FORMOSA: Rough Week in the Strait

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For the 100,000 Nationalist soldiers dug into the sandy soil of Quemoy Island, it was a grim week. While U.S. destroyers watched helplessly from outside the three-mile limit, Communist guns raked Que-moy's yellow beaches, effectively preventing Nationalist transports from replenishing the island's dwindling stocks of food, ammunition and medicine. Over the horizon, almost lost in the haze covering Formosa Strait, prowled Task Force 77 of the Seventh Fleet—the Sunday punch which the U.S. was holding back as long as the Communists refrained from all-out attack.

Sunday, Sept. 7—The U.S. undertakes to escort Nationalist supply ships to Quemoy. In broad daylight, two U.S. heavy cruisers and six destroyers wheel up to within three miles of Quemoy in a defiant challenge to the Red Chinese. Red torpedo boats, which had broken up Nationalist convoys, are nowhere in sight. From the bridge of the cruiser Helena, the Seventh Fleet's Vice Admiral Roland Wallace Beakley watches grimly as two Nationalist LSMs unload 300 tons of ammunition and other supplies on Shatou Beach. Nothing happens. Several times U.S. ra-darmen see blips easing out toward the convoy from Red jet bases on the mainland, but each time, as if pulled by invisible strings, the blips finally scoot back inland. The U.S. seems to have called the Reds' hand. No Communist gun has fired on Quemoy for three days.

Monday—The second convoy arrives. Four U.S. destroyers hover three miles offshore. Two LSMs reach the beach and begin unloading. Suddenly, at 1:33 p.m., the beach erupts in geysers of sand and water. One LSM, loaded with ammunition, is hit and explodes. The other hastily backs off without unloading.

Tuesday & Wednesday—Pleading bad weather, U.S. and Nationalist naval commands temporarily call off the convoys to consider new tactics. The Communist barrage has become steady, making beach and airfield almost unusable. In desperation, the Nationalists airdrop small quantities of medical supplies to Que-moy's garrison. Admiral Beakley comes ashore to consider with Taiwan Defense Command's Vice Admiral Smoot "what to do now." Beakley admits: "We are back right where we started before we began convoying. They called our hand when they shelled the beach and got that LSM. The Chicoms' guns can and will blast anything on the beach until they are taken out. We could take them out and so could the Nationalists. But the decision to do so is a grave one and not for military men."

Thursday—The U.S. tries a third con voy. From the convoy leader, U.S.S. Gregory, TIME & LIFE'S Scot Leavitt reports: By 3 p.m. Destroyer Squadron 17 is in position off Quemoy, three of its ships 15 miles offshore, and Gregory just over three. "I don't think they dare come near us," says Gregory's skipper, Commander Felix G. Young, who has served in destroyers for 17 of his 27 years in the Navy. "But I've been shot at by Germans and Italians and Japanese and Russians and Chinese Communists before. If we get into a scrap, they won't be getting any virgin."

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