|Battle of Samar|
|Part of World War II, Pacific War|
The escort carrier USS Gambier Bay, burning from earlier gunfire damage, is bracketed by a salvo from a Japanese cruiser (faintly visible in the background, center-right) shortly before sinking during the Battle off Samar.
|United States||Empire of Japan|
|Clifton Sprague||Takeo Kurita|
6 escort aircraft carriers,
4 destroyer escorts,
400 aircraft from Taffy 1, 2, 3
|Japanese Center Force
6 heavy cruisers,
2 light cruisers,
30 aircraft (in kamikaze attack)
|Casualties and losses|
2 escort carriers
1 destroyer escort sunk
|3 heavy cruisers sunk
3 heavy cruisers damaged
1 destroyer sunk
1 destroyer damaged
The Battle off Samar was the centre most action of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which was one of the largest naval battles in history. 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. It took place in the Philippine Sea off Samar Island, in the Philippines on October 25, 1944.
|“||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||”|
— Samuel Eliot Morison History of United States Naval Operations in World War II Volume XII, Leyte
Admiral William Halsey, Jr. was lured into taking his powerful 3rd Fleet after a decoy fleet. Thus only three escort carrier groups of the 7th Fleet remained in the area. A powerful Japanese surface force of battleships and cruisers that were thought to have been defeated and in retreat instead turned around unobserved and stumbled upon the northernmost of the three groups, Task Unit 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3"). Taffy 3's destroyers and destroyer escorts desperately attacked with 5 in (127 mm) guns and torpedoes, while carrier aircraft dropped bombs and depth charges. While US vessels leading the counter-attack suffered heavy personnel losses, they sank or disabled three Japanese cruisers and caused enough confusion to convince the Japanese commander, Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, to regroup and ultimately withdraw, rather than advancing to sink troop and supply ships at Leyte Gulf.
The overall Japanese strategy at Leyte Gulf, a plan known as Shō-Go 1, called for Vice-Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa's fleet, known as Northern Force, to lure the American 3rd Fleet away from the Allied landings on Leyte, using an apparently vulnerable force of carriers. The landing forces, stripped of air cover, would then be attacked from the west and south by Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's Center Force, which would sortie from Brunei, and Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura's Southern Force. Kurita's force consisted of five battleships, including Yamato and Musashi, the largest battleships ever built, escorted by cruisers and destroyers. Nishimura's flotilla included two battleships and would be followed by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima with three cruisers.
In the lead-up to the battle, on the night of October 23, two American submarines, Dace and Darter, detected Center Force entering the Palawan Passage. After alerting Halsey, the submarines torpedoed and sank two cruisers, while crippling a third and forcing it to withdraw. One of the cruisers lost was Admiral Kurita's flagship, but he was rescued and transferred his flag to Yamato.
Subsequently, the carriers of the Third Fleet launched a series of air strikes against Kurita's forces in the Sibuyan Sea, damaging several vessels and sinking Musashi and initially forcing Kurita to retreat. One wave of aircraft from the Third Fleet also struck Nishimura's Southern Force, causing minor damage. At the same time, Vice-Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi launched strikes from airfields on Luzon against Halsey's forces, with one bomber scoring a hit on the US light carrier Princeton that ignited explosions that caused her to be scuttled.
That same night, Nishimura's Southern Force of two battleships, a heavy cruiser, and four destroyers was to approach from the south and coordinate with Kurita's force. The second element of the Southern Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima and consisting of three cruisers and seven destroyers, lagged behind Nishimura by 40 mi (64 km). In the Battle of Surigao Strait, Nishimura's ships entered a deadly trap. Outmatched by the Seventh Fleet Support Force, they were decimated, running a gauntlet of torpedoes from 28 PT boats and 28 destroyers before coming under accurate radar-directed gunfire from six old battleships and eight cruisers. Afterward, as Shima's force encountered what was left of Nishimura's ships, it too came under attack, but managed to withdraw. Of Nishimura's force, only one destroyer survived.
In the Battle off Cape Engaño, Ozawa's Northern Force consisted of one fleet carrier and three light carriers fielding a total of 108 airplanes (the normal complement of a single large fleet carrier), two old battleships, three light cruisers and nine destroyers. Admiral Halsey was convinced that the Northern Force was the main threat, and that the Center Force had been beaten into a retreat in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea. Halsey took three groups of Task Force 38 (TF 38), overwhelmingly stronger than the Ozawa's Northern Force, with five fleet carriers and five light fleet carriers with more than 600 aircraft between them, six fast battleships, eight cruisers, and over 40 destroyers. Halsey easily dispatched what was later revealed to be a decoy of no serious threat.
As a result of Halsey's decision, the door was left open to Kurita. When Kurita initially withdrew, the Americans assumed that the Japanese force was retreating from the battle. However, Kurita turned around and made his way through the San Bernardino Strait under cover of darkness. Only light forces equipped to attack ground troops and submarines stood in the path of battleships and cruisers intent on destroying the American landing forces.
In a battle that author James D. Hornfischer would call "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors", the very powerful force of Japanese battleships, cruisers, and destroyers commanded by Admiral Kurita engaged a US task unit of six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts. The Americans were taken entirely by surprise because the Seventh Fleet had firmly believed that its northern flank was being protected by Admiral Halsey's immensely powerful 3rd Fleet, which consisted of eight fleet carriers and six fast battleships.
The brunt of the Japanese attack fell on the northernmost of the escort carrier units, Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 (usually referred to by its radio call-sign "Taffy 3"). Ill-equipped to fight large-gunned warships, Taffy 3's escort carriers attempted to escape from the Japanese force, while its destroyers, destroyer escorts, and aircraft made sustained attacks on Kurita's ships. The destroyers and destroyer escorts only had torpedoes and up to 5 in (127 mm) guns, nonetheless they had radar-assisted gun directors; the Japanese had heavy caliber weapons up to 18.1 in (460 mm) but relied upon less accurate optical rangefinders. The US also had large numbers of aircraft available which the Japanese lacked. The ordnance for the escort carriers' aircraft consisted mostly of high-explosive bombs used in ground support missions, and depth charges used in anti-submarine work, rather than the armor-piercing bombs and torpedoes which would been more effective against heavily armored warships. Nevertheless, even when they were out of ammunition, the American aircraft continued to harass the enemy ships, making repeated mock attacks, which distracted them and disrupted their formations.
In all, two US destroyers, a destroyer escort, and an escort carrier were sunk by Japanese gunfire, and another US escort carrier was hit and sunk by a kamikaze aircraft during the battle. Kurita's battleships were driven away from the engagement by torpedo attacks from American destroyers; they were unable to regroup in the chaos, while three cruisers were lost after attacks from US destroyers and aircraft, with several other cruisers damaged. Due to the ferocity of the defense, Kurita was convinced that he was facing a far superior force and withdrew from the battle, ending the threat to the troop transports and supply ships.
The battle was one of the last major naval engagements between US and Japanese surface forces in World War II. After this, the Philippines was recaptured by the US which cut the Japanese off from their oil-producing colonies in Southeast Asia, while her major shipyards and repair facilities were in Japan. The Imperial Japanese Navy never again sailed to battle in such force; most ships returned to bases in Japan to remain largely inactive for the rest of the war.
This battle is often depicted as one of the major "what-ifs" in World War II. If Kurita had continued the attack instead of withdrawing, it is possible that the US could have suffered heavy losses in troops and supplies, which would have delayed their capture of the Philippines. Had Kurita's and Halsey's forces met, that would have been the long awaited "decisive battle" where both sides would have finally been able to pit their largest battleships against each other. However, Halsey's 3rd Fleet outnumbered Kurita's in ships of all types, particularly six American battleships versus only four for the Japanese. Only Yamato had heavier armor and larger guns than the US battleships; the other three Japanese battleships were of World War I design and generally inferior in firepower and protection, whereas their US counterparts were all World War II-era fast battleships and sported the latest fire control radars.
The Japanese Center Force now consisted of the battleships Yamato, Nagato, Kongō, and Haruna; heavy cruisers Chōkai, Haguro, Kumano, Suzuya, Chikuma, Tone; light cruisers Yahagi, and Noshiro; and 11 Kagerō- and Asashio- class destroyers. The battleships and cruisers were fully armored against 5 in (127 mm) shells. They together had dozens of large caliber guns as large as Yamato's 18.1 in (460 mm) rifles which could reach out to 25 mi (40 km). Surface gunnery was controlled by optical sighting which fed computer-assisted fire control systems, though they were less sophisticated than the radar-controlled systems on US destroyers.
Each of the three task units of the Seventh Fleet's Task Group 77.4 had six small Casablanca-class or larger Sangamon-class escort carriers. If battleships and cruisers were full and midsize combat ships, the seven lightly armed and unarmored destroyers and smaller destroyer escorts were compact and subcompact by comparison. The destroyers had five 5 in (127 mm) guns, the destroyer escorts mounted two, and the carriers only a single 5 in (127 mm) gun. Lacking any ships with any larger guns that could reach beyond 10 mi (16 km), it appeared a hopeless mismatch against Japanese gunnery which emphasized long range and large guns. But the battle would reveal that their partly automated fire control was largely ineffective against maneuvering ships at long range (though some ships such as Kongō did consistently hit their targets when they got closer). The Japanese did not actually land hits on the carriers until they had closed to within firing range of the carriers themselves. By contrast, even the small US destroyers all had the Mark 37 Gun Fire Control System which would automatically aim accurate fire against surface and air targets while maneuvering throughout the battle. The lack of a comparable system in Japanese ships also contributed to comments from US pilots of the ineffectiveness of enemy anti-aircraft fire.
Rear Admiral Thomas Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.1 ("Taffy 1") consisted of the escort carriers Sangamon, Suwannee, Santee, and Petrof Bay. (The remaining two escort carriers from Taffy 1, Chenango and Saginaw Bay, had departed for Morotai, Indonesia on October 24, carrying "dud" aircraft from other carriers for transfer ashore. They returned with replacement aircraft after the battle.)
Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3") consisted of Fanshaw Bay, St. Lo, White Plains, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay, and Gambier Bay. Screening for Taffy 3 were the destroyers Hoel, Heermann and Johnston, and destroyer escorts Dennis, John C. Butler, Raymond, and Samuel B. Roberts.
Though each escort carrier was small, and carried an average of about 28 planes, this gave the three "Taffies" a combined total of approximately 450 aircraft, equivalent to several large fleet carriers. However, while their top speed of 17.5 kn (20.1 mph; 32.4 km/h) was adequate for cargo convoys or ground support, they were too slow to keep up with or escape a fast task force. As these were intended for attack against ground forces or defense against enemy aircraft and submarines, the first flights from Taffy 3 were largely armed only with machine guns, depth charges and high explosive and anti-personnel bombs, effective against troops, submarines or destroyers, but not against armored battleships or cruisers. Later sorties from Taffy 2 carriers had sufficient time to be armed with more deadly weapons against the opposing fleet after surface actions and aerial harassment impeded shelling of the carriers.
Kurita's force passed through San Bernardino Strait at 0300 on October 25, 1944 and steamed southwards along the coast of Samar, hoping that Halsey had taken the bait and moved most of his fleet away. This hope proved to have been amply fulfilled – Halsey had taken all of his available strength north. However, Kurita did not receive the transmission from the Northern Force that Halsey had been lured away.
Steaming about 60 mi (97 km) east of Samar before dawn October 25, St. Lo launched a four-plane anti-submarine patrol while the remaining carriers of Taffy 3 prepared for the day’s initial air strikes against the landing beaches. At 0637, Ensign William C. Brooks, piloting a Grumman Avenger from St. Lo, sighted a number of ships expected to be from Halsey's Third Fleet, but they appeared to be Japanese. When he was notified, Sprague was incredulous and demanded positive identification. Flying in for an even closer look, Brooks reported, "I can see pagoda masts. I see the biggest meatball flag on the biggest battleship I ever saw!" Yamato alone displaced as much as all units of Taffy 3 combined. They had spotted the largest of the three attacking Japanese forces, comprising four battleships, six heavy and light cruisers, and 10–12 destroyers. Approaching from the west northwest only 17 mi (27 km) away, they were already well within gun and visual range of the closest task group Taffy 3. Armed against submarines, the fliers nevertheless initiated the first attack of the battle, dropping depth charges which bounced off the bow of a cruiser.
Taffy 3’s lookouts spotted the antiaircraft fire to the north. The Japanese came upon Taffy 3 at 0645, having achieved complete tactical surprise. At about the same time others in Taffy 3 had picked up targets from surface radar and Japanese radio traffic. At 0659, Yamato opened fire at a range of 20 mi (32 km) and the Americans were soon astonished to see the spectacle of colorful geysers of the first volleys of shellfire finding the range. Each ship used a different color of dye marker so they could spot their own shells. Not finding the silhouettes of the tiny escort carriers in his identification manuals, Kurita mistook them for larger fleet carriers and assumed that he had a task group of the 3rd Fleet under his guns. His first priority was to eliminate the carrier threat, ordering a "General Attack". Rather than a carefully orchestrated effort, each division in his task force was to attack separately. The Japanese had just changed to a circular antiaircraft formation, and the order caused some confusion, allowing Sprague to lead the Japanese into a tail chase, which forced the Japanese to use only their forward guns, while exposing them to his own rear-firing weapons.
Immediately, Sprague directed his carriers to turn to launch their aircraft and then withdraw towards a squall to the east, hoping that bad visibility would reduce the accuracy of Japanese gunfire. He ordered his destroyers to generate smoke to mask the retreating carriers.
Three destroyers and four smaller destroyer escorts were tasked to protect the escort carriers from aircraft and submarines. Destroyers like Johnston were Fletcher-class destroyers. They were affectionately nicknamed "tin cans" for their lack of armor, but they were fast enough to keep up with a fast carrier task force. The destroyers had five single 5 in (127 mm) and light antiaircraft guns which were not designed to take on armored battleships or cruisers. Only their 10 Mark-15 torpedoes housed in two swiveling five-tube launchers amidships posed a serious threat to battleships. Destroyer escorts like the Samuel B. Roberts were even smaller and slower, since they were designed to protect slow freighter convoys against submarines. With two 5 in (127 mm) guns without automatic fire control, they carried only three torpedoes (even PT boats carried four), and rarely trained in coordinated torpedo attacks. Since torpedoes only had a range of about 5.5 mi (8.9 km), they were best used at night, as in daylight, an attacker would have to survive a gauntlet of shellfire which could reach out to 25 mi (40 km). In this battle, they would be thrown against a fleet led by the largest battleship in the world.
After laying down smoke to hide the carriers from Japanese gunners, they were soon sent into near-suicidal daylight torpedo runs. The ship profiles and aggressiveness caused the Japanese to think they were cruisers and full-size destroyers. Their lack of armor tended to aid clean penetration of armor piercing rounds before Japanese gunners switched to high explosive shells, which caused much more extensive damage. Their speed and agility enabled some ships to dodge shellfire completely before launching torpedoes. Effective damage control and redundancy in propulsion and power systems kept them running and fighting even after absorbing dozens of hits before sinking, although the decks would be littered with the dead and seriously wounded. Destroyers from Taffy 2 to the south also found themselves under shellfire, but as they were spotted by Gambier Bay which had signaled for their assistance, they were ordered back to protect their own carriers.
Commander Ernest E. Evans, commanding officer of the destroyer Johnston, the closest to the attackers, took the initiative. He ordered his ship to "flank speed, full left rudder," attacking on his own in what appeared to be a suicide mission.
Johnston approached the cruiser squadron flagship, the heavy cruiser Kumano, for a torpedo attack. At a range of 10 mi (16 km), Johnston opened fire, aiming for Kumano's superstructure, bridge and deck, since her 5 in (127 mm) shells would have bounced off the enemy's belt armor. One advantage the Americans had in gunnery was the use of largely the same radar-assisted Mark 37 Gun Fire Control System used on battleships. The brains of the system was the Ford Mark I Fire Control Computer which provide coordinated automatic firing solutions of her 5 in (127 mm) guns merely by pointing the gun director at the target. The Japanese were using colored marker shells to bracket the range of a target, but US destroyers and even the carriers were often able to dodge Japanese misses by weaving to avoid shells, and steering towards splashes, while inflicting accurate hits on larger Japanese ships. When Johnston closed to within torpedo range, she fired a salvo, which blew the bow off Kumano, which also took the heavy cruiser Suzuya out of the fight, as she stopped to assist.
At a range of 7 mi (11 km), the battleship Kongō sent a 14 in (356 mm) shell through Johnston's deck and engine room, cutting the destroyer's speed in half to 17 kn (20 mph; 31 km/h) and interrupting electric power to the aft gun turrets. Then three 6 in (152 mm) shells, possibly from Yamato, struck Johnston's bridge, causing numerous casualties and severing fingers from Captain Evans' left hand. The bridge was abandoned and Evans proceeded to steer the ship back towards the fleet, shouting orders from aft down to men manually operating the rudder from aft, when he noticed other destroyers starting their torpedo run.
Emboldened by Johnston's attack, Sprague gave the order "small boys attack", sending the rest of Taffy 3's destroyers and destroyer escorts on the offensive. They attacked the Japanese line, drawing fire and scattering the Japanese formations as ships turned to avoid torpedoes. Despite heavy damage, Evans turned Johnston around and reentered the fight while damage control teams restored power to two of the three aft turrets.
Two hours into the attack, Captain Evans aboard Johnston spotted a line of four Japanese destroyers led by the light cruiser Yahagi making a torpedo attack on the carriers and moved to intercept. Johnston fired and scored hits on them, pressuring them to fire their torpedoes prematurely at 10,500 yd (9,600 m) distance at 0915. The torpedoes were reaching end-of-run as they approached their target, and broached.
At 0910, a direct hit on one of Johnston's forward turrets knocked it out and set off many of the 5 in (127 mm) shells stored in the turret. Her damaged engines stopped, leaving her dead in the water. As her attackers gathered around the vulnerable ship, they concentrated fire on her rather than the fleeing carriers. Johnston was hit so many times that one survivor recalled "they couldn't patch holes fast enough to keep her afloat." Under heavy attack from the air and fire from American destroyers and destroyer escorts, the Japanese cruisers broke off and turned northward at 0920. At 0945, Evans finally gave the order to abandon ship. Johnston sank 25 minutes later with 186 of her crew. Evans abandoned ship with his crew, but was never seen again. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. As a Japanese destroyer cruised slowly by, the survivors saw the enemy standing at attention to salute.
At 0735, the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts, captained by Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland, turned and headed toward the battle, passing the damaged Johnston, which was retiring. Roberts had only two 5 in (127 mm) guns, one forward and one aft, and just three Mark-15 torpedoes, but attacked the heavy cruiser Chōkai. With smoke as cover, Roberts steamed to within 2.5 mi (4.0 km) of Chōkai, coming under fire from the latter’s two forward 8 in (203 mm) turrets.
Roberts had moved so close that the enemy couldn't depress their guns low enough to hit her; the shells passed overhead. Once she was within torpedo range, she launched her three torpedoes, apparently registering at least one hit. Roberts then fought with the Japanese ships for a further hour, firing over 600 5 in (127 mm) shells, and while maneuvering at very close range, mauling Chōkai's superstructure with her 40 mm and 20 mm anti-aircraft guns. At 0851, the Japanese landed two hits, the second of which destroyed the aft gun turret. With her remaining 5 in (127 mm) gun, Roberts set the bridge of the cruiser Chikuma afire and destroyed the No. 3 gun turret, before being pierced again by three 14 in (356 mm) shells from Kongō. With a 40 ft (12 m) hole in her side, Roberts took on water, and at 0935, the order was given to abandon ship.
Gunner's Mate Paul H. Carr was in charge of the aft 5 in (127 mm) gun mount, which fired nearly all of its 325 stored rounds in 35 minutes before a breech explosion. Carr was found dying at his station, begging for help loading the last round he was holding into the breech. He was awarded a Silver Star. A guided missile frigate was later named for him. The USS Copeland (FFG-25) and Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) guided missile frigates were also named for the ship and its captain.
The ship sank in 30 minutes with 89 of her crew. She would go down in history as "the destroyer escort that fought like a battleship".
Companion destroyer escorts Raymond, Dennis, and John C. Butler also launched torpedoes. While they missed, it helped slow the Japanese chase. Dennis was struck by a pair of cruiser shells. John C. Butler ceased fire after expending her ammo an hour into the engagement.
At 0706, when a providential rain squall helped to hide his carriers, Admiral Sprague ordered his destroyers to attack the Japanese with torpedoes. Hoel – captained by Commander Leon S. Kintberger – headed straight for the nearest enemy battleship, Kongō, then 18,000 yd (16,000 m) away. When she had closed to 14,000 yd (13,000 m), she opened fire as she continued her race toward Kongō's 14 in (356 mm) guns. A hit on her bridge knocked out all voice radio communication, but she kept her course and launched a half salvo of torpedoes at a range of 9,000 yd (8,200 m). Although the torpedoes failed to strike their target, they forced Kongō to turn sharply left and to move away from her quarry until they had run their course. Minutes later, Hoel suffered hits which knocked out three of her guns, stopped her port engine, and deprived her of her Mark-37 fire control director, FD radar, and bridge steering control. Undaunted, Hoel turned to engage the enemy column of heavy cruisers. When she had closed to within 6,000 yd (5,500 m) of the leading cruiser, Haguro, the destroyer launched a half-salvo of torpedoes which ran "hot, straight and normal." This time, she was rewarded by the sight of large columns of water which rose from her target. Although Japanese records deny that these torpedoes hit the cruiser, there is no evidence to indicate any other explanation for the geyser effect observed.
Hoel now found herself crippled and surrounded by the enemy. During the next hour, the ship rendered her final service by drawing enemy fire away from the carriers. In the process of fishtailing and chasing salvos, she peppered them with her two remaining guns. Finally at 0830, after withstanding over 40 hits from 5 to 16 inches (127 to 406 mm) guns, an 8 in (203 mm) shell stilled her remaining engine. With her engine room under water, her No. 1 magazine ablaze, and the ship listing heavily to port and settling by the stern, Kintberger ordered his crew to "prepare to abandon ship." The Japanese fire only stopped at 0855 when Hoel rolled over and sank in 8,000 yd (7,300 m) of water, after enduring 90 minutes of punishment after her first hits.
Hoel was the first of Taffy 3's ships to sink, and suffered the heaviest proportional losses. Only 86 of Hoel's complement survived; 253 officers and men died with their ship. Commander Kintberger described the courageous devotion to duty of the men of Hoel in a seaman's epitaph: "Fully cognizant of the inevitable result of engaging such vastly superior forces, these men performed their assigned duties coolly and efficiently until their ship was shot from under them."
Heermann, captained by Commander Amos T. Hathaway, was on the disengaged side of the carriers at the start of the fight, and steamed into the action at flank speed through the formation of "baby flattops". After launching their last planes, the carriers formed a rough circle as they turned toward Leyte Gulf. Smoke and intermittent rain squalls had reduced visibility to less than 100 yd (91 m), causing Heermann to back emergency full to avoid colliding with Samuel B. Roberts and later Hoel as she formed column on the screen flagship in preparation for a torpedo attack.
Heermann engaged the heavy cruiser Chikuma with her 5 in (127 mm) guns while directing a torpedo attack at Haguro. After firing two torpedoes, Heermann changed course to engage a column of four battleships that had commenced firing upon her. She trained her guns on the battleship Kongō, the column's leader, and launched three torpedoes. Then she quickly closed on the battleship Haruna, the target of her last three torpedoes, launched at 0800 from a mere 4,400 yd (4,000 m). Believing that one of the torpedoes had hit the battleship, the destroyer retired without being hit. Japanese records claim that the battleship successfully evaded all of the torpedoes, but the attack slowed down the pursuit of the American carriers. Yamato found herself bracketed between two of Heermann's torpedoes on parallel courses and for 10 minutes, was forced to head away from the action. Heermann then engaged the other Japanese battleships at such close range that they could not return fire due either to inability to sufficiently depress their guns or for fear of hitting their own ships.
Heermann sped to the starboard quarter of the carrier formation to lay more concealing smoke and then charged back into the fight a few minutes later, placing herself between the escort carriers and a column of four enemy heavy cruisers. Here she engaged Chikuma in a duel which seriously damaged both ships. A series of 8 in (203 mm) hits flooded the forward part of the US destroyer, pulling her bow down so far that her anchors were dragging in the water, while one of her guns was knocked out. The cruiser also came under heavy air attack during the engagement. Under the combined effort of Heermann's guns and the bombs, torpedoes, and strafing from carrier-based planes, Chikuma finally disengaged but sank during her withdrawal.
As Chikuma turned away, the heavy cruiser Tone exchanged fire with Heermann until the latter reached a position to resume laying smoke for the carriers. At this point, planes from Admiral Felix Stump's Taffy 2 damaged Tone so severely that she too broke off action and withdrew. Though hit, Heerman was the only destroyer from the screen to survive.
The carriers of Taffy 3 turned south and withdrew through shellfire at their top speed of 17.5 kn (20.1 mph; 32.4 km/h). The six carriers dodged in and out of rain squalls and managed to launch all available Wildcat fighters and Avenger torpedo bombers with whatever armament they were already loaded with. Some had rockets, machine guns, depth charges, or nothing at all. Very few had general purpose bombs or torpedoes. Against ground targets and subs, the obsolescent Wildcats were low cost stand-ins for the faster Hellcats and heavier Helldivers which flew from larger carriers. The pilots were ordered "to attack the Japanese task force and proceed to Tacloban airstrip, Leyte, to rearm and refuel". Many of the planes continued to make "dry runs" after expending their ammunition and ordnance to distract the enemy.
After one hour, the Japanese had closed the chase to within ten miles of the carriers. That the carriers had managed to evade destruction reinforced the Japanese belief that they were attacking fast fleet carriers. At 0800, Sprague ordered the carriers to "open fire with pea-shooters when the range is clear". The tail chase was also advantageous for the sole anti-ship armament of small carriers that was a single manually controlled stern-mounted 5 in (127 mm) as a stinger, though they were loaded with anti-aircraft shells. As anti-aircraft gunners observed helplessly, an officer cheered them by exclaiming, "just wait a little longer, boys, we’re sucking them into 40-mm range."
The ships had been battered by near-misses, but at 0805 Kalinin Bay was struck by an 8 in (203 mm) shell. During the early phase of the action, the enemy ships were firing armor-piercing (AP) shells which often carried right through or skipped off the flight decks of the unarmored escort carriers without detonating. Though CVEs were popularly known as "Combustible Vulnerable Expendable" they would ultimately prove durable in first dodging and then absorbing heavy shell fire, and in downing attacking kamikaze planes. Although Gambier Bay was sunk, fire from the CVE's stingers would be credited with hitting and contributing to the sinking of capital ships that ventured within gun range.
It was not until 0810 that Chikuma closed within 5 mi (8.0 km) to finally land hits on the flight deck of Gambier Bay, which was the most exposed. Subsequent hits and near misses as the Japanese switched to high explosive (HE) shells first reduced her speed, and Gambier Bay was soon dead in the water. Three cruisers closed to point-blank range as destroyer escorts such as Johnston were unsuccessful in trying to draw fire away from the doomed carrier. Fires raged through the riddled escort carrier. She capsized and sank at 0907 with the majority of her nearly 800 survivors rescued two days later by landing and patrol craft dispatched from Leyte Gulf. Gambier Bay would be the first and only US carrier sunk by naval gunfire in World War II. 
By 0738, the Japanese cruisers, approaching from St. Lo's port quarter, had closed to within 14,000 yd (13,000 m). St. Lo responded to their salvos with rapid fire from her single 5 in (127 mm) gun, claiming three hits on a Tone-class cruiser. For the next 1½ hours, Admiral Kurita's ships closed in on Taffy 3, with his nearest destroyers and cruisers firing from as close as 10,000 yd (9,100 m) on the port and starboard quarters of St. Lo. Throughout the running gun battle, the carriers and their escorts were laying a particularly effective smoke screen that Admiral Sprague credited with greatly degrading Japanese gunfire accuracy. Even more effective were the attacks by the destroyers and destroyer escorts at point-blank range against the Japanese destroyers and cruisers. All the while, Kurita's force was under incessant attack by aircraft from Taffy 3 and the two other American carrier units to the south. At 1047, a kamikaze attack against the surviving carriers began. Minutes later, one of Lt. Yukio Seki's Shikishima squadron crashed into St. Lo's flight deck; although the aircraft itself was stopped there, its bomb penetrated the deck, inflicting a fatal blow. The escort carrier went down stern first and 114 men were killed.
Kalinin Bay accelerated to flank speed and, despite fire from three enemy cruisers, launched her planes, which inflicted heavy damage on the closing ships. As the trailing ship in the escort carrier van, Kalinin Bay came under intense enemy fire. Though partially protected by chemical smoke, a timely rain squall, and counterattacks by the screening destroyers and destroyer escorts, she took the first of 15 direct hits at 0750. Fired from an enemy battleship, the large caliber shell (14 in/356 mm or 16 in/410 mm) struck the starboard side of the hangar deck just aft of the forward elevator.
By 0800, the Japanese cruisers, which were steaming off her port quarter, closed to within 18,000 yd (16,000 m). Kalinin Bay responded to their straddling salvos with her 5 in (127 mm) gun. Three 8 in (203 mm) armor-piercing projectiles struck her within minutes. At 0825, the carrier scored a direct hit from 16,000 yd (15,000 m) on the No. 2 turret of a Nachi-class heavy cruiser, and a second hit shortly thereafter forced the Japanese ship to withdraw temporarily from formation.
At 0830, five Japanese destroyers steamed over the horizon off her starboard quarter. They opened fire from about 14,500 yd (13,300 m). As screening ships engaged the cruisers and laid down concealing smoke, Kalinin Bay shifted her fire and for the next hour traded shots with Destroyer Squadron 10. No destroyer hit Kalinin Bay, but she took 10 more 8 in (203 mm) hits from the now obscured cruisers. One shell passed through the flight deck and into the communications area, where it destroyed all the radar and radio equipment.
At 0915, an Avenger torpedo bomber from St. Lo piloted by Lieutenant (j.g.) Waldrop strafed and exploded two torpedoes in Kalinin Bay's wake about 100 yd (91 m) astern of her. A shell from the latter's 5 in (127 mm) gun deflected a third from a collision course with her stern.
At about 0930, as the Japanese ships fired parting salvos and reversed course northward, Kalinin Bay scored a direct hit amidships on a retreating destroyer. Five minutes later, she ceased fire and retired southward with the other survivors of Taffy 3.
Around 1050, the task unit came under a concentrated air attack. During the 40-minute battle, the first attack from a kamikaze unit in World War II, all escort carriers but Fanshaw Bay were damaged. Four diving planes attacked Kalinin Bay from astern and the starboard quarter. Two were shot down close aboard, while a third plane crashed into the port side of the flight deck, damaging it severely. The fourth destroyed the aft port stack.
Kalinin Bay suffered extensive structural damage during the morning's intense action, as well as five dead among her 60 casualties. 12 direct hits were later confirmed by damage plus two large-caliber near misses. Ironically, it was the two near misses that exploded under her counter that threatened the ship's survival.
Throughout the surface phase of the action, the carriers White Plains and Kitkun Bay, in the lead position, escaped hits from gunfire. During kamikaze attacks, the carrier Fanshaw Bay splashed among others a plane just about to crash into Kitkun Bay and landed planes from her sunk or damaged sisters. Fanshaw Bay lost four men killed, and four wounded.
Yamato had already been struck by aircraft during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea with three armour-piercing bombs, while sister-ship Musashi had sunk. In this battle, Yamato engaged enemy surface forces for the first and only time with main and secondary batteries. At 0751, Yamato fired and hit a "cruiser" from over 10 mi (16 km) which was actually the destroyer Hoel. Yamato's F1M2 "Pete" floatplane confirmed primary battery hits on the carrier Gambier Bay before the ship steered to avoid torpedoes. Yamato would close to within 2,400 yd (2,200 m) of the American ships when it was attacked by American aircraft. Lieutenant Richard W. Roby in his fighter attacked destroyers before raking the decks and then bridge of Yamato with his .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns, further discouraging her. Kurita reported that his force had sunk two carriers, two cruisers, and some destroyers. Yamato had confirmed hits that contributed to the sinking of a lightly armed escort carrier, a destroyer, and a destroyer escort.
Targeted by 5 in (127 mm) gunfire by the destroyers and destroyer escorts, the Japanese cruiser Chōkai was hit amidships, starboard side, most likely by the sole 5 in (127 mm) gun of the carrier Kalinin Bay. While the 20 lb (10 kg) payload of the shell could not pierce the hull, it set off the eight Japanese Type 93 "Long Lance" torpedoes, which were especially volatile because they contained pure oxygen, in addition to their 1,080 lb (490 kg) warheads. The explosion resulted in such severe damage that it knocked out the rudder and engines, causing Chokai to drop out of formation. Within minutes, an American aircraft dropped a 500 lb (230 kg) bomb on her forward machinery room. Fires began to rage and she went dead in the water. Later that day, she was scuttled by torpedoes from the destroyer Fujinami.
After Johnston blew off the bow of Kumano with a Mark 15 torpedo, the Japanese ship retired towards the San Bernardino Strait, where she suffered minor damage from an aerial attack.
Chikuma engaged the US escort carriers, helping to sink Gambier Bay, but came under fire from Heermann and under a heavy air attack. Chikuma inflicted severe damage on Heermann, but was soon hit by an aerial torpedo attack and immobilized. Her crew was taken off by the destroyer Nowaki and Chikuma was scuttled in the late morning of October 25, 1944. While withdrawing from the battle area, Nowaki was herself sunk, with the loss of all but one of Chikuma's surviving crewmen.
Though Kurita's battleships had not been seriously damaged, the air and destroyer attacks had broken up his formations, and he had lost tactical control. His flagship Yamato had been forced to turn north in order to avoid torpedoes, causing him to lose contact with much of his task force. The ferocity of the determined, concentrated sea and air attack from Taffy 3 had already sunk or crippled the heavy cruisers Chōkai, Kumano, and Chikuma, confirming to the Japanese that they were engaging major fleet units rather than escort carriers and destroyers. Kurita was at first not aware that Halsey had already taken the bait and that his battleships and carriers were far out of range. The ferocity of the air attacks further contributed to his confusion, for he assumed that such devastating strikes could only come from major fleet units rather than escort carriers. Signals from Ozawa eventually convinced Kurita that he was not engaging the entirety of 3rd fleet, and that remaining elements of Halsey's forces might close in and destroy him if he lingered too long in the area.
Finally, Kurita received word that the Southern Force that he was to meet up with had been destroyed the previous night. Calculating that the fight was not worth further losses, and believing he had already sunk or damaged several American carriers, Kurita broke off the engagement at 0920 with the order: "all ships, my course north, speed 20". He reshaped course for Leyte Gulf, but became distracted by reports of another American carrier group to the north. Preferring to expend his ships against capital ships rather than transports, he turned north after the non-existent enemy fleet, and ultimately withdrew back through San Bernardino Strait.
As he retreated north and then west through the San Bernardino Strait, the smaller and heavily damaged American force continued to press the battle. While watching the Japanese retreat, Admiral Sprague heard a nearby sailor exclaim: "Damn it, boys, they're getting away!"
Shortly after 0800, desperate messages calling for assistance began to come in from 7th Fleet. One from Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, sent in plain language, read, "My situation is critical. Fast battleships and support by airstrikes may be able to keep enemy from destroying CVEs and entering Leyte."
At 0822, Kinkaid radioed: "Fast Battleships are Urgently Needed Immediately at Leyte Gulf"
At 0905: "Need Fast Battleships and Air Support"
At 0907, Kinkaid broadcast what his mismatched fleet is up against: "4 Battleships, 8 Cruisers Attack Our Escort Carriers"
From 3,000 mi (4,800 km) away in Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz had monitored the desperate calls from Taffy 3, and sent Halsey a terse message, "Where is TF 34?". The encrypted message was prefixed "Turkey trots to water" and suffixed with "The world wonders" to foil decryption. A radioman on Nimitz's staff repeated the "where is" section of this message and then during decryption by Halsey's staff the trailing phrase "the world wonders" was left in. So a simple query by a distant supervisor had through the random actions of three sailors become a stinging rebuke.
Halsey was infuriated (not recognizing the final phrase as padding, chosen for the anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade). He threw his hat to the deck and began to curse in anger. An aide shook him by the shoulders and yelled, "What the hell's the matter with you? Pull yourself together!"
Halsey sent Task Group 38.1 (TG 38.1), commanded by Vice Admiral John S. McCain, to assist. Halsey recalled he did not receive this vital message from Kinkaid until around 1000, and later claimed that he knew Kinkaid was in trouble, but had not dreamed of the seriousness of this crisis. McCain, by contrast, had monitored Sprague's messages and turned TG58 to aid Sprague even before Halsey's orders arrived (after prodding from Nimitz), putting Halsey's defense in question.
At 1005, Kinkaid complained: "Who is guarding the San Bernardino Strait?"
McCain raced towards the battle, briefly turning into the wind to recover returning planes. At 1030, a force of Helldivers, Avengers, and Hellcats was launched from Hornet, Hancock, and Wasp at the extreme range of 330 mi (530 km). Though the attack did little damage, it strengthened Kurita's decision to retire.
At 1115, more than two hours after the first distress messages had been received by his flagship, Halsey ordered TF 34 to turn around and head southwards to pursue Kurita, but the Japanese forces had already escaped.
Just hours after his chastisement by Nimitz, Admiral Halsey's forces did destroy all four enemy aircraft carriers he had pursued. But despite the complete absence of 3rd Fleet against the main Japanese force, the desperate efforts of Taffy 3 and assisting task forces had driven back the Japanese. A relieved Halsey sent the following message to Nimitz, Kinkaid and General Douglas MacArthur at 1226:
"It can be announced with assurance that the Japanese Navy has been beaten, routed and broken by the Third and Seventh Fleets."
Partly as a result of disastrous communication errors within 7th Fleet and a reluctance to expose search ships to submarine attack,  a very large number of survivors from Taffy, including those from Gambier Bay, Hoel, Johnston and Roberts, were not rescued until October 27 after two days adrift. A plane had spotted the survivors, but the location radioed back was incorrect. By that time, many had died as a result of exposure, thirst and shark attacks. Finally, when an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) arrived, its captain used what is almost a standard method of distinguishing friend from foe, i.e., asking a topical question about a national sport—as one survivor, Jack Yusen, relates:
We saw this ship come up, it was circling around us, and a guy was standing up on the bridge with a megaphone. And he called out 'Who are you? Who are you?' and we all yelled out 'Samuel B. Roberts!' He's still circling, so now we're cursing at him. He came back and yelled 'Who won the World Series?' and we all yelled 'St. Louis Cardinals!' And then we could hear the engines stop, and cargo nets were thrown over the side. That's how we were rescued.
It has been speculated that even if Center Force had quickly annihilated the escort carrier units, Kurita would still have had to contend with Jesse Oldendorf's task group—which contained six battleships and eight large, powerful cruisers. After the Surigao Strait action, 7th Fleet's battleships had much less armor-piercing ammunition than battleships would normally be expected to have on entering an action. But, as Morison observes, they had enough for what would have been required of them in defending the entrance to the Gulf, although not enough for a running fight. The same probably was true for the heavy cruisers. The light cruisers, with their much higher rate of fire, had used most of their armor-piercing ammunition, but still had plenty of HC (or "HE") rounds available. Oldendorf's destroyers had expended almost all of their torpedoes, but still had plenty of ammunition for their 5 in (127 mm) guns (and Samar demonstrates how effective such guns could be even against heavy cruisers). Even though unable to make torpedo attacks, these 28 or so destroyers would have been able to provide an effective defense against the Japanese destroyers.
Oldendorf's formation was in fact roughly comparable in strength with Center Force after the latter's losses (on October 23 in Palawan Passage and on October 24 in the Sibuyan Sea), and Kurita would have had to dispose of – or at least fight his way through – Oldendorf's task group before he could fall on the invasion shipping in the Gulf. If, instead of annihilating the Taffies, he had managed to get through to the Gulf without having neutralized the escort carriers, he would then have had to engage Oldendorf while under sustained assault from the air—and (as the Battle off Samar also demonstrates) it is an extremely difficult task for warships to fight a surface action while simultaneously defending themselves against air attack. It is therefore debatable whether Kurita had a realistic prospect of causing serious damage to the invasion force off Leyte, let alone of inflicting a major reverse on the Allies.
The Japanese had succeeded in luring Halsey's 3rd Fleet away from its role of covering the invasion fleet, but seemingly light forces proved to be a very considerable obstacle. What American commanders had unwittingly left behind still packed the air power of 16 carriers, even if they were inexpensive, slow, and lightly-armed. With an available air force of over four hundred aircraft, they were the numeric if not quite qualitative equivalent of four of Halsey's five large fleet carriers. Naval aircraft, whether properly armed or not, did much to offset the mismatch in sheer tonnage and surface firepower (and would ultimately sink Yamato later in the war). The breakdown in Japanese communications resulted in Kurita being unaware of the opportunity that Ozawa's decoy plan had offered him. Kurita's mishandling of his forces during the surface engagement further compounded his losses.
Despite Halsey's failure to protect the northern flank of the 7th Fleet, Taffy 3 and assisting aircraft turned back the most powerful surface fleet Japan had sent to sea since the Battle of Midway. Domination of the skies, prudent and timely maneuvers by the US ships, tactical errors by the Japanese admiral, and perhaps superior American radar technology, gunnery and seamanship, all contributed to this outcome. The Japanese had invested much in expensive guns that outranged US weapons. But their guns lacked a blind fire capability and were thwarted by smoke laid by screening destroyers and rain squalls. Their manually intensive fire control system computed solutions for targets on a constant course. But a 40 ft (12 m) wide destroyer at 30 kn (35 mph; 56 km/h) can travel up to .5 mi (0.80 km) away in the nearly one minute it takes for a shell at 3,000 ft/sec to cover 20 mi (32 km).
The Japanese only landed hits when the large Japanese ships which could not maneuver while firing came within range of even the 5 in (127 mm) carrier-mounted guns, which found an Achilles' heel in a cruiser's torpedo mount. Armor-piercing shells proved largely ineffective against unarmored ships engineered with enough redundancy to survive dozens of hits without or before sinking. Conversely, the Americans could put the MK-37 radar-directed fire control system and its computer in ships as small as destroyers. This allowed them to land accurate hits while evading enemy fire by steering toward splashes made by the Japanese visual aiming system of "bracketing" targets with multiple shots. Excellent US 5 in (127 mm) and 40 mm radar and computer directed anti-aircraft fire downed several kamikaze planes, while the lack of comparable systems made the Japanese ships vulnerable to American fliers. While the Japanese built the largest battleships, the Americans built the most numerous classes of inexpensive escort carriers as Japan discarded their last carriers and pilots to draw away Halsey's fleet.
It may be argued that, of all of the battles in the Pacific War, Samar best demonstrates the effectiveness of air attack and destroyer-launched torpedoes against larger surface vessels. Cautious Japanese tactics were hampered by the belief they were fighting a much more powerful force. Conversely, the Americans accurately sensed the gravity of their predicament, and quickly improvised a strategy based on harassment and delay which did not hesitate to throw inadequately armed and trained men, planes and ships directly against battleships if that was what was available.
|“||Well, I think it was really just determination that really meant something. I can't believe that they didn't just go in an wipe us out. We confused the Japanese so much. I think it deterred them. It was a great experience||”|
—Interview by Hornfischer of Tom Stevensen, Survivor Samuel B. Roberts
Clifton Sprague's task unit lost two escort carriers: (Gambier Bay, to surface attack and St. Lo, to kamikaze attack). Of the seven screening ships, fewer than half, two destroyers (Hoel and Johnston) and a destroyer escort (Samuel B. Roberts) were lost, as were dozens of aircraft. The other four US destroyers and escorts were damaged. For such a small task unit, more than a thousand Americans died, comparable to the losses suffered at the allied defeat of the Battle of Savo Island off Guadalcanal when four cruisers were sunk. It was also comparable to the combined losses of the 543 men and three ships at the Battle of the Coral Sea, and 307 men and two ships at the Battle of Midway.
On the other side of the balance sheet, the Japanese were forced to scuttle three heavy cruisers, and a fourth limped back to base seriously damaged, having lost its bow. All of Kurita's battleships except Yamato suffered considerable damage, and apart from Yamato, all of the heavy ships stayed inactive in their bases, and the Japanese navy as a whole had been rendered ineffective for the remainder of the war. At Leyte Gulf, relatively tiny Taffy 3 bore the brunt of losses, sacrificing five of the six US ships of 37,000 tons (34,000 tonnes) that were lost. By comparison, the Japanese lost 26 ships of 306,000 tons (280,000 tonnes).
Halsey was criticized for his decision to take TF 34 north in pursuit of Ozawa, and for failing to detach it when Kinkaid first appealed for help. A piece of US Navy slang for Halsey's actions is 'Bull's Run', a phrase combining Halsey's newspaper nickname "Bull" (in the US Navy, he was known as "Bill" Halsey) with an allusion to the Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War.
In his dispatch after the battle, Halsey justified the decision as follows:
Halsey also argued that he had feared that leaving TF 34 to defend the strait without carrier support would have left it vulnerable to attack from land-based aircraft, while leaving one of the fast carrier groups behind to cover the battleships would have significantly reduced the concentration of air power going north to strike Ozawa.
However, Morison states that Admiral Lee told him that he would have been fully prepared for the battleships to cover San Bernardino Strait without any carrier support.
Moreover, if Halsey had been in proper communication with Seventh Fleet it would have been entirely practicable for the escort carriers of TF 77 to provide adequate air cover for TF 34 – a much easier matter than it would be for those escort carriers to defend themselves against the onslaught of Kurita's heavy ships.
It may be argued that the fact that Halsey was aboard one of the battleships, and "would have had to remain behind" with TF 34 (while the bulk of his fleet charged northwards to attack the Japanese carriers) may have contributed to this decision. However, it would have been perfectly feasible (and logical) to have taken one or both of 3rd Fleet's two fastest battleships (Iowa and/or New Jersey) with the carriers in the pursuit of Ozawa, while leaving the rest of the Battle Line off San Bernardino Strait. (Indeed, Halsey's original plan for the composition of TF 34 was that it would contain only four, not all six, of the Third Fleet's battleships). Therefore, to guard San Bernardino Strait with a powerful battleship force would not have been incompatible with Halsey's personally going north aboard the New Jersey.
It does seem likely that Halsey was strongly influenced by his Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Robert "Mick" Carney, who was also wholeheartedly in favour of taking all Third Fleet's available forces northwards to attack the Japanese carrier force.
Clifton Sprague, commander of Task Unit 77.4.3 in the battle off Samar, was later bitterly critical of Halsey's decision, and of his failure to clearly inform Kinkaid and Seventh Fleet that their northern flank was no longer protected:
|“||In the absence of any information that this exit [of the San Bernardino Strait] was no longer blocked, it was logical to assume that our northern flank could not be exposed without ample warning.||”|
Regarding Halsey's failure to turn TF 34 southwards when 7th Fleet's first calls for assistance off Samar were received, Morison writes:
|“||If TF 34 had been detached a few hours earlier, after Kinkaid's first urgent request for help, and had left the destroyers behind, since their fueling caused a delay of over two hours and a half, a powerful battle line of six modern battleships under the command of Admiral Lee, the most experienced battle squadron commander in the Navy, would have arrived off San Bernardino Strait in time to have clashed with Kurita's Center Force… Apart from the accidents common in naval warfare, there is every reason to suppose that Lee would have crossed Kurita's T and completed the destruction of Center Force.||”|
Instead, as Morison also observes:
|“||The mighty gunfire of the Third Fleet's Battle Line, greater than that of the whole Japanese Navy, was never brought into action except to finish off one or two crippled light ships.||”|
—Morison (1956), pp. 336–337
Perhaps the most telling comment is made laconically by Vice Admiral Lee in his action report as Commander of TF 34:
|“||No battle damage was incurred nor inflicted on the enemy by vessels while operating as Task Force Thirty-Four.||”|
Taffy 3 was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation:
For extraordinary heroism in action against powerful units of the Japanese Fleet during the Battle off Samar, Philippines, October 25, 1944. ...the gallant ships of the Task Unit waged battle fiercely against the superior speed and fire power of the advancing enemy ...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 ... 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.
A number of ships were named after participants in the battle, and ships from that battle, including USS Copeland (FFG-25), USS Evans (DE-1023), USS Clifton Sprague (FFG-16), and USS Carr (FFG-52). When the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) struck a mine, its crew would touch a plaque commemorating the original crew as they struggled to save the ship.
While the battle is frequently included in historical accounts of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the duels between the destroyer and destroyer escorts and the Yamato and Japanese force was the subject of a Dogfights television program "Death of the Japanese Navy" That episode, as well as a History Channel documentary was based on the book The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer. The incident received only a brief treatment in the Japanese movie Yamato (film) showing the Yamato firing guns and under attack by US aircraft.
The survivors formed associations which still meet annually, and raised funds to build memorials in San Diego near the current location of the USS Midway (CV-41) museum which contains a model of the Gambier Bay CVE.
In 2005, the memorial was vandalized with the bust of Admiral Sprague broken off the pedestal base. It was restored in June of 2007.