Taffy 3 – Courage Beyond Measure 9

 

In the annals of US Naval history, there are a number of instances that demonstrate the courage and determination of a committed group of dedicated officers and men.

The one that stands out most in many people’s opinions is the battle which occurred on October 25th 1994. On this day, a small group of scrappy warriors took on a force many times its size and contributed to one of the greatest naval victories of all time.

220px-YamatoClassBattleships

By October of 1944, the Japanese were becoming more and more desperate to slow down or stop the advancing juggernaut that the US Navy had become in the Pacific. From the ashes of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, a resurgent United States used its massive industrial capability to produce a fleet second to none in the world. The men of Pennsylvania, Kansas, California, and the other forty eight states were indoctrinated into a life as a bluejacket and sent to support the rising tide of ships, submarines and planes. Admiral Nimitz had a large pool of resources to draw from in order to support the steady drive to liberate the Philippines and the pathway to Tokyo.

300px-Yamato_during_Trial_Service

The Japanese had captured the Philippines in the early part of the war and had made many preparations to repel any invaders. The raw materials and supplies from the entire Pacific rim were vital to Japan’s future and every inch of territory had to be defended at any cost. This determination was the direct cause for the creation of an almost suicidal attack called the  Sho-go plan (Operation Victory). The attack would have three prongs, North, Center, and South. The North group was actually a decoy to lure the third fleet away from the center and allow a heavy force of Japanese surface ships to disrupt the landings at Leyte Gulf. Unfortunately, Admiral Halsey did not know that at the time.

150px-Kurita          220px-Halsey

 

The actual attack started with American submarines discovering the center fleet approaching the gulf on the 23rd. The USS Darter and Dace intercepted the center force in the Palawan Passage.

Dace returning to Pearl

Admiral Kurita had failed to place destroyers in an anti-submarine posture ahead of his group of heavy ships. The Darter sent torpedoes into Admiral Kurita’s flagship the heavy cruiser Atago sinking it. Dace was successful in torpedoing two heavy cruisers sinking the Takoa and severely damaging the Maya which was forced to withdraw.

Despite the damage to some of his ships, Kurita moved forward. Meanwhile, the Darter and Dace faced a new problem. In the aftermath of the battle, the Darter went aground. Heroic efforts on the parts of both crews failed to release her from her prison and a decision was made to scuttle her.

Darter on the reef  0822766

After picking up the crew, the Dace waited nearby for the expected explosions from the charges meant to destroy Darter. The charges failed and a decision was made to return and use the deck guns to finish the job. While on the surface, radar spotted an incoming plane. All hands were ordered below and Dace barely escaped the explosions that followed. The plane, seeing an escaping submarine, chose to attack the remaining boat. The attack finished what Dace had started.

300px-Japanese_battleship_Musashi_cropped 300px-Japanese_Battleship_Nagato_1944

The central force was attacked by American airpower and sustained a number of hits. Their response was to turn back on their original approach. Halsey’s scouts had found the Northern force and he made a decision that will stand as a textbook case of strategic thinking for generations to come. Feeling that the center force was beaten and knowing that the southern force was being chewed up by his own old battleships and auxiliary attack units, he decided to keep his fast battleships and carriers together as a group and destroy the northern fleet. The decision earned his maneuver the nickname of “The Battle of Bull’s Run”

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The decision left only a small force of escort carriers and destroyers to cover the beachhead from any further naval attacks. Admiral Kurita still had four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and eleven destroyers. Facing that attack, Rear Admiral Sprague had 16 escort carriers and their destroyers. Taffy 3 which only included six small carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts immediately turned east to confront the overwhelming force. The Battle of Samar had begun.

300px-Asashio_II     220px-Yamato_off_Samar

Knowing that the men on shore would be slaughtered if nothing was done, Sprague charged at the superior force with his small group and proceeded to sail his way into history. The tiny force was battered by the battleships and cruisers and many American lives were lost this day.

220px-USS_Gambier_Bay_(CVE-73)_and_escorts_making_smoke_off_Samar_1944        200px-USS_Samuel_B__Roberts_(DE-413)

In the end, their fearless determination convinced the Japanese that there must be a larger force on its way and they retreated homewards. On this day, the Japanese Fleet ceased to exist as an offensive unit. Halsey had destroyed most of the northern fleet, the southern fleet was in ruins and the center force was harassed all the way home.

220px-Yamato_hit_by_bomb

The lessons learned from the action were many. A determined force with a highly skilled and motivated crew can overcome incredible odds with the right leadership. The sacrifices of those men in the face of overwhelming odds will remain a hallmark of the American Spirit.

Leadership means making tough decisions. Sometimes those decisions will be less than optimal. The way to decrease the chances of being wrong means using the training, skills and experience combined with as accurate information as is available.

Never forget the main objectives. While Halsey felt his role was not a defensive one, the sacrifices of Sprague’s men could have cost the invasion of the Philippines and extended the war for an indeterminate period of time. Not to mention the senseless loss of men and equipment.

I can only imagine what it would have been like to be one of the men on any of Taffy 3’s ships. Knowing that they were being thrown into a meat grinder that could ultimately destroy them all must have been unnerving to say the least. But in every after action report, only one common theme emerged. The men of Taffy 3 stayed at their stations to the last. As a result, the tide was turned. God Bless their memory.

Mister Mac

9 comments

  1. One of my favorite battles, Mac, especially for leadership lessons, both good and bad. Someplace I think I read about the helmsman on one of Taffy 3’s carriers yelling, as Ozawa turned away, ” Goddammit, Captain, they are getting away.” It may be apocryphal but definitely within the spirit of the day.

    • I read that too. Sometimes I feel sorry for Halsey and then I read his own account of the battle. “The United States History in World War II” compiled and edited by S.E. Smith copyright 1966 ISBN 0-688-06274-1 is a single volume history of the Navy throughout WW2 from the participant’s point of view. I have read it so many times, the spine is cracked and the pages are just barely hanging on for dear life.
      I think Halsey was a very competent Admiral and was needed at the time he served. But there is another side of him that keeps him from reaching the top of my list. Halsey was responsible for two major losses of American lives that could have been avoided except for his own ambitions. Leyte Gulf was of course the first major one. After turning back finally to relive the beleaguered Taffy 3, he had a most unusual reaction. From his memoirs: “I turned my back on the opportunity I dreamed of since my days as a cadet. For me, one of the biggest battles of the war was off, and what had been called “the Battle of Bull’s Run” was on.” Later in that same passage he recalls the number of ships his northern group had sunk but adds a fateful disclaimer: “A curious feature of this engagement is that the air duel never came off. Our strikes had found scarcely a handful of planes on the enemy’s decks and only fifteen on the wing.” Even as he sailed south to see the carnage he had facilitated he still refused to accept that he had been skunked by the Japanese.
      His second greatest blunder resulted from a Typhoon a few months later where his stubbornness resulted in the loss of ships, planes, and over 80 men. If you have not read Halsey’s Typhoon (Drury and Claven) it is a great story from the survivor’s viewpoint. It will be the subject of one of my December posts.

      Mac

  2. I know, I tend to go back and forth on Halsey. I think he was absolutely essential in the earlier part of the war, but by Leyte, he was over aggressive for the commander of the American main striking body.

    thanks, I will look for “Halsey’s Typhoon”. I know of it (the typhoon, not the book) but little about it. I’ll look forward to your post, too. Somebody once asked me what I thought would have happened at Midway if Halsey hadn’t had shingles, which is an interesting point.

    One thing that has always struck me is how frustrated Lee’s Captains had to be at Leyte, watching their chance for a gunfight go glimmering.

    The other thing is Halsey always came off like an impetuous cowboy but, that doesn’t square very well with what was an apparent close friendship with Spruance, who always seems like a austere, cold, calculating, intellectual commander.

    Just so you know, I’m something of civilian amateur at this, always loved military history, never found a way for it to pay any of the bills.

    Dave

  3. Mac; thanks for recounting the tale of Taffy 3, a truly inspiring story about our Naval heritage and an example of courageous leadership in difficult times. I’m also impressed with your blog overall, particularly liked Chaplain’s Corner “Could You Endure?” – BZ on what you’ve created with your site. I note in your comments above that you are planning to post in December about the 1944 Pacific storm which decimated ships of Task Force 38 of the US Third Fleet. I have not had the pleasure of reading “Halsey’s Typhoon”, but have heard that the authors knowledge of the Navy and grasp of WWII history leaves something to be desired, leading to flaws in their depiction of how things were. I’m sure it’s a gripping read just due to the subject, but I would suggest to you the definitive work in case you have not come across it. “TYPHOON: The Other Enemy” by Captain C. Raymond Calhoun, U.S.Navy (Retired) is a tremendous book by someone who was actually there. Capt. Calhoun is the “real deal” – skipper of the USS DEWEY (DD349), and one of the 80 Degree Rollers. His book is out of print (published in 1981 by Naval Institute Press), but you can find it used at Amazon for a few dollars and it is well worth it. Calhoun also wrote “Tin Can Sailor” about life on USS STERETT (DD407). Another MUST HAVE for your library if you haven’t read it. If you go to the following website, you can read Capt Calhoun’s recounting of the third battle of Savo Island as gunnery officer on STERETT to the Surface Navy Association last January. Unbelievable courage, and a story of “Leadership” with a capital L. http://destroyerhistory.org/goldplater/index.asp?r=40700&pid=40720 Again, thanks for your site, I found it well worth my time! Best Regards, John

    • John,
      Thanks for the comments and especially thanks for the input. As to the book, there probably will always be some who question the ability of a non-participant to capture the correct sense of an event. I did like the book quite a bit since it was really written with the sailors and officers who were involved. The bibliography in the back is very extensive so I feel pretty good about their attempt to tell the story of the men as well as the storm. I have been in a number of typhoons (Pacific), hurricanes, and dust ups in the North Atlantic and the words and feelings in the book were very close to my old memories. I weill definitely look into Captain Calhoun’s books. I am a life long learner on leadership and have found (and I unashamedly admit this) that the US Navy has provided some of the greatest examples of good and not so good that I have expereinced and found.
      Thanks again for the feedback. This blog has beena true labor of love.
      Mac

      • You’re welcome Mac, and I am going to track down “Halsey’s Typhoon”; it’s a fascinating story. Here’s another thought for you – I love the “silent service” tales from WWII, and I’m sure you’ve heard of Dick O’Kane. EXCEPTIONAL Leader. his book “Clear the Bridge! : The War Patrols of the U.S.S. Tang” is another one I highly recommend. I had the opportunity to correspond with and meet the Admiral’s wife, Ernestine, when I was helping build the AEGIS Destroyer named after him at Bath Iron Works. She was elderly by then, and quite a lady; her husband’s amazing experiences provide valuable lessons about leading people. Cheers, John

  4. There is a great episode of “Dogfights” origionally aired on the History Channel about the Battle of Samar. I’m pretty facinated by this battle myself. Thank you for posting it :)

  5. March 18, 2012

    Many many instances of “Guts” throughout history, however to me:

    (a) Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8), off of the USS Hornet, CV 8, Battle of Midway, June 4, 1942.
    (b) Taffy 3 (Task Unit 77.4.3), attached to the US 7th Fleet, Battle of Leyete Gulf, Oct 25, 1944.

    Only instances during WWII, to my knowledge, for which quantitative and qualitative inferior US forces faced overwhelming enemy odds and snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat. Might throw in 101 Screaming Eagles at Bastogne Dec 1944. However, not 100% that the 101 were outnumbered/outgunned though, as VT8 and Taffy 3 were, as well as the critical difference between defeat and victory among the three encounters.

    For those of the Silent Service, those Hallowed Words:

    “Take her down”. (Cmdr Howard W. Gilmore USS Growler, SS215, Feb 7, 1943).

    Respectfully,

    David Pee

  6. Samuel B. Roberts de-413 the ship that fought like a battleship these men are the most badass men on earth. the destroyer escort when head to head with a battleship and won

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