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Chapter 11

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Admiral Halsey's Story

by
Fleet Admiral
William F. Halsey, USN


published by
McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.
New York : London
1947

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Chapter 13
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p194  
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12

Between the first and second phases of my war career, I spent two months in hospitals and a month in idleness. Between the second and third phases, there was no such restful interlude, as is shown by successive entries in my war diary f1944:

15 June E. L. D. [East Longitude Date.] On this date Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr., relinquished command of the South Pacific Force and Area to Vice Adm. John Henry Newton at headquarters at Nouméa, New Caledonia.

16 June E. L. D. Admiral Halsey, accompanied by senior members of his staff, departed Nouméa at 0900, with the au revoirs and well-wishes of a crowd of SOPACers.

17 June W. L. D. Upon arrival at Pearl at 0800, Admiral Halsey and Rear Admiral Carney proceeded to new offices in the JICPOA building [Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Ocean Areas].

18 June W. L. D. Commander Third Fleet and Staff, at headquarters preparing preliminary plans for occupation of western Carolines, . . . received copy of Joint Chiefs of Staff dispatch to CINCPOA [Nimitz] and CINCSOWESPAC [MacArthur] requesting views and recommendations as to by‑passing present selected objectives and proceeding at earlier date to Japan or Formosa. Admiral Halsey expressed the view that part or all of the immediate objectives in the western Carolines could be by‑passed, and the operations against the Philippines could be accelerated.

(p196) 
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These "immediate objectives" were three islands in the Palau group — Peleliu, Angaur, and Babelthuap; the island of Yap, about 280 miles northeast; and Ulithi atoll, 120 miles further. I had been  p195 weighing this operation ever since it had been broached to me, early in May, at the conference with King and Nimitz in San Francisco, and the more I weighed it, the less I liked it. Ulithi had a useful anchorage, but I saw no need for any of the other islands. Ulithi's only value was as a minor staging point for aircraft. The Palaus threatened the route between New Guinea and the Philippines, but although they also offered an anchorage — Kossol Roads — and several sites for airfields, I felt that they would have to be bought at a prohibitive price in casualties. In short, I feared another Tarawa — and I was right.

Chester Nimitz and Mick Carney both disagreed with me about the western Carolines, but we agreed completely on long-range strategy. Almost alone among senior admirals, Chester and I advocated invading the central Philippines, building a major base, and jumping from there to the home islands of Japan, via Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Ernie King, on the other hand, strongly recommended by‑passing the Philippines and occupying Formosa, which I considered more redoubtable and more useless than the Palaus. When Mick Carney protested that the Philippines were indispensable, Ernie asked, "Do you want to make a London out of Manila?"

Mick said, "No, sir. I want to make an England out of Luzon!"

Ray Spruance favored a base at Nimrod Sound, south of Shanghai. Still others argued for landings on the Shantung Peninsula, or on Quelpart Island, at the southern end of Korea Strait, or on Korea itself. They defended their inch-by‑inch policy right up to the spring of 1945, when they received a directive flatly ordering the invasion of Kyushu. (This was scheduled for November 1 and would have been followed by an invasion of Honshu, the main island, in February, 1946.) The arguments sometimes became heated. I remember that when I had advanced my objections to Ray Spruance's plan, he said, "Then I guess I'd better handle this one!"

"Go ahead," I told him. "I don't want any part of it!"

The western Carolines operation was slightly simplified by the eventual decision not to invade Babelthuap, but it was still complex enough to require six solid weeks of work by Ping Wilkinson, Roy Geiger, myself, and our three staffs. The final plan called for the "capture of Angaur and Peleliu as Phase ONE, with capture of  p197 Yap and Ulithi as Phase TWO. Target date for the first phase 15 September and for second phase 5 October. Operation to be commanded by Commander Third Fleet, with Commander Third Amphibious Force [Ping Wilkinson] commanding joint expeditionary force, and Maj. Gen. Julian C. Smith, USMC, commanding all expeditionary troops." Roy Geiger, commanding the III Marine Amphibious Corps, was in charge of the first phase, and Maj. Gen. John R. Hodge, commanding the XXIV Army Corps, was in charge of the second. Although I was over‑all commander, I would not see the landings, since the fleet would be far to the westward, blanketing enemy airfields in the central Philippines.

My flagship, the battleship New Jersey, sortied from Pearl on August 24, escorted by three destroyers. Consideration of a suitable Third Fleet flagship had begun months before in the South Pacific. My first inclination had been to pick a carrier. I had spent so many years in them that I would have felt more at home there than in anything but a destroyer, which was now too rough for my old age; but carriers are vulnerable, and we could not afford to risk having flag functions interrupted by battle damage. My only alternative, therefore — the only other ships that could keep pace with the 32‑knot carriers — was the new 45,000‑ton Iowa class, so I requested one and drew the New Jersey. Meanwhile, we had sent observers to the Marianas campaign and had placed them with Spruance on a heavy cruiser, with Mitscher on a fast carrier, and on two battleships, to determine the deficiencies, if any, of the different flag plots. On the basis of their recommendations, the New Jersey's flag plot was extensively altered, and when we put to sea, it was the best in the fleet. In fact, it was used as a model for the flag plot in her younger sister ship, the Missouri.

My grandiose title, "Commander Third Fleet," may seem top‑heavy for three destroyers and one battleship. The explanation is, of course, that the Third Fleet was almost identical with the powerful Fifth Fleet, which comprised well over 500 warships. When Ray Spruance commanded them, they were designated the Fifth Fleet; when I commanded them, they were the Third. Instead of the stagecoach system of keeping the drivers and changing the horses, we changed drivers and kept the horses. It was hard on the horses, but it was effective. Moreover, it consistently misled the Japs into an exaggerated conception of our seagoing strength.

 p198  While I was working at Pearl, Ray had been scourging the western Pacific. He had covered four landings; he had fought the crucial battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19; and he had struck at Guam and Saipan, at the Bonins, the Volcanoes, and the Ryukyus. We changed drivers in mid‑ocean on August 26. The Fifth Fleet vanished, and the Third Fleet appeared in its place. This place, at the moment, was off Iwo Jima, 3,000 miles from my flagship, so the usual ceremony of taking over had to be a matter of bookkeeping. I never saw Ray at all, and I did not see the heart of the fleet, Pete Mitscher's Fast Carrier Task Force, TF 38, until we rendezvoused two weeks later. None the less, as of August 26, I was in strategic command.

Pete had not been waiting idly for our arrival. As soon as his planes had finished with Iwo Jima, he stood south and sent three of his task groups to bludgeon the Palaus on September 6, 7, and 8, while the fourth group hit Yap. On the ninth and tenth, he made two heavy strikes against Mindanao, the southernmost of the big Philippine islands. These had been intended as the first of a series, but when he reported that the Fifth Air Force had already flattened the enemy's installations and that only a feeble few planes rose to meet him, I decided to switch the rest of his strikes to the central Philippines, since here were the last air bases that endangered the Palau landings.

Pete's force and mine joined up on the eleventh. Normally he would have come aboard the New Jersey for a visit. I told him to stay put; I would visit him instead. I hadn't been with the fleet for more than two years; I wanted to see what the new carriers and planes looked like. Transfers of personnel between ships at sea used to be done by breeches buoy, but I found that fancy chairs had replaced them. In fact, there was hot competition to see which ship could furnish the fanciest. If I remember correctly, the chair that swung me aboard Pete's flagship, the carrier Lexington, was equipped with an ash tray and a surrey top. (When Slew McCain relieved Pete and objected to the slowness of the New Jersey's chair, we handed him a buggy whip and suggested that he flog the air on the way across.)

We opened our attack on the central Philippines on September 12, from a position within sight of the mountains of Samar. That  p199 day we flew 1,200 sorties; on the thirteenth, another 1,200; and when the last plane had returned aboard on the fourteenth, our Air Combat Intelligence officers showed me a box score that made me whistle. We had shot down 173 planes, destroyed 305 more on the ground, sunk fifty-nine ships, and probably sunk another fifty-eight, besides tremendous damage to installations. Our losses? Eight planes in combat, one operationally, and ten men!

These figures were so dazzling that I sent a blanket dispatch to all the carriers: Because of the brilliant performance my group of stars has just given, I am booking you to appear before the best audience in the Asiatic theater.

The audience was Manila, which had the largest concentration of enemy planes in the Philippines. My decision to poke a strike into this hornet's nest was not made hotly, without forethought. The South Pacific campaign had impressed us all with the necessity of being alert for symptoms of enemy weakness and of being ready to exploit them — if a stuck door yields unexpectedly, you may fall on your face. I intended probing just as an infantry patrol probes — finding a soft spot and pressing it until I met resistance that I could not overcome. (Back in Pearl, we had approached our planning for the Third Fleet in the spirit that a sudden development might extend its scope to Formosa, China, the Ryukyus, and even the Empire itself. Pearl considered these targets so far afield that it was reluctant to prepare intelligence data for them. It laughed at us and accused us of delusions of grandeur.)

Here was a case in point. We had just dealt a crippling blow to Jap air power, and we had found the central Philippines a hollow shell with weak defenses and skimpy facilities. In my opinion, this was the vulnerable belly of the Imperial dragon. The time might be ripe not only to strike Manila, but perhaps to mount a far larger offensive. Specifically, I began to wonder whether I dared recommend that MacArthur shift to Leyte the invasion which he had planned for Mindanao, and advance the date well ahead of the scheduled November 15. . . .

I consulted my staff. They evaluated our combat reports, our intelligence data, and the availability of Nimitz' and MacArthur's forces. Finally they said, "Yes."

I sat in a corner of the bridge and thought it over. Such a  p200 recommendation, in addition to being none of my business, would upset a great many applecarts, possibly all the way up to Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill. On the other hand, it looked sound, it ought to save thousands of lives, and it might cut months off the war by hurrying the Nips and keeping them off‑balance.

I sent for Mick Carney and Harold Stassen and told them, "I'm going to stick my neck out. Send an urgent dispatch to CINCPAC —"

This dispatch, sent on September 13, recommended (1) that seizure of Yap and the Palaus be abandoned; (2) that the ground forces thereby released be put at General MacArthur's disposal; and (3) that an invasion of Leyte be undertaken at the earliest possible date.

CINCPAC replied promptly. The first phase of the western Carolines operations was to be carried out as planned, but he would give fresh study to Yap, and was informing COMINCH and CINCSOWESPAC of my suggestions. Providentially, at this very moment Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill were in session with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Quebec. Ernie King presented my dispatch, and after a quick exchange of messages, to get MacArthur's opinion, they approved the new plan and instructed him to cancel the invasion of Mindanao and to invade Leyte instead, on October 20.

If he had used Mindanao as a steppingstone, he would not have reached Leyte until December 20. The new plan advanced the war two months or more.

Editor's Notes:

(1) Following is an extract from General Marshall's "Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army to the Secretary of War, July 1, 1943, to June 30, 1945."

"The Octagon conference was then in progress at Quebec. The Joint Chiefs of Staff received a copy of a recommendation from Admiral Halsey to Admiral Nimitz on 13 September. He recommended that three projected intermediate operations against Yap, Mindanao, and Talaud and Sangihe Islands to the southwest be canceled, and that our forces attack Leyte in the central Philippines as soon as possible. . . . General MacArthur's views were requested and 2 days later he advised us that he was already prepared to shift his plans to land on Leyte 30 October, instead  p201 of 20 December as previously intended. It was a remarkable administrative achievement.

"The message from MacArthur arrived at Quebec at night and Admiral Leahy (Chief of Staff to the President), Admiral King, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Arnold, and I were being entertained at a formal dinner by Canadian officials. It was read by the appropriate staff officers who suggested an immediate affirmative answer. The message, with their recommendations, was rushed to us and we left the table for a conference. Having the utmost confidence in General MacArthur, Admiral Nimitz, and Admiral Halsey, it was not a difficult decision to make. Within 90 minutes after the signal had been received in Quebec, General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz had received their instructions to execute the Leyte operation on 20 October, abandoning the three previously approved intermediate landings."

2) Following is an extract from President Roosevelt's "Message on the State of the Union," delivered to Congress on January 6, 1945:

"Last September . . . it was our plan to approach the Philippines by further stages, taking islands which we may call A, C and E. However, Admiral Halsey reported that a direct attack on Leyte appeared feasible. . . . Within the space of 24 hours, a major change of plans was accomplished which involved Army and Navy forces from two different theaters of operations — a change which hastened the liberation of the Philippines and the final day of victory — a change which saved lives which would have been expended in the capture of islands which are now neutralized far behind our lines."

The western Carolines landings represented the extremes of amphibious warfare. Peleliu, where Maj. Gen. William H. Rupertus' 1st Marine Division landed on September 15, was as tough as they come; its pillboxes and caves were so heavily fortified that the island was not secured for a month. Angaur was much softer; Maj. Gen. Paul J. Mueller's 81st Infantry Division landed there on the seventeenth, crushed its flimsy defenses in three days, and by the twenty-second was able to send detachments to reinforce the Marines on Peleliu. Softest of all was Ulithi; on the twenty-third, a regimental combat team occupied it against no opposition whatsoever. We had gained two harbors, one airstrip, and the sites for two future strips, but the cost was 8,000 men killed, wounded, or missing. They lost about 12,000 killed.

Now we stood northeastward for the attack on Manila which  p202 we had promised ourselves — our first since we had been driven from the islands over two years before. The night before we struck, I called in our Filipino stewards and pointed out our targets on a chart of the city. I told them, "I want you to know what we're going to do, because many of you have relatives in Manila. All of us pray that none of them are injured."

Benedicto Tulao, a chief steward who had been with me for years, asked me, "Those are Japanese installations there, sir?

"Yes."

He said firmly, "Bomb them!"

As we hoped, our attack caught the Japs with their flaps down, and we bombed and strafed Clark and Nichols Fields for ten minutes before a single fighter took the air against us. When I visited Manila nine months later, I was told that when our planes appeared, the Jap officers pointed at them and bragged, "See our splendid war eagles! How swiftly they fly! How smoothly they maneuver!" About then the bombs began to fall.

We hit them four times on the twenty-first and expected to hit them four times more next day, but the approach of foul weather and the dearth of suitable targets influenced Pete Mitscher to recommended that I cancel the last two strikes. I did. His score for the six was 405 planes destroyed or damaged, 103 ships sunk or damaged, both airfields gutted, and the harbor littered with wrecks. Our losses were fifteen planes and about a dozen men. None of our ships was touched, although we had launched from only 40 miles off the east coast of Luzon, less than 150 miles from Manila itself.

The twenty-third was fueling day. We sent for Pete's Chief of Staff, "31‑Knot" Burke of the destroyer actions in the South Pacific, to discuss the possibility of striking Coron Bay on the twenty-fourth. This was an excellent anchorage which the Japs were believed to favor because of the unlikelihood that any air attack would dare reach so far, across the Philippines and out to their western rim. Now, we agreed, was the perfect time to hit it; every ship able to flee the shambles of Manila Harbor had certainly done so, and Coron Bay was their best available refuge.

As soon as fueling was completed, we started a high-speed run‑in which brought us to San Bernardino Strait at dawn. The target was still 350 miles away, but we could get no closer; we launched the  p203 first of our strikes at 0550. My war diary tells the story of the day with a conciseness that I cannot improve:

Two large AO [tankers] were exploded. One large AP [transport], 3 large AO, 2 large AK [cargo ships], 6 medium AK, 5 small AK, 1 DD, 3 DE [destroyer escorts], and 11 small craft were sunk. Damaged and probably sunk were 1 large AP, 2 large AO, 1 medium AO, 1 large AK, 15 medium AK, 21 small AK, 10 smaller ships, and 2 DE. Air opposition was negligible and was quickly disposed of, 36 planes being destroyed. When the reports of the past three weeks' operations had been totaled, 1,005 enemy planes had been destroyed and 153 ships sunk, excluding small craft.

Whenever the occasion permitted, my staff tried to counteract the grimness of war with a lighthearted dispatch to our forces. The one that Mick Carney now sent in my name was among his most successful compositions: The recent exceptional performance yielded gratifying gate receipts, and although the capacity audience hissed very loudly, little was thrown at the players × As long as the audience has a spot to hiss in, we will stay on the road.

First we gave ourselves a little rest and a chance to rearm, refuel, and reprovision in peace. One task group stayed to cover the Palaus while the other three retired to Manus, Saipan, and Kossol Roads. Our group's arrival at Saipan on the twenty-eighth allowed me leisure for something I had been wanting to do for a long time: I presented Mick with a Gold Star in lieu of a second Distinguished Service Medal — not for his jocular dispatches, I hasten to say, but for his brilliant staff work in the South Pacific. He had won his first DSM in the Atlantic, early in the war.

My leisure lasted only a few hours. At dusk that evening, a Thursday, my PB2Y3 took off on the 1,100‑mile flight to Hollandia, New Guinea, where we spent Friday conferring with MacArthur's staff about the Leyte invasion. On Saturday we flew up to the Palaus, for a tour of Peleliu and Angaur and for more conferences. And on Sunday, October 1, we flew across to Ulithi, where the fleet was assembling.

Harold Stassen came out to our moorings in my barge. He was still 100 yards away when he yelled at Bill Kitchell, who was with me, "Hey, Bill! The fifth one has arrived and it's a girl!"

 p204  She was already three weeks old, but this was Bill's first news of her. His delight snapped me out of a sour mood that I had been in ever since Hollandia, where I had received a dispatch from CINCPAC suggesting that we had missed an opportunity by not mining Manila Bay during our recent strikes. I disagreed vigorously. Aerial mining proved valuable on many occasions during the war, but it should be undertaken by shore-based planes, in my opinion, and not by carrier planes. Moreover, carrier planes are not equipped to mine at night; if they mine in daylight, the enemy not only can see where the mines are laid but has a sitting-duck shot at the planes, since the operation requires a low‑speed, low‑altitude approach on a steady course. Lastly, mines take up space on a carrier that could be better devoted to bombs and torpedos.

The trip to the Palaus was a triple milestone for me. It was my first experience with an area sprayed with DDT, and despite the fact that this was a battlefield, I did not see a fly or a mosquito or an insect of any sort. (I remembered Guadalcanal, where our casualties from malaria were twice our casualties from the enemy.) Again, the Palaus were the last time I commanded amphibious troops, and the last time I was under fire ashore.

After a month at sea, we had hoped for at least a week at anchor, but forty-eight hours was the most that we could manage. A typhoon drove us out of Ulithi on October 3, and although we returned next day, we had to sortie on the sixth to begin running interference for MacArthur's landing on Leyte. We had already smashed Japan's air strength in the Philippines (General Kenney later counted nearly 3,000 wrecked planes on the various fields); now we had to knock out the bases from which this strength could be renewed. Many of the largest bases were on Formosa; others were in the Nansei Shoto chain, between Formosa and Japan proper. Our plan was to sent down a cruiser-destroyer task group against Marcus Island to simulate the overtures to a landing, with bombardments, smoke screens, floating lights, and other pyrotechnics; and while the Nips watched Marcus, and jumped and chattered, we would hit the Nansei Shotos, 1,500 miles away.

Our approach was helped by two agents new to the Third Fleet: Navy scout planes from Saipan, and the typhoon, now known as "Task Force Zero" because it had curved northward and was  p205 grounding potential opposition ahead of us. (In our Night Order Book for October 8, I find that Mick Carney made this entry: "TF 0 arrives Tokyo and RON" — remains overnight.) Our long-range scouts, Liberators, sank the enemy's picket boats and interdicted his search planes, so we ran in unobserved on the night of the ninth, launched early the next morning, and struck along a 300‑mile arc, from Amami O Shima on the north to Myako Jima on the south.

The Japs were sound asleep. We destroyed ninety-three of their planes, sank eighty-seven ships, and spread havoc on the ground. Here is a short sample from the final report: "Ammunition and fuel storages at Naha were left blazing and exploding. Tukuna air facilities were demolished. Barracks were destroyed at Yontan. Four warehouses at Ie Shima were strafed and burned." And so on. None of our ships was damaged, nor were any in the Marcus force.

While we were fueling next day, we sent a fighter sweep over the fields on Luzon, and as soon as fueling was completed, we headed for Luzon ourselves. This was another piece of trickery; at nightfall, we swung 60 degrees to starboard and shaped a course for Formosa, a virgin target. The trick didn't work. The Japs on Formosa were ready for us, and if they hadn't made the mistakes of staying on the defensive and underestimating our power, we might have had a rugged time. (On the other hand, the fundamental mistake was mine: I should have struck Formosa first; not only was it stronger, but it had been alerted by the Nansei Shoto strikes.) The first day of our attack, we concentrated on aircraft; the second day, we gave shipping the priority. The totals for the two days were 520 planes destroyed, thirty-seven ships sunk, and seventy-four probably sunk; our losses were fifty‑two planes.

I was vaguely aware that this second day, October 13, was a Friday, but I had been contemptuous of my old jinx since young Bill's rescue. We landed the last strike by 1800 and came to our retirement course. At 1842 I was informed that the heavy cruiser Canberra, Capt. Alexander R. Early, had been torpedoed in a dusk air attack and was dead in the water. I looked at the chart: she was 90 miles from Formosa, 300 from Aparri Field on Luzon, 400 from Naha Field on Okinawa — and 1,300 from our nearest base, Ulithi. We were squarely in the Jap dragon's jaws, and the dragon knew it.

Should we abandon the Canberra and sink her, and withdraw  p206 the rest of the fleet? Or should we try to tow her home, at price of a running fight throughout most of those 1,300 miles? We decided to fight our way out.

The Wichita, another heavy cruiser, took her in tow at a heart-breaking 4 knots. (Thirteen hundred miles at 4 knots is more than thirteen days). I sent all available ships to strengthen the screen of their task group and I ordered a cruiser-destroyer force out from Saipan to meet them. It was obvious that the Japs would try a coup de grâce next morning, so we struck first, with fighter sweeps over Luzon and Formosa. Here is part of the story, from my war diary: "This day's total aircraft shot down at target, 11; destroyed on ground, 55." Here is another part: "Shot down near force by search and CAP, 75; shot down by ships' AA, 21." The Japs were pouncing, as we had expected. And here is the rest: "At 2100, message was received that heavy cruisers Houston, Capt. William W. Behrens, had been torpedoed; her engine room flooded; and task group was under continuous attack."

The Houston and the Canberra were both namesakes of ships already sunk. The original Canberra, an Australian cruiser, had been lost in the Battle of Savo Island, and the original Houston off Java, early in 1942. My jinx had a savage sense of humor!

This second torpedoing was echoed by an explosion at Radiotokyo, which screeched that their intrepid fliers had almost annihilated my fleet, and that their own fleet was sprinting down from the Empire to complete the job. Congratulatory messages from Hitler and Mussolini were sprayed over the air, and local dignitaries ranging from cabinet ministers to a keeper in the Tokyo zoo united in praise of the glorious victory. The keeper had evidently been ruffled by a remark of mine, that "the Japs are losing their grip, even with their tails," because he hoped that "we get that man Halsey alive. I have already reserved a special cage for him in the monkey house." (When we went ashore at Tokyo, I wanted to call on him and invite him to show me the cage, but I never got around to it.)

At first I thought that this jubilation was merely more of the Japs' familiar self-hypnosis, but its extreme hysteria convinced me that they really believed we had been crushed. In fact, I found a possible basis for the belief. All through the nights of the twelfth and  p207 thirteenth, Jap planes burned on the water around our fleet, and when one of our ships was momentarily silhouetted against the blaze, it was hard to realize that she herself was not afire. No doubt the Jap pilots who escaped had the same illusion and reported our "annihilation" in all sincerity.

The torpedoing of the Houston reawakened my fears that an attempt at salvage would mean throwing good ships after bad. Every fifteen minutes I glanced at the pin that represented the two cripples on my chart and cursed because it had inched no closer to safety. They couldn't maneuver to protect themselves, they immobilized the two other cruisers that were towing them, and they were a drag on the whole fleet, which was committed to supporting MacArthur's landing on the twentieth, only six days off. Frankly, I wanted to sink them and run beyond the range of the Japs' shore-based air before a worse disaster struck us.

Mick Carney and Rollo Wilson, who had succeeded Ray Thurber as my Operations officer, talked me out of it. They even persuaded me that we had a chance to make capital of our handicap. Our basic orders, they pointed out, stated that "in case opportunity for the destruction of a major portion of the enemy fleet offers or can be created, such destruction will become the primary task." Here was that opportunity, right in our laps. The enemy already believed that he had cut our fleet to pieces, and had announced that he was pursuing its remnants. Why not hide our real strength, lure him into attacking the task group around the cripples, in the supposition that these were the remnants, and then spring the trap and blow him out of the water?

Why not, indeed?

I notified MacArthur that I was disposing the fleet for possible surface action and temporarily would have to suspend my promised support. We reinforced "Crippled Division 1," rechristened it with a name even more to its distaste, "the Bait Division," and told COMBAITDIV, Rear Adm. Lloyd J. Wiltse, to have the air kept busy with urgent "distress" messages. Two of my carrier task groups I ordered to an intercepting position east of the BAITDIV, beyond range of enemy patrol planes, and the other two I ordered to strike Luzon, since this was the probable source of further air attacks. Finally I sent a dispatch to Nimitz: The Third Fleet's sunken and  p208 damaged ships have been salvaged and are retiring at high speed toward the enemy.

As the fifteenth wore on, our trap looked better and better. At 0800, a submarine reported three heavy cruisers and a light cruiser standing south from Bungo Suido, between Kyushu and Shikoku; and early in the afternoon, a B‑29 reported sighting two battleships at Takao, Formosa, and another leaving Swatow on a course of 130 degrees, which was aimed right at us. Air attacks continued through the day and intensified on the sixteenth, when sixty planes struck at the BAITDIV. Fifty were shot down, but the Houston took another torpedo, which gave her a list of 10 degrees and made her bow crab 30 degrees to port. She and the Canberra had been taken over by ocean-going tugs, but her yawing restricted their speed of advance to only 3½ knots.

Meanwhile, the two task groups to eastward still lay in ambush. Although their patrols shot down every plane that approached, they were apprehensive that one, which had suddenly popped out of the low clouds, might have had time to broadcast an alarm before it was destroyed. My war diary for that night tells the developments:

At 2013, searches were launched to the north and northwest to a distance of 300 miles. At 2030, the submarine Skate sighted 1 DD and 2 DE on course 010 to east of Amami O Shima. Night searches were negative. It was evident that the enemy had received a sighting report and had retired just before the trap could be sprung.

So the plot fell through, but it had a happy ending. The BAITDIV reached Ulithi safely on the twenty-seventh, and the Canberra and Houston lived to fight again. Watching them limp across the ocean took years off my life, but every time I commiserate with myself, I realize how infinitely more agonizing was the strain on the men aboard the cripples. It took guts to spend day after day in the center of a bull's‑eye, and it took seamanship to fuel and to ride out a typhoon under tow.

Pete Mitscher once said, "I'm proud to be an American. Only the finest country on earth could produce boys like these." That is my feeling exactly.

With the BAITDIV on its way home, we were able to renew our strikes on Luzon and to cover General MacArthur's landing on  p209 Leyte. In the thirteen days between our first strike on Okinawa and our last in support of the landing, we had sunk 140 ships and damaged 248, and we had shot down 685 planes and destroyed 540 on the ground. Our own losses were ninety-five planes, but many of the pilots and crewmen were recovered. No ships were lost; and excepting the Canberra and Houston, none suffered serious damage.

President Roosevelt sent us a personal message which was broadcast to all hands: It is with pride that the country has followed your fleet's magnificent sweep into enemy waters × In addition to the gallant fighting of your fliers, we appreciate the endurance and seamanship of your forces.

We would have liked to rest for a while, but we had no time. There was a battle over the horizon, and we went to meet it.


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Page updated: 4 Jul 17