Jan. 13, 1945 ⎯ On this date 77 years ago, the U.S.S. Salamaua (CVE-96), a Casablanca-class escort aircraft carrier built by Kaiser Shipyards, was heavily damaged by a kamikaze attack while refueling in Lingayen Gulf during the Philippines Campaign of World War II.
The carrier and its fighter aircraft had fought off several kamikaze attacks in the two weeks prior.
The Japanese plane, flown by a suicidal pilot, was carrying two 551-pound bombs and blew a hole into the flight deck, collapsed several bulkheads and started multiple fires when it crashed into the aircraft carrier. Fifteen men were killed and 88 others injured, according to Naval History and Heritage Command.
Shortly after being struck, Salamaua gunners downed two additional attacking kamikazes.
The Salamaua later rendezvoused with the U.S.S. Kitkun, another Casablanca-class carrier damaged by kamikaze, and the two traveled to San Francisco for repairs.
Salamaua returned to service in May 1945 and took part in the Battle of Okinawa and was part of the convoy at Tokyo Bay during the signing of Japan’s surrender.
After the surrender, Salamaua made multiple runs in Operation Magic Carpet, the mission to return over 8 million American military personnel home from the Pacific, European and Asian theaters.
Having survived the war, she was decommissioned in May 1946 and dismantled for scrap in Oregon in 1947.
The Casablanca-class escort carriers were the most numerous class of aircraft carriers ever built with 50 launched and commissioned in less than two years, Nov. 3, 1942 to July 8, 1944. Due to their small size and their connection to Kaiser Steel based in Fontana, also responsible for production of the WWII Kaiser Jeeps, the Casablanca-class carriers were nicknamed the “Jeep carriers.”