|Battle off Samar|
|Taffy 3 comes under attack|
|Carriers under attack|
|Japanese take hits|
|Seventh Fleet's calls for help|
|Criticism of Halsey|
The Japanese had succeeded in luring Halsey's Third Fleet away from its role of covering the invasion fleet, but seemingly light forces proved to be a very considerable obstacle. What American commanders had unwittingly left behind still packed the air power of sixteen carriers, even if they were inexpensive, slow, and lightly-armed. With an available a force of over four hundred aircraft, they were the numeric if not quite qualitative equivalent of four of five Halsey's large fleet carriers. Naval aircraft, whether properly armed or not, did much to offset the mismatch in sheer tonnage and surface firepower (and would ultimately sink the Yamato later in the war). The breakdown in Japanese communications resulted in Kurita being unaware of the opportunity that Ozawa's decoy plan had offered him. Kurita's mishandling of his forces during the surface engagement further compounded his losses.
Despite Halsey's failure to protect the northern flank of Seventh Fleet, Taffy 3 and assisting aircraft turned back the most powerful surface fleet Japan had sent to sea since the Battle of Midway. Domination of the skies, prudent and timely maneuvers by the U.S. ships, tactical errors by the Japanese admiral, and perhaps superior American radar technology, gunnery and seamanship, all contributed to this outcome. The Japanese had invested much in expensive guns that outranged US weapons. But their guns lacked a blind fire capability and were thwarted by smoke laid by screening destroyers and rain squalls. Their manually intensive fire control system computed solutions for targets on a constant course. But a 40 ft wide destroyer at 30 knots can travel up to a half-mile away in the nearly one minute it takes for a shell at 3000 ft per second to cover 20 miles.
The Japanese only landed hits when the large Japanese ships which could not maneuver while firing came within range of even the 5-in carrier mounted guns which found an Achilles' heel in a cruiser's torpedo mount. Armor-piercing shells proved largely ineffective against unarmored ships engineered with enough redundancy to survive dozens of hits without or before sinking. Conversely, the Americans could put the MK-37 radar-directed fire control system and its computer in ships as small as destroyers which could land accurate hits while chasing splashes. Excellent US 5-in and 40 mm radar and computer directed anti-aircraft fire downed several kamikaze planes, while the lack of comparable systems made the Japanese vulnerable to American fliers. While the Japanese built the largest battleships, the Americans built the most numerous classes of inexpensive escort carriers as Japan discarded their last carriers and pilots to draw away Halsey's fleet.
It may be argued that, of all of the battles in the Pacific War, Samar best demonstrates the effectiveness of air attack and destroyer-launched torpedoes against larger surface vessels. Cautious Japanese tactics were hampered by the belief they were fighting a much more powerful force. Conversely, the Americans accurately sensed the gravity of their predicament, and quickly improvised a strategy based on harassment and delay which did not hesitate to throw inadequately armed and trained men, planes and ships directly against battleships if that was what was available.
“ Well, I think it was really just determination that really meant something. I can't believe that they didn't just go in an wipe us out. We confused the Japanese so much. I think it deterred them. It was a great experience ”
—Interview by Hornfischer of Tom Stevensen, Survivor Samuel B. Roberts
Clifton Sprague's task unit lost two escort carriers: (Gambier Bay, to surface attack and St. Lo, to Kamikaze attack). Of the seven screening ships, fewer than half, two destroyers (Hoel and Johnston) and a destroyer escort (Samuel B. Roberts) were lost, as were dozens of aircraft. The other four U.S. destroyers and escorts were damaged. For such a small task unit, more than a thousand Americans died, comparable to the losses suffered at the allied defeat of the Battle of Savo Island off Guadalcanal when 4 cruisers were sunk. It was also comparable to the combined losses of the 543 men and 3 ships at the Battle of the Coral Sea, and 307 men and 2 ships at the Battle of Midway.
On the other side of the balance sheet, the Japanese were forced to scuttle three heavy cruisers, and a fourth limped back to base seriously damaged, having lost its bow. All of Kurita's battleships except Yamato suffered considerable damage, and apart from the Yamato, all of the heavy ships stayed inactive in their bases, and the Japanese navy as a whole had been rendered ineffective for the remainder of the war. At Leyte Gulf, relatively tiny Taffy 3 bore the brunt of losses, sacrificing five of the six U.S. ships of 37,000 tons that were lost. By comparison, the Japanese lost 26 ships of 306,000 tons.