USS Heermann at the Battle off Samar by Dwight Shepler.

The track charts below show the progress of the battle.

Pursuit Attach and counterattack Envelopment Break-off
Following replenishment at Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands, Taffy 3 sailed 12 October 1944 to help protect the escort carriers maintaining air supremacy over eastern Leyte and Leyte Gulf, sweeping the enemy off local airfields, giving troops direct support on the landing beaches from 20 October and even destroying vehicle transport and supply convoys on the roads of Leyte itself. Attached to “Taffy 3” (Escort Carrier Task Unit 77.4.3) were Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague’s flagship Fanshaw Bay (CVE 70), five other escort carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer-escorts. “Taffy 3” was one of the three units of Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague’s Escort Carrier Task Group 77.4 known by their voice calls as “Taffy 1,” “Taffy 2,” and “Taffy 3.”

On the morning of 23 October 1944, American submarines detected and attacked units of the Japanese fleet coming in from the South China Sea toward the precarious Leyte beachhead. A battleship-cruiser-destroyer Southern Force was decimated as it attempted to enter Leyte Gulf via Surigao Strait on the night of 24–25 October 1944. A more powerful battleship-cruiser-destroyer Center Force had been pounded by Admiral Halsey’s attack carrier planes and presumably turned back from San Bernardino Straits. Admiral Halsey then raced north with his attack carriers and heavy battleships to engage a Japanese carrier-battleship task force off Cape Engaño. This Taffy 3 as lonely sentinels east of Samar and southeast of San Bernadino Strait, on the route to Leyte Gulf.

As enemy ships fled the Battle of Surigao Strait at daybreak on 25 October 1944, the powerful Japanese Center Force slipped through San Bernadino Strait. It steamed along the coast of Samar directly for the American invasion beachhead at Leyte, hoping to destroy amphibious shipping and American troops on shore.


One of the pilots flying patrol after dawn alert of 25 October 1944 reported the approach of Japanese Center Force. Steaming straight for “Taffy 3” were four battleships, seven cruisers, and at least 12 destroyers. Johnston’s gunnery officer later reported, “We felt like little David without a slingshot.” In less than a minute Johnston was zigzagging between the six little escort carriers and the Japanese fleet and putting out a smoke screen over a 2,500-yard front to conceal the carriers from the enemy gunners: “Even as we began laying smoke, the Japanese started lobbing shells at us and the Johnston had to zigzag between the splashes. . . . We were the first destroyer to make smoke, the first to start firing, the first to launch a torpedo attack.”

For the first 20 minutes, Johnston was helpless as the enemy cruisers and battleships had her in range. But the destroyer’s 5-inch guns could not yet reach them. She charged onward to close the enemy—first a line of seven destroyers; next, one light and three heavy cruisers; and then the four battleships. To the east appeared three other cruisers and several destroyers.

As soon as range closed, Johnston opened her 5-inch battery on the nearest cruiser, scoring damaging hits. About this time, an 8-inch shell landed right off her bow, its red dye splashing the face of Johnston’s gunnery officer, Lt. Robert C. Hagen. He mopped the dye from his eyes while remarking: “Looks like somebody’s mad at us!” In five furious minutes, Johnston pumped 200 rounds at the enemy. Then Comdr. Evans ordered, “Fire torpedoes!” The destroyer got off 10 torpedoes then whipped around to retire behind a heavy smoke screen. When she came out of the smoke a minute later, Japanese cruiser Kumano could be seen burning furiously from torpedo hits. Kumano later sank. But Johnston took three 14-inch shell hits from a battleship, followed closely by three 6-inch shells from a light cruiser: “It was like a puppy being smacked by a truck. The hits resulted in the loss of all power to the steering engine, all power to the three 5-inch guns in the after part of the ship, and rendered our gyro compass useless.” Through “sheer providence” a rainstorm came up and Johnston “ducked into it” for a few minutes of rapid repairs and salvage work.

At 7:50 a.m., Admiral Sprague ordered destroyers to make a torpedo attack. But Johnston had already expended torpedoes. With one engine, she couldn’t keep up with the others: “But that wasn’t Comdr. Evans’ way of fighting: ‘We’ll go in with the destroyers and provide fire support,’ he boomed.” Johnston went in, dodging salvos and blasting back. As she charged out of blinding smoke, pointed straight at the bridge of gallant Heermann (DD 532), “All engines back full!” bellowed Comdr. Evans. That meant one engine for Johnston who could hardly do more than slow down. But Heermann’s two engines backed her barely out of the collision course— Johnston missed her by less than 10 feet. Now there was so much smoke that Evans ordered no firing unless the gunnery officer could see the ship. “At 8:20, there suddenly appeared out of the smoke a 30,000-ton Kongo-class battleship, only 7,000 yards off our port beam. I took one look at the unmistakable pagoda mast, muttered, ‘I sure as hell can see that!’ and opened fire. In 40 seconds we got off 30 rounds, at least 15 of which hit the pagoda superstructure. . . . The BB belched a few 14-inchers at us, but, thank God, registered only clean misses.”

Johnston soon observed Gambier Bay (CVE 73) under fire from a cruiser: “Comdr. Evans then gave me the most courageous order I’ve ever heard: ‘Commence firing on that cruiser, draw her fire on us and away from Gambier Bay’.” Johnston scored four hits in a deliberate slugging match with a heavy cruiser and then broke off the futile battle as the Japanese destroyer squadron was seen closing rapidly on the American escort carriers. Johnston outfought the entire Japanese destroyer squadron, concentrating on the lead ship until the enemy quit cold; then concentrated on the second destroyer until the remaining enemy units broke off to get out of effective gun range before launching torpedoes, all of which went wild.

Johnston took a hit which knocked out one forward gun, damaged another, and her bridge was rendered untenable by fires and explosions resulting from a hit in her 40mm ready ammunition locker. Evans shifted his command to Johnston’s fantail, yelling orders through an open hatch to men turning her rudder by hand. At one of her batteries, a Texan kept calling “More shells! More shells!” Still the destroyer battled desperately to keep the Japanese destroyers and cruisers from reaching the five surviving American carriers: “We were now in a position where all the gallantry and guts in the world couldn’t save us, but we figured that help for the carrier must be on the way, and every minute’s delay might count. . . . By 9:30 we were going dead in the water; even the Japanese couldn’t miss us. They made a sort of running semicircle around our ship, shooting at us like a bunch of Indians attacking a prairie schooner. Our lone engine and fire room was knocked out; we lost all power, and even the indomitable skipper knew we were finished. At 9:45 he gave the saddest order a captain can give: ‘Abandon Ship.’ . . . At 10:10 Johnston rolled over and began to sink. A Japanese destroyer came up to 1,000 yards and pumped a final shot into her to make sure she went down. A survivor saw the Japanese captain salute her as she went down. That was the end of Johnston.”

From Johnston’s complement of 327, only 141 were saved. Of 186 lost, about 50 were killed by enemy action, 45 died on rafts from battle injuries; and 92, including Comdr. Evans, were alive in the water after Johnston sank, but were never heard from again.


The only chance for survival of the little group of American “jeep” carriers and “tin cans” lay in fleeing to the south, hoping that aid would arrive before their complete destruction. While the carriers launched all available planes to attack their numerous Japanese adversaries and then formed a rough circle as they turned toward Leyte Gulf, Hoel and her fellow destroyers Johnston and Heermann, worked feverishly to lay down a smoke screen to hide their “baby flattops” from the overwhelmingly superior enemy ships. At 0706, when a providential rain squall helped to hide his carriers, Admiral Clifton Sprague boldly ordered his destroyers to attack the Japanese with torpedoes. Hoel instantly obeyed this order by heading straight for the nearest enemy battleship, Kongo, then 18,000 yards away. When she had closed to 14,000 yards, she opened fire as she continued her race toward the smoking muzzles of Kongo’s 14-inch guns. A hit on her bridge, which knocked out all voice radio communication, did not deflect her from her course toward the enemy until she had launched a half salvo of torpedoes at a range of 9,000. Although Hoel’s “fish” all failed to strike their target, they caused Kongo to lose ground in her pursuit of the carriers by forcing her to turn sharply left and to continue 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 yards of the leading crusier, Haguro, the fearless 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 enemies. Kongo was only 8,000 yards off her port beam and the heavy cruiser column was some 7,000 yards off her port quarter. During the next hour, the valiant ship rendered her final service by drawing enemy fire to herself and away from the carriers. In the process of fish-tailing and chasing salvos, she demanded the attention of her antagonists by peppering them with her two remaining guns. Finally, at 0830, after withstanding over 40 hits, an 8-inch 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, Hoel’s stouthearted captain, Commander Leon S. Kinterberger, reluctantly ordered his crew to “prepare to abandon ship.” The Japanese fire at the doomed ship continued as her surviving officers and men went over the side and only stopped at 0855 when Hoel rolled over and sank in 4,000 fathoms.

Only 86 of Hoel’s complement survived while 253 officers and men died with their ship. Commander Kinterberger described the incomparably courageous devotion to duty of the men of the Hoel in a seaman’s epitaph to the action: “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, in a position of comparative safety on the disengaged side of the carriers at the start of the fight, steamed into the action at flank speed through the formation of “baby flattops” which, after launching their last planes, formed a rough circle as they turned toward Leyte Gulf. Since smoke and intermittent rain squalls had reduced visibility to less than 100 yards, it took alert and skillful seamanship to avoid colliding with friendly ships during the dash to battle. Heermann backed emergency full to avoid destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts and repeated the maneuver to miss destroyer Hoel as she formed column on the screen flagship in preparation for a torpedo attack.

As she began the run, dye from enemy shells daubed the water nearby with circles of brilliant red, yellow and green. Heermann replied to this challenge by pumping her 5-inch shells at one heavy cruiser, Chikuma, as she directed seven torpedoes at another, Haguro. When the second of these “fish” had left the tube, Heermann changed course to engage a column of four battleships whose shells began churning the water nearby. She trained her guns on Kongo, the column’s leader, at which she launched three torpedoes. Then she quickly closed Haruna, the target of her last three torpedoes, which were launched from only 4,400 yards. Believing that one of the “fish” had hit the battleship, she nimbly dodged the salvoes which splashed in her wake as she retired. Japanese records claim that the battleship successfully evaded all of Heermann’s torpedoes, but they were slowed down in their pursuit of the American carriers. The giant Yamato, with her monstrous 18.1-inch guns, was even forced out of the action altogether when, caught between two spreads, she reversed course for almost 10 minutes to escape being hit.

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 boldly between the escort carriers and the column of four enemy heavy cruisers. Here she engaged Japanese cruiser Chikuma in a duel, which seriously damaged both ships. A series of 8-inch hits flooded the forward part of the plucky destroyer, pulling her bow down so far that her anchors were dragging in the water. One of her guns was knocked out but the others continued to pour a deadly stream of 5-inch shells at the cruiser, which also came under heavy air attack during the engagement. The combined effect of Heermann’s guns and the bombs, torpedoes and strafing from carrier-based planes was too much for Chikuma, which tried to withdraw but sank during her flight.

As Chikuma turned away, heavy cruiser Tone turned her guns on Heermann, which replied shell for shell until she reached a position suitable to resume laying smoke for the carriers. At this point, planes from Admiral Stump’s Taffy 2 swooped in to sting Tone so severely that she, too, broke off action and fled. The courageous attacks of the destroyers and aircraft thus saved the outgunned task groups.