On April 5, 1945, Allied intelligence detected a small convoy of Japanese ships sailing up the China coast, from Hong Kong to Amoy (now Xiamen). The short hop, only about 350 miles by ship, was being attempted by two cargo ships, protected by several frigates and a destroyer, the Amatsukaze. These ships were the remnants of the last convoy to attempt the 3000 mile journey from Singapore, off the southern tip of the Malay, to the Japan home islands, through waters patrolled by Allied submarines and aircraft. Already, they had lost a third of their number to bombing attacks. Now that they had set sail, the 345th Bomb Group could get their shot at sinking the convoy ships.
Twenty-four B-25 strafers were sent up to intercept the convoy, and discovered two frigates, Escorts #1 and #134, at 11:30, right where intelligence briefings had predicted. Captain George Musket led the 501st Squadron on a skip-bombing attack against one of the frigates. Musket dropped a bomb which bounced off the water and onto the ship’s deck, where it exploded. Another bomb opened a hole on the frigate’s side, causing it to sink within minutes. The 499th Squadron continued on to the second frigate. Lt. Lester Morton dropped a bomb that exploded just below the waterline, in the ships center. It blew a large hole in the starboard side of the frigate, and it rolled over soon after.
The 498th Squadron, seeing that both ships had already been sunk, decided to circle the second frigate and strafe the Japanese survivors in the water. One of them took this picture as he circled the capsized ship. Crewmen can be seen clinging to the side or bobbing in the water.
The 500th Squadron missed the action entirely. They continued along the coastline, looking for more ships, and after a 10-minute hunt, spotted another promising shape in the water. 1/Lt. George R. Schmidt led his six B-25s on a low-altitude run. The ship was the Amatsukaze, which the B-25 pilots had mistaken for a merchant vessel, perhaps because of its small stature. The Amatsukaze had lost its bow and front stack to a torpedo attack by a U.S. submarine in January 1944. After it was towed to base, the ship’s aft end was patched up and fitted with a makeshift bow. Though the destroyer was only half as long as it had once been, it was still bristling with weaponry.
The B-25 pilots saw their target begin to flash, and suddenly the sky was filled with ack-ack. The formation bore on, undeterred. Schmidt and his wingmen, F/O Van Scoyk and Lt. Joe Herick, began firing on the ship, hoping to suppress the gunners on its deck. Herick’s plane took a direct hit from a 40mm round. It pitched forward and smashed into the water, upside down. Schmidt dropped his bombs, catching two direct hits on the Amatsukaze. The other three B-25s made their run, catching this photograph of the ship afire.
As the 500th Squadron B-25s headed back to base, the 498th Squadron plans came upon the burning destroyer. It was still moving at full speed, even as dark smoke billowed up from its hull. The B-25s broke into two flights of three, with one, led by Lt. James Manners, planning to use the smoke cloud as cover, and the other, led by Capt. Albin V. Johnson, arcing around the cloud. The Amatsukaze directed all of its fire on the latter flight. Johnson landed a direct hit on the stern, but was heavily damaged by flak, causing him to ditch as he pulled away. A search for survivors the next day turned up empty-handed.
Manners’ flight, coming from behind the destroyer, swept over the ship, strafing it from stern to bow. They bracketed the ship with their bombs, leaving it burning, dead in the water. The American pilots immediately headed out of the area. After dodging a brief fighter interception, they returned to Laoag, Luzon, out of fuel. The Amatsukaze was towed to Amoy, run aground, and designated as target practice.
Find this story and much more in Warpath Across the Pacific.