Leyte Gulf, Battle of
Operation Sho‐I, a typically complex Japanese plan, called for closely coordinated movements by four separate forces. To lure Halsey's Third Fleet away, the Japanese dangled far to the north four aircraft carriers, which had lost most of their planes in June during the earlier Battle of the Philippine Sea. Meanwhile, Vice Adm. Takeo Kurita's central force, composed of the strongest gun ships, including the giant battleships Yamato and Musashi, was to pass through San Bernardino Strait and fall upon Kinkaid's transports and supply ships from the east. The Japanese southern force, composed of two weaker groups of gun ships, would advance through Surigao Strait and assail the American landing from the south.
The battle started badly for the Japanese when their central force was ambushed on 23 October by submarines, which sounded the alarm and sank two cruisers. Alerted to the approach of Kurita, Halsey's aviators concentrated on the Musashi, sinking that battleship and compelling the central force to reverse course. Halsey next sighted the Japanese carriers, and thinking that Kurita was in retreat, headed north with his entire force. Unobserved, Kurita soon doubled back and slipped through San Bernardino Strait.
Simultaneously, the Japanese gun ships making up the southern force approached Surigao Strait. They ran headlong into Kinkaid's warships: destroyers, cruisers, and six old battleships, five of which were veterans of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In history's last clash between battleships, the Japanese were routed early on 25 October at trifling cost to the Americans.
But at sunrise the same morning, the larger Japanese gamble seemed to have paid off. Kurita's ships fell on the few American vessels steaming to the east of Leyte Gulf: six small escort carriers with their spare destroyer screen. Tailored to the support of ground troops, these American vessels were ill‐prepared to deal with the largest ships in the Imperial Fleet. Yet off the island of Samar, American sailors fought for over two hours with such skill and bravery that Kurita, after losing three heavy cruisers to torpedoes, and believing he confronted Halsey's Third Fleet, ordered withdrawal. Having sunk only the escort carrier Gambier Bay and three smaller ships, Kurita limped back through San Bernardino Strait leaving untouched the vital American transports and landing craft at Leyte.
Overall, the American triumph was not unalloyed. Kurita's appearance off Leyte had compelled Halsey to break off his pursuit of the remainder of the Japanese northern force, although not before his aviators had sunk all four of the enemy carriers. The Japanese also won some successes with their land‐based aircraft. On 24 October, a dive‐bomber hit the torpedo storage area of the light carrier Princeton, setting off explosions that sank the ship. The next day, the first kamikazes of the war damaged five escort carriers and sank a sixth, the St. Lô.
Still, the battle was an overwhelming defeat for the Imperial Fleet. Of the 282 warships engaged (216 American, 2 Australian, and 64 Japanese), the Japanese lost 4 carriers, 3 battleships, 10 cruisers, and 11 destroyers. American losses totaled one light carrier, two escort carriers, and three destroyers. For all practical purposes, the Japanese navy had ceased to exist as an organized fighting force.
[See also Navy, U.S.: 1899–1945; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course; World War II: U.S. Naval Operations in: The Pacific.]
C. Vann Woodward , The Battle for Leyte Gulf, 1947.
Samuel E. Morison , History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. 12: Leyte: June 1944–January 1945, 1963.
Edwin Hoyt , The Battle for Leyte Gulf, 1972.
Thomas J. Cutler , The Battle of Leyte Gulf, 23–26 October 1944, 1994.
Malcolm Muir, Jr.
Leyte Gulf, Battle of
LEYTE GULF, BATTLE OF
LEYTE GULF, BATTLE OF (23–25 October 1944). As the first step in recapturing the Philippines, a huge American armada descended on Leyte Island in mid-October 1944. The invasion force, Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet, included some seven hundred vessels and five hundred aircraft. Supporting it was the Third Fleet, under Admiral William F. Halsey, with nearly one hundred warships and more than one thousand planes. Japan's sixty-four warships, operating under a defensive plan called Sho (Victory), immediately countered. From the north, aircraft carriers under Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa would lure Halsey away so that Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's battleships and Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima's cruisers could attack the exposed American amphibious assault units in Leyte Gulf.
Kurita's force left Borneo on 22 October in two groups. The larger group, under Kurita, would pass through the San Bernardino Strait and enter Leyte Gulf from the north. A smaller force, under Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura, moved through the Sulu Sea toward Surigao Strait—the southern entrance to Leyte Gulf—which he planned to enter simultaneously with Kurita. Early on 23 October, two American submarines attacked Kurita, sinking two heavy cruisers and badly damaging a third. Planes from Halsey's carriers assaulted Kurita the next day, sinking the 64,000-ton superbattleship Musashi and crippling a heavy cruiser. Simultaneously, land-based Japanese aircraft sank one of Halsey's carriers. Kurita, badly shaken, returned to Leyte Gulf too late for his planned rendezvous with Nishimura and Shima.
To the south, Kinkaid intercepted Nishimura in Surigao Strait. The American battleships and cruisers formed a line across the northern end of the strait, while destroyers and torpedo boats were stationed ahead to attack the Japanese flanks. First contact came about midnight of 24– 25 October, and, within a few hours, Nishimura was destroyed. Of seven Japanese vessels entering Surigao Strait, only a damaged cruiser and destroyer managed to escape. Only one U.S. destroyer was damaged, mistakenly struck by American fire. Shima's force, arriving shortly thereafter, was also warmly greeted but escaped with only slight damage. Pursuing American ships and planes sank another cruiser and destroyer before the surviving Japanese force could get away.
Meanwhile, before dawn on 25 October, Kurita's force steamed for Leyte Gulf. Halsey, who should have intercepted him, had rushed north to attack Ozawa, in the mistaken belief that Kurita was crippled and that Ozawa's carriers now constituted the main threat. Shortly after sunrise, Kurita struck Kinkaid's northernmost unit, a small force of escort carriers and destroyers. The tiny American force fought off the powerful Japanese fleet, while American destroyers made repeated attacks to cover the fleeing escort carriers. Suddenly, Kurita broke off his attack. Although he had sunk one escort carrier and three destroyers, he had suffered considerable damage. Aware of the destruction of Nishimura and Shima, and believing that he could no longer reach Leyte Gulf in time to do significant damage, the Japanese commander elected to escape with the remnants of his fleet. Far to the north, on the afternoon of 25 October in the final action of the battle, Halsey struck Ozawa's decoy force, sinking four Japanese carriers, a cruiser, and two destroyers.
The lopsided American victory destroyed the Japanese fleet as an effective fighting force. It also ensured the conquest of Leyte and cleared the way for the invasion and ultimate recapture of the Philippine Islands.
Cannon, M. Hamlin. Leyte: The Return to the Philippines. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1954.
Falk, Stanley L. Decision at Leyte. New York: Norton, 1966.
Stanley L.Falk/a. r.