USS White Plains (CVE-66)
|Career (United States)|
|Name:||USS White Plains|
|Laid down:||11 February 1943|
|Launched:||27 September 1943|
|Commissioned:||15 November 1943|
|Decommissioned:||10 July 1946|
|Struck:||1 July 1958|
|Fate:||Sold for scrap on 29 July 1958|
|Class and type:||Casablanca-class escort carrier|
|Length:||512 ft 3 in (156.13 m) overall|
|Beam:||65 ft 2 in (19.86 m), 108 ft (33 m) maximum width|
|Draft:||22 ft 6 in (6.86 m)|
|Speed:||19.3 knots (35.7 km/h)|
|Range:||10,240 nmi (18,960 km) @ 15 kn (28 km/h)|
|Armament:||1 × 5 in (127 mm)/38 cal dual purpose gun, 12 × Bofors 40 mm guns (8x2), 20 × 20 mm cannon]]s (20x1)|
|Part of:||United States Pacific Fleet (1943-1946), Atlantic Reserve Fleet (1946-1958)|
|Operations:||Battle of Saipan, Battle of Leyte Gulf, Operation Magic Carpet|
|Awards:||Presidential Unit Citation
5 Battle stars
She was laid down on 11 February 1943 at Vancouver, Washington, by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company, Inc., under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 1103) as Elbour Bay (ACV-66); renamed White Plains on 3 April 1943; redesignated CVE-66 on 15 July 1943; launched on 27 September 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Marc A. Mitscher; delivered to the Navy on 15 November 1943 at Astoria, Oregon; and commissioned that same day, Captain Oscar A. Weller in command.
World War II
The USS White Plains completed her outfitting at Astoria, Oregon, on 4 December 1943, and then she began shakedown training on 8 December. At the conclusion of her initial cruise, the warship entered San Diego on 21 December. On 30 December, she returned to sea, bound for the Gilbert Islands. She arrived at Tarawa Atoll on 11 January 1944 and unloaded the aircraft she had transported. On 17 January, the ship headed back to Oahu, arriving in Pearl Harbor six days later. Following a four-day turnaround period, the White Plains again set course for the Central Pacific to provide aircraft logistics support for the Marshall Islands operation. By the time she reached Tarawa on 3 February, the undefended Majuro Atoll had been occupied, and the Japanese garrison at Kwajalein Atoll had been all but subdued. On the next day, she got underway for Majuro where she arrived on 5 February. From there, the escort carrier moved on to Kwajalein for a brief visit before heading back to Hawaii. The White Plains stopped briefly at Oahu before continuing on toward the West Coast on 23 February. She arrived at Alameda, California, on San Francisco Bay on 3 March.
While off the West Coast, the White Plains conducted operational training for her own ship's company and carrier qualifications for three air squadrons. In April, she embarked her own permanently assigned air unit, Composite Squadron 4 (VC-4), composed of 16 F4F Wildcat fighters and 12 TBM Avenger torpedo planes. She departed the West Coast from the San Diego Naval Base on 24 April, and she arrived at Pearl Harbor on 1 May. During the next month, the White Plains conducted air operations and amphibious support training out of Pearl Harbor.
At the end of May, the White Plains steamed out of port in company with units of the Task Forces assembled to invade the Mariana Islands. The portion of the Fleet containing the White Plains sortied from Eniwetok Atoll, and during the voyage from there to the Marianas, her aircraft provided antisubmarine warfare patrols and part of the combat air patrol. During the assault on Saipan, her planes continued to cover the Fleet against submarine and air attack, strafed the beaches, and spotted shellfire for gunfire support ships. They helped repulse at least three major enemy air attacks. On 17 June, while helping to fight off those raids, her antiaircraft gunners earned their first definite kill. Later, VC-4 Avengers successfully torpedoed an enemy transport during a sweep of the island of Rota.
The USS White Plains departed the combat zone on 2 July but, after a week at Eniwetok, returned to the Marianas with her air squadron upgraded to a total of 28 aircraft. During her second tour of duty in the Marianas, the escort carrier supported the Tinian assault late in July. Her planes carried out sortie after sortie in support of the troops ashore and over the ships assembled, but the White Plains herself suffered no enemy attacks. Her heavy flight schedule proved grueling to air squadron and ship's company alike.
She completed her participation during the first week in August and departed the Marianas and headed for Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides. She arrived in Segond Channel on 16 August and began preparations for the invasion of the Palau Islands. Those preparations included amphibious support training in the Solomon Islands. The White Plains and ten other aircraft carriers moved into the vicinity of the Palaus during the second week of September. Their planes provided a portion of the prelanding bombardment and support for the troops after the assault on 15 September. In contrast to the Marianas campaign and later operations, the Palaus, though extremely difficult on the troops ashore, brought little opposition to the ships in the waters surrounding the islands. No enemy air attacks developed because the Japanese were husbanding their aircraft for the defense of the Philippines, and as a result of Japan's new strategic concept of defense in depth at some distance from the beaches, few shore batteries were sited near enough to the coast to fire upon ships. On 21 September, the White Plains joined the forces detached from the Palau operation for the occupation of Ulithi Atoll, which to everyone's relief, was undefended.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
In October, after repairs at the naval base at Manus Island in the Admiralty Islands, the USS White Plains headed for the invasion of the Philippines at Leyte. The initial assault went forward on 20 October. Aircraft from the White Plains provided air support for the troops and ASW and combat air patrols for the ships assembled in Leyte Gulf. However, because of the strategic importance of the Philippines which lay athwart their lines of communication with the East Indies, the Japanese chose to oppose the landings with their surface fleet. They launched their surface counterattack in three distinct phases. While a decoy force of carriers under Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa moved south from Japan in an attempt to draw off Halsey's Third Fleet and the large carriers, the forces under Vice Admirals Shōji Nishimura and Kiyohide Shima attempted to force the Surigao Strait from the south, and Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's Center Force tried to sneak through the Central Philippines and transit the hopefully unguarded San Bernardino Strait. The Center Force, by far the strongest of the enemy fleets involved, consisted of five battleships - including the huge superbattleships Yamato and Musashi - 11 heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and 19 destroyers. By the time Kurita's Center Force cleared the San Bernardino Strait on 25 October, it had been reduced by four heavy cruisers and the battleship Musashi. Three heavy cruisers had fallen prey to American submarine attacks in Palawan Passage on 23 October, and the Musashi and the Myōkō succumbed to Task Force 38's air attacks in the Sibuyan Sea on the following day. The Musashi sank there, whereas the Myōkō headed back to Brunei Bay, heavily damaged. In addition, on the night of 24 October and 25 October, Vice Admiral Oldendorf's old battleships in Leyte Gulf obliterated Nishimura's force and sent Shima's packing.
In the meantime, after Admiral Halsey received information indicating that a battered Center Force had begun retirement, Ozawa's decoy force finally managed to draw the American carriers off to the north. However, Kurita's retrograde movement proved to be only temporary, and he once again reversed course and headed back toward San Bernardino Strait. With Oldendorf regrouping his warships in Leyte Gulf and Halsey off chasing the Japanese Navy's aircraft carriers, only three Task Groups - composed of escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts - remained off Samar island between Kurita and Leyte Gulf. The USS White Plains was an element of "Taffy 3," the northmost of the three Task Groups, and the one which bore the brunt of Kurita's surface onslaught. "Taffy 3", commanded by Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague, first learned of Kurita's presence when, at 0637, a pilot on routine air patrol spotted Kurita's task force and attacked it with depth charges. Rear Admiral Sprague was incredulous about the presence of the Japanese Navy, and he demanded identification verification - verification which came disconcertingly enough when the enemy battleships' pagoda-style masts loomed up over the horizon.
For the next two and one-half hours, the Japanese force chased "Taffy 3" southward and subjected the escort carriers and their counterattacking screen to a heavy-caliber cannonade. The aircraft carriers' warplanes fought back, even making dummy runs on the Japanese ships to slow the ships' speed of advance after expending all their bombs, torpedoes, and ammunition. During their counterattacks, the USS Johnston, Hoel, and Samuel B. Roberts were sunk by gunfire. Later, the USS Gambier Bay was sunk by gunfire as well, while the USS Fanshaw Bay, the USS Kalinin Bay, the Dennis, and the Heermann suffered heavy damage.
During the surface phase of the action, White Plains's 5-inch gun scored hits on heavy cruiser Chōkai, causing its eight deck-mounted Type 93 "Long Lance" torpedoes to explode. The explosion crippled Chōkai, making it vulnerable to air attack. Chōkai was later sunk by planes from Ommaney Bay (CVE-79), a escort carrier of Taffy 2.
Miraculously, the Japanese surface force broke off its pursuit from 0912–0917 hours, and after milling around in apparent confusion for a time, retired northward to San Bernardino Strait. The retreat by Kurita's surface force, however, did not end the ordeal for the White Plains and her fellow warships. After a 90-minute respite, they suffered harassment from a different quarter. At 1050 hours, a formation of nine Japanese Navy Zeke fighters appeared and began simultaneous kamikaze attacks. Two of them singled out the White Plains as their victim. Her antiaircraft gunners responded with a hail of gunfire. They scored a hit on one of the intruders, and he immediately changed course and succeeded in crashing into the USS St. Lo, which eventually sank. His comrade continued on toward the White Plains, but her antiaircraft guns finally brought him down mere yards astern. His explosion scattered debris all over her deck and sides but caused only 11 relatively minor casualties. In the meantime, the USS Kitkun Bay and the USS Kalinin Bay also suffered from kamikaze crashes, but neither of these proved to be fatal to the carriers. That attack proved to be the final combat action of the USS White Plains, not only of the Battle off Samar but also of the war. She steamed to the naval base at Manus with the other surviving carriers, and she arrived there on 31 October. After an inspection of the damage, it was decided that the battered escort carrier should return to the United States for complete repairs. Accordingly, she departed from Manus on 6 November and headed to the West Coast. The USS White Plains arrived at San Diego Harbor on 27 November and repairs began immediately.
Ready for action once more, the USS White Plains steamed out of San Diego on 19 January 1945. However, for the remainder of the war, she carried out the relatively tame assignment of ferrying replacement aircraft from their factories in the United States to bases in the western Pacific. During the last months of the war, the White Plains visited such places as Kwajalein, Hollandia (currently known as Jayapura), Ulithi, Saipan, Guam, Leyte, and Pearl Harbor. All had been scenes of major combat actions in the past, but by this time, they had all become rear areas. The closest approach to the fighting by the White Plains after the Battle off Samar came just after the amphibious landings on Okinawa in April 1945, when she steamed to within 100 miles of that island to launch two squadrons of Marine Corps F4U Corsair fighter planes for duty from air bases on that large island.
The end of hostilities in mid-August found the USS White Plains en route from Pearl Harbor to the West Coast. She arrived at San Pedro, California, on 22 August but soon moved to San Diego. From there, she headed back to the Western Pacific on 6 September to begin Operation Magic Carpet duty bringing American fighting men home from the Pacific Theater. Twenty days later, she arrived in Buckner Bay, Okinawa, where she embarked more than 800 passengers for the voyage to the United States. On 28 September, she pointed her bow eastward and set a course, via Pearl Harbor, for San Diego. The White Plains entered San Diego Harbor on 16 October and disembarked her passengers. After nine days in port, she got underway for Pearl Harbor and stopped there only briefly on 1 November before setting out on the return voyage to the West Coast. The warship visited San Francisco for five days from 7 to 12 November and then headed across the Pacific once more. She entered port at Guam in the Marianas on 27 November, embarked passengers, and then began the return voyage on 30 November. White Plains arrived in Seattle, Washington, on 14 December 1945. She remained there until 30 January 1946, when she embarked upon the voyage, via the Panama Canal and Norfolk, Virginia, to Boston, Massachusetts. The White Plains entered Boston Harbor on 17 February 1946, and then began preparations for decommissioning.
The USS White Plains was decommissioned on 10 July 1946 and was berthed with the Boston Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet. She remained with the reserve fleet for 12 years. On 12 June 1955, she was redesignated a utility aircraft carrier (CVU-66). Finally, her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 July 1958. She was sold on 29 July to the Hyman Michaels Company, of Chicago for scrapping.
- The Battle Off Samar – Taffy III at Leyte Gulf website by Robert Jon Cox
- Cox, Robert Jon (2010). The Battle Off Samar: Taffy III at Leyte Gulf (5th Edition). Agogeebic Press, LLC. ISBN 0-9822390-4-1.