From October 23-26, 1944, the United States and Japan were engaged in the Battle of Leyte Gulf near the Philippine islands of Leyte, Samar, and Luzon. This battle is known as the largest naval battle in history. The naval battles Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle off Cape Engano and the Battle off Samar are included in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Allied forces, under the command of Admiral William Halsey, went into battle with 8 fleet carriers, 8 light carriers, 18 escort carriers, 12 battleships, 24 cruisers, and 141 destroyers and destroyer escorts.
The Japanese, lead by Admiral Soemu Toyoda sent almost all that remained of the surface fleet; 1 fleet carrier, 3 light carriers, 9 battleships, 14 heavy cruisers, 6 light cruisers, 35+ destroyers. This was the first battle in which the Japanese employed kamikaze attacks. Already luck was not on Japan’s side; Japan had fewer aircraft than the Allied forces had sea vessels. Initial landings were to take place on the island of Leyte with the ground forces lead by General Douglas MacArthur.
Aware of the planned Allie invasion, the Japanese initiated plan Sho-Go 1 to block the invasion which required them to mobilize nearly all of its remaining major naval vessels divided into four separate forces. Earlier on October 20, United States soldiers had invaded the island of Leyte as part of a strategy to isolate Japan and cut off the country’s oil supplies. Deprived of fuel, Japan’s navy suffered heavy losses from which it never recovered. The first step was to lure the Third Fleet away from Leyte Gulf through the use of a decoy.
As the U. S. Seventh Fleet covered the sea east of Leyte, supporting MacArthur’s landings, Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet was on the coast of Samar Island, prepared to handle the Japanese Navy. Japan’s answer was to send out three task groups. One of the task forces, -the Northern Force- made up of four aircraft carriers without any planes was sent out as the decoy. Japan’s plan was to come from the west of Leyte in two task groups and attack the Seventh Fleet from two directions, while the Sixth Fleet was drawn away by the decoy.
The two forces were The Southern Force -under Vice Admiral S. Nishimura,- and the Center Force -under Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita. – The Southern Force planned to come from the south of Leyte, and the Center Force would enter from the North. The two pronged pincer strategy was expected to destroy the Seventh Fleet. The first clash occurred on 23 October 1944 off the coast of Palawan Island. The Japanese armada was found and American submarines sank two cruisers. The next day, the Seventh fleet -on guard from the previous sightings,- moved to block the southern entrances to Leyte.
The Third Fleet Aircraft searched on the west side of Leyte and found the Japanese task forces -Center Force- in the Sibuyan Sea, and -Southern Force- in the Sulu Sea. 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.
In these first two clashes two heavy cruisers and a Japanese battleship was sunk, and major damage had been caused to the Japanese Center Force, forcing some ships back to Brunei. American lost the USS Princeton in these clashes, due to an air attack. As the battles slowed down on the afternoon of October 24, an American plane caught sight of the Japanese Northern Force decoy fleet towards the north of Leyte. Admiral Hasley followed the bait, and the entire Third Fleet was sent to pursue the decoy force.
On the morning of October 25, at Cape Engano, a battle was fought between the Northern Force and Hasley’s carrier planes, resulting in the loss of majority of the Japanese Northern Force. Since this had just been a decoy, Hasley ended the battle early. On the night of October 24, the Japanese Center Force and Southern Force, -who had made it through the air attacks,- continued on their individual paths toward Leyte Gulf, and MacArthur’s transports and escort carriers. The next morning October 25, in Surigao Strait located south of Leyte, Nishimura nd his Southern Force were confronted with PT boats, destroyers, cruisers and old overhauled battleships of the US Seventh Fleet. The American forces reigned in strength and tactics and successfully sunk two battleships, and three out of four destroyers, the battle also took the life of Nishimura. The second wave of the Southern Force retreated to Japan after seeing the annihilation of the first wave. In the Battle off Samar, the large Japanese ships were against the comparatively smaller, and lightly armoured ships.
The commander of the Japanese Center Force, Kurita, was the victim of misinformation which ruined his judgement; Kurita mistook American destroyers for heavier cruisers. The American forces used smoke screens to decrease Japanese visibility, and therefore decrease fire accuracy. A lucky rain squall further reduced visibility. Eventually the American Forces defeated the Japanese Center Force, and the remaining Center Force withdrew ending the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Historians are still unsure as to why the Center Force withdrew despite having enough firepower to possible defeat the Seventh Fleet,
The Battle of Leyte Gulf was a major turning point in the war in the Pacific. Major-General J. F. C. Fuller sums it up best: “The Japanese fleet had [effectively] ceased to exist, and, except by land-based aircraft, their opponents had won undisputed command of the sea. ” The Japanese would now have to rely on land forces. The losses in this battle were numerous; the American forces lost more than 1,500 lives, 1 light aircraft carrier, 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers, and 1 destroyer was sunk. The Japanese losses were even larger; more than 10,000 dead, 1 fleet carrier, 3 light carriers, 3 battleships, 8 cruisers, and 12 destroyers were sunk.