The Battle of Leyte Gulf, from October 23-26, 1944, was the largest air and sea battle of World War II. An important part of the battle took place off Samar Island on October 25, 1944.
In this engagement, four Japanese battleships (among them the giant Yamato, with her 18-inch main guns), six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and 11 destroyers attacked a smaller U.S. task group known as “Taffy 3,” commanded by Rear Adm. Clifton A. F.
Sprague, made up of six small escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts.
Swarmed on by continuous American air attack from Taffy 3 and Taffy 2, the Japanese task force broke off contact and limped away, but not before several American ships were damaged or sunk. One of those that plunged beneath the waves was the U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413)—nicknamed the “Sammy B.”
Of the Sammy B’s crew, 89 died while the other 120 survivors clung to life rafts for 50 hours before rescue came.
The wreck of the Sammy B was discovered in June of this year at a depth of over four miles, thanks to Texas billionaire, adventurer, and retired naval officer Victor Vescovo, who owns a deep-diving submersible.
“We like to say that steel doesn’t lie and that the wrecks of these vessels are the last witnesses to the battles that they fought,” Vescovo told BBC News. “The Sammy B engaged the Japanese heavy cruisers at point-blank range and fired so rapidly it exhausted its ammunition; it was down to shooting smoke shells and illumination rounds just to try to set fires on the Japanese ships, and it kept firing. It was just an extraordinary act of heroism.”
The BBC report said, “The vessel is famed for a heroic final stand against the Japanese. Outnumbered and outgunned, it managed to contain and frustrate several enemy ships before eventually going down. In the imagery captured by the adventurer’s sub . . . it’s possible to see hull structure, guns and torpedo tubes.
“The Sammy B has puncture holes from Japanese shells, and there is evidence in the stern quarter of one massive hit. From its crumpled appearance, it appears the vessel impacted the sea floor bow-first.”
The bearded, 56-year-old Vescoso, the co-founder and managing partner of a private equity company in Dallas, was the first person to visit the deepest points in Earth’s five oceans, has climbed the highest peaks on each of the seven continents; and recently went into space on New Shepard, the rocket and capsule system developed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.
Vescoso said, “I always remain in awe of the extraordinary bravery of those who fought in this battle against truly overwhelming odds—and won.” The Navy said it has no plans to raise the Sammy B, as the site it considered to be a “hallowed war grave.”
God rest the Queen
As we were going to press, we received news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Although diminutive in stature, she was a giant on the world stage for 70 years, even serving in Britain’s Auxiliary Territory Service (similar to the American WACs) in WWII. Well-deserved accolades came pouring in from around the world about her reign, death, and everlasting impact on modern civilization. We shall not see another like her in our lifetime, I’m afraid, but I am holding out high hopes for King Charles III.
—Flint Whitlock, Editor