"BAIT GROUP"


The two other task groups of Task Force 38 had meanwhile withdrawn from what was believed to be beyond the enemy search radius The salvage group was to act as the "Bait Division" in the hope that the Japanese would dispatch a surface force to polish off the "Crippled remnants of the THIRD Fleet", while the other two groups lurked in ambush. On the night of the 16th, the salvage group was notified that a strong force of the Japanese was coming down from the north.

Plans were made for the scuttling of two damaged cruisers while their remaining personnel were dispatched within the destroyers. Hopes were high that the trap would be sprung. However, a lone enemy snooper made contact with the two ambush groups and succeeded in getting away. After he had made his report, the enemy surface retired and the trap failed.

Upon rejoining Task Group 30.2, the STEPHEN POTTER steamed with this group furnishing air support for the landings on Leyte, from 20 to 23 October 1944. The ship was detached as escort of the USS BUNKER HILL to Manus to pick up a replacement air group during the second battle of the Philippine Sea.

From the 15th to the 19th of November, the STEPHEN POTTER was with the Fast Carrier Task Force which steamed off Luzon, delivering air attacks on a large group of enemy transports in Ormoc Bay. All four transports were sent to the bottom as were four of the five escorting destroyers. Raids on the Manila Area as well as both ends of the main island of the Philippine group were also made. The THIRD Fleet then retired to Ulithi for a much needed rest.

By mid‑December, the STEPHEN POTTER was again with the THIRD fleet on a mission ‑‑ to keep the Japanese aircraft on Luzon from launching attacks against the Mindoro invasion force during three vital days, 14, 15, and 16 December. In the early morning of 14 December 1944, the task force reached its initial launching point. For three days continuous air patrol pinned the Japanese planes to the ground. By the evening of the 16th Task Force 38 was ready to lift its "flying carpet" and retire to the eastward to fuel at sea from the tanker group.

Amid fueling operations on 17 December, a powerful typhoon roared into the area, and by the next day churned up waves as high as a three‑story building, driven by 100‑knot winds. In its wake, the huge storm sank three destroyers and claimed 790 victims. The STEPHEN POTTER was able to ride out the fury of the storm with only negligible damage to her topside. On 28 December 1944 Commander George R. Muse, USN, came aboard as skipper relieving Commander Pancoast.

The STEPHEN POTTER joined Task Group 38.2 for a high‑speed run toward Formosa on 2 January 1945. During the two day strike which ensued, 30 Japanese planes were destroyed in the air and 81 more were caught on the ground. Nine freighters, one oiler, four escort vessels, and twenty‑eight luggers were sunk. On 5 January 1945, the fleet fueled at sea again and then steamed down to the Philippines for more strikes on Luzon from 6 to 8 January.

These raids included Formosa on 9 and 10 January. The STEPHEN POTTER in Task Group 38.2 then sailed through Bashi Channel into the South China Sea for raids on Saigon and French Indo‑China on 12 January. Still operating in the China Sea, strikes were made upon Hainan and Hong Kong, China, on 16 January. The force steamed out of the China Sea on the 21st making raids on Formosa and then upon Okinawa the following day.

Upon the reforming of Task Force 58 under Admiral Mitscher, the STEPHEN POTTER as a unit of Task Group 58.2 participated in the first Fast Carrier attack to be launched upon Tokyo and Tokyo Bay Area on 16 and 17 February.

Under cover of a weather front of low grey clouds and light rain the force sped toward Tokyo. Admiral Mitscher's air groups were launched at dawn on 16 February 1945, 120 miles from their target areas. Attacks against enemy air power were pressed into the very heart of the Japanese homeland far into the next day. In the two day relentless attack, the Japanese lost 416 planes in the air, 354 more on the ground and one escort carrier. Following these raids, the STEPHEN POTTER assisted in covering the invasion of Iwo Jima on 20 ‑ 21 February 1945.

The force then regrouped for a second attack against Tokyo. Returning to the immediate area of the Japanese Empire, the STEPHEN POTTER, with Task Group 58.2, participated in the attacks delivered upon Honshu, Kyushu, and Kobe on 18 and 19 March 1945. Sneak enemy air attacks were made upon our Task Group as it operated off the southern tip of Kyushu and the Inland Sea.

The raiders would put the sun at their backs, line up patches of clouds for cover, wait until the air over the carriers was filled with their own planes as a strike was being launched or recovered, then some tearing in through the clouds. Most of them wound up in the sea, but one got through to plant two bombs on the deck of the USS FRANKLIN. Only heroic damage control action kept the blazing ship afloat.

While retiring from the area on 20 and 21 March, the group received repeated dive‑bombing attacks. During the afternoon of the 20th, the STEPHEN POTTER scored direct hits with 5‑inch and automatic weapons on one such plane which crashed 500 yards off the starboard beam. The following afternoon while the Task Group was under air attack, a twin‑engined "Frances" was taken under fire by the STEPHEN POTTER and the surrounding ships as it closed the formation. The plane had begun to smoke as it approached the STEPHEN POTTER from abeam. In a shallow glide, the plane passed overhead releasing a bomb which exploded in the water 300 yards off the STEPHEN POTTER's port quarter, then crashed in the forward part of the formation. The STEPHEN POTTER was credited with an assist in the destruction of this plane. From 22 to 25 March 1945, the STEPHEN POTTER with other units of Destroyer Squadron 52 escorted the badly damaged FRANKLIN back to port.

The STEPHEN POTTER rejoined Task Force 58 on 8 April, operating in the area off Okinawa with the Fast Carrier Group furnishing air support for the landings on that island. The force was under frequent attack by enemy suicide and bombing planes from the 8th to the 14th.

On the night of the 14th, as Task Group 58.2 was supporting the retirement of damaged light units of another task group, a small group of enemy planes closed the formation. A lone plane crossed the formation without any apparent damage from the firing ships. As the plane moved down the starboard side of the STEPHEN POTTER, other units of the formation ceased firing, and the target was taken under fire in full radar control by the STEPHEN POTTER as it opened out from the group. After the POTTER had fired only 14 rounds of 5‑inch ammunition, the plane burst into flames at approximately 7,000 yards on the POTTER's starboard quarter.

The destroyer shifted to Task Group 58.3 from 15 April to 12 May 1945 as it continued to provide air support for the Okinawa Operation. The. last big Kamikaze attack came early in the morning of 11 May. Carrier planes shot down 69 of them, but without warning two single‑engined planes dove out of the clouds into the aircraft carrier USS BUNKER HILL. Shortly afterwards the STEPHEN POTTER opened fire upon a "Judy" closing the ship from the starboard beam. The enemy plane crashed into the area approximately 1,500 yards from the ship. With the AULT and the USS THE SULLIVANS, the STEPHEN POTTER dropped out of the formation to assist in the rescue of personnel forced to abandon the burning carrier. For four hours, she combed the area, rescuing a total of 100 enlisted men and 7 officers, many of whom were severely wounded and burned.

That raid upset Admiral Mitscher's patience and he decided to go after the Kamikaze nests again and destroy them at their source. Task Groups 58.1 and 58.2 got underway at noon on 12 May on a course that would put them off Kyushu by sunrise the next morning. The Task Group underwent frequent attacks by enemy aircraft. On the morning of 14 May, the STEPHEN POTTER combined its fire with other ships to knock down two single‑engine planes over the formation. During the two day Kyushu strike, 72 enemy planes were knocked out of the air. From 17 until 29 May 1945, the STEPHEN POTTER continued to operate with Task Group 38.3 providing air support in the Okinawa area. All the while, the group was alerted for enemy air sorties, but no attacks were pressed home.

On 29 May, in company with her Task Group, the ship departed the Okinawa area enroute to Leyte Gulf, Philippine Islands, arriving on 1 June. While undergoing tender repair, the STEPHEN POTTER and other ships of Destroyer Squadron 52 received orders to proceed to the United States for Navy Yard overhaul. Three days later, she was underway; and after a short stop at Pearl Harbor, the ship passed under the Golden Gate Bridge on 9 July and the following day moored at Mare Island Navy Yard.

Although the war with Japan had ended, on 31 August 1945 the STEPHEN POTTER was underway again heading down to San Diego. At the Destroyer Base she was put in mothballs and eventually decommissioned in late December, 1945. The ship was reactivated in August, 1950, during the Korean Conflict.

The fighting was over, and the USS STEPHEN POTTER, DD 538, had played a large part in her country's march to victory.

For action during the POTTER'S cruise in the Pacific theatre in World War II, shipmates were authorized to wear 12 battle stars, additionally, Commander Charles H. Crichton, USN, was awarded the Legion of Merit, Commander Leonidas W. Pancoast, USN, and Commander George H. Muse, USN, were awarded the Silver Star Medal. Lieutenant Commander Edwin F. Gunderson, USNR, and Lieutenant (jg) Malcolm S. Peters. USNR, were awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

Taken from "USS Stephen Potter - The Story of DD538" compiled and edited by Lt. Wilson F. (Bill) Minor USNR (Ret).