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.
Mississinewa earned four battle stars including action against Peleliu, Leyte and Okinawa.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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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May 26, 2019