The Battle of Formosa

(Including a family member’s personal account aboard the USS Houston)



If you follow my other blog, USS Hornet (CV-12) – A Father’s Untold War Story, my post today was previously posted on that blog.  It starts with his ship in Mid October 1944 and ends with a personal account by my Uncle and the USS Houston (CL-81) in the Battle of Formosa.The USS Hornet (CV-12)’s log stated the following for this time period:

10-19 Oct 1944 – Strikes on Okinawa, Ryukyu Retto, Aparri, Luzon and Formosa. 13 Oct 1944 – First Japanese plane confirmed splashed by HORNET anti- aircraft fire.

The Ryukyu Islands, known in Japanese as the Nansei Islands and also known as the Ryukyu Arc, are a chain of volcanic Japanese islands that stretch southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan: the Ōsumi, Tokara, Amami, Okinawa, and Sakishima Islands (further divided into the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands), with Yonaguni the southernmost. The largest of the islands is Okinawa.


Planes from fast carriers of Admiral Nimitz's Pacific Fleet hit targets in the industrial area of Naha City on Okinawa Island in the Ryukyu chain south of Japan. These vast plumes of smoke stem from stricken ships and warehouses, at least four ships having been fired.

The Formosa Air Battle took place between October 10 and 20, 1944, off the eastern coasts of the Ryukyu Islands, Formosa, and Luzon. It was fought by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service and the approaching Task Force 38 of the United States Third Fleet and was one of a series of air raids on Japan during the Pacific War. The attacks served to prevent the Japanese aircraft from involvement in the Battle of Leyte Gulf later that month.

The battle was one-sided, as the Americans practically dominated air warfare due to the superior training and weaponry that they possessed at that point. The Japanese air power in the region was battle exhausted, giving the Americans air superiority and weakening Japan’s ability to defend the Okinawa Islands in the upcoming Okinawa Campaign. However, in an effort to boost morale and to cover up the defeat, Japanese headquarters claimed to have sunk 45 Allied ships, including 11 aircraft carriers and four battleships.

The U.S. Third Fleet started carrier-launched raids against Formosa on October 12, 1944. The Japanese response was to send waves of aircraft against the U.S. carriers. On October 13, the cruiser USS Canberra was seriously damaged by a torpedo bomber while for one of the first times in the war a kamikaze aircraft was used, which lightly damaged the carrier USS Franklin. The following day saw the island all but neutralized but the light cruiser USS Houston was damaged by an enemy torpedo,

View looking aft showing the damage to the starboard catapult after the first torpedo hit.

while the carrier USS Hancock, the light cruiser USS Reno and two destroyers had all incurred some form of damage. However over three days the Japanese had lost approximately 500 aircraft and countless ships, which was almost their entire air strength in the area while American losses in aircraft amounted to 89.


At this point I am going to take a break from my father’s story and write about my uncle and the Battle of Formosa. My father had a twin brother, James Ryan.

James RyanAround the time my father was boarding the USS Hornet (CV-12), his brother was on board the USS Houston (CL-81), a Cleveland Class Light Cruiser.

USS Houston (CL-81) 1943

In a biographical account of his naval career, my uncle mentions that he and my father did get to meet once when their ships were anchored in Saipan Harbor. Both ships were part of the same Task Force. My uncle passed away last year at the age of 90 (45 years after my father, his twin) but he had a written account of his experience in the Battle of Formosa. I now share his words.

The major invasion of the Philippines was scheduled for late October so our Task Force was sent North to intercept the Jap Fleet if they tried to interfere with this landing. We then supported air strikes on Okinawa and Formosa (now Taiwan). We operated in the China Sea and were the first Task Force to penetrate so close to the Japanese Homeland. This meant we had to be within range of land-based planes in Formosa and China.

At about 6 p.m. on October 14th, our Task Force was attacked by about 90 enemy fighters and bombers. The fighter planes from our Carriers destroyed most of these planes, but about 7 p.m. a bomber launched his torpedo and struck us amidships (between the forward fire room and the after engine room). I was extremely lucky that General Quarters sounded (the alarm that enemy planes are approaching) when I was not at my regular station, i.e. the after engine room. I proceeded to my battle station, a Damage Control Unit, just one deck above the engine room. The initial blast killed about a quarter of my division.

Ordeal of the U.S.S. Houston by Jack Fellows

About 8 p.m. the Captain passed the word to “Abandon Ship”. So I made my way up three decks to the topside to my “Abandon Ship” location. I jumped in with my life jacket on and clung to the side of the raft type float that had several severely wounded men in the center. [They had burial at sea for two men from rafts who did not make it.]

USS Houston (CL 81) Burial at sea for crewmen killed when the ship was torpedoed off Formosa on 14 October 1944. Photographed while Houston was under tow on 15 October. The following day, 16 October, she was hit in the starboard quarter (just aft of where this view was taken) by another aerial torpedo. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. - 19-N-110835.

We drifted for about 6 hours in heavy seas until we were picked up by the Destroyer Grayson. The next day we saw that our ship did not sink and was being towed by the Cruiser Boston. They eventually got the ship back to Manus in the Admiralty Islands (above Australia) about a 2,000 mile trip.

View looking aft, showing damage to the ship's stern area resulting from a torpedo hit amidships received off Formosa on 14 October 1944. This photo was taken while Houston was under tow, but prior to the second torpedo hit on 16 October. Note OS2U floatplane that had been jarred off the port catapult, breaking its wing on impact with the aircraft crane. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives #19-N-106304.

Japanese aerial torpedo hits the ship's starboard quarter, during the afternoon of 16 October 1944. This view shows burning fuel at the base of the torpedo explosion's water column. Houston had been torpedoed amidships on 14 October, while off Formosa, and was under tow by USS Pawnee (ATF 74) when enemy torpedo planes hit her again. USS Canberra (CA 70), also torpedoed off Formosa, is under tow in the distance. The original photograph is in the USS Santa Fe (CL 60) "Log", a very large photo album held by the Navy Department Library. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center #NH 98826.

I was transferred at sea from the Grayson to another Cruiser, the Santa Fe, and to the Troop Ship Dashing Wave that took us back to Pearl Harbor.

USS Grayson (DD-435)

USS Santa Fe CL-60


They ordered the “Black Gang” (workers in the engine room) to rejoin our ship, so we got a ride on a carrier back to Manus. We worked on a giant loading dry-dock to repair the ship to make it seaworthy enough to take us back to the United States.

Seaworthy in February 1945 USS Houston CL-81

By Mid-February we left Manus and limped back to the Brooklyn Navy Yard arriving about the end of March. The war ended in early September but our ship wasn’t finished until October. We took another shake-down cruise in the Caribbean and arrived back in Norfolk, Virginia. I was discharged in Mid-December 1945.

One response

  1. Birgit says:

    I love reading about the men who fought in the war. The horrors they saw and experienced none of us can truly imagine nor would I want to experience them. I am glad you Uncle wrote it down. many men never talked about it or wrote it down and they suffered so