Category: History

Sullivan’s Expedition

In 1713 at the end of Queen Anne’s War in which the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy stayed neutral at the request of France, the British and their Cherokee allies evicted the Tuscarora Indians from present day North Carolina. The Iroquois Confederacy accepted the now vehemently anti-British Tuscarora refugees as the Sixth Nation of the Confederacy. The Tuscarora settled on their southern lands to prevent settlers out of New York and Pennsylvania from encroaching on Confederacy lands and hunting grounds. For the next sixty years the Confederacy maintained a delicate balance of aggressive neutrality between the empires of Great Britain and France in order secure cheap, but superior, British trade goods from the colonies, while preventing France’s First Nation allies from raiding their lands and hunting grounds.

In 1778, the Iroquois could no longer maintain their neutrality between Britain and France’s ally, the United States of America. Since 1775, the elders at the Council Fire at Onondaga avoided war by simultaneously pledging fealty to their “Great Father” George II and claiming they could not wage war against their “brothers” in the colonies. (This was a diplomatic coup for the Americans, had the Iroquois thrown in with the British against the Americans in the militarily disastrous year of 1776, the war would have been drastically different for the fledgling American nation.) After the winter of 1776/7, colonial trade goods were scarce, upon which the Iroquois, with no manufacturing capability of their own, were completely dependent as their old ways were forgotten, and forced the Iroquois to choose sides. The British promised to supply them from Fort Niagara, and if they won, enforce the Proclamation of 1763, which limited colonial settlers to land east of the Appalachians. The British negotiators, whose most effective advocate was Molly Brant, the common law wife of British Chief of Indian Affairs Sir William Johnson and brother to Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant, brought the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca nations to the British. Under the influence of half black-half Abenaki, French Catholic, adopted Mohawk, Oneida war chief Joseph Louis Cook (get all that) and Presbyterian minister Samuel Kirkland , two of the frontier fixers and traders that dominated American colonial diplomacy with Indian nations in the 18th century, the Oneida and Tuscarora sided with the Americans. Thus began the Iroquois civil war.

1777 and 1778 were disastrous years for the Oneida, Tuscarora and settlers on the American frontier. The Battle of Oriskany showed the dubious value of militia used as line infantry against Indian and Loyalist irregulars. Only the successful American counterattack from Fort Stanwix, by its regular garrison which lifted its siege, prevented Barry St Leger from invading New York through the Mohawk Valley in support of Burgoyne. The Oneida and Tuscarora homelands were overrun and occupied, and the New York and Pennsylvania frontiers were set ablaze. Hundreds of homesteads were raided, and the Cherry Valley and Wyoming Valley massacres made international headlines.

The Continental Congress authorized an expedition in the spring of 1778 against the Iroquois but it was too late in the season to muster the supplies necessary for a campaign in the frontier wilderness. Any large body of troops would starve, and any small body would be destroyed by the Iroquois. Furthermore, Washington’s regulars were fresh from Valley Forge and chased Sir Henry Clinton’s redcoats back to New York. Every Continental was needed for a showdown with Clinton if he sortied from New York and sought battle. Limited raids against Iroquois towns with militia were all that could be managed. As any settler could tell you, counterattack was the only viable option for defense on the frontier; sitting and waiting out an Indian raid in a stout farmstead, blockhouse, or fort provided only temporary reprieve if, and only if, and relief force was immediately dispatched. In any case, passive defense did nothing to prevent its reoccurrence. Since the Onondaga were the “Keepers of the Council Fire”, the Americans invaded their homeland in 1778 and fired their “castle” or fortified village, where for centuries the chiefs of the five nations met. The Iroquois elders just moved to Genesee, the primary Seneca castle. Furthermore, the raid just rallied the remainder of the four nations of the Iroquois Confederacy against the Americans. Any invasion of the Iroquois homeland had to break the Seneca, the largest and most militant of the Six Nations, whose warriors comprised nearly 2/3’s of Iroquois’ military might.

George Washington was keen on an invasion of the Iroquois Confederacy, particularly Seneca lands, to relieve the pressure on his precarious logistical situation. The productive farms on the frontier couldn’t feed the Continental Army if they were under constant assault. The army had to be seen doing something about the Iroquois and “asway public outrage” over the raids and depredations. The biggest problem was the Seneca villages were the farthest away from any potential Continental Army assembly areas in Pennsylvania and New York. In late 1778 and early 1779, Washington turned to his most experienced frontier commander, Major General Philip Schuyler and he devised a plan. Then Washington’s most trusted subordinate, Nathaniel Greene approved and modified it. The campaign would be one of logistics and Greene as the Continental Army’s Quartermaster General would have to supply it. In order to have adequate troops to defeat the Iroquois, Loyalists and British, any invading army must carry the majority of their provisions with them. Every previous Indian expedition failed because it was either too small to do any good or the army melted away when the supplies ran out. Schuyler and Greene eventually recommended a three prong invasion with the main effort up the Susquehanna Valley with supporting efforts up the Allegheny Valley from Fort Pitt and another from the Mohawk Valley in the east then south through the Susquehanna Valley. Instead of multiple small forts connected by wagon roads protecting the lines of communication, as was standard during the French and Indian War, Pontiac’s War and Lord Dunmore’s War, the expedition would build just a single defensible depot deep in Iroquois territory and carry most of their supplies on pack horses. This reduced the amount of troops siphoned off the main attack, sped up the main column since they couldn’t have to build roads, and allowed “flying columns” to raid Iroquois villages not along the main route of advance. The idea was to overwhelm the Iroquois by attacking in force at multiple points. (If this sounds like Napoleon’s Corps system, you wouldn’t be wrong.) Finally the regulars from the Continental Army itself would conduct the campaign and the unreliable militia would guard the frontier.

In early 1779, Washington’s spies learned that Clinton was going to invade Connecticut to try and lure Washington into a battle, bait for a trap he wasn’t going to take. Clinton’s Connecticut foray however did provide the opportunity to release a few brigades for operations against the Iroquois. Washington took it one step further – almost one third of the Continental Army was tasked to the invasion of the Iroquois Confederacy. Initially, command of the invasion was offered to the victor of Saratoga, Horatio Gates, but he begged off ostensibly for health reasons, much to Washington’s relief. Washington then offered the command to John Sullivan, who reluctantly accepted.

Sullivan had a mixed record so far in the war and is the prime example of American generals having to learn their profession the hard way. As one of Washington’s division commanders, he did well at Trenton, Princeton, and Long Island, where he was captured and then paroled, and at Brandywine. But Sullivan was surprised at Germantown, led an unsuccessful raid on Staten Island, and damn near severed the Franco-American alliance after its first battle. Sullivan and French Admiral Comte d’Estang led a joint operation against Newport, Rhode Island, but a storm scattered the French fleet which then retired to Boston. This left Sullivan’s army vulnerable and had to retreat after the British garrison sortied. Sullivan accused the French of cowardice. Sullivan was a solid commander and tactician but had problems managing and coordinating with his peers. An independent command was perfect, but not one that most thought destined to fail.

Sullivan also knew this was his last shot as one of Washington’s trusted subordinates. The Continental hard core that emerged from Valley Forge demanded competent and aggressive commanders. This wasn’t 1776 when Washington relied on anyone with any military experience to command. This was 1779 when the cream had already floated to the top, the likes of Schuyler, Greene, Knox, Wayne, Stark, Morgan and amazingly competent foreigners like Von Steuben, Lafayette, Pulaski, de Kalb and Kościuszko all wanted a piece of Washington’s time in 1779. Problematic leaders such as Charles Lee, Israel Putnam, Horatio Gates and others were all marginalized by Washington by 1779; Sullivan was dangerously close to being part of the latter group. The Iroquois expedition was Sullivan’s last chance.

Sullivan wasn’t going to waste it, much to Greene and Washington’s frustration. When Sullivan arrived at Easton, Pennsylvania in early spring to take command, he found the troops woefully undersupplied. Furthermore, the rangers, guides, and “go-betweens” promised by the Pennsylvania legislature were nowhere to be found. If the expedition departed when Washington demanded, no later than 1 May, the expedition was doomed to failure. 1779 was the culmination of the Continental Army’s systemic supply inefficiencies and difficulties, and Greene was doing the best he could, but it wasn’t enough for Sullivan and his priority campaign.

Sullivan began a vicious writing campaign to Washington, Greene, the Pennsylvania legislature and eventually the Continental Congress about the perceived lack of support, mostly in vain. New roads were cut to the Wyoming Valley, 1500 pack saddles manufactured, tents sewn to equip the whole expedition, and enough bateaux built and competent bateaux men hired to accompany the expedition along the rivers. Still, the difficulties persisted. Greene, to his credit, managed to supply enough to begin the campaign, with promises of continual supply throughout the summer until the expedition’s completion. Sullivan departed Easton on 18 June for the Wyoming Valley where he stayed for the next month amassing supplies and men. Though 5000 troops were allocated by Washington, Sullivan was never in direct command of more than 4000 or so due to expiring enlistments and other requirements by Washington. Sullivan considered it barely enough to contend with the Iroquois.

In 1779, the remaining Four Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy had a combined population of just 13,000, or less than half the population of Philadelphia at the time. (In today’s terms the entirety of the Iroquois population was just a bit more than the population of the neighborhood I grew up in, Carrick in Pittsburgh.) Theoretically, of those 13,000, the Four Nations could put about 3,000 warriors into the field against Sullivan augmented by about 300 loyalists. Brant and Butler also knew that their men were much better fighters in the forests than the Americans, and routinely outfought twice their number of American militia. However the size and composition of Sullivan’s expedition convinced many warriors to evacuate their families to Fort Niagara ahead of the invasion. Unlike the Continental Army, Brant’s warriors’ option to stay were strictly voluntary. His warriors could come and go as they pleased. Thousands departed to pack up their villages and escort their families to Fort Niagara. Brant and Butler had but 1000 Iroquois warriors and 250 loyalist rangers to oppose Sullivan. All the British and Iroquois could do was launch counter raids to distract from the massive build up. Sullivan wasn’t going to get his climactic big battle with the Iroquois that Washington wanted, and he was going to find empty villages.

Every measure was taken to keep the build up a secret, but the immensity of the expedition precluded any such possibility. The British, loyalists and Iroquois knew of the buildup. However, Joseph Brant, a Mohawk Pine Tree war chief, but generally accepted leader of the Iroquois warriors (a “Pine Tree” war chief was an elected position because according to Iroquois law, only Seneca could be formal war chiefs of intertribal war bands) and John Butler, command of the loyalist Butler’s Rangers who have been harassing the American frontier for two years, could do little about it. The British governor of Quebec was convinced of an American invasion of Canada in 1779 and no British regulars were spared for the defense of the Iroquois homeland or Fort Niagara. Even worse, the sheer size of Sullivan’s Expedition, 3000 in the Wyoming Valley, 1500 in the Mohawk Valley, and 1000 in the Allegheny Valley, convinced many Iroquois that the homeland must be evacuated.

Schuyler and Greene might have written the plan, but Washington had some very specific commander’s intent and guidance. In May, Washington reiterated the plan and emphasized the objectives to Sullivan. There could be no mistake since they were in the very first paragraph of the letter,

The expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the six nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more…”

Washington and Sullivan needed those villages captured intact with their inhabitants. Hostages were needed for prisoner exchanges and to ensure any Iroquois compliance with a peace treaty. (On the 18th century frontier, any treaty with an Indian tribe that did not involve hostages was unenforceable due to the relationship between individual warriors and the personal leadership of their chief) Sullivan was not authorized to conclude a peace treaty, only the Continental Congress could do that, he was allowed to suspend operations if the Iroquois handed over Butler, Brant and several other chiefs and warriors involved in the frontier raiding. The only caveat was that Sullivan could only do so after “the total ruin of their settlements is effected”. The expedition’s objective was to break the Iroquois with the added effect of forcing them to seek support from the British and overburdening the British supply system in Canada. There would be no peace with the Iroquois until their homeland was “not merely overrun, but destroyed”.

On 31 July 1779, the Continental brigades of Enoch Poor, William Maxwell, and Edward Hand with his Light Corps in the lead departed Fort Wyoming to cannon salutes of its remaining garrison. The expedition had encamped among the charred ruins of the Wyoming Valley settlements which was a daily reminder of the reason for the campaign. The two miles long column had rotating advanced, flank, and rear guards with rangers, Oneida and Stockbridge Indians, and former Iroquois captives as scouts ahead. The column also contained 1500 packhorses, 800 head of cattle, a mobile blacksmith shop, and 200 “artificers” to repair equipment along the way. 200 boats and bateaux accompanied the column along the river and carried the majority of the expedition’s supplies. The eighty mile march to Tioga, at the confluence of the Chemung and Susquehanna rivers, was mostly without incident. The enormity of Sullivan’s command caused Butler and Brant to withdraw and issue desperate pleas to Niagara and local bands of Indians to concentrate deeper in the Confederacy interior.

Sullivan reached former Oneida, now abandoned Cayuga, castle at Tioga on 11 August where he was to meet James Clinton’s Continental Brigade (no relation to the British Commander in Chief in North America) coming down the Susquehanna from Canjoharie on Otsego Lake in the Mohawk Valley. Clinton’s 150 mile march was also surprisingly unimpeded. Clinton torched several former Tuscarora, now abandoned Onondaga and Mohawk towns, on the march. On 19 August, Sullivan sent Poor’s brigade out to meet Clinton as Butler and Brant finally began harassing the expedition and Sullivan was concerned that Butler was trying to defeat him in detail. Clinton linked up with Sullivan at Tioga on the 22th.

Sullivan wasn’t idle at Tioga while waiting on Clinton. Tioga was to be the logistics hub for the entire expedition. Though it wasn’t in the center of the Confederacy as Washington suggested, it was on the southern border of the Confederacy homeland and the perfect place to transfer supplies from boats, and eventually wagons once the road completed, to the pack horses necessary for an expeditious movement into the heart of the Iroquois homeland. “Fort Sullivan” was constructed upon the ruins of the Oneida castle on the Tioga peninsula. Three days after Clinton arrived, the entire army but a 300 man garrison of Fort Sullivan departed for the interior of the Iroquois Confederacy.

For the last few weeks, Butler and Brant were content to ambush and harass Sullivan’s massive force, but the Seneca war chiefs demanded Sullivan be stopped before his army reached the prosperous interior villages. Sullivan more than doubled Butler and Brant’s force, but they planned on ambushing the Americans as they had so effectively at the Battle of Oriskany two years before. The place they chose was the hill at Newtown which controlled the trails and Chemung River that served as the gateway to the Cayuga heartland. Butler and Brant’s 1200 loyalists and warriors built camouflaged earthworks on the southeast corner of the hill directly over the path of Sullivan’s approaching force. The position covered the fords near the confluence of Baldwin Creek and the Chemung River which ran north and south of the hill respectively. There they waited in ambush.

Unfortunately for the British and Iroquois, what worked two years prior against militiamen, did not work against trained and veteran Continental troops. The advanced guard consisted of three companies from Dan Morgan’s Provisional Rifle Corps, and they spotted the ambush immediately. Morgan quickly brought up the rest of Hand’s Light Corps and Sullivan’s artillery to fix Butler and Brant in the earthworks. In a battle drill that Sullivan’s formations had been practicing for months, Maxwell’s New Jersey brigade flanked right along the east bank of the Chemung while Poor’s New Hampshire and Clinton’s New York brigades did the same over the swampy “morass” along Baldwin’s Creek on the left. Hand’s brigade began its assault on the earthworks when Morgan observed Butler and Brant had already begun withdrawing from the untenable position, astonished by the rapidity and agility of the Continental attack. The Iroquois and loyalist force ran a gauntlet of fire from Poor’s and Clinton’s men in a running battle as they retreated. The only thing preventing a complete rout and encirclement of the Iroquois force was a counterattack by Brant on the far end of Poor’s brigade. Brant was eventually driven off by another quick and coordinated attack by nearby Continental regiments.

British Lt-Col John Butler and Chief Joseph Brant’s army disintegrated. The warriors who were convinced the Americans did not possess the capability and will to break into the Cayuga homeland, now had to face the inevitability of an American assault on the Seneca homeland. The Seneca were the “Keepers of the Western Door” of the Iroquois but there was nothing geographically preventing an attacker from laying waste to the Seneca from the east. For that, the Seneca relied on the other five nations. Though not very bloody in terms of casualties, less than a hundred on both sides, the Battle of Newtown was decisive. Sullivan’s victory laid bare the Iroquois heartland, and the entirety of the remaining Four Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy fled east to suckle at the British bosom around Fort Niagara for the winter. Brant and Butler continued to agitate Iroquois chiefs and the British commander at Fort Niagara for men. However after Newtown, the primary British concern was the continued occupation and successful defense of Fort Niagara, not the Iroquois homeland, and the Iroquois warriors were too concerned about feeding their families through the winter than fighting Sullivan’s massive army.

The only significant engagement for the rest of Sullivan’s Expedition was an ambush on 13 September of a 30 man patrol under Lt Thomas Boyd by Seneca chief Little Beard. Boyd and several of his men were captured, tortured and executed in retribution for the destruction caused by Sullivan’s army. As recorded by the British, Boyd was killed when he was tied to tree by his own intestines then forced to run around it until he died. Sullivan eventually burned down Little Beard’s village too.

With virtually no further resistance by Butler and Brant after Newtown, Sullivan’s army went about the grim business of eliminating the Iroquois’ ability to sustain themselves. As Sullivan pushed deeper into the Confederacy, battalion and brigade sized Continental “flying columns” struck out against remote Iroquois villages. American soldiers marveled at the size and prosperity of the long houses and cabins. Many had glass windows and were “larger and more elegant” than their colonial equivalent. Most of the villages rivaled their own villages in the east, and were more prosperous than many. In the Iroquois fields, the “Three Sisters”, corn, beans and squash, were ripe and ready to be eaten. Too green for the Iroquois women and children to pick and take with them to Fort Niagara in July and August, they provided vital sustenance for Sullivan’s columns. Despite all of the logistical preparation done by Greene the previous spring and summer, Sullivan was still forced to forage to keep up his momentum. Much to Washington and Greene’s chagrin, that Sullivan started so late actually significantly contributed to the successful conclusion of the campaign. What food not on the packhorses was provided by the Iroquois fields and what they couldn’t eat, was destroyed.

On 15 September 1779, Sullivan’s Expedition reached Little Beard’s Seneca castle at Genesee. It was abandoned like the rest of the Iroquois villages previously encountered. There they found Boyd’s tortured body around the tree and the rest of the captives mutilated nearby. Sullivan turned out the entire army to extinguish Genesee and its fields teeming with corn, beans, and squash. With the westernmost village of the Seneca destroyed, Sullivan did not have any plans to press on and capture Fort Niagara. There were no fat fields to forage off of in the eighty miles of untouched wilderness between Genesee and Fort Niagara (This area was a Seneca hunting ground). His men had marched hundreds of circuitous miles in the last few months, and still had to be back in winter quarters in New Jersey before the first major snowfall. There would be no mad snowy dash forward to capture British fort by surprise, as Montgomery and Arnold attempted at Quebec in 1775. His primary objectives mostly accomplished, though he had almost prisoners. Nonetheless, Sullivan turned his army around and returned to Tioga, and destroyed any villages he bypassed on his 136 mile trek through the Iroquois heartland.

In total, Sullivan’s expedition destroyed 40 Iroquois villages and approximately 160,000 bushels of food. This isn’t including Col David Brodhead’s expedition up the Allegheny River from Fort Pitt. His expedition destroyed a further “ten towns, 165 houses, 500 acres of corn, and $30,000 worth of produce”. Brodhead’s combined Delaware and Continental force (The Delaware were allies of the United States against the Iroquois and British since the Treaty of Fort Pitt in September 1778, America’s first foreign treaty) centered on the 14th Pennsylvania Regt but only carried 30 days’ worth of supplies. Brodhead departed Fort Pitt on 14 August and was back by late September, burning abandoned Seneca villages at the headwaters of the Allegheny River. Despite his orders to do so, Brodhead never came close to linking up with Sullivan.

The devastated lands of the former Four Nations were informally given over to the Oneida and Tuscarora nations. By mid-October, Fort Sullivan and Tioga were abandoned, and Sullivan’s brigades were marching back east. Hand’s New Yorkers unfortunately continued the devastation of the Iroquois homeland by arresting bands of friendly Mohawk in the lower Mohawk Valley on the way back. Since these Mohawk stayed neutral in the conflict, and didn’t assist the Sullivan Expedition, Hand turned their homes over to New York settlers. These incidents greatly soured the Oneida and Tuscarora on the United States and threatened to undo any goodwill between the nations and country.

In the west, Sullivan’s expedition strengthened the Delaware-American alliance, but not enough to prevent it from falling apart when the Americans demanded too much from the Delaware for the campaign against Detroit. George Rogers Clark did manage to secure treaties at Vincennes with the Shawnee and Wyandot after word reached of Sullivan’s success.

As for the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga and Mohawk, their land was destroyed, and they would never be able to challenge the United States again. Sullivan’s expedition did not put an end to the British and Iroquois raiding, and hundreds of loyalists and rangers descended on the American frontier with fury and vengeance in 1780. But they had to travel further and couldn’t stay as long. Furthermore, they had to travel through hostile Oneida and Tuscarora lands, increasingly stiffened by settlers who took land that the small Oneida and Tuscarora nations couldn’t possibly fully occupy.

Most of the refugee Iroquois settled on British reservations in Ontario where they stayed. At the end of the American Revolution, the British abandoned the Iroquois and they weren’t even mentioned in the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Some of the refugee Iroquois attempted to return to their devastated former homeland, only to find their lands occupied by Oneida, Tuscarora and American settlers. The fighting between them brought about the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784. At Fort Stanwix that October, Seneca and Mohawk chiefs ceded most of the Iroquois land west of the Susquehanna, including all of the Allegheny Valley and all of the Ohio Country which the Iroquois still saw as their land by right of conquest during the Beaver Wars in the 17th century. The remaining Iroquois elders of the reestablished Council Fire at Buffalo Creek (present day Buffalo, NY) rejected the treaty as did the Western Confederation in the Ohio Country, whose former Iroquois subject nations bristled at the thought that they were still ruled by the Six Nations. But the influence wielded by the elders of the Iroquois Council Fire was a pale shadow of what it was five years before. For almost two centuries the Five, then Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy lived by the right of conquest, and in American eyes in 1784, the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy died by the right of conquest.

The Iroquois Confederacy, once the arbiter of all Indian affairs for 200 years between the Atlantic and Mississippi, and the Great Lakes and the Ohio River was reduced to a few small disparate patches of land supposedly still under British protection.

“When your army entered the country of the Six Nations, we called you ‘Town Destroyer’: and to this day when that name is heard our women look behind them and turn pale, and our children cling close to the necks of their mothers. Our counsellors and warriors are men, and cannot be afraid; but their hearts are grieved with the fears of our women and children, and desire that it may be buried so deep as to be heard no more.” – Seneca Chief Cornplanter to President George Washington. 1790

Sherman’s March to the Sea

In September 1864, MG William Tecumseh Sherman defeated Confederate MG John Bell Hood and captured Atlanta. Hood and his army escaped but Atlanta was the industrial capital of the South. It was also a major railroad hub. With its loss, supplies from the Deep South for Lee in Virginia had to take a circuitous route up the Atlantic coast through the unoccupied portions of Georgia.

Robert E Lee wasn’t too worried about Sherman threatening his remaining supply lines though. Lee believed that he could advance no further with Hood’s intact army behind him. Hood threatened Sherman’s exposed railroads that extended all the way back to Kentucky.

So Sherman cut his own supply lines, and marched on Savannah.

Over September and October, Sherman culled his army of any soldier who could not make the grueling 250 mile march from Atlanta to Savannah by Christmas. Those who could not make the march were placed under the capable command of MG George Thomas “The Rock of Chickamauga” who would fall back to Nashville and defend against Hood. Sherman trimmed his army to its “fighting strength” – the original “hardcore”. The only camp followers he permitted were freed slaves they picked up on the route, and then he would feed only those who were of use to the army. For his Savannah campaign, Sherman expected his soldiers to march at least 15 miles a day with 55 lb packs. 20 days of supplies would be carried on their backs, and the rest would be foraged from the Georgia countryside until they could be supplied by the Union Navy blockading Savannah.

The foraging would not only feed his army, but it would also “make Georgia howl”. Sherman had spent most of his prewar military career in the South and he had a great affection for the Southern culture but he knew the only way to defeat them was to destroy their will and ability to carry on the fight. There were no Confederate formations between him and Savannah, and his men would have free rein to destroy the South’s physical and psychological ability to carry on the war. On 13 November 1864, Sherman expelled all citizens from Atlanta and then he put anything of military value to the torch. Factories, government buildings, warehouses, plantations, the only buildings he spared were Catholic churches because he didn’t want his Irish regiments to mutiny. The fires eventually spread to the rest of the city. Sherman didn’t care: elections have consequences. As his army marched out of the burning city, Sherman commented that he had “never heard ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ sung with more spirit and harmony”.

On the march, all foodstuffs were confiscated and any that could not be carried were destroyed. Unneeded livestock were shot. Anything deemed of military value was put to the torch, in particular plantations. Lee’s vital railroads were tore up, and the rails were heated and then bent around trees, in what his soldiers called “Sherman’s Neckties”. Food stores and farm implements, with the reason that they’ll be used to feed the Confederate armies were confiscated or destroyed. Georgia had to figure out how to feed its population over the winter. The troops were rough but disciplined, and shared their commander’s single minded purpose in ending the war. 155 years of research by revisionist Southern historians have failed to find a single instance of rape, massacre, or wanton pillage that wasn’t dealt with immediately and judiciously. Sherman made Georgia “howl”.

Sherman captured Savannah on 21 December and offered it to Lincoln as a Christmas present. His “March to the Sea” cut a 250 mile long and thirty mile wide swath of destruction across Georgia. He caused $100,000,000 worth of damage ($1.5 billion, with a “b”, today). He cut off Lee’s Army of Virginia and forced it to starve over the winter. Sherman eventually turned his march into South Carolina where he continued to punish the South for bringing about the war. The March to the Sea undeniably shortened the most devastating war to America in its history. Lee’s ragged and famished army surrendered to Grant the next April.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

In the autumn of 1989, the people of Eastern Europe had had enough of Socialism. In Poland in September, Lech Walesa and Solidarity formed the first non-Communist government in a Warsaw Pact nation. In Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel was organizing the Velvet Revolution from his prison cell, and thousands of East Germans were openly using the West German Embassy in Prague to escape their Stasi-controlled socialist paradise. In Hungary, the border was effectively open and tens of thousands of Eastern European “tourists” were flooding Austria, never to return.

In East Germany, and Berlin in particular, massive but peaceful protests rocked the Communist government. In early November, the protesters stopped chanting “We want out!” and began chanting “We are staying!”. The new East German leader, Egon Krenz, recognized that he would not be in power for long if some changes were not made. On 9 November 1989, he and his advisors finished reviewing the new rules which greatly lessened the restrictions on travel and the burdensome bureaucratic process needed to obtain approval, but it did not open the border.

A note about the new regulations was passed to his spokesman, Gunter Schabowski, who was having a press conference that evening. Schabowski told reporters that there would be changes to the regulations, but not the details since he didn’t have them. When asked, Schabowski assumed they would also include Berlin and that they were effective immediately. The reporters then assumed the changes would open the border as it was in Hungary, and ran with it. This was most definitely not the case, but within the hour, it was broadcast around the world that the inter-German border was open.

Thousands descended upon the gates in the Berlin Wall demanding that they be allowed to cross into West Berlin, because “Schabowski said we could”. East German Stasi Lieutenant Colonel Harald Jager of the Bornholmer Street Gate made repeated calls to his superiors asking for clarification. His superiors mocked him and told him to use force to clear the protesters since they knew nothing of the new regulations, despite it being all over the news. Jager refused and let the East Berliners through. They were met by celebrating West Berliners. Within days all of the gates in the Berlin Wall were open and several new ones were established when jubilant Berliners smashed through with pick axes and bulldozers.

The Cold War was over.


On 3 November 1954, the first and greatest of all Godzilla movies, “Gojira!”, was released in Japan and launched the “Kaiju” or great monster genre in movies. (Stop! I know! But that’s a good enough translation for a silly FB post.) “Gojira” is the combination of two Japanese words: “gorira”, which means gorilla and “kujira”, whale.

Unlike its 29 sequels, Gojira! didn’t focus on the monster fighting another monster, or Gojira stomping on Tokyo. Gojira! was a much darker and more serious movie than its successors. It is actually one of the few Kaiju movies where Gojira was the bad guy, and for good reason.

In the movie, Gojira was released from the depths of the ocean due to American atomic weapons testing and the monster is an obvious metaphor for atomic weapons. In 1954, the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the non-atomic destruction of nearly every other Japanese city during World War Two, were fresh in Japanese minds. Also, in early 1954, the Japanese fishing trawler “Lucky Dragon #5” had then recently strayed too close to an American atomic test in the Pacific and most of the crew died horribly from radiation poisoning. This event is a direct parallel to Gojira destroying the fishing trawler in the opening minutes of the movie. So unlike most of its sequels, the film had a story that took precedence over the monster stomping on the city, and it is much better for it. The Japanese flocked to see Gojira!, and it was an instant critical and financial success.

Two years later, Gojira! was released in the United States as “Godzilla, King of the Monsters”, but it was heavily edited. It starred Raymond Burr as a reporter in Tokyo and his bits were spliced into Gojira!. This forced some of the Japanese story to be edited out in favor of the monster stomping on Tokyo. Finally, because Gojira! was such a success in Japan, every effort was made to get it right in America. For example, the English voice overs in GKoM were done with care, something that wasn’t carried forward in the next decades.

If you can find a copy of the Criterion Collection Gojira! with English subtitles (far superior than any other version, and there are many) it’s worth a bowl of popcorn and a bottle of sake.


The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Epilogue, the Battle of Cape Engano

After hours of increasingly frantic messages from Adm Kinkaid’s 7th Fleet asking for assistance from Halsey’s 3rd Fleet, in particular Halsey’s fast battleships of TF 34, Admiral Nimitz in Hawaii got involved. Both Nimitz and Kinkaid assumed TF 34 was guarding the San Bernardino Strait, but Halsey took them north in search of his elusive carrier kills. The exasperated Nimitz finally sent the following message to Halsey:

“–Turkey trots to water where is TF 34 the world wonders—“

The first four words and the last three words were buffer phrases meant to confuse Japanese cryptanalysists. (The last three words were ironically a reference to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” an event that happened exactly 90 years before the Battle of Leyte Gulf.) But when the message made it to Halsey, it read, “Where is TF 34, the world wonders?” Halsey flew into a rage and began throwing things about the wardroom on the battleship New Jersey. He continued until his chief of staff admonished him and told him “to snap out of it”. Halsey eventually calmed down and sent his six battleships south to assist Taffy 3, but they were too late: Taffy 3 won the Battle off Samar and saved MacArthur’s invasion fleet without them.

Halsey took his frustration out on Ozawa’s decoy Northern Force which he cornered off of Cape Egnano. TF 38, i.e. all of the fleet carriers of the 3rd Fleet, pounded the Northern Force for two days on 25 and 26 October 1944. As almost an afterthought, Halsey mauled the force and sank all four of Ozawa’s carriers, including the Zuikaku, which was the last Japanese carrier still afloat that took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor three years before.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was over. It was the largest battle in naval history. The Allies lost one light carrier, two jeep carriers, two destroyers, and one destroyer escort. The Japanese lost four carriers, four battleships, eleven cruisers, and eleven destroyers. In America, an escort carrier was coming out of the shipyards at the rate of one every two weeks, a destroyer: one a week. The Japanese losses could not be replaced. Even if they could have been, MacArthur’s campaign in the Philippines cut Japanese fuel supplies from the Dutch East Indies. The Imperial Japanese Navy, once the Scourge of the Pacific, would be a non-factor for the rest of the war.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf wasn’t over for Halsey though. He knew he f****d up and so did everyone else. Adm Ernest King recalled Halsey to Washington DC just for an epic hour long ass chewing that was heard by everyone on the floor outside King’s office. Halsey spent the rest of his life trying to justify his actions from 24-26 October 1944.

The Battle of Balaclava

In the early part of the Victorian Age, and about six years before the American Civil War, Great Britain and France fought the Crimean War against Russia. In October of 1854, they were besieging the Crimean city of Sebastopol. On the 25th, the Russians reinforcements arrived and attacked the Allies’ main port of supply, Balaclava. Although the battle lasted until sundown, it didn’t affect the outcome of the Crimean War in any way. The Battle of Balaclava is mostly remembered for three separate engagements.

In the South Valley, Russian Prince Ryhozv’s cavalry advanced in two columns. The first column, 3000 strong, came over the Great Causeway and surprised the British. The nearest British unit was General James Scarlett’s Heavy Brigade of cavalry. The 900 troopers of the Heavy Brigade charged the Russian column, and in four minutes routed them thoroughly. The Charge of the Heavy Brigade was an outstanding success.

Ryhozv’s other cavalry column, a thousand strong, came upon the 93rd Regiment of Highlanders. With only the Black Sea and the supply depot behind them, the Highlanders could not retreat. The 93rd, with their red jackets, green kilts and tall bearskin hats, formed up only two deep to extend their line so they could not outflanked. The “Thin Red Line Tipped in Steel” held strong and defeated the Russian charges. The newspapers back in Britain eventually shortened it to “The Thin Red Line” for consumption back home.

Finally in the North Valley, the commander of the British, Lord Raglan, ordered the Light Brigade to secure some guns about to be overrun by the Russians. When the Light Brigade’s commander, Lord Cardigan (he invented the cardigan sweater: it was cold in the Crimea) received the order, he couldn’t see the guns that he needed to secure. But he did see Russian cannon a mile away at the other end of the valley. He mistakenly thought that was what he needed to secure. He was about to question the order but decided not to: no one was going to call him a coward. So

“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the Valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.”

First at a walk, then a trot, then a gallop, and finally at a charge, the Light Brigade, with Lord Cardigan in the van, attacked down the valley with Russian cannon firing at them from three sides. The rest of the Allied army watched in horror. Against all odds, they seized and spiked the Russian guns, routed the defenders, and fought off several Russian counterattacks before Cardigan ordered a retreat once it was clear no one was coming in support. 2/3rds of the Light Brigade was killed or wounded, and Lord Cardigan, a martinet of such stature that only Victorian High Society could produce, rode straight from the charge back to his private luxury yacht, so he wasn’t late for his champagne dinner.

The Charge of the Light Brigade was the subject of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous poem of the same name and became the embodiment of foolhardy courage for no reason.

A French officer who witnessed the charge, Gen Pierre Bosquet, said “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie.”

“It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness”.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Act III.3, The Battle off Samar

Even though she only made one hit, the Heerman launched the most perfect and effective torpedo spread in history. Her ten torpedoes fanned out at the four Japanese battleships as if it were an exercise. The day before, the Musashi, the Yamato’s sister ship, took 47 aerial torpedo and bomb hits before sinking. But the fear of those ten torpedoes from a surface combatant caused the Yamato to take such radical evasive maneuvers that she ended up steaming AWAY from the battle. The American torpedoes’ inferiority ironically assisted the Heerman, as their slow speed actually extended the chase. In the confusion, the Yamato, and the Nagato who blindly followed her, never regained contact. That torpedo spread damaged one battleship, the Haruna, and effectively took two other battleships, the Yamato and Nagato, including the Center Force’s commander Admiral Takeo Kurita, out of the fight.

It wasn’t over for the Heerman though. She neutralized two battleships, now she locked horns with two more, the Kongo and the Haruna, both six times her size. She darted in between both of them as her 40mm anti-aircraft batteries raked their superstructures while her five 5” guns spewed 20 rounds a minute. The battleship’s turrets couldn’t traverse fast enough, and the Japanese gunners tried to use the concussion from the big guns to capsize the Heerman. The Heerman quickly ran out of her armored piercing shells, and switched to HE. She then expended all those and fired her anti-aircraft shells, which was like launching beehives of shrapnel at the battleships. Eventually, she was reduced to firing bright illumination rounds to cause confusion. But the star shells weren’t for naught, their burning magnesium set the battleships aflame and the high temperatures melted through armor. She sprinted through, around, and then back to the jeep carriers when she was out of ammunition. For an hour, it seemed as if the Heerman was everywhere in the battle.

The Hoel suffered a different fate. As she charged at the Chokai and the Haguro, she took over twenty hits from 6” up to 14” guns. It took an hour, but the Japanese finally decided to use their high explosive shells instead of the armor piercing ones that went right through the thin skinned American ships. The quick destruction of the Hoel gave a glimpse of what would have happened had the Japanese fired high explosive shells from the beginning of the battle. But like in all totalitarian systems, the Japanese loaders and gunners refused to challenge their superiors and switch unless given the order. Dozens of gunners knew exactly what they were looking at in their scopes: Fletcher class destroyers and Casablanca class carriers, not Iowa class battleships and Essex class fleet carriers. They weren’t stupid, they just refused to change. This obstinacy in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary went on for over an hour to disastrous consequences for the Japanese.

The Hoel was the first victim of the switch to HE shells, but she managed to launch her spread of torpedoes before she went down. One hit the Chokai in the stern, and ruined her steering. 275 of the 325 men on the Hoel died, but they were avenged by the solitary 5” stern gun of the jeep carrier White Plains. As the Chokai circled out of control, the White Plains’ solitary gun got a lucky hit on the Chokai’s torpedo magazine. The Chokai exploded and sank.

Further south, the wrecked Johnston pulled double duty: as the cruiser Tone closed in on the Gambier Bay, the Johnston engaged her with her stern guns to draw fire from the carrier. But approaching from her bow were a Japanese light cruiser and five destroyers. The Johnston’s three bow 5” guns scored hit after hit on the cruiser and the lead two destroyers. Miraculously, they all turned and retreated.

The victory was short lived. The next Japanese destroyer division was made of sterner stuff. Another light cruiser and six more Japanese destroyers made it their personal mission to sink the Johnston and the indomitable Commander Evans. The Johnston damaged two more destroyers before she went down. Cmdr Evans was last seen severely wounded on the stern conning the ship by yelling commands to the crewmen manually turning the rudder. As the Japanese destroyers steamed past the sinking Johnston, their crews didn’t machine gun the American survivors as they always had in similar situations. They saluted them. It was the only recorded instance of that happening in the Pacific War.

Just to the east, the jeep carrier Gambier Bay was dead in the water and on fire. The heavy cruiser Chikuma closed in for the kill. But before she could launch the coup de grace, she had to deal with the destroyer escort, USS Samuel B Roberts “The Destroyer That Fought like a Battleship”.

The Samuel B Roberts engaged the Chikuma with her two 5” guns at point blank range for over an hour. She was so close that the Chikuma’s guns couldn’t depress far enough. The Samuel B Roberts melted both of her 5” barrels. Nothing on the Chikuma was safe from the Samuel B Robert’s anti-aircraft guns whose gunners targeted individual Japanese sailors, on the logic that that was an exposed chink in the armor. The Samuel B Roberts even rolled her depth charges to add to the confusion. For over an hour she kept this up, but eventually the Chikuma prevailed when her own 5” guns, finally firing high explosives, sent the Samuel B Roberts to the bottom.

The Japanese were severely bloodied, but the Johnston, Hoel, Samuel B Roberts, and Gambier Bay were sunk. The Heerman was out ammunition and all she could do was lay smoke. The Kongo, Haruna, Haguro, Tone, Chikuma, a light cruiser, and six destroyers were within knife fighting distance of the rest of the jeep carriers. Although the Battle off Samar was more difficult than expected, Kurita was still about to win the battle.

It was as if the Chikuma paused to catch her breath after her fight with the plucky little destroyer escort. She slowed down, leisurely traversed her guns on the rest of the jeep carriers… and then exploded.

While the ships were fighting for their lives, the flyers from Taffy 2 and those from Taffy 3 that landed on the airstrip at Tacloban on Leyte (where they initially procured fuel and ammo from the US Army at gun point) had returned. And this time they had proper ship killing ordnance – torpedoes and armored piercing bombs. The Chikuma was the first, but soon all of the Japanese ships were taking substantial hits from the furious, and well-armed, aircraft.

It was too much for Kurita.

He had been awake for over thirty hours. He had had his flagship sunk from underneath him the day before at the Battle of the Sibuyan Bay, and then he was ignominiously fished out of the water. For the last two hours, he had suffered attacks from what he thought were over a thousand planes. He had steamed in the wrong direction and was no longer in direct control of the battle. And because of the damage done to his ships, he was convinced that the destroyers and destroyer escorts of Taffy 3 were actually Halsey’s battleships and heavy cruisers. His subordinate commanders did not want to lose face so they had not reported otherwise. The effectiveness of the newest air attacks convinced him that the 3rd Fleet was launching a massive raid to destroy him.

At 0911, 25 October 1944, 132 minutes after the Battle off Samar started, Adm Takeo Kurita radioed to the Center Force:

“Rendezvous my course north. Speed 20.”

And with that, the Japanese Center Force, on paper one of the most powerful forces of surface combatants in the history of mankind, disengaged.

The Battle off Samar was the most lopsided naval victory in history.

Kurita’s withdrawal wasn’t the end of the battle, though. In a rare example of Japanese Army-Navy cooperation, a new, and horrifying, Japanese weapon appeared just an hour and a half later.

At 1050, just as Kurita was assembling the Center Force to the north, twelve Japanese aircraft unexpectedly attacked Taffy 3 from the west. But these aircraft were different, they didn’t break off their attacks when they were damaged or when the flak was too great. They tried to fly straight into the American ships. Only one got through. It struck the jeep carrier USS St Lo, which had barely survived the morning. The St Lo was at the bottom of the Philippine Trench by noon. The USS St Lo was the first American ship sunk by the Kamikaze.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Act III.2, The Battle off Samar cont

About the time of Evans’ suicidal lone wolf attack against the two lead Japanese cruisers, aircraft from Taffy 1 and Taffy 2 entered the fray. Ships of Taffy 2 were briefly sighted by Japanese destroyers far to the south, but were lost when the sighting destroyer division moved to escort their battleships on the far side of the formation. (Kurita’s attack in place order only applied the cruisers and battleships. The destroyers were still expected to escort their charges. This blind obedience to orders caused the Japanese closest to the Taffy’s 2 and 3 to actually move away from the Americans, caused a significant amount of confusion, and inadvertently put the Americans outside of the dreaded “Long Lance” torpedo range.) Soon, the American planes swarmed about the Center Force like angry hornets. They still lacked proper armor piercing bombs and torpedoes, but the exposed parts of the Japanese ships took a pounding. Every busted gunwale, every strafed bridge, every officer that dove for cover, every turn to avoid a dive bomber, every conflagration started by napalm, and every observer mesmerized by a flurry of propaganda leaflets bought Ziggy Sprague and Taffy 3 precious seconds to escape.

With the Johnston already in the attack, Sprague ordered the rest of Taffy 3’s escorts at the Japanese, “big boys on the right, little fellas on the left, prepare for torpedo runs.”

After the Johnston’s successful run which destroyed the Kumano, Evan’s turned around and headed back toward the rest of Taffy 3 to take up his escort position and provide smoke for the carriers. At that moment the Johnston was struck by numerous 8”, 14” and 16” shells from two different cruisers and the battleships Kongo and Nagato. Because the Japanese were still using armored piercing rounds, only one exploded when it hit the engine, the rest passed clean through the ship. Nonetheless, the Johnston was reduced to 17 knots and the ship was severely damaged when it entered its own smoke screen.

Also pumping out smoke were the destroyers USS Heerman and USS Hoel, followed by the plucky little destroyer escort USS Samuel B Roberts, who didn’t want to wait for the other “little fellas” on the far side of Taffy 3. In any other navy in the world the Roberts would be known as a frigate. Uniquely suited for anti-submarine warfare, destroyer escorts only had two 5” guns and a single triple turret of torpedo tubes for surface action. Nevertheless, the Samuel B Robert’s skipper, LtCdr Robert Copeland, put out on the ship’s loudspeaker, “This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.” And he pulled in behind the Hoel and Heerman.

The three ships were heading forward as they passed the Johnston heading back.

One third of the Johnston’s crew was dead or wounded. She had just taken on two cruisers, both three times her size, and sank one and severely damaged the other. She had only one engine, no electrical power, and she was listing to port because the pumps couldn’t keep up with the numerous holes in her belly.

But the Johnston had five working turrets and plenty of ammunition.

Evans hoisted his giant sack, turned the Johnston around and followed the other ships back into harm’s way.

By 0800 the other Japanese cruisers were dangerously close to the jeep carriers. So close that the Gambier Bay was on fire and engaging them with her own single stern mounted 5” gun. The Farshaw Bay and White Plains were taking a steady stream of hits.

Their aircraft were causing some damage and quite a bit of confusion but only the torpedoes of the destroyers and destroyer escorts would send Japanese iron to the bottom of the sea.

The Samuel B Roberts launched herself at the two cruisers nearest the Gambier Bay, the Tone and Chikuma.

Evan’s did a quick gun run through the smoke on the lead battleship, the Kongo (he couldn’t miss) and then positioned the Johnston to cross the “T” of an approaching light cruiser and five Japanese destroyers.

The Hoel began her torpedo run against the next pair of cruisers, the Chukai and Haguro.

And the Heerman charged forward at 36 knots… straight at Kurita’s four battleships – the Kongo and her sister ship the Haruna, the Nagato, and the mighty Yamato.

To be continued.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Act III.1, The Battle off Samar

The first indications for most of the sailors of Rear Admiral Clifton “Ziggy” Sprague’s Task Force 77.4.3, that “Taffy 3” was under attack were the sound of hurtling trains, followed by splashes that shook the small jeep carriers and knocked sailors off their feet and out of their bunks. Because the Japanese still used visual fire control techniques each of the splashes were color coded so the observers high in the “pagoda”, as the Allies called the tall Japanese superstructures, could adjust their ship’s fire. The Haruna’s green shells, the Kongo’s yellow, Nagato’s orange, and the Yamato’s distinctive red splashes fell among the jeep carriers and escorts. Each red dyed splash caused by the Yamato indicated a near miss from a 3,200 lbs shell. In fact, the Yamato displaced more tonnage by itself than the combined weight of Taffy 3. And so did the next largest ship, the Nagato.

Within minutes the Japanese were registering hits, but the Americans only saving grace was the armored piercing rounds didn’t hit anything substantial enough for the fuses to ignite, so they passed right through their ships. Kurita’s initial assessment that he faced the six fleet carriers, four battleships, and three cruisers of Mitscher’s TF 38 was wrong. What he actually faced were the six smaller escort or “jeep” carriers, four destroyers and four smaller destroyer escorts of Taffy 3. Kurita, who would have been astonished to know how close he was to the Americans, thought he was further away than he was, and thus the ships bigger than they actually were.

The Americans were clearly surprised and Kurita hoped to overwhelm them before they could organize a coherent defensive formation. His own ships were in the midst of changing formation from a nighttime cruise to a daytime anti-aircraft formation, and his order to immediately attack at all speed no matter a ship’s position caused some confusion among the Japanese captains. Nonetheless, Kurita was convinced this maritime banzai would overpower the American surface ships and he could exact revenge on the hated American aircraft carriers before they could launch a strike.

Ziggy Sprague was under no illusions about what he faced. The most powerful independent surface action fleet in the history of mankind was speeding straight at him. And Halsey’s TF 34 was nowhere to seen. All he could do was make a run for nearest rain squall to hide. With that in mind, it wasn’t Kurita’s four battleships that were the most immediate concern but the eight Japanese cruisers. Sprague’s jeep carriers were only slightly slower than the battleships, but the Japanese cruisers had a 13 knot advantage. They had to be slowed down. Sprague did the only thing he could do: he launched all of his aircraft at Kurita, no matter their fuel or weapon status. During the short 15 mile trip to the Japanese, the aviators were surprised to see a single destroyer, the USS Johnston by herself., laying a smoke screen and charging directly at Kurita’s Center Force.

Commander Ernst E Evans, the Cherokee-American captain of the USS Johnston and veteran of the defeats of the Bismarck Sea and the naval battles in Solomon’s, knew exactly what was happening as soon as heard the first telltale train engine sound of the large battleship caliber shells streaking overhead. Evans, with the closest destroyer to the Japanese, without orders turned the Johnston around, moved to flank speed, attacked, and made smoke to obscure his charges. The problem with making smoke on a destroyer is that it billows behind the ship: it doesn’t obscure the destroyer making the smoke, it highlights it. This is what the flyers saw as Evans desperately tried to close the distance to engage.

Taffy 3’s pilots attacked with whatever ordinance they were carrying: anti-personnel bombs, napalm, rockets, .50 cal machine guns, and the gunner’s stern mounted .30 cals. There was even a recorded instance of an Avenger flying past the astonished bridge crew of the battleship Kongo with his canopy open and the pilot firing his pistol at them. And when they ran out of bombs and ammunition, the flyers continued making attacks: for every Japanese gunner who was shooting at them was one that wasn’t shooting at someone who could do some damage.

The Japanese swerved to avoid the attacks: some real, some imaginary. And every turn slowed them down.

At 10,000 yards, the Johnston was miraculously not hit. Like the Death Star’s turbo lasers, the Japanese gunners were under compensating for the small and fast target. The Johnston’s guns had no such problem: her five 5” guns swung into action guided by radar and the new Mark 1A firing computer. She put 43 rds into the lead cruiser, and 34 into the second cruiser, setting them on fire.

At 4,000 yrds, she launched all eight of her torpedoes.

Three hit the lead heavy cruiser, the Kumano, and it was dead in the water.

To be continued.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Act II, The Battle of Surigao Strait

On 24 October 1944, Vice Admiral Jesse Oldendorf’s Task Force 77.2, the 7th Fleet Support Force, i.e “MacArthur’s Navy”, fired its last few high explosive shells at Japanese positions on Leyte and then steamed south. A sharp eyed observer on a PBY flying boat spotted Japanese battleships in the Sulu Sea off the Philippine island of Negros. The only place Admiral Nishimura could enter the Leyte Gulf was the Surigao Strait, and Oldendorf planned on meeting him there.

Oldendorf’s battleships were, no pun intended, old. They were all commissioned during the First World War and they were the backbone of the US Navy prior to World War Two. They were the centerpiece of War Plan Orange, America’s interwar contingency plan in case of hostilities with Japan. War Plan Orange was scrapped after Pearl Harbor because the Japanese targeted these battleships to deadly effect: The West Virginia and California were sunk, and the Maryland, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania were badly damaged. Only the Wisconsin escaped damage that day. For the next six months, maintenance, recovery, and salvage crews worked frantically to get them battle ready as the carriers held the line at Coral Sea and Midway. Once America counterattacked, the carriers were now the premier platform of sea power, but the big, slow, resurrected battleships of Battleship Row found their place again: this time as mobile fire support platforms.

Oldendorf’s battleships shelled every island the marines or soldiers landed on for the last two years, from Guadalcanal to Leyte. But they had never fired their armored piercing shells in anger. In the early morning of 25 October 1944, they would.

At 0200, Nishimura’s Southern Force of two battleships, six cruisers and ten destroyers slipped into the confined waters of the Surigao Strait. For the next two hours, 32 American PT boats harassed the formation causing much confusion. Then, in a prelude to what would happen the next day, Oldendorf’s destroyers made torpedo runs that disoriented the Japanese formation and destroyed the battleship Fuso. The Fuso didn’t sink… but she broke in half and the two pieces floated around the strait for two days, burning. When Nishimura exited the Surigao Strait into the Leyte Gulf, Oldendorf and his old battlewagons were waiting. Nishimura’s “T” was crossed in a fashion that would have made Lord Nelson proud. Oldendorf’s six battleships and four cruisers pummeled Nishimura’s remaining ships. None escaped. It was the last time in history battleships would fire their guns at another ship. It was the end of an era.

Just west of the San Bernardino Strait off the island of Samar, Rear Admiral Thomas Sprague’s Task Force 77.4 Escort Carrier Group prepared for another day in support of the soldiers and guerrillas fighting the Japanese on Leyte. On the USS Gambier Bay, the USS St Lo and the four other small escort carriers of Rear Admiral Ziggy Sprague’s (No relation) Task Force 77.4.3, “Taffy 3”, the crews readied their aircraft for close air support of MacArthur: attaching rockets, napalm canisters, fragmentation bombs, and even some canisters filled with leaflets that a PSYOP officer needed dropped. The crews of the USS Hoel, USS Johnston, USS Samuel B Roberts, and Sprague’s other destroyers and destroyer escorts huddled around their radios listening to “The Big Game” going on between the battleships.

It seemed the naval Battle of Leyte Gulf was over. It was time to get on with MacArthur’s land Battle of Leyte. Taffy 3’s escort carriers launched their first close air support missions at dawn.

Thirty miles to the west, Adm Kurita’s massive Center Force of four battleships, eight cruisers and eleven destroyers slipped unimpeded through the San Bernardino Strait separating the big island of Luzon and the island of Samar. As Adm Kurita looked east into the rising sun, he thought he saw Halsey’s six fleet carriers, three battleships and four cruisers of TF 38. He actually saw the six jeep carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts of Ziggy Sprague’s Taffy 3.

Kurita immediately ordered the mighty Yamato, and the rest of the Center Force, to attack.