3. Sublime Courage Under Great Pressure Averted an American Catastrophe
Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague knew that his destroyers’ 5-inch guns were useless against the 23 armored Japanese battleships and cruisers steaming towards Leyte Gulf. He also knew that that thousands of Americans would die if the Japanese reached Leyte. So he ordered Taffy 3 into a suicidal charge. The “desperate attacks of the “tin cans” were supported by planes flown from escort carriers. The American planes, lacking anti-ship bombs, repeatedly made strafing attacks and dropped high explosives suitable for ground attack but mostly useless against the Japanese ships. When they ran out of ammunition, they made dry strafing and bombing runs to discomfit the Japanese. The gadfly attacks were so reckless and incessant that Japanese admiral Kurita, who had an overwhelming victory in his grasp, lost his nerve.
All Kurita had to do was ignore the annoying but relatively harmless attacks, and steam on for another hour to bring his heavy guns within range of the defenseless Americans at Leyte. Instead, he convinced himself that the opposition he faced was far stronger than it actually was, and must be the first outer layer of a powerful US naval presence. Unlike Sprague who kept his nerves under pressure, the Japanese admiral cracked under the pressure of imagined threats. Instead of seizing a victory that had been his for the taking, Kurita turned his ships around and sailed away. Sprague’s and Taffy 3’s sublime courage had averted a catastrophe, and earned the Americans in Leyte Gulf a seemingly miraculous reprieve.