The Philippines Campaign
By the end of September 1944 we had moved steadily across the Pacific to such effect that the former Japanese bases east of the Philippines which were not in our hands were so completely cut off from enemy main forces that they were no threat to our operations. By the middle of October the Third Fleet was based for logistic support on Ulithi, where the main body of Service Squadron Ten was anchored; and by 20 October naval and military forces under General MacArthur, covered by Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet, made the Leyte landings.
Forces and Vessels--Logistic Support of the Seventh Fleet--Battle of Leyte Gulf
Vice Admiral Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet, constituting MacArthur's naval forces, was organized in 2 task forces and 3 task groups, numbering more than 180 combat vessels and more than 700 altogether. Rear Admiral D.E. Barbey commanded Task Force 78, Vice Admiral T.S. Wilkinson Task Force 79, Rear Admiral R.S. Berkey Task Group 77.3, Rear Admiral J.B. Oldendorf Task Group 77.2, and Rear Admiral T.L. Sprague Task Group 77.4. The combat vessels included 6 old battleships 5 heavy and 6 light cruisers, 18 escort carriers, 84 destroyers, 22 destroyer escorts, 34 submarine chasers, and 12 frigates. Among the amphibious types there were 5 combined operations-communications headquarters ships, 10 attack transports, 88 landing craft (infantry), 21 landing craft (tank), 10 landing ships (dock), and 151 landing ships (tank)--a total of 343. Mine sweepers and patrol and service types made up the remainder of the Seventh's forces. Submarines of Task Force 17 and of the Seventh Fleet supported the operation by furnishing early information of enemy movements, performing lifeguard service, and attacking enemy shipping.
Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet of fast battleships and carriers was organized
in 4 task groups--1, 2, 3, 4--all under Vice Admiral M.A. Mitscher as commander of Task Force 38. D-day was set for 20 October. Eleven days previous the groups were made up as follows, though subject to some changes from time to time: Task Group 38.1, Vice Admiral McCain, included 2 large carriers and 3 small ones, 3 heavy cruisers, and 11 destroyers. Rear Admiral Bogan's Task Group 38.2 had 3 carriers, 2 fast battleships, 2 small carriers, 3 light cruisers, 2 light antiaircraft cruisers, and 17 destroyers. Task Group 38.3, Rear Admiral Sherman, numbered 4 fast battleships, 2 large and 2 small carriers, 3 light cruisers and 1 light antiaircraft cruiser, and 17 destroyers. Rear Admiral R.E. Davidson, in Task Group 38.4, commanded 2 large and 2 small carriers, 1 heavy and 1 light cruiser, and 12 destroyers.
Carrier Task Force Missions Before Landings. With the nearest allied airfields nearly 500 miles from the landing beaches, the initial purpose of the Fast Carrier Task Force of the Third Fleet was to secure control of the air before D-day, 20 October. To establish such supremacy over Leyte and surrounding areas, large numbers of enemy aircraft in the Philippines had to be destroyed, and attacks made on bases through which aircraft from Japan had to pass. Destroying aircraft in the Philippines was second in importance only to destruction of the enemy fleet itself, and helpful toward that as well.
To attain these objectives the plan was to strike the strongly defended Japanese aircraft staging bases in the Nansei Islands, and Formosa, following with attacks in the Philippines in preparation for the assault there by Seventh Fleet forces. Okinawa was the first objective in the Nansei group. On 10-11 October its effectiveness as an aircraft staging base was interrupted and substantial damage inflicted on surface shipping. From the 11th to the 16th Formosa was subjected to air strikes from Task Force 38, and again enemy supporting facilities were substantially reduced by the destruction of 807 aircraft and 26 ships. From the 17th to the 23d the Fast Carrier Task Force gave more direct support to the Leyte landings by attacks on the Legaspi and Clark Field areas, and other Luzon airfields.
Staging for the Leyte Assault. In September the plan for the second phase of STALEMATE II, the capture of Yap and Ulithi, was canceled, and Leyte was ordered attacked on20 October,months earlier than had been contemplated. Ulithi, which was to have been seized after Yap, would be taken as soon as practicable. All shipping (except certain LST's and small craft left at the objective) employed in the assault on Peleliu and Anguar was sent, after unloading troops and stores, to Southwest
Pacific ports of Hollandia and Manus to be utilized for transportation of troops to the Leyte area.
Task Force 33, the Yap Attack Force, was assigned in its entirety of both assault shipping and troops to MacArthur for use in the Leyte operation. Task Force 33, or 79 as it soon became, reached Eniwetok 26 September and replenished its supplies there from Service Squadron Ten. Then, to permit consultation between commands, concentration of forces, and to avoid the possibility of typhoons in the belt between Eniwetok and Leyte, the LST and transport convoys left Eniwetok for Manus on 28 and 29 September.
Vice Admiral Kinkaid, commanding the Seventh Fleet, had two main amphibious attack forces: The Northern, Task Force 78, under Rear Admiral Barbey, commanding the Seventh Amphibious Force, and the Souther, Task Force 79, under the Commander Third Amphibious Force, Vice Admiral Wilkinson.
Northern Attack Force, Task Force 78. Troops of the four attack groups which comprised part of the Northern Attack Force were embarked at Finschhafen, Hollandia, and Manus. The force, without the San Ricardo attack group transports under Rear Admiral Fechteler, Commander Task Group 78.2, left Hollandia on A-minus-7 day, Friday, 13 October, an unlucky day for the Japanese. The San Ricardo transports left Manus and effected rendezvous with the force 2 days later.
Southern Attack Force, Task Force 79. Assault shipping and escorts hitherto designated Task Force 33, now Task Force 79, was originally assigned to capture Yap and Ulithi. The troops in it (XXIV Corps) reported to the general commanding the Sixth Army, but remained in the assault ships. The organization remained substantially the same as had been planned for the Yap operation, consisting of Attack Group Able, Task Group 79.1, Rear Admiral Conolly, carrying the 7th Infantry Division, and Attack Group Baker, Task Group 79.2, Rear Admiral Royal, carrying the 96th Infantry Division. Task Force 79 remained at Manus for its arrival,3-4 OCtober, until its departure for Leyte in two detachments, the LST convoy on the 11th, the transports the 14th.
Landings at Leyte. Initial landing sites were around Leyte Gulf in the east central Philippines. Both Northern and Southern Attack Forces converged on Leyte in almost straight-line approaches. On 17 October troops landed on Dinagat and Suluan Islands, commanding the approaches to Leyte Gulf, and next day made amphibious landings on Homonhon Island. Thereafter mine sweepers and underwater demolition teams removed mines and investigated landing beaches. On the 18th
bombardment ships entered the gulf and began firing on shore installations. Simultaneously planes from the carriers of the Third and the carrier escorts of the Seventh Fleet attacked enemy positions and neutralized his nearby airfields. Admiral Barbey's Task Force 78 and Admiral Wilknson's Task Force 79 entered the gulf during the night of the 19th-20th, and that day successful landings were made on schedule on the western side of the gulf. With the stepping ashore of our troops, the actual return to the Philippines had begun.
Logistic Support of Seventh Fleet. Admiral Kinkaid, in the logistic annex of his operation plan for the seizure of the Leyte area, specified the naval bases at Manus and Hollandia as the principal sources of initial supply, and further that Seventh Fleet supply agencies in New Guinea and the Admiralties, plus CinCPOA supplements at Manus, meaning Ogden's group of Service Squadron Ten, be utilized to accomplish the usual levels. These were ammunition, fuel, and lubricants to capacity; fresh and dry provisions to maximum capacity, but not to exceed 120 days for ship's company and 30 days for embarked troops; general stores, clothing, small stores, ship's stores stock, medical items--each to last 120 days.
Tasks of Commander Service Force, Seventh Fleet. The order required that Rear Admiral R.O. Glover, commanding Service Forth, Seventh Fleet, provide fuel, provisions, and water at Manus, and the same, with ammunition at Hollandia; replacement fuel from floating storage at Leyte on A-plus-4 day; resupply of provisions there by A-plus-30 day; tender and drydock facilities for all types of vessels at Manus, and tender for amphibious craft and destroyers at Hollandia; one repair ship (landing craft), the Achilles, Lieutenant C.O. Smith, to accompany the Northern Attack Force and be under Admiral Barbey's operational control. Admiral Glover was also ordered to appoint a service force representative for naval forces afloat in the Leyte area, to accompany Admiral Barbey to the objective.
Fueling schedules required that Task Unit 77.7.1, Captain J.D. Beard, of the service group, consisting of three fleet oilers, with escort, be on station A-minus-5 day to fuel Task Groups 77.5 and 78.4, respectively, the mine-sweeping-hydrographic and Dinagat attack groups. After that the APD's, the high-speed old destroyer transports of Task Group 77.6, the beach demolition group, were fueled, and then the destroyers, and heavy and light cruisers of Task Group 77.2, Admiral Oldendorf's bombardment and fire-support group.
That done, the oilers retired along the route of advance, joining the
LST's of the Southern Attack Force, Admiral Wilkinson's Task Force 79, and while proceeding in convoy refueled the LST's and escorts as Admiral Wilkinson specified. Returning,to be on station 2 days before the assault, the tankers fueled the transports and escorts of the Southern Attack Force as specified by the task-group commander. After this the oilers returned to Kossol Roads to refill, then went to fueling areas about a hundred miles east of the objective.
Bombardment Group Logistics. Admiral Oldendorf reported on the bombardment and capture of Leyte:
Prior to leaving Manus all ships of Task Group 77.2 had loaded to bombardment ammunition levels, had been fueled, and in the last few hours had received provisions. Provisioning was late because of the delayed arrival of the U.S.S. Bluejacket, and it appeared for some time that, in spite of the excellent provisioning organization set up by the Manus representative of ComServRon Ten, ships would have to sail without sufficient food to carry them through the operation. Apparently provision-ship operating schedules were not changed adequately to conform with the requirements of the newly planned operation. Some ships of the bombardment and fire-support group were reported as having only 6 days' supply of provisions on hand, and would hardly have been able to proceed on the operation had they not received provisions at the last minute.
Admiral Oldendorf's last statement is noteworthy, indicating the strong possibility of important, perhaps vital, ships being delayed for lack of food. In a very large and complicated plan such as that involved in capturing Leyte, the wisdom of having well-coordinated logistic support in ample quantity cannot be overemphasized.
The report continued:. . . it was wisely decided to bring the oilers and ammunition ships into Leyte Gulf, which saved much time and did not reduce the combatant force&nsbp;. . . It is appreciated that chances were taken in making this move as 'Flash Reds' (enemy aircraft in near vicinity) were frequent. Fueling of units was usually accomplished expeditiously, although the large number of ships to be fueled and the small number of oilers made the operation seem an endless one.
The taking of ammunition was, as usual, slow, difficult, and unsatisfactory. Two ammunition ships, the U.S.S. Mazama, Commander P.V.R. Harris, and the S.S. Durham Victory, were provided. The Mazama was well equipped, had its own winchmen, and helped in every way to expedite loading . . . The Durham Victory had a very small civilian crew, no winchmen, and no previous experience with ammunition handling. A representative from the Mazama was placed
aboard the Durham Victory and was of great help. However, throughout the landing period it was necessary to have the combatant ships supply winchmen to the Durham Victory. Trained winchmen are not usually available even on the larger ships, and require much experience before they are able to work holds with rapidity and safety. Since an ammunition ship is not a desirable neighbor in a harbor infested with enemy aircraft, and as it is of great importance that combatant ships be reloaded with ammunition as quickly as possible, it is strongly recommended that only naval ammunition ships be sent into assault areas, or if it be necessary to send civilian-manned ships, that the crews be augmented by trained winchmen, preferably by Special C.B. (Construction Battalion) personnel; otherwise by civilian longshoremen.
Both Admirals Wilkinson and Kinkaid concurred that sending merchant marine ammunition ships into assault areas was undesirable.
The Fueling Group. Story of the Ashtabula. The wary diary of the Navy oiler Ashtabula, Lieutenant Commander W. Barnett, reveals its part in the plan mentioned. ON 11 Captain J.D. Beard, Commander Task Unit 77.7.1, and his staff came aboard at Humboldt Bay, Dutch New Guinea, for temporary duty. Next day the ship sailed in accordance with Admiral Kinkaid's operation plan for a fueling rendezvous with the Navy oilers Salamonie, Captain L.J. Johns; Saranac, Commander R.H. Parker; Chepachet, Lieutenant Commander H.K. Wallace; the merchant tanker Pueblo; and escorts. On the 15th, the Ashtabula fueled some vessels of the mine-sweeping and beach demolition groups, delivering 6,350 barrels of fuel and 1,072 barrels of Diesel oil. The following day she gave the cruisers of the fire-support group, Minneapolis, Louisville, and Honolulu, 23,728 barrels of fuel oil and 1,800 gallons of gasoline. After delivering 14,150 barrels of fuel on the 17th, she ceased fueling, went back to Kossol, and replenished her cargo from the Pueblo, taking 29,000 barrels.
On 20 October, in company with other oilers, she left Kossol, anchoring in Leyte Gulf on the 23ed, A-plus-3 day, 7 miles east of the beachhead. She gave four destroyer types 7,000 barrels of fuel before going to a night anchorage in the lee of Homonhon Island. The next day enemy planes passed overhead, and she fired at them. Later she anchored 7 miles east of the beachhead and issued 3,000 barrels of fuel, 860 barrels of Diesel oil. While she was under way with a task unit seeking night anchorage, four enemy planes singled her out as a target. At 6:48 p.m. a torpedo struck her on the port side between frames 66 and 69, opening a hole 34x34 feet and flooding a pumproom. Fortunately, no fire or
casualties resulted, and no damage to engineroom or fireroom. Disregarding their ship's injury, the Ashtabula'sgunner opened fire as enemy planes circled within range. Radar and radio on the bridge had been knocked out and the ship listed 12 degrees to port. The first lieutenant immediately took damage-control measures by pumping cargo from No. 8 port wing tank to fill starboard wing tank, using fire hose to right the ship. By direction of the commanding officer of the Salamonie, the rest of the task units left, except for the fast attack transport, Bowers, which stood by. By 7:10 p.m., about half an hour after being hit, the oiler was making 10 knots going away from shore. Before an hour had elapsed she was on an even keel and her radar had been repaired. Steering in a generally southerly direction, she rejoined the task unit and spent the rest of the night on evasive courses.
Next morning at 5:45 three enemy planes were driven off by gunfire, the task unit making emergency turns to port and starboard and laying down a smoke screen. At 6:05 a Japanese plane approached but the Ashtabula shot it down. More planes came in but did not attack. By 10:15 a.m. "all clear" was sounded, and the unit proceeded to Maglobo Bay to fuel Task Force 77. The wounded oiler did not participate, but was ordered to steer evasive courses in the gulf for the night. Next day, the 26th, the heavy cruiser Minneapolis came close along the injured port side of the Ashtabula and took 1,530 barrels of fuel and 1,800 gallons of aviation gasoline, while to starboard the Salamonie was taking 128,598 gallons of aviation gasoline. When the Minneapolis drew clear, the destroyer Hadley took her place and gulped 2,500 barrels of fuel. Late in the afternoon, after receiving orders to steam evasive courses about the gulf during the night, an enemy plane was taken under fire and the task unit began making smoke and emergency turns. Two more Japanese planes came and were driven off. On the 27th, after giving 202,700 gallons of aviation gasoline to the Suamico, the Ashtabula went to the fueling area where on the 28th she transferred Commander Task Unit 77.7.1 and his staff to the Saranac, and later, with the Chepachet, was detached and ordered to Kossol Roads, where salvage of the fuel remaining on board was begun.
Ammunition Units of the Fueling Group. The U.S.S. Mazama and the merchantman Durham Victory were ammunition carriers of Task Unit 77.7.1, and accompanied that group from Kossol to Leyte. From their arrival, 23 October, D-plus-3 day, their operations were greatly hindered by threats of enemy action and by actual air attacks, one of which resulted in a hit by aerial torpedo on the ship ahead of the Mazama, the
oiler Ashtabula, as already related. During darkness the ammunition ships maneuvered in retirement, returning to anchorages off the Samar coast, to continue issues as early in the morning as enemy action permitted. With the warning "red" all holds had to be closed; the crew not busy with that manned battle stations. Often smoke was used as ammunition ships had to make issues during that first week was little more than 4 hours each day. Nevertheless, between 23 and 30 October the Mazama delivered 2,220 tons and the Durham Victory about half as much. Commander Harris of the former reported that though the working time per day was very limited, analysis of the unloading showed a very high rate of ammunition delivered per hour. On 1 November the ship left for Kossol Roads.
General Comment on Ammunition and Loading. Vice Admiral Wilkinson, commanding Task Force 79, commented in his report on Leyte that
Upon conclusion of the Peleliu-Anguar attack, the Fire Support Group was refilled as necessary to the original allowances and proceeded to Leyte with this load . . . Because of the greater effectiveness of high capacity projectiles against all targets other than very heavy reinforced masonry or concrete, a large proportion of these projectiles for major caliber and 8-inch guns, 80% for the former and 66% for the latter, was loaded, with the remainder armor piercing for possible use against heavy structures. Normal loads were retained for 6-inch and smaller . . . In view of the onset of the Japanese fleet the reduced supply of armor-piercing projectiles offered a serious embarrassment, and in that light it would have been well when the plans were changed to have reconsidered ammunition allowances, even at the expense of the efficacy of the preparatory bombardment . . It is understood that in the night engagement in Surigao Strait the small quantity of armor-piercing situation would have been critical.
Ammunition Allowances. Rear Admiral Oldendorf's preliminary action report for Task Group 77.2 on the battle of Surigao Strait, though it is factual, does not explain why supporting battleships were not better supplied to meet the enemy heavies. He wrote:
"The combatant forces in Leyte Gulf were assigned sufficient AP (armor piercing) to handle what had been heretofore considered normal needs for a bombardment ship. This averaged an ammunition loading of about 25% AP and 75% HC (high capacity). The AP was to be used in part for knocking out
tough enemy installations against which the HC was ineffective; and, in part, as a possible reserve for use against enemy raiders. Prior to this operation the loading had been ample for all purposes. However, it was clearly inadequate for the Leyte Operation in that danger from enemy surface forces was not only high but actually became a reality in the battle of Surigao Strait. Here the shortage of AP ammunition was so keenly felt as to seriously affect the tactical considerations of the action. It became necessary to permit the enemy to come into relatively close range before opening fire. This brought our surface forces within range of Japanese torpedoes and also well within range of Japanese major guns. The fact that neither these guns nor torpedoes were effectively used by the enemy in no way diminished the danger to our own forces by this range limitation. Ammunition ships were made available on A-plus-2 day in this operation,but this was a little too late to be fully effective."
Ammunition Expended. "The AP allowance of the heavy ships was but 25 to 30 percent of the normal allowance; the remainder . . . being taken up by HC. Of this AP 20-30 percent, a percentage varying for the different ships, had been expended for bombardment purposes. Thus the amount of AP on board the battleships on the night of the battle of Surigao Strait was a disturbing element. In addition to the above 20-30 percent of AP there remained approximately 12 percent of the HC projectiles with their reduced charges, and about 40 percent of the 5-inch mark 18 allowance. It is therefore evident that unusual attention to the conservation of ammunition was necessary and that had the action been prolonged a shift in type of main battery ammunition would have been required." It may be noted parenthetically that the reserve ammunition ships Bluefield Victory, Iran Victory, and Meridian Victory at Kossol Passage were not called in.
Water. Admiral Kinkaid's operation plan required that one clean fleet oiler,l with a capacity of approximately 100,000 barrels, be available as a water ship to back up the amphibious forces. Large ships with evaporating plants and tanks of considerable capacity for fresh-water storage were self-supporting. Even some of these were taxed to the limit by the needs of the large numbers of troop carried, delays or alterations of the plan, issues to other ships, or breakdowns of distilling apparatus. Amphibious vessels and small craft with no water-making facilities were wholly dependent. The fleet oiler Ponaganset, Commander J.F. Sanford, played an important part during the Palau-Leyte operations in supplying fresh water. Though originally specified to be at Leyte on A-plus-4 day, the
Ponaganset instead operated in the Palau with voyages to Manus in the Admiralties for replenishment of her cargo of water. Between 20 and 30 September she lay off the tip of Peleliu Island supplying fresh water to landing craft engaged in the Palau operations, discharging 71,688 barrels and servicing 77 vessels during September. In October she was at Kossol Passage making issues of water and later went to Manus to load another cargo, returning again to Kossol and off Peleliu. In October she gave out 43,608 barrels, servicing 125 vessels, and in November in the same area 52,207 barrels to 206 vessels.
So many different items comprise the logistic requirements of all the forces concerned that it would give a wrong impression to say that without any one particular thing the operation would be seriously handicapped. Yet certain supplies are of unquestioned importance, among them food, ammunition, fuel, and water. Among these, water because of its abundance at home, is most likely to be taken for granted and overlooked. Our planners realized this in time and made sure of an adequate supply. Its importance in tropical seas, thousands of miles from normal bases of supply, is vital.
The Great Sea Fight Looms. Besides their claims of having destroyed virtually all of Admiral Halsey's fleet, the Japanese press and broadcasts had for months been minimizing their own continued reverses by prophesying the annihilation of our forces when we were lured farther to the west. The enemy could hardly avoid trying to make good that boast. The general strategic factor seemed in his favor. Our lines of communication were stretched to a tremendous distance, his materially shortened. He would fight within easy supporting range of his own airfields. Other considerations also influenced him, and since our possession of the Philippines would be a serious strategic threat, it was apparent that the Empire would soon send its full strength against us. Decisive action was looked upon as probable.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
Japanese Naval Strength. On 20 October, the time of the Leyte landings, Japanese combatant ship strength was estimated as, in the Formosa-Japanese Empire area, 3 battleships; 6 carriers; 2 XCV battleships, with small flight deck aft and retaining 8 of the original 12 fourteen-inch guns (maximum speed, 23 knots); 5 light carriers; 3 carrier escorts; 4 heavy cruisers; 7 light cruisers; and about 20 destroyers. In the Singapore area
were 4 battleships, 1 carrier escort, 11 heavy cruisers, sever light cruisers, and about 20 destroyers.
Strength of the United States Forces. Our naval forces in the Philippines area were those of the Third Fleet and the Western Pacific Task Forces under Admiral Halsey, and the Seventh Fleet and Central Philippines Attack Force under Vice Admiral Kinkaid, commanding the Allied Naval Forces. Though the numbers changed from time to time, on 22 October there were roughly, with the Third Fleet, operating to the eastward of the islands, 6 battleships, 16 escort carriers, 6 light carriers, 2 heavy cruisers, 7 light cruisers, and 44 destroyers. In the Seventh Fleet in or near Leyte Gulf, were 6 old battleships, 16 escort carriers, 5 heavy and 6 light cruisers, and 88 destroyers. Thus the United States had a superiority in battleships, carriers, and destroyers, but a few less heavy cruisers than the Japanese.
[The last 2 paragraphs reduced to a simple table. --HyperWar]
Correlation of Forces Type Japanese Allied Formosa-
Singapore Total Third
Total Battleships (BB) 3 4 7 6 6 Battleships (XCV/OBB) 2 2 6 6 Carriers (CV) 6 6 6 6 Light Carriers (CVL) 5 5 6 6 Escort Carriers (CVE) 3 1 4 16 16 Heavy Cruisers (CA) 4 11 15 2 5 7 Light Cruisers (CL) 7 ?4 11 7 6 13 Destroyers (DD) 20/td> 20 40 44 88 132
Task Group 38.2 (Admiral Bogan). About 8:22 a.m., 24 October, Admiral Halsey received a report from an Intrepid plane that a large Japanese force without transports or carriers was south of Mindoro, moving eastward toward San Bernardino Strait. This force, known here as the Center Force, could easily reach Leyte Gulf before daylight on the 25th. At 8:28 a.m. Halsey sent an urgent dispatch ordering Task Groups 38.3 and 38.4 to concentrate on Task Group 38.2, which was opposite the strait and nearest the probable enemy line of approach.
Task Group 38.3 (Admiral Sherman). After launching dawn searches, this group about 8 a.m. received a report that about 40 enemy planes were closing in from the west, with a second and later a third large enemy raid appearing on the radar at about 60 miles distance. A brisk air battle ensued for several hours, Admiral Sherman maneuvering his group skillfully within rain squalls as much as possible, emerging to launch or land planes. While most of the attacking Japanese came from the direction of Luzon, a preponderance of carrier-type planes among them led to the conclusion that an enemy carrier force might be threatening from the north-northeast, a sector not included in the dawn searches.
Task Group 38.4 (Admiral Davison). About 9:05 a.m. on the 24th a search-strike group from the Enterprise reported an enemy force estimated to be two battleships, one heavy cruiser, and four destroyers southwest of Negros Island, headed northeast. The planes attacked and reported three 500-pound bomb hits on a battleship and several rocket hits on a Mogami-class heavy cruiser and four destroyers. This enemy, to be referred to as the Southern FOrce, then about 215 miles west of Surigao
Strait, could reach Leyte during darkness of the 24th-25th. Task Group 38.4, because of Admiral Halsey's order to concentrate on Task Group 38.2, could not make further strikes, so Admiral Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet force took the necessary measures which resulted in the enemy's complete destruction in the historic battle of Surigao Strait. In the afternoon Admiral Davison's group in a well-coordinated attack against the Center Force reported damaging a Yamato-class battleship, a cruiser, and other enemy ships. Most of the strikes against this force devolved upon Task Group 38.2, which was closest, and a torpedo badly damaged the already injured Yamato-class battleship Musashi, later reported sunk during efforts to save her.
Admiral Sherman meanwhile, with Task Group 38.3, which had undergone two series of enemy attacks and launched two strikes at him, initiated search to the northward previously interrupted by enemy action. Aircraft from the Lexington at4:40 p.m. reported an enemy carrier force almost due north, 190 miles from the task group.
Eve of the Battles for Leyte Gulf. Approaching darkness precluded further air strikes. The situation generally was that the Northern Force, predominantly a carrier group of only moderate gun power, sighted east of the northern tip of Luzon, was still intact. The Center Force, powerful in gunnery but without carriers, which had sustained heavy air attacks, was destined to pass through San Bernardino Strait but could not reach the eastern entrance to Leyte Gulf until at least 2o or 3 hours after daylight. The Southern, another purely gunnery force, though only moderately powerful, and which had been attacked, though not so heavily as the Center, could reach Surigao and the southern entrance to Leyte Gulf at almost any hour it chose during the night. Decisive action to attempt dislodging United States forces from the Philippines was imminent.
The Decisive 25th of October. The three-way advance of the Japanese in their attempt to make their propaganda boast come true turned into a nightmare of losses and failure. Three battles ensued--off Cape Engano, off Samar, in Surigao Strait, from north to south to show the resulting actions of the North, Central, and Southern Japanese forces.
The Battle Off Cape Engano. Admiral Halsey's forces pounced on the carrier force coming from the north, and with no damage sustained by the Third Fleet sank one large and three small carriers and two destroyers, damaging two XCV-type battleships, one heavy and two light cruisers, and three destroyers. [NOTE: Admiral Carter neglects to mention that this was a "carrier force" in name only. The air groups had been destroyed during the Battle of the Philippine Sea ("Marianas Turkey Shoot") in July and not replaced. The carriers were sent out as sacrificial lambs to draw Halsey's carriers away from Leyte Gulf. --HyperWar]
Battle off Samar. Coming through San Bernardino Strait, the Japanese
Center Force engaged the escort carriers of Task Unit 77.4.3, under Rear Admiral C.A.F. Sprague, for about 21/2 hours. These light carriers were amazing, with their heroic aircraft and gallant destroyer and destroyer escort screens, in standing off the attack of overwhelming enemy surface forces, among them the mighty Yamato, three other fast battleships, six heavy and two light cruisers, and 11 destroyers. It was a naval counterpart of David and Goliath. First sighted at 6:58 a.m. by our carriers escorts, the Japanese after a running fight broke off their gunnery action at 9:30 a.m. and later retired through San Bernardino Strait. We lost the escort carriers Gambier Bay and Saint Lo, and the destroyers Hoel, Johnston, and Samuel B. Roberts. By combined air and surface attacks we sank two Japanese heavy cruiser, and one destroyer. Planes of teh Third and Seventh Fleets made strikes after the Japanese retirement on both the 25th and 26th, and though four battleships, four to five heavy and one or two light cruisers, with about eight destroyers, escaped into the China Sea, a number had been heavily damaged.
Battle of Surigao Strait. The Japanese Southern Force of two battleships, one heavy cruiser, and four destroyers late in the evening of 24 October headed northward for Leyte Gulf, via Surigao Strait, with the intention of disrupting our overwhelmingly successful landing operation on Leyte Island. Early on the 25th this enemy force encountered torpedo attacks by our motor torpedo boats and by Destroyer Squadrons 54, 24, and 56. Meantime our battle line of six battleships was steaming slowly on an east-west line awaiting the proper moment to open fire. This force, Task Group 77.2, Rear Admiral Oldendorf commanding, included the battleships Mississippi, West Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, California, and Pennsylvania, with Destroyer Division X-ray--the Claxton, Thorn, Welles, Aulick, Cony, and Sigourney--as screen. The left flank forces were composed of the heavy cruiser Louisville, with Admiral Oldendorf in tactical command; Portland, Minneapolis, Denver, and Columbia, with Destroyer Squadron 56, made up of the Newcomb, Bennion, H.L. Edwards, R.P. Leary, Leutze, Robinson, A.W. Grant, Bryant, and Halford as screen. the right flank was made up of the Phoenix, Boise, Shropshire (Royal Australian Navy), and Destroyer Squadron 24, the Hutchins, Bache, Beale, Daly, Killen, and Arunta (R.A.N.). Destroyer Squadron 54 (the Emery, McGowan, Melvin, McDermut, and Monssen) was on station to the south, patrolling Surigao Strait.
At 3:32 a.m. the West Virginia was ordered to open fire when the range beacame 26,000 yards (13 sea miles). At 3:52 a.m. she began, with
the first eight-gun salvo of armor-piercing projectiles. This broadside fire from our battleships, plus enfilading crossfire from our cruisers and destroyers, was aptly described by Admiral Oldendorf in his war diary: "A methodical, deliberate, destructive fire of all calibers was poured into the enemy forces by the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. The sky was blanketed with red hot steel sailing toward his Imperial Japanese Majesty's Navy, which seemed bewildered and confused. One after another the enemy ships exploded, illuminating the entire area . . . The enemy now appeared to have turned to the southward, desiring to break off the uneven engagement and save the remainder of his ships." Especially for the battleships, this had been the of "crossing the T," a situation in which most all turrets could be trained against the approaching enemy, while he, advancing bow-on, could only bring forward turrets or bow guns to bear. The onslaught was terrific. The Japanese lost two battleships--the Fuso and Yamashiro--and three destroyers. The heavy cruiser Mogami escaped for the night, damaged, to be sunk next day by our aircraft.
It is particularly interesting that "crossing the T" at Surigao, with the Japanese on the receiving end, was history repeating itself in reverse. Back in 1905 they crossed the Russian "T" in the battle of Tsushima. That action was equally decisive, and the Japanese pursued the cripples after the battle just as we did after Surigao.
Admiral Nimitz reported "the Japanese paid a heavy price for their all-out attempt to interfere with our landings in the PHilippines, and i9n addition failed completely in the accomplishment of their mission. The destruction and damage inflicted on a major portion of their fleet has radically reduced their offensive and defensive capabilities and cannot fail to influence the course of future operations."
The writer recognizes that this brief account of the battles is of a purely combat nature rather than of logistic interest, but the importance of the actions and their profound effect in clearing the way for advancing our service support westward appear to justify including it. And even in the midst of tragedy, comedy smiles. Destroyer Division X-ray was ordered at 4:32 a.m. on the 26th to press home a torpedo attack on the retiring enemy, but later was told to join the screen on the left flank. As daylight came, the Claxton, Commander M.H. Hubbard, sighted numerous Japanese survivors in the water. On orders of Commander Task Group 77.2, she maneuvered to pick them up. Referring to one group of three, Commander Hubbard reported in his war diary: "One was willing to come aboard without much urging. The boat was lowered and sent to
pick up the other two (as prisoners of war). Long will we remember the chief machinist's mate in the bow of the boat twirling a lasso in hot pursuit of this Jap aviator attempting to swim away. The chief missed, but the survivor was brought aboard by a firm hand on the seat of his britches." This happening indicated the state of Japanese affairs after the battle. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was also bottom up!
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