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The Wickes and Clemson Class Destroyers: Flush Decks and Four Pipes

USS Ward DD-139

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have so  much I could write about right now but instead I am going to go back to the well and dredge up an older post about some iconic warships. I guess that you can say that I am kind of taking a bit of a break from the present to remember the past, but be assured, a lot of stuff is percolating in my mind, so be expecting some new material about the COVID-19 pandemic, and some new Navy ship articles soon. However, until Monday, unless something really dramatic happens I will be continuing to re-pubish some older articles about historic Naval warships, or Warship classes that I find fascinating. 

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

USS_Pope_(DD-225)

USS Pope DD-225

The destroyers of the Wickes and Clemson classes defined the destroyer force of the U.S. Navy. In 1916 with the advent of the submarine as an effective weapon of war the Navy realized that its pervious classes of destroyers were insufficient to meet the new threat. Likewise the lack of endurance of earlier destroyers kept them from vital scouting missions since the U.S. Navy unlike the Royal Navy or Imperial German Navy maintained very few cruisers for such missions.

uss paul jones late war

USS Paul Jones DD-230 late war note 3 stacks and radar

The Naval Appropriation Act of 1916 included the authorization of 50 Wickes Class destroyers to compliment 10 new battleships, 6 battlecruisers and 10 light cruisers with the goal of building a Navy second to none. The new destroyers were designed for high speed operations and intentionally designed for mass production setting a precedent for the following Clemson class as well as the destroyer classes built during the Second World War.

uss boggs dms 3

USS Boggs DMS-3

The Wickes Class had a designed speed of 35 knots in order to be able to operate with the new Omaha Class light cruisers and Lexington Class Battlecruisers in the role of scouting for the fleet. They were flush-decked which provided additional hull strength and their speed was due to the additional horsepower provided by their Parsons turbines which produced 24,610 hp. They were 314’ long and had a 30 foot beam. Displacing 1247 tons full load they were 100 tons larger than the previous Caldwell class ships. They were armed with four 4 inch 50 caliber guns, one 3” 23 caliber gun and twelve 21” torpedo tubes.

uss crosby apd 17

USS Crosby APD 17

Although they were very fast they proved to be very “wet” ships forward and despite carrying an additional 100 tons of fuel they still lacked range. Due to the realization the U-Boat war required more escorts the order for Wickes Class ships was increased and 111 were completed by 1919.

  USS Gillis with PT Boats and PBY Catalina

The Wickes Class was followed by the Clemson Class which was an expansion of the Wickes class being more tailored to anti-submarine warfare. They had a greater displacement due to additional fuel tanks and mounted, the same armament, identical dimensions and were capable of 35 knots. However, these ships were built with a larger rudder in to give them a tighter turning radius. 156 ships of the class were completed.

h84822

Honda Point Disaster 

In the inter-war years a number of each class were scrapped and 7 of the Clemson Class from DESRON 11 were lost in the Honda Point Disaster of September 8th 1923 when the lead ship of their formation turned too soon with the majority of the squadron following it at high speed into the rocks. Other ships served with the US Atlantic, Pacific, and Asiatic Fleets, remaining the mainstay of the Navy’s destroyer and scouting forces until new classes of destroyers were introduced in the 1930s. Likewise many of the ships were laid up in an inactive status and with World War II approaching many were recommissioned, with 50 being provided to the British Royal Navy as part of the Lend Lease program, where they became known as the Town Class. Most of these ships had 2-3 of their 4” guns and some of their torpedo tubes removed in order to increase their depth charge capacity and to mount the Hedgehog ASW mortar system.

HMS Leamington ex- USS Twiggs 

Britain in turn loaned 9 of them to the Soviet Union in lieu of Italian destroyers  claimed as reparations by the Soviets in 1944. The surviving ships were returned to Britain in 1949-51 and all were scrapped by 1952.

uss gamble dm 15

Many of the ships never saw combat in either war as numerous ships were scrapped due to the limitations of the London Naval Treaty. Of the 267 ships of the two classes only 165 were still in service in 1936. As new destroyers were added to the navy in the 1930s a number of ships from each class were converted to other uses. Some became High Speed Transports (APD) and carried 4 LCVP landing craft and a small number of troops, usually about a company sized element. Others were converted to High Speed Minelayers (DM) or High Speed Minesweepers (DMS). The USS Caine in Herman Wouk’s classic novel The Caine Mutiny was a DMS. A few were converted to Light Seaplane Tenders (AVD). These conversations also included the removal of boilers which reduced their speed by 10 knots in order to accommodate the equipment added during their conversions. Since they were no longer Destroyers in the true sense of the word the loss of speed and armament was not considered detrimental.

The ships converted to other uses had their armament reduced with dual purpose 3” 50 caliber guns replacing their  4” main battery, and the removal of their torpedoes. Those which remained received 6 of the 3” guns to replace their original gun armament and lost half of their torpedo tubes. During the war all the ships would have greatly increased their light anti-aircraft armament, radar, sonar, and ASW capabilities.

USS_Stewart_(DD-224)

USS Stewart DD-224 after return from Japanese service

In 1940 19 of the Clemson Class, 27 of the Wickes Class, and 3 of the preceding Caldwell class were transferred to the British Royal Navy under the Lend Lease program. Some of these would see later service in the Soviet Navy being transferred by the Royal Navy serving after the war with those ships being scrapped between 1950 and 1952.

USS Edsall being Sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea 

The ships of these classes performed admirably during the Second World War despite their age. The first U.S. Navy ship sunk by enemy forces happened before the war began. The USS Ruben James DD-245, a Clemson Class ship was escorting convoy HX-156 when she was sunk by a torpedo fired by U-552 on the night of October 31st 1941 when she inadvertently found herself between the U-Boat and her intended target. 100 of her 144 man crew died in the attack.

The USS Ward DD-139 fired the first shots of the war when it engaged and sank a Japanese midget sub outside of Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. After her conversion to an APD she was sunk after a Kamikaze attack which damaged her so badly that she had to be scuttled by gunfire from USS O’Brien which by coincidence was commanded by her skipper on December 7th 1941, Commander William Outerbridge.

The 13 ships of the Asiatic Fleet’s DESRON 29 took part in six engagements against far superior Japanese Navy units while operating in the Philippines and then in the Dutch East Indies as part of the ABDA Command including the Battle of Balikpapan where the USS John D Ford DD-228, USS Pope DD-225, USS Paul Jones DD-230 and USS Parrot DD-218 sank 4 Japanese transports. USS Edsall was sunk by two battleships and two heavy cruisers which fired over 1400 shells, as well as 26 Val Dive Bombers from Admiral Nagumo’s Kido Butai on March 1st 1942. The few survivors were executed later in the war. USS Pillsbury was overtaken and sunk with all hands on the night of March 2nd 1942 by the Japanese heavy cruisers Atago and Takeo. 

USS Pope February 1942

Pope and HMS Encounter escorted the crippled heavy cruiser HMS Exeter from Surabaya to Australia, and safety. Unfortunately they were tracked down by a surface group of four Japanese Heavy Cruisers and four destroyers and Carrier aircraft. During the action Pope fired 140 salvos from her main guns and all of her torpedoes in a three hour running battle. During it Pope avoided destruction under the cover of a rain squall. However, that was a temporary reprieve.  Once out of the squall she was rediscovered by Japanese aircraft, and was quite literally blown out of the water by the heavy cruisers Myoko and Ashigara. Though all her crew successfully abandoned ship, they waited 60 hours in the open sea for rescue, yet even so, 124 of her 151 man crew survived the war and were repatriated to the United States.

During that campaign 4 of these gallant ships were sunk in battle and a 5th the USS Stewart DD-224 was salvaged by the Japanese after being damaged and placed in a floating drydock at Surabaya following the Battle of Badung Strait. She was placed in service as a patrol ship by the Imperial Navy. A ship of her description was reported numerous times to the Navy during the war, but it wasn’t until after the war that she was discovered by U.S. Forces after the surrender and returned to the U.S. Navy. Since there was by now another USS Stewart the ex-Stewart was simply called DD-224. She was sunk as a target on May 23rd 1946 off San Francisco.

USS Gregory and USS Little off Guadalcanal 

Other ships of these classes were sunk during the Guadalcanal Campaign. The Wickes Class USS Colhoun APD-2 was sunk by Japanese aircraft off Guadalcanal on August 30th 1942, followed by her sisters USS Gregory APD-3, and USS Little APD-4 which were sunk by Japanese Destroyers on September 5th 1942. USS McKean APD-5 was sunk by a torpedo launched a Mitsubishi GM4 Betty  near Bougainville in November 1943 while on a troop reinforcement mission.

In the Atlantic USS Jacob Jones was sunk by the U-Boat U-578 with the loss of all but 11 of her crew.

In February 1942 the USS Gamble DM-15 was heavily damaged in a bombing attack off Iwo Jima in February 1945. She survived the attack but was determined to be a total loss and was sunk off Arpa Harbor Guam on July 16th 1945. USS Barry was sunk by a Kamikaze off Okinawa on June 21st 1945, while  USS Perry DMS-17 was sunk by a Japanese mine off Palau on 13 September 1944.

campbeltown

HMS Cambeltown (ex USS Buchanan DD-131) at St Nazaire

Whether in the Atlantic or the Pacific the ships contributed to the Allied victory. The former USS Buchanan DD-131 which had been transferred to the Royal Navy where she was re-named the HMS Campbeltown and used in the Saint-Nazaire Raid. For the raid she was altered in appearance to look like a German Möwe class destroyer was rammed into the only drydock on the Atlantic capable of holding the Battleship Tirpitz. The mission was successful and the drydock was unusable by the Germans for the rest of the war. Following her return from service in the Soviet Navy, Leamington played the role of Campbeltown in the 1950 Trevor Howard film Gift Horse. She was scrapped in 1951.

The Clemson Class HMS Borie engaged in one of the most notable destroyer versus U-Boat battles of the war when she engaged the U-405 in the early morning hours of November 1st 1943. After being forced to the surface by Borie’s depth charges the battle was conducted at point blank range as Borie first rammed U-405 and then fought a close range small arms battle where her 4” guns were unable to be depressed far enough to hit the sub and Borie’s crew used a 20mm anti-aircraft gun, and small arms to keep the submarine’s crew from manning their significant surface armament. Finally U-405 sank with all hands. However, Borie was heavily damaged, suffered significant flooding, and lost power. With up to five Wolf Packs in the area it was determined to scuttle Borie. Her crew was removed and aircraft for the Escort Carrier USS Card sank her.

During the war these ships served in every major campaign and when no longer fit for front line service were used in escort roles in rear areas as well as in a variety of training and support roles. By the end of the war the surviving ships of both classes were worn out and a number were decommissioned and some scrapped even before the end of hostilities. Of the American ships that survived the war were all decommissioned by 1946 and most scrapped between 1945 and 1948.

During Second World War 9 of the Wickes Class were sunk in battle, and 7 were sunk or destroyed in other ways. 5 were later sunk as targets and the remaining ships were all scrapped. A total of 20 of the Clemson Class were lost either in battle or to other causes, including those lost at Honda Point.

800px-USS_Peary_Memorial_Darwin

USS Peary Memorial, Darwin, Australia 

The brave Sailors that manned these ships in peace and war become fewer in number every day as the Greatest Generation passes.

USS Peary Sinking at Darwin

It is a sad testimony that none of these ships were preserved as a memorial; however the Australians have a memorial at Darwin dedicated to the USS Peary DD-226 which was sunk with 80 of her crew during the Japanese raid on that city’s port on 19 February 1942. The memorial has one of her 4” guns pointed in the direction of the wreck of the Peary. A memorial to the USS Ward which showcases her #3 4” gun which sank the Japanese midget sub is located on the Capitol Grounds in St. Paul Minnesota.

The ships of the Wickes and Clemson classes were iconic, and their crews were heroic. Though none are left we should never forget the valiant service of these ships during both World Wars.

When I think of ships like these, designed over 100 years ago which are far more heavily armed and nearly as fast as the Navy’s current Littoral Combat Ships and build in massive numbers at an adjusted cost far lower than the modern ships, one has to wonder what we are getting for our tax dollars. Personally I would rather have Wickes, Clemson, or Fletcher Class destroyers with upgraded electronics and weapons suites rather than the overpriced, under armed and terribly vulnerable LCS ships.

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Filed under film, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea

The Revenge of the Pearl Harbor Battleships: The Battle of Surigao Strait

 

wvsurigaopaint-500x295

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was another busy but weird day as I am in the middle of trying to do my checkout from my current base even as I await the official short fused orders that are moving me to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth sometime next week. So today, after successfully completing my Physical Readiness Test, I did some of my checkout that I could complete without my orders; I am posting the third article of a series on the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This article discusses the Battle of Surigao Strait which ended in the near annihilation of most of the of the Japanese Southern Force. The battle was the last ever where battleships engaged each other in a surface action.

Surigao_straight

The two task groups of the Japanese Southern Force passed the daylight hours of 24 October relatively unscathed despite an air attack that caused minor damage. The group commanded by Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura comprised of the elderly Battleships Yamashiro and Fuso the Heavy Cruiser Mogami and four destroyers was leading the charge and was followed by that commanded by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima with the Heavy Cruisers Nachi and Ashigara, Light Cruiser Abukuma and four destroyers.

The mission of these two groups which were unable to coordinate their actions due to orders to maintain strict radio silence was to fight their way through the Surigao Strait to assist the Central Force in destroying the US invasion force in Leyte Gulf.  The mission was for all practical purposes a suicide mission, a naval “Charge of the Light Brigade” as they sailed into the Valley of Death against the Battle Line of the US 7th Fleet.

USS West Virginia Surigao strait

                      USS West Virginia firing a Broadside at Surigao

The Japanese Battleships had spent the majority of the war in home waters and had seen little action.  They had not been part of any of the great Japanese victories in 1941 and 1942 and they had not been blooded in the Solomons.  Instead the two elderly battlewagons passed the war conducting training in the inland sea.  They were no longer first line ships but the Japanese were desperate.  During the afternoon Admiral Nishimura received an accurate report from one of Mogami’s scout planes telling him exactly what he was up against yet he pushed on in the manner of a Samurai.

Japanese_battleships_Yamashiro,_Fuso_and_Haruna

                                                Yamashiro and Fuso

Facing him was a force built around the 6 old Battleships of Vice Admiral Jesse Oldendorf’s 7th Fleet Battle Line.  The Americans heavily outnumbered the Japanese, the Battleships West VirginiaCalifornia and Tennessee were the heart of the force. Fully modernized after Pearl Harbor they no longer resembled the ships that they were before the war. Equipped with the latest Mark 8 Fire Control radar they had the ability to put their 16” and 14” shells on target at ranges farther than anything that the Japanese could counter.  Joined by the less fully modernized Maryland, Mississippi and Pennsylvania, 4 Heavy Cruisers, 4 Light Cruisers, 28 Destroyers and 39 PT Boats they outnumbered the combined Japanese forces with sixteen 16” and forty eight 14” guns to twenty 14” guns on the antiquated Yamashiro and Fuso.  The disparity in lesser guns was just as stark, thirty five against twenty six 8” guns, and fifty one 6” guns against six 5.5 inch guns.  This massive imbalance didn’t count the nearly one hundred fifty 5” guns on the US destroyers and as well as nearly 200 torpedo tubes.

yamashiro surigao strait

                 Yamashiro and Shigure ride into the Valley of death

No one can ever criticize the Japanese Navy for its courage in battle, even in hopeless ones. Nishimura’s force entered the southern entrance to Surigao Strait and was discovered by the American PT Boats at about 2230.  Though the PTs scored no hits they provided critical updates on the Japanese to Oldendorff.  At 0300 the American destroyers began a devastating series of attacks on the Japanese flanks.  They sank two destroyers and damaged another which had to turn back, but the real damage occurred when both Fuso and Yamashiro were hit. Fuso took two torpedoes fired by the destroyer USS Melvin.  She slowed and then blew up and broke in two sinking with all hands.  This account has been contested in recent years but many find the new version less believable than the first. Key in the evidence was the rescue and capture of Yamashiro’s Executive Officer in the north end of the strait and the surviving logs of the other Japanese ships which reported the sinking. Yamashiro though hit continued north with Mogami and the last destroyer Shigure.  At 0353 West Virginia opened fire and score hits on her first salvo. She was joined by California and Tennesseeat 0355, the other battleships with their Mark 3 fire direction radars were slow to open up. Maryland got off six full salvos by ranging in on the splashes of West VirginiaCalifornia and Tennessee.  Mississippi logged the final salvo of the battle and Pennsylvania got no shots off.  West Virginia fired 16 salvos, 96 rounds of 16”armor piercing shells, Tennessee got off 69 rounds and California 63 each of 14” armor piercing shells, while  Maryland added another forty eight 16” rounds.

The Yamashiro and Mogami sailed into the maelstrom absorbing hit after hit and gamely fought back. Yamashiro hit the destroyer Albert W Grant which was also hit by friendly fire badly damaging her. Finally both ships ablaze they turned back down the strait with Yamashiro sinking with few survivors at 0420.  Shima’s force then entered the fray and the Light Cruiser Abukuma was damaged by a torpedo fired by PT-137 and fell out of the formation. She was sunk on 26 October by Army Air Force B-24s. As Shima came up the strait his force entered the battered remnants of Nishimura’s force, the burning halves of Fuso and the retreating Mogami and Shigure. Assuming the halves of Fuso to be the wreckage of both battleships Shima beat a hasty retreat but in the process his flagship Nachi collided with Mogami flooding Mogami’s steering engine room and leaving her crippled.  She was attacked again by American cruisers and aircraft and as abandoned at 1047 and scuttled a torpedo from the destroyer Akebono sinking at 1307 on 25 October.

nachi

                                              Nachi Under Air Attack

The battle was one of the most lopsided surface engagements of the war.  When it was over only one of Nishimura’s ships had survived the “lucky” Shigure.  Shima’s force survived the night but most of his ships were sunk in the following by war’s end. Nachi was sunk in Manila Bay on 5 November by aircraft from the USS Lexington with a loss of over 800 sailors while Shima was in a conference ashore.

With the exception of Albert W Grant and a PT Boat the American force was unscathed the old Battlewagons dredged from the mud of Peal Harbor had led the fleet to a decisive victory in the last duel between Dreadnaughts ever fought. The Japanese died as Samurai trying to complete a hopeless mission against a far superior force.

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

The Battle of Leyte Gulf Part Three: the Revenge of the Old Battleships, the Battle of Surigao Strait

wvsurigaopaint-500x295

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am still taking some time off from writing about politics and so today I am posting the third article of a series on the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This article discusses the Battle of Surigao Strait which ended in the near annihilation of most of the of the Japanese Southern Force. The battle was the last ever where battleships engaged each other in a surface action.

Surigao_straight

The two task groups of the Japanese Southern Force passed the daylight hours of 24 October relatively unscathed despite an air attack that caused minor damage. The group commanded by Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura comprised of the elderly Battleships Yamashiro and Fuso the Heavy Cruiser Mogami and four destroyers was leading the charge and was followed by that commanded by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima with the Heavy Cruisers Nachi and Ashigara, Light Cruiser Abukuma and four destroyers.

The mission of these two groups which were unable to coordinate their actions due to orders to maintain strict radio silence was to fight their way through the Surigao Strait to assist the Central Force in destroying the US invasion force in Leyte Gulf.  The mission was for all practical purposes a suicide mission, a naval “Charge of the Light Brigade” as they sailed into the Valley of Death against the Battle Line of the US 7th Fleet.

USS West Virginia Surigao strait

USS West Virginia  at Surigao

The Japanese Battleships had spent the majority of the war in home waters and had seen little action.  They had not been part of any of the great Japanese victories in 1941 and 1942 and they had not been blooded in the Solomons.  Instead the two elderly battlewagons passed the war conducting training in the inland sea.  They were no longer first line ships but the Japanese were desperate.  During the afternoon Admiral Nishimura received an accurate report from one of Mogami’s scout planes telling him exactly what he was up against yet he pushed on in the manner of a Samurai.

Japanese_battleships_Yamashiro,_Fuso_and_Haruna

Yamashiro and Fuso

Facing him was a force built around the 6 old Battleships of Vice Admiral Jesse Oldendorf’s 7th Fleet Battle Line.  The Americans heavily outnumbered the Japanese, the Battleships West VirginiaCalifornia and Tennessee were the heart of the force. Fully modernized after Pearl Harbor they no longer resembled the ships that they were before the war. Equipped with the latest Mark 8 Fire Control radar they had the ability to put their 16” and 14” shells on target at ranges farther than anything that the Japanese could counter.  Joined by the less fully modernized Maryland, Mississippi and Pennsylvania, 4 Heavy Cruisers, 4 Light Cruisers, 28 Destroyers and 39 PT Boats the outnumbered the combined Japanese forces with sixteen 16” and forty eight 14” guns to twenty 14” guns on the antiquated Yamashiro and Fuso.  The disparity in lesser guns was just as stark, thirty five against twenty six 8” guns, and fifty one 6” guns against six 5.5 inch guns.  This massive imbalance didn’t count the nearly one hundred fifty 5” guns on the US destroyers and as well as nearly 200 torpedo tubes.

yamashiro surigao strait

Yamashiro and Shigure ride into the Valley of death

Nishimura’s force entered the southern entrance to Surigao Strait and was discovered by the American PT Boats at about 2236.  Though the PTs scored no hits they provided critical updates on the Japanese to Oldendorff.  At 0300 the American destroyers began a devastating series of attacks on the Japanese flanks.  They sank two destroyers and damaged another which had to turn back, but the real damage occurred when both Fuso and Yamashiro were hit. Fuso took two torpedoes fired by the destroyer USS Melvin.  She slowed and then blew up and broke in two sinking with all hands.  This account has been contested in recent years but many find the new version less believable than the first. Key in the evidence was the rescue and capture of Yamashiro’s Executive Officer in the north end of the strait and the surviving logs of the other Japanese ships which reported the sinking. Yamashiro though hit continued north with Mogami and the last destroyer Shigure.  At 0353 West Virginia opened fire and score hits on her first salvo. She was joined by California and Tennesseeat 0355, the other battleships with their Mark 3 fire direction radars were slow to open up. Maryland got off six full salvos by ranging in on the splashes of West VirginiaCalifornia and Tennessee.  Mississippi logged the final salvo of the battle and Pennsylvania got no shots off.  West Virginia fired 16 salvos, 96 round of 16”armor piercing shells, Tennessee got off 69 rounds and California 63 each of 14” armor piercing shells, while  Maryland added another forty eight 16” rounds.

The Yamashiro and Mogami sailed into the maelstrom absorbing hit after hit and gamely fought back. Yamashiro hit the destroyer Albert W Grant which was also hit by friendly fire badly damaging her. Finally both ships ablaze they turned back down the strait with Yamashiro sinking with few survivors at 0420.  Shima’s force entered the fray and the Light Cruiser Abukuma was damaged by a torpedo fired by PT-137 and fell out of the formation. She was sunk on 26 October by Army Air Force B-24s. As Shima came up the strait his force entered the battered remnants of Nishimura’s force, the burning halves of Fuso and the retreating Mogami and Shigure. Assuming the halves of Fusoto be the wreckage of both battleships Shima beat a hasty retreat but in the process his flagship Nachi collided with Mogami flooding Mogami’s steering engine room and leaving her crippled.  She was attacked again by American cruisers and aircraft and as abandoned at 1047 and scuttled a torpedo from the destroyer Akebono sinking at 1307 on 25 October.

nachi

Nachi Under Air Attack

The battle was one of the most lopsided surface engagements of the war.  When it was over only one of Nishimura’s ships had survived the “lucky” Shigure.  Shima’s force survived the night but most of his ships were sunk in the following by war’s end. Nachi was sunk in Manila Bay on 5 November by aircraft from the USS Lexington with a loss of over 800 sailors while Shima was in a conference ashore.

With the exception of Albert W Grant and a PT Boat the American force was unscathed the old Battlewagons dredged from the mud of Peal Harbor had led the fleet to a decisive victory in the last duel between Dreadnaughts ever fought. The Japanese died as Samurai trying to complete a hopeless mission against a far superior force.

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The Battle of Leyte Gulf Part Three: Slaughter at Surigao

wvsurigaopaint-500x295

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am still taking some time off from writing about the Presidential race and so today I am posting the third article of a series on the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This article discusses the Battle of Surigao Strait which ended in the near annihilation of most of the of the Japanese Southern Force. The battle was the last ever where battleships engaged each other in a surface action.

Surigao_straight

The two task groups of the Japanese Southern Force passed the daylight hours of 24 October relatively unscathed despite an air attack that caused minor damage. The group commanded by Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura comprised of the elderly Battleships Yamashiro and Fuso the Heavy Cruiser Mogami and four destroyers was leading the charge and was followed by that commanded by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima with the Heavy Cruisers Nachi and Ashigara, Light Cruiser Abukuma and four destroyers.

The mission of these two groups which were unable to coordinate their actions due to orders to maintain strict radio silence was to fight their way through the Surigao Strait to assist the Central Force in destroying the US invasion force in Leyte Gulf.  The mission was for all practical purposes a suicide mission, a naval “Charge of the Light Brigade” as they sailed into the Valley of Death against the Battle Line of the US 7th Fleet.

USS West Virginia Surigao strait

USS West Virginia  at Surigao

The Japanese Battleships had spent the majority of the war in home waters and had seen little action.  They had not been part of any of the great Japanese victories in 1941 and 1942 and they had not been blooded in the Solomons.  Instead the two elderly battlewagons passed the war conducting training in the inland sea.  They were no longer first line ships but the Japanese were desperate.  During the afternoon Admiral Nishimura received an accurate report from one of Mogami’s scout planes telling him exactly what he was up against yet he pushed on in the manner of a Samurai.

Japanese_battleships_Yamashiro,_Fuso_and_Haruna

Yamashiro and Fuso

Facing him was a force built around the 6 old Battleships of Vice Admiral Jesse Oldendorf’s 7th Fleet Battle Line.  The Americans heavily outnumbered the Japanese, the Battleships West Virginia, California and Tennessee were the heart of the force. Fully modernized after Pearl Harbor they no longer resembled the ships that they were before the war. Equipped with the latest Mark 8 Fire Control radar they had the ability to put their 16” and 14” shells on target at ranges farther than anything that the Japanese could counter.  Joined by the less fully modernized Maryland, Mississippi and Pennsylvania, 4 Heavy Cruisers, 4 Light Cruisers, 28 Destroyers and 39 PT Boats the outnumbered the combined Japanese forces with sixteen 16” and forty eight 14” guns to twenty 14” guns on the antiquated Yamashiro and Fuso.  The disparity in lesser guns was just as stark, thirty five against twenty six 8” guns, and fifty one 6” guns against six 5.5 inch guns.  This massive imbalance didn’t count the nearly one hundred fifty 5” guns on the US destroyers and as well as nearly 200 torpedo tubes.

yamashiro surigao strait

Yamashiro and Shigure ride into the Valley of death

Nishimura’s force entered the southern entrance to Surigao Strait and was discovered by the American PT Boats at about 2236.  Though the PTs scored no hits they provided critical updates on the Japanese to Oldendorff.  At 0300 the American destroyers began a devastating series of attacks on the Japanese flanks.  They sank two destroyers and damaged another which had to turn back, but the real damage occurred when both Fuso and Yamashiro were hit. Fuso took two torpedoes fired by the destroyer USS Melvin.  She slowed and then blew up and broke in two sinking with all hands.  This account has been contested in recent years but many find the new version less believable than the first. Key in the evidence was the rescue and capture of Yamashiro’s Executive Officer in the north end of the strait and the surviving logs of the other Japanese ships which reported the sinking. Yamashiro though hit continued north with Mogami and the last destroyer Shigure.  At 0353 West Virginia opened fire and score hits on her first salvo. She was joined by California and Tennessee at 0355, the other battleships with their Mark 3 fire direction radars were slow to open up. Maryland got off six full salvos by ranging in on the splashes of West Virginia, California and Tennessee.  Mississippi logged the final salvo of the battle and Pennsylvania got no shots off.  West Virginia fired 16 salvos, 96 round of 16”armor piercing shells, Tennessee got off 69 rounds and California 63 each of 14” armor piercing shells, while  Maryland added another forty eight 16” rounds.

The Yamashiro and Mogami sailed into the maelstrom absorbing hit after hit and gamely fought back. Yamashiro hit the destroyer Albert W Grant which was also hit by friendly fire badly damaging her. Finally both ships ablaze they turned back down the strait with Yamashiro sinking with few survivors at 0420.  Shima’s force entered the fray and the Light Cruiser Abukuma was damaged by a torpedo fired by PT-137 and fell out of the formation. She was sunk on 26 October by Army Air Force B-24s. As Shima came up the strait his force entered the battered remnants of Nishimura’s force, the burning halves of Fuso and the retreating Mogami and Shigure. Assuming the halves of Fuso to be the wreckage of both battleships Shima beat a hasty retreat but in the process his flagship Nachi collided with Mogami flooding Mogami’s steering engine room and leaving her crippled.  She was attacked again by American cruisers and aircraft and as abandoned at 1047 and scuttled a torpedo from the destroyer Akebono sinking at 1307 on 25 October.

nachi

Nachi Under Air Attack

The battle was one of the most lopsided surface engagements of the war.  When it was over only one of Nishimura’s ships had survived the “lucky” Shigure.  Shima’s force survived the night but most of his ships were sunk in the following by war’s end. Nachi was sunk in Manila Bay on 5 November by aircraft from the USS Lexington with a loss of over 800 sailors while Shima was in a conference ashore.

With the exception of Albert W Grant and a PT Boat the American force was unscathed the old Battlewagons dredged from the mud of Peal Harbor had led the fleet to a decisive victory in the last duel between Dreadnaughts ever fought. The Japanese died as Samurai trying to complete a hopeless mission against a far superior force.

 

 

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Out of the Mud: The Battleships of Pearl Harbor

Under three years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor five of the six surviving battleships fought in the last battleship versus battleship engagement in history, taking revenge on a Japanese surface force at the Battle of Surigao Strait during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura who commanded the Southern Force of the Japanese fleet attempting to defeat the American invasion force at Leyte Gulf had successfully avoided damage from the air attacks that so damaged he Center Force sinking the massive Super-Battleship Musashi. Now his force steamed into Surigao Strait in the hopes that it could break through any American resistance and destroy the transports laden with troops and supplies in Leyte Gulf. Following a short distance behind Nishimura was the force of Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima. The two forces were composed of two battleships, three heavy and two light cruisers and eight destroyers. They had no idea that they were sailing into a maelstrom of death.

The mission of these two groups was to fight their way through the Surigao Strait to assist the Central Force in destroying the US invasion force in Leyte Gulf. The mission was for all practical purposes a suicide mission, a naval “Charge of the Light Brigade” as they sailed into the Valley of Death against the Battle Line of the US 7th Fleet.

The two Japanese Battleships, the Fuso and Yamashiro had spent the majority of the war in home waters and had seen little action. They had not been part of any of the great Japanese victories in 1941 and 1942 and they had not been blooded in the Solomons. Instead the two elderly battlewagons passed the war conducting training in the inland sea. They were no longer first line ships, but the Japanese were desperate and every capital ship mattered, even an old battleship set loose among helpless transports could wreak havoc.

 

During the afternoon of October 24th Admiral Nishimura received an accurate report from one of Mogami’s scout planes telling him exactly what he was up against yet he pushed on in the manner of a doomed but resolute Samurai.

Facing Nishimura and Shima was a force built around the six old Battleships of Vice Admiral Jesse Oldendorf’s 7th Fleet Battle Line, five of which had been resurrected from the hell of Pearl Harbor.

 

The Americans heavily outnumbered the Japanese, the Battleships USS West Virginia, USS California and USS Tennessee were the heart of the force. Fully modernized after Pearl Harbor they no longer resembled the ships that they were before the war. Equipped with the latest Mark 8 Fire Control radar they had the ability to put their 16” and 14” shells on target at ranges farther than anything that the Japanese could counter.The were in most respects, especially in gunpowder and fire control as modern as the newest battleships in the fleet, and far superior to all Japanese battleships except the great Yamato and now departed Musashi. 

These three battlewagons were joined by the less fully modernized USS Maryland, USS Mississippi and USS Pennsylvania. The American task force included  4 Heavy Cruisers, 4 Light Cruisers, 28 Destroyers and 39 PT Boats. In the shear number of guns the six American battleships outnumbered the combined Japanese forces with sixteen 16” and forty eight 14” guns against  twenty 14” guns mounted on the antiquated Yamashiro and Fuso. The disparity in lesser guns mounted on the cruisers and destroyers was was just as stark; thirty five against twenty six 8” guns, and fifty one 6” guns against six 5.5 inch guns. This massive imbalance didn’t count the nearly one hundred fifty 5” guns on theUS destroyers and as well as nearly 200 torpedo tubes mounted on those ships as well as those on the PT Boats.

When Nishimura’s force entered the southern entrance to Surigao Strait they were immediately discovered by the American PT Boats at about 2236. Though the PTs scored no hits they provided critical updates on the Japanese position and movements to Jesse Oldendorff.

At 0300 the American destroyers began a devastating series of attacks on the Japanese flanks. They sank two destroyers and damaged another which had to turn back, but the real damage occurred when both Fuso and Yamashiro were struck by torpedoes.

Fuso took two torpedo hits from fish launched by the destroyer USS Melvin. Fuso slowed and then blew up and broke in two sinking with all hands. This account has been contested in recent years but many find the new version less believable than the first.

Key in the evidence was the rescue and capture of Yamashiro’s Executive Officer in the north end of the strait combined with the surviving logs of the other Japanese ships which reported the sinking of Fuso. The Yamashiro continued ahead, though hit in the destroyer attack continued north into the valley of death with heavy cruiser Mogami and the last remaining destroyer Shigure.

At 0353 the West Virginia opened fire and scored hits on her first salvo. She was joined by California and Tennessee two minutes later, while the other battleships with their antiquated Mark 3 fire direction radars were slow to open up.

 

Maryland got off six full salvoes by ranging in on the splashes of West Virginia, California and Tennessee. Mississippi logged the final salvo of the battle and Pennsylvania got no shots off. West Virginia fired 16 salvoes or 96 rounds of 16”armor piercing shells, Tennessee got off 69 rounds and California 63 of 14” armor piercing shells, Maryland added forty eight 16” rounds.

The Yamashiro and Mogami sailed into the maelstrom absorbing hit after hit and gamely fought back. Yamashiro hit the destroyer USS Albert W Grant which was also hit by friendly fire badly damaging her. Finally with both of the Japanese ships ablaze they turned back down the strait in an attempt to escape this nautical version of Hell.

Yamashiro did not survive long, sinking with few survivors at 0420. Shima’s force entered the fray and the Light Cruiser Abukuma was damaged by a torpedo fired by PT-137 and fell out of the formation. She was sunk on 26 October by Army Air Force B-24s.

Shima and his force came up the strait his force encountered the battered remnants of Nishimura’s force, the burning halves of Fuso and the retreating Mogami and Shigure. Assuming the halves of Fuso to be the wreckage of both battleships Shima beat a hasty retreat but in the process his flagship, the heavy cruiser Nachi collided with Mogami flooding Mogami’s steering engine room and leaving her crippled. She was attacked again by American cruisers and aircraft and was abandoned at 1047 and scuttled a torpedo from the destroyer Akebono. Her hulk sank at 1307 on 25 October.

The battle was one of the most lopsided surface engagements of the war. When it was over only one of Nishimura’s ships had survived, the “lucky” Shigure. Shima’s force survived the night but most of his ships were sunk in the following months. Nachi was sunk in Manila Bay on 5 November by aircraft from the USS Lexington with a loss of over 800 sailors while Shima was in a conference ashore.

With the exception of the Albert W Grant and a PT Boat the American force was unscathed. The resurrected Battlewagons dredged from the mud of Peal Harbor had led the fleet to a decisive victory in the last duel between Dreadnaughts ever fought. The Japanese died as Samurai trying to complete a hopeless mission against a far superior force. The tide had turned and the Old Ladies of Pearl Harbor had returned from the dead to take revenge on the Imperial Navy.

It was an irony of of the naval war that the old battleships; ships which had been regulated to the secondary duty of protecting invasion forces and conducting shore bombardments in support of amphibious operations fought the final battleship versus battleship engagement in history. Sadly none of the surviving Pearl Harbor survivors were preserved. Pennsylvania was expended as a target during the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, while West Virginia, Maryland, California and Tennessee were scrapped in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mississippi, which was not at Pearl Harbor survived as a gunnery trainer into the late 1950s, and served as a test ship for the first generations of guided missiles before she too was scrapped.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Slaughter at Surigao: The Old Ladies get their Revenge

USS West Virginia at Surigao Strait

This is the third article of a series on the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Battle of Surigao Strait was the third action of the Battle of Leyte Gulf which ended in the near annihilation of one of the two groups of the Japanese Southern Force. The battle was the last ever where battleships engaged each other in a surface action.  

The two task groups of the Japanese Southern Force passed the daylight hours of 24 October relatively unscathed despite an air attack that caused minor damage. The group commanded by Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura comprised of the elderly Battleships Yamashiro and Fuso the Heavy Cruiser Mogami and four destroyers was leading the charge and was followed by that commanded by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima with the Heavy Cruisers Nachi and Ashigara, Light Cruiser Abukuma and four destroyers.

The mission of these two groups which were unable to coordinate their actions due to orders to maintain strict radio silence was to fight their way through the SurigaoStraitto assist the Central Force in destroying the USinvasion force in Leyte Gulf.  The mission was for all practical purposes a suicide mission, a naval “Charge of the Light Brigade” as they sailed into the Valley of Death against the Battle Line of the US 7th Fleet.

USS West Virginia  at Surigao

The Japanese Battleships had spent the majority of the war in home waters and had seen little action.  They had not been part of any of the great Japanese victories in 1941 and 1942 and they had not been blooded in the Solomons.  Instead the two elderly battlewagons passed the war conducting training in the inland sea.  They were no longer first line ships but the Japanese were desperate.  During the afternoon Admiral Nishimura received an accurate report from one of Mogami’s scout planes telling him exactly what he was up against yet he pushed on in the manner of a Samurai.

Yamashiro and Fuso

Facing him was a force built around the 6 old Battleships of Vice Admiral Jesse Oldendorf’s 7th Fleet Battle Line.  The Americans heavily outnumbered the Japanese, the Battleships West Virginia, California and Tennessee were the heart of the force. Fully modernized after Pearl Harbor they no longer resembled the ships that they were before the war. Equipped with the latest Mark 8 Fire Control radar they had the ability to put their 16” and 14” shells on target at ranges farther than anything that the Japanese could counter.  Joined by the less fully modernized Maryland, Mississippi and Pennsylvania, 4 Heavy Cruisers, 4 Light Cruisers, 28 Destroyers and 39 PT Boats the outnumbered the combined Japanese forces with sixteen 16” and forty eight 14” guns to twenty 14” guns on the antiquated Yamashiro and Fuso.  The disparity in lesser guns was just as stark, thirty five against twenty six 8” guns, and fifty one 6” guns against six 5.5 inch guns.  This massive imbalance didn’t count the nearly one hundred fifty 5” guns on theUS destroyers and as well as nearly 200 torpedo tubes.

Yamashiro and Shigure ride into the Valley of death

Nishimura’s force entered the southern entrance to Surigao Strait and was discovered by the American PT Boats at about 2236.  Though the PTs scored no hits they provided critical updates on the Japanese to Oldendorff.  At 0300 the American destroyers began a devastating series of attacks on the Japanese flanks.  They sank two destroyers and damaged another which had to turn back, but the real damage occurred when both Fuso and Yamashiro were hit. Fuso took two torpedoes fired by the destroyer USS Melvin.  She slowed and then blew up and broke in two sinking with all hands.  This account has been contested in recent years but many find the new version less believable than the first. Key in the evidence was the rescue and capture of Yamashiro’s Executive Officer in the north end of the strait and the surviving logs of the other Japanese ships which reported the sinking. Yamashiro though hit continued north with Mogami and the last destroyer Shigure.  At 0353 West Virginia opened fire and score hits on her first salvo. She was joined by California and Tennessee at 0355, the other battleships with their Mark 3 fire direction radars were slow to open up. Maryland got off six full salvoes by ranging in on the splashes of West Virginia, California and Tennessee.  Mississippi logged the final salvo of the battle and Pennsylvania got no shots off.  West Virginia fired 16 salvoes, 96 round of 16”armor piercing shells, Tennessee got off 69 rounds and California 63 of 14” armor piercing, Maryland added forty eight 16” rounds.

The Yamashiro and Mogami sailed into the maelstrom absorbing hit after hit and gamely fought back. Yamashiro hit the destroyer Albert W Grant which was also hit by friendly fire badly damaging her. Finally both ships ablaze they turned back down the strait with Yamashiro sinking with few survivors at 0420.  Shima’s force entered the fray and the Light Cruiser Abukuma was damaged by a torpedo fired by PT-137 and fell out of the formation. She was sunk on 26 October by Army Air Force B-24s. As Shima came up the strait his force entered the battered remnants of Nishimura’s force, the burning halves of Fuso and the retreating Mogami and Shigure. Assuming the halves of Fuso to be the wreckage of both battleships Shima beat a hasty retreat but in the process his flagship Nachi collided with Mogami flooding Mogami’s steering engine room and leaving her crippled.  She was attacked again by American cruisers and aircraft and as abandoned at 1047 and scuttled a torpedo from the destroyer Akebono sinking at 1307 on 25 October.

Nachi under air attack 5 November 1944

The battle was one of the most lopsided surface engagements of the war.  When it was over only one of Nishimura’s ships had survived the “lucky” Shigure.  Shima’s force survived the night but most of his ships were sunk in the following by war’s end. Nachi was sunk in Manila Bay on 5 November by aircraft from the USS Lexington with a loss of over 800 sailors while Shima was in a conference ashore.

With the exception of Albert W Grant and a PT Boat the American force was unscathed the old Battlewagons dredged from the mud of Peal Harbor had led the fleet to a decisive victory in the last duel between Dreadnaughts ever fought. The Japanese died as Samurai trying to complete a hopeless mission against a far superior force.

Next: Halsey’s fateful Decision….

Peace

Padre Steve+

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