Streamlined Bait


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.)

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October 15, 1944


OCT 15, 1944 THE USS HOUSTON (CL-81) under tow by USS BOSTON (CA-69).

OCT 15, 1944
THE USS HOUSTON (CL-81) under tow by USS BOSTON (CA-69).

The USS HOUSTON (Cl-81) under tow by USS BOSTON (CA-69) after being struck amidships by an aerial torpedo during action off Formosa.  Destroyer removing personnel from damaged cruiser.

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October 14


George Pitts:

Oct 14 – 44:  Early dawn found us at our battle stations waiting for them to close in again.  Few of us were able to find time for a couple of winks of sleep last night.  All day long they kept heckling us by sending in one plane here and there just to feel us out.  Just about suppertime they came in force.  Raids of 30 and 50 planes came in single groups.  Our fighters repelled them until dark, then all hell broke loose again. Quite a few broke in our formation while others circled it and let loose with their torpedoes.  A few missed our bow and one astern.  The Houston (light cruiser) who took the Canberra’s place in the formation, took a torpedo near her fantail.  She being a light cruiser couldn’t take it like a heavy one, and she was listing badly, word came over “TBS” that she was abandoning ship. So the destroyers close at hand started picking up survivors in the water.  An hour later after things died down, the Houston said she was in condition for tow.

The task group commander told vagabond (Boston’s TBS call) to take the Houston in tow.  So the Mighty Boston after shooting down two twin engine bombers set out to take the crippled Houston in tow.  It is now 2220, so I think I’ll get some sleep.  With the Houston in tow, we are only making a few knots an hour and we’ve a long way to go.  Anything can happen from here on.

Frank Studenski:

October 14, 1944:  This morning at 0600 hours planes took off to keep the Japs busy and prevent them from coming out to finish off the Canberra.  The Canberra could be seen on the horizon under tow.  Bogies were reported all morning, but none came in close enough to open fire.  During the afternoon, the light cruiser Houston joined up with us.  The Houston will take the position the Canberra held in the screen.  We had about five air alerts during the day.  Around 1500 hours several groups of bogies were about 40 or 50 miles away and a little after 1600 they started closing.  Our fighters went out and broke up the group.

Then about 1815 hours our fighters were recovered at about the same time a large group of Jap planes appeared and began closing in.  There was a lot of rain squalls around, the same as last night.  This group of betties was coming in fast from dead ahead.  The carriers were the first to open fire and then the Houston.  The carriers got two planes and so did the Houston.  Three more planes were seen to go down, several planes were swarming the cruiser.  She avoided two torpedoes, but the third found its mark on the starboard side, amidships.  The explosion could be seen from  our ship.  The carrier shot down another plane, which was burning dived for the carrier Wasp, part of the plane’s wing hit her bow.  The Hornet hit one plane as it was going out, which turned around and made a dive for her, it just missed her stern.  One betty flew over our bow dropping two torpedoes, both were wide of us.  We opened fire on one plane off our port bow and shot her down.  Off our port quarter, about ten planes were shot down by the ships.  In the meantime the Houston was laying dead in the water, picking up men that were blown into the water, destroyers were also picking up men from the water.

She was hit pretty bad, both her engine rooms and fire rooms were flooded.  She had a 14 degree list to starboard.  Dead in the water, the whole ocean smelled with oil.  We got the word that the Houston was abandoning ship and we were to go in and pick up survivors.  There was still a lot of Jap planes around us.  We opened fire again at a group that was closing in, but drove them off.  A destroyer tried to come alongside to take off survivors, but the sea was too rough.  Again we got the word that the Houston might be saved.  We were requested to take the Houston in tow.  There were some problems with passing the rigging over the Houston.  Our stern was riding much higher than the Houston’s bow, we kept drifting away.  No one on the bridge could see the stern on the Houston.  It took a little over one hour to complete the rigging.  We were finally able to move at about four knots.

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From the diary of George Pitts:

Oct 12-44: Our fighters took off early this morning to sweep Formosa before our bombers went to blast the hell out of the place.  The day turned out to be quite eventful.  At sunset the Japs provided us with a little excitement.  They sent raid after raid of planes all night.  How many were shot down I can’t say but there was plenty.  It is two in the morning and we’re still at torpedo defense. They are still dropping flares illuminating the whole area around us.  Once in a while a plane will sneak through only to get shot down.  They are waiting for us to get off our guard.

Oct 13-44: Being at Condition “Easy” a few of us got a chance to get a few winks of sleep.  At dawn General Quarters sounded.  The Japs sent a few more planes in but not close enough so that our forces could fire.  Just after supper about sunset the Japs closed in after having heckled us all day long.  About 12 planes came breaking inside the formation through a screen of flak made by our guns.  4 or 5 were shot down.  No one noticed the Canberra (sister ship) astern of us.  She had two Jap torpedo planes making a run at her.  She hit them both but one managed to set his torpedo loose and it hit the Canberra just aft her stdb. beam.  All this happened pretty fast.  The attack lasted about 1 hour.  Then the cruiser Wichita went to take the Canberra (cruiser) in tow.  Twenty seven men were killed in the firerooms where the fish hit.

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the Battle off Formosa


After spending the entire month of September ranging off the Philippines participating in “Operation King”, the Boston spent the last couple of days anchored in the lagoon at Eniwetok.  On Oct. 1, the ship, a unit of Task Group 38.1, embarked on a continuation of Operation King.  The focus of this phase of the operation was to keep hitting Japanese supply areas such as Okinawa and Iwo Jima and Formosa (Taiwan) from which planes, troop transports and supplies were launched to fight the invading Americans up and down the Philippines.

They immediately were in foul weather, and found themselves in another typhoon between 10/2 and 10/8.

Frank Studenski, writing in his War Diary (October 7, 1944):  We are still in the typhoon, it is rough walking, the ship is rolling 20 to 25 degrees.  We are eating sandwiches and coffee.   I went up in the superstructure and had a good views of the rolling ship and the rough sea.  The waves are about 20 – 25 feet high.  And, (October 8, 1944):  Today the sea is calmer, we made a 32 degree roll yesterday.  We are back to eating regular meals.

The ships were able to refuel on the 9th and continue their mission in the Philippine Sea:  (October 10, 1944):  This morning planes were launched to bomb Jap bases in the Okinawa Islands.  The group of islands are located south of the Jap mainland.  We are about 250 miles from Japan.  This is the farthest the task force has gone.  The China coast is about 250 miles to the north.  There has not been any enemy planes in the air.  This morning we caught them by surprise.  So far one heavy cruiser and one light cruiser, a destroyer and an A.K. were sunk.  There is quite a bit of shipping in the harbor.  About a hundred planes have been destroyed so far.

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