Pearl Harbor Revenge: The Battleship Battle of Surigao Strait
At 7:07, a half hour after sunrise, the Asagumo was discovered by the Denver and Columbia and three screening destroyers. The five warships had been sent down the strait to sink any lingering Japanese warships and proceeded to do just that. Asagumo’s bow had been blown off by Coward’s destroyers a few hours earlier, and her forward section was awash. The Japanese destroyer was quickly overwhelmed by a torrent of 5-inch and 6-inch shells but fought back with fire from her after turret. It was a futile gesture. Asagumo sank at 7:21; her survivors made their way toward the shore.
“One Hell of a Shootin’ Match”
Off the coast of Leyte, the sailors aboard the U.S. support vessels were too far away to see or hear the battle, but they did see the flashes of gunfire reflected in the clouds. They could tell that “one hell of a shootin’ match” was taking place. Nobody knew the outcome of the battle until morning, when reports began to filter in that the Japanese had been stopped. The news was not conclusive, mostly bits and pieces based on radio reports, but the word that was going around was certainly reassuring.
There was no need to worry. Oldendorf had certainly plugged Surigao Strait, as he had intended. No Japanese ship had come anywhere near Leyte Gulf, and what was left of the enemy fleet was retiring south.
Later in the morning, American Grumman TBF Avengers caught up with Mogami. A bomb hit on her engine room left her dead in the water. The destroyer Akebono took off the crew and sank the cruiser with a torpedo at 12:30. Of Nishimura’s force, only the Shigure survived to be torpedoed by the submarine USS Blackfin on January 21, 1945.
Shima’s force proved to be much luckier. All four of its destroyers escaped destruction at Surigao Strait, along with the heavy cruiser Ashigara. Two days later, Abukuma, which had been struck by a PT torpedo at Surigao Strait, was hit several times by U.S. bombers. One of the bombs touched off the ship’s torpedo warheads, and the cruiser went down south of Negros Island. Nachi was sunk by dive- bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Lexington in Manila Bay on November 5.
“In no battle of the entire war did the United States Navy make so nearly a complete sweep as in that of Surigao Strait, at so little cost,” pronounced historian Samuel Eliot Morison. American casualties totaled 39 killed and 114 wounded, most of them aboard Albert W. Grant. No records of Japanese casualties exist, but they probably total in the thousands. Fuso and Yamashiro each had complements of 1,400 men, most of whom went down with their ships.
Surigao Strait also saw the end of the battle line in naval warfare. The development of the aircraft carrier meant that no line of battleships could withstand a sustained air attack.
A self-described “old sailor,” Morison called the Battle of Surigao Strait “a funeral salute to a finished era of naval warfare.” Romantic as well as sentimental, he went on to say, “One can imagine the ghosts of all great admirals from Raleigh to Jellicoe standing at attention as the Battle Line went into oblivion.”
This article by David Alan Johnson originally appeared on Warfare History Network.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.