[Aboard a transport in Ariake Bay, Tuttle witnessed a kamikaze attack of unprecedented scale and coordination.]
An occasional dull thud or distant crack sounded out from the front lines on land. I was standing under a lashed assault boat to stay out of steady rain, two cups of coffee in me, when the sea all around erupted with gun fire.
Radar directed five inch guns were quickly elevated from shore support positions to fire at aircraft somewhere in the dark rain clouds. I saw scattered flashes of light from land where anti-aircraft batteries had been set up. They must have been firing blindly, following whatever the Navy guns were doing.
Sailors on the Athene ran all directions toward battle stations. Soldiers moved down into the holds, where they were instructed to wait out any attack. I ran, field glasses in hand, toward any ladder I could find that took me up higher for a better sightseeing location.
I got to my best vantage point, forward and several decks up on the superstructure, just as the medium anti-aircraft pieces across the invasion fleet came alive. All guns were firing to the northwest, over land. Whatever the threat was, it was coming from the interior of the island. In my binoculars I could just make out flaming planes falling out of the sky, one and two at a time. A few flew down out of the clouds under power, still over land – over our lines. Pulling up and turning clumsily, surprised at the lack of water and naval targets, each was chewed up by ground fire shortly after coming into view.
Ships in the fleet began to slew their AA batteries different directions, as the radar targets came almost directly overhead. Some guns were at maximum elevation before the first live planes came diving out of the sky. Just as those planes came diving, more planes, slow and low flying, were spotted coming out over land at tree top. Patrolling Navy fighters, helpless to intercept the cloud-covered waves, shot out to intercept those low flying bogies while they had a chance.
Planes diving out of the clouds had a short window in time to find a target. They had no fighter escorts, all were suicide bombers. Most were probably inexperienced pilots flying old planes, but there were hundreds of them, and they were right on top of the fleet.
Kamikazes came down so thick that for a time it looked more like part of the weather than a contrivance of man. American gunners kept up a furious pace of firing. The hardest part of their job was choosing which target to work on, out of so many deadly options. Airplane wreckage and small oil slicks littered half the bay before the first of the suicide planes found success.
I watched myself as the destroyer USS Kidd was hit twice. The old cruiser USS Chester took three impacts amidships and was still burning at noon when she was abandoned. But the focus of the onslaught was clearly the transports. Most of the troops were already ashore, but our heavy support equipment was largely still waiting on the water. In close sequence I saw a heavily laden cargo ship and two tank landing ships next to her put down with multiple impacts from one well-disciplined formation of suicide planes. Behind them the tanker USS Kishwaukee, loaded with aviation fuel, lit up the eastern sky brighter than the sun after just one near vertical impact drove straight through the ship, flooding the sea with burning fuel.
After an intense few dozen minutes, the assault from above and over land was down to a few stragglers, aircraft which got up late or got lost. One at a time they were easy prey for fighters and Navy guns. Then an alert went out about more planes coming from land to the northeast. Practically out of the ground around Takahata-yama another thirty-some planes launched toward the rear of our fleet.