|Five U.S. Navy destroyers steam up the
Inchon channel to bombard Wolmi-Do island on 13 September 1950, two days
prior to the Inchon landings. Wolmi-Do is in the right center background,
with smoke rising from air strikes. The ships are USS Mansfield (DD-728); USS DeHaven (DD-727); USS Lyman K. Swenson (DD-729); USS Collett (DD-730) and USS Gurke (DD-783). Click
on picture for larger view.
Six brave little ships. six destroyers, were sent to find out.
Vice Admiral Arthur D. Struble, commander of Joint Task Force 7, ordered a "reconnaissance in force."
The mission frankly was to draw fire from Wolmi-the more the better.
A destroyer's armor is three-eighths of an inch thick. Practically anything stronger than a slingshot will pierce it.
On the morning of September 13, "D-day minus two," the six brave little ships, moving in column, and slowly, sailed into the narrowing channel leading pass Wolmi to Inchon.
One anchored off of the southern face of the island. Three passed through the neck of the channel to the other side. Two remained in the channel.
None was more than a mile from the beaches and some were 1,000 yards-two thirds of a mile.
They were "sitting ducks." That's what they were meant to be, juicy targets for concealed guns on the shore.
From all over the elbe of the channel farther down, thousands of binoculars were trained on them from American and British cruisers. The silence was like a blanket. It was a brilliant sunny day, and you could see even without binoculars.
Suddenly there was a single white flash. Seconds later the muffled crack of the gun came back. "The 730 reported she spotted a battery moving on the beach," a report to the bridge of the flag ship said.
A few more tense, breathless, incredible seconds of waiting passed. Still silence. Wolmi Island looked like a picnickers paradise, green-wooded and serene.
Then the North Koreans made a fateful and wonderful blunder. Suddenly a necklace of gun flashes sparkled around the waist of the island. The flashes were reddish gold and they came so fast that soon the entire slope was sparkling with pinpoint of fire.
The destroyers were quick to answer.
Lightening flashes leaped from their guns. They hit back, shell for shell, firing faster and faster until the whole channel was a tunnel of rumbling thunder.
The pace increased. On Wolmi, still more gun positions opened up. The red necklace spread and widened. They were hitting destroyers now. They could hardly miss at that range.
Then a report came down to the bridge and your blood ran cold. "It looks as though the 783 is dead in the water, Sir." Admiral Struble's answer was quiet and the words were taut. "Make sure and then see what we have to do to get her out of there."
The duel went on for an hour. It was a slugging match, toe to toe, and nobody quit or backed away. Six brave little ships sat there and shot it out with the dug in enemy gun crews on Wolmi Island.
Three of the six were hit, one seriously, but not so seriously that she could not come out under her own steam. An officer died. There were other casualties.
|The DeHaven makes a hasty retreat from Wolmi-Do. Photo taken from the HMS Kenya. Contributed by Tony Berry|
The destroyers came out proudly and without haste, still firing flat trajectory fire at close range and then at higher arcs as the distance increased.
The mission was accomplished successfully, the navy will say. Gloriously is a better word.
If the guns on Wolmi Island had never been discovered; if the North Koreans had not blundered into exposing their armament, it is hard to say what might have happened to the transports and the little landing craft when they came in for the assault two days later.
At best, the casualties would have been enormous -for Wolmi Island is studded with guns-at worst, the invasion could have stalled right there at the first objective.
Six brave little ships exposed themselves to fire. The bigger guns and hordes of planes knocked it out before the Marines ever appeared.
Six brave little ships: the Mansfield DD728, DeHaven 727, Collett 730 Lyman K Swenson 729, Gurke 783 and the Henderson 785.
More on the invasion at the Mansfield Page
Two days later the Marine invasion took place.
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