Honshu Raids, July-August 1945

First WWII naval bombardment of Japan’s home islands

Beginning 14 July 1945, Abbot joined the Third Fleet in a series of raids on Honshu, one of Japan’s main islands. This was the first naval bombardment of Japan in more than 80 years.

At 11:00 the battleship South Dakota hoisted the flag signal “Never Forget Pearl Harbor” to Task Force 38.4.1, and a little more than an hour later the bombardment of the Japan Iron & Steel Co. factory in Kamaishi began. Abbot was there, cruising about 3,000 yards offshore to spot the fall of the shells and screen the battleships.

According to Time magazine:

For two hours the guns roared, and their shellbursts walked through the steel plant. The Jap reply from shore batteries was only a whispered echo. The “sacred soil” of Japan, from which the Kamikaze (divine wind) was supposed to disperse all attackers, had been violated.

Unknown to anyone in the task force — or anywhere else in the navy — the Japanese kept enslaved Allied prisoners in the steel works and nearby camps. Just as during many air raids and sea battles throughout the war, the Japanese policy of systematically ignoring the Geneva Conventions led to needless death and suffering among Allied prisoners.

That first bombardment lasted about two hours, and is recounted in the 2006 book Ship of Ghosts by James D. Hornfischer. Abbot participated in other major bombardments of Japan, including the Royal Navy’s Hamamatsu bombardment of 29 and 30 July, but the initial Kamaishi raid was its most significant strike against the Home Islands and the one best remembered by the Abboteers.

The New York Times quickly reported the raids of 14 July and 30 July 1945 and gave more details than usual, a sign that navy censors no longer feared Japan’s ability to use military intelligence.

The U.S. Navy, which often used color film in the Asia-Pacific theater of operations, recorded these historic raids. Although the navy archives are vague, it appears that the first Honshu sequences of the reel were photographed from Abbot, making these are the only known color images of Abbot from World War II. Several other Fletcher-class destroyers and battleships can also be seen.

(Abbot’s name appears in the film’s subject index and there is persuasive visual evidence [see below] that it was shot from there. I solicit opinions about Abbot’s specific roll in this film, but this evidence points to Abbot as the camera platform in the first Honshu scenes; the battleship Massachusetts was definitely used for the later scenes.)

Some scenes are over- and under-exposed, especially the first minute or so. Faulty film development left some of the Honshu footage with muddy streaks and spots. These cannot be removed, and they appear on the original film. In addition, many scenes appear out of overall chronological order.

The National Archives holds the original film, ARC identifier “79429 NAVAL BOMBARDMENT OF HONSHU, 08/07/1945.”

For more Kamaishi and Honshu images and text, see the slide show and related cruise book pages.

But is it really Abbot?

The photo at left, from Charlie Angevine’s collection, is known to have been taken aboard Abbot on the date of the Honshu bombardment. The photo at right is a frame taken from the Honshu bombardment film, showing the crew at battle stations during the raid. Notice the identical rigging lines, the pipes on the upper deck and — this is the most crucial evidence — the positions of the fuzes on the first and third depth charges; they are identical in both photos. This proves that the same ship is seen in both images.

B-W image Color image

The shadows are also similar, indicating that the images were taken at nearly the same time of day.

The known source of the left photograph and Abbot’s prominent mention in the film’s National Archives index further proves that Abbot is the camera platform for the color film. But are there any other color images of Abbot from World War II?

None have surfaced, so far.

The Film

The film is available for on-line viewing in two versions: Full length with non-Honshu scenes and out-takes, and this shorter version with only the Honshu bombardment footage.

About the video formats

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The videos have been tested on these web browsers: Firefox version 29.0, Mac and Windows 7; Safari 7.0.1 Mac, Windows 7 and iPhone iOS 7; Google Chrome 31.0.1650.63, Mac; and Internet Explorer 10, Windows 7. Newer versions of each of these browsers should also work.