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Thread: The US Navy's Greatest Battle...Leyte Gulf

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    The US Navy's Greatest Battle...Leyte Gulf

    As we are approaching the 75th Anniversary of this epic event I will post some things I wrote for another group here commemorating the events of those days.

    First, the prelude battle.

    As a prelude to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, The USN fought the Imperial Japanese Navy & Army air forces in the Formosa Air Battle 12–16 October 1944 in the summer of 1944 the US had breached the main inner Japanese defensive belt by seizing the Marianas (Guam, Saipan & Tinian). This placed the Japanese Home Islands in range of the new B-29s. The Japanese countered the invasion in the Battle of the Philippine Sea with disastrous results for them. They would lose 3 carriers and lose over 600 aircraft. More importantly they lost most of their remaining experienced carrier pilots.
    In the wake of this the US had to decide where the strategic pivot would be: to take Formosa (Taiwan) as a place to base for an invasion of China or to attack the Philippines. Both would have the results of cutting off the Japanese Home Islands from the oil and other resources from the Southwest Pacific. The Philippine route under MacArthur was selected over the Formosa route under Nimitz. In order to support the Philippines assault the Task Force 38 Fast Carriers would attack Japanese air strength in Formosa & Northern Philippines.

    The Japanese forces had over 1,400 aircraft split amongst the Imperial Japanese Navy’s 1st (Philippines), 2nd & 3rd (Taiwan) Air Fleets and the Imperial Japanese Army’s 4th Air Army in Manila area (Clark Field). Against them were the US Navy’s Third Fleet under William Halsey with 17 carriers, 6 battleships, 4 heavy & 11 light cruisers and 57 destroyers. They were assigned to Marc Mitscher’s Task Force 38 (TF 38): Task Group 38.1 (TG 38.1): USS Cowpens, USS Hornet, USS Monterey, USS Wasp; Task Group 38.2 (TG 38.2): USS Bunker Hill, USS Cabot, USS Hancock, USS Independence, USS Intrepid; Task Group 38.3 (TG 38.3): USS Essex, USS Langley, USS Lexington, USS Princeton; Task Group 38.4 (TG 38.4): USS Belleau Wood, USS Enterprise, USS Franklin, USS San Jacinto. All total TF 38 had almost 1200 aircraft.

    The 5 day battle began when Japanese radar equipped aircraft from Formosa picked up the approach of TF 38 on 11 OCT. Forewarned the IJN/IJA were prepared for the opening attacks against airfields and facilities at first light on 12 OCT. At 0600 USN F6F Hellcat fighter sweeps encountered Japanese fighters aloft defending their airfields. Antiaircraft fire was heavy but not too accurate. Quickly, the more experienced Americans gained the upper hand and inflicted massive casualties on the inexperienced Japanese forces. This was followed up by strikes later in the day by SB2C Helldivers & TBM/TBF Avengers against airfields and facilities which caused widespread damage.
    In response the Japanese launched a special attack force from Japan, the T Attack Force which was trained to attack in all weather and at night and evasive maneuvers. The T Force attacked near dusk with little damage except to one US destroyer which suffered damage from over aggressive antiaircraft fire.

    The weather degraded on 13 October restricting strikes. Radio intercepts and radar reports indicated more Japanese strikes later that day. Admiral Mitscher ordered no attacks after 1400 and to shift to fleet defense. The TF 38 Combat Air Patrols (CAP) pushed out aggressively and intercepted most raids well out of antiaircraft gun range. Just before sunset T Air Attack Force appeared and made for Task Group TG 38.1 at 1823 Ten Yokosuka P1Y “Frances” torpedoes bombers attacked low on the water. One dropped a torpedo before being shut down which hit the heavy cruiser USS Canberra amidships, flooding both engine rooms and killing 23 of her crew. Dead in the water, the Canberra had to be taken under tow by the USS Wichita around 2200. The Wichita towed the cruiser to the southeast away from the fight. Additional escort ships were attached and they became Task Group 30.3

    With the damaged Canberra making slow progress Mitscher was forced to stay in the area on 14 October much longer than planned. More fighter sweeps hit Formosa and the Philippines to suppress the IJN/IJA attacks. Japanese reconnaissance aircraft made appearances all day. Massed enemy air attacks began around 1500 and would continue into the night. The USS Hancock was hit by a dud bomb. The USS Houston was sent to replace the Wichita which returned to its previous station escorting the Wasp. At 1630 torpedo bombers attacked CG 30.3 and torpedoed USS Houston. Like Canberra, her engine rooms were flooded. She flooded so quickly the Houston quickly took on a 16 degree list. The USS Boston was tasked to tow the second crippled cruiser.

    15 October was supposed to be a refueling day for the fleet but only TG 38.2 & 38.3 could get away. TG 38.4 kept up the pressure on the IJA forces on Luzon and TG 38.1 provided escort to the nicknamed Cripple Division 1. Fleet tugs took over tows so Boston could return to duty. No strikes went out that day. Instead all efforts were made for suppression and fleet protection. Several strikes came at the fleet all day long but were destroyed without further damage to the fleet. Fighter Squadron 14 aboard the USS Wasp alone shot down 30 aircraft.

    16 October marked the end of the battle. The light carriers USS Cowpens and USS Cabot (with my Dad aboard) provided close cover to CG 30.3. One last raid made it through. The Houston was torpedoed again but stayed afloat and continued to be towed by the fleet tug the USS Pawnee. The remainder of the fleet withdrew out of range of land that day and went to resupply .

    The outcome of the Formosa Air Battle was the destruction of IJN/IJA offensive aviation. Radar directed fighters and centrally fire controlled 5 inch/38 antiaircraft fire from destroyers, cruisers and battleships provided an almost impenetrable barrier for conventional tactics. It was the result of this that the Japanese reverted to the Divine Wind or Kamikaze tactics for the remainder of the war..
    “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
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    The Ball opens...

    Shortly after midnight 22-23 OCT 44 Kurita’s powerful Center Force passed Palawan Island and entered the Palawan Passage. Stationed on either flank were the US Navy submarines the USS Dace & USS Darter. Both vessels were running on the surface charging their batteries and with lookouts and radar searching for approaching vessels. At 0016 hours on 23 OCT Darter’s radar picked up the Center Force at a range of 30,000 yards/27,000 meters. This was soon confirmed by visual sightings by the lookouts. Both subs quickly followed and the Darter sent off a contact report to Pearl Harbor & Freemantle, Australia, HQs for the Pacific & SW Pacific submarine operations centers.

    Both vessels traveled on the surface at top speed, trying to get ahead of the Japanese vessels. After almost five hours the Darter & Dace reached and advantageous attack position and dived to attack depth. At 0524 the Darter fired a salvo of 6 torpedoes at Kurita’s flagship the Atago, a veteran of Pearl Harbor & Midway. 4 torpedoes hit. Atago sank so quickly that Kurita went into the water and had to be pulled into a lifeboat.at 0535 Darter fired again and scored 2 hits on the cruiser Takao. Dace got into the action at 0556 and hit the Maya with 4 torpedoes. It too quickly sank.

    The Takao headed back to Brunei under escort by 2 destroyers. The 2 submarines fired off final contact reports and pursued the crippled cruiser. On the 24th the Darter ran out of luck and ran aground on Bombay Shoal, 50 miles west of Palawan. Despite all efforts the submarine could not be refloated. Classified equipment was destroyed or transferred to the Dace. Darter’s crew climbed aboard Dace for evacuation. Dace fired a spread of torpedoes at the stricken vessel only to have the torpedoes strike and detonate on the rock in the shoal. On 31 October the USS Nautilus with her twin 6 inch guns shot up the Darter so well it was deemed of no further value. The Japanese never tried to recover it.

    The Takao was towed to Singapore where she was deemed unrepairable and spent the rest of the war as a semifloating antiaircraft battery.

    First blood in the Battle of Leyte Gulf had been drawn.
    “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
    Mark Twain

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    here we go!!
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    24 October 44 Part 1

    Despite the losses to the Darter & Dace, Kurita maintained progress into the Sibuyan Sea. As the sun rose he was coming into range of the aircraft of the 3rd Fleet. What would unfold that day became known as the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea.

    At the start of the battle, Halsey’s 3rd Fleet was scattered and was not in the best position to counter the Japanese thrust. After the intense fight of the Formosa Air Battle Halsey had allowed half of his carrier force to steam towards Ulithi to rearm, refit and take on replacement aircraft and aircrews. When the contact report came in from the USS Darter. VADM McCain & his task group with 40% of the striking power was out of the battle, and of the 3 remaining task groups, the one closest to hit the Central Force was the smallest with only 1 fleet & 2 light carriers.

    On 24 October 3 large waves of land based aircraft attacked the 3rd Fleet. In one action, CDR David McCampbell, Carrier Air Group (CAG) 15 commander aboard Essex, shot down 9 enemy aircraft in one raid. His wingman got another 7. McCampbell would go on to be the Navy’s leading ace of WW 2 with 38 victories in the air. However, one Japanese bomber got through and hit the light carrier USS Princeton. The bomb blast ruptured the pipes for the sprinkler controls and fires raged unabated on the hangar deck. The cruiser USS Birmingham cam alongside to help fight fires and take off wounded. The fires raged until the finally they reached a bomb magazine which exploded with catastrophic results, . The Birmingham was heavily damaged and took heavy casualties. 239 men died, 408 were wounded and the Princeton was doomed. Finally she was torpedoed by the USS Reno at 1750 and sank. Aboard the Princeton 148 men died and over 1300 of her crew were rescued.

    At 1030 that day aircraft from USS Intrepid, an Essex class fleet carrier, and the USS Cabot, an Independence class light carrier (with Fireman 1st Class Paul G. Buchanan manning the main steam throttle in the fire room), attacked Kurita’s Central Force. The scored hits on the battleships Nagato, Yamato, and Musashi, and badly damaging the heavy cruiser Myōkō which retired to Borneo. Shortly after another wave of attackers from the Essex, Intrepid & Lexington hit, concentrating on the Musashi. They scored 10 bomb hits. Quickly another raid from the Enterprise and Franklin hit her with 11 more bombs and eight torpedoes. After being struck by at least 17 bombs and 19 torpedoes, Musashi finally capsized and sank at about 19:30.

    Despite this loss the Center Force was still a powerful force. Kurita retreated westward to get out of range of USN aircraft but returned his eastward track at around 1730. Us reconnaissance did not pick up this move. Halsey was convinced he had defeated the Center Force and that it was retreating to Borneo. Far from it. All told, 259 aircraft sorties were launched against the Center Force on 24 October, less than half which would be launched against the decoy Northern Force. And almost all the attacks were launched against the Musashi. She was the largest target but most of the remainder of the fleet was untouched.

    For the USN in World War 2, the modern fast battleships of the South Dakota, North Carolina & Iowa classes of the 3rd Fleet were used as close escorts for the fast carriers and were basically antiaircraft batteries. Along with the heavy & light cruisers, they formed a close ring of firepower to protect the carriers. They did not normally operate in a battle line of the classic battleships off Guadalcanal and other battles. However, in case of need, Halsey intended to form a surface battle line task force, TF 34. He sent a message Fleetwide, with a copy furnished to Department of the Navy & Nimitz at Pearl Harbor:

    It was ambiguously worded giving details of this contingency plan:

    BATDIV 7 MIAMI, VINCENNES, BILOXI, DESRON 52 LESS STEVEN POTTER, FROM TG 38.2 AND WASHINGTON, ALABAMA, WICHITA, NEW ORLEANS, DESDIV 100, PATTERSON, BAGLEY FROM TG 38.4 WILL BE FORMED AS TASK FORCE 34 UNDER VICE ADMIRAL LEE, COMMANDER BATTLE LINE. TF 34 TO ENGAGE DECISIVELY AT LONG RANGES. CTG 38.4 CONDUCT CARRIERS OF TG 38.2 AND TG 38.4 CLEAR OF SURFACE FIGHTING. INSTRUCTIONS FOR TG 38.3 AND TG 38.1 LATER. HALSEY, OTC IN NEW JERSEY.[1]

    He did not include the 7th Fleet in this message. It was picked up anyone by 7thFleet radiomen and Admiral Kincaid breathed a sigh of relief thinking his back door was covered by the 3rd Fleet battle line. After review, Halsey & his chief of staff realized the ambiguity of the previous message by voice radio at 1720 to the Fleet:

    IF THE ENEMY SORTIES (THROUGH SAN BERNADINO STRAIT) TF 34 WILL BE FORMED WHEN DIRECTED BY ME.

    The Seventh Fleet never got this word.

    The Philippines Campaign did not fall under a single commander. Responsibility was split between the 3rd& 7th Fleets with what would be ominous results.

    IJNS Musashi under attack, USS Princeton burning & USS Birmingham fights fires on the Princeton moments before the bomb magazine on Princeton exploded.

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    “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
    Mark Twain

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    24 OCT 44 Part 2

    The aircraft of the 3rd Fleet Fast Carrier Task Force had concentrated on attacking Kurita’s Central Force all day and fending off attacks by land based aircraft attacking from Luzon. Heavy raids had continued all day requiring continuous commitments of fighter aircraft for fleet defense. As a result, Ozawa’s Northern Force was not discovered until 1640 by recon aircraft. His force was supposed to be the force to draw Halsey away from the invasion beaches so Kurita could hit them. It took until late in the day on the 24th to be discovered. Ozawa’s strike capability was a shadow of its former self…he only had 108 aircraft spread across his 4 carriers and his pilots were poorly trained. Ozawa intercepted an American message describing the withdrawal of the Center Force and began to retreat as well. Later that evening Admiral Toyoda in Tokyo ordered all forces to return to their mission and trust in the Emperor’s blessings.

    Numerous clues came in to 3rd Fleet warning of Kurita’s returning to the fight. The navigation lights in San Bernardino Straight had been turned on. Kurita’s force was spotted by a night reconnaissance aircraft from the USS Intrepid. All these reports filtered to the 3rd Fleet staff but were ignored. Halsey radioed Nimitz:

    CENTRAL FORCE HEAVILY DAMAGED ACCORDING TO STRIKE REPORTS.

    AM PROCEEDING NORTH WITH THREE GROUPS TO ATTACK CARRIER FORCES AT DAWN

    The assumptions made by Nimitz & Kincaid was that Task Force 34, the powerful battleship & cruiser task force commanded by VADM William Lee, had been detached and guarded the San Bernardino Straight. In fact China Lee Lee and his fast battleships were steaming north with the rest of the Third Fleet.

    Not so much as a PT boat guarded the exit from San Bernardino Straight. The back door to the 7th Fleet and the invasion beaches was wide open.
    “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
    Mark Twain

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    24 OCT 44 Part 3
    All through the day, Japanese land based aircraft attacked the invasion fleet. Tacloban Airfield was not yet operational so the defense of the anchorage fell to the fighters of the escort carriers Task Group 77.4 They were tagged as TAFFY 1, 2 & 3.

    Taffy 1 was commanded by RADM Thomas L. Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.1. The striking power consisted of the CVEs of Carrier Division 22, Sangamon, Suwannee, Santee, and Petrof Bay. They were escorted by the destroyers McCord & Hazelwood, Trathen and the destroyer escorts Bull, Rowell, Eversole & Coolbaugh. Taffy 1’s patrol station was 70 nautical miles off the northeast coast of Mindanao, gurding the southern approaches to the invasion force. Sprague was overall commander of all of TAFFY forces.

    In the center RADM Felix Stump's Task Unit 77.4.2 called Taffy 2 consisted of Carrier Division 24 with the CVEs of Natoma Bay and Manila Bay, and Rear Admiral William D. Sample's Carrier Division 27 Marcus Island, Kadashan Bay, Savo Island, and Ommaney Bay. Their screen consisted of 3 destroyers (Haggard, Franks & Hailey) and 4 destroyers escorts (Suesens, Abercrombie, Wilson & Wann). They patrolled approximately 100 nautical miles east of Leyte Gulf.

    In the north, about 65 miles off the caost of Samar was Task Unit 77.4.3 Taffy 3 under the command of RADM Clifton Sprague's with Carrier Division 25 (Fanshaw Bay, St. Lo, White Plains, Kalinin Bay), and Carrier Division 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.

    Each carrier mounted numerous 20 & 40 mm cannon and a single stern mounted 5 inch/38 cannon in a stern mount. Aboard each carrier were composite squadrons. Their missions were ground attack, defense against aircraft, and antisubmarine warfare. They were not intended to conduct airstrikes against main Japanese battleforces.

    During the day numerous raids were intercepted and many Japanese aircraft were shot down Included in that was a flight of 4 FM-2 fighters of Composite Squadron 3 (VC-3). VC-3 had 16 FM-2 fighters (the Wilder Wildcat, in improved F4F Wildcat) & 12 TBM-1C Avenger torpedo bombers. Call signed SUGAR BAKER, this flight was patrolling at 10,000 feet when they were vectored by air controllers on a bogie. The flight lead, Lieutenant Kenneth Hippe quickly shot it down. The group sighted a larger group at higher altitude. Going to boost full throttle the flight climbed and attacked 21 Japanese Army Kawasaki Ki.48 “Lily” bombers. In a running gun battle 19 out of 21 bombers would be shot down, 12 by this flight the remaining by naval antiaircraft fire. Hippe would receive credit for 5 Lilys. My uncle, Ensign John E. Buchanan, who I am named for, shot down 3 more. Hippe would receive the Navy Cross for this feat. ENS Buchanan received the Distinguished Flying Cross. This action typified much of the events which would occur throughout the 24th of October.

    The photo on the left ENS John E. Buchanan, USN, LT Kenneth G Hippe, USNR, shaking hands with CAPT T.B. Williamson, CO, LT(JG) Roy A. Volpi and LCDR J.S. Cromwell in center background, of USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68), after air battle with Japanese planes off Leyte Is., 24 October 1944. The second photo was taken of my uncle in SEP 88 at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL. It was the 75th Anniversary of US Naval Avaition. That year the Navy honored the former enlisted pilots of the USN, USMC & USCG. The rating they held was called Naval Aviation Pilot (NAP). The museum set up exhibits of the 3 primary aircraft NAP's flew in WW 2...FM-2, TBM & the PBY Catalina patrol bombers. My uncle was selected by his peers to have the fighter marked as his. Turns out that is the exact same aircraft he flew that day. The serial number matched his log book!

    https://valor.militarytimes.com/hero/307993

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    “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
    Mark Twain

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    25 OCT 1944 Part 1

    Battle of Surigao Straight

    The Surigao Straight lies to the south of Leyte Gulf. It leads from the Sulu Sea to the west straight into Leyete Gulf. The Japanese plan called for the Southern Force to add its firepower to the Central Force and attack the invasion force off of Leyte. It consisted of the older battleships Yamashiro and Fusō, the heavy cruiser Mogami, and four destroyers. They were augmented by a second force consisting of Nachi (flag) and Ashigara, the light cruiser Abukuma and four destroyers. The Japanese left from a variety of ports on 22 OCT and headed towards the Philippines. Because eof strict radio silence the two forces never linked up, with the second force 25 miles in trail of the lead. The Southern Force was spotted by and attacked by US aircraft on 24 OCT with little to no damage.

    The contact report alerted VADM Kincaid and the 7th Fleet. In response he sent his Bombardment Support Force lead by RADM Jesse Oldendorf to intercept. Oldendorf’s Task Force 79 packed quite a punch. It had six battleships: West Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, California, and Pennsylvania. All but Mississippi had been sunk or damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor and repaired, with the Tennessee, California, and West Virginia undergoing complete modernization programs. The heavy cruisers Louisville, Portland, Minneapolis, and HMAS Shropshire added further heavy weight backed by the light cruisers Denver, Columbia, Phoenix, and Boise and 28 destroyers and 39 PT Boats. The plan was to have the Battle line, supported by the cruiser lines, to guard the northern mouth of the Straight with the PT boats and destroyers conducting torpedo attacks against the Japanese forces as the steamed up the straight.

    Jesse Oldendorf was an old line sea dog. He was from the US Navy’s old school, believing in the power of the battleship. He dreamed of the perfect set up and he got it: the crossing of the T. In crossing the T a battle line sails in trail shooting over the side against a force which is in line approaching them. In this way the entire broadside of one force could concentrate on the lead ship of other. Oldendorf combat motto was “Never give a sucker an even break”. He would live by that at Surigao.

    The Southern Force was first spotted before midnight on 24 OCT by PT boats located near the southern mouth of the Straight. From 2330 to 0300 the PT Boats made continuous attacks. While no hits were made the attacks broke up the integrity of the Japanese and provided continuous contact and location sightings to Oldendorf. At 0300 destroyers started attacking with torpedoes. Both the Tamashiro & Fuso were hit by torpedoes, the Yamashiro slowing but forging on. The Fuso succumbed to the attack and slowly rolled over and sank.

    The radar operator on the USS West Virginia picked up the approaching Japanese force at 0315 at a range of 42,000 yards (38,000 meters) and opened fire at approximately 22,000 yards. The other battleships opened fire as well and were quickly joined by the cruiser force. A storm of 16, 14, 8 & 6 inch shells hammered the Yamashiro & Mugami and the accompanying destroyers. US destroyers launched another torpedo attack and struck the Yamashiro which quickly sank. The Mugami retreated down the straight.

    The second section of the Southern Force encountered the retreating Mugami and was attacked with wore torpedo attacks from PT boats. In the confusion the Nachi rammed the Mugami, causing wide spread flooding. The Abukama was hit by a torpedo and fell out of formation. The Japanese retreated in confusion with the Mugami & Abukuma later sunk by aircraft. Of the original force, only one Japanese destroyer survived the battle…and would by sunk by the submarine USS Blackfin in JAN 45.

    Surigao Straight would be the last fight of battleships in history. The USS Mississippi’s salvo from its 14 inch guns would be the last rounds fired by a battleline in history.

    The southern door to Leyte was slammed shut.

    Jesse Oldendorf lived his motto.


    VADM Jesse Oldendorf
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    Map of Battle of Surigao Straight
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    25 October 1944 Part 2

    The Battle of Samar

    After reversing course in the late evening of 24 October, Kurita’s Center Force emerged from San Bernadino Strait into the Philippine Sea at 0300 on 25 OCT. Despite the previous day’s losses, he still had a powerful force of 4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 11 destroyers. They met not so much as a canoe guarding the opening since Halsey had taken his entire fleet north to attack the Japanese carrier force. China Lee’s TF 34 had not been left behind.

    At 0637 an antisubmarine patrol from the ST Lo saw a force which he at first took to be TF 34 but the silhouettes didn’t look right. He approached to get a better look and made positive identification that they were Japanese. He immediately sent a contact report to TAFFY 3 under RADM Clifton “Ziggy” Sprague. Sprague was incredulous and ordered for confirmation. The pilot, ENS William Brooks flew his Avenger close aboard and radioed back frantically, "I can see pagoda masts. I see the biggest meatball flag on the biggest battleship I ever saw!" At this stage Kurita was only 17 miles from TAFFY 3.

    Sprague immediately ordered all aircraft in the air to immediately attack the Japanese and for all carriers to get everything they could into the air. Since the CVE air groups were not expected to fight combat vessels they had very few torpedoes or armor piercing bombs. The most common munitions were 500 pound general purpose bombs, 325 pound depth bombs, 100 pound fragmentation bombs, 5 inch rockets and machine guns. Never the less the pilots immediately began attacking the enemy ships.

    At 0700 the Yamato opened fire followed by the other battleships. Soon colorful splashes appeared around the American carriers…the Japanese used dye markers in their shells to aid in their adjusting fire. The Japanese lacked radar fire control systems and their optics in their optical fire control systems were not as good as the American counterparts. Sprague ordered a course change to 090 and to head for a squall to the east. He ordered his 3 destroyers & 4 destroyer escorts to the rear of the formation and all vessels to make smoke. The ships pushed all the way up to their max speed…17 knots. Ships “chased splashes”…the idea being to steer the ship where shell splashes had just occurred since the enemy gunners would adjust away from that spot.

    The aerial attack by the Americans was relentless. Aircraft from TAFFY 2 joined the TAFFY 3 aircraft to attack the Japanese. Avengers made dive bomb attacks and flew low on the water mimicking torpedo runs…no Avengers in the air at this time had torpedoes. Wildcats attacked with rockets and .50 caliber machine guns, aiming for signal and control bridges on the Japanese ships. Whenever a plane ran out of ammo pilots would often fly wing on a fellow attacker to help divide the antiaircraft fire. Many pilots made 5, 6 or 7 passes with dry guns. The tenacity of the attacks convinced Kurita that he was facing the aircraft of TF 38 and the fast carriers and not the Combustible Vulnerable Expendable carriers of TF 77.4. At 0720 TAFFY 3 entered the squall and Japanese fire subsided as they could no longer see their prey.

    Kurita ordered a general attack at 0715. This caused confusion within the Japanese formation at first as one line of cruisers cut across the path of one of the battleships and caused it to veer out of column. Thinking they were chasing the fast carriers Kurita ordered his destroyers to the rear to prevent them from running low on fuel. This order arrived just as one group of destroyers got on the southern flank of TAFFY 3. This opened a door for the Americans.

    In the midst of this drama stood Commander Ernest Evans. Ernie Evans was one of those characters in American military & naval history who made courageous decisions which they knew would likely cost them his life. Without orders he ordered his ship, the destroyer USS Johnston, to hard port helm, flank speed and commenced an attack on the approaching Japanese. His radar directed 5 inch guns began making hits on a Japanese cruiser at 8 miles at 0715. At the same time Sprague ordered Hoel, Heerman & Samuel B Roberts to conduct a torpedo attack on the Japanese. At 0724 Johnston launched all 10 of its torpedoes with two hitting the cruiser Kumano, blowing off its bow. At 0730 3 14 inch shells struck the Johnston, cutting her speed in half, several more battleship rounds hit, including an 2 18.1 inch shells from the Yamato, wrecking the ship. The Japanese reported “one American cruiser sunk”.

    But the Johnston lived. It limped into a rain squall and quickly repaired damage to its fire control and power systems. From within the squall it continued to fire over 200 5 inch rounds under radar control at a Japanese battleship. It was withdrawing from the fight when it encountered the 3 others destroyers conducting a torpedo attack. Evens, thought grievously wounded, order his vessel to reverse course and join the torpedo attack and add its guns to the fight. Despite losing it radar the Johnston continued to register hits on the superstructure of a Japanese cruiser.

    At 0845 a group of 7 Japanese destroyers appeared to launch torpedo attacks on the American carriers. Evans turned his flank to the Japanese and crossed the T, much like Oldendorf had done previously. The Johnston hammered the first 2 ships in the line with rapid and accurate 5 inch shell fire. The enemy destroyers launched their torpedoes at max range and withdrew under the fire of the lone American destroyer. Evens rapidly switched targets and kept firing. With his bridge a wreck he stood exposed on the back deck of the ship calling his maneuvering orders down an open hatch to the secondary control station. The Japanese concentrated their fire on the Johnston and not the carriers. Battered into a hulk, Evans ordered abandon ship at 0945 and sank 25 minutes later. 186 of her crew, including Evans, died.

    Medal of Honor citation

    Medal of Honor

    For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Johnston in action against major units of the enemy Japanese fleet during the battle off Samar on 25 October 1944. The first to lay a smokescreen and to open fire as an enemy task force, vastly superior in number, firepower and armor, rapidly approached. Comdr. Evans gallantly diverted the powerful blasts of hostile guns from the lightly armed and armored carriers under his protection, launching the first torpedo attack when the Johnston came under straddling Japanese shellfire. Undaunted by damage sustained under the terrific volume of fire, he unhesitatingly joined others of his group to provide fire support during subsequent torpedo attacks against the Japanese and, outshooting and outmaneuvering the enemy as he consistently interposed his vessel between the hostile fleet units and our carriers despite the crippling loss of engine power and communications with steering aft, shifted command to the fantail, shouted steering orders through an open hatch to men turning the rudder by hand and battled furiously until the Johnston, burning and shuddering from a mortal blow, lay dead in the water after 3 hours of fierce combat. Seriously wounded early in the engagement, Comdr. Evans, by his indomitable courage and brilliant professional skill, aided materially in turning back the enemy during a critical phase of the action. His valiant fighting spirit throughout this historic battle will venture as an inspiration to all who served with him.

    LCDR Ernest Evans at the commissioning of USS Johnston

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    25 OCT 1944 Part 2

    Battle of Samar

    While the Johnston was making its epic fight, Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland’s Samuel B. Roberts got into the fight. The Sammy B was a Butler class destroyer escort. She was armed with 2 5 inch as opposed to the 5 5 inch guns on the destroyers. Instead of 10 she had 3 torpedoes. It was intended as an antisubmarine platform but it would sail into harm’s way like a battleship. Sizing up the situation he told his crew "This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can." With that announcement he turned to the attack. Dodging from smoke screen to smoke screen he launched his torpedoes at the cruiser Chokai at 4,000 yards. He turned away and headed back to cover the carriers. One torpedo hit and the Chokai rapidly lost speed and fell out of column.

    At 0810- as he neared the carrier formation he observed the heavy cruiser Chikuma firing into the carriers. Roberts charged at the larger vessel, rapidly firing the 2 5 inch guns and all antiaircraft weapons. For 35 minutes the Roberts kept up an incredible rate of fire, pumping almost 600 rounds into the Chikuma’s superstructure. This caused massive destruction and the cruiser was out of the fight. However 3 Japanese battle ships soon took her under fire and she went down around 0900.

    The destroyer Hoel also conducted a torpedo attack. She led the Heerman and the Roberts towards the enemy. As with the other destroyers her 5 inch shell fire had a telling effect thanks to the Mk 37 Fire Direction System. With large caliber shells landing around her she launched a torpedo attack with half her load. Turning away she started taking hits and slowed to 17 knots. Returning to the fight she launched a half salvo of torpedoes against the Yamato. Suffering damage she stayed in the fight. At one point a cruiser and 2 destroyers closed to within 2,000 yards. With all her remaining guns the Hoel pumped shell after shell into the superstructure of the cruiser and the destroyers. At 0855 the Hoel rolled over and sank, taking 253 men of her crew with her.

    The Heerman was another destroyer which attacked aggressively. Dodging between squalls and smoke clouds she launched a half salvo of torpedoes against the lead battleship in the Japanese column. This forced the Japanese to take evasive maneuvers and halted the momentum of the Japanese assault. Like the other destroyers she became a target of multiple large vessels as she danced between squalls and smoke screens. Using her radar she continued to pump shells into any Japanese vessel within range. Returning to the carriers she joined the Roberts in pumping shells into the Chikuma. Aircraft from the Gambier Bay also joined the fight. The Chikuma withdrew but sank shortly thereafter.

    While the Destroyers & destroyer escorts engaged the enemy the carriers turned into a squall to the east and launched every aircraft they could. At 0730 they turned to the SE then S and chased rain squalls to stay under cover. The Center Force closed to within ten miles and opened fire on the carrier force. Several of the carriers started to take shell fire. The Gambier Bay was hit the hardest, riddled with 8-inch shell fire, she caught fire and sank at 0910. The Kalinin Bay took a total of 17 8 inch and 16 inch shells. Heavily damaged she would have to be sent to the US for repair. The Kitkun Bay & Fanshaw Bay both also received damage but stayed operational.

    But the carriers gave as good as they got. Each carrier engaged their tormentors with their stern 5 inch guns mounted on their fantails. The 5 inch crew of the USS White Plains pumped several 5 inch rounds into the Chokai, setting off the 8 deck mounted torpedoes on the cruiser. Coupled with a bomb hit this severely damaged the cruiser. Their air groups continued to attack. The cruiser Suzuya was sunk when a near miss blew one of its screws off and another near miss set off several torpedoes. The damage caused raging fires which eventually set off the remaining torpedoes and then the main magazine.

    The tenacious and savage defense of the TAFFY 3 escorts and aircraft convinced Kurita that he had come up against the main effort of Halsey’s fleet. With mounting losses and the prospect of continued air strikes and improving weather he decided to withdraw and gave the order to disengage at 0900. The Japanese forces turned away, reversed course and headed back to San Bernadino Straight. The Americans were incredulous but grateful. One gunner’s mate on a stern mounted 5 inch gun on the White Plains was heard to exclaim when seeing the Japanese retreat “The sonsabitches are getting away!”

    The Japanese claimed last blood. At 1030 the Japanese added a new weapon to the fight in the Pacific. The very first kamikaze attack hit the TAFFY group, having lost 2 of their best antiaircraft vessels, the TAFFY 3 carriers all but 1 got hit. The ST Lo was hit and in the ensuing explosion the fire mains were ruptured. Soon she burned out of control and sank, the first ship sunk by kamikaze.

    As can be imagined, Ziggy Sprague was burning up the air waves with request for assistance. The TAFFY 1 & 2 air groups got into the fight as rapidly as they could. TAFFY 3 aircraft lander on TAFFY 2 carriers, rearmed & refueled and got back into the fight. Kinkaid sent a series of messages begging for help.

    Around 0800 he sent to Nimitz & Halsey "My situation is critical. Fast battleships and support by airstrikes may be able to keep enemy from destroying CVEs and entering Leyte."

    At 08:22, Kinkaid radioed, "Fast Battleships are Urgently Needed Immediately at Leyte Gulf".[81]

    At 09:05, Kinkaid radioed, "Need Fast Battleships and Air Support".

    At 09:07, Kinkaid broadcast: "4 Battleships, 8 Cruisers Attack Our Escort Carriers".

    Nimitz radioed to Halsey “Where is TF 34?” The message was sent with a phrase before and after as a standard practice to make code breaking more difficult. They were usually throwaway phrases that were tripped out by the receiving radiomen on a routine basis. The message sent by Nimitz went out as “A turkey trots to water. Where is TF 34? The world wonders.” The 3rd Fleet radio staff did not remove the last phrase. Halsey was handed the message from his commander as “Where is TF 34? The world wonders.” Halsey took it as a dressing down and was infuriated. He sent TF 38.1 southward immediately and TF 34 an hour later.

    For the brave actions of the airmen, carriermen and destroyermen of TAFFY a Presidential Unit Citation was awarded.

    Presidential Unit Citation:

    For extraordinary heroism in action against powerful units of the Japanese Fleet during the Battle off Samar, Philippines, October 25, 1944.... the gallant ships of the Task Unit waged battle fiercely against the superior speed and fire power of the advancing enemy... two of the Unit's valiant destroyers and one destroyer escort charged the battleships point-blank and, expending their last torpedoes in desperate defense of the entire group, went down under the enemy's heavy shells.... The courageous determination and the superb teamwork of the officers and men who fought the embarked planes and who manned the ships of Task Unit 77.4.3 were instrumental in effecting the retirement of a hostile force threatening our Leyte invasion operations and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

    TAFFY 3 destroyers laying smoke at the Battle of Samar. Note the shell splashes

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    USS Gambier Bay & escorts making smokes

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    ST Lo exploding after a kamikaze attack

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    25-26 October 1944

    The Battle of Cape Engano

    The Japanese Northern Force was commanded by the last of the great IJN carrier admirals Vice-Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa. He commanded the Japanese 3rd Fleet at the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Although this was to become to be known as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot because of the lopsided IJN aircraft losses, he skilfully used the longer range of Japanese carrier aircraft to keep Spruance’s Fast Carrier Task Force at arm’s length. In this battle he and his vessels were little more than bait….as we have seen he successfully fulfilled that task by pulling Halsey’s fleet northward and uncovering the landing beaches at Leyte.

    The Northern Force contained 4 true carriers, 3 light and the Zuikaku, the last of the Pearl Harbor carriers. In addition he had 2 battleships which had been converted to hybrid carriers, 3 light cruisers and 9 destroyers. Total aircraft strength was 108 of all types. Facing him were three of the task groups of Task Force 38’s Fast Carrier Force (5 fleet and 6 light carriers) TF 34’s 6 fast battleships, 2 heavy & 6 light cruisers and 40 destroyers. The US Fleet had almost 700 aircraft.

    The Northern Force was spotted at 1640 on 24 October. Early in 25 October Halsey detached TF 34’t battleships, not to cover San Bernadino as Kinkaid & Nimitz thought but to go north at high speed to attack Ozawa’s force. At dawn on 25 October Ozawa sent a 75 plane raid to strike the Third Fleet. Most were shot down by the US combat air patrol and effective antiaircraft fire. TF 38 also sent an airstrike before dawn to hit the Northern Force. The strike found the Japanese at 0800 and attacked. Strikes continued all day. By dark the Zuikaku, 2 light carriers and a destroyer were sunk and another light carrier and a light cruiser were floating wrecks. In the midst of these battle TG 34 was sent belatedly southward. When given the order to move to San Bernadino Lee’s battleships were almost within gun range of Ozawa. TG 34’s only success was the sinking of a straggling IJN destroyer.

    When Lee headed south Halsey formed a new Task Group of 2 heavy and 2 light cruisers along with 9 destroyers and sent them north to attack any stragglers of the Northern Force. They dispatched a damaged light cruiser and a destroyer. The US submarine force got into the fight. Near midnight the USS Jailao sank a light cruiser. US submarines got the first and last blood of this epic battle. US airstrikes continued at long range on the 26th but no more IJN vessels were sunk.
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    The Battle of Leyte Gulf

    Aftermath & resources

    The Battle of Leyte Gulf remains the largest battle in the US Navy’s history and one of its greatest victories. While much went wrong, so much went right. At the end of the day the skill, courage and determination of mid-grade officers and enlisted Sailors who stepped up made tremendous sacrifices and decisions were the means off success.

    In the aftermath the recriminations over Halsey’s decision mostly stayed under the surface. There was to be no formal discipline or punishment. Most of the bitter feelings were revealed in memoirs and battle histories and not in official channels. In Halsey’s defense he did have the strong case of Raymond Spruance. When Spruance had led the 5th Fleet at the Battle of Philippine Sea earlier that year many Navy leaders thought that Spruance had been too cautious in his handling of the fleet and allowed too many of the Japanese fleet to escape. Halsey did not want to face the same criticism. In fact Halsey would go and be promoted to Fleet Admiral in December 1945. An honor only afforded Nimitz, CNO Ernest King and Presidential Envoy William Leahy. Regardless, it was a great victory.

    So how could Halsey be allowed to make such a blunder? How could 7th Fleet be left totally alone and uncovered? Simple. There was no single overall command structure for the Battle of Leyte. All other invasions in the Pacific and Southwest Pacific occurred totally within that theater, either Central Pacific, Northern Pacific or Southwest Pacific. Nimitz was overall commander of the first two, MacArtheur the theater commander for the latter. The Japanese had managed to exploit a seam between the two forces. It was the first time in the war where 2 theater boundaries became a major battlefield. Whether egos or lack of foresight, the lack of a single, overarching commander would cost ships, planes and, most importantly, lives.

    All that said, it was one of the storied victories in US Naval history. Aided by the Royal Australian Navy the last great Japanese fleet had been smashed. When all was said in done the surviving Japanese vessels had 2 choices to make…fall back to Singapore where oil was plentiful but damage repair facilities were very limited or return to the Home islands with its tremendous repair capability but no oil. By seizing Leyte the US had put a throttle on the oil supply line of Japan.

    The final butchers bill for Samar was 23 aircraft lost and 1,583 Sailors killed and missing and 913 wounded. Taffy 3 took the brunt of the casualties. The US lost 7 ships during the battle; light carrier USS Princeton where 108 men killed, 1,361 crewmen were rescued. The light cruiser Birmingham was heavily damaged during the explosion on the Princeton with 233 killed and 426 wounded. The USS Gambier Bay was sank by naval gunfire and the ST Lo to the first recorded kamikaze attack. The destroyers Hoel and Johnston and the destroyer escorts Samuel B Roberts and Eversole all went down under the guns of Kurita’s Central Force. The USS Kalinin Bay suffered so much hull damage from Japanese gunfire she had to return to the US for repair and would not return to war. Several other ships were damaged, not the least of which was the HMAS Australia, a heavy cruiser, was hit by a burning bomber crashing into it, killing 23, including its captain and wounding 55 more.

    The Japanese losses were staggering; 26 total warships were lost. One fleet carrier, three light carriers, three battleships, six heavy cruisers, four light cruisers & nine destroyers. Many others were battered and became floating antiaircraft batteries in their homeports as they could not be repaired or there was not enough oil to sail. A further estimated 350 aircraft were lost, both Ozawa’s 108 and many of the land based aircraft as well. The Japanese fleet had essentially ceased to exist. All that was left was land power, airpower and submarines. The results of this and the Formosa Air Battle resulted in the kamikaze becoming the major ant ship weapons for the remainder of the war.

    My fascination for this battle came as a boy. With a father in TF 38 aboard the USS Cabot, and an uncle for whom I named a key participant as TAFFY 3 pilot, I remember watching Victory At Sea in 1965 and seeing the episode on Leyte Gulf. Dad explained the battle pretty well to this 7 year old and I would pester my uncle with questions whenever he would visit. I read everything I could on the topic. Some sources I used to build this monograph include the following:

    Hornfischer, James D. The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the US Navy's Finest Hour. New York: Bantam Dell, 2005.

    Morison, Samuel Eliot. Leyte: June 1944 – January 1945, volume 12 of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1958. (My personal copy is dog eared!)

    Stewart, Adrian. The Battle of Leyte Gulf. New York: Scribner, 1980.

    Willmott, H. P. The Battle of Leyte Gulf: The Last Fleet Action. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2005.

    Hoyt, Edwin Palmer. The Battle of Leyte Gulf; the Death Knell of the Japanese Fleet. New York: Weybright and Talley, 1972.

    Some paintings depicting key points off Samar

    TAFFY aircraft attack the Center Force

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    Probable pictures of DD-557 USS Johnston. Where is our Fletcher expert for ID?

    Off to the right on the Facebook page more finds from the Battle of Japanese cruisers and the amazingly clean ST. Lo.

    https://www.facebook.com/rvpetrel/vi...2037628757336/
    Last edited by tbm3fan; 31 Oct 19, at 16:33.

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    Thanks for that Buck. A great account of a remarkable battle. The bravery of some of those men is really moving. Pilots attacking ships with limited or no weapons, destroyers & a DE taking on battleships. I remember reading about the battle as a kid & being impressed by Spruance managing to avoid what could have been one of the worst losses in the history of the USN.

    It was also great to hear about your family connection to that battle. Quite the tale your uncle had.

    A small point of controversy regarding the Australian ships. First, kudos to your source for mentioning them, too often our American friends overlook our contributions (though this one was relatively small). There are still arguments, however, about whether or not that aircraft that his the HMAS Australia on October 21 was a kamikaze - making it the first such attack.

    During the dawn stand-to, a low-flying aircraft approached from the land between Australia and Shropshire. It was taken under fire and retired to the westward. Observers in Shropshire report that the aircraft was hit and touched the water but recovered. It was then turned east again and although under heavy fire, passed up the port side of Australia and crashed into the foremast at 06:05. There was a large explosion and an intense fire was started in the air defence position and bridges. Type 273 radar hut and lantern fell on to the compass platform; both HA Directors and DCT [Director Control Tower] were put out of action and the port strut of the foremast was broken. The fire was brought under control very quickly and by 0635 the large quantity of wreckage on the compass platform and ADP had been cleared away. Commodore JA Collins suffered burns and wounds; Captain EFV Dechaineux and Commander JF Rayment were mortally wounded...
    In one hit it took out the ship's captain and his deputy and wounded the taskforce commander Admiral Collins.

    I have a distant connection to that attack, as the father of one of my work colleagues was on board at the time.

    http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-australia-ii


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    Thanks Pete

    Good point!

    And looking at that photo makes me wonder....in the tropics did the RAN go to battlestations in short and short sleeve shirts?

    In the USN dungarees were tucked into socks, sleeves rolled down, all buttons button and a flash hood over the head under the helmet to prevent flash burns. Lessons learned from fights in 1942.
    Last edited by Albany Rifles; 01 Nov 19, at 14:17.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    Thanks for that Buck. A great account of a remarkable battle. The bravery of some of those men is really moving. Pilots attacking ships with limited or no weapons, destroyers & a DE taking on battleships. I remember reading about the battle as a kid & being impressed by Spruance managing to avoid what could have been one of the worst losses in the history of the USN.

    It was also great to hear about your family connection to that battle. Quite the tale your uncle had.

    A small point of controversy regarding the Australian ships. First, kudos to your source for mentioning them, too often our American friends overlook our contributions (though this one was relatively small). There are still arguments, however, about whether or not that aircraft that his the HMAS Australia on October 21 was a kamikaze - making it the first such attack.



    In one hit it took out the ship's captain and his deputy and wounded the taskforce commander Admiral Collins.

    I have a distant connection to that attack, as the father of one of my work colleagues was on board at the time.

    http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-australia-ii
    Too bad it was the fifties and this would not have been on many minds at that time. What is too bad is that the HMAS Australia could not have been saved as a historical memorial like we have over here. Couldn't think of a more appropriate ship than her bearing your countries name.

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