St. Lo received the Presidential Unit Citation for the heroism of her crew in the Battle off Samar and four battle stars for her World War II service.
USS St. Lo (CVE–63) was a Casablanca-class escort carrier of the United States Navy during World War II. On 25 October 1944, St. Lo became the first major warship to sink as the result of a kamikaze attack. The attack occurred during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
St. Lo was laid down as Chapin Bay on 23 January 1943; renamed Midway on 3 April 1943; launched on 17 August 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Howard Nixon Coulter; and commissioned on 23 October 1943, Captain Francis J. McKenna in command. She was renamed St. Lo on 10 October 1944 after the town of Saint-Lô in Normandy, France, which was the location of fierce fighting during the allied Normandy landings.
After shakedown on the west coast and two voyages to Pearl Harbor and one to Australia carrying replacement aircraft, Midway, with Composite Squadron 65 (VC-65) embarked, joined Rear Admiral Gerald F. Bogan's Carrier Support Group 1 in June for the conquest of the Mariana Islands. She furnished air coverage for transports and participated in strikes on Saipan on 15 June 1944. She fought off several air attacks but suffered no damage during her support of the Saipan campaign. VC-65′s FM-2 Wildcats shot down four and damaged one other Japanese plane during combat air patrol operations there.
On 13 July, she sailed for Eniwetok for replenishment before joining the attack on Tinian on 23 July. Furnishing air support for ground forces on the island and maintaining an anti-submarine patrol, Midway operated off Tinian until she again headed out for supplies on 28 July.
Midway remained at anchor in Eniwetok Atoll until she got under way on 9 August for Seeadler Harbor at Manus, Admiralty Islands, arriving on 13 August.
On 10 September, she sortied with Task Force 77 (TF 77) for the invasion of Morotai. Catapulting her first plane to support the landings on 15 September, she continued to assist American troops ashore and to provide cover for the transports through the 22nd.
After stopping for fuel and ammunition at Mios Woendi, Midway resumed air operations off Morotai. On 3 October, Japanese submarine RO-41 launched two torpedoes at Midway. Capt. McKenna eluded them, but one struck the stern of destroyer escort Shelton. Shelton was later taken under tow but foundered. Midway returned to Seeadler Harbor on 7 October. There, word arrived that the escort carrier had been renamed St. Lo on 10 October to free the name Midway for a new fleet carrier and to commemorate an important victory of American troops in France who had captured the strongly defended town of Saint-Lô on 18 July 1944.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
St. Lo departed Seeadler Harbor on 12 October to participate in the liberation of Leyte. Ordered to provide air coverage and close air support during the bombardment and amphibious landings, she arrived off Leyte on 18 October. She launched air strikes in support of invasion operations at Tacloban on the northeast coast of Leyte. Operating with Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's escort carrier unit, "Taffy 3" (TU 77.4.3), which consisted of six escort carriers and a screen of three destroyers and four destroyer escorts, St. Lo steamed off the east coasts of Leyte and Samar as her planes sortied from 18–24 October, destroying enemy installations and airfields on Leyte and Samar islands.
Steaming about 60 mi (52 nmi; 97 km) east of Samar before dawn of 25 October, St. Lo launched a four-plane anti-submarine patrol while the remaining carriers of Taffy 3 prepared for the day's initial air strikes against the landing beaches. The Battle off Samar began at 06:47, when Ensign Bill Brooks—piloting one of the TBM Avengers from St. Lo—reported sighting a large Japanese force comprising four battleships, six heavy and light cruisers, and 10-12 destroyers approaching from the west-northwest, only 17 mi (15 nmi; 27 km) away. At the same time, lookouts on St. Lo spotted the characteristic pagoda-like superstructures of Japanese battleships on the horizon. Rear Admiral Sprague ordered Taffy 3 to turn south at flank speed. Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's force steadily closed and by about 06:58 opened fire on the slow, outnumbered, and outgunned ships of Taffy 3.
St. Lo and the other five CVEs dodged in and out of rain squalls and managed to launch all available fighter and torpedo planes with whatever armament they had handy (general purpose bombs and even depth charges). Pilots were ordered "to attack the Japanese task force and proceed to Tacloban airstrip, Leyte, to rearm and refuel". The carriers dodged salvos from enemy cruisers and battleships. As salvos fell "with disconcerting rapidity" increasingly nearer St. Lo, her planes, striking the enemy force with bombs, rockets, and gunfire, continued to harass the closing ships.
By 07:38, the enemy cruisers, approaching from St. Lo′s port quarter, had closed to within 14,000 yd (13,000 m). St. Lo responded with rapid fire from her single 5-inch gun, claiming three hits on a Tone-class cruiser.
For the next 90 minutes, Admiral Kurita's ships closed in on Taffy 3, with his nearest destroyers and cruisers firing from as close as 10,000 yd (9,100 m) on the port and starboard quarters of St. Lo. Many salvos straddled the ship, landed close aboard, or passed directly overhead. Throughout the running gun battle, the carriers and their escorts were laying a particularly effective smoke screen that Admiral Sprague credited with greatly degrading Japanese gunfire accuracy. Even more effective were the courageous attacks by the destroyers and destroyer escorts at point-blank range against the Japanese destroyers and cruisers. All the while, Kurita's force was under incessant attack by Taffy 3 aircraft and planes from the two other U.S. carrier units to the south.
Under heavy attack from the air and harassed by incessant fire from American destroyers and destroyer escorts, the enemy cruisers broke off action and turned north at 09:20. At 09:15, the enemy destroyers—which had been kept at bay by the daring and almost singlehanded exploits of Johnston—launched a premature torpedo attack from 10,500 yd (9,600 m). The torpedoes had nearly run out of fuel when they finally approached the escort carriers, broaching the surface. A St. Lo Avenger, piloted by Lieutenant, junior grade Tex Waldrop, strafed and exploded two torpedoes in the wake of Kalinin Bay.
During the surface engagement, Taffy 3 lost Gambier Bay, Johnston, Hoel, and Samuel B. Roberts to enemy gunfire.
At 10:47, the task unit came under a concentrated air attack by the Shikishima Special Attack Unit. During the 40–minute engagement with enemy kamikazes, all the escort carriers except Fanshaw Bay were damaged. One Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero—perhaps flown by Lieutenant Yukio Seki—crashed into the flight deck of St. Lo at 10:51. Its bomb penetrated the flight deck and exploded on the port side of the hangar deck, where aircraft were in the process of being refueled and rearmed. A gasoline fire erupted, followed by six secondary explosions, including detonations of the ship's torpedo and bomb magazine. St. Lo was engulfed in flame and sank 30 minutes later.
Of the 889 men aboard, 113 were killed or missing and approximately 30 others died of their wounds. The survivors were rescued from the water by Heermann, John C. Butler, Raymond, and Dennis (which picked up 434 survivors).