USS COLBERT APA 145 and Typhoons Ida and Louise

I have been communicating recently with Dawn Jaminet, a daughter of WWII seaman, Paul Polson. Polson was stationed in the Pacific aboard the attack transport USS COLBERT APA 145. According to his discharge papers, Polson was a Coxswain Sv6 USNR, so I’m guessing he was in COLBERT’S boat group division.

We believe the (undated) picture below of Paul Polson was taken aboard his ship. What a handsome young guy!

paul-polson-aboard-the-uss-colbert

Dawn and I exchanged some fascinating stories and documents about the COLBERT’S experiences in September and October, 1945. At the time, the ship was a member of CTD 59, an amphibious task force during occupation landings at Jinsen, South Korea, after the war’s end. My Dad’s ship, USS LEON APA 48, was also a member of that unit.

On September 17, 1945, COLBERT was struggling to ride out Typhoon Ida when she struck a Japanese mine. She was carrying a shipload of recently liberated American POWs and headed stateside.  Can you imagine? As if a typhoon wasn’t bad enough, she struck a mine… while carrying a ship load of just-freed POWs. Yikes!

The following picture—taken later when she finally got to a dry dock for repairs—shows the mine damage.

 

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Mine Damage to USS Colbert

 

I was familiar with the mine collision story. That very incident is described in the War History of the USS LEON and in my book ALL CAME HOME.  Also, in Spring 2016 I had located and talked with Dwight Huddle, a crewman from LEON who actually saw COLBERT strike the mine. His account is described at my blog post below (February 11, 2016)

The explosion flooded COLBERT’S engine compartment, killing three crewmen. But the crew managed to keep her afloat even though she had lost all power. The next day USS BUTTE towed her to Okinawa, probably to Buckner Bay. The following Minneapolis Star Journal newspaper account dated September 28, 1945, reported COLBERT’S story.

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As COLBERT lay anchored in Buckner Bay awaiting repairs, another typhoon blew through on October 9 and 10. This one was the monster: Typhoon Louise, reportedly described by Samuel Elliot Morison as the most furious and lethal storm ever encountered by the U.S. Navy in its entire history.

In my next post I want to share with you an amazing letter written by a COLBERT crewman while her crew rode out Typhoon Louise… aboard a ship with no power. I have read numerous accounts written by typhoon survivors, but this letter is the most extraordinary narrative that I have ever read about two days of terror at sea during a typhoon. With Dawn’s permission, I will include this letter in my next post.

Kamikaze Attack in Leyte Gulf

Since publishing All Came Home—a story about my Dad and the crew of the USS Leon APA 48—in 2015, I’ve heard from several people whose fathers also served aboard the Leon. Somehow they heard about the book, read it, and contacted me afterwards.

I’m always glad to hear from you! Sometimes I am fortunate and your Dads are still alive today.

Such was my good fortune when the daughter of Dwight Huddle contacted me from Napoleon, OH, last year (see post above). Dwight was a Boilerman 2/c aboard the Leon from 1945 – 1946. While visiting Dwight, I learned of another surviving crewman of the Leon: Printy Arthur from Sylvania, OH. Printy was a corpsman, a member of the Leon’s Beach Medical Team at all five of the Leon’s amphibious assaults. I later spent a great afternoon with these two new friends: Dwight (center) and Printy (right).

paul-dwight-and-printy-cropped

Printy gave me copies of pictures that he had acquired over the years from families of other shipmates. Two pictures—shown below— jumped out at me IMMEDIATELY. They portray attacks on the Leon by kamikaze bombers on the afternoon of November 23rd, 1945, when Leon was anchored in the harbor at Leyte Gulf.

The description of those attacks is quoted below from p. 234 of All Came Home. I have inserted the newfound pictures where I would have placed them had I found them before publishing the book:

“On November 23rd, a month after her first appearance, the Leon was back in Leyte Gulf…

Friendly clouds hid us that first day in the Gulf and the troops unloaded without incident. Not all the ships were able to unload and we stayed on a second day—a clear day.

It started uneventfully. We had orders not to fire our guns with friendly planes in the air and in such close quarters with other ships (an order that was later rescinded). About 1100 there was a sudden noise of a speeding plane. Men looked up, interested. And those with good eyes ducked more quickly than they looked – “He’s a Jap!” and already the bomb was falling.

It seemed to take its time falling, and it crossed over the ship in its angle and missed by 50 yards on the far side. Water splashed onto the deck. Men scrambled for guns, even though they couldn’t fire.

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The Jap had come low through the hills and raced out over the ship before the alarm could be passed. Now two P-38 Lightnings got on his tail, splattered him with machine gun bullets. The doomed Jap had come around and, passing over the transports again, burst into flames.

Still the pilot was not dead. He headed squarely for another transport. Then the flames won out and he crashed into the water and disappeared.

To prove it could happen here—it happened again that afternoon. The air-raid warning signal – “Flash Red!” – came seconds before the plane broke through ahead. Guns tracked him but did not fire.

second-kamikaze 

Down over the bow he came, only a few hundred feet high, and dropped his bomb. No fire went out to stop him. Friendly planes were knifing in again, but the bomb was falling. For some reason, just before he dropped it, he swerved and just enough. The bomb missed, landing off the starboard side aft, but not by much. Lighting circuits were knocked out in the engine room and were back in use in five minutes.

The P-38s tailed him, chasing him out to sea, and finally got him.”

Such a coincidence that I should find these pictures seventy-one years later. How unfortunate I did not find them before I published the book!!

(The original source for this account is: A War History of The USS LEON APA 48 by Lt. A. A. Smyser U.S.N.R.)

Sailor Recalls Japanese Mine Striking USS Colbert

Dwight Huddle, B3/c, aboard the USS Leon APA 48 still recalls seeing his first typhoon—and more—on September 17, 1945. Dwight had struggled up four decks from the boiler room and stepped outside to see his first typhoon. He saw a ship some ways off and marveled as it disappeared behind a monstrous wave. When the ship reappeared he saw a flash  of light signaling a mine strike. The stricken ship, USS Colbert APA 145, had just embarked a shipload of Allied POWs… soldiers and sailors who had been held prisoner in China at Mukden and Manchuria.

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Mine Damage to USS Colbert

The dread felt throughout the fleet, a ship stricken 15 days after the war’s end, was starkly portrayed in the Leon’s ship history:

“Few of us will forget the sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs and the rush of pity we felt for those poor devils aboard who had just escaped the hell of a Japanese concentration camp. Men with rosy visions of home and loved ones… were suddenly confronted with the stark peril of a crippled ship in a typhoon. However, the Colbert took it and came back fighting. Her skipper reported her engine room was knocked out and she was dead in the water, but that the flooding was under control and she could remain afloat. Later in the day, she was expertly taken in tow by the Butte, and we returned to Hagushi.”

Source: A War History of the USS LEON (APA 48) quoted in All Came Home by Paul K. McDevitt