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9 “Take out the searchlight!”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

Tensely awaiting Third Section were thirteen triads of PT boat sections drifting silently in the dark. Their crews peered out for the first sign of the enemy—a fleeting blip on radar, or a bow wave or darker silhouette against the night darkness. The night of October 24–25 was at first clear but would considerably worsen after the moon went down in the first few minutes past midnight. Though the water was calm with few swells, occasional rain squalls could quickly turn it into a rippling soup of mist and dark. The gently idling engines could just be heard over the rocking and slapping of the water against their hulls. After the moon was gone, the sky was pitch-dark and the horizon sometimes hard to discern. Sharp strobings of intermittent sheet lightning and thunder over the Leyte mountains added a macabre touch to the air of expectancy. The first pair of three idled as far out in the Mindanao Sea southeast of Bohol island. The third group hovered off Limasawa island, where Mogami was currently headed. Five more sections waited to pounce at the southern entrance of Surigao Strait, and the last five stood by within Surigao proper.

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6 “Everybody aboard thought a BB could force a narrow strait.”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

That same morning at 0930 there had been a scare for Shima’s Second Striking Force as well, when enemy planes were detected by radar. Lookouts anxiously scanned the sky for the first hint of the specks in the air. After ten tense minutes, radar reported the formation was moving away. No aircraft ever came into view. Relieved, Shima ordered his small fleet to switch to Alert disposition.

Whoever they were, they did not reappear. What Shima did not know was that yes, he had been sighted, but not by the group of planes attacking Nishimura. A land-based bomber of the V Army Air Force caught Shima at 1155 south of the Cagayan Islands, and Fifth Bomber command passed on the report. Though the report “demoted” Ashigara to a CL, it was otherwise accurate.1 When Kinkaid received it at 1435, he may have assumed it was an erroneous report of Nishimura’s force being sighted again, as a follow-up message reported the heavies as battleships. Actually, the B-24 had apparently gone on to sight Nishimura’s force, and mistakenly thought it the same as the first contact.

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2 “Bah. We will do our best.”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

October 22, sailing day for Leyte, dawned with cloudy skies and fleeting squalls. Final refueling had been completed only two hours before, and all obvious combustible materials—other than the volatile unrefined oil itself—were offloaded. Visibility was good with a three-kilometer wind out of the southwest as the great ships of the Kurita fleet began hoisting their anchors at 0745 hours. Since they were anchored in widely separated positions in Brunei Bay, each ship would operate independently as they started to move out, until they were out to sea beyond the reefs.

The large fleet putting to sea was an extended and grand sight. The heavy cruisers went first, including Kurita’s flagship, Atago. Then the great dual leviathans Yamato and Musashi and stalwart Nagato moved from the northern zone of the vast anchorage. Vice Admiral Toshio Suzuki’s Second Section, with battleships Kongo and Haruna, sortied last.1

Behind them, Brunei Bay was not yet empty: Vice Admiral Nishimura’s Third Section, with Yamashiro and Fuso, remained at anchor. At this point, the destinies of Third Section and its parent 1YB effectively diverge; they will rejoin only on October 26. Until then Kurita’s force will appear only in passing as it relates to the subject fleets of this study, the Third Section of Vice Admiral Nishimura and Second Striking Force (2YB) of Vice Admiral Shima, with its two detached elements, The Guard Force and Desdiv 21, operating in or near Leyte.

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1 “I have returned.”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

Sunrise, Friday, October 20, 1944, over Leyte Gulf revealed to the Japanese an awesome armada, one of the largest and most powerful assemblies ever concentrated in the Pacific. Emerging from its obscurity and the shroud of conflicting and confusing reports since October 9, the invasion forces of General Douglas MacArthur now stood plainly on the stage. Well over seven hundred vessels—including six battleships—were gathered east of Leyte and the gulf entrance alone, while beyond Suluan island over the horizon to the northeast stood the four fast-carrier task groups and screen of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey’s Task Force 38.

Swarms of aircraft patrolled overhead, while others lined up in formation to support the invasion as the landing craft surged toward the beaches from 420 transports. Four American divisions would be landing, and their arrival announced in no uncertain terms the fulfillment of MacArthur’s dramatic pledge “I shall return” made in 1942. Then it had been the Americans that had been fighting in vain to somehow marshal enough strength to withstand invasion by overwhelmingly powerful forces. Now the proverbial shoe was on the other foot.1

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20 “It was the kind of naval battle you dream about.”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

The day following the titanic series of Leyte Gulf battles saw all the Japanese forces in retreat. The Northern Force of Ozawa, having lost all its carriers, was decamping back to Japan. The First Striking Force of Kurita and Second Striking Force of Shima were both withdrawing as well. Because both headed to the same place, Brunei via Coron, their units and destinies now became entwined. Both forces spent October 26 engaged in flight and shepherding of cripples. By noon of the 26th both 1YB and 2YB were moving into close proximity to Coron, where both were attacked by the planes of TF 38.

These planes were from McCain’s TG 38.1 carrier group hastily recalled from their fueling trip to Ulithi. Having had time to make only one major attack on the 25th, they were eager to try their luck in the pursuit phase. Planes ranged as far as Coron itself, where their swarming about was sufficient to convince Lieutenant Commander Nishino of Shigure to abandon his plans of seeking help from Myoko at Coron. At 1227 Nishino was forty miles off the west entrance, but veered off and set course for Brunei, despite the fact that he was down to eighty tons of fuel. Looking to the east, Nishino spied Nachi and Shiranuhi under attack, heading for the south entrance of Coron; but indifferent as ever, he made no attempt to signal them.1

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