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"> It was a clear, still, sunny day in the Pacific Ocean, near Luzon but the crew aboard the USS Underhill DE-682, a Buckley Class Destroyer Escort, had no idea that this was her last voyage. Underhill was tasked (along with several other Patrol Craft (PC's and PCE's) with escorting a convoy of ships from Okinawa to Leyte.
A Japanese Betty bomber was detected on radar, shadowing the convoy but it kept its distance. Beneath the tranquil blue ocean, a pack of Japanese submarines (I-52, I-53 and perhaps one other; the same class that would sink USS Indianapolis CA-35, 5 days later) searched for their quarry. On their backs, each Japanese sub carried four secret weapons; one-man kaitens, "suicide subs". Once released, these human guided torpedoes could not be recovered, they had only one mission; to ram an enemy warship and explode upon impact, or die trying. At least 8 of these killer off-spring (each with the explosive power of two conventional torpedoes) left their hosts to attack the American navy ships guarding the convoy, searching for the largest prey, the USS Underhill.
First, the Japanese subs released a decoy dummy mine to surface, in the path of the US convoy, allowing them time to prepare their deadly assault. The crew of USS Underhill, not knowing the mine was a dud, fired at it repeatedly with their 20mm guns and 30 caliber rifles until it was determined that the dummy was just a diversion by enemy submarines. Now the trap was set, a Jap sub appeared on the surface where PC-804 had dropped some charges and the Underhill set a course to ram the submarine, as she started to dive. Underhill dropped 13 depth charges right on top of the mother-sub, right where she had disappeared below the waves. Subsequently, after the violent explosions, debris and oil rose to the surface of the ocean, indicating a hit or a sinking of the enemy.
Next, a 35ft. kaiten surfaced on the port side and yet another on the starboard side, too close for the guns of the Underhill to fire at. Captain Newcomb ordered Underhill to flank speed but the port side kaiten was set on a collision course. Almost immediately after contact, there was a huge explosion under the bridge and another forward of Engine Room #1 towards the starboard bow, which tore the Underhill apart from the stack forward. The devastated bow floated separately from the rest of the ship, sticking straight up, for a moment, then slipped beneath the waves. There were no survivors in the forward part of the ship.
The rear section of the vessel remained afloat but with many casualties. Most of the survivors who had been in the aft section but abandoned ship, spent hours in the waters nearby as the PC-803 and 804, and USS PCE-872, fired at other suspecting kaitens. Finally, all the remaining survivors were rescued by the escort ships. Afterwards US warships were ordered to fire upon the remains of the USS Underhill until she sank. All told, 112 crewmembers of the Underhill perished in the attack out of 237.
Survivors of the USS Underhill meet together annually at the U.S. Naval Academy to remember their shipmates and ship. The survivors also gifted a wooden organ case to the Naval Academy. It is a personal memorial to the shipmates that perished on that fateful day of July 24, 1945 onboard the last US Navy Destroyer Escort to be destroyed in WWII.
With thanks to Eugene L. Wagstaff "Waggy", crewmember.
U.S.N - World War II, Naval History Masterpiece Giclee Canvas Reproductions and Fine Art Prints (on quality paper stock) by artist Mark Churms are available for purchase from this website at MarkChurms.com.