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Battle off Samar - The forces

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Battle off Samar
The forces
Taffy 3 comes under attack
USS Johnston
USS Hoel
Carriers under attack
Japanese take hits
Seventh Fleet's calls for help
Criticism of Halsey
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The forces


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

The Japanese Center Force now consisted of the battleships Yamato, Nagato, Kongo, and Haruna; heavy cruisers Chokai, Myoko, Haguro, Kumano, Suzuya, Chikuma, Tone; light cruisers Yahagi, and Noshiro. The battleships and cruisers were fully armored against 5-in shells. They together had dozens of large caliber guns as large as the Yamato's 18.1 inch rifles which could reach out to 25 miles. Surface gunnery was controlled by optical sighting which fed computer-assisted fire control systems, though they were less sophisticated than the radar controlled systems on US destroyers. The 13 Kagerō- and Asashio class destroyers each mounted six 5-in guns, but lacked radar controlled guns.

Each of the three task units of the U.S. Seventh Fleet's Task Group 77.4 had six small Casablanca-class or larger Sangammon-class escort carriers. If battleships and cruisers were full and midsize combat ships, the seven lightly armed and unarmored destroyers and smaller destroyer escorts were compact and subcompact by comparison. The destroyers had 5 5-in guns, the destroyer escorts mounted 2, and the carriers only a single 5-in gun. Lacking any ships with any larger guns that could reach beyond 10 miles, it appeared a hopeless mismatch against Japanese gunnery which emphasized long range and large guns. But the battle would reveal that their partly automated fire control was largely ineffective against maneuvering ships at long range (though some ships such as Kongo did consistently hit their targets when they got closer). The Japanese did not actually land hits on the carriers until they had closed to within firing range of the carriers themselves. By contrast, even the small US destroyers all had the MK 37 Gun Fire Control System which would automatically aim accurate fire against surface and air targets while maneuvering throughout the battle. The lack of a comparable system also contributed to comments from US pilots of the ineffectiveness of Japanese anti-aircraft fire.

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

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

Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3") consisted of Fanshaw Bay, St Lo, White Plains, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay, and Gambier Bay. Screening for Taffy 3 were the destroyers Hoel, Heermann, Johnston, and destroyer escorts Dennis, John C. Butler, Raymond, and Samuel B. Roberts.

Though each escort carrier was small, and carried an average of about 28 planes, this gave the three "Taffies" a combined total of approximately 450 aircraft, equivalent to several large fleet carriers. However, while their top speed of 17.5 knots was adequate for cargo convoys or ground support, they were too slow to keep up with a fast task force, or flee from a Japanese one. As these were intended for attack against ground forces or defense against enemy aircraft and submarines, the first flights from Taffy 3 were largely armed only with machine guns, depth charges and high explosive and anti-personnel bombs, effective against troops, submarines or destroyers, but not against armored battleships or cruisers. Later sorties from Taffy 2 carriers had sufficient time to be armed with more deadly weapons against the opposing fleet after surface actions and aerial harassment impeded shelling of the carriers.


Kurita's force passed through San Bernardino Strait at 03:00 on 25 October 1944 and steamed southwards along the coast of Samar, hoping that Halsey had taken the bait and moved most of his fleet away. This hope proved to have been amply fulfilled - Halsey had taken all his available strength north. However, Kurita did not receive the transmission from the Northern Force that Halsey had been lured away.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 April 2009 19:51 )  

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