Originally posted on my other blog USS Hornet (CV-12) – A Father’s Untold War Story
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 wrote about the Battle of Surigao Strait. For Part 5, the Battle of Samar. In Part 6, I will write about the Battle Cape Engaño.
The Battle of Cape Engaño (25–26 October)
Ozawa’s “Northern Force” comprised four aircraft carriers (Zuikaku—the last survivor of the six carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the light carriers Zuihō, Chitose, and Chiyoda), two World War I battleships partially converted to carriers (Hyūga and Ise—the two aft turrets had been replaced by a hangar, aircraft handling deck and catapult, but neither battleship carried any aircraft in this battle), three light cruisers (Ōyodo, Tama, and Isuzu), and nine destroyers. His force had only 108 aircraft.
Ozawa’s force was not located until 16:40 on 24 October, largely because Sherman’s TG 38.3—which was the northernmost of Halsey’s groups—was responsible for searches in this sector. The force which Halsey was taking north with him—three groups of Mitscher’s TF 38—was overwhelmingly stronger than the Japanese Northern Force. Between them, these groups had five large fleet carriers (Intrepid, Franklin, Lexington, Enterprise, and Essex), five light fleet carriers (Independence, Belleau Wood, Langley, Cabot, and San Jacinto), six battleships (Alabama, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Washington), eight cruisers (two heavy and six light), and more than 40 destroyers. The air groups of the 10 US carriers present contained 600-1,000 aircraft.
At 02:40 on 25 October, Halsey detached TF 34, built around the 3rd Fleet’s six battleships and commanded by Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee. As dawn approached, the ships of Task Force 34 drew ahead of the carrier groups. Halsey intended Mitscher to make air strikes followed by the heavy gunfire of Lee’s battleships.
Around dawn on 25 October, Ozawa launched 75 aircraft to attack the 3rd Fleet. Most were shot down by American combat air patrols, and no damage was done to the US ships. A few Japanese planes survived and made their way to land bases on Luzon.
During the night, Halsey had passed tactical command of TF 38 to Admiral Mitscher, who ordered the American carrier groups to launch their first strike wave, of 180 aircraft, at dawn—before the Northern Force had been located. When the search aircraft made contact at 07:10, this strike wave was orbiting ahead of the task force. At 08:00, as the attack went in, its escorting fighters destroyed Ozawa’s combat air patrol of about 30 planes. The US air strikes continued until the evening, by which time TF 38 had flown 527 sorties against the Northern Force, sinking Zuikaku, the light carriers Chitose and Zuihō, and the destroyer Akizuki, all with heavy loss of life. The light carrier Chiyoda and the cruiser Tama were crippled. Ozawa transferred his flag to the light cruiser Ōyodo.
The crisis – US 7th Fleet’s calls for help
Shortly after 08:00 on 25 October, desperate messages calling for assistance began to come in from 7th Fleet, which had been engaging Nishimura’s “Southern Force” in Surigao Strait since 02:00. One message from Kinkaid, sent in plain language, read: “MY SITUATION IS CRITICAL. FAST BATTLESHIPS AND SUPPORT BY AIR STRIKES MAY BE ABLE TO KEEP ENEMY FROM DESTROYING CVES AND ENTERING LEYTE.” Halsey recalled in his memoirs that he was shocked at this message, recounting that the radio signals from the 7th Fleet had come in at random and out of order because of a backlog in the signals office. It seems that he did not receive this vital message from Kinkaid until around 10:00. Halsey later claimed he knew Kinkaid was in trouble, but he had not dreamed of the seriousness of this crisis.
One of the most alarming signals from Kinkaid reported, after their action in Surigao Strait, 7th Fleet’s own battleships were critically low on ammunition. Even this failed to persuade Halsey to send any immediate assistance to the powerful 7th Fleet. In fact, the 7th Fleet’s battleships were not as short of ammunition as Kinkaid’s signal implied, but Halsey did not know that.
From 3,000 mi (2,600 nmi; 4,800 km) away in Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz had been monitoring the desperate calls from Taffy 3, and sent Halsey a terse message: “TURKEY TROTS TO WATER GG FROM CINCPAC ACTION COM THIRD FLEET INFO COMINCH CTF SEVENTY-SEVEN X WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR RR THE WORLD WONDERS.” The first four words and the last three were “padding” used to confuse enemy cryptanalysis (the beginning and end of the true message was marked by double consonants). The communications staff on Halsey’s flagship correctly deleted the first section of padding but mistakenly retained the last three words in the message finally handed to Halsey. The last three words—probably selected by a communications officer at Nimitz’s headquarters—may have been meant as a loose quote from Tennyson’s poem on “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, suggested by the coincidence that this day, 25 October, was the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Balaclava—and was not intended as a commentary on the current crisis off Leyte. Halsey, however, when reading the message, thought that the last words—”THE WORLD WONDERS”—were a biting piece of criticism from Nimitz, threw his cap to the deck and broke into “sobs of rage”. Rear Admiral Robert Carney, his Chief of Staff, confronted him, telling Halsey “Stop it! What the hell’s the matter with you? Pull yourself together.”
Eventually, at 11:15, more than three hours after the first distress messages from 7th Fleet had been received by his flagship, Halsey ordered TF 34 to turn around and head southwards towards Samar. At this point, Lee’s battleships were almost within gun range of Ozawa’s force. Two-and-a-half hours were then spent refuelling TF 34’s accompanying destroyers.
After this succession of delays it was too late for TF 34 to give any practical help to 7th Fleet, other than to assist in picking up survivors from Taffy 3, and too late even to intercept Kurita’s force before it made its escape through San Bernardino Strait.
Nevertheless, at 16:22, in a desperate and even more belated attempt to intervene in the events off Samar, Halsey formed a new task group—TG 34.5—under Rear Admiral Badger, built around Third Fleet’s two fastest battleships—Iowa and New Jersey, both capable of a speed of more than 32 kn (37 mph; 59 km/h)–and TF 34’s three cruisers and eight destroyers, and sped southwards, leaving Lee and the other four battleships to follow. As Morison observes, if Badger’s group had succeeded in intercepting the Japanese Center Force it would have been seriously outgunned by Kurita’s battleships.
Cruisers and destroyers of TG 34.5, however, caught the destroyer Nowaki—the last straggler from Center Force—off San Bernardino Strait, and sank her with all hands, including the survivors from Chikuma.
Battle of Cape Engaño – final actions
When Halsey turned TF 34 southwards at 11:15, he detached a task group of four of its cruisers and nine of its destroyers under Rear Admiral DuBose, and reassigned this group to TF 38. At 14:15, Mitscher ordered DuBose to pursue the remnants of the Japanese Northern Force.
His cruisers finished off the light carrier Chiyoda at around 17:00, and at 20:59 his ships sank the destroyer Hatsuzuki after a very stubborn fight.
When Admiral Ozawa learned of the deployment of DuBose’s relatively weak task group, he ordered battleships Ise and Hyūga to turn southwards and attack it, but they failed to locate DuBose’s group, which they heavily outgunned. Halsey’s withdrawal of all six of Lee’s battleships in his attempt to assist Seventh Fleet had now rendered TF 38 vulnerable to a surface counterattack by the decoy Northern Force.
At about 23:10, the American submarine Jallao torpedoed and sank the light cruiser Tama of Ozawa’s force.
This was the last act of the Battle of Cape Engaño, and—apart from some final air strikes on the retreating Japanese forces on 26 October—the conclusion of the Battle for Leyte Gulf.
In my next post, I will bring this major battle of World War II to a close with a summary of losses on both sides, a little about the criticism of Admiral Halsey and the aftermath of this series of battles.