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Preludes to Victory: The Battle of Ormoc Bay in WWII
by William L. Griggs
Atlantic Press, 1997, 279 pages

The 1994 reunion of the Battle of Ormoc Bay Association begins this book. Over 100 veterans and wives came together to remember the series of battles that took place in November and December 1944 at Ormoc Bay on the western side of Leyte Island in the Philippines. The most intense battles occurred on December 2/3 (night), 5, 7, and 11, with one section in this book devoted to each date. Kamikaze aircraft sank or seriously damaged several US Navy ships during the Battle of Ormoc Bay.

In Preludes to Victory, author William Griggs and 30 other eyewitnesses describe their harrowing experiences during the Battle of Ormoc Bay. Griggs served as a sonarman aboard USS Kephart (DE-207/APD-61), originally a destroyer escort from her commissioning in January 1944 until converted in July 1944 to a high speed transport. During the assault landing at Ormoc Bay on December 7, 1944, Kephart's gunners shot down two attacking Japanese planes.

After the book's first chapter about the Battle of Ormoc Bay Association reunion, Griggs uses the next five chapters to give an overly long description of his school years through college when he enjoyed music and high school football. Chapters 7 to 11 cover from Griggs' entrance into the Navy in July 1943 to Kephart's arrival at New Guinea in early November 1944. Chapters 12 to 17 shift to the general course of the Pacific War including the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The next three chapters, making up about one third of the book, deal with four key dates in December 1944 of the Battle of Ormoc Bay. The final five chapters tell about Kephart's final months in WWII and after the war's end until Griggs departed the ship in February 1946. On patrol duty near Lingayen Gulf on January 11, 1945, Kephart's guns opened up on an incoming kamikaze aircraft, but the plane changed direction and hit instead the high speed transport Belknap (APD-34).

The book's title, Preludes to Victory: The Battle of Ormoc Bay in WWII, is somewhat misleading since well over half of the book covers other topics. In many ways this book chronicles the history of USS Kephart, but at times, especially in the Philippines, the ship's specific actions and locations get lost among the accounts of other ships or the background information about the war's course. The book contains many fascinating personal accounts of survivors of the Battle of Ormoc Bay, but Griggs himself tends to focus on factual descriptions rather than his own personal feelings toward events. Although details and emotions generally fade after almost five decades have passed, the veterans' memories of kamikaze attacks and ship sinkings remain vivid such as those that took place during the Battle of Ormoc Bay.

In addition to 30 survivor accounts, Griggs researched many battle action reports, ship logs, and books to complete this history. The book includes about 30 photos, although a few of them are just photocopies in which few details can be made out. Several tables summarize battle results such as a listing of US ships damaged or sunk in Leyte waters between December 3 and 11, 1944.

The most exciting parts of this history describe the sinking of the destroyer Cooper (DD-695) by a torpedo, the sinking of the destroyer Mahan (DD-364) and the high speed transport Ward (APD-16) by kamikaze aircraft, and the kamikaze hit on the high speed transport Liddle (APD-60). The extended quotations from several veterans bring to life the horror of the damage inflicted and their subsequent struggle to survive. For example, the following is an excerpt from the account by Carmen Scavotto, a sonarman on Liddle (p. 182):

I recall the Captain calmly telling the Exec, "I'm going to give him the smallest possible target." Then, he told his phone Talker, "Come right 5 degrees." Smitty, Y3/c, the Talker, was also telling the gunners to fire. He gave the order twice to the # 1 five in. 38 gun mount. The response was, "The gun is jammed."

After Smitty reported the gun was jammed, I picked up the flight of the ZEKE coming out of the sun heading straight at us! At about 300 - 400 yards the plane was in flames. I could see the pilot's face as the plane was over the bow of the LIDDLE.

The pilot pulled up slightly and banked to his starboard in order to clear the bridge and crash at a better angle to port instead of hitting the sonar section of the bridge head-on. As this change of flight was occurring, I dove into the sonar hut and hit the deck while telling Elmer, "Hit the deck. We are going to die!" I huddled close to the deck with my hands over my head. Within seconds the explosion came with death and destruction of 38 officers and men! The bridge was on fire. I didn't feel any heat from the fire in my position and I don't recall how long we remained there.

All on the flying bridge were killed or listed as missing except Smitty, Y3/c. For all those years, I thought Smitty was dead until 1993 when I learned of his part.

The history Preludes to Victory succeeds in bringing to life the Battle of Ormoc Bay and in preserving accounts of veterans from several ships that fought there.