William R. Hoel—son of Edmund and Sarah Ryan Hoel—was born on 7 March 1825 in Sharon, Ohio. Hoel began training as a riverboat pilot in late 1840, following his father into the profession. Within three years, the younger Hoel was considered to be a qualified pilot, and he earned his license within days of new certification requirements going into effect in early 1853.
Hoel married Mary Elizabeth Riley on 1 August 1849 in Cincinnati. Mrs. Hoel gave birth to a son, Edmund Riley Hoel, on 23 February 1853. Due to complications from the birth, Mary died nine days later on 4 March, just four days short of her 22nd birthday. Adding to Hoel’s personal tragedy, several months later on 11 August, his young son also passed away from dysentery.
During the first 20 years of his career, Hoel piloted numerous steamboats up and down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, amassing considerable experience and skill in navigating the hazards and ever-changing conditions of these vital waterways. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Hoel volunteered his services as a civilian pilot to the Union cause, commencing his military duty on 19 October. He resigned this position on 1 February 1862 and instead became the first master of the ironclad stern-wheel gunboat Cincinnati. Called to action immediately, Cincinnati along with six other vessels of the Western Gunboat Flotilla under the command of Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote bombarded Fort Henry on the eastern shore of the Tennessee River on 6 February, resulting in a Confederate surrender. Hoel was wounded in the engagement but recovered quickly.
While still attached to Cincinnati, Hoel volunteered to pilot the gunboat Carondelet on a dangerous mission to steam past Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River just south of the town of New Madrid, Mo. A large Confederate force fortified by several batteries occupied the island, situated at a navigationally-challenging bend in the river. On the dark and stormy night of 4 April 1862, Hoel valiantly guided Carondelet through a tempest of artillery fire to reach Brig. Gen. John Pope at New Madrid. Her presence downriver provided the firepower that allowed Pope’s troops to cross the river and capture Island No.10 several days later by attacking from its vulnerable eastern side. Gaining control of this strategic position in turn opened the river to Union ships almost as far south as Memphis, Tenn. Flag Officer Foote praised Hoel’s skill and mettle in the action, and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles offered him a commission, which Hoel declined. He was instead promoted to the rank of acting volunteer lieutenant as of 29 April 1862.
Several weeks later, on 10 May 1862, circumstances thrust Hoel into the position of command of Cincinnati during the Battle of Plum Point Bend. A gunshot through the neck incapacitated Cmdr. Roger N. Stembel, commanding officer of the ship, during a surprise attack in which Cincinnati was hit several times by Confederate rams. Assessing the situation, Hoel ordered Cincinnati to be grounded to prevent her from capsizing. Hoel’s actions once again garnered accolades from his superior officers. "I can not praise more than they deserve his high valor and ability,” Capt. Charles H. Davis, the new commander of the Western Gunboat Flotilla, wrote of Hoel to Secretary Welles. "He sets the highest example to those below him, and if it were possible to give him a permanent position worthy of his merits, the Navy would be the gainer…."
Hoel was with Cincinnati when she was raised in mid-May 1862 and brought to Cairo, Ill., for repairs. He briefly took command of Little Rebel, the erstwhile flagship of the Confederate River Defense Fleet that had been captured on 6 June during the Battle of Memphis. In early October, Hoel was attached to the ironclad ram Eastport before assuming command of the ironclad gunboat Pittsburg on 29 October.
While serving in Pittsburg, Hoel distinguished himself in the campaign to capture the town of Vicksburg, Miss., which was the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. On the morning of 29 April 1863, Acting Rear Adm. David D. Porter set out with seven ironclad gunboats to bombard the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, Miss., south of Vicksburg. Porter’s flagship Benton, under fire in close proximity to the upper battery, took a shot to her pilot house that disabled her steering and left her adrift. Hoel arrived from the lower battery and positioned his ship between the helpless Benton and the lively Confederate guns. For nearly a half hour, Pittsburg endured the enemy’s barrages, at a cost of six men killed and 13 wounded, while Benton made repairs and returned to the engagement. In his battle report, Adm. Porter praised Hoel’s skill and gallantry, noting that Hoel was “one of the best pilots on the river, and knew exactly where to place his ship. I only hope that I may always go into a fight with as good officers to back me.”
On 10 November 1864, Hoel received a promotion to acting volunteer lieutenant commander on the recommendation of Adm. Porter. He remained with Pittsburg until 1 March 1865. He next assumed command of Vindicator, serving in the gunboat until 7 July 1865. Following a three-month leave, Hoel was honorably discharged from naval service on 30 December 1865.
Hoel returned to Ohio to resume his life as a riverboat pilot before retiring to his farm near Waynesville. On 11 February 1869, he married for the second time. His union with Elizabeth Hunt produced two children, Sarah Elizabeth (born 18 December 1869) and Rion (born 15 September 1871). Returning to river life in late 1875, Hole became commander of the lighthouse steamer/tender Lily, a position he held until his untimely death on 23 May 1879.
Suspecting his wife Elizabeth of conducting an untoward relationship with Dr. J. B. Hough, a local physician, Hoel confronted the pair with a pistol in the parlor of his home. A scuffle ensued, and Hoel soon lay dead of a gunshot wound.
(DD-533: displacement 2,050; length 376'6"; beam 39'4"; draft 13'6"; speed 35.5 knots; complement 312; armament 5 5-inch, 6 40-millimeter, 10 20-millimeter, 6 depth charge projectors, 2 depth charge tracks, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Fletcher)
The first Hoel (DD-533) was laid down on 4 June 1942 at San Francisco, Calif., by the Bethlehem Steel Co.; launched on 19 December 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Louise Hoel Mills Crane, granddaughter of the ship’s namesake; and commissioned on 29 July 1943, Cmdr. William D. Thomas in command.
After outfitting in the San Francisco Bay area, Hoel put to sea on 16 August 1943, arriving at San Diego, Calif., the following afternoon to begin her shakedown. For the next month, the new destroyer would learn and practice the essential skills that she would need for operations in the Pacific theater including day and nighttime evolutions in antiaircraft and antisubmarine tactics, evasive maneuvers, torpedo and gunnery firing, shore bombardment, division tactics, radar and sound exercises, general quarters drills, underway replenishment, and towing exercises.
During that training, Hoel received extensive practice in developing and prosecuting underwater sound contacts as a result of a sighting of a possible enemy submarine 20 miles southwest of San Diego. On the evening of 26 August 1943, the coastal patrol yacht Sea Scout (PYc-43) observed the conning tower and periscope of a submarine trying to surface in an area designated for the use of San Diego’s Sound School. With no friendly submarines operating in the area at that time, Commander Western Sea Frontier sent destroyer Rathburne (DD-113), submarine chaser PC-779, and airship K-29 to investigate the contact and ordered other vessels to avoid the area.
Hoel was at that time underway nearby, having recently completed the day’s antiaircraft battle practice exercises. Operating 20 miles west of the reported submarine position the following morning with escort ship Dempsey (DE-26), at 0828 Hoel made a sound contact 1,025 yards away at bearing 000°T. She maneuvered to attack and then dropped a pattern of five depth charges. Several minutes later, as Hoel radioed in a contact report, Dempsey launched a hedgehog attack. Regaining the contact while sailing through a pod of porpoises an hour after the first attack, the destroyer launched a second barrage of depth charges. Over the next three and a half hours, Hoel would make four additional attacks while developing sound contacts, expending a total of 52 depth charges. During the day, more than 20 additional ships and four aircraft joined in the hunt for the mystery submersible, searching on a 100 mile scouting line extending from south of San Diego north to San Pedro. Finally, with no concrete results reported, Pacific Command and the Eleventh Naval District called off the search at midday on the 28th, and Hoel returned to San Diego that afternoon.
Her shakedown completed, Hoel got underway on 16 September 1943 and once again dropped an array of depth charges, this time for the purpose of testing the structural strength of the ship. She then proceeded north up the California coast and conducted fighter director and torpedo exercises in Monterey Bay the next day. She returned to San Francisco on the evening of the 17th and commenced a five week post-shakedown availability. That same day, Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 47 was established, with Hoel, Heermann (DD-532), Hazelwood (DD-531), McCord (DD-534), and Trathen (DD-530) assigned to Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 93 and Haggard (DD-555), Franks (DD-554), Hailey (DD-556), and Johnston (DD-557) in DesDiv 94.
On 26 October 1943, Hoel stood out of San Francisco in company with Morris (DD-417), Hughes (DD-410), Mustin (DD-413), Cotten (DD-669), and MacDonough (DD-351) and set course for the Territory of Hawaii. The group reached Pearl Harbor at midday on the 31st, and Capt. Albert G. Cook, Commander DesRon 47, temporarily shifted his pennant from Heermann to Hoel upon arrival. Assigned to the Fifth Fleet, the destroyer completed antisubmarine screening and plane guard duties for the three escort carriers of Task Group (TG) 52.3—Liscome Bay (CVE-56), Corregidor (CVE-58), and Coral Sea (CVE-57)—training for Operation Galvanic over the first several days of November. During a search for a downed aviator from Liscome Bay on the 4th, one of Hoel’s sailors fell overboard as a result of a mishap while lowering the ship’s starboard motor whaleboat. The sailor was rescued after fifteen minutes in the water, but the aircraft pilot was not located. After returning to port that afternoon, Hoel tied up alongside destroyer tender Cascade (AD-16) on the morning of 5 November for a brief availability.
Task Force (TF) 52 sortied from Pearl Harbor early on the morning of 10 November 1943, with ComDesRon 47 in Hoel in command of the screening vessels. After an uneventful transit to the Gilbert Islands, the task force arrived in the vicinity of Makin Atoll in the pre-dawn hours of 20 November. The “baby flattops” of TG 52.3 as well as destroyers Hoel, Franks, Hughes, and Morris positioned themselves south of Butaritari Island, and the carriers began to launch their planes at 0545. Soon the combined firepower of the naval aircraft as well as the cruisers and battleships of the task force blasted Japanese fortifications on the island. At 0900, the troops of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division moved towards the shore. Despite the relatively light enemy defenses at Makin, however, the Americans would struggle for three days to secure Butaritari.
While the carriers continued to provide air support for operations ashore, Hoel and the other screening ships maintained vigilant watch for Japanese opposition from the air and sea. Overnight on 22–23 November 1943, Hoel helped destroyer Gridley (DD-380) search for a possible enemy submarine after Gridley made a sound contact and dropped embarrassing charges, but the search was abandoned after six hours with no apparent success. At 1430 on the 23rd, a friendly plane dropped a depth charge ahead of Hoel, but the destroyer did not find any evidence of a submarine in the vicinity. Unbeknownst to the American warships, however, the Japanese submarine I-175 was lurking nearby, and at 0513 on the morning of 24 November, a large explosion rocked Liscome Bay, steaming at the center of the formation. Struck by a torpedo, the escort carrier’s bomb storage quickly detonated as well, sending the debris of what had been the doomed vessel’s stern hurtling through the air and spreading an inferno throughout the rest of the flagship. Liscome Bay sank in only 23 minutes, claiming 646 souls, including Rear Adm. Henry M. Mullinnix, commander of TG 52.3. Less than an hour after the sinking, Maury chased down the wake of another torpedo and then Gridley launched a depth charge attack at a sound contact, but neither of these efforts proved fruitful, and I-175 escaped.
Despite picking up numerous bogies on radar, ships participating in operations at Makin had generally not had to engage with Japanese aircraft. Right around dusk on the evening of 25 November 1943, Thanksgiving, the just-reassembled task force faced its first real threat from the air. Ships began to report bogies at 20 miles distant and closing around 1820, and twenty minutes later, two separate Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 land attack planes (Betty) dropped flares and float lights along the flanks of the formation, visually marking the group’s general position. Rear Adm. Richmond K. Turner, task force commander in flagship Pennsylvania (BB-38), ordered emergency evasive maneuvers, and shortly thereafter, two groups of hostile aircraft, totaling around 12 planes, approached from the northeast and northwest. As the ships continued radical course changes to evade their would-be attackers, some fired at the planes without apparent results. For their part, the Japanese dropped more flares astern of the formation but did not attack with gunfire, bombs, or torpedoes, and in less than two hours, the ships’ radars were once again clear of contacts.
Early on the morning of 26 November 1943, Hoel and Hughes broke from the formation to escort the heavy cruisers San Francisco (CA-38), New Orleans (CA-32), Minneapolis (CA-36), and Baltimore (CA-68) to rendezvous with TG 50.1. Nearing the rendezvous point shortly before dawn, the two destroyers and Baltimore then continued on to refuel with the tanker group, with Hoel replenishing from the oiler Sabine (AO-25). The next morning, the two destroyers joined escort ships Charles R. Greer (DE-23) and Harold C. Thomas (DE-21) in the screen for TG 54.10, consisting of transport President Monroe (AP-104) plus U.S freighters Cape Isabel, Cape Stevens, and Robin Wentley. The group arrived off of Abemama Atoll in the central Gilberts at the end of the morning watch on 28 November, and Hoel and Hughes then proceeded to rejoin TF 52 at midday.
At 1800 on 30 November 1943, Hoel and Franks detached from the task force and headed to Tarawa, approximately 120 miles south of Makin. The two destroyers joined the screen for heavy cruiser Indianapolis (CA-35) at 1100 the next day, and that evening they were assigned to antisubmarine patrol of the entrance to the lagoon at Tarawa, with Franks patrolling the northern sector and Hoel the southern. At 1903, Hoel ran aground on an uncharted coral reef in two fathoms of water one and a half miles off Betio Point at the southwestern tip of the atoll. The ship grounded as far aft as her No. 1 and No. 2 40-millimeter guns, her bow rising out of the water. Overnight, fleet tug Arapaho (AT-68) attempted to tow the stranded destroyer from the reef, but low tide hindered the effort, and then at dawn on 2 December, the tow line parted. An hour later, with the tide now high, Hoel attempted to back off the reef herself and was able to move about 15 feet, but she was still trapped on the reef. One former crewman recalled of the incident, “we were dead ducks” should Tarawa be hit with an air raid. Rescue and salvage ship Clamp (ARS-33) joined in the effort to free Hoel at 0815, but it was not until 1320 that afternoon that Arapaho was able to pull the destroyer free from the coral.
Following her ordeal, Hoel tested her engines and propellers at various speeds, with vibrations becoming readily apparent at 20 knots, and then anchored in Betio Harbor. Divers from Clamp inspected the destroyer’s hull, keel, propellers, and shafts. Fortunately, Hoel remained seaworthy, although her propeller blades had been bent slightly and her sound gear had been rendered inoperative. Clamp’s divers were underwater again on the morning of 3 December 1943, working to straighten the tips of Hoel’s damaged propeller blades. Clearing Tarawa that afternoon, the destroyer set course for Pearl Harbor, screening battleship Tennessee (BB-43) and attack transports President Polk (AP-103) and President Monroe with Gansevoort (DD-608) and Walker (DD-517). Arriving at Pearl on the morning of 11 December, Hoel docked at the navy yard that afternoon to begin repairs. ComDesRon 47 shifted his pennant to McCord on the 14th, and Hoel entered dry dock on the 17th to repair her sound dome, propellers, hull, and frame damage from the grounding. She left dry dock on 23 December and completed her overhaul on the 27th.
Hoel returned to action on 28 December 1943, joining with units of her squadron as well as heavy cruiser Minneapolis and battleships New Mexico (BB-40) and Mississippi (BB-41) for various training evolutions through the afternoon of 2 January 1944. Assigned to the Fifth Amphibious Force for the upcoming operations in the Marshall Islands, the destroyer continued her underway training off Hawaii for the next two weeks. She then held a tender availability with Prairie (AD-15) from 18–22 January.
Departing on the morning of 23 January 1944, Hoel sailed for the Marshall Islands with TF 51, screening for the transports of TG 51.1, the operation’s reserve forces. Early on the morning of the 30th, TG 51.2 left the formation and headed for the atoll of Majuro, which the Americans easily captured on 31 January. Meanwhile, the reserve transports and their escorts arrived on station northeast of Kwajalein Atoll and stood by for orders. Landings at Kwajalein commenced on the 31st, with assaults on the principle islands of Kwajalein in the south and Roi-Namur in the north beginning the following day. On the morning of 2 February, the reserve transports were able to enter the Kwajalein lagoon, where Hoel refueled and reprovisioned with troop transport Wharton (AP-7) that afternoon. From the vantage point of her anchorage in the southern part of the lagoon, the destroyer could observe landings and bombardments taking place in the northern part of the atoll. Overnight on 3–4 February, Hoel and Trathen patrolled ten miles off the southern and eastern ends of the atoll. The next day, the two destroyers took station to the west of Bigej Island for call fire duty. Hoel sailed with Miller (DD-535) on the 6th as the latter vessel transported Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, to Roi-Namur for an inspection ashore and then returned to her anchorage in the lagoon.
With Kwajalein secured, the Americans next turned their attention to Eniwetok Atoll, 375 miles northwest of Roi-Namur. Hoel departed Kwajalein at midday on 15 February 1944 with TG 51.11, the northern group of the Eniwetok Expeditionary Group, screening two divisions of transport ships during the transit. For this action, Hoel was assigned to screen heavy cruiser Portland (CA-33) as part of Fire Support Section Three (TU 51.17.3), which also included Indianapolis and Trathen. As the bells sounded the beginning of the morning watch on 17 February, the task unit left the formation to get into position for their role at Eniwetok. Three hours later, Hoel screened Portland as the cruiser opened fire on Parry and Japtan Islands, providing cover for the task group to head in to the lagoon via the channel between the two islands. TU 51.17.3 remained on patrol east of the islands until ordered to enter the lagoon at 1300. Twenty minutes later, a Vought OS2U-3 Kingfisher (BuNo 09668) floatplane flying from Pennsylvania lost its starboard pontoon while attempting to land 3,000 yards from Hoel and capsized. The destroyer sent her crash boat to retrieve the aviators, pilot Lt. (j.g.) Townie G. Hicks, USNR, and passenger ARM1c Darrell R. Thorson, and delivered them to Indianapolis.
Later that afternoon, Hoel finally got the chance to participate in the gunnery action herself. Shortly before 1500, the destroyer’s lookouts spotted Japanese soldiers moving about on Parry Island and received permission from Portland to attack. At 1521, the destroyer began shooting at three Japanese hulks on the beach as well as a pillbox further inland, bombarding and strafing these positions for the next hour until American aircraft could take over. Overnight on 18–19 February, Hoel shot harassing fire at Parry Island using all of her guns at irregular intervals. She also fired star shells and used her searchlight to illuminate Parry and Eniwetok Islands to thwart enemy troop movement. On the morning of the 19th, Hoel bombarded Eniwetok Island and provided close support fire as American troops streamed towards the island. For the next two days, the destroyer provided call fire at Eniwetok Island. Beginning on the 21st, she patrolled off the Wide and Deep entrances to the lagoon as the troops onshore secured American control of the atoll. Embarking a fighter director unit of three officers and eight enlisted from Hazelwood on 26 February, the destroyer assumed the role of standby fighter director for the Eniwetok area through 4 March, at which point she returned to patrolling the entrance passages to the lagoon.
On 5 March 1944, Hoel left Eniwetok in company with attack transport Cambria (APA-36), cruisers Louisville, Portland, and Indianapolis, and DesDiv 93 less Trathen. Two days later, Cambria continued on to Pearl Harbor while the cruisers and destroyers entered the lagoon at Majuro. That afternoon, Hoel tied up alongside Prairie for a five-day tender availability. On the 13th, DesDiv 93 (still less Trathen) prepared to get underway for Espíritu Santo, New Hebrides, but with repairs still not completed on McCord, the rest of the division instead anchored in the lagoon. The next morning, the group finally sailed with destroyer O’Bannon (DD-450) in company, heading to Port Purvis, Florida Island in the Solomons vice Espíritu Santo. As Hoel crossed the equator on the morning of 16 March, her historian recorded, “The ship teemed with low marine life. Polywogs in particular were in abundance.” Respecting maritime tradition even while at war, the destroyer’s trusty shellbacks initiated the slimy pollywogs into the ways of the realm of King Neptune before the royal court in a crossing the line ceremony, cleansing the pollywogs from their ranks. Two days later, the destroyers put in to Port Purvis, and Hoel reported for duty with the Third Fleet.
The two divisions of DesRon 47 less Trathen and Johnston reunited at Purvis Bay. Now under the command of Capt. Ira H. Nunn who took over at Majuro the week prior, the squadron sailed at midday on 19 March 1944 to join TF 39. Their orders changed on the 20th, however, and the group instead proceeded towards the Bismarck Archipelago of New Guinea to search for Japanese forces between Emirau Island—at that moment the object of an Allied amphibious assault—and Truk, Mussau, and New Hanover. Hoel patrolled with her squadron over the next several days until the 25th, when she broke off independently to search along the southwestern coast of New Hanover. That evening, she joined McCord to patrol just offshore between Cape Botiangin and BatiTam Island. The next morning, she used her five-inch guns to destroy a warehouse several miles west of Cape Botiangin and then rendezvoused with the rest of the squadron at midday.
On the afternoon of 27 March 1944, Hoel left the formation independently to assume a night patrol station south and east of Cape Botiangin. At 1709, lookout S2c Merlin D. Long sighted something in the water directly in the glare of the setting sun, 12,000 yards distant. The ship approached the object to investigate and discovered 40-foot outrigger canoe Katulusae with 27 Japanese (Special Naval Landing Force) on board. As the destroyer closed on the craft at 1722, the Japanese troops drew their weapons and began shooting at each other. Hoel quickly added 40-millimeter gunfire to the melee and after five total minutes of shooting finished off the last five occupants with small arms fire. The destroyer’s action report coolly noted that “None of the enemy at any time showed any emotion nor any desire to surrender.” Crewmembers pulled the canoe alongside, boarded it, and collected documents deemed to be of intelligence value. After setting the canoe adrift, Cmdr. William D. Thomas, Hoel’s commanding officer, called mast to commend Seaman Long. Citing the lookout’s “alert and proficient performance of duty,” the captain immediately advanced Long to the rating of seaman first class.
Less than two hours after the canoe incident reached its conclusion, Hoel made a sound contact on a submarine. At 1953, the destroyer dropped 11 depth charges over the target. Ten minutes later, the ship’s FD radar showed a surface contact 3,500 yards distant at bearing 150°T, but starshell illumination did not reveal anything. Over the next half hour, the destroyer regained the sound contact three times and dropped 25 additional depth charges in three separate attacks. Then the FD radar showed another surface contact, but the ship again fired illuminating star shells that revealed nothing. Although there were no further sound or radar contacts, Hoel continued the search for the submarine until 2311, at which time she continued on to her night patrol station off Cape Botiangin.
Hoel rendezvoused with McCord on the morning of 28 March 1944 to deliver the intelligence documents collected from the canoe the previous day to squadron commander Nunn. The ship then joined the rest of her division at midday to complete a tracking exercise. The next morning, the group joined oiler Atascosa (AO-66) to refuel. Just as Hoel completed refueling at 1255, a bogey being monitored on radar began to close the formation from 21 miles. DesDiv 93 plus escort ship Whitehurst (DE-634) formed an antiaircraft screen around the oiler, and at 1307 Hoel made visual contact at 12,000 yards distance with a single Betty making a 20° dive at the formation from 20,000 feet in altitude. The destroyer opened up at the incoming plane with her five-inch guns, turning it away without inflicting any apparent damage, and the division was able to finish refueling without further incident.
On the morning of 30 March 1944, DesDiv 93 began patrolling on a scouting line near Emirau and Mussau Islands to prevent any Japanese forces from moving to New Hanover, with the destroyers each assuming individual scouting lines that afternoon. In the evening, ComDesRon 47 dispatched Hoel to conduct a submarine search in the vicinity of a torpedo wake sighting near Emirau’s Cape Ballin, but the investigation yielded no results. The division continued its patrol for several more days. Hoel accidentally fired a depth charge on 2 April while testing circuits. That evening, the destroyer steamed to an area 10 miles north of Cape Stemin, Mussau, to help develop a sound contact made by McCord. Just after midnight on the 3rd, Hoel made a sound contact at 1,600 yards and dropped 11 depth charges. Although Hoel did not regain the contact, Heermann did and also dropped a pattern of charges. Heermann reported hearing another explosion after her last charge detonated and observed a fire on the water near the attack site. The three destroyers formed a scouting line to continue the search for contacts and/or debris, but with no further results, they discontinued it at 1030. After refueling on the 4th, DesDiv 93 headed for Port Purvis, arriving the next afternoon.
For her next assignment, Hoel helped screen attack cargo ship Aquarius (AKA-16); attack transports Dupage (APA-41), Crescent City (APA-21), Elmore (APA-42), and Wayne (APA-54); and fleet tug Menominee (AT-73) from Purvis Bay to Emirau and back, making a brief detour with McCord on the return trip to disembark fighter director teams at Koli Point, Guadalcanal (8–14 April). After an availability alongside destroyer tender Whitney (AD-4) at Purvis Bay (16–21 April), Hoel got underway again on 26 April 1944 for a day of training exercises with Cruiser Division (CruDiv) 12—the light cruisers Montpelier (CL-57) and Cleveland (CL-55)—and the destroyers of her division less Hazlewood. She put to sea again on 1 May for three days of tactical evolutions with TF 39 and TF 38, including shore bombardment of Rua Sura Island, day and night battle practices, and antiaircraft firing practice. TF 39 steamed to New Georgia Island in the Solomons, where Hoel in company with DesDiv 94 reunited with the rest of DesRon 47 at Hathorn Sound. With ComDesRon 47 embarked, Hoel screened CruDiv 12 with Hazelwood and Heermann while the cruisers conducted a shore bombardment exercise on Kolombangara Island on the 10th.
The following morning, Hoel and Hazelwood set off on a special mission to locate, board, and destroy a derelict vessel that had been reported at a position 250 miles northeast of Malaita Island. At 0800 on 12 May 1944, a search plane spotted the drifting boat and provided the updated position to the destroyers, which made visual contact at 1130. Reaching the scene just after midday, a boarding party that included ComDesRon 47, still embarked in Hoel, spent a half hour on the vessel, which proved to be a 60-foot harbor tug owned by the Defense Plant Corporation of Washington, D.C. that appeared to have broken away while under tow. Following the investigation, Hoel and Hazelwood each fired five full salvos at the tug from both 10,000 and 6,000 yards, sinking her at 1400. The ships then set course to return to Hathorn Sound, arriving the next afternoon.
Steaming without Trathen, DesDiv 93 set out on 15 May 1944 to search for two Japanese submarines believed to be headed south from Truk. Operating out of sight of land north of Buka Strait, the destroyers swept up the submarines’ assumed path watching and listening for their quarry. At the end of the morning watch the following day, the group sighted DesDiv 94, which had been dispatched to the search area earlier, and together the destroyer squadron continued the hunt, working on a 60-mile scouting line at 15,000 yard intervals by the evening. At 2137, Haggard made a sound contact and dropped a pattern of depth charges. DesDiv 94 ships developed the contact, making a total of five attacks by 0230 on the 17th. Their efforts were rewarded in the morning by the sight of a large oil slick, indicating that I-176 had met her demise.
As DesDiv 94 successfully pursued their contact, Hoel and her fellow DesDiv 93 destroyers continued the search for the second enemy boat. On the 17th, the division conducted its own search in the area of a possible contact but did not produce any results. By mid-afternoon, the entire squadron had reestablished a scouting line to continue the pursuit. DesDiv 94 detached at dawn on 18 May for duty with Fifth Fleet. DesDiv 93 continued looking for the sub together until 1610, when McCord and Hazelwood departed to operate separately, leaving Hoel and Heermann to search in an area 50–60 miles northeast of Buka Passage. The latter two destroyers rejoined McCord and Hazelwood on their scouting line the next afternoon, and after dark the division assumed a patrol line off the eastern entrance to Buka Passage to conduct Joint Air-Surface Anti-Submarine Action (JASASA). Completing the operation at 0700 on the morning of 20 May, the destroyers then proceeded to Blanche Harbor in the Treasury Islands, arriving that afternoon.
After refueling, DesDiv 93 set out once again on 21 May 1944 to relieve destroyers Eaton (DD-510) and Sigourney (DD-643) on submarine hunter-killer duty with escort carrier Hoggatt Bay (CVE-75). After making the rendezvous on the afternoon of the 23rd, DesDiv 93 and the baby flattop headed for an area 125 miles north of Mussau. Beginning at dawn on 26 May, as the carrier’s planes searched for enemy boats from the air, the destroyers patrolled along a 180-mile scouting line listening for subs and investigating contact reports from the planes. Hoel made her first sound contact that evening and made several more the next day, but they were ultimately evaluated as false, likely schools of fish. On the 28th, Hoel was directed to investigate an object, described by the reporting search plane as a life raft covered by a parachute. Upon arriving at the scene 22 miles distant from the formation, however, the destroyer discovered the carcass of a dead whale, which the ship’s 40-millimeter gunners used for a bit of target practice before Hoel rejoined the task group.
Over the next two days, Hoel and her division-mates investigated several more sound and radar contacts with negative results. At 0615 on 31 May 1944, DesDiv 42 arrived to relieve DesDiv 93, and Hoel, McCord, and Heermann departed en route to Hathorn Sound. Arriving on the morning of 2 June, the destroyers refueled and then reported to Dixie (AD-14). Getting underway that afternoon, the destroyer trio escorted the tender to Purvis Bay in the Florida Islands. Upon their arrival the next morning, Hoel and her sister ships moored alongside Dixie and commenced a repair availability through 8 June.
Early on 9 June 1944, Hoel, McCord, and Heermann set course for New Ireland, New Guinea. Joined once again by Hazelwood that evening, DesDiv 93 (still less Trathen) had orders to bombard a Japanese tank repair park at Fangalawa Bay on the 11th. Division-leader McCord took the first shots at 0700, followed in succession by Hoel, Hazelwood, and finally Heermann, which completed the unopposed bombardment just before midday. Hoel’s historian noted that “the destruction of enemy installations could not be ascertained due to the fall of shot not being visible from the ship, but the air spotter seemed to be well-satisfied with the results obtained,” with great damage reported to structures in the target zone.
After refueling and reloading ammunition at Blanche Harbor the next morning, the DesDiv 93 ships stood out at 1500 to rendezvous once again with Hoggatt Bay to hunt for Japanese submarines. Hoel left the formation two hours later after sighting a mine off her starboard bow. She attempted to sink the object, which turned out to be a net-buoy, with gunfire but failed and returned to the group. The next evening, Hoel made a sound contact 1,000 yards distant and five minutes later dropped a pattern of 10 depth charges. She did not regain the contact, and noting the presence of two dead killer whales floating nearby, determined the contact to be “non-submarine” and returned to the formation.
DesDiv 93 rendezvoused with Hoggatt Bay at dawn on 14 June 1944, relieving DesDiv 41, and the search for Japanese submarines continued. The next afternoon, the four destroyers formed a scouting line for an overnight sweep to the north to look for five surfaced enemy boats that had been reported, leaving the carrier in the care of three escort ships. Rejoining the next morning after an unsuccessful hunt, the destroyers repeated the northward sweep overnight on the 16th–17th with the same result. The task unit continued its search through the evening of 19 June and then sailed for Seeadler Harbor, Manus. While the rest of her division stayed at Seeadler Harbor only long enough to complete logistics, departing again at dusk on the 20th to escort Hoggatt Bay to Eniwetok, Hoel remained behind pending further instructions. Sailing independently the next afternoon, Hoel arrived at Port Purvis on the morning of 24 June and conducted a maintenance availability for the rest of the month.
Hoel operated out of Purvis Bay for most of July 1944, getting underway again on the 1st to conduct a test firing of special projectiles. On the 7th, she exercised her antiaircraft and night torpedo attack skills with McCord and Hazelwood. Hoel steamed across Iron Bottom Sound the next afternoon to Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, to rendezvous with Coulee Dam, but the tanker was delayed so the destroyer anchored there for the night. With the tanker still not ready to proceed by the next afternoon, Hoel returned to Purvis Bay, only to depart again for Lunga Point at 0600 on the 10th. After rendezvousing with Coulee Dam, the ships sailed for the tanker’s designated dropoff point. Detaching from the tanker early on the 11th, Hoel next steamed to meet Edward P. Ripley, making the rendezvous at 1600. The destroyer escorted the U.S. freighter to Lunga Point and then returned to Purvis Bay, arriving on the afternoon of 13 July. After completing another escort mission for cargo ship Mandan Victory (17–19 July), Hoel conducted two days of antisubmarine warfare training (20, 21 July). Departing Purvis Bay on the evening of the 23rd, Hoel reached the meeting point for a scheduled rendezvous with Cape St. George at 1300 on 24 July, but the vessel could not be found. After four hours of searching, the destroyer notified ComSoPac and continued along Cape St. George’s assigned track. Finally at 1300 on the 25th, Hoel effected the rendezvous, relieving Australian frigate HMAS Barcoo (K.375) as escort, and screened Cape St. George to Noumea, New Caledonia, arriving on the morning of 29 July.
On 3 August 1944, Hoel steamed for Espíritu Santo in the New Hebrides, arriving on the afternoon of the 5th. Underway again on the morning of the 7th, the destroyer rendezvoused with escort carrier Kwajalein (CVE-98) to screen during her passage to the Gilberts. When her relief ship failed to arrive as scheduled on the afternoon of the 10th, Hoel remained with the carrier in the vicinity of Tarawa overnight. Brackett (DE-41) arrived in the morning to assume escort duties, and the destroyer entered the lagoon at Tarawa. After refueling, she got underway again and returned to Purvis Bay, arriving at midday on 14 August. There the ship reported to Adm. William F. Halsey Jr., Commander Third Fleet, and Rear Adm. George H. Fort, Commander Group Five, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet. After a week in port, Hoel returned to Espíritu Santo where she joined destroyers Ross (DD-563) and Robinson (DD-562) on the 24th to escort carriers Kitkun Bay (CVE-71), White Plains (CVE-66), and Gambier Bay (CVE-73) back to Purvis Bay.
The task unit arrived at Purvis Bay on the morning of 26 August 1944, and after refueling, Hoel got underway again with TU 32.7.1 for training exercises off Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal. The task unit consisted of Carrier Division 27—flagship Marcus Island (CVE-77), Savo Island (CVE-78), Kadashan Bay (CVE-76), and Ommaney Bay (CVE-79)—and DesDiv 93 less Hazelwood plus destroyer Thorn (DD-647). Over the next week, the ships of TU 32.7.1 participated in four rehearsals for the planned assault on the Palau Islands, with the carriers providing air support for troop landings and the destroyers protecting the carriers. On 28 August, Kalinin Bay (CVE-68) and Petrof Bay (CVE-80) temporarily replaced Savo Island and Kadashan Bay, which both needed repairs, and their escort Thorn was replaced by Haggard, Hailey, Johnston, and Welles (DD-628). Foul weather curtailed flight operations during the final two rehearsals on 30 August and 1 September. On the afternoon of the 1st, the carriers returned to Tulagi Harbor and the screeners anchored at Purvis Bay to make final preparations for the operation.
Sailing on the morning of 6 September 1944, TU 32.7.1 reformed and then joined with TG 32.5 for the transit to the Palau Islands. Late on the 11th, the task unit detached from the larger group to proceed to its assignment area 12–15 miles off the east coast of Peleliu. At 0530 on 12 September, the carrier aircraft commenced operations, bombarding Japanese forces and installations at Peleliu and Angaur in preparation for and support of the landings on the islands on the 15th and 17th respectively. Hoel and her fellow destroyers vigilantly screened the carriers, ever watchful for hostile threats particularly from the air and undersea and stood ready to assist should any American aviator find himself in the water. At 0600 on 19 September, a Stinson OY-1 Sentinel taking off from Ommaney Bay splashed 2,500 yards from Hoel. Five minutes later, the destroyer retrieved pilot 1st Lt. Donald B. Foster, USMCR, and artillery observer 1st Lt. Albin Mickewich, USMCR, neither of whom was injured in the incident. Over the next week, the destroyer also pursued several sound contacts, but made no depth charge attacks. On the afternoon of 25 September, Hoel recovered a Dan buoy, after unsuccessfully attempting to sink it with 40-millimeter gunfire, and sank a net buoy.
Carrier aircraft operations continued through 25 September 1944, and the next morning, the task unit steamed to Kossol Passage, about 75 miles northeast of Peleliu, from its night retirement position. After refueling and replenishing ammunition, the group returned to the operations area, and the carriers resumed routine flight operations in support of the First Marine Division on Peleliu on the morning of the 27th. Beginning on the 29th, the carrier planes discontinued combat support missions and flew only Combat Air Patrol (CAP) and Anti-Submarine Patrol (ASP) flights. For her part, Hoel sank a net buoy with her 40-millimeter guns (27 September) and recovered a pneumatic floater buoy from the water (30 September).
Over the course of the Palau Islands operation, the ships of TU 32.7.1 did not encounter any enemy forces. However at 1823 on 1 October 1944 while operating in station 1 of the screen, Hoel reported a “good” sound contact at 2,100 yards dead ahead. Dropping out of the formation to develop the contact, the destroyer dropped a full pattern of depth charges. She regained the contact at 2015 at about 3,000 yards distance and dropped another flight of depth charges. After losing the contact again, the ship expanded the search for her adversary. Finally at 0107 on the 2nd, Hoel regained her contact at only 1,000 yards away and once again dropped a full pattern of depth charges but yet again she lost the contact. Shortly thereafter, escort ship Reynolds (DE-42) joined the search. Hoel did not regain the contact again, and at 0500 escort ship La Prade (DE-409) arrived to relieve Hoel. The destroyer rejoined her task unit at 0730, and the group set course for Manus, arriving at Seeadler Harbor on the afternoon of 4 October.
At Manus, Hoel reported for duty to Seventh Fleet and was assigned to Rear Adm. Thomas L. Sprague’s TG 77.4, consisting of three units of escort carriers and their screening ships, for the upcoming invasion of Leyte Island in the Philippines. Commonly referred to as “Taffy 3,” the Northern Carrier Group (TU 77.4.3), led by Rear Adm. Clifton A. F. Sprague in flagship Fanshaw Bay (CVE-70), also included escort carriers White Plains, Kalinin Bay, and the recently-renamed St. Lo (CVE-63, formerly Midway) screened by destroyers Heermann and Johnston and escort ships Raymond (DE-341) and Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413). Cmdr. Leon S. Kintberger relieved Cmdr. William D. Thomas as Hoel’s commanding officer on 9 October 1944, with Como. Thomas remaining with the ship serving as Taffy 3’s screen commander. TG 77.4 departed Manus on 12 October, accompanying TG 77.2 for the transit to the Philippines. On the afternoon of 16 October, the three Escort Carrier Groups parted company with TG 77.2 and headed for their assigned operating areas.
At this time, the weather took a turn for the worse, with steadily increasing winds reaching typhoon-levels by the early morning hours of 17 October 1944. High winds and heavy seas punished the three escort carrier groups, damaging several ships, but by daybreak on the 18th, the weather had abated and the three task units were in position off the eastern entrance to Leyte Gulf. Taffy 3 operated from the northernmost station east of the island of Samar. Air operations commenced at 0600, with the task group’s escort carriers providing air cover for the fire support, minesweeping, and underwater demolition groups at Leyte ahead of the scheduled troop landings near Tacloban. At 0600 on landing day, 20 October, escort carriers Kitkun Bay and Gambier Bay and escort ships Dennis (DE-405) and John C. Butler (DE-339) joined Taffy 3, and for the next several days, the carrier planes supported the landing forces as they fought their way inland and flew CAP and ASP missions. During her time on station protecting the carriers of Taffy 3, Hoel recovered two downed TBM crews flying from St. Lo and sank one floating enemy mine.
For the Japanese, holding on to the Philippines was crucial for their continued war effort. Losing control of the islands to the Allied forces would not only cut Japan off from essential supplies, particularly fuel, and its remaining military outposts in the southeastern Pacific but would also allow the Allies to establish bases less than 1,500 miles from the Japanese mainland. Although the Japanese viewed the northern island of Luzon as the most strategically important of the Philippines, the military commanders of Japan’s Imperial General Headquarters considered the Allies’ newly-established foothold at Leyte and their concentration of naval assets in and around Leyte Gulf to be sufficiently threatening to their continued control of the islands as to merit a significant and immediate response. As such, the Japanese ramped up their land-based air attacks and sent two groups of warships to confront and destroy the Allied naval forces and shipping in Leyte Gulf—a Southern Force to approach via the Sulu and Bohol Seas and enter the gulf through the Surigao Strait and a Center Force to weave its way through the islands of the central Philippines, transit the San Bernardino Strait, and head south down the coast of Samar to enter Leyte Gulf from the east. A third Northern Force successfully enticed Adm. Bill Halsey’s powerful Third Fleet, operating off eastern Luzon, away from the islands, leaving the San Bernardino Strait completely unguarded on the night of 24–25 October 1944. Although American aircraft and submarines had sunk or heavily damaged a battleship and four heavy cruisers of the Center Force over the previous two days, a formidable assemblage of four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and eleven destroyers remained to steam unmolested through the San Bernardino Strait overnight. All that stood between the oncoming Japanese warships and Leyte Gulf were the six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four escort ships of Taffy 3.
Daybreak on 25 October 1944 found the ships of Taffy 3 steaming in the Philippine Sea some 50 miles east of Samar. The morning dawned with calm seas, a gentle breeze, partially overcast skies, and widely scattered showers. The carriers had already launched many of their planes for their morning CAP and ASP missions. After securing from routine general quarters around 0630, Hoel’s sailors headed to a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and beans. The situation changed drastically, however, at approximately 0650 when the destroyer received a radio report that one of the carriers’ antisubmarine patrol planes was being fired upon by a large force of Japanese naval vessels. At the same time, one of the ship’s lookouts reported seeing antiaircraft fire to the northwest, and the ship’s radar also detected surface contacts to the northwest shortly thereafter. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, less than 20 miles separated Adm. Kurita Takeo’s Center Fleet from the ships of Taffy 3, and the Japanese appeared to be closing fast. Hoel went to general quarters and lit all her boilers to prepare to make maximum speed. Adm. Sprague directed his ships to turn and head due east so that all remaining carrier planes could launch and attack their formidable opponents.
Ominously, the sea around the ships at the rear of the Taffy 3 formation quickly came to life with large splashes tinted with colored dyes—“yellow geysers, reds and greens and blues”—as salvos of large-caliber artillery fire began to rain down around them. “From this point on,” Adm. Sprague later wrote, “it was a question of extracting [Taffy 3] from a situation fraught with disaster.” At 0700, Sprague ordered the screening ships to lay a smoke screen astern. Hoel, then operating in the northernmost position in the screen, left her station to follow Johnston and Samuel B. Roberts, already operating at the rear of the formation, to lay lines of thick black and white smoke between the fleeing carriers and the ominous Japanese warships. The highly effective smoke screen significantly obscured visibility and hindered the enemy’s ability to accurately target the American vessels. Within about ten minutes, Taffy 3’s leading carriers found further cover within a “providential” rain squall, providing a ten-minute reprieve from the barrage of shells as the Japanese temporarily ceased firing at them.
Adm. Sprague understood that his baby flattops and their small defenders were seriously outmatched by their pursuers in number, speed, and firepower. He broadcast an urgent contact report in plain language requesting assistance, but the enemy was closing fast, and at that moment, his task unit would live or die by their own efforts. The Taffy 3 planes already aloft were ill-equipped to take on Adm. Kurita’s fleet, and there was precious little time available to arm the remaining planes more appropriately. His ships collectively possessed 29 five-inch guns and 42 torpedoes, but the Central Force was still well beyond the range of Taffy 3’s most potent weapons. His flagship Fanshaw Bay had not yet reached the cover of the rain squall, and he noted with concern that the Japanese gunfire had increased in both quantity and accuracy in a short time. Sprague realized that for any of his ships to survive this surprise encounter with the enemy, his screeners would have to go on the offensive and engage the mighty fleet bearing down upon them in the hopes that the Japanese warships would be damaged, destroyed, turned away, or at least slowed in their pursuit. As such, he ordered his destroyers and escort ships to prepare to launch a torpedo attack while the carriers finished launching their planes and then embarked on a desperate dash to the south towards Leyte Gulf, where the bulk of Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet forces were situated.
As the carrier planes of Taffy 3 began to attack and harass Kurita’s warships, Como. Thomas, commanding the screen from Hoel, attempted to organize his ships to conduct a coordinated torpedo attack on their antagonists. He ordered his screen to form up on Hoel, with the destroyers going in first and the smaller escort ships to follow on a second run. Johnston, the closest of the three destroyers to the enemy, had a target within range of her guns already and went in to attack independently. Still in her assigned screening station on the far side of the formation, Heermann first had to rush across the two columns of carriers to get into position. At 0735, Sprague ordered Thomas to “deliver fish attack.” Five minutes later, Thomas directed Johnston and Heermann to follow Hoel. “Line up and let’s go.” Amidst the rain and the smoke, Heermann nearly collided with Hoel while attempting to form in column. Hoel swerved to avoid her oncoming sister ship, and Heermann put her engines into full reverse to avert disaster. Heermann then fell in loosely behind Hoel, with the plucky escort ship Samuel B. Roberts following from further back.
Thomas and Cmdr. Kintberger elected to head between a column of cruisers and a column of battleships, believing it tactically necessary for Hoel to hinder multiple advancing Japanese columns. Projectiles continued to fall in colorful arrays around the ship, some splashing uncomfortably close, but by chasing the salvos, Kintberger made it harder for the Japanese to target Hoel based on where their last miss had landed. Thus far, the strategy had kept his ship safe. Kintberger selected the leading battleship, still some 18,000 yards away, as the intended recipient of his first half-salvo of torpedoes and commenced his approach. At 14,000 yards, Hoel reached the maximum effective firing range of her five as-yet silent five-inch guns. Finally able to contest the seemingly endless barrage of shells aimed in her direction, Hoel’s main battery opened fire at the Japanese battlewagon.
Suddenly, shortly before reaching the torpedo range of 10,000 yards, two of the enemy’s shells finally connected with their target. Kintberger recorded 0725 as the time of Hoel’s first hit in his action report, but evidence from other Taffy 3 action reports suggests that this event may have actually occurred 15–20 minutes later. The destroyer shook from the impact as two five- or eight-inch Japanese rounds slammed into the bridge and the Mk 37 director platform, knocking out all of the ship’s voice radio communications, the remote radar plan position indicator (PPI) scope, and her FD radar. The blast killed several men, and wounded both Thomas and Kintberger.
Despite the damage, Hoel pressed onward to carry out her critical mission. Within a couple minutes of the first hit, Hoel launched her first half-salvo of five torpedoes at the leading Japanese battleship at a distance of 9,000 yards. In the general confusion of ships and smoke and artillery fire, Kintberger did not observe the results of the attack. He turned his destroyer away from the battleship and immediately took two eight-inch shells to the after fireroom and engine room, which both began to flood. A direct hit to the after turbine took Hoel’s port engine out of commission and sent super-heated steam blasting through the after engine room, scalding many men inside. The venting steam from the engine room as well as a fire in the Number 3 handling room rendered the Number 3 gun unusable. A third hit then cut power to the after guns and jammed the rudder while the ship was turning. Hoel circled back around towards the battleship she had just targeted as her bridge crew worked to establish hand steering using the steering engine room trick wheel controlled by the bridge pointer.
Hoel’s situation quickly worsened with the loss of her other two aft five-inch guns. A large round sailed over the deck, sheering off the barrel of Number 4 gun, and a near hit jammed the Number 5 gun in its train. The two forward guns successfully maintained their fire at whichever target most imperiled their ship, although without the Mk 37 director, they had to operate the guns manually, using the SG radar and Number 2 gun relative bearings to calculate a targeting solution.
Meanwhile, Kintberger had yet to launch his remaining torpedoes. The column of enemy cruisers had by this time drawn abeam of the destroyer. With the lead cruiser 6,000 yards distant off the port quarter, Hoel fired her last five fish, which ran "hot, straight, and normal." At the time when Hoel’s torpedoes would be expected to detonate, however, large columns of water arose from the vicinity of her target. While Japanese records do not corroborate a hit on the cruiser, Kintberger’s recollection of the time of the attack—0735 as recorded in his action report—was likely incorrect, as Heermann’s action report states that Hoel fired torpedoes at 0753.
With Hoel’s torpedoes expended, “it was time to get the hell out of there.” Kintberger sought to retire to the southwest in the direction of the Taffy 3 carriers but found himself hemmed in by enemy battleships 8,000 yards off his port beam and heavy cruisers 7,000 yards on his starboard quarter. Undaunted, the courageous “tin can” continued to command the attention of the Japanese warships, thereby diverting some of the enemy’s focus from Adm. Sprague’s retreating carriers. With grit and determination, Hoel’s two remaining guns continuously lobbed round after round of ammunition at their adversaries. Kintberger estimated that each of the forward guns shot more than 250 rounds of ammunition during the engagement. Hoel fishtailed and dodged salvos as best she could on manual steering and only one engine as shells hurtled towards her from both sides of the ship. Large caliber armor-piercing shells went directly through her hull without detonating. Some anti-personnel shells burst above the destroyer as well, propelling deadly shrapnel down towards those men working topside. Bodies and body parts were strewn about on the deck, awash with the blood of Hoel’s valiant sailors. To the horrified eyes of CRM(AA) Derrill Thompson, the ship was a scene of “indescribable carnage and destruction.”
Around 0815, Hoel took a hit to her forward engine room from an eight-inch shell that disabled her starboard engine. Losing momentum with all of her engineering spaces flooding and already listing 10° to port, Hoel’s fate was now inevitable in all but the final details. Showing no mercy, the Japanese warships continued to target the hapless destroyer, taking parting shots as they moved on to pursue other quarry. A cruiser’s shell tore through the forward magazine, igniting a fire, but still Number 1 and Number 2 guns persisted in their duty. A battleship, safely beyond the range of Hoel’s tenacious gunners, lobbed projectiles in her direction.
By 0840, Hoel was dead in the water with a heavy 20° list to port, the sea lapping at her fantail. Kintberger passed the word to abandon ship. “Before the ship sank we had to send people up to those two guns and chase the men out of there and make them cease firing and get off the ship,” Lt. Maurice F. Green, USNR, recalled, praising the forward gun crews’ performance as “nearly miraculous.” “They did not leave the gun mounts until there was a good list on the ship and she was settling by the stern.” The Japanese fired at Hoel for another ten minutes, with at least one shell hitting a group of men in the water.
Battered from having absorbed, in Kintberger’s estimation, more than 40 direct hits from five-, eight-, and sixteen-inch shells, Hoel finally surrendered to the sea at 0855. As Lt. John C. W. Dix, USNR, later described it in rhyme, “Her bow rose up. She rolled to port and plunged, / A great loud roaring and a sucking sound. / The bridge, Gun Two, Gun One, the anchor chain / And then the bullnose. She was gone.” Recalling the moments right after the ship sank, EM2c Glen Foster remembered, “I never felt more lonesome in my life after the water settled down.”
For those Hoel sailors who had made it off the ship and into the water alive, the ordeal of the previous two hours of battle was unfortunately only the beginning of their survival story. Men helped their fellow shipmates, many of them suffering from injuries, to reach nearby rafts and floater nets. Settling in to await rescue, they heard ships—which turned out to be a line of Japanese destroyers steaming directly towards them. Lt. Dix and other survivors immediately recalled the incident with the canoe off New Hanover earlier in the year and dove in the water to hopefully avoid the same fate. But as the enemy warships passed within 200 feet of one group of Hoel’s rafts, the Japanese sailors did not strafe them with gunfire. Instead, according to Dix, their battle foes pointed and waved at the men in the water. Other survivors recalled the Japanese laughing, saluting, or taking photos of them. As the destroyers sped away, Hoel’s weary crewmen soon got an uncomfortably close view of the world’s largest and most powerful battleship and Adm. Kurita’s flagship, the formidable Yamato, which Dix described as “a ship so huge it takes your breath away.”
Soon enough, the Japanese warship disappeared and Hoel’s survivors were once again alone, tending to the wounded as best they could and waiting for their rescuers to arrive. American airplanes flew by and dipped their wings several times—surely they had spotted the rafts adrift on the sea. “We all knew it would just be a matter of hours before they would come out and pick us up!” Foster recalled. “Ha. How wrong can you get……” Day eventually turned to night, and with the darkness came a cold chill. Several of the more gravely injured men died overnight. On the second day of their ordeal, there was little in the way of provisions and no fresh water. From above, the sun’s rays beat down on the men without mercy, while below sharks with a taste for blood menaced the assemblage of rafts and floater nets. As the hours slowly crept by, more men succumbed to their injuries, morale wavered, delirium set in for some, and others simply gave up and floated away, never to be seen again.
Help finally arrived on the morning of 27 October 1944 when a small ship appeared on the horizon. The suggestion that the ship might be Japanese tempered the sense of excitement in the rafts. “It was a beautiful sight when we saw that American flag flying on the LCI when she came nearer,” said CRT(AA) Lorain E. “Bud” Walton. Nearly 48 hours after the destroyer’s demise, LCI-341 and LCI-337 each rescued a group of Hoel survivors and brought them to Leyte Gulf for medical treatment and transfer back to the United States. “Had we not been picked up that day, I could not have survived another night,” S1c Robert Prater later asserted, echoing the sentiments of other survivors. Unfortunately, the men would soon learn that the task group sent to rescue the Taffy 3 sailors on the evening of 25 October had been searching an area too far to the east and only began to encounter survivors very late on the 26th after turning to investigate a rescue flare shot from one of the rafts.
Many of Hoel’s survivors questioned why it took so long for rescue ships to come for them. “The area in which this task unit was operating, and in which this vessel was sunk was small and definitely known,” Kintberger wrote in his action report. “The rafts were sighted and recognized by at least three groups of our planes” yet it still took two days for help to arrive. He lamented the sailors who suffered and died on the rafts for lack of medical treatment as well as at least 43 of his crewmen known to have made it off the ship alive but whose whereabouts were now unknown. “Many more of our men would have been alive today and safe home if some planes had been sent out, maybe a couple of fast destroyers to pick up survivors,” Lt. Green stated in an interview two months after the battle. Both officers compared their experience unfavorably to the rescue response for downed aviators. “The Navy sends planes, destroyers, and submarines out to get one flier,” Green stated. “Here we have a couple hundred men in the water and we get a small LCI two days later.”
Tragically, the consequence of the bungled rescue effort for one large group of men who had survived the sinking of Hoel was death. A third raft group started out on the 25th with 70 survivors—16 injured men inside the raft and the rest in the water holding on to the raft or each other. Miraculously, two men from this group—S1c Raymond G. Bruner and GM3c Francis R. Stetler—managed to reach Samar five days later after a harrowing ordeal in the water. In contemporary media accounts, Bruner reported that sailors on a passing Japanese warship threw hand grenades at them, although they splashed short of the raft. Over the course of the next four days, all of the injured sailors in the raft passed away, and there were only 14 men left outside the raft. At that point, ten of the remaining survivors struck out for the shore, but only Bruner and Stetler remained afloat the next morning when some Filipinos paddled out in canoes to retrieve them. For the next 16 days, Philippine guerillas moved them from one location to another to prevent their capture by Japanese troops. On 15 November 1944, LCI(G)-558 arrived at Napla Bay near Punte Maria to unload supplies for the guerillas. That afternoon, the landing craft infantry embarked Bruner, Stetler, two survivors from Johnston, and two downed aviators and transported them to attack transport Fremont (APA-44) at San Pedro Bay for medical evaluation and further transport to the United States.
All told, only 86 of Hoel’s complement survived the Battle off Samar and the days floating in the ocean while 252 officers and men perished. Once rescued, Hoel’s survivors would finally learn more about how the other ships of Taffy 3 fared during the battle. On board the rescue ships, they encountered men from Johnston, Samuel B. Roberts, and Gambier Bay. All three ships had also been sunk during the engagement with Adm. Kurita’s battle fleet, which around 0930 suddenly turned and retired to the north as unexpectedly as they had appeared earlier that morning. Had the Japanese pressed their advantage, they could have destroyed the entire task unit with relative ease. As the remaining nine ships of Taffy 3—all damaged, some quite seriously—continued on toward Leyte Gulf, land-based Japanese aircraft renewed the assault on the group. Using a tactic novel at that time, one of these planes made a suicidal plunge into the relatively unscathed St. Lo’s deck, causing a chain reaction of explosions that ultimately sank the escort carrier. All the other ships of Taffy 3 beat impossible odds to survive a battle that could have easily sent them all to a watery grave.
Adm. Clifton A. F. Sprague, Taffy 3’s commander, praised “the high degree of skill, the unflinching courage, [and] the inspired determination to go down fighting” displayed by the officers and men of his task unit during the engagement, noting in particular the “heroic” torpedo attack waged by his screener ships. Hoel earned the Presidential Unit Citation for her efforts to deter and destroy the enemy forces, and several men earned individual honors for their contributions that day as well. Both Como. Thomas and Cmdr. Kintberger received the Navy Cross for their inspirational leadership. Lt. Leland S. McDaniel Jr., the executive officer, was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. Additional Silver Star awardees included Lt. Cmdr. John H. Plumb, USNR, engineering officer (posthumous); Lt. Cyrus M. Forell, USNR, First Lieutenant (posthumous); Lt. (j.g.) Marion W. Baker, USNR, radar and air plot officer; and Lt. (j.g.) William R. Sanders, the gunnery officer (posthumous). Bronze Star recipients included Lt. (j.g.) Earle A. Nason, Jr., automatic weapons officer (posthumous); Ens. Howard J. Callanan, USNR, the assistant engineering officer (posthumous); and SF1c Donald J. Heinritz. Cmdr. Kintberger concluded his action report with a final tribute to the determined and courageous men of his ship: "Fully cognizant of the inevitable result of engaging such vastly superior forces, these men performed their assigned duties coolly and efficiently until their ship was shot from under them."
Hoel was stricken from the Navy Register on 27 November 1944.
In addition to the Presidential Unit Citation, Hoel received five battle stars for her World War II service.
||Dates of Command
|Cmdr. William D. Thomas
||29 July 1943–9 October 1944
|Cmdr. Leon S. Kintberger
||9 October 1944–25 October 1944
7 October 2019