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Posted by on Nov 11, 2015 in Featured, History, Holidays, Military, War | 2 comments

Veterans Day – Remembering the Gallant Fight of Taffy 3

CVEs-DDs-smoke


Veterans Day – Remembering the Gallant Fight of Taffy 3
By Sal Monela

In October of 1944 American military forces invaded the Japanese occupied Philippines fulfilling General MacArthur’s pledge to return to those islands. The Japanese realized that if the Americans captured any significant part of the archipelago, they could cut Japan’s water routes to SE Asia. That lifeline supplied Japan with nearly all of its oil and many of the raw materials needed to stay in the war.

The Japanese Navy devised an elaborate plan to approach the Philippines with three naval forces. The first would be a powerful task group comprised of Japan’s largest surface warships which would approach through San Bernardino Strait, sail into Leyte Gulf and destroy the American Battle Fleet directly covering the landings. A smaller force was to come through Suriago Strait, attack the troop and supply transports and cut the American’s supply line. A third decoy force comprised of the few remaining Japanese Aircraft Carriers which would draw away the most powerful American Force, the Third Fleet, commanded by the legendary Admiral Bill Halsey, which was providing distant cover for the landings. It almost worked. The heroic stand of a small force of tiny aircraft carriers (CVEs) and their escorts, referred to as Taffy 3, was the reason it didn’t.

At about 6:45 on the morning of October 25, reports began to come in about some unusual activity to the northwest of Taffy 3. One ship reported heavy antiaircraft fire in that direction. Another intercepted nearby radio communications in Japanese. A Taffy 3 aircraft reported being fired upon. The Taffy 3 commander, Admiral Sprague ordered the pilot to check identification. A few minutes identification came in the form of big gun shells bursting astern of the task force. The small American Force had been taken completely by surprise.

Admiral Halsey who was supposed to be covering the rear, had spotted and attacked the main Japanese battle force the day before and sunk one of its battleships. The Japanese Commander, Admiral Kurita, turned away. Halsey assumed he was retreating but Kurita was waiting to slip behind Third Fleet under cover of darkness. In the meantime, Halsey’s force took the bait offered by the carrier decoy force and sailed in the opposite direction to attack it.

Admiral Sprague moved his force into a convenient rain squall, laid a smokescreen, and launched all of his aircraft. They attacked with torpedoes and bombs. When these ran out they attacked with their machine guns. When the bullets were exhausted they made dry runs on the Japanese. Anything and everything was done to give the carriers a few extra minutes to escape.

But the Japanese continued to come. The entire gunfire power of Taffy did not equal the firepower of a single heavy cruiser. The Japanese had 6 cruisers plus 4 battleships, including the Yamato, the most powerful warship in the world. Sprague ordered his three 2,000 ton destroyers, the Hoel, Johnston, and Heermann to attack cruisers and battleships weighing from 12,000 to 67,000 tons. The destroyers put on an incredible fight sinking a heavy cruiser and forcing the mighty Yamato to turn out of the battle to avoid a torpedo attack. But the Hoel and the Johnston were sunk in this valiant encounter and the Heermann was severely damaged. The even smaller destroyer escorts then took up the attack losing the Samuel B. Roberts in the process.

Help came from the other Taffy forces in the form of more attacking aircraft but the Japanese continued to advance sinking one of the small carriers in the process. Then, something amazing happened. In the words of Admiral Sprague, as reported in Samuel E. Morrison’s History of US Navel Operation in WW2 “At 9:25 my mind was occupied with dodging torpedoes I heard one of the signalmen yell ‘damit boys they’re getting away!’ I could not believe my eyes, but it looked as if the whole Japanese Fleet was indeed retiring. However, it took a whole series of reports from circling plans to convince me. At best, I had expected to be swimming by this time”.

The incredible valor, in which this battle was fought, produced what I believe was the most unlikely naval victory in the Second World War. This Veterans Day, take a few minutes to remember the gallant men of Taffy 3 and all the others who sacrificed so much to defeat the forces of tyranny in that war’s many battles.

Sal, now retired, spent 37 years working in local government in Oregon and spends a lot of his free time reading military history. He dedicates this article to his father, a WW2 Veteran of the Army Air Force, his late father in law, a navy veteran, and to his nephew Jason and his wife Joy, both veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

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