On the evening of 21 February, USS Bismarck Sea (CVE 95) had just recovered her aircraft from a strike when a swarm of Japanese planes appeared. The escort carrier splashed one bomber, but another one crashed into the ship abeam of the after elevator. The crash knocked four torpedoes on to the hangar deck, parted the elevator cables, and damaged the after fire main.
The fire appeared controllable until its glow attracted a second Japanese plane which also crashed her just forward of the elevator well, killing or mortally wounding the entire fire-fighting party. This explosion buckled bulkheads and collapsed the decks in the ammunition clipping rooms, adding fuel to the fire. The planes on the hangar deck added gasoline to the holocaust. Soon, the flames raged out of control and a variety of ordnance began to explode, so the captain ordered Bismarck Sea abandoned. In less than 30 minutes, her entire crew made it into the water. After many explosions and two hours of burning, the ship rolled over and sank.
Rough seas, cold water, and Japanese strafing cost the lives of many members of the escort carrier’s crew. Three destroyers and three destroyer escorts spent 12 hours picking up survivors, but 318 gallant sailors were lost. The survivors were sent to transports just off Iwo Jima and were able to see the American flag finally raised on Mount Suribachi. Her name was stricken from the Navy List on 30 March 1945.
Bismarck Sea earned three battle stars for her service during World War II.
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