USS LST 647 c/o Fleet Post Office, San Francisco, California
THE STORY OF THE USS. UNDERHILL (DE #682)
Peace loving people throughout the world today are grateful to those who have given their lives to further the cause of freedom and democracy. But to the men whose very lives have been saved by the heroic deeds of their fighting comrades, this gratitude assumes the strength of an unpayable personal debt. Everlasting are the vivid memories of thousands of us who have seen our comrades sacrifice their lives so that we may live. If only the entire world could feel the same personal indebtedness toward these heroes, it would be a great impetus toward attaining the free and peaceful world for which these men are fighting. The attainment of this goal can be our only reasonable tribute.
One of the many instances of how the courage and bravery of a few saved the lives of many can now be told. It is the story of the U.S.S. UNDERHILL, Destroyer Escort #682.
Leaving Okinawa on July 21, 1945, our little convoy of 8 LSTs set out on what was expected to be just another routine "milk run". We were taking battle weary remnants of the 96th Division to rest camps in the Philippines. Every LST was loaded heavily with personnel and equipment – the men and machines that had fought the Japanese in Okinawa. The UNDERHILL was our chief escort, being the largest of our escorting vessels. She took position ahead of our formation, screening back and forth with a watchful eye.
Not until the morning of the 24th did anything unusual happen. At about 1000 a Japanese reconnaissance plane, flying at high altitude and well out of firing range, was sighted by patrol craft on our left flank. We were at that time about 200 miles off Japanese held Formosa. There had been no recent records of action in the area, however, so no one was very concerned over this lone Japanese pilot miles away.
At 1500 that same day the UNDERHILL sighted a mine in the path of our convoy. Almost automatically a 45° emergency turn to port was executed by all ships to avoid hitting the mine. The maneuver was successful, so the UNDERHILL proceeded toward the mine in order to destroy it. Enroute, a very remarkable incident occurred. She was suddenly confronted with several unmistakable underwater contacts – submarines, and all of them within a radius of 4000 yards!
There could be no mistake. She had run smack into a nest of Japanese subs, probably those small type subs launched recently by one large sub, know affectionately as a "Mother-Sub". Obviously the innocent Japanese reconnaissance plane had tipped off the subs to our position. They had been lying in wait for us. Undoubtedly the "Mama" had launched the mine and her death children just as we approached.
The mine was of very secondary importance now, so the D.E. headed toward the area of its largest contact, arming her depth charges, loading her guns, checking her water-tight integrity, and making all the numerous preparations for battle. Her first charges were accurately dropped. Proof was the oil slick that suddenly covered the water; wreckage and debris emerged to the surface. One down, and four to go!
Our convoy had begun zigzagging, turning, and twisting through the water for its very life. LSTs are pretty slow and cumbersome; especially when there’s a flock of subs on their tail it seems. Our safety depended largely upon how long the UNDERHILL could delay the subs. If only she could sink the mother sub, we might be able to out-disttance the small ones which would be practically helpless without her. We were now about 500 yards from where the D.E. was maneuvering to make her second kill. Over the inter-ship radio she was giving us a blow by blow account of her actions. When she announced her first sinking, we cheered like fanatical rooters at a football game. Our joy was short-lived, however.
On the port bow of the D.E. a lookout sighted the deadly wake of an approaching torpedo. The little ship swung hard to port, making a narrow target for herself, and breathlessly the crew watched the torpedo race harmlessly by. No one felt like cheering this time. That was too close for comfort.
Hardly a minute later came the ominous word of the UNDERHILL’s skipper over the ship’s P.A.
system – "Prepare to ram". Almost dead ahead was what seemed to be a large sub. Out of the water protruded a periscope, and the sonar contacts verified its identity as the "Mother". Unhesitatingly the skipper set his course on the target and the distance closed quickly. No time could be allowed for the sub to fire another torpedo. It was a flight against time and death. The men on the D.E. braced themselves for the inevitable shock to come. Some prayed, some just crossed their fingers, but all were wishing they were someplace else, far away – and with good reason.
In the next hellish moment occurred the most horrible explosion I ever hope to see. The scene was suddenly shrouded in dense black smoke, its huge round mass rising rapidly into the clear blue sky above, as though it were concealing from the heavens the death, pain, and destruction which had been wrought below.
During the split second that preceded an amazing thing had happened. As the bow of the UNDERHILL had crashed into the lurking sub, a small two-man sub had rammed her deadly prow into the port side of the unsuspecting D.E. The two-man sub, primarily a suicide weapon, carries a huge charge of TNT. The almost simultaneous explosion of her charges against the UNDERHILL’s side and the destruction of the mother sub at her bow, had caused all hell to break loose. Magazines, depth charges, and rockets were detonated. Bodies were hurled into the sky, torn and bleeding, dead and dying. The gallant little ship buckled, her shattered bow rose proudly out of the water for the last time, and down she went – her job well done. Yes, extremely well done.
We sailed on now in comparative safety. The Japanese plans for attack on our convoy had been thwarted. We could out-distance the few remaining small subs, which were now helpless without the larger sub. There were several thousand of soldiers, sailors, feeling an indescribable graciousness toward those 119 men who had paid the price of our passage with their lives and us.
The above was written shortly before or immediately after the ending of World War II. Later after an examination of the Imperial Japanese Navy War Records it was determined that the I-53 , the submarine involved with the Underhill had not been sunk but had returned safely to Japan. Commander Oba, the captain later served in the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. It is now believed that the Underhill had sunk two kaitens and a third was destroyed in ramming the Underhill.