Friday, August 14, 2009

naval Battle of Surigao Strait

The Japanese strategy in the defense of Leyte was to entrap the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet by its naval forces from the north in the Sibuyan Sea, and with assault from the south from Surigao Strait. Admiral Halsey and the U.S. Navy’s 3rd Fleet was to be lured northwards, away from the Leyte Strait by a decoy carrier force. The Japanese plan, named Sho-Go, called for the convergence of their two battleship forces from north and south onMacArthur’s landing beach, catching the U.S. troops and invasion ships in a pincers movement. To execute this strategy, the Imperial Japanese Navy formed four task forces under the overall command of Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, who himself was to lead the decoy carrier force with two battleships, three light cruisers and nine destroyers. The southern and weaker of these battleship forces, commanded by Rear Admiral Nishimura, would penetrate through Surigao Strait just south of Leyte, tying up the American battleships while the more powerful of the two battleship forces, the Central Force under the command of Vice Admiral Kurita, would penetrate through San Bernardino Strait, sail downthe coast of Samar, and fall on the American invasion fleet from the north-east. Admiral Shima with cruisers and destroyers acting as a second striking force would follow Nishimura into the Surigao Strait. The Battle of the Surigao Strait was one of the four engagements that made up the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which was the biggest naval battle fought in the Pacific Theatre during WWII.

The commander of the American ships facing Nishimura was Admiral Jesse Oldendorf. In his book Sea of Thunder, Evan Thomas describes Oldendorf as, “an unapologetic practitioner of the American war of war. He believed in massed firepower and overwhelming force.” It washis audacity, the use of the basic philosophies of war, and the use of the classic naval tactic of crossing the T that defeated the Japanese at Surigao Strait. This played a significant role in winning the Battle of Leyte Gulf and in so doing, helping to secure the beachheads of the U.S. Sixth Army on Leyte against Japanese attack from the sea. As Admiral Nishimura steamed toward the Surigao Strait he knew that his chances for victory were slim. From his flag ship the Yamashiro, he evaluated the force facing him and knew that the success of the Japanese depended on his commitment to the Sho-Go Plan. Hehad to tie up the American fleet committed to his destruction and spare Admiral Kurita’s Center Force. Nishimura counted on the battleships Fuso and the Yamashiro which had spent most of the war in Japan’s Inland Sea on training missions. At 0905 on 24 October, Nishimura's Force was sighted by aircraft from the Third Fleet carriers Enterprise and Franklin of Rear Admiral Davison's task group. Shima's Second Striking Force was located by a US Army Air Force bomber at 1155. The search/strike element from Davison's group which first located Nishimura attacked at 0918 and inflicted bomb hits on the flagship Yamashiro and on the destroyer Shigure, but these hits caused little damage and Nishimura continued his advance undeterred. Neither Nishimura nor Shima’s received any further air
attacks during daylight on 24 October since Admiral Halsey had transferred Admiral Davison's fast carrier group to the attack on Admiral Kurita's Centre Force, and the SeventhFleet's escort carriers were too busy with their duties around Leyte Gulf to be able to launch attacks on the Japanese forces. Admiral Kinkaid and his staff correctly surmised that the Japanese Southern Force would attempt to reach Leyte Gulf through Surigao Strait. Shortly after noon Kinkaid alerted every ship of the Seventh Fleet to prepare for a night action. Rear Admiral Oldendorf, commanding Kinkaid’s Bombardment and Fire Support Group, was ordered to the northern entrance of Surigao Strait with his very powerful force, and to prepare to meet the enemy ships. After Rear Admiral Oldendorf had formed his battle plan he called Rear Admirals Weyler, commanding the battle line, and Berkey, commander of the Right Flank cruisers and, destroyers aboard his flagship USS Louisville for a conference to discus the plan and to insure all commanders understood his intent.On the afternoon of 24 October, thirty-nine 7th Fleet torpedo-boats moved at high speed, through Leyte Gulf and Surigao Strait, into the Mindanao Sea south of Leyte, and by duskwere in position on their patrol-lines. As 7th Fleet had no night patrol aircraft, and the Third Fleet's night carrier Independence had been taken northwards with the rest of the Third Fleet to attack the Japanese Northern Force, Oldendorf was dependent on the motor-torpedo boats for advance warning of the Japanese approach. Nishimura, advancing towards Surigao Strait, at about 1830 received Kurita's signal that the latter's powerful Centre Force had been delayed by heavy air attacks in the Sibuyan Sea, which meant the Nishimura could not hope to be supported by Kurita in his attack on Leyte Gulf. As he approached Leyte, Nishimura sent Mogami and three destroyers ahead to reconnoiter. The PT boats' first contact was with the battleships rather than with the Mogami group though. At 2236 PT-131 of Section One off the island of Bohol made visual contact at a range of three miles, and shortly after were sighted by Shigure. At 2254 Nishimura ordered an emergency turn towards the boats and at 2256 the Japanese ships turned on their searchlights and opened fire. The boats attempted to close in for a torpedo attack but were driven off by the Japanese gunfire, two of them having been hit and damaged. PT-130 of Section One closed with the nearby Section Two and got PT-127 of the latter section to relay a contact report. This report reached Oldendorf at 0026 on October 25 and was the first concrete information of the enemy's position received by the Admiral since 1000 the previous morning. The heavy cruiser Mogami and her three accompanying destroyers got past Sections One and Two undetected.

At 2230 Nishimura radioed Kurita and Shima that he was advancing as scheduled while destroying enemy torpedo boats. At about 0400 Nishimura's heavy ships joined up again with the Mogami group, and at about 0100 his force assumed its line formation for the approach to Leyte Gulf. In the lead were two destroyers. Four kilometers behind them were the two battleships and the cruiser Mogami in line ahead, with a destroyer on each flank. The last action between the motor-torpedo boats and the Japanese force ended at 0213 on 25 October. As the battle between Nishimura and the PT boats was ending the battle between his force and the American destroyers was beginning. The first destroyer grouping to attack Nishimura was that of Captain Jesse Coward, who led three ships of Destroyer Squadron 54, the Remey, McGowan and Melvin, down the eastern side of the strait while two more, the McDermut and Monssen, hugged the western shore. Behind Coward followed six destroyers from Captain McManes’s Destroyer Squadron 24,steaming south in two sections: the Hutchens, the Daly, and the Bache were closest to the Leyte Island shore. The HMAS Arunta, an Australian destroyer assigned to the squadron, followed by the Killen and the Beale, cruised off their port quarter. Finally, Captain Smoot’snine-ship Destroyer Squadron 56 would attack in three columns. The Robinson, the Halford, and the Bryant would proceed down the eastern side. The Newcomb, the Richard P. Leary, and the Albert W. Grant would go down the middle of the strait, head-on, firing, then looping back. The Heywood L. Edwards, the Leutze, and the Bennion would attack on the
west site of the strait.

The Battle of Surigao Strait was effectively joined at 0200 on the 25th. In the ensuing night engagement and the pursuit that followed, the battleships YAMASHIRO and FUSO, heavy cruiser MOGAMI, and three of the four destroyers escorting them would all be sunk.

As Nishimura's force steamed filed up the center of the strait, the destroyers executed their battle plan firing salvos of torpedoes at ranges of about four miles, At 0319, Captain McManus commanding Destroyer Squadron 24 on the right flank, closed for the attack. Earlier, at 0254, as Captain Coward and Commander Phillips groups were dashing to the attack, Rear Admiral Berkey sent a radio message to Captain McManus with orders to divide into two groups and gave specific battle ingress and egress instructions. Captain McManus's pennant flew from USS Hutchins, a 2,100 ton destroyer that was the first of her class to be outfitted with a Combat Information Center (C.I.C.). This new C.I.C. provided a fused plot of gunnery, torpedo, and ship movement plot information that allowed the embarked commander (Captain McManus) the best possible presentation of the overall battle space in order to make decisions. In fact, Captain McManus, fought from C.I.C. vice the traditional location of the commander on the bridge of the ship. Destroyer Squadron 24 steamed south in two groups, the first consisting of USS Hutchins, USS Daly, and USS Bache, and the second consisted of H.M.A.S. Arunta, USS Killen, and USS Beale. The second section was commanded by Commander A. Buchanan of the Royal Australian Navy as OTC in H.M.A.S. Arunta. The previous mentioned explosion of Yamagumo, at 0320, at the hands of a torpedo from USS McDermut provided illumination for Commander Buchanan's attack. At 0323, H.M.A.S. Arunta fired four torpedoes at Shigure, leading the column, from a range of 6,500 yards - all missed. At 0325, USS Killen launched five torpedoes at Yamashiro at a range of 8,700 yards with one hit that slowed Yamashiro temporarily to 5 knots. Within 15 seconds, five more torpedoes were launched by USS Beale aimed at IJN Yamashiro - all missed. Captain McManus's section closed south at 25 knots to a point off of Amagusan Point, reversed his course and fired a spread of 15 torpedoes between 0329 and 0336, at ranges from 8,200 to 10,700 yards. Two minutes after sending his last message to Kurita, Nishimura's flagship YAMASHIRO suffered another blow. Beginning just after 0325, another wave of American destroyers had begun attacking the Japanese formation with torpedoes and gunfire. Some of their shells started a fire in YAMASHIRO's superstructure, but they were driven off by the battleship's 5.5" secondary battery. However, at 0340 MOGAMI's record states: "Direct torpedo hit observed on YAMASHIRO (apparently near the bow)." The next entry describes how MOGAMI herself was struck by shells in the same moment, and her No.3 turret disabled. At 0340, all three of Captain McManus's destroyers commenced gunfire on the retiring Michishio and Asagumo. From long range, Remey, McGowan and Melvin opened the battle with a salvo of 27 “fish”: Melvin was credited with sinking battleship Fuso. About ten minutes later, McDermut and Monssen scored from a different bearing: McDermut hitting destroyers Yamagumo, Michishio and Asagumo, sinking the first two; the IJN battleship Fuso blowing into two sections which drifted southward, the bow eventually sinking approximately 0420 and the stern within an hour. Captain McManus turned his destroyers to continue attacks on the fleeing ships that turned south, when Rear Admiral Berkey passed a radio message at 0349 ordering all Destroyer Squadron 24 ships to "knock it off" and retire. At 0350, while turning to retire, USS Hutchins fired another spread of five torpedoes in the direction of Asagumo. Asagumo had changed course and Michishio, badly damaged, drifted into the path of the torpedoes and at 0358 she took all five torpedoes squarely, blew up, and sank immediately. Rear Admiral Oldendorf then threw Captain Smoot and Destroyer Squadron 56 into the action. Splitting the squadron in three groups, Section 1 consisting of USS Albert W. Grant, USS Richard P. Leary, and USS Newcomb, under the command of Captain Smoot, while Section 2 was made up of, USS Bryant, USS Halford, and USS Robinson, under the command of Captain Conley, and finally Section 3, USS Bennion, USS Leutze, and USS Heywood L. Edwards, under the command of Commander Boulware. All three sections turned south in column and sped at 25 knots, assuming positions on the bow of the approaching ships. At 0345, Section 2 was spotted by enemy lookouts and Captain Conley's section came under fire. Between 0354 and 0359, Section 2 fired five torpedoes at ranges from 8,380 to 9,000 yards - all missed, and Section 2 retired in the vicinity of Hibuson Island. Section 3 closed and opened fire between 0357 and 0359 at ranges from 7,800 to 8,000 yards at targets of Shigure and Yamashiro. Both enemy ships made drastic turns to evade the approaching torpedoes - all torpedoes missed, and both enemy ships took Section 3 under fire. Section 3 was then retiring while making smoke and no enemy salvoes hit their targets. Section 3 retired toward Leyte and hugged the coastline heading north. Section 1 was bearing down the middle of the strait and having trouble deconflicting the radar picture. Yamashiro slowed and turned to the west and Captain Smoot ordered a starboard turn to parallel the battleships course. At 0404, Captain Smoot ordered torpedo launch, USS Richard P. Leary fired 3, USS Newcomb, and USS Albert W. Grant both fired five each at ranges approximately 6,200 yards from the target. Two large explosions were registered on Yamashiro at 30 seconds past 0411. Captain Smoot had already ordered retirement to the north as the main gunfire was already raining all around his ships from the battleships and cruisers on the battle line to the north. At 0407, while dashing north, destroyer USS Albert W. Grant came under heavy fire and, as she was hit, fired all remaining torpedoes squarely at the enemy. She would absorb 18 shells, 11 of which were 6 inch shells from friendly cruisers. At 0420, she lay dead in the water, 34 officers and enlisted men killed or missing and 94 wounded. USS Newcomb lashed herself to the disable destroyer and hauled her clear - she was repaired and would return to fight in the battle for Okinawa.

Three additional sections were still patrolling to the north, making east west runs northwest of Hibuson Island. The first section, stationed on the right flank, was Rear Admiral Berkey with the two light cruisers USS Boise, USS Phoenix, and H.M.A.S. Shropshire. Approximately six miles to Berkey's east was the group commanded by Rear Admiral Oldendorf of USS Louisville, USS Portland, USS Minneapolis, USS Denver, and USS Columbia. Still four miles further north was the main Battle Line, commanded by Rear Admiral Weyler, with the battleships USS Mississippi, USS California, USS Tennessee, USS West Virginia, USS Maryland, and USS Pennsylvania. At 0323, range to the approaching enemy ships was 33,000 yards, Admiral Weyler sent a radio message to the Battle Line ordering them to open fire when ranges were 26,000 yards. At 0351, Admiral Oldendorf ordered all cruisers of the Right Flank to open fire with USS Louisville ranging the targets at 15,600 yards. At 0353 the Battle Line added to the fire power bearing down on Yamashiro, Shigure, and Mogami. Vice Admiral Nishimura, from his flagship Yamashiro, would send a radio message to Fuso to make best speed, not knowing that Fuso had broken in two, was drifting south, and would sink within the hour. USS West Virginia, USS Tennessee, and USS California were all outfitted with the latest, cutting edge, fire control radar sets and would have fire control solutions passed to main battery plot long before the enemy came within range. At 0353, USS West Virginia would open fire raining down 93 rounds of 16 inch armor piercing projectiles before checking fire. Within two minutes, USS Tennessee and USS California opened concentrated fire in six gun salvoes and would fire 63 and 69 rounds respectively. The other three battleships had older fire control systems and would have trouble ranging the targets. USS Maryland, however, would fire 48 rounds commencing at 0359, walking her rounds on target using spotter information from splashes from USS West Virginia's fall of shot. USS Mississippi would fire but a single salvo on target information, and USS Pennsylvania never managed to get a fire control solution and wouldn't fire a single round. As the Battle Line turned to a westerly course, USS Mississippi fired a full salvo in the direction of the enemy - noted that they may have been clearing their main batteries at the moment when Rear Admiral Oldendorf had ordered Cease Fire. At 0351, the Left Flank cruiser USS Denver, opened fire and within a minute was followed by rounds from USS Minneapolis, USS Columbia, and USS Portland, all ships pouring gunfire on battleship Yamashiro. At 0358, USS Portland shifted fire to Mogami, who was attempting to retire south. At the same time, USS Denver, shifted fire to IJN Shigure, but probably was responsible for rounds that hit USS Albert W. Grant. USS Louisville also fired rounds at USS Albert W. Grant, but luckily missed. At 0353, USS Boise shifted firing rate to rapid and continuous on Yamashiro, while USS Phoenix fired 15 gun salvoes at quarter minute intervals on the same target. Rear Admiral Berkey then ordered USS Boise to slow her rate of fire in order to conserve ammunition. H.M.A.S. Shropshire was having trouble with her fire control system and didn't open up with 8 inch fire until 0356, and while the formation made their turn to a westerly course, shifted firing rate to rapid and continuous and was joined by the remaining formation cruisers at 0400. All three groups continued fire and as the allied groups closed range to each other and the enemy the rounds landed with increasing accuracy. Yamashiro had, at this point, changed course from north to west by south. Heavy cruiser ijn Mogami had turned south to retire, while destroyer Shigure sheered east near Hibuson Island and surprisingly only suffered one hit, an 8 inch shell that failed to explode. At 0409, Rear Admiral Oldendorf received the message that USS Albert W. Grant was taking friendly fire and radioed all ships to Cease Fire. At 0419, Yamashiro would capsize taking Vice Admiral Nishimura with her, at latitude 10 degrees 22.3 minutes north - longitude 125 degrees 21.3 minutes east. Heavy cruiser Mogami had taken an incredible number of hits and was making smoke and retiring south when, at 0402, a salvo from USS Portland exploded on her bridge killing her Commanding Officer, Captain R. Tooma, as well as her Executive Officer - she slowed to bare steerageway. Vice Admiral Shima's force of heavy cruisers Nachi, and Ashigara, light cruiser Abukuma, and destroyers Akebono, Ushio, Kasumi, Shiranuhi, Wakaba, Hatsushimo, and Hatsuharu entered the action at 0315, when passing through a rain squall, they were fired upon by PT-134 off of Binit Point, Panoan - all torpedoes missed their target. At 0320, Vice Admiral Shima ordered his formation east to clear Binit Point. At 0325, as the formation was still on their easterly course, Abukuma suffered a torpedo hit on her port side from PT-137. PT-137 was actually targeting a destroyer taking station in the rear of the formation, the torpedoes missed their intended target and slammed into Abukuma, killing 30 men and slowing the cruiser to 10 knots. Vice Admiral Shima then turned his disposition north, and at 0410 encountered the burning hulk of Fuso in two pieces. Vice Admiral Shima's force detected targets to the northeast and prepared for torpedo attack, firing at 0424 at a range of 9,000 yards - all torpedoes missed their targets and two torpedoes were later recovered after beaching on Hibuson Island. At 0425, Vice Admiral Shima recalled his force and turned south, passing a radio message Vice Admiral Mikawa informing him of the conclusion of present action and retirement for planning of further attacks. While transiting south, heavy cruiser Nachi encountered the disabled Mogami and believed her to be dead in the water and, in an inexplicable display of poor seamanship, failed to avoid her and both cruisers collided at 0430. Mogami would fall into the column heading south and run afoul of Motor Torpedo Boat Section 11, attacking and causing slight damage to PT-321.

Post-battle Pursuit

At 0433, Rear Admiral Oldendorf ordered dashed in pursuit with USS Louisville down the middle of the strait screened by Destroyer Squadron 56, followed by the remainder of the Left Flank cruisers in column. He then ordered the Right Flank cruisers to start south along the Leyte coastline and detached the Battle Line screen of Division X-ray to take up pursuit duties. At 0535, X-ray caught up with the Left Flank cruisers and were ordered to join their formation. At a few minutes after 0500, USS Louisville detected enemy ships again heading north in the vicinity of Amagusan Point, but within a few minutes Vice Admiral Shima changed course again south and continued retirement. At 0520, Rear Admiral Oldendorf's cruisers were eight miles off of Eschonchada Point and he swung the formation to 250 degrees and verified that the one contact he had on radar was indeed the enemy. Mogami was the target and she came under intense fire from USS Louisville, USS Portland, and USS Denver. Rear Admiral Oldendorf turned his cruisers north at 0537 to reconcentrate his force to the north leaving Mogami to burn. Mogami would again come under attack at 0600, this time from PT-491 firing two torpedoes - both missed, Mogami countering with a valiant barrage of 8 inch gunfire. Vice Admiral Shima's column was detected by PT-190 at 0630, but chased away by destroyers took refuge by making smoke and escaped into Sogod Bay. Vice Admiral Shima ordered his disposition to close Mindanao and made for 16 knots cruising speed to avoid further encounters with the Motor Torpedo Boat sections. At 0645, Mogami again found a PT boat, this time PT-137 who gave chase but due to the heavy cruisers high speed, secondary battery gunfire, and a screening destroyer, was forced to retire. Rear Admiral Oldendorf had again turned south at 0643, directing Rear Admiral Hayler to take his two light cruisers and three destroyers and neutralize any remaining disabled enemy ships he could find. Cruisers USS Denver and USS Columbia joined gunfire from USS Cony and USS Sigourney, from Division X-ray, on Asagumo - all five opening fire at 0707. Asagumo was badly damaged by Destroyer Squadron 54, blowing Asagumo's bow off. She continued firing from her aft gun mount, her last salvo fired as the stern went down at 0721 halfway between Tungo Point, Dinagat and Caligangan Point, Panaon. At 0845, Rear Admiral Sprague's carrier launched Avengers found Vice Admiral Shima's fleeing force and swooped in for attack on Mogami and at 0910 left her dead in the water. Destroyer Akebono took off Mogami's crew, but met the same fate at 1230 by the hand of a torpedo attack. Cruiser Abukuma and destroyer Ushio would put in at Dapitan on the northwest point of Mindanao, upon leaving port on the morning of 26 October, at 1006 were attacked 44 B-24's and B-25's of the V and XIII Army Air Force and Abukuma sunk near Negros at 1242. Nachi proceeded to Manila Bay and would be sunk by Helldivers and Avengers from USS Lexington on November 5, 1944. Thus the only units to escape were Ashigara, and five destroyers.


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