Night battle at Philippine Sea?

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Dave Saxton
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Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby Dave Saxton » Tue Sep 15, 2015 2:14 pm

In The Iowa Class Battleships Muir wrote:

By concentrating the battleships, Spruance also hoped to give them a shot at destroying the Japanese fleet, but Admiral Willis A Lee, having seen the South Dakota badly damaged at Guadalcanal in confused close-quarters, fray in the dark, turned down the chance for a night encounter. Some of his subordinates were quite disappointed, especially when Lee's attempt to catch the fleeing Japanese by daylight was aborted because the battleships were forced to slow down to 14 knots to fuel escorting destroyers.


How might it had developed if Lee had been willing to risk a close-quarters night battle?
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby alecsandros » Wed Sep 16, 2015 12:07 pm

Dave Saxton wrote:In The Iowa Class Battleships Muir wrote:

By concentrating the battleships, Spruance also hoped to give them a shot at destroying the Japanese fleet, but Admiral Willis A Lee, having seen the South Dakota badly damaged at Guadalcanal in confused close-quarters, fray in the dark, turned down the chance for a night encounter. Some of his subordinates were quite disappointed, especially when Lee's attempt to catch the fleeing Japanese by daylight was aborted because the battleships were forced to slow down to 14 knots to fuel escorting destroyers.


How might it had developed if Lee had been willing to risk a close-quarters night battle?



... Very interesting scenario,

On a first glance, the USN seems to have a considerable firewpower advantage, with 7 BBs and 17 cruisers with 58 DDs vs 5 BBs and 12 cruisers, with 27 DDs.

However, a possible early detection (beyond 30-40km) by the Japanese could potentialy bring most of the Japanese battle line in torpedo-launching positions before the battleships/cruisers would engage each other.

This would imply 27 destroyers and 12 cruisers launching something like ~ 300 long lances in the direction of the incoming American forces, from a range of over 25km.

The impact of this potential initial salvo coudl drastically alter the course of the battle.

However, if this salvo would fail to inflict sufficient damage to the US force, things would go south for the Japanese force, as they would be fighinting in inferiority of numbers and guns ...

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby Dave Saxton » Wed Sep 16, 2015 11:54 pm

The US battleship battle group would have consisted of:
Washington
North Carolina
Iowa
New Jersey
South Dakota
Alabama
4 cruisers
12 DDs.

Indiana was with TF-58 but I don't think it was included in Lee's task group.

The Japanese fleet was divided up into two main groups 100 miles apart. Nagato was with one, and Haruna and (Kongo?) with the other group. Yamato and Musashi were operating as a separate group not tied to the carriers, but were loosley connected to the Nagato group, which was under Kurita's command. So it kind of depends on which group Lee catches. More likely the Yamato, Musashi, Nagato, possibly 10 cruisers, and 16 destroyers. The two Kongos may have been released to join up.

But Lee would need to act right away to catch up to Ozawa. Ozawa was retiring at 20 knots. I think Spruance was thinking more in terms of running down stragglers and those left behind to guard them. If Lee sends Adm Hustvedt ahead with Iowa and New Jersey, and all 4 cruisers making 30 + knots, then what guard ships would he likely encounter? Yamato and Musashi (possibly Nagato) and several cruisers most likely. Very interesting indeed.

~ 300 long lances in the direction of the incoming American forces, from a range of over 25km.

The impact of this potential initial salvo coudl drastically alter the course of the battle.


That's the wild card.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

Brad F

Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby Brad F » Thu Sep 17, 2015 3:56 am

It really depends on what time during the battle you're talking about. The famous question to Lee from Mitscher was the night of the 18th. Mitscher saw that had they continued west they could've made contact that night. At the time, Spruance was still concentrated in a cruising disposition although Lee's heavy surface striking force (TG58.7) had already assembled. Meanwhile Ozawa had already deployed into an approach disposition with his van 100nm in front. At this point Lee had a significant advantage in battleships and destroyers, while being deficient in cruisers. The tasking as going into the 19th was as follows:

TG 58.7 VAdm. Lee

  • BatDiv 6 (Washington Only)
  • BatDiv 7 (Iowa, New Jersey)
  • BatDiv 8 (North Carolina, Indiana)
  • BadDiv 9 (South Dakota, Alabama)
  • CruDiv 6 (Witchita, Minneapolis, New Orleans, San Francisco)
  • DesRon 4 (4 DDs)
  • Desron 45 (5 DDs)
  • DesRon53 (4 DDs)

Totals = 7 BB, 4 CA, 13 DD

Mobile Force Vanguard VAdm. Kurita

  • 1st Battle Squadron (Yamato, Musashi)
  • 3rd Battle Squadron (Kongo, Haruna)
  • 4th Cruiser Squadron (Atago, Takao, Chokai, Maya)
  • 7th Cruiser Squadron (Kumano, Suzuya, Tone, Chikuma)
  • 2nd Destroyer Squadron (Noshiro + 1 DD)
  • 31st Destroyer Division (3 DD)
  • 32nd Destroyer Division (2DD)
  • 17th Destroyer Division (1DD)

Totals = 4 BB, 8 CA, 7 DD

Its an interesting opposing disposition with Lee clearly having the advantage in BB and DD strength but severely lacking in cruiser strength. One advantage he has is that the typical cruising disposition puts the battleline at 20Kyds (he was 12nm the next day for the airbattle) which allows him to be reinforced.

I do not recall what the intelligence was on Kurita but if he had a fairly accurate report Spruance had the option to chop additional cruiser divisions to Lees task group. I do know that Spruance was to join TG58.7 in the even of a surface action, he was flying his flag in Indianapolis. Kurita, unfortunately, did not have this option as he was already 100nm from Ozawa. Even at a 10kt overtake it would take any reinforcements 10hrs to join. So I'd imagine he'd be stuck with what he had.

In my opinion, Lee missed his chance here. Despite his reservations, the USN had developed cohesive night doctrine built around their advantages in radar and CIC. He had significantly superior firepower in the battleline and could have easily been reinforced. I'm not as enthusiastic about the chances of a success for a mass torpedo attack for the IJN. For one thing, their success was quite limited after 1942 (2% hit rate actually) and the USN had not only become aware of the threat of the torpedo itself but had capture several important IJN doctrine on their surface warfare tactics.

Anything could have happened and night engagements could certainly deteriorate into a mess. I doubt it would have a "trafalgar-esque" result, but given the desire to coordinate a joint surface-air attack I don't think Kurita's force would have survived (recall he also had 3 CVLs in his formation as well). But who really knows, anything can happen.

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby alecsandros » Thu Sep 17, 2015 8:46 am

Dave Saxton wrote:
But Lee would need to act right away to catch up to Ozawa. Ozawa was retiring at 20 knots. I think Spruance was thinking more in terms of running down stragglers and those left behind to guard them. If Lee sends Adm Hustvedt ahead with Iowa and New Jersey, and all 4 cruisers making 30 + knots, then what guard ships would he likely encounter? Yamato and Musashi (possibly Nagato) and several cruisers most likely. Very interesting indeed.


... IIRC, the distance between the Japanese rear-guard and American vanguard was about 250nm on the night of 19 to 20 of June 1944. That's 460km, a bit to far for USN destroyers to travel at 30kts+... And with Ozawa withdrawing at 20kts, the closing speed would be a mere 10kts, so a best-case-scenario of interception would require 25 hours before attacking the enemy.

So, if an order to engage enemy stragglers was issued, the most likely would be that only Iowa, New Jersey and the 4 CAs would be sent forward to intercept.

A possible interception could be done on the night of June 20th to 21st, at around 20:00

Presuming Japan to field Yamato, Musashi, and several cruisers, and at least 10 destroyers (that were escorting them), the odds change in favor of the Empire of the Rising Sun...

Most interesting :)

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby Brad Fischer » Thu Sep 17, 2015 5:41 pm

It really depends on what time during the battle you're talking about. The famous question to Lee from Mitscher was the night of the 18th. Mitscher saw that had they continued west they could've made contact that night. At the time, Spruance was still concentrated in a cruising disposition although Lee's heavy surface striking force (TG58.7) had already assembled. Meanwhile Ozawa had already deployed into an approach disposition with his van 100nm in front. At this point Lee had a significant advantage in battleships and destroyers, while being deficient in cruisers. The tasking as going into the 19th was as follows:

TG 58.7 VAdm. Lee

  • BatDiv 6 (Washington only)
  • BatDiv 7 (Iowa, New Jersey)
  • BatDiv 8 (North Carolina, Indiana)
  • BadDiv 9 (South Dakota, Alabama)
  • CruDiv 6 (Witchita, Minneapolis, New Orleans, San Francisco)
  • DesRon 4 (4 DDs)
  • Desron 45 (5 DDs)
  • DesRon53 (4 DDs)

Totals = 7 BB, 4 CA, 13 DD

Mobile Force Vanguard VAdm. Kurita

  • 1st Battle Squadron (Yamato, Musashi)
  • 3rd Battle Squadron (Kongo, Haruna)
  • 4th Cruiser Squadron (Atago, Takao, Chokai, Maya)
  • 7th Cruiser Squadron (Kumano, Suzuya, Tone, Chikuma)
  • 2nd Destroyer Squadron (Noshiro + 1 DD)
  • 31st Destroyer Division (3 DD)
  • 32nd Destroyer Division (2DD)
  • 17th Destroyer Division (1DD)

Totals = 4 BB, 8 CA, 7 DD

Its an interesting opposing disposition with Lee clearly having the advantage in BB and DD strength but severely lacking in cruiser strength. One advantage he has is that the typical cruising disposition puts the battleline at 20Kyds (he was 12nm the next day for the air battle) which allows him to be reinforced.

I do not recall what the intelligence was on Kurita but if he had a fairly accurate report Spruance had the option to chop additional cruiser divisions to Lees task group. I do know that Spruance was to join TG58.7 in the even of a surface action, he was flying his flag in Indianapolis. Kurita, unfortunately, did not have this option as he was already 100nm from Ozawa. Even at a 10kt overtake it would take any reinforcements 10hrs to join. So I'd imagine he'd be stuck with what he had.

In my opinion, Lee missed his chance here. Despite his reservations, the USN had developed cohesive night doctrine built around their advantages in radar and CIC. He had significantly superior firepower in the battleline and could have easily been reinforced. I'm not as enthusiastic about the chances of a success for a mass torpedo attack for the IJN. For one thing, their success was quite limited after 1942 (2% hit rate actually) and the USN had not only become aware of the threat of the torpedo itself but had capture several important IJN doctrine on their surface warfare tactics. So they were aware of the idea of the "browning shot"

Anything could have happened and night engagements could certainly deteriorate into a mess. I doubt it would have a "trafalgar-esque" result, but given the desire to coordinate a joint surface-air attack I don't think Kurita's force would have survived (recall he also had 3 CVLs in his formation as well). Certainly what was left of his formation would have been hit hard by airpower the next morning. But who really knows, anything can happen.

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby alecsandros » Fri Sep 18, 2015 6:16 am

...

It is difficult to see how an interception were possible on the night of 18/19th June.

At little before midnight, Spruance received a report that put Ozawa's force 300nm west of his forces. A follow up report from submarine Stingray (positioned at 175nm east of the first report) was mostly un-intelligible, prompting fears that the Japanese fleet was much closer and jamming the transmissions.

So, without having a clear positining of the enemy, any interception attempt would be doomed to failure...

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby Brad Fischer » Sun Sep 20, 2015 2:49 am

alecsandros wrote:...

It is difficult to see how an interception were possible on the night of 18/19th June.

At little before midnight, Spruance received a report that put Ozawa's force 300nm west of his forces. A follow up report from submarine Stingray (positioned at 175nm east of the first report) was mostly un-intelligible, prompting fears that the Japanese fleet was much closer and jamming the transmissions.

So, without having a clear positining of the enemy, any interception attempt would be doomed to failure...


You may be correct. I hope to review Morison this weekend as I cant recall all the details off the top of my head. I do recall the ComPacFlt's position report was based on a RDF fix (I seem to recall only accurate to within ~50nm^2) and that the Japanese for communications security typically broke off one ship to deliver these messages some distance away from the main body. I do not recall when Kurita was placed in the van (he may have been there since the rendezvous) but if he was that would put him 100nm closer to TF58 then Ozawa. If that is the case a night search by TF58's radar equipped Avengers could find Kurita if Lee consented on a surface action and TF58 continued to close (recall that those same night searches found Ozawa 4 months later at Letye). If both groups have an average speed of advance of 18-20kts the circa 250nm could be closed in 6-7hrs. It seems possible from my recollection, certainly Mitscher thought so based on the available information he had at the time, but I could be recalling details incorrectly.

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby alecsandros » Mon Sep 21, 2015 6:42 am

Brad Fischer wrote:

You may be correct. I hope to review Morison this weekend as I cant recall all the details off the top of my head. I do recall the ComPacFlt's position report was based on a RDF fix (I seem to recall only accurate to within ~50nm^2) and that the Japanese for communications security typically broke off one ship to deliver these messages some distance away from the main body. I do not recall when Kurita was placed in the van (he may have been there since the rendezvous) but if he was that would put him 100nm closer to TF58 then Ozawa. If that is the case a night search by TF58's radar equipped Avengers could find Kurita if Lee consented on a surface action and TF58 continued to close (recall that those same night searches found Ozawa 4 months later at Letye). If both groups have an average speed of advance of 18-20kts the circa 250nm could be closed in 6-7hrs. It seems possible from my recollection, certainly Mitscher thought so based on the available information he had at the time, but I could be recalling details incorrectly.


... At least 2 more aspects are interesting to observe, IMHO:

- first, that the distance between the 2 fleets (main bodies) was practically unchanged between June 19th 00:00hrs and 06:00hrs, about 500km. So, on average, the 2 fleets moved at roughly the same speed and on the same general direction (towards the east).

In order to attempt an interception, the USN fleet would require to turn 180*, and probably dettach elements in a forward sweep.

- second, any night surveillance attempt would rely heavily on actual visibility over the surface of the ocean... Even radar-equipped Avengers could not fly in a moonless night with cloud cover. I tried to search info about moon phases on June 19th 1944 Phillippines, but could not find any so far...

best regards,

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby Brad Fischer » Mon Sep 21, 2015 3:27 pm

Ok, I had some time to review Morison. At 21:15 on the 17th, USS Carvalla sent a contact report that firmed up that Ozawa was still heading eastbound. This report was received at 03:45 on the 18th. It was then that Mitscher famously inquired to Lee about a surface action. At that point, Ozawa and TF58 were approximately 590nm. Mitscher felt that if Lee desired night action, TF58 would close, establish contact via their own searches that afternoon and commit the battle line to action that evening (18th/19th.)

A second opportunity for surface action presented itself just between 20:30 and midnight on the 18th. A contact report came in from ComPacFlt that Ozawa was ~ 300nm to the east. A late received message from Finback showed the two fleets had closed to within 250nm of each other before TF58 turned east to open the range at 20:30. Mitscher wanted to close to attack in the morning by reversing course at 01:30. By 04:15 Ozawa had assembled into his approach disposition, which put Kurita 100nm ahead of the main body. Had Spruance acquiesced to Mitscher's request, TF58 would have closed to within 100nm of Kurita and 160-200nm of Ozawa. The USN approach disposition has the battleline 150,000yds ahead of the carriers and at Leyte, TF34 was ordered to their position by steaming at 25kts, so its possible they would have been as close as 75nm from Kurita. To me this was the golden opportunity that was lost. Lee could have had a day action that he wanted and Mitscher had a clean shot at the carriers.

Spruance obviously had some valid concerns about the invasion force protection and with his overall responsibilities I can't really fault him for his decision. Maybe if that very delayed contact report from the PBY blackcat and Finback had come in on a timely manner he would have decided differently...

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby Brad Fischer » Mon Sep 21, 2015 3:32 pm

alecsandros wrote:
... At least 2 more aspects are interesting to observe, IMHO:

- first, that the distance between the 2 fleets (main bodies) was practically unchanged between June 19th 00:00hrs and 06:00hrs, about 500km. So, on average, the 2 fleets moved at roughly the same speed and on the same general direction (towards the east).

In order to attempt an interception, the USN fleet would require to turn 180*, and probably dettach elements in a forward sweep.

- second, any night surveillance attempt would rely heavily on actual visibility over the surface of the ocean... Even radar-equipped Avengers could not fly in a moonless night with cloud cover. I tried to search info about moon phases on June 19th 1944 Phillippines, but could not find any so far...

best regards,


Enterprise and Independence both launched night searches that night, plus radar equipped PBYs flew searches, so the prevailing conditions were sufficient for night air operations.

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby alecsandros » Mon Sep 21, 2015 4:45 pm

Brad Fischer wrote:

Enterprise and Independence both launched night searches that night, plus radar equipped PBYs flew searches, so the prevailing conditions were sufficient for night air operations.


... on further reading I foudn teh same info on night air ops,
but still a key aspect remains that Spruance did not have correct intel on the enemy's location at any time after 00:00 on June 19th.

there was only one radar contact, obtained by a PBY, which, as you have already pointed out, was only received by Spruance several hours after daylight on June 19th, and several hours after Ozawa's first strike wave was already in the air...

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby alecsandros » Tue Sep 22, 2015 6:56 am

... It appears to me that overall Ozawa had a more correct feed of information over Spruance's location than the other way around.

Suppose Spruance would dettach a BB/CA force to engage the enemy - would Ozawa accept battle ?

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Re: Night battle at Philippine Sea?

Postby Brad Fischer » Tue Sep 22, 2015 3:53 pm

alecsandros wrote:Suppose Spruance would dettach a BB/CA force to engage the enemy - would Ozawa accept battle ?


In my opinion no, his strategy was to keep the range long and use his longer reach to his advantage. It was a good strategy, but IMO the Japanese were doomed to failure since the quality of their airgroups was so bad. I think if he was able to strike crippling blows to the USN carriers then he would have closed to engage in a fleet action.

There did exist a third opportunity for surface action. At 19:00 on the 20th, after the Americans struck his fleet, he ordered Kurita to engage the Americans in a surface action. He was reinforced with two more CAs and a DD squadron and headed east. This was cancelled at 22:00 for lack of a clear picture of where TF58 was. One wonders if he would have continued with this attack had he known TF58's position with a higher degree of certainty. Personally I think this was absolutely foolhardy and could have resulted in not only the destruction of Kurita but perhaps the rest of his fleet if TF58 turned to close themselves.


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