The Battle of Leyte Gulf – Part 4

Vice Adm. Shoji Nishimura – Photo Credit – Wikipedia

At the same time that Halsey was chasing Ozawa’s decoy carriers, the second arm of the Japanese pincers, Vice Admiral Nishimura’s Southern Force, was approaching Surigao Strait, the southern entrance to Leyte Gulf. Although he knew that Kurita had been delayed and would not be able to keep the dawn rendezvous in Leyte Gulf, Nishimura steamed ahead on schedule.

Aware of Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura’s Southern Force but ignorant of the gaping hole of the San Bernardino Strait, Kinkaid ordered Rear Adm. Jesse B. Oldendorf to deploy the U.S. ships in preparation for a night engagement. They would be waiting for Nishimura. As Nishimura’s force steamed single file into the southern approaches of Surigao Strait, it was ambushed by several groups of American PT boats, which had been lying motionless in the water so as not to leave wakes that would give away their positions. A few miles farther north the Japanese entered a more effective prearranged trap: a gauntlet of American and Australian destroyers. As Nishimura’s force filed up the center of the strait, the destroyers raced down both sides of it in formation of two or three, firing half salvos of torpedoes at range of about four miles, and then turning and speeding away before the Japanese guns could find them. Zigzagging and throwing up smoke screens, the destroyers escaped.

The results were devastating. The battleship Fuso blew up and split in two. Nishimura’s flagship, the battleship Yamashiro, took hits and two of his destroyers were sunk. But still Nishimura came on. Oldendorf prepared to cross the enemy’s “T” – a classic maneuver in which one fleet cuts in front of the enemy column in a single-file formation, or battle line. Thus, Oldendorf’s battleships and cruisers steamed directly across Nishimura’s path, blocking his passage from Surigao Strait to Leyte Gulf.

On the flagship of the cruiser Louisville, Oldendorf held his fire until Nishimura’s lead ship closed the range at 15,600 yards. Then, shortly before 4 am, he gave the order to fire. Every ship on the flank forces and the battle line opened at once. Explosions and fires were immediately noticed. After taking several hits, the battleship Yamashiro exploded, then quickly capsized and sank.

By the end of the Battle of Surigao Strait, Oldendorf ships sank Nishimura’s entire fleet, with the exception of one destroyer which was badly damaged but able to escape. The American losses were thirty-nine killed, 119 wounded, mostly on Captain Smoot’s destroyers, the Albert W. Grant, which had been struck by its sister ships and severely damaged. The crew on all the ships sensed a great victory had been won.

Suddenly elation turned into real alarm when over the TBS (Talk Between Ships, a voice radio), the crew heard that the TAFFY groups (the light and escort carriers left behind to protect other entrances of Leyte Gulf) was under attack at close range by Japanese battleships and cruisers.

Admiral Shima arrived into Surigao Strait later that night. At 5:32 a.m. on Oct. 25, Shima radioed Kurita that Nishimura’s force had been destroyed. After a brief encounter with American firepower, and upon recognizing Nishimura’s fate, Shima decided to turn southward and fled the scene.

To be continued. . .

Sources:

Crisis in the Pacific by Gerald Astor

The Pacific War by William B. Hopkins

Return to the Philippines WWII by Rafael Steinberg


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