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 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
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
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