On 31 May her task unit
sortied forth to escort the bombardment and transports units of Task
Group 52.17 to Saipan. On 13 June her planes shot down their first
enemy aircraft and the next day "began the bombing and strafing of
enemy positions in the Marianas. Kitkun Bay's planes alternated
flying support missions for the Saipan landings and air cover for
ships east of this island. Eight enemy planes were splashed in
attacks on her formation on the 17th and her own guns downed three
more the next day. Early July brought a brief respite at Eniwetok
but 14 July she resumed support sorties at Saipan, Tinian, and from
2 to 4 August at Guam.
Withdrawn, she steamed to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, for upkeep
before sailing to the Solomons for additional practice in support of
amphibious operations. Heading westward on 8 September her task unit
escorted an assault force to Peleliu and Angaur Islands in the
Palaus group and provided cover from the 15th to 21st. Withdrawn to
Manus, Admiralty Islands, she made preparations for the invasion of
Leyte, P.I., and her finest hour.
Departing 12 October she soon joined Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's
task unit "Taffy 3" composed of six CVE's and their screen of
escorts. On 20 October Kitkun Bay began launching strikes against
Leyte. These operations conducted from a position east of Samar
Island continued until early in the morning of the 25th when
Japanese warships were sighted on the northwest horizon. Admiral
Kurita's powerful Center Force had passed through the San Bernardino
Strait unnoticed, hoping to destroy the supply ships off Leyte. Not
designed to exchange gunfire with surface warships "Taffy 3"
launched what planes were ready and turned southward behind a smoke
screen. In the ensuing 2½-hour running battle, the courageous
maneuvers and skillful action of its screen, the diverting attacks
by its planes, the astute orders of its command officers averted
annihilation. In the forefront of the circular formation Kitkun Bay
escaped any direct hits as the shells splashed ever closer until
0925 when the enemy suddenly broke off the engagement and retired.
The less fortunate USS Gambier Bay and three escort ships went down
fighting valiantly; while suffering some gunfire damage, the Center
Force lost three cruisers as a result of the attacks of the aircraft
of "Taffies 2 and 3."
The final phase of the epic Battle of Leyte Gulf was the retaliatory
air strikes by both sides. Before the "Forenoon" watch had expired,
Kitkun Bay had splashed a suicidal Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" but had
also been crashed by an A6M Zero "Zeke" which struck the port
catwalk killing one man and wounding 16. The losses for the day also
included two planes and their crews. The next day she sailed for
Manus in the Admiralty Islands for replenishment and repairs.
Arrived 1 November, she departed Manus the 7th for Pearl Harbor
where VC-5 was replaced by VC-91. Despite a submarine attack en
route, Kitkun Bay returned safely to Manus 17 December. New Year's
Day 1945 dawned with CVE-71 steaming as part of Task Unit 77.4.3 (Lingayen
Transport Cover Group) bound for the invasion of western Luzon.
After passing through Surigao Straits, the convoy underwent a series
of air attacks. Air cover destroyed seven enemy planes but at 1857
an Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar" got through and crashed Kitkun Bay's
portside amidships at the waterline. Almost simultaneously a 5 inch
shell struck her starboard side. The resultant fires and flooding
were brought under control, but 16 were dead and 37 wounded. The
following day with a list and only one engine operating she withdrew
and proceeded by stages first to Leyte, Manus, Pearl Harbor and
arrived San Pedro, California, 28 February.
Two months later she sailed again for the Western Pacific. After a
training period in the Hawaiian Islands, she departed 15 June for
Ulithi and duty with the 3rd Fleet. On 3 July Kitkun Bay sortied
forth with other escorts and ships of the "train" for support of the
fast carriers operating off the coast of Japan. Mid-August she was
reassigned to Task Force 44 gathering at Adak, Alaska, to escort
Admiral F. J. Fletcher, COMNORPAC, who had been designated to
receive the formal surrender of the Japanese in northern Honshū and
Hokkaidō. Arrived off Honshū 7. September 1945, she remained in the area
until the 27. September 1945, seeing to the feeding and transportation of American
prisoners of war. Detached to participate in Operation "Magic Carpet,"
she first debarked 554 troops at San Francisco 19 October.
Additional voyages to Pearl Harbor and Okinawa concluded 12 January
1946 at San Pedro, Calif.
Kitkun Bay entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, 18
February and decommissioned 19 April. Sold 18 November 1946 to
Zidell Machinery & Supply of Portland, Oregon, she was scrapped
early in 1947.