The Attack
All personal stories are true and printed in italics as spoken.

Aboard the Emmons, its crew would have the dubious honor of being the first American warships to come within the sights of Japanese planes approaching from the north on April 6. The ships of the sweep group went to general quarters a little after noon in response to a Flash RED signal indicating enemy planes were in the vicinity. These planes were probably strays from an earlier carrier battle between the Japanese and Task Force 58 somewhere over the horizon. These planes did not bother the ships of the sweep group and an “All Clear” was sounded by 1335. The lull did not last long.

About 1500, the first of several waves of suicide and traditional bombers attack radar picket stations No. 1 and 3 to the north of the location of the Emmons and Rodman. Additional Japanese planes were now reported as moving south. Search radar aboard the Emmons picked up two bogies (unidentified blips) closing in on the port quarter. The Rodman was on the port quarter some four miles away. The Rodman now spotted not two, but three planes diving out of the clouds, two on her port bow and one on her starboard.

Now the battle was on. As the planes came in at great speeds, the Rodman commenced firing and was joined by the Emmons firing from some distance. In spite of the fire from both ships, one of the planes crashed on the Rodman’s forecastle, starting huge fires, which shot sheets of flame as high as the director. Another bomb missed but a third bomb dropped close to the starboard side of the ship rupturing the hull and flooding several compartments. Power and steering was temporally lost but quickly restored, allowing the ship to request air support.

Aboard the Emmons, captain and crew were quick to respond and prepared to come along side of their sister ship to help fight the fires now raging. As the Emmons approached, Captain Foss was happy to see the fires were being brought under control. Good news. Bad news, more enemy planes of all types were being spotted in large numbers. The number estimated to be in the immediate area was estimated later to be in the range of from fifty to seventy-five. In view of this threat, plans to go along side were abandoned and, instead, the Emmons began to circle the Rodman at twenty-five knots to provide maximum fire support.

Why so many Japanese planes would concentrate their potential against the light weight early warning ships rather than to proceed on to much more desirable targets such as troopships, battleships, carriers, ammunition ships and other such ships a few miles farther, was a puzzle that was never answered. So while these ships were fighting to save themselves, they were absorbing punishment that could have been far more serious if they had not done their jobs so well.

The Emmons now became a target as well as the Rodman, although it was nearly an hour before she was attacked directly. The two ships did not have to fight the attackers alone. Shortly after the Rodman was hit, a combat air patrol of Marine Corsairs came by and pitched into the fight. Around 1600 a patrol of sixteen Hellcats checked in and began to pick off enemy aircraft jockeying for position to get at the minesweepers. To observers on the Emmons, it appeared that the Japanese pilots were more intent on getting at the ships than they were on engaging the fighters. Dogfights filled the sky on all sides.

The crews of the ships were astounded at the courage and skill of the American carrier pilots who would fly through antiaircraft fire to get at the attackers before they could reach the ships. The Emmons action report estimates that they accounted for fifty of the suiciders while she herself accounted for six before the action ended. Four more crashed close by after narrowly missing the ship. This air and sea battle would last for nearly four hours.

The first hour of the battle was largely confined to the skies. Those aboard the Emmons who could see what was going on from their battle stations watched the many dogfights with fascination and cheered whenever an enemy crashed harmlessly into the sea. But superior numbers began to tell. A few of the planes eluded the Corsairs and Hellcats in the clouds then they made their attacks on their primary targets, the destroyer minesweepers.

The attacks first appeared haphazard, as might be expected from pilots on their last mortal mission, but during the progress of the fight the Japanese appeared to get smarter. The attacks became deliberate and well coordinated with many teaming up to come in from different directions and coming in low over the water preventing the ships from concentrating their fire. All the aircraft appeared to be carrying bombs and many would start strafing as soon as they were within machine gun range. The planes themselves became deadly missiles at the hands of desperate men. The ruptured gasoline tanks fed the fires started by the explosion of the bombs.

The first direct attack on the Emmons came about 1630 when a Betty bomber broke through the clouds and dived toward the ship’s port side through a hail of fire. He missed, but pulled up on the starboard side, banked, and headed back toward the ship, only to miss again, probably because the ship was in a tight turn to port. He was smoking as he missed the starboard 40mm gun mount by inches and crashed just yards from the port side. Two other planes followed. One was a Zero which was hit and crashed about 500 yards from the starboard side. The third plane dived out of the clouds to the port side. For a few seconds it seemed that he would hit the gun director, but he missed by about sixteen feet before crashing near the number 1 gun. The pilot must have been dead already as he was seen by the director crew to be slumped forward in his seat as he passed the director.

Following the crash of the last plane, all was quiet. The crew was elated and there was much self-congratulation as the crew relaxed and tidied up around the battle stations. The Emmons continued to circle to protect their buddies on the Rodman. Overhead the dogfights continued and more Japanese planes were being shot down. The crews of the two ships watched in fascination hoping that they had seen the last of the attack. More and more enemy planes were being spotted in the sky and apprehension grew.

Now the main gun director spotted six planes coming in low off the starboard bow. The Mark 51 director for the starboard 40mm gun reported at least ten planes coming in from all angles. The Rodman counted ten planes fast approaching. Every gun on the Emmons commenced firing and three more enemy planes were downed as other planes crashed around the ship as the Hellcats bore in on the enemy all the way to the ships. The Rodman splashed two more planes bringing her total up to six. Still they came.

The Japanese who missed on their first run either crashed or turned around to try again. A Val bomber that missed the ship flew between the stacks carrying away the radio antennas strung between them. He crashed close to the port side. A Hellcat following closely on his tail was able to pull up in time to avoid the same fate.

There seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of kamikazes to replace those shot down or crashing. They kept coming in spite of their losses. One survivor described watching the planes coming at the ship as like being stranded in the middle of a superhighway with trucks and automobiles bearing down on him from either side—and wondering how long it would be before one got him.