Battle of Samar

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The Battle of Samar was the final stage of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history. The battle took place in the Philippine Sea near the Samar area of Leyte Island in the Philippines on October 25, 1944 and involved warships from the United States (U.S.) Navy against warships from the Imperial Japanese Navy. The U.S. Navy ships were commanded by Thomas Sprague and the Japanese Navy ships were under the command of Takeo Kurita. The task group “Taffy 3” would receive a Presidential Unit Citation for turning a seeming mismatch into a brawl as the destroyers and escort carrier aircraft threw themselves against a superior Japanese force of armored battleships and cruisers. They succeeded in causing enough damage and chaos to bluff the Japanese into withdrawing.


Admiral Takeo Kurita

In the battle, a large force of Japanese battleships, cruisers, and destroyers engaged a force of three U.S. escort aircraft carrier task groups. The U.S. naval forces were taken by surprise because they thought that Kurita's force had retreated the previous day. The main US force of fleet carriers and battleships, under the command of William Halsey, Jr., had left the area to attack a Japanese carrier force in what was actually a successful ruse by the Japanese to lure Halsey's heavy forces away from Leyte.

Unprepared to engage in a battle with large-gunned warships, Sprague's escort carriers attempted to escape from the Japanese force while U.S. destroyers, destroyer escorts, and carrier aircraft made repeated attacks on Kurita's ships. The escort carrier planes' ordinance was mostly high-explosive bombs and depth charges for their escort and support duties, rather than the armor-piercing bombs and torpedoes that planes on fleet carriers were afforded. Nonetheless, Sprague's planes pressed the attack and continued to dive on enemy ships even though they were out of ammo.

Two U.S. destroyers, a destroyer escort, and an escort carrier were sunk by Japanese gunfire. Another U.S. escort carrier was hit and sunk by a Kamikaze aircraft during the battle. Kurita's battleships were driven away from the engagement trying to avoid US destroyer torpedoes; they were unable to regroup in the chaos, while three cruisers were lost due to air attack and several other cruisers were damaged. Due to the ferocity of the US attacks, Kurita was convinced that he was facing a far superior force and withdrew from the battle area, ending the threat to the troop transports and supply ships. When Admiral Hasley got word, his carriers and battleships turned back to pursue Kurita but the Japanese forces had already escaped.

The battle was one of the last major naval engagements between the U.S. and Japanese naval forces in World War II. After this, the Imperial Japanese Navy would never again sail to battle in such a large force, instead of returning home to Japan to sit inactive until the remainder of the war.

This battle is often debated as one of the major "what-ifs" in World War II. If Kurita had continued the attack instead of withdrawing, it is likely that the US would have suffered heavy losses in troops and supplies, which would have delayed their capture of the Philippines. It is also likely that had Kurita and Halsey's forces met, that would have set the stage for the long-awaited "Decisive Battle" where both sides would have finally been able to pit their largest battleships against each other.


The overall Japanese strategy at Leyte Gulf, a plan known as Shō-Go 1 called for Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa's fleet, known as Northern Force, to lure the United States Third Fleet — under Admiral William Halsey, Jr — away from the Allied landings on Leyte, using an apparently vulnerable force of carriers. The Allied landing forces, now lacking air cover, would then be attacked from the west by Japanese forces including Vice-Admiral Takeo Kurita's command, Center Force, which was based in Brunei. The plan called for Kurita to then enter Leyte Gulf and attack the Allied landing forces. Kurita's force included the super-battleships IJN Yamato and IJN Musashi, the largest battleships ever built.

In the lead-up to the battle, on the night of 23 October, two American submarines, USS Dace and USS Darter, spotted Kurita's Center Force entering the Palawan Passage. The two subs submerged and fired torpedos, sinking two cruisers and crippling a third. One of the sinking cruisers was the flagship of Center Force. Admiral Kurita had to swim for his life. Center Force was in chaos for hours before Kurita was finally rescued. Kurita transferred his flag to IJN Yamato. The order was then given to continue on to Leyte Gulf.

Kurita's force entered the Sibuyan Sea, northwest of Leyte, on 24 October. In the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, it was attacked by carrier aircraft, and Musashi was sunk. When Kurita turned around, the American pilots thought he was retreating, but he turned again and made his way through the San Bernardino Strait in the night.

The battle off Samar.
IJN Yamato and a heavy cruiser, possibly IJN Tone or IJN Chikuma, in action off Samar.

The forces

The Japanese Center Force now consisted of Yamato, the battleships Nagato, Kongō, and Haruna,; the cruisers Maya, Chōkai, Myōkō, Haguro, Noshiro, Kumano, Suzuya, Chikuma, Tone, and Yahagi, and; 13 destroyers.

To stop them, there were only three groups of lightships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet commanded by Admiral Thomas Kinkaid. Each had six small Casablanca-class escort carriers, and seven or eight lightly armed and unarmored destroyers and/or smaller destroyer escorts.

Admiral Thomas Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.1 ("Taffy 1") consisted of the escort carriers Sangamon, Suwannee, Santee, and Petrof Bay. (The remaining two escort carriers from Taffy 1, Chenango and Saginaw Bay, had departed for Morotai, Indonesia on October 24, carrying "dud" aircraft from other carriers for transfer ashore. They returned with replacement aircraft after the battle.)

Admiral Felix Stump's Task Unit 77.4.2 ("Taffy 2") consisted of Natoma Bay, Manila Bay, Marcus Island, Kadashan Bay, Savo Island, and Ommaney Bay.

Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3") consisted of Fanshaw Bay, St Lo, White Plains, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay, and Gambier Bay.

Though each escort carrier was relatively small, carrying only 25 planes each, they added up to making available more than 500 planes in all. However, as they were intended to attack against ground forces and submarines, most were armed with machine guns, depth charges, and high explosive bombs, effective against troops, submarines or destroyers, but not against armored battleships or cruisers. Unlike Halsey's fleet carriers which had been sent to counter the bait of remnants of the Japanese carrier fleet, they lacked both the offensive bombs and torpedos and armor to stand in an encounter with a force of battleships.


Kurita's force passed through San Bernardino Strait at 03:00 on 25 October 1944 and steamed south along the coast of Samar, hoping that Halsey had taken the bait and most of his fleet away.

A mixup in communications led Kinkaid to believe that Willis A. Lee's Task Force 34 of battleships was guarding the San Bernardino Strait to the north and that there would be no danger from that direction. Halsey had radioed "am proceeding north with three groups to attack enemy carriers at dawn", which did not cause alarm because Halsey had four carrier groups. Thomas Sprague assumed that Halsey was taking three of his carrier groups to attack and would be leaving one group behind to guard the Strait. But Lee had gone with Halsey (who had, in fact, taken all four of his carrier groups) in pursuit of Ozawa.

Taffy 3 comes under attack

"Taffy 3" was the northernmost of the three units and the one which bore the brunt of Kurita's surface onslaught.

Rear Admiral Clifton “Ziggy” Sprague’s "Taffy 3" first learned of Kurita's presence when, at 06:37, a pilot on routine patrol spotted the force and attacked with depth charges. The Japanese had come upon Taffy 3 at 06:45, taking the Americans completely by surprise. Kurita had not found the silhouettes of the tiny escort carriers in his identification manuals and mistook the escort carriers for fleet carriers and thought that he had the whole of the American Third Fleet under the 18-inch (457 mm) guns of his battleships.

Taffy 3’s lookouts observed the antiaircraft fire to the northward. Admiral Sprague was incredulous and demanded identification verification which came disconcertingly enough when the enemy battleships loomed over the horizon. The Yamato was the largest and most powerful battleship to ever see combat; she alone displaced as much as all of Taffy 3 put together. Within 3 minutes of lookout observation, the Americans were under heavy fire from Japanese Admiral Kurita's powerful Center Force and the Battle off Samar was thus joined.

Immediately, Clifton Sprague (no relation to Thomas Sprague) directed his carriers to turn to launch their aircraft and flee towards a squall to the east, hoping that bad visibility would reduce the accuracy of Japanese gunfire, and ordered the destroyers to make smoke to mask the retreating carriers, which drew fire from the Japanese ships.

USS Johnston makes a stand

In an action that author James. D. Hornfisher would call “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors,” Lieutenant Commander Ernest E. Evans, CO of the destroyer Johnston, which was the closest to the attackers, suddenly took the initiative. He ordered his ship to "flank speed, full left rudder," ordering Johnston to directly attack the greatly superior oncoming Japanese ships on his own in what would appear to be a suicidal mission.

The Johnston was a relatively small and unarmored destroyer, completely unequipped to fight enemy battleships and cruisers. Designed to fight smaller ships and boats, she was armed with only five 5-inch guns and multiple antiaircraft weapons, which were ineffective against an armored battleship. Only the Johnston’s ten Mark-15 torpedoes housed in two 5-tube launchers could be effective, but those only if launched within a five-mile range, well within the range of enemy gunfire. If they fled, they would be destroyed by superior speed and gunfire. Asked by an officer "please don't let us go down with our torpedoes aboard", the captain responded that they would make their torpedoes count that day, and he would take the slim chance that they might survive a charge and score a lucky hit.

Weaving to avoid shells, and steering towards splashes, the Johnston approached the heavy cruiser IJN Kumano for a torpedo run. When Johnston was 10 miles (20 km) from Kumano, her five guns rained 5-inch shells on Kumano’s bridge and deck since the shells would bounce off the enemy ship's hull. Johnston closed to within torpedo range and fired off a salvo, which blew the bow off the cruiser squadron flagship Kumano, also taking the cruiser Suzuya out of the fight as she stopped to assist.

From seven miles away, the battleship Kongo sent a 14-inch shell through the Johnston’s deck and engine room. Johnston’s speed was cut in half to only 14 knots and killed electric power to the aft gun turrets. Then three 6-inch shells, possibly from Yamato, struck Johnston’s bridge, killing many and wounding Captain Evans in his left hand. The bridge was abandoned and Evans steered the ship from the aft steering column. Evans nursed his ship back towards the fleet, when he suddenly saw the other destroyers attacking as well.

Emboldened by Johnston’s attack, Sprague gave the order "small boys attack", sending the rest of Taffy 3's destroyers on the assault. Even in her heavily damaged state, damage-control teams restored power to two of the three aft turrets, and Evans turned the Johnston around and reentered the fight.

The other destroyers attacked the Japanese line with suicidal determination, drawing fire and scattering the Japanese formations as ships turned to avoid torpedoes. The powerful Yamato found herself between two torpedoes fired from the destroyer Heermann which were on parallel courses, and for ten minutes, she headed away from the action, unable to turn back for fear of being hit. Heermann, meanwhile, went toe-to-toe with the other Japanese battleships, advancing so close to her huge targets that they could not fire for either inability to lower their guns enough or fear of hitting their own men and ships.

USS Samuel B. Roberts

Samuel B. Roberts at sea.

At 07:35, the even smaller destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts turned and headed toward the battle. On the way, the Roberts passed by the mangled Johnston and saw an inspirational sight in the form of Captain Evans standing on the Johnston’s stern, his left hand wrapped in a bandage, saluting (with his good hand) the captain of the Roberts. With only two 5-inch guns, one fore and aft, and just three Mark-15 torpedoes, her crew lacked the weapons and training in tactics to take on the much larger attackers. Still, she charged in to attack the heavy cruiser Chokai. With smoke as cover, the Roberts steamed to within two and a half miles of Chokai, coming under fire of the latter’s two forward 8-inch turrets.

But Roberts was so close that the shells passed overhead. Once in torpedo range, Roberts salvo of three torpedoes struck the cruiser, and then the Roberts dueled with the Japanese ships for an hour, firing over 600 5-inch shells, and raking Chokai’s superstructure with 40 mm Bofors and 20 mm anti-aircraft guns while maneuvering at close range. At 08:51, the Japanese finally landed two hits, the second of which destroyed the aft gun turret. With her remaining 5-inch gun, she set the bridge of the cruiser Chikuma afire and destroyed the number 3 gun turret, before being pierced again by three 14 inch shells from the Kongo. With a 40-foot hole in her side, the Roberts took on water, and at 09:35, the order was given to abandon ship, sinking 30 minutes later with 89 of her crew. She would go down in history as “The destroyer escort that fought like a battleship.”

Meanwhile, Sprague had ordered all three Taffy groups to launch their planes with whatever they had, even if that were only machine guns or depth charges. Even after many aircraft expended their ammo and ordnance, they made dry runs to threaten and distract Japanese warships and their gunners. Instead of rolling over Taffy 3, the Americans had turned it into a bloody all-out brawl with their attackers.

USS Heermann

Heermann, in a position of comparative safety on the disengaged side of the carriers at the start of the fight, steamed into the action at flank speed through the formation of "baby flattops" who, after launching their last planes, formed a rough circle as they turned toward Leyte Gulf. Since smoke and intermittent rain squalls had reduced visibility to less than 100 yards, it took alert and skillful seamanship to avoid colliding with friendly ships during the dash to battle. She backed emergency full to avoid the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts and repeated the maneuver to miss the destroyer Hoel as Heermann formed column on the screen flagship in preparation for a torpedo attack.

As she began the run, dye from enemy shells daubed the water nearby with circles of brilliant red, yellow, and green. Heermann replied to this challenge by pumping her 5 inch shells at one heavy cruiser, Chikuma, as she directed seven torpedoes at another, Haguro. When the second of these "fish" had left the tube, Heermann changed course to engage a column of four battleships whose shells began churning the water nearby. She trained her guns on the battleship Kongō, the column's leader, at whom she launched three torpedoes. Then she quickly closed on the battleship Haruna, the target of her last three torpedoes, which were launched from a mere 4,400 yards. Believing that one of the "fish" had hit the battleship, she nimbly dodged the salvoes which splashed in her wake as she retired. Japanese records claim that the battleship successfully evaded all of the torpedoes from Heermann, but they were slowed down in their pursuit of the American carriers. The giant Yamato, with her monstrous 18.1 inch guns, was even forced out of the action altogether when, caught between two spreads, she reversed course for almost 10 minutes to escape being hit.

Heermann sped to the starboard quarter of the carrier formation to lay more concealing smoke and then charged back into the fight a few minutes later, placing herself boldly between the escort carriers and the column of four enemy heavy cruisers. Here she engaged Japanese cruiser Chikuma in a duel that seriously damaged both ships. A series of 8 inch hits flooded the forward part of the plucky destroyer, pulling her bow down so far that her anchors were dragging in the water. One of her guns was knocked out but the others continued to pour a deadly stream of 5 inch shells at the cruiser, which also came under heavy air attack during the engagement. The combined effect of Heermann’s guns and the bombs, torpedoes, and strafing from carrier-based planes was too much for Chikuma. She tried to withdraw but sank during her flight.

As Chikuma turned away, the heavy cruiser Tone turned her guns on Heermann, who replied shell for shell until she reached a position suitable to resume laying smoke for the carriers. At this point planes from Admiral Felix Stump's "Taffy 2" swooped in to sting Tone so severely that she too broke off the action and fled. The courageous attacks of the destroyers and aircraft thus saved the outgunned task groups.

Carriers under attack

The carriers of Taffy 3 turned south and fled through shellfire. The armor-piercing (AP) shells intended for Halsey's battleships flew right through the thin-skinned escort carriers without triggering their fuses. A switch to High Explosive (HE) shells holed, slowed, and sunk USS Gambier Bay at the rear, while most of the others were also damaged. Their single stern-mounted 5-inch (127 mm) anti-aircraft guns returned fire, though they were ineffective against surface ships. Yet, USS St. Lo scored a hit on the magazine of a cruiser, the only known hit inflicted directly by a gun on an aircraft carrier against an opposing surface vessel.

The tide soon turned against Taffy 3's destroyers. Two hours into the attack, Captain Evans aboard the Johnston spotted a line of four destroyers led by the light cruiser Yahagi making a torpedo attack on the fleeing carriers and moved to intercept. Johnston poured fire on the attacking group, forcing them to prematurely fire their torpedoes, missing the carriers. Their gunfire then turned to the weaving Johnston. At 09:10, the Japanese scored a direct hit on one of the forward turrets, knocking it out and setting off many 5-inch shells that were stored in the turret. Her damaged engines stopped, leaving her dead in the water. Closing in on the sitting target, the Johnston was hit so many times that one survivor recalled: "they couldn't patch holes fast enough to keep her afloat." At 09:45 (2 hours and 45 minutes into the battle), Captain Evans finally gave the order to abandon the ship. The Johnston finally sank 25 minutes later with 186 of her crew. Captain Evans abandoned the ship with his crew but was never seen again. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

USS St. Lo

Steaming about 60 miles east of Samar before dawn 25 October, St. Lo launched a 4-plane antisubmarine patrol while the remaining carriers of Taffy 3 prepared for the day’s initial airstrikes against the landing beaches. The Battle off Samar began at 06:47 when Ens. Bill Brooks, piloting one of the ASW planes from St. Lo, reported sighting a large Japanese force comprising four battleships, six heavy and light cruisers, and ten to twelve destroyers approaching from the west-northwest, only 17 miles away. At the same time, lookouts on St. Lo spotted the characteristic pagoda-like superstructures of Japanese battleships on the horizon. Admiral Sprague ordered "Taffy 3" to turn south at flank speed. Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s force steadily closed and by about 06:58 opened fire on the slow, outnumbered, and outgunned ships of Taffy 3.

St. Lo and the other five CVEs dodged in and out of rain squalls and managed to launch all available fighter and torpedo planes with whatever armament they had handy (general purpose bombs and even depth charges.) The carriers chased salvos from enemy cruisers and battleships, and ordered the pilots “to attack the Japanese task force and proceed to Tacloban airstrip, Leyte, to rearm and refuel". As salvos fell “with disconcerting rapidity” increasingly nearer St. Lo, her planes, striking the enemy force with bombs, rockets, and gunfire, continued to harass the closing ships.

By 07:38, the enemy cruisers, approaching from St. Lo’s port quarter, had closed to within 14,000 yards. St. Lo responded to their salvos with rapid-fire from her single 5-inch gun, claiming three hits on a Tone-class cruiser.

For the next hour and a half, Admiral Kurita's ships closed in on Taffy 3, with his nearest destroyers and cruisers firing from as close as 10,000 yards on the port and starboard quarters of the St. Lo. Many salvos straddled the ship, landed close aboard, or passed directly overhead. Throughout the running gun battle, the carriers and their escorts were laying a particularly effective smoke screen that Admiral Sprague credited with greatly inhibiting the Japanese gunfire accuracy. Even more effective were the courageous attacks by the destroyers and destroyer escorts at point-blank range against the Japanese destroyers and cruisers. All the while, Kurita's force was under incessant attack by Taffy 3 aircraft and planes from the two other U.S. carrier units to the south.

Under heavy attack from the air and harassed by incessant fire from American destroyers and destroyer escorts, the enemy cruisers broke off the action and turned northward at 09:20. At 09:15, the enemy destroyers, which were kept at bay by the daring and almost single-handed exploits of the USS Johnston, launched a premature torpedo attack from 10,500 yards. The torpedoes were reaching end-of-run as they approached the escort carriers, broaching the surface. An Avenger torpedo bomber from St. Lo, piloted by Lt. (j.g.) Waldrop, strafed and exploded two torpedoes in the wake of sister ship USS Kalinin Bay.

USS Kalinin Bay

Kalinin Bay accelerated to flank speed; and, despite fire from three enemy cruisers, she launched her planes, ordering the pilots "to attack the Japanese task force and proceed to Tacloban airstrip, Leyte, to rearm and regas." As salvos fell "with disconcerting rapidity" increasingly nearer Kalinin Bay, her planes, striking the enemy force with bombs, rockets, and gunfire, inflicted heavy damage on the closing ships.

As the trailing ship in the escort carrier van, Kalinin Bay came under intense enemy fire. Though partially protected by chemical smoke, by a timely rain squall, and by valiant counterattacks of screening destroyers and destroyer escorts, she took the first of 15 direct hits at 07:50. Fired from an enemy battleship, the large-caliber shell (14 inch or 16 inch) struck the starboard side of the hangar deck just abaft the forward elevator.

By 08:00, the enemy cruisers, which were steaming off her port quarter, closed to within 18,000 yards. Kalinin Bay gamely responded to their straddling salvos with rapid-fire from her single 5-inch gun, which only intensified the enemy fire. Three 8-inch armor-piercing projectiles struck her within minutes of each other. At 08:25, the spirited carrier's barking 5-inches scored a direct hit from 16,000 yards on the No. 2 turrets of a Nachi-class heavy cruiser, and a second hit shortly thereafter forced the enemy ship to withdraw temporarily from the formation.

At 08:30 five enemy destroyers steamed over the horizon off her starboard quarter. The closing ships opened fire from about 14,500 yards; and, as screening ships engaged the cruisers and laid down concealing smoke, Kalinin Bay shifted her fire and for the next hour traded shots with the guns of Japan's Destroyer Squadron 10. Many salvos exploded close aboard or passed directly overhead; and, though no destroyer fire hit Kalinin Bay directly, she took ten more 8-inch hits from the now obscured cruisers. One shell passed through the flight deck and into the communications area, where it destroyed all radar and radio equipment.

Under heavy attack from the air and harassed by incessant fire from American destroyers and destroyer escorts, the enemy cruisers broke off the action and turned northward at 0920. At 0915 the enemy destroyers, which were kept at bay by the daring and almost single-handed exploits of Johnston, launched a premature torpedo attack from 10,500 yards. As the torpedoes approached the escort carriers, they slowed down. An Avenger torpedo-bomber from the doomed St. Lo strafed and exploded two torpedoes in Kalinin Bay’s wake about 100 yards astern, and a shell from the latter's 5-inch gun deflected a third from a collision course with her stern.

At about 09:30, as the enemy ships fired parting salvos and reversed course northward, Kalinin Bay scored a direct hit amidships on a retreating destroyer. Five minutes later she ceased fire and retired southward with the surviving ships of "Taffy 3." At 1050 the task unit came under a concentrated air attack. During the 40-minute battle, the first attack from a Kamikaze unit in World War II, all escort carriers but Fanshaw Bay were damaged. One plane of Lt. Yukio Seki's Shikishima squadron crashed through St. Lo’s flight deck and exploded her torpedo and bomb magazine, mortally wounding the gallant carrier. Four diving planes attacked Kalinin Bay from astern and the starboard quarter. Intense fire splashed two close aboard; but a third plane crashed into the port side of the flight deck, damaging it badly. The fourth hit destroyed the aft port stack.

Though Kalinin Bay suffered extensive structural damage during the morning's furious action and 15 direct hits, she counted only 5 dead among her 60 casualties.

Japanese take hits

Taken under 5 inch gunfire by the destroyers and destroyer escorts, the Japanese cruiser Chōkai was hit amidships, starboard side, most likely by the carrier USS Kalinin Bay. A secondary explosion caused by the armed torpedoes on her decks knocked out the engines and rudder. Chōkai dropped out of formation.

Within minutes, an American aircraft dropped a 500 lb bomb on her forward machinery room. Fires began to rage around the Chōkai and she went dead in the water. Later that day she was scuttled by torpedoes from the destroyer Fujinami.

After the destroyer USS Johnston put a Mk-15 torpedo into the Kumano, blowing off her bow, she retired towards the San Bernadino strait where she suffered minor damage from aerial attack.

The Chikuma engaged the U.S. escort carriers, helping to sink Gambier Bay, but came under fire from the American destroyer Heermann and heavy air attack. Chikuma inflicted severe damage on Heermann, but was soon hit by an aerial torpedo attack and immobilized. Her crew was taken off by the destroyer Nowaki and Chikuma was scuttled in the late morning of on 25 October 1944. While withdrawing from the battle area, Nowaki was herself sunk, with the loss of all but one of Chikuma’s surviving crewmen.

Kurita withdraws

Though many of Kurita's ships had not been damaged, the air and destroyer attacks had broken up his formations, and he had lost tactical control. The ferocity of the determined, concentrated sea and air attack from Taffy 3 had already sunk or crippled the heavy cruisers Chōkai, Kumano, and Chikuma. Signals from Ozawa had disabused him of the notion that he was attacking the whole of the 3rd Fleet, which meant that the longer he continued to engage, the more likely it was that he would suffer devastating air strikes from Halsey's main attack carriers which were even more threatening than the tiny force of Taffy 3.

Calculating that the fight was not worth further losses, Kurita broke off the engagement at 09:20 with the order: "all ships, my course north, speed 20", As he retreated north and then west through the San Bernardino Strait, the smaller and heavily damaged American force continued to press the battle. (While watching the Japanese retreat, Sprague heard a nearby sailor exclaim: "damnit boys, they're getting away!") In retreat, Nagato, Haruna and Kongō were severely damaged from the torpedoes of Taffy 3's "tin can" destroyers and escorts.


Strategically, the Japanese had succeeded in luring Halsey's force away, leaving only light forces to stop the Japanese battle group. But the small task force had managed to force the Japanese group to turn away from its strategic mission, though at a much higher cost than if Halsey's forces stayed in the area. Taffy 3 had turned back the most powerful surface fleet which Japan had sent to sea since the Battle of Midway.

Domination of the skies, superior seamanship, and prudent, timely maneuvers, and tactical errors by the Japanese Admiral helped to nullify the overwhelming odds against the American task force.

From a tactical standpoint, the lopsided battle had resulted in Americans losing two escort carriers, two destroyers (Hoel and Johnston), one destroyer escort (Samuel B. Roberts) sunk, and dozens of aircraft. Four other U.S. destroyers were damaged. Over a thousand American sailors and pilots gave their lives that day. (Remarkably, the destroyer Heermann, finished the battle with only six of her crew dead, despite her duel with Japanese battleships many times her size.) Against this, the Japanese were forced to scuttle two heavy cruisers, and one limped back seriously damaged without a bow.

Kurita had begun the battle with four capital warships. On return to Japan, only Yamato remained combat-worthy, and she had not even taken a major part in the battle.

Presidential Unit Citation

Taffy 3 was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation "For extraordinary heroism in action against powerful units of the Japanese Fleet during the Battle off Samar, Philippines, October 25, 1944. ...the gallant ships of the Task Unit waged battle fiercely against the superior speed and firepower of the advancing enemy ...two of the Unit's valiant destroyers and one destroyer escort charged the battleships point-blank and, expending their last torpedoes in a desperate defense of the entire group, went down under the enemy's heavy shells ... The courageous determination and the superb teamwork of the officers and men who fought the embarked planes and who manned the ships of Task Unit 77.4.3 were instrumental in effecting the retirement of a hostile force threatening our Leyte invasion operations and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."



  • [[The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors|]]


Audio/visual media

  • Lost Evidence of the Pacific: The Battle of Leyte Gulf. History Channel. TV. Based on book by Hornfischer, James D. (2004). The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.
  • Dogfights: Death of the Japanese Navy. History Channel. TV. Based on book, and with interview by Hornfischer, James D. (2004). The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.


Original Source

Original content from Wikipedia under GNU Free Documentation License. See full disclaimer.