How a U.S. Navy Force Battled a Kamikaze Onslaught

Captured by photographer Herman Schnipper, the united statesAstoria endured the three-hour frenzy in the course of the bloody struggle for Okinawa.

THE OVERCAST DAWN of April 11, 1945, introduced no seen dawn, simply one other order to basic quarters. Throughout the sunshine cruiser USS Astoria (CL-90)—“Mighty Ninety” to the crew—males raced to their battle stations. Such mornings had grown commonplace over the previous 4 months. After defending the flattops of the Quick Service Job Power throughout airstrikes within the Philippines, the South China Sea, Iwo Jima, the Japanese Residence Islands, and now Okinawa, a once-neophyte crew had grown salty. Photographer’s Mate Third Class Herman Schnipper held his navy-issue Graflex Anniversary Pace Graphic medium-format digital camera on the prepared with loads of movie helpful.
Based mostly on the previous few days, motion photographs would come. When the U.S. Tenth Military had landed at Okinawa on April 1, Astoria and the quick carriers performed offensive missions to suppress the Japanese response, as that they had been doing for weeks prior. U.S. Navy and Marine plane bombed airfields, strafed enemy planes on the bottom, and intercepted them within the air—every part to melt resistance the touchdown forces would possibly face. The invasion codenamed Operation Iceberg had been inevitable—no secret to Japan—as Okinawa was the ultimate steppingstone in an island-hopping marketing campaign taking Allied forces to Japan’s doorstep. So from the primary day, enemy planes focused the Quick Service Job Power in return. More and more these assaults included essentially the most determined of all: suicidal kamikaze strikes aiming to sink or injury the plane carriers bringing a lot floating airpower over a important island stronghold. Throughout the 30-odd vessels surrounding Astoria in formation, males stood at their weapons, lookouts scanning the skies. For Herman Schnipper, his assigned function would even be to tug the set off and shoot—pictures.
Hailing from Bayonne, New Jersey, the wiry 21-year-old lucked right into a photographer’s function upon induction into the navy. He didn’t attend the images colleges of the bigger items stationed throughout the fleet; he merely owned a 35mm digital camera and knew use it. Earlier than lengthy he was issued his Pace Graphic and assigned routine work as wanted. As Astoria educated and joined the fleet, Schnipper realized to like his work. Removed from the mundanity of capturing portraits for sailor ID playing cards and private photograph requests for a spouse or sweetheart, capturing operational pictures introduced a thrill. The December 1944 hurricane, the bombardment of Iwo Jima, even refueling operations—Schnipper’s tiny darkroom under decks started to fill with enlargements of favorites he secured to the partitions. He at all times sought to land one other shot worthy of Our Navy journal. But Okinawa was proving to be completely different—extra taxing—given the each day onslaught of counterattacks.
Photographer Herman Schnipper, here in a self-portrait aboard the USS Astoria, documented the day’s mayhem. (Herman Schnipper/U.S. Navy)
Photographer Herman Schnipper, right here in a self-portrait aboard the united statesAstoria, documented the day’s mayhem. (Herman Schnipper/U.S. Navy)
Schnipper had grown accustomed to having full run of the ship throughout basic quarters; he wasn’t tied to a gun mount or some other particular station. He realized throughout coaching workout routines after which in fight that the hearth management decks had been removed from ultimate places for photog work. Whereas positions excessive up within the ship offered lengthy views and unobstructed sightlines, the five-inch secondary mounts straight under them tended to shake a person to the core and toss him round. Even the hearth controlmen and the ship’s captain, George C. Dyer, complained about that Cleveland-class battery configuration.
The photographer landed on an acceptable various: he took place in the primary searchlight platform protruding from Astoria’s aft funnel. Excessive within the superstructure, with unobstructed entry to vantage factors port and starboard, the platform provided the extra good thing about distance from the weapons. Plus he had it to himself; nobody manned its 36-inch Basic Electrical lamps in broad daylight. Exhaust fumes from the ahead stack proved a small worth to pay for not having to endure muzzle blasts when engaged on framing a shot. 
He didn’t thoughts the solitude. His singular function on a ship of 1,300 males already rendered him an outsider. His Jewish religion amplified this isolation; males introduced their prejudices aboard ship with their seabags, and a few of the identical sailors who hounded him for pictures used ethnic slurs behind his again. Simply as his darkroom compartment grew to become a spot of refuge, so did the searchlight platform. Schnipper had grown accustomed to the majority of the digital camera past his gray-painted M1 helmet and sweaty, full-body experimental flak go well with, even when climbing ladders. After months in theater, the Pace Graphic felt like an extension of his arm. From his searchlight perch, Schnipper could be able to seize no matter would possibly ensue. 
Schnipper’s favorite perch for photography was on Astoria’s 
searchlight platform (at arrow). (National Archives)
Schnipper’s favourite perch for images was on Astoria’s 
searchlight platform (at arrow). (Nationwide Archives)
NOT THAT THE MORNING introduced a lot. Heavy overcast, rain, and whipping winds introduced horrible flying situations for plane working from the carriers. There have been solely so many pictures one might take of Corsairs, Hellcats, Avengers, and Helldivers launching for perimeter patrols and strikes over goal areas. For Schnipper, that specific novelty had worn off way back, and the day’s climate sealed the deal. Nonetheless, he waited because the regular drizzle soaked into his go well with. 
If the previous three weeks served as any indication, photograph alternatives could be plentiful. Starting in mid-March, the primary section of pre-invasion quick provider operations had centered on decreasing Japanese air functionality from Kyushu, the southernmost of the Japanese Residence Islands. The carriers paid dearly for his or her efforts. USS Franklin, burned and gutted, now steamed stateside for enormous repairs. USS Wasp adopted go well with, additionally closely broken from bombing in the course of the strikes. USS Randolph had been struck by a kamikaze earlier than even leaving the carriers’ anchorage at Ulithi Atoll, greater than 1,500 miles south of Japan; after a month it was simply becoming a member of the fray. A fourth quick provider, the venerable USS Enterprise, had been hit on March 20 by pleasant fireplace from one other ship in Astoria’s job group, an occasion Schnipper had captured on movie. Because of these provider losses, the Quick Service Job Power entered the April 1 Okinawa landings with absolutely one-quarter of their power projection functionality off the road.
Even after six months in use, kamikaze assaults remained extremely censored from the American public. Whereas the Astoria crew had first realized of the Japanese suicide tactic again in December once they had been en route to affix the fleet, that they had but to see it efficiently employed. Suicide planes had struck carriers in the course of the Philippine and Iwo Jima operations early within the yr, however by no means inside Astoria’s speedy formation of ships. 
Below Schnipper, sailors man a battle station (above). No enemies were in sight yet, but experience told them they were coming. One defense: the experimental flak suits (below), which the men roundly despised. (Herman Schnipper/U.S. Navy)
Beneath Schnipper, sailors man a battle station (above). No enemies had been in sight but, however expertise informed them they had been coming. One protection: the experimental flak fits (under), which the boys roundly despised. (Herman Schnipper/U.S. Navy)
(Herman Schnipper/U.S. Navy)
(Herman Schnipper/U.S. Navy)
At Kyushu, Herman Schnipper had captured pictures of kamikaze planes diving on the close by USS Essex and different carriers, all introduced down in need of their targets by antiaircraft gunfire from surrounding ships of the display screen. A few of these pictures now hung in his darkroom. For days at a time, males slept and took meals at their stations, efficiently combating off the enemy when raids appeared. Whereas repelling such assaults, Schnipper and his shipmates realized a severe aspect impact of low-flying Japanese planes screaming by: they had been inflicting American ships to fireplace into each other. On the identical afternoon that pleasant fireplace had broken Enterprise, Astoria had been hit by a five-inch spherical from a neighboring ship. The shell pierced Astoria’s bridge armor, even peppering Captain Dyer’s flak go well with with steel splinters. But the month ended with out a single kamikaze hit on a ship in Astoria’s job group.
That modified 5 days earlier. On April 6, Schnipper witnessed a glancing kamikaze blow to the sunshine provider USS Cabot. The pleasant fireplace impact endured in the course of the assault, as Astoria put a spherical into the plane crane of sister cruiser USS Pasadena, killing a Marine. Such incidents abounded whilst ships labored to chop off their fireplace earlier.
The following day, an excruciating tradeoff ensued when a Japanese airplane dove at the united statesHancock. When Astoria and different ships stopped capturing on the kamikaze, with no clear shot and their very own ships within the line of fireside, a suicide crash delivered a devastating blow to Hancock. Because the crippled Essex-class provider maneuvered, engulfed in flames and smoke, males throughout Astoria feared all could be misplaced. Their weapons silent, helpless shipmates might solely watch and hope that the boys of Hancock who had been blown into the water or pressured overboard by flames might be fished out by destroyers. Sickened, Schnipper reluctantly took pictures for the ship’s motion experiences whereas lamenting his lack of zoom optics for the Pace Graphic.
Efficient injury management by its crew extinguished Hancock’s fires, however the assault meant yet one more provider was out of motion, pressured to retire at the price of 62 males killed and lots of extra wounded. Hancock grew to become the newest casualty in a warfare of attrition the place one man might sacrifice his life to take a complete plane provider off the road and scale back American hanging functionality by virtually 100 planes.
Between virtually each day assaults resulting in attrition, numbing fatigue, mounting casualties, and pleasant fireplace injury, by April 11 Operation Iceberg was proving to be a slog. One shiny spot introduced encouragement for the day: Schnipper famous that their outdated good friend Enterprise, the “Large E,” had simply returned to affix their job group final evening, again from restore. With 5 plane carriers surrounded by their protecting screening ships, Astoria’s group made for a formidable power. It additionally provided a ripe goal.
 A photographer aboard USS Missouri aims his camera at a Zero a split second before the Japanese fighter rams into the battleship’s side. (National Archives)
A photographer aboard USS Missouri goals his digital camera at a Zero a cut up second earlier than the Japanese fighter rams into the battleship’s aspect. (Nationwide Archives)
BY EARLY AFTERNOON the overcast had dispersed and visibility improved, making for higher flight situations. Males had realized that such enchancment labored each methods and, certain sufficient, shortly after 1:30 p.m. experiences got here in of huge numbers of possible enemy planes within the space. Carriers scrambled further plane to intercept them past vary of the 2 job teams on station.
Shortly earlier than 2 p.m. a report got here from USS Kidd, a destroyer on picket station outdoors the group and 28 miles northwest of Astoria’s place: the Kidd had been attacked, and “bandits” had been inbound. Males readied at their weapons. Inside minutes, lookouts noticed a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter making a run at Enterprise from astern. Schnipper rushed to the searchlight platform’s starboard railing. Astoria didn’t have the vary to interact, however the battleship USS South Dakota did, becoming a member of Enterprise in blazing away on the diving airplane. The fighter fell brief, splashing off the starboard quarter of the provider. Schnipper clicked the shutter on the actual second a water plume shot increased than Enterprise’s masts beneath a sky peppered with antiaircraft flak bursts. He hoped he had the shot.
Lower than 5 minutes later, a second airplane dove on the “Large E,” recognized as a Yokosuka D4Y “Judy” reconnaissance airplane. Whilst Enterprise executed an emergency flip, the Judy crashed simply off the provider’s port aspect, hanging 40mm mount shields because it plunged. The airplane’s unreleased bomb detonated beneath the ship, throwing one man overboard.
USS Enterprise fires on a passing “Judy” dive-bomber as Astoria, in the background, holds its fire to avoid hitting Enterprise. Friendly fire incidents were all too common in defending against kamikaze attacks. (National Archives)
USS Enterprise fires on a passing “Judy” dive-bomber as Astoria, within the background, holds its fireplace to keep away from hitting Enterprise. Pleasant fireplace incidents had been all too frequent in defending towards kamikaze assaults. (Nationwide Archives)
On the identical second, the provider USS Bunker Hill and light-weight cruiser USS Wilkes-Barre introduced down one other Judy to Astoria’s port aspect. The identical pair of ships then downed a dive-bomber instantly on the Judy’s heels; each planes splashed off the bow of Bunker Hill. Schnipper missed the motion; caught between port and starboard, a lone photographer couldn’t be each locations on the identical time. Nor had Astoria been ready to fireplace from both aspect; it could have been capturing towards its personal ships.
At 2:15 a fifth airplane, a Nakajima Ki-43 “Oscar” military fighter, barreled in towards Essex, off Astoria’s starboard beam. With vary and a transparent goal, this time the “Mighty Ninety” roared. Opening up together with Pasadena and Essex, the trio tore the tail off the airplane. Spinning uncontrolled, it hurtled to the water off Pasadena’s starboard beam. One other mountainous spray erupted beneath the blackened skies. Click on went the shutter. Schnipper believed he had a very good shot, however he couldn’t make sure till he developed his pictures. It occurred to him that fight photographers aboard surrounding ships absolutely captured most of the identical occasions from differing vantage factors.
A lull within the motion introduced a breather for the photographer, new strikes launching from the carriers—and an surprising customer to the searchlight platform. A lot to Schnipper’s shock, he appeared and observed Astoria’s chaplain, Al Lusk, standing behind him. Schnipper instantly acknowledged the tall, slender Baptist “jack of all faiths” from Friday evening prayer companies. He additionally knew the chaplain had no enterprise being uncovered excessive within the superstructure, and the lieutenant wasn’t sporting any protecting gear besides—neither a helmet nor a flak go well with. The photographer’s intuition was to remind the chaplain of this, however the “padre” was an officer. He was additionally an avid shutterbug who wished to see some motion. The younger enlisted man saved his mouth shut on the matter.
Schnipper as a substitute confirmed Lusk round his digital camera, explaining its intricacies. Their images lesson was interrupted at 3 p.m. by the jarring sound of surrounding gunfire as extra inbounds approached. Astoria joined in, elevating the cacophony. Schnipper scanned the sky for flak bursts and noticed a diving Judy, once more headed towards Enterprise. Chaplain Lusk positioned himself behind the photographer, like an umpire to a catcher. The Judy dove laborious and crashed shut aboard Enterprise, throwing particles into the air. A delayed thunderclap reached the 2 males, who noticed fires breaking out on the provider’s ahead flight deck: a pair of F6F Hellcats on the catapults gave the impression to be burning. Schnipper snapped a fast photograph, however Enterprise was steaming farther away and its emergency turns created a poor angle for a picture. He knew from this distance he wouldn’t seize a lot.
Instantly after, the photographer and the chaplain watched as one other airplane approached the “Large E” from the identical bearing, however antiaircraft fireplace and a pursuing Hellcat chased it off. Because the airplane sped away, gunfire from their ship once more jolted the pair, this time again to port. They crossed the platform in time to see a Zero taking hits because it approached Bunker Hill. White flashes popped throughout the fuselage of the airplane as rounds riddled the suicide attacker. A lot to Schnipper’s horror, the crippled plane veered towards Astoria. Staring down a spinning propeller, Schnipper in that second had the identical thought as most sailors and Marines in such circumstances—he’s coming straight for me.
Bunker Hill continued to fireplace because the airplane spiraled and fell. Whereas Schnipper tracked its fall by the viewfinder, Lusk clearly noticed a muzzle flash from Bunker Hill’s ahead five-inch mounts. The airplane isn’t the one factor coming straight for us.
“Get down!” Lusk shouted simply as Schnipper clicked the shutter. The chaplain dove on high of the photographer, driving him to the deck. The late spherical slammed into Astoria’s stack at excessive velocity and exploded, sending metal splinters flying. All fell momentarily silent as Lusk rolled off Schnipper. Composing himself, Schnipper realized Lusk was wounded, writhing and groaning. He leapt to the sting of the platform and shouted down for a corpsman. Wanting again throughout the ship towards Enterprise, he noticed that its fires had been extinguished. Its crew had provide you with a novel resolution for the burning Hellcats: they launched the planes down the catapults and into the ocean.
Ready for assist, Schnipper set his digital camera apart to consolation Lusk. As he did so, two extra Zeroes screamed previous in succession with Astoria’s weapons, amongst others, blasting away at them. The starboard 40mm gun crews discovered their mark and dropped the primary airplane, however there could be no pictures. Schnipper didn’t want one on this occasion; he and others throughout the ship noticed a picture they’d carry by life. The airplane had been so shut that even beneath a flight helmet and goggles, they may make out the Japanese pilot’s face trying again at them. Removed from the cartoon caricatures drawn within the papers, they appeared into the eyes of a terrified child who died moments later.
An Astoria corpsman takes the pulse of Chaplain Al Lusk on the searchlight platform after he and Schnipper were wounded by friendly fire. (Herman Schnipper/U.S. Navy)
An Astoria corpsman takes the heartbeat of Chaplain Al Lusk on the searchlight platform after he and Schnipper had been wounded by pleasant fireplace. (Herman Schnipper/U.S. Navy)
A corpsman in full flak gear clambered up the ladder together with his medical package. Eradicating his gloves, the corpsman checked Lusk’s pulse as Schnipper captured the scene—an motion inside the 4 partitions of his duties. Solely then did he understand he had additionally been hit—splinters of metal embedded in his face. He calmed himself and plucked the small shrapnel out.
Lusk wasn’t so fortunate—he bore the brunt of the affect and had important shrapnel embedded in his again. It missed the backbone—he might transfer his arms and toes—however he was going to require emergency surgical procedure. One other casualty of pleasant fireplace. Getting him down from the platform could be the primary problem. The corpsman rigged a rope seat, and Schnipper helped him gingerly decrease the wounded chaplain to ready arms under.
Extra planes got here in by the 5 o’clock hour. Astoria introduced one down outdoors the formation at 16,000 yards, and one other crashed into the water close to Bunker Hill after taking hits from a number of ships. By 5:30, nightfall rendered additional images not possible, even when assaults developed. Earlier than descending the ladder, Schnipper took one final shot for the day: Provide Division sailors cracking open circumstances of Ok-rations. With the ship remaining at basic quarters into the night, there could be no motion within the messing compartments. The crew would eat dinner once more at their stations.
REPORTS CAME IN from different ships. Whereas Schnipper had been tending to Lusk, one of many passing Zeros dropped a bomb that had narrowly missed Essex. Detonating under the waterline, it wounded 20 males. Whereas Essex would stay on station, picket destroyer Kidd wouldn’t. It had been struck low to starboard by a suicide airplane, then efficiently fended off a follow-up. Kidd must retire for anchorage to be patched up and despatched stateside for intensive restore. In Astoria’s neighboring job group, the battleship USS Missouri had acquired a glancing but harrowing blow: shattering on affect, the Zero hurled elements of the Japanese pilot onto the deck.  As Enterprise ready to retire as soon as once more for repairs, its males posed with a trophy: the wing of the third attacking Judy had been thrown onto the flight deck when the airplane exploded towards the aspect of the ship. One in all Schnipper’s fellow fight photographers took an image of a shipmate standing subsequent to the propped-up wing which had been marked, “Arms off.” Enterprise had been again within the group for precisely sooner or later.
Aboard USS Enterprise, a sailor poses with a grim prize: the wing from an attacking Judy dive-bomber. (National Archives)
Aboard USS Enterprise, a sailor poses with a grim prize: the wing from an attacking Judy dive-bomber. (Nationwide Archives)
On this April 11, USS Astoria’s job group endured assaults from no fewer than 13 consecutive Japanese kamikazes over a three-hour interval—the heaviest concentrated effort that they had but skilled. Regardless of well-coordinated antiaircraft fireplace throughout the group, the day as soon as once more knocked important ships out of motion and pulled others away to escort the “cripples” again to Ulithi.
Chaplain Lusk was going to make it. Astoria’s physician decided that he might carry out the surgical procedure aboard ship. However, Captain Dyer fumed at his padre for venturing the place he had no enterprise throughout basic quarters, not to mention lively fight. A lot to his ire, the captain additionally knew he must put Lusk in for a Purple Coronary heart, a uncommon medal for a ship’s chaplain.
Within the late night, after chow and headed to his darkroom sanctuary, Herman Schnipper appeared as much as watch flares dropping from enemy planes throughout the duty power, monitoring their motion. Astoria’s five-inch weapons sometimes fired through radar-guided path—sensible flashes of sunshine, however little alternative for nonetheless images. He got down to get some relaxation; morning would once more come quickly.
Three days later, on April 14, Astoria retired to fulfill its replenishment group some 250 miles southeast of the strike space. Fueling and resupply introduced no relaxation for the weary—only a completely different type of strenuous exercise after 5 days on station. The sunshine cruiser would steam again to the operational space in a single day for the subsequent stint. As nets of provide crates and bins got here throughout from the oiler alongside, Schnipper hoped for movie and growing provides. 
Chaplain Al Lusk remained in sickbay whereas recovering from surgical procedure. He additionally survived his tongue-lashing from the captain. However, after the crew realized that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died on April 12, Lusk insisted upon main the boys in prayer from his mattress.
As soon as he might, Herman Schnipper developed his movie. A number of photographs turned out effectively, however one particularly made him smile to himself: the picture would win no accolades, however he had certainly captured the muzzle flash from the spherical that struck the stack simply because the padre pounced. 
Within the night at the very least the boys acquired a scorching meal within the messing compartments. They’d be again at quarters earlier than daybreak, nonetheless no finish in sight. ✯
This text was revealed within the June 2021 subject of World Conflict II. 

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