The Taking Of WOLMI-DO

Malcolm W. Cagle, CMDR, USN

Like a mini-Gibraltar, the heavily fortified islands of Wolmi-do guarding the entrance to Inchon had to be silenced before MacArthur's amphibious troops could mount their perilous invasion. And no finer sacrificial lambs could lure the fire of the North Koreans better than the reliable WWII-era destroyers of DESRON 9, classified 'EXPENDABLE' by the Pentagon.

Article courtesy of Sea Classics Volume 33 Number 10 October 2000

Koreans have a peaceful and picturesque name for Wolmi-do - Moon Tip Island. The pyramidal hump of land that thrusts 351 feet up from the sea is by far the highest point of land in the Inchon vicinity. Wolmi was the resort area for that sultry, humid seaport. Across its narrow eastern causeway picnickers, swimmers, family parties, and lovers streamed in the summertime.

After South Korea was invaded, Wolmi's complexion changed abruptly. It became "out of bounds" to the local populace, and the once- placid island vibrated with activity. Trenches were dug; pillboxes built; guns were brought in; barbed wire was strung; mine-fields were planted. Along the southern causeway, which stretched 1,000 yards into the channel, barricades of heavy mesh wire were stretched, supplemented with coils of barbed wire, and every seven feet cast-iron land mines were laid. These deadly cylinders each I contained a third of a pound of du Pont dynamite. At the end of the causeway, the tiny island of Sowolmi was a nest of harbor defense guns.

In military jargon, Wolmi-do thus "commanded" the sea approaches to Inchon, the harbor, and the beaches. No ship could pass into the port's tidal basin, the inner harbor, or transit Flying Fish channel without coming under fire of the island's guns. Like an unsinkable battleship, it stood flat-footedly in the path of any invasion scheme - formidable, deadly, immovable. To capture Inchon first demanded capture or at least neutralization of Wolmi. The Reds calculated their advantages and the enemy's disadvantages: First, the tides; second, the current; third, the small, winding channel, which would expose them to point-blank enfilade fire; fourth, the water's lack of depth. Obviously, the Reds concluded, only small ships such as destroyers could get up there, and on their arrival they would be forced to anchor because the current would otherwise dash them into the mud. And if they anchored, the destroyers automatically gave up their prime advantages - speed and maneuverability. Such ships would indeed be sitting ducks for Wolmi's guns. Or so thought the Reds.

"Flying Fish channel was well named," commented Capt. Norman W. Sears, who commanded the Advance Attack Group that captured Wolmi-do. "A fish almost had to fly to beat the current, and to check his navigation past the mudbanked islands and curves in the channel. Wolmi-do was the whole key to success or failure of the Inchon operation. Admiral Doyle told me that this mission must be successfully completed at any cost; that failure would seriously jeopardize or even prevent the Inchon landing. He emphasized that we had to capture Wolmi no matter what the losses or difficulties."

Korean weather, like Washington's, is often unpredictable and usually irascible. Reminding the Inchon planners of its continuing and critical importance, the local weather devil whizzed typhoon "Jane" through Kobe, Japan, on 2 September.

The eye of the typhoon passed the city at 1320, bringing 120-mile-an-hour winds. Pierside ships were wrenched so violently that many parted their cables and were tossed adrift into the crowded harbor. The attack cargo ship WHITESIDE suffered a damaged propeller and a buckled bulwark. The WASHBURN sprung 125 rivets in her engine-room plating. LST-1123, loading Seabee equipment, had a portable pontoon shaken loose.

The Marines, hastily shifting, sorting, and repacking cargo in the reverse order for invasion, saw green water two feet high roll over their stacks of supplies.

From the outer harbor, an emergency message from SS NOONDAY:

"Uncontrolled fire in hold three. This hold contains clothing. Adjacent holds two and four contain ammunition. Expedite assistance." Fire tugs rushed through the boiling harbor to put out the fire.

Jane crossed Japan and disappeared eastward, having succeeded in interrupting a very tight loading schedule for almost 36 hours. This, or any subsequent delay, would not postpone the invasion by hours or days, but a whole month until the next high tide. Neither Inchon's tight secret nor the weary GIs along the Naktong could hold that long. The loss of a month might mean the loss of the entire campaign. So all hands worked overtime to make up the lost hours, hoping, not unreasonably, that they'd had their typhoon for the season.

But this fervent hope was to be denied. On 6 September, 200 miles west of Saipan, Navy weathermen spotted a weak and nearly stationary tropical depression. It might be nothing; or it might be the birth of a typhoon.

It was. On 7 September, Navy patrol planes flew out to look at the storm. Now moving northwestward at four knots, the cyclone had ominously intensified. Already the baby typhoon was producing moderate swells along Japan's east coast. By the next day it had matured to full size and was big enough to warrant a name, "Kezia." Meteorologists charted the path of the storm and shook their heads. At its present speed and course, it would hit the Korean straits on 12 or 13 September. Winds of 100 miles per hour were already being recorded in Kezia's core.

On 9 September, the prospect for a collision between Kezia and Joint Task Force 7 seemed unavoidable. Kezia by now was a raving, rampaging 125 mile-an-hour catastrophe heading straight for the invasion staging area.

"By 10 September," said Adm. Morehouse, "the storm situation had become critical, and in Tokyo we were almost on the ropes with anxiety."

But the harassed planners of Inchon were to have another headache added to their aching brains the next day. At 0600 that morning, ROK PC boat 703 (Cmdr. Lee Sung Ho), while patrolling north of Inchon Harbor, discovered an enemy boat laying mines. PC-703 fired one round, whereupon the boat disappeared in a big explosion. Intelligence reports were rushed to CINCFE headquarters that Inchon was being mined!

Admiral C. Turner Joy dispatched Admirals Sherman, Radford, and Struble:

"The Reds have started mining west-coast Korean ports. So far, efforts are small but believe will accelerate. Recommend high-rate reactivation of minesweepers."

If there was ever a good place for mines, V/Adm. Struble observed, Inchon was it. First of all, the muddy water would make mine detection extremely difficult. And, secondly, any ship which struck a mine might block the fleet's passage up, or retirement down, the narrow Flying Fish channel.

Then Kezia commenced a tantalizingly slow curvature to the north on the afternoon of II September. If the turn-off continued, there would be no collision of typhoon and task force. Admiral Doyle gambled that the slight right-hand turn was not a feint, and ordered the Transport and Advance Attack Groups to get underway from Kobe and Pusan, respectively, one day ahead of schedule.

Admiral Doyle's flagship, the USS MOUNT MCKINLEY, cleared Kii Suido the same afternoon and promptly ran into extremely heavy swells, estimated 25 feet from trough to crest. The gamble, nevertheless, paid off, for by the next afternoon all the assault forces had rounded Japan's southern corner, and had transited the Van Diemen Strait into South Korean waters. Except for three tanks which broke their moorings on various LSTs, only to be quickly rechained, the assault shipping suffered little damage.

The MOUNT MCKINLEY had orders to pick up Gen. MacArthur and his party at Fukuoka, Japan. Kezia diverted the rendezvous to Sasebo and MOUNT MCKINLEY ran before the typhoon two more times - once going in, and again coming out, that landlocked harbor.

Among the recently returned-to-active-duty officers aboard the MOUNT MCKINLEY was Lt. Preston C. Oliver, who only a month before had been enjoying a tranquil civilian life in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

I arrived aboard the MOUNT MCKINLEY late in August, said Lt. Oliver, "and it was immediately apparent that something big was afoot. No one knew what, exactly, but with the many transports and LSTs on hand, plus all the bustle, it had to be something big.

"One morning I looked at the harbor of Kobe and noted that the LSTs had shoved off. This meant that we too would soon be on our way, since the LSTs needed a head start because of their slower speed.

"Those first days out of Kobe were rugged. The MOUNT MCKINLEY has a lot of topside weight and made the most of every roll in those typhoon-tossed seas. Seasickness became the rule for those long hours and days.

"I had the junior officer bridge watch the night the word came up to change course for Sasebo. That was a surprise to us, but a bigger surprise was ahead. Sasebo's smooth waters were a relief, if short-lived, as we went in darken-ship.

"Captain Printup brought the ship alongside quickly and masterfully. The Japanese line- handling crews were standing by to receive our lines, and we made fast and lowered our gangway with unusual speed. A long column of staff cars lined the dock, attended and guarded by snappy Marines. Then Gen. MacArthur strode aboard, followed by his considerable staff; there was a quick transfer of mail, and we were off again.

"Now we knew that Korea would be our next stop. Generals like MacArthur don't ride ships on typhoon-troubled waters just to kill time. We were on our way."

Typhoon Kezia was also playing hob with the flattop BOXER, which was frantically trying to make the Inchon deadline. The BOXER'S deck was jammed with 96 planes ready and eager for the fight; at Pearl Harbor, however, 14 additional spare aircraft had been crammed aboard, destined for the spare aircraft pool at Japan's Kisaruzu Air Force base. These 14 planes effectively locked the operating deck, and until they could be catapulted clear, Air Group 2's planes could not operate.

As BOXER neared launching distance of Kisaruzu, the field set Typhoon Condition II and closed her runways to all traffic. The BOXER swung south, trying to circle around Kezia clockwise.

"We tried to sneak into Sasebo on the evening of 12 September," said Capt. Cameron Briggs, "but Kezia got in there ahead of us and was already in the landing circle. We got out of there as fast as we could but not before we had some 80-knot winds."

The BOXER fought Kezia all night, and at daybreak launched her 14 spare aircraft for Naha base in Okinawa, 400 miles to the south.

"When we finally did get into Sasebo," said Capt. Briggs, "we only had a few hours until darkness to load cargo and ammunition, and get underway for Korea. As soon as we hit the pier, Capt. Walter F. Rodee and three members from Adm. Hoskins's staff came aboard with armfuls of effective operation orders and to brief us. So little time was available that we had to decide whether to read the orders first or to listen to the briefing. We wisely decided to do the latter, although when we finally got time to read the Inchon orders three days after the landing, we found we had unknowingly overlooked many planned details."

At dusk, 14 September, BOXER slipped out of Sasebo and cranked up full speed for Inchon. The BOXER made the rendezvous, launching her first strike on the afternoon of 15 September. However, just before turning into the wind to launch aircraft, BOXER damaged her number four reduction gear. The rest of her combat was served using only three of her four engines.

Red-mustached R/Adm. Higgins had returned aboard the TOLEDO on 8 September, carrying with him the rough plans for the bombardment ofWolmi-do. Immediately, his staff commenced a 72-hour marathon to prepare the operation order.

"The intelligence information we had for Wolmi-do," said Adm. Higgins, "was sufficient to plan the destruction of some guns but the destroyers had to go in there to find new ones and to check the reports on the old ones as well."

Lieutenant Eugene F. dark, ensconced on Inchon's Yong-hung-do, was getting all the information he could and nightly radioing it back to Tokyo.

Report: "A company of North Korean troops are in entrenchments along the sea wall of Inchon tidal basin."

Report: "Two antiaircraft guns are located on Wolmi adjacent to the former US Communications Building~

Report: "Wolmi gun defenses consist of three large guns at Sowolmi-do, one gun, size unknown, at south end of breakwater. Four or five machine guns on west side, two on southwest side. Infantry trenches are a few feet back from waterline."

Report: "There is a gunfire observation post in the tower of a large red building on Wolmi-do."

Report: "Twenty-five machine guns and five 120mm mortars have been located on Sowolmi-do by observing their fire."

Report: "Wolmi-do has 20 heavy coastal defense guns placed on island's seaward side. Extensive concrete trench and tunnel system combs island. Estimated 1,000 troops on island which is restricted; only laborers admitted."

While Clark was sending in dozens of these reports, Higgins's staff was plotting the intelligence and discussing how best the strong points could be knocked out.

"One thing we all agreed on," Adm. Higgins reported, "and that was the desirability of making the attack in broad daylight despite the fact that this forced us to give up the surprise element and made us better targets. But if we went up there at night and hit heavy opposition, there'd be a lot of confusion in that narrow channel."

The destroyer sailors were anxious not to be worried about colliding with one another; and in case of damage, a daylight tow job would be easier to accomplish than one at night.

"After much discussion about the tides," said Capt. Halle C. Allan, Jr., Commander Destroyer Squadron 9, "we decided that it would be best for our cans to ride the flooding tide while anchored off Wolmi. This meant that the tide would be coming in, and our destroyers could ride their anchors facing into the current, or out of the harbor. Obviously, this enabled our ships to be headed in the right direction so they could make a quick getaway. There wasn't any turn-around room around Wolmi."

"Another reason we chose the flood tide," added Capt. Paul C. Crosley, Higgins's chief of staff, "was that it meant the destroyers could ride broadside to the island and bring all ships' mounts to bear."

"The decision to sail into Inchon on a low tide and to arrive just before the flood proved to be a most fortunate choice," Adm. Higgins emphasized. "In the first place, the presence of mines at Inchon was a surprise to me, although we had accepted them as a calculated risk. by going at it at low tide, lead destroyer MANSFIELD was able to spot a minefield and to avoid it in ample time, because of the low water.

"And in the second place, going in on the low tide meant that we could depress our guns low enough to hit the targets. As it turned out, our guns were barely able to depress low enough to hit some of them. At the peak of a 30-foot high tide, we couldn't have hit 'em."

It was decided to leave the four cruisers outside, but close enough to cover the destroyers.

"The restricted waters and the heavy tides," said Capt. Edward L. Woodyard of USS ROCHESTER, "necessitated that the cruisers remain clear. Most of the cruiser stations were 14,000 yards to 20,000 yards away from Wolmi-do."

The bombardment plan began to take shape and few changes were made in it. The one major alteration in the bombardment plan -- to hit Wolmi for two days, 13 and 14 September, instad of just D-minus-one -- was prompted by Clark's reports of the island's heavy strength.

In retrospect," Capt. Allan reported later, "my destroyers could have silenced Wolmi's defenses on the morning of 15 September, but of course our losses would have been much greater. Evn so, we'd have made it stick. The two-day bombardment of Wolmi-do certainly eliminated much of the enemy's D-day fire.

"I felt we could neutralize Wolmi because of my squadron's heavy experience along the east coast. They were top-notch gunners and quick on the draw. Even so, we might take some damage, so I took the personal precaution of sending a new set of expensive full-dress clothing home."

Thus the six destroyers and four cruisers of Adm. Higgins' Fire Support Group would start up Flying Fish channel at 0700 on 13 September, the cruisers droppping of some seven to ten miles southwest. As the destroyers neared the island, the planes from Task Force 77's carriers would conduct an air strike. The destroyers would steam past Wolmi-do, anchor behind some of the guns in a rough semicircle and commence a one-hour bombardment at 1300 -- 1:00 p.m. If the Reds took the bait, the hidden and uncharted guns would open fire on the destroyers and would themselves then be taken under fire.

At 1400 the destroyers would steam out of Inchon Bay, covered again by carrier aircraft attacks and the protective fire from the four cruisers.

Which destroyers should be chosen? Destroyer Squadron 9 was the logical choice. They had been in action in Korean waters from the first day. The east-coast blockade had given them ample opportunities to perfect their gunnery. Also, Desron 9 ships were older destroyers with little of the brand-new electronic equipment. If destroyers had to be sacrificed, these older ships were most "expendable."

Thus, then, the bold yet simple plan for drawing Inchon's longest fangs.

The early light of 12 September saw the gunfire support group sortie from Sasebo. The GURKE detached the same evening to rendezvous briefly with the carrier task force directly west of Kunsan. Task Force 77's carrier photographic planes had been taking pictures of Wolmi-do all day, and these were now ready for the destroyers. The GURKE rejoined her group next morning just after the ROCHESTER, flying Adm. Struble's flag, had likewise rendezvoused.

At 0700, 13 September, the task group commenced passage up Flying Fish channel.

"There hadn't been time for rehearsals or preliminary operations," said Cmdr. Fredrick M. Radel, commanding USS GURKE. "About the only preparations we made were to prepare ship for towing, to rig fenders and to get ready for going alongside a damaged or stranded vessel, and to brief and arm repair parties to repel possible borders."

The Inchon planners were forced to accept the possibility that a destroyer might go hard and fast aground. In this condition, it was conceivable that enemy troops might try to board. Hence, crews were issued sidearms and rifles, and briefed in the ancient art of repelling boarders.

Most of the destroyer main decks were stacked with extra ammunition -- mostly 40mm -- the magazines were already full.

Tension mounted as the ships continued of the channel. The Korean interpreter aboard MANSFIELD was tuning around the broadcast band when he heard an announcement in his native tongue warning that enemy vessels were steaming toward Inchon, and ordering coastal defense batteries manned.

In Tokyo, meanwhile, an official Communist dispatch was intercepted. Addressed to Red Headquarters, Pyongyang, it was uncoded and obviously urgent.

"Ten enemy vessels are approaching Inchon," it read. "Many aircraft are bombing Wolmi-do. There is every indication the enemy will perform a landing. All units under my command are directed to be ready for combat; all units will be stationed in their given positions so that they may throw back enemy forces when they attempt their landing operation."

The dispatch was signed, "From Commanding General."

The bombing attack mentioned in the dispatch was indeed underway. Of the first group of bombs that struck the island, one chunked into the garrison mess hall just as the noon meal commenced, inflicting many casualties. It was but a taste of the sudden death to come from the destroyers, at that moment relentlessly headed for the island.

In Flying Fish channel, meanwhile, the task group had gone to general quarters as the dark-visaged island of Wolmi rose on the horizon. In single-file column, the destroyers MANSFIELD, DE HAVEN, SWENSON, COLLETT, GURKE, and ENDERSON, 700 yards between ships, rounded Palmi-do light and turned northward, their four-plane CAP from the PHILIPPINE SEA droning circles overhead.

As the column steamed northward past junks and fishing boats, white-robed spectators thronged the shore of each of the innumerable islands to watch the US Navy steam into battle.

At 1145, 800 yards off the port bow, MANSFIELD'S lockouts spotted what appeared to be a string of mines. Commander Lundgren of DE HAVEN, next in line, announced that it was a minefield. The suspicious objects were barely awash in the muddy, low-tide water. Identification was still uncertain. Anxious binoculars examined the area. From this particular spot, two weeks earlier, the British cruiser JAMAICA had blasted the Inchon coast. Had mines been laid here in anticipation of a return visit?

There was only one way to find out. The destroyers opened fire. The GURKE's 40mm mount hit the first mine at 1146 to confirm the suspicions as the sea bomb threw skyward an enormous cascade of water and black smoke.

Captain Allan detached HENDERSON and ordered her to remain temporarily in the vicinity as long as the rising tide allowed to destroy the pestilent mines, and then to rejoin formation at high speed. With the fast-rising tide rushing to cover the exposed mines, only four out of the twelve could be destroyed. But the presence of mines had at least been confirmed. The big question was, how many more were there?

The other destroyers continued northward and Wolmi's green-brown hulk was now plainly visible. Still its guns did not speak.

Inchon Harbor was crowded with small craft. The brown sails of 30-odd junks flapped idly in the breeze. From the destroyers' decks sailors could see idle sunbathers, sportive swimmers, fishermen mending their nets, and townsfolk hurrying to the waterfront to see the parade of warships. It was a curiously unrealistic background to battle.

The destroyers sailed past Wolmi, only 800 yards distant from the hidden guns. The GURKE reached her anchorage first at 1242, and her anchor chain rattled and flashed in the bright sunshine. The HENDERSON, COLLETT, SWENSON, DE HAVEN, and finally MANSFIELD splashed their hooks; the ships rode to a short anchor to be able to move quickly. Navigators took their usual anchoring bearings and recorded them in their logs with the same drab, official phrasing as if another routine anchorage in San Diego Bay had just occurred.

The COLLETTs log:

"1253, Anchored in Flying Fish channel off Inchon Harbor, Korea, with 30 fathoms of chain to starboard anchor, mud bottom."

For several long minutes the destroyers waited, each flying the prosaic flag hoist "execute assigned mission." When these flags came fluttering down at 1300, the bombardment would commence.

The minutes crawled by devilishly slow. In the DE HAVEN director Lt. Arthur T. White had his mounts loaded and pointed at a Wolmi battery. As DE HAVEN had stood up the channel, White had seen North Korean artillerymen scurrying into the gun pits through the magnifying lenses of the range finder. Any second they might fire first.

White called the bridge. "Permission to commence fire?" The answer was "Stand by - our carrier planes are still on target."

On DE HAVEN'S forecastle, beneath the loaded and ready-to-fire guns of mount number one, two sailors were crawling around on their bellies securing the anchor gear: Chief Boatswain's Mate Tom A. Lewis and Boatswain's Mate 2/C Frank L. Jackson. They were the only exposed people forward, unless you could count the several grotesque dummies that had been placed on the forecastle to attract fire. Close up, the dummies were crude affairs - old dungaree shirts and trousers stuffed with life jackets and rags - but from Wolmi's distance it was hoped that the Red gunners might be tempted to take potshots and thereby reveal their positions.

At five minutes before 1300, unable to look down the barrels of the Red battery any longer, White's itching trigger finger depressed the firing key, and the Wolmi bombardment began. The DE HAVEN'S shells were dead-center bull's-eyes as the Wolmi battery disappeared in a mushroom of dust and debris.

On DE HAVEN'S forecastle, however, the surprise was no less. Chief Lewis and Boatswain Jackson were flattened by the unexpected eruption of two 5-inch guns going off inches above their heads. "I was deaf for two days," said Chief Lewis.

Several of the dummies on DE HAVEN'S bow were also casualties of the overeager shooting. They caught fire in the muzzle-blast flame of the first salvo and had to be doused by the Forward Repair Party's fire hoses.

The other ships opened fire at 1300, slowly at first and with great deliberation. Not a gun had yet fired on them.

The COLLETTs first target was the large guns at Sowolmi-do. At 1,600 yards range, COLLETTs first salvos knocked out two of them. One gun was hit directly and the second's emplacement was destroyed with only 13 rounds.

The SWENSON commenced fire into Red Circle Area Two - this was to be the scene of Red Beach two days later. Directing the fire of the destroyer's quadruple 40mm mounts was a young officer whose surname by no coincidence at all was the same as the ship's - Lt. (j.g.) David H. Swenson. The destroyer was named for his uncle, Capt. Lyman K. Swenson, who was lost with his cruiser JUNEAU early in World War II. The Korean War was Dave's first combat.

At 1303, Capt. Allan radioed Adm. Higgins: "Not even a pistol's been fired at us yet," he reported somewhat optimistically. The words were scarcely spoken when Blam! Blam! Blam! - Wolmi's guns opened fire.

The North Koreans concentrated their fire on the destroyers nearest their guns - SWENSON, COLLETT, and GURKE. The first shells were over, then short. At 1306, six minutes past 1:00 p.m., COLLETT took the first hit. A 75mm shell struck forward on her port side, exploding in the forward crew's compartment. The damage was not great, but at least one of the Red guns had found the range. Four minutes later COLLETT was hit again, this time by a larger projectile, and right on the waterline. The shell exploded on contact, opening a two-foot hole in COLLETTs skin, and flooding the stewards' living compartment with oil and water.

Twenty minutes after the first wound, COLLETT took hit number three, this one in the wardroom. It was a dud shell, which walked through the door, knocked down a shelf of books, dented the opposite steel bulkhead, and fell to rest-on the wardroom sofa.

So far, the three hits received by COLLETT were trivial. No one had been hurt, and the ship was only superficially damaged. Commander Close did not yet see fit to report to Adm. Higgins. The fourth missile to strike COLLETT, nine minutes later, did more damage than the other three together. The 75mm armor-piercing shell broke into two pieces, one tearing into the fireroom and rupturing a low-pressure air line; the other and larger chunk dug its way into the plotting room, where it broke the firing selector switch of the computer and wounded five men. The COLLETTs 5-inch guns could no longer be operated by the computer, and control was shifted to each individual mount.

A minute later, COLLETT sustained her fifth hit. None of the other destroyers had been so much as splashed.

"It was obvious by then," said Cmdr. Close, "that they had my ship boresighted, so I asked Adm. Higgins for permission to get underway and shift my anchorage. At that moment, with our guns in local control, we were getting more than we were giving. My request to get underway did not reflect, I hope, any lack of initiative. I simply considered our mission was to locate hidden enemy batteries - and we were doing that maybe too well. At any rate, I asked the permission to shift berths because I felt that a sound decision could be better made by someone with a broader view, as mine was somewhat limited then by the numerous splashes close aboard."

Destroyer GURKE was next to be taken under fire. At 1330, shells started splashing all around, and it was a seeming miracle that no shell struck her until almost 15 minutes of near misses had covered the ship with sea water. The GURKE also raised her hook to shift her position, but as she did, three shells hit amidships in quick succession. The first one went into the empty gunnery office, holing it in a hundred places, the nose of the shell continuing into sick bay. The second shell hit the ship's gig; the third holed the smokestack. Damage was not serious and only two men were slightly wounded.

By now, the bombardment of Wolmi was at full fury. The cruisers joined in against the harbor guns as each enemy battery exposed itself. The TOLEDO and ROCHESTER showered 8-inch shells on the fortress, while the 6-inch guns of the British cruisers KENYA and JAMAICA spat incessantly.

At 1400, "the longest hour I have ever lived," said one sailor, the destroyers moved out of the trap.

"As all ships steamed south of Wolmi-do," said Cmdr. Edwin H. Headland, Jr., of the MANSFIELD, "each vessel started receiving counterfire from the remaining shore batteries. My ship answered from 3,500 yards with the full battery. Our five-inch salvos landed very close to the enemy guns, but by this time there was so much smoke and dust that visibility was obscured. As we got past Wolmi, and able to fire only our after mount, splashes again started falling around us. I rang up emergency full speed. I distinctly remember seeing one shell pass between my stacks and strike the water 15 yards to starboard."

"In view of the great number of projectiles which landed in our immediate vicinity," reads COLLETTs action report, "God must be credited with keeping a watchful and protective eye on us."

The LYMAN K. SWENSON was not so fortunate. A single enemy shell crashed into the sea near her. Lieutenant (j.g.) David H. Swenson fell dead from a flying fragment, and his assistant, Ens. John M. Noonan, dropped wounded. Swenson's death was the only casualty of the bold bombardment of Wolmi-do.

The first-inning box score looked good. Only COLLETTs damage was measurable. The DE HAVEN and GURKE's wounds were mere scratches, and the death of one man and injuries to eight seemed a small price for the demolition of Wolmi. Even the wounded could laugh that night, while the destroyers were slowly steaming off Inchon awaiting the morning tide, when the Communist radio at Pyongyang was heard to claim that 13 UN warships had been sunk, or damaged in the battle. Listed by the Reds as sunk were three "small" destroyers, four landing craft, and three barges.

The "sunk" destroyers repeated the Wolmi bombardment at the exact same time the next day, D- minus-one. This time the destroyers would not anchor.

On the return journey up Flying Fish channel, the minefield was sighted again. Admiral Higgins detached COLLETT and fleet tug MATACO and assigned them the duty of destroying the mines. (Five mines were destroyed on D-minus-one.) All ships stopped briefly at 0800 and conducted burial-at-sea services for Lt. (j.g.) David H. Swenson. British flags as well as American flew at half-mast. The Guard of Honor stood by while Marine sentries fired three volleys. Swenson's body was, in the words of the service, committed to the deep. There was a minute of silent prayer.

Underway after the short but impressive ceremony the cruisers dropped anchor at 1059, and as the five destroyers (HENDERSON, MANSFIELD, DE HAVEN, SWENSON, GURKE) filed up the channel, the cruisers opened their covering bombardment. Overhead the carrier planes started work again on the island.

Lieutenant Commander Marvin L. Ramsey, flying a VALLEY FORGE Skyraider, gave this description of the island:

"There was a slope leading down to a cove that I had noticed on the first day. It was covered with grass and shrubbery. When I was directed to work the same area over again the second day, every bit of grass was gone and only a few trees remained. The whole island looked like it had been shaved."

The airplanes lifted their attack at the exact time the destroyers resumed the pummeling.

Commander Radel of the GURKE noticed a big difference that second day.

"We fired at Wolmi for a steady 40 minutes," he said, "before we received any counterfire. Even then, the enemy fire was brief, inaccurate and unsuccessful. I only saw two splashes near us, and the closest one was still 200 yards short."

The destroyers raked the island with methodical, unhurried deliberation. At 1415, after 75 minutes of bombardment, the destroyers moved clear and repassed the shattered island. In an hour and 15 minutes, five destroyers had fired 1,732 5-inch shells into Wolmi and Inchon's defenses - a better than 50 percent increase over the previous day, and with one less destroyer on the firing line. Best of all, there had been no slightest damage to ships or personnel. And, unlike 13 September, the retiring destroyers left the island silent.

The carrier planes resumed their pasting as the destroyers drew clear. This time, Marine fliers from the jeep carrier BADOENG STRAIT joined in, spotting fire for the still-shooting cruisers.

"When I was circling over Wolmi," said 1st Lt. Gene Oster, one of the Corsair pilots from VMF-323, "an AA gun opened up on me from the corner of Wolmi. I radioed the gun's location to the ROCHESTER, and in seconds I saw three quick explosions where that gun used to be."

"Wolmi was one worthless piece of real estate," said Marine 1st Lt. Sidney Fisher. "It had been hit so hard and so long with so many things that it looked like it was quivering. I expected it to roll over and sink any minute."

Wolmi-do was thus made ready for D-day.

The two-day pounding Wolmi and Inchon had taken must have all but convinced the Reds that the invasion was on its way to that, the most unlikely of targets. But could they be sure? To the north of Inchon, a British task force was hammering Chinnampo. To the south, the harbor of Kunsan was simultaneously under attack: A raiding party had actually landed there the night of 12 September.

The bewildered Communists could not be sure of anything but the undisguisable fact that the invasion was coming. Inchon, they reasoned, might be the diversion and Kunsan the main attack, for their intelligence reports from as far distant as Tokyo declared that Inchon was so freely named in the gossip that it could only be a transparent trick to conceal the real objective.

Planned enemy bewilderment is, of course, a cardinal principle of any amphibious attack. As early as 8 September, Gen. George E. Stratemeyer issued orders to his Fifth Air Force:

"Initiate immediate and increasing intensive bombing and strafing attacks on rail and highway junctions and bridges within 30-mile radius of Kunsan."

The plans for the hit-and-run amphibious raid on Kunsan were issued the same day from Adm. Joy's Tokyo headquarters. A miniature but truly unified force was designated - the British frigate HMS WHITESAND BAY Lt. Cmdr. J.V. Brothers, RN) would carry a mixed British-American force of raiders under command of Col. Louis B. Ely of the United States Army. Part of the order read:

"Conduct beach recon and amphibious landing Kunsan during the period 9-14 September. Purpose of this plan is to obtain essential beach information, to disrupt coastal communications, and to hamper enemy reinforcement in the Kunsan area."

The one-ship task group left Kobe on Sunday, 10 September, proceeded via the Shimonoseki Strait and arrived offKunsan on 12 September. Led by Ely, the raiders went in that night and reconnoitered 3,000 yards of the beach and found it unsuitable for a major landing. The raiding party was discovered, however, and was fired upon by machine guns from the northern end of the beach. Two men were lost and one seriously wounded. It was not highly successful in the raider sense, but the fact that troops had tried to get ashore near Kunsan was disturbing to the Reds.

Commander Seventh Fleet also helped perpetuate the deception. The period from 5 September to 13 September was chosen for striking Kunsan both by carrier air strikes and by naval bombardments in an effort, as the order read, to "effect a realistic pattern of preassault softening up to the approaches and defenses of Kunsan." Struble sent Brothers this dispatch: "Fast carriers will strafe beaches and deliver, napalm attacks on Kunsan during daylight of 12 September."

Nature dealt generously with the United Nations forces for the big landing scheduled for the next morning, 15 September. The weatherman made his prediction for D-day: "Typhoon Kezia no longer a threat and no new typhoons brewing. Weather to be clear, visibility at least ten miles, wind six knots from the northeast. Some cloudiness by midmorning and perhaps a moderate squall by late evening." Generally speaking, predicted the meteorological swami, the next several days looked favorable.

The four ships that were actually to take troops in to capture Wolmi-do were the FORT MARION (LSD- 22), the DIACHENKO (APD-123), the HORACE A. BASS (APD-124) and the WANTUCK(APD-125).

The converted destroyer escort HORACE A. BASS embarked Marines on 8 September 1950, in Pusan Harbor.

"In order to accommodate the 289 Marines we jammed aboard," said Lt. Cmdr. Alan Ray, commanding the BASS, "we rigged bunks in the after cargo hold and in our messing spaces. Then we rigged portable blowers for ventilation. In spite of a 100 percent overload of people, we managed to give everybody a bunk and three hot meals a day.

"While waiting to depart Pusan, we conducted two debarkation drills. They proved to be of tremendous value both for the Marines, some of whom had never done it, and for my ship's company, a lot of whom were new."

"The FORT MARION was my flagship," said Capt. Norman W. Sears, "and the Marine team was the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment under the command of Lt. Col. Robert D. Taplett. I ordered the departure from Pusan on 12 September, one day early, because of Kezia, and en route we were escorted by the HMS MOUNTS BAY and the New Zealand ship HMZS PUKAKI, Capt. Unwin, RN, screen commander. We arrived 30 minutes past midnight."

At a little after 2:30 a.m. the assembled ships assumed their special formation at the entrance to Inchon channel. The long column started out, led again by MANSFIELD, followed in order by DEHAVEN, SWENSON, DIACHENKO, FORT MARION, WANTUCK, BASS, LSMR-401, LSMR-403, LSMR-404, SOUTHERLAND, GURKE, HENDERSON, TOLEDO, ROCHESTER, KENYA, JAMAICA, COLLETT, andMATACO. The group rounded Palmi-do, its light shining brightly in the darkness.Lieutenant Eugene F. dark, his work done, sat atop the lighthouse, with a blanket around his shoulders, watching the ships steam past. Aboard those ships men were eating cold breakfasts at 4:00 a.m. - hard- boiled eggs and corned-beef hash. They were blacked-out, but still Clark could see them.

The journey up the mined Flying Fish channel at nighttime was no parade, even if for the destroyers in the column it was the third trip.

"There was no moon that night," said Capt. Sears, "and at first it was as dark as the inside of a cow's belly. As we stood up the channel, we could smell smoke from the burning area ten miles away. There were fires still burning from the previous bombardments."

"Because of the dangerous navigation conditions in the channel," said Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith, "the Navy at first wanted to make a daylight approach to Wolmi. But to capture the island we had to land at daybreak. In our early planning, we figured to capture Wolmi by noon, so that by the evening tide we could land a battalion of artillery there and use it in support of the afternoon assault on Inchon. Even so, the two-pronged assault gave the Reds twelve hours to bring up reinforcements. I therefore asked the Navy to make a night approach and land us on Wolmi at daybreak, and they agreed with no protest."

The skipper of one of the rocket ships, Lt. Frank G. Schettino (commanding officer, LSMR-403), commented about the passage:

"Passage through Flying Fish channel was simplified by our excellent radar performance although we mistook buoys for suicide boats on one occasion. Obviously we couldn't use our searchlights. The numerous islands lining the channel gave a clear presentation on the radar scope so that navigation was relatively simple. The only trouble was the three and one-half knot tide, and its effect was very noticeable."

At 5:00 a.m. all ships were in their assigned bombardment stations. "Before my ships had anchored," said Capt. Sears, "we received word that some of the Inchon shore batteries covered our southernmost anchorages, so I gave orders to shift all berths northward 800 yards in order to put Wolmi between us and the reported guns."

The landing force was ordered into the water at 0540, five minutes before the third-day bombardment of Wolmi-do began and 50 minutes ahead of the L-hour schedule for 0630. The BASS, WANTUCK, and DIACHENKO discharged their Marines into the waiting 17 LCVPs.

The FORT MARION put three LSUs (each carrying three tanks) into the water. The LCVPs commenced their orbiting circles in the big ships' lees. In case the mother vessels were damaged or sunk, the Marines would not be lost.

At 0545, the bombardment commenced. The big guns of the TOLEDO roared first, and an 8-inch salvo headed for enemy territory. The Inchon invasion, first phase, was under way.

"The LSMRs [Landing Ship, Medium, Rocket] used in combat at Inchon for the first time amply justified their existence," said Cmdr. Clarence T. Doss, Jr., Commander LSMR Division II. "These 200-foot craft were designed to barrage enemy installations with rockets from short range. You might call us the shotguns of a naval bombardment. Those we don't kill we scare to death.

"At Wolmi, the widely separated targets, all at varying altitudes, gave us a real test. Each rocket ship was equipped with ten continually-fed launchers and during the one day at Inchon the craft fired 6,421 rockets - only 35 of which misfired. We'd have fired more, except that we ran out of the shorter-ranged rockets."

The LSMRs had other problems. LSMR-403, for example, maneuvered into position between the SWENSON and the circling landing craft ready to fire her first rocket salvo to starboard. But she was three minutes early, for the rocket bombardment was not scheduled to commence until 0615. Against the racing incoming current and despite the use of both engines, Lt. Schettino's ship dragged anchor northward into the SWENSON's line of fire.

"I had to use full power to get clear," said Schettino, "and only missed her by ten feet."

For the next 15 minutes, the box-like ships spewed out the rockets, each one making the sound of a passing express train heard from close aboard. On the beach, the missiles fell like massive raindrops. The concentrated rocket fire was designed to precede the actual beaching of the troops - and it succeeded handily.

"Our rocket coverage was good," said Doss. "When we opened fire, the target was fairly clear, but by the end, dust and smoke obscured visibility so much, we couldn't see our hits."

Actually the visibility had been reduced to less than a hundred yards by the thunderous bombardment. While the smoke made the assessment of damage difficult, it also served to reduce counterfire from the Reds at Inchon. The first wave ofLCVPs left the LOD (line of departure) at 0627 1/2 and headed for Green Beach, 900 yards away. It was supposed to be only a three-minute trip, but the first boat did not beach until 0631, one minute late. As the eight LCVPs headed in, picking their way between hulks and wrecks along Green Beach, the carrier planes made strafing pass after strafing pass, lacing the intended landing point with lead.

The sailors and Marines of the force, had they taken note, could have seen many strange scenes in the midst of the noise, confusion, and smoke. White-robed civilians from Inchon, plainly visible, were scurrying out onto the mud flats - obviously an excellent place of refuge, for there were no targets there. One diligent and scared civilian started digging himself a foxhole with his bare hands.

Disregarding the shellfire, the harbor became crowded with small boats, each one crammed with refugees - the many small nearby islands offered greater safety than the city. Even to the unbriefed Koreans, it was obvious by now that the pasting Wolmi was getting was much more than another routine naval bombardment. In one of the small boats passing close to MANSFIELD a young Korean mother stood up. She held up her infant baby and yelled something at the destroyer, although the noise ofgunfire drowned out her unintelligible words. Her meaning, however, was plain and the boat passed safely by, disappearing into the smoke.

At 0631, Wave One landed on Wolmi, scarcely seeing the island until they were hard upon it. The leathernecks tumbled hurriedly inland, past smoking craters left by naval shells and through tree stumps blackened by napalm and splintered by the devastating barrage. The bitter smell of gunpowder - ablend of rotten eggs and ammonia - filled the air.

At 0635, the second wave of Marines was ashore, and ten minutes later, the LSUs bumped onto Green Beach. Their bow doors rattled down, and the tanks rumbled out. Three of the nine carried bulldozing blades for shredding the barbed- and mesh-wire barriers and for filling in the trenches. Three others carried flame throwers, especially handy for caves and storage pits. Two of the tanks rumbled past a cave and fired two shells into its mouth. Thirty soldiers stumbled out, hands high.

There was surprisingly little resistance - only 17 Marines were wounded from the machinegun and small-arms fire, coming primarily from the Inchon defenses.

Several North Koreans surrendered upon first appearance of the Marines. One group of surprised Marines was treated to a rare surrender scene - a group of six Red soldiers forcing their officer to strip naked and then marching him out to surrender. Others fought to the death, a few leaping into the sea in an attempt to swim to Inchon.

Machinegun fire cut them down.

By 0700 Taplett's battalion was halfway across the island, and one minute later the flag-raising Marines had hoisted Old Glory from the highest point of the island. One young naval officer among the first to land on Wolmi-do was Ens. George C. Gilman of the MOUNT MCKINLEY, skipper of an LCVP which took an Advanced Marine Communications team ashore. He also had orders to inquire for any wounded, and to evacuate them.

"I leaped ashore all ready to give battle to any and all North Koreans that just might happen to have slipped by the Marines," Oilman reminisced. "My enthusiasm was quickly dampened by the fact that my boat had drifted about six feet off the beach and I jumped out into about three feet of water.

"I charged to the beach, though, in the approved style until I noticed that a lot of laughing was going on.

A group of Marines were sitting around under a tree that was still standing as if they were enjoying a Sunday-school picnic. So far there hadn't been any enemy fire.

"I wandered up and down the beach inquiring if there were any wounded. There weren't any, so I started back to my boat. As I was walking down the beach, a sniper up on the hill opened up on me, a bullet went zinging by and kicked up sand, and I dived for a nearby trench. As I hit it, I came face to face with a North Korean soldier! I grabbed for my gun and was about to open fire when I noticed that his hands were high above his head and that a Marine was standing nearby guarding him and several other prisoners. The Reds were taking their clothes off and when one of them threw his uniform on the ground, I spotted a new-looking pair of shoulder boards, so I took out my knife and cut 'em off. The Marine guard remarked that I was worse than the Seabees.

The Marines, after the planting of the Stars and Stripes atop Wolmi, worked their way downhill and southward through the thickets and shale cliffs toward the stubborn promontory of Sowolmi-do. Here a die-hard group of North Koreans still held out, using their big guns against Wolmi.

On Wolmi's crest Lt. Col. Taplett talked by VHF radio to Strike Charlie, a flight of eight Marine Corsairs led by Maj. Robert Floeck from the jeep carrier SICILY. Taplett requested that the Sowolmi-do lighthouse area be hit. Floeck's planes bore down on the area, and five 500-pound bombs and many rockets showered down into the area.

Taplett moved a tank and a rifle squad down the gray stone causeway. There was a brief but vicious fire fight, during which three Marines were badly hit - and then Wolmi resistance collapsed. One hundred and eight enemy troops were dead and 136 had been captured.

At 0807, Taplett radioed the fleet:

"Wolmi-do secured." SC

Up ] Six Brave Ships ] Eddie Snelling's Inchon Invasion Photos ] Gunnery Officer's View ] Bob Sauer Remembers ] 10 Enemy Vessels Approaching ] Enemy Vessels Approaching ] Land The Landing Force ] Assault on Red Beach ] Operation Chromite ] Shoot Us If You Can ] [ The Taking of Wolmi-do ]



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