The Unexpected Happens
With their part of the operation completed, Booth and his team listened with head-shaking disbelief to shortwave-radio broadcasts over the next several days that threatened to compromise the entire deception.
KGEI KGEX out of San Francisco reported: “It has been 48 hours since reports were received from the Third Fleet which has been in complete radio silence since the Tokyo raids of Tuesday … planes based on Okinawa raided Kyushu yesterday, [11 July] attacking hangars and airfield installation.” At 1300 and 1400 on 14 July, Voice of America broadcasts from the same station stated that “The Third Fleet headed north after the Tokyo raids of Tuesday” and Okinawa-based planes attack Kyushu on 11-12 July.
Booth’s immediate fear was that the Japanese would also pick up the broadcast and conclude that TF 38 was not operating against southern Japan. A few weeks after the war, the lieutenant was greatly relieved when Admiral Carney told him that U.S. naval radio-intelligence units verified that the Japanese did in fact fall for the hoax and “rushed troops to defend themselves against a putative invasion at the southern end of their homeland.” Moreover, the real Task Force 38 achieved total surprise when it struck targets in northern Japan.
On the 14th, TF 38 carriers launched 1,391 aerial sorties from about 100 miles off Tsugaru Strait, which separated the Japanese home island of Honshu and Hokkaido. According to Admiral Carney, “There was no resistance to the strike at all, and we inflected terrific damage … They were sitting duck.” Area shipping was hardest hit. More air strikes followed on Sunday the 15th. According to Samuel Eliot Morison, the most important result of the attacks was the complete disruption of the railroad-car ferry system that carried coal from mines on Hokkaido across the strait to Honshu. Task Force 38 also turned loose battleship, heavy cruiser, and destroyer task units, which steamed close to shore and bombarded the Japan Iron Company works at Kamaishi and two facilities at Muroran, the Nihon Steel Company and the Wanishi Ironworks.
The Tucson, meanwhile, sighted a friendly ship early on the 15th, the USS McDermut (DD 677). The destroyer formed an antisubmarine screen for the cruiser, which after more than four days out on her own finally had some company. Later, the commander of the Third Fleet had a priority uncoded message flashed to the Tucson and Lieutenant Booth: “You were most deceitful and made Nips very unhappy. Well don, Halsey.” In just a few short weeks, the USS Tucson had made her special mark in the war. Several weeks later, Admiral Halsey presented his head trickster a commendation in which he noted that Lieutenant Booth’s “original contributions to operational technique, good judgement, and efficient execution of the task assigned to him were of great value in the successful Third Fleet operations against the Japanese homeland.” The admiral was careful not to mention the caption, which would remain a closely guard secret for decades.
Author’s Notes: I was first introduced to Lea Booth and his wife, Mar Morris Booth, by Captain Robert Peniston, U.S. Navy (Retired), a former commanding officer of the USS New Jersey (BB 62) and a good friend of Lea’s. For me, derails of the deception operation first began coming together as 88-year old Lea’s health began to fail. Toward the end, it was only with the special help of Mary Booth that this story could be completed using Lea’s wartime papers, and I am very grateful for her kind assistance. After a long illness, Lea Both died at his home in Lynchburg, Virginia, on 10 May 2006.
CAPT Edward Behm, telephone interviews with the author, December 2006 and February 2007.
LT A. Lea Booth, telephone interviews with the author in early 2005; wartime orders, notes, and related papers in the possession of Mary Morris Booth; “Why I Don’t Drive a Honda,” speech presented to the Sphex Club, Lynchburg, VA, 5 October 1989; “Task Force 38 – Dirty Tricks,” as told to Tom Helvig, Cryptolog, U.S. Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association, Spring 2006, vol. 27 no 2.
ADM Robert B. Carney, letter, Shipmate, alumni magazine of the U.S. Naval Academy, June 1986; oral history, Columbia University, Oral History Research Officer, New York, New York.
History of U.S. Naval Communication 1939-45, declassified study prepared by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval Communications, Naval Historian Center, Washington , DC.
James L. Moodey, ed., Dictionary of American Navy Fighting Ships, vol. VII (Washington, DC, Naval Historian Center, 1981).
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1963); Victory in the Pacific, 1945, vol. 14 History of United States Naval Operations in World Ware II (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1960).
USS Tucson (CL 98), deck logs, action report, and war diary, National Achieves and Records Administration, College Park, MD.
Station HYPO note: Thomas Helvig of Mount Laurel, N.J. passed away Saturday, November 14, 2015 at home surrounded by his loving family. He was 79. Mr. Helvig was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was a proud U.S. Navy veteran serving for 22 years and achieving the rank Command Master Chief. He served at duty stations in Japan, Alaska, Florida, Puerto Rico, Midway Island, Fort Meade, Maryland and Hawaii.
Featured image is the USS Tucson (CL 98)