OPERATIONAL HISTORY OF THE USS WASP

 

CV-18 / CVA-18 / CVS-18

World War II

The ninth Wasp (CV-18) was laid down as Oriskany on 18 March 1942 at Quincy, Mass., by the Bethlehem Steel Co.; renamed Wasp on 13 November 1942; launched on 17 August 1943; sponsored by Miss Julia M. Walsh, the sister of Senator David I. Walsh of Massachusetts and commissioned on 24 November 1943, Capt. Clifton A. F. Sprague in command. 

Following a shakedown cruise which lasted through the end of 1943, Wasp returned to Boston for a brief yard period to correct minor flaws which had been discovered during her time at sea. On 10 January 1944 the new aircraft carrier departed Bost on; steamed to Hampton Roads, Va.; and remained there until the last day of the month, when she sailed for Trinidad, her base of operations through 22 February. She returned to Boston five days later and prepared for service in the Pacific. Early in March , the ship sailed south; transited the Panama Canal; arrived at San Diego, Calif., on 21 March; and reached Pearl Harbor on 4 April.

 

Following training exercises in Hawaiian waters, Wasp steamed to the Marshall Islands and at Majuro Rear Admiral Alfred E. Montgomery's newly formed Task Group (TG) 58.6 of Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher's Fast Carrier Task Force (TF 58). On 14 May, she and her sister carriers of TG 58.6, Essex (CV-9) and San Jacinto (CV-30), sortied for raids on Marcus and Wake Islands to give the new task group combat experience; to test a recently devised system of assigning-before takeoff-each p ilot a specific target, and to neutralize those islands for the forthcoming Marianas campaign. As the force neared Marcus, it split, sending San Jacinto north to search for Japanese picket boats while Wasp and Essex launched strikes o n the 19th and 20th, aimed at installations on the island. American planes encountered heavy antiaircraft fire but still managed to do enough damage to prevent Japanese forces on the island from interfering with the impending assault on Saipan.

 

When weather canceled launches planned for the 21st, the two carriers rejoined San Jacinto and steamed to Wake. Planes from all three carriers pounded that island on the 24th and were sufficiently effective to neutralize that base. However, the system of pre-selecting targets for each plane fell short of the Navy's expectations, and, thereafter, tactical air commanders resumed responsibility for directing the attacks of their planes.

 

After the strike on Wake, TG 58.6 returned to Majuro to prepare for the Mariana campaign. On 6 June, Wasp-reassigned to TG 58.2 which was also commanded by Rear Admiral Montgomery-sortied for the invasion of Saipan. During the afternoon of the 1 1th, she and her sister carriers launched fighters for strikes against Japanese air bases on Saipan and Tinian. They were challenged by some 30 land-based fighters which they promptly shot down. Antiaircraft fire was heavy, but the American planes braved it as they went on to destroy many Japanese aircraft which were still on the ground.

 

During the next three days, the American fighters-now joined by bombers-pounded installations on Saipan to soften up Japanese defenses for American assault troops who would go ashore on the 15th. That day and thereafter until the morning of the 17th, p lanes from TG 58.2 and TG 58.3 provided close air support for marines fighting on the Saipan beachhead.

 

The fast carriers of those task groups then turned over to escort carriers responsibility for providing air support for the American ground forces, refueled, and steamed to rendezvous with TG 58.1 and 58.4 which were returning from strikes against Chic hi Jima and Iwo Jima to prevent Japanese air bases on those islands from being used to launch attacks against American forces on or near Saipan.

 

Meanwhile, Japan-determined to defend Saipan, no matter how high the cost-was sending Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa's powerful First Mobile Fleet from the Sulu Islands to the Marianas to sink the warships of Admiral Spruance's 5th Fleet and to annihilate the American troops who had fought their way ashore on Saipan. Soon after the Japanese task force sortied from Tawi Tawi on the morning of 13 June, American submarine Redfin (SS-272) spotted and reported it. Other submarines-which from time to time mad e contact with Ozawa's warships-kept Spruance posted on their progress as they wended their way through the Philippine Islands, transited San Bernardino Strait, and entered the Philippine Sea.

 

All day on the 18th, each force sent out scout planes in an effort to locate its adversary. Because of their greater range, the Japanese aircraft managed to obtain some knowledge of Spruance's ships, but American scout planes were unable to find Ozawa' s force. Early the following morning, 19 June, aircraft from Mitscher's carriers headed for Guam to neutralize that island for the coming battle and in a series of dogfights, destroyed many Japanese land-based planes.

 

During the morning, carriers from Ozawa's fleet launched four massive raids against their American counterparts, but all were thwarted almost completely. Nearly all of the Japanese warplanes were shot down while failing to sink a single American ship. They did manage to score a single bomb hit on South Dakota (BB-57), but that solitary success did not even put the tough Yankee battleship out of action.

 

That day, Mitscher's planes did not find the Japanese ships, but American submarines succeeded in sending two enemy carriers to the bottom. In the evening, three of Mitscher's four carrier task groups headed west in search of Ozawa's retiring fleet, le aving only TG 58.4 and a gun line of old battleships in the immediate vicinity of the Marianas to cover ground forces on Saipan. Planes from the American carriers failed to find the Japanese force until mid-afternoon on the 20th when an Avenger pilot repo rted spotting Ozawa almost 300 miles from the American carriers. Mitscher daringly ordered an all-out strike even though he knew that night would descend before his planes could return.

 

Over two hours later, the American aviators caught up with their quarry. They damaged two oilers so severely that they had to be scuttled; sank carrier Hiyo, and scored damaging but non-lethal hits on carriers Ryuho, Junyo, and Zuikaku and several other Japanese ships. However during the sunset attack, the fuel gauges in many of tee American planes registered half empty or more, presaging an anxious flight back to their now distant carriers.

 

When the carriers spotted the first returning plane at 2030 that night, Rear Admiral J. J. Clark bravely defied the menace of Japanese submarines by ordering all lights to be turned on to guide the weary fliers home.

 

After a plane from Hornet landed on Lexington Mitscher gave pilots permission to land on any available deck. Despite these unusual efforts to help the Navy's airmen, a good many planes ran out of gasoline before they reached the carriers and dropped into the water.

 

When fuel calculations indicated that no aircraft which had not returned could still be aloft, Mitscher ordered the carriers to reverse course and resume the stern chase of Ozawa's surviving ships-more in the hope of finding any downed fliers who might still be alive and pulling them from the sea than in the expectation of overtaking Japan's First Mobile Fleet before it reached the protection of the Emperor's land-based planes. During the chase, Mitcher's ships picked up 36 pilots and 26 crewmen.

 

At mid-morning of the 21st, Admiral Spruance detached Wasp and Bunker Hill from their task group and sent them with Admiral Lee's battleships in Ozawa's wake to locate and destroy any crippled enemy ships. The ensuing two-day hunt failed to flush out any game, so this ad hoc force headed toward Eniwetok for replenishment and well-earned rest.

 

The respite was brief, for, on 30 June, Wasp sortied in TG 58.2-with TG 68.1-for strikes at Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima. Planes from the carriers pounded those islands on 3 and 4 July and, during the raids, destroyed 75 enemy aircraft, for the most part in the air. Then, as a grand finale, cruisers from the force's screen shelled Iwo Jima for two and one-half hours. The next day, 5 July, the two task groups returned to the Marianas and attacked Guam and Rota to begin more than a fortnight's effort to soften the Japanese defenses there in preparation for landings on Guam. Planes from Wasp and her sister carriers provided close air support for the marines and soldiers who

stormed ashore on the 21st.

 

The next day, Wasp's task group, TG 58.2, sortied with two other groups of Mitscher's carriers headed southwest toward the Western Carolines, and launched raids against the Palaus on the 25th. The force then parted, with TG 58.1 and TG 58.3 stea ming back north for further raids to keep the Bonin and Volcano Islands neutralized while Wasp in TG 582 was retiring toward the Marshalls for replenishment at Eniwetok which she reached on 2 August.

 

Toward the end of Wasp's stay at that base, Admiral Halsey relieved Admiral Spruance on 26 August and the 5th Fleet became the 3d Fleet. Two days later, the Fast Carrier Task Force redesignated TF 38 sortied for the Palaus. On 6 September, Wasp, now assigned to Vice Admiral John S. McCain's TG 38.1-began three days of raids on the Palaus. On the 9th, she headed-with her task group, TG 38.2, and TG 38.3-for the southern Philippines to neutralize air power there during the American conquest of Morotai, Peleliu, and Ulithi-three islands needed as advanced bases during the impending campaign to liberate the Philippines. Planes from these carriers encountered little resistance as they lashed Mindanao airfields that day and on the 10th. Raids a gainst the Visayan Islands on the 12th and 13th were carried out with impunity and were equally successful. Learning of the lack of Japanese air defenses in the southern Philippines enabled Allied strategists to cancel an invasion of Mindanao which had be en scheduled to begin on 16 November. Instead, Allied forces could go straight to Leyte and advance the recapture of Philippine soil by almost a month.

 

D day in the Palaus, 15 September, found Wasp's TG 38.1 some 50 miles off Morotai, launching air strikes. It then returned to thePhilippines for revisits to Mindanao and the Visayas before retiring to the Admiralties on 29 September for repleni shment at Manus in preparation for the liberation of the Philippines.

 

Ready to resume battle, she got underway again on 4 October and steamed to the Philippine Sea where TF 38 reassembled at twilight on the evening of 7 October, some 375 miles west of the Marianas. Its mission was to neutralize airbases within operationa l air distance of the Philippines to keep Japanese warplanes out of the air during the American landings on Leyte scheduled to begin on 20 October. The carriers steamed north to rendezvous with a group of nine oilers and spent the next day, 8 October, ref ueling. They then followed a generally northwesterly course toward the Ryukyus until the 10th when their planes raided Okinawa Amami, and Miyaki. That day, TF 38 planes destroyed a Japanese submarine tender, 12 sampans, and over 100 planes. But for Lt. Co l. Doolittle's Tokyo raid from Hornet (CV-8) on 18 April 1942 and the daring war patrols of Pacific Fleet submarines, this carrier foray was the United States Navy's closest approach to the Japanese home islands up to that point in the war.

 

Beginning on the 12th, Formosa-next on the agenda-received three days of unwelcome attention from TF 38 planes. In response, the Japanese Navy made an all-out effort to protect that strategic island, even though doing so meant denuding its remaining ca rriers of aircraft. Yet, the attempt to thwart the ever advancing American Pacific Fleet was futile. At the end of a three-day air battle, Japan had lost more than 500 planes and 20-odd freighters. Many other merchant ships were damaged as were hangars, b arracks, warehouses, industrial plants, and ammunition dumps. However, the victory was costly to the United States Navy, for TF 38 lost 79 planes and 64 pilots and air crewmen, [150] while cruisers Canberra and Houston and carrier Franklin received damaging, but non-lethal, bomb hits.

 

From Formosa, TF 38 shifted its attention to the Philippines. After steaming to waters east of Luzon, Wasp's TG 58.1 began to launch strikes against that island on the 18th and continued the attack the following day, hitting Manila for the first time since it was occupied by the Japanese early in the war.

 

On the 20th, the day the first American troops waded ashore on Leyte, Wasp had moved south to the station off that island whence she and her sister carriers launched some planes for close air support missions to assist MacArthur's soldiers, whil e sending other aircraft to destroy airfields on Mindanao, Cebu, Negros, Panay, and Leyte. Task Group 38.1 refueled the following day and, on the 22d, set a course for Ulithi to rearm and provision.

 

While McCain's carriers were steaming away from the Philippines, great events were taking place in the waters of that archipelago. Admiral Soemu Toyoda, the Commander in Chief of Japan's Combined Fleet, activated plan Sho-Go-1, a scheme for brin ging about a decisive naval action off Leyte. The Japanese strategy called for Ozawa's carriers to act as a decoy to lure TF 38 north of Luzon and away from the Leyte beachhead. Then-with the American fast carriers out of the way-heavy Japanese surface sh ips were to debouch into Leyte Gulf from two directions: from the south through Surigao Strait and from the north through San Bernardino Strait. During much of the 24th, planes from Halsey's carrier task groups still in Philippine waters pounded Admiral K urita's powerful Force "A," or Center Force, as it steamed across the Sibuyan Sea toward San Bernardino Strait. When darkness stopped their attack, the American aircraft had sunk superbattleship Musashi and had damaged several other Japanese warshi ps. Moreover, Halsey's pilots reported that Kurita's force had reversed course and was moving away from San Bernardino Strait.

 

That night, Admiral Nishimura's Force "C", or Southern Force, attempted to transit Surigao Strait but met a line of old battleships commanded by Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf. The venerable American men-of-war crossed Nishimura's "T" and all but anni hilated his force. Admiral Shima-who was following in Nishimura's wake to lend support-realized that disaster had struck and wisely withdrew.

 

Meanwhile, late in the afternoon of the 24th-after Kurita's Center Force had turned away from San Bernardino Strait in apparent retreat-Halsey's scout planes finally located Ozawa's carriers a bit under 200 miles north of TF 38. This intelligence promp ted Halsey to head north toward Ozawa with his Fast Carrier Task Force. However, at this point, he did not recall McCain's TG 68.1 but allowed it to continue steaming toward Ulithi.

 

After dark, Kurita's Center Force again reversed course and once more headed for San Bernardino Strait. About half an hour past midnight, it transited that narrow passage; turned to starboard; and steamed south, down the east coast of Samar. Since Hals ey had dashed north in pursuit of Ozawa's carriers, only three 7th Fleet escort carrier groups and their destroyer and destroyer escort screens were available to challenge Kurita's mighty battleships and heavy cruisers and to protect the American amphibio us ships which were supporting the troops fighting on Leyte.

 

Remembered by their call names, "Taffy 1," "Taffy 2," and "Taffy 3," these three American escort-carrier groups were deployed along Samar's east coast with "Taffy 3"-commanded by Wasp's first captain, Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague-in the no rthernmost position, about 40 miles off Paninihian Point. "Taffy 2" was covering Leyte Gulf, and "Taffy 1" was still farther south watching Surigao Strait.

 

At 0645, lookouts on "Taffy 3" ships spotted bursts of antiaircraft fire blossoming in the northern sky, as Center Force gunners opened fire on an American anti-submarine patrol plane. Moments later, "Taffy 3" made both radar and visual contact with th e approaching Japanese warships. Shortly before 0700, Kurita's guns opened fire on the hapless "baby flattops" and their comparatively tiny but incredibly courageous escorts. For more than two hours, "Taffy 3's" ships and planes-aided by aircraft from sis ter escort-carrier groups to the south-fought back with torpedoes, guns, bombs, and consummate seamanship. Then, at 0311, Kurita-shaken by the loss of three heavy cruisers and thinking that he had been fighting TF 38-ordered his remaining warships to brea k off the action.

 

Meanwhile, at 0848, Admiral Halsey had radioed McCain's TG 68.1-then refueling en route to Ulithi-calling that carrier group back to Philippine waters to help "Taffy 3" in its fight for survival. Wasp and her consorts raced toward Samar at flank speed until 1030 when they began launching planes for strikes at Kurita's ships which were still some 330 miles away. While these raids did little damage to the Japanese Center Force, they did strengthen Kurita's decision to retire from Leyte.

 

While his planes were in the air, McCain's carriers continued to speed westward to lessen the distance of his pilots' return flight and to be in optimum position at dawn to launch more warplanes at the fleeing enemy force. With the first light of the 2 6th, TG 38.1 and Rear Admiral Bogan's TG 38.2-which finally had been sent south by Halsey-launched the first of their strikes that day against Kurita. The second left the carriers a little over two hours later. These fliers sank light cruiser Noshiro < /I>and damaged, but did not sink, heavy cruiser Kumano. The two task groups launched a third strike in the early afternoon, but it did not add to their score.

 

Following the Battle for Leyte Gulf, which ended the Japanese Fleet as a serious challenge to American supremacy at sea in the Far East, TG 38.1 operated in the Philippines for two more days providing close air support before again heading for Ulithi on the 28th. However, the respite-during which Rear Admiral Montgomery took command of TG 38.1 when McCain fleeted up to relieve Mitscher as CTF 38-was brief since Japanese land-based planes attacked troops on the Leyte beachhead on 1 November. Wasp participated in raids against Luzon air bases on the 5th and 6th, destroying over 400 Japanese aircraft, for the most part on the ground. After a kamikaze hit Lexington during the operation, McCain shifted his flag from that carrier to Wasp and, a short time later, returned in her to Guam to exchange air groups.

 

Wasp returned to the Philippines a little before mid-month and continued to send strikes against targets in the Philippines-mostly on Luzon-until the 26th when the Army Air Force assumed responsibility for providing air support for troops on Ley te. TF 38 then retired to Ulithi. There, the carriers received greater complements of fighter planes and, in late November and early December, conducted training exercises to prepare them better to deal with Japan's new threat to the American warships, kamikazes or suicide planes.

 

Task Force 38 sortied from Ulithi on 10 and 11 December and proceeded to a position east of Luzon for round-the-clock strikes against air bases on that island from the 14th through the 16th to prevent Japanese fighter planes from endangering landings on the southwest coast of Mindoro scheduled for the 15th. Then, while withdrawing to a fueling rendezvous point east of the Philippines, TF 38 was caught in a terribly destructive typhoon which battered its ships and sank three American destroyers. The car riers spent most of the ensuing week repairing storm damage and returned to Ulithi on Christmas Eve.

 

But the accelerating tempo of the war ruled out long repose in the shelter of the lagoon. Before the year ended, the carriers were back in action against airfields in the Philippines on Sakishima Gunto, and on Okinawa. These raids were intended to smoo th the way for General MacArthur's invasion of Luzon through [151] the Lingayen Gulf. While the carrier planes were unable to knock out all Japanese air resistance to the Luzon landings, they did succeed in destroying many enemy planes and thus reduced th e air threat to manageable proportions.

 

On the night after the initial landings on Luzon, Halsey took TF 38 into the South China Sea for a week's rampage in which his ships and planes took a heavy toll of Japanese shipping and aircraft before they retransited Luzon Strait on the 16th and returned to the Philippine Sea. Bad weather prevented Halsey's planes from going aloft for the next few days; but, on the 21st, they bombed Formosa, the Pescadores, and the Sakishimas. The following day, the aircraft returned to the Sakishimas and the Ryukyu s for more bombing and reconnaissance. The overworked Fast Carrier Task Force then headed for Ulithi and entered that lagoon on the 26th.  

While the flattops were catching their breath at Ulithi, Admiral Spruance relieved Halsey in command of the Fleet, which was thereby transformed from the 3d to the 5th. The metamorphosis also entailed Mitscher's replacing McCain and Clark's resuming co mmand of TG 68.1-still Wasp's task group.

 

The next major operation dictated by Allied strategy was the capture of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands. Iwo was needed as a base for Army Air Force fighter planes which were to protect Mariana-based B-29 bombers during raids against the Japanese home islands and as an emergency landing point for crippled warplanes. Task Force 58 sortied on 10 February, held rehearsals at Tinian, and then headed for Japan.

 

Fighter planes took off from the carriers before dawn on the 16th to clear the skies of Japanese aircraft. They succeeded in this mission, but Wasp lost several of her fighters during the sweep. Bombing sorties, directed primarily at aircraft fa ctories in Tokyo, followed; but clouds hid many of these plants, forcing some planes to drop their bombs on secondary targets. Bad weather, which also hampered Mitscher's fliers during raids the next morning, prompted him to cancel strikes scheduled for t he afternoon and head the task force west.

During the night, Mitscher turned the carriers toward the Volcano Islands to be on hand to provide air support for the marines who would land on beaches of Iwo Jima on the morning of the 19th.

 

For the next few days, planes from the American carriers continued to assist the marines who were engaged in a bloody struggle to wrest the island from its fanatical defenders. On the 23d, Mitscher led his carriers back to Japan for more raids on Tokyo . Planes took off on the morning of the 25th, but, when they reached Tokyo, they again found their targets obscured by clouds. Moreover, visibility was so bad the next day that raids on Nagoya were called off, and the carriers steamed south toward the Ryu kyus to bomb and reconnoiter Okinawa, the next prize to be taken from the Japanese Empire. Planes left the carriers at dawn on 1 March; and, throughout the day, they hammered and photographed the islands of the Ryukyu group. Then, after a night bombardmen t by surface ships, TF 58 set a course for the Carolines and anchored in Ulithi lagoon on the 4th.

 

Damaged as she was, Wasp recorded-from 17 to 23 March-what was often referred to as the busiest week in flattop history. In these seven days, Wasp accounted for 14 enemy planes in the air, destroyed six more on the ground, scored two 500 -pound bomb hits on each of two Japanese carriers, dropped two 1,000-pound bombs on a Japanese battleship, put one 1,000-pounder on another battleship, hit a heavy cruiser with three 500-pound missiles, dropped another 1,000-pound bomb on a big cargo ship , and heavily strafed "and probably sank" a large Japanese submarine. During this week, Wasp was under almost continuous attack by shore-based aircraft and experienced several close kamikaze attacks. The carrier's gunners fired more than 10,000 rounds at the determined Japanese attackers.  

On 13 April 1945, Wasp returned to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., and had the damage caused by the bomb hit repaired. Once whole again, she steamed to Hawaii and, after a brief sojourn at Pearl Harbor, headed toward the western Pacific on 12 July 1945. Wasp conducted a strike at Wake Island and paused briefly at Eniwetok before rejoining the rampaging Fast Carrier Task Force. In a series of strikes, unique in the almost complete absence of enemy airborne planes, Wasp pilots struck Yokosuka Naval Base near Tokyo, numerous airfields, and hidden manufacturing centers. On 9 August, a suicide plane swooped down at the carrier, but a Wasp pilot flying above the ship forced the enemy to splash into the sea.

 

Then, on 15 August, when the fighting should have been over, two Japanese planes tried to attack Wasp's task group. Fortunately, Wasp pilots were still flying on combat air patrol and sent both enemies smoking into the sea. This was the last time Wasp pilots and gunners were to tangle with the Japanese.

 

On 25 August 1945, a severe typhoon, with winds reaching 78 knots, engulfed Wasp and stove in about 30 feet of her bow. The carrier, despite the hazardous job of flying from such a shortened deck, continued to launch her planes on missions of mercy or patrol as they carried food, medicine, and long-deserved luxuries to American prisoners of war at Narumi, near Nagoya.

 

The ship returned to Boston for Navy Day, 27 October 1945. On 30 October, Wasp got underway for the naval shipyard in New York for a period of availability to have additional facilities installed for maximum transportation of troops. This work was completed on 15 November 1945 and enabled her to accommodate some 5,500 enlisted passengers and 400 officers.

 

After receiving the new alterations, Wasp was assigned temporary duty as an Operation "Magic Carpet" troop transport. On 17 February 1947, Wasp was placed out of commission in reserve, attached to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.

 


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last update 1. March 2013

written 1. November 2003

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