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Battle Off Samar

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S: Battle off Samar Robert E. Lee

FC: Battle off Samar | October 25, 1944 | Robert E. Lee | the centermost action of the Battle of Leyte Gulf | An account of action as experienced by

2: Robert E. Lee | USS White Plains

3: Battle off Samar | October 25, 1944 | Robert E. Lee | An account of action experienced by | the centermost action of the Battle of Leyte Gulf

4: "In no engagement of its entire history has the United States Navy shown more gallantry, guts and gumption than in those two morning hours between 0730 and 0930 off Samar" —-Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison

5: The Battle off Samar was the centermost action of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, one of the largest naval battles in history, which took place in the Philippine Sea off Samar Island, in the Philippines on 25 October 1944. As the only major action in the larger battle where the Americans were largely unprepared against the opposing forces, it has been cited by historians as one of the greatest military mismatches in naval history.

6: Crew of USS White Plains (CVE66)

7: It was just after dawn on October 25, 1944 (West) as the U.S.S. White Plains, five other Escort Aircraft Carriers (C.V.E.’s), two Destroyers (D.D.’s) and five Destroyer Escorts (D.E.’s) sailed slowly off the eastern coast of Leyte Island in the Philippines, where the U.S. Army had established a beachhead. Aboard ship, life was following its customary courses of activities at this hour: Men were just going to chow or were eating; some were showering or just killing time when the excited clamor of the General Alarm sounded throughout the ship, followed by General Quarters on the bugle. All hands in various stages of dress scrambled to their battle stations. The crew had seen action before and wasted no time getting on the job. Less than two minutes after the alarm sounded all stations were manned and word was passed that “Japanese” surface ships were in gun range and closing in. Men stared out into the early morning mist. The idea of an aircraft carrier being caught within gun range of Japanese surface ships was something that just didn’t happen, not to anyone’s navy. Being that the U.S.S. White Plains was in the rear of the formation it received the first salvo, which thundered into the water near our ship, throwing high pillars of water into the air.

9: The next salvo screamed by and tore up water just astern. All hands flattened out behind anything handy because we couldn’t fire back. The enemy was beyond range of our 5-inch gun. The Japs were using 14-inch guns. No one spoke as men looked into each others tear filled faces. This looked like it-- the finish-- the end. Just a few more salvos and the men left alive would be swimming for dear life. There was a short pause as the Japs split the difference of the salvos, then they fired. Heavy naval shells addressed the U.S.S. White Plains, thundered out and crashed into the sea along our port side, amidships. The U.S.S. White Plains shook like a red hot jitterbug as expansion plates parted, the aft engine was twisted off its mount and a life raft was knocked loose from the catwalk. This was the real thing. The mocking terrifying sounds that the shells made did nothing to help matters either. On the heels of the third salvo came the forth salvo and again nearly hit. The White Plains faired, twisted, and groaned. The shells were closer this time and anything that wasn’t secured solid went flying. The keel was slightly split; men were knocked off their feet and the aft elevator was jammed solid.

10: Family | Suzanne & Carl Ermels with Robert | Suzanne Ermels with Helen, Bobby& Robert Lee | Helen, Bobby & Robert Lee | Robert with his lovely pregnant bride | Robert & Bobby

11: By this time the engineers had full steam up and put her in full speed ahead. The fifth salvo was a good hundred feet away and the ship didn’t jar quite so hard, but just the same we were really scared and hugged the deck. Now doing flank speed, we were leading the other carriers instead of bringing up the rear, so the enemy stopped firing on us and concentrated on the other carriers. Then we ran into a rain squall--ah, blessed rain squall--that gave us time to quiet our fluttering nerves and to lengthen the distance between us and the Japs. For a short time there was nothing to hear or see, other than the rain, which drummed soothingly down on the flight deck. Our squall was small and we were soon in the clear, then more shells began to hurtle among the C.V.E.’s. The heroic screen provided by our destroyers and destroyer escorts began to lay heavy white smoke between us and the Jap task force, which consisted of four battleships, eight carriers and 14 destroyers. We also began to lay smoke, black, heavy oil smoke which poured from our stacks.

12: At about 0700, the Yamato opened fire at a range of 20 nmi (23 mi; 37 km). The Americans were soon astonished by the spectacle of colorful geysers of the first volleys of shellfire finding the range. Each Japanese ship used a different color of dye marker so they could spot their own shells.

13: We dodged, twisted, turned and prayed while the Japs poured continuous shell fire at us. Then our daring destroyers closed in at short range and actually engaged the Jap’s battleships in a lopsided duel with their 5-inch antiaircraft guns. We watched the incredible sight with a prayer in our hearts for the tiny destroyers. Under cover of the smoke they steamed around dodging salvos that would mean the end if they ever hit and firing their own puny salvos back at the heavily armored Jap ships. The only chance they had to kill the Japs was in the torpedoes they carried. Finally, they launched an attack at long torpedo range, but it was so smoky no one could tell whether they hit or not. The Japs soon became alarmed by this attack and concentrated their fire on the destroyers. This forced our overwhelmed destroyers to pull away. As they pulled alongside they made a spectacular appearance, throwing water over the bow and pouring out heavy smoke while racing at top speed. But we had lost one D.D. and one D.E. in the uneven clash with the Japs. Now the Japs began to shell the carriers again as salvos roared our way. Some of the columns of water thrown up were brilliantly colored red, blue or green. These were used to aid the Japs in spotting their fire. As time inched its way along, it became apparent the Japs were getting nearer. We could easily see them on the horizon, low, squatted grey forms that spat orange flashes as they sent tons of steel our way.

14: USS White Plains CVE-66 Carrier Vehicle Escort Class CASABLANCA Displacement 7,800 tons Length 512 feet 3 inches Beam 65 feet Draft 22 feet 6 inches Flight Deck 498 x 108 feet Speed 18 knots Complement 764 Aircraft 18 FM-2 Grumman fighters 12 TBM-1C Grumman torpedo bombers Armament 1 5-inch GP gun 8 twin 40mm AA guns 20 20mm AA guns

15: Men not on battle stations sprawled flat on the flight deck and waited for the flashes of orange flame from the two ships closing in on our port side that would mean the end. For a long time they steamed along evidently trying to cut off our escape. They were as close as 12,000 yards (which is point blank range for a naval battle) and yet by some divine miracle they held their fire, which would have undoubtedly ended this story. Up to the present time we had launched aircraft and dodged Jap salvos while we prayed for deliverance, but now our single 5-inch gun on the fantail started to thunder a bold answer to the powerful Jap salvos. The ship’s gunner directed the fire and kept the gun in action. Jap salvos of 8-inch, 10-inch and 14-inch shells would roar by, and the gunner’s 5” would snap out a reply. The gun crew put out about 150 rounds and made direct hits on the battleship and cruiser they were firing on. The amazing thing was the fact that at this close range the Japs returned almost no fire. For whatever reason, the battleships and cruisers were missing us. At times the water thrown up by the shells would hide some unlucky ship from view, yet they failed to hit us.

16: USS Gambier Bay

17: The Japs concentrated their fire on the two carriers nearest them and after 2-1/2 hours of continuous shelling they hit the U.S.S. Gambier Bay so that she was now dead in the water. As the remainder of the convoy pulled away the Japs were pouring all their fire at her. There was only one slight let up as a small number of navy fighter planes darted in and dropped some bombs in the face of a furious ack-ack barrage. The Japs resumed firing on the Gambier Bay almost immediately. We were greatly relieved when the two Jap ships on our port side turned back, still without firing a shot. However, as they turned, they launched a torpedo spread. A little while later we made two of the sharpest turns possible with a ship of our size. We listed steeply to the starboard and then leveled off as the ship dodged the streaking torpedoes. The action began to slack off and we pulled slowly away, but the damage had been done.

18: USS St. Lo

19: The Gambier Bay was scuttled as the Japs closed into capture her. While she was sinking a U.S. destroyer dashed in alongside in an attempt to rescue some of the crew. It was a brave gesture but in vain. The Japs were too close and the plucky destroyer was shelled and sunk rapidly, her guns firing futilely as her decks slid beneath the waves. For a long, agonizing time there was no further action, but the Japs were uncomfortably close; they were about 30 miles away. They could’ve caught us had they tried. Our flank speed was about 20 knots, while their cruising speed topped 25 knots. Tired men everywhere sprawled out to get some badly needed rest and to restore the energy that the morning excitement had used. Nerves were on edge as all hands silently waited for what was next to come. We didn’t have to wait too long. It had been quiet for almost an hour. Then enemy aircraft approached our starboard bow. Suddenly, six fast dive bombers streaked in to chart their attack. As they approached us, our forward 40 mm guns handed out a greeting of ack-ack, and one of the planes spun beautifully into the sea. Another plane had just bombed the St. Lo sending up scarlet flames roiling hundreds of feet into the air. A third plane also dove on the St. Lo, but before he could release his bombs our ack-ack had him smoking. He crashed on to the St. Lo’s flight deck, sending more flames skyward.

20: With the Kamikaze - -translated as “divine wind”-- – the Japanese launched attacks bent on wiping out as much the Allied naval fleet as possible. The pilots deliberately crashed aircraft loaded with explosives and fuel into Allied ships, acting as manned missiles – more accurate and destructive than normal bombs. The sacrifice, both human and mechanical, was a price worth paying. Death was inevitable.

21: One of the planes passed over our port side, way out of gun range, then banked and started to dive on us from astern. Ack-ack fire streamed out at him, as all hands not on gun stations dove for shelter. The Japs dove on us at high speed through a cloud of our tracers. One evidently intended to crash on us at the beginning of his run, because he never released his bomb. He streaked in through the rain of death we sent his way. At the last instant, narrowly missed us and exploded midship on the port side between the flight deck and the waterline. Hot searing flame, parts of the plane, and pieces of bomb shrapnel darkened the sky over our flight deck. When we got up, we saw that the flight deck was littered with countless pieces of Jap plane. Shrapnel from the bomb he was carrying had blown more than 50 holes in the side of the ship. The power of the blast buckled in the bulkhead and scorched the paint, but only a few men were injured. The Lord was still aboard. By now the St. Lo had lost her way and her men were abandoning ship as the remaining planes were shot down or escaped, then the St. Lo exploded. Nothing at the time could have been a more horrible sight. Flames and smoke reached nearly 2,000 feet in the air, while parts of the ship were blown hundreds of feet away. Men stood white faced as they stared at the horrible scene of the explosion. The ship’s magazines had exploded and we had little hope for any of her crew. Just as the sharp sound of the blast reached us, we were warned to seek shelter as pieces of the St. Lo nearly a mile away began to fall around us.

22: USS White Plains earned five battle stars during World War II, as well as the Presidential Unit Citation for her part in the Battle off Samar. | Taffy 3 was made up of six escort carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts: USS St Lo (CVE-63) and VC-65, USS White Plains (CVE-66) and VC-4, USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68) and VC-3, USS Fanshaw Bay (CVE-70) and VC-68, USS Kitkun Bay (CVE-71) and VC-5, USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73) and VC-10, USS Heermann (DD-532), USS Hoel (DD-533), USS Johnston (DD-557), USS John C. Butler (DE-339), USS Raymond (DE-341), USS Dennis (DE-405), USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413). | The Presidential Unit Citation is awarded to units of the Armed Forces of the United States and allies for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy. The unit must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign.

23: Suddenly another plane approached and scared men headed for shelter as our guns opened up on the target. The firing was stopped at once as the plane was a Navy Hellcat. Scared as they were, gun crews would fire at any and all planes that dared approach the ship. Our planes were told to keep out of the range of our gun fire. The sight of the St. Lo was still fresh in our minds. At this point the days’ action seemed to end; never the less throughout the afternoon and early evening men stayed at their battle stations and above deck. Sandwiches and coffee were passed out by the cooks. Some men got some badly needed sleep at their stations, and others smoked countless cigs and talked to relieve the tension of the battle. At last General Quarters was secured. But about an hour later our raw nerves were shattered once more as the General Alarm called hands to their battle stations. The word was passed again that surface ships were astern. The men wondered, were the Japs back? Two destroyers reversed course to investigate.

24: In the Battle off Samar, these 13 ships repelled the 23 battleships, heavy cruisers, light cruisers and destroyers of the Japanese Center Force engaged in the collection of naval battles associated with the landings at Leyte Gulf. | "For extraordinary heroism in action against powerful units of the Japanese Fleet during the Battle off Samar, Philippines, October 25, 1944. Silhouetted against the dawn as the Central Japanese Force steamed through San Bernardino Strait towards Leyte Gulf, Task Unit 77.4.3 was suddenly taken under attack by hostile cruisers on its port hand, destroyers on the starboard and battleships from the rear. Quickly laying down a heavy smoke screen, the gallant ships of the Task Unit waged battle fiercely against the superior speed and fire power of the advancing enemy, swiftly launching and rearming aircraft and violently zigzagging in protection of vessels stricken by hostile armor-piercing shells, anti-personnel projectiles and suicide bombers. With one carrier of the group sunk, others badly damaged and squadron aircraft courageously coordinating in the attacks by making dry runs over the enemy Fleet as the Japanese relentlessly closed in for the kill, two of the Unit's valiant destroyers and one destroyer escort charged the battleships point-blank and, expending their last torpedoes in desperate defense of the entire group, went down under the enemy's heavy shells as a climax to two and one half hours of sustained and furious combat. The courageous determination and the superb teamwork of the officers and men who fought the embarked planes and who manned the ships of Task Unit 77.4.3 were instrumental in effecting the retirement of a hostile force threatening our Leyte invasion operations and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service." | Presidential Unit Citation | Task Unit 77.4.3 (aka "Taffy 3")

25: A short while later men were startled as gun fire again broke out, tracers chased each other toward an unseen target. Yellow flashes hit the dark sky as 5-inch guns began to fire. Then it was black again as the gun fire stopped. Breathlessly, we waited for information. Finally, word was passed that they had caught a sub trailing us on the surface and sunk it. General Quarters was secured; the battle was over and we were headed back to safety. In all, we lost two escort carriers, two destroyers and one destroyer escort which was tragic, but it proved a small price to pay for the intense naval shelling we went through. Of the six carriers, the U.S.S. White Plains was the only one that never took a direct hit from naval shelling and didn’t lose any men aboard the ship. We also know that it was the power above that delivered us from similar fate.

26: Robert E. Lee | USS White Plains

27: Robert, Helen, Bobby, Susan & Sandy Lee | A great man | Robert, Bobby, Susan & Sandy | A Hero | The Lee Family

28: The courageous determination and the superb teamwork of the officers and men who fought the embarked planes and who manned the ships of Task Unit 77.4.3 were instrumental in effecting the retirement of a hostile force threatening our Leyte invasion operations and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. -Excerpt from The Presidential Citation

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  • Title: Battle Off Samar
  • Grandpa's Story
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