JR Potts, AUS 173d AB (Updated: 5/9/2013):
The Samuel B. Roberts destroyer escort came about in 1941 as a result of the Lend-lease Act that was passed into law by the United States government. The United States had done well to stay out of foreign affairs, especially those in Europe, since the close of World War 1 in 1918. However, as the Nazi scourge had enveloped Poland and the Low Countries in the late 1930s and now began pressing against the United Kingdom, this forced the hand of the American government to become "indirectly" involved. With the Lend-Lease Act in place, the United States could now supply material goods to those entities it deemed as allies and would ultimately include the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union receiving large supplies of weapons. As such, the British Royal Navy took deliveries of warships from the United States to help counter the German U-Boat submarine presence bent on sinking convoy ships traversing from the United States to England and from England to Arctic ports.
The destroyer escort design from the American Bureau of Shipping was developed by Captain E.L. Cochrane who took the British requirement for a small escort ship and developed the British Destroyer Escort (BDE). The design was accepted and fifty were built with the first six transferred to England. The balance were reclassified as Destroyer Escort (DE) and, on January 25th, 1943, the remaining vessels were assigned to the United States Navy. Out of every five destroyer escorts ultimately launched, four would be shipped to the inventory of the US Navy and one to the ranks of the British Royal Navy. In the long run, the little ship class proved itself quite an effective warfighter and were far cheaper to build than full-fledged dedicated destroyers.
These destroyer escorts were only 306 feet (93m) from bow-to-stern and her width (or "beam") was 36.8 feet (11.18m). She drew just 9.5 feet (2.87m) of water. "DE 417" displaced at 1,370 tons with war supplies onboard and could make 28.7 knots (33mph) if conditions were "clean". Such speed was possible thanks to her Westinghouse-built geared steam turbines and her two boilers producing 12,000 shaft horsepower and driving twin screws. The vessel was manned with 217 sailors and 11 officers.
To promote such performance came at a price. As such, these small ships were not heavily armored and were generally nicknamed "Tin Cans". Each was allotted only 3/8-inch steel decks and, in heavy seas, DE's would bob around like corks in a bath tub. Her modest armament was just 2 x 5-inch (127mm) main guns and three torpedoes to counter surface vessels. For air-defense and convoy protection, destroyer escorts were fitted with 4 x 40mm AA guns and up to 10 x 20mm AA guns. The main weapon suite was intended primarily for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) as World War 2-era submarines still needed to rise close to the surface to attack surface vessels themselves. To fulfill the ASW role, 2 x depth charge tracks, 1 x hedgehog and 8 x depth charge projectors were installed.
The "Sammy B" was christened in posthumous honor of naval reservist Samuel Booker Roberts Jr. killed on Guadalcanal on September 28th, 1942. At the time of his death, Roberts was commanding a landing craft that he motored in to draw enemy attention away from ships picking up US Marines pinned down by a Japanese crossfire. When Mrs. Roberts learned of the naming of the ship after her son, she requested that her youngest son Jack Roberts - who himself had just finished naval basic training - be assigned to the ship. The Navy Department honored the request.
The Roberts was commissioned on March 31st, 1944. After receiving her crew, she left for her shakedown cruise in Bermuda waters until mid-June. Roberts collided with a whale and received damage to her propeller shaft requiring the ship to return to Norfolk for repairs. After repairs, she left for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, via the Panama Canal and arrived on August 10th, 1944. She was assigned to the Third Fleet stationed in Hawaii and trained with the fleet in local waters. She was transferred to the Seventh Fleet and provided ASW protection for convoys steaming between Pearl and Eniwetok, a coral atoll used for staging ships before they were sent to forward battle areas.
On October 12, 1944 Sammy B's skipper, Bob Copland, was briefed along with many other captains on "Operation King Musketeer II" - the planned invasion of the Philippine Islands. The Roberts was now part of the battleship Task Group 77.2 under the command of Admiral Oldendorf and escort carrier Task group 77.4 commanded by Admiral Sprague. Roberts and the fleet steamed for Leyte under the call sign "Taffy 3".
During the war, no fleet was complete without air power and the Seventh had carrier escorts that were the smallest American aircraft carriers built and, themselves were protected by four of the smallest destroyers like the Roberts as well as two standard destroyers. The eighteen baby "flat tops" were divided into three battle groups of six ships each. The fleet maintained a total of 235 fighter aircraft and 143 torpedo planes. Their mission was to protect the Leyte Gulf invasion fleet. The pilots and sailors were reservists with no combat experience. The carriers were not provided with adequate armor piercing bombs and torpedoes because it was not expected that they would be needed. A heavy responsibility would be given to Taffy 3, the northern most carrier group covering the Leyte invasion.
Based on the battle plan, US Navy Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid felt that Fleet Admiral William Halsey's Third Fleet was on station based on their deployment order and that Task Force 34 (TF 34) guarded San Bernardino. To guard against a Japanese threat from the South, Kinkaid concentrated his battleships mainly to the south of the Leyte beachhead.