FACT: One of the U.S. Navy's Most Heroic Stands Was at Leyte Gulf
After literally steering clear of all nearby friendly vessels, Hathaway straightened his course and headed toward the nearest enemy warship, which happened to be the heavy cruiser Haguro. Heermann began shooting at the cruiser with her 5-inch guns and launched seven torpedoes at 7:54. Actually, the attack was supposed to be only a five-torpedo salvo, but the torpedoman accidentally fired two extras. Haguro dodged all of the torpedoes and opened fire on the Heermann. All of the cruiser’s salvos missed their target.
Hathaway turned away from Haguro after firing his torpedoes and headed toward Kongo and Haruna. Astern of these two battleships were Yamato and the fourth Japanese battleship, Nagato. Enemy warships seemed to be at every point of the compass, but more enemy warships meant more targets, at least as far as Hathaway was concerned. He turned to course 270 to get into a firing position for the rest of his torpedoes and shifted his 5-inch guns to the cruiser Chikuma.
While Heermann had Chikuma under fire, Kongo, Nagato, and Yamato were targeting Heermann. Red, yellow, and green shell splashes erupted all around her, but she was not hit by anything larger than shell fragments. After maneuvering to avoid the big guns of the battleships, Heermann was only 4,400 yards away from Haruna. At 8 am, Hathaway launched his remaining three torpedoes at Haruna, opened fire with his 5-inch batteries, and broke away.
All of this frantic activity happened within a matter of minutes—between 7:50, when Hathaway began his high-speed run past Taffy 3’s escort carriers, and 8:03, when he turned away from Haruna. It was a lucky 13 minutes for Heermann; the ship had not been hit by enemy gunfire, even though she had been the target for several Japanese warships.
Heermann’s action report claims that one of her torpedoes hit Haruna, but two of the torpedoes missed their mark and headed for Yamato along with two torpedoes that had probably been fired by Hoel at another Japanese ship. Yamato turned away to evade the torpedoes, heading north and keeping on that course for about 10 minutes. This effectively took Yamato out of the fight. Kurita had lost his biggest battleship, as well as what should have been his most effective gun platform, at the height of the battle.
Kurita was becoming convinced that he was facing a major American task force, not just a few escort carriers and destroyers. However, the battle was far from over. At about the same time that Hoel was firing her torpedoes at Haguro, Sprague ordered his destroyer escorts to begin their runs at Kurita’s warships: “Little Wolves form up for a second attack,” he barked. “Wolves” was code for the destroyers, while the radio call sign for the destroyer escorts was “Little Wolves.” So far, the destroyer escorts had been assigned almost exclusively to antisubmarine patrols. Torpedo attacks against cruisers and battleships were something new to Taffy 3’s Little Wolves.
They threw themselves into the task. Raymond took on Haguro, the leading Japanese cruiser. Just before 8 am, she launched three torpedoes at a range of about 6,000 yards. Haguro turned to avoid them while Raymond changed course and got away from the scene as quickly as possible.
Dennis followed the same course of action. She fired her torpedoes at the nearest Japanese cruiser, either Chokai or Tone, and turned sharply to the southwest. At about 8:10, Dennis opened fire with her after 5-inch battery on a cruiser that was already under air attack. After exchanging gunfire with the cruiser for about seven minutes, Dennis wheeled off to the southwest at high speed.
As soon as they made their torpedo attacks, all of the Little Wolves reversed course and headed southwest, making smoke and firing their 5-inch guns at the nearest enemy ship. None of the little ships were hit by enemy gunfire, and there were no collisions, which is nothing short of miraculous considering the fact that all of them were turning and swerving to avoid enemy salvos.
Nobody on either side had anything resembling a clear overall view of what was taking place. The weather was not helping—rain and clouds reduced visibility and sometimes blocked it altogether. Smoke from the destroyers, destroyer escorts, and escort carriers further obscured visibility.
Japanese officers still had no real idea of what they were facing. At first the escort carriers of Taffy 3 were identified as carriers of Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet. Some lookouts identified them as Japanese carriers. Others imagined that they saw cruisers and even battleships. Both Haguro and Tone reported firing on a “heavy cruiser”—actually the Johnston—and Haguro opened fire on a “destroyer”—actually the Raymond.
Japanese gunners began to register hits on the American escort vessels. At about 8:50, Dennis received a direct hit from Tone. The shell went through the main deck and out the starboard side about three feet above the waterline. Ten minutes later, she had her 40mm gun director knocked out by a second hit and a third hit struck her No. 1 5-inch gun shield, rendering the gun inoperative. Since the destroyer escort had already lost her No. 2 gun to mechanical trouble, she altered course to 220 and retired to the southwest.