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USS St. Lo Casablanca-class escort carrier

article from Naval History

CVE-63 U.S.S. St Lo

USS ST. LO was laid down as CHAPIN BAY 23 January 1943; renamed MIDWAY 3 April 1943; launched 17 August 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Howard Nixon Culter; and commissioned 23 October 1943, Capt. F. J. McKenna in command.

After shakedown on the west coast and two voyages to Pearl Harbor and one to Australia carrying replacement aircraft, MIDWAY joined Rear Admiral Bogan's Carrier Support Group 1 in June for the conquest of the Marianas. She furnished air coverage for transports and participated in strikes on Saipan, 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, 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, 28 July.

MIDWAY remained at anchor in Eniwetok Atoll until she got underway 8 August, for Manus Island, arriving 13 August. Exactly a month later, she sortied with TF 77 for the invasion of Morotai. Catapulting her first plane to support the landings 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, 3 October. There, word arrived that the escort carrier had been renamed ST. LO, 10 October, to free the name MIDWAY for a new giant attack carrier and to commemorate an important victory of American troops in France who had captured the strongly defended town, ST. LO, 18 July 1944.

ST. LO departed Seeadler Harbor 12 October 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 17 October. After furnishing air support during landings by 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. C. A. F. Spragues escort carrier unit, "Taffy 3" (TU-77.4.3), 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 Pansy Islands.

Steaming about 60 miles east of Samar before dawn 25 October, "Taffy 3" launched the day's initial air strikes. At 0647, Rear Admiral 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 0658 opened fire on "Taffy 3".

So began the Battle off Samar--one of the most memorable engagements in U. S. naval history. Out numbered and outgunned, the relatively slow ships of "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 guns of Japan'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 American 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 the daring and almost single-handed exploits of 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) were damaged. One plane crashed through ST. LO's flight deck at 1051, and exploded her torpedo and bomb magazine, mortally wounding the gallant carrier. ST. LO was engulfed in flame and 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 World War II service.

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