Battle of Surigao Strait: Veterans recall horrors of World War II

SURIGAO CITY — Retired Royal Admiral Guy Richmond Griffiths and David Henry Mattiskie, both part of the Australian Navy when the World War II broke out, arrived in town to join the three-day commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the historic Battle of Surigao Strait from October 23 to 25, in this city.

The Australians were allied with the United States and the Philippines that fought the Imperial Japanese forces.

Griffiths, now 97 years old and Mattiskie, 96, flew back to the Philippines to join the event.

“War is a dreadful part of civilization,” Griffiths told PNA in an interview as he expressed gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives for the peace that nations and their citizens are enjoying nowadays.

“You come from peace and suddenly, somebody wants to create war,” Griffiths recalled the time when Japan declared war against the US and bombed Pearl Harbor and parts of the Philippines, particularly Davao.

He said war remains a horrible experience for humans as millions die and countries enormously devastated.

Griffiths said that at his age, he could not still understand what anyone would get from the death of millions of people “and the colossal devastations of countries and communities.”

“My question is: what’s been achieved from these aggressions? Countries have to rebuild. Fathers, sons, daughters, and families were killed. It’s dreadful,” Griffiths asked.

He said the key to maintaining peace in the world today is mutual understanding and good relationships among nations.

“We need to talk to each other and maintain good relationships and understanding between people, rather than aggressive,” Griffiths said.

Early morning battle

Griffiths can still recall where he was positioned during the historic Battle of Surigao Strait that started the early morning of October 25, 1944.

He was on board the HMAS Shropshire, an Australian gun cruiser serving as Assistant Control Officer.

“On the morning of the 25th of October, we started firing just before 4 o’clock or at 3:56 in the morning,” Griffiths told PNA in an interview.

“When we were firing, I was the Assistant Control Officer. The firing was from down below but I could see all the firing that was going on,” he added.

Since it was still dark, Griffiths said all he could see from the distance are fires in Japanese ships that were badly-hit by torpedoes.

“One exploded. I could only see the explosions, the fire,” he said.

Mattiskie said he was at the bridge when the firing started.

“We were firing at 4 in the morning. I was on board the HMAS Shropshire. I was at the bridge at that time listening to what was happening. I knew that the Americans were also firing their torpedoes towards the enemy ships,” he said.

Griffiths said the firing stopped at past 4 a.m. “and that was the end of the battle.”

Six Japanese warships, under the command of Vice-Admiral Shoji Nishimura, were destroyed during the Battle of Surigao Strait: Fuso, Yamagumo, Asagumo, Yamashiro, Michishio, and Mogami.

Nishimura was among the more than 4,000 Japanese sailors who perished during the battle.

The historical account said 39 American sailors were also killed during the Battle of Surigao Strait. Alexander Lopez / PNA –