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The World at War
The Battle of Leyte Gulf

The Battle off Samar

The Saga of Taffy 3

October, 1944: United States forces, including most of the Third and Seventh Fleets, arrived in Leyte Gulf to begin the long-awaited invasion of the Philippine Islands. After three long years, General Douglas MacArthur had returned.

Third Fleet units, including the fast carrier task forces, provided the outer line of defense for the operation and awaited the expected response from the Japanese Combined Fleet. Seventh Fleet - "MacArthur's Navy" - provided close-in support for the invasion force, and guarded the many passages and straits in Leyte Gulf.

On 25 October Admiral Halsey's light and fleet carriers of the Third Fleet - along with the fast battleships - were off the east coast of the island of Luzon, headed north in search of the Japanese carriers of Admiral Jizaburo Ozawa's Northern Force. Little did Halsey know that the enemy carriers were impotent, having only a few aircraft available. The once-proud carriers of the Rising Sun were being expended as a decoy to lure him away from the invasion beaches.

Meanwhile, the heavy surface units of Admiral Thomas Kincaid's Seventh Fleet were far to the south, at the east end of Surigao Strait. The night before, the ressurected battleships of the Pearl Harbor disaster, commanded by Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf, had met and annihilated the Japanese Southern Force, commanded by Vice Admirals Shoji Nishamura and Kiyohide Shima. In a night action, Oldendorf had used his PT boats, destroyers, cruisers and battleships to create a gauntlet of fire. In a running battle, he had damaged or sunk the majority of the Southern Force. This battle was capped by Oldendorf's "crossing the T" - a classic battle maneuver where a fleet crosses ahead of the enemy, allowing it to utilise it's full firepower while the enemy is limited to using only his forward guns. By the time Kincaid and Oldendorf were finished, only a few damaged and crippled ships of the Southern Force were left to return to Japan.

Between the Halsey and Kincaid forces were Vice Admiral Thomas Wilkerson's invasion force of transports and support ships at the Samar beaches, and Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague's Task Group 77.4 - three formations of escort carriers, destroyers and destroyer escorts. These units were tasked to support the invasion by mounting air attacks on ground targets and enemy troop concentrations, and were deployed in a north-south line off the southeast coast of Samar. Task Group 77.4.1, known as "Taffy 1", was farthest to the south with TG 77.4.2 ("Taffy 2") just north of it. Farthest north was TG 77.4.3 - "Taffy 3" - under the command of Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague (no relation to RA Thomas Sprague).

Taffy 3 consisted of escort carriers CVE-70 USS Fanshaw Bay, CVE-73 USS Gambier Bay, CVE-68 USS Kalinen Bay, CVE-71 USS Kitkun Bay, CVE-63 USS Saint Lo & CVE-66 USS White Plains. They were escorted by a light destroyer force composed of destroyers DD-533 USS Hoel, DD-557 USS Johnston & DD-532 USS Heermann, and destroyer escorts DE-413 USS Samuel B. Roberts, DE-341 USS Raymond, DE-405 USS Dennis & DE-339 USS John C. Butler.

Battleships Yamato, HIJMS Nagato & HIJMS Haruna, and cruiser HIJMS Tone had all suffered varying degrees of damage from air attack during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea on 24 October. Other ships of the Center Force were also damaged and were detached, and so did not participate in the Battle off Samar.
Early on the morning of 25 October 1944, Taffy 3 came face-to-face with a Japanese surface force of 11 destroyers, 2 light and 6 heavy cruisers and 4 battleships (including HIJMS Yamato, the largest battleship in existance), under the command of Admiral Takeo Kurita, that had broken through the American line. Kurita's Center Force - having survived almost continuous air attacks the previous day that had damaged or sunk several ships (including the Yamato's sister ship HIJMS Musashi) - had managed to escape detection and had made a daring night-time passage of San Bernardino Strait north of Samar. Now they were headed toward the invasion beaches.

USS Samuel B. Roberts
Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland addressed his crew: "This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can."
Separated from the bulk of the U.S. fleet, Taffy 3 faced the oncoming Japanese alone. The only support they could expect was the aircraft of Taffy 1 and Taffy 2. Out-ranged and out-gunned, according to Naval historian CE1 Robert A. Germinsky (USNR) "the Jeeps and their accompanying destroyers and destroyer escorts did the only thing they could in the face of such overwhelming odds and firepower - they attacked."

Taffy 3 was laboring under an additional difficulty. The formation had been tasked with supporting the invasion of Samar, and so had been armed primarily with fragmentation and anti-personnel bombs and shells for use against ground targets, which were of little use against the armored behemoths that thay now faced. Also, they had been supporting the ground troops for some time, and were low on ammunition - scraping the bottoms of their magazines, in fact.

USS Hoel
Even after being crippled by enemy gunfire, Hoel continued to harass the Japanese forces attacking Taffy-3. Her Captain, Commander Leon S. Kinterberger, gave tribute to his crew after the action: "Fully cognizant of the inevitable result of engaging such vastly superior forces, these men performed their assigned duties coolly and efficiently until their ship was shot from under them."
Nevertheless, the carriers immediately launched their aircraft while the destroyers and destroyer escorts sliced in with gunfire and torpedoes. Even after the planes ran out of bullets and the ships ran out of torpedoes, they continued to make attack passes at the Japanese ships, drawing fire away from the units that still had ammunition.

Closest to the Japanese ships was CVE-73 Gambier Bay. She received a hit that put her engines out of commission. Alone and unable to maneuver, she absorbed tremendous punishment from the Japanese guns before eventually sinking, becoming the only U.S. carrier to be sunk by enemy naval gunfire.

Several of the escort vessels were also destroyed during the action.

USS Johnston
"Looks like somebody's mad at us!" quipped Johnston's gunnery officer, Lieutenant Robert C. Hagen, as Japanese shells began landing near his ship. Within minutes, Johnston had expended her torpedoes and began taking enemy hits. Three shells from Japanese battleships, and three more from cruisers, caused Johnston to whip "like a puppy being smacked by a truck." Ducking in and out of rain squalls and smoke, Johnston continued to attack - and to take damage. Seeing other ships being ranged by the enemy, Johnston, already damaged, continued to attack in an effort to draw fire; "Commence firing on that cruiser, draw her fire on us and away from (CVE-73) Gambier Bay," ordered the Captain. At one point, the other ships of Taffy-3 were amazed at the appearance, out of a cloud of smoke, of a spectre; Johnston, her superstructure a shambles, half her guns silenced, her hull holed, her Captain bellowing orders from the fantail as his crew steered the ship by hand. Finally, the damage became too great and the Captain gave his final order: "Abandon ship!". Of Johnston's crew of 327, only 141 were saved. Her Captain, Commander Ernest E. Evans, was not among the survivors; he was later awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor.
For over two hours, the men and ships of Taffy 3 withstood a withering assault. Survivors of the destroyer Johnston report seeing an officer on an unknown Japanese destroyer come to attention and salute as his ship passed the men in the water and the shattered hulk of their ship, giving tribute to the bravery of his enemy. The furious defense mounted by Taffy 3 convinced Kurita that he was facing heavier forces than he actually was, prompting his decision to turn and retire from the area.

Shortly after the battle, the carriers of Taffy 1, Taffy 2 and the survivors of Taffy 3 came under attack by Japanese bomber and kamikaze aircraft. Several of the CVEs were hit; CVE-63 Saint Lo was damaged so severely that she sank.

Taffy 3 had prevented the Japanese forces from engaging the invasion forces in Leyte Gulf, and had undoubtedly saved the invasion fleet. But this came at a terrible cost. In addition to Gambier Bay and Saint Lo, destroyers Hoel, Johnston and destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts were sunk. Over 1,000 sailors and airmen were lost that day, with hundreds of others wounded.

The damage was not one-sided, however. Battleships Yamato, Nagato & Kongo, cruisers Tone, Haguro, Kumano & Noshiro, and destroyers Fujinami, Hayashimo, Kishinami, Okinami, Hamakaze and Urakaze all suffered damage from surface and air attack; Kumano's bow was blown off by a torpedo from the Johnston. Cruisers Chokai and Chikuma were crippled; they were scuttled by torpedoes from destroyers Fujinami and Nowaki, respectively. Cruiser Suzuya suffered serious damage from air attack and succumbed to internal explosions. As the Center Force retired from the battle area, it came under air and surface attack from elements of both the Third and Seventh Fleets. Battleships Yamato, Nagato, Haruna & Kongo received additional damage; cruiser Noshiro and destroyers Fujinami & Hayashimo were sunk by air attack. Destroyer Nowaki was crippled by cruiser gunfire & sunk by a torpedo from an American destroyer.

For their actions during the Battle off Samar, the men and ships of Taffy 3 were awarded Presidential Unit Citations from both the United States and the Republic of the Philippines.

The webmaster requests that the reader observe a moment of silence in memory of the sacrifice of the gallant men of Taffy 3.

United States Presidential Unit Citation
(Navy & Marine Corps)

Congressional Medal of Honor

Commander Ernest E. Evans, USS Johnston

U.S. flag at half staff, animated

Republic of the Philippines
Presidential Unit Citation

Order of Battle

Japanese Forces

Center Force (First Striking Force), Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita

Battleship Division 1 (VAdm. M. Ugaki)

Battleship (Yamato-class): HIJMS Yamato (RAdm. N. Morishita)  [ Flag of Japan - WWII ]
Battleship (Nagato-class): HIJMS Nagato (RAdm. Y. Kobe)

Battleship Division 3 (VAdm. Y. Suzuki)

Battleships (Kongo-class): HIJMS Kongo (RAdm. T. Shimizaki), HIJMS Haruna (RAdm. K. Shigenaga)

Cruiser Division 5 (VAdm. S. Hashimoto)

Heavy cruiser (Myoko-class): HIJMS Haguro (Capt. K. Sugiura)
Heavy cruiser (Takao-class): HIJMS Chokai (Capt. K. Ariga)

Cruiser Division 7 (VAdm. K. Shiaishi)

Heavy cruisers (Mogami-class): HIJMS Kumano (Capt. S. Hitomi), HIJMS Suzuya (Capt. W. Takahashi)
Heavy cruisers (Tone-class): HIJMS Tone (Capt. H. Mayazumi), HIJMS Chikuma (Capt. S. Norimitsu)

Destroyer Squadron 2 (RAdm. M. Hayakawa)

Light cruiser (Agano-class): HIJMS Noshiro (Capt. S. Kajiwara)
Destroyer (Shimikaze-class): HIJMS Shimikaze

Destroyer Division 2 (Capt. N. Shiraishi)

Destroyers (Yugumo-class): HIJMS Hayashimo, HIJMS Akishimo

Destroyer Division 31 (Capt. T. Fukuoka)

Destroyers (Yugumo-class): HIJMS Kishinami, HIJMS Okinami

Destroyer Division 32 (Capt. K. Aoki)

Destroyer (Kagero-class): HIJMS Hamakaze
Destroyer (Yugumo-class): HIJMS Fujinami

Destroyer Squadron 10 (RAdm. S. Kimura)

Light cruiser (Agano-class): HIJMS Yahagi (Capt. M. Yoshimura)
Destroyer (Kagero-class): HIJMS Nowaki

Destroyer Division 17 (Capt. T. Tanii)

Destroyers (Kagero-class): HIJMS Urakaze, HIJMS Isokaze, HIJMS Yukikaze

American Forces

Task Group 77.4.3, "Taffy 3", Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague

Carrier Division 25 (RAdm. Sprague)

Escort carriers (Casablanca-class): CVE-70 USS Fanshaw Bay (Capt. D. P. Johnson)  [ Flag of United States ] , CVE-63 USS Saint Lo (Capt. F. J. McKenna), CVE-66 USS White Plains (Capt. D. J. Sullivan), CVE-68 USS Kalinen Bay (Capt. T. B. Williamson)

Carrier Division 26 (RAdm. R. A. Oftsie)

Escort carriers (Casablanca-class): CVE-73 USS Gambier Bay (Capt. W. R. Vieweg), CVE-71 USS Kitkun Bay (Capt. J. P. Whitney)

Screen (Cdr. W. D. Thomas)

Destroyers (Fletcher-class): DD-533 USS Hoel (Cdr. L. S. Kintberger), DD-532 USS Heermann (Cdr. A. T. Hathaway), DD-557 USS Johnston (Cdr. E. E. Evans)
Destroyer Escorts (John C. Butler-class): DE-405 USS Dennis (LtCdr. S. Hansen), DE-339 USS John C. Butler (LtCdr. J. E. Pace), DE-341 USS Raymond (LtCdr. A. F. Beyer), DE-413 USS Samuel B. Roberts (LtCdr. R. W. Copeland)

Comparison of Forces

Fleet Composition Japanese American
Number of ships 23 13
Types of ships 4 x battleship
6 x heavy cruiser
2 x light cruiser
11 x destroyer
6 x escort carrier
3 x destroyer
4 x destroyer escort
Total tonnage 212,658 tons 78,462 tons
Fleet speed 27 knots 19 knots
Heavy guns (8" or larger)
18.1"/45cal: range up to 46,000 yards (26 miles) 9 None
16"/45cal: range up to 42,300 yards (24 miles) 8 None
14"/45cal: range up to 38,800 yards (22 miles) 16 None
8"/50cal: range up to 32,150 yards (18 1/4 miles) 56 None
Intermediate guns (5" to 8")
6.1"/60cal: range up to 27,300 yards (15 1/2 miles) 6 None
6"/50cal: range up to 23,000 yards (13 miles) 34 None
5.5"/50cal: range up to 22,500 yards (12 3/4 miles) 85 None
5"/40cal DP: range up to 16,200 yards (9 1/4 miles)
Anti-aircraft range to 30,800 feet
96 None
5"/38cal DP: range to 17,400 yards (9 3/4 miles)
Anti-aircraft range to 37,200 feet
None 29
Anti-aircraft guns Japanese American
3.1"/65cal: range to 29,800 feet 4 None
40mm: range to 22,300 feet None 16 x single mount, 24 x dual mount (total 64 guns)
25mm: range to 18,000 feet 1,185 None
1.1": range to 19,000 feet None 12
20mm: range to 10,000 feet None 124
13mm: range to 14,000 feet 48 None
Torpedo tubes
175 x 24" torpedo tubes
Type 93 "Long Lance" torpedo
16,400 yards @ 48-50 knots
27,300 yards @ 40-42 knots
32,800 yards @ 36-38 knots
1,720 lbs. Type 97 explosive
42 x 21" torpedo tubes
MK-16 torpedo
6,000 yards @ 45 knots
10,000 yards @ 33.5 knots
15,000 yards @ 26.5 knots
825 lbs. Torpex
Fighter None 81 x F4F (FM-2) Wildcat

6 x .5" machineguns, 2 x 100# bombs
Torpedo Bomber None 72 x TBF/TBM Avenger

3 x .5" machineguns, 1 x .3" machinegun, up to 2,000 lbs of bombs or torpedo
Other Supporting Aircraft Very few during the battle, mostly fighters, all land-based. Several others immediately after the battle, including some kamikaze. A few of the above types from Task Forces Taffy 2 and Taffy 1
CA Chokai (scuttled)
CA Chikuma (scuttled)
CA Suzuya (air attack)
CL Noshiro (air attack)
DD Fujinami (air attack)
DD Hayashimo (air attack)
DD Nowaki (gunfire & torpedo)
CVE-73 Gambier Bay (gunfire)
CVE-63 Saint Lo (kamikaze)
DD-533 Hoel (gunfire)
DD-557 Johnston (gunfire)
DE-413 Samuel B. Roberts (gunfire)

Comparative Sihlouettes of Ships

Ship silhouettes to scale, adapted from The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer

Japanese Ships

Yamato-class battleship Yamato-class battleship
Nagato-class battleship Nagato-class battleship
Kongo-class battleship Kongo-class battleship
Takao-class heavy cruiser Takao-class heavy cruiser
Tone-class heavy cruiser Tone-class heavy cruiser
Myoko-class heavy cruiser Myoko-class heavy cruiser
Mogami-class heavy cruiser Mogami-class heavy cruiser
Agano-class light cruiser Agano-class light cruiser
Shimikaze-class destroyer Shimikaze-class destroyer
Kagero-class destroyer Kagero-class destroyer
Yugumo-class destroyer Yugumo-class destroyer

American Ships

Casablanca-class escort carrier Casablanca-class escort carrier
Fletcher-class destroyer Fletcher-class destroyer
John C. Butler-class destroyer escort John C. Butler-class destroyer escort


Japanese ship data from Nihon Kaigun [ World Wide Web icon ] American ship data from Haze Gray & Underway [ World Wide Web icon ] American ship data from NavSource: Photographic History Of The U.S. Navy [ World Wide Web icon ] Weapons data from Warships1 [ World Wide Web icon ] American aircraft data from Warbird Alley [ World Wide Web icon ] Order of Battle details from NavWeaps [ World Wide Web icon ] Germinsky quote from "A Brief History of U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers: The Escort Carriers"  [ Flag of United States ] Wikipedia [ Wikipedia icon ] The Battle of Leyte Gulf by Adrian Stewart [ book icon ] The Battle for Leyte Gulf by C. Vann Woodward [ book icon ] The Men of the Gambier Bay by Edwin Hoyt [ book icon ] The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer [ book icon ] USS Gambier Bay/VC-10 Survivors Association [ World Wide Web icon ] USS Johnston/USS Hoel Survivors Association [ World Wide Web icon ] USS St. Lo (CVE-63)/VC-65 Association [ World Wide Web icon ] USS Samuel B. Roberts Survivors Association [ World Wide Web icon ] Battle off Samar by Robert John Cox [ World Wide Web icon ]