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USS Kalinin Bay — it is about the size of the fight in the dog

18 June 2012

USS Kalinin Bay — it is about the size of the fight in the dog

CVE-68 was an escort carrier — meant for convoy escort and ground support duty — which found herself in a lopsided engagement against capital ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) with the fate of the Philippine landings in the balance. The action is known as the Battle off Samar and took place in October 1944 — the IJN feint to draw Admiral Halsey’s main force away from the landings worked so the IJN force of four battleship and six heavy cruisers with escorting vessels were bearing down upon the now exposed landing force. The only had to pass through the San Bernardino Strait where, by happenstance, the escort carrier force Taffy 3 with its six escort carriers and escort vessels were commencing the morning activities to provide ground support. Taffy 3 was fortunate in one significant way — turning south away from the big guns of the battleships and cruisers also brought the carriers into the wind.

Model of CVE-68 Kalinin Bay in the National Naval Aviation Museum — photo by Joseph May

Kalinin Bay found herself launching aircraft as quickly as possible, regardless of fuel or ordinance loads, while making use of rain squalls. Prior to WW II the IJN strategy to defeat the U.S. Navy (USN) was to precipitate a battleship on battleship engagement (carriers were seen to provide recon and air cover for the battle wagons) where their superior optics, longer ranged guns and superior torpedoes would have them prevail. The IJN had what they wanted but the advent of radar and mistakenly using aircraft carriers as a secondary weapon system obviated the strategy.

Taffy 3 was in dire straits nonetheless. Pluck, radar directed gun laying made the destroyers able to effectively fight above their weight class, and 400 aircraft (Taffy 3’s plus two other groups) carried the day. It was a bar fight for the USN with ships maneuvering independently — destroyers dashing to close with battleships and cruisers — aircraft flying against IJN ships using whatever was at hand like depth charges and general purpose bombs (not armor piercing) — destroyers laying smoke and aircraft making dry strafing runs to help armed aircraft make accurate strikes.

TBM Avengers are the main compliment aboard this model — photo by Joseph May

This battle was the first appearance of the kamikaze with the Kalinin Bay suffering two kamikaze aircraft hits. She survived the action with relatively low loss of life, though casualties in Taffy 3 overall were severe. The end of the day saw the IJN retreat, convinced they had stumbled upon fleet carriers and cruisers, not destroyers, destroyer escorts and small carriers — such was the impression made by Taffy 3.

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. — Mark Twain

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