Tuesday, September 2, 2008
USS Hoel (DD-533)
Figure 1: USS Hoel (DD-533) off San Francisco, California, 3 August 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Hoel (DD-533) off San Francisco, California, 3 August 1943, soon after commissioning. She was completed with three 20mm guns mounted just forward of her pilothouse structure. Note the blimp overhead. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Hoel (DD-533) underway in San Francisco Bay, California, 7 August 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Hoel (DD-533) underway in San Francisco Bay, California, 7 August 1943. The city of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge are in the background. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Hoel (DD-533) underway in San Francisco Bay, California, 7 August 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Hoel (DD-533) in San Francisco Bay, California, 25 October 1943, after post-completion alterations. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Hoel (DD-533) in San Francisco Bay, California, 25 October 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Hoel (DD-533) in San Francisco Bay, California, 25 October 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Hoel (DD-533) photographed from USS Kwajalein (CVE-98), during operations in the south Pacific, 10 August 1944. Hoel's camouflage is Measure 32, Design 1d. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: Battle off Samar, 25 October 1944. American survivors of the battle are rescued by a U.S. Navy ship on 26 October 1944. Some 1200 survivors of USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73), USS Hoel (DD-533), USS Johnston (DD-557) and USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413) were rescued during the days following the action. Photographed by U.S. Army Private William Roof. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after William R. Hoel, a Civil War hero in the Union Navy, the USS Hoel (DD-533) was a 2,050-ton Fletcher class destroyer built at the Bethlehem Steel Company, San Francisco, California, and was commissioned on 29 July 1943. She was approximately 376 feet long and 39 feet wide and had a top speed of 36 knots. Hoel was armed with five 5-inch guns, four 1.1-inch guns, four 20-mm. cannons, ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, six depth charge projectors and two depth charge tracks.
After her shakedown cruise along America’s West Coast, Hoel left for the Pacific combat zone in October 1943. One month later, Hoel joined the invasion of the Gilbert Islands and was given the task of screening American escort carriers. She continued in this role during the invasion of the Marshall Islands in January and February 1944 and also provided gunfire support for the landings on Eniwetok. From March 1944, Hoel escorted convoys and provided anti-submarine support to escort carriers attached to the Third and Seventh Fleets in the south Pacific. She also screened escort carriers during the invasion of Peleliu in September 1944.
In October 1944, Hoel was attached to Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague’s escort carrier group for the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines. Sprague’s force (Task Group 77.4) was made up of three units, each containing a group of escort carriers that were screened by destroyers and destroyer escorts. These three units (known as Taffy 1, Taffy 2, and Taffy 3) began operating off Samar, the island just to the north of Leyte, on 18 October 1944. Their primary function was to provide air cover for the amphibious landings taking place on Leyte. Hoel was assigned to Taffy 3 (Escort Carrier Task Unit 77.4.3), under the command of Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague (no relation to Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague). Taffy 3 was made up of four escort carriers that were screened by the destroyers Hoel, Heermann, and Johnston. Two more escort carriers and four destroyer escorts, Dennis, John C. Butler, Raymond, and the Samuel B. Roberts then reinforced Taffy 3.
On the morning of 25 October 1944, Taffy 3 was operating northeast of Samar while Taffy 2 was in the center position protecting the entrance to Leyte Gulf. Taffy 1 was monitoring the southern approaches to Leyte Gulf and was approximately 130 miles to the southeast of Hoel and Taffy 3. Admiral Thomas L. Sprague, commander of the entire task force, believed that the heavy units of Admiral William Halsey’s Third Fleet were to the north of him, providing cover against larger elements of the Japanese Navy. Unfortunately, Halsey and the Third Fleet were chasing a Japanese task force well to the north of their position, leaving Admiral Thomas L. Sprague’s ships to fend for themselves. Then, the unthinkable happened. At 0645, lookouts on board the ships of Taffy 3 spotted a large Japanese task force bearing down on them. This was Admiral Takeo Kurita’s powerful “Center Force,” which had slipped unnoticed through the San Bernardino Strait, located to the north of Samar. Kurita was heading for the American beachhead at Leyte and he was bringing with him four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and 11 destroyers. The only thing standing between Kurita’s task force and the defenseless cargo and amphibious assault ships off Leyte was Taffy 3. A small collection of American escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts would have to take on a vastly superior Japanese task force.
What followed was one of the most amazing battles in American naval history. Every available aircraft on all of the escort carriers was ordered to immediately attack the Japanese warships. After all of the planes were launched, the defenseless escort carriers headed south towards Leyte Gulf, hoping that help would arrive before they were all annihilated by the superior Japanese warships. As the American planes attacked the Japanese warships, Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague, commander of Taffy 3, ordered his destroyers to make a torpedo attack against the oncoming Japanese warships.
After receiving this order, Hoel headed straight for the nearest Japanese battleship, Kongo, which was only 18,000 yards away. At 14,000 yards Hoel’s guns opened fire, but her bridge was hit by a shell from one of Kongo’s 14-inch guns. Although staggered by the hit, Hoel kept on going and fired half of her torpedoes at a range of 9,000 yards. Though none of the torpedoes hit Kongo, the attack forced the battleship to turn away from the escort carriers and head in the opposite direction. A few minutes later, Hoel sustained hits from some of the other Japanese warships. These hits knocked out three of her 5-inch guns, stopped her port engine and destroyed her Mark-37 fire control director, her radar, and her bridge steering control. But the Hoel and her crew did not give up. Hoel slowly turned with what power she had left and attacked a Japanese column of heavy cruisers. When she was within 6,000 yards of the leading cruiser, Haguro, Hoel fired her remaining torpedoes. This time, large columns of water rose from the side of her target, an indication that at least some of the torpedoes hit. Although Japanese records deny that these torpedoes hit the cruiser, there is no evidence to indicate any other explanation for the geyser effect observed.
Hoel was now a crippled wreck surrounded by enemy warships. Kongo was only 8,000 yards off her port beam and the Japanese heavy cruisers were now 7,000 yards off her port quarter. For the next hour, Hoel fired what guns she had left at the enemy, thereby drawing attention towards her and away from the escort carriers she was protecting. But the heavy shells hitting the destroyer soon took their toll and at 0830, after sustaining more than 40 hits, an 8-inch shell silenced her remaining engine. With her engineroom under water, her No. 1 magazine ablaze, and the ship listing heavily to port and settling by the stern, Hoel’s captain, Commander Leon S. Kinterberger, was forced to give the order to “Prepare to abandon ship.” The Japanese continued to fire at the doomed destroyer as the surviving officers and men went into the water. The shelling stopped at 0855, when the Hoel rolled over and sank. Only 86 of the Hoel’s crew survived, while 253 officers and men went down with the ship.
There were many other acts of outstanding bravery that day. Ships like the Johnston, Samuel B. Roberts, and Gambier Bay were lost while trying to fight off the oncoming Japanese warships. But their sacrifice was not in vain because Admiral Kurita was so intimidated by the attacks made by Taffy 3’s ships and aircraft that he decided to retreat. The American destroyers and destroyer escorts forced the Japanese to retire, thereby saving the unarmed American merchant ships and amphibious assault ships off Leyte from certain destruction. It was an amazing sacrifice and one of the greatest acts of heroism in the annals of American naval history.
USS Hoel received the Presidential Unit Citation, the Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation Badge and five battle stars for her service in World War II.
Posted by Remo at 9:09 AM