USS Sonoma (AT-12)
USS Sonoma (AT-12) was a Sonoma-class fleet tug which had the distinction of serving her country during World War I and World War II. For her work as a tugboat in some very dangerous battle areas, she earned five battle stars during World War II. She ended her battle career gallantly, sunk by a crashed Japanese bomber.
The second U.S. Navy warship to be named Sonoma, the tug was laid down on 7 November 1911, at Camden, New Jersey, by the New York Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 11 May 1912; and commissioned on 6 September 1912, Chief Boatswain William Darrington in command.
World War I operations
Upon commissioning, Sonoma was assigned to the U.S. Atlantic Fleet as a tender, and she served in that capacity through World War I. In 1919, the tug was transferred to the U.S. Pacific Fleet and, on 17 July 1920, was designated AT-12. Sonoma was assigned to Train Squadron 2 of the newly organized Base Force during the winter of 1923 and 1924 and remained with the Base Force through the early years of World War II.
World War II Pacific Theatre operations
At the outbreak of war between the United States and Japan, Sonoma was in transit from Wake Island to Pearl Harbor: and, after a voyage to Canton Island and back in February and March 1942, she remained at Pearl Harbor until October, serving as a channel guard vessel. At that time, she departed Pearl Harbor in company with Ellet (DD-398) and Turkey (AM-13) to tow ARD-2 and YO-24 to New Caledonia.
The group arrived at Noumea on 3 November and, after two weeks of repairs and upkeep, Sonoma sailed for Sydney, Australia, with Alhena (AK-26) in tow. She returned to Nouméa on 6 December and stayed there until 2 January 1943. On that date, she put to sea to aid damaged Army workboat P-111 to limp into port. She and her charge made Nouméa on the 5th.
Dangerous operations in the South Pacific
For the next eight months, Sonoma towed ships between the ports of the South Pacific Ocean. Based at Noumea, New Caledonia, she visited the Fiji Islands, the New Hebrides Islands, Australia, and New Guinea, both at Milne Bay and Buna. On 3 September 1943, she arrived off Lae, New Guinea, to participate in her first combat operation and, in the afternoon, was straddled by four bombs-near misses-and sprayed by shrapnel during a raid by seven Japanese twin-engine bombers. Later on, she cleared the area for Morobe Bay, Papua New Guinea. Sonoma's scrapes with Japanese air power continued through the month of September as she operated in the vicinity of Lae. She came under attack on the 12th, the 21st, and the 22d, and assisted in splashing one enemy on the 12th. For the remainder of 1943, she operated in and around Buna Harbor at Papua, New Guinea.
Struck by “friendly fire”
On the second day 1944, she got underway for Saidor, New Guinea. Her formation came under automatic weapons fire on the following day and Sonoma was hit by several .50 caliber machine gun bullets. The fire had come from friendly shore batteries which mistook the ships for enemy barges known to be operating in the vicinity. The echelon made Dreger Harbor on 15 January; then headed on to Milne Bay. From there, Sonoma towed APC-4 to Brisbane, Australia, arriving on 1 February. Following overhaul and repairs, she got underway on 15 February to return to Milne Bay. After spending most of March 1944 around Milne Bay, she headed for Manus in the Admiralty Islands on 31 March.
New Guinea area operations
For the next three months, Sonoma supported General Douglas MacArthur's “leapfrog” operation up the back of the New Guinea bird. On 15 May 1944, Sonoma was redesignated ATO-12 and, later that month, she moved to the Hollandia area in the vicinity of Biak Island, where she did salvage, fire fighting, and towing duty for the landing craft which had been bombed and strafed by the enemy. She spent the month of June in Humboldt Bay, New Guinea, then lent her support to the Noemfoor attack during the first week in July. By the 15th, she was back at Milne Bay for repair and upkeep.
Dutch East Indies operations
On 11 September, she got underway for the assault area off Morotai Island in the Netherlands East Indies. She remained there for 10 days-again providing salvage, fire fighting, and towing services. During that period, she suffered a broken crankshaft and had to put in at Gila Bay for repairs. On the 21st, she sailed back to Humboldt Bay where she went into availability for a week; then resumed salvage duty around Jautefa Bay.
Supporting the Philippine Islands invasion
On 14 October, she sailed in company with echelon LI, as Task Unit 78.2.9, bound ultimately for the Leyte invasion. Sonoma entered San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf, on the 20th. On the morning of the 24th, she opened fire on several enemy planes with her starboard guns.
Crashed into by a Japanese bomber
As she cast off from merchant freighter SS Augustus Thomas, next to whom she had been moored, a flaming enemy bomber crashed Sonoma on the starboard side amidships. Two explosions followed immediately, and she began taking water at an alarming rate. LCI-72 and Chickasaw (ATF-83) came alongside the stricken tug, extinguished the fires on her starboard side, and removed casualties.
Sunk after attempt to save her
Military awards and honors
Sonoma (ATO-12) earned five battle stars during World War II.
- Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships
- NavSource Online: Service Ship Photo Archive - AT-12 / ATO-12 Sonoma