The U.S. Navy in World War II, The Battle off Samar & True Heros

“The Battle of Samar was a battle of firsts: the first time a U.S. aircraft carrier was destroyed by surface gunfire; the first time a ship was sunk by a suicide plane; the first time the mightiest battleship afloat fired on enemy warships.  And it was a battle of lasts: the last massed ship-versus-ship action in naval history: the last time a battleship fired its main batteries at an enemy; the last time small destroyers charged an opposing battle line.

If Samar had never happened – if Halsey had left behind Task Force 34 to butcher the Center Force as it sailed through San Bernardino Strait – Leyte Gulf would probably have gone down in naval history as a major mop-up operation and a bloody one-way slaughter.  As catastrophic as it was, Taffy 3’s historic last stand at Samar conferred to the bloody campaign an aspect of transcendence.  The victory at Leyte Gulf was the product of Allied planning, savvy, and panache, to be sure.  But only Samar showed the world something else: how Americans handle having their backs pushed to the wall.  As Herman Wouk wrote in War and Remembrance, “The vision of Sprague’s three destroyers – the Johnston, the Hoel, and the Heerman – charging out of the smoke and the rain straight toward the main batteries of Kurita’s battleships and cruisers, can endure as a picture of the way Americans fight when they don’t have superiority.  Our schoolchildren should know about that incident, and our enemies should ponder it.”

From The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer


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