After a shakedown cruise
along the west coast, Manila Bay sailed for Pearl Harbor on 20
November and returned a load of damaged planes to San Diego on 4
December. After training exercises, with Composite Squadron 7 (VC-7)
embarked, she departed Hawaii on 3 January 1944. A week later she
embarked Rear Admiral Ralph Davidson and became flagship for Carrier
Division 24. Joining Task Force 52 (TF 52), she sortied 22 January
for the invasion of the Marshall Islands. Between 31 January-6
February, she launched air and antisubmarine patrols as well as
dozens of combat missions. Her planes bombed and strafed enemy
positions from Kwajalein Island north to Bigej Island and destroyed
ammunition dumps and ground installations. She remained in the
Marshalls during the next month and extended her operations late in
February first to Eniwetok and then to Majuro.
Departing Majuro on 7 March, Manila Bay reached Espiritu Santo on
the 12th. Three days later she joined TF 37 for airstrikes and
surface bombardments against Kavieng, New Ireland on 19–20 March.
During the next month she cruised between the Solomons and the
Bismarck Archipelago supporting the protracted offensive to
neutralize the Archipelago and the Japanese fortress at Rabaul.
Thence, on 19 April she steamed so that her planes could attack
enemy positions on New Guinea.
American naval and ground forces began a three–pronged invasion
along northern New Guinea at Aitape, Hollandia, and Tanahmerah Bay
on 22 April. During and after the invasion Manila Bay launched
protective air patrols and sent fighters and bombers to attack and
destroy Japanese installations in the Aitape area. On 4 May she
returned to Manus Island where Rear Admiral Felix Stump relieved
Admiral Davidson as Commander, Carrier Division 24. Admiral Stump
transferred his flag to Corregidor on 6 May, and the following day
Manila Bay sailed for overhaul at Pearl Harbor where she arrived on
After loading 37 Army P-47 Thunderbolts of the Army Air Forces' 73rd
Fighter Squadron, 318th Fighter Group, Manila Bay sailed on 5 June
for the Mariana Islands. Steaming via Eniwetok, she reached the
eastern approaches to Saipan on 19 June. During the next 4 days, she
remained east of the embattled island as ships and planes of the
Fast Carrier Task Force repulsed the Japanese Fleet in the Battle of
the Philippine Sea, and inflicted staggering losses on the enemy,
crippling the Imperial Navy’s air strength permanently.
On 23 June, Manila Bay came under enemy air attack during refueling
operations east of Saipan. Four Aichi Val dive bombers attacked her
from dead ahead, dropping their bombs which exploded wide to port.
As a precautionary and rather unusual move which Raymond A. Spruance
later characterized as "commendable initiative", Manila Bay launched
four of the P-47s she was ferrying to fly protective CAP until radar
screens were clear of contacts. The Army fighters then flew to
Saipan, their intended destination. Manila Bay launched the
remaining planes the next day and returned to Eniwetok, arriving on
27 June. After embarking 207 wounded troops, she departed on 1 July,
touched Pearl Harbor on the 8th, and reached San Diego on 16 July.
Manila Bay returned to Pearl on 31 August. Two days later, Captain
Fitzhugh Lee took command of the veteran carrier, and after
embarking VC-80, Manila Bay departed on 15 September as a unit of
Carrier Division 24 (CarDiv 24). Steaming via Eniwetok, she reached
Manus 3 October and began final preparations for the invasion of the
Philippines at Leyte Gulf.
Assigned to the Task Group 77.4 (TG 77.4), Manila Bay departed on 12
October for waters east of the Philippines. Prior to the invasion,
her planes pounded enemy ground targets on Leyte, Samar, and Cebu
Islands. She launched ground support, spotting, and air cover
strikes during the amphibious assaults on 20 October, and she sent
bombers and fighters to support ground forces during the critical
first few days at Leyte.
As Manila Bay cruised to the east of Leyte Gulf with other carriers
of Admiral Stump's "Taffy 2" (Task Unit 77.4.2, TU 77.4.2), powerful
Japanese naval forces converged upon the Philippines and launched a
three-pronged offensive to drive the Americans from Leyte. In a
series of masterful and coordinated surface attacks, an American
battleship, cruiser, and destroyer force met and destroyed enemy
ships in the Battle of Surigao Strait early on 25 October. Surviving
Japanese ships retreated into the Mindanao Sea pursued by destroyers,
PT boats, and after sunrise by carrier-based bombers and fighters.
Manila Bay sent an eight-plane strike against ground targets on
Leyte before sunrise; subsequently, these planes bombed and strafed
retiring enemy ships southwest of Panaon Island. A second strike
about midmorning pounded Mogami. In the meantime, however, Manila
Bay turned her planes against a more immediate threat: the enemy
attack against ships of Taffy 3.
A running battle ensued between the escort carriers of Rear Adm.
Clifton Sprague's Taffy 3 and the larger, vastly more powerful
surface ships of Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's Center Force. The
self-sacrificing attacks by American destroyers and destroyer
escorts, and the prompt, aggressive, and unceasing torpedo, bomb,
and strafing strikes by planes from Taffy 2 and Taffy 3 contributed
to the American victory against great odds in the Battle off Samar.
Manila Bay launched two airstrikes during the enemy pursuit of Taffy
3 and two more as the Japanese retreated. At 0830, she sent four
torpedo-laden TBM Avengers and a seven-plane escort to join the
desperate fight. Three launched torpedoes at a battleship, probably
Yamato, but they missed. The fourth plane launched her torpedo at a
heavy cruiser, most likely Chikuma. It hit the ship to starboard
near the fantail, forcing her out of control. The second strike an
hour later by two Avengers resulted in one torpedo hit on the
portside amidships against an unidentified battleship.
As the Japanese ships broke off attack and circled off Samar, the
airstrikes continued. At 1120, Manila Bay launched four Avengers,
carrying 500 pound bombs, and four bombers from other carriers.
Escorted by FM-2 Wildcats and led by Commander R. L. Fowler, they
soon joined planes from other Taffy carriers. Shortly after 1230,
some 70 planes surprised and attacked the retiring Center Force,
strafing and bombing through intense antiaircraft fire. Manila Bay's
bombers made a hit and two near misses on the lead battleship,
probably Kongō or Haruna. Manila Bay launched her final strike at
1245, strafing destroyers and getting two hits on a cruiser.
Later that afternoon, Manila Bay's CAP intercepted a Japanese
bomber-fighter strike about 50 miles north of Taffy 2. Her four
fighters broke up the enemy formation, and with reinforcements drove
off the attackers before they reached the carriers. Her planes
continued to attack enemy ships the following day. Laden with
rockets and bombs, one of her Avengers scored two hits on Kinu and
several rocket hits on Uranami. Both ships sank about noon in the
Visayan Sea after numerous air attacks.
Manila Bay resumed air operations in support of Leyte ground forces
on 27 October. During ground support and air cover missions, her
planes shot down an Aichi D3A "Val" on the 27th and bagged two
Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscars" on the 29th. Late on 30 October she sailed
for the Admiralties, arriving Manus on 4 November.
After steaming to Kossol Passage late in November, Manila Bay
departed on 10 December to provide air cover for the Mindoro
invasion convoys. The task force entered Mindanao Sea early on 13
December. Late that afternoon in the Sulu Sea south of Negros, they
encountered enemy aircraft. The fighter cover shot down or repulsed
most of the attackers. Accurate fire from Manila Bay shot down one
kamikaze. A second kamikaze hit Haraden.
During and after the Mindoro landings on 15 December, Manila Bay
sent her planes on ground support and air cover missions. As troops
poured ashore, more kamikazes attempted to break the air cover and
crash into ships of the covering and carrier group. The few that
escaped the combat air patrols were either shot down or driven off
by accurate antiaircraft fire. The Manila Bay helped down three of
the raiders and her fighters knocked out two more. After recovering
her planes on 16 December, she sailed in convoy via Surigao Strait
and reached Kossol on 19 December.
After a trip to Manus, the Manila Bay sortied New Year's Day 1945
with ships of the Luzon Attack Force. With five other CVEs she
provided air cover for Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf's Bombardment
and Fire Support Group, and direct air support for Vice Admiral
Daniel E. Barbey's San Fabian Attack Force.
The task groups steamed via Surigao Strait and the Mindanao Sea into
the Sulu Sea where they turned north for the Mindoro Strait. Enemy
nuisance and suicide raids began in earnest on 4 January; and
despite the tight air cover provided by CVE aircraft, a kamikaze
crashed into the flight deck of the Ommaney Bay causing her sinking.
The enemy air attacks intensified on 5 January. Patrolling fighters
broke up morning and early afternoon strikes, shooting down numerous
raiders. At 1650, a third attack sent all hands to general quarters.
Vectored CAP shot down several enemy planes and anti-aircraft fire
accounted for others. Three planes got through to the Louisville,
the Stafford, and HMAS Australia. Just before 1750, two kamikazes
dove at the Manila Bay from the portside. The first plane hit the
flight deck to starboard abaft the bridge, causing fires on the
flight and hangar decks, destroying radar transmitting spaces, and
wiping out all communications. The second plane, aimed for the
bridge, missed the island close aboard to starboard and hit the sea
off the fantail.
Firefighting parties promptly brought the blazes under control,
including those of two fueled and burning torpedo planes in the
hangar deck. Within 24 hours, she resumed limited air operations.
Most repairs to her damaged electrical and communication circuits
were completed by 9 January, when the amphibious invasion in
Lingayen Gulf got underway.
Manila Bay had 14 men killed and 52 wounded, but by 10 January she
resumed full duty in support of the Lingayen Gulf operations. In
addition to providing air cover for the task force, her planes flew
104 sorties against targets in western Luzon. They gave effective
close support for ground troops at Lingayen and San Fabian and
bombed, rocketed, and strafed gun emplacements, buildings, truck
convoys, and troop concentrations from Lingayen to Baguio.
Manila Bay departed in convoy late on 17 January. Steaming via
Leyte, Ulithi, and Pearl Harbor, she arrived San Diego on 15
February. Battle damage repairs completed late in April, with VC-72
embarked she trained in Hawaiian waters until sailing for the
western Pacific on 24 May. She closed the coast of Okinawa on 13
June and during the next week launched rocket and strafing strikes
in the Ryukyu Islands. She departed for the Marianas on 20 June and
operated out of Guam and Eniwetok during the closing weeks of the
Manila Bay steamed to the Aleutians in mid-August. As a unit of TF
44, she departed Adak Island on 31 August to support occupation
operations in northern Japan. From 7–12 September her planes carried
out photographic and reconnaissance missions over northern Honshū
and southern Hokkaidō and dropped emergency supplies at POW camps.
She returned to Pearl Harbor on 24 September, unloaded her aircraft,
and steamed to the Marshalls carrying replacement troops.
Assigned to "Magic Carpet" duty, Manila Bay embarked 1,031 veterans
at Eniwetok, and from 6–18 October sailed to San Francisco. In
November, the carrier aided disabled Boeing 314 Honolulu Clipper 650
miles east of Oahu. After completing 2 more "Magic Carpet" runs,
she departed Pearl Harbor on 27 January 1946 and reached Norfolk,
Va. on 18 February.
She steamed to Boston from 15–17 April, decommissioned there on 31
July 1946, and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. She was
reclassified CVU-61 on 12 June 1955; her name was struck from the
Navy list on 27 May 1958; and she was sold for scrap to Hugo New
Corp., 2 September 1959.