CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Battle of Leyte Gulf

THE BATTLE OF LEYTE GULF

 

 

 

The Battle of Leyte Gulf: October, 1944

Japan's fleet has been decimated over the past two years by fighting in the Solomons, the losses at Midway, and the loss of their remaining naval air forces during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. During an October 18, 1944 Headquarters Liasion meeting, it was requested that "the fleet be given a suitable place to die." When the United States invades the Philippines, the Japanese launch their final naval assault - effectively a massive naval kamikaze attack. Virtually every remaining ship in the Japanese fleet sails in Operation SHO-1 in an attempt to destroy the US invasion fleet in the Leyte Gulf. See the Flash animation for more.

 

 

Prelude to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 23-26 October 1944

On 20 October 1944, the U.S. Sixth Army, supported by naval and air bombardment from the U.S. Seventh Fleet under Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid, landed on the favorable eastern shore of Leyte, one of the large Philippine Islands, north of Mindanao. The Seventh Fleet invasion force assembled in Leyte Gulf was immense, the largest of the war in the Pacific Theater. To stop these landings, to forestall the loss of the Philippines, and to reduce the growing threat to the Japanese home islands, the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to commit nearly its entire surface fleet to a campaign in Leyte Gulf against the U.S. Navy, a decision that turned out to be a disastrous miscalculation.

Luring the Third Fleet Away From Leyte Gulf


Map of the area of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 1944.

As the U.S. Seventh Fleet covered the sea east of Leyte, supporting MacArthur's landings, Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet was poised off the coast of Samar Island (northeast of Leyte), ready to deal with the Japanese Navy if they appeared. To confront and destroy these American forces, the Japanese sent out three task groups, most of what the Japanese had left.

The first Japanese task group, called Northern Force, under Admiral Ozawa, was comprised of four aircraft carriers stripped of planes, to act as a decoy, luring Third Fleet north away from Leyte. The carriers had no aircraft because the enormous Japanese losses at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and elsewhere could not be replenished, but even without aircraft it was hoped they would be an irresistible lure to the Americans.

The Japanese feared Adm. Bull Halsey and the Third Fleet, with nearly a dozen aircraft carriers, and six of the fastest battleships in the world, including the huge Iowa and New Jersey. For the Japanese, success of the decoy would permit the other two groups, consisting primarily of heavy surface vessels, to slip through the Philippine Islands from the west and enter the Leyte Gulf area. There they could successfully attack the American transports and escorts of the Seventh Fleet, mostly slow, and unarmored vessels good for invasion support, but very vulnerable to the Japanese Navy.

The Japanese Attack Plan for Leyte Gulf

The plan was straightforward. With the Sixth Fleet drawn away by the decoy Northern Force, the Japanese Navy's ships in two additional task groups would approach the battle area from west of Leyte and pounce on the Seventh Fleet from two directions. The Southern Force, under Vice Admiral S. Nishimura with the battleships Fuso and Yamashiro, supported by the heavy cruiser Mogami and four destroyers, planned to come through the Surigao Strait, south of Leyte, followed on the same path by three more cruisers and four destroyers brought into the battle from Japan, under Vice Admiral Shima. They would then attack the Seventh Fleet in Leyte Gulf from the south.

Simultaneously, sailing from Brunei in Borneo, the Center Force, the main striking force of five battleships, twelve cruisers and fifteen destroyers under the command of Vice-Admiral Takeo Kurita would come through San Bernardino Strait, north of Leyte, go around the island of Samar, then confront the Americans by entering Leyte Gulf from the north.

With the two pronged pincer maneuver, the Seventh Fleet transports, tankers, jeep carriers and destroyers would be attacked and sunk by the full force of the Japanese Navy.

Opening Moves in the Battle of Leyte Gulf

The first engagement was on 23 October 1944 off Palawan Island, when the Japanese armada was detected on route and American submarines sank two cruisers. Alerted by the sightings, the next day, 24 October, Seventh Fleet units moved into position to block the southern approaches to Leyte while Third Fleet aircraft, searching west of Leyte, found and attacked the Japanese task forces in the Sibuyan Sea (Center Force) and Sulu Sea (Southern Force), the second engagement. These preliminary engagements, before the main battle had begun, sank two heavy cruisers and a Japanese battleship and caused extensive damage forcing some of the ships of the Japanese Center Force to return to Brunei. The main American loss was the USS Princeton (CVL-23), sunk by an air attack (top photo on this page).

Admiral Halsey Takes the Bait

On the afternoon of 24 October, as the battles to the west of Leyte wound down, one of Admiral Halsey's search planes spotted the Japanese Northern Force decoy fleet of four carriers far to the north of Leyte. Admiral Halsey took the bait and ordered his entire Third Fleet into pursuit, leaving Leyte Gulf exposed as the Japanese had hoped. By the next morning, 25 October, at Cape Engaño, a lopsided battle was fought resulting in the loss of most of the Japanese Northern Force to Halsey's carrier planes and battleships' guns, the third engagement. But the main battle was yet to be fought to the south, at Leyte Gulf, and Halsey had to break off the Cape Engaño action to return.

The Battle of the Surigao Strait

During the night of 24-25 October, the Japanese Center Force and Southern Force, having survived the air attacks, moved on their separate paths toward Leyte Gulf and MacArthur's transports and escort carriers. On the morning of 25 October, in Surigao Strait south of Leyte, Nishimura's Southern Force Van ran into a heavy battle line of PT boats, destroyers, cruisers and refurbished old battleships of the US Seventh Fleet, prepared and waiting for battle by Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf. The highly effective American ships and tactics prevailed over Nishimura, sinking a carrier, two battleships, and three of four destroyers in a battle that also killed Nishimura himself.

The second wave of the Southern Force, Southern Force Rear, under Vice Admiral Shima, seeing that the first wave had been cut to pieces, reversed course and returned to Japan, thus ending the Battle of the Surigao Strait, the fourth engagement.

The Battle Off Samar Island

Kurita's Center Force, which included the superbattleships Yamato and Musashi, successfully moved through the narrow San Bernardino Strait, then south along the east coast of Samar Island, northeast of Leyte, to within range of the Seventh Fleet's soft targets by dawn on 25 October 1944. A communications snafu led Kinkaid to think the San Bernardino Strait was still guarded by Halsey who had steamed north after the decoy Northern Force. Although surprised and outnumbered, and intially confused by unexpected reports of sightings of the Center Force fleet, thirteen ships of Taffy III, the Seventh Fleet task unit under Rear Admiral Sprague, went on the attack.

In this engagement, called the Battle off Samar, the Japanese were opposed by smaller, lightly armored ships in principle no match for Kurita's heavyweights. The Japanese Center Force commander, Kurita, believed he was engaged with the U.S. Third Fleet carriers, cruisers, and destroyers, misinformation that marred his judgement. Sprague took advantage of smoke screens and a rain squall to reduce Japanese visibility and fire accuracy. American destroyers (which the Japanese mistook for heavier cruisers) and carrier based pilots of Taffy III and other nearby task groups performed heroically. Ultimately Sprague out-maneuvered and out-fought Kurita. The remnants of Center Force withdrew, ending the fifth engagement. It remains controversial why the Japanese withdrew when they had the firepower to continue the fight and possibly slaughter the Seventh Fleet.

Summary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf

These engagements became known collectively as the Battle of Leyte Gulf, together the largest naval battle in the Pacific during World War II and often cited as the largest in history. The battle cost the Japanese Navy 26 vessels, most of its remaining warships, including three battleships, one of which was the huge Musashi. Although a few ships survived, the Imperial Japanese Navy was finished as an effective fighting force. The U.S. Navy lost six warships at Leyte Gulf, five of them in the Battle off Samar.

The Americans knew that they had dealt the Imperial Japanese Navy a severe blow, but in the immediate aftermath of the sea battle, Japanese commanders falsely believed they had destroyed the American carrier force. Thinking MacArthur's ground forces were now trapped on Leyte, the Japanese command planned to wipe out the U.S. Sixth Army, moving units to Leyte from other islands in the Philippines as well as from Japan and China. Although it did not change the outcome, these reinforcements complicated MacArthur's ground operations and extended the time needed to secure Leyte.

World War II was the largest and most violent armed conflict in the history of mankind. However, the half century that now separates us from that conflict has exacted its toll on our collective knowledge. While World War II continues to absorb the interest of military scholars and historians, as well as its veterans, a generation of Americans has grown to maturity largely unaware of the political, social, and military implications of a war that, more than any other, united us as a people with a common purpose.

Highly relevant today, World War II has much to teach us, not only about the profession of arms, but also about military preparedness, global strategy, and combined operations in the coalition war against fascism. During the next several years, the U.S. Army will participate in the nation's 50th anniversary commemoration of World War II. The commemoration will include the publication of various materials to help educate Americans about that war. The works produced will provide great opportunities to learn about and renew pride in an Army that fought so magnificently in what has been called "the mighty endeavor."

World War II was waged on land, on sea, and in the air over several diverse theaters of operation for approximately six years. The following essay is one of a series of campaign studies highlighting those struggles that, with their accompanying suggestions for further reading, are designed to introduce you to one of the Army's significant military feats from that war.

This brochure was prepared in the U.S. Army Center of Military History by Charles R. Anderson. I hope this absorbing account of that period will enhance your appreciation of American achievements during World War II.

GORDON R. SULLIVAN
General, United States Army
Chief of Staff

Leyte

17 October 1944 1 July 1945

By the summer of 1944, American forces had fought their way across the Pacific on two lines of attack to reach a point 300 miles southeast of Mindanao, the southernmost island in the Philippines. In the Central Pacific, forces under Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commanding the Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean areas, had island-hopped through the Gilberts, the Marshalls, and the Carolines. More than 1,000 miles to the south, Allied forces under General Douglas MacArthur, commanding the Southwest Pacific area, had blocked the Japanese thrust toward Australia, and then recaptured the Solomons and New Guinea and many of its outlying islands, isolating the huge Japanese base at Rabaul.

These victories brought American forces to the inner defensive line of the Japanese Empire, and in the summer of 1944 they pushed through that barrier to take the Marianas, the Palaus, and Morotai. With the construction of airfields in the Marianas, US. Army Air Forces were within striking distance of the Japanese home islands for the first time during the war. Yet, despite an unbroken series of defeats during two years of fighting, the Japanese showed no inclination to end the war. As American forces closed on Japan, they thus faced the most formidable outposts of the Japanese Empire: the Philippines, Formosa, and Okinawa.

Strategic Setting

Months before the Marianas and Palaus came under American control, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had addressed the question of objectives beyond those island groups. Early discussions considered Formosa and the Philippines. Domination of either would threaten Japanese sea lines of communication between her fleet bases and industries in the home islands and the resource-rich East Indies to the south. In addition, a strong American beachhead in the Philippines would jeopardize Japan's internal communications within the archipelago, the location of the largest concentration of Japanese ground strength outside the home islands and China. Although possession of Formosa would give American forces an ideal springboard for operations on the Chinese mainland it would place those forces between Japan and the huge enemy garrison in the Philippines. The Philippine archipelago thus seemed a more logical objective.

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The Joint Chiefs of Staff could not afford to ignore the political implications of its military planning. A return to the Philippines involved a compelling political dimension that did not apply to Formosa. The Philippine Islands had been a special concern of the United States since 1898, and the inherent politico-military responsibilities arising from that relationship could not be discarded so easily. General MacArthur and others insisted that the United States had a moral obligation to liberate the Republic's 16 million citizens from harsh Japanese occupation as soon as possible.

On 12 March 1944, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed General MacArthur to plan an invasion of Mindanao, the southernmost island of the archipelago, starting on 15 November. The general responded in June with a two-phase operational plan which included the seizure of southern Mindanao on 25 October to serve as a staging area for a larger amphibious assault against Leyte three weeks later. Luzon, the largest island in the archipelago and the location of the headquarters for Japanese forces in the islands, would eventually have to be taken to secure the Philippines. However, Mindanao and Leyte had features that made them desirable, if not necessary, preliminary operations to the liberation of Luzon. For one, both islands were accessible. Generally exposed coastlines�Mindanao to the south and Leyte to the east�would allow American forces approaching from either direction to preserve uninterrupted lines of communication from recently secured bases. In contrast, an amphibious strike directly against Luzon in the northern Philippines would be more difficult to support. Second and critical to forces operating together for the first time, both islands were known to be defended by garrisons much smaller than that on Luzon. MacArthur's staff estimated Japanese combat strength on Mindanao to be 50,000 with another 50,000 in the Visayas, the central Philippine Islands which included Leyte. They estimated that Luzon had 180,000 defenders.

Preparation for the invasion of the Philippines was greatly assisted by ULTRA, the Allied top secret interception, decryption, and dissemination program against Japanese radio traffic. Acting on tip-offs from ULTRA, American submarines and aircraft had been ambushing Japanese shipping in the Western Pacific and interfering with enemy exploitation of resources in the East Indies for many months. In June 1944 ULTRA revealed that Tokyo had decided to greatly strengthen its Philippine defenses to block the expected American route of advance northward toward the home islands. That knowledge and subsequent intercepts had allowed the Allied high command to focus submarine and air attacks against Japanese shipping routes and flight paths to

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the Philippines. But despite increasing losses, the Japanese buildup in the islands continued through the summer and fall of 1944.

For the Allies, the sooner the invasion began, the better. But the availability of amphibious shipping, fleet fire support, and air support became major obstacles to accelerating the invasion date. Logistical studies by different headquarters gave conflicting answers to the question of whether or not there was enough shipping in the Pacific to support major landings on both Mindanao and Leyte. By the end of summer the Joint Chiefs of Staff could no longer wait to fix the timetable for the assault. On 8 September the chiefs directed MacArthur and Nimitz to take the Leyte and Surigao Strait area beginning 20 December.

The issues of objectives and operational scheduling were finally settled by fleet-covering operations in support of the invasion of the Palaus and Morotai. Beginning on 7 September 1944, carrier task forces from Admiral William F. Halsey's Third Fleet struck Yap and the Palaus, as well as Mindanao and islands in the central Philippines. Air strikes continued in October against Japanese airfields on Okinawa, Formosa, and Luzon, as well as enemy shipping in adjacent waters. American planners estimated that these attacks destroyed more than 500 enemy aircraft in the Philippines and a similar number elsewhere, in addition to about 180 seagoing merchant ships. The aerial successes convinced them that a major landing on Mindanao was no longer necessary and that available shipping and logistical strength could now be concentrated on Leyte. Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed MacArthur and Nimitz to cancel intermediate operations and accelerate planning to carry out an invasion of Leyte on 20 October.

Meanwhile, Japanese Imperial headquarters received a completely different impression of what had been occurring. With their naval pilots forwarding wildly exaggerated reports of downing 1,200 American aircraft and sinking eleven aircraft carriers, Tokyo became increasingly optimistic. Although senior naval officers grew suspicious of these claims, other military authorities in Tokyo accepted them. In their eyes, the supposed American losses made it possible to decisively defeat the Americans wherever they landed in the Philippines�if Japan could concentrate its resources there. American planners, however, continued to regard Leyte as a mere stepping stone to the more decisive campaign for Luzon. This conceptual difference would greatly increase the stakes at Leyte or wherever the Americans landed first.

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Operations

One of the larger islands of the Philippine archipelago, Leyte extends 110 miles from north to south and ranges between 15 and 50 miles in width. The land surface presented features both inviting and forbidding to U.S. military planners. Deep-water approaches on the east side of the island and sandy beaches offered opportunities for amphibious assaults and close-in resupply operations. The interior of the island was dominated by a heavily-forested north-south mountain range, separating two sizable valleys, or coastal plains. The larger of the two, Leyte Valley extends from the northern coast to the long eastern shore and at the time, contained most of the towns and roadways on the island. Highway 1 ran along the east coast for some forty miles between the town of Abuyog to the northern end of San Juanico Strait between Leyte and Samar Islands. The roads and lowlands extending inland from Highway 1 provided avenues for tank-infantry operations, as well as a basis for airfield construction.

The only other lowland expanse, Ormoc Valley is on the west side of the island connected to Leyte Valley by a roundabout and winding road. From the town of Palo on the east coast, Highway 2 ran west and northwest through Leyte Valley to the north coast, then turned south and wound through a mountainous neck to enter the north end of Ormoc Valley. The road continued south to the port of Ormoc City, then along Leyte's western shore to the town of Baybay. There it turned east to cross the mountainous waist of the island and connected with Highway 1 on the east coast at Abuyog. Below Abuyog and Baybay, the mountainous southern third of Leyte was only sparsely inhabited and contained no areas suitable for development.

Mountain peaks reaching to over 4,400 feet as well as the jagged outcroppings, ravines, and caves typical of volcanic islands offered formidable defensive opportunities. In addition, the late-year schedule of the assault would force combat troops and supporting pilots, as well as logistical units, to contend with monsoon rains. On a favorable note, the population of over 900,000 people, most of whom engaged in agriculture and fishing, could be expected to assist an American invasion, since many residents already supported the guerrilla struggle against the Japanese in the face of harsh repression.

The Imperial Japanese Army administered all garrisons and forces in the Pacific and Southeast Asia through its Southern Army, which included four area armies, two air armies, and three garrison armies. The 14th Area Army was responsible for the defense of the Philippines. Commanded by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the 14th

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Area Army delegated responsibility for defense of Mindanao and the Visayas to the 35th Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Sosaku Suzuki. From an order of battle that included four complete divisions and elements of another, plus three independent mixed brigades, Suzuki assigned the 16th Division, under Lt. Gen. Shiro Makino, to defend Leyte and designated the 30th Division, posted to Mindanao, as field army reserve. By October Japanese strength in the Philippines, including air and construction units, totaled about 432,000 troops, with General Makino's 16th Division controlling somewhat over 20,000 soldiers on Leyte.

The 14th Area Army was supported by sizeable air and naval forces. Both the 4th Air Army and the 1st Air Fleet were headquartered in the Philippines, and could call on reinforcement from task forces in the Borneo and Formosa areas totaling 4 carriers, 7 battleships, 2 battleship-carriers, 19 cruisers, and 33 destroyers. American intelligence estimated the Japanese still had between 100 and 120 operational airfields in the Philippines, with 884 aircraft of all types. The largest of six airfields on Leyte�at Tacloban, the provincial capital�could accommodate medium bombers.

To take Leyte, American and Allied forces mounted the largest amphibious operation to date in the Pacific. The Joint Chiefs of Staff designated General MacArthur supreme commander of sea, air, and land forces drawn from both the Southwest Pacific and Central Pacific theaters of operation. Allied naval forces consisted primarily of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, commanded by Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid. With 701 ships, including 157 warships, Kinkaid's fleet would transport and put ashore the landing force.

The U.S. Sixth Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, and consisting of two corps of two divisions each, would conduct operations ashore. Maj. Gen. Franklin C. Sibert's X Corps included the 1st Cavalry Division and the 24th Infantry Division, the latter less the 21st Infantry, which had been temporarily organized as an independent regimental combat team (RCT). Maj. Gen. John R. Hodge's XXIV Corps included the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions, the latter less the 381st Infantry, also organized as an RCT in army reserve. The Sixth Army reserve would include the 32d and 77th Infantry Divisions and the 381st RCT. Of the six divisions, only the 96th Infantry Division had not yet seen combat.

Supplementing these forces were a battalion of Rangers and a support command specially tailored for large amphibious operations. The task of the 6th Ranger Infantry Battalion was to secure outlying islands and guide naval forces to the landing beaches. The new Sixth Army

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Service Command (ASCOM), commanded by Maj. Gen. Hugh J. Casey, was responsible for organizing the beachhead supplying units ashore, and constructing or improving roads and airfields. General Krueger had under his command a total of 202,500 ground troops.

Air support for the Leyte operation would be provided by the Seventh Fleet during the transport and amphibious phases, then transferred to Allied Air Forces, commanded by Lt. Gen. George C. Kenney, when conditions ashore allowed. More distant-covering air support would be provided by the four fast carrier task forces of Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet, whose operations would remain under overall command of Admiral Nimitz.

The Sixth Army mission of securing Leyte was to be accomplished in three phases. The first would begin on 17 October, three days before and some fifty miles east of the landing beaches, with the seizure of three islands commanding the eastern approaches to Leyte

 

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Gulf. On 20 October, termed "A-day," the X and XXIV Corps would land at separate beaches on the east coast of Leyte, the former on the right (north), the latter fifteen miles to the south. As quickly as possible, the X Corps would take the city of Tacloban and its airfield both just one mile north of the corps beachhead secure the strait between Leyte and Samar Islands, then push through Leyte Valley to the north coast. The XXIV Corps' mission was to secure the southern end of Leyte Valley for airfield and logistical development. Meanwhile, the 21st RCT would come ashore some seventy miles south of the main landing beaches to secure the strait between Leyte and Panaon Islands. In the third phase, the two corps would take separate routes through the mountains to clear the enemy from Ormoc Valley and the west coast of the island at the same time placing an outpost on the island of Samar some thirty-five miles north of Tacloban.

Preliminary operations for the Leyte invasion began at dawn on 17 October with minesweeping operations and the movement of the 6th Rangers toward three small islands in Leyte Gulf. Although delayed by a storm, the Rangers were on Suluan and Dinagat by 1230. On Suluan they dispersed a small number of Japanese defenders and destroyed a radio station, while they found no enemy on Dinagat. On both, the Rangers proceeded to erect navigation lights for the amphibious transports to follow three days later. The Rangers occupied the third island Homonhon, without opposition the next day. Meanwhile, reconnaissance by underwater demolition teams revealed clear landing beaches for assault troops on Leyte itself.

Following four hours of heavy naval gunfire on A-day, 20 October, Sixth Army forces landed on assigned beaches at 1000 hours. Troops from X Corps pushed across a four-mile stretch of beach between Tacloban airfield and the Palo River. Fifteen miles to the south, XXIV Corps units came ashore across a three-mile strand between San José and the Daguitan River. Troops in both corps sectors found as much or more resistance from swampy terrain as from Japanese fire. Within an hour of landing, units in most sectors had secured beachheads deep enough to receive heavy vehicles and large amounts of supplies. Only in the 24th Division sector did enemy fire force a diversion of follow-on landing craft. But even that sector was secure enough by 1330 to allow General MacArthur to make a dramatic entrance through the surf and announce to the populace the beginning of their liberation: "People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil."

By the end of A-day, the Sixth Army had moved inland as deep as two miles and controlled Panaon Strait at the southern end of Leyte. In

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General MacArthur wades ashore in the 24th Infantry Division

sector, 20 October 1944. (National Archives)

the X Corps sector, the 1st Cavalry Division held Tacloban airfield and the 24th Infantry Division had taken the high ground commanding its beachheads Hill 522. In the XXIV Corps sector, the 96th Infantry Division held the approaches to Catmon Hill, the highest point in both corps beachheads; the 7th Infantry Division had taken the town of Dulag, forcing General Makino to move his 16th Division command post ten miles inland to the town of Dagami. These gains had been won at a cost of 49 killed 192 wounded and 6 missing.

In the days that followed the Sixth Army made steady progress inland against an enemy which resisted tenaciously at several points but was unable to coordinate an overall island defense. In the process, the 1st Cavalry Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Verne D. Mudge, secured the provincial capital of Tacloban on 21 October. Two days later General MacArthur presided over a ceremony to restore civil

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1st Cavalry Division troops advance inland through

swampy terrain. (National Archives)

government to Leyte. To prevent a Japanese counterattack from the mountainous interior, the 5th and 12th Cavalry Regiments, 1st Cavalry Brigade, established blocking positions west of the city, while the 7th and 8th Cavalry Regiments, 2d Cavalry Brigade, cleared the fourteen-mile-long San Juanico Strait between Leyte and Samar Islands, mounting tank-infantry advances on one side of the narrow body of water and amphibious assaults and patrols on the other. Opposition was light, and the cavalrymen continued advancing around the northeast shoulder of Leyte toward a rendezvous with the 24th Division.

On the X Corps left, the 24th Infantry Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Frederick A. Irving, drove inland' meeting more determined enemy resistance. During five days and nights of hard fighting, troops of the 19th and 34th Infantry Regiments killed over 800 enemy in the effort to expand their beachhead and take control of high ground commanding the entrance to the northern Leyte Valley. By 1 November, after a seven-day tank-infantry advance supported by the fire of three

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artillery battalions, the division's two regiments had pushed through Leyte Valley and were within sight of the north coast and the port of Carigara. The next day, while the 34th Infantry guarded the southern and western approaches to the port, the 2dCavalry Brigade entered and cleared the city. In the victorious drive through Leyte Valley, the 24th Division killed nearly 3,000 enemy. These advances left only one major port on Leyte�at Ormoc City on the west coast of the island�under Japanese control.

From the XXIV Corps beachhead on the Sixth Army left, General Hodge had sent his two assault divisions into the southern Leyte Valley, the area in which General MacArthur hoped to develop airfields and logistical facilities for subsequent operations against Luzon. The area already contained four airfields and a large supply center.

The mission of the 96th Infantry Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. James L. Bradley, was to clear the most prominent terrain feature in the entire Sixth Army landing zone, Catmon Hill. From the 1,400foot heights of this promontory, the Japanese had observed and fired on landing craft approaching the beach on A-day. Keeping the enemy on Catmon Hill occupied with intermittent artillery and naval gunfire, Bradley's troops made their way through the swamps south and west of the high ground. On 28 October, the 382d Infantry took a key Japanese supply base at Tabontabon, five miles inland, after a three-day fight in which the Americans killed some 350 enemy. As the battle for Tabontabon raged below, two battalions each from the 381st and 383d Infantry Regiments went up opposite sides of Catmon Hill. The Japanese resisted fiercely, still manning fighting positions after several heavy artillery preparations, but could not stop the tank-supported American advance. By the 31st, when the mop-up of Catmon Hill was completed, American troops had cleared fifty-three pillboxes, seventeen caves, and many other prepared positions.

On the XXIV Corps left, or southern flank, the 7th Infantry Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Archibald V. Arnold, moved inland against an unusually dense concentration of enemy facilities and defenses. The Japanese had built or improved four airfields in a narrow, ten-mile strip along the east-west road between the small towns of Dulag and Burauen. On 21 October the 184th Infantry took Dulag airfield south of the road while the 32d Infantry cleared both sides of the Calbasag River. Three more days of fighting swamps, extreme heat, and Japanese supported by artillery and armor brought 7th Division regiments to within three miles of Burauen, where three airfields were clustered. The fight for the airfields and village was bloody but flying wedges of American tanks cleared the way for the infantrymen.

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Infantrymen cautiously move toward an enemy

machine gun position. (National Archives)

In Burauen itself, troops of the 17th Infantry overcame fanatical but futile resistance, with some enemy popping up from spider holes and others making suicidal attempts to stop the American tanks by holding explosives against their armored hulls. One mile north, troops of the 32d Infantry killed more than 400 Japanese at Buri airfield. With two battalions of the 184th Infantry patrolling the corps left flank, the 17th Infantry, with the 2d Battalion, 184th Infantry, attached, turned north toward Dagami, six miles above Burauen. Using flamethrowers to root their enemy out of pillboxes and a cemetery, American troops brought Dagami under control on 30 October, forcing General Makino to move his command post yet further to the west.

While most of its units were occupied in the Dulag-Burauen-Dagami area, the 7th Division also probed across the island. On 29 October, the 2d Battalion, 32d Infantry, preceded by the 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, moved fifteen miles south along the east coast to Abuyog and then, over the next four days, patrolled west through the mountains to bring Ormoc Bay under observation. Neither advance encountered any Japanese defenders.

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As the Sixth Army pushed deeper into Leyte, the Japanese struck back in the air and at sea. On 24 October, an estimated 150 to 200 enemy aircraft, most of them twin-engine bombers, approached American beachheads and shipping from the north. Fifty American land-based aircraft rose to intercept, claiming to have shot down somewhere between sixty-six and eighty-four of the raiders. Nevertheless, day and night air raids continued over the next four days, damaging supply dumps ashore and threatening American shipping. But by 28 October, American air attacks on Japanese airfields on other islands so reduced enemy air strength that conventional air raids ceased to be a major threat.

As Japanese air strength diminished' the defenders began to use a new and deadly weapon, a corps of pilots willing to crash their bomb-laden planes directly into American ships, committing suicide in the process. Termed kamikaze or "divine wind" to recall the 13th century typhoon that scattered and sank a Mongol invasion fleet off southern Japan, these pilots chose as their first target the large American transport and escort fleet that had gathered in Leyte Gulf on A-day. Although Japanese suicide pilots sank no capital ships and only one escort carrier, they damaged many other vessels and filled with foreboding those American soldiers and sailors who witnessed their stunning acts of self sacrifice.

A more serious danger to the American forces developed at sea. To destroy U.S. Navy forces supporting the Sixth Army, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) decided to commit nearly its entire surface fleet to the Leyte Campaign in three major task groups. One, which included four aircraft carriers with no aircraft aboard, was to act as a decoy, luring Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet north away from Leyte Gulf. If the decoy was successful, the other two groups, consisting primarily of heavy surface combatants, would enter the gulf from the west and attack the American transports.

The approach of the surface vessels was revealed on 23 October, when American submarines sank two cruisers. The next day, Seventh Fleet units blocked the southern approaches to Leyte while Third Fleet aircraft began attacking the main surface task force. But when his airmen spotted the four enemy carriers far to the north of Leyte that afternoon, Admiral Halsey took his Third Fleet carriers and battleships in pursuit. That night, the two Japanese surface task forces, unmolested by air attacks, moved toward Leyte Gulf and MacArthur's transports and escort carriers. Seventh Fleet battleships sank or turned back units of the smaller Japanese attack force moving through Surigao Strait south of Leyte. But the second and larger task force, which

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included the superbattleships Yamato and Musashi, successfully moved through the San Bernardino Strait, then south along the east coast of Samar Island, northeast of Leyte, to within range of the soft support shipping.

On the morning of 25 October, after two and one half hours of desperate fighting by light U.S. Navy escorts, the Japanese battle fleet mysteriously broke off the engagement and withdrew from the gulf, thereby leaving unexploited the opportunity presented by the Third Fleet's departure. To the north, the Third Fleet caught up with the Japanese carriers and sank all four of them. These encounters, later known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf, represented the largest naval battle in the Pacific. The battle cost the IJN most of its remaining warships, including 3 battleships, one of which was the huge Musashi, 6 heavy and 4 light cruisers, and 9 destroyers, in addition to its remaining carriers.

Americans and Japanese came away from the battle of Leyte Gulf with extremely divergent views of what had occurred. These different assessments provoked planning revisions which completely changed the character and duration of the battle for Leyte. The Americans believed they had dealt the IJN a severe blow; events later proved them correct. But in the immediate aftermath of the sea battle, Japanese commanders believed they had ruined the American carrier force. In fact, they had sunk only one light and two escort carriers and three destroyers. Nevertheless, convinced that they had won a major naval victory and bolstered by reports of air victories in the ten days before A-day, Southern Army resolved to fight the decisive battle on Leyte. Believing MacArthur's ground forces were now trapped on the island, the Japanese command moved to wipe out the Sixth Army. Marshaling available shipping, the Japanese began moving units to Leyte from other islands in the Philippines as well as from Japan and China. The first convoy brought units of the 102d and 30th Divisions during 23-26 October. Over the next six weeks, eight more convoys brought troops from the 1st, 8th, and 26th Divisions, and the 68th Independent Mixed Brigade.

ULTRA intercepts reported the approach of this shipping, but MacArthur's staff at first thought they indicated the beginning of an enemy evacuation. The necessary diversion of Third Fleet and Seventh Fleet aircraft for operations against surviving Japanese fleet units and the incomplete buildup of the U.S. Fifth Air Force on Leyte itself also weakened Allied reconnaissance and offensive capabilities in the immediate vicinity of the battle. Not until the first week in November did MacArthur's staff realize that an enemy reinforcement was under

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Japanese transport under attack. (National Archives)

way. Thereafter, American forces inflicted severe damage on local Japanese merchant shipping, sinking twenty-four transports bound for Leyte and another twenty-two elsewhere in the Philippines, as well as several warships and smaller vessels. By 11 December, however, the Japanese had succeeded in moving to Leyte more than 34,000 troops and over 10,000 tons of materiel, most of it through the port of Ormoc on the west coast.

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For both Krueger and MacArthur the Japanese reinforcement caused severe problems. Instead of conducting mop-up operations after clearing the east side of Leyte, the Sixth Army now had to prepare for extended combat in the mountains on its western side. These new preparations included landing three reserve divisions on Leyte, which pushed back General MacArthur's operations schedule for the rest of the Philippine campaign, as well as the War Department's deployment plans in the Pacific.

On the ground the picture still looked bright. The linkup of the 1st Cavalry and 24th Infantry Divisions at Carigara on 2 November closed the highly successful opening drive of the campaign. After seventeen days of combat operations, the Sixth Army had all of its first and second phase objectives under control, as well as one third-phase objective, Abuyog. In addition, elements of the 7th Division had pushed across the island from the southern end of the XXIV Corps sector and controlled approaches to the town of Baybay on the west coast. Only one key area, Ormoc Valley on the west side of the island, remained to be taken.

To clear Ormoc Valley, General Krueger planned a giant pincer operation, with X Corps forces moving south through the mountains and XXIV Corps units pushing north along the western shore. To overcome the expected increased resistance, especially in the mountain barrier to the north, Krueger planned to commit his reserve forces, the 32d and 77th Infantry Divisions, and MacArthur agreed to contribute another, the 11th Airborne.

In this final phase, units of both corps would be operating on terrain much more rugged than that encountered on the eastern coast of the island and in Leyte Valley. North of Ormoc Valley, units of the X Corps would have to make their way south along a ten-mile stretch of Highway 2 through the dense mountainous neck at the northwest shoulder of the island. South of Ormoc Valley, elements of the XXIV Corps would have to advance northward some thirty miles along the coast from Baybay to Ormoc City, all the while under observation of ridgelines only a few hundred yards inland, and then continue north another twelve miles to link up with units of the X Corps. The mountainous terrain north and south of Ormoc Valley offered excellent opportunities for the Japanese to again display the formidable defensive skills for which they were now well known.

For the initial drive on Ormoc Valley, General Sibert's X Corps had the dual missions of opening Highway 2 south through the mountains and closing several other mountain passes through which Japanese forces might counterattack American positions in Leyte

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Valley along the east side of the island. To carry out all these missions, Sibert required additional forces, and on 30 October General Krueger directed General Hodge to return the 21st RCT from the Panaon area to the 24th Division and replace it with a battalion of the 32d Infantry. While awaiting the return of its third regiment, Irving's 24th Division

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prepared to sweep the rest of the northern coast before turning south into the mountains.

On 3 November the 24th Division's 34th Infantry moved out from its position two miles west of Carigara. The 1st Battalion soon came under attack from a ridge along the highway. Supported by the 63d Field Artillery Battalion, the unit cleared the ridge, and the 34th Infantry continued unopposed that night through the town of Pinamopoan, halting at the point where Highway 2 turns south into the mountains. Along the five-mile advance west from Carigara, the infantrymen recovered numerous weapons abandoned by the Japanese, including three 75-mm., one 40-mm., and five 37-mm. guns, as well as much ammunition, equipment, and documentation. Then, after a short delay necessitated by Krueger's concern over a possible seaborne Japanese counterattack along Leyte's northern coast, the 24th Division, strengthened by the return of the 21st Infantry, began its drive south.

On 7 November the 21st Infantry went into its first sustained combat on Leyte when it moved into the mountains along Highway 2, less than one mile inland of Carigara Bay. The fresh regiment, with the 3d Battalion, 19th Infantry, attached immediately ran into strong defenses of the newly arrived Japanese 1st Division, aligned from east to west across the road and anchored on fighting positions built of heavy logs and with connecting trench lines and countless spider holes. The entire defense complex soon became known as "Breakneck Ridge."

Three days later, American progress was further impeded by a typhoon, which had begun on 8 November, and heavy rains that followed for several days. Despite the storm and high winds, which added falling trees and mud slides to enemy defenses and delayed supply trains, the 21st Infantry continued its attack. Progress was slow and halting, with assault companies often having to withdraw and attack hills that had been taken earlier. Fortunately, the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, had seized the approaches to Hill 1525, two miles east of the road enabling General Irving to stretch out the enemy defenses further across a four-mile front straddling Highway 2.

After five days of battering against seemingly impregnable positions atop heavily jungled hills and two nights of repulsing enemy counterattacks, Irving decided on a double envelopment of the defending 1st Division. He ordered the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, to swing east around Hill 1525 behind the enemy right flank, cutting back to Highway 2, three miles south of Breakneck Ridge. To envelop the enemy left flank on the west side of the road Irving sent the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, over water from the Carigara area to a point two miles west of the southward turn of Highway 2. Lt. Col.

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Filipino volunteers carry supplies into the mountains to reach

1st Cavalry Division troops. (National Archives)

Thomas E. Clifford moved the battalion inland. They crossed one ridge line and the Leyte River, then swung south around the enemy's left flank and approached Kilay Ridge, the most prominent terrain feature behind the main battle area.

Although encountering strong opposition and heavy rains, which reduced visibility to only a few yards, both American battalions had reached positions only about 1,000 yards apart on opposite sides of the highway by 13 November. On that day, Clifford's battalion attacked Kilay Ridge on the west side of the highway while the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, assaulted a hill on the east side. Neither unit was able to carry out its objective or close Highway 2.

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For two weeks Clifford's men struggled through rain and mud, often dangerously close to friendly mortar and artillery fire, to root the enemy out of fighting positions on the way up the 900-foot Kilay Ridge. But on both Kilay and Breakneck Ridges the Japanese conducted a bitter, skillful defense. On 2 December Clifford's battalion finally cleared the heights overlooking the road and began turning over the area to fresh units of the 32d Division. During the struggle, the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, lost 26 killed, 101 wounded and 2 missing, but accounted for an estimated 900 enemy dead. For their arduous efforts against Kilay Ridge and adjacent areas, both flanking battalions received Presidential Unit Citations. Clifford himself received the Distinguished Service Cross for the action.

While the struggle for the Kilay Ridge area was taking place, other operations in the X Corps zone proceeded apace. To assist Sibert, General Krueger transferred the 32d Division to the X Corps on 14 November; Sibert in turn began replacing the exhausted units of the 24th Division with those of the 32d, commanded by Maj. Gen. William H. Gill. Meanwhile, operating east of the Breakneck-Kilay Ridge area, the 1st Cavalry Division had fought its way southwest of Carigara through elements of the defending 102d Division to link up with 32d Division infantrymen near Highway 2 on 3 December. But it was not until 14 December that the two divisions finally cleared all of the Breakneck-Kilay Ridge area, placing the most heavily defended portions of Highway 2 between Carigara Bay and the Ormoc Valley under X Corps control.

Throughout this phase, American efforts had become increasingly hampered by logistical problems. Mountainous terrain and impassable roads forced Sixth Army transportation units to improvise resupply trains of Navy landing craft, tracked landing vehicles, airdrops, artillery tractors, trucks, even carabaos and hundreds of barefoot Filipino bearers. Not surprisingly, the complex scheduling of this jerry-built system slowed resupply as well as the pace of assaults, particularly in the mountains north and east of Ormoc Valley and subsequently in the ridgelines along Ormoc Bay.

While the X Corps was making its way through the northern mountains, the XXIV Corps had been attempting to muster forces around Baybay for its drive north along the west coast through the Ormoc Valley. Yet, in mid-November the XXIV Corps still had only the 32d Infantry in western Leyte, with the remainder of the 7th Division still securing the Burauen area. Only the arrival of the 11th Airborne Division on Leyte in strength around the 22d allowed the corps commander, General Hodge, to finally shift Arnold's entire 7th

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Division to the west. But almost immediately, further delays ensued. As the 32d Infantry consolidated the division's jump-off positions about ten miles north of Baybay, it suddenly came under attack by the Japanese 26th Division on the night of 23 November. The regiment's 2d Battalion was pushed back, then regained lost ground the next day. To prevent another setback, General Arnold attached the 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry, to the 32d Infantry. Also supporting the American defensive effort was a platoon from the 767th Tank Battalion, two 105mm. batteries from the 49th Field Artillery Battalion, and one Marine Corps 155-mm. battery. The larger caliber unit was from the 11th Gun Battalion, one of two Marine Corps artillery battalions originally scheduled for the invasion of Yap but transferred to Sixth Army control when that operation was canceled. Pummeled by heavy fire from these artillery units, the Japanese went straight for them the night of the 24th, putting four 105-mm. pieces out of action. By cannibalizing parts, the American gunners minimized the loss, and the next day par' of the 57th Field Artillery Battalion arrived, giving the 7th Division one 155-mm. and four 105-mm. batteries to support what had now become a major defensive effort.

Despite heavy casualties, the Japanese mounted two more attacks on consecutive nights. Not until the morning of 27 November were American troops able to take the offensive, counting at the time some 400 enemy dead outside of their perimeter and discovering over 100 more along with 29 abandoned machine guns as they advanced farther northwards that day. The 7th Division soldiers dubbed the successful defense of the Damulaan area "the Shoestring Ridge battles" after the precarious supply system that supported them rather than after the terrain fought over.

After a few days' rest and a rotation of units, General Arnold finally began in earnest his advance toward Ormoc with a novel tact tic. On the night of 4 December vehicles of the 776th Amphibian Tank Battalion put to sea and leaped-frogged north along the coast 1,000 yards ahead of the ground units. The next morning, the tanks moved to within 200 yards of the shore and fired into the hills in front of the advancing 17th and 184th regiments. This tactic proved effective, greatly disorganizing the defenders, except where ground troops encountered enemy pockets on reverse slopes inland, shielded from the offshore tank fire.

As the 7th Division pushed north with a two-regiment front, the 17th Infantry inland encountered heavy enemy fire coming from Hill 918, from which the entire coast to Ormoc City could be observed. It took two days of intense fighting against enemy units supported be

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mortar and artillery fire for the 17th and 184th regiments to clear the strongpoint, after which the advance north accelerated. By 12 December, General Arnold's lead battalion was less than ten miles south of Ormoc City.

While the advance on Ormoc continued events both alarming and reassuring occurred at other locations on Leyte. In early December, elements of the Japanese 16th and 26th Divisions in the central mountains combined with the 3d and 4th Airborne Raiding Regiments from Luzon to attack the airfields in the Burauen area, which the 7th Division had taken in October. Some 350 Japanese paratroopers dropped at dusk on 6 December, most of them near the San Pablo airstrip. Although the Japanese attacks were poorly coordinated, the enemy was able to seize some abandoned weapons and use them against the Americans over the next four days. Hastily mustered groups of support and service troops held off the Japanese until the 11th Airborne Division, reinforced by the 1st Battalion, 382d Infantry, and the 1st and 2d Battalions, 149th Infantry, 38th Infantry Division, concentrated enough strength to contain and defeat the enemy paratroops by nightfall of 11 December. Although the Japanese destroyed a few American supply dumps and aircraft on the ground and delayed construction projects, their attacks on the airfields failed to have any effect on the overall Leyte Campaign.

Meanwhile, on the west side of Leyte, the XXIV Corps received welcome reinforcements on 7 December with the landing of the 77th Infantry Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Andrew D. Bruce, three and a half miles south of Ormoc City and one mile north of 7th Division positions. The 77th Division's 305th, 306th, and 307th Infantry Regiments came ashore unopposed' although naval shipping was subjected to kamikaze air attacks. As the newly committed unit landed and moved inland' the 7th Division resumed its march north, and the defenders were quickly squeezed between the two forces.

The commitment of the 77th Division proved decisive. As soon as he learned of the new American landing, General Suzuki ordered those forces then attacking the Burauen airfields to break contact and cross the mountains to help hold Ormoc Valley. Only small groups of these troops, exhausted and malnourished' reached the west coast in time to be of any great use. The strongest opposition facing the 77th Division came from a force of about 1,740 soldiers, sailors, and paratroops at Camp Downes, a prewar Philippine constabulary post. Supported by the 305th and 902d Field Artillery Battalions, General Bruce's troops pushed through and beyond Camp Downes to enter Ormoc City on 10 December, just three days after landing. In the final

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drive on Ormoc, the 77th Division killed some 1,506 enemy and took 7 prisoners while losing 123 killed wounded and 13 missing.

With the entrance of the 77th Division into Ormoc City, the XXIV Corps and X Corps stood only sixteen miles apart. In between, the 12th Independent Infantry Regiment, with its defenses anchored on a blockhouse less than a mile north of the city, represented the last organized Japanese resistance in the area. For two days the enemy positions resisted heavy artillery fire and repeated assaults. Finally, on 14 December, the 305th Infantry, following heavy barrages from the 304th, 305th, 306th, and 902d Field Artillery Battalions, and employing flamethrowers and armored bulldozers, closed on the strongpoint. Hand-to-hand combat and the inspiring leadership of Capt. Robert B. Nett cleared the enemy from the blockhouse area. For leading Company E, 2d Battalion, 305th Infantry, forward through intense fire and killing several Japanese soldiers himself, Captain Nett was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Once out of the Ormoc area, the 77th Division rapidly advanced north through weakening resistance. Moving along separate axes through Ormoc Valley, its three regiments took Valencia airfield, seven miles north of Ormoc, on 18 December, and continued north to establish contact with X Corps units

At the northern end of Ormoc Valley, the 32d Division had met continued determined opposition from the defending 1st Division along Highway 2. Moving south past Kilay Ridge on 14 December, General Gill's troops entered a heavy rain forest, which limited visibility and concealed the enemy. Because tree bursts in the dense foliage reduced the effectiveness of artillery, assaults were preceded by massed machine-gun fire. Troops then used flamethrowers, hand grenades, rifles, and bayonets to scratch out daily advances measured in yards. In five days of hard fighting, the 126th and 127th Infantry advanced less than a mile \south of Kilay Ridge. On 18 December, General Sibert ordered the 1st Cavalry Division to complete the drive south. The 12th Cavalry Regiment pushed out of the mountains on a southwest track to Highway 2, then followed fire from the 271st Field Artillery Battalion to clear a three-mile stretch of the road. Contact between patrols of the 12th Cavalry and the 77th Division's 306th Infantry on 21 December marked the juncture of the U.S. X and XXIV Corps and the closing of the Sixth Army's pincer maneuver against Ormoc Valley.

While the 77th and 32d Divisions converged on the valley, the 11th Airborne Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Swing, had moved into the central mountain passes from the east. After estab-

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lishing blocking positions in the southern Leyte Valley on 22-24 November, the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment pushed farther west into the mountains on the 25th. After an arduous advance through steep gorges and hills, heavy rains, and enemy pockets, the regiment reached Mahonag, ten miles west of Burauen, on 6 December, the same day Japanese paratroops landed at the Burl and San Pablo airfields. On 16 December, the 2d Battalion, 32d Infantry, moved into the mountains from the Ormoc Bay area to meet the airborne regiment and assist its passage westward. The 2d Battalion made slow but steady progress first through stubborn enemy pockets and at higher elevations, the same nearly impassable terrain that was slowing the airborne troops. But on the 22d3 after two days of battling scattered Japanese defenders on ridges and in caves, the 7th Division infantrymen met troops from the 2d Battalion, 187th Glider Infantry Regiment, which had passed through the 511th, to complete the cross-island move. Seven weeks of hard fighting through the central and northern mountains had come to an end and the defeat of Japanese forces on Leyte was now assured.

The successful X Corps drive south from Carigara Bay and the XXIV Corps drive north through Ormoc Valley and across the island left only the bypassed mountains west of Ormoc Valley under Japanese control. Most enemy troops in that sector were from the 5th Infantry Regiment, but remnants of at least four other units had also made their way there. These surviving troops were in poor condition, having to subsist largely on coconuts and grasses, and their numbers had been slowly reduced by disease and desertion. To destroy this final pocket of Japanese resistance, Krueger ordered the 77th Division to clear the road connecting the northern Ormoc Valley and the port of Palompon on the northwest coast, while to the north and south other units policed up remaining Japanese forces along the coast.

General Bruce opened the drive on Palompon by sending the 2d and 3d Battalions, 305th Infantry, with armor support, west along the road on the morning of 22 December. The 302d Engineer Battalion followed repairing and strengthening bridges for armor, artillery, and supply vehicles. Assault units progressed rapidly through sporadic enemy fire until they hit strong positions about eight miles short of Palompon. To restore momentum, General Bruce put the 1st Battalion, 305th Infantry, on Navy landing craft and dispatched it from the port of Ormoc to Palompon. Supported by fire from mortar boats of the 2d Engineer Special Brigade and from the 155-mm. guns of the 531st Field Artillery Battalion, the infantrymen landed at 0720, 25 December, and secured the small coastal town within four hours.

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Learning of the seizure of the last port open to the Japanese, General MacArthur announced the end of organized resistance on Leyte. But Japanese defenders continued to fight as units until 31 December.

Farther north, other American forces made faster progress against more disorganized and dispirited enemy troops. Elements of the 1st Cavalry Division reached the coast on the 28th, and two days later met patrols of the 32d Division. Also on the 28th, companies of the 34th Infantry, 24th Division, cleared the last enemy positions from the northwest corner of Leyte. On 26 December, as these sweeps continued3 General MacArthur transferred control of operations on Leyte and Samar to the Eighth Army. Although Japanese forces no longer posed a threat to American control there, the mop-up of stragglers continued until 8 May 1945.

The campaign for Leyte cost American forces a total of 15,584 casualties, of which 3,504 were killed in action. In their failed defense of Leyte, the Japanese lost an estimated 49,000 troops, most of them combat forces. Although General Yamashita still had some 250,000 troops on Luzon, the additional loss of air and naval support at Leyte so narrowed his options that he now had to fight a defensive, almost passive, battle of attrition on Luzon, clearly the largest and most important island in the Philippines. In effect, once the decisive battle of Leyte was lost, the Japanese themselves gave up all hope of retaining the Philippines, conceding to the Allies in the process a critical bastion from which Japan could be easily cut off from her resources in the East Indies and from which the final assaults on the Japanese home islands could be launched.

 
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Analysis

The campaign for Leyte proved the first and most decisive operation in the American reconquest of the Philippines. The Japanese invested heavily in Leyte, and lost. The campaign cost their army four divisions and several separate combat units, while the* navy lost twenty-six major warships, and forty-six large transports and merchantmen. The struggle also reduced Japanese land-based air capability in the Philippines by more than 50 percent, forcing them to depend on suicidal kamikaze pilots.

For the U.S. Army, the results of the campaign were mixed. The fight for Leyte lasted longer than expected, and the island proved difficult to develop as a military base. These and other setbacks had their basis in several intelligence failures. Most important, MacArthur's headquarters had failed to discern Japanese intentions to fight a deci-

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sive battle on Leyte. Thus, not enough covering air and naval support was available to prevent the substantial enemy troop influx between 23 October and 11 December. This reinforcement, in turn, lengthened the fight on the ground for Leyte and forced the commitment of units, such as the 11th Airborne Division, held in reserve for subsequent operations. Of course, an ever present factor was the dedication of the individual Japanese soldier, the tactical skills he displayed in defensive warfare, especially in using the difficult terrain to his own advantage, and the willingness of his commanders to sacrifice his life in actions that had little chance of being decisive.

In their first combat test, the U.S. field army and corps headquarters generally performed well, with only a few notable errors. One error concerned the attack of the 2d and 3d Battalions, 21st Infantry, during the typhoon of 8-9 November; the effort wasted troop energy and morale in conditions that made a coordinated assault nearly impossible. In contrast, the XXIV Corps' use of amphibious assaults during the campaign showed both innovation and flexibility. But there were also shortcomings at the tactical level. Unit leaders, for example, discovered many problems with available maps, which had distance discrepancies as high as 50 percent. Patrolling and interrogations compensated only partially for such inadequacies, and the thick vegetation and inclement weather limited the value of aerial reconnaissance.

One of General Krueger's operational decisions has also been a topic of considerable debate. His 4 November order for X Corps to remain on the north coast of Leyte to counter a possible Japanese amphibious assault rather than immediately beginning the southward advance through the mountains toward Ormoc gave the recently arrived Japanese 1st Division two days to strengthen its defenses. Had the advance taken place earlier, the X Corps might have taken the defenders of Breakneck Ridge by surprise and avoided the typhoon as well. But the unpredictable nature of the Japanese defenders�from their use of kamikazes and airborne units to the commitment of almost their entire surface fleet without air cover�was underlined repeatedly during the campaign, at times making caution appear the wisest American course of action.

Supply problems also plagued the Sixth Army throughout the campaign. They actually began weeks before the invasion, when the two-month acceleration of A-day resulted in the disorganized loading of transports in staging areas. This in turn caused a disorderly pile-up on beaches of items not yet needed as troops searched for supplies of more immediate importance. In addition, enemy resistance on A-day forced the diversion of the 24th Division's LSTs to

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the 1st Cavalry Division's beaches, which disrupted shore party operations and overloaded the cavalry's supply dumps.

The progress of combat operations inland raised new problems as the distance between combat units and beach depots steadily increased. Many were solved by a combination of innovation and labor-intensive methods, but more effective solutions would have to await development of better air and ground delivery systems as well as the organizational reforms necessary to accommodate them.

The largest single category of problems, however, were those the engineers dealt with during the continuous struggle with terrain and weather. Despite long U.S. Army experience in the Philippines, Sixth Army construction planning proved deficient. Most areas thought to be ideal for airfield and road development, especially those in the southern Leyte Valley, proved too wet to sustain traffic. General Casey's ASCOM engineers began work on three airfields�Burl, San Pablo, and Bayug�only to be halted by General Krueger on 25 November when it became obvious they could not be made serviceable. The Japanese had built the Tacloban airfield3 but in order for the Fifth U.S. Air Force to make full use of it, the engineers had to undertake a huge landfill operation to redirect and lengthen the runway. In the end only one new airfield was built on Leyte�at Tanauan on the east coast, the initial site of Sixth Army headquarters. Moreover, this project necessitated moving and rebuilding General Krueger's command post.

The situation was not much better for road construction. The best existing routes were gravel, and quickly broke down under the weight of American heavy weapons and equipment. The torrential rains of the typhoon season, totaling thirty-five inches in forty days, accelerated their deterioration and delayed all types of construction.

Finally, the slow progress of combat operations ashore also complicated the construction program. As the assault inland and on the west coast continued more engineer units had to be detached from airfield and road construction on the east coast to maintain supply routes, further delaying construction of not only airfields but hospitals, troop shelters, and other projects as well. Thus, as a ready supply base or a stepping stone to Luzon and the other Philippine Islands, Leyte proved less than satisfactory.

Yet, in balance, the Sixth Army's performance on Leyte had more to commend than to criticize. Throughout the campaign Army units demonstrated great skill at amphibious operations and combined arms tactics in challenging terrain and climate. The rotation of combat units ensured that the American ground offensive rarely lost its momentum, while the Japanese Army commanders were never able to concentrate

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for anything close to a serious counterattack, despite the size of the combat forces that they committed. The only real threat to the campaign occurred at sea, when the U.S. fast carrier task forces were lured north and the Sixth Army's support vessels lay briefly at the mercy of the Japanese surface fleet.

In the end the Japanese decision to stake everything on the battle for Leyte only hastened their final collapse as they lacked the ability to coordinate the mass of air, ground and naval forces that they committed to the struggle. Even before the fighting on Leyte ended, MacArthur's forces had moved on to invade Luzon and the rest of the Philippines, thereby consolidating their hold on this former Japanese bastion and completing a final major step toward Japan itself.

 Captured Blog: The Pacific War


 
 

 

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, Philippines, after U.S. forces recaptured the beach of the Japanese-occupied island. To his left is Lt. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland, his chief of staff. (AP Photo)


The four-day battle of Leyte Gulf  in October 1944 marked the eclipse of Imperial Japanese naval power, the last sortie in force of the Imperial Navy, and the largest naval battle ever fought on the face of the earth.
It was separated in four parts, each carrying its own name: the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, when U.S. carrier planes struck the IJN’s Center Force and sank battleship Musashi; the Battle of Cape Engaño, where U.S. carriers destroyed the Japanese carrier force that had served as a deception; the Battle of Surigao Strait, where U.S. and Japanese battleships fought the last dreadnought engagement of all times; and lastly, the Battle off Samar, where the Japanese Center Force took to sinking the U.S. escort carriers defending the beachhead and were soundly defeated by miniscule forces.

Strategic Background
At the conclusion of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the debate on the continuation of the war once more started. Two distinct factions were opposing each other: the Navy, led by Admirals Nimitz and King, vowed to take Formosa in the ultimate extension of island-hopping, neutralizing the Philippine Japanese Army garrison by air blockade. Formosa, sitting astride the seaways from the Dutch East Indies to Japan, would be the perfect base for economic strangulation of Japan and was capable of serving as base for the final attack on the Japanese home islands.

On the other side was General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of the South-west Pacific Forces, who had dedicated himself to recapturing the Philippines in 1942. He was convinced that military reasons alone should not dictate the primary objective of the next months, but also political considerations: MacArthur argued that leaving the Philippines in Japanese hands would be an irreversible loss of American prestige in Asiatic eyes (and obviously a blow to his own prestige, he did not say).

To resolve this conflict of interests, President Roosevelt came to visit senior American commanders in Hawaii in July 1944. Meeting with General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz, the President listened to the arguments presented by each, and, being a politician in an election year, listened very closely to what MacArthur told him in a private discussion the day of Roosevelt’s departure: should he elect to leave the Philippines alone, he had better be prepared for a negative reaction from American voters.
The influence of this remark to Roosevelt is hard to estimate: how much Roosevelt felt threatened by MacArthur’s comments is not known. Likely,  Roosevelt did not need MacArthur to estimate for him the possible political results of leaving the Philippines in Japanese hands.
Whatever the results of MacArthur’s prodding, Roosevelt decided that the Philippines would have to be taken.
Both services quickly adapted to the new strategic situation. Preparation for the invasion of Mindanao tentatively set for December 20th, entailed invasions of the Palau group and Morotai, and strikes against the Philippines and connecting island groups, including Formosa. These preliminary operations would be executed by the two separate Pacific commands, Pacific Ocean Areas and South-West Pacific, without joint forces, while the actual Mindanao landings would be conducted by 7th Fleet amphibious forces (MacArthur’s naval units) covered and supported by 3rd Fleet’s warships (under Admiral William F. Halsey). Halsey took command of 3rd Fleet in August 1944, and met with his opposite number from 7th Fleet, Vice-Admiral Kinkaid, at Manus in the Admiralty-Islands in early September. While the two Admirals were conferring, Admiral Marc A. Mitscher took Task Force 38 and struck Iwo Jima, the Palaus, and Mindanao, against weak resistance.  When Halsey and his flagship, the fast battleship New Jersey, met up with Mitscher on September 12th, attacks were renewed against Leyte, Cebu, and Negros. Two days of attacks cut up Japanese air power in the Philippines, and more: a downed aviator reported that Leyte was virtually clear of the enemy. That island, having once figured as fleet anchorage in the Orange War Plan and still considered one of the finest places to establish a foothold in the Philippines, seemed like a god-sent present.

Captured Blog: The Pacific War

The aviator’s report and his aerial successes convinced Halsey that there was no need whatsoever to carefully position air units within range of the islands – a swift invasion two months ahead of schedule would be able to secure a base in the middle of the Philippine Islands without fussing about in the smaller islands around them.
Nimitz, back at Pearl Harbor, listened to Halsey’s arguments, but refused to cancel the attack on the Palaus (and the capture of Ulithi atoll in the western Carolines), scheduled for September 15th, as did MacArthur the attack on Morotai, set for the same date. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, ordered Nimitz and MacArthur to take Leyte, instead of Mindanao, on October 20th, instead of December 20th.
The invasions of Morotai and Peleliu were vastly different operations. On Morotai, the Army units landed on the smaller of two adjacent islands against little opposition and soon had airfields in operation. On Peleliu, the same held true – but the campaign, after easily grabbing the local airfield, ran into the horrible terrain of the Umurbrogol Ridge, where Japan had carved a veritable fortress out of the hard surface of the atoll. It took an entire month to secure the island, costing two thousand American lives. The conquest of Ulithi atoll saw no ground and limited aerial resistance and provided the U. S. Navy with a superb advance base, immediately made serviceable by elements of the Service Fleet. Peleliu never served in any especially remarkable function, and was not at all vital to any of the succeeding operations. For once, Nimitz had made a mistake, costing 2000 servicemen's lives.
While MacArthur’s 7th Fleet in Manus and Hollandia harbors was getting ready for sortie to Leyte (a long voyage given the slow speed of the prime mover, the LST), Admiral Halsey took Task Force 38 out of Ulithi on October 4th, 17 carriers and about seventy escort vessels from battleships to destroyers. Target of this sortie in force was the island of Formosa – if Nimitz was not allowed to take it, at least he would make sure that there would be no hindrance from that island’s air units in the assault on Leyte. For three days, the air battle smashed wave after wave of U.S. and Japanese planes against each other. For hits on cruisers Canberra and Houston, and 79 U.S. planes shot down, the Japanese suffered 600 planes lost on the ground and in the air.

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Sept. 11, 1943: After three days of fighting on the front lines on Munda, a Marine's tank crew take a rest, during which their machine guns are overhauled. This platoon wiped out 30 Japanese pill boxes. Left to right are: Pfc. Arnold McKenzie, Los Angeles, Calif.; Joseph Lodico, Sharon, Mass.; Pvt. Noel M. Billups, Columbus Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Douglas Ayres, Los Angeles. (AP Photo)

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November 2, 1943: A B-25 bomber of the U.S. Army 5th Air Force strikes against a Japanese ship in the harbor at Rabaul, New Britain during an air raid on the Japanese-held air and naval base. (AP Photo)

Captured Blog: The Pacific War

It was an unqualified disaster for the Combined Fleet. After the Philippine Sea debacle in June, Admiral Toyoda Soemu, Combined Fleet chief, at Tokyo had distributed the SHO (Victory) plans – Sho-1, for a major sea action in the Philippines, Sho-2 for a similar operation at Formosa, and Sho-3 for the Ryukyu chain.
The fundamental part of this operation was an immediate reinforcement of the threatened area by aerial units and the sortie of all available Combined Fleet units to repel the invaders in yet another decisive battle. It would be horrendously complex, bound to the precise timing that always seemed to attract Japanese planners.
Thus, when Halsey’s planes struck Taiwan on October 12th, with Admiral Toyoda and Admiral Fukudome, Chief of the 2nd Air Fleet, visiting local air fields, SHO-2 was initiated to repel the attackers. It cost the Japanese almost their entire air force, certainly 90% of those forces who, two weeks later, could have been so valuable to support the Leyte Gulf operation.
Now, there remained only the sea-going elements of Toyoda’s plan. At Lingga Roads, south-east of Singapore, in the middle of Japan’s rich, if cut-off, oil fields, lay Vice-Admiral Kurita Takeo with seven battleships, Yamato, Musashi, Kongo, Haruna, Nagato, Fuso and Yamashiro, a dozen cruisers and around twenty destroyers. In Japan’s Inland Sea, Vice-Admiral Ozawa Jisaburo had four carriers, two hybrid-battleships, three cruisers and nine destroyers. With him was Admiral Shima Kiyohide, with three cruisers and seven destroyers. Ozawa’s role was sad: under the SHO plans, he would serve as a bait to draw the U.S. carrier forces away from the landing they were to cover, to allow Admiral Kurita and Shima to strike the landing forces and deliver a stunning defeat to them.
Admiral Thomas Kinkaid and his 7th Fleet sailed in several convoys starting October 10th. On October 17th, after an essentially eventless voyage, the minecraft that were to sweep clear channels arrived in Leyte Gulf. The unexpected appearance of enemy minecraft spelled out to Admiral Toyoda what was to come. He immediately ordered the execution of SHO-1. While the Combined Fleet prepared to sortie (Vice-Admiral Shima had gone to sea on October 15th, ostensibly to finish off claimed damaged carriers from the Formosa battle), Rangers secured the islands off Leyte to prepare a free passage into the gulf. After a two-day naval bombardment by Rear-Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf’s 3rd Fleet battleships, the amphibious groups under Rear-Admiral Daniel E. Barbey and Vice-Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson went ashore at Tacloban and Dulag respectively, creating a beachhead without major trouble and establishing themselves at Tacloban airfield on October 21st. By midnight on the 21st, most troops had been landed, most ships departed, and most warships established blocking positions along likely Japanese routes of attack – 7th Fleet to the south across Surigao Strait, 3rd Fleet in the Philippine Sea to the north-east of Samar Island.

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Sept. 16, 1942: Crewmen picking their way along the sloping flight deck of the aircraft carrier Yorktown as the ship listed, head for damaged sections to see if they can patch up the crippled ship. Later, they had to abandon the carrier and two strikes from a Japanese submarine's torpedoes sent the ship down to the sea floor after the battle of Midway. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)

Vice-Admiral Kurita at Lingga Roads received the telegram detailing the Combined Fleet to conduct Operation SHO-1 at 0928 on October 17th, two hours after an initial warning on the subject. A British diversionary raid against the Nicobar Islands had been dismissed as a viable threat, and Kurita sailed his entire force for Brunei on the 18th. Following him on the 20th was Vice-Admiral Ozawa at the head of his “Bait Force”, called the “Main Body”. Arriving at Borneo on the 21st, Kurita and his subordinates were for the first time informed on how the First Air Fleet intended to support the Combined Fleet in its sortie to Leyte. Vice-Admiral Onishi Takijiro, newly appointed commander of the First Air Fleet, had witnessed at first hand the devastation wrought by U.S. air defenses and was determined to devise methods to use his air power. From 24 Zeros, crewed by volunteers, he created after discussing the idea with subordinates and superiors a “Special Attack Corps” –  what soon became known as the “kamikazes”. Kurita and his commanders discussed battle plans, including a major change: instead of sailing as a unit, Kurita split off the 2nd Battleship Division under Vice-Admiral Nishimura Shoji, battleships Fuso and Yamashiro, the cruiser Mogami, and four destroyers, to sortie through Surigao Strait and meet him again in Leyte Gulf to envelop the U.S. forces. Another force, that of Vice-Admiral Shima, sailing from the Pescadores, would take that route as well.
After tanking in Brunei (from tankers brought up from Singapore, likely because Brunei oil had the irritating tendency to give off highly volatile gases that could cause dangerous explosions, as witnessed by Taiho’s demise in the Philippine Sea battle), Kurita set sail for the Sibuyan Sea at 0800 on October 22nd, a Sunday.

The Battle October 23rd – 25th, 1944
Kurita intended to pass through the narrow passage between the island of Palawan and the shallow part of the South China Sea known on the maps as “dangerous area”, then enter the Sibuyan Sea, and finally pass through San Bernardino Strait and south along the coast of the island of Samar, into Leyte Gulf. So far so good – but events would turn out much more problematic than Kurita anticipated.
The first disaster was partially of his own making. Passing the Palawan Passage, he utilized an odd five-column formation that could neither serve as screen, nor battle formation, and actually put half the destroyers of his formation inside his battleships – how he supposed to defend himself in that formation, is impossible to discern, and how, as Admiral Ugaki Matome indicates, the Japanese could have regarded this as a formation against submarines, is, too.
Events would prove that there was little protection from submarines. Shortly after midnight on the 23rd, the submarines Darter and Dace, sent to cover the Palawan Passage, noted the impressive contact that Kurita’s force made on the greenish screens of the SJ-radars of the two U.S. subs. As usual during such major operations, the first priority was to radio a contact report to the fleet; that, Commander Dave McClintock did quickly. Then, the two submarines parted and prepared for attack.
On Yamato, Vice-Admiral Ugaki’s flagship, the radio room had intercepted Darter’s message to the U.S. fleet and correctly recognized it as being close; inexplicably, no change whatsoever was made in the Japanese formation. Thus, when Darter fired her first six torpedoes on the flagship Atago and four more on Takao, no one in the Japanese fleet was prepared for what was going to happen.
Darter’s shots were well timed. Four ripped open Atago from stem to stern; she capsized and sank in twenty minutes, fortunately not taking Admiral Kurita down with her. Takao was heavily damaged. As she witnessed the scene, Dace was presented with a perfect shot at the other heavy-ship column; four torpedoes from her salvo blew up heavy cruiser Maya; only the lack of torpedoes in her aft tubes prevented even more devastation. She retired, fearing having gone to close for comfort and being sure of having sunk a battleship. The same did Darter; the Japanese, meanwhile, were too busy surviving to care much for their U.S. assailants.
While Kurita was fished from the water and moved by destroyer to battleship Yamato, cruiser Takao and two destroyers were sent back to care to Takao’s wounds.
As the two U.S. submarines stalked wounded Takao throughout the day and into the night, there seemed little chance the heavy cruiser would come home without further damage. Luck, however, would not have it. Shortly after midnight with terrific noise, Darter ran aground on an uncharted reef, and would not come loose. Finally, Commander McClintock asked Dace for assistance. The other sub took off Darter’s crew and commenced attempts to destroy the wreck. However, although the boat was riddled by 5-inch fire, she did not blow up. The next day, a Japanese destroyer came alongside and took off again with valuable information, blueprints of radar and engine systems, and various other material. Although the code books and other highly classified material had been burned, the take was still not to be regarded lightly.
Meantime, the Imperial Japanese forces entered the Sibuyan Sea, closing their certain encounter with U.S. air power.

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October 16, 1942: Six U.S. Navy scout planes are seen in flight above their carrier. (AP Photo)

Battle of the Sibuyan Sea
The contact report issued by Darter and Dace made the weight resting on the shoulders of Admiral William Halsey so much lighter. Halsey had been determined from the very start to be liberal in the adoption of CINPAC Chester Nimitz’ fighting orders. He much preferred whatever way there was to fight the Imperial Navy over the laborious and less than glorious task of protecting the South-West Pacific forces of Admiral Kinkaid. He assumed that the IJN would not sortie in defense of the Philippines, and that he would have to go after them. He proposed to pass through the Philippine islands, instead of around them, to hit the Imperial Navy beyond. This dangerous and dumb scheme of operations, which Halsey had not discussed with Nimitz, was ripped apart by a message from CinCPac directing that 3rd Fleet units only with the express permission of Nimitz would be allowed to sail through the archipelago.
This order might well have denied Halsey his chance for a fleet action, but now, with Kurita dauntlessly steaming in his direction, all Halsey had to do was sit and wait.
On the morning of October 24th, it was Intrepid’s Air Group 18 that drew air search duty for the area  including the Sibuyan Sea, one of the larger bodies of open water in the Philippine archipelago. There, shortly after 0800, on of the fighter/bomber teams that were send out to search the area, dispatched the news back to Halsey: at the entrance of the green Sibuyan Sea, they had found the fleet under Vice-Admiral Kurita.
Several hundred miles to the south, in a different search sector, it was planes from the veteran Enterprise and her Air Group 20 that located the two old battlewagons of Admiral Nishimura.
Halsey wasted no time: from the fleet flagship battleship New Jersey, at 0837 the call went to the available three carrier task groups: “Strike, Repeat, Strike. Good Luck.”
While aboard the carriers of Bogan and Davison, the crews, as if reiterating a long-learned poem, flawlessly readied the attack planes for their strikes against the oncoming dreadnought fleet, Admiral Frederick C. Sherman’s Task Group 38.3 consisting of carriers Essex, Lexington, Princeton and Langley, had more immediate concerns than Kurita.

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November 2, 1943: A B-25 bomber of the U.S. Army 5th Air Force strikes against a Japanese ship in the harbor at Rabaul, New Britain during an air raid on the Japanese-held air and naval base. (AP Photo)


Vice-Admiral Onishi Takijiro had decided to utilize the remaining weak firepower of his 1st Air Fleet in attacking the U.S. carriers, rather than covering Kurita. As a result, he was able to muster almost 80 planes in a powerful strike against Sherman’s forces. From Essex, Lexington, Princeton and Langley, fighters scrambled in intercept of the enemy.
There seemed to be little reason for worry – but there was. It was not a massive strike that dealt damage to the U.S., but a single D4Y Judy dive-bomber, clinging closely to the returning U.S. fighters and escaping detection, that singled out the light carrier Princeton as its target. Furiously fired at by the small flattop, the Judy planted an armor-piercing bomb in the middle of the flightdeck. In her interior, the bomb wrecked the ready-made Avengers that had been intended for the strike on Kurita, igniting severe fires inside her hangar deck. The damage was not looking bad – but indeed, it was disastrous. Sherman left behind the light cruiser Birmingham and three destroyers, and went his ways to strike Kurita. In the meantime, Birmingham and her supporting destroyers tended to the ailing Princeton in every way possible. It seemed possible to heal her; but at 1530, her aft magazines, heated by the blaze in the hangar deck, ignited, sending splinters in all directions, killing 230 Birmingham crew members and maiming others. With her aft deck blown away and the hangar deck fires relentlessly spreading forward, Captain Buracker decided to abandon his ship. At 1630, he left as last man alive.
Destroyer Irwin was ordered to scuttle the carrier with torpedoes, but she had little luck – almost hit by her own, circle-running torpedoes, frustration spread among her crew. Finally, the light cruiser Reno was ordered to take the unhappy task from Irwin. A torpedo hit Princeton near her forward magazine, another at her fuel tanks, and blew her apart.
As Princeton struggled for her survival, deckload strikes from Gerry Bogan’s task group swooped down on the Center Force  of Kurita’s. Simultaneously, from Dave Davison’s forces came air strikes on Nishimura’s smaller, but still potent force. The results were less than expected. As bomb churned the waters around giant Yamashiro and Fuso, others merely ignited small fires aboard the battlewagons. The cruiser Mogami, tagging along with the battleships, was hit by rockets but showed no sign of damage; the destroyers likewise had been strafed, but went on.

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Nov. 11, 1943: A supply ship, one of two that the Japanese were able to work through U.S. Air attacks, explodes in Rangoon Harbor (center) after a direct hit by a bomb from a Tenth U.S. Air Force Plane. Hits also were scored on port facilities, seen smoking (top center). Note numerous small craft moored at docks and offshore, (right). (AP Photo)


Bogan’s planes meanwhile, at half past 10, had found what had been reported as three battleships to be five, among them the largest naval vessels to sail the face of Earth. Like magnets, the two super-battleships attracted the attention of the majority of U.S. strike planes. 1000lbs bombs hit on and around Yamato and Musashi, a torpedo hit Musashi, but the giants continued on, seemingly impervious to the assault from the air. Ahead of Musashi and ahead and to starboard of Yamato sailed the heavy cruiser Myoko, easily confused for a battleship. She was damaged and forced to retire at 15 knots to Brunei.
With the Nishimura force obviously less powerful (and also well blocked from Leyte by the battleships of the 7th Fleet), Rear-Admiral Davison’s planes soon entered the fray. In the second wave at 1200, three more torpedoes hit Musashi, hit because her size permitted her no escape, still swimming because it also prevented her succumbing to so little effort. The third wave included Enterprise planes, scoring an incredible 11 hits  out of 18 bombs and eight torpedo hits along the superbattleship Musashi’s length. Her command facilities were destroyed; one torpedo buried itself in the hole left by another torpedo and blew apart the machinery of the dreadnought. At the same time, Kurita radioed his fleet to turn about. He would try to pass San Bernardino Strait during the night.
As he had done with the previous victims of attack, Kurita dispatched Musashi (which had been largely singled out by the U.S. and prevented them from attacking other valuable targets) to Brunei, shepherded by two destroyers and the cruiser Tone. But she did not make it. Her innards wrecked, her superstructure aflame, the huge vessel capsized and sank at 1835, taking with her 1000 men.
After five strikes, however, and with the coming of the night, the Kurita force was left to itself, turning about yet again at 1715, headed for San Bernardino. Battleships Nagato and Yamato had been damaged, as had been cruiser Tone and a number of destroyers. Finally, after an entire day of relentless aerial assault, Admiral Ozawa had managed to get himself to the attention of Admiral Halsey, where he fatally stayed to the end of the battle.

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September 13, 1944: Japanese-occupied harbor of Cebu is under attack by U.S. Navy carrier-based fighter planes, at Cebu island, Philippines. (AP Photo)

Battle of Cape Engaño
The role that Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa had been supposed to play in the SHO-Plan was in itself considerable cause for worry to the fleet under his command. The four carriers under his command, Zuikaku, Zuiho, Chitose and Chiyoda, the latter three converted submarine tenders, were home to merely a hundred planes – each of Halsey’s groups had 250 planes ready for use. Ozawa had sailed from Kure naval base on the 20th of October, keeping to the south of the Ryukyu island chain, and heading for the Philippines. Ozawa’s task was to make himself known to the U.S. fleet and thus draw it away from Kurita. An easy task under any normal circumstances, but in this case, there gods of war thought it a better proposition to deny Ozawa his sighting. The reasons are easily found: by the time Ozawa had desired to be found, on the morning of the 24th, the U.S. group which had the northern sectors to cover was busy with other things: Admiral Sherman had his hands full combating Vice-Admiral Onishi Takijiro’s air strikes from Luzon to care much about searches.  When Ozawa intercepted the news of Kurita’s temporary retirement, he opted to retire to the north. Despite having no idea of Kurita’s whereabouts, Ozawa felt obliged by a 2000 order from Combined Fleet commander Toyoda, who ordered all forces to attack. On the morning of the 25th Ozawa began his active part in the battle. Having received a position report from a scout plane he had sent out earlier, he launched a 75-strong air strike against the target, which the Americans didn’t even realize came from a carrier.
He did not realize that in fact, he had already been sighted: at 1640 on the 24th, a Helldiver had found him, but no attack materialized because of the swiftly coming night. Now, Halsey had his three available carrier groups moving north at swift speed, poised to strike Ozawa and to wipe out the enemy carriers for good.
Behind him, Halsey left nothing, despite repeated pleas from Vice-Admiral Willis Lee, in command of Halsey’s battleships, to let him have two light carriers and stay south to cover the San Bernardino Strait. Halsey would have none of it; he was determined to get his first crack at Japanese carriers and do it right here.
In doing so he left in considerable problems Admiral Thomas Kinkaid, commanding the 7th Fleet in Leyte Gulf. Kinkaid had arrayed his available naval power so as to repulse the threat posed by Admiral Nishimura Shoji’s smaller Southern Force – including the six battleships of his bombardment squadron. He firmly believed, a set of mind bestowed upon him by confusing signals from Halsey, that Lee was indeed guarding his northern flank. The road to Leyte, however, was wide open to anyone willing to try it.
While disaster loomed for the 7th Fleet forces placed in the middle of the Leyte Gulf, the same held true for the redoubtable Admiral Ozawa. In the perfect knowledge of standing no chance against Halsey, he regardless committed himself to the battle. He had placed himself to the north of the U.S., abreast Cape Engaño. He retained little aerial firepower, only a rudimentary air defense group, which was hurriedly reinforced when, at 0707, the Japanese detected the incoming Americans to their south.
The initial air strike of five was already telling the battle’s story: against miniscule resistance, the Americans brushed aside the aerial defenses, then concentrated on the flat-top vessels. Carrier Chitose was disabled, Zuikaku severely damaged, destroyer Akizuki sunk. The next wave, two hours later, found Zuikaku and Zuiho behind the main part of the fleet, as it did Chitose. The combined force of the second and third waves smashed the small Chiyoda.
At the end of the fifth wave, the Ozawa fleet had been bombed into submission, although the Americans had not managed to destroy the two battlewagons Ise and Hyuga; as an interesting note, the Americans had, all through the war, only had the luck to sink two operating battleships by air attack alone, and, oddly enough, those were the two super-battleships Yamato and Musashi. Four other battleships were destroyed via air attack: Hiei, which had been crippled in prior surface action, and Haruna, Ise and Hyuga in harbor at Kure, Japan.
As Ozawa retired north, luck helped him for a final time. Just as Halsey was releasing Admiral “Ching” Lee to use his fast battleships to sink the remnants of Ozawa’s force, news arrived from Kinkaid and Nimitz: Leyte Gulf was under attack and Halsey was thought to have had done something against that possibility. Left to mop Ozawa up was a small cruiser/destroyer force under Rear-Admiral Laurence T. DuBose, who sank Chitose with gun and torpedo fire. Lee and the battlewagons, as well as a carrier TG were speeding south, desperate to aid their beleaguered comrades in the Gulf.

Battlle of Surigao Strait
The Battle of Surigao Strait must rate as one of the primary puzzles of the entire Leyte Gulf operation. Under Vice-Admiral Nishimura Shoji, two battleships, a heavy cruiser and four destroyers, under Vice-Admiral Shima Kiyohide three cruisers and seven destroyers would penetrate Surigao Strait, the southern entrance to Leyte Gulf, in the night hours of October 24/25. Inside Leyte Gulf, the force would meet up with Kurita and then smash the enemy.
This operation had not been in the original SHO plans, but was added at Brunei by Kurita. His reasons are unclear. He may have regarded this force as a useful diversion or even as a useful strike force, presuming the U.S. to be unable to mass against both approaching forces. As it turned out, Nishimura would sacrifice himself and his ships running into a massive Allied barrier of warships. However, certain details are still unclear.
Nishimura sortied from Brunei on October 22 at 1500. He sustained the above mentioned air attacks rather well, although superficial damage was incurred by both Fuso and Yamashiro. It was clear that Nishimura would be hard pressed now that he was sighted, but incredibly he did not try to make the best of Kurita’s plans by following closely Kurita’s movements. Instead of turning and waiting for Kurita to head back towards Leyte, he pressed on. Behind him by 40 miles was Shima’s smaller force. Neither Admiral seemed inclined to join forces, which would have given both far better chances of survival in combat. Instead, seemingly oblivious to anything going on around him, Nishimura led his force into the fray.

The fray would be created by a carefully set-up trap of major proportions involving the greater part of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet. The first line of defense and especially reconnaissance were 49 torpedo-boats, positioned along the approach to Surigao. Their first priority was to report the incoming vessels, then attack.
Second in the line were destroyer forces tasked with putting torpedoes into the approaching foe. Their number was ten, divided into two DesRons, to attack within ten minutes of each other. Their attacks would open the final phase of the battle, involving the six battleships of Vice-Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf’s Bombardment Force and the cruisers previously screening transport and battle forces. Their concentrated artillery fire would put under any survivor of the other battles.

As Nishimura pressed his vessels into the tight strait leading up to Leyte, he was first detected by the torpedo boats. From them, the call went out that the enemy was approaching. Nishimura pressed on, firing on the torpedo boats on his flanks and sustaining no damage from the torpedoes fired. As he headed onward, however, doom came to his force.
It was Captain Jesse G. Coward’s DesRon 54 which attacked first, with five ships from two sides. His spread was incredibly successful, matching that of Tanaka at Tassafaronga. Torpedoes sank destroyers Michishio and Yamagumo and damaged Asagumo and battleship Yamashiro. Another sinking made the success of this attack definitive: several torpedoes plowed into battleship Fuso, blowing her to pieces and putting her under in a matter of minutes.
Nishimura, oblivious to the loss of Fuso, headed on, jumped by the second group of U.S. destroyers just in the planned time interval. Another torpedo ripped into Yamashiro.

Aboard her, Nishimura realized he was missing Fuso; slowing to five knots, he awaited his companion to come out of the confusion behind him. The torpedo, compliment of Monssen, had bereft Nishimura of the services of two magazines and their attendant four turrets; he desperately needed the firepower that Fuso could provide.
But even as Yamashiro headed north at five knots, she could not long delay her demise. Approaching Leyte Gulf, she also neared the narrows where Oldendorf had assembled his battleships. Behind a screen of cruisers Columbia, Denver, Minneapolis, Portland and Louisville on his left flank, and Boise, HMAS Shropshire and U.S.S. Pheonix on his right, the six battleships of his force trained their guns toward the approaching radar contacts. At 0351, his cruisers opened up; West Virginia followed at 0353; Tennessee and California at 0355.

Only Pennsylvania expended no rounds, Maryland joined the other BBs at 0359, and Mississippi got off one salvo towards the enemy as well. Their problem was technical: on their superstructures rested the Mk3 fire-control radar system, whereas the three other ships mounted Mk8. The latter's improved resolution, range, and accuracy helped them to deliver devastatingly accurate fire.
Only ten minutes of furious gunfire followed the opening up; at 0401, with Oldendorf’s battleships brought on a course of 270° (exactly opposite to base course held at 0351), West Virginia and California ceased firing. Oldendorf, realizing his target was smothered, ordered a general cease fire at 0409. Desperately, Yamashiro attempted to extract herself

from the danger facing her. Realizing no asssistance was forthcoming from Fuso and her own survival was unlikely in the face of such overwhelming fire, she turned south and increased speed to 15 knots. As she did so, she enabled U.S. destroyers to cap their success that night with yet another battleship. Newcomb, Albert W. Grant, and Richard P. Leary. Two torpedoes fired by Newcomb impacted on the battleship. At 0419, having taken the coup de grâce, Yamashiro turned over and sank into the strait.

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October 20, 1944: Gen. Douglas MacArthur, center, is accompanied by his officers and Sergio Osmena, president of the Philippines in exile, extreme left, as he wades ashore during landing operations at Leyte

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Battle off Samar
While Halsey pursued Ozawa to the north, he had opened the doors to disaster for the U.S. fleet off Leyte. In his confused communications with Admiral Kinkaid of the 7th Fleet, he had left the impression of guarding San Bernardino Strait with Admiral Willis Lee’s fast battleships, six formidable battlewagons that Kurita would have found difficult to overcome. So unclear were his communiqués that Admiral Nimitz and his staff in Pearl Harbor had essentially come to the same conclusion.
In fact, however, Halsey had not left anything behind. Task Force 34, as the hypothetical battleship formation was called, had accompanied him north – even though Halsey knew of Kurita’s coming back toward San Bernardino, he had not left a single ship in the vicinity of the strait, or even bothered informing Kinkaid (who did not make night searches, of the kind that found Kurita, over the area) of the impending danger and absence of Task Force 34. It must have been with relief and surprise that Kurita passed the empty San Bernardino Straits at around midnight on the 24th, then made his way down the east coast of the island of Samar during the early morning hours. At 0620, the radar screens of the Japanese battleships suddenly reported enemy planes in the vicinity, and Kurita assumed air defense formation. Not long thereafter, the lookouts in the tall pagoda masts of the Imperial battleships sighted masts and smoke on the horizon. As he came closer, the distinctive outlines of carriers became visible, as did smaller surface warships. However, the excited reports of large fleet carriers, battleships and cruisers were hopelessly optimistic.
Kurita had stumbled upon a much more modest force, Task Unit 77.4.3, or “Taffy Three”, six escort carriers and seven escorts, three destroyers and four destroyer-escorts. It was a pitiful force that Rear-Admiral Clifton A. Sprague was able of putting up against Kurita, especially since his composite squadrons were not equipped to deal with warships. Armor-piercing bombs and torpedos were not needed for their ground-support role, and everything else would have little effect on the oncoming behemoths.
As the Japanese closed the weak U.S. forces, however, confusion reigned. Under the impression of having encountered one of Halsey’s fast carrier forces, Admiral Kurita decided to rush his attack and not wait until his forces were placed in the most favorable way. There was obvious reason for choosing such a course of action: the art of maneuvering one’s ships into position for battle, called “evolution”, took precious time and was supposed to be exercised before battle was joined. Now, however, speed became imperative – against the determined opposition a carrier force could put up, it was essential that sinkings were scored early and the enemy not be allowed to assemble and prepare his forces, or even worse, open up the range. As his destroyers and cruisers left behind the sluggish battleships, then, Kurita had sacrificed coherence in his force for the only prospect for victory he had.
Meantime, Rear-Admiral Sprague had turned his ships due east, and begun launching his planes to commission even so weak a defense as they provided.
As the Japanese closed the slow U.S. force, the first shells were dropped between the flattops. From the flagship Fanshaw Bay, Admiral Sprague signaled his escorts to start covering attacks against the superior Japanese. Peeling off the screen of the fleeing baby flattops, destroyers Hoel, Heerman and Johnston, as well as destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts, headed off and engaged the Imperial cruisers and battleships farther off.
All the while, the Japanese had continued with their uncontrolled, desperate hunt. Kurita’s only command to that point had been “Charge” – he was not inclined to specify exactly what or exactly how, even now.
On the easterly course that they were on, they chased and slowly closed the U.S. force, steadily straddling the fleeing flattops. By this time, there remained no planes on the U.S. carriers: they had all taken off, now picking at the battleships, destroyers and cruisers with machine-guns, depth charges and small bombs. They continued on to Leyte, where they were turned around and continued their pinpricks against the IJN fleet.
As the U.S. destroyers continued their loosing battle against the IJN fleet, they did more than their fair share of damage. Hunting the shell splashes enabled the U.S. ships to escape damage for an unduly long amount of time, and offered the opportunity to do real damage to the IJN. The first victim of the U.S. assault was heavy cruiser Kumano, flagship of the commander of the Seventh Cruiser division, loosing her bow to one of Johnston’s torpedoes. In return, the brave little destroyer was ripped into pieces by three 356mm shells from Kongo and left burning, though not sinking.
Then, the three other U.S. destroyers joined the fray, The miniscule artillery fire that the four ships offered could not hinder or delay the Imperial fleet, but their torpedoes were a different matter entirely. While the U.S. air attacks increased and the Japanese closed dangerously with cruisers, the powerful batteries of the battleships were kept out of the fight by the dedication of the U.S. attackers. Torpedoes forced Yamato to turn away and open up the range, causing her to loose value time. A charge by Johnston against Kongo forced that battlewagon to concentrate on her without success. Hoel attracted the fire of several battleships and cruisers that were thus unable to attack the U.S. carriers.

 

Support gradually became available to the U.S. As Sprague moved his forces east, then south, Taffy 1 under Rear-Admiral Felix B. Stump had became aware of the danger it was itself in and headed away from the danger, continuously launching planes to aid the sister force that was being hard-pressed by Kurita; together with Sprague’s own planes they created an impossible tactical situation: Kurita was desperately trying to get at the U.S. carriers, hampered by enemy air and destroyer attacks as much as by his own damaged cruisers.
As Kurita’s situation became more and more desperate, the air attacks that had been such a nuisance earlier became a real danger. Shortly after aiding Tone in the sinking of carrier Gambier Bay, which succumbed at 0907 the only carrier loss by surface engagement ever sustained by the U.S. Navy, Chikuma became the victim of concentrated air attacks, as did Chokai. Both vessels were crippled and sunk.
The sinking of Gambier Bay had peaked the Japanese assault. At 0911, Kurita had ordered retirement in fact of ever increasing danger from the air, correctly as it turned out. On his retirement, cruiser Suzuya, to which ComCruDiv7 had shifted his flag, was sunk by air attack.
Aiding his decision to retire was a clearly obvious development: he had made his bid when he launched his all-out attack on sighting the baby flattops; now, he was minutely paying a heavy price for no gain. Under the impression of heavy air attacks, Ozawa’s and Nishimura’s demise, and the likelihood that any delay now would only risk the return of Halsey before a successful retirement could be made, nothing could have been a wiser decision; and nothing could have made clearer the ultimate truth the Battle of Leyte Gulf showed: Japan’s Nihon Kaigun was finished.
Kurita’s sortie from Brunei had been Japan’s last bid for naval success. In its course, he had lost superbattleship Musashi; cruisers Atago, Maya, Chokai, Chikuma and Suzuya, with Kumano and Takao damaged severely. Several destroyers had suffered a similar fate. On the win side, he could note Gambier Bay, Hoel, Johnston, Samuel B. Roberts, and if one was kind to him, Darter. He had been repulsed from his main objective. He had played his role in the SHO plans with the necessary audacity and professional ability, and upon losing his last chance for a decision, made the courageous decision not to follow the way of Nishimura and add death to defeat, but retired his remaining forces successfully to Brunei. The Imperial Navy had engaged in the greatest battle of all times – and it was beaten bloodily. This was no Midway, no claim to bad luck could be made here: it was as fair a fight as war permits, and yet, the grave truth to Japan was that spirit had given way to technology.

Feb. 1945: U.S. paratroopers of the 503rd Paratroop Regiment float to earth on Corregidor, a rocky island strategically located at the entrance of Manila Bay on Luzon Island, Philippines during World War II. (AP Photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps)

 

Captured Blog: The Pacific War

 

 

In those two and a half years the Japanese had suffered a catalogue of defeats, starting in June 1942 with the Pacific War's most decisive battle - Midway. At Midway the Japanese Navy lost four of its six large aircraft carriers (the six carriers which had made the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor) along with all their aircraft, and many of their aircrew.   This and the three other carrier battles in 1942 - Coral Sea, Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz - deprived the Japanese Navy of most of its trained carrier aircrew - disastrous losses which it was never able to replace.

Four months before the Leyte landings - at the Battle of the Philippine Sea - the Japanese Navy made its final major effort to defeat the US fleet with carrier-borne aircraft.  They sent 9 carriers with 473 aircraft into the battle,  but their aircrew were so poorly trained, and American equipment so superior, that the Japanese air groups were massacred.  Nearly 200 of their aircraft were shot down over or near Task Force 58, the Fast Carrier Force, in one afternoon. Three Japanese carriers were sunk in the battle,  and the IJN lost nearly 500 carrier and land-based aircraft in two days.     As a result of the destruction of their air groups the Japanese carriers,  which at the start of the Pacific War were the spearhead of the Japanese offensive,  were reduced by the time of the Leyte campaign to the role of decoys, and the task of making the real attacks on the Allied invasion fleet was of necessity left to the IJN's battleship and heavy cruiser forces, which were still largely intact, and to what land-based air power the Japanese could still muster.

 

The Japanese Operational Plan

The Japanese command knew that if the Philippines were lost then the war was also lost.  They therefore drew up a desperate plan which risked their remaining surface forces, but offered them a remote chance of destroying the American invasion fleet and isolating the Allied ground forces on Leyte. Like many previous Japanese operational plans it depended on the use of a decoy force. As related above, the Japanese carriers were now all but impotent for lack of trained aircrew, and were therefore the  ships selected to play the most important decoy role.

Vice Admiral Ozawa, with four aircraft carriers and a dozen other ships, would come down from the North and draw off the main American covering force. Meanwhile two powerful battleship forces would penetrate the Central Philippines and then converge on the invasion shipping in Leyte Gulf.

The southern and weaker of these battleship forces, commanded by Rear Admiral Nishimura, would penetrate through Surigao Strait just south of Leyte.  The more powerful of the two battleship forces,  the Central Force under the command of Vice Admiral Kurita,  containing five battleships including the giant Yamato and Musashi ( the largest warships in the world ), 10 heavy and 2 light cruisers, and 15 destroyers,  would penetrate through San Bernadino Strait,  sail down the coast of Samar,  and fall on the American invasion fleet from the north-east.

The American Forces  -  Third and Seventh Fleets

The landing forces for the Leyte operation were organised under Vice Admiral Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet.  This consisted of 738 vessels, of many different types, including a powerful force of cruisers and old battleships as well as a large number of destroyers. Seventh Fleet was intended to be covered and supported by US Third Fleet under Admiral Halsey.  Halsey's fleet came under Admiral Nimitz' Central Pacific command,  while the Seventh Fleet came under General Macarthur's Southwest Pacific Forces.  There was thus no overall naval commander during the campaign, which almost inevitably led to great confusion in the forthcoming battle, and in the event nearly led to a strategic disaster for the Allies.

The Battle for Leyte Gulf was the greatest naval battle in history. That has never been in doubt. But there is much about the recounting of that battle that is open to challenge.
First, let's take a look at the names historians have given to the Great Battle. It turns out that they can't even agree on that. Some call it "The Battle of Leyte Gulf" (whereas two of the four "battles" that comprise it weren't fought anywhere near Leyte Gulf). Others call it "The Battle for Leyte Gulf" which makes a lot more sense. Only one thing: The battle was by definition fought for control of the Gulf, but at the end of it on October 25, 1944 the Allies still did not control the area. The Tokyo Express was still re-supplying Japanese troops which continued to hold about two-thirds of the island of Leyte. And a month after the famous battle enemy strength had more than doubled. This hardly suggests a major victory.

In one sense, the four battles that make up the Great Battle (Battle of Surigao Strait, Battle of Sibuyon Sea, Battle Off Cape Engano and Battle Off Samar) did sound the death knell of the Japanese fleet as a fighting force. But after all, words do mean something. And because "The Battle for Leyte Gulf" didn't change the situation on the ground in any important way, it can't go down as a major victory unless the largely unknown fifth battle is included as part of it. It was that battle that determined the final fate of the Japanese in the central Philippines.
The Battle of Ormoc Bay started on November 11, 1944 and ended on December 21st. Why those dates? On the 11th of November, Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet carrier planes were first to raid Ormoc Bay—the major Japanese supply base on Leyte's west coast. They struck a major blow by sinking four destroyers and five transports. General MacArthur himself declared the end of the battle, and of combat operations in the region, on December 21 when he said, "This closes a campaign that has had few counterparts in the utter destruction of the enemy's forces with the maximum conservation of our own…" But between November 11 and December 21 there were almost daily surface and air operations constituting a drumbeat of destruction for Japanese reinforcement attempts.
Why has this Battle of Ormoc Bay escaped the attention of historians? The men who wrote the history are all gone now but a few answers suggest themselves. First, most naval battles took place over a short span such as a day or two, but there are exceptions. Take the naval battle of Guadalcanal, which began on August 7, 1942 and ended on December 30th.
Then too, some historians may have seen the action in Ormoc Bay as little more than a series of skirmishes because the largest ships involved were destroyers. But that wouldn't explain why other acknowledged "battles" were fought only by destroyers. One example is the Battle of Vella Gulf.
One is compelled to conclude that the writers of WWII history had a naval bias that is not appropriate in an era with a great degree of command integration. Since the purpose of the Battle for/of Leyte Gulf was to secure the Gulf area, any fair-minded assessment has to include the contributions of Army land forces—particularly the 77th Division, destroyer squadrons that raided enemy re-supply bases on the island, and Marine Fighter-Bomber groups that dealt heavy blows to Japanese shipping.
The truth is that historians were apparently too eager to write "finis" to the Great Battle after the Japanese fleet cut and ran after the Battle Off Samar. MacArthur was right in establishing December 21 as the end of the battle. But he had always referred to it as "The Leyte Campaign". Naval historians of the time would naturally shun such terminology because it was suggestive of land and sea forces. And writers with a naval bias were not about to share credit for victory in this one, so the name of the battle remains today as "The Battle for/of Leyte Gulf". But MacArthur's designation makes far better sense. After all, isn't it a bit confusing to use the term "battle" to describe another battle which is itself made up of four other battles?

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November 1944: U.S. landing ship tanks are seen from above as they pour military equipment onto the shores of Leyte island, to support invading forces in the Philippines. (AP Photo)




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Captured Blog: The Pacific War


The Battle for Leyte Gulf  -  the Opening Phase

The first Japanese force to be located by American forces was Kurita's Centre Force, encountered in the Palawan Passage early on 23 October by two US submarines, Darter and Dace.

Kurita had unaccountably failed to deploy destroyers in an anti-submarine screen ahead of his heavy ships. Darter torpedoed and sank the heavy cruiser Atago,  Admiral Kurita's flagship, and Dace torpedoed two heavy cruisers, sinking one - the Takao - and severely damaging the Maya, which was forced to withdraw.

The next day Third Fleet aircraft located the Centre Force. Despite its enormous strength Halsey's fleet was much less well placed to deal with the threat than it should have been. On 22 October Halsey had detached two of his groups to the fleet base at Ulithi to provision and rearm. When the Darter's contact report came in Halsey recalled Davison's group but allowed McCain, with much the strongest of Task Force 38's carrier groups, to continue towards Ulithi. Halsey finally recalled McCain's group on 24 October  -  but the delay meant that the most powerful group played little part in the coming battle, and Third Fleet was therefore effectively deprived of nearly 40% of its air strength.  On the morning of  24 October only three groups were available to hit the Japanese Centre Force, and the one best positioned to do so - Bogan's - was, unfortunately for the US forces, the weakest,  containing only one large carrier - Intrepid - and two light carriers.

Moreover, while they were preparing their first strikes against Kurita's force the northernmost of the three carrier groups - Sherman's - came under heavy air attack from aircraft based on Luzon.  Three separate raids,  each of50-60 aircraft,  were repelled - with very heavy losses - by Sherman's fighters and AA fire, but one Japanese dive-bomber got through and hit the light carrier Princeton with a bomb which started fires.  Later there was a hugeexplosion in her torpedo stowage which meant that she had to be abandoned.   The explosion also damaged the cruiser Birmingham, which was alongside the carrier giving assistance. Terrible casualties were inflicted aboard the cruiser.

 

Despite all these difficulties Third Fleet - in what is known as the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea - attacked the Centre Force repeatedly during the day, making a total of 259 sorties against Kurita's ships.   This force should,  according to the Japanese plan,  have had considerable land-based fighter cover during its approach to the Philippines, but in fact Kurita was never provided with more than than a token combat air patrol, and,  even though his fleet had a large number of anti-aircraft guns (each battleship had 120 or more) their fire proved to be largely ineffective, probably because the gun crews had had very little combat experience.  (It was noted that Kurita's AA crews seemed to be more effective towards the end of the Battle off Samar the following day - despite the fact that they must by this stage have been in a state of near-exhaustion).

Eighteen US aircraft were lost in these attacks.  The carrier air groups concentrated on the enormous battleship Musashi.  A succession of torpedo hits slowed her down and she fell behind Kurita's formation, but the attacks continued relentlessly and at 1935 she capsized and sank,  having been hit by at least 10 bombs and the remarkable total of 19 torpedoes.

However, the relatively small number of aircraft attacking (compared with the total air strength of the Third Fleet), their concentration on sinking Musashi at the expense of crippling a large number of Japanese ships, and the inherent difficulty of hitting fast warships free to manoeuvre in the open seas meant that these attacks did not stop Kurita's fleet.  The heavy cruiser Myoko was damaged by a torpedo and had to retire, and several other Centre Force ships received bomb hits which caused damage but did not substantially affect their fighting efficiency.

Although Kurita turned his ships away at 1500 he at 1714 resumed his course towards San Bernadino Strait  -  with a still very powerful force consisting of 4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and a dozen destroyers  -  a force still fully operational and ready to fight.

An hour later he received a signal from Admiral Toyoda, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet  -

"All forces will dash to the attack, trusting in divine assistance."

Chart of the Opening Phase of the Battle (Please note - 219k)

The Progress of the Other Japanese Forces

The Japanese Southern force consisted of two independent groups, Nishimura's group including its two elderly battleships, and a smaller group under Admiral Shima. Both of these were sighted by American aircraft on the morning of the 24th., and Admiral Kinkaid,  correctly surmising that these groups would attempt to attack the Leyte anchorage through Surigao Strait, was preparing to repel them. The Seventh Fleet had more than enough strength, in its battleships, cruisers and destroyers, to deal with the Southern Force.

The Japanese decoy force (the Northern Force) had remained undiscovered by the Americans until late on the 24th,  but one of its search aircraft had located Sherman's Task Group Three at 0820.  At 1145 Ozawa's carriers launched a strike consisting of 76 aircraft which failed to inflict any damage on Sherman's group.  The Japanese pilots were so poorly trained that they could not return to their carriers but had to make for airfields
on Luzon after conducting their attack.

Halsey suspected that Japanese carriers were nearby,  partly because the aircraft which had attacked Group Three in the morning were of carrier type (although these aircraft were in fact land-based).  Air searches were conducted to the north and north-east but did not find Ozawa's battleships until 1540,  and did not find the enemy carriers until an hour later.

Halsey's Blunder

Having located the Japanese carriers - which he regarded as both the main threat and the main prize - Halsey decided to concentrate his three available carrier groups, with all their accompanying vessels  - including the six fast battleships -  steam northwards with all this huge force, and annihilate Ozawa's ships during daylight on 25 October.

Halsey  took no steps to protect Seventh Fleet from the Centre Force.  Third Fleet left San Bernadino Strait entirely unguarded.

As C. Vann Woodward writes "Everything was pulled out from San Bernadino Strait.  Not so much as a picket destroyer was left."

 

The Battle for Leyte Gulf  -  the Opening Phase

The first Japanese force to be located by American forces was Kurita's Centre Force, encountered in the Palawan Passage early on 23 October by two US submarines, Darter and Dace.

Kurita had unaccountably failed to deploy destroyers in an anti-submarine screen ahead of his heavy ships. Darter torpedoed and sank the heavy cruiser Atago,  Admiral Kurita's flagship, and Dace torpedoed two heavy cruisers, sinking one - the Takao - and severely damaging the Maya, which was forced to withdraw.

The next day Third Fleet aircraft located the Centre Force. Despite its enormous strength Halsey's fleet was much less well placed to deal with the threat than it should have been. On 22 October Halsey had detached two of his groups to the fleet base at Ulithi to provision and rearm. When the Darter's contact report came in Halsey recalled Davison's group but allowed McCain, with much the strongest of Task Force 38's carrier groups, to continue towards Ulithi. Halsey finally recalled McCain's group on 24 October  -  but the delay meant that the most powerful group played little part in the coming battle, and Third Fleet was therefore effectively deprived of nearly 40% of its air strength.  On the morning of  24 October only three groups were available to hit the Japanese Centre Force, and the one best positioned to do so - Bogan's - was, unfortunately for the US forces, the weakest,  containing only one large carrier - Intrepid - and two light carriers.

Moreover, while they were preparing their first strikes against Kurita's force the northernmost of the three carrier groups - Sherman's - came under heavy air attack from aircraft based on Luzon.  Three separate raids,  each of50-60 aircraft,  were repelled - with very heavy losses - by Sherman's fighters and AA fire, but one Japanese dive-bomber got through and hit the light carrier Princeton with a bomb which started fires.  Later there was a hugeexplosion in her torpedo stowage which meant that she had to be abandoned.   The explosion also damaged the cruiser Birmingham, which was alongside the carrier giving assistance. Terrible casualties were inflicted aboard the cruiser.

 

Despite all these difficulties Third Fleet - in what is known as the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea - attacked the Centre Force repeatedly during the day, making a total of 259 sorties against Kurita's ships.   This force should,  according to the Japanese plan,  have had considerable land-based fighter cover during its approach to the Philippines, but in fact Kurita was never provided with more than than a token combat air patrol, and,  even though his fleet had a large number of anti-aircraft guns (each battleship had 120 or more) their fire proved to be largely ineffective, probably because the gun crews had had very little combat experience.  (It was noted that Kurita's AA crews seemed to be more effective towards the end of the Battle off Samar the following day - despite the fact that they must by this stage have been in a state of near-exhaustion).

Eighteen US aircraft were lost in these attacks.  The carrier air groups concentrated on the enormous battleship Musashi.  A succession of torpedo hits slowed her down and she fell behind Kurita's formation, but the attacks continued relentlessly and at 1935 she capsized and sank,  having been hit by at least 10 bombs and the remarkable total of 19 torpedoes.

However, the relatively small number of aircraft attacking (compared with the total air strength of the Third Fleet), their concentration on sinking Musashi at the expense of crippling a large number of Japanese ships, and the inherent difficulty of hitting fast warships free to manoeuvre in the open seas meant that these attacks did not stop Kurita's fleet.  The heavy cruiser Myoko was damaged by a torpedo and had to retire, and several other Centre Force ships received bomb hits which caused damage but did not substantially affect their fighting efficiency.

Although Kurita turned his ships away at 1500 he at 1714 resumed his course towards San Bernadino Strait  -  with a still very powerful force consisting of 4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and a dozen destroyers  -  a force still fully operational and ready to fight.

An hour later he received a signal from Admiral Toyoda, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet  -

"All forces will dash to the attack, trusting in divine assistance."

Chart of the Opening Phase of the Battle

The Progress of the Other Japanese Forces

The Japanese Southern force consisted of two independent groups, Nishimura's group including its two elderly battleships, and a smaller group under Admiral Shima. Both of these were sighted by American aircraft on the morning of the 24th., and Admiral Kinkaid,  correctly surmising that these groups would attempt to attack the Leyte anchorage through Surigao Strait, was preparing to repel them. The Seventh Fleet had more than enough strength, in its battleships, cruisers and destroyers, to deal with the Southern Force.

The Japanese decoy force (the Northern Force) had remained undiscovered by the Americans until late on the 24th,  but one of its search aircraft had located Sherman's Task Group Three at 0820.  At 1145 Ozawa's carriers launched a strike consisting of 76 aircraft which failed to inflict any damage on Sherman's group.  The Japanese pilots were so poorly trained that they could not return to their carriers but had to make for airfields
on Luzon after conducting their attack.

Halsey suspected that Japanese carriers were nearby,  partly because the aircraft which had attacked Group Three in the morning were of carrier type (although these aircraft were in fact land-based).  Air searches were conducted to the north and north-east but did not find Ozawa's battleships until 1540,  and did not find the enemy carriers until an hour later.

Halsey's Blunder

Having located the Japanese carriers - which he regarded as both the main threat and the main prize - Halsey decided to concentrate his three available carrier groups, with all their accompanying vessels  - including the six fast battleships -  steam northwards with all this huge force, and annihilate Ozawa's ships during daylight on 25 October.

Halsey  took no steps to protect Seventh Fleet from the Centre Force. Third Fleet left San Bernadino Strait entirely unguarded.

As C. Vann Woodward writes "Everything was pulled out from San Bernadino Strait.  Not so much as a picket destroyer was left."



The Battle of Cape Engano

Shortly before midnight 24 October Halsey's three available carrier groups made rendezvous off Luzon and began a high-speed run northwards to strike the Japanese Northern Force at daybreak.  Halsey now passed tactical command of Task Force 38 to Vice Admiral Mitscher.

During the run northward the ships which were to make up Task Force 34 were detached from the carrier groups and Task Force 34 was officially formed at 0240 October 25, with Vice Admiral Lee as Officer in Tactical Command.   This force swept northwards in the van of the carrier groups.  Halsey's intention was that they would follow up with gunfire the carriers' attacks on Ozawa's ships.

At 0430 Mitscher ordered his carriers to begin arming their first deckloads and to be ready to launch aircraft at first light. He in fact launched his first attack groups,  180 aircraft in all,  before the Northern Force had been located, and had them orbitting ahead of his carrier force while he was waiting for the first contact reports to come in from his search aircraft.

The first contact came at 0710. At 0800 Third Fleet's attacks on Ozawa began, meeting little opposition.  Task Force 38's air strikes continued until the evening, by which time Mitscher's aircraft had flown 527 sorties against the Northern Force,  had sunk Ozawa's flagship Zuikaku (last survivor of the six carriers which had launched the attack on Pearl Harbor) and two of the three light carriers,  crippled the remaining light carrier, and sunk a destroyer,  aswell as damaging other ships.

Meanwhile, at 0822 when Mitscher's second strike was approaching the Northern Force Halsey in New Jersey received an urgent signal in plain language from Kinkaid saying that the Seventh Fleet escort carriers were under attack off Samar and that assistance from Third Fleet's heavy ships was desperately needed. This was the first of a succession of pleas for help received by Halsey,  which he ignored and continued to ignore for nearly three hours,  despite their including an alarming report that the Seventh Fleet battleships were low on ammunition. Halsey continued to have Task Force 34 race to the north, while the men of Taffy Three were fighting for their lives and the Leyte invasion itself was being placed in jeopardy.

At 1000 the Third Fleet Commander received a message from Admiral Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet and Halsey's immediate superior. The message,  as handed to Admiral Halsey,  read -

 

This message, indicating that Nimitz was alarmed about the safety of the Seventh Fleet and considered that the Third Fleet battleships should be in action off Samar, eventually persuaded Halsey to turn Task Force 34 around and send it south again. Rear Admiral Bogan's carrier group was also pulled out of the attack on Ozawa's force and sent south to provide air cover and support for Lee's force.

When Lee's battleships were pulled out at 1115 they were almost within gunfire range of the Japanese Northern Force.

Ironically it was by this time too late - if Halsey had turned Lee's force around when he first received Kinkaid's call for assistance the battleships and the cruisers (although not the destroyers which were low on fuel,  but might in the circumstances have been left behind) could have arrived off San Bernadino Strait in time to cut off Kurita's withdrawal. As it was, Kurita's force, still containing four battleships and five heavy cruisers, had escaped through the Strait before the Third Fleet's heavy ships arrived there.  All Task Force 34 could then accomplish was to sink the straggling Japanese destroyer Nowaki.

In any event,  even if Task Force 34 had been turned southwards immediately after 0822,  it would have arrived too late to have given any assistance to the ships of Taffy Three,  other than in picking up survivors.

When the bulk of Task Force 34 was pulled out of the attack on Ozawa four of its cruisers and nine destroyers were detached under the command of Rear Admiral DuBose to proceed northward with the carriers.  At 1415 Mitscher ordered DuBose to pursue Ozawa's ships.  His cruisers sank the carrier Chiyoda at around 1700 and the American surface force at 2059 sank the destroyer Hatsuzuki after a stubborn fight.

At about 2310 the US submarine Jallao torpedoed and sank the light cruiser Tama of Ozawa's force.   This was the end of the Battle off Cape Engano, and - apart from some final air strikes on the retreating Japanese forces on 26 October - the end of the Battle for Leyte Gulf.

The US had lost one light carrier and two escort carriers,  two destroyers and a destroyer escort.

Between 23 and 26 October the Imperial Navy had lost one large carrier (the Zuikaku),  three light carriers,  three battleships including the giant Musashi,  six heavy cruisers,  four light cruisers,  and twelve destroyers.

Major-General J.F.C. Fuller, in his book "The Decisive Battles of the Western World," writes of this outcome -

"The Japanese fleet had [effectively] ceased to exist, and, except by land-based aircraft, their opponents had won undisputed command of the sea. When Admiral Ozawa was questioned on the battle after the war he replied 'After this battle the surface forces became strictly auxiliary, so that we relied on land forces,  special [Kamikaze] attack,  and air power . .  there was no further use assigned to surface vessels,  with the exception of some special ships.'  And Admiral Yonai, the Navy Minister, said that he realised that the defeat at Leyte 'was tantamount to the loss of the Philippines.'

        As for the larger significance of the battle,  he said  'I felt that it was the end.' "

 



February 23, 1944: Captain Carter, upper center with map, briefs his men for amphibious assault operations at Arawe, New Britain aboard a troop transport ship. (AP Photo)

December 26, 1943: U.S. Marines are seen from above as they wade through rough water to take the beach at Cape Gloucester on New Britain, Papua New Guinea. (AP Photo)

November 1943: As the invasion at Empress Augusta Bay gets under way on Bougainville, U.S. troops are seen climbing over the side of a Coast Guard-manned combat transport to enter the landing barges. (AP Photo)

From my photos of the battle Islands of the Pacific….The Battle of Midway is widely considered to be the turning point in the Pacific theater, as it was a strategic naval victory which stopped Japan's eastern expansion toward Hawaii and the U.S. west coast. However, the Empire of Japan continued to expand in the southern Pacific, until receiving two decisive defeats at the hands of the Allies. Australian land forces had defeated Japanese Marines in New Guinea at the Battle of Milne Bay in September 1942, which was the first land defeat suffered by the Japanese in the Pacific. And, by the end of 1942, it was clear that Japan also had lost the Guadalcanal campaign, a far more serious blow to Japan's strategic plans and an unanticipated defeat at the hands of the Americans.

Jan. 26, 1943: An infantryman is on guard on Grassy Knoll in Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands during World War II.  (AP Photo)

Battle off Samar
While Halsey pursued Ozawa to the north, he had opened the doors to disaster for the U.S. fleet off Leyte. In his confused communications with Admiral Kinkaid of the 7th Fleet, he had left the impression of guarding San Bernardino Strait with Admiral Willis Lee’s fast battleships, six formidable battlewagons that Kurita would have found difficult to overcome. So unclear were his communiqués that Admiral Nimitz and his staff in Pearl Harbor had essentially come to the same conclusion.
In fact, however, Halsey had not left anything behind. Task Force 34, as the hypothetical battleship formation was called, had accompanied him north – even though Halsey knew of Kurita’s coming back toward San Bernardino, he had not left a single ship in the vicinity of the strait, or even bothered informing Kinkaid (who did not make night searches, of the kind that found Kurita, over the area) of the impending danger and absence of Task Force 34. It must have been with relief and surprise that Kurita passed the empty San Bernardino Straits at around midnight on the 24th, then made his way down the east coast of the island of Samar during the early morning hours. At 0620, the radar screens of the Japanese battleships suddenly reported enemy planes in the vicinity, and Kurita assumed air defense formation. Not long thereafter, the lookouts in the tall pagoda masts of the Imperial battleships sighted masts and smoke on the horizon. As he came closer, the distinctive outlines of carriers became visible, as did smaller surface warships. However, the excited reports of large fleet carriers, battleships and cruisers were hopelessly optimistic.
Kurita had stumbled upon a much more modest force, Task Unit 77.4.3, or “Taffy Three”, six escort carriers and seven escorts, three destroyers and four destroyer-escorts. It was a pitiful force that Rear-Admiral Clifton A. Sprague was able of putting up against Kurita, especially since his composite squadrons were not equipped to deal with warships. Armor-piercing bombs and torpedos were not needed for their ground-support role, and everything else would have little effect on the oncoming behemoths.
As the Japanese closed the weak U.S. forces, however, confusion reigned. Under the impression of having encountered one of Halsey’s fast carrier forces, Admiral Kurita decided to rush his attack and not wait until his forces were placed in the most favorable way. There was obvious reason for choosing such a course of action: the art of maneuvering one’s ships into position for battle, called “evolution”, took precious time and was supposed to be exercised before battle was joined. Now, however, speed became imperative – against the determined opposition a carrier force could put up, it was essential that sinkings were scored early and the enemy not be allowed to assemble and prepare his forces, or even worse, open up the range. As his destroyers and cruisers left behind the sluggish battleships, then, Kurita had sacrificed coherence in his force for the only prospect for victory he had.
Meantime, Rear-Admiral Sprague had turned his ships due east, and begun launching his planes to commission even so weak a defense as they provided.
As the Japanese closed the slow U.S. force, the first shells were dropped between the flattops. From the flagship Fanshaw Bay, Admiral Sprague signaled his escorts to start covering attacks against the superior Japanese. Peeling off the screen of the fleeing baby flattops, destroyers Hoel, Heerman and Johnston, as well as destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts, headed off and engaged the Imperial cruisers and battleships farther off.
All the while, the Japanese had continued with their uncontrolled, desperate hunt. Kurita’s only command to that point had been “Charge” – he was not inclined to specify exactly what or exactly how, even now.
On the easterly course that they were on, they chased and slowly closed the U.S. force, steadily straddling the fleeing flattops. By this time, there remained no planes on the U.S. carriers: they had all taken off, now picking at the battleships, destroyers and cruisers with machine-guns, depth charges and small bombs. They continued on to Leyte, where they were turned around and continued their pinpricks against the IJN fleet.
As the U.S. destroyers continued their loosing battle against the IJN fleet, they did more than their fair share of damage. Hunting the shell splashes enabled the U.S. ships to escape damage for an unduly long amount of time, and offered the opportunity to do real damage to the IJN. The first victim of the U.S. assault was heavy cruiser Kumano, flagship of the commander of the Seventh Cruiser division, loosing her bow to one of Johnston’s torpedoes. In return, the brave little destroyer was ripped into pieces by three 356mm shells from Kongo and left burning, though not sinking.
Then, the three other U.S. destroyers joined the fray, The miniscule artillery fire that the four ships offered could not hinder or delay the Imperial fleet, but their torpedoes were a different matter entirely. While the U.S. air attacks increased and the Japanese closed dangerously with cruisers, the powerful batteries of the battleships were kept out of the fight by the dedication of the U.S. attackers. Torpedoes forced Yamato to turn away and open up the range, causing her to loose value time. A charge by Johnston against Kongo forced that battlewagon to concentrate on her without success. Hoel attracted the fire of several battleships and cruisers that were thus unable to attack the U.S. carriers.
Support gradually became available to the U.S. As Sprague moved his forces east, then south, Taffy 1 under Rear-Admiral Felix B. Stump had became aware of the danger it was itself in and headed away from the danger, continuously launching planes to aid the sister force that was being hard-pressed by Kurita; together with Sprague’s own planes they created an impossible tactical situation: Kurita was desperately trying to get at the U.S. carriers, hampered by enemy air and destroyer attacks as much as by his own damaged cruisers.
As Kurita’s situation became more and more desperate, the air attacks that had been such a nuisance earlier became a real danger. Shortly after aiding Tone in the sinking of carrier Gambier Bay, which succumbed at 0907 the only carrier loss by surface engagement ever sustained by the U.S. Navy, Chikuma became the victim of concentrated air attacks, as did Chokai. Both vessels were crippled and sunk.
The sinking of Gambier Bay had peaked the Japanese assault. At 0911, Kurita had ordered retirement in fact of ever increasing danger from the air, correctly as it turned out. On his retirement, cruiser Suzuya, to which ComCruDiv7 had shifted his flag, was sunk by air attack.
Aiding his decision to retire was a clearly obvious development: he had made his bid when he launched his all-out attack on sighting the baby flattops; now, he was minutely paying a heavy price for no gain. Under the impression of heavy air attacks, Ozawa’s and Nishimura’s demise, and the likelihood that any delay now would only risk the return of Halsey before a successful retirement could be made, nothing could have been a wiser decision; and nothing could have made clearer the ultimate truth the Battle of Leyte Gulf showed: Japan’s Nihon Kaigun was finished.
Kurita’s sortie from Brunei had been Japan’s last bid for naval success. In its course, he had lost superbattleship Musashi; cruisers Atago, Maya, Chokai, Chikuma and Suzuya, with Kumano and Takao damaged severely. Several destroyers had suffered a similar fate. On the win side, he could note Gambier Bay, Hoel, Johnston, Samuel B. Roberts, and if one was kind to him, Darter. He had been repulsed from his main objective. He had played his role in the SHO plans with the necessary audacity and professional ability, and upon losing his last chance for a decision, made the courageous decision not to follow the way of Nishimura and add death to defeat, but retired his remaining forces successfully to Brunei. The Imperial Navy had engaged in the greatest battle of all times – and it was beaten bloodily. This was no Midway, no claim to bad luck could be made here: it was as fair a fight as war permits, and yet, the grave truth to Japan was that spirit had given way to technology.

Epilogue
Spirit had given way to technology; but by using greater spirit, the Japanese hoped they could turn technological odds. Leyte Gulf witnessed the first of perhaps the most harrowing type of attack delivered in World War II: Kamikaze.
“Kamikaze”, the “Divine Wind”, as Japanese a description for such a horrific weapon as there could be.
Although Tommy Sprague’s Taffy One would receive the dubious honor of being first to experience that assault, the damage incurred by his ships was comparatively slight: carriers Suwannee and Santee were hit, but not damaged heavily.
The next victims of the onslaught would be the already battered ships of Taffy 3, relaxing slightly after seeing Kurita’s masts vanish over the horizon. At 1050, the first Zeros appeared over the force. Weakened by combat losses, the ships were unable to put up too heavy defenses, and three hit home: two smashed into Kalinin Bay without major consequences, but the final one slammed himself into St. Lô, and in a huge ball of flame the baby carrier erupted and sank.
Thus, as it marked the eclipse of the seagoing Imperial Navy, it also marked the ascension of a new kind of warfare, that of guided missiles, for Kamikazes were no more than that. This last desperate attempt to turn the tide of the war would cost thousands of Allied sailors their lives; but there was no chance of it changing the outcome of the battles that followed – Luzon, Iwo Jima, Okinawa.
And though the battle of Leyte Gulf ended on a sour note for the U.S., the fact remained that on the evening of October 26th, 1944, there remained no Navy on any of the planet’s seven seas that would be capable of challenging Allied naval dominance.

The Japanese land campaign (mainly defensive) was conducted by the 100,000 strong 32nd Army. It initially consisted of the 9th, 24th, and 62nd Divisions, and the 44th Independent Brigade. The 9th Division was moved to Formosa prior to the invasion, resulting in shuffling of Japanese Defensive plans. Primary resistance was led in the south by General Mitsuru Ushijima, his second in command Gen. Cho and Major Hiromichi Yahara his chief of staff. Yahara advocated a defensive strategy, whilst Cho advocated an offensive one. Cho's urgings led to a disastrous land and sea attack that led to the near massacre of the attacking Japanese troops by the superior firepower of the U.S. soldiers and Marines. From then on, Ushijima adopted the more successful tactics advocated by Maj. Yahara. Ushijima and Cho committed suicide in their command headquarters on Hill 89 in the closing hours of the battle. Major Yahara was the most senior officer to surrender on the island, and authored the book The Battle for Okinawa.

Gantry for containerships( photo 2002). Japanese defenders on Guam received the heaviest "softening-up" gunfire and bombing the U.S. Navy had yet produced in the war. Beginning in March 1944, during the two weeks before the invasion the Navy orchestrated day and night concentrations of surface gunfire from six battleships, nine cruisers, a dozen destroyers, and many rocket-launching gunboats as well as numerous strafing and bombing sorties from Army B-24s and Navy carrier-based squadrons. This preparation destroyed all naval gun positions visible from the air and about half the large guns in caves. On the morning of 21 July Marine units came ashore on both sides of Orote Peninsula. The 3d Marine Division landed on the north beach near the town of Agana, while the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade assaulted the south beach near Agat. Opposition was surprisingly heavy after weeks of preparatory fire, and twenty-two amtracs were sunk. But the marines kept coming and by nightfall had pushed about a mile inland at both points.

August 14, 1945: A jubilant crowd of American Italians are seen as they wave flags and toss papers in the air while celebrating Japan's unconditional surrender in their neighborhood in New York City. (AP Photo)

September 2, 1945: F4U and F6F fighter planes are flying in formation over the USS Missouri, while the surrender ceremonies to end World War II take place aboard the U.S. Navy battleship. (AP Photo)

September 2, 1945: Spectators and correspondents from all over the world pick vantage positions on the deck of the USS Missouri, in Tokyo Bay to watch the formal Japanese surrender ceremony marking the end of World War II. (AP Photo, Frank Filan)

August 14, 1945: A sailor and a nurse kiss passionately in Manhattan's Times Square, as New York City celebrates the end of World War II. The celebration followed the official announcement that Japan had accepted the terms of Potsdam and surrendered. (AP Photo/Victor Jorgensen) See the celebration in Honolulu, Hawaii with sound...
You all saw the WWII Sailor kissing the nurse on Broadway in New York, but how many have seen this? And check out the color fidelity - Kodachrome film and click on arrow -- it has sound.

World War II - Pacific Theater, 1944

The Battle of Leyte Gulf raged from October 23 through 25, 1944. It was the largest naval battle ever fought — ending in the eclipse of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and its last sortie in force. Leyte Gulf also was the scene of the first organized use of Kamikaze (suicide) aircraft by the Japanese. The Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Australia was hit on October 21, and suicide attacks by the "Special Attack Force" began on October 25th.

Prologue

Naval, air and ground forces had joined hands to bring the Allies to the Japanese-held Philippines. On October 20, Lt. General Walter Krueger's U.S. Sixth Army gained two beachheads on the central island of Leyte. It confronted a 270,000-man Japanese army and air force in the Philippines, commanded by Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi. General Douglas MacArthur and his staff waded ashore at Tacloban about five hours following the first landings — the old warrior had fulfilled his promise to return.

Starting on October 25, 1944, and for more than a month, Japanese re-supply groups called TA convoys headed for Ormoc Bay (west of Leyte), and brought to the defenders of Leyte Island the reinforcements needed to prolong the resistance well beyond what the Allies had expected. By December, however, the Sixth Army had captured the island.

The Princeton and the Birmingham

Four months before MacArthur's Leyte landings, at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Japanese Navy staged its final major effort to defeat the U.S. fleet with carrier-borne aircraft. Nearly 200 of their aircraft were shot down over or near Task Force 58* in one afternoon. Three Japanese carriers were sunk in the battle, and the IJN lost nearly 500 carrier- and land-based aircraft in two days.

As a result of the destruction of the IJN's air groups, the Japanese carriers were drastically reduced in number by the time of the Leyte campaign. Some of the carriers were placed as decoys to divert the Americans. IJN's still largely intact battleship and heavy-cruiser forces would then be able to pursue the U.S. with surprise attacks.

The battle commences

The Battle of Leyte Gulf consisted of two preliminary strikes against the Japanese forces on the way to battle and three massive engagements once the fleets tangled. In other words, the last great battleship engagement of World War II, and in all of history, was staged in five parts, each bearing its own name:

The Center Force

The Palawan Passage. The first Japanese force to be located by American forces was Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's Center Force.** The fleet was encountered in the Palawan Passage early on October 23rd by two U.S. submarines, the USS Darter (SS-227) and USS Dace (SS-247). Kurita had unaccountably failed to deploy destroyers in an anti-submarine screen ahead of his heavy ships — resulting in disaster for the Japanese.

As Kurita sailed his mighty force northward, he was suddenly ambushed by an array of undetected torpedoes. The Darter successfully sank the heavy cruiser Atago (Admiral Kurita's flagship), while the Dace torpedoed two heavy cruisers, sinking the Takao and severely damaging the Maya, which was forced to withdraw. Although Admiral Kurita went down with his flagship, he was quickly rescued from the sea off Palawan by sailors aboard the Maya, putting him back into command of his fleet aboard the Yamato by day's end.

The Musashi under attack

Battle of the Sibuyan Sea. Early on the morning of October 24th, the Japanese Center Force was spotted entering the narrow Sibuyan Sea by planes from the USS Intrepid. Two hundred planes from the Intrepid, USS Bunker Hill and other carriers of Task Force 38*** successfully attacked the Nagato, Yamato, and Musashi, and severely damaged the Myoko. The second wave of planes zeroed in on the Mysashi, scoring numerous direct hits with more bombs and torpedoes. Finally, a third wave of terror was once again unleashed by planes aboard the Enterprise — 11 bombs and eight torpedoes. Admiral Kurita turned his fleet around to get out of the range of U.S. planes and passed the sinking Musashi as he retreated.

Amid the bombardment of Kurita's fleet, Vice Admiral Onishi Takijiro had directed his First Fleet of 80 planes (based in Luzon) against the U.S. carriers Essex, Lexington, Princeton, and Langley. The USS Princeton was hit by an armor-piercing bomb, killing 200 sailors, and 80 aboard the Birmingham, which was alongside helping to suppress fires. Japanese forces successfully sank the Princeton and forced the Birmingham into early retirement.

The Battle of Surigao Strait. Meanwhile, on October 24th, Rear Admiral Shoji Nishimura's southern forces failed to synchronize with other Japanese central forces (Vice Admirals Shima and Kurita) because of strict radio silence that had been imposed. When Nishimura entered the narrow Surigao Strait, Shima was about 25 miles behind him, and Kurita was still in the Sibuyan Sea.

As the Japanese southern forces passed the cape of Panoan Island, they ran into a deadly trap set for them by Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf's Seventh Fleet Support Force. In order for Nishimura to pass the strait and reach the Leyte landings, he would have to run a gauntlet of torpedoes from PT boats, evade two groups of destroyers, proceed up the strait under close-range fire from six battleships and then break through a screen of cruisers and destroyers.

Mistakenly, Nishimura's fleet proceeded farther through the Surigao Strait. The destroyers Asagumo, Yamagumo, and Mishishio were hit by torpedoes that severely crippled them. Battleships Yamashiro and Mogami were then riddled by 16-inch armor-piercing shells delivered by American long-range battleships, ultimately sinking the Yamashiro.

When Shima's force entered the site of destruction, he quickly ordered an immediate retreat. As a result, his flagship Nachi collided with the Mogami and quickly went down, while the Mogami fell behind in the retreat and was sunk by aircraft the next morning. Of Nishimura's force of seven ships, only the Shigure survived.

Takeo Kurita

The Battle off Cape Engaño. On October 24th, while the U.S. was attacking Kurita and dealing with the air strikes from Luzon, Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa's Northern Force intercepted a misleading American communication of Admiral Kurita's withdrawal, and started to withdraw as well. However, Admiral Soemu Toyoda ordered Ozawa's forces to stop their retreat and attack with all means necessary.

Admiral Halsey saw that he had an opportunity to destroy the last Japanese carrier forces in the Pacific, a blow that would cripple Japanese sea power and allow the U.S. Navy to attack the Japanese home islands. With a massive arsenal, Halsey's Third Fleet began to pursue the badly out-gunned northern forces of Ozawa.

On the morning of October 25, Ozawa launched 75 planes to attack the Americans, but inflicted minimal damage. Most of the aircraft were shot down by U.S. covering patrols, while a handful of survivors made it to Luzon.

At 8 a.m., 180 American fighters destroyed the remaining screen of 30 defensive aircraft, then air strikes began and continued until evening, by which time the American aircraft had flown 527 sorties against the Northern Force and sunk three of Ozawa's carriers, the Zuikaku, Zuiho, Chiyoda, and the destroyer Akitsuki. The fourth carrier, Chitose, was disabled, as was the cruiser Tama. Ozawa was forced to transfer his flag to the Oyodo.

With all the Japanese carriers sunk or disabled, the main targets remaining were the converted battleships Ise and Hyuga. Therefore, with word of heavy resistance near Samar, Halsey detached only a small force of cruisers and destroyers, under Rear Admiral Laurence T. DuBose, to sink the disabled Japanese ships. Only the Ise and Hyuga escaped and returned to Japan — where they were sunk at their moorings in 1945.

Battle of Samar. On October 25, 1944, Admiral Kurita passed through San Bernardino Strait at 3 a.m. and progressed southward along the coast of Samar.

Under Admiral Thomas Kinkaid's command, three groups of the Seventh Fleet, each with six escort carriers, eight destroyers and destroyer escorts, would ultimately be responsible for stopping Kurita. Admiral Thomas Sprague's Task Unit Taffy 1, Admiral Felix Stump's Task Unit Taffy 2, and Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit Taffy 3, led the way. Each escort carrier carried about 30 planes, comprising more than 500 aircraft in all.

Incorrect communications led Admiral Kinkaid to believe that Admiral Willis A. Lee's Task Force 34 of battleships was guarding the San Bernardino Strait to the north, and that there would be no danger from that direction.

The Japanese detected Taffy 3 at 6:45 a.m. and took the Americans completely by surprise. Then, with 18-inch guns, Kurita targeted the escort carriers for the fleet carriers — thinking that he had the whole of the American Third fleet in his sights.

In defense, Admiral Sprague's destroyers began to unleash munitions, scattering the Japanese formations as their ships turned to avoid torpedoes. The Yamato found itself between two torpedoes on parallel courses, and for 10 minutes it headed away from the action, unable to turn back for fear of being hit.

The American destroyers Hoel and Johnston, and destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts, were sunk, while four others were damaged. However, they had provided enough time for Sprague to get his planes into the air. American fighter planes attacked with whatever they had aboard, including depth charges for some. With artillery raining down all around him, Sprague turned and fled south. The rear carrier Gambier Bay sank while most of the others were hit and damaged.

Taffy 3 could now see the light as Taffy 2 (the next unit to the south) appeared over the horizon, which forced Kurita to the north. The Japanese commander had suffered the loss of his heavy cruisers, the Chokai, Suzuya, and Chikuma, which had been sunk by Taffy 3's desperate sea and air attacks.

With thoughts of perhaps once again steaming in the sea off Palawan, Kurita disengaged the Yamato, Haruna, Kongo and Nagato, followed by the few remaining cruisers and destroyers. As they turned and fled to the north and then west through the San Bernardino Strait under continuous air attack, the Nagato, Haruna and Kongo were severely damaged.

The Imperial Japanese Navy had begun the battle with five battleships; when the remaining forces returned to Japan, only the Yamato was combat worthy.

Kamikaze misses the Sangamon

The Divine Wind

The first organized Kamikaze planes began to dive into the escort carriers that had just fought the Battle off Samar, which inflicted additional losses. That new form of warfare took the Americans by surprise. They had to somehow compensate for it because the Japanese would frequently resort to that deadly tactic until the end of the war.


*The Fast Carrier Force was known as Task Force 58 - consisting of the large fleet carriers of the Essex Class, augmented by the two surviving pre-war carriers Enterprise and Saratoga and the light fleet carriers of the Independence Class.
**Admiral Kurita's powerful Japanese Center Force consisted of five battleships and 12 cruisers, supported by 13 destroyers.
***Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet was known as Task Force 38, which primarily consisted of the same fleet from the earlier Task Force 58.

In one sense, the four battles that make up the Great Battle (Battle of Surigao Strait, Battle of Sibuyon Sea, Battle Off Cape Engano and Battle Off Samar) did sound the death knell of the Japanese fleet as a fighting force. But after all, words do mean something. And because "The Battle for Leyte Gulf" didn't change the situation on the ground in any important way, it can't go down as a major victory unless the largely unknown fifth battle is included as part of it. It was that battle that determined the final fate of the Japanese in the central Philippines.
The Battle of Ormoc Bay started on November 11, 1944 and ended on December 21st. Why those dates? On the 11th of November, Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet carrier planes were first to raid Ormoc Bay—the major Japanese supply base on Leyte's west coast. They struck a major blow by sinking four destroyers and five transports. General MacArthur himself declared the end of the battle, and of combat operations in the region, on December 21 when he said, "This closes a campaign that has had few counterparts in the utter destruction of the enemy's forces with the maximum conservation of our own…" But between November 11 and December 21 there were almost daily surface and air operations constituting a drumbeat of destruction for Japanese reinforcement attempts.
Why has this Battle of Ormoc Bay escaped the attention of historians? The men who wrote the history are all gone now but a few answers suggest themselves. First, most naval battles took place over a short span such as a day or two, but there are exceptions. Take the naval battle of Guadalcanal, which began on August 7, 1942 and ended on December 30th.
Then too, some historians may have seen the action in Ormoc Bay as little more than a series of skirmishes because the largest ships involved were destroyers. But that wouldn't explain why other acknowledged "battles" were fought only by destroyers. One example is the Battle of Vella Gulf.
One is compelled to conclude that the writers of WWII history had a naval bias that is not appropriate in an era with a great degree of command integration. Since the purpose of the Battle for/of Leyte Gulf was to secure the Gulf area, any fair-minded assessment has to include the contributions of Army land forces—particularly the 77th Division, destroyer squadrons that raided enemy re-supply bases on the island, and Marine Fighter-Bomber groups that dealt heavy blows to Japanese shipping.
The truth is that historians were apparently too eager to write "finis" to the Great Battle after the Japanese fleet cut and ran after the Battle Off Samar. MacArthur was right in establishing December 21 as the end of the battle. But he had always referred to it as "The Leyte Campaign". Naval historians of the time would naturally shun such terminology because it was suggestive of land and sea forces. And writers with a naval bias were not about to share credit for victory in this one, so the name of the battle remains today as "The Battle for/of Leyte Gulf". But MacArthur's designation makes far better sense. After all, isn't it a bit confusing to use the term "battle" to describe another battle which is itself made up of four other battles?


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August 24, 1944: Curtiss Helldivers from the Fast Carrier Task Force 58 are seen midair on a mission over Saipan, in the Mariana Islands. (AP Photo)

 

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September 13, 1944: Japanese-occupied harbor of Cebu is under attack by U.S. Navy carrier-based fighter planes, at Cebu island, Philippines. (AP

The campaigns of August 1942 to early 1944 had driven Japanese forces from many of their island bases in the south and central Pacific Ocean, while isolating many of their other bases (most notably in the Solomon Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, Admiralty Islands, New Guinea, Marshall Islands, and Wake Island), and in June 1944, a series of American amphibious landings supported by the US Fifth Fleet's Fast Carrier Task Force captured most of the Mariana Islands (bypassing Rota). This offensive breached Japan's strategic inner defense ring and gave the Americans a base from which long-range Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers could attack the Japanese home islands. The Japanese counterattacked in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The U.S. Navy destroyed three Japanese aircraft carriers (and damaged other ships) and approximately 600 Japanese aircraft, leaving the IJN with virtually no carrier-borne airpower or experienced pilots.[3]

For subsequent operations, Admiral Ernest J. King and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff favored blockading Japanese forces in the Philippines and attacking Formosa (Taiwan) to give the Americans and Australians control of the sea routes between Japan and southern Asia. U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur championed an invasion of the Philippines, which also lay across the supply lines to Japan. Leaving the Philippines in Japanese hands would be a blow to American prestige and a personal affront to MacArthur, who in 1942 had famously pronounced, "I shall return." Also, the considerable air power the Japanese had amassed in the Philippines was thought too dangerous to bypass by many high-ranking officers outside the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Admiral Chester Nimitz. However, Nimitz and MacArthur initially had opposing plans, with Nimitz's plan centered on an invasion of Formosa, since that could also cut the supply lines to southeast Asia. Formosa could also serve as a base for an invasion of mainland China, which MacArthur felt was unnecessary. A meeting between MacArthur, Nimitz, and President Roosevelt helped confirm the Philippines as a strategic target, but had less to do with the final decision to invade the Philippines than is sometimes claimed. Nimitz eventually changed his mind and agreed to MacArthur's plan.[4][6] It was also estimated that an invasion of Formosa would require about 12 divisions of U.S. Army soldiers and U.S. Marines. This was more land power than the Americans could muster in the whole Pacific Ocean area at that time, and the entire Australian Army was engaged in the Solomon Islands, on New Guinea, in the Dutch East Indies, and on various other Pacific islands. The invasion of Formosa would require much larger ground forces than were available in the Pacific in late 1944, and would not have been feasible until the defeat of Germany freed the necessary manpower.[4]

It was eventually decided that MacArthur's forces would invade the island of Leyte in the central Philippines. Amphibious forces and close naval support would be provided by the 7th Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid. The 7th Fleet at this time contained units of the U.S. Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, including the County-classheavy cruisers HMAS Shropshire and Australia, and the destroyer Arunta, and possibly a few warships from New Zealand and/or the Netherlands.

The 3rd Fleet, commanded by Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., with Task Force 38 (the Fast Carrier Task Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher) as its main component, would provide more distant cover and support for the invasion. A fundamental defect in this plan was that there would be no single American naval admiral in overall command. This lack of a unified command, along with failures in communication, was to produce a crisis, and very nearly a strategic disaster, for the American forces. (Fuller 1956, Morison 1956).
By coincidence, the Japanese plan, using three separate fleets, also lacked an overall commander. The American options were apparent to the
Imperial Japanese Navy. Combined Fleet Chief Soemu Toyoda prepared four "victory" plans: Shō-Gō 1 (捷1号作戦 Shō ichigō sakusen) was a major naval operation in the Philippines, while Shō-Gō 2, Shō-Gō 3and Shō-Gō 4 were responses to attacks on Formosa, the Ryukyu and Kurile Islands respectively. The plans were for complex offensive operations committing nearly all available forces to a decisive battle, despite this substantially depleting Japan's slender reserves of fuel oil.

The four main actions in the battle of Leyte Gulf. 1 Battle of the Sibuyan Sea 2 Battle of Surigao Strait 3 Battle of (or 'off') Cape Engaño 4 Battle off Samar. Leyte Gulf is above 2 and to the left of 4. The island of Leyte is to the left of the gulf.

On 12 October 1944, the US 3rd Fleet under Admiral Halsey began a series of carrier raids against Formosa and the Ryukyu Islands, with a view to ensuring that aircraft based there could not intervene in the Leyte landings. The Japanese command therefore put Shō-Gō 2 into action, launching waves of air attacks against 3rd Fleet's carriers. In what Morison refers to as a "knock-down, drag-out fight between carrier-based and land-based air" the Japanese were routed, losing 600 aircraft in three days, almost their entire air strength in the region. Following the American invasion of the Philippines, the Japanese Navy made the transition to Shō-Gō 1.[3][4]

Shō-Gō 1 called for Vice-Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa's ships, known as the "Northern Force", to lure the main American covering forces away from Leyte. Northern Force would be built around several aircraft carriers, but these would have very few aircraft or trained aircrew. The carriers would serve as the main bait. As the US covering forces were lured away, two other surface forces would advance on Leyte from the west. The "Southern Force" under Vice Admirals Shoji Nishimura and Kiyohide Shima would strike at the landing area via Surigao Strait. The "Center Force" under Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, by far the most powerful of the attacking forces, would pass through San Bernardino Strait into the Philippine Sea, turn southwards, and then also attack the landing area.[3][4]

This plan was likely to result in the destruction of one or more of the attacking forces, but Toyoda later explained this to his American interrogators as follows:

Should we lose in the Philippines operations, even though the fleet should be left, the shipping lane to the south would be completely cut off so that the fleet, if it should come back to Japanese waters, could not obtain its fuel supply. If it should remain in southern waters, it could not receive supplies of ammunition and arms. There would be no sense in saving the fleet at the expense of the loss of the Philippines.

—United States Strategic Bombing Survey (Pacific) – 'Interrogations of Japan

The submarine action in Palawan Passage (23 October)

(Note: this action is referred to by Morison as "The Fight in Palawan Passage",[4] and is elsewhere occasionally referred to as "the Battle of Palawan Passage").

As it sortied from its base in Brunei, Kurita's powerful "Center Force" consisted of five battleships (Yamato, Musashi, Nagato, Kongō, and Haruna), ten heavy cruisers (Atago,Maya, Takao, Chōkai, Myōkō, Haguro, Kumano, Suzuya, Tone and Chikuma), two light cruisers (Noshiro and Yahagi) and 15 destroyers.[4]

Kurita's ships passed Palawan Island around midnight on 22–23 October. The American submarines Darter and Dace were positioned together on the surface close by. At 00:16 on 23 October, Darter's radar detected the Japanese formation at a range of 30,000 yd (27,000 m). Her captain promptly made visual contact. The two submarines quickly moved off in pursuit of the ships, while Darter made the first of three contact reports. At least one of these was picked up by a radio operator on Yamato, but Kurita failed to take appropriate anti-submarine precautions.[4]

Darter and Dace traveled on the surface at full power for several hours and gained a position ahead of Kurita's formation, with the intention of making a submerged attack at first light. This attack was unusually successful. At 05:24, Darter fired a spread of six torpedoes, at least four of which hit Kurita's flagship, the heavy cruiser Atago. 10 minutes later,Darter made two hits on the Atago's sister ship Takao with another spread of torpedoes. At 05:56 Dace made four torpedo hits on the heavy cruiser Maya (sister to Atago andTakao).[4]

Atago and Maya quickly sank. Takao turned back to Brunei escorted by two destroyers — and was followed by the two submarines. On 24 October, as the submarines continued to shadow the damaged cruiser, Darter ran aground on the Bombay Shoal. All efforts to get her off failed, and she was abandoned. Her entire crew was, however, rescued by Dace.

Takao returned to Singapore, where she remained for the rest of the war. She was joined in January 1945 by Myōkō.

Atago had sunk so rapidly that Kurita was forced to swim in order to survive. He was rescued by one of the Japanese destroyers, and he then transferred to the battleshipYamato.[4][7][8]

[edit] The Battle of the Sibuyan Sea (24 October)

Musashi departing Brunei in October 1944 for the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Around 08:00 on 24 October, the Center Force was spotted and attacked entering the Sibuyan Sea by VF-20 squadron Hellcat fighters, VB-20 Helldiver dive bombers, and VT-20Avenger torpedo bombers from USS Enterprise of Halsey's 3rd Fleet. Despite its great strength, 3rd Fleet was not well-placed to deal with the threat. On 22 October, Halsey had detached two of his carrier groups to the fleet base at Ulithi to provision and rearm. When Darter's contact report came in Halsey recalled Davison's group but allowed Vice Admiral McCain, with the strongest of Task Force 38's carrier groups, to continue towards Ulithi. Halsey finally recalled McCain on 24 October — but the delay meant that the most powerful American carrier group played little part in the coming battle, and that 3rd Fleet was therefore effectively deprived of nearly 40% of its air strength for most of the battle. On the morning of 24 October, only three groups were available to strike Kurita's force, and the one best positioned to do so — Bogan's Task Group 38.2 — was by mischance the weakest of the groups, containing only one large carrier — the Intrepid — and two light carriers (the failure to promptly recall McCain on 23 October was also effectively to deprive 3rd Fleet, throughout the battle, of four of its six heavy cruisers).[4]

Yamato hit by a bomb near her forward gun turret in the Sibuyan Sea, 24 October 1944

Planes from carriers Intrepid and Cabot of Bogan's group attacked at about 10:30, making hits on the battleships Nagato, Yamato, and Musashi, and severely damaging the heavy cruiser Myōkō. A second wave from Intrepid, Essex and Lexington later attacked, with VB-15 Helldivers and VF-15 Hellcats from Essex, scoring another 10 hits on Musashi. As she withdrew, listing to port, a third wave from Enterprise and Franklin hit her with 11 bombs and 8 torpedoes.[4]

Kurita turned his fleet around to get out of range of the aircraft, passing the crippled Musashi as his force retreated. He waited until 17:15 before turning around again to head for the San Bernardino Strait — Musashi capsized and sank at about 19:30.[4]

Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi had directed three waves of aircraft from his First Air Fleet based on Luzon against the carriers of Rear Admiral Sherman's Task Group 38.3 (whose aircraft were also being used to strike airfields in Luzon to prevent Japanese land-based air attacks on Allied shipping in Leyte Gulf). Each of Ōnishi's strike waves consisted of some fifty to sixty aircraft.[4]

USS Princeton explodes at 15:23

Most of the attacking Japanese planes were intercepted and shot down or driven off by Hellcats of Sherman's combat air patrol, most notably by two fighter sections from Essexled by Commander David McCampbell (who is credited with shooting down nine of the attacking planes in this one action). However, one Japanese aircraft (a Yokosuka D4Y Judy) slipped through the defences, and at 09:38 hit the light carrier USS Princeton with a 551 lb (250 kg) armor-piercing bomb which caused a severe fire in Princeton's hangar. Her emergency sprinkler system failed to operate, and fires spread rapidly. A series of explosions followed. The fires were gradually brought under control, but at 15:23 there was an enormous explosion (probably in the carrier's bomb stowage aft), causing more casualties aboard Princeton, and even heavier casualties — more than 300 — aboard the cruiserBirmingham which was coming back alongside to assist with the firefighting. Birmingham was so badly damaged that she was forced to retire. Other nearby vessels were also damaged. All efforts to save Princeton failed, and she was finally scuttled — torpedoed by the light cruiser Reno — at 17:50.[4]

In all, U.S. 3rd Fleet flew 259 sorties, mostly by Hellcats, against Center Force on 24 October. This weight of attack was not nearly sufficient to neutralize the threat from Kurita. It contrasts with the 527 sorties flown by 3rd Fleet against Ozawa's much weaker Northern Force on the following day. Moreover, a large proportion of the Sibuyan Sea attack was directed against just one ship, Musashi. This great battleship was sunk, and cruiser Myōkō crippled, but every other ship in Kurita's force remained battleworthy and able to advance.[4]

As a result of a momentous decision about to be taken by Admiral Halsey, Kurita was able to proceed through San Bernardino Strait during the night, to make an unexpected and dramatic appearance off the coast of Samar on the following morning.

Task Force 34 / San Bernardino Strait

After the Japanese Southern and Center forces had been detected, but before Ozawa's carriers had been located, Halsey and the staff of 3rd Fleet, aboard the battleship New Jersey, prepared a contingency plan to deal with the threat from Kurita's Center Force. Their intention was to cover San Bernardino Strait with a powerful task force of fast battleships supported by two of the 3rd Fleet's fast carrier groups. The battleship force was to be designated Task Force 34 and to consist of 4 battleships, 5 cruisers and 14 destroyers under the command of Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee. Rear Admiral Ralph E. Davison of Task Group 38.4 was to be in overall command of the supporting carrier groups.

At 15:12 on 24 October, Halsey sent an ambiguously worded telegraphic radio message to his subordinate task group commanders, giving details of this contingency plan :

BATDIV 7 MIAMI, VINCENNES, BILOXI, DESRON 52 LESS STEVEN POTTER, FROM TG 38.2 AND WASHINGTON, ALABAMA, WICHITA, NEW ORLEANS, DESDIV 100, PATTERSON, BAGLEY FROM TG 38.4 WILL BE FORMED AS TASK FORCE 34 UNDER VICE ADMIRAL LEE, COMMANDER BATTLE LINE. TF 34 TO ENGAGE DECISIVELY AT LONG RANGES. CTG 38.4 CONDUCT CARRIERS OF TG 38.2 AND TG 38.4 CLEAR OF SURFACE FIGHTING. INSTRUCTIONS FOR TG 38.3 AND TG 38.1 LATER. HALSEY, OTC IN NEW JERSEY.

—Morison (1956)

Halsey sent information copies of this message to Admiral Nimitz at Pacific Fleet headquarters and Admiral King in Washington. But he did not include Admiral Kinkaid (7th Fleet) as information addressee.[7] The message was picked up by 7th Fleet, anyway, as it was common for Admirals to direct radiomen to copy all message traffic they detected, whether intended for them or not. As Halsey intended Task Force 34 as a contingency to be formed and detached when he ordered it, when he wrote "will be formed" he meant the future tense; but he neglected to say when Task Force 34 would be formed, or under what circumstances. This omission led Admiral Kinkaid of 7th Fleet to believe that Halsey was speaking in the imperative, not the future tense, and so he concluded that Task Force 34 had been formed and would take station off San Bernardino Strait. Admiral Nimitz, in Pearl Harbor, reached exactly the same conclusion. Halsey did send out a second message at 17:10 clarifying his intentions in regard to Task Force 34:

IF THE ENEMY SORTIES (THROUGH SAN BERNADINO STRAIT) TF 34 WILL BE FORMED WHEN DIRECTED BY ME.

—T.J. Cutler (1994)

Unfortunately, Halsey sent this second message by voice radio, so 7th Fleet did not intercept it, and Halsey did not follow up with a telegraphic message to Nimitz or King. The serious misunderstanding caused by Halsey's ambiguous wording of his first message and his failure to notify Nimitz, King, or Kinkaid of his second clarifying message was to have a profound influence on the subsequent course of the battle.[4][7]

[edit] Halsey's Decision (24 October)

The 3rd Fleet's aircraft failed to locate Ozawa's Northern (decoy) force until 16:40 on 24 October. This was largely because 3rd Fleet had been preoccupied with attacking Kurita and defending itself against the Japanese air strikes from Luzon. So, oddly enough, the one Japanese force that wanted to be discovered was the only force the Americans hadn't been able to find. On the evening of 24 October Ozawa intercepted a (mistaken) American communication describing Kurita's withdrawal, and he therefore began to withdraw too. However, at 20:00 Soemu Toyoda ordered all his forces to attack "counting on divine assistance." Trying to draw 3rd Fleet's attention to his decoy force, Ozawa reversed course again and headed southwards towards Leyte.

Halsey was convinced that the Northern Force constituted the main Japanese threat, and he was determined to seize what he saw as a golden opportunity to destroy Japan's last remaining carrier strength. Believing that the Center Force had been neutralized by 3rd Fleet's air strikes earlier in the day in the Sibuyan Sea, and that its remnants were retiring, Halsey radioed (to Nimitz and Kinkaid):

CENTRAL FORCE HEAVILY DAMAGED ACCORDING TO STRIKE REPORTS.
AM PROCEEDING NORTH WITH THREE GROUPS TO ATTACK CARRIER FORCES AT DAWN

—Morison (1956)

The words "with three groups" proved dangerously misleading. In the light of the intercepted 15:12 24 October "…will be formed as Task Force 34" message from Halsey, Admiral Kinkaid and his staff assumed, as did Admiral Nimitz at Pacific Fleet headquarters, that Task Force 34, commanded by Lee, had now been formed as a separate entity. They assumed that Halsey was leaving this powerful surface force guarding San Bernardino Strait (and covering Seventh Fleet's northern flank) while he took his three available carrier groups northwards in pursuit of the Japanese carriers. But Task Force 34 had not been detached from his other forces, and Lee's battleships were on their way northwards with the 3rd Fleet's carriers. Halsey had consciously and deliberately left San Bernardino Strait absolutely unguarded. As Woodward wrote "Everything was pulled out from San Bernardino Strait. Not so much as a picket destroyer was left".[2]

Halsey and his staff officers ignored information from a night reconnaissance aircraft operating from the light carrier Independence that Kurita's powerful surface force had turned back towards San Bernardino Strait, and that after a long blackout the navigation lights in the Strait had been turned on. When Rear Admiral Gerald F. Bogan, commanding TG 38.2, radioed this information to Halsey's flagship, he was rebuffed by a staff officer, who tersely replied "Yes, yes, we have that information." Vice Admiral Lee, who had correctly deduced that Ozawa's force was on a decoy mission and indicated this in a blinker message to Halsey's flagship, was similarly rebuffed. Commodore Arleigh Burke and CommanderJames Flatley of Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's staff had come to the same conclusion. They were sufficiently worried about the situation to wake Mitscher, who asked "Does Admiral Halsey have that report?" On being told that Halsey did, Mitscher, knowing Halsey's temperament, commented "If he wants my advice he'll ask for it" and went back to sleep.[4]

The entire available strength of 3rd Fleet continued to steam northwards, away from San Bernardino Strait.

[edit] The Battle of Surigao Strait (25 October)

The Battle of Surigao Strait.

Nishimura's "Southern Force" consisted of the battleships Yamashiro and Fusō, the heavy cruiser Mogami, and four destroyers.[4] This force left Brunei after Kurita at 1500 hours on 22 October, turning eastward into the Sulu Sea and then northeasterly past the southern tip of Negros Island into the Mindanao Sea. Nishimura then proceeded northeastward with Mindanao Island to starboard and into the south entrance to Surigao Strait, intending to exit the north entrance of the Strait into Leyte Gulf where he would add his firepower to that of Kurita's force.

The Second Striking Force, commanded by VADM Kiyohide Shima, consisted of heavy cruisers Nachi (Flag), and Ashigara, light cruiser Abukuma, and destroyers Akebono,Ushio, Kasumi, and Shiranuhi.

The Southern Force was attacked by US Navy bombers on 24 October but sustained only minor damage.

Because of the strict radio silence imposed on the Center and Southern Forces, Nishimura was unable to synchronise his movements with Shima and Kurita. When he entered the narrow Surigao Strait at 02:00, Shima was 25 nmi (46 km; 29 mi) behind him, and Kurita was still in the Sibuyan Sea, several hours from the beaches at Leyte.

As the Southern Force approached Surigao Strait, it ran into a deadly trap set by the 7th Fleet Support Force. Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf had a substantial force. There were six battleships: West Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, California, and Pennsylvania; all but Mississippi had been sunk or damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor and since repaired. There were the 8 in (203 mm) and 6 in (152 mm) guns of the four heavy cruisers (USS Louisville (flagship), Portland, Minneapolis and HMAS Shropshire) and four light cruisers (Denver, Columbia, Phoenix and Boise). There were also the smaller guns and torpedoes of 28 destroyers and 39 motor torpedo boats (Patrol/Torpedo (PT) boats). To pass through the narrows and reach the invasion shipping, Nishimura would have to run the gauntlet of torpedoes from the PT boats followed by the large force of destroyers, and then advance under the concentrated fire of the six battleships and their eight flanking cruisers disposed across the far mouth of the Strait.[4]

At 22:36, one of the PT boats — PT-131 — first made contact with the approaching Japanese ships. Over more than three-and-a-half hours, the PT boats made repeated attacks on Nishimura's force. They made no torpedo hits, but sent contact reports which were of use to Oldendorf and his force.[4]

As Nishimura's ships entered Surigao Strait they were subjected to devastating torpedo attacks from the American destroyers disposed on both sides of their line of advance. At about 03:00, both Japanese battleships were hit by torpedoes. Yamashiro was able to steam on, but Fusō exploded and broke in two. Two of Nishimura's four destroyers were sunk; another, Asagumo, was hit but able to retire, and later sank.[4]

The classical account summarized above has been questioned recently because additional evidence has come to light. Fuso survivor Hideo Ogawa, interrogated in 1945, also wrote an article[9] on the battleship's last voyage. He says that "shortly after 0400 the ship capsized slowly to starboard and Ogawa and others were washed away."[10] Fuso was hit on the starboard side by two or possibly three torpedoes. One of these started an oil fire. The fuel used by IJN ships in this period was poorly refined and had a tendency to burst into flame; burning patches of fuel were most likely the source of the myth of Fuso blowing up. It is extremely unlikely that a vessel as strongly built as a battleship could be blown in half and the halves remain upright and afloat, so the classic version of Fuso's fate is also extremely improbable. Accordingly, it is likely that the Morison account is incorrect in this detail.

At 03:16, West Virginia's radar picked up the surviving ships of Nishimura's force at a range of 42,000 yd (38,000 m) and had achieved a firing solution at 30,000 yd (27,000 m). West Virginia tracked them as they approached in the pitch black night. At 03:53, she fired the eight 16 in (406 mm) guns of her main battery at a range of 22,800 yd (20,800 m), strikingYamashiro with her first salvo. She went on to fire a total of 93 shells. At 03:55, California and Tennessee joined in, firing a total of 63 and 69 14 in (356 mm) shells, respectively.Radar fire control allowed these American battleships to hit targets from a distance at which the Japanese battleships, with their inferior fire control systems, could not return fire.[4][11]

The other three US battleships, equipped with less advanced gunnery radar, had difficulty arriving at a firing solution. Maryland eventually succeeded in visually ranging on the splashes of the other battleships' shells, and then fired a total of 48 16 in (406 mm) projectiles. Pennsylvania was unable to find a target and her guns remained silent.[4]

Mississippi only obtained a solution at the end of the battle-line action, and then fired just one (full) salvo of twelve 14 in (356 mm) shells. This was the last salvo ever to be fired by a battleship against another heavy ship, ending an era in naval history.[4]

Yamashiro and Mogami were crippled by a combination of 16 in (406 mm) and 14 in (356 mm) armor-piercing shells, as well as the fire of Oldendorf's flanking cruisers. Shigureturned and fled but lost steering and stopped dead. Yamashiro sank at about 04:20, with Nishimura on board. Mogami and Shigure retreated southwards down the Strait.

The rear of the Southern Force, the "Second Striking Force" commanded by Vice Admiral Shima, had departed from Mako and approached Surigao Strait about 40 miles astern of Nishimura. Shima's run was initially thrown into confusion by his force nearly running aground on Panaon Island after failing to factor the outgoing tide into their approach: Japanese radar was nearly useless due to excessive reflections from the many islands.[12] The radar was equally unable to detect ships in these conditions, especially PT boats, asPT-137 hit the light cruiser Abukuma with a torpedo which crippled her and caused her to fall out of formation. Shima’s two heavy cruisers (Nachi and Ashigara) and eight destroyers[4] next encountered remnants of Nishimura's force. Seeing what he thought were the wrecks of both Nishimura's battleships (actually the two halves of Fusō), Shima ordered a retreat. His flagship, Nachi, collided with Mogami, flooding Mogami’s steering-room and causing her to fall behind in the retreat; she was sunk by aircraft the next morning. The bow half of Fusō was sunk from gunfire by Louisville, and the stern half sank off Kanihaan Island. Of Nishimura's seven ships, only Shigure survived. Shima’s ships did survive the Battle of Surigao Strait but they would be sunk in further engagements around Leyte.[4][11]

What Louisville's action report actually says is “0529 firing 2 salvos – 18 rounds – at a large fire bearing 160 True, range 18,900 yards. Fire was then shifted to a second target bearing 180 T at the same range. …The first target is what has been termed the 'Fuso fire,' while the second was Mogami.”[13] Morison and a number of others have presumed the fire surrounded part of Fuso still afloat. There is no evidence to support that claim.

The Battle of Surigao Strait was the last battleship-versus-battleship action in history. It was also the last battle in which one force (the Americans, in this case) was able to "cross the T" of its opponent. However, by the time the battleship action was joined the Japanese line was very ragged and consisted of only one battleship (Yamashiro), one heavy cruiser and one destroyer, so that the "crossing of the T" was notional and had little effect on the outcome of the battle.[4][11]

[edit] The Battle of Samar (25 October)

Main article: Battle of Samar

The battle off Samar.

[edit] Prelude

Halsey's decision to take all the available strength of 3rd Fleet northwards to attack the carriers of the Japanese Northern Force had left San Bernardino Strait completely unguarded.

It had been generally assumed by senior officers in 7th Fleet (including Kinkaid and his staff) that Halsey was taking his three available carrier groups northwards (McCain's group, the strongest in 3rd Fleet, was still returning from the direction of Ulithi) but leaving the battleships of Task Force 34 covering San Bernardino Strait against the Japanese Center Force. In fact, Halsey had not yet formed Task Force 34, and all six of Willis Lee's battleships were on their way northwards with the carriers, as well as every available cruiser and destroyer of the Third Fleet.

Kurita's Center Force therefore emerged unopposed from San Bernardino Strait at 03:00 on 25 October and steamed southward along the coast of the island of Samar. In its path stood only the 7th Fleet's three escort carrier units (call signs 'Taffy' 1, 2, and 3), with a total of 16 small, very slow, and unarmored escort carriers, protected by a screen of lightly armed and unarmored destroyers and smaller destroyer escorts (DEs). Despite the losses in the Palawan Passage and Sibuyan Sea actions, the Japanese Center Force was still very powerful, consisting of four battleships (including the giant Yamato), six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and 11 destroyers.

[edit] The battle

Kurita's force caught Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 ('Taffy 3') entirely by surprise. Sprague directed his carriers to launch their planes, then run for the cover of a rain squall to the east. He ordered the destroyers and DEs to make a smoke screen to conceal the retreating carriers.

Kurita, unaware that Ozawa's decoy plan had succeeded, assumed that he had found a carrier group from Halsey's 3rd Fleet. Having just redeployed his ships into anti-aircraft formation, he further complicated matters by ordering a "General Attack", which called for his fleet to split into different divisions and attack independently.[5]

The destroyer USS Johnston was the closest to the enemy. On his own initiative, Lieutenant Commander Ernest E. Evans steered his hopelessly outclassed ship into the foe at flank speed. Seeing this, Sprague gave the order "small boys attack", sending the rest of Taffy 3's screening ships into the fray. Taffy 3's two other destroyers, Hoel andHeermann, and the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts, attacked with suicidal determination, drawing fire and disrupting the Japanese formation as ships turned to avoid their torpedoes.

Meanwhile, Thomas Sprague (no relation to Clifton) ordered the 16 carriers in his three task units to launch their aircraft equipped with whatever weapons they had available, even if these were only machine guns or depth charges. He had a total of some 450 aircraft at his disposal, mostly FM-2 Wildcat and TBM Avenger torpedo bombers. The air counterattacks were almost unceasing, and some, especially several of the strikes launched from Felix Stump's Task Unit 77.4.2, were relatively heavy.

The carriers of Taffy 3 turned south and retreated through the shellfire. Gambier Bay, at the rear of the American formation, was sunk, while most of the other carriers were damaged.

[edit] Admiral Kurita withdraws

St. Lo explodes after a kamikaze strike.

The ferocity of the defense confirmed the Japanese assumption that they were engaging major fleet units rather than escort carriers and destroyers. The confusion of the "General Attack" order was further compounded by the air and torpedo attacks, when Kurita's flagship Yamato turned north to evade torpedoes and lost contact with the battle. Kurita abruptly broke off the fight and gave the order 'all ships, my course north, speed 20', apparently in order to regroup his disorganized fleet. Turning again towards Leyte Gulf, Kurita's battle report stated that he received a message indicating that a group of American carriers was steaming north of him. Preferring to expend his fleet against capital ships rather than transports, Kurita set out in pursuit and thereby lost his opportunity to destroy the shipping in Leyte Gulf. After failing to intercept the non-existent carriers, Kurita finally retreated towards San Bernardino Strait. Three of his heavy cruisers had been sunk, and the determined resistance had convinced him that persisting with his attack would only cause further Japanese losses. Kurita was also influenced by the fact that he did not know that Ozawa had lured Halsey away from Leyte Gulf. Kurita remained convinced that he had been engaging elements of the 3rd Fleet, and that it would only be a matter of time before Halsey surrounded and annihilated him.[5] Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague wrote to his colleague Aubrey Fitch after the war, "I ... stated [to Admiral Nimitz] that the main reason they turned north was that they were receiving too much damage to continue and I am still of that opinion and cold analysis will eventually confirm it." [8]

Almost all of Kurita's surviving force succeeded in escaping. Halsey and the 3rd Fleet battleships arrived too late to cut him off. Nagato, Haruna and Kongō had been moderately damaged by air attack from Taffy 3's escort carriers. Kurita had begun the battle with five battleships. On their return to their bases, only Yamato remained battleworthy.

As the desperate surface action was coming to an end, Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi put his 'Special Attack Force' into operation, launching kamikaze attacks against the Allied ships in Leyte Gulf and the escort carrier units off Samar. The escort carrier St. Lo of Taffy 3 was hit by a kamikaze aircraft and sank after a series of internal explosions.[4][8]

[edit] The Battle of Cape Engaño (25–26 October)

The Japanese aircraft carriers Zuikaku, left, and (probably) Zuihō come under attack by dive bombers early in the battle off Cape Engaño.

Ozawa's "Northern Force" comprised four aircraft carriers (Zuikaku — the last survivor of the six carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the light carriers Zuihō, Chitose, and Chiyoda), two World War I battleships partially converted to carriers (Hyūga and Ise — the two after turrets had been replaced by a hangar, aircraft handling deck and catapult, but neither battleship carried any aircraft in this battle), three light cruisers (Ōyodo, Tama, and Isuzu), and nine destroyers. His force had only 108 aircraft.[4]

Ozawa's force was not located until 16:40 on 24 October, largely because Sherman's Task Group 38.3, which as the northernmost of Halsey's groups was responsible for searches in this sector. The force which Halsey was taking north with him — three groups of Mitscher's Task Force 38 — was overwhelmingly stronger than the Japanese Northern Force. Between them, these groups had five large fleet carriers (Intrepid, Franklin, Lexington, Enterprise, and Essex), five light fleet carriers (Independence, Belleau Wood, Langley,Cabot, and San Jacinto), six battleships (Alabama, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Washington), eight cruisers (two heavy and six light), and more than 40 destroyers. The air groups of the 10 US carriers present contained a total of more than 600-1,000 aircraft.[4]

At 02:40 on 25 October, Halsey detached Task Force 34, built around the 3rd Fleet's six battleships and commanded by Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee. As dawn approached, the ships of Task Force 34 drew ahead of the carrier groups. Halsey intended Mitscher to make air strikes followed by the heavy gunfire of Lee's battleships.[4]

The crew of Zuikaku salute as the flag is lowered, and she ceases to be the flagship of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Around dawn on 25 October, Ozawa launched 75 aircraft to attack the 3rd Fleet. Most were shot down by American combat air patrols, and no damage was done to the US ships. A few Japanese planes survived and made their way to land bases on Luzon.

During the night Halsey had passed tactical command of Task Force 38 to Admiral Mitscher, who ordered the American carrier groups to launch their first strike wave, of 180 aircraft, at dawn — before the Northern Force had been located. When the search aircraft made contact at 07:10 this strike wave was orbiting ahead of the task force. At 08:00, as the attack went in, its escorting fighters destroyed Ozawa's combat air patrol of about 30 planes. The US air strikes continued until the evening, by which time Task Force 38 had flown 527 sorties against the Northern Force, sinking Zuikaku, the light carriers Chitose and Zuihō, and the destroyer Akitsuki. The light carrier Chiyoda and the cruiser Tamawere crippled. Ozawa transferred his flag to the light cruiser Ōyodo.

[edit] The crisis – US 7th Fleet's calls for help

Shortly after 08:00 on 25 October, desperate messages calling for assistance began to come in from 7th Fleet, which had been engaging Nishimura's "Southern Force" in Suriago Strait since 02.00. One message from Kinkaid, sent in plain language, read: "MY SITUATION IS CRITICAL. FAST BATTLESHIPS AND SUPPORT BY AIR STRIKES MAY BE ABLE TO KEEP ENEMY FROM DESTROYING CVES AND ENTERING LEYTE." Halsey recalled in his memoirs that he was shocked at this message, recounting that the radio signals from the 7th Fleet had come in at random and out of order because of a backlog in the signals office. It seems that he did not receive this vital message from Kinkaid until around 10:00. Halsey later claimed that he knew Kinkaid was in trouble, but had not dreamed of the seriousness of this crisis.

One of the most alarming signals from Kinkaid reported that, after their action in Surigao Strait, 7th Fleet's own battleships were critically low on ammunition. Even this failed to persuade Halsey to send any immediate assistance to Seventh Fleet.[2][3][4] In fact, the 7th Fleet's battleships were not as short of ammunition as Kinkaid's signal implied,[4] but Halsey did not know that.

From 3,000 mi (4,800 km) away in Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz had been monitoring the desperate calls from Taffy 3, and sent Halsey a terse message: "TURKEY TROTS TO WATER GG FROM CINCPAC ACTION COM THIRD FLEET INFO COMINCH CTF SEVENTY-SEVEN X WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR RR THE WORLD WONDERS." The first four words and the last three were "padding" used to confuse enemy cryptanalysis (the beginning and end of the true message was marked by double consonants). The communications staff on Halsey's flagship correctly deleted the first section of padding but mistakenly retained the last three words in the message finally handed to Halsey. The last three words, probably selected by a communications officer at Nimitz's headquarters, may have been meant as a loose quote from Tennyson's poem on "The Charge of the Light Brigade", suggested by the coincidence that this day, 25 October, was the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of Balaclava – and was not intended as a commentary on the current crisis off Leyte. Halsey, however, when reading the message, thought that the last words — ‘THE WORLD WONDERS’ — were a biting piece of criticism from Nimitz, threw his cap to the deck and broke into "sobs of rage". Rear Admiral Robert Carney, his Chief of Staff, confronted him, telling Halsey "Stop it! What the hell's the matter with you? Pull yourself together."

Eventually, at 11:15, more than three hours after the first distress messages from 7th Fleet had been received by his flagship, Halsey ordered Task Force 34 to turn around and head southwards towards Samar. At this point, Lee's battleships were almost within gun range of Ozawa's force. Two-and-a-half hours were then spent refuelling Task Force 34's accompanying destroyers.[4]

After this succession of delays it was too late for Task Force 34 to give any practical help to 7th Fleet, other than to assist in picking up survivors from Taffy 3, and too late even to intercept Kurita's force before it made its escape through San Bernardino Strait.

Nevertheless, at 16:22, in a desperate and even more belated attempt to intervene in the events off Samar, Halsey formed a new Task Group (TG 34.5) under Rear Admiral Badger, built around Third Fleet's two fastest battleships, Iowa and New Jersey – ships capable of a speed of more than 32 kn (37 mph; 59 km/h) – and Task Force 34's three cruisers and eight destroyers, and sped southwards, leaving Lee and the other four battleships to follow. As Morison observes, if Badger's group had succeeded in intercepting the Japanese Center Force it would have been seriously outgunned by Kurita's battleships.[4]

Cruisers and destroyers of Task Group 34.5, however, caught the destroyer Nowaki, the last straggler from Center Force, off San Bernardino Strait, and sank her.

[edit] Battle of Cape Engaño – Final Actions

When Halsey turned Task Force 34 southwards at 11:15, he detached a task group of four of its cruisers and nine of its destroyers under Rear Admiral DuBose, and reassigned this group to Task Force 38. At 14:15, Mitscher ordered DuBose to pursue the remnants of the Japanese Northern Force. His cruisers finished off the light carrier Chiyoda at around 17:00, and at 20:59 his ships sank the destroyer Hatsuzuki after a very stubborn fight.[4]

When Admiral Ozawa learned of the deployment of DuBose's relatively weak task group, he ordered battleships Ise and Hyūga to turn southwards and attack it, but they failed to locate DuBose's group, which they heavily outgunned. Halsey's withdrawal of all six of Lee's battleships in his attempt to assist Seventh Fleet had now rendered Task Force 38 vulnerable to a surface counterattack by the decoy Northern Force.

At about 23:10, the American submarine Jallao torpedoed and sank the light cruiser Tama of Ozawa's force. This was the last act of the Battle of Cape Engaño, and — apart from some final air strikes on the retreating Japanese forces on 26 October — the conclusion of the Battle for Leyte Gulf.

Criticism of Halsey

Admiral William F. 'Bull' Halsey – Commander US Third Fleet at Leyte Gulf

Halsey was criticized for his decision to take Task Force 34 north in pursuit of Ozawa, and for failing to detach it when Kinkaid first appealed for help. A piece of US Navy slang for Halsey's actions is 'Bull's Run', a phrase combining Halsey's newspaper nickname "Bull" (in the US Navy he was known as 'Bull' Halsey) with an allusion to the Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War.

In his dispatch after the battle, Halsey justified the decision as follows:

Searches by my carrier planes revealed the presence of the Northern carrier force on the afternoon of 24 October, which completed the picture of all enemy naval forces. As it seemed childish to me to guard statically San Bernardino Strait, I concentrated TF 38 during the night and steamed north to attack the Northern Force at dawn.

I believed that the Center Force had been so heavily damaged in the Sibuyan Sea that it could no longer be considered a serious menace to Seventh Fleet.[4]

Halsey also argued that he had feared that leaving Task Force 34 to defend the strait without carrier support would have left it vulnerable to attack from land-based aircraft, while leaving one of the fast carrier groups behind to cover the battleships would have significantly reduced the concentration of air power going north to strike Ozawa.

However, Morison states that Admiral Lee told him that he would have been fully prepared for the battleships to cover San Bernardino Strait without any carrier support.[4]Moreover, if Halsey had been in proper communication with 7th Fleet, it would have been entirely practicable for the escort carriers of Task Force 77 to provide adequate air cover for Task Force 34 — a much easier matter than it would be for those escort carriers to defend themselves against the onslaught of Kurita's heavy ships.

It may be argued that the fact that Halsey was aboard one of the battleships, and "would have had to remain behind" with Task Force 34 (while the bulk of his fleet charged northwards to attack the Japanese carriers) may have contributed to this decision, but this is in all likelihood a minor point. It has been pointed out that it would have been perfectly feasible (and logical) to have taken one or both of 3rd Fleet's two fastest battleships (Iowa and/or New Jersey) with the carriers in the pursuit of Ozawa, while leaving the rest of the Battle Line off San Bernardino Strait (indeed, Halsey's original plan for the composition of Task Force 34 was that it would contain only four, not all six, of the 3rd Fleet's battleships); thus, guarding San Bernardino Strait with a powerful battleship force would not have been incompatible with Halsey personally going north aboard New Jersey.

Probably a more important factor was that Halsey was philosophically against dividing his forces; he believed strongly in concentration as indicated by his writings both before World War II and in his subsequent articles and interviews defending his actions.[7] In addition, Halsey may well have been influenced by the criticisms of Admiral Raymond Spruance, who was widely thought to have been excessively cautious at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and so allowed the bulk of the Japanese fleet to escape. It also seems likely that Halsey was influenced by his Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Robert "Mick" Carney, who was also wholeheartedly in favor of taking all 3rd Fleet's available forces northwards to attack the Japanese carrier force.

However, Halsey did have reasonable and in his view, given the information he had available, practical reasons for his actions. First, he believed that Admiral Kurita's force was more heavily damaged than it was. While it has been suggested that Halsey should have taken Kurita's continued advance as evidence that his force was still a severe threat, this view cannot be supported given the well-known propensity for the members of Japanese military to persist in hopeless endeavours to the point of suicide. So in Halsey's estimation, Kurita's weakened force was well within the ability of Seventh Fleet to deal with, and did not justify dividing his force.

Second, Halsey did not know — nor did anyone else in the US Navy — just how badly compromised Japan's naval air power was and that Ozawa's decoy force was nearly devoid of aircraft. Halsey made an understandable and, to him, prudent threat-conservative judgment that Ozawa's force was still capable of launching serious attacks. Halsey later explained his actions partly by explicitly stating that he did not want to be "shuttle bombed" by Ozawa's force (a technique whereby planes can land and rearm at bases on either side of a foe, allowing them to attack on both the outbound flight and the return) or to give them a "free shot" at the US forces in Leyte Gulf.[7] He was obviously not similarly concerned with giving Kurita's battleships and cruisers a free shot at those same forces.

The fact that Halsey made one seemingly prudent threat-conservative judgment regarding Ozawa's aircraft carriers and another rather opposite judgment regarding Kurita's battleships probably reflects his understandable bias toward aircraft carriers as the prime threat of the war. At Leyte Gulf, Halsey failed to appreciate that under certain circumstances battleships and cruisers could still be extremely dangerous, and ironically, through his own failures to adequately communicate his intentions, he managed to bring those circumstances about.

Clifton Sprague, commander of Task Unit 77.4.3 in the battle off Samar, was later bitterly critical of Halsey's decision, and of his failure to clearly inform Kinkaid and 7th Fleet that their northern flank was no longer protected:

In the absence of any information that this exit [of the San Bernardino Strait] was no longer blocked, it was logical to assume that our northern flank could not be exposed without ample warning.

Regarding Halsey's failure to turn Task Force 34 southwards when 7th Fleet's first calls for assistance off Samar were received, Morison writes:

If TF 34 had been detached a few hours earlier, after Kinkaid's first urgent request for help, and had left the destroyers behind, since their fueling caused a delay of over two hours and a half, a powerful battle line of six modern battleships under the command of Admiral Lee, the most experienced battle squadron commander in the Navy, would have arrived off San Bernardino Strait in time to have clashed with Kurita's Center Force… Apart from the accidents common in naval warfare, there is every reason to suppose that Lee would have "crossed the T" and completed the destruction of Center Force.

Instead, as Morison also observes:

The mighty gunfire of the Third Fleet's Battle Line, greater than that of the whole Japanese Navy, was never brought into action except to finish off one or two crippled light ships.

—Morison (1956), pp. 336–337[14]

Perhaps the most telling comment is made laconically by Vice Admiral Lee in his action report as Commander of Task Force 34 —

No battle damage was incurred nor inflicted on the enemy by vessels while operating as Task Force Thirty-Four.

Task Force 34 Action Report: 6 October 1944 – 3 November 1944

[edit] Losses

The losses in the battle of Leyte Gulf were not evenly distributed throughout all forces, the destroyer USS Heermann (DD-532), despite her unequal fight with the enemy, finished the battle with only six of her crew dead. More than one thousand sailors and aircrewmen of the allied escort carrier units were killed. As a result of communication errors and other failures, a very large number of survivors from Taffy 3 were not rescued for several days, many dying unnecessarily as a consequence.[4][8]

Due to the long duration and size of the battle there are varied account as to the losses which occurred as apart of the Battle of Leyte Gulf and losses that occurred shortly before and shortly after. One account of the losses[15] lists the following vessels:

[edit] Allied Losses

The United States lost six front line warships during the Battle of Samar:

  • 4 other American ships were damaged.
[edit] Japanese Losses

The Japanese lost twenty-six front line warships during the Battle of Leyte:

[edit] Aftermath

A 60th Anniversary memorial ceremony in Tacloban, Philippines, on 20 October 2004

The Battle of Leyte Gulf secured the beachheads of the U.S. Sixth Army on Leyte against attack from the sea. However, much hard fighting would be required before the island was completely in Allied hands at the end of December 1944: the Battle of Leyte on land was fought in parallel with an air and sea campaign in which the Japanese reinforced and resupplied their troops on Leyte while the Allies attempted to interdict them and establish air-sea superiority for a series of amphibious landings in Ormoc Bay — engagements collectively referred to as the Battle of Ormoc Bay.[4]

The Imperial Japanese Navy had suffered its greatest loss of ships and crew ever. Its failure to dislodge the Allied invaders from Leyte meant the inevitable loss of the Philippines, which in turn meant that Japan would be all but cut off from its occupied territories in Southeast Asia. These territories provided resources which were vital to Japan, in particular the oil needed for its ships and aircraft, and this problem was compounded because the shipyards, and sources of manufactured goods such as ammunition, were in Japan itself. Finally, the loss of Leyte opened the way for the invasion of the Ryukyu Islands in 1945.[3][4]

The major IJN surface ships returned to their bases to languish, entirely or almost entirely inactive, for the remainder of the war. The only major operation by these surface ships between the Battle for Leyte Gulf and the Japanese surrender was the suicidal sortie in April 1945 (part of Operation Ten-Go), in which the battleship Yamato and her escorts were destroyed by American carrier aircraft.

The first use of kamikaze aircraft took place following the Leyte landings. A kamikaze hit the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Australia on 21 October. Organized suicide attacks by the "Special Attack Force" began on 25 October during the closing phase of the Battle off Samar, causing the destruction of the escort carrier St. Lo.

J.F.C. Fuller, in his The Decisive Battles of the Western World, writes of the outcome of Leyte Gulf:

The Japanese fleet had [effectively] ceased to exist, and, except by land-based aircraft, their opponents had won undisputed command of the sea.

When Admiral Ozawa was questioned… after the war he replied 'After this battle the surface forces became strictly auxiliary, so that we relied on land forces, special [Kamikaze] attack, and air power… there was no further use assigned to surface vessels, with the exception of some special ships'.

And Admiral Yonai, the Navy Minister, said that he realised that the defeat at Leyte 'was tantamount to the loss of the Philippines.'

As for the larger significance of the battle, he said 'I felt that it was the end.'[3]

[edit] Memorials
  • At the U.S. Naval Academy, in Alumni Hall, a concourse is dedicated to Lt. Lloyd Garnett and his shipmates on USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413), who earned their ship the reputation as the "destroyer escort that fought like a battleship" in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

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November 1944: Two Coast Guard-manned landing ships open their jaws as U.S. soldiers line up to build sandbag piers out to the ramps, on Leyte island, Philippines. (AP Photo)

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Nov. 25, 1944: Firefighters are almost hidden by smoke as they turn their hoses on many small fires started on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid after a Japanese suicide plane crashed into the carrier while it was operating off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)

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Nov. 25, 1944: Wounded sailors are treated on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid after a Japanese suicide pilot crashed his plane on the carrier's deck while it sailed off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines, during World War II. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)

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Nov. 26, 1944: Burial at sea ceremonies are held aboard the USS Intrepid for members of the crew lost after the carrier was hit by a Japanese suicide pilot while operating off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines, during World War II. Sixteen men were killed in the kamikaze attack. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)

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Feb. 1945: U.S. paratroopers of the 503rd Paratroop Regiment float to earth on Corregidor, a rocky island strategically located at the entrance of Manila Bay on Luzon Island, Philippines during World War II. (AP Photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps)

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Feb. 13, 1945: Two Yank Infantrymen of the hard fighting 37th American division, climb through some Japanese barbed wire during street fighting in Manila in the Philippines. (AP Photo).

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September 13, 1944: Japanese-occupied harbor of Cebu is under attack by U.S. Navy carrier-based fighter planes, at Cebu island, Philippines. (AP Photo)

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October 20, 1944: U.S. troops head toward the beaches of Leyte island during the amphibious assault to reconquest the Philippines. (AP Photo)

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Nov. 1944: American soldiers take cover from fire of a Japanese machine gun in the Philippines during World War II. The troops are part of the first wave to land on Leyte Island in the Philippine invasion. (AP Photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps)

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Landing barges loaded with U.S. troops bound for the beaches of Leyte island, in October 1944, as American and Japanese fighter planes duel to the death overhead. The men aboard the crafts watch the dramatic battle in the sky as they approach the shore. (AP Photo) #

The Reluctant Kamikazes

As dawn rose on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, the six Japanese pilots went through a simple ceremony.

They stood in a half-circle as their commanding officer poured each of them a small drink and raised his glass in a toast.'You are now as gods,' he told them. 'Free from all earthly desires. I wish you success.'

The pilots drank to each other and to Emperor Hirohito, and bowed low in the direction of the Imperial Palace. They then wrapped white scarves across their foreheads, climbed into their bomb-armed Mitsubishi Zero fighters and took off on a one-way flight to certain death.

The date was October 25, 1944. To the north of Mindanao, the last and largest naval battle of World War II was being fought between the Japanese and U.S. fleets in the Pacific. It was at this decisive moment that a new and terrible weapon was officially unleashed on the Allied Forces: the suicide bombers known to the world as kamikazes.

The six pilots located a group of American warships in Leyte Gulf and began their descent from 10,000 feet. Instead of dropping their bombs and veering off, they attempted to crash into the flight decks of four U.S. aircraft carriers.

One of them badly damaged the USS Kalinin Bay. Another crashed into the USS St Lo, causing a series of explosions which detonated the ship's magazine.

Within half an hour the St Lo had sunk - the first of 36 Allied warships which were sunk by kamikaze pilots, including three large aircraft carriers. Another 369 ships were damaged, including 36 carriers, 15 battleships, 15 cruisers and 87 destroyers. Several of them were put out of action for good.

For the kamikazes (the name meant Divine Wind, referring to a typhoon which had saved Japan from a Mongol invasion fleet in 1281) aimed to cause maximum damage. It was a kind of warfare no one had seen before.

If they succeeded in crashing their aircraft into a carrier's flight deck, it caused terrible injuries. Their plane's petrol tanks would explode and burning petrol flowed through the splintered deck, starting fires among aircraft in the hangar below. Sailors would suffocate in the dense black fumes caused by petrol, oil and burning rubber.

There had been earlier cases of Japanese aircraft flying into warships, but those were accidents or isolated acts of desperation. In the 1940s, half a century before human suicide bombers in Israel and the attacks on the Twin Towers, the kamikazes were the stuff of nightmares.

That Japanese pilots were prepared to transform themselves into human bombs - about 2,000 pilots of the Japanese Imperial Navy were killed in 2,550 kamikaze missions - made the Allies feel they were fighting an enemy which had no moral boundaries or respect for life.

Sixty years on, the image of the kamikaze pilot is as frightening as ever and subconsciously still feeds into the image of Japan abroad. But a new book, Kamikaze Diaries, by a Japanese-American professor, should change all that.

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney has studied the diaries and letters of many of the pilots, fresh out of Japan's universities, who were conscripted into the Japanese armed forces in 1943 and assigned to the kamikaze corps. It turns out that far from being the fanatical militarists of popular myth, they were agonised, despairing, thoughtful individuals who were placed in an impossible situation and went far-from-willingly to their deaths.

None of them signed up to die: they signed up to fly - in fighters which were expected to return to base if not shot down on their mission.

When the kamikaze units were formed, the student pilots were usually summoned into a hall together. After a lecture on patriotism and sacrifice by a senior officer, they were asked to step forward if they wished to 'volunteer' for the suicide units.

Nearly all did so; not just from the intense peer pressure but because they could not bear to protect their own lives while seeing their friends and comrades offering up theirs.

And pilots who did refuse were liable to be treated as moral outcasts. In many cases, they were consigned to the Philippine battlefields, where death was almost guaranteed.

Many of these student soldiers were the elite of Japan's youth, educated to the highest degree in world philosophy, history and literature. Their diaries are passionate debates about the meaning of the life which was about to be taken from them.

Hachiro Sasaki was born in 1922 into an upper middle-class Japanese family and drafted from the University of Tokyo in 1943. He was a fine sportsman and a brilliant student.

Left-wing and idealistic, Hachiro was against the war but nevertheless felt he had a responsibility to play a part in it and eventually to sacrifice himself. He thought that Japan had become corrupt - like its enemies - and that the only solution was to build a new Japan out of the ashes.

At the same time, he was resigned to his fate. He felt that, like the poet Rupert Brooke in the 1914-18 war, 'if one must die, one must die beautifully', falling like the cherry blossom.

Just before Hachiro was drafted, he handed over all the essays he had written to his brother. He died on a kamikaze mission on April 14, 1945.

Tadao Hayashi was also 21 when he was drafted. At school in 1940, Tadao wrote: 'Two important tasks in my search are to master the English language and to identify a principle which will intellectually uphold me - which is none other than liberalism.'

He wrote about his feelings for beauty and his sexual desire. Very few of the student kamikazes were married and most were virgins; their codes of conduct seem to have discouraged them from going to prostitutes.

'I dream of a lover's breathing,' wrote Tadeo in 1942. 'The touch of a warm body, the joy of the embrace of two in love, playing around without the feeling of shame, the frenzied dance of love and falling asleep in her arms .. . I daily struggle with this pain. Conquer yourself; take control of yourself!'

On December 1, 1943, between 200,000 and 300,000 students were drafted into the armed forces. Tadeo was sent to a succession of naval air bases, including one which was notorious for its brutality.

'The military kills passion and transforms people, making them indifferent, turning them into cogs that turn a wheel mechanically,' he wrote in 1944. He dreamed of floating in a warm sea, intoxicated with random thoughts as his body bobbed over the waves.

But as the enemy approached, he saw there was no avoiding his destiny and gave up the diary he had kept all his life. In June 1945, at the Miho Air Base, by now a pilot, he told his elder brother: 'All finished. No more hope.'

In July 1945, shortly before Japan surrendered, his plane was shot down by an American fighter that took off from an aircraft carrier that Tadeo had sighted on his suicide mission. A poem, written the night before his final flight, ended: How unbearable to die in the sky.

From the beginning of their training, cadet pilots were told they had to be ready to sacrifice their youth for the nation. Trainees had to learn by heart the sacred words of the Emperor laying down the duties of a soldier.

The reason why the young men accepted they had no option but to fly their suicide missions has to be understood in the context of the the Japanese military code.

Surrender, escape and all other actions by which soldiers might save their lives - even in situations of unavoidable defeat - were punishable by death. Any soldier who did not obey his commander's orders was shot on the spot.

The first lesson taught to a soldier in training was how to use his own rifle to kill himself rather than be captured alive - pressing the trigger with a toe while pointing the gun under the chin. In some camps, trainees were beaten by NCOs and officers for minor offences.

Ryuji Nagatsuka, who had been drafted into Flying School from the University of Tokyo, recalled that cadet pilots had almost no time for themselves. Cadets were allowed one day's rest each month.

Nagatsuka's Flying Officer told them: 'Your hearts must be as pure as the sky. When you're piloting a plane, the least impurity will fester and lead to your death. Forget your family, your girlfriend, your studies.'

This was all very well, but Nagatsuka knew it took more than moral purity for a Kawasaki fighter with a wingspan of 57 feet to bring down an American B29 superfortress with a wingspan of 140 feet.

After the first kamikaze attacks, the Royal Navy air observer attached to the U.S. Pacific Fleet had reported that he saw no reason why the suicide pilots should not be able to put entire Task Forces of U.S. aircraft carriers out of action. But gradually the kamikazes began to lose the initiative.

The American navies employed a line of destroyers to confront incoming aircraft, and a fighter unit constantly in the air.

When the kamikazes countered this by flying very low over the sea and slamming into ships at deck level, the Allied aircraft carriers fired shells down into the water around them, sending up great plumes of water so that the kamikazes lost sight of their target.

Ichizo Hayashi was being trained to skim the waves in his KI-27, carrying a primed bomb. His instructor kept insisting that pilots should not close their eyes instinctively at the moment of crashing or they might miss the target.

This is behind one of Hayashi's last letters home - a cry of despair which summed up the predicament of the kamikaze: 'For someone who has had a good life, it is very difficult to part with it. But I have reached a point of no return. I must plunge into an enemy vessel.

'As the preparation for take-off nears, I feel a heavy pressure on me. I don't think I can stare at death . . . I tried my best to escape in vain. So now that I don't have a choice, I must go valiantly. Despair, despair is a sin.' Hayashi died off Okinawa in April 1945.

Since to lose Okinawa (considered Japanese territory) would not only be a staggering blow to Japan's morale but give the U.S. a vital springboard for a landing in Japan itself, that battle saw the greatest concentration of kamikaze sorties in the war.

To prepare the young men for their deaths in the onslaught, all the pilots were indoctrinated with the belief that to dive upon a carrier or a battleship was to become a 'hero-god of the air'.

Yet to reach its target, every kamikaze plane had to fly through a curtain of fighter jets, avoid antiaircraft fire spitting from every warship, choose its potential target and dive with pin-point accuracy.

No one would know if they succeeded. Their last communication would be 'I'm diving...' Then silence.

As it happened, a few hundred kamikaze pilots did survive. Ryuji Nagatsuka was one of them. On 28 June, 1945, he was given a few hours to prepare for a kamikaze sortie on the U.S. Third Fleet.

In his sleeping quarters, he made his will, cut his nails and a lock from his hair, then settled down to write to his family. He started: 'My dear parents, I shall depart this life at 0700 hours on 29 June, 1945.'

At 4am he left his belongings on his bed and, after a frugal breakfast, went to the briefing room.

At 5.30am, 18 suicide pilots lined up in front of two rickety tables covered with a white cloth. On it were 18 cups and a bottle of sake. The commandant poured each pilot a glass and declared: 'I have nothing more to ask of you but to die heroically for your country.' The pilots smoked a last cigarette.

As Nagatsuka walked to the plane he felt lighter than usual, and realised that of course he wasn't wearing his parachute.

Led by Flight Lieutenant Takagui, they took off under grey skies. A feeling of terrible solitude froze Nagatsuka's blood as he thought of the abyss of nothingness ahead. But in the rain-lashed clouds there was no glimpse of the U.S. Fleet.

They had a choice of ditching in the sea or turning for home. Takagui chose the latter. The commandant, enraged that they brought their planes back instead of dying like heroes, had them arrested. They were punched and insulted, but they were alive.

At the end of that week, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima - and the kamikaze pilots passed into history.

This photo provided by former Kamikaze pilot Toshio Yoshitake, shows Yoshitake, right, and his fellow pilots, from left, Tetsuya Ueno, Koshiro Hayashi, Naoki Okagami and Takao Oi, as they pose together in front of a Zero fighter plane before taking off from the Imperial Army airstrip in Choshi, just east of Tokyo, on November 8, 1944. None of the 17 other pilots and flight instructors who flew with Yoshitake on that day survived. Yoshitake only survived because an American warplane shot him out of the air, he crash-landed and was rescued by Japanese soldiers. (AP Photo) #

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A Japanese kamikaze pilot in a damaged single-engine bomber, moments before striking the U.S. Aircraft Carrier USS Essex, off the Philippine Islands, on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy) #

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A closer view of the Japanese kamikaze aircraft, smoking from antiaircraft hits and veering slightly to left moments before slamming into the USS Essex on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy) #

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Aftermath of the November 25, 1943 kamikaze attack against the USS Essex. Fire-fighters and scattered fragments of the Japanese aircraft cover the flight deck. The plane struck the port edge of the flight deck, landing among planes fueled for takeoff, causing extensive damage, killing 15, and wounding 44. (U.S. Navy) #

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The battleship USS Pennsylvania, followed by three cruisers, moves in line into Lingayen Gulf preceding the landing on Luzon, in the Philippines, in January of 1945. (U.S. Navy) #

 

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Aug. 7, 1942: Members of the crew of a U.S. Destroyer get a good look at a Japanese twin-motored bomber shot down by U.S. aircraft near Tulagi in the first day of fighting for possession of the southern Solomon Islands. One third of the end of the fuselage was shot off. Barely discernible above the waves, one member of the crew of the plane clings to the starboard wing. (AP Photo/US Navy)

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January 1943: While on a bombing run over Salamau, New Guinea, before its capture by Allied forces, photographer Sgt. John A. Boiteau aboard an army Liberator took this photograph of a B-24 Liberator during World War II. Bomb bursts can be seen below in lower left and a ship at upper right along the beach. (AP Photo/U.S. Army Force)

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February 2, 1943: An American jeep proceeds along a trail through the jungle on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands during World War II. (AP Photo)

 
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June 1944: A Japanese bomber is shot down as it attempted to attack the USS Kitkun Bay, near the Mariana Islands. (AP Photo)

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June 1944: Two U.S. Marines are seen crawling to their assigned positions under enemy fire on the beach at Saipan, Mariana Islands. (AP Photo)

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July 1944: Columns of troop-packed LCIs trail in the wake of a Coast Guard-manned transport ship en route for the invasion of Cape Sansapor, New Guinea. The deck of the LST is densely packed with heavy military machinery and other war supplies. (AP Photo)

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July 1944: U.S. Marines walk away from a Japanese foxhole after blowing it up with explosives, during the invasion at Saipan, in the Mariana Islands. (AP Photo)

Captured Blog: The Pacific War

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July 1944: U.S. Army reinforcement troops are seen as they disembark from LST's in the background and proceed across the coral reef toward Saipan beach, Mariana Islands. (AP Photo)

Captured Blog: The Pacific War

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July 27, 1944: Flak fills the sky as U.S. antiaircraft guns fight off a Japanese attack during the invasion of Saipan, Mariana Islands. (AP Photo)

Captured Blog: The Pacific War

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March 10, 1945: U.S. troops in the Pacific islands continued to find enemy holdouts long after the main Japanese forces had either surrendered or disappeared. Guam was considered cleared by August 12, 1944, but parts of the island were still dangerous half a year later. Here, patrolling Marines pass a dead Japanese sniper. These Marines may belong to the Fifty-second Defense Battalion, one of two black units sent to the Pacific. (Charles P. Gorry, AP Staff/AP Archives)

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August 24, 1944: Curtiss Helldivers from the Fast Carrier Task Force 58 are seen midair on a mission over Saipan, in the Mariana Islands. (AP Photo)

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September 13, 1944: Japanese-occupied harbor of Cebu is under attack by U.S. Navy carrier-based fighter planes, at Cebu island, Philippines. (AP

Captured Blog: The Pacific War
 

The campaigns of August 1942 to early 1944 had driven Japanese forces from many of their island bases in the south and central Pacific Ocean, while isolating many of their other bases (most notably in the Solomon Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, Admiralty Islands, New Guinea, Marshall Islands, and Wake Island), and in June 1944, a series of American amphibious landings supported by the US Fifth Fleet's Fast Carrier Task Force captured most of the Mariana Islands (bypassing Rota). This offensive breached Japan's strategic inner defense ring and gave the Americans a base from which long-range Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers could attack the Japanese home islands. The Japanese counterattacked in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The U.S. Navy destroyed three Japanese aircraft carriers (and damaged other ships) and approximately 600 Japanese aircraft, leaving the IJN with virtually no carrier-borne airpower or experienced pilots.[3]

For subsequent operations, Admiral Ernest J. King and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff favored blockading Japanese forces in the Philippines and attacking Formosa (Taiwan) to give the Americans and Australians control of the sea routes between Japan and southern Asia. U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur championed an invasion of the Philippines, which also lay across the supply lines to Japan. Leaving the Philippines in Japanese hands would be a blow to American prestige and a personal affront to MacArthur, who in 1942 had famously pronounced, "I shall return." Also, the considerable air power the Japanese had amassed in the Philippines was thought too dangerous to bypass by many high-ranking officers outside the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Admiral Chester Nimitz. However, Nimitz and MacArthur initially had opposing plans, with Nimitz's plan centered on an invasion of Formosa, since that could also cut the supply lines to southeast Asia. Formosa could also serve as a base for an invasion of mainland China, which MacArthur felt was unnecessary. A meeting between MacArthur, Nimitz, and President Roosevelt helped confirm the Philippines as a strategic target, but had less to do with the final decision to invade the Philippines than is sometimes claimed. Nimitz eventually changed his mind and agreed to MacArthur's plan.[4][6] It was also estimated that an invasion of Formosa would require about 12 divisions of U.S. Army soldiers and U.S. Marines. This was more land power than the Americans could muster in the whole Pacific Ocean area at that time, and the entire Australian Army was engaged in the Solomon Islands, on New Guinea, in the Dutch East Indies, and on various other Pacific islands. The invasion of Formosa would require much larger ground forces than were available in the Pacific in late 1944, and would not have been feasible until the defeat of Germany freed the necessary manpower.[4]

It was eventually decided that MacArthur's forces would invade the island of Leyte in the central Philippines. Amphibious forces and close naval support would be provided by the 7th Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid. The 7th Fleet at this time contained units of the U.S. Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, including the County-class heavy cruisers HMAS Shropshire and Australia, and the destroyer Arunta, and possibly a few warships from New Zealand and/or the Netherlands.

The 3rd Fleet, commanded by Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., with Task Force 38 (the Fast Carrier Task Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher) as its main component, would provide more distant cover and support for the invasion. A fundamental defect in this plan was that there would be no single American naval admiral in overall command. This lack of a unified command, along with failures in communication, was to produce a crisis, and very nearly a strategic disaster, for the American forces. (Fuller 1956, Morison 1956).
By coincidence, the Japanese plan, using three separate fleets, also lacked an overall commander. The American options were apparent to the
Imperial Japanese Navy. Combined Fleet Chief Soemu Toyoda prepared four "victory" plans: Shō-Gō 1 (捷1号作戦 Shō ichigō sakusen) was a major naval operation in the Philippines, while Shō-Gō 2, Shō-Gō 3 and Shō-Gō 4 were responses to attacks on Formosa, the Ryukyu and Kurile Islands respectively. The plans were for complex offensive operations committing nearly all available forces to a decisive battle, despite this substantially depleting Japan's slender reserves of fuel oil.

The four main actions in the battle of Leyte Gulf. 1 Battle of the Sibuyan Sea 2 Battle of Surigao Strait 3 Battle of (or 'off') Cape Engaño 4 Battle off Samar. Leyte Gulf is above 2 and to the left of 4. The island of Leyte is to the left of the gulf.

On 12 October 1944, the US 3rd Fleet under Admiral Halsey began a series of carrier raids against Formosa and the Ryukyu Islands, with a view to ensuring that aircraft based there could not intervene in the Leyte landings. The Japanese command therefore put Shō-Gō 2 into action, launching waves of air attacks against 3rd Fleet's carriers. In what Morison refers to as a "knock-down, drag-out fight between carrier-based and land-based air" the Japanese were routed, losing 600 aircraft in three days, almost their entire air strength in the region. Following the American invasion of the Philippines, the Japanese Navy made the transition to Shō-Gō 1.[3][4]

Shō-Gō 1 called for Vice-Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa's ships, known as the "Northern Force", to lure the main American covering forces away from Leyte. Northern Force would be built around several aircraft carriers, but these would have very few aircraft or trained aircrew. The carriers would serve as the main bait. As the US covering forces were lured away, two other surface forces would advance on Leyte from the west. The "Southern Force" under Vice Admirals Shoji Nishimura and Kiyohide Shima would strike at the landing area via Surigao Strait. The "Center Force" under Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, by far the most powerful of the attacking forces, would pass through San Bernardino Strait into the Philippine Sea, turn southwards, and then also attack the landing area.[3][4]

This plan was likely to result in the destruction of one or more of the attacking forces, but Toyoda later explained this to his American interrogators as follows:

Should we lose in the Philippines operations, even though the fleet should be left, the shipping lane to the south would be completely cut off so that the fleet, if it should come back to Japanese waters, could not obtain its fuel supply. If it should remain in southern waters, it could not receive supplies of ammunition and arms. There would be no sense in saving the fleet at the expense of the loss of the Philippines.

—United States Strategic Bombing Survey (Pacific) – 'Interrogations of Japan

The submarine action in Palawan Passage (23 October)

(Note: this action is referred to by Morison as "The Fight in Palawan Passage",[4] and is elsewhere occasionally referred to as "the Battle of Palawan Passage").

As it sortied from its base in Brunei, Kurita's powerful "Center Force" consisted of five battleships (Yamato, Musashi, Nagato, Kongō, and Haruna), ten heavy cruisers (Atago, Maya, Takao, Chōkai, Myōkō, Haguro, Kumano, Suzuya, Tone and Chikuma), two light cruisers (Noshiro and Yahagi) and 15 destroyers.[4]

Kurita's ships passed Palawan Island around midnight on 22–23 October. The American submarines Darter and Dace were positioned together on the surface close by. At 00:16 on 23 October, Darter's radar detected the Japanese formation at a range of 30,000 yd (27,000 m). Her captain promptly made visual contact. The two submarines quickly moved off in pursuit of the ships, while Darter made the first of three contact reports. At least one of these was picked up by a radio operator on Yamato, but Kurita failed to take appropriate anti-submarine precautions.[4]

Darter and Dace traveled on the surface at full power for several hours and gained a position ahead of Kurita's formation, with the intention of making a submerged attack at first light. This attack was unusually successful. At 05:24, Darter fired a spread of six torpedoes, at least four of which hit Kurita's flagship, the heavy cruiser Atago. 10 minutes later, Darter made two hits on the Atago's sister ship Takao with another spread of torpedoes. At 05:56 Dace made four torpedo hits on the heavy cruiser Maya (sister to Atago and Takao).[4]

Atago and Maya quickly sank. Takao turned back to Brunei escorted by two destroyers — and was followed by the two submarines. On 24 October, as the submarines continued to shadow the damaged cruiser, Darter ran aground on the Bombay Shoal. All efforts to get her off failed, and she was abandoned. Her entire crew was, however, rescued by Dace.

Takao returned to Singapore, where she remained for the rest of the war. She was joined in January 1945 by Myōkō.

Atago had sunk so rapidly that Kurita was forced to swim in order to survive. He was rescued by one of the Japanese destroyers, and he then transferred to the battleship Yamato.[4][7][8]

[edit] The Battle of the Sibuyan Sea (24 October)

Musashi departing Brunei in October 1944 for the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Around 08:00 on 24 October, the Center Force was spotted and attacked entering the Sibuyan Sea by VF-20 squadron Hellcat fighters, VB-20 Helldiver dive bombers, and VT-20 Avenger torpedo bombers from USS Enterprise of Halsey's 3rd Fleet. Despite its great strength, 3rd Fleet was not well-placed to deal with the threat. On 22 October, Halsey had detached two of his carrier groups to the fleet base at Ulithi to provision and rearm. When Darter's contact report came in Halsey recalled Davison's group but allowed Vice Admiral McCain, with the strongest of Task Force 38's carrier groups, to continue towards Ulithi. Halsey finally recalled McCain on 24 October — but the delay meant that the most powerful American carrier group played little part in the coming battle, and that 3rd Fleet was therefore effectively deprived of nearly 40% of its air strength for most of the battle. On the morning of 24 October, only three groups were available to strike Kurita's force, and the one best positioned to do so — Bogan's Task Group 38.2 — was by mischance the weakest of the groups, containing only one large carrier — the Intrepid — and two light carriers (the failure to promptly recall McCain on 23 October was also effectively to deprive 3rd Fleet, throughout the battle, of four of its six heavy cruisers).[4]

Yamato hit by a bomb near her forward gun turret in the Sibuyan Sea, 24 October 1944

Planes from carriers Intrepid and Cabot of Bogan's group attacked at about 10:30, making hits on the battleships Nagato, Yamato, and Musashi, and severely damaging the heavy cruiser Myōkō. A second wave from Intrepid, Essex and Lexington later attacked, with VB-15 Helldivers and VF-15 Hellcats from Essex, scoring another 10 hits on Musashi. As she withdrew, listing to port, a third wave from Enterprise and Franklin hit her with 11 bombs and 8 torpedoes.[4]

Kurita turned his fleet around to get out of range of the aircraft, passing the crippled Musashi as his force retreated. He waited until 17:15 before turning around again to head for the San Bernardino Strait — Musashi capsized and sank at about 19:30.[4]

Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi had directed three waves of aircraft from his First Air Fleet based on Luzon against the carriers of Rear Admiral Sherman's Task Group 38.3 (whose aircraft were also being used to strike airfields in Luzon to prevent Japanese land-based air attacks on Allied shipping in Leyte Gulf). Each of Ōnishi's strike waves consisted of some fifty to sixty aircraft.[4]

USS Princeton explodes at 15:23

Most of the attacking Japanese planes were intercepted and shot down or driven off by Hellcats of Sherman's combat air patrol, most notably by two fighter sections from Essex led by Commander David McCampbell (who is credited with shooting down nine of the attacking planes in this one action). However, one Japanese aircraft (a Yokosuka D4Y Judy) slipped through the defences, and at 09:38 hit the light carrier USS Princeton with a 551 lb (250 kg) armor-piercing bomb which caused a severe fire in Princeton's hangar. Her emergency sprinkler system failed to operate, and fires spread rapidly. A series of explosions followed. The fires were gradually brought under control, but at 15:23 there was an enormous explosion (probably in the carrier's bomb stowage aft), causing more casualties aboard Princeton, and even heavier casualties — more than 300 — aboard the cruiser Birmingham which was coming back alongside to assist with the firefighting. Birmingham was so badly damaged that she was forced to retire. Other nearby vessels were also damaged. All efforts to save Princeton failed, and she was finally scuttled — torpedoed by the light cruiser Reno — at 17:50.[4]

In all, U.S. 3rd Fleet flew 259 sorties, mostly by Hellcats, against Center Force on 24 October. This weight of attack was not nearly sufficient to neutralize the threat from Kurita. It contrasts with the 527 sorties flown by 3rd Fleet against Ozawa's much weaker Northern Force on the following day. Moreover, a large proportion of the Sibuyan Sea attack was directed against just one ship, Musashi. This great battleship was sunk, and cruiser Myōkō crippled, but every other ship in Kurita's force remained battleworthy and able to advance.[4]

As a result of a momentous decision about to be taken by Admiral Halsey, Kurita was able to proceed through San Bernardino Strait during the night, to make an unexpected and dramatic appearance off the coast of Samar on the following morning.

Task Force 34 / San Bernardino Strait

After the Japanese Southern and Center forces had been detected, but before Ozawa's carriers had been located, Halsey and the staff of 3rd Fleet, aboard the battleship New Jersey, prepared a contingency plan to deal with the threat from Kurita's Center Force. Their intention was to cover San Bernardino Strait with a powerful task force of fast battleships supported by two of the 3rd Fleet's fast carrier groups. The battleship force was to be designated Task Force 34 and to consist of 4 battleships, 5 cruisers and 14 destroyers under the command of Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee. Rear Admiral Ralph E. Davison of Task Group 38.4 was to be in overall command of the supporting carrier groups.

At 15:12 on 24 October, Halsey sent an ambiguously worded telegraphic radio message to his subordinate task group commanders, giving details of this contingency plan :

BATDIV 7 MIAMI, VINCENNES, BILOXI, DESRON 52 LESS STEVEN POTTER, FROM TG 38.2 AND WASHINGTON, ALABAMA, WICHITA, NEW ORLEANS, DESDIV 100, PATTERSON, BAGLEY FROM TG 38.4 WILL BE FORMED AS TASK FORCE 34 UNDER VICE ADMIRAL LEE, COMMANDER BATTLE LINE. TF 34 TO ENGAGE DECISIVELY AT LONG RANGES. CTG 38.4 CONDUCT CARRIERS OF TG 38.2 AND TG 38.4 CLEAR OF SURFACE FIGHTING. INSTRUCTIONS FOR TG 38.3 AND TG 38.1 LATER. HALSEY, OTC IN NEW JERSEY.

—Morison (1956)

Halsey sent information copies of this message to Admiral Nimitz at Pacific Fleet headquarters and Admiral King in Washington. But he did not include Admiral Kinkaid (7th Fleet) as information addressee.[7] The message was picked up by 7th Fleet, anyway, as it was common for Admirals to direct radiomen to copy all message traffic they detected, whether intended for them or not. As Halsey intended Task Force 34 as a contingency to be formed and detached when he ordered it, when he wrote "will be formed" he meant the future tense; but he neglected to say when Task Force 34 would be formed, or under what circumstances. This omission led Admiral Kinkaid of 7th Fleet to believe that Halsey was speaking in the imperative, not the future tense, and so he concluded that Task Force 34 had been formed and would take station off San Bernardino Strait. Admiral Nimitz, in Pearl Harbor, reached exactly the same conclusion. Halsey did send out a second message at 17:10 clarifying his intentions in regard to Task Force 34:

IF THE ENEMY SORTIES (THROUGH SAN BERNADINO STRAIT) TF 34 WILL BE FORMED WHEN DIRECTED BY ME.

—T.J. Cutler (1994)

Unfortunately, Halsey sent this second message by voice radio, so 7th Fleet did not intercept it, and Halsey did not follow up with a telegraphic message to Nimitz or King. The serious misunderstanding caused by Halsey's ambiguous wording of his first message and his failure to notify Nimitz, King, or Kinkaid of his second clarifying message was to have a profound influence on the subsequent course of the battle.[4][7]

[edit] Halsey's Decision (24 October)

The 3rd Fleet's aircraft failed to locate Ozawa's Northern (decoy) force until 16:40 on 24 October. This was largely because 3rd Fleet had been preoccupied with attacking Kurita and defending itself against the Japanese air strikes from Luzon. So, oddly enough, the one Japanese force that wanted to be discovered was the only force the Americans hadn't been able to find. On the evening of 24 October Ozawa intercepted a (mistaken) American communication describing Kurita's withdrawal, and he therefore began to withdraw too. However, at 20:00 Soemu Toyoda ordered all his forces to attack "counting on divine assistance." Trying to draw 3rd Fleet's attention to his decoy force, Ozawa reversed course again and headed southwards towards Leyte.

Halsey was convinced that the Northern Force constituted the main Japanese threat, and he was determined to seize what he saw as a golden opportunity to destroy Japan's last remaining carrier strength. Believing that the Center Force had been neutralized by 3rd Fleet's air strikes earlier in the day in the Sibuyan Sea, and that its remnants were retiring, Halsey radioed (to Nimitz and Kinkaid):

CENTRAL FORCE HEAVILY DAMAGED ACCORDING TO STRIKE REPORTS.
AM PROCEEDING NORTH WITH THREE GROUPS TO ATTACK CARRIER FORCES AT DAWN

—Morison (1956)

The words "with three groups" proved dangerously misleading. In the light of the intercepted 15:12 24 October "…will be formed as Task Force 34" message from Halsey, Admiral Kinkaid and his staff assumed, as did Admiral Nimitz at Pacific Fleet headquarters, that Task Force 34, commanded by Lee, had now been formed as a separate entity. They assumed that Halsey was leaving this powerful surface force guarding San Bernardino Strait (and covering Seventh Fleet's northern flank) while he took his three available carrier groups northwards in pursuit of the Japanese carriers. But Task Force 34 had not been detached from his other forces, and Lee's battleships were on their way northwards with the 3rd Fleet's carriers. Halsey had consciously and deliberately left San Bernardino Strait absolutely unguarded. As Woodward wrote "Everything was pulled out from San Bernardino Strait. Not so much as a picket destroyer was left".[2]

Halsey and his staff officers ignored information from a night reconnaissance aircraft operating from the light carrier Independence that Kurita's powerful surface force had turned back towards San Bernardino Strait, and that after a long blackout the navigation lights in the Strait had been turned on. When Rear Admiral Gerald F. Bogan, commanding TG 38.2, radioed this information to Halsey's flagship, he was rebuffed by a staff officer, who tersely replied "Yes, yes, we have that information." Vice Admiral Lee, who had correctly deduced that Ozawa's force was on a decoy mission and indicated this in a blinker message to Halsey's flagship, was similarly rebuffed. Commodore Arleigh Burke and Commander James Flatley of Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's staff had come to the same conclusion. They were sufficiently worried about the situation to wake Mitscher, who asked "Does Admiral Halsey have that report?" On being told that Halsey did, Mitscher, knowing Halsey's temperament, commented "If he wants my advice he'll ask for it" and went back to sleep.[4]

The entire available strength of 3rd Fleet continued to steam northwards, away from San Bernardino Strait.

[edit] The Battle of Surigao Strait (25 October)

The Battle of Surigao Strait.

Nishimura's "Southern Force" consisted of the battleships Yamashiro and Fusō, the heavy cruiser Mogami, and four destroyers.[4] This force left Brunei after Kurita at 1500 hours on 22 October, turning eastward into the Sulu Sea and then northeasterly past the southern tip of Negros Island into the Mindanao Sea. Nishimura then proceeded northeastward with Mindanao Island to starboard and into the south entrance to Surigao Strait, intending to exit the north entrance of the Strait into Leyte Gulf where he would add his firepower to that of Kurita's force.

The Second Striking Force, commanded by VADM Kiyohide Shima, consisted of heavy cruisers Nachi (Flag), and Ashigara, light cruiser Abukuma, and destroyers Akebono, Ushio, Kasumi, and Shiranuhi.

The Southern Force was attacked by US Navy bombers on 24 October but sustained only minor damage.

Because of the strict radio silence imposed on the Center and Southern Forces, Nishimura was unable to synchronise his movements with Shima and Kurita. When he entered the narrow Surigao Strait at 02:00, Shima was 25 nmi (46 km; 29 mi) behind him, and Kurita was still in the Sibuyan Sea, several hours from the beaches at Leyte.

As the Southern Force approached Surigao Strait, it ran into a deadly trap set by the 7th Fleet Support Force. Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf had a substantial force. There were six battleships: West Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, California, and Pennsylvania; all but Mississippi had been sunk or damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor and since repaired. There were the 8 in (203 mm) and 6 in (152 mm) guns of the four heavy cruisers (USS Louisville (flagship), Portland, Minneapolis and HMAS Shropshire) and four light cruisers (Denver, Columbia, Phoenix and Boise). There were also the smaller guns and torpedoes of 28 destroyers and 39 motor torpedo boats (Patrol/Torpedo (PT) boats). To pass through the narrows and reach the invasion shipping, Nishimura would have to run the gauntlet of torpedoes from the PT boats followed by the large force of destroyers, and then advance under the concentrated fire of the six battleships and their eight flanking cruisers disposed across the far mouth of the Strait.[4]

At 22:36, one of the PT boats — PT-131 — first made contact with the approaching Japanese ships. Over more than three-and-a-half hours, the PT boats made repeated attacks on Nishimura's force. They made no torpedo hits, but sent contact reports which were of use to Oldendorf and his force.[4]

As Nishimura's ships entered Surigao Strait they were subjected to devastating torpedo attacks from the American destroyers disposed on both sides of their line of advance. At about 03:00, both Japanese battleships were hit by torpedoes. Yamashiro was able to steam on, but Fusō exploded and broke in two. Two of Nishimura's four destroyers were sunk; another, Asagumo, was hit but able to retire, and later sank.[4]

The classical account summarized above has been questioned recently because additional evidence has come to light. Fuso survivor Hideo Ogawa, interrogated in 1945, also wrote an article[9] on the battleship's last voyage. He says that "shortly after 0400 the ship capsized slowly to starboard and Ogawa and others were washed away."[10] Fuso was hit on the starboard side by two or possibly three torpedoes. One of these started an oil fire. The fuel used by IJN ships in this period was poorly refined and had a tendency to burst into flame; burning patches of fuel were most likely the source of the myth of Fuso blowing up. It is extremely unlikely that a vessel as strongly built as a battleship could be blown in half and the halves remain upright and afloat, so the classic version of Fuso's fate is also extremely improbable. Accordingly, it is likely that the Morison account is incorrect in this detail.

At 03:16, West Virginia's radar picked up the surviving ships of Nishimura's force at a range of 42,000 yd (38,000 m) and had achieved a firing solution at 30,000 yd (27,000 m). West Virginia tracked them as they approached in the pitch black night. At 03:53, she fired the eight 16 in (406 mm) guns of her main battery at a range of 22,800 yd (20,800 m), striking Yamashiro with her first salvo. She went on to fire a total of 93 shells. At 03:55, California and Tennessee joined in, firing a total of 63 and 69 14 in (356 mm) shells, respectively. Radar fire control allowed these American battleships to hit targets from a distance at which the Japanese battleships, with their inferior fire control systems, could not return fire.[4][11]

The other three US battleships, equipped with less advanced gunnery radar, had difficulty arriving at a firing solution. Maryland eventually succeeded in visually ranging on the splashes of the other battleships' shells, and then fired a total of 48 16 in (406 mm) projectiles. Pennsylvania was unable to find a target and her guns remained silent.[4]

Mississippi only obtained a solution at the end of the battle-line action, and then fired just one (full) salvo of twelve 14 in (356 mm) shells. This was the last salvo ever to be fired by a battleship against another heavy ship, ending an era in naval history.[4]

Yamashiro and Mogami were crippled by a combination of 16 in (406 mm) and 14 in (356 mm) armor-piercing shells, as well as the fire of Oldendorf's flanking cruisers. Shigure turned and fled but lost steering and stopped dead. Yamashiro sank at about 04:20, with Nishimura on board. Mogami and Shigure retreated southwards down the Strait.

The rear of the Southern Force, the "Second Striking Force" commanded by Vice Admiral Shima, had departed from Mako and approached Surigao Strait about 40 miles astern of Nishimura. Shima's run was initially thrown into confusion by his force nearly running aground on Panaon Island after failing to factor the outgoing tide into their approach: Japanese radar was nearly useless due to excessive reflections from the many islands.[12] The radar was equally unable to detect ships in these conditions, especially PT boats, as PT-137 hit the light cruiser Abukuma with a torpedo which crippled her and caused her to fall out of formation. Shima’s two heavy cruisers (Nachi and Ashigara) and eight destroyers[4] next encountered remnants of Nishimura's force. Seeing what he thought were the wrecks of both Nishimura's battleships (actually the two halves of Fusō), Shima ordered a retreat. His flagship, Nachi, collided with Mogami, flooding Mogami’s steering-room and causing her to fall behind in the retreat; she was sunk by aircraft the next morning. The bow half of Fusō was sunk from gunfire by Louisville, and the stern half sank off Kanihaan Island. Of Nishimura's seven ships, only Shigure survived. Shima’s ships did survive the Battle of Surigao Strait but they would be sunk in further engagements around Leyte.[4][11]

What Louisville's action report actually says is “0529 firing 2 salvos – 18 rounds – at a large fire bearing 160 True, range 18,900 yards. Fire was then shifted to a second target bearing 180 T at the same range. …The first target is what has been termed the 'Fuso fire,' while the second was Mogami.”[13] Morison and a number of others have presumed the fire surrounded part of Fuso still afloat. There is no evidence to support that claim.

The Battle of Surigao Strait was the last battleship-versus-battleship action in history. It was also the last battle in which one force (the Americans, in this case) was able to "cross the T" of its opponent. However, by the time the battleship action was joined the Japanese line was very ragged and consisted of only one battleship (Yamashiro), one heavy cruiser and one destroyer, so that the "crossing of the T" was notional and had little effect on the outcome of the battle.[4][11]

[edit] The Battle of Samar (25 October)

Main article: Battle of Samar

The battle off Samar.

[edit] Prelude

Halsey's decision to take all the available strength of 3rd Fleet northwards to attack the carriers of the Japanese Northern Force had left San Bernardino Strait completely unguarded.

It had been generally assumed by senior officers in 7th Fleet (including Kinkaid and his staff) that Halsey was taking his three available carrier groups northwards (McCain's group, the strongest in 3rd Fleet, was still returning from the direction of Ulithi) but leaving the battleships of Task Force 34 covering San Bernardino Strait against the Japanese Center Force. In fact, Halsey had not yet formed Task Force 34, and all six of Willis Lee's battleships were on their way northwards with the carriers, as well as every available cruiser and destroyer of the Third Fleet.

Kurita's Center Force therefore emerged unopposed from San Bernardino Strait at 03:00 on 25 October and steamed southward along the coast of the island of Samar. In its path stood only the 7th Fleet's three escort carrier units (call signs 'Taffy' 1, 2, and 3), with a total of 16 small, very slow, and unarmored escort carriers, protected by a screen of lightly armed and unarmored destroyers and smaller destroyer escorts (DEs). Despite the losses in the Palawan Passage and Sibuyan Sea actions, the Japanese Center Force was still very powerful, consisting of four battleships (including the giant Yamato), six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and 11 destroyers.

[edit] The battle

Kurita's force caught Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 ('Taffy 3') entirely by surprise. Sprague directed his carriers to launch their planes, then run for the cover of a rain squall to the east. He ordered the destroyers and DEs to make a smoke screen to conceal the retreating carriers.

Kurita, unaware that Ozawa's decoy plan had succeeded, assumed that he had found a carrier group from Halsey's 3rd Fleet. Having just redeployed his ships into anti-aircraft formation, he further complicated matters by ordering a "General Attack", which called for his fleet to split into different divisions and attack independently.[5]

The destroyer USS Johnston was the closest to the enemy. On his own initiative, Lieutenant Commander Ernest E. Evans steered his hopelessly outclassed ship into the foe at flank speed. Seeing this, Sprague gave the order "small boys attack", sending the rest of Taffy 3's screening ships into the fray. Taffy 3's two other destroyers, Hoel and Heermann, and the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts, attacked with suicidal determination, drawing fire and disrupting the Japanese formation as ships turned to avoid their torpedoes.

Meanwhile, Thomas Sprague (no relation to Clifton) ordered the 16 carriers in his three task units to launch their aircraft equipped with whatever weapons they had available, even if these were only machine guns or depth charges. He had a total of some 450 aircraft at his disposal, mostly FM-2 Wildcat and TBM Avenger torpedo bombers. The air counterattacks were almost unceasing, and some, especially several of the strikes launched from Felix Stump's Task Unit 77.4.2, were relatively heavy.

The carriers of Taffy 3 turned south and retreated through the shellfire. Gambier Bay, at the rear of the American formation, was sunk, while most of the other carriers were damaged.

[edit] Admiral Kurita withdraws

St. Lo explodes after a kamikaze strike.

The ferocity of the defense confirmed the Japanese assumption that they were engaging major fleet units rather than escort carriers and destroyers. The confusion of the "General Attack" order was further compounded by the air and torpedo attacks, when Kurita's flagship Yamato turned north to evade torpedoes and lost contact with the battle. Kurita abruptly broke off the fight and gave the order 'all ships, my course north, speed 20', apparently in order to regroup his disorganized fleet. Turning again towards Leyte Gulf, Kurita's battle report stated that he received a message indicating that a group of American carriers was steaming north of him. Preferring to expend his fleet against capital ships rather than transports, Kurita set out in pursuit and thereby lost his opportunity to destroy the shipping in Leyte Gulf. After failing to intercept the non-existent carriers, Kurita finally retreated towards San Bernardino Strait. Three of his heavy cruisers had been sunk, and the determined resistance had convinced him that persisting with his attack would only cause further Japanese losses. Kurita was also influenced by the fact that he did not know that Ozawa had lured Halsey away from Leyte Gulf. Kurita remained convinced that he had been engaging elements of the 3rd Fleet, and that it would only be a matter of time before Halsey surrounded and annihilated him.[5] Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague wrote to his colleague Aubrey Fitch after the war, "I ... stated [to Admiral Nimitz] that the main reason they turned north was that they were receiving too much damage to continue and I am still of that opinion and cold analysis will eventually confirm it." [8]

Almost all of Kurita's surviving force succeeded in escaping. Halsey and the 3rd Fleet battleships arrived too late to cut him off. Nagato, Haruna and Kongō had been moderately damaged by air attack from Taffy 3's escort carriers. Kurita had begun the battle with five battleships. On their return to their bases, only Yamato remained battleworthy.

As the desperate surface action was coming to an end, Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi put his 'Special Attack Force' into operation, launching kamikaze attacks against the Allied ships in Leyte Gulf and the escort carrier units off Samar. The escort carrier St. Lo of Taffy 3 was hit by a kamikaze aircraft and sank after a series of internal explosions.[4][8]

[edit] The Battle of Cape Engaño (25–26 October)

The Japanese aircraft carriers Zuikaku, left, and (probably) Zuihō come under attack by dive bombers early in the battle off Cape Engaño.

Ozawa's "Northern Force" comprised four aircraft carriers (Zuikaku — the last survivor of the six carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the light carriers Zuihō, Chitose, and Chiyoda), two World War I battleships partially converted to carriers (Hyūga and Ise — the two after turrets had been replaced by a hangar, aircraft handling deck and catapult, but neither battleship carried any aircraft in this battle), three light cruisers (Ōyodo, Tama, and Isuzu), and nine destroyers. His force had only 108 aircraft.[4]

Ozawa's force was not located until 16:40 on 24 October, largely because Sherman's Task Group 38.3, which as the northernmost of Halsey's groups was responsible for searches in this sector. The force which Halsey was taking north with him — three groups of Mitscher's Task Force 38 — was overwhelmingly stronger than the Japanese Northern Force. Between them, these groups had five large fleet carriers (Intrepid, Franklin, Lexington, Enterprise, and Essex), five light fleet carriers (Independence, Belleau Wood, Langley, Cabot, and San Jacinto), six battleships (Alabama, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Washington), eight cruisers (two heavy and six light), and more than 40 destroyers. The air groups of the 10 US carriers present contained a total of more than 600-1,000 aircraft.[4]

At 02:40 on 25 October, Halsey detached Task Force 34, built around the 3rd Fleet's six battleships and commanded by Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee. As dawn approached, the ships of Task Force 34 drew ahead of the carrier groups. Halsey intended Mitscher to make air strikes followed by the heavy gunfire of Lee's battleships.[4]

The crew of Zuikaku salute as the flag is lowered, and she ceases to be the flagship of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Around dawn on 25 October, Ozawa launched 75 aircraft to attack the 3rd Fleet. Most were shot down by American combat air patrols, and no damage was done to the US ships. A few Japanese planes survived and made their way to land bases on Luzon.

During the night Halsey had passed tactical command of Task Force 38 to Admiral Mitscher, who ordered the American carrier groups to launch their first strike wave, of 180 aircraft, at dawn — before the Northern Force had been located. When the search aircraft made contact at 07:10 this strike wave was orbiting ahead of the task force. At 08:00, as the attack went in, its escorting fighters destroyed Ozawa's combat air patrol of about 30 planes. The US air strikes continued until the evening, by which time Task Force 38 had flown 527 sorties against the Northern Force, sinking Zuikaku, the light carriers Chitose and Zuihō, and the destroyer Akitsuki. The light carrier Chiyoda and the cruiser Tama were crippled. Ozawa transferred his flag to the light cruiser Ōyodo.

[edit] The crisis – US 7th Fleet's calls for help

Shortly after 08:00 on 25 October, desperate messages calling for assistance began to come in from 7th Fleet, which had been engaging Nishimura's "Southern Force" in Suriago Strait since 02.00. One message from Kinkaid, sent in plain language, read: "MY SITUATION IS CRITICAL. FAST BATTLESHIPS AND SUPPORT BY AIR STRIKES MAY BE ABLE TO KEEP ENEMY FROM DESTROYING CVES AND ENTERING LEYTE." Halsey recalled in his memoirs that he was shocked at this message, recounting that the radio signals from the 7th Fleet had come in at random and out of order because of a backlog in the signals office. It seems that he did not receive this vital message from Kinkaid until around 10:00. Halsey later claimed that he knew Kinkaid was in trouble, but had not dreamed of the seriousness of this crisis.

One of the most alarming signals from Kinkaid reported that, after their action in Surigao Strait, 7th Fleet's own battleships were critically low on ammunition. Even this failed to persuade Halsey to send any immediate assistance to Seventh Fleet.[2][3][4] In fact, the 7th Fleet's battleships were not as short of ammunition as Kinkaid's signal implied,[4] but Halsey did not know that.

From 3,000 mi (4,800 km) away in Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz had been monitoring the desperate calls from Taffy 3, and sent Halsey a terse message: "TURKEY TROTS TO WATER GG FROM CINCPAC ACTION COM THIRD FLEET INFO COMINCH CTF SEVENTY-SEVEN X WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR RR THE WORLD WONDERS." The first four words and the last three were "padding" used to confuse enemy cryptanalysis (the beginning and end of the true message was marked by double consonants). The communications staff on Halsey's flagship correctly deleted the first section of padding but mistakenly retained the last three words in the message finally handed to Halsey. The last three words, probably selected by a communications officer at Nimitz's headquarters, may have been meant as a loose quote from Tennyson's poem on "The Charge of the Light Brigade", suggested by the coincidence that this day, 25 October, was the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of Balaclava – and was not intended as a commentary on the current crisis off Leyte. Halsey, however, when reading the message, thought that the last words — ‘THE WORLD WONDERS’ — were a biting piece of criticism from Nimitz, threw his cap to the deck and broke into "sobs of rage". Rear Admiral Robert Carney, his Chief of Staff, confronted him, telling Halsey "Stop it! What the hell's the matter with you? Pull yourself together."

Eventually, at 11:15, more than three hours after the first distress messages from 7th Fleet had been received by his flagship, Halsey ordered Task Force 34 to turn around and head southwards towards Samar. At this point, Lee's battleships were almost within gun range of Ozawa's force. Two-and-a-half hours were then spent refuelling Task Force 34's accompanying destroyers.[4]

After this succession of delays it was too late for Task Force 34 to give any practical help to 7th Fleet, other than to assist in picking up survivors from Taffy 3, and too late even to intercept Kurita's force before it made its escape through San Bernardino Strait.

Nevertheless, at 16:22, in a desperate and even more belated attempt to intervene in the events off Samar, Halsey formed a new Task Group (TG 34.5) under Rear Admiral Badger, built around Third Fleet's two fastest battleships, Iowa and New Jersey – ships capable of a speed of more than 32 kn (37 mph; 59 km/h) – and Task Force 34's three cruisers and eight destroyers, and sped southwards, leaving Lee and the other four battleships to follow. As Morison observes, if Badger's group had succeeded in intercepting the Japanese Center Force it would have been seriously outgunned by Kurita's battleships.[4]

Cruisers and destroyers of Task Group 34.5, however, caught the destroyer Nowaki, the last straggler from Center Force, off San Bernardino Strait, and sank her.

[edit] Battle of Cape Engaño – Final Actions

When Halsey turned Task Force 34 southwards at 11:15, he detached a task group of four of its cruisers and nine of its destroyers under Rear Admiral DuBose, and reassigned this group to Task Force 38. At 14:15, Mitscher ordered DuBose to pursue the remnants of the Japanese Northern Force. His cruisers finished off the light carrier Chiyoda at around 17:00, and at 20:59 his ships sank the destroyer Hatsuzuki after a very stubborn fight.[4]

When Admiral Ozawa learned of the deployment of DuBose's relatively weak task group, he ordered battleships Ise and Hyūga to turn southwards and attack it, but they failed to locate DuBose's group, which they heavily outgunned. Halsey's withdrawal of all six of Lee's battleships in his attempt to assist Seventh Fleet had now rendered Task Force 38 vulnerable to a surface counterattack by the decoy Northern Force.

At about 23:10, the American submarine Jallao torpedoed and sank the light cruiser Tama of Ozawa's force. This was the last act of the Battle of Cape Engaño, and — apart from some final air strikes on the retreating Japanese forces on 26 October — the conclusion of the Battle for Leyte Gulf.

[edit] Criticism of Halsey

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Admiral William F. 'Bull' Halsey – Commander US Third Fleet at Leyte Gulf

Halsey was criticized for his decision to take Task Force 34 north in pursuit of Ozawa, and for failing to detach it when Kinkaid first appealed for help. A piece of US Navy slang for Halsey's actions is 'Bull's Run', a phrase combining Halsey's newspaper nickname "Bull" (in the US Navy he was known as 'Bull' Halsey) with an allusion to the Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War.

In his dispatch after the battle, Halsey justified the decision as follows:

Searches by my carrier planes revealed the presence of the Northern carrier force on the afternoon of 24 October, which completed the picture of all enemy naval forces. As it seemed childish to me to guard statically San Bernardino Strait, I concentrated TF 38 during the night and steamed north to attack the Northern Force at dawn.

I believed that the Center Force had been so heavily damaged in the Sibuyan Sea that it could no longer be considered a serious menace to Seventh Fleet.[4]

Halsey also argued that he had feared that leaving Task Force 34 to defend the strait without carrier support would have left it vulnerable to attack from land-based aircraft, while leaving one of the fast carrier groups behind to cover the battleships would have significantly reduced the concentration of air power going north to strike Ozawa.

However, Morison states that Admiral Lee told him that he would have been fully prepared for the battleships to cover San Bernardino Strait without any carrier support.[4] Moreover, if Halsey had been in proper communication with 7th Fleet, it would have been entirely practicable for the escort carriers of Task Force 77 to provide adequate air cover for Task Force 34 — a much easier matter than it would be for those escort carriers to defend themselves against the onslaught of Kurita's heavy ships.

It may be argued that the fact that Halsey was aboard one of the battleships, and "would have had to remain behind" with Task Force 34 (while the bulk of his fleet charged northwards to attack the Japanese carriers) may have contributed to this decision, but this is in all likelihood a minor point. It has been pointed out that it would have been perfectly feasible (and logical) to have taken one or both of 3rd Fleet's two fastest battleships (Iowa and/or New Jersey) with the carriers in the pursuit of Ozawa, while leaving the rest of the Battle Line off San Bernardino Strait (indeed, Halsey's original plan for the composition of Task Force 34 was that it would contain only four, not all six, of the 3rd Fleet's battleships); thus, guarding San Bernardino Strait with a powerful battleship force would not have been incompatible with Halsey personally going north aboard New Jersey.

Probably a more important factor was that Halsey was philosophically against dividing his forces; he believed strongly in concentration as indicated by his writings both before World War II and in his subsequent articles and interviews defending his actions.[7] In addition, Halsey may well have been influenced by the criticisms of Admiral Raymond Spruance, who was widely thought to have been excessively cautious at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and so allowed the bulk of the Japanese fleet to escape. It also seems likely that Halsey was influenced by his Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Robert "Mick" Carney, who was also wholeheartedly in favor of taking all 3rd Fleet's available forces northwards to attack the Japanese carrier force.

However, Halsey did have reasonable and in his view, given the information he had available, practical reasons for his actions. First, he believed that Admiral Kurita's force was more heavily damaged than it was. While it has been suggested that Halsey should have taken Kurita's continued advance as evidence that his force was still a severe threat, this view cannot be supported given the well-known propensity for the members of Japanese military to persist in hopeless endeavours to the point of suicide. So in Halsey's estimation, Kurita's weakened force was well within the ability of Seventh Fleet to deal with, and did not justify dividing his force.

Second, Halsey did not know — nor did anyone else in the US Navy — just how badly compromised Japan's naval air power was and that Ozawa's decoy force was nearly devoid of aircraft. Halsey made an understandable and, to him, prudent threat-conservative judgment that Ozawa's force was still capable of launching serious attacks. Halsey later explained his actions partly by explicitly stating that he did not want to be "shuttle bombed" by Ozawa's force (a technique whereby planes can land and rearm at bases on either side of a foe, allowing them to attack on both the outbound flight and the return) or to give them a "free shot" at the US forces in Leyte Gulf.[7] He was obviously not similarly concerned with giving Kurita's battleships and cruisers a free shot at those same forces.

The fact that Halsey made one seemingly prudent threat-conservative judgment regarding Ozawa's aircraft carriers and another rather opposite judgment regarding Kurita's battleships probably reflects his understandable bias toward aircraft carriers as the prime threat of the war. At Leyte Gulf, Halsey failed to appreciate that under certain circumstances battleships and cruisers could still be extremely dangerous, and ironically, through his own failures to adequately communicate his intentions, he managed to bring those circumstances about.

Clifton Sprague, commander of Task Unit 77.4.3 in the battle off Samar, was later bitterly critical of Halsey's decision, and of his failure to clearly inform Kinkaid and 7th Fleet that their northern flank was no longer protected:

In the absence of any information that this exit [of the San Bernardino Strait] was no longer blocked, it was logical to assume that our northern flank could not be exposed without ample warning.

Regarding Halsey's failure to turn Task Force 34 southwards when 7th Fleet's first calls for assistance off Samar were received, Morison writes:

If TF 34 had been detached a few hours earlier, after Kinkaid's first urgent request for help, and had left the destroyers behind, since their fueling caused a delay of over two hours and a half, a powerful battle line of six modern battleships under the command of Admiral Lee, the most experienced battle squadron commander in the Navy, would have arrived off San Bernardino Strait in time to have clashed with Kurita's Center Force… Apart from the accidents common in naval warfare, there is every reason to suppose that Lee would have "crossed the T" and completed the destruction of Center Force.

Instead, as Morison also observes:

The mighty gunfire of the Third Fleet's Battle Line, greater than that of the whole Japanese Navy, was never brought into action except to finish off one or two crippled light ships.

—Morison (1956), pp. 336–337[14]

Perhaps the most telling comment is made laconically by Vice Admiral Lee in his action report as Commander of Task Force 34 —

No battle damage was incurred nor inflicted on the enemy by vessels while operating as Task Force Thirty-Four.

Task Force 34 Action Report: 6 October 1944 – 3 November 1944

[edit] Losses

The losses in the battle of Leyte Gulf were not evenly distributed throughout all forces, the destroyer USS Heermann (DD-532), despite her unequal fight with the enemy, finished the battle with only six of her crew dead. More than one thousand sailors and aircrewmen of the allied escort carrier units were killed. As a result of communication errors and other failures, a very large number of survivors from Taffy 3 were not rescued for several days, many dying unnecessarily as a consequence.[4][8]

Due to the long duration and size of the battle there are varied account as to the losses which occurred as apart of the Battle of Leyte Gulf and losses that occurred shortly before and shortly after. One account of the losses[15] lists the following vessels:

[edit] Allied Losses

The United States lost six front line warships during the Battle of Samar:

  • 4 other American ships were damaged.
[edit] Japanese Losses

The Japanese lost twenty-six front line warships during the Battle of Leyte:

[edit] Aftermath

A 60th Anniversary memorial ceremony in Tacloban, Philippines, on 20 October 2004

The Battle of Leyte Gulf secured the beachheads of the U.S. Sixth Army on Leyte against attack from the sea. However, much hard fighting would be required before the island was completely in Allied hands at the end of December 1944: the Battle of Leyte on land was fought in parallel with an air and sea campaign in which the Japanese reinforced and resupplied their troops on Leyte while the Allies attempted to interdict them and establish air-sea superiority for a series of amphibious landings in Ormoc Bay — engagements collectively referred to as the Battle of Ormoc Bay.[4]

The Imperial Japanese Navy had suffered its greatest loss of ships and crew ever. Its failure to dislodge the Allied invaders from Leyte meant the inevitable loss of the Philippines, which in turn meant that Japan would be all but cut off from its occupied territories in Southeast Asia. These territories provided resources which were vital to Japan, in particular the oil needed for its ships and aircraft, and this problem was compounded because the shipyards, and sources of manufactured goods such as ammunition, were in Japan itself. Finally, the loss of Leyte opened the way for the invasion of the Ryukyu Islands in 1945.[3][4]

The major IJN surface ships returned to their bases to languish, entirely or almost entirely inactive, for the remainder of the war. The only major operation by these surface ships between the Battle for Leyte Gulf and the Japanese surrender was the suicidal sortie in April 1945 (part of Operation Ten-Go), in which the battleship Yamato and her escorts were destroyed by American carrier aircraft.

The first use of kamikaze aircraft took place following the Leyte landings. A kamikaze hit the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Australia on 21 October. Organized suicide attacks by the "Special Attack Force" began on 25 October during the closing phase of the Battle off Samar, causing the destruction of the escort carrier St. Lo.

J.F.C. Fuller, in his The Decisive Battles of the Western World, writes of the outcome of Leyte Gulf:

The Japanese fleet had [effectively] ceased to exist, and, except by land-based aircraft, their opponents had won undisputed command of the sea.

When Admiral Ozawa was questioned… after the war he replied 'After this battle the surface forces became strictly auxiliary, so that we relied on land forces, special [Kamikaze] attack, and air power… there was no further use assigned to surface vessels, with the exception of some special ships'.

And Admiral Yonai, the Navy Minister, said that he realised that the defeat at Leyte 'was tantamount to the loss of the Philippines.'

As for the larger significance of the battle, he said 'I felt that it was the end.'[3]

[edit] Memorials

  • At the U.S. Naval Academy, in Alumni Hall, a concourse is dedicated to Lt. Lloyd Garnett and his shipmates on USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413), who earned their ship the reputation as the "destroyer escort that fought like a battleship" in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
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Background before the Battle of Leyte Gulf. From late 1942 until early 1945, Allied forces in the Pacific Theater took the war to the Japanese across vast ocean battlefields and on tiny island beaches. By the end of 1942, the Japanese Empire had expanded to its farthest extent, with soldiers occupying or attacking positions from India to Alaska and on islands across the South Pacific. The U.S. Navy, under Admiral Chester Nimitz, adopted a strategy of "island-hopping", rather than attacking Japan's Imperial Navy in force. The goal was to capture and control strategic islands along a path toward the Japanese home islands, bringing U.S. bombers within range, and preparing for a possible invasion. Japanese soldiers fought the island landings fiercely, killing many allied soldiers, sometimes attacking suicidally in desperate last-ditch attacks. At sea, Japanese submarine, bomber and kamikaze attacks took a heavy toll on the U.S. fleet, but they were unable to halt the island-by-island advance. By early 1945, leapfrogging U.S. forces had advanced as far as Iwo Jima and Okinawa, within 340 miles of mainland Japan, at a great cost to both sides. On Okinawa alone, during 82 days of fighting, approximately 100,000 Japanese troops and 12,510 Americans were killed, and somewhere between 42,000 and 150,000 Okinawan civilians died as well. At this point, U.S. forces were nearing their position for the next stage of their offensive against the Empire of Japan.

Four Japanese transports, hit by both U.S. surface vessels and aircraft, beached and burning at Tassafaronga, west of positions on Guadalcanal, on November 16, 1942. They were part of the huge force of auxiliary and combat vessels the enemy attempted to bring down from the north on November 13th and 14th. Only these four reached Guadalcanal. They were completely destroyed by aircraft, artillery and surface vessel guns. (AP Photo) 

Four Japanese transports, hit by both U.S. surface vessels and aircraft, beached and burning at Tassafaronga, west of positions on Guadalcanal, on November 16, 1942. They were part of the huge force of auxiliary and combat vessels the enemy attempted to bring down from the north on November 13th and 14th. Only these four reached Guadalcanal. They were completely destroyed by aircraft, artillery and surface vessel guns. (AP Photo)

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2

Following in the cover of a tank, American infantrymen secure an area on Bougainville, Solomon Islands, in March 1944, after Japanese forces infiltrated their lines during the night. (AP Photo) # 

3

Torpedoed Japanese destroyer Yamakaze, photographed through periscope of USS Nautilus, 25 June 1942. The Yamakaze sank within five minutes of being struck, there were no survivors. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy) # 

4

American reconnaissance patrol into the dense jungles of New Guinea, on December 18, 1942. Lt. Philip Winson had lost one of his boots while building a raft and he made a make-shift boot out of part of a ground sheet and straps from a pack. (AP Photo/Ed Widdis) # 

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5

Japanese soldiers killed while manning a mortar on the beach are shown partially buried in the sand at Guadalcanal on the Solomon Islands following attack by U.S. Marines in August 1942. (AP Photo) # 

6

A helmeted Australian soldier, rifle in hand, looks out over a typical New Guinea landscape in the vicinity of Milne Bay on October 31, 1942, where an earlier Japanese attempt at invasion was defeated by the Australian defenders. (AP Photo) # 

7

Japanese bomber planes sweep in very low for an attack on U.S. warships and transporters, on September 25, 1942, at an unknown location in the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo) # 

8

On August 24, 1942, while operating off the coast of the Solomon Islands, the USS Enterprise suffered heavy attacks by Japanese bombers. Several direct hits on the flight deck killed 74 men; the photographer of this picture was reportedly among the dead. (AP Photo) # 

9

A breeches buoy is put into service to transfer from a U.S. destroyer to a cruiser survivors of a ship, November 14, 1942 which had been sunk in naval action against the Japanese off the Santa Cruz Islands in the South pacific on October 26. The American Navy turned back the Japanese in the battle but lost an aircraft carrier and a destroyer. (AP Photo) # 

10

These Japanese prisoners were among those captured by U.S. forces on Guadalcanal Island in the Solomon Islands, shown November 5, 1942. (AP Photo) # 

11

Japanese-held Wake Island under attack by U.S. carrier-based planes in November 1943. (AP Photo) # 

12

Crouching low, U.S. Marines sprint across a beach on Tarawa Island to take the Japanese airport on December 2, 1943. (AP Photo) # 

13

Secondary batteries of an American cruiser formed this pattern of smoke rings as guns from the warship blasted at the Japanese on Makin Island in the Gilberts before U.S. forces invaded the atoll on November 20, 1943. (AP Photo) # 

14

Troops of the 165th infantry, New York's former "Fighting 69th" advance on Butaritari Beach, Makin Atoll, which already was blazing from naval bombardment which preceded on November 20, 1943. The American forces seized the Gilbert Island Atoll from the Japanese. (AP Photo) # 

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15

Sprawled bodies of American soldiers on the beach of Tarawa atoll testify to the ferocity of the battle for this stretch of sand during the U.S. invasion of the Gilbert Islands, in late November 1943. During the 3-day Battle of Tarawa, some 1,000 U.S. Marines died, and another 687 U.S. Navy sailors lost their lives when the USS Liscome Bay was sunk by a Japanese torpedo. (AP Photo) # 

16

U.S. Marines are seen as they advance against Japanese positions during the invasion at Tarawa atoll, Gilbert Islands, in this late November 1943 photo. Of the nearly 5,000 Japanese soldiers and workers on the island, only 146 were captured, the rest were killed. (AP Photo) # 

17

Infantrymen of Company "I" await the word to advance in pursuit of retreating Japanese forces on the Vella Lavella Island Front, in the Solomon Islands, on September 13, 1943. (U.S. Army) # 

18

Two of twelve U.S. A-20 Havoc light bombers on a mission against Kokas, Indonesia in July of 1943. The lower bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire after dropping its bombs, and plunged into the sea, killing both crew members. (USAF) # 

19

Small Japanese craft flee from larger vessels during an American aerial attack on Tonolei Harbor, Japanese base on Bougainville Island, in the Central Solomon Islands on October 9, 1943. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy) # 

20

Two U.S. Marines direct flame throwers at Japanese defenses that block the way to Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi on March 4, 1945. On the left is Pvt. Richard Klatt, of North Fond Dulac, Wisconsin, and on the right is PFC Wilfred Voegeli. (AP Photo/U.S. Marine Corps) # 

21

A member of a U.S. Marine patrol discovers this Japanese family hiding in a hillside cave, June 21, 1944, on Saipan. The mother, four children and a dog took shelter in the cave from the fierce fighting in the area during the U.S. invasion of the Mariana Islands. (AP Photo) # 

22

Columns of troop-packed LCIs (Landing Craft, Infantry) trail in the wake of a Coast Guard-manned LST (Landing Ship, Tank) en route to the invasion of Cape Sansapor, New Guinea in 1944. (Photographer's Mate, 1st Cl. Harry R. Watson/U.S. Coast Guard) # 

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23

Dead Japanese soldiers cover the beach at Tanapag, on Saipan Island, in the Marianas, on July 14, 1944, after their last desperate attack on the U.S. Marines who invaded the Japanese stronghold in the Pacific. An estimated 1,300 Japanese were killed by the Marines in this operation. (AP Photo) # 

24

With its gunner visible in the back cockpit, this Japanese dive bomber, smoke streaming from the cowling, is headed for destruction in the water below after being shot down near Truk, Japanese stronghold in the Carolines, by a Navy PB4Y on July 2, 1944. Lieutenant Commander William Janeshek, pilot of the American plane, said the gunner acted as though he was about to bail out and then suddenly sat down and was still in the plane when it hit the water and exploded. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy) # 

25

As a rocket-firing LCI lays down a barrage on the already obscured beach on Peleliu, a wave of Alligators (LVTs, or Landing Vehicle Tracked) churn toward the defenses of the strategic island September 15, 1944. The amphibious tanks with turret-housed cannons went in in after heavy air and sea bombardment. Army and Marine assault units stormed ashore on Peleliu on September 15, and it was announced that organized resistance was almost entirely ended on September 27. (AP Photo) # 

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26

U.S. Marines of the first Marine Division stand by the corpses of two of their comrades, who were killed by Japanese soldiers on a beach on Peleliu island, Republic of Palau, in September of 1944. After the end of the invasion, 10,695 of the 11,000 Japanese soldiers stationed on the island had been killed, only some 200 captured. U.S. forces suffered some 9,800 casualties, including 1,794 killed. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal/Pool) # 

27

Para-frag bombs fall toward a camouflaged Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-21, "Sally", during an attack by the US Army Fifth Air Force against Old Namlea airport on Buru Island, Dutch East Indies, on October 15, 1944. A few seconds after this picture was taken the aircraft was engulfed in flames. The design of the para-frag bomb enabled low flying bombing attacks to be carried out with higher accuracy. (AP Photo) # 

28

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, center, is accompanied by his officers and Sergio Osmena, president of the Philippines in exile, extreme left, as he wades ashore during landing operations at Leyte, Philippines, on October 20, 1944, after U.S. forces recaptured the beach of the Japanese-occupied island. (AP Photo/U.S. Army) # 

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29

The bodies of Japanese soldiers lie strewn across a hillside after being shot by U.S. soldiers as they attempted a banzai charge over a ridge in Guam, in 1944. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal) # 

30

Smoke billows up from the Kowloon Docks and railroad yards after a surprise bombing attack on Hong Kong harbor by the U.S. Army 14th Air Force Oct. 16, 1944. A Japanese fighter plane (left center) turns in a climb to attack the bombers. Between the Royal Navy yard, left, enemy vessels spout flames, and just outside the boat basin, foreground, another ship has been hit. (AP Photo) # 

31

A Japanese torpedo bomber goes down in flames after a direct hit by 5-inch shells from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, on October 25, 1944. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy) # 

32

Landing barges loaded with U.S. troops bound for the beaches of Leyte island, in October 1944, as American and Japanese fighter planes duel to the death overhead. The men aboard the crafts watch the dramatic battle in the sky as they approach the shore. (AP Photo) # 

33

This photo provided by former Kamikaze pilot Toshio Yoshitake, shows Yoshitake, right, and his fellow pilots, from left, Tetsuya Ueno, Koshiro Hayashi, Naoki Okagami and Takao Oi, as they pose together in front of a Zero fighter plane before taking off from the Imperial Army airstrip in Choshi, just east of Tokyo, on November 8, 1944. None of the 17 other pilots and flight instructors who flew with Yoshitake on that day survived. Yoshitake only survived because an American warplane shot him out of the air, he crash-landed and was rescued by Japanese soldiers. (AP Photo) # 

34

A Japanese kamikaze pilot in a damaged single-engine bomber, moments before striking the U.S. Aircraft Carrier USS Essex, off the Philippine Islands, on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy) # 

35

A closer view of the Japanese kamikaze aircraft, smoking from antiaircraft hits and veering slightly to left moments before slamming into the USS Essex on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy) # 

36

Aftermath of the November 25, 1943 kamikaze attack against the USS Essex. Fire-fighters and scattered fragments of the Japanese aircraft cover the flight deck. The plane struck the port edge of the flight deck, landing among planes fueled for takeoff, causing extensive damage, killing 15, and wounding 44. (U.S. Navy) # 

37

The battleship USS Pennsylvania, followed by three cruisers, moves in line into Lingayen Gulf preceding the landing on Luzon, in the Philippines, in January of 1945. (U.S. Navy) # 

38

U.S. Marines going ashore at Iwo Jima, a Japanese Island which was invaded on February 19, 1945. Photo made by a Naval Photographer, who flew over the armada of Navy and coast guard vessels in a Navy search plane. (AP Photo) # 

39

A U.S. Marine, killed by Japanese sniper fire, still holds his weapon as he lies in the black volcanic sand of Iwo Jima, on February 19, 1945, during the initial invasion on the island. In the background are the battleships of the U.S. fleet that made up the invasion task force. (AP Photo) # 

40

U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment of the Fifth Division raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on February 23, 1945. The Battle of Iwo Jima was the costliest in Marine Corps history, with almost 7,000 Americans killed in 36 days of fighting. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal) # 

41

A U.S. cruiser fires her main batteries at Japanese positions on the southern tip of Okinawa, Japan in 1945. (AP Photo) # 

42

U.S. invasion forces establish a beachhead on Okinawa island, about 350 miles from the Japanese mainland, on April 13. 1945. Pouring out war supplies and military equipment, the landing crafts fill the sea to the horizon, in the distance, battleships of the U.S. fleet. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard) # 

43

An attack on one of the caves connected to a three-tier blockhouse destroys the structure on the edge of Turkey Nob, giving a clear view of the beachhead toward the southwest on Iwo Jima, as U.S. Marines storm the island on April 2, 1945. (AP Photo/W. Eugene Smith) # 

44

The USS Santa Fe lies alongside the heavily listing USS Franklin to provide assistance after the aircraft carrier had been hit and set afire by a single Japanese dive bomber, during the Okinawa invasion, on March 19, 1945, off the coast of Honshu, Japan. More than 800 aboard were killed, with survivors frantically fighting fires and making enough repairs to save the ship. (AP Photo) #

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