The morning of October 24 1944, Admiral Kuritas
ships were discovered in the Sibuyan Sea, just about to turn into Tablas
Strait. During all that morning, the Essex had been on alert.
At 10:15, a twin engined bomber broke through
the combat air patrol screen and came down on the formation to attack the
LANGLEY. This Betty bomber was pursued by an F6F which dared the anti-aircraft
fire to come in. But the AA guns got the Betty, and it crashed between the
LANGLEY and the ESSEX; they nearly got the F6F as well, until it banked
and waggled it's wings to show it's markings.
The next raid came twenty minutes later, five
Japanese bombers moved in fast, but two were shot down and the other three
were chased off before they could drop torpedoes or bombs. Another
raid came in at 11:00. The ESSEX was preparing a strike. In some ways it
seems a wonder that the beleagured carrier could mount a strike.
Admiral Sherman's first strike was launched
at 10:53 on the morning of the 24th and discovered two groups of Japanese
ships, totaling 26 vessels in all, about 3 miles apart.. Ten ESSEX Helldivers
were involved in that strike, and two of them, LT.jg Matthews and LT.jg Parrish,
found the MUSASHI, one of the worlds two largest battleships (her sister
ship the YAMATO, was the other). They each braved intense anti-aircraft fire
to put a bomb into her.. Commander Mini, LT.jg Nelson, and LT.jg Fontaine
scored hits on the battleship NAGATO. Someone hit the YAMATO twice. LT.jg
Kelley found a cruiser and bombed it.
Very noticeable on these attacks were the heavy
and accurate anti-aircraft fire. Commander Mini was hit hard and barely made
it back to the carrier group; he wasn't able to get aboard ESSEX though,
and had to land in the water and was picked up by a destroyer.
The main ESSEX strike got off at 12:59 PM,
consisting of 8 fighters and a dozen Helldivers. The ESSEX pilots went after
the big ships. There was some confusion because both the YAMATO and MUSASHI
were in action that day, and several pilots reported hitting battleships
of this class, but which was not certain at the time. It's believed
YAMATO escaped further attacks by seeking cover under a squall. The MUSASHI
is the ship that took the beating, and finally the combined efforts of the
planes of Task Force 38 sank her that evening. The fighters were bombers
that day, dropping from 2,500 feet. The dive bombers were carrying 1,000-pound
Musashi under attack
On the first attack, planes of Air Group 15
sank a CHITOSE class light carrier and damaged a second CHITOSE class carrier.
They also hit and damaged a ZUIHO class light carrier and an ISE class
battleship. On later strikes they assisted in sinking a ZUIKAKU class heavy
carrier, damaging another CHITOSE CVL, and damaged a TERUTSUKI class destroyer
VB15 enjoyed a
very successful day:
On the first strike hits were made on a Chitose
class CVL by LT. Bridgers and LTs.jg Turner*, Rising, Eisenhart, Bailey,
Moore, and Woods. The carrier was so badly damaged that the Target Coordinator
ordered the torpedo planes to take another target, as it was clearly sinking
from the bombing attack. Two or three torpedo planes, however, expedited
the sinking with torpedo hits.
On the next strike VB15 hits were made on the
Zuikaku class carrier by LT. Mills, Foote*,Zanetti, and Brice, and Ensigns
Livesay*, Avery*, and Pendergast. These, together with hits by other squadrons,
resulted in its rapid sinking.
Hits were also made on the second Chitose class
carrier by LT. Noyes*, LT.jg McCutchen, and one other pilot.
Noyes** plane was hit by AA fire
as he started his pull out from his attack and his plane burst into flames.
He dived his plane so low that several pilots thought he had gone in, but
he succeeded in bringing his plane out just above the surface, and by diving
his plane he had put out the fire. He was escorted home by LT.jg McCutchen
where he made a successful landing aboard, although the plane was so badly
damaged, it was pushed over the side. His gunner Paul
Shehan**, ARM1c, suffered
burns about his eyes and on his left hand.
The last flight of the day VB15 attacked an
ISE class battleship. Hits were obtained by LTs Brodhead, West and Glass;
LTs.jg DeCesaro, and Killaney, and Ensigns Frank ,and Oakman. The battleship
was stopped dead in the water, and was later to be seen moving at only 8
The task group fueled on 26 October; flew a
five sector search without result, then moved southward to reach a point
off the northeastern end of Samar on the next day, before starting for Ulithi
Lagoon, which was reached on 30 October.
On November 1 the task group got underway from
Ulithi to Manus, but at 1945 that evening orders were received to change
course and proceed to Leyte because of increasing enemy air attack and the
sighting of four enemy battleships, 3 heavy cruisers and 3 light cruisers,
and their destroyer escorts in Balabac Strait. The enemy force retired the
next day. (Got the hell out of
(R.S.)). But the enemy
air activity continued to increase.
After refueling on 3 November the task group
made a high speed run-in that was started at noon of the following day for
a two day cleanup of enemy air strength on Luzon. The USS RENO was torpedoed
by a submarine at just before midnight on 3 November. RENO returned to Ulithi
under escort. The striking force therefore consisted of ESSEX, LEXINGTON,
TICONDEROGA, LANGLEY, WASHINGTON, ALABAMA, MASSACHUSETTS, SANTA FE, MOBILE
and their Destroyer escorts.
On 5 November four strikes were made, two on
Nichols Airfield at Manila and two on shipping in Manila Bay. Bogies were
on the screen most of the day, and at 1339 the Lexington was damaged by a
Zeke which dove into her Island structure. In the same attack another enemy
plane diving on the Ticonderoga, narrowly missed and plunged into the sea
alongside. The Essex , stationed between these two ships was not attacked
at this time.
Because of the presence of many bogies. the
Essex went to General Quarters at 1945, and remained in that condition overnight.
It had been secured only a short time the next morning before new bogies
again brought all hands to battle stations. Some enemy planes were reported
above the disposition at 29,000 feet but none dove on the ship. Despite this
enemy activity, two strikes were made during the day, the first on enemy
shipping in Manila breakwater and the second on ships in Silanguin Harbor,
west of Subic Bay.
On the first strike LT.jg William S. Rising
and John Montgomery, ARM2, were shot down and made a safe water landing at
sea west of Manila Bay. Two VB which accompanied a fighter sweep between
the first and second strikes located them and dropped additional life rafts
and provisions, also establishing communication with the rescue submarine
and receiving its report that she was only 21 minutes away. (That
rescue never came about... read the story of Bill Rising and John Montgomery
- Shotdown in the Pacific).
The force struck again on 11 November and destroyed
a troop convoy attempting to reinforce the garrison at Leyte Island. On 13
and 14 November four more strikes were made on shipping in the Manila area.
Course was then set for Ulithi, which was reached 17 November.
These men were later - killed in action. (* *)
Noyes and his gunner Shehan had flown 47 missions).
The above narrative
was gleaned from several sources; among them, VB15 pilot, Walter Fontaine
- and the book McCampbells Heroes by Edwin P.
Hoyt ... R.S.