OCTOBER 25th 1944
Battle Of Leyte-Samar
Escort Carrier USS Gambier Bay, Destroyer Escort USS Raymond, and another Destroyer Escort, elements of Taffy 3, laying smoke before engaging the Japanese Center Force in the Battle Off Samar, Oct 25, 1944.The second stage of the battle occurred when a Japanese force led by admiral Kurita of battleships and cruisers came upon a force of escort carriers of task force Tafy 3 commanded by Rear Admiral AF Sprague, off Samar. The escort carriers were hit repeatedly by the guns of the Japanese force. However, daring attacks by three American destroyers, as well as desperate attacks by all of the carriers planes succeeded in driving off the superior Japanese force. The Americans lost only the escort carriers Gambier Bay and St Lo. Two destroyers and a destroyer escort that had gallantly attacked the Japanese battleships were also lost. The invasion fleet however, was safe. The final act in the battle occurred when US aircraft attacked the Northern Japanese force. Three Japanese carriers were sunk as well as a cruiser and destroyer. Most of the remaining vessels were heavily damaged.
The Battle off Samar was one of the strangest battles of the war. American commanders after the Battle of Surigao Straits were convinced that the Japanese no longer represented a significant threat and had left the Surigao Straits unguarded. A Japanese force commanded by Admiral Kurita of four battleships, eight cruisers, and eleven destroyers managed to sneak through undetected. The strong US naval force the 3rd fleet which consisted often fleet carriers and six fast battleships and their accompanying cruisers and destroyers had been lured north looking for the force of Japanese aircraft carriers that was being used as bait, the Japanese by now did not have enough experienced aviators to make effective use of the carriers. Sitting in Leyte Bay was a force of six escort carriers and destroyers and destroyers escorts which were left behind to provide support for the troops on the ground. The squadron was commanded by Rear Admiral Sprague.
The Japanese column managed to get with 20 miles of the American force called Taffy 3 before being recognized. The Japanese who thought they had stumbled on the main American battle force immediately started firing their long range battleship turrets. Geysers of water erupted around the American ships. The largely unarmored American force was unequipped to take on a large Japanese battle fleet and Sprague tried to move his force out of the way, while ordering his destroyers to attack with their torpedoes. The three destroyers the Hoel, Heermann and Johnston nobly attacked the larger Japanese ships. The Johnston manage to land a torpedo on the Japanese heavy cruiser Kumano disabling it. The other ships fought valiantly gaining valuable time for the escort carrier and the Japanese ships were forced to change course to avoid the attacks. After the destroyers were sunk by the Japanese the even smaller destroyer escorts were ordered to attack. They fought against overwhelming odds. The commander of the Samuel B Roberts that was sunk wrote:
To witness the conduct of the average enlisted man on board this vessel with an average of less than one year’s service, would make any man proud to be an American. The crew were informed over the loudspeaker system at the beginning of the action of the C.O.’s estimation of the situation: i.e. a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival could not be expected, during which time we would what damage we could. In the face of this knowledge the men zealously named their stations and fought and worked with such calmness, courage and efficiency that no higher honor could be conceived than to command such a group.
Meanwhile Taffy 3 ordered all of its planes in the air and to attack the Japanese ships, regardless of what armor they had aboard. An SOS was sent to all the other Allied ships in the area, and while the fleet carriers were to far away to help the Taffy 1 and Taffy 2 also consisting of escort carriers were close enough. In total the US Navy had 235 fighter planes and 143 torpedo aircraft to take on the Japanese. The planes were not equipped with the right ammunition and pilots had been trained primarily to conduct anti-submarine warfare. But they continuously attacked the Japanese ships with whatever they could.
Between the air attacks and the destroyer attacks the attacking Japanese ships had been damaged, three heavy cruiser sunk, but before Kurita decided to withdraw the had drawn within 10 miles of the American escort ships and were firing a steady stream of shell at them. The escort carrier responded with their own 5 inch guns. The steady stream of shells were enough to sink two of the escort carriers were sunk the Gambier Bay and the St Lo, but the rest survived. The Japanese never got near the transports who were still unloading and the Karita’s force returned to Japan, never to sortie to battle again. It was an expensive victory, 1130 Americans were killed or listed as mission and 913 were wounded.
The last part of the Battle of Leyte,was the Battle of Cape Engano where the US TF 34 found the Japanese carriers. The American force which was made up of 10 fleet carriers. For a whole day the American attacked the Japanese force which had few planes to defend itself. 527 sorties managed to sink fleet carrier Zuikaku, the light carriers Chitose and Zuihō, and the destroyer Akizuki. The light carrier Chiyoda and the cruiser Tama were crippled. What was left of the Japanese force limped back to Japan.