History of the U.S.S. Kinzer

This narrative was written by Billy Joe Cunningham during his service aboard the U.S.S. Kinzer (APD-91) in the Pacific Theater of World War II and gives a first-hand account of the battle history of his ship.

Edward Blaine Kinzer, Ensign, U.S. Naval Reserve, became a hero in the early days of World War II.  Kinzer was born on August 22, 1917, and died as a result of enemy action in the Coral Sea engagement when his plane failed to return.  He is officially credited with aiding materially to the sinking or damaging of eight enemy vessels in Tulagi Harbor, May 4, and to the sinking of one enemy aircraft carrier in the Coral Sea on May 7, 1942.

The U.S.S. KINZER was originally to be the Destroyer Escort 232, but after being launched and almost completed it was converted to an APD, a new type of vessel brought about by the change of the war from Atlantic to Pacific concentration.  The APD (Auxiliary Personnel Destroyer) was designed for high speed transport duty in the Pacific invasions.

The U.S.S. KINZER  was built in the Charleston Navy Yard, South Carolina, the first of nine APD’s turned out in this yard.  During July and August 1944, changes were made in the plans to accommodate troops, cargo, and landing boats, and the work was begun to make the DE-232 the APD-91.

In early October 1944, a nucleus crew reported for duty to the Navy Yard in Charleston to fit out the U.S.S. KINZER, and finally on November 1, 1944, with a crew of one hundred and eighty one men and thirteen officers, the U.S.S. KINZER was officially christened by Mrs. Charles E. Kinzer, Edward Kinzer’s mother.

Immediately thereafter, the ship was commissioned by Captain G.E. Baker, U.S. Navy, (Captain of the Charleston Navy Yard), Lieutenant R.C. Young, U.S. Naval Reserve, reported aboard as first commanding officer.  Admiral Juels James, U.S. Navy, Commandant of the Sixth Naval District attended the ceremonies.

The following three weeks entailed a start in life for the U.S.S. KINZER.  The ship was provisioned, supplies and ammunition brought aboard, and the first structural tests given.  Successfully completing this, the ship got underway on November 23, 1944, from the Charleston Navy Yard for Bermuda on her “Shakedown Cruise”.

At Bermuda, the KINZER spent two weeks of rigid tests and shakedown, met the specifications, and returned to the United States port of Norfolk, Virginia, for a post-shakedown availability in mid-December.

With the turn of the year on January 1, 1945, the U.S.S. KINZER left Norfolk and proceeded to the Pacific Ocean, passing through the Panama Canal on January 7.

Enroute from Panama to San Diego, the first operation was performed aboard when the Medical Officer, Lieutenant (junior grade), J.D. Allen, U.S. Naval Reserve, performed an appendectomy on R.W. Wagner, Chief Machinist Mate, U.S. Navy.

After a short period in San Diego and San Francisco, the U.S.S. KINZER left the United States bound for Pearl Harbor, where the KINZER was singled out for a particular type of duty along with one other ship, the U.S.S. SCRIBNER (APD-122).

The two ships picked up approximately ninety highly trained marines of the Reconnaissance Battalion, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.  Each and every one of these men had seen action before and was a handpicked man for the job ahead.

On February 18, the ship got underway from Pearl Harbor, Ohau, T.H. for Leyte, P.I., via Eniwetok and Kossol Roads.

On March 10, the ship sailed into Leyte and underwent training for reconnaissance work in the coming invasion of the Ryukus Islands.  The training during this period was brief but intensive, and all the last minute problems were “ironed out”.

On March 19, the KINZER left the Philippines for the Ryukus Islands, as a screen for a task force of LST’s that was to make a pre-invasion landing on Kerama Retto, a small group of islands eight miles south of Okinawa.  The destination was reached on the 26th of March, one week prior to D-Day on Okinawa proper.

On the morning of March 26, 1945, the U.S.S. KINZER was planning for a hard and long day ahead.  At 0400 steak and eggs were served to all hands, and at 0552 the ship went to general quarters. As the task force of LST’s swung into shore to land, the KINZER proceeded to a line of anti-submarine and AA screens about five miles off the beach-head.

As the ship was about to swing into position, the report came over the radio that two Jap “Boggies” had slipped through the outer screen and were closing on our sector of the patrol.  No sooner had the report come in than two tiny specks were seen high off on the port bow. They were the first enemy planes the ship, and many of the men had seen. It was then that a sudden realization swept the men that here was actually an enemy that must be annihilated, and all the months and tedious hours of training had been in preparation for this moment.

A destroyer off the port bow took the two planes under fire and the KINZER trained on the higher of the two planes.  The captain gave the order, “Open Fire”, there was a pause, and then the ship shook as the first five inch projectile left the ship, another followed, and then it happened, in a split second, the plane that the KINZER had under fire dove on the destroyer, while the other plane rolled over and dove on the KINZER.  The ship immediately shifted fire to this diving plane and it was kill or be killed. As he started his dive, there was a terrific flash off the port bow and in a brief glance it could be seen that the other plane had crashed the fantail of the destroyer, engulfing the ship in flames, but the KINZER had her own problem.  Through the mind of everyone went the thought, “They hit the can. The can had five five inch guns, we have but one. Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” The five inch projectiles slammed from the bow – then the forties with their steady ga-boom joined the chorus to be completed with the tat-tat-tat-tat of the spitting twenties. Tracers could be seen pouring into the nose of the diving enemy, but down he came, everyone waiting for a flash from his guns or the bomb beneath those red-spotted wings.  The bridge, he was going to crash the bridge, but at a distance of five hundred yards he swung for the fantail, passed over the booms by a mere fifteen feet, and crashed into the ocean fifty feet off the starboard quarter. There was no explosion, just one big splash, a splintering of wings, and the waves of the Pacific closed over the coffin, leaving only the wake from a ship that had proved herself to everyone aboard.

For the remainder of the day all hands remained at general quarters and prepared for the evening ahead.  The KINZER and SCRIBNER left their screening station at sunset for the first act of their mission, landing the reconnaissance marines on Kamiyama Shima without being detected.  On these small islands large guns were to be set up to aid in the initial assault on Okinawa, thus the terrain and activities had to be known. At 2200 the ships came to a standstill, lowered two landing boats, and the marines with blackened faces, slipped their rubber boats into the water from the fantail.  After loading the boats with radios, ferocious war dogs, and light guns, eight men manned each boat, and the dark figures slid off into the night. The landing boats towed them to within one thousand yards of the beach and there they were cut loose to paddle in and investigate the island.

In the meantime, the KINZER  laid off in a brilliant moonlight, a moonlight that lost its amorous appeal on the first night’s operation at Okinawa.  Soon men aboard referred to it as the “Boggie moon”. The sky was lacking all protective clouds and though a ship is but a tiny speck on the water, to all aboard it seems to be the perfect silhouette for enemy planes and submarines.  Twice during the night two Jap bombers zoomed over the ship, clearing the bow by less than fifty feet. They had probably taken off from Okinawa proper, only four miles away and passed over with one big “Whoomff”. They were as surprised to see us as we were to gasp at them, as they were there, here, and gone in a second.  Neither had time to open fire on the other, but why they never returned was a mystery unexplained.

In the following nights prior to D-Day on Okinawa, the U.S.S. KINZER landed her marines on the various islands surrounding the mainland.  On some islands the marines found no sign of life, while on others they were forced to retract under Japanese gunfire, losing men in the operations.  Also, on one night the rough surf claimed the life of one man when a small boat overturned while approaching the beach. On the completion of these operations the two ships and marines received a message of congratulations on the fine work done from Admiral Blandy.

Every night was an all night general quarters, lying off shore and waiting for the return of the marines.  The ship opened fire on many enemy planes roaming the area at night, escaped bombings several times and with a stroke of luck, escaped providing a flight deck for a twin-engined Jap “Betty”.  The huge plane had been hit by the shells from one of the many destroyers firing on the horizon and had no choice but to seek the earth or water below. The pilot, spying the KINZER, decided to make a grand finale and win the admiration of the Gods.

However, with poor control of his ship, he pancaked on the water a few hundred yards dead ahead of the KINZER with a heavy concussion and with the motors still turning over, the plane was thrown skyward again and passed over the ship at mast height, flames pouring from his tail, and crashed one hundred yards astern with a blinding flash and disappeared from sight leaving only a crepe of flame.

The ship dared not stop to search for survivors as air raids were still in session and from all directions tracers could be seen weaving a lace-work in the sky, a lace of steel to trap the enemy.  Using the radio connections with the marines ashore, word was sent to dispatch a boat to the scene of the sinking plane. After an hour of searching the water, three enemy survivors were picked up, and not until they told their story did anyone aboard realize that it wasn’t a bomb that had dropped prior to the plane passing overhead, but the plane itself.  The pilot had planned a beautiful end for the KINZER, but in the denouement, the pilot himself was found caught in one of the ship’s embarkation nets that was draped over the side. His chances of glory were gone forever, he was dead.

On Easter morning, April 1, the invasion of Okinawa took place.  At this time the KINZER started her duty as an anti-submarine screen ship, and continued patrol duty off the island until May 15, withstanding air raids, suicide boats, and an imminent attack by the remains of the Japanese Navy.  The latter, however, was intercepted by the air wing of task force 58, before it reached Okinawa and was destroyed.

Finally on May 16, 1945, the ship left for a two weeks availability at Ulithi, and a modified liberty, the first since January.  On completing the needed availability the ship returned to Okinawa to resume screening station and landed the marine reconnaissance forces on the island of Kume Shima, where two Jap prisoners were taken and the information for the landings on the island a few days later was obtained.

On July 15, the U.S.S. KINZER left Okinawa after almost four months of duty there and proceeded to the United States.  Behind in Okinawa were left events, but not the memories, the diving planes, the thud of bombs, those anxious hours awaiting the return of the marines, the “Boggie moon”, and many planes exploding in the clouds above, crashing in water, caught in the spot of search lights at night, or suiciding into destroyers, cruisers, and battleships.  The crew was happy to leave all this, and it was a glorious day, when on August 9, the U.S.S. KINZER sailed into the port of San Pedro. The ending of the war a few days later caused the topping of all enthusiasm, as the KINZER had been brought back to the states for the purpose of training for the coming invasion of Japan, and the vividness of Okinawa and expectance of worse in the minds of all.

On September 6, the KINZER left for Pearl Harbor, and went on to Guam, where Lieutenant Commander R.C. Young was relieved of command by Lieutenant Commander A.S. Bell.  From Guam the ship made a short trip to Ulithi to pick up a dental unit and return to Guam, then on to Manila for a weeks stay, before proceeding to Haiphong, French Indo-China, as an escort for nine APA’s.  There the APA’s picked up 13,000 Chinese troops and the convoy set out for Chinwangtao, North China. On the trip up the coast, the KINZER sighted six Japanese mines, of which three were sunk and three exploded.

On arriving at Chinwangtao, the KINZER was assigned duty as a radio guard ship for the port, and at this writing, after a month in North China is awaiting orders for the next duty assigned to the U.S.S. KINZER (APD-91), which will probably be honorable retirement in the Reserve Pacific Fleet.