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512' 3" x 65' 2" x 108'
1 x 5"
16 x 40mm AA
20 x 20mm AA single
Gambier Bay received four battle stars for service in World War II and shared in the award of the Presidential Unit Citation to "Taffy 3" for extraordinary heroism in the Battle off Samar.
She departed 1 May to join Rear Admiral H. B. Sallada’s Carrier Support Group 2 (TG 52.11), staging in the Marshalls for the invasion of the Marianas. Gambier Bay gave close air support to the initial landings of Marines on Saipan 15 June 1944, destroying enemy gun emplacements, troops, tanks, and trucks. On the 17th her combat air patrol shot down or turned back all but a handful of 47 enemy planes headed for her task group and her gunners shot down 2 of the 3 planes that did break through to attack her.
The following day, warning of another air attack sounded. As her fighters prepared to take off, they found intense antiaircraft fire of the entire task group covering their flight path. Captain Goodwin called the event "another shining example of the adaptability and courage of the young men of our country." Eight pilots of Composite Squadron 10 did take off to help repulse the aerial attack.
Gambier Bay remained off Saipan, repulsing aerial raids and launching planes which strafed enemy troop concentrations, bombed gun emplacements, and supported marines and soldiers fighting ashore. Meanwhile, American carriers slashed the carrier air strength of the combined Japanese Mobile Fleet and turned it back in defeat in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Gambier Bay continued close ground support operations at Tinian (19 July–31 July), then turned her attention to Guam, supporting the invasion troops until 11 August.
Next to Hollandia and Manus, Admiralties, where the invasion of the Philippines was being staged. Screened by four destroyer escorts, Gambier Bay and Kitkun Bay (CVE-71) escorted transports and amphibious landing ships to Leyte Gulf before joining Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague's escort carrier task unit 19 September off Leyte.
The task unit comprised six escort carriers, screened by three destroyers and four destroyer escorts, and was known by its voice radio call as "Taffy 3." Under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague, eighteen escort carriers, divided into three "Taffy" units, maintained air supremacy over Leyte Gulf and eastern Leyte. During the invasion their planes destroyed enemy airfields, supply convoys, and troop concentrations; gave troops driving inland vital close air support; and maintained combat air patrol over ships in Leyte Gulf. While "Taffy 1" and "Taffy 2" were respectively stationed off northern Mindanao and off the entrance to Leyte Gulf, "Taffy 3" steamed off Samar.
Meanwhile, the Japanese threw their entire fleet against American naval power in a desperate gamble to destroy the large concentration of American shipping in Leyte Gulf. Powerful enemy forces, comprised of carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers, converged on the Philippines in a three pronged attack to the south, center, and north. The Japanese Southern Force met disaster before dawn 25 October as it tried to drive through Surigao Strait to join the Center Force off Leyte Gulf. While steaming through the Sibuyan Sea en route to San Bernardino Strait, the Center Force was hit hard on the 24th by hundreds of planes from Admiral Halsey's fast attack carriers. After the Battle of Sibuyan Sea, Admiral Halsey no longer considered the Center Force a serious menace, and he sent the carriers north to intercept decoy carriers of the Japanese Northern Force off Cape Engano.
Despite the probable outcome of an engagement between two so unequal surface forces, the presence of enemy ships in Leyte Gulf was unthinkable; and "Taffy 3" turned to do battle against the enemy. Immediately, an urgent call for help went out from "Taffy 3" as the escort carriers steamed eastward and launched planes that tried to score hits with torpedoes, bombs, and strafe until their ammunition ran out, then make dummy runs to break the enemy formation and delay its advance. Smoke was laid down to cover their running fight as the destroyers ducked in and out of the mist and smoke to charge battleship, cruiser, and destroyer formations point-blank until ordered back to cover the escort carriers with more smoke. The lone 5 inch gun of Gambier Bay spat out at an enemy cruiser that was shelling her; and destroyer Heerman (DD-532) made an unsuccessful effort under the combined fire of the heavy enemy ships to save Gambier Bay.
Gambier Bay was dead in the water as three cruisers closed to point blank range. Fires raged through the riddled escort carrier. She capsized and sank at 0907 on October 25, 1944 with the majority of her nearly 800 survivors rescued by landing and patrol craft dispatched from Leyte Gulf.
Three other ships, fighting to the end, went down: Hoel (DD-533) ; Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413) ; and Johnston (DD-557). The latter used only her 5 inch guns in a dummy torpedo run that thwarted the torpedo attack of an entire Japanese Destroyer Squadron lead by a cruiser.
Aircraft from "Taffy 2" joined in the epic battle off Samar. The events that followed were described by Admiral Sprague: "At 0925 my mind was occupied with dodging torpedoes when near the bridge I heard one of the signalmen yell 'They're getting away!' I could hardly believe my eyes, but it looked as if the whole Japanese fleet was indeed retiring. However, it took a whole series of reports from circling planes to convince me. And still I could not get the fact to soak into my battle-numbed brain. At best, I had expected to be swimming by this time."
Gambier Bay and other ships of "Taffy 3," aided by planes of "Taffy 2," had stopped the powerful Japanese Center Force and inflicted a great loss. Two enemy cruisers were sunk, much damage inflicted on the other ships, and this overwhelmingly powerful surface fleet was turned back by the escort carriers and their screen of destroyers and destroyer-escorts.
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