The Sinking of the USS Liscome Bay

USS Liscome Bay CVE-56

Liscome Bay (CVE-56), a Casablanca-class escort carrier, was laid down 9 December 1942 by Kaiser Shipbuilding Co., Vancouver, Washington, under a Maritime Commission contract; launched 19 April 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Ben Moreell; named Liscome Bay after a section of Alaska’s rugged coast on 28 June 1943; re-designated CVE-56 15 July 1943; acquired by the Navy and commissioned 7 August 1943, Capt. I. D. Wilstie in command.

After training operations along the west coast, Liscome Bay departed San Diego 21 October 1943. One week later as part of CarDiv 24 (Fifth Fleet), Liscome Bay departed Pearl Harbor on 10 November attached to TF 52, Northern Attack Force, under Rear Adm. Richard K. Turner, bound for the invasion of Gilbert Islands (Operation GALVANIC). As it turned out, this was to be her first and last battle mission. Aircraft (Air Support Group 52.3 commanded by Rear Adm. H. M. Mullinnix) from Liscome Bay participated in the operations to liberate both Tarawa and Makin Islands. Her aircraft (Air Support Group 52.3) supported operations ashore between 20-23 November 1943.

USS Liscome Bay CVE56

The destroyers and other ships guarded their "baby flattops" as their planes pounded Makin in a dawn pre-invasion attack 20 Nov 1943. For the next 3 days, torpedo bombers and fighters from Air Support Group 52.3 supported Major General Ralph C. Smith's 27th Infantry Division as it struggled to take Makin. Thousands of bombs and countless rounds from the guns on these planes smashed Japanese troop concentrations, gun emplacements, and shore installations on the beleaguered island.

The invasion bombardment announcing America’s first major thrust into the central Pacific began on this 20th day of November at 0500, and 76 battle-filled hours later, Tarawas and Makin Islands were captured. Liscome Bay’s aircraft played their part well in the 2,278 action sorties provided by Mullinnix’s carrier based planes which neutralized enemy airbases, supported landings and ground operations in powerful bombing-strafing missions, and intercepted enemy raids.

On 23 November, the Japanese submarine I-175, commanded by Cmdr. Sunao Tabata, arrived off Makin from Truk. She had been ordered to "proceed to Makin at flank speed!"

Japanese Submarine I-175

The temporary task group, included battleships New Mexico and Mississippi, Cruiser Baltimore, 7 destroyers (USS Hoel DD533, along with USS Morris, USS Franks, USS Hughes and others), and minesweeper USS Revenge, was built around Rear Adm. H. M. Mullinnix’s three escort carriers, Liscome Bay, USS Coral Sea (CVE-57) and Corregidor (CVE-58) commanded by Rear Adm. Robert M. Griffin in USS New Mexico (BB-40) was steaming 20 miles southwest of Butaritari Island at 15 knots.

At dawn, I-175 is spotted by the USS New Mexico BB-40 with her SG radar, but dives in time. At 0430, 24 November 1943, reveille was made in Liscombe Bay. The ship went to routine general quarters at 0505 as flight crews prepared their planes for dawn launchings.

At 0510, Cdr Tabata fires four (4) torpedoes at the carrier Liscome Bay. There was no warning of a submarine in the area until about 0510 when a lookout shouted: "here comes a torpedo!" It struck near the starboard side abaft the after engine room with a shattering roar. A second major detonation (aircraft bomb magazine) closely followed the first, the entire interior burst into flames as the stern of the carrier disintegrates. The thin skinned Liscome Bay was carrying 200,000 pounds of bombs, which all exploded in masse. The battleship New Mexico, 1500 yards away, was showered with fragments of burning deck and fiery shards of metal. 5000 yards away, the USS Maury was splattered with clothing, etc.

Sailors on board the USS Hoel saw smoke and flame rise at least a thousand feet when the torpedo ripped into Liscome Bay and detonated her bomb magazine.

At 0533, Liscome Bay listed to starboard and sank (in 23 minutes), carrying Admiral Mullinnix, commander of the Air Support Group, Captain Wiltsie, 53 other officers, and 591 enlisted men down with her. 272 of her crew were rescued.

Twenty-three of the Liscome Bay’s planes are lost but five Grumman F4F "Wildcats" manage to land on the new USS Lexington CV-16 and the new Yorktown CV-10. Cdr Tabata fires two more torpedoes at the Corral Sea (CVE-57, the future USS Anzio), but misses. Lookouts on the fantail of Coral Sea spotted the wake of this second torpedo salvo which barely missed their ship.

At dusk the following day, Thanksgiving, Japanese planes spotted Rear Admiral Turner's task force steaming a few miles off Butaritari Island and dropped both float and parachute flares on each side of his ships to light them up as targets for 13 torpedo bombers which swooped in to attack. However spirited gunnery and perfectly timed radical simultaneous turns enabled the American vessels to thwart the attackers by escaping without suffering a single hit.

USS Liscome Bay received one battle star for WWII service.

23 months earlier - Pearl Harbor

Ship’s Cook 3rd Class Doris "Dorie" Miller assigned to the USS West Virginia on 3 August 1941 and was serving in that battleship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December, 1941. Miller had risen at 6 AM and was collecting laundry when the alarm for general quarters sounded. He headed for his battle station, the antiaircraft battery magazine amidships, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it, so he went on deck. Because of his physical prowess, he was assigned to aid the mortally wounded Captain off the ship. He subsequently manned a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.

Miller described firing the machine gun during the battle, a weapon which he had not been trained to operate: "It wasn’t hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us."

Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on 1 April 1942, and on 27 May 1942 he received the Navy Cross, which Fleet Admiral (then Admiral) Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet personal presented to Miller on board aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) for his extraordinary courage in battle.

Assigned to the newly constructed USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) in the spring of 1943, Miller was on board that escort carrier during Operation Galvanic, the seizure of Makin and Tarawa Atolls in the Gilbert Islands. He was one of the 591 enlisted men that went down with the ship.

Listed as missing following the loss of the Liscome Bay, Miller was officially presumed dead 25 November 1944, a year and a day after the loss of the Liscome Bay. In addition to the Navy Cross, Miller was entitled to the Purple Heart Medal; the American Defense Service Medal; Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the WWII Victory Medal.

Navy Cook 3rd Class Doris "Dorie" Miller

Commissioned on 30 June 1973, USS Miller (FF-1091) a Knox-class frigate was named in honor of Doris Miller.

USS Miller DE/FF 1091

On May 25, 2001, Touchstone released the movie Pearl Harbor, in which Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding, Jr played the part of 3rd Class Navy cook Doris "Dorie" Miller.

In December 2003 the Montrose, Colorado Daily Press printed a story about Liscome Bay crew member Robert "Bob" E. Haynes, a 77-year-old survivor.

USS Liscome Bay survivor,
Robert "Bob" E. Haynes
Montrose, CO Dec 2003

Bob Haynes has a list of the 642 men who had suddenly paid the ultimate price for our freedom and were lost with the Liscome Bay. Many of the names are underlined. Only Bob knows why.

Note: The USS Wiltsie (DD-716), launched on 31 August 1945, was named for Irving D. Wiltsie, commander of the LISCOME BAY, the flagship of Rear Admiral Henry M. Mullinnix, during her final battle off Makin in the Gilbert Islands.

USS Liscome Bay CVE-56

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© 2003 by Frank Wood, All rights reserved.