Tag Archives: kamikaze

Baton Rouge, Louisiana – U.S.S. Kidd – Small Ship Big History

17 Jul

Moored in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River

The USS KIDD has been in Baton Rouge since 1982.  I have been on the ship several times – always bringing some kids to see an old war ship.  While on the ship I have thought about the men that served aboard the Kidd and as I have navigated the small doors and narrow halls I have thought how “tight” things must been for them while at sea.  I am fairly tall and somewhat claustrophobic and have become uncomfortable while on the ship.

My dad, a World War 2 veteran,  always told me that the service would get one over phobias  and everything else real quick.   Maybe the visitor center covers more but I haven’t even bothered to visit the facility and I had not discovered the rich history of the little ship. I have been apathetic.

The Kidd is not overly impressive as it sits near the Mississippi River levee in Baton Rouge. It is a destroyer.  It is a good thing that beauty contests are not held for ships. It is certainly not as glamorous as the Battleship USS Alabama located in Mobile, Alabama. Ships are more like boxers.  The destroyers are fast and meant to defend against a number of different threats. Destroyers are like lightweight boxers and battleships are like heavyweights.  The heavyweights pound and the lightweights are all over the place hitting and dodging.  The Kidd has a few small guns – not like the many massive ones on the Alabama. The USS Kidd is a Fletcher class destroyer (built in 1943) and about 175 of them were constructed during WW 2.  Only four remain today but three of those have been modernized leaving only one that still is basically the same that it was on V.J. Day in World War 2, and that one destroyer is the USS Kidd.

The Kidd is moored just North of downtown along the Baton Rouge riverfront. Since it’s home is now the Mississippi River a special mooring system was designed to account for the annual fluctuations in the Mississippi River water stages.  The river fluctuates over 40 feet a year and so part of the year the Kidd is floating and when the river is at lower stages the ship is held  in its one of a kind mooring, and is completely out of the water.  People can walk under the hull at these low water periods.

The Kidd is named after Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd. Admiral Kidd was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor while he was serving aboard the USS Arizona.  The Kidd was launched on February 28, 1943 at the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Kearny, New Jersey.  It has been a valuable part of some of the most important times in American history. It has fought in battles, has rescued downed flyers and was even hit at mid ship by a kamikaze.  History is interesting for those that live it but for those that don’t there is always a list.  What follows is somewhat of a list.  This was obtained from the National Register for Historic Places Application.  By the way, the U.S.S. Kidd is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the summer of 1943, as a new ship, the Kidd served its shakedown duty guarding convoys in the Atlantic. As it’s need for duty pressed nearer it was assigned for duty in the Pacific in August of 1943. Within a month the Kidd was escorting aircraft carriers in their attack on the Wake Islands.

The Kidd participated in the attack on Rabaul and supported amphibious operations at Bougainville in an operation to dislodge over 60,000 Japanese troops from New Guinea during October of the same year. On November 11, 1943, South of Rabaul the Kidd was detached from the main strike force as it steamed to rescue downed pilots from the U.S.S. Essex.  The Kidd was alone during the rescue and was attacked by eight Japanese aircraft.  While rescuing two downed pilots the Kidd shot down three of the aircraft, left another trailing smoke and had hits on the others. Now mind you the ship was not only picking up downed flyers and shooting at enemy planes but it was also dodging bombs and torpedoes! There must have had some Louisiana boys in important positions on that ship if you ask me!  Commander Allan B. Roby was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in the action.

During the time of November 19 until December 9, 1943, the Kidd screened aircraft carriers during air attacks on Tarawa and the Gilbert Island Invasion. The Kidd was sent, away from the main force, to investigate possible submarine activity.  While away the crew spotted 15 low flying enemy bombers headed toward the large U.S. troopships carrying thousands of Marines.  The Kidd sounded the alarm and the fleet opened fire downing two bombers.  The remaining bombers were soon downed by air patrols.

In early 1944, from January 11 until February 28 the Kidd participated in the invasion of the Marshall Islands.  She not only screened heavy ships and bombarded Roi and Wokje but she was the first ship to follow minesweepers into the lagoon at Majuro. From March 20, 1944 until  April 14, 1944, the U.S.S. Kidd guarded airstrip construction at Emirau until completion.

The Kidd also supported the occupation of Atlape and Hollandia, New Guinea. She fought in the Marianas campaign on June 10, 1944. She bombarded Guam from July 8, 1944 until August 10, 1944, to prepare for invasion. During this time the Kidd rescued at total of 35 downed flyers.  She was also part of the invasion fleet of the Philippines in October of 1944.

It appears that the Kidd was at important duty and seeing some type of action just about every day in the Pacific but things were about to change.  The US was preparing to invade the main island of Japan and the first step, and test, was to be made at Okinawa.

I tend to think of Okinawa as the forgotten battle in World War 2. If the Japanese could have prevailed then there was a chance of a negotiated peace. It the allies prevailed then the next chapter was the invasion of Japan.  In looking for information about the battle there are all kinds of official and unofficial estimates about casualties and this and that.

Over 12,500 Americans died there and nearly 40,000 were wounded. Most of these did not make the evening news or the local newspapers.  No vigils were held when the first 1,000 killed or when the total reached 10,000.  One battle in World War 2 with more casualties than the number serving in Afghanistan today.  On the Japanese side things were a lot worse. About 110,00 killed and maybe 20,000 more sealed in caves by their own hands or forces. Don’t forget that civilians lived on Okinawa.  Maybe as many as 150,000 died. These casualties were not all inflicted by the Americans or the battles.  Over 1,000 locals were killed by the Japanese because of their dialect.  It was now or never and someone with a language difference might get friendly with the enemy.  If high end estimates are used then the Japanese military and civilian casualties are about the same as those inflicted by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  We are still hearing debate about the Atomic bombs but little if anything is said about Okinawa.

The above figures and thoughts are mentioned to show the gravity of the situation and the determination with which the Japanese were willing to fight at Okinawa. It was into this mix that the USS Kidd would enter its most perilous times.

During the early phases of the battle the Kidd screened battleships, rescued downed flyers and participated in shore bombardments.  The Kidd was then assigned radar picket duty.  This was the most dangerous assigned for a destroyer.  A radar picket had to maintain its position, regardless.

A few days before the Kidd was to be assigned radar picket duty it had provided emergency protection for the USS Franklin, a carrier, that had been hit by two kamikazes.  The kamikaze flights were numerous at Okinawa.  Over 1,500 were used in seven waves in the early days of the battle.  On April 11, 1945 a low flying kamikaze took aim on the U.S.S. Kidd hitting her at mid ship.  Thirty eight men were killed and 55 wounded.  Despite the horror the Kidd was able to rejoin the task group.  While she was being repaired the war in the Pacific ended.

The Kidd went on to serve in Korea and in the Cold War but I have just covered the high points of her time in the Pacific in World War 2.  The Kidd was decommissioned for a final time in 1964.  In 1982 she was donated to the Louisiana Naval War Commission and was placed in Baton Rouge.

Much drama, death, excitement, emotion and history have taken place on the decks of the USS Kidd. It is not felt today as families stroll around and inside the ship.  She sits there on the river like most of the old World War 2 veterans now and doesn’t say much.  She knows the horrors of war but she is content to sit in silence.  We have a great witness to what our fellow countrymen have done for us.  Those on the Kidd helped to give us freedom.  She is the only WW 2 Fletcher Class Destroyer that can tell us her story.  We need to listen.