World War II

The kamikaze attack on the USS Sangamon

... remembering the sacrifice of those who did not return

from Bob Campbell, MHS Class of 1942

It all started on May 4, 1945 at the Battle of Okinawa. Late that day, at about 7 p.m., a Japanese suicide plane, also known as a Kamikaze, was circling the U.S.S. Sangamon, one of our aircraft carriers fighting the Pacific War. To avoid the attack and to maneuver into a launching position, the Sangamon went into a hard left turn. She then opened fire on the attacking plane as did her escorts. Fortunately a near-miss resulted. That particular plane crashed into the water about 25 feet away from the carrier.

Other suicide planes followed and suffered a similar fate. However, at 7:30 p.m. one of the attacking planes broke through – ran into clouds to avoid anti-aircraft fire, then, emerged from the clouds with increased speed heading for the Sangamon. At 7:33 p.m., three minutes later, the Kamikaze dropped his bomb and crashed into the center of the flight deck. The bomb and parts of the plane penetrated the deck and exploded below … hurling flames and shrapnel in all directions. Fires broke out everywhere … on the flight deck, the hangar deck and in the fuel deck! Communications from the bridge were lost within 15 minutes and the Sangamon was soon out of control. By 8:15 p.m. however steering control had been restored as the crew continued to fight the myriad of fires scattered over the ship.   

Nearby ships also came alongside to help. But it wasn’t until 10:30 p.m. three hours after the suicide bomber crash, that all fires were under control and communication with other units in the fleet was established …… thanks to radio equipment that was available in the one remaining Sangamon plane … an F6F Hellcat!

At 11:20 p.m. the Sangamon with a reduced crew (11 dead, 25 missing and 21 seriously wounded) got underway for Norfolk via the Panama Canal. She was a wounded but proud ship! She had earned eight Battle Stars during her involvement in World War II (1942-1945) and her three air groups were each awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. She had plenty to be proud about!  

So, on June 7, in a rather “beat-up” condition, she arrived at the eastside of the Panama Canal where I was waiting to return to Norfolk. (I was a Navy Flight Engineer returning to the U.S. after my Flying Boat Squadron was decommissioned in Panama.) I find it almost too difficult to describe what I saw. Try to imagine what the ship looked like after that Japanese suicide attack: the Japanese bomb explosion; the Sangamon planes exploding; flames and shrapnel everywhere…especially on the hangar deck, the flight deck and the fuel deck … fires that the crew had to fight for three hours! Not only was the carrier scarred from stem to stern but one thing that really impressed me was the elevator shaft that raised planes from the hanger deck to the flight deck and visa-versa. That elevator platform, due to the Japanese bomb explosion, was at a 45 degree angle!  

But despite her looks, I boarded for the five day trip to Norfolk. The only thing that caused me a little concern was when I learned that the ship’s pumps were pumping water out of the ship 24 hours a day. If the pumps stopped, I’m not sure what might of happened! I was very impressed by the men’s morale despite the horrific experience they had suffered.

When I arrived in Norfolk, the Sangamon and I parted ways. That was June 12, 1945. Two months later, on August 14 the Japanese surrendered!

As a result, on October 24, 1945 the U.S.S. Sangamon was decommissioned. May the men of the Sangamon, who gave up their lives, rest in peace and may the memory of their sacrifice remain in our memories and those who follow us … forever.

March 7, 2008

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