Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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Midway II (CVE-63)

1943-1944 

The first Midway was named for the atoll, the second and third for the battle that occurred between 4-7 June 1942.

II

(CVE‑63: displacement 10,982 (full load); length 512'3"; beam 65'; extreme width (flight deck) 108'1"; draft 22'6"; speed 19 knots; complement 860; aircraft 28; armament 1 5-inch, 16 40-millimeter, 20 20-millimeter; class Casablanca)

Chapin Bay (CVE-63) was laid down on 3 January 1943 by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Co., under a Maritime Commission contract (M. C. Hull 1100); renamed Midway on 3 April 1943; launched on 17 August 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Howard Nixon Culter; and commissioned on 23 October 1943, Capt. Francis J. McKenna in command.

After shakedown off the west coast and two voyages to Pearl Harbor and one to Australia carrying replacement aircraft, Midway joined Rear Adm. Gerald Bogan's Carrier Support Group 1 in June 1944 for the conquest of the Marianas. She furnished air coverage for transports and participated in strikes on Saipan on 15 June. She fought off several air attacks, but suffered no damage during her support of the Saipan campaign. On 13 July she sailed for Eniwetok for replenishment, before joining the attack on Tinian on 23 July. Furnishing air support for ground forces on the island and maintaining an antisubmarine patrol, Midway operated off Tinian until she again headed out for supplies on 28 July.

Midway remained at anchor in Eniwetok Atoll until she got underway on 8 August, for Manus, in the Admiralty Islands, arriving on 13 August. Exactly a month later, she sortied with Task Force (TF) 77 for the invasion of Morotai. Catapulting her first plane to support the landings on 15 September, she continued to assist American troops ashore and to provide cover for the transports through the 23rd.

After a refueling period, Midway resumed air operations in the Palaus until returning to Seeadler Harbor on 3 October. There, word arrived that the escort carrier had been renamed St. Lo on 10 October to free the name Midway for a new large carrier (CVB-41) and to commemorate the important victory of U.S. troops in France who had captured that strongly defended town on 18 July 1944.

St. Lo departed Seeadler Harbor on 12 October 1944 to participate in the liberation of Leyte. Ordered to provide air coverage and close air support during the bombardment and amphibious landings, she arrived off Leyte on 17 October. After furnishing air support during landings by U.S. Army Ranger units on Dinagat and Homonhon Islands in the eastern approaches to Leyte Gulf, she launched air strikes in support of invasion operations at Tacloban on the northeast coast of Leyte. Operating with Rear Adm. Clifton A. F. Sprague's escort carrier task unit (TU) 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3") which consisted of six escort carriers and a screen of three destroyers and four destroyer escorts, St. Lo steamed off the east coasts of Leyte and Samar as her planes sortied from 18 to 24 October, destroying enemy installations and airfields on Leyte, Samar, Cebu, Negros, and Panay Islands.

Steaming about 60 miles east of Samar before dawn on 25 October 1944, "Taffy 3" launched the day's initial air strikes. At 0647 Rear Adm. Sprague received word that a large Japanese fleet was approaching from the northwest. Comprised of four battleships, eight cruisers, and 12 destroyers, Vice Adm. Takeo Kurita's Center Force steadily closed and at 0638 opened fire on "Taffy 3."

So began the Battle of Samar, one of the most memorable engagements in U.S. naval history. Outnumbered and outgunned, "Taffy 3" seemed fated for disaster, but they defied the odds and gamely accepted the enemy's challenge.

St. Lo accelerated to flank speed: and, despite fire from enemy cruisers, she launched her planes ordering the pilots "to attack the Japanese task force and proceed to Tacloban airstrip, Leyte, to rearm and refuel." As salvos fell "with disconcerting rapidity" increasingly nearer St. Lo, her planes, striking the enemy force with bombs, rockets, and gunfire, inflicted heavy damage on the closing ships.

By 0800 the enemy cruisers, which were steaming off her port quarter, closed to within 18,000 yards. St. Lo gamely responded to their salvos with rapid fire from her single 5‑inch gun.

At 0830 five enemy destroyers steamed over the horizon off her starboard quarter. The closing ships opened fire from about 14,500 yards; and, as screening ships engaged the cruisers and laid down concealing smoke, St. Lo shifted her fire and for the next hour traded shots with the the Japanese Navy''s Destroyer Squadron 10. Many salvos exploded close aboard or passed directly overhead.

Under heavy attack from the air and harassed by incessant fire from U.S. destroyers and destroyer escorts, the enemy cruisers broke off action and turned northward at 0920. At 0915 the enemy destroyers, which were kept at bay by Johnston (DD‑557), launched a premature torpedo attack from 10,500 yards. As the torpedoes approached the escort carriers, they slowed down. An Avenger torpedo bomber from St. Lo strafed and exploded two approaching torpedoes and a shell from her 5‑inch gun deflected a third from a collision course with her stern.

At about 0930, as the enemy ships fired parting salvos and reversed course northward, St. Lo scored a direct hit amidships on a retreating destroyer. Five minutes later she ceased fire and retired southward with the surviving ships of "Taffy 3."

At 1050 the task unit came under a concentrated air attack; and during the 40‑minute battle with enemy suicide planes, all escort carriers but Fanshaw Bay (CVE‑ 70) suffered damage. One plane crashed through St. Lo's flight deck at 1051, and exploded her torpedo and bomb magazine, mortally wounding the gallant carrier. Engulfed in flames, St. Lo sank half an hour later, leaving a cloud of dense black smoke to mark her watery grave.

St. Lo received the Presidential Unit Citation for the heroism of her crew in the Battle off Samar and four battle stars for her World War II service.

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

 30 May 2019 

Published: Thu May 30 23:35:44 EDT 2019