by Evan Wylie SP1c (PR) USCGR
, Yank Staff Correspondent
Yank, British edition, July 27, 1945, pp. 10-1
This article was published prior to the end of WWII.
The author describes the ferocious battle between the destroyer USS Newcomb
(DD-586) and several kamikaze planes that tried to crash into her. The
article tells of the heroism of Newcomb's crew to keep the ship from sinking and
to save the lives of men wounded from four kamikaze aircraft that hit the
ship. Some sources state that Newcomb got hit by five kamikaze planes, but the
Navy's official damage report indicates that only four hit the destroyer.
Surprisingly, the Yank correspondent misspells the
ship's name as Newcombe throughout the article.
The story does not provide several key facts normally
included in a typical battle description. The reason for this lack of details
may have been due to US Navy restrictions on release of information prior to the
end of the war. The article is missing the battle date (April 6, 1945), number
of casualties (40 killed and 51 wounded ), and
name of other destroyer that assisted Newcomb and also got hit by a kamikaze
plane (Leutze (DD-481)). The article also does not have any photograph of
damage that was done to the destroyer.
The author does not give details on Japan's Kamikaze
Corps members. They are referred to in such terms as "Jap suiciders" and
The Newcomb received the Navy Unit Commendation
for her outstanding war record. The section of the commendation related to the
kamikaze attack is shown below:
Culminating her brilliant combat service in a
furious engagement with seven enemy suicide planes determined to destroy
her, the NEWCOMB, staggering from the first suicide crash and slowed by loss
of steam, shot down a second plane and was immediately smashed amidships by
a third. With top-hamper and machinery spaces blown into a tangled mass of
rubble, with smoke and flames billowing 1000 feet above her and the bridge
the only structure intact above the water line, she fought on relentlessly
with her remaining guns in manual control to blast three more attackers into
the sea and damage the last Kamikaze. Superbly handled by valiant officers
and men, the NEWCOMB has added new luster to the finest traditions of the
United States Naval Service.
The USS Newcombe managed to bring down the first Jap
suicide plane and to dodge the second. The third plane connected and left the
crippled destroyer easy prey for two more hits. With all power and
communications knocked out, the tin can still survived.
Okinawa, Ryukyus—The skipper of the destroyer stood on the bridge, his head
thrown back, peering through glasses at the ack-ack fire high on the horizon.
"They're at it again," he said. He lowered the glasses and pulled his baseball
cap down over his eyes. "They're licked, but they keep coming back for more. Now
it's suicide planes with suicide pilots—the Kamikaze Corps. Means 'divine wind'
they tell me. Kids with a little flight training hopped up with the idea of
joining their ancestors in the most honorable way possible."
He smiled and the lines of fatigue and strain made deep furrows in his
weather-beaten face. "It's a weird business; something that only a Jap would
dream up. Almost every day they claim they've sunk another hundred of our ships.
Actually we shoot most of them down before they get to us. Some get through of
course. They're bound to. A few hit. If they only knew how few maybe they'd
The destroyer was the USS Newcombe. She had taken the worst the
kamikaze boys could offer. Seven Jap suiciders had hurled their planes at her,
determined to destroy the ship and themselves in one big moment of beautiful
everlasting glory. Three had been shot down. Four had connected. The Newcombe
still was afloat and most of her crew still were alive. Some of them were
sitting cross-legged on the deck below playing cards. They didn't look as if
they were very much awed by the attention of the Japanese Navy's special attack
The weather that day had been good. The Newcombe, patrolling off
Okinawa, slid easily through the slight swell, her crew at battle stations. The
air defense had passed word that an attack by Jap suicide planes was expected,
but the afternoon wore on and there were no visitors. The crew, restless from
their long stay at the guns, watched the sun drop down toward the horizon. It
would soon be time for evening chow.
"Bogies coming in ahead."
In the turrets the men stretched out on the deck beside the guns leaped to
their stations. On the 20s the gunners who had been dozing in their harnesses
snapped erect. The electric motors whined. The gun muzzles arched around,
sweeping the target area. The destroyer shivered as the throbbing engines picked
up speed. The seas began to curl away from her bow. In a moment the Newcombe
was knifing through the water at better that 25 knots.
"Bogies in sight, bearing three zero zero."
What had been mere specks in the sky grew suddenly larger. They were Japs,
all right. A whole swarm of them. One detached himself from the group and headed
for the Newcombe. The can's heavy guns challenged him. Dirty brown bursts
appeared in the sky. One Jap bore through them, jigging from side to side as he
tried to line up the ship in his sights. He was a suicider, deliberately trying
to crash the ship. The Newcombe shook as her 40s and 20s joined in. Their
bullets hammered into the Jap. He faltered, lost control and splashed into the
sea 400 yards away.
Another plane tried it. The Newcombe's guns blazed savagely. The
second plane disappeared in a wall of ack-ack. For a moment the gunners thought
they had him, too. Then he burst into view, much closer. A yellow flame
flickered along his left wing. He was starting to burn out but still he came on.
Commander Ira McMillian of Coronado, Calif., stood on the wing of his bridge,
eyes fastened on the approaching plane. At the last minute he shouted an order.
In the wheel house the quartermaster spun the wheel. The speeding destroyer
heeled over in a sharp, rivet-straining turn. It was too late for the Jap to
change his course. There was a splash and a great ball of yellow flame as he
plunged into the sea at the spot where the Newcombe had been a moment
A flaming Jap suicide plane is dropping into
the sea off the stern of the target it failed to hit.
(photo and caption included with Yank magazine story)
The bogies buzzed warily about out of range, seeking an opening. One thought
he saw it. Zooming up, he made a quick diving turn, leveled out and came in low,
the belly of his fuselage a few feet above the waves. The Newcombe's
5-inch batteries pointed. A burst threw the Jap down against the water. He
staggered, recovered and kept coming. Comdr. McMillian barked his order for a
change in the course. But this time the onrushing plane swerved freakishly in
the same direction.
For an instant the men of the Newcombe had a glimpse of the pilot
hunched forward in the cockpit, his begoggled face an impassive mask. Then the
plane shot past them, ripped through the gun mount and shattered itself against
the afterstack. There was a blinding flash. The Newcombe shuddered and
rolled heavily to starboard.
On the signal bridge Richard Hiltburn SM3c  of Tacoma, Wash., was flung high
into the air by the explosion. Before he landed unhurt on the deck he caught a
glimpse of the bits of plane, guns and men flying in all directions. Wounded men
struggled to gain their feet. Others lay motionless, already beyond help.
Escaping steam roared from the broken pipes. But the Newcombe had been
hit before . The rest of the crew remained on station. Up in the wheel house the
quartermaster wrote carefully in the ship's log: "Plane hit our stack, causing
damage not known at present." A mile behind the Newcombe another
ship  saw
the flash of the exploding plane. Altering her course she started for the scene
at full speed.
She wasn't the only one who saw the plane hit the Newcombe. One of the
bogies noted it too. He banked around and came for a closer look. He probably
wasn't expecting much opposition but a surprise was waiting for him. The
Newcombe's guns still packed a punch. The startled Jap veered as the 5-inch
batteries opened up. He wasn't quick enough. The burst hit him. He caught fire.
His wing dropped off and he spun into the water.
From his post on the bridge wing Jesse Fitzgerald SM1c noticed the ship's
photographer lying helpless on the platform half way up the undamaged forward
stack. Running aft he climbed the ladder to the platform. As Fitzgerald bent
over the photographer, the Newcombe's guns started again. Whirling around
he saw not one but two planes attacking, one from the port bow, and the other
from the port quarter. As they closed in the guns in their wings started
winking. The bullets ricocheted from the bridge and whined around Fitzgerald.
Aboard the Newcombe the gunfire rose to a crescendo. Again Comdr.
McMillian tried to dodge at the last minute but the ship had lost too much
speed. The planes were upon her. One buried itself in the base of Fitzgerald's
stack; the other dove into the hole made by the first suicider. There was a
tremendous explosion. A giant fist seemed to descend upon the Newcombe
and drive her down into the water. Men and gun tubes alike disappeared skyward.
The heavy steel hatches which had been tightly dogged down were blown off their
hinges, twisted like sheet metal. Engulfed in flame and billowing black smoke,
the Newcombe lost headway and slowly came to a dead stop in the water,
all her power and communications knocked out.
Up forward the dazed men picked themselves up and stumbled out to see what
had happened to their ship. The bridge and forward portion of the Newcombe
were relatively undamaged but the flame and smoke amidships hid the stern from
view altogether. Shielding their faces from the searing heat, the men tried to
peer through it. Was the stern still there, they wondered. There was no way of
knowing. "Stern is gone," someone cried and many men believed him.
Signalman Fitzgerald had ducked at the last minute. Miraculously he and the
wounded photographer were untouched by the explosion. Looking down, Fitzgerald
found the base of the stack surrounded by burning gasoline and wreckage from one
of the planes. Above him the coils of wiring in the broken rigging whipped about
crackling and spitting, showering the decks below in a cascade of blue sparks.
Fitzgerald took his man down the ladder and found a path through the burning
gasoline to the forward part of the ship. He applied a tourniquet to the
photographer's bleeding leg and then rushed back to the bridge to help put out
the fires in the signal flag bags.
Men on the other destroyer had seen the second and third planes hit the
Newcombe, had seen her go dead in the water half-hidden in the clouds of
smoke. As the distance between the two ships narrowed they could make out
figures stumbling about in the dense smoke that covered the Newcombe's
stern. Other figures lay along her starboard deck waving feebly, too badly hurt
to move. Into the smoke went the other destroyer.
At almost collision speed she swept up alongside the Newcombe. There
was a grinding crash as the two ships came together. The men jumped across and
made the ships fast. Fire hoses were snaked across the rails. Powerful streams
of water leaped from their nozzles and drove the flames back from the prostrate
men. Rescue parties rushed in and dragged them to safety.
The suicide boys were not through. Another plane was roaring in, headed
straight for the Newcombe's bridge. Looking up, Joseph Piolata WT2c , of
Youngstown, Ohio, saw the other destroyer firing right across the Newcombe's
deck. The gunners did their best but the Newcombe's superstructure hid
the plane from their sights. On both ships the men watched helplessly. This was
the kill. The Newcombe could never survive another hit.
But the battered, burning can still had fight in her. Incredulously the men
of the Newcombe crouched on her stern, struggling in the water, lying
wounded on the deck heard their ship's forward batteries firing. There was no
power but the gunners were firing anyway—by hand.
The gunnery officer stood at his station shouting the range data to the men
in the forward 5-inch turrets. In the No. 2 turret Arthur McGuire GM1c  of St.
Louis, Mo., rammed shells with broken, bleeding fingers. His hand had been
caught by a hot shell while firing at the third plane but he was still on the
job. The Jap had the Newcombe's bridge in his sights. It looked as if he
couldn't miss. The burst from McGuire's gun caught him and blew him sideways.
The hurtling plane missed the bridge by a scant eight feet, skidded across the
Newcombe's ruptured deck and plowed into the other destroyer.
With a gaping hole in the afterdeck and the portside a tangled web of broken
lines and wildly sprouting hire hoses, she drifted slowly away.
Without water to fight the fire still raging amidships the Newcombe
was doomed. But the destroyer's crew contained some notoriously obstinate
people. Donald Keeler MM2c , of Danbury, Conn., was one of them. Keeler had been
at his station in the after steering compartment. He was knocked down by the
explosions but got up and put the ship in manual control. When it became evident
that all the power was gone he joined the crowd on the stern just in time to
hear that the after ammo-handling rooms were burning and the magazines were
expected to go any minute.
Keeler elected to fight the fire. His only hope lay in the "hand billy," a
small, portable pump powered by a gasoline engine. The engine was started like
an outboard motor—by winding a rope around the flywheel and giving it a quick
tug. Like all outboard motor engines sometimes it started, and then again
sometimes it didn't.
Groping around in the blistering heat, Keeler found the hand billy. Carefully
he wound the rope around the flywheel, held his breath and yanked. The engine
kicked over and kept going. Now Keeler had water. He and Donald Newcomer WT1c of
Portland, Oreg., took the hose in the No. 4 handling room and went to work on
the fire. Malcom Giles MM3c of San Jose, Calif., and Lt. David Owens, of
Waukesha, Wis., joined them. The four men got the fire under control. Then they
dragged the pump forward.
The No. 3 handling room was a roaring furnace. Steel dripped like solder from
overhead. In the galley next door the heat had already transformed the copper
kettles into pools of molten metal. Flames shot from the ammo hoists like the
blast of a huge blowtorch. It looked hopeless but Newcomer shoved the hose in
the doorway. No sooner had he done so than a wave came overside and doused the
pump. Again he wound the rope around the flywheel, gritted his teeth and yanked.
"I think I even prayed that second time," he says. "But the damn thing popped
right off, something it wouldn't do again in a million years."
The men went back into the handling room. They kept the hose in there, taking
turns. The magazines didn't blow up.
Sailors battle flames on the flight deck of the
carrier Saratoga, hit by kamikazes off Iwo Jima.
(photo and caption included with Yank magazine story)
Up forward the sailors were trying to fight the fire with hand extinguishers.
A withering blast of heat drove them back. Their life jackets smoking; their
clothing was afire. The Newcombe's doctor, Lt. John McNeil of Boston,
Mass., and Edward Redding QM3c , found one of the crew battling the flames with
hair ablaze, half blind from the blood dripping from the shrapnel wounds in his
face and forehead. With difficulty they dragged him off to the emergency
dressing station in the wardroom. Many of the pharmacist's mates were out of
action. Men with only first-aid training helped McNeil mix blood plasma for the
Earl Sayre CPhM , of Roseville, Ohio, was trapped on the stern unable to get
his casualties forward. He was working a fracture when someone tugged on his
sleeve. "Blue Eyes has been hit bad. Looks like he's bleeding to death."
Blue Eyes was the youngest member of the crew. He had come aboard claiming 18
years but the men had taken one look at him and decided he must have lied to get
in. They teased him by calling him Blue Eyes and it became his name. Now he lay
on the deck, blood spurting from a vein in the neck. Sayre had no instruments.
He knelt down beside Blue Eyes and stopped the flow of blood with his fingers.
He stayed there while a second plane came in and hit the other destroyer 20 feet
away. He stayed there for almost an hour longer until they could come and take
Blue Eyes away and operate on him and save his life. But Sayre had saved it
The rest of the Japs had been driven off. It was beginning to get dark when a
ray of hope came to the exhausted men of the Newcombe. Keeler's volunteer
fire department seemed to be holding the fires. Perhaps now they could save
their ship. But the wave that had stopped the handy billy was followed by
another and another.
The Newcombe was sinking. The weight of the water that the hoses had
poured into her after compartments was dragging her down. The rising water moved
steadily forward. It reached the after bulkhead of the forward engine room. If
it broke through, the Newcombe was done for. And the bulkhead was already
Back on the stern Lt. Charles Gedge of Detroit, Mich., and torpedomen Richard
Mehan of Verona, N.J., Richard Spencer of Roddick, Pa., and Joseph Zablotny of
Boswell, Pa., had neutralized the depth charges and dumped them overside. After
them went the wreckage, smashed equipment, anything that would lighten the
In the forward engine room the damage control party shored up the bulging
bulkhead. Water oozed from it but it held. With less than one foot of free board
between sea and her decks, the Newcombe stopped sinking.
Now the blinkers flashed in the darkness. Other destroyers were coming
alongside. Over their rails came men with fire hoses and pump lines, doctors and
pharmacist's mates with plasma and bandages. Tugs were on the way. The fight was
The Newcombe's men had answered the question: just how much punishment
can a destroyer take? The answer was: just as much as any gang of Japs can dish
out, provided her crew never stops trying to save her.
Photo of damage to Newcomb (DD-586).
(not included with Yank magazine story)
1. SP1c (PR) is the abbreviation for Specialist
1st Class (Public Information). USCGR is the acronym for United States Coast
2. Rielly 2010, 321.
3. SM3c is the abbreviation for Signalman 3rd
4. This vague reference about Newcomb's
being hit before cannot be verified. Other sources do not mention the
destroyer's being hit prior to April 6, 1945.
5. The referenced "another ship" was the destroyer
Leutze, which is never named in the story. Walter J. Fillmore wrote the
2001 book entitled War History of USS Leutze (DD-481).
No book has been published on Newcomb's history.
6. WT2c is the abbreviation for Watertender 2nd
7. GM1c is the abbreviation for Gunner's Mate 1st
8. MM2c is the abbreviation for Machinist's Mate
9. QM3c is the abbreviation for Quartermaster 3rd
10. CPhM is the abbreviation for Chief
Rielly, Robin L. 2010. Kamikaze Attacks of World War II: A
Complete History of Japanese Suicide Strikes on American Ships, by Aircraft
and Other Means. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.