From the USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (DE 413) Survivor's Association
PUBLISHED BY EMPLOYEES OF BROWN SHIPBUILDING COMPANY INC.
HOUSTON, TEXAS, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 1944
Sometime later, when the reports of survivors can be studied, very likely all details can be printed about the heroic death of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts, which was built by men and women of Brownship and went down on October 25 in the great naval battle in the Philippines.
At this time, only the bare outlines of the story have been released by the Navy.
These outlines are sufficient in detail for us to know that the Roberts was as great a hero as could have been damaged by any man or woman who cut her plates, welded her seams or attended to her outfitting.
She died game, charging an overwhelmingly superior force of Japanese warships which had for the moment eluded the main forces of our fleet and was threatening the whole beachhead at Leyte.
Her heroism and that of other American-built ships with her delayed the Japanese stroke against Leyte until it could no longer be delivered.
She died in the tradition of the men of the Alamo. Every man and woman who had a part in her building...every person from the yard from which she came...can take great pride in this ship, which was built so well that when the time came for her life to be spent, she was able to purchase with it a great share of the American victory in the naval battle of the Philippines.
The general outlines of the background of the story are as follows:
Since early October, powerful American naval forces had staged one attack after another all around the Philippines, robbing the Japs of planes and ships, weakening them, and leaving them in confusion as the whether, when and where an invasion force might strike.
On October 20, American amphibious forces landed on Leyte.
On October 23, American submarines which had been posted on the opposite side of the islands, sighted, reported and attacked Jap naval forces approaching both from north-west and southwest.
On October 24, American carrier-based planes located and attacked a large enemy task force in the Sulu Sea on the southwest and found and bombed another in the Sibuyan Sea to the northwest, leaving it in retreat. A third force was located moving down from the north.
On October 25, an American task force led by the elderly battleships Maryland, Tennessee, California and Pennsylvania met and routed the Jap fleet in the south. A force of faster battleships and carriers had rushed to the north, and its planes defeated the Japs moving down from that direction.
The middle Jap force, the one believed turned back in the Sibuyan Sea, has reformed, turned about, slipped through San Bernardino, between the two American fleets, and descended toward Leyte at dawn. It was against this force that the Roberts expended its life.
As soon as he learned of the presence of his enemy force, Admiral Halsey, who was attacking the Jap ships to the north, sent part of his fleet back to engage it.
All it needed was time...and Naval Communique No. 554 tells how it got that time...as follows:
"What had caused Admiral Halsey to divert part of his force southward was the report that a group of our escort carriers operating in support of the landings at Leyte was being threatened by superior enemy forces.
"The anti-submarine patrol of this group of six escort carriers and seven destroyers and destroyer escorts had detected in Wednesday's dawn an approaching Japanese force of four battleships, seven cruisers and nine destroyers.
"These were apparently the surviving elements of the enemy task force which had been attacked from the air in the Sibuyan Sea and forced to flee westward. During the night the group had traversed San Bernardino Strait.
"The escort carriers silhouetted against the dawn, came under heavy fire from the Japanese force, which, in the western gloom and with the Philippine hills providing further concealment, possessed every advantage of position and firing power.
"The carriers, converted (See HOW; Page 2)
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merchantmen, headed off eastward into the wind at the top of their limited speed, launching aircraft to attack the enemy.
"But the enemy's superior speed and gun power swiftly told. The Japanese continued to close in, hauling around to the northward and forcing this carrier group to head southward, under continuous fire from the enemy's 16-inch, 14-inch and 8-inch shells.
"Japanese marksmanship was poor and American seamanship excellent, however, and although frequently straddled, our ships were not heavily hit during the first part of the enragement.
"By 9 o'clock, though, despite a sustained air attack on the enemy and the best efforts of destroyer support with smoke screens and forays against the Japanese, the carriers began to take considerable punishment. One of them was sunk.
"Two destroyers and a destroyer escort which courageously charged the Japanese battleships went down under the enemy's heavy shells. (The destroyer escort obviously was the Samuel B. Roberts, the only ship of its type announced as lost in the action.)
"Nevertheless, the Japanese paid an exorbitant price for their success, such as it was. Two of their heavy cruisers were sunk, and one - perhaps two - of their destroyers went down under concentrated counter attack from surface and air.
"Still the enemy pressed his advantage, and by 9:20 the carrier group had been jockeyed into a situation with the Japanese, only 12,000 yards distant, and in a position for the kill.
"Then suddenly, the enemy ships hauled away, gradually widening the distance, and to the astonishment of the battered American forces, broke off the battle with a final and harmless spread of torpedoes before steaming away over the northern horizon at high speed, trailing from oil pierced spills as they fled.
"What happened can be reconstructed from events already reviewed. The Japanese admiral, with a costly victory in sight, received word of the destruction of the southern force in Surigao Strait and the utter rout of the northern force, with the destruction of its carriers. He had to get back through San Bernardino Strait or face annihilation.
"Further, though the Jap may not have known it, we had a battleship and cruiser force - a part of the 7th Fleet - in Leyte Gulf for the purpose of protecting the transports and landing craft from any enemy force attempting to destroy them. This was the force which so completely defeated the Japanese Southern Force before daylight in the southern part of Leyte Gulf, almost annihilating it - and which was still available - almost unscathed - to prevent the entrance of the central force.
"The vanguard of the returning Third Fleet units caught one straggling enemy destroyer before it reached the strait and sank it. Early next day, air groups from our carriers ranged over the Sibuyan Sea and continued attacks on the fugitives, probably sinking one heavy cruiser and a light cruiser.
"Back at the scene of the attack on the carriers, the Japanese continued to harass the American ships with land based planes, resulting in the sinking of a second of the CVEs, but the Second Battle of the Philippines was over and decisively won. The enemy fleet sustained losses and damage which materially weakened their over-all naval and air strength against the final dive of the United States forces against the Empire.
"We must not, however, allow ourselves to feel that this victory effectually prevented any reinforcement of Jap forces of Leyte and Samar, because he still can, by the very nature of the geography of the islands which afford protection and hiding places for short transportation runs, continue his reinforcements at a rapidly diminishing rate. He cannot, however, prevent our own reinforcements and supply of General MacArthur and his gallant troops.
"Our Naval and air forces will continue to insure the control of these sea approaches to the Philippines and effective supply and support of our troops."