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The Battle of Leyte Gulf, also called the "Battles for Leyte Gulf", and formerly known as the "Second Battle of the Philippine Sea", is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and also one of the largest naval battles in history.

It was fought in waters near the Philippinemarker islands of Leytemarker, Samarmarker, and Luzonmarker, from 23 to 26 October 1944, between naval and naval-air forces of the Allies and those of the Empire of Japanmarker. On 20 October, United States troops invaded the island of Leytemarker as part of a strategy aimed at isolating Japan from the countries it had occupied in South East Asia, and in particular depriving its forces and industry of vital oil supplies. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) mobilized nearly all of its remaining major naval vessels in an attempt to defeat the Allied invasion, but was repulsed by the US Navy's 3rd and 7th Fleet. The IJN failed to achieve its objective, suffered very heavy losses, and never afterwards sailed to battle in comparable force. The majority of its surviving heavy ships, deprived of petroleum fuel, remained in their bases for the rest of the Pacific War.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf included four major naval battles: the Battle of the Sibuyan Seamarker, the Battle of Surigao Straitmarker, the Battle off Cape Engaño and the Battle off Samar, as well as other actions.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf is also notable as the first battle in which Japanese aircraft carried out organized kamikaze attacks. Also worth noting is the fact that Japan at this battle had fewer aircraft than the Allied Forces had sea vessels, a clear demonstration of the difference in power of the two sides at this point of the war.

Background

The campaigns of August 1942 to early 1944 had driven Japanese forces from many of their island bases in the south and central Pacific Oceanmarker, while isolating many of their other bases (most notably in the Solomon Islandsmarker, Bismarck Archipelagomarker, Admiralty Islandsmarker, New Guineamarker, Marshall Islandsmarker, and Wake Islandmarker), 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 Islandsmarker (bypassing Rota). This offensive breached Japan's strategic inner defense ring and gave the Americans a base from which long-range 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.

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 Formosamarker 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 an affront to the personal honor of 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 initially 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 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.It was also estimated that an invasion of Formosa would require about 12 divisions of U.S. Army soldiers and U.S. Marines, and that was more land power than the Americans could muster in the whole Pacific Ocean area at that time. The entire Australian Army was engaged in the Solomon Islands, on New Guinea, in the Dutch East Indiesmarker, and on various other Pacific islands.

Perhaps the most decisive consideration against the Formosa-China plan, as envisaged by Admiral King and others, was that 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.

It was eventually decided that MacArthur's forces would invade the island of Leyte in the central Philippines. The 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 , and the destroyer , and possibly a few warships from New Zealandmarker and/or The Netherlandsmarker.

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 serious and fundamental defect in this plan was that there would be no overall American naval admiral in 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 failed to designate an overall commander.

The American options were equally apparent to the Imperial Japanese Navy. Combined Fleet Chief Soemu Toyoda prepared four "victory" plans: Shō-Gō 1 ( ) 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 Ryukyumarker and Kurile Islandsmarker respectively. The plans were for complex offensive operations committing nearly all available forces to a decisive battle and therefore of necessity substantially depleting Japan's slender reserves of oil fuel.

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.

Shō-Gō 1 called for Vice-Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa's ships, known as 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 Admirals Nishimura and Shima would strike at the landing area via Surigao Strait. The Center Force under Admiral 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.

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:

The submarine action in Palawan Passage (23 October)

(Note: this action is referred to by Morison as "The Fight in Palawan Passage", 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 ( , , , , and ), ten heavy cruisers ( , , , , , , , , and ), two light cruisers ( and ) and 15 destroyers.

Kurita's ships passed Palawan Island around midnight on 22-23 October. The American submarines and were positioned in company with each other on the surface close by. At 00:16 on 23 October, Darter s radar detected the Japanese formation at a range of . 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.

Darter and Dace (travelling on the surface at full power) after several hours 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).

Atago and Maya quickly sank. Takao turned back to Bruneimarker 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; 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.

The Battle of the Sibuyan Sea (24 October)



Around 08:00 on 24 October, the Center Force was spotted and attacked entering the Sibuyan Seamarker by VF-20 squadron Hellcat fighters, VB-20 Helldiver dive bombers, and VT-20 Avenger torpedo bombers from 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 — 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).

hit by a bomb near her forward gun turret in the Sibuyan Sea.


Planes from carriers Intrepid and of Bogan's group attacked at about 10:30, making hits on the battleships Nagato, Yamato, Musashi and severely damaging the heavy cruiser Myōkō. A second wave from Intrepid, and 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 hit her with 11 bombs and 8 torpedoes.

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.

Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi had directed three waves of aircraft from his First Air Fleet based on Luzonmarker 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.

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 with a 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 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 — at 17:50.

In all US 3rd Fleet flew 259 sorties against Center Force, mostly by Hellcats, 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.

As a result of the momentous decision now taken by Admiral Halsey, Kurita was able to proceed through San Bernardino Straitmarker during the night, to make an unexpected and dramatic appearance off the coast of Samarmarker 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 a telegraphic radio message to his subordinate task group commanders, giving details of this contingency plan :

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 Kincaid (7th Fleet) as information addressee. 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 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:

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 Kincaid of his second clarifying message was to have a profound influence on the subsequent course of the battle.

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):

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".

Halsey and his staff officers ignored information from a night reconnaissance aircraft operating from the light carrier 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.

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

The Battle of Surigao Strait (25 October)



Nishimura's "Southern Force" consisted of the battleships and , the heavy cruiser , and four destroyers. They were attacked by 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 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: , , , , , and ; all but Mississippi had been sunk or damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbormarker and since repaired. There were the and guns of the four heavy cruisers ( (Flagship), , and HMAS Shropshire) and four light cruisers ( , , and ). There were also the smaller guns and torpedoes of 28 destroyers and 39 motor torpedo boats 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.

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.

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, , was hit but able to retire, and later sank.

At 03:16, West Virginia s radar picked up the surviving ships of Nishimura's force at a range of and had achieved a firing solution at . West Virginia tracked them as they approached in the pitch black night. At 03:53, she fired the eight guns of her main battery at a range of , 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 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.

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 projectiles. Pennsylvania was unable to find a target and her guns remained silent.

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

Yamashiro and Mogami were crippled by a combination of and armor-piercing shells, as well as the fire of Oldendorf's flanking cruisers. 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 approached Surigao Strait about 40 miles astern of Nishimura. It too came under attack from the PT boats, and one of these hit the light cruiser Abukuma with a torpedo which crippled her and caused her to fall out of formation. Shima's two heavy cruisers ( and ) and eight destroyers 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.

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.

The Battle off Samar (25 October)



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 Straitmarker at 03:00 on 25 October and steamed southward along the coast of the island of Samarmarker. 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 ), six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and 11 destroyers.

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.

The destroyer 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, and , and the destroyer escort , attacked with suicidal determination, drawing fire and disrupting the Japanese formation as ships turned to avoid their torpedoes.

Meanwhile, Thomas Sprague 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. , at the rear of the American formation, was sunk, while most of the other carriers were damaged.

Admiral Kurita withdraws

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. 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."

Almost all of his 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 of Taffy 3 was hit by a kamikaze aircraft and sank after a series of internal explosions.

Losses

Two escort carriers Gambier Bay and St. Lo, the destroyers Hoel and Johnston, and the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts were sunk and four other American ships damaged. The destroyer Heermann, 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 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.

The Battle of/off Cape Engaño (25–26 October)



Ozawa's "Northern Force" comprised four aircraft carriers( — the last survivor of the six carriers which had attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 — the light carriers , , and ), two World War I battleships partially converted to carriers ( and — 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 ( , , and ), and nine destroyers. His force had only 108 aircraft.

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, had been too involved with attacking Kurita and defending itself against the air strikes from Luzon. On the evening of 24 October, Ozawa intercepted an American signal describing Kurita's withdrawal. He therefore began to withdraw his force as well, but at 20:00 Soemu Toyoda ordered all forces to the attack, 'counting on divine assistance'. Ozawa therefore turned southwards again — towards 3rd Fleet.

Halsey was convinced that the Northern Force was the main threat, and was determined to seize what he saw as an almost perfect opportunity to destroy Japan's remaining carrier strength. Believing that the Japanese Center Force had been neutralized by 3rd Fleet's air strikes on 24 October in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, and that its remnants were retiring to Bruneimarker, Halsey radioed "Central Force heavily damaged according to strike reports. Am proceeding north with three groups to attack carrier forces at dawn."

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 ( , , , , and ), five light fleet carriers ( , , , , and ), six battleships ( , , , , , and ), 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.

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.



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.

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

Shortly after 08:00, desperate messages calling for assistance began to come in from 7th Fleet. One 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. In fact, the 7th Fleet battleships were not as short of ammunition as Kinkaid's signal implied, but Halsey did not know that.

From 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 listeners (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 Balaklava – 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 two 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.

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 – 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.

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

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.

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 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 'Bill' Halsey) with an allusion to the Battle of Bull Runmarker in the American Civil War.

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

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. 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. In addition, Halsey may well have been influenced by the criticisms of Admiral 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. 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:

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

Instead, as Morison also observes:

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

Aftermath



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 Leytemarker 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 Baymarker — engagements collectively referred to as the Battle of Ormoc Bay.

The Imperial Japanese Navy had suffered its greatest loss of ships and crew in its history. 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 her occupied territories in Southeast Asia. These territories provided resources which were vital to Japan, in particular the oil needed for her 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 Islandsmarker in 1945.

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 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:

Notes

  1. Howard (1999).


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