All Guts, No Glory
What they lacked in strength, World War II escort carriers made up in numbers...and the perseverance of their crews.
- By James L. Noles, Jr
- Air & Space magazine, July 2004
Naval Institute Photo Archive
(Page 4 of 6)
“I wasn’t much for swan dives from that height,” Moller says, “so we took off our shoes, tied them together by the laces, hung them around our necks, and slid down ropes into the water. Of course our shoes floated away immediately.”
Moller and his companions inflated their Mae West life jackets and soon found a cork float net. Before the night was over, the destroyer escort Ahrens plucked them from the chilly Atlantic. In contrast to the Liscome Bay, only six men were lost. After 30 days of survivor’s leave, Moller was back in action with a new hunter-killer group on board the Croatan.
Moller was not the only aviator seeking a shipboard home in the summer of 1944. In the Pacific, ensigns Ken Snyder and Darrell “Smoke” Bennett were looking for a carrier squadron. Finally, two slots opened up on escort carriers.
“We flipped for it,” Snyder recalls. “Smoke got Gambier Bay, and I got Kitkun Bay.”
Soon after, Snyder joined VC-5 in the Kitkun Bay as a Wildcat pilot. “Oh my gosh, they were solid little devils,” Snyder says, “but a little lively on their narrow landing gear. Still, it was a good plane. It could take an awful lot of punishment, and dish it out too.”
That summer in the Kitkun Bay was a busy one for Snyder and his comrades, flying in support of the bloody landings on Tinian, Guam, Anguar, and Peleliu as U.S. forces drew ever closer to the Philippines. With each invasion, the escort-carrier-based squadrons proved their mettle. Over Peleliu they disrupted a rare Japanese tank attack against a vulnerable U.S. Marine beachhead. Their finest hour, however, was yet to come.
As U.S. forces converged on the Philippines in the fall of 1944, Japan’s admirals pieced together an audacious counterattack. In a complex operation, the Japanese lured the larger U.S. carriers from their posts guarding the approaches to the U.S. beachhead on Leyte. Their departure left the task force unit known as Taffy 3, which included Snyder’s ship, the Kitkun Bay, directly in harm’s way in the waters east of Samar.
On October 24, 1944, as the Kitkun Bay’s sailors grabbed a quick breakfast, a Japanese force of nearly two dozen battleships, cruisers, and destroyers approached, concealed in a morning mist. Only the lightly armed escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts of Taffy 3 stood between Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s armada and the transports gathered along the Leyte beachheads.