Bullseye: the day a Kamikaze plane directly hit the light aircraft carrier USS Cabot
The kamikaze campaign was only a month old on November 25, 1944. The primary Japanese target was the U.S. Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Force, a target that largely eluded the Japanese for most of the early days of the campaign. As Mark Lardas explains in the book The Kamikaze Campaign 1944–45, there had been a few attacks, but most of the carriers hit by kamikazes between October 26 and November 25 were escort carriers . Attacks on fast carriers had yielded only one hit, that of the Essex-class Yorktown on 5 November. But on November 25, Japan spun the wheel of fortune and scored big.
TF38 was making a third visit to an ocean area off the east coast of Luzon to attack naval targets around Luzon. The Japanese had noticed that the fast carriers returned to this area every seven days to launch airstrikes. They maintained an aerial search over the area during days when American carriers were due to show up and found them.
This time it was the US Navy who got caught taking a nap. Since only two of TF38’s three carrier groups were present, American resources were stretched, with fewer fighters available for CAP and fighter sweeps concentrated on airfields around Luzon.
The Japanese launched a series of kamikaze raids in the late morning of 25 November. Additionally, the suicide bombers came from airfields in southern Luzon rather than those near Manila, where the American fighters were hunting. Between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m., the two American carrier battle groups were attacked by three waves of suicide bombers. By the end of the attacks, four carriers had been hit: the Essex-class fleet carriers Essex, Intrepid and Hancock, and the light carrier Cabot.
Cabot was more vulnerable than her larger fleet counterparts. Built on the hulls of light cruisers, light carriers had less headroom and fewer defensive capabilities than fleet carriers. They displaced half the tonnage of the aircraft carriers of the fleet and carried a much weaker anti-aircraft battery: they did not have 5 inches. guns and a third of the 40mm armament carried by Essex-class ships. It was therefore difficult for a light carrier to stop an approaching suicide bomber.
That’s what happened on November 25, when a suicide bomber rammed the aircraft carrier just before 1:00 p.m. The Cabot opened up with all his 40mm Bofors in an attempt to stop him, but couldn’t put enough steel in the air between him and the oncoming suicide bomber. Although the plane took several hits, none were able to stop the plane. Momentum moved it relentlessly forward, and it rammed the Cabot on the forward flight deck on the port side. He punched a 6-foot hole in the flight deck and destroyed the port gangway and part of the forward gun gallery.
Minutes later, a second suicide bomber dived into the Cabot. This time, anti-aircraft fire from the carrier forced a misfire and the bomber splashed into the nearby water.
The Kamikaze Campaign 1944–45 is published by Osprey Publishing and can be ordered here.
Photo credit: Adam Tooby via Osprey