This was the Japanese defence plan within ‘Sho’ for the Philippine islands group, leading to the Battle of Leyte Gulf (July/August 1944).
Of the various defence sectors envisaged in the ‘Sho’ overall defence plan, it was this which the Japanese thought most likely to receive a direct US assault during 1944, so the Japanese believed that it was essential for the assault to be defeated, inflicting on the US forces the number of casualties as heavy as that which the Japanese themselves were prepared to accept. Only thus, the Japanese believed, would the momentum of the US advance be checked and uninterrupted maritime communications maintained between Japan and the Netherlands East Indies and Malaya, whence the Japanese war effort derived almost all its fuel and also a number other vital raw materials.
Should the US forces gain control of the Philippine islands group, the Japanese realised that their navy might be isolated either in the north without fuel, or in the south without ammunition and replacements. There were thus compelling strategic reasons for the retention of the Philippine islands group, and in this area the Japanese thought that they had an operational ‘ace’ in the fact that for the first time in the Pacific war the US forces would be operating with only carrierborne air power in a region where the Japanese could deploy massively superior land-based air power at short range.
In simple terms, therefore, the object of ‘Sho 1’ was to use land-based air power to neutralise the carrierborne air power of any US invasion force as it closed the Philippine islands group, and so permit Admiral Soemu Toyoda’s Combined Fleet, despite the tactical and operational weakening it had suffered through its losses in the Battle of the Philippine Sea during the failed ‘A’ offensive, to destroy the invasion force without hindrance from US aircraft.
The task of neutralising US carrier air power was entrusted to the Japanese navy’s 1st Air Fleet and 2nd Air Fleet (the former based in the Philippines under Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi, and the latter training in the Japanese home islands under Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukutome until moved to the Philippine islands group on the implementation of ‘Sho 1’ to link with the 1st Air Fleet as Fukutome’s 1st Combined Base Air Force) supported by the Japanese army’s 4th Air Army (Lieutenant General Maso Yamase’s 2nd Air Division and Lieutenant General Bin Kinoshita’s 4th Air Division) under the command of Lieutenant General Kumaichi Teramoto.
The Japanese appreciated that the Combined Fleet might be unable to prevent the US landings, and so based General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s 14th Area Army in the islands. The Japanese were generally short of shipping, and Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, commanding the entire ‘Southern Resources Area’ from Saigon, ordered Yamashita to concentrate on the defence of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines group. Yamashita assumed command on 6 October, and decided to use Lieutenant General Shizuo Yokoyama’s 8th Division, Lieutenant General Yoshitake Muraoka’s 103rd Division and Lieutenant General Yoshitake Tsuda’s 105th Division as well as Major General Tetsuzo Suzuki’s 55th Independent Mixed Brigade and Major General Bunzo Sato’s 58th Independent Mixed Brigade for the defence of Luzon. For the central and southern islands, which were of secondary importance, he allocated Lieutenant General Sasuku Suzuki’s 35th Army with Lieutenant General Makino Spiro’s 16th Division on Leyte, Lieutenant General Gyosaku Morozumi’s 30th Division defending Davao in southern Mindanao, Lieutenant General Jiro Harada’s 100th Division in central and northern Mindanao, and Lieutenant General Shinpei Fukuei’s 102nd Division and one independent mixed brigade on Panay, Negros and Cebu islands. As a central reserve Yamashita had Lieutenant General Yoshiharu Iwanaka’s 2nd Armoured Division (promised but still in Manchukuo), Lieutenant General Tadasu Kataoka’s 1st Division (promised but still in Shanghai) and Lieutenant General Tsuyuo Yamagata’s 26th Division. Later in the year Yamashita was reinforced by Lieutenant General Rikichi Tsukada’s 10th Division from Formosa and Lieutenant General Fukutaro Nishiyama’s 23rd Division from Manchukuo.
The 2nd Air Division and 4th Air Division had eight air regiments between them, and the 4th Air Army had also been allocated the 30th Fighter Group from Japan with 10 air regiments. The army also controlled the four air regiments of Lieutenant General Einosuke Sudo’s 7th Air Division on Celebes island, and it was planned to fly in another 13 air regiments (from Malaya, Indo-China, Formosa, China and Japan) to produce a total of 34 air regiments.
Thus was set the scene for the climactic campaign for the Philippine islands group, which resulted in the Japanese loss of the islands and also in the largest naval battle the world has ever seen, the four-part Battle of Leyte Gulf (24/25 October 1944).
The naval element, with which the ‘Sho 1’ plan was directly concerned, dictated that Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s Mobile Force (including Japan’s four surviving aircraft carriers stripped of most of their aircraft and aircrews) should move south and then turn back to the north, so luring Admiral William F. Halsey’s 3rd Fleet away from the expected US landings, whereupon these latter, deprived of much of the 3rd Fleet’s air power, would be attacked from the west by three other Japanese forces, which would comprise only surface ships but no aircraft carriers. The plan was likely to result in the destruction of one or more of the Japanese forces, but Toyoda later justified it with the assertion that should Japan lose the Philippine islands group, even an intact fleet would have been useless: as noted above, if it pulled back to Japan it would have been left bereft of fuel, while a retreat to southern waters would have isolated it from resupplies of ammunition and other vital supplies.
On 1 August Toyoda ordered the start of practical readiness for ‘Sho-1’. To protect the inner defensive perimeter, land-based air forces were stationed in the Philippine islands group and on Formosa, the battle fleet was concentrated in Brunei Bay, near the oil resources on which it was dependent, the carrier force was in the Inland Sea, and the submarine forces were on standby for reconnaissance, transport and attack missions.
Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Miwa’s 6th Fleet, based on the submarine tender Tsukushi Maru, had available Miwa’s own 1st Submarine Force 1 with which to tackle any US naval forces attempting to penetrate the defensive line. At Truk, Rear Admiral Noboru Owada’s 7th Submarine Squadron had available Ro-113 and Ro-115 for defence and transport operations, and there was also the Ulithi Attack Group with I-36, I-37 and I-47.
‘Sho 1’ began tentatively on 15 September, when the US ‘Tradewind’ and ‘Stalemate II’ assaults on Morotai and Peleliu islands confirmed Terauchi in his belief that the US invasion of the Philippine islands group was imminent and that he should therefore forward to the islands all the designated reinforcements. The proximate trigger for the implementation of ‘Sho 1’, however, was the attack undertaken against Japanese air strength in the Ryukyu islands, Formosa and Luzon by the 15 fast carriers of the 3rd Fleet. During this operation, which lasted from 10 to 17 October, the Americans lost a mere 26 aircraft and suffered comparatively insignificant damage to two cruisers, whereas the Japanese admitted to the loss of 320 aircraft while also claiming, wholly erroneously, that they had sunk two battleships and 11 aircraft carriers.
This overclaim by Japanese land-based air units persuaded the Imperial General Headquarters to alter the parameters of ‘Sho 1’. All Japanese land-based aircraft were ordered to implement their part of the operation immediately, and the 350 aircraft of the 2nd Air Fleet (together with the 150 carrier aircraft of the 3rd Carrier Squadron and 4th Carrier Squadron withdrawn from Ozawa’s Mobile Force) were sent to Formosa rather than Luzon, being forwarded to Luzon only on 18 October, the date by which Vice Admiral Kinpei Teraoka’s (from 20 October Onishi’s) 1st Air Fleet had been reduced to some 100 aircraft. And on Luzon a reluctant Yamashita was ordered to fight the decisive land battle on Leyte rather than on Luzon.
In fact only two days after the start of the US ‘King II’ invasion of Leyte on 20 October did Yamashita start to obey this order to make a complete change in his operational planning, ordering Suzuki to concentrate his 35th Army on Leyte even though it was already too late to affect the outcome of the land battle.
Meanwhile Toyoda launched the naval side of ‘Sho 1’ in all its bewildering and ultimately self-defeating complexity on 17 October, with the constituent forces coming under the control of Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa’s South-West Area Fleet as they approached the Philippine islands group. The naval portion of ‘Sho 1’ called for a four-element descent on the US invasion fleet off Leyte. Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s 5th Fleet was ordered to sail from Singapore and other points before concentrating and refuelling in Brunei Bay and then dividing into two parts before approaching the US forces via the Sibuyan Sea and San Bernardino Strait (Kurita’s Force ‘A’ and Force ‘B’, otherwise the 1st Strike Force, Centre Force) or the Surigao Strait (Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura’s Force ‘C’, otherwise the 2nd Strike Force, Southern Force). Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima’s detachment, the 2nd Strike Force, Northern Force, was ordered to sail from the Ryukyu islands group via the Pescadores islands group to join the Southern Force in the attack through the Surigao Strait. And Ozawa’s Mobile Force, Strike Force was ordered to sail from the Inland Sea in the Japanese home islands as a decoy for Halsey’s main offensive formation, namely the nine fleet carriers and eight light carriers of Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher’s Task Force 38.
Toyoda planned that with Halsey and Mitscher lured away to the north by the lure of Ozawa’s aircraft carriers, the other three Japanese forces could fall on Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid’s 7th Fleet, the US invasion force, off Leyte island and, unhindered by aircraft from TF38’s carriers, destroy its amphibious vessels with gunfire and torpedoes.
The forces involved on each side were prodigious, fully vindicating the description of the Battle of Leyte Gulf as the world’s greatest sea battle in numerical as well as strategic terms. On the Japanese side, Kurita’s Force ‘A’ and Force ‘B’ (1st Strike Force, Centre Force) comprised the super-battleships Yamato and Musashi, and battleship Nagato of Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki’s Battleship Division 1, battleships Kongo and Haruna of Vice Admiral Yoshio Suzuki’s Battleship Division 3, heavy cruisers Atago, Takao, Chokai and Maya of Kurita’s Cruiser Division 4, heavy cruisers Myoko and Haguro of Rear Admiral Shintaro Hashimoto’s Cruiser Division 5, heavy cruisers Kumano, Suzuya, Chikuma and Tone of Vice Admiral Kazutaka Shiraishi’s Cruiser Division 7, light cruiser Noshiro and fleet destroyers Shimakaze, Hayashimo, Akishimo, Kishinami, Okinami, Naganami, Asashimo, Hamanami and Fujinami of Rear Admiral Mikio Hayakawa’s Destroyer Squadron 2, and light cruiser Yahagi and fleet destroyers of Rear Admiral Susumu Kimura’s Destroyer Squadron 10.
Nishimura’s Force ‘C’ (1st Strike Force, Southern Force) was also powerful, comprising the battleships Yamashiro and Fuso, and heavy cruiser Mogami of Nishimura’s Battleship Division 2 and fleet destroyers Michishio, Asagumo, Yamagumo and Shigure of Destroyer Division 4, supplemented by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima’s Northern Force of Mikawa’s South-West Area Force, namely the heavy cruisers Nachi and Ashigara of Shima’s Cruiser Division 21, and light cruiser Abukuma and fleet destroyers Akebono, Ushio, Kasumi, Shiranuhi, Wakaba, Hatsushimo and Hatsuhara of Kimura’s Destroyer Squadron 1.
The South-West Area Force also contributed Vice Admiral Naomasa Sakonju’s Transport Force with the heavy cruiser Aoba, light cruiser Kinu, destroyer Uranami, fast attack transport T-6, and landing ships T-101, T-102 and T-131.
And to complete the Japanese offensive disposition there was Ozawa’s Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force of Toyoda’s Combined Fleet, comprising the fleet carrier Zuikaku, and light carriers Zuiho, Chitose and Chiyoda of Ozawa’s Carrier Division 3 , hybrid battleship/carriers Ise and Hyuga of Rear Admiral Chiaki Matsuda’s Carrier Division 4, destroyers Hatsutsuki, Akitsuki, Wakatsuki and Shimotsuki, light cruiser Isuzu and destroyers Maki, Kiri, Kuwa and Sugi of Rear Admiral Heitaro Edo’s Escort Squadron 31, Oyoda, Tama and Isuzu, and light cruisers Oyodo and Tama. The aircraft strength of the Mobile Force was only 116 machines (80 Mitsubishi A6M Reisen ‘Zero’ fighters, 25 Nakajima B6N ‘Jill’ level and torpedo bombers, four Nakajima B5N ‘Kate’ level and torpedo bombers, and seven Yokosuka D4Y ‘Judy’ dive-bombers) on the four carriers, while the hybrid battleship/carriers had no aircraft.
Also part of the Japanese force was the Mobile Force Supply Unit with the destroyer Akikaze, six ‘Type D’ escort vessels (CD-22, CD-29, CD-31, CD-33, CD-43 and CD-132) and two oilers (Jinei Maru and Takane Maru).
If the Japanese line-up of 68 larger warships (although with only 116 aircraft) was impressive, that of the Americans was doubly so, as they were in the position to commit 275 ships and 1,500 aircraft as the surface and air elements of two fleets.
Around Leyte for the escort and protection of the invasion forces was Kinkaid’s 7th Fleet which, apart from 600 or more vessels in the 3rd and 7th Amphibious Forces (Task Forces 79 and 78 respectively), had the Task Force 77 headquarters ship Wasatch escorted by the light cruiser Nashville and fleet destroyers Ammen, Mullany, Abner Read and Bush, and Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague’s 7th Fleet Escort Carrier Group (Task Group 77.4) with three task units each comprising six escort carriers and seven or eight fleet destroyers and/or destroyer escorts.
Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague’s TU77.4.1 (‘Taffy 1’) comprised the escort carriers Sangamon with Air Group 37 (17 Grumman F6F-3/7 Hellcat fighter-bombers and nine General Motors TBM-1C Avenger level and torpedo bombers), Suwannee with Air Group 60 (22 F6F-3 and nine TBM-1C aircraft), Chenango with Air Group 35 (22 F6F-3 and nine TMB-1C aircraft) and Santee with Air Group 26 (24 General Motors FM-2 Wildcat fighter-bombers and nine TBF/TBM-1C bombers) as well as Rear Admiral George R. Henderson’s Carrier Division 28 with Saginaw Bay carrying one squadron of 15 FM-2 fighter-bombers and 12 TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers and Petrof Bay carrying one squadron of 16 FM-2 fighter-bombers and 10 TBM-1C bombers. There were also the destroyers McCord, Trathen and Hazelwood, and the destroyer escorts Edmonds, Richard S. Bull, Richard M. Rowell, Eversole and Coolbaugh.
Rear Admiral Felix B. Stump’s TU77.4.2 (‘Taffy 2’) comprised the escort carriers Natoma Bay with one squadron of 16 FM-2 and 12 TBM-1C aircraft and Manila Bay with one squadron of 16 FM-2 and 12 TBM-1C aircraft, as well as Rear Admiral William D. Sample’s Carrier Division 27 comprising Marcus Island with one squadron of 12 FM-2 and 11 TBM-1C aircraft, Kadashan Bay with one squadron of 15 FM-2 and 11 TBM-1C aircraft, Savo island with one squadron of 16 FM-2 and 12 TBM-1C aircraft and Ommaney Bay with one squadron of 16 FM-2 and 11 TBM-1C aircraft. There were also the destroyers Haggard, Franks and Hailey, and the destroyer escorts Richard W. Suesens, Abercrombie, Oberrender, LeRay Wilson and Walter C. Wann.
Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague’s TU77.4.3 (‘Taffy 3’) comprised the escort carriers Fanshaw Bay with one squadron of 16 FM-2 and 12 TBM-1C aircraft, St Lo with one squadron of 17 FM-2 and 12 TBM-1C aircraft, White Plains with one squadron of 16 FM-2 and 12 TBM-1C aircraft, Kalinin Bay with one squadron of 16 FM-2 and 12 TBF/TBM-1C aircraft, and Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie’s Carrier Division 26 with Kitkun Bay with one squadron of 14 FM-2 and 12 TBM-1C aircraft, and Gambier Bay with one squadron of 18 FM-2 and 12 TBM-1C aircraft. There were also the destroyers Hoel, Heermann and Johnston, and the destroyer escorts Dennis, John C. Butler, Raymond and Samuel B. Roberts.
TG77.4 thus carried a total of 503 aircraft (304 fighters and 199 attack aircraft). Being slow and essentially unarmoured, and carrying aircraft optimised for the close-support of ground forces rather than attacks on warships, the escort carriers stood little chance in an encounter with any warships more heavily armed and armoured than themselves.
Also part of the 7th Fleet was Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf’s Battle Line (TG77.2) centred on six old battleships (including five reconstructed after Pearl Harbor) in the form of Mississippi, Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee, California and Pennsylvania. The first three of these constituted the core of Rear Admiral George R. Weyler’s Fire-Support Unit North in company with the destroyers Cony, Aulick and Sigourney. The second three of the battleships constituted the core of Rear Admiral Theodore E. Chandler’s Fire-Support Unit South in company with the heavy cruisers Louisville, Portland and Minneapolis of Oldendorf’s own Cruiser Division 4, light cruiser Honolulu of Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth’s Cruiser Division 9, light cruisers Denver and Columbia of Rear Admiral Robert W. Hayler’s Cruiser Division 12, and destroyers Leutze, Newcomb, Bennion, Heywood L. Edwards and Richard P. Leary of Destroyer Squadron 56, and Robinson, Ross, Albert W. Grant, Bryant, Halford, Claxton, Thorn and Welles.
Associated with the activities of the Battle Line was Task Group 70.1 (Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons 7th Fleet) with the small seaplane tenders Oyster Bay, Wachapreague and Willoughby serving as motherships for 39 PT-boats deployed in 13 sections.
While the 7th Fleet came under the operational control of General Douglas MacArthur’s South-West Pacific Area command as it supported the ‘King II’ landing of Lieutenant General Walter C. Krueger’s 6th Army, the primary offensive capability of the US Navy in the area of the Philippine islands group was the 3rd Fleet under the command of Halsey in New Jersey, whose major offensive component was Mitscher’s TF38, otherwise the Fast Carrier Task Force.
In the Battle of Leyte Gulf, TF38 was only at three-quarter strength as Vice Admiral John S. McCain’s TG38.1 was on its way to the advanced fleet base at Ulithi atoll to refuel and resupply its fleet carriers Wasp and Hornet, light carriers Monterey and Cowpens, heavy cruisers Wichita (Cruiser Division 6), Boston (Cruiser Division 5), and Chester, Pensacola and Salt Lake City (Cruiser Division 5), and destroyers Izard, Charrette, Conner, Bell and Burns (Destroyer Squadron 46), Cogswell, Caperton, Ingersoll and Knapp (Destroyer Division 100), Boyd and Cowell (Destroyer Squadron 92), McCalla, Grayson, Brown and Woodworth (Destroyer Squadron 12), and Dunlap, Fanning, Case, Cummings, Cassin and Downes (Destroyer Division 4).
For the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Halsey and Mitscher thus deployed Rear Admiral Gerald F. Bogan’s TG38.2 (three fleet carriers, two light carriers, two battleships, four light cruisers and 18 destroyers) off San Bernardino Strait, Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman’s TG38.3 (two fleet carriers, two light carriers, four battleships, four light cruisers and 14 destroyers) off Luzon, and Rear Admiral Ralph E. Davison’s TG38.4 (two fleet carriers, two light carriers, one heavy cruiser, one light cruiser and 11 destroyers) off Leyte.
TG38.2 was centred on the fleet carriers Intrepid with a three-squadron air group flying 44 F6F-3/5 Hellcat fighter-bombers, night fighters and reconnaissance aircraft, 28 Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver dive-bombers and 18 TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers, Hancock with a three-squadron air group flying 41 F6F-5 fighter-bombers and night fighters, 42 SB2C-3 dive-bombers and 18 TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers, and Bunker Hill with a three-squadron air group flying 49 F6F-3/5 Hellcat fighter-bombers, night fighters and reconnaissance aircraft, 24 SB2C-3 dive-bombers and 20 TBM-1 level and torpedo bombers; the light carriers Cowpens with a two-squadron air group flying 21 F6F-3/5 fighter-bombers and nine TBF/TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers, and Independence with a two-squadron night air group flying 19 F6F-3/5 fighter-bombers and eight TBM-1D bombers.
Heavy cover for the aircraft carriers was provided by Rear Admiral Oscar C. Badger’s Battleship Division 7 with the modern battleships Iowa and New Jersey, and Rear Admiral Francis E. M. Whiting’s Cruiser Division 14 with the light cruisers Vincennes and Miami and the light anti-aircraft cruisers San Diego and Oakland, while the task group’s screen was provided by the destroyers Miller, The Sullivans, Stephen Potter and Tingey of Destroyer Division 52, Hickox, Hunt, Lewis Hancock and Marshall of Destroyer Squadron 104, Halsey Powell, Cushing, Colahan, Uhlmann and Benham of Destroyer Division 50, and Stockham, Wedderburn, Twining and Yarnall of Destroyer Division 106.
TG38.3 was centred on the fleet carriers Essex with a three-squadron air group flying 52 F6F-3/5 Hellcat fighter-bombers, night fighters and reconnaissance aircraft, 25 SB2C-3 dive-bombers and 20 TBF/TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers, and Lexington with a three-squadron air group flying 41 F6F-3/5 Hellcat fighter-bombers, night fighters and reconnaissance aircraft, 30 SB2C-3 dive-bombers and 18 TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers, and the light carriers Princeton with a two-squadron air group flying 25 F6F-3/5 fighter-bombers and nine TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers, and Langley with a two-squadron air group flying 25 F6F-3/5 fighter-bombers and nine TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers.
Heavy support was provided by Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee’s Battleships, Pacific Fleet, with the battleships Washington, Massachusetts of Rear Admiral Glenn B. Davis’s Battleship Division 8, South Dakota and Alabama of Rear Admiral Edward W. Hanson’s Battleship Division 9, and the light cruisers Santa Fe, Mobile and Birmingham and light anti-aircraft cruiser Reno of Rear Admiral Lawrance T. DuBose’s Carrier Division 13, while the task group was screened by the destroyers Clarence K. Bronson, Cotten, Dortch and Healy of Destroyer Squadron 50, Porterfield, Callaghan, Cassin Young, Irwin and Preston of Destroyer Division 55, and Laws, Longshaw, Morrison and Pritchett of Destroyer Division 110.
TG38.4 was centred on the fleet carriers Franklin with a three-squadron air group flying 39 F6F-3/5 fighter-bombers, night fighters and reconnaissance aircraft, 31 SB2C-3 dive-bombers and 18 TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers, and Enterprise with a three-squadron air group flying 40 F6F-3/5 fighter-bombers and night fighters, 34 SB2C-3 dive-bombers and 19 TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers, and the light carriers San Jacinto with a two-squadron air group flying 29 F6F-3/5 fighter-bombers and five TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers, and Belleau Wood with a two-squadron air group flying 26 F6F-5 fighter-bombers and reconnaissance aircraft, and nine TBM-1C level and torpedo bombers.
Support was provided by the heavy cruiser New Orleans and light cruiser Biloxi, and the task group was screened by the destroyers Gridley, Helm and McCall of Destroyer Squadron 6, Mugford, Bagley, Patterson and Ralph Talbot of Destroyer Division 12, and Wilkes, Nicholson and Swanson of Destroyer Division 24.
Mitscher’s carriers thus carried 835 aircraft, and there were also a number of other elements constituting the 3rd Fleet 2.
Submarine reconnaissance and attack were the responsibility of Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood’s TF17 (Supporting Submarines, Pacific Fleet) with Tang, Sterlet, Barbel and Snook, ‘Clarey’s Crushers’ (Pintado, Jallao and Atule), ‘Roach’s Raiders’ (Haddock, Halibut and Tuna), ‘Banister’s Beagles’ (Sawfish, Drum and Icefish), ‘Blakely’s Behemoths’ (Shark, Blackfish and Seadragon), ‘Coye’s Coyotes’ (Silversides, Salmon and Trigger), and ‘Wogan’s Wolves’ (Besugo, Ronquil and Gabilan).
As it sortied from its base in Brunei Bay, Kurita’s 1st Strike Force, Centre Force comprised the battleships Yamato, Musashi, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna, heavy cruisers Atago, Maya, Takao, Chokai, Myoko, Haguro, Kumano, Suzuya, Tone and Chikuma, light cruisers Noshiro and Yahagi and 15 destroyers.
As the ships passed the island of Palawan at about 24.00 on 22/23 October, the US submarines Darter and Dace were positioned together on the surface close by the Japanese ships’ track. At 00.16 on 23 October, Darter’s radar detected the Japanese formation at a range of 30,000 yards (27430 m), and her captain soon established visual contact. The two submarines quickly moved off in pursuit, and Darter radioed the first of three contact reports. At least one of these was detected by a radio operator on Yamato, but Kurita failed to take appropriate anti-submarine precautions. Darter and Dace travelled on the surface at full power for several hours and thus managed to gain a position ahead of Kurita’s formation with the object of making a submerged attack at first light. This attack was very successful: at 05.24 Darter fired a spread of six torpedoes, at least four of which hit Kurita’s flagship, the heavy cruiser Atago; 10 minutes later Darter secured two hits on Takao, Atago’s sister ship, with another spread of torpedoes; and at 05.56 Dace hit the heavy cruiser Maya, sister ship of Atago and Takao, with four torpedoes. Atago and Maya quickly sank, and Takao turned back toward Brunei, escorted by two destroyers, with the two US submarines following. On 24 October, however, as the submarines continued to shadow the damaged cruiser, Darter ran aground on the Bombay Shoal, and after all efforts to get it off the shoal failed, the boat was abandoned, its entire crew being rescued by Dace.
Takao eventually returned to Singapore, where she was joined in January 1945 by Myoko.
Meanwhile, in the Palawan Passage, Atago sank so rapidly that Kurita was forced to swim for his survival before being rescued by one of the Japanese destroyers. Kurita then transferred to the battleship Yamato.
At about 08.00 on 24 October, the 1st Strike Force, Centre Force was sighted as it entered the Sibuyan Sea and was attacked by the F6F-5 fighters, SB2C-3 dive-bombers and TBM-1C torpedo bombers of Enterprise’s air group. Despite its great strength, Halsey’s 3rd Fleet was not well-placed to deal with the emerging Japanese threat. On 22 October, Halsey had detached two of his carrier groups to the fleet base at Ulithi to provision and rearm. When Darter’s contact report was received, Halsey recalled Davison’s TG38.4 but allowed the strongest of TF38’s groups, McCain’s TG38.1, to continue its passage to Ulithi. Halsey finally recalled TG38.1 on 24 October, but the delay meant the most powerful of the US carrier groups could play but little part in the coming battle, and the 3rd Fleet was thereby effectively deprived of nearly 40% of its air strength for most of the engagement. On the morning of 24 October, therefore, only three groups were available to strike Kurita’s force, and that best positioned to do so, Bogan’s TG38.2, happened to be the weakest of the three as it currently comprised only one fleet carrier in the form of Intrepid and two light carriers in the form of Cowpens and Independence. Halsey’s failure to issue a prompt order to TG38.1 on 23 October, it should be noted, also effectively deprived the 3rd Fleet of four of its six heavy cruisers right through the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Warplanes from Intrepid and Cowpens of TG38.2 attacked at about 10.30, securing hits on the battleships Nagato, Yamato and Musashi, and severely damaging the heavy cruiser Myoko. A second wave from Intrepid, Essex and Lexington attacked later, and SB2C and F6F aircraft scored another 10 hits on Musashi. As the badly damaged super-battleship withdrew, listing to port, a third wave of aircraft from Enterprise and Franklin hit her with another 11 bombs and eight torpedoes.
Kurita reversed course in the Sibuyan Sea, between Luzon, Mindoro, Panay and Samar, in order to fall back out of the range of the US carrierborne aircraft, passing the crippled Musashi as his force retreated. Kurita waited until 17.15 before resuming his original course and made once more for the San Bernardino Strait between the south-eastern tip of Luzon and north-western tip of Samar islands. After being struck by at least 17 bombs and 19 torpedoes, Musashi capsized and sank at about 19.30.
Onishi had meanwhile directed three waves of aircraft from his 1st Air Fleet from bases on Luzon against the carriers of Sherman’s TG38.3, whose aircraft were also being used to attack airfields on Luzon to prevent Japanese land-based air attacks on Allied shipping in Leyte Gulf. Each of the three attack waves comprised some 50 to 60 aircraft. Most of the Japanese aircraft were intercepted and either shot down or driven off by F6F fighters of TG38.1’s combat air patrol, most notably by two fighter sections from Essex led by Commander David McCampbell, who shot down nine aircraft in this action. However, one D4Y3 ‘Judy’ slipped through the aerial defence and at 09.38 hit the light carrier Princeton with a 551-lb (250-kg) armour-piercing bomb. The resulting detonation caused a severe fire on the carrier’s hangar deck and her emergency sprinkler system failed to operate. The fire spread rapidly, and there followed a number of secondary explosions before the fire was gradually brought under control, but at 15.23 there was a very large explosion, probably in the after bomb stowage, causing more casualties aboard Princeton, and even heavier casualties (233 dead and 426 wounded) aboard the light cruiser Birmingham, which was coming back alongside to assist with the firefighting. Birmingham was so badly damaged, indeed, that she had to retire. Another light cruiser and two destroyers were also damaged. All efforts to save Princeton failed, and after the remaining crew had abandoned the stricken ship, she was sent to the bottom at 17.50 by torpedoes from the light cruiser Reno. Princeton lost 108 men killed, and 1,361 survivors were rescued by nearby ships.
The 3rd Fleet flew 259 sorties, most of them by F6F fighters, against the 1st Strike Force, Centre Force on 24 October, but the total was wholly insufficient to neutralise the threat of Kurita’s force, and in fact compares unfavourably with the 527 sorties flown by the 3rd Fleet against Ozawa’s considerably weaker Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force in the course of the following day. Moreover, a large proportion of the Sibuyan Sea attack was directed against just one ship, Musashi, and while this super-battleship was sunk and the heavy cruiser Myoko was crippled, every other ship in Kurita’s force remained battleworthy and able to advance.
As a result of a momentous decision about to be taken by Halsey, Kurita was able to steam through the San Bernardino Strait during the night in order to debouch unexpectedly off the coast of Samar during the morning of the following day.
After Nishimura’s 1st Strike Force, Southern Force and Kurita’s 1st Strike Force, Centre Force had been detected, but before the carriers of Ozawa’s Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force had been located, Halsey and the 3rd fleet staff aboard the battleship New Jersey prepared a contingency plan to deal with the threat posed by Kurita’s 1st Strike Force, Centre Force. Their intention was to cover the San Bernardino Strait with a powerful task force of fast battleships supported by two of the 3rd Fleet’s high-speed carrier groups. The battleship force was to be designated TF34 and comprise four battleships, five cruisers and 14 destroyers under the command of Lee, while Davison of TG38.4 was to command of the supporting carrier groups.
At 15.12 on 24 October, Halsey sent an ambiguously worded telegraphic radio message to his subordinate task group commanders, giving details of this contingency plan: ‘…Battleship Division 7 (Iowa and New Jersey), Miami, Vincennes, Biloxi, Destroyer Squadron 52 less Stephen Potter, from TG38.2 and Washington, Alabama, Wichita, New Orleans, Destroyer Division 100, Patterson, Bagley from TG38.4 will be formed as Task Force under Vice Admiral Lee, commander Battle Line. TF34 to engage decisively at long range. TG38.4 conduct carriers of TG38.2 and TG38.4 clear of fighting. Instructions for TG38.3 and TG38.1 later.’
Halsey copied this message to Admiral Chester W. Nimitz at the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet in the Hawaiian islands and to Admiral Ernest J. King, the Chief of Naval Operations, in Washington, DC, but not to Kinkaid, commander of the 7th Fleet. Even so, the message was picked up by the 7th Fleet as it was common for radio operators to be told to copy all message traffic they detected regardless of addressee. As Halsey intended TF34 as a contingency task force to be formed and detached when he ordered it, with ‘will be formed’ he meant in the future, but omitted to say when or under which circumstances. This led Kinkaid to the belief that Halsey was speaking in the imperative rather than future tense, and therefore concluded that TF34 had been formed and would take station off the San Bernardino Strait. In Pearl Harbor, Nimitz came to exactly the same conclusion. Halsey then ordered the transmission of a second signal at 17.10 clarifying his intentions for TF34: ‘If the enemy sorties [though the San Bernardino Strait] TF34 Will be formed when directed by me.’
Unfortunately, though, Halsey sent this second message as a voice transmission which was not intercepted by the 7th Fleet, and Halsey did not follow it with a telegraphic message to Nimitz or King. The serious misunderstanding caused by Halsey’s ambiguous wording of his first message and his failure to notify Nimitz, King and Kinkaid of his second clarifying message was to have a major effect on the subsequent course of the battle.
The 3rd Fleet’s aircraft failed to locate Ozawa’s decoy force, the Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force, until 16.40 on 24 October. This was largely because the 3rd Fleet had been preoccupied with attacks on Kurita’s 1st Strike Force, Centre Force and defending itself against the Japanese air attacks from Luzon. Thus the single force which the Japanese wished to be discovered was the only force the Americans had not been able to find. On the evening of 24 October, Ozawa intercepted an erroneous US signal describing Kurita’s withdrawal, and therefore ordered his own force also to withdraw. At 20.00, however, Toyoda ordered all his forces to attack ‘counting on divine assistance’. In an effort to draw the attention of the 3rd Fleet to his decoy force, Ozawa reversed course once again and steamed to the south-west in the direction of Leyte.
Halsey was convinced that the Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force constituted the primary Japanese threat, and was determined to seize what he perceived as the ideal opportunity to destroy Japan’s last remaining carrier strength. Believing that 1st Strike Force, Centre Force had been neutralised by his 3rd Fleet’s air attacks earlier in the day in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, and that this force’s remnants were retiring, Halsey signalled Nimitz and Kinkaid that ‘Central Force heavily damaged according to strike reports. Am proceeding north with three groups to attack carrier forces at dawn.’
The words ‘with three groups’ were highly and indeed dangerously misleading. In the light of Halsey’s intercepted 15.12 signal of 24 October ‘…will be formed as Task Force 34’, Kinkaid and his staff assumed, as did Nimitz, that Lee’s TF34 had now come into existence as a separate entity. Kinkaid and Nimitz therefore assumed that Halsey was leaving this powerful surface force to guard the San Bernardino Strait, and thus cover the 7th Fleet’s northern flank, while he took his three available carrier groups to the north in pursuit of the Japanese carriers. But the ships earmarked for TF34 had not been detached from their parent groups, and Lee’s battleships were in fact on their way to the north with the 3rd Fleet’s carriers: thus Halsey had consciously and deliberately left the San Bernardino Strait totally open with not a single US warship left in this vital passage.
Halsey and his staff ignored information from a night reconnaissance aeroplane launched by the light carrier Independence that Kurita’s 1st Strike Force, Centre Force had reversed course once more and was heading toward the San Bernardino Strait, and that after a long black-out, the navigation lights in the strait had been illuminated. When Bogan, commanding TG38.2, signalled this information to Halsey’s flagship, he was rebuffed by a staff officer who told Bogan that Halsey’s command team already had that information. Lee had correctly deduced that Ozawa’s force was on a decoy mission and indicated this in a signal lamp message to Halsey’s flagship, and was similarly rebuffed. Commodore Arleigh Burke and Commander James H. Flatley of Mitscher’s staff had also come to the same conclusion, and were so concerned that they woke Mitscher, who asked if Halsey had the report. On being told that Halsey did indeed have it, and knowing Halsey’s temperament, Mitscher commented that if Halsey wanted Mitscher’s advice he would ask for it, and then went back to sleep.
Thus the whole available strength of the 3rd Fleet continued to steam to the north, leaving the San Bernardino Strait completely unguarded.
Nishimura’s 1st Strike Force, Southern Force comprised the old but modernised battleships Yamashiro and Fuso, heavy cruiser Mogami and four destroyers, and had departed Brunei after Kurita’s 1st Strike Force, Centre Force at 15.00 on 22 October, making first to the east into the Sulu Sea and then to the north-east past the southern tip of Negros island into the Mindanao Sea. Nishimura then steamed to the north-east with Mindanao island to starboard and into the southern entrance of the Surigao Strait, intending to exit the northern entrance of this strait into Leyte Gulf, where he would add his firepower to that of Kurita’s force in the destruction of the 7th Fleet’s ships supporting the ‘King II’ operation against Leyte island.
Shima’s 2nd Strike Force, Northern Force comprised the heavy cruisers Nachi (flagship) and Ashigara, light cruiser Abukuma and destroyers Akebono, Ushio, Kasumi and Shiranui. This force had steamed almost due south past the western side of Luzon island before altering to the south-east to pass between the main island of the Calamias islands group between Palawan and Mindoro islands, and after passing to the west of Panay and Negros islands had come onto an easterly and then north-easterly course to pass to the south of Bohol island and enter the Surigao Strait behind Nishimura’s force.
The 1st Strike Force, Southern Force was attacked by US Navy bombers on 24 October, but its ships sustained only minor damage. As a result of the strict radio silence imposed on Kurita’s 1st Strike Force, Centre Force and Nishimura’s 1st Strike Force, Southern Force, Nishimura was unable to synchronise the movement of his force with those of Shima and Kurita. Thus, when Nishimura’s 1st Strike Force, Southern Force entered the narrow Surigao Strait at 02.00, Shima’s 2nd Strike Force, Northern Force was almost 30 miles (48 km) behind it, and Kurita’s 1st Strike Force, Centre Force was still in the Sibuyan Sea and therefore several hours’ steaming from the ‘King II’ beaches and lodgement on the eastern side of Leyte island.
As the 1st Strike Force, Southern Force approached the Surigao Strait, it ran into the trap set by the 7th Fleet’s Fire Support Unit South which, under Oldendorf’s command, was a notably powerful force based on the battleships West Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, California and Pennsylvania. Of these all but Mississippi had been sunk or damaged in the Japanese ‘Ai’ attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequently repaired or, in the case of Tennessee, California and West Virginia rebuilt: between the, the US battleships carried 48 14-in (356-mm) and 16 16-in (406-mm) main guns. There were also the 35 8-in (203-mm) guns of the heavy cruisers Louisville (flagship), Portland, Minneapolis and Australian Shropshire and the 54 6-in (152-mm) guns of the light cruisers Denver, Columbia, Phoenix and Boise. Added to this were the 5-in (127-mm) guns and the 21-in (533-mm) torpedoes of 28 destroyers, and the 21-in (533-mm) torpedoes of the 39 PT-boats of Task Group 70.1 (Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons, 7th Fleet). To pass through the strait and fall on the invasion shipping, Nishimura had to run the gauntlet of torpedoes from the PT-boats followed by the gun fire and torpedoes of the large force of destroyers, and then advance under the concentrated fire of the six battleships and their eight flanking cruisers disposed across the northern mouth of the strait.
At 22.36 PT-131, operating off the island of Bohol, first made contact with the approaching Japanese ships and then for more than 210 minutes PT-boats made repeated attacks on Nishimura’s force as it steamed to the north. Although the PT-boats scored no torpedo hits, they sent a stream of contact reports which kept Oldendorf fully informed of the progress of the Japanese force. Though they managed to pass through the gauntlet of PT-boats unscathed, soon after this Nishimura’s ships suffered a major reversal of fortune as they came under attack by the torpedoes of the destroyers of Destroyer Squadrons 24, 54 and 56 disposed on each flank of the Japanese axis of advance. At about 03.00, both Japanese battleships were hit by torpedoes: Yamashiro was able to continue, but Fuso was again torpedoed and in this instance sunk by the destroyer Melvin. Of Nishimura’s four destroyers, Michishio and Yamagumo were sunk at 03.58 and 04.19 respectively, and Asagumo was hit and forced to retire, but sank at 07.21.
At 03.16, West Virginia’s surface-search radar detected the surviving ships of Nishimura’s force at a range of 42,000 yards (38400 m), and the ship had achieved a firing solution at a range of 30,000 yards (27425 m). West Virginia tracked the Japanese ships as they approached in the darkness of the night before, at 03.53, firing the eight 16-in (406-mm) guns of her main battery at a range of 22,800 yards (20850 m), hitting Yamashiro with this first salvo. West Virginia went on to fire a total of 93 shells. At 03.55, California and Tennessee also opened fire, in this instance with their 24 14-in (356-mm) main guns, firing a total of 63 and 69 hells respectively. Their radar fire-control systems made it possible for these US capital ships to hit targets from a distance at which the Japanese battleship, with its inferior fire-control system, could not return fire effectively.
The three other US battleships, all fitted with less advanced gunnery radar, had difficulty arriving at any realistic firing solution. Maryland eventually succeeded in visual ranging on the splashes of the other battleships’ shells, and then fired a total of 48 16-in (406-mm) shells, but Pennsylvania was unable to find a target and did not fire. Mississippi obtained a firing solution only at the end of the battle line action, and then fired just one full salvo of 12 14-in (356-mm) shells. This was the last salvo ever to be fired by a battleship against another heavy ship, and marked the end of the battleship-versus-battleship era of naval history.
Yamashiro and Mogami were crippled by a combination of 16- and 14-in (406- and 356-mm) armour-piercing shells, as well as the fire of Oldendorf’s flanking cruisers. The evidence suggests that the Japanese command had lost its grasp of the tactical picture, for all the Japanese ships fired all their batteries in a number of directions. The destroyer Shigure reversed course and fled, but lost steering and stopped dead. Yamashiro sank at 04.19, with Nishimura on board, and Mogami and Shigure retreated to the south back through the strait and again under PT-boat assault.
Shima’s following 2nd Strike Force, Southern Force had departed Mako and approached the Surigao Strait about 40 miles (64.5 km) behind Nishimura’s 1st Strike Force, Southern Force, and its approach to the Surigao Strait was initially thrown into confusion when its ships nearly ran aground on Panaon island after failing to factor into their navigation the effect of the ebbing tide; moreover, the Japanese radar was almost useless as a result of the large numbers of echoes from area’s many islands and islets. The Japanese radar was also wholly incapable of detecting ships, especially PT-boats, under these conditions, and PT-137 hit the light cruiser Abukuma with a torpedo which crippled her and caused her to fall out of formation. Nachi and Ashigara, Shima’s two heavy cruisers, and eight destroyers next encountered the remnants of Nishimura’s force. Seeing what he thought were the wrecks of both of Nishimura’s battleships, Shima ordered a retreat. His flagship, Nachi, collided with Mogami, flooding the latter’s steering room and causing her to fall behind in the retreat; she was sunk by aircraft during the morning of the day which followed. Of Nishimura’s seven ships, only Shigure survived. Moreover, while Shima’s ships did survive the Battle of Surigao Strait, they were subsequently sunk in further engagements around Leyte, while Shigure survived long enough to escape the debacle, but eventually succumbed to the US submarine Blackfin, which sank her off Kota Bharu, Malaya.
It is noteworthy that the Battle of Surigao Strait was one of only two battleship-versus-battleship naval battles in the entire Pacific campaign of World War II, the other being the naval Battle of Guadalcanal on 14/15 November 1942. It was also the last battle in which one force was able to ‘cross the T’ of its opponent. However, by the time the action was actually joined, the Japanese line was very ragged and comprised only one battleship, one heavy cruiser and one destroyer, so that the ‘crossing of the T’ was a notional rather than a practical concept, and thus exercised little effect on the outcome of the battle.
As noted above, Halsey’s decision to take all the available strength of 3rd Fleet to the north to attack the carriers of Ozawa’s Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force had left the San Bernardino Strait completely unguarded. Senior officers of the 7th Fleet, including Kinkaid and his staff, assumed Halsey was taking his three available carrier groups to the north (with McCain’s TF38.1, the strongest of the 3rd Fleet’s four carrier groups, still returning from Ulithi), but leaving the battleships of TF34 covering the San Bernardino Strait against Force ‘A’ and Force ‘B’ of Kurita’s 1st Strike Force, Centre Force. In fact, Halsey had not yet formed TF34, and all six of Lee’s battleships were steaming to the north with the carriers, as was every available cruiser and destroyer of the 3rd Fleet.
Kurita’s 1st Strike Force, Centre Force therefore emerged from the San Bernardino Strait at 03.00 on 25 October without encountering the slightest opposition, and steamed first to the east and then the south-east along the coast of Samar island in the hope that Halsey had taken the bait dangled by Ozawa and moved most of his fleet away to the north, as in fact he had done. Kurita had been advised that Nishimura’s 2nd Strike Force, Southern Force had been destroyed in the Battle of the Surigao Strait, and would therefore not be joining his force at Leyte Gulf. However, Kurita did not receive the transmission from the Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force to the effect that it had successfully drawn off Halsey’s 3rd Fleet of battleships and fleet carriers, and throughout most of the imminent Battle off Samar Kurita was to be concerned by doubts about the actual location of the 3rd Fleet.
In the path of the 1st Strike Force, Centre Force stood only the 7th Fleet’s three escort carrier units, ‘Taffy 1’, ‘Taffy 2’ and ‘Taffy 3’, with a total of 16 small, notably slow and wholly unarmoured escort carriers (the other two had been detached to take aircraft requiring major repairs or maintenance to Morotai island and then to return with new aircraft), protected by a screen of lightly armed and unarmoured destroyers and destroyer escorts. Despite its losses in the Palawan Passage and the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the 1st Strike Force, Centre Force was still very powerful inasmuch as it comprised four battleships, including the super-battleship Yamato, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and 11 destroyers.
Thus was set the scene for the Battle off Samar, in which the main weight of the Japanese attack fell on the most northerly of the three task units of Thomas Sprague’s TG77.4 (Carrier Escort Group), namely Clifton Sprague’s ‘Taffy 3’. Ill-equipped to fight armoured warships with heavy guns, the escort carriers of ‘Taffy 3’ attempted to escape from the Japanese force, while its destroyers, destroyer escorts and warplanes delivered sustained attacks on Kurita’s ships. The US destroyers and destroyer escorts were armed only with torpedoes and guns of up to 5-in (127-mm) calibre, aided in the destroyers but not the destroyer escorts by radar-assisted gun directors, while the Japanese ships had altogether larger guns of up to 18.1-in (460-mm) calibre, but supported by less accurate optical rangefinders. The Americans also had large numbers of aircraft available, but the Japanese had none. The ordnance for the escort carriers’ embarked aircraft consisted mostly of HE bombs for use in the warplanes’ primary ground support missions, and depth charges used in anti-submarine warfare, rather than the armour-piercing bombs and torpedoes more suitable for operations against armoured warships. Nevertheless, even when they were out of ammunition, the US aircraft continued to harass the Japanese ships, making repeated mock attacks to distract their gunners and disrupt their formations.
Steaming about 70 miles (115 km) to the east of Samar before dawn on 25 October, St Lo launched an anti-submarine patrol of four aircraft as the other carriers of ‘Taffy 3’ prepared for the day’s air attacks against the Japanese land forces opposing the ‘King II’ landings. At 06.37, one of St Lo’s TBM aircraft spotted a number of ships. Parts of Halsey’s 3rd Fleet were expected, but these ships appeared to be Japanese. When notified, Thomas Sprague was incredulous and demanded positive identification, and was informed after the aeroplane had closed on the formation that the pilot could see pagoda masts and huge Japanese ensigns on the largest battleship he had ever seen. The Japanese force was approaching from the west-north-west and was only 20 miles (32 km) distant, and as such already well within visual (and therefore gun) range of the closest task unit, ‘Taffy 3’. Armed only with depth charges in case of an encounter with a Japanese submarines, the US pilots were nonetheless determined to carry out the first attack of the battle, quickly establishing the tone of the battle by dropping several depth charges, at least one of which bounced off the bow of a cruiser.
Look-outs spotted the anti-aircraft fire to the north as the Japanese closed on ‘Taffy 3’ at 06.45 with the benefit of total tactical surprise. At about the same time, other ships of ‘Taffy 3’ had picked up echoes on their surface-search radars and intercepted Japanese radio traffic. At about 07.00 Yamato opened fire at a range of about 40,500 yards (37035 km), and the Americans were soon astonished by the spectacle of coloured geysers of water as the first salvoes of shells found the range: each Japanese ship used a specific colour of dye marker so that it could spot the fall of its own shells. Not finding the silhouettes of the little escort carriers in his identification manuals, Kurita mistook them for larger fleet carriers and assumed that he had a 3rd Fleet task group under his guns. His first priority was to eliminate the carrier threat, and therefore ordered a general attack: instead of a carefully orchestrated effort, therefore, each division of the Japanese force was to attack separately. The Japanese had just shifted into a circular formation designed to maximise anti-aircraft capability, and the order caused some confusion and thereby provided the time needed by Sprague to order a course which led the Japanese into a tail chase. This limited the Japanese to the use of only their forward guns, and restricted their anti-aircraft gunnery. Sprague’s ships would not lose as much of their firepower in a tail chase as their rearward-firing weapons were more numerous than their forward guns, and his carriers would still be able to operate aircraft.
Thomas Sprague immediately ordered the escort carriers to turn to launch their aircraft, and then withdraw to the east into a group of heavy rain squalls, in which he hoped that poor visibility would reduce the accuracy of Japanese gunfire. Sprague also ordered his destroyers to generate smoke to mask the retreating carriers.
Three destroyers and four smaller destroyer escorts had been tasked with the defence of the escort carriers from air and submarine attack. The three ‘Fletcher’ class fleet destroyers possessed the speed which allowed them to operate with a fast carrier task force, but their five single 5-in (127-mm) and numerous 40- and 20-mm light anti-aircraft guns gave them no realistic firepower with which to engage armoured warships. Only their 10 21-in (533-mm) Mk 15 torpedoes, carried in a pair of traversing quintuple launchers amidships, posed a realistic threat to battleships and cruisers. The destroyer escorts were even smaller and slower as they had been designed to protect slow freighter convoys against submarines: each of these destroyer escorts had only two 5-in (127-mm) single guns without automatic fire control and carried only three torpedoes, and few of their crewmen had been trained for torpedo attacks. Since the Mk 15 torpedo possessed an effective range between 15,000 yards (13715 m) at 26.5 kt and 6,000 yards (5485 m) at 45 kt, any light warship attempting to use the weapon was advised to undertake the effort only at night as, in daylight, the attacker would have to pass through a beaten zone of gunfire extending to a range of 45,950 yards (42000 m). In the Battle off Samar, the torpedoes were to be launched against a fleet led by the largest battleship in history.
After making smoke in an attempt to conceal the carriers from the Japanese gunners, the destroyers and destroyer escorts were soon making desperate torpedo runs. The profiles of the ships and the aggressive nature they revealed served to persuade the Japanese gunnery control officers to think, at least in the short term, that their opponents were cruisers and large destroyers, and in this the US ships’ lack of armour tended to provide clean penetration by armour-piercing shells before the Japanese gunnery control officers realised their initial error and switched to HE shells, which detonated and caused considerably greater devastation. The use of their speed and agility enabled some of the US ships to dodge the shellfire completely before launching torpedoes. Effective damage control and redundancy in propulsion and power systems kept them running and fighting even after absorbing dozens of hits before sinking, although their decks were inevitably littered with the dead and seriously wounded. Destroyers from ‘Taffy 2’ farther to the south also found themselves under fire, but as this fact was appreciated by Gambier Bay, which had called for their assistance, they were ordered back to protect carriers of their own task unit.
At 07.00, Commander Ernest E. Evans of the 2,925-ton fleet destroyer Johnston responded to incoming shellfire bracketing carriers of the group he was escorting by starting to lay a protective smokescreen and zigzagging. At about 07.10 the destroyer’s gunnery officer started to fire at the closest Japanese attackers, then at a range of 18,000 yards (16460 m) and registered several hits on the leading heavy cruisers. The Japanese then targeted Johnston and tall splashes confirmed that the Japanese shells were bracketing the ship. In response and without consulting with his commanders, Evans ordered Johnston, still making smoke and zigzagging, to accelerate to flank speed and head straight toward the Japanese. One gunnery advantage which the Americans possessed was the radar-controlled Mk 37 Gun Fire-Control System. The 'brain' of this system was the Ford Mk 1 Fire-Control Computer, which provided co-ordinated automatic firing solutions for the ship’s 5-in (127-mm) guns merely by pointing the gun director at the target. Crude by comparison, the Japanese fire-control system used optical rangefinders aided by splash colour dye markers in each shell. At this point, the Japanese were unable to find the range of their attacker. At 07.15 the gunnery officer concentrated the destroyer’s fire on the heavy cruiser Kumano, flagship of the leading cruiser squadron. At the 5-inch gun’s maximum range of 18,200 yards (16640 m), Johnston fired and scored several hits on Kumano’s superstructure, which erupted into flame and smoke.
At 07.16 Sprague ordered Commander William D. Thomas on board Hoel, in command of the small destroyer screen, to attack the Japanese forces. Thus Hoel, Heermann and Samuel B. Roberts steered at high speed to reach firing position for their torpedoes. Johnston pressed her attack, firing more than 200 shells as she steered evasively to render herself a more difficult target. Johnston closed to within maximum torpedo range, and at at a range of 9,000 yards (8230 m) launched a full salvo of 10 torpedoes. At 07.24 two or three of the torpedoes struck Kumano, blowing the bow off the heavy cruiser. At 07.33 Kongo was forced to turn away to the north to avoid four torpedoes. Already damaged by air attacks, the heavy cruiser Suzuya also disappeared from the tactical equation as she stopped to aid 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 US cruisers. Evans then reversed course and, under cover of his own smoke screen, opened the range between his ship and the Japanese vessels.
At 07.30, three 14-in (356-mm) shells from Kongo, fired at a range of 14,215 yards (13000 m), passed through Johnston’s deck into her port-side engine room, reducing the destroyer’s speed to 17 kt and disrupting the supply of electric power to her after gun turrets. Moments later three 6.1-in (155-mm) shells, possibly fired by Yamato’s secondary battery, struck Johnston’s bridge, causing numerous casualties and severing the fingers of Evans’s left hand. The ship was in dire straits, with dead and dying sailors strewn across her blood-streaked decks, but did not sink. The ship was already low on fuel before the start of the battle, and this possibly saved her from a catastrophic explosion. Johnston then found sanctuary in rain squalls, where her crew had time to repair some of the damage, restoring power to two of the three after turrets. The search radar had been destroyed, the antenna and its supporting mast lying on the deck as a mass of twisted metal. The fire-control radar had been damaged, but was quickly restored to operability. It took only a few minutes to bring Johnston’s main battery and radar back into service, and from her hidden position in the rain the destroyer fired several dozen rounds at a destroyer leader at a range of 10,000 yards (9145 m) from about 07.35, before shifting her fire to the cruisers approaching from the east. Several dozen more rounds were fired at the closest target at a range of 11,000 yards (10060 m).
At 07.37, Thomas ordered a torpedo attack, and Johnston and Heermann acknowledged this voice radio transmission. As Johnston maintained her course away from the Japanese, she met the charging screening force, led by the damaged Hoel, and Evans conformed in order to provide gun support for Thomas’s small squadron during its torpedo attack. Attacking Tone, the leading heavy cruiser to the east of the formation, Johnston closed to a range of 6,000 yards (5485 m), her fire now reduced in efficiency as a result of her lost main radar, but nonetheless scoring many hits.
At 07.50, the sea and sky above it were a maelstrom of burning ships, explosions and manoeuvring aircraft. All available fighters and attack aircraft from the ‘Taffies’ were in the air and closing on the Japanese fleet. On the sea, the attacking fleets were now a confused mob taking desperate evasive action to avoid what appeared to be torpedo salvoes, exploding shells and ships steaming at maximum speed. At 08.10, moving erratically through the smoke and rain, Johnston only just managed to avoid Heermann, which was, according to one witness, ‘within potato range’ at one point, between 08.08 and 08.25, of a Japanese destroyer for several minutes, before being separated by the smoke.
During the battle, Evans engaged in several duels with much larger Japanese opponents. Emerging from smoke and rain squalls, at 08.20 Johnston was confronted by the 31,700-ton Kongo armed with eight 14-in (356-mm) guns. Johnston fired at least 40 rounds, and observed more than 15 hits on the battleship’s superstructure, before reversing course and disappearing back into the smoke and thereby avoiding Kongo's 14-in (356-mm) return fire. At 08.26 and again at 08.34, Thomas requested an attack on the heavy cruisers to the east of the carriers, and responding at 08.30, Johnston swept toward a cruiser firing at the helpless Gambier Bay, then closed to 6,000 yards (5485 m) and fired for 10 minutes at her heavier and better-armed opponent, possibly Haguro, scoring numerous hits.
At 08.40, a much more pressing target appeared astern as seven Japanese destroyers in two columns closed for an attack on the escort carriers. Reversing course to intercept, Evans manoeuvred Johnston in an effort to pass in front of the Japanese formation and thereby ‘cross its T’ to be able to bring all his surviving guns to bear on the leading Japanese ships, with were limited to using only their forward guns. Evans ordered Johnston’s guns to fire on this new threat, and the Japanese destroyers returned fire, striking Johnston several times. Perhaps seeing his disadvantage, the commander of the leading Japanese destroyer turned away to the west. From as close as 7,000 yards (6400 m), Johnston fired and secured a dozen hits on the destroyer leader before it turned away. Johnston then shifted her fire to the next destroyer in the Japanese line, scoring five hits before she too turned away, and then, extraordinarily, the entire Japanese squadron turned away to the west to avoid Johnston’s fire. At 09.20, the Japanese destroyers finally managed to fire their torpedoes at a range of 10,500 yards (9600 m): several of these torpedoes were detonated by strafing aircraft or the defensive fire of the carriers, and none of the rest found a target.
The Japanese and US ships were now intermixed. Gambier Bay and Hoel were sinking, and the entire area was what would later come to be called a ‘target-rich environment’. After 09.00, with Hoel and Roberts now out of the fight, the crippled Johnston was an easy target as she exchanged fire with a number of Japanese ships including four cruisers and several destroyers. Johnston continued to take Japanese hits, of which one knocked out her forward 5-in (127-mm) turret, killing many men. By 09.20, forced from the bridge by exploding ammunition, Evans was commanding his ship from the stern by shouting orders down to the men operating the rudder manually. Then shell fire knocked out the destroyer’s remaining engine, leaving Johnston dead in the water at 0940. As her attackers gathered around the vulnerable ship, they concentrated their fire on her rather than the fleeing carriers. At 09.45 Evans finally gave the order to abandon ship, and Johnston sank 25 minutes later with 186 of her crew. After abandoning ship with his crew but never seen again, Evans was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. However, it was the Japanese themselves who first recognised Johnston’s incredible actions that day: as a Japanese destroyer passed the sinking US destroyer, some of the US sailors saw the Japanese captain saluting the sinking ship.
Although the destroyer escort had been conceived as the most inexpensive small ship type with which to provide effective protection of slow merchant ship convoys against submarine attack, it retained a basic anti-ship capability with torpedoes and 5-in (127-mm) guns. In the Battle off Samar, Samuel B. Roberts gained great distinction when committed against armoured cruisers which were designed to be essentially impervious to the fire of 5-in (127-mm) guns. At about 07.40, Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland manoeuvred his small 1,800-ton ship to evade the charging Heermann and, as he watched the destroyer receding towards the Japanese, gave an appreciation of the situation to the crew as ‘This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.’ Copeland appreciated that his current position and heading gave him the ideal situation 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 an attack on the cruisers. Covered by the smoke screen from the destroyers, Samuel B. Roberts escaped detection, and unwilling to draw Japanese attention to his small ship, Copeland several time refused his gunnery officer permission to open fire with the 5-in (127-mm) guns: despite the fact that target vessels were clearly visible and within range, Copeland was sure that the best option available to him was to launch torpedoes at a range of 5,000 yards (4570 m). However, a stray shell, probably intended for one of the nearby destroyers, hit Samuel B. Roberts’s mast, which fell and jammed the torpedo mount at 08.00. Quick work restored the mounting to full operability, and at a range of 4,000 yards (3660 m) and still apparently undetected, Samuel B. Roberts launched her torpedoes at Chokai, reversed course and disappeared back into the smoke. A look-out reported that at least one torpedo had hit the crippled Chokai, which lost speed and fell back to the rear of the Japanese column at 08.23.
Samuel B. Roberts was nearing the carrier formation by 08.10 when, through the smoke and rain, the heavy cruiser Chikuma appeared, firing broadsides at the carriers. Copeland changed course to attack and informed his gunnery officer that he might at last open fire. In a truly extraordinary situation, Samuel B. Roberts and Chikuma started to exchange broadsides, the little US destroyer escort with her two 5-in (127-mm) guns and the large Japanese cruiser with some of her eight 8-in (203-mm) and eight 5-in (152-mm) guns, for the cruiser divided her fire between the escort carriers and the destroyer escort. However, hampered by the closing range and her comparatively low slow rate of fire, Chikuma fired only with difficulty at her small and nimble opponent. (Early in the battle, when it became apparent that Samuel B. Roberts would have to defend the escort carriers against a surface attack, her chief engineer bypassed all the engines’ safety mechanisms, enabling the destroyer escort to achieve 28 kt rather than her legend maximum of 23 kt.
The guns of Samuel B. Roberts had an altogether higher rate of fire than the weapons of her Japanese opponent, and for the next 35 minutes and from a range as short as 5,300 yards (4845 m), the destroyer escort’s guns fired almost the entire supply of 5-in (127-mm) ammunition in her magazines, more than 600 rounds.
Despite the total matériel inequality of the contest, Samuel B. Roberts raked the entire length of Chikuma. Unknown to the crew of Samuel B. Roberts, though, shortly after she started to engage Chikuma, the destroyer Heermann also opened fire on the cruiser, which was now caught in a cross-fire. Chikuma’s superstructure was torn by several salvoes of armour-piercing, high explosive, anti-aircraft and even star shells which started chemical fires even in metal plates. Chikuma’s bridge was devastated, fires could be seen along her superstructure, and her no. 3 gun turret was no longer in action.
But the Chikuma was not operating on her own, and soon the Japanese fleet’s salvoes were bracketing Samuel B. Roberts, the colours of the water spouts indicating that she was under fire from Yamato, Nagato and Haruna. In a desperate bid to avoid the next salvo, which would almost inevitably have hit Samuel B. Roberts, Copeland ordered full astern, causing the salvo to miss. Now, however, his small ship was an easy target, and at 08.51 the shells of a cruiser found their mark, damaging one of her boilers. Slowed to 17 kt, Samuel B. Roberts began to receive a number of hits. Credit is given to Kongo for striking the final decisive blows at 09.00, when the destroyer escort’s remaining engine was knocked out, and now dead in the water and sinking, Samuel B. Roberts’s battle was ver.
The other US destroyer escorts, Raymond, Dennis and John C. Butler also launched torpedoes, and while these missed, their threat did succeed in slowing the Japanese pursuit. Dennis was struck by a pair of shells from a cruiser, and John C. Butler ceased to fire only after expending her ammunition about one hour into the engagement.
Commander Leon S. Kintberger’s destroyer Hoel commanded the small destroyer and destroyer escort screen of ‘Taffy 3’. At 07.00, as tall spouts from Japanese shells began to bracket the ships of the task unit, Hoel started to zigzag and lay smoke to help defend the escort carriers, which were now fleeing at their modest maximum speeds for the cover of the rain squalls to the south-east. When the Japanese had closed to a range of about 18,000 yards (16460 m), Kintberger ordered his ship to open fire, and was in turn targeted by the Japanese. Yamato’s 6.1-in (155-mm) secondary guns scored a hit on Hoel’s bridge, knocking out all voice radio communication, killing four men, wounding Kintberger and the screening force’s senior officer, Commander William Dow Thomas.
Sprague then ordered Thomas to attack the Japanese with torpedoes. From his position on the damaged Hoel, Thomas he formed the three destroyers of his command as best he could and at 07.40 ordered them to attack. Hoel zigzagged through rain showers and smoke toward the Japanese fleet, followed by Heermann and Samuel B. Roberts and, at the same time and lurking in the rain, Johnston was targeting unsuspecting Japanese cruisers with her radar.
Kintberger now had to come to a quick decision about a target as the time available to him was shortening as quickly as the distance between the two forces. In the combat information centre, the executive officer quickly looked at the plotted data before him and suggested a course that would put Hoel in a position to attack the leading ‘battleship’, which was probably the heavy cruiser Haguro, and Kintberger ordered Hoel to attack this despite the fact that this would put Hoel in the middle of the 1st Strike Force, Centre Force.
The gunnery officer directed Hoel’s main battery of five 5-in (127-mm) guns in a rapid barrage at a nearby cruiser and scored many hits. Having gained the attention of a substantial portion of the Japanese fleet, the destroyer was soon straddled by shells of all calibres. Some time near 07.50, at a range of 9,000 yards (8230 m) Hoel launched a half-salvo of torpedoes and reversed course. Although the torpedoes failed to strike their target, Haguro was forced to turn sharply away from the torpedo attack and dropped out of the lead to a position astern of Tone.
Moments after Hoel had launched her first half-salvo of torpedoes, she was struck by a devastating series of hits by shells of several calibres, which disabled all the weapons of her main and secondary battery weapons abaft the second stack, stopped her port engine, and deprived her of her Mk 37 fire-control director, fire-control radar and bridge steering control. With his ship slowing to 17 kt, the rudder jammed in a position which resulted in a slow turn to starboard, Kintberger realised he would have to fire his remaining torpedoes quickly before his ship was shot out from under him. Just before 08.00, looking at an approaching line of ships, Kintberger co-ordinated the attack with the chief on the number two torpedo mount, and as his chosen target was in what he hoped was the right position, gave the order to fire. This time, the US torpedomen were rewarded by the sight of large columns of water rising above the target, but the survivors were later disappointed when the torpedo hits could not be confirmed.
Hoel was now crippled and surrounded by the Japanese, and could make no more than 17 kt. Within a few minutes the steering had been been rendered workable from the after steering room, and Kintberger ordered course to the south in the direction of ‘Taffy 3’ and, as she wavered her way toward it fired on the closest Japanese warship with her two remaining guns. Finally, at about 08.30, and after taking more than 40 hits from shells ranging in calibre from 5 to 16 in (127 to 406 mm), the destroyer was disabled by an 8-in (203-mm) shell which destroyed her remaining engine. With her engine room under water 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 shattered ship. A Japanese cruiser and several destroyers closed to within 2,000 yards (1830 m), givingHoel’s two forward gun crews a large target at close range. For about 10 minutes Hoel’s surviving guns traded fire with this ‘Tone’ class heavy cruiser and then, as they slowed and approached to about 1,000 yards (915 m), the destroyers were also engaged. The Japanese fire ended only at 08.55 as Hoel rolled over and sank in some of the world’s deepest water after enduring 90 minutes of devastatingly punishing gunfire.
Hoel was the first ship of the ‘Taffy 3’ force to sink, and suffered the heaviest proportional losses: only 86 of her complement survived, the other 253 dying with their ship.
Commander Amos T. Hathaway’s Heermann was on the disengaged side of the carriers at the start of the fight when at 07.37 he received an order from Thomas to take the lead position in a column of the smaller warships in an attack the approaching Japanese fleet. Steaming into the action at maximum speed through the formation of escort carriers as well as smoke and intermittent rain squalls which had reduced visibility at times to less than 100 yards (90 m), Heermann twice had to go into emergency reverse to avoid colliding with friendly ships, first Samuel B. Roberts and, at 07.49, Hoel as she tried to take her position at the head of the column in preparation for a torpedo attack.
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 no. 2 torpedo mount mistakenly fired two extra torpedoes at the same time as the no. 1 mount before he was stopped by the mount captain. After firing seven torpedoes, Heermann changed course to engage a column of three battleships which had started to fore on her.
Hathaway was now the trigger of a series of events which was to exercise a decisive effect on the outcome of the Battle off Samar. He directed 5-in (127-mm) gunfire on the battleship Haruna, the leading ship of the Japanese column, then quickly closed the range to just 4,400 yards (4025 m) and fired his last three torpedoes. Haruna evaded all of these, but Yamato was bracketed between two of Heermann’s torpedoes on parallel courses, and for 10 minutes was forced to head to the north, and thus away from the action. As a result, Kurita and his most powerful Japanese warship were temporarily out of the battle. The Japanese had now lost the initiative, for the stubborn US defence had taken the wind out of the Japanese attack.
At 08.03, in the belief 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. Yet, now under continuous fire, Heermann became engaged in a decidedly unequal duel with Nagato, whose salvoes were beginning to land uncomfortably close to the US destroyer.
At 08.26 Thomas asked that covering fire be placed on the cruisers firing on the escort carriers from the east. Hathaway responded, but first had to pass through the formation of carriers and escorts, a process which proved hazardous. Steaming at maximum speed, Heermann again had two near misses, this time with the escort carrier Fanshaw Bay and destroyer escort Samuel B. Johnston. Finally on course for the Japanese cruisers, Heermann came across the heavily damaged Gambier Bay, which was being shelled at point-blank range. At a range of 12,000 yards (10075 m), Heermann started to fire on Chikuma as her gun arcs cleared Gambier Bay. Chikuma was now caught in a cross-fire between Heermann and Samuel B. Roberts and sustaining considerable damage. During this phase of battle, Heermann came under fire from most of the Japanese fleet: coloured spouts of red, yellow and green (probably Kongo, Nagato and Yamato) indicated that at least three of the Japanese battleships were targeting her. Many uncoloured spouts were also seen, most probably from the line of heavy cruisers led by Chikuma. At 08.45 a hit on Heermann’s wheelhouse killed three men and fatally wounded another. A number of 8-in (203-mm) shell hits then 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 of Gambier Bay’s VC-10 squadron neared the scene and were vectored by ‘Taffy 3’ radio onto the cruisers to the east, and by 08.53 Chikuma and the other three heavy cruisers were under attack from the air. At 09.02, as a result of the combined efforts of Heermann, Roberts and the bombs, torpedoes and strafing of carrierborne warplanes, Chikuma finally disengaged, but sank at 08.57 as she withdrew.
At 09.07 the heavy cruiser Tone exchanged fire with Heermann until she too turned away at 09.10. By 09.17 Sprague had ordered Hathaway to lay smoke on the escort carriers’ port quarter, and by 09.30 the group had reformed its normal formation and steaming to the south.
The determination of the US resistance served to convince Kurita that he was facing a force altogether larger than was in fact the case, and at 09.00 he ordered his ships to crease fire and to withdrew and regroup to the north. Whole unexpectedly, therefore, the Japanese began to disengage and turn away.
Though severely damaged, Heermann was the only destroyer of the screen to survive.
As the Japanese fleet was first sighted and identified, the escort carriers of ‘Taffy 3’ had turned to the south and started to withdraw through shellfire at their maximum speed of 17.5 kt. The six little carriers dodged in and out of rain squalls and they launched all their available FM fighters and TBM torpedo bombers with whatever weapons they were already carrying. Some had rockets, machine guns, depth charges or indeed nothing at all, and just a few carried anti-ship bombs or air-launched torpedoes for attacks on armour-protected warships. The F4F fighters were deemed a better fit on escort carriers in place of the faster and heavier F6F fighters flown from the larger US Navy carriers. Their pilots were ordered ‘to attack the Japanese task force and proceed to Tacloban airstrip, Leyte, to rearm and refuel’. As noted above, many of the aircraft continued to make harassing runs after expending their ammunition and ordnance.
After a one-hour stern chase, the Japanese had closed to within 17600 yards (16095 m) of the escort carriers, and the very fact that the carriers had managed to evade destruction reinforced the Japanese belief that they were attacking fast fleet carriers. At 08.00, Sprague ordered his carriers to ‘open fire with pea-shooters when the range is clear’. The stern chase was also useful to the Americans as the sole anti-ship armament carried by each of the escort carriers was a single manually controlled stern-mounted 5-in (127-mm) gun, though these were provided with anti-aircraft rather than anti-ship ammunition.
The ships had been battered by near-misses, but then at 08.05 Kalinin Bay was struck by an 8-in (203-mm) shell. During the early phase of the action, the Japanese ships fired armour-piercing shells, which often carried right through their unarmoured targets without detonating or, fired at short range and therefore with a flat trajectory, ricocheted off the escort carrier’s flight decks. Though the CVE, as the escort carrier was designated in US Navy terminology, was popularly explained as ‘Combustible Vulnerable Expendable’, it soon proved durable as the ships at first dodged and then absorbed heavy shell fire, and in downing attacking kamikaze aircraft. Although Gambier Bay was sunk, fire from the escort carriers’ stern guns was later credited with hitting and contributing to the sinking of warships which ventured within gun range.
As the Japanese gunners concentrated on the target closest to them, Gambier Bay became what was in effect the sacrifice which diverted Japanese attention from the other fleeing carriers. It was at 08.10 that Chikuma had closed to within 10,000 yards (9145 m) and was finally able land hits on the flight deck of Gambier Bay, which was the most exposed of the escort carriers. Subsequent hits and near misses as the Japanese switched to high explosive shells first reduced her speed, and Gambier Bay was soon dead in the water. Three cruisers closed to point-blank range as destroyers such as Johnston were unsuccessful in trying to draw fire away from the doomed carrier, in which a number of fires raged. Gambier Bay capsized and sank at 09.07, the majority of her survivors, nearly 800 in number, being rescued two days later by landing and patrol craft dispatched from Leyte Gulf. Gambier Bay was in fact the only US carrier sunk by naval gunfire in World War II.
By 07.38, the Japanese cruisers, approaching from their target’s port quarter, had closed to within 14,000 yards (12800 m) of St Lo, which responded to the Japanese salvoes with rapid fire from her single 5-in (127-mm) gun, claiming three hits on a ‘Tone’ class heavy cruiser. For the next 90 minutes, Kurita’s ships closed on ‘Taffy 3’, with the nearest destroyers and cruisers firing from ranges as short as 10,000 yards (9145 m) on St Lo’s port and starboard quarters. Throughout the running gun battle, the escort carriers and their escorts were laying a particularly effective smoke screen, and Admiral Sprague credited this with greatly degrading the accuracy of the Japanese ship’s gunnery. Even more effective were the attacks by the destroyers and destroyer escorts at point-blank range against the Japanese destroyers and cruisers. During all of this period, moreover, Kurita’s force was under incessant attack by aircraft of ‘Taffy 3’ and ‘Taffy 1’ and ‘Taffy 2’ farther to the south.
At 10.47, a kamikaze air attack against the surviving carriers began, and only a few minutes later one such aeroplane crashed into St Lo’s flight deck: although the aeroplane’s wreckage remained on the flight deck, its bomb penetrated the deck, inflicting a fatal blow as the ship blew up. The escort carrier went down stern first at 11.20 and 114 men were killed.
Kalinin Bay had accelerated to maximum speed and, despite the fire of three Japanese cruisers, launched her aircraft, which inflicted heavy damage on the closing ships. As the trailing ship in the escort carrier van, Kalinin Bay came under intense Japanese fire. Though partially protected by chemical smoke, a timely rain squall and counterattacks by the screening destroyers and destroyer escorts, Kalinin Bay took the first of 15 direct hits at 07.50. Fired by a Japanese battleship, the main armament shell, of 14- or 16-in (356- or 406-mm) calibre, struck the starboard side of the hangar deck just abaft the forward elevator. By 08.00, the Japanese cruisers, which were steaming off her port quarter, had closed to within 18,000 yards (16460 m). Kalinin Bay responded to the salvoes which straddled her with her own 5-in (127-mm) gun, but three 8-in (203-mm) armour-piercing shells struck her within minutes. At 08.25, the carrier scored a direct hit from 16,000 yards (14630 m) on the no. 2 turret of a ‘Nachi’ class heavy cruiser, and a second hit shortly thereafter forced the Japanese ship to withdraw temporarily from formation.
At 08.30, five Japanese destroyers steamed over the horizon off Kalinin Bay’s starboard quarter, and these opened fire at a range of about 14,500 yards (13260 m). As screening ships engaged the cruisers and laid smoke, Kalinin Bay shifted her fire and for the next hour traded shots with the ships of Kimura’s Destroyer Squadron 10. None of the destroyers managed to hit Kalinin Bay, but the escort carrier took another 10 8-in (203-mm) hits from the now obscured cruisers. One shell passed through the flight deck and into the communications area, where it destroyed all the radar and radio equipment.
At 09.15, a TBM from St Lo strafed and exploded two torpedoes in Kalinin Bay’s wake about 100 yards (90 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 their last salvoes before reversing course to the north, Kalinin Bay scored a direct hit amidships on a retreating destroyer and then, 5 minutes later, ceased fire and retired to the south with the other survivors of ‘Taffy 3’.
Shortly before 10.50, ‘Taffy 3’ came under concentrated attack from the air, and in the course of the 40-minute battle which followed as the first attack by a kamikaze unit in World War II, all the surviving escort carriers but Fanshaw Bay were damaged. Four kamikaze aircraft dived on Kalinin Bay from astern and the starboard quarter. Two were shot down close aboard, a third crashed into the port side of the flight deck, damaging it severely, and the fourth destroyed the after port stack. Kalinin Bay suffered extensive structural damage during the morning’s intense action, as well as five dead among her 60 casualties. Assessment of the carrier’s damaged later confirmed that the ship had taken 12 direct hits. There were also two near-misses by large-calibre shells, and ironically it was these last, which detonated under her counter, which threatened the ship’s survival.
Throughout the surface phase of the action, the escort carriers White Plains and Kitkun Bay, in the lead positions and therefore farthest from the pursuing Japanese fleet, escaped gunfire hits. During the kamikaze phase of the battle, Fanshaw Bay brought down several aircraft, these including one which was just about to crash into Kitkun Bay, and landed the aircraft of her sunk or damaged sister ships. Fanshaw Bay lost only four men killed and four wounded.
Yamato had already been damaged by air attack during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, taking three armour-piercing bombs, and her sister ship Musashi had been sunk. In the Battle off Samar, Yamato engaged US surface forces for the first and only time with her main and secondary batteries. At 07.51, Yamato fired and hit what was believed at the time to be a cruiser, but the real target, which was hit at a range of more than 21,000 yards (19200 m), was in fact the destroyer Hoel. The observer of Yamato’s Mitsubishi F1M2 ‘Pete’ floatplane confirmed main battery hits on the carrier Gambier Bay before the ship steered to avoid torpedoes. Yamato had later closed to within 2,400 yards (2195 m) of the US ships when she was attacked by US aircraft. Lieutenant Richard W. Roby in his fighter attacked destroyers before raking Yamato’s decks and bridge with his quartet of 0.5-in (12.7-mm) machine guns, further discouraging her. Kurita reported that his force had sunk two carriers, two cruisers and some destroyers, and Yamato was credited with confirmed hits which contributed to the sinking of one escort carrier, one destroyer and one destroyer escort.
Targeted by the 5-in (127-mm) guns of destroyers and destroyer escorts, the Japanese heavy cruiser Chokai was hit amidships on her starboard side, most probably by the single 5-in (127-mm) gun of the escort carrier White Plains. While the 55-lb (24.95-kg) shell could not pierce the hull armour, the detonation of its 7-lb (3.175-kg) bursting charge set off the eight deck-mounted Type 93 Long Lance torpedoes, which were especially volatile because their propellant systems contained pure oxygen fuel; in addition, each warhead carried a 1,080-lb (490-kg) explosive charge. The explosion resulted in damage so severe that it knocked out the rudder and engines, causing Chokai to drop out of formation. Within minutes, a US warplane dropped a 500-lb (227-kg) bomb which penetrated into the cruiser’s forward machinery room, starting fires which soon brought the ship to a halt. Later in the same day the hapless cruiser was sent to the bottom by torpedoes from the destroyer Fujinami.
After Johnston had blown the bow off Kumano with a torpedo hit, the heavy cruiser retired towards the San Bernardino Strait, where she suffered minor damage from air attack.
The heavy cruiser Chikuma engaged the US escort carriers, helping to sink Gambier Bay, but came under fire from Heermann and was also attacked from the air. It was generally thought that the destroyer Nowaki took off Chikuma’s survivors before sending the heavy cruiser to the bottom late in the morning of 25 October, though more recent investigation suggests that Chikuma sank from the effect of the air attack, and Nowaki arrived only in time to pick up survivors from the water. While withdrawing from the battle area, Nowaki herself was also sunk, with the loss of all but one of Chikuma’s surviving crew members.
The heavy cruiser Suzuya, which had also engaged the carriers, received fatal damage from the air, ironically without suffering any direct hits. Early in the battle Suzuya was attacked by 10 TBM aircraft from ‘Taffy 3’. One of the aircraft dropped its HE bomb close astern of Suzuya, just to port and the bomb’s detonation ripped away one of Suzuya’s propellers, reducing the ship’s maximum speed to 20 kt. At 10.50 the heavy cruiser was attacked by 30 more carrierborne aircraft. Another bomb near-miss, in this instance to starboard amidships, set off the Long Lance torpedoes in one of her starboard tube mounts. The fires started by this explosion soon detonated other torpedoes, the resulting fore quickly spread, and the subsequent explosions damaged one of the boilers and the starboard engine rooms. The order to abandon ship was given at 11.50, and a mere 10 minutes later the fires set off the remaining torpedoes and the ship’s main magazines: Suzuya rolled over and sank at 13.22, some 401 members of her crew being rescued by destroyer Okinami. US ships later recovered other survivors.
Though none of his battleships had suffered serious damage, the air and destroyer attacks had broken up his formations, and Kurita had lost tactical control. His flagship Yamato had been compelled to turn to the north in order to avoid torpedoes, and as a result he had lost contact with much of his force. The ferocity of the determined and concentrated sea and air attack by the ships and aircraft of ‘Taffy 3’ had already sunk or crippled the heavy cruisers Chokai, Kumano and Chikuma, seeming to confirm in Japanese minds 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 dangled by Ozawa and that his battleships and carriers were far out of range. The ferocity of the air attacks further contributed to his confusion, for he assumed that such devastating attacks could come only from major fleet units rather than escort carriers. Signals from Ozawa eventually convinced Kurita that the Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force was not engaged with the whole of the 3rd Fleet, and that remaining elements of Halsey’s force might therefore be able to close and destroy the 1st Strike Force, Centre Force if Kurita lingered too long in the area.
Finally, Kurita received word that the Southern Force, with which his Centre Force was to have linked, had been destroyed during the previous night. Calculating that the fight was not worth further losses, and believing he had already sunk or damaged several US carriers, Kurita broke off the engagement at 09.20 and set course for Leyte Gulf before becoming distracted by reports of another US carrier group to the north. Preferring to expend his ships against capital ships rather than transports, he turned north after the non-existent US fleet, and ultimately withdrew back through San Bernardino Strait. As the Centre Force retreated north and then west through the San Bernardino Strait, the US force, though smaller and after suffering heavy damage, continued to press the battle.
At this time the Japanese force designed to decoy Halsey’s 3rd fleet away to the north, Ozawa’s Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force comprised four aircraft carriers (the fleet carrier Zuikaku which was the final survivor of the six carriers which had been committed to the ‘Ai’ attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and the light carriers Zuiho, Chitose and Chiyoda, two World War I battleships partially converted to carriers (Hyuga and Ise in which the two after turrets had been replaced by a hangar, aircraft handling deck and catapult, but neither carrying aircraft in this battle), three light cruisers (Oyodo, Tama and Isuzu), and nine destroyers. Ozawa’s force had only 116 aircraft.
Ozawa’s force was not located until 16.40 on 24 October, largely as a result of the fact that Sherman’s TG38.3, the most northerly of Halsey’s groups, was responsible for searches in this sector. The force which Halsey was taking to the north with him, centred on three groups of Mitscher’s TF38, was overwhelmingly stronger than the Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force. Between them, these three groups had five fleet carriers (Intrepid, Franklin, Lexington, Enterprise and Essex), five light carriers (Independence, Belleau Wood, Langley, Cabot and San Jacinto), six battleships (Alabama, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Dakota and Washington), two heavy and six light cruisers, and more than 40 destroyers. The air groups of the 10 US carriers present comprised about 800 aircraft.
At 02.40 on 25 October, Halsey detached Lee’s TF34, built around the 3rd Fleet’s six battleships, and as the break of day approached, TF34 drew ahead of the carrier groups. Halsey’s plan was that aircraft of Mitscher’s carriers would attack Ozawa’s retreating ships, which would then be destroyed by the gunfire of Lee’s battleships.
At about dawn on 25 October, Ozawa launched 75 aircraft, a little short of three-quarters of his entire air strength, to attack the ships of the 3rd Fleet. Most of the Japanese aircraft were shot down by the US combat air patrols, and no damage was inflicted on the US warships. A few Japanese warplanes survived this mauling and made their way to land bases on Luzon island.
During the night, Halsey had passed tactical command of TF38 to Mitscher, who ordered the US carrier groups to launch their first wave of attack aircraft, totalling 180 aircraft, at dawn, and thus before the Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force had been located. When the search aircraft made contact at 07.10, this wave of attack aircraft was orbiting ahead of the task force, and then flew forward to attack the Japanese from 08.00 even as the escorting fighters destroyed the Japanese combat air patrol of about 30 fighters. The US air attacks continued until the evening, by which time TF38 had flown 527 sorties against the Mobile Force, Main Body, Northern Force, in the process sinking Zuikaku, Chitose and Zuiho, and the destroyer Akizuki, all with heavy loss of life. The light carrier Chiyoda and cruiser Tama were crippled. Ozawa transferred his flag to the cruiser Oyodo.
Soon after 08.00, the 3rd Fleet started to receive from the 7th Fleet messages requesting urgent assistance: one from 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’. Some 22 minutes later, Kinkaid radioed ‘Fast Battleships are Urgently Needed Immediately at Leyte Gulf’, at 09.05 ‘Need Fast Battleships and Air Support’, and at 09.07 ‘4 Battleships, 8 Cruisers Attack Our Escort Carriers’.
Some 3,500 miles (5635 km) distant at Pearl Harbor, Nimitz had been monitoring the desperate calls from ‘Taffy 3’, and demanded of Halsey ‘Where is TF34?’ The encrypted message was prefixed ‘Turkey trots to water’ and suffixed ‘The world wonders’ to foil decryption. A radio operator on Nimitz’s staff repeated the ‘Where is’ section of this message and then during decryption by Halsey’s staff the suffixed clause ‘The world wonders’ was left in. So a simple query by a distant supervisor had, through the random actions of three sailors, become a stinging rebuke. Not realising that the suffix clause was merely padding, Halsey was infuriated, hurled his hat to the deck and, in a decidedly foul mood, began to curse. Rear Admiral Robert B. Carney, Halsey’s chief-of-staff, confronted his commander and told him to ‘Stop it! What the hell’s the matter with you? Pull yourself together.’
Halsey now ordered McCain’s TG38.1 to assist. Halsey recalled he did not receive this vital message from Kinkaid until about 10.00, and later claimed that he knew Kinkaid was in trouble, but had not appreciated the acute danger of the crisis. On the other hand, McCain had monitored Sprague’s messages and was already heading to aid Sprague even before receiving Halsey’s order, spurred by Nimitz, which puts Halsey’s defence in question.
At 10.05, Kinkaid complained ‘Who is guarding the San Bernardino Strait?’
McCain’s task group headed toward the battle at maximum speed, briefly turning into the wind to recover returning aircraft, and at 10.30, a force of SB2C, TBF/M and F6F warplanes was launched from the fleet carriers Hornet, Hancock and Wasp at the extreme range of 380 miles (610 km). The resulting attack inflicted little damage, but strengthened Kurita’s decision to retire.
Eventually, at 11.15 and thus more than three hours after the first distress messages from Kinkaid had been received by his flagship, Halsey ordered the ships earmarked for TF34 to reverse course and head to the south in the direction of Samar. At this point, Lee’s battleships were almost within gun range of Ozawa’s force. Some 150 minutes were then spent refuelling TF34’s accompanying destroyers. After this succession of delays it was too late for TF34 to provide any practical help to the 7th Fleet other than assist in recovering survivors from ‘Taffy 3’, and too late even to intercept Kurita’s force before it made its escape through San Bernardino Strait.
Nevertheless, at 16.22, in a desperate and even more belated attempt to intervene in the events off Samar, Halsey formed a new task group, TG34.5 under the command of Badger and centred on the 3rd Fleet’s two fastest battleships (Iowa and New Jersey, each capable of more than 32 kt) and TF34’s three cruisers and eight destroyers to head to the south at maximum speed. This left Lee and TF38’s other four battleships to follow. Had Badger’s group had succeeded in intercepting the Centre Force, it would have been seriously outgunned by Kurita’s battleships. The cruisers and destroyers of TG34.5, however, caught the destroyer Nowaki, the last straggler of the Centre Force, off the San Bernardino Strait and sank her with all hands, including those of Chikuma’s survivors she had rescued.
When Halsey turned TF34 to the south at 11.15, he detached a task group of four of its cruisers and nine of its destroyers under DuBose, and reassigned this group to TF38. At 14.15, Mitscher ordered DuBose to pursue the remnants of the Northern Force. The US cruisers sank the carrier Chiyoda at about 16.55, and at 20.59 the US ships sank the destroyer Hatsusuki after she had put up a very stubborn fight.
When Ozawa learned of the deployment of DuBose’s relatively weak task group, he ordered the hybrid battleship/carriers Ise and Hyuga to turn to the south and attack it, but the two odd Japanese ships failed to locate DuBose’s group, which they heavily outgunned. Halsey’s withdrawal of all six of Lee’s battleships in his attempt to assist 7th Fleet had now rendered TF38 vulnerable to a surface counterattack by the Northern Force, which had never been intended as anything more than a decoy.
At about 23.10, the US submarine Jallao torpedoed and sank the light cruiser Tama of Ozawa’s force. and this was the final act of the Battle of Cape Engaño, off the north-eastern tip of Luzon island, and with the exception of some final air attacks on the retreating Japanese forces on 26 October, this marked the end of the climactic Battle for Leyte Gulf.
At 12.26 a highly relieved Halsey sent to Nimitz, Kinkaid and General Douglas MacArthur the message ‘It can be announced with assurance that the Japanese Navy has been beaten, routed and broken by the Third and Seventh Fleets.’
It has been speculated that even if the Centre Force had quickly annihilated the escort carrier units of Thomas Sprague’s TG77.4, it would still have been faced with the need to tackle Oldendorf’s task group, which comprised six powerful and well-protected battleships and eight large cruisers. After the Battle of the Surigao Strait, the 7th Fleet’s battleships had available much less armour-piercing ammunition than battleships would normally be expected to have on entering an action with a comparable force, though it had plausibly been argued that they had enough for what would have been required of them in defending the entrance to Leyte Gulf, although not sufficient for a running fight. The same probably was true for the heavy cruisers. With their considerably higher rate of fire, the light cruisers had used most of their armour-piercing ammunition, but still had significant quantities of HE rounds. Oldendorf’s destroyers had launched almost all of their torpedoes, but still had considerable ammunition for their 5-in (127-mm) guns, and the Battle off Samar had demonstrated how effective such guns could be even against heavy cruisers. Even though unable to make massed torpedo attacks, the 28 or so destroyers available to Oldendorf would have been able to provide an effective defence against the Japanese destroyers.
Oldendorf’s force was approximately comparable in strength with the Centre Force after the latter’s losses on October 23 in the Palawan Passage and on October 24 in the Sibuyan Sea, and Kurita would have had to fight his way through Oldendorf’s task group before he could fall on the invasion shipping in Leyte Gulf. If, instead of annihilating the ‘Taffy’ units, he had managed to get through to Leyte Gulf without having to neutralise the escort carriers, he would then have had to engage Oldendorf while under sustained assault from the air. It remains a moot point, therefore, whether or not Kurita had a realistic prospect of inflicting serious damage on the invasion force off Leyte, let alone of inflicting a major reverse on the Allies.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf was in every respect a climactic encounter, and the losses on each side were heavy in ships and men, although the Japanese lost considerably larger numbers of both.
The losses were not evenly distributed throughout all forces. The destroyer Heermann, for instance, fought a wholly unequal engagement with a superior opponent, but ended the battle with only six of her crew dead. More than 1,000 of the men of the escort carrier task units were killed. As a result of communication errors and other failures, a large number of survivors from ‘Taffy 3’ were not rescued for several days, and as a result died unnecessarily of treatable battle wounds, exhaustion, exposure and shark attack.
The US Navy lost six first-line warships during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the form of the light carrier Princeton, escort carriers Gambier Bay and St Lo (the first major warship sunk by kamikaze attack), destroyers Hoel and Johnston and destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts. Four other US ships and the Australian heavy cruiser Australia were damaged.
The Imperial Japanese navy lost 26 first-line warships during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the form of the fleet carrier Zuikaku, light aircraft carriers Zuiho, Chiyoda and Chitose, battleships Musashi, Yamashiro and Fuso, heavy cruisers Atago, Maya, Suzuya, Chokai, Chikuma and Mogami, light cruisers Noshiro, Abukuma, Tama and Kinu, and destroyers Nowaki, Hayashimo, Yamagumo, Asagumo, Michishio, Akizuki, Hatsusuki, Wakaba and Uranami.
After the end of the battle, several of the damaged Japanese warships were faced with the option of making their way either to Singapore, which was close to Japan’s fuel oil supplies but could not undertake comprehensive repairs, or back to Japan where there were better repair facilities but little fuel oil. The battleship Kongo and heavy cruiser Kumano were sunk while retreating to Japan. The heavy cruisers Takao and Myoko were stranded without the possibility of thorough repair in Singapore. Many of the other survivors of the battle managed to reach Japan, where they were bombed and sunk at anchor, unable to move for lack of fuel.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf secured the ‘King II’ beach-heads and subsequent lodgement of the US 6th Army on Leyte island against attack from the sea. However, much hard fighting would be required before the island was completely in Allied hands at the end of December 1944: the Battle of Leyte on land was fought in parallel with an air and sea campaign in which the Japanese reinforced and resupplied their troops on Leyte while the Allies attempted to interdict them and establish air-sea superiority for a series of amphibious landings in Ormoc Bay, collectively known as the Battle of Ormoc Bay.
The four-phase Battle of Leyte Gulf inflicted on the Imperial Japanese navy the largest loss of ships and men of its history. Its failure to dislodge the Allied invaders from Leyte island entailed the inevitable loss of the Philippine islands group, which in turn meant Japan would be all but cut off from its ‘Southern Resources Area’ in the occupied territories of South-East Asia. These territories provided resources which were vital to Japan, in particular the oil needed for her ships and aircraft. This problem was compounded because the shipyards and sources of manufactured goods, such as ammunition, were in Japan itself. Finally, the loss of Leyte opened the way for the invasion of the Ryukyu islands group in the ‘Iceberg’ invasion of Okinawa in May 1945. The majority of the Japanese surface ships to survive their disastrous ‘Sho 1’ operation, resulting in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, returned to their bases to languish, entirely or almost entirely inactive, for the remainder of the war. The one major exception, in the periods between ‘Sho 1’ and Japan’s surrender in August 1945, was the suicidal ‘Kikusui-1’ sortie of April 1945, within ‘Ten’, in which the super-battleship Yamato and her escorts were destroyed by US carrierborne aircraft.
The first use of kamikaze aircraft took place following the ‘King II’ landings: on 21 October a kamikaze aeroplane struck the Australian heavy cruiser Australia, and organised suicide attacks by the Tokubetsu Kogeki Tai (special attack units) began on 25 October during the closing phase of the Battle off Samar, causing the destruction of the escort carrier St Lo.
These key support vessels were screened by the destroyers Aylwin, Capps, Dale and David W. Taylor of Destroyer Division 102, Dewey, Dyson, Evans, Farragut and Hailey of Destroyer Squadron 1, and Hall, Hobby, Hull, John D. Henley, Monaghan, Paul Hamilton, Thatcher, Thorn and Welles of Destroyer Squadron 51, and the destroyer escorts Acree, Bangust, Crowley, Donaldson, Elden, Halloran, Hilbert, Kyne, Lake, Lamons, Levy, Lyman, McConnell, Mitchell, O’Neill, Osterhaus, Parks, Rall, Reynolds, Riddle, Samuel S. Miles, Stern, Swearer, Waterman, Weaver and Wesson.
Further capability was provided by the fleet tugs Hitchiti, Jicarilla, Mataco, Menominee, Molala, Munsee, Pawnee, Sioux, Tekesta and Zuni, and the ammunition ships Mount Hood, Sangay, Mauna Loa, Australia Victory, Shasta and Lassen.