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Shō-Gō 1: Introduction to and the Beginning of the Battle of Leyte Gulf; the Greatest Naval Battle of All Time

leaving brunei

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every year it seems that I return to the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This was the largest and most expansive naval battle in history. Thousands and ships and aircraft, including the largest battleships ever constructed. Tens of thousands of sailors and Marines on both sides died in the battle. The Japanese first employed the Kamikazes aviators determined to sacrifice their lives in suicide attacks to save their country, as great storms, typhoons did against the Mongols in 1274 and 1281. It is a battle that should not be forgotten, and one which the lessons of should be remembered, even 75 years later.

This is the first of a five article series on the Battle of Letye Gulf. I may add a sixth this year. The battle was the largest in history both in terms of the number of ships involved and the amount of area covered. The action was triggered by the American invasion of the Philippines causing the Japanese to initiate their Shō-Gō 1 (Victory Plan 1) to attempt to defeat the Americans. The plan relied heavily on land based air power which most of unfortunately for the Japanese was destroyed during the American carrier air strikes on Formosa earlier in the month.

Leyte_map_annotated

The battle was necessitated by the absolute need for the Japanese to hold the Philippines in order to maintain their supply lines with the oil resources in Southeast Asia, and in the process defeat the Americans at all costs. As Admiral Soemu Toyoda the Chief of the Combined Fleet explained under interrogation after the war

Should we lose in the Philippines operations, even though the fleet should be left, the shipping lane to the south would be completely cut off so that the fleet, if it should come back to Japanese waters, could not obtain its fuel supply. If it should remain in southern waters, it could not receive supplies of ammunition and arms. There would be no sense in saving the fleet at the expense of the loss of the Philippines.

ijn_takao_heavy_cruiser_1943-07287

                                              Atago Class Cruiser 

The battle was comprised of 5 battles, the Battle of Palawan Passage, the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle of Cape Engaño and the Battle off Samar. All told about 70 Japanese warships and 210 American and Australian ships were engaged. A further 300 Japanese aircraft, mostly land based and 1500 American carrier aircraft took part in the battle.

The Japanese order of battle included 1 Fleet and 3 Light Fleet Carriers with a minimal air group, 9 Battleships including the two largest ever built the Yamato and Musashi, 14 Heavy and 6 Light Cruisers and about 3 destroyers. They were divided into four task forces, the Northern Force under the command of Vice-Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa which had all of the Carriers including the last surviving carrier of the Pearl Harbor attack the Fleet Carrier Zuikaku plus the converted hybrid Battleships Ise and Hyuga; the Southern Force which was two distinct and independent task forces. One was under the command of Vice Admirals Shoji Nishimura and Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima and was built around the ancient battleships Fuso and Yamashiro and 3 Heavy Cruisers; and the Center Force under the command of Vice Admiral Takeo Kuritawhich had the Battleships Yamato, Musashi, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna, 10 Heavy and 2 Light Cruisers and 1 destroyers. The Center force was to pass through the San Bernardino Strait and converge on the American landing forces off Samar with the Southern Force which as to come through the Surigo Strait. The Japanese also planned for the first use of Kamikazes as part of the action.

atago color

                                            Heavy Cruiser Atago

The American fleet was comprised of the 3rd Fleet under Admiral William Halsey which was built around the Fast Carrier Task Forces and Fast Battleships of Task Force 38 under the Command of Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher and the Battle Line Task Force 34 under the Command of Vice Admiral Willis Lee; and the 7th Fleet under Vice Admiral William Kinkaid which was the naval support for the landings.

The 7th Fleet had under its control the old Battleships West Virginia, California, Tennessee, Maryland, Colorado and Pennsylvania and 18 Escort Carriers which provided the close air support for the Invasion. All told the Americans had 8 Fleet and 8 Light Fleet Carriers, 18 Escort Carriers, 12 Battleships, 24 Cruisers and 141 Destroyers as well as submarines, PT Boats, Transports, Landing Ships and Auxiliaries. 7th Fleet was not the glamour Navy, its task was the protection and support of the amphibious landings by Douglas McArthur’s Army units.


                                                            Maya

This series will focus on a number of individual battles and decisions in the battle.

This section will focus on the action of the Submarines Darter and Dace against the Center force in the Palawan Passage. The next will be the sinking of the Musashi during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, it will be followed by the revenge of the Old Battleships at Surigo Strait. The next will be the great decision of Admiral Halsey to pursue the Northern Force and leave the San Bernardino Strait unguarded, followed by the Battle off Samar and last the death of the Japanese Naval Aviation at Cape Engaño.

takao

                                                         Takao

                                  The Battle of Palawan Passage

Admiral Takeo Kurita and the powerful Center Force departed their anchorage at Brunei on 20 October 1944. The task force entered the Palawan Passage on the night of 22-23 October where they were sighted by the American Submarines Darter and Dace which had been posted at the strait for such a possibility. Darter made radar contact at 30,000 yards at 0018 hours on the 23rd and sent out contact reports. The two submarines shadowed the Center Force on the surface to gain an intercept position and submerged just before dawn.

Darter struck first at 0524 firing a spread of 6 torpedoes scoring 4 hits on Admiral Kurita’s flagship the Heavy Cruiser Atago. She reloaded and stuck the Heavy Cruiser Takao with 2 torpedoes at 0634. At 0554 Dace hit the Heavy Cruiser Maya with 4 torpedoes.

uss-darter

                                                    USS Darter

The blow was severe. Atago was mortally wounded she capsized and sank at 0553 with the loss of 360 crew members. She sank so rapidly that Kurita had to swim and was rescued with his Chief of Staff by a destroyer, but many of his staff members were lost with the ship. Though Kurita transferred his flag to Yamato, he was now without the advice and counsel of experienced and trusted staff officers that might have prevented his later mistakes during the Battle off Samar.

 Takao suffered heavy damage and though she did not sink she had to proceed crippled to Singapore under the guard of two destroyers. Though she survived the war she never saw action again. Maya, struck at 0554 by 4 torpedoes suffered much damage and was wracked by powerful secondary explosions. By 0600 she was dead in the water and sank five minutes later with the loss of 337 crew members.

The attack of the two submarines was significant; the Japanese lost 3 powerful Heavy Cruisers and had to send two of their destroyers away to guard Takao as she limped away from the action. Likewise the loss of Kurita’s experienced staff hindered his conduct of the battle on the 24th. The cruisers were a big loss, at 13,000 tons and armed with ten 8”guns they could steam at 35 knots and would have been a significant help during the action off Samar.

                                            The Wreck of USS Darter
Darter
 and Dace conducted a pursuit of the crippled Takao which had to be broken off when Darter ran aground on Bombay Shoal. Despite the best efforts of her crew and that of the Dace to free her she was hopelessly stuck. Her crew was unable to scuttle her and the Japanese were able to board her after she was abandoned and for the first time get a look at the details of a Gato class submarine.

Kurita’s force would continue on into the Sibuyan Sea where they would be attacked again, this time by the aircraft of Admiral Bull Halsey’s carriers. But that is the subject of the next article.

To be continued…

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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 One: The Plan and Opening Actions

leaving brunei

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the first of a five article series on the Battle of Letye Gulf. The battle was the largest in history both in terms of the number of ships involved and the amount of area covered. The action was triggered by the American invasion of the Philippines causing the Japanese to initiate their Shō-Gō 1 (Victory Plan 1) to attempt to defeat the Americans. The plan relied heavily on land based air power which most of unfortunately for the Japanese was destroyed during the American carrier air strikes on Formosa earlier in the month.

Leyte_map_annotated

The battle was necessitated by the absolute need for the Japanese to hold the Philippines and defeat the Americans at all costs. As Admiral Soemu Toyoda the Chief of the Combined Fleet explained under interrogation after the war

Should we lose in the Philippines operations, even though the fleet should be left, the shipping lane to the south would be completely cut off so that the fleet, if it should come back to Japanese waters, could not obtain its fuel supply. If it should remain in southern waters, it could not receive supplies of ammunition and arms. There would be no sense in saving the fleet at the expense of the loss of the Philippines.

ijn_takao_heavy_cruiser_1943-07287

Atago Class Cruiser 

The battle was comprised of 5 battles, the Battle of Palawan Passage, the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle of Cape Engaño and the Battle off Samar. All told about 70 Japanese warships and 210 American and Australian ships were engaged. A further 300 Japanese aircraft, mostly land based and 1500 American carrier aircraft took part in the battle. The Japanese order of battle included 1 Fleet and 3 Light Fleet Carriers with a minimal air group, 9 Battleships including the two largest ever built the Yamato and Musashi, 14 Heavy and 6 Light Cruisers and about 3 destroyers. They were divided into four task forces, the Northern Force under the command of Vice-Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa which had all of the Carriers including the last surviving carrier of the Pearl Harbor attack the Fleet Carrier Zuikaku plus the converted hybrid Battleships Ise and Hyuga; the Southern Force which was two distinct and independent task forces. One was under the command of Vice Admirals Shoji Nishimura and Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima and was built around the ancient battleships Fuso and Yamashiro and 3 Heavy Cruisers; and the Center Force under the command of Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita which had the Battleships Yamato, Musashi, Nagato, Kongo and Haruna, 10 Heavy and 2 Light Cruisers and 1 destroyers. The Center force was to pass through the San Bernardino Strait and converge on the American landing forces off Samar with the Southern Force which as to come through the Surigo Strait. The Japanese also planned for the first use of Kamikazes as part of the action.

atago color

Atago

The American fleet was comprised of the 3rd Fleet under Admiral William Halsey which was built around the Fast Carrier Task Forces and Fast Battleships of Task Force 38 under the Command of Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher and the Battle Line Task Force 34 under the Command of Vice Admiral Willis Lee; and the 7th Fleet under Vice Admiral William Kinkaid which was the naval support for the landings. It had under its control the old Battleships West Virginia, California, Tennessee, Maryland, Colorado and Pennsylvania and 18 Escort Carriers which provided the close air support for the Invasion. All told the Americans had 8 Fleet and 8 Light Fleet Carriers, 18 Escort Carriers, 12 Battleships, 24 Cruisers and 141 Destroyers as well as submarines, PT Boats, Transports, Landing Ships and Auxiliaries.

Maya

Maya

This series will focus on a number of individual battles and decisions in the battle. Part one will focus on the action of the Submarines Darter and Dace against the Center force in the Palawan Passage. The next will be the sinking of the Musashi during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, it will be followed by the revenge of the Old Battleships at Surigo Strait. The next will be the great decision of Admiral Halsey to pursue the Northern Force and leave the San Bernardino Strait unguarded, followed by the Battle off Samar and last the death of the Japanese Naval Aviation at Cape Engaño.

takao

Takao

The Battle of Palawan Passage

Admiral Takeo Kurita and the powerful Center Force departed their anchorage at Brunei on 20 October 1944. The task force entered the Palawan Passage on the night of 22-23 October where they were sighted by the American Submarines Darter and Dace which had been posted at the strait for such a possibility. Darter made radar contact at 30,000 yards at 0018 hours on the 23rd and sent out contact reports. The two submarines shadowed the Center Force on the surface to gain an intercept position and submerged just before dawn.

Darter struck first at 0524 firing a spread of 6 torpedoes scoring 4 hits on Admiral Kurita’s flagship the Heavy Cruiser Atago. She reloaded and stuck the Heavy Cruiser Takao with 2 torpedoes at 0634. At 0554 Dace hit the Heavy Cruiser Maya with 4 torpedoes.

uss-darter

USS Darter

The blow was severe. Atago was mortally wounded she capsized and sank at 0553 with the loss of 360 crew members. She sank so rapidly that Kurita had to swim and was rescued with his Chief of Staff by a destroyer, but many of his staff members were lost with the ship. Though Kurita transferred his flag to Yamatohe was now without the advice and counsel of officers that might have prevented later mistakes during the Battle off Samar. Takao suffered heavy damage and though she did not sink she had to proceed crippled to Singapore under the guard of two destroyers. Though she survived the war she never saw action again. Maya, struck at 0554 by 4 torpedoes suffered much damage and was wracked by powerful secondary explosions. By 0600 she was dead in the water and sank five minutes later with the loss of 337 crew members.

The attack of the two submarines was significant; the Japanese lost 3 powerful Heavy Cruisers and had to send two of their destroyers away to guard Takao as she limped away from the action. Likewise the loss of Kurita’s experienced staff hindered his conduct of the battle on the 24th. The cruisers were a big loss, at 13,000 tons and armed with ten 8”guns they could steam at 35 knots and would have been a significant help during the action off Samar.

Darter and Dace conducted a pursuit of the crippled Takao which had to be broken off when Darter ran aground on Bombay Shoal. Despite the best efforts of her crew and that of the Dace to free her she was hopelessly stuck. Her crew was unable to scuttle her and the Japanese were able to board her after she was abandoned and for the first time get a look at the details of a Gato class submarine.

Kurita’s force would continue on into the Sibuyan Sea where they would be attacked again, this time by the aircraft of Admiral Bull Halsey’s carriers. But that is the subject of the next article.

To be continued…

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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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Leyte Gulf: The Greatest Naval Battle in the History of the World

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USS Gambier Bay being attacked by Japanese Surface Forces battle 

I will break into Leyte Gulf and fight to the last man…would it not be shameful to have the fleet remaining intact while our nation perishes?” Vice-Admiral Takeo Kurita – 1944

”In case opportunity for destruction of a major portion of the enemy fleet is offered, or can be created, such destruction becomes the primary task.”

Admiral Chester Nimitz – In his order to Halsey, prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf – October 1944

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The Old Battleships of the 7th Fleet

Sixty-nine years ago the largest and most geographically expansive naval battle ever fought began. A few days before the forces of General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific command and Admiral Chester Nimitz’s Central Pacific command joined to invade and liberate the Philippines from the Japanese. It was less than three years since Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and two and a half years after MacArthur had left the Philippines vowing “I shall return.” 

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The Japanese knew that the battle for the Philippines was a must win. An American victory would ensure that Japan would be cut off from the vital natural resources of Indo-China, the Dutch East Indies and Borneo, particularly oil, without which it could not remain in the war.

The Imperial Navy was tasked to work with land based air forces to thwart the invasion by drawing off the American Fast Carrier task forces and allowing heavy surface forces to seek out and destroy potentially vulnerable troop transports and supply ships in Leyte Gulf.

It was a complicated plan, but one which had a chance of disrupting the American invasion, and came perilously close to doing so.

Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s Northern force of four aircraft carriers without viable air groups was a decoy. Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura and Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima commanded separate task forces both committed to breaking into Leyte Gulf through Surigo Strait. Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita who commanded the main effort, the powerful Center Force which was to break into Leyte Gulf through San Bernardino Strait. Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi commanded the Philippines based 1st Air Fleet which turned to the use of Kamikazes as a means to destroy American warships.

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Kamikaze attack

The US forces included the American Third Fleet commanded by Admiral William “Bull” Halsey was the primary naval force composed of the Fast Carrier Task Forces and fast battleships. Adusmiral Thomas Kinkaid commanded the 7th Fleet which was the invasion force and its escorts, including a number of carrier task forces built around the Escort Carriers and the old battleships of Jesse Oldendorf’s Task Group. The latter included a number of the survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack including the USS West Virginia, USS California, USS Tennessee, USS Maryland and USS Pennsylvania. Oldendorf’s flagship, the USS Mississippi was not at Pearl Harbor but likewise one of the “old ladies” of the fleet.

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The battle was unique because of how long it went and how many separate engagements were included.  Not counting patrol craft, submarines and auxiliaries close to 300 warships and nearly 2000 aircraft were engaged in 5 separate engagements waged by surface ships, naval air forces and submarines.

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USS St Lo blows up after being hit by Kamikaze 

The battles included an engagement in which American Submarines took on the Center Force, naval aircraft engaged the Center and Southern Forces, the old battleships fought the last battleship against battleship engagement in history, heavy surface forces engaged and were repulsed by light forces and a decoy force which would suffer terribly would keep the bulk of the best American forces out of the main battle. It would also see the first coordinated use of Kamikaze suicide attack aircraft by Japan.

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USS West Virginia 

Tonight I am linking a number of articles that I have written previously about this amazing battle. In the next few days I will add a couple new articles to the collection.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Introduction and the Battle of Palawan Passage

The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Sinking the Musashi 

Slaughter at Surigao: The Old Ladies get their Revenge

For those unfamiliar with the battle that would like a deeper treatment than I provide in these links I recommend The Battle of Leyte Gulf 23-26 October 1944 by Thomas C Cutler, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour by James Hornfisher, Battle Of Leyte Gulf by Edwin P Hoyt, Leyte: June 1944-January 1945 (History of United States Naval Operations in World War II) by Samuel Elliott Morrison and Battle of Surigao Strait by Anthony P Tully. Hoyt and Morrison’s books were the first that I ever read on the subject back when I was in Junior High School but for an overview I think Cutler’s work is better. The other two works present interesting and informative views of two of the decisive engagements of the battle.

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As I said in the next few days I plan on adding more articles on this fascinating battle. If things work out I should have something on the Battle off Samar, the Battle of Cape Engano and the Kamikaze debut.

Have a nice night and never forget the sacrifice of all of the brave sailors.

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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