By Sgt. Larry McManus

YANK Staff Correspondent

PACIFIC FLEET HEADQUARTERS—Although the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea* was one of America’s major naval victories, it failed to produce a slogan such as the immortal “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” or “Don’t give up the ship.” The Navy men who took part in this battle were masters of understatement.

battle of samar us navy escort carrier japanese fleet

The escort carrier Kitkun Bay launches her Wildcat fighters while White plains (in background) is under fire from the Japanese fleet.

Ens. Jess L. Curtright is a good example. His Wildcat fighter was downed by ack-ack as he strafed a Japanese cruiser. Curtright made a water landing among the Japanese warships and was a one-man target for destroyer’s guns until the enemy force—four battlewagons, eight heavy cruisers and 10 destroyers—passed out of range. Shortly afterward, a two-motored Japanese plane made four strafing runs on him. The 22-year-old Tacoma (Wash.) flyer dived “so deep my ears hurt” as bullets hit the water around him.

“Then,” Curtright said, “the Jap broke off the encounter. “

The Japanese force that sailed past Curtright continued south and engaged a group of American escort carriers, never intended to meet capital ships in surface battles. The baby flat-tops launched planes against their attackers and fled, but the speedier and more powerful Japanese force pursued them. Great geysers of water erupted around the flat-tops as the Japanese closed in for the kill, their 8- and 16-inch guns blazing.

“Won’t be long now,” drawled a gunner’s mate aboard one of the out-gunned carriers. “We’re sucking them in to 40-mm range.”

Determined aerial attacks by the escort carriers’ planes forced the Japanese to turn and run.

“Damnit,” said a signalman as the Japanese steamed north, “they got away from us.”

*Editors note: This action took place off the island of Samar during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

For More on the Battle off Samar and the Battle of Leyte Gulf See:

Storm Over Leyte: The Philippine Invasion and the Destruction of the Japanese Navy

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour

For Related Articles See:

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