23 Slices
Medium 9780253352422

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.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253352422

Prologue “Retiring towards the enemy.”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

The battle of Surigao Strait had its genesis primarily from two key strategic considerations and adjustments necessary for the Japanese in the fall of 1944. First were the consequences of the disastrous outcome for Japan of the battle of the Marianas and the fall of Saipan in July. The second consideration derived from the first: the necessity to construct a response to the next major Allied offensive wherever it struck. That offensive arrived in the third week of October in the form of the Allied liberation of the Philippines, as forces led by General Douglas MacArthur made landings on Leyte island to fulfill a long-standing pledge to return.

Only the exact date of landing, not the event, could surprise the Japanese. Tokyo had been fully expecting a massive attack on either the Philippines, Formosa, or the Ryukyu Islands (which include Iwo Jima) once the Allies had regrouped from their summer operations. After the fall of Saipan the Japanese had been forced back to their final defense line, which included the Philippines and the islands off Asia—including Japan. For some time both the Japanese army and navy had been feverishly rushing to reinforce the Philippines, and especially the islands of Leyte and Luzon, where the first landings were projected. Even the general timing had been accurately forecast, for Combined Fleet had warned commands that the Americans would likely attempt a landing during or after the last ten days of October.1

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253352422

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

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253352422

11 “Just scored a big flare on 1 of them!”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

While Sections 6, 9, and 8 of the PTs were attacking, Oldendorf had been tracking Force C and plotting its advance as best he could from the jumbled reports of the PT skippers. Now his first echelon of DDs was moving down-strait on both sides to launch the first attack. This was Captain Jesse G. Coward’s Desron 54. Its five ships were divided in two flanking groups: on the west were McDermut and Monssen, with Coward’s flagship, Remey, leading McGowan and Melvin on the east.

Captain Coward increased speed to 25 knots as the opposing forces closed rapidly almost head-on. The pips on radar gradually separated until at least seven were visible on the screens. At 0258—the same moment the Japanese were visually sighted—the Eastern group was suddenly illuminated by an enemy searchlight. It stayed on for about ten seconds; Coward immediately assigned targets and increased speed to 30 knots.

At nearly exactly 0300 the three DDs commenced firing twenty-seven torpedoes, range about 11,500 yards, barely inside the intermediate setting used. The moment the fish were away Coward swung hard left and made smoke to retire northeast along the Dinagat coast. None too soon. One of Remey’s tubes made a powder flash, and Japanese searchlights snaked out. Starshells burst abruptly overhead. Heavy gunfire began falling. Splashes were drenching the decks, and Eastern Group stepped up to 33 knots. At 0309, when the torpedoes should have reached their targets, two explosions were seen and three to five heard. Coward’s DDs had suffered no hits, and never used their own guns.1

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253352422

Epilogue “A thing repeated will happen a third time.”

Anthony P. Tully Indiana University Press ePub

With the sinking of Nachi, the sad and futile saga of Third Section and 2YB essentially reaches its end. The dénouement is swiftly told. The depressingly small number of Nachi survivors joined those of Mogami and Akebono ashore in Manila. Here they soon had an opportunity to sate their interest in the past days’ events by questioning Lieutenant Commander Shigeru Nishino when his Shigure arrived in Manila November 9 from Brunei, en route to Japan with Junyo and Tone.

During this brief time, Shima, Mori, and other survivors of Nachi, as well as various Mogami men such as Fukushi, eagerly compared notes with Shigure’s skipper. They satisfied some lingering questions they had about the battle and fighting of Nishimura’s Third Section. These discussions had considerable impact on the Japanese interpretation of events, and influenced the final form of 2YB’s report drawn up later. Naturally, they had no access at all to the survivors of Yamashiro, Fuso, Asagumo, Michishio, and Yamagumo whom the Americans captured; indeed, even postwar accounts—Japanese and American both—would remain largely unaware of them.1 Between the violence of the sinkings, exposure in the water, strafing by U.S. forces, and finally murderous Filipinos, captured survivors were tragically few: ten each from Yamashiro and Fuso, four from Michishio, two from Yamagumo, and thirty-nine from Asagumo.

See All Chapters

See All Slices