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Leyte - USS Darter

USS Darter – SS-227



Surigao

Dawn lifted roseate fingers to the sky. Sakai noted the impending sunrise over his left shoulder, thinking, “This would be a beautiful day on any other occasion. A good day for fishing.” He’d kept his small group of Raidens down to the treetop-level – better to avoid detection by enemy aircraft or naval-spotters out in Leyte Gulf. He then radioed the other pilots in his squadron. “Men – remember; don’t engage any American aircraft. Our recon-aircraft have reported a large fleet of battleships and small carriers approaching Leyte Gulf. This is an excellent craft for its purpose – but it doesn’t handle like the Zero. You cannot outmaneuver a Grumman with this plane – you don’t have the turning radius; high-speed turns are difficult, and your visibility is poor, except for forward.”

After receiving acknowledgement from the other four, Sakai advanced his throttle and began the climb to 12,000 feet.

Down, and to his left, he saw their target, right where the reconnaissance pilots had told him it was – a quickly-constructed and hidden base, where some 30-odd American PT boats could easily take cover.

Oil drums had been hastily-stacked on a rough wooden dock; two of the Americans’ odd-shaped half-circle metal buildings were on raw ground; a bulldozer was back in the trees. Everything was there to complete the base – save for the PT’s themselves.

Sakai opened his radio circuit. “It looks like the locals have informed the Americans we were coming. Save your ammunition. Bombs only on that base facility.”

One by one, the Raidens banked and followed Sakai. In their turn, the Quonset huts, fuel storage, and dock disappeared in flame and explosion.

Pulling out at 2,000 feet, Sakai noticed several PT’s around the point. He knew further radio contact was unnecessary. Banking right, he nosed down to attack the first of ten PT’s in a column.

50 caliber tracers arced up to greet him, forcing him to ‘juke’ in a slalom-pattern to throw off the aim of the PT’s machine-gunners. Thumbing the switch to his 20MM cannon, he fired two bursts at the lead PT, two at the second, and two at the third.

One by one, each PT boat, made of light-plywood and offering little protection to their gasoline tanks, exploded. The others in his flight made short work of the rest.

They’ll regret not having found a river or even a beach,” thought Sakai, as he roared back over Panaon Island again, headed for Leyte and Tacloban. Noticing smoke to the east, he thought, “The others have begun their raids, too. Good.” What he hadn’t told his men was that the raid on which they had embarked was part of Combined Fleet’s plan to put-paid to the American fleet at the entrance to Leyte. Many good men would die that day; the Zero was little better in the hands of an inexperienced pilot – and that was all Japan had left. With luck, they’d do the damage they’d set out to do.


I-53

Tomayasu had kept I-53 at ‘decks-awash’; this limited the range of its radar somewhat, but also limited its radar ‘signature’ in return. The twenty-five submarines in the ‘screen’ to the east of Leyte Gulf had detected the main invasion fleet, as well as Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s main carrier force.

The other submarines in the screen, hearing I-53’s message, ‘pulled the plug’ and went to battle stations. Soon, they’d be converging on I-53’s location. Their time on picket-duty was over; now, they became hunters.

I-68 was the first to draw blood, firing a spread of six torpedoes at the ‘target-rich’ environment. The rest of them fired spreads at the same time, working their torpedo-crews to reload the six forward tubes as fast as possible. One hundred and fifty oxygen-powered Type 95 torpedoes were on their way to the American fleet.



Yamato


“Excellent!” said Tanaka, after reading the last of the radio messages.

“Sir?” said Toyama.

“Admiral Fukudome’s land-based air arm has destroyed a PT-boat base. Most of the PT’s escaped, but they now have no fuel with which to attack Nishimura. The Americans have managed to slip a battleship fleet into the south end of Leyte Gulf, though.” Tanaka motioned Toyama and Morishita to the bridge-plot table and pointed to the confined area at the southern end of Leyte Gulf, with Dinagat Island forming the eastern barrier. “The Americans have taken position just beyond the northern cape of this island,” he said, pointing to Dinagat, then scribing a circle in the blue area to the west of it. “This is where the Fukudome’s men jumped the American carriers this morning just after dawn. Unfortunately, we lost about 150 aircraft, but the Americans lost seven of their small-carriers which were supporting the fleet, as well as eight destroyers. Quite evidently, those small carriers are very vulnerable to large bombs on their decks.” Tanaka smiled at this; he remembered all too well what dive-bombing could do to carriers from the Midway disaster.

“Do the Americans know that Nishimura is coming?” said Morishita.

“Probably. Their aircraft-reconnaissance is quite good. No matter. Look.” Tanaka scribed another arc on the map, out to sea from the south, then back again. “During the night, when we split off from Nishimura’s group, we headed this direction. We’ll be back on the far side of Dinagat Island by early tomorrow morning. Everything now depends upon surprise.”

Morishita was the first to speak.

“Nishimura, too, is bait.” His flat statement was part admiration, part incredulity, and part indictment.

“Yes, Morishita. Nishimura is bait. So far, the Americans have acted as I thought they would.”

Tanaka continued. “You see, Morishita – the Americans believe they can beat us. In using this against them, we’re seeing to it that the bulk of their fleet will be occupied by the time we arrive. When the landing is ready to commence – we’ll be there.” Tanaka stared out the forward bridge-windows of Yamato. To himself, he thought, “What did the Englishman, Shakespeare, say about revenge?



I-58

“Your problem, Suzuki, is that you lack imagination.” Commander Hashimoto turned to face him. “We can launch a torpedo attack from twice the distance the Americans expect. The Type 95 torpedo allows this. A half-degree spread allows us to fire torpedoes at a target, setting varying depths. If only one of these monsters is a hit – the enemy ship is out of action.”

“Conn! Sonar!”

Hashimoto ducked to yell into the passageway through a watertight-doorway. “Where away, sailor?”

“Over 15,000 yards, Captain!” replied the sonarman.

Hitting the switch on the squawkbox, Hashimoto yelled, “All hands! All hands! Battle stations, torpedo!”

Pressing another switch, he shouted, “Radio!”

Hai, Captain?”

“Get this off to Yamato – ‘have contacted American submarine picket. Am closing for attack.’ ”

Hai!”, replied the radioman. The speaker went dead before Hashimoto could kill the switch. Hashimoto half-smiled; knowing his crew, the radioman was signaling Yamato before he’d finished talking.



New Jersey

“Goddammit!”

Admiral William Halsey, commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, shouted at no one in particular. “How the hell did the god-damned Nips get past my destroyers!”

“Sir – they fired from over six miles away. By the time we heard the high-speed screws — ” Halsey cut off his aide. “I know; the only thing we could do was sacrifice the destroyers to save the invasion fleet. God-Damn-It!”, Halsey finished, as he’d begun the conversation.

“Twelve destroyers out of action. One hit each on Wasp and Hornet, and two transports dead in the water. Two destroyers left to go chase God-Damn-It-All-Knows how many Nip subs, and we’re sitting here at ten knots like overfed GEESE!”

“Sir – we’ve got plenty of air cover. The cruisers can support the landing, and we can chase the real problem.”, said Halsey’s aide, who handed the admiral a dispatch.

As Halsey read, his aide continued. “They’ve found the main Japanese carrier fleet. They’re steaming to the north of us. We’ve caught them napping, sir!”

Halsey pondered this for a moment. “Get Wasp and Hornet to the rear. Have the ASW teams from the small-carrier groups go subchasing.” Halsey emphasized his next point by pounding his right fist into the dispatch, which was in his left-hand. “We’re going to destroy the Japanese fleet.”



I-53

“Four hundred feet, Captain.” Tomayasu’s dive-control officer quietly announced the depth. Above them, they could hear depth-charges exploding. “Come starboard; 180,” said Tomayasu, equally as quiet. “We’ll dust off his keel and keep going. If we’re lucky, we can pop to periscope depth and get off another salvo at that fleet.”

Tomayasu’s exec said, “Captain, shouldn’t we make a run for it? I mean, we heard four other submarines breaking up from their depth-charge attack. The Americans are good at this game.”

Tomayasu replied, “No. There’s a huge fleet up there – with a very few destroyers to run screen for them.” Turning to the plot table, he asked the assistant sonarman, “How many so far?” The assistant sonarman had a small chalkboard on which he was tallying depth-charges. “Twelve, sir.”

Tomayasu thought for a moment. There wasn’t an accurate count of how many the American destroyers carried –and in any event they had no idea which class of destroyer was up there, pounding away. The American had to be running low.

“Prepare to come to periscope depth.”, said Tomayasu.



Tacloban

Sakai settled to a quick breakfast/lunch of miso, rice, and fish. Tea was also abundant here, which was a good thing.

He’d lost two of his Raidens; one to PT-boat fire; the other to an American patrol over Leyte. I told them to drop low and run”, he thought to himself. Saichi decided to try to fight it out with two Grummans. He’d paid the price, too, within two minutes.

Finishing his lunch, Sakai dashed out of the ready-room and back to his Raiden. No rest today,” he thought. His craft had been readied with another 500KG bomb and topped off with fuel and ammunition. Now, to see if we can make these tactics work on destroyers —



Yamato

Tanaka watched as the sun went down. “Tonight”, he told Morishita, “The older fleet under Nishimura arrives at Surigao Strait. He’ll be preceded by a submarine screen, and by destroyers. The American torpedo-boats have been scattered by our aircraft, and their battle-line has been pounded three times today from the air, as well. Initial reports are that their destroyer-screen has been seriously reduced by air attack. Nishimura will have to go toe-to-toe with the Americans tomorrow morning.”

Morishita whispered a prayer under his breath.

“Say one for us all, Morishita.”, said Tanaka. “We’re going to need it. Tomorrow, after the Americans begin their landing, we arrive at Leyte.”



Darter

“Conn! Sonar!”

“What’ve you got, Sonar?” Commander Bladen “B.D.” Claggett shouted down the hallway to the sonar room. “Contact – bearing 185 relative! Looks like a submarine!”

Commander Claggett hit the switch for the squawkbox. “Radio – this is the Captain.”

“Radio room here, Captain!”

“Get this off to Halsey. Give our position, and say, ‘sonar contact with possible Japanese submarine.’ Let me know when that’s –” Claggett was interrupted by a shout from the sonarman down the hall.

“CAPTAIN! HIGH SPEED SCREWS IN THE WATER!”

Commander Claggett instinctively hit the dive alarm. Any thought of sending a message was now out of the question.



Surigao

Nightfall.

Silent and stentorian, the first of the Imperial Navy’s submarine screen entered Surigao Strait. Some miles behind them followed fifteen of the Imperial Navy’s remaining destroyers. Behind them were two of Japan’s oldest and most-venerable battleships, along with the remainder of Nishimura’s fleet.

On the bridge of one of those battleships, IJN Yamashiro, Admiral Nichimura reviewed the day’s dispatches by the low-red ‘blackout’ light. They said that the U.S. Navy was waiting for him, and that while their destroyers had been pounded and over half of their small carriers were out of commission or sunk, there remained a formidable fleet of battleships.

They were waiting for him. It was now his duty to break through and assist Tanaka.

Where is Tanaka?”, thought Nishimura.


(Next – Surigao Strait)


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