t3photo.gif

cve63.jpeg

U.S. Navy Photograph

USS SAINT LO (CVE 63)

CAPT Francis J. McKenna, USN, Commanding Officer


Prior to entering the protective rain squall, SAINT LO also came under intense gunfire from the battleships. Upon exiting the rain squall on the task unit's run to the south, she was nearest the Japanese until a new course change placed her on the unengaged starboard side, furthest from the enemy heavy cruisers and battleships. Her new position within the task unit enabled her to survive the surface action with relatively little damage. However, about ninety minutes after the surface action had concluded, Taffy III was set upon by kamikaze aircraft. SAINT LO was chosen as a primary target and a bomb-lain "Zeke 52" suicide plane crashed through her flight deck with catastrophic results. Powerful internal explosions followed and about 30 minutes later, SAINT LO sank into the Philippine Trench, the second CVE of Taffy III to be lost that day.

Crew List
Action Report
Call-sign DERBY
Class CASABLANCA
Displacement 7,800 tons
Length 512 feet 3 inches
Beam 65 feet
Draft 22 feet 6 inches
Flight Deck 498 x 108 feet
Speed 18 knots
Complement 54 Officers
741 Enlisted
Aircraft 18 FM-2 General Motors fighters
12 TBM-1C General Motors torpedo bombers
Armament 1 5-inch GP gun
8 twin 40mm AA guns
20 20mm AA guns
Laid Down 23 January 1943
Launched 17 August 1943
Commissioned 23 October 1943

 
Namesake Information

SAINT LO was named for a decisive American victory in France when the town of heavily fortified Saint Lo, France was captured on 18 July 1944.

SAINT LO was originally named MIDWAY. The second ship to bear this name, MIDWAY was laid down as CHOPIN BAY on January 23, 1943; renamed MIDWAY on April 3, 1943, and was launched on August 17, 1943. She was sponsored by Mrs. Howard Nixon Cutler and commissioned on October 23, 1943 with Captain F. J. McKenna in command. Composite Squadron VC-65, commanded by LCDR R. M. Jones, consisted of 18 FM-2 Wildcat fighters and 12 TBM-1C Avenger torpedo bombers.

First Duties

After shakedown on the west coast and two voyages to Pearl Harbor and one to Australia carrying replacement aircraft, MIDWAY joined RADM Bogan's Carrier Support Group 1 in June 1944 for the conquest of the Marianas.

Campaigns

Saipan - 15 through 22 June 1944

MIDWAY furnished air coverage for transports and participated in strikes on Saipan on June 15, 1944. She then joined the attack on Tinian on July 23 where she furnished air support for ground forces and maintained an anti-submarine patrol.

On September 13 she sortied for the invasion of Morotai. Catapulting her first plane to support the landings on September 15, she continued to assist American troops ashore and to provide cover for the transports through the 23rd.

Renamed

After a refueling period MIDWAY resumed air operations in the Palaus until returning to Seeadler Harbor on October 3rd. Word then arrived that the escort carrier had been renamed SAINT LO on October 10, to free the name MIDWAY for a new giant attack carrier and to commemorate an important victory of American troops in France, who had captured the strongly defended town of Saint Lo on July 18, 1944.

Leyte/Samar - 17 October through 25 October 1944

Newly renamed SAINT LO departed Seeadler Harbor on October 12 to participate in the liberation of the Philippines, where she arrived on October 17th. After furnishing air support during landings by Ranger units on Dinagat and Homonhon Islands in the eastern approached to Leyte Gulf, she launched air strikes in support of invasion operations at Tacloban on the northeast coast of Leyte. Operating with RADM C.A.F. "Ziggy" Sprague's escort carrier unit "Taffy 3", which consisted of six escort carriers and a screen of three destroyers and four destroyer escorts, SAINT LO steamed off the east coast of Leyte and Samar as her planes sortied from October 18 to 24, destroying enemy installations and airfields on Leyte, Samar, Cebu, Negros, and Panoy Islands.

Steaming about 60 miles east of Samar before dawn on October 25, Taffy 3 had launched the day's initial air strikes by 0530. At 0637 RADM sprague, aboard flagship FANSHAW BAY, received word that a large Japanese fleet was approaching from the northwest. Comprised of four battleships, eight cruisers, and eleven destroyers, Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's IJN Centre Force steadily closed the unsuspecting Americans and at 0658 opened fire on the ships of Taffy 3.

So began the Battle Off Samar, one of the most memorable engagements in U.S. Naval history. Outnumbered and outgunned, the relatively slow ships of Taffy 3 seemed fated for disaster, but they defied the odds and gamely accepted the enemy's challenge.  

Partial credit for sighting the Japanese fleet went to SAINT LO's Composite Squadron VC-65. The initial contact report is summarized in her Action Report.... "0650 - An LASP plane from the SAINT LO piloted by Ensign Bill Brooks of VC-65 reported contact with a Japanese Surface Force bearing 330 degrees twenty to thirty miles from Task Unit 77.4.3. This report was made to Commander Task Unit 77.4.3. The Japanese Force was estimated by Ensign Brooks as consisting of four BB (battleships), four CA (heavy cruisers), two CL (light cruisers) and ten to twelve DD (destroyers). Almost immediately thereafter visual contact was made from the signal and open bridges. General Quarters was sounded on the first report of contact. Although visibility was very poor, the pagoda-like masts of the BBs could be seen astern. The unit course was 090 degrees. Shortly thereafter the first report from CIC gave the force at "30,000 Closing". C.T.U. 77.4.3 ordered all aircraft launched immediately for attack."  

Under fire and fleeing, the six escort carriers took the brunt of the heavy caliber fire...."0658 - The splashes of the first salvoes were observed. The WHITE PLAINS was under fire. At least three salvoes were observed. Two straddled the WHITE PLAINS and one was short. The splashes of the exploding shells were dye-marked red, blue, yellow, etc. At least three salvoes were observed short of the FANSHAW BAY."

SAINT LO immediately launched her planes ordering the pilots to attack the Japanese task force and to proceed to Tacloban airstrip, Leyte, to rearm and refuel. Four Avenger torpedo bombers and fifteen FM-2 Wildcat fighters were prepared and launched during this period....all from within a driving rain squall. During the launching the range of the enemy main body closed rapidly to 25,000 yards and on down to 22,000. Main battery salvoes from both the battleships and heavy cruisers had continued to land among th fleeing CVEs. As salvoes fell "...with disconcerting rapidity...." increasingly nearer the SAINT LO, the aircraft of VC-65 went aloft and inflected heavy damage on the closing enemy warships. 

SAINT LO's Action Report continues...."0816 to 0910 - During this period the entire formation was under particularly continuous fire. At about 0820, the GAMBIER BAY reported being heavily hit, and that she had lost one engine. She rapidly dropped aft and was not seen again. About this time the ships of the screen were ordered to shift from the starboard to port side of the formation. The HOEL was observed to drop back and was not seen again. The group of Jap ships, off the starboard quarter now, believed to consist of one CL and eight DD was observed still closing. About 0830 the KALININ BAY turned quite sharply right passing aster of the SAINT LO and then came back to course, after shifting from the port to the starboard quarter of the ST LO. Units of the Jap Force were reported at various ranges. The closest reported range was 6900 yards off the starboard quarter at about 0844 - other reported positions at this time were 090, 9400 yards; 115, 11,000 yards. At 0851, 085, 10,100 yards; 025, 12,500 yards. A VHF report was received at 0851 that a cruiser had taken a fish on the bow."

At 0830 five enemy destroyers opened fire from about 14,500 yards. As the screening ships engaged the heavy cruisers and laid down a concealing smoke screen, SAINT LO shifted her fire and for the next hour traded shots with guns of Japan's Destroyer Squadron 10.

At 0858 two Jap ships could be seen off the port beam. They were reported bearing 134 degrees, 10,400 yards. During this time the group on the starboard quarter had closed to 6,900 yards, nearly point-blank range. Considerable fire from that direction was noted, presumably from 4.7" guns. From the splashes, it appeared that KALININ BAY was their primary target, with SAINT LO also receiving considerable attention. The SAINT LO was repeatedly straddled particularly around 0900 by 4.7" gunfire coming from a ship, or ships, which had closed, under cover of smoke, on her port quarter.

Under heavy attack from task unit composite squadrons and harnessed by incessant fire from American destroyers and destroyer escorts, the enemy cruisers broke off action and turned northward at 0920. The surface action of the Battle Off Samar had concluded...

About four minutes later, an Avenger torpedo bomber of SAINT LO's VC-65, piloted by LT Waldrop, called and reported a torpedo approaching from the port beam, also many torpedoes approaching from the starboard quarter. Shortly thereafter a number of them were sighed from the ship and apparently nearing the end of their run, were porposing near the surface. LT Waldrop strafed one which exploded in the wake of the KALININ BAY, another exploded a short distance on the port quarter. The wakes were numerous and both SAINT LO and KALININ BAY brought their 40mm and 20mm AA guns to bear.... no success was obtained. The ship was also maneuvered to parallel the wakes as closely as possible.

With the main surface action complete, the task unit continued southward, placing as much distance between themselves and the Japanese as possible.  

Loss of SAINT LO (CVE 63)

At 1010, about forty minutes after the surface action had concluded, the ship secured from General Quarters. Ten minutes later condition watches were set and personnel were allowed to get coffee and a chance to relax. Relatively undamaged from the surface action, SAINT LO took aboard several aircraft from the other CVEs. All planes were struck below to clear the flight deck for further landings and also to expedite refueling and rearming three of the torpedo bombers with torpedoes.

At about 1051 AA fire was seen and heard forward and General Quarters was sounded. Almost immediately thereafter, number planes, believed to include both friendly and enemy, were seen at 1000 to 3000 feet ahead and on the starboard bow. These planes moved aft to starboard and one of them, when about abeam to starboard, went into a right turn toward the SAINT LO. The after starboard guns opened on him, but with no apparent effect. A "Zeke 52" with a bomb under each wing continued its right turn on its suicide run against the SAINT LO.

Approaching the ramp at very high speed, the "Zeke 52" crossed over the aft end of the ship at less than fifty feet. He appeared to push over sufficiently to hit the deck at about the "number 5 wire", fifteen feet to the port side of the center line. A tremendous crash followed quickly followed by an explosion as one or both of the enemy s bombs exploded. The aircraft continued up the deck leaving fragments strewed about and its remanents went over the bow.

The Captains first impression was that no serious damage had been suffered. There was a hole in the flight deck with smoldering edges which sprang into flame. Hoses were immediately run out from both sides of the flight deck and water started on the fire....smoke soon appeared on both sides of the ship, evidently coming from the hangar. Within one to one and one-half minutes an explosion occurred on the hangar deck, which puffed smoke and flame through the hole in the deck and bulged the flight deck near and aft of the hole. This was followed in a matter of seconds by a much more violent explosion, which rolled back a part of the flight deck bursting through aft of the original hole. The next heavy explosion tore out more of the flight deck and also blew the forward elevator out of its shaft. Shortly before 1100, the Captain decided that the ship could not be saved.

SAINT LO, with a very heavy list to port, sank at about 1125. The remaining screening ships of Taffy 3 were dispatched and rescued all of the survivors.

USS SAINT LO (CVE 63) received the Presidential Unit Citation for the heroism of her crew in the Battle Off Samar and four Battle Stars for her service in World War II.  

Source: Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, Vol. III, 1968, Navy Department, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division, Washington, D.C.; USS SAINT LO (CVE) Surface Action Report, 25 October 1944, F. J. McKenna, CAPT, USN, Commanding; Narrative Concerning the Loss of USS SAINT LO (CVE 63), F. J. McKenna, CAPT, USN, Commanding; and The Battle Off Samar - The Tragedy of Taffy III, by Robert Jon Cox, 1996