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Attack on Amphibious Assault Ship LSM(R)-188: A Lesson in Courage

By Guy Nasuti, Historian, Naval History & Heritage Command

On the night of March 28-29, 1945 (LOVE-Day minus three), amphibious assault ship LSM(R)-188 conducted an aggressive harassment patrol only eight miles off the town of Naha, Okinawa Jima. At 0557 on March 29, Japanese suicide dive-bombers appeared overhead, and the crew quickly went to battle stations, with the antiaircraft battery immediately opening fire. With one enemy plane thought knocked down, a second kamikaze came under fire. As at least three or four of the dive-bombers passed overhead, one enemy pilot circled from starboard to port and received the bulk of the gunnery crews’ attention. The ships 40-millimeter guns opened fire and set the enemy aircraft afire, at a range of only 150–200 yards. As the kamikaze passed over the ship, part of the plane broke off, causing an explosion on deck. The dive-bomber crashed into the sea only 75 yards to starboard, burning intensely before sinking. Later, an intelligence officer asserted his opinion that the evidence of a high-order explosion onboard resulted from a combination of the flaming debris of the aircraft, and the pilot managing to drop a bomb onto LSM(R)-188.

The explosion onboard LSM(R)-188 destroyed her 5-inch gun director tower, leaving a large hole in the main deck where it once stood. Watertight doors were blown open, while bulkheads and decks throughout the compartments just below and off the main deck splintered and dished inwards. Radio communications failed throughout the ship, while fires raged topside and below, threatening rockets stored in ready service racks on the main deck. Fortunately, the fires never reached the rockets’ fuses, avoiding further catastrophe.

One of the first Sailors killed was Pharmacists Mate First Class Harold C. Zahn, of Waverly, Iowa. The loss of the amphibious assault ship’s corpsman “was felt keenly,” as several wounded men’s cries for the well-respected “Doc” at first went unheeded. About three-quarters of an hour later, LCI(G)-452 came alongside to deliver PhM1/c William W. Lowder, replacing the fallen corpsman Zahn. While the crew of LSM(R)-188 battled to put out the fires, APD-56 and battleship Arkansas (BB-33) passed “badly needed” blood plasma to the stricken amphibious assault ship for treatment of her wounded.

Nine men were cited in the after-action report for gallantry during the short but otherwise deadly fight with the enemy. Seaman First Class Michael R. Masoka, despite burns to his eyes and face from the explosion, managed to drag his gun captain to safety from their 5-inch gun mount. Despite being unable to see due to cuts suffered from flying glass, S1/c Masoka also helped care for his wounded fellow shipmates.

After observing the death of PhM1/c Zahn, Yeoman Third Class Fred N. Piedmonte sprang into action, procuring medical supplies, dressing wounds, and performing other duties normally only performed by trained corpsmen. Gunners Mate Second Class Walter R. Venters, despite serious burns to his body, toured the ship after the explosion on board, turning on the remote control magazine sprinkling valves. GM2/c Venters made it possible for extinguishing the fires as soon as pressure resumed to the water mains. He also went on to treat the wounded until he received orders to “lie down and submit to treatment.” His commanding officer, Lt. Harry C. Crist, noted, “The work of this man was largely responsible for the saving of the ship.”

After the incredible damage control performance in saving their ship, LSM(R)-188 and her crew steamed under her own power to Ulithi. Despite the loss of radar, communications, and all aft guns, the amphibious assault ship underwent repairs and rejoined the battle as an ammunition carrier. In all, LSM(R)-188 sustained 15 Sailors killed in action and 32 wounded, providing a grim preview to the heavy casualties sustained by the Navy during the Battle of Okinawa.

Source: Report of Action Against Enemy Aircraft off Okinawa Jima, Ryuku Islands, 3/29/45.