Second World War: Minesweeper in Buckner Bay, Okinawa

Officer of the watch remembers fighting a storm while serving on a wooden-hulled minesweeper off Okinawa during the second World War.

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A lasting memory will be the typhoon at Okinawa in October 1945, during the second World War. I was engineering officer aboard the USS YMD 291, a wooden-hulled minesweeper, anchored in Buckner Bay. 

As predicted, the storm steadily increased. I was officer of the deck and in charge of the watch; at 1600 hours I checked the anchor and assessed the wind velocity.

By observing the surrounding vessels, it was apparent that the force of the wind was affecting a major supply ship that was anchored near our YMS. The supply vessel was dragging anchor, and we were quickly being forced into a precarious position in relation to the much larger supply ship.

I immediately alerted our captain, proceeded to order anchor aweigh and put our ship underway to prevent a mishap. Now we had to ride out the storm by evading and preventing collision with other ships, some firmly anchored, some fighting it out.

Visibility was nearly zero for the next 12 hours; wind velocity peaked at 153 miles per hour; heavy seas crashed thunderously and salt spray went over the flying bridge where we stood in control of our small minesweeper.

During the siege of the storm, our skillful captain was on the conn, and everyone was on watch for fear of collision, aground or capsize. The typhoon roared and raged at ships and men.

As the long night wearied on, the storm somewhat abating, I knew that our skipper would soon reach the point of physical exhaustion, and one of us should be alert and prepared to conn the ship. Even though the decks were sloshy - and equipment was crashing about freely as lashings were torn away - I used my life jacket for a pillow and propped myself in a corner of the pilot house. I was soon warm and dry and actually went to sleep.

At dawn I was awakened by a refreshed shipmate who was ready to take charge of the ship safely and protect the lives of the other officers and crew. All around were some 150 ships, capsized or aground. Some ships had sunk, with loss of life. We had experienced hearing their frantic messages, their last commands and words of farewell via our ship-to-ship frequency as they prepared to abandon ship. Through the next day we were delegated to cruise the area, survey the loss of shipping and appraise the damage that was suffered by our Mine Pac Division at Buckner Bay, Island of Okinawa.

From our fleet of some 20 like vessels, we were one of the three surviving with no loss, damage, or injury.

Galen C. Robinson
Marion, Iowa

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.