Eugene's impressions of the Battle of Suriago Straits

Dear Mac,
So pleased to have your response.
You asked about my impressions of the Battle of Suriago Straits. I will try to put myself back to that time and not be affected by what I  have read in the intervening years about the battle.
As I have said before, I was aboard the Heywood L. Edwards, DD 663, on of the nine destroyers that comprised Desron 56. Our mission at Leyte was to do pre-landing fire , then fire support after the landing. I can't recall how many days on fire support before the day of the Suriago battle. I do recall seeing during this time a Japanese plane come in very low over the hills surrounding the Gulf, swing around most of the ships, pick out the light cruiser Honolulu and put a torpedo into her forward fireroom. She had been lying to when hit, but got under way immediately to head for shallow water. The strange thing to me -- and I saw the whole episode-- I don't think a single shot was fired at the plane, and the pilot made a clean escape.
But I diverse. Late in the afternoon of the day before the battle, we were ordered over to an ammo ship to replenish our 5 in. [by 38 ] magazines, because we had expended  about 50% in the call fire for the soldiers on the beach. I know that our gunnery officer was considerably disappointed that the ammo ship had no armor piercing shells aboard, only high cap thin- case shells for land bombardment.
This shore bombardment group was under the command of Rear Adm. Oldendorf. and I suppose that the rest of the afternoon and the early evening getting the various elements of the bombardment group into their positions to block any Japanese ships coming up the Strait.

I didn't have any concept of the tactical disposition of our ships, but I did know that we had several battleships, all of which had been damaged in the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.
For hours until well after midnight we either lay to or slowly moved around with the other eight ships in the squadron as a screen for some unidentified heavier units. Oldendorf decided apparently to use torpedo attacks initially rather than ships guns. At least one and two squadrons [ or partial squadrons] made the first attacks. My battle station at that time was in the after fireroom. However, while we were standing to in this initial phase, we were allowed to go topside for a bit of fresh air. I can recall seeing an immense fire off our starboard stern. The Chief Watertender for the after fireroom, and a longtime sailor, last name Augustinac [Auggie], and a hell of a good man, was standing beside me at the rail. I recall his saying something like this "those poor bastards are really in trouble" Augie never talked about his earlier navy experience, but I have no doubt that had had seen lots of action.
Well, it was our "turn in the barrel", so speak, the order came down to button up, and Augie turned to me and said, and this is an exact quote " I wish you lots of luck". We both went down into the fireroom and made sure that that steam pressure was where it should be. Not that we were needed, for the "black gang"in that fireroom all had been tutored by Augie. We begin to build up speed-- don't know how many knots---guess about 28 - 30 knots as we raced towards torpedo firing position.

I guess maybe 10 minutes later, we reversed course and headed, and the bridge called down to request we make stack smoke to cover our retirement. We had a special burner that literally poured Bunker C oil directly into the firebox. We put these special burners into both of the boilers. We didn't get any complaints from the bridge about the quality or quantity of the smoke. Never thought about it before, but it is reasonable to assume that the forward fireroom was doing likewise. When we reached  our designated point of return, I think I recall hearing the guns of battleship row firing--not certain.
When daylight came, we were ordered down the Straits, along with a cruiser and perhaps another destroyer to finish off any cripples. Our three forward 5 inch guns and the guns of the cruiser fired at a Japanese destroyer [ which I was later told was below water up to his stern, but that gun on the stern continued to fire until the ship rolled over and sank.]
The Edwards was instructed to proceed to the location where the ship went down, and to pick up survivors for interrogation. The ship was in Readiness Condition 2. I was up on deck as we eased over to site. As we passed over this area, there was a large underwater explosion, which I took at the time to be a boiler explosion.
What I am about to tell you, to my knowledge, has never appeared in any records of this battle. There were thirty to forty swimmers in the water, as well as two boats filled with survivors. Our boarding party was standing by to take control of any survivors we picked up. Then to everyone's surprise, one of the swimmers had a knife, and he was moving around to swimmers who were closest to our ship and cutting their throats. I don't now if this was by their consent or not. The Captain called down to the boarding party to shoot the swimmer with the knife. I don't know if the order was misunderstood by the boarding party, but at any rate, quite a number of the party began shooting, not limited to the man with the knife. I also have a clear recollection of a Navy coffee mug in mid-flight towards the swimmers. Finally, order was restored, although not before one of our officers, not in the party was kneeling down, bracing himself against the rail, and repeatingly shooting at the nearest swimmer with his Colt .45.
This episode ended any effort to pick up swimmers, coupled with news that our small carriers off Samar was under heavy attack by the main Japanese Battle Force whose objective was to enter Leyte Gulf and destroy the ships of the landing force. We were urged to break off and join in the defense of our ships there, or if time permitted, get outside the Gulf and help the small carriers who were supplying support for the landing forces. However, not before the two Japanese boats were sunk with 40mm fire. I don't think I was particularly disturbed at this, for the survivors, if they reached shore would have been additional people that our troops to fight.
We did not come in contact with the Japanese Battle Force, for by the time we had formed up and moved up to confront  it, the Japanese broke off the contact with the carrier force, decided not to force an entry into Leyte Gulf, and headed home.

Hello Eugene,

My thanks for your message all about your experiences at Leyte.

Quite fascinating, I am sure there are many stories such as yours about the Japanese survivors in the water that have never seen the light of day before. Do you have any objections to Terry Kearns, my web master in Atlanta, Georgia, putting your story up on our Ahoy site?

He looks after the design and running of Ahoy. Mac's Web Log, whilst I do the resaerch and writing, without his dedication and expertise the site would not exist. Although we have not actually met, we have talked by phone, we have become really great friends.

At the Lingayen Gulf landings, the Kamikaze aircraft gave the Fleet a torrid time over several weeks, one evening about 1815, I was on Shropshire's bridge as her Officer of the Watch ( your Officer of the Deck ) and out of the sun, a Japanese aircraft came diving at the bridge, no more than a 1,000 feet up, all the bridge personnel flattened out on the deck, there was an enormous explosion, and what I thought was gasoline splashed all round me, I reached out and ran my fingers through it, and tasted it, just salt water.

The ship's bridge was some 60 feet above the water line, our port Pom Pom, an 8 barrel 40mm gun, had seen this Kamikaze, and shot him in half. One half with a bomb had landed close to our starboard side, exploded, and splashed a wave of sea water up onto the bridge, ( my Gasoline ) the other half crashed close to our port side. It was indeed a close run thing.

The two Japanese airmen were coming down with parachutes, some thing I had never ever seen before , these Kamikaze pilots seemed happy enough to die for their Emperor. The Captain of the Port Pom Pom, Leading Seaman Roy Cazaly, was just about to cut these two parachutists down with his gun, when our Commander in the aft control position, leaned out, and yelled "Cazaly don't you dare!!" the Japs landed in the water close to our ship's port side, one of our close escorts, a US destroyer, was sheltering close to us under the protection of our 8 inch guns, which we used under radar control to fire High Exposive shells set to burst at 2,500 yards at attacking Kamikaze aircraft. This destroyer promptly ran over the two Japs, Finito! Cazaly looked up at our Commander, and reportedly with a grin said: " I'm happy Sir! "  Cazaly was awared a Distinguished Service Medal for his effort, without a doubt, I would not be writing this to you today, had it not been for Roy Cazaly's sharp shooting back in January of 1945. He died unfortunately a few years ago from asbestosis.

Eugene, forgive me, I have been prattling on for much too long. Great to hear from you, now don't stop, I will be pleased to have your letters at any time.

All the best, hope you are having a nice Easter.

Best Regards.

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