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October 1944 (3)

Japanese Center Force: Nagato, Musachi & Yamato

Japanese Center Force: Nagato, Musachi & Yamato

Avengers from the Cabot and Intrepid attacked the enemy superbattleship Musashi [the Palace] and she withstood 3 more torpedo hits.  The IJN Myoko was damaged, but the carrier aircraft continued to concentrate on the “Palace.”  Kurita, on the Yamato radioed out:  “URGENT REQUEST LAND-BASED AIR FORCE AND MOBILE FORCE TO MAKE PROMPT ATTACK ON ENEMY CARRIER FORCE IN SIBUYAN SEA.”  This call went unanswered.

The Musachi took 7 more torpedoes, that hit her port quarter and bridge tower, and still she moved at 6 knots.  Kurita ordered the experimental “San shiki” shells to be loaded into the guns. (These were designed to loft fragmentation bombs at low-flying planes.)  But finally, after 17 bombs and 19 torpedoes, the Palace succumbed and sank vertically like a skyscraper.

VAdmiral Toshihira Inoguchi chose to go down with his ship; 1,376 of her 2,399-man crew were rescued. About half of her survivors were evacuated to Japan, and the rest took part in the defense of the Philippines.*

Task Force - 58

Task Force – 58

24→25 October – Adm. Kinkaid ordered Adm. Oldendorf to prepare for a night engagement and to re-position his Task Force-77.  At the entrance to the Suriago Strait he situated double lines consisting of 6 battlewagons, 8 cruisers, 28 destroyers and 39 “expendable” PT boats.

The dual lines caused echoes in the Japanese radar of the Southern Force and between the torpedoes and gun barrages, Nishimura’s force was devastated: 2 battleships, 1 heavy cruiser and 4 destroyers after 2 hours of battle.  Shima’s group had 2 cruisers sunk, 1 battleship damaged and the admiral began a retreat.

25 October – as Halsey and the TF-38 headed north to intercept Ozawa’s Decoy Force, Kurita aimed his Centre Force at the US escort carrier group TG-77.43 “Taffy 3, under Adm. Sprague.  With only 6 small carriers and 6 destroyers, Sprague was all that sailed between the ground invading force and the enemy ships.  In an apparently suicide tactic, the admiral charged Kurita by air and sea.  The enemy thought they were facing the entire Third Fleet.  In maneuvering to avoid the attack, Kurita lost any tactical control.

Sprague suffered heavy losses, but the enemy had the cruisers Kumano, Chokai and Chikuma at the bottom of the sea.  Kurita retreated with the Suzaya, Haguro and sister-ship to the Musachi, the IJN Yamato; all having been hit by aircraft fire.  Sprague was now low on fuel and ammunition.  Kinkaid radioed Halsey: “WHERE IS – REPEAT – WHERE IS TASK FORCE 34?  THE WORLD WONDERS.”

Superbattleship IJN Musachi

Superbattleship IJN Musachi

* In March 2015, the American philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, and his team of researchers located the wreck of Musashi in the Sibuyan Sea using a remotely operated underwater vehicle deployed from the yacht Octopus. The ship lies at a depth of around 1,000 metres (3,300 ft).  The wreck was revealed to be in several pieces with most of the hull amidships appearing to have been blown apart after leaving the surface.  The bow section from the number one barbette forward is upright on the sea floor while the stern is upside down. The forward superstructure and funnel is detached from the rest of the ship and lies on its port side.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Wilfred Adams – No.Battleford, CAN; RC Army, WWII, RTO

Chester Bingaman – Huntsville, AL; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Mississippi and LSM-183maxresdefault

Michael Francuck – Holly, MI; US Navy, WWII

Walter Haas – Brn: GER, FL; US Army

John Hogg – Sacramento, CA; US Coast Guard, WWII

Howard Kelly, Miami, FL; US Army, WWII

Arnold Keuneke – IN; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, TSgt., Signal Corps

David Plotkin – Massapequa, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWI, PTO, pilot

Richard Roether – Cincinnatti, OH; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Sgt.

Robert Trpinc – Millsboro, PA; US Army, WWII, PTO

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Battle of Leyte Gulf, part II

"Operation Sho", Japanese battle plan

“Operation Sho”, Japanese battle plan

In the previous post, Admiral Halsey was going north to confront Admiral Ozawa’s decoy fleet, Nishimura’s Southern Force was being crushed and CINCPAC (U.S. Commander-in-Chief – Pacific) continued to have negligible intelligence due to a change in Japanese codes.

Kurita’s force came up against Admiral Sprague’s Taffy 3 group, with 6 escort carriers having only about 28 planes each (also called “jeep,” “baby flattops,” “Tomato cans” or CVEs [ c
Combustible, Vulnerable & Expendable] with about 14 knots being their top speed and 5′ guns) Sprague knew he was in quite a jam. Out of the fog loomed the battlewagons of the enemy – pagoda masts and all (to paraphrase a remark made by Sprague). The Taffy 3 only had 29 guns. Sprague swung east, ordered all planes in the air and every ship to create a smoke screen. He then turned south to hide in a rain squall. The planes continued to land, refuel and rearm until they ran out of torpedoes and bombs. One Avenger pilot recorded, “… hitting the Japs with everything in the armory – including doorknobs.” For three hours this system continued as Sprague repeatedly called to the other fleets for help. The ruse the admiral had staged was working though; the Japanese thought they had come up against a major U.S. fleet. This was a life saver since Admirals Kincaid and Nimitz wrongfully assumed that Halsey would cover the San Bernardino Strait.

After some time elapsed, Halsey finally turned south (against his better judgement) and left Mitscher to finish off Ozawa. Although the Japanese Navy was utterly shattered, they proceeded to initiate the frightening kamikaze attacks. The sailors saw the terrifying “devil divers” approach and began to fire.

The results of the four battles in three days:
U.S. loss – 1 fast carrier, 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers, 1 destroyer escort and about 3,000 men. The St. Lo was a later casualty due to kamikaze attacks.
Japanese loss – 4 of their remaining carriers (Zuikaku, Zuilo, Chitose & Chiyoda), 3 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers (Kumano, Chokai & Chikuma among them), 4 light cruisers, 9 destroyers and about 10,000 men.

Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague thru a porthole of the 'Fanshaw Bay'

Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague thru a porthole of the ‘Fanshaw Bay’

The Japanese plan to vanquish the American Naval Fleet and put a halt to the landings in the Philippines was named “Operation Sho.” (Operation Victory) But, as of 26 October 1944, the battles come to a shuttering close with almost every Japanese ship sunk or spewing the pillars of smoke from their damage. From this point on kamikaze attacks became more frequent as the Japanese desperation increased. Of the mistakes that can be seen in hindsight: Admiral Toyoda directing his operation from an underground headquarters outside Tokyo. This error was compounded by ships trying to use the thick crude oil from Brunei, inexperienced pilots, radio failures, inferior radar equipment and human error. Kurita later confessed that he knew nothing of Halsey “taking the bait” and it had cost him dearly. He was “only aware of what he could see with his own eyes.”

Halsey was censured for failing to cover the San Bernadino Strait which he blamed on “rotten communications.” MacArthur’s troops landing on Leyte could have benefited from some air support. With the defeat of the Imperial Navy, General Terauchi overruled General Yamashita and began pouring heavy reinforcements onto the island. Enemy planes from other islands were ordered in and the U.S. troops received heavy strafing. The American Marines only had 150 planes at the time. This situation caused Smitty and the 11th Airborne Division to be delayed in their own landings until November, waiting for Halsey’s return.

Kamikaze commander, Lt. Yukio Seki (why the life preserver?)

Kamikaze commander, Lt. Yukio Seki (why the life preserver?)

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I attempted to interview a neighbor, Jerry Gottlieb, 89 years young, who served on theUSS Intrepid as a First Petty Officer. He was a “Black shoe” aircraft mechanic (old swabby he called himself). He served from 1944-46 and then was recalled for the Korean War. I say attempted to interview, because he, as many other combat veterans said very little about himself, he concentrated on the ship’s performance. The ship is now a museum in New York and he is very much involved with it when he travels north. The Fighting “I” Essex class launched on 26 April 1943 under the command of Admiral Spruance and continued to serve after being hit three times by kamikaze planes.

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Resources for this two-part post: “Return to the Philippines” Time-Life; “Pacific War” John Davison; “The Last Great Victory” Stanley Weintraub; Military History Online; Pacific Naval Battles; HyperWar: US Navy; Naval History.mil; Jerry Gottlieb, interview

Flashback – Battle of Leyte Gulf part I

battle sites

battle sites

This momentous event was previously only briefly mentioned. The four Naval Battles that occured in three days time certainly deserve much more. Since an explosion of action occured with such a multitude of vessels, I have added a map for both this section and part 2 in an attempt to clarify my explainations.

To begin the story of Leyte Gulf, one must first relate what had occured at Formosa. Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome commanded the Second Air Fleet as they spotted the first wave of Admiral Mitscher’s aircraft carrier’s 1,378 sorties flying in at them on 12 October 1944. Fukudome felt that his “Tojos” and “Zekes” outnumbered the Americans and relished seeing planes drop like flies – until he realized that they were his own planes. One-third of the Japanese fighters, plus damage to hangers and other ground installations was the end result. By the time the third wave of American aircraft arrived, no enemy planes were in the air, so they bombed randomly and at will. Six hundred Japanese aircraft had been destroyed. Some of the enemy did manage to instill damage to the cruisers Canberra and the Houston and reported back to Fukudome that Halsy’s fleet was severely crippled. It is apparent that Japan was already using young and inexperienced pilots.

Center Force as it approaches the Darter & Dace (2d & 3d vessels are the Musahi & Yamato)

Center Force as it approaches the Darter & Dace (2d & 3d vessels are the Musahi & Yamato)

Halsey had the Third Fleet containing Mitscher’s 16 fast carriers, 6 new battleships and 81 cruisers and destroyers. (This must have been quite an overwhelming sight to see on the high seas.) MacArthur controlled the Sixth Army (200,000 men), General Kenney’s Fifth Air Force on five islands and Admiral Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet. All this arrived in Leyte Gulf at the island’s east coast. Japanese Admiral Toyoda, who devised the enemy’s battle plan, divided his navy into three forces: Admiral Takeo’s Center Force coming from Singapore while Admiral Nishimura’s Southern Force came from the south through Surigo Strait with the rear-guard under Admiral Kiyohide right behind them. The third part, the Northern Force was a weak link with only four aircraft carriers. And, then there was Admiral Ozawa, who came from Japan with only two battleships and eleven light cruisers and destroyers to be used as a decoy.

caption id=”attachment_702″ align=”alignleft” width=”137″]Admiral Shigeru Fukudome Admiral Shigeru Fukudome[/caption]

On 23 October, Kurita’s Center Force was spotted by two American submarines, the Dace and the Darter and Halsey was notified. The Third Fleet turned east. The next morning, a serch plane from the Enterprise and a bomber from the Fifth Air Force located Nishimura’s Southern Force. Mitscher’s carrier planes were ordered to attack the Kurita fleet. Fukudome sank the Princeton </em, but left Kurita without air support, his superbattleships, the Musaski and the Yamato </em, were forced to use their 16" and 18" guns with the sanshikidon shells. (6,000 steel pellets per shell). U.S. bombers from the Cabot and Intrepid managed to hit the Myoko, Yamato and the Musaski. Darter & Dace sunk the Atago & Maya and damaged the Takan. Darter unfortunately ran aground shortly after and the Dace left to assist her. Pilots from the Enterprise & Essex chimed in on a battle that looked like chaos and sounded like the end of the world.

Kurita turned westward after the Musaki was sunk. This caused Halsey to feel that the Center Force was no longer a threat and went in search for the main danger. What he was to discover was Ozawa’s Northern Force (the decoy). Working without ample intelligence information, Halsey swallowed the bait, just as Yamato had expected in his original plan. Halsey attacked. With miscommunication between Admirals Halsey and Lee, Halsey raced north while Kurita’s Center Force and Nishimura’s Southern Force returned to Leyte Gulf.

Admiral Halsey

Admiral Halsey

MacArthur was furious to find that Halsey had endangered the landing troops, but the admiral felt that he answered only to Nimitz and his primary order was the destruction of the enemy wherever he had the chance.

PT boats darted toward Nishimura to launch torpedoes, none scored, but the position information was transmitted. The destroyer Remey fired and sunk two Japanese destroyers and 39 PT boats prepared to cross the “T” (This maneuver is where one fleet cuts in front of the enemy in single file allowing every ship to fire broadside while the enemy can only use their forward guns). With the absence of aircraft, this was perfect and they blocked the Japanese from entering the gulf.

Oldendorf on the Louisville held his guns quiet until the enemy was at 15,600 yards and then ordered, “Open fire.” Every ship opened up at once. Within 18 minutes, the battleships West Virginia, California, Tennesse, Maryland & Mississippi fired approximately 270 shells from their 14″ and 16″ guns. The cruisers blasted at least 4,000 rounds from their 6″ and 8″ guns and the destroyers launched torpedoes. All but one of Nishimura’s vessels were crippled or sunk. Only the destroyer Albert W. Grant was damaged. The Japanese rear-guard Southern Force retreated.

USS Reno fighting the fires on the USS Princeton

USS Reno fighting the fires on the USS Princeton

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Remember to click on any photo to enlarge for better viewing.

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Prelude to combat

men of the 11th A/B just prior to Leyte

men of the 11th A/B just prior to Leyte

Jungle training for the Second World War was held for the benefit of the soldier’s immediate situation, but its effectual results led into the establishment of the Special Forces.  This is typified by the creation of the Recon Platoon of the 11th Airborne Division and the Alamo Scouts.  Out of these units we witnessed the outstanding operations of today’s special troops.  In New Guinea and later during their actual combat experience, what these men learned went on to be vital assets for the future generations of soldiers.

The advantage of being acclimated to a different climate and acquainted with the strange terrain served to aid them in their survival and the success of their missions.

Although the 11th A/B was small in size and short of arms and staff, they accepted orders normally issued to full size divisions.  At this time, many people believed that MacArthur was obsessed with recovering the Philippines from the Japanese and perhaps he was, and with good reason.  FDR had promised him serious military assistance in 1942, but it never arrived.  As a direct result, MacArthur was ordered by his president to abandon his men on the islands and escape to Australia.  The Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. had not only lied to one of his generals, but caused the forced surrender of American and Filipino citizens and military  personnel.  The infamous Bataan Death March and ultimate fall of the Philippines into Japanese control was the end result.

But here — the invasion of Leyte — would be, by far, the greatest operation of the Pacific.  For the first time, the combines forces of MacArthur and the overseas bomber commands would be joined with the vast armada of Admiral Nimitz.  Land and sea would simultaneously explode into action.  The Japanese government also knew in their heart of hearts that the battles fought over the Philippine islands would decide the outcome of the war.  Field Marshall Hisaichi Terauchi communicated orders for additional men and supplies, while General Yamashita attempted  to convince his superiors otherwise.  The general did not wish to remove men and arms from the more important island of Luzon, especially as transportation would now be a major problem — thanks to the U.S. Navy.  Unfortunately, intentionally or not, FDR not only found a way to leak the plans of Leyte’s attack, but diplomatic sources in the Kremlin gave the Japanese a forewarning and the the enemy became determined to make the Philippines an all-out effort.

Certain matters would need to be dealt with by the soldiers, Allied and Japanese alike.  For the Japanese, the concept of using retreat as a strategic tactic was confusing and unheard of by their standard of protocol.  The very thought of retreat was a disgrace and therefore forbidden.  The American G.I. was equally befuddled by hara Kiri and kamikaze techniques.  The purpose that suicide accomplished in a battlefield was beyond their comprehension – yet these and many more differences had to be confronted. (The official name of kamikaze was Tokubetsu Kogekitai and was not quite as popular in Japan as some have been led to believe.  This topic will be discussed in a later post as the action unfolds.)

Admiral Halsey led his famous fleet in the battle to clear Leyte Gulf and neighboring waters, thereby opening the way for troop landings.  It was during the battle for Surigao Strait that Admiral Mitscher turned in early for some sleep and said to his aide, “It’s alright.  Admiral Halsey is in command now.”  But, all kidding aside, the Japanese had a very formidable navy and it would take more than one admiral to complete and win the last large sea battle of the war.  Many historians , looking back on these ensuing battles, compared the forces of Nimitz with throwing a right cross and MacArthur’s troops following through with the left punch – the enemy did not stand a chance.

As General Eichelberger said more than once: “The 11th Airborne Division are the fightingest men I’ve ever seen.”  And the largest and most violent armed conflict in history was about to start for these men.

November of 1944 arrived and with that came packing up for the next destination, Leyte, Philippines.  It also meant the arrival of the rains, an understatement to say the least.  Such downpours are alien to those who do not live in the tropics.  Even the darkness is unique when it arrives in a flash and the blackness envelops everything like a sweeping shroud.  A man’s eyes can no longer be trusted; he stands as though blindfolded.

Nine APA’s (naval transport ships designed to attack) and AKA’s (cargo ships designed to attack) would be required to carry the 11th A/B on to their target.  Due to the constant barrage of weather, the journey lasted from  Nov. 11 until the 18th.  The Battle of Leyte was officially code-named “King II Operation.”

Gilliam-class APA

Gilliam-class APA

Being as their cruise took so long, Smitty had a chance to write home once again, Letter XIV will be included in the next post.

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Personal note – Most acknowledgements will be at the end of this blog in the Bibliography; such as the photograph above which came from “The Pacific War Encyclopedia on-line.”