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Battle off Samar - Seventh Fleet's calls for help

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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
Aftermatch
Criticism of Halsey
All Pages

Seventh Fleet's calls for help

Shortly after 08:00, desperate messages calling for assistance began to come in from Seventh Fleet. One from Kinkaid, sent in plain language, read, "My situation is critical. Fast battleships and support by airstrikes may be able to keep enemy from destroying CVEs and entering Leyte."

At 8:22 AM, Kinkaid radios: "Fast Battleships are Urgently Needed Immediately at Leyte Gulf"

At 9:05 AM: "Need Fast Battleships and Air Support"

At 9:07 AM, Kinkaid broadcasts what his mismatched fleet is up against: "4 Battleships, 8 Cruisers Attack Our Escort Carriers"

From 3,000 miles (5,000 km) away in Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz had monitored the desperate calls from Taffy 3, and sent Halsey a terse message, "Turkey trots to water GG From CinCPac Action Com Third Fleet Info Cominch CTF Seventy-Seven. Where is task force Thirty-four RR The world wonders". Halsey was infuriated (not recognizing the final phrase as padding, chosen for the anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade) Halsey threw his hat to the deck and began to sob, realizing the gravity of the situation. An aide shook him by the shoulders and yelled, "What the hell's the matter with you? Pull yourself together!"

Halsey sent McCain's Task Group 38.1 (TG38.1) to assist.Halsey recalled he did not receive this vital message from Kinkaid until around 10:00, and later claimed that he knew Kinkaid was in trouble, but had not dreamed of the seriousness of this crisis. McCain, by contrast, had monitored Sprague's messages and turned TG58 to aid Sprague even before Halsey's orders arrived (after prodding from Nimitz), putting Halsey's defense in question.

At 10:05 AM, Kinkaid complains: "Who is guarding the San Bernardino Strait?"

McCain raced towards the battle, briefly turning into the wind to recover returning planes. At 10:30, a force of Helldivers, Avengers, and Hellcats was launched from Hornet, Hancock, and Wasp at the extreme range of 330 miles (610 km). Though the attack did little damage, it strengthened Kurita's decision to retire.

At 11:15, more than two hours after the first distress messages had been received by his flagship, Halsey ordered Task Force 34 to turn around and head southwards to pursue Kurita, but the Japanese forces had already escaped.

Just hours after his chastisement by Nimitz, Admiral Halsey's forces did destroy all four enemy aircraft carriers he had pursued. But despite the complete absence of Third Fleet against the main Japanese force, the desperate efforts of Taffy 3 and assisting task forces had driven back the Japanese. A relieved Halsey sent the following message to Nimitz, Kinkaid and Gen. Douglas MacArthur at 12:26 PM:

"It can be announced with assurance that the Japanese Navy has been beaten, routed and broken by the Third and Seventh Fleets."

The survivors' ordeal

Partly as a result of disastrous communication errors within Seventh Fleet, and a reluctance to expose search ships to submarine attack a very large number of survivors from Taffy, including those from Gambier Bay, Hoel, Johnston and Roberts, were not rescued until October 27 after two days adrift. A plane had spotted the survivors, but the location radioed back was incorrect. By that time, many had died as a result of exposure, thirst and shark attacks. Finally, when an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) arrived, its captain used what is almost a standard method of distinguishing friend from foe, i.e., asking a topical question about a national sport — as one survivor, Jack Yusen, relates:

    We saw this ship come up, it was circling around us, and a guy was standing up on the bridge with a megaphone. And he called out 'Who are you? Who are you?' and we all yelled out 'Samuel B. Roberts!' He's still circling, so now we're cursing at him. He came back and yelled 'Who won the World Series?' and we all yelled 'St. Louis Cardinals!' And then we could hear the engines stop, and cargo nets were thrown over the side. That's how we were rescued.

Oldendorf's Task Group

It has been speculated that even if Center Force had quickly annihilated the escort carrier units, Kurita would still have had to contend with Oldendorf's task group — which contained six battleships and eight large, powerful cruisers. After the Surigao Strait action, Seventh Fleet's battleships had much less armor-piercing ammunition than battleships would normally be expected to have on entering an action. But, as Morison observes, they had enough for what would have been required of them in defending the entrance to the Gulf, although not enough for a running fight. The same probably was true for the heavy cruisers. The light cruisers, with their much higher rate of fire, had used most of their armor-piercing ammunition, but still had plenty of HC (or "HE") rounds available. Oldendorf's destroyers had expended almost all of their torpedoes, but still had plenty of ammunition for their 5-inch guns (and Samar demonstrates how effective such guns could be even against heavy cruisers). Even though unable to make torpedo attacks, these 28 or so destroyers would have been able to provide an effective defense against the Japanese destroyers.

Oldendorf's formation was in fact roughly comparable in strength with Center Force after the latter's losses (on 23 October in Palawan Passage and on 24 October in the Sibuyan Sea), and Kurita would have had to dispose of - or at least fight his way through - Oldendorf's task group before he could fall on the invasion shipping in the Gulf. If, instead of annihilating the Taffies, he had managed to get through to the Gulf without having neutralized the escort carriers, he would then have had to engage Oldendorf while under sustained assault from the air - and (as the Battle off Samar also demonstrates) it is an extremely difficult task for warships to fight a surface action while simultaneously defending themselves against air attack. It is, therefore, at the very least questionable whether Kurita had, at any stage, a realistic prospect of causing serious damage to the invasion shipping off Leyte, let alone of inflicting a major reverse on the Allies.


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

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