1 March 1944
A sequential raid of Japanese aircraft and heavy cruisers at the Army’s landings on Manus Island in the Admiralties was beaten back.
So said the official report from Rear Admiral William Fechteler to General Douglas MacArthur.
In actuality, it was a near disaster.
The day before Fechteler had landed elements of the First Cavalry on the island and they had made good progress. That morning more troops were being landed from three APDs and supplies were being ferried ashore at a frantic pace. Two DDs were on station providing gunfire support to the cavalrymen. Radar picked up an incoming swarm from Rabaul.
Fighter control aboard USS San Diego vectored the 16 P-40s flying cover from New Guinea to intercept. Poor coordination between the Army Air Force flyers and the Navy gunners proved catastrophic. Fifteen Warhawks were shot down, five by “friendly” AA fire.
However, the Japanese displayed their deteriorating pilot skill as well. Twenty-seven Betty bombers and a dozen Zero fighters swooped in on the packed harbor. Heavy, accurate AA fire and the doomed Warhawks shot down 11 Zeroes and 9 Bettys. The survivors dropped 20 bombs and 13 torpedoes and succeeded in getting only a single hit. It was a spectacular hit, however, penetrating three decks on the seaplane tender Curtiss to land in the depth charge magazine and rip the ship to tiny pieces.
As the surviving planes swept over the land and out of sight, USS Barton signalled “Unidentified ships, 30,000 yards and closing!”
They turned out to be IJN Tone and IJN Myoko who had crept up on the landing by using the shore to mask themselves from radar.
Left with no choice, Admiral Fechteler ordered his covering force to charge the Japanese heavy cruisers, whose 8-inch main guns easily outranged the 5-inchers of the Americans.
The ensuing gun battle saw the volume of American fire smother the two heavy cruisers. While the 8-inchers hit much harder, the rapid-fire 5-inchers hit exponentially more often, eventually turning both Japanese ships into infernos.
The heavy fire did claim San Diego, sinking with no less than 10 heavy caliber hits and six hits by smaller guns. Four destroyers were also hit, two seriously, but gunnery honors went to USS Barton, the ship who gave first warning, which scored an unbelievable 21 hits on Myoko and 4 more on Tone.
The landing was saved but McArthur was forced to divert USS Phoenix and two destroyers from protecting coastal traffic in New Guinea to replacing the losses sustained by Fechteler. As for the Japanese, they had thrown their last roll of the dice to support the infantry now doomed to destruction on Manus.
Diatribes are simply often humorous recountings of the games played by the Long Island Irregulars. We play with toy soldiers and are unabashedly happy to have never lost this part of our childhoods..