On the night of 28 April 1945, the 6,000-ton U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort (AH-6) steamed beneath a clear, moonlit sky some 40 miles south of Okinawa. She was loaded with casualties from the bitter fighting ashore and the growing toll that kamikazes were taking on Allied ships.
Barely two years old, the Comfort had been converted to a hospital ship and commissioned as such in May 1944. Like her sisters Hope (AH-7) and Mercy (AH-8), she combined naval-civilian crews with Army medical staff. She had plied Pacific war zones around New Guinea and the Philippines, and now was three weeks into Operation Iceberg, the conquest of Okinawa.
Crewmen heard a single aircraft approaching but paid little attention. The Comfort was painted white the length of her 418-foot hull, bearing red crosses and illuminated as a noncombatant.
The unidentified plane—a single-engine type—came in extremely low. It overflew the ship at barely masthead height, then pulled up, circling twice. With enough altitude, the pilot nosed over and dived.
1. Dale Harper, Too Close for Comfort (Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing, 2001); Mike Yeo, Desperate Sunset: Japan’s Kamikazes Against Allied Ships, 1944–45 (Oxford, UK: Osprey, 2020), 249.
2. Jack McCallum, Military Medicine: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008), 150.
3. “The Evacuation of Tangier,” Weapons and Warfare.com, https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2017/09/10/the-evacuation-of-tangier-ii/.
4. McCallum, Military Medicine, 150.
5. Naval Order of the United States, “An Overview of U.S. Navy Hospital Ships,” www.navalorder.org/articles/2016/8/28/an-overview-of-hospital-ships.
6. Obituary, CAPT Kenneth Cummins, RN (Ret.), The Independent, 18 December 2006, www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/capt-kenneth-cummins-428973.html. Patzig and his watch officers were indicted after the war but escaped to avoid prosecution.
7. Mary Ellen Condon-Rall and Albert Cowdrey, The Medical Service in the War Against Japan (Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1998), 388–89.
8. Clay Blair, Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan (New York: Lippincott, 1975), 810–13.
9. “LST(H) Casualty Evacuation,” GlobalSecurity.org, www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/lst-h.htm.
10. “USS Consolation (AH-15),” Korean War Educator.org, www.koreanwar-educator.org/topics/docs/hosp_ship/usscon/uss_consolation.htm.
11. “A Review of Two Years’ Operations of the USS Repose (AH-16) in the Korean Theater of Operations From 20 September 1950 to 20 September 1952,” Internet Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/REVIEWOFTWOYEARSOPERATIONSOFUSSREPOSEAH16/page/n9/mode/2up.
12. “Jutlandia, the Danish Hospital Ship,” Korean War Educator.org, www.koreanwar-educator.org/topics/docs/hosp_ship/jutlandia.htm; “Hospital Ships in the Korean War,” Korean War Educator.org, www.koreanwar-educator.org/topics/docs/hosp_ship/hosp_ship.htm; “Maritime History Notes: America’s Hospital Ships,” Yahoo.com, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/maritime-history-notes-americas-hospital-132854306.html.
13. Hospital Ship Repose Cruise Book 1969–1970, 5,
14. “Navy Nurse at Sea on USS Repose (AH-16),” Gjenvick-Gyønvik Archives, www.gjenvick.com/Military/NavyArchives/Articles/NavyNurses/1966-07/NavyNurseAtSea-USSRepose-AH16.html.
15. H. C. Nonnemann, “The German Hospital Ship Helgoland in Vietnam,” Springer Link.com, https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-67093-0_48.
16. “Mercy Ships,” https://www.mercyships.org.