Just beneath the whaleboat on the starboard side of the ship, you reach a rather interesting spot aboard the USS KIDD. Looking forward, you see a doorway blocking the way to the bow of the ship. This is the breakwater. The breakwater is a weather shield designed to block the flow of water down the main deck. As the ship plows through the waves, the bow is often covered with water. This breakwater protects the men working on the main deck from being washed off their feet by the waves.
A life raft can be found on display beneath the whaleboat, turned on its side for a view of the interior. You can see the paddle and canisters strapped inside. The canisters held emergency supplies; usually fresh water and biscuits.
But it is not either of these items that make this spot so special. Rather, it is what lies below decks at this spot: the forward boiler room. This is the site of the kamikaze attack, where on April 11, 1945, the KIDD was struck by a lone suicide plane off the coast of Okinawa, just south of Japan.
The plane first attacked USS BLACK (DD-666), the KIDD’s squadron mate in DESRON 48. But instead of crashing into her, the pilot pulled up to skim over the top of her and home in on the KIDD, placing himself in a crossfire between the two ships. Fearful of hitting her sistership, the KIDD only opened fire with her 20mm and 40mm guns, hitting the plane several times. But the plane came on.
Dr. Broox C. Garrett, the ship’s doctor was standing at this location during the attack. He filmed the plane as it came in toward the KIDD but the viewfinder of his camera kept him from realizing the true proximity of the plane. Once he realized the danger, he raced along with everyone else on the main deck for cover on the opposite side of the deck house.
The plane hit just below the main deck, starboard side, in the forward fireroom, between the boilers. The boilers ruptured, killing every man in that compartment (the steam was near 800º). The plane piled up in the wreckage, but the bomb it was carrying was catapulted through the ship, piercing the port side hull and exploding just outside the ship. Remember that battleships and larger vessels often had close to a foot of armor on their sides. Destroyers like the KIDD—”tin cans”—had only ⅜-inch of plating.
Many of the men on the main deck were killed by shrapnel from the explosion of the bomb outside the hull. The blast crumpled much of the superstructure on the port side. Dr. Garrett was picked up by the blast and thrown back through the passageway to the starboard side of the ship. Up on the bridge, the Captain—CDR Harry G. Moore—was severely wounded. Lieutenant Burdick Britton, the Executive Officer, stayed in command for a time and managed to get the ship underway and retreating southward before having to be relieved of command due to his injuries. Lieutenant (jg) George P. Grieshaber, the Chief Engineer, had been killed below decks in the forward fireroom room where the plane had hit. Shrapnel from the bomb blast had decimated the forward 40mm gun crews, ripped through the Combat Information Center, Radio Central, the Bridge, and the Mk-37 Gun Director, and set off secondary explosions in the oxygen and acetylene bottles stored portside for use with damage control.
With the forward fireroom out of commission, the KIDD was dead in the water. Black smoke poured from her side, serving as a beacon for other Japanese planes. These planes came in and attempted to finish her off. The gun crews fought off repeated attacks. All the while, squadron mates BLACK, CHAUNCEY, and BULLARD circled their beleaguered sister providing covering fire.
This attack shows the need for the duplication of machinery. After a short time, the ship was able to make half-speed. The second fireroom saved the ship by being able to provide steam to both enginerooms and allowing her to get underway again. Additionally, the Emergency Radio Room took over radio communications when Radio Central was knocked out by the bomb explosion. During the lull in which the emergency station was being brought on-line, signalmen provided ship-to-ship communication via signal flags and semaphore. With the Mk-37 director also off-line, gun crews went to local control, aiming the 5″/38-cal. guns manually.
The KIDD retreated from the combat zone and made temporary repairs at Ulithi Atoll before returning to San Francisco for repairs. She never saw combat in World War II again. She was en route to Japan for the immanent invasion when the B-29 bomber ENOLA GAY dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima heralding the end of World War II.
All totaled, 38 men lost their lives and another 55 men were wounded in this one attack—nearly one-third of the ship’s crew—by one man in one plane carrying one bomb. A sobering fact is that more ships were lost at Okinawa than in any other battle in the history of the U.S. Navy, the majority of them destroyers on radar picket duty.