The Battle off Samar, Oct 25, 1944

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    THE BATTLE OFF SAMAR

    Introduction:
    This will document one of the most heroic, hard fought, and important naval engagements in World war II and in modern history.

    Though not as impactful on the final outcome of the World War II as the Battle of Midway in June of 1942, and not as momentous as the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 19421, this battle pitted the largest surface fire task force to see action during the war against a much smaller opposing force, which was taken every bit as much by surprise as the Pearl Harbor defenders.

    Samar-01.jpg
    Overall depiction of the Battle of Leyte Gulf,
    Showing the location of the Battle off Samar​

    Situation:
    The Battle off Samar, was at the end of the overall Battle of Leyte Gulf which itself a three task force attack (A Northern Force, a Center Force, and a Southern Force) by the Empirical Japanese Navy which had been carefully orchestrated to get at and destroy the huge American anchorage supporting the American invasion of Leyte. The plan called for the Northern Force act as a decoy and draw off the large United States Navy carrier Task Force under Admiral Bull Haley, which otherwise would decimate the Surface Task Forces that were to converge on the Anchorage.

    The overall strategy was expertly carried out by the Japanese. The Southern force were detected and defeated in detail well before reaching the anchorage...but it effectively served as feint and decoy for the Center force under the command of Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, who arrived on the scene early on Wednesday morning October 25, 1944.

    Samar-04.jpg
    Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita​

    Japanese Center Group under Vice Admiral Kurita:
    Admiral Kurita carried out his orders very well. He had been attacked by many US aircraft the previous day as he crossed the Sibuyan Sea. In that attack, Yamato's sister ship, the Musashi had been sunk and one of his heavy cruisers badly damaged.

    Samar-02.jpg
    Japanese Battleship Musashi under attack in the Sibuyan Sea

    Samar-03.jpg
    Japanese Battleship Musashi sinking

    At first, Kurita had turned back to get out of range of the American planes...and ultimately when their attacks ended, he patiently waited, and then turned back towards Luzon in the evening. The Americans thought he had disengaged...they could not have been more wrong. As a result, he would arrive the next morning, October 25th, with his very large surface action group, still consisting of the following vessels:

    Samar-05.jpg
    Japanese Center Force under way​

    Battleships:
    HIJMS YAMATO
    HIJMS KONGŌ
    HIJMS NAGATO
    HIJMS HARUNA

    Heavy Cruisers:
    HIJMS HAGURO
    HIJMS KUMANO
    HIJMS CHŌKAI
    HIJMS SUZUYA
    HIJMS TONE
    HIJMS CHIKUMA

    Light Cruisers:
    HIJMS NOSHIRO
    HIJMS YAHAGI

    Destroyers:
    HIJMS KISHINAMI
    HIJMS ISOKAZE
    HIJMS OKINAMI
    HIJMS YUKIKAZE
    HIJMS HAMANAMI
    HIJMS NOWAKI
    HIJMS HAYASHIMO
    HIJMS AKISHIMO
    HIJMS SHIMAKAZE
     
    #1 Jeff Head, Jul 2, 2015
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    Samar-06.jpg
    Battleship Yamato making way​

    Yamato was one of the two largest battleships ever built (the other was her sister ship, the Musashi, which had been sunk the day before). Displacing 71,000 ton, with nine 18.1-inch, 45 caliber guns, they were recognized as the most powerful vessels ever built. Their 150,000 shaft-horse-power could propel them through the water at a speed of 27 knots. The other four battleships carried 16 inch and 14 inch guns. Including the cruisers and destroyers, this large and powerful force of twenty-one ships was fully capable of completely destroying the American landing force anchorage at Leyte all by itself.

    Samar-07.jpg
    Rear Admiral Thomas Clifton "Ziggy" Sprague​

    US Navy Task force 77.4.3, Taffy III, under Rear Admiral Sprague:
    The only thing standing in its way that morning, and who themselves were taken completely by surprise, was Rear Admiral Thomas Clifton "Ziggy" Sprague and his US Navy Task Force 77.4.3, also known as Taffy III, consisting of:

    Jeep Carriers:
    USS SAINT LO (CVE 63)
    USS WHITE PLAINS (CVE 66)
    USS KALININ BAY (CVE 68)
    USS FANSHAW BAY (CVE 70)
    USS KITKUN BAY (CVE 71)
    USS GAMBIER BAY (CVE 73)

    Destroyers:
    USS HEERMANN (DD 532)
    USS HOEL (DD 533)
    USS JOHNSTON (DD 557)

    Destroyer Escorts:
    USS JOHN C. BUTLER (DE 339)
    USS RAYMOND (DE 341)
    USS DENNIS (DE 405)
    USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (DE 413)

    Samar-08.jpg
    US Navy Jeep Carrier of Taffy III​

    Six small Jeep carriers, themselves really just merchant vessels who had had a flight deck and some small guns added to them, three capable destroyers, and four small, slow, poorly armed destroyer escorts who were principally there with anti-submarine armament.

    That group was in place solely to offer close air support to the troops on Leyte, and had its small screen of destroyers and destroyer escorts to prosecute any Japanese submarines that might have happened upon Taffy III. They were never meant, or equipped, to engage in surface action with a far superior and heavier opposing force.

    The Battle off Samar Begins:
    At just a few minutes after midnight, 0035 hours to be exact, Kurita's Center Force which had completed crossing the Sibuyan Sea, exited the confined water of San Bernardino Strait, well to the north of Taffy III, and headed for Leyte Gulf and the anchorage.

    He expected to rendezvous with whatever remained of the other Japanese Task force, hoping that they had somehow remained as intact as himself.

    At 0654 hours, an aircraft conducting an anti-submarine patrol from another US Navy Jeep Carrier in the area, reported that a Japanese Tasks Force consisting of four battleships, six cruisers, and numerous destroyers (two of which were the light cruisers) was bearing 270° T at distance 20 miles from Taffy III at 0654. This information was reported to Admiral Sprague's Flagship, the USS Kalinin Bay. As the report was being relayed to the Admiral, excited Japanese voices were heard over the radio frequency which the US Forces tuned to to pick up any Japanese signals. The Japanese had clearly sighted Taffy III...and the liked what they were seeing.

    US forces immediately conducted a frequency test to make sure and it was determined that the Japanese voices were from the approaching vessels that the pilot had just reported on. The Officer in Charge sounded General Quarters was sounded at 0658 hours and speed increased to flank speed of 16 knots, and the to their absolute top speed of 17-18 knots. The Japanese were closing at 33 knots..

    At this point, Admiral Sprague sent out a radio message to any US forces in the vicinity:

    The Japanese vessels were already in range and opened fire. As stated, they were also significantly faster than the American Jeep Carriers and would easily overtake them and completely destroy them. The only vessels that could protect the American carriers were the three American destroyers and four American destroyer escorts.

    Sprague also had six small carriers with quite a few US Aircraft to use in his own protection.

    By 0659hours Spragueordered:

    At 0700 hours Admiral Sprague requested and received permission from the Commander of the Support Air Group to launch all available planes and "go after them." He does so.

    In order to help obscure the Japanese fire control, Sprague orders all vessels to make smoke. Very quickly, heavier black funnel smoke purs from the stacks of the escort carriers, the destroyers, and the destroyer escorts. Additionally, the destroyers and destroyer escorts make white chemical smoke off their fantails to add to the cover.

    Samar-09.jpg
    US Navy destroyers of Taffy III under fire and making smoke

    Samar-10.jpg
    US Navy Jeep carriers and Destroyer escorts making smoke

    As the large shells begin falling around the ships of Taffy III, Sprague sends an uncoded distress call to other American naval forces in the area, reporting his dire situation and requesting immediate assistance.

    Thus began the Battle off Samar.
     
    #2 Jeff Head, Jul 2, 2015
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    I will tell the rest of the story in successive posts, over the next few days.

    Feel free to comment on what has been posted thus far ONLY...but let me tell the rest of the story in pictures and in comments with my later posts.

    The unbelievable attack of the US destroyers and destroyer escorts, against absolutely overwhelming odds, and the absolute price they paid is amazing.

    The loss of two of the carriers is equally amazing and quite the story, as is Admiral Kurita's continuing attack and ultimate fateful decision.
     
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    The attack of USS Johnston and the other DDs and DEs of Taffy III:
    Taffy III's carriers turned into the wind to launch their aircraft. Once they were launched, the entire group of vessels turned south toward Leyte, zigzagging between enemy shells while the Japanese navy took shots at them. The destroyers continued pumping black smoke in an effort to conceal the carriers, and staying close to the ships they’d been ordered to protect. Because of the superior speed of the Japanese vessels, it became obvious that running wasn’t going to be enough.

    samar-11.jpg
    USS Johnston, DD-557​

    One of the US destroyers realized this before the others. It was the USS Johnston, DD-557, a 1,500 ton Fletcher class destroyer, commanded by Commander Ernest E. Evans. All of the escorts had been laying heavy smoke...but Evans realized that the oncoming Japanese were going to catch up with them all, smoke or no smoke.

    samar-12.jpg
    US Navy destroyers and destroyer escorts laying smoke​

    At approximately 0710 hours, under orders from Evans, Johnston had turned to attack. He did it on his own initiative, realizing it had to be done. It appeared to be a one-ship suicide run straight into the teeth of the most heavily armed surface fleet that had ever assembled and brought into combat.

    Evans was a Cherokee Indian, and at the commissioning of the USS Johnston, in October 1943, scarcely a year earlier, he had made a vow:

    Evans was now proving true to that vow in a desperate effort to protect the carriers. So Evans, and his crew, who were as hard-core and dedicated a group of sailors you could ever meet (and they would not be alone that day), initiated a mortally dangerous head-on attack against a twenty-one ship, tremendously heavily armed armada, hoping that they would delay the enemy long enough for the carriers to escape.

    samar-13.jpg
    The only known picture of the Johnston's advance on the Japanese fleet​

    As it started the attack, the Johnston was far out of range for their five-inch guns and torpedoes. But Evans determinedly zigzagged at flank speed through concentrated fire. The USS Johnston had to cross fifteen miles of open water to get within range of the enemy. Any single shot from those 18 inch, 16 inch, or 14 inch shells would rip the Johnston apart and send her to the ocean floor . But, oblivious to this, Evans raced on.

    Ultimately, the Johnston closed the range and began raking the far heavier Japanese vessels with its five inch guns and bofors cannons. Not enough to seriously damage the large ships in terms of water tight integrity, but more than enough to destroy command spaces, funnels, and the smaller gun mounts and crew serviced weapons.

    Five minutes after the Johnston had turned to attack, Sprague ordered the other destroyers and destroyer escorts to also attack. Sprague's own quote, regarding his 0706 hours order:

    This meant that the Johnston was going to be joined by the other US destroyers and destroyer escorts. They too had to run the gauntlet to get in close to their foes. The USS Hoel, another Fletcher class destroyer, and the USS Samuel Roberts, a smaller destroyer escort, were particularly brazen in their attacks.

    samar-14.jpg
    Another Fletcher class destroyer, the USS Hoel, DD-533​

    samar-15.jpg
    The small, brave USS Samuel Roberts, DE-413​

    Lt. Commander Copeland, when ordered to attack, announced the following on the ship's communication to his men:

    The Japanese fleet was harried. One of the battleships, three of the cruisers, and several Japanese destroyers become fully engaged with the smaller American vessels who were charging into the teeth of the massed Japanese fire. The Johnston fired over 200 five inch projectile in a short time. He caused significant damage to the bridge of the heavy cruiser Kumano and minor damage to other vessels.

    Admiral Kurita began doubting that he had evaded the heavier US forces...thinking with the ferocity of the attack that surely these must be cruisers and destroyers that were the vanguard of the larger, and heavier US battleship forces that had been drawn off with Halsey.

    Sometime after 7 o'clock Kurita ordered his forces into a "General Attack." This was a critical event. Whereas before the Japanese ships had been advancing as coherent groups within their task force, this order determined that the two destroyer squadrons, his fast, most maneuverable, and most numerous ships, would bring up the rear in a supporting action. The four battleships and six heavy cruisers of Centre Force are signaled to form individual pursuit. to engage the American ships individually and attak the Amwrican ships individually and at will.

    The juggernaut that had been steadily advancing and firing on the US forces as a coherent group, would now be more fractured, and began tto split into less coherent forces.

    Despite this, for the US destroyers and destroyer escorts the time of reckoning had come.

    Both the Johnston and the Hole were able to launch their torpedo's at the Japanese. Both of them carried ten 21 in Mark-15 torpedoes—housed in two swiveling five-tube launchers amidships—and they posed a serious threat to the battleships and cruisers.

    The Johnston, having pressed its attack, closed to within torpedo range and fired a full salvo of ten torpedoes. At 0724 hours, two or three of these torpedoes struck, blowing the bow completely off of the already damaged Kumano. Minutes later, 0733, the battleship Kongo was forced to turn away to the north to avoid four more of the American torpedoes. The heavy cruiser Suzuya, which had meanwhile suffered damage from air attacks, was also taken out of the fight, when she stopped to help the badly damaged Kumano. Johnston's and the other vessels attack had generated confusion among the Japanese, particularly, as stated, to Admiral Kurita.

    At this point, Evans reversed his course and began laying smoke once again which he hoped to obscure his movements. But it was not to be so. At 0730 hours, three 14 inch projectile from the battleship Kongo, at a range of 7 nautical miles, penetrated the deck of the Johnston and passed through her portside engine room, destroying the machinery there. This cut Johnston's speed to 17 knots and disrupting power to her aft gun turrets. Just a moment or two later, as about 0732 hours, three 6 inch projectiles, possibly from the Yamato, truck Johnston's bridge, resulting in many casualties and severing several fingers of Commander Evans's left hand. Now his ship was badly mangled badly, with dead and dying sailors laying across her decks. But thoguh damaged, the Johnston did not sink. At around 0736 hours she found temporary sanctuary in a rain squall. Evans, though injured, assessed his damage.

    The Johnston's search radar was destroyed and had toppled to the deck. Although his he fire control radar was damaged, he quickly ordered able sailors to try and bring it back on line, which they did. In a a few minutes, amazingly, Johnston's main battery was back online, and from its position in the squall, the vessel began firing at a Japanese destroyer that was approaching 10,000 yards away. After a few shots, fire was shifted to cruisers approaching from the east. Several dozen rounds were fired at the closest cruiser, 11,000 yards away. Incredibly, the Johnston was not finished this day...she had a LOT of fight left in her.

    At 0747 hours, Hoel was ordered to conduct a torpedo attack of her own. As the Johnston continued its course, it came upon the other US vessels, charging to the attack, led by the Hoel. Evans ordered his damaged ship to join with them and to screen for them as Hoel made its torpedo attack. Attacking a heavy cruiser, Evans had his destroyer close to 6,000 yards and open fire on the much larger vessel, scoring numerous hits on her as he passed by..

    By 0820 hours, emerging from more rain squalls, the Johnston was confronted by the Kongo, a 36,600-ton battleship. Firing more than 40 rounds, the Johnston scored at least 15 hits on the battleship's superstructure. Evans again reversed course and disappeared in the smoke, narrowly avoiding the Kongo's 14-inch return fire. At 0826, Commander Thomas requested an attack on the heavy cruisers to the east of the carriers. Responding at 0830, the Johnston bore down on a heavy cruiser firing at the now helpless Gambier Bay. Johnston closed to 6,000 yards and fired continuously for ten minutes at the heavier vessel, which was believed to be the Haguro.
     
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    At 0840, Evans observed a formation of seven Japanese destroyers closing in to attack the carriers. Reversing his course to intercept, Evans maneuvered the Johnston in an attempt to crossing the "T", a classical naval maneuver which put the force being "crossed" at a great disadvantage, of the destroyers . Evans ordered his guns to open fire on the new threat. The Japanese destroyers returned fire, striking the Johnston numerous times. Seeing the disadvantage, the lead destroyer turned away to the west. Before he did so, at 7,000 yards they scored a dozen hits on her. They then shifted fire to the next destroyer in line, scoring five hits on it before it too turned away. Amazingly, this entire group of Japanese destroyers turned away from the Johnston's fire.

    These destroyers opened range on the carriers, turned and fired their own torpedoes from 10,500 yards. Several of these torpedoes were destroyed by American aircraft strafing them, and the rest failed to strike any target.

    In this fighting, the vessels had become intermingled. The Hoel had been severally damaged and was sinking. The crippled Johnston now became and easy target. Fighting with all she had, she exchanged fire with four more cruisers and up to five more destroyers. She took many hits from the Japanese, destroying her number one gun turret.. At 0920 hours, forced from the bridge by exploding ammunition, Evans retreated to the stern and continued commanding his ship by literally shouting commands to the personnel now manually operating the rudder.

    Lt. Commander Copeland, the commander of the Samuel B. Roberts, saw the Jophnston at this point as she passed by. He recounts his image of this event:

    The a shell knocked out the remaining engine, leaving the Johnston dead in the water at 0940 hours. Five Japanese destroyers gathered around her and concentrated their fire on her. Johnston was hit many, many times and began listing badly.

    Finally at 0945 hours, Evans ordered his crew to abandon ship. Evans abandoned the ship with his crew, but he was never seen again. For his actions that day, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

    Long before that could be processed, it was the Japanese themselves who honored him and his ship. As the ship sank and the Japanese destroyers began moving off, several US Navy crewmen watched the Japanese captain salute their sinking ship.

    The Samuel Roberts one of the smallest vessels in the fight, exchanged broadsides for several minutes with the heavy cruiser Chikluma which was firing on the American carriers. Roberts raked the length of the heavy cruiser with it 5 inch guns. Chikuma's superstructure was ripped by salvo after salvo of 5 inch armor-piercing shells, high-explosive shells, anti-aircraft shells, and even star shells that created chemical fires. The bridge of the Chikuma was devastated and her number three gun turret was no longer in action.

    But the Chikuma was not alone, and Japanese salvos began bracketing the Roberts. Under fire from Yamato, Nagato, and Haruna, and in a desperate attempt to avoid her commander, Copeland, ordered full back. Though avoiding one salvo, this made her an easy target. At 0851 hours, 8 inch cruiser shells found their mark, damaging her boilers.

    Lt. Commander Copeland's own words about this particular action:

    Roberts then began to receive hits regularly. The Battleship Kongo struck the telling blows at 0900, knocking out her remaining engine, and causing her to go dead in the water, and begin listing and then sinking.

    Of Johnston’s complement of 327, only 141 were saved. Of the 186 lost, aorund 50 were killed by enemy action, 45 died on life rafts from combat injuries; and 92, including Commander Evans, were alive in the water after the ship sank, but were never heard from again.

    The Hoel, who had turned into the fight five minutes after the Johnston, died well before her. Moments after Hoel loosed her first salvo, before 0800 hours, and while conducting the torpedo attack she had been order to accomplish, a devastating salvo of projectile struck Hoel in rapid succession. This disabled all of her primary and secondary battery weapons aft of the second stack, crippled the port engine, and severed her fire control director, radar, and bridge steering control. The rudder was jammed and Hoel, now slowed to half speed. She was ins a slow right turn, and the captain of the Hoel, Kintberger, realized he would have to fire his remaining torpedoes quickly. Right at 0800 hours, seeing an approaching line of ships, Kintberger worked with the chief on the number two torpedo mount and as the chosen target came into position, he gave the order to fire. The Hoel was rewarded by the sight of large columns of water which rose from the intended target.

    But the destroyer was now crippled and surrounded by Japanese vessels. But before they could finish her off, the crew restored steerage. Kintberger ordered a zig sagging course towards Taffy 3. As she came on, Hoel peppered enemy ships with her two remaining guns.

    But she was not going to make it, after taking over 40 hits from guns from 5 inches to 16 inches in size, at 0830 hours, as the Johnston was bearing down on the heavy cruiser attacking the Gambier Bay, an 8 inch shell destroyed Hoel's remaining engine . Soon the engine room was under water. With her #1 magazine ablaze, she began to list hard to port and settling by the stern. At 0840 hours abandon ship was ordered. Many of her surviving crew were able to swim away from the ship.

    While this was happening, a Japanese cruiser and several destroyers closed to within 2,000 yards, to finish her off. But this gave the Hoel's two forward gun crews, who had not abandoned ship, and working under the command of gun captain Chester Fay, close targets. For about ten minutes, as the ship sank, they traded salvos with the cruiser. As the destroyers approached to about 1,000 yards, the American gunman also traded fire on them.

    Finally at 0855 hours, Hoel rolled over and sank. She had lasted 90 minutes in heavy fighting. Only 86 of her crew survived. 253 officers and men perished with their ship. Commander Kinterberger described the courage, devotion to duty, and valor of his men:

    These three ships were lost with heavy causalities. But they, along with the other vessels of Taffy II's screening force had mad a telling difference in the battle.
     
    #5 Jeff Head, Jul 2, 2015
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    ...more to come tomorrow as we see how US aircraft off of the Jeep carriers played their part, how the fighting continued and how time ran out for the carrier, Gambier Bay.

    How the Japanese ultimately turned away, and how even then the ordeal was not over when the carrier St Lo was lost too.

    By the way, here are the three pictures of the three commanders of the US DD and DE vessels lost in their attack:

    Evans.jpg
    Commander Evans, USS Johnston

    Copeland.jpg
    Lt. Commander Copeland, USS Samuel B. Roberts

    kintberger.jpg
    Commander Kintberger, USS Hoel
     
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    Attack of Taffy IIIs aircraft from the Jeep Carriers:

    While the heroic destroyers and destroyer escorts were attacking the much larger and more heavily armed and armored Japanese ships, Admiral Sprague's order from 0659 hours was taking effect. while under large caliber attack from enemy Battleships and Cruisers, the carriers launched their aircraft.

    samar-16.jpg
    US naval aircraft begin launching from Taffy III's carriers​

    Six squadrons of US Navy fighter-bomber flew over Johnston and the other vessels toward the Japanese fleet. A hail of tracer fire and airburst exploding shells greeted them from the concentrated anti-air fire of those twenty-one ships. Avengers and Hellcats streaked in at two hundred miles an hour. Intially they were not loaded for anti-shipping. They did not have time to do so...they took off with the loads they had for ground attack, or antisubmarine attack with anti-personnel weapons and depth charges.

    samar-17.jpg
    US Navy Avenger aircraft prepares to take off​
    [/CENTER]
    They literally came with what they had in the initial attacks. Avenger aircraft were dropping depth charges and Hellcat fighters were strafing armored battleships with .50-caliber machine guns. They were doing anything they could to distract and turn the Japanese armada away from the carriers...and away from the anchorage at Leyte.

    Soon after 0700 hours, both the sea and sky above were aflame with ships firing on one another, explosions, and attacking aircraft. It would remain so for well over three hours.

    All available fighters and bombers from the Taffys converged on the Japanese ship. It was sometimes confusing for the aircraft as the battle progressed because in many instances friendly and enemy ships were mixed together, many times only 2300 yards apart...sometimes less.

    samar-18.jpg
    Japanese cruiser maneuvering to avoid US Naval aircraft

    Ensign Paul Barnett, in an Avenger from Squadron VC-10 aboard the USS Gamier Bay, made the following report about his initial attack:

    As the aircraft expended their weapons, they would land for more. As they received more and more anti-shipping loads, their attacks began to tell.

    samar-19.jpg
    US aircraft reloading on the US Navy carriers, as shells continue to fall, and hit
    The aircraft with more effective loads began their attacks as soon as they could get in the air...and they began having an effect.

    A radioman, Louis Vilmer Jr., aboard another Avenger of VC-10 off the Gambire Bay reported:

    VC-5 was a composite squadron off of the USS Kalinin Bay, Admiral Sprague's flagship. Their report includes:

    samar-20.jpg
    Japanese cruiser taking hits from US aircraft[/CENTER]


    These attacks began having telling effect. The Japanese heavy cruiser Suzuya, which had been engaging the US carriers, was fatal damaged by US navy aircraft from those carriers.

    Early in the battle Suzuya was attacked by Avengers. One HE bomb made a near-missed on the cruiser, hitting the water close astern and to port of her. This took off one of Suzuya's propellers and reduced her speed considerably. Then, at 1050 hours, the cruiser was attacked by numerous carrier aircraft. She suffered another near-miss, this time to her starboard amidships.

    This near miss, was close enough for the explosion in the water to ignite the Japanese Long Lance torpedoes loaded in one of her starboard torpedo tube mounts. This large explosion started fires which soon spread to other torpedoes and munitions. The resulting explosions from these blasts did extensive damage, and destroyed one of her boilers as well as the starboard engine room. By 1150 hours, one hour after the latest attack, her captain ordered abandon ship. Soon after this order was given, the spreading fires set off her main magazines. Suzuya finally rolled over and sank at 1322 hours.

    Sinking's and damage that were occurring as a result of US air attacks and the relentless destroyer and destroyer escort attacks had a telling effect on Admiral Kuriata, as we shall see.

    But, while this was occurring, the overall battle raged on, with more damage was being inflicted on the US carriers as well.[/CENTER]
     
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    n the next installment, I will tell how the battle raged on, with US Jeep carriers taking many hit, while the remaining US destroyer and destroyer escorts continued trying to screen them.

    Of Kurita's fateful decision and why he made it.

    And prepare for the loss of the first US Escort carrier, the Gambier Bay.
     
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    The Battle off Samar rages on:
    While the destroyers and destroyer escorts made their attacks, and while the aircraft did the same, the six escort carriers continued to withdraw at best possible speed, zigzagging, laying smoke, and trying to avoid the continual salvos of Japanese high caliber fire.

    samar-21.jpg
    Salvos continued landing close to the Jeep carriers.​

    This condition went on for over three hours as the Japanese vessels sought to overtake and destroy all six of the Jeep carriers.

    Rear Admiral Sprague did everything he could conceive of to draw off, damage, decoy, and delay the Japanese. His concern, as evidenced by his communiques to the fleet and to his superiors made this clear.

    samar-22.jpg
    Sprague's concern was evident in his messages, and in the look on his face​

    With some of the Japanese vessel's being damage and others being destroyed, and with still others having to break off and maneuver to avoid the same, Sprague was successful to some extent in doing this. But it was not enough.

    He was well within range of the larger guns, even when some Japanese units maneuvered and broke off temporarily to avoid torpedoes or air attacks. Particularly the battleships, whose 14, 16, and 18 inch guns would be so devastating, continued to fire on the American carriers whenever they could bring their guns to bear. As time went on, the Japanese battleships were slower in closing the gap, and two of the cruisers were damaged and ultimately sunk, but four of the heavy cruisers maintained a relentless pressure and the carriers remained under very intense shell fire from these approaching heavy cruisers.

    Describing these conditions, the Captain of Gambier Bay, Captain, Walter Viewing, had this to say:

    samar-23.jpg
    Salvos landing very close to American Jeep carriers​

    By 0820 hours, the condition of the American Jeep carriers looked bleak. Despite all efforts, four heavy cruisers were quickly approaching the escort carriers from their port quarter. They were now within optimum range for their 8-inch guns. On the starboard quarter, an entire Japanese destroyer Squadron led by the light cruiser Noshiro was in position to limit the carrier's maneuvering even more. All of these vessels were significantly faster than the carriers, and although the battleships were maneuvering in their rear, they were still within range and adding their heavy guns attack.

    At this point, it was clear that the ferocious attack of the US Navy screening destroyers and destroyer escorts, while damaging Japanese ships and causing some to veer off, was not going to be enough to keep all of the Japanese ships off of the carriers. The overall scene at this point was one of wide spread and ferocious battle, with an ever increasing danger to the carriers.

    samar-25.jpg
    The Battle off Samar rages at its height​

    Several of the carriers began taking hits, even though the continued manuevering. ThyeGambier Bay was particularly damaged (as shall be explained in the next sesction) and she began to fall behind the other carriers of Taffy III.

    It was at this point that calls were made to the screening vessels, despite their damage, and despite being heavily engaged, to try and intercept the destroyers and the cruisers that were closing the carriers. As mentioned above, the escorts responded to this call. The Johnston and the Samuel B. Roberts were particularly effective...and as mentioned, it resulted in both of those vessels being sunk.

    But their attacks did provide some respite and allowed the carriers to continue on.

    samar-24.jpg
    US escort vessels engaging Japanese near the Jeep carriers.​
     
  10. Jeff Head
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    Jeff Head General
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    The next installment will relate the loss of the USS Gambier Bay, CVE-73, Jeep carrier. The only US aircraft carrier ever to be sunk by direct fire from enemy vessels.
     
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