U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner DD-692
Commander Destroyer Division 120 Action Report

CDD120/A9

Commander Destroyer Division 120,

Serial 002 c/o Fleet Post Office,
San Francisco, California,
S E C R E T 6 December 1944.

From:

Commander Destroyer Division ONE-TWENTY
To: Commander in Chief, U. S. Fleet.
Via: (1) Commander Task Group 77.3,
(2) Commander Task Force 77,
(3) Commander SEVENTH Fleet.
(4) Commander in Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet.
Subject: Action Report.
References: (a) PacFlt conf. ltr. 2CL-44 of 1 January 1944.
(b) PacFlt conf. notice 26CN-44 of 30 August 1944.
Enclosure:
(A) CO USS ALLEN M. SUMNER conf. ser. 089 of 4 Dec. 1944.
(B) CO USS MOALE conf. ser. 086 of 5 Dec. 1944.
(C) CO USS COOPER secret action report covering 2-3 December 1944.

     1.     On 2 December 1944 at 1829 (all times are Item) DesDiv 120, less INGRAHAM, left Task Group 77.3 in Leyte Gulf and headed South through Surigao Strait at 25 knots proceeding toward Ormoc Bay on the western coast of Leyte, P.I., in accordance with CTF 77 secret dispatch. OTC Commander J. C. ZAHM, U.S.N., Commander Destroyer Division 120 in U.S.S. ALLEN M. SUMNER. Our primary mission, as set forth in our orders, was to seek out and destroy five unidentified ships reported to be attempting to land reinforcements on western Leyte, probably in Ormoc Bay. We had been informed that all friendly PT boats had probably cleared the area in which we were to look for action, and that a Black Cat would rendezvous with us at Ormoc Bay. The passage through Surigao Strait and around the southern tip of Leyte was uneventful. At 2121, with the three ships in column, distance was increased to 1500 yards to give each ship opportunity to maneuver independently without embarrassing the formation. Speed was reduced to 15 knots while passing to the eastward of Canigao Island and gradually increased thereafter to 30 knots at 2242. The moon was shining brightly and the sea was calm. A slight haze was later encountered in and around Ormoc Bay, but in general visibility was good.

     2.     At 2255 a line (090-270T) was formed, interval 1500 yards. At 2306 our first bogey was picked up on the Sugar George radar at 090, 3 miles, closing, and at 2308 the SUMNER was attacked by a Jap plane, believed to be a Dinah, just as we passed the Cuatros Islands on course 334. Because the SUMNER was taking evasive action and swinging left at the time, the bombs dropped by the plane exploded in the water on the starboard bow, but caused damage and casualties from fragments. The SUMNER fired on the plane, but no hits were observed. From this time on, the SUMNER was under air attack continuously until 0145, averaging an attack every eight and one half minutes, and there were only three or four periods of brief duration when there were no bogies to be seen on the radar scope. It was assumed that the other ships were under similar attack, but subsequent information disclosed that the COOPER was attacked by air only three or four times between 2308 and 0012, and the MOALE was only attacked once, at 0045.

     3.     We contacted the Black Cat on the radio at 2256 and she reported that she could find no targets in Ormoc Bay. There was a serious question in the Division Commander's mind whether to proceed into Ormoc bay looking for targets while under such heavy air attack. It was felt that the necessity of fighting off air attacks would be a serious handicap to effective surface action. This proved to be true, in the SUMNER's case at least. However, it was decided to proceed in the hope that the Black Cat was mistaken about the lack of targets. Course was changed to 022 at 2320.

     4.     The approach into Ormoc Bay was made in line with the SUMNER on the left flank, MOALE on the right, and COOPER in the center, interval 1500 yards, speed 30 knots. This formation was adopted in order to take advantage of the fire power available forward in this class of ships and also to effectively cover the area, since we did not know where we might find a target. This placed the center ship approximately in the center of the passage between Ponson Island and the western coast of Leyte which forms the entrance to Ormoc Bay.

     5.     At 2355, with the formation on course 022, a surface target was picked up on SUMNER's SG radar close against the beach bearing approximately due North, range 20,000 yards. At first it was not clear that this was a target rather than a part of the beach, but at 0002 the Division Commander designated this target to the ships in the formation via TBS. The pip on the radar scope then split in two and one of the targets started to move out from the beach on a southerly course while the other either disappeared or merged with the shore outline. The MOALE and COOPER believed that this target was two ships in close formation. At 0003 course was changed to 340 in order to parallel the eastern shore of the bay, and because the designated target appeared to be moving to the West, and it was desired to bring it under fire from all three ships. At 0005, Execute Dog was given via the TBS. The SUMNER, COOPER, and MOALE immediately opened fire. Splashes were observed on the PPI scope around the designated target. It would appear, however, that these splashes were from fire by the MOALE only, as the SUMNER and COOPER were firing at another target bearing about 025, range from the SUMNER 8900 yards. This target appears to have been two ships very close to each other and moored in close proximity to the beach. SUMNER had been under attack by a Jap plane and it is thought that, in training around, the director stopped on the first target it came to believing it to be the one designated. There is some indication that SUMNER fired on one of these ships, and COOPER on the other. Both SUMNER and COOPER hit the target on the third salvo, and it was seen to burn brightly and start to sink. The target (or targets) appeared to be small transports. SUMNER control spotted up 250 yards and hits were observed on a shed on the beach. The target (or targets) were destroyed at about 0007. Information from the COOPER is necessarily sketchy, being entirely dependent upon the recollection of survivors. The SUMNER's target, which was picked up on the Mark 12 radar was never seen on her SG scope. The MOALE continued to fire on the originally designated target which was on a southerly course at a speed of about 13 knots.

     6.     Within a few seconds after our ships opened fire, batteries along the beach responded. COOPER reports that some of the fire came from the ships which were her target. There appeared to be at least two guns, approximately three or four inch, and three or four machine gun batteries, probably about 40 mm. The fire from the enemy guns was not very accurate and during the whole engagement only two direct hits were received from them by any of our ships: a dud 40 mm. shell which passed in one side of the SUMNER's chain locker and out the other, and a larger shell hole in the stern of the MOALE, also caused by a dud. Damage and casualties, however, were inflicted by fragments from near misses. Between 0009 and 0015, the SUMNER was fired on by two or three machine guns, probably 40 mm. from the western side of the bay. Information subsequently received through guerilla sources indicates that there may have been two camouflaged Jap DE's moored against the western shore. This fire was sporadic and ineffective, - range was about 5000 yards.

     7.     At 0008 the formation executed a turn to 270 in order to clear the MOALE from too close proximity to the shore fire from the East. The MOALE and COOPER were now firing at the originally designated target at a range of about 5000 yards. At this point, the MOALE identified the target as two ships, possibly small destroyers. This target was tracked at 18 knots at this time, still on a southerly course, and was returning their fire. At 0010 a PT boat was sighted bearing 030 from the SUMNER and was sunk by 5 inch gunfire from the MOALE. This target was not seen on the SUMNER's radar due probably to the multiplicity of air targets on the SG scope which would give similar pips.

     8.     At 0011 a turn to course 000 was executed. At about 0013 the MOALE saw an explosion on the starboard side of the COOPER. Between 0008 and 0015 the SUMNER was engaging planes attacking from the north and northwest while the MOALE and COOPER (until 0013) continued to fire at MOALE's original target. The MOALE reports that at this time the second of the two ships which constituted her target retired toward the beach. This was not observed on SUMNER's radar.

     9.     The COOPER had not been heard from for several minutes and could not be identified on the radar scope, so at 0014, Turn 150 was ordered for the purpose of withdrawing sufficiently to clarify the situation. This brought the originally designated target well within range of the 40 mm. batteries of both the SUMNER and MOALE, and 5 inch and 40 mm shells were pumped into the target at short ranges, MOALE at one time getting in to 1800 yards. Return fire from this ship ceased and at about 0020 it was seen to disintegrate and disappear both visually and on the radar screen. It is believed that this was a small Jap destroyer. Observations on board the SUMNER indicate that this target may not have been the originally designated one, and it is possible that there were two small destroyers as noted by the MOALE and that both of them were sunk. Fire from batteries along the shore continued, MOALE having several near misses. The SUMNER was continuously under air attack.

     10.    At 0022 the COOPER was ordered to close the formation and the MOALE then reported that she thought the COOPER had been hit by a torpedo. Later information from survivors of the COOPER established that she was hit at about 0012 or 0013 just after having completed the turn from 270 to North. It was a "lucky hit" for the Japs, getting a destroyer doing 30 knots within one minute after making a 90 degree turn. She broke in two and sank in between 36 and 51 seconds from the time she was hit, rolling over on her starboard beam as she went down. It is believed that she was hit by a large torpedo.

     11.    It was not clear to the Division Commander what had happened to the COOPER except that he could not find her; the MOALE's report being tentative, and at 0025 we turned and headed back North, SUMNER still under air attack. One target was being tracked by radar coming out from the eastern shore of the bay, and there was a possibility that this might be the COOPER. But, at 0029, MOALE reported that she had seen the COOPER break in two and sink. It was a hard decision to make, to decide that further penetration into the bay would subject the other ships to possible torpedo attack and fire from shore and to go off believing that COOPER survivors were probably floating in the bay. But any attempt at rescue seemed to great a risk and would probably subject the survivors to bombing and shelling, so, at 0032, course was changed to 180 and we withdrew.

     12.    As we headed South through the Camotes sea the air attacks on the SUMNER continued until 0145. There were only two more after that, the last one being at 0306 off the southern tip of Leyte. We anchored in San Pedro Bay at 0747.

     13.    Damage to the enemy is difficult to assess. It is believed that one small Jap destroyer and one transport were sunk, and there are some indications that possibly another small destroyer and another small transport were sunk. SUMNER is sure that she shot down six Jap planes and probably two more, the splashes having been seen on the radar scope, but not visually. The MOALE is reasonably sure of one splash and the COOPER of two. Survivors of the COOPER report that some 250 Jap bodies, by count, were seen on the western shore the next day in addition to a large number of Japs in the waters of the Bay. They also report seeing two small Jap destroyers and two submarines leave the bay later that morning. The presence of the submarines very likely accounts for the large torpedo believed to have caused the loss of the COOPER.

     14.    The Division Commander considered firing torpedoes during the early stages of the engagement and a solution on the originally designated target was obtained, but it was reported to him that no suitable targets were present. Furthermore it was believed that the scattered small targets could be more effectively dealt with by gunfire, saving the torpedoes for more suitable targets if they should appear.

     15.    It is believed that this operation could have been conducted more successfully if fuller information concerning enemy activities had been given to the OTC. Information received subsequently indicates that the Japanese had made a practice of giving Ormoc Bay and its approaches fairly thorough air cover every night. If this had been known to the OTC prior to the operation air cover by our planes would have been requested prior to commencement of the operation. As it was, air cover was requested via radio at about 2400, and every ten or fifteen minutes thereafter, but we received no reply to our transmissions. It is believed that air cover should be a regularly scheduled part of such an operation. This type of ship with a dual purpose battery is seriously handicapped while carrying out surface attacks when it is subjected to continuous attack from the air. This is particularly true at night when the primary protection against enemy planes must come from the radar controlled main battery. Continual shifting from the primary mission of destruction of surface targets to self defense against enemy planes and back again, necessarily lessens the effectiveness of the ship. Air cover or a radar controlled machine gun battery would lessen this handicap and allow main battery to be more nearly concentrated on the primary mission.

     16.    If air cover had been provided it is believed that less confusion as to targets would have resulted. The Sugar Charlie radar was completely landlocked and the Sugar George had to be depended upon for spotting and tracking bogies. Fortunately the SUMNER has a Precision PPI scope which permitted a certain amount of division of labor, the regular "B" scope of the SG being used for air plot and the PPPI for surface targets. However, the Division Commander is still amazed that the SUMNER accomplished as much as she did considering the constant air attack she was subjected to. Information received since the action tends to show that more was accomplished than this report indicates.

     17.    Commander Norman J. Sampson, USN., Commanding Officer of U.S.S. ALLEN M. SUMNER, Commander Walter M. Foster, USN., Commanding Officer of U.S.S. MOALE and Commander Mell A. Peterson, USN., Commanding Officer of U.S.S. COOPER are each being recommended by separate correspondence, for the award of the Silver Star Medal for their courage, daring and skill in fighting their ships in this operation.

     18.    The performance of all the ships, and their crews, especially considering that this was their first action, was exemplary.

     19.    The report of the COOPER (Enclosure C) was received after the preparation of this report and information contained therein which did not come out in the initial conversations with her survivors, is not included herein. The COOPER's report indicates that damage to the enemy may have been greater than we thought, but her information is difficult to evaluate because it is based on recollection, and ranges and bearings can not be checked.

     20.    Track chart, TBS log and detailed chronological account are as shown in enclosures.


J. C. ZAHM.

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