|U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner DD-692|
|The Tightening Noose|
The following is an extract from a book or pamphlet entitled "The Tightening Noose" that has been passed through many hands over the years. If you know who the author or the correct name of the publication in which it appeared is, please let us know. All of the quotes included from Captain Sampson are direct quotes from his Official Narrative of the action also included in the SUMNER site.
Navy men called the Battle of Surigao Strait a hot one.
The Battle of Samar was even worse. But the destroyer sweep of Ormoc Bay on the night of
December 2-3, 1944, came closer to resembling an artistic conception of war at sea than
any other battle in the Pacific.
"The men of Mars will have to step up production and renovate their methods of warfare if they want to beat what went on in Ormoc Bay that night," said Commander Norman J. Sampson, skipper of the ALLEN M. SUMNER, flagship of the group of three destroyers that engaged in the melee.
The new 2,200 ton ALLEN M. SUMNER looked like the ideal ship to employ on surface raids. She had two twin 5-inch mounts forward and one twin mount aft; she could bring two-thirds of her main battery to bear and yet present only her knife-like bow as a target.
"The first warning that our new destroyers might be used in Ormoc came shortly after Squadron 60 reported for duty in Leyte Gulf," said Captain John C. Zahm, who was officer in tactical command of the 3-ship sweep.
"Vice Admiral James L. Kauffman, who had just reported as Commander Philippine Sea Frontier, called me over for a conference. He pulled out a map of Leyte and, pointing a finger to Ormoc bay, simply said, 'The Japs are still reinforcing Ormoc, and I think the 2,200 can is the ship to stop them.'"
He casually winked at Captain Zahm and the conference ended.
"I read the operation order after my division was underway for the target," continued Zahm. "We were supposed to have air cover, but because of low visibility on our side of the island, friendly planes were unable to take off the Tacloban airstrip."
"Bad weather didn't stop the Japs. They nailed us when we were about one hour out of Ormoc and started strafing and bombing."
Actually the destroyers got action soon after getting underway. A lone Jap plane came too close to the ships and was down in flames shortly after dark. This was the first hint that the Japs knew the group was coming. However, the ships sped on their mission, despite continuous bogies.
"The light of a full moon was diffused just enough by a high 'California' fog to make the ships easily visible from the air," related Commander Sampson. "Suddenly, just after eleven o'clock, there was a loud w h o o s h -- and we had been hit by a bomb. In less time than it takes to tell, fire broke out aboard ship. I clearly saw the 'Frances' as it passed over the top of the mast, and the main batteries of all three ships went into action."
"The real battle, however, was just beginning. Exactly at midnight, our destroyers found their targets in Ormoc Bay. It looked like the Japs were unloading troops and supplies."
Captain Zahm had to make a stern decision when he chose to press the strike, after he learned that he was not going to have air cover for the operation.
"My plan," related Zahm, "was to keep my ships abreast in a line of bearing in order that we could bring all forward batteries to bear on our targets. I was taking advantage of the characteristics of our ships, and at the same time presenting the minimum target to the enemy."
Commander Mell Peterson's COOPER was first to open fire. His gunnery officer, Lieutenant Frank Swint, was right on target.
"I could follow our tracers and see a big ball of fire when our shells hit the enemy ship," said Peterson. "There was so much to shoot at that we couldn't fire at everything."
Opening fire shortly after COOPER, the SUMNER cut loose with a full salvo at the troop-laden ship, which was soon obscured by flames. Meanwhile the third destroyer, MOALE (Commander Walter M. Foster), had selected another target on her starboard and was gunning at her with everything aboard.
"Our laddered salvos were also landing in a warehouse or shed, which we saw go to pieces," continued Sampson. "A big crane, used for unloading Jap ships, was seen to topple over. At that moment we were forced to shift to an air target which was dangerously close. In the meantime, a torpedo wake was sighted on the starboard bow and for a minute or two all guns were firing and the SUMNER was heeling crazily, first to one side and then to the other."
"During this rumpus shell splashes were popping all around out destroyers. Ships, submarines, torpedo boats, planes, and shore batteries were all firing at us. The bombs kept dropping out of the sky, however, took most of our attention aboard SUMNER."
Commander Peterson, for his part, said he couldn't keep his eyes off the shells that were splashing toward his ship from the guns behind Ormoc Town's hills.
Shortly after midnight MOALE opened fire on a fast-moving surface target, identified as a small destroyer or escort craft. Then the other two destroyers joined in, and to make things merrier one enemy PT boat became confused and fired machine guns at the sinking Japanese ship. A minute later MOALE shifted to a Jap plane coming in on the starboard side and commenced swerving to dodge torpedoes that were streaking toward her, and the COOPER slowed to take a few cracks at transports revealed by the gaudy fireworks to be hiding in coves.
Commander Peterson felt, rather than heard, a thud on the starboard side of his ship, and then an upward impact which hurt his heels like a blow from a sledge hammer. Water and steam sprayed all over the bridge and the destroyer heeled over 45 degrees.
"My first thought was that she would come back; my second thought was to glance forward and aft to see if anybody was still aboard before I dove into the water."
The COOPER sank just that fast. In less than a minute--36 seconds, to be exact. It is likely that she was hit by a big torpedo fired from one of the two submarines in the bay.
The COOPER literally went down fighting. Her last salvo roared to its target a split second after the death-dealing torpedo ricocheted from the water close aboard. In fourteen blazing minutes she had knocked down two Jap dive bombers, assisted in sinking one destroyer, and damaged another.
The COOPER broke in half and sank so quickly that 190 men and 10 officers went down with the ship; only personnel topside were able to abandon ship.
"When SUMNER and MOALE turned to leave the bay," said Sampson, "a Jap destroyer was headed directly for our ship. All guns opened up against her."
"The tracers from the 40-millimeter guns were so close together that a truck could have been driven across the path of their arching destruction. The Jap can didn't last long. My last glimpse of the scene was a white haze of smothered steam rising from the water. The spot where a Jap destroyer had been looked calm and peaceful."
"Our immediate vicinity, however, was not peaceful. Their planes were strafing us and we were getting some bombs close aboard. It was high time for us to get out--get out if we could."
"I'm sorry I can't report more fully what happened that night. A nightmare is a difficult experience to describe."
When the Japs let up with their air attacks, it was 0306. The SUMNER and the MOALE had been under attack for four hours. The hulls of both American ships were punctured from stem to stern with bullet holes. The SUMNER had 14 men wounded and MOALE had 4 dead and 21 wounded.
"After our ships left Ormoc bay, it became quiet as a mill pond," said Commander Peterson, who was left behind, bobbing around with the other COOPER survivors in Ormoc Bay. "It was a beautiful night but the water got cold after a few hours."
"The ship's supply officer Lieutenant (jg) Jerry Killigrew, had issued hot coffee and hot soup to all hands just prior to the action, which helped to keep us warm. Not all of the men could get aboard the rafts and floater nets, so eight or ten would lie in a raft at a time while fifteen others would swim alongside."
"The men's spirits were buoyed at one time when big Coxswain Chester G. Burke sang out that he would never take another drink as long as he lived."
"Next morning we saw two submarines and two small DE type vessels sail out of Ormoc Bay, They were all blowing police whistles, apparently to identify themselves to friendly forces."
"Some of our men made it to the small island of Ponson and to northwest Leyte to await rescue, which was accomplished in two days. All but Lieutenant Orr and his party were picked up on the first day by PBYs. A world's record for weight carrying was established in the first two trips. One plane, piloted by Lieutenant Joe Ball, had a total of 64 on board, which included 56 survivors. Another plane, flown by Lieutenant (jg) Melvin S. Essary carried out 45 survivors. No one knows how all of these men got into the planes, but they took off with 3,000 more pounds than the designers of the PBY thought possible."
A sincere Thank You to Russ Catardi who supplied us with this narrative