The battle off Samar was the nearest the Japanese came to success during the battle of Leyte Gulf, when a powerful force of battleships and heavy cruisers unexpectedly attacked the escort carriers of Task Group 77.4, after the Japanese has successfully lured the main American fleet north to attack the toothless Japanese fleet carriers. However the Japanese failed to take full advantage of this surprise attack, and retreated after only sinking two of the six escort carriers in the group.
This is a book that was born in frustration. The battle of Samar was a fairly confusing melee, and the author found that earlier accounts differed in many details. He then discovered that the American combat reports had only been declassified in 2012, after many of the big studies of the battle had been written, so decided to use them and the surviving Japanese reports to produce as detailed as possible an account of the fighting.
One very valuable element of this book is that the author took all of the surviving ships course records and entered them into a computer mapping system, to establish (as far as is possible), exactly where each ship and air unit was throughout the battle. This has produced some interesting results, including proving that one US air attack was actually on a US destroyer by matching up the location of the two units and the time of the air attack with a known air attack on the destroyer. This approach has also allowed him to follow the runs of the known torpedo attacks, again allowing him to connect individual attacks with the reports of hits or near misses.
One clear conclusion that can be drawn from this book is that the Japanese did really badly during this battle. Admiral Kurita’s force included the world’s largest battleship (Yamoto), three more battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and eleven destroyers. His ships were faster than the escort carriers of Taffy 3, and the American force was only protected by three destroyers and four destroyer escorts. To only sink two of the six escort carriers was a very poor performance.
The detailed account of the defensive efforts goes some way towards explaining the Japanese performance. The American escorts threw themselves at the Japanese, triggering a confused melee which disrupted the Japanese attacks. Between them the three escort carrier task groups had just over 400 aircraft, and although they weren’t ideally equipped to attack heavy warships, they were again able to disrupt the Japanese attack and cause some damage to the lighter ships. Extracts from the Japanese combat reports show that some of them believed they were attacking fleet carriers and cruisers, which had an impact on Kurita’s choices.
This is an excellent study of this crucial battle, and adds a great deal of certainty to our knowledge of it, helping to explain why the American escorts were so effective against much more powerful opponents.
1 – Prelude
2 – The Forces
3 – A Battle in the Distance
4 – Stirrings in the Night
5 – First Contact
6 – The Magnificent Seven
7 – The Long Chase
8 – Kurita Shows His Hand
9 – The End of Johnston and Roberts
10 – The End of St. Lo
11 – The Fight for Taffy 1
12 – The Taffies Respond
13 – Air Battle Above a Tropical Paradise
14 – McCain Responds
15 – The Strikes Continue
16 – The 6th Base Air Forces Challenges the CVEs, The Escort Carriers vs Sho 1
17 – The End of Chokai
Author: Byron G. Como