USS Liscome Bay
USS Liscome Bay (ACV/CVE-56) was the second of fifty Casablanca-class escort carriers built to serve the United States Navy during World War II. Launched in April 1943 and commissioned the following August, she was named for Liscome Bay in Dall Island in the Alexander Archipelago of Alaska. On 24 November 1943, her munitions were catastrophically detonated by a torpedo attack by the Japanese submarine I-175 whilst she was acting as the flagship of Carrier Division 24, which was supporting operations on Makin. She quickly sank with the loss of 644 men. 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|
|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|
|1 Battle star|
|Fate:||Torpedoed and sunk by I-175, 24 November 1943|
|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 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)|
|Aircraft carried:||27 aircraft|
|Part of:||United States Pacific Fleet (1943)|
|Commanders:||Captain I.D. Wiltsie|
Design and descriptionEdit
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, in order to replace heavy early war losses. 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) standard, 10,902 long tons (11,077 t) with a full load. She had a 257 ft (78 m) long hangar deck and a 477 ft (145 m) long flight deck. She was powered with two Uniflow reciprocating steam engines, which drove two shafts, providing 9,000 horsepower (6,700 kW), thus enabling her to 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) at a speed of 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph). Her compact size necessitated the installment of an aircraft catapult at her bow, and there were two aircraft elevators to facilitate movement of aircraft between the flight and hangar deck: one each fore and aft.
One 5 in (127 mm)/38 caliber dual-purpose gun was mounted on the stern. Anti-aircraft defense was provided by 8 Bofors 40 mm (1.6 in) anti-aircraft guns in single mounts, as well as 12 Oerlikon 20 mm (0.79 in) cannons, which were mounted around the perimeter of the deck. Casablanca-class escort carriers were designed to carry 27 aircraft, but the hangar deck could accommodate more. 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, MCE hull 1137, by Kaiser Shipbuilding Company, Vancouver, Washington. She was launched on 19 April 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Clara Klinksick, wife of Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, the Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Yards and 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 Liscome Bay's place. She was named Liscome Bay on 28 June 1943, as part of tradition which named escort carriers after bays or sounds in Alaska. The vessel was assigned the hull classification symbol CVE-56 on 15 July 1943, and was commissioned on 7 August 1943. Captain Irving D. Wiltsie was the ship's first commander, and her crew was derived from the Bogue-class escort carrier USS Glacier, which had been ordered in July 1942 but was sent to the Royal Navy as part of the Lend-Lease program.
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. She then conducted additional drills and training exercises off of Hawaii until early November, when she was assigned to the invasion fleet assembling for Operation Kourbash. 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. It was to be her first and last mission.
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 sorties conducted by the carrier task group in support of Operation Galvanic, which neutralized enemy airbases, supported U.S. Army landings and ground operations with 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 as Marines mopped up resistance on Butaritari Island.
The invasion of the Gilbert Islands had caught the Japanese command by surprise. 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 on board, 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 entire task force was rocked by the explosion, albeit none suffered significant damage as a result. 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 aft 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. Fires on the flight deck caused ammunition within the burning aircraft and anti-aircraft guns to detonate, 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 that Liscome Bay had been sunk off Makin Island.
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 the fleet carrier Franklin was deadlier, with 807 killed, but she did not sink, and was later repaired.
- The crew figures for Liscome Bay vary widely, owing to transferred crew and the ship's 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.
- Y'Blood 2014, p. 39
- Noles 2010, p. xxi
- Chesneau & Gardiner 1980, p. 109
- Y'Blood 2014, pp. 34–35
- Hazegray 1998.
- Noles 2010, pp. 10–11
- DANFS 2015.
- Noles 2010, p. 17
- Noles 2010, p. 37
- Noles 2010, p. 40
- Noles 2010, p. 58
- Noles 2010, p. 60
- Noles 2010, p. 62
- Noles 2010, p. 77
- Noles 2010, p. 83
- Noles 2010, p. 99
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- Noles 2010, p. 102
- Noles 2010, p. 104
- 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
- Noles 2010, p. 194
- Noles 2010, p. 197
- Noles 2010, p. 200
- Noles 2010, p. 213
- Noles 2010, p. 217
- Hevesi 2007.
- 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.
- "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.
- Hevesi, Dennis (4 August 2007). ""Robert E. Keeton, 87, Author of Influential Law Treatises, Is Dead."". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
- "World Aircraft Carriers List: US Escort Carriers, S4 Hulls". Hazegray.org. 14 December 1998. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
- Chesneau, Robert; Gardiner, 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.
- 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 (2014), The Little Giants: U.S. Escort Carriers Against Japan, Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, ISBN 9781612512471
- Beasley, James C. "Get the hell off this ship!": Memoir of a USS Liscome Bay Survivor in World War II, Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2018. ISBN 978-1-47663-236-0
- Fahey, James J. Pacific War Diary: 1942–1945, The Secret Diary of an American Sailor, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1991. ISBN 0-395-64022-9