"Where is, repeat, where is Task Force Thirty Four? The world wonders."
On October 25, 1944, U.S. forces were landing on the Japanese island of Leyte. Admiral Halsey's powerful Task Force 34 was to cover the landings with battleships and heavy cruisers. However, stung by the apparent rebuke in a message from CINCPAC, he pursued a Japanese decoy force, leaving the landing to be covered only by a weak force of small carriers, destroyers and destroyer escorts, called Taffy 3. (Taffy 1 and 2 were close enough to contribute airpower in the vastly unequal battle to follow.)
The Japanese battleships and cruisers would make short work of the small carriers, so the destroyers and even smaller and slower destroyer escorts of Taffy 3 covered their retreat in a hopeless and gallant attack in which they were outnumbered and outgunned. It is hard to find a more heroic episode the U.S. naval history. A pitiful handful of small ships took on a task force led by the world's largest warship.
The American "tin can" destroyers' lack of armor actually proved to be an advantage as the heavy armor piercing shells of Japanese battleships simply passed through them without exploding. The highly maneuverable destroyers, zigzagging toward the enemy, were nearly impossible to hit with the Japanese big guns.
One advantage the U.S. force had were 400 aircraft aboard the small carriers of Taffy 1, 2, and 3. Since they had been envisioned as supporting the Leyte island landing, they were ill-equipped to take on ships. Nonetheless, they punished the Japanese cruisers and battleships until they ran out of ordnance, then they continued to distract them by making numerous dry runs. One pilot attacked a battleship by sliding his canopy back and firing at its bridge with his .38 pistol. The Japanese found it difficult to effectively defend against simultaneous air and surface attacks.
The Japanese were so bewildered by the audacious attack that they assumed they were being attacked by a strong force of cruisers, rather than a handful of destroyers and destroyer escorts plus aircraft. Their nose bloodied, they turned away, and the landing at Leyte island proceeded without transports and supply ships being pummeled by a strong force of Japanese surface ships. And with Admiral Halsey off on a wild goose chase, the world was deprived of the drama of a final battle between two fleets of battleships.
In any case, the battle, which would be known as "the Battle of Leyte Gulf," as the whole was the last naval battle of any size between the United States and Japanese navies. Incredibly, the Japanese lost three heavy cruisers and suffered damage to three more. Taffy 3's attack was essentially suicidal. It lost two destroyers and a destroyer escort, as well as two of the escort carriers. But the Japanese battleships returned to port, never to venture out again.
The U.S. Navy lost a thousand men. After the battle, their ordeal was not over as they floated in the sea for days, subject to exposure, dehydration and shark attacks. A cautious rescue ship circled survivors of the USS Samuel B. Roberts until it called out to them, "Who won the world series?"
"The St. Louis Cardinals!" the men cried, and were promptly rescued.
Admiral Halsey's decision to pursue a decoy Japanese force was no doubt incited by the message that ended, "the world wonders." Although accounts differ, some say he threw his hat and cursed, then let out a single sob. Others say that is completely uncharacteristic of "Bull" Halsey.
The irony is that "the world wonders" was padding. It was just a meaningless phrase to make attempts at codebreaking more difficult. Halsey should never even have seen it. Yet he did, and his pride was wounded, and, likely, that contributed to his decision to go after the decoy force.
The full story is told in The Last of the Tin Can Sailors, one of the best military books the Bear has ever read.
But where is, repeat, where is Pope Video 3? The world wonders. Is it too much to hope we have seen the last of them?