History of the CVE 106

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POW Rescue

CVE 106 Block Island, CVE 29 Santee and four destroyers were dispatched to Korea to assist in mine clearing operations. Severe storms including a tropical typhoon slowed their mission as they circled southeast of Formosa (now Taiwan ). Allied Command had been made aware of several large POW camps on Formosa. The sail to Korea was scrubbed and the task force was ordered to northern Formosa.

On the evening of 4 Sep 1945 Admiral Ketcham drafted a proclamation to the Japanese commander informing him of the impending evacuation of all Allied and civilian prisoners. A flight of Corsairs dropped copies on the proclamation on the harbor and airfield. While negotiations were in progress Admiral Ketcham decided to risk sending a plane in to speed the POW release.
Captain Dick Johnson, flying a TBM set down on the airstrip and became the first Allied plane to land on Formosa. His passenger, Major Peter Folger, told the airfield commander to take him to the POW camps at once. The photo at right shows Major Folger and Captain Johnson on the ground after landing on Formosa.

Before long a a stream of planes filled with medicine and food from the carriers began landing. About 9,000 pounds of provisions were flown ashore. The POW camps housed over 1,200 men from several nations, many of them veterans of Singapore and Bataan, who were malnourished and mistreated. Some historians believe the Formosa camps were among the most brutal of the Japanese. On 5 Sep 1945 the American marines commandeered trains and transported the first group of survivors to the dock where the destroyer escorts DE 326 Thomas J. Gary and DE 329 Kretchmer took them from dockside to the carriers. The next day, 6 Sep, Gary and Kretchmer once again entered the harbor along with two more destroyer escorts DE 327 Brister and DE-328 Finch to evacuate most of the remaining ambulatory POWs. Each of the destroyer escorts transported about 50 POWs to Manila.

The hanger decks became hospitals as hundreds of cots were set up for the survivors. Hot showers, clean clothes, and good food helped transition the former POWs back from a living hell. USS Block Island received 474 survivors and CVE 29 USS Santee took about the same number. After all the POWs were aboard, the task group sailed for Manila in the Philippines to hand off the survivors to hospitals, the second step in the journey home.


There were 97 POWs who were just too sick and weak to be moved by the DE's, so they were left in the care of the POW camp doctors. On September 6th, the British Royal Navy entered Keelung Harbor as the US DE's were pulling out and after making contact with the POWs had them moved to the New Zealand hospital ship HMNZHS Maunganui for the journey to Manila. Thus all the POWs were evacuated safely, but sadly several more died on board the ships on their way to freedom.


The formal “job well done” is below and on the left. Below and on the right is the actual text for radio transmission. Anyone can recognize and quickly understand the text of this communique, however, it will take a Radioman to recognize that the form that is used is an original document as it was used by the Navy in WWII.

"For evacuating prisoners of war from Formosa you were nothing short of sensational. To every officer and man in your ships is due resounding applause for shoving your noses into Kiirun before the occupation without thought of self in a most worthy cause. The handling of passengers and their care, like everything else in the operation, was done in the American way, and there is not better.

"I pass to you the message of the Commander of the Seventh Fleet: "Prompt and determined action in the Formosa evacuation under difficult circumstances was a magnificent performance and a God-send to our prisoners. Well done.

Signed Kincaid!' (Admiral Thomas Kincaid).




The Block Island completed operations including providing cover for the landing of the Chinese 70th army. The photo at left shows American personnel relaxing with Chinese officers on Formosa. The Block Island headed back to the United States mainland via Guam and Hawaii. She arrived San Diego, CA on 11 Dec 1945 and proceed to the east coast arriving Norfolk, VA on 20 Jan 1946.

CVE 106 USS Block Island was given the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the Philippine Independence Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Victory Medal and the Navy/USMC Commendation Medal.  CVE 106 also received two Naval Admiral Recognition awards, one for the Battle of Boreno and the other for the POW rescue off Formosa.  The Philippine Liberation Medal was awarded to all ships and personnel who served in the area from 1944-1945.

Unfortunately a number of courageous Marines did not return home at the end of WWII. By clicking this link you can visit our In Memoriam page.


After several voyages CVE 106 USS Block Island was placed in reserve on 28 May 1946, the day before the second anniversary of the sinking of CVE 21. She was towed to Annapolis where she became a training ship for the midshipmen of the US Naval Academy (see photo at right).

Captain Beakley turned over command of the CVE 106 to Commander Frank Slater who was the officer-in-charge of the carrier at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD.


Korean War Era Operations

On 3 Oct 1950 CVE 106 USS Block Island was transferred to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. She was towed from Annapolis, MD to Norfolk, VA for dry-docking. CVE 106 was then towed to Philadelphia, PA arriving 25 Oct 1950 for pre-commissioning work. The Block Island was recommissioned on 28 April 1951 with Captain Arthur S. Hill in command. CVE 106 conducted training operations off of Cuba on 5 Jan 1952. She sailed for Norfolk and then on to the Caribbean stopping in a number of ports before returning to Norfolk on 27 Apr 1952.


The high quality photo at left shows the CVE 106 with a number of the VS-22 squadron’s AF-2 Grumman Guardians on her flight deck.


CVE 106 proceeded to Brooklyn Naval Shipyard arriving 25 Feb 1953. Following a month at the yard she returned to the Caribbean area for flight operations. The photo at right clearly shows the CVE 106 involved in a air/sea rescue and recovery operation following an aircraft accident. The plane with only the tail visible is a Grumman AF-2 Guardian which was developed for anti-submarine operations. Only a few were built and service was short lived due to poor performance. In April CVE 106 sailed for the United Kingdom
and France. She then operated briefly in the Mediterranean before returning to Norfolk on 25 Jun 1953. Later that fall she completed another Caribbean cruise.


She was placed in reserve 15 Jan 1954 at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The second Block Island never returned to active duty. However, she was scheduled to be converted to an amphibious assault ship but those plans were cancelled in Jun 1958. She was stricken from Navy records on 1 Jul 1959 and sold for scrap to a Japanese company.




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References:

CDR Roy L. Swift with Robert J Cressman(1986, Winter). The Tale of Two Block Islands., The Hook, 22-39

Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, www.history.navy.mil/danfs/index.html

Naval Historical Foundation Photographic Service. Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC.

Y’Blood, William(1983). Hunter-Killer: U.S. Escort Carriers in the Battle of the Atlantic. USA:Naval Institute Press.

James L. Noles, Jr. (July 1, 2004). All Guts, No Glory., Air & Space Magazine

USS Block Island Association. CHIPS newsletters, vol. 1-23


 

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