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Old 23-10-2008, 22:25
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Default The Battle of Surigao Strait: 1944 - The Last Gunfight

G'Day All

Ok John, here it is, and its BIG, I put both parts together.

A small bit of background before reading the article. This was another article of mine published in 'The Navy' magazine of the Australian Navy League. It was the first one that I learned that people read my words.

This was a two parter done with the 60th anniversary of the battle in mind. It was written to highlight the Australian involvement in the battle. The first part was published in the july-sept 2004 edition. The Editor of 'The Navy' was contacted in late August 2004 by the Office of the RAN Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Chris Ritchie AC (The head of the RAN) asking if they could have part II of the article as VADM Ritchie was heading to the Philippines for the 60th anniversary commemorations. I was very happy when I was asked if it was ok to cut part two loose for the CNRAN (I did), who used the whole article as his background briefing on the RAN's actions during the battle.

Oh, and for those that had no understanding of the Battle Of Leyte Gulf, USN and Australian ships were the only Allied ships present during the battle, those RAN ships present at Leyte carry the battle honour Leyte Gulf 1944.

Hope you enjoy it!

Ian

THE LAST GUNFIGHT
By Ian Johnson

The Battle of Surigao Strait was one of a four-part act that made up the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history. During a moonless night sixty years ago on 24 October 1944 in the waters between the islands of Leyte and Mindaneo in the Philippines, the last battleship verses battleship engagement in history was fought. Before dawn on the 25 October, a way of fighting that began in the 15th Century of gunnery duels against ships, often within sight of each other, would disappear. It was also the end of the battleship as the premier capital ship, as the aircraft carrier would continue to evolve as the most dangerous vessel in a navy’s order of battle.

After leaving the Philippines Islands under direct orders of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, General Douglas MacArthur on his arrival in Australia made a statement promising to return to the Philippines Islands. In October 1944, after two years of commanding forces and driving back the Japanese, MacArthur fulfilled his promise by leading over 220 000 soldiers, sailors and airman in a fleet of over 400 transports and 200 warships, including units of the Royal Australian Navy, to Leyte Gulf to begin Operation King II, the invasion of the southern Philippines Islands.

For the Allies, the defeats inflicted by the Japanese over the first six months of the Pacific War ended after the Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942. By mid morning on June 4, the Pacific war had turned with the destruction of three IJN aircraft carriers during the battle of Midway. By 1943 newer ships such as the new ESSEX class aircraft carriers were arriving from their shipyard, especially the new capital ships, the aircraft carriers. American battleship development ended for the USN after the IOWA class when the new MONTANA class battleships, designed to go one on one with the Japanese YAMATO class super battleships, were cancelled in 1942 days after their keels were laid. With the new ships and the increasing manpower by the closing months of 1944 the United States Navy was the largest navy in history, with over a thousand ships in service from aircraft carriers to supply ships and with them the Allies continued the ‘Drive towards Tokyo’.

The losses in both men and material for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) to this point in time put the outcome of the war for Japan on the edge of defeat. By October 1944 the Imperial Japanese Navy alone had lost most of its carrier aircraft during the battle of the Philippines Sea in June 1944, and Allied submarines were now running riot in Japanese controlled waters, sinking ships with much needed supplies. The threat to both the Philippines and the oil rich area of Brunei and Singapore was now too great, and if the Philippines were captured the Japanese home islands would be under greater threat as long range bombers could attack southern Japan and Okinawa.

For the Commander in Chief of the IJN, Admiral Toyoda Soemu, he know there was enough ships to attack the Allies in the Philippines, but with the armada now approaching Leyte Gulf, Japan’s fate laid in a decisive battle that, most in the Japanese Navy believed that they could win. ADM Toyoda ordered the IJN to execute Operation Sho-1 (Sho is Japanese for Victory).

The commander for Operation Sho-1 was Vice Admiral Ozawa Jisaburo. The plan was for four IJN task forces made up of 63 ships to engage the Allied fleet in the Philippines. This was to be done with four fleets formed in two groups, Northern Force attacking the Allied Fleet with the Mobile Force under VADM Ozawa, and ‘A’ Force, under the command of Vice Admiral Kurita Takeo. Mobile Force was a decoy force of four aircraft carriers, two battleship-aircraft carrier hybrids with virtually no aircraft embarked, along with 11 escorts, would sail towards the Philippines from the north east, would try to entice the American aircraft carriers away from Leyte, leaving the fleet with no air cover. ‘A’ Force consisted of the super battleships YAMATO and MUSASHI as well as the battleships HARUNA, NAGATO, and KONGO, nine heavy cruisers with destroyer escorts. They were to sail from Singapore, refuel at Brunei Bay and attack the invasion fleet through the San Bernardino Strait.

For the Northern Force, they would engage in three of the four battles that made up the battle of Leyte Gulf. The Battle of the Sibuyan Sea against US carrier aircraft from the US Third Fleet, the Battle of Samar Island with the US Seventh Fleet, and the Battle of Cape Engano, again against the US Third Fleet. The Imperial Japanese Navy lost all three battles.

The Southern Force comprised of ‘C’ Force and the ‘Second Striking Force’. ‘C’ Force, under Vice Admiral Nishimura Shoji command, which comprised of two battleships, FUSO and YAMASHIRO, along with a heavy cruiser and 4 destroyers, and would leave Singapore, refuel at Brunei Bay, then head for the Sulu Sea and proceeded to Surigao Strait through to Leyte Gulf and attack the Allied fleet from the south.
The ‘Second Striking Force’ under the command Vice Admiral Shima Kiyohide would be formed from two heavy cruisers, NACHI and ASHIGARA, and 5 escorts and would sail from Formosa (Taiwan) and follow ‘C’ Force into Surigao Strait and onto Leyte.

Both Northern and Southern Forces were to operate as a pincer movement, with the centre at Leyte Gulf, with the objective the destruction of both the huge collection of amphibious ships and transports of the invasion fleet and the beachhead.

Standing in the way was Admiral William (Bull) Halsey’s Third Fleet and Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet, who on the night of 19 October approached the Philippines. Attached to VADM Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet were the destroyers, cruisers, and battleships belonging to Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf’s Task Force 77.2. The Battleship Force (BattFor) was commanded by Rear Admiral George Weyler, and was made up of Battleship Division Four (BatDiv4) consisted of the USS MISSISSIPPI (BB-41) USS WEST VIRGINIA (BB-48), and USS MARYLAND (BB-46), while Battleship Division Two (BatDiv2) had the USS PENNSYLVANIA (BB-38), USS TENNESSEE (BB-43), and USS CALIFORNIA (BB-44). The last five battleships were salvaged from Pearl Harbor after the 7 December 1941 attack that finally brought the United States into the conflict. The six battleships were the centrepiece of Seventh Fleet’s Bombardment and Fire Support Group.

Also with the Seventh fleet were the Royal Australian Navy’s KENT class heavy cruisers HMAS AUSTRALIA (D-84) and HMAS SHROPSHIRE (C-73), along with the TRIBAL class destroyers HMAS ARUNTA (D-5) and HMAS WARRAMUNGA (144), who were sailing as part of American Rear Admiral Russell Berkey’s Close Covering Group (CTG), also known as Task Group 77.3 that provided the escort for the Bombardment and Fire Support Group.

At the beginning of the Leyte landings on in the early morning on 20 October, Oldendorf’s Bombardment and Fire Support Group began to bombard the Leyte beachhead with 14 and 16-inch shells and at dawn, the first wave of American General Walter Krueger’s 6th Army hit the beach with light resistance. In Leyte Gulf itself, HMAS AUSTRALIA, along with several American ships of Task Force 77.3, was severely damaged by the first use by the Japanese of Kamikaze attacks against ships. Later that morning General MacArthur arrived on the beachhead and announced to the world that “People of the Philippines, I have returned’. As the attack continued over the next few days over 170 000 troops and over 250 000 tons of equipment and supplies were moved onto Leyte as Operation King II rolled on. On 21 October HMAS WARRAMUNGA escorted the wounded AUSTRALIA to Manus for repairs.
This left HMAS SHROPSHIRE commanded by Captain Charles Nicholls MVO, RAN, and HMAS ARUNTA, under Commander Alfred (Buck) Buchanan RAN, in Leyte Gulf still with Task Force 77.3.

The IJN fleets sailed from Brunei and Formosa on 22 October and elements of ‘A’ Force were spotted and attacked by American submarines off North Borneo on the 23rd, sinking VADM Kurita’s flagship ATAGO. The last element of surprise for the Japanese was lost and carrier based reconnaissance aircraft began to find the other Japanese units. Meanwhile Kurita’s ‘A’ force was again discovered, this time in the Sibuyan Sea and attacked by 259 carrier aircraft with the loss of the super battleship MUSASHI, hit by 19 bombs and 17 torpedos.

In the morning of 24 October, VADM Kinkaid, alerted by aerial reconnaissance from the aircraft carriers USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6) and USS FRANKLIN (CV-13) of VADM Nishimura’s ‘C’ Force location and heading. At 0918hrs the aircraft from ENTERPRISE and FRANKLIN attack, causing minimal damage to YAMASHIRO, FUSO and the SHIGURE. At 1155 a United States Army Air Force (USAAF) bomber located the ‘Second Striking Force’ and reported back to VADM Kinkaid. After the 0918hrs attack the INJ ships continued on without further air attack, as the ENTERPRISE and FRANKLIN were ordered by ADM Halsey to attack Kurita’s ‘A’ force in the Sibuyan Sea. The escort carriers (CVE’s) of Kinkaid’s fleet were engaged in supporting the Leyte beachhead, by now secured and troops moving inland. But when Ozawa’s Mobile Force was sighted, Halsey had ordered his fleet north to engage, leaving Leyte Gulf unprotected.

With the success of the landings, and not knowing that Halsey’s Third Fleet had departed, VADM Kinkaid and his staff realised that the two Japanese forces discovered south west of Leyte would need to go through Surigao Strait to attack the invasion fleet. After noon Kinkaid ordered all ship of the Seventh Fleet to prepare for a night battle, then at 1443hrs Kinkaid ordered RADM Oldendorf’s Bombardment and Fire Support Group from the invasion fleet and head south to Surigao Strait to prepare for possible Japanese naval incursion. Sailing with Oldendorf’s group was RADM Berkey’s Close Covering Group (CTG), which included HMAS SHROPSHIRE, and HMAS ARUNTA, now part of Task Force 77.2.

Onboard his flagship, the heavy cruiser USS LOUISVILLE (CA-28) RADM Oldendorf and his staff began to deploy his force of 42 ships, splitting his forces into three groups. Oldendorf would command the left flank of ships from the LOUISVILLE, as well as overall command of Task Force 77.2. RADM Berkey would command the ships on the right flank, including SHROPSHIRE and ARUNTA. The battleships would operate under the command of RADM Weyler.

As Task Force 77.2 headed for the eastern entrance of Surigao Strait, he conferred with both Weyler and Berkey. Oldendorf had a problem. With the heavy bombardment of the Leyte beachhead the battleships had expended more than 60% of their heavy calibre ammunition, and of the rest most of it was the high explosive HC ammunition for shore bombardment, not the armour piercing shells needed for a fleet action. The three Admirals agreed that to conserve their ammunition the battleships would wait until the enemy got to within 20 000 yards (18.2 kilometres) away before opening fire, the first few salvos would be with armour piercing shells before switching to the high explosive HC ammunition, the remaining supply of armour piercing shells were to be used against enemy battleships, if they appeared.

Meanwhile Kinkaid sent Oldendorf help with every PT Boat assigned to Seventh Fleet. 39 PT Boats headed west into Surigao Strait at high speed as part of an emerging plan of attack, they would be Oldendorf’s reconnaissance in lieu of both Kinkaid’s lack of night aerial reconnaissance and the departure north of Third Fleet’s night aerial reconnaissance assets onboard USS INDEPENDENCE (CVL-22). By early evening Oldendorf’s force was of 81 ships, ranging from PT Boats to battleships. Two night flying Catalina Flying Boats (known as ‘Black Cats’) tried to find the Japanese but without success, one of the ‘Black Cats’ was mistakenly shot down by the PT Boats now in position on the western end of the strait.

At 1830hrs VADM Nishimura received word of ‘A’ Force’s delay from air attacks in the Sibuyan Sea. Nishimura understood this meant that if his ships made it to Leyte Gulf he would be alone, there would be no support from the north of the gulf. At 1900hrs an all ships signal was sent by ADM Toyoda “All ships dash to the attack, counting on divine assistance.” Nishimura’s ships headed east into the night.
After sunset Oldendorf executed his plans. For RADM Weyler and his battleships, WEST VIRGINIA, CALIFORNIA, PENNSYLVANIA, MARYLAND, and TENNESSEE, this was the moment they had wanted since that “Day of Infamy”. These American battleships that were salvaged from the water (PENNSYLVANIA was in drydock and was damaged during the attack) after Pearl Harbor and refitted, many with sailors that survived December 7, who were more than eager to even the score. Along with the battleship MISSISSIPPI, Weyler’s flagship, battle line was complete, escorted by the 6 destroyers from Destroyer Division X-Ray. The six battleships were steaming in ‘Line Ahead’ formation across the strait, waiting for the enemy to arrive.

Further into the strait on the right flank were RADM Berkey ships. Flying his flag from the Pearl Harbor survivor, the cruiser USS PHOENIX (CL-44), Berkey had HMAS SHROPSHIRE along with the cruisers USS BOISE (CL-47) and two destroyer squadrons, DESRON 54 with seven destroyers, and DESRON 24 consisting of six destroyers including HMAS ARUNTA. On the left flank, Oldendorf on his flagship LOUISVILLE led the cruisers USS MINNEAPOLIS (CA-36), USS DENVER (CL-58), USS PORTLAND (CA-33), and USS COLOMBIA (CL-56), as well as Destroyer Squadron 56, consisting of nine destroyers. Near the western exit of the strait 39 PT Boats waited in thirteen groups of three PT Boats each in positions either side of the mouth of the strait, waiting to report back to Oldendorf.

Eighty-one Allied warships waited in and around Surigao Strait without aircraft carrier support. The updated fire control radars of Oldendorf’s fleet watched for the 7 ships of Nishimura’s ‘C’ Force, which were moved towards them without knowing what was waiting for them on that moonless night.

From Nishimura’s flagship YAMASHIRO, the only light the crew saw was the lightning of a midnight storm on the southern horizon over Mindanao. At least several ships in ‘C’ Force had an early version of a fire control radar supplied by Germany fitted before Operation Sho-1 started. It was hoped by the IJN that this would be a decisive advantage.

In the late evening of 24 October ‘C’ Force arrived at the western end of Surigao Strait. Nishimura ordered the MOGAMI and the three destroyers MICHISHO, ASAGUMO and YAMAGUMO to proceed ahead to conduct reconnaissance for the rest of the force. As the four ships headed east into the strait, they and the PT Boats that were searching for the managed to pass each other undetected. As FUSO, YAMASHIRO and SHIGURE began to move into the strait, they were detected off the island of Bohol by PT-131 with her fire control radar at 2236hrs.
Moments later PT-131 and two other PT Boats were heading for the three ships and at 2250 the PT Boats saw their targets steaming east, but shortly after the destroyer SHIGURE spotted them. On hearing that contact with the enemy had been made, Nishimura ordered his ships to turn towards the PT Boats and to turn on their searchlights, making themselves visible to the PT Boats, who were moving at 40 knots when the SHIGURE, FUSO, and YAMASHIRO opened fire, forcing the PT Boats off their attack runs and causing damage to two PT Boats as the three Japanese ships resumed their course.

Contact reports from the PT Boats took their time to reach RADM Oldendorf, and at 0026hrs on 25 October he got their report confirming the information first received by Seventh Fleet earlier in the day of a possible Japanese naval incursion south of Leyte.

At 0030hrs Nishimura radioed VADM Shima and VADM Kurita and informed them that he was “advancing as scheduled while destroying enemy torpedo boats.” As SHIGURE, FUSO, and YAMASHIRO continued east, Nishimura watched as each PT Boat group attacked with torpedos, only to be spotted in the searchlights and be driven off while deploying a smoke screen to hid behind. The three ships had no damage, yet the fire control radars on the ships could not pick up the PT Boats, the radar was getting interference with reflections of the islands and coastline around the strait. At 0040 Nishimura’s ships rendezvous with MOGAMI, MICHISHO, ASAGUMO and YAMAGUMO and by 0100hrs they sailed eastwards as a fleet. The PT Boats conducted their last attacks during this time, with PT-493 damaged by gunfire and driven onto Panson Island where later that morning she sank. By 0215 the PT Boats were behind them, and ‘C’ Force continued onwards, with Nishimura ordering his ships shortly after into battle formation.

Meanwhile Vice Admiral Shima’s ‘Second Striking Force’ was nearing Surigao Strait. With his flag flying on the heavy cruiser NACHI, Shima knew that Nishimura’s ships were already in the strait. But there was no active co-ordination between the ‘Second Striking Force’ and ‘C’ Force, so both Japanese fleets headed toward battle not knowing what the other was doing.

Waiting for Nishimura’s ships deeper in the strait was the next hurdle. DESRON 54 under the command of Captain Jesse Coward. Coward’s plan of attack was to hit the Japanese from both sides in a torpedo attack by his five destroyers, as they only had five inch guns and these would be ineffective against heavy ships. At 0206hrs Captain Coward ordered the ships of DESRON 54 to ‘General Quarters’ and their the crews waited until 0240 when one of the three destroyers on the eastern side of the strait, USS McGOWAN (DD-678) made radar contact with Nishimura’s ships. By 0245 the radar picture showed a line of ships fifteen miles (24 Kilometres) away and closing.

Nishimura’s ships meanwhile had finished manoeuvres to bring them into battle formation, the destroyers MICHISHO, SHIGURE, ASAGUMO and YAMAGUMO leading YAMASHIRO, FUSO, and MOGAMI in ‘Line ahead’ formation at 1000 metres between them. At 0256hrs lookouts from the SHIGURE spotted three destroyers 4.3 miles (6.9 kilometres) ahead of them. YAMASHIRO turned her searchlight towards them but the battleship was out of range.

With a speed of 45 knots between them, ‘C’ Force and DESRON 54 closed the distance. Shortly after the destroyers on the western side of the strait, who had been steaming close to Leyte’s shoreline in the hope of avoiding Japanese radar, picked up the Japanese on their radar. Now the picture became clearer as both the western destroyers and the Japanese were steaming directly at each other. Captain Coward ordered them to turn to the southeast at 0257, placing ‘C’ Force across the western destroyers starboard bow. A minute later lookouts onboard USS MELVIN (DD-680) sighted the Japanese destroyers. Coward ordered DESRON 54 to lay a smoke screen, increase speed to 30 knots, and for his destroyers to “Fire when ready”.

‘C’ Force and DESRON 54 engaged at 0300 when the destroyers McGOWAN, and MELVIN began launching 27 torpedos between them at ‘C’ Force. As McGOWAN, and MELVIN began to withdraw they were fired on by the YAMAGUMO, MICHISHO, SHIGURE, ASAGUMO, as well as the YAMASHIRO. Both McGOWAN, and MELVIN put on speed as the Japanese salvos straddled both destroyers before they got out of range. As they left explosions filled the night as the MELVIN’s torpedo strike hit the battleship FUSO, causing major damage and forcing the battleship to first slow down, then move out of formation. Nishimura continued on, not realising that FUSO was no longer with them. The rest of Nishimura’s ships continued on, trying to hit the retreating destroyers but to no avail.

At 0308hrs, the same time as the hit on FUSO, two destroyers had managed to get close to ‘C’ Force and had begun their attack runs on the remaining ships. USS McDERMUT (DD-677) and USS MONSSEN (DD-798) opened fire with torpedos at 0310hrs. Unlike the previous attack, Nishimura ordered two 90-degree turns hoping this would avoid the torpedos, yet it did the opposite. At 0320hrs torpedos from McDERMUT severely damaging MICHISHO and sinking YAMAGUMO, while another destroyed ASAGUMO’S bow, leaving the destroyer to make her own way out of the strait. One of MONSSEN’S torpedos hit YAMASHIRO, but the battleship suffered no major damage. MONSSEN and McDERMUT withdrew as YAMASHIRO and the remaining three Japanese ships steamed passed the doomed MICHISHO and ASAGUMO.

As the Japanese continued through the strait three battle lines were formed at the eastern entrance of Surigao Strait. The first line was commanded by RADM Berkey and consisted of the cruisers PHOENIX, SHROPSHIRE and BOISE. 6 miles (9.6 kilometres) east of Berkey was RADM Oldendorf with the cruisers LOUISVILLE, PORTLAND, COLOMBIA, MINNEAPOLIS, and DENVER. Four miles (6.4 kilometres) behind and in the gap made by Oldendorf and Berkey’s cruisers was RADM Weyler’s battle line with MISSISSIPPI, PENNSYLVANIA, MARYLAND, TENNESSEE, CALIFORNIA, and WEST VIRGINIA. As reports of the battle continued, TENNESSEE, CALIFORNIA, and WEST VIRGINIA, which were equipped with the latest fire control radars, began to detect the remains of ‘C’ Force and by 0323 at a range of 33 000 yards (30.1 kilometres). From MISSISSIPPI, RADM Weyler changed the battle plan and ordered his battleships to fire when the enemy was within 26 000 yards (27.7 kilometres) with armour piercing shells.

At 0323hrs, as the last of DESRON 54’s destroyers withdrew, destroyers from DESRON 24 began their attack. With the explosion of YAMAGUMO lighting up the area, Commander Buchanan led his ship ARUNTA and the destroyers USS KILLEN (DD-593) and USS BEALE (DD-471) through a heavy barrage of fire. ARUNTA launched four torpedos at SHIGURE from a range of 6500 yards (5943 metres) but all of them missed the destroyer. BEALE fired five torpedos at YAMASHIRO and missed, while KILLEN also fired five torpedos at YAMASHIRO at 8700 yards (7955 metres), but one hit the battleship, slowing her to a speed of 5 knots for a short time before regaining her pace.

The rest of DESRON 24, USS BACHE (DD-470), USS DALY (DD-519) and USS HUTCHINS (DD-476) made unsuccessful torpedo attacks from ranges up to 10 500 yards (9600 metres). HUTCHINS was the first destroyer to be fitted out with a Combat Information Centre (CIC) and this was the first time it had been used in battle conditions. As the battle raged around them HUTCHINS Combat Information Centre informed the rest of DESRON 24 what was happening while the destroyer’s fire control improved with the new fire control date the CIC provided.

Nishimura radioed VADM Shima and VADM Kurita at 0330hrs: “Urgent battle report number 2. Enemy torpedo boats and destroyers present on both sides of northern entrance to Surigao Strait. Two of our destroyers torpedoed and drifting. YAMASHIRO sustained one torpedo hit but no impediment to battle cruising.” ‘C’ force was now down to a damaged battleship YAMASHIRO, the cruiser MOGAMI and the destroyer SHIGURE. In true Japanese fashion, the three ships continued eastward towards the heavy guns waiting at the eastern end of the strait.

For RADM Oldendorf the losses so far were 1 PT Boat damaged against the enemy total of one battleship and two destroyers sunk, with one destroyer heavily damaged and one lightly damaged battleship. At 0335 as DESRON 24 was pressing its attack, Oldendorf ordered DESRON 56 into the fray.

At 0340 HUTCHINS, DALY and BACHE headed for and opened fire with their guns on the crippled MICHISHO and ASAGUMO. On the western horizon, three explosions marked the beginning of the end for the battleship FUSO, after MELVIN’s torpedo strike, her crew fought to contain the damage but the fires onboard reached the ammunition magazines and FUSO exploded, breaking her in half.

Believing that his mission was completed, RADM Berkey ordered DESRON 24 to “Knock it off” and withdraw at 0349hrs. As the orders were received HUTCHINS fired a salvo of five torpedos at the barely moving ASAGUMO, who managed to get out of the way of the torpedos, all five hit the drifting MICHISHO which promptly blew up and sank quickly. BACHE, DALY and HUTCHINS then withdrew.

At 0351, when YAMASHIRO, MOGAMI and SHIGURE were 15 600 yards (14.2 kilometres) from Oldendorf and Berkey’s cruiser, Oldendorf ordered both cruiser battle lines to open fire on the three Japanese ships. RADM Oldendorf’s is quoted in his after action report; “Every ship in the flank forces and the battle line opened up at once, and there was a semi-circle of fire which landed squarely on one point, which was the leading battleship. The semi-circle of fire so confused the Japanese that they did not know what target to shoot at.” Over the next twenty minutes Oldendorf’s ships and men, including many Pearl Harbor veterans, gained their revenge, 3000 heavy projectiles, including 14 and 16-inch shells, slamming into and around the three Japanese ships.

For Nishimura, after the PT Boats and the destroyer attacks, there was nothing more he could do. One moment in front of him there was nothing on the horizon, either visually or on the fire control radar which by now was affected by multiple returns reflected off the land on either side of the strait to be effective, the next moment the horizon lit up as Oldendorf’s heavy ships began their attack with full broadsides. That was at 0352hrs, and Nishimura ordered FUSO to make best speed, not realising that FUSO had just blown up several miles behind him. Nishimura’s final order to his battered fleet was; “You are to proceed to attack all ships.”

YAMASHIRO by this time was at 12 knots and engaging targets visually as the battleship became the first target of the cruisers. DENVER opened fire, followed by PORTLAND, COLOMBIA, LOUISVILLE, and MINNEAPOLIS.

The battleships were now passing ahead of the enemy column in the classic crossing the "T” manoeuvre. WEST VIRGINIA, with the latest Mk 8 fire control radars, opened fire at 0353hrs on YAMASHIRO, firing ninety three 16 inch before stopping. Shortly after the first salvo reached the YAMASHIRO, killing Vice Admiral Nishimura. The cruisers PHOENIX, and BOISE then joined in, targeting YAMASHIRO, with RADM Berkey informing BOISE to slow her rate of fire to conserve ammunition.

At 0355 TENNESSEE and CALIFORNIA opened fire, the two battleships firing six round salvos from their main guns, one hundred thirty two 14-inch shells were expended between them before they too stopped firing. The three remaining battleships, MISSISSIPPI, MARYLAND, and PENNSYLVANIA, with older fire control radars, were having trouble getting range.

The nine destroyers of DESRON 56 entered the battle. Between 0354 and 0359hrs six destroyers launched over twenty torpedos at ranges up to 8000 yards (7315 metres) without success then withdrew under fire.

SHROPSHIRE was having trouble with her fire control system, and as she, along with PHOENIX, and BOISE conducted a formation turn towards the west SHROPSHIRE finally opened fire with her 8-inch guns at 0356hrs. SHROPSHIRE’S Commanding Officer, Captain Nicholls in his after action report stated “A very high rate of fire was attained in rapid salvoes; as many as eight broadsides in two minutes being fired.”

For the DENVER another target came into view, and she shifted fire to SHIGURE at 0358hrs, and continued to fire. By now the range had decreased between Oldendorf’s heavy units and the YAMASHIRO, MOGAMI and SHIGURE, and as the fire from Oldendorf’s ships increased in accuracy the three ships to the southwest as they began to withdraw. YAMASHIRO and MOGAMI had suffered moderate damage while concentrating their fire on the closest US cruisers, while remarkably the SHIGURE had only received one hit from a dud 8-inch shell.

At 0359hrs the battleship MARYLAND, using the WEST VIRGINIA’S fall of shot (and the large columns of water they created) engaged, firing 48 rounds. MISSISSIPPI’S fire control radar only allowed one targeted salvo against the three ships, while for the PENNSYLVANIA, her fire control radar refused to lock onto anything and was the only battleship not to fire a shot.

MOGAMI had taken heavy damage, and while the crew raced to repair damage all over the ship the MOGAMI fired torpedos at the incoming destroyers of DESRON 56. That was the last attack MOGAMI made as the cruiser PORTLAND fired a salvo of eight-inch shells at 0402hrs at MOGAMI, hitting the bridge, killing her captain, as well as hitting the engine room and bringing MOGAMI to a stop.

For the remaining three ships of DESRON 56, USS ALBERT W. GRANT (DD-649) USS NEWCOMB (DD-586) and USS RICHARD P. LEARY (DD-664) they began their attack at 0404hrs while the battleships were engaged. After the three destroyers followed the YAMASHIRO, and paralleled the battleship after she turned to the southwest. At 6200 yards (5669 metres) RICHARD P. LEARY, NEWCOMB and ALBERT W. GRANT launched thirteen torpedos at YAMASHIRO.

The ALBERT W. GRANT was then targeted by the YAMASHIRO and was fired on during her attack, scoring several hits. Eleven shells fired from an American cruiser then hit the ALBERT W. GRANT, believed to be fired from DENVER, who had mistaken the destroyer for SHIGURE. 34 sailors were killed, 94 wounded. As word of the friendly fire incident reached RADM Oldendorf at 0408hrs, he ordered all Allied ships to cease fire, to allow the destroyers to withdraw. NEWCOMB came to the aid of ALBERT W. GRANT, and together both ships sailed out of danger.
As the order to cease-fire came through the MISSISSIPPI fired a broadside at 19 700 yards (18 kilometres) at the retreating Japanese force. This became the last salvo fired in a battleship vs battleship action. As the distinguished American naval historian, RADM Samuel Eliot Morison, wrote of the battle, “In the unearthly silence that followed the roar of Oldendorf s 14" and 16" guns in Surigao Strait, one could imagine the ghosts of all great admirals, standing at attention to salute the passing of a kind of naval warfare they all understood. For in the opening minutes of 25 October 1944, the Battle Line became as obsolete as the row-galley tactics of centuries before.”

DESRON 56’s nine destroyers fired multiple torpedos during the attack, but two from NEWCOMB hit Nishimura’s flagship at 0411, stopping her dead in the water. The torpedo hit, on top of the damage inflicted by the cruisers and battleships, was too much for YAMASHIRO, which rolled over, sinking at 0419hrs.

RICHARD P. LEARY’S crew spotted torpedos in the water at 0413. These were the ones fired from MOGAMI and were passing close to the destroyer as she was heading towards the battleships.

MOGAMI and SHIGURE were not idle during Oldendorf’s cease-fire. Due to the devastating firepower they received the MOGAMI was ablaze from bow to stern while the SHIGURE was lightly damaged. The two ships turned west to escape the Allied battle lines, SHIGURE moving at 33 knots to avoid the fate of the rest of ‘C’ Force.

By 0418 hrs, RADM Weyler ordered the battleships MISSISSIPPI, MARYLAND and WEST VIRGINIA to head north and PENNSYLVANIA, TENNESSEE, and CALIFORNIA south to avoid the incoming torpedos fired by MOGAMI. By 0419 hrs Oldendorf ordered his battleships and cruisers to fire after the destroyers were clear, but the battleships were out of range of the fleeing MOGAMI and SHIGURE. By 0420hrs ‘C’ Force ceased to exist. FUSO had broken her back and was sinking. YAMASHIRO had rolled over and with sank with 1200 members of her crew. Three destroyers were either sunk or were sinking.

The ‘Second Striking Force’ was now in Surigao Strait and heading east at full speed, unaware of the fate of Nishimura’s fleet. VADM Shima found out when a torpedo fired from PT-137 just before 0300hrs missed its original target of a destroyer and hit one of his cruisers, the ABUKUMA causing moderate damage and forcing her to stop. At 0430hrs while heading east Shima’s fleet saw what they thought were three ships through heavy smoke. It was two, the two half’s of the FUSO and the wounded MOGAMI that was making its way west. At that moment the NACHI’S fire control radar showed two destroyer size contacts and, believing they were real the NACHI fired 16 torpedos at the contacts. All 16 torpedos hit an island and exploded. As this was happening the NACHI rammed the MOGAMI, causing serious damage to both ships. That was all that Shima needed, and with the MOGAMI trailing he ordered the surviving 5 destroyers of ‘Second Striking Force’ west, away from the approaching battleships and cruisers, and the breaking dawn.

But as the survivors headed west the threat changed from the heavy guns to airpower. Carrier aircraft attacked NACHI and MOGAMI four hours after their collision, the MOGAMI was sunk. The next day near Los Negros, carrier aircraft sank the ABUKUMA. NACHI fell to carrier aircraft on 5 November in Manila Bay.

But the Battle of Surigao Strait was over as dawn broke on 25 October. While units of the 7th Fleet battled for their lives against Vice Admiral Kurita’s A’ Force at Leyte Gulf, and ADM Halsey when after Osawa’s decoy force, RADM Oldendorf’s task force headed west through the strait looking for survivors, many Japanese in the water refused to be rescued by Allied warships. Apart from the friendly fire incident with the ALBERT W. GRANT, the only loss was a PT boat lost during the 0300hr attack on the ‘Second Striking Force’. Both SHROPSHIRE and ARUNTA made it through the battle unscathed with a new battle honour ‘Leyte Gulf 1944’ as part of the history of the RAN.

For the Japanese, the Battle of Surigao Strait was a total defeat, with the loss of every ship in Vice Admiral Nishimura’s ‘C’ Force except SHIGURE, and the failure to attack the invasion fleet at Leyte Gulf. The Japanese losses at Surigao Strait, along with the Japanese defeats at Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Samar Island and the Battle of Cape Engano, was the last time the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted fleet size operations.

After the Battle of Leyte Gulf, there were many questions. Why did ADM Halsey take the whole of the 3rd Fleet, including RADM Lee’s battleships, to destroy aircraft carriers that were essentially non-operational due to lack of aircraft while leaving the invasion fleet wide open? Why did ADM Kurita turn his ships around when he had 7th Fleet at his mercy? How could crews on small destroyer escorts show courage and fury in attacking Japanese battleships armed with guns ranging from 12 to 18-inches and manage to turn the battleships away from the lightly armoured escort carriers?

No questions were asked when it came to RADM Oldendorf and his plans and actions at Surigao Strait. The destruction of ‘C’ Force by Oldendorf and his ships were textbook manoeuvres of the ages, from ‘Line Ahead’ to ‘Crossing the ‘T’’, but it was the last time battleships would make them. From now on the new Queen of the Seas would be the aircraft carrier.

After Surigao Strait, the use of battleships as a front line warship would disappear. By the 1950’s they would be relegated to shore bombardment and at the end of the decade no country had a battleship in service. The use battleships would be seen again with the recommissioning of the IOWA class battleship USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62) and her deployment during the Vietnam War and of NEW JERSEY and her sister ships in the 1980’s, with USS MISSOURI (BB-63) and USS WISCONSIN (BB-64) seeing combat during Operation Desert Storm, not only on the shore bombardment role, but as missile platforms for the Tomahawk cruise missile.

Surigao Strait was a defining moment in naval warfare. The Falklands War of 1982 showed the horror of air strikes or missiles against the modern warship. Yet during Surigao Strait the historic true horror of heavy calibre gun duels in naval warfare was seen, possibly for the last time, the damage done to the YAMASHIRO and MOGAMI by Jesse Oldendorf’s battle line of 14 and 16-inch guns was as devastating as the close quarters action of Nelson’s fleet against the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, and just as decisive as the Japanese victory against the Russians at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.

The Battle of Surigao Strait was the final gasp of another time. It is fitting that the last gunfight in which battleships would engage each other occurred as part of a classic surface-to-surface action was during the largest naval battle the world has ever seen. Fitting too that these magnificent vessels of war, well as the history of their battles, can be seen not just as dive wrecks, but also as part of several museum worldwide.
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Old 23-10-2008, 23:00
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

This has to be the definitive description of the famous battle. It was a pleasure to read it.

I guess this battle is the last great naval battle in history. I can't see another of this size ever happening.

It's worthwhile comparing its effect on the war compared to Midway. I would lean to Midway being more significant.

And Enterprise was badly damaged. (Deserves a vote!!)

Well done Ian! I've given it 5 stars.
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Old 23-10-2008, 23:15
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

Ian, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I know how long it takes to research the info. Well done on an excellent job
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Old 23-10-2008, 23:47
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

As has been said an excellent account of the last ever Battleship versus Battleship big gun-fight. Impressively researched Ian.
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Old 24-10-2008, 04:25
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

G'Day

Thank you all for you kind words.

Midway was THE defining naval battle of the Pacific War, no doubt about that, followed by Coral Sea, Guadacanal, and the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. These four battles either held, or destroyed the Japanese ability to project naval power over their conquests. Leyte was mopping up the remains of the IJN, if you really look at it.

One of my all time favourite books is on the Battle of Midway. Walter Lord's 'Incredible Victory" (Two of his other books I love as well, 'Tora Tora Tora' and "A Night To Remember' I have the latter as a first edition hardcover, a prized possession.)

But the Battle of Surigao Strait was the end of an era, there will never be a battleship vs battleship engagement again, unless its in a video game or on the big screen in a movie. I can live with that!
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Old 27-10-2008, 01:49
John Odom John Odom is offline
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

A truly excellent account of a great battle. Thanks for posting this. Before joining this group, I had not tealized the contributions of the RN and RAN in the war in the Pacific.

There is an account by na eyewittness here. Not as much detail, but interesting.

http://www.eugeneleeslover.com/AMMUN...N-EXPRESS.html
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Old 27-10-2008, 18:59
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

G'Day All

Glad you enjoyed it John.

The RAN had a busy war in both theatres of war. The bulk of the RN's effort before 1943, understandably, was Europe, before greater numbers of HMS were in action in the Pacific.
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Old 14-01-2009, 16:24
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

West Virginia opened fire at a gun range of 22,800 yards and scored with her first salvo. To the best of my knowledge, that's a record for a first-salvo hit.
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Old 15-01-2009, 07:12
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

As stated in another thread, a new book soon out – the publishers now state mid-March – entitled “Battle of Surigao Strait’ by Anthony Tully, will shed ‘new’ light on the battle of Surigao Strait, as did the previous work on Midway that he coauthored (with Jonathan Parshall) entitled Shattered Sword, which today is widely considered as the definitive book on the Midway action. (And having a personal interest in that Surigao action as it were, given some colleagues and I were once were planing to dive one of the Jap BB's in Surigao Strait, I can’t wait to get my hands on Tony’s new book.)

As I said, new info (especially from the Japanese side) will come to light in this book and for those interested in naval history I would think it would be a ‘must have’.

Please note: This statement is not meant to cast doubt or be derogatory in any way, etc towards Ian's above narrative.

Kevin

Editorial Review
"Aims to sort out the discrepancies that have crept in over time to standard accounts of the battle ... a confused and complex night action. Of special interest is Tully's exploitation of fresh source materials." Malcolm Muir, Jr., author of Black Shoes and Blue Water: Surface Warfare in the United States Navy, 1945-1975

Product Description
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.
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Old 17-02-2009, 05:02
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

G'Day All

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tiornu View Post
West Virginia opened fire at a gun range of 22,800 yards and scored with her first salvo. To the best of my knowledge, that's a record for a first-salvo hit.
Great shot!

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Old 19-02-2009, 04:33
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

Such good reading. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Thank you!

It brings a touch of sadness also to me. Those grand old ladies from Pearl Harbor. All there when the war started.

Wee Vee, Tennessee, California, Maryland, Pennsylvania.

Battle histories for each worthy of any navy at any time in history.

And yet, none could be saved as a memorial. And all so richly deserved it.

Again, thanks for a great write up.
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Old 02-03-2009, 15:53
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

G'Day All
Quote:
Originally Posted by Norsky View Post
Such good reading. I thoroughly enjoyed this.
Thank you!
It brings a touch of sadness also to me. Those grand old ladies from Pearl Harbor. All there when the war started.
Wee Vee, Tennessee, California, Maryland, Pennsylvania.
Battle histories for each worthy of any navy at any time in history.
And yet, none could be saved as a memorial. And all so richly deserved it.
Again, thanks for a great write up.
Glad you enjoyed it Norsky.
Yes, it would have been great to preserve at least one of these battleships, my vote would have been the Tennessee, who had a greater role in the battle than the rest of the battleships.
But then, the USN failed to preserved the USS Enterprise (CV-6), a ship that fought in all but one major battle in the Pacific, earned 20 Battle Stars. That was a national tragedy!

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Old 20-08-2009, 21:47
John Odom John Odom is offline
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

This is a corrected link to a GREAT account of the battle:

http://www.eugeneleeslover.com/AMMUN...N-EXPRESS.html

This is a correction to my earlier post in which the link was garbled.
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Old 07-10-2009, 01:40
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

Quote:
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West Virginia opened fire at a gun range of 22,800 yards and scored with her first salvo. To the best of my knowledge, that's a record for a first-salvo hit.
No doubt a record. You Brits hold the record for the longest hitting shot though...Warspite's hit at 15 miles on an Italian battleship whose name eludes me at the moment...Not bad for a WWI retread!! (West Virginia was younger than Warspite by a decade or so...)

Sincerely,
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Old 07-10-2009, 09:33
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

Don..........the Italian Battleship was GUILIO CESARE.
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Old 08-10-2009, 03:29
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Don..........the Italian Battleship was GUILIO CESARE.
Yep -- Too lazy to get out of my chair and look it up -- and my bookshelves are right behind me. I live in Hawaii. Polynesian paralysis has set in! Thanks for the post!

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Old 08-10-2009, 07:50
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

Know what you mean Don.......I've enough books to fill a small library, but I'll bet you any money you like, that the one question I want answered, is the one answer I can't find in any book!
Btw........read somewhere in one of above books, that the German Battle-Cruiser SCHARNHORST claimed to have scored a hit on GLORIOUS at the same range that WARSPITE achieved. If true, even more remarkable as she was armed with 11"" guns, not 15".
Largest guns I had any dealings with were 6".......they were big enough when standing on Gun Direction Platform, just below 6" Director, when we were doing surface shoot.........for my pains I was communications number to Starboard 4" guns.
Later I specialised as Fire Control........much less noisy!!
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Old 06-01-2010, 20:35
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

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No doubt a record. You Brits hold the record for the longest hitting shot though...Warspite's hit at 15 miles on an Italian battleship whose name eludes me at the moment.

I always thought the Iron Duke's hit on the Scharnhorst was pretty good. How does that compare to the Warspite's? Or is it disqualified because it was radar controlled and Warspite's was not?

Forgive me if I'm talking rubbish, but I am working from this sieve I laughingly call a memory.
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Old 09-01-2010, 21:22
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

Sorry, I was talking rubbish. It should have been the "Duke of York" of course.
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Old 11-01-2010, 19:46
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

While the Duke of York hit the Scharnhorst at 20,500 yards (about 11.5 miles) radar assisted, the Warspite hit the Guilio Cesare from 26,000 yards (about 15 miles) without benefit of radar.

No contest really, Warspite the clear winner. I'd been arguing with myself.
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Old 11-01-2010, 20:19
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Quote:
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Btw........read somewhere in one of above books, that the German Battle-Cruiser SCHARNHORST claimed to have scored a hit on GLORIOUS at the same range that WARSPITE achieved. If true, even more remarkable as she was armed with 11" guns, not 15".
True, Scharnhorst hit the Glorious from 26,450 yards with radar controlled 11" guns.
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Old 05-04-2010, 17:59
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Default Re: THE LAST GUNFIGHT, The Battle of Surigao Strait 1944

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Know what you mean Don.......I've enough books to fill a small library, but I'll bet you any money you like, that the one question I want answered, is the one answer I can't find in any book!
Btw........read somewhere in one of above books, that the German Battle-Cruiser SCHARNHORST claimed to have scored a hit on GLORIOUS at the same range that WARSPITE achieved.
The book is, "Operation Juno" by John Asmussen
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Old 16-07-2014, 09:18
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POSTSCRIPT

In no battle in the entire war did the USN make an almost clean sweep of the enemy's might- as in the Battle of Surigao Strait-or at so little cost - 39 dead and 114 wounded; and most of these from the ill fated destroyer Albert W Grant. In no other battle, except perhaps Halsey's off Cape Engano that same day,did the USN enjoy such overwhelming power.The tactical dispositions and battle plan of Adm. Oldendorf were well nigh perfect,using his great force to the best possible advantage.For the IJN, the only alleviating circumstances were the stubborn defiance of the Yamashiro and Mogami before their demise and the hasty decision of VADM Shima, following his flagship's collision with Mogami- to withdraw with all his ships intact, to perhaps "fight another day"-he did not.

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Old 13-08-2014, 01:44
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Default Re: The Battle of Surigao Strait: 1944 - The Last Gunfight

I always enjoyed the (fictional) account of RADMR Victor Henry in War And Remembrance and his frustration as he dashed across miles of ocean with Halsey in pursuit of Ozawa's decoy force. I can imagine there were many genuine old gunners who were just as frustrated on that great day!
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