As I was talking to my friend Len one day, he ran out to his car to get something he thought I might like. It was his father's diary, written during the first half of 1945 as he served aboard the USS Tennessee (BB-43). I thought it an extraordinary account so I got Len's permission to publish it on the web. Thanks, Len!
I copied it directly as written. The only changes were to a very few misspelled words, and some paragraph divisions to ease readabilty.
Reached Saipan Feb 12 and left for Bonin Island Feb 14. We are going to bombard Bonin[lined out - ed.] Iwo Jima Island at 6:00 A.M. February 16th. This island is 622 miles from Tokyo. It sure is going to be a tough battle.
Well we fired all day today Feb 16th exactly five miles from shore and we sure missed some shells from the shore battery which were the Japs. However they gave their position away and we immediately set our targets on their batteries and now we have less to worry about. We fired from 7 A.M. to 6 P.M.
[margin notes] Iwo Jima. Known as Sulphur Island. Has a beautiful volcano.
Today is February 17th and we are going to bombard the island only a little closer, 2000 yrds to be exact. We will be sitting right in tojo’s back yard. Well this day is over and it sure was tough, they were firing at us with their anti aircraft guns hitting our gun turrets twice. There were many casualties aboard our ships, fellows who were injured from pieces of shrapnel. Those who were killed were buried with the deep blue sea about 7:30 P.M., they were placed in a white canvas bag sewed all around with a pair of whites. Several L.C.I. boats were hit and sunk, the survivors were picked up by our destroyers. This battle today, seen plenty of action and return fire from the japs. I did watch from 4 to 8 in the morning.
Sunday February 18th. G.Q. was sounded at 5:00 AM and we started to fire our main battery at 0700. We knocked out 39 pillboxes within the first hours of bombarding and also damaged several planes which were sitting on the island. We fired all morning and afternoon and didn’t eat our noon rations until 4:30 PM in the afternoon and we ate supper at 2000 in the evening. There was anti-aircraft fire all afternoon, no heavy artillery was used. We found out that there are 13,000 japs on this island and they are living underground. There where few casualties today. Tonight I have watch from 8 to 12 PM and must watch for “Bogie” planes otherwise known as Jap planes. One smashed into a Y.M.S. (?) and exploded, it was a pitiful sight. It was what is commonly called a suicide dive. Had watch from 12 to 4 in the morning. Boy what a watch that was.
Monday Feb 19th – Once again started fire on the island at 0630 and expect it to be pretty big today. We stopped fire at exactly 0900 in the morning because troops were landing on the beachhead. This is commonly known as “D” day and it really was. L.S.T. and L.C.I. boats loaded with men and tanks came ashore and then the japs opened fire, so we had to shoot over our troops and at the Jap’s fortifications, we could not see them because they live underground and hold their artillery there until time to fire at us. Many of our men were killed and wounded and we lost one of our sightseeing planes. I don’t remember if we ate dinner or not cause we were so busy firing. However our troops are on the island and are forming a beachhead. Had watch from 12 to 4 in the afternoon.
Tuesday February 20th. We started firing at 0700 and used up all our main battery ammunition, so we then had to use our 5” guns and our 20 and 40mm anti-aircraft guns. We fired until 1700 and were very tired. Our ship was almost hit about three to four times every hour, and pieces of shrapnel were flying all around. Several of our men were hit with shrapnel and we sure have a lot of men in our Sick Bay aboard our ship. However Thank God no one was killed aboard ship but several were shot up pretty bad and had to either have their legs or arms amputated because of gangrene setting in. Yes, this war is really a tough one and it is men of all nationalities and of all different religions paying with their lives. I have watch from 4 to 8 in the morning.
We finished bombarding on the island of Iwo Jima March 9th 1945 and left for the island of Ulithi for ammunition and supplies for our next engagement. We arrived at 10 AM March 10th and stated loading food supplies, at 8 PM March 10th we were attacked by a surprise Jap bomber. The Jap bomber dove right into our aircraft carrier causing a large explosion; after the fire was put out they found three Jap pilots in the plane. 22 men were killed and some 45 were wounded. We left Ylithi March 21st and hope to arrive at our destination March 25th for bombarding the Chi Chi Jima Islands only 322 miles from Japan.
We bombarded one of the islands in the Ryukyus groups. This island is called Okinawa and has a lot of anti-aircraft guns that we have to knock out before our planes can find the locations of the pillboxes and shore batteries. We have been attacked March 25-26-27-28 by Jap suicide divers and submarines and also small PT boats loaded with torpedoes. Our ship was hit March 27th by a 5” shell on top of turret #3 and a few men were injured. The U.S.S. Nevada was hit by a jap suicide plane and killed 11 men and wounded several. These islands are so close to Tokyo that we expect air raids every morning and night. We are to bombard all these islands totaling about 8 in four months, so we will see plenty of Jap Zeros and subs for a long while. D day is set for April 1st on Okinawa Island and it sure will be a bloody mess. Demolitions squads were setting off mines set by the japs.
We left the island of Okinawa to take on ammunition at the island of Kerawa Retto which has been taken by the U.S. only two weeks ago. We left that island at 5 P.M. March 21st so we could be at the Okinawa island at 3 A.M. [margin note: April 1st] when we will start firing along the beaches our troops will land at 0900 A.M. April 1st, otherwise known to civilians as Easter Sunday. I have seen some beautiful islands and hills in this Kerawa Retto group, and also some Japanese P.T. boats damaged along the shores by the U.S. minesweepers and destroyers.
[margin note: Kerawa Retto is about 50 miles from the Okinawa Islands.]
The island of Okinawa is in the Ryukyu groups and is one of the few islands in that area which we must take in the few months of Battle. The population according to a census in 1939 is 457,000 people. I presume at present there is about 250,000 people including japanese troops. While on lookout I noticed all these few islands which we must take over are very beautiful, they have paved roads, beautiful brick and glass homes and extra fancy farms. And have their own means of transportation including a street car line. And they have a radio broadcasting station or I should say they did have one until March 29th when it was shelled by 14” guns off the Tennessee. Along with the fifth fleet which we are in, consists now of British aircraft carriers which came in with us March 30th 1945. Well tomorrow is D day and Easter Sunday back home. For us aboard there will be no Easter till we can be home with our wife and families. May God be with us on this bombardment because we are so close to Japan that anything can happen. We have had air raids and sub attacks since the very first day we arrived here.
Today is April 1st, besides being April fools it is also Easter Sunday and “D” day for us on Okinawa Island. We all got up at 3 A.M. and went to our battle stations and started firing on the island and clearing a beachhead for the troops to land on. We fired until 9 A.M. and then ceased fire and four divisions of troops landed on the beach with Armored tanks and machine guns and light field artillery within the first five hours they drove ferociously 5 miles inland. We had knocked down so far 13 Jap planes with Anti Aircraft. The W. Virginia and Nevada both had suicide crash dives. And the Birmingham was hit by a 5 inch shell from a Jap Betty. We stayed in our battle stations for 14 hours until Sunday afternoon at 5 P.M. Our Easter breakfast on battle station consist of 2 hard boiled eggs (colored), 1 piece of bread, a piece of cake and cup of “Joe.” For dinner we had two pieces bread and later a piece of apple pie and a cup of “Joe.” For supper we had a cup of beans, a piece of cake and a piece of bread and butter, 5 pcs hard candy and a cup of tomato juice. It is now 8 P.M. and heard that the solders and marines are seven miles inland and still finding questionary pillboxes and jap snipers.
From April 2nd to April 11th we have been bombarding certain sections of the Okinawa Island where the enemy seems to be doing havoc to our troops moving inland. We knocked out several 8” shore guns, about three or four Anti aircraft guns and knocked out a hangar of planes and bombarded two air fields. Our toll up to date is shooting down 284 Jap planes. Every hour of the day we are attacked by Jap suicide planes and sure pray that they don’t land on our ship. We had a narrow escape on April 3rd where we shot down a plane and missed our ship by 50 feet, hitting in the water on our port bow. We also had and engagement with the Jap Fleet sinking one Battleship, two cruisers, three destroyers and wrecking a few more destroyers. On April 9th one of our destroyers was hit by a Jap PT boat loaded with dynamite and sank the destroyer “Badger.” However several of its crew escaped injuries. We have been loading up with ammunition almost every third day and are expecting something big to happen within the near future. We have been firing on Okinawa daily using our secondary battery only. At night we fire star shells and lead the way for other ships to fire their projectiles.
Today is April 12 and we are setting off to meet the Jap Fleet. About two o’clock in the afternoon we had seven Jap suicide divers dive right for us. We shot six down and they crashed alongside of the ship on both port and starboard sides. The other one crashed into our starboard stern setting a huge fire and a 500 lb bomb exploded and went to our second deck. This is one of the worst hits the Tennessee has ever had. This all happened on April 12th. There where 24 men killed and 55 wounded and 10 were knocked overboard. I saw the 55 wounded and they were laying all over the mess hall and placed on tables for blood transfusions. Most of the men were hit with shrapnel and you can see the flesh and their cuts were bleeding badly. Those killed did not know what hit them because the suicide planes were diving in at 325 miles per hour, and came in from the port, circling around the stern of the ship and smashed right into starboard side aft. It knocked quite a bit of secondary battery and made our 20 M.M. look like pretzels. I hope I never get to see such a mess of men wounded for as long as I live. At 9 P.M. the same night we were attacked again by jap planes and they could not make out our plane [he may have meant ‘our ship’ here - ed.] so they dropped star shells, and then they could find us, and sent two torpedoes on our starboard side, and one missed leaving the other one [to] explode at 100 yards away from our starboard side of forecastle. We have been firing on Okinawa every day since April 1st. We have found several contacts and noticed several torpedoes passing by our bow. We are always being attacked by Jap suicide planes and small subs and torpedo boats. We have fired constantly both day and night on the Islands of Okinawa and Ie Shima Jima.
May 3rd. We left for Ulithi to try and have our boiler fixed and 20 and 40 mm. guns fixed. Arrived at Ulithi May 7 and stayed until May 27th. Had our guns fixed which were destroyed by enemy suicide planes.
Arrived back at Okinawa June 1st and continued to fire five inch battery and fire star shells throughout the night. The enemy hid themselves in caves, which inside looked like a four story apartment building. Many civilians have been captured and are placed under Martial Law.
We left Okinawa to patrol along the coast of China. There were 3 Battleships, 4 aircraft carriers, 6 cruisers and 9 destroyers. Making that a convoy of 22 ships. We knocked down several enemy aircraft and sunk two jap subs. On July 28th our aircraft carrier went out and bombed Shanghai at 11 A.M. Our crew had the honor of seeing General Doolittle aboard our ship on July 25th at Okinawa. I believe within the near future we will be going to Leyte in the Philippine Islands, where the greatest force of Naval Ships will meet to strike at Tokyo. Every hour and minute they are being bombed by our air force and only God knows how long it will last. I predict that it will last about till the end of August 1945. Today is July 28th Saturday.
[end of diary]
USS Tennessee (BB-43) on the Department of the Navy Naval Historical Center website
History of the USS Tennessee on the Navy History website
USS Tennessee technical data on the U.S. WW II Battleships and Battlecruisers website