USS Bismarck Sea
USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95) underway on 24 June 1944
|Ordered:||as a Type S4-S2-BB3 hull, MCE hull 1132|
|Awarded:||18 June 1942|
|Laid down:||31 January 1944|
|Launched:||17 April 1944|
|Commissioned:||20 May 1944|
|Struck:||30 March 1945|
|Fate:||Sunk by kamikazes during the Battle of Iwo Jima on 21 February 1945|
|Class and type:||Casablanca-class escort carrier|
|Length:||512 ft 3 in (156.13 m) overall|
|Draft:||22 ft 6 in (6.86 m)|
|Speed:||19 knots (35 km/h)|
|Range:||10,240 nmi (18,960 km) at 15 kn (28 km/h)|
|Part of:||United States Pacific Fleet (1944-1945)|
|Awards:||3 Battle stars|
USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95) was a Casablanca-class escort carrier of the United States Navy during World War II; she was the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. On 21 February 1945, whilst she supported the landings on Iwo Jima, she sank due to two Japanese kamikaze attacks, killing 318 crewmen. Notably, she was the last aircraft carrier of the United States Navy to sink in World War II, and the last aircraft carrier, so far, to sink in enemy action.
Bismarck Sea was a Casablanca-class escort carrier, the most numerous class of aircraft carriers ever built, and designed specifically to be mass-produced. She was laid down on 31 January 1944 under a Maritime Commission contract, MC hull 1132, by Kaiser Shipbuilding Company, Vancouver, Washington. She was launched on 17 April 1944; sponsored by Mrs. M. C. Wallgren, wife of Senator Monrad Wallgren, under the name Akikula Bay. She was renamed Bismarck Sea on 16 May 1944, and was transferred to the United States Navy and commissioned on 20 May, with Captain John L. Pratt in command.
After being commissioned, Bismarck Sea engaged in training exercises off the West Coast throughout June. On 1 July, she left San Pedro ferrying aircraft to Pearl Harbor. After unloading her aircraft, she loaded more aircraft and ferried them to the Marshall Islands, arriving at Majuro Atoll on 16 July. She then proceeded back to Pearl Harbor, carrying damaged aircraft, arriving on 29 July, along with her sister ship Saginaw Bay. Throughout August, she was stationed at San Diego for a four-week overhaul. Between 7 September, and 16 October, she engaged in additional training exercises. She then steamed to Ulithi, Caroline Islands, to join Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid's 7th Fleet on 1 November. Between 14 and 23 November, she operated off Leyte in support of the operations. On 21 November, a Japanese aircraft made a strafing run along the carrier, but without inflicting any damage, and escaped to the northwest before it could be engaged.
On 27 November, she arrived at Seeadler Harbor, New Guinea, to join Task Group 77.4, commanded by Rear Admiral C. T. Durgin. Throughout December, she conducted additional flight training and gunnery exercises. On 27 December, she left for Palau, to support the invasion of Luzon. On 4 January 1945, her task group sighted the Japanese destroyers Hinoki and Sugi. Bismarck Sea supplemented the strike group with four torpedo bombers and four fighters, and the aerial strike force inflicted serious damage on both of the destroyers. However, that same day, the escort carrier Ommaney Bay was sunk by a kamikaze aircraft. The task group then participated in the Invasion of Lingayen Gulf and supported air operations over Luzon until 17 January, when the task group proceeded towards Ulithi in preparation for the invasion of Iwo Jima. She departed Ulithi on 10 February, and on 16 February, she arrived off Iwo Jima to support the landings. The task group's aircraft conducted anti-submarine patrols, anti-aircraft patrols, and supported the first wave of troops on 19 February. Close air support, almost all of it derived from carriers, played a heavy role throughout the invasion.
On 16 February 1945, Vice-Admiral Kimpei Teroaka authorized the formation of a kamikaze special attack unit to counter the imminent landings on Iwo Jima. The kamikaze force consisted of twelve fighters, twelve carrier bombers, and eight torpedo bombers, divided into five groups, thirty-two aircraft in total. On the early morning of 21 February, they departed from Katori Naval Air Base, in Asahi, Chiba. They refueled at Hachijō-jima, and then proceeded towards the U.S. naval contingent surrounding Iwo Jima, arriving near sunset.
On the evening of 21 February, Bismarck Sea was performing routine close air support with the rest of Task Group 77.4. At the time, the escort carrier task group consisted of Bismarck Sea, her sister ships Makin Island, Lunga Point, Saginaw Bay, Rudyerd Bay, and Anzio, along with a destroyer contingent. The task group was steaming approximately twenty-one miles (34 km) east of Iwo Jima. At 17:30, the aircraft on Bismarck Sea were scrambled to deal with incoming planes, which turned out to be friendly. After recovering her planes, she found it necessary to take on three planes from other carriers and, due to the lack of deck space, to shelter four of her fighters below-decks without emptying their fuel tanks, a decision which would later prove disastrous. At 18:45, the task group spotted the Japanese planes headed for them, when a Mitsubishi G4M made a dive towards Lunga Point. Gunners from Bismarck Sea shot it down. At 18:46, five Nakajima B6Ns dove towards Lunga Point. The first plane, approaching from the starboard missed with its torpedo, passing harmlessly in front of Lunga Point. It subsequently crashed into the ocean at a high velocity. The second plane also missed with its torpedo, but managed to disengage and fly away. The third plane also missed with its torpedo, which proceeded behind the stern, and, set aflame and damaged heavily, attempted to crash into the carrier, approaching from the starboard side. The kamikaze exploded before it could hit the ship, and the wreckage of the plane skidded across the deck, and off the side of the carrier, sparking a brief gasoline fire. The fourth plane detonated in mid-air, due to a direct hit from a five inch anti-aircraft shell. Damage to Lunga Point was minimal, and eleven of her crew was wounded. There were no casualties. She was able to continue operating in support of troops on Iwo Jima.
The fifth plane, however, proceeded towards Bismarck Sea. Despite heavy gunfire from Bismarck Sea, which damaged the plane, it approached Bismarck Sea from the starboard side at a low angle, which the anti-aircraft guns could not depress sufficiently to fire at. The plane plowed in under the first 40 mm gun (aft), crashing through the hangar deck and striking the ship's magazines. The crash and resulting explosion disabled the aircraft elevator, distributed munitions across the deck, and started a fire. The sprinkler system and the water curtains were nonfunctional, but the fire was nearly under control when about two minutes later, a second plane, likely attracted by the ship's glow against the darkness, approaching from the port side, struck the aft elevator shaft, exploding on impact, killing the majority of the fire-fighting party and destroying the fire fighting salt-water distribution system, thus preventing any further damage control. The second plane detonated amongst the four fighters which were sheltered belowdecks, and the fighters, with full gasoline tanks, quickly turned the fire into a conflagration, enveloping the entire aft side of the ship.
When munitions onboard the ship began to detonate, and with no firefighting equipment operational, the order was given to abandon ship at 19:05. The majority of the crew made it off the ship in the next 30 minutes. After two hours, at 21:15, Bismarck Sea sank with the loss of 318 men, and was the last US Navy aircraft carrier to be lost during World War II. Many casualties were inflicted once the crew abandoned ship, through hypothermia, choppy seas, and Japanese aircraft strafing the survivors. Three destroyers and three destroyer escorts rescued survivors over the next 12 hours, between them saving a total of 605 officers and men from her crew of 923. The destroyer escort Edmonds directed the rescue operations of the remaining hands, in spite of darkness, heavy seas and continuing air attacks, rescuing a majority of the surviving crew. Thirty of Edmonds' own crew went over the side to bring the wounded and exhausted carrier men to safety. Edmonds hauled up 378 men, Lawrence C. Taylor retrieved 136 men, and Helm recovered 39 survivors. Survivors were then transferred to Dickens and Highlands. She was struck from the Navy List on 30 March 1945.
The special attack unit, in addition to sinking Bismarck Sea, also heavily damaged Saratoga, Keokuk, and slightly damaged Lunga Point, LST-477, and LST-809. Bismarck Sea was the only ship to sink as a result of the attacks. The kamikaze attacks killed 43 Japanese in total.
Bismarck Sea received three battle stars for her World War II operations.
- "Bismarck Sea". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History and Heritage Command. 6 February 2006. Retrieved 14 June 2019. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- "Edmonds". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History and Heritage Command. 21 October 2005. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
- "Kaiser Vancouver, Vancouver WA". www.ShipbuildingHistory.com. 27 November 2010. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
- "Katori Air Base Monument, Asahi City, Chiba Prefecture". www.kamikazeimages.net. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
- Brown, David (1995), Warship Losses of World War Two, Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, ISBN 978-1557509147
- Fischer, Perry; Gray, Brooks (1994), Blacks and Whites-together Through Hell: (U.S. Marines in World War II), Turlock, California: Millsmont Publishing, ISBN 9780962325717
- Rielly, Robin (2010), Kamikaze Attacks of World War II: A Complete History of Japanese Suicide Strikes on American Ships, by Aircraft and Other Means, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, ISBN 9780786457724
- Smiyh, Peter (2014), Kamikaze: To Die for the Emperor, Barnsley, England: Pen and Sword Books, ISBN 9781473847828
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95).|
- Photo gallery of USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95) at NavSource Naval History