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 1944.
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, 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.
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
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
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
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
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 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).