Friday, October 27, 2006

Fullbore Friday

USS Hoel (DD-533). Hey, watch it. I don't care if you are a Fletcher Class destroyer. When you do the following - you have earned the title "Full Bore."
Admiral T. L. Sprague was under the erroneous impression that Admiral William Halsey's 3d Fleet was providing protection to the north and so was taken by surprise when at 06:45 'Taffy 3's" lookouts observed anti-aircraft fire to the northward and within 3 minutes were under heavy fire from Admiral Kurita's powerful Center Force of 4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 11 destroyers.

The only chance for survival of the little group of American "Jeep" carriers and "tin cans" lay in fleeing to the south hoping that aid would arrive before their complete destruction. While the carriers launched all available aircraft to attack their numerous Japanese adversaries and then formed a rough circle as they turned toward Leyte Gulf, Hoel and her fellow destroyers Johnston and Heermann, worked feverishly to lay down a smoke screen to hide their "baby flattops" from the overwhelmingly superior enemy ships. At 07:06, when a providential rain squall helped to hide his carriers, Admiral Clifton Sprague boldly ordered his destroyers to attack the Japanese with torpedoes. Hoel instantly obeyed this order by heading straight for the nearest enemy battleship, Kongō, then 18,000 yards (16.5 km) away. When she had closed to 14,000 yards (12.8 km) she opened fire as she continued her race toward the smoking muzzles of Kongō's 14 inch (356 mm) guns. A hit on her bridge which knocked out all voice radio communication did not deflect her from her course toward the enemy until she had launched a half salvo of torpedoes at a range of 9,000 yards (8.2 km). Although Hoel torpedoes all failed to strike their target, they caused Kongō to lose ground in her pursuit of the carriers by forcing her to turn sharply left and to continue to move away from her quarry until they had run their course. Minutes later Hoel suffered hits which knocked out three of her guns, stopped her port engine, and deprived her of her Mark-37 fire control director, FD radar, and Bridge steering control. Undaunted, Hoel turned to engage the enemy column of heavy cruisers. When she had closed to within 6,000 yards (5.5 km) of the leading cruiser, Haguro, the fearless destroyer launched a half-salvo of torpedoes which ran "hot, straight and normal." This time she was rewarded by the sight of large columns of water which rose from her target. Although Japanese records deny that these torpedoes hit the cruiser, there is no evidence to indicate any other explanation for the geyser effect observed.

Hoel now found herself crippled and surrounded by enemies. Kongō was only 8,000 yards (7.3 km) off her port beam and the heavy cruiser column was some 7,000 yards (6.4 km) off her port quarter. During the next hour the ship rendered her final service by drawing enemy fire to herself and away from the carriers. In the process of fishtailing and chasing salvos she peppered them with her two remaining guns. Finally at 08:30, after withstanding over 40 hits, an 8 inch (203 mm) shell stilled her remaining engine. With her engine room under water, her No. 1 magazine ablaze, and the ship listing heavily to port and settling by the stern, Hoel's captain, Commander Leon S. Kinterberger, ordered his crew to "prepare to abandon ship." The Japanese fire at the doomed ship continued as her surviving officers and men went over the side and only stopped at 08:55 when Hoel rolled over and sank in 4,000 fathoms (7300 m).

Only 86 of Hoel's complement survived while 253 officers and men died with their ship. Commander Kinterberger described the courageous devotion to duty of the men of the Hoel in a seaman's epitaph to the action: "Fully cognizant of the inevitable result of engaging such vastly superior forces, these men performed their assigned duties coolly and efficiently until their ship was shot from under them."
Yesterday was the anniversary of her loss. Eagle1 has more on the battle. The survivors have a website here, and there are more goodies here.

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