The Setting Sun
The Pacific War (1940-1947) seen through the eyes of Captain Michael Shaw, commander of destroyer ARS Erin of the Antaran navy.
By the end of the day we got word from our captain that we were setting out for the Philippines. Our destroyer division (consisting of Vesenu and Daphne, as well as sisterships: Daisy, Delila, and Veswood) was the only one fit for action and once we had refueled, we weighed anchor and set off. We were to stop at Wake Island for refueling but were advised to stay away once command had realized the atoll had been invaded and it's vanguard consisted of cruisers or battleships, instead we rendezvous'd with an oiler to the south of our original destination. Due to the lack of radio silence with our small task force, the oiler ARS Mattapolli was followed and torpedoed by a Japanese sub. Our force was left alone for a reason that still eludes me to this day. We arrived off Samar on June 20 and an hour after we arrived one of our inexperienced watch officers sighted a whale which we thought was a submarine. Our division spent eight hours hunting a whale and we barely had any fuel left by the time we moored at Manila. The following day we heard that the British battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales were struck and sunk by land based bombers. News of this spread around our division quickly and most of us were dispirited. The Royal Navy had a pretty solid reputation for having the best navy in the world, and hearing they lost two of their most powerful warships to some planes completely ruined our day. Most of us had our doubts as to whether a lowly destroyer flotilla would be able to survive such an attack, but Commander Sampson assured that if that time came to pass, we would do our best to get through it. After all, destroyers are more flexible that battleships. At the end of the day as the sun was setting, we got word from command that were to assist the British in picking up survivors.
Nighttime was chosen for the rescue due to the proximity of enemy forces. We set off at 20:00. Our first true assignment into enemy waters, more than likely crawling with submarines we all thought. Veswood and Daphne 'kept lookout' for submarines while the rest of division picked up survivors. We searched for two hours, sweat pouring down our faces, until eventually we sighted a group of life boats and rafts. The group we picked up was from the Renown, exactly 84 sailors and 9 officers. Throughout the night several more groups were picked up by the other destroyers. We headed home at 01:15 . In total we rescued about 400 sailors, a fraction of the survivors from the actual attack. According to some of the crewmen, while their own escorts were undergoing rescue operations they had to hastily leave the combat zone out of fear of getting struck by more aircraft. A head count was taken on the 28th, apparently we missed around 40 others, and that was probably the first day of the war I truly felt miserable. A few days later Singapore fell.
We made no attempt at a counter attack for a long time and were purely on the defensive. This angered me at the time but I've finally understood that we were simply not capable. Only a few squadrons of destroyers and submarines were combat capable here in the Asiatic theater, whereas the enemy had cruisers, aircraft carriers and battleships present. Had I known that I would've been a lot more thankful to have been patrolling 'calm' corridors around the Philippines. On 2 July we hunted a sub in the Sulu Sea for 6 hours and missed him, but the following day we caught him again and sank him. On 7 July we received word that one of our destroyers, ARS Townly an older destroyer, was torpedoed by a flying boat west of Luzon, north of our patrol zone. More and more we began to worry about our AA defense, but us youngsters were convinced we were the best shot in the Navy. Our class had the best dual purpose naval artillery in the world, though unfortunately for Townly who was too old to mount the newer guns. Around 10 July the ABDA (Australian British Dutch and Antaran) Command was finally established to halt the advance of the Japanese. The same day we were reassigned to patrol the Makassar Straight after hunting submarines and whales in the Sulu Sea for too long. At the time Borneo was still friendly territory so we felt somewhat 'safe'. We were proved horribly wrong as on the 14th the Battle off Sumatra had convinced. We heard first hand via radio communication. The British battleships Malaya and Valiant, along with four escorting destroyers, set off on the afternoon of the 13th after receiving reports of a massive Japanese force headed in the direction of Sumatra. The reports were vague, probably due to pilot inexperience, stating that 'cruisers and destroyers are heading south-west'.
The Japanese force was much larger than that, consisting of 12 destroyers, 6 cruisers (4 light and 2 heavy) and the battleships Fuso and Yamashiro. No transports were present, they were picking a fight. They set off at a time that suited their doctrine, by the time both forces had met the skies had darkened on the 14th. Our Kameron and ARS Veswood were still present in the Makassar but our captain refused to partake. This was the first time I and several others protested the captain. In hindsight it was a wise decision that we did not help, but at the time we felt like cowards. Hakes, who at the time was not at his post because of the shifting schedule, was the most vocal. We couldn't have known exactly how many the enemy force numbered, or how experienced they were at night warfare, nor did the captain. No, the captain Sampson assumed the British force were more than capable of dealing with the Japanese. That was maybe the only time he had ever been wrong. Valiant and Malaya were both sunk. Just like Repulse and Prince of Whales. We all stood silent and pale as the radio messages were relayed. Another destroyer sank before they decided to pull away. With all that loss of life the British had only sent one of their destroyers to the bottom, or rather it was scuttled. There was something we wished we did know, that one of our subs torpedoed and heavily damaged the Yamashiro. Maybe we could've had some hope left if we heard that, but we didn't. We were thoroughly convinced we were going to die in this ocean from that point. Worst of all there were no attempts to pick up survivors as the following day Sumatra was invaded. Apparently some Japanese destroyers were reported to have shot at British survivors in the water while rescuing their own. I was sickened, we all were, and we heard a certain lust for blood after that.
"That bastard. If Sampson had given us the order we would've sank the whole damn task force" Hakes and Parker were arguing on the forecastle during their off time, which I could hear from the bridge, also well within the ears of the captain himself. Our blood boiled, but I had managed to calm down during the days following.
"We would've been dead, not them" I yelled from the bridge wing, tired of hearing the same thing over and over, heart beating out of my chest and seething with anger. Deep down they knew they were not thinking rationally, they stopped arguing after we caught the attention of probably a third of the crew.
On 16 July we went searching for a missing submarine(V-98), the same one that apparently torpedoed Yamashiro, but we never found it. Instead all we got was tailed by aircraft, but thankfully British air patrol kept them away. Japanese sources after the war made mention of a submarine that was destroyed by a land-based bomber on the 15th, which coincides with our missing boat. 24 July, the invasion of Borneo had kicked off but we were ordered not to counterattack. On 3 August our mission shifted to patrolling the South China Sea just off Luzon. This was one of the worst zones to patrol due to the extremely heavy traffic of Japanese naval forces here, but then again that was probably why our 'shifts' only consisted of two destroyers at a time, not including PT boats and the occasional aircraft. We were on high alert constantly, remembering that Townly was lost in these waters. It wasn't just the Admiralty that was adamant on keeping our holdings in the Philippines, it was from the top of the food chain too. Losing a territory as massive as the Philippines would've been an embarrassment, so despite how little ships we had available we were steadfast. It didn't last long, not even remotely. North Luzon was invaded on 12 September, after we had lost at least ten warships (some were even destroyers) attempting to keep the water clear of enemy vessels. Our patrol zone stayed the same and we received minimal harassment miraculously. However our luck ran out, after our ships did that is. Following the landings on the 12th, we were immediately ordered to retaliate. We were much wiser this time around, the loss of several ships in the invasion region had made us cautious to rush in and fight, but captain Sampson assured us that if it got too hot, retreat was an option. The value of retreat would indeed be taught that day, the 13th of September 1940.
The Action of 13 September 1940, as it was simply known, was our first taste surface combat for our division. We set off at 11:20, several hours after the invasion had commenced, delayed by the fact that we were waiting for the rest of our destroyers to set off from Manila. We entered battlestations around 13:00 when we entered the area of operation. Around 35km away from the landings we came under fire from Japanese flying boats and land based aircraft, about six in total. Adrenalin pumping hard as I helmed our destroyer, following Sampson's maneuvering orders as we turned too and fro to dodge the air attacks. For the first time I heard our guns blazing at actual enemy targets. It was spectacular and it almost took the fear out of me, but not completely. There was one particular moment where a G3M made a run on us on our port side, we saw its torpedo drop into the ocean and disappear, we saw it again when it streaked by when our vessel turned in to evade it. The bomber flew over and our aft gunners attempted to shoot it down but we failed. They all left once they had expended their payload, we took no casualties but we only got a single kill and a report or two of a 20mm round striking them. I heard later our rusty gunners had trouble setting the time fuses for the flak shells and the constant turning made it difficult to keep on target, despite the fact that most of our turrets were power driven. I had no reason to complain, we simply lacked experience and that's our only excuse. The air attack was a clear indication that they knew we were coming. We began to zigzag after the attack in case a submarine decided he wanted a fight. There were none and we were glad. At 30km from the landing zone made visual contact with several vessels and we determined they were closing fast. We spotted a floatplane at high altitude circling as at 13:15, Delila's captain made the correct assumption that it was launched from a cruiser, undoubtedly from one of the vessels closing in on us. We took our chases and Sampson ordered as to continue our advance. At around 25km we had confirmed the sighting of atleast eight vessels, two heavy cruisers (Suzuya and Kumano) a light cruiser (Isuzu) and five destroyers (Amatsukaze, Tokitsukaze, Hatsukaze, Hatsuyuki and Miyuki). We matched them equally in destroyers (but not in experience), however the cruisers were a massive issue. We began to doubt why command had ordered us to counterattack if their were cruisers present, they more than likely already knew, but perhaps they were desperate. It was probably the latter.
The heavy cruisers were in formation separate from the light cruiser, who lead the destroyers in a staggered formation. We reformed our line-ahead formation that we broke when we came under air attack, and headed straight for them (to the east). At a range of 20km from us, the heavy cruisers opened firing after they turned to starboard (west north-west). We panicked at first when water was kicked up as shells landed, by Sampson once again assured as their chances of hitting were extremely tiny at this range, and indeed some shells were landing well over two kilometer from us. "What if we head towards their shell splashes?" It was an old theory which assumed shells would never land at the same place twice, especially at this range. Sampson agreed and give me more precise directions to chase the splashes. Veswood's
captain also made the suggestion to break formation to divide the attention between the enemy ships.
"We'll resume formation when we make a torpedo run" Captain Earnest announced over the radio. Affirmative
, the other captains agreed. As we were already taking the lead, we stayed our course while the other destroyers in our division broke rank on our flanks. We communicated closely to make sure we did no collide with one-another. We soon discovered that their destroyer line had overtaken their cruisers and were going to meet us very soon. At a range of 9km from their destroyers, our 'lines' both turned north to run parallel. Thankfully in their haste to run as down, the destroyers had long overtaken their light cruiser which was well over 16km away. Our Kameron had accelerated to 40 knots, over our design speed, and ahead of our division. We opened up on their lead ship, Amatsukaze, at a range of 8.8km. Their line made a sharp 180 degree turn in unison, at the time we were unsure why. Japanese accounts of the battle claimed that Amatsukaze and Tokitsukaze fire a total of 8 'long lance' torpedoes at our ship, and ours alone. We had no idea at the range of their torpedoes so it never once crossed our minds. Our formation was basically non existent, we ere heading in the same direction but our spacing was erratic, which was why only our destroyer was targeted. Our closest ally, Veswood, was 700 meters to our stern and also firing at their formation. Sampson was puzzled at their sudden turn and for a minute he stared at the smoke on the horizon that was the enemy, before finally ordering us hard to starboard. No, it wasn't to evade their torpedoes which we had not spotted yet, he simply wanted to keep going parallel to them. Once we had completed a 180 degree turn two minutes after the Japanese, Veswood followed suite and we ended up being 200m from one another once again. It was at this point we came to the realization that we had been outsmarted. Once the turn was complete someone shouted from the crow's nest, sending the coldest chill down our spine.
"Torpedoes to port!"
Amatsukaze and Tokitsukaze had in fact released all
their torpedoes at two completely different points. Taking into account the fact that Veswood and Kameron would likely turn in with them. It was simply brilliant, but I am only able to say this well after the events have transpired. This was also not the last time I would face that
particular commander aboard Amatsukaze. Our turning towards their line to dodge the torpedoes was done on my own accord, without word from our captain. A massive explosion in front of us rocked the ship and tossed water all over the forecastle, apparently one of their torpedoes suffered a premature detonation, a moment later some crew claimed that a wakeless torpedo passed about ten meters to starboard. Veswood turned west away from us to evade a torpedo, with success. On Amatsukaze's side, a hit was reported, but it was proven a mistake only moments later by the fact that we were still closing in on them. In the confusion, our guns had momentarily stopped firing, but resumed again, but only our front too. We sweated profusely as we steamed straight for them. At a range of 6km we had become the focus of three of the five enemy destroyers. Shells rained around us, ironically making it difficult to see us. We switched targets to Hatsukaze which was third from the front and directly in front of us. According to their sources, a shell penetrated just below the water line and struck her boilers, dropping her speed to 14 knots and causing her to turn our of formation. The head-on angle we approached them from made it difficult to make a good torpedo drop, which caused them to turn once again towards us.
They were getting ready to sail broadside onto us for a torpedo run on their remaining destroyers, however in doing so our Delila, Daisy and Vesenu had just crossed their T at a range of 7km. They opened fire, heavily damaging Tokitsukaze with 5" shell fire. Amatsukaze and Tokitsukaze turned portside to the south, running across from Delila, Daisy and Vesenu. Hatsuyuki and Miyuki fired their torpedoes at our destroyer and turned south along with their leading destroyers, and straight into the torpedoes fired by Daisy and Delila. Around the 2-3 minute mark, Hatsuyuki exploded and broke in half, with Miyuki loosing her bow and plunging bow first into the sea within a minute. Sampson ordered us to make a 100 degree turn to north north-west, correctly predicting they made a torpedo attack using the same tactic. We never spotted any torpedoes but it was confirmed that Miyuki and Hatsuyuki had made the attempt. Both of our forces briefly withdrew in opposite directions. Vesenu suffered damage from gunfire by Amatsukaze and our destroyer suffered splinter damage from many near misses, but no injuries besides bruises. We made visual contact with their cruisers once again after the firing died down somewhat. Had we known that Suzuya and Kumano had depleted around 75% of their ammunition firing at us from over 20km away, we may have picked a fight with her, however Isuzu was a different story. Exhausted from the action, Sampson gave the order for us to retreat. It was controversial to be sure. The Admiralty at the time was mad that the landings went by 'unopposed', nevermind the fact that two of our ships had two kills, but it really wasn't enough. We running at 30 knots by the time we broke visual contact, Isuzu attempting to pursue us to no avail. We retired at Manila and congratulated Delila and Daisy for their successes. Sampson had his hand shaken a few times for 'luring' the Japanese into a torpedo trap, all the while tending to the wounded from Vesenu.