USS Hornet (CV-12) – A Father’s Untold War Story – Battle of Leyte Gulf (Part 4)

Posted: October 24, 2013 in History, Uncategorized, World War II
Tags: , , , , ,
John T. Ryan US Navy

John T. Ryan US Navy

October 1944 continues and my father, Seaman First Class, John Thomas Ryan is still serving on the USS Hornet (CV-12).

20-26 Oct 1944 – Strikes on Leyte supporting invasion of the Philippines as stated in the ships log for the USS Hornet (CV-12).

In my previous post I wrote about the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea (Leyte Gulf).  The Battle of Leyte Gulf, also called the Battles for Leyte Gulf, and formerly known as the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea, is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and, by some criteria, possibly the largest naval battle in history.  Since the Battle of Leyte Gulf consisted of four separate engagements between the opposing forces: the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle of Cape Engaño and the Battle off Samar, as well as other actions, I decided to break the story into multiple parts.  In Part 1, I covered the background and the submarine action in Palawan passage on October 23, 1944.  In Part 2, I wrote about the Battle of Sibuyan Sea.  In Part 3, I wrote about Admiral Halsey’s decisions and the San Bernardino Strait.  For Part 4, I will write about the Battle of Surigao Strait.

Here is an episode of the television show, Victory at Sea.  Episode 19, broadcast in 1953 was the Battle of Leyte Gulf

The Battle of Surigao Strait (25 October 1944)

 The Battle of Surigao Strait

The Battle of Surigao Strait

Nishimura’s “Southern Force” consisted of the old battleships Yamashiro and Fusō, the heavy cruiser Mogami, and four destroyers.  

Shoji Nishimura

Shoji Nishimura

Imperial Japanese Navy battleships Fusō (foreground) and Yamashiro (background)

Imperial Japanese Navy battleships Fusō (foreground) and Yamashiro (background)

Cruiser Mogami

Cruiser Mogami

This mini fleet left Brunei after Kurita at 15:00 on 22 October, turning eastward into the Sulu Sea and then northeasterly past the southern tip of Negros Island into the Mindanao Sea. Nishimura then proceeded northeastward with Mindanao Island to starboard and into the south entrance to the Surigao Strait, intending to exit the north entrance of the Strait into Leyte Gulf where he would add his firepower to that of Kurita’s force.

Mindanao Island

Mindanao Island

The Second Striking Force—commanded by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima—consisted of the heavy cruisers Nachi (Flag) and Ashigara, the light cruiser Abukuma, and the destroyers Akebono, Ushio, Kasumi, and Shiranui.

Kiyohide Shima

Kiyohide Shima

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Japanese cruiser Abukuma

Japanese cruiser Abukuma

The Southern Force was attacked by US Navy bombers on 24 October, but sustained only minor damage.

Because of the strict radio silence imposed on the Center and Southern Forces, Nishimura was unable to synchronize his movements with Shima and Kurita. When he entered the narrow Surigao Strait at 02:00, Shima was 25 nmi (29 mi; 46 km) behind him, and Kurita was still in the Sibuyan Sea, several hours from the beaches at Leyte.

As the Southern Force approached the Surigao Strait, it ran into a deadly trap set by the 7th Fleet Support Force. Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf had a substantial force.

Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf

Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf

There were six battleships: West Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, California, and Pennsylvania; all but Mississippi had been sunk or damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor and since repaired, Tennessee, California, and West Virginia having been rebuilt since then.

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USS Mississippi 6

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USS California

USS California

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There were also the 35 8-inch (203 mm) guns of the four heavy cruisers (USS Louisville (flagship), Portland, Minneapolis and HMAS Shropshire) and 54 6-inch (152 mm) guns of four light cruisers (Denver, Columbia, Phoenix and Boise).

USS Louisville

USS Louisville

USS Portland

USS Portland

USS Minneapolis

USS Minneapolis

HMS Shropshire

HMS Shropshire

There were also the smaller guns and torpedoes of 28 destroyers and 39 motor torpedo boats (Patrol/Torpedo (PT) boats). To pass through the narrows and reach the invasion shipping, Nishimura would have to run the gauntlet of torpedoes from the PT boats followed by the large force of destroyers, and then advance under the concentrated fire of the six battleships and their eight flanking cruisers disposed across the far mouth of the Strait.

At 22:36, one of the PT boats—PT-131 (Ensign Peter Gadd), operating off Bohol, first made contact with the approaching Japanese ships. Over more than three-and-a-half hours, the PT boats made repeated attacks on Nishimura’s force as it streamed northward. Although no torpedo hits were scored, the PT boats did send contact reports which were of use to Oldendorf and his force.

Remarkably, Nishimura’s ships slipped through the gauntlet of PT boats unscathed. However, a short time later, their luck ran out as they were subjected to devastating torpedo attacks from the American destroyers disposed on both sides of their axis of advance. At about 03:00, both Japanese battleships were hit by torpedoes. Yamashiro was able to steam on, but Fusō exploded and broke in two when she was torpedoed by USS Melvin (DD-680).

fusburnTwo of Nishimura’s four destroyers were sunk; another, Asagumo, was hit but able to retire, and later sank.

Zuikaku's crew jettisoning explosives, 25 Oct 1944

Zuikaku’s crew jettisoning explosives, 25 Oct 1944

Zuikaku sinking Zuikaku, striking her flag and sinking, while her crew salutes. 843 of her soldiers will go down with her. View looks aft from the rear of the carrier's island, with radio antenna masts folded horizontal on her starboard side. Note her sharp list to port. A 25mm single anti-aircraft machine gun is mounted on the flight deck, at the lower right.

The classical account summarized above has been questioned recently because additional evidence has come to light. Fuso survivor Hideo Ogawa, interrogated in 1945, also wrote an article on the battleship’s last voyage. He says that “shortly after 0400 the ship capsized slowly to starboard and Ogawa and others were washed away.”  Fuso was hit on the starboard side by two or possibly three torpedoes. One of these started an oil fire. The fuel used by IJN ships in this period was poorly refined and had a tendency to burst into flame; burning patches of fuel were most likely the source of the myth of Fuso blowing up. It is extremely unlikely that a vessel as strongly built as a battleship could be blown in half and the halves remain upright and afloat, so the classic version of Fuso‘s fate is also extremely improbable. Accordingly, it is likely that the Morison account is incorrect in this detail. There are rumors of Fuso being either the largest ship to be sunk with all hands, or did leave survivors, but refused to be rescued by American or Japanese vessels, and foundered, while the rest did eventually survive long enough to reach land, but were killed by Filipino natives. Some believe Asagumo picked up Fuso survivors, only for all to perish when the destroyer sank.

At 03:16, West Virginia‘s radar picked up the surviving ships of Nishimura’s force at a range of 42,000 yd (38,000 m) and had achieved a firing solution at 30,000 yd (27,000 m). West Virginia tracked them as they approached in the pitch black night. At 03:53, she fired the eight 16 in (410 mm) guns of her main battery at a range of 22,800 yd (20,800 m), striking Yamashiro with her first salvo. She went on to fire a total of 93 shells. At 03:55, California and Tennessee joined in, firing a total of 63 and 69 14 in (360 mm) shells, respectively. Radar fire control allowed these American battleships to hit targets from a distance at which the Japanese battleships—with their inferior fire control systems—could not return fire.

The other three US battleships, equipped with less advanced gunnery radar, had difficulty arriving at a firing solution. Maryland eventually succeeded in visually ranging on the splashes of the other battleships’ shells, and then fired a total of 48 16 in (410 mm) projectiles. Pennsylvania was unable to find a target and her guns remained silent.

Mississippi only obtained a solution at the end of the battle-line action, and then fired just one (full) salvo of 12 14-in shells. This was the last salvo ever to be fired by a battleship against another heavy ship, ending an era in naval history.

Yamashiro and Mogami were crippled by a combination of 16-in and 14-in armor-piercing shells, as well as the fire of Oldendorf’s flanking cruisers. Shigure turned and fled, but lost steering and stopped dead. Yamashiro sank at about 04:20, with Nishimura on board. Mogami and Shigure retreated southwards down the Strait.

Yamashiro and Shigure ride into the Valley of death

Yamashiro and Shigure ride into the Valley of death

The rear of the Southern Force—the “Second Striking Force” commanded by Vice Admiral Shima—had departed from Mako and approached Surigao Strait about 40 mi (35 nmi; 64 km) astern of Nishimura. Shima’s run was initially thrown into confusion by his force nearly running aground on Panaon Island after failing to factor the outgoing tide into their approach; Japanese radar was almost useless due to excessive reflections from the many islands.  The radar was equally unable to detect ships in these conditions, especially PT boats, as PT-137 hit the light cruiser Abukuma with a torpedo which crippled her and caused her to fall out of formation. Shima’s two heavy cruisers (Nachi and Ashigara) and eight destroyers next encountered remnants of Nishimura’s force. Seeing what he thought were the wrecks of both Nishimura’s battleships (actually the two halves of Fusō), Shima ordered a retreat. His flagship, Nachi, collided with Mogami, flooding Mogami‘s steering room and causing her to fall behind in the retreat; she was sunk by aircraft the next morning. The bow half of Fusō was sunk by gunfire from Louisville, and the stern half sank off Kanihaan Island. Of Nishimura’s seven ships, only Shigure survived. Shima’s ships did survive the Battle of Surigao Strait, but they would be sunk in further engagements around Leyte, while Shigure survived long enough to escape the debacle, but eventually succumbed to the submarine USS Blackfin (SS-322), which sank her off Kota Bharu, Malaya, with 37 dead.

What Louisville’s action report actually says is, “0529 firing 2 salvos – 18 rounds – at a large fire bearing 160 True, range 18,900 yards. Fire was then shifted to a second target bearing 180 T at the same range. …The first target is what has been termed the ‘Fuso fire’, while the second was Mogami.”   Morison and a number of others have presumed the fire surrounded the part of Fuso still afloat. There is no evidence to support that claim.

The Battle of Surigao Strait was one of the only two battleship-against-battleship surface battles in the entire Pacific campaign of World War II (the other being the Naval Battle during the Guadalcanal Campaign) and was the last battleship-versus-battleship action in history. It was also the last battle in which one force (the Americans, in this case), was able to “cross the T” of its opponent. However, by the time the battleship action was joined, the Japanese line was very ragged and consisted of only one battleship (Yamashiro), one heavy cruiser and one destroyer, so that the “crossing of the T” was notional and had little effect on the outcome of the battle.

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Comments
  1. Mustang.Koji says:

    Interesting fact about the USS Mississippi firing the last salvo against another battleship. Your father on CV-12 had a most frightful ringside seat… The photograph you posted of Japanese sailors on deck dumping ordance I had never seen before.

  2. […] Sea. In Part 3, I wrote about Admiral Halsey’s decisions and the San Bernardino Strait. For Part 4, I wrote about the Battle of Surigao Strait. For Part 5, the Battle of Samar. For Part 6, the […]

  3. […] Sea. In Part 3, I wrote about Admiral Halsey’s decisions and the San Bernardino Strait. For Part 4, I wrote about the Battle of Surigao Strait. For Part 5, the Battle of Samar. In Part 6, I will […]

  4. […] Sea. In Part 3, I wrote about Admiral Halsey’s decisions and the San Bernardino Strait. For Part 4, I wrote about the Battle of Surigao Strait. For Part 5, here is the Battle of […]

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  8. gpcox says:

    Leyte Gulf is a battle of the sort we hope never is fought again. You’ve done a wonderful job in portraying it.

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