Surigao Strait alternative

Historical what if discussions, hypothetical operations, battleship vs. battleship engagements, design your own warship, etc.
User avatar
Rick Rather
Posts: 141
Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2011 4:15 am
Location: Dallas, Texas USA

Surigao Strait alternative

Post by Rick Rather » Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:04 am

The action in Surigao Strait on October 24, 1944 always bothered me. Histories last encounter between battleships seemed more like an execution than a battle. Some years ago (the mid-'90's) I wrote this scenario, which assumes just one simple change in the Japanese Sho-1 battle plan (the scenario was formatted for "Command at Sea", the WWII naval miniatures system from Clash of Arms Games):

Battle of Surigao Strait (alternate)

Location: Southern Philippines, 0230 24 October, 1944.

Operational Situation: Following MacArthur’s return to the Philippines, the Japanese navy is counterattacking, apparently on three axes. To the north, Admiral Halsey is closing in on a group of enemy carriers and battleships. Yesterday, two small Japanese task groups were attacked by a combination of aircraft and submarines in the Sibuyan sea and its western approaches, resulting in the sinking of two battleships and 2-3 cruisers. Also, American scouting aircraft spotted a task force consisting of at least two battleships plus several cruisers and destroyers approaching Surigao Strait from the southwest. Admiral Oldendorf’s shore bombardment group has been ordered intercept the southern force as it transits the strait.

Tactical Situation: PT boats have been harassing the Japanese all night; reporting contacts at 2215, 0026, 0035 and 0200. At 0215 the bombardment group's picket destroyers made radar contact and now count about two dozen enemy ships.

Environment: Visibility 5%, wind <5Kts, sea state 1, night, no moon, clear.

Allied Forces: Bombardment Force, Rear Admiral Oldendorf in Louisville:

Center: Rear Admiral Weyler in Mississippi: West Virginia, Maryland (Colorado class), Mississippi (New Mexico class), Tennessee, California (Tennessee class), Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania class);

Left Flank, Rear Admiral Oldendorf in Louisville: Louisville (Northampton class), Portland (Portland class), Minneapolis (New Orleans class), Denver, Columbia (Cleveland class);

Right Flank, Rear Admiral Berkey in Phoenix: Phoenix, Boise (Brooklyn class), HMAS Shropshire (HMS London class);

DesRon 56: Newcomb, R. P. Leary, A. W. Grant, Robinson, Halford, Bryant, H. L. Edwards, Leutze, Bennion (Fletcher class);

DesDiv 47 (of DesRon 24): Hutchins, Daly, Bache, Killen, Beale (Fletcher class), HMAS Arunta (“Tribal” class);

DesRon 54: Remey, McGowan, Melvin, McDermut, Monssen (Fletcher class);

Allied Orders: Prevent the Japanese from exiting the north end of Surigao Strait.

Allied Victory Conditions: Decisive: Allies inflict 2:1 damage ratio and no Japanese units exit the battle area to the north. Tactical: Allies cause Japanese to withdraw to the south.


Japanese Forces: Southern Force, Admiral Takeo Kurita in Atago:

BatDiv 1 Vice-Admiral Ugaki in Yamato: Yamato, Musashi (Yamato class), Nagato (Nagato class);

BatDiv 2 Vice Admiral Suzuki: Kongo, Haruna (Kongo class);

CruDiv 4 Vice Admiral Kurita in Atago: Atago, Maya, Takao, Chokai (Takao class);

CruDiv 5 Vice Admiral Hashimoto: Myoko, Haguro (Myoko class);

CruDiv 7 Vice Admiral Shiraishi: Kumano, Suzuya (Mogami class), Tone, Chikuma (Tone class);

DesRon 2 Rear Admiral Mayakawa in Noshiro: Noshiro (Agano class), Shimakaze (Minekaze class),
DesDiv 2 Captain Shiraishi: Hayashimo, Akishimo (Yugumo class),
DesDiv 31 Captain Fukuoka: Kishinami, Okinami, Naganami, Asashimo (Yugumo class),
DesDiv 32 Captain Aoki: Hamanami, Fujinami (Yugumo class)
DesRon 10: Rear Admiral Kimura in Yahagi: Yahagi (Agano class), Nowake, Kiyoshimo (Yugumo class)
DesDiv 17 Captain Tanii: Urakaze, Isokaze, Yukikaze, Hamakaze (Kagero class)

Japanese Orders: Sweep aside the American defenders and proceed to the invasion beaches.

Japanese Victory Conditions: Decisive: Inflict 2:1 damage ratio and exit off the north and northeast edge of the battle area. Tactical: Exit at least ten units off the north and northeast edge of the battle area.

Setup: The strait runs directly north-south and is about 13 miles wide. Only the northern exit of the strait is in the battle area. The American center, left and right flank groups are each in east-west line ahead formations. The battleship line is 5 miles north of the northern exit from the strait, The left and right flanks are 2-3 miles to the south of the center group and to the east and west, respectively. DesRon 56 is 4-5 miles south of the battleship line, and DesRon 24 is 10-12 miles SSW of the battleship line. DesRon 54 is 10 miles south of the mouth of the strait, with ships within 3 miles of the coast on either side of the channel. The Japanese task force is 22 miles due south of the American battleships; formation at players own option.

Special Rules:

(1.) Maryland equipped with Mk13 FC. Tennessee and California had Mk 8; West Virginia, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania use Mk3. All other allied units use available radar types. Japanese units Yamato, Atago, Hamakaze, Yukikaze and some others had radar.

(2.) The American battleships, loaded for shore bombardment, were short of armor piercing ammunition: They may only fire AP rounds for ~25 minutes (8 turns, in CaS terms). One captain observed that “Loading a ship for a joint bombardment and surface action might be compared to harnessing a horse for a plowing job with the expectation that any second he would be expected to stop plowing and, with the same trappings, enter the Kentucky Derby.”

(2a.) (Optional) The American battleships had been performing shore bombardment missions since the invasion began, and they were also short of high explosive (HC) ammunition (they had been scheduled to replenish on the 25th). For each battleship, roll 3 D6. This is the number of CaS 3-minute tactical turns for which the BBs have HC ammunition.

(3.) All American scout aircraft were flown out of the battle area on the afternoon of the 23rd and are not available. Some say that Oldendorf wanted a “gun club only” affair. More likely he didn’t want a repeat of what happened during 2nd Guadalcanal; when the South Dakota was illuminated by her own burning aircraft.

- Allow the Allied player to set his own formation.
- To strengthen the Allied side, add DesDiv “X-Ray”: Claxton, Aulick, Cony, Sigourney (Fletcher class), Thorn, Welles (Bristol class).
- 10 groups of three 80’ Elco PT Boats (30 total) were deployed in the southern end of the strait, on either side. If this option is used, deploy the Japanese 20 nm further south and start the scenario at 0100 hours.
- To strengthen the Japanese side, increase the number of ships with radar.
Just because it's stupid, futile and doomed to failure, that doesn't mean some officer won't try it.
-- R. Rather

Senior Member
Posts: 4349
Joined: Wed Oct 14, 2009 2:33 pm
Location: Bucharest, Romania

Re: Surigao Strait alternative

Post by alecsandros » Wed Jan 04, 2012 7:34 pm


It is a very nice scenario, but a to complicated one. To many split-second decisions can alter the course of events, and the fate of teh battle.

For instance, how many IJN ships would be hit by the first waves of US torpeoes launched by the PTs and DDs ?
IN the historical battle, very few IJN would have been hit, allthough dozens of torpedoes were in the water, it it wasn;t for Nishimura's decision to alter course at around 2:58 (and at 3:00, Fuso and 3 DDs were struck by several torpedoes).

How would the dice turn this time ? Would Yamato and Nagato, for example, be pounded from the start by 2-3 torpedoes each ?


On paper anyways, I see a good advantage for the Japanese force, consistign in sheer strength and night fighting training. Also, the 6 old US battleships had to few AP shells to make an impression of the IJN BBs, and the shells were mark 5 at best (rather poor oblique performance - see the case of Yamashiro blasted by dozens of 14" and 16" shells, and still manouvreing and keepind at least 2 main turrets active the entire battle)

All the best,

Keith Enge
Posts: 138
Joined: Sat Jan 01, 2011 1:36 am

Re: Surigao Strait alternative

Post by Keith Enge » Thu Jan 05, 2012 6:29 pm

Rick Rather -

My database, by adding the "powers" of the ships that you listed, gives the Japanese about a 13% advantage (ratio is 1.129). If you add the six X-ray DDs, it drops to 8% (1.080). Adding thirty-three PT-boats (not 30), it drops further to about 5% (1.052).

A lot of the Japanese power is due to their "long lance" torpedoes. Of the power of their typical DD, about 2/3 of their offensive power is in their torps, the remaining 1/3 in guns. Even for their cruisers, both heavy and light, slightly more of the offensive power is from torps. As for the rest of the ships, Nagato's power (combined offensive and defensive) is about equivalent to that of the US BBs. Her power is about 7800 while the six US BBs vary between about 6900 and 8300. The Yamato and Musashi are each about double this at around 14,000.

versus Nagato
West Virginia has an immune zone advantage
Maryland has a similar immune zone advantage
Pennsylvania has about the same immune zone as Nagato (smaller guns but thicker armor)
Mississippi is like Pennsylvania
California is severely outranged
Tennessee is like California

versus Yamato, Musashi
West Virginia and Maryland have only a slight immune zone disadvantage
Pennsylvania and Mississippi are in trouble if Yamato gets within between 7000-15000 yards
California and Tennessee have the same trouble
Those last four BBs can't penetrate Yamato beyond around 7000-8000 depending on the ship. The extra range of the first two of these four is of little use since no penetration will result anyway.

In creating this battle, you basically swapped forces. Forces A and B, in real life, took the northern route, passing through the Sibuyan Sea to the San Bernardino Strait on their way to Samar. Force C and Shima's force "attached" to it took the southern route to Surigao Strait. You swapped these pairs of forces. Actually, it make sense geographically if not strategically. Shima's force started in Japan while Forces A and B started in Brunei (iirc) so they actually crossed west of Mindoro. If Force C continued north, it could have similarly crossed paths with Forces A and B in the proposed scenario. I notice that you included the Japanese heavy cruisers that missed the action because of their encounter with subs in the Palawan Passage. You also made a mistake in your documentation. Shimikase is not a member of the Minekaze class but is rather the one-off, 40 knot, super destroyer.

This is an interesting battle and I'm going to add it as the 488th battle in my database. It joins the limited list of "what if" battles. It satisfies all of my criteria for those types of battles; it is historically possible, evenly balanced, and interesting. I divide my "what ifs" in five categories.

Fizzle is a battle that almost happened; the participants met but decided not to fight (usually because both had more immediate concerns like escorting their convoys).

Search fails means that at least one side knew that the other was in the area but its futile search didn't find them.

Missed means that both sides were in the area but didn't know that the other was there and they never met.

Timing means the opponents would have met except that one side was delayed in arriving for some reason.

Rewrite is a rewriting of history and includes things like speculating what would have happened if some operation hadn't been canceled. Another possibility is combining forces in the general area into a force to oppose an actual opposing force or maybe including a ship that actually had run aground the day before.

Your battle falls into the "rewrite category". It is actually the second "what if" as part of the battle for Leyte. The other is of the "timing" variety and supposes Halsey battleships got back in time to intercept the Japanese ships retreating from Samar to the San Bernardino Strait. It's too bad neither of these two battles happened, they would probably have made interesting animated battle maps. In my database are 77 battles with animated maps. These maps can be stepped through minute by minute, showing gunfire, torpedo tracks, and smoke screens. For carrier battles, air strikes, CAP, and searches are plotted (there is also a visual indication when carriers have cluttered flight decks and so are especially vulnerable). There is commentary notes displayed at important points in the battle.

Thanks for the idea of a new battle,

Post Reply