Home Town News
Kinkaid's Flagship Rocky Mount Holds Imposing War Record; Led 9 Invasions
Among an imposing array of combat ships representing the U.S. Navy on the Whangpoo, a drab tub of a ship still partly veiled by anonymity holds the most polished war record. It is the little-known flagship of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid. Commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, The Rocky Mount.
Only the recent lifting of censorship - prior to September 16 - has brought the ships that carry the Navy's amphibious commanders out of the anonymity of wartime secrecy. Throughout the war, their names and appearance were a closely guarded secret, for a well directed torpedo or kamikaze could sink a cargo of staff officers and invasion plans.
None of the flagship auxiliaries, classed AGC's by the Navy, can boast a record like the Rocky Mount's: nine amphibious invasions, twenty-two months of unbroken combat duty, flagship of Admirals R. K. Turner and F. B. Royal, and now flagship of the Commander of the Seventh Fleet.
Nicknamed "The Rock" by her crew, the AGC joined the Pacific war by carrying Admiral Turner, Commander of the Navy's Pacific Amphibious Forces, into the midst Japan's "unsinkable carriers" to the capture of Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. With "Terrible" Turner still aboard, the ship led a convoy of troop-laden auxiliaries to bloody Saipan:
Saipan was tougher than the Marshalls. Thirty-two times the flagship and her fleet went to general quarters, a respectable total of air attacks until Japan launched her all-out kamikaze campaign at Okinawa.
In addition to her headquarters duties, "The Rock" cared for hundreds of casualties resulting from the bitter fighting ashore. In one day its small but completely and competently equipped sick bay turned over 85 serious cases. Its hardworked staff of three doctors successfully (sic) on six emergency brain injuries and seven abdominal gunshot wounds in seventy-two hours while the battle raged.
Give Up Bunks
Casualties poured in and one whole division of the crew gave up bunks to accommodate the overflow from the hospital ward and slept on deck. A call for blood donors brought several times as many volunteers from officers and crew as could be used.
Dog Day at Guam and Tinian followed in a rapid succession of operations. The Rocky Mount then became flagship of the late Rear Admiral Forrest B. Royal, supervising initial landings at Leyte Gulf, Lingayen Gulf an Zamboanga in the Philippines, at Tarakan Island and Brunei Bay in Borneo with the Aussies.
Time and time again "The Rock" was due to go back to the States, but always there was another operation. Her overhauls were made in Pearl Harbor and at anchor in Leyte Gulf alongside a repair ship.
Tradition has it that headquarters units are usually safe in the rear of advancing forces. But amphibious admirals are where the fighting is. Flagships sail at the head of transports and take position near landing beaches where operations can be closely watched.
Yet, the Rocky Mount has had a charmed existence. At Saipan enemy batteries on nearby Tinian sent their shells whistling over her and a low-level bomber headed her way collided in route with the out-stretched boom of a transport. Admiral Turner sent congratulations to the men who operated the boom and credited them with a kill. On the way to Lingayen and while there, Jap suicides circled overhead but picked other targets, unaware of the priority target beneath them.
Converted from a Maritime commission C-2 hull, the Rocky Mount and her sister ships are floating office building and hotel combined. They are equipped with more communications gear than most land-based radio stations. Bombardment and air cover for invasions are controlled directly from their plotting rooms. Future operations are planned in their conference rooms.
Complete Photo Work
Reconnaissance photos of landing beaches, taken by aircraft to obtain the latest information on enemy movements and defenses are picked up at sea, developed and charted in the ship's photographic laboratory in the last hours before H-Hour.
There's comfort and self-sufficiency on an AGC: two stores, an ice cream bar, two barber shops, a tailor and cobbler shop, fast-service laundry and wardrooms the size of average restaurants. The Rocky Mount carries enough fuel for a non-stop cruise around the world.
The ship housed one of the strangest anomalies in the service: an Army Signal Corps detachment the spent all of its time at sea. One army officer sadly confessed that he enlisted in the Army instead of the Navy because he didn't want to go to sea.
In time the flagship organized its own thirteen-piece band with an original theme song and several vocalists. There were always movies for the morale of the crew, from the admiral down to the seamen. Air raids at Saipan were merely an interruption to showings in the wardroom and crew's mess that took up again with the cessation of general quarters. In defiance of the Japs at Zamboanga, there were movies topside.
"The Rock" is also a warship: she carries her allowance of guns. At Leyte she assisted in shore bombardment of Jap mortar positions. At Leyte, Lingayen and Brunei Bay she helped fend off Jap planes. But shooting is a subordinate function for a ship whose safety depends on anonymity. Often the toughest punishment for gun crews was watching the combat ships up their scores of Jap planes downed and ships sank.