WWII (1943-46)

“Kamikaze Warfare” – The Mk-37 Gun Director

Memory from: Fire Controlman 1st class Gayle E. Paxton

Setting the Scene

The kamikaze attack on the USS KIDD (DD-661) on April 11, 1945, is not an isolated event. It must be viewed ultimately in the context of the desperation of the Japanese military in the closing months of a war which they were losing. By the same token, the attack on the KIDD cannot be viewed from one broad single view. To understand the true horror of kamikaze warfare, you must focus in on the various stations throughout the ship: engineering, fire control, damage control, and the wounded. Only in this way, can you see the impact upon the individual. The entry below comes from Fire Controlman 1st class Gayle E. Paxton, who was the KIDD's rangefinder operator in the Mk-37 gun director on that date.

The Recollection

During the Okinawa invasion, the KIDD and DESRON 48 [Destroyer Squadron 48] were assigned picket duty at Station No. 1, approximately 40 miles north of Okinawa. Our intent and duty was to intercept aircraft and surface vessels coming south from Japan in an attempt to interrupt the operations of the U.S. invasion. According to the action report for April 11, 1945, the squadron was under almost constant attack and we were almost constantly at General Quarters on that day. Normally, the Navy provided combat air patrol (CAP) over us at all times. However, just prior to the kamikaze hit on KIDD, CAP planes were recalled. The carrier task force from whose decks they were launched had come under attack and the planes withdrew to defend the carriers. DESRON 48 (KIDD, BLACK, BULLARD, and CHAUNCEY) were without any CAP coverage. We had the slew sight, which was operated by a gunnery officer in the director. The slew sight was used so extensively that silver contacts on the solenoid in the training indicator, underneath the director, fused together, making the director inoperable except under manual control.

One fire control man from the plotting room (Mel Hibbard from Arkansas, I believe it was) had come up andóhaving taken the cover off the training instrumentówas in the process of replacing the silver contacts when the kamikazeócarrying a bombóattacked, hedge-hopping over BLACK and coming at the KIDD at waterline height. The gunner officer in the director told us to take cover when it was seen that the plane was going to crash into the ship. I remember a loud thud, the ship’s siren and whistle blowing, and the flag bags (which held signal flags) burning. The explosion of the kamikaze’s bomb, as it exited on the port side, damaged the turret on which the director sits, making it impossible to train the director port or starboard. A piece of shrapnel (which I am donating to the museum) entered the director from the port side, tore off the port bloomer of the rangefinder, and embedded itself in the rangefinder at a point about one foot from my head. All fire control equipment was disrupted. It was impossible to use the director or the plotting room. It wasn’t long before the gunnery officer asked the 5-inch gun crews to go into local control.

Because the director could no longer be trained, the director pointer, trainer, and I asked permission to be excused from our General Quarters stations to help with the wounded. When I left the director, I went to the starboard side of the main deck and viewed the hole in the side of the ship. When the plane hit the side of the KIDD, part of the pilot was ejected from the plane and squashed against the starboard forward potato locker; the pilot of the plane was engulfed in the plane, which sat in the forward fireroom. It wasn’t too long after the kamikaze hit that we came under attack again. Our 40mms and 20mms beared down on one plane that was coming in for an additional kamikaze attack; it missed us. I remember hitting the deck. I waited until the all-clear signal. The remainder of the story is probably history. We buried our dead at sea the following morning from the fantail. I had enough points to be discharged in November, 1945.

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