes, including one forward on the catapult, had been readied on the flight deck. These had all been fueled and armed. There were an additional seven planes in the hangar that were not fueled or armed. She had a large number of munitions onboard, stored below-decks. Meanwhile, the task group executed a turn to the northeast, which brought Liscome Bay to a near perpendicular course along I-175. Hence, the Japanese submarine fired a spread of at least three Type 95 torpedoes towards the task force.
At about 05:10, a lookout on the starboard (right) side of Liscome Bay reported seeing a torpedo headed for the ship. The torpedo struck behind the after engine room, as Liscome Bay was conducting its turn, and detonated the bomb magazine, causing a devastating explosion that engulfed the ship and sent shrapnel flying as far as 5,000 yards (4,600 m) away. Considerable debris fell on the battleship New Mexico about 1,500 yards (1,400 m) off, whilst a sailor on-board the escort carrier Coral Sea was reportedly hit by a fire extinguisher from Liscome Bay. The explosion rocked the older battleship Pennsylvania which was sailing relatively near by but damage to the ship, which at full load displaced almost four times that of Liscome Bay, was light to negligible and none of the crew were harmed. A mushroom cloud erupted, rising thousands of feet above the wreck of Liscome Bay.
The detonation sheared off nearly the entire rear end of the carrier, killing everyone behind the forward bulkhead of the after engine room. Seawater quickly rushed into the gap, mixing with oil released from the hull. Both the hangar and flight decks were heavily damaged. Parts of the superstructure, including the radar antenna, collapsed onto the deck. The forward part of the hangar was immediately engulfed in flames, igniting the few remaining planes on the flight deck. Planes were launched off of the carrier's deck. Steam, compressed air, and fire-main pressure were lost throughout the ship. Ammunition within the burning aircraft and anti-aircraft guns went off due to the fires on the flight deck, further complicating matters. The gasoline coated water surrounding Liscome Bay caught fire, hampering efforts by survivors to escape. 
At 05:33, only 23 minutes after the explosion, Liscome Bay listed to starboard and sank, carrying to their deaths 53 officers and 591 enlisted men.
When Liscome Bay detonated, the rest of the task group immediately conducted evasive maneuvers, scattering from her wreck. At 5:40, the destroyers Morris, Hughes and Hull arrived at the oil slick. Of the survivors that were hauled up, many were dead or dying. At 6:10, the destroyer Maury spotted two torpedo wakes, one just 15 yards (14 m) from the destroyer's hull. A radar operator on New Mexico detected an echo, and Hull was recalled to join Gridley in dropping depth charges. Macdonough took Hull's place in picking up survivors. At 8:00, the search operation was concluded. Of the 916[note 2] crewmen aboard Liscome Bay, 644, including Wiltsie, Mullinnix, and Miller, went down with the ship, whilst 272 survived. Including the sailors lost on Liscome Bay, U.S. casualties in the assault on Makin Island exceeded the strength of the entire Japanese garrison.
The survivors were transferred at Makin Lagoon from the destroyers onto the troop transports Leonard Wood and Neville. On Thanksgiving night, two of the survivors died, and were buried at sea. On 2 December, the navy announced, in a statement, that Liscome Bay had been sunk off of Makin. On 4 February 1944, I-175 was detected and sunk by the destroyer Charrette and the destroyer escort Fair, using their Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar.
In the Chapel of St. Cornelius, located within Valley Forge Military Academy and College, two stained-glass windows, installed in 1965, act as a memorial to Liscome Bay. On the museum ship Yorktown, a memorial plaque was installed in 1990 to the ship.
- John G. Crommelin – Chief of Staff of Carrier Division 24, controversial political candidate
- †William H. Hollister & Richard J. Hollister – three brothers who served in the U.S. Navy who all died in 1943, two aboard Liscome Bay, namesake of Hollister
- Robert Keeton – Future legal scholar, United States District Judge
- †Doris Miller – First African-American to receive the Navy Cross, namesake of Miller
- †Henry M. Mullinnix – Admiral of Carrier Division 24, namesake of Mullinnix
- †Irving D. Wiltsie – Captain of Liscome Bay, namesake of Wiltsie
- William J. Woodward Jr. – Heir to the Hanover National Bank fortune (later Manufacturer's Hanover), the Belair Estate and stud farm and legacy, notable for his shooting death in 1955 at the hands of his wife
- The kamikaze strike on Franklin was deadlier, with 807 killed, but she did not sink, and was later repaired.
- The crew figures for Liscome Bay vary widely, due to transferred crew and the ship's unique status as the flagship for Carrier Division 24. In the ship's official navy history, the crew count is listed as 911, whilst in Lieutenant Commander Oliver Ame's action report, the crew count is listed as 948. For the purposes of this article, the crew count is listed as 916, in correspondence with DANFS.
- Kaiser Vancouver 2010.
- Chesneau 1980, p. 109
- Hazegray 1998.
- Y'Blood 2012, p. 39
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- Noles 2010, pp. 10–11
- DANFS 2015.
- Noles 2010, p. 17
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- Noles 2010, p. 106
- WAR DAMAGE REPORT No. 45 1944.
- Noles 2010, p. 113
- Hornfischer, p. 67.
- Noles 2010, p. 116
- Noles 2010, p. 115
- Noles 2010, p. 156
- Noles 2010, p. 163
- Noles 2010, pp. 115–116
- Noles 2010, p. 181
- Noles 2010, p. 184
- Noles 2010, p. 189
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- Noles 2010, p. 200
- Noles 2010, p. 213
- Noles 2010, p. 217
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- Noles 2010, p. 220
- Noles 2010, p. 222
- "Liscome Bay Statistics". United States Maritime Commission. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
- "Liscome Bay". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History and Heritage Command. 29 July 2015. Retrieved 2 August 2017. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- "Kaiser Vancouver, Vancouver WA". www.ShipbuildingHistory.com. 27 November 2010. Retrieved 2 August 2017.
- "USS LISCOME BAY (CVE-56)". Navsource.org. 30 September 2018. Retrieved 2 August 2017.
- Chesneau, Robert (1980), Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1922–1946, Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, ISBN 9780870219139
- Hornfischer, J.D. The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. p. 67.
- WAR DAMAGE REPORT No. 45. U.S. Hydrographic Office. 10 March 1944. Retrieved 2 August 2017. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Hevesi, Dennis (4 August 2007). ""Robert E. Keeton, 87, Author of Influential Law Treatises, Is Dead."". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
- Noles, James (2010), Twenty-Three Minutes to Eternity: The Final Voyage of the Escort Carrier USS Liscome Bay), Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, ISBN 978-0817356033
- Y'Blood, William (2012), The Little Giants: U.S. Escort Carriers Against Japan, Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, ISBN 9781612512471
- "World Aircraft Carriers List: US Escort Carriers, S4 Hulls". Hazegray.org. 14 December 1998. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
- James C. Beasley, “Get the hell off this ship!”: Memoir of a USS Liscome Bay Survivor in World War II, Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2018. ISBN 9781476632360
- James J. Fahey, Pacific War Diary: 1942–1945, The Secret Diary of an American Sailor, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1991. ISBN 0-395-64022-9
- James L. Noles, Jr., Twenty-Three Minutes to Eternity: The Final Voyage of the Escort Carrier USS Liscome Bay, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0817356033