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  USS Mississinewa AO-59
USN
Cimarron class fleet replenishment oiler

24,400 Tons
553' x 75' x 32'
2 x 5" 38 cal DP gun
4 × 3" 50 caliber guns
4 × 40mm AA guns
4 × 20mm AA cannons
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USN 1944

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S. Harris Nov 20, 1944

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Chip Lambert 2001

Ship History
Built by Bethlehem Sparrows Point Shipyard at Inc., Sparrows Point, Maryland as a T3-S2-A3 Auxiliary Oiler. Laid down October 5, 1943. Launched March 28, 1944. Commissioned May 18, 1944 with Captain Philip G. Beck with a crew of 20 officers and 278 enlisted men.

Wartime History
Mississinewa earned four battle stars including action against Peleliu, Leyte and Okinawa.

Sinking History
On November 20, 1944 the ship had 440,000 gallons of aviation gasoline and a full load of fuel oil and was at anchor in Urushi Anchorage at Ulithi. Aviation fuel had been pumped from the no. 3 wing and centerline tanks and bow wing tanks no. 1 and no. 2. On orders from the captain, these tanks had not been purged (filled with seawater).

At 04:54am, No. 3 Kaiten manned torpedo piloted by Ensign Imanishi is launched from I-36 off the Ulithi Anchorage. At 5:45am, the Kaiten explodes against the USS Mississinewa. A secondary explosion, presumably the 5" ammunition magazine, occurred at 6:05am.

Fates of the Crew
63 men (3 officers and 60 enlisted men) died in the attack, most  in the compartments forward of the bridge, and forward crew berthing when it was consumed with flames. Nearby ships, a Kingfisher aircraft and the fleet tug USS Munsee, ATF-107, were involved in the rescue of her crew. As USS Munsee headed southwest down the Urushi anchorage, Storekeeper 2nd Class Simon "Sid" Harris photographed the rescue efforts.

Sinking History
By 8:30 AM, the fires were extinguished, but her bow dipped below the surface. Rescue efforts were abandoned, and the ship slowly rolled to the port. It continued to roll as the stern rose, displaying its twin, four-bladed screws and then disappeared. The ship was the only US Navy ship sunk by Kaiten attack alone.

Veteran John A. Mair recalls:
"I was awakened about 5:45 AM on the morning by a violent explosion forward that shook the ship from bow to stern. The explosion threw me off the cot and I landed on the well deck with a thud! My view forward was obscured by the cargo deck over my head but I knew something terrible had happened! My first thought was that a crew member had been smoking a cigarette over the forward aviation gasoline storage tanks and caused a tremendous accident. I did not realize that the explosion was a result of a Japanese attack!"

Shipwreck
After searching from March 27 - April 6, 2001, the ship was located Chip and Pam Lambert, at a depth of 130' on April 6, 2001. To date, no confirmed pieces of the kaiten have ever been found or identified.

During August 2001, a U. S. Navy team surveyed the wreck and made exploratory dives.

Afterwards, Jim Delgado and Clive Cussler shot a documentary for International National Geographic Sea Hunter series.  They looked extensively for the kaiten but did not find any confirmed pieces.  The trip was shortened because of a typhoon.

During February 2003, a U. S. Navy salvage team was tasked with recovering as much fuel as possible from the shipwreck by drilling into the oil tanks and recovered a total of 1.8 million gallons of oil. Afterwards, the recovered fuel was barged back to Singapore where it was sold for $0.50/gallon to help cover the $11 million salvage costs.  It was re-refined and in use today.

References
California Dive Team Finds USS Mississinewa
Bent Prop - The Search for USS Mississinewa
IMDB - Human Torpedoes: The Wreck of USS Mississinewa 2003
U.S. Navy "Salvage Report USS Mississinewa Oil Removal Operations May 2004 [PDF]

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

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