23 Chapters
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13 “At 0345 observed battleship burning.”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

While Buchanan’s Attack Group 2.2 had been throwing torpedoes at Shigure and Yamashiro, McManes’s Attack Group 1.2 had been closing also but at slightly slower rate, resulting in a delay of nearly five minutes. Though this negated a coordinated attack, McManes had decided to overshoot Nishimura’s advance, and to actually reverse course astern of the Japanese to come up from behind. He had even given orders to prepare for launching to starboard, for by that time Hutchins, Daly, and Bache would be headed back north with Nishimura on their right hand.

Japanese starshells were bursting in the night ahead but so far had fallen considerably wide of the mark. Then at 0326 a bright greenish flare, obviously dropped by a plane, burst broad on his starboard bow, adding its light to Nishimura’s starshells, and clearly illuminated the speeding Daly just behind McManes’s ship. A quick glance at the radar showed he was abeam of the main group of enemy ships. His intention had been to head a bit further south to cut off any Japanese retirement, but at the most, only one ship seemed to be possibly doing so, and this precaution became unnecessary. At 0327 he changed course sharply to due east, steaming straight at Nishimura’s broadside.

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14 “This has to be quick. Standby your torpedoes.”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

Aboard the battleships and cruisers Oldendorf’s officers had spent the last twenty minutes keyed up in almost unbearable tension as the Japanese fleet came steadily closer and the moment their leveled big guns would fire drew near. Though the range was still extremely far, eyes were already straining for hint of the approaching enemy to the south. Suddenly at 0312 a distant searchlight beam stabbed out and wavered around, as Yamashiro probed the darkness with its main lights. To Oldendorf, it reminded him of a “walking stick of a blind man being waved through the night, though what it touched we could not see.”1

Oldendorf was watching from Louisville’s flag bridge, standing in tense anticipation in the hot night with little breeze. The probing searchlight on the southern horizon winked out, and almost at the same moment Oldendorf began to get the first rush of reports from his DDs of their torpedo attack. At 0319 there came a sudden bright flash that even at this distance was clearly visible, as some ship exploded. There could be little doubting that a vessel had suffered catastrophe. Oldendorf and the others could only hope it wasn’t American.

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3 “We are going to participate in a surface special attack.”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

After the Kurita fleet had left the huge bay, Nishimura’s staff summoned the skippers to a conference on Yamashiro. There chief of staff Rear Admiral Norihide Ando and two others passed out Nishimura’s written orders.1 Since Admiral Nishimura and the Batdiv 2 staff all perished, these orders are the best guide to reconstruct Nishimura’s intentions and strategy. Basically the orders followed the directive Kurita had handed down the previous night, with the Third Section departing Brunei at 1500 that afternoon, but they went on to state: “In general, it will penetrate from Surigao Strait into Tacloban Anchorage two hours before sunrise on X-Day [i.e., at 0427] and, in coordination with the Main Body, will attack and destroy the enemy transport group and landing forces before and after sunrise.”2

The 1500 sortie was changed at 1155 when Nishimura transmitted to his ships a slightly modified itinerary. It now specified departure from Brunei as 1530 and a schedule that would reach a point south of Point Binit, Panaon island, at 0100 on October 25 to drive into Leyte Gulf on course 350. According to this schedule Nishimura would reach the south entrance of Surigao Strait at 0100 and thus arrive at Leyte Gulf about three hours later. From there, another half hour would bring him to Tacloban and the target transports. At that same time, Kurita would be arriving east of Leyte Gulf, and would thereafter enter to attack.

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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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16 “We proceed till totally annihilated.”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

Just as Yamashiro completed its right-angle turn, Battle Line also made a major alteration of course for the same reason—to improve fire arcs. At 0401 Oldendorf had opted to radio Weyler and suggest he reverse course, turn the battleships about, and head back due west. Battle Line’s fire was starting to overlap the left flank cruisers to their south, and with the heavies on course 120 still, they were also converging on Oldendorf’s eastward track.

Weyler concurred, ordering his battlewagons to “Turn One Five” to starboard. In other words, to make a further turn right of 150 degrees, which, from course 120, would bring them to due west as ordered. The choice of wording on how to come round to due west was potentially confusing and singularly unfortunate. In hindsight, it might have been better to have given an unambiguous order like “come to 270” and require acknowledgment from all six ships. Weyler further miscalculated by failing to request confirmation from each of his six battleships. Disaster was in the making.1

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