Leyte, Philippines · October 20, 1944

In October 1944 Lt. Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita commanded 225,000 Japa­nese sol­diers in the Philip­pines. On this date in 1944, on a 25‑mile stretch of Leyte Island in the Philip­pines, an Allied fleet of more than 730 trans­port and escort ves­sels, supported by air­craft carriers and 100 war­ships, put 160,000 U.S. troops ashore under the watch­ful eye of Gen. Douglas Mac­Arthur aboard the USS Nash­ville. In the after­noon, Mac­Arthur, wearing a crisply starched uni­form and sun­glasses, waded ashore from a landing craft, approached a port­able radio trans­mitter, and spoke into the microphone: “People of the Philippines: I have returned!”

The in­vading forces ini­tially met mini­mal resis­tance, and Japa­nese rein­force­ments took signi­fi­cant casu­al­ties. In the last great naval battle of World War II, the Battle of Leyte Gulf (Octo­ber 23–26, 1944), the Japa­nese Navy was deci­sively defeated in its attempts to inter­vene. Every facet of war­fare was in­volved in the largest, most com­plex naval battle ever fought, one that en­gaged 200,000 men and close to 300 U.S., Aus­tra­lian, and Japa­nese ships over more than 100,000 sq. miles of sea. Ulti­mately, the Japa­nese had no an­swer to the Allies’ over­whelming land and air fire­power and by Decem­ber 25 Leyte was secured. Though it took the re­main­der of the war to sub­due the enemy—e.g., the Battle of Ma­nila (Febru­ary 3 to March 3, 1945) cost the lives of 1,000 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers and 100,000 Fili­pino civil­ians—the fighting in the Philip­pines severed Japan’s life­line to the min­er­al resources of the East Indies and sounded the death knell for the Empire of Japan.

A con­tin­ual flow of U.S. ser­vice per­son­nel, aug­mented by new ships, carrier and land-based air­craft, tanks, artil­lery, rifles, am­mu­ni­tion, and other items pouring out of Amer­i­can fac­tories, pushed the Japa­nese back more than 2,000 miles, back through the ruins of their in­ner defense ring, and back to the Home Islands them­selves. Emperor Hiro­hito (posthumously referred to as Emperor Shōwa) sued for peace on August 15, 1945, after learning of the utter destruc­tion of two Japa­nese cities (Hiro­shi­ma and Naga­saki) by a new wea­pon in the U.S. arsenal and hearing about the mil­lions of Soviet soldiers who were making mince­meat of his Kwangtung Army on the Asian mainland.

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 the islands of Luzon in the north and Leyte in the middle. Also in the middle and north of Samar Island is the San Bernardino Strait.

Adm. William F. "Bull" Halsey, 1882–1959Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964) with corncob pipe

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 taking part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Halsey fell for Japa­nese Vice Adm. Jisa­buro Ozawa’s ruse and led his 64‑ship fleet (Task Force 34) after 17 decoy ships, leaving both the San Bernar­dino Strait (between Luzon and Samar islands) and Gen. Douglas Mac­Arthur’s inva­sion forces on the Leyte beaches unpro­tected. Never­the­less, Halsey sunk all four of Ozawa’s car­riers, destroying the rem­nants of enemy naval air power (Battle of Cape Engaño). In Decem­ber 1945, Halsey was promoted to the rank of fleet admiral, becoming the fourth and last officer to hold that rank.

Right: Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964) commanded U.S. and Filipino service­ members on the eve of the World War II. After being caught by sur­prise by the Japa­nese assault on the Philip­pines, the eva­cu­ated gene­ral redeemed him­self with a bril­liant, hard-hitting cam­paign in the Pacific Theater that wore down enemy resis­tance. On V‑J Day, August 14, 1945, Presi­dent Harry S. Tru­man appointed Mac­Arthur Supreme Com­mander for the Allied Powers, or mili­tary ruler, in occu­pied Japan (1945–1950). He accepted Japan’s formal surrender for the United Nations on September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay.

Vice Adm. Jisaburo Ozawa, 1886–1966Lt. Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, 1885–1946

Left: Vice Adm. Jisaburo Ozawa (1886–1966) was respon­sible for Japa­nese naval oper­a­tions in the South China Sea and was the last com­mander of the Com­bined Fleet, which Adm. Wil­liam “Bull” Halsey had ear­lier deci­mated in the Battle of the Philip­pine Sea in June 1944. At the Battle of Leyte Gulf in Octo­ber 1944, Ozawa came the closest of any Japanese commander to inflicting a reverse on the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Right: Lt. Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita (1885–1946) assumed the com­mand of the Japa­nese Four­teenth Area Army in the Philip­pines in Octo­ber 1944, ten days before U.S. forces landed on Leyte Island on Octo­ber 20. Yama­shita used delaying tactics until Septem­ber 2, 1945, when his forces were reduced to under 50,000 in tough cam­paigning by com­bined American and Fili­pino sol­diers. Between Octo­ber and Decem­ber 1945, an Ame­ri­can mili­tary tribu­nal in Manila tried Gen. Yama­shita for war crimes relating to the Manila Mas­sacre (February to March 1945) and many other atroci­ties in the Philip­pines and ear­lier in Singa­pore and sentenced him to death. He was hanged on February 23, 1946.

Contemporary Newsreel Account of MacArthur’s Landing on Leyte Island, Philippines, October 1944