His courage and conduct throughout were in keeping with the highest traditions of the naval service. – Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Bronze Star Medal citation for Clarence H. Sutphin, Jr.
Seventy-six years ago Coast Guardsman Clarence Sutphin served as landing craft coxswain on board the attack transport USS Leonard Wood (APA-12). By the end of World War II, Sutphin would be a decorated war hero, battle-tested landing craft operator and survivor of Saipan, one of the Pacific War’s bloodiest combat missions.
In November 1941, just weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 18-year-old Sutphin enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard. He was born in 1923 and grew up in Valley Stream, Long Island. At Central High School, he wrestled and played football and baseball, however, he also enjoyed sailing and fishing and worked as a deckhand on fishing smacks and pleasure boats. So, it was only natural that he would join a military service known for its small boats and watercraft. After enlisting, Sutphin attended boot camp at the Coast Guard Yard, near Baltimore. He then received orders to the North Carolina coast to train in amphibious operations and landing craft, also known as Higgins Boats.
Aerial photograph of the Coast Guard-manned transport USS Leonard Wood taken in April 1944, just a few weeks before it deployed for the Battle of Saipan. (U.S. Navy)
In May 1942, Sutphin reported on board the Leonard Wood, where he would spend the next three years of his life. One of many Coast Guard-manned attack transports, the Wood saw action in some of the war’s bloodiest amphibious operations. In November, Sutphin and the Wood served in the landings in North Africa, the second Allied amphibious operation of the war. In July 1943, Sutphin landed troops from the Wood in the invasion of Sicily. After Sicily, the Wood crossed the Atlantic and transited the Panama Canal to participate in the Pacific Theater of Operations. In November 1943, Sutphin landed troops in the Gilbert Islands, including the capture of Makin Island. And, in early 1944, he landed troops in the Marshall Islands, including the invasions of Kwajalein Atoll and Eniwetok Atoll. Over the course of these amphibious operations, Sutphin advanced through the ranks of boat operators from Seaman 2/class to Boatswain’s Mate 1/class.
Early in 1944, the Leonard Wood had begun preparations for its next amphibious operation. Allied and Japanese military leaders knew that American long-range bombers could reach the home islands from the Marianas and both sides planned for one of the hardest-fought battles of the Pacific War. Allied strategists labeled the operation “Forager,” which targeted the Mariana Islands of Saipan, Guam and Tinian. With 600 ships and 128,000 troops, Forager would be one of the largest invasions in the Pacific War and test Allied amphibious capabilities.
Strategic diagram showing the Mariana Islands of Saipan and Tinian and the planned amphibious landings on each island. (U.S. Coast Guard)
On Thursday, June 15, D-Day for the invasion of Saipan, the Wood positioned itself off the beaches and prepared to disembark its landing craft. By 7:30 a.m., all boats were away and landing operations commenced. The landing zone included nearly four miles of beaches on the southwest side of the island. By 9:00 a.m., in spite of heavy enemy mortar, artillery and machine gun fire, Sutphin and his fellow landing craft operators had rushed 8,000 marines onto the beaches.
For the rest of June 15, Sutphin and Wood’s landing boats defied death by running back and forth to the beaches to land troops, ammunition, water, food, blood plasma and medical supplies. In spite of stiff enemy resistance, the beachhead held and, over the course of the day, Sutphin and the fleet of amphibious craft had put ashore an additional 12,000 troops. By nightfall, Saipan held 20,000 U.S. troops or about two-thirds the number of Japanese troops occupying the island.
That evening, and for some nights to come, Sutphin anchored his landing craft with a boat pool of two dozen other Higgins Boats off of the landing zone. At night, using a secret password, a Navy patrol craft would check each boat and update the crews about possible attack by Japanese swimmers or suicide boats deploying from the island. The landing craft were subject not only to armed swimmers and suicide boats, but nightly air attacks. One of Sutphin’s boat crew would stand watch while the others tried to rest, however, sound sleep was unknown during the Battle of Saipan.
From sun-up to sundown, Sutphin worked on the beaches and ran his boat back and forth to the transports. There was only one channel through the island’s reef to reach the beaches, so once he entered the reef, there was no way to lay offshore and escape enemy sniper fire. He relied on the experience he gained through landings in North Africa, Italy and the Southwest Pacific to avoid coral reefs, enemy machine gun fire, and near misses by mortars and artillery. Those hazards, as well as sniper fire, forced him to steer his Higgins Boat on bended knee behind the boat’s steel plating.
During the battle, Sutphin helped oversee boat operations, including landing, loading and salvaging landing craft. He braved intense enemy fire to save others, including swimming a towline to a landing craft stranded on a reef and targeted by enemy mortar fire with five Americans trapped on board. After rescuing that boat, he saved another stuck on the beach that was targeted by Japanese artillery. While on the beach dodging mortar rounds and sniper fire, Sutphin came to the aid of eight marines struck by a direct hit. After finding five men dead and three seriously wounded, he provided first aid to the survivors and moved them out of the firing line to the nearest aid station.
During Saipan’s D-Day and D-Day+1, the landing zone had been a killing field. American forces focused their fire on land, but the Japanese hailed down artillery, mortar, machine gun and sniper fire everywhere from the reef to the beaches. After the first two days, the Leonard Wood departed the landing zone to escape attack by enemy ships and aircraft. On June 24, it returned, dropped the remainder of its cargo and treated 350 wounded troops before gathering up its landing craft and sailing for friendly shores.
It took nearly 30 days to defeat the enemy on Saipan. Of the 70,000 American troops landed on the island, about 5,000 were killed and over 20,000 wounded. The final count of Japanese dead was nearly 30,000, almost the entire force garrisoned on Saipan. These dead included the Japanese general in charge of Imperial Army forces and famed Japanese admiral Chuichi Nagumo. Both flag officers committed suicide in the final days of the battle. It was an inglorious end for Nagumo, who had commanded powerful Japanese fleets at the battles of Pearl Harbor, Midway Island and Guadalcanal.
Photograph of Leonard Wood landing craft delivering supplies to the beach at Leyte Island after Saipan. Notice .30 caliber machine guns mounted in the stern gun tubs. (U.S. Coast Guard)
During the months after Saipan, Sutphin and the Leonard Wood went on to participate in amphibious operations in the Palau Islands and the Philippine landings at Leyte and Lingayen Gulf. By the time Sutphin left the Wood, he had become the senior enlisted man overseeing Wood’s Landing Boat Division of nearly 20 landing craft while serving as a guncrew member and master-at-arms. As Boatswain’s Mate 1/class he had high marks in nearly all aspects of his work and was recommended for advancement to Chief Petty Officer, but all chief positions in his rating were filled at that time.
In June 1944, the conclusion of the war was more than a year away with some of the bloodiest battles yet to come. However, the capture of Saipan, and the nearby islands of Tinian and Guam, marked a turning point. The islands were not only strategic Japanese strongholds, they could support air fields for Allied bombers able to strike at the heart of Japan. These bombers included the famed B-29 Enola Gay, which flew from Tinian to Hiroshima initiating the Atomic Age of modern warfare and helping end the Pacific War.
Clarence Sutphin stayed with the Leonard Wood through May 1945. In his three years on board the transport, he had participated in all of the Wood’s eight major amphibious operations. These spanned the globe from North Africa to the Philippines and aided in the defeat of Vichy French, German, Italian and Japanese military forces. For his “exceptional bravery under fire” on the beaches of Saipan, Sutphin received the Bronze Star Medal from the Navy with a medal citation signed by famed Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. Sutphin was a hero of the long blue line and will be honored as the namesake of a Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter.
William Thiesen is the Coast Guard Atlantic Area historian. This article appears courtesy of Coast Guard Compass and may be found in its original form here.
A massive fire broke out at the Port of Beirut on Thursday, incinerating a warehouse full of tires and oil within the port’s free zone. The same area was heavily damaged in the ammonium nitrate explosion that leveled the central port area and the adjacent waterfront on August 4. According to Lebanon’s civil defense agency, […]
Over the course of the past five days, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority arranged a medical intervention for an injured aboard a freighter in the Indian Ocean. On Saturday evening, the Spliethoff tweendecker Dolfijngracht called for assistance while under way about 1,000 nauical miles off the coast of Western Australia. A crewmember had sustained serious […]
The naval forces of the US and Bahrain recently staged a joint force training exercise which showcased the interoperability between coalition warships operating I the Arabian Gulf. Coalition Task Force Sentinel executed combined exercise Sentinel Shield supporting Sentry and Sentinel patrols in the coalition’s area of operations. The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones and […]
DSV Belgium has solid experience in the transport of pharmaceutical products for different customers. With a pharma hub based at Brussels Airport a lot of experience and know-how has been built up over the years. Last weekend, the forwarder handled one hundred million mouth masks, an important milestone for its Belgian organisation that has put […]
The U-Freight Group (UFL), with its considerable involvement in eCommerce logistics, says that the latest statistics showing that global e-commerce sales hit $25.6 trillion in 2018 are a further vindication of its decision to enter this sector of the international freight market several years ago. The latest available estimates, up 8% from 2017, were recently […]
The UK government’s new post-Brexit tariff regime will result in both winners and losers. The new regime is set to replace the European Union’s Common External Tariff from the end of the Brexit Transition Period on December 31, 2020. The UK’s commitment to the ongoing Brexit process and ending the UK’s transition from EU membership […]
Astral Aviation has increased its intra-African network with cargo freighters during the pandemic. While there has been a reduction in capacity to, from, and within Africa, which has been caused by a stoppage of passenger flights and limited frequencies on freighter aircraft, Astral Aviation continues to operate cargo freighters from its Nairobi hub to 13 destinations […]
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about an accident that occurred on April 15, 2019, involving the towing vessel DeJeanne Maria which struck the end of a submerged dredge pipeline while pushing two spud barges to the Gulf of Mexico. The incident occurred on the Mississippi River in Pass […]
With close to 100 daily cargo flights operated to a destination network spanning more than 65 cities across six continents, Emirates SkyCargo is delivering essential supplies and commodities to people around the world. The air cargo carrier is currently operating 11 Boeing 777 freighter aircraft, each with a capacity to transport about 100 tonnes of […]
Best known as a leading passenger airport serving Germany’s most populated federal state North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf has become transformed into a vital distribution point, during the COVID 19 pandemic, for medical equipment and other life-saving goods, mostly from China. Gerton Hulsman, managing director of cargo operations, reports that the handling teams are working hard to […]
Operators can continue to use pilots and other crew members who have unable to comply with certain training, recent experience, testing, and checking requirements due to the COVID-19 outbreak in support of essential operations. Additionally, this Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) provides regulatory relief to certain persons and pilot schools unable to meet duration and […]
Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its weekly scheduled cargo flight operations to cover 75 destinations across six continents. Through its wider reach, Emirates SkyCargo is able to transport essential commodities and other urgently needed cargo more rapidly across the world, allowing exporters and importers across markets to benefit from direct access to widebody cargo capacity. Some […]
Global commercial aviation charter company Albion Aviation Group is reporting that it is seeing a considerable uptake in its professional cargo broker training courses from the current global pandemic crisis and surge in charter demand. “We have completed a number webinar courses for a whole of host of companies, looking to manage their own cargo […]
The First DP2, Twin-Hulled SOV in the World, NB72 Groene Wind met the Sea on September 29. 2020 in Yalova, Turkey. The Groene Wind will be directly chartered to Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy for the maintenance of the Rentel and Mermaid & Seastar (known as SeaMade) offshore wind farms in Belgium. This is the first DP2, […]
Callan Marine is serving as the prime contractor to the Texas Department of Transportation for a maintenance dredging project located at the Bolivar Ferry Terminal, in Galveston, Texas. Work began in May and is estimated to be complete in late July 2020. The project consists of the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of material and […]
Network Airline Management and TAAG Angola Airlines are pleased to announce the renewal of their long-term freighter aircraft contract by an additional 12 months, sealing an ongoing partnership for the foreseeable future. Operating a regular weekly scheduled service from Liege, Belgium, to the capital of Angola, Luanda, Network Airline Management provides a Boeing 747-400F aircraft […]