from the personal collection of Edward C. Haslouer AM3c, USNR USS KALININ BAY (CVE 68)
A note from the Webmaster. This battle account was prepared at sea in the aftermath of battle. I have taken the liberty of correcting obvious mis-spellings and typographical errors. Deviations from the original text are marked by brackets ( [ ] ). Minor editorial changes to ship names have been made to facilitate URL links.
USS KALININ BAY at sea, October 25 (delayed) - In what one day may be determined to be the longest single sea engagement and which certainly will be recorded in history as the most one-sided, as far as firing power in favor of the enemy, was fought today by six escort carriers and their screen of seven escorts against 25 powerful ships of the Imperial Japanese Fleet. The action took place eastward of Leyte Gulf, Philippine Islands, where this carrier task force was supporting the invasion of the Central Philippines by Army troops under General Douglas MacArthur.
The U.S. task force was under tactical command of Rear Admiral C.A.F. Sprague who maneuvered his force with outstanding ability and in such a manner that the Jap[anese] failed in his objective mainly to sink all six carriers. It was like asking a rowboat to beat a fast scull but Admiral Sprague so managed his group that he out-tricked the enemy. Using every naval strategy in the book, the task force commander schemed his ships from the outside position to that closest to the shoreline, the desireable spot long held by the Japanese.
Throughout the nearly six hour engagement, the USS KALININ BAY (CVE 68) carried on a large portion of the battle. Her sole protection was one five inch gun against the terrific armament of four battleships, nine cruisers and twelve destroyers.
On this ship it was a case of the men taking everything the enemy had: of men refusing to accept defeat when it stared them in the face, and of men slugging back when they should have been taking the count. Those same men kept going when by all the rules of modern warfare they were hopelessly defeated, in comparison it was like a child pounding its tiny fists against a giant wielding an iron bar.
Two of her sister carriers, two destroyers and a destroyer escort went down under the force of the enemy's strength[.] The KALININ BAY, with the help of God and her task forces, planes came through, but with 25 gaping shell holes in her skin as witness to the terrific pounding she took.
The five ships sunk were: carriers - the USS ST LO (CVE 63) (recently renamed from the USS MIDWAY) and the USS GAMBIER BAY (CVE 73)[,] destroyers, the USS HOEL (DD 533) and the USS JOHNSTON (DD 557), and destroyer escort, the USS [SAMUEL B.] ROBERTS (DE 413).
In addition to the KALININ BAY the surviving ships were: carriers the USS WHITE PLAINS (CVE 66)[,] the USS FANSHAW BAY (CVE 70) the flagship, and the USS KITKUN BAY (CVE 71)[,] two of them also damaged: The USS HEERMANN (DD 532), destroyer: and the USS [JOHN C.] BUTLER (DE 339), the USS RAYMOND (DE 341)[, and the USS DENNIS (DE 405)], destroyer escorts.
That these ships are still afloat is a miracle because it never was intended that escort carriers should slug it out with battleships or heavy cruisers or, for that matter, even with destroyers.
It was definitely determined that these carriers' planes turned back a major part of the Japanese Fleet. They did so against heavy anti-aircraft fire knowing that on them depended the lives of the many hundreds of men on the very ships they flew from. More than once during the battle the Japs[anese] were forced to turn their attention from the business at hand of sinking carriers and fight off the pilots who strove to sink them. The American airmen had a serious job to do and they went at it with grim determination.
It is not meant to take away any credit the other ships played in the battle but the KALININ BAY was "tail-end Charlie" throughout the battle and was in a better position to use that lone five-inch gun. The number of rounds fired by the other ships failed to reach the 17 shot by her. She scored three direct hits. Two on a cruiser and one on a DD. The same gun crew also picked off a torpedo that was marked for a vital spot in the KALININ BAY.
No Captain has more right to be proud of his men or his ship than has Captain T. B. Williamson of the KALININ BAY, nor has any Executive Officer than Commander R. C. Bauer.
The Japs[anese] threw everything in the book at these ships. Starting with salvo after salvo, torpedoes and finally suicide diving planes. At one time the enemy came as close as 8,500 yards.
The battle started at 0700. At 0645 one of our aircraft reported enemy ships were 15 miles astern and closing. Immediately the task force commander ordered all ships to general quarters and to launch every available plane. At 0700 the enemy opened fire and one minute later, three Jap[anese] cruisers were sighted at 23,500 yards and coming in rapidly. At 0705 the KALININ BAY commenced launching planes and within a very brief space of time had all her torpedo and fighter planes in the air.
Shells, by this time, were whizzing over and around the ship with sickening rapidity. Smoke screens were laid by all ships and they turned and twisted like huge pythons to escape that ever closing grip. Great geysers of water and foam would spring up yards from the fleeing carriers. Their doom seemed certain and each and every man was convinced it was but a matter of minutes before the Japanese would get his range and settle down to the business of lobbing them in.
At 0755 the KALININ BAY sustained her first hit. She staggered, then plunged on, from then on, minutes seemed hours and hours eternity. In the following hours she took shell after shell, yet never faltered in her grim determination to cary to safety the fighting officers and men that have made her a great ship. Any one of these shells could have spelled the end of her career, in some cases it was inches, in others, feet never too many, that the shells missed their intended death blow.
It was shortly after the KALININ BAY took her first hit, that the GAMBIER BAY was observed to have stopped dead in the water. She had received a broadside that hit in her forward engine room. When last seen as the other ships passed on into their own smoke screens, she was sitting, just sitting, and waiting for that final death blow that soon was to be aimed at her. Later, an aviator reported seeing Jap[anese] cruisers "let'er" have it with one shell after another. The enemy closed to 2,000 yards and pumped 20 eight-inch shells into her.
At 0815 five ships were sighted in the far distance. It was believed these vessels were part of our own fleet coming from Leyte Gulf to our aid. Word was immediately broadcast throughout the ship and hopes rose immeasurable only to be dash[ed]. Five minutes later when those same five ships, all Japanese destroyers, joined their sister cruisers and battleships in opening fire on us.
Now we were bracketed in a closing vise of shells from which there seemed no escape. Shells were straddling us, hitting 20, 15, 10 yards from the ship and sending up their inevitable sprays of water followed by brilliant violet-blood-and-sulphur yellow rainbows, but rainbows with death instead of the fabled pot of gold at their end....
Exactly how long this went on, no one can be certain. The best given time is three hours and one half, each man lived a lifetime of dread uncertainty. Suddenly the attack ceased. One man, not at all religious said, "God has saved us." Yet, we weren't certain. We could still see our enemy.
Five minutes of quiet then out of the sky loomed a carrier torpedo plane. It was from one of our CVE's. He carefully circled the KALININ BAY and just as he reached the port quarter of the ship, cut loose with his wing guns not more than 600 feet up and only 100 yards from the ship, a terrific explosion resulted. He'd saved us from the first of at least twenty torpedoes that were launched at us. He wheeled quickly and again fired. Another explosion. It was his second great save.
Never has a ship been more beset or hounded worse than the KALININ BAY. The five inch gun crew stopped another "fish" approaching from the rear: port and starboard batteries fired continually at these steel encased messengers of rather, stopping many of them.
At about 1130 planes were observed coming in low, then more coming in high. The first two were Jap[anese] "Helens." These were quickly knocked down by the other carriers and destroyers, those higher up were "Zekes." They wheeled and dove. In a space of two minutes two made suicide dives on the KALININ BAY . . . the first was hit by 40mm shots at about 1,000 feet and she came in with her engine blazing crashing on the port side edge of the flight deck spraying gun crews with burning gasoline. This "Zeke" bounced as it hit, taking the gun gallery rails and life rafts with it as it exploded into the sea. The second also was hit by our gunners but it was smoking, not burning, as it crashed just forward of the forward stack on the flight deck.
Other planes were picking their targets at random from the other four ships. One "Zeke" that chose the ST LO came in from very high and eluded all gunfire. She hit her squarely amidships on the flight deck and a terrific burst of flame followed. As we watched, men began abandoning ship and the whole after part of the ship seemed to be in flames. Another explosion was followed by flames that seemed to come from the very bowels of the stricken carrier and she slowly began to settle at the stern. A third huge blast, evidently caused when the fire bit into her magazines, sent the after elevator three hundred feet into the air. A blazing mass, the elevator seemed to drift slowly down into the water.
The last we saw of her was a mass of flames and our brave escort destroyers were racing to take in the survivors.
The end had to come sometime, either in the sinking of the ship or the termination of the battle. It came dramatically as the last of the planes dove for the WHITE PLAINS. Her gunners hit it squarely and caused it to miss its aim and dive barely ten yards from the WHITE PLAINS starboard quarter into the sea. One last plane was seen after that. It was a "Dubag" probably a scout and the plane that kept submarines and other planes on our trail throughout the remainder of the day and into that night. It was then 1245.
Throughout the battle the KALININ BAY sustained 15 direct hits of large caliber resulting in five deaths, 54 wounded and five bad fires. These fires were fought under the most adverse conditions possible and men struggled valiantly against overwhelming odds to plug holes beneath the water line to keep the sea out.
One shell, later determined to be from a battleship because of its size, passed through the skin of the ship, through the first platform: into the machine shop, where it caused a bad fire: into the fuel oil tank, rupturing several of them: then on to a water tank where it exploded. In all it traveled through five bulkheads before it exploded. This, and another later hit, missed the engine room by no more than a few feet. Had either hit in the engine room, the KALININ BAY would have suffered the same fate as the GAMBIER BAY.
The First Lieutenant, to whom the highest possible credit is due for the work he and his department did in saving the ship, told of a shell that missed hitting a gasoline tank. He was at the far end of the hangar deck and heard the whoom of a hit forward. All lights were out on the hangar deck he said, one dead man and several badly wounded men lay in his path as he stumbled forward, after being knocked down by the shudder of the ship either at a hit or near miss. The smoke was almost unbearable and water roared from a ruptured water main. That shot exploded under the forward elevator and the base of the shell ruptured the deck of the elevator pit just 18 short inches above the aviation gasoline tank.
The forward engine was stopped for a minute and the evaporators knocked out by a hit that came in on the port side just above the water line, forward of amidships, went through the first platform deck, through the gas storeroom, into the aviation lube tanks, where it exploded and ruptured tank and forward bulkhead of forward engine room. This shell came perilously close to going out through the bottom of the ship.
At one point five men strained like mad to force a wooden plug into a huge hole in the skin of the ship. A severed beam prevented it being forced in tight and it was necessary to use a[n] acetylene torch to cut the beam away. These plugs were considered a joke by personnel from other ships of this class but the same "jokes" kept the KALININ BAY afloat in many cases. They were certain no CVE ever would get close enough to enemy ships to be hit by shell fire.
With the ship listing heavily to starboard because of water being taken on that side a hole had to be plugged with five feet of water in that compartment. Six men accepted the challenge of death and succeeded against what seemed impossible odds. Five submersible pumps were used and ballast pumped from the forward tanks and into the after tanks to raise the bow of the ship.
One of the most serious strikes was at the pyrotechnic locker. The shell hit the water five feet from the port side of the fantail and the resulting explosion drove a huge fragment into the locker. Had the shell itself exploded there, the KALININ BAY might and probably would have had its last chance. As it was havoc was raised inside the locker and five feet of water entered before the flood could be stemmed.
A three foot square hole was caused by another hit that also was fired by one of the four battleships, this one entered just below the flight deck on the port side, tore through a passageway, taking off a man's head, continued on under the forward elevator, covering several beams, through the bulkhead into an officers room and out through the starboard side of the ship. It left death, havoc and destruction in its trail.
God was surely with us.