Battle Off Samar - Criticism of Halsey

Criticism of Halsey

Halsey was criticized for his decision to take TF 34 north in pursuit of Ozawa, and for failing to detach it when Kinkaid first appealed for help. A piece of U.S. Navy slang for Halsey's actions is 'Bull's Run', a phrase combining Halsey's newspaper nickname "Bull" (in the U.S. Navy, he was known as "Bill" Halsey) with an allusion to the Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War.

In his dispatch after the battle, Halsey attempted to justify his decision as follows:

"Searches by my carrier planes revealed the presence of the Northern carrier force on the afternoon of October 24, which completed the picture of all enemy naval forces. As it seemed childish to me to guard statically San Bernardino Strait, I concentrated TF 38 during the night and steamed north to attack the Northern Force at dawn.
I believed that the Center Force had been so heavily damaged in the Sibuyan Sea that it could no longer be considered a serious menace to Seventh Fleet."

Halsey also tried to argue that he had feared that leaving TF 34 to defend the strait without carrier support would have left it vulnerable to attack from land-based aircraft, while leaving one of the fast carrier groups behind to cover the battleships would have significantly reduced the concentration of air power going north to strike Ozawa.

However, Morison stated in a footnote "Admiral Lee, however, said after the battle that he would have been only too glad to have been ordered to cover San Bernardino Strait without air cover."

Moreover, if Halsey had been in proper communication with 7th Fleet it would have been entirely practicable for the escort carriers of TF 77 to provide adequate air cover for TF 34 —- a much easier matter than it would be for those escort carriers to defend themselves against the onslaught of Kurita's heavy ships.

It may be argued that the fact that Halsey was aboard one of the battleships, and "would have had to remain behind" with TF 34 (while the bulk of his fleet charged northwards to attack the Japanese carriers) may have contributed to this decision. However, it would have been perfectly feasible (and logical) to have taken one or both of 3rd Fleet's two fastest battleships (USS Iowa and/or New Jersey) with the carriers in the pursuit of Ozawa, while leaving the rest of the Battle Line off San Bernardino Strait. (Indeed, Halsey's original plan for the composition of TF 34 was that it would contain only four, not all six, of the 3rd Fleet's battleships). Therefore, to guard San Bernardino Strait with a powerful battleship force would not have been incompatible with Halsey's personally going north aboard the New Jersey.

It does seem likely that Halsey was strongly influenced by his Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Robert "Mick" Carney, who was also wholeheartedly in favor of taking all Third Fleet's available forces northwards to attack the Japanese carrier force.

Clifton Sprague—commander of Task Unit 77.4.3 in the battle off Samar—was later bitterly critical of Halsey's decision, and of his failure to clearly inform Kinkaid and the 7th Fleet that their northern flank was no longer protected:

In the absence of any information that this exit was no longer blocked, it was logical to assume that our northern flank could not be exposed without ample warning.

Regarding Halsey's failure to turn TF 34 southwards when 7th Fleet's first calls for assistance off Samar were received, Morison writes:

If TF 34 had been detached a few hours earlier, after Kinkaid's first urgent request for help, and had left the destroyers behind, since their fueling caused a delay of over two hours and a half, a powerful battle line of six modern battleships under the command of Admiral Lee, the most experienced battle squadron commander in the Navy, would have arrived off San Bernardino Strait in time to have clashed with Kurita's Center Force… Apart from the accidents common in naval warfare, there is every reason to suppose that Lee would have crossed the T of Kurita's fleet and completed the destruction of Center Force.

Instead, as Morison also observes:

The mighty gunfire of the Third Fleet's Battle Line, greater than that of the whole Japanese Navy, was never brought into action except to finish off one or two crippled light ships.

—Morison (1956), pp. 336–337

Perhaps the most telling comment is made laconically by Vice Admiral Lee in his action report as the Commander of TF 34:

No battle damage was incurred nor inflicted on the enemy by vessels while operating as Task Force Thirty-Four.

—Task Force 34 Action Report: October 6, 1944 – November 3, 1944

Read more about this topic:  Battle Off Samar

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