The Taffy 3: A David Vs Goliath Story at Sea

Posted on Thursday, February 22, 2024
by Ian Gargan
A memorial to Sprague and Taffy 3 next to USS Midway (CV-41)
A memorial to Sprague and Taffy 3 next to USS Midway (CV-41).

Few stories in history exemplified the courage and tactical ingenuity amongst the United States Navy as the story of the Taffy 3. During the Battle for Leyte Gulf a pivotal encounter unfolded off the coast of Samar. Tasked primarily with support operations, this small task force found itself severely ill-equipped for direct engagement with enemy forces. Yet, when the moment of truth arrived, they rose magnificently to the challenge.

Who Were the Taffy 3?

Under the command of Admiral Clifton Sprague, the Taffy 3 consisted of six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts. This group was primarily tasked with providing air support for ground forces and anti-submarine warfare. However, they faced a formidable opponent: a Japanese force that boasted the Yamato, one of the most iconic and powerful battleships ever constructed.

Suddenly, at the break of dawn, October 25th, 1944, the Taffy 3 found themselves under attack by the Japanese fleet. The Japanese intended to decimate the American invasion at Leyte and stumbled upon the fleet escort carriers. This surprise assault forced the Americans into a desperate struggle for survival. Despite the inferior firepower, they launched an aggressive counterattack, unleashing torpedoes, and lying down on a smoke screen to protect the carriers.

Unconventional tactics

Faced with an emergency, the ships resorted to unconventional tactics including the use of depth charges – ordinarily used for warfare against submarines – against surface ships. In an audacious move, the escort carriers began to launch every aircraft they had on board. Some of these planes were simply used to transport torpedoes but, on this day, they were dive bombers. These unconventional tactics actually played a crucial role in the battle. The continuous attacks by the aircrafts to harass the Japanese fleets caused them to maneuver defensively thus disrupting their gunnery and torpedo attacks. Beyond the tangible tactics, the psychological impact of being attacked constantly and unexpectedly caused the Japanese to make poor strategic maneuvers and breaking there spirits.  

The aircrew’s valor was nothing short of extraordinary. With minimal armament, they executed continuous sorties, demonstrating remarkable bravery and ingenuity that complemented the formidable defense mounted by the surface ships.

In true David Vs Goliath fashion, they conquered the Japanese forces with the equivalent of a sling and a stone. The legacy of the Taffy 3 is a testament to the indomitable spirit, tactical brilliance, and human courage to prevail against overwhelming odds. They saved not only the Leyte invasion forces on the ground but made one of the largest battleships ever built to retreat. This year will mark 80 years since this battle, these brave Americans are still in our minds and our hearts.

To read more about great American veterans, click here.