The Battle of Surigao Straight
Because of the strict radio silence imposed on the Center and Southern Forces, Nishimura was unable to synchronise his movements with Shima and Kurita. When he entered the narrow Surigao Strait at 02:00 Shima was 25 nautical miles (46 km) behind him, and Kurita was still in the Sibuyan Sea, several hours from the beaches at Leyte.
As the Southern Force approached Surigao Strait, it ran into a deadly trap set by the 7th Fleet Support Force. Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf had a substantial force. There were six battleships: the USS West Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, California, and Pennsylvania; all but the Mississippi having been sunk or damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor and since repaired. There were the 8- and 6-inch guns of the four heavy cruisers (USS Louisville (Flagship), Portland, Minneapolis and HMAS Shropshire) and four light cruisers (USS Denver, Columbia, Phoenix and Boise). There were the smaller guns and torpedoes of 28 destroyers and 39 motor torpedo boats (Patrol/Torpedo (PT) boats). To pass through the narrows and reach the invasion shipping, Nishimura would have to run the gauntlet of torpedoes from the PT boats followed by the large force of destroyers, and then advance under the concentrated fire of the six battleships and their eight flanking cruisers disposed across the far mouth of the Strait.
At 22:36 one of the motor torpedo-boats, PT-131, first made contact with the approaching Japanese ships. Over more than three-and-a-half hours the torpedo-boats made repeated attacks on Nishimura's force. They made no torpedo hits, but sent contact reports which were of use to Oldendorf and his force.
As Nishimura's ships entered Surigao Strait they were subjected to devastating torpedo attacks from the American destroyers disposed on both sides of their line of advance. At about 03:00 both Japanese battleships were hit by torpedoes. Yamashiro was able to steam on, but Fus? exploded and broke in two. Two of Nishimura's four destroyers were sunk; another, Asagumo, was hit but able to retire, and later sank.
At 03:16, USS West Virginia’s radar picked up the surviving ships of Nishimura's force at a range of 42,000 yards (38 km) and had achieved a firing solution at 30,000 yards (27 km). West Virginia tracked them as they approached in the pitch black night. At 03:53 she fired the eight 16-inch (406 mm) guns of her main battery at a range of 22,800 yards (20.8 km), striking the Yamashiro with her first salvo. She went on to fire a total of 93 shells. At 03:55 California and Tennessee joined in, firing respectively a total of 69 and 63 14-inch shells. Radar fire control allowed these American battleships to hit targets from a distance at which the Japanese battleships, with their inferior fire control systems, could not return fire.
The other three US battleships, equipped with less advanced gunnery radar, had difficulty arriving at a firing solution. Maryland eventually succeeded in visually ranging on the splashes of the other battleships' shells, and then fired a total of 48 16-inch projectiles. Pennsylvania was unable to find a target and her guns remained silent. Mississippi only obtained a solution at the end of the battle-line action, and then fired just one (full) salvo of twelve 14-inch shells. This was the last salvo ever to be fired by a battleship against another heavy ship, ending an era in naval history.
The rear of the Southern Force, the "Second Striking Force" commanded by Vice Admiral Shima, had approached Surigao Strait about 40 miles astern of Nishimura. It too came under attack from the PT boats, and one of these hit the light cruiser Abukuma with a torpedo which crippled her and caused her to fall out of formation. Shima's two heavy cruisers (Nachi and Ashigara) and eight destroyers next encountered remnants of Nishimura's force. Seeing what he thought were the wrecks of both Nishimura's battleships (actually the two halves of Fuso), Shima ordered a retreat. His flagship, Nachi, collided with Mogami, flooding Mogami's steering-room and causing her to fall behind in the retreat; she was sunk by aircraft the next morning. The bow half of Fus? was sunk from gunfire by Louisville, and the stern half sank off Kanihaan Island. Of Nishimura's seven ships, only Shigure survived. Shima's ships did survive the Battle of Surigao Strait but they would be sunk in further engagements around Leyte.
The Battle of Surigao Strait was the last battleship-versus-battleship action in history. It was also the last battle in which one force (the Americans, in this case) was able to "cross the T" of its opponent. However, by the time the battleship action was joined the Japanese line was very ragged and consisted of only one battleship (Yamashiro), one heavy cruiser and one destroyer, so that the "crossing of the T" was notional and had little effect on the outcome of the battle.