On 20 October 1944, landings were made at Dulag and SanPedroBay, Leyte. USS Princeton (CVL-23) cruised off Luzon and sent her planes against airfields there to prevent Japanese land-based aircraft attacks on Allied ships massed in Leyte Gulf.
On 24 October, however, the task group was found by enemy planes. Shortly before Princeton was attacked by a lone Yokosuka D4Y 'Judy'. The dive bomber dropped a single bomb, which struck the carrier between the elevators, punching through the wooden flight deck and hangar before exploding. Although structural damage was minor, a fire broke out and quickly spread owing to burning gasoline, and caused further explosions. At , a second and larger explosion shook the Princeton, possibly caused by an explosion of one or more bombs in the magazine. Birmingham suffered extensive damage to her superstructure and considerable casualties. Efforts to save the carrier continued, but by , the fires were out of control. The remaining personnel were evacuated.
Lt Bradley was listed as missing in action and later declared dead.
Awarded for Actions During World War II
Division: U.S.S. Princeton (CVL 23)
General Orders: Commander In Chief Pacific Fleet: Serial 01453 (November 17, 1944)
Citation: The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Robert Graham Bradley (NSN: 0-165385), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving on board the Light Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. PRINCETON (CVL-23), during operations against enemy Japanese forces in Philippine waters during the Battle of Leyte Gulf on 24 October 1944. After his ship was hit with a bomb from an enemy aircraft, Lieutenant Bradley led efforts to control the resulting fires and explosions until conditions became unbearable and personnel on the after part of the ship were ordered to leave. He supervised the safe departure of his men, and he was among the last to leave, and after being rescued by a destroyer, returned to the ship and continued to fight fires and control explosions. His courage and skill were in keeping with the highest traditions of the naval service.