Destroyer Caperton was World War II workhorse
One of the first ships to enter Japan's Tokyo Bay at the end of World War II was the destroyer Caperton (DD 650). While some crew members believe their ship claims the honor of "first in," absolute proof likely is an illusive goal.
Radioman 1st Class Kenneth Schroeder of Coon Rapids, Iowa, a Caperton veteran who died in 1999, told his brother Dick that the Caperton was the first warship to enter Tokyo harbor after Japan announced its willingness to surrender. This prompted Kenneth Schroeder's son, retired Master Chief David Schroeder, to begin searching for evidence.
"I have not found it yet," David said in a telephone interview. "I can confirm that members of Caperton's crew were close enough to hear the atomic bomb that went off at Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. I can confirm from official records that Caperton was among the ships in Tokyo Bay for the signing of the surrender on Sept. 2, 1945. The precise details of the period in between are difficult to nail down."
On a Web site that is no longer active, another Caperton crew member claimed the ship was first into Tokyo after a brief and inconclusive foray by a U.S. minesweeper. Another veteran stated that Caperton was selected to be second, behind a minesweeper, but that he did not know whether it actually preceded other vessels.
Although it saw more action than many of the 2,050-ton Fletcher class destroyers - the largest warship class in the Navy's history, consisting of 175 vessels manufactured in 11 shipyards - the Caperton was typical in many ways. It was a hard-working ship that gained numerous achievements in a long and difficult war.
The Caperton was commissioned in July 1943 with Cmdr. W.J. Miller as skipper. It sailed for Pearl Harbor in October 1943 and soon joined fighting in the Pacific, prowling near the Ellice and Gilbert islands. After a brief respite at Pearl Harbor, the Caperton joined Task Force 58, shelling Kwajalein in January 1944 and supporting operations at Saipan soon afterward.
The Caperton was a participant in the U.S. return to Guam. In July 1944, it operated in the Marianas and screened airstrikes on Yap and Palau islands. Thereafter, it became part of Task Force 38 operating in the Philippines, with port at Ulithi.
For the remainder of the war, the Caperton spent much of its time as a screen for fast carrier forces, placing its anti-aircraft guns between incoming Japanese warplanes and the carriers. It also provided lifeguard services, picking up downed flyers.
In fighting near Formosa, Caperton played a critical role in screening and guarding two U.S. cruisers severely damaged by Japanese air attacks. During the invasion of the Philippines, Caperton similarly helped the cruiser Reno (CL 86), crippled by Japanese torpedoes in November 1944, and saved many of Reno's crew members.
Sailors aboard the Caperton battled Japanese suicide planes during the battle for Okinawa in May 1945 and supported Task Force 38 airstrikes on the Japanese home islands until the close of the war.
The 3rd Fleet steamed back and forth 300 miles southeast of Honshu between the Aug. 15 end of fighting and Aug. 27, when the fleet entered Japanese waters. Numerous warships operated close to the Japanese coast Aug. 27 to Aug. 30, when Marines began amphibious landings to test whether the Japanese would resist. By Aug. 30, many Navy and Marine personnel were on the ground in several locations in Japan. The formal surrender was signed aboard the battleship USS Missouri at anchor in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2.
Following the surrender, the Caperton joined hundreds of ships heading home to the United States. After a few years of peacetime service, the ship was decommissioned in 1949 but returned to service in 1951 during the Korean War era. It carried out two combat cruises along the Korean coast, assisting in the bombardment and blockade of North Korean ports.
The destroyer circumnavigated the globe in 1954 and served thereafter with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean.
Caperton was placed out of commission in 1960 and mothballed at Philadelphia where, in the mid-1970s, it was cannibalized to provide parts for its sister ship, Kidd (DD 661), now preserved at Baton Rouge, La. Once a target for Japanese warplanes, the Caperton was sunk in the 1980s as a target off Puerto Rico.
Byline: By Robert F. Dorr
Byline: Special to the Times
Publication: NAVY TIMES