The Kamikaze Attack on the USS Braine, May 27, 1945

Today’s post is by Joseph P. Keefe, Archives Specialist at the National Archives at Boston.

The USS Braine was a twenty-one-ton Fletcher class destroyer which had been built and launched at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine in March of 1943. Following her participation in General Douglas MacArthur’s campaign to retake the Philippines, the ship was ordered to serve as a radar picket and support ship as part of task Force 51 for the invasion of Okinawa. Destroyers were assigned to picket duty about forty miles out from the main force to act as an early warning radar system. The picket ships were under constant attack by the Japanese. On May 27, 1945, the Braine and the USS Anthony sailed into their assigned position at picket station number five, relieving the USS Bennion. At 7:44 AM general quarters sounded throughout the ship and as the crew raced to their assigned stations, four Japanese “Val” dive bombers dove out of the overcast sky, “making a coordinated suicide attack from low hanging clouds on the starboard beam” according to the Braine’s after action report.[1]

Photograph of USS Braine courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command, USS BRAINE (DD-630), at sea, circa 1944, Catalog #: NH 95048.

As the planes began their dive to target the American ships, the destroyers let loose a blanket of anti-aircraft fire into the sky. Two of the Japanese planes were immediately shot down. The first plane was hit by the combined fire of the two ships and the second plane was struck by fire from the Anthony and crashed close to her starboard side. The third plane was also struck by anti-aircraft fire from the Anthony but as the planes began to burn, it pulled up, narrowly missing the Anthony, and dove into the Braine. “The plane narrowly missed us. I watched the joker pass over us almost at the wave tops, then pull up in a left climbing dive to about 1400 feet and then into a dive into the Braine,” recalled Commander C.J. Van Arsdall, Captain of the Anthony.[2] The Braine’s after-action report noted that the plane, “regained control 50 feet over the Anthony, on course at 090 degrees at 20 knots.”[3] The Braine’s Captain, William W. Fitts, ordered right full rudder and flank speed in an attempt to avoid the aircraft but it was too late. The kamikaze smashed into the Braine directly above the bow of the ship, just above the main deck. The ship was rocked from side to side by the impact and explosion of the plane. The plane sheared off a wing on the forward 40mm gun and crashed into the number 2 handling room, killing the gunners inside. The plane’s 550-pound bomb – rigged with a timed fuse designed to be delivered by suicide planes to maximize damage – slammed into the wardroom and exploded a moment later, demolishing the combat information center and killing all those inside. The ship’s after action report stated: “two serious fires broke out; one in the bridge structure and #2 handling room and another in the sick bay area which divided the ship into three sections at the time of the hit.”[4]

USS Braine After Action Report, showing the positions of the USS Braine and Anthony during the Kamikaze attack, May 27, 1945 (National Archives Identifier: 140065804).

As the crew scrambled to put out the fires and save their injured crew mates, a second kamikaze dove in from the low cloud cover and hit the Braine midship. The effects of the second hit were devastating: the number 2 stack exploded into the sea, fire raged, communications and control were lost, and men were blown into the water by the blast. After the second strike, the Braine’s rudder was locked in a full right-turn position and the ship began to drive itself in a continuous circle at 20 knots. Leonard Schlick, a loader on one of the Braine’s anti-aircraft guns, saw men jumping into the water to escape the flames caused by the explosions, as the ship began to circle, “They’d jump over…I remember seeing a shark come up and grab a guy…sharks did as much damage as the Japanese.”[5] As men jumped into the water at the rear of the ship to avoid the inferno engulfing them, members of the crew on the forward part of the ship began fighting fires, throwing ammunition into the sea and caring for the wounded. The Braine was finally brought under control after about an hour. The Anthony and the LCS-86, and LCS-123 came alongside to assist in the fire fight and to care for the wounded. The Anthony’s war diary stated, “we went alongside her starboard side at 8:58AM and commenced fighting fires and transferring wounded. We found that the Braine had no water for firefighting but had hoses intact and laid out.”[6] Four hours later the fires on board the Braine were extinguished. The casualty report listed twenty-seven crew members killed and forty missing. The missing were later confirmed as killed in action. Among the casualties were eight officers and 59 enlisted men killed and 102 wounded.

USS Braine entering Boston Harbor for repairs, Captain William W. Fitts showing battle damage from Kamikaze attack, (National Archives Identifier: 38329871).

For the next few weeks, the crew, who had remained with the Braine, cleaned up the ship and made temporary repairs for the long voyage home. On June 19, 1945, the crew held a Memorial Service for their fallen comrades, and the ship departed for the United States for repairs. She passed through the Panama Canal on July 26, 1945 and arrived at the Boston Navy Yard on August 6, 1945. Crews at the navy yard removed the entire superstructure to clear battle damage and provide access for maintenance and repairs and gradually, the ship was restored to its original configuration. The repairs to the ship were completed in October of 1945 and she patrolled the North Atlantic until she was mothballed at the Boston Navy Yard in 1946. For her service in World War II, the Braine earned nine battle stars and her crew was awarded a Navy Cross, five Silver Stars, a Navy and Marine Corps Medal, ten Bronze Stars, fourteen commendation ribbons and 187 Purple Hearts.[7]

Boston Navy Yard Log showing the USS Braine in port for repairs at Boston Harbor, August 7, 1945 (National Archives Identifier: 117700183).

SOURCES

Record Group 38: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1875 – 2006, World War II War Diaries, Other Operational Records and Histories, ca. 1/1/1942 – ca. 6/1/1946, USS BRAINE – Report of action with enemy suicide aircraft East of Okinawa Jima, Ryukyu Islands, 5/27/45, Pg. 2, (National Archives Identifier: 140065804). National Archives at College Park.

Record Group 38: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1875 – 2006, World War II War Diaries, Other Operational Records and Histories, ca. 1/1/1942 – ca. 6/1/1946, USS BRAINE – War Diary, 5/1-31/45, (National Archives Identifier: 101722244). National Archives at College Park.

Record Group 38: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1875 – 2006, World War II War Diaries, Other Operational Records and Histories, ca. 1/1/1942 – ca. 6/1/1946, USS ANTHONY – War Diary, 5/1-31/45, Pg. 9, (National Archives Identifier: 140038740). National Archives at College Park.

Record Group 181: Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, 1784 – 2000, Shipyard Logs, 8/13/1888 – 12/31/1958, Boston Navy Yard, Volume 40: 01/01/1945 – 12/31/1945, (National Archives Identifier: 117700183). National Archives at Boston.

Record Group 181: Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, 1784 – 2000, Administrative History of the First Naval District in World War II, 1946 – 1946, photo of USS Braine, DD-630, after Being Hit by Two Suicide Bombers, Colonel Fitts on Dock, Boston, Massachusetts. (National Archives Identifier: 38329871). National Archives at Boston.

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Louis Israel, “World War II Vet Recalls Battle at Sea.” The Inyo Register, August, 8, 2015, Bishop, California, https://inyoregister.com/content/world-war-ii-vet-recalls-battle-sea

USS Braine Memorial Site, Okinawa – 1945, https://ussbrainedd630.blogspot.com

Photograph of USS Braine courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command, USS BRAINE (DD-630), At sea, circa 1944, Catalog #: NH 95048


Footnotes

[1] Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1875 – 2006, World War II War Diaries, Other Operational Records and Histories, ca. 1/1/1942 – ca. 6/1/1946, USS BRAINE – Report of action with enemy suicide aircraft East of Okinawa Jima, Ryukyu Islands, 5/27/45, Pg. 2, (National Archives Identifier: 140065804).

[2] USS Braine Memorial Site, Okinawa – 1945, https://ussbrainedd630.blogspot.com

[3] Ibid, USS BRAINE – Report of action with enemy suicide aircraft East of Okinawa Jima, Ryukyu Islands, 5/27/45, Pg.2.

[4] Naval History and Heritage Command, Ship Histories, Braine (DD-630) https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/b/braine-i.html

[5] Louis Israel, “World War II Vet Recalls Battle at Sea.” The Inyo Register, August, 8, 2015, Bishop, California, https://inyoregister.com/content/world-war-ii-vet-recalls-battle-sea

[6] Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1875 – 2006, World War II War Diaries, Other Operational Records and Histories, ca. 1/1/1942 – ca. 6/1/1946, USS ANTHONY – War Diary, 5/1-31/45, Pg. 9 (National Archives Identifier: 140038740).

[7] Ibid, USS Braine Memorial Site, Okinawa – 1945