With a woosh and a crack the whip played its tune…
“Ok! Focus!!!” she commanded in menacing tones, “This is not about SJS’s conscripts. This is about me. I am looking bad on Twitter. The Army killed on the D-Day commemorations and we have bupkis going here!” Again the whip played its stinging dance on the backs of the assembled scribes as they bent and strained to the task at hand. “Surely,” the lowly scribes thought, “surely even Pharaoh in all his mighty splendor could not summon and make the lash play as this one can”. And with a bone-crushing groan, they set about their assigned tasks…
Well, Maggie did point out in her own, ahem, unique manner that attention was to be drawn to the 65th anniversary of the battles of Leyte Gulf (23-26 Oct 1944). Now then, since our (yes, I said -our- as there are more than one that will be engaged in this project) intent is another blog project on the Central Pacific campaign *culminating* at Leyte next year, we offer a sampling of written and visuals in honor of the current occasion.
Circling, dancing overhead, the lash made for another descent on the huddled scribes below… – SJS
The battle and surrounding events summarized
10 October-30 November--Occupation of Leyte– The opening blow of the campaign was struck (10 Oct) by Task Force 38 (Vice Admiral M. A. Mitscher) against airfields on Okinawa and the Ryukyus. This force, built around 17 carriers hit airfields on northern Luzon (11 and 14 Oct), on Formosa (12-14 Oct), and in the Manila area (15 Oct), destroying 438 enemy aircraft in the air and 366 on the ground in 5 strike days. These and other strikes concentrated on reinforcement staging areas and effectively cleared the air for the landing (20 Oct) of Southwest Pacific Army troops on Leyte. Fast carrier support of the ground campaign was supplemented (18-23 Oct) by the action of 18 CVE’s organized in three elements under TG 77.4 (Rear Admiral T. L. Sprague).
A major disruptive effort by the Japanese Fleet was opposed by surface and air elements of the Seventh Fleet (Vice Admiral T. C. Kinkaid) and by the Fast Carrier Force of the Third Fleet (Vice Admiral W. F. Halsey) in three related actions of The Battle for Leyte Gulf (23-26 Oct). As the Japanese Fleet, in three elements identified as Southern, Central, and Northern Forces, converged on Leyte Gulf from as many directions, Fast Carrier Force aircraft (24 Oct) hit the Southern Force in the Sulu Sea, attacked the Central Force in the Sibuyan Sea, sinking the 63,000 ton battleship Musashi and a destroyer, and was itself under air attack resulting in the loss of Princeton. Seventh Fleet surface elements turned back the Southern Force in a brief intensive action before daylight in the Battle of Surigao Strait (25 Oct), sinking two battleships and three destroyers. The Japanese Central Force made a night passage through San Bernardino Strait and at daylight took under fire six escort carriers and screen of TG 77.4, and was opposed by a combined air and ship action in the Battle Off Samar (25 Oct) in which Gambier Bay, two destroyers, and one destroyer escort were sunk by enemy gunfire and three Japanese heavy cruisers were sunk by carrier air. At the same time the Fast Carrier Force met the Northern Force in the Battle Off Cape Engano, sinking the heavy carrier Zuikaku and light carriers Chiyoda, Zuiho, and Chilose, the latter with the assistance of cruiser gunfire. Off Leyte, Kamikaze pilots, in the first planned suicide attacks of the war, hit the escort carriers and sank the St. Lo and damaged the Sangamon, Suwannee (AO 33), Santee, White Plains, Kalinin Bay, and Kitkun Bay. As remnants of the Japanese Fleet limped homeward through the Central Philippines, (26-27 Oct) carrier aircraft sank a light cruiser and four destroyers to bring Japanese battle losses to 26 major combatant ships totaling over 300,000 tons.
Direct air support in the Leyte-Samar area was assumed by Allied Air based at Tacloban (27 Oct) and 2 days later the escort carriers retired. Later one group operated at sea to protect convoys from the Admiralties against air and submarine attack (19-28 Nov) and another group performed the same services (14-23 Nov) for convoys from Ulithi. The Fast Carrier Force also continued support for 2 days attacking airfields on Luzon and in the Visayas (27-28 Oct), shipping near Cebu (28 Oct), and Luzon airfields and shipping in Manila Bay (29 Oct). In supporting operations during October, carrier aircraft destroyed 1,046 enemy aircraft.
Requirements for continued carrier air support for the campaign caused cancellation of a planned Fast Carrier Strike on Tokyo, and Task Force 38 (now under Vice Admiral J. S. McCain) sortied from Ulithi to hit Luzon and Mindoro airfields and strike shipping in Manila Bay (5-6 Nov), sinking a heavy cruiser and other ships; hit a reinforcement convoy of four transports and five destroyers in Ormoc Bay (11 Nov) sinking all but one destroyer; shifted to Luzon and the Manila area (13-14 Nov) and sank a light cruiser, four destroyers, and 20 merchant and auxiliary ships; hit the same areas again (19 and 25 Nov), sinking another heavy cruiser and several auxiliaries; and wound up the month’s operations with an aerial score of 770 enemy aircraft destroyed. During these actions, the force was under several Kamikaze attacks which damaged the carriers Intrepid (29 Oct), Franklin and Belleau Wood (30 Oct), Lexington (5 Nov), Essex, Intrepid, and Cabot (25 Nov), two seriously enough to require Navy Yard repairs.
But like any battle, the larger tapestry is made up of intricate elements, each one a portrait in courage. In the warp and woof are woven the obscure and plainly evident, collective and individual acts of bravery, professionalism and honor. Some were recognized like Cherokee Evans, Taffy III and Samar; or CAG McCampbell leading the fight against eighty Zeros. Many were not. Media carried the day with the folks back home, especially photos of promises fulfilled for returning. For all that, Leyte was in some instances, also a collection of missed opportunities for which a solitary telegram would end up tagging and haunting a fierce and proud warrior. For the Japanese Navy which barely three years previous had ranged the Western Pacific and adjacent waters pretty much unmolested and unchallenged, Leyte would prove the end. Signifying that point was the attack on and sinking of the super-battleship, Yamato, detailed here, in the wake of a furious attack by carrier aircraft.
In practice, Leyte Gulf would be the last major, or epic seabattle – not only of this war, but on a scale that in the intervening 65 years has not been seen again except in the war gaming labs of war colleges sprinkled about the globe. It was the beginning of the final phase, the noose tightening evermore around the Japanese homeland, as the US and allies approached the fateful day when the combined fury of nations stirred from peace and into war sought to ring down the curtain on the Rising Sun.