CVE-26 U.S.S. Sangamon

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This Month in Naval History
CVE-26 U.S.S. Sangamon

Commissioning

The USS Sangamon was the lead vessel of the Sangamon class of escort aircraft carriers. Originally, she was known as the Esso Trenton, one of 12 Cimarron class oilers built for Standard Oil of New Jersey. Her keel was laid down on March 13, 1939; she was launched later that same year, on Nov. 4. She was acquired by the U. S. Navy on Oct. 22, 1940, renamed and designated a fleet oiler (AO-28). She was commissioned on Oct. 23, 1940, with Commander J. R. Duncan in command.

Underway

The Sangamon would spend the first 16 months of her Navy career as part of the Atlantic Fleet, carrying fuel from the gulf coast to locations on the east coast and as far away as Iceland. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 thrust the U. S. into World War II, the decision was quickly made to convert the Sangamon into an auxiliary aircraft carrier. On Feb. 11, 1942, she arrived at Hampton Roads, Va. ; two weeks later, on Feb. 25, the conversion process began at the Norfolk Navy Yard.

The re-fitting of the Sangamon and the other former Cimarron-class oilers proceeded at a rapid pace, with her re-commissioning coming exactly six months after she entered dry dock. Now designed ACV-26, the Sangamon left Norfolk with Capt. C.W. Wieber in command. After a shakedown cruise and minor repairs, the Sangamon was deployed to North Africa to provide air support for Operation Torch. She arrived off the cost of Morocco on Nov. 8, 1942, just as the invasion began. For the next week, the Sangamon’s aircraft flew combat air patrol, ground support and antisubmarine patrol missions until it became apparent the initial invasion was a success. She left North Africa in mid-November and returned to Norfolk for a brief stop.

The Sangamon was then ordered to the Pacific and arrived in the New Hebrides islands in January 1943. As part of Carrier Division 22, she would operate in the area for the next eight months, largely providing aerial protection for supply convoys to Guadalcanal and assault forces heading to the Russell Islands. After a quick trip to San Diego to receive upgraded equipment, the Sangamon (now CVE-29) returned to the Western Pacific in time to aid in invasion of Tarawa on Oct. 20, 1943. Her aircraft attacked Japanese targets on the island during the first two days of the attack, the performed combat air patrol and anti-submarine missions in the area through the first week of December.

While steaming to support the upcoming invasion of Kwajalein in the Marshall Island chain, the Sangamon suffered a serious accident on Jan. 25, 1944. A landing fighter failed to catch a trap wire, broke through the protective barriers and slammed into parked planes on the forward flight deck. The crashed fighter’s belly tank tore loose, sending fuel and flames into the parked aircraft. A large fire quickly spread; though it was quickly contained, seven crew members were killed, seven more seriously injured and two more lost when they were forced to jump over the side to avoid the spreading flames.

The incident did not stop the Sangamon from supporting the Kwajalein invasion as she stayed on station near the island from Jan. 31 through the middle of February. She then moved to the waters off the island of Enewetak to support the invasion there from Feb. 17-24. Only then did she return to Pearl Harbor for full repairs.

By March 15, 1944, the Sangamon was underway again, heading to the Admiralty Islands. From April 22-24, she provided support for the invasion of Aitape; after two days at Manus Island, the Sangamon returned to the waters off Aitape and stayed through the first week of May. From June 17-20, she provided support for Task Force 52, which was taking part in the invasion of Saipan. After a brief stop at now re-occupie Eniwetok, the Sangamon deployed to the waters off of Guam to provide air cover for bombardment groups taking part in the invasion of the island; she would stay in the area from July 13 to Aug. 1.

On Sept. 15, the Sangamon provided air support for Allied invasion forces taking part in the seizure of Morotai. After the fighters aided the first invasion waves, they were ordered to attack Japanese airfields on the nearby island of Halmahera, now part of Indonesia.

In October 1944, the Sangamon would serve as part of “Taffy 1” (Task Force 77.4.1) in the invasion of the Philippines. When the allies began their landings on Leyte on Oct. 20, the Sangamon provided air support in spite of suffering minor damage from a bomb dropped from an attacking Japanese aircraft. On Oct. 24 and 25, fighters from the Sangamon fought a number of battles against Japanese planes both over the island of Leyte and the Mindanao Sea, shooting down a number of enemy aircraft.

On early on the morning of Oct. 25, with most of her fighters already off on other missions, Taffy 1 came under Japanese attack. Though the Sangamon avoided a strike from the kamikaze aircraft that hit several of her sister ships, she did suffer one lost crewmember to strafing fire. Another fierce Japanese strike came on Oct. 26, but again the Sangamon avoided hits from kamikazes.

In March 1945, the Sangamon supported Operation Iceberg, the invasion of the Ryukyu Islands. By April 1, she was in position to support the initial invasion of Okinawa. From April 9-12, she moved into a position allowing her aircraft to attack Miyako and Ishigaki before returning to support the continued assault on Okinawa.

By April 22, she had moved once again to positions to attack airfields on Miyako. Eight of her fighters and four bombers struck Nobara Field on Miyako at dusk, catching more than two dozen Japanese aircraft preparing to take off. The U. S. bombers were able to successfully drop their bombs while the eight fighters intercepted the Japanese planes that were able to get in the air. With the help of a second wave of fighters from the Sagamon, a total of seven Japanese fighters were shot down during the scrum without loss.

On May 4, the Sangamon was off the coast of Kerama Retto when she was attacked by a wave of kamikazes. She avoided a number of attacks—including one that missed by less than 30 feet—before a Japanese plane finally struck the flight deck just after 7:30 p. m. The kamikaze did significant damage, causing fires on the flight deck, hangar deck and fuel deck and leaving the Sanagamon out of control for nearly 45 minutes.

With the help of nearby ships, the Sangamon’s fire crews were able to bring the numerous fires under control in about three hours. The damage, however, was extensive and included 11 killed and 25 missing. The kamikaze attack would effectively end the Sangamon’s involvement in World War II. She had received eight battle stars and her three air groups were each awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

Decommissioning

The Sangamon limped into port at Norfolk on June 12, 1945, for repairs. When the Japanese announced their intention to surrender in August, those repairs were suspended. In September, she was de-activated; in October, she was decommissioned. On Nov. 1, she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register. She passed through multiple owners before being scrapped—ironically, in Japan—in August 1960.

 

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