Return to Shangri-La February 1945

Ships of Task Force 58 prepare to get underway from Ulithi on 10 February 1945. Taken from USS ESSEX CV-9, this photo shows LEXINGTON CV-16 at left flanked by another fleet carrier. Two CLEVELAND-class cruisers are visible at right.
-Jerome Zerbe photo in NARA record group 80-G-308602

10 February 1945:  OPERATION JAMBOREE
With their support of the Philippine Liberation concluded, the Fast Carrier Task Force headed north from Ulithi with an entirely new objective: strikes against Tokyo and mainland Japan.

These strikes were timed to coincide with preliminary bombardment of Iwo Jima several hundred miles to the south.  Ostensibly meant to serve as a distraction and limit Japanese air power over Iwo, the decision to direct the carriers against Tokyo also drew fierce criticism.  Resources were at a premium for aerial and shore bombardment in the lead-up to invasion.  The resulting compromise called for the carrier force to conduct limited strikes against Japan before retiring south to send ships and planes to bear in support of the Iwo Jima invasion.

Task Group 58.2 exits Mugai Channel on 10 February 1945. Carriers from left to right are HANCOCK CV-19, LEXINGTON CV-16 and SAN JACINTO CVL-30. This photograph was taken from a flying boat of VPB-23 performing anti-submarine patrol over the fleet's passage out of Ulithi Atoll.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-302748

The impact of these strikes to morale on both sides was intended to be profound.  The last time Tokyo had been bombed by a naval force was almost three years prior in the famed Doolittle Raid of April 1942. Instead of a handful of Army bombers, this time American carriers would bring a force of almost 1,000 planes.

With the arrival of fresh ships at Ulithi over the past two weeks, including more ESSEX-class carriers and air groups, Admiral Spruance reorganized his task groups.  USS ASTORIA and Cruiser Division 17 shifted from Group 2 to Group 3:

Task Group 58.3 Order of Battle at the outset of OPERATION JAMBOREE
Commander Task Group:  Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman

Fleet Carriers: ESSEX CV-9
Light Carrier: COWPENS CVL-25
Battleships: NEW JERSEY BB-62
Heavy Cruiser: INDIANAPOLIS CA-35**
Light Cruisers: PASADENA CL-65
Destroyers: ~14 DDs

*USS BUNKER HILL served as Task Force Flagship for Admiral Mitscher.
**USS INDIANAPOLIS served as Fleet Flagship for Admiral Spruance.

Task Group 58.3 gets underway from Ulithi on 10 February 1945. Taken from USS BUNKER HILL, this photo shows CVG-84 Corsairs spotted forward. Ahead of BUNKER HILL are (L to R) COWPENS, ESSEX, PASADENA and ASTORIA.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-

As ASTORIA steamed from Ulithi, her crew knew no specifics, only that big operations were coming.

Track chart of USS ASTORIA as Task Force 58 heads north toward Tokyo.  On 12-13 February, the task force linked up with elements of the Iwo Jima amphibious invasion force for coordinated exercises and rehearsal off the Marianas.
-manipulated from Google Earth imagery

USS WILKES-BARRE steams alongside ASTORIA during a temporary detachment for exercises with other cruisers on the morning of 13 February 1945. In the background is USS BILOXI CL-80. Note that her SK radar is on her mainmast instead of her fore--the only CLEVELAND-class cruiser so configured.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper

A famous image of 40mm gunnery drills aboard USS HORNET CV-12 off the Marianas on 13 February. This photo is commonly captioned as taking place in combat conditions off Tokyo days later, which is inaccurate. HORNET did not come under aerial attack off Japan, and her gun crews wore cold weather gear at the time.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-413915

ASTORIA moves into position for refueling from AUCILLA AO-56 in the early evening of 13 February 1945. To starboard of AUCILLA is USS PRESTON DD-795. Another ship from CruDiv 17 fuels at right.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper

14 February 1945
With the addition of three fleet carriers (RANDOLPH CV-15, BUNKER HILL CV-17, and BENNINGTON CV-20), Task Force 58 had sixteen total carriers spread across five task groups--four for daytime and one for night operations.  There was, however, an underlying cause for apprehension; almost half the air groups involved would be conducting their very first combat mission.

Water breaks over the bow of USS LEXINGTON en route to Japan, circa 14 February 1945. Note the tail and wingtip markings of LEXINGTON's Hellcat fighters. Geometric shapes were painted on each plane in the fleet to identify which carrier it was assigned to. These shapes replaced individual air group markings from previous sorties.
-A. Rickerby photo in NARA record group 80-G-431091

15 February 1945

From the Mighty Ninety Cruise Book:
After we had been to sea several days we found we were going to raid Tokyo in support of the Iwo Jima landings that were to follow.  “This is it!” was the byword on the ship.  We felt that finally we would see some action.

From Morison's
Victory in the Pacific:
Everything possible was done to guard against detection.  Measures included radio deception, scouting by Pacific Fleet submarines to dispose of any picket vessels there might be en route, scouting by B-29s and Navy Liberators from the Marianas to clear the air.  On the 15th a scouting line of five destroyers ranged ahead of the carriers, and antisubmarine air patrol was set up.  At 1900 a high-speed run-in began toward launching positions, where the carriers arrived at dawn 16 February.  Thanks to these precautions, and to thick weather most of the way, they arrived undetected

Navy pilots aboard USS ESSEX receive final briefing prior to strikes against Tokyo.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G

A BUNKER HILL F4U Corsair is readied for strikes on 16 February 1945.  5-inch HVAR "Holy Moses" rockets are loaded and armed under the wings.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G

The aft flight deck of BUNKER HILL packed with Corsairs, Hellcats, Avengers and Helldivers preparing to launch on 16 February 1945. In addition to the arrow symbols on wings and tail, most planes have a yellow ring painted on their cowling. These rings are freshly painted, as they were not present when the ship left Ulithi seven days earlier.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-303988

An F4U Corsair launches from the flight deck of BUNKER HILL bound for Tokyo, 16 February 1945.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G

16 February 1945
Planes launched into heavy overcast from positions 60 miles off the coast of Honshu.  Weather was immediately a factor--heavy cloud, wind, rain and snow.  As a result, strikes on airfields surrounding Tokyo met with varying degrees of success throughout the day and Admiral Mitscher was forced to adjust his timetable to accommodate windows of opportunity in cloud cover.

Planes from Task Group 58.3 had the honor of being first over Tokyo due to a break in weather.  Overall there was very little Japanese opposition, and more planes were strafed on the ground than engaged in the air.

An SB2C Helldiver of VB-84 prepares to launch from BUNKER HILL on 16 February 1945.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-303994

Results of a 16 February raid by USS RANDOLPH planes against Konoike airfield east of Tokyo.  Light snow covers the field and black smoke curls skyward from burning planes.
-U.S. Navy photo reproduced from Crommelin's Thunderbirds, Bruce and Leonard

TBM Avengers of VT-84 return to BUNKER HILL following strikes against mainland Japan on 16 February 1945. LIFE photographer W. Eugene Smith participated in the mission as an observer.
-W. Eugene Smith photo in LIFE/Getty archives

Task Group 58.3 planes return from strikes against the Tokyo Plain on 16 February 1945.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper

A BUNKER HILL F4U Corsair on final approach in heavy overcast. Note the barriers raised across the deck forward of the catch wires.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-303986

Combat was largely confined to airspace over the target areas. The Japanese did not bring much of a fight out to the carrier task force other than some isolated attacks over Task Group 58.1 that were repelled. For the men of the Mighty Ninety, the day was long, tedious, and very cold.

In the afternoon, three Japanese picket boats were spotted near Task Group 58.3. The destroyer USS HAYNESWORTH DD-700 sunk the three boats, an event observed from ASTORIA.

Smoke rises the destroyed picket boats ahead of Task Group 58.2 in the afternoon of 16 February 1945.
-Jerome Zerbe photo in NARA record group 80-G-308577

The survivors were transferred aboard USS ESSEX and placed in the ship's brig. They became objects of considerable interest with the carrier's crew as the first Japanese they had ever encountered.

A Japanese picket boat survivor is transferred via bosun's chair from a destroyer to USS ESSEX.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-308451

Six Japanese POWs from the sunken picket boats aboard USS ESSEX. They have been dressed in fresh U.S. Navy-issue work uniforms.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-308465

RADM Frederick Sherman in the USS ESSEX brig during interrogation of the Japanese POWs.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-308298

17-19 February 1945

USS TUSCALOOSA CA-37 signals to TEXAS BB-35 in the early morning of 17 February 1945, D-minus 2 for the Iwo Jima landings. TUSCALOOSA and TEXAS were assigned to bombard the southern end of Iwo Jima in preparation for invasion.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-309132

USS TUSCALOOSA and ARKANSAS BB-33 bombard Mt. Suribachi on 17 February 1945 in this image taken from TEXAS BB-35.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-309144

ASTORIA 40mm gunners read comic books while waiting at Air Emergency Stations, 17 February 1945.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper

A Joey Fubar cartoon that ran in the USS ASTORIA Daily Press on 17 February. Note the flak suits, flash hoods, heavy jackets, helmets, goggles, and foul weather gear in the drawing giving a clear indicator of the conditions topside during the raids.
-Joe Aman cartoon courtesy of Jim Peddie

News of the carrier raids on Tokyo were quickly dispatched back to the U.S. as shown in this cartoon that ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on 17 February 1945, the day after the first strikes.
-Fred O. Seibel cartoon reproduced from Crommelin's Thunderbirds, Bruce and Leonard

The weather clears as Task Force 58 heads away from Japan on 18 February 1945
. USS ESSEX steams off the starboard bow of ASTORIA.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper

The track chart of ASTORIA from 17-19 February 1945. The task force launched planes for raids against Chichi Jima en route to the Iwo Jima area.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper

USS ESSEX and ASTORIA have turned 180 degrees while holding the same relative position on 18 February. Wind direction largely dictated the course of the task force when launching or recovering aircraft. The carrier in the background is BUNKER HILL.

-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper

Mt. Suribachi shrouded in smoke at the height of pre-invasion bombardment on 19 February 1945. Image taken from USS TEXAS.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-309137

An aerial view of the Iwo Jima landing beaches at H-Hour on 19 February 1945. Note the line of fire support ships several hundred yards from the beach.
-U.S. Navy photo in Brent Jones collection



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Aman, Joseph.  Joey Fubar's Cavalcade of Humor.  Printed aboard USS ASTORIA CL-90, 1945.

Bruce, Roy W. and Leonard, Charles R.  Crommelin's Thunderbirds: Air Group 12 Strikes the Heart of Japan.  Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute, 1994.

http://commons.Wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page  Wikimedia Commons image database.

http://earth.Google.com/  Google Earth.

Jones, Brent.  Private photo and document collection.

Kennedy, Maxwell Taylor. Danger's Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

MIGHTY NINETY: USS ASTORIA CL-90 cruise book.  1946.

Morison, Samuel Eliot.  History of United States Naval Operations in WWII Vol. XIV: Victory in the Pacific Boston: Little, Brown and Company Inc., 1960.

Peddie, Jim.  Private document collection.

Reynolds, Clark G.  The Fast Carriers: the Forging of an Air Navy.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.

Schnipper, Herman.  Private photo and document collection.

Stafford, Edward P.  The Big E.  New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1962.

Steichen, Edward (ed.).  U.S. Navy War Photographs, 2nd Edition.  New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.  1984.

www.archives.gov National Archives and Records Administration WWII photo archive.

www.navsource.org  U.S. Navy photo archive.

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