(TA Victims Great and Small: Subchaser No. 46 (left) and destroyer Shimakaze (right). As depicted by Takeshi Yuki, “Color Paintings of Japanese Warships”)
THIS IS THE SECOND OF THREE INSTALLMENTS WHICH WILL DETAIL THE JAPANESE ATTEMPTS TO REINFORCE LEYTE. PART I COVERS TA Nos. 1-2, AND PART III, TA Nos. 5-9
TA Nos. 3 and 4
TA Operations Nos. 3 and 4 were designated to transport the main body of the army’s 26th Division to Leyte. TA No. 3 would utilize five cargo ships and screening units under Admiral Hayakawa to carry the division’s heavy equipment. In TA No. 4, Admiral Kimura, with essentially the same vessels used in TA No. 2, would carry the soldiers. And hard-working T.6, T.9 and T.10 would once again be along, to take in the last 1,000 men of 1st Division.
The American carrier strikes, plus typhoon weather which hit Manila shortly thereafter, proved greater hindrances to the loading of heavy equipment than to the embarkation of soldiers, with the result that TA No. 4 was ready to go a day before TA No. 3. The three naval transports led the way out in the early morning of 8 November even as the typhoon raged about them, followed a few hours later by the main convoy. TAKATSU MARU, KINKA MARU and KASHII MARU, overloaded with 10,000 men and 3,500 tons of munitions, plowed heavily through the seas, while Admiral Matsuyama’s little kaibokan bobbed around them. Admiral Kimura’s destroyer screen, now numbering KASUMI (flag), USHIO, AKISHIMO, ASASHIMO, NAGANAMI and WAKATSUKI, surged ahead. All proceeded under the storm’s welcome cover to reach Ormoc in the early evening of the 9th.
The trio of T.1s arrived first, thus drawing onto themselves the attentions of four B-25s and their 16 P-38 escorts. All three were slightly damaged but claimed to have shot down four of their attackers in exchange. Admiral Matsuyama’s flagship OKINAWA led the main convoy into Ormoc Bay about an hour later, and it also came through continuing strafing attacks with little damage. That night two pairs of U. S. PT-boats kept Kimura’s destroyers busy, PTs 492 and 497 erroneously claiming to have sunk one, but in the end they were driven off without damage to either side.
But the unloading was going poorly. Of about 50 daihatsu gathered at Ormoc for the landings, only five remained operational, all the rest having been either wrecked or buried in their hidden coves by typhoon-generated mudslides. But T.10 had brought in six more on this trip, several large rafts were hastily hammered together, and three of the kaibokan were even pressed into service shuttling men and munitions between ship and shore. These efforts succeeded in getting all the troops ashore by sunrise on the 10th, but much material remained aboard the transports.
By mid-morning the three T.1s were long gone and only KINKA MARU continued unloading, with SHIMUSHU and Desdiv 31 standing by her. The rest of Kimura’s vessels were outward-bound when they were hit by 30 B-25s from Morotai. Heavy Japanese AA knocked down five of the first eight attackers, plus two more in succeeding waves, but in return the bombers inflicted grievous damage. TAKATSU MARU was hit by three bombs and blew up in a tremendous explosion (fuelled by unlanded explosives) which none of her crew survived. KASHII MARU was hit no fewer than five times and also eventually exploded, but only after survivors had abandoned ship. CD No. 11 was set afire and had to be beached, while CD No. 13 and SHIMUSHU suffered lesser wounds from near-misses.
With that Kimura ordered Matsuyama to clear the area with all ships able to do so. Kimura himself remained behind with KASUMI, ASASHIMO and NAGANAMI only long enough to rescue survivors, then soon caught up with the rest of the convoy. But it was also caught by another 10 bomb-toting P-38s as it passed north of Cebu. A direct hit cost AKISHIMO her bow and 55 casualties, another badly-damaged OKINAWA and forced Matsuyama’s transfer to SHIMUSHU, and a near-miss showered KINKA MARU with bomb fragments.
That night the battered survivors of TA No. 4 passed the inbound TA No. 3. That convoy had stood out of Manila on the morning of 9 November, comprised of cargo ships CELEBES MARU, TAIZAN MARU, MIKASA MARU, SEIHO MARU and TENSHO MARU, between them carrying 2,000 men and 6,000 tons of munitions of 26th Division. Admiral Hayakawa led a scratch escort force of destroyers SHIMAKAZE (flag), HAMANAMI, HATSUHARU and TAKE, plus Minesweeper No. 30 and Subchaser No. 46.
It hadn’t taken long for things to start going wrong for Hayakawa. As he transited the Sibuyan Sea on the 10th, CELEBES MARU, his biggest transport, ran hard aground on outlying reefs of Luzon’s Bondoc Peninsula. The subchaser was detached to guard her until the homeward-bound TA No. 4 could remove her troops and crew, and the rest of TA No. 3 hastened on to its rendezvous with Kimura northwest of Masbate later that night.
Kimura had previously agreed to augment Hayakawa’s inadequate screen with four of his destroyers, but his own troubles forced some revision of this plan: AKISHIMO was too badly damaged and NAGANAMI and ASASHIMO were crowded with men rescued from the lost ships. But the latter two were able to transfer their passengers to Kimura’s KASUMI off the island of Ticao, then with WAKATSUKI raced to catch up with Hayakawa just before midnight. In exchange, TA No. 3 released HATSUHARU and TAKE, and these joined Kimura on the morning of the 11th off the Bondoc Peninsula.
The weary Kimura delegated the CELEBES MARU job to Matsuyama, who was directed to use SHIMUSHU and CD No. 13 to carry the transport’s soldier’s on into Ormoc in Hayakawa’s wake. The remnants of TA No. 4, including the three naval transports, were finally able to get back to Manila by the evening of 11 November.
They were followed in the next day by Matsuyama’s two troop-laden kaibokan, which had given up all hope of taking the soldiers into Ormoc upon receiving the shocking news of the fate of TA No. 3.
Admiral Hayakawa’s first opponents were PT-boats, two of which, PT-321 and PT-324, attempted a sunrise ambush northwest of Leyte. But the merchantmen briefly reversed course and two destroyers chased the PT-boats off. Captain Oshima Ichitaro, Comdesdiv 32 in HAMANAMI, claimed sinking one of them and he was not far wrong, for PT-321 went aground in San Isidro Bay while trying to evade him and had to be destroyed to avoid capture.
But the repulse of the torpedo boats was the last victory that Admiral Hayakawa would ever know, for the American Admiral Halsey had agreed to return his powerful fast carriers to Philippine waters to take a hand in the proceedings. This was probably in response to General MacArthur’s growing frustration with Japanese reinforcement successes and the apparent inability of his own army fliers to stop them. However, Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, who was in temporary command of Task Force 38 that day, is among the sources who have indicated that Halsey was really trying to catch the remnants of Kurita’s battle fleet out of Brunei. And Kurita did in fact leave that base on 9 November, purportedly to offer “distant support” to TA Nos. 3 and 4, but returned to Brunei three days later after only briefly sticking his nose into the Sulu Sea. Bitter indeed would be the irony if, instead of diverting the U. S. flattops from Hayakawa, Kurita had in fact helped draw them onto him!
In any event Admiral Sherman had Task Groups 38.1, 38.3 and 38.4 operating some 200 miles east of San Bernardino Strait by the morning of 11 November, and these sent a massive 350-plane strike against TA No. 3. The American planes began darkening the skies over Ormoc around noon, just as Hayakawa’s convoy was entering the bay’s narrow confines. By all accounts the American fliers’ greatest concern that day was simply keeping out of each others’ way, with some formations having to orbit up to 20 minutes awaiting their turn to dive on the hapless Japanese.
The result was a slaughter reminiscent of the Bismarck Sea. The lumbering cargo ships never had a chance, and all four were quickly blasted beneath the waves. It would appear that many of the soldiers they carried managed to straggle ashore, but of course all of 26th Division’s heavy equipment was lost.
Succeeding waves went after the escorts, now desperately seeking the dubious safety of open waters. Ponson Island, which channeled their courses into one long, writhing column, must have been roundly cursed. Captain Oshima’s HAMANAMI led the dash, followed in order by WAKATSUKI, flagship SHIMAKAZE, NAGANAMI, Minesweeper No. 30, and ASASHIMO. All Japanese destroyers were by this point in the war very well-equipped with AA guns, but neither these, nor billowing smoke-screens, nor engines cranked up to maximum overboost, could save them from the ceaseless rain of explosives which poured down from the enemy planes.
SHIMAKAZE and WAKATSUKI, easily the largest of the warships present and usually misidentified as cruisers, were the first to be sunk, only 131 survivors being rescued from their combined crews of 600. Admiral Hayakawa is known to have died in the blast of a direct hit forward on SHIMAKAZE, while that destroyer’s critically-injured skipper was one of a dozen officers to later be pulled alive from the ships’ wreckage.
Minesweeper No. 30 and veteran NAGANAMI were the next to go, the latter yielding up but 72 survivors. Captain Oshima was vaguely aware of bombs bursting down HAMANAMI’s length, then was knocked out by one of them and only regained consciousness, seriously wounded, much later aboard ASASHIMO. HAMANAMI had gone down in the meantime, taking 61 of her crew with her.
ASASHIMO was the sole survivor of the disaster, and her escape without serious damage must be considered a minor miracle in itself. Perhaps being the last in line helped; possibly she was hidden by clouds of smoke as she lay alongside blazing HAMANAMI removing survivors, or maybe she was just overlooked amidst the wreckage of nine other vessels. ASASHIMO’s engines would never be the same again, and her luck would run out when she accompanied YAMATO in the Final Sortie in April 1945. But this day she was spared, to return to Manila with her grim report late on 12 November.
The destruction of TA No. 3 cost Task Force 38 nine aircraft shot down.
TO AND FROM MANILA
Nor were Admiral Sherman’s fast carriers yet done with Southwest Area Fleet. They withdrew on the 12th only long enough to refuel, then steamed back in toward central Luzon and on the 13th sent wave after wave of attack planes against Manila Bay. This time the pilots were ordered to concentrate on shipping which might be used to reinforce Leyte, and the results constituted another terrible blow to TA Operation.
Crippled AKEBONO and AKISHIMO, tied up alongside the Cavite pier, were quickly dispatched. So were OKINAMI and light cruiser KISO, caught at their moorings further out in the roadstead; the latter had arrived in Manila only the previous day as flagship- designate for Admiral Kimura. HATSUHARU, afforded a last-minute reprieve from the TA No. 3 disaster just a few nights before, joined them on the bottom. All of these sank in fairly shallow water — HATSUHARU’s crew continued fighting her fires for 10 hours after she touched bottom — but salvage was by now out of the question, and all were abandoned where they lay. Seven valuable merchantmen were also sunk or wrecked, including KINKA MARU.
The dual disasters of 11 and 13 November were more than the Japanese could take. A shocked Admiral Okochi temporarily suspended TA Operation, and from Brunei Admiral Kurita ordered Shima and Kimura to clear the Manila-area immediately with all their remaining warships. They sortied for Brunei near midnight of the 13th with KASUMI, ASASHIMO, HATSUSHIMO (carrying Shima), USHIO and TAKE, heavy cruiser ASHIGARA having cleared earlier in the day. TAKE would return shortly, but for all the rest TA Operation and Manila were history.