RED RAIDERS in the Battle of Leyte Gulf
The date was 26 October 1944, the place a newly established beach head on Leyte in the Philippines. At
1000 hours, following a tremendous bombardment since day break by Admiral Kinkaid�s Seventh Fleet of
battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. Admiral Daniel Barbey�s VII Amphibious Force had simultaneously
landed four United States divisions. General Douglas McArthur, commander of the southwest Pacific
forces, watched the action from the bridge of the cruiser Nashville. At 1300 hours, with fighting still raging,
he ruined the sharp crease in his khakis as, sans a protective helmet, he waded ashore, fulfilling a promise
he had made to the Philippine people two years, seven months and 28 days earlier.
At sea, the massive fleets of the United States and Japan were preparing to engage each other. Shortly after
midnight on 23 October, U.S. submarines Darter and Dace, reported sighting one of the enemy fleets, then
promptly torpedoed the heavy cruisers Atigo, Maya and Takao, sinking the first two and damaging the
latter. The battle was joined. The Battle of Leyte, acclaimed by historians the greatest naval battle of all
time, ended four days later. Enemy vessels destroyed numbered one large aircraft carrier, three light
carriers, three battleships, six heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, and eleven destroyers. U.S. losses were
three small carriers, two destroyers, and one destroyer escort.
Omitted from most accounts is mention of the part played by land based aircraft of the Far East Air Forces,
notably bombers from the 5th and 13th Air Forces based on Owi, Biak and Noemfoor. At day- break on the
26th, two B-24 s of the 13th AF night-flying Snoopers, reported sighting 15 enemy warships. Waiting for
just such a message, Liberators of the 5th and 307th Groups in the 13th AF and the 22nd, 43rd, and 90th Groups
in the 5th AF. FEAF reported that attacks were made on two battleships, five carriers and five destroyers
west of Panay Island.. Hits were claimed on a battleship and two carriers.
North of Dalipan, Mindanao, 22nd BG crews spotted what they identified as two cruisers of the Kuna-
Natori class and a destroyer of the Shigura class in the target area. All were engaged in vigorous evasive
action. It was not exactly a target that heavy bombers were designed for. The 33rd Sqd�s flight of three
bombers, each carrying 2 x 1000 and 1 x 500 pound demolition bombs, zeroed in on a light cruiser which
was identified later as the Abukuma. Two days earlier, at 0325 hours, she had taken a torpedo from a PT
boat. After undergoing temporary repairs at Dalipan, she was retiring from battle. At 1012 hours, 1st Lt.
Carmine J. Coppola, bombardier in the lead plane, #M366 piloted by 1st Lt. Ulich Bell Jr., released his
messages to Tojo. On his left, 1st Lt. Edwin M. Cummings Jr., the bombardier of aircraft #M402 piloted by
1st Lt. Bernard F. Alubowicz, followed suit. Three direct hits and a number of near misses took out the anti
aircraft guns and caused the cruiser�s four torpedoes to explode and tear out the midsection. Photos taken a
few minutes later by 319th and 400th Sqds of the 90th BG, show the warship exploding and sinking. A
Japanese source indicates that the Abukuma sank 37 nautical miles off Dapitan at 1242 hours, taking 250
crewmen down with her. 283 were picked up the Japanese destroyer Shio.
Abukuma's curved wake as she speeds into the path of the falling bombs.
The strike earned each of the bombardiers and pilots of the two Liberators a Distinguished Flying Cross.
Rest of the crew were each awarded an Air medal.
In part, Lt. Bell's citation reads: "Despite the throroughly alerted
anti-aircraft defense and strong evasive action taken by the enemy ships
during the attack and in the face of strong enemy firepower which was
probable and expected, Lt. Bell exhibited a professional skill and an
inspiring leadership which contributed materialy to a decisive defeat of
the enemy in that engagement. His extraordinary achievement and sound
judgement is in keeping with the finest traditions of the service."
Ulick Bell, Jr.