After the Houston was hit by an aerial torpedo, the captain decided to abandon ship. Halsey was faced with a dilemma – the ship was damaged; in fact two cruisers were damaged. The Canberra was deemed “salvageable” – but the Houston was more seriously wounded. Halsey knew that he might have to scuttle the Houston. Hours after being hit, the Captain decided that his ship could also be saved, so he reversed his decision to Abandon and the Boston was pressed into service to tow the Houston. The ships were less than 100 miles off the east coast of Formosa. Their destination: Ulithi – the lagoon in the Marshall Islands 1,200 miles to the east across the Philippine Sea.
The ships came under aerial attack several times over several days.
A fleet tug had already taken over for the Wichita and was towing the Canberra. Another fleet tug was ordered to relieve the Boston, and she arrived on the 16th of October. Within hours of the transfer of the tow, the Houston was hit again by an aerial torpedo. Halsey debated scuttling the ship again. However, in the hyperbole of War, Japanese pilots had reported sinking many American ships. Back in Japan, a badly demoralized and extremely deprived citizenry was treated to a day of national celebration after their heroic carrier pilots had destroyed the American fleet.
Halsey had decided to use the “Cripple Cruisers” as bait to lure out what was left of the Imperial Japanese fleet in a drag-down-knock-out sea battle. While the other task groups continued to pound targets up and down the Philippines, Boston’s task group (38.1) lingered less than 200 miles away, waiting for the enemy fleet to “take the bait” and attack the “Remnants of the Third Fleet.” The Japanese fleet did, in fact, sortie north and east to find the Cripples. They closed to within 100 miles or so, but one of their reconnaissance planes caught sight of one of the other American task groups. They retreated, spoiling Halsey’s old-school chance for a spot in naval history.
(He had one more chance three months later when he sent the Boston’s task group into the South China Sea because the enemy fleet was moored near Singapore. By the time they threaded their way into range, the IJF had slipped off and dispersed.)