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Brightwood Boys, The History of the Men from the North End of
Springfield, Massachusetts, During World War II
by Christopher P. Montagna



The 1st Marine Division was severely mauled by casualties on Peleliu, and it remained out of action until the invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945.  On October 22, 1944 Nino Montagna embarked aboard USS Cape San Martin at Peleliu Island, Palau Island Group.  That same day, his brother Joe Montagna departed for England aboard the USS Edmond B. Alexander as a member of the 277th Combat Engineers.  


After taking part in the invasion of the Palau Islands, the USS Denver next covered landings on Leyte and was part of the force that defeated a Japanese surface ship counter-attack in the Battle of Surigao Strait on the night of October 24-25, 1944. During the pursuit phase of that action, the USS Denver engaged a Japanese force consisting of 2 battleships, 2 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 10 destroyers.  Sinking 2 battle ships, 1 heavy cruiser, 1 light cruiser, 6 destroyers and severely damaging the remaining enemy ships.  The following After Action Report details the events that occurred that night:


The USS Denver was steaming with Task Group 77.2 toward Surigao Strait in hopes of finding a large Japanese surface force. Radio reports indicated that a large group of twelve enemy ships was proceeding up the strait bent on forcing entrance into Leyte Gulf, the force consisting of two battleships, three cruisers, and seven destroyers. PT boats were already attacking with torpedoes at 1:45 am.  Destroyers of this force were ordered to proceed and attack with torpedoes.


Radio reports from PT boats in Surigao Strait indicate that a Japanese force consisting of about twelve ships, two battleships, three cruisers and seven destroyers is coming up the Strait in two groups. Destroyers of this force have been ordered to proceed down the Strait and attack with torpedoes. At 3:08 am the Denver observed flares off starboard bow. Soon after screening ships of this group were observed opening fire. At 3:50 am the Denver’s six-inch battery opened fire on the enemy as enemy shell splashes were seen straddling the Denver.

The ship prepared for a surface engagement with Japanese forces. The Denver commenced maneuvering to form Battle Formation "2-A" on the USS Louisville and resumed firing at 5:32 and continued until 5:57. The USS Denver, Columbia, Bryant, Halford, and Robinson proceeded on a southerly course to sink enemy cripples seen burning in the water.


At 7:07 the Denver’s 5" battery opened fire on one of the burning wrecks of which four others were observed nearby, sinking rapidly. The Denver commenced firing 5" battery at burning Japanese ship.  The bridge crew observed four other ships burning, all of which sank during the next twenty minutes. At 7:21 this ship sunk the enemy vessel identified as a cruiser of the Katori class. At 7:21 the Denver sank the Japanese destroyer.  By 7:25 all burning wreckage in the vicinity had disappeared under the waves.

While Joe Montagna was sailing aboard a troopship bound for England, his younger brother Nino Montagna arrived and disembarked at Pavavu Island, Russell Island Group on October 30, 1944.   On November 2, 1944, Joe arrived in England and was transported to Gillingham, Dorset, England.  As Joe Montagna was beginning his overseas duty, Nino Montagna was preparing to come home.


On November 3, 1944, Nino Montagna and Billy Wright embarked aboard USS General William Mitchell at Pavuvu Island, Russell Islands, British Solomon Islands; sailed on November 4, 1944.  They arrived and disembarked at San Diego, CA on November 17, 1944.  After some rest and relaxation at the Marine Corps Center in South Dakota, Nino Montagna was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.


At the time of its arrival in England, the 277th CEB was assigned to the 1142nd Engineer Combat Group, which was headquartered in Bournemouth, England.  It was in Bournemouth that Joe and Fini Montagna would have a serendipitous meeting.  As Fini rounded the corner he met Joe coming from the other direction.  Although the brothers had not seen each other since Fini's enlistment in March of 1943, Fini's response to the meeting was to ask Joe, "Have you got two bucks I can borrow?"  I am uncertain whether Joe provided the money.