October 24, 1944 – The Battle of the Sibuyan Sea part of The Battle of Leyte Gulf Around 08:00 on 24 October, the Center Force was spotted entering the Sibuyan Sea and attacked by VF-20 squadron F6F-5 Hellcat fighters, VB-20 SB2C-3 Helldiver dive bombers, and VT-20 Avenger torpedo bombers from USS Enterprise of Halsey’s 3rd Fleet. Despite its great strength, 3rd Fleet was not well-placed to deal with the threat. On 22 October, Halsey had detached two of his carrier groups to the fleet base at Ulithi to provision and rearm. When Darter’s contact report came in, Halsey recalled Davison’s group, but allowed Vice Admiral John S. McCain—with the strongest of TF 38’s carrier groups, to continue towards Ulithi. Halsey finally recalled McCain on 24 October—but the delay meant the most powerful American carrier group played little part in the coming battle, and the 3rd Fleet was therefore effectively deprived of nearly 40% of its air strength for most of the engagement. On the morning of 24 October, only three groups were available to strike Kurita’s force, and the one best positioned to do so—Gerald F. Bogan’s Task Group 38.2 (TG 38.2)—was by mischance the weakest of the groups, containing only one large carrier—USS Intrepid—and two light carriers (the failure to promptly recall McCain on 23 October had also effectively deprived 3rd Fleet, throughout the battle, of four of its six heavy cruisers). Planes from the carriers Intrepid and Cabot of Bogan’s group attacked at about 10:30, making hits on the battleships Nagato, Yamato, and Musashi, and severely damaging the heavy cruiser Myōkō. A second wave from Intrepid, Essex and Lexington later attacked, with VB-15 Helldivers and VF-15 Hellcats from Essex, scoring another 10 hits on Musashi. As she withdrew, listing to port, a third wave from Enterprise and Franklin hit her with an additional 11 bombs and eight torpedoes. Kurita turned his fleet around to get out of range of the aircraft, passing the crippled Musashi as his force retreated. He waited until 17:15 before turning around again to head for the San Bernardino Strait. After being struck by at least 17 bombs and 19 torpedoes, Musashi finally capsized and sank at about 19:30. Meanwhile, Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi had directed three waves of aircraft from his First Air Fleet based on Luzon against the carriers of Rear Admiral Sherman’s TG 38.3 (whose aircraft were also being used to strike airfields in Luzon to prevent Japanese land-based air attacks on Allied shipping in Leyte Gulf). Each of Ōnishi’s strike waves consisted of some 50 to 60 aircraft. Most of the attacking Japanese planes were intercepted and shot down or driven off by Hellcats of Sherman’s combat air patrol, most notably by two fighter sections from Essex led by Commander David McCampbell (who is credited with shooting down nine of the attacking planes in this one action). However, one Japanese aircraft (a Yokosuka D4Y3 Judy) slipped through the defences, and at 09:38 hit the light carrier USS Princeton with a 551 lb (250 kg) armor-piercing bomb. The resulting explosion caused a severe fire in Princeton’s hangar and her emergency sprinkler system failed to operate. As the fire spread rapidly, a series of secondary explosions followed. The fire was gradually brought under control, but at 15:23 there was an enormous explosion (probably in the carrier’s bomb stowage aft), causing more casualties aboard Princeton, and even heavier casualties – 233 dead and 426 wounded – aboard the light cruiser Birmingham which was coming back alongside to assist with the firefighting. Birmingham was so badly damaged, she was forced to retire. Another light cruiser and two destroyers were also damaged. All efforts to save Princeton failed, and after the remaining crew were evacuated, she was finally scuttled—torpedoed by the light cruiser Reno—at 17:50. Of Princeton’s crew, 108 men were killed, while 1,361 survivors were rescued by nearby ships. USS Princeton was the largest American ship lost during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. In all, US 3rd Fleet flew 259 sorties—mostly by Hellcats—against Center Force on 24 October. This weight of attack was not nearly sufficient to neutralize the threat from Kurita. It contrasts with the 527 sorties flown by 3rd Fleet against Ozawa’s much weaker Northern Force on the following day. Moreover, a large proportion of the Sibuyan Sea attack was directed against just one ship, Musashi. This great battleship was sunk, the cruiser Myōkō was also crippled; but every other ship in Kurita’s force remained battleworthy and able to advance. As a result of a momentous decision about to be taken by Admiral Halsey, Kurita was able to proceed through the San Bernardino Strait during the night, to make an unexpected and dramatic appearance off the coast of Samar on the following morning.