Chapter 12: Operation MIKE I

Elements of Task Group 38.2 underway from Ulithi on 30 December 1944. Aircraft carriers are (front to back) INDEPENDENCE CVL-22, HORNET CV-12 and LEXINGTON CV-16. Cruisers at right are SAN JUAN CL-54 followed by CruDiv 17 ships.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-300093

30 December 1944

Following hasty repair, the Fast Carrier Task Force sortied again from Ulithi to support the next operation of the Philippine Liberation:  the invasion of Luzon, code-named Operation MIKE I.  Luzon and its capital of Manila were the prize; all operations to this point were incremental steps toward their liberation.

S-Day (as Luzon D-Day was called) was set for 9 January at Lingayen Gulf.  U.S. invasion forces of the 7th Fleet would sortie from Leyte Gulf, cross the Philippines into the Sulu Sea, and head north past liberated Mindoro en route to the west coast of Luzon.  Once again the fast carriers would be tasked with suppression of Japanese air power that could oppose the American landing forces.  Their targets would be airfields ranging from Formosa (modern Taiwan) and surrounding islands to northern Luzon.

Task Group 38.2 Order of Battle at the outset of OPERATION MIKE I
Commander Task Group:  Rear Admiral Gerald C. Bogan

Fleet Carriers:           HORNET CV-12
                                    LEXINGTON CV-16
                                    HANCOCK CV-19
Light Carriers:           INDEPENDENCE CVL-22 
Battleships:                IOWA BB-61
                                    NEW JERSEY BB-62
                                    WISCONSIN BB-64
Light Cruisers:           PASADENA CL-65
                                    MIAMI CL-89
                                    ASTORIA CL-90
                                    WILKES-BARRE CL-103*                           
AA Cruiser:                SAN JUAN CL-54
Destroyers:                ~24 DDs

*With the arrival of WILKES-BARRE CL-103, USS VINCENNES CL-64 shifted to Task Group 38.3.

INDEPENDENCE CVL-22, shown here on 30 December 1944, conducted night operations and shifted into the protective formation of Task Group 38.2 during the daytime.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-300093                                    

Track chart of USS ASTORIA as Task Force 38 performed a run-in to Formosa (gray line).  Air strikes were launched against northern Japanese airfields within reach of the American invasion beaches.  Simultaneously, U.S. invasion forces of 7th Fleet (yellow line) sortied from Leyte Gulf past liberated Mindoro toward the Luzon landing area at Lingayen Gulf.
-manipulated from Google Earth imagery

3 January 1945  (S-Day minus 6)
Halsey's plans called for Task Force 38 to first focus their strikes against Japanese airfields on and around Formosa before heading south to hit airfields on northern Luzon.  The blanketing tactics that had been so successful during Mindoro operations were to be employed again.  Even more fighters had been added to the fast carriers' arsenal, and ESSEX CV-9 became the first carrier to incorporate squadrons of USMC Corsairs along with her Navy planes.

From the launch of first strikes on the morning of 3 January, Halsey's forces encountered foul weather that would become a persistent presence over the next three weeks.  Heavy overcast was both a blessing and a curse.  Although blanketing tactics weren't possible, the Japanese did not send up many planes against the task force.  Over the next two days missions against some targets were carried out, but many were recalled or scrubbed.  Accurate results were not recorded, but best guesses placed Japanese losses at 100 planes versus 22 American planes lost.

Meanwhile, the invasion force making its long run up the western side of the Philippines suffered increasing Japanese attacks including suicide crashes on several ships.  Most notably, the escort carrier OMMANEY BAY CVE-79 was struck on 4 January by a Japanese plane and two bombs that it released prior to impact.  As fires burned out of control and ammunition exploded, OMMANEY BAY was abandoned and scuttled.

Although Navy planes from the escort carriers and Army Air Force planes from Mindoro worked together to keep this threat to a minimum, the fast carriers would be sorely needed at Luzon.

A flight of USS ESSEX Navy pilots prepares for their next mission from their ready room, 4 January 1945. The aviators are (left to right) Hartsock, Parker, Finn and Libbey.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G

USS ESSEX CV-9 sailors load an HVAR "Holy Moses" rocket aboard an F6F Hellcat in preparation for air strikes on 4 January 1945.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G

A quad-40mm gun crew aboard USS ASTORIA takes in some sun and reading during a break in the weather on 4 January 1945.  With no Japanese planes aloft near the fast carriers, gun crews had little to do except man their stations and find ways to entertain themselves.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper

An iconic self-portrait of Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Herman Schnipper on 4 January 1945. Schnipper qualified and received his rate aboard USS ASTORIA CL-90 on New Year's Day.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper

5 January 1945  (S minus 4)
The task force withdrew out of range from land-based aircraft and fueled from the Logistic Support Group.  USS ENTERPRISE joined up underway, fresh from Pearl Harbor where modifications had been completed enabling her to conduct night operations.  ENTERPRISE, now designated CV(N)-6, and INDEPENDENCE CVL-22 were intended to extend the "Big Blue Blanket" over Luzon airfields in a nighttime capacity.  Forming the new Task Group 38.5, the night carriers joined the protective screen of ASTORIA and Task Group 38.2 during the day.

USS WILKES-BARRE CL-103 photographed during underway replenishment off Luzon circa 5 January 1945. NEW JERSEY BB-62 and a destroyer fuel from an oiler in the background. A TBM Avenger with USS ESSEX markings is spotted forward on an unidentified escort carrier (CVE) that was the source for this photo. Note that the crew is aboard the TBM Avenger.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-326046

USS PASADENA CL-65 en route to the Philippines on 5 January 1945. Photo taken from NEW JERSEY BB-62 by LCDR Charles F. Jacobs, USNR.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-470296

Ships of Task Group 38.2 en route to the Philippines on 5 January 1945. At center is SUMNER-class destroyer ENGLISH DD-696. The carrier at left is HANCOCK CV-19, and at right is newly-joined USS ENTERPRISE CV(N)-6.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G-470281

Track chart of USS ASTORIA as Task Force 38 takes position off Luzon (gray line).  Air strikes were launched against northern Luzon airfields, while airfields further south were covered by land-based Army Air Force planes and the escort carriers at the vanguard of the 7th Fleet invasion force (yellow line).
-manipulated from Google Earth imagery

6 January 1945  (S minus 3)
Heavy weather again limited the strikes conducted by the fast carriers as well as enemy planes.  32 more Japanese aircraft were estimated shot down or destroyed on the ground.  However, breaks in the weather and subsequent holes in blanketing tactics permitted some Japanese planes to get airborne and attack the invasion force.  Although Combat Air Patrols (CAP) prevented any planes from getting through to the fast carriers, several ships in the invasion force approaching Lingayen Gulf were hit.

USS COLUMBIA CL-56, a CLEVELAND-class cruiser assigned to the Luzon Attack Group, is struck by her second suicide attack in three hours on 6 January.  Although the first crash only resulted in superficial damage, this one severely damaged the aft areas of the ship.  Her aft battery was flooded to prevent a magazine explosion, and she stayed in formation with the invasion force.
-U.S. Navy Photos reproduced from

7 January 1945  (S minus 2)
The weather cleared during the morning hours for the second day of fast carrier strikes against northern Luzon, then deteriorated again in the afternoon.

From Morison's The Liberation of the Philippines:
The enemy seemed unwilling to challenge the carrier planes; he was saving his planes for what he considered a more worthy object.  Throughout the entire day of the 7th only four Japanese aircraft were observed to rise in order to give battle, and they were promptly shot down.  Task Force 38 claimed to have destroyed 75 others on the ground; its own losses were heavy--28 planes, 18 of these operational [losses].  With the assistance of 143 sorties from the eleven escort carriers with [7th Fleet], and of the Army Air Force, these strikes accomplished their object of protecting the fleet at Lingayen Gulf, for a time, from Kamikaze attack...  and the Japanese air forces on Luzon were almost wiped out.

Ships of the Luzon Attack Group steam into Lingayen Gulf, circa S minus 2 on 7 January 1945.  From front to back of the column are battleships USS PENNSYLVANIA and COLORADO followed by cruisers LOUISVILLE, PORTLAND, and COLUMBIA.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G

8 January 1945  (S minus 1)
The Fast Carrier Task Force left the Philippines and headed north again.  They spent the day refueling and resupplying with the Logistic Support Group, then performed a run-in toward Formosa overnight for a second round of strikes on the northern island airfields within range of the S-Day landing area.  With Japanese air forces on Luzon essentially neutralized, planes from the Formosa area were the remaining threat.

Track chart of USS ASTORIA as Task Force 38 moves away from Luzon toward Formosa (gray line).  On 9 January 1945, as the Luzon landings began at Lingayen Gulf, the fast carriers launched strikes against airfields on Formosa and the surrounding islands.
-manipulated from Google Earth imagery

S-Day at Lingayen Gulf, 9 January 1945.  LCVP landing craft bring American 6th Army infantry ashore.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA record group 80-G

9 January 1945  (S-Day, OPERATION MIKE I)
As MacArthur's 6th Army came ashore at Lingayen Gulf, bad weather once again restricted the fast carrier planes to targets of opportunity.  Some missions were recalled while others found breaks in the weather and pushed on to their targets.  717 sorties were flown against airfields and Japanese shipping.  The operations achieved their goal--no Japanese planes from Formosa airfields were able to provide resistance against the invasion, and in fact no further Japanese planes would fly to Luzon for the remainder of the war.

For the men of USS ASTORIA, the ship's involvement in the MIKE I operation had been fairly routine.  While enduring the daily nuisance of heavy rain, there was little for the Mighty Ninety to do other than screen her assigned carriers,stand watch and wait.  F Division shipmate Jim Thomson expressed the crew's desire to get into the fight, writing in his diary that "we have yet to fire an offensive gun!"  J. Fred Lind added,  "lots of mines are floating harmlessly by. The destroyers are assigned to blow them up with their five-inch battery."

Above: Gun watch atop an ASTORIA 5-inch mount on 9 January 1945. Note the manual sight for backup use in case the gun's fire director was knocked out of commission.
Below: L-Division signalman SM3/c James T. Wiseman monitors a blinker message from an ASTORIA floatplane circa 9 January 1945.
-photos taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper

From Samuel Eliot Morison's The Liberation of the Philippines:
Third Fleet's direct support of the Lingayen operation ended with these 9 January strikes on Formosa.  In one week, Task Force 38 had flown a total of 3,030 target or combat sorties and dropped 9,110 bombs... losing 86 planes, 40 of them operationally.  There is no question but that these operations, combined with the all-out effort of the Army Air Force and the escort carriers, saved hundreds of American lives in the Lingayen landings.

Although their support of Operation MIKE I was effectively over, the Fast Carrier Task Force was far from finished in conducting offensive operations in the area.  Halsey's ships would next take the fight into the so-called "Private Lake of Japan," the South China Sea.

                                       Continue to CHAPTER 13: OPERATION GRATITUDE


                                                                 BACK TO SHIP HISTORY


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Morison, Samuel Eliot.  History of United States Naval Operations in WWII Vol. XIII: The Liberation of the Philippines.   Boston: Little, Brown and Company Inc., 1959.

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.

Theaker, Carl.  Private photo and document collection.

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