Edited by Gerald Boerner
While most of the battles in the Pacific were focused on recapturing those islands that would put our B-29 bombers within range of the Japanese home islands, one of the most significant naval battles occurred while regaining control of the Philippines for General Douglas MacArthur. The Battle of Leyte Gulf pitted battleship against battleship rather than the more common battles between the planes of one aircraft carrier against another. This Battle of Leyte Gulf has been called by some “the largest naval battle in history.”
The naval forces of the U.S. Navy’s 3rd and 7th fleets under the command of Admiral William “Bull Run” Halsey. It consisted of four separate engagements with the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). These were the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle off Cape Engaño and the Battle off Samar. During these skirmishes, Halsey took his Task Force 13, with most of the aircraft carriers, to pursue a decoy group of Japanese carriers; Halsey was criticized for this move.
In the end, the U.S. Navy was victorious and MacArthur made a successful landing of troops on Leyte. This act was a fulfillment that MacArthur made to the Philippine people when he withdrew to Australia at the beginning of the war. He DID return!
But let us now get on with our examination of the general details of this major encounter of World War II in the Pacific. As opposed to the war in the European theater, war in the Pacific theater was heavily dependent upon the Navy and its aircraft. So, let’s get going… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 2931 Words ]
Quotations Related to William F. Halsey & Douglas MacArthur:
“I never trust a fighting man who doesnt smoke or drink.”
— William Halsey
“A better world shall emerge based on faith and understanding.”
— Douglas MacArthur
“If you want to go anywhere in modern war, in the air, on the sea, on the land, you must have command of the air.”
— William Halsey
“Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it.”
— Douglas MacArthur
“There are no extraordinary men… just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with.”
— William Halsey
“And like the old soldier in that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the sight to see that duty.”
— Douglas MacArthur
“Could I have but a line a century hence crediting a contribution to the advance of peace, I would yield every honor which has been accorded by war.”
— Douglas MacArthur
“I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.”
— Douglas MacArthur
World War II: The Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines…
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, by some criteria, possibly the largest naval battle in history.
It was fought in waters near the Philippine islands of Leyte, Samar from 23–26 October 1944, between combined US and Australian forces and the Imperial Japanese Navy. On 20 October, United States troops invaded the island of Leyte 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 U.S. Navy’s 3rd and 7th Fleets. 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 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 Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, 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.
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 U.S. 5th 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 Imperial Japanese Navy (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 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. 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.
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 U.S 3rd Fleet—commanded by Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., with Task Force 38 (TF 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 IJN. 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 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 U.S. 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 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 U.S. 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.
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 Japanese Officials’
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.
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.
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.’
Months after the battle the US Navy knew that the American public had to be told something. The battle had been too large, involved too many US military personnel and had resulted in too much loss of life just to ignore. To this end the US Navy provided most of the information to the publication Popular Mechanics to publish an article on the battle showing the American public that the battle had gone exactly as Halsey had planned. It was several years before the true story of Halsey’s decision to leave the San Bernardino Strait unguarded became known to the American public.
Please take time to further explore more about Battle of Leyte Gulf, Battle of Leyte, William F. Halsey, Douglas MacArthur, Kamikaze, Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, Battle of Surigao Strait, Battle off Cape Engaño, Battle off Samar, Battle of the Philippine Sea, Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), U.S. Navy’s 3rd Fleet, and the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…
Other Events on this Day:
Seventy-six-year-old John Stevens of Hoboken, New Jersey, completes the first U.S. steam locomotive to pull a train on a track.
Union forces prevail in the Battle of Westport, near Kansas City, Missouri, one of the largest Civil War engagements west of the Mississippi.
Blanche S. Scott is the first female aviator to give a solo public demonstration, flying over Fort Wayne, Indiana.
More than 25,000 women march down New York City’s Fifth Avenue, demanding the right to vote.
The three-day Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of World War II, begins in the Philippines; it ends in an Allied victory.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators take to the streets in Budapest, Hungary, calling for the reinstatement of Prime Minister Imre Nagy and freedom from Soviet control over their country. Over the next two weeks, several thousand people will be killed in clashes with Hungarian secret police and Soviet troops.
A suicide truck bomb detonates at the U.S. Marine Corps barracks at Beirut International Airport, killing 241 Marines, sailors, and soldiers. Minutes later, a second terrorist attack claims the lives of 58 paratroopers at the nearby French barracks.
The Statue of Freedom returns to the top of the U.S. Capitol dome.
James Kopp, a member of the Christian terrorist group "Army of God," shoots and kills Barnett Slepian, a physician who had performed abortions, through Slepian’s kitchen window in Amherst, New York.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Battle of Leyte Gulf…
Wikipedia: Battle of Leyte…
Wikipedia: William F. Halsey…
Wikipedia: Douglas MacArthur…
Brainy Quote: William F. Halsey Quotes…
Brainy Quote: Douglas MacArthur Quotes…
Other Posts on related Topics:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: General Douglas MacArthur…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: MacArthur Returns to the Philippines…