if I had time to get a load. We had not turned up

engines yet and I could not see going off without

some ordnance. I saw Borries talking to Captain

Viewig, who made a sweeping motion with his

arm – ‘Get ‘em off!’”

“About this time, I was startled by what seemed

like a rifle shot. I looked out and saw it was

a salvo of heavy-caliber stuff splashing alongside

White Plains. Until this moment, I had no idea the

enemy was so near. Now I was more than ready

to get on that catapult! Three TBMs launched

ahead of me. The ceiling was at 1,200 feet. I called

up Admiral Sprague and asked what our orders

were. ‘Attack immediately!’”

Following the catapult launches of the

Avengers, the FM-2 Wildcats were hurriedly

launched; some were armed with rockets for

strikes ashore, but most were armed only with

their four .50-caliber machine guns.

Huxtable broke out into better visibility.

“I spotted four cruisers nearby and what appeared

to be four battleships further back in the gloom.

There was no possibility of making a high-altitude

attack. I pulled up into the ceiling and started for

the cruisers. I had no idea what loads the other

planes had, but at least we would give them

a good scare.”

Huxtable was joined by his Annapolis classmate,

LCDR Richard Fowler, who led Kitkun Bay’s VC5. They attempted coordinated “hot” and “dry”

attacks, with FM-2s strafing the ships ahead of

the Avengers, which dropped their 500-pound

general purpose bombs. “Our bombs had no effect

on the ships, but possibly the explosions scared

the crewmen.”

The Wildcats and Avengers of Taffy-3 kept an

unrelenting string of aircraft over Kurita’s fleet,

giving the admiral the impression the Americans

had far greater resources than they did.

Lt(jg) Norman Johnson of Fanshaw Bay’s

Composite Squadron 68 piloted an Avenger

with four 500-pound general-purpose bombs.

He later remembered: “Climbing at full throttle,

I penetrated the lower cloud cover and leveled off

at 11,000 feet. I took a final look at the enemy ships,

which were firing on our ships. When I was about

five miles away, I nosed down to pick up speed.

The Japanese battle force was at that moment

occupied in anti-aircraft protection against an

air attack. Varied colored bursts mushroomed at

several levels. It was quite dense and something

I had to penetrate. I kept my bomb doors closed

as speed increased. I saw three large battleships

with rudders hard over and guns spitting flame. At

7,000 feet, I pushed over into my attack, selecting

the lead battleship as my target. My radioman

reminded me ‘Open the bomb bay doors!’ I opened

the doors and the immediate drag was apparent

as the airplane was really barreling along now.

“I was intent on adjusting the target in my

sight. Suddenly the airplane corkscrewed, and

the right-side sliding part of the canopy peeled

off. I pressed the bomb release at what seemed


INFO Eduard

Photo: Phi Willard Niet via NHHC


USS GAMBIER BAY (CVE-73) and two destroyer escorts making smoke at the start of the battle off Samar,

October 25, 1944. Japanese ships are faintly visible on the horizon.

the best altitude and concentrated my effort on

pulling out. The target was so large the bombs

couldn’t miss. It was a close call as I leveled off

50 to 100 feet over the water. I pulled up to avoid

more AA and then hid in the clouds in case there

were any enemy aircraft around.”

Over the next 30 minutes, aircraft from the six

squadrons made repeated bombing and rocket

runs on the enemy ships, strafing their decks

as they pulled out. At Tacloban, the field became

a muddy bog; landing aircraft were damaged as

they ground-looped in the mud and slammed

into other planes. By mid-day the airfield was

covered with wrecked Avengers and Wildcats.

The Naval “Charge of the Light Brigade”

While the pilots desperately attempted to

distract the enemy, Taffy-3’s “small boys” moved

to defend the carriers after Admiral Sprague

ordered the three destroyers to attack despite

the hopeless odds.

At 0700 hours USS Johnston made smoke in

response to the incoming shell fire that bracketed

the carriers. Ten minutes later, Gunnery Officer

Robert Hagen opened fire at a range of 18,000

yards and registered several hits on the leading

heavy cruisers with his radar-directed gunfire.

After five minutes, Hagen concentrated

fire on heavy cruiser Kumano. At maximum

range, Johnston scored several hits on her

superstructure, which erupted in flame. Kumano

then targeted Johnston in turn and she was

soon bracketed by colorful shell splashes.

Johnston made smoke and zigzagged while she

accelerated to flank speed and headed toward

the enemy fleet alone, firing over 200 rounds

nearly continuously.

Captain Evans brought Johnston to 9,000 yards

from the enemy and fired all ten torpedoes. Two

hit Kumano at 0724 hours and blew her bow off.

The four other torpedoes continued on toward the

enemy fleet and battleship Kongô was forced to

turn away north to avoid them, which took her

out of the fight. Heavy cruiser Suzuya, which had

suffered damage from air attacks, stopped her

pursuit of the Americans to assist Kumano.

Johnston’s audacious attack confused Admiral

Kurita, who thought he had been engaged

by American cruisers. When the rest of the

Japanese ships were forced to turn away to avoid

the torpedoes, the carriers gained more precious

minutes to launch aircraft.

Evans turned back into his own smoke, but at

0730 hours, the enemy guns found him. Firing

at a range of 17,000 yards, Kongô, hit Johnston

with three 14-inch shells which penetrated into

her port engine room, where the explosions cut

her speed in half and disrupted power to the aft

August 2023