EXCEPTIONAL WORLD WAR II PACIFIC THEATRE COMBAT-FILLED DIARY KEPT BY COMMANDING OFFICER OF U.S. NAVY LST-397 accompanied by original “ASSAULT WAVE MANUVER DIAGRAM FROM LST’S dated July 2, 1944.

 

The diary, imprinted in gold “Year Book/1944” is larger than usually encountered, measuring 5-1/2”-wide by 7-7/8”-high. It was kept mostly in pencil but with some ink descriptions by United States Navy Lieutenant D.M. “Richard” Wheat, beginning on March 23, 1944, and continuing until February 23, 1945, with Lt. Wheat crossing out the book’s 1944 date from January 1 until February 23, and changing the year on those days to “1945.”

According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, LST-397 was laid down on 28 September 1942 at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; launched on 23 November 1942; sponsored by Miss Gretchen Lou White; and commissioned 28 December 1942. During her service she earned seven battle stars and the Navy Unit Commendation for World War II service.

Lt. Wheat commanded the ship during the Hollandia operation (April 1944); Western New Guinea operation—Biak Island operation (June, 1944), Noemfoor Island operation (July, 1944), Cape Sansapor operation (July and August, 1944), Morotal landings (September, 1944), Leyte landings (November, 1944) and Lingayen Gulf landing (January, 1945).

The battle-action descriptions written by Lt. Wheat are lengthy and detailed. For example, October 30, 1944—“This afternoon we left Leyte Gulf. The Japs and American Fleets were converging for the big sea battle. Water tanks (the big one) has leak. We have o/o of salt water to consider. Then, October 31—“We need water badly (salty) and are trying out best to get it. Had to pump out 40,000 gal fresh water day before we went into Leyte (order Capt Swigart) for fear we would be too heavy for beaching. LST 452,k 181, 171 tied up alongside Culebra Island. They were hit D day at Leyte. One of them reported to have had 30 casualties. Mortar & artillery fire.”          

LST-397 participated in the hard-fought November 1944 Leyte Island landings and Lieutenant Wheat’s diary is action-filled in its description of the assault and insuring carnage. Almost four pages cover the action, with the detailed-filled descriptions written with pencil. The small handwriting allowed Wheat to more information into how he documented what he experienced.

Example—November 12, “Ordered to beach at yellow beach south transport area. Several liberties (Liberty ships) anchored about 400 yds off our beach. We unload with no difficulty and withdrew from beach and anchored out about 1100. Relatively quiet most of day but several bogies (Japanese aircraft) reported during day but no contact. About 1600 we were in wardroom eating when aroused by the firing of a four and 40 Raced out and on to conning tower in time to see Jap plane coming in low over ridge on port side. A bomb exploded in water off port bow between us and two LSTs still beached & unloading on yellow beach. By this time more of our guns were firing and plane crossed our bow at about 20 feet high. It was apparent that he was attempting to crash dive us. We were only ship firing when he crashed into sea just off our strbd bow and to stern of anchored Liberty. By this time there were Jap planes all over the area coming in from all heights and directions.

The second plane came down from great height off our strbd bow. We knocked his wing off just before he crashed. Minutes later a third cam in from our strbd quarters.

We got direct hits on this one just before he crashed 75 yrds off our stern.

By this time all ships were firing at planes coming from all directions.

One plane crashed ___to stern of us. We had direct hits on it. Planes came

in at point blank range & seemed content on crash diving. Must have b

een 15-20.

 

All quiet about 16:45. I found I had jumped out of my shoes in wardroom

when action began.”

 

The above is one example of the action description Lieutenant Wheat wrote

in his diary.

 

There is also a very vivid description of the Noemfoor Island operation in

July, 1944 (part of the overall Western New Guinea operation) accompanied

by original “ASSAULT WAVE MANUVER DIAGRAM FROM LST’S sheet showing 

how the assault vessels were to approach and land on the beach. These were

saved by officer Wheat no doubt because he and LST-397 played a key role in

the operation. In addition to this sheet, there is another original assault-landing

sheet titled “LST Formation For Discharge Of Assault Troops Yellow Beach”

that was kept by Wheat inside his diary. An accompanying “MEMORANDUM”

marked “SECRET” and dated “26 June 44” was sent to “All Units”  by J.F. Bird, Colonel, F.A. Chief of Staff from Headquarters Cyclone Task Force just before the Noemfoor Island assault. The memorandum was the cover sheet for discharge of assault troops and LST assault wave maneuver diagram. It was issued by order of Brigadier General Patrick.

Several other documents are included as well as a newspaper clipping headlined “News of Boys In Service” in which the service, health and welfare of Lt. Dick Wheat is described by Major C.C. Johnston to Wheat’s parents. This story provides much information regarding Lt. Wheat’s background in civilian life as well as in the United States Navy.

This World War II diary, with accompanying material, is one of the best we have ever encountered. All items in good to very good condition. $1,200

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