World War II Day by Day World War II was the single most devastating and horrific event in the history of the world, causing the death of some 70 million people, reshaping the political map of the twentieth century and ushering in a new era of world history. Every day The Daily Chronicles brings you a new story from the annals of World War II with a vision to preserve the memory of those who suffered in the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen.


Off the Coast of Leyte Island, the Philippines October 23, 1944

Allied campaigns from August 1942 to early 1944 had driven Japa­nese forces from many of their South and Central Pacific island bases, while iso­lating many of their other bases in the same area. The Allies by­passed a few Japa­nese bases like Rota in the Marianas as they muscled their way past Japan’s so-called “abso­lute defense peri­meter,” that coun­try’s chain of front­line land, air, and naval bases in the Pacific, but chose to capture neigh­boring Saipan and Tinian islands. How­ever, the consid­er­able air power Japan had amassed in the Philip­pines, a U.S. terri­tory that had fallen to the enemy when the last Amer­i­can garri­son was over­powered in May 1942, was thought to be too dan­ger­ous to bypass en route to attacking the Japanese homeland. In a series of exchanges between Gen. Douglas Mac­Arthur, Allied Supreme Com­mander, South­west Pacific Area, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C., in August and Septem­ber 1944, the Philip­pines was identified as the next stra­tegic target. It was decided that Mac­Arthur’s triad force, con­sisting of the U.S. Sixth Army, the U.S. Seventh Fleet, and the U.S. Fifth Air Force, would invade the island of Leyte and ful­fill the general’s 1942 promise to return to Philippine soil.

On October 20, 1944, an Allied fleet of more than 730 trans­port, supply, and escort ves­sels, supported by air­craft carriers and 100 war­ships, disgorged 160,000 U.S. troops onto Leyte Island. Three days later on this date, Octo­ber 23, 1944, and over the next several days, air and naval forces of the Imperial Japa­nese Navy counter­attacked in the do-or-die-trying Battle of Leyte Gulf, which actually con­sisted of four separate engage­ments by four Japa­nese fleets: the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea (Octo­ber 23–24), the Battle of Surigao Strait and the Battle off Samar (October 25), and the Battle of Cape Engaño (October 25–26). Separated by great distances, these indi­vid­ual battles are counted together by virtue of their all being caused by the IJN’s Oper­a­tion Sho-Go (Victory). The Battle of Leyte Gulf is notable on multi­ple counts: it was the largest naval battle of World War II in terms of engage­ment area and ton­nage (342,310) sunk; it was the last naval battle between battle­ships in history (Battle of Surigao Strait); and it was the first naval battle in which Japanese air­craft success­fully carried out organized kamikaze attacks (Battle off Samar).

In three days the Japanese Navy suffered its greatest loss of ships and crew ever—26 out of 60 front­line war­ships. The Amer­i­cans had 8 fleet carriers, the same number of light carriers, 18 escort carriers, and 1,500 carrier planes. These were arrayed against three Japa­nese light carriers and a single fleet carrier, the veteran Zuikaku, the only sur­viving carrier from the six that had attacked Pearl Harbor on Decem­ber 7, 1941. The U.S. lost escort carriers Gambier Bay and St. Lo and the light carrier Princeton. Amer­i­can casual­ties were about 3,000 dead and wounded to about 12,500 dead Japa­nese sailors and aviators. Of nine Japa­nese battle­ships, three were sunk, with a loss of no American battleship.

The IJN’s failure to dislodge the Allied invaders from their Leyte beach­heads pre­saged the inev­i­table loss of the Philip­pines. The loss of the Philip­pines in turn meant that resource-poor Japan would be all but cut off from the Pacific and South­east Asian terri­tories still in Japa­nese hands. Those over­seas terri­tories had been using a wide variety of mari­time vessels, diminished month by month by Allied sub­marine attacks, to deliver resources (oil, rubber, tin, bauxite ore, and food­stuffs) vital to Japan’s war­time economy and its over­seas garri­sons. Losing the Philippines spelled finis for the Empire of Japan.

The Philippines and the Chief Players in the Battle of Leyte Gulf

Map of the Philippines

Above: Map of the Philippines showing the loca­tion of Leyte Island and Leyte Gulf, which are on the eastern side of the Philip­pine archi­pel­ago and close to its middle. Sharing Leyte Gulf is Samar Island, off which one of four naval engage­ments in the three-day Battle of Leyte Gulf took place (on Octo­ber 25, 1944). The Sibuyan Sea is to the east of Min­doro Island, where a U.S. air attack occurred (Octo­ber 24). The Surigao Strait is in the very south of Leyte Gulf (Octo­ber 25) and Cape Engaño is the thumb­like penin­sula at the northern end of the large island of Luzon (Octo­ber 25–26). Note the location of the San Bernardino Strait north of Samar Island.

Adm. William F. "Bull" Halsey, 1882–1959 Vice Adm. Jisaburo Ozawa, 1886–1966

Left: Adm. William F. “Bull” Halsey (1882–1959) commanded the U.S. Third Fleet in June 1944 for the advance on the Japa­nese-held Philip­pines. While providing more distant cover and support for the invasion of Leyte Island than Adm. Thomas Kinkaid’s close-in Seventh Fleet, Halsey fell for Japa­nese Vice Adm. Jisa­burō Ozawa’s ruse and led his 64‑ship fleet north­ward after 17 decoy ships. This left both the eastern end of the San Bernar­dino Strait unguarded to in-and-out passage (which in fact occurred) and Mac­Arthur’s inva­sion forces on Leyte’s beaches vul­ner­able to an attack by other Japa­nese naval forces approaching from the west. In spite of the clear danger his absence posed to the success of Mac­Arthur’s enter­prise, Halsey succeeded in destroying the rem­nants of Japan’s naval air power by sinking all four of Ozawa’s car­riers (con­taining a paltry 100 or so air­craft) in the Philip­pine Sea before disengaging from battle (Battle of Cape Engaño) and reversing course.

Right: Vice Adm. Jisaburō Ozawa (1886–1966) was respon­sible for Japa­nese naval oper­a­tions in the South China Sea and was the last com­mander of what little remained of the Com­bined Fleet, which Halsey’s Third Fleet had ear­lier deci­mated in the Battle of the Philip­pine Sea (aka Great Marianas Turkey Shoot) in June 1944. At the Battle of Cape Engaño (Octo­ber 25–26, 1944), Ozawa, who commanded the IJN’s Main Force (Northern Force) came the closest of any Japanese commander to inflicting a reverse on the U.S. Pacific Fleet by his diversionary ruse.

Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23–26, 1944) and the Liberation of the Philippines

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