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Painting History: Honoring the Legacy of USS Samuel B. Roberts DE-413

Updated: Apr 24

By Brian Abugel 

The Spring 2024 Volunteer work week is now behind us and I am thrilled to see the volume and quality of work that our fantastic volunteers have been able to accomplish in only seven days.   The most visually striking work accomplishment was applying “War Paint” to USS Stewart.   Even as I was tracing the layout and taping off sections of the ship to be painted, the most common questions I received were “What are you doing and why are you doing it?” 


The simple answer is to honor the USS Samuel B. Roberts DE-413.   


However, to understand why that is important, one needs a little context:   Roberts was a destroyer escort, attached to a thirteen-ship task element (code named Taffy 3) assigned to protect the US Army landings on Leyte Island in the Philippine Archipelago.   In October 1944, after years of Island hopping in the Southern Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur was delivering his promise to the Philippine people that he would return to liberate them from the Japanese.   The landings began on October 20th.  However, the Japanese were not going to simply allow the Allies to push them out without a fight. 


In the evening of 24 October, the Japanese were in the process of executing their plan to encircle the islands, rendezvous their forces at Leyte, and smash MacArthur’s landings.  The Japanese were successful in creating a diversion that lured the bulk of the US Navy’s 3rd fleet away from the Philippines.    Believing that Japan’s aircraft carriers were heading Northeast and would be an enticing target,  the US Navy left the defense of the landing forces in the hands of the US 7th Fleet.      


Samuel B Roberts, known as “Sammy B”, was part of a group of escort ships that were intended to support the landings and the men on the beachhead.  Their primary role was to launch planes from six Escort Aircraft carriers to support the ground troops, and seven destroyers and destroyer escorts to screen the carriers from submarine and air attack.    None of these ships had any armor to speak of and none had anything larger than 5-inch guns.  They were not meant to engage capital ships at a long range, or slug it out in a ship-to ship gun battle.


On the morning of October 25th however, the ships of Taffy 3 came face to face with the bulk of the Japanese surface fleet.   Coming from the North as part of an encircling movement, came 4 battleships, 6 Cruisers, and 11 destroyers.  Included among these was the largest battleship ever to sail, the IJN Yamato.   With 24” Armor plate and 18” guns that could hurl a 3500lb shell more than 20 miles away, the Japanese force was formidable and determined to repel the Americans.   Yamato alone weighed more than all of Taffy 3’s ships, combined.


Knowing they were outgunned and out classed in every measurable sense, but also knowing that they were the only thing standing between survival and certain annihilation of the men on the beach, the commanders of each ship chose to attack the Japanese column head-on.    Using their wits, speed, maneuverability,  smoke diversions and rain squalls as cover.  Sammy B joined up with the destroyers Johnston and Hoel to attack. These ships put up such a ferocious defense that the Japanese believed they were engaging with ships many times their size.   After expending their torpedoes and firing nearly all of their ammunition, Johnston, Hoel, and Roberts eventually succumbed to Japanese gunfire.   Nearly 1000 US sailors were lost that day, but not  before successfully damaging and harassing the Japanese fleet enough to reconsider their plan.


Sammy B lost half of her crew during the battle.  Men died at their posts, knowing that the performing their jobs meant the survival or loss of their ship, their shipmates, and the men on the beach.   


We are painting the USS Stewart in Sammy B’s camouflage pattern in honor of the 80th Anniversary of the Battle Off Samar.  Our mission is to tell the story.  There are no other DE’s that can render such a tangible honor to one of the greatest fighting ships in American history.   Our goal is to ensure that American schoolchildren will know the name Samuel B Roberts, and why America is a Nation worth fighting for.

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