Pearl Harbor Revenge: The Battleship Battle of Surigao Strait
The fire from Yamagumo’s burning hulk might have helped the torpedomen see their targets, but it did not help to hit them. Arunta launched four torpedoes at a range of 6,500 yards. All four missed. Beale fired five torpedoes at 6,800 yards. These missed as well. Killen had better luck, firing five torpedoes at Yamashiro and hitting her once. Killen’s captain, Commander H.G. Corey, had been at Pearl Harbor and must have taken pleasure in torpedoing one of the enemy’s battleships. The second torpedo hit on Yamashiro slowed the ship to five knots, but only for a short time. The tough old battlewagon still made headway, and steadily regained speed.
Captain McManes’s three destroyers, Hutchins, Daly, and Bache, were also coming south at 25 knots. At 3:29, they began launching torpedoes. Admiral Nishimura’s neat column had disintegrated by this time. Yamashiro still pressed resolutely northward, now at about 15 knots. Shigure and Mogami, both still undamaged, fanned out on her starboard side. Fuso and the remaining destroyers were either drifting with the current or trying to withdraw to the south. This made for much more difficult shooting than Captain Coward had experienced.
McManes’s destroyers fired a total of 15 torpedoes at Nishimura’s force, or what was left of it. Bache also opened fire with her 5-inch guns at the damaged Japanese destroyers and was joined by Hutchins and Daly. The enemy returned an inaccurate fire of its own.
While this exchange was taking place, everyone’s attention was distracted by what happened to Fuso. The hit by Melvin’s torpedo—or possibly two torpedoes—had apparently caused internal fires that her damage control parties were not able to extinguish. The fires soon spread to one or more of the main magazines. At 3:38, the battleship exploded with a tremendous concussion and broke in half. Sailors on both sides witnessed the spectacle. The detonation was massive and was made even more spectacular by the moonless night. Both the bow and stern sections continued to float, drifting slowly away from each other. The two sections continued to drift until the forward section went down at 4:20. The stern sank less than an hour later.
As McManes’s destroyers began to withdraw, Hutchins launched her five remaining torpedoes at Asagumo. All five missed their target, but one hit Michishio, which had drifted into the path of the spread. Michishio blew up and sank immediately. Admiral Oldendorf’s destroyers had completely reversed the Japanese dominance in night torpedo attacks, which had plagued American forces at Guadalcanal two years earlier. The U.S. destroyers suffered no losses during the action.
“Launch Attack- Get the Big Boys”
Destroyer Squadron 56, commanded by Captain R.N. Smoot, had yet to engage the enemy. The Japanese force was still steaming northward toward Oldendorf’s battle line, and any further destroyer attack would have to be quick, before the battleships and cruisers began firing. At 3:45, even before McManes began his run, Smoot received the order, “Launch attack—get the big boys!”
Unlike the other squadrons, Destroyer Squadron 56 was deployed in three sections. Captain Smoot led Section One, which included Albert W. Grant, Richard P. Leary, and Newcomb. Section Two was under Captain T.F. Colney and consisted of Bryant, Hartford, and Robinson. Section Three, commanded by Commander J.W. Bouleware, was made up of Bennion, Leutze, and Heywood L. Edwards.
All nine destroyers steamed south at 25 knots. Colney’s three destroyers were the first to make contact with the enemy force, which now consisted of Yamashiro, Mogami, and Shigure, and began launching torpedoes at 3:54. Each destroyer fired five torpedoes, all of which missed. Bouleware’s section was next. Its targets were Yamashiro and Shigure. The two Japanese ships began firing as the destroyers launched torpedoes and kept firing as Bouleware’s ships retreated northward behind a smoke screen. Neither side scored any hits.
Captain Smoot’s division began launching torpedoes at 6,200 yards. Leary launched three torpedoes, Grant and Newcomb five each. A few minutes earlier, Yamashiro had altered course 90 degrees from north to west, directly across the torpedo tracks. Two explosions were seen aboard Yamashiro at 4:11, matching the interval it would have taken for Newcomb’s torpedoes to make their run. Yamashiro had already come under fire from Oldendorf’s battle line, explaining the change of course.
By this time, shellfire from both Japanese and American ships crisscrossed over the destroyers. Some of the shells glowed in the dark and could be seen against the black sky as they arced overhead. Both Leary and Newcomb managed to get clear of the crossfire, although they were bracketed by falling rounds. Albert W. Grant was not as lucky. Just as she was beginning her turn, the destroyer took her first hit. During the next 13 minutes, she received 18 more. Eleven of these were 6-inch shells from American cruisers. At 4:20, she was dead in the water. The crew plugged the shell holes with mattresses, tables, and anything available.