Sunday, October 23, 2011

Battle off Samar, October 25, 1944

Battle off Samar Island Oct 25, 1944
Battle Map

Sixty seven years ago this October 25th, a battle that ranks among the greatest naval epics in American history took place when one small part of American Task Force 77.4 was attacked by a Japanese fleet led by their most powerful warship, IJN Yamato, two other battleships, five cruisers and three destroyers in what was called the Center Force. The battle closed when the Japanese battle fleet breached the unguarded San Bernardino Strait and attacked the northern most part of the task force know by their call sign, Taffy III consisting of six Casablanca Class escort carriers and their escort of three destroyers and four destroyer escorts.

The story of battle has been retold over the decades, perhaps never better than by James D. Hornfischer's Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors which puts the reader aboard the ships and in the cockpit as out gunned pilots attacked the oncoming Japanese forces with every thing from depth charges to making empty strafing runs and shooting pistols fired from inverted fighters as they swept past Japanese flag bridges. Little FM-2 Wildcat fighters, and TBM Avengers, loaded for submarine patrol and close air support, kept the on-rushing Japanese warships dodging and weaving, under a constant rain of bombs, depth charges and a hail of .50 caliber bullets.  The three destroyers charged into the rain of Japanese steel to launch their torpedoes and blast away with all guns until one was down, another holed and still fighting, and another hit and making smoke to cover the retreating baby carriers. alongside the destroyers, one DE, the USS Samuel B Roberts DE-413 charged into the fray and engaged the HIJN Chikuma in a gun duel that destroyed the cruisers #3 8" turret before being holed and sinking with the loss of 89 men.

IJN Chikuma under attack
Meanwhile the USS Johnston DD 557 was becoming a legend as she engaged and torpedoed a heavy cruiser before being hammered into a wreckage and sinking taking 186 lives with her as her captain won the Medal of Honor. Dogfight, USS Johnston off Samar.

USS Johnston attacking the Japanese battle line

The battle rages on and Taffy III's pilots are joined by aircraft from Taffy I and II making the Japanese believe they were engaging the Halsey's 3rd Fleet and after being pummeled for three hours turned back to the strait believing that to remain would invite destruction.  As mist of time close off our memory of what took place on that balmy day off Samar Island in the Philippines, men like Hornsfischer and web sites like Battle off Samar keep the memory alive and add immortality to men, many still boys, who turned too and fought as bravely as any sailor in history.

Adding to the what if, is had the Japanese fleet charged on swatting the aircraft aside and pressing home the attack, they would have been rewarded with this sight, the landing fleet arayed before them defenseless against Kurita's guns.
probable all six carriers would be sunk
unopposed access to destroy landing fleet

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