Battle of Cape Engano, 25 October 1944

Battle of Cape Engano, 25 October 1944

Battle of Cape Engano, 25 October 1944

The battle of Cape Engano (25 October 1944) was a one-sided American victory that saw Admiral Halsey's 3rd Fleet sink four Japanese aircraft carriers, but at the same time exposing the invasion shipping in Leyte Gulf to a possible Japanese attack.

The Japanese had long realised that an American conquest of the Philippines would cut their empire in half, isolating their main sources of fuel in the south. Accordingly they decided to fight the 'decisive battle' of the war in the Philippines, using just about every available naval unit. Admiral Ozawa's Main Force was to sail from Japan, where new naval aviators had been training, and approach the American fleet from the north. In the final version of the plan his role was to draw the powerful American 3rd Fleet away from the invasion fleet, leaving them vulnerable to an attack by other Japanese forces approaching from the west.

Admiral Ozawa started the battle with four carriers, two battleships that had been converted to carry some aircraft, three cruisers and eight destroyers. The four carriers were something of a mixed bag. The best of them was the Zuikaku, a veteran of the attack on Pearl Harbor and one of the best Japanese carriers of the war. The other three were less impressive. Zuiho was a light carrier produced during 1940 by converting a submarine support ship. Chitose and Chiyoda were sister ships produced by modifying seaplane carriers. Work on the conversions began in the aftermath of the battle of Midway and they arrived in service in late 1943-early 1944.

The two battleships were the Ise and Hyuga, both of First World War vintage. After Midway their rear turrets had been removed and a short flight deck installed. Neither ship was carrying any aircraft at Leyte Gulf.

Halsey's 3rd Fleet contained fifteen fleet carriers, seven modern fast battleships, twenty one cruisers and fifty eight destroyers. His orders were to protect the landing fleets at Leyte Gulf but also to seek out a chance to defeat and destroy the Japanese fleet.

On 24 October the Americans detected all of the incoming Japanese fleets (although Ozawa's carriers weren’t found until quite late in the day). Halsey launched a series of air strikes on the most powerful of the surface fleets, Admiral Kurita's I Striking Force. This contained the Musashi and Yamato, the two most powerful battleships in the world, but during the day the Musashi was sunk by repeated air attacks. Kurita briefly turned back to avoid further attacks while passing through the narrow San Bernardino Straits. This, combined with a belief that Kurita had suffered more damage than he had, convinced Halsey that the Japanese battleships no longer represented a serious threat and could be dealt with by the old battleships and escort carriers of Admiral Kinkaid's 7th Fleet. In contrast four Japanese aircraft carriers posed a potentially very serious threat to the invasion fleet, and so at 20.00 Halsey ordered his entire fleet to move north.

At this point the American command structure broke down. Halsey created a new Task Force 34, under Admiral Lee. This force, of four battleships and a large number of cruisers, might be used to engage Kurita if he passed through the San Bernardino Strait. As Halsey didn't expect this to happen Lee's ships were taken north with him. Unfortunately Kinkaid heard this message and assumed that Task Force 34 was being left behind to watch Kurita. Kinkaid thus felt free to move his six old battleships south to deal with Nishimura's fleet heading for the Surigao Strait. Kinkaid was not the only person to make this assumption - Admiral Nimitz back on Hawaii also believed that Task Force 34 was watching the San Bernardino Strait.

At 2.2am Admiral Mitscher's scout plans find the Japanese carriers. The first of a series of air strikes went in at about 8am. The few Japanese aircraft left were quickly destroyed and in this first attack the light carrier Chitose was sunk and the fleet carrier Zuikaku hit by a torpedo. The second attack was unopposed and the Chiyoda was badly damaged. At about the same time Halsey received the first in a series of messages from Kinkaid requesting urgent help. Kurita's powerful battleships had indeed emerged from the San Bernardino Strait and turned south to head for Leyte Gulk. Instead they ran into six of Kinkaid's escort carriers and a desperate running battle began (Battle of Samar). Over the next two hours Kinkaid sent two more increasingly urgent requests for help, but Halsey refused to be budged. He was dealing with the most dangerous Japanese fleet and Kinkaid would have to cope by himself (to be fair to Halsey by the time the second and third messages arrived Kurita had withdrawn from combat with the escort carriers, but it was still at large).

At around 10am Halsey received a message from Nimitz, 'Where is repeat where is Task Force thirty-four'. Unfortunately some padding added to increase security was erroneously left in the final message, so Halsey read ' Where is repeat where is Task Force thirty-four rr The World Wonders'. Halsey was furious, but he did finally send one of his three carrier task groups south to try and help Kinkaid.

The remaining carriers launched a third strike on the Japanese carriers at 1.10pm. This time Zuikaku and Zuiho were both set on fire. Zuiho managed to keep going, but Zuikaku was doomed and at 2.07 she sank. The fourth and final American strike finished off the Zuiho. The last Japanese carrier, Chiyoda, was already dead in the water and sank later. The two converted battleships managed to escape, but the Japanese carrier force had been eliminated. Further south Kinkaid's carriers had escaped total destruction through their own efforts, and Kurita had retreated back through the San Bernardino Strait.

Halsey's conduct of the battle has remained controversial. Afterwards he wrote 'At that moment Ozawa was exactly 42 miles from the muzzles of my 16in guns. … I turned my back on the opportunity I had dreamed of since my days as a cadet', a revealing statement that suggests that Halsey was so focused on the chance of engaging in a major gun battle that he ignored the danger to his south.

Intense photos show the largest naval battle of all-time

The World War II Battle of Leyte Gulf, a decisive Allied victory that decimated the Japanese Navy, began on Oct. 23, 1944, 74 years ago.

And it’s considered to be the largest naval battle of all-time.

A few days before the battle began, the Allies (and even General Douglas MacArthur himself) had landed on Leyte island to begin liberating the Phillippines, which the Japanese were intent on stopping.

The result was a horrific three-day battle (which was actually several smaller battles, namely the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle off Samar, and the Battle of Cape Engaño) that involved several hundred ships.

In the end, the US had lost three aircraft carriers, two destroyers, several hundred aircraft, took about 3,000 casualties. But the Japanese Navy had lost four carriers, three battleships, six heavy cruisers, nine destroyers, took about 10,000-12,000 casualties, among other losses.

Check out some of the intense photos from the battle.

The Princeton’s flight deck after getting struck during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea on Oct. 24, 1944.

USS Gambier Bay (CVE 73) and another escort carrier, and two destroyer escorts smoke from battle damage during the Battle off Samar on Oct. 25, 1944.

The USS Gambier Bay billowing smoke after likely getting struck by Japanese cruisers, which are credited with sinking the US escort carrier.

Read more about escort carriers here.

The USS St. Lo (CV 63) burning during the Battle off Samar on Oct. 25, 1944.

The US escort carrier USS Kitkun Bay prepares to launch Grumman FM-2 Wildcat fighters during the Battle of Samar on 25 October 1944. In the distance, Japanese shells are splashing near the USS White Plains.

The Zuikaku under attack during the Battle of Cape Engaño on Oct. 25th, 1944.

The Zuikaku under attack during the Battle of Cape Engaño on Oct. 25th, 1944.

US cruisers fire salvoes on Japanese ships during the Battle of Surigao Strait on Oct. 25, 1944.

The Fusō under air attack just hours before the Battle of Surigao Strait on Oct. 25, 1944.

The Yamashiro or Fusō under air attack by US aircraft hours before the Battle of Surigao Strait on Oct. 25, 1944.

And here’s a view directly on top of either the Fusō or Yamashiro as it’s bombed by US aircraft from above, some of which were launched by the famed aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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Today in Naval History: October 25th, 1944 | The Battles off Samar and Cape Engaño, and the Battle of Surigao Strait

What's up yɺll, it's ya girl back with the second and (as of right now) final installment of Today in Naval History. And oh boy do we have a lot to cover this time, when I had this idea it somehow slipped my mind that everything happened today and that would mean a freakin' massive post. Since I already broke the character limit, this main post will only be covering Surigao Strait and Samar, while Cape Engaño will be in the comments.

Brief sidenote, as of right now these are all still first drafts and not as complete as I would like American accounts are still somewhat lacking (though one of yɺll did help me find a solution to that so thanks again, you know who you are) at this point in time, so hopefully they still convey everything that happened in the battle, just primarily focusing on the Japanese ships. They'll certainly be completed by this time next year, and if not something has gone horribly wrong. Just putting ɾm out there because again, why not?

Without further ado, please enjoy this absolute monstrosity of a post.

Battle of Surigao Strait

24 October, 12:35 - Float plane from Mogami reports an American battleship force at the far end of Surigao Strait. Curiously, those battleships were not ordered to move to Surigao Strait until mid-afternoon that day.

18:30 - Mogami, Michishio, Asagumo, and Yamagumo are dispatched to conduct an offensive sweep ahead of the main force.

22:36 - PT-131 makes radar contact with Nishimura’s force off the coast of Bohol. PT-130, -131, and -152 begin to move towards the signal.

22:50 - Lookouts on board Shigure spot and illuminate oncoming PT boats, first action begins.

22:54 - DesRon 54 makes radar contact with Nishimura’s force.

22:58 - Yamashiro opens fire with 6” guns, PT-152 is hit and set on fire while PT-130 is damaged.

25 October, 00:30 - Task Force 79 receives a dispatch from PT boat tender Wachapreague detailing Force C’s location.

01:00 - Mogami and her escorts rejoin the main formation, but are accidentally fired upon by Fuso’s 6” guns at 3,000 yards, killing 3 sailors. Force C assumes Night-search Disposition #2, though some destroyers do not get into position until 02:00 due to attacks.

01:33 - PT-132 and -137 are spotted by Yamashiro and fired upon by Yamashiro and Shigure, both release torpedoes but miss.

02:00 - Nishimura’s force enters Surigao Strait and increases speed from 14 to 20 knots.

02:03 - PT-134 attacks Fuso, she is targeted by Fuso and Mogami at 02:05. PT-134 fires 3 torpedoes at Fuso from 3,000 yards and they miss. At the same time, PT-490, -491, and -493 attack the front of the formation, PT-490 misses Michishio with 2 torpedoes. Nishimura orders 2 emergency turns at 02:07 and 02:08. PT-490 is damaged and PT-493 aborts attack while laying smoke to cover -490’s escape, she is hit repeatedly and will later sink.

02:11 - Force C ordered to assume Battle Position #2. At 02:12, PT-523, -524, and -526 attack from the southeast, targeting Mogami or Fuso with 6 torpedoes that all miss.

02:30 - American destroyer squadrons prepare for attack.

02:40 - Force C is picked up by McGowan’s radar west of Kokot Island at 18 miles.

02:56 - Lookouts onboard Shigure report three ships at eight kilometers.

03:01 - McGowan, Remey, and Melvin launch 27 torpedoes and retreat northeast while under fire from Fuso, Yamashiro, and the destroyers.

03:09 - Fuso is hit on her starboard side by 2 of Melvin’s torpedoes, immediately slowing her and causing her to develop a starboard list at 03:13. Mogami moves past her to take her position behind Yamashiro, who is not made aware that Fuso has been hit.

03:10 - McDermut and Monssen fire their torpedoes into the formation and fall back.

03:18 - Fuso attempts to push forward in her deteriorating state, but soon changes course to the south as she can no longer attack. Two PT boats begin to shadow her at 03:24 as damage control parties attempt to manage her flooding. Abandon ship is ordered shortly afterward.

03:20 - Bache, Hutchins, Daly, Beale, Killen, and HMAS Arunta launch 15 torpedoes on the right flank and Yamashiro opens fire on them. McDermut’s torpedoes strike 3 of Force C’s destroyers. Yamagumo is hit by 1 torpedo and erupts into a series of explosions, quickly sinking with all but 2 of her crew Michishio is hit by 1 torpedo and is shattered at her waterline, crippling her and starting many fires Asagumo has her bow blown off by another torpedo, but manages to control her flooding and retreats south.

03:22 - Yamashiro is hit on her port quarter by a torpedo from Monssen and a fire starts. In response the magazines of turrets 5 and 6 are flooded, disabling 4 of her main guns, and she briefly slows to 10 knots before being brought back up to 18.

03:30 - Yamashiro submits a situation report to Kurita saying that two destroyers have been crippled and Yamashiro has been hit, though still able to fight.

03:31 - Yamashiro is hit amidships on her port side by a torpedo from Killen, causing severe flooding as she slows to 5 knots and develops a list.

03:37 - Yamashiro again returns to 18 knots and is accompanied by Mogami and Shigure.

03:41 - The trio are attacked by Bache, Hutchins, and Daly, Yamashiro targets the destroyers with her secondary guns and may have been hit, as she reduces speed to 12 knots.

03:44 - Fuso is hit by two or three torpedoes, and seconds later two large explosions are seen and a loud snapping sound is heard as far as 25 nautical miles away as Fuso’s magazine detonates. Contemporary accounts claim the ship was split in two and both sections remained afloat for some time, but surviving testimony and observation of her wreck indicates she remained mostly in one piece (part of her bow and her pagoda mast were found separate from the main hull) and sunk by her bow. Still, the confusing nature of the battle leaves exactly what happened to Fuso a mystery.

03:51 - Portland, Minneapolis, Columbia, Denver, Louisville, Phoenix, Boise, and HMAS Shropshire open fire on the remaining ships.

03:52 - *Yamashiro *and Shigure radio Fuso, requesting she “notify [her] maximum speed”, unaware that Fuso dropped out of line over half an hour ago and has now sunk. It’s possible that Shigure mistakenly radioed Yamashiro instead, as she confused the two ships early in the battle, and as such Yamashiro believed those signals were from Fuso, not Shigure. Mogami receives several 5” hits from Bache.

03:53 - West Virginia opens fire with her main guns, followed at 03:55 by Tennessee and California, and Maryland by 03:59, relying on the other battleships’ shell splashes over her antiquated radar. Pennsylvania and Mississippi cannot locate any targets and withhold fire.

03:54 -* Mogami* increases speed to 25 knots while turning to port, and is targeted by Bache, Daly, and Hutchins. She mistakes them for Japanese destroyers and flashes a recognition signal before returning fire. Her aft radio room is disabled and a fire breaks out.

03:55 - Shigure attempts to search for Fuso (who she believes is Yamashiro), but she has to give up and return to the main battle line.

03:56 - Yamashiro receives a hit to her forebridge from West Virginia’s opening salvo, starting a large fire as her topside receives repeated hits from cruiser shells (over 3,100 rounds are fired by the cruisers throughout the battle). Yamashiro targets Phoenix with her main battery, but the rounds fall short as her 6” guns open fire on the destroyers attacking Mogami and Asagumo.

03:59 - Mogami attempts to make smoke and retreat southeast while preparing for a torpedo attack but is targeted by 2 cruisers. Her #3 turret is disabled and a fire breaks out which evacuates her #3 engine room and stops one of her propellers.

04:00 - Mogami launches 4 torpedoes at the American battleship line, shortly after her bridge is struck by shells from Portland which kill her skipper, XO, and other junior staff and two more engine rooms are disabled from subsequent hits. She begins to retreat at 8 knots.

04:01 - Yamashiro’s main guns target HMAS Shropshire, who returns fire at 04:02 as the battleship’s shells again fall short of their target.

04:03 - Hutchins and Daly attempt to attack Yamashiro, though they are forced back by accurate fire from her secondary guns. A large explosion is observed at 04:04, possibly her #3 turret exploding.

04:05 - Newcomb, Richard P. Leary, and Albert W. Grant launch 13 torpedoes from 6,300 yards.

04:07 - Richard P. Leary takes a total of 18 hits from Yamashiro’s 6” guns and friendly fire from Portland and Denver. Yamshiro’s starboard engine room is struck by a torpedo launched by either Albert W. Grant or Bennion.

04:09 - Olendorf orders ceasefire due to the friendly fire, and Yamashiro attempts to turn south at 14 knots to fire her rear turrets. Shortly after the ceasefire is ordered, Mississippi fires her only shots of the battle: a full broadside that would be the last time in history that one battleship ever fires upon another.

04:11 - 2 torpedoes from Newcomb hit Yamashiro’s starboard beam, the battleship is dead in the water and begins a sharp list to port. When the list reaches 45 degrees, abandon ship is ordered.

04:15 - Lookouts aboard Mogami spot Admiral Shima’s force arriving at Surigao Strait. Shigure’s skipper determines that the force has been annihilated and attempts to withdraw at 30 knots after not receiving any orders. The ship takes many near misses and one hit aft which does minor damage.

04:19 - Yamashiro capsizes and sinks by her stern. 1,636 lives are lost including Nishimura and Rear Admiral Shinoda, who choose to go down with the ship. 3 survivors are picked up in the water, but the vast majority refuse to be saved by American ships. Ultimately, only 10 of the 150+ would survive. Shima radios Yamashiro: “We have arrived at battle site.”

04:23 - Nachi collides with Mogami, and as Nachi begins to flood by her bow Mogami receives damage to her starboard side near her #1 turret.

04:32 - Louisville, Portland, Denver, and several destroyers break off to pursue the retreating ships.

04:35 - Shigure takes a near miss which disables her rudder, it is repaired within the hour.

04:41 - Mogami joins Shima’s squadron as they retreat southwest. While travelling at 14 knots, fires detonate 4 of her torpedoes.

04:45 - Mogami’s last engine room is evacuated and she rendezvouses with Asagumo at 04:50. Shigure sights Shima’s force but does not communicate the status of the battle, assuming he is already aware, and joins up with them.

05:00 - A course change almost causes Ashigara to collide with Mogami.

05:06 - Shima’s force attempts to advance through Surigao Strait, but this is quickly aborted.

05:29 - Mogami is targeted by Portland, Louisville, and Denver, over 10 hits are scored and cause considerable damage, though Mogami is able to change course and escape.

06:00 - Mogami is attacked by PT-491, who misses the cruiser with 2 torpedoes. The fleet will again be attacked by -491, -150, and -190 at 06:20, though the torpedo boats are driven off before being attacked again at 06:27 by PT-137 to no effect.

07:00 - Mogami and Akebono are ordered to go to Coron or Cagayan. Travelling at 12 knots, they are attacked by aircraft at 07:17, though the planes would be repelled.

07:07 - Asagumo is finished off by Denver, Columbia, and 3 destroyers, sinking with 191 of her crew at 07:21.

09:02 - Mogami is attacked by 6 Avengers and 5 Wildcats from Ommaney Bay. Mogami receives 3 hits from 500-pound bombs and fires break out across the ship as she goes dead in the water.

10:47 - Mogami is abandoned by her crew.

12:56 - Mogami is scuttled by Akebono and sinks by the bow at 13:07, with 192 deaths. Over 700 survivors are rescued by Akebono.

13:00 - Shigure, the sole survivor of Nishimura's force, after evading air attack and repairing her wireless, sends the following message to Admirals Toyoda and Kurita: “"The Third or ɼ' Force has been annihilated, location of enemy unknown, please send me your instructions. I have trouble with my rudder, my wireless, my radar, and my gyro, and I received one hit." Shima’s force makes it back to Manilla with no further losses.

Battle Off Samar

03:00 - Center Force exits San Bernardino Strait.

05:30 - Center Force enters circular AA formation.

06:30 - Center Force completes circular AA formation.

06:35 - Center Force flagship Yamato spots Taffy 3, misidentifies targets as Essex-class fleet carriers and Baltimore-class heavy cruisers.

06:37 - TBM Avenger from St. Lo spots Center Force, reports 4 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, 10-12 destroyers 20 miles northwest of Taffy 3 moving at 30 knots.

06:47 - Composition of Center Force confirmed by American pilot, drops depth charges on the bow of a cruiser.

06:50 - Sprague orders Taffy 3 to turn eastward at 090, all ships to begin making smoke and launch all aircraft ASAP regardless of armament. Not waiting for orders, Johnston breaks formation and begins charge towards Center Force.

06:55 - Taffy 3 complete eastward turn, Sprague requests assistance from Taffies 1 and 2.

06:59 - Yamato opens fire with main guns at

07:00 - Kurita abruptly issues “general attack” order, divisions form up or charge independently, Nagato, Kongo, and Haruna open fire with main guns.

07:01 - Nagato fires 4 salvos at 3 carriers, possibly achieving near-misses on St. Lo. Her crew report 1 carrier damaged and smoking.

07:04 - White Plains takes extreme damage from near-miss 18-inch shell, ship loses steering and power.

07:05 - Yamato ceases fire as Taffy 3 enters a rain squall, heavy cruisers open fire.

07:10 - White Plains is struck by an 8” AP shell to little effect. Johnston opens fire on Kumano at 18000 yards, firing over 200 shells and scoring

40 hits as fires break out on Kumano’s superstructure. Kumano returns fire to no effect as Johnston dodges shellfire. Kurita orders his destroyers to the rear of the formation to preserve fuel, just as 10th Destroyer Squadron was getting in position for an attack on Taffy 3’s right flank.

07:13 - Tone fires 18 8” shells at Johnston, scoring no hits.

07:15 - Johnston launches 10 torpedoes at Kumano from 10000 yards.

07:16* - White Plains assumed disabled by Kumano lookout, Kumano changes target to St. Lo. Kumano’s captain realizes targets were not fleet carriers, information never passed to other ships. Sprague orders DDs to form up for torpedo attack, and White Plains regains power several minutes later.

□07:18 - Hoel and Heermann form up for torpedo attack, joined by Samuel B. Roberts, and charge.

07:22 - Tone makes an emergency turn to port to dodge 4 torpedo bombers, likely being fooled by a dry run. Kongo’s main rangefinder is disabled by strafing aircraft.

07:24 - Kumano is struck by at least 1 torpedo from Johnston. Kumano’s bow is blown off, she immediately drops speed to 14 knots and falls out of formation. Suzuya pulls alongside to assist, some time between 06:50 and 07:24 she was damaged by near-miss aircraft bombs, destroying her port propeller and cutting speed to 24 knots. Neither ship can continue pursuit.

□07:25 - Hoel is hit by multiple large-caliber shells from Yamato, Nagato, Haruna, and Kongo fire control and 3 guns disabled. Yamato records “Cruiser observed blowing up and sinking”, Hoel continues charge. All planes have been launched from Taffy 3.

07:30 - Johnston is hit by 3 18-inch shells from Yamato (reported as Kongo, this is disputed by Kongo’s action report) and 3 6-inch shells from either Yamato or a light cruiser, speed is cut from 36 to 18 knots as her port screw is disabled and bridge destroyed, electrical power lost in parts of ship. Yamato and Kishinami both report Yamato sinking a cruiser at 07:27 and 07:28. Johnston enters a rainsquall to begin repairs. Tone and Chikuma turn south-southeast to target the carriers.

□Sometime after 07:30 - Hoel launches 5 torpedoes at Kongo (possibly Haguro though this is conflicted) and takes major damage from return fire, scoring no hits herself but forcing the ship into evasive maneuvers (possibly around 07:27). Hoel launches her last 5 torpedoes and opens fire on an unidentified battleship, possibly Yamato (possibly around 07:50), receiving hits from Yamato’s 5” guns. Taffy 3 turns southwest, a risky decision that ultimately pays off.

07:35 - Samuel B. Roberts begins her charge towards Chokai and opens fire. Johnston opens fire on Haruna and a destroyer.

07:37 - Johnston turns around to cover Hoel, Heermann, and Samuel B. Roberts, scoring multiple hits on Tone

07:38 - St. Lo claims multiple hits on Tone with her sole 5” gun

□Sometime after 07:35 - Samuel B. Roberts launches 3 torpedoes at Chokai from 4000 yards, scoring one hit 3-4 minutes later. Shortly after, Raymond and Dennis launch 3 torpedoes each at a heavy cruiser. Raymond exchanges fire with Haguro at under 6000 yards, firing 414 shells and forcing her to turn east.

07:44 - Tone, Chikuma, Haguro, and Chokai open fire on Taffy 3, but struggle to close the range and score few hits. Tone evades another torpedo attack at 07:45.

07:50 - Kalinin Bay begins taking fire, absorbs 15 shells (mixture of 8 and 14 or 16 inch) between 07:50 and 08:05. Good damage control prevents her from sinking and she opens fire with her 5” gun on Tone and Haguro. Planes from Taffy 2 launch to support Taffy 3.

07:51 - Yamato engages a charging “cruiser” at 10 miles, she scores at least one hit before the target is lost sight of.

07:53 - Heermann opens fire on Chikuma (possibly Haguro) and releases 7 torpedoes, changes course to target Haruna and releases 3 torpedoes, firing

260 shells. All 4 battleships and several cruisers fire on Heermann. Either these torpedoes or Hoel’s force Yamato to evade. Tone is separated from Chikuma as she evades another air attack.

07:55 - Kongo opens fire on Gambier Bay, scoring multiple hits.

07:56 - Yamato and Nagato forced into evasive maneuvers from either Hoel or Heermann’s torpedoes, possibly one hit on Haruna. Yamato’s disengagement causes further confusion among Center Force as chain of command is broken.

07:58 - Tone engages a destroyer and fires 8 8” shells.

08:00 - Escort carriers ordered to open fire with their stern-mounted 5” guns when able, scoring multiple hits on pursuing heavy cruisers. Kongo’s main rangefinder is operational again and begins firing upon Samuel B. Roberts.

08:03 - Heermann disengages after opening fire on Nagato, suffering relatively minor damage.

08:06 - Yamato and Nagato finish evasive maneuvers, return to battle by 08:12. Tone targets an “Independence-class carrier” but another torpedo bomber attack throws off her aim, 32 8” rounds are fired.

08:10 - Gambier Bay begins taking fire from Chikuma

08:17 - Taffy 2 destroyers Hailey, Haggard, and Franks come to assist, but are called back as they come within 15000 yards of Japanese battleships to protect their own carriers.

08:18-08:32 - Tone fires 90 8” shells in 18 minutes at a “Ranger-class carrier” (Gambier Bay), scoring several hits. At 08:29 she is repeatedly strafed by F4F Wildcats, killing one NCO.

08:20 - Johnston opens fire on a Kongo-class battlecruiser (likely Haruna), scoring

15 hits. Haruna’s return fire misses. Gambier Bay is severely damaged by a hit from either Chikuma, Yamato, or Nagato, cutting her speed to 11 knots and making her list to port as she falls out of formation.

08:25 - Kalinin Bay’s 5” gun scores 2 hits on the No. 2 turret of a heavy cruiser (reported as Nachi-class, though none were present at Samar), and the cruiser temporarily withdraws. Haguro is hit by a 100-lb bomb that knocks out her #2 turret, her magazine is flooded to prevent detonation.

08:26 - Heermann charges Chikuma, nearly colliding with Fanshaw Bay and Johnston while taking fire from Kongo, Haruna, and multiple heavy cruisers.

08:30 - After a series of increasingly desperate messages, Halsey finally dispatches battleships to assist Taffy 3, though they are too far away to make it in time. After exchanging fire with multiple battleships and heavy cruisers for nearly an hour and taking over 40 hits, Hoel is dead in the water. Johnston turns to attack a heavy cruiser (possibly Haguro) targeting Gambier Bay, intending to draw its fire away from the crippled escort carrier. Johnston scores repeated hits, but the heavy cruiser continues to focus fire on Gambier Bay. Kalinin Bay trades fire with Destroyer Squadron 10 until 09:30, both scoring and receiving several hits. Kumano’s staff have transferred to Suzuya, and Kumano retreats towards the San Bernardino Strait at 15 knots.

08:35 - Hoel’s crew prepares to abandon ship as she is fired upon by Yamato, Kongo, Tone, Chikuma, Haguro, and Chokai, taking 40 hits of various calibers. In her last moments she fires at a Tone-class cruiser and several destroyers. Tone reports targeting a “heavily camouflaged cruiser” around this time, likely the battle-damaged Hoel.

08:40 - Johnston spots 10th Destroyer Squadron closing in on the escort carriers and changes course to target the lead ship, Yahagi, almost colliding with Heermann. Johnston closes the range to 7500 yards and scores 12 hits on Yahagi, while taking several 5” hits. Yahagi breaks off and withdraws west, Johnston shifts aim to the first destroyer, and after 5 hits she breaks off too. The entire 10th Destroyer Squadron turns west and relocates, having launched torpedoes from extreme range to no effect. Yamato records “3 carriers, 1 cruiser, 1 destroyer sunk” from the attack, which in actuality scored no hits besides the ones on Johnston. Samuel B. Roberts charges a line of heavy cruisers as Gambier Bay takes further damage and is left dead in the water.

□Sometime after 08:40 - Samuel B. Roberts engages Chikuma (in conjunction with Heermann) at close range, firing over 600 shells of every type into the heavy cruiser starting multiple fires and disabling her 3rd gun turret while causing severe damage to her superstructure. Chikuma’s return fire misses Samuel B. Roberts, but continues to score hits on Gambier Bay.

08:45 - Tone fires 4 torpedoes at another “cruiser”

08:46 - Since first engagement, Heermann has fired over 500 shells at Chikuma, scoring at least 50 hits. Heermann takes multiple 8” shells across the ship, causing severe damage to her bow and wheelhouse.

08:50 - Gambier Bay’s skipper orders abandon ship, Tone’s skipper orders a ceasefire as the escort carrier is disabled and evacuated.

08:51 - 3 8” shells hit Samuel B. Roberts, causing significant damage and cutting her speed to 17 knots. Her rear gun explodes due to a breech malfunction from loss of power. She fires several rounds at Chokai as the cruiser also takes fire from White Plains, the two ships scoring 6 hits on her.

08:53 - A torpedo from a TBM Avenger strikes Chikuma near her stern, severing a 60-foot section of it and disabling her rudder and one propeller as she drops to 18 knots and breaks pursuit (possibly occurred at 09:02).

08:55 - Samuel B. Roberts suffers multiple hits from Kongo. The torrent of shellfire directed at Hoel finally stops as she rolls over and sinks by her stern. 253 of her crew died onboard. Tone fires 28 rounds at a carrier off her starboard beam, claiming at least 1 hit.

08:58 - Haruna opens fire on a destroyer, likely scores hits on Kalinin Bay.

09:00 - Several large explosions rock Chokai’s stern, putting her engines out of commission and spreading fires throughout the ship as she falls out of formation. While the cause is still unconfirmed, recent study of her wreckage and surviving logs suggests this was a catastrophic case of accidental friendly fire from Kongo when the heavy cruiser sailed into her line of fire (Haguro’s log maintains the cause was a 500-pound bomb hit at 08:51).

09:05 - Multiple 500-pound bombs are dropped on Chokai, scoring at least 1 hit and causing further damage as she limps away from battle.

09:07 - Gambier Bay capsizes and sinks with 147 deaths, Haruna likely scores several hits on her as she sinks as she reports firing on a “cruiser” that was later reported as an escort carrier. Heermann exchanges fire with Tone

09:10 - Johnston, barely limping along, trades fire with multiple destroyers and cruisers as they bear down on the escort carriers. Tone turns away after her duel with Heermann.

09:11 - Uncertain over whether Operation Sho-1 has any hope of success, worried by the heavy losses faced at Palawan Passage, Sibuyan Sea, and now Samar, Kurita orders the Center Force to withdraw: “Rendezvous, my course north, speed 20.” Yamato and Nagato retreat north.

09:17 - Heermann returns to the escort carriers to continue laying smoke. Throughout the battle she only suffered 5 deaths.

09:20 - Tone and Haguro, despite finally catching up to the escort carriers, turn back. 10th Destroyer Squadron launch their remaining torpedoes from extreme range, to no effect. Chikuma reports that she has lost a shaft and is making 18 knots, but cannot steer.

09:30 - Kalinin Bay scores a hit midships on a retreating destroyer, Haruna withdraws after getting in position to target Taffy 2. Chikuma drops speed to 9 knots.

09:35 - Samuel B. Roberts’ crew abandon ship while Japanese destroyers linger nearby, occasionally firing into the stricken vessel.

09:40 - A final volley of shells strikes Johnston, leaving her dead in the water while Japanese destroyers close in, concentrating fire on her rather than the escort carriers.

09:45 - Johnston’s skipper orders abandon ship.

10:05 - Samuel B. Roberts sinks by her stern with 90 of her crew.

10:06 - Chokai’s crew is transferred to Fujinami.

10:10 - Johnston rolls over and sinks with 186 crew. Yukikaze closes to 1000 yards and fires one final shot as her captain is seen saluting the sinking vessel.

10:12-10:28 - Haruna is attacked by multiple torpedo bombers from Natoma Bay that score no hits, and she shoots down 1 plane.

10:18 - Kurita receives word that every ship in the Southern Force except the destroyer Shigure was sunk that morning, and that Halsey’s reinforcements are on their way.

10:50 - Taffy 3 comes under attack from kamikaze planes, all carriers except Fanshaw Bay are hit and damaged. Suzuya is attacked by American aircraft, another near-miss bomb destroys her port propeller and sets off her torpedoes, fires and explosions spread throughout the ship.

10:51 - A Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero crashes into the flight deck of St. Lo, starting a chain reaction of explosions as the ammunition, planes and fuel stored inside her ignite and turn the ship into a blazing inferno.

11:00 - St. Lo’s skipper orders abandon ship.

11:05 - Chikuma is struck on her port side by 2 aircraft-launched torpedoes. She loses power as her engine rooms flood, stopping and developing a list to port. Nowaki is dispatched to assist 5 minutes later.

11:20 - Kurita reverses course southward back towards Leyte Gulf.

11:25 - St. Lo rolls to starboard and sinks by her bow with a loss of 144 men.

11:40 - Noshiro reports sighting a Baltimore-class heavy cruiser and Haruna is dispatched to intercept it, the ship is soon identified as the crippled Suzuya.

11:50 - Abandon ship is ordered onboard Suzuya. Around noon, her remaining ammunition detonates.

12:49 - Center Force comes under air attack while retreating. Tone is hit by one bomb which disables her steering and cuts her speed to 15 knots, and after several subsequent attacks the damage is mitigated and she’s brought back up to 30 knots by 13:41.

13:22 - Suzuya rolls over and sinks. Okinami picks up 401 survivors and more are captured by American ships.

13:28-13:48 - Kongo takes repeated near-misses from American dive bombers, causing minor damage.

14:15 - Chikuma comes under air attack by aircraft from Ommaney Bay. She is hit by 3 more torpedoes.

14:30 - Chikuma is abandoned as she rolls to port and sinks by her stern. Her survivors are picked up by Nowaki, who would be crippled by American cruisers Biloxi, Miami, and Vincennes, and destroyers Miller, Lewis Hancock, and Owen the following day before sinking at 01:49. All of her crew, plus all of the Chikuma survivors she picked up, would perish.

21:48 - Fujinami reports that she has scuttled Chokai and picked up her survivors. Fujinami would be sunk by aircraft from Essex on October 27 while attempting to assist the damaged Hayashimo, and all of her crew, plus all of Chokai’s survivors, would be lost. 22:00 - Center Force retire through the San Bernardino Strait.

□There’s some disagreement over sources on when exactly the sequence of events between 07:25 and 08:00 involving Hoel, Heermann, and Samuel B. Roberts happened. Some place Sprague’s order for a torpedo attack at 07:35 or 07:40, others at 07:16 or even earlier. What is certain is that Hoel was first hit at 07:25, and her crew asserts she was not hit before her charge and her captain did not attack ahead of orders like Johnston. This isn't super important to the order of events as a whole, just something to keep in mind.

Oh my god, the formatting for all that took forever on mobile. Cape Engaño coming soon.

The submarine action in Palawan Passage (23 October)

(Note: this action is referred to by Morison as "The Fight in Palawan Passage", [ 5 ] and is elsewhere occasionally referred to as "the Battle of Palawan Passage").

Kurita's ships passed Palawan Island around midnight on 22–23 October. The American submarines Darter and Dace were positioned together on the surface close by. At 00:16 on 23 October, Darter ' s radar detected the Japanese formation at a range of 30,000 yd (27,000 m). Her captain promptly made visual contact. The two submarines quickly moved off in pursuit of the ships, while Darter made the first of three contact reports. At least one of these was picked up by a radio operator on Yamato, but Kurita failed to take appropriate antisubmarine precautions. [ 5 ]

Darter and Dace traveled on the surface at full power for several hours and gained a position ahead of Kurita's formation, with the intention of making a submerged attack at first light. This attack was unusually successful. At 05:24, Darter fired a spread of six torpedoes, at least four of which hit Kurita's flagship, the heavy cruiser Atago. Ten minutes later, Darter made two hits on Atago ' s sister ship, Takao, with another spread of torpedoes. At 05:56, Dace made four torpedo hits on the heavy cruiser Maya (sister to Atago and Takao). [ 5 ]

Atago and Maya quickly sank. [ 8 ] Takao turned back to Brunei, escorted by two destroyers—and was followed by the two submarines. On 24 October, as the submarines continued to shadow the damaged cruiser, Darter ran aground on the Bombay Shoal. All efforts to get her off failed, and she was abandoned. Her entire crew was, however, rescued by Dace.

Takao returned to Singapore. She was joined in January 1945 by Myōkō.

Atago had sunk so rapidly, Kurita was forced to swim to survive. He was rescued by one of the Japanese destroyers. He then transferred to the battleship Yamato. [ 5 ] [ 9 ] [ 10 ]

During the Leyte invasion of October 1944, Nimitz placed the commander of 3 Fleet, Halsey, under orders to make the destruction of the Japanese Fleet, not the protection of the amphibious forces, his highest priority. This played into the hands of the Japanese, whose contingency plan for the defense of the Philippines, Sho-go , called for the remaining Japanese carriers (under the command of Ozawa) to act as a decoy force to lure Halsey away from Leyte. Ozawa's carriers lacked the aircraft and pilots to pose a credible threat to 3 Fleet, but the Japanese still had powerful surface forces (under Kurita) built around the Yamato and Musashi. In order to give Kurita a chance to reach and destroy the American amphibious force, Ozawa was ordered to deliberately allow his force to be spotted and pursued by 3 Fleet.

By 24 October 1944, Halsey had spotted Kurita's main force and was launching heavy and damaging strikes against it. Meanwhile, Ozawa was trying to be detected by the Americans, unaware that his radio transmitter was malfunctioning and preventing his radio traffic from being heard by either friend or foe. The Americans finally spotted him at 1540, and Halsey, overestimating the damage to Kurita's force and believing it was retiring for good, took off in hot pursuit of Ozawa with all his forces. Now it was the Americans whose plans were thrown into confusion. Halsey had transmitted a contingency plan for detaching his battle line as Task Force 34 to guard San Bernardino Strait. However, with Kurita seemingly in retreat, Halsey decided this was unnecessary. But the original message was the only one seen by other commanders (principally Kinkaid with 7 Fleet in Leyte Gulf) and they were left with the mistaken impression that San Bernardino Strait was being watched.

At 1935 a night reconnaissance flight from Independence found that Kurita's force had returned to a course for San Bernardino Strait. It is unclear why Halsey did not then detach Task Force 34 to cover the strait. Mitscher, possibly smarting from having been bypassed all day by Halsey (who issued orders directly to Mitscher's task group commanders), declined to radio such a recommendation to Halsey. Three of Halsey's task force commanders also wondered at the order, and Bogan went so far as to contact Halsey's staff with the information that the navigation lights in San Bernardino Strait were lit. He was brushed off, and made no further protest. Lee, the battle line commander, correctly deduced that Ozawa's force was a decoy with little striking power, but his signal to Halsey warning that Kurita was likely to come out of San Bernardino Strait was also brushed off. Halsey's failure to guard the strait must be judged one of the great blunders of the Pacific War.

By 2022, 3 Fleet was headed north towards Ozawa's force. Ozawa had already launched most of his aircraft against Halsey, the few survivors of which landed at Clark and Tuguegarao. The remaining aircraft were launched by 0930 on 25 October, with just 11 fighters sent up to constitute a pitifully weak combat air patrol. Ozawa split his force into two, one force including Zuikaku and Zuiho and the other the remainder of Ozawa's carriers. The attacking Americans were spotted at 0707 and the first wave also split their force. Eighty went after Zuikaku and Zuiho and fifty after the other carriers. Zuikaku was soon hit by a torpedo and dropped out of formation, Oyodo was damaged by a bomb hit, Akizuki was sunk by a magazine explosion following a bomb hit, and Chitose was damaged. The second wave attacked from all directions and smothered Zuikaku with additional bomb and torpedo hits and Zuiho with two bomb hits and numerous damaging near misses. Tama was torpedoed and Chitose left dead in the water by a well-placed bomb. The third American wave came in shortly after noon, finishing Zuikaku and Zuiho but failing to sink Ise . The fourth wave, the largest of all, came in at about 1510 and concentrated on Ise and scored thirty near misses, but the tough old battlewagon still refused to go down.

Halsey's cruisers and destroyers now closed for the kill, finishing Chiyoda at 1547 with gunfire and torpedoes and sinking Hatsuzuki after she had put up a plucky fight.


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 Third Fleet away from the Allied landings on Leyte, using an apparently vulnerable force of Japanese carriers as bait. The landing forces, stripped of air cover by the Third Fleet, 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. Kurita's 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.

On the night of October 23, the American submarines Dace and Darter detected Center Force entering the Palawan Passage. After alerting Halsey, the submarines torpedoed and sank two cruisers, while crippling a third and forcing it to withdraw. One of the cruisers lost was Admiral Kurita's flagship, but he was rescued and transferred his flag to Yamato.

Subsequently, the carriers of the Third Fleet launched a series of air strikes against Kurita's forces in the Sibuyan Sea, damaging several vessels and sinking Musashi, initially forcing Kurita to retreat. One wave of aircraft from the Third Fleet also struck Nishimura's Southern Force, causing minor damage. At the same time, Vice-Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi launched strikes from airfields on Luzon against Halsey's forces, with one bomber scoring a hit on the U.S. light carrier Princeton that ignited explosions, causing her to be scuttled.

That same night, Nishimura's Southern Force of two battleships, a heavy cruiser, and four destroyers was to approach from the south and coordinate with Kurita's force. The second element of the Southern Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima and consisting of three cruisers and seven destroyers, lagged behind Nishimura by 40 nmi (46 mi 74 km). In the Battle of Surigao Strait, Nishimura's ships entered a deadly trap. Outmatched by the U.S. Seventh Fleet Support Force, they were devastated, running a gauntlet of torpedoes from 28 PT boats and 28 destroyers before coming under accurate radar-directed gunfire from six battleships (five of them survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack) and eight cruisers. Afterward, as Shima's force encountered what was left of Nishimura's ships, it too came under attack, but managed to withdraw. Of Nishimura's force, only one destroyer survived.

At the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea Halsey's Third Fleet savaged the Center Force, which had been detected on its way to landing forces from the north. Center Force lacked any air cover to defend against the 259 sorties from the five fleet carriers Intrepid, Essex, Lexington, Enterprise, and Franklin, and light carrier Cabot, the combination of which sank the massive super-battleship Musashi (sister to Yamato) with 17 bombs and 19 torpedoes. [4] It had seemingly beaten into a retreat, but even that overwhelming force failed to stop Kurita, as most of the attacks were directed at sinking just one battleship. Besides a cruiser crippled by a torpedo, every other ship including Yamato remained battleworthy.

Halsey's Third Fleet would miss the battle and head off to the Battle off Cape Engaño where Ozawa's Northern Force consisted of one fleet carrier and three light carriers fielding a total of 108 airplanes (slightly more than the normal complement of a single large fleet carrier), two battleships, three light cruisers and nine destroyers. Halsey was convinced that the Northern Force was the main threat, just as the Japanese had planned their sacrificial diversion. Halsey took three groups of Task Force 38 (TF 38), overwhelmingly stronger than Ozawa's 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. When Kurita initially withdrew, the Americans assumed that the Japanese force was retreating from the battle. Kurita eventually turned around and made his way through the San Bernardino Strait under cover of darkness, intent on destroying the American landing forces. Only the light Taffy forces attached to support the landing forces of Seventh Fleet stood in his way. They were equipped to attack ground troops and submarines under the protection of Halsey's fleet carriers, not face off against Kurita's battleships and cruisers which had already largely shrugged off combined attacks from six fleet and light carriers. It would be up to them to improvise a last ditch defense as they were thrust by Halsey's mistake into the role of a sacrificial diversion to protect their landing forces.

The Japanese Center Force now 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-, Yūgumo- and Shimakaze-class destroyers. [5] While the force had no aircraft carriers, Japanese warships carried small numbers of catapult-launched aircraft that could be launched, but not land aboard for example Yamato carried seven. In this battle Japanese aircraft were used for kamikaze suicide attacks. The battleships and cruisers were fully armored against Taffy 3's 5 in (127 mm) projectiles. They together had dozens of larger caliber guns, including the Yamato ' s 18.1 in (460 mm) guns, which could reach out to 25 mi (22 nmi 40 km). 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 U.S. destroyers.

In addition to guns, many of the Japanese ships carried Type 93 Long Lance torpedoes. Unknown to the Allies these torpedoes were the most advanced in the world—they had at least twice the range of Allied torpedoes, and did not produce a visible wake of bubbles the IJN considered them to be a potentially decisive weapon. The torpedoes used oxygen instead of compressed air in their propulsion system. However, the Type 93 was far more likely to detonate due to shock—for example from a near miss—than a compressed-air torpedo, sinking or heavily damaging the ship carrying it.

Each of the three task units of the Seventh Fleet's Task Group 77.4 had six small Casablanca-class or larger Sangamon-class escort carriers (CVEs) defended by destroyers and destroyer escorts. The destroyers had five 5 in (127 mm) guns, the destroyer escorts had two, and the carriers only a single 5 in (127 mm) gun "stinger" at the stern. Most of the pilots and sailors were reservists with scant combat experience, and because of their tasking against ground troops and submarines, the carriers had been given only a few armour-piercing bombs or torpedoes against the unlikely possibility that they might encounter attack by other ships. [6]

Lacking any ships with any larger guns that could reach beyond 10 mi (8.7 nmi 16 km), Taffy 3 appeared hopelessly mismatched against Japanese gunnery, which emphasized long range and large guns. The battle revealed that Japanese Navy's part-automated fire control was largely ineffective against maneuvering ships at long range though some ships such as Kongō hit their targets when they got closer. Although the Japanese warships opened fire with their heavier armament at maximum range and scored some hits, and misses near enough for the explosions to cause significant damage, their fire was not effective until they had closed within range of the carriers' own 5 in (127 mm) armament. By contrast, the American destroyers (but not destroyer escorts) had the Mark 37 gun fire-control system that aimed automatic, accurate fire against multiple surface and air targets while maneuvering rapidly. The lack of a comparable system in Japanese ships also contributed to reports from American pilots on the ineffectiveness of the Japanese antiaircraft fire.

Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.1 ("Taffy 1") consisted of the Carrier Division 22 escort carriers Sangamon, Suwannee, Santee, and Petrof Bay. (The remaining two escort carriers from Taffy 1, Rear Admiral George R. Henderson's Carrier Division 28 Chenango and Saginaw Bay, had departed for Morotai, Dutch East Indies on October 24, carrying aircraft from other carriers needing repair. They returned with replacement aircraft after the battle.)

Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3") consisted of Carrier Division 25 Fanshaw Bay, St. Lo, White Plains, Kalinin Bay, and Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie's 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.

Though each escort carrier was small and carried an average of about 28 planes, that gave the 16 CVEs of the three "Taffies" a combined total of approximately 450 aircraft, equivalent to five large fleet carriers. While their top speed of 17.5 kn (20.1 mph 32.4 km/h) was adequate to escort cargo convoys or to provide ground support, they were too slow to engage or to escape a fast task force in combat. Since their aircraft were intended for ground attack, defense against aircraft, and antisubmarine warfare, the first flights from Taffy 3 were armed only with machine guns, depth charges, and high-explosive and antipersonnel aerial bombs, that were effective against enemy troops, aircraft, submarines, and destroyers, but not very effective against armored battleships and cruisers. In later sorties from the carriers of Taffy 2, the aircraft had enough time to be rearmed with torpedoes and armor-piercing bombs that could be expected to be more effective against warships.

Kurita's force passed through San Bernardino Strait at 03:00 on October 25, 1944 and steamed southwards along the coast of Samar, hoping that Halsey had taken the bait and moved most of his fleet away as he had in fact done. Kurita had been advised that Nishimura's Southern Force had been destroyed at Surigao Strait and would not be joining his force at Leyte Gulf. However, Kurita did not receive the transmission from the Northern Force that they had successfully lured away Halsey's Third Fleet of battleships and fleet carriers. Through most of the battle, Kurita would be haunted by doubts about Halsey's actual location. The wind was from the North-Northeast and visibility was approximately 23 mi (20 nmi 37 km) with a low overcast and occasional heavy rain squalls which the US forces would exploit for concealment in the battle to come. [7]

Taffy 3 comes under attack Edit

Steaming about 60 nmi (69 mi 110 km) east of Samar before dawn on October 25, St. Lo launched a four-plane antisubmarine patrol while the remaining carriers of Taffy 3 prepared for the day's air strikes against the landing beaches. At 06:37, Ensign William C. Brooks, flying a Grumman TBF 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, Admiral Sprague was incredulous, and he 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. [8] [9] Brooks had spotted the largest of the three attacking Japanese forces, consisting of four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and about ten destroyers.

They were approaching from the west-northwest only 17 nmi (20 mi 31 km) away, and they were already well within gun and visual range of the closest task group, Taffy 3. Armed only with depth charges in case of an encounter with enemy submarines, the aviators nevertheless carried out the first attack of the battle, dropping several depth charges which just bounced off the bow of a cruiser.

The lookouts of Taffy 3 spotted the anti-aircraft fire to the north. The Japanese came upon Taffy 3 at 06:45, achieving complete tactical surprise. At about the same time, others in Taffy 3 had picked up targets from surface radar and Japanese radio traffic. At about 07:00, Yamato opened fire at a range of 17 nmi (20 mi 31 km). Lacking the Americans' gunnery radars and Ford Mark I Fire Control Computer, which provided co-ordinated automatic firing solutions as long as the gun director was pointed at the target, Japanese fire control relied on a mechanical calculator for ballistics and another for own and target course and speed, fed by optical rangefinders. Color-coded dye loads were used in the battleships' armor-piercing shells so that the spotters of each ship could identify its own fall of shot, a common practice for the capital ships of many navies. [10] The Americans, unfamiliar with battleship combat, were soon astonished by the spectacle of colorful geysers as the first volleys of shellfire found their range. Nagato used a brilliant pink, Haruna a greenish yellow variously described as green or yellow by the Americans, and Kongō a blood red dye which could appear red, purple, or even blue in some circumstances. Yamato used no dye loads, so her shell splashes appeared white. [11]

Not finding the silhouettes of the tiny escort carriers in his identification manuals, Kurita mistook them for large fleet carriers and assumed that he had a task group of the Third 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 anti-aircraft formation, and the order caused some confusion, allowing Sprague to lead the Japanese into a stern chase, which restricted the Japanese to using only their forward guns, and restricted their anti-aircraft gunnery. Sprague's ships would not lose as much of their firepower in a stern chase, as their stern chase weapons were more numerous than their forward guns, and his carriers would still be able to operate aircraft.

Run to the east Edit

At 06:50 Admiral Sprague ordered a formation course change to 090, 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 escorts to the rear of the formation to generate smoke to mask the retreating carriers and ordered the carriers to take evasive action, "chasing salvos" to throw off their enemy's aim, and then launched all available FM-2 Wildcat fighter planes and TBM Avenger torpedo bombers with whatever armament they were already loaded with. Some had rockets, machine guns, depth charges, or nothing at all. Very few carried anti-ship bombs or aerial torpedoes which would have enabled aircraft to sink heavy armored warships. The Wildcats were deemed a better fit on such small aircraft carriers instead of the faster and heavier Grumman F6F Hellcats that were flown from the larger U.S. Navy carriers. Their 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. At about 07:20 the formation entered the squall, and the Japanese fire slackened markedly as they did not have gunnery radar that could penetrate the rain and smoke. [12]

Kurita meanwhile was already experiencing the consequences of ordering a General Attack, as his Fifth Cruiser and Tenth Destroyer Divisions cut across the course of the Third Battleship Division in their haste to close with the American carriers, forcing the battleship Kongō to turn north out of formation Kongō acted independently for the remainder of the battle. [13] Concerned that his destroyers would burn too much fuel in a stern chase of what he presumed were fast carriers while obstructing his battleships' line of fire, Kurita ordered his destroyers to the rear of his formation at 07:10, a decision which had immediate consequences, as the Tenth Destroyer Squadron was forced to turn away just as they were gaining on the right flank of the American formation. For the Second Destroyer Squadron, the consequences were more significant if less immediate: ordered to fall in behind Third Battleship Division, Yahagi and her accompanying destroyers, they steamed north from their position on the south side of Kurita's formation seeking division flagship Kongō, leaving no Japanese units in position to intercept the American carriers when they turned back south at 07:30. Despite his General Attack order, Kurita continued to dictate fleet course changes throughout the battle. [14]

American destroyer and destroyer escort counterattack Edit

Three destroyers and four smaller destroyer escorts had been tasked to protect the escort carriers from aircraft and submarines. The three Fletcher-class destroyers—affectionately nicknamed "tin cans" because they lacked armor—were fast enough to keep up with a fast carrier task force. Each had five single 5 in (127 mm) guns and light antiaircraft guns, none of which were effective against armored warships. Only their ten 21 in (530 mm) Mark-15 torpedoes—housed in two swiveling five-tube launchers amidships—posed a serious threat to battleships and cruisers.

An advantage the American destroyers had was the radar-controlled Mark 37 Gun Fire Control System, which provided coordinated automatic firing of their 5 in (127 mm) guns as long as the gun director was pointing at the target. A dual-purpose system, the Mark 37's gunfire radar and antiaircraft capabilities allowed the destroyers' guns to remain on target despite poor visibility and their own radical evasive maneuvering. The Japanese reliance on optical range finders aided by color-coded dye loads in each shell and mechanical calculators made it difficult for them to identify their targets through the rain and smoke and limited their ability to maneuver while firing. The different colored splashes the Japanese shells made as they hit the water by the American ships after a near miss prompted one American sailor to quip "They're shooting at us in Technicolor!"

The four John C. Butler-class destroyer escorts were smaller and slower, since they had been designed to protect slow freighter convoys against submarines. They were armed with two 5 in (127 mm) guns without automatic fire control, and three torpedoes, though their crews rarely trained for torpedo attacks. Since the torpedoes only had a range of about 5.5 nmi (6.3 mi 10.2 km), they were best used at night: during daylight, an attack on heavy warships would have to pass through a gauntlet of shellfire that could reach out to 25 nmi (29 mi 46 km). In this battle they would be launched against a fleet led by the largest battleship in history, though it was the ships' ability to generate dense, heavy smoke from their funnels and chemical smoke generators which would most influence the course of the battle.

After laying down smoke to hide the carriers from Japanese gunners, they were soon making desperate torpedo runs, using their smoke for concealment. The ship profiles and aggressiveness caused the Japanese to think the destroyers were cruisers, and the destroyer escorts were full-sized destroyers. Their lack of armor allowed armor-piercing rounds to pass right through without exploding, until the Japanese gunners switched to high-explosive (HE) shells, which caused much more 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 they had absorbed dozens of hits before they sank, although the decks would be littered with the dead and the seriously wounded. Destroyers from Taffy 2 to the south also found themselves under shellfire, but as they were spotted by Gambier Bay, which had signaled for their assistance, they were ordered back to protect their own carriers. [15]

USS Johnston Edit

At 07:00, Commander Ernest E. Evans of the destroyer Johnston, in response to incoming shell fire bracketing carriers of the group he was escorting, began laying down a protective smokescreen and zigzagging. At about 07:10, Gunnery Officer Robert Hagen began firing at the closest attackers, then at a range of 8.9 nmi (10 mi 16 km) and registered several hits on the leading heavy cruisers. The Japanese targeted Johnston and soon shell splashes were bracketing the ship. In response and without consulting with his commanders, Evans ordered Johnston to "flank speed, full left rudder". [16] Johnston, still making smoke and zigzagging, accelerated to flank speed towards the Japanese.

At 07:15, Hagen concentrated his fire on the leading cruiser squadron's flagship, the heavy cruiser Kumano. [17] Firing at the 5 in (127 mm) gun's maximum range of 10 nmi (12 mi 19 km) Johnston scored several hits on Kumano ' s superstructure, which erupted into flame and smoke. [18]

At 07:16, Sprague ordered Commander William Dow Thomas aboard Hoel, in charge of the small destroyer screen, to attack. Struggling to form an attack formation, the three small ships (Hoel, Heermann, Samuel B. Roberts) began their long sprint to get into firing position for their torpedoes.

Johnston pressed its attack, firing more than two hundred shells as it followed an evasive course through moderate swells, making it a difficult target. [17] Johnston closed to within maximum torpedo range, and at 4.4 nmi (5.1 mi 8.2 km) she fired a full salvo of ten torpedoes. [16] At 07:24, two or three struck, blowing the bow off Kumano. [18] Minutes later, at 07:33, Kongō was narrowly missed by four torpedoes. (Morison asserts Kongō was forced to turn away north to avoid these torpedoes but this is not reflected in Kongō ' s own action report. It is not clear if these torpedoes were fired by Johnston or Hoel.) [19] [20] The heavy cruiser Suzuya, suffering damage from air attacks, was also taken out of the fight, as she stopped to assist Kumano. The effect of Johnston ' s attack was to generate confusion in the minds of the Japanese commanders, who thought they were being engaged by American cruisers. Evans then reversed course and, under cover of his smokescreen, opened the range between his ship and the enemy.

At 07:30, three battleship main battery shells passed through the deck of Johnston and into her portside engine room, cutting the destroyer's speed in half to 17 kn (20 mph 31 km/h) and disrupting electric power to her aft gun mounts. Hagen reports them as 14 in (360 mm) shells from the battleship Kongō, at a range of 7 nmi (8.1 mi 13 km), but that is unlikely as Kongō was on the far side of the Japanese formation and Kongō ' s action report states she was not engaging any targets at that time as she was blinded by a rain squall. Based on the bearing and the angle of fall, it is far more likely that they were 18.1 in (460 mm) shells fired by Yamato from a range of 10.029 nmi (11.541 mi 18.574 km), as moments later, three 6.1 in (150 mm) shells from Yamato struck Johnston ' s bridge, causing numerous casualties and severing the fingers of Commander Evans's left hand. The ship was mangled badly, with dead and dying sailors strewn across her bloody decks. Yamato reported sinking a "cruiser" (the Japanese consistently overestimated the size of the US ships engaged) with a main battery salvo at 07:27. [21] Destroyer Kishinami, which was also firing at Johnston at the time, reported "The Yamato sank one enemy cruiser" at 07:28. [22]

However, Johnston was not sunk. Her stores of fuel had been seriously depleted before the battle, saving her from a catastrophic explosion. [18] The ship found sanctuary in rain squalls, where the crew had time to repair damage, restoring power to two of the three aft gun mounts. Johnston ' s search radar was destroyed, toppled to the deck in a tangled mess. The fire control radar was damaged, but was quickly returned to service. Only a few minutes were required to bring Johnston ' s main battery and radar online, and from its hidden position in the rain, Johnston fired several dozen rounds at the lead Japanese destroyer at 4.9 nmi (5.7 mi 9.1 km) beginning at approximately 07:35. Fire was then shifted to the cruisers approaching from the east. Several dozen more rounds were fired at the closest target at 5.4 nmi (6.3 mi 10 km). [17] [18] [23] Since neither of the targets could be observed visually, they could not be positively identified but Johnston ' s presumed "cruiser" was most likely the battleship Haruna. [24]

At 07:37, Commodore Thomas ordered a torpedo attack via voice radio. Johnston and Heermann acknowledged. [25] As Johnston continued its course away from the Japanese, it came upon the charging screening force, led by the damaged Hoel. Evans then had Johnston rejoin the attack to provide gun support to Commander Thomas' small squadron on their torpedo run. Attacking Tone, the leading heavy cruiser to the east of the formation, Johnston closed to 6,000 yd (3.0 nmi 5.5 km), now firing with reduced efficiency due to her lost SC radar, yet still registering many hits. [18]

All available fighters and bombers from the Taffys converged on the Japanese fleet. At 08:40, moving erratically through the smoke and rain, Johnston avoided Heermann by the narrowest of margins. [25] [18] [26]

During the battle, Evans engaged in several duels with much larger Japanese opponents. At 08:20, emerging through smoke and rain squalls, Johnston was confronted by a 36,600-ton Kongō-class battleship (probably Haruna, which reported engaging a US destroyer with her secondary battery around this time.) [27] Johnston fired at least 40 rounds, and more than 15 hits on the battleship's superstructure were observed. Johnston reversed course and disappeared in the smoke, avoiding Kongō ' s 14 in (36 cm) return fire. At 08:26 and again at 08:34, Commander Thomas requested an attack on the heavy cruisers to the east of the carriers. [25] Responding at 08:30, Johnston bore down on a huge cruiser firing at the helpless Gambier Bay, then closed to 6,000 yd (3.0 nmi 5.5 km) and fired for ten minutes at a heavier and better-armed opponent, possibly Haguro, scoring numerous hits. [18]

At 08:40, a much more pressing target appeared astern. A formation of seven Japanese destroyers in two columns was closing in to attack the carriers. [17] [18] Reversing course to intercept, Evans attempted to pass in front of the formation, crossing the "T", a classical naval maneuver which would have put the force being "crossed" at a great disadvantage. Evans ordered Johnston ' s guns to fire on this new threat. The Japanese destroyers returned fire, striking Johnston several times. Perhaps seeing his disadvantage, the commander of the lead destroyer turned away to the west. From as close as 7,000 yd (3.5 nmi 6.4 km), Hagen fired and scored a dozen hits on the destroyer leader before it veered off. He shifted fire to the next destroyer in line, scoring five hits before it too turned away. Amazingly, the entire squadron turned west to avoid Johnston ' s fire. At 09:20, these destroyers finally managed to fire their torpedoes, 5.2 nmi (6.0 mi 9.6 km). [17] Several torpedoes were detonated by strafing aircraft or defensive fire from the carriers, and the rest failed to strike a target.

The Japanese and the American ships were now intertwined in a confused jumble. The heavy smoke had made the visibility so poor by 08:40 Johnston nearly collided with Heerman while it crossed the formation to engage the Japanese destroyers, forcing Samuel B. Roberts to evade them both. [28] Gambier Bay and Hoel were sinking. Finding targets was not difficult. After 09:00, with Hoel and Samuel B. Roberts out of the fight, the crippled Johnston was an easy target. She exchanged fire with four cruisers and numerous destroyers.

Johnston continued to take hits from the Japanese, which knocked out the number one gun mount, killing many men. By 09:20, forced from the bridge by exploding ammunition, Evans commanded the ship from the stern by shouting orders down to men manually operating the rudder. Shellfire knocked out the remaining engine, leaving Johnston dead in the water at 09:40. Her attackers concentrated their 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."

At 09:45, Evans finally gave the order to abandon ship. Johnston sank 25 minutes later with 186 of her crew. Evans abandoned ship with his crew, but was never seen again. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. As the Japanese destroyer Yukikaze cruised slowly nearby, Robert Billie and several other crewmen saw her captain salute the sinking Johnston. [29]

USS Samuel B. Roberts Edit

Although destroyer escorts were conceived as the most inexpensive small ships that could protect slow cargo convoys against submarines, they had retained a basic anti-ship capability with torpedoes and 5 in (127 mm) guns. In this battle, USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413) would distinguish herself as the "destroyer escort that fought like a battleship" when thrown into the fray against armored cruisers which were designed to withstand 5 in (127 mm) gunfire. Sometime around 07:40, Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland maneuvered his small ship to evade the charging Heermann and, as he watched the destroyer receding towards the enemy, sized up the situation, [30] which he passed to his crew over the 1MC public-address circuit: "This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can." He realized that at his current heading and location his small ship would be in a textbook position to launch a torpedo attack at the leading heavy cruiser. Without orders and indeed against orders, he proceeded at full speed and set course to follow Heermann in to attack the cruisers.

Under the cover of the smokescreen from the destroyers, Roberts escaped detection. Not wanting to draw attention to his small ship, he repeatedly denied his gun captain permission to open fire with the 5 in (127 mm) guns even though targets were clearly visible and in range, he intended to launch torpedoes at 5,000 yd (4.6 km). A stray shell, probably intended for one of the nearby destroyers, hit Roberts ' mast which fell and jammed the torpedo mount at 08:00. Finally recovering, at 4,000 yd (3.7 km), Roberts launched her torpedoes at Chōkai without being fired upon. Quickly reversing course, Roberts disappeared into the smoke. A lookout reported at least one torpedo hit, and the crippled Chōkai started losing speed and fell to the rear of the column at 08:23. [31] [32]

By 08:10, Roberts was nearing the carrier formation. Through the smoke and rain, the heavy cruiser Chikuma appeared, firing broadsides at the carriers. Copeland changed course to attack and told his gun captain, "Mr Burton, you may open fire." [33] Roberts and Chikuma began to trade broadsides. Chikuma now divided her fire between the carriers and Roberts. Hampered by the closing range and slow rate of fire, Chikuma fired with difficulty at her small, fast opponent. (Early in the battle, when it had become apparent that Roberts would have to defend the escort carriers against a surface attack, chief engineer Lt. "Lucky" Trowbridge bypassed all the engine's safety mechanisms, enabling Roberts to go as fast as 28 kn (52 km/h 32 mph).) [25] Roberts did not share Chikuma ' s problem of slow rate of fire. For the next 35 minutes, from as close as 5,300 yd (3.0 mi 4.8 km), her guns would fire almost her entire supply of 5 in (127 mm) ammunition on board—over 600 rounds. [25] In this seemingly unequal contest, Chikuma was raked along its entire length. However, unknown to the crew of Roberts, shortly after Roberts engaged Chikuma, Heermann also aimed her guns at the cruiser, putting her in a deadly crossfire. Chikuma ' s superstructure was ripped by salvo after salvo of armor-piercing shells, high-explosive shells, anti-aircraft shells, and even star shells that created chemical fires even in metal plates. The bridge of Chikuma was devastated, fires could be seen along her superstructure, and her number three gun mount was no longer in action. [34]

However, Chikuma was not alone, and soon, the Japanese fleet's multicolored salvos were bracketing Roberts, indicating that she was under fire from Yamato, Nagato, and Haruna. [25] In a desperate bid to avoid approaching shells, Copeland ordered full back, causing the salvo to miss. Now, however, his small ship was an easy target, and at 08:51, cruiser shells found their mark, damaging one of her boilers. At 17 kn (31 km/h 20 mph), Roberts began to suffer hits regularly. Credit is given to Kongō for striking the final decisive blows at 09:00, which knocked out her remaining engine. [25] Dead in the water and sinking, Roberts ' s part in the battle was over. [35]

Gunner's Mate Paul H. Carr was in charge of the aft 5 in (127 mm) gun mount, which had fired nearly all of its 325 stored rounds in 35 minutes before a breech explosion caused by the gun's barrel overheating. Carr was found dying at his station, begging for help loading the last round he was holding into the breech. [36] He was awarded a Silver Star, and a guided missile frigate was later named for him. The guided missile frigates Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) and Copeland (FFG-25) were named for the ship and its captain.

Companion destroyer escorts USS Raymond (DE-341) , USS Dennis (DE-405) , and USS John C. Butler (DE-339) also launched torpedoes. While they missed, this helped slow the Japanese chase. Dennis was struck by a pair of cruiser shells, and John C. Butler ceased fire after expending her ammunition an hour into the engagement.

USS Hoel Edit

The fast destroyer Hoel, captained by Commander Leon S. Kintberger, was the flagship of the small destroyer and destroyer escort screen of Taffy 3. As splashes from Japanese shells began bracketing the ships of the task group, Hoel started zig-zagging and laying smoke to help defend the now fleeing CVEs. When the Japanese had closed to 18,000 yd (10 mi 16 km), Kintberger opened fire, and was in turn targeted by the Japanese. Yamato ' s 6.1 in (15 cm) guns scored a hit on Hoel ' s bridge at 14,000 yd (13 km), knocking out all voice radio communication, killing four men and wounding Kintberger and Screen Flag Officer Commander William Dow Thomas. [37]

Admiral Sprague then ordered Thomas to attack the Japanese with torpedoes. From his position on the damaged Hoel, he formed up the three destroyers of his command as best he could and at 07:40 ordered "Line up and let's go." [38] Through rain showers and smoke, Hoel zig-zagged toward the Japanese fleet, followed by Heermann and Samuel B. Roberts. Lurking in the rain, Johnston was targeting unsuspecting Japanese cruisers with her radar.

Kintberger now had to choose a target quickly as the distance closed rapidly. In the Combat Information Center, Executive Officer Fred Green quickly suggested a course that would put Hoel in a position to attack the leading "battleship", either Kongō or possibly the heavy cruiser Haguro. Without hesitation, Kintberger ordered Hoel in. The course took the ship into the middle of the charging Center Force. [39]

Gunnery Officer Lt. Bill Sanders directed Hoel ' s main battery of five 5"/38 caliber guns in a rapid-fire barrage and scored several hits, drawing the attention of a substantial portion of the Japanese fleet. Soon shells of all calibers were straddling the destroyer.

Sometime near 07:27, at a range of 9,000 yd (8.2 km), Hoel fired a half salvo of torpedoes and reversed course. [37] The results of this salvo were not observed, but several histories report that Haguro was forced to turn sharply away from the torpedo attack and dropped out of the lead to behind Tone, [40] an assertion that is contradicted by Haguro ' s detailed action report, which records turning to engaging an "enemy cruiser" (Hoel) at 10,300 yd (9.4 km), but not a torpedo attack. [41]

Moments after Hoel loosed her first half salvo, a devastating series of multi-caliber shells struck Hoel in rapid succession, disabling all the primary and secondary battery weapons aft of the second stack, stopping her port engine and depriving her of her Mark-37 fire control director, FD radar, and bridge steering control. His ship slowing to 17 knots under hand steering, Kintberger realized he would have to fire his remaining torpedoes quickly while he still could. [42]

Heading southwest after his initial torpedo attack, Commander Kintberger turned west and launched his second torpedo salvo at a "Heavy Cruiser" (probably Yamato or Haruna, both sides having difficulty with target identification in the poor visibility) at approximately 07:50. This time, Hoel ' s crew were rewarded by what appeared to be the sight of large columns of water alongside their target. The torpedo hits could not be confirmed, however. The water spouts were probably near misses by bombs. Japanese action reports reveal that Hoel ' s target was probably Yamato, which turned hard to port to evade a torpedo salvo at 07:54 and was forced to run north until the torpedoes ran out of fuel, taking Kurita out of the battle and causing him to lose track of his forces. [43]

Hoel was now crippled and surrounded by the enemy, with her speed reduced to 17 knots. Within a few minutes, steerage had been restored from the aft steering room. Kintberger ordered a course south towards Taffy 3. In the process of fishtailing and zig-zagging, she peppered the closest enemy ships with her two remaining guns. Finally at roughly 08:30, [37] after withstanding over 40 hits from 5–16 in (127–406 mm) guns, an 8 in (200 mm) shell disabled her remaining engine. With her engine room underwater and No. 1 magazine ablaze, the ship began listing to port, settling by the stern. The order to abandon ship was given at 08:40, and many of her surviving crew swam away from the ship.

A Japanese cruiser and several destroyers closed to within 2,000 yd (1.8 km), giving the two forward gun crews, under Gun Captain Chester Fay, a large, close target. For about ten minutes, they traded salvos with the Tone-class cruiser. When the destroyers slowed and approached to about 1,000 yd (910 m), they were also fired upon. The Japanese fire only stopped at 08:55 when Hoel rolled over and sank in 8,000 yd (7.3 km) of water, after enduring 90 minutes of punishment. [44]

Hoel was the first of Taffy 3's ships to sink, and suffered the heaviest proportional losses: only 86 of her complement survived 253 officers and men died with their ship. Commander Kintberger, who would live to retire a rear admiral, 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 Edit

Heermann—captained by Commander Amos T. Hathaway—was on the disengaged side of the carriers at the start of the fight when at 07:37 he received an order from Commodore Thomas to take the lead position in a column of "small boys" to attack the approaching enemy fleet. Heermann steamed into the action at flank speed through the formation of "baby flattops" through smoke and intermittent rain squalls that had reduced visibility at times to less than 100 yd (91 m), twice having to back emergency full to avoid collisions with friendly ships, first with Samuel B. Roberts and then at 07:49 with Hoel, as she tried to take her assigned position at the head of the column in preparation for a torpedo attack. [38]

At 07:50, Heermann engaged the heavy cruiser Haguro with her 5 in (127 mm) guns, while hurriedly preparing a half-salvo torpedo attack. In the confusion of battle, the torpedoman on the second torpedo mount mistakenly fired two extra torpedoes at the same time as the number one mount before he was stopped by the mount captain. After firing seven torpedoes, Heermann changed course to engage a column of three battleships that had commenced firing upon her. [38]

Hathaway may now have been responsible for causing a series of events that may have had a decisive influence on the outcome of the battle. He directed 5 in (127 mm) gunfire on the battleship Haruna, the column's leader. Then, he quickly closed to a mere 4,400 yd (4.0 km) and fired his last three torpedoes. [38] Haruna evaded all of them, but historian Samuel Eliot Morison asserts that Yamato was bracketed between two of Heermann ' s torpedoes on parallel courses, and for 10 minutes was forced to head north away from the action, while Lundgren, based on a comparison of both Japanese and American sources, asserts that the torpedoes came from Hoel ' s second salvo fired at 07:53. [45] In either case, Kurita and his most powerful ship were temporarily out of the action. The Japanese had now lost the initiative. The stubborn American defense had completely taken the wind out of the Japanese attack.

At 08:03, believing that one of the torpedoes had hit the battleship, Hathaway set course for the carrier formation, zigzagging and under the cover of smoke. Still undamaged, Heermann was able to fire through the smoke and rain at nearby targets. Now under continuous fire, Heermann began an unequal duel with Nagato, whose salvos were beginning to land uncomfortably close. [38] At one point between 08:08 and 08:25, Heermann was within throwing distance of a Japanese destroyer for several minutes, before being separated by the smoke. During this time, neither ship fired on the other, both having higher-priority targets. [46]

At 08:26, Commander Thomas requested covering fire on the cruisers firing on the CVEs from the east. Hathaway responded but first had to pass through the formation of carriers and escorts. This task proved hazardous. Traveling at flank speed, Heermann again had two near misses, this time with Fanshaw Bay and Johnston.

Finally on course for the enemy cruisers, Heermann came upon the heavily damaged Gambier Bay which was being pummeled at point-blank range. At 12,000 yd (11 km), Heermann engaged Chikuma as her guns cleared Gambier Bay. Chikuma was now caught in a crossfire between Heermann and Samuel B. Roberts and taking considerable punishment. During this phase of the battle, Heermann came under fire from the bulk of the Japanese fleet. Colored splashes of red, yellow, and green indicated that she was being targeted by Kongō and Haruna. Many uncolored splashes were also observed, likely from the line of heavy cruisers being led by Chikuma. At 08:45, a hit on Heermann ' s wheelhouse killed three men outright and fatally wounded another. [38] A series of 8 in (200 mm) shell hits flooded the forward part of the destroyer, pulling her bow down so far that her anchors were dragging in the water, and one of her guns was knocked out.

At 08:50, aircraft from VC-10 approached the scene and were vectored via VHF by Taffy 3 to the cruisers to the east. By 08:53, Chikuma and the rest of the four heavy cruisers were under heavy air attack. At 0902, under the combined effort of Heermann, Roberts, and the bombs, torpedoes, and strafing from the carrier-based planes, Chikuma finally disengaged, but sank during her withdrawal. [38]

At 09:07, the heavy cruiser Tone exchanged fire with Heermann until she too turned away at 09:10. By 09:17, Sprague ordered Hathaway to lay smoke on the port quarter of the CVEs, and by 09:30, the group had reformed in its normal formation and was headed southward. [38]

Convinced he was facing a much larger force because of the ferocity of the American resistance, Kurita gave a "cease action" order at 09:00, with instructions to rendezvous north. Thus, unexpectedly, the Japanese began to disengage and turned away.

Though extensively damaged, Heermann was the only destroyer from the screen to survive.

Run to the south Edit

Temporarily safe within the rain squall, Admiral Sprague had a difficult decision to make. The easterly course was drawing the enemy too close to San Bernardino Strait and away from any help that might come from Admiral Oldendorf's forces to the south, and Kurita was about to gain the windward side of his formation, which would render his smoke less effective. Consequently, at 07:30 Sprague ordered a course change, first to the southeast and then to the south, and ordered his escorts to make their torpedo attack to cover the carrier's emergence from the storm. That was a very risky decision for Sprague because it gave Kurita a chance to cut across the diameter of Sprague's arc and cut him off.

However, Kurita missed the chance and his forces followed Taffy 3 around the circle, his earlier decision to send his destroyers to the rear having removed them from a position that they could have intercepted or prevented the American formation's turn. [47] The escort 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, occasionally turning into the wind to launch the few planes they had left.

After one hour, the Japanese had closed the chase to within 10 mi (16 km) of the carriers. That the carriers had managed to evade destruction reinforced the Japanese belief that they were attacking fast fleet carriers. The heavy clouds of black and white smoke generated by the Americans were now making target observation extremely difficult. At 08:00, Sprague ordered the carriers to "open fire with pea-shooters when the range is clear." The stern chase was also advantageous for the sole anti-ship armament of small carriers was a single manually controlled stern-mounted 5 in (127 mm) gun as a stinger, though they were loaded with anti-aircraft shells. [48] Fire from the CVEs' stingers would be credited with hitting Japanese warships that ventured within 5 in (127 mm) gun range and contributing to the sinking of heavy cruiser Chōkai. [49] As anti-aircraft gunners observed helplessly, an officer cheered them by exclaiming, "Just wait a little longer, boys, we're suckering them into 40-mm range."

Carriers under attack Edit

During the run to the east the ships had been battered by near-misses. At 08:05, Kalinin Bay was struck by an 8 in (200 mm) shell and the carriers started taking direct hits. However, the Japanese ships were firing armor-piercing (AP) shells, which often carried right through 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.

USS White Plains Edit

When Yamato opened fire at 06:59 at an estimated range of 17 nmi (32 km), she targeted White Plains with her first four salvos. Yamato ' s third salvo was a close straddle landing at 07:04. One shell from this salvo exploded beneath the turn of White Plains port bilge near frame 142, close to her aft (starboard) engine room. While the ship was not struck directly, the mining effect of the under-keel explosion severely damaged her hull, deranged her starboard machinery, and tripped all of the circuit breakers in her electrical network. Prompt and effective damage control restored power and communications within three minutes and she was able to remain in formation by overspeeding her port engine to compensate. The gout of black smoke resulting from the shock of the explosion convinced Yamato (and Nagato, which was also firing her main battery at White Plains at the time) that they had scored a direct hit and they shifted fire to other targets. [50] The turn to the south put White Plains in the lead of the formation and she escaped any further hits from Japanese fire.

During the surface phase of the action, White Plains ' s 5 in (127 mm) gun crew claimed six hits on heavy cruiser Chōkai, [15] shortly afterwards hit by a bomb.

USS Gambier Bay Edit

As Japanese gunners concentrated on the closest target, Gambier Bay effectively diverted attention from the other fleeing carriers. At 08:10, Chikuma closed to within 5 nmi (5.8 mi 9.3 km) and finally landed 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 shells, first caused Gambier Bay to lose speed, and she was soon dead in the water. Three cruisers closed to point-blank range, as destroyers such as Johnston were unsuccessful in drawing fire away from the doomed carrier. Fires raged through the riddled escort carrier. She capsized at 09:07 and disappeared beneath the waves at 09:11. The majority of her nearly 800 survivors were rescued two days later by landing and patrol craft dispatched from Leyte Gulf. Gambier Bay was the only U.S. carrier sunk by naval gunfire in World War II. [51]

USS St. Lo Edit

Straddled several times during the run to the east, St. Lo escaped serious damage during the surface phase of the action. By 07:38 the Japanese cruisers approaching from St. Lo ' s port quarter had closed to within 14,000 yd (13 km). St. Lo responded to their salvos with rapid fire from her single 5 in (127 mm) gun, claiming three hits on a Tone-class cruiser. At 10:00, she launched an Avenger armed with a torpedo to join the attack launched by Kitkun Bay at 10:13. At 10:51 Lt. Yukio Seki, leader of the Shikishima squadron, crashed his A6M Zero into her flight deck from astern. The resulting explosions and fires within her hangar forced Captain McKenna to order abandon ship at 11:00. USS St Lo capsized and sank at 11:25 with the loss of 114 men. [52]

USS Kalinin Bay Edit

As the trailing ship in the escort carrier van after the turn to the south, Kalinin Bay came under intense enemy fire. Though partially protected by smoke, a timely rain squall, and counterattacks by the screening destroyers and destroyer escorts, she took the first of fifteen direct hits at 07:50. Fired from an enemy battleship, the large-caliber shell (14 in (360 mm) or 16 in (410 mm)) struck the starboard side of the hangar deck just aft of the forward elevator.

By 08:00 the Japanese cruisers off her port quarter (Tone and Haguro) had closed to within 18,000 yd (16 km). Kalinin Bay responded to their straddling salvos with her 5 in (127 mm) gun. Three 8 in (200 mm) armor-piercing projectiles struck her within minutes. At 08:25, the carrier scored a direct hit from 16,000 yd (15 km) on the No. 2 turret of a Nachi-class heavy cruiser, and a second hit shortly after forced the Japanese ship to withdraw temporarily from formation.

At 08:30, five Japanese destroyers steamed over the horizon off her starboard quarter. They opened fire from about 14,500 yd (13.3 km). 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 ten more 20 cm (8 in) hits from the now obscured cruisers. One shell passed through the flight deck and into the communications area and destroyed all the radar and radio equipment. Most of the hits occurred after 08:45 when Tone and Haguro had closed to within 10,100 yd (9.2 km). [53]

At 09:15, an Avenger from St. Lo—piloted by Lieutenant (j.g.) 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 in (127 mm) gun deflected a third from a collision course with her stern. At about 09:30, 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 10:50, 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 when close, but the third crashed into the port side of the flight deck, damaging it severely, and the fourth destroyed the aft port stack. Kalinin Bay suffered extensive structural damage during the morning's intense action, and sixty casualties including five dead. Twelve direct hits and two large-caliber near misses were confirmed. The two near-misses exploded under her counter, and were the severest threats to the ship's survival.

USS Kitkun Bay Edit

Straddled several times early in the surface action during the run to the east as she was at the rear of the formation alongside White Plains, Kitkun Bay was towards the front of the formation after the turn to the south and escaped serious damage. At 10:13 she launched five Avengers (four armed with torpedoes, one with bombs) to attack the retreating Japanese. The five (along with one from St. Lo) attacked Yamato at 10:35 without result. Attacked by a kamikaze at 11:08, she was successfully defended by her own and Fanshaw Bay ' s anti-aircraft batteries. She was the only one of Sprague's carriers to escape undamaged.

USS Fanshaw Bay Edit

Targeted by Kongō and Haruna early in the action (red, yellow and blue shell splashes) Sprague's flagship Fanshaw Bay escaped serious damage during the run to the east and was on the far side of the formation across from Gambier Bay during the run to the south. During the later kamikaze attacks, the Fanshaw Bay took a near-miss kamikaze close aboard, helped shoot down a plane just about to crash into Kitkun Bay, and landed planes from her sunk or damaged sisters. Fanshaw Bay suffered four dead and four wounded.

Battleship Yamato Edit

Yamato engaged enemy surface forces for the first and only time at Samar, entering the battle two meters down by the bow and limited to 26 knots due to 3,000 tons of flooding caused by three armor-piercing bombs during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea. Yamato opened the battle at 06:59, firing on USS White Plains at an estimated range of 19.616 mi (17.046 nmi 31.569 km), severely damaging White Plains with a near miss from her third salvo. The resulting gout of smoke from the stricken carrier obscured the target and convinced Yamato she was destroyed, so they ceased fire at 07:09. At 07:27, Yamato reported main and secondary battery hits on an "enemy cruiser" at 11.541 mi (10.029 nmi 18.574 km), the time, range and bearing of which all correspond with the hits on the destroyer Johnston. [21] At 07:51, she turned her secondary battery on USS Raymond at a range of 5.736 mi (4.985 nmi 9.232 km) before steering hard to port to avoid a torpedo salvo from the charging USS Hoel at 07:54. At 07:55, Yamato opened fire on Hoel with her 5 in (127 mm) anti-aircraft guns and was struck by an American 5 in (127 mm) shell in return. Hemmed in by Haruna to starboard and her destroyers to port Yamato was forced to run due North away from the battle until the torpedoes ran out of fuel, finally turning back at 08:12. [54]

At 08:23 Yamato ' s F1M2 "Pete" floatplane reported a primary battery hit on Gambier Bay though this hit was also claimed by Kongō. Gambier Bay ' s own records report a damaging near miss from a battleship caliber shell around this time. [55] At 08:34 Yamato trained her secondary batteries on another "light cruiser", probably USS Hoel, which was observed sinking at 08:40. [56] At 08:45 Yamato sighted three of the American carriers, US smoke screens preventing her from seeing the entire US formation. Between 09:06 and 09:17 Yamato received multiple strafing and torpedo attacks from US aircraft, claiming one US aircraft shot down at 09:15. Fighter pilot Lieutenant Richard W. Roby reportedly attacked destroyers before raking the decks and then bridge of Yamato with his .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns, further discouraging her. [57] However, US reports that Yamato closed to within 2,400 yd (2.2 km) of the American ships before she was attacked by American aircraft are not supported by Yamato ' s own action report. [58] At 09:11, Kurita ordered his ships to regroup to the North and at 09:22 Yamato slowed to 20 knots and came round to course 040, finally setting course 000 (due north) at 09:25. Kurita reported that his force had sunk two carriers, two cruisers, and some destroyers, apparently assuming that Yamato had indeed sunk White Plains with her first four salvoes. [59] [60] [61] Kurita's forces had actually sunk one carrier, two destroyers, and one destroyer escort, and Yamato ' s guns likely contributed to the sinking of three out of four, with claimed hits (some unconfirmed or disputed) on all except Samuel B. Roberts.

Japanese losses Edit

Targeted by 5 in (127 mm) gunfire from the destroyers and destroyer escorts, the Japanese cruiser Chōkai was hit amidships, starboard side, most likely by the sole 5 in (127 mm) gun of the carrier White Plains. [49] The shell could not pierce the hull armor, but it was thought, until an expedition to the cruiser's wreck in 2019 found her torpedoes still intact, that the 7 lb (3.2 kg) bursting charge that it contained might have set off the eight sensitive deck-mounted Type 93 "Long Lance" torpedoes. Within minutes, an American aircraft dropped a 500 lb (230 kg) bomb on her forward machinery room. Chōkai's rudder and engines were damaged, causing the ship to drop out of formation. Fires began to rage and she went dead in the water. Later that day, she was scuttled by torpedoes from the destroyer Fujinami, or by bombs from aircraft of Ommaney Bay (CVE-79) , an escort carrier of Taffy 2.

Haguro's detailed action report states that Chokai ' s immobilizing damage resulted from a bomb hit at 08:51. [62] It is possible that Chokai was struck by a 14-inch shell from Kongō as she traveled into Kongō ' s line of fire. [ citation needed ]

After Johnston blew off the bow of Kumano with a Mark 15 torpedo, the Japanese ship retired towards the San Bernardino Strait, where she suffered further, minor, damage from an aerial attack.

While withdrawing from the battle area, Nowaki was herself sunk, with the loss of all but one of Chikuma ' s surviving crewmen.

The heavy cruiser Suzuya, which had also engaged the carriers, received fatal damage from the air, although not hit directly. Early in the battle, she was attacked by ten Avengers from Taffy 3. A near-miss close astern to port by an HE bomb from one of the TBMs carried away one of Suzuya ' s propellers, reducing her maximum speed to 20 knots. At 10:50, she was attacked by 30 more carrier aircraft. Another near miss by a bomb, this time starboard amidships, detonated a Long Lance torpedo loaded in one of her starboard tube mounts. The fires started by the explosion soon propagated to other torpedoes nearby and beyond, the subsequent explosions damaging one of the boilers and the starboard engine rooms. Abandon ship was ordered at 11:50, none too soon, as the fires set off the remaining torpedoes and her main magazines ten minutes later. Suzuya rolled over and sank at 13:22. 401 officers and crew were rescued by destroyer Okinami, followed by further rescues by American ships.

Kurita withdraws Edit

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, seemingly 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 [64] further contributed to his confusion since he assumed that such devastating strikes could come only from major fleet units rather than escort carriers. Signals from Ozawa eventually convinced Kurita that he was not engaging the entirety of Third fleet and that remaining elements of Halsey's forces might close in and destroy him if he lingered too long in the area. [65]

Finally, Kurita received word that the Southern Force that he was to meet 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 09:20 with the order: "all ships, my course north, speed 20." He set a 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 the 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!"

Seventh Fleet's calls for help Edit

Shortly after 08:00, desperate messages calling for assistance began to come in from Seventh Fleet. One from Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, sent in plain language, read, "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". [66]

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

At 09:07, Kinkaid broadcast what his mismatched fleet was up against: "4 Battleships, 8 Cruisers Attack Our Escort Carriers".

3,000 nmi (3,500 mi 5,600 km) away at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz had monitored the desperate calls from Taffy 3, and sent Halsey a terse message: "Where is TF 34?". To complicate decryption, communications officers were to add a nonsense phrase at both ends of a message, in this case, "Turkey trots to water" and suffixed with "The world wonders." The receiving radioman repeated the "where is" section of this message and his staff failed to remove the trailing phrase "the world wonders." A simple query by a distant supervisor had, through the random actions of three sailors, become a stinging rebuke.

Halsey was infuriated since he did not recognize the final phrase as padding, possibly chosen for the 90th anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade. He threw his hat to the deck and began to curse.

Halsey sent Task Group 38.1 (TG 38.1), commanded by Vice Admiral John S. McCain, to assist. [67] Halsey recalled that he did not receive the vital message from Kinkaid until around 10:00 and later claimed that he had known that Kinkaid was in trouble but had not dreamed of the seriousness of the crisis. McCain, by contrast, had monitored Sprague's messages and turned TG 38.1 to aid Sprague even before Halsey's orders arrived (after prodding from Nimitz), putting Halsey's defense in question.

At 10:05, Kinkaid asked, "Who is guarding the San Bernardino Strait?"

McCain raced towards the battle and briefly turned into the wind to recover returning planes. At 10:30, a force of Helldivers, Avengers, and Hellcats was launched from Hornet, Hancock, and Wasp at the extreme range of 330 nmi (380 mi 610 km). Though the attack did little damage, it strengthened Kurita's decision to retire. [68]

At 11:15, more than two hours after the first distress messages had been received by his flagship, Halsey ordered TF 34 to turn around and head south to pursue Kurita, but the Japanese forces had already escaped.

Just hours after his perceived chastisement by Nimitz, Halsey's forces destroyed all four enemy aircraft carriers he had pursued. However, despite the complete absence of Third Fleet against the main Japanese force, the desperate efforts of Taffy 3 and assisting task forces had driven back the Japanese. A relieved Halsey sent the following message to Nimitz, Kinkaid and General Douglas MacArthur at 12:26: "It can be announced with assurance that the Japanese Navy has been beaten, routed and broken by the Third and Seventh Fleets."

Survivors' ordeal Edit

Partly as a result of disastrous communication errors within Seventh Fleet and a reluctance to expose search ships to submarine attack, [69] a very large number of survivors from Taffy 3, including those from Gambier Bay, Hoel, Johnston, and Roberts, were not rescued until October 27, after two days adrift. [70] [71] A plane had spotted the survivors, but the location radioed back was incorrect. By then, many had died as a result of exposure, thirst and shark attacks. Finally, when a Landing Craft Infantry of Task Group 78.12 arrived, its captain used what is almost a standard method of distinguishing friend from foe, asking a topical question about a national sport, [72] [73] as one survivor, Jack Yusen, relates:

We saw this ship come up, it was circling around us, and a guy was standing up on the bridge with a megaphone. And he called out 'Who are you? Who are you?' and we all yelled out 'Samuel B. Roberts!' He's still circling, so now we're cursing at him. He came back and yelled 'Who won the World Series?' and we all yelled 'St. Louis Cardinals!' And then we could hear the engines stop, and cargo nets were thrown over the side. That's how we were rescued.

The Japanese had succeeded in luring Halsey's Third Fleet away from its role of covering the invasion fleet, but the remaining light forces proved to be a very considerable obstacle. The force that Halsey had unwittingly left behind carried about 450 aircraft, comparable to the forces of five fleet carriers, though of less powerful types, and not armed for attacks on armored ships. The ships themselves, though slow and almost unarmed, in the confusion of battle and aided by weather and smokecreens mostly survived. Their aircraft, though not appropriately armed, sank and damaged several ships, and did much to confuse and harass the Center Force.

The breakdown in Japanese communications left Kurita unaware of the opportunity that Ozawa's decoy plan had offered him. Kurita's mishandling of his forces during the surface engagement further compounded his losses. Despite Halsey's failure to protect the northern flank of the Seventh Fleet, Taffy 3 and assisting aircraft turned back the most powerful surface fleet Japan had sent to sea since the Battle of Midway. Domination of the skies, prudent and timely maneuvers by the U.S. ships, tactical errors by the Japanese admiral, and superior American radar technology, gunnery and seamanship all contributed to this outcome.

In the engagement, the Japanese had numerous large-caliber battleship and cruiser main guns with much more range and power than the Americans, but the Japanese guns lacked a blind fire capability and were thwarted by rain squalls and by smoke laid by screening American destroyers. Japanese fire control systems manually computing solutions for targets on a constant course were fighting American destroyers that would constantly alter course. The Japanese visual-aiming system produced "bracketing" shots American ships' crews would rapidly maneuver to avoid following accurate shots, while still able to fire accurately due to the MK-37 radar-directed fire control system and its computer, and to their faster reloading. Samuel B. Roberts and Heermann devastated the superstructure of cruiser Chikuma.

In addition, the accurate U.S. 5 in (127 mm) and 40 mm anti-aircraft fire directed by radar and computer control shot down several kamikazes, and the lack of comparable systems made the Japanese ships vulnerable to American fliers. Lastly, the attacking Japanese force initially used armor-piercing shells which were largely ineffective against unarmored ships as they passed right through without exploding American destroyers and destroyer escorts were engineered with enough redundancy to survive dozens of such hits.

The American escort carriers landed hits when the large Japanese ships, which could not maneuver while firing, came within range of guns as small as the 5 in (127 mm) carrier-mounted guns.

In summary, the Japanese had built the largest battleships, but the fleet was largely unrefined and had numerous technical limitations and weaknesses, and the commanding officers made mistakes and failed to take into account their weaknesses or to make the best use of their strengths. The American Navy had superior technology and, while the commanding officers made some mistakes, they were limited, and the Americans had sufficient numbers of all types of ships and weapons to compensate for the mistakes.

It may be argued that of all of the battles in the Pacific War, Samar best demonstrates the effectiveness of air attack and destroyer-launched torpedoes against larger surface vessels. Japanese tactics were cautious, in the belief that they were fighting a much more powerful force.

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

Clifton Sprague's task unit lost two escort carriers: Gambier Bay, to surface attack and St. Lo, to kamikaze attack. Of the seven screening ships, fewer than half, two destroyers (Hoel and Johnston) and a destroyer escort (Samuel B. Roberts), were lost, as were several aircraft. The other four U.S. destroyers and escorts were damaged. Though it was such a small task unit, over 1,500 Americans died, comparable to the losses suffered at the Allied defeat of the Battle of Savo Island off Guadalcanal, when four cruisers were sunk. It was also comparable to the combined losses of the 543 men and 3 ships at the Battle of the Coral Sea, and 307 men and 2 ships at the Battle of Midway.

On the other side of the balance sheet, the Japanese lost three heavy cruisers, and a fourth limped back to base seriously damaged, having lost its bow. All of Kurita's battleships except Yamato suffered considerable damage, all of the other heavy ships stayed inactive in their bases, and the Japanese Navy, as a whole, had been rendered ineffective for the remainder of the war. Of the six U.S. ships, totaling 37,000 long tons (38,000 t), lost during Leyte Gulf operations, five were from Taffy 3. The Japanese lost 26 ships, totaling 306,000 long tons (311,000 t), in Leyte Gulf combat. [75]

The battle took place in the very deep water above the Philippine Trench, with most sinkings in waters over 7,000 m (23,000 ft) deep. Wreckage that has been found includes IJN Chōkai at nearly 17,000 ft (5,200 m), [76] [ better source needed ] and the deepest wreck surveyed as of April 2021 [update] , USS Johnston at 21,180 ft (6,460 m). [77] [78]

Halsey was criticized for his decision to take TF 34 north in pursuit of Ozawa and for failing to detach it when Kinkaid first appealed for help. A piece of U.S. Navy slang for Halsey's actions is "Bull's Run," a phrase combining Halsey's newspaper nickname "Bull" (in the U.S. Navy, the nickname "Bull" was used primarily by enlisted men, and Halsey's friends and fellow officers called him "Bill") with an allusion to the Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War. [79]

In his dispatch after the battle, Halsey gave reasons for his decision as follows:

Searches by my carrier planes revealed the presence of the Northern carrier force on the afternoon of October 24, which completed the picture of all enemy naval forces. As it seemed childish to me to guard statically San Bernardino Strait, I concentrated TF 38 during the night and steamed north to attack the Northern Force at dawn. I believed that the Center Force had been so heavily damaged in the Sibuyan Sea that it could no longer be considered a serious menace to Seventh Fleet. [80]

Halsey also said that he had feared that leaving TF 34 to defend the strait without carrier support would have left it vulnerable to attack from land-based aircraft and leaving one of the fast carrier groups behind to cover the battleships would have significantly reduced the concentration of air power going north to strike Ozawa.

Morison writes in a footnote, "Admiral Lee, however, said after the battle that he would have been only too glad to have been ordered to cover San Bernardino Strait without air cover." [81] If Halsey had been in proper communication with Seventh Fleet, the escort carriers of TF 77 could have provided adequate air cover for TF 34, a much easier matter than it would be for those escort carriers to defend themselves against the onslaught of Kurita's heavy ships.

It may be argued that the fact that Halsey was aboard one of the battleships and "would have had to remain behind" with TF 34 while the bulk of his fleet charged northwards to attack the Japanese carriers may have contributed to that decision. However, it would have been perfectly feasible and logical to have taken one or both of Third Fleet's two fastest battleships, Iowa and New Jersey, with the carriers in the pursuit of Ozawa, while leaving the rest of the Battle Line off San Bernardino Strait. (Indeed, Halsey's original plan for the composition of TF 34 was that it would contain only four, not all six, of the Third Fleet's battleships.) Therefore, to guard San Bernardino Strait with a powerful battleship force would have been compatible with Halsey's personally going north aboard the New Jersey.

It seems likely that Halsey was strongly influenced by his chief of staff, Rear Admiral Robert "Mick" Carney, who was also wholeheartedly in favor of taking all Third Fleet's available forces northwards to attack the Japanese carrier force.

Clifton Sprague, the commander of Task Unit 77.4.3 in the battle off Samar, was later bitterly critical of Halsey's decision and of his failure to inform Kinkaid and the Seventh Fleet clearly that their northern flank was no longer protected:

In the absence of any information that this exit [of the San Bernardino Strait] was no longer blocked, it was logical to assume that our northern flank could not be exposed without ample warning.

Regarding Halsey's failure to turn TF 34 southwards when Seventh Fleet's first calls for assistance off Samar were received, Morison writes:

If TF 34 had been detached a few hours earlier, after Kinkaid's first urgent request for help, and had left the destroyers behind, since their fueling caused a delay of over two hours and a half, a powerful battle line of six modern battleships under the command of Admiral Lee, the most experienced battle squadron commander in the Navy, would have arrived off San Bernardino Strait in time to have clashed with Kurita's Center Force. . Apart from the accidents common in naval warfare, there is every reason to suppose that Lee would have crossed the T of Kurita's fleet and completed the destruction of Center Force. [82]

Morison also observes, "The mighty gunfire of the Third Fleet's Battle Line, greater than that of the whole Japanese Navy, was never brought into action except to finish off one or two crippled light ships." [a] [84] Perhaps the most telling comment was made laconically by Vice Admiral Willis Augustus Lee in his action report as the Commander of TF 34: "No battle damage was incurred, nor inflicted on the enemy by vessels while operating as Task Force Thirty-Four." [85]

In his master's thesis submitted at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Lieutenant Commander Kent Coleman argues that the division of command hierarchies of the Third Fleet, under Halsey reporting to Admiral Nimitz, and Seventh Fleet, under Vice Admiral Kinkaid reporting to General MacArthur, was the primary contributor to the near-success of Kurita's attack. Coleman concludes that "the divided U.S. naval chain of command amplified problems in communication and coordination between Halsey and Kinkaid. This divided command was more important in determining the course of the battle than the tactical decision made by Halsey and led to an American disunity of effort that nearly allowed Kurita’s mission to succeed." [86]

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 as a climax to two and one half hours of sustained and furious combat. 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. [87]

A number of ships were named after participants and ships from that battle, including USS Copeland (FFG-25) , USS Evans (DE-1023) , USS Clifton Sprague (FFG-16) , USS Carr (FFG-52) and USS Hoel (DDG-13) , and USS Johnston (DD-821) . When USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) struck a mine in 1998, her crew touched a plaque commemorating the original crew as they struggled to save the ship. [88]

While the battle is frequently included in historical accounts of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the duels between the destroyer and destroyer escorts and Yamato and the Japanese force were the subject of a Dogfights television episode, "Death of the Japanese Navy". [89] That episode, as well as a History Channel documentary, was based on The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, written by James D. Hornfischer. There was also an episode of Ultimate Warfare on American Heroes Channel called Courage at Sea.

The survivors formed associations which still meet annually, and raised funds to build memorials in San Diego near the current location of the USS Midway (CV-41) Museum, which contains a model of Gambier Bay. [ citation needed ]

US Forces headed by Admiral Halsey consisted of Task Force 38, the Third Fleet, led by Vice Admiral Mitscher, and Task Force 34 led by Vice Admiral Lee. While the Japanese Mobile Force, part of the Northern Force, was under the command of Vice-Admiral Ozawa. However, Ozawa was intended to distract only the Americans as the Japanese took on their other advance.

The battle commenced when Admiral Halsey launched an attack against the Japanese Northern Force at midnight of October 24. He sent three aircraft-carrier ships to strike the enemies at daybreak. By four in the morning Vice Admiral Mitscher ordered his carriers to arm and be ready to launch aircraft. He launched the first attack group, 180 aircraft, to go ahead of his other carriers while he waited for the Japanese forces to be located.

At eight o'clock, attacks on Ozawa's ships began and it continued until evening. Little opposition was received from the Japanese forces. Mitscher's 527 aircrafts sunk Ozawa's flagship Zuikaku, the last one of those that attacked Pearl Harbor. Two light carriers and a destroyer also sank and other remaining ships were severely damaged.

Towards the middle of the day, signals were received by American officials that the Japanese forces were attacking the Seventh Fleet off Samar and were in desperate need of help from the Third Fleet. However, it was Vice Admiral Lee's Task Force 34 that was pulled out of Cape Engano before noon and sent to aid the Seventh Fleet. They, unfortunately, came too late. As a result, the Japanese Central Force under Vice Admiral Kurita managed to escape with its four battleships and five heavy cruisers.

Before midnight, the US submarine Jallao sank Ozawa's light cruiser Tama. This ended the Battle off Cape Engano and as the Japanese retreated on October 26, ended also the Battle for Leyte Gulf.

Battle of Cape Engano, 25 October 1944 - History

The track charts below show the progress of the battle.

On the morning of 23 October 1944, American submarines detected and attacked units of the Japanese fleet coming in from the South China Sea toward the precarious Leyte beachhead. A battleship-cruiser-destroyer Southern Force was decimated as it attempted to enter Leyte Gulf via Surigao Strait on the night of 24&ndash25 October 1944. A more powerful battleship-cruiser-destroyer Center Force had been pounded by Admiral Halsey&rsquos attack carrier planes and presumably turned back from San Bernardino Straits. Admiral Halsey then raced north with his attack carriers and heavy battleships to engage a Japanese carrier-battleship task force off Cape Engaño. This Taffy 3 as lonely sentinels east of Samar and southeast of San Bernadino Strait, on the route to Leyte Gulf.

As enemy ships fled the Battle of Surigao Strait at daybreak on 25 October 1944, the powerful Japanese Center Force slipped through San Bernadino Strait. It steamed along the coast of Samar directly for the American invasion beachhead at Leyte, hoping to destroy amphibious shipping and American troops on shore.


One of the pilots flying patrol after dawn alert of 25 October 1944 reported the approach of Japanese Center Force. Steaming straight for &ldquoTaffy 3&rdquo were four battleships, seven cruisers, and at least 12 destroyers. Johnston&rsquos gunnery officer later reported, &ldquoWe felt like little David without a slingshot.&rdquo In less than a minute Johnston was zigzagging between the six little escort carriers and the Japanese fleet and putting out a smoke screen over a 2,500-yard front to conceal the carriers from the enemy gunners: &ldquoEven as we began laying smoke, the Japanese started lobbing shells at us and the Johnston had to zigzag between the splashes. . . . We were the first destroyer to make smoke, the first to start firing, the first to launch a torpedo attack.&rdquo

For the first 20 minutes, Johnston was helpless as the enemy cruisers and battleships had her in range. But the destroyer&rsquos 5-inch guns could not yet reach them. She charged onward to close the enemy&mdashfirst a line of seven destroyers next, one light and three heavy cruisers and then the four battleships. To the east appeared three other cruisers and several destroyers.

As soon as range closed, Johnston opened her 5-inch battery on the nearest cruiser, scoring damaging hits. About this time, an 8-inch shell landed right off her bow, its red dye splashing the face of Johnston&rsquos gunnery officer, Lt. Robert C. Hagen. He mopped the dye from his eyes while remarking: &ldquoLooks like somebody&rsquos mad at us!&rdquo In five furious minutes, Johnston pumped 200 rounds at the enemy. Then Comdr. Evans ordered, &ldquoFire torpedoes!&rdquo The destroyer got off 10 torpedoes then whipped around to retire behind a heavy smoke screen. When she came out of the smoke a minute later, Japanese cruiser Kumano could be seen burning furiously from torpedo hits. Kumano later sank. But Johnston took three 14-inch shell hits from a battleship, followed closely by three 6-inch shells from a light cruiser: &ldquoIt was like a puppy being smacked by a truck. The hits resulted in the loss of all power to the steering engine, all power to the three 5-inch guns in the after part of the ship, and rendered our gyro compass useless.&rdquo Through &ldquosheer providence&rdquo a rainstorm came up and Johnston &ldquoducked into it&rdquo for a few minutes of rapid repairs and salvage work.

At 7:50 a.m., Admiral Sprague ordered destroyers to make a torpedo attack. But Johnston had already expended torpedoes. With one engine, she couldn&rsquot keep up with the others: &ldquoBut that wasn&rsquot Comdr. Evans&rsquo way of fighting: &lsquoWe&rsquoll go in with the destroyers and provide fire support,&rsquo he boomed.&rdquo Johnston went in, dodging salvos and blasting back. As she charged out of blinding smoke, pointed straight at the bridge of gallant Heermann (DD 532), &ldquoAll engines back full!&rdquo bellowed Comdr. Evans. That meant one engine for Johnston who could hardly do more than slow down. But Heermann&rsquos two engines backed her barely out of the collision course&mdash Johnston missed her by less than 10 feet. Now there was so much smoke that Evans ordered no firing unless the gunnery officer could see the ship. &ldquoAt 8:20, there suddenly appeared out of the smoke a 30,000-ton Kongo-class battleship, only 7,000 yards off our port beam. I took one look at the unmistakable pagoda mast, muttered, &lsquoI sure as hell can see that!&rsquo and opened fire. In 40 seconds we got off 30 rounds, at least 15 of which hit the pagoda superstructure. . . . The BB belched a few 14-inchers at us, but, thank God, registered only clean misses.&rdquo

Johnston soon observed Gambier Bay (CVE 73) under fire from a cruiser: &ldquoComdr. Evans then gave me the most courageous order I&rsquove ever heard: &lsquoCommence firing on that cruiser, draw her fire on us and away from Gambier Bay&rsquo.&rdquo Johnston scored four hits in a deliberate slugging match with a heavy cruiser and then broke off the futile battle as the Japanese destroyer squadron was seen closing rapidly on the American escort carriers. Johnston outfought the entire Japanese destroyer squadron, concentrating on the lead ship until the enemy quit cold then concentrated on the second destroyer until the remaining enemy units broke off to get out of effective gun range before launching torpedoes, all of which went wild.

Johnston took a hit which knocked out one forward gun, damaged another, and her bridge was rendered untenable by fires and explosions resulting from a hit in her 40mm ready ammunition locker. Evans shifted his command to Johnston&rsquos fantail, yelling orders through an open hatch to men turning her rudder by hand. At one of her batteries, a Texan kept calling &ldquoMore shells! More shells!&rdquo Still the destroyer battled desperately to keep the Japanese destroyers and cruisers from reaching the five surviving American carriers: &ldquoWe were now in a position where all the gallantry and guts in the world couldn&rsquot save us, but we figured that help for the carrier must be on the way, and every minute&rsquos delay might count. . . . By 9:30 we were going dead in the water even the Japanese couldn&rsquot miss us. They made a sort of running semicircle around our ship, shooting at us like a bunch of Indians attacking a prairie schooner. Our lone engine and fire room was knocked out we lost all power, and even the indomitable skipper knew we were finished. At 9:45 he gave the saddest order a captain can give: &lsquoAbandon Ship.&rsquo . . . At 10:10 Johnston rolled over and began to sink. A Japanese destroyer came up to 1,000 yards and pumped a final shot into her to make sure she went down. A survivor saw the Japanese captain salute her as she went down. That was the end of Johnston.&rdquo

From Johnston&rsquos complement of 327, only 141 were saved. Of 186 lost, about 50 were killed by enemy action, 45 died on rafts from battle injuries and 92, including Comdr. Evans, were alive in the water after Johnston sank, but were never heard from again.

The only chance for survival of the little group of American &ldquojeep&rdquo carriers and &ldquotin cans&rdquo lay in fleeing to the south, hoping that aid would arrive before their complete destruction. While the carriers launched all available planes to attack their numerous Japanese adversaries and then formed a rough circle as they turned toward Leyte Gulf, Hoel and her fellow destroyers Johnston and Heermann, worked feverishly to lay down a smoke screen to hide their &ldquobaby flattops&rdquo from the overwhelmingly superior enemy ships. At 0706, when a providential rain squall helped to hide his carriers, Admiral Clifton Sprague boldly ordered his destroyers to attack the Japanese with torpedoes. Hoel instantly obeyed this order by heading straight for the nearest enemy battleship, Kongo, then 18,000 yards away. When she had closed to 14,000 yards, she opened fire as she continued her race toward the smoking muzzles of Kongo&rsquos 14-inch guns. A hit on her bridge, which knocked out all voice radio communication, did not deflect her from her course toward the enemy until she had launched a half salvo of torpedoes at a range of 9,000. Although Hoel&rsquos &ldquofish&rdquo all failed to strike their target, they caused Kongo to lose ground in her pursuit of the carriers by forcing her to turn sharply left and to continue 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 yards of the leading crusier, Haguro, the fearless destroyer launched a half-salvo of torpedoes which ran &ldquohot, straight and normal.&rdquo 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 enemies. Kongo was only 8,000 yards off her port beam and the heavy cruiser column was some 7,000 yards off her port quarter. During the next hour, the valiant ship rendered her final service by drawing enemy fire to herself and away from the carriers. In the process of fish-tailing and chasing salvos, she demanded the attention of her antagonists by peppering them with her two remaining guns. Finally, at 0830, after withstanding over 40 hits, 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, Hoel&rsquos stouthearted captain, Commander Leon S. Kinterberger, reluctantly ordered his crew to &ldquoprepare to abandon ship.&rdquo The Japanese fire at the doomed ship continued as her surviving officers and men went over the side and only stopped at 0855 when Hoel rolled over and sank in 4,000 fathoms.

Only 86 of Hoel&rsquos complement survived while 253 officers and men died with their ship. Commander Kinterberger described the incomparably courageous devotion to duty of the men of the Hoel in a seaman&rsquos epitaph to the action: &ldquoFully 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.&rdquo


As she began the run, dye from enemy shells daubed the water nearby with circles of brilliant red, yellow and green. Heermann replied to this challenge by pumping her 5-inch shells at one heavy cruiser, Chikuma, as she directed seven torpedoes at another, Haguro. When the second of these &ldquofish&rdquo had left the tube, Heermann changed course to engage a column of four battleships whose shells began churning the water nearby. She trained her guns on Kongo, the column&rsquos leader, at which she launched three torpedoes. Then she quickly closed Haruna, the target of her last three torpedoes, which were launched from only 4,400 yards. Believing that one of the &ldquofish&rdquo had hit the battleship, she nimbly dodged the salvoes which splashed in her wake as she retired. Japanese records claim that the battleship successfully evaded all of Heermann&rsquos torpedoes, but they were slowed down in their pursuit of the American carriers. The giant Yamato, with her monstrous 18.1-inch guns, was even forced out of the action altogether when, caught between two spreads, she reversed course for almost 10 minutes to escape being hit.

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 boldly between the escort carriers and the column of four enemy heavy cruisers. Here she engaged Japanese cruiser Chikuma in a duel, which seriously damaged both ships. A series of 8-inch hits flooded the forward part of the plucky destroyer, pulling her bow down so far that her anchors were dragging in the water. One of her guns was knocked out but the others continued to pour a deadly stream of 5-inch shells at the cruiser, which also came under heavy air attack during the engagement. The combined effect of Heermann&rsquos guns and the bombs, torpedoes and strafing from carrier-based planes was too much for Chikuma, which tried to withdraw but sank during her flight.

As Chikuma turned away, heavy cruiser Tone turned her guns on Heermann, which replied shell for shell until she reached a position suitable to resume laying smoke for the carriers. At this point, planes from Admiral Stump&rsquos Taffy 2 swooped in to sting Tone so severely that she, too, broke off action and fled. The courageous attacks of the destroyers and aircraft thus saved the outgunned task groups.

Intense photos show the WWII Battle of Leyte Gulf — the biggest naval battle of all-time

The World War II Battle of Leyte Gulf, a decisive Allied victory that decimated the Japanese Navy, began on Oct. 23 74 years ago.

And it's considered to be the largest naval battle of all-time.

A few days before the battle began, the Allies (and even General Douglas MacArthur himself) had landed on Leyte island to begin liberating the Phillippines, which the Japanese were intent on stopping.

The result was a horrific three-day battle (which was actually several smaller battles, namely the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea , the Battle of Surigao Strait , the Battle off Samar, and the Battle of Cape Engaño) that involved several hundred ships.

In the end, the US had lost three aircraft carriers, two destroyers, several hundred aircraft, took about 3,000 casualties. But the Japanese Navy had lost four carriers, three battleships, six heavy cruisers, nine destroyers, took about 10,000-12,000 casualties, among other losses.

Chart of the Decisive Phase of the Battle, 25 October 1944 (File is 247k)

Seventh Fleet contained a large task group of eighteen escort carriers, divided into three task units of six carriers each.

The main duties of these ships were the provision of combat air patrol over the Leyte beachhead and the invasion shipping, ground attack on Leyte, and anti-submarine patrol. They and their air groups were not trained or equipped to fight an enemy fleet.

At dawn on the 25 October the Seventh Fleet's three escort carrier units were operating off the east coast of Samar. In accounts of the battle these units are generally referred to by their radio call-signs "Taffy One", "Taffy Two" and (the most northerly of the three - Task Unit 77.4.3) "Taffy Three." This last unit, under the command of Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague, had by shortly after 0600 launched 12 fighters and also an anti-
submarine patrol of 6 aircraft to cover the ships in Leyte Gulf, as well as aircraft for Taffy Three's own protection.

It was therefore a very routine morning so far for Taffy Three. The threat from the Japanese Southern Force had been eliminated by Oldendorf's force during the previous night, and Halsey's Third Fleet with its immense strength lay to the north between the escort carriers and the Japanese Central and Northern forces. Or so Clifton Sprague and the men of Taffy Three believed.

But at 0645 AA fire was seen to the north-west, and a minute later the carrier Fanshaw Bay picked up a surface contact on radar.

At 0647 Ensign Jensen - the pilot of a plane from carrier Kadashan Bay - sighted, and then attacked, Japanese ships which he with remarkable accuracy identified as 4 battleships and 8 cruisers accompanied by destroyers.

Then, just before 7am, lookouts on the escort carriers saw the masts and fighting-tops of Japanese battleships and cruisers appear above the northern horizon. A minute later heavy shells began falling near Taffy Three.

The surprise was complete. Taffy Three was in a desperate situation, facing an exceptionally powerful force which also had a great superiority in speed over the escort carriers, while the only ships which Clifton Sprague had available to protect his flattops were the three destroyers and four destroyer escorts of his screen.

At 0657 Sprague had turned his carriers due east, begun working them up to their maximum speed of seventeen-and-a-half knots, ordered all his ships to lay smoke, and started to launch every available aircraft. At 0701 he issued a contact report and a call for assistance from anyone able to give it.

Japanese lookouts had sighted the escort carriers at 0644 when Kurita's ships were deploying from column into a circular anti-aircraft disposition.

Admiral Kurita then ordered "General Attack," permitting his ships' commanding officers to deploy against the US ships on their own inititative and without referring to the flagship. This was to mean that he lost control of the battle, and his giving such an order when his force was already engaged in redeployment caused immense confusion within the Japanese formation.

Shortly after the battle began Taffy Three's carriers entered a rain squall which protected them for about fifteen minutes and enabled Sprague to bring them around to the south-west - i.e. towards Leyte Gulf and the rest of Seventh Fleet.

At 0716 Sprague ordered his three Fletcher-class destroyers - Hoel, Heermann and Johnston - to counter-attack the Japanese formation. This they did with remarkable heroism and tenacity. They unflinchingly took on the battleships and cruisers, engaging these heavy ships with their 5-inch guns as well as their torpedoes.

At about 0750 the American destroyer escorts with equal heroism joined the counter-attack. At 0754 the vast battleship Yamato, now serving as Kurita's flagship after the sinking of Atago on 23 October, was forced to turn away for ten minutes by torpedoes from the American destroyers and was never able to get back into the action.

A very confused struggle by the DDs and DEs against the Japanese force continued for over two hours. By 0945 the Hoel and Johnston, and the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts, had been sunk by Japanese gunfire. At least one torpedo hit was made on Kurita's ships, and probably more, but what was of much greater importance was that the Japanese heavy ships had been forced into repeated evasive action and that this had slowed their advance, caused increasing confusion in the already badly disorganised Japanese formation, and deprived Kurita of any chance of regaining effective control of his force.

While the small ships of Clifton Sprague's screen were conducting these desperate counter-attacks the Japanese ships were also subjected to incessant assaults by aircraft from the three Taffies. Many of these attacks were carried out by aircraft armed with weapons intended for ground support and quite unsuited for attack on large warships, and many others were dummy attacks by unarmed aircraft.

Nonetheless, with the weapons available to them, the aircraft succeeded in sinking three heavy cruisers and damaging several other ships. These air attacks also played a vital role in support of the destroyers and DEs in distracting the enemy ships from the escort carriers, forcing them into evasive manoevres, and disorganizing the Japanese formation.

Despite all these heroic efforts the escort carrier Gambier Bay was eventually hit repeatedly by 8-inch gunfire, was crippled, and sank at 0907.

But then, entirely unexpectedly, and although his cruisers and destroyers were now on the verge of annihilating Taffy Three, Kurita at 0911 ordered his ships to break off action.

As Clifton Sprague later recalled -

"At 0925 my mind was occupied with dodging torpedoes when I heard one of the signalmen yell 'Goddamit, boys, they're getting away!' I could not believe my eyes, but it looked as if the whole Japanese fleet was indeed retiring. However, it took a whole series of reports from circling planes to convince me. And still I could not get the fact to soak into my battle-numbed brain. At best, I had expected to be swimming by this time."

While Taffy Three was fighting Kurita's ships, Taffy One was being subjected to the first organized kamikaze attack of the war. Later that morning Taffy Three itself was attacked by kamikazes. At about 1100 the escort carrier St. Lo was crashed by a Zero which caused a series of explosions, and she sank at 1125. Four more of the Seventh Fleet's escort carriers were damaged by kamikaze attack during 25 October.

Meanwhile, far to the north, Third Fleet was attacking the Japanese decoy force in the Battle off Cape Engano.

The Battle of Cape Engano

During the run northward the ships which were to make up Task Force 34 were detached from the carrier groups and Task Force 34 was officially formed at 0240 October 25, with Vice Admiral Lee as Officer in Tactical Command. This force swept northwards in the van of the carrier groups. Halsey's intention was that they would follow up with gunfire the carriers' attacks on Ozawa's ships.

At 0430 Mitscher ordered his carriers to begin arming their first deckloads and to be ready to launch aircraft at first light. He in fact launched his first attack groups, 180 aircraft in all, before the Northern Force had been located, and had them orbitting ahead of his carrier force while he was waiting for the first contact reports to come in from his search aircraft.

The first contact came at 0710. At 0800 Third Fleet's attacks on Ozawa began, meeting little opposition. Task Force 38's air strikes continued until the evening, by which time Mitscher's aircraft had flown 527 sorties against the Northern Force, had sunk Ozawa's flagship Zuikaku (last survivor of the six carriers which had launched the attack on Pearl Harbor) and two of the three light carriers, crippled the remaining light carrier, and sunk a destroyer, aswell as damaging other ships.

Meanwhile, at 0822 when Mitscher's second strike was approaching the Northern Force Halsey in New Jersey received an urgent signal in plain language from Kinkaid saying that the Seventh Fleet escort carriers were under attack off Samar and that assistance from Third Fleet's heavy ships was desperately needed. This was the first of a succession of pleas for help received by Halsey, which he ignored and continued to ignore for nearly three hours, despite their including an alarming report that the Seventh Fleet battleships were low on ammunition. Halsey continued to have Task Force 34 race to the north, while the men of Taffy Three were fighting for their lives and the Leyte invasion itself was being placed in jeopardy.

At 1000 the Third Fleet Commander received a message from Admiral Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet and Halsey's immediate superior. The message, as handed to Admiral Halsey, read -


This message, indicating that Nimitz was alarmed about the safety of the Seventh Fleet and considered that the Third Fleet battleships should be in action off Samar, eventually persuaded Halsey to turn Task Force 34 around and send it south again. Rear Admiral Bogan's carrier group was also pulled out of the attack on Ozawa's force and sent south to provide air cover and support for Lee's force.

When Lee's battleships were pulled out at 1115 they were almost within gunfire range of the Japanese Northern Force.

Ironically it was by this time too late - if Halsey had turned Lee's force around when he first received Kinkaid's call for assistance the battleships and the cruisers (although not the destroyers which were low on fuel, but might in the circumstances have been left behind) could have arrived off San Bernadino Strait in time to cut off Kurita's withdrawal. As it was, Kurita's force, still containing four battleships and five heavy cruisers, had escaped through the Strait before the Third Fleet's heavy ships arrived there. All Task Force 34 could then accomplish was to sink the straggling Japanese destroyer Nowaki.

In any event, even if Task Force 34 had been turned southwards immediately after 0822, it would have arrived too late to have given any assistance to the ships of Taffy Three, other than in picking up survivors.

When the bulk of Task Force 34 was pulled out of the attack on Ozawa four of its cruisers and nine destroyers were detached under the command of Rear Admiral DuBose to proceed northward with the carriers. At 1415 Mitscher ordered DuBose to pursue Ozawa's ships. His cruisers sank the carrier Chiyoda at around 1700 and the American surface force at 2059 sank the destroyer Hatsuzuki after a stubborn fight.

At about 2310 the US submarine Jallao torpedoed and sank the light cruiser Tama of Ozawa's force. This was the end of the Battle off Cape Engano, and - apart from some final air strikes on the retreating Japanese forces on 26 October - the end of the Battle for Leyte Gulf.

The US had lost one light carrier and two escort carriers, two destroyers and a destroyer escort.

Between 23 and 26 October the Imperial Navy had lost one large carrier (the Zuikaku), three light carriers, three battleships including the giant Musashi, six heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, and twelve destroyers.

Major-General J.F.C. Fuller, in his book "The Decisive Battles of the Western World," writes of this outcome -

"The Japanese fleet had [effectively] ceased to exist, and, except by land-based aircraft, their opponents had won undisputed command of the sea. When Admiral Ozawa was questioned on the battle after the war he replied 'After this battle the surface forces became strictly auxiliary, so that we relied on land forces, special [Kamikaze] attack, and air power . . there was no further use assigned to surface vessels, with the exception of some special ships.' And Admiral Yonai, the Navy Minister, said that he realised that the defeat at Leyte 'was tantamount to the loss of the Philippines.'

Watch the video: Δεκεμβριανά 1944 (December 2021).

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