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U.S. Navy Photograph

USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (DE 413)

"The Destroyer Escort that fought like a Battleship"

LCDR Robert W. Copeland, USNR, Commanding Officer


When the order was given to the large FLETCHER Class destroyers of Taffy III to engage the Japanese, light-weight (BUTLER Class DE) ROBERTS joined fleet destroyers HOEL and HEERMANN on their torpedo attack. She chose HIJMS CHOKAI as the target for her three torpedoes and was credited with one hit. Later, she engaged the heavy cruiser HIJMS CHIKUMA with 5-inch gun fire and knocked out her #3 8-inch turret. In the thick of battle all morning long, ROBERTS was finally hit by several 8-inch shells after trying avoid 14-inch battleship shells from HIJMS KONGO. Eighty-nine men lost their lives on this, the only DE of Taffy III to be lost during the Battle Off Samar.

Crew List
Action Report
Call-sign JUGGERNAUGHT
Class JOHN C. BUTLER
 Also known as a WGT (Westinghouse Geared Turbine) Class DE
Displacement 1,350 tons
Length 306 feet
Beam 36 feet 8 inches
Draft 9 feet 5 inches
Speed 24 knots
Complement 186
Armament 2 5-inch GP guns
4 40mm AA guns
10 20mm AA guns
3 21" torpedo tubes
Hedgehog ahead throwing weapon
8 depth charge throwers
2 depth charge racks
Laid Down 6 December 1943
Launched 20 January 1944
Commissioned 28 April 1944


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USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE 413)
Commemorative Profile
Drawing by George Bieda

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Namesake Information

Samuel B. Roberts Jr., was born in San Francisco, California on May 12, 1921. He enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve on April 13, 1939 at Portland, Oregon. He advanced to the rank of Coxswain and served continuously until his death on September 28, 1942. He as posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism while serving on the crew of a landing craft that, despite intense enemy fire, rescued stranded marines from Guadalcanal.  

Career

USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (DE 413) was laid down on December 6, 1943 by Brown Shipbuilding Company, Houston, Texas. She was launched on January 20, 1944, sponsored by Mrs. Samuel B. Roberts, and commissioned on April 28, 1944, LCDR R. W. Copeland in command.

Following shakedown off Bermuda from May 21 to June 19 and availability at Boston Navy Yard, SAMUEL B. ROBERTS departed from Norfolk, Virginia on July 22, 1944 and transited the Panama Canal on July 27 to join the Pacific Fleet.  

Campaigns

First Duties - 10 August - 30 September 1944

She arrived at Pearl Harbor on August 10 and conducted training exercises until sailing on the 21st escorting a convoy to Eniwetok, which she reached on August 30. On September 2 she steamed back for Pearl Harbor, arriving there with a convoy on the 10th. Following further training, she got underway on the 21st, escorting another convoy to Eniwetok where she arrived on September 30.  

Leyte Gulf/Samar - 17 to 25 October 1944

SAMUEL B. ROBERTS proceeded to Manus where she joined Rear Admiral C.A.F. "Ziggy" Sprague's Carrier Division 25 which consisted of escort carriers FANSHAW BAY (flagship), SAINT LO, WHITE PLAINS, and KALININ BAY. COMCARDIV 25 was screened by DESPAC '44 veteran FLETCHER Class destroyers HOEL, HEERMANN, and JOHNSTON, and BUTLER Class destroyer escorts RAYMOND and SAMUEL B. ROBERTS.  They were soon joined by Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie's Carrier Division 26, consisting of CASABLANCA Class escort carriers KITKUN BAY (flagship) and GAMBIER BAY. COMCARDIV 26 was screened by two BUTLER Class destroyer escorts - JOHN C. BUTLER and DENNIS.  Rear Admiral Sprague became its overall commander and the unit was designated as Task Unit 77.4.3, radio call sign "Taffy 3".

During the period 17 through 24 October, SAMUEL B. ROBERTS and the other six screening ships of Taffy 3 were kept busy alternating as "secondary air guard" and carrying out the duty of "plane guard." During the night of October 24, ROBERTS' commanding officer, LCDR R. W. Copeland, stayed close to the radio in the Combat Information Center, listening to the events unfolding in Surigao Strait to the south. The subsequent American victory in Surigao Strait gave LCDR Copeland "...a false sense of security...."

Awake all night, on the morning of October 25, LCDR Copeland was attempting to get a cup of coffee when he was informed by CIC that "...surface radar reports that they have a contact....bearing about three-zero-zero approximately thirty or forty miles away...." Shortly thereafter, "...object on the horizon...." was announced.

Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's IJN Centre Force comprised of four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and two squadrons of destroyers was bearing down on Taffy 3 at 30 knots. ROBERTS then came under fire and the Battle Off Samar began.

The SAMUEL B. ROBERTS' Talk Between Ship (TBS) log was reconstructed from memory as to the actual transmissions sent and received, as remembered by the radiomen who kept the log in the Combat Information Center, the Executive Officer, and Combat Officer. After reconstructing the text of this log the appropriate times were taken from COMCARDIV 25's TBS log and Action Report.

Glossary of radio call signs used in the TBS log below:

JUGGERNAUT - USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (DE 413)
FIDO - USS WHITE PLAINS (CVE 66)
NEBRASKA - USS HOEL (DD 533)
DREADNAUGHT - USS HEERMANN (DD 532)
BRASSLOCK - USS JOHNSTON (DD 557)  
Taffy 3 - CTU 77.4.3 (RADM Sprague)
Taffy 33 - TU 77.4.3 (all ships)
Mercury 3 - Screen Command (CAPT Thomas)
Mercury 33 - Screening ships (3 DDs and 4 DEs)
Great Danes - the escort carriers

TIMETO/FROMMESSAGE
0650Mercury 3 v Taffy 3We are being fired upon by enemy task force.  Execute upon receipt, shackle baker uncle easy turn.  FIDO, NEBRASKA acknowledge.
  FIDO, wilco out.  NEBRASKA, wilco out.
0655Mercury 3 v Taffy 3Standby to launch all planes for attack on enemy fleet 15 miles astern.
0658Taffy 3 v JUGGERNAUTWe have splashes falling astern of us.
  Taffy 3 roger out.
0659Mercury 3 v Taffy 3All great danes make full speed, zig zag fifteen degrees either side.
0700Taffy 33 v Taffy 3Make smoke astern.
0701Taffy 33 v Taffy 3Lay smoke screen astern of us.
  Taffy 33, wilco out.
0735Mercury 3 v Taffy 3Open up with peashooters on stern.
0735Taffy 33 v Taffy 3Deliver fish attack.
0736Taffy 33 v JUGGERNAUTDo you want little little fellows to go in with big.
0736JUGGERNAUT v Taffy 33No.
0737Mercury 33 v Taffy 33Big fellows make first run, form on me in order, DREADNAUGHT, NEBRASKA, BRASSLOCK.  Little fellows form up for second run.
  BRASSLOCK, wilco out.  JUGGERNAUT, wilco out.
0754Mercury 3 v Taffy 3All carriers make smoke.
0800Taffy 33 v JUGGERNAUTMy fish are off.
0803Taffy 33 v JUGGERNAUTFish sighted headed for Great Danes.
  Taffy 3, wilco out.


After several of the escort carriers took an initial heavy pounding of near-misses, the task unit entered a rain squall at 0706....about 8 minutes after the Japanese began firing their heavy guns. This sanctuary provided the task unit with one of several "God given" breaks which ultimately saved most of the ships.  Ten minutes later while still under fire, but perhaps not as severe as earlier due to the decreased visibility....RADM Sprague ordered the three FLETCHER Class destroyers to engage the Japanese warships with torpedoes.  ROBERTS stayed with the escort carriers during this period and laid protective smoke, the likes of which would normally require someone with a degree in Fire Service Administration.

Upon exiting the rain squall at about 0730, the entire task unit once again came under heavy enemy fire. Sensing the danger, RADM Sprague once again ordered a torpedo attack at 0742. The attack order was given to all seven escorts and LCDR Copeland subsequently asked "...Do you want little fellows to go in with big...." The small destroyer escorts were then ordered to make their attack - separate from that of the larger destroyers. In LCDR Copeland's own words...."As I waited (for the torpedo attack) I thought, "My God, how are we going to work this?" The destroyers were on their way making a torpedo run. I knew that the skipper of the DENNIS was the senior DE skipper....since nobody designated exactly how the DEs would make their torpedo attack nothing happened....."

When LCDR Copeland saw that the other DE's failed to act, he turned the ROBERTS around and followed the last destroyer at about 3,000 yards astern. Lieutenant Commander Copeland surveyed the situation... "...My Executive Officer was down in CIC and I just took a look at the general situation and where the cruiser column was and estimated the course to put me sixty degrees on the bow of the cruiser column....by seaman's eye I estimated my course change to the left to bring me to what I estimated the course would be and at the same time I reached over and grabbed the handle on the squawk box....I said "Well, Sis on you, pister. Let's go!" and added, "...give me a course to put me sixty degrees on the bow of the leading ship in that cruiser column...." In less than thirty seconds I was given a course that was bout six degrees to the left of the one I had picked....I came to it and we were on our way and committed to go in on a torpedo attack...."

In they went..."We started on the torpedo attack. I reached over and picked up the JV telephone and called No. 1 engine room where the chief engineer's battle station was. That was Lieutenant Trowbridge. In formal conversation while on a strictly duty status I always called the officers Mister....in the privacy of the Wardroom, however, we called him "Lucky"....He answered my call and I said, "Lucky, this is the Captain....we are going on a torpedo attack and I have rung up full speed; we are going in at 20 knots. As soon as we fire our fish, I will ring up flank speed and I want you to hook on everything you've got. Don't worry about your reduction gears or your boilers or anything, because there's all hell being thrown at us up here, and we are just fortunate we haven't been hit yet, so don't worry about it." That was the last time I ever talked to Mr. Trowbridge because he was lost with the ship."

ROBERTS charged the heavy cruiser HIJMS CHOKAI at 24 knots, approached to within 4,000 yards and emptied her three torpedo tubes. A short while later CHOKAI was hit by at least one torpedo....from the only destroyer escort of Taffy 3 to score hits with her main armament.... After releasing her torpedoes, ROBERTS turned about and headed back towards the fleeing escort carriers. Propulsion limits in the engineering plant were ignored and steam pressure was allowed to rise to 670 pounds in a plant designed for a maximum of 440. Shaft RPM reached 477 on shafts designed for 420. This added push enabled SAMUEL B. ROBERTS to obtain a speed of over 28 knots.

It was during the time of her brave torpedo attack that ROBERTS got a first-hand look at how the gallant destroyers of Taffy 3 were fairing.... "...about the time of the torpedo attack, the destroyer JOHNSTON came by us and I saw her for the last time. That picture is engraved in my memory...She had taken a terrific beating. Her bridge was battered and had been abandoned. Her foremast, a steel tubular mast...had been split from shellfire and then bent down over itself...the mast was doubled over on itself and dangling down with its radar swinging just like a pendulum.... It gave me a hurt feeling to look at it. Her searchlights had been knocked off. One torpedo mount was gone and her No. 3 gun had completely disappeared. As she went by...she was limping along at a pretty slow speed...I saw her Captain. He was a very big man with coal black hair...he was standing on the fantail conning his ship by calling down through an open scuttle hatch into the steering engine room. I can see him now. He was stripped to the waist and was covered with blood. His left hand was wrapped in a handkerchief...he wasn't over one hundred feet from us as he passed us on our starboard side...he turned a little and waved his hand at me. That's the last time I saw him because JOHNSTON was sunk, too, a few minutes after we were."

Gunner's Mate Third Class Paul Henry Carr, USNR

From about 0800 onward, ROBERTS fought the Japanese warships with her only remaining weapons....two five-inch guns. It was during this time that the GAMBIER BAY began disabled and floundered.... Shortly after 0841 ROBERTS slugged it out with HIJMS CHIKUMA and knocked out her #3 8-inch turret. Impressed by the performance of his gun crews, LCDR Copeland later wrote..."...these two guns, No. 1 and No. 2, beat a regular tattoo on the Jap cruiser's upper works. The boys took the ammunition just the way it came up the hoist, nobody cared what it was. They just took it as it came. Five-inch blind loaded and plugged, 5-inch AA, 5-inch common, 5-inch AP, 5-inch starshells, 5-inch proximity fuse: just whatever came up the ammunition hoist. It was fodder for the guns. They threw it in as fast as they could get it. It was very odd to see those starshells banging off over there in the daylight.... The boys set up a terrifically rapid rate of fire. We carried 325 rounds per gun and it's almost unbelievable that from the time those guns received word to commence firing till the time they ceased firing...it was a period of only thirty-five minutes...gun No. 2 had put out 324 rounds of 5-inch ammunition."  The man responsible for the impressive performance of Gun No. 2 was it's Gun Captain - Gunner's Mate Third Class Paul Henry Carr, USNR.  Carr was killed in action that morning after his gun exploded.  He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal.

Conclusion of action off Samar

ROBERTS valiant performance off Samar was soon to come to an end for "The Destroyer Escort that fought like a Battleship." Back to LCDR Copeland..."...one of my lookouts yelled up at me, "Captain, there's 14-inch splashes coming up on our stern." I turned and looked just in time to see 14-inch splashes...great big ones...off our fantail...for the moment, those shells seemed to be a greater hazard than the 8-inch shells from the cruiser. So I yelled, "All engines back full....this was an emergency...I didn't even give them a stop bell. That was one time the old ship really shuddered and shivered and quaked. She just kind of lay down and pretty nearly backed her stern under water. About the time we were starting to back down, directly over us and right ahead about 100 yards, "Whoosh", were three or four 14-inch shell splashes. The instant those things hit I yelled, "All engines ahead flank." We had just barely started moving when we were no longer dodging and chasing salvos...we had walked right into an 8-inch salvo...."

At 0851 three 8-inch armor piercing shells struck ROBERTS....one below the water line....one in the IC room knocking out communications and electrical power....and one in the forward engine room rupturing a steam line. From this point on ROBERTS became the focal point of Japanese gunfire. Unable to match her previous speed, ROBERTS is hit by three 14-inch shells from battleship HIJMS KONGO. A 40-foot hole is ripped in her port side near the water line....the end for ROBERTS drew near. Shortly after 0910 LCDR Copeland ordered "abandon ship."

In LCDR Copeland's words...."I went on down the deck. Nothing about the ship portrayed her condition as much as the view I had when I turned from looking at those boys (the dead) and saw our motor whaleboat hanging in the davits with the boat gripes having been shot away...shrapnel had come and ripped the bottom of the boat out and the boat gripes away...so that she was dangling. She was still two-blocked up there at the davited heads, but she was dangling nevertheless.... Lieutenant Gurnett and I went forward up to the eyes of the ship, right up to the very bow. It was about twenty-five feet to the water because the bow was starting to come up. It was a good thing we went up there because we were able to spot a life raft more quickly than some of the men who left the ship fifteen minutes before we did because we knew where we were going...then we jumped."

ROBERTS continued to take a pounding right up onto the time she sank. By 0920 while the men were carrying out abandon ship orders, she was under fire by at least one Japanese destroyer. At 0930 the last man had left the ship. USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (DE 413), reduced to a twisted wreck, rolled over and sank at 1007, the third ship of Taffy 3 to succumb to the IJN Centre Force.

USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (DE 413) received one Battle Star 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. and "The Spirit of the "SAMMY-B" by RADM Robert W. Copeland, USNR, and The Battle Off Samar - The Tragedy of Taffy III, by Robert Jon Cox, 1996