4. Impossible Odds? Ignore Them and Attack
Admiral William F. Halsey abandoned Leyte Gulf to chase after Japanese bait. While he was gone, a powerful Japanese fleet of 23 battleships and heavy cruisers, including the world’s most powerful battleship ever, the 18.1 inch gun Yamato, showed up north of Leyte Gulf. The fleet had been battered in an earlier engagement and was thought to be in retreat, but it was not. Commanded by an Admiral Takeo Kurita, it turned around, and steamed towards the US landing sites at Leyte, chock-full of troops and defenseless transport and supply ships. The Americans were caught by surprise.
Everybody had assumed that Halsey and his powerful Third Fleet were in the north, guarding against attack from that direction. Instead, they were hundreds of miles away, chasing Japanese decoys. The only surface warships standing between the Japanese and a massacre of the Americans at Leyte was Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague’s tiny command, Task Unit 77.4.3, call sign “Taffy 3”. It was an underwhelming collection of three destroyers and four destroyer escorts, nicknamed “tin cans” for their lack of protection. Sprague did not crack under the pressure. His forces lacked the firepower and armor to take on the heavy warships headed their way. Sprague took on them anyhow, and in what came to be known as The Battle Off Samar, he went on the attack.