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Who won the battle of Ormoc Bay?

Who won the battle of Ormoc Bay?

World War 2

Lamson on fire in Ormoc Bay on 7 December 1944. After she was hit by a kamikaze. The tug assisting with firefighting is probably ATR-31.

The Battle of Ormoc Bay was a series of air-sea battles between Imperial Japan and the United States in the Camotes Sea in the Philippines from 9 November-21 December 1944, at Ormoc, part of the Battle of Leyte in the Pacific campaign of World War II. 

Ormoc Bay Engagements, November–December 1944

From Leyte Gulf, on the east side of Leyte, getting to Ormoc Bay, on the west side of Leyte, was difficult. The northern way around Leyte was too narrow to safely navigate, while the southern route required a lengthy circuitous path through Surigao Strait and around a number of smaller islands and treacherous shoal water. Up until late November, interdiction of Japanese reinforcement convoys had become exclusively conducted by Army and Navy aircraft.

USS Waller (DD-466)
USS Waller (DD-466)

The first night surface sweep of Ormoc Bay took place on 27 November by four U.S. destroyers, Waller (DD-466), Saufley (DD-465), Renshaw (DD-499), and Pringle (DD-477), under the command of Captain Robert H. Smith, commander of Destroyer Squadron 22, aided by a radar-equipped “Black Cat” PBY Catalina flying boat. The force bombarded Japanese positions ashore before the Black Cat detected Japanese submarine (possibly I-46) entering Ormoc Bay. The U.S. destroyers fired on the sub and closed to 40-mm gun range, and the sub briefly returned fire, sinking before Waller could ram it. I-46 was lost with all 112 hands sometime in this period.

On the night of 28–29 November, a force of four U.S. PT boats conducted a night sweep of Ormoc Bay and sank two Japanese patrol craft.

On the night of 29–30 November, Captain Smith led four destroyers, Waller, Renshaw, Cony (DD-508), and Conner (DD-582), into Ormoc Bay, but missed a Japanese convoy. Furthermore, on the night of 1–2 December, destroyers Conway (DD-507), Cony, Eaton (DD-510), and Sigourney (DD-502) swept Ormoc Bay, sinking a Japanese freighter.

On 2 December 1944, sightings by aircraft suggested the Japanese were going to make a “Tokyo Express” run into Ormoc Bay. The destroyers Allen M. Sumner (DD-692), with Commander J. C. Zahm embarked in tactical command, Moale (DD-692), and Cooper (DD-695) commenced a night sweep of the bay (all three destroyers were the latest and greatest Sumner-class, with three dual 5-inch guns, ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, and enhanced anti-aircraft weapons and radars). The U.S. ships were under continuous observation and night air attack by Japanese aircraft, which scored a number of near misses on them.

Shortly after midnight, U.S. radar detected two Japanese ships. Summner and Cooper opened fire on the small Japanese destroyer Kuwa, which had large numbers of men topside, and sank her. Moale engaged the small destroyer Take with guns until Sumner and Cooper joined in. However, one of Take’s four torpedoes struck Cooper amidships, breaking her in two and causing her to sink in less than 30 seconds. Over half of Cooper’s crew went down with the ship, including the executive officer. Ten officers and 181 enlisted men were lost. During the night, drifting groups of survivors from Cooper and Kuwa were close enough to exchange words in English. The next day one PBY rescued 56 COOPER survivors and another PBY rescued 48 more, and a few survivors made it to shore.

By this time, U.S. Army commanders had enough of trying to slog through the mud across the mountainous interior of Leyte and decided to conduct an amphibious operation to land the 77th Infantry Division in Ormoc Bay.

As a preliminary to this operation, the commander of Destroyer Squadron 5, Captain W. M. Cole, was tasked with transporting troops, vehicles, and ammunition into the bay and land them at a beach that was in the hands of friendly Filipino guerillas. Cole’s force consisted of destroyers Flusser (DD-368), Drayton (DD-366), Lamson (DD-367), and Shaw (DD-373), eight LSM’s and three LCI’s, which departed Leyte Gulf on 4 December and intending to make most of the trip in darkness. The landing went off with minimal trouble at 2248.

IJN landing ship No.159 at Ormoc Bay

Before dawn, as Cole’s force was returning, Drayton was strafed by a Japanese aircraft.

At 1100 on 5 December, as the force was transiting Surigao Strait, eight Japanese aircraft attacked. Several were shot down, but one kamikaze hit and sank LSM-20, another extensively damaged LSM-23. The last kamikaze narrowly missed Drayton’s bridge before crashing near the forward 5-inch gun, killing 6 and wounding 12. Destroyers Mugford (DD-389) and Lavallette (DD-448) arrived from Leyte Gulf to augment the escort, and, at 1710, Mugford was hit and damaged by a kamikaze, losing 8 men.


USS Ward (APD-16) burning in Ormoc Bay, Leyte, after being struck by a kamikaze, 7 December 1944, during the Ormoc landings (80-G-270774).                         

Landings at Ormoc Bay, 7 December 1945

The landing at Ormoc on 7 December proved to be a great success for the U.S. Army and costly for the U.S. Navy. The Ormoc Attack Group (TG 78.3), carrying the 77th Infantry Division, was commanded by Rear Admiral A. D. Struble, and included nine fast destroyer-transports, four LST’s, 27 LCI’s, 12 LSM’s, nine minesweepers, several patrol and control craft, escorted by 12 destroyers.

The veteran destroyers Nicholas (DD-449), O’Bannon (DD-450), Fletcher (DD-445), and Lavallette swept ahead of the main force, but were shadowed and reported by Japanese aircraft. Except for some desultory shore battery fire directed without effect at destroyers Barton (DD-722), Laffey (DD-724), and O’Brien (DD-725), the landings at dawn went according to plan and tactical surprise was achieved. Just before 1000, however, Japanese aircraft launched one of their most effective air assaults of the Philippines campaign. The Japanese aircraft conducted a conventional torpedo attack until they were hit, at which point they turned themselves into kamikaze.

 Within a space of four minutes, destroyer Mahan (DD-364) was attacked by nine aircraft. The first four were shot down or missed, but the fifth hit Mahan just behind the bridge. The sixth hit Mahan at the waterline. And, almost simultaneously, one of the aircraft that had missed overhead turned back and also hit the destroyer. Followed by yet another plane, which strafed Mahan. The eighth plane crashed short and the ninth just passed overhead and continued on. Fires quickly spread to the flooding controls, preventing the forward magazines from being flooded, which the commanding officer assessed were in imminent danger. He ordered the ship abandoned. The crew obeyed, but only with great reluctance as they were determined to save their ship. Destroyers Lamson and Walke (DD-723) picked up survivors, and on order from Rear Admiral Struble, Walke scuttled Mahan with gunfire and torpedoes.

USS Waller (DD-466)

The destroyer-transport Ward (APD-16) was hit and heavily damaged by a kamikaze, which started severe fires that were deemed to be out of control.

The ship was ordered abandoned, over the objection of some of the crew, who wanted to keep fighting the fires. Like Mahan, Struble ordered Ward to be scuttled and O’Brien was given the order to do so. Before her conversion to a destroyer-transport, Ward (DD-139) had been the destroyer that fired the first shot of the Pacific War, sinking a Japanese midget submarine that was trying to enter Pearl Harbor just before the air attack. On 7 December 1941, William W. Outerbridge was in command of Ward. On 7 December 1944, in an irony of fate, Outerbridge was in command of O’Brien and had the sad distinction and duty to sink his former command, which he carried out.

At 1100 on 7 December 1944, another Japanese air raid developed. Several kamikaze were shot down and others achieved near misses on several U.S. ships. Destroyer-transport Liddle (APD-60) was showered by fragments from a kamikaze that blew up only 30 feet away.

A few minutes later a kamikaze hit Liddle in the bridge from dead ahead, destroying the bridge, combat information center, radio room, and killing the skipper, Lieutenant commander L. C. Brogger, USNR.

The executive officer, Lieutenant R. K. Hawes, assumed command and, despite the loss of 36 killed and 22 seriously wounded, brought the ship through the rest of the battle.

Later in the afternoon, destroyer Lamson was serving as the fighter-director destroyer controlling 12 Army P-38 fighters. Lamson directed four of them against a Dinah twin-engine bomber, which then dove on the ship, narrowly missing with a large bomb, before crashing in the sea. Later, a kamikaze hit Lamson on her aft funnel and then crashed into the forward superstructure, staring a fire that engulfed much of the forward part of the ship, killing 21 men, and wounding another 50. Most of those killed were trapped in the No. 1 fireroom when the hatches were jammed by the plane’s bomb. As the fires approached the forward magazine, she was ordered abandoned and scuttled.

However, Captain Cole countermanded his own scuttling order and directed the tug ATR-31 to take Lamson under tow, and the badly damaged ship was ultimately saved.

On 10 December 1944, Japanese aircraft attacked into Leyte Gulf again. Destroyer Hughes (DD-410) was hit and damaged by a kamikaze, suffering 23 casualties. Liberty ship William S. Ladd was hit by kamikaze and so badly damaged she had to be abandoned. PT-323 was hit and sunk by two kamikaze and LCT-1075 was sunk in the same attack.

B6N in flight.jpg
B6N in flight

On 11 December 1944, the Japanese attempted their last “Tokyo Express” run to Leyte, and the U.S. Navy commenced a second resupply convoy to the beachhead at Ormoc, a mission that became known as the “Terrible Second.” At around 1700, 10 to 12 Jill bombers attacked and as many as seven concentrated on destroyer Reid (DD-369), all in less than a minute. The first Jill crashed just off Reid’s bow, starting a fire and causing underwater damage. The second Jill was shot down. The third dropped a torpedo that missed and the plane flew away. Others crashed near the ship.

The last Jill crashed into Reid in the port quarter between the No. 3 and No. 4 guns, and the bomb penetrated the magazine, which exploded and blew her stern apart. Reid rolled on her beam and sank in two minutes, taking 103 of her crew with her; 152 were rescued. Destroyer Caldwell (DD-605) was narrowly missed by a kamikaze, which passed the ship so closely that the bridge was drenched with gasoline and debris.

A B6N2 before starting the engine.

The next day on the return passage, Caldwell was hit on the bridge by a kamikaze as she was simultaneously straddled by two bombs that sprayed the ship with shrapnel: 33 of her crew were killed and 40 were wounded, including the commanding officer. Nevertheless, Caldwell continued to shoot at Japanese aircraft and her crew saved the ship. For the Japanese part, the destroyer Uzuki was torpedoed and sunk by PT-490 and PT-492, and destroyer Yuzuki was sunk by U.S. Marine Corps aircraft on the last Leyte “Tokyo Express” run.

Who won the battle of Ormoc Bay?

Written by US Navy Admiral Sam Cox

World War 2