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Battle Off Samar (Today, 1944)
10/25/2010 | Wikipedia and Others

Posted on 10/25/2010 5:35:13 PM PDT by Psycho_Bunny

 

 

Battle off Samar, October 25, 1944

 

 
"In no engagement of its entire history has the United States Navy shown more gallantry, guts and gumption
than in those two morning hours between 0730 and 0930 off Samar"

Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison History of United States Naval Operations in World War II Volume XII, Leyte

 

The escort carrier USS Gambier Bay, burning from earlier gunfire damage, is bracketed by a salvo from
a Japanese cruiser (visible in the background,) shortly before sinking during the Battle off Samar.

The Battle off Samar was the centermost action of the Battle of Leyte Gulf - one of the largest naval battles in history - which took place in the Philippine Sea off Samar Island, October 25, 1944. Iit has been cited by historians as one of the greatest military mismatches in naval history.

The overall Japanese strategy at Leyte Gulf, a plan known as Shō-Go 1, called for Vice-Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa's Northern Force, to lure the American 3rd Fleet away from the Allied landings on Leyte, using a vulnerable force of carriers. The US landing forces, stripped of air cover, would then be attacked from the west and south by Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's Center Force, which would sortie from Brunei, and Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura's Southern Force. Center Force consisted of five battleships, including Yamato and Musashi, the largest battleships ever built, escorted by cruisers and destroyers. Nishimura's flotilla included two battleships and would be followed by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima with three cruisers.

Ozawa's Northern Force consisted of one fleet carrier and three light carriers fielding a total of 108 airplanes (the normal complement of a single large fleet carrier), two old battleships, three light cruisers and nine destroyers. Admiral Halsey was convinced that Northern Force was the main threat. He took three groups of Task Force 38 (TF 38), overwhelmingly stronger than Northern Force, with five aircraft carriers and five light fleet carriers with more than 600 aircraft between them, six fast battleships, eight cruisers, and over 40 destroyers. Halsey easily dispatched what was later revealed to be a decoy of no serious threat.

As a result of Halsey's decision, the door was left open to Kurita and he made his way through the San Bernardino Strait under cover of darkness. Only light forces equipped to attack ground troops and submarines stood in the path of battleships and cruisers intent on destroying the American landing forces.

The brunt of the Japanese attack fell on Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 (referred to by its radio call-sign "Taffy 3"). Ill-equipped to fight large-gunned warships, Taffy 3's escort carriers attempted to escape from the Japanese force, while its destroyers, destroyer escorts, and aircraft made sustained attacks on Kurita's ships. The destroyers and destroyer escorts only had torpedoes and up to 5-inch guns; nonetheless they had radar-assisted gun directors; the Japanese had heavy caliber weapons up to 18.1-inch but relied upon less accurate optical rangefinders. The US also had large numbers of aircraft available which the Japanese lacked. The ordnance for the escort carriers' aircraft consisted mostly of high-explosive bombs used in ground support missions, and depth charges used in anti-submarine work, rather than the armor-piercing bombs and torpedoes which would have been more effective against heavily armored warships. Nevertheless, even when they were out of ammunition, the American aircraft continued to harass the enemy ships, making repeated mock attacks, which distracted them and disrupted their formations.

In all, two US destroyers, a destroyer escort, and an escort carrier were sunk by Japanese gunfire, and another US escort carrier was hit and sunk by a kamikaze aircraft during the battle. Kurita's battleships were driven away from the engagement by torpedo attacks from American destroyers; they were unable to regroup in the chaos, while three cruisers were lost after attacks from US destroyers and aircraft, with several other cruisers damaged. Due to the ferocity of the defense, Kurita was convinced that he was facing a far superior force and withdrew from the battle, ending the threat to the troop transports and supply ships.

The battle was one of the last major naval engagements between US and Japanese surface forces in World War II. After this, the Philippines was recaptured by the US, which cut the Japanese off from their oil-producing colonies in Southeast Asia, while her major shipyards and repair facilities were in Japan. The Imperial Japanese Navy never again sailed to battle in such force; most ships returned to bases in Japan to remain largely inactive for the rest of the war.

 

   
  Order of Battle
   


Admiral Takeo Kurita
 

Rear Admiral "Ziggy" Sprague
 
  Yamato and a heavy cruiser in action off Samar.
 

The Japanese Center Force consisted of the battleships Yamato, Nagato, Kongō, and Haruna; heavy cruisers Chōkai, Haguro, Kumano, Suzuya, Chikuma, Tone; light cruisers Yahagi, and Noshiro; and 11 Kagerō- and Asashio- class destroyers. The battleships and cruisers were fully armored against 5-inch shells. They together had dozens of large caliber guns as large as Yamato's 18.1-inch rifles which could reach out to 25 mi . Surface gunnery was controlled by optical sighting which fed computer-assisted fire control systems, though they were less sophisticated than the radar-controlled systems on US destroyers.

Taffy 3 had six small Casablanca-class or larger Sangamon-class escort carriers. The destroyers had five 5-inch guns, the destroyer escorts mounted two. The carriers only a single 5-inch gun. Lacking any ships with any larger guns that could reach beyond 10 miles, it appeared a hopeless mismatch against Japanese gunnery which emphasized long range and large guns. But the battle would reveal that their partly automated fire control was largely ineffective against maneuvering ships at long range (though some ships such as Kongō did consistently hit their targets when they got closer). The Japanese did not actually land hits on the carriers until they had closed to within firing range of the carriers themselves. By contrast, even the small US destroyers all had the Mark 37 Gun Fire Control System which would automatically aim accurate fire against surface and air targets while maneuvering throughout the battle. The lack of a comparable system in Japanese ships also contributed to comments from US pilots of the ineffectiveness of enemy anti-aircraft fire.

Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3") consisted of COMCARDIV 25 Fanshaw Bay, St. Lo, White Plains, Kalinin Bay, and Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie's COMCARDIV 26 Kitkun Bay and Gambier Bay. Screening for Taffy 3 were the destroyers Hoel, Heermann and Johnston, and destroyer escorts Dennis, John C. Butler, Raymond, and Samuel B. Roberts.

As they were intended for attack against ground forces or defense against enemy aircraft and submarines, the first flights from Taffy 3 were largely armed only with machine guns, depth charges and high explosive and anti-personnel bombs, effective against troops, submarines or destroyers, but not against armored battleships or cruisers.

 

The Samar engagment

   

 

"Our first intention was to fight to the last with the ships; then if we won to go on into the Bay...and attack battleships and transports; but the order was also given if we met the American Task Force we should fight to the finish."
-Rear Admiral Tomiji Koyanagi in a post-war debriefing.

 

Taffy 3 comes under attack

Steaming about 60 miles east of Samar before dawn October 25, St. Lo launched a four-plane anti-submarine patrol while the remaining carriers of Taffy 3 prepared for the day’s initial air strikes against the landing beaches. At 0637, Ensign William C. Brooks, piloting a Grumman Avenger from St. Lo, sighted a number of ships expected to be from Halsey's Third Fleet, but they appeared to be Japanese. When he was notified, Sprague was incredulous and demanded positive identification. Flying in for an even closer look, Brooks reported, "I can see pagoda masts. I see the biggest meatball flag on the biggest battleship I ever saw!" Yamato alone displaced as much as all units of Taffy 3 combined. Approaching from the west northwest only 17 miles away, Center Force was already well within gun and visual range of task group Taffy 3. Armed against submarines, the fliers nevertheless initiated the first attack of the battle, dropping depth charges which bounced off the bow of a cruiser.

Taffy 3’s lookouts spotted the anti-aircraft fire to the north. The Japanese came upon Taffy 3 at 0645, having achieved complete tactical surprise. At about the same time others in Taffy 3 had picked up targets from surface radar and Japanese radio traffic. At 0659, Yamato opened fire at a range of 20 miles and the Americans were soon astonished to see the spectacle of colorful geysers of the first volleys of shellfire finding the range. Each Japanese ship used a different color of dye marker so they could spot their own shells. Not finding the silhouettes of the tiny escort carriers in his identification manuals, Kurita mistook them for larger fleet carriers and assumed that he had a task group of the 3rd Fleet under his guns. His first priority was to eliminate the carrier threat, ordering a "General Attack". Rather than a carefully orchestrated effort, each division in his task force was to attack separately. The Japanese had just changed to a circular antiaircraft formation, and the order caused some confusion, allowing Sprague to lead the Japanese into a tail chase, which forced the Japanese to use only their forward guns, while exposing them to his own rear-firing weapons.

Immediately, Sprague directed his carriers to turn to launch their aircraft and then withdraw towards a squall to the east, hoping that bad visibility would reduce the accuracy of Japanese gunfire. He ordered his destroyers to generate smoke to mask the retreating carriers.

 

U.S. destroyer and destroyer escort counterattack

Three destroyers and four smaller destroyer escorts were tasked to protect the escort carriers from aircraft and submarines. The three Fletcher-class destroyers, affectionately nicknamed "tin cans" for their lack of armor, were fast enough to keep up with a fast carrier task force. They had five single 5-inch and light antiaircraft guns which were not designed to take on armored battleships or cruisers. Only their 10 Mark-15 torpedoes, housed in two swiveling five-tube launchers amidships, posed a serious threat to battleships. Destroyer escorts like the Samuel B. Roberts were even smaller and slower, since they were designed to protect slow freighter convoys against submarines. With two 5-inch guns without automatic fire control, they carried only three torpedoes (even PT boats carried four), and rarely trained in coordinated torpedo attacks. Since torpedoes only had a range of about 5.5 miles, they were best used at night, as in daylight, an attacker would have to survive a gauntlet of shellfire which could reach out to 25 miles.

In this battle, these seven ships would be thrown against an imensly powerful fleet led by the largest battleship in the world.

After laying down smoke to hide the carriers from Japanese gunners, they were soon making near-suicidal daylight torpedo runs. The ship profiles and aggressiveness caused the Japanese to think they were cruisers and full-size destroyers. Their lack of armor tended to aid clean penetration of armor piercing rounds before Japanese gunners switched to high explosive shells, which caused much more extensive damage. Their speed and agility enabled some ships to dodge shellfire completely before launching torpedoes. Effective damage control and redundancy in propulsion and power systems kept them running and fighting even after absorbing dozens of hits before sinking, although the decks would be littered and bloody with the dead and seriously wounded.

   
  USS Johnston
Commander Ernest E. Evans.
Recipient, Congressional Medal of Honor.
USS Johnston in Elliott Bay, Seattle. Behind her bow, the Smith Tower is visible.
In today's Seattle, the Space Needle would be seen over her aft 5-inchch guns.

 

"This is going to be a fighting ship. I intend to go in harm's way, and anyone who doesn't want to go along had better get off right now."
-Ernest Evans, in a speech to the crew of the newly commissioned USS Johnston.

Ernest E. Evans, the 3/4 American indian commander of the destroyer Johnston, immediately surmised the tenuous position of Taffy 3 and took the initiative first. He ordered his ship to "flank speed, full left rudder," launching an attack on his own against the entire Japanese Center Force.

Johnston lined-up the distant cruiser squadron flagship, the heavy cruiser Kumano, for a torpedo attack. At a range of 10 miles, Johnston opened fire with her forward 5-inch guns, aiming for Kumano's superstructure, bridge and deck, since her shells would have bounced off the enemy's belt armor. When Johnston closed to within torpedo range, she fired a salvo, which blew the bow off Kumano, also taking the heavy cruiser Suzuya out of the fight, as she stopped to assist.

At a range of 7 miles, the battleship Kongō sent a 14-inch shell through Johnston's deck and engine room, cutting the destroyer's speed in half to 17 kn (20 mph; 31 km/h) and interrupting electric power to the aft gun turrets. Then three 6-inch shells, possibly from Yamato, struck Johnston's bridge, causing numerous casualties and severing fingers of Captain Evans' left hand. The bridge was abandoned and Evans proceeded to steer the ship back towards the fleet, shouting orders from aft down to men manually operating the rudder from aft, when he noticed other destroyers starting their torpedo run.

Emboldened by Johnston's attack, Sprague had given the order "small boys attack", sending the rest of Taffy 3's destroyers and destroyer escorts on the offensive. They attacked the Japanese line, drawing fire and scattering the Japanese formations as ships turned to avoid torpedoes. Despite heavy damage, Evans turned Johnston around and reentered the fight while damage control teams restored power to two of the three aft turrets.

Two hours into the attack, Captain Evans aboard Johnston spotted a line of four Japanese destroyers led by the light cruiser Yahagi making a torpedo attack on the carriers and moved to intercept. Johnston fired and scored hits on them, pressuring them to fire their torpedoes prematurely at 10,500 yd (9,600 m) distance at 0915. The torpedoes were reaching end-of-run as they approached their target, and broached.

At 0910, a direct hit on one of Johnston's forward turrets knocked it out and set off many of the 5-inch shells stored in the turret. Her damaged engines stopped, leaving her dead in the water. As her attackers gathered around the vulnerable ship, they concentrated fire on her rather than the fleeing carriers. Johnston was hit so many times that one survivor recalled "they couldn't patch holes fast enough to keep her afloat." Under heavy attack from the air and fire from American destroyers and destroyer escorts, the Japanese cruisers broke off and turned northward at 0920. At 0945, Evans finally gave the order to abandon ship. Johnston sank 25 minutes later with 186 of her crew. Though Evans abandoned ship with his crew, he was lost and never seen again. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. As a Japanese destroyer cruised slowly by, the survivors saw the enemy standing at attention to salute.

   
  USS Samuel B. Roberts
LCDR Robert W. Copeland The "battleship" USS Samuel B. Roberts

 

"This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can."
-LCDR Copeland to his crew, before following the brazen charge of the Johnston

 

At 0735, the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts, captained by LCDR Robert W. Copeland, an attorney from Tacoma, Washington who had enlisted in the Navy Reserve some years before WWII, turned and headed toward the battle, passing the damaged Johnston, which was retiring at that point. Roberts had only two 5-inch guns, one forward and one aft, and just three Mark-15 torpedoes, but attacked the heavy cruiser Chōkai. With smoke as cover, Roberts steamed to within 2.5 miles of Chōkai, coming under fire from the latter’s two forward 8-inch turrets.

Roberts had moved so close that the enemy couldn't depress their guns low enough to hit her; the shells passed overhead. Once she was within torpedo range, she launched her three torpedoes, apparently registering at least one hit. Roberts then fought with the Japanese ships for a further hour, firing over 600 5-inch shells, and while maneuvering at very close range, mauling Chōkai's superstructure with her 40 mm and 20 mm anti-aircraft guns. At 0851, the Japanese landed two hits, the second of which destroyed the aft gun turret. With her remaining 5-inch gun, Roberts set the bridge of the cruiser Chikuma afire and destroyed the No. 3 gun turret, before being pierced again by three 14-inch shells from Kongō. With a 40 ft (12 m) hole in her side, Roberts took on water, and at 0935, the order was given to abandon ship. The ship sank in 30 minutes, with 89 of her crew.

She would go down in history as "the destroyer escort that fought like a battleship".

Named for her and men who manned her are the guided missile frigates USS Carr (FGG-52), USS Copeland (FFG-25) and USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58)

Companion destroyer escorts Raymond, Dennis, and John C. Butler also launched torpedoes. While they missed, it helped slow the Japanese chase. Dennis was struck by a pair of cruiser shells. John C. Butler ceased fire after expending her ammo an hour into the engagement.

 
   
  USS Hoel
Commander Leon S. Kintberger USS Hoel in San Francisco bay, 1943
"I threw open the starboard escape hatch and crawled through a pile of bodies and body parts to the main deck."
-LT Maurice F. Green, USS Hoel

At 0706, when a providential rain squall helped to hide his carriers, Admiral Sprague ordered his destroyers to attack the Japanese with torpedoes. Hoel – captained by Commander Leon S. Kintberger – headed straight for the nearest enemy battleship, Kongō, then 18,000 yd (16,000 m) away. When she had closed to 14,000 yd (13,000 m), she opened fire as she continued her race toward Kongō's 14-inch guns. A hit on her bridge knocked out all voice radio communication, but she kept her course and launched a half salvo of torpedoes at a range of 9,000 yd (8,200 m). Although the torpedoes failed to strike their target, they forced Kongō to turn sharply left and to move away from her quarry until they had run their course. Minutes later, Hoel suffered hits which knocked out three of her guns, stopped her port engine, and deprived her of her Mark-37 fire control director, FD radar, and bridge steering control. Undaunted, Hoel turned to engage the enemy column of heavy cruisers. When she had closed to within 6,000 yd (5,500 m) of the leading cruiser, Haguro, the destroyer launched a half-salvo of torpedoes which ran "hot, straight and normal." This time, she was rewarded by the sight of large columns of water which rose from her target. Although Japanese records deny that these torpedoes hit the cruiser, there is no evidence to indicate any other explanation for the geyser effect observed.

Hoel now found herself crippled and surrounded by the enemy. During the next hour, the ship rendered her final service by drawing enemy fire away from the carriers. In the process of fishtailing and chasing salvos, she peppered them with her two remaining guns. Finally at 0830, after withstanding over 40 hits from 5 to 16 inches (127 to 406 mm) guns, an 8-inch shell stilled her remaining engine. With her engine room under water, her No. 1 magazine ablaze, and the ship listing heavily to port and settling by the stern, Kintberger ordered his crew to "prepare to abandon ship." The Japanese fire only stopped at 0855 when Hoel rolled over and sank in 8,000 yd (7,300 m) of water, after enduring 90 minutes of punishment after her first hits.

Hoel was the first of Taffy 3's ships to sink, and suffered the heaviest proportional losses. Only 86 of Hoel's complement survived; 253 officers and men died with their ship. Commander Kintberger described the courageous devotion to duty of the men of Hoel in a seaman's epitaph: "Fully cognizant of the inevitable result of engaging such vastly superior forces, these men performed their assigned duties coolly and efficiently until their ship was shot from under them."

   
  USS Heermann
Commander Amos T. Hathaway USS Heermann (foreground) overtakes a destroyer escort while charging through the Taffy 3 carrier group at flank speed, to join the battle
 

Heermann, captained by Commander Amos T. Hathaway, was on the disengaged side of the carriers at the start of the fight, and steamed into the action at flank speed through the formation of "baby flattops". After launching their last planes, the carriers formed a rough circle as they turned toward Leyte Gulf. Smoke and intermittent rain squalls had reduced visibility to less than 100 yd (91 m), causing Heermann to back emergency full to avoid colliding with Samuel B. Roberts and later Hoel as she formed column on the screen flagship in preparation for a torpedo attack.

Heermann engaged the heavy cruiser Chikuma with her 5-inch guns while directing a torpedo attack at Haguro. After firing two torpedoes, Heermann changed course to engage a column of four battleships that had commenced firing upon her. She trained her guns on the battleship Kongō, the column's leader, and launched three torpedoes. Then she quickly closed on the battleship Haruna, the target of her last three torpedoes, launched at 0800 from a mere 4,400 yd (4,000 m). Believing that one of the torpedoes had hit the battleship, the destroyer retired without being hit. Japanese records claim that the battleship successfully evaded all of the torpedoes, but the attack slowed down the pursuit of the American carriers. Yamato found herself bracketed between two of Heermann's torpedoes on parallel courses and for 10 minutes, was forced to head away from the action. Heermann then engaged the other Japanese battleships at such close range that they could not return fire due either to inability to sufficiently depress their guns or for fear of hitting their own ships.

Heermann sped to the starboard quarter of the carrier formation to lay more concealing smoke and then charged back into the fight a few minutes later, placing herself between the escort carriers and a column of four enemy heavy cruisers. Here she engaged Chikuma in a duel which seriously damaged both ships. A series of 8-inch hits flooded the forward part of the US destroyer, pulling her bow down so far that her anchors were dragging in the water, while one of her guns was knocked out. The enemy cruiser also came under heavy air attack during the engagement. Under the combined effort of Heermann's guns and the bombs, torpedoes, and strafing from carrier-based planes, Chikuma finally disengaged but sank during her withdrawal.

As Chikuma turned away, the heavy cruiser Tone exchanged fire with Heermann until the latter reached a position to resume laying smoke for the carriers. At this point, planes from Admiral Felix Stump's Taffy 2 damaged Tone so severely that she too broke off action and withdrew. Though hit, Heerman was the only destroyer from the screen to survive.

   
 

Carriers attacked

The carriers of Taffy 3 turned south and withdrew through shellfire at their top speed of 17.5 kn (20.1 mph; 32.4 km/h). The six carriers dodged in and out of rain squalls and managed to launch all available Wildcat fighters and Avenger torpedo bombers with whatever armament they were already loaded with. Some had rockets, machine guns, depth charges, or nothing at all. Very few had general purpose bombs or torpedoes. Against ground targets and subs, the obsolescent Wildcats were low cost stand-inchs for the faster Hellcats and heavier Helldivers which flew from larger carriers. The pilots were ordered "to attack the Japanese task force and proceed to Tacloban airstrip, Leyte, to rearm and refuel". Many of the planes continued to make "dry runs" after expending their ammunition and ordnance to distract the enemy.

After one hour, the Japanese had closed the chase to within ten miles of the carriers. That the carriers had managed to evade destruction reinforced the Japanese belief that they were attacking fast fleet carriers. At 0800, Sprague ordered the carriers to "open fire with pea-shooters when the range is clear". The tail chase was also advantageous for the sole anti-ship armament of small carriers that was a single manually controlled stern-mounted 5-inch as a stinger, though they were loaded with anti-aircraft shells. As anti-aircraft gunners observed helplessly, an officer cheered them by exclaiming, "just wait a little longer, boys, we’re sucking them into 40-mm range."

The ships had been battered by near-misses, but at 0805 Kalinin Bay was struck by an 8-inch shell. During the early phase of the action, the enemy ships were firing armor-piercing (AP) shells which often carried right through or skipped off the flight decks of the unarmored escort carriers without detonating. Though CVEs were popularly known as "Combustible Vulnerable Expendable" they would ultimately prove durable in first dodging and then absorbing heavy shell fire, and in downing attacking kamikaze planes. Although Gambier Bay was sunk, fire from the CVE's stingers would be credited with hitting and contributing to the sinking of capital ships that ventured within gun range.

   
 

USS Gambier Bay

USS Gambier Bay takes a salvo from an unknown Japanese vessal.
 

It was not until 0810 that Chikuma closed within 5 miles to finally land hits on the flight deck of Gambier Bay, which was the most exposed. Subsequent hits and near misses as the Japanese switched to high explosive (HE) shells first reduced her speed, and Gambier Bay was soon dead in the water. Three cruisers closed to point-blank range as destroyer escorts such as Johnston were unsuccessful in trying to draw fire away from the doomed carrier. Fires raged through the riddled escort carrier. She capsized and sank at 0907 with the majority of her nearly 800 survivors rescued two days later by landing and patrol craft dispatched from Leyte Gulf. Gambier Bay would be the first and only US carrier sunk by naval gunfire in World War II.

   
  USS St. Lo


Gunner's mate Paul H. Carr

Aboard Samuel B. Roberts, Paul Carr kept his gun mount operating continuously, firing over 300 rounds until power and air were lost. Carr then began firing rounds by hand, accepting the risk that without air the gun would not cool down between firings. With seven rounds left in the magazine, the tremendous heat in the gun breech "cooked off" a round, exploding the projectile loaded in the gun and killing most of the gun crew. When a rescue team member made his way into the shattered mount, he found Carr, literally torn open from neck to thigh, attempting vainly to load a shell into the demolished gun breech. The rescue team member took the round from Carr and laid him aside as he began to remove the bodies of the gun crew.

Returning to the mount, he again found Paul Carr, projectile in hand, trying to load his gun. Carr begged the sailor to help him get off one last round. The sailor pulled him from the mount and laid him on the deck.

Paul Carr died a few moments later, beneath the gun he served.

Survived by his eight sisters, he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

USS Carr (FGG 52) is named in his honor. Her motto is

"COURAGE, WILL, DETERMINATION"
The stunning death of USS St. Lo

By 0738, the Japanese cruisers, approaching from St. Lo's port quarter, had closed to within 14,000 yd (13,000 m). St. Lo responded to their salvos with rapid fire from her single 5-inch gun, claiming three hits on a Tone-class cruiser. For the next 1½ hours, Admiral Kurita's ships closed in on Taffy 3, with his nearest destroyers and cruisers firing from as close as 10,000 yd (9,100 m) on the port and starboard quarters of St. Lo. Throughout the running gun battle, the carriers and their escorts were laying a particularly effective smoke screen that Admiral Sprague credited with greatly degrading Japanese gunfire accuracy. Even more effective were the attacks by the destroyers and destroyer escorts at point-blank range against the Japanese destroyers and cruisers. All the while, Kurita's force was under incessant attack by aircraft from Taffy 3 and the two other American carrier units to the south. At 1047, a kamikaze attack against the surviving carriers began. Minutes later, one of Lt. Yukio Seki's Shikishima squadron crashed into St. Lo's flight deck; although the aircraft itself was stopped there, its bomb penetrated the deck, inflicting a fatal blow. The escort carrier went down stern first and 114 men were killed.

 
USS Kalinin Bay
USS Kalinin Bay is hit by a kamikaze
 

Kalinin Bay accelerated to flank speed and, despite fire from three enemy cruisers, launched her planes, which inflicted heavy damage on the closing ships. As the trailing ship in the escort carrier van, Kalinin Bay came under intense enemy fire. Though partially protected by chemical smoke, a timely rain squall, and counterattacks by the screening destroyers and destroyer escorts, she took the first of 15 direct hits at 0750. Fired from an enemy battleship, the large caliber shell (14 in/356 mm or 16 in/410 mm) struck the starboard side of the hangar deck just aft of the forward elevator.

By 0800, the Japanese cruisers, which were steaming off her port quarter, closed to within 18,000 yd (16,000 m). Kalinin Bay responded to their straddling salvos with her 5-inch gun. Three 8-inch armor-piercing projectiles struck her within minutes. At 0825, the carrier scored a direct hit from 16,000 yd (15,000 m) on the No. 2 turret of a Nachi-class heavy cruiser, and a second hit shortly thereafter forced the Japanese ship to withdraw temporarily from formation.

At 0830, five Japanese destroyers steamed over the horizon off her starboard quarter. They opened fire from about 14,500 yd (13,300 m). As screening ships engaged the cruisers and laid down concealing smoke, Kalinin Bay shifted her fire and for the next hour traded shots with Destroyer Squadron 10. No destroyer hit Kalinin Bay, but she took 10 more 8-inch hits from the now obscured cruisers. One shell passed through the flight deck and into the communications area, where it destroyed all the radar and radio equipment.

At 0915, an Avenger torpedo bomber from St. Lo piloted by LTJG Waldrop strafed and exploded two torpedoes in Kalinin Bay's wake about 100 yd (91 m) astern of her. A shell from the latter's 5-inch gun deflected a third from a collision course with her stern. At about 0930, as the Japanese ships fired parting salvos and reversed course northward, Kalinin Bay scored a direct hit amidships on a retreating destroyer. Five minutes later, she ceased fire and retired southward with the other survivors of Taffy 3.

Around 1050, the task unit came under a concentrated air attack. During the 40-minute battle, the first attack from a kamikaze unit in World War II, all escort carriers but Fanshaw Bay were damaged. Four diving planes attacked Kalinin Bay from astern and the starboard quarter. Two were shot down close aboard, while a third plane crashed into the port side of the flight deck, damaging it severely. The fourth destroyed the aft port stack. Kalinin Bay suffered extensive structural damage during the morning's intense action, as well as five dead among her 60 casualties. 12 direct hits were later confirmed by damage plus two large-caliber near misses. Ironically, it was the two near misses that exploded under her counter that threatened the ship's survival.

Throughout the surface phase of the action, the carriers White Plains and Kitkun Bay, in the lead position, escaped hits from gunfire. During kamikaze attacks, the carrier Fanshaw Bay splashed among others a plane just about to crash into Kitkun Bay and landed planes from her sunk or damaged sisters. Fanshaw Bay lost four men killed, and four wounded.

   
 
  USS Kitkun Bay flight operations durning the Battle Off Samar. In the backround, a US carrier takes fire.
   
 
  A kamikaze strike on USS White Plains
   

"Well, I think it was really just determination that really meant something. I can't believe that they didn't just go in an wipe us out. We confused the Japanese so much. I think it deterred them. It was a great experience"

-Tom Stevensen, Survivor Samuel B. Roberts

The Japanese withdraw

Though Kurita's battleships had not been seriously damaged, the air and destroyer attacks had broken up his formations, and he had lost tactical control. His flagship Yamato had been forced to turn north in order to avoid torpedoes, causing him to lose contact with much of his task force. The ferocity of the determined, concentrated sea and air attack from Taffy 3 had already sunk or crippled the heavy cruisers Chōkai, Kumano, and Chikuma, confirming to the Japanese that they were engaging major fleet units rather than escort carriers and destroyers. Kurita was at first not aware that Halsey had already taken the bait and that his battleships and carriers were far out of range. The ferocity of the air attacks further contributed to his confusion, for he assumed that such devastating strikes could only come from major fleet units rather than escort carriers. Signals from Ozawa eventually convinced Kurita that he was not engaging the entirety of 3rd fleet, and that remaining elements of Halsey's forces might close in and destroy him if he lingered too long in the area.

Finally, Kurita received word that the Southern Force that he was to meet up with had been destroyed the previous night. Calculating that the fight was not worth further losses, and believing he had already sunk or damaged several American carriers, Kurita broke off the engagement at 0920 with the order: "all ships, my course north, speed 20". He reshaped course for Leyte Gulf, but became distracted by reports of another American carrier group to the north. Preferring to expend his ships against capital ships rather than transports, he turned north after the non-existent enemy fleet, and ultimately withdrew back through San Bernardino Strait.

As he retreated north and then west through the San Bernardino Strait, the smaller and heavily damaged American force continued to press the battle. While watching the Japanese retreat, Admiral Sprague heard a nearby sailor exclaim: "Damn it, boys, they're getting away!"

   
Wearing her late-husband's Congressional Medal Of Honor, the wife and two sons of Commander Ernest Evans
view the CMOH citation signed by President Harry S. Truman.
   
   


TOPICS: Chit/Chat; Military/Veterans
KEYWORDS: history; military; navy
Please forgive formatting errors: reformatting a web-page to work on FR is a chore.

If you're interested in reading more about this unbelievable engagement, I suggest picking up a copy of "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors". It's a excellent read.

1 posted on 10/25/2010 5:35:16 PM PDT by Psycho_Bunny
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To: Psycho_Bunny
The Battle of Leyte Gulf. The largest full fleet engagement in history, and also pretty much the last (til now at any rate).

Hadn't read about it in a while. Thanks for the reminder.

2 posted on 10/25/2010 5:49:37 PM PDT by tired_old_conservative
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To: Psycho_Bunny

It is impossible for this ‘ol ex-tin can squid to thank you enough for posting this.

Leyete Gulf is where the Imperial Japanese Navy was basically destroyed.

It was the WW2 “small boy’s” amazing performance that inspired me as a child to want to be a tin can sailor someday.

I just watched the original “Victory at Sea” episode, “The battle for Leyete Gulf”.

It’s VERY moving stuff.

God Bless all those who go down to the Sea.

God Bless the Fleet.

God Bless America.


3 posted on 10/25/2010 5:56:59 PM PDT by warm n fuzzy (Really)
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To: Psycho_Bunny

Super post.


4 posted on 10/25/2010 6:11:27 PM PDT by Jacquerie (A good Muslim cannot be a patriotic American.)
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To: warm n fuzzy

Read “The Last Stand of the Tincan Sailors.” One of the best books on the experience of naval combat ever written.


5 posted on 10/25/2010 6:14:20 PM PDT by xkaydet65
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To: xkaydet65

I will do that.

Thanks.


6 posted on 10/25/2010 6:17:09 PM PDT by warm n fuzzy (Really)
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To: Psycho_Bunny

Fascinating, I’m halfway through the book right now, it’s incredible.

These brave men had cajones of steel.


7 posted on 10/25/2010 6:31:24 PM PDT by GOP_Muzik (If all the world's a stage then I want different lighting)
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To: Psycho_Bunny

This is one ex-tin can sailor of the cold war era, that appreciates you posting this. Churchill said of the RAF, “never was so much owed by so few.” I say it applies here to the US Navy in general, and Taffy 3 in particular, especially her destroyers.

My Dad, US Army, was part of the invasion force at Tacloban, Philippines. He was who the battleship Yamato and the rest of the Japanese Navy were after. I often reminded my Dad, he is deceased now, of how the Navy, and the tin cans his son served aboard, saved his bacon. Those huge 18 inch rounds from the Yamato with the rest of the Japanese force, would have blasted the Army badly on the beach. Thanks to the Navy, they didn’t get the opportunity.

Of course, it wasn’t just the battle off Samar that saved the day for the Army, the US Navy stopped the Japs in every engagement of the far flung battle of Leyte Gulf.


8 posted on 10/25/2010 6:54:14 PM PDT by sasportas
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To: Psycho_Bunny

If you can’t format it to fit on my screen, then I am not reading it.

What a waste of time and broadband.


9 posted on 10/25/2010 6:57:05 PM PDT by american_ranger
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To: Psycho_Bunny

Thanks for this post. My late father-in-law served an anti-aircraft gun aboard Gambier Bay, and was wounded going over the side when the ship went down.

He spent two days in the water before being rescued. He was one of the most remarkable men I ever knew.


10 posted on 10/25/2010 6:57:43 PM PDT by Colonel_Flagg ("I'd rather lose fighting for the right cause than win fighting for the wrong cause." - Jim DeMint)
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To: Psycho_Bunny

I’m ex navy submariner, never saw combat but respect those that did. btw, there’s a Japanese restaurant down the block.


11 posted on 10/25/2010 7:02:06 PM PDT by brivette
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To: Psycho_Bunny

Excellent post. The pictures were amazing. I’ll look for the book too.
Thanks, you made my night.


12 posted on 10/25/2010 7:22:25 PM PDT by IrishCatholic (No local Communist or Socialist Party Chapter? Join the Democrats, it's the same thing!)
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To: Psycho_Bunny

Have read and agree, must agree


13 posted on 10/25/2010 7:27:44 PM PDT by Nailbiter
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To: xkaydet65

“Sea of Thunder” by Evan Thomas is another excellent book about this battle and Leyete Gulf. It features Admirals Halsey, Kurita, Ugaki and Commander Evans. You’re right, xkaydet65, “Tincan Sailors” was excellent.


14 posted on 10/25/2010 7:52:52 PM PDT by LJM
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To: Psycho_Bunny
IIRC, the survivors from the destroyers spent something like three days floating in the water until they were finally rescued. Massive, awful oversight.
15 posted on 10/25/2010 8:34:28 PM PDT by Dilbert56 (Harry Reid, D-Nev.: "We're going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war.")
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To: Psycho_Bunny

We destroyed the Japanese air at Midway and the Marianas and destroyed a good part of her Navy in Leyte Gulf. People don’t realize that the Japanese had a larger Army at the end of the war than when they attacked us at Pearl Harbor. The difference is they had no Navy to get them around the Pacific, no air force to protect them and were cut off from their oil.

We have men like the ones in Taffy 3 to thank for that.


16 posted on 10/25/2010 8:44:24 PM PDT by Old Teufel Hunden
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To: LJM

I read it, but I can’t be objective as I’m not a fan of Newsweak’s Thomas and Hornschifer does a much better job describing the battle from the sailor’s POV.His description of the charge of the Samuel Butler toward the IJN is awesomely inspiring.


17 posted on 10/25/2010 8:45:35 PM PDT by xkaydet65
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