USS Wachapreague (AGP-8) - The Philippines Campaign - The Battle of Leyte Gulf

The Battle of Leyte Gulf

On the afternoon of 24 October 1944, upon receipt of word that three powerful Japanese task forces were approaching from three directions, PT boats tended by Wachapreague sped to action stations. In the van of the southern Japanese force steamed two battleships and a heavy cruiser, screened by four destroyers; 30 nautical miles (56 kilometers) behind came the second group, consisting of three cruisers and four destroyers. The American PT boats met the Japanese southern force head-on; three coordinated destroyer torpedo attacks soon followed; while American battleships and cruisers under Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf deployed across the northern end of Surigao Strait to "cross the T." The devastation the American warships wreaked upon the Japanese force was nearly total. Only one Japanese ship -- destroyer Shigure emerged from what became known as the Battle of Surigao Strait.

PT boats from MTBRon 12 then threw the second task group off balance at the head of the strait, slamming a torpedo into the side of light cruiser Abukuma and forcing Abukuma out of the battle line, badly damaged. The Japanese flagship, heavy cruiser Nachi, collided with another ship in the melee and found her own speed reduced to 18 knots. This second echelon of Japanese ships, correctly surmising that the first had fallen upon some hard times, then fled, hotly pursued by American planes which administered the coup de grace to sink the already crippled Abukuma and destroyer Shiranuhi on 26 October 1944.

MTBron 12's actions and the Battle of Surigao Strait itself were part of the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf of 23 October to 26 October 1944, a decisive defeat to the Imperial Japanese Navy from which it never recovered. Yet, while the Japanese capacity for seaborne operations lessened, they nevertheless could still strike back from the skies. While the crew of Wachapreague labored to repair the badly damaged torpedo boat USS PT-194 on 25 October 1944, a Japanese plane attacked the ship, only to be driven off by a heavy anti-aircraft barrage. Later that day, Wachapreague shifted to Hinunagan Bay for refuelling operations that would enable her six PT boats to return to San Pedro Bay. Japanese nuisance attacks from the air continued, however, and a dive bomber attacked Wachapreague just as she was completing fueling operations with USS PT-134. As the PT-134 pulled away from Wachapreague's side, a Japanese bomb landed some 18 feet (5.5 meters) from the PT boat's stern, killing one man and wounding four on board PT-134. Moving out under cover of a smoke screen, Wachapreague vacated her anchorage just before 14 Japanese planes struck and, while clearing the bay, fired on three twin-motored Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bombers, claiming two kills as one "Betty" crashed into the sea and a second, trailing smoke, crashed behind a nearby island.

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