The USS Sway (AM-120) was anchored in Buckner Bay, Okinawa, at the end of July 1945. Though major combat operations in the area had ended, she continued to sweep for mines to keep shipping channels open, as well as performing ring patrols around the island to prevent Japanese attacks. Planning for the invasion of Japan was well under way, but in the coming days, a new weapon would be deployed that would render all of that planning moot.
All entries are from the war journal of the Sway unless otherwise noted.
1–12 August 1945.
Anchored in Buckner Bay, Okinawa, for logistics and progressive maintenance.
1 August 1945.
The ship’s muster roll shows Thomas D. Schreck was promoted to quartermaster 2nd class.
Unlike land forces where quartermasters serve in more of a supply role, in the Navy quartermasters are helmsmen as well as navigators. The official description of the quartermaster role:
Quartermasters stand watch as assistants to officers of the deck and the navigator, serve as helmsman and perform ship control, navigation and bridge watch duties.
QMs procure, correct, use, and stow navigational and oceanographic publications and oceanographic charts. They maintain navigational instruments and keep correct navigational time.
6 August 1945.
While my grandfather’s ship was anchored in Buckner Bay for maintenance and repairs, there is no mention of the events in his journal or in the ship’s war journal, as they would not have been aware of it, but that morning the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima.
“Little Boy,” the uranium gun–type atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, had an explosive blast equal to approximately 12–15,000 tons of TNT, incinerating five square miles of the city surrounding the Aioi Bridge. At the time of the bombing Hiroshima was home to roughly 280,000 civilians as well as 43,000 soldiers. About 80,000 were killed instantly or seriously wounded. Between 90,000 and 166,000 people are believed to have died from the bomb in the four-month period following the explosion. The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that after five years, there were perhaps 200,000 or more fatalities as a result of the bombing, while the city of Hiroshima has estimated that 237,000 people were killed directly or indirectly by the bomb’s effects, which included burns, radiation sickness, and cancer. Of the estimated 90,000 buildings, 62,000 were destroyed including the elimination of all utilities and means of transportation.
Two days following the dropping of the first atomic bomb, Japan still refused to surrender. The decision was made to proceed with a second bomb. It originally was to be dropped on 11 August; however, weather forced the drop to be moved to 9 August. The B-29 Bockscar would drop the second bomb, “Fat Man,” on the city of Nagasaki.
On the day of the bombing, an estimated 263,000 were in Nagasaki, including 240,000 Japanese residents, 9,000 Japanese soldiers, and 400 prisoners of war. It is estimated that between 40,000 and 75,000 people died immediately following the explosion. The radius of total destruction from the atomic blast was about one mile, followed by fires across the northern portion of the city to two miles south of where the bomb had been dropped.
In contrast to the many modern aspects of Hiroshima, almost all of the buildings in Nagasaki were of old-fashioned Japanese construction, consisting of wood-frame buildings with wood walls and tile roofs. Many of the smaller industries and business establishments also were situated in buildings of wood or other materials not designed to withstand explosions. As a result, the explosion over Nagasaki leveled nearly every structure in the blast radius.
The failure to drop Fat Man at the precise bomb aim point caused the atomic blast to be confined to the Urakami Valley. As a consequence, a portion of the city was protected from the explosion. The Fat Man bomb was dropped over the city’s industrial valley, midway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works in the south and the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works in the north. The resulting explosion had a blast yield equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT, roughly the same as the Trinity blast. Nearly half of the city was totally destroyed.
13 August 1945.
0621: Under way in accordance with CominPac’s Op order 9-45 as part of sweep unit 96.4.72 to conduct sweep of [Operation] Skagway.
Off Okinawa, the final kamikaze attack of the war occurred. The USS La Grange (APA-124), a Haskell-class attack transport, was struck twice by kamikaze attack. Despite accurate antiaircraft fire, an unidentified kamikaze carrying a 500-pound bomb crashed into the La Grange’s superstructure. A second suicide plane struck the top of a kingpost and splashed 20 yards from the ship. The transport suffered considerable damage in both strikes, with 21 sailors killed and 89 wounded.
14 August 1945.
0630: Commenced streaming “O”-type sweeping gear on both sides with 350 fathoms sweep wire, 110-foot float pendant, 45 fathoms depressor wire, two “T” Mk II cutters. 1815: Recovered gear. 1853: In formation for night retirement.
15 August 1945.
[V-J Day (Victory over Japan Day) is recognized as 14 August in the United States, but in Japan and on board the USS Sway, it was already 15 August.] 0740: Commenced streaming “O”-type gear as above. 0912: Exploded one and cut two Japanese moored contact mines at 29 29 N, 135 07 E. 0920: Left formation to recover and restream port gear. 1100: Rejoined sweep formation. 1724: Recovered gear; starboard gear with one mine fouled failed to shake loose. Cut starboard leg and sank float, otter, and fouled mine. 2156: Joined formation for night retirement.
And the last entry from my grandfather’s journal:
15 August 1945.
Buckner Bay, Okinawa This evening, while the movie was in progress, the signal watch, Bill Phillips, blared out over the P.A. system that an announcement had come over the voice circuit saying that the Japanese had agreed to unconditional surrender.
When the crew heard that, they went crazy. Mitten stood up and babbled something about how he and both his brothers were still alive and how wonderful it was. The place was a madhouse. Joe Pelagrino passed out cigars, cigarettes’ candy, etc. The fellows on the beach started shooting tracer bullets all over the place. Someone on our ship started to fire one of the fan tail 20mm and the skipper went crazy trying to find out who it was. Most of the boys stayed up all of the night. They swiped the alki out of the midships compass and I’ll get hell for that, but as long as they enjoy it, OK.
When they first announced it, I just sat and stared at the bulkhead. I couldn’t believe it. After it had soaked in a little more, my eyes started to water, and I felt like a little kid on his first excursion on a Ferris wheel. What a day.
With the announcement of the unconditional surrender of Japan, the war was over. The official peace treaty would not be signed until September. The Sway still had a lot of work to be done. The dropping of the atomic bombs meant there would be no invasion of Japan, but before occupying forces could land, the shipping channels had to be cleared of mines and other obstructions. For my grandfather and the Sway, the work was just beginning.