Battle of Surigao Strait
Publication Year: 2009
Surigao Strait in the Philippine Islands was the scene of a major battleship duel during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Because the battle was fought at night and had few survivors on the Japanese side, the events of that naval engagement have been passed down in garbled accounts. Anthony P. Tully pulls together all of the existing documentary material, including newly discovered accounts and a careful analysis of U.S. Navy action reports, to create a new and more detailed description of the action. In several respects, Tully's narrative differs radically from the received versions and represents an important historical corrective. Also included in the book are a number of previously unpublished photographs and charts that bring a fresh perspective to the battle.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Twentieth-Century Battles
List of Maps
The battle of Surigao Strait was one of four major actions that compose the larger grand naval battle known collectively as the battle of Leyte Gulf.1 The four battles grouped under that name are the battles of the Sibuyan Sea, Cape Engano, Samar, and Surigao Strait. The last battle and its associated operations are the subject of this volume. ...
A work such as this one, involving what amounts to historical forensic reconstruction requiring assembly of scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, simply would not have been possible without the unstinting support of a great number of people. ...
Prologue “Retiring towards the enemy.”
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: ...
1. “I have returned.”
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. ...
2. “Bah. We will do our best.”
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 ...
3. “We are going to participate in a surface special attack.”
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. ...
4. “It is deemed advisable for 2YB to storm into Leyte Gulf.”
That same October 22, by lunchtime and Nishimura’s finalizing of his plans, Ozawa’s Main Force was moving toward its assigned position northeast of Luzon. If the decoy worked, they could be expected to be attacked in force any time within the next seventy-two hours. Attacks could be sudden and heavy, the more the better. ...
5. “He gallantly came to a stop and started rescue work.”
Nishimura and Shima would have no cause to fear submarines on October 24, the day before X-Day. None were in their paths. The danger was in the skies. At the first hint of dawn the massed U.S. carrier forces began sending out search missions of fighter bombers to seek out the approaching Japanese forces reported by intelligence and submarines. ...
6. “Everybody aboard thought a BB could force a narrow strait.”
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. ...
7. “Make all ready for night battle.”
That afternoon at the northern end of Nishimura and Shima’s mutual destination, Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf, commanding TF 77.2 of Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet, received at 1513 an important message from his superior, Kinkaid himself. ...
8. “A most tragic dispatch.”
At 1830 Nishimura’s small fleet was in position 08-56′N, 123-37′E in the Mindanao Sea. The sun was sinking toward the western horizon and seeming to gain speed when Mogami, accompanied by the destroyers of Desdiv 4, swung away from Nishimura and increased speed for their planned reconnaissance-in-force. ...
9. “Take out the searchlight!”
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 ...
10. “He wished them to know he was penetrating alone.”
Astern, Shima was indeed closing. 2YB was driving forward at 22 knots on course 60 degrees in No. 4 approach formation as they headed for the southern entrance of Surigao Strait. Watching through the darkness outside Nachi’s bridge, Shima paced thoughtfully. ...
11. “Just scored a big flare on 1 of them!”
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. ...
12. “You are to proceed independently and attack all ships!”
While Fuso was reaching a crisis and Nishimura was attempting to re-form his force after the second torpedo attack, to the south Shima’s 2YB had entered the strait. He was closing the gap between the two Japanese forces rapidly. However, the 2YB had suffered its own set of problems, and was also contending with torpedo attacks. ...
13. “At 0345 observed battleship burning.”
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, ...
14. “This has to be quick. Standby your torpedoes.”
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. ...
15. “An awfully gruesome sound, which passed from left to right.”
At 0351, when the Allied cruisers opened fire, with Battle Line joining in two minutes later, Nishimura’s column was attempting to re-form with renewed hope. Yamashiro was heading north at 12 knots awaiting word from Nachi and Fuso about their respective situations. ...
16. “We proceed till totally annihilated.”
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. ...
17. “We have arrived at battle site.”
Since turning up-strait at 0338—leaving crippled Abukuma behind—the Second Striking Force had been engaged in an approach that was equal parts bold and macabre, driving through the dark at the breakneck speed of 28 knots. The moon had gone down, and the ships encountered both squalls and odd banks of smoke. ...
18. “In God’s name, where’s the doctor?”
Not only Japanese ships were crippled and trying to limp to safety. To the north one of the burning wrecks Shima had sighted was American: the roughly handled A. W. Grant. It was down by the bow and listing noticeably to port. On the bridge, the reports coming in painted an equally dismaying picture: ...
19. “The chances to succeed are nil.”
As the refugees of the night action were beginning their fi rst trial by air, far astern in Surigao Strait the last sporadic flares of combat were flaring up and cripples of both sides going down. At 0630 southwest of Kanihaan island, the wrack and ruin of the battle had continued to drift south at nearly three knots with the current. ...
20. “It was the kind of naval battle you dream about.”
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. ...
Epilogue “A thing repeated will happen a third time.”
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 ...